Misconceptions

NuevaVizcaya,Philippines

Stalagmites in the Philippines – or are they?

Sorry, girls and boys and all stations between in these woke times, but this piece is a bit churchy to start with. If you stay with it, it becomes less so, and then rather exciting.

Christmas is over again. Somewhere in the last few weeks you’re likely to have heard the word virgin. You may even have heard it in the context of the Biblical nativity stories. If so, you should know that the use of virgin arose because of a mistranslation long, long ago of the Hebrew almah –  a young woman of childbearing age – which has nothing to do with what we call virginity.

That mistranslation – GOK when it happened – has completely fouled up Christianity and its attitude to sex.

Theories about the paternity of Jesus have been around for well over 200 years, but you’re unlikely to have heard them in sermons, mine excepted. We know nothing about where Jesus’ Y chromosome came from, but one thing’s for sure: Jesus wasn’t born parthenogenetically – he would have been she. That would be taking ‘wokery’ too far.

Some people who should know better think the virgin birth is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is a mistake. That doctrine concerns the conception of Mary, not Jesus. The idea is that since Mary was chosen to be Jesus’ mama, she must have been special, sinless from conception. SWMBO has just interjected as I dictate into my computer “why?” A good question.

Let me repeat: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is all about Mary. It has nothing to do with Jesus. IMHO it’s piffle, and if you read my MA dissertation available on this website (see Theotokos above, or click here), you’ll find out why. In short, we are all Marys. Mary is one of us.

So that’s another misconception.

Now to the modern day.

The phrase “fell pregnant” is often heard. “She fell pregnant”, or “I fell pregnant”. Obviously in the latter case the “I” wouldn’t be me: it’s reported speech such as you might read in the account of a court case, yer honour. SWMBO looms large in today’s wee fantasy: she’s just this minute told me that sometimes the phrase “catch on” is used, as in, for example: “they had no protection, but thankfully, she didn’t catch on”. This was new to me despite my 69.5 yeas of terrestrial existence, and my dissolute life.

There must be a positive plethora of penises, invisible and erect, cluttering up the pavements. How else can you account for “I fell pregnant”?

Imagine walking along minding your own business, tripping over something, and happening to fall, or catch on, in such a way as to find yourself “sitting” on an erect member ready to shoot. Incredible really.

Would this be an immaculate conception?

Reader, I have to tell you that I find the image of a pavement as a forest of sturdy cocks primed for action peculiarly mesmerising. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Or do I mean ecstasy?

Finally, I ask you to note that the correct word for the male member is cock. Penis is a Latin word meaning little tail, so merely a euphemism. Phallus is Greek for wooden pole. A cock is defined as “a short tube for the passage of liquid” – as in stopcock* (look it up if you don’t believe me). I suppose the use of penis arose when the matrons of ancient Rome needed a euphemism: “come on, Flavius, lunch is ready, so put your little tail away and go and wash your hands.” Imagine what would happen in our hospitals if doctors and nurses stopped using the Latin euphemism and started using the proper English word. **

So many misconceptions.

* or ballcock. So many opportunities for ribald utterances there.

** I thank my friend and erstwhile colleague Tom Farrell for this linguistic gobbet.

The Holy, Blessed and Glorious Onion

220px-Moscow_05-2012_StBasilCathedralEthical veganism having been declared a philosophical belief (here) provides me with the new religion I was seeking for retirement.

The onion has more than twelve times as much DNA as you or me, so I shall worship the Holy, Blessed and Glorious Onion. I can set up onion temples with onion domes. I can invent liturgies in which clouds of incense mask onion odours. I can make garlands of onions, wear them, and do with onions what SWMBO does with them when she stuffs a chicken.

I can still eat chicken, of course, because in the US it’s considered a vegetable. Some people are vegetables, so I can eat them too. To quote Jonathan Swift, who proposed eating babies to alleviate Dublin’s poverty problem (A Modest Proposal), “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.” I’m sure that well-cared for adults would be just as succulent.

A vegan was recently reported are saying that he didn’t like using buses because of the possibility that insects would be harmed in the making of the journey. Surely, that’s a certainty, not a possibility? Not only do I feel for the insect collection that develops on the windscreen and bumper, but also the poor dears that are squashed under the tires. I am well-known as holding the view that the only proper place for a cat is under the wheel of a heavy truck, but the possibility of an insect being squashed there is much greater than that of a cat being so flattened. Unfortunately.

