I wonder what the Anglo-Saxon for shout-out might be? I guess I’ll find out as I plough through Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. I’m starting with the alphabet which is quite easy because most of it is like ours, although they have some different letters such as thorn and ‘eth’ (I think that’s what it’s called, though OH will correct me if not) both of which represent the voiced and unvoiced ‘th’ in English – ie ‘th’ in ‘thing’ and ‘th’ in ‘seethe’. Anglo-Saxon is a delight to listen to, such a mouthful of juicy consonants accompanied by goblets full of ringing vowels, you can practically taste the mead and feel the table under your hand. It’s interesting also to put this together with Sutton Hoo – though 500 years separate the dig from Beowulf – to create a picture in the imagination. Beowulf – I’ve read it now – is essentially a tale of shield-bashing men from the time when men were men, wrestling monsters from the deep (and their mothers) and fiery dragons. But what interests me is what it says about the society; the life of the barn where people sat in the mead-hall while wardens were placed outside; how status was dependent on prowess on the battle-field, and above all the importance of exchanging gifts. At the end of Beowulf the eponymous hero, having died destroying a dragon, is buried with much of the haul they recovered from the dragon’s den and placed inside a huge barrow on the cliff-top. Having finished the poem I have an enduring vision of ships crossing ‘whale-roads’, great halls, flowing mead and long speeches – one or two of which are given by women. Though undoubtedly second-class citizens and traded as freely as gold or silver, women are not as silent in Beowulf as I had expected and one, the wife of the lord, makes a lengthy speech of welcome to the Geats (people from southern Sweden) who have come to Denmark to free the people from the monster. It’s interesting to imagine the great mead-hall of Beowulf strewn with the found objects from Sutton Hoo; the shoulder-clasps of gold inlaid with garnet, the helmets laid aside while the heroes eat and the great cauldron hanging from the roof of the barn with perhaps a meaty stew inside. These were already sophisticated people with customs, trade, religion, seafaring routes and a social hierarchy. It’s just a pity that all they seemed to think about was war. Hey, ho – it’s tough studying Anglo-Saxon as a Quaker…
As beetleypete has so consistently pointed out, the blocks on WordPress are a bloody nightmare. It’s an answer to a problem nobody had, an idea which solves nothing but creates loads of barriers, particularly when it comes to editing. Every time you press return it creates a new block, a sort of uber-paragraph, which has to be formatted separately from everything else – and when it comes to poetry, as you can imagine, this is practically impossible. The poem ‘Spike’ below is not one document but consists of dozens of individual blocks, each of which has to be edited separately. There is no way, for example, to select the whole document and make it bold – which I do for those of my readers who struggle with the inexplicably faint font – nor, I’ve just discovered, can I select the whole poem for deletion. I was going to do this but now I shan’t bother – deleting ninety-one lines individually one by one is not my idea of fun.
I did Spike yesterday at a Quaker songs and poetry gathering, and it went over well. Singing carols on Zoom is a tricky business; you’d think everyone could just unmute themselves and sing along but apparently the echoes and feedback turn it into an infernal shrieking. Not what you want. So we all had to sing separately along to the music and clap silently. Incidentally, did you know that Quakers don’t generally applaud? I can’t remember why, I’ll have to look it up. We also don’t say ‘yes’ when asked if we agree with a minute in a meeting, but ‘Hope so’ – the idea being that… hang on, I’ll have to look that up as well. Quakers can come across as being quite obsessive, but there are a couple of fundamental practices that I’m totally on board with. The first is not swearing oaths or making promises. The idea behind this is that your word should be your bond, whereas if you make a promise you are setting up a double standard of truth and saying ‘I’m telling the truth now but I might not be on other occasions.’ I never thought about this before but it makes perfect sense. The other thing I agree with is not gambling because it’s unearned income. This is thought to be wrong – a prohibition which extends to charging interest or playing the stock exchange, not usually thought of as gambling, though that’s exactly what it is. Charging interest in particular leads to vast swathes of unearned income, as does locating your company somewhere you don’t have to pay tax. If you think about it, our whole system is based on charging interest and that’s a system which makes the rich richer and the poor, who have no choice but to pay higher interest on their debt – I know whereof I speak as my overdraft charges have nearly doubled – poorer.
