Saturday, 27 October 2007

When things got better

By the time my twin and I were aged 4 or 5 we would receive weekly “pocket money” - thru-pence each from Dad. Sometimes we would have to pry it out of him. Off we would trot to Mrs. Higgins’ shop to buy sweets, measured out by two ounces.

Some sweets were forbidden by our parents. No chewing gum. No “sherbet” dabs or “sherbet fountains”. I cannot for the life of me remember what were my favourites.

On one occasion my older sister Jean (maybe aged 11) elected to buy some “Dolly Mixtures” - a sweet generally associated with younger children. Dad reamed her out for this choice, and even then I thought that he was being unfair.

I also remember from this time that we were sent to buy half a pound of “Custard Cream” biscuits, (still the most popular biscuit in England) And Mum sat in our kitchen with the bagged biscuits in her lap, handing us each one at a time.

Then things started to get better. First my two older sisters, then my twin and I began our jobs, and “rent” was required of us. There was more money in the home.

On Thursdays, Dad’s pay day, we might get fish and chips from “Evelyn’s”, on the other side of the railway bridge. Mum preferred Haddock, the rest of us ate Cod - both fried in a crispy batter.

I have a lovely memory of eating these fish and chips (wrapped in newspaper of course, and bathed in malt vinegar ) in our back garden,as we listened to an early radio soap opera - “Meet the Huggets” through the open window of our kitchen.

On Saturdays we would be sent to the sweet store, run by a gentle Scots couple, on Whitehall Road.

We would return with “Murray Mints” (too good to hurry mints), “Bassetts” Liquorice Allsorts, wonderfully chewy “Everton Mints“, Sherbet Lemons, Fry’s “Turkish Delight”, Toffee (from a slab, and broken apart by the shopkeeper with a little hammer) and, if we were “flush” a box of chocolates - “ Cadbury’s Roses”, or “Quality Street” being Mum’s favourite.

Then we’d sit around the fireplace, listening to the radio (until Mum and Dad got a T.V in 1960 - the first crack in our wall of loyalty to the Plymouth Brethren); and Mum would dole out the sweets. Dad would be alone in the kitchen, listening to his beloved classical music on the B.B.C.’s “Third Programme”

And as things got even better, Mum would take my younger siblings for a holiday week at Berrow Sands (Somerset); or Weymouth (Dorset). “Holy” as I was I’d be pissed off and envious, as we older children had never had such holidays.

Even later, Mum and Dad would take “the kids” to Lowestoft (Suffolk) - Mum’s birthplace, for a week in a Guest House.

And by then (1967) I owned my first car, and one year I drove to Lowestoft to drive the tribe home.

Back in 1957, Tory Prime Minister Harold MacMillan said this:

"Let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good". In the speech he celebrated the success of Britain's post-war economy.

He was roundly criticised for what appeared to be a smug comment, but for our family it was beginning to be true, even in 1957.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Silence equals consent.

I often wonder what was happening to a nation’s conscience when the N-zi’s were coming to power, and then took power in Germany.

‘Tis true that the N-zi’s came to dominate the media and that they were past masters at intimidation of their opponents (to say the least). Dachau, the very first concentration camp was built for political opponents of the regime.

‘Tis also true that some brave women and men resisted that tyranny right from the beginning, and paid for that resistance with their lives.

But the vast majority either actively supported the regime, or supported it with their silence. That silence was deadly.

Loyalty to the Fuhrer became the dominant national religion and creed.

The whole weight of the N-zi propaganda machine was placed into action to vilify and demonise gypsies, communists, gays, and most especially Jews. They were portrayed as rats and vermin.

That vilification paved the way for anti-Jewish laws, which in turned paved the railway to the death camps.

America’s dominant national creed is “national security”. Almost every regressive and repressive action by our Government is justified by this creed.

And there is vilification of “others”, the first step in a dangerous road.

We have a Department of Homeland Security (the very name sends chills down my back), and it’s Chairman recently had this to say.

Michael Chertoff …… defended the construction of the (Mexico) border fence, by arguing that it’s good for the environment. “Illegal migrants really degrade the environment. I’ve seen pictures of human waste, garbage, discarded bottles and other human artifact in pristine areas,” he said. “And believe me, that is the worst thing you can do to the environment.” October 1, 2007

Quite apart from the sheer incongruity of any member of our governing regime caring for the environment (!), you might see where this would go: viz, “immigrants are dirty, immigrants spread disease; immigrants are lazy, (the latter being a part of received but untested common wisdom in the States) let's get rid of immigrants.

