Wednesday, December 22, 2010

R.I.P. Doorman-Priest


Doorman-Priest is no more. He has served his purpose. (No sexual or financial impropriety.) Do feel free to e-mail me: e-mail details on "My Profile"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monbiot on snow and Global Warming

Here we are in the depths of the big freeze - what would we Brits do if we couldn't moan about the weather? - and some of my American friends are still confusing weather with climate. In today's Guardian I came across  That snow outside is what global warming looks like

"Unusually cold winters may make you think scientists have got it all wrong. But the data reveals a chilling truth."

Thought provoking .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Once a year wankers

This time of year, any day of the week, you get people out drinking and socialising who don't usually do this. They don't regularly come into town and work their way around the bars and clubs of town. They don't regularly start drinking at lunchtime and try to keep playing 'til 4am.
They don't interact with other drunk people, bar staff or doorstaff. These folk can end up getting into rows in taxi queues, not thinking that the shivering line of folks is trying to do exactly what they want to do. They fall in the street and knock their teeth out and wonder why they get advice on getting a taxi to A&E and not an ambulance.
They ask barstaff, busy and tired, for things they don't stock and then get abusive when they can't comprehend that not every bar is the same. They can be arrogant and disrespectful when dealing with all the many working folk they meet. For taxi-drivers and takeaway workers, they annoy and irritate, for me and my colleagues they present an entertaining challenge. These folk aren't regulars, their once a year money will not make or break the venues we work for. They often won't remember anything in detail and they don't have a clue what level of behaviour is expected of them. This allows us to have all sorts of fun and games. There will be some wives and husbands getting confused, befuddled, inebriated and part frozen other halves coming home in the wee small hours. I hope I can be the cause of as many of these as possible, after all it is christmas, and I've got to spread the cheer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Marlene's Nativity


Last night was the Lord Mayor's Carol Concerts in Leeds Town Hall. This is an annual two-shift gig for the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and it sort of marks the start of Christmas for me (although this year that siginificant event was last Saturday's Messiah concert - my first as a Tenor).

In the run up to the Carol Concert our Chorus Master told me that the Committee had been approached to see if anyone would be willing to do a reading - ideally witty and seasonal but not too overtly religious. Our Chorus Master told me that he had nominated me. Do you see what they did there?

Anyway twice last night to a combined audience of about 2,000 people I  read the following - a little something from my own penmanship:

Now, take my friend Marlene: she's a very artistic type. You probably know the sort - dangly Trade Craft earrings, pencils and paint brushes pushed into her hair geisha - style: half-moon glasses precariously perched an the end of her nose and a pair of Doc Martens - one red and one green. ('I've another pair like this you know.')

She's a leading light in regional amateur dramatics with a name for her radical re-workings. Her trans-gender 'Phantom of the Opera' is still talked about in hushed tones…… in Dewsbury. Marlene is also a bit of a committee junkie, an inveterate organiser and with a reputation for not tolerating fools: (i.e. most other people she knows). So I wasn't particularly surprised when she agreed to the Church Councils' request to stage last year's Nativity.

So, the committee gathered in her large kitchen, all shaker style furniture and IKEA fittings - very Chapel Allerton. Oh, and she had an agenda. “To bring this story alive it has to be brought into the present. We must make it relevant!” And so she set about her task with relish - carrying the rest of us, I have to say, rather in the slipstream of her enthusiasm.

Her neighbour's daughter, Sigourney, was cast as Mary, notwithstanding the fact that at 14, she was pushing the boundaries of virginity somewhat.

“But she's ethnic. Don't you see she's perfect for the part: so 21st century marginalized.” and that was that. Marlene brooked no contradiction.

Marlene used her contacts at the University to cast the Wise Men who turned out to be Justin, Trevor ... and Brenda … and you probably remember that Marlene and Brenda have not been on civil terms since the unfortunate incident at the Turkish bath.

Well it won't matter' said Marlene, all hurt pride and a large gin. “No one will notice the difference: all they'll see is three moustaches – and that’s before the costumes are on.

The rest of the casting fell into place: the local Imam graciously declined the role of the Angel Gabriel. "Well you can take multiculturalism to the point of political correctness and then where would we all be? Answer me that?" observed Brenda. Terry, the local postman took his place in a stunning piece of symbolism that no one got, even when Marlene, to considerable consternation insisted that he performed in his uniform.

