Monday, 31 December 2018

In the Yule log glow – Part 4

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and around this Christmas season, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers. Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

In the Yule log glow – Part 4
By William Mauir Ald

To our ancestors of the Latin Church Christmas was the Feast of Lights, so called after a Jewish Festival by that name, whose forms of illumination were early incorporated into the Nativity celebration and made to symbolize the fact that the darkness of the world was past and the true light now shone.

The candle lights on the Christmas tree find their best explanation from this background. Everything about the Christmas fire and lights was considered very sacred. People in old England would not take the ashes out on Christmas Day "for fear of throwing them in our Saviour’s face”!

Many attempts have been made to explain this curious notion. It has been classed with another which held it unlucky to give out fire at the season; because the household spirits might in that way be banished from the home; and they were not to be treated in that manner. Without disputing this, another context of thought and sentiment may be suggested.

The sense that what was once sacrosanct could not cease to be so was very strong with those of other days. Anyone familiar with sacramental history knows how troublesome a thought it was to know what to do with the remainder of holy elements. Almost any method of disposal seemed irreverent. The aversion from throwing out the ashes on Christmas day is probably indicative of a similar misgiving.

But the Christmas fire was also the author of peace and concord. Chambers in his Book of Day: records that if a wayfarer chanced to see the great log being carried into a house he doffed his hat with becoming reverence; because he knew how potent were its powers for good at the Christmas season.

Within the sphere of its genial warmth old wrongs would be forgotten, animosities would disappear, and families alienated through misunderstanding, jealousy and strife would again be united. Under the spell of the burning Yule log friendships were renewed and loves reborn. These beautiful sentiments of Charles Mackay could equally well have been thrown by him around the smiling hearth:

Ye who have scorned each other
Or injured friend or brother,
In this fast-fading year;
Ye who, by word or deed,
Have made a kind heart bleed,
Come gather here.
Let sinned against and sinning,
Forget their strife's beginning;
Be links no longer broken,
Be sweet forgiveness spoken,
Under the holly bough.

Ye who have loved each other,
Sister and friend and brother,
In this fast-fading year:
Mother, and sire, and child,
Young man and maiden mild,
Come gather here;
And let your hearts grow fonder,
As memory shall ponder
Each past unbroken vow.
Old loves and younger wooing,
Are sweet in the renewing,
Under the holly bough.'

Nor were those who had gone from the family circle forgotten. With their voices wanting and their chairs vacant, how could they be? "Would they were with us still," says the old ballad. Though such thoughts belonged more properly to All-Hallows, yet they followed the Christmas fire.

At an early stage in the history of the Yule log the spirits of the departed were believed to be present and actually imminent in the glowing embers of the hearth. Thoughts of the departed are present, if unexpressed, in the ceremonies of the father of Frédéric Mistral.

The glass of wine poured over the wood is clearly a link with the times when such libations were offered to those no longer visibly present in the home, but still there.

Not thus would any now conceive "those whom they have loved and lost awhile"; yet, in the light of a purer faith, still "Mounting on love’s perpetual fire."

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Geoffrey Wheeler: A Restrospective

Geoffrey Wheeler, who was born on September 24, 1930, died on December 30, 2013, aged 83.

The broadcaster, who died in a care home in Prestbury, Cheshire, after a long illness, was a well-known face on children’s television as Top of the Form quizmaster from 1962 to 1975.

Why look back at his life now? Well, I hadn't seen the obituary at the time in 2013. Recently I was watching a line up of presenters for Songs of Praise in the run up to Christmas, and I suddenly remembered that when I was growing up, the presenter was Geoffrey Wheeler. So I did a little looking around and here are some of the stories I uncovered.

Let's backtrack a bit to the 1980s. 

Sunday nights in the Winter months began around 5.40 with the Holiday Programme, presented by Cliff Mitchellmore, a collation of stories showing you what the holiday resorts were like - the ambience, the local food, the nightlife, the culture (although that was usually rather in short supply), and then giving the value for money aspect of it - how much it cost, the best way to go, the best places to stay on a budget or if you had more money.

As most of it was centred around beach resorts and hotels in sunny climes, I used to find it rather boring - one beach resort seems very much like another - flat expanses of sand, sunbeds, large beach umbrellas, palm trees, and sea. And the hotels, as I found when we went to Majorca, are all very much alike.

After that was Songs of Praise, often presented by Geoffrey Wheeler, friendly, never talking down at the audience, and of course back in those days, it was very much presented at the start, and then mostly hymn after hymn, with the blessing at the end.

After Songs of Praise came Shoestring.. and then Bergerac, and then that extraordinary mix of consumer programme, funny newspaper clipping, and eccentric Britain at its best that was "That's Life". Now distinctions are absolute, and consumer programmes concentrate just on that - Watchdog, Cowboy Builders, etc etc, and there are no TV programmes that are that same mad mix that somehow worked perfectly, along with wonderful cartoons of all the stories at the end.

But times were changing, and it was clear that the public wanted something more interesting that just looking at people singing in Songs of Praise. The singing remained, but Geoffrey Wheeler was instrumental in shifting the focus to include stories of people in the community, along with the hymns. It became more of a magazine programme. It is still the formula used today and it works very well indeed.

Ernie Rhea commented:

“Geoffrey was a joy to work with. He was thoroughly professional. There was never any danger of him turning up late for a film shoot, or wanting to leave early. He threw himself heart and soul into making the programme the best possible representation of the community, which meant taking time to talk to contributors before recording their interview, so that he fully understood the essence of their story and how best to tell it.

Mid-week, however, and there was quite a fun game show presented by Jimmy Tarbuck, with Geoffrey Wheeler devising questions, and speaking the multiple choice options - decades before Who Wants to be a Millionare used the same trick. We watched that - there were only 2 channels, and this was a fun show, well presented by Tarbuck.

It was devised by Geoffrey himself, who didn't like the idea of a game show where contestants had to say they didn't know the answer, so they could guess if they didn't know. Later, he took over presenting role himself when it moved to daytime TV.

The Stage gave some background on his own life story:

"The son of a hotel manager, Wheeler spent most of his childhood travelling around the country to keep track with his father’s job. While studying law at Manchester University, he began writing scripts for the local BBC studios. By the time he left university, he had made about 200 programmes. In 1954, he became a junior BBC producer working on variety shows with, among others, Ken Dodd, Benny Hill and Morecambe and Wise."

Besides all this, Wheeler read children’s stories on Jackanory and was a team captain on Call My Bluff for two year

"Over the years, Wheeler was one of many presenters of Songs of Praise, overseeing no fewer than 250 editions, but he was adept enough to convert it from a televised church service into a programme enjoyed by viewers who had never set foot in a house of worship."

A devout Anglican, he became a Lay reader. The Church Times takes up the story of how he was too modest to put himself forward for such a role.

"WHEN the Vicar of St Peter's, Hale, in Chester diocese, came home from a Parish Stewardship of Time and Talents meeting, he burst out indignantly to his wife: 'Geoffrey Wheeler of Songs of Praise and Top of the Form has filled in a pledge form offering an hour a week to mow the churchyard grass. I can't let him do that: it's not a use of talents; it's a waste.' So began the process that led Geoffrey to 40 years' service to the Church of England as a Reader."

"Geoffrey brought the same high standards of professionalism to leading worship and preaching as he had developed in broadcasting. Meticulous preparation lay behind everything he did, even down to voice exercises just before a service. One incumbent was a little alarmed to hear honking noises coming from the small porch by the vestry, only to find Geoffrey, who sheepishly explained that these were the exercise that his voice coach had encouraged him to use before public speaking."

