Monday, October 31, 2011


And it is Halloween as I type. October 31st, when large populations, America and the United Kingdom leading the charge, behave irrationally and expressively, and even aggressively in the hedonistic persuit of partying and "trick or treating," and where costume manufacturers rub their hands in glee as millions take advantage of their vestments, sold either in superstores or else via catalogues advertising "More Boo For Your Buck!"

In my greying years I continue to think about this fete in an incredulous way. I don't worry about it, and neither do I condemn it. I leave that to the funless-mental branches of the Faith. If it's fun, and my teenage daughter will surely have fun at tonight's sleep-over with food and a "scary movie," then let people have fun. But why? For what reason? Even an impromptu party has a raison d'etre.

In today's Daily Telegraph, Christopher Howse wrote an brilliant essay entitled Halloween Simply Can't Be Tacky Enough. I enjoyed it, I agreed with it, but I wanted more. (Especially as he didn't say anything about the drunken Irish-American origins of modern "trick or treat." In the early 20th century when most communities were striving to improve themselves, that lot in Boston and New York were inventing ritual begging with real violence.) But I know that I will go unsatisfied.

It goes without saying that commercial festivals have, once created, an inertia of their own. Or rather that of the market forces that lie in the shadows (ooh! A Halloween flavor!) behind them. But is that it? If we accept that Halloween has no connection with Christianity (All Saints' Day), ancient Celtic culture (Samhain) or modern paganism (who falsely interpret Samhain), then what are we left with? Nothing. So a people who celebrate simply because a giant marketing culture snaps its fingers and announces, "Boo!" is in a very sorry state indeed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

There's nowt so queer as folk!

(Old saying. 1905 English Dialect Dictionary IV. 304)

Two overheard comments from two different people at the same farm stand within five minutes of each other. The first was from a man whose whose friend had picked out a bunch of carrots but had dropped them on the floor.

"Get another bunch. Those have now got dirt on them."

The second was by a woman who was getting into a very swish and shiny black Mercedes Benz with, I assume, her husband. "You are going to drive through some mud on the way home. I want people to know we've been to the country."

Hyacinth Bucket lives!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Let it blow, but please not snow!

Well! Not even All Hallows' Eve and we are in the grip of four Weather Warnings. High winds, torrential rain, high surf and coastal flooding. Thankfully the only one missing, as this early unseasonal storm makes its way up the east coast, is snow. We are too far out into the Atlantic for the white stuff to hit us - this time. Mainland New York and New England are already looking white and cold.

In recent years, I think as long as we have been living in this house, November the First is the day when the insect screen in the front screen door is removed and replaced with a glass window. Today, four days early, it is firmly in place!

Friday, October 28, 2011

'Tis The Season

No, not an endorsement of Halloween, or Samhaim as we ancient , rural Celts prefer to celebrate. Neither an invitation to start holiday, sorry – Christmas shopping even earlier than usual. This is a casual, perhaps flippant comment on the forthcoming local elections here on the east end of Long Island. I believe that the polling date is November 8th. What drives this scribble? The obvious fact that the eager politicos (candidates for Town Board, Justice this and that, Committee Member for that and this) choose to visually pollute the gorgeous autumn roads and lanes with their red, white and blue advertisements.

As an aside, it seems candidates from both Republican and Democrat sides, as well as those brave independents, are obliged by marketing need to adopt the colors of the flag. Simplistic, but true. Yet it does not include the poster for a “Conservative” candidate that I saw today. Pale orange and small. Moving on…

Please don’t paint me with a negative brush-stroke, for I am a clear supporter of an open, democratic society (except within the Church, I can hear some of your muttering and chortling!) but I have to ask a solid and sensible question: Do these pieces of electoral graffiti make any difference?

