Thursday, 17 December 2009

Somebody else's words this time. On a train journey with a new fangled Blackberry I can get the day's readings on Universalis (now bookmarked) and from here this daily reflection from St John's Abbey - which, through the miracle of technology, prompts me each day via an e-mail to read the update. I share this because I found the message frankly inspiring and worth passing on to others who may have stumbled across this blog.

After years of looking for someone else to blame for all our deficiencies there seems to be more appreciation today of accountability and responsibility. In fact the former word may be in danger of taking its place with other overexposed words like diversity and codependency. This new trend could encourage us to see the value of our life, our words, our example for our family, our friends, our neighborhood, our world. What we do or do not voluntarily do in the way of worship, love, honesty does strengthen or weaken the character, the tone, the texture of the community of which we are part. For our little part of the world and for many people around us we are irreplaceable; without the things we do or say they are diminished. Our lives, words and actions can build up or tear down. Our encouraging words or gestures help someone else through the day -- or the night. Our sympathy and listening tell others they are not alone, have worth. The respectfulness or dignity we bring to what we do helps others believe in the worth of living. What we do in response to our conscience is vital to the world around us and is our way of responding to the call of the Lord in the here and now.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

This Week's Good Cause

Christmas is traditionally seen as a time of goodwill, when we reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves through acts of charity.

Here's a truly worthy cause: one which I am sure no-one could disagree is both heart-warming and certainly in need of our money.

How fitting that the Christmas season is used to make this appeal.

In fact I am more confused than ever. On the one hand we have the foundation which like many of those cult movements which Richard Dawkins denounces, looks to its followers to empty their pockets to promote the fundamentalist anti-theist cause on a wider stage. So it could be a sort of quasi-religious movement.

Or is it simply a clever piece of marketing a la Disney with prospective consumers of the Richard Dawkins "experience" lured into the many books and DVD's via the medium of his website and the Foundation. It looks like it could be just a money-spinner right up there with Snow White and Cinderella. Fantastic!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Saturday, Saturday....

...used to be my favourite day of the week and in some ways it still is. Saturday for the most part is football day. Last night peace descended in our home after the draw for the 2010 World Cup was completed and the conflict of loyalties that my half-English, half-French children have to undergo every time the two countries meet was avoided. The draw itself with its system of seeding backed up by secondary measures to prevent regional imbalance in any particular group is a masterpiece of stage management. Even so we were one ball away from the following group:

Algeria and..........


The considerable baggage of politics as well as football might have left us with not so much a "Group of Death" as a "Group of Shock and Awe". Fortunately the real drama is likely to be played out by Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea. And if North Korea repeat their heroics of 1966 we will have a story on our hands.

Today Charlton face Southend United at home. This ought to be a straightforward 3-points, Southend are trying to compete with a wafer-thin squad and will be visiting on the back of a heavy home defeat by Norwich. Charlton, unbeaten at home, 2nd and riding high after a 2 -0 away win in midweek. What could be easier to predict? Except we Charlton fans are a fatalistic lot so I'm going for a draw.

I ought to keep up a pretty consistent record of attendance at the Valley this year except my daughter wishes to join today's Climate Change protest and there is all round agreement that maybe a little discreet adult presence - just in case - would be in order. So the Red and White apparel of match days may need to give way to something blue should I have to go green.

Option A then Charlton, Option B somewhere in London......... and if both fail then it may be Christmas Shopping at Bluewater................. On second thoughts, say no to CO2.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Parents off the Hook

A post with a longer gestation period than usual. Which means that it is rather less topical when I first thought about writing it. But the fact I am not quick witted or articulate enough to commit cyber-ink to cyber-paper should not be an impediment to saying anything.

The latest campaign from Richard Dawkins marketing wing is a full-on plea to parents, teachers and others with responsibility for bringing up and educating our children not to "indoctrinate" them with our own values. Instead we should let them choose for themselves. The spirit of this idea seems very sixties to me. I have this vague memory that there were schools then where outmoded ideas like "lessons" or discipline were seen as unhelpful in a child's development. So they were allowed to do pretty much as they liked. Not suprisingly they chose to run riot.

As a parent I am relieved I did not see this poster about 12 years ago. Then I would have faced a real dilemma. Bring them up as catholics (as I did). Or listen to the wise counsel of Richard Dawkins and keep them away from religion. The problem is that would have opened up a series of difficult questions as to what I should say. What moral compass should I equip them with? Christianity strikes me such a good way to provide children with some standards with which to grow up I fear that any alternative would smack of improvisation. I mean don't steal and don't murder are a bit Old Testament. Perhaps: if you must steal or generally create mayhem, at least don't get caught.

Last week was inter-faith week. I had the privilege of attending a work-based "event" at which a number of speakers from different religious traditions talked about how their faith informed their approach to working life. Among them was a humanist who gave a good account of the humanist perspective about how we should give of our best in this life as its the only one we have. But more strikingly as I listened to the accounts of those with faith - and in particular a Sikh - I was impressed by the thought that the journey we are on to make sense of this world and to connect with God really is a universal one.

Richard Dawkins and other anti-theists wish to win a people for science and rationalism. But I believe the price we would pay for their "victory" is a moral vacuum. And how would that vacuum be filled? Whilst we should stand behind our own beliefs I also think that we should not be afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with other faith communities and decry this latest campaign for what it is: dangerous nonsense which undermines our role as parents and creates far more problems than it would ever solve. Religions across the world are at heart about our relationship not just with God but with one another too, and whilst they are prone to fall into the hands of those who will distort and pervert religion for more secular ends, the basic tenets of religious faith provide us with far more by way of a toolkit for life than science. And so it is a wonderful way of helping our children understand their place in the world.

One last thought: the Dawkins marketing department obviously aren't parents. The average child having been brought up in a faith-based environment, far from becoming a fully fledged and deluded theist, has a tendency to push back at everything that parental authority can muster by the time they reach their mid-teens. A far more effective poster would have insisted that parents do label their kids; and then left the kids to give their response.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Better off on our own?

On the way in to work yesterday I took a few seconds out from reading the paper to take in what my fellow commuters were up to. We were reading books, papers, e-mail on our Blackberries. Or we were texting, taking calls on our mobiles or taking in a film, playing on hand-held game consoles. In short we were carrying in our hands life-lines to a world of choice: work, friends or just their own personal space.
When we get off the train, we continue to simply inter-act with the world until it meets all our needs. And our world seems to me to offer this gratification as never before. On the way in to work there are dozens of food outlets where I can choose from numerous different varieties of coffee, have an English or Continental Breakfast or something entirely different altogether. At lunch its Italian, Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Fusion,Vegetarian, Low-fat, Gluten-free: I want it, I can get it. Ten years ago if I wanted to buy a CD I might go to the town and scour the shops to see if it was in stock. If it wasn't I had to order it or - most likely - go to London. No need now: if I want the product, I can order it on-line; if I want to experience the music I just log on to Last FM and listen; or download it. Same too with books and films.
And if I do want to go to a shop I can now do so virtually 24 hours a day courtesy of the local supermarket. Sunday no longer presents an obstacle to my shopping fix either. I am naturally outraged that some stick-in-the-mud people restrict my Sunday shopping to between the hours of 10 and 4 but I guess that leaves a bit of time to just chill. And boy can I do that. Satellite television caters for my every need - football or film mostly but if the urge takes me I can watch repeats of Who Wants to be a Millionaire or America's Next Top Model.
In short I can now design my own world and have it to conform to all my preferences. I can read the news when I want - I can even have it sent to my mobile if I prefer. Mass media communications are increasingly designed to fit the person. And if I wish to respond then the same digital media opportunities present themselves - Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and so on.
In this world where our own desires can be so readily gratified the question that came into my head was this: why should anyone feel the need for God? When the world can meet all your everyday needs and more why think about the transcendent? And just as that thought of why bother goes through your mind along comes a bendy-bus saying "There probably isn't a God so enjoy life". So its not so much a case of "Is there a God" as: well, even if there is does it matter? We're doing perfectly well without God, without religion; we have our laptops and our i-Pods. We have on-line shops and real shops. We have the world at our finger-tips on Facebook. Show me where God is in all this. There is no evidence, after all, that even if there is a God that it affects me personally, is there?
So, one by one, the light switch is being turned as more of us recognise that we can do perfectly well without God. Both from a personal perspective and from that of society as a whole. And for those of us resolved to keep the switch s firmly "On" what are we to say who have set the switch in the "Off" or "Couldn't Care Less" mode.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Why I am a Christian

It is simple as this. I get up at 6:30am. Off to the study for 10 minutes reflection and prayer. Each day, I log on to the laptop and go to the Universalis for the day's readings and I find this.

