Lockdown Poem

Every morning I get up and walk, at around 5.30 or 6. If it’s a bad day it’s 8, and the number of people irritate me, and I become quite silly and sulky. One becomes quite strange in this Lockdown. Some friends that live alone are not finding it easy, and I suspect that a few people who find themselves with a partner feel equally alone, in a different way. Others are just having a great time, and I find myself telling them to enjoy themselves, and stop feeling guilty.

So here is a picture of what I see when I go for my walk… and a poem about lockdown:

Lockdown

Freedom went
Didn’t know our luck
Plucked and stuck
Doors closed
Luckdown
Lockdown

Knockdown
Look down
Life down
Life drown
Doors closed
Hearts opened

We gave food 
Queued
Stepped back
Polite and rude
Some clapped
Clapped out
Stepped back
Wept, crept
Paused
Looked back
Lockdown

Isolation
Home alone
Phone home
Alone 
With myself
With another
Melted thoughts
Knockdown

Move aside
Shifting
Sideways on
In parks 
Shuffling
Taking
Talking 
Waking
Walking
Lying
Breaking

Gift of love
Song of life
Bottle of hope
Food for thought
Insight… Lockdown

Entering the Age of The Hanged Man

There are oracles and prophets – some are inscrutable, some efficient, some dicey and some totally illuminating. It’s always a good thing to consult the oracle when you get your metaphoric knickers in a twist. 

I used to read Tarot cards with great enthusiasm in my youth — but after some really unpleasant presages of things that happened to people I loved, I went right off it. This is, of course ridiculous, because life is full of ups and downs, and just because you get a signpost of what’s to happen, there’s no reason to go all wimpy, but I did… so I just don’t read Tarot cards any more.

Recently I realised that the Tarot is also a good indicator of zeitgeist, and I realised that we have now entered the age of The Hanged Man. So who is the Hanged Man? Some people say he has a female face, and is smiling, but the most important thing about him/her is that she hangs upside-down suspended from a wooden gibbet and for all the world looks very calm… but above all things she represents sacrifice, something that we know nothing about. When Margaret Thatcher became prime minister and told the nation that we had the right to have everything we wanted, we forgot about sacrifice. But Thatcher is also a lesson on how being self-serving doesn’t necessarily work. I don’t think she was that happy in the end.

As we all know, we now occupy a crazy world, ruled by the likes of Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro. Significantly those three have failed their countries conspicuously when it comes to Covid 19. Their creed perpetuates a world where money is the only goal worth pursuing. No wonder they have all fallen at the first hurdle thrown at them by mother nature.

Now we have to learn about sacrifice – it’s the new norm. Sacrifice is such a beautiful thing. The best side of it sees people doing astonishing things for others, risking their lives, taking time to nurture, care for people and think about them… and very sadly, sometimes even die for them. Sacrifice has us all hanging upside down from the gibbet with a smile on our faces knowing all the things we can no longer do, or see, or be, or eat, or achieve. And none of them are that important. But in the knowing of sacrifice we can, if we are lucky, be a great deal happier, wiser and more loving. It can be done.

And here’s a little film from the brilliant Sarah West to remind us of the joy that comes out of sacrifice: 

A Tribute to Carers… Across the World

I come across many carers — gentle people who have nursed men, women and children for days, weeks and sometimes years. At a funeral, it was always evident that they cared so much, and carried out their work with love and tenderness. My heart went out to them. They wore an invisible badge of compassion.

Today carers – including doctors and nurses are in the front line in the fight against the Corona virus, and we find ourselves both revering and celebrating their courage and devotion.

For the past two Thursdays, at 8pm, neighbours have stood in doorways and hung from windows and just applauded, crashed pans, rung bells, shook maracas and beaten drums for a few minutes in heartfelt appreciation for the heroic carers working for us and sometimes dying for us. After the applause had died down and we returned to the house I realised I had tears in my eyes, like millions of other people, everywhere.

