British Association of Clinical Anatomists: origin and future

srgry02A paper for the meeting of the British Association of Clinical Anatomists at the Burton on Trent meeting, 14 December 2017

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was the Anatomical Society and the Journal of Anatomy. They were in the beginning with God, and without them was not anything done in anatomy that was done. And the Professors of Anatomy saw themselves as the Lord Almighty. They terrorise and pulverise. They march through the breadth of the earth to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful, their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. And lo, it came to pass that the people rebelled inwardly in their hearts. They cried to the Lord “wilt not thou deliver us from these bitter and hasty foes?” And the Lord raised up prophets, Coupland of Nottingham and Scothorne of Glasgow. And through them the Lord came to the aid of the oppressed. And lo! BACA was born.

It’s fun to see the formation of BACA in these Biblical terms, and it is not inaccurate. But there’s a bigger story to tell, and since this year marks BACA’s fortieth birthday, I shall do so. Of course, I’m not an historian, but I’m one of the few people alive who witnessed BACA’s birth in 1977 just along the corridor from my office in Nottingham. My recollections are thus first-hand and are as reliable as memory ever is.

First, a brief autobiographical sketch. I was at Cambridge for preclinical studies and then King’s College Hospital in London for clinical training and preregistration house jobs, as they were then known. I went to Nottingham as anatomy demonstrator in 1976 then Lecturer in 1977. In 1988 I began as Professor of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, in Dublin—a medical school as well as a postgraduate college—and then in 2003 was appointed to Nottingham’s Graduate Entry Medical School at Derby. In 2006 I was ordained into the Church of England, becoming Vicar of Burton in 2014.

The origins of BACA are intertwined with two main medicopolitical trends: first, the decline of anatomy as a discipline in the medical curriculum, and second, the loss of medical graduates from departments where they had been predominant. I know that I am talking today to a mixture of scientists, physios and medics, and I apologize if what follows seems irrelevant to many of you, but it is important in the embryonic development of the society, so bear with me.

The decline of Anatomy

I enjoyed undergraduate anatomy. I was riveted by the first lecture in October 1969 concerning lemurs and lorises and thumbs, part of a series on the evolution of Man. Subsequent anatomy memories centre on Max Bull, the doyen of Cambridge anatomy teachers, who gave us a definition of anatomy that has stayed with me: “the study of the structure and function of the growing and changing living organism, not necessarily human”. Like a thong, it’s not elegant but it covers the essentials, especially, as he was at pains to emphasize, the growing and changing bit.

I was fortunate in the Cambridge anatomists of that time, who with one exception were affable, approachable and interested in nurturing students. So when during clinical years I realised that practising medicine was not for me, I thought that if being an anatomist involved what Max Bull did—welfare and nurturing of students using the vehicle of a subject that interested me—then an anatomist is what I would be.

In the third clinical year I approached several professors of anatomy about a job, and ended up in Nottingham because it was a lovely day when I visited and Rex Coupland, the professor, was charismatic. It was a good decision. I immediately saw the value of the brand new systems-based course that resulted in anatomy being significantly trimmed down, with much less time spent on dissection.

Listening to colleagues who had done time at other places, I realized how fortunate I’d been in Cambridge. I heard that more than a few Professors of Anatomy elsewhere were belligerent and irrational, and bullied their juniors and students. I witnessed it in external examiners

This is relevant to the decline of anatomy. In the 1970s and 80s, all the influential people in medical schools had had to endure hours wasted on dissection, all had been made to learn anatomy in excessive detail, and a fair few had suffered from the bad behaviour of some anatomists. Not surprisingly, they resented anatomy and they resented some anatomists. They were determined to cut anatomy down to size. They were abetted by the new discipline of Medical Education, then on the march, many of whose enthusiasts stated openly that doctors no longer needed to have facts at their fingertips. There was growing opposition to what they, wrongly, called didactic teaching

Things did not get better. The systems-based curriculum developed in many places in a way that may have suited metabolic processes but all but wiped out regional anatomy. The understanding of human biology as a product of evolution and adaptation, as imprinted upon me by Max Bull, sank without trace. I must be one of the last medical students to have enjoyed a term studying serial sections of pig embryos as part of an undergraduate course.