“Philistines.” she said, as she explained with elaborate patience for the third time the symbolism of postman as messenger of God.

“Actually, Marlene, point of order. The Philistines were a very cultured people”

“Actually, Trevor, any more points of order and you’ll be the back end of the donkey."

Sigourney's boyfriend Cameron was drafted in as the innkeeper. A night-club doorman by trade he had little difficulty with the lines- “You can't come in here, we're full' although he did tend to keep fooling around at rehearsals and ad-libbing: 'You can't come in mate, but you can, love, we're letting in girls for half price”.

Joseph was to be played by Len, the church caretaker.

"But he's about 1000 years old Marlene."

"Joseph was older than Mary you know. Anyway, it says a lot about the exploitation of women in a patriarchal society."

Rehearsals came and went as rehearsals do.

"Marlene, I'm sorry to interrupt but I'm having trouble with my character in this scene. What's my motivation here?"

"Go away Trevor. You’re a palm tree.”

"Len, please! How often have I told you? Don't smoke during the birth scene - the baby Jesus is inflammable."

"Marlene, if I hear another religious person say: 'and Wise Men seek him still . . . .' I may run screaming from the building"

"Brenda, they're not religious, they're Church of England."

"Sigourney, Darling, no more piercings please - at least not before Christmas. I'm sorry Cameron ... you've had what pierced? I see .... well, we shan't need to see that on stage thank you very much"

“Point of order, Marlene, technically, its not Christmas, its Advent, which means….”

“SOMEBODY BRING ME THE DONKEY OUTFIT”

"Terry. Drop the line about 'Special Delivery', it's not working-"

"Do I look 1st century enough in this?"

"It's Armani, Justin, you took fine ... Do up your flies."

And so the evening arrived --- and Marlene was proved right. It was a triumph- dramatic, moving and powerful. The stable became an old garage, back-lit in moody tones, the manger: the boot of a jacked-up wreck. Drug paraphernalia littered the floor. Three local characters shared a bottle around a brazier and stray dogs sniffed around the set. Everyone delivered their lines perfectly, and on cue it snowed. Even the arrival of Justin's nieces on set dressed as Frodo and Gandalf didn't raise an eyebrow.

It's hard to believe that it was nearly a year ago now, and here we are again getting ready for this year. It's going to be different this year though. After Marlene's triumph the church council members met in emergency session. Words like uncomfortable, inappropriate, trendy and travesty were bandied about.

So we're back to the traditional again- shepherds in tea towels carrying cuddly sheep and angels with tinsel halos. The relevant and the up-to date, it seems, have no place in the Christmas story.

It was really well received and I note from my stats a number of INTERNET searchs for it which amazed me. I'm doing a slightly more risque version of it Sunday evening at my Beloved's church on request. It seems to be an annual ritual.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pseudonym

When at work, I don't feel the need to give out my name to everyone I encounter. Quite often this is just to retain a little distance, sometimes it is to pretend to be more amiable than you actually want to be when dealing with horrors. Sometimes it's just to get a serious wind up going. I'm typically Bob, sometimes Max, or Frank. There's little need for consistency as the typical customer doesn't remember daft details like the doorman at their 5th venue of the night's name.
It's also advisable to let the others on your team know your fake name and handy to know if they're using one. You can always pretend, that when Daz at the front door, going by the name James, has sent a punter looking for Frank, being me, that he's not working tonight, James must have gotten confused, I'm Bob, short for Robert but everyone calls me Bob. Yeah, I'm not the full shilling but it does alleviate some of the boredom.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Present




It’s Saturday morning, which means I have to shoot off to the school Christmas bazaar: how better to give something back to the school than to exchange all your unwanted rubbish in that relaxed period in the run-up to Christmas when no one has anything very pressing to do? This is good, because in addition to my two daughters I have my two teenage nephews to entertain.

Business is slow, though it is not long before the takings start rocketing, as a result of the children’s ingenious sales technique of buying everything themselves with my money.

