Hidden Agendas

Well, there goes another week. I work serving lots of old people and they are fond of phrases such as “I can’t believe it’s the end of February already” and “It’ll be Christmas again before we know it” and we are hearing that all the time at the moment. (Actually, they are also quite keen on loud lectures about Brexit keeping “foreigners” out but we are working on them keeping that sort of thing to themselves as all those debates are not exactly adding to the gaiety of the nation at the moment) It is also difficult to believe that this time last year we were dealing with the Beast from the East as we have eaten breakfast at a cafe by the sea today – wearing sunglasses and pretending we are a bit cool.

It has been a fairly uneventful week. Aged Parent had what I think she would refer to as “a bit of a turn” but it seems that it had a lot to do with her trying to tidy out a clothes cupboard and getting a bit of dust on her chest. Either that or a new, slightly troubling development of putting meat into the slow cooker and eating it after eighteen hours because she has forgotten about it. As I was working, HOH went to see if she was ok and later I found a slightly exasperated message from him on my phone saying “Your mother is like Captain Scarlett – she is indestructable. She is downstairs in the coffee lounge gossiping about how much of a drain on the NHS the man in the flat upstairs is.”

Other than that I have spent a lot of the week being irritated by members of my own sex. There is the newspaper columnist who was complaining about having to give up smoking because she wouldn’t be able to stand outside the pub where all the interesting people are. Well, my Aged Parent has smoked on and off for most of her adult life. Once, when she had to have an X-Ray, they had to send for a specialist from Leeds to have a look at it because her lungs are so scarred, the doctors couldn’t decide if she had cancer or not. Interesting is not the word I would use.

That’s before we get to baby showers that cost £350, 000, female politicians who claim to be adults trolling other MPs or Instagram “Influencers” messing about with their photos making them impossibly glamorous and living lives more exciting than anyone could possibly live – thus making ordinary teenage girls feel even more inadequate than they already do. (HOH says that I am a bit hard on the Duchess of Sussex and that some of the criticism of her is rooted in racism. This is undoubtedly true but £350,000 is a lot of money and her Mother-in-Law – her Majesty the Queen to you and me – keeps leftover lamb in Tupperware in the fridge for goodness sake)

However, I just read an extract from a new book due in March. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. In it, the author Caroline Criado Perez examines how much of the world is physically designed for or naturally leans towards men – with dangerous results for women. For instance – she says that there is no mandatory rule that says some crash dummy tests should be on a female dummy. Consequently, we are not sure if seat belts are as safe as they could be for the female form. Gadgets are geared towards men – the average smartphone is 5.5 inches. It comfortably fits into a man’s hand but not a woman’s. Voice recognition on gadgets is 70% more likely to be able to understand you if you have a deep male voice. The standard symptoms for a heart attack – chest pains radiating down arm etc are more likely to be male. A female can often present with stomach pains, breathlessness and headache apparently. Who knew? Not me and this is obviously dangerous. And it has all gone on quietly forever. There is loads of this stuff. No wonder we women can be bonkers. It’s a jungle out there. (HOH would like me to stop slamming kitchen cupboards as he claims it is not his fault)

Does the world drive you mad when you think about it for too long? In a world where there are so many secret agendas, where churches are found to be conspirators in child abuse, where political parties embrace cultures which demonise the poor or certain races – even down to estate agents who engage in sharp practice as a matter of course (Don’t get me going) – I do geninely sometimes feel as if the ground under my feet may not be able to be trusted.

I have though taken some comfort from this verse in Isaiah – it isn’t glib – it doesn’t say that disappointing things won’t happen or that everyone is basically open hearted and trustworthy really- but here is a promise of something good, pure through and through without any side to it saying that despite everything that I or anyone else might do God means what he says. Works for me.

For even if the mountains walk away
    and the hills fall to pieces,
My love won’t walk away from you,
    my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart


Tombland by CJ Samson

This not a book to slip into your work handbag to have a bit of an idle through at lunch. You will put your shoulder out. It is 866 pages long. There was a bit of a moment in our house when I almost dropped it on the dog. He’s only a Jack Russell. I could have killed him.