"His sermons bore all the marks of careful attention to the scriptures, and wise reflections on their meaning for us in the 20th century. A former churchwarden has quoted Geoffrey as saying, 'Unless butterflies are working in the tummy before a broadcast or service, I know I won't connect with the congregation.'"

"His children's addresses were memorable, particularly because he had a knack of making them accessible to children from five years of age to teenagers, this at a time when it was not unknown in that parish to have 150 or more Sunday-school children, Brownies, Cubs, Scouts, and Guides at a family service. One vicar's daughter observed: 'Doesn't God sound lovely when Mr Wheeler speaks about him!' Her older brother said: 'What I like is that it doesn't sound like the Bible when he reads it.'"

"Later, in his ministry as Reader, and as a result of seeking healing for his wife during her final illness, Geoffrey developed, with his incumbent, a ministry of healing. Together, they established a monthly Sunday-afternoon service of prayer for healing. Geoffrey usually gave the address. Together they visited the hospitals, and, in one notable instance, a young man, who had been very seriously injured, made an unexpected recovery, and eventually invited Geoffrey to take part in his marriage ceremony."

And there's this delightful story of how kind and nice a man he was on the obituary on the Diocese of Chester website:

David Ashworth earlier said: “Geoffrey’s charming TV presenter image was no front – he really was a kind and caring man. I remember once when he was taking a service in Yorkshire, a parishioner’s wife was very disappointed that she couldn’t be at the church to see and hear Geoffrey – because she was at home incapacitated. When he heard about that he said ‘well, I can easily go to visit her at her home’ and that’s exactly what he did. That’s the sort of man he was. Everyone is going to miss him.”


Saturday, 29 December 2018

Year’s End

As we approach the end of 2018, a look at the end of this year.

Year’s End

The sands of time are running out
The year from youth is now so old
Change and decay, a time of doubt
The midnight land, the winter cold

Damp is the air, cold, cloying mist
The ague strikes, chill to the bone
The summer sun is long dismissed
In the dark, the ghosts do moan

The time approaches, final hour
Chimes of midnight set to ring
Old year dies, a waning power
Ending like a wound down spring

Year’s end over a cold bleak earth
New Year awakes, and brings rebirth

Friday, 28 December 2018

Whither O Splendid Island? – Part 2

Published in 1950, this book is an interesting snapshot of the Island and its customs as it was in the immediate post-war period, and not without humour. Most guide books of the time give the tourist information, or give the impressions of an outsider to the Island, but this is in "inside view", which is rarer.

And change is on the way. The States reformed in 1948. He also mentions Ivy Forster, the first woman elected to States 1948 as deputy in St Helier. And changes emerging in respect of a drive towards pensions, sickness benefit etc, none of which existed back in 1950, and still would take some years to come.

My thanks to Anne Pryke for tweeting the identity card of Ivy Forster which is shown above. 

Whither O Splendid Island? – Part 2
by Sidney Bisson

Whilst you were alive, the laws of curatorship prevented you from spending it unwisely. To a certain extent they still do, but as the only form of waste that our legislators envisaged was on drink, it does not take us very far today.

The procedure is worth recording. If any citizen is thought to be spending too much of his substance on drink, he may be reported to the Royal Court, which then orders witnesses to be heard. Should the facts be established by the evidence, the Court appoints a `curator' to the `interdict.' The curator undertakes all his business, receives his income and pays his debts (which cannot, of course, be contracted without the curator's authority), and doles out to him every week what he considers an appropriate amount of pocket money.

The law protects in the same way adults who show signs of eccentricity or mental derangement, as the wealthy Lady Houston discovered to her cost when she took up her residence in the island. Her unusual methods of handling a large fortune shocked the thrifty Jersey folk. The customary information was laid, and evidence having been heard, a curator was appointed to take charge of her affairs on the grounds of her eccentricity.

But Lady Houston was a woman of spirit. Both in cases of intemperance and eccentricity, the law provides for the withdrawal of the curatorship as soon as it can be shown that the cause which prompted its imposition has been removed. Lady Houston lost no time in calling in London specialists, who testified that she was perfectly capable of managing her own affairs. In the face of such evidence the curatorship had to be removed.

I imagine that if those who framed these laws lived today they would include as reasons for appointing a curator excessive expenditure not only on drink, but on football pools, dances, and cinemas. But times have changed. Nobody would dream of amending the law to include other causes besides drink as warranting the appointment of a curator. That would be regarded as unwarrantable interference with the right of the subject to spend his money as he likes.

Instead we have at last been brought round to the English way of thinking. Rather than deal specifically with cases of people we know to be improvident, let us, like the English, treat everyone as being quite incapable of managing his own affairs. Let us not merely interfere with the liberty of a few but with that of everybody. For if we compel everyone to pay a portion of his salary as a contribution towards unemployment benefit, health insurance, old-age pensions, and the rest, are we not interfering with the right of every subject to spend his money as he chooses?  But these things are bound to come.

They are at the moment being actively discussed. When we adopt them, our last claim to superiority over the English will have vanished. For we will at last have kidded ourselves like the English that what the State provides we do not pay for. Like Summer Time, which makes us kid ourselves that we are not getting up any earlier because our watches are an hour out. That, as far as I can gather, is the argument of the so-called `reactionary element' in our island parliament. That is what the old fellow who objected to the maid's fur coat must have had in mind.

The snag is the premise on which the argument is based. If it was ever true (and I doubt it) that everybody could earn it living if he liked and that poverty and want were synonymous with laziness and improvidence, it is certainly a fallacy under our present economic system. Whatever my fellow islanders may have thought, England's two million unemployed before the war were not all twiddling their thumbs because they liked it. And if there is enough work for everyone at the moment, there is no guarantee that this happy state of affairs is going to last forever.

Which is why our younger generation is so anxious to get on with the job of introducing up to date social legislation, based on the new idea (new at any rate to the island) that thrift is not sufficient insurance against old age, ill-health, and unemployment, and that those who earn a comfortable living should help to compensate those who don't, or can't.

As an essential preliminary they demanded parliamentary reform, and obtained it without anything remotely resembling a revolution. The States, realising the strength of public opinion, accepted the principle that some kind of reform was necessary to make the government more representative of the will of the people, and submitted their proposals to the Crown `in order that the pleasure of His Majesty on them might be ascertained.'

During the summer of 1946 a Committee of the Privy Council under the chairmanship of the Home Secretary was appointed to examine the proposals, and visited the island to hear evidence on the desire of the islanders for reform.

Their report, which was published the following spring, endorsed most of the proposals that had been made-by the States. Its principal recommendation was that life membership of the States should be abolished, so that instead of being a kind of combined House of Lords and Commons, the island parliament would become a purely elective assembly. 

The Rectors of the twelve parishes (except the Dean) should, it was suggested, be replaced by elected Deputies. The Jurats should be replaced by a new class of members (they have since been officially christened `Senators') who should be elected for a longer term than the Deputies.

The Jurats still in office would continue to serve as judges of the Royal Court, but it was proposed that their successors should be appointed by an electoral college composed of the States, the Royal Court, and senior barristers and solicitors.

The committee did not approve of the principle of electing judges by popular vote. It is rather surprising that it did not mention, even en passant, the curious local custom of electing policemen, for except in St. Helier, which also has a paid police force, all the police are part-time honorary workers, who are elected for varying terms of years according to their grade.

In spite of some opposition, the States have passed legislation to implement the suggestions of the committee, so that the electors now return twelve Senators and twenty-eight Deputies in addition to the Constables of the twelve parishes. As a result of the first election of members for the reformed assembly, a woman sits in the States as a Deputy for the first time [Ivy Forster].

