Sunday, 30 December 2018

It's Not Entirely Over Yet

Some more Christmas images, though not entirely gratuitous ones. As usual my final specifically seasonal responsibility this year was the carol service at Smallham Chapel. The sheep who usually visits the service died earlier this year and her daughter is a bit boisterous, so we contented ourselves with widening the music and the customary trip down to the barn to sing to the bemused animals there. 'Why?' one little boy pointedly asked his father; the answer 'Because the sheep enjoy Christmas as well,' didn't seem to satisfy him entirely. 

Meanwhile, back at Swanvale Halt, I baptised a baby whose family is part-Italian. His grandma left a handful of coins at the crib, which has never happened here before, at any rate.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Christmas 2018

There were two new bits of kit to welcome into Swanvale Halt church this Christmastide. The first was the new votive light holder installed beside the statue of the Virgin and Child on the last Sunday of Advent, when the BVM's role in preparing the way for the Messiah is especially recalled. When I got it from eBay it looked like this:

I knew it was what I wanted because it was exactly the same as the one we have beside the icon of St Nicholas, but when it arrived I found it was unimaginably filthy with grease and gunk. I spent a morning trying to clean it with every substance I thought might have an effect, from washing-up liquid to vinegar. A sort of brassy material was revealed: I agreed with the kind donor who was actually paying for it that we should have it re-silvered, a process which has taken longer than you might expect. Now it is beautiful, and looks like it's been purchased new. You can't see it that clearly in this photo, but Our Lady and Our Lord seem to approve of it.

The other new item was the replacement for our old wooden crib scene. With the unavailability of donkeys on Christmas Eve getting no easier and the 'nativity tableau' we did for several years not being very involving, we decided last year to assemble a crib scene with painted wooden figures. They were placed on the altar but we agreed they looked a bit lost and what they needed was a stable to frame them. John who regularly knocks up such items did his magic again and produced something which looked so splendid I thought it was high time to dispense with the old version which was well past its best.

Curiously the Crib Service was the only one of the Christmas services at which attendance was down - if you believe the figures from last year, which I am not sure I entirely do. The biggest surprise was the Prayer Book communion service at 8am on Christmas Day, which not only drew more souls than any service of its kind since I arrived in Swanvale Halt, but I'm fairly sure more than any 8am service in that time. Admittedly, that's only a grand total of 21, but still. Two of them were under 8, and that's not even counting Ruby the dog. 

Saturday, 22 December 2018


It's a boon that I am able to get anything approaching a day off in the run-up to Christmas, though curiously the last week of Advent (if that's what it is, it depends how you count) is often less busy than the penultimate. I did have a booking in the evening, but it allowed me to pop out and check St Nicholas's, Alfold, right on the southern edge of the county and the Guildford diocese, for signs of Catholicism.

I suspect that St Nicholas's was one of those churches which, as far as High Churchery is concerned, got to the point of a Victorian 'restoration' and then stuck. In Alfold the driving force was the mid-19th-century Vicar, RJ Sparkes, who appears in a dreadfully faded photo in the vestry.

In fact the 'restoration' at Alfold was nothing like as drastic as in other places and the church retains its pre-Victorian feel thanks to its 15th-century pews and massive timbers supporting the belfry. Even the addition of the north aisle merely replaced a medieval one which had vanished over the intervening centuries, and the existing arches were uncovered from within the wall so they are genuine enough.

The fittings of the chancel are a different matter. Here we find a piscina based on a medieval original but in its form definitely Victorian: 

The chancel screen apparently includes medieval bits but its form, too, is modern. At some point it has had its doors removed:

The altar, interestingly, consists of a great slab of Purbeck marble which was dug up from the churchyard by Revd Sparkes in 1845. I'm assuming the tiles are modern, too - though it's not a completely simple matter to tell - if only because they skirt around the altar rather than continue under it.

The quaint 19th-century painted reredos has been banished to the south aisle. It depicts an array of saints of varying relevance to the church - Peter, Nicholas (probably), John the Evangelist, and George - which is a gesture in a Catholic direction, but no more than that. It was perhaps removed at the same time as the 'elaborate painted diaper patterns and figures' on the chancel walls, described in the Victoria County History in 1911 as being 'recent', were covered up.

I didn't see any vestment presses, though perhaps they hang the tat up in a locked cupboard, but there are some coloured brocade altar frontals in a cabinet in the main part of the church (I thought it might be covering up a radiator). 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Cutting Edge

The rain held off just long enough for us to gather at the Grassward Park estate to sing twenty minutes' worth of carols this evening. In the end I thought a top hat would be a bit de trop but hung a lantern off a beech branch I pruned from the tree in the garden because my head kept bumping into it, lending a little bit of Dickensian atmosphere to proceedings. There were a dozen of us, including Daniel with his trumpet adding some instrumental oomph beneath the more or less wavering voices. I said that delivering the leaflets the other day was probably the evangelistic point, but having made that point we did actually have to do some singing, and was prepared for absolutely no reaction on the part of the residents at all. However we gradually gathered an audience framed in their warm doorways and even some applause when we finished. That's a fresh expression of Church for you.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Mistaken Millinery

On the edge of the parish is a brand-new estate. There will eventually be more than sixty properties but they're not finished yet. However enough are complete and occupied to make us consider how we might make contact with the new residents, and Christmas being upon us we thought we might go carol-singing there. That's nice and gentle and Anglican. So I went around delivering leaflets so people were warned this would be happening (and arrange to be out if they chose). 

I found the last occupied dwelling, with the incomplete houses and empty plots beyond it. A couple of chaps were manoeuvring around a tipper, and one gaily hailed me in an Eastern European accent.

'I thought you Indiana Jones!'

I boggled a bit. 'You have hat!' he went on, grinning. 

My black wool-felt fedora is nothing like Mr Jones's leather bush hat, and the closest I have to it is my waterproof. I wouldn't have thought my black wool overcoat would be very practical garb in his line of work, either. Mind you, in my teens I toyed with the idea of being an archaeologist, always more a matter of standing in mud up to your knees in return for a few mouse bones and less of Nazis in search of mystical powers. However I decided I preferred my history indoors and became a museum curator instead. That doesn't require any special form of headgear although my colleague Mathieu the education officer sometimes wore his tricorn.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Break a Leg

My brain feels thoroughly scrambled at the moment and I struggle to string words together in coherent sentences let alone contribute anything much to this blog. So I do nothing more than share a photograph from the infants school Christmas Production whose two performances this year - one for Reception, one for the older children - followed swiftly on the heels of a big funeral service for a former member of the church. The first edition came with a drama of its own when Mary managed to move her chair back unseen by a teacher and fall off the staging. She was fine and got a big round of applause when she took up her position again.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Two Views of Goth Music

It was a stinging Amazon review.

