Dignity in death

Pope John Paul II was nearing the end of his life. Afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, his hands trembled and his speech was almost incomprehensible when he appeared each Sunday on his balcony at St Peter’s to bless the masses below. This Pope had changed the world, confronting the Soviet empire and helping to bring it down. He was a figure of historic importