To the new Archbishop, from Michael Sadgrove

Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, has written a wonderful letter to his diocesan bishop, Justin Welby, on the announcement of his appointment as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

When Donald Coggan was installed as archbishop, his secretary mis-typed ‘enthronement as ‘enthornment’. That gave him food for thought. The role was daunting enough then. How much more complex and demanding it is today. Who knows what the next few years will bring for our world, for our church and for you personally. To be a bishop or an archbishop feels to me like a kind of crucifixion. Yet Jesus wore his crown of thorns not only with dignity but also with hope for the joy that was set before him. I pray that joy and hope will be yours at the spring equinox when you come to be seated on the throne of Augustine.

So take the cup that is given you in Canterbury, and as you wonder how on earth you find yourself there, smile a little at God’s strange work, be thankful, and discover in the doing of his work that all shall be well.

Cornwall at last! Nearly six weeks gone and no blogging…

Yes, well, I’ve had other things to do, OK?

At the moment, I’m doing another Whitsunday holiday in Porthtowan and have internet access via the Blue Bar’s wireless. This must be one of my favourite places in the world. Porthtowan is located nearly at the end of Cornwall, as the ‘leg’ of the UK sticks into the Atlantic Ocean. The beach faces north by north-west and the sunsets from the Blue Bar are spectacular at this time of the year. It’s a good surfing beach, witnessed by the number of VW campers which are parked at the end of the road where it joins the beach. At the same spot is located the aforementioned Blue Bar, serving real ale, excellent food and (if you’re lucky) live music.

The weather has been mixed: like most of the south of England, we had atrocious weather on Bank Holiday Monday, but today has been fine. The surf is variable, but never calm enough to make it not worth getting in the water.

Highlights over the past six weeks, which, if time and inclination permit, I will blog: meeting up with Paul, Rachelle, Eden and Cate for the first time in two years during their visit to the UK; reading “A mind at peace” by Mary Margaret Funk – seldom do I read such a life-altering book; conducting the funeral of Deaconess Mary Sill and getting all accommodation booked for my 3 months in America, which begins at the start of August.

The Postmodern: boring the people of Britain since 1999

Do you remember the 1990s? The decade of creative fun in the midst of a sense of Fin de Siecle which gave everything the sense that the clock was on double-speed. It was a decade which became a cultural helter-skelter, where everything was up for ironization. Philosophies of knowledge which traded on their shock-value (ooh! Nietzsche!) and struck a heady alliance between the academy and the media (at least when it came to the Humanities). Routledge seemed to be producing five volumes on postmodernism this, postmodern that,most of which were appallingly-written and made very little sense to anyone, including – I suspect – the sub-editors and even the authors themselves. Then there were the glorious incidents of unmasking this as the intellectual equivalent of the Kings New Clothes, such as the online Postmodern-essay generator, which would randomly produce a huge nonsensical essay which read exactly like one of the aforementioned Routledge books. There was also the famous article on “Postmodern Physics” by Alan Sokal, a physicist who deliberately wrote a nonsensical paper which was duly published by the cultural studies journal Social Text.

For me, what killed Postmodernism as a movement was the morning people turned on their TV sets in September 2001 and discovered what happens when some people, who believe in a life-denying ideology with sufficient seriousness, decide to launch an all-out attack on Western values, symbols, and above all, people. Suddenly, irony seemed curiously superfluous. It was time to rediscover what we had which was of real value. Although some writers sought to incorporate Islamist terror under the wider head of the Postmodern, I just think it stretched the category too far from the original to be at all credible. If we have an intellectual era now, it’s a mixture of social thinking competing for our attention, all of which has its roots in the Enlightenment – politically, things don’t seem very Post to me.

So it is sad that at a cultural level, there is still so much trash around. Too many kids in arts colleges are evidently being educated with an outdated cultural theory from old lecture notes, probably passed on to the present teachers by previous colleagues who left the institution years ago. We don’t need trash now. We need something new, giving meaning, purpose, joy.

So it was gratifying to see one of the best satirists of them all, Clive James, get his teeth into the new coinage from the Royal Mint. The designer of these ridiculous new coins (aged 26, therefore only Post by derivation…) stated that the designs were “to intrigue, to entertain, and raise a smile”. This would be fine if they were chocolate money. But these are coins of the realm. Please, why don’t they say, in numbers, how much they’re worth? And when will these faux-Derrideans please realize that Britain is tired, tired, tired of stale postmodernism?

