Sunday, 17 April 2016

Does being 'nice' get you anywhere?

       It all depends where you want to go.

       Columnist Liz Jones* believes niceness gets you nowhere, citing several unpleasant experiences she’s had of late with ungrateful and uncaring people. Sadly, the world’s like that. Not so much ‘do as you would be done by’ as ‘do others down before they do you!’

       Yet I firmly believe that true niceness gets results. My daughter (who despite being extremely nice is certainly no pushover), works for a building society and, as you can imagine, receives her fair share of complaints. Many customers are indignant and some are downright nasty, but is she phased by this abuse? Not on your life! The worse they are and the more they rant and rave about their overdraft/failed payment/interest rate or whatever, the calmer and more intractable my girl becomes until even the most determined plaintiff slams the phone down in defeat, exhausted and a good deal poorer!

       On the other hand, a customer who is apologetic for their error (in banking, the customer is rarely right!), is reasonable and nice gets 5-star treatment. In fact, my daughter will go out of her way to help them, even persuading the powers-that-be to reduce or drop any penalties.

       None of us are perfect, of course, and however hard I try to be a nice person, I’ve had my moments. Impatience, pride, anger, envy, resentment and sheer selfishness can influence us all at times, while the world we live in seems to foster such negative traits. No matter who or where we are, there will always be challenges from others and, when slighted, insulted or faced with aggression, it takes huge self-control not to retaliate, to keep one’s cool. To be nice.

       But does being nice, as Liz may argue, simply get you trampled on? It depends what you mean by nice. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘nice’ has 3 meanings: 1) ‘good natured, kind’ 2) ‘subtle, slight’ 3) ‘fastidious, scrupulous’.  For me, however, there can be no better description of all round niceness than Galatians 5:22 which lists the spiritual fruitage of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control." Far from being weak, such qualities can have a powerful and positive effect. 

       With so much violence, selfishness, haughtiness, pride and greed surrounding us, it may seem easier to follow the crowd, but please! don’t go that way! Don’t let this horrible world grind you into its mould. And don’t let anyone stop you being NICE!

The Book of Proverbs by King Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, highlights some nice benefits:  

“An answer when mild turns away rage”

“A mild tongue itself can break a bone”
“He that is slow to anger (patient) is better than a mighty man”

“All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.”

“The one who is slow to anger has great discernment, but the impatient one displays his foolishness.

“The desirable thing in earthling man is his loving-kindness,” 

“The goodness of the righteous makes a city rejoice”

Saturday, 9 April 2016

A walk in the Peak - Eyam

       I’ve been meaning to write this post for a fair while now but, you know how it is……’time and unforeseen occurrence’, not to mention my addiction to online scrabble!
       Anyway, having been dragged away from the computer by a group of friends recently, I joined them for a walk in Eyam, a quaint little village in the heart of Derbyshire’s Hope Valley where I learned some fascinating facts for all you history buffs.    

       Eyam (pronounced E’em) has quite a history, dating back at least as far as the Romans who discovered a rich vein of lead in the area.  The village was recorded in the Domesday Book under its olde English name, Aium – and would have remained an attractive yet obscure hamlet but for a shocking, heartrending disaster 6 centuries later.

'Black Death' illustration courtesy of
       In 1665 the Bubonic Plague (aka Black Death), already raging in London, arrived in a bundle of cloth infested with fleas.  The first victim, the local tailor’s assistant George Vickers who took delivery, died within a week of contracting the disease that was already spreading like wildfire throughout the village. 
       Attempting to contain the infection, the village rector Reverend William Mompesson and Puritan minister Thomas Stanley, drew up an emergency plan of action, which called for supreme sacrifice from the residents.  Bodies were to be buried by their own families, church services were relocated to a natural amphitheatre in Cucklett Delph, and, most famously, the entire population agreed to be quarantined, cordoning themselves off in order to protect neighbouring communities. 
       For 14 months, the plague decimated the village, causing at least 260 deaths. The exact figure is unknown, although, according to one account, only 83 people survived out of a population of 350. 
       These survivors were later thought to have had exceptional immune systems, which according to one research programme, were passed down to their descendants...some of whom are thought to be resistant to HIV/AIDS!*
Rose Cottage, home of the Hawkesworth family

One of many plaques relating to plague victims
       Today, Eyam is a thriving tourist centre, populated mainly by well-heeled stalwarts of St Lawrence’s, the parish church. 

St Lawrence's Church, Eyam

       Architecturally and geographically, little has changed since the 17th century. Most of the buildings in the centre of the village have remained intact, frozen in time for curious visitors. 

       Even the stocks remain, ready to punish the drunk and disorderly!

      Our walk took us past Eyam Hall and the local Museum (sadly shut at the time!).....

