Things I could do without for Christmas

Call me Scrooge, but there are certain things I could do without at Christmas time.

One is companies who try to persuade me to buy things I quite obviously don’t want, just so that they can be delivered in time for Christmas.

They and others of similar ilk might like to know that I do not consider 12 December to be “last-minute shopping”. Last-minute shopping is the afternoon of Christmas Eve which, incidentally, is quite a good time to shop because there’s no-one about.

One company (one?) warns me that time is ticking, and I should therefore check out last-minute deals. Time may be ticking, but time always ticks, unless you mute it. That’s what it does. I do not want a last-minute deal, last-minute flowers, last-minute accommodation or half-price gifts.

And just because it’s Christmas, it doesn’t mean I want to book up next year’s holiday. In fact it’s probably the last thing I want to do.

Almost the last thing. The very, very last thing I want to do is go to Santa’s Grotto for Dogs. I am sad to say there is one in Norwich, my home town, and a lot of people seem to think it’s a good idea.

What is this all about? There are no dogs in the Christmas story, and there were no dogs at the birth of Jesus. Come to that there there was no Santa either, no grotto and almost certainly no cows. I just throw that in in the interests of accuracy. There were definitely sheep. I have a lot of time for sheep.

What else do I find irritating? David Attenborough. But that’s another story.

If I were Scottish, I might be a little annoyed by the courier service. Apparently the people living in Moray, north-east Scotland, have been reclassified as islanders by a certain delivery firm.

This is not a marginal point. There is no causeway involved. It’s a bit like saying South Wales is an island or, if you happen to live in Norfolk, North Norfolk District Council.

Customers ordering online from the north and north-east of Scotland apparently pay up to four times for delivery compared to the rest of the UK. And you can see how that could be useful to certain people.

“North of Edinburgh? Must be an island, mate. Special needs. I mean rates.”

Unsurprisingly, Moray’s MP has suggested that geography lessons may be required. Last-minute ones, I suggest. Time is ticking.

Into and out of Nowhere

We approached Little Gidding across the Fens, through Ramsey and into the middle of nowhere.

This particular Nowhere, in case you should stumble into it, is a stunning piece of countryside away from the bustle of suburbs and motorways, – a distance measured not so much in miles as in degrees of reality.

It is not far south-west of where my great-grandfather – and probably his father – lived and died. That was Norman’s Cross, and it has been pretty much brushed out of the landscape by the A1(M). But it nudges up against Folksworth, which is where those two ancestors are buried, the wording on their tombstones fading visibly in the short time since I had seen them last.

We ate Sunday lunch there, in the Fox – which I can recommend highly.

I had been rather embarrassed about originating from an area I had regarded as “near Peterborough”, which seemed about as boring a bit of Middle England as you could get. Having spent a couple of days at Little Gidding, which my ancestors must have known, I feel rather differently.

Some of this comes from reading the poem of the same name – the last of T S Eliot’s magical Four Quartets, which contains the same quiet beauty as the place itself. We read it right through on the Sunday morning in Ferrar House, a matter of yards from the beautiful little church dedicated to St John, with whom Eliot had much in common. Use of words, most obviously.

From the same house the previous day we had watched a rather haphazard attempt at a hunt, with horses and dogs milling about and another fox racing across the middle distance. Not my choice of Saturday afternoon leisure, but it reinforced the “nowhere” feeling. Or maybe it was “somewhere else”. Maybe it didn’t happen. Who knows?

The following day we took the short, slightly muddy walk up to Steeple Gidding, with its empty, pewless church and wonderful views. And after lunch in the Folksworth Fox we slipped on to that destructive A1(M) and headed south towards Cambridge.

A quicker route, but cruel: sadly, and without warning, Nowhere vanished.

The year of the bully is at the door – or is it already here?

A list is doing the rounds of what might make the news in the year 2030. You know the kind of thing – “Baby conceived naturally: scientists stumped”; “Average weight of a British male drops to 18 stone”.

Chaos is clearly on the way, as it has been for so long. I suspect, however, that it is nearer than we might have thought.

Already the police have more or less abandoned their traditional roles. I understand that ordinary, untrained people with plenty of axes to grind are sporting video cameras with which to trap unwary motorists and others – even cyclists and, in some cases, actual criminals. Evidence from these cameras can in some cases be accepted in court. Technologically speaking, it can only get worse.

No-one ever sees a police officer on the beat nowadays, unless there is a football match or concert in the vicinity.

