Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Racism: Who or what is to blame?

       Evolution? 

       If ever there was an argument for Creation, the idea that humans just evolved - some races more gradually than others – must take the biscuit.  Dismissing the belief that ‘mankind’ was made in God’s image surely led to the atrocities of the slave trade, undertaken by so-called godly men who claimed their captives were ‘not quite human’.  (How they squared that with the Book of Genesis, which says we all descended from Adam and Eve, has never been explained.)

       Adding insult to injury, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution led to his cousin Francis Galton developing the concept of eugenics, so favoured by Hitler and the Nazi regime with catastrophic results.

The Bible?

       On the other hand, racism – especially against Africans – has been blamed on the Bible which, they say, condemns black people to slavery. The scripture most commonly used to support this travesty is in Genesis 9:25 where Noah is quoted as saying: “Cursed be Canaan. Let him become the lowest slave to his brothers.”  However, this verse doesn’t mention skin colour. Instead, the curse was made against Ham’s son due to a shocking act which he perpetrated against Noah while the older man was inebriated.

       It helps, of course, to identify who Canaan’s descendants actually were. Not black, but with paler complexions, Canaanites settled by the Mediterranean in land later occupied by Israel and surrounding Arab nations. They eventually came under divine judgement because of their depraved practices and rites, including child sacrifice. Most were wiped out by the Israelites, and those Canaanites who survived were forced into labour by their conquerors, so fulfilling Noah’s curse.
       As for the black races, these did not descend from Canaan but from another of Ham’s sons,  Cush, whose own offspring included Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteca (Gen 10:6,7) When mentioned in later portions of the Bible, the term Cush corresponds to Ethiopia, while Seba refers to people in Eastern Africa.

       The Bible offers no basis whatsoever for racism or apartheid in any form. On the contrary,  in Acts 10:34,35, the apostle Peter states that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”




Friday, 16 January 2015

Anti-Semitism: How did it originate?

