Recent developments

Well, it’s been over a year, but I thought I must share this.  With all that has been said and done in the recent past, with all the words that have been bandied about, and all the accusations that have been made, something has been quietly happening in the background.

I have been preparing parents to have their children baptised for fifteen years.  In the second of three sessions we speak about passing on the faith to our children, how was the faith passed on to us, or how did you come to faith.

In that session, we ask cradle Catholics ‘who was the greatest influence on your faith as a child, and who is it now?’  To those who have come to the faith as adults, we ask the latter part of the question.

Generally, the answer will be a parent or grandparent, sometimes a priest or teacher for the early days.  In most cases, the same answer was given for both parts of the question.  You would get the occasional friend or priest, only once was it a deacon, and it wasn’t me, but for ten to twelve years, the replies were fairly standard.

But of late the same name keeps coming up as a reply to the latter part of the question, the same person who has been equally influential in renewing people’s faith or bringing them to the faith.

Pope Francis.

What did I miss?

I’ve been off Twitter for Lent.  I did sneak back in to send a message to someone on their graduation day, and on another occasion  I retrieved a message from another after it was mentioned, but I managed to resist the temptation to look at my feed, or to post.  And resisting temptation is what Lenten fasting is all about.

There were a few events I’d have loved to Tweeted about, such as

  • Shelagh Fogarty’s   caller Phil, who wants to be helped by an assisted suicide facility.  Shelagh handled him perfectly.
  • Katie Boyle dying. I met her three times, each time I was star struck (but I was a teenager)
  • The prisons’ minister saying we send people to prison as a punishment, we don’t add to the punishment when we are there.  Well said sir.
  •  The ‘A Thousand Years‘ video to mark World Down’s Syndrome day.  We used it in assembly to great effect.
  • Going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child over two nights.  A Christmas present from our eldest daughter.  It was magic!
  • Having a ticket to see Scott Hahn at The Holy Rosary Shrine in Belsize Park.  I could not use it as I was at Harry Potter.  I had seen him before at Farm Street on 31 October 2008 (He made an impression as you can tell) and I’m delighted the talk can be seen on EWTN‘s Youtube channel.
  • Taking sixty Year Eight pupils to Mass in the school’s local parish a part of the parish mission and some of them repeating Fr Elias’ message “We do what we have to so we can do what we want to”
  • Saying Happy St Joseph’s Day to St Joseph’s College
  • William from The Cedars School winning the first ever Young Croydon Mayor election
  • Stephen Hawking dying
  • Congratulating St James the Great in getting to the final (football)
  • A prospective Head Boy saying at the hustings “A community without unity is not a community”
  • Nick Hewer being on The Great British Bake-Off.  This was one of the funniest programmes I have seen in ages.  Nick’s comic timing when saying “I’ll never do it again” and “You try filling a biscuit” still make me smile.

Finally, a cryptic message.  Professor, if you had not known what my letter was about you would have got in touch.  Thank you for your own personal confirmation of who you are.

Happy Easter!



You can’t please ’em all

The story was reported this week of a Bradford primary school banning  sausage rolls, pork pies and other foods they school deems unhealthy.  Some laud this initiative others don’t, one parent told the BBC schools should ‘stick to teaching kids.

I completely agree with the schools motivation but if my children’s primary or secondary schools had issued such an edict I would not be happy.  But how many conversations have I had about poor packed lunches, not only as a member of school staff but as a parent hearing anecdotal stories on the same matter.

On my first ever school trip as a parent helper another parent tutted at the crisps and Penguin one of the children had to enhance a cheese sandwich and apple.  The same parent was unhappy that another child’s apple was not sliced and a third child had Jelly Tots in a pot of plain fromage frais.  For myself, I saw it as none of my business, but relaying this jolly tale would  prompt stories of other, much more unusual, packed lunches and breakfasts.

I heard of the child who came into infants school with a McDonald’s hamburger for breakfast each day.  Another child was suddenly late for school regularly, chats with mum found out they were getting a bus to Greggs for the child’s breakfast, and the times of the buses from the shops to school had changed, hence the lateness.  When the idea of breakfast at home was suggested mum felt she ‘didn’t have time and coco pops are very unhealthy.’

I also heard of the school that had a rule of no chocolate in packed lunches for trips, but these were replaced by Haribo and worse!  When I started working in schools I was taken aback by the packed lunch that consisted of a family pack of Doritos and a small box of Ferrero Rocher.  

Most school staff will tell you of the post lunch rise in sugar levels when you are on a trip (it’s a fact, believe me) and I think it’s right to say “don’t bring…..”  but a blanket ban on various things, can they do that?  Well, yes, if they feel they have to.

All school rules have to apply to everyone, be it walk on the left, stand when a member of staff enters the room, ‘do up that top button’, or telling parents not to drive into the school (as we saw this week).  Obviously extreme cases will bring exceptions, but you have to be hard pushed not to find anyone, parent or child who will not understand.

The other option would be to single out parents “Dear Mr & Mrs Jones, your children packed lunches could be better, have you considered humous and crudite? Or wholemeal bread?”  You can’t ask selected parents to watch what is put in lunchboxes, this would simply be divisive, so the action taken by the school this week is the safest way of heading towards educating their children in the benefits of a healthy diet.

Such news is not a new departure, just google “school tells parents about packed lunches” there is a plethora of stories.  There is also a plethora of people who would say schools should be telling parents about healthy diet. As we know, you can’t please everyone so the school has to do what the senior leadership team identifies as  appropriate for their intake.

There have been similar conversations about homework.  Primary school homework is often mentioned as a major source of stress for some.  But as some will be stressed by the very idea of sitting down with their nine year old and working on integers or compound nouns, others will relish it.

One of my early Twitter claims to fame was Kirsty Allsop responding to me when she was unhappy about the homework her son was bringing home from his reception class. I’d known reception class homework to be an idea of what to speak to your children about, or what to read to them, or with them.  In a thread on the matter I I tweeted that schools often have to give guidance, Ms Allsop responded to me “so give guidance, not homework”.  The next response was from a lady saying her son did not realise that colouring a sheet  with shoes, shops, sheep etc was homework, neither was showing her what he could read.

If primary school homework is not done, there is nothing that can be done about it, parents get the choice of doing it or not.  Ultimately it’s the same with packed lunches. You will not find any school with a homogenised intake, nor will you find a school issuing edict for the laughs

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.