So there we are. I’m going to leave it there as I’m trying not to think about the news, but I send a special thought to you if you’re going to be alone at Christmas, particularly if you had plans which you’ve had to cancel.
There’s an interesting analysis here of why Quakers don’t clap.
Today I have two Quaker events via zoom. The first is a fringe event from the Yearly Meeting Gathering which was supposed to be at Bath but is now online; it’s a discussion about Quakerism and politics, which promises to be interesting. Unlike Anglicans who can be very reluctant to ‘get involved in politics’ – though that’s changing to a degree – Quakers have never shied away from political action and have been at the forefront of movements such as the Abolition of Slavery and more recently the anti-nuclear campaign. In fact it was via CND that I first came across Quakers and found them impressively calm and thoughtful.
So that promises to be interesting. The second event is something I’m much less enthusiastic about, ie filling in our safeguarding forms. I’m entirely on board with the need for safeguarding but as for the procedures it’s a bit like doing accounts: yes, I want to know how much money I have but can’t someone else do the figures? In fact I become quite Homer Simpson-ish when faced with these things and start whining, ‘Can’t someone else do it?’ Alas, no-one else can so I’ll have to bite the bullet and fill the damn thing in this evening.
There’s also an upcoming discussion about the Swarthmore Lecture which Tom Shakespeare delivered in August. This discussion has been so long delayed that I’m going to have to listen to the lecture again; I do remember at the time being completely underwhelmed by it. But my guess is that we’re going to discuss the content of the lecture rather than the quality and that it might be somewhat unQuakerly to rant about how unsatisfactory I found it. Anyway, I’ll see what I think when I watch it again.
Apart from that my Nano novel is on track; I’m more than half-way through at 26,000 words and reasonably pleased with what I’ve done. So that’s all good.
Last night I finished watchingSmall Axe: Mangroveby Steve McQueen. I’ll come to a review of that by and by.
One of the things which always amuses me about Quakers is their disengagement from popular culture. This is not deliberate – we’re not the Amish – it’s just that certain aspects of culture like the obsession with celebrity or memes on social media, pass them by. They are quite as au fait with politics as anyone could wish, but when it comes to the latest trends – nada. Zip, zilch, niente. Not a flicker – so I have to be careful when texting Friends not to use abbreviations like k, btw or np.
So it’s unlikely Quakers would be aware of nom. Having had teenage children, I am only too aware that yum yum has been replaced with nom nom, or sometimes, if a meal is particularly delicious, om nom nom. It’s just as expressive and I guess every generation has to invent its own slang; but what amuses me is that the Quaker committee on which I sit is known as Noms. It’s short for Nominations but it always makes me think of eating something delicious. Yet I doubt anyone else makes that connection.
We had a Noms meeting last night, via Zoom (confidentiality forbids me to say any more) and I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that in many ways I prefer Zoom meetings to real ones. For a start you don’t have to make the extra effort to get out of the house in the evening (which, since I’m obsessively punctual, means that I always overestimate the journey time and arrive too early) you can make yourself a drink without worrying whether your host/ess will have herbal tea or soya milk since you are an Old Fart who drinks no caffeine after midday and no cow’s milk at all; you can check out and go to the loo or scribble some notes or look at your email, all whilst pretending to be fully engaged in the meeting. It’s so much more restful. Plus, if you’ve forgotten to bring something you can just nip upstairs and get it. Then when it’s all over you can just kick back and flip on the i-player without having to drive or walk home. Zoomy bliss.
Sometimes I worry about what kind of person I’m turning into. I’m finding lockdown far too easy;enjoying sitting down of an evening to watch TV or play computer games with The Son; I don’t feel the need to travel or go to the pub or the cinema or a restaurant. Never in a million years would I have dreamed I’d be like this – and sometimes it bothers me that I’m turning into my parents: getting up early, in bed by ten, not going out. Then again lots of the things I like doing have been ruined. Travel is ruined by climate change – I can’t fly with a clean conscience, beaches are spoilt by pollution and litter (and too many people) and even my favourite beach, Southwold, is spoilt by guilt because half the town is now given over to holiday rentals. I love Cornwall but I wouldn’t go there now because a) it’s a long drive on busy roads and b) it’s too crowded. Where is there to go? How can one travel nowadays without causing or witnessing environmental damage?