The book’s primary weakness is that the authors proclaim in a self-aggrandizing manner that their work on goth is the only scholarship to deal with the music. This is absolutely untrue … 'The Music of the Goth Subculture: Postmodernism and Aesthetics' by Charles Mueller from 2008 … is full of musical analysis and ethnographic fieldwork, but the authors completely ignore it. …The book does not take into account any of the latest thinking concerning subculture theory. … Last but not least, many of the threads and arguments do not line up because the authors treat goth as a continuous phenomenon when in reality goth died in England during the late 1980s and what passes for goth today is really separate from what came before it.

The book this reviewer, ‘ChasM’, is referring to is Isabella van Elferen & Jeffrey Weinstock’s 2017 volume for Routledge, Goth Music: from Sound to Subculture. It didn’t take much inductive reasoning to work out that ‘ChasM’ could easily be the spurned author, Charles Mueller, himself. Although I found Dr van Elferen’s previous book on music in Gothic, Gothic Music: Sounds of the Uncanny, tough going I also liked much of the analysis, so the harsh review only convinced me I wanted to read the new volume. ChasM avoided the eye-watering price tag of £115 by borrowing it through an inter-library loan, whereas I managed to get a secondhand copy for £12, so that was something we had in common.

But while waiting for Goth Music to arrive I sourced that 2008 thesis from the Florida State University’s website – they let you download it for free – as well as Charles Mueller’s other two articles from the French musicological journal Volume. One, ‘Were British Subcultures the Beginnings of Multitude?’ (2012), only mentions Goth in passing; it’s mainly about the attempt by political sociologists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri to update Marxist analysis by re-describing the existing powers of economy and culture as 'Empire', to which they oppose the emergent democratic and libertarian force of 'Multitude', and this is all very well but not Goth-focused. The earlier article, ‘Gothic Covers: Music, Subculture & Ideology’ (2010), though, is an interesting examination of how Goth musicians adapt the music of others to their own purposes, and the light this sheds on the characteristics of Goth itself. This leads to some worthwhile study of Siouxsie & the Banshees’ album of cover versions, Through the Looking Glass, a work most people denounce, and that’s valuable in itself.

That leads us on to Mr Mueller’s thesis. It starts from Dick Hebdige’s work in the 1970s, which posited the Marxist case that subcultures represented forms of working-class resistance against social hegemony. Mueller stoutly defends this basic outline against later analysts who saw no great radical purpose in subcultural activity in general and Goth in particular. He argues that first-wave Goth was one sort of response to the social, economic and political conditions of the late 1970s and early 1980s, relying, he says, on a hundred or so interviews with subcultural participants: ‘my informants were emphatic in the belief that subculture in England was connected intimately with economic, social and political forces … far beyond simple consumerism or teen rebellion’ (55-6). ‘Bands used Gothic signifiers and aesthetics as a way to sharpen and continue the social commentary of punk … and embraced seduction and feminine signifiers as subversive devices’ (vii). Mueller’s interest is exclusively in first-wave Goth and he continually refers to the style in the past tense, while admitting towards the end of the thesis that Goth does survive in the UK, a paradox I’ll return to later.

One of Mueller’s concerns is to identify what makes Goth music Gothic, a worthwhile question as it’s something Goths themselves endlessly discuss; he recognises that the range of styles included under the umbrella ‘Goth’ had ‘from the perspective of timbre and sound … no consistent set of musical characteristics’ (9). Instead his detailed analysis of tracks by a range of early Goth bands leads him to conclude that the element that most links them is a concern to evoke ambience and mood using whatever effects the artists take to hand: Goth music was subversive of power, parodic, tended to camp, and drew inspiration from the wider Gothic tradition, and that was what connected its expressions rather than any formal musical qualities (138-9). It’s the musical analysis which seems the most impressive part of this study: although perhaps that’s the result of this non-musician being somewhat bamboozled by talk of chord progressions and intervals!

Van Elferen and Weinstock’s book begins with a similar undertaking. The authors met beside a pool during an academic conference and got round to discussing the perennial topic of what Goth music actually consists of, and out of that conversation the book arose. Strictly musical analysis forms a part of Goth Music, but the authors approach the subject from a completely different direction to Mueller’s; rather than start from the history of Goth (which would be the obvious tack to take), they begin instead with two contemporary Goth events, Dracula’s Ball in Philadelphia and Gottertanz in Leipzig (part of the bigger festival Wave-Gotik-Treffen), and think about what the Goth experience consists of. ‘Each event is defined by the music presented, the music is extraordinarily different in each venue, and yet both events are ‘goth’’ (43) so the unity cannot come from any technical or stylistic elements of the music itself. Neither, despite the centrality of social ritual to the subculture (‘horror film samples … corsets … and the scent of patchouli are as much part of goth musical reality as [the music] … Goth music is intricately linked to listening practices and social situations’ (51)) can it derive from any other such element as these, too, are colossally diverse. Despite its apparent inconsistency, Van Elferen and Weinstock are still convinced that ‘music is the glue that holds the goth scene together’, not just ‘one equivalent subcultural practice among many’ (11).

They find their way forward by borrowing the notion of the chronotope from 20th-century Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin. A chronotope is an artwork’s setting in time and space, the range of spatial and temporal associations it evokes. Gothic in general – although van Elferen and Weinstock don’t discuss this explicitly – deals with the intrusion of the monstrous into improper places and times, and human responses to it. Goth music, a more concentrated artform than novels or film, also creates windows into other realities and jars them against the familiar, or takes a familiar world and introduces the monstrous into it: it explores our relationship with these other times and places, or monsters, which can be characterised by desire or revulsion or both. It dislodges time and dislocates space, and its chronotopes are thus in critical dialogue with the everyday present. The authors identify five typical chronotopes that can be used to analyse Goth music (86-7). I’m not convinced that their distinction between the ‘intimate’ and the ‘expansive’ versions of the past or the future are very helpful categories, but the larger point is well made: like Mueller, they are trying to direct attention not to the surface details of Goth music but to its effects and intentions.

