Saturday, 19 August 2017

Dahlias and Damsons 2017

The Village Show, as I've said before, is part of the church's community-building agenda in Swanvale Halt. It provides a way in for a great variety of people who would never normally come into the church building, but equally importantly it encourages a sense of common interest and endeavour, a meeting-ground for old and young, and offers an entrée for people who've come to live in the area. 

My role in this extravaganza is to take a few photographs, a representative group of which you can see here; to wander about and chat to people I know and occasionally come up with a reason to collar someone I don't; and to act as a generally supportive and encouraging presence to the team who stage the whole event. Then somewhat awkwardly, given how little I've had to do with everything up till then, I come on at the end and award the prizes. In this, I suppose, at many, many degrees of removal, I'm representing my boss, the Queen. 

In the meantime, I try to occupy myself vaguely usefully. I worked out what I might say at the Tuesday morning mass. I filled in the service register for tomorrow and prepared the bits and pieces for the baptism that's due to happen. I have to be around, present, with nothing much to do but unable to do anything else. Today I came up with the phrase 'intense inactivity' to describe it.

The gentleman with the splendid waxed moustache (worthy of The Chap) and the pith helmet didn't win anything, though I did suggest we should have a prize for Best Moustache next year, as something which is grown. He's American and only recently come to live here.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Internet is at least Partly Great and I will Defy Anyone who Says Otherwise

There’s a Holy Well at Hethfelton House near East Stoke, in Dorset, and I wanted to find out more about it. I know it appears on the first Ordnance Survey map of Dorset in 1811, but that’s it. Hethfelton House isn’t mentioned in Pevsner’s Buildings of Dorset, and there is no other clue in anything I have here. The assumption is that it was an 18th-  or early 19th-century garden feature.
Within a few minutes of discerning Googling I was able to find:
  •           An article from Country Life which gave a little history of the house
  •           An extract from Hutchins’s History & Antiquities of Dorset about East Stoke, with some details of the development of the Hethfelton estate
  •           Both of these mentioned Dr Andrew Bain, owner of Hethfelton around the right time and the probably creator of the Well (he ‘much improved the estate and grounds’). He was also awarded the gold medal of the ‘Society of Planting’ for planting thousands of conifer trees on the estate
  •           Dr Bain’s biography as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  •           The reference to his award from, not the ‘Society of Planting’ but the Royal Society of Arts: its Transactions from the period is included in Google Books
I can't imagine how long this might have taken without the assistance of the otherwise so dreadful algorithms that rule so much of our lives; dibbing around in far-flung libraries may be pleasant, but it doesn’t half use up one’s allotted lifespan, and I might well never have found out these details at all. At such times, the tyranny of Dr Google seems benevolent indeed. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Making Assumptions

I see I don't have time to write the complicated blog post I planned, so here instead, to celebrate the day, is a dramatically sidelit photo of the plaque of the Virgin and Child we have in Swanvale Halt church. Made in the early 1900s by Mary Watts, it has a suitably Italianate look to it despite originating in the Home Counties. And of course, Jesus looks about as baby-like as Brian Blessed playing the Emperor Augustus in I Claudius, which is an authentically medieval/Renaissance approach.

It was the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin today, or the Dormition if you're being Orthodox in mood (for Roman Catholics, the bodily assumption of the Virgin into heaven at the end of her life is a dogma you have to believe; for Orthodox believers, it's an opinion you are free to hold or not; for Anglicans, it's a phrase that makes a churchperson either compose their face into a blank look or go into a swoon depending which bit of the Church they belong to). As Bishop Mervyn Stockwood once reportedly told an Anglo-Catholic clergyman in his diocese who remarked on the day in question, 'I'm afraid that's not an Assumption we share'.

I dragged out S.D.'s old Marian vestments for Mass this morning, and at the end we said the Angelus prayer at the statue of the BVM much to the delight of some present and the bemusement of others. They ring the Angelus here as the call to prayer before Mass and probably have done since my predecessor Fr Barlow's day, but I'm not sure how many people know the words (or, indeed, that there are any words to know). 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Seeing the Wind

Usually when I sit down and write a sermon it ends up largely how I planned it when I started. Not the other day.

The readings set for this Sunday were from 1Kings, where Elijah encounters God in the 'still small voice' on Mount Horeb after the wind, earthquake and fire; Romans 10, in which St Paul discusses faith and righteousness; and Matthew 14, the story of Jesus walking on the water and calling Peter to come to him. I had thought of the wind - which is very present in both the Kings and Matthew readings - as a metaphor for all the things that hold us back and discourage us, which was all very well.

But like many people I'd always been befuddled by that detail in the Gospel story that Peter walks towards Jesus on the water but then 'saw the wind and began to sink'. Why is it seeing the wind that makes him realise what he's doing is impossible?

I found myself thinking this way. It seems fairly clear that, in the mists of unrecorded history, Yahweh God of the Hebrews was a storm deity: that was how they originally conceived of him. Some of the Psalms, possibly the oldest stratum of Biblical text, refer to him in this way; he makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the winds, they say. Gradually the Israelites come to read the calamitous power of the storm not as a direct sign of the presence of God but as an image for his righteous wrath, provoked by injustice and oppression. So when Peter sees the wind churning up the surface of the lake, that's what he thinks of. He remembers his own unworthiness and the awesome righteousness of God; his fears and doubts about his own acceptability are re-awakened ('go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man') - and he sinks. 'Why did you doubt?' Jesus asks him, and his doubts are not about whether Jesus has the ability to enable him to do this impossible thing, but whether he, Peter, is worthy of it. Which of course isn't the point.

I sat and looked at what I'd just written a little surprised. I can't quite bring myself to believe that nobody has stumbled across this gloss on the text before, but I've never heard it.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Mutual Aid

My brilliant friend Karla casually remarks on LiberFaciorum that she’s ‘contributing voice talent to an audiobook of Kropotkin's The Conquest of Bread’, and quotes from him, in the context of a discussion about the horrors of Brexit and the divisions consequent on the Referendum; I think it precisely summarises the distinction, and distance, between representative democracy and genuine empowerment:

The people commit blunder on blunder when they have to choose by ballot some hare-brained candidate who solicits the honour of representing them, and takes upon himself to know all, to do all, and to organize all. But when they take upon themselves to organize what they know, what touches them directly, they do it better than all the “talking-shops” put together.