I have read all the Shardlake books. To be honest, I thought the series might have finished. It is over four years since the last one was published. The series is set in Medieval England. It’s a crime series and the investigator is Matthew Shardlake – a lawyer with a back deformity. Although his back is often referred to – Shardlake refers to the pain he is often suffering and he is subject to a lot of nasty name calling – he is written as a heroic figure. He fights for the rights of the poor and oppressed, he has the ear of kings and queens and is respected by his peers and his friends. This appears to make him very attractive – and, although he is usually alone – many ladyships and queens seem happy to flutter their hankies in his direction. (Not a euphemism). Imagine him as a sort of George Clooney with a cushion stuffed up the back of his jumper.

All the books are based around factual historical people and events and the stories bounce fictional Shardlake in and out of events you will know well – a bit like that annoying couple in the Titanic film. So, in one book he manages to get himself stuck on the Mary Rose at the least convenient time, in another, he is arrested on false charges and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He serves Cromwell and Henry VIII as well as a few random royal relatives with varying degress of sucess.

What he is good at is detecting. He chases serial killers like a dog chasing a ball. In this novel Shardlake is investigating a nasty murder on behalf of the Boleyn family. Elizabeth – daughter of Ann Boleyn and destined to find even more fame by doggedly outlasting everyone else and therefore getting to be the Queen, has called upon him for assistance.

He follows the clues to Norwich and finds himself in the middle of the Robert Ketts Norfolk rebellion. For me, the story really comes into its own here. The historical detail and the background to the rebellion is excellent. The human face of the rebels who were losing land and livelihoods to illegal enclosures is really well drawn. Happy endings are a bit thin on the ground.

This is a stone cold, bang on, page turner. It’s long but you can race through it – not in a bad way. Some of the deaths are really quite graphic and I have been known to skirt over them a bit. Everytime I read a Shardlake I find myself thinking that, actually, it is more of the same and it is true that it’s not a book I would like to treasure on a bookshelf for the rest of my days but, if CJ Sansom writes any more, I’ll be there with my book tokens in my hand and a shopping trolley to help me get it home.


Hello. Welcome back. It has been a week of very little happening. I have turned up for work on a regular basis as it seems to be expected and I have watched a lot of football, with varying degrees of satisfaction.
Valentine’s Day came and went without comment at Martha Towers – which is how we like it. I listened to a lady telling how she does a full Valentine’s Tea for her small children, including Valentine’s cards, chocolate hearts, streamers, fairy lights etc. Not for the first time, I wonder if I was a neglectful mother as, again not for the first time, I come across something that would never have occured to me. I considered telling you that the rather lovely heart shaped crumpets above were my gift to the long suffering HOH but my highly developed Christian scruples make me tell you that they were a gift to me from a company I have worked with. They were delicious and I even let HOH have two. He ate his with baked beans. Is that normal? Either way, I don’t think it is particularly romantic

Hurrah! Endeavour is back! He is very welcome but I’m not so sure about the moustache. I expect it is meant to signify something. It puts about 20 years on Morse. I hope he is still ok solving crimes. That moustache looks like one of those things you find in alien movies that are actually secretly plugged into people’s brains which they are then secretly sucking the life out of. Too much? I do like Endeavour but I spend every episode  waiting for something nasty to happen to his beloved boss Fred Thursday. I feel like they have been signposting it for about three series now. The thing with Morse is that we know how it is going to end for him. We know he’s not going to die horribly because he’s going to turn into John Thaw later and, as is the way in these things, someone usually has to leave us in a particularly nasty way.