Further, they argue, particular chronotopical fantasies are reflected in corresponding substyles of Goth and, therefore, in the subcultural practices (such as fashion choices) that gather around them: ‘the temporal and spatial dislocations of goth musical chronotopes … find imaginative instantiation through associative clustering, which then prompts particular social actions and practices that further develop the world of the chronotope’ (120). Phew. To put it in a more concrete way, if you like listening to, say, neo-medieval or dark folk substyles of Goth music, you’re more likely to dress in a way that evokes a fantasy version of the Middle Ages or the pagan past, to be a pagan, and to go to crossover events with medieval re-enacters and LARPers, stay in a tent (probably not made of real animal skin as you are likely to be a vegan), and drink mead out of horns. You are very unlikely to be a stompy Cybergoth in towering boots and multi-coloured plastic hair extensions, as that fits in with an entirely different, future-directed fantasy and a different sort of music (not that you might not dip into both on separate occasions). Yet there is still a family relationship between all these versions of what Goth is: ‘the consistent distinctiveness of goth subculture inheres in the shared fantasy narratives clustering around the defeat of time and mortality’ (123). I’d argue that ‘defeat’ is a misleading word, but otherwise this is surely right and explains why Goths can always acknowledge each other as fellow-travellers while appearing completely different and listening to such wildly divergent stuff. Well, almost always.

This is very, very good, as it picks beneath the argument I sometimes hear from some older Goths that ‘Goth is about music, not fashion’ and complaints that 'people have become clothes-horses'. Setting up music and dress (or any other subcultural practice) as antagonistic elements within Goth misses the point that both are expressing and performing an underlying discontent with things-as-they-are, and an underlying awareness that not everything we desire is uncomplicatedly positive. That’s where the unity, and the point, is to be found.

At last we come back to ChasM’s criticisms of Goth Music. Is he right to be peeved at the Mueller thesis not getting a mention? Although he’s correct that it was indeed an ‘academic treatment of Goth music’ prior to van Elferen and Weinstock’s book, they don’t actually claim theirs is the first in toto, only that they are taking an original line. There is virtually no crossover between book and thesis and nothing, frankly, the earlier work could have contributed to the later, so a passing mention in the introduction would have been about as much as could have been expected. But there is no fury like a writer scorned!

Pointing out the lack of ethnographic research in Goth Music is fair: it struck me, too, that there is a gaping abyss in the book between observation, and theory based thereon, and any material deriving from Goths’ own experience (except the authors’). It would have been good to have something that reflected what subcultural participants themselves think they are about and the relationship they have to their music and their schmutter, and any subsequent work that examines the validity of van Elferen and Weinstock’s ideas should at least have a go at this.

It is also true that Goth Music adopts a different sociological stance from the Mueller thesis. Their take on Goth subversion is that it takes the form of personal (though collectively-explored) fantasy, and they don’t examine how this might link into broader political concerns, although the two are far from mutually exclusive. But if by the ‘latest thinking concerning subculture theory’ ChasM means the ideas about 'Empire & Multitude' Charles Mueller lays out in his 2012 article, the last paragraph of that piece makes me most uneasy.  Mueller writes, ‘During the 1970s and 1980s British subcultures often expressed hostility against each other … ignoring how they were united by the same set of concerns for their future and for British society. ... Future subcultures and social movements cannot make this mistake’. Can’t they? This is a manifesto in the form of an analysis. Rebellion may be all well and good, but telling a subculture how it ought to be behaving from your own ideological standpoint is quite a thing to do, and it makes the reader wonder about the assumptions of the analysis itself.

Which brings us to the last point, that ‘goth died in England during the late 1980s’, and that therefore van Elferen and Weinstock are barking up the wrong tree. Now, Charles Mueller’s own fieldwork for his thesis was conducted in about 2006 including, among others, many attenders at the Whitby Goth Weekend that year, and although he doesn’t generally describe who these people were and whether they were longstanding or relatively recent subcultural participants (no actual ethnographer or even humble historian would be so imprecise), some of them must have been around the scene for quite a while, thus demonstrating the very continuity the reviewer denies. Mueller himself states in his conclusion that ‘many of the original participants are still active … and … young people are still involved in goth because the music speaks to them’ (222). Any suggestion of complete discontinuity is simplistic, as anyone involved in the Goth world will confirm.

Just as Charles Mueller concentrates exclusively on first-wave Goth, so van Elferen and Weinstock put that to one side and focus on contemporary Goth, referring to the bands that shaped the original template briefly and in so far as their style feeds into the modern scene; they analyse songs by Alien Sex Fiend and Specimen but only as representative of existing Goth substyles. As regards their fields of study, then, Mueller’s thesis and Goth Music are effectively complementary rather than contradictory.

That said, ChasM has a point. There is more and more justification for recognising a fundamental gear-shift in Goth at some point, perhaps, in the very early 1990s. A couple of years ago a wonderful book called Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace was published, consisting mainly of worldwide images of first-wave Goths with a bit of explanatory commentary. It made very clear how early Goth maintained the makeshift, do-it-yourself ethos of punk, mainly because there wasn’t the scope to do anything else: it was only later that Goths themselves began to make clothing, art and accessories to service their own market. You can see this reflected, too, in the amazing film from Slimelight in 1987 that I highlighted a few months ago. Furthermore as Goth diversified and extended Goths began to encounter and draw into their net elements from other imaginative worlds – from LARPing to the fetish scene to vintage – that didn’t have anything to do with music as such. Van Elferen and Weinstock do make reference to shifting consumer habits within the Goth scene (43-9) but don’t draw out the implications for its history. Charles Mueller insists that the early Goth movement was predominately working-class and he may be right, even if it isn’t directly relevant to Goth Music: that doesn’t seem to be the case now, assuming it makes any sense to talk in terms of ‘class’ in contemporary Western economies. There is therefore quite enough evidence to conclude that something happened to Goth along the way that changed it, but we don’t quite yet know what, or what was the balance in the change between continuity and re-invention.

