Category Archives: God-bothering

That Thought Would Never Have Occurred to Me

Occasionally you meet with an opinion on some everyday phenomenon which rocks you back on your heels, not necessarily because it’s controversial but because it’s so totally out there: it’s a thought that would never, in a million years, have occurred to you.  The latest example of this meme (if you can call it that, which you can’t) happened the other evening.  I was at a meeting in a room with an artwork on the wall, showing Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.  It was a 3-D effigy and the flames were very colourful; I smiled at it once or twice, thought how unusual it was to see Guy Fawkes rather than a bonfire plus fireworks and set off on a nostalgic journey to a childhood where groups of kids wandered the streets with a stuffed suit in a wheelbarrow shouting ‘penny for the guy!’  We were never allowed to walk the streets, but we did make a guy every year by stuffing some old clothes of my Dad’s with newspaper.  This guy went on the bonfire and was a central part of the festivities, along with hand-held sparklers, wall-mounted Catherine wheels and distant rockets whose failure to explode would be investigated by a torch-wielding parent.  I loved Bonfire Night and have regretted that of late it has been superseded by Hallowe’en: it does seem to be making a comeback, though, possibly connected in some vague way to Brexit.

But in all these years it never occurred to me to think of the burning of Guy Fawkes as anti-Catholic.  Sure, I knew the story, but as far as I was concerned these religious divisions were buried deep in the past.  Bonfire Night was an anti-authoritarian night of fun; nothing more.  So I was quite taken aback to hear someone say, after the meeting, that she was shocked by the picture on the wall.

‘Shocked?’ we asked.  ‘How so?’

‘It’s so anti-Catholic,’ she affirmed.

I think we were all taken aback by this view of things.  Most others took my view of things, that the 5th of November has been so long divorced from those political acts that inspired it, as to have no relevance.  If it inspires any feelings nowadays beyond family fun, it is a general antipathy to politicians: I don’t think it would occur to anybody to associate it with anti-Catholicism.  After all, nobody thinks about the torture of St Catherine when they look at a Catherine wheel, do they?

Am I wrong?  Am I living in an Anglican bubble?  Do Catholics still take offence at Bonfire Night?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

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Are Facebook Friends Funny?

If Quakers have a fault, it’s that they tend to be a Bit Serious.  There’s a Puritan streak in there somewhere, what with the teetotalism and all, and even though there are at least two jokes about Quakers (I’ve told them before but I’ll tell them again in a minute) they – or we – don’t tend to be great comedians (Stephen Fry excepted, but then he’s not actually a practising Friend.)

So it was with immense joy that I pounced on a new Friends Facebook group.  In addition to my ‘Withnail and I Appreciation Group’ which keeps me mentally healthy (see https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/hamlet-is-not-quite-as-funny/) the Quaker groups I belong to are all relatively respectful and calm, considering it’s Facebook, and people post lengthy screeds on subjects such as renewal and worship.  But it’s not a bundle of laughs.  Enter the Association of Bad Friends.  I have high hopes that this will be a great source of merriment since it is a requirement of membership that you Be Funny – and if, as I hope, my membership is approved, I will tell them this story:

Once upon a time a local meeting decided to have a weekend away.  They went to Woodbrooke and held lots of sessions on different subjects; then on the Saturday evening they decided to put on an entertainment.  Part of this entertainment was a skit called ‘The Worst Meeting’ during which people arrived late (and noisily) a mobile went off and was answered, and I got up and told this joke:

Three pieces of string walk into a bar.  The first piece of string walks up to the bar: the barman says, ‘Are you a piece of string?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t serve pieces of string in here – get out.’

The second piece of string walks up to the bar.  The barman repeats the question: the string admits to being a piece of string, whereupon he says, ‘I told your friend.  We don’t serve pieces of string.  Get out.’

The third piece of string is somewhat the worse for wear, all ragged at the edges and bulky in the middle.  He waddles up to the bar.  The barman sighs.  ‘Are you a piece of string, too?’

‘No,’ he answers.  ‘I’m a frayed knot.’

Such was the unusualness of this joke that some members of that meeting still call me ‘String.’

OK so here are the jokes about Quakers:

Q:  Why are Quakers like economists?

A:  Because when you ask three Quakers a question you get four different answers.

Q:  Why do Quakers sing hymns so slowly?

A:  Because they’re reading the next verse to see if they agree with it

I’ll let you know about the Facebook group.

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Oh, So We’re All Americans Now? Not This Baby!

