About this blog and the blogger

HI, I'm Mark and I'm a Middle-Aged, Middlesaxon male. I'm proud of my origins here in the South East of England, and am a historian by academic training and inclination, as well as a specialist in Christian writing and pastoral work. 'Anyway' is where you'll find my occasional thoughts on a wide variety of topics. Please dip into my large archive. I hope you enjoy reading, and please make use of the comments facility. Radio FarFar is really a dormant blog at present, but I may from time to time add thoughts my other main passions, audio broadcasting. You can also join the debate, keep up to date with my activities and learn more about me in my Facebook profile- see link on this page. I'm very much a friendly, WYSIWYG type, if you've not visited this blog before, do introduce yourself -I'd love to get to know you. Carry on reading, and God Bless

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson’s Column: Friday 6th December

No new words have made an appearance on this blog for many months.  Today though is one of those times when they must.

What can I say about “Mandiba” that thousands of better commentators than me have not already  said? The peaceful  home death at  the age of 95,yesterday evening, of the first black president of the Republic of South Africa had hardly been unexpected this year after several ‘last calls’ and a long spell in hospital.

And yet, it was one of those few departures from this fragile state we call life which drew tears across the world, and will imprint itself on the memory for decades to come.  As another first black president, of the most powerful nation in the world, Barack Obama, put it, Nelson Mandela no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages.

I too had tears, I too have memories. I was but a boy during the most brutal, toughest years of apartheid.  As a young adult, sad to tell, I formed my opinions of the nasty ‘old’ South Africa with a stereotype based on one harsh boss from that huge country, who I had the misfortune to encounter in one of my first temporary jobs in a local packing factory.

I was never a student protestor, really, but I remember the silence, as well as the tears, as the audience emerged silently from  Cardiff Odeon during my first year at university as a mature student, at the end of Cry Freeom, Lord Attenborough’s masterful film about the life and death of Steve Biko. My local borough council so celebrated this other freedom fighter that it named a road after him, sadly rather shorter than the one walked to freedom by his compatriot.  

Attenborough’s portrayal of all too real events, showed  Donald Woods and his family challenging this obscenely inhumane system through the medium of words rather than weapons, until they like so many others were forced into exile to continue the fight.   And it was in London that many South Africans found the freedom to do so.

These men and women showed that you could meet a ‘nice’ South African. contrary to the assertion of the brilliant satirical song  from  Not the Nine O’Clock News, some thirty years ago. Satire too can strike at the heart of the pretensions of the powerful. 

There were no jokes in last night’s news, a little after nine now and important enough to displace the rest of the evening’s schedule on BBC One.  This was a man who displaced Britain’s normal top topic on the news, fearsome weather, as well as  the predictable prattlings of domestic politicians about the Chancellor’s autumn statement to parliament earlier that day.

Dimbleby and Neil alike didn’t just take a back seat, but were rightly ushered out of the theatre as even Question Time and  This Week were ditched for that not always useful phenomenon of rolling news, not even known on British TV when Mr Mandela took his first walk on the mainland, free at last after 27 years in Robben Island prison. Back in Britain, coverage of his release  interrupted the Sunday evening Antiques Roadshow mid-flow.

This venerable old specimen of humanity breathed his last with timing that seems to come straight out of the script of drama, but could not have been more poignant. It happened as in another film theatre, this time at a premiere at the iconic Odeon Leicester Square, the applause turned to silence as the director of A Long Walk to Freedom, an acclaimed biopic of Mandela’s life, walked on with Idris Elba, bearing an uncanny likeness to Mandela in his portrayal of him. Both had the difficult task of announcing that this monumental hero had finally really left the stage.   HRH Prince William, with Kate by his side,  speaking to journalists afterwards was visibly moved.

Was it chance, or some power beyond understanding, that saw this colossal figure on the world stage die on a South African summer evening, as thousands of miles and a hemisphere away,  Londoners were trying to take in this sorrowful news as the centre of the city saw its traditional start to the Christmas season?  Just a few hours earlier, the mayor of Oslo and London dignitaries had joyfully turned on the lights of a huge Norway spruce a short distance from the royal premiere, this time in Trafalgar Square.

Often considered the nation’s Christmas tree, this annual tradition started as a gift from the people of Oslo to the people of London and by extension the whole of Britain, for their help and support during the darkest days of World War II.  The days of a Nazi dictator who, unlike Mandela, deserves neither celebrating nor naming,  but whose horrific acts should no more be forgotten than should the evils of the old South African regime.  Remembered, but never repeated, please God.

Mercifully, the world has come a long way since the global conflict of the forties and the imposition of apartheid which followed so soon after in South Africa, as soldiers, sailors and airmen who had fought with the then Union for the defence of the British Empire, returned home to a land that was to become a new battleground in the battle against prejudice, hatred and scapegoating, and soon ostracised from the new British Commonwealth of nations. 

Who could have foreseen following the Sharpeville Massacre, or in the homelands which were no better than the Jewish ghettos of Nazism, that a man would be released from captivity after a quarter century, who would transform his nation, peacefully, without the expected civil war. Who would bring to birth a “rainbow nation”, with a multi-coloured flag and a national anthem melding European influence with indigenous African, harmoniously.  It took a colossus of a spirit, that of Nelson Mandela, to do so. But with almost super-human doses of forgiveness and reconciliation.

It seems an even longer walk back to 1805, and to the battle which inspired the building of Trafalgar Square.  A battle which killed the admiral of the fleet, but made him a hero.  It may be a little embarrassing at times, two centuries on to remember that battle was between the naval forces of two neighbours, Britain and France fighting off a third party nation’s shores. And it hardly fits the spirit of the entente cordiale.

Mandela’s main monument in London is a statue in a third space in the City of Westminster,  this one currently acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  Mandela’s human eyes may shine no more, but his bronze features will be admired probably longer than Nelson’s even, inParliament Square, with the statue unveiled in 2007. Already, this has become something of a shrine and flowers are being laid at its base as people come, again silently by and large, to respectfully remember this giant of a man who was also as playful as a puppy even in advanced old age. Everybody’s favourite grandpa, in fact, particularly to the children of his nation.  

Yet perhaps just as fitting is to stand in the square named for a naval hero and from whom, presumably, this 20th century Nelson, born as World War I drew to a close, was given his name.  For gaze across the huge hectare area of London’s largest public square and you see South Africa House, its flags today flying at half-mast and adorned with flowers too, maybe even many from the myriad botanical beauties of Nelson Mandela’s homeland.  Here it was that people were prepared to protest for several decades to secure for all the people of the southernmost country of the African continent, the most precious gift anybody can receive, at Christmas or anytime- liberty.

Here it is now too, in the sqaure, that on Good Friday the passion of Jesus, born in a stable two thousand years plus ago,  is now re-enacted most years to an audience of thousands. Unjust imprisonment, brutal flogging and in His case death, even death on a cross, finally brought liberty for all mankind, Christians believe.

Nelson Mandela was a model Christian disciple, but still a fallible man with weaknesses and failings. Let there be not too much hagiography written between now and his state funeral on Sunday December 15th.   May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A Highsummer Night's Dream

This blog began in the watery wake of a British rowing eight victory in Athens, during the games of the 28th Olympiad in Athens. It was a humble start to my blogging efforts.

A lot of water has flowed under many bridges since then, but last night saw the watery tears of my fellow Londoners flowing freely as the games of the 30th Olympiad drew to a close.

In the small hours of this morning, after a closing ceremony as Bonkers as Boris, London's elected Mayor who has revealed he momentarily did not want to return the Olympic flag to IOC president Jacques Rogge, I was wondering- and wonder has been a constant theme of these games- what I could possibly write about it for one of my now rare blog postings.

One mantra of this games has been sustainability. Much of the special effects props from last year's set are already in the recycling bin.

In the small hours and aided by a nice half bottle of Merlot while watching the party to end all parties, I was thinking about writing about some of the most acclaimed aspects of the games which, before they began many Londoners were prophesying to be a nightmare rather than a dream. As Morpheus tugged at my eyelids, though, I didn't get round to writing it.

You can read elsewhere about Winston Churchill popping out of the top of Big Ben and reading the same speech from "The Tempest" as the newly-knighted Sir Kenneth Branagh read in the astounding opening ceremony just seventeen days earlier. Instead, I'm going to take on board the aim of these Olympics- and the forthcoming Paralympics- to be sustainable.

So here's a piece I'm recycling from my posting to "Comment is Free" at www.guardian.co.uk yesterday, which has banished my post-games blues. And, earned for me the accolade of a "Staff Highlight" for the first time ever. That, to me, is as precious as any gold medal, and it may even lead on to greater things. I can but dream...


Staff highlight [ Guardian Pick ]

I never thought I could be so London proud; to have been born, just, a Londoner (within a London postal district though in fact I'm also a proud defender of historic Middlesex who were the county council at the time long before BoJo got on the case!).

I went to the same secondary school where Mo Farah was discovered by the wonderful Alan Watkinson. I wish he'd been my PE teacher when I was at Feltham Comprehensive (as it was then). He comes across as such a gentle and humble man, yet clearly the most amazing mentor. Our head of PE back then, the late Ieuan Parry, was a top level gymnast who did nurture some great talen in the 70s, but never a man like Mo. His adoptive first home town is still basking in reflected glory, and the previously rather derided 2012 banners in this part of the London Borough of Hounslow have suddenly taken on a golden glod.