I found Goth Music exciting in its presentation of a way of thinking about Goth which escapes from the sterile debates Goths themselves often engage in. Yet, as so often, it begs more questions that could do with investigation.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Accessible Worship

In view of our recent thoughts about the worshipping life of young families, the Advent Service of Light last Sunday was quite instructive. This candlelit event can veer in moments from the sublime to the surreal although this year it went off without incident, and all the short pieces the Choir sang were better far than the Rutter Requiem I heard at a concert in the church two nights before (after that, I found that one of the front benches was mysteriously covered in glitter: people suggested this might have been down to the soloist who was also thus covered).

As we sang the first hymn I realised there were piping childish voices raised among the adult ones. In the front row was Caelyn (3 and a bit) from Toddler Group and her very young mum and dad (or they seem very young to me) who I know have absolutely no Church experience whatever. What were they doing there? What had inspired them to come to this service in which, notwithstanding the picturesque qualities of candlelight and lighting, nothing really happens apart from very trad music being performed? How would they respond to the carols and readings, some of which are positively Apocalyptic? I intoned the Advent Collect: 'Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now, in the time of this mortal life ...'  'He's singing!' I heard Caelyn point out vocally.

She wasn't alone, either, as after a while another Toddler Grouper, Teddy, appeared at the front of the church on the opposite side, having apparently insisted that he and his mum move there to get a better view. He gyrated about the end of the bench a bit but did it silently.

The end of the service came when, to the strains of 'Hills of the North, rejoice' we all processed out of the church with lit candles and through the garden into the hall. Not many of our candles remained lit, but somehow Caelyn's did, and once she noticed that some were out, she insisted on going round relighting them for people, subsequently stationing herself in front of the door to catch anyone coming in who required this service. She did it with such solemnity that many of us had to bite our lower lips to maintain the proper demeanour.

Monday, 3 December 2018


Having recommended it to other people several times, how it can have happened that I had never actually read for myself CS Lewis's classic The Screwtape Letters I can't imagine. A couple of weeks ago I visited the local 'community amenity site' (that which once upon a time was called a tip) which, like others of its kind, has a little junk shop now attached to it and where I found an old Fontana edition of the book. 

I've never warmed to Lewis. For me, notwithstanding the insightful, vivid and creative ways he illustrates the traditional formulas of Christianity such that you think about them in new forms, there is a vein of smugness threaded through almost everything he wrote, including the great Narnia sequence. The exception is A Grief Observed, his slim 1961 volume written in the aftermath of the death of his unexpected wife Joy and whose visceral rage against God is a sober corrective to that level, imperturbable faith.

Smugness isn't absent from Screwtape. Behind its description of the pitfalls of the spiritual life, expressed via the imaginary pen of the devil Screwtape, there is the sense that its author does not find himself very deflected by them: they are matters he has got sorted, done-and-dusted sins. Of course this cannot be the case. To describe such disturbances you must have experienced them, and still understand their power. The great surprise to me in Screwtape was the book's psychological acuity, and you don't get that by mere observation, unless observation includes your own reactions. I especially rated Letter 26 on the spiritual dangers of 'Unselfishness' - an aim far removed from the Christian notion of sacrifice and which, Screwtape points out, is capable of producing all sorts of worthwhile mischief in the lives of human beings. 

The true nastiness of the story only pokes through towards the end, as the senior devil's warning to his nephew 'bring us food or be food' becomes horribly prescient. Lewis apparently disliked writing the book and found it a great strain thinking his way into the common mind of Hell. The pleasure that comes with it is the dry one of the appreciation of bare wit and brutal sense, and which you cannot but admire, even while you may not love.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Reflections in Water and Glass

My sister-in-the-Spirit Cylene has recently moved to a particularly benighted part of South Wales ('used to be junkiesville', she says cheerily in her Stateside manner) but her partner is having some expensive medical treatment, paid for by her parents, done in London so they were around yesterday. I took Cylene to Little Venice where we nursed coffee in a canalboat café for quite some time and I watched moorhens trying to nibble algae off bits of floating plastic bag. Despite all the pressures inherent in her new circumstances, geographic and emotional, Cylene seems to have acquired a fundamental sense of rest which she's never had before and I am pleased about that. It would have been hard to be too discontented on such a beautiful day.

Just around the corner is Tournament House: I can't imagine how it can have evaded my notice before now. Built between 1932 and 1935, it has that monolithic corporatist Art Deco swagger that could not have envisaged a building being used for anything but the purpose for which it was erected. The blue sky reflected in its windows adds a sumptuousness. 

Friday, 30 November 2018

Frustration in High Places

Our Archdeacon is still quite fresh in the job. I went to his house a couple of days ago to have a conversation about how things were going in Swanvale Halt. I am aware that having gone through a gentle decline for a couple of years (themselves succeeding several years of gentle growth) numbers at church have been dropping quite steeply for about 18 months as a whole cohort of faithful souls die or become too infirm to attend, and aren't replaced by new ones coming in at the bottom end. I know this isn't anything to do with me directly, though I need to keep alive to the possibility that someone else might do the church better. My firm grasp on the Parson's Freehold, last priest in the diocese to be appointed thus, means I can't be dislodged unless I agree to be, but I don't like to contemplate the possibility that the bishop's staff team might be sitting around the table on a Monday morning and saying 'Oh, if only he would go!'

The Archdeacon assured me that this was far from the case. 'This pattern is happening almost everywhere,' he said, explaining that there are only ten churches across the diocese that are growing in numbers at all. Ironically these tend not to be the big evangelical ones, either, as those are generally losing support to smaller independent churches. One of the most prominent culprits in this respect is Emmaus Road in the centre of Guildford, which I know has been causing consternation among some of my colleagues as they have watched significant proportions of their younger families disappear in their direction. The parish church of Swanvale Halt hasn't (although I know some families in the parish who are part of Emmaus Road - some come to our Messy Church and even, last year, to our children's Passion Service on Good Friday), but then families who want that kind of worship were very unlikely to have come to us in the first place. One incumbent, went on the Archdeacon, has asked these departing families why they've left: 'they don't make any demands on us,' was the answer, no pressure to join rotas for this and that. They come, they listen to the speakers and wave their hands in the air, and go home. I wondered whether this was really true, as people are certainly encouraged to join the church's home groups which in good Maoist manner they call Collectives; but we were due to host one of the Swanvale Halt collectives one Saturday morning a few weeks ago, and the convenors rather shamefacedly cancelled it as it became clear nobody else was coming. 