.......through the village square with its dainty tea room, to the Miners Arms public house, which has quite a history of its own. (See Plaque) 

Miners Arms, Eyam

       From here, we strolled up a steep lane towards open country where we met a herd of llamas looking beautifully snug with their amazingly soft coats.....enough wool for a few hundred pashminas, no doubt!

The views were spectacular......  

View of Eyam
 ....with bags of stile!

Stile and signpost to Mompesson's Well

  ....although the going got tough occasionally!


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Why is mainstream media sinking into sleaze?

       Amazing what passes for news these days. In one popular daily, featured prominently among a host of nude celebrity selfies, a young woman is pictured with her trousers round her thighs as she urinates in the street – apparently caught short by her bladder and an ever-ready smartphone! 

       Elsewhere in the same newspaper, there’s a graphic shot of someone’s earwax - thought to be the biggest ever lump of candle grease ever fished out from a lug-hole. This after weeks of unedifying pus being popped from enormous pimples! 

       Hard to know which ‘story’ has been the most gut-churning. Was it the scandalous tale of a pretty blonde who, having failed to flush away her poo from her new boyfriend’s lavatory bowl, hid the offensive matter in her handbag? (Obviously, the girl was embarrassed, but not so overcome with shame she couldn’t share the experience with millions of readers. She was even willing to pose without a brown paper bag over her head!) 

       Or could it be yet another earth-shattering shot of a Kardashian bottom? The biggest blackhead in the world, perhaps? Or intimate details of a reality star’s underwear? 

       So what’s going on? Why are activities that should only take place in private now being paraded by leading newspapers and magazines? Why are images once confined to top-shelf sleazy rags being devoured with the Kellogg’s at breakfast? 

       It’s not just the nudity or the steamy revelations of (in)famous affairs. It’s the smallness of it I find offensive. It undermines human dignity and lowers our standards. It’s the sniggering kind of smut that passes for humour behind school bike sheds. It’s childish and demeaning to all concerned. 

       So come on dailies - Clean up your act!!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Why human governments can never succeed

     Forget the Magna Carta. Despite their promises, human governments have failed miserably to deliver. Peace, security, liberty and justice remain as elusive as ever.  
       Where did it all start, this determination by certain individuals to rule over everybody else? And while we're about it, why do we need human governments at all? A case in point, thanks to a too-close-to-call election some years ago, Belgium had no government for several months, yet nobody seemed to notice. (In fact, while the politicians tried to sort things out, the economy actually improved!) 
       Belgium apart, has there ever been a period when humans could live freely, independently, tilling their own patch of paradise and feeding their families with no interference from anyone else? After all, wasn’t that the original plan when Adam was a lad?
       The oldest, most widespread form of human government is monarchy, (the Greek word mon’os meaning ‘alone,’ and ar-khe’ meaning ‘rule’) whereby a single individual is imbued with supreme authority as permanent head of state. If this is absolute, he or she becomes a majority of one whose word is law. As a governmental system, monarchies have been viewed as a unifying force. One eminent teacher of medieval history, John H Mundy, explains,    “Because it transcended particular parties, the institution of monarchy was suited for large areas with diverse and conflicting regional interests.”* In those days, kings invariably conquered such areas by military means – so much so that, as another historian reflects, war was “commonly regarded as the first criterion of successful kingship.”
       This being the case, military genius Alexander the Great was an ideal candidate and the first of the Hellenistic kings to be viewed as a god, setting a precedent for the deification of kings and queens throughout the ages, and such perceived divinity persists to this day in one form or another. Conceited yes - yet, ironically, the very fact so many sovereigns have insisted on being viewed as gods, particularly during the Roman Empire, is a tacit admission that they really don’t have the RIGHT to rule their fellow men and women.
       The world has now seen every conceivable type of government – capitalism, communism, republicanism, democracy, theocracy and straightforward tyranny –none of which has succeeded in providing the peace, security and justice the human family craves. One notable exception was Solomon’s reign, which kept Israel peaceful and prosperous until the king’s latter years when he succumbed to some of the pagan practices of his 1,000 wives!
       Sadly, throughout history, it’s been the strong and the greedy who have commandeered the land; annexing pastures, woods and rivers, and forcing ‘common’ folk, or serfs, to look to man-made governments for their means of life as well as paying taxes for the privilege.
       Will it always be this way? Only time will tell. 
*“The High Middle Ages 1150-1309” by John H Mundy

▫I’m not being sexist here – the words Man and Mankind are inclusive of all humans

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Laws of attraction. Do they exist?