Here’s my prayer for carers:

Let’s give thanks
To those that know compassion
Carers, nurses, doctors
Gentle and kind
Volunteers and cleaners
Serving people near and far 
Adults and children 
Young and old
Female and male
Let’s offer up our loving thanks


Let’s honour those
That are fearless
As they walk
Into the valley of death
Sweeping aside dread
Bringing comfort to the timid
And strength to the vulnerable
Envoys of the highest order 

Let’s applaud
Those that support us
And support them 
Across the world
Down your road and mine
Blow whistles –
Clatter and yell –
Broadcast in sound and spirit
Praise and honour all they do
Today, tomorrow and always
As we confront invisible forces…
The daunting unknown
From our place of isolation

Amen

Remembering Claire Shelton-Jones… Mother, Grandmother, Teacher, Guide and Mentor

Today I learned of the death of a great friend, a woman of this City who was a mum, grand mum, teacher – and for me – a spiritual and cultural mentor that not only changed my life, but the lives of hundreds and probably thousands of people, by explaining ways to express ideas, and pass them on.

Claire Shelton-Jones

Only some teachers have this profound ability, and Claire was particularly gifted; she influenced her pupils, of all ages, in subtle and inspirational ways.  I must turn to The Tao to describe the way Claire operated as an educator:

Therefore, the master acts without doing anything, 
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

I met Claire under the most bizarre circumstances, the kind of circumstances that compel one to respect destiny. I was living in Brunswick Square at the time, and a neighbour asked me to find a women’s writing group. I ended up in The Jubilee Library, looking at a hand-written card giving information about a group that met regularly just off the Old Steine. We went and the neighbour soon gave up; it was all about poetry… but for me that group was special… and Claire who ran it, changed my life.

With a core of about five or six writers, and a couple with enormous talent, I found that my life expanded; the group gave me creative and spiritual sustenance of a kind I never knew existed. Claire had the ability to bring out the very best in us all. Apart from her poetry, which was beautiful, I found the writing of Pauline Suett Barbieri and Rikki Hennessey particularly fine, and I read Rikki’s beautiful words to this day.

Every time we met, Claire would give us some homework — a poem to write about and we would read our stuff aloud, listen to Claire and compare and contrast. The subjects chosen were unusual… they varied from umbrellas to ‘the road to hell’. My output varied from blank verse to dreadful doggerel. Before I joined Claire’s group I had a real aversion to poetry. Today, I look at my library and see that there are more poetry books there than anything else, and all thanks to Claire. Not only that, I have just browsed my old ‘homework’ file on my computer and discovered that I wrote 154 poems under her gentle guidance… but 154 is nothing. Today I have an on-line library of over 100 funeral readings (all poems) and a massive library of poetry used for everything from weddings to Mayoral Council Meetings. Thank you, Claire.

Claire was a person with her own views, nearly all of which resonated with my own. When we met recently we bemoaned the current political scenario, and looked at it from many angles. She knew very well what she did and didn’t like; yet in the poetry group she had infinite patience with us if we found things difficult, helping the more anxious students by offering words of kindness, much to the irritation of some of us, who were much less patient. She was compassionate, insightful and always soft spoken. She also taught students with learning disabilities, and I can imagine she was brilliant.

She leaves behind a lovely family – Tim, her delightful husband, who is also a gifted poet, Matthew and Katie, and a grandson.

By opening the door to a skill I didn’t even recognise in myself, Claire empowered me and, I believe many other people. 

Just over a week ago, in my capacity as Chaplain to the Mayor I realised I had to say something about the massive weight of responsibility faced by the Councillors today. Available time was limited, but it was important to let the Councillors know that they were appreciated. I wrote a short poem that (apparently) worked well, across all parties. This poem would never have existed without Claire. Here it is.

