Saturday, 1 March 2008

Jeffrey Albert Davies

My best friend from the time I was six until I entered my twenties was Jeffrey Davies. Jeff lived just over the railway bridge, on Bloy St. He was five when we became friends.

Jeff’s mother was from Lowestoft, Suffolk, also my mum’s home town. Mum’s story was that she had been waiting for a ‘bus on Whitehall Road and began to chat with a stranger. Mum said “I know where you are from”. The stranger said “I am sure that you don’t”. Mum replied, “you are from Lowestoft”. It was so. Mum had recognised the unique East Anglian accent.

Mrs. Davies was a bit older than Mum. She remembered German pilots machine gunning civilians in World War I. (Lowestoft is the most easterly town in Great Britain).

Mum and Mrs. Davies adored Lowestoft. So far as they were concerned it was the gateway to heaven. So Jeff and I spent many holidays there. We loved the north beach with its Dunes (pronounced “Doons” in Lowestoft), and the stream which we could dam with sand. We liked to be on the sea wall at Lowestoft Ness - the most easterly point. One day we were soaked to the skin by a giant wave which came crashing over the wall.

Near the south beach there were some grand houses. One had parapets glad in metal, with decorative metal spikes. Mrs. Davies told us that when she was young she was told that were (World War I) German soldiers’ helmets, and that if she was naughty, Kaiser Bill would come and get them.

(That reminds me of my dear friend Geraldine Humpidge who would be about 120 years old if she were still alive. She told me that when she was a very little girl, her own grandmother related that she had once seen Napoleon Bonaparte, held captive on a ship in Portsmouth, England. Geraldine related that when she had been young the warning was “Old Boney” [Bonaparte] will come and get you).

Jeff and I had another thing in common. We each had an Uncle who was a cobbler: my Uncle Harold and his Uncle Fred.

Jeff’’s paternal grandmother was a sweet old woman. The worst she could say when she was vexed was “Oh my, Oh my”. She was a Lancaster from the Devizes, Wilts area where later I made many friends.

Jeffrey had a great imagination, and would make up names for people he knew. So I became “Monger” derived from something I said about blancmange. He also attended our Gospel Hall. There were two wonderful women there, a Mrs. Bostock and her daughter Miss. Bostock. They were large women and Miss. Bostock bought a tiny Fiat car into which they were shoe-horned. For reasons I do not remember, Jeff named them “Granny Lumumba” and “Auntie Lumumba”. (Remember Patrice Lumumba , an early President of the independent Congo?).

Jeff’s parents were the first in our neighbourhood to but a T.V., in 1953, for the Coronation of Elizabeth II.

They were also amongst the first to buy a car. It was a pre-war model, maybe a “Standard” with a number plate which included the letters CEL. So the car was nicknamed “Lottie”, and Jeff’s family would take us for some Saturday excursions.

Neither Jeff nor I were athletes. So we would often set out for bike rides to fill the time.

We would cycle a mile or so from our homes, and then play a game we called “Right/Left”. We would take the first right hand turning, the next left hand turning, and so on. Because our starting point varied each time, we would take many wonderful journeys, and in the process we explored much of our home City.

We’d also take ‘bus company “rover” tickets, which allowed us to take any route in the City or Country in any one day. Thus we visited many towns and cities within a sixty mile radius of Bristol.

Jeff and I sang together in the “Bristol Gospel Quartette” for four years. I left to become an evangelist - a dream which thankfully was never fulfilled, Jeff left to marry Mary (Bees).

We’ve lost touch over the years, and I last saw Jeff about 25 years ago.

Friday, 29 February 2008

On finding the True Church

On Thursdays I lead a prayer service at Res House in SRQ. It’s my favourite activity each week.

The attendance varies between eight and fourteen people. It’s the only Church I know where every week we have more men than women to pray.

I keep it simple. A bit of Scripture; lighting candles for prayer requests; the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and a blessing.

We always end with a song.

K. was there yesterday. He’d been arguing with his girlfriend before the service. He carried the argument into the Chapel. I reminded everyone that this was a “safe place”, and that disputes should be left at the door.

During the “lighting of the candle” time, K. began to “testify” at length. ’Twas almost as if he was relating his inner struggle between a good impulse and a bad impulse.

I bided my time and let him finish. I thanked him for his words and we all said the Lord’s Prayer.