Hundreds of French Jews moving to Israel in wake of Jihadist attacks; 6,000 Jews emigrated in 2014.
Jewish schools close in Belgium and Holland after terror alerts
54% of British Jews feel they have no future in Britain; 45% feel their families are threatened by Islamic extremism
35% increase in anti-Semitism in Britain
45% of Britons agreed with at least one ant-Semitic statement put to them during a YouGov pol such as “Jews chase money more than other people” (endorsed by a whopping 25%), and “Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other Britons” (20%)
White House voices alarm at surge in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe
According to one American Evangelist, even “the institutional church has sinned through much of its history and has much to answer for at the Judgment, especially for the anti-Semitism practiced against the Jewish people.”
Why is there so much hatred towards the Jewish race? Some might point to modern Israel’s role in the Middle East, particularly in view of recent bloodshed in Palestine.
But anti-Semitism goes beyond politics and present day conflicts. Hatred of the Jewish race has been raising its ugly head for centuries. So let’s examine why many people feel justified in holding anti-Semitic views.
Jews killed Jesus
Some so-called Christians blame the Jews for Jesus’ death. However, the New Testament reveals that Jesus was greatly esteemed by the ordinary people. Opposition to his teachings came almost entirely from religious leaders such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was particularly hated by Israel’s High Priest Caiaphas, whose hypocrisy Jesus exposed and who no doubt suffered financial loss after Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple.  
Alarmed by the crowds who listened to Jesus, Caiaphas also feared this man’s teachings would be viewed as insurrection by occupying Roman forces, provoking armed intervention and a subsequent a loss of power for him and his cohorts.  The die was cast. Eventually, following a mockery of a trial at the Sanhedrin, Jesus was handed over to the Romans for execution.
How ironic that it was his genuine popularity with ordinary Jewish people that led to Jesus’ death. Significantly, most of his followers were Galileans warm, humble people who were subject to prejudice from the highly educated, haughty Judeans of Jerusalem. So who were the hordes clamouring for Jesus death?
Matthew reveals that the crowd was incited by “the chief priests and older men.” (Matthew 27:20) What lie could they have told to whip up such hostility? Perhaps it was the lie earlier presented at Jesus’ trial and repeated during his execution - that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple. (Matthew 26:60,61; John 2:19-21))
Careful examination of the Gospel accounts clearly proves that the Jews as a race were not to blame for Jesus’ death. As usual, it was the politicians and religious leaders of the day who found his teachings ‘inconvenient’!
Jews caused the plague
Another old chestnut involves the Bubonic plague which ravaged Europe in Medieval times. In her book ‘Invisible Enemies’, Jeanette Farrell writes: “The plague gave this hatred an excuse, and the hatred gave people’s fear of the plague a focus.” 
As a result of this hatred, entire Jewish communities in Spain, France and Germany were slaughtered, even though the real cause of the disease was rats.
Germany’s WW! Defeat
During the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War II, while Rudolf Hoess, Nazi Commander of Auschwitz concentration camp said: “Our military and ideological training took for granted that we had to protect Germany from the Jews.” (The Holocaust also gave Nazis an excuse to loot wealthy Jewish families)
Similar beliefs continue with ‘Jewish’ conspiracy theories throughout the US and, of course, the Middle East – although criticism of Israeli policies are not at issue here. Disagreeing with Israel’s policies does not make someone anti-Semitic.
So what does? Where did this hostility originate? There is an answer, one which may surprise you.
The ‘Seed’ – The real reason
The first prophecy ever uttered at Genesis 3:15 speaks of “enmity between (Satan) and the woman (God’s heavenly organisation) and between (Satan’s) offspring and (the woman’s) offspring.” Eventually, the woman’s offspring (Jesus) would put an end to Satan and all his followers.
In Luke 4:6, 7; John 14:30 and 1 John 5:19, Satan is identified as the ruler of the world. Bearing in mind that his greatest enemy is Almighty God, it’s hardly surprising that Satan hates anyone who loves God and supports His sovereignty.
Foremost amongst these is Abraham – a man so faithful he became known as “God’s friend.” Because of Abraham’s faith and unbreakable loyalty, God promised that the Messiah would come through his line via Sarah - and the Jewish race was conceived to become God’s fleshly nation and a “people for his name”.
A direct descendant of Abraham and Sarah, Jesus could trace his lineage through Judah, Jesse and King David, while all the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures - including the year of his arrival in 29CE (Daniel 9:24-26) - have proved beyond doubt that Jesus was the Messiah and the foretold King who will ultimately “crush Satan in the head”…….

A Jew!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Aladdin and his crew hit the sticks in Derbyshire!

"Just a few lines to say a MASSIVE "Thank You Very Much" for the 
BRILLIANT panto last night.
Everyone REALLY enjoyed it and we are full of admiration for your 
excellent and talented actors. How hard they worked with setting up, 
acting, singing, dancing and all the costume changes.
Please give our grateful thanks to everyone involved. 
How lovely it was to have a happy, family production with no swearing
and dreadful innuendos.
WELL DONE!!" – Linda, Community Centre Member



Cast of Aladdin and the Meanie Genie with fans
(L-R) Catherine Lakenby, Kirsteen Riddell, Rowen Cameron, Lee Farrell, James McCready
That's quite a review! Me? I'm relieved and delighted that the audience at my local community centre seemed to enjoy Act One Production's latest family panto: "Aladdin and the Meanie Genie".

Relieved? Well, as the writer of the original script, I do feel partly responsible for the end result. It's also nice to get some credit - though truth be known, Jule (our artistic director) penned a few gems herself before including our technical director and tour manager Nathan Turtle in the process. Jule has to keep on the right side of Nathan. He's the one who creates the magical special effects.  

In fact, as soon as the script was completed in March 2014, Nathan began working on the sound, lighting, scenery, music…..the lot! It's one thing for airy-fairy writers and imaginative directors to come up with gigglesome gags, bits of business and  mind-boggling stunts, but Nathan’s the person who makes things WORK! Fortunately, he's a Maestro, totally dedicated to his task, despite being an entertainer in his own right. Poor chap hadn't had any time off since March and was looking forward to just a couple of days before it all kicks in again for 2015! 