What was to be done?

With their clinical training and their clinical eyes—Coupland had begun to train in neurosurgery—BACA’s founding fathers were certain that only medically qualified staff were capable of teaching clinical anatomy. But there were hardly any left. So the question for them, given the image problem and the brain drain, was: how can we in anatomy recruit and retain medics?

The answer, they thought, was twofold: money and status. Rex told me that he saw BACA as a trade union that would lobby for preclinical medics to be paid more. Furthermore, the founders saw it a means of having medical anatomy recognized as akin to a clinical specialty. The trouble was that Rex and Ray didn’t know how to achieve these aims—indeed, given that they were both adept medical politicians in university life, they displayed surprising naivety.

First, money. Formerly, medics in preclinical departments had been paid more than non-medics doing the same job, but this differential had been abolished some years back. No salary committee in its right mind would reverse that decision for the sake of a miniscule number of peculiar medics. Perhaps the founders were thinking in terms of a salary enhancement, for Rex was the recipient of a hefty NHS merit award for which he attended at most one ward round a week. If he thought that that arrangement would catch on with NHS administrators, he must have seen pigs with wings. As for payment for clinical duties undertaken by anatomy staff, of which I was for over a decade a beneficiary, the resentment created by my not being available for university duties for one session a week was considerable. That wouldn’t have survived in the increasingly regulated NHS.

Second, status. I’m afraid Rex and Ray were living in cloud cuckoo land in imagining that clinicians would support any proposal to give senior anatomists clinical privileges. Unless the definition of clinical was twisted to mean what it patently does not, anatomists could never be clinical. At that time I became a member of the BMA Medical Academic Staff Committee, and believe me I know just how little support there was for such an idea. The clinicians simply laughed. In any case, Rex and Ray were wrong. Neither money nor status would have dealt with the image problem. Medics in anatomy were considered either maimed, unable to cope clinically, or, like me, deranged in turning their backs on clinical practice and salary.

It was all too late. King Canute couldn’t stop the waves, and neither could BACA.

Consequences

In the eyes of junior staff, BACA was compromised from the beginning. It was snobbishly hierarchical. For full membership you had to be a medic, and a senior anatomist to boot. Anything else meant a lesser category. And right at the bottom—sorry about this, all you scientists—were the ‘mere’ PhDs. The Association looked like an exclusive club for Rex’s and Ray’s friends and relations. My non-medic colleagues were outraged. The powers that be eventually relented, and this discrimination was abolished, though not soon enough. It left a bitter taste, and non-medic anatomists shunned BACA in favour of other scientific societies, leaving BACA meetings in the early days with little of great worth other than a good meal.

How did clinicians view BACA? I can only go by what I deduced from meetings. I should say that I was never a great meetings enthusiast. As a teacher I felt an impostor as scientist. As someone who did one ENT clinic a week, I felt an impostor as clinician. I was at home with students, provoking them to explore, to think, to imagine, to learn, and to ask questions, but to be on the receiving end of a comment from an eminent scientist which began “Dr Monkhouse, I listened to your paper and I have a question” was to render me incoherent in the sure and certain knowledge that evisceration was imminent. But to proceed. Many of the presentations at early BACA meetings came from only a handful of research groups—we’re back to the private club. Most surgeons looked elsewhere to flex their academic muscles, and few were enthusiasts for BACA or indeed anatomy. I was astonished to hear a Professor of Surgery tell me, the Professor of Anatomy, that he didn’t care what a structure was, or what it was called, or how it developed: all he cared about was whether or not he could cut it.

For these and other reasons, BACA was viewed by non-medical staff as elitist, and by clinicians as not really kosher. BACA meetings and the journal Clinical Anatomy came to be regarded by some in both camps as second or third best. It was fighting for its life as soon as it was born.

The future

I’ve been off the game for over a decade, so what value my comments have is for you to judge. However, as Max Bull remarked over 45 years ago, I have an analytical brain, added to which the view of the forest is better from the edge than from the middle.

The organization I work for at the moment is run by yesterday’s people making decisions for tomorrow without heeding the concerns of those that will have to bear the consequences. Is this true of BACA? Judging from your website, I think not, indeed I have the impression that you have worked hard to move on from those incestuous and hierarchical early days.