S. told me about her upcoming surgery. Then she had to rush out of the Chapel to the bathroom. I opined “sometimes the bladder is more urgent than the heart”. Her boyfriend, another “K” responded “and that’s what her surgery is all about”. I hope that I’ll remember to pray for her on Monday - the day of her surgery.

A. was not there. I have been worried about him as we have not seen him since Monday.

He is charming beyond all belief, and he latched on to me from the get go. That made me nervous.

I ask B. about A. They are pals. B. said that he too was worried. B. and I were worried that A. might be in jail.

A. called me this afternoon. He is in a Psych. Unit. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least he is safe! I will visit him on Saturday (March 1st).

S. is as Irish as they come. He is from the Republic of Ireland, and Catholic to the bone.

He is J’s protector on the streets. She is from Northern Ireland and a Protestant. (Go figure!)

Last week S. spoke to me. He said “I know that you are Protestant and I am Catholic, and I am not supposed to do this, but I need your blessing”.

Before I could agree to his request he dropped to his knees. I laid my hands on him, and blessed him in the name of the Sacred Three. He got to his feet, kissed me on the cheek, and said “I love you Pastor Michael”.

This is Church! This is where I meet Jesus.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

The Battle of Sarasota

It was at about 4:00 p.m. yesterday (Feb 27th) when a huge flock of starlings alighted upon the grass at the back of my home.

There were maybe 150 of them, pecking urgently at seeds and weeds.

They were quickly followed by a 90 or so gang of crows (the thug birds) whose mission was to chase the starlings away.

The air battle of Sarasota ensued. Starlings and crows took off, wheeling, diving, looping the loop, flying figures of eight in the air above.

This aerial battle was soon over. The crows drove the starlings away.

The starlings flew away, but not in defeat. They had outwitted the crows. Not one of them had been killed.

Just a slice of life in SRQ.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008


Christopher Smart (1722 - 1771) was an English Poet who developed some kind of religious mania, for which he was confined in a Lunatick Asylum.

That's what "they" say. Perhaps he was simply a religious mystic ahead of his time.

Some of his poetry arose during his confinement. He writes of his cat in the following lines.

Even non-religious cat lovers might enjoy this.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Taking a walk

We’d usually begin our walks at his off just of Muller Road in Horfield, Bristol. “We” being my Grammar School (High School) friend Stephen Meyer and I. With a sandwich in my bag I’d have taken the 83 ‘bus from my home to the end of his street. In Passover time I’d leave my leavened bread in the Meyer’s garden shed before Stephen and I set out on our walk.

Always his mother Greta would see us off with her “blessings, blessings” in a soft and gentle German accent.

Stephen and I would sometimes then take the 83 ‘bus again down to Eastville Park, avoiding the hill up over Purdown.

Eastville Park was (is) the big public park in East Bristol. It has a big lake for fishing and canoeing. Nanny Povey who lived nearby would joke that she was taking her holiday in the “Lake District”. Then, after a pause, she would add “Eastville Park”.

Eastville Park was also one of my favourite haunts on winter Saturday afternoons. There, when I was about 13 or 14 I would go to watch the young men play football (soccer), feigning an interest in the game, but with a truer interest in the players. This was all a bit furtive as I’d convinced myself that these young men knew exactly why I was there, and that one of them would call out “bugger off you little pansy”. It never happened.

But back to my rambles with Stephen. We’d set out from the park along the valley of the River Frome (pronounced Froom). This would take us along a footpath to Blackberry Hill, Just before Blackberry Hill we’d pass an erie area where the “Sheasby Twins’” bodies had been found, covered by a blanket of leaves. Their murderer was never found.

We’d cross the road to Snuff Mills. pass a row of pretty little terraced cottages, one of which was a Methodist Chapel (where I preached many times in later years).

Then to the old Snuff Mill with its waterwheel and manicured gardens.

The river walk would take us through Oldbury Court (another wonderful public park) with it’s weir on the Frome.

In autumn the walk would be deliciously crunchy as we trod on fallen leaves. Sometimes we’d pick up “conkers” (horse chestnuts) to use later in the English schoolboy game.

From Oldbury Court we’d go through Frenchay Village to the Common with its high spired Church and its Quaker Meeting house where we’d sometimes stop to listen to the tick-tock of the old wall clock.

Those were simple and lovely days. Stephen and I, with all the wisdom of youth, would have set the world right in our taking, and we’d have enjoyed nature before we knew that it was called nature.

Monday, 25 February 2008

With nowhere to go, homeless land in jail

With nowhere to go, homeless land in jail
City defends aggressive policing, but would offering shelter cost less?