Parliament is apparently about to fall apart because no-one can tell the difference between flirting and inappropriate touching. I once asked a female friend about this, and she said it depended on whether the man was attractive, which seems unfair, but I’m not sure who on.

This is not to excuse anyone who actually assaults a woman sexually, which is despicable at all levels. I know a few women who would leave such a perpetrator with serious injuries – and good luck to them. Bullies are pathetic, which is sad, as there are so many of them, and most of them are in positions of power.

Which reminds me of the old quote: “The wrong people are in power because they would not be in power if they were not the wrong people.”

Meanwhile it will not be long before the world is ruled by lobby groups. I am constantly being asked to add my name to an online petition – often one where I cannot possibly know whether or not it is justified. I am sure many people sign such petitions purely because they sound right, or because it makes them feel better.

As I write, Avaaz – perhaps the most vocal such group – is crowing that “we could be about to beat Monsanto, crumbling the cornerstone of its billion-dollar empire”! Why? Because Monsanto produces “toxic mega-killer glyphosate”.

Obviously toxic mega-killers are bad. Anyone could tell you that. And if enough people sign a petition, politicians terrified by popular pressure will ban glyphosate, which is a rather successful herbicide, improving our ability to feed people.

Why don’t Avaaz like it? Well, it’s been classified as probably carcinogenic, on the same level as – wait for it – night shifts, alcoholic beverages and solar radiation (sunlight).

I’m not a scientist; so I don’t know whether glyphosate is more or less dangerous than sunlight. But I do know that getting gullible people to sign that kind of a petition is simply attempting to bully your way to getting what you want.

And that is what chaos is all about. No rule, no law, no love. Just bullying.

Pressure, pressure, nothing but pressure

I have obtained a blood pressure monitor. Whenever I feel the urge, I strap it on and take a reading.

This can get quite compulsive, although I am not sure why. It does not make me feel better: there’s no rush of adrenaline, or sudden warmth, or a mysterious, inexplicable calmness.

It is more like a driving curiosity: trying to work out what time of day gives the best results. I have not managed this yet – the readings vary alarmingly. Should I take it just after having a bath, just after getting up, just after a meal or while watching television? Should I try to catch myself by surprise? Not easy.

Of course there is the additional complication of not knowing what it means. Say I have 130/97. I have no idea what is 130, or what is 97, and why one should be above the other.

When it comes down to it, I am simply trying to get both as low as possible, because I know that is what doctors like. I guess there is a point below which is advisable not to venture. Zero blood pressure does not sound good.

I like to try to keep my doctor happy (I should say doctors, because one rarely sees the same one twice in succession: the appointment system seems to prevent this). As it is well known that doctors are obsessed by blood pressure, especially if you are over 60, getting it right sometimes allows you to mention any other problem that you might have, like feeling lousy all the time. As the latter does not involve statistics, doctors tend not to be too interested.

I met a nurse the other day who took my blood pressure. She took it twice, actually, and it was much better the second time. Possibly this was because she had been chatting to me about how I felt. It did make me feel a bit better – or a bit more optimistic.

Of course there is a limit to what nurses can do. Doctors don’t like them to get above themselves; so they can’t diagnose or prescribe anything, even though they’re probably good at both those things. What she did do was make an appointment for me to see …well,  a doctor.

This does seem an awful waste of NHS resources. But I shall continue taking my blood pressure in the hope that the doctor will be distracted enough by my good results to listen to my symptoms without realising she’s doing it. At the moment I feel I’m more likely to die of feeling lousy than high blood pressure. But don’t try telling a doctor that. She (or he) will laugh in your face.

Could have complained, but glad we didn’t

In these days of TripAdvisor and other websites that carry reviews of people’s holiday experiences, I may have become a little blasé about what I expect to find when I reach my  destination. It must be pretty good, mustn’t it, or no-one would go there? If it wasn’t close to perfect, it would have been exposed by dissatisfied customers, wouldn’t it?

In just such a frame of mind, tinged by the tiniest touch of trepidation, I travelled to Wales – to a cottage that I had found on the net but which did not seem to figure on the usual websites. I will not say exactly where in Wales, because I don’t want to put you off, or upset anyone.

The information online was a bit limited; so I rang to check exactly how far up the ramblers’ path it was situated. No distance, I was told – about two minutes – and I could park at the hotel.

In fact it was less than two minutes, if you were fairly fit. What wasn’t mentioned by anyone was that the narrow ramblers’ path in question ascended steeply from the main road, with loose stones and deep steps, some of them uneven and made of slippery slate. Oh, and the hotel car park was small and usually full; so you often had to park on the busy main road.

