Silly memories

About 40 years ago an exchange between two of my colleagues had the whole office giggling like idiots for too long.  When David asked a question, Pat, who was the quietest of people responded in a way that took us all by surprise and made us all snigger like naughty school children, to the point where we had to stop answering outside calls for over an hour.

Wanting to know what day of the week it would be David asked “what’s June the third”, to which the never say boo to a goose Pat replied, in an Australian accent “The queen of Bloody Australia.”

I know, you had to be there, and to know how out of character this was for Pat, but all these years later I still cherish the memory.

Holding one’s counsel

This week Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow chose to avail us of his opinion on President Trump’s possible invitation to address the House during his proposed State Visit to the UK.

While I agree with what The Speaker said, I also agree with those who say he had absolutely no right to say it.

Why do I agree with Mr Bercow?  President Trump is new to political life, he has no great insights to impart on political life, or social justice as shared by Pope Benedict in Westminster Hall in 2010.  If he was to address them as a business man, then we have a plethora of our own successful business people who could impart great wisdom of the same ilk.

But Mr Bercow has chosen to accept a position that requires political neutrality, even if he was elected as a Conservative MP.  When one accepts a position and the authority it behoves one to abide by the restrictions and responsibilities, and Mr Bercow has not observed this. I am scandalised by Mr Bercow’s actions, but I accept, that’ just me.

It’s no different with clergy being public in their disagreements with their bishop and even worse, sharing public derision of Pope Francis.  Equally as bad in one case I have noted is a clergyman who works for his diocese joining in with those who deride The Pope and his bishop not correcting him; therefore facilitating this divisive behaviour.

I have also seen parishioners (not mine, wind your necks in St A’s)  who are close friends of their parish priest, so close that they have moved parish with him, deriding the local Ordinary, and again, the priest saying nothing.

It’s interesting to note that any priest who does engage, or allow such behaviour has the title of ‘Father’.  I’m told that any of the priests in question expected to be a bishop, a chapter Canon or even a monsignor by now, but alas the balances have found them wanting and they have reacted bitterly.

When finding one at odds with their Church’ teaching many brave Anglicans cast themselves, and their families, into the hands of the Holy Spirit and waited with patience for ‘the Roman Rubberstamp’ or the ‘Vatican Verification’ (two terms I heard) and this, is the action a gentleman will take.  He will not sit in a corner drumming up support via his toadying cronies and his blog’s ‘donate’ button, he would understand that he is at odd with the Holy Spirit and he would move on.

But then perhaps they are not as brave as our former Anglican brothers.

Through the office he accepted Mr Bercow’s comments were inappropriate, he should either accept what comes with the Speaker’s Shilling or move on.  It’s the same with those who owe allegiance to Holy Mother Church and the succour she provides.

Target Weight

“I’ve lost three and a half stone since Easter” has been my mantra of late, and it’s true, I really have lost three and a half stone since Easter.  Well, Sunday 10 April to be precise, the third Sunday of Easter.

On the previous evening we were at supper with some friends. When it was dark and I could see reflections in windows it seemed that wherever I looked I could see five normal sized people and one fat bloke, me.  I spent most of the evening thinking just how much I needed to do something about my lardiness.

The following morning I popped on the scales wearing nothing but my glasses and a worried look, I was fifteen stone.  I have no idea what triggered in my head but something did, a resolve to do something about this took over at once, to the point where I almost felt possessed.

My next move was to download the NHS BMI app, which until I looked for it, I didn’t know existed.  I know that even the NHS don’t have the BMI thing down to a fine art but I wanted to see what a 57 year old 5ft 7in man should be.  Horror, at 32.9 I was obese, clinically obese.