Jule's no slouch either. As a theatre director she is certainly inventive, wildly creative and occasionally off-the-wall. The rest of us merely run UP it - especially when she insists on not just one but THREE elephants, a talking Dandelion,  and the now ubiquitous donkey! Arrrgggghhhhh! Yet somehow, it all comes together.

Another gift Jule possesses - talent-spotting. Auditions can be fraught with actors' schedules and tricky travelling arrangements (after a disastrous 'virtually' casting session last year, Skype is no longer an option except in extreme circumstances). Yet, every year, Jule finds just the right people....usually young, enthusiastic and brimming with bravado. Well, they have to be brave with some of the stunts they’re given to do! They also have to be in-tune with Jule's vision, and each actor is encouraged to bring their own ideas to the pot, so every production is a joint venture.

The cast and crew (i.e. Nathan) for Aladdin were amazing. (I'm using the past tense as, by the time this blog appears, they'll have completed the tour and gone their separate ways....hopefully towards other excellent roles in the future). To my mind, panto is perfect training for actors, demanding physical skills, mental dexterity, the ability to improvise and perfect timing. The five professionals chosen for Aladdin were excellent singers too.

Aladdin is the first panto to be stage in my own neighbourhood....and Derbyshire folk are not the easiest audiences to please. Fortunately, after a brief jollying-along by Nathan, my fellow citizens and their tots got into the swing of things, the only glitch being when the Dame stuck a sink-plunger on a man's head. Although the guy himself didn’t seem to mind, his protective pre-school daughter objected in NOOOO uncertain terms! 

For me, the highlight was a marionette scene when Ebanazer pulled invisible strings to make the beautiful Princess Jasmine dance! Inspired!

My young friend Tyra (aged 10) and her grandma were equally impressed, especially on learning that the amazing flow of characters were played by just FIVE people - a technical feat in itself!

And everybody clapped! Phew! Thanks to Nathan's wizardry and the cast's terrific performances, I can really hold my head up in the village!

Thank you Act One Productions. I'm SOOOOO proud of you!

Contact: Jule Watson at Act One Productions


Artistic Director: Jule Watson
Technical & Tour Director: Nathan Turtle
Cast: James McCready, Kirsteen Riddell, Rowen Cameron, Lee Farrell, Catherine Lakenby



Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Why the Pope? Is Christendom's clergy scriptural?

       “Pope Francis is a humble man who believes he is infallible” – Professor Garry Wills
      Soon after the present Pontiff was elected, religious writer Professor Garry Wills claimed on BBC Radio 4 that there’s no scriptural basis for the Pope - or, for that matter, any Christian clergy.
       He should know what he’s talking about. As a Roman Catholic, educated by Jesuits, Garry once considered the priesthood himself, but settled instead for academia, eventually becoming Emeritus Professor of History at Northwestern University.  His controversial new book “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition” questions the supposed line of descent from the Apostle Peter whom may Catholics claim was the first Pope, quoting Matthew 16:18 as their basis:  “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.
       According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, however, the term used for ‘a mass of rock’ is the Greek word ‘Pe’tra’ (feminine gender) which denotes a mass of rock rather than ‘Pe’tros(masculine gender) meaning a detached stone or boulder that can be thrown or easily removed:  “Here  the distinction between Petra, concerning the Lord Himself, and Pe'tros, the Apostle, is clear.”
       Another Bible commentator writes, “That the apostles did not understand Jesus’ statement to signify Peter was the rock-mass is evident from the fact that they later disputed about who seemed to be the greatest amongst them. (Mark 9:33-35) There would have been no basis for such disputing had Peter been given the primacy as the rock-mass on which the congregation was to be built.
       ‘The scriptures clearly show that as foundation stones, all the apostles are equal. All of them, including Peter, rest upon Christ Jesus as the foundation cornerstone. (Eph 2:19-22; Re 21:2, 9-14) Peter himself identified the rock-mass (pe’tra) on which the congregation is built as being Christ Jesus.” (1 Pe 2:4-8)
       Having originally believed Peter to be the ‘rock-mass, even ‘Saint’ Augustine (354-430 CE) later changed his view, saying: “The rock is not so named from Peter, but Peter from the rock (non enim a Petro petra, sed Petrus a petra), even as Christ is not so called after the Christian after Christ.  For the reason why the Lord says, ‘On this rock I will build my church,’ is that Peter had said: ‘Though art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ On this rock which thou hast confessed, says he, I will build my church. For Christ was the rock (petra enim erat Christus), upon which also Peter himself was built; for other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Mt 16:18 ftn, p.296) Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976.
       A further line of argument against a clergy class, mentioned by Prof Wills, is that by giving his life ‘once for all time’ as the ultimate sacrifice (He 9:11-14) Jesus became the sole mediator between God and humans, abolishing the need for a priesthood to offer sacrifices for the people on a regular basis.
       But perhaps one of the most telling comments is by Jesus himself who, in Mt 23:6-10, puts himself at odds with many religious leaders, ancient and modern:
       “Do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the Heavenly One. Neither be called ’leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.” 