As I mentioned a few days ago I am ploughing through the Book of Wisdom at the moment.  This morning brought chapter 38 to my attention, an interesting passage as it’s the only point where the Bible – albeit a disputed bit of it – discusses ordinary working life at any length. It’s not entirely positive; the argument is basically ‘Nobody can be wise if they have to work too much. Artisans have a great deal of skill about particular things, but you don’t ask them to run anything, do you? You need leisure for that, to devote yourself to thought.’ But the text does concede that the labourers – the ploughman, the seal-cutter, the smith and the potter – are not only necessary for the life of a community (‘without them no city can be inhabited … they maintain the fabric of the world’), but know best about their own crafts.

Here is a point of agreement with Prince Kropotkin. Ask the people in a referendum whether the country should leave various international agreements it has entered into, and the answer they give cannot help but be uninformed because the question is too big. Gauging the impact of such an action depends on a whole series of enormous sub-questions about which there can be no agreement: there is an excess of information, pointing in various different directions; there are too many precedents. Reason breaks down because data proliferates beyond its grasp. However, ask a factory worker how to improve her environment and she’ll know a lot about that. This is why representative democracy is not the end of enfranchisement, but its mere beginning; when people begin to control the landscape around them, whatever it happens to be, is when they begin to change. And once they get accustomed to the process of self-organisation in one area, so it may develop into others.

It’s hard work, though, and it’s much easier to delegate decision-making upwards to ‘some hare-brained candidate’ who can be praised or blamed as required. Here, I’m trying to edge the church into the habit of thinking about what it wants to do as a community of Christians, but that doesn’t come easy. Even a little tick-box exercise which says ‘these are the options for action, which do you think are the most important?’ seems to be something people are very happy mentally to put to one side. It creates the possibility of disagreement and the necessity of negotiation, and that’s a bit scary.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


There is no recorded date for the installation of the east window at Swanvale Halt church, but I suspect it dates to the late 1870s or early 1880s. There are hints in some of the other decorations in the church that its devotional practice was starting to creep up the candle at that time, but that was probably very little to do with the then incumbent, a bluff former soldier who'd been in place for twenty-odd years by then. The following rector was significantly more in sympathy with the Catholic movement in the Church of England, and this bit of High-Churchery is probably from his time.

It wasn't generally the fashion to install rood screens in Victorian churches until the 1890s, and even then only in advanced Anglo-Catholic churches which were trying to be really authentically medieval, like St Cyprian's Clarence Gate. I think our window was a sort of rood screen in glass, fulfilling the same devotional function of linking the sacrifice of the eucharist with the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. It looks like a rood, with Christ flanked by the Virgin and St John; and originally the altar would have stood directly beneath it. The priest would have raised the chalice at Mass right below the image of the angel receiving Christ's blood into the spiritual chalice shown in the window. It makes the point.

In reality, the window doesn't quite look like the picture above, as there are in fact three widely-separated lancets along with a vesica above showing Christ in Majesty. I thought it would be helpful to amalgamate them into one devotional image. Only been here eight years before that idea occurred to me. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

And Soothe Awhile the Harrassed Mind

In the torrential rain of Saturday lunchtime I was called down to the church to speak to someone. This is sufficiently unusual, and the voice on the phone sounded sufficiently disturbed, for me to be slightly nervous and take my big umbrella with me not so much to shelter from the rain as to provide some means of self-defence should it become necessary.

Of course it wasn't: he wanted me to see a friend, a lady living in the village who suffers from schizophrenia. I visited, picked my way through the chaos of the flat, listened, prayed and laid my hands on her head, and promised to write to the GP and the Community Mental Health Team. That was about all I could do, and it always feels very limited.

Nobody knows precisely where schizophrenia comes from, though there are all sorts of theories. The voices people with it hear are very often hostile, critical and vicious, attacking the sufferer with their own fears and sense of unworthiness. Often (though of course not always) they seem to be linked with real critical voices people have got all too used to hearing from others, especially from parents and family. Whether the voices are demonic, as some Christians would assert, I'm not sure: schizophrenia dissolves the boundaries between the self and the world outside the mind, meaning the sufferer hears thoughts (the kind of thoughts that flit through all our minds) as external manifestations, so in dealing with it you are instantly propelled into an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of deception and never quite sure what you're dealing with. Either way, the first step in combatting these horrible mental insinuations is to insist on the absolute love of God for the individual, and their worth to him, regardless of what they may have been told in the past. 

Yesterday I met the lady concerned who seemed astonishingly better: almost 'clothed and in her right mind', as it says in the Bible story. I suppose I ought not to be surprised that praying actually had a positive result (of course it may only be temporary, but it's still something), but you do get used to being completely impotent.

Trevor, on the other hand, continues to be a problem. In this lady's case, religion could come in from the outside, as it were, into her situation and supply something solid and objective to reinforce her sense of worth and self; in his, religion is built into the structure of his delusional thinking. It's part of the sickness and it's hard to see far it can help with the cure.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Wearing Faith Out

I know the Roman Catholics and Orthodox insist that what we call the Apocrypha – the texts included in the Greek Old Testament but not in the Hebrew – are just part of the O.T., but they can be quite weird on occasions. At the moment I’m reading through the book Wisdom, which contains some hair-raisingly misogynist ramblings mingled with interesting insights. The other morning, though, I stumbled across something which tied in precisely with the way my mind was moving:

If you have gathered nothing in your youth,
How can you find anything in old age?

A few days before I spent an hour talking to Victor, who’s been involved with the Church all his life but has found it next to impossible even to come into the building since his wife died after a swift descent into dementia a couple of years ago. ‘I just don’t have any faith left’, he explained, ‘I think I still believe in God, but I don’t care. I don’t feel anything.’ A range of physical ailments had worn Victor down as well. I thought of another member of the congregation to whom exactly the same thing happened: ‘church’ was bound up with the wife he spent years looking after, and while he seemed to go through the experience of her death and the immediate period afterwards with great dignity and grace, everything soon collapsed and it took him two years, at least, before he could appear at church again. A couple of days later I spoke to Miriam who, with her husband, were absolute stalwarts of the 8am mass for years. In her case, it wasn’t his death which knocked her sideways, but the experience of physical illness over the last year which has worn her faith down.

