Saturday, 12 January 2008


Are you a counter? Do you count steps or stairs as you ascend them or descend them? Does it drive you crazy?

I’m one. I’m always counting. In Church I count the number in attendance, and I am so programmed to do this that I also count attendances at all manner or meetings and events.

I cannot climb or descend stairs without counting.

I walk each morning for about an hour. I count as I walk. Sometimes I count in eights - don’t ask me why. Other times I count in one hundreds, bending my thumbs and fingers until I reach 1,000. I cannot bend my toes individually, so I can never get to 2,000!

And of course I count the paces from my bedroom to the lanai, or from the kitchen to the front door.

It’s crazy. It’s senseless. It’s annoying. But I cannot stop counting!

(And I have some other obsessions too! Mostly about folding laundry! Tee shirts, or boxer shorts, or socks must all be folded in the same way. Towels have to be folded in threes. Dafty isn’t it!)

Friday, 11 January 2008

Music and memory

When I was a little boy, perhaps aged 8 or 10, a piece of music would make me cry.

To this day I do not know why.

But I cried every time I heard the “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Handel’s Oratorio “Solomon”.

I still love that piece, but I no longer cry when I hear it - more’s the pity - tears are good!

Yesterday, when listening to NPR I heard Shubert’s incidental music for the opera “Rosamunde”. That made be very sad. It was one of my Dad’s favourite pieces.

When he was a-dying, Beethoven’s Romances for Violin were being played on the B.B.C. I cannot hear that lovely music without thinking of Dad’s death bed. I get sad, but do not cry.

Many years after Dad’s death Mum re-married. She married a fabulous man, Len Woolcock. Each of us - nine siblings - adored Len. He was a wonderful second husband for Mum, “Stepfather” for us.

Len died unexpectedly some ten years ago. I say “unexpectedly” because he had never had (or shown) a day of sickness.

Mum awoke one night in the wee hours, to find her second husband in cold death beside her. It was a grievous blow.

Some very few months later, Mum, my older sister Maureen, and my younger brother Martyn with his wife and children visited me in Pittsfield, MA where I Rector at St. Stephen’s Parish.

It was a hard visit for Mum. All she could think of was her previous visit with her beloved Len.

Some time during that visit I placed a C.D. on my player. It was of famed English contralto, Kathleen Ferrier. Mum knew and loved the music.

But at one point she said “do not play the next one”. The “next one” was Kathleen singing “What is life to me without thee”, (from Gluck's 'Orfeo and Euridice')

Of course this aria was unbearable to Mum in her grief, and I can never again hear it without thinking of my good step-father, Len.

And there is another song/hymn which has deep memories for me. It was written by the Deist, Thomas Addison , and was the School hymn at my High School.
(Who can imagine that a school would have an official hymn?!)

We sang it with the wonderful “Fairfield sound” (rich harmonies at Fairfield Grammar (High) School, under the direction of our superb music teacher W.J. Richards). Always to the tune “Contemplation”.

And Deist or not, I want it to be sung at my funeral!

When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love and praise.

Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From Whom those comforts flowed.

When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
Thine arm unseen conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man.

Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the last a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.

Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I’ll pursue
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew.

Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
For, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!

Sing will ye!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Jesus Christ and the American Soldier

A friend sent me an e-mail today. It included a very moving picture of a badly wounded American Marine from the Iraq war, as he was being greeted by a veteran of Pearl Harbour.

It was powerful stuff, pause for thought, pause for admiration and respect.

The picture was followed by this citation:

Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you,
Jesus Christ and the American Soldier
One died for your soul;
the other for your freedom.

I found this hard to take.

Is it appropriate to compare the universal meaning of the death (and resurrection) of Jesus, with the nationalistic meaning of the death of a member of the American military?

Is it appropriate to compare the active aggression of an American soldier, with the passive resistance of Jesus?

Did Jesus die only for our souls?

And what is freedom?

Is it the local, parochial, national freedom to get, to acquire, to own, to dominate and to protect?

Or is it the universal freedom to love, to give, and to sacrifice?