SARASOTA It costs taxpayers about $925 when police arrest a homeless person for drinking a beer in public or sleeping behind a church, a Herald-Tribune analysis shows.

Aggressive enforcement of city ordinances that target the homeless has led to 1,427 arrests over the past three years, costing taxpayers $1.3 million, the analysis shows.

And the number of arrests has risen sharply over the past six months, adding to overcrowding at the jail. County officials, who are planning to build a $56 million jail to accommodate the increasing jail population, even considered a special charge to the city of Sarasota each time police arrest someone for public urination, illegal camping, curbside drinking or panhandling.

Police and city officials say it is more expensive to do nothing than make the arrests, which they say keep crime down and the downtown area safe and clean for residents, businesses and tourists.

"If you don't feel safe to go downtown, do you think we're going to have downtown businesses, do you think we'll have a tax base downtown?" asks Sarasota City Manager Robert Bartolotta. "We have ordinances and we're a society of laws, so if we have ordinances, it needs to be enforced."

Bartolotta disputes the newspaper's analysis.

National homeless advocates branded Sarasota the nation's meanest city in 2006. A local advocate says the money would be better spent building housing and shelters and addressing the root problems of homelessness.

"It's not only the right thing, but the most fiscally responsible thing to do," said Richard Martin, a former Sarasota mayor who is now executive director of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. "We're forced into finding a better model at this point."

He said judges and clerks would be paid, officers would still be on the payroll and the jail would still operate regardless of how many homeless people are in jail on city violations.

Criminal justice experts and a University of South Florida economist say the Herald-Tribune estimate is conservative and fair, as each arrest puts someone in jail and creates another case for the county's courts. That contributes to a higher demand for jail bed space, time from judges and more work for the courts.

"If you elect to trigger this process, this is what it costs us to ramp up to do this," said David Bennett, a criminal justice consultant hired by the county to study ways to reduce the jail population.

Catch and release

The homeless people, who are usually too broke to post $120 bail to get out of jail for violating the city laws, have two options.

They can plead guilty at their earliest opportunity and spend as little as a week in jail, or fight the charge and spend at least 30 days in jail waiting for their next court appearance.

Court officials hold a hearing every Friday to take pleas and get people arrested for minor crimes out of jail, a strategy for keeping down the jail population.

On Feb. 15, nine homeless defendants were at the hearing. Collectively, they had accounted for more than 200 arrests on misdemeanor charges over the past few years.

Among them was Jeffrey Gale, 48, who pleaded guilty to an open container charge nine days earlier. He had been out of jail for two days when he was arrested again on charges of open container and trespassing.

After 45 arrests, Gale is well acquainted with the judge who presided over that hearing, as well as the public defender representing him, the bailiffs guarding him, and the sort of plea deal they would offer.

For the latest open container and trespassing charges, he took a 15-day sentence with credit for time served, meaning he was scheduled to get out yesterday.

Then there was the $298 in court costs and fines the judge imposed, and Gale's response: "Wow."

Gale already owed $6,065 in similar fees and fines.

Even if he paid them today, it would be a small dent in the more than $41,000 his arrests have cost taxpayers, according to the Herald-Tribune analysis.

Gale told the judge he is starting to lose track of all the places that he has been ordered to stay away from. The list includes the Resurrection House -- a daytime resource center that provides help to the homeless.

"Excuse me, your honor," a bailiff said after Gale's brief appearance before the judge. "Mr. Gale, can we trespass him from jail?"

'Tough love'

The Herald-Tribune analysis may underestimate the costs of arresting the homeless, say criminal justice experts, because it does not include arrests that start with a suspected city law violation that lead to arrests on more serious charges.

For example, the 1,400 arrests tallied by the Herald-Tribune do not include one in which an officer cited a homeless man for panhandling, then found a knife in his pocket and charged him with both panhandling and carrying a concealed weapon.

Likewise, the newspaper's tally would not include a case in which a homeless person cited for illegal camping was found to have drugs, and was charged for illegal camping and drug possession.

Most of the city's laws that target the homeless were adopted in 2002. Martin, when he was mayor, called them a "tough love" approach to problems with the homeless; the National Coalition for the Homeless later branded Sarasota one of the nation's meanest cities toward the homeless.

Police have dedicated an officer to keeping tabs on the homeless and their camps, as well as directing officers not to ignore any infractions.