It is too early to say how much difference the new constitution will make to the prosperity of the island and the well-being of the islanders. Until the arrival of the committee, the prospect of a new constitution was viewed with enthusiasm, and even a considerable amount of excitement. When the islanders had been allowed to express their views, the prospects of the next potato or tomato or visitor season soon ousted reform as a subject of discussion.

These are, in fact, the things around which our life circles (and having decided to stay in Jersey I can now start talking as a resident instead of as a visitor) it is on them more than on a new constitution that our future depends.

At the moment the barometer is set fair. The last two tomato seasons have been good. The Colorado beetle, which for a time prevented the export of potatoes to England, has been practically wiped out. Visitors continue to come to the island in increasing numbers. And our local chancellor of the exchequer manages to balance his budgets without fresh taxation. The optimists are in clover.

Only the most confirmed pessimists see a tiny cloud on the horizon, and remind us that our history is a continual record of industries being allowed to peter out. Knitting, cider making, shipping, shipbuilding, oyster fishing . . . All helped to swell our pockets for a while, then passed into oblivion.

What happens next, if history repeats itself?

Thursday, 27 December 2018

In the Yule log glow – Part 3

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and around this Christmas season, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers. Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

In the Yule log glow – Part 3
By William Mauir Ald

In old England Christmas was indeed happy, hilariously merry. It was, of course, no new thing in human experience for feast and frolic to be conjoined with religious rejoicing; but seldom have they had so congenial an association as among the English in Plantagenet and Tudor times.

All through the Middle Ages the two rivers of riot and religion, from whida many, high and low, rich and poor, contrived to drink deeply at Christmas, flowed together till they were parted at the Reformation. In the Puritan Era the former ran underground. At the Restoration of Charles II it reappeared and was hailed with joy and acclamation.

Alas! it was no longer the mountain torrent of roaring cataracts and sparkling cascades, but a comparatively prosaic stream wending its sluggish way through fen country, until weired up by Dickens and made to tumble merrily once more in the sunlight of his genius.

It is curious that many of the old Christmas games which enlivened the time are now mere names. Antiquarians look with inquisitive eyes at these intriguing words—-Feed the Dove, Rowland Bo, Shoeing the Wild Mare, Steal the White Loaf, the Parson has lost his Cloak, and have not the remotest idea what they mean.

But even if they did they might not appeal, like Hot Cockles, to this age of ours, less interested in entertaining itself than in being entertained. Yet the reader can decide. Hot Cockles was not only a favorite gambol in old time Christmas, but a game of great antiquity. It was evidently popular with the ancient Egyptians, as representations on their tombs suggest; and writers have loved to depict the shepherds in Arcady delighting in this disport.

Imagine a large room and a goodly number of guests assembled. One -person, blindfolded, and in a kneeling posture, puts his head in the lap of another sitting on a stool or chair. Placing his hand on his back, palm upwards, he cries, "Hot cockles, hot!”

It was then the privilege of each player to strike the open hand; and if the kneeling one guessed right, the striker took his place, if not a forfeit might be exacted. The sentiments provoked varied a good deal according to the nature and force of the impact.

One man, seemingly much distressed by a particular slap which he received, appealed to Mr. Spectator (1711) and said: "I am a footman in a great family and am in love with the housemaid. We were all at hot-cockles last night in the hall these holidays, when I lay down and was blinded she pulled off her shoe and hit me with the heel such a rap as almost broke my head to pieces. Pray, Sir, was this love or spite?"

What comforting word reached him by way of reply is not stated. He, unfortunate man, hoped, no doubt, to be able to say like Cuddy in one of John Gay's poems, belonging to about the same year:

As at hot-cockles once I laid me down
I felt the weighty hand of many a clown.
Buxoma gave a gentle tap and 1
Quick rose and read soft mischief in bet eye.‘

During the eighteenth century, however "among persons of distinction," there would seem to have been as little enthusiasm about Christmas as about religion itself. It is not infrequently referred to as a rather dreary day, almost the acme of insipidity, a day to be thankful for—when over. A Christmas game appropriate to this mood was called "yawning for a Cheshire cheese."

Near the hour of midnight, when all were beginning to succumb to the seductions of the sandman, the languid sport commenced. Whoso yawned the widest and the longest, "and at the same time so naturally as to produce the most yawns in the spectators, was pronounced the victor and carried home the cheese as his reward!"

But the Yule Log had other meanings than those associated with the Wassail Bowl, omens of matrimony, feast and frolic. Its light was sacramental. People loved to see the firelight dance on the roof and walls and would even bring their pewter, and also silver, if they were fortunate to possess any, within the orbit of its gleaming grace.

Of what ancient pagan sacrament or belief was this the pleasant survival? For long the wood fire was the only form of illumination in the homes. The candles appeared much later and though prettier could never mean any more than the glowing flames of the immemorial block on the family hearth.

The practice of placing burning candles in the windows on Christmas Eve is a continuation of an Irish custom, bound up with the thought of the Christ Child out alone in the cold and dark and requiring to be lighted on His way. What charm this had on a desolate heath is largely lost in a great city.

This is only to say that the real romance of Christmas belonged to the countryside; and as this has slowly, but surely, changed, the other has tended to fade away. When the candles came to be used they were lit with the Yule Log and placed in any conspicuous place, on the mantelpiece, or the dais.

In Norway as the candles burned they were conceived to radiate blessing. Many things, including clothes and food, were spread out so that the beneficent rays might fall upon them. The blazing block, however, radiating warmth, and turning, as it were, night into day, was also emblematic of Christ as the light of the world.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

In the Yule log glow – Part 2

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and around this Christmas season, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers. Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

In the Yule log glow – Part 2
By William Mauir Ald

Once a number of friends seated around the fireside fell to discussing what after all was the crowning glory of Christmas.

Many and varied were the views expressed. Some declared in favour of the “flowing bowl." Others leaned toward the more substantial wares of the table, mince pie, plum pudding, roast beef, turkey and the like. One maiden lady, some- what timidly, announced her preference for the bewitching mistletoe! But when all opinions were sifted and weighed it was found that the place of supreme importance was accorded to the Christmas fire.

This was pronounced the burning heart of the season, the living symbol of all the warm emotions and bright thoughts appropriate to the time and the one amalgamator of age and sex. Tastes might vary concerning matters of food; but who is there who can gainsay a fire? Even to-day, from the domestic point of view, Christmas is as much as ever the time for family gatherings around the old fireside.

Certain it is that the gleaming hearth was the centre of social gravity to our ancestors in days past. Many of the old customs associated with the burning of the Yule Log have passed away; but it is pleasant to recall some of them, for they are both interesting and meaningful. The kind of wood used varied a good deal in different parts of Europe and even in the same country; but as a rule it consisted of oak, pine, ash, or olive. In Scotland the birch was the popular wood.

But for some reason the log was stripped of its bark; whence the proverb descriptive of the person devoid of this world's gear, "He's as bare as the birk at Yule.” Not infrequently it was the rugged root of one of these trees, and the more fantastically shaped it was, the better. As to size it was consistent with the capacity of the fireplace, which was always ample. The bringing in of the Yule Log was everywhere a joyous occasion, accompanied with much fun and frolic, especially among the younger members of the family.

Clement A.Miles, drawing upon the Memoir: of Frédéric Mistral (b. 1830), affords us a picture of how it was done in the boyhood days of this Provencal poet. The account will show an interesting mixture of pagan and Christian sentiment.