Bereavement in older age isn’t a circumstance uniquely disturbing to people’s faith; I’ve recently had conversations with two much younger Christians who have found it in one case hard and in the other plain impossible to take part in public worship since losing someone close to them. Echoing Victor, Cal told me ‘I haven’t lost my faith, but there’s no feeling there’. It’s odd, and sad, that Christians should feel that lacking an emotional response to religion should bar them from church. Isn’t ‘faith’ precisely a matter of carrying on practising religion even when you don’t feel anything? But, in this state, even the quietest and most low-key of church services will still confront you not just perhaps with the loss of a person who was deeply connected with your experience of churchgoing, but also with your own sense of loss and inadequacy at not being able to summon up the feelings you imagine you’re supposed to have: a different sort of bereavement. It can be unbearably hard to face that.

That’s one factor: another is the disruption to routines which may have been followed for decades, routines in which church and loved one formed key elements. You have to be very determined, or your faith to be very definite and protected, for there not to be some sense of collapse, of the pieces of your life falling to the ground and refusing to reassemble in an acceptable new pattern. Why bother? is a perfectly reasonable question to ask: it always is for anyone contemplating religious practice, but, faced with the challenges of age, it’s perhaps harder to answer. The grind of poor health and frailty, the lessening of the comfort which beauty brings (‘the gradual closing of the doors of the senses’, Gladstone said) and perhaps the weakening of the bonds that tie an individual into human society can combine to make a sort of low-level depression entirely understandable.

Accounts of great Christians who struggled with these challenges I find sobering indeed. Trevor Huddleston, mighty campaigner against apartheid, monk, and archbishop, spent his last couple of years being cared for in his old monastery at Mirfield. He’d been a difficult brother and was a worse patient, hating his frailty and venting his anger on those who looked after him. By the end the man who had done such great works for Jesus Christ of Nazareth could barely bring himself to speak his name.

On the other hand, I regularly meet elderly people who are transfigured, whose eyes contain a purity and serenity which is all but angelic, no matter what life may have thrown at them. In them, faith has become a rough stone cut and polished to a jewel-like brilliance. Is the Book of Wisdom right – that there are foundations laid in our younger years that only become obvious as we get older? That we can only find that rough stone when we are young enough to go hunting in the mud and chiselling out the ore, ready for the final work to be done when we are old and face the real test of who we are?

We’re told a great deal at present about preparing for old age financially; we should also prepare spiritually, building up, you might say, a spiritual pension fund. I have to pray – both for myself and those I love – that we will have done enough work to have a spiritually positive old age; and that, if we don’t, bearing in mind that good or bad fortune will form a major part in how these things play out, those who have the task of caring for us will be kind and look beyond our dry and bitter behaviour. Of whom God will be one.  

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hope Six and a Bit

This photograph has brought me a peculiar degree of delight, not only because it has Polly Harvey at the centre of it but because of its circumstances. I will tell you the story. It’s a bit long, so make yourself some tea.

PJH is rather used to people not liking her work, but that’s generally either for musical reasons, or because they don’t like her as an individual – or for the latter reason dressed up as the former. Political objections have been absent until last year. The first track from the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, ‘The Community of Hope’, dealt with what the singer along with photographer Seamus Murphy observed on their trip to Washington DC in 2014. At one level, the song is a cynical blast against efforts to regenerate particularly run-down parts of that city: that is what the Hope Six Demolition Project was. It says something about the idealistic cast of US politics that the powers-that-be dared to include the word Hope in its title: such hubris invites disappointment, especially when grand initiatives like this rarely achieve their aims without ambiguity and loss. But that’s what America is like. People genuinely do hope, while in bitter old Britain we’re generally happy if things don’t turn out quite as bad as we feared. But in dabbling with all this, Harvey exposed herself to the fury of those who still wanted to hope, and of those who had an interest in them doing so.

She had long since decided that the keynote of the album would be reportage. In Afghanistan, Kosovo, and now in Washington, she had gathered the remarks and impressions of others and was weaving them into poetry and then into song; this is what she’d done with her previous release, Let England Shake, but this time the people she would quote from were not long-dead soldiers and veterans, but living: they could potentially have their own ideas.

As far as ‘Community of Hope’ was concerned, that original voice came from Washington Post journalist Paul Schwartzman: he tells the story here. Seamus Murphy identified Mr Schwartzman via a mutual contact as someone who could guide him and Harvey around the rougher end of Washington; first they toured the city districts as Harvey sat in the back of the car and took notes, and about a year later Murphy returned on his own and Mr Schwartzman took him out a second time to film the locations they’d visited earlier. The pressman had only a vague idea who Murphy was, no knowledge at all of Harvey, and the parameters of the whole project weren’t exactly clear either. ‘It’s awkwardly difficult to define’, Murphy had told him, because it was. By the time he returned for his solo trip, Murphy was able to give his contact a copy of the book he and Harvey collaborated on, The Hollow of the Hand; in that, and in the resultant video that accompanied ‘The Community of Hope’ early in 2016, Mr Schwartzman was able to read and hear his own words quoted verbatim. If I’d been as monumentally rude to my home city as he had (employing such choice terms as ‘shithole’ and ‘zombies’), my blood would frankly have run cold, but Schwartzman took it in good enough part to write it up: after all, a journalist tells a story, even if it’s against themselves. And neither Murphy nor Harvey had told anyone his name: he’d effectively outed himself.

In a digital age the vituperative backlash against ‘The Community of Hope’, released a month before the album, didn’t take long: Washington city politicians lined up to denounce the singer they’d never heard of. More pointedly Leah Garrett, who runs the not-for-profit local charity actually called ‘Community of Hope’ wrote to Harvey in a tone of sorrow that hid bewildered rage. ‘By calling out this picture of poverty in terms of streets and buildings and not the humans who live here, have you not reduced their dignity? Have you not trashed the place that, for better or worse, is home to people who are working to make it better?’ Of course, even such heartfelt criticisms missed the point that the words the singer used were not her own words, something she signalled very clearly within the song:

Here’s the Hope Six Demolition Project
Stretching down to Benning Road -
A well-known pathway of death
(at least, that’s what I’m told).