How I actually fell into my diet routine I am not sure.  I know that on the morning of 10 April it struck me that I was not hungry and did not need to eat right now.  I reflected how once a year I have a liver scan and have to fast for eight hours beforehand.  This usually means I am breakfasting at 10am, five hours after getting up.  Sunday lunch is usually at 2pm and on many working days I didn’t have lunch until 3pm-ish so I should be able to cope adopting these meal times.  I also remembered my own words, somewhat unkind, to a colleague in the 1970s who bored us all silly with his imposed diet regime.  He was a sportsman and had to watch what he ate as part of his training. Oh Lord above didn’t we all know every last detail.  Once when he was grizzling (again) about being hungry (again) I snapped “Well be hungry, it’s not going to kill you” and be hungry was a motto that stuck in my head.

In the first week I found it phenomenally easy to stick to the routine of eating two pieces of fruit for breakfast at 10am and a light salad at 2pm, followed by my normal evening meal. I partially put this down to it being my first week back at school and I was rather busy. The following Sunday I got on the scales to see if I had done any good and was thrilled, had lost five pounds.  I remember getting on and off the scales several times but there it was, 14st 9lb.  I just hoped I could keep this up for second week.

Calculating that if I lost two pounds a week my BMI would be ‘healthy’ by October half term I set myself a time scale of staying on the diet until then, although something in the back of my head told me I would not last that long. Also, my healthy weight for a healthy BMI is  11st 6lb, with one pound more taking me back up to being overweight.  I could not see this happening but thought I would stick with it and see how for I could get towards that goal.

Weighing myself the following week I had again lost five pounds, I was 14st 4lb, it felt unreal, but I noticed when wearing 38 waist trousers (worn for comfort) I needed to put my belt up a notch.

The diet continued and the weight fell off, the two pounds a week kept coming, sometimes it was one pound, sometimes three, sometimes it stayed the same and on two occasions it went back up again. But it fell off all the same.  By July people were commenting and my clothes looked rather swampy, in fact I joked I looked like the lad at the end of the film Big.  Most of my clothes come from charity shops and I was now trawling them for smaller sizes.

October half term has arrived.  Last week I was 11st 7.5lb, a pound and a half to go.  Yesterday I popped on the scales and…..nope, I had put on half a pound, so I am two pounds off my target weight.  However, I am now a 32 waist instead of a 36, a 15 collar instead of a 16.5 my BMI is 25.4 and I can comfortably wear a small tee shirt.  All my big clothes have been put in the loft in vacuum bags.

I really do feel so much fitter and lighter, I really feel lighter.  I noticed it first when having to collect a student from the second floor ‘Maths’ corridor at school.  On climbing the stairs to Maths I would stop at the top and regain my breath.  On this occasion I was coming back down the stairs when I realised I had not stopped at the top.

I hope I can keep this up, I plan to, but at the moment I am loathe to get rid of all my clothes in case the resolve goes and the weight piles back on.  I still plan to get to target weight, I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Saturday 29 October


When I first weighed myself I was 11st 4.5lb, I popped back on the scales ten minutes later to see what my weight is in kilos, but it was still set to imperial and I was half a pound less. 

BMI: 24.7

Keep watch………

One of my wife’s colleagues, we’ll call her Louise, because that’s her name, was at Awards Night at her children’s school back in June.  The keynote speaker, Peter, was the former deputy head of that school who had gone on to be a headteacher elsewhere for thirteen years.  He retired four years ago.

The speaker started talking about his first day at secondary school, he was the only pupil from his primary school there.  Along came another chap, they established they were both the lone pupil from their school and the latter said, ‘well we should pal-up then’.  Peter told his audience the chap in question was called Jim Flavin; at this Louise sat bolt upright and started listening more intently.

Peter went on to say how he and Jim had been best friends all through school.  In the February after they had finished upper sixth, as it was then called, Jim died after a heart operation.  Peter spoke of the welcome he and Jim’s other friends were given by Jim’s grieving family.

Years later, when he was a headteacher, Peter continued, he heard from Jim’s brother Tony (at this Louise was very excited) who thanked him for something, but Peter could not recall what, that he did during the dark days of early 1971.