Luke 17:7-10 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty".

Everyday I make a living in London. The "real world" perhaps. And there are thousands of books out there on how to work, to lead others and to survive or succeed in that environment. Which of them can sustain us better than those few verses from St.Luke's gospel. Just wonderful.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Competition time

With the candles still warm from Hallow'een and the fireworks still unlit a reminder that Christmas is not far off greeted me yesterday at my local Tesco. A huge decorated tree greets shoppers and reminds us that there can barely be 50 shopping days left till Christmas.
I will be keeping an eye out for the Christmas gift idea or product that seems most utterly at odds with the Christian notion of Christmas but is nevertheless offered as a serious suggestion. Hot off the blocks is "The Atheist Guide to Christmas" which is so disappointing because it persists only with the notion that there is probably no God. Have these people lost the courage of their convictions? Just too wet to be taken seriously.
An early front-runner therefore is the Waitrose Food and Home Direct Catalogue (free). This offers seasonal and other fare to would-be entertainers in ready and convenient form. At a price. 15 iced cupcakes at £10.50. 12 afternoon biscuits at £15. Or for Christmas day itself how about mashed potato at £5.50 for 4 or Roast potatoes at £5? Wouldn't we better advised to use our money on something that is more in keeping with the spirit of the season. On somebody in need for instance? Food for thought....

Monday, 2 November 2009

Losing my Religion......

..."That's me in the corner"

If its not already obvious, this blog is written by someone who knows more about balance sheets and football than they do about religion. I do take an interest but I do so without any particular training beyond reading the odd book aimed at a wider readership: Abbot Christopher Jamison or Karen Armstrong, for example; New Directions from cover to cover, obviously; and blogs like Damian Thompson or Ruth Gledhill. I make study of the scriptures a daily habit and they still have the habit of beating the rest hands down.

...."Trying to keep up with you"

But I am no theological heavyweight (or for that matter, featherweight). I am probably much the same as the average church-goer: not ignorant by any means but certainly lacking the
knowledge of someone who feels they have much to offer the debate about the Holy Father's recent announcement of full Communion for disaffected Anglicans. So like the rest of us in the pews, I will listen closely to the debate, to the guidance of our bishops and priests; and above all hope to be guided by the Holy Spirit. But.........

...."Consider this..."

Wikipedia says that "Anglo Catholics believe is fiercely debated, even among Anglo Catholics themselves. " Perhaps that explains the mind-boggling number of Anglo-Catholic "traditions" in the world today. And nowhere is Wikipedia's observation more evident than on the blogs, websites and forums where the future of Anglo-Catholicism is discussed. It isn't just Roman Catholics and Liberal Anglicans expressing scepticism about the nature of these proposals or dismissing this as a move that will change very little. Quite often the controversy is between Anglo Catholics.

For what its worth, this may be the time when the luxury of internal dissent is one that should be put aside; for all Anglo-Catholics to ask themselves the question: what are we for, if anything. Having done so we can at least begin to consider future, not as a loose alliance of Christians but as a group with far more in common than what divides us. Because far from thinking that very little will change I think Anglo-Catholicism could be squeezed out of existence, caught between the pull of Anglicanism on the one hand and the Roman Catholic church on the other. I believe the future is far healthier if Anglo-Catholics consider our response to the Holy Father and to our longer term future as a corporate group.

Because what really is the future otherwise? Some will stay put, others will move to Rome. But overall we may end up even more fragmented than we are now. Whatever critical mass there is now will be lost, probably for good. That really would be tragic

The Holy Father's has offered a way ahead for Anglo Catholicism. Whatever our response, I pray that its a single response.

"....I've said too much"

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Losing my Religion......

...."That's me in the corner"

If its not already obvious, this blog is written by someone who knows more about balance sheets and football than they do about religion. I do take an interest but I do so without any particular training beyond reading the odd book aimed at a wider readership: Abbot Christopher Jamison or Karen Armstrong, for example; New Directions from cover to cover, obviously; and blogs like Damian Thompson or Ruth Gledhill. I make study of the scriptures a daily habit and they still have the habit of beating the rest hands down.

...."Trying to keep up with you"

But I am no theological heavyweight (or for that matter, featherweight). I am probably much the same as the average church-goer: not ignorant by any means but certainly lacking the
knowledge of someone who feels they have much to offer the debate about the Holy Father's recent announcement of full Communion for disaffected Anglicans. So like the rest of us in the pews, I will listen closely to the debate, to the guidance of our bishops and priests; and above all hope to be guided by the Holy Spirit. But.........

...."Consider this..."

Wikipedia says that "Anglo Catholics believe is fiercely debated, even among Anglo Catholics themselves. " Perhaps that explains the mind-boggling number of Anglo-Catholic "traditions" in the world today. And nowhere is Wikipedia's observation more evident than on the blogs, websites and forums where the future of Anglo-Catholicism is discussed. It isn't just Roman Catholics and Liberal Anglicans expressing scepticism about the nature of these proposals or dismissing this as a move that will change very little. Quite often the controversy is between Anglo Catholics.

For what its worth, this may be the time when the luxury of internal dissent is one that should be put aside; for all Anglo-Catholics to ask themselves the question: what are we for, if anything. Having done so we can at least begin to consider future, not as a loose alliance of Christians but as a group with far more in common than what divides us. Because far from thinking that very little will change I think Anglo-Catholicism could be squeezed out of existence, caught between the pull of Anglicanism on the one hand and the Roman Catholic church on the other. I believe the future is far healthier if Anglo-Catholics consider our response to the Holy Father and to our longer term future as a corporate group.

Because what really is the future otherwise? Some will stay put, others will move to Rome. But overall we may end up even more fragmented than we are now. Whatever critical mass there is now will be lost, probably for good. That really would be tragic

The Holy Father's has offered a way ahead for Anglo Catholicism. Whatever our response, I pray that its a single response.

"....I've said too much"

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Ours is a mixed house in more ways than one. For the purpose of this posting its about faith and in particular the challenges of being an Anglican married to a Roman Catholic and reconciling what appears to be the irreconcilable. Our children were baptised Roman Catholics, attended a Roman Catholic school, took their first holy communion at the local Roman Catholic church and in time were confirmed there too. To say that their attendance since has been a tad more erratic would be an understatement. But I have never thought ours was anything but the right decision.
And as a couple in spite of a good deal of mutual accommodation the fact of the matter is that we have always sensed that barriers existed. Some of them we might have put there in our minds but it is no more than reality that an Anglican like myself does not take holy communion in a Roman Catholic church. So whilst the church and its people in both churches have always been very welcoming there is always a slight sense of one of us standing outside the community.
On Tuesday the Holy Father's generous offer of full Communion for disaffected Anglicans may have opened the door for a coming together that I could scarcely have dreamed of even a few months ago. As an Anglo-Catholic I think the advice that we make this a time of quiet reflection and prayer to be the right one. But right now the positives seem to be safely outweighing the negatives.
And by the happiest of coincidences last night we were visited by Fr.Ivan as part of a Programme of Parish Visits with the theme of A Wave of Prayer. Fr.Ivan brought with him an icon of Our Lady which remains with us until it is passed on, like a relay baton to the next visit, creating a wave of prayer across the parish. So it was for a wonderful couple of hours Roman Catholic and Anglican were in the same place, our home blessed both by prayer and a sense that a divide may be coming down. Think globally, act locally is maxim used a lot in the business world. For a while last night the two came together.

