Wednesday, December 24, 2014

We Don't Need No Education

I keep seeing children in supermarkets. Today it was the Scouts.

Not running about, but standing by the checkouts. They don't get in my way. They ask me politely if they can help me pack my bag and I say politely no I'm much better off doing it myself and they leave me to it and everyone is happy.

And I'm sure that some people are happy to have help packing their bags and it saves the cashier's time, and by knock-on, everyone's (except the children of course).

And I don't mind the Scouts being helpful, it's a voluntary organisation and they've always done it and it raises money for charity (they had other Scouts with large buckets). That's what the Scouts can choose to do. I still don't think it's much, y'know, fun, but hey.

But there has been a worrying trend, which is children in (smart) school uniform. There were some yesterday in Marks and Spencer and some the other day in Morrisons. In order:

What are these kids doing on December 23 in school uniform standing around in Marks and Spencer? If the term has finished, as I suspect it has, why have they been dragged out to the supermarket when they should be out playing (or inside playing, maybe, or playing with their phones at least)? (If it is the last day of term, it's not a very thrilling one. Teachers all run out of things to do?) Give them a break.

I was more concerned the other week. That was a Friday in term-time (unless the term finished very early, in which case the following arguments still mostly apply.)

Is it a good use of students' time to be spent standing around in supermarkets in preference to, ooh I don't know, take a random idea, being in lessons LEARNING stuff?

I didn't ask why they were doing it, I had to get on (and in truth I only thought about it properly later). I can't think of an answer I'd be happy with.

Were they raising money, for charity, or even worse, for their school? Not their job. That's for adults.

Is it some kind of PSE initiative to learn about money raising, about public service, volunteering? It seems at best desperately inefficient if it's not even counter-productive (who would want to repeat the experience?) I can't imagine what they got out of the experience. After 10 minutes, I think anyone would have got whatever point there was.

Is it about the new thing of "being responsible citizens"? Per-lease. Even I can't make a case for how that would work. Or "building links with the community". I'm struggling here, to find any reason.

Maybe it was so the teachers could do some Christmas shopping while they were there. Well at least something got done. Badly, and at a disproportionate cost, but something. Actually that seems to be the answer that makes the most sense and maximises usefulness of the activity.

If the children volunteered or "volunteered" then don't let them. If they weren't volunteers that's even worse.

Get the kids back in school.

Do They Know It's Christmas


I been asked to come and tell you my story. Well not my story but what I know. Or think I know, I guess, was quite a while ago … 

I didn’t expect quite so many people …

Well I better say who I am first. I’m Joe. I runs the pub – the Shepherd’s Arms.
Behind the market. Took it over from my da when he died couple of years back. Not the best pub in town, I knows that. We certainly aren’t the King David, the posh one fronting on the market place with the prices to match, and we ain’t the Lion of Judah, the boutique one by the temple, either, come to that.

My PR manager says we’re budget. We been called worse, I’ll go with budget.


So anyway the story. It was when I were a lad and my da were in charge. I were just coming up twelve. It were the year of the big count, wha did they call it? – the Cen-sus. Roman thing. Only so’s they could get more taxes, my da said. Romans always pushing people about, I hate em, they done nothing for us. I’d tell you what I think of em only your man says you’re well brought up so’s I better not, and there’s kiddies too.


Anyway the Census, that were a nightmare. Everyone all over the country. Good for us mind never been so busy, people have to stay somewhere, even the King David got full. We didn’t have to go nowhere on account of we’d never moved nowhere but the people coming into town you wouldn’t believe, well I guess everyone says they’re King David’s line don’t they, how many wives he have? and I guess I must be too you just have to go back a ways. Point is, it were chaos. You couldn’t get in anywhere, people were staying with relatives, sharing rooms, we put someone in my room and I slept behind the bar three nights.


But the sorriest were this couple came round late at night, I know I’m getting there, this is who your man wanted me to say about. They’d been on the road for days man and girl. Yes, girl, she could only be bout fifteen and he were only a few years on me too. They’d walked all the way from wherever it was, he couldn’t even afford to hire a donkey for her and in her condition too and they were both done in, particularly her, he were half carrying her. Said they was betrothed but I dunno anyway. I think no-one would take em in and you couldn’t wonder really I think the family would have been too ‘shamed to ask anyone. We kept it quiet.


So they came to the door any road and me da weren’t sure either but me ma said we oughta you couldn’t let her go any further, she were nearly ready, and ma sent for a woman in fact. Well we had just nowhere so we put em in the barn and it were my job to look after em well da were too busy so he give it me my job, I know a barn, I were a bit embarrassed but there were nowhere else honest, least they was out of the cold.