'It does raise the question of what they think "church" is about', said the Archdeacon. 'And I can't help thinking, Why have you set up a church in a town which already has more churches of more kinds and styles than almost anywhere else? Why not put one on the Wellesley Estate in Aldershot? That would actually be helpful.'

Monday, 26 November 2018

St Catherine's Day 2018 - at Abbotsbury

Thankfully the roads were mainly in my favour yesterday as I made an effort, for the first time, to get to St Catherine's Chapel at Abbotsbury for the feast day of my patron saint, there being no evening service at Swanvale Halt to detain me. The forecast was for dull and overcast weather but instead the autumn sunlight was bathing Chapel Hill as I joined the stream of people and the occasional dog making their way up to the top.

On the way through the village I noticed signs saying that 'candle bags' for the service were on sale from local businesses. These turned out to be paper bags containing a little electric tealight set into sand, which could be decorated however the purchaser wanted: the money was going to support the children's play area in Abbotsbury. The finished bags were handed in and arranged in a 'wheel' on the hillside.

The service in the chapel, which focused quite strongly on the blessed Saint herself, lasted about twenty minutes, led by Revd Margaret Preuss-Higham, priest in charge of Abbotsbury. There were about sixty people there (not counting the dogs). The chapel's famous acoustic was well dampened by the presence of so many people or we would have been deafened!

Afterwards I had a closer look at some of the bags. Like the prayers left in the niches in the chapel itself, most were memorials to the dead. I saw a couple of bags decorated in memory of soldiers who died in WWI, with rubbings from the bronze plaques, issued to the relatives of all fatalities and gruesomely nicknamed 'dead man's pennies'. At least one person, though, chose to illustrate the chapel itself:

The only drawback of the fine weather was that I couldn't see the hill lit up by both the candle bags and the lanterns that line the path to the summit. It was only 3.40, but I had to zoom off to see my mother in Bournemouth.

A final view from the yard of the Ilchester Arms showed plenty of souls still making their way around the chapel. I was so glad to have made it.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Digital Simulation

'I and God have been making a paradox', Trevor told me on the phone, a sign that we were into science-fiction mode this morning. One of his abiding delusions is that screens of all kinds, whether TVs, computers or phones, can create portals to other dimensions or in fact generate other realities wholesale. This wouldn't matter, as Trevor sitting in his flat playing multiple copies of old movies like The Robe in the belief that he's multiplying God in order to sort his problems out doesn't harm anyone; were it not for the fact that it stops him doing anything that actually would improve his life. Rituals like this are also part of his anxiety structure, his belief that God needs him to carry out certain acts in order to combat evil, especially evil as it relates to himself: 'I have to repair God's throne, God's cross has been condemned.' It doesn't do him any good.

I try to reassure him that God's power is eternal and can't be added to or reduced, and that playing videos doesn't affect it one way or the other. 'We live in a digital simulation, Dr Chuck Missler says so,' Trevor insists, 'it's in the Bible.' I say that I can't think of anywhere the Bible talks along those lines. 'It is, there's a hidden code. You don't know, you haven't studied it. You only know the replacement theology of the Church of England.' There have been occasions when Trevor has declared that 'When I am on my throne in heaven I will condemn the replacement theology,' but we don't get that far this time.

The late Chuck Missler is one of Trevor's favourite evangelists. I suspect he wasn't quite the nutcase he may appear to have been, despite having written a book arguing that alien encounters are in fact meetings with demons. In fact a lot of what Dr Missler wrote was intended to be quite speculative rather than a presentation of hard fact. I suspect his articles and statements about the illusory nature of reality fall into that category: he's taking a set of deductions about the indeterminacy of subatomic physics and using it to argue the utter dependence of the world on God, and incidentally to undermine human beings' confidence about what they think they know: attacking science with a few bits of science. It's a bit a of cheap trick, I think, but even Chuck Missler can't have imagined that a schizophrenic man in a flat in Hornington would have used his ideas to justify playing videos to create alternate universes. I suppose it would be churlish to blame him.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Love and Anger

We were celebrating communion at Widelake House yesterday. We'd arrived later than usual due to interesting times on the roads of the parish, and I'd forgotten to bring a pall, the stiff linen square that sits over the chalice to stop flies dropping in it. Bella, who was a regular member of the congregation but is now resident in Widelake, was extremely upset at someone coming into her room overnight and was so anxious to see the manager when she came back that we only persuaded her to come to the service with some difficulty. As usual, a couple of the souls present pretty much know what's going on, a couple drift in and out of sleep, and it washes over the others in what I have to hope is a holy miasma. 

One of the important things in parish ministry, which is only a more acute version of the same dilemma that faces a lot of people in their daily lives, is to come to terms with the apparent pointlessness of a lot of what you do. I think priests who are anxious to be demonstrably useful are a hazard to themselves and others. My predecessor was very determined to be useful, and I suspect this was probably why she had her breakdown: reality never lived up to her expectations. 

In the afternoon Cara came for tea and as we sat in the café she described her first few weeks looking after three churches of different character in the wilds of inner Surrey. She's spent quite a bit of that time fighting an inner rage. She met the bishop who conducted her installation at an event this week and who made the mistake of asking how she was 'and I could feel my eyes filling with tears and I could see the panic in her face'. I recalled what it was first like in the much easier circumstances of Swanvale Halt, and my own sense of anger and unsettlement, a completely unreasonable feeling given the lovely people God had provided for me here. Marion our curate once told me how she thought her character had deteriorated since her ordination and 'how much more bad-tempered' she'd become. So many clergy report the same sort of thing, quite separately from the actual conditions in which they find themselves, that it's worth thinking why it happens. It is something to do with the uncertain expectations of the priestly role, which once upon a time was exercised within the clear context of social authority but which is now one onto which everyone around you projects a set of their own, often conflicting, expectations. These are often communicated to you very subtly, and sometimes not so subtly. It's not surprising if a person suddenly projected into this situation resents it, and feels guilty at resenting it, because they've chosen it and because of the privileges that accompany it, and that certain character types will find the mixture of emotions harder to process than others. It's also why new incumbents have to pay special attention to the first few weeks of their ministry: everyone will always remember the impression you give right at the start, and yet that's the time when you are most unsettled, uncertain, and vulnerable, when you don't really know what's going on and are trying to work out what you feel as much as what everyone else does.