Vegans need not only to ensure that they ingest enough protein, but also give serious consideration to what happens should they find themselves with an infection. You see, the things I really feel sorry for are our fellow inhabitants of planet earth, bacteria and viruses. The way that we use antibiotics in the genocide of these poor defenceless creatures is deplorable and indefensible.

Home thoughts from back home

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Michael Thomas Bass, MP outside Burton Town Hall

See Home thoughts from abroad

Observations and reflections after a Dublin Yuletide

It’s not wheat that bothers me, it’s yeast. It’s taken a long time for me to realise it.

In Dublin I stuffed my face more or less continuously for five days with soda bread, smoked salmon, and lashings of butter.

Not a bother.

Dublin airport fry-up at 8 am today, with one slice of ordinary toast, was another story. Copious sweating within minutes.

Soda bread – good.

Wheat – not good, probably.

Yeast – evil.

So the ideal place for me to live is, of course, Burton upon Trent—a town full of breweries with a pervasive hoppy and yeasty atmosphere. I think not. It’s God’s way of telling me that Irish soda bread is divine, which I’ve long suspected.

Change of subject

So far, Ireland has benefited from brexit with firms moving there from the UK. Whether that mini-boom continues remains to be seen. I hope it does for the sake of my Irish pensions.

But when my friends in Dublin raised brexit with me, they spoke to me in a “does he take sugar?” kind-of way, as if I, representing all the English, were a sad, self-harming imbecile. I assured them that I voted remain, but nevertheless I felt—feel—ashamed to be English. In truth, I’m probably not: more likely a mixture of Celtic, Viking and Slav.

My offspring are eligible for Irish, therefore EU, citizenship, living there since 1988 and intending to remain. One has, the other I think will. I don’t qualify, though if Scotland does the deed I could do it that way.

GOK what brexit will do for the island of Ireland. Economically I hope that the six counties and the Republic continue to grow together. Politically—who knows? A “border” of some sort between NI and Great Britain? What a bloody mess. Yet another example of the arrogance and ignorance of perfidious Albion.

Jonathan Swift would have had something to say. He is worth re-reading.

Home thoughts from abroad

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Royal Dublin Fusiliers Memorial

Oh, to be in Dublin now that nollaig’s here,

So I went, two days before Christmas.

Sunny and cold – my favourite weather. Some like it hot, others not. SWMBO says I’m a dog.

How can I tell its not England?

Well of course, there’s euro and speed limits in kilometres and elegant Georgian architecture and the green, white, orange trídhathach na hÉireann.

Ah sure, don’t waste my time: you’d expect them. Anything else?

Ermmm. Well now, let’s see.

  • Lots and lots of young people.
  • Lots of well-dressed people.
  • People from all over the world, some visiting, some at home here.
  • Happy looking families, you know, mum, dad, girls, boys.

Hang on a minute, you can’t say that. It contravenes woke gender fluidity stereotype laws.

Feck off.

  • Street corner flower sellers.
  • Cheerful faces.
  • Healthy faces.
  • Clean streets.
  • No really fat people. Haven’t seen a single one.
  • No people on mobility scooters. Haven’t seen a single one.

In Dublin now.

Election and empire

Untitled1To be honest, I haven’t been that bothered about the General Election.

Corbyn is unelectable in any circumstances: whatever the truth of the matter, he was and is perceived as pro-terrorist, anti-Semitic, and financially irresponsible.

I like many Labour policies, but I most strongly object to their murdering fetuses stance, their choose-your-own-gender nonsense and all that flows from it, the clamping down on dissent against illiberal “liberal” orthodoxy, and the Islingtonian sect mentality (the C of E is developing a similar sect mentality—thank God I’ve retired—but the C of E is irrelevant so it doesn’t matter).

I like some Conservative policies. We should. protect our borders. That doesn’t mean we should repel refugees: far from it, we should welcome them. We should expect immigrants to respect our society. We should  be thrifty. We should  take responsibility for ourselves, especially our health, for at present there is an expectation that the NHS will sort our stupid decisions (try to slither through the alcohol-induced vomit on the floor of A&E on a Saturday night). But I wonder when was the last time a Prime Minister was so openly dishonest, untrustworthy and apparently lacking in decency.

As for brexit, I voted remain. With daughter and son in Dublin and pensions in Euro, it made sense personally. There is something about togetherness that is admirable. Yes, the EU is run by seemingly arrogant, self-seeking and unelected suits, but one way to deal with that would have been to change it from the inside. But it is as it is, and Владимир Владимирович will be pleased.