Answers on a postcard please (now there’s a dated expression).
Two more books have flooded in: the Greek New Testament guide and the Funky Gibbon, so that’s only the atheist one to come, which I shall have to chase up. It is good to know that books can arrive; I was beginning to wonder if they’d got lost in some weird Covid-related sub-ether – not that I know what a sub-ether is, it’s just a phrase knocking about in my subconscious. As I write the hedge man is attacking our hedge with ferocious clippers. He has hay fever so his whirring and shearing is punctuated by loud and irritated sneezes.
We are quite concerned here about Leicester being newly locked down; not that it affects us particularly apart from my mother-in-law living in that catchment area, but because it’s an indication that lockdown is being eased far too soon and that we are in for another spike. I’ve generally always liked and respected the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, but he has blotted his copybook somewhat by breaking lockdown to visit his partner and has now claimed that the number of cases in Leicester has been exaggerated. This seems irresponsible to me and his assertion that the numbers are higher because they’re testing more people is worthy of Johnson himself. Do better, Soulsby!
The hedge man being here makes me think of hedge-priests who were a sort of wandering Quaker before Quakers were invented (were Quakers invented? Or were we discovered?) because I guess George Fox was a sort of hedge-priest, travelling from place to place, sleeping rough and insisting on giving his testimony in the churches. I think he must have been something of a pain in the arse, but then lots of these people are – like St Paul, for example – because in order to start something new you probably have to be a grade A PITA. It’s hard to imagine nowadays the sort of bull-headed commitment to a cause which would lead you to sleep in the hedgerows and make yourself universally unpopular, but whatever it is, I certainly don’t have it.
I was reading this morning a testimony about living more simply, having fewer possessions, less clutter and so on. This is something I generally aspire to and fail at dismally: last night I kept waking up and worrying about the dishwasher which I thought might be blocked (it wasn’t.) I often think of this photo of Gandhi’s possessions when he die
and look around me at everything I own. I imagine Gandhi, for all his virtues, must also have been another great pain in the arse; however committed to non-violence, his wife must have found him a great trial. These great men, important though they were, rarely adopt a consensual approach to anything.But going back to possessions, I think it’s not so much about what you own as your relationship to it. Do you fear losing everything or can you contemplate this with equanimity? It’s an odd thing but I can imagine losing everything we’ve got in storage without being too upset – but take away my dishwasher and I’d be devastated. The thought of all that bloody washing up every day… ugh.
How was your weekend? Mine was – well, it made me appreciate the pleasures of doing nothing very much and not trying to fill the time with Meaningful Activity. Apart from an hour spent on a wobbly phone at Quaker Meeting and a Facetime with family I had no scheduled activities at all. Previously this would have filled me with dread but right now it feels great because I don’t have to do anything except eat, sleep and entertain myself. I can watch the clouds go by or take a walk round the park and look at the blossom (it’s good this year but the magnolias got caught by the frost), I can make pizza and eat it while watching Breaking Bad with my family; I can hang out with Daniel and watch him play – not Animal Crossing, some other game where you make like Robinson Crusoe and build civilisation on an island, only sans Man Friday, I can’t remember what it’s called; I can read another hundred pages of Ducks, Newburyport, and I can garden.
I may not have the greenest fingers and after last year I felt that I’d earned a year off and needed to lie fallow for a while. But in light of potential food shortages that didn’t seem to make sense, so I decided I’d sling a few spuds in tyres like last year and run a few beans up poles and see if anyone saluted them. But could I get any seed potatoes? I could not. B&Qappeared to deny the existence of any such thing (seed potatoes? Never ‘eard of ’em) and sent me instead to some hanging baskets, while Wilko’s merely gave me a box to tick underneath each selection saying ’email when in stock.’ OK then…
But some tasks cannot be ignored. The lawn was screaming to be mown, so I got out the Great Green Goddess and chugged up and down the bumpy overgrown surface grunting bastard bastard bastard as I went. Mowing our lawn is a little like pushing a buggy over sand dunes – if you were trying to flatten the sand dunes at the same time and had to empty the basket every twenty seconds. No wonder this is my least favourite job. I don’t even like the lawn; since half the garden is flagged we never sit on it and to be honest, if things got so bad that the nation got into a dig for victory kick, I’d be quite happy to dig the bastard up and grow stuff on it. Provided I could get the seeds…
Anyway, having done that and tidied up the compost after the depredations of some local badgers, I felt I’d earned a rest. Daniel pruned the bush by the back door and then had a rest with me. That’s one great advantage of this lockdown – we’re spending more time together.