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Priests-A-Failed-Tradition/dp/0670024872 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Is Catholic vow of celibacy scriptural?

       
       Australian Catholic Church claims priests’ vow of celibacy may be linked to child abuse.
       26 Italian women in loving relationships with Catholic priests urge Pope Francis to relax the celibacy rule.

       No doubt about it, the papal view of celibacy has caused misery for many people over hundreds of years. But is it scriptural? Does God really demand that priests (and nuns) forego the natural joys of marriage and parenthood? A simple view of the Bible and early Christian teaching will answer these questions: 
     
Doctrine from devils?

       According to the New Jerusalem Bible: “The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron: they forbid marriage and prohibit foods which God created to be accepted with thanksgiving by all who believe and who know the truth.” (1Timothy 4:1-3)

Doctrine from Jesus?
       
       Even Pope Paul VI, a pontiff not generally noted for liberal thinking, admitted in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (Priestly Celibacy, 1967) that “the New Testament which preserves the teaching of Christ and the Apostles….does not openly demand celibacy of sacred ministers…..Jesus Himself did not make it a prerequisite in His choice of the Twelve, nor did the Apostles for those who presided over the first Christian communities.” – The Papal Encyclicals 1958-1981 (Falls Church, Va.; 1981), p.204.

Doctrine from Peter and apostles?

       Considering that Simon Peter** was married (Mark 1:29-31) as were the rest of the apostles along with Jesus’ fleshly brothers and first century ‘bishops’ (1Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:2), then the Catholic church has no real basis for insisting that priests should be celibate, a doctrine that must surely be partly responsible for the shocking incidence of child abuse by various clergy.

The Apostle Peter, thought by Catholics to be the first Pope, was a married man
Doctrine from Paul?

       Obviously, Christian teaching has never endorsed celibacy except when freely espoused by its adherents. The apostle Paul, while outlining the benefits of singleness, also advised it was “better to marry than to burn.” (1 Corinthians 7:9) The ultimate authority, of course, was Jesus Christ who described singleness as a ‘gift’ for which “not all men can make room.” (Matthew 19:11)
       “Celibacy was commonly practiced before the Christian era by Buddhist priests and monks, and even earlier by the higher orders of the Babylonian priesthood” – The Two Babylons by A. Hislop. P.219
*See also:




