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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Blue, The Gateway to Glory!

Here we are again, the approach to the invisible dividing line in time which brings this year to a conclusion and introduces another new year, for the 65th occasion so far in my lifetime. There is no earthquakes, no thunder in the sky or voices or supernatural displays from heaven. Instead we make our own noise by having the television switched on to hear the chimes of Big Ben strike midnight followed by the crowds singing Auld Lang Syne and the impressive firework display lighting up the Thames-side London Eye, a giant bicycle wheel broadcast across the whole nation and appearing in every daily newspaper the next day. And of course, a far less impressive show of fireworks let off in our neighbourhood. 

And this all this still to come after a Christmas season watching Franco Zeffirelli's film Jesus of Nazareth on You-Tube. At least the Internet provides a six-hour feature film viewing, which is better than the four-hour version I have on our DVD. With Robert Powell starring as Jesus, it is my opinion that Zeffirelli's production is the closest to the reality of the real Jesus of Nazareth than any other movie ever made about the Son of God. By watching, the film as brought out my love and admiration for this Jewish Messiah who is the author and finisher of our salvation.

And within my spirit, I have a longing to be close to the real Jesus of Nazareth. How I long for him to look me in the eyes with the words, I love you, without any if's or but's, but to love me as I am, warts and all, and believe me, there are many warts indeed. How I long for him to take me in his arms and to hug me, yes, hug me, hug me tightly! Is this a homosexual wish? By no means. Rather this is an unconditional love the Creator, Father, and Brother has for one he had created specifically, according to Psalm 139. How I long to know that God loves me through his Son and indwelling Holy Spirit -even to have the whole Trinity party within me, according to John 14:23. I know, and I'm fully aware that a religious person would jump up, point his finger at me and say something like, Yea but see, there is an "if" - if he loves me he will keep my commandments...

And here is where I find it so difficult to realise Christ's unconditional love for me, for it doesn't take long for someone to say to me, yea, but...and because of religion, even now, after more than forty years as a believer, the unconditional love of Christ is something I find very difficult to realise. And far more difficult to realise for anyone, like myself, to have grown up in the Roman Catholic faith. But without a doubt, to know that I'm unconditionally loved, without taking any of my sins into account, will eventually draw out my desire to keep his commandments out of choice rather than out of compulsion. And knowing that sin is an ongoing brat which keeps on getting in the way spoils this beautiful, longed-for relationship - I guess I cannot enjoy to the full level until I meet him face to face. And therefore, to see the Kingdom of God thrive in my heart is my utmost desire, because really, his commandments are pretty straightforward - to love one another as Christ loves us.

But sin always gets in the way. It always does. And because of sin, I may be tempted to be drawn towards religion, like Adam and Eve were drawn into religion by sewing fig leaves together after the Fall. God totally ignored their own attempts for reconciliation and instead killed an innocent animal in order to clothe them properly. And this issue about clothes. As I have already said a couple of weeks previously, the need for clothing has far more to do with being reconciled to God through an innocent sacrifice than keeping out the cold, even if extra layers of clothing serves well in cold weather.

And as I write this, only yesterday I was sitting alone at a comfy table at a McDonald's in Windsor, with its castle directly across the road from the window right next to where I was sitting. It was a weekday during school holidays, and as I spent about two hours watching the crowds, both inside the restaurant and out in the streets, I did not see one single tie worn, despite the wet, wintry weather. And this was Windsor, official home to the Queen along with her State residence of Buckingham Palace. And maybe rather ironic it may seem, it is here where the terms Half Windsor, Full Windsor, and Double Windsor, all apply on which type of knot on the tie is created.

And I will be honest here. I have always disliked the tie. How a strip of fabric tied around the neck in resemblance of a hangman's noose became so popular in British culture, beats me. Most likely my dislike for such an item having something to do with a telling off I received from a school teacher for not wearing one in class. Sure, I'm fully aware that the tie is merely a way to be smartly dressed. Even my niece admitted that she liked the school tie. Her explanation was that wearing uniform eliminates the rivalry that can arise through individual fashion and choice. Here I fully agree. The uniform is a great leveller. But I cannot help feel that a female wearing a tie looks somewhat unnatural, whilst a man - well, he deserves respect, doesn't he? After all, the tie is the symbol of British respectability, a high level of education and profession, and class.

Respectability? Class? Sorry, but for me, all this looks too artificial. And for years, Hollywood knew this perfectly well. In many of their movies, the villain was often portrayed as the Englishman in a suit, with his British self-reserve the hallmark for his devious and cunning plans, so I once read in a newspaper. But then again, I don't have to merely read about it. Lately in the BBC soap East Enders - and yes, we do watch this soap based on the working class way of life within the East End area of London. Indeed, how low brow, carnal, and unspiritual can we get? No one else in our church would even dare venture to watch that, would they? Yet in it, one of the nastiest villains to appear in the series is James Willmott-Brown, property developer and one time rapist, played by actor William Boyde. Always appearing well dressed in suit and tie, this villain's intention is to destroy the flourishing community at Albert Square, demolish the whole site - local pub included - to build a swank residential estate specifically for young, up-and-coming professionals.

Of course, the developer will fail. All villains do, don't they? But I wonder, throughout the past year of smartly-dressed professionals, and even Oxbridge students in their suits and ties who got up to no good and were caught. There was even a group of professional footballers, all dressed in suit and tie, standing at a balcony with one of them literally throwing a glass of urine over the parapet! How this contrasts to the better-educated TV presenters, reporters, even laboratory scientists, along with doctors and surgeons in the NHS, who all go about their business without having to wear a tie. TV travel presenters such as Simon Reeve, Michael Mosley, Michael Scott, and even Professor Brian Cox all arouse my envy as each of them journey around the globe on our expense  - without having to wear a tie. 

Here are some photos of real-life heroes and villains which had recently appeared in the Media:

Exposing himself, this footballer throws urine over the balcony

Professor Brian Cox at the Grand Canyon
Child killer Scully-Hicks
BBC presenter and travel journalist Michael Mosley

Cambridge student Ronald Coyne -Abused a tramp in the street.
BBC travel presenter Simon Reeve.

One interesting point was how right-wing newspaper journalists such as atheist Simon Heffer - who considers himself to be "a model of an ideal Englishman" - along with Amanda Platell, and Dr. Max Pemberton, all insist on tie-wearing. Heffer even insist that no one can be called a gentleman unless he wears a tie whilst outdoors, including on a Saturday afternoon shopping spree. Meanwhile, gay psychologist Dr. Pemberton would like to launch a campaign for all male NHS hospital staff to wear ties, even surgeons at the operating theatre. And why am I surprised that these journalists, among many more, are all devoted Brexit supporters with a high sense of patriotism? And throughout a year of Brexit turbulence among Government ministers, including the loss of a majority for our current Prime Minister at this year's General Election - at last, at last, a token of victory has been won. A wonderful triumph for all patriots who voted Leave.  

We are going to have our passports changed from burgundy to blue. Fantastic! I'm not exaggerating when I write that the Daily Mail and the Sun national newspapers proclaimed this as a victory for Brexit, Britain's sovereignty and future greatness. Just think of it. Powerful nations such as China, Russia, and the United States will slip to their knees in reverential respect and fear. Europe will tremble with fear. Not long after the colour change, our powerful Navy, Army and Air Force will be dispatched to the whole globe to restore its former Empire. Britain will be great once again, conquering the world as one nation after another collapse at the sight of the passport's new colour. A reason for optimism! Oh yes, lest I forget, there will also be a massive revival of the tie, with crowds demanding the re-opening of Tie Rack and other tailoring stores.