Certainly by the time we have hung around for hours and assiduously avoided the blandishments of a marauding Santa, the little scamps are loaded down with more than enough 91-piece jigsaws and single-mother packs of Happy Families to start practising getting bored ahead of the official gift disenchantment date of 27th December, and at only a fraction of the cost. Why, I hardly have enough money left to try my luck at the ‘Bring a Bottle’ tombola, with its array of beers, wines, Advocaat, east European turnip liqueurs and (as it turns out, when my ticket finally comes up trumps) Radox Herbal Bath, with its essential aromatic ingredients, none of them, sadly, being alcohol.

‘It could have been worse,’ says another parent, as we head for the cars.

‘You could have won the nail varnish remover.’

That afternoon, we decide to go shopping . . . in the city centre . . . . all five of us.

I can’t believe we have decided to wait until five minutes before Christmas to go off and spend all my money in search of a handy organiser for the cutlery drawer for my mother, which will apparently halve the time it takes to find a teaspoon, or double the time it takes to put the washing-up away, depending on whether you’re the sort of person who thinks a glass is half-full or half-empty – a term which incidently always reminds me of my auntie Doreen in Barnsley. “Glass half-full, glass half-empty? Pass it over here, I’ll drink the bloody thing.”

And then on the bus, my elder nephew makes the slightly alarming announcement that there might be time to visit SegaWorld in The Corn Exchange and use up the virtual-ride vouchers he won in the Leeds Metro phone-in as a chance result of knowing what the capital of France was, though only on condition, I stipulate, that the children bring to a speedy conclusion their vigorous public debate over a) who was the last person to vomit on public transport and b) what happened to the bag of sick afterwards. By the time we surface at the Town Hall we are straight into the shopping scene from Ben Hur and are fully horde-acclimatised, though I am a firm advocate of tides of humanity being where they belong – i.e. on page 1,875 of the Old Testament – and not on the stretch of pavement separating us from the entrance to Primark.

In that oxymoron – “Christmas Hell” which is Marks and Spencer food hall, I notice a hand dip into my basket and remove a pack of mince-pies. “Well?” the culprit challenged. “There aren’t any left on the shelves.” It occurs to me at this point that “Mary’s Boy Child” has been on a continuous loop in the background. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Harry Belafonte is a lovely man and is probably on the verge of a UK comeback tour but enough already.

“But it’s Christmas” the vacuous sales assistant beams. Her name badge proclaims her as PAGAN (Happy to Help) which seems oddly appropriate.

“No, Pagan it isn’t Christmas: it’s Advent.” The smile doesn’t flicker but the eyes show real fear. A result!

At last we emerge at SegaWorld clutching our free vouchers, and although the whims of my younger daughter could be met simply by staying on the escalator, it’s a blow to find that, due to circumstances beyond the passing interest of whoever owns this place, an astonishing four out of the five virtual rides are out of action, with the remaining one in the incapable hands of someone with all the communication skills of a person who spent his childhood locked in a cupboard.

Understandably, this ride is very popular and we spend the rest of the week queuing for it, which then means having to leg it back down the Headrow, assisted by the younger nephew with the slightly irritating habit of elbowing his way to the front and then causing a pile-up by stopping to complete an important move on his handheld entertainment facility. We miss the bus by the skin of our teeth. Excellent.

It’s already getting dark. But we’ve barely got back home when the children take a sudden interest in my driving them back into Leeds to see a mystery celebrity turn the Christmas lights on. Off we go again, and 15 minutes later we are in town, following the unmistakable noise of people pretending to enjoy themselves. And sure enough we find ourselves in front of a big stage being expected to clap along to Shakin’ Stevens and Bob the Builder, while a troupe of alarmingly energetic dancers in Santa Claus hats audition to an imagined throng of TV talent scouts. Still, it’s all part of the fun, and the DJs are soon tossing fantastic prizes into the crowd to get us into the festive spirit of untamed consumer frenzy. We miss the Aire FM baseball hats, but my elder daughter does surface from the brawling mass clutching a fragment of a family ticket to the Vue cinema.

‘DO YOU WANNA DO THE YMCA?’ the DJ is shouting.

‘Er . . . do you want to do the YMCA?’ I ask my nephews.

No way,’ mutters the eldest. ‘It’s a gay song.’ He clamps his arms firmly to his sides, as if any sudden movement might transform him into a priapic leather-trousered construction worker sporting a large moustache. I offer him a short lecture in low hissing tones on how a civilised society is judged by its celebration of sexual diversity, though obviously an ability to run the railways comes into it, too.