The future of an organization depends upon its capacity to be of service to others. So I suggest that you continue in that direction in the knowledge that you are on the right course. The future of BACA depends not on juniors tugging the forelock to grand old men, but on the extent to which those with experience can be useful to those trying to acquire it.

You rightly offer yourselves as a forum for gaining experience to anyone who wishes to explore clinical anatomy, no matter how tangentially. Find out what trainees need and work with them to provide it. Help them build their portfolios, and gain skills in presentation, writing and editing. Think back to when you were young and ask yourself what made you anxious. Help trainees to master these things.

Your committees will need to include more than a token trainee, so sling off the superannuated. If trainees are hard pressed to find time to serve, then organize things to suit them. I don’t want to get overly theological about this, but didn’t someone once say that the first would be last and the last first?

Many of the scientists among you will know more embryology than the medics. Teach them! It is hugely important in several clinical and scientific areas. How can anyone understand the function and layout of the cranial nerves except in terms of evolution and embryology? How can anyone understand how a weak voice might signal a mediastinal tumour except in terms of evolution and embryology? The medics among you can help nonclinical staff get to grips with some of the more obscure consequences of regional anatomy in terms of diagnosis and treatment. Work with the Anatomical Society—after all they are wealthy while you, I understand, are merely comfortable.

Is there anything to be gained by working with the Royal Colleges in training programmes? I know it’s difficult to work with surgeons, especially those who are big in the Royal Colleges, for as with Yorkshiremen, you can’t tell them anything: they are multitalented and omniscient. But there are other disciplines …

Another flight of fancy. Alternative medicine is on the up. See if you can cooperate with some of its more anatomical branches. I was in terrible trouble early in my Dublin days for having conversations with osteopaths and physical therapists about how we could help with their training. My knuckles were well and truly rapped by protectionist surgeons. I still see nothing wrong with those conversations and remain unrepentant, especially since they had money to pay us. One of the things I learnt from osteopaths was the way in which neglected ideas from the past surface years later. For example, the gut brain, once sneered at, has a new lease of life. It was an osteopath that directed me to a book entitled “The Autonomic Nervous System” by the unfortunately named Albert Kuntz, published in 1929. There are some prescient nuggets in there that might repay imaginative thought.

Now there’s a word: imaginative. Imagine how you could serve. Imagine how things might develop and plan for them. Maybe that’s the best advice anyone could give the Association as it looks towards the next forty years. You’ve done well to come from a precarious postnatal period to the state you’re in now, so keep your eyes open and your antennae alert and let your imaginations flower. You can be proud of yourselves.

Finally

When I saw that BACA was coming to Burton, my first thought was “perhaps they’ll give an honorary member, or whatever I am, a free dinner”. And so you did, last night. It pays to be cheeky: “ask and you shall receive” is a phrase I read somewhere. It’s lovely to meet you, to renew friendships, and a real pleasure to begin to get to know Neil Ashwood. When we first met he asked me if I knew any connexions between Burton and Anatomy to which he could refer in his speech. I said modestly “not really, only me.”

Friends, thank you for your invitation, for feeding me, and for listening to me. May the Lord light up your life ….

…. any scholar of Carry on up the Khyber knows that the correct response to this is: and up yours.

Advent light

247f11754cd5847ddbc149fb2acdc2beCarol Service homily for Burton and Bretby Rotary Clubs

Most people don’t expect a sermon at a carol service. But since a good many of you here today find yourselves in church only once or twice a year, I shan’t resist the urge to poke you.

I hear it said that English society is losing the plot, that it’s obsessed with individualism. People think their rights as individuals trump—pardon the verb—their duties as members of society. I hear it said that the church has contributed by having failed to proclaim its message clearly, that it has given in to the zeitgeist in colluding with the forces of secularism.

If you think this and deplore the way in which the Church has retreated from society to become an inward-looking sect, then I say this to you: stop moaning and start going to church. Put your money where your mouth is and change the church from the inside.