But one thing niggles at me. I have this feeling that a very significant factor in the leave vote was concern about immigration. If so—I’ll be condemned for this—I rather suspect that it’s immigration not from the EU, but from the former Empire. Leaving the EU will do nothing about that.

Retirement 1

c2A recent post on the blog Thinking Anglicans (yes, yes, I know, smart remarks about oxymorons—very amusing I’m sure) told the story of two people who’d left the Church of England because of having been insulted and abused by regulars, both saying that they felt better for having left.

Now, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that what puts people off going to church are the people that already do, but nevertheless the observation set me thinking.

In a sense, I’ve left the Church of England too, through retirement. Even though in orders only since 2006, I’ve been associated with it since an act of teenage rebellion in the 1960s.

Teenage rebellion. Did I indulge in weed? No—well, not then. Unbridled sex? No—regrettably. Living in a commune? No—unless a basement flat on the South Circular Road near Clapham Common, where three boys shared a bedroom, counts as a commune (though that was later). The product of two Methodist dynasties abandoning the tribal temple for the Church of England? Yes, that’s teenage rebellion at its most revolutionary.

But back to the plot.

I know it’s early days, but I feel as if I’m working through post-traumatic stress disorder. Do other retired clergy feel similarly? Several have told me that for six months after retirement they slept a lot and couldn’t bring themselves to go to church. Me too.

What follows is not directed at loyal, hardworking and committed church members, but at the institution and its apparatchiks. For what stands out for me, looking back, is the way in which we are expected, even required, to ignore reality in order to pretend that the Titanic is unsinkable, that recovery is just around the corner, and that half-baked initiatives, cooked up by people that long since left the coal face for a comfy desk job, are the answer to our problems.

The truth is that the church has been in decline ever since the invention of the printing press, as a result of which people could read for themselves and didn’t need to be told what to think by priests. The fall since then has been gradual, with most recently, I think, the takeover by the state of welfare functions previously looked after by the church. The church has lost its purpose.

In making these analyses and drawing conclusions, there is of course a balance to be struck between destructive criticism on the one hand, and false hope created by rose-tinted spectacles on the other, but in church pronouncements and publicity these days there is rarely anything other than the latter.

In another life I knew a CEO of the “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” school. The culture of the Church of England reminds me of that. It doesn’t work. New buildings, even restorations and extensions, need to have sound foundations (did not someone say something like this two thousand years ago?), not on denial of reality, or on wilful blindness where elephants in rooms are concerned.

Any decent strategist knows that there must be consideration of “what ifs?”, of contingency planning, of alternative options, of disaster preparation. Instead in the Church of England, we have one kak-handed project after another, none seemingly based on rational detached analysis, and none monitored properly during and afterwards to see if the resources chucked at it have been well spent. Some are even justified on the basis of decisions made under the influence of the “Holy Spirit”. It is easy for us to deceive ourselves with groupthink that the truth is not in us.

I’ve been struck by the insidious nature of clerical institutionalisation, and in some cases its speed. It’s like the most virulent strain of antibiotic-resistant microbe. It infects some people even before hands are laid upon them. They speak clericalese, they think only in terms of the institution and the hierarchy, they never try to understand the point of view of a congregation member or a visitor, and they refuse to imagine what someone who’s never set foot in church – that’s most people these days – might see in the cold light of day.

This is a species of abuse. We allow it. We are complicit in this abuse by failing to ask questions, by failing to analyse events, by failing to make plans based on reality, by failing to be loyal dissenters, whatever the cost.

One of the Thinking Anglicans contributors writes that life outside the church is far healthier, and that it was non-church agencies that were helping him to recover. This is similar to how I feel.

My church at present is the gym, my wife’s the garden and nature. They are healthier than church, physically and spiritually, we meet people who smile more, who don’t require us to fill in forms and justify our existence, who have no expectations, and who are willing to help without conditions. Best of all, there is no attempt to use guilt and shame in order to control.

The church used to be an agent of beauty, a patron of the arts, using them to bring people to the Divine. I need to come to terms with the fact that I’ve allowed myself to be duped by it. Or perhaps that it has changed under my feet more than I ever imagined possible.