The sub-text is of course “Mexican immigrants” (Cuban immigrants are to be feted at every level).

A parishioner once asked me “Michael, what do you thinks about all these immigrants?” I replied “do you mean me?” (Of course he didn’t).

Much of the vilification and demonising is fueled by our quite appalling talk radio which has been hi-jacked by the extreme right.

One of right wing talk show hosts is Ann Coulter, (she who described John Edwards as a “fag”).

Ann is a self professed born again Christian. In mid October she suggested that America would be a better place if all Jews became Christians. The clear implication was that America would be a better place without Judaism.

I believe that to be a dangerous and incendiary point of view. It is a very bad idea.

I long to hope that good ideas will drive out the bad, so this is the letter which I sent to our local newspaper today. Who knows if it will be published, but I wanted you to read it. I do not count myself amongst the silent majority.

Dear Editor

Please excuse me if I have missed any letters or editorial comments regarding Ann Coulter's notions on Judaism which she expressed during the week of October 8th on the CNBC show "The Big Idea"

Miss Coulter expressed that America would be a better place if we were all Christians. That is a chilling thought for those of us who are aware of the history of the German Third Reich.

She also stated that Christians are "perfected Jews".

As a Christian Pastor I believe that no Jewish person needs to be "perfected" by Christianity. Judaism is a wonderful faith which all Christians should honor.

Christians are not "perfected Jews". Although our faith took root in the rich soil of Judaism, it is now a faith unto itself.

And I note that Jesus of Nazareth never called any of his listeners, Jews or Gentiles to become Christians. In fact, Jesus was never a Christian himself!

Yours sincerely,

The Revd. J. Michael Povey

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Three wise men. Three birds

Ray Grills is one of the volunteers at Resurrection House. He is there three or more mornings each week, always the first to arrive at about 7:00 a.m.

Ray is the breakfast man. He makes the coffee; sets out the cereals, milk, juices and foodstuffs ready for our 8:30 a.m. start. He is usually around until 11:00 a.m.

Ray has been volunteering at Res. House for more than 20 years. He started volunteering the very week that Res. House opened.

Ray is a retired DuPont chemist - he worked on the Manhattan project. He is a widower.

Ray Grills is 92 years old.

His son Dennis Grills lives in Charlotte, N.C. Even as I write he is volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rico.

And Ray has a grandson, Dr. Brian Easton. Today he is in El Salvador working as a volunteer in a Health clinic.

Like father, like son, like grandson!

It’s been raining all day - thank goodness. I saw a hawk (not sure which kind) swoop into our lake and fly off with a fish in her/his talons.

But hawks are no match for crows. Crows operate in gangs. Earlier this year I saw 20 or so of them as they harassed an hawk until it left the area.

But they too get their comeuppance. I watched two small mockingbirds (our State bird) drive off a group of crows during last spring’s mating season!

A new understanding of "giving someone the bird!"

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Toi-luts, lavs and chambers

I have described our home, in a five house terrace at 47 Devon Rd, Bristol as a “three up, three down” house. Well, that’s not entirely true.

The front door led into a small area which we called the “Porch”. It was maybe 8’ long, and contained the electricity and gas meters high on the wall.

Then there was another door, which we called the “glass door”. Indeed it had some rather nice stained or painted windows dating from the early 20th Century when the terrace was built.

Passing through this door led us into a long hallway. Immediately on the right was the “front room” with its bay windows.

To the left was the staircase which led up to the three bedrooms. And on the right of that was the “middle room” (where our lodgers, the Whitfields had lived, and which much later became my bedroom)

Continuing down the narrow passage way we would encounter the “cupboard under the stairs” where Dad kept his tools. Then we would pass through yet another door into what we called the kitchen. This was the room where we ate. There was no cooker, it was mostly a “dining room”.

On a shelf on the wall was a “wireless” from which Dad listened to classical music late into the evening.

When I was a little boy I would stand on the table playing “Mr. Cox” (our Peeb Sunday School Superintendent) preaching my sermons and turning the wireless on for the hymns. “But why?”, I wondered “is it called a ‘wireless’ when it is plugged into the electricity?”