Okay, so I have exaggerated on the Empire bit. And on the tie bit too. But not on the rest. These newspapers really were on a victory line here. Because it was our current Prime Minister, Theresa May, who basically said, The return of the blue British Passport represents a future independence from Europe, our future sovereignty and national greatness. The three words sovereignty and national greatness were actually spoken by her, with my opinion that such hope was an early Christmas present after a year of uncertainty and turmoil. Perhaps this change of the passport's cover from burgundy to blue have to come quick. Because right at the heels of this declaration, news from Egypt arrives into the British Media that its Government has eschewed the Foreign Office's plea to have a British prisoner released early on compassionate grounds. She was charged for bringing a large quantity of Tramadol into Egypt, which is one of their banned drugs. As such, she was sentenced to three years imprisonment. In a word, Egypt told Britain to "go stuff yourself". So much for National greatness on the world's scene. Therefore the passport colour change must come quick if Britain wants Egypt to change its mind.

The good old burgundy passport. Introduced in 1988 to replace the larger dark blue passport (which I always saw as black rather than blue), for the last three decades this conveniently sized burgundy document had allowed me into Israel, the USA, Singapore, Australia, along with Europe itself, including France, Italy, Kos, Rhodes, Malta, and Lanzarote of the Canary Islands. I have travelled the world with it. I spent countless nights in backpackers hostels with it, and including 1997 when I visited the Great Barrier Reef with it, newly gotten. However, for the Grand Canyon, visited for the second time in 1995, I still had the old blue passport, which I carried since adolescence. It was with this rather large, rather conspicuous document, that I twice hiked the Grand Canyon from the Rim to the River, the first in 1978 and again in 1995. Perhaps, to my thinking, such a passport stood as a symbol of national sovereignty. A great nation, one-time head of Empire, whose foundation of faith was, and more so now, on the bedrock of Darwin's Evolutionary theory. The return of the blue passport after more than three decades of the burgundy passport, restores our great nation to its former sovereignty, this time without the need for God to interfere, especially with such silly nonsense as the Young Earth Creationism theory.

With God thrown into the bin, Darwinism reigns. The future greatness of our country will have Evolution as its bedrock. According to Wikipedia, Divine Young-Earth Creationism is now perceived as a pseudoscience. That is, it is put on exactly the same level as the Ancient Astronaut Theory popularised in the 1970's by author Erich von Daniken and his ilk. Creationism is rejected by nearly all mainstream scientists. 

Without Creation, Jesus Christ cannot have existed either. Without him there is no atonement, no salvation. With this there is no heaven and no hell. With Evolution, all people die once, physically, and that's the end of it. There is no room in Darwinism for the afterlife. And so with Brexit, with blue passports, along with Darwin as its modern messiah, Britain is set for greatness. I guess I need to wait for what this new year will bring.

And a happy New Year to you.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Blogging Extra - A Hole in the Heart

As many may feel on Boxing Day, Christmas over for another year. Weeks of preparation climaxed in just one rather short day, here on the Northern Hemisphere at least. As narrated on my last blog written on Saturday, we enjoyed a Christmas roast, only this was a combination of turkey and duck presented in a form of a Swiss-roll, and I must say, it tasted quite nice too. With the plate shared with roast potatoes, boiled carrots and Brussels sprouts - and yes, I'm very fond of Brussels sprouts, even from boyhood, and to this day I wonder why this particular species of vegetable is so disliked by children, and perhaps by many adults too, although I doubt whether green cabbage would have scored any higher. So we had red cabbage instead, something which took a long time for me to get around in trying, even if I had no problem with greens.  

And of course, presents. An attempt to buy three grown-up nieces presents for Christmas without asking them is one heck of a challenge! As children, my contribution proved a disaster, and surely made it to the top of the Unwanted Present chart, and for many years since, I have given them gift vouchers. Maybe being male, and unable to discern the female tendency in thoughts and preferences, it wasn't until I was told that gift vouchers were mundane and very boring, that I had to change tactic. Maybe that is why I now board a train to London and head for Camden Town, where markets of miscellanea ranging from trendy clothing - leather items such as knuckledusters, which are gloves fitted with stainless steel spikes, along with leather belts with the same feature (both I bought for my wife for Christmas past), to a large range of trinkets, music, items of art, to foreign imported furniture - items from Egypt, India and China seem to feature well here. These are markets selling merchandise which would be very difficult to find elsewhere in the UK, and because of this, I get the inspiration for such unusual but very trendy items which has no practical use whatever, other than provide amusement as long as its batteries has within them an element of power.

Although meant for the garden, or in my niece's case, the balcony, the rotating sun reflector can also be hung indoors and powered by a battery-driven motor, as well as hooking up conical and spherical add-on's to give further enhancement. As a matter of fact, I have wondered why I had never bought and installed such a gadget in my own home. Maybe this may be a good excuse for another trip to Camden Town in the not-too-distant future. After all, we men love toys!

And so it was a relief to me that such a gift was well received. At least by the eldest, for the younger sibling - she is away at her boyfriend's family home located about fifty miles 80 km away, and therefore had not yet received the present, which is identical to the first. But if she does, then I'll be forever thankful to whoever dreamt up the idea of converting a series of disused warehouses cluttering the banks of the Regents Canal into such trendy grottoes of markets and restaurants. Believe me, for such a guy like myself, Camden Town is seen as a lifeline! 

And so I watch parents buy presents, toys and games mainly, for their children, and I can visualise homes throughout the land, with excited children finding the night of Christmas Eve difficult to sleep, with the younger ones peering out of the bedroom window with the hope of catching a glimpse of Santa riding in his sleigh, pulled by a team of reindeer. The little fact that such a scenario is flying in the face of all physics connected with the Earth's gravitational pull does not even enter the child's mind, neither is the probability of each present being caught and swallowed by every domestic chimney pot or smokestack presents a major problem with the introduction of the modern central heating system.

But whatever difficulties Science imposes on Santa's mission, by Christmas morning the presents are there! A pile of brightly coloured wrapper conceals boxes which in themselves contain treasures that will excite these young hearts and to keep the children occupied throughout the day, and even through the holidays until school re-opens at the start of the term which would bring them to Easter.

A lovely thing to imagine as Alex and I open each other's presents this Christmas morning. She bought me a much-needed pair of slippers - something I could have easily bought myself any time earlier, but I wanted my wife to experience the pleasure. In turn she received a Bob Marley CD, along with the wall plaque with the decorated words I Love You printed on the taut canvass. She was over the moon with both of them. Where else to buy such items but Camden Town? But after the exchange of gifts, I became aware of the heavy silence in the house.

Heavy silence, a silence so loud that I'm almost deafened by it, whichever way you prefer to phrase it, had nevertheless brought my awareness of the hole in my heart, an empty cavity, the realisation that something is missing. Something very important to us is not here with us. That is our own three daughters, now ranging from ten to sixteen years of age. The first two were taken from us for adoption in 2005, which was before our third offspring was born. And that was before we learnt that we are both on the mild end of the Autism Spectrum. Behind all the joys of Christmas and everything that goes with it, including the weeks of preparation and gift-buying, the holidays has never been the same. The Social Worker involved, despite her academic credentials, knew nothing of Asperger's Syndrome, let alone how to diagnose its symptoms (it was discovered in us by an independent Psychologist a few months later). 

No, this is not a letter of self-pity, neither is it a request for any pity or sympathy. Rather, it is a reminder that for a professional, to have such a syndrome can be, and I believe it was, equalled to that of a criminal. We are not criminals. We just have brains which are wired up for different social interaction towards others, including our children. And for this we had paid a price, a very big price, and it was felt once again as our home stands in still silence after we opened our presents on Christmas morning. 

Saturday, 23 December 2017

An Earth-Shaking Revolution.

In Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 film, Jesus of Nazareth, we see Mary receiving a revelation from an angel named Gabriel, that she is to conceive without insemination from a father, and she will give birth to a boy, who will be called the Son of God, and who will save his people from their sins. All well and good, so Luke narrates in his Gospel. Except that in the film we see Olivia Hussey, who played Mary, looking out from her window, her face illuminated, but unfortunately we do not see the angel himself. So we are still left in the dark to what exactly did Mary see.

Remarkably, if going by the careful reading of Luke's narration, it was what she heard which troubled her, not what she saw. Perhaps rather unfortunately for the viewer, Zeffirelli was not any further enlightened on this matter, so we are left with the image of Mary looking intensely out of the window, but we remain in the dark to what she actually saw.