Actually ma kept me out of the way after that, cos the girl had her baby right there in the barn. Believe that? Still I gather he were healthy enough, I snuck a quick peek once, looked all right, what did I know then though.


Well anyway there in’t much more to say, they stayed a few days, in the barn, and then hopped it back to wherever. I did hear them saying summat to ma about going back another way, dunno why – but - hang on - there were something happened, funny I never connected the two till now.


It were months later.

The soldiers came. Herod’s men, not the Romans. Middle of the night. Looking for new boy babies. They took our youngest, Reuben, he were eighteen months. Near killed my ma and it broke da up. Weren’t just us. Everyone they could find. Well the crowds had all gone and we were only a small village again, but there must have been two three dozen they found. None came back. We have a little service every year to remember.


Do you think they were looking for our couple?


I don’t understand.


I never heard any more about any of the three, just went on with life, that’s what you do, I keeps myself to myself.


Was this baby – you know - important?


Do you think they found him?

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The More Things Change

The Black Knight had become the White Prince. But he still found himself dancing with snakes. The surprising thing was that it had taken him so long to realise. Spidersense still not working.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Black Knight Takes Off His Armour

The black knight has carried the symbol of a black tulip for seven years and a day, as is the custom. Now it is time for a new quest to begin, the quest for the fabled and long-lost white tulip.

The legends speak of such flowers but they are difficult to find. They are mostly hidden away so that no-one stumbles on them (for many do not wish to).

Ancient wisdom declares that they are impossible to find without sacrifice; but the sacrifice is worth it. Will the black knight be able to pursue this path?

Fortunately he has helpers. Game Girl told of the quest and inspired the journey by her account of her start on it.

Boon companion on the journey is Amnesia.

May all who seek the white tulips find them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You Better You Bet

This one is due to Marcus de Sautoy but it came up last night again.

It's the ultimate insult to a mathematician, the one that makes you reach for your gun.
Don't say "it's not rigorous".

If you say "It's not elegant" then we can argue or we can admit "yeah it's not really, maybe we can find a neater way". (Or just "heigh-ho".)

If you say "It's not clear" then we reply "your problem, not mine". (When a mathematician says "clearly .." they mean "think about it a bit and you'll see". When it's clear they say "trivially".)

If you say "It's not useful", we say "so what, who cares?"

If you say "It's not true" then we say "That's life and the universe, deal with it".

If you say "It's not rigorous" then you better be able to back up that statement, you bet. Or we are gonna fall out.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I had a random thought the other day, from a context which is not important..

Do vegetarians eats insects?

It would be interesting to know their views on it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Once upon a time, there was a magical kingdom with a beautiful princess.

Princess Grace woke up to a brand new day. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Her beautiful golden hair which never needed brushing cascaded over the wonderful soft bedlinen and all was right with the world. She looked forward to the adventure that today would bring. Every day brought a new exciting adventure which completely filled her day with a joy that was almost overwhelming and every night she went sleepily to her beautiful bedroom with its soft comfortable bed and she went instantly to sleep to dream of the next wonderful day.

Truly life was wonderful. What a lucky girl she was.

Some of her friends asked why she was so lucky, but she didn't know. But it didn't bother her. She just looked forward to the next exciting adventure. Would it be a meeting with a prince? A magic carpet ride? A royal ball? So long as it was lovely she didn't mind. Every day should be like this.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fun, Fun, Fun (?)

I watched my recording of Anne Widdecombe’s documentary about Christianity and comedy, shown in the week leading up to Easter.

She warned us at the start that “some Christians may find this film difficult”. Well it does have Anne Widdecombe in it. Still I stuck with it, as she suggested. Her aim was “to find out what is happening, and why is it so funny to say Christians are stupid.” A laudable aim, slightly diminished by the fact that she didn’t actually show any clips in which people said that Christians are stupid. (There were some which pointed some out some absurdities and difficulties in the stories in the Old Testament, admittedly. Oh, and there was a clip of Frankie Boyle saying that it “was absurd to say that Jesus was married, when everyone knows he rose from the dead and flew up to heaven” but he didn’t say anything about the intelligence of believers. )  

Other questions asked at start “Is Christianity more subject to ridicule than other faiths?” “Is what I regard as most sacred now merely fodder for a cheap gag?” (Answers on a postcard?). I think we can see from the outset what direction the argument is likely to go.