I am also just a mile or three- an easy run for Mo- from Bushy Park, Teddington (where he now has a home, I gather, and which will be getting the second Golden postbox- we missed out to Isleworth, where he transferred for sixth form). To be there both on the first day of the Olympics for the men's road race, and later in the week for the time trial on Golden Wednesday was a joy of 2012 I shall never forget. The cheers and applause for every single cyclist, not just "Wiggo" was a hugely life-affirming and encouraging experience, not to mention the number of flags from all over the world lining the route of the royal park on the final stretch down to Hampton Court Palace. Perhaps that's one of the tressures of London we have overlooked more than the crown jewels: the restorative recreational beauty of our Royal Parks. Thank heavens at least they have stayed in the hands of the crown, and not handed over to the mayoralty who even wanted to charge for the car parks!

I so wish now I had not been so cynical about the Gamesmakers and Ambassadors, simply because they were trained and sponsored by two American multi-nationals. The effect of Procter and Gamble's campaign for the families of the athletes was so heart-warming- scenes such as shooter Peter Wilson running out to give his Dad a hug mid media interview were a great reminder of the love that really underpinned and made these games; not just from the families of competitors, but of Londoners, myself included- and indeed all of Great Britian, I'd say- towards our visitors. At least I was able to do one afternoon shift giving out free water around St Pancras, for which the recipients were so grateful. The smiles and expressions on their faces brought tears to my eyes.

And of course, the spectacle of the opening ceremony was an eyeful of wonders, never to be forgotten. I'm sure it will top the best seller DVD lists this year.

That London recovered so quickly from the shameful events of last summer, to provide the almost faultless "clear round" of the Olympics (don't forget we still have the Paralympics to go!), surprises me not in the least. This is, after all, the city which recovered from a Great Fire, the South Sea Bubble, Nazi blitzkrieg, IRA and other terrorist atrocities, a little bruised, perhaps, but never destroyed, to produce perhaps the finest Olympic games ever seen. Well, we had two previous trial runs after all, didn't we!

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner, but London Pride has indeed been handed down to us, and long may it stay so. And Seb: everything is forgiven!"

(Mind youm I'm not so sure the same forgiveness can be extended to Boris Johnson, or BoJo, for his unique attempt at "dancing" to The Spice Girls, specially reconstructed for the evening!)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Best of British

Today is Diamond Jubilee Day, a Public Holiday in the United Kingdom and the culmination of the four-day "Central Weekend" of celebration of a quite remarkable lady, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Many of my republican minded friends will think this rare post to my blog shows I've gone quite doolally, but I really don't mind. These have been days of such joy in the midst of a world of woe, that like the many millions on London's streets (and maybe even myself, again, later) I can do nothing but celebrate, in words, what it really means to me to be a citizen of the United Kingdom, according to nationality acts, and a willing subject of Elizabeth in a modern, constitutional monarchy.

So moved did I feel last night, after attending a special service and a beacon lighting at St Mary's, Bedfont, that I was moved to some rare poetic composition in the small hours. I'll share some more thoughts later, but dedicated to Her Majesty.

Best of British

There is a realm which has no bounds
That has no price in pence or pounds
There is a state, a land once dreamt
Where love is ruler, all content

There is a home, welcome for all
Where hope dwells safe, and none shall fall
There is a place, where mercy reigns
A glistening bliss of light-kissed lanes

There is a Christian, one who knows
The pain of loss, the human woes
There is a woman, one who dares
To serve all life for that she cares

There is a diamond in our land
Whom 'fate' has dealt a ruler's hand
There is a queen faithful to death
Called mother, wife - Elizabeth

There is a nation, proud and free
A birthplace once of liberty
There is a country full of men
Who toil for peace, again and again

What is this realm, which many seek
Not just blind followers, dim as sheep
But loving souls, of faith or none
Who strive for truth, for duty done

This is the monarch I can serve
From Christian faith she will not swerve
Yet all God asks of her and me
Love justice, truth, and liberty

His is the power that makes her shine
This Britain's queen, this lady fair
Hers is the image, Hers is the face
That makes this land a glorious place

This is my home, the land I adore
Full of beauty from shore to shore
This is the taste, perhaps. for now
Of heaven just beyond death’s brow

God Save our Gracious Queen!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Father, Christmas!

The big guy in red is now safely back home. I would say at the frozen North Pole, but it seems like much of the northern hemisphere is frozen this December anyway. Global freezing, anybody?

Snow, ice. Red noses on humans as much as hardy reindeer. Mysterious visitors at odd hours of the night, arriving in darkness. Calling at houses brightly lit with beautiful, welcoming colours- yet often the cold colours of icicles and clear blue skies. Mince pies and one for the road- or is that sky- for the children's favourite. And not a few adults, too, particularly those of the Coca-Cola Corporation who first fashioned the modern red image of an ancient figure. Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle- or as we Brits have always preferred to call him Father Christmas. Bringer of gifts to little boys and girls who've been good all year.

Not quite. Beautiful, charming and comforting though most of this sentimental yet sacred Saturday will be as it falls this year, the name of the day reveals the real "reason for the season". We've been anything but good 'little' children every other day this year, actually! We've said things we've regretted, hurt those we should love the most, offended those we had no cause to. Or as a service book puts it "in thought, in word and deed. Through Ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault".

It sounds like judgment has been passed. We don't deserve to see the most lavish gifts piled under a tree, as we become buried beneath a tonne of wrapping paper. We don't deserve even to gather up the crumbs of the last roast potato- possibly a gift from Aunt Bessie to aid a mother pregnant with expectations of family life at it's best. Actually, we're miserable wretches. Once we were called sinners.

Indeed. A strange word, almost as incomprehensible and unacceptable to some as flying livestock and bearded old gentleman popping up and down chimneys. But this is reality. The reality which led to the greatest paradox of all. A gift beyond measure. A treasure wrapped not in brightly coloured paper, but improvised swaddling clothes. There was no brach of Mothercare when the greatest mother of them all delivered her first born.

Tradition tells it was a cold place too, a dark night. You couldn't get a hotel room, even less a journey home, because of the oppressive demands of an occupying empire and their puppet rulers, especially one called Herod. No cosseting from central heating, but instead the smell as well as the warmth of cattle, sheep and donkeys.

The greatest gift of all was packaged not in impossible to open plastic, but in flesh that was to be mercilessly pierced and a body broken just 33 years later. What sort of a life is that? Seems almost like one of those toys that kids will play with briefly, and then gets forgotten.

Hardly. For the life and death of this gift- from a Father who loved his children so much he could not let them suffer the perpetual punishment they deserved- was his own dear son- has had more impact on humanity than anybody else, or any movement, or any ideal, that has ever existed in human history.

The greatest gift of all comes from our Father- God with us, Emmanuel. Not Christmas, but Christ- or Jesus by name. A friend and a brother- not just for Christmas but for life, now and forever. Isn't that worth the biggest "thank you" ever- and good cause to celebrate.

However you're enjoying, or perhaps enduring, this Christmas, I pray it may bring you peace, comfort, hope and love. Merry Christmas! God Bless

Saturday, 28 August 2010

On the Passing of PAL pals

'Phased Alternating Line'- the British TV standard. But even TV doesn't stay the same for long these days. John Logie Baird may have invented it in the 1930s in the modesty of a Hastings house, but there's a real battle on these days- for audiences and for format- web TV, HDTV, 3DTV, Digital TV, Freeview, Freesat, Ball and Bat, Take That....

Hang on, my brain hurts! Yet some of the programmes seemed as if they'd go on forever, rocks of stability in a river of changing tastes and technological tides. Even this though is no longer so. In the coming weeks, two ITV stalwarts- police shows both, respectively The Bill and Heartbeat will stop plodding on- in the case of the former over a quarter of a century after those famous copper bottoms (well, shoe bottoms, anyway) first trod the beat in the original titles.

It seems like the end not just of a TV season, but an era, just as the rather erratic sunshine on this last Bank Holiday weekend before Christmas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland signals the end of the holidays for many. But perhaps the most poignant passing from the small screen this week is of a collection of characters first seen back in those far-off days of 1973, when there were just three channels available to British viewers- and many households, like mine, didn't even yet possess a colour TV set.

37 years. Until recently it claimed the title of the world's longest running TV sitcom. I must confess I haven't been a regular viewer of this show for some time, but like millions of others around the world who'll be watching re-runs as if in a time warp for years to come, I shall miss its gentle charms. And not least, the haunting harmonica part written into the theme music by the brilliance of Ronnie Hazlehurst.

As a real-life, somewhat younger "Cleggy" attempts to keep Britain in order while his boss wallows in the post-puerpal delights of his second daughter, Florence Rose Endellion Cameron, the deputy Prime Minister's fictional namesake will be the last voice heard tomorrow evening just before 8.30 p.m on BBC One. AKA "the voice of Wallace", veteran actor Peter Sallis, OBE, will be left to put the bottle in the re-cycling bin.

Farewell, LOTSW. Here, in tribute, is my eulogy to a quaint piece of English TV history, to be sung to the aforementioned theme tune. It's no match for a similar effort written a few years ago in the wake of Compo's death, but I hope fans and detractors both might appreciate it:

A few miles from Huddersfield
The Pennine stones are rugged lime
The water’s clear
The folk no fear
In this country of thine

Some old tykes
With ageing lass
Who polish proud
Their Yorkshire brass
In Autumn sun
They still have fun
They never heard called “time”

But now my friends,
That time has come
That everyone must face
The bottle full
Of youth’s sweet dew
Is lost in the mist...