But some fans, who might have been expected to be more supportive, also found ‘The Community of Hope’ uncomfortable. ‘Poverty tourism of the worst kind’, was one comment I read, ‘in the end, she’s a privileged white woman describing someone else’s suffering that has no effect on her. It’s unforgiveable’. Yet in The Hollow of the Hand, the poem that eventually transmuted into the song is called ‘Sight-seeing South of the River’: it is itself a critique of exactly that remote, privileged viewpoint. Seamus Murphy released two photographs of Harvey taken during that 2014 trip, one showing her looking out of the window of a suburban bus, the other beside the River Anacostia, notebook in hand, presumably scribbling what later turns into the haunting lyric of that name. In the video of ‘The Community of Hope’ there are plenty of little vignettes demonstrating that Murphy, too, did a lot more than just sit in Paul Schwartzman’s car and stick a camera out of the window. But these are easy points to overlook (especially if you want to anyway).

My first contact with the contested song was the video: 
The lyrics detailed the baleful locations in the way Leah Garrett had complained, but degradation and misery was not the impression it left. In it I saw people going about the ordinary and yet profoundly grand work of being human: a young man has his hair cut in a salon with the Obamas on the wall; people go to work; a young woman is baptised in a white robe. There are more forbidding images, too: soldiers cross a landscape, military planes taxi. But around and across them the music soars, relentlessly upbeat. Without the visuals, the song has a bitter, ironic tang, culminating on the line lifted from Schwartzman, ‘they’re gonna put a Walmart here’ – the bitterness intensified by the knowledge that, after the song was recorded, Walmart, who had agreed to build a store as part of the Hope Six initiative in return for being granted commercial advantages elsewhere, reneged on the commitment. Harvey could not have known that, but it’s another example of a curious prescience that’s surfaced at other times in her life, too. But, put together with the video, the song’s sour notes move well down into the mix. It still makes me tearful: to me, it’s a statement of defiant solidarity with the people of Anacostia, not a swipe at them, and through them, to every battling battalion of human beings.

Yet you see what you want to. The church scenes were shot at the Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, and partway through the video we see its director of music, Michael Scott, drilling the ladies of the church choir in accompanying PJH as the demo version of the song plays on his phone: by the end of the film, they’re singing ‘They’re gonna put a Walmart here’ in the church in lovely harmonies while Seamus Murphy films them from the side. The Washington Post chased Mr Scott down and asked him how this came about. Murphy, he remembered, had been ‘hanging out’ at the church and asked whether the choir might be willing to take part in the video. Now, UTBC isn’t an ordinary Baptist church: it majors on African-American aspiration as much as common-or-garden Christianity. The Jesus painted on its wall is black, and its version of the cross is an Afrocentric ankh. Of course something called ‘Community of Hope’ would fit in with that vision. Mr Scott liked the title of the song. And equally unsurprisingly, when the Post pointed him towards the video, he didn’t see what he’d expected. He’d thought the Walmart line was a bit strange at the time: now, watching the film, he admitted he was ‘highly confused as to what the message is’, and wondered why there weren’t more positive images of his neighbourhood. Even considering Walmart had ratted on the deal to build a store in Anacostia, he pointed out: ‘Somebody has to build a Walmart. Somebody has to work in a Walmart. A Walmart means jobs.’ So what I saw as the most uplifting image in the whole composition had actually been procured under something like false pretences. I couldn’t swallow the complaint that the involvement of UTBC in the song was ‘cultural appropriation’ – ‘an exhausted pop music trope’ – because I couldn’t see them as anything other than embodying the hope of the title, if hope was to be found anywhere, a typical Harveyan ambiguity. They are part of the religious motif that weaves its way through the album, and are, essentially, no more ‘appropriated’ than are the monks of the abbey of Decani in Kosovo whose chanting we hear at the end of another song, ‘Chain of Keys’. They both represent the presence of eternal truth in particular circumstances. But they should have known what was going on – should they? Perhaps it couldn’t have happened in any other way – PJH never explains herself, now less than ever, and how could she have explained a statement deliberately intended to be ambiguous and multivocal – but it left something of a moral doubt at the centre of a great work, a leaky valve in its heart.

She’d been booked to play at the Wolf Trap festival not far from Washington for a while, but it wasn’t until June that the stunning announcement came that she and the band would be joined at that concert by none other than the UTBC choir. First the news appeared on the Wolf Trap website, then on PJ’s own (her management are often a bit relaxed in their attitude to publicity), and then they were singing two days before the Washington date too, at Summerstage in New York. Finally they, and Polly, appeared on her Instagram feed. There is Michael Scott, there are the ladies of the choir who appear in the film, there is the singer.

How did this come about? How did artist and community move from estrangement to collaboration? PJH’s management said nothing, of course she said nothing, the church itself said nothing, without a mention of the concerts on its Facebook page, website or Twitter feed. For a while I toyed with the idea of getting in touch with Rev’d Willie Nelson at Union Temple, but, a couple of days ago, as the cursor hovered over the ‘send’ button beside my email, I decided not to. What could he say? ‘She asked and we said yes’? It’s not my business to pry just for the sake of a blog post: I’m not a journalist, and I’m not writing a biography. All we need to know is that some approach has been made, some explanation has been offered, some bridge has been repaired. There has been boldness and generosity, no matter what has actually happened. And this moral lacuna in the work of PJ Harvey has been definitively closed. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Around Send

It does you good to get away from the house on a day off, even if you don't go very far away. Last week I went no further than the top of the hill above the Rectory where you can sit and gaze out across the valley - even on a rainy day when a family of dauntless dogwalkers were the only other human beings to be seen - but the week before I took a stroll around the canal to the north of Guildford, Send Marsh as my start- and end-point. Even in this landscape, which is not all that prepossessing (it's not Dorset, for heaven's sake) there are still many things to be enjoyed, and more than I expected on an afternoon out.

The Manor sits innocuously beside the green at Send Marsh, a very handsome late-17th-century house and a pleasing surprise to me.

Further along the path is a small pool with this dramatic disused winding gear and now haunted by huge carp you can just glimpse below the surface of the water.