Still, you don’t necessarily expect Anne Widdecombe to be able to look at an argument objectively and take on other people’s points of view. This is after all the woman who, when presenting a programme in the history of Christianity series about the writing of the Bible, said that she didn’t care what all the scholars said, she was going to stick to what she wanted to believe, and a few facts weren’t going to get in her way in that regard. We needed to take this into account continually in what followed.

Anyway, on to the content of this programme. “Jokes about Christianity are everywhere you look.” I think she is looking in different places to me. I always didn’t quite follow her leap of logic from Christianity being an allowable subject for comedy but taboo in politics, to the assertion that “it is OK to talk about Christianity so long as you don’t take it too seriously.” Still, maybe the steps between these assertions can be filled in. We’ll allow that as acceptable hyperbole.

But before we got on to jokes about Christianity, we had a clip of her in panto. I suppose jokes about ugly sisters are de rigeur and not strictly offensive, but I do think that her action of making gratuitous, offensive and hurtful (and unfunny) “jokes” about the Liberal Democrats might be more carefully considered if she’s going to claim she’s offended by other people’s jokes about something important to her. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective.

Marcus Brigstocke explained calmly why comedy made a point and how it gave him an outlet to express his views on a religion which he found “horrible”, when it condemned friends of his and prevented women from “achieving their position in society”. He also explained coherently why he might mock prayer, when Anne asked. He would also potentially mock Jesus; Marcus is a political writer, and Jesus was a political figure. Anne listened carefully to him and gave him no reply.  She explained in voice-over that Jesus was not a political figure, but was “special” – “too big to be mocked”.

Then there was a clip in which she watched, and we saw a bit of, an excerpt from “Goodness Gracious Me”, season 3, which, apparently due to protests from Christians, has earned a lifetime ban – she had to get special permission to watch it. She was “wounded” by this clip. The writer, Anil Gupta, explained carefully and patiently to her that the sequence was not a joke about Christianity, but about British Asians not understanding English ways and English religious practices, specifically communion. (The whole series was always about Asians trying to be more English and failing miserably, and covered a host of other topics. The Church of England, being quintessentially English, naturally was covered in this idea.) And the clip, if you watched it, did show exactly that. There was no comedy aimed at the sacred act, it was all about character. The satirist Marcus Brigstocke discussed it with her and he was gracious enough to consider her woundedness and reflect when she explained she was “bereaved”, although he did ask how long the bereavement lasted. (I thought Jesus was alive, but that’s just me, I suppose.)

If only Anne could show the same respect to Anil Gupta as Marcus did to her.

I am outraged. This programme which I didn’t see at the time had been forbidden to me – by whom? I may say that to me it was not offensive, was funny, and was in keeping with the series tone. In fact it was very clever.

I’ll skip quickly through the rest. Anne watched Life of Brian, which was considered by many to be outrageous at the time. She found it silly, childish and pointless. I agree with the first two, mostly. She wasn’t offended. She didn’t seem to consider that if something widely condemned and banned at the time can now be seen widely as being funny and making pertinent comments (George Carey said he found it very funny) and quite acceptable, then maybe Christians in the past have over-reacted – and that maybe some still do? There’s a reference about beams in eyes that comes to mind. Steve Punt made the incisive comment when he said that to understand eg the cheesemaker joke you needed to know the actual content of the Sermon on the Mount. Thus it is a joke for Christians, not about them.

Steve Punt also made the comment, on discussing the content of the Bible, that if Christianity and comedy are sometimes opposed, then in his opinion it was a fair fight due to the profile of “aggressive American creationists”. Some clips of Americans seemed to support his view. Punt also explained why he wrote comedy about Christianity and not Islam. His words were “I’m not entitled to, I don’t know enough about Islam”. This did seem to contradict Anne’s view that wider society has lost its Christian base knowledge.

Anne did find some religious comedy by Anil Gupta funny, notably the sequence about praying, from Citizen Khan. It seemed to me she was on very thin ice but I suppose it was being funny about Muslims so it was all right. I thought praying to Mecca was a sacred act, mind. Perhaps I’m wrong there. Maybe it was about character; some Muslims being stupid?

She was also amused by a 13th century beautifully illuminated copy of the Book of Psalms, which contained at the bottom of some of pages, cartoons added by the monks that were frankly filthy and disgusting. If there was any humour that offended me, it was this addition by Christians to copies of holy works. I guess you had to be there.

Anne found one or two Christians to agree with her position on comedy, and only George Carey to disagree. Many people had turned down her invitation to appear. Well it would mean meeting Anne, to be fair.

Interestingly she did not summarise the problem with any conclusions. It finished with Marcus sharing his favourite religious joke with her. She seemed to find it amusing.