One blustery day Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet set out for a trip around the forest to wish all their friends a Very Happy Thursday. And here I am to wish you the same, only sans Piglet as sadly he is self-isolating.
How are you getting on with the lockdown? For me it’s pretty much business as usual; I get up, do my yoga, make a drink and head for my desk. I work till about 12.30, go for a walk before lunch, read a while, then get back to my desk till around five or six. Evenings are spent reading or watching TV (tonight it will be a live streaming of the National Theatre’s ‘One Man, Two Guv’nors‘ with James Corden.) And yet I miss things – things like not being able to go to the cafe, not going to meetings (or Meeting), not seeing friends, not going to the cinema, not going to the pub or the folk club or Friday Room discussion group, not having a meal out. I may not have had a welter of social events but when you have none at all you notice the difference.
On the other hand, it has meant less time spent organising for meetings and Meeting and discussion groups and seeing friends. So what have I been doing with my time? As I said, I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel; I promised (or threatened) a review and I will get to that in due course; I’ve also been reading a Paula Hawkins novel (she of ‘Girl on a Train’ fame) which is deeply, horribly yet fascinatingly dystopian and of course I am still ploughing on with Ducks, Newburyport (only 350 pages to go…)And on Britbox we’ve been watching Rev, which has to be one of the best sitcoms ever. I also chat to my friends online and get frequent phone calls from friends (and Friends).I attended my first online Meeting yesterday via Zoom, which worked quite well, all sitting in silence in our own houses… Oh, and I nearly forgot – I’ve started learning ancient Greek! I can now recite the alphabet from memory and write a few actual words (shut up about your bloody evening classes Gerald!)
So that’s me. What have you been up to? Let me know – I’d love to hear.
I mentioned yesterday that one of the books I’ve been reading is in the genre of Mormon crime fiction (though Mette Harrison may be that genre in its entirety.) As a fellow Goodreads reviewer commented, His Right Hand is very badly written, the narrative is interrupted by large swodges of exposition and if I could critique it in one phrase it would be the time-honoured show don’t tell. Harrison never passes up the opportunity to explain Mormon history (less is more might be another useful phrase) and dialogue is strewn with so many of these snippets that to read it is like navigating an obstacle course. The main character also has long and rather irritating periods of self-analysis in which she alternately considers it her responsibility to leap in and sort things out and feels guilty for everything that goes wrong; both equally unrealistic postures.
Basically, it’s a murder mystery set in a Mormon community not far from Salt Lake City. A prominent member of the church is found murdered and – here I could warn of spoiler alerts but you’re hardly likely to read it so I won’t bother – in this seemingly perfect family all is not as it seems. Not only is the deceased legally a woman though living as a man (the transgender narrative pursues me everywhere) his wife is not the sweet submissive woman she appears. There’s a gay extra-marital affair and an illegitimate daughter as well as another gay son, all fuelled by more batches of cookies than you could ever wish to lay eyes on, baking cookies being the denominator of femininity in this community. But what kept me ploughing through this was not so much the plot as the insight it afforded into Mormon society and the slow revelation that those inside it care far more about maintaining the structures than about maintaining the people. There are complex layers of authority and what we in the Society of Friends would call oversight, but they have more to do with policing than caring, and they don’t shrink from casting out those who do not conform.
I can’t recommend this book as a novel, but I guess if you’re interested in finding out where Mormons are at, it’s as good a guide as any.