Well neither can I remember, but the whole point of Peter’s speech was that no matter what you do, however small, it can have a positive or negative effect on someone else.

Having heard the tale I got in touch with the school and Peter and I were put in touch by a mutual acquaintance.  We met for lunch in August, the last time we could agree we had actually met was February 1973.  Peter very poignantly told me of the last time he saw Jim. He and Peter were in a band together, the night night before he went into hospital Jim went to Peter’s home, he asked that should he not get out of hospital alive would the band sing The Lord is my Shepherd at his funeral.  Peter brushed this off but as things turned out they did so.

I told a couple of my friends this story,  comments about it becoming a blog post were made.  I decided against it.  But I did not write off the idea (clearly).

This Wednesday I was at a funeral of a man in his 50s.  One of his life long friends gave a very touching eulogy which had echos of my chat with Peter about he and Jim, and the psalm we sung was no less than The Lord is my Shepherd.  I began to reconsider.

Arriving home I had a direct message on Twitter from someone I had hardly noticed.  This lady told me the person being blamed for an abuse account who takes an interest in me could not be the person responsible.  I am informed the ‘suspect’ is delightful and gentle and would not call out when accused but bear the wrong patiently. I have no reason not to believe this.

She tells me also, with one blog I changed her view on a specific situation, and she finished with these words

Which takes us right back to the point of Peter’s keynote speech.

 

 

 

Anger with God

On 27 December 2014 I became really very angry with God.  On that day I received a call from a distraught friend telling me her eight week old grandson, Robert,  had died, it was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This was twenty years to the day that my seven year old god-daughter Sarah died as a result of an epileptic seizure.

Just weeks later a baby girl called Natalie was found to have died outside her sister’s classroom while mum was waiting to do the school pick up. Later in the year Gabriella was stillborn and if all this was not bad enough, Robert’s brother Jacob was stillborn in August, all in 2015.                                                                                                                                                            .
I was so angry with God, what was he doing? Why our parish?  Why do this to good, faithful families?  Why take from them faces they will never see again, little ones they have held, and knew and loved so very deeply?

While discussing this with my spiritual director he asked me if I was just as angry with God when other parents were left bereaved.  I would have to say I am, I cited a mother in our parish who had lost two of her adult daughters, Philomena and Clemmie, one of them, again, was within the last year. I thought also of my own, by then widowed,  mum who lost a 19 year old in 1971, and a colleague’s husband who died of cancer in May 2015, I will never forget his father’s stoic demeanour throughout the requiem Mass.

I was just beginning to put my angry thoughts aside this year when George, a former pupil of a school where I work was killed in a traffic accident, he was 21.  Seeing his parents at the funeral made me actually want to hit God, make no mistake, I wanted to hit The Almighty.  I stayed calm throughout the Mass but once I was alone I prayed (shall we call it) with language I would never use in normal circumstance. In April single mum Orelle died on her way back from holiday leaving her mum, the adorable Audrey, to raise her two grandsons. Then in July, 16 year old Yvonne died of an ongoing health issue just as she finished her GCSE’s.

My SD had to listen to a long diatribe this time, as have many of my friends but I know a lack of understanding  facilitates such anger.

Two weeks ago Philomena and Clemmie’s mum died.  My first thought was not ‘oh how sad’ or ‘may the Lord bless and keep her’ but ‘thank goodness she has not outlived any of her other children, she had eight altogether. Barbara Gibb, mother of the BeeGees, who had seen three of her five children die also died last week, and again, I was relieved she would not endure the pain this incurs.

On Wednesday of this week we took our grandson for a long long walk and ended up in a local church yard. There was a helium balloon attached to a headstone, it somewhat naturally attracted us to it.  We found it was the birthday of the lad laid there, at first glance we decided he was nine when he died in 2004 and was buried next to a girl, a bit younger who also died in 2004.  Looking again we saw he was nineteen at the time of his death, then my wife spotted the girl’s name, Lucie.  Lucie and been at secondary school with our eldest. the two buried together had died in a car accident when they were nineteen  and sixteen.  Again my thoughts turned to the parents, how were they? nearly 12 years on had they learned to live with the loss?