In Times of Uncertainty
Dedicated to all the Councillors of Brighton and Hove

In times of uncertainty
Good people happen.
The hungry are fed
The weak nurtured
Gardens are cultivated
But it is not easy

In moments of uncertainty
So much of what you do
Seems indiscernible and yet
It is not; unassuming service
Changes lives for the better
It brings gifts beyond compare
As you put your hand to a small pronouncement
As you touch a household you do not know
A gesture of compassion brings immeasurable change
In times of uncertainty
We need you 
We are your community
This is our City 
I am that street dweller
These children are yours
And so, we are in your hands
Held in your hands… and your heart
Thank you… 

And thank you so much Claire Shelton-Jones…

When Reality Imitates Fantasy: Dominic Cummings and Gríma Wormtongue

Dominic Cummings Advisor to King Theoden

I have never been able to understand those that hold works of fantasy and fiction in contempt. All my life I have been convinced that the greatest characters in fiction are to be found everywhere in life. Characters of the imagination are simply archetypes of people that we all know, in some form or another. The most spectacular recent ‘dead ringer’ who constantly pops up in the news is Dominic Cummings – the so-called political strategist, currently serving as chief special adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Not only does dear old Dom look exactly like Gríma Wormtongue from the Lord of the Rings, but he operates like him and the nature of his working relationship to the bumbling Prime Minister elegantly duplicates Wormtongue’s relationship with King Theoden of Rohan. The similarities are stunning. Even more astonishing is the fact that Grima is also having his strings pulled by another force of power, not Putin the Red but Saruman the White, or Saruman of many colours, as he liked to be known. The similarities are spectacular. If you haven’t read Lord of the Rings, or seen the film, do so now, I am convinced that Cummings has styled himself on Gríma to simply brilliant effect. Well done Dom.

Grima Wormtongue, the well known advisor to King Billy Bunter

The dramas and real tragedies we are witnessing now have taken on all the horror of a compelling children’s book. Somewhere in the distance all the people and animals in the forest are being swept away on a tide of water and the force of wind thrown at our world by Nature, Nature, the beautiful spirit that has simply had enough of us all, and our idiotic, destructive ways. Meanwhile the King and his cronies lie under the bedclothes snoring and farting and pretending that nothing has happened. From time to time his knights protest, but all he really wants to do is stuff his face like Billy Bunter and sit at his great oval table and hear the voices of his sycophantic toadies squawk “Yes, yes, great King. You are right. You are powerful. We bow down to you, and do as you tell us.” Well done Dom and well done King Theoden (aka Billy Bunter) and well done J.R.R. Tolkien, although Wikipedia tells me that even Wormtongue is based on another ancient character – Unferth from Beowulf. Personally, I am inclined to think he is just another archetype, somebody we all know, and Uriah Heep belongs in this category… and that said… go and see Armando Iannucci’s “The Person History of David Copperfield” it reminds me that we are all archetypes, all cartoon characters, and hopefully even the bad ones eventually get their comeuppance, even if it takes a bit of time.

On the subject of cartoon characters… Martin Scorsese has it wrong when he says Marvel films are formulaic and ‘aren’t cinema’. Marvel films are just jammed full of splendid stories and wonderful characters, from Rocket Raccoon to Gamora and I for one would far rather sit through Avengers Endgame than live for three hours with The Irishman, which is also about violence, but violence of a more unpleasant and realistic kind. But then, it takes all sorts. I have loved Marvel all my life and I fear I am not very highbrow. Hey ho!

All Hail King Billy Bunter
And look who’s here?
And here… and there

Holocaust Memorial Day

This is the talk I gave at The Friends Meeting House concerning Holocaust Memorial Day. The reaction, which was very enthusiastic surprised me, and many people asked me to post it on my blog… so here it is.

Following on from our other speaker (David Selo) who considered the historical importance of Holocaust Memorial day, it has fallen to me to look at this subject in the light of today… and the impact of the past on the present…

I decided to wear my stole to honour today; this particular stole carries a number of symbols that I feel are closest to my heart and are relevant — the star of David, which denotes my origins, and the dove of peace which is particularly important to me, also the Ankh… the Ankh is the Egyptian hieroglyph for life and has become associated with eternity, and it is also sometimes called The Crux Ansata. It represents the goddess Hathor who is associated with the zest for life and interestingly she is also the goddess of death. Her symbol reminds us of the beauty of being… and also non-being, in this world and the next. Symbols are important; the one symbol I don’t have here is the symbol of the butterfly, which was drawn, etched and painted by thousands of children at the (Theresienstat) Terezin Concentration camp… it seems so important that these children chose this symbol, because the butterfly represents the soul, endurance, hope, life, rebirth and renewal.