Now: it has just come to my attention that I started this blog intending to write about something else altogether. Synchronicity, when things pop up in a random sequence of coincidences, is something I notice from time to time. You may be thinking of a song you haven’t heard for years, switch on the radio and there it is. Or you might be talking about a person you haven’t seen since childhood and they pop up on Facebook. That sort of thing. It seems to mean something but since Jung first came up with the idea, nobody has been able to say precisely what; and so it was that having picked up this book without any idea of the theme, I also picked up Conan Doyle’s Study in Scarlet. Though both are crime novels, the settings (Baker St and Utah) could hardly be further apart. Or so you might think; yet turning to the rarely-dramatised Part Two of Conan Doyle, what do we find? ‘The Country of the Saints’ in which an as yet unknown character finds himself in Utah and meets the caravan led by Brigham Young. This turns out to be a lengthy back-story to the main murder. Who’d have thought?
I mean, what are the chances of picking up two crime novels more or less at random – in the UK – and finding they both have a Mormon theme?
And how am I doing with watching less TV? Not so bad; last night I read for a bit, then got the keyboard out and played before watching a couple of episodes of Doc Martin. Then reading some more before bed. Total viewing time: 1.5 hours. Not too bad.
It’s natural to one of my generation that anything absurd or strange immediately recalls Python, and this one also serves as a timely tribute to Terry Jones (video unavailable but watch this instead, it’s really funny.) Those of you not of a religious bent (no pun intended, I don’t do that sort of thing) may have scrolled through the recent announcement by the Council of Bishops without it touching the sides, but it took many of us by surprise and I have taken the time to respond to this helpful blog post which explains some of what’s going on.
Basically I’m thankful not to be an Anglican any more because I no longer have to wrestle with dogma and creed. Quakers have always taken an approach to change which is both thoughtful and fluid; we are therefore able to respond to social change without feeling hidebound by doctrine and I’m happy to say that Friends embraced the rights of gays and lesbians as early as the 1970’s. There are a number of sections in Quaker Faith and Practice which deal with this. But if you’re an Anglican (this goes double for Catholics)you have to wrestle with a creed and doctrines that most of us now find outdated and irrelevant, and square the impossible circle of holding on to tradition whilst engaging with society at the same time. It simply can’t be done. So what’s a bishop to do?
I have no idea, but the Bishops’ statement does not seem helpful – but to be fair it does seem to have been more cock-up than conspiracy, at least according to this Church Times article.
What do you think? Perhaps it could not matter less to you but there are gays and lesbians (incredibly) still in the church who will be deeply affected by this debate.
Well, I just don’t know where the Church of England is at right now. It seems to have got its cassocks in a twist about sex (again) in the context of civil partnerships and come up with the spectacularly retrograde advice that sex is only between a man and a woman, and even then they have to be married. So just in case you’re unsure, sex before marriage is out, sex outside marriage is out, and sex if you’re in a gay or lesbian marriage is out. Sex is also out if you’re in a civil partnership but not married. Clear? Basically if you’re not sure, don’t do it. It all sounds a bit like this to me.
What’s not at all clear is where the hell this is coming from. It seems to have come out of the blue and to run counter to the cautious, slow-moving liberalism of recent decades. I wouldn’t say I’ve been following the C of E’s deliberations closely but I do keep an ear to the ground and I’ve heard no rumour of this at all, nor can I find any articles or interviews yet which enlighten me.
You’re probably thinking this couldn’t matter less in your life, and you’re probably right – but it matters to a lot of people. About eighteen months ago I went to the best church service I’d ever attended, a Pride celebration in the parish church of Loughborough. It was fantastic, and in stark contrast to this, probably one of the worst services I’ve ever attended. People felt included and accepted; there was a real sense of communion and love. Instead of people crying outside the church there were people being celebrated within it. This church statement basically tears all that up, because if gays and lesbians can be married but can’t have sex they can’t be fully married.
At the moment I can only speculate on where this is coming from. Is it an attempt to appease Catholics or hard-liners within the church? Or has some faction or other has got hold of the decision-making process? I don’t know. We shall see how these things unfold.But these problems always arise when you have creeds and dogmas. I’m happy to say that Quakers have accepted gays and lesbians as full members with the same rights as straight people ever since the 1970’s. We don’t have a top-down approach to change but a thoughtful, consensual, across-the-board process in which everyone can take part.