“Walking in line we bore it home, headed by the oldest at one end, and I the last born, bringing up the rear. Three times we made the tour of the kitchen, then, arrived at the flagstones of the hearth, my father solemnly poured over the log a glass of wine, with the dedicatory words: ‘Joy, joy. May God shower joy upon us, my dear children. Christmas brings us all good things. God give us grace to see the New Year, and if we do not increase in numbers may we at all events not decrease.’

“In chorus we responded: ‘Joy, joy, joy!’ and lifted the log on the fire dogs. Then as the first flame leapt up my father would cross himself, saying, ’Burn the log, O fire’ and with that we all sat down to the table.‘

In England the ceremonies were quite pagan, but none the less delightful on that account. The poet Herrick tells us all about them, and even descends into many niceties of detail. The approach of the Christmas block was hailed with music and general rejoicing:

Come, bring with a noise,
My merric merrie boyes,
The Christmas Log to the firing . . .
On your Psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the Log is a teending.

When placed in the hearth it could only be lighted with a last year's brand; and this oflice required clean hands:

Wash your hands, or else the fire
Will not teend to your desire;
Unwasht hands, ye Maidens, know,
Dead the Fire, though ye blow.‘
(c. 1650)

It was intended that the Log should keep smouldering through the twelve days of Christmas; and so be easily blown into flame, as occasion might require, by the aid of a pair of bellows.

In certain parts of England it was an ashen fagot that was used, and the accompanying merriment assumed a form all its own. The single block of wood, or it might be a number of sticks, were bound, or hooped, with strips of the same tree, or the hazel, and the number was seven, or nine. The strips were carefully prepared in different degrees of size and strength. The barrel-like log was then laid in the spacious reredos and was soon ablaze. The bands were the first to be attacked by the flames, and as each snapped with a loud report, the master of the house was expected to furnish a fresh bowl of cider:

The pond'rous ashcn-fagot, from the yard,
The jolly farmer to his crowded hall
Conveys with speed; where, on the rising flames
(Already fed with store of massy brands)
It blazes soon; nine bandages it bears;
And as they each disjoin (so custom wills),
A mighty jug of sparkling cyder's brought,
With brandy mixed, to elevate the guests.

The matrimonial element, too, had a place in these ceremonies. The rings were often associated with pairs of lovers; and the order in which they surrendered to the flames announced the sequence of their weddings to the great excitement of all concerned.

The particular choice of an ashen fagot is variously explained. According to one legend it was by an ash wood fire that the Christ Child was first washed and dressed at Bethlehem. Having thus cheered and brightened the original Holy Night, it was only proper that it should ever after be used to warm and lighten the hearth on Christmas Eve.

It would take long to tell of all that was enjoyed while the Yule log flickered on the hearth, not only on Christmas Eve, but throughout the whole Season to Epiphany. Bores and wallflowers were not welcome anywhere:

Make we may bothe more and lasse,
For now is tbe time of Cristémas.’

Lett no man cum into this hall,
Grome, page, nor yet marshall,
But that sum sport he bring with all;
For now is the time of Cristémas!

If that he say he can not sing,
Some oder sport then lett him bring,
That it may please at this festing;
For now is the time of Cristémas!

If he say he can nought do,
Then for my love aske him no mo,
But to the stokkes then let him go;
For now is the time of Cristémas! "

(Before 1536)

[“Stokkes". The Lord of Misrule at Christmas kept stocks, like the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear or any other lord, and exercised his festival jurisdiction by condemning to them ofienders against the amenities of the revel." Early English Lyrics, p. 373 ]

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The House of Christmas

The House of Christmas is arguably Chesterton’s most beloved Christmas poem:

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Monday, 24 December 2018

In the Yule log glow – Part 1

I found a nice second hand book on Christmas Traditions from 1931 at the Guide Dogs for the Blind biggest book sale, and around this Christmas season, thought it might be interesting to share it with my readers. Instead of my regular blog, I'm taking time off and posting some extracts from this here.

In the Yule log glow – Part 1
By William Mauir Ald

CHRISTMAS Eve was the most hallowed night in all the Church year. In Hamlet, Shakespeare alludes to its great sanctity, and indeed to the whole season, which was then twelve nights long. Marcellus declares:

Some ‘say that ever ’gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

Horatio replies: ,

So have I heard and do in part believe it.‘

Some, however, have been at a loss to know where the great dramatist could have gotten this idea; for such were the weird beings that roamed at large during this season of darkness, moaning winds and howling tempests, that nights were to many far from wholesome. To our forbears, elfins, goblins, ghosts, dragons and other sinister and nameless beings were very real.

St. Paul in his Epistle: and Robert Burns in his Tam O’Sban1er show a like familiarity with the demons of darkness. At all times, especially at Christmas, they delighted by their mischievous pranks in disturbing the peace and happiness of mankind.

With all this in view Shakespeare's lines have little justification; but when a glance is cast in the direction of Christian thought and sentiment they do not appear at all unnatural. At the moment of the Saviour's birth it was fondly believed a great calm ensued, as if Nature paused in reverent adoration.

Milton, in his magnificent "Hymn to the Nativity," alludes to this universal tranquillity:

But peaceful was the night,
Wherein the Prince of light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
The winds with wonder whist
Smoothly the water kist
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.

And when at the hour of midnight the Babe was born celestial music was conceived to break forth from the skies, while all Nature joined in the spirit of celebration. Even the animals were given a voice suitable to the time.

A beautiful old English Broadsheet pictures the Holy Family on the night of the Nativity surrounded by angels and shepherds, and also by other peculiarly interesting attendants. A woman is depicted carrying a basket of fruit on her head. Close by is a man with a pair of bagpipes. But the most curious touch of all appears in connection with certain birds and beasts which are shown with Latin inscriptions coming from their mouths.

The cock crows Christus natus est (Christ is born). The raven inquires Quamdo (When)? The crow replies Hac nocte (This' night). An ox moos Ubi (Where)? and a lamb in the foreground bleats out Bethlehem. In a kneeling posture a group of angels gaze upon the Infant, while a voice from above sings Gloria in exclesis (Glory be on high). Encircling the picture is an explanatory verse, half of which runs: "Here's a Wonder never knowne, a King a Manger makes his Throne." “

All these sentiments variously expressed in Scripture, Milton and the old Carol Sheet, belong to the very essence of poetry. Poets have always sought and found in Nature a sense of correspondence with their own feelings. As on the first Sacred Night, so on every recurring Christmas Eve. In Christian thought at its best there seemed no place for aught else but rejoicing. The cattle in their stalls, the farmers of old verily believed, fell down on their knees in homage to the new born King; while husbandmen declared that the hybernating bees awoke from their winter slumbers to hum their canticle of praise; but this was only heard by the pure in heart.

These are but so many naive expressions of the common belief in the wonderful sanctity of Christmas Eve. Many would have little difficulty in descending from these fancies of poetry to the facts of prose. The coming of Christ into the world, it would be shown, did mean the consecration of the whole universe, the cleansing of the human imagination and the eventual end of all supernatural enemies. The tormentors lingered long, it is true, and they have not all disappeared yet; but to those who hold the faith of the Incarnation the air and the heavens have been washed of a hundred abominations. "

There is no other religion,” writes T. R. Glover, "with anything like the bright atmosphere of love that the Incarnation makes. The terrors go like the night-fears of children when the room is flooded with light, and one they love stands by them." ' The Christmas Gospel is Immanuel, God with us, in all and over all, blessed for evermore.

But it is high time to put the lighted taper to the Yule Log. No little of the charm of Christmas lies in the fact that it belongs to the season of frost and snow. Transplanted to another time of the year, or into another clime which knows not the icy blasts of Boreas, it would be something altogether different.