My wife had just twisted her knee; so progress was a bit slow, and I had to haul all the baggage up and down myself. I didn’t mind that – at least, not until the day we left, when it rained very hard throughout the process. Still, it was an interesting experience, and by then we had bought some on-offer walking poles.

The cottage itself was cold and a bit damp on arrival, but a girl from the hotel quickly explained the central heating to us, and we had no trouble from that point onwards. The bedroom closet was musty, but then it was Wales, wasn’t it?

The mirror in the bathroom had fallen off the wall and seemed to have lodged behind the taps. It lurched frighteningly towards me when I turned a tap on. Still, no problem. We moved it to somewhere safer. There were a few small holes in the outside door, but other than that the main room was comfortable and had everything we needed, though three of the lights didn’t seem to work.

The view was almost lovely, and would have been if you liked scaffolding. The hotel roof was being repaired, though I’m glad to say no work was done while we were there; so there was no noise problem. No WiFi either, and no phone signal. But to be fair, no-one had said there would be.

The ramblers’ path continued past the cottage and within a metre of the bedroom window, which was a bit worrying at first, though I don’t think a single rambler (other than us) used the path while we were there.

All these things made an impression on us in the first hour or so, and we were a little worried. It all seemed a bit edgy. What might go wrong?

But here’s the thing: nothing did. Electricity and water worked perfectly, as did the bath and shower. The kitchen was well enough equipped, and the bed was comfortable. The TV worked on various channels, and played DVDs. (Tip: Do not watch The Lady Musketeer. Ever.)

I am sure those who enjoy complaining could have had a field day here, right from the outset, but in fact we had a great week, and it was with a sense of disappointment that we negotiated the descent of the ramblers’ path for the last time. We had dinner in the hotel twice, and that was good too. We also reached the summit of Snowdon, but that’s another story.

Driverless cars? I see them every day

Fleets of driverless lorries will be trialled on Britain’s motorways next year, we have been warned.

I say “warned” because the idea is so obviously insane. No doubt a computer has predicted that all will be well, global temperatures will fall, everyone will save money  and the economy will blossom. Terrific. And if anything goes wrong we can always blame Brexit.

Is the country being run by idiots, or is it just me? Ok, I know. It’s me.

In my half a century of driving, I have (at the time of writing) not injured anyone, unless you count the time my mother bumped her head when I braked too sharply. So I guess my methods can’t be too bad. Or am I just lucky?

I think I am lucky, because I have been able to exercise a skill I enjoy during a period when cars became reliable and safe and there was some freedom on the roads – in other words, before the road safety industry and irresponsible pressure groups like Brake came to power and we got ridiculously low speed limits, big–brother enforcement cameras and were encouraged to drive more and more slowly while being distracted to a greater and greater degree.

Will we get driverless cars? I think we have them already. I drive behind them almost every day. There may be someone sitting in the driver’s seat, but they aren’t driving. They’re just allowing the car to process along at a snail’s pace without paying any attention to the skills they should be employing – being in the right gear, anticipating danger, taking the opportunity to overtake where it’s safe to do so, making progress as quickly as is reasonable (which used to be standard police advice in the good old days).

The argument is that this non-driving makes the road safer. But it doesn’t. Let’s take Aberdeenshire, for example. They’re introducing a whole raft of measures designed to make motoring more miserable, including mobile cameras and 20mph as the norm in “all major settlements”.

A recent study (try to control your excitement) had found that “drivers across the north-east still see speeding, dangerous driving and reckless behaviour behind the wheel as acceptable”. This is such obvious nonsense that anyone with an ounce of brain would ignore it. Can you imagine anyone saying: “Yes, I think dangerous driving is acceptable”?

But no, the police and highways authorities have to act, because so many people are dying on the roads. Really? Well no, actually, there’s a 50% drop on averages taken a decade ago.

As an experienced driver I suggest we ditch cameras, raise speed limits to a sensible level and concentrate on prosecuting drivers who are drunk, drugged, on their mobile phone, changing a CD or simply not paying attention. Because those are the reasons – together with falling asleep – for nearly all fatal accidents.

Speeding can also be a factor (the true percentage is surprisingly low), but speeding is not exceeding the speed limit: it is driving dangerously fast for the conditions.

Speed cameras do not catch dangerous drivers. Or anyone else worth catching. If they didn’t rake in the cash, they would be thrown away tomorrow. Everything else is an attempt to mislead the public, and I have to say it’s been pretty successful.

What do you mean by love? Christians facing deportation

The following article was published by Barnabas Fund on its website. It merits wider circulation. Admittedly publishing it here doesn’t help much, but feel free to share it.