**Peter was also known as Cephas – (John 1:42)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Monte Carlo or bust!

Extract from “The Haunting of a Favourite Son” by Noel Hodson*. Childhood memories of holiday journeys – being driven round the bend by a rally-mad dad!
Edwin Hodson with his TR4 which he drove in the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally
“Though Father had not yet embarked on his racing and rallying activities he took every opportunity to practice winning. Every car journey was to him a competitive event. With a big family he bought big second-hand cars. We had a black Wolsey, the familiar ‘forties police car. We had a pale-green Rover with a Viking ship on its nose. We had a great Jaguar, racing green with wide running boards and huge free-standing headlamps that Father and I toured Scotland in together. We had an Austin Sheerline, an immense machine with built in under-floor hydraulic jacks and a secret emergency petrol tank that could be switched to from inside the car. These sedate family cars became high revving, Formula One racing machines in Father’s hands. 
A holiday would start with the loading procedures, Father was tidy and precise;“Shipshape and Bristol Fashion,” as he put it.
Luggage for up to six children and two adults takes a lot of space. Father despised roof racks for aerodynamic reasons. At least two of the children, at any one time, would suffer acutely from travel sickness, exacerbated by the real leather, the real wood, the anxiety, the tension and, when in flight, the bucketing, pitching and rolling at maximum speed. Father, as driver and captain, had the most space. He needed room to hold his arms straight – as good racing technique demands, he needed clear space around him to ensure his lightning fast reflexes were not obstructed, and he needed clear views in all directions. 
Mother was installed in the front passenger seat, apprehensive but silent at this stage. This was before the government decided to insult the inherent skills and good sense of all drivers by insisting on cars having safety belts, so there were no entanglements of that sort to be accommodated. Under her legs would go a suitcase and on her lap would go the youngest child. The boot would be hard-packed with cases and slammed tight. The remaining children and luggage would be crammed into the rear seat and on the floor. Older children would baggsie a corner seat with window, though we were mostly too short to see out, and the younger ones would end up perched on suitcases in the middle of the seats. Sometimes we took the dog with us just to make up the numbers.
Mother would become deeply silent and pale. Father checked the car, checked the house, checked the weather, re-checked the house, used the loo, then did a roll call and then started the engine. At which point Mother would say tensely, “You will drive carefully won’t you Edwin?”
And he would reply “Hrrrummphh!! Hrrumph!! Of course dear, of course.” 
Only in towns and built up areas was there a speed limit. There were no motorways, dual carriageways were rare and the ubiquitous lethal three-lane highways to death were highly regarded. On a modern map the journey from Stockport to Llandudno looks short enough and safe enough. In the late ‘forties, on twisting country roads, through market towns, up hill and down dale, in a loaded car weighing two tons, with primitive brakes, puking, bitching children and an increasingly hysterical wife; it was a long, long way. Several times we made the thirteen-hour trip to Cornwall; and of course, back again. 
But Father never wavered in his parental duty to get us to the holiday destination as rapidly as possible, dead or alive. On one return journey, with the car bucking and heaving with the terrified family, racing up the busy Chester Road to Manchester, Father dancing the car past all lesser mortals and dodging into spaces two feet shorter than the car at seventy miles an hour, we were followed and were eventually stopped by a police car. The policemen looked perplexedly into the jammed interior. There was no question of exceeding speed limits, as there were none.
“Where did you learn to drive, Sir?” said an officer in a neutral tone, and before Father, shrinking into his seat, could answer…
“…We’ve been following for about five miles, and couldn’t keep up, Sir. You passed four lorries back there into oncoming traffic, Sir,…” He paused then continued admiringly
“...And I’d swear the back of your car shrank as it went through the gap! Mind how you go, Sir.” 
Half an hour into a journey, as we left the relative sanity of thirty-mile-limits behind us and as Father swooped past all other road users at frantic speed, Mother’s nerve would start to fail and she would launch into an endless critique of his driving and a continuous prophecy of doom.
“Slow down Edwin! You’ll kill us all. You’ll kill all these children. Oh my God, you nearly hit that van then. Look, he’s shaking his fist at us. Oh My God, you’re going too fast. If you don’t slow down now Edwin, I’m getting out at the next police station and I’ll have you arrested. Look Out! Look Out! Those lights are on red. Can’t you see? Can’t you see? Oh you’re NOT going to try to overtake here are you. You’re a madman. Stop the car Edwin – I’m going to turn you in. I will I swear it. I’ll see you in prison for the way you’re driving. Oh Holy Mother of God save us – look out! look out! he’s pulling out...” 