“Anyway,” I say, “listen to the words. It’s not about being gay, it’s about young men having a good meal, and doing whatever they feel.”

At last it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for as the DJ asks us to give a big Leeds welcome to: Robbie Williams. Oh, hang on - make that a Robbie Williams tribute act! "Robbie" gives us a few songs and could easily pass for the real thing, from a distance, with the light behind him, if you didn’t have your hearing aid turned up. Eventually he switches the lights on. Mmm. It’s not exactly Las Vegas. On the upside, at least we didn’t get stuck behind the family who decided what riotous fun it would be to wear red flashing antlers on their heads for the duration of the event.

And the real meaning of Christmas in all this? Well, the Vicar of Dibley Special repeat, Christmas Day, 8.15, BBC1, of course.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Put it away

Now doormen have a very bad reputation when it comes to their monogamy and their morality. The phrase 'round these parts being door whores, which is also how their dance partners are known. For some ladies a musclebound gent with a modicum of self control, a wage and little free time is a winner. For a large number of doormen, this is enough of a reason to practice the most essential bodily function. For a few of them it can become habitual.
There are a few classic colleagues who have had to make themselves scarce when their Tuesday girl makes an appearance on their Thursday night and mrs Thursday is not in the picture but is in the club. Doorman ducks out and only does flybys on the respective parties before being fortunately called away to finish the night at another venue. Another married colleague of mine juggled several others to his wife by the simple ruse of saying the venue finished two hours later than it did giving him time to indulge himself before being missed. These are but a few of the shenanigans the emotionally simplistic gents of my profession get up to.
Not a good trend in my colleagues and not a universal one it has to be said.
On a whole utility calculus I'm not entirely sure a good door whore doesn't provide more happiness than a monogamous one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Two: John the Baptist

Jim and Tammy: Prophets of our time?

Our Gospel this morning presents the raw, rustic personality of John the Baptist, the striking forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. John serves as the principal preparer for the coming of a new age where God’s will reigns in the lives of those who are his followers.

I quite fancy being John the Baptist. Well, not the lack of hygiene, the diet of locusts or the camel dung obviously: we’re talking prophetic-lite here for me. In my darker moments the idea of having a rant – you know, taking people on one side and spelling one or two things out to them very clearly - really appeals to me. For John to have done that in the conviction that he did so with the authority of God must have made him a formidable force and a troubling character if you happened to be at the receiving end of his righteous indignation.

How easy to abuse that position: how easy it would be for a latter day prophet to rage against the world the flesh and the devil … and to get it wrong, which is probably why I’m not called to the role of prophet. Recent history gives us many examples of those who called themselves prophets having been brought low by scandal. Do the names Morris Cerullo, Jim & Tammy Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart ring any bells? The job description of prophet doesn’t include any clauses whereby the individual makes vast amounts of money or privately indulges in the sort of sexual gratification he rails against in public or undertakes meanspirited acts of vengance. No: the prophet speaks the word of God to his or her generation regardless of personal cost. John’s life was entirely dedicated to God out there in the desert. There are few of us who can claim the same.

Oh yes: proclaiming judgement can come a little too easily to some of us which is why we shouldn’t do it – at least not unless we are absolutely sure we have God’s mandate. How many times have you listened to someone calling down Hell and damnation on some topic or other and then thought “No. Not in my name?” The next time you’re in the city centre, instead of scuttling by the street evangelists, just stop and listen for a while to their “prophetic ministry”. Is this the God you worship? Do you recognise him in what they say?

We Lutherans talk a lot about the distinction between Law and Gospel in preaching, but we talk about it in the context of balance. Too often I hear the Law preached and not the Gospel there outside Harvey Nicholls and Marks and Spencers in the city centre. Oh yes, John the Baptist is most definately the template for such preachers but he could only proclaim the law: the Gospel was not yet come but he knew he had to prepare the way for it. To hear some of our street preachers you’d be forgiven for wondering if the Gospel ever had come. Old Testament Christians, Leviticites. I'm often worried that Christianity has perfected the art of judgment but hasn't properly pointed to the One who really does the judging. That One who is, of course, the same One who does the saving.