Thrice happy is the home, however humble, that possesses an open hearth. This is the very soul of the house and nothing can ever be made to take its place. A radiator is extremely effective in our cold climate; but it is utterly devoid of poetry; while the gas log, that blazing block of utility, knows not even the name of romance. It was not beside either that James Russell Lowell was moved to write:

O thou of home and guardian Lat!
What warm protection dost thou bend
Round curtained talk of friend with friend,
While the gray snow-storm, held aloof,
To softest outline rounds the roof,
Or the rude North with baffled strain
Shoulders the frost-starred window-pane!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Chesterton on Christmas – Part 2

An interesting piece, looking at the way in which even in Chesterton's day, we were becoming passive consumers of Christmas. " Most of them by this time cannot amuse themselves; they are too used to being amused." is just as true today, although today, instead of just watching stuff, people are spending their Christmas more and more online. 

I suppose that is one of the great things about carol services, and Christmas mass, and any other celebration of Christmas, be it church service or pagan ritual - it actively encourages people to take part, and for at least an hour, they are disconnected from their mobile phones, and paying attention in a very different way. The best rituals for Christmas are those which encourage people to sing, to sit, and to walk, and to listen, and you cannot do that properly if your brain is only half engaged. 

Chesterton calls for the doors of the home to be shut so that we are thrown back on our own resources - and may actually talk to each other. Today, the internet is perhaps another door which needs closing from time to time. And if you go out for a walk after Christmas lunch, why not leave the earpads back home, and listen to the sounds around you. 

G.K. Chesterton on Christmas – Part 2

It seems to me that in this matter we need a reform of the modern Christmas.

I will now emit another brilliant flash of paradox by remarking that Christmas occurs in the winter. That is, it is not only a feast dedicated to domesticity, but it is one deliberately placed under the conditions in which it is most uncomfortable to rush about and most natural to stop at home.

But under the complicated conditions of modern conventions and conveniences, there arises this more practical and much more unpleasant sort of paradox.

People have to rush about for a few weeks, if it is only to stay at home for a few hours. Now the old and healthy idea of such winter festivals was this; that people being shut in and besieged by the weather were driven back on their own resources; or, in other words, had a chance of showing whether there was anything in them.

It is not certain that the reputation of our most fashionable modern pleasure-seekers would survive the test. Some dreadful exposures would be made of some such brilliant society favourites, if they were cut off from the power of machinery and money. They are quite used to having everything done for them; and even when they go to the very latest American dances, it seems to be mostly the musicians who dance.

But anyhow, on the average of healthy humanity I believe the cutting off of all these mechanical connections would have a thoroughly enlivening and awakening effect. At present they are always accused of merely amusing themselves; but they are doing nothing so noble or worthy of their human dignity. Most of them by this time cannot amuse themselves; they are too used to being amused.

Christmas might be creative. We are told, even by those who praise it most, that it is chiefly valuable for keeping up ancient customs or old-fashioned games. It is indeed valuable for both those admirable purposes. But in the sense of which I am now speaking it might once more be possible to turn the truth the other way round. It is not so much old things as new things that a real Christmas might create.

It might, for instance, create new games, if people were really driven to invent their own games. Most of the very old games began with the use of ordinary tools or furniture. So the very terms of tennis were founded on the framework of the old inn courtyard. So, it is said, the stumps in cricket were originally only the three legs of the milking-stool. Now we might invent new things of this kind, if we remembered who is the mother of invention.

How pleasing it would be to start a game in which we scored so much for hitting the umbrella-stand or the dinner-wagon, or even the host and hostess; of course, with a missile of some soft material.

Children who are lucky enough to be left alone in the nursery invent not only whole games, but whole dramas and life-stories of their own; they invent secret languages; they create imaginary families; they laboriously conduct family magazines.

That is the sort of creative spirit that we want in the modern world; want both in the sense of desiring and in the sense of lacking it.

If Christmas could become more domestic, instead of less, I believe there would be a vast increase in the real Christmas spirit; the spirit of the Child. But in indulging this dream we must once more invert the current convention into the form of a paradox. It is true in a sense that Christmas is the time at which the doors should be open. But I would have the doors shut at Christmas, or at least just before Christmas; and then the world shall see what we can do.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Winter Solstice

A seasonal poem, reflecting on the different stories about the Winter Solstice, of the woman as Maiden, Mother, and now in old age, Crone before rebirth, of the time of the reign of the Holly King, and of the night sky - Orion shining down.

Winter Solstice

In the bleak mid-winter
The season of the Crone
Yet to see her scion
At the dolmen stone

Holly King in Winter
Greets the aged Crone
Cauldron made of iron
Heat on fire stone

Solstice in the Winter
Cold wind cuts to bone
In night sky Orion
At the dolmen stone

Yule log burns in Winter
Holly King on Throne
Sing a seasonal canton
Heat on fire stone

Shortest day in Winter
Longest night is shown
Crone is end of triune
At the dolmen stone

Wheel turns in Winter
Crone in velvet gown
Dance goes ever on
At the dolmen stone

Friday, 21 December 2018

Whither O Splendid Island? – Part 1

Published in 1950, this book is an interesting snapshot of the Island and its customs as it was in the immediate post-war period, and not without humour. Most guide books of the time give the tourist information, or give the impressions of an outsider to the Island, but this is in "inside view", which is rarer.

Whither O Splendid Island? – Part 1
by Sidney Bisson

Until the war the average Jerseymen was inclined to regard the English as an incompetent and lazy race. I think the theory has now been finally exploded, but nothing illustrates it better than the local idiom which is used to describe a job that has been botched. It is faite a l'anglaiche `done in the English fashion.'

This, I think, is the key to the accusation of `backwardness' which English visitors are always levelling at us. It is a complicated key with many wards, but with a little manipulation it can be made to fit the lock.

The clearest bit of the pattern is that which is given by a study of emigration. For years, perhaps for centuries, it has been the tradition for the brightest and most energetic young Jerseymen to leave the island to seek their fortune. Until the first world war Canada was their usual choice. Since then there has been a preference for England, where they go to serve in the Army or Navy, to enter the Civil Service or one of the professions, to take up a business career. Of my own schoolfellows, I should say that not one in three lives in the island today.

It was a Scotsman who first showed me how this part of the key fits into the lock. Somebody had asked him why so many of his compatriots crossed the Border. `To teach the English their jobs,' he retorted drily. And that seems to me to be the reason for the tradition that makes the best of our young men emigrate.

It is not the unemployed or the failures who go. It is the cream of the island's youth, the progressive type, whose absence from the island the Englishman deplores. And they go precisely because they have been brought up to believe that the English are their inferiors. Competing with them will be easier than competing with fellow Jerseymen. In England or the Empire they are more likely to win the race for fame and fortune. Perhaps it does not occur to them when they leave home that Jersey will be very much the poorer for their going.

It is poorer in two ways. It misses their vital energy, and those who are left behind are kept far too busy doing their jobs in the good old Jersey way to bother overmuch about politics, social reform, and progress.

Yet another part of the pattern which accounts for our backwardness is our rooted objection to adopting any reform simply because it has been successfully adopted in England. Why should we follow the lead of a race that we have been brought up to believe legislates for the benefit of its incompetent citizens. We did not adopt Greenwich time until 1898. Small wonder that we are behind the clock in the matter of divorce, unemployment benefit, health insurance, and old age pensions.

When some progressive Englishman points this out to us, we feel inclined to tell him that if he doesn't like it there is a mail steamer that will take him back to England next morning. We don't mean to be rude, but it is a little hard to be told how to run one's own country by a citizen of a nation that we have been taught to look upon as hardly competent enough to rule themselves.