But while there’s
Still breath in me
And this glass still half full
These weathered men
Are boys again
With promise, hope and glee

So come my friends
Don’t shed a tear
At passing of t’year
For this is life
E'en with some strife
May it never end

We’ll drink then
The vine’s sweet fruit
And ponder days of yore
Our days we’ll spend
And laugh til ends
Last of the Summer Wine

(c) Mark A Savage 2010
Click on the title of this posting for a link to the "Summer Wine" Appreciation Society, and some other lyrics to the tune- which I had not read before I wrote this. They include, poignantly, some written by the late Bill Owen, who played Compo, and which were played on the TV episode which marked his passing in the show, shortly after the actor's death.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Who Ate All the Pies?

It's supposedly a familiar cry on the terraces at football grounds up and down the land, as some player who's clearly not in the prime of fitness gets a fairly gentle ribbing from the crowd. Where this peculiar saying started though, goodness only knows.

There's nothing like a tasty pie, be it fruit-laden or meat-filled, or even a decent cheese and onion pasty. My younger brother actually makes a pretty mean chicken and ham one, for the record. And let's not forget the virtues of the humble sausage roll, veteran culinary guest as so many picnics this time of the year.

But you can, or should, only eat so much pastry, or else you end up becoming more lard-laden than the fatty shortening that makes this universarlly popular treat, and which gives pies and tarts that uniquely satisfying "mouth feel".

Anybody looking at my middle aged spread (and no, it's not Flora) might well think I'd been spending too much time in Greggs, supposedly masters of the pasty, but in fact I eat very little pastry, deliberately- but far too much, I know, of other food. I do like my grub.

Nevertheless, I'm at a loss to know why somebody combined the search terms "Mark Savage Pies" in Google, and got pointed in the direction of this blog! Even stranger is the fact, according to my site meter, that they then spent quite a time reading it. I'm flattered, or should that be fattered?

There are dangers, obviously, in relying too much on a pastry-filled diet and becoming ever more flabby as a result. The same thing applies just as much to spiritual the spiritual diet, I think. We can rely too much on quick fix soundbites or Sunday "sausage rolls" of worship. Yet it's extra-ordinary what a healthy diet of bible-based food, with a prayer topping, can do for the inner man (or indeed, woman or child). Rather than pastry, we need to take in more bread- and not just five slices a day, the well-balanced way so they say.

Jesus Christ claimed to be the bread of life, giving the inner man sustenance that not even the finest pastry chef could concoct. We can never 'eat' too much of him. Spiritual sustenance from the Word of God is the real fuel which makes life taste so much richer, and I'm happy to eat of that til all the flour mills run dry.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Today is D-Day

"Today is D-Day."

The 6th June 2009 marks the 65th anniversary of the daring invasion of Normandy by thousands of Allied troops. It was the beginning of liberation for millions of ordinary people across Europe, who had lived under the oppression of the evil Nazi reich for many years.

But what did the “D” in D-Day stand for? Believe it or not, nothing! It was just an easily remembered name, but given the benefit of what happened next, perhaps the ‘D’ could mean “Decision”?

This has been a decisive week for many in British politics, with mixed results. The fallout from the elections on Thursday will have a decisive effect on many people in the public eye, as well as everybody else affected by their decisions. It all begins, though, with a simple cross.

Being a Christian is a decision. Nobody forces it on us and we have free will. In fact, Christians believe that God gave us the freedom to make our own decisions from the beginning of human history. What a great freedom- liberation indeed!
Except too often freedom has been misused, with disastrous consequences. The story of Adam and Eve shows that.

Mercifully for us though, the simple cross of Christ brought a chance to start again and be liberated again. Because of His love for us, God gave us all a chance to start all over again.

Like making a decision on where to place a cross on a 3-feet long ballot paper, making a decision for Christ might not be easy for some. It’s right to ask questions. Churches are places where questions can be asked. In countries like Britain which, for the moment, remain free, you can do so safely. That's still not the case in many countries.

Last Thursday also marked the 20th anniversary of the Tianamen Square massacre in Beijing, when lives were lost, senselessly, in the cause of freedom. In a society which officially renounced religions, Christians were among the mercilessly persecuted. And, though the gospel is spreading like wildfire in China today, it can still be a tough place to be a believer. In many other countries, it's worse still.

Is anything worth laying down lives for? Were the young lives who their old comrades will remember on the beaches and town squares of coastal Normandy today given for nothing.

Far from it. Joel Edwards, former director of the Evangelical Alliance in Britain, has just quoted the text which led to the real D-Day, on his Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4:

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends"

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Crown Caught

It's not been a good week for the law, or at least the law enforcers. Today, Britain's top anti-terrorist branch policeman, Bob Quick, lived up to his name as he was forced to hastily resign from the Metropolitan Police Service, following the sort of momentary mistake anybody could make, but which was likely to lead to devastating consequences. It seemed highly appropriate on a day remembered in history for the most disastrous of 'mistakes' of all, yet which changed the world.

Quick was photographed as he arrived for a routine Downing Street briefing. No problem in that, except that a document marked "Secret" relating to "Operation Pathway" was clearly legible under his arm, rather than concealed safely away as it obviously should have been. The much-respected senior Met man took the only honourable course of action in resigning his post for his mistake, but as he did so, thirty years plus of invaluable experience was surrendered along with his warrant card. It seems such a tragedy, for such a momentary error.

On the same day, meanwhile, an un-named officer of the same constabulary was suspended from duty after video footage obtained by The Guardian seemed to show police had baton-charged a 47-year old newspaper seller, Ian Tomlinson, who later died of a heart attack after being caught up in the demonstrations last week as the G20 summit of the world's most powerful leaders met in London.

Justice is said to be blind- hence the blindfold and the scales carried by the statue of "Justice" which is located just metres from where this fatal event took place last week. The famous statue sits atop the Central Criminal Court,more commonly known as The Old Bailey, in the City of London itself. Here, Her Majesty's Courts Service supposedly ensures that justice is seen to be done. Many may come here to be prosecuted- too many- but it should be that only the guilty are convicted of a crime and punished.

The right of an English free man to be tried by a jury of his peers is regarded as a sacred principle dating back over 800 years, respected and copied by legal systems all over the world. Trial by jury, based on the evidence alone and the impartial decisions of twelve men and true (and women!) is one of our most treasured liberties.

Criminal trials in England are conducted in the name of the sovereign, often abbreviated to R for Regina. In theory, at least, anybody who believes there has been a miscarriage of justice can take it right up to the sovereign when all other avenues of justice have been exhausted. "R" was once considered God's representative, and thus liable to show neither fear nor favour- even though the lessons of history and many 'bad kings' prove otherwise. In practice though, the Law Lords or soon the "Supreme Court of the United Kingdom", a controversial new arm of the judicial system, are the highest court in England (we'll ignore for the moment the newer influence of the European Court- it only seeks to complicate matters further!)

How very different from the kangaroo court proceedings which 'convicted' the King of the Jews, many would say the Universe, on this night about 1976 years ago. It's Maundy Thursday, taken from the latin "Mandatum", meaning "commandment" and referring to the new commandment which Jesus Christ gave to his followers at what has come to be called the "Last Supper": 'to love one another, as I have loved you'. This moving and momentous event, the basis of the Holy Communion service which is a sacred part of many Christian tradition's worship, happened before he was hastily arrested following betrayal to the authorities by one of his own. But where was the evidence, where were the impartial jurors? Above all, what was the charge?

The nearest ancient Palestine under Roman law- ironically the basis of much modern English law- got to a supreme,impartial judge was Pontius Pilate, the pro-consul. At the dead of night, he conducted what amounted to trial rigged by the occupied people he feared might riot, and the defendant had absolutely no chance of a fair hearing or acquital, even when he spoke in his own defence. It would have made little difference if he did call on evidence though- all his witnesses, even his best friend, abandoned him at his darkest hour to protect their own interests. What kind of justice is this? If it happened today, surely there would be an outcry.

Or would there?

How quick are we still to jump to our own conclusions about people and situations, irrespective of the evidence. The evidence in this case should have had this man not thrown into a dungeon, but mounting a throne. Instead of which, the next day he was nailed to a wooden cross on a high mound used as a rubbish dump outside the city walls, known as Calvary. He was left clothed not in the garments of royalty, but with nothing more than a mock crown of thorns and a notice above his head "I N R I"- latin initials for "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm" - This is Jesus, King of the Jews.

There, in agony, the death penalty was not despatched swiftly. Little mercy was shown. Instead, in the mid-day heat, he bled and suffocated slowly, as was the Roman customary capital punishment, but he was innocent of any crime!

Why was there no outcry?

There was. It came from the victim himself. He cried for us :"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do". What kind of person can show that kind of selfless thought for others in the extremes of their own agony in extremis.

Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews and the saviour of the world could.

Nothing can really ever save this world now from the agony of its own depravity, debauchery, defunct debentures and dereliction of duty, than this man who Christians believe was God in the form of man, who gave so much, for so many, so long ago. It is we who should be in the dock, up before the supreme 'beak', or rather being. We should be enduring concurrent death sentences.

But there's no need for a trial for us. The verdict has been passed: 'guilty as sin' on all humanity. The Bible says as much: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". It needed no foreman to announce this, no charge sheet to sustain the accusation, and no human advocates, however talented, could get us off on a technicality. Yet the unbelievable result of Jesus's death was 'all charges dropped, you're free to go, and live your new life to the full, for ever".

What amazing justice is this?