“Ah but”, I hear you say (there’s always an ah but). You say “church is only for old women and children”. “Church these days is sentimental claptrap of flowers and pet services and vicars obsessed with chocolate and coffee”. “Church is about middle class complacency” you say. “Church patronizes me with doggerel songs, playschool prayers and infantile sermons”. “Church doesn’t connect with the joys and sorrows of ordinary people” (I suppose members of Rotary Clubs can be regarded as ordinary people for the purposes of this homily.)

Certainly, when I look at celebrity vicars today, I can understand why people think like that.

So let me correct you about Christianity.

It’s not about chocolate. It’s not about vomit-inducing Jesus-is-my-best-friend talks. It’s not about worshipping texts written by people who thought the earth was flat. It’s not about believing fairy stories. It’s not about asking a sky pixie to sort out your problems because you’re too lazy to take responsibility for yourself.

I think Christianity is really quite simple:

  • Every one of us has the divine light within, a bit of the Divine, like a pilot light on a gas stove. The inner Christ.
  • All we need to do is let that inner pilot light grow to fill us from the inside. That’s what Christmas is about. As Mary let the infant grow in her belly, so can we let him grow in ours, for we are all Mary. We don’t need to do anything—the Christ-child within is already there; we just need to let it happen—or rather, we just stop resisting. As we have already sung: O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today.
  • As the Christ-flame grows within us it brings to light our egotistical desires and all the vain things that charm us most, then consumes them, often very painfully. That’s the crucifixion.
  • With all the inner rubbish now burnt up, we are resurrected; we ascend to the heights like a hot air balloon now unburdened by ballast. Our inner flame lights the way for others and consumes their burdens. Light as illumination, light as wisdom, light as less heavy.
  • And this with Jesus as the model, the example, divine humanity, the Word.

Christianity is about putting other people on the same pedestal that you’re on yourself. Christianity is about recognizing that we’re all in this together—every living creature, not just humans. Christianity is about giving away your self, because only then will you find yourself. And at this time of year it’s about remembering the importance of being child-like. Not child-ish: selfish, egotistical, me-me-me, but child-like: trusting, exploring, fun-loving, risk-taking.

I leave you with this question: would the child you once were be proud of the adult you have become? If not, use this Christmas, this festival of childlikeness, to do something about it.

A very happy Advent and Christmas to you all.

Christus Rex

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The welcome

Homily for the Feast of Christ the King 2017 

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Latin it begins, Excita, quaesumus, Domine … This, sad to say, is not about Christmas puddings, but is about asking to be excited.

The Christian life is not easy. It’s not about blindly following a pre-established rulebook or imposing rules on others. Jesus did not write an arid rulebook for his followers. Jesus did not think that belief in him could be attained through imposition. He did not come to establish a new religion. In fact more and more I think he came to abolish religion—to set us free from rules for their own sake, by showing us how to renounce all the vain things that charm us most. He came to show us wisdom that has no need of the rules of jobsworths, no need of prosperity and security for ourselves, no need of always having to be right. Then we are free to live selflessly, ego-free, for others.

A Vicar comes in contact with all sorts and conditions. People who are recovering from illness, people who have been in and out of hospital, people who are out of work, homeless, hungry, at their wits’ end, people who’ve endured more hardship in life that I would wish to endure. I witnessed dignified behaviour from people at their most exposed, most vulnerable, weakest. Regal, king-like.

Is this the kingship of Christ the King? If so, it involves accepting stuff that happens. Being passive: the passion. It involves rising above desolation in the hope of a fresh start. Resurrection and ascension. It’s not comfortable: we have to cope with the darkness of the deeps before we can rise to the sunlight. But the gospel readings of the last few weeks have not been comfortable. All of them have spoken of judgment, of exclusion, of condemnation for those who are late, or lazy, or easily satisfied, or who—as today—are hard-hearted.

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Conquering kings their titles take from the foes they captive make: Jesus, by a nobler deed, from the thousands he hath freed.

Who do you remember from your past? Do you remember with gratitude those who punished you, who tried to impress you, who imposed on you? Do you remember with gratitude those who showed you, taught you, encouraged you, goaded you to action perhaps by words that rankled at the time, and then left you to get on with things?