I think not, arguing this simple (and perhaps simplistic) reasoned sequence. Those who intend to vote are involved or educated in local issues, and may be even know the candidates. They know what’s what, and vote accordingly. Then there’s those who may vote. They aren’t too up on the local issues, so they will vote the way they’ve always voted – for a party. And as for the (actual majority of) people who know there’s an election but will not vote… You get the picture…

So the roadside mini-billboards, with smiling photographs of Anna Throne-Holst, Brigit Fleming and Brad Bender (now there’s a name to conjure with in the greater Anglo-Saxon world) are a complete waste of time and money, and with all of the rest of the roadside calling cards, complete eyesores.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Today we reached the end of the High School volleyball season, short in itself (a matter of ten weeks) but extremely competitive at both Varsity and Junior Varsity (JV) levels. For readers in the United Kingdom I best describe those levels in rugby terms: First fifteen and second fifteen. The latter, in a year or two hoping to step into the boots of the former.

As I had an earlier Archdeaconry meeting some twenty miles south, I made the trek to Port Jefferson late afternoon to support both teams. Kate plays in the JV team, but today sat on the bench with a slinged arm due to a shoulder injury after last evening’s match. And simply observing: Port Jefferson seems to be a most delightful town. It is one of the two sea ferry ports that connect Long Island to Connecticut, and around this maritime base has grown up all sorts of small shops, restaurants, and sundry businesses, and even in this evening’s atrocious weather I decided that I would have to return, snoop and explore.

The Varsity team lost 3-0, and so did the JV team. Now I’m not the sort of “Volleyball parent” who would insist that his daughter would have changed the score-line. I’m more restrained. British old school. Play up and play the game, and that sort of thing. But the kind comments and wonderful support of Kate by team parents, plus the single sentence of the coach “We missed her. We lost” brought the season to an end in a gentle, melancholy way.

The ninety-minute drive home was a complete nightmare in the face of a northeast wind and torrential rain. The road south (County Road 112) that connected us with the expressway was awash with rainwater, and even at 40 mph I was aquaplaning, yet staying in control using my skills honed in France on a long, stormy drive, nearly twenty five years ago. We returned home safe.

On opening my emails I read a number of comments, and followed links with regard to St Paul’s Cathedral, and the resignation of Canon Giles Fraser, a man with whom I occasionally correspond, and less occasionally disagree.

Even from a distance, and knowing of the shameful political leadership structures that underpin St Paul’s, it is accepted knowledge that Giles did not jump, but was pushed. But that is the outcome of accepting that finance committees, investment guidelines and various lay bodies have eventual control over the Church. God forbid that the priests get in the way!

I was going to write another essay about St Paul’s cathedral, but a more capable and authoritative priest, voicing my thoughts, got there before me.

I post it here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee..

So wrote John Donne in his Meditation XVII. What many forget is that Donne was installed as Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London in 1621, a position which he held until his death ten years later. Looking at images of the people encamped around that great building I wonder what Donne would have done.

I have just read this freelance blog which speaks of, and analyses the camp from direct experience. It makes for a refreshing break from the turgid and political journalism. which has recently assaulted our intelligence.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Picture perfect?

It is a bright and breezy day here on the east end of the Island after a day of torrential, even tropical rain and flooding. Now the temperature shows signs of dropping, as the unseasonal warmth and humidity of the past few weeks have denied the autumn its place. Even the large pumpkins, decorating the farm stands, have been baking in the heat!

The fall beauty (and for reasons deeply buried it remains my favorite time of the year) has been tainted this morning by the news emerging from Libya. Of course the slow, if violently uncoordinated advance of the National Transitional Council fighters is to be welcomed, and the eventual capture of the Gaddafi hometown of Sirte creates a huge milestone in the confused war of liberation. Then the major headlines. First the story that Gaddafi had been captured, and then the “read-all-about-it” announcement that he had been killed. A sense of the unreal, or is it surreal, colours everything. Is it true? After four decades of extraordinary rule and despotism is this man, call him Colonel or Muammar, really dead?