This season more than any other points out the gap between our inner lives and our external behavior. John the Baptist points to the gap between our rhetoric and our behaviour. His is the voice of the Law, showing us our sin and calling us to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Repentance is, of course, part of the Christian journey, and it's part of getting ready for Christmas. God is coming and all of us probably need a little light shed on our darkness. But if we're going to be really honest this Advent season, we probably need to recognise our tendency to judge rather than repent; our willingness to play the role of John the Baptist pointing out the sin of the world; and our propensity to enjoy that role. After all what's Christmas without a little complaining about all those Christians who only come to church on Christmas Eve? What's Christmas for the lazy preacher if not moaning on about the materialism and the commercialism of the season?

Back to John for a moment. The people started to come, first in dribs and drabs and then in their hundreds and then in their thousands. All these people came to hear him preach. Walking miles out from their cities, out into the wilderness to listen to this desert prophet: that’s a long way to walk for a sermon.

These people came out into the desert to him preach. They came from all walks of life and included amongst them some of their religious leaders – who he manages to insult for their insincerity - and even Herod, their King or his spies. They came not because his sermons were witty or clever; not because of the wonderful music group or old favourite hymns; not because they had some desire to see old friends that they hadn’t seen all week; not because of some childhood habit of being at worship, a habit that they couldn’t kick. No.

The vast majority left their cities and walked miles out into the desert because they wanted to see a rare phenomenon. They wanted to see a man who had been totally immersed in God, whose soul had not been corrupted by life in the cities, whose personality had not been fouled by the compromises of life. They didn’t want to be tantalized; they didn’t come to be entertained; they didn’t come to hear some fashionable religious wisdom. They wanted to hear an authentic Word from God for their lives. The message of this desert prophet was essentially one word. Prepare. In the wilderness, prepare for the coming of the Christ. John’s message is based upon the nearness of the “kingdom of heaven”. His call to repent or to turn from wickedness prepares the way for that kingdom. It urges a fatally flawed people now as then to wrestle their attention away from the concerns of this life and to direct it instead toward the approaching age of God’s Righteousness. This is what qualifies John as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” who prepares the way for the Lord.

Of course we have the benefit of hindsight: we know how the story unfolds and this influences our responses to the story. John was a disturber: just look at the way he speaks to the religious leaders. We’ve not walked miles to hear the voice of a challenging preacher but to what extent do we recognise the deeply disturbing nature of John’s teaching? We know we are preparing for the nativity. We know we are about to celebrate the coming of the infant Jesus, our saviour, but to what extent do we really view ourselves as being those in need of repentance? To what extent do we recognise our sinfulness? To what extent do we really want to be disturbed by such an uncompromising message? Come on folks, we’re in the run up to Christmas. Let’s not spoil things by getting heavy.

Matthew’s presentation of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Christ of God concludes with the announcement that one more powerful, more worthy, more Spirit-filled, more fiery is on his way. This One will come as judge of the world, to be sure, but also as saviour. This portion of the preparation, therefore, is both warning and hope, fear and faith, condemnation and redemption, law and gospel.

Has it occurred to you what our responsibility is here at this time? Yes, I’m afraid we’re back to my desire to be John the Baptist. Except we’re all called to be John the Baptist preparing the Way of the Lord. Perhaps our role is not on this occasion to do the ranting and the judgement – after all we’re not outside Marks and Spencer’s – but instead to do the preparing: to talk to those we know and care for about the meaning and the implications of the coming nativity. It may come as a surprise to some we know to discover that the true meaning of Christmas is not the Only Fools and Horses Christmas Special repeat on Christmas Day, BBC 1 at 8.00pm.

When I talk to people who aren't interested in the church, it's almost always because they believe that the church is more interested in judgment than it is in salvation. We've communicated really clearly about sin but not so clearly about the love of Jesus. What an indictment of churches down the generations. We've given the impression that our sinfulness is more powerful than Jesus, who is the heart of God beating in the world. The one who is coming is more powerful than I, even more powerful than my ability to keep him away. It is only the relentless and ongoing announcement of love's coming that will inspire anyone to change and to live from its power. Preaching judgment is the easy part but the Gospel is primarily about saving the world. What John points to is the God who is not willing to stand by and wag the finger of judgment, tossing the unrighteous into unquenchable fire. It's a God who is willing to enter the burning chaos of human life and save it. Jesus is the one who enters into the heart of human life, takes into himself all those things that separate us from God. He steps into the gap between our inner life and our external behavior. His work ends, not in self-righteous satisfaction at letting those sinners have what they deserve but on the cross when the power of sin and separation and self-righteousness is overcome. This is what John is telling us to prepare for but he is also telling us that we should, in our turn, help others to prepare.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Snow