Christ the King never uses power to his own advantage. He shows, teaches, encourages and then lets us get on with it. He is a team captain who works with the team rather than imposes on them; a captain who uses power for the benefit of others rather than for his own self-interest. He is the sort of king who leads us, pushes us, to places we fear to go. He stirs us, excites us, to action. He provokes us to realize that we don’t need to be fearful and ashamed of the past, but that we can move on with the past behind us to great new things. He doesn’t burden us with expectations and rules and shoulds and oughts. He takes them away from us and carries them himself. He is the sort of King who makes our loads lighter, not heavier. Christ the King lifts us from the rut and excites us to look to the future.

Conquering kings their titles take from the foes they captive make: Jesus, by a nobler deed, from the thousands he hath freed.

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Kings have kingdoms.

When Christ the King was on trial for his life, he said his kingdom was not of this world. This is NOT about the afterlife. He was telling Pilate that his kingdom was an inner kingdom—a kingdom of outlook, of attitude, of motive—that powers Godly action here and now. It’s a recognition that the trappings of the material world are part of the layers we surround ourselves with in order to make ourselves look big. Vanity. Illusion. Look at Robert Mugabe and his millions, his palaces, his jets, all the people he has conquered and maimed and killed and humiliated.

We make the ideal kingdom—the Kingdom of heaven—here NOW. Life before death, not life after death. It’s about you and me making a world where we show, we teach, we encourage. A world where we don’t impose. A world where we don’t sit back criticizing others and looking down our noses at them. It’s not a kingdom where we stifle and suffocate and kill, but a kingdom where we excite and inspire others to action.

The Kingdom includes children, who were nobodies in that world—children who take risks, who listen, who experiment, who play, who are uncynical. The Kingdom excludes the pompous jobsworths. The Kingdom stands in judgment of the elites who create and shape things so that they can grow richer and fatter at the expense of the rest of us. Mugabe again.

It’s a kingdom where we seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak. Where those who had trampled the weak are brought down. A kingdom where people are brought in, and community is restored. Where the tendency to entropy is reversed, where chaos is transformed into cosmos as in Genesis 1. Continuing creation.

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We live messy lives. The mess of holiness. God bless this mess. We honour the King

  • when we forgive others and let go of resentments.
  • when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the outcast, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner—thus helping to free them from their pasts.
  • when we realise that the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, are all parts of us that we have lost contact with—parts of ourselves that are strangers to us. And as we forgive others, we begin to forgive ourselves. This is truly the key to liberation from the past. Harden not your hearts ….
  • when we grow up, and take responsibility for ourselves.

We do all this to refresh and re-empower ourselves in order to do what we say we will do at the end of Mass—that we go in peace to love and serve the Lord, to bring about his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Advent 2017

Orante_Panagia

Great Panagia of Yaroslavl

St Paul’s Magazine, December 2017

Mary’s uterus: wider than the heavens

From the Liturgy of Basil: he made your womb a throne and caused it to become wider than the heavens.

Margaret Barker’s first seminar drew almost 40 people. I was worried that we might not get double figures. The subject matter, the virgin shall conceive, touched upon early Hebrew images of God, one of which is the veiled (as in the veil in the Temple Holy of Holies), eternal queen mother of god. Accordingly, it is she who conceived, not a young girl from the sticks. These images have come into Christian traditions as variously Mary, spirit, and wisdom.

We heard how, before the book of Deuteronomy was written, a reformation expunged the feminine from the scene. Above all, I saw afresh that every detail in Luke’s story of the nativity had meaning for those who knew the traditions, swaddling clothes, for example, signifying the garment in which the King is wrapped at anointing (look on YouTube at videos of the 1953 coronation and you will see many of the same traditions).

The more you know, the more interesting it becomes and the more you want to know. It doesn’t matter that the stories might be fiction. If they are, they are intended to convey the importance of someone impressive and remarkable, whose message is life-changing.

I sometimes hear people say “I don’t think …” or “I don’t believe …” this that or the other. What I want to hear are the opinions of people who are well informed by research and study, not those who rely simply on prejudice or Sunday school pap. Nobody can say that Margaret is not well informed, so I’m intrigued by her views, and can let them kick about in my head. When it comes to ideas, I’m not an either/or person, more of a both/and. I love ideas.