As if to prove the point certain media channels, the BBC and CNN being the prime international western outlets but Al-Arabiya TV and Al Jazeera must be included, have chosen to paste a head and shoulders photograph of a bloodstained, dead Gaddafi on their front pages. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I believe this to be unnecessary and even ghoulish. What is achieved other than sensationalism and disrespect, no matter how evil the man had been in his lifetime? There is also the affront to many Muslims, in particular those in the more conservative nations. Islamic teaching (ahadith) prohibits pictures being taken or displayed for reasons of hatred or mockery. If this pictorial journalism is not either of those motives then what is it? It is all rather uncalled for, disquieting, and unworthy of a self-styled civilized society.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Of communion, corn, and cooking...

Today has been a wonderful day of fellowship and fun in this small village parish. The weekend weather has been warm, if a little breezy. (Yesterday’s bride at the late afternoon wedding nearly had her veil blown into the traffic on Main Street!) And although leaves are late in changing color, there is a strong autumn hue to every aspect of the countryside.

But not necessarily every aspect of the people. This is the weekend of what is called the Hamptons Film Festival. I’m not absolutely sure of what this is, or where is takes place, but it certainly brings some rum folk into town. I am not one for generalizations, but they all seem to adopt a certain style or image. Within these fashion parameters include the wearing of sunglasses at all times (and no, they are not prescription glasses;) black clothing, and a totally lost expression. They are also on the hunt. The opportunity to sight film stars on Main Street is amplified beyond belief. There was a report that Robert De Niro was seen yesterday. Now with the deepest respect to Mr. De Niro, who I’m sure is a decent enough chap, I do not know what he looks like so I cannot contribute to this speculation. I wish Leo still had his perennial barber shop, forced out by a greedy landlord, and now occupied by a rather useful seasonal beach fashion boutique. Leo would know. Leo saw and knew everything. Perhaps that’s why the nuovo ricci and associated club members wanted him to leave.

This afternoon was the annual Sunday School trip to the local corn maze. (Non – U.S. readers: A maize maze!) We met at the usual venue, Fairview Farm in Bridgehampton. And we had fun. Some ate the delicious and freshly cooked potato fries and shot potatoes at a target with the pressured air guns. And a group of us eight went into the corn maze. And even walking the two sections were out within thirty minutes.

Forgive my traditionalism, but ought not a maze wall, corn or hedge, to be above head height? Well this one was about waist high, so it was comical to see other groups looking at us and probably thinking the same thing! And feeling a total sense of letdown.

Sorry, Fairview Farm, I know that your maze was hit by a tropical storm, but to continue to charge ten dollars per person to wander your wreckage? And two dollars for a five ounce cup of cider? Please stop ripping us off.

The evening was superb. Thanks to Doug and Kathryn, and a host of parents, children and others. What could be better than a gorgeous sunset, delicious food (did I mention the roast potatoes?) and great company? And plans for the parish! An up and coming well of people and ideas. We are blessed!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Only when I laugh...

In view of the fact that my Blackberry smartphone is proving rather dim this day, and doing nothing more than making and receiving calls of texts, and delivering yesterday's emails to me, perhaps a touch of humour is called for.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Three different yet linked thoughts came together earlier this evening as I made our way home from an away school volleyball match. Driving east on the Long Island Expressway I noticed the white lights, and flashing blue tail light of a helicopter hovering in the mid-distance, some five miles ahead of me, at an elevation of thirty degrees and thought: What are they doing? I then recalled a recent report on the BBC News website. I will put the link here:

But as the BBC will probably at some future moment delete this story I will quote from the headline in full:

A rescue search was carried out off the coast of Tynemouth Longsands after a member of the public mistook the planet Jupiter for a distress flare. (BBC Report October 4th, 2011.)

And then the personal thought, or rather memory. It’s one of my naval stories, so if you wish to climb on a chair and swing the lamp in your room I won’t blame you.

