Saturday, 12 February 2011

Labels and a Cod-piece

Those labels!

1. On a carton of whipping cream: “Contains Milk”  (you don’t say!)

2. On the packing of an ink cartridge: “Designed For Excellence”, AND “Better Products For a Better Future”, AND “Epson Exceeds your Vision” (I cannot imagine how I survived all these years without Epson!)

3. On a pack of cigarettes: “Craftsmanship is in everything we do at Doral”  (Yeah for those good old fashioned cigarette craftsman.)

4. “Over the top” on a box of Publix brand tissues:  “Publix Facial Tissues are soft enough for the tenderest nose, yet strong enough to handle the mightiest sneeze. Rely on them to be there for you when times are tough, from tears to smears to stuffy snuffles”.  (Block that prose please - for goodness sake they are simply tissues.)

But to move from the ridiculous to the amusing.

Anne Hyde, the first wife of the Duke of York, (later to be King James II of England), not only managed his financial affairs, but she also influenced his political activities.  She was “in charge” so to speak.

Samuel Pepys
wrote in his diary : “The Duke of York, in all things but his codpiece, is led by the nose by his wife”.  (The Duke was well renowned for his frequent infidelities).

Friday, 11 February 2011

When Dad was fined in a Magistrates Court ( and other trivia)

“Guilty as charged”.  Much to his disappointment, Dad could not enlist in the army for World War II because he was blind in one eye. (He might have been “called up” in the event that Herr Schicklgruber  had come walking down our street).

So, during the war, Dad worked as a plumber for a local jobbing builder Ernie Cox,(who would be an important man in our family life later on).

One evening, Dad left a light on in the firm’s workshop, breaking the strict black-out laws.  He was hauled before the local Magistrate and fined.


In the late 1940’s Mum used to shop at the Co-operative Society’s grocery store on Greenbank Road.  Despite strict rationing, one of the shop assistants would always cut off a couple of bits of cheese for my sister and me.  (The cheese was cut from a real cheese wheel, using a wire cutter which would have been strong enough to strangle a grown man.

Later on I asked Mum about this.  Turns out that the assistant wanted to have an affair with her, so he tried to win her heart (or her body) by giving cheese to her twin children!


I drove down to “Geier’s Sausage Kitchen” ( ) today.  Even though I’ve lived in SRQ since June 2006, I’d never before shopped there.  I wanted to spend a fortune, everything looked so good.

I contented myself with some “Milka” chocolate; with a tin of Richter brand Herring Fillets in an herb and garlic sauce (imported from  Germany); a tub of Herring in a curry cream sauce (imported from Canada), and some ”Hessischen” Ham (which tastes so darn good, and is NOT loaded with water).

My “foodie” consciousness is growing week by week!


My dog sometimes takes more time seeking for the exact spot on which to poop than some humans take to find a life partner.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Mum's inconsistency

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

I agree with Emerson, but I wish that I knew how he would have distinguished between a “foolish” and a “wise” consistency.

My mother had no consistency, despite all her protests to the contrary.

“In the beginning” (i.e. when I began to form memories!), Mum was very consistent.  As a convinced member of the Labour Party (at one time she half considered running for Labour in the Bristol Council election).  In the spirit of British working class socialism, she was also a paid up member of the Cooperative movement.

So we bought our groceries, bread, milk, furniture, clothing, coal, and insurance from the local Co-op. Mum even took me to the Co-op Departmental Store on Castle Street in downtown Bristol for my earliest hair-cuts.

Then Mum and Dad “got saved” and hooked up with the Plymouth Brethren at the local Gospel Hall.   

The Plymouth Brethren were (mostly) opposed to Co-ops.  This was on the somewhat spurious grounds that in order to be a member of the Co-op a person would be given a number by which her/his purchases were recorded, to facilitate the payment of a semi- annual Divi (Dividend) based on the member’s purchases.

The P.B.’s reasoned that this “number” had to do with the “mark of the beast” (go figure!!).

Thus “inspired by the wisdom of the P.B. elders”, Mum changed her choice of vendors.