When officers spot a person breaking the city's laws, they have the discretion to inform them of the rules, issue warnings, or cite them and give them a court date, said police spokesman Capt. Bill Spitler. He said officers do not make arrests unless it is the same person breaking the same rules over and over again or the person refuses to stop breaking city rules.

"We don't arrest everybody now, come on," Spitler said. "The people going to jail for these violations, this isn't their first rodeo, cowboy."

And some of the homeless spend a lot more time in jail than others.

Police know Mark E. Saunders by sight, and have nicknamed him "John Wayne," though Spitler and another officer could not recall how the nickname originated.

Less than a week after officers cited Saunders for an open container, police found him spreading a beige sheet in the rear entryway of Church of the Redeemer on Palm Avenue about 2 a.m.

According to an arrest report, Saunders held an open plastic Icehouse beer bottle, and told officers he was getting ready to go to sleep. He was charged with breaking the city's rules against curbside drinking and camping in public.

Businesses like the church "don't want people sleeping there, they don't want people urinating in their bushes, they don't want to clean up bottles," Spitler said.

Back to the cell

Martin, the homeless advocate, said the city needs to rethink its approach.

"It's just not working," Martin said. "Should someone really be arrested for something that would be normal inside a house, but you don't have a house?"

He suggested the city look into ways to keep the homeless out of jail, by building subsidized housing to help people recover, or alternative sentences to keep them out of jail.

City Manager Bartolotta said the city is working with the county and judges to create alternative sentencing programs, making ordinance violators clean parks or the beach instead of sitting in jail.

The county has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a jail consultant and new programs to reduce the jail population. Leaders in the criminal justice community are meeting Monday to discuss alternatives to arresting ordinance violators.

Arrests are a more expensive and less effective solution than shelters or other options because the court system does not address why the person does not have a home in the first place, said Bennett, the consultant the county hired.

"We've got the person off the street. And that's it," Bennett said. "The criminal justice system is not designed to take care of this person and their problems."

Last year, the public defender's office in Broward County stopped representing those arrested for breaking city laws in Fort Lauderdale, after studying the issue and finding it was about $30 a night for a shelter bed and $90 or more for a jail bed.

"You just end up criminalizing people and further hampering their ability to reintegrate into society," said Doug Brawley, the public defender's office chief deputy.

In Sarasota County, people arrested for breaking municipal ordinances spent an average of 7.4 days in jail in 2006, a county study found.

During the Feb. 15 "jail sweep" court hearing, one man, Bobby Bryant, was offered 20 days in jail with credit for time served for a trespassing charge.

He had not been not causing a problem, but a security guard spotted him passing through an area he had been warned to stay away from.

But because Bryant has had 12 convictions in the past year, County Judge Judy Goldman thought the sentence offer was too light. She passed the case on to an arraignment set for Tuesday. And Bryant went back to his jail cell for another two weeks.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Who's your Daddy

Last weekend my friend Joe S visited. He grew up in Cheshire, MA and I’ve known him since he was about 15 years old, a teenager at St. Stephen’s Parish, Pittsfield.
Joe is now in his mid-thirties. He lives and works in London, U.K.

This weekend my guest has been Susan Hughes, also from St. Stephen’s. We worked out that I’ve known her since she was fourteen years old. Susan lives in Atlanta, GA with her partner Lisa Coston. They drove here last Thursday and will be heading north again tomorrow.

I stayed overnight with Lisa and Susan in June 2006 when I was driving from New England to Florida, to begin my retirement life in Sarasota. It’s been a pleasure and a great deal of fun to be with “Miss Susan” and “Miss Lisa” as I call them.

Yesterday afternoon we were in downtown SRQ in a wonderful kitchen store “Sur la Table”. I was chatting with Sam, a sixty-something year old Spaniard who is a salesman there. He was trying to get me interested in a Cappuccino making machine.
He was charming and delightful, and we began to talk about Europe and our favourite places there.

Our genial bonhomie was interrupted by Lisa who crept up, and addressing me said “Daddy, can we go home now?” So I have been “Daddy” (pronounced in a distinctively Georgia way) to Lisa and Susan since.

We went to St. Boniface Church together this morning, and I “warned” Lisa not to call me Daddy. This if course gave her the green light to do so, causing momentary confusion to my dear friend and colleague the Revd. Andi (Andrea) Taylor who was the celebrant at the Eucharist.

We stopped off at Sarasota’s water front park on the way home, enjoying the bay, the yachts, the water fowl, and the outdoor art in SRQ’s annual sculpture festival.