(The M62 on Wednesday)

Autumn lasted about twenty minutes. We are in the depths of an early Winter. When I set off for school on Monday I was convinced this was a foolhardy thing to do as I made my way through a blizzard: surely the place would be shut? Not so. The area around the Knowledge College only had a light dusting of snow but the phones were ringing off their hooks as the hopeful rang in. "Is the school shut?"

A few colleagues arrived a little late. A significant number of kids arrived very late, too tempted by the infinite possibilities of snow play to take academic punctuality seriously. I couldn't blame them but it was interesting to note that the top sets were pretty largely full and the less able groups were decimated until mid morning. There's probably a study in there somewhere. (Akin to the study on the correlation between a pupil bringing their photograph money to school in the first week and the number of GCSEs that same student achieves five years later. I have a theory tested by time but alas, no funding.)

"Sir? Will he shut the school? Will we be sent home?"

Who? The Head? I doubt it.

"He's dead selfish!"

How do you make that out?

"Well it's not fair is it?"

Why?

"Because it's snowing."

Except it's not though is it? It was, but it's not any more and it's unlikely to before home time.

"He's dead selfish he is."

Sensing a circular argument and no meeting of minds, I try an alternative tack.

It's a difficult responsibility after all. It's a Health and Safety issue: he's got the safety of over a hundred staff and nearly thirteen hundred kids to balance against educational concerns. He's not going to close unless it's absolutely necessary. He's certainly not going to take you being a bit put out into consideration. Snow days aren't an entitlement. There's a lot of careful thought and a lot of advice-taking going into those decisions.

"When would he shut then?"

If the place was knee deep in snow; if the bus company couldn't get up the hill; if the motorways were shut; if the roads weren't gritted; if there was black ice; if the Education Authority said so; if most of the other schools shut. There are too many variables and you throwing snow at each other isn't one of them.

"He's dead selfish he is!"

Oh get real!

Overnight most of the above happened.

I threw back the curtains at 6.20 when the alarm went and, rather like a vampire shriveling before sunlight, I was blinded by a whiteout. (O.K. It was really my Beloved who opened the curtains as I hunkered down for an extra five minutes: poetic license - but you get the idea.) It was a winter wonderland indeed: the snow was several inches deep, there were no tracks in the road and everything looked sort of snuggled comfortably into the snow which was only marked by a criss-cross of fox prints.

I calculated the degree of difficulty in getting the car off the drive and down our quiet little road. Would the main roads have been cleared? What was the motorway like? More to the point, given that the Knowledge College is in a field on a hill in the middle of nowhere, would those local roads have been treated? Going on previous history that area is not a priority. Only last week the Boss had given us the Snow Day routine in the staff meeting: there would be a text to all staff and parents saying whether the school was open or not.  That wasn't entirely satisfactory as I'd got my text saying school was open ten minutes after I'd arrived yesterday. I certainly didn't fancy setting off in this weather only to get there - or worse, find myself stuck on the motorway with no escape - before the text arrived, which it did just as I was putting on my coat.

An unexpected day off. A little bit of light housework, a meal prepared, an Advent sermon written and the monitoring of Facebook as my colleagues shared slightly guilty congratulations on our good fortune, and no year 8 for me. What's not to like? And people say there's no God. Daughter Two went to protest with loads of students in the city centre about the proposed huge hike in University tuition fees and announced herself well pleased with the outcome. "Can I sleep at the University? They've occupied a building"

Wednesday was no better. Again I decided to wait for the text. Will rang me. "What's happening?"

No idea.

June rang. "Have you heard?"

Not a thing.

Nearly ten minutes later than normal I set off. I'd gone - slid -  less than half a mile when June rang back. "I've just rung school. The decision has been made not to open." Fifteen minutes later the text arrived. Had I set off at the normal time I'd have been on the motorway at that point and, as the day's news unfolded, very probably stuck there for the rest of the day. Not impressed.