Sunday, 18 October 2009


A funny old weekend. I managed to attend the first part of a very uplifting and successful Walsingham Day at Saint John's on Saturday; was cheered by Charlton's return to the top of League 1 on Saturday afternoon -  before writing off my computer keyboard when I emptied the contents of a glass of beer on it in the evening. Heigh ho.

I seem to have spent a lot of time at the keyboard not least because I have a huge amount of various business and volunteering-related  stuff  to do, most of it involving tax returns and Excel spreadsheets. At such times I need distractions and the internet comes up trumps. I got drawn in to a various interesting discussion piece on Father Ed's blog about his appearance on the front page of the Tunbridge Wells Courier.
The origin of the piece was an earlier posting on his blog about the increasingly secular content of funeral services ("My Way" by Frank Sinatra, etc, etc) and Fr.Ed's piece lamented the passing of yet another area of Christianity from people's everyday lives. The tone of the offending blog item was characteristically unambiguous and it was perhaps the absence of the "on the one hand...........but on the other...." that is expected of our clergy that it came in for a bit of a hatchet job from the local paper. The suggestion was that it was rather insensitive to say such things in a time of family grief.  Needless to say the local Humanist rep felt it necessary to put the boot in.  I would reflect that a priest expressing views about  the Christian faith ought not be seen as worthy of  front page news and I hope that this incident does nothing to dilute future content of Fr.Ed's blog.  
From time to time I pitch in with a Christian perspective to an atheist forum. I do so secure in the knowledge that such interventions are likely to attract a  bit of flack. However tonight I received a response to an earlier contribution to a debate on science and religion  that was quite unequivocal about my mental health (Christian = Deluded/Mad/Crazed etc, etc). By any standards of civilised debate, it was not measured. It was a hate and anger filled rant that made me wonder who the real "Fundamentalists" are. 
 It will hardly be headline news but I am increasingly begging to  recognise that my faith is under real attack. Unless something happens and soon the triumph of liberal secularism/atheism/Dawkinsism  is not a question of if but when. That is a real threat to the church. In particular I see real dangers for the Church of England as it attempts to tackle its many internal divisions. Time to put away the Vicar of Dibley, Derek Nimmo and the eccentric/harmless stereotypes with which it is associated in the popular mind. It is really time to recognise that the church's very survival is at stake.  

Friday, 2 October 2009

Being a Parent

This past week I have been trying earnestly to ensure that daily life is better underpinned by prayer and the scriptures. Its part of trying to live my faith a bit more fully. Not always a success but I'll keep persevering. 
Whilst without a bit of expert help I find the scriptures anything but easy to work out,  part of today's reading from St Mark was anything but.    “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” That  struck a chord coming as it did at the end of the week when we have faced some difficult challenges about our relationships with children and the way they are raised today.
Yesterday the horrific details of a convicted paedophile ring came out in court. A couple of days earlier the  suicides of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca were equally shocking reading, primarily because the culprits were teenage kids allowed full licence to roam and create mayhem by their parents and the local community. Today the conviction of five youths for the murder of a 65 year old man who confronted a gang who happened to be destroying his garden fence continues the run of shocking stories. How can the parents of children who are paedophiles, members of feral gangs or just simply sociopathic live with themselves. Equally are they now  asking themselves where it all went wrong?
As a parent I know how challenging raising children can be. It is a constant series of judgements aimed at striking the right balance between letting your child take decisions for themselves whilst protecting them the worst the world can throw at  them; giving them space to develop relationships among their peer group whilst keeping them rooted in preparing them for the rigours of the adult world; setting boundaries for them without attempting to put them into a straitjacket. Its not just children either that need help. Being a parent is also an educative process. 
The stories of the past week are grotesque and not typical of the everyday story of raising children as experienced in most households. But I see little evidence that these stories will never be repeated again.   Child abuse is shocking but abusive children are surely no more acceptable. I see a case for taking a long hard look at our values as a society in raising children. Jesus has set the bar impossibly high but we now live in a  secular society. So those who believe they have more to offer in terms of moral leadership need to engage in  some serious rethinking around where we are now. And to kick off, parenting and childcare in particular needs to be seen for what it really is - stewardship of the most precious assets of our world. If that basic proposition can be accepted then it is starter for creating a culture where we value the value of parents and genuinely support them in getting on top of a really tough job.


Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Riches of Embarrassments

A day when temptation got the better of me. 

Some time ago I joined the MP3 generation. My i-pod is a constant companion and my computers all contain seriously large quantities of music culled from CD's, downloads and the like. The most notable absentee has been the music held on my even more serious collection of LP's. That's just been collecting dust in a cupboard, resisting the switch to the joys of our digital age.

That is, until today. I was on my way back to the station when I passed Maplin Electronics in the Strand.  I had a few minutes to kill so I thought I'd have a quick look round. In a second I spotted it. A thing of beauty: an ion USB turntable. And nearly half price to boot. For those of my loyal readers this is a record deck which can be connected to a USB port on your computer. It  includes  software that allows old scratchy analogue recordings (even 78's) to be converted to an MP3 file. And the software, moreover, incorporates facilities that allows you to  edit out some of the noise and scratches that appear on even the most carefully looked after LP (and mine assuredly are not).

So to work. Straight off the blocks came a classic not heard in years: Simple Minds New Gold Dream, to be followed by Spirit of '76 by Spirit and maybe the Best of UB40 or Kimono my House by Sparks.  A nostalgia packed evening in short. There were teething problems to be sure. To begin with the software does not automatically "clock" the gaps between tracks: you have to do that yourself. Secondly I discovered the whole process has to be done in silence. As I rolled back the years with Simple Minds' "Someone Somewhere in Summertime" the  parallel conversation I was having with my wife about bringing in the washing came through loud and clear.  So that was one particular "remix"  despatched  straight to the delete bin.

The third problem is less one of teething. In 40 years I think its fair to say that my taste in music has been prone to some serious lapses in taste. These will return to haunt me in the weeks to come.  I am already asking myself what it was about the Police's "Ghost in the Machine" that could have persuaded me to part with my hard earned money. Other similar horrors lie in wait............

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


There are some days when you know that reading the main news is going to be hard work. So it was today with the item on Baby P and in particular the story of their abusive parents, Tracey Connolly and Steven Barker. There is plenty of coverage in the paper about the events leading up to the dreadful abuse and eventual death of a defenceless child; the appalling rape of a toddler of which Barker was also found guilty and the early warnings that were not heeded about the sadistic nature of Barker and his brother, allegedly torturing their 82 year old grandmother in order to change her will in their favour.  
I find it easier not to rationalise these acts in any way other than that they are both evil in intent and totally inhuman in their execution. Perhaps that I might take comfort in the thought that they are not "one of us" and that the best solution for us is their incarceration for life. Key thrown away. No parole. Kept away from all decent society. Then the question crosses my mind: perhaps they, like everyone else can be redeemed, to understand and acknowledge the enormity of what they have done and seek forgiveness. So: should society be trying to rehabilitate and repair;  or should we simply be kept safe from the risk that they could just as easily do it again. I really do not have a clue.  