To turn on a sixpence – Shamima Begum has given everyone pause for thought this week. The possible return of someone who has spent time as a willing and enthusiastic member of ISIS has prompted much soul searching and it is far more complicated that anything this blog can sort. However just a few thoughts

It was truly shocking to hear that she has no remorse for her involvement in ISIS. For her the biggest disappointment is that the caliphate has failed. She claims to be unaffected by the atrocities she witnessed

There are facts that cannot be disputed. A cursory glance at the history of the Yazidis in this region shows countless stories of violence, sexual slavery and mass murder. The individual stories are heatbreaking. Men watching their wives and daughters sold as sexual slaves – treated as less than nothing. There was a selling process and people were made to pose with their price. Fathers and sons were executed en masse. And children. There is little doubt that Shamima Begum knew all about this before she set off. It was common knowledge on the sites that she followed. She wants to come back to Britain because her baby needs to be looked after. She does not want to return to atone for anything.

Much has been made of her age when she left and the fact that she is a woman. There is little doubt that grooming took place. However, I think we have to take her at her word. It is perhaps patronising and sexist to say that she didn’t know her own mind. Women have said, in my opinion quite rightly, that they wish to be treated as equals. We can’t hide behind our sex when it is time to take responsibility for our actions. She is not a schoolgirl any more.

And yet. The thing is, the next thing that should follow is forgiveness and a chance for rehabilitation. Although maybe not in that order. Or at least that’s what I think. We witter on about love and forgiveness as if it is as natural as breathing when, in fact, it is the most difficult thing in the world. And annoyingly enough, the people who need our forgiveness sometimes don’t intially show any interest in being found and rescued. But those of us who know about God and redemption know that isn’t really the point.

Romans 5 v 6-8

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

A Week

Hello. You may look at the photo above and think you have accidentally stumbled upon an Instagram Fine Dining account but you would be wrong. This is a photo of my tea and I am not ashamed to say that it is Mackerel. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm is not shared by any members of my family so I have to cook it when no-one else is around and even then I have to I have to make it with the back door open because apparently it makes the whole kitchen small of fish. I sent photos of my masterpiece to my family and received the following replies

FOW1 – “Cough” (Because he reckons it makes his throat close up)

FOW2 – “That would be Instagram worthy – IF IT DIDN’T HAVE A BIG SLAB OF MACKEREL ON IT!”

HOH – “Does the kitchen still smell”?

I do not need to canvas Aged Parent on this. She has already informed me many many times that mackerel are “The Dustbin of the Seas” which – for her – means that they are constantly hanging around sewerage pipes for their food which they obviously then pass on to me.

I am writing this while watching the BAFTAs and occasionally shaking my fist at the telly in annoyance. I am not really a fan of awards ceremonies because, when it comes to this kind of thing, I am right and other people are wrong and I find this troubling. I also probably abdicate my right to be too strident as, these days, I only bother watching films that I fancy. For example, I didn’t bother with Bohemian Rhapsody. My friend went to see it and said it was ok but the best bits were the music. I was never a big fan of Queen so, if the music was the best reason to go, not much point me showing up. Q.E.D.

So, if I wander off piste a bit I am trying to keep one eye on the frocks. I do love a frock. I think Princess Kate is winning so far.

I hope you have had a decent week. We are sort of trying to sell the house but have been so unhappy with the estate agents, we have backed off a bit. Apparently Brexit is affecting the market although no-one can actually explain why that should be. Without mentioning any names I have been astonished at what has amounted to borderline sharp practice by the estate agent. I am too young and innocent for this world.

Bits of culture I have done this week. We went to see the film “Can you ever forgive me?” Highly recommended. It’s a true-ish story about an author who hits hard times and finds a way to earn money by forging literary letters and selling them top collectors. Mellisa Macarthy and Richard E Grant are both brilliant in it. That’s it really.

Also on Friday, I went to Exeter on the train to see FOW2 , when the waves from Storm Erik had subsided enough to let the train through Dawlish. (Can I just ask again – I know Brexit and high speed rail and keeping up with Boris’ love life are trials and time consuming but – when it rains – there are no trains to Devon or Cornwall. NO TRAINS! Could you possibly look at it again. Please!) We went to the theatre and saw Miles Jupp in The Life I Lead. It’s a one man show celebrating the life of David Tomlinson; probably best known for his role as the father in Mary Poppins. He seemed to be a lovely man dealing with sucess and tragedy and we really enjoyed it. We were laughing like drains one minute then drawing breath at the awfulness of the things that happened to him. If you get the chance – you should see it. He lived a life full of love and joy and it is life affirming.