 

Sweden is about to deport back to Iran a well-known Iranian actress who has left Islam to become a Christian, despite the fact that the deportation  would violate the UN Refugee Convention. Aideen Strandsson came to faith in Christ after watching a video in Iran of a woman being stoned to death.

She explained how, shortly after this, “I had a dream about Jesus. He was sitting near me and he took my hand.”

She kept her faith a secret, but when she came to Sweden on a work visa in 2014 she asked for a public baptism, saying, “I want to have a baptism in public because I want to say I am not afraid any more. I am free, I am Christian, I want everyone to know about that.”

However, Swedish officials have told Aideen that becoming a Christian was “her decision”, and now it’s “her problem” and not theirs. At her asylum hearing, a Swedish migration official even told her it would not be as bad for her in Iran as she is expecting because it would only be six months in prison.

In fact, Iranian prisons are a particularly dangerous environment for any woman. Rape has been widely used against female prisoners since the 1979 Islamic revolution on the pretext that women offenders must not be allowed to remain virgins, as this could result in them being admitted to paradise. Added to this, as both an apostate from Islam and a nationally known actress who has appeared in films and on TV, Miss Strandsson is likely to be viewed as a significant embarrassment to the Iranian government. As such, her life will be in serious danger. As Barnabas Fund recently reported, there is increasing evidence that Iranian agents are active, even in the West, in monitoring Iranian Christians and Aideen has already received threats on social media.

The Swedish government’s actions are a clear violation of the UN Refugee Convention, which states that its “core principle”, which has the status of International law, is, “a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.”

Sweden has recently let in large numbers of migrants from Muslim-majority nations. However, a public backlash has led the government to crackdown on asylum-seekers and now Christians such as Aideen may be deported back to countries where they face prison, abuse and even death. In a worrying new trend, which may affect Christians in other European countries which have recently allowed in large numbers of migrants, decisions on asylum appear to be influenced not just by human rights but also by government targets, with little or no recognition of the specific persecution faced by Christian minorities in countries such as Iran.

We have seen this problem in the selection of refugees for resettlement in the West from countries such as Syria. Despite the USA and other countries saying that they accept that Christians and other religious minorities such as Yazidis have faced genocide there, the UN High Commission for Refugees still does not include this in their “vulnerability criteria” and Western governments perversely claim they cannot do so because they “must treat members of all religions equally.” This attitude that refuses to recognise the specific persecution faced by non-Muslims is costing Christian lives. Tragically, it now appears to have spread to European countries such as Sweden.

Miss Strandsson’s attorney, Gabriel Donner, who has assisted around a thousand Christian asylum seekers, was asked if the Swedish authorities thought she was lying or simply do not care. He replied, “Primarily they don’t care – it’s numbers. They have promised the public in Sweden that they will deport more people than before and so they have to fill the quota.”

He also says that part of the problem is that Sweden is now so irreligious that officials have no understanding of religious conversion and simply assume it is a lifestyle choice, rather than an experience of who God is that affects their eternal destiny.

“A convert says, ‘I converted because of the love I received from Jesus Christ,’ and they almost mockingly ask the convert, ‘What do you mean by love?’ They don’t understand the message in the Bible. It’s just completely alien to them.”

Mr Donner estimated that approximately 8,000 Christian asylum-seekers are now hiding in Sweden to avoid deportation.

One of the places I could call home

If home is where the heart is, there are a number of places on this transitory sphere that I could call home.

Several of them are in Scotland, and one of them is a fairly remote spot near Braemar called the Linn of Quoich.

It is approached down a single-track road which passes first over the better known Linn of Dee, where the mighty river crashes through from the wilderness that is the Cairngorm mountains into the still high valley that brings it eventually – without ever calming down – to Balmoral, Royal Deeside, Ballater, Aberdeen and the sea.

At the end of the road there used to be a bridge and a small parking area. The bridge was swept away as the Waters of Quoich changed course during a storm less than two years ago, and now there is no easy way up the far bank of the river. There is a steepish path up the near side, and it soon reaches the Linn (a steep ravine) and the Punchbowl, and the old cottage that has been little more than walls and a roof for as long as I can remember.

This is a dramatic and beautiful spot, with Beinn a Bhurd a very long walk in the distance. Ten years ago I visited the Linn with a friend. It was a warm day, and he lay down on a rock beside the river, which was relatively low at the time, and went to sleep. I wasn’t feeling too well. As usual no-one was about – until a woman appeared further down and walked past us, up into the hills.