Holocaust Memorial Day has come to represent the sorrow and tragedy of many people throughout the world, innocent people who have died for their apparent difference. I don’t believe there any difference between any of us. Whether one is marginalised by so called race, or ideology, the act of murder is just an excuse to vent hatred and exert power…. Right now there are 40 known wars taking place as we sit here, 40 places where people are killing each other for ideology or racial differences, and equally frightening… there is also a corporate war, fuelled by human greed, waged on the very fabric of our planet itself, its resources and all its life forms. 

As we all know, and some here will know better than I, lessons from the past can teach us a lot about the future. And to start with, I won’t accept the complacency that says ‘It couldn’t happen here’ because… we need to remember that the Concentration Camp is in itself is a British invention; it was used in the second Boer War, from 1899 to 1902… and concentration camps were also used by White Americans to contain and control the Native American population in the mid 19th century so this method of corralling and controlling people of so called ‘difference’ has been in operation for a long time. The other reason that I won’t accept any kind of complacency, particularly from those that say ‘It couldn’t happen here’ is because it is happening in part right now…

UK Removal Centre

Look no further – men and women are being treated in the most degrading way, solely because of their so-called difference… people are being detained right now in UK Removal Centres, this is Government created language, language used to dehumanise… hence this interesting phrase… UK Removal Centres. A UK Removal Centre is not somewhere where furniture is stored, it refers to a place designed to imprison people whose only crime is to seek freedom when their home is no longer safe, who are housed in prisons with names like Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, Campsfield House in Oxfordshire and Colnbook Immigration Centre – run by Mitie PLC, and Dungavel in Lanarkshire run by the GEO Group. Who are these innocent people and who are the companies chosen to do this dreadful work for Her Majesty’s Government? Mitie promotes itself as a UK facilities management company, whilst the GEO Group is a worldwide Group committed to providing ‘leading, evidence-based rehabilitation programs to individuals while in-custody and post-release into the community through the “GEO Continuum of Care programme which includes cognitive behavioural treatment, integrated with post–release support services”. 

Dungavel Removal Centre

The privatisation of detention centres means that corporations (with shareholders) are making money out of imprisonment of innocent people who have been expelled from their homes and their homelands, and we, one of the richest countries in the world are paying for companies to forcefully hold and imprison people for our own political ends, and those imprisoned are called immigrants and aliens.

It is with a heavy heart I see that our own Government may use child refugees as bargaining chips for its own political ends. In its first days of power the new Government rejected any attempt to reinstate child refugee protection rights, an inhumane position that defies understanding. 

Returning to the holocaust… The secret of identifying the machinery of holocaust lies in the methods and means. The devil definitely lies in the detail — Topf and Sons was a company known for its industrial heating and brewing systems. They also happened to manufacture crematoria ovens in Buchenwald, Dachau and other concentration camps and later became known as ‘the engineers of the final solution’. Closer to home, another company that you may know better is Thomas J Watson’s IBM which played a particularly ugly role the holocaust story. In this case the detail relates to the production line – every concentration camp maintained its own Hollerith-Abteilung (Hollerith Department), assigned to keep tabs on inmates throughout the war using of IBM’s punch-card technology. Apparently Willy Heidinger, who was the chief executive of Dehomag, the German subsidiary of IBM was an great supporter of the Hitler regime, did a lucrative deal with Watson’s company shortly before the war. The Nazis went on using the technology during the implementation of the final solution; in his book IBM and the Holocaust, Edwin Black states that “without IBM’s machinery, continuing upkeep and service, as well as the supply of punch cards, whether located on-site or off-site, Hitler’s camps could have never managed the numbers they did.” The devil does indeed lie in the detail. So, when you next Google something on your personal computer, please give a thought to the origins of IBM.

Another horrific detail of the holocaust, which abruptly brings us up-to-the moment is Zyklon B. This cyanide-based pesticide was used to gas men, women and children and was also a widely used insecticide; its variants are still manufactured and used today. It is horrifically poisonous, and kills all forms of life, human, mammal and insect alike… yes…this particular form of extermination and its modifications is not confined to people, chemical pesticides kill, and are widely used to undermine life on our planet to this very day. I was reminded of this tragic fact only a week or so ago by my own MP, Caroline Lucas, who was curating at an exhibition of some beautiful nature paintings and landscapes at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne. During her talk she reminded us that in her own lifetime we have lost half of all our beautiful wildlife in the UK. Half. Moderns farming with its propensity to kill everything that moves, has contributed to the destruction of so much, and where will that take us in 50 years’ time? I hope, most truly that we will seek to reverse what we have destroyed, in so many ways.