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Hold the front page

Sometimes I feel sorry for those in authority. Swine flu for example. At present (close to, if not in the silly season) the UK media  needs the current epidemic to be a "story". There are just two angles with one common conclusion. Angle one is that the Government is not doing enough and the fabric of the nation is falling apart as bodies pile up on the streets. Angle two is that the Government has completely over-reacted throwing scarce resources at a non-event, presumably to take our minds off Afghanistan, the economy or the Norwich by-election. The one conclusion is that they are incompetent and the sooner they allow the nation to judge their performance, the better. The resulting  General Election or change of leader would be a really good story- one  which would keep the papers in readers for  months.
But its not all bad either. In today's Independent this article by Christina Patterson brought a smile.  It  prompted the hope that the recent and current turmoil in the CofE is resolved in a way that leaves the national treasure described in this article substantially in place. It should be required reading by all who have a part to play in tackling the current difficulties over women bishops, gay priests and so on. It should remind everyone that a healthy, tolerant and inclusive church need have no fear of making proper provision for those who believe that the catholic traditions of the CofE need to be sustained through a period of change. It also should prompt the question: if the religious impulse described in the article is here to stay, how can the church engage those who acknowledge the impulse but who are doing "something else" on Sunday? 

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Cause for Alarm

I fear I may be developing an unhealthy obsession with matters atheist. It doesn't help that last week's Sunday  Times carried a story about Atheist summer camps. The story at first stirred memories of my own boyhood when I was despatched three times to "Champs Camps" a Christian camping retreat in which wholesome outdoor activities were interspersed with prayers, bible readings, music and in particular blood-curdling stories about what awaited us if we did not repent and turn to Jesus. Most of us did although the effects were short-lived.  And most (myself included) soon returned to more pressing matters like girls, cigarettes, beer and Led Zeppelin.  In some ways it was like all holiday experiences: great while you are there since there's an opportunity to get away from day to day life, but quickly forgotten once reality rears its ugly head. 
The Sunday Times article says that the atheist organisers are keen to  offer a robust alternative to what has traditionally been a faith based activity. To help young adults think for themselves rather than swallow religious fairy stories. Perhaps they were on to something? So I started to worry until I began to read about the camp-fire songs. First one up is John Lennon's Imagine. 
Now apart from believing that this piece of saccharin  may be about the most overrated song ever the video is something else. John (with Yoko to hand) sings "Imagine no possessions" at a large white piano. In a very large room. In a very big house. His house. John Lennon without possessions? Er, lets move on from that shall we? Now its time for "Imagine no religion". Please sir, does this mean the same as imagining no possessions?
That said,   the church does need to avoid the temptation to allow  itself to be drawn into doing a topical "flavour of the month" pitch to gain worshippers; to get down with the kids to attract the young. It frankly looks ridiculous. I think the church has so much more to offer if it sticks to its core values, the things that inspire and takes people from the "pleasures" of this world and offers a real and profound alternative.  
Young people aren't stupid and they do think for themselves. They deserve to have something to think about.   

Friday, 26 June 2009

Where Was I?

..Aimlessly trawling the web when up popped the item on the BBC website as Breaking News. Michael Jackson rushed to hospital.
I immediately switched on to News 24 as the story developed with reports of him being taken to hospital unconscious and not breathing to hospital slowly but surely became confirmation of his death at 50 from cardiac arrest. Time will tell whether like JFK and Princess Diana I can remember where I was when I first heard the news but increasingly these days the answer to the question is: glued to a rolling 24 hour news channel. 
I have long since ceased to have any interest in Michael Jackson as a musician. His legacy is two absolute 24-carat gold albums, Off the Wall and Thriller, a string of great singles with the Jackson 5 and I gather an awesome live show although I never saw him perform. In truth I think after Thriller we got into very rapidly diminishing returns. Bad was a so-so retread of Thriller, Dangerous a so-so retread of Bad and so on. But even that as a legacy is more than most musicians manage and I hope it is this for which he is remembered. 
Is it too much to hope that the music business, the media circus and perhaps those who take  a particular delight in reading about the private lives of others take the opportunity to reflect on fame and the price the famous pay for it. Can anyone say that for all his millions they would really like to have swapped places with him? And assuming the answer is a resounding no perhaps the next steps is to consider those other recent victims of their celebrity - Britney Spears and Susan Boyle spring to mind  - and to ask what can be done to prevent another tragedy?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Good News

Some rather good news today.

As one who cannot get enough of the stuff but who in their mid-50's believes that maybe the time had come to settle for Wincarnis (do they still make it), sensible salads  and Werther's Toffees comes this story.  It reassures me that those nights in my youth spent hitting the Chicken Madras after the pub were doing me good.

Sometimes things come together rather  well. Next to my regular and really wonderful place of worship at St John's Sevenoaks is my allotment and next to that a great Indian restaurant, the Banana Leaf. The ideal weekend would  involve a visit to all three. What is even better is that the spiritual nourishment and physical exercise I get at the first two is officially supplemented by health benefits from the third. 

For once the news gives me cause to smile.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Where Angels Fear to Tread

This week as a kind of personal dare I have signed up to an unfamilar internet forum, an atheist one. Its an interest because somehow I have felt the need to explore the limits of my own faith and to understand the views of those totally opposed to mine. And boy are they different: unreconstructed Dawkinists everyone of them, articulate, smart (smarter than me at least) and passionate about their subject.  
Its been instructive I think. The fact that a Christian - and in my case a pretty poor one - would stick their head over the parapet was cause for cordiality followed pretty swiftly by a barrage of  very searching challenges and questions. Whilst there was hostility there has been a resolve on all parts to try and keep the debate respectful. 
And  it has been worth it.  To begin with I was not alone in terms of fellow Christians who believe we should stand up for what we think.  I found some of their postings extremely  insightful. And it helped me too.  Since the first sign of evasiveness or woolliness was pounced on with glee it helped me to really get my head round what my faith was about and why it was such an important part of my life.  Far from talking me out of Christianity I fear they have helped me take a further step in the right direction. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Out of Order

One week further on and the latest revelations from Parliament keep coming. Takes our minds off  swine influenza I suppose although it also helps me forget there's another round of elections next month.  Of course I must vote but it will be for the least bad rather than the best candidate/party on offer I suspect. 
The picture is the late Phil Silvers in the role for which he is best remembered: Bilko. Bilko ran scams that make some of our MP's look like amateurs although they invariably backfired on him by the end of the show. The morality and standards of the age dictated that crime should not pay and so in the Phil Silvers show it did not.
Few MP's can now believe that the creative and innovative approaches they took to their expenses were worth it. Whilst the disclosures in the Telegraph were necessary  they have proved damaging.  Like the banking system once the hue and cry has settled some positive changes to the system of MP's remuneration will be necessary. It should be an opportunity to take a harder look at what we ask of our MP's and so come up with something that will encourage those with a wish to enter Parliament appropriate and proper incentives to do so. A quick shopping list suggests:
- A decent salary. £65000 is not enough. An article in last weeks Times said that might be about £25k light. That seems a lot closer to a fair wage given the responsibilities we place on our MP's;
- A substantial reduction in the number of MP's to finance the  salary increase above. I'd suggest say 200 off the current cohort of 650 or so. A good saving on the public purse (maybe £50m) which could more than fund increased MP's salaries and pay  for our hospital chaplains, thus keeping the National Secular Society happy.  All round this seems to be a much better use of  public money;
- e-enablement of Parliament. Is it necessary that we drag MP's out of their constituencies to be lured into the temptations of the Westminster village? Do they actually have to be in and around the house as much as they are? For some debates surely it is not beyond the wit of someone to provide a facility for on-line voting. For some meetings video conferencing would surely be a good substitute for being there in person. I am not saying IT is the answer to everything (for example, Ministers would still need to be in London)  but it should be available to allow some MP's to spend more time in their constituencies - and with their families. It would also save some money.   e-enablement would also have benefits on Parliamentary demographics - people who felt unable to commit to living away from home would be able to do so much easier.
I think that's a few starters for ten. 


Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Am I alone in thinking that these days the freedoms we take for granted are under threat. Not as a result of some later day Orwellian totalitarian police state but rather as a result of  a succession of rather mean spirited and more trivial restrictions.  Nanny state stuff. Smoking bans, responsible drinking campaigns, CCTV cameras and so on. All of it possibly with some merit but sometimes perhaps enforced disproportionately. 
But in a development reminiscent of Passport to Pimlico (from which the still above is taken) comes this really heartening snub to the massed ranks of petty officialdom. Its  concerns the story of a pub in Barnsley that claims to have found a loophole in the smoking ban.  By designating a separate room as a "Smoking Research Centre", they then invite customers desirous of a cigarette with their pint to first complete a survey which  asks them about their smoking habits post the ban. Having done so they can then have then have their nicotine and alcohol fix. Custom at the pub - which was struggling and up for sale - has soared. 
I think this is a brilliant and enterprising initiative, the British at their best. Suffice to say the forces of petty officialdom in the form of the Local Authority are winding up for a swift and decisive counter-offensive to put paid to this impertinence.  Shame! Killjoys!!
Margaret Rutherford, Stanley Holloway: where are you when we need you?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Its the paperwork.....

Being self employed has some things to commend it. In particular I am pleased to have dispensed with the pretence that the organisation I work for is wonderful, has a mission and strategy that I believe in wholeheartedly  and that their values are my values. In the end its a job of work. If I do it well then the client is happy: if not, they can show me the door.  Somehow that seems a better way of working, free of the office politics and all the other baggage that comes with being a corporate animal.
But it has its drawbacks: the paperwork, the tax returns and the taxes themselves. Once the government have got the income tax, the national insurance, the employer's NI and VAT out of me they have done far better out of it than I have. However I feel very fortunate to be working at a difficult time for the economy. So I happily render unto Gordon that which is Gordon's. 
Had I known that quite a lot of the rendering was going to be more unto  MP's themselves than  I might do  so a bit more grudgingly.  Its not the money itself that is the problem rather the conduct of MP's from whom we might expect better standards of conduct. Surely the noble calling to public office should not be devalued by the kind of naked self interest so evidently displayed by MP's on their expense claims. What example does that set to the rest of us?
There is a pressure group called "None of the Above" who believe that we should be allowed to tell politicians just what we think of them by positively voting for none of them. If we had an election tomorrow I am sure that the "None..." party would have a landslide on its hands.  

Friday, 8 May 2009

Who's fault is it anyway?

 An excellent piece in Thursday's Times by Daniel Finkelstein sums up better my thoughts on our current public finances than I could ever say myself.  Its here out of interest.  What is particularly striking is that the latest drive on reducing public spending  suggests that vast sums can be saved simply by making central government more efficient. That is doubtful. Of course there is scope to do better and get more bangs out of the taxpayers  buck but there is a myth that public sector land  is some sort of haven for the idle, with huge salaries, two hour lunch breaks for all and only the occasional inconvenient interruption when mandarins have  to  spoil an otherwise agreeable afternoon supping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches to deal with affairs of state.  In truth the public sector is a place where people work hard and  where the myth of "jobs for life" is just that: a myth. The low hanging fruit of easy efficiency gains have long since been picked and what is left will be modest in scale and something of an uphill struggle for those left to deliver it. 
For my vast army of readers I'll offer two suggestions for getting public finance back under control. Under this government there has been a proliferation of independent or quasi-independent organisations set up to deliver some aspect of government policy. I believe many - each with their own boards, accountabilities, and internal mini-bureaucracies are a luxury we cannot afford. A very quick and wide-ranging cull is needed. That doesn't necessarily mean putting a stop to the function but just merging it into the work of another organisation. Secondly I believe that what makes good politics (short term, expedient, media friendly)  can be the enemy of sound stewardship of public money.  All too often hapless officials are expected to justify decisions which in all honesty were not really theirs but those of their political masters.   This is not about clobbering Ministers.  By contrast I think there is a wider issue about managing our own expectations of what governments of whatever political persuasion can really do and whether the only response to some media outcry is to throw money (our money) at it. It all goes back to the Daniel Finkelstein article: we are the ones who have created the mess but when are we going to accept some responsibility for the mess we're in? 

Sunday, 3 May 2009

To sung mass at 10:00am - I failed hopelessly to organise myself for the normal 8:00am. As it was I was able to listen to a very uplifting homily about Jesus the shepherd and us as his sheep. I am resolved to be a better, God-centred  and more joyful sheep as a consequence. 
Joyful and sheep was the theme for the middle part of the day as I took advantage of a free ticket to join 22,000 other sheep to watch Charlton's last game in the Championship - for a while at least. There had been talk before the game of a demonstration after the match to show the club Board what we thought of them. Frankly the performances on the pitch over the season as a whole merited nothing less. But a glorious spring day, a 4-2 win (which sent the opposition down with us) meant that any thoughts of protest soon evaporated in the warm sunshine. We were happy bunnies.
After a week of flu scares and  wavering governments  it is good to sit here with a glass of Jameson's,  the wonderful Amiina playing in the background, laughter upstairs as my son's darts evening with his mates moves towards a pulsating climax and the prospect of a day off tomorrow on what promises to be yet another beautiful spring day. Does it get better than this? Probably not.  Reality will intrude soon enough and in ways which are unwelcome. But for now I am, as they say, seizing the moment.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Peace Prize

Sunday morning always starts early and in particular starts with  Sunday, Radio 4's weekly religious magazine. Today's programme picked up on the item that was doing the rounds before Easter about the funding of hospital chaplains by the NHS. The National Secular Society were protesting that such support was not a proper charge on the public purse. The costs, they argue,  should instead be borne by churches and individual patients exercising  personal choice. Costs UK wide are said to be around £31m although workings on the back of a few backs of fag packets have the figure as high as £44m. Thats quite a lot of  nurses, so the argument goes. And nurses are surely a better use of £30 - 40m than the chaplaincy. Enter the Taxpayers Alliance (Daily Mail with attitude) who, like the NSS,  believe this money could be better spent (or, I suspect, preferably not spent at all).
The work of hospital chaplains  is not an area that I know much about. It seems to me that when you are at a low ebb health wise (ie wondering whether you are actually going to get through this crisis)  some sort of spiritual support would be of great comfort. And I believe many are comforted this way.  But equally if I was say Richard Dawkins or Ricky Gervais, committed atheists both,   I might resent the intrusion. 
But this whole episode leaves a nasty taste. The NSS is being manipulative. If they believed their arguments stood up why come out with this research just before Easter?  I'd conclude that it was a spoiling tactic designed to catch the attention of the UK  media to the fact that they are still around at a time when we would otherwise forget about them .  Why get into bed with the Taxpayer's Alliance who have a very different agenda (and who frankly would be better advised to focus more attention on far worse examples of  taxpayer waste). And finally why try and persuade us that they are highly principled sweetness and reason itself, all about human rights  (everyone has the right to a religion or not to have one) and then focus on hospital chaplains as an example of religious privilege. The NSS agenda is dishonest. Like the BNP they would have us believe its about protecting the rights of all. They do not: the NSS want to eradicate religion.    

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Valley of Gloom

Tomorrow's Championship fixtures sees the now  doomed Charlton team visit the side    one place above them in the table, Southampton. Southampton still have a good chance of surviving the drop but the news for their fans this week of the decision to put the clubs parent company into adminstration will mean that there will be all round gloom and despondency at St Mary's.
Until recently both sides were in the top tier of English football. Charlton's collapse has been spectacular, Southampton's less so but with both clubs struggling financially the outcome for both is likely to be the same. Administration may also prompt the Football League to impose a 10-point penalty on the hapless Saints, a fact that would make an early return to the Championship all the more difficult.