The poem below was written as a result of this small moment in time.

Won’t get fooled again – or will we?

I was walking through our local park the other day – I say park, but it’s basically a roughish piece of grass surrounded by nameless plants and bushes that are kept under control by the Old Library Park Collective.

You may be wondering what a Park Collective is. It’s a loose group of individuals who are trying to keep the park free of drugs and prostitutes. Oh, and litter. I am very much in favour of them. The council should do it, but they’re far too busy.

Anyway, I was walking in the litter-free park, and there were a couple canoodling on the grass. They looked at me, and I could see their minds working. “Look at that old guy,” they were thinking. “I bet he’s disapproving of us canoodling on the grass. He’ll never have done anything like this. He thinks we should be working.”

Actually, I was thinking it was rather nice to see a couple canoodling on the grass, because there was a time when I did that a lot, and I seem to remember that it’s very pleasant. I would do it now, but people would laugh, and I might not be able to get up.

On the whole, I like young people, not least because I used to be one. There seem to be an increasing number of young people, however, who think I never was young – who regard people of my age as a completely different species because we use words like “canoodling”.

In fact the main difference between young people and older people is that older people have been around longer. We have seen more mistakes made; we have seen where certain paths always lead. That’s why the surge in more younger people voting is not necessarily reassuring.

I have a lot of friends who despise Mrs Thatcher. They were not around (or not old enough) in the 1970s, and so do not know why Mrs Thatcher was voted into power, and why many of us were relieved when she was (though not necessarily delighted that she stayed in power so long). I have a lot of friends who hated Cameron and Osborne, but then suddenly decided Cameron and Osborne were right about the EU. Odd, to say the least.

It’s hard to read people’s minds, and as a result, many of us are wrong quite a lot of the time. Especially politicians. The trick is to make sure that those who could do the most damage never get into power. Unfortunately that trick is well-nigh impossible to pull off, because it’s hard to tell exactly who they are. Especially if you’ve never seen anyone like them before.

Where Christianity is not tolerated

Politically, I share by no means all the views of Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. I do however deplore the way he was hounded out of that position by the “illiberal elite” who find Christianity hard to stomach and easy to condemn.

I am therefore quoting in full an article published on the website of Christian Concern, an organisation which – among other things – exposes unjust treatment of Christians whose views just don’t fit with the “spirit of the age”. While I may not share all such views, I think it’s important to listen to them.

 

Tim Farron’s resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats “demonstrates that Christians are simply not tolerated by the illiberal elite”, says Andrea Williams.

In his resignation statement, Farron said that to be leader of the Liberal Democrats and “to live as a committed Christian…felt impossible” to him. He added “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant society”.

Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, which represents hundreds of Christians mistreated for living out their faith in Great Britain, commented:

“At the Christian Legal Centre we have seen first hand the pressure Christians have been under to conform to the new morality of sexual liberation and radical secularism. From street preachers arrested for quoting the Bible to students thrown off their courses for holding to a Christian view of sexuality, there can be no doubt that the supposedly tolerant society of 21st century Britain is deeply intolerant of Jesus Christ and his teaching.

“Tim Farron’s story demonstrates that even those who accept the liberal political agenda wholeheartedly become targets who are unfairly hounded and bullied. He was forced to answer questions on the morality of ‘gay sex’ and abortion. During the election campaign he had to choose whether to surrender his conscience and forfeit his soul to the intolerant, marauding elite.

“Even though he capitulated, this did not stop the hunt. Today he felt he could no longer lead, and had no option but to resign.

“Tim Farron’s treatment demonstrates that Christians are simply not tolerated by the illiberal elite in positions of influence. This, alongside the widespread reaction to the DUP’s views on abortion and same-sex unions, is further evidence of this anti-Christian morality.

“The vilification of the DUP for its opposition to abortion and same-sex unions and castigation of Tim Farron is shocking and upsetting. If we continue in this crusade of ‘totalitolerance’, we will enter a harsh and conformist world where Christianity will be ‘no platformed’ and eventually squeezed out of every sphere of public life. The elite determines what are toxic unacceptable views. Unless you approve of their ‘new morality’ you are punished. At first comes the loss of privilege, a political position, a place at university, then the detriment: the refusal of a grant and ultimately criminal sanction.

“The history of our nation proves that when Christianity was firmly at the heart of public life there was freedom, prosperity and beauty. The hard atheism that currently dominates our political discourse is cruel and doesn’t tolerate dissent. Tim Farron is another in a long line of casualties. It is time to fight back before it is too late.”