Did Mary see Gabriel as the Christmas card version of the angel, a kind of a incandescent transsexual humanoid who is neither fully male or female, but a combination of both, dressed in a Roman toga and with a pair of swan's wings with gleaming white feathers attached to his upper back? Or maybe even the Vatican's version, which is a flying baby with wings. Or mundane as it sounds, did Gabriel appear as a normal man, a human being? Mary was not the first to be met by the angel. About six months earlier, this same entity paid a visit to the priest Zachariah whilst he was ministering within the Holy Place of the Temple. This was an area exclusive to all except the priest himself. So he was alone in the building, offering incense, when suddenly this fellow appeared as if out of nowhere, and therefore startling the priest. I am even wondering, in jest, if the angel appeared suddenly with a loud Boo! Yes indeed, that would certainly put the frights up the priest!

Angels appearing as ordinary humans seemed to be the norm in the Bible. One good example was with Abraham (Genesis 18). Here three men appeared at once, and so human that Abraham pleaded for them to stay and enjoy some food to refresh before continuing on their journey. For a long time I have believed that these men were manifestations of the Holy Trinity, and therefore concluded that Abraham was visited by God. And I'm still open to this interpretation. But whether the two who journeyed on to Sodom to survey it's character were two Persons of the Trinity, or whether they were angels, leaving God himself for further discussion with Abraham - they were certainly human in appearance, even human enough to deceive the Sodomites.

Another classic case concerned Manoah and his unnamed barren wife (Judges 13). The appearance of this character was "like an angel of God" according to the description the wife gave to her husband (verse 6). But in verse 16, the narrator tells us that this couple did not realise that the visitor was an angel of the Lord until he manifested himself at the burnt offering. Therefore he must have appeared fully human, without wings on his back. The fearful couple then became the parents of Samson, probably the most famous Judge in the Old Testament.

Going back to Mary. After Gabriel left her, she gladly made haste to the house of Zachariah, who was by then made dumb by the angel through unbelief of the visitor's announcement. This is one of the most puzzling epics of her story. This is because she was engaged to marry Joseph, and according to Matthew's account, her fiance on having learnt of her pregnancy and knowing that the child was not his, planned to "put her away secretly". That means to send her to exile rather than have her publicly stoned to death according to the Mosaic Law recorded in Deuteronomy 22:23-24. So although she seems overjoyed about her unique privilege of being the mother of the Son of God, I have wondered how fearful she might have been of Joseph, and his God-given right to have her publicly executed. As I see it, her trip to Zachariah's house immediately following the announcement was not to flee from Joseph in fear, but to congratulate Elizabeth for her pregnancy with John the Baptist. Luke doesn't say anything about Joseph accompanying his fiancee to their cousin's house. Instead, to his horror, he must have discovered her condition after she had returned home to Nazareth.

And so, after instructions to go to Bethlehem for tax registration, Mary gives birth to Jesus at a stable and places the child in a manger. And according to such beautiful tradition, the date on the Gregorian Calendar was December 25th. Not that the Gregorian Calendar existed back then, as Pope Gregory XIII was not yet around to initiate his calendar until AD 1582. But then again, the Julian Calendar which preceded it was very close in dating each year. The date was most likely still December 25th. The Christmas card image is of a wooden barn housing the Holy Family with the baby Jesus, along with a couple of donkeys looking sedate as they rest peacefully near the cot. The infant, whose divine incandescence illuminates the interior of the shed whilst an unusually bright star shines directly above. As such, just as a Winter scene is so romantically portrayed, there had been many "misery-guts" who dispute the date, as shepherds don't keep watch over their sheep during the Winter, along with any other explanation at their attempt to discredit Christmas.

But whether Jesus was born on the 25th of December according to the Julian Calendar or not, personally I have never found any problems with the date. Rather, I see the birth of Jesus as a start of something which will be an earth-shaking revolution for the whole Western world. No I'm not talking about his teachings delivered during his earthly ministry. Nor am I referring to the Atonement made on the Cross. Neither am I talking about his Burial, and then his Resurrection on the third day after his death. Neither am I referring to his Ascension into Heaven. Nor am I talking about the free offer of salvation through grace for all believers. Neither am I talking about his Second Advent to set up his eternal Kingdom. Rather, I'm talking about the greatest of all historical revolutions: The invention of the board game Monopoly!

And as children wake up early on Christmas morning, exciting for what awaits them, whilst still in their pyjamas, the children rip open their presents, ignoring the gaily-coloured images of Santa with his reindeer, Christmas trees and snowflakes decorating the wrappers, to see what they have found within. For one boy, its an electric train set - just what Daddy needs to entertain himself over Christmas. Later in the morning, after relatives had arrived, presents among the adults are distributed. Daddy receives another tie for the office, a different colour to the one he received last year, and a new set of socks. Mother opens her box to reveal a new saucepan for the kitchen, and her forced smile hides her temptation to whack it over her husband's head. Then other presents are revealed which are met with that classic but very stale greeting: Oh that is what I've always wanted! - without noticing the youngest child gazing up with the question: Well, if he always wanted that, then why didn't he just buy it himself? It doesn't look that expensive. Smart boy indeed, as he dreads future Christmases he must one day endure as an adult.

The two women file into the kitchen, including Mother with her brand new utensil, and start to busy themselves with the preparation of the turkey. Daddy flings his gifts onto the settee and makes a dive for his son's train set. Before the poor boy had the chance to examine his present and work out how to assemble the tracks for himself, Daddy was all over it, connecting one length of track to another until the oval layout is complete. Then after carefully lining up the wheels of the train onto the tracks, he then starts it up, with father and son both watching the train whizz round and round on the Railroad to Nowhere. Whilst the older one gazes with excitement, the younger of the two looks on with despondency.

As the hours tick away, Daddy leaves the train set to his son and settles for a cigar and a glass of sherry and engages in conversation with the other man who is the visitor. The women minds the turkey as it gently roasts in the oven. In the meantime, vegetables are cooked, and the table is laid out with every festive item one can think of. Especially the crackers. Christmas would never be the same without those crackers which often fails to snap properly, each containing a paper crown, a dreadful joke which brings out the greatest groans from the men in particular, a riddle which nobody can solve without looking at the answer printed on the reverse, and most important, those nasty bits of plastic "toys" which seem to delight Daddy more than the clothing he received earlier that morning. It was during the meal that the spirit of festivities was at its highest, all of then somewhat forgetting that it's Jesus Christ's birthday. Never mind about that. Instead, Mother has to keep encouraging the boys to eat their Brussels sprouts, as all were anticipating the arrival of the Christmas pudding soaked in Brandy and set alight by Daddy, followed by an endless flow of walnuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts, chocolate, mandarins with its classy Christmassy smell, and nougat.

Into the afternoon, after the table is cleared up, the boys continue to play with their presents, the two men doze, their wives engaged in both the clearing and the washing up, along with the disposal of the remaining sprouts left behind by two of the boys. And each female being in each other's company was the pacifier which held back any blazing rows with their husbands about "chipping in" - especially with their turn to do the washing up. Instead, with the aroma of cigar smoke filling the air, Daddy's snores becomes raucous, which continues for a while before woken up by Mother, with a suggestion to pass the time with the Monopoly board.

Monopoly! A survey suggest that this is still the most popular of board games, even as high as 80%, especially at Christmas. How these surveys were conducted in the first place beats me. After all, no one dressed in a uniform, displaying an identity badge and with notepad in hand, had ever knocked on my door and asked, What do you do at Christmas? or Do you play any games on Christmas Day, and if so, which? or even, Do you play Monopoly on Christmas Day? So you see, how they collect their statistics remains a mystery, to me at least. And so each player, the two men and two of the older boys sit at table, and with dice tossed into the air, all vying for the two most expensive properties, the dark blue Mayfair and Park Lane. Get a hotel established on both those sites and you are in for a winner, bankrupting any player unfortunate to land on the site. 