Papercourt Lake is a bit larger. The beds green algae impede the coots and moorhens in their wanderings around the lake, but they make for interesting patterns in the water.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

O Nothing Can Downcast Me

If I want a dose of good cheer, all I have to do, in fact, is glance across the living room to my windowsill where this little fellow hangs out. My sister bought him for me some time ago and thanks to his photovoltaic cell he oscillates from side to side in an ever-so-slightly mocking dance (‘the effect is far more mocking from the back’, points out Ms Formerly Aldgate). Once the sun is out and striking in his direction, there is no stopping him, no matter what you do. I have been trying and failing to locate the cartoon he reminds me of – a pair of grinning Victorian mutes in top hats and mourning coats declaring ‘O nothing can downcast us’. I know I’ve seen it somewhere.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Tell Me About Your Childhood

As, in some ways, one of the great progenitors of modernity, Dr Freud has always interested me. I recently finished CR Badcock’s Essential Freud from 1988 as my bedtime book and then did some reading around it. I don’t know whether there are many psychotherapists around now who still find Freud’s model of human development through crises of childhood sexuality helpful; I had no idea that the man himself tried to extend his ideas to include the whole history of human culture, relating shifts in social economy to the stages of development he thought he had identified in individual human beings. On the one hand I admire his penetration and willingness to follow his insights, and on the other can see how many of these theories were deluded.

The unscientific nature of psychoanalysis also struck me. I think Freud believed he was proceeding on the basis of evidence, and was as scientific as any other practitioner. After all, much of his analysis ‘worked’, so it had to be true, hadn’t it? But gradually various other psychoanalytic schools, developed by people like Jung and Adler who’d fallen out with Freud, took entirely different paths, operating on a variety of completely separate systems, and these ‘worked’ as well. In this way they are more like religious sects than scientific models. Science moves forward as an interlocking system and insights in one discipline can inform others; whereas psychoanalytic schools developed models of human personality and growth which were completely non-communicating, having no links with each other at all. In this way they seem rather like a series of explanatory narratives – myths, if you like – which might be more or less helpful to individuals, but their objective truth lies beyond the reach of mere evidential proof.

Or does it? I wanted to find out more about Dr Badcock, my book’s author, the doughty champion of Freud who ranked his genius along with that of Einstein. I discovered, somewhat jaw-droppingly, that he renounced Freudianism about ten years ago, like King Clovis ‘burning what he had worshipped and worshipping what he had burned’. It was thinking about autism that had made the difference: if autistic people have none of the ability to police their thinking that the rest of us have, then what they do and say should exhibit the drives and desires Freud said inhabited the human unconscious, but they don’t. Instead autistic people are concerned with very different things. Dr Badcock takes this as proof that the unconscious in fact doesn’t exist, and gave up Freudianism as a result. Even I think that’s a bit extreme.

Well. In our pastoral psychology classes at theological college we were taught not by a Freudian, but by a priest who certainly believed, like Dr Freud, that human beings go through developmental crises and if those crises aren’t satisfactorily resolved at the normal time they will be rehearsed in later life (he just argued they were different sorts of crises from Freud’s infantile sexual ones). We should, he thought, be aware of how this might play out in our church communities and our relationships with parishioners.

I’m sure this does happen and is reflected in the strange conflicts and difficulties to be found in churches. I wonder whether it’s because – cosmic significance of the spiritual life aside – the stakes are so low. It’s generally quite hard to see what church life achieves, and the various practical good works churches can do are generally low-level stuff. Apart from the very few people who are actually employed by churches, their members are released from the constraints that operate in work environments and are freed to play out whatever issues are buried in their habits of thinking.

The other day at Toddler Group Sheila told me ‘Stephanie is on the warpath. Somebody’s been cleaning the silverware with Brasso and she’s furious.’ I made my way to the vestry where said Stephanie and Brenda were busy cleaning. ‘Sheila tells me there’s been an issue with the chalices, they’ve been cleaned with Brasso or something,’ I opened. ‘It’s not that,’ said Stephanie, who didn’t seem more outraged than usual, ‘there’s wax on them. Mary [the late former nun who was our sacristan for years] used to tell people to wash the chalices with hot water and I think some of the cleaners are using the water they clean the candlesticks with to wash the chalices, so the wax gets on them.’ ‘I’ve tried to tell everyone about how to go about the cleaning,’ put in Brenda, ‘but some just don’t listen or forget and Sheila’s so deaf I don’t know what she picks up on or not. And then there’s Adela. I’m only here this week because I can’t rely on her to turn up when she’s said she will so I always come along in case she doesn’t. Which she hasn’t.’

And of such stuff is the therapeutic community of the church made. Transference ahoy. You could argue that, in this case at least, we could just do away with all the kit, and there would be no cause for argument. But then we would not have the opportunity to exercise patience and to learn understanding and to develop humility by remembering that we all exhibit the same sorts of frailties, just in different ways. And ultimately that’s (part of) what Church is for. I think Dr Freud would term it the victory of the Superego, and would not entirely approve.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

We're Off to See the Bishop

After the meeting introducing the proposed new parish share system that caused me so much upset, and some subsequent consultations, I wrote to the bishop outlining the things I was unhappy about, including some of what he specifically had said. 'Frankly I eventually wanted to throw myself under a bus,' I'd told S.D. when I saw him in June. 'Why', he parried, 'didn't you want to throw the bishop under a bus? That would seem like a far more positive response to me.'

As a result of the letter the bishop suggested I come and see him, and I was there this afternoon. It was the first time I'd been upstairs in Willow Grange, the Bishop of Guildford's house, since the occasion eight years ago when our former diocesan told me I should think about Swanvale Halt as a possible next step in my 'career'. The bishop told me that I wasn't the only one to have been unhappy with the language used at the meeting - that line about moving away from a funding system 'which punishes growth and rewards decline' - and apologised for it. He didn't swallow my point about the funding changes representing another stage in a very long-term process of centralisation, stating that 'if that's the impression people get, we have to do something about that'. The bishop took some time explaining again what the reforms were intended to achieve, when I didn't have any particular issue with them as such, and regard something along their lines as inevitable quite apart from matters of equity. He had meetings booked in with clergy from other parishes which were going to be significantly more affected than Swanvale Halt, and who were very unhappy indeed. However the conscious motivations of the actors in an event are often very different from the context in which that event takes place and which sets its parameters, while the actors often find this hard to grasp. They may even not like it when someone else points the context out.