During the 12 years that the Third Reich held power, people across Europe who were under the shadow of this most dreadful system said that they didn’t know what was going on, an excuse echoed time and time again. Later on, Nazi sympathisers and other members of the extreme right have reiterated and developed their position by denying the existence of the Holocaust itself, and an interesting and alarming parallel is now manifesting itself on a global scale. Today Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites occupy a number of corners of the world, they appear to be growing in number, but we all hope that their growth is a mere anomaly. Climate change denial which shares many similarities, is not only widely spread, readers of millions of right-wing newspapers, published in the UK, Australia and the United States are aggressively promoting climate change denial in order to uphold corporate convenience and imperatives, and keep their advertisers happy.

There is a definite relationship between Holocaust denial and climate change denial. What I find most alarming is the similarities between these two topics in terms of images, images that we have all come to know. In the case of the Holocaust the black and white images show seeming piles of rubbish, which aren’t rubbish at all, they are piles of corpses – people –  people who had hobbies, families, passions and personalities like you and I, piled into heaps… and also piles of artefacts, clothes, prosthetics, wedding rings and hair, and those tragic images have a horrible parallel with the images of today, right now … vast piles of human stuff — debris of all kinds (in apparently distant lands) with children sifting through the rubbish in order to find something to eat, or trade… and also images of lakes and seas of plastic, clogging up the very soul of the planet, fish, corals and plankton…  piles of discarded consumer products filling up filthy landfill as consumerism continues on its relentless way… and images of struggling animals trying to survive oil slicks, animals fleeing the destruction of their habitat, by land grabbers, by fire, by corporate greed – forests and jungles burnt and destroyed, places that once served as home to millions of beautiful, now extinct species, from plants to mammals, from hummingbirds to butterflies. The similarities cannot be overlooked. These are anti-life images and they are the work of humans. Another kind of favoured Fascist image was the family propaganda pics of the Nazi regime happy Aryan family images, whose smiling faces are not different from the happy family images now appearing on TV that promote gas guzzling cars, giant SUVs that protect people and their families from other people in similar cars, reminding us that we must protect our own… Always protect our own. No wonder we think in terms of ‘them and us’. The machinery of marketing tells us to do so. 

I do not want to close this talk on a negative tone. The concept of Holocaust Memorial Day is in itself humanitarian and enlightened. It must serve to remind us that we are as much creatures of compassion and empathy as we are creatures of cruelty. But I cannot overlook that my forbears came to this country, and were not imprisoned, they were free to come here. My antecedents came from Portugal, Italy, and Holland on one side, and from Germany on the other, and I am truly grateful that they came here, and above all things… were allowed to stay. And it’s the same for all of us, every single one of us in this room, because we are all refugees according to history… the latest scientific evidence shows that we are much more closely related to each other than was previously thought. There are no five races. We are one race, we all came from Africa, and we are all much more closely related than we realise. If you take any two apes or chimpanzees you will discover they are much more distantly related than you and I. You and I are related. We belong to one race and one race alone that lived in Africa 300,000 years ago, and then 100,000 years afterwards we chose to wander the planet. The 7.7 billion people on this planet are all related to each other. We seem diverse, as diverse as flowers in a beautiful and colourful garden, but we are all related.  

Perhaps the best lesson to be learnt from Holocaust Memorial Day is that we are here, together, sharing this moment in the Friends Meeting House, the home of one of the most generous, hospitable, peace-loving faith groups of all. We are the privileged guests of The Quakers, a group I honour with all my heart, and thank today.  It will not be a novelty to our hosts when I say that we just need to cherish and respect each other, to celebrate each other’s difference in terms of ideas, skin colour, beliefs and enthusiasms… because, as we all know… we learn absolutely nothing from exterminating each other, but we do learn from revering and celebrating life itself, in all its beautiful manifestations. Thank you.

