Friday, March 07, 2008

An article from the Daily Mail. I'm sure it's as true as anything else the Daily Mail publishes.

Following the never-ending theme here in the UK that you can't be too careful it appears that lamp-posts in parts of London are now to be padded.

Readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent

I'll be doing the Family Service in one of my churches this Sunday which is a slightly truncated affair. Wishing I had a little more sermon-time for readings such as these.

Mare Winningham 'Valley of the Dry Bones'

The old standard by The Delta Rhythm Boys

The Raising of Lazarus from
The Greatest Story Every Told

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Little Dark Poet

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Before it's too late.....

I am heading out over the next couple of days to visit a very ancient lady who spent her life as Penicuik's Registrar. Somebody meticulous - as you might imagine - a member of our little 8:00 service at St James.

Penicuik no longer has a town hall where births and deaths can be registered, certain debts settled and payments made. You drive through our town and you are struck by the fact that our Centre has collapsed. Businesses are boarded up. The appropriate role for us in life now is to be a good bedroom community for Edinburgh. Left behind on all sorts of levels are the locals. Banks close and Cheque Cashing outlets and betting shops open in their stead. Never say we don't provide for the local people!

The closing of the Town Hall and the withdrawal of local services was all going on at about the time I arrived here from Canada and I was only dimly aware of the controversy. I had a couple of the battle-weary in my congregation. Yes, it is a shame, I said. You'll have to go to Dalkeith to do these things. I didn't think too much about it at the time. The town hall was reborn under different coverings as a resource-to-the-community-but-not-a-town hall. Not the same thing. There was a committee struck to oversee it. They spent as much time fighting with each other as they did managing the resource.

Simon Jenkins' article in the Guardian last week was about the nationalization of social responsibility and the weakness of our social contracts at the local level. A few highlights:

The nearest any British community has to local government these days is the police force. Local leadership is a 999 call. Whether it is a rape epidemic, an unruly school, trouble with immigrants, a released paedophile or bingeing teenagers, the community appears before the world as a police officer. There may be walk-on parts for a firefighter, a priest and, bringing up the rear, a national MP. But the figure of reassurance and authority in any British town nowadays is in uniform (which is why Muslims turn to their mullahs).

he continues:

Go to any community abroad, whether in America or France or Germany or the Netherlands, and that figure will be a locally elected official, normally a mayor.

and then the clincher:

In France there is an elected official for every 120 people, which is why French micro-democracy is alive and kicking. In Germany the ratio is 1:250; in Britain it is 1:2,600. In France the smallest unit of discretionary local government (raising some money and running some services) is the commune, with an average population of 1,500. In Germany that size is 5,000 people. In Britain the average district population is 120,000, and even that body can pass the blame for any service deficiency to central government.

Misery Literature

And while we're on the subject of larger-than-life caricatures: What about those nuns! The Magdalene Laundries closed down in Ireland in 1996 for any number of good reasons. Everybody ought to be glad to see the back of the whole enterprise. The 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters is pretty grim viewing by anybody's estimate.

Not everybody on the bandwagon, though, appears to be quite who they say they are. A subsequent 2005 book by Kathy O'Beirne entitled "Kathy's Story: A Childhood Hell Inside the Magdalene Laundries" (or "Don't Ever Tell", as it was marketed in the UK) has recently been decried as a work of fiction.

O'Beirne told of being tortured by her labourer father, experimented upon in a psychiatric hospital, and raped by no fewer than four priests and a policeman. Then there was her spell in a Magdalene laundry, one of Ireland's notorious Church-run homes for "fallen women", where, aged 14, she gave birth to a daughter.

Problem is that the story doesn't add up - the daughter doesn't exist - the sisters of the Magdalen Laundries were apparently very good at one thing at least - keeping records - and no records of Kathy O'Beirne can be found. Nobody at the laundries in those years can remember her.

Fiction is good. Misery fiction clearly occupies a place in the psyche of those who purchased one of the 400,000 copies of "Kathy's Story" which flew off the shelves. Their troubled lives seemed more manageable perhaps when compared to the life being described.