So today is Black Friday.  What?  What the hell is that?  I’ve heard of Good Friday and Friday the Thirteenth Parts One to Ten-and-a-half but I absolutely refuse to know anything What So Ever about Black Friday.  It has no meaning here.  It is a hollow import which some traders have latched onto to sell Even More Stuff because, let’s face it, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night just ain’t enough to fill the gap between holidays and Christmas.  I’m daily expecting some marketing whizz to come up with a selling point for Michaelmas (29th September) so that once the stocks of school uniforms (pens, pads, textbooks) are exhausted we can all buy – well, whatever it is they might come up with.  I mean, why should September miss out when January has holidays, February Valentine’s, March and April Easter eggs, May and June gardening and July and August family holidays?  October has Hallowe’en and November Guy Fawkes, after (or during) which Christmas begins.  And what has September got?

It’s just not right.

But in spite of everyone in the world wanting to be American (according to my friend in Iowa anyway) many of us resist these imports.  It is not part of our culture; it has no relevance to our habits and my hope is that like a Bonfire Night sparkler, it will have but a short time to live before it withers and dies.

In my youth it was fashionable to look to America for a lead: it was still a young country (or we thought of it as such) and in the vanguard of popular culture.  But now many of us regard Uncle Sam as a bloated, overindulged, gas-guzzling, obese, intolerant figure – and don’t even get me started on Trump.  Sorry guys but I’d prefer Tierra del Fuego or the Isle of Lewis to most parts of the US.  I mean, you have no publicly funded health system (and what little Obama managed to scrape through is rapidly being dismantled) you have far too many guns and no BBC.  So thanks, but no thanks.

(On the other hand, you do have some stonking literature: see previous post –

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/i-went-to-the-library-because-i-wanted-to-read-deliberately/)

Kirk out

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Oh No It Isn’t Panto Season Yet, Is It? Oh Yes It Is!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, hat, child, stripes and indoor

Oh yes it is!  Panto season has officially begun, and here you see me in my costume as the Prologue (and Epilogue) to Loughborough’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ performed last night at John Storer House.

More than just a panto, it was a phenomenon because with no script and only a basic story to work with, we did it all in just one day!  Yes, that’s right – in under twelve hours a cast of seven, one costume person and one props guy produced a sizzling, hilarious production which had a full house in stitches.

My part in it was to write and perform a Prologue and an Epilogue; and to that end, I sat in on some of the improv to get a feel of what was happening.  In an ingenious twist, Goldilocks was done as a stroppy teenager assisted by a magic talking tree, and the scenes were held together by a Paparazzi Pete, a dodgy reporter.  With those ideas in mind, I went home and cooked up these lines:

Prologue

Ladies and gentlemen – good evening,

welcome to the Forest News

(I apologise for reading:

problems with the autocues)

Today, David Attenborough

asks, is there life in Charnwood Borough?

Are we in the Goldilocks zone?

Can our heroine find a home?

 

In other news, if you go down

(sorry, by the way, for the outfit –

wardrobe had a hissy fit)

to the woods outside the town

you may find the strangest scene

three bears and a stroppy teen

and a magic talking tree

(you know, I could’ve been on the BBC!)

 

This just in.  Oh, yes it is

(oh no it isn’t).  Yes, it is:

breakfast theft is on the rise

Papa Bear’s called it a ‘swiz’

with that story now unfolding

(and my dungarees just holding)

over in the forest quarter

we go live to our reporter.

So in comes Paparazzi Pete and the story unfolds.  It ends with a song and then I come on again:

Epilogue

We know we’ll never need to prompt ya

for our efforts so impromptu

cos it’s not an easy play

to make a panto in a day

observing unities of time

as well as writing stonking rhyme

and so, before we are released

and all get stuck into our feast

show us that you understand

and, just once more, give us a hand.

And that was that.  The food was great; the company was a mixture of all the faiths in Loughborough and it was altogether a terrific evening.

Here, courtesy of Kev Ryan of Charnwood Arts, are some other pics of the evening:

cofpanto-7579

cofpanto-7527

cofpanto-7635

cofpanto-7659

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Life on the i-player

Here’s a round-up of the week’s TV.

The first contribution wasn’t strictly on the iplayer but Netflix, having first been broadcast (I think) on ITV.  I had seen it last year, but was reminded of it by a Quaker on Facebook because it has a Quaker character in it.  Indira Varma stars as a highly competent but emotionally all-over-the-place (hmm!) police officer, supported by Robert Glenister (Philip’s better-behaved younger brother.)  It’s a compelling series centring on a pharmaceutical corruption with murders and corrupt psychiatrists thrown in.  The Quaker character, though a little too serene and smiley, is nonetheless interesting, and Indira Varma is great.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5839454/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I also caught, in a radio programme I can’t now find, Peter Hitchens fulminating about the King James Version of the Bible.  Basically Hitchens, who seems to be a died-in-the-war* reactionary, wants to keep the KJV.  Well, I wasn’t aware that it was being abolished: you don’t have to look too hard to find churches who use it as I’ve been to at least one in Leicester and one in Wales.  There is, I think, a point to be made about the language: as a poet I regret that the poetry and grandeur which infuses the KJV has not permeated the newer translations.  But surely the main point is that KJV, along with Wycliffe and other contemporary versions, was written in order to be accessible to the (then) largely illiterate congregation.  It was written so that the people could read and understand the Bible for themselves without being dependent on priests: as such, it is no longer fit for purpose.