Half of English Wildlife has Disappeared

The Unexpected Flights of Fairies

Peaseblossom, Mustardseed Cobweb and Moth in action

In days of old, when I was running my Marketing and PR Company, I had an office in Kentish Town. Kentish Town then was not the most glorious corner of London, and 30 years ago it was a bit rough, yet aspiring to be genteel and trendy. Our company office was in a mews, and it was quite charming in a bijou sort of mewsy way. We were located opposite a builder, and our other neighbours were thoroughly mixed, varying from an arty-farty photographer to something that was faceless and anonymous, and remained so, and then disappeared very suddenly.

We worked hard, employed quite a few people, and had quite a few adventures. My joke, which was a half joke half-something else was all about how to appeal-to and also appease the household gods. Apparently household gods fall into two categories – the number one hearth goddess and the fairies – better known as Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb and Moth… or Twinkle, Dinkle and Stinkle depending on your choice of literature.

I have always had a strong feeling for good and bad in places, and for many years our office seemed to be a good place, honoured by good spirits, and optimism. As a company we were modest, hard-working and jolly and delivered good work to our clients. Time passed and clients came and went, and the company flourished, and things were good while we were there.  Meanwhile… although I didn’t have shrine to the household gods, I regularly deferred to them, and the staff and co-director put up with my eccentricity, and joined in the fun. 

Then things started to happen in the mews. We had an armed robbery opposite us, and the weekly wages for the builder, which were all in cash, were snatched. After this the vulnerability of the mews started to become apparent. The photographer suffered from a theft, and about six months later so did some other neighbours, and we with our notorious optimism and the support of the household gods continued unaffected…until a year or two passed-by. Then one day we arrived at the office to discover that the very large and expensive five lever lock had been prised off the door, and taken away, and computers and their chips had been grabbed.  A couple of weeks later the thieves came back to take whatever they fancied and had left behind the first time.

 We left shortly afterwards, taking a circuitous route, firstly staying for a short time with an advertising agency that had taken over the photographer’s studio and installed heavy-duty security, and then on to an office in Kensal Rise. But the most intriguing thing was the change that underwent the Kentish Town mews office after the burglary. However much we attempted to shore up the equipment, or the furniture in that place, after the robbery, the fairies were gone, so much so that the staff would comment on it regularly, and they were a lot more astonished by the change in atmosphere than myself. The difference was palpable. The good fairies had flown… for good.

Another fairy duo

That departure by certain spirits from certain places is something we can all identify. It’s not about the colour of the paint, or the warmth or the smell. It’s something to do with the people occupying a space, something to do with feng shui but its more than that. It’s to do with ambience, love, spirit and other things that defy language. It explains why certain cultures have powerful forces that favour them for eons, and then those spiritual or godly elements depart as quickly as they arrived. The presence of mystical and mysterious forces, both positive and negative in rooms, temples, churches and also open spaces is something that children and animals can identify, and adults less so, unless they are spiritually sensitive.

Very recently, when I was on holiday with my partner; we visited all sorts of gardens and stately homes and castles. One of these gardens and its associated castle filled us with a deep sense of apprehension. We couldn’t even enter the building, and although we walked around the gardens, which were large and wild, we still could not shake off the feeling of dread until we had departed from that place. I will never be persuaded that such feelings are imaginary, because they are as real as toothache or bad weather. They are there, and until we start to connect with such feelings, in a healthy and sensible way, we may find ourselves blundering through life without any reference to our intuition which is there for a purpose.

