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Saturday, 25 May 2019

Agape Love at the Sauna.

A typical Friday afternoon. Off to the gym, I went, as I normally do as one retired from full-time work. After a 65-minute aerobic workout on one of the four TechnoGym rowing machines, burning off 300 kcals, followed by 16 minutes on the treadmill with a further 60 kcal burned off, I made my way to the spa suite, where I am to relax in the bubble-bath, steam room and sauna. Indeed, very much like my Roman ancestors across two millennia of history. The only difference is that both sanitation levels and advanced technology have come a long way from the ancient public baths, perhaps to the cost of aesthetics, in which the Romans were renowned. 

Nothing new about any of this. The novelty wore off decades ago when I started attending sauna in 1976, as a slim 23-year-old. Although the original suite featured the frigidarium - a cold plunge pool, which, during the major refurbishment in the nineties, has been replaced by a so-called ice cold shower which has been known to be far from icy during the Summer!

A typical sauna cabin.

But despite my years at the facility - and others overseas such as in Haifa, San Diego, and Sydney - something that I consider new is has been occurring lately. And that is the presence of a female patient with a mental age of that of a baby, along with her supervisor or carer.

Indeed, I have already touched on this subject recently.* Then I wrote about my experience with a group of mentally-disabled patients and their carers at the same Leisure Centre after a swimming workout. I then made a comparison between the lifestyle of one of the patients with that of a wedding of a TV celebrity whose parents I know personally at our church.

This female patient at the sauna looked to be about twenty years of age, give or take, and she was quite pretty, with long flowing hair. She and her carer spend most of their time in the bubble bath, but I have seen them venture into the saunarium, which is cooler than the sauna but with a higher level of humidity. Towards the end of my time at the spa facility, she and her carer were taking a finishing shower. Afterwards, she sat in a chair, facing directly towards me, and apparently staring straight at me.

I turned and smiled at her. There was no other response but to stare steadily at me. Then I waved at her during the brief moment her carer had her back turned. Still no response. Not to worry, as I returned to my inclining position on one of the heat beds. As I lay there, I had a longing to approach her and give her a hug and speak gently to her. The desire to give her a hug was offset by anticipation that she would take it the wrong way, and scream with fright or protestation. As such, I felt the wiser to remain where I was.

But I still felt love for that patient, the love Christ has for us. While we were totally helpless, Christ died for us, thus demonstrating the love of God in the most sacrificial method. Therefore it was significant and still fresh on my mind that their visit to the spa took place only the day after watching a BBC Panorama programme about the abominable cruelty shown to very similar patients at Whorlton Hall private hospital in County Durham.

This was eight years after Panorama had also investigated Winterbourne View independent hospital in Gloucestershire after a whistleblower reported the levels of cruelty which had taken place within. As a result of the Winterbourne View investigation, the care home was closed down. At present, Whorlton Hall has also shut down. Both investigations were carried out by undercover reporters working as carers.

I have found the Whorlton Hall abuse very distressing. One of the patients, a mentally-disabled female who is also autistic, has a deep fear of men, and she only felt comfortable among female carers. Instead of respecting her wish, several male staff members deliberately taunted her while she was trapped in her room. Laughing and guffawing, her screams of terror was entertaining to them. These guys were quite big, strong and imposing, white, English chavs, whose mere presence bringing out the patient's screams of terror feeding their animalistic instincts, taking pleasure of her distress and suffering.

My heart went out to that patient. I wanted to cry, to cry at my frustration of sheer helplessness to do anything. Perhaps I wanted to see a miracle, for me to be there, to see her face transform from terror to joy. How I long to see her safe in the arms of Jesus, as he gives her an everlasting hug.

Undercover filming of abuse at Whorlton Hall. BBC TV.

Yet how frustrating it can be to my faith when considering that churches have a very dim history when it comes to caring. My own father, when he was an adolescent, had to stay at a nunnery during the Second World War. He tells of the level of cruelty which had taken place whilst staying there, especially when receiving a hard smack across his face for taking Communion without first going to Confession.