And so as the game proceed, each player becomes serious in his buying and trading skills, and each player starts to feel discontent with each other as one player after another begins to buy these little green houses, with the purpose to extort enough rent to bankrupt his opponent, who is trying to do the same thing to you. Greed takes over and at last you buy a larger red hotel for Park Lane, after buying a hotel for Mayfair. Then afterwards as you throw the dice, you land on the "Community Chest" square. You pick up the card and you read, Throw again or take a "Chance". Your opponent has a hotel on each of his three sites only a little way ahead, and the probability of landing on one of these sites is very high. So you pick up the "Chance" card. It is a massive tax for every house and even a bigger one for every hotel you own. To make a payment, you have to put one of your properties, the one with two houses, onto mortgage, which means that rent cannot be collected for it.

It is a momentary relief when you land at "Free Parking" or even "Go to Jail" knowing that you are far safer there than swanning around the board with all these greedy landlords out to get you. It was then when Daddy lands his car token on your Mayfair. That, with the hotel, is done for. He has no option than to hand everything to you and drop out of the game. But in a moment of fury, he swipes the table with his hand, sending the board, all the houses, all the hotels, all the money, all the tokens, all the "Chance" and "Community Chest" cards, and all the Property Deed cards, as well as the two dice, flying across the room. It's not the first time that has happened. Rather, this is a repeat of the same incident three years previously, which was the reason why a stray green house lay undetected under the sideboard for all that time. Now a massive search will now be undertaken in an attempt to retrieve all the lost pieces, with another green house or two and a red hotel tucked away under the edge of the carpet for all perpetuity.

The sudden loss of temper by the host was the signal for the guests to don their coats and prepare to leave for an earlier-than-usual journey home. As they exit the front door, they say their final greetings:
Wishing you the best for the rest of the holiday, and we wish you a prosperous new year ahead.

And let me say:
I wish all my readers a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. God bless you all, and thanks for reading and following this page.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

What Aliens Would See...

There has been a stir of excitement across the media lately! What I find incredible is the sense of optimism that we may not be alone in the Universe after all. And this is not from a group of pseudoscience crackpots who are devotees of author Erich von Daniken, but instead, this sense of optimism has arisen from a team of accredited academics - four I can think of straight away, because their names appeared in the Press in direct association and support for this latest phenomenon - a passing meteor, comet or asteroid resembling a spaceship. Not that this alien space-travellers belief is just a passing fancy, or a momentary fad. Rather, I had already observed as far back in 1997, that just about every other shop at Santa Barbara in California displayed these inflatable alien dolls for sale, with their characteristic large heads, large featureless eyes, a small nose and a tiny mouth, all held by a long thin neck joining the head to a slender and rather puny torso, with flailing arms and legs. In short, these creatures sporting a rather large cranium had evolved into super-intelligent beings whose bodies had gradually allowed their alimentary canal to degrade until all but obsolete - hence no longer the need to eat and drink for daily sustenance.

And these scientists had to contain their excitement until hard evidence for extraterrestrial life contained in this passing object is verified. These four scientists were the most prominent among others who held an optimistic view over the likelihood of the existence of alien spacemen. They are Stephen Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA, English Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist of Cambridge University, Professor Avi Loeb, an Astrophysicist at Harvard University, Dr. Andrew Siemion of SETI, California, and Dr. Jason Wright of Penn State University who, in all seriousness, believes that the spaceship - which recently passed so close to our planet and caused such widespread excitement - has broken down engines, hence causing it to tumble through space at 196,000 miles an hour. And so this four hundred metre-long cigar-shaped structure pays a visit to our Solar system, its course gets deflected by the gravity force of our Sun, and skims past the Earth before spiralling away towards outer space. This object, because of its unusual shape, conforms to intelligent design and engineering specifically to travel through outer space with the minimal risk of strikes by meteorites and space dust, hence their belief in it's artificial origin. By contrast, it was always observed that any other natural space rock is normally spheroid, including potato-shaped.

The object was given an affectionate name Oumuamua, an Hawaiian name to mean A messenger from afar arriving first. So here, assuming that it is a spaceship manned by rather handsome-looking humanoids with enormous heads in relation with their slim, rather weak and emaciated-looking bodies, I'll make a daring assumption on the conversation which took place among the crew as the ship passes over our planet, translated from silent telepathy into verbal English.


Captain Ziglad stood, looking at the large crystal in front of him. The crystal itself, being nearly a metre in diameter, was quite an imposing piece of alien equipment. Then by telepathic will, he was able to zoom in on the image to see a city bustling with people, with streets crammed with slow-moving vehicles. What appears to be a river cutting through the middle of the metropolis, making it into two distinct halves, yet still connected to each other by a series of road bridges. The captain sighed, shaking his head.

His Lieutenant asked, "What's the problem, sir?"

"These primitive-looking tribes inhabiting this planet! They actually use fuel-consuming motors to propel their mode of transport. No surprise that their atmospheric consistence doesn't look very good. And furthermore, there looks to be a huge maggot crawling along - several of them, in fact."

The Lieutenant looked closely. "Third rock from its star?"

"Yes, that's right." The captain answered, just as the Lieutenant's young son runs into the large cockpit chamber from another part of the ship. "I'm focusing on what looks to be an odd-shaped island just off a huge continent to the south of it. The island is located off the far north west of the continent by a narrow strip of ocean, and looks to be heavily populated."

A third crew member, Jor-El, who was also looking closely at the crystal, chipped in. "You mention several large maggots? I believe that they are not giant insect larvae, in fact, they aren't even organic, but instead they are a form of public transportation. It does look as though they run on distinct tracks, separate from the smaller vehicles."

"Well," the captain concluded. "This planet was first visited by our sister ship The Nostromo, some time ago."

"When?" the boy asked rather excitedly.

"Well, going by our calculations, it's only a few months back." Jor-El answered. "But according to their calculations, it was more than two thousand solar years ago."

"Solar years? What's that, sir?"

The Lieutenant chipped in, "Ziggy, every planet travels on a path circling its star. This is known as an orbit. When the planet completes its orbit, that is, finishing at the same point where it started, we call that a complete "year". Since we call this particular star Solaris, we say one solar year. The Nostromo hovered over this planet just over two thousand solar years ago. To the inhabitants of this planet, the Nostromo shone for a while as a very bright star hovering in the sky."

"Wow!" Ziggy exclaimed.

"And furthermore - " Jor-El contributed, "Our unusual star was shining down on this planet about two thousand solar years after The Nostromo was launched from our home site. And according to what my instincts seems to be telling me, the timing of the launch itself seems to indicate some kind of promise our God Yahweh had made to them. Hmm, could it be that God had actually visited these inhabitants in person at a time coinciding with our Nostromo's visit? A very interesting speculation indeed! Especially when considering no divine visits were ever made to us." Jor-El was speaking more to himself than to Ziggy or to the other two in the cockpit.

"Surely these inhabitants cannot know the same God who created us!" Ziggy exclaimed, shocked with surprise.

"And why not?" Jor-El asked. "There is only one God, and if he had created us, he must have created these inhabitants as well. And fairly recently, as with us. Furthermore, I venture to say that his divine name Yahweh is known by these people too."

Both the Captain and his Lieutenant studied the live image within the crystal with single concentration. It was Jor-El, apparently the most outspoken member of the crew, who remarked, "This is rather like one of our scientists examining microbes swarming within a single drop of water. In God's name, every vehicle, every ship, even their airships, are all powered by fuel-burning engines!"

Then the Captain added, "How very much unlike the rather large telepathy-monitored crystal located within the rear of our ship Oumuamua, with no need for any fuel whatsoever, yet capable of powering our spaceship up to close to the speed of light. And furthermore, its velocity remains in full control of my own will. No doubt, down there they must have some physical, hand-controlled gadget, or even a set of gadgets, to monitor their mode of travel."

Then by zooming further into the image, again it was Jor-El who remarked, "The anatomy of these people consisting of a smaller head in relation to body size. Not only does this indicate almost an entire lack of telepathic powers and the possibility of lower intelligence, but their stronger, more muscly torso, legs and arms indicates the use of heavy labour as a daily necessity."