Urbex sites

When I was a kid, just around the corner from our house was a derelict training centre for the Civil Defence (C.D.), formerly known as the A.R.P. The A.R.P. was set up in the 1930s to deal with the impact of bombing raids and other dangers to the civilian population. They continued to exist after WWII as the threat of nuclear attack grew in the early years of the Cold War. The site near our house, however, was largely constructed as a simulated bomb site. Outside was a large notice which said “Trespassers will be prosecuted”. The first time I walked in, I was aged seven, and knew neither what a trespasser was nor what prosecution entailed. The site was a dream world for young boys: there were bombed out houses, a leaning brick tower, many different tunnels to crawl along, and many old broken window-frames to climb though. Each visit would bring some new discovery. It was a health and safety officer’s living nightmare, but when you’re about eight years old, you don’t really care about that. The only thing we had to watch out for was adults, because once I’d made my first foray inside, my parents did explain to me what that notice meant. In fact, the risk of being caught “trespassing” which would have led to certain “prosecution” and inevitable imprisonment added to the thrill of each visit. Occasionally, we’d hear a man’s shout and run like crazy to get out before the long hand of the Law collared us. The cat-and-mouse game added to the fun.

UrbexIf you google “urbex” you come across a subterranean community of “Urban Explorers” who visit derelict sites around the UK. They deliberately trespass on these sites, partly – I suspect – for the thrill of it, but partly also to document and photograph places which are destined to be demolished. In many cases, this is an exercise in anarchic historical documentation. A very good example is the documentation, using trespass, photography and historical research of the former Government National Gas Turbine Establishment at Pyestock. The whole enormous complex, of considerable historical interest, is due to be bulldozed and turned into a supermarket distribution centre. Two further sites of interest are www.derelictplaces.co.uk and Simon Cornwell’s site. Being the upstanding member of society that I now am, I suspect my Urbexing days are never going to happen, but just reading the websites brings back a certain frisson which I haven’t felt since those early days.

A few years after I began playing there, the old C.D. site was demolished too. It then became yet another housing estate…

What it’s like to be Welsh at the moment

Shane Williams

You feel like this.

Winter skies

The view from our bedroom this morning …

Is Footie of the Devil?

I am starting to wonder about the spiritual orientation of the game of Association Football. Tonight a manifest injustice took place across two pieces of turf which makes the case for the game being in the hands of malevolent forces.

I just feel so, so sorry for Scotland. And England have got the luck of the devil…

How to arm a British nuclear bomb

I’ve just seen one of the more terrifying reports on the BBC website which has lowered my opinion of the British Establishment to new depths. Until 1998, Britain’s nuclear weapons could be armed without the kind of security arrangements (nuclear codes, or Permissive Action Links) which both America and Russia had deployed for decades. No – in the mid-1960s when the other nuclear powers were implementing this system, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government had advised we follow suit, but the British naval and air-force top brass took it as “invidious to suggest … that Senior Service officers may, in difficult circumstances act in defiance of their clear orders”. In other words, our chaps are loyal and first rate fellows, none of them would turn into a lunatic (they went to the right kind of schools for goodness sake), we don’t need all these codes from the President or dual key systems that the Americans and Russians have, just stout, reliable British common sense.

As a result, British nuclear bombs were armed with a single key identical to the type used in bicycle locks…

No, it wasn’t a typo, this was the case until 1998.

You can see the report here, and a video demonstration of how the arrangement was used here.

This morning, despite a tragic loss of one aircraft in September 2006, further incidents of fuel leaking into the bomb bay area, and worrying comments by ground maintenance staff that the all Nimrods, in service since the 1960s, should be grounded, the top brass of the British RAF continue to assert that the aging aircraft series is safe to stay in the air. Isn’t military intelligence an amazing thing?

An end to A-level anxiety

My eighteen-year-old son is a balanced individual, extroverted and enjoyed life immensely. Whether all this is compatible with studying for a place (grades needed=ABB) at one of the better northern universities has been a matter of enervated conversation between us from time to time. I was awake at 2am this morning – couldn’t sleep – worrying about the results. Jonathan has never conveyed anything less than unassailable self-confidence. My perspective has been somewhat more sceptical, willing to face the possibility that the work/clubbing life balance adopted throughout the course could have had a somewhat deleterious effect on the required outcome.