It might be objected that we don’t attempt to update Shakespeare.  Well, actually we do: and this week I also caught up with a BBC modernisation of Much Ado About Nothing called Shakespeare Retold:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468034/

but in any case, Shakespeare is not Holy Writ.

I also, sadly, encountered the soggy reheated breakfast that is Porridge.  This was not only a lame rehash where nothing has moved on (unlike, say, Still Open All Hours where the customers are different and gender roles have changed) – it is, you might say, almost a betrayal of Clement and La Frenais’ former work, since Porridge was originally so compelling and revealing.  But now both society and the prison network have changed so much that to do it in the same way appears risible:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05dsx5r/porridge-series-1-6-the-rift

And finally…

You Don’t Need a Sausage Roll When You’ve Got Jesus

 

Greggs' 'sausage roll saviour' has caught the attention of the world's press

…a selection of news items about the baby Jesus (love the headline bottom right) which according to  the Today programme’s Thought For The Day is a non-story.  Nobody is really bothered by the Greggs window display; not the Catholics, not the Anglicans, not even the Evangelical Alliance – and when the EA aren’t bovvered, that’s it.  A non-story.

*see what I did there?

Kirk out

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Silent Music: Leonard, Prince of Paradox

Today I am spending the entire day honouring the memory of Leonard Cohen; poet, singer, guitarist and songwriter (1934-2016).  Although his death wasn’t announced until Nov 16th, he actually died on 7th, so it was one year ago today that we lost him.

Here’s how I found him.  It’s 1972 and I’m in a schoolroom in West London.  We are awaiting an English lesson when in comes a student teacher followed by a caretaker carrying a record player.  Great excitement: we rarely have music in class.  The teacher puts on the record and says, ‘we’re going to listen to this song and then discuss the lyrics.’  The guitar sounded, the voice began – and I was lost.

In those early days his voice haunted me like a busker on the underground, seeming to echo from afar down a long, dark tunnel.  But from the first inoculation he was in my blood, and there was no getting him out.  Vast wastes of emotion opened up in me: here was a way to link god and sex (which the church had cast asunder) here was a landscape of sublimity and pain – above all, here was one who was not afraid to stand and open his heart for all to see.  I loved that in him, as so many did.

Leonard was not a whole man, and he was unafraid to tell us so: the word ‘broken’ seemed to resonate through his early work where despair often won out over exaltation.  Whirled by winds of ‘deep distress’, he landed on Mount Baldy, a Zen monastery outside Los Angeles where he woke before dawn and walked through the snow to sit, silent and shorn, in meditation:

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiU7abRqKzXAhXiK8AKHWReAKYQjB0IBg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.leonardcohenforum.com%2Fsearch.php%3Fst%3D0%26sk%3Dt%26sd%3Dd%26keywords%3D%252Bnovels%2B%2B%26fid%255B%255D%3D3%26ch%3D-1&psig=AOvVaw2SGymFgp4TNEmDg00wdVSE&ust=1510139077994737

Since he never spoke, the other monks knew him only as zhikan, ‘the silent one’, having no idea that outside the monastery he was a famous singer.  But then, Cohen had so many incarnations: poet, Cuban revolutionary, Scientologist (‘did you ever go clear?’) Jew, Zen Buddhist, prophet and guru – and those are only the ones I know about.

And as for me, what can I tell you, my brother, my killer?  How can I possibly explain what Cohen meant to me?  I loved the openness in him, the way he never put on a front or pretended to be other than he was.  I loved the way he pursued each line of a song, even to the point of crawling across a hotel bedroom floor at 3 am trying to get it right.  And most of all I loved the way he treated his audience.

For Cohen, tours were not so much a way of promoting a record (though they were of course that) as a kind of reconnaissance, a way of experiencing the zeitgeist.  He had a great respect for his audience and in concerts he gave his all, dispensing with a support act and doing encores which sometime stretched out as long as the main set.  The last time we saw him, though he looked so much older, he skipped off the stage at the end: he was then 75.