I can verify my father's testimony. I have a book, Stiff Upper Lip by ex-boarder Alex Renton. In it, he tells of an anonymous English interviewee who suffered hell at a prep school run by the Jesuits during the War. He began to feel rebellious, lending his support for the Germans and for the Communists, after hearing sermons delivered by "cane-happy priests" and being forced to pray, which he didn't but instead hummed a secular tune whilst in a praying position in order to stay out of trouble.

This also reminds me of a well-known novel by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, from which movies, musicals and theatre performances are made to this day. It tells of the grim workhouse environment run by a board of "Christian administrators" - well fed and often pompous - who believed that cruelty is the right way to keep their junior inhabitants in line. This included keeping them to a state of near starvation as well as freely wielding the cane at the slightest misdemeanour.

Therefore it doesn't come as too much of a surprise when I was stuck for a proper solution to the problem. I have thought about every carer in such homes being committed Christians. Then I remembered history. No, that didn't work very well, did it? Little wonder when Charles Darwin wrote his book, On the Origins of Species, which had the power to displace the Christian faith from all logic, history, and from the general worldview, his works were warmly welcomed and became to be seen as universal scientific fact to this day.

It seemed that God wanted to show me something after watching such a distressing programme. On the very next day as well. That was when I watched this mentally disabled female enjoying the spa facilities with her carer. And all I felt was love for her, a wish to see her happy and eternally saved by Jesus Christ. That when the idea came up: If care homes or hospitals of this kind must exist, why not enforce a constitution that these establishments can only be run by true Christian believers who must first pass a stringent test?

However, I also realise that there is a massive difference between offering her a smile as a passing stranger, and ongoing day-to-day care.

Caring daily for one who is autistic and who has a mental disability can be mentally, emotionally and even physically challenging. And I must be honest with myself, I know for sure I can't hack it. And I believe in Jesus as my Saviour. In fact, coping with my own wife's illness is a massive challenge in itself. And her illness is purely physical, even with a sound mind, she's still in need to be in a wheelchair whenever out of doors. I find it agonising when I have to watch her writhe in pain, and I have no other option than to call an ambulance. Fortunately, the introduction of powerful medicines on her prescription such as Co-Codamol and Oramorph has enabled home treatment in lieu of calling for an ambulance, but these experiences can still be scary enough and demand a deep faith in God on a day-to-day basis.

"Please sir, I want some more" Movie version of Oliver Twist.

By contrast, I know a widowed female pensioner who has just reached ninety years of age, yet her dementia sends her into verbal violence which is intense enough to send anyone present from the room she's in, or even from the house itself. I know full well that I could never be able to care for such a person, but I do know that her own granddaughter is her live-in carer. Fortunately for both of them, her two sons along with the Council pay for daycare at a nearby home for the working week, relieving the carer from hours of stress. In turn, the widow enjoys the company of others at the care home, where she is allowed to carry out housekeeping tasks which prove to be very therapeutic.

That's why I do believe that for such people, the family is still the best environment for them to live. An environment where love can be felt and experienced. However, the best kind of love which can be offered to such disabled people is agape love. It's the same sacrificial love God has for us. Therefore, for a carer, especially in a care home or hospital, to possess such love, he or she must know Jesus Christ to be her Saviour, read and thoroughly absorb the Bible on a daily basis and experience the daily filling of the Holy Spirit.

Only then will the cruelty found in private hospitals becomes the thing of the past.
*To read the account at the Leisure Centre cafe, click here.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Woken by a Bathroom Incident

It was a typical night around May/June 1997. Lying in bed but unable to sleep. What was that racket going on in the bathroom?

Really, I had been feeling elated. Therefore I should be sleeping like a log. Instead, I was kept awake with a sense of frustration at three in the morning by the two whispering voices, one male, the other female, emanating from the closed bathroom door, just a few feet away from my bed. Of course, I could hear what they were up to. Eventually, after everything had calmed down, I eventually dropped off.