In the Easter school holidays back in the seventies, when afternoon TV in Britain was still in its infancy, I used to love a Granada TV show called "Crown Court". Running usually over three days in half hour lunchtime slots, this was the closest British television could get at the time to portraying the proceedings of a real court while cameras were banned from actual court cases (with few exceptions, they still are). Although the dramatis personae of each new 'case' were real actors, the jury were ordinary members of the Great British Public. It was their verdict which determined the outcome of each case, not the writer's.

Just as enjoyable for many as the cases though, were the closing credits of each case. The music used was called "Distant Hills". This Maundy Thursday night, moving into Good Friday, I prefer to think of another distant hill, in fact nearly a thousand miles from where I sit, in Jerusalem. In that 'City of Peace' agony, war, bitterness and hatred still condemn many to premature death. If only they too could be saved by Jesus, as beautifully portrayed in Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander's hymn which was one of my schoolboy favourites:

"There is a Green Hill Far Away
Outside A City Wall
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all"

If you may, and if you can, keep silence to remember that, and the supreme irony that it was Good that it happened, this Good Friday. God Bless.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Hollow Cause

Today, 27th January, is Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, marking the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union on this date in 1945. It has been held on this date since as recently as 2001.

Some might question whether we should be still commemorating such atrocities as occurred in that dreadful death factory and many others under the Nazi's sickeningly named "final solution" nearly seventy years ago, but remember we must. The evil that man does was not liberated on that day, but dispersed instead to new sites of atrocity- like Cambodia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and...

Wherever it happens, human suffering and death caused by the loveless acts of other humans is unfathomable, unacceptable, almost unforgiveable- yet somehow those tragic survivors of even the Holocaust have done this since 1945. Their strength of spirit speaks volumes, and destroys the power of the hatred of their perpetrators. Burning coals indeed to the death mongers. Even as a man of strong faith, could I ever do the same? Please God by grace I could.

Yet I find it hard indeed to forgive the pathetic excuses trotted out by the British Broadcasting Corporation this week for failing to broadcast a humanitarian aid appeal by Britain's Disasters Emergency Committee in the wake of the immense human suffering in Gaza following the recent events there. The BBC's management have decreed that a three-minute charity appeal to the public to give money for the relief of human suffering, with no political agenda at all, should not be broadcast on any of their TV or radio outlets Why? Because it might threaten the BBC's editorial impartiality in news reporting!

This decision seems almost as unbelievable as the horrors must have have been to the cinemagoers seeing the scenes filmed by the lenses of news cameras which was finally revealed in Poland when the death camps were liberated in 1945. Years of human misery came before the world's eyes and aid and relief, practical and financial, followed despite the political turmoil and the difficulties left by six years of war. It was a natural, basic human reaction to the suffering of other humans.

So when in the name of God- whether that God is the one named by Muslims, Christians, Jews or indeed even any non-believer with a shred of common humanity and decency- did impartiality become a superior virtue to compassion? I am sickened and shamed by the actions of BBC management- it damages the reputation of our nation as much as our national broadcaster and is truly inexplicable.

The BBC motto below its crest reads "Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation". It was influenced, I think, by the passage in the Hebrew bible which speaks of a future time when "swords shall be turned into ploughshares", a time we all hope for- long for. Yet for much of the early part of this new year, that hope seems as far off as ever in Gaza, in an area which sometimes seems so poorly named "the Holy Land" and where others are still attempting a final solution. A final solution to the carnage and the charnel houses through the tools of war, through bombs and rockets, feebly through diplomacy, or through terror, prejudice and the same words of vitriol and violence which really flamed the crematorium fires of Auschwitz.

No side is blameless here, there is no easy solution to the legacy of thousands of years of seemingly conflicting beliefs and intransigent warmongering. But what we cannot solve, we must at least salve- with medicine, food, shelter and water, regardless of the identity and the cause of perpetrator or victim. That is what decency demands, and what the DEC are trying to achieve. Seemingly the precious BBC has a different view of decency to the great majority of those who pay for them in the first place through their licence fee.

I am not taking the step that many have done over these last few days by way of protest at this astounding decision. I have not burnt my TV licence, and I am still watching BBC programmes. But I cannot stomach the hypocrisy of the corporation right now and most especially of its motto. Which is why I have removed the BBC crest as the visual masthead to my blog entry for 4th July 2007. That, the day when "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are so fervently commemorated in the USA which has so recently welcomed a new Commander-in-Chief, was also when captured former BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, was released from his long captivity. There was another man who one could only admire for his courage and yet his gentle and mild manner on his release.

What a shame, in the original sense of the word, that Mr Johnston's boss, the Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson, a devout Roman Catholic, could not put the message behind Jesus Christ's parable of the good Samaritan ahead of the message that the BBC cannot take sides. Two people walked on by and did nothing for the suffering victim of other's crimes in the parable, but a Samaritan- hated by the Jews of the time- ignored questionable, dogmatic religious rules and instead did what we should all do in such a situation- help!

Last Sunday marked the conversion of St Paul, once the chief Jewish persecutor of the early Christian church who was responsible for the killing of many believers in that same Holy land, even the Holy City of Jerusalem, twenty centuries ago. Yet he brought a life-changing message of hope, love and forgiveness to people of so many lands and cultures. Today of all days, can we not hope that the conveyors of both good and bad news today can yet see the folly of their way, reverse this mad decision and allow the DEC to publicise this just cause, right away?

Meantime, the link from my title today will take you to the DEC website, should you want to give money where the BBC will not give airtime.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Msg Wtng

Carol Vorderman, Queen of the Consonants, placed her final vowels on the Countdown board a few weeks ago. For TV quizzes, it was the end of an era; Ms Vorderman - who was born at Christmas-time, hence her Christian name- had been there since the beginning and there were more than a few tears shed on that final show when it aired on the 12th December.

Meanwhile, back in Adventland, the countdown to Christmas is nearly over and the last of those high numbers will be revealed in a few hours and bells will chime to herald the Word which has always been there, never hiding in an anagram.

There is a message waiting indeed. It doesn't matter if some of the vowels are missing (like my blog posts this year!), nor does the Christmas story always add up to some commentators from our limited human perspective- but why should it? Life itself is a wonderfully complex puzzle which none of us will solve in this life in three score years and ten or more, let alone thirty seconds. But it's no conundrum.

In the birth of Jesus the Saviour is revealed the answer to life, the universe and everything in it's sweetest form- a tiny, helpless, naked and yet perfect baby. And no ticking clock can limit the time we should spend pondering that awesome mystery of God himself being born among us. No human mind can quite take it in, but it is God's own brilliant solution, and it makes me cry just writing about it.

May your Christmas joy be unrestrained, and your hearts filled with the peace which passes all understanding.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Fantastic Four!

Four years ago next Thursday, I set up this blog and wrote my first posting- all of two lines! Four years ago next Thursday, four British rowers brought a team including Sir Matthew Pinsent his fourth consecutive olympic gold medal in an Olympic regatta, as part of the Coxless Fours in Athens. It was an emotional occasion indeed. How do you top that?
By the sort of tear-jerking, heart-stopping, jaw-dropping performance four Pommy Powerhouses managed to put in an hour ago in Beijing, that's how, beating their Australian rivals by just a whisker. How do they do it?!
Teamwork. In an age which seems to lionise individualism, the coxless fours is an example of how the most worthwhile things in life are very rarely the effort of one person alone. Sir Steve Redgrave, or should that be the Venerable Steve Redgrave, with five of those gold medals behind him for olympic rowing events, was quick to dismiss any suggestion from his fellow commentator in Beijing, the BBC's John Inverdale, that any one member of a rowing four, even less an eight, is more important than the other. They all have their part to play.
But it's not only the high profile team in the boat, the ones catching all the camera angles whose every bead of sweat, every breath,every pained expression, is recorded for posterity, that bring olympic glory. It's the physiotherapists, the doctors, perhaps especially even the nutritionist who help to ensure that four human bodies can give every joule of the quite extraordinary power they are capable of, to bring the jewel in every sportsman's crown, the gold medal on the victory podium.
One body, many parts. Something St Paul gave a masterly treatise on in one of his pastoral letters to the early church. Every part of the human body has its function, and it's no good expecting it to do something it was never intended for. Rowers can't rely just on their arms to win a race. It takes strong lungs- Matthew Pinsent reputedly had the highest recorded lung capacity in Britain-, pounding legwork, keen eyes and ears listening to every utterance of the rest of the team and not least the coach following on the bicycle from the shore to achieve these sort of world-beating results.
I can't but think of the solitary man shouting from the shore to some rather disconsolate individuals in a boat on the Lake of Galilee some 1,973 years or so ago. He appeared to be walking, not even rowing, on the water, and called one of them over to him to walk with him on the water. One of his team, a man called Peter, at first was quick to respond and did just that-but then fear started to grip him and his mettle failed. Think what a disaster it would have been for Team GB if our four today had done that as they continued to row backwards towards their finishing line.

For the one who walked on the water was Jesus- the same Jesus who came to his team on the shore on Galilee again, and offered them a nutritious breakfast, just days after they had apparently seen defeat snatched from the jaws of victory on a cruel cross in Jerusalem. He had risen again- and was to rise yet higher, not to the raised platform of a victory ceremony alongside a man-made lake, but to the exalted throne of heaven, beyond all earthly achievements.