Intuition is a force and feeling that is wise, even if in the short term it appears not to be the case. Intuition is an intrinsic part in our lives and the lives of others, with its lovely knowledge and interaction with the spirits of Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Moth and Cobweb, to name but a few fabulous and famous fairies… that you have to admit… can be so very loveable.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T Adventures in the Unitarian Church… and beyond … in Westminster

There is a school of thought that believes that we have the right to say and do anything anywhere. I am in trouble with the Unitarian Church because at a service ten days ago (that I was holding) I got into a conversation with a mother whose young child clearly did not want to be in the church, and who could blame him? It was a lovely sunny day and the child was making a lot of noise, and yelling that he wanted ‘a wee’ while his parents tried to amuse him with lots of toys and appeals for quiet, which he understandably ignored. People seated around the family looked ready to scream, but unable to do so, because a church is not a good place to scream. When I spoke to the mother about the disruption, she became huffy and asked if I wanted the family to leave… and I checked-in to my inner self. I looked briefly at the congregation, a quiet peaceful group of people who were going to listen to an address about spirit and music, who would later be meditating in near silence, and decided that ‘yes, I wanted them to leave’.

Because of my carefully considered decision I have become a pariah in the Unitarian church, and have been seriously admonished. And so… it came to be… that I was asked why I showed no remorse… and I leave the answer up to you.

The idea that a sacred space is always suitable and open to everyone is not sensible. Some places of worship need quiet to honour and respect a sacred moment and the need for peace and others do not. When we hold the interfaith service on the 24thNovember the church will be full of yelling and singing and reciting kids having a great time and being generally part of the action. I love them. It is their space then — a space for a great mix of people of all ethnicities, faiths, families, ages and ideas. Even the children that come to see their siblings will be happy, because the space honours them all. This is about respect. Respect to know what is right at the right time. 

The other night we all sat around the box watching Jacob Rees Mogg sprawling across a bench in the House of Commons in the most ludicrous way. It was no different from PM Johnson putting his foot on a fine table in the office of the French President for a picture opportunity. It was no different from the PM shouting abuse and children’s playground language at the opposition… language ready to be used and re-used in the tabloid press. This is about inappropriate behaviour, an understanding of what is right in the right place. This is about the difference between children and adults, and I respect both, in the right place at the right time… because I am both. But it is up to adults to identify what is appropriate in order to honour time, place, and moment and the needs of other human beings.

As we sat in front of the box, screaming at the slouching Rees Mogg, our much-loved member of parliament – Caroline Lucas – stood up and voiced everything that had gone through our minds, and more. She reminded us that Rees Mogg’s body language sent out a message – it spoke of boredom… and the unwritten agenda was lack of respect. Respect is needed… right now, and the ability to identify when it should be used is almost as important as expressing it. Respect is not a word that the leadership of this country understands… and this is a shame, because we all know what it is… and we respect respect. Respect is very closely related to love… and lack of it defies language.

Loyalty: from the Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter

We are witnessing a horrific fight for the keys to 10 Downing Street. A rabble of disloyal self-serving politicians is driving our country to hell in a handcart… they don’t know what loyalty is… and they don’t care…

We need loyalty right now. This was my address at The Unitarian Church last Sunday: I started as boringly as possible, so that everything that came afterwards was greeted enthusiastically

Online Etymology Dictionary says that: loyalty comes from the Old French loialteleaute and The Medieval Latin word legalitas. The earlier Middle English form was leaute (mid-13c.), from the older French form. …is about Allegiance … It’s a matter of principle and applies especially to conduct. (Apparently)Loyalty is a matter of both principle and sentiment, conduct and feeling; it implies enthusiasm and devotion.

This deadly dry explanation from cyberspace just reveals that the use of a word in isolation doesn’t mean a thing, but when it’s woven into poetry, literature, conversation and life-experience it’s is a great deal more beautiful and meaningful.

Apart from the madnessof loyalty, the kind of loyalty that led nearly 2.67 million men to volunteer for the First World War, and other mistaken acts of human faith, the word means something very special. So, when I think of loyalty in its most simple sense, I have an almost visceral feeling about it, that is even stronger when I recall those films and books where loyalty has been a key part of the story. I am an enthusiast for some popular literature: The Lord of the Rings, and The Fellowship of the Ring, and Harry Potter all lean heavily on loyalty as underlying themes. I draw the line at The Famous Five, but I’m sure you won’t mind about that. Interestingly it’s said that Agatha Christie held loyalty in low esteem. Maybe that’s why I feel a bit off about her, and I don’t think she likes me much either.

