Saturday, January 30, 2016

Same-sex marriage: ignoring the view from the pew

The YouGov poll showing that more Anglicans now support same-sex marriage in the Church of England than oppose it, will - unfortunately - have little if any effect in changing the rules any time soon. This is due to the fact that the CofE is anything but democratic when it comes to listening to, much less acting on, the views of its ordinary members. The Church long ago adopted a system of 'synodical government' that locks the broad mass of the laity out of any real decision-making. While each parish elects members to a parochial church council, election to the next level - the deanery synod - is down to the PCC members (in reality, the vicar's choice or buggin's turn). Depending on size of parish, this could mean 2-4 PCC nominees take a seat in the deanery synod. From there, the deanery synod elects members to sit in the diocesan synod. And it is this group that then gets to elect members of General Synod - the actual decision making body of the CofE. Now, one problem with General Synod lies with its structure. Here there are three 'houses' - one for the laity, one for the clergy and one for the bishops. And all have to agree before a rule change can be made. Even then, the matter isn't sealed, because - being the established church - the CofE's canon law is made for it by Parliament - the law is made in the same way as an Act of Parliament, only its called a Measure, to show that it only concerns the Church. A second problem with the General Synod is the narrow mind-set of its house of laity members. While Anglicans at parish level are broadly representative of wider society, General Synod members most certainly aren't. The synod meets for two weeks per year, usually once in Canterbury and once in York and has a far reaching committee structure. In effect, this means that lay members have to make a large time commitment, meaning that only the retired or those of 'independent means' need apply. The more reactionary do tend to float to the surface here, too (remember, it was a narrow vote in the house of laity that scuppered the first attempt to change to law to allow the consecration of women bishops in November 2012). Synod members at all levels also tend to accept the prevailing mood of the houses of clergy and the bishops, which can also restrict free thought and progressive decision-making. A personal example - and one of the reasons I left the Church after nearly 50 years - came in a conversation with a Canon (a senior priest in the then Diocese of Wakefield). Personally affected by what I saw as a high-handed and unaccountable decision reached by an Archbishop, I questioned the outcome with the Canon, who rather fatuously said: 'everything a bishop does is for our benefit'; I suspect to shut down the debate and silence dissent (and certainly not a line of argument Peter Ball's victims would ever agree with). Having an apparently greater understanding of Church history than the Canon, I disagreed - but challenging nonsense like this is hard for the more authoritarian-minded, who tend to sit on PCCs and synods. The CofE won't be allowing its clergy to marry same sex couples for quite some time. In the meantime, its also been granted a statutory power to discriminate by Parliament, which has legislated to deny the possibility of same sex marriages taking place in Anglican churches, even though other denominations already offer same-sex marriage or are far more likely than the dear old CofE to accept change in the not too distant future.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Trident and IS, a new strategy

Overheard a man walking past a peace vigil in Huddersfield the other day. He looked at the banners and anti-Trident slogans and then said out loud 'you'd let ISIS just kill us all'. Paying billions for US missiles won't make a blind bit of difference to IS, not that the pavement field marshall seemed able to grasp the finer points.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Politeness in confined spaces

I traveled from Manchester to Huddersfield on the rather grandly named, but oddly spaced and capitalised TransPennine Express. The name is not borne out by the mundane layout of the carriages, which - although intended to convey passengers from Liverpool and Manchester to Scarborough and Middlesbrough - are cramped, with narrow aisles that frequently host standing passengers. In my case, I was carrying a rucksack and a small wheeled suitcase and a ticket with a reservation. The seat allocated for my exclusive use between Manchester Piccadilli and Huddersfield was stated on the ticket as being seat 1 in coach B. There were two problems, however, first I couldn't find seat number one, no matter how many people I squeezed past, with 'excuse me' falling frequently from my lips. The second problem was that seat number two, which I could find, was occupied by a woman who had only just realised that the seat was reserved - and that she wasn't supposed to be occupying it. Having found the seat, and seeing when she moved that number one was the aisle seat (she'd obviously bagged the window seat, as you do) I then had to find room to allow her to pass down the carriage, while the rightful holder of the seat number two reservation, who had just made her presence felt, took up her rightful occupation. The train was now moving, so we had to balance, push and excuse as the usurper removed herself and the holders of tickets with reservations for seats one and two heaved their luggage into the space where our legs should have been. This took up an interesting first five minutes of the journey, before myself and my window-seated companion unpacked a surprisingly wide selection of snacks and what looked suspiciously like student work, that she proceeded to mark. Between mouthfuls of crisp and sandwich she also bemoaned the lack of civility of those who take up seats they aren't entitled to. That's the great thing about the English: we are polite to each others' faces, no matter how uncomfortable the immediate circumstances, but once the annoying impediment is removed, we love to complain like hell about the cause of it. Huddersfield couldn't come soon enough. Massaging feeling back into my legs, I left the station and took the expensive option of a taxi home. The cheaper bus would have entailed a 30 minute wait - but more to the point, one public transport-located game of balance, push and excuse was more than enough for one day. Calder Valley Flood Appeal - please donate now.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ziggy Stardust and the Confused of Leeds