'My spiritual director would said that these feelings are potentially creative and properly handled are all part of the process of priestly ministry,' I offered.

'Yeah, thanks,' said Cara.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Noises Off

Finally we got around to trialling Taketime, the Ignatian meditation technique we learned about back in July. Thirteen of us (a coven's worth, yes) gathered on Sunday evening in a circle of chairs and thought ourselves into the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. I got some of the order wrong through misinterpreting the handouts from our training session, but it was fine and various attenders found themselves getting something valuable out of it.

It surprised me that our old church walls are so ineffective at keeping out what you might call non-diegetic noise. A group was setting up for a meal in the church hall and we could just about hear the odd clatter and instruction, but a little more disruptive were the sounds from the street. 'It wouldn't have been completely quiet at the Sea of Galilee', offered Marion, but we agreed that whatever noise they might have experienced, repeated car horns wouldn't have been part of it.

Mind you, it could have been worse. I had to burn a CD of relaxing classical music and only having done so realised that for some reason my program had done another copy of the previous one I made, a compilation of driving music including contributions from the Dresden Dolls, the Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, Chelsea Wolfe and the Accordion Death Squad. Few people, even me, would probably find that combination particularly relaxing.

Sunday, 18 November 2018


It caused Dr Bones great amusement to discover that I had dug over an area of the garden with the aim of planting a wildflower patch: wasn't cultivating wildflowers a contradiction in terms? In fact it isn't as simple as just leaving an area of ground to its own devices and seeing what happens. If it's in a damp, dark area where grass finds the going tough, you will indeed get wildflowers, but they will be all Green Alkanet and Herb Robert, and they grow anywhere. If it's in an open, light area, all you will get are rough grasses, and if bramble and ivy are anywhere close at hand they will start making an appearance after a while, too. You do actually need to work at it. 

I'd already left this particular bit of the garden to run wild in the expectation that it would magically turn into a meadow hung in the summer with bees and butterflies, and it very much did not. Instead it got the grasses, the ivy and the brambles, and the merry pollinating insects had nothing to do there. My other efforts came to nothing, too: in one bed I planted a 'Bee Mat' impregnated with all sorts of lovely seeds and not a single one emerged. 

But this new wildflower experiment I did properly, digging over the ground, removing the remains of the old turf packed with coarse grasses, and leaving it for several weeks to see what weeds came up before planting out the seeds. The packet said the 'nurse grasses' would start emerging in 7-to-10 days, and when nothing much happened I was rather despairing. But, after a gap of five weeks or so, here are the first bold little shoots poking above the soil. At least I hope they are the grasses I want, rather than the ones that were there already, which I don't!

Friday, 16 November 2018

A Would-be Wasted Youth

Watching a variety of underground surrealist short films in a former horse hospital hosted by the one-time PA to Siouxsie & the Banshees is the sort of thing I should have been doing when I was 20, not knocking 50, but back then I wouldn't have been able to have been invited to such an event by my friend Ms DarkMorte who has known all these people for ages. I thought that perhaps the Horse Hospital's name was just macabre whimsy, but no, that's exactly what the late-18th century building was, as revealed by the sluice-channels cut into the gallery floor (not that different from my garage, which used to be a stable). 

I was most taken by the first of the films, Eliott Edge's Hello Sexy Curse which despite its name is very un-sexy indeed. It's an attempt to create a horror movie without narrative or explicit events, using the mere force of sound and vision. For twenty minutes, strange shapes resolve themselves into images you just begin to recognise when they disappear, there are moments when the screen goes dark, and sound or silence move across the visual display in an apparently unconnected progress but one which is in fact carefully composed to unsettle. It works very well. It's also quite exhausting, partly because of the tense worry of what might be coming next (at one point a woman's eye comes into view together with a long, flat object which might be a sword, and you think it's going to go all Un Chien Andalou but are relieved when it doesn't), and partly because the human brain being what it is you are continually straining to make logical sense of what you are seeing even while telling yourself that there is no narrative to be grasped, and your grey cells shouldn't really be bothering themselves unnecessarily. And that was probably a metaphor for my younger days, too.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

On The Square

Newly-installed as Rector of Emwood, Cara has been somewhat discombobulated by the discovery that her 'most effective churchwarden' is also a Freemason. I know that one of our Swanvale Halt congregation is the spouse of a Mason, but not of any others and I'd be surprised if there were any - it's not the sort of church that has those sort of networks or that kind of status in local society. 

We discussed Freemasonry at a diocesan training day on deliverance and all associated issues a few months ago, when the co-ordinator of the deliverance advisory team related his own run-in with parish Masons years ago. He had refused to read one of their prayers going on about 'The Great Architect' at a funeral service in the church for a Lodge member, and good heavens, didn't he get some nasty letters as a result. But nasty letters were all he got. A couple of years ago I had reason to speak to the then deliverance advisor who handed me a leaflet detailing various spiritually doubtful things in which a person might have been involved, including Freemasonry: 'covertly Satanic in its lower degrees and overtly Satanic in its higher degrees', apparently. I thought this was a bit much. 1950s Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher had been a Mason: the mere thought of him cavorting naked around a benighted field invoking the Great Beast was something I was not pleased to have in my mind. 

It is the case that some of the more arcane rituals of some bits of Freemasonry once mentioned Jahbulon, a sort of composite word for God cobbled from Yahweh, Baal and On, all Old Testament words for deities of different sorts. It made the point that, in the syncretistic, freethinking system that underlies Masonry, all gods are one God and all roads lead to him. There was even some would-be spiritual language about the unity of God and the Devil, of light and dark. Probably all secret societies that grew up in rationalist opposition to established church life in the 18th century developed language of this kind: it should be seen in that light, rather than Satanic. I don't see every black-and-white chequered floor as evidence of devil-worship. That said, I can't see how any definite Christian could easily use such language, or want to be involved in this kind of spiritual system. 

My friend Comrade Tankengine believed that he was actively persecuted by a group of Freemasons at his workplace many years ago. Around that time I found a bottle in the collection of the museum where I worked labelled 'Masons Extract', which we both found most amusing. I suspect, realistically, that that's as diabolic as the influence of the Lodge gets.