Yet even for the Jesus who was as I put it was "being held in a queue" in my last posting some five months ago, actually in a stone cold tomb, it was his Father's amazing, awesome, unfathomable power that brought him back to life in a human body- a body recognised and seen by more than five hundred people, witnesses of an event far greater than olympic glory, some two thousand years ago. And it was the Holy Spirit, the third person of that profound mystery Christians call the Trinity, that inspired those early believers like Paul to carry on, whatever the cost, to their destiny, their victory, to claim their prize. In Paul's case, and for many Christians since in too many lands even to this day, it took them to their own deaths at the hands of persecutors and detractors.
Despite all the controversies which inevitably follow it from fallible human beings, the Olympic games remains an extraordinary sporting spectacle, the greatest show on earth indeed. Yet even the efforts of the greatest olympians- and surely I must give due credit here to the extra-ordinary Michael Phelps who looks set to claim his eight gold medal of the XXIXth Olympiad tomorrow in the Beijing watercube- will never match that labour surpassing Hercules which raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and which still inspires countless billion believers today. A more fantastic event never was seen!

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Your Saviour is Being Held...

Yes, but held where? In a queue of mis-understanding religious leaders beying for his blood just two days ago, on Maundy Thursday? In the thousands who listened to them but could not hear his still, small voice of calm? His innocent bleating rather than beying? His failure to act in the face of blatant injustice to his person, to save his own life? Could this really be the Christ, the pivot of history motionless as his dead body was hastily taken down from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb?
Your saviour is being held in a queue. Please wait.
But for how long? Until the slaughter not just of one man, but millions of children yet unborn has stopped? Until the sword of power is replaced by the ploughshare of universal equality? Until all the hungry are fed and nobody thirsts either for the water of life or uncontaminated, donated blodd?
Your saviour is being held in a queue. Please wait.
Until the war of words is replaced by the harvest of hope? Until the darkness of despair is banished by the lightness of endless day?
Your saviour is being held in a queue. Please wait..
Until this shining, beautiful new moon yields to the bright, blinding radiance of the star of the morning. Until female eyes drained by too much mournful crying discover...what? Until the friends, still quivering with fear and incomprehension realise...yes?
Your saviour is being held in a queue. Your call will be answered shortly. Please wait.
On Holy Saturday night, peace be with you.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Now Hands that Do Dishes...

"Can feel soft as your face, with mild, green, Fairy liquid".

Come on now, be honest. You were ready to sing the second two lines of this triplet, word perfect, the moment you read my subject line, weren't you?

The reason you can still warble along to these frankly rather banal lyrics is largely due to the efforts of the late Cliff Adams, who until his death in 2001 was for several decades the purveyor of familiar ditties on BBC Radio Two every Sunday afternoon on "Sing Something Simple".

Far from just keeping grannies and grandpas happy with these memorable melodies sung a capella except for the versatile mouth organ of Jack Emblow, among Cliff Adams' weekday jobs was making a mint composing advertising "jingles" for everything from Murray's spearmint confection to an unpromising new concoction of dried potato which actually proved to be quite a smash- and the most popular British TV advert of all time, to boot! He probably composed the Fairy liquid jingle quicker than I can write this long-overdue posting to Anyway..

BBC TV's BBC Four channel is currently running a fascinating series of programmes about the advertising industry- the words, images and predominantly people that American writer Vance Packard famously described as "The Hidden Persuaders" in the title of his seminal book on the subject in the 1970s. A programme last night on the history of TV food advertising brought back many memories for my brother and me of the ITV advertising of our childhood.

Through pester power rather than today's nutritional wisdom, put-upon parents (though not usually ours, I recall) were persuaded they could pacify their restless offspring with merely a finger of toffee and chocolate fudge, or that an equally child-friendly digit proferred by a benevolent sea captain could get the little ones eating and enjoying fish. The ingenuity with which advertising agencies achieved this was to guarantee the TV commercials and their slogans a place in the cultural memory even if the products are becoming portiona not grata in the health conscious noughties.

What a pity it is then, that while we remember the tasty, hasty snacks of our formative years so fondly just hearing the jingles- or the washing up that followed it for Mum and her little helpers, for so many the most heart-rending music ever composed coupled with the most profound words ever spoken or written will bring little or no associations this week. Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week in the Western Christian calendar. Yet for a great proportion of Britons, it might as well be Palmolive Sunday.

This is the day when Jesus of Nazareth rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, an unconventional entrance to the most sacred place of the Jewish nation, certainly, but enacted exactly in this way to fulfil scripture predicting this event,written many centuries before. So excited were those who saw Jesus arriving, that they threw down branches of palm leaves along his way, much in the way we'd welcome the coming of the monarch these days with a red carpet.

A people abused and exploited by an occupying power saw this young man of just 33 as the answer to all their hopes for liberation from the hated forces of Rome. Many hailed him as their king, much like a Hosanna hero, who would break the yoke of Caesar's stronghold and take the city and nation by whatever means necessary to restore political control to its rightful occupants.

How sad it is, with hindsight, that they were not on message, or at any rate only believed in this instant solution to all their problems for just a few days. Few saw in the substantial bread and wine offered one Thursday evening in first century Palestine, the most important meal ever put before mankind and a promise far more enduring than anything Proctor and Gamble could make because it came from the maker of life itself.

Instead of taking what was on offer in the greatest free trial ever-the love of God offered by his only Son- by the end of the same week Jerusalem's passover-consuming population were abandoning him faster than you could say buy one, set one free. Barabas left jail, Jesus was condemned to his fate- crucifixion. No brand loyalty here, then, but only the branding of a cruel crown of thorns and the nailmarks of the most hideous wrongful conviction ever enacted.

Standing around him at the cross the following day, what we now call Good Friday, as this young man who had done nothing deserving death struggled to breathe, was his best friend, along with the mother whom this dutiful Jewish son had doubtless helped to wash pots and pans at many a Jewish festival. Just the night before, however, the hands of the one so often portrayed as meek and mild had washed the rough, dirty feet of the same followers who would betray, desert and disown him at his hour of greatest need.

Friday, 4 January 2008

The Party's Over...

It's time to call it a day: The fourth of January two thousand and eight will do fine for the next few hours at least. Happy New Year!

Not that I've been a 24-hour party person ever since last posting to Anyway- last week, or was it last year? I had a very enjoyable Christmas, as I hope you did too, but constant jollity is just not the way we do things round here-even if for some the Christmas holiday will have lasted a fortnight and the return to work and school won't be complete til 7th of January.

The English are a funny race when it comes to celebrating New year-what is, when all's said and done, just an arbitrary point in the continuous revolving passage of the earth round the sun, when we decide to attempt to accurately measure that orbit again for another 365 "days", or as this is to be a leap year, 366. The very existence of leap years points out the folly of trying to number our days, months and years with too much precision, because the exact workings of the universe are complex and beyond our ken, as the Scots might put it.

Maybe we English are more pragmatic and a little less sentimental, but those of us south of the border have traditionally never quite managed to find the fun of New Year as well as other more outwardly flamboyant races- although as the pyrotechnic delights of London's celebrations brought Old Father Time to meet Old Father Thames once again last Monday night, it seems we're at last willing to have a try.

Indeed, the ritual of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of another seems to have become almost a friendly international contest to see who can do it in the most spectacular fashion. Nowadays, the capital city of the UK even likes to have its cake and eat it not just as midnight but mid-day too. The New Year's Day Parade-London, originally the Lord Mayor of Westminster's attempt to have something matching his City of London counterpart's November streetfest, is now described as the biggest event of its kind in the world. It may have been influenced by Macy's parade in New York, New York, but Westminster, London has certainly produced a tradition to be proud of.

This year's parade, irrigated though it was by the first rain of 2008, certainly brought sparkle to the capital on what was once considered the most dreary day of the year. Earlier on New Year's Day, there was another feast for ears and eyes from another of the world's great cities, with the music of the Strauss family as played by the Vienna Philharmonic guaranteed to soothe even the heaviest hangover headache.

I took a cup of kindness or two in a favourite local hostelry with my brother and some friends on New Year's Eve, and very nice it was too. A lovely atmosphere, no rowdiness but good-humoured revelry and the shared experience of crossing the line of one year into another and singing Robert Burns' timeless lines once again while linking arms. I was glad to be there, in company and to think on the old acquaintance of the twelve months just past, which will never come our way again.

Yet I could just have easily have enjoyed the moment without any need for booze or food. What New Year's eve really represents, I guess, is our shared humanity, celebrating the succesful circumnavigation of both the mountains and the planes of this thing we call life through another twelve months. For some, it will have been a breeze, while for many others the year yet ahead will offer new challenges and not always of the enjoyable type.

Sadly, the turning of the year does not turn man from the worst of his ways,no matter how much we might hope for it. No sooner had the New Year begun in parts of the Southern Hemisphere, than the news brought horrendous stories out of Kenya, where disputed elections have stirred old tribal hatreds, rather than gladdened old acquaintances. The situation is very tense as I write, but can there be anything more obscene and against the spirit of the season than the loss of over 30 lives with the deliberate destruction of a church where some were sheltering from the violence around them.

It doesn't take long for joy to turn to pain in human experience, and yet there is always the hope, the promise, that the pain will end. All pain. All suffering. All death. Defeated! Not ultimately by act of EU or UN, despite the growing and welcome recognition in our digitised, globalised age that we must work together to solve those problems which we all face together as the Human Race. The challenge of Global Warming will surely be high on the international agenda again this year. And doubtless, every country will have different opinions on this and other issues affecting us all.

But national preferences, or at worst national prejudices, can never cause the world to move truly forward. That comes not from astronomical predictions or astrologer's presumptions, but from seeing the evidence and the promise in every human being that there is more to life than the counting of days. God knew this, when he chose to reveal himself to mankind two thousand years ago in a tiny baby. Two thousand years; but a blip in the long history of the universe but marking the most important event ever to take place in human history.