After daybreak, I got out of bed to enter the bathroom. Instead, in the bathroom itself, I startled the young couple while they were in each other's arms, and I gasped, "Oh!"

The man looked very displeased as I walked through the door, while she looked alarmed.

Your snoring has kept us awake in the early hours of the morning! He declared with a firm and a rather angry tone of voice.

And your shagging in the bathroom has kept me awake at three this morning! If you want to shag, there is the beach just across the road! I then saw his soul as I spat out my reply with equal intensity, pointing my finger towards the direction of the street outside.

Not that the beach would have been ideal for outdoor copulation, as this particular stretch of coastline on the Australian State of Queensland was a mudflat, exposed by the low tide of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. However, she was horrified at my awareness of their activity and she quickly said that she had to go. And she stormed out of the bathroom alone, leaving him too embarrassed to say anything else, and slinked out of the washroom with his tail between his legs.

HI Hostel Dormitory, Cairns, Australia. Stayed 1997.

All this had taken place at a male dormitory of a backpacker's hostel, one of several hostels at the time, in Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. And indeed, after having showered, shaved and dressed, I felt my elation return as I prepared breakfast in the member's kitchen, as I was planning to board a catamaran to nearby Port Douglas for an exchange of sailing to Low Isles, one of many coral cays dotting the Coral Sea, which hugs the north-eastern coastline of Australia. There I am to snorkel over the magnificent underwater gardens of the Reef.

But going back to the previous night, this was unlike any other hostelling experience I have ever had. Obviously, there is a rich variety of nightlife in Cairns, which late-closing nightclubs and bars themselves encourage one-night stands among backpackers, I never thought such behaviour would hit the hosteling community, especially one affiliated with Hosteling International, an organisation which had received moral support from the churches, particularly here in England.

Even at the New Swedish Hostel, an unaffiliated privately-owned Medieval upper floor of dormitories set in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem - had better morals. Here, in the early nineties, I slept in the same room with several young couples, huddling together on makeshift beds laid out by the proprietor, rather than for him to face the alternative of turning away potential paying customers. But as far as I was always aware, there has never been any "hanky-panky" among them.

But the traditional YHA-affiliated Youth Hostel has come a long way since my membership began in 1985. It was still in those days when the establishment was what it said on the tin, a place for inexpensive accommodation for school-age city youngsters to experience the benefits of the countryside. What a benefit it is when youth hostels became cheap backpackers accommodation! Gone is the traditional morning duty, when each member had to either sweep the dormitory floor, mop the bathroom or kitchen, hoover the lounge, wipe the windowsills, clean the showers, etc, all to keep costs down. With greater mobility and more money in the customer's pocket, its market was under threat unless the morning duty was dispensed with and to make these hostels more adult-compatible

Leaving Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef, 1997.

Whenever I was in the UK, Israel, Singapore, the USA, or Australia, I found that as an unmarried traveller, those hostels were excellent venues to form new friendships with other backpackers. Sometimes I received advice or a recommendation to visit a particular venue. San Diego in 1995 was a good example, where recently-made friends hinted on the Mission Beach, Sea World, and the Old Town with its Old West streets, exhibits, a bazaar and its atmosphere, all of them a fair bus ride away - and Little Italy, a self-contained Italian community in the midst of the city. Through the advice of another friend, I managed to travel south on the trolley-tram to San Ysidro to cross the border into Mexico to visit the city of Tijuana. 

I have found that the member's kitchen is the best place to start a conversation. In a hostel such as HI-San Diego, which in 1995 was sharing the same building with the YMCA, there were several cookers enclosing a space separated from the dining area. The resulting jostling with other backpackers, each of us cooking our own meals at the same time, started conversations which could lead to more serious discussions, eventually forming friendships.

Also, new friendships were made at a HI-Phoenix, a private home which the owner had converted into a hostel and had it affiliated to attract more customers. On this occasion, I made friends with a couple of young Jewish men, and in the lounge, a conversation arose on the subject of religion, which gave me the opportunity to testify about Jesus Christ. Also, New Swedish Hostel on Souk David, within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, was another brilliant example where the combined kitchen/dining room/lounge was contained in just one small upstairs room. Therefore, when one traveller from South Africa had asked me what I was doing in Israel, this was a golden opportunity to testify. I was overheard by other backpackers who paused from what they were doing to listen to what I had to say.