It is significant that there was more talk of reform during the German occupation than ever before or since. Though there were certainly other reasons, I should say that one of the weightiest was the fact that Jersey was completely cut off from the Mother Country. You know how an obstinate child will defy his mother to her face, then as soon as her back is turned, meekly do what she had asked. There is a streak of natural obstinacy in most of us that makes us resent doing what we are told. We argue for the sake of arguing. Left to ourselves we act.

If I have interpreted the Jersey character aright, that is one of the reasons why the reformers were prominent during the occupation. Mother England's back was turned, so there was no face to be lost by giving in and doing what Englishmen had long suggested that we ought to do.

I happened to be on holiday in Jersey during the worst days of the depression between the two world wars. Naturally everyone inquired how things were going in England. But hardly anyone sympathised with the unemployed or understood that there were simply not enough jobs to go round. The prevailing attitude of the islanders was that everything they had heard about the Englishman was true. They marvelled that anyone could prefer to be on the dole instead of doing an honest day's work. One of them offered to bet me a considerable sum that if he went to England he would find a job within a week. Another said `Send me over with five pounds and I'll come back with five hundred in a year.

Even today amongst the haves in Jersey there is a feeling that the have-nots are failures because they have not bothered. Since my return I have already heard more times than I can remember, `That's poor old So-and-so. Do you remember him? He could have got on well if he had wanted to.' Implying that everyone except an absolute nitwit can make money if he tries. Bred to that philosophy, it is not surprising that generations of legislators have concentrated on looking after the interests of those who made good instead of taking care of those who were too lazy or incompetent to prosper.

That is still the spirit that lies behind the opposition of the older generation to social reforms. Wages are higher than ever before, they argue, yet people demand more and more help from the State. Instead of putting away a surplus at the end of the week, they spend it on dancing and drinking or pictures and pools.

One of them wrote indignantly to a local newspaper a few weeks ago that he had seen a maid going about in a fur coat. There was immediately an outcry from the democrats. Why shouldn't a maid wear a fur coat if she wanted to? Why not, indeed? But I doubt if any of them saw what I suppose was in the old man's mind. He objected, I imagine, not to the fur coat as a symbol of class distinction, but to the girl's spending all her wages instead of putting some by for a rainy day. If for some reason she lost her job, she would have nothing to fall back on and would be the first to complain that Jersey had no unemployment fund from which she could draw a benefit.

And that was the point of view of our ancient legislators. Though everyone was supposed to be capable of making money, not everyone had the strength of mind to practise economy and thrift. So the laws of inheritance prevented you (and still largely prevent you) from leaving all your money out of the family.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Who’s Who in the States: 1981-1984

Who’s Who in the States: 1981-1984

It's always a problem when looking at old records to know who was president of what committee, and who in fact was in the States. In 1981-1984, as can be seen, there were committees for everything under the sun! 

Where I can, I have indicated where these committees ended up in later States consolidations.

I've also out in "known" names and / or first names when I knew them. I'll gladly update if anyone has any more information. Most of these come from my memory!

The Bailiff, Sir Frank Ereaut. (1975-1985)

[A correspondent writes:" I was in Sir Frank‘s Royal Court sitting when he was the last Judge in Jersey to actually sentence a murderer to death, black cap and all. (All murderers’ sentences were commuted to life). Even though the accused knew he wasn’t going to meet the hangman, it was still interesting watching his face as the words were said."]

The Lieutenant Governor : General Sir Peter Whiteley, G.C.B., O.B.E., His Excellency

Ralph Vibert
John C. Averty
Bernard T. Binnington
Pierre F. Horsfall
John W. Ellis
“Dick” Richard John Shenton
Reg R. Jeune
Jane P. Sandeman
John Le Marquand, President
John S. Rothwell
Anne Baal
John P. de Carteret

Leonard J. Norman of St. Saviour
John P. Le Sueur of St. John
E. Watson of St. Clement
Peter G. Baker of St. Helier
C.B. Ahier of Trinity
W.C. de Gruchy of St. Martin
W.J. Morvan of St. Lawrence
J.P. Pirouet of St. Ouen
C.A. Le Maistre of Grouville
Winter P. Le Marquand of St. Peter
Len G. Downer of St. Brelade
A.P. Le Feuvre of St. Mary
“Bill” William J. Morvan of St. Lawrence

Michael W. Bonn of St. Peter
B.M. Le Maistre of St. Mary
Alfred D. Le Brocq of St. John
Corrie Stein of Grouville
Edgar J. Becquet of Trinity
Helen Baker of St. Martin
D.J. de la Haye of St. Ouen

John N. Le Fondré of St. Lawrence
Hendric A. Vandervliet of St. Lawrence

Enid C. Quénault of St. Brelade
Margaret S.R. Beadle of St. Brelade
Graham Thorne of St. Brelade

Ron W. Blampied of St. Helier
“Dick” Maurice C. Buesnel of St. Helier
John P. Farley of St. Helier
Don G. Filleul of St. Helier
Jean A. Le Maistre of St. Helier
A.D. Le Brocq of St. John
Norman S. Le Brocq of St. Helier
Terry J. Le Main of St. Helier
Philip G. Mourant of St. Helier
Robin E.R. Rumboll of St. Helier
Mike A. Wavell of St. Helier

John  Le Gallais of St. Saviour
Sir Martin Le Quesne of St. Saviour
Francis H. Morel of St. Saviour
Jack Roche of St. Saviour
Brian E. Troy of St. Saviour

R.F. O’Connor of St. Clement
"Tony" A.J. Perkins of St. Clement 
"Dick" R.F. O’Connor of St. Clement

Dick O'Connor was Deputy until he died in 1983. Len Norman (current Constable, not to be confused with the other Len Norman) was elected Deputy for St Clement in the by-election in May or June 1983.

And also who was President of each Committee - such a lot compared to today's Ministries!

(taken into Treasury)
Senator R. Vibert, President

(taken into Home Affairs)
Senator J.W. Ellis, President

(taken into Economic Development)
Senator B.T. Binnington, President

(Taken into Department of Transport and Technical Services)
Deputy D.G. Filleul of St. Helier, President

(Taken into Education)
Senator R.R. Jeune, President

(taken into Health and Social Services)
Senator J. Le Marquand, President

(taken into Economic Development)
Senator R.J. Shenton, President

(taken into Economic Development)
Senator J.S. Rothwell, President

(Taken into Social Security)
Deputy F.H. Morel of St. Saviour, President

(Taken into Planning and Environment)
Deputy N.S. Le Brocq of St. Helier, President

(Taken into Housing, now Andium Homes)
Senator J.P. Sandeman, President

(Taken into Department of Transport and Technical Services)
Deputy J. Le Gallais of St. Saviour, President

(effectively "Chief Minister")
Senator P.F. Horsfall, President

(taken into Economic Development)
Connétable W.J. Morvan of St. Lawrence, President

Deputy J. Roche of St. Saviour, President

(Taken into Home Affairs)
Deputy E.J. Becquet of Trinity, President

Connétable L.J. Norman of St. Saviour, President

(Taken into Home Affairs)
Deputy A.D. Le Brocq of St. John, President

(Taken into States Employment Board)
Senator J.C. Averty, President

Senator A. Baal, President

Senator R. Vibert, President

(Taken into Economic Development)
Deputy J. Roche of St. Saviour, President

(Taken into Economic Development)
Deputy B.E. Troy of St. Saviour, President

(Still exists)
Deputy J.A. Le Maistre of St. Helier, President

(Taken into Economic Development)
Deputy J.A. Le Maistre of St. Helier, President

(Taken into Economic Development)
Deputy E.C. Quénault of St. Brelade, President

Senator R.R. Jeune, President

(Taken into States Employment Board)
Deputy P.G. Mourant of St. Helier, President

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

A Battle at Fort Regent

A Battle at Fort Regent
An interesting piece by John Henwood in the JEP:

“In its heyday the Fort was a major attraction for visitors and the local community. However, tourism, which in the 1960s had been our principal economic activity, fell out of favour among States Members. The Sport, Leisure & Recreation Committee (SLR) decided the emphasis should shift from leisure to sport; possibly the Fort’s director disagreed, but in any event an attempt to force the transfer to the Fort of a civil servant from the Education Department led to an acrimonious dispute and ultimately the departure of the director who had been appointed only 18 months earlier.”