Remembrance 2019

Humpty_Dumpty_TennielThis is a bittersweet time of year for Monkhice. October used to be a month of celebration, since all our children were born in October (the rhythm method of conception). There are still birthdays of course, but now with anniversaries of funeral and requiem. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness comes with unwelcome ambivalence. It will never be otherwise.

And then November.

Remembrance Day brings anger. The stupidity of strutting generals of the Great War, using people as disposable toy soldiers in the pursuit of their family squabbles. Contemporary politics is differently deplorable, with the wholesale telling of porkies to gain the approval of the even more powerful. The words “lying turds” come to mind.

Remember the stupidity of war. Remember how killing never achieves anything other than bitterness. Remember how bashing people on the head to get them to agree with you never works. Never.

Maybe what we really, really want is forgiveness.

We need to forgive the wrongs of others. Let go of them, let go of retribution. Our resentments don’t hurt the person that did us wrong—they hurt us. They grow inside, a cancer of the mind, making us bitter and twisted. More surely and more swiftly than any malignancy, they destroy us. Think of Miss Havisham. Hold your resentments in your hands and throw them over your shoulders. Leave them behind.

Most of all, and most difficult of all, forgive yourself.

In the news today is a man who joined an Iranian group opposed to the Ayatollahs. He has been in exile for 30 years. He is 60 and has never seen his son since infancy. He can’t forgive himself for his decision to join. Poor man. How I sympathize with him, even though my own actions might not have had such sad consequences. And then I hear a voice within say “it’s perverted pride, you know, and a kind of arrogance, to think that your sins are unforgiveable”. Well, be that as it may, it doesn’t help much.

Re-membering.  Think of it as putting the members, the pieces, back together again—what all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t do. Reintegration, restoration, anabolism as opposed to diabolism or catabolism. The rubble cleared away so that new foundations can be laid. I wish this were as easy to do as it is to write.

The poppies of Flanders grew because the machinery of war churned up the ground, provoking dormant seeds to life. We can hope that the turmoil of confronting the past will allow dormant seeds to flower within us. Who knows what wonderful things might result? This is healing—nothing to do with cure, but rather working with the reality of our situation.

I repeat: maybe what we really, really want is forgiveness. Self-acceptance.

So, relax. Celebrate your joys. Acknowledge your mistakes. Cuddle them. Love the hell out of yourself.

Then you might be able to change yourself a bit. You certainly won’t ever change anyone else.

Last night I dreamt I went to Queens’ again

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Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Penrith

Childhood dreams in which I was falling alarmed me enough to make me wake myself up. Then one night I deliberately didn’t, to see what would happen. It was exhilarating. I enjoyed the flight, for that’s what it turned out to be.

About nine months ago I began having dreams in which I was back at school, anxious, perplexed, and fearful about failing chemistry and physics. I was wandering around on my own, observing fellow pupils in groups. The dream version of Penrith Grammar School was pretty much as it was in the 1960s.

Other dreams were about Cambridge and medical school—King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south London. In these, there was no topographical resemblance to the real thing, then or now. There was a post-apocalyptic air of dilapidation, oppression, grubbiness and decay. Buildings were crumbling, streets dirty, pavements littered with rubble. Corridors became labyrinths with unattainable goals. I was back for resit exams, usually biochemistry or physiology (odd, since the subject I actually failed was pharmacology). The really curious thing is that in these dreams I was always aware of thinking “hang on a minute, why do I have to be here? I qualified as a doctor in 1975 and I’ve been a Professor of Anatomy?”

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Queens’ College Cambridge

Last night I dreamt I went to Cambridge again, though it was nothing like the real thing. In a haze of perplexity and indecision, I’d not found my timetable, so I’d missed three days of lectures and practicals. I was already notorious as the only person out of about 250 students who hadn’t attended anything.

Someone told me that I should be at Gordon Wright’s neuroanatomy lecture in half an hour. Gordon, let me tell you, in real life taught us neuroanatomy with great wit and style; he subsequently gave me helpful criticism on my textbook Cranial Nerves, so it’s not surprising that he has an honoured place in my memory. But why, having written two anatomy texts—and I was aware of that in my anxiety—should I have to attend his lectures?

Then it came to me what this was about.

Starting again.

It’s obvious now. Retirement means starting again. There is apprehension. Rubble is cleared away. It feels like going into a labyrinth. I was slow to see it.

Aren’t dreams clever? It takes the conscious a fair old time to catch up with the unconscious.

I hope the dreams continue. Enlightenment may dawn.