And whilst staying at a HI hostel in Boston, Massachusetts, I got into a good talk with a group of teenagers who were also staying the night. Even here in the UK, whilst cycling to Minehead in Somerset from Bracknell, while stopping over for the night at HI-Bath Spa, I found myself in conversation with some others about faith in Christ.

And this brings me to the issue here. Does it look as if I was, or am one of a very few Christian believers who dare venture out on his own? Compared to the testimonies from other church-going friends from over the years, that is quite a point!

One good friend of mine, who for his own safety I won't mention his name here, is due to fly out to Malta in due course. I thought this is great. Only a few years ago I took my wife Alex to Malta as independent travellers for a week to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary. I remember the hotel we chose to stay in, "Which looks like a prison from the outside!" I joked to Alex, during the airport-to-hotel pre-booked transfer.

"Quiet!" My wife responded. "The taxi driver can hear you."

My friend and brother-in-Christ will be flying out to Malta with Oak Hall, a Christian organisation dealing specifically with holidays. Over the years, I have encountered one Christian graduate after another who has travelled overseas with Oak Hall, almost entirely without exception! Anything wrong with that? No, nothing wrong in itself. Except that it does give the impression of cliquishness - the classic image of Christians packing themselves together as if to guard against predators.

About to snorkel, Low Isles Cay. Dressed against sunburn. 

Perhaps the opening story of this blog could be a classic example of this kind of predatory threat. I have wondered how a typical Christian graduate would react to this couple on a one-nighter banging away in the bathroom? Or the idea of sharing a crowded dormitory with several unmarried couples sleeping together?

These same Christians who travel clique-like overseas would be the first to get on their high horses and preach against such behaviour or lifestyle. But by reading the Gospels, I don't see Jesus getting on his high horse, except to rebuke the Pharisees - highly religious people who think they are righteous before God and would judge and condemn anyone who copulates outside of marriage (among other sins.) It's those super-religious who Jesus rebukes.

Maybe I was wrong to verbally hit back at that couple in the bathroom so far away. It might have revealed my immaturity. Could I have acted this way out of envy at his ability to pick up a female and entice her into bed on their first date - a scenario which many a teenager's excitement would be aroused? Not for me, in all honesty, I was just not interested in such things. I was out there to travel. To see the world, a wonderful, undeserved gift God has given me to enjoy. Sex has no part in the equation. 

He threw a wobbly at me, I threw one back at him. That was all. Maybe I should have apologised for my snoring (even if it wasn't my fault) and sought peace. But back then I didn't think of that. I was still spiritually immature. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

A Trip to the British Museum...

One unique feature about a Bank Holiday Monday is that it's usually very different from a normal Monday. As one good friend of mine said to me after a church service had finished, it's a refreshing diversity from those familiar feelings of "Monday Morning Blues" - when it seems easier for a log to lift itself off from the ground unaided than for a human to get up out of bed to that intrusive ringing of the alarm clock shattering a romantic dream or visions of a faraway paradisal location.

Indeed, I was not at all surprised when my young friend and Christian brother, Dr Andrew Milnthorpe, messaged me on Facebook a few days earlier whether we were free for this particular holiday Monday, a non-religious-based May Day, which always follows the first Sunday after the start of that particular Spring month. Indeed we were free that day, meaning we had no particular plans. Therefore I submitted a proposal for a visit to the British Museum, set in the Bloomsbury district of Central London. Surprisingly, this post-graduate seem to lack enthusiasm but agreed to accompany us anyway. Such a trip out seemed far better than being stuck alone indoors.

As train-travel goes, there was a closure on our line into London Waterloo station, a typical statutory holiday phenomenon, which meant changing platforms at Clapham Junction, itself featured in the Guinness Book of Records as being the UK's busiest station. The sheer impracticality of such a manoeuvre involving a wheelchair was a bit too much. Therefore we chose the fast Reading-Paddington Great Western mainline route followed by a single ride on the Underground. 