The economics of football has been the subject of much media coverage,  even books. What is undoubtedly true is that the game seems at one level to be a huge success story. Our big 4 (Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal) do well in Europe and are able to flex financial muscle to attract stars from across the world to play in England. Premiership sides generally benefit from the rights money paid by Sky and others to compete for star names and more importantly to attract new owners to invest (or lend) significant money as a route to success. Just below the top 4 there is a clutch of 4-6 teams close to competing for the top prizes - notably Aston Villa, Manchester City , Everton and Tottenham.  Their natural place tends to be the UEFA cup and semi-finals/losing finalists of domestic competitions but the challenge is developing. 

The galaxy of star players on view combined with the frantic pace and  rather greater degree of unpredictability of English football  means that the Premiership's attractions are no longer confined to England. It is truly a mass global product, happily consumed in China and Malaysia  as well as it is in Europe. 

But beyond the glitz I believe the game is less healthy.   For years we have prided ourselves on our achievement of having 92 professional teams in 4 divisions; a game in which teams like little Wimbledon can have a tilt at the top; in which the smaller clubs could survive by supplementing match day income and other local fundraising initiatives through the sale of promising players to teams in the higher divisions. That model still exists but now takes it place alongside the market place that exists world wide for players to ply their trade in the Premiership. Europe and Africa now represent a wider catchment area for talent scouts and that shows in the starting line up of a number of Premiership teams, notably Arsenal. 

Alongside that is the issue of player power. This is not the sort of player power that simply dictates how Directors and Managers  run the club (although it can result in the unseating of a manager) but is more about the leverage they can exercise over contracts. The fact is that clubs either meet the asking price or lose the player to their rivals. This  has resulted in the phenomenon of players income becoming the predominantly major part of a club's outlay. Some have a wages policy which ensures that no more than a given percentage of income goes out in players wages. But it is not always the case and for some clubs upwards of 80%, even 90% is going straight from the Tv companies and turnstiles into players' pockets.  The well publicised saga of Kaka's transfer suggested his contract would have been worth £500k per week. That was exceptional although many of our top earners will be negotiating contracts worth up to £150k per week. This probably several times more than many of the fans who turn up to watch (and who thus help contribute to their wages) will earn in a year. 

Sky have undoubtedly done most to create this wage inflation. There is growing awareness of the phenomenon and even a website which challenges whether the trend is good for the game 
What is undoubtedly true is that to compete in this League everyone in the Premiership has to pay its players Premiership wages. That's Ok so long as the club is in the Premiership. Unfortunately each season 3 clubs are relegated into the Championship. That means that  significant losses of rights money take place and a club has to retrench financially. Many clubs like Charlton and Southampton find the adjustment difficult to make, they have to sell their best players and effectively rebuild a team from scratch. If that doesn't prove successful then the inevitable consequence is that the team struggles in what is a competitive 2nd tier of domestic football and risks further decline. So we then get into a vicious tailspin from which clubs find it difficult to recover. Two of them meet today at St Mary's, Southampton.
I have no instant solutions but I think at the very least we need those in the game to take stock of what is happening and decide whether something can be done to preserve our traditional structures. I would suggest its urgent: the gap between the top 4 and the lower ends of the professional game will continue to widen as TV rights deals get ever greater. And in an economic recession clubs at the wrong end may decide that survival is impossible and throw in the towel.  
Football survives on our money. We part with it at the turnstiles and pay over our subscriptions to Sky. I think the game owes it to all its fans to ensure greater stability at the lower levels.  Its not as if its short of money. 

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Change Initiative

Within the public sector its hard to avoid change. Its generally accepted that things need to be done better and for less money. So organisations across the whole sector are busy expending energy, effort (and occasionally some money) at making themselves  better.  I am up to my neck at the moment in helping roll out a change programme: great when it goes well,  dispiriting when it doesn't and  always exhausting regardless.   
The key to making change worthwhile is deciding: what change? This is tricky not least because there are shed loads of products out there from which to choose. And all of them naturally (so its said) will transform your organisation. Balanced Scorecard? Lean Management? TQM? Leadership Development? ABC?
All have their advocates and all of them doubtless have their place.  But into this mix I would  add    public sector leaders who  tend to be very passionate about reforming public service and who encourage a climate in which change is embraced .  This in turn can lead to lots of ideas and initiatives top down and bottom up,  and a huge diversion of effort  which if not managed means we forget there's a  day job to be done as well.  In this frenetic environment in which new ideas emerge in quick succession I fear that some initiatives  get sidelined as soon as the next big idea hits the streets. As a result  they  run out of steam before we get a chance to see them through. 
Apart from the basket of change options we also have to deal with the desire for pace. Its not enough that we change. Its equally important that we do so quickly.  It is I think an article of faith that pace is always important. So  that's what we (try to) do.   But at times the average public sector manager must feel like a hamster on a wheel, pausing only to take on board the exhortation  to run faster.
In the next few years I wonder whether the public sector will be able to reform  itself in this way. Public Finances are under pressure and the money to pay for new initiatives will be hard to find.  So maybe in these straitened times it might be an idea to dust off some of those initiatives that never got finished (or even saw the light of day) and extract some value from them. And maybe do them at a more measured pace. At a pace that allows us hamsters to jump down from our wheel, draw breath and, well,  enjoy life a bit more.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Saturday, Saturday.........

If you had asked me a few years ago: what's your idea of a great Saturday, its unlikely I would have responded with "a quiet day reflecting on vocation".   I found myself joining others contemplating vocation at the quiet day at St John's,  slightly  fearful I'd be exposed as a bit of imposter. So it proved. The subsequent description of us as "young" in Father Ivan's  blog could never be applied to me . Saga now permeates my life in ways I never thought possible and the only sport in which I am likely to attract the soubriquet "rising star" is likely to be bowls. 
The day was special, not least  the period of silence before mass and the opportunities for quiet reflection in the afternoon . God getting a word in edgeways is something that daily life all too rarely permits.  But the whole day was a really enriching experience:  I really enjoyed talking to others in the group and the mass included a sermon  on the parable of the prodigal son that made me wonder whether I'd ever really get some of this Christianity stuff right.
Next weekend offers yet more tantalising choices. Catch some sun and get some more potatoes planted or torment myself again at the Valley where Charlton take on Preston North End.  I cannot get too worked up about a match where the outcome from the home supporter's perspective is academic - we're down anyway. However loyalty is about following the team through the bad times as well as the good. So all things being equal, on Saturday the potatoes will have to wait.  

Friday, 13 March 2009

A Hard Week

The end of a very long and tiring week.  
As dispiriting as it was from time to time at work, the news was hardly uplifting. The story about Tim Kretschmer a 17-year old who shot and  killed 15 people at his school was shocking. I find it hard to comprehend how someone is reduced to expressing  their anger and frustrations in such  a way. In Western Europe or the US life for a teenager is hardly  about a fight for survival. But perhaps our relative comforts do not leave us any less anxious about establishing a sense of  identity; of what we are and  what we are here for.  Perhaps he felt  those around him (story is he was bullied at school) denied him that.  And that the best he could do was take matters into his own hands. Shocking that such a short life (and those of some of his contemporaries) ended as it did. I cannot begin to comprehend how the parents and children of the school will ever recover from this ordeal , it is tragic beyond words.  
At about the time Tim was born Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme was underway. The sums involved are truly awesome. $50bn I have seen reported. In court he expressed shame and apologised for his wrong-doing.  But what are we to make of that given that he was defrauding investors for nearly 20 years and was fully aware of what he was doing?  Of course there are no dead bodies here, no parents mourning the loss of their children. But such pity as I have now is not for the fraudster or his possible 150 year jail sentence. 