And on and on she would wail. 
Father would completely and utterly ignore her and our headlong flight would continue, with squealing tyres, booming exhaust, opposite lock, braking on a sixpence and with all the excitement of Le Mans until an inner-seat child was sick. Inner because the outer children, before they spewed-up usually had time to wind down the window, stick their heads out and, if they didn’t get their heads knocked off by a passing branch or fence or car, they could happily retch and watch the bile liquid spatter onto the rear wing and make its way with the full-speed slipstream round onto the boot. Most journeys ended with both sides of the car thus redecorated and two retching, wretched children in danger of falling out of the back windows as Father negotiated a double-chicane on opposite lock with masterly skill. But Father’s fastidiousness overcame his racing instincts if a child threatened to spew inside the car. By long experience he had learned that sick over his luggage was unpleasant and took a lot of cleaning; so a heaving child without access to a window, could, in extreme circumstances, bring the express journey to a halt. We would all pile out, shivering from the shock of continuous vomiting for a breath of clean air with no sick fumes and Mother would become silent again, gripping the passenger bar and staring palely and tight lipped into the far purple mists of the Welsh mountains still ahead of us.
As he rid himself of the obligation of ferrying his wife and six children, driving fast became Father’s overriding passion and in nineteen-sixty-two when I was nineteen and he would be forty-eight or so, Triumph fitted his two-seater TR4A with engine number one and made him leader of their rally team for the Liège-Rome-Liège Rally. Later that year he also privately entered the car, red, low and lethally quick, in the Monte-Carlo Rally that then still ran on public roads, mostly through ice and snow, from Edinburgh or London and other European capitals, across France, into the French Alps, through the cols and over the peaks, and down after three days and nights of frantic driving, without sleep, to the warmth of Monte Carlo. Of course this event required preparation and practice. The car was equipped with six additional spotlights plus an adjustable spotlight on the roof for examining snow covered French signposts. The engine was tuned to perfection and a new copper straight-through exhaust added, to give it tone. Racks were welded on to help carry the four spare wire wheels fitted with spiked ice tyres. This was Father’s twelfth or thirteenth entry as a private competitor and he spurned the modern, dependent, corporate idea of a support team in a van carrying all the spares they might need. 
Perhaps in late latent revenge for the locked lavatory, or more charitably, maybe stirred by a distant feeling for what other father’s seemed to do with their sons, Father invited me one rare snowy evening to accompany him on a practice run. He had to use every snow and ice hour that came, to test and hone his driving skills. 
We burbled menacingly out onto the deserted roads of Alderley Edge as snow fell heavily and silently in the darkness. In the passenger seat I was confronted by technical instruments screwed roughly onto the fascia and an additional horn button – all aids to the navigator. The large red horn was to relieve the navigator’s mounting tensions and terrors as the car hurtled into blind corners on sheet ice, on public roads, often with a thousand foot drop at the side. Airplane cockpit type harnesses pinned us into our seats. We turned towards Prestbury and growled through the deepening snow as all the Manchester millionaires withdrew into their mansions and turned up the heating – this was no night to be out and about. The road took us through Macclesfield and up into the narrow stony lanes of the Pennines. As we passed the last terraced cottages Father opened the throttle and fed full power into the new snow tyres, that span and spat grit and stones viciously as the rear of the car snaked and slithered and the exhaust boomed its challenge to all comers. 
I pitied the would-be navigator who would sit in this madly bucking seat for three days, inside the protective steel cage welded under the roof, all the way to Monte Carlo, head buried in maps and shouting warnings of what twists and dangers the road ahead presented. We shot up the narrow main road towards Whaley Bridge, slipping and sliding into hairpin bends at sixty miles an hour to skid through them sideways, wheels on opposite-lock, relying on the power of the engine to the rear wheels to thrust the car forward in the right direction at the correct split second, and to avoid cannoning into the murderous black rocks flanking the road. Exciting stuff on the main road but far too easy for Father. At the Highwayman Inn, lighted but closed up and deserted, we turned off into narrow lanes, past the stone inscribed with the mystery of the death of a faithless husband, and scrambled and scraped at dizzying speed through the lanes towards the forbidding and mournful Goyt Valley and its vast, deep black reservoir, as the snow fell ever faster. Now the spotlights came into their own. On a good straight the TR4A would rocket up to seventy or eighty miles an hour making it important to be able to see at least a little way ahead. Brakes were of course completely useless at those speeds; the driver had to rely on rapid gear down-shifts and screaming deceleration to reduce to speeds where we stood the slightest chance of chewing the car through the next unsympathetic bend. The eight lights streamed ahead of us into the snow laden air, forging a fabulous white, glowing, dreamlike tunnel through the black night; a tunnel that we fell down, faster and ever faster. Father, hands in his lap, spun the steering wheel from below at an impossible rate, passing it through his dancing fingers. ‘Never, never, never cross your hands when you are driving’. He would advise his absent audience and whoever happened to be in the car at the time. 