Monday, 12 November 2018


Two new war memorials, a session with the ATC and one Remembrance service later, and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice at Swanvale Halt is over. The memorials were the one at Smallham against the road outside the little chapel there, and the garden at Hornington Cemetery where I did a double-headed service with the Vicar of Hornington. Our service went as well as it could possibly have done: more by luck than judgement we began the Silence at precisely 11am, which doesn't always happen.

I and the Air Cadets talked about what we might be thinking in our various Remembrance events. Much of the public comment, whether from those who support or oppose the whole circus, assumes it's 'about' one thing, which is not my experience nor that of the young people at the Squadron. In my teens I saw it as a horrendous, irredeemably imperialist display, but now I find my feelings are an amalgam of the effects of personal, national, and universal human history. I think of my Dad and his National Service with the Devon & Dorsets, and my great-uncle who was a prisoner of the Japanese in WWII. I think of the young men of Swanvale Halt whose names are on our memorial, and of those who fought against them in exactly the same conditions and with exactly the same feelings: of the victims of war, civilian and military, on all and every side, in conflicts wasteful and arguably justified, past and present. I think of what we might do to avoid such pain in the future. All these remembrances flow together and the mute poppy somehow expresses them. We write our own meanings onto it, rather than passively accepting anyone else's.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Omission Pt 2

My post about the saga of the missed banns now needs an update. I administered the oath to the couple, gathered up all the paperwork, and happily sent it off to the Registry in London. All was well.

Then on Thursday the Registry called me. I had not spotted, had I, that Andrew and Valerie were getting married in the Diocese of York; that is, in the Northern Province of the Church of England and, therefore, in an entirely different jurisdiction. The oath they'd sworn with me was invalid and they would have to find a surrogate for oaths in Yorkshire.

My immediate and overemotional reaction, composed of parts of shame, mortification, fear, and worry for the couple, needs analysing somewhere else than here as I don't quite understand it myself; the sleepless night that followed did nobody any good. What might be of interest to you is the process of trying to sort the mess out. Off the phone to the Registry, I then called, in quick succession: the curate due to marry Andrew and Valerie; his vicar; the Area Dean; not just one but two numbers at the offices of the Diocese of York; and finally the York Diocesan Registry. None of these people answered. It was several hours before I did finally manage to speak to one, the vicar of the benefice where the wedding was due to happen. She told me she used to be the Surrogate for the Deanery (how convenient had she still been!) but resigned about 18 months ago and didn't know who the new one was. She couldn't find out for me because the Diocese of York has replaced its paper Yearbook with an online 'information portal' and she wasn't yet registered. She gave me the name of someone she thought was a Surrogate, but he turned out to be away.

That was as far as I could get before my sleepless Thursday night. On Friday morning I successfully spoke to a clerk at the Diocesan Registry in York who gave me the name of a vicar not far away from where the couple were due to get married. Bona. But a few hours later she called me to say that, although her name might be down as Surrogate, she hadn't yet had any training and so couldn't help (I just about refrained from sharing the information that my 'training' for the role had come in the form of a booklet in a brown envelope). The Registry had given me two other names, one of the priest who was away until next week, and another, vicar of a parish on the east side of York. He, thank God, kindly responded to a message despite it being his day off and enabled me actually to go and tell the couple what had happened. Getting married is stressful enough: I wanted to be able to provide them with a plan of action, not just a problem waiting to be resolved. 

I set out in pouring rain on Friday night and found Andrew and Valerie just packing to go to Yorkshire that evening. I told them I had screwed the process up, again, told them that Fr So and So would give them a call and gave them his details, handed over a bottle of wine in apology, and wished them well. They were so relaxed about it, and even grateful, yet what they were thanking me for was clearing up after my own mess. After my dreadful stress and worry it was a beautiful experience of graciousness. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Changing Scene

My friend Cylene has recently moved far away from London, so she won't be at leading Goth club Slimelight any time soon. But lately on LiberFaciorum she highlighted the complaint of another clubgoer at her treatment by the security guards one night in October:

As the saying goes, 'opinion is divided on this matter'. Cylene was outraged, while others suggested this was only what the club has to do to keep its licence.

I wasn't sure exactly what was being complained of, and the complainant's account doesn't make it completely clear. What does she mean by a 'full body search'? (I'm not going to Google 'under the bra' to work out what that phrase might entail). Even as far as the police are concerned, any search which might expose 'intimate areas of the body' can only take place in a police station, so if that was what happened that night at Slimelight it was plainly illegal; but the victim only specifically mentions that she was asked to take her shoes off.

Assuming that nothing positively illegal took place, it seems as though the security personnel were within their rights. According to the guidelines I found, they're permitted to ask to search a patron at an event or premises; the patron can refuse, but then the security personnel have an equal right to expel them from said event or premises, so the ultimatum they gave the complainant in this case was proper. The victim here complains that no explanation was given her, but of course it wasn't: the security personnel don't know the background to any report of illegal behaviour, and it's not their business to investigate it, and so they have to protect the reporting person against possible repercussions. Security do have to call the police if they want someone arrested, but not just to see them off the premises. There doesn't seem to have been any improper behaviour here, although as it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity you could argue the security personnel could have been more alert to that possibility, and the possibility, too, of someone reporting illegal behaviour maliciously. 

The most suggestive aspect of this is the complainant's insistence on her longstanding membership of Slimelight and that it was wrong to behave in this way 'especially towards a regular': in the end she was rescued by a security guard who recognised her. 'The atmosphere in there has completely changed ... We've lost our basic freedom which is what most of us went there for in the first place.' The trouble with this is that it's hardly reasonable to expect security personnel at an event to be familiar with who is and who isn't trustworthy, or indeed 'a regular'. Slimelight is a big venture to which people gravitate from a hundred miles away and more on a Saturday night, and is a commercial event - by which I don't mean it exists to make money, as it clearly doesn't, but that it's subject to the same rules and pressures as are events that do. It's anonymous. Whatever may have been the case once upon a time, it isn't a night out in the pub with your mates.