Now our milk and coal came from neighbourhood businesses -  milk from Bedford’s Dairy, and coal from  the Thorne family business .  We bought our groceries from the corner store owned by Mr. & Mrs. Higgins.  Our meat and eggs came from the Moreton’s Butcher Shop on Church Rd., Redfield - mostly because one of the Moreton brothers was vaguely connected to the Plymouth Brethren.

Mum was clear about one thing.  She would never trade at Les Groves’ butcher’s shop for he was very coarse. Nor would she buy groceries from George Matthews’ store, for he was too flirtatious.

Mr. Higgins died. His widow was unable to run her corner store with anything like efficiency. Mum decided to forsake them. Poor Mrs. Higgins sent Mum a note, pleading with her to remain as a customer.

It was to no avail. George Matthews became the hero. Mum would place her weekly order with him, which he would deliver on Saturday afternoons.  I never cared for the man, but Mum would welcome him and his wife, and offer them a “cuppa”.

“Magically”, Mum discovered that Les Groves in fact sold the very best meat, eggs, bacon and the like.  So she forsook the Moretons in his favour!

Much later, when many of these local shops had gone under, my dear Mum discovered the emerging supermarkets.  With her eye to snob value (which I have inherited!), she disdained Tesco and the like, in favour of Sainsbury’s.

Mum claimed to be consistent.  She was not!  

For that I am glad, because according to Emerson “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Down memory lane again (and my confusion)

47 Devon Road, Whitehall, Bristol 5 is an address which is lodged deeply in my memories and of those of my siblings.  That’s where we were raised.

#47 was in a row of five terraced (row) houses just by a railway bridge which crossed over the old London, Midland and Scottish railway line which came down into Bristol from Birmingham. By the time we were born the “LMS” was no more.  After Railway nationalisation, the line had become  a part of the Midland Region of British Railways.

The Halletts lived at #45 and worked from there. Old Mr. Hallett was a jobbing builder. His builder’s yard adjoined our back garden on two sides. 

He and his wife were pleasant enough.  They had one daughter, Phyllis,  who never married.  She was a bit stand-offish, but not unkind.

The Hallets’ son “Don” was a “piece of work”.  In truth he was but a small businessman (having inherited the business from his Dad), but he had a strutting arrogance and disrespect for my Mum and Dad.  His wife (Joyce?) was a lovely but sad woman.

“Uncle and Auntie” Charlton lived at # 49.  They were sweet and caring working class folks, and they were always kind to my family.  They were devoted old fashioned Methodists, members of the long defunct Easton Road Methodist Church.

Mr. and Mrs. Charlton (always “Uncle and Auntie” Charlton to me) had but one son, whose name was Claude. He had been engaged to be married to Elsie Lawes who hailed from Bournemouth in Dorset shire. He died before they were married.  Dear Elsie Lawes remained faithful to her potential in-laws, and lived with them until they died.  We all know her as Auntie Elsie. She was a constant guest in our home.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox lived at #51.    They were a childless couple.  His first name was Len, and he was of the blue overalls and cloth-capped generation of Englishmen; marked by his attire as firmly working class.

I never knew Mrs. Fox’s first name. She was considered to be shrewish, and she was wonderfully house-proud.  She was shunned by her neighbors (including my parents).  I sometimes think that this was for no other reason than she was Welsh  (my dear English-folk can be very provincial!)

#53 was owned by the Elders at the local Chelsea Gospel Hall.  They used it as a respite dwelling for missionaries and evangelists on furlough.

I remember Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Norton who lived there with their daughter Ivy. They were retired missionaries to India. 

I adored Ralph Norton and “wanted to be like him” when I grew up.

Ivy Norton tried, without success, to teach me piano.  She was not a bad teacher, but I was a lousy student who would not practice his scales!

The Nortons had a spare and unused bedroom. It was, of course, unheated. There they had a bed spring on which they stored apples which had been harvested in the autumn. (This was long before the days of year round refrigeration, and the importation of fruits from all over the globe). Ivy Norton led me to that room one day so that I could pick out a winter stored Coxes Orange Pippin apple.

Later residents of that home included the Moores (Missionaries to the Caribbean), and the Hislops (Evangelists in England).