And where there had been a fireplace Dad installed a self contained coal burning stove. Hanging from the ceiling was a clothes rack, operated by pulleys, where laundry would be placed to dry in winter months.

Beyond the kitchen was a single story roofed “lean to” building which we called the “Scullery”. (Hence we were not truly “three-up, three-down”). In this room was the sink (no hot running water for many years), and the gas stove (cooker).

(Much later Dad installed a water heater, and divided part of the scullery to create a bathroom. At first this bathroom had no hot running water, so would heat the water in a gas fired “copper boiler, and transfer it to the bathtub with saucepans. Later Dad “plumbed in” hot running water from the water heater)

Off the scullery was a door to the back garden, and then another door into the “toilet”, a part of the “lean to” but separated by internal walls and an the outside door.

This was the “lav” or toilet,

Oh, oh, oh that toilet (or toi-lut in a Bristol accent). No heating, no lighting and colder than a witch's t-t in winter.

The commode had a wooden seat, and the water tank was overhead, operated by a flush on a chain.

No “bathroom tissue” of course, but torn up newspapers, or if we were lucky, a donated telephone book with its softer pages.

It was a scary place after dark. I would “do my thing” (number one), hitch up my trousers, open the door, and then, leaning back as far as I could, I would pull the chain and rush back into the house. I believed that if I got into the house before the tank emptied “it” (ghoulies, ghosties and things that go bump in the night) would not “get me”.

It was not a place to visit during the night, so we had chamber pots under our beds for “number one”.

These had various names. “Chamber ” was the most obvious. “Piss-pots” the more crude. “Jeremiahs” for the posh - perhaps derived from “Jereboam” a wine bottle which contains three litres. And in common parlance “Jerrys”, hence the old joke:

Q. Why does Winston Churchill take a pistol to bed?

A. Because there is a jerry (a German) under his bed.

In the morning at home there might be a “solemn procession of the chamber pots”. Brothers and sisters, bleary eye’d and half asleep, would pass through the kitchen on the way to empty a “jerry” into the outside “toi-lut”.

Monday, 22 October 2007

My blood boiled today

Condominium and Housing Associations in these United States have various tasks, rules and regulations “for the common good”. These associations elect representative and volunteer Boards to help the Condo’ or Housing community owners maintain some agreed norms.

I live in the “Glen Oaks Ridge Condominium” neighbourhood, and we have an elected Board of seven owners.

Our Board makes sure that bills for common services (in our case:- water to each condo; maintenance of the clubhouse and swimming pool; cable T.V; and landscaping) are paid. They also make sure that each owner pays his or her monthly fee.

In our case the monthly fee (I pay $330) also covers all exterior maintenance of our condo’s - repainting and roof repairs for example.

Owners have known for at least nine years that the mansards on each condo’ are in dire need of repair and/or replacement. Boards during those years have put off the decision to replace or maintain the mansards. (Oh, how familiar I am with “deferred maintenance” after 31 years in Parish Ministry!).

But last year we elected a Board with a majority of “reformers” who are determined to improve our community.

Our Board has engaged an Engineering Company to examine the Mansards and make recommendations, and has also asked that Company to draw up specifications for Contractors when we enter the bidding process. (Sounds wise to me.)

And that has set the cat among the pigeons. There are “wars and rumours of wars”. Two Board members are determined to undermine Board decisions (say what!) and all manner of petitions (with false information) have been circulated. (Am I back in a parish?!)

And today I saw a sign outside one condo’ (see picture), which made my blood boil!

Why do we live in such a destructive world? Why do we seek to discredit and undermine all leaders.

So here is the letter I sent to the folks who erected that miserable sign. It arises from boiling blood, but also from a deeply felt need to support our Board members.

Did I go overboard?

3901 Glen Oaks Drive East
Villa 67
Sarasota Fl 34232-1256

Mr. and Mrs. …………,
1257 Bellflower Street,
Villa 113
Sarasota FL 34232

23rd October 2007

Dear Mr. and Mrs. ………..:

Yesterday I noticed the “tombstone” outside your Villa, with its message “RIP Glenoaks Rdg Villa Board”.

This disturbed me greatly, and I wish that you had not set it out.