I love being on a fast train. According to my experience, the Eurostar London-Paris route remains unbeatable. But equally enjoyable is the 18-minute non-stop on one of Britain's principal routes. And Providence was on my side - just. Because on the opposite platform at Reading, another train was already standing, a stopping service to London. Had it been a five-coach train featuring first class, Andrew would have insisted on boarding it. But instead, it was a three-coach train without first class accommodation. Therefore we waited a little longer for the long-haul nine-coach train which was non-stop. This meant a difference in journey time between eighteen minutes and one of around 33 minutes - the 15-minute margin having the potential of playing havoc to Alex's back and her general comfort.

We eventually arrived at the museum. Although this was Alex's first visit, whether my friend has been before, I didn't get around to asking. But I have been before and I knew what I really wanted to see.

After Andrew had treated us to a sumptuous meal at a rather posh third-floor restaurant where waiters were dressed in a white shirt and a black bow-tie, we remained on the third floor to enter the Egyptian Afterlife gallery - mummies and their highly decorated coffins, all confined in glass cabinets. And because Andrew loves pushing Alex's wheelchair, the two stayed together, giving me a level of relief from having to constantly push. And suddenly I found myself alone in the crowd.

Indeed, it was the most crowded gallery in the whole museum. Whether the public has a fascination with morbidity or otherwise, I cannot be too sure. But Alex and Andrew couldn't be seen throughout the gallery. Also, I was a tad disappointed. I recall my last visit to this particular gallery, more than thirty-five years previously. Back then, I was sure that there were far more mummies on display, all confined in one room. This time there seem to be far fewer mummies and a heck of a lot more empty coffins, all standing upright like soldiers on parade.

Mummies at the British Museum - taken May 2019.

That visit so long ago coincided with one of my backpacking trips to Italy, this one completed in the Autumn of 1982. By holding a 21-day Italian Rail Pass, I was able to travel around the whole length of the country from Milano, where I had the pass validated, to as far south as Sicily. Maybe I did - and still have - a fascination with morbidity. I managed to include a visit to the Catacombs of St John, a network of tunnels deep underneath the city of Siracusa, which once housed hundreds of the dead buried in niches which were all carved into the tunnel walls. Back in 1982, I was able to stroll along at my own pace, alone, taking as much time as I need. At present, visiting is confined by escorted group tours which are carried out rather hurriedly, and therefore not given enough time to absorb the experience.

Another attraction is located underneath a church in the Sicilian capital city of Palermo. It is known as il Catacombe dei Cappuccini. On the same 1982 trip, I was entirely alone in this underground crypt one morning. I stood as the well-preserved mummies seem to take on a life on their own as many of the skulls stared down at me. There is a legend that one of the mummies fell out of its place and landed on one of the passing tourists as if to say Get out! The only sense of eeriness was from a loose flap swinging back and forth at the air vent. The constant Bap! Bap! Bap! of the hinged metal panel did alleviate what would have been an even eerier, death-like silence.

And while I'm at it, I might as well mention the Catacombs of Paris. Situated at the end of a very long underground tunnel, again I was alone as I visited off-season in 1985. Those were the glory-days when anyone can walk directly to the base of the Eifel Tower from the street or from the Jardin without the need to pass through security barriers and undergoing bag checks and airport-style security gates. Meanwhile, I've found that the catacombs of Paris were very much unlike that of Palermo. Rather, deep underneath the streets of Paris, there were just piles and piles of femurs interspersed with skulls. 

Do I have a sense of morbid fascination? Maybe so, but I think that this is borne out from decades of disillusionment with class-obsessed and celebrity-worshipping Englishness with much of this reflected in our churches, according to more than 45 years experience as a Christian believer. For example, the ongoing obsession with the disappearance of a doctor's daughter Madeleine McCann more than a decade ago, and still in the news to this day as police continue to search for her, boosted by extra public funding. Or the Leave-supporting graduate in our church who denies the historicity of Genesis yet held in reverential respect by the Elders and the congregation alike. And now also being surrounded by other Brexit-voting churchgoers who seem to be obsessed with optimistic views on Britain outside the EU and a longing for national sovereignty and yes, glory.