       Just browsing through an online newspaper when this item caught my eye. 
       Which got me thinking. ARE there any rules when it comes to romance? Oh sure, we may draw up a checklist of our ideal soulmate but love rarely works in such a logical way. As any trained assassin will testify, the best time to strike a target is when they least expect it. So it is with those arbitrary arrows of love.
       Now I’m not talking about that lovely boy or girl next door, you understand – the person with whom you’d share your woes, fears and dreams. Nor am I referring to that remarkably good-looking, incredibly suitable, Mum-friendly match with his/her own car, house and a sense of humour. No. What I’M talking about is far more basic – that unadulterated (and usually mindless) thing called ‘chemistry’.
       How else can we explain why a stunning young woman falls in love with a seedy, unpleasant middle-aged man? What draws a well set up guy with matinee idol looks to a homespun girl with open pores?
       There are countless pundits and relationship experts who’ll offer their theories….many quite plausible and maybe even true. But one explanation which has always impressed me is in the book “Families and How to Survive Them” – a collaboration by comedian John Cleese and family therapist Robin Skynner.*
       I no longer have the book and my memory’s not so hot these days, so apologies if I misinterpret the authors’ findings, but here goes:
       From infancy we learn from our parents and other significant adults which emotions and subsequent behaviours are approved or not. On the positive side, if we’re caught lying or stealing perhaps, our parents’ negative reaction prevents us doing the same thing again. That’s discipline, teaching us the do’s and don’ts of everyday living. Which has to be good thing, right?
       Unfortunately, when emotions are involved, boundaries can get blurred. If, for example, a child cries during a sad film only to be told to ‘stop being a baby’, he or she may keep such future tears in check and the compassion which caused them may, in effect, be put ‘behind a screen.’ If he or she gets angry, even justifiably, and a parent shows disapproval for that anger, it gets put behind the screen. A child who is discouraged from displaying any ‘undesirable’ emotion puts it behind a screen. Likewise, unpleasant experiences of any kind – such as, accidents, bullying, domestic discord, separations – are suppressed and put behind a screen.
       So what does this ‘screen’ have to do with attraction? According to Cleese and Skynner, we each have an emotional sensor which comes into play whenever we meet someone new. Intuitively, we sense if a person has had similar experiences to ours, recognising a potential ‘soulmate’ even before we know them. Because, of course, those emotions are still there, just hidden behind a screen.
       For example: Charles and Penny met as teenagers and it was love at first sight. When Penny went to live with her mother on another continent, the feelings remained. Both Penny and Charles met other (very suitable) people, yet their feelings for each other remained, in fact grew even stronger! Several years later, Penny returned, married her first love and they’re still together 50 years later! Now that’s chemistry!
       What caused such a powerful bond? Although neither knew about it in their early years together, they later found that during infancy both their fathers were absent, serving in the forces. Both Charles and Penny felt resentment when their fathers’ returned, were unable to relate to them and believed the ‘interloper’ disapproved of them. There was also a natural jealousy in having to share their mothers’ attention. Could these emotions, which neither felt able to show, have been the cord which drew them so closely together?
       Maybe. Maybe not. It is just a theory after all. But, if it’s possible to explain love, romance, infatuation, attraction or whatever you want to call it, this fascinating book may well provide the answer!


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Should we pray to saints?

Mother Teresa’s forthcoming canonisation seems as good an opportunity as any to explore ‘sainthood’ – a privilege imbued by the Catholic Church on men and women of outstanding virtue.

According to the Tridentine profession of Faith, these paragons are to be invoked as intercessors with God, and have their relics and images venerated.  

Statue of St Peter, Basilica in Rome
One case in point is the big toe of St Peter’s statue in Rome’s Basilica. Next to the papal ring, it is arguably Christendom’s most ‘kissable’ item, with millions bowing down to press their lips against it as they make their petitions! This toe-curling practice has not only added a shine to Peter’s foot but has doubtless spread many nasty germs to hapless worshipers! Did the real Peter ask to be venerated in this way? No. None of the apostles accepted worship (Acts 14:15), nor did the angels. (Rev 22:8,9) All glory was for God alone. (Matt 4:10)

Statue of St Genesius
Saints proliferate. There’s a saint for every occasion and activity you can think of. One of my favourites used to be St Genesius, patron saint of actors, lawyers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, musicians, printers, stenographers and victims of torture! A former thespian, he used the stage in ancient Rome to mock Christianity - until experiencing a sudden conversion mid-performance! I dare say many luvvies (who, with the possible exception of Ricky Gervais, are notoriously superstitious) have ‘invoked’ Genesius’ help before that nerve-racking first night. Victims of torture indeed!

Emperor Constantine
But why do we have saints? The answer lies with the Emperor Constantine, who supposedly converted to Christianity in the 4th century. With previous Roman Emperors having tried and failed to contain this vibrant new religion, Constantine used a subtler approach; he simply fused Jesus’ teachings with Rome’s polluting pagan beliefs and practices.