Not all of that part of the Pennines is uninhabited. There are remote hamlets, lonely farms and gaunt isolated houses with immovable rusted gates set into unwelcoming stone, blackened by the industrial revolution. The taciturn and hill toughened locals mostly have the wisdom to lock their doors and stay off the roads in snowstorms. But sometimes, just sometimes, they have to venture forth. Thus it was, as we thundered down to Wild Boar Clough, through a snow tunnel on one of the rare straight stretches, at eighty miles an hour, with eight headlights searing through the snow tunnel, with the narrow lane reduced to less than a single track by new snow banked down from the walls, banked over the rocks and spread blanket like on the verges, that the local district nurse, out on an errand of mercy, nervously steered her black Morris Minor 1000 through a right angled bend in the snowy night and came face-to-face with us at the bottom of our straight run. Our six spotlights and the two headlights were all full on. As we plummeted towards her, every minute feature of herself and her car’s interior was blindingly illuminated. She was driving, sensibly, at about five miles an hour, we were plummeting down at her at eighty miles an hour and behind her was an unforgiving, craggy rock-face that marked the tight bend that she had, a moment ago and a lifetime away, so carefully negotiated, little suspecting that within a split second she would be in the limelight and facing total annihilation. 
I knew that our time had come and was able to reflect briefly on my short life and its adventurous end. I could hear Stephen Court, my long headed, fatherless, young-fogey friend who owned the shoe-shop on Heaton Moor Road and who warned us constantly of the apocalyptic Yellow Peril that would soon invade the district and who greatly admired Father’s driving, breathing in his hushed slow baritone, ‘Magnificent’ as they untangled the tortured red metal and chrome lights from the Triumph embedded in the staid black metal of the Morris, and tried to reconstruct the deconstructed people. I dispassionately noted the hairs on the mole on the District Nurse’s completely startled face, the minor red veins in her popping blue eyes and the wording on her jaunty little hat. The phrase ‘Rabbit in the headlights’ came easily to mind. She in her turn could see nothing. She was blinded by the light and transfixed by panic. Instinctively, and some might say, intelligently, the District Nurse stopped her car in the middle of the snowbound lane.
 Father, hands flying from steering wheel to light switches to gear stick, feet tap-dancing back and forth to effect a double de-clutch, feather the brakes and modulate the accelerator, muttered “Bloody Fool.” at the hapless nurse, flipped the red missile, TR4A, engine number one, up the snow bank on our left, on my side of the track, at a forty-five degree angle, where the ground miraculously held firm, around the paralysed Morris Minor and its briefly illuminated woman driver and down again into the roadway with just enough time and space, about forty yards, to get the hurtling vehicle into a sideways drift at ever reducing velocity, into the right-angle of the bend, from where we screamed out again in second gear, full power to the bucking and slithering back wheels, to regain the speed the bloody fool of a nurse, now plunged back into total darkness and undoubtedly composing a UFO report, had lost us by freezing-up in the middle of the track at such a crucial moment. On a racecourse, such as at Oulton Park, her obstruction could have cost a split-second - and the winner’s laurels.
“If only…” Father might say,
“…if only people would learn to drive properly before they took to the Queen’s highways, the world would be a better, happier and a safer place.” 
Some years later, as a Justice of the Peace on the Bench, to Mother’s eternal embarrassment, Father enjoyed a moment of infamy. He was interviewed on TV by the fearsome, merciless intellectual Bernard Levin, and was caricatured in the Daily Express by the famous cartoonist Giles, for refusing to try motorists who exceeded the new seventy-miles-an-hour speed limit; on the logical grounds that if everyone drove at that same low speed, they would lose concentration, drive in convoys and it would cause Motorway pile-ups, killing God only knows how many district nurses in the ensuing chaos. And who, apart from Bernard Levin, in the light of subsequent events, could assert that he was wrong? - a Prophet in his own time and country. And we, the loyal family even including Mother, after full consideration, concluded that Bernard Levin had at last met his match.”