We seem to have forgotten that the same fate awaits every one of us. Its cruelty is reflected in the fact of being no respecter of persons or lowly animals alike - let alone social status, education, fame, or wealth. As with a poster submitted to Andrew's Facebook timeline showing the smug expression of Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party, partly funded by a wealthy businessman and all, I felt my heart fell. Please give it a rest! But the worst scenario found in the Bible is to be called a fool by God himself.

It is found in Luke 12:13-21. It was taught by Jesus in a country within which, wealth was a sign of righteousness before God, based on Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and similar Scriptures. Here was a businessman and a successful one at that. If the text in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 had provided a yardstick for society to evaluate a man's righteousness by his wealth, then what Jesus here says must have been a shock to his audience! One truth stands out like a sore thumb. That is, he was concerned about his own future prosperity and he had no thought about others less well off, or those who were poor and hungry. He never realised that a far better way of living was within his powers by giving freely to the poor and needy. Instead, it was to eat, drink, and be merry, or as some modern translations put it - wine, women and song for you.

Thou fool! Tonight your soul shall be required of you. Supposing this guy had instead said to himself:

My fields have produced abundantly in the last few years and I have plenty to spare. This is what I ought to do: I will go out and use my abundance to feed the poor and help the needy. I will visit the home of the widow and ensure her welfare is okay. Furthermore, I shall bring gifts to children, especially those who are fatherless. So please, God, help me fulfil my destiny.

With such intentions, would God had called him a fool? I doubt it! Rather God would have blessed him with thirty, maybe forty more years of life, perhaps with fame and popularity as a bonus.

That is really living. The thing is, here in England, it can be difficult to actually live a life like that. Especially in churches where most are well educated and hold good jobs. Okay, there are the homeless. Walk through the streets of any town or city and sooner or later there is someone who has made his home on the sidewalk. I must confess, I tend to walk straight past. Maybe it's because in the past I had some bad experiences with them, such as being duped by putting on an act. My wife and I nearly fell for such a scam whilst staying in Chester. Or to donate a respectable sum of money, only to discover that his bandaged injury was a fake. Or to read that many of these beggars are actually quite well off and are not homeless. But try as I might, I cannot justify my own weakness, hence the need for a Saviour.

Whatever may be, those mummies and remains of dead people in the British Museum, under the streets of Paris, and in a Sicilian church crypt, all tell a powerful message. One day we all be as they are. With utterly no respect for our social standing, education, wealth, or whether we were popular or famous in society or not. 

Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Palermo. Visited 1982. 

Earlier I said that my mate Andrew Milnthorpe looked as he lacked enthusiasm in visiting the British Museum. It's very likely that he has been before or knows someone who has. While I was in the Egyptian Afterlife gallery, I could not see him nor my wife anywhere in the vicinity, which leads to the likelihood that he felt very uncomfortable looking at mummies or their coffins. And so these two were most likely in an adjoining gallery while I was examining the corpses. Rather they are all a reminder that whether he voted for Brexit and I voted to remain in the EU, neither counts for anything from the moment we step off this planet. Only our response to God's call will determine our eternal destiny.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The Eye In Your Lounge.

This week a political earthquake shook Parliament. No, I'm not talking about the humiliation of both the Tory and Labour parties in Thursday's local Council elections, when both parties had lost a considerable amount of seats: The Conservatives around 1,300 lost seats and Labour 82. That means had this been a General Election, the result would have been a hung Parliament with a tie, with 28% of the national vote for each of them. The remaining 44% of the national vote would have gone to other parties, such as the Liberal Democrats (19%) and minors such as the Green Party.*

No, I'm not writing about any of that.