"But it's their behaviour which bothers me." the Lieutenant responded. "They all seem to be rushing about, without real peace within themselves, and looks to be prone to committing violence against each other. Furthermore, they are all clothed, and not naked as we all are. Do you think this matter of clothing might had something to do with their relationship with their divine Creator?"

"A strong possibility!" Both Captain Ziglad and Jor-El answered in unison. Jor-El continued, "Chances that sometime in their history they, or their ancestor, had disobeyed God. Considering that all the other creatures we had seen inhabiting this planet are not clothed yet able to survive well, indicates that clothing has to do with their standing with God rather than coping with the cold."

"I doubt whether their clothing has much to do with mere atmospheric conditions." Captain Ziglad agreed. "A little earlier I took a look at the planet's equatorial area and I saw several cities in that region with everyone wearing clothes. Lighter dressed, as this region is considerably warmer than where we have been observing, but still the need for clothing. This shows that it's little to do with the climate. Rather it has a much deeper meaning."

Just then Amor-El, the Lieutenant's wife and Ziggy's mother, walks into the cockpit. "It's time for your protein pills." she announced. Everyone present held out his hand to receive from her a small and easy-to-swallow pill which suited their tiny mouths. They all knew that this pill is enough to sustain them for a long while. And there were plenty more in stock.

After this the party withdrew from the crystal to sit at a lounge adjoining the cockpit chamber. Captain Ziglad waved his weak arms as if to indicate a conclusion to the whole matter. "We believe that these inhabitants were created by God to enjoy his love and friendship, just as we were. But unlike us, somewhere along the line, they disobeyed some command God had given them, and therefore in need of reconciliation. How that was accomplished I cannot say, but I believe that it involves at least two, if not three stages. The first is the need for them to cover their nakedness, the second is a visitation from God himself, perhaps in the form of an incarnation - for God to become one of them and to identify himself with them, and thirdly to atone on their behalf, one way or another, for we don't know how. This is only a speculation, for all this is mysterious to us."

Ziggy then piped in. "But if God became one of them, then who would take care of heaven? His angels?"

Jor-El answered, "The knowledge of our Creator God is a mystery to us, but somehow I don't believe heaven was vacated. There is a connection between all this and God's omnipresence."

The captain then announced, "We shall inform the rest of the crew on this ship, all seventy of them, that we have accomplished our mission, and we shall divert this ship for the course home."

The actual course of  Oumuamua, was deflected by the Sun.

"But were we originally meant to land on this planet of Solaris?" Jor-El asked.

"This was considered," the Captain answered. "But there were two issues which came up on the crystal. The first was the question of whether our compatibility with its atmosphere would have sustained us, or whether our incompatibility would have killed us from asphyxiation. And that would be the very first death among our species. As I studied the crystal image, it was not difficult for me to analyse the atmosphere, and I was able to conclude that we would have survived only for a short while before passing out."

"That sounds serious!" Jor-El gasped.

"Yes it is." Ziglad agreed. "But had we landed, we would have been a shock to the population, and going by the crystal images, they have a quarantine system, which means we would have been in custody for heaven knows how long for."

"So you, Lieutenant, and you too, Jor-El, back to your posts. We are setting our ship home bound."

Having crossed the orbit of Mars, the spaceship Oumuamua began to accelerate rapidly without a sound as it sped towards the outer Solar system towards home.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

That One Thing I Take For Granted...

A patient walks into a doctor's surgery:-
Patient: Doctor, I have a pain around my stomach area.
Doctor: Oh for heaven's sake, it's just a bout of indigestion. Go home, man up, and stop wasting my time!

The patient goes home and carries on his business. After such a shocking reply, he decides to "man up" and tells no one else for weeks to come, not even his family members. And as the pain gradually intensifies, he carries on in keeping a stiff upper lip like any good Englishman. That is, until the intensity of the pain spreading towards his tummy and also towards his back compels him to visit his nearest Accident and Emergency department of a local hospital. 

After some time resting fetus-like on the bed with both arms clenched, another doctor, after carrying out some tests as well as observing a level of weight loss, suggests that it's pancreatic cancer. At least this doctor, no doubt an immigrant, since his English, although good, was still somewhat broken as he spoke. He was far more compassionate in his attitude than his local GP he had earlier consulted, who was a British veteran who also served in the military Red Cross. By contrast, this medic working at Accident and Emergency, turned out to be correct in his diagnosis, and the patient was then admitted into the main hospital for further tests and observations so the correct course of treatment may get underway.  

Of course, these days no doctor of any nationality would display such a dismissive attitude to a patient, but being old enough to see such past attitudes in real life has made me rather obstinate, at least according to my wife's opinion, against visiting our local GP whenever I need to. This sense of stubbornness most likely harks back to one morning many years earlier when I attended a primary school. Back then I recall one boy bullying another, and the victim went to a middle-aged male teacher whom he had asked to intercede. Instead, this teacher brushed the youngster off with the rebuke, Don't tell tales! The victim was left to his own devices to deal with the bully. Or later in the 1990's, during my peak of world travel, and what I have read in a hosteling magazine more than twenty years ago. It was an article referring to the original purpose of youth hosteling. This was when such hostels catered for city children to have a taste of country life, long before they were taken over by backpackers. In those days when the compulsory morning duty was carried out by every member, meals were served by the catering staff, and lights out at 10.30 PM.

On one occasion, when a father and his son was staying one night at such a youth hostel, the warden's wife instructed both to "finish their vegetables" before they can leave the table! This is a true story if you find it hard to believe. But this goes back to the late 1950's when every boy was expected to be conscripted for National Service, and the warden and his wife saw this as the reason for such strict, public school discipline within the hostel premises. This was about the same time as the above primary school bullying incident, when just about all adult men had a stint in the military, with many enduring combat, and therefore expected the boys to toughen up and follow suit. However, the father, after such an insulting humiliation as a fully grown adult and parent, had never set foot in a hostel ever again, while the son waited up to nearly forty years before he found the courage to hesitatingly step through the door of a hostel once more. I'm happy to say that with the vast modernisation and improvements, together with sharing the dormitory with adult backpackers instead of children, he was converted to become a devout fan of hosteling.

And there is a well documented case concerning Eton, one of Britain's most famous Public Schools, located across the River Thames from Windsor. Reverend Dr. John Keate took over Eton as headmaster in 1809. Each day, from Monday even to Saturday (but not on Sundays) he would cane up to ten boys. On 30 June 1832, he thrashed over eighty of his pupils with his cane. But instead of showing negative emotions in direct relation to the pain felt, each boy cheerfully thanked him for the punishment.*

It was this what their parents paid for. For their son's level of stoicism to reach such heights so that he can be classified with the privilege of being one of the Breed - the ideal Englishman whose emotions are so controlled that he can suffer pain without even a wince, but instead it's met with a smile. The perfect gentleman who is not only a magnificent boxer, but would also bow in reverence to the Monarch, yet at the same time have a disdain for all foreigners, with a God-given sense of biological, ethical and national superiority to invade other lands and rule over the indigenous as one of the Master Race. Such would make an ideal military officer over a regiment deployed to maintain the Empire. And so such attitude carries over from one generation to the next, with fathers and school teachers whacking the backsides of their offspring until such beatings eventually becomes a sexual stimulant as these boys grow up into adulthood.

And so by the 1960's and the 70's, it was not uncommon for a suited City businessman, complete with bowler hat, to make a beeline to a prostitute's bedroom after a day's work, and pay her to have his buttocks whacked with a leather strap prior to sexual intercourse. This, off course, with an excuse for his wife that "he must work late at his office" as part of his employment. My point is, had all this discipline and punishment, based on national, ethical and racial superiority, really produced a godly, moral character?

City gent - model of Christian virtue?