Having stopped to take June's call I tried to take the most straightforward route home. It wasn't straight forward at all. The streets were clogged with snow. Cars were careering all over the place, getting stuck on hills, slithering back, failing to break. It took me almost as long to retrace my steps that half mile as a standard journey to school would have taken on a normal day. Daughter Two, whose school is just on the other side of the city was not amused to discover hers was open. Daughter One and my Beloved were both able to walk to work, which they did after some slightly resentful chuntering. Daughter Two came home mid morning. "We shut." Lots of Facebook chatter.

It snowed heavily on and off for most of the day.

I put together an Advent liturgy for Sunday, started a new book and flopped on the sofa to spend a disproportionate amount of time watching News 24 and local BBC stations. This was unprecedented for November: when we get weather like this it's usually January or February. The annual national soul-searching debate about our levels are preparedness for snow were dusted off and practiced all day - except this time most of North and Central Europe were in the same position. What no one can tell me - and I ask whoever will listen: what exactly does it mean when the BBC weathermen, the Police and the AA all tell us that we should only consider travelling if the journey is absolutely essential?  It just occurs to me that employee and employer might have very different understandings of that advice. What constitutes absolutely essential?

I receive a text from Daughter 2's school. They are closed tomorrow. How far sighted to know a day before. She won't have to get up at the crack of dawn and worry about buses or juggle the decion about whether to leave or wait for advice. Almost immediately afterwards I receive a call from the Head Teacher of our local primary school where my Beloved is a governor. They too, "And I stress how unprecidented this is" she said, had decided to close tomorrow.

That's a communication trend I'd like to encourage.

My Beloved returned with hood up and red nose, boots caked in snow.  "The University closed at three" she announced "Staff were told that for our safety we should assemble in the library to sleep overnight. Most people's cars are snowed in. Students are building snow barricades in the streets and there was this car with a six foot snow phallus on its roof." Ah, the benefits of a University education.

Just after seven Daughter One rang. Not at all confident in her balance in knee deep snow over ice she asked for a lift. When I'd stopped laughing I told her that I'd walk to meet her. Daughter Two and I, dressed like Starship Stormtroopers against the chill, set out on what is normally a twenty minute walk to Headingley. Our road was as I suspected: knee deep in unspoilt snow but the shock came at the main road. It was the same. No vehicles on the move which is possibly the first time I have ever seen it so. In the street lights it was an eerie sight. For a moment we could have been the only two people on the planet. Just up at the bus stop an abandoned bus's hazard lights blinked on and off. The driver, presumable, having had second thoughts about attempting the descent of the hill.

On our journey to meet Daughter One we passed no more than a dozen ghostly figures and no more than half a dozen moving vehicles. The snow was crisp underfoot and still falling. Daughter Two decided to pull tree branches as we walked under. She's such a card.

"Knob-head alert!" D. Two announced, as a student in shorts and trainers overtook us. (I don't know where she hears such language.) At this point D. One appeared in red beret and overcoat holding a pink umbrella. She looked rather sweet I felt: that unwaveringly English faith in the value of the umbrella under all circumstances. D. Two was less impressed. "Put it away. You're embarrassing."

As I went to bed I didn't even bother to set my alarm for Thursday morning.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A message from George Carey

                                 
In spite of having contributed so much to our civilization and providing its foundation, the Christian Faith is in danger of being stealthily and subtly brushed aside. The evidence has been mounting in recent years. Teachers and council employees are suspended for offering to ‘say a prayer’. A devoted nurse is banned from wearing a cross, a British Airways worker told to remove hers. Roman Catholic adoption agencies are closed down under new laws. Christian marriage registrars who cannot, in good conscience, preside over civil partnership ceremonies are summarily dismissed.
Dr. Carey: We've heard all this before and it is Tabloid rubbish. You keep forgetting that you are a FORMER Archbishop of Canturbury. You are RETIRED. It really is time to be quiet. 
This excellent website makes it all clear - again!

It's not about being retired as such though is it? A comment from a new reader took me to task about the inconsistency of criticising Archbishop Carey while lauding Archbishop Tutu. Fair point to an extent but I think there's a big difference between the two. Why is Desmond a universally loved and influential figure in his retirement while George is already pretty much marginalised in his? Could it be that in what they say in retirement one inspires and builds up the church while the other just whinges and brings it into disrepute? One is a positive force for good. The other is George Carey.