These are my questions.

Do you have answers?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Folks I have known: Donald Kirby

I’ve previously mentioned that I worked for the Westminster Bank in the lovely Cotswold town of Chipping Sodbury.

A position was advertised in the Bristol Evening Post, and I took myself by ‘bus for an interview with the branch manager, Donald Kirby.

He scolded me mildly because my shirt was a pale yellow and not the statutory white, but sent me on to the Bank’s Head Office at 41 Lothbury, London. That was a neat adventure. I took the train to London and then the tube to the City. I emerged from the tube in a state of awe, at the Bank of England (the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street) and made my ways to the hallowed Halls of 41 Lothbury, passing hordes of “City Gents” with their mandatory bowler hats and rolled umbrellas.

Having satisfied the Lothbury Pooh Bahs I began work under Don Kirby. The Bank was positively Victorian, and so was he.

We posted ledgers by hand, sitting on high stools at high desks, with the green glass shaded lamps. We weighed coins: ha-pennies, pennies, thrup-knee bits, tanners, bob, florins and half-crowns on an old balance scale (the easiest way, for example, to see if we had enough tanners to put into a 5 shilling’s worth paper bag). I still have one of the old coin shovels.

Our customers were local traders (including the brothers Fairie who ran the local grocer store - and yes we wondered about them!); a red faced publican who was drinking all his profits at “The Globe” (I sometimes had to go to his pub at 2:30 p.m. to collect his mid-day takings so that his brewery cheque would not bounce).

Then we had farmers. There were the Farmer Giles types, old fashioned farmers with small farms, as well as country gentlemen with their rolling Gloucestershire acres.

A few of the local lesser nobility held accounts with us, and we kow-towed to them on the basis of their names e.g. Sir Christopher Codrington, Bart.

Our locals rivals were the National Provincial, Lloyds and Barclays Banks. We still cleared local cheques on a daily basis, and I would set off on my rounds to exchange cheques with the other “juniors” at the rival banks. One of them managed to purchase a small Estate Car of which he was very proud. He told me one day that it was his “shagging wagon”, and I was horribly shocked!!

Donald Kirby lived in Downend, on the eastern outskirts of Bristol, and would take the ‘bus to Chipping Sodbury. He’d sit upstairs, puffing on his ubiquitous pipe, and reading the Times. I’d hate it if we were on the same ‘bus, because then he would want to talk to me, or rather lecture me. And I’d have to “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir” to this would be demi-tyrant of a small branch bank.

One Sunday night I came out of the Gospel Hall to encounter and unusual heavy snow. Another Church member, Graham Hunt, told me that the Chipping Sodbury road was blocked. People pleaser that I was, I telephoned Mr. Kirby with this news. He responded with “then we’ll just have to hoof it”. We arranged to meet at the end of his road in Downend at an early hour.

The City ‘bus ran on time from Eastville to Downend, and I shivered in a ‘phone box to await my lord and master. He emerged from his street, and no sooner had we started “hoofing it” when the Chipping Sodbury ‘bus came along - this we were in the office by about 6:30 a.m. Mr. Kirby was not pleased. He blamed me for the whole misadventure, notwithstanding that he had made the decision to “hoof it”. I tried to sweeten his disposition by making him hot coffee as soon as the milk was delivered.

Ken Dee, the “First Clerk” arrived at his usual 7:30 a.m. time, surprised to see the lights on, and the Manager in his Office. Donald Kirby told him the sad story, and Ken Dee emerged with a wicked grin and called me a “dafty bugger”.

For the next few days we would creep up behind me and begin to sing “In his masters steps he trod”!

Donald Kirby would use his car once a month. That was on the day that he stayed in town after business for his Masonic Lodge meeting. We knew that it was Lodge night when we saw his black tie. He’d be in a foul mood all day, for he positively hated Lodge meetings. He’d joined of course, for business reasons.

On one occasion another clerk asked me to help her with some task, and I replied “wait for a minute, I am serving a customer”. Don Kirby waited for me to complete the transaction, and them summoned me with his tyrant’s voice.