Sunday, 8 March 2009

In two parts.....

Part 1

Standing Up for Christ

A few recent blogs and today's homily are a reminder that standing up for Christ is not (yet) cause for shame or stigma.  And that we should resist the wider trend to dismantle our Christian traditions. It is odd that at a time when the diversity agenda rightly reminds us of the need to be sensitive to the traditions and religions that now form part of twenty first century Britain there are some who feel that this need not apply to our own church.  Why is that?  I'd guess that in our rush to give people the freedom to challenge the church's position back in the sixties and seventies we overlooked the fact that other faiths did not (and were in no hurry to)  welcome challenge.   

There seems to be a presumption that to be Christian is to be a bit well, how shall we put it, unsound. Time to put this straight. And by that I don't mean some crass campaign on bendy-buses or a right-on rock festival. But a steadfast eye-balling of detractors and a quiet but unwavering assertion that we are certainly not mad and that our faith provides us with a better basis for dealing with life than  they might imagine. Nobody is compelled to go to church. But I will have no problem pointing out that its a lot more rewarding than Ikea or Bluewater. 

Part 2 

Charlton 2 Watford 3

Whilst there is nothing of the Gerald Ratner about the club's  fall from grace, the journey to League 1 is no less painful or, seemingly, irreversible. There is a real joy for me in having a "boys' day"  out with my son but it ends when we have to watch the team and barely kicks in again till we are safely out of the ground after full-time. No time with him is ever wasted, but the spring tour of prospective universities promises, overall,  to be a more rewarding experience. 
For a while yesterday I thought we were going to win. At half time the other side were on the ropes and I thought the second half would simply involve scoring the third goal that would secure 3 points. Sad to say after half time we were not at the races. Their equaliser (for 2-2) was a very classy finish and the winner was less about how than when, so badly had we gone off the boil.  Personal view is that the windy conditions yesterday needed a bit of adjustment. First half, playing into the wind, all was fine. Our strikers  exploited the uncertainies of a hanging ball and made hay. 2nd half the ball didn't hang: it blew straight to the opposition.  But for some reason we didn't adjust and start passing the ball on the ground. It surely isn't difficult to see what is going on and make allowances for it. But, no: as time ticked away the tactic of hopeful hoof was all we had. 
Oh well, next season perhaps. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Number 11 Bus

Barely has the ink dried on my first  blog for 2 weeks when along comes another.

Defeat at home to Doncaster tonight (a late finish at work means I was at least spared having to watch it) means relegation is pretty much a certainty.  In football the ends can pretty much always justify the means. So Parkinson assembled a team of journeymen players (many on loan) with the view to making us difficult to beat and capable of picking  up some wins, so I guess the plan went, on the way to safety. Sadly we played ugly and still lost. 

We haven't played in the third tier of English football for many years now. So the prospect of watching Millwall and Tranmere again has a certain nostalgic value. But my one hope is that something is done to inject a dash of verve and style; or at the very least we go out and   play the game as it should be played. Its not impossible - both Swansea and Doncaster have demonstrated that good football is not impossible outside the Premiership. I hope Charlton can follow their example.      

Recharging the batteries

One of the dubious pleasures of crawling up the organisational hierarchy was the requirement to attend a succession of courses on how to be a manager and later, a leader.  The various  personality profiles, preferred working styles, 360 degree feedback and inevitable personal improvement plans all tended to blur into one so by the end I  began to suffer leadership development fatigue.


But I cannot honestly say that they were not of use. I do remember in particular learning on one course about the need to look after and regularly keep topped up physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. And that each for different reasons needed attention.


A recent trip to France gave me a heaven sent opportunity to attend to all 4. Being with the family was the emotional well-being, Abbot Christopher Jamison’s latest (finding happiness) ticked the spiritual side, whilst a week’s snowshoe walking in the alps was a double whammy – getting up the mountain did for the physical whilst the tranquility and settings more than helped recharged the mental box.


The Abbot’s book was a good way into lent and not too heavy that it could not be fully digested on a holiday. But as I slogged up the mountain side I was struck by the “different-ness” of my surroundings. And then I thought some 50 miles west, beyond Geneva it probably looks more like Kent (ie green) than the Antarctic. And then that the margins between a comfortable environment and a harsh one are perhaps finer than we sometimes assume. Go up a few hundred feet, travel a few hundred miles north (or inland) and life could be a lot less easy unless we adapted to it. We are blessed to have such a comfortable environment – and we shouldn’t take it for granted.  

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Confused of Sevenoaks........

I am following with close interest reports about this week’s Synod discussions about Women Bishops and in particular plans to establish measures for those basically opposed to the idea. As a staunch advocate of equal rights its odd that I find myself (and very happily at that) in that part of the church that believes that women cannot be admitted to the priesthood. Other blogs will explain why that is not necessarily a contradictory place to be. I have drawn some comfort from them although its fair to say that I still have some residual unease. But anything which relies basically on faith I guess must also bring with it at least a few doubts. And I know I am not the first one to experience that.
Personally I think Codes of Practice are a poor substitute for proper legislation. I am sure people will point to excellent examples of codes that work. But they generally strike me as little better than trusting things to luck on the grounds that the matter being regulated does not justify full legislation. Is that the intention here?
It seems that in any case that what is being offered to everybody is a sticking plaster to deal with a gaping wound. If the reality is that two very different “Churches” exist within the Cof E it is surely better to proceed on that basis rather than pretend that there isn’t a problem. I think there is a pressing case for the traditional Anglo Catholic wing to devise a straw man structure which we believe would offer a sustainable future and to discuss how that could be accommodated within a wider – more federated – C of E. If the remainder of the church concludes that traditionalists cannot be accommodated then maybe it is time to move on. I hope and pray it doesn’t come to that: we would all of us be the poorer for it and it hardly squares with a Christian ethic of reconciliation and tolerance.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Do you feel lucky?

From time to time I stumble on a website and it keeps me going for days. Last year it was the satirical website Newsbiscuit from which I now get a daily e-mail with the story of the day. Newsbiscuit is a spoof e-news site. The best "Stories" are those which are patently a fiction but close enough to some of the absurdities of everyday life to  strike a chord of recognition. Yesterday's headline - "Government announces improvement in daylight hours" - was spot on.
This week I have stumbled across something better - and I trust and hope - legal. The site streams current movie releases and after enjoying  Frost/Nixon last week, I hit on another I would have taken in had the local cinema not closed down.
Its a Clint Eastwood piece called Gran Torino. Eastwood is the central character, Walt Kolowski, a former Korean War  veteran, recently widowed and aware now that the world is very different to the one in which he worked, married and raised a family.  The Eastwood persona at the start of the film is very much an older and angrier version of Harry Callahan from Dirty Harry. He is racially intolerant - not  a great advantage in a neighbourhood dominated by immigrants - but the story focuses on the  unlikely relationship between Eastwood and his neighbour's son, Thao,  who is part of a sizeable Hmong immigrant community where he lives. 
At one level the film is about racial tolerance - although not delivered with the power of the very wonderful Crash. But its real power is as a story of individual redemption. Eastwood's character - supported more than he thought he would ever need  by a young Catholic priest - puts his anger to one side and focuses on giving  Thao a chance in life that would otherwise have been denied him.  In turn the anger that consumes Walt is replaced by a real sense of purpose and, I would guess, inner peace.  Eastwood is now nearly 80 so he may not have too many more films in him. But this is a wonderful piece of story-telling and one with a spiritual dimension sadly missing from so much of what turns up in the cinema these days.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Is this how it all ends...?