The north wall of # 53 was un-windowed  It overlooked the LMS/Midland Region Railway line.  The devout elders from Chelsea Gospel Hall had arranged for this biblical test to be painted on that wall.   

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5 v8)

Who knows if the text ever moved anyone to be “saved”.  

But it certainly confused me when I was a whipper-snapper.  For I did not know the word “commendeth”.  So I always read it as “condemneth”. 

I could not for the life of me understand why God “condemneth” his love!


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Episcopal Church -- Yeah!

 I commend this sermon by my friend and seminary classmate, the Revd. Les Harman.  He is the Vicar of St. John's Church in Royston, Herts.


Fifth Sunday before Lent 6/2/11

Royston Parish Church 8.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m.

Jesus calls a mixed bunch of very ordinary people, men and women, to be his followers.  They are just like you and I.  Flawed human beings with all the usual faults and foibles and the occasional rising to acts of great courage and nobility.  They did not belong to the class of people normally recognised as religious like the scribes and pharisees.  Some people say to me: ‘I am not a religious person’ as if that exempted them from thinking about spiritual matters.  Well, nor were Jesus’s followers.  Nevertheless he said to them, these ordinary people, just like you and I, you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.  Last week we celebrated Candlemas on Sunday evening when we thought about the words of Simeon calling Jesus ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel’.  Jesus’s followers are light because Christ is light.  Can we say similarly that Christ is salt?  The connection is not quite so obvious but in the OT the sacrificial offerings were seasoned with salt and the people of Israel had been compared to salt.  The main point is that Jesus’s followers were called to lives of integrity and worth within society just as Christ lived a life of loving service.

But then just when you think Jesus is starting a new way of approaching God, bypassing all the religious traditions of the past and present, he insists that he has not come to do away with a single law of the Old Testament.  ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ he says uncompromisingly.  Whatever does he mean by that?  I think maybe our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 58: 1-9a) can cast a bit of light on the matter.  The prophet warns the people about using religion as a barrier against God rather than as a path towards him.  Their rituals of fasting and worship are a box-ticking exercise and do not make them better people.  The real evils of the world: injustice, oppression, hunger and poverty are simply ignored in their worship.  Until they start to make a real difference in the society around them, being salt and light in other words, then God’s deliverance will never become a reality, says the prophet.

When I was on sabbatical a few years ago now in the USA I was  impressed by the great generosity of American Christians.  They were committed to the poor in their local community through the daily provision of soup kitchens. And they gave sacrificially to many charities and missions overseas.  Most of the Christians I met were from the Episcopal Church, the same Church that is regarded today as a pariah by bishops of the Global South grouping, the primates of Uganda, Rwanda, West Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and the Southern Cone, because of the Episcopal Church in the USA’s stance on gay bishops and same sex unions.  All of these Global South bishops absented themselves from last week’s meeting of Primates in Dublin.  I find this very sad firstly on the grounds of my own experience of the faith and witness of these American Christians.  Secondly for the failure to maintain the unity of the Spirit  in the bond of peace.  And thirdly for being unwilling to acknowledge that may be, just may be, they are wrong in their interpretation of what the will of God is.
A week last Wednesday a gay Ugandan Christian called David Kato was killed by someone who came into his house with a hammer.  He had been on a hit list of 100 gay Ugandans in a magazine on account of his opposition to the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  The headline in the magazine was : ‘Hang them’.  An account of the funeral reported that the Church of Uganda sent no priest, no bishop, but a lay reader to conduct the service.  It is said the reader made inappropriate remarks condemning homosexuality quite graphically and stating the Church of Uganda’s position…the crowd began to cheer him on.

When Jesus said: ‘Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees’ was he meaning righteous anger towards all those we perceive to be going against God’s will giving us licence to kill or hate or at least refuse to journey with, or was he not pointing us all to go deeper into the heart of God who is love and compassion, faithfully revealed to us by Christ himself?

All of us have to make that journey.  As we do so we will become salt and light ourselves. 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.  Amen.

Monday, 7 February 2011

English women

My English friends Rosemary Lee and Diana Emrich came to lunch today.

Rosemary hails from Axminster, Devonshire.