Aged Parent managed to fit us into her busy schedule. Eventually.

Me: I tried to phone – have you been out?

AP: Yes I went to see Ros in her flat

Me: Oh is she ok?

AP: Oh yes. Well she opened the door in her nightie and said she wasn’t feeling that well and was going to bed so I went in and sat with her for a couple of hours. I could tell that she needed some company.

Me: She must have been thrilled.

AP: I like to help if I can

As I think I may have said before – I often regret that fact that I seem to have inherited none of my mother’s rock solid self confidence

PS – I have just checked in the kitchen just before HOH gets home from work and it does indeed smell of fish! Ha!

Have a good week.

Light and Dark

Well that went well. The South West of England was suprised by snow despite Tomas Schafernaker and that weather man with the beard that looks like it has been pencilled in, warning us about it all week. Consequently about a hundred people were stuck in snow drifts on the way home and Cornwall council has had to answer many forthright and indeed frank questions about where the snowploughs were. Actually I think Devon and Cornwall only have a couple. Not much call for them usually. Normal service has been resumed now and we look forward to a week of rain, cloud and mild temperatures that my husband insists will lead to a mosquito invasion.

I have spent a week being vexed by the Internet. I have looked at beautiful young people’s photographs on the news and wept as fathers and mothers have stared bewildered into cameras as they come to terms with the idea that their babies were following suicide sites in various places and then ended their lives. I have watched them wrestle with guilt, that they didn’t see the signs but how could they? The young people didn’t need to speak to their parents. They had “friends” online who secretly shared their pain. It was truly awful.

On a different level of irritation I watched a Christian leader of my acquaintance adding to the general gaiety of the situation by putting a comment on Facebook along the lines of “The way to deal with your personal pain is to forget about yourself and help others.”

Now there are several things going on here. The first thing to say is that I know what he means. (I hope). There is certainly something to be said for not becoming self absorbed. If lots of us took the energy we waste wondering what other people think of us and poured it into supporting others, I do believe that lots of us would feel a great deal better about ourselves and there wouldn’t be such a struggle to find people to wash up after communion. The fields are white unto the harvest and it would help a lot if people stopped pouting on Instagram and did a few action choruses in Sunday school. (As Jesus almost said – very nearly)

However, Social Media is a funny thing. It takes a certain skill to make a pithy, engaging and edifying remark in two lines. It’s a skill Beth Moore has and Anne Lamott. Lots of people think they can do it and fancy the idea of making their mark – getting something they said re-tweeted and hopefully eventually embroidered into a sampler. It’s a dangerous game.

This week Megachurch pastor Jim Howard took his own life after a long battle with mental illness. It does no-one any favours to seem to suggest that really, all that was needed was for him to throw himself into his work a little more. And, although, I think that was never the intention, more care is needed.

Some of this comes from an older culture where Christian leaders are neither supported or challenged. I remember a time when those who were in leadership in the church were put on pedestals so high, it would give you a crick in your neck just to have a look at them. Some of them believed their own publicity. I remember years ago a preacher shouting that anyone not being challenged by his sermon was “under the influence of WITCHCRAFT!” (The last word being bellowed at top pitch) It would not have been acceptable to point out that it was more likely that we were being infuenced by the sermon being boring nonsense.

Things may be changing though. The pastor on Social Media faced a lot of questions about his statement and had to clarify his thoughts. And the disturbing fact of a pastor taking his own life has been met with sympathy rather than a lot of guilty behind your hand clearing of throats. We should never underestimate the impact of the darkness that people are in but also that, God is aware of the depth of the darkness. There’s a bit in Luke – a prayer by Zachariah, that always seems to me a good description of the darkness some people are in but also, unlikely as it may seem, a way forward. Gently, slowly and step by step to a place where peace once again seems possible.

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.