The bishop didn't object to what I'd said that much, although he didn't go along with my analysis. It was a perfectly agreeable hour - not that I ever really expected to be flung into an oubliette or find my head skewered on a railing outside Diocesan House. Fighting my way home through the rush hour traffic was far less congenial. Did the bishop finish our meeting with more understanding than when we started? I certainly found him less guarded than I'd expected, but we will see. 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Friendship Forever

Despite what I may have done last year, it isn't really kosher these days to take photos of lots of children in a public context in case they may be identifiable, unless one happens to be a parent of one or more of them. However, at the annual Infants School Leavers' Service, and other school events, I often find the audience - sorry, congregation - as interesting to snap as the children themselves. 

There are other aspects of the occasion which make a worthwhile photo too. The entrance area to the church was scattered with the discarded shoes of some of the young performers:

The liturgical centrepiece of the leavers' service is the distribution of Lion Storyteller Bibles, which the church buys and the school office marks with the name of each child heading off to junior school in the Autumn. I read out the names, hand the Bibles to the head teacher, and she passes them to the children, shaking each one's hand. It makes it a sort of graduation ceremony. You can see the Bibles piled on the altar in this photo:

I got the name of the excessively tearjerking song last year wrong: it's 'Friendship Forever'. I was emotionally prepared for it this time, but it still tugs. I wonder how many of the children I will get to see much of again - and doing what, as the years go on? Assuming they do. 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Printer Preferences

Naturally, I didn't ask Microsoft to update my operating system - I was perfectly happy with it as it was. Actually, that's not true: one is never perfectly happy with an operating system, one merely fears that change will be, as it usually is, for the worse. And so it proved this time, as it has before. The Windows 10 Creators Update made it difficult to do a number of things I'd got used to doing, and I regularly discover a lot of my nice fonts have disappeared, although I now know a little trick which seems to restore them every time that happens.

More irritatingly my old Epson all-in-one printer stopped working. This has also happened before, and eventually on the Epson website I found the complex instructions that told me how to go into the hidden program files and manually delete the now-irrelevant ones so the new device drivers would work properly. That got my old scanner interface back, but a lot of the functionality of the printer has gone. My PC now thinks the printer can do nothing other than 'print' or 'print on photo paper': draft quality options have disappeared, meaning you can't save on printer ink, and the highest-quality options aren't available either. 

To be fair, Epson responded very quickly to my queries about this problem, when getting any reply at all was a surprise, but the nature of their advice was basically 'get a new printer as your existing one is old'. This is deeply dispiriting as there's nothing wrong with the old printer: the day before the update it worked perfectly; it's depressing not because printers are expensive - they aren't - but because it's so pointless and wasteful. A member of the congregation who works in IT brought in another perspective which I didn't realise: 'printer manufacturers have lowered the price of new devices to the extent that they don't make any profit on them; they make money on the ink which is why it's so expensive, so it's not a surprise that they'd just say "get a new printer". Of course it does suggest that eventually there'll just be huge piles of perfectly good hardware lying around. And sometimes big companies like Epson can say before Microsoft issues an update that it will cause this or that problem, but there's no incentive for anyone to ensure that old devices still work.' And at the end of that process sit you and me, cursing in front of a screen.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Synodical Transitions

‘This Synod was the most dispiriting I’ve ever been to,’ an old clerical hand told me the other day. ‘I’ve never felt so marginalised and demoralised. Everybody now speaks a language I don’t, and can’t, and yet it’s a language you have to speak if you want to be heard’ – the language of managerial control, targets and achievement. When I mentioned to S.D. my issues with some of the statements of our diocesan bishop, his answer was, ‘Oh, all the bishops are saying things like that. They’ve been on a course.’

In other news, General Synod was keen to edge the Church closer to where it thinks the ‘modern world’ is. The move to allow ‘full funeral services’ to be offered for those who have taken their own lives was, like ‘allowing’ clergy to lead worship in everyday clothes, another bit of shadowboxing, because nobody has been denying them for quite some time. It’s true that the funeral service of the Book of Common Prayer was ‘not to be used for them that have laid violent hands upon themselves’, but in my twelve years of ministry I have never once used the Prayer Book funeral service and don’t know anyone who has.

The much-heralded call for ‘sexual orientation conversion therapy’ to be banned is, again, less radical than it looks as such programmes weren’t exactly prominent in the Church of England anyway, although they do tend to be associated with conservative Christian circles. It’s more like a statement of a desire to be nice to homosexual people, a statement to which said conservative Christians reacted predictably. Equally, the reports that the Church was about to ‘offer special services for transgender people’ were over the top: all that the Synod did was to pass a motion which called on the bishops, a background paper put it, to ‘consider providing liturgical materials … to provide a pastoral response to the need of transgender people to be affirmed’.

Synod is always an opportunity for conservative evangelicals to showcase their ideological purity. They’d started even before it began, by threatening to walk out over the presence of the Bishop of Edinburgh (the Scottish Episcopal Church is about to begin marrying same-sex couples), and carried on complaining, tabling a whole raft of motions which they knew weren’t going to be passed thus enabling them to write angry blog posts about how their opinions were being rejected. It’s all par for the course now, a bit like the Orangemen who stand around the lock-up in the middle of Walsingham and denounce the Virgin Mary as the statue gets carried past on the National Pilgrimage day. People would be more shocked if it didn’t happen.

However I found myself rather agreeing with this commentator who admitted himself bewildered, from a liberal point of view, at the sheer lack of theological thought in Synod. Perhaps the Church of England’s debating chamber has never really been a place for deft and fearless analysis of the issues of the day in the light of Scripture, reason, and prayer, rather than for throwing around slogans, political manoeuvring and avoiding real questions. I don’t know enough about it. But as I heard about each of the issues above, I wondered what actual thought lay behind them.

I’ve carried out one funeral for someone who killed themselves. I have had friends who have taken their own lives, and more who have attempted to do so, and have experienced what the psychologists call ‘suicidal ideation’ myself. Understanding as I am, though, it isn’t an unproblematic manner. Often, those who are left behind experience grief with a particular hue of anger and conflict, and the old liturgical restrictions seemed to recognise that. It seems to me that this sense of the uniquely problematic nature of suicide, somehow, needs to be recognised within the liturgy of a funeral service in the same way that it’s appropriate to recognise that a second marriage inevitably involves breakage and damage.