Tomorrow evening is probably as season defining as it gets. Interest in the cup ended on Saturday with a better display but ultimately defeat at the hands of Sheffield United. A local derby at home to Palace will be less about bragging rights and more about whether the Board  should start planning for League 1 football next season.   
I was resigned to our fate some time ago. Failure to win a series of very winnable home games, away form that if anything is worse than it was under Pardew,  have marked us out as a club with impeccable relegation credentials. Phil Parkinson is trying to cobble together a team with enough about it to string some results together and climb out of the bottom 3.  But its not just about new faces - it never was. Its about creating a sense of purpose, cohesion, pattern and collective will.  Its when everyone knows their job; everyone knows what is expected of them and when; and they play for one another and the shirt. Players at this Division  are all pretty  talented and the margins in terms of skill are probably not great. The difference between success and failure is in all those intangible qualities.   So far these have been worryingly absent from the Valley. 
A local derby is usually enough to motivate a team to raise its performance. I hope it does tomorrow. Because for Charlton tomorrow a draw will simply not be good enough.  A draw, or worse still a defeat, and I suspect   the Board will be in for a tough time at Wednesday's AGM.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Its a funny old game......

My occasional preoccupation with football was fed plenty of food for thought  this week.  Charlton's performance last Saturday was as inept as I had seen for a long time. Two goals the result of panic defending followed by an hour trying to create something worthwhile at the opposite end. Then on Tuesday, joy!: eighteen games without a win ended with a cup win at Norwich.  Not surprisingly Norwich parted company with their manager the next day.  Across the club blogs, despair has turned to hope overnight. Dare we hope for a revival or will  this prove to be a false dawn.

But this isn't what caught most of my attention. This blog is about trying to make sense of the world around me. Just recently a number of bishops criticised the government for what they argued was a questionable preoccupation with wealth generation and economic growth:

In a series of interviews with The Sunday Telegraph, the Bishop of Manchester accused the party of being "beguiled by money" and "morally corrupt" while the Bishop of Hulme said it was "morally suspect" and the Bishop of Durham said it had reneged on its promises." appeared in the Sunday Telegraph just after Christmas. 

This week the papers were full of a sensational story: Premiership club Manchester City - currently being bankrolled by extremely wealthy middle eastern owners - were planning to make a bid of £100m or so for Milan's Brazilian star, Kaka. That would just about double the world record transfer fee paid in 2001 by Real Madrid to Juventus for the French international Zinedine Zidane. The rewards for Kaka personally aren't bad either, a weekly wage of £500,000 is one figure I heard quoted.  

Given we're in a recession all this proved a tad controversial. People are asking whether this is any sort of example to be setting at a time when jobs are being lost and many people are feeling the credit squeeze.   We might like to see professional footballers held up as role models for young people. What sort of a role model would Kaka be?   

As it turns out that's an interesting question. Far from being an empty-headed, hedonist taking advantage of the perks that would undoubtedly be available to a 26 year old at the peak of his athletic powers, it turns out Kaka is an evangelical  Christian with a very deep faith.  Here's a piece from his Wikipedia entry:

At the age of eighteen, Kak√° suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal fracture as a result of a swimming pool accident, but remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church.


Saturday, 10 January 2009

Where are the Peacemakers?

I have just spent the morning watching Al Jazeera, the images from Gaza a reminder of the capacity for man's inhumanity to man. 800 Palestinian dead in the last weeks, many of them women and children.  Children interviewed from their hospital beds bearing witness to the loss of parents, brothers and sisters in front of their eyes. Many are not suprisingly now traumatised .  Much of this seems to be passing us by - the Daily Express lead concerns plans to replace household dustbins with giant  communal bins to which we'll all have to take our rubbish. So its tough for us here as well, isn't it? But somehow I doubt whether the number of dustbins per street is today a lively topic of conversation in Gaza.
There is just a handful of people who can put an immediate stop to this suffering and they know who they are. Most of them are in the United States and are not too far removed from the office of President. They are the people who selflessly defended the rights of the Kuwaitis from the oppressive regime of Sadam Hussain; and who then, equally heroically, liberated the Iraqi people themselves.  So its not as if intervention isn't an option. President Bush and President to be Obama need to stop dancing round their handbags, unite in calling jointly for an immediate ceasefire, through the UN stabilise the position on the ground, secure early humanitarian relief and as a matter of urgency begin the process - a proper homeland for the Palestinians, recognition and territorial security for Israel by Palestine  - that will change the lives of the people who now can have little grounds for hope. What is the point of being the most powerful person in the world if you don't use it. The current inaction is shameful and a disappointing start to what I thought could be a new start for the United States on the world stage. 
No doubt tomorrow there will be prayers for peace. Across the world.  I hope that hardened hearts are moved accordingly.  

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Called to account

 The appearance of Charlton's accounts today give more cause for gloom. In spite of an upbeat report from the chairman (a great year apart from the results - football and financial) the disclosure of an 11.5m loss, declining income and an ever worsening liquidity position is not designed to lift the spirits. Full credit to the Board who have shown their commitment to the cause by stumping up 14.5m to help keep the clubs net cash flow in reasonable health. Fans' may criticise some of their decision-taking (eg on manager selection) but they surely cannot argue that their hearts are not in the right place. And it cannot be easy to keep smiling when even the auditors appeared to equivocate over whether we are a going concern. 
I have long since concluded that football is a bubble industry with ridiculous sums of money being spent on TV rights, transfer fees and player wages simply because of the market for subscription-broadcasting. With the economy in recession I think it may not be too long before the bubble bursts.  But if so I may find this part of the blogosphere is less pre-occupied with trivia.  

Friday, 2 January 2009

Days Like This.........

Today (Saturday) is for me the highlight of the sporting calendar - FA Cup 3rd Round.  It is the day when the games "big boys" can be pitched against struggling teams 3 divisions below them - or from outside the league altogether - and can come unstuck. Every cliche in the game - its 90 minutes, eleven against eleven and so on - is brought into play. Newspapers carry stories about part timers getting ready for their big day: postmen, decorators, who look forward to their 15 minutes of fame. By 5 o'clock this evening there should be a story or two to look forward to although whether there'll be  a repeat of last year's competition  when all but one Premiership side had been put to the sword by the semi-finals is perhaps too much to ask.
Charlton's match today is against Norwich, a side only a few places above us in the Championship. So this is not one of the day's more enticing encounters. Phil Parkinson has so far resisted selecting some of the club's younger players, preferring instead more experienced heads (a number of whom are on loan) to get us out of the mess we're currently in. I hope he takes the opportunity today to give some of our  younger players a game. He hardly has anything to lose and you never know: putting trust in some of our talented youth may deliver him his first victory after nine attempts.
But for me, the beauty of the day is that something genuinely sporting survives pretty much as it always has done. It is a throw-back to a boyhood with  afternoon tea-times spent watching the scores come through on the teleprinter; or listening to Sports Report on the Light Programme.  Or queuing for longer to get into a juicy home tie;  or following the club to an away game. All this in spite of the fact that the big clubs do not always appear to take the cup too seriously or that television companies screen the juicier ties away from the traditional Saturday, 3 o'clock kick-off time. 
This is not me being a dyed in the wool fogey. I'm pretty passionate about Europe and thought we should have replaced the pound years ago. But it  is about recognising that some aspects of our life are pretty good as they are. That they are not broken and do not need changing. I think that the relentless pursuit of "market solutions" or Political correctness has too often left us worse off than before. I really regretted the loss of traditional Sundays in the 1990's because frankly I always felt that 6 days a week should be enough for shopping. Nowadays the supermarkets apologise for the law that obliges them to close at 4:00pm.  I think someone should pipe up and apologise for the loss of quality of life, the fact that we have no space left in our lives that is somehow different and is not for sale. 
So round 3 of the FA Cup is totemic. And I hope that the first Saturday in January retains its essence  of surprise, unpredictability and remains the day when a footballing David can prevail over the Goliaths of the Premiership.  That way part of our  heritage is retained,  for us to enjoy now and for future generations. Long may it do so.