However, viewing Christ as the only mediator between God and humans (1 Tim 2:5), genuine Christians have never prayed through other intercessors, nor should prayer be addressed to anyone except Almighty God himself. Even Jesus directed his own prayers to the Father and told his followers to do the same, using his name by way of introduction! (Matt 6:9; John 14:6,14) 

Which left Constantine with a dilemma. If Christians worshiped and prayed to only one God - who nobody could see - what would happen to the thousands of pagan gods? Were they to be made redundant? Would silversmiths and image makers lose their livelihoods? Would statues, amulets and icons of these gods be left to languish on the shelf? 

Triune God
The solution was to re-invent Rome’s existing deities and re-market them as Christian ‘Saints’. Foremost to undergo this make-over was Apollo who, with his handsome features, shimmering halo and sun-god attributes, made a very acceptable Christ to unsuspecting converts!  Jesus’ earthly mother Mary replaced the ultimate ‘Mother Goddess’ and ‘Divine Virgin’ (Juno, Minerva and Venus all rolled into one), while a pantheon of lesser deities were given new ‘saintly’ identities. Yet their pagan essence remained intact, serving to divert Christians from true worship. Even the Almighty Himself was downgraded - from the ‘One true God’ to a God-dishonouring Trinity, which had no basis in scripture, corresponding instead with pagan triunes, i.e. three gods in one.

Another unscriptural view is the veneration of saintly relics. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is thus vain to seek a justification for the cult of relics in the Old Testament; nor is much attention paid to relics in the New Testament. . . . [The Church “father”] Origen seems to have regarded the practice as a pagan sign of respect for a material object.”—(1967), Vol. XII, pp. 234, 235.

Godly abhorrence of relic-worship no doubt lay behind the disappearance of Moses’ body after his death. According to Jude vs 9, Satan obviously planned to exploit the death of this faithful prophet - perhaps by inciting Israelites to venerate his mortal remains. To this day, no one has ever discovered where Moses was buried.

And one of the greatest arguments for NOT venerating saints can be found in Exodus 20:4,5 which states: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be enticed to serve them.”

This in no way is meant to detract from the good works of Mother Teresa and other well-meaning men and women. But only Jesus, whose death opened up the way to everlasting life for his followers, can mediate for mankind. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Forewarned is forearmed! How to deter a predator

       Since my adolescence, serious assaults against males and females of all ages have proliferated alarmingly. Some people, women especially, are now afraid to go out alone, even in broad daylight. City centres can be a nightmare, particularly at night. Nowhere is safe. So what do we do? How can we protect ourselves? Is becoming a karate black-belt the only answer? Would that even help?
       Of course, none of us can guarantee our safety no matter where we go, but you’re not entirely helpless. Here are a few 'weapons' which may help to protect you from attack.
Forward planning
       Whenever you go out for the evening – to a party,  club or even a cinema – make sure you get home safely by planning transport in advance – either by arranging a lift with a trusted friend or family member, or by travelling with a group. Teenagers please note - most parents will gladly pick you up to keep you out of danger! 
       Predators are rarely looking for a fight. What they ARE looking for is a perfect victim, someone who looks vulnerable, uncertain and lacking self-worth. Stride purposefully, with shoulders squared and head held high.  Act as though you know where you’re going (even if you don’t) and adopt a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude.
       If he gives you the creeps, he’s probably a creep! Don’t be persuaded to stick around or be manoeuvred into a solitary place. Just leave. You don’t need excuses. You don't need to be polite - predators will take advantage of a woman's 'niceness'. Put plenty of distance between you and him and make sure other people are around to help.
       Should anyone make to assault you, Scream. At the top of your voice! It really is one of your best defences. A piercing, glass shattering scream may alert others and will often deter an attacker.
       Being determined to fight back surprises and disturbs the would-be assailant. As mentioned previously, most predators want an easy victim. Learn basic self-defence and be alert to potential threats.
       If possible, and as soon as you see your chance, Run. Take off your shoes if necessary and run to safety – the nearest house or any place where there are people. 

       Sorry but the way you dress DOES matter. No one has the right to assault you however you dress BUT if you can see up it, down it or through it, you could inadvertently be attracting the wrong sort of attention. Okay, that skimpy outfit may be just the thing for the party/club/restaurant, but be sure to cover up when walking home! 


       Wherever you go, stay awake, stay sober and don't rely on people you hardly know to get you home safely. Even trusted friends may slope off without you if they hook up with someone at a pub, club or party....which could also be a danger for them! 

       Whether you fear an attack or have recently suffered one, tell the police.  By reporting an incident and providing as much information as you can, you may help to prevent others being assaulted in the future.