Having been born towards the tail end of such a culture, I believe to be one of many Baby-boomers who believe that visiting a GP, unless literally gasping at my last breath, is wasting his time when he could be dealing with a patient carrying a more serious illness. It is a subconscious feeling, often disguised as an excuse for delay or pretended forgetfulness, or even with an explanation that I'm on the recovery, even if not actually true, thus expressing my unwillingness to visit the doctor, in case he tells me to man up and not waste his time. Yet my wife Alex insists that I should go. And she has even arranged an appointment for me.

This is a result of an injury inflicted at the gym, as already expressed in my recent blogs. As the pain refuses to go, leaving me hobbling along instead of walking, Alex bought a pair of crutches online, and I now can move more efficiently by leaning on one of the crutches. But this can be rather humiliating, especially at a superstore, when I watch an elderly female, old enough to be my mother, walking stealthily along like a twenty-year-old athlete whilst I lean heavily on that aluminium tube my wife had bought for me. It is by this experience that I come to realise how much I have taken for granted my health and mobility, probably the most important commodity in any man's life.

At last, late one evening I visit the doctor, a middle-aged female immigrant who is apparently married to a Brit, because she bears an English surname. Far from telling me not to waste her time, she was practically all over me, referring me as "my darling" as she examined my condition. When I told her that I had injured myself at the gym, she explained about the ailment Plantar Fasciitis, but with the pain prolonged to over three weeks and showing no sign of abating, she has suggested that I might have a torn ligament, and then asked me whether I would submit to both an X-Ray and a scan, to verify her suspicion and if proven true, to turn up at Accident and Emergency. Therefore I was not too surprised to be confronted by Alex's annoyance when I mentioned about a potential visit to Accident and Emergency. She knew that I needed attention, and therefore she had a go at me for my stubbornness in not visiting the doctor earlier on.

In reference to Reverend Dr. John Keate, it is his double title which as intrigued me. He was an academic and a church leader, as well as a leader of Eton. Yet as I try to perceive the Church of England through the eyes of a recently-whacked pupil, I wonder how those students perceived God himself. Certainly not as a God of healing, as so many sore buttocks can testify. There seems to be a massive contrast between the likes of Dr. John Keate and that of Jesus himself, who exhorted his followers to "...heal the sick..." - not whack them.

Eton College Public School

But when Jesus healed the sick, there was always one main reason for doing so, and that was for the glory of God. That is, Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the poor, and ministered to the oppressed - so that people will recognise him as their Messiah, and by believing on his name, they may have eternal life through him (John 20:31). Jesus himself said,
I told you that you will die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am, you will indeed die in your sins - John 8:24.

To believe that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well (1 John 5:1). That was the whole object of Christ's ministry in healing the sick: To bring people to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It does look like that God holds great value to health. It was how God originally created us. And Psalm 139 contains one of the best testimonies on how God has "knitted us together whilst still in the womb." - (Verses 14-16).

God is our Father, especially to the believer, the one who has faith in Jesus. And what I have learnt from not only of my experience, but what my wife is going through as well, is that being healthy is a precious gift from God. The trouble is, I tend to forget this, especially if I'm on a pursuit to attain a goal, whether it's in business or for pleasure, and I merely take my health for granted. By suddenly having to hobble along in pain rather than walk or run can indeed cause me to focus on how precious my health really is, and there is nothing shameful, or embarrassing about paying a visit to a General Practitioner and accepting his course of treatment. Because he will not tell me to man up and to bear my pain with "macho" stoicism. Neither would he tell me off, nor wield a cane for wasting his time, nor would he say that my malady is too minor for his attention. Rather, he - or in my case, she - would give the right advice and set me on the proper course of treatment.

And I think that in itself is a demonstration of God's fatherly love.

*Jeremy Paxman, The English - A Portrait of a People, page 179, Michael Joseph Publishers.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Narcissism, the Cold, and the Tube.

To stand outside doing practically nothing on a chilly morning at the end of November isn't a pleasant experience, especially as a moderate strength breeze from the Arctic percolates the winter coat I'm wearing and begins to chill the skin and penetrate my arm muscles to my bones. Then to add to this, I hadn't had a hot coffee for the last two to three hours, and I was longing for one. Then I was made further uncomfortable by an ailment in my left foot, the malady recognised as Plantar Fasciitis by my GP. This rather painful impediment to walking and even merely standing made the overall discomfort more intense, to the point when I called out to Wesley that I'm feeling unwell, and I need to return home. So much for the gym workouts from where the sharp pain from the heel to the ankle, had first began.

Wesley is an aspiring window cleaner, to whom I sold my business during the process of retirement. As he himself is not only self-employed, but as a company director, he also assign jobs to other self-employed window cleaners, forming a team of workers who can complete a housing estate within a day, where formerly, it took me five working days to complete the same area. Much of this is also due to the advanced technology of the pole system replacing the ladder, hence saving much time and effort, unlike the traditional cloth, bucket and ladder which was my trademark during 35 years of domestic window cleaning.

And so, how did I come to know Wesley? Some years ago I met him with his father at Coral Reef Sauna World. Back then, Wesley was barely out of school, and rather than further his education, he decided to work for his cousin in the window cleaning trade covering mainly commercial properties, including school premises. When his cousin suddenly died prematurely, Wesley took over the helm and was able to expand his business, which was based in Aldershot, a Hampshire town some sixteen miles away from Coral Reef Waterworld and my nearby home street. In the meantime, after their successful visit to the Grand Canyon at my recommendation, both Wesley and I began to attend the sauna every Saturday morning where I was able to mentor him on the trade. I did this with the intention of selling him my business, even with retirement still more than ten years away, I could still see it coming, and when the time eventually arrived, I was able to pass on a thriving business to amalgamate into his own enterprise rather than to see it pass into oblivion.

Therefore I often arrive to "supervise" the team when they work at my former estates, as well as having a cheerful chat with my former clientele. Usually I stay for the full duration until they are ready to pack up and go home, (usually between one to two o'clock in the afternoon) but this time it was different. As the chilly wind bit into me, I remember an incident which occurred several months earlier. I was looking outside my kitchen window to see and hear a forty-something year old dustman shouting a rebuke at the teenage recruit who appeared not to be committed to his work. That was quite a while ago, and I never saw the lad since. I can fully imagine the senior refuse collector at the end of his shift, approaching the Council offices to protest, This lad is of no use to us. Assign him to someone else or get rid of him!

Or at another case a few years earlier, whilst I was cleaning the windows of one house, the owners of the property next door was having an extension built. Whilst all the contractor's equipment littered the back yard, suddenly the builder shouted to his younger recruit, a man in his early twenties, I'm not paying you to sit down! I doubt whether the younger man had kept his job after that, since afterwards I saw the builder working on his own.

Echoes of my adolescent years! But at least I had the comfort of working indoors, protected from the adverse weather outside, and just about avoiding dismissal. But the attitude was the same, like the two recruits, I was small fry in an adult, fully masculine world. And whilst this week I was standing outside, watching Wesley getting on with his job, I was wondering what it would have been like as a young recruit at a building site, or at a roadworks, or a railway engineering works, or anywhere else in an all-male environment involving heavy labour outdoors in a biting wind, rain, snow, or for that matter, even scorching sunshine. And subject to teasing or even bullying, with myself being an easy target for the older worker to vent his own frustration, if not merely to poke fun at. I then desperately would have wished to go home, to settle on the comfortable sofa in front of the fire with a mug of coffee. Instead, I would have had no option but to remain at the site at the foreman's discretion - or, having taken enough, to leg it, knowing full well that my post is automatically terminated, along with its source of income. 

And so such is the fate of leaving school without any qualifications, as I did in 1968.

I guess it's "the grass is always greener on the other side" ethic cannot be truer than if, for example, a road had to be dug up in the middle of Oxford for a new pipe or cable to be laid. As the cold wind blows and my knees are knocking together as I attempt to carry a heavy tool to an older colleague who has told me to fetch it with a level of impatience, I'll be glancing at the historic beauty of the colleges around me which makes up Oxford University, with a crushing feeling of envy for every undergraduate who was successful enough at school for admission. Fortunately, by God's grace, I have never found myself in such a situation. Yet the crushing unfairness of life prevails, as I stood watching my business successor at work. Because it was only on the day before, when I was considering a sauna at Coral Reef, that I remembered a visit by Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex, to attend the official opening of Coral Reef Waterworld after two years of closure. 