And yet in those early years I suffered for his art.  Like other disciples before me I was pilloried in public for my allegiance to Cohen; I was mocked and jeered at.  The ‘grocer of despair’ was too easily dismissed as the bard of the suicidal (‘one hand on my suicide’) by those who never glimpsed his beauty.  As for Cohen himself, in those early years he was described as having ‘the stoop of an aged crop-picker and the face of a curious little boy’ but with meditation the stoop went and by and large he aged well, still looking good right into his sixties:

 

Image result for Leonard Cohen

(image removed on request)

In public Cohen was courteous and dignified, refusing to hit back at his critics or fight rudeness with rudeness.  But, though many consider him a sort of guru, Cohen was no saint; and his Achilles heel was women.  He did go through a period of celibacy at Mount Baldy, but in general seemed unable to stop pursuing women; and not limiting himself to one at at time either: Jennifer Warnes once sadly remarked that she never had a relationship with Cohen because she knew it wouldn’t be exclusive.  From the outside it appears that he never found lasting happiness or stability in relationships: his early affair with the Marianne of the song seemed a brief oasis in a stormy life; a storm which escalated into a crisis when his agent Kelly Lynch stole $5m and left him penniless.  Cohen showed remarkable public forbearance in the face of such devastation: all he would say was, ‘we understand that these things happen.’  But though we felt for him we were also delighted because a career which had seemed dead and buried was resurrected: Leonard was on the road again.

He continued recording almost to the day he died: his final album, ‘You Want it Darker,’ was released just 19 days before his death and recorded with difficulty.  In the end his son Adam had to stick a mic on a desk and into this Leonard breathed his last songs.  They do not, of course, have the vigour of his earlier work, but are nonetheless infused with a bleak beauty.

No, Cohen was no saint: but he was a prophet of sorts and for me a kind of paradoxical guru.  Leonard never would have wanted to be anyone’s guru: I never wanted to have a guru.  It’s the perfect relationship; and for me he will always be a guiding voice; bleak, sublime, courteous and above all, to his own self true.

If you want to know more, here’s the official site:

http://leonardcohen.com

and here’s my blog post about that concert in 2008:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/songs-of-leonard-cohen-170708/

RIP Leonard, we love you.

Kirk out

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By the Word Divided

Yesterday I listened to the prequel to the prequel – or rather, the accompaniment to the whole, which was Phillip Pullman talking about his art in Book of the Week.  Now, I confess that although I love the work, I had conceived a prejudice about the man – due to believing that JK Rowling’s Professor Lockhart, the inept and narcissistic character in Book Two of Harry Potter, was based on Pullman (because of Sally Lockhart, a character in his series of potboilers.)  So I conceived an idea of Pullman as a narcissistic academic, long blond-grey hair swept back, striding around Oxford in a billowing gown.

Well, from the sound of these programmes, my conception was dead wrong.  Pullman started out as a schoolteacher; and his tone as he talks about what informs his writing is solid and down-to-earth.  He is particularly good at debunking Richard Dawkins’ ridiculously Gradgrindian theory that reading children fairy tales is likely to discourage them from accepting scientific ideas.  Plus, like me, he is a huge fan of William Blake.  What’s not to like?  I have to wait until this afternoon for the last installment, but here’s the link to the rest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09b19y8

Anyway, the thing I was going to talk about today was the BBC mini-series (I have to hyphenate that word because otherwise it looks too much like miseries) about the Gunpowder Plot.  This is a story that never fails to capture the imagination, as it contains not only thrills and spills but the very real danger of the overthrow of government.  The idea of Guy Fawkes as a popular hero is ill-informed as he and his co-conspirators were no friends to democracy: however this production gives us something of the background of oppression which gave rise to the Plot.  Catholics were tortured and killed in the most brutal ways: while at the same time Protestants were being burned at the stake in Catholic Spain.

The production does get a bit Game-of-Throne-ish in the last episode: there’s rather a lot of swashbuckling and male back-slapping.  But there’s enough of a counterbalance by way of serious drama and a Horrible Histories-style detail in the telling: the Tower of London is shown in grisly and depressing detail as the Lubyanka of its day; we see details such as the storing of the gunpowder in an underground store and their concern about keeping it dry.  King James is down-to-earth and very non-regal and the true villain of the piece is the Richard III-like Cecil, whose web of spies intercept letters and people and interrogate both with an equal detachment.  So on the whole I think serious drama won over the GOT – but it was a close thing.

It’s interesting though, that we can still be gripped by a drama whose outcome we already know.  I wonder if Richard Dawkins would understand that?  He certainly wouldn’t understand Catholics and Protestants killing each other – but then neither do I…

Anyway, here’s the series:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p05j1cg8/gunpowder-series-1-episode-1

Kirk out

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Filed under Book reviews, drama, friends and family, God-bothering, TV reviews