Saturday, 22 November 2014

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

       Believe it or not, there are millions of people who don’t. Yet one 6-year old at our local primary school was almost lynched recently after telling her classmates there was no such person.*  
       In the interests of inclusivity, the same school once tried to rename the seasonal celebrations as ‘Winterval’ only to meet with howls of disapproval from its nominally Christian parents. Despite their own pew-eschewing ways, they proved surprisingly touchy about this issue. 
       So what is Christmas and why do people feel obliged to re-mortgage their homes to celebrate it? Why do harassed Mums (sorry, but it’s usually Mums) spend hours preparing food that doesn’t get eaten and buying gifts that nobody wants?


      The early Christians refused to set aside a date marking Jesus’ birth” because they wanted “to divorce themselves from all pagan practices.” – The Christian Book of Why

       Some people (surprisingly not as many as you might think) point to the birth of Jesus - surely the world’s longest surviving infant, confined as he is to a cradle year after year. There’s just one small problem with that; Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th December, not by a long chalk. Bible scholars have been unable to find the date of his birth in any of the gospels; however, as Jesus was 33½ years old when he died, he must have been born around October/November, which makes sense, considering the shepherds were still living outdoors at the time.

      According to The Encyclopedia Americana, December 25th may have been chosen “to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun’.” This also corresponds with the Roman Saturnalia (a festival to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun) and “some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration.”

       The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives further information on the December solstice when, “as the sun began to return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).”

       The so-called  ‘Star of Bethlehem’ which features so prominently in Nativity plays and on top of Christmas trees is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel account of the ‘three' wise men. Actually, the exact number of these visitors from the east is not known. What is known, however, is that they were astrologers and the ‘star’ did NOT lead them to Jesus as is often supposed, but to King Herod, alerting him to the Messiah’s birth with devastating consequences. Herod immediately ordered the deaths of all males born in Bethlehem during the previous 2 years.


       “When we give or receive Christmas gifts, and hang wreaths in our homes and churches, how many of us know that we are probably observing pagan customs?” -  The Externals of the Catholic Church

       Santa Claus has several alter egos. St Nicholas, Father Christmas, Knecht Ruprecht, the Magi, Jultomten (or Julenissen) the elf, and even a witch called La Befana have all been credited with bringing gifts to children. As none of these stories are true, does presenting them as such help children develop an appreciation for truth in later life?

         Christmas trees, mistletoe, yule logs, puddings and other seasonal accessories all have roots in pagan practices – either to protect against evil spirits or to encourage fertility, growth and general good fortune for the coming year.  Whether you embrace them or dispense with them is, of course, a matter of personal choice.

        But next time that annoying child at school insists there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, please don’t be too hard on them.

       *Incidentally, the incident was reported in vehement terms to the headmistress and livid parents demanded she tell the children that "Yes, of COURSE Father Christmas exists!" Her reply? "Do you really expect me to lie?"