Tolkien was clearly a great enthusiast for loyalty, which may have come, in part from his gruesome wartime experiences. It’s not surprising that The Lord of the Rings is so deeply concerned with loyalty as a central part of its plot. It’s a strong characteristic of the Hobbits, who always insist on doing stuff together. Despite their diminutive size they are allowed to become four of the Nine Walkers chosen to counter the evil of the Nine Black Riders. Their powerful devotion to each other is evident to Elrond (Number one elf) who agrees to let them form the main representative group in The Fellowship of the Ring. 

In Rivendell, the home of Elves, Elrond outlines what the Company of the Fellowship can and cannot do. Later on, when the Company has undergone some terrifying adventures, it is in an act of weakness and disloyalty that upsets everything. A member of the fellowship, Boromir, who is a man (rather than elf or dwarf) breaks up the Fellowship by trying to use brute force to take the Ring of Power. And this is the point in the saga when we discover what can happen to people who are disloyal. It’s a moment that opens out the plot very effectively. In the space of just four short paragraphs…in a book of over 455,000 words, the chain of loyalty is broken with disastrous consequences:

            ‘Come, come, my friend!’ said Boromir in a softer voice. Why not get rid of it? Why not be free of your doubt and fear? You can lay the blame on me, if you will. You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you halfling,’ he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.

            Frodo dodged aside and again put the stone between them. There was only one thing he could do: trembling he pulled out the Ring upon its chain and quickly slipped it on his finger, even as Boromir sprang at him again. (Frodo was now invisible)The Man gasped, stared for a moment amazed, and then ran wildly about, seeking here and there among the rocks and trees.

            ‘Miserable trickster!’ he shouted. ‘Let me get my hands on you! Now I see your mind. You will take the ring to Sauron and sell us all. You have only waited your chance to leave us in the lurch. Curse you and all halflings to death and darkness!’  Then, catching his foot on a stone, he fell sprawling and laid upon his face. For a while he was as still as if his own curse had struck him down; then suddenly he wept.

            He rose and passed his hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears. ‘What have I said?’ he cried. ‘What have I done? Frodo, Frodo!’ He called. ‘Come back!’  A madness took me, but it has passed. Come back!’

Tolkien didn’t let Boromir get away with his act of betrayal. Wild with remorse and regret, he lets this tormented character sacrifice his life shortly afterwards, for the good of the Fellowship, now divided by his act of disloyalty. Meanwhile Frodo, believing that the power of the ring warps everyone around him, runs off to Mordor, to destroy the ring.

It’s a great evaluation of the massive potential effect of disloyalty, and how it can cause a chain reaction. Of all human emotions I have witnessed in my life, disloyalty sows the seeds of regret more than almost any other. Men who have left their wives and children, people who have said bad things about people they admire, all live to regret their disloyalty… Loyalty is both positive and powerful and is much better if honoured if one wants an easy life. And all this serves to remind us that love is almost surely the most important force in our lives (and whatever our belief system) is something sublime.

Another enthusiast for loyalty has to be JK Rowling. Despite a few personal doubts about the consistency of her writing, I have to admire her for her tremendous plot construction and portrayal of loyalty as revealed by Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. These three all know exactly what loyalty is about, and very rarely waver in their support of each other. Like the Lord of the Rings, loyalty is a key component to the story. The loyalty of Severus Snape to Harry’s mother, and to Harry himself, is particularly beautiful and touching, given that for most of the book Harry is fairly unpleasant to Snape, in every way. Snape’s loyalty is almost angelic; through thick and thin he continues to be loathed by everyone, other than Dumbledore, yet still remains both loyal and brave in the face of great opposition. This is loyalty indeed, and it’s a wonderful study of loyalty at its most consistent and touching. As a study in fidelity, its almost worth reading for this alone. I like to think that its impact on the young people has been both profound and life-changing.

There’s not much doubt that loyalty and love are closely related in more than one way, and disloyalty and betrayal are also pretty well one and the same. Yet in the world of business some people use the idea and ideal of loyalty in quite a base way — the phrase ‘customer loyalty’ in all its cynical glory makes my heart sink…. For the time being let’s just bask in the light of faithfulness and kindness as revealed in this church and its congregation, and also another lovely quotation, this time from Cicero, ‘Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable, than loyalty.”