But that's what Goths often want it to feel like. The belief in subcultural community creates an expectation that a communal ethos will characterise the events where Goths gather. It reminds me of the things that were said at the time Reptile was expelled from its former home at the Minories off Tower Hill which expressed a sense that a Goth club night ought to have different rules applied to it from any other gathering, rules that recognised its significance as a sort of community event rather than a commercial one. But I don't think an event as big as Slimelight can work like that. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Sins of Omission

Being Bishop's Surrogate for Oaths often puts me in the position of sorting the situation out when churches fail to read banns for people who are getting married or, as quite often happens, people don't realise they need to have them read. That made it doubly embarrassing when, a couple of weeks ago, I realised I had failed to arrange the reading of a couple's banns in Swanvale Halt when I was away. Usually I copy the banns to be read into the register for the first Sunday each month, the month before the wedding concerned. In October my last Sunday before going away was so busy I forgot all about it, and by the time the mistake was discovered it was too late and the couple had to be married by licence instead. 

So the embarrassment was cubed this morning as I realised, on going to check whether there were banns to be read, that the mistake affected a second couple. A second mortifying phone call to explain what had happened and what we were going to do about it. 'If that's the worst thing that goes wrong I'll be pleased!' said the bride-to-be, all understanding. Still, apart from the fact that I will have to fork out to pay for their licence, and apart from the bureaucratic faff, it's the last thing you want as your wedding approaches. I recall one couple coming to see me last year to swear an oath in application for a marriage licence the day before their wedding as the mistake had only been discovered the previous day. They were shaking.

It is a sin because I have not paid attention and caused people upset as a result. But as it was the morning after the accident at the Woking Fireworks not far away from here, the sin was put into perspective. Nobody has died and it can be dealt with. I thought how it might be, not just to suffer from an accident for which someone else is responsible, but also to be that person: what might it take to face your culpability?

Friday, 2 November 2018

Dereliction of Sundry Kinds

After my episode of  'overwalking' on holiday, I finally did what I've been saying for years I should be doing and bought a pair of proper walking boots, which had their first outing yesterday. My friend Cylene often posts images of derelict or abandoned buildings on LiberFaciorum and one of these, not that far away from me, was the focus of my trip. In Nearer Sussex lies the hamlet of Bedham, and Bedham contains a surprise.

Bedham's surprise is a ruined church, sequestered in a steep-sided dell in the woods, surrounded by houses but invisible from them all. It was built in 1880 as a joint church and schoolroom. For several generations, the children of the charcoal-burners of this undeveloped woodland district came here to learn their ABC, and then on Sundays the Rector of Fittleworth held a service in the building. Education ceased in 1925 but the church, dedicated to St Michael & All Angels, kept going until being declared redundant in 1959. 

Keep Out! warn the signs, but provided you don't go clambering round the walls you will come to no harm. It's a haunting ruin, strangely beached in its hollow like a ship, but it doesn't take much to imagine pinafored Victorian children running down the slope on their way to lessons.

The line of the Wey & Arun Canal runs through this area. I hadn't realised until I set out that my route would take me across its course at a couple of places. This piece of industrial archaeology, as haunting in its way as Bedham Church, is Pallingham Quay Bridge, right at the southern end of the Canal. Not far beyond it, the navigable part of the River Arun began:

I wanted to see the Toat Monument, and so I did, although I discovered you can't approach that closely. Built in the 1820s as a memorial to a man who died falling off his horse, it seems almost a bit insensitive that the reason you can't approach the monument today is that the space is occupied by horse paddocks.

By the time I got back to the car it was so dark I could barely spot the sign indicating the little car-parking area among the trees. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Halloween 2018

An easy, obvious, and lazy post of my pumpkin and turnip lanterns ready for this evening!

Monday, 29 October 2018


It's good that Swanvale Halt church hosts music concerts (of different kinds) so regularly. We are particularly the venue for some of the events organised by John a local gentleman who left a City job years ago to work as a music promoter. As a result, many people come to the church who otherwise wouldn't find their way into it. The refurbished church building, where furniture can be moved conveniently (well, relatively so) into an endless variety of configurations, makes such events easy to accommodate.

John's team were in on Friday setting up for a Saturday concert this week, an especially large one which required extra work on their part. I got into church on Saturday morning to find that not only had the chairs and benches been shifted into the required layout, but the altar had been moved already into the chancel which during concerts becomes a dark recess, invisible behind the artists.

The church was going to remain open until about mid-day, and I had a meeting in an hour's time with a baptism family. Without its altar, hung with the green Victorian altar frontal which is the main point of colour in the building, it no longer looked like a church. The World is never absent from the Church: the two interpenetrate each other. But the whole point of having a church building at all is that what happens in it affects the world around it more than if it didn't exist. The constant sign of the sacred allows the presence and activity of God in the world beyond it to become open and visible. It is the mark of God's promise, and it's God's promise that makes the world sacred in so far as it is. I shifted the altar back into its proper position, at least for a few hours until the doors were closed.

I intended to tell John what I'd done and then forgot. Happily he is a tolerant cove.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Alternative Centre

Several years ago now the young Lord Declan and Lady Minster moved from cramped and unsatisfactory Morden to Leighton Buzzard, but I'd never been to see them there until last week. Their new(ish) house is still part of a terrace but of modern properties rather than 1930s ones and faces a park, and there is more room to breathe, they find.

What they also find is that at a greater distance from London there is more sense of community in the pubs and bars around the town. Most notably there is Ollie Vee's Tiki Bar, which sounds horrendous but as one of the founders has a background in stage design the decor is actually rather impressing in a cheesy and tongue-in-cheek kind of way. There are lots of skulls and threatening-looking faux-Polynesian art around, and, upstairs, a gaping shark's mouth, so there is plenty for the odd Goth to enjoy provided they have a broadminded enough attitude. 'That's so hipster', my god-daughter said when I described it to her but in fact it's anything but. Every Thursday Ollie Vee's has a Vinyl Night when patrons can bring in their own discs to spin on the turntables, and Declan and Minster have been doing this for some time, building up quite a rota with a group of other customers. They tend not to inflict anything that challenging on the bar (no Diamanda Galás) but find it amusing to construct short sets from a bit of 80s cheese and glam interspersed with pop-Goth which others might just about have heard of. 

This odd little place does seem to have become the focus of Leighton Buzzard's alternative scene in so far as there is one. My joke that Tiki Goth is the Next Thing is old enough to be wearing thin now, but here it is almost a reality: I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it myself.