On Friday, attending Mass in George’s parish, I spotted his mum, Mass that day was for him.  While I tried not to, I looked over at her a few times, she was calm and she even smiled during Father’s reflection.  It was almost as if a voice spoke to me saying ‘Tony, it’s not your grief, get over yourself’.  I don’t know where it came from but it was right. I am grateful every day for not having endured the pain these parents must feel, so I must put the anger aside too.

Robert and Jacob now have a sister, Scarlett, and Gabriella has a brother called Dexter.

 

 

 

The gift of shame

Blaise Pascal is someone I had never heard of until I was in my 40s and my daughters were doing RE homework.  Having discovered his ‘wager’, I looked more into the man’s work and found so many quotes that struck a chord with me, and kept me on my toes.

“Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary” and  “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous” are both Pascal quotes that might have been written for me in mind, I must admit.

This week I have been reminded of one I rediscovered a couple of years ago; “It is as much a crime to disturb the peace when truth prevails, as it is to keep the peace when the truth is violated”.

A story that got into the press this week related to the actions of a man of note when he was drunk.  The reason for his drunkenness was due to the condition he found he had to face, alcoholism.

Some people on social media had a field day laying into the poor man.  His on-line debates were laid bare.  Fortunately there were a few good souls who pointed out the questionable behaviour was possibly due to his illness.  Coming from a family and a job that has witnessed the tragedy alcoholism can heap on loved ones, this was heartening.  Although I saw no one accept the point publicly.

There were also comments about the comedy aspect of the gentleman’s case.  Here I was castigated, along with many others, for making the point that it was not comedic unless it was meant to be and Christians being seen to snigger at such upsets could not possibly assist Christ in the mission to ‘Baptise all nations’.

I suspect many of us have something in the past that we’d rather keep under wraps. Imagine  having to cope with your own and your families feelings while in the hot glare of a media spotlight.

A minister I know from a church I do not know (they clap a lot and do not recognise apostolic succession) told me many moons ago he and his wife had lived in fear of people knowing they met when appearing as Disney characters in a Dutch theme park.  It was their son who spilled the beans and everyone loved it.  However, they did not, they were upset and they moved away.  The emphasis has to lie in their feelings, not the amusement of their congregation.  They felt shame for reasons only they knew and shame is a gift from God to help us avoiding hurt to others.

When I was in discernment for the diaconate someone asked me, loudly so others would hear, “did you tell them you were a once a bar man in a very popular gay club?”  This was not strictly true.  In 1978 I worked in The Market Tavern at Vauxhall.  It was attached to The Flower Market, which was where I had my day job.  I worked there for three months, it looked like the reception of Crossroads Motel and our main clientele were employees of Her Majesty’s Prices Commission.  In the early 80s it was a gay pub and won an award for the most popular in London.  I would tell people I had worked in a gay pub that won awards and they would understand the twinkly aspect of the tale.  This occasion was an attempt to use the story as a ‘stick with which to beat me’, it didn’t work, but some people would be upset at attempts to ridicule a past from which they have moved on.

Parading faults does no good.  While all this was going on last week I was pointed to two other stories both about fallen clergy and disclosed on Twitter.  One priest was a paedophile and the other’s personal life had required him to take time to consider his future.  The latter man was clearly popular in his parish, but words of love for the priest were treated with disdain.  While I can see the merit in the openness of the first story I believe I will never understand the motivation for disclosing and deriding the second  and for that, I thank you Lord.

Jesus commanded us to love one another, Paul tells us love keeps no record of wrongs, to love someone as Christ tells us is to want the best for them, and the best does not include invoking the gift of shame.