None of this changes the doctrine of the incarnation. It enriches it. As the infant grows in the mother, her uterus is the entire cosmos nurturing this new way of looking at the world—the infant. This is an image in Wesley’s hymns and Orthodox theology. As we sing every Christmas, the infant can, must, should, “be born in us today” and every day. Every single one of us is, or can be, Mary—a god bearer. (Gents, if you’re worried that you don’t have a uterus, fret not. You do. It’s a little recess in the prostate gland called the prostatic utricle, a remnant of the thing that becomes the uterus in females. Never let it be said that you don’t learn a bit of mammalian embryology).

This is the Christmas story. It has nothing to do with making yourself sick on Quality Street and war films, or stuffing your face with dry turkey and fart-making sprouts, or Morecambe and Wise (never liked them). By all means celebrate the pagan festival and the end of the year and the winter solstice and spring not too far away; enjoy the hangovers and family rows and fallings out and being bored with each other, but remember the real meaning.

Consequences

A recent Church Times article reports good news about church choirs. In places where they are nurtured, congregations grow and priests of the future are produced. Nurturing of course means spending money—you have to spend in order to earn dividends. A new organist at Modwen’s has reinvigorated music there. Summer concerts raised over £1500 for local charities, and drew in about 50 people every week, many of whom had not been before. It shows what can be done in just a matter of months when one puts one’s mind to something.

There seems to be no such enthusiasm at St Paul’s. This is a shame. I hear it said that church musicians should not be paid. Architects, plumbers, roofers, electricians, solicitors can be paid, but not musicians, despite the need for tuition, hours of practice, hard work. The organists we have do splendidly, but they’re not going to be around for ever. Actions, or in this case inactions, have consequences. Draw your own conclusions.

We’re at that time of year when people come to St Paul’s to get out of the warmth. I gather that recently one lady stayed for all of four minutes, reducing the congregation by one twentieth when she left. That was the Sunday I was preaching at Riverside Church on the High Street. Comfortable chairs and comfortable temperature are obviously a turn-off, for there were about 80 people there. Circumstances have consequences. Draw your own conclusions.

As it happens, I quite like the cold, but then I’m a man. Or a dog. Bedrooms should always be cold. It keeps down the germs multiplying. Maybe people come to St Paul’s to sleep—my eyesight is such that I can’t be sure from the pulpit. If I saw a student asleep in a lecture, I would pause, point him out (usually him), wait until he awoke, then ask if I could get him anything like a pillow, and tease him. Didn’t happen often.

Future

Anyhow, back to the plot. We have a problem with the huge building that is St Paul’s. It’s difficult to know what to do about it. All ideas will be considered. But remember that what worked when you were young, pterodactyls flapping about the sky, is not necessarily appropriate now. So think. Pray if you like (actually, praying is thinking), and try to imagine a future even though you won’t be around to enjoy it.

I’m 70 on 6 June 2020 and am obliged to say bye bye if I haven’t gone before. Will I be replaced? That’s doubtful given that my three churches together don’t support the cost of a fulltime cleric—you are subsidised. That may well be appropriate, for I can’t see that this parish will ever be self-sufficient, but the diocese/deanery may take a different view. What sort of clerical service do you want? What sort does this part of town need? Do you care? Maybe all that matters is having a priest for Sunday mass.

The YMCA approached us about hosting a night shelter for Burton homeless, December 2017 to March 2018. The PCC agreed. Of course, there are concerns and I share them. But YMCA are professionals and it’s not in their interest to get it wrong. And the truth is that if we never took risks we’d still be scrabbling round in caves. It’s absolutely right that as well as learning and beauty and worship we should be concerned with social action. It’s a gospel imperative. It might help carve out a role for this church in this part of town.

Finally

Gregg’s made headlines recently with an image of a manger with a sausage roll instead of the infant. It offended some Christians for obvious reasons, and Jews and Muslims because at least in theory a sausage has pig in it. But it has to be said that “Lord Jesus” backwards is susejd rol. So maybe it was a satanic plot. Anyway, it just shows how crass Gregg’s advertising team is, and confirms that all advertising is satanic.

Happy Christmas or nativity or solstice or sausage roll or end of year or whatever. In obstetric terms (back to the uterus), happy celebrations of the delivery of the infant King from the uterus of the veiled queen mother of God. And remember above all else that Christ is born in you today and every day. Raise a glass or six to that.