I also have transgender friends. Some have engaged in transition treatment, some are happy to remain biologically one sex while identifying with the other. What does it mean to ‘affirm’ them and their experience in church? Why should this be anything to do with the Church, anyway? What aspect of the Gospel does it illustrate? Are we suggesting some sort of rite-of-passage liturgy on the analogy of other ceremonies such as marriage and baptism, and thus misunderstanding the role of the Church as one of just hallowing whatever human beings do, smoothing the rough points of our lives with a bit of ritual? How does it fit in with a Christian understanding of human identity as something given to us by God, rather than something we choose?

Wanting to be nice to people is not a bad thing. It's a place to start. But we need to rely on something more than just our finer feelings, if only because feelings are so susceptible to change. For all their incorrectness, the conservatives are right to ask for something less thin and jejune.

Monday, 17 July 2017

My, My, Mitres

During my few months looking after the church at Goremead I presented one candidate for confirmation. The service took place in an evangelical parish nearby. I was waiting with the bishop in the vestry when the vicar popped his head round the door. ‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he said, with no sense that he was asking permission, ‘But I won’t wear a surplice until the communion. It looks so silly.’ And with that he vanished again. The expression of the bishop – properly attired in stole and alb and carrying his crozier – was priceless, as it would be again at several points as the evening wore on. I felt like saying, ‘You don’t think you look any less silly in a suit?’ but that would have been cruel.

I will talk more about General Synod’s July decisions and indecisions later, but I will warm up, as you might expect, by discussing vestments. Synod decided to dispose of the old rule that when celebrating communion clergy had to wear either surplice, scarf and hood (the conservative evangelical option) or the traditional Mass vestments (the Catholic option), and instead they only need dress in a way which is ‘seemly’or ‘appropriate’. It was nice that the Torygraph mentioned Goth services in one of its write-ups of this subject, and perhaps even nicer not only that they got Fr Giles Fraser to admit wearing a Chelsea T-shirt while celebrating Mass (albeit under his vestments), but put up a completely irrelevant photo of a rural church in the golden light of a setting sun, which is how Torygraph readers imagine the Church of England always is.

To be honest I had a memory that the Church had already dealt with this some time ago. In so many congregations, everyday dress is considered de rigueur even for the least quotidian of events (albeit it happens every day) – the re-creation of the sacramental presence of the eternal Word of God in bread and wine – that the rules haven’t actually been enforced in years. This is just catching up with reality.

Piggybacking on this more general matter, though, came the specific one of the bishops’ mitres. Dr Ian Paul, who is on the staff of resolutely evangelical vicar-factory St John’s College, Nottingham, did a good job of publicising his opinion that the bishops should give up their pointy hats. On his own blog he begins by suggesting mildly that there is ‘nothing very Anglican’ about bishops wearing mitres, and that they’re silly-looking, and works himself up to arguing that they’re a facet of covering up child abuse, which is quite good going. He turned up on the Today programme on the 10th: the editors put him on opposite Ruth Gledhill, enough to make anyone lose their will to live, and he reeled out his potted history of vestment-wearing which Gledhill managed to collude with in a frankly loopy contribution. I was most struck by the bit where Fr Paul described Blessed Edward King as ‘the first bishop we know to have worn a mitre’ (sic) and said he adopted it ‘because he wanted the Church of England to look more like the Church of Rome’. This is both true and untrue. It would be more accurate to say that Bishop King, like other 19th-century Tractarians, believed that the bishops of the Church of England had as great a claim to the title ‘Catholic’ as their brethren of the Roman observance, and adopting the mitre was a sign of that. Far from being a signal of pomp and self-aggrandisement, it existed – as a recollection of the flame of the Holy Spirit which drove the Apostles from their Jerusalem bolt-hole on the first Pentecost Day to proclaim the risen Christ – to stress the Church’s independence of the powers of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Bishops were the successors of the Apostles, the Tractarians argued, not ecclesiastical civil servants in the pay of the State. It seems clear that what we have in Fr Paul is a late flowering of that perplexing anti-Catholicism which thankfully has almost died out even of the crustiest corners of evangelical England – though not completely, it seems. No Popery! is still the cry there.

(Of course, he’s not entirely right about the history of the mitre. Robert Pursglove, Henry VIII’s Bishop of Hull who died in 1579, had his memorial brass in Tideswell Church depict him in full Mass vestments, mitre included, pushing the wearing of one way past the Reformation. The Coggeshall brass of Charles I’s Archbishop of York, Samuel Harsnett, also shows him in one, and he died in 1631. Even when Anglican bishops ceased to wear mitres, they still had wooden ones carried in front of them at their funeral processions.)

I don’t know whether mitres do look that silly: I certainly don’t think they have to. A woeful lack of any kind of aesthetic sense afflicts the modern Church, and as a result we have some awful rubbish paraded about. Archbishop Justin’s mitre gains its bizarre appearance – no bishop has ever worn one of its shape before – from the fact that it was made for someone else with a bigger head, and he had it taken in. I can't decide whether he deliberately decided to make it look ludicrous, or whether it just didn't occur to him. 

Much of the time bishops do not cart their tat around with them, any more than the rest of us do, and they make do with whatever the setting they’re worshipping in has available. Here are our two archbishops at York Minster sporting particularly egregious examples:

Yet Archbishop Sentamu can look splendid given the right kit:

And of course when bishops wore stuff that followed the lines of proper medieval examples, and was put together by proper embroiderers, even the most personally shambolic of prelates looked the part:

Well. Underneath the anti-Catholic prejudice and partial history is a more interesting question. How far should what the Church does be accommodated to what the world expects, and how far should it be distinguished from it? Does the Gospel transform culture, or does it fit in with it? Is it more effective – does it make souls more likely to encounter Jesus Christ – to signal difference, or sameness? I certainly believe that at the centre of the Church there has to be difference, there has to be some sense that God transcends the world, and wants to pull it towards him, and that the Church is anchored there, not here. You might think the result of human beings trying to hook themselves into divine eternity by means of needlework ‘looks a bit silly’. It looks something, anyway. But bodies, with all their silliness, are all we’ve got to work with.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Portsmouth Interiors

While I'm preparing some more complicated thoughts, here are two nice church interiors for you, from my day out in Portsmouth yesterday. Of course the most startling church in the city is Fr Dolling's St Agatha's, now a parish of the Ordinariate, but these are also very pleasing.