I believe that it is profoundly disrespectful of every one of the seven members of our Board ( Barbara Marinelli, Adele St. Laurent, Kathy Ohlrich, Ruth Thompson, Ed Bellon, Carl Schneider and Charles Boes) who give a great deal of their time and wisdom to serve us all.

Your sign could be a powerful disincentive to other owners who might wish to serve on this Board in future days.

Your sign says nothing constructive. Each and every member of the Board is willing to hear constructive criticism and helpful suggestions ( I know this from my own experience), but the message of your sign is entirely destructive.

Your sign might be a powerful deterrent to potential buyers in Glen Oaks Ridge. Certainly if I had seen something like this when I bought, I would have asked “do I want to live in a community where there is such public negativity?”. Perhaps you would ask a local Realtor what he or she would think if confronted with such a sign.

But, even without Realtors, I believe that the sign is a source of embarrassment to every owner.

Lastly, as a Priest of the Episcopal Church I object to the use of religious terminology in the sign. “R.I.P” stands for “Requiescat in pacem” a prayer for the dead in both Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches. It offends me that your sign uses such sacred language in your disparagement of our good Board members.

Yours sincerely,

(The Revd. J. Michael Povey)

Sunday, 21 October 2007

A house filled with babies

My oldest sister, Maureen Joy was born in 1937. (How did I ever come to have a 70 year old sister!). Dad chose her first name (remember, he loved the Irish) and our next doors neighbours, Uncle and Auntie Charlton prophesied to my Mum and Dad “she will always be a joy to you” - hence her middle name. And their prophecy was true.

Then in ‘38 or ‘39 came my second sister Jean Diane. When Jean was 12 or 13, and at Eastville Girls School she was asked to write a poem. Jean came up with

“She coughed, and coughed
‘til her hat blew off”

Now why do I remember that?

Our sister Sylvia was born in ‘41 or ‘41. She is the child who died soon after birth - of what I now believe was “spina bifida”.

My twin sister Elizabeth and I came along in 1944. I often wonder what the heck my parents were thinking to allow Mum to conceive in 1943. If WWII had gone the other way I might have been raised as a little “N-zi.

When I was five I was at Nanny Povey’s home. My three sister were “picking on me”. I cried out “I wish, I wish, I wish I had a brother”

Be careful what you wish for!

Andrew came along in 1950, David in ‘52, Stephen in ‘53 and Martyn in ‘54. Last of all came Ruth in ‘56. She was born on Boxing Day (December 26th), on which day my parents had gotten married all those years before.

We had a house full of babies. Maureen became our “second mother”, alongside Mum.

At some time, maybe in ‘52 Elizabeth and I would be sent to the health clinic off Russell Town Avenue. There we would pick up free or subsidised “concentrated” orange juice, and powdered baby formula. Mum insisted that it should be “Cow and Gate” brand.

At about that time I knew how to change nappies (diapers), and to make baby milk from powder in a bottle with a “teat” (not a “nipple” as in America). I probably did this less often than I remember, but I retain a love for the smell of a baby doused in “Johnson’s” Baby powder.

This was the hardest time for Mum. Remember, still no washing machine. David was a “preemy” and Mum was exhausted.

Elizabeth and I were sent off for two weeks to a house in Kingswood, Gloucestershire owned by the Bristol University Settlement in Barton Hill.

( see regarding the settlement movement).

There are two Kingswoods in Gloucestershire, one is now a suburb of Bristol, but this one was out in the country near Wotton-under-Edge.

We traveled by the number 26 ‘bus (why do I remember these details!), from Stapleton Road to Kingswood.

It was a magical time for me. I loved it. We took walks, I remember one to Wotton-under-Edge and back. I could have sworn that it was three miles each way, but in fact it was simple a mile.

We attended Sunday School in the (then) very Evangelical St Mary’s Church, and to my surprise they used the same book of gospel choruses as we used at the Gospel Hall.

It was also in this house that an older girl allowed we young boys to look down her nightie at her breasts. Heady stuff!

After one child-birth Mum was unwell, so Dad set off our fireworks on November 5th (Please to remember the Fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot). He set off a bottle rocket, not remembering that the outside clothes line was filled with cloth nappies. The rocket misfired and set three or four of the nappies on fire. How relieved we were that Dad had done this - had it been once of us there would have been hell to pay.