A lack of moderation

Frank-Bridge-Profile-687x1024

Frank Bridge 1879-1941

I wish I could remember the quote, or even the source, but I have a clear memory of reading in a biography of Enoch Powell that he found church music dangerously affecting, so had to stop listening to it. He had been a supporter of St Peter’s, Wolverhampton, and its great musical tradition.

He’s right. For me, music in general, and organ music in particular, is dangerous indeed.

Thursday is my usual day off. I spent the morning exploring organ music I’d had for decades but never looked at. I know and play the first, third and fifth of Six Organ Pieces by Frank Bridge, written variously between 1901 and 1912, but for whatever reason I’ve never looked at the second, fourth and sixth. Until today.

I am almost overwhelmed by the fourth, Andante con moto. Why? Never having heard or played it before, it’s not because it reminds me of events or times or places or people.

It’s not difficult. It’s in D flat major, 5 flats, a key that I find very comfortable—the disposition of the black notes suits the anatomy of my hands beautifully. It’s a key with lovely warm feel to it, and lovely and warm sum up the piece too, for it’s not sad or sighing or astringent or unsettling. Wagner is there, unquestionably—I hear him in other Bridge pieces too—in the chord progressions and the discord resolutions, or lack of them.

So wherein lies the danger?

It melts my shell. It leaves me unprotected. It removes me from time and place – ec stasis, ecstasy. I want more and more. It’s a drug, an addiction. I would do almost anything for a fix of more of the same, to stay in that place of delight. It creates dependency. It paralyzes. It intoxicates. It enchants.

I am not good at moderation.

Cathedrals: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum

28A recent report from the C of E tell us that cathedrals are “amazing” places doing awesome things. Leaving aside the inflation of language that I so deplore, it occurs to me to wonder how well ordinary churches would do if they had access to at least half the resources thrown at cathedrals.

One of my churches is about the size of a small cathedral, such as Derby, Birmingham, Carlisle. It is staffed not by several paid clergy, paid musicians, paid administrators, paid finance directors, paid fabric managers etc—none of these—but by one third of a Vicar—that is, girls and boys, me (only a third of me because I have two other churches, one almost as big). That’s it. End of. Its regular congregation is about 30 who give of their time, energy and resources generously and sacrificially.

Of course, I don’t begrudge the cathedrals their worldly success, and I’m not in the least envious. Not at all. Not one iota. It’s important for the C of E to serve, as cathedrals undoubtedly do, the people who already have so much. Ministering to the middle classes is what the C of E is for, after all. (On first typing that last sentence my autocorrect had not middle classes, but idle classes. I should have left it.)

I have a cunning plan.

In order that cathedrals might be even more successful, I propose that without further shilly-shallying at least half the parish churches in the country should be closed—I’m quite happy to make the decisions—so that even more funds can be directed to cathedrals to help them do even better.

Furthermore, the clergy of the churches that will under the Monkhouse plan be closed can be redeployed in Diocesan offices thinking up more initiatives and demands to dump on the fewer and fewer parochial clergy that are left. This will result in an all-round increase in job satisfaction and wellbeing.

My final thought on this matter concerns the press release announcing to the world this great joy, and all similar spin. It’s taken me a long time—dunce that I am—to realise what they call to mind. They are like media reports from Pyongyang. Similarities don’t stop there, of course, for it’s well known amongst North Korean cognoscenti that Kim Jong-il’s birth took place on a mountainside and was heralded by inter alia a bright star appearing in the sky.

I’ll get my coat. And my P45.

Dr Wadely

FWWSince 2003 we’ve moved house six times. Six downsizings, with sheet music a casualty. Once I got over the initial shock of ditching music that I thought in my pride I’d learn one day, I got into the swing of things and worked on the principle that if I hadn’t learnt it over the last twenty years when my eyesight and hearing were good, I wasn’t going to master it now. That rule has served me well in other contexts too. Don’t worry, musicians, I gave it all to good homes.