Rather, it's about that other political earthquake, the one which has 200 Tory ministers jumping up and down with rage. It was the sacking of Defense Minister Gavin Williamson from the Cabinet by our current Prime Minister Theresa May. He was accused of leaking some Governmental secrets to the Daily Telegraph about the G5 intelligence concerning national security, with the possible permission for the Chinese electronics firm Huawei making inroads into the UK, against the advice of the USA and, I believe, also against the advice of the EU.

I can understand why our allies across the Pond can get so strung up about such a company sticking its oar in. What I have heard, it seems to fulfil, or at least partly fulfil, the dire prophecy of George Orwell's novel 1984, which was made into the most melancholic, and if it wasn't confined to the world of fiction, a potentially frightening movie to be shown on the big screen.

A group of us went to see the film at a local cinema. At the time the film was released in October 1984, we were all young unmarried Christian men who regularly attended churches of our choice. Here we were, watching the film, which was an adaption of Orwell's novel, which was published 35 years earlier in June 1949, as the manner of technology and forties-style commodities attest with that time of history, including those monochrome TV sets, each of them displaying a hexagonal screen.

A scene from the movie 1984, of George Orwell's novel.

Except that those TV sets were fixed onto the wall in every room of a typical London residential home, along with installations in every office, factory, hospitals, and the interior of every known building regardless of its purpose. But in the home was the most unsettling. Those TV sets cannot be switched off. Instead, they keep on broadcasting ongoing news bulletins. It was impossible to get away from. An endless stream of information kept on pouring into each room of the house.

Although not featured in the film but nevertheless implied, the need to defecate must have been so embarrassing when in desperate need for privacy, for there on the wall in front, another TV screen is fixed, spilling out one news item after another.

What makes this system so terrifying is that a camera is fixed to every TV set. Therefore every move you make, everything you say and do is transmitted through this camera to Central Intelligence.

This was aptly demonstrated when the star agent had his back to the screen while sifting through some files. Immediately the screen behind him flickered to show someone asking him directly what he was doing with his back turned. The agent then turned and held the empty file wallet to the camera. And all that took place in his own home.

So ominous was the movie that one of our members rose from his seat and walked out of the auditorium, only to sit and wait in the foyer outside for the rest of us to leave after the end of the film. Perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised at his move. We know that the whole movie was set in London, as from time to time, a view of the derelict Battersea Power Station, a well-known landmark, kept on appearing on the screen between each scene. For him, it was too close to home.

Perhaps George Orwell was more accurate in his predictions than he himself could have imagined. Some years ago I was planning a train trip for the next day, and as I looked for relevant information, all of a sudden this young female in uniform approached me from apparent nowhere to ask what I was doing. There was a queue for the cashier, and either the guy behind the ticket counter, while serving those waiting in the queue, made contact with this staff member, or more likely, I was watched through one of those surveillance cameras. Indeed, I was accused of loitering, an apparent offence I wasn't aware of.

And talking about train travel, one rather iconic feature found attached to the inside of the roof of each modern coach is that characteristic inverted blue dome. Its dominance indicating that "beware, we are watching you" would have made our parents and grandparents feel uncomfortable or unsettled. But at least I'm used to it, for my own safety. I recall those 1960's compartmentalised carriages where I could have been trapped with a questionable or suspicious character who could have taken advantage of me, a vulnerable young teenager, knowing full well that the guard, unable to reach us while the train is moving, would never have known anything of it.

In the film 1984, Battersea Power Station sits derelict.

Or that time I was travelling home to Bracknell from London one late evening in the seventies. All was well until some youths boarded the train at Ascot and took seats on the other side of the same coach. That last part of the journey was tainted by sniggering and mocking as their eyes were fixed on me, a lonely long-haired young man, by a group of white youths with crew-cuts or shaven heads, and posing a level of threat. They remained on board as I alighted, with some relief, at my stop. I'm sure that the presence of the inverted blue dome of glass would have deterred them. But they weren't around during the seventies.