Well the lad pulled the rabbit out of the hat with this morning’s results, which were exactly what he needed. The university place is in the bag. So my neck-throttling technique will have to be saved for a more appropriate occasion. I am profoundly relieved. I am delighted. I am proud. And I think he’s got the luck of the devil to be able to run a full-on social life and still wind up with decent A-level grades.

Next week, 16-year-old daughter gets GCSE grades. She worked diligently for weeks prior to the exams; was fastidious in the coursework. She is now in an agonized worry about the number of A and A* grades she may not get next week. This is daft – I don’t know which is worse, son’s approach to exams or daughter’s. And I’ll be up worrying the night before too – not that she won’t do well, but that she won’t achieve the exceptional standard that she’s decided to set herself.

The truth that any parent aged over-60 will tell you is that you never stop worrying about your kids, even when they’re adults. About seven years ago, I was walking along the road talking to my father (respective ages: 40 and 70). We reached the side of a busy road we had to cross. My father’s arm instinctively was placed in front of me, to prevent me darting in front of the traffic. I looked at him and said, ‘you know Dad, given that I’ve been crossing roads without your supervision for about 30 years now, it’s a miracle I’ve never been run over’. We both just stood there, laughing.

Now the confession… Like Jonathan, I too had a great social life in my sixth-form, often staying out very late midweek to do stints in my DJing job. Work was something I did when the mood took me – which was normally when all other possibilities had been exhausted. It drove my father nearly up the wall with anxiety. They were different days then and I was pursuing a minimum offer of two C grades out of my three A-levels. In the end, I got a C and a D, which I think was a fair reflection of the amount of effort I’d put into the course. Manchester still let me come. Electronics then turned into Theology and the rest is history. I didn’t end up on skid row. But like my father before me, I have still been convinced that doom was beckoning when I saw my own dear son manifesting exactly the same approach I took when I was his age. So I should have chilled out, right? What?? No chance! I’m his dad, and he’s my son. And as with my dad and me, it will ever be thus.

Can’t imagine a nicer place to be

This past week has been a frenetic catch-up for loads of little jobs with deadlines by the end of the month.  This was aggravated by the little incident with the MacBook and a cup of water a few weeks back.  However, life is looking up.

Firstly, after a few days lying around on a bench at the local Apple dealership, the MacBook gradually returned to life. No surprises there: the water was evaporating and from the looks of things, nothing had fused inside. After testing all the parts, they called me and I picked it up.  It immediately started to play up again, so I went back down and showed it to them – fortunately, it misbehaved for them too.  However, as the shop was closing for the night, I hung onto it with the intention of giving it a good try over the weekend. That Friday, excepted, it’s behaved perfectly ever since. My guess is that the journey home on my bike must have shaken up some residual water in the keyboard. I’ve been in touch with my insurers, the excellent Ecclesiastical Insurance Office PLC, who have assured me that even if this spillage causes warranty problems later in the life of the computer, they will cover it as damage incurred under this incident.

Being without the laptop brought its share of irritations: my other computer is at the back of the house in my den, so if I was working on the computer but needed the phone or access to books or files, I had to walk through the house to my study.  At least it made for good exercise. I had managed to back up all my files from the MacBook onto the other computer before handing the laptop over to the dealership, so I wasn’t in a total state of chaos. However, having the laptop back has improved matters hugely.

So it’s the Bank Holiday, and the start of one week’s holiday with the family. True to British tradition, the weather degenerated this weekend. Am I despondent? No! We’re staying in Porthtowan in a wonderful cabin-style bungalow (with a stair-ladder to the upstairs bedroom) and set to do a week’s surfing. Wetsuits are probably the most practical clothing for an English public holiday, and the poor weather has worked up the surf nicely. Best of all, on the edge of the beach is the wonderful Blue Bar. By day, it’s a coffee bar/bistro serving excellent cooking with locally caught fish. By night it hots up with live bands and great music. Last night there was an excellent 1970s-funk-inspired band, Four tons of Funk, including a brass section, who did James Brown and the Average White Band great justice (including a very passable Pick up the Pieces).

The Blue Bar has the regulation wifi too, so I can smugly blog at you, sipping this strong Americano.

Life is sweet!

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