The last time I visited Portsmouth Cathedral it hadn't been finished. It is of course an overgrown parish church bumped up to cathedral status in 1927. Now it has a pair of stumpy towers at the west end of its nave, an effect which looks more Rhenish than English. Inside, despite its small size, it's divided into very distinct areas which give a variety of interesting vistas. The most beautiful space is around the high altar. The tester hanging over the (rather tiny) stone table is sort of sub-Ninian Comper (Comper would have designed something far more, well, commanding). The crown-shaped hanging pyx glints in the light, while the bare iron cross and candlesticks are precisely right. Even the cut-out coloured feet (not a permanent part of the design) add something helpful: they look like a splash of multicoloured light filtering from windows which aren't actually there.

I walked over the memorial slab to Bishop Kenneth Stevenson; the day before moving me in to Swanvale Halt rectory, the removal men had shifted Bishop Stevenson out of the Bishop's Palace in Portsmouth. 'He had a lot of books', they said, with some ruefulness.

Later on I found myself at St George's, Portsea, an 18th-century church in a square, now surrounded by post-War (and in fact mainly post-1960s) flats and houses. Of course I rather like my churches full of statues and candles, but the gentle simplicity of this space, with its colouring of soft pink and mint green, punctuated by the old cross and candlesticks against the east wall, the altar table, and the candle in front of the Blessed Sacrament off to the left, is welcoming and calm. They worship in the round here, which again is not my inclination, but it seems appropriate to the space. 

(photo from the church website)

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Dorset in July

Two days of great contrast: well-hunting on Monday, a journey to a variety of sites I'd visited many, many years ago and a few that were new to me, was accompanied by scudding clouds and quite a bit of warmth at times. On my customary pilgrimage to Abbotsbury I missed the usual turn and found myself going down White Hill instead of through Portesham, opening up a breathtaking vista along the coast east to Portland and westwards to the red cliffs of Devon, vanishing far, far beyond Lyme. That evening Ms Formerly Aldgate warned me over the phone that the next day would be a downpour, and so it proved when I and my mum went for a drive to Lulworth Cove. 

As I toiled up the hill towards St Catherine's Chapel I passed three black women struggling under rucksacks and camping gear. They came in to the chapel while I was in the middle of the office hymn to St Catherine, so we had to have some kind of explanatory conversation given that what I was doing was a bit unexpected! Griot Chinyere from London and her friends from the Shanti Chi company are dedicated to helping young people of African heritage from the inner city, particularly if they have mental health or behavioural issues, establish a sense of identity through storytelling, especially in the setting of the English countryside. I'd met them on a sponsored hundred-mile walk along the South Coast path from Exmouth to Worth Matravers. Strangely - although I have come to put some weight by coincidences - their next storytelling festival in July is at Parmoor Farm in Frieth, just yards away from the former Abbey of St Katherine whose black vestments I of course inherited and use. 

In such ways the modern world interacts with the fossil landscape of what we are now supposed to call the Jurassic Coast. On the second day, the rainy one, I and my mum ended up in Lulworth, another scene from my childhood, and it furnished another example. Back in the 1970s you parked up in a field and walked down a tiny street to the Cove, and there was nothing much there for visitors despite the geological fame of the great agonised folds of rock visible in the far cliffs. Then the Lulworth Estate, fresh from refurbishing Lulworth Castle after a fire in 1998 and looking at the potential of the several hundred thousand souls who found their way to the Cove each year, bucked up its ideas and built a visitors' centre and shop, and around the same time a rather grand restaurant opened between the car park and the old street. Since 2008 the Castle grounds have hosted the music event Camp Bestival, which can draw about 30,000 people. We found Lulworth packed even on a July Tuesday in term-time, as folk fought their way against the wind and rain to and from the shore. A group of about twenty teenage girls seemed to be carrying out a school tourism project, noting down on clipboards the number of Bed-and-Breakfasts and asking people where they'd come from. It's a far cry from a field and a one-room shop selling a few postcards and a couple of snow-domes with crabs in them. What would the dinosaurs make of it all?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Exercises in Overlooking

Going boating with Dr Bones on Saturday afternoon was a sort of little bit of holiday before my holiday started. I and Ms Formerly Aldgate drove up to Lower Heyford and helped the good Dr and Adrian (and Bones the dog, of course) shift the fair vessel down the Oxford Canal to Thrupp, where we met and had dinner with Ms T. We even managed to help with the locks. 

The journey started in dramatic fashion with screaming as Dr Bones lifted the first tyre buffer out of the water where it was protecting the side of the boat, and found a crayfish squatting in it. I hadn't thought a woman who happily deals with animals once they are dead would be quite so scared of a small live one, albeit one that can nip you if you get too close to it. I offered my assistance and eventually tipped the creature back into the water. It was then that I learned that boaters who come across American Signal Crayfish (of which this was one, Dr Bones recognised its body markings) are not supposed to put them back in the cut, but kill them, a messy and upsetting process which needs either a brick or a pot of boiling water. This is because they carry 'crayfish plague' that affects native species. We decided we hadn't seen it.

I was reminded of delivering a banns certificate to a couple that morning only to be told by a man who was either the groom or the bride's father that they weren't there, but now had their own home elsewhere. They hadn't told me that they were moving; technically the banns being read while they are actually resident somewhere else could be problematic, but if Dad hadn't been in, or I'd decided just to put the envelope through the door rather than knock, I'd've been none the wiser. I decided that in the interests of sanity I should probably recover my previous ignorance in that case, too.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Sola Fide

Our curate Marion has reached the end of her curacy, although we breathe a huge sigh of relief that the diocese has decided she can stay on until her husband retires from his current position at a local school, which should be four years. She can do this because she is what the Church of England calls a Self-Supporting Minister: that is, she works for free. The Church likes SSMs. What she will actually be now that she's technically no longer Assistant Curate (SSM) isn't yet clear, but nomenclature is a comparatively minor matter.

This is what she gave me to celebrate the conclusion of her training, to add to my mantelpiece of religious tat 'in the interests of theological balance': a Playmobil Martin Luther. It looks distinctly more mild-mannered than the real thing would have been.

I'm very pleased to see I fall within the intended age range, otherwise I'd've had to give it back.