Still at it……

Last week I marvelled at this blog by Collette BP

https://catholicsouthwark.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/from-the-desire-to-be-retweeted/

And I have been speaking about it ever since.

Yesterday I telephoned a coach company regarding a booking and was told I would receive a call back in half an hour.  Four hours later I called back to be told the message had not got through as the chap I first spoke to was “an idiot”.

Later, on Twitter Niall Gooch referred to an MP’s wife showing a member of his staff in a negative light, which Niall found inappropriate,  and these two things made me think more about Collette’s blog.

Last week when I saw people, again on Twitter, questioning the prudence of the bishops commenting on the EU vote, I asked if the bishops should or should not do so.  I was leaning towards them doing so, others disagreed.  I was later told some clergy had said commenting was not their place.

I decided not to use the coach firm, they didn’t look good if their infighting spilt into the street, as twer.  The MP’s wife Niall referred to made his team look bad and we clergy do the same when we take to social media to berate each other.  I have been that soldier and have been made aware that if our friends agree with us on social media, where it’s open to the big wide wonderweb we are judged, and if we react, was are also judged.

The MP’s wife was at fault also.  If I were to write in a negative fashion about my wife’s boss, or her staff, it would reflect on her  badly as would negativity towards my close friends bosses or staff, or a generic bad comment on the  company for which they work.

Nic Doye made the same points about Catholic infighting four years ago.  Things have not changed and I doubt they will, there will always be those whose own agenda is held by them to be more important than Gospel values or introducing people to the person of Jesus Christ.  When it’s a member of the congregation it’s bad enough, but when it’s a member of the clergy, it’s seen as scandalous.  If you catch me doing it, shoot me down.

 

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A day at St Mary’s University

Yesterday I was at St Mary’s University for a Theology of the Body conference.  The day started at 9.15 with adoration in the chapel, I was able to get there for the last 10 minutes, just before morning prayer.

When registering I bumped into lots of familiar, friendly faces.  Dr Ant Towey was one of the organisers of the day, he was there with his lovely family. I met Matt and Esther from the Sion Community Youth Mission team, Margaret from the School of the Annunciation, Deacon Paul Gately from Weybridge, who was with his wife Pauline, together they lecture on bioethics on the diaconate formation course, Joanna who is the assistant director of diaconate formation in Northampton and none less than the glorious Dame Joanna Bogle.

Dr Towey led us in prayers for the day, and in prayers for the repose of the soul of Fr Dominic Rolls and for the wellbeing of Fr Alexander Sherbrooke of St Patrick’s Soho.

Our first keynote speaker was Bishop John Keenan who was so engaging from the start I suddenly noted that the people either side of me were scribbling notes furiously whereas  was simply listening, so I started writing.  At the conference we were given an A5 note pad, of the six pages I filled, the thing Bishop Keenan said that most struck me, and I think others in the room due to the reaction was “Shame is a gift that stops us hurting others”.  I cannot wait for the arguments against.

After coffee we were treated, and I mean treated, to Canon Luiz Ruscillo.  He is the head of Education Services for the Diocese of Lancaster.  He spoke us about the Theology of the Body within the Mission of the Catholic School.  His talk was lively, engaging, accessible to this average intellect and again, led to pages of scribbled notes.

Catholic Voices speaker and director of Pure in Heart UK Fiona Mansford followed.  She showed us (as Catholic Voices tell us, ‘show, don’t tell’) ways to present the ethos of the Theology of the Body to hormonal teenagers.

After lunch we had the choice of four workshops on sharing your testimony, evangelising through sex education, marriage preparation with integrated Theology of the Body and sharing good teaching practice.  I went to the latter two.

The sharing good teaching practice was particularly good.  It was led by the head of PHSE in a Westminster school and the head of RE in an A&B school. Both chaps shared what they had found to work, and why, and what they had found not to work, and why. But at the same time, it was rather fun.

After being introduced via Youtube to the work of Jonathan Doyle , we had a question and answer session with Bishop John, Fiona Mansford and our Head of RE.  Dr Towey did ask us for questions and not speeches, but some people misunderstood.