Or maybe it is just pornography under another guise.

The problem lies with the fact that real people are being implicated in these events.

...what makes the O'Beirne saga so that it fuels Ireland's obsession with clerical sex abuse, and the abuse-claim industry. O'Beirne herself accused Fr Fergal O'Connor, founder of the homeless hostel Sherrard House, of raping her in the 1970s. The investigation took a year, during which the 77-year-old University College Dublin professor was prevented from visiting his own workplace. Yet Fr O'Connor was virtually crippled by arthritis when the alleged crimes took place, unable even to shake hands because of the pain, according to a friend. The priest was exonerated two days before his death.

Charity workers and members of religious orders working in the 19th and early 20th century probably would have the right to demand that stories about their misdeeds be subject to a modicum of scrutiny. They are people, after all, and not merely monsters.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Lizards that just don't quit ............

I finally got around to seeing Cloverfield last night. I wanted to see it last Monday but the whole day-off fizzled following a death in the congregation and a series of phone calls and other obligations. My fiancee doesn't like films like this. My future stepson would have loved it but wouldn't have slept afterwards so it was strictly a solo affair. Once I'm married to his mother I'll take him to films like this when he's being a little sod. I'll put him to bed afterwards, shut off the light and close the door. Periodically I'll walk by the door and make this sound.

Any of you who were watching B-movies in the fifties and sixties will have to explain to me how on earth the original Godzilla movies inspired anything more than a chuckle. One is taught to treat past generations with a measure of patience. You did endure the War after all - the Blitz, Mock Apple Pie, Glenn Miller - and, yes, you may now be incontinent, dribbling and forever accusing the orderlies of stealing your teeth. But how lame is the idea of people screaming and covering their eyes at what is clearly an out-of-work circus midget stumping around a baptistry in a rubber suit kicking over a three foot model of a bridge. And the Atomic Breath? Yet another even smaller midget with a paintbrush colouring in the squares of film.

Which is a long way of saying hats off to anybody who can resurrect the Godzilla/Gojira tradition and have the film end up being really quite scary.

The film begins with the theft of an idea from the Blair Witch Project about a bit of video data being found by accident. In this case the data is contained in a castoff video camera found in "what was" Central Park in New York City. Special effects abound throughout the movie - money was spent in copious amounts but the point of view is that of a rather stupid boy named Hudd who's been given a cam-corder and told to record the evening's festivities - a surprise party for his best friend's brother who's leaving the next day to take up a junior management job in Japan.

The entire movie is filmed in Not-Too-Steady-Cam, then, with quite thrilling results. The first twenty minutes are difficult to endure. Pouty young women, vacuuous youths trading gossip and scandal. We knew we'd come to see a scary movie. Oh for God's sake send the Creature in! Don't force us to endure the late-teen, early-twenty crowd with their up-talk and their petty scandals. Stock characters do abound - a stupid boy who manages to be charmingly naive, a protagonist caught between two choices, a grumpy sister, the female Object of Desire, the mysterious stranger-girl. You're trying to figure out all the connections and you're not quite bored yet when the first earthquake hits and reports of explosions come in over the television. The giant lizard starts wreaking havoc in the city.

The original Godzilla movies didn't arise, like the monster, from a submarine trench. They reflect the anxiety felt by most in the early years of the Nuclear age. It was, as I remember, the testing of the Hydrogen Bomb which was alleged to have released the creature into the world. In the long run, though, the movies were a lot more fun than they were therapeutic. Cloverfield has woven within its plot all sorts of markers of post-911 anxiety as well. One scene of people cowering inside a convenience store as the monster passes is very nearly an exact replica of the famous bit of footage from September 11th in New York. There is, however, no real therapeutic task to the film and it ends up being a good ride.

All of the stock preamble at this point both begins to make sense and to (mercifully) disappear when the monster begins its rampage. This is a good film which eats its own schlock and demonstrates what another age might have been so scared about in its day. Go see the film if it's still around. Don't wait for the video!

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The Sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

~R.S. Thomas (1972)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Via Elizaphanian via Madpriest. Thanks.