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, is greeted at Coral Reef

Sophie is the wife of Prince Edward, the youngest of the Queen's offspring. Although I would never had recognised her if I saw her in the street, nevertheless her marriage to a member of royalty had made her a celebrity. And that, being ninth in line to the throne, they would never sit on the throne. Especially with the birth of William and Harry from Prince Charles, the Queen's firstborn and his wife Diana, then later, William's wife Catherine popping out one baby after another, had demoted Edward's position to the throne from third place to ninth at present, and that will fall to tenth after Catherine's third child is born. Then not to mention Harry's new sweetheart Meghan. Any babies popping out of her womb in the future will demote Edward's place even further.

And so Sophie Countess of Wessex was treated as full royalty at the official re-opening of Coral Reef Waterworld. With her was the Mayor of Bracknell with her team of civil servants. And an album of photos was posted on Facebook to commemorate the event. And at one photo was that of an on-duty lifeguard about to slide down one of the newly-installed tubes, and getting paid too, for the pleasure of showing off to the Countess. I had to laugh. Because standing next to the start of the flume was one of the elderly civil servants who was watching with apparent envy!

The officer on the left looks on with envy...

As I wrote two weeks earlier in my blog, Gone Down the Tube, it's the boy in the man wanting to get out and have some fun. As he stood there alongside the Countess, I could almost see his shadow climbing on to the inflated raft and then yell out as he pushes himself to full speed down the flume!

Oh, how life may seem unfair, if my own experience as a school-leaver had anything to go by. I suppose it's the matter of birth combined with circumstance. Because along with the Countess of Wessex greeted with royalty at Coral Reef Waterworld, there has been an announcement of Prince Harry's engagement with American girlfriend, divorced actress Meghan Markle. Being multi-racial as well, and an immigrant to boot - I wonder why there is a deathly silence hanging over such groups as Britain First, an anti-Islamic group who wants all immigrants booted out of the country. But I guess it's because Prince Harry also will never make it to the throne either, being sixth in line at present and falling. And here is what I find so ironic. Just today (Saturday December 2nd) the Daily Mail national newspaper had devoted six full pages on Meghan Markle, her background and her parents. Of all such tributes, one stood out above all, and that is Meghan's father, Thomas Markle, who "has an aversion to wearing a collar and tie". At least this fellow has something in common with myself.

It would have been interesting indeed, on how these far-right groups would have responded had Meghan Markle had married Prince William instead, who is destined to be King. Believe me, I would have loved to have seen any response coming from them. And staying with our beloved Daily Mail newspaper, only the day before I read an article by journalist Tom Utley. He criticised the Millennial Generation, including his own children, for voting to remain in the EU during the June 2016 Referendum, with their assumption of national friendship and unity along with freedom of trade and movement. Utley's rebuke and his support for Brexit was to do with its future economy. Nothing about patriotism. Not that Utley is anti-patriotic. Rather, he is very patriotic, only he dares not bring that up in his article!

The right-wing, Conservative-supporting Daily Mail newspaper constantly has its journalists writing articles in defence of Brexit. It is as if leaving the EU has fallen out of favour with the public, especially with our Government's struggle with the divorce bill, the issue of international trading, and the question of the Northern Ireland/Irish Republic border. So the newspaper keeps on defending Brexit as if on a verge of panic. But there is one word conspicuously missing from all of the newspaper's articles on Brexit. And that word is Narcissism.

In context, it means an exaggerated viewpoint of Britain and its people, based on its rich history of world conquest and imperialism, along with winning both world wars, entwined with the idea that the English are God's special people, exalted higher than all the other nations on Earth, and therefore deserving of special privileges and unique blessings. It is this national feeling that exalts the Royal Family to divine status, in effect replacing Jesus Christ with the British monarch as a bridge-builder between the people and heaven, very much like Roman Emperor Constantine did around 312 AD. There are a large number among the English population who are narcissists, quite likely a very large percentage. But they won't admit it, at least not in public. The Daily Mail is certainly narcissist, but it won't bring itself to admit it. As such, it's little wonder that even a minor royal, such as Sophie, who will never sit on the throne, is perceived as worthy to take part in a local ceremony with all the pageantry to go with it  - whilst there are many workers, faceless men who toil outdoors in the chilly wind, all aware of the "like it or lump it" attitude from their employers.

Meghan Markle with Prince Harry

The Brits devotion to their monarch reminds me of a story in the Old Testament. Here we read about the seer Samuel who was approached by the sons of Israel, begging for a king to rule over them and to lead them into war, whenever it's necessary. Samuel was grieved by this, and so he took the petition to God himself (1 Samuel 8). God then answered Samuel,
It is not you they are rejecting. Rather they have rejected me from being king over them, just as they have rejected me since the day I took them out of Egypt - verses 6-9. So God allowed them to have their way, and instructed Samuel to anoint Saul the son of Kish, a horse rancher, to be their first king.

With the possible exception of David, history has shown that having a king proved Israel's downfall. After the death of David's son Solomon, who himself had apostatised in his later years, Israel was split into two nations, Ephraim and Judah, each with their own king, who often fought against each other. All the northern kings were evil, primarily leading the people to worship foreign gods which involved child sacrifice. There were some good kings reigning over Judah, including Asa, Hezekiah and Josiah, but the majority were evil, leading their people to idol worship too. Eventually, things got so bad that both nations went into captivity to Assyria and Babylon respectively.

There is only one King, the only true King, Jesus Christ. And his claim as King is well deserved, for being God, he was the only one to have ever defeated death. No one in the whole of human history had ever done that. And because of his victory over death, he is ready, willing and able to give eternal life to everyone who believes. Now that is something to celebrate.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

A Job with Glamour...?

Alan was one person I always admired. Although I have changed his name to protect his identity, his real name had made it into our local newspaper. And not for any negative reasons, but for good reasons. For Alan was one of the lifeguards at Coral Reef Waterworld. Yes, the same venue which was the main subject of my last blog, Down the Tube. But Alan's time at Coral Reef, long before the renovation, was probably around the years 2007-2010 or thereabouts, according to memory. It does not really matter precisely what years Alan worked as a poolside lifeguard. What matters to me more was his achievements.

Coral Reef Leisure Pool

Alan was exceptionally good-looking with a slim but superb physique, to which I was called to attention by Alan himself as he was taking a shower following further training and prior to going on duty. I said to him that I looked just like that during bygone days, as I made my way to Sauna World, housed in a building of its own reserved for the over-18's, but still fully attached and accessible to and from the main pool. But despite our huge age difference, I could not help myself going weak at the knees in reverence. As I had always perceived, there is an element of glamour in being a lifeguard.

Alan was friends with a colleague named Scott, a fellow lifeguard whose employment at Coral Reef Waterworld began some time after Alan's, but by overlapping, enabled him to be on duty at the same time as Alan, at least for a short while. It was after the end of another Saturday sauna session during one mid-afternoon that I had the opportunity to talk to this person whilst he was sitting on a lookout tower overlooking the pool. The height and location of the tower was right next to the upstairs restaurant balcony, thus making conversation not only possible but without any difficulty. After sharing with Scott of my own experience as a poolside lifeguard in 1973, he explained that lifesaving techniques has evolved since then, to the point of being near to the level of a paramedic, and therefore leaving my former life-saving techniques obsolete. In fact, according to his testimony, if a vehicle accident occurred on the main road just outside, the lifeguards were duty-bound to attend to the victim's injuries until the paramedics arrived. They were that qualified.

With such updated information, it was no surprise that Alan's personal achievement caused me to look to him with a degree of reverence - something I cannot bring myself to do to an employee dressed in a suit and tie and sitting at an office desk. Because Alan became Lifeguard of the Year, the highest award and the top rung of the ladder attained by vigorous training and testing, both in and out of the water. And the announcement of this was published in our local newspaper, The Bracknell News, complete with pictures.