A particular casualty was Messiaen and ‘forearm smash’ stuff. The surprise is that I kept it so long, for years ago after learning Dieu parmi nous I worked out that mastering one Messiaen piece took about the same time as learning at least ten by anyone else, so it was a bit of a no-brainer really.

One benefit of the great chucking out has been the discovery of gems I forgot I had. Wadely gems, in particular: ‘Three Short and Easy Postludes’. Short they may be, but easy? Well, not particularly so. I learnt them, then I looked online for more, and found three more short and easy postludes – or maybe preludes (so that’s six now). These are easier, almost sightreadable—kind of FRCO test standard, maybe a bit more demanding.

Of course, the reason I take to them is the Carlisle connexion. Wadely was organist at Carlisle cathedral for fifty years, retiring in 1960. I never knew him, for I didn’t start lessons there until 1963 with his successor. By that time, the organ had been modified, but the basic sounds were as he knew them: Willis choruses underpinned by a 32 foot metal open, early (1907) Arthur Harrison soft stuff and a huge Tuba (organ anoraks will know what I’m talking about). When I’m playing the Wadely pieces I feel a certain affinity with them through having reasonably clear ideas of what sounds he expected. His pieces are similar to, but I think better than, Stanford’s preludes and postludes which, apart from the last one in D minor, are overrated.

2386291210_de213538b0_zThe music is beautifully written. Like Bairstow, eight years his senior, he preferred flat keys to sharp keys. Like Bairstow, there is that use of progressions, discords and suspensions that gives a gentle, plaintive, yearning feel, redolent of the Edwardian era. Like Bairstow, he calls upon the full resources of a large organ for choral accompaniment. Wadely’s tunes have gone right into my brain, with dratted earworms that I can’t get rid of.

They are pieces of real quality. His successor’s successor, Jeremy Suter, recorded a CD of his choral music sung by the cathedral choir. It’s good stuff. There are lovely miniatures and a couple of very fine extended anthems: There shall be signs in the sun and There shall come forth a rod. All this, and the Communion Service in F minor, are every bit as good as Stanford or Charles Wood. The Carlisle chant book, as you’d expect, has lots of Wadely, only a few of which have found their way into published collections. Given that he was a pupil of Stanford at the Royal College of Music, am I too fanciful to hear a bit of Brahms now and then?

I wonder what might have come of Wadely if he’d moved somewhere less remote than the Border city. He was active in the wider musical scene of the area and his output includes many works for schools and secular choirs, so maybe having carved out that niche for himself he was content. He lived on Brampton Road, one of the posher parts of the city, and became a musical doyen of a substantial part of northern England. In his heyday his nearest colleagues would have been Armes, Dykes Bower then Conrad Eden at Durham, Bairstow then Jackson at York, Cook at Leeds and I suppose Goss Custard at Liverpool. Different days altogether.

Apart from the Suter CD there are no recordings as far I know, so I’m inclined to make one on the St Modwen’s organ here in Burton, perhaps also with works by some of his contemporaries (Bridge, Dyson for example).

CarlConsole

Not the console FWW knew, but many of the sounds the same

I saw the great man once at a performance of Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur by Philip Dore in St Cuthbert’s, Carlisle. I was in my early teens and he was in his eighties, a small stooped figure who by invitation gave a vote of thanks. He added that Messiaen’s music was not to his taste. Can’t say I’m surprised—it’s less and less to mine.

Even in my youth, after his retirement, Wadely’s name was spoken in hushed tones in Carlisle. To this day the Carlisle Music Festival’s F W Wadely Trophy proudly adorns victors’ shelves. Those were the days when cathedral organists were aristocracy, even in Carlisle. So to finish with, here’s a jewel overheard during a conversation between two Carlisle musicians (imagine the flat vowels, properly enunciated consonants, and tinges of Scots and Geordie that make up the Carlisle accent):

First musician, in reflective mood: “You know, Stravinsky was born the same year as Dr Wadely” (he was always Dr Wadely).

Longish pause.

Second musician, similarly reflective: “Aye, is that a fact?” Another pause. “Whatever happened to Stravinsky?”

Marvellous, quite marvellous.

Frederick William Wadely, born Kidderminster 1882, died Carlisle 1970.

Postscript: I’ve just seen that Ian Hare recorded two Wadely postludes (which set?) on this CD.