“This was soon followed by the appointment as director of the officer from Education who, incidentally, had previously been an unsuccessful candidate for the job and who had the strong support of the SLR Committee President. On 27 July 1993 the President of the Establishment Committee (the forerunner of today’s States Employment Board) made a statement to the Assembly setting out the official side of the whole affair in the hope of putting the issue to bed, but the rancour rumbled on for many months leaving the legacy that Fort Regent was political pariah.”

As the States Minutes show, Miss Mary Alexander who was welcomed as the new Chief Officer of the Sport, Leisure and Recreation Committee in 1992 by the Bailiff, but relations with Terry le Main who was President of the SLR quickly turned sour.

In a statement he made to the Assembly, the President of Establishment Comittee (Senator Dick Shenton) set out almost a case for the prosecution, of Miss Alexander being in the wrong and found guilty. His statement noted that:

“In making its decision to appoint Miss Alexander, the Board recognised that a local applicant, Mr. V. Bourgoise, had been a close contender for the post and that it should, therefore, be a part of Miss Alexander's duties to develop someone, possibly Mr. Bourgoise, in order that they could assume the Chief Officer's role at the time of the termination of her contract. Miss Alexander was appointed formally to the post with effect from 1st November 1991, for a period of five years.”

It is no secret that Vic Bourgoise was Deputy Le Main’s preferred candidate for the post, and the rumblings in the JEP regarding the dispute did ask the questions whether this caused a vexations relationship from the start as a result. Mary Alexander later noted that she “almost immediately encountered opposition” on her appointment.

The statements were to have taken place “in camera”, but Mary Alexander's own express wish was that these matters be made public, and given the high publicity, to hide behind closed doors was not deemed sensible.

It slated her noting that there were “many allegations that she would not listen to advice and that it appeared that she was attempting to prevent Mr. Bourgoise being accommodated in a revised Sport, Leisure and Recreation structure.”

“In addition, it was fairly common knowledge throughout the Civil Service that a number of chief officers found it difficult to work with Miss Alexander.”

It should be noted, and I think it is pertinent, that at the time Mary Alexander was very much the exception in being the first woman taking up a Chief Officer appointment. The cultural landscape of the early 1990s was not without a degree of misogyny, which is well reflected in the TV series “Yes Minister”. 

The introduction of a woman into an all-male enclave almost certainly ruffled some feathers, so the statement is not perhaps surprising although of course it suggests that she was a “difficult woman” rather than casting a more critical eye on her colleagues and their attitudes.

In the States, the statement also noted that:

“I think that you will agree with me that the relationship between a Committee and its chief officer, and between chief officer and chief officer is vital to the smooth and efficient operation of our government. What I have recounted above shows without any shadow of doubt that Miss Alexander had lost the trust and confidence both of her Committee and certain of her chief officer colleagues. In these circumstances, it was my judgement that this trust and confidence could not be regained and that it was, therefore, appropriate to seek to terminate Miss Alexander's contract.”

It was hardly surprising that after left, Vic Bougeois was immediately appointed to replace her!

A somewhat different perspective came from Mary Alexander (now Mary Young after she married JEP columnist Gordon Young. Writing in the 2016 Grouville Gazette, she noted that:

“Arriving on Jersey’s shores back in ‘91 to take on the role of Chief Officer Sports and Recreation, Mary Alexander, as she was then, almost immediately encountered opposition and found herself locking horns with one or two of the leading politicians of the day and for a while found herself making the front page headlines of the Jersey Evening Post for all the wrong reasons.”

“No doubt finding the company of animals rather more appealing than dealing with politicians, Mary spent seven years at Durrell as Press and PR Manager organising a variety of projects including Saga visits and even a trip to Buckingham Palace to meet Durrell’s Honorary President, The Princess Royal.”

Under its new management, and under the “guidance” of Terry Le Main, as John Henwood explains, the sorry saga continued:

“The politician then in charge, Terry Le Main (I don't recall whether he was Deputy or Senator at the time) decided it should no longer cater for visitors and instead become a sports centre. One by one the attractions went: the daytime shows in the piazza, the dancing fountains, the big entertainments events, the vivarium, the aquarium, the funfair in the East Ditch, the shops, the nightclub, the restaurant and so much more. And of course the pool was deemed too expensive to maintain. And so it became a vast, largely empty, shell and nothing deteriorates quicker than a very old, largely unused building.”

In 2010, the States looked at a proposition “to establish and lead a working group, consisting of representatives from the Education, Sport and Culture Department, Jersey Property Holdings, the Jersey Heritage Trust, the Economic Development Department and the Planning and Environment Department, in order to ensure collaboration between these key parties, with the aim of producing a cohesive and realistic plan for the future development of Fort Regent”

Senator Le Main was absent – “en default” – from the vote.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

A Red Letter Day: The Overseas Premium on Rugby Costs

The Overseas Premium on Rugby Costs

Ben Shenton, writing in the JEP notes that:

One of our weaknesses is that we increasingly lose sight of the fact that we are a small island and this provides limitations. To put it in perspective, Jersey’s population is just over 100,000. Newport, Wales, for example, has a city population of 145,700, an urban population of 306,844, and a catchment area of 1,097,000. 

A catchment population of our size cannot, for example, support a professional Championship rugby team over the very long term without considerable taxpayer funding – this is a reality that many refuse to admit. 

I support Jersey Reds and I believe that what they have achieved has been fantastic, but at some point the politicians need to wake up and smell the coffee. Another £150,000 just to get through the current season is an expensive sticking-plaster. Where is the realistic long-term plan, or genuine acceptance of the sad reality of the situation? Expect grandiose plans that will never amount to anything, and denial until the reality of the situation sinks in.

One thing he also doesn’t mention is that the cost of getting to and from the Island. A professional club in the UK can travel at a fraction of the cost of one in Jersey. Looking at, for example, the “RFU Championship Cup”, which has:

Cornish Pirates v London Irish
Doncaster v Nottingham
Ealing Trailfinders v Richmond
Hartpury College v Bedford
London Scottish v Jersey
Yorkshire Carnegie v Coventry

As the BBC notes of the Cornish Pirates:

“No side on the UK mainland is further away from their nearest rivals than the Penzance-based club and it leads to a unique rugby culture in West Cornwall.”

“The Pirates are 222 miles away from Hartpury - their 'local derby' - although Jersey is geographically closer but their away day to the Channel Islands involves either a flight or a boat trip.”

That's an additional cost, and it would be interesting to see this itemised in any accounts of Jersey Reds.