I stood at the threshold of his office door. He did not invite me to enter, but rather bellowed from behind his desk: “Mr Povey. Bulls serve cows. We attend to customers”.

Don Kirby, wherever you are, “I have never, ever, ever served a customer!”

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

My spin before the New Hampshire results.

If I had my way Dennis Kucinich would be the Democratic Party nominee for the Presidency. He is the “leftie” with whom I most identify. But he has already been written off by “the media”.

Next in line would be the southern populist, John Edwards. His heart, mind and soul is in the right place. Let’s see what happens to him after New Hampshire.

Hilary Clinton is a brilliant and wonderful woman. But the press has loaded her with so much baggage. She, like Mitt Romney seems to be an opportunist. If she is the final candidate I’ll vote for her in a heartbeat. She could become a good President.

And I long for Barak Obama to secure the nomination. His Presidency would mark a sea change in American Politics. It pisses me off that so many of my left/liberal friends forecast that Mr. Obama will be assassinated. What does that say about our nation?

On the right? Rudy Giuliani has no coherent message apart from his self proclaimed leadership after 9/11.

Mitt Romney is a liar, pure and simple. He was the most ineffective Governor of Massachusetts in recent years. He has nothing to offer except himself.

Mike Huckabee scares me. Do we really want a President who believes that the world is but 6,000 years old? What will become of the scientific endeavour if a creationist is the American President? How will his fundamentalist views affect American policies viz a viz the near East (Israel/Palestine etc)

And John McCain is a man of honour. He is my favourite amongst the Republicans. I could never envisage voting for him, but he is the least of all evils on the right.

My dream ticket? The two Johns. John Edwards v John McCain. And the devil take the hindmost!

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Bishop of Rochester (UK) and his detestable enormities

First, please read this article from the (English) Sunday Telegraph on Jan 6th.

You may have to cut and paste the link.

Now that you have read it, here is my “take”.

First: I agree with the Bishop that 50 years ago, Brits thought themselves to be part of a Christian (Protestant) nation.

But it was a wafer thin thought. Already the Christian norms were under attack or suspicion. They were seen as the province of the ruling classes.

Second: The first post WWII wave of immigration into Great Britain was from the old Empire, especially from the West Indies. These immigrants were in many ways “more British than the British” But the Churches, and in particular the Church of England failed to greet these immigrants as sisters and brothers. The Church of England (in general) spurned those immigrants that loved her.

Third: Britain opened the doors for Asian immigrants, at first for those who were fleeing from Idi Amin’s disastrous regime in Uganda. These immigrants were given a grudging welcome. These immigrants soon established themselves as local retailers. Few, if any Brits were aware of their religion.

Fourth: Colour, rather than national origin or religion was the determinate by which most Brits welcomed/ignored/resisted this wave of immigration.

THE BISHOP DOES NOT REFERENCE ANY OF THE ABOVE. In particular he is shamefully ignorant of the response of the Church of England to immigrants.

But Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s article is also suspect for other reasons.

1. He was either too na├»ve, or wilfully aware that the Daily Telegraph would give his piece the heading “Extremism flourished as UK lost Christianity”.

2. He makes assertions without documentation of sources: viz (a) the noise of the call to prayer: (ignoring of course the chimes of Church of England Bells). Or (b) “It is now less possible for Christianity to be the public faith in Britain”

(I question any re-assertion of a public faith. Is not “saving faith” to be preferred?)

3. I ask “is Sharia law” always to be resisted? Is it not consistent with some older Christian laws (e.g. re Usury)

4. I have two chief complaints:

(a) Is it necessary or desirable for Britain to be a Christian nation?

(b) Why does a Christian Bishop make assertions without a clear reference to his sources?

And my personal plea is this: (i) check your sources.

(ii) recognise the biases of authors. Including me!

(iii) ask if you are widening the boundaries, or circling the wagons. I believe that Jesus was a widener, not a circler.

Sunday, 6 January 2008


No blog today (Jan 6th)

Check again tomorrow (Jan 7th)