When I was… No, please let be begin again. I was serving in the Type 21 frigate, HMS ACTIVE. It was the late autumn of 1990, and we were heading west across the Atlantic Ocean to assume duties as the West Indies Guard Ship. Via Bermuda, where we would have to spend at least four days – necessary for reasons both operational and otherwise. And on night five of that transit, I was on watch on the bridge.

Not the Officer of the Watch, you have to understand, but as his (and it was masculine at the time) deputy. The Second Officer of the Watch. An understudy. A student. I was certainly that, yet studying hard in matters navigation and radar, hoping to gain my watch-keepers “ticket” within the next year. Those were the times when Chaplains were permitted, even encouraged to do such things. Such attitudes changed, however, and when the new Chaplaincy Services branch was created in 1996, their message to all priests and ministers was to stop such non –religious activity and participation. Whatever.

I was on watch on the bridge. The Officer of the Watch was one Perrin Towler. He and I had become good allies in many an occasion and run ashore, as well as matters pastoral, and developed a firm trust. And it was one-thirty in the morning. Both of us were perplexed at a yellow light that seemed to be flashing blue miles ahead of us, at an elevation of about thirty degrees. We peered at this sighting through binoculars, through the bridge window and out from the bridge wing. And there was nothing on the radar. Yet it seemed to be moving. An aircraft? Probably a helicopter. But this far out? Ten minutes passed, and eventually Reggie (that is Perrin) said, “I think we’d better alert the captain. “Captain, Sir, Officer of the Watch ….”

Captain Mike Johnson, Royal Navy arrived on the bridge two minutes later. He picked up a pair of binoculars and briefly examined that light. He looked at the compass, and then at his watch, and announced: That is the planet Jupiter. Good night, gentlemen!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Linking one’s blog to one’s parish website and bulletin is not without a certain degree of peril. No so much for content but for lack of new writing! A dear parishioner accosted me on Sunday morning complaining that I had not written anything new recently. (Recently being six days!) And it was no use me pointing out that I had been sermon-writing. No sir, she wanted more blogging.

In my humble defense I might comment that these last few days, this past weekend, has been positively “busy.” And how I dislike that word. Saturday as the day that we, as a parish, met and talked without boundaries about mission; Sunday brought the baptism of twin brothers during the Family Eucharist – and, doffing the cap to St Francis, whose day it is today, the Blessing of Animals. That was fun! The old favorites were there, with some new dogs. Plus I had the honor to bless a “snapping roach,” which is a first for me in nearly twenty-five years of priesthood. I apologise for my inexperience.

Yesterday, Monday, was my “day off.” What an awful phrase that is! Off from what? Work? I would hardly describe my sacerdotal calling as work, although in the Anglican, especially Church of England vows to which I am perpetually bound, my life is also inextricably linked to the word and work of the Gospel.

On that day I have an established, and some might say boring routine. I actually get to sleep in - until about 7.30. Kate’s school bus has left, and I can slowly drink coffee and then plan the day. This involves a trip to the dump (non-US readers: The “tip.”) followed by a major grocery shopping agenda. And then the post office.

Why the post office? Because in this neck of the woods they don’t deliver the mail. (That’s for reasons that I will not get into here.) So we have to go and get it ourselves. Anyway, that’s what I did last Monday. No real mail. No bills; seven pieces of junk; the diocesan newspaper (which probably belongs in the previous category); a Virginia peanut catalog (now we’re talking!) and a catalogue from the fashion house Anthropologie. And it is this about which I now wish to comment.

Comment, not about their products. The good Lord knows that I have no knowledge or interest in such things. No, rather about their presentation. For their catalog, the latest among many is full of young women who are posed in quite unnatural ways. On beaches, in fields, on fishing piers. And all of them seem to be either drugged or else suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Take your pick. I know the latter. An intense, seemingly focused stare at a non-existent object. (In the military we used to call it the “thousand yard stare.”) Either that, or they are extras, looking for work, from the remake of the Living Dead.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the catalogue or website. But be careful. They’re either crazy – or they're coming after you!