Monday, 17 December 2018

On Smacking Children

On Smacking in Jersey

There have been a lot of very vague statements about smacking children. For instance Alan Collins, who represents people who were abused in Jersey's care system, said it could have "changed attitudes". And he adds: "Lets say smacking had been outlawed 25 years ago, it's likely those children [who experienced abuse in Jersey's care system] would have been treated differently”. But he is vague as to why except that a culture which allows some physical discipline of children might turn a blind eye to other forms.

And Deputy Mary Le Hergerat, who is bringing the proposition to ban smacking in Jersey says:

‘I know that some people will say that they were smacked when they were young and it didn’t do them any harm, and so they think they have a right to do the same thing to their children,’ Deputy Le Hegarat said. ‘But I would simply question what the benefit is. Who benefits from smacking a child? Certainly not the child, as it doesn’t stop them from doing the same thing again.”

But I think that the focus is too narrow by just making it a matter of “disciplining the child” by smacking, or taking this as “violence against the child”.

Violence Against the Child?

As far as “violence against the child” goes, one would expect any law which bans any form of corporal punishment to allow some legal gradation. For instance, with physical violence directed by one adult against another, there are different kinds of offence: specific offences include common assault, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, and grievous bodily harm with intent. Premeditation must play a part in assessing how any offense could be committed, as well as the severity and circumstances of the act.

As Dr Ashley Frawley, senior lecturer in social policy at Swansea University has noted, to lump all offenses together, and treat smacking the same way, might well actually hide real child abuse. But part of the problem is that the law is already murky. Jersey law states on “Limitation of defence of reasonable corporal punishment”

(1) Any defence of reasonable corporal punishment of a child shall only be available to a person who was at the time of the punishment –
(a) a person with parental responsibility for the child; or
(b) a person without parental responsibility for the child who –
(i) is the father or relative of the child;
(ii) had care of the child; and
(iii) had the consent of a person with parental responsibility for the child to administer such punishment.
(2) Any defence of reasonable corporal punishment of a child shall not be available if the punishment involved any means other than the use of a hand.

As Ann Smith notes in “The State of Research on the Effects of Physical Punishment”:

“Physical or corporal punishment is the use of force to cause pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control (Straus and Stewart 1999). Although researchers attempt to distinguish between physical punishment and abuse, this is very hard to do and there is no general agreement about the dividing line between physical punishment and physical abuse. It is not possible to define what a 'safe smack' is. Abusive and non-abusive parents differ mainly in how often and how severely they physically punish their child, and whether that physical punishment is purportedly for correcting children.”

Our Understanding of the Child

So how can we approach this? Louise Porter, writing in the Australian Journal of Early Childhood, December 2003, in an article entitled “Valuing Children” makes some interesting thought experiments as to how we behave and what our behaviour tells us about how we understand children.

“When I was teaching at university, my students were teachers--many of them early childhood teachers--in graduate programs. At the outset of a lecture on behaviour management, I would ask the group if it would be alright for a caregiver to smack someone who was deliberately spitting food at her during feeding. Admittedly, over the years fewer and fewer said that they would condone smacking--but some always did." 

"Then I clarified that I had not been thinking of a three-year-old spitting the food, but an 83-year-old who had Alzheimers disease. The answer then would unanimously change: it was now not alright for the carer to smack the elderly person. When I asked what was the difference, on one occasion one member of the group said it was because the elder had been a person (but, presumably no longer was!). In other words, a child was not yet a person.”

That’s an interesting distinction, but it does give pause for thought as to how we are understanding children and their development. It stems, she suggests, from a point of view which sees behavioural errors as punishable, and need socialising and discipline (by corporal punishment such as smacking) as a means of behavioural control.

“This view underpins a system of behaviour modification, in which we feel that we must reward children for behaviour of which we approve, as if they will not think to act thoughtfully again; and that we must 'come down hard on them' when they act unkindly, because otherwise they will keep acting that way.”

Teaching Compliance to the Sex Abuser

Louise Porter calls this “a sour view of children”, and says that this leads to assumptions that the goal of discipline is to teach children to be obedient and to comply. When they do not, we often use labels such as 'non compliance' which suggest that children should do as adults tell them.

But, as she goes on to point out, by applying behavioural techniques such as this, we are taking morality out of the equation completely. And this is a real danger when it comes to child abuse. This is backed up by studies of abuse when children have been taught to be compliant in this way:

“Training children to be obedient endangers them because they might not resist abuse--and here I'm thinking mainly of sexual abuse--when they have been taught to do what adults say (Briggs & McVeity, 2000). In the study by Frieda Briggs and Michael McVeity, the researchers interviewed perpetrators of child sexual abuse who were imprisoned for their offences. These researchers asked the perpetrators how they had managed to get away with the abuse; all answered that it had been made possible because children had been trained to do what adults told them.”

And a second issue is that of peer pressure. We all know that bullying is a perennial problem in schools, and by prioritising “compliance” over ethical values because – just as it leads to abused children being compliant to the demands of abusers, it also teaches compliance to the dominant bully:

“Teaching compliance is dangerous for surrounding children as those who have been trained to follow others might collude with school yard bullying when directed to do so by a powerful peer. One-half of school yard bullying could in fact be termed 'mobbing' because it entails a ringleader suggesting to some followers to pick on a child to whom they have taken a dislike. If the followers had the pluck to resist, the ringleader would not have the courage to act alone--and the rate of bullying in schools would halve.”

There is certainly academic evidence that corporal punishment may legitimise violence for children in interpersonal relationships because they tend to internalise the social relations they experience. Children may “model” the behaviour they receive to use on others.

In conclusion

I am not wholly convinced that the case is wholly made against making smacking illegal, as I can see issues over criminalising more minor offenses, but as can be seen above - and I started with an open mind - there are extremely good grounds for adults not smacking children.  

In the context of child abuse, as research on those abused has shown, the issue of teaching compliant behaviour becomes extremely problematic. It is teaching children to obey the abuser or the dominant bully.

What we don’t want is a kind of witch hunt by social workers as has happened in the UK – I'm thinking of  matters like the “satanic ritual abuse panics” – which prioritises the evidence of children complaining about being smacked without corroborative evidence, and ends up removing children from parental care as a result. I don’t think that is so likely but one can never be too sure. And yet lessons have been learned from mistakes made, and I trust to the common sense of our legal system.

It should also be noted that most people comply with the law, as can be seen in the case of the law requiring children to wear safely helmets when cycling. It is almost impossible to police this law effectively, but the fact that we are for the most part a law abiding society, when we can see laws make sense, probably made it a good change to make.

But we should perhaps also consider that a smack is a very restrictive form of discipline in that it can only be used by authorised people, and only by hand. Nevertheless, a hand can be used to punch as well as to smack, and the law could always be even more restrictive in what is meant by reasonable force. What can be a relative soft smack to a five year old can be much harder on a one year old. There are all factors which it would be well to raise.

Also it is clear that any corporal punishment must be contextualised within some kind of ethical developmental framework, so that a child is not just made to be compliant, but is taught why compliance is right in that instance. The absence of that in a lot of corporal punishment means that the wrong message is getting through.

There’s a very telling anecdote in M. Russell’s paper “The Discipline of Children: Alternatives to Smacking, with which I conclude:

“My parents were very strict. I assumed everyone was being brought up the same. You will do as you're told and you won't question. My mother would use the wooden spoon; my father was more into bare hands. There were other things: go to your room, miss out on something. If you were naughty, they almost took it as a personal affront, they just seemed so offended by it, like you were insulting them. I was basically very good and I was hit frequently. I'm sure through being smacked it made me do so silly things without thinking. It made me go out and do the same thing again, what I'd been smacked for. The message I got from them when they hit me was not "what you're doing is bad, don't do it again". The message I got was "we don't love you".