However, although Alan does have a Facebook profile, he had never allowed me to be "friends", or to have our profiles linked, which reason might have something to do with our age difference. But he has made enough of his posts set to Public, for me to build a picture - sketchy as it might be - even if he had not posted publicly for the past twelve months. He left Coral Reef Waterworld a few months after gaining his award to take a sabbatical, before beginning to drive a van for a living. Not long after this, he took on a post at Waitrose, a superstore favouring towards the upper-middle class side of the market. Since I cannot imagine such a well-trained lifeguard swapping his profession for a job in shelf-stacking, nor for that matter, for sitting at the checkouts, I can only imagine his role in management or departmental supervision.

It was this sabbatical he took which, I will admit, turned my admiration into envy. Because on that cold Monday morning in January 2010, while I had to take a break from window cleaning in the blowing cold wind, Alan with his mate, also a lifeguard at Coral Reef, along with their girlfriends, were heading to Heathrow Airport to board a flight to Singapore. From Singapore, they would proceed to Australia, then to New Zealand, and then to California, to cover a duration of between five to six months. Damn it! I felt the cold wind eat into me as I sat on a low wall, my ladder lying on the sidewalk waiting to be used. And I envisioned the joy and excitement those four must have felt as they took their seats in the Boeing 747, still parked at the loading bay. But at least I was able to comfort myself with memories of my own Round-the-World backpacking trip in 1997, covering Singapore, Australia, and California. Yet Alan has still beaten me by including New Zealand into his itinerary, as well as a longer duration out of the UK.

Never mind that news came in that whilst Alan was speeding in his hired camper van, he was stopped by the Police Down Under for speeding, and he was obliged to pay his penalty. Never mind that their visit to the Great Barrier Reef did not seem to hold a candle to my own visit some thirty months earlier. Never mind that their photos sent to Facebook were predominately about dancing and skylarking about on the Pacific beach, rather than the more "serious" sightseeing of the corals and tropical marine life, the beauty of nature, the mangrove trees and other exotic vegetation, and of human history. Their Round-the-World sabbatical was still an envy for someone stuck in a mundane outdoor job on a cold January Monday morning.

Then as I thought of my long-lost friend, I began to look through his profile timeline. And as I did so, I begun to feel my emotions sink. I began to feel very sad for him - and that despite his apparent present success in raising a family of his own and looking to be doing well for himself. Because of the casual use of foul language in his posts depicting the vanity of life without a real purpose for living. That alone tells me a lot. A lot more about himself than he could possibly imagine. Because, as one author wrote many years ago:

I told her to get lost. She replied, "You're the one who is lost." She was right, I was lost. The word screamed in my head. LOST! LOST! LOST!*

And that is exactly I can perceive this magnificently-trained lifeguard. Lost. His Facebook posts can be so revealing. Little wonder I felt sad. Very sad for him. And it was a similar set of circumstances which caused me to cry out one night, Lord God, why, oh why did you create us?

It is the sort of question I do ask: How can someone like Alan, who has been trained up to save other people's lives, be in the same fold as Adolf Hitler, who is guilty of the murder of six million Jews? And again, where is the reality of God reconciling the world to himself in Jesus Christ without counting their trespasses against them, according to 2 Corinthians 5:19 - if all I can see around me is a lost world unable to find itself?

At least I can say that there is no record of Alan ever disliking me. I do recall him having a level of respect for me as a customer at Coral Reef Waterworld, and maybe even as a kind of father-figure, but definitely no dislike. But as I read down his timeline column on his profile page, and see how he sees his own life as so futile, I can't help feeling that my heart goes out to him. I would very much like to see his life perfectly fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and for him to know that he has eternal life.

This is distressing. Because it all boils down to this: We as true believers in Jesus Christ, are the living letters from God to the rest of the world, along with the beauty of Creation, and of the Bible itself. I suppose there are three witnesses - the Church/Israel, Nature, and the Word. How the incorrigible human heart rejects Creation for Evolution, turn the Bible into a myth, insist that Israel shouldn't have a place in the Arab land of Palestine, sees the Church as something of a standing joke, and perceives salvation, if it exists, as something to be worked for and earned. As for the churches, what went wrong?
So horribly,

Could it be l lack of love for each other? Already I have said, not everyone in my church loves me as a person and a brother in Christ. This grieves me, it grieves me badly. I'm disliked - not because I deny Christ. I don't deny Christ. That is something I will never do. I doubt whether this is something I'm able to do. Neither am I an imp of Satan, although I'm seen as wicked. Instead, I'm disliked because I don't present myself as an ideal Englishman - well educated, stoic, self-reserved, refusing to hug, holding a profession, a Conservative voter and a Royalist, a lover of the Queen and her family members. Oh yes, I can add: Good at team sports and ready to go to war for his country. As a result, I tend to be shut out from social circles. Like the time in 1978, when I asked a group of my own age if I could join them on a week-long boating trip. I was told flatly, No. Or the occasions I was told with quite an angry tone, Someone is sitting here! - which might not have been necessarily true. Or the viscous snide, You're not sitting at this table! Or more recently, at the start of the church Men's Curry Club one evening a couple of years ago when I was told to move in a threatening manner. And this comes from an Arminian who insists that a believer, after Christ has cleansed him from all his past sins, can only hold on his salvation by hard work and keeping of all the Commandments.

Just a minute! As I'm reading through the book of Acts of the Apostles, and I can hear the leaves of the trees rustling. After Paul the Apostle returns to Jerusalem, he is fervently persecuted by his own fellow Jews. His own brothers, all sons of the same Abraham, are baying for his blood. And the reason is simple. It's not that complicated. Paul believed in salvation through faith in the risen Christ alone. The Jews believed that salvation can only come through obedience to the Law of Moses, including the need for circumcision. I can see a parallel, a chilling parallel in the unholy attitude among the Jews towards Paul and among those who has taken a dislike to me. In the case of the latter, it is my failure to think, feel, say, and act like a proper Englishman. Or at least that's how it looks. Instead, I hold diverse opinions, rebellious opinions, and I guess I get a thrill in lowering my head and pushing hard whilst kicking against the goads of national and cultural hypocrisy. 

What does Alan sees in the church? After all, he was brought up in a country which Constitution was borne out of the Christian faith. So he is most likely Church of England, or possibly a Roman Catholic. But without the revelation that God loves him unconditionally, he will forever have that veil across his eyes. The deceptive veil of a truculent God who always quick to judge everything he does, right down to his innermost thoughts. A divine being who is never satisfied, but insists on works, impossible works, in a failed attempt to bribe for his love, whatever love that is supposed to be. The very same problem I still suffer myself to this day, due to Roman Catholic upbringing. The difficulty in accepting God for whom he really is. A God of Love, who loves us unconditionally. The love God had for Barabbas to the extent that he allowed his own Son to take his place in Pilate's execution. At Pilate's Court of Justice, God loved Barabbas. He loved him so much that he was set free instead of executed. No, it wasn't the baying for his life by the crowds below which had released him. Rather it was God's LOVE which released him!

God is love. It was his love which satisfied his justice which demanded an accounting of every sin committed. Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross, has fulfilled that justice. In his love, God wants to give us eternal life. Eternal life through his Son. To believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. That is all. It's about time every church drops it's national heritage and advocate God's love a lot more. Preach it, act upon it, live it! There is absolutely nothing wrong in a man giving a tight, prolong hug to another man! It will make him feel loved, accepted, one in the family. It lifts the spirits, it also enhances health. And furthermore, there is no work required to earn it. It cannot be earned. God's love is higher than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest ocean, wider than East is from West. And it's free, unconditional, and has no national or cultural limitations.

Oh, how I wish I took advantage of the opportunity I had during Alan's employment at Coral Reef. My failed attempt to be pleasing to all men, an ethic which can only lead to death. My heart goes out to him. My greatest hope is that someone else will open his eyes to what tremendous love God has for him.

*Doreen Irvine, From Witchcraft to Christ, 1973.