Diana was born of English parents in India. She was sent from India to England when she was seven years old, and then endured some miserable years in a Boarding School for girls.

I told them that I’d invited them to lunch because I am very fond of English women.  “After all“, I said, “my mother was an Englishwoman”.

To be fair, I also invited The Revd Arthur Lee, recently retired from his Rectorship at St. David’s, Englewood, FL, and the Revd Fred Emrich who was a friend and colleague in Massachusetts.

We enjoyed one of those long and laid back lunches which are the privilege for we retired folks.  I served some home-made black bean and chorizo soup; followed by a cold platter which included excellent ham, soft asiago cheese, (see ) beets, roasted red peppers, pickled asparagus, and asparagus hearts.

Then we had tea or coffee with a McVities milk chocolate digestive biscuit.

We lingered over lunch and chatted for three hours!  It was all very lovely. 

Just as we were breaking up, Rosemary told us that her first name is in fact Diana. She uses her middle name of Rosemary, but legally she is "Diana Lee".

Diana Emrich started to laugh, for her Dad was a Lee.  Thus, for many years she was also known as "Diana Lee"


A bit later I checked my e-mail, only to read some sad news.  My English friend Winifred Bees died at her home in Bristol, U.K. on 4th Feb 2011.  She leaves her husband Tom, and their only child Lesley (who is married with one child).  Winifred was a noble person -  the very best of Englishwomen.

Tom Bees and I worked together for just one year (1960/61) at the Government Bookshop in Bristol.  But he, Winifred and I have stayed in touch for all these fifty years. I last saw them at their home in Bristol in 2009, during my most recent visit to England.

Winifred’s death was a merciful release after her “battle” with a brain tumour. 

It makes me sad to think that I will never see her again.  It makes me even sadder to think that Tom is alone at his home in Brislington, Bristol after what must have been more than sixty years of marriage, companionship, friendship and tender love with his dear Winifred.

Here is a picture of Winifred with her “grand-dog” Barney.  It was taken in 2008.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Homeless people

 There follows a speech which I made this morning at the 7:45 a.m. eucharist at St. Boniface Church on Siesta Key, Sarasota, FL


"There are no homeless in Sarasota County.  There are homeless people.  In 2009, three thousand, two hundred and seventy six people were served at Resurrection House, the day shelter for homeless people in downtown Sarasota.

It’s a place where our laundry can be done; where we can get a shower; where we eat, or have our hair cut, or get basic medical care.  It’s a place where we can get clothing, and counseling, and emergency food supplies.  It’s a place where we pray.

It’s always “we” and not “they”, for there are no homeless, there are only homeless people.

At Resurrection House we will meet the dozen or so St. Boniface folks who are amongst the 180 regular volunteers. 

We Boniface folks frequently promise to respect the dignity of every human being.  That promise is fulfilled in our encounters with homeless people.

The guests at Res. House are every bit like the members of this parish. Some of them are downright angry,  mean, ornery or greedy.  Others are overflowing with generous love and tenderness. 

Res. House receives no federal, state, county or city funding.  That allows us to do without a great deal of red tape, and causes us to rely on the generosity of God’s people.   Check out the “Giving Tree” in the parish hall to see where God is calling you to share in our ministry. I’ll be there to chat with you.

Cathy (not her real name) was very reserved towards me when she first met.  She’d always be with Jim, her “old man”.  Sometimes she seemed to be afraid, and sometimes she seemed to be, shall I say, less than sober.  Then she decided not to drink.  She and Jim began to share in our weekly prayer service. 

One day she asked me for a hug.  She began to cry.  She spoke. “You”, she said, “ apart from Jim, are the only man I’ve allowed to hug me.  I was sexually abused by my father, and I find it hard to trust men”.

Cathy and Jim are not often to be seen at Res. House these days.  But the week before last she stopped by to tell me that Jim had gotten a job, that he had worked steadily for six months, and that they had a small apartment.

I like to think that the respect we offered to Cathy and Jim helped them to re-discover their God-given dignity.  That’s exactly why we minister at Res. House, and its exactly why we come to this fine parish every week. 

Seeking and serving Christ in all others, at Church and at Res. House."