Dame Joanna (she didn’t) asked the panel how we can recruit more Catholic teachers.  My concern is retaining the good ones.  Of those I know who have left a big part of the problem for them personally is the amount of Catholics who think they can do a better job without the knowledge or coal face experience.

Just before the closing prayer we were, shall we say treated, to the advice of someone who had been invited to speak but was unable to attend the whole day.  I understand he was delighted to see just how popular the day was.

It was an excellent day in all possible ways and I’ll be keeping a regular look out for more. We were given a list of resources which I could share, but instead, I’d strongly recommend you look to attend a Theology of the Body workshop.

In the meantime, I learned about this on Wednesday, thanks to Margaret, and I have registered to attend.

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Suffer (the) children

Last week I went to a morning Mass at a friend’s parish church, the Mass intention was for his late mother on what would have been her 100th birthday. Two other people I know were there and they asked me that question that always raises a smile in an infantile me “Hello Tony, what are you doing here?”

I always want to say “me, a Catholic, at a Catholic church, 10 minutes before Mass starts, que penses tu?”  But I have resisted so far.

As we headed into church the porch was chocablock with people.  My first thought was “wow Marge was popular” but getting inside we found the door between the porch and the nave was blocked by a buggy containing a little girl aged about two years old.  She was, it appeared, being berated by a lady aged about 40 with words such as “most unsatisfactory” “awkward situation” “it would not have hurt grannie”.

The bottleneck cleared when another lady asked if they could move so we could get into church.  They did, but the noise, in spite of the closed doors, continued.

Just before Mass started the little girl was brought into church by her grandparents.  They took a seat at the front of the church, to the side and she sat in the buggy holding grandad’s finger with one hand and a soft toy with the other.

Sometime before we got to the first reading the child started to cry.  Grandad did his best to placate her but after a few minutes he took her outside. However, one ot two people in the congregation waved at him and indicated not to, they had expressions of “it’s ok” “don’t worry” (although the waving had us all looking, bless ‘em), but grandad took the little girl outside and grannie went and got them back as we stood when father said “pray my brothers and sisters that…….”

After Mass I was told the berating lady was the child’s mother.  She had wanted her parents to have the child while she went to work, the parents said yes, but wanted their daughter to meet them at church so they did not want to be late for Mass.  This did not suit mum but she had no choice.  The congregation were very sympathetic to the grandparents, they in turn were very grateful.

The matter of children, Mass and noise is always a tricky subject, and one to which I have no answers.  I was exceptionally blessed that I only had to take my younger child out of Mass twice.  This was twice more than her sister.  I put this down partly to where we sat in church.  We sat with other families and the parents, all in turn, would remind the children where they were and what was expected.  Yes the children did play, but they played quietly, as a rule, and (picture it) would ‘shh’ each other if anyone got too noisy. in fact the words “ok Marlon, that’s getting a bit too noisy now” are still laughed about over 20 years later.

But something I noticed at the time was this;  if another child from another family was making what someone considered to be too much noise, or perhaps they came in late, the level of tutting was always in relation to how much the, shall we say errant, parents were liked.

One lady spoke to me after Mass once telling me “you daughter went to the toilet at the moment of consecration”.  I was not able to answer as others jumped to my defence with comments like “why did you watch her go to the back of the church, you would not have known if you had not watched her” and “Toilet! How vulgar”.

As I headed for the car I made a point of going up to the lady and saying “I’m sorry it upset you”, to which she told me “and you literally drained the chalice last week”, which is true, but in my defence it was all but empty.

This week the Holy Father has got people talking about family life, and he’s been talking about acceptance.  If we are to accept families, we have to accept all they bring, good and bad, after all, they are there, so they are obviously trying.  As church we should be accepting of every single person who walks through the door, and if we spot anyone who perhaps does not, well a decade will go a long way.

Try it