One afternoon after school as we wandered around Woolworth's record department, my mate Carl tried to explain to me how David Bowie had 'killed' Ziggy Stardust, but that it was OK because they were the same person. And that Ziggy Stardust wasn't real anyway. He then took me way out of my depth by saying that Ziggy was from Mars and bisexual. How could he be from Mars if he wasn't real? I asked, not unreasonably in my opinion; think I used my follow up question to ask what a bisexual was. Carl got annoyed at this point and I think either stormed off or hit me, possibly both. I wasn't a fan, you see (we didn't even have a record player at home) and some kids even had Aladdin Sane by then. He probably didn't know what a bisexual was either. After all, he had also said he knew what condoms were for, but this turned out not to be for contraceptive purposes, rather to prevent you from catching a scary sounding (but entirely made up) disease called Red Knob. Memories of that conversation still make me want to crack up with laughter, which isn't appropriate today of all days because, over the intervening years, I've learned that David Bowie was a great talent in music and art and that he'll be sadly missed. China Girl and Heroes are my favourites and will be played in tribute when I do the ironing later. But what happened to the Spiders from Mars? Were  they despatched  by a huge rolled up intergalactic newspaper or humanely removed by interstellar transport under a tumbler shaped starship with a heavy-duty detachable cardboard safety deck...?

Friday, January 08, 2016

They need books at Ted Hughes' old school

The village of Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire was badly affected by the Boxing Day floods, with homes, shops, businesses, schools and churches inundated by water when the River Calder and the Elphin Brook burst their banks. Burnley Road School, which is situated across the road from the river, bore the full force of the flood and everything in the school, including the library books and bookcases, have had to be destroyed. The school's most famous former pupil was Ted Hughes, the late Poet Laureate and children’s author; in honour of that link, and the inspiration the village and its surroundings played in Hughes' works, it would be great to have the school library fully restocked with donated children's books. Calder Valley Flood Appeal - please donate now.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Black hole burps - why science geeks will never be cool

Black hole 'burps' gas at nearby galaxy. Not a bad headline, 'black hole' and 'burp' have a degree of alliteration, but there's something missing, something that would have made the whole story immediately live click bait for non-science types. At school, the science geeks (we didn't call them that then, but language moves on and I'm happy to adapt to change - sometimes...) mainly sat at the front and got overly excited over writing up their experiments. They also seemed to understand algebra and knew how to use it, which marked them out as very different in my mind. But science is interesting and you need to engage with those who never got the bug first time round. After all, this is what Prof Brian Cox is for. Returning to the 'burp', how can we improve it, make it more relevant to the non-scientists? Well, off the top of my head, let's think about black holes: they're a long way away and on-one seems to know what they really look like. That much is common to scientists and non-scientists alike. However, the science geeks missed something else. Farts are funny (and that is much better alliteration, by-the-by). The behaviour of forcing gas into someone, or something, else's direction is more commonly associated with flatulence - it is, to employ a 'rule' of probability (and scientist like these) one of those instances of the law of 'who dealt is smelt it'; which, again by-the-by, is what we non-geeks were laughing at to the general disbelief and consternation of our far more lesson-engaged classmates at the front of the lab all those years ago. And if you still want some alliteration, try this: Black hole blasts botty-burp at next door galaxy. Now that's funny. And if you don't laugh, we'll get you at break time. Calder Valley Flood Appeal - please donate now.