However, as trains go, with each carriage fitted with these surveillance cameras, I do wonder how the guard, or the conductor, cope with the multi-image on his monitor screen. These days the trains on our particular line are ten coaches long, and to watch all ten pictures on a screen, well, I think that would be rather overwhelming. A group of shaven youths harassing an innocent passenger could be easily missed. Then again, maybe not. In all honesty, I have not seen an actual guard's van on our modern trains. Instead, I have often seen him stand at the doors of any carriage, and when the train stops, he activates a mechanism which allows alighting passengers to open the sliding doors by push-button. But a TV or monitor, so far I have not seen one, and I travel by train quite frequently.

Maybe I am stuck in the past when the guard's van was normally seen on all trains. After all, it's what I've always expected to see. A thought has crossed my mind while writing this blog. Could it be that those surveillance cameras are fake? A psychological con trick to deter any potential mischief while on board? It's nothing new. For years, fake cameras have been erected along highways to deter speeding vehicle drivers. Many are still there to this day along with the functional ones. It's impossible for the passing driver to tell the fake from the functional. Could our trains have adopted the same principle?

The case with Gavin Williamson is something altogether different. I take it that he is against the idea of the Chinese company Huawei taking hold on British surveillance or security. I have heard rumours. Rumours of a brave new world akin to George Orwell's novel. However strenuously he denies any involvement of the leak, I am on his side, as with many Tory MPs. 

I once wrote to a friend on Facebook that after Brexit, Britain could be a sitting duck for a vassal state to the Chinese. A threat of this was already underway a couple of years ago in 2016 when a project for a nuclear power station sponsored by the Chinese Government was suddenly halted by our Government just as our Prime Minister Theresa May was about to sign the agreement. It is said that the electronics firm Huawei is a private company. This at first, I found hard to swallow considering that China is a Communist country, after its founder, Chairman Mao Zedong's reign during the latter half of the Twentieth Century, who had millions of his own people slaughtered in order to abolish all private enterprise under his administration. Apparently, things have changed since the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, allowing some private enterprise, but remaining closely under Government scrutiny.

Maybe, like the case with the guard's van, I'm behind the times. I'm aware of Soviet Communism giving up the ghost after the Glasnost and Perestroika movements occurring around 1990, and it does look as though China has taken the same route, allowing a limited form of capitalism to thrive. Hence the existence of such a private firm Huawei, which I believe may turn our Sovereign, post-Brexit nation into a vassal state for China, an opinion which I believe is shared with Gavin Williamson and others.   

The thought of a camera linking our lounge to a central Government intelligence via a TV set looks to me to be very ominous! But that what our links to China via Huawei could bring about. It is a blood-curdling thought.

Gavin Williamson - Do we share the same anxieties?

And yet I, as a Christian believer, am under surveillance all the time. But not just with what I say and do. But also with my thoughts, motives and emotions too. Absolutely nothing is kept private or secret from this Central Intelligence, which is a heavenly one. This is because God knows everything about me. And rather than posing a threat, this is a very good thing - to be under God's constant surveillance. And it's not because he wants to see how I will behave or to see whether I would stay faithful or walk away and fall into apostasy. Rather, it's to love me, to care for me, to bless me, and also to discipline me when necessary, not for him to seek revenge or seek retribution - Jesus Christ took all that upon himself on the Cross - but for me to partake in his holiness and to enjoy the richest of unity with him as the Holy Spirit dwells within.

Psalm 139 is all about this heavenly surveillance. It is a Psalm really worth reading through. To summerise:
He knows when I rise and when I go to bed.
He is able to discern all my thoughts.
He knows what I'm going to say before even saying it.
He hems me in in a way it's impossible to escape - no matter how far from home I travel.
I cannot be hidden from Him, no matter how thick the darkness.
I was intricately made by Him even while still in the womb.
He knows my frame thoroughly.
Every day of my life was ordained by Him before I was even born.
Knowing all these things brings comfort, joy and reassurance, not fear, embarrassment or guilt.

Indeed, human surveillance is a slight to my privacy, but God's loving surveillance is a wonder to all believers.

*Daily Mail, Saturday, May 4, 2019.