Christmas surely deserves its full twelve days of celebration, which is why the party won't actually be over, in the Western tradition at least, until Sunday 6th January, the feast of the Epiphany. Once again, our continental cousins seem to know how to celebrate this event so much better than we do in England, where for most it's just the occasion to pack away the decorations for another eleven months or so lest bad luck be brought upon the house.

Quite where such a weird superstition developed, who knows. Superstition defies logic and rational analysis, much as those of a secular mindset might say adherence to the tenets of religion limits the growth of our humanity and the true way forward through science. But they conveniently forget that one of the greatest scientists of all time, Sir Isaac Newton who was born today in 1643, was a man of deeply committed faith too. For him, to increase our knowledge of natural laws was to do God's work and and to increase our knowledge of him.

Science and Belief do not have to be constantly fighting, and neither should people. Is there not surely something very significant in that the guests at the birthday parties of Jesus Christ represented a very different view of the world to that of his own people? Contrary views can co-exist.

The shepherds who came to adore Jesus from the nearby fields of Bethlehem were considered by some in their society the lowest of the low. Who might be their equivalents today? Asylum seekers? Strange, isn't it, that the biblical account of Jesus's infancy includes a flight into an alien country, to escape the jealous wrath of a king. Later, when that king went the way of all flesh, the young child and his parents returned to the land of their birth, where they were visited by mystics and distinguished persons traditionally represented as three "kings". The served became the servers with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The visit of the three kings is the wonderful story behind Epiphany. Of course, there are inconsistencies in the details, but does that really matter? Science too is full of paradoxes. It is though very appropriate that Epiphany should be the first feast of the secular year, and the last of Christmas. The time arrives to take in what it all means, and get working again in real life in real time. When Jesus is revealed to the magi, the secular world of time and place, evidence and senses, meets the other world of eternity and humility, and things unseen by any eye but even more wonderful than anything science can explain are glimpsed in the eyes of a child.

Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, is the reminder that Jesus came for all, not just a select race or races. He came to bring life in all its fulness to everybody. Now that's surely something worth celebrating- party on, at least til Sunday!

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

So Is This Christmas?

Written in the small hours of Christmas morning, 25th December 2007, in a silent London suburb

Is it merely a feeling
Or the truth most appealing?
Did God come to Earth
Through the journey of birth
Or is man the worst fool
with no hope at all?

Is it carols and candles
And carrier bag handles?
Or Mince pies, roast turkey
And bright winter jersey?

Is it a baby, a manger-
Or is there a danger
That we abandon the boy
Who would sin's power destroy

Is it family and blood ties
Or spotted blue neck ties
The man in the gutter
Or spuds smeared with butter?

Some Christmas, some year
Should we come to our senses
And let the day speak
For Jesus, our Lord, who was the defenceless

Who came to a land, where no peace there yet dwells
Where the deafening bomb blast
Replaces the bells

Should we not see him in the eyes of a child
Or any new mother, so tender and mild
Should we not know him in words of goodwill
Should we not hear him- for he cries to us still

Should we not smell him, in sweet smells of spice
Remembering too, that he carried our vice
Should we not know him, for know him we must
To witness the saviour, the righteous and just

If these few things we can believe
Then surely Christmas will achieve
The wonder of wonders
Miracle of miracles
God is with us, Noel, Noel.

Wherever you are, I wish you a peaceful, happy and joyful Christmas, and may your day be merry and bright.

God bless all my readers, new and old

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the New Born King!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Silent Majority

"At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We Will Remember Them"

This is Remembrancetide, in the UK- and most of the Commonwealth. It's easy to overlook that unique family of nations' part in two World Wars, as we observe this annual pause for reflection. We are asked to remember all those who have given their lives for freedom and liberty in war and conflict, both now and in the century past.

How muted those words "freedom" and "liberty" can sometimes seem these days, like the muffled bells of mourning. Yet we remind ourselves again this weekend, it was for these causes that many millions gave their lives, and we should never forget them. In a world of constant rush and chatter, the best way we can respect the precious lives cut short in too many theatres of battle, is to fall silent ourselves, even if only for 120 seconds- about as many heartbeats as each of these fit young lives once knew before the true horror of war silenced them.

For those who have never lived through a whole world at war, the post-1945 generations to which I belong, remembrance could seem an irrelevance. Some,taking a different view,even say that the red paper poppies of remembrance which adorn so many British jackets and jumpers each November are a symbol too far, glorifying rather than villifying the sad facts of war.

Yet for the majority of Britons, the poppy is worn with pride. Not the red component of a national flag being jingoistically celebrated by a nation obsessed with past glories, but a reminder of the preciousness of life itself, and the grief we should all feel that war has so often, particularly in the last hundred years, prematurely ended lives with potential- lives that might even have contributed voices of sanity and wisdom which would help to end all wars,like the "Great War" was supposed to do.

Like Lawrence Binyon's famous poem I've quoted above, poppies are for the fallen. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. Politicians can argue the rights and wrongs of many causes but often their career in democracies is brief and easily forgotten. Like the former British defence secretary described by legendary TV interviewer Robin Day as "here today, gone tomorrow". Not so the servicemen who have to defend our nations. Ordinary people- fathers, brothers, uncles, sons and nowadays female relatives too- robbed of their loved ones, are those who can never forget those they have lost.

Don't we owe it to them -always- to remember, with gratitude, yet sadness, their sacrifice? Earlier this evening, I watched with my younger brother the perpetually moving and poignant Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance. There is more information on this event, and Britain's biggest service charity, if you follow the link in the title of this post. The ceremony, which has been held for eighty years now, has at its finale thousands of poppies falling from the roof of London's Royal Albert Hall. It is a solemn time which needs no words- silence speaks volumes.

Tomorrow, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the nation will respectfully and collectively observe two minutes of silence, commemorating the exact moment at which the guns finally fell silent in 1918 in the armistice of the "Great" war which robbed so many of the breath of life. It is a scene which will be repeated at countless war memorials in villages and towns not just in the UK, but across the commonwealth, and most particularly in those places where the fallen lie. I intend to remember my Great Uncle Clifford, a private in the Royal West Kent regiment, who I never knew, at our local service.

Yet the bible reading at the Festival of Remembrance by His Royal Highness the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, himself a veteran of the British Navy task force in the Falklands Conflict of 25 years ago, perhaps portrays even more eloquently, in the words of Jesus Christ, the "Prince of Peace", the price that love sometimes has to pay. "Greater Love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends".
Actions speak louder than words. Jesus' actions, his whole life and death- and what followed- did that more than any ceremony at a simple cenotaph or a grand hall. May his supreme example, of triumph over evil, bring about the end to war for which we all yearn. When the majority will no longer need to be silent, for peace will prevail throughout all the earth.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

This is the Page of The Train

What's the French- or indeed the Flemish- for 'Awayday', does anybody know?

Readers of a certain age should have no problem spotting in today's title the slogan of one of the most fondly remembered advertising campaigns of the 1980s for Britain's former train network, British Rail, then state-owned. Jimmy Saville, before the sovereign's sword of state bestowed on him a knighthood, abandoned the clunk-click, every trip of his equally famous campaign for car seatbelts, for the clickety clack of carriage on track to extol the marvellous possibilities of the newish InterCity 125 services, capable of traversing Britain at 125 miles per hour.

If you're in nostalgic mood, you can click on the title for a link to one of the original TV ads, courtesy of Youtube. Oh joy: a streamlined loco could bring families and loved ones together quickly and smoothly, whether you were in Aberdeen or Yeovil! Ignore for the moment the inevitable engineering works, strikes, and broken down power cars, and a railway utopia lay ahead of you, and all thanks to your cheap Awayday ticket. But your train of thought would have to be shunted back a very long way now to revisit those halcyon days of BR.

Spurred on by the Iron Lady's determination to privatise the iron rails of Britain's mass transport system, the Conservative government of John Major proceeded with the splitting up of the railway network in the mid-1990s, some years after Margaret Thatcher's premiership was de-railed, and even when many were labelling this a privatisation too far.

The Railways Act left Great Britain looking like a lawyers' dream, ruled by intricate inter-company rather than inter-city contracts, but a travellers' nightmare much of the time, with a unified railway replaced by around 25 Train Operating Companies (TOC's), three Rolling Stock Companies (Roscos) to lease out locos and carriages to the TOCs, and the ill-fated public limited company Railtrack who (theoretically) took perfect care of the infrastructure of track, signals and points, together with stations, bridges and tunnels. Their failure to do so led to the nearest Britain's now likely to come to a publicly-owned railway, with its replacement by the stakeholder-run Network Rail which now re-invests all its profits in much-needed improvements to the system.

Most railway industry professionals and analysts soon recognised the arrangements left by the Railways Act were a mess. This bureaucratic bungle might well have signalled the end of the line for Britain's claims to be a great railway-running nation, even though the UK invented the passenger train and has now lent the rest of the world BR's brilliant brand- InterCity (though sadly it's no longer liveried on this island's own trains).

Fortunately, however, more forward-thinking minds were at work, both in government and the civil engineering industry, and it now looks as though Britain actually could be at the start of a new golden age of rail travel. At a time when aircraft are starting to be seen as something of the bete noir of global warming- rightly or wrongly-, travelling by train suddenly looks more green and more appealing than causing the carbonised airways to cough and splutter even more.

Yesterday evening, Her Majesty the Queen, just a few hours after opening another session of the UK parliament in the Victorian splendour of Pugin's Palace of Westminster, opened a new era of rail travel at another gothic architectural icon, which seems set to become a palace of the permanent way: St Pancras International. London's new gateway to Europe will see High Speed 1 services beginning, appropriately, in just a week's time on the heir to the throne's birthday. I wonder if he'll be celebrating with a short 135 minute hop over to Paris: the prince of rails as well as Wales?

I was speaking to a couple of friends this week who'd had the privilege of being part of an exercise organised by the owners of St Pancras International, London and Continental Railways, who are also responsible for the British arm of the Eurostar service which has hitherto served London Waterloo international albeit at a speed more akin to British Snail this side of the channel before the full opening of HS1. From 14th November, the journey from central London to Paris might remind many of another great InterCity slogan: Eurostar becomes the journey shrinker.

My friends told me that they were absolutely awe-struck by the restoration of the train shed roof,once the biggest single-span iron structure in the world. They described it as a masterpiece of powder blue ironwork which, they said, matched the perfect blue of a cloudless autumn sky. Meanwhile, the gleaming sun shining through the hundreds of self-cleaning glass panels onto the gilded clock below, and the carpenter's craftsmanship of the parquet floors of the undercroft below the platforms, left them in no doubt that this is an achievement which ranks with the best railway architecture in the world: a stunning station. It's surely worth a visit even if you're travelling nowhere, and I agreed with them as I watched the new terminus unveiled by her majest in a life webcast yesterday evening.

Rail travel from its very beginnings has been marvellously liberating. Indeed, the great age of railway building in the mid-nineteenth century gave whole communities throughout the world a freedom of movement they could never have dreamt of previously and even gave us the first Awaydays courtesy of one Thomas Cook esquire, who started his world-famous business in July 1841 with a shilling [5 pence] a head rail excursion for a group of churchgoers from Loughborough to Leicester- towns both served by the rail franchises of 2007 from St Pancras International.

But perhaps the real liberation that a rail trip, whether for a day or a month, can bring is in the changed view of the world it gives you. Down to earth, yet inspiring wonder as you gaze upon hills and mountains, coastlines and forests, deserts and arctic wastes, rivers and streams, bustling towns or isolated villages. All these vistas are possible from a train. You could be following a journey which may lead to happy reunions and new discoveries, or you could be on your way to your chosen work in life.
It may seem like an over-romanticised portrait of the railway scene to the claustrophobic commuters struggling to find a seat on the 8.21 each morning, but I think there's an analogy in train travel to the journey which is life itself. See it for what it can be, with all its possibilities no matter which branch lines you explore along the way, and you'll perhaps have a positive view of journey's end. Jesus Christ described himself as "The Way"- and those who follow him see as the permanent way to a life of fulfilment and peace at journey's end. I wonder if this is why so many vicars love trains?

Sunday, 21 October 2007

wireless western words

THIS IS MY FIRST POSEY POST! Welcome aboard the 15.11 Reading- Cardiff train, courtesy of First Great Western.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Up, Up and Away

Now here's something you don't see every day! This really was a Boeing 747-400 passenger aeroplane passing over Eastbourne Pier on 18th August 2007- and I haven't been tinkering in the photoshop either! Incidentally, that ever-enchanting character,
"The Snowman" can clearly be seen to be whooshing over Brighton Pier, also in Sussex, with his young admirer in the Christmas classic if you look closely. This visitor however was seen over Eastbourne's shoreline at the world's biggest and free- seaside airshow, the cleverly-named AIRBOURNE, which had its 2007 finale about half an hour ago when a myriad of fiery delights lit the sky in the mammoth closing firework display.
The pyrotechnic artistry rounded off four days which, if not exactly blessed with the best of summer weather, once again drew appreciative gasps and fixated the eyes of young and old on the skies to witness the gravity-defying antics of the world's top aviators, and for others kindled poignant memories of The Battle of Britain, a defining event of ariel combat in the second world war, fought in this very airspace sixty-seven summers ago next month.

When I saw the 747 of Oasis airlines, making its maritime visit before flying a scheduled service from Gatwick to Hong Kong later in the day, I was immediately taken back 38 years to 1969, and my first ever sight of a "jumbo", which we delightedly dashed into my junior school playground to watch flying over from Heathrow as the now defunct TWA, Trans World Airlines- or as it was whimsically called in the industry "Try Walking Across"- proudly earned the prestige of being the first transatlantic carrier to bring these huge beasts to British skies. TWA's slogan at the time took Jimmy Webb's big pop hit for The Fifth Dimension of two years earlier and turned it into a memorable jingle, with the associations of these new giants of the skies now offering the tantalising prospect of cheap, worldwide air travel for everyone.

What actually keeps planes in the air is as much a marvel in 2007 as it was in 1967, or indeed in 1907, for it is easy to forget that powered flight has been with us for only just over a century. What can be done with the mega-powerful jet engines of the 21st century when married with the skills and courage of the best pilots still brings childlike wonder to me. The crowd-drawing top of the bill event at Airbourne once again had to be the nine magnificent men in their flying machines from the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. They are indisputably the best and most famous aerobatic display team in the world, and it brings tears of pride to my eyes just to write those words. I never tire of watching them.

But looked at not through rose-coloured binoculars but with another viewpoint, the continued existence of airshows and the ever-gorwing ease of air travel is a cause of great concern for some, not celebration. While Airbourne draws thousands to add something spectacular to their holiday enjoyment, in a thistle field a mile and a half or so from "the world's busiest intennational airport", hundreds have spent the last week in uncomfortable conditions endured for the sake of their cause, the halting of further expansion at "LHR". A sixth terminal and third runway are proposed, but would destroy hundreds of homes in the process. The protestors are amongst a growing number who see the kerosene-consuming monsters as among the biggest villains of the piece -and indeed the peace- when it comes to global warming.

Meanwhile, fantastic though their aerial antics may be, The Red Arrows only exist at all, ultimately, because man's in humanity to man demands that most developed countries decide they need air forces to defend their shores and their skies, and to deter would be aggressors or keep the peace in the world's trouble spots. Airbourne 2007 had less military jets than usual, because so many of them are currently involved in the controversial British campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mass travel has certainly helped to broaden the mind, some might say, but has it brought us any closer to a day when there will be no more warfare, no more surface to air missiles and no more terrorist bombs being made harmless by the brave personnel of the RAF Bomb Disposal Squad whose tools of the trade were also on display today? I fear not. The flying warhorses of the skies may be able to develop ever more thrust and carry even more sophisticated fly by wire technology, but ultimately they do little to ameliorate the worst effects of human beings flying off the handle with each other.

Man continues to be at war with man. Fools continue to rush in where angels fear to tread, let alone fly. It's easy to despair with hate in the air. But I continue to enjoy airshows because I know a time will come when there will be no more war, no more suffering. When, just as man has always longed to fly like the birds, he will mount ujp on wings of eagles and will be changed forever by the experience. And a time will come when all humanity agrees that we "ain't gonna study war no more". It will be down by the riverside, it will be down by the seaside.

Meanwhile, up in the air again, or so many Christians believe, the man crucifed by another Pilate will return, like a wing commander gathering his aircrew. Jesus was surely the one man who rose above our real limitations, our earth-bound thinking full of selfishness and even evil intent. Like a search and rescue helicopter, he will and does stop us drowning in our own woes. He will not need a Typhoon or a Hurricane, but will take us all to a higher plane. I can't wait to see that spectacle and to be on that flight, one day soon.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Be Preprayered

It's a mega birthday blog today, as a new month also crowns a landmark celebration for the biggest youth movement in the world. Happy Hundredth to Scouts everywhere!

Scouting's global success is a quite incredible story of what the human race can aspire to be today, and what it can hint at becoming, when it looks to a better future. That future, as it always has done, begins with its children and young people.

On this day in 1907, Robert Baden-Powell, or BP, started a movement which now has some 28 million members worldwide. The oil company which shares his initials may once have claimed to be 'Britain at its best', but this occasionally eccentric yet passionate British champion of youth arguably did more to help youngsters internationally "Do Your Best" than any other person of his century.

Baden-Powell was a military hero, famous for his courageous defence of Mafeking during the Boer wars. Yet he was no warmonger and nor did he have any social pretensions. But in his way, he was as much a social reformer as any politician. Lloyd George no doubt knew Baden Powell.

The first ever scout camp, this week in 1907, was held in the tranquil and beautiful setting of Brownsea Island, located a mile from the Dorset coast of England in the second largest natural harbour in the world. It provided a safe haven for around 20 boys from very diverse backgrounds- some private schools, and nearly as many from slums and tenements. Little did they, or he, know then what they were pioneering.

Scouting today provides challenges undreamt of by Baden Powell and his boys. Every activity from abseiling to zoology is offered somewhere in scouting's world, which stretches across barriers of creed, culture and colour from Aachen to Zambia. Indeed, this week a representative selection of forty thousand Scouts have turned Hylands Park in Chelmsford, Essex into Scouting City, UK as they celebrate the Centenary World Jamboree, carrying on a tradition inaugarated by Baden Powell in 1920.

Elsewhere, scouts are gathered for their own celebrations on every continent. In mainland Europe, for instance, my younger brother, who has been a scout leader for a quarter of a scouting century,is one of thousands attending the tenth "Haarlem Jamborette" outside the historic Dutch town 20 kilometres from Amsterdam. Scouting's BIG in Holland!

What can explain this incredible success story, in a world which on the one hand is becoming ever more a global village, yet on the other seems so fractured by the clashing of cultures and the worst of man's dealings with his fellow men and women? It must be more than the vision of one moustachioed chief scout of a different era that has done all this.

Dare I suggest it's partly because scouting everywhere pays homage to the best patrol leader of all. One who has shown a way for all humanity, and when followed as he should be, helps not just young people, but all people to march on with strength and courage through the sometimes tough terrain of life to journey's end. Along the way, he encourages us to do our best, and as we do find our true selves in fun, in sharing, in working, living and- yes- loving together.

The devastated flood-hit communities of Gloucestershire were last month extremely grateful for the efforts of scouts in the historic town of Tewksbury who were prepared to offer them not just the use of their scout hut as a refuge. but free food and drink and above all, a welcome and friendliness at a time of great devastation.

"B-P" would have understood, and been proud, of the way Scouts responded in England's west country, but its typical of the efforts of boys and girls and their leaders in the movement around the world, in war or in peace. B-P himself was greatly influenced by the devastation of the so ironically named 'Great War' that he pledged to do his best to build a better world based on international brotherhood and understanding.

I'm sure Lord Robert Baden-Powell would forgive me for slightly amending his famous words which became the scout motto. Yes,we all need to "be prepared" for whatever lies ahead, whether we can see it or not. But maybe even more important is to Be pre-prayered. Baden-Powell was very influenced by the Boys' Brigade, the movement founded by William Smith which enjoys many similar activities to scouting backed up by a distinctly Christian ethos.

Scouting does not limit itself to any particular 'religious' tradition, but faith remains an essential part of its ethos and raison d'etre. The Scout "law" in its way makes a nod to some of the 'ten commandments' given to Moses familiar to all in Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. Loyalty, Trust, a sense of family, courage, respect for self and for others. Values which seem to have become almost dirty words in some sections of society are as vital a part of the Scout philosophy in 2007 as they were in 1907.

But above all, perhaps, the best summary of what Scouting means to me- once a timid 11-year old who after enjoying cubs chickened out of Scouts because of too many then frightening-looking "bigger boys"- is what I am about to go down and join other supporters of the movement young and old, as well as today's Scouts worldwide, at 08.00 local time today at numerous Sunrise Ceremonies. They recall the exact moment one hundred years ago, when B-P sounded the Kudo horn to inaugarate that first Brownsea Island scout camp. And I might say, with pride in my scouting connections:

On My Honour, I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and to the Queen,*
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law

Amen to all that, and keep on Scouting!

[Note: "The Queen" is replaced with appropriate wording in countries and territories which have different heads of state ]

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Ici Londres

Bonjour tous le monde- especialement les gens Francophone! Please excuse my very rusty schoolboy French, but you could be forgiven this July weekend for thinking that the British capital and its environs had been spirited away by Tardis to mainland Europe- but Who's complaining?

Well the good time traveller isn't for one: Dr Who is expecting a dose of Australian glamour come Christmas day when Kylie Minogue moves into the famous police box for the now obligatory Christmas special, while last year's guest companion, Catherine Tate, will be taking off on new adventures as a regular companion with the last of the Time Lords come next Spring after a truly spectacular season finale to the world-renowned sci-fi series last Saturday.

Whovians could have felt bereft the following Saturday night, i.e yesterday, now that their hero has vacated the screen, but there was more than enough spectacle around the metropolis this weekend to keep them occupied. So much in fact, that I'm going to wait til later this evening to update this blog and perhaps add a photo or two to tell you more about it!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Free news

No, nothing more needs to be said here about Tony Blair who has been out of office exactly a week today- but already it seems like a lifetime ago, and he's one of yesterday's men. However, he's been officially appointed already as the new Peace Envoy for the Middle East. But so what? The man of the moment is neither Blair nor Brown, but another proud Scot and a very fine newsman. I write of course about Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza correspondent who had been held captive for 114 days until the great news came in a couple of hours ago of his freedom.

As his colleagues on the BBC's World Today, put it a few moments ago "it's one of those days when it's good to be at work".

I know what they mean and how they feel, along with the two hundred thousand around the world of all faiths or none, who have been praying and hoping for Alan's safe release and have been putting their messages of support on the BBC's website.

How ironic- and appropriate- that this modest, unassuming newsman should gain his freedom just a few hours after the BBC itself was in the spotlight with the release of its annual report, and the first AGM of the BBC Trust, its new sovereign body. The BBC, as a public body which every UK citizen supposedly owns, is much maligned and has to face charges of "dumbing down" practically every day. Its journalists on home territory are seen by some as raging liberal lefties, while others see it as a tool of the establishment. Curiously, some have even accused it of anti-Palestinian bias much in recent years.

Alan Johnston's release, and his dedicated work, put all the puff, praise and pejorative prattlings into their proper place. The words "I'm Free!" may for long have been associated with the late BBC comedy icon John Inman in his Mr Humphries role but now they properly and mercifully belong to Alan Johnston. It is his day, and how overjoyed we all are to see it.

God -Allah, Jahweh, call him what you may here- has heard our prayers. As I said in my parallel posting to my radio blog RadioFar-Far (link on right) a few hours ago, the BBC motto is "Nation shall speak peace unto nation". Please God it may be so,not just in Gaza but throughout the Earth.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Midsummer Mire-Doers

You have to feel more than a tinge of sorrow for the hundred and fifty thousand or so soggy souls who paid £150 each and ventured down to the watery West Country this weekend, for the world-famous Glastonbury Festival.

Once again, what claims to be the world's largest contemporary arts and music festival was accompanied by torrential rain, which turned the normally green fields of this part of historic Somerset into a muddy mire. What has happened to our summer, which right now we're supposed to be in the middle of, literally?

The irony is all the greater, given that the Glastonbury festival began as an event to celebrate the June Summer Solstice, the time when in the Northern Hemisphere the sun appears to "stop" for several days as it reaches it's farthest point north, at the tropic of Cancer. Sadly, it seems to have disappeared altogether for much of the last 72 hours.

At Britain's latitude, this point in June brings the longest day, which occurred last Thursday and did at least see an impressive sunrise even here in the London suburbs, eighty miles or so from the UNESCO world heritage site of Stonehenge, Wiltshire, where the solstic takes on mystical proportions and thousands of revellers were able to gather to greet the dawn on 21st June.

Henge and homestead however were hardly the hotspots they were this time last year in what was actually a truly flaming June, preceeding one of our warmest summers ever. The chilly start to the day saw me staying cosily in my bedroom, apart from a brief venture outside to the garden, but dawn was none the less awesome for all that I viewed it through two panes of glass.

Sunrise and sunset still awaken some primeval sense of awe and wonder in most of us, be we painters or poets or ordinary Josephs. The Glastonbury focus came about because this legendary spot was supposedly visited by one of the New Testament Josephs, possibly the foster father of Jesus, along with his young son. This tale is the origin of the famous lines in William Blake's seminal song, married so stirringly with Hubert Parry's music to produce the ever-enduring "Jerusalem".

Whether those feet ever did tread on England's green and pleasant land, who can ever really say with certainty, though I suppose it's not beyond the realms of possibility. Nothing can be, when a child is born by miraculous virgin birth, and goes on to defeat even death itself. The Christian view of life and death may appear on the surface in contrast and conflict to that of the pagans who parade around ancient sacred sites in the west at this time of the year, and yet a recognition of the power and purpose of earthy and celestial symbols is common to both.

Maybe Jesus too got muddy feet, rather than smelling summer meadows and picking daisies to make childish chains, as he enjoyed the seasonal delights of his father's creation in England. But the songs that continue to celebrate him, as they have done for centuries, will continue to echo through fields and towns, not just at midsummer but every day. The events of two thousand years ago, at Gethsemane, Golgotha and Garden tomb, launched Jesus Christ, superstar, on to the world stage. What Christianity has done, and continues to offer all men and women free of charge, far surpasses any Acts the Glastonbury pyramid stage can offer.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Please Release Him

Alan Johnston banner

On Sunday, I wrote about freedom. Today, this page is dedicated to freedom of expression and of those who report the news. Mercifully only rarely, do reporters unjustly lose their liberty in doing so, but today is a time for remembering one of those horrible occasions.

It was 100 days ago exactly, to the hour, that Alan Johnston, the BBC's correspondent in the Gaza strip, was abducted by anonymous captors as he went about his business, He was not taking sides but merely doing his job, so that his audience might know and better understand what was happening in this troubled parcel of land in the Middle East where for so long there has been anything but good news.

All that any journalist of integrity can do in confict zones is to report events. The solution of complex problems and just solutions are for others to decide. And sometimes all we can do is sit in our comfortable armchairs and weep. Yet we are not powerless.

A few moments ago, journalists from media all over the world paused. At the BBC itself, directors, producers, cameramen, and doubtless many other staff took time out to keep vigil for their missing colleague and to keep his loved ones in their thoughts. Many of them will have held up posters of Mr Johnston while they did so, while his elderly parents in Scotland released one hundred balloons.

This is not the place today to make devotional points. Enough of the trouble in the area Mr Johnston had come to know and understand finds its roots in religious intolerance, and misunderstanding between peoples. Instead, this blog today has followed the BBC news website suggestion to add this picture of Alan Johnston to websites, in solidarity with those of many political persuasions around the world pleading for his safe release by whichever faction is holding him.

Alan Johnston is a man who means no harm and has caused none. He was due to end his posting to Gaza shortly anyway. Whatever the rights and wrongs of your people's situation, please give Alan Johnston back his freedom, now, in the name of peace. And if you are but a viewing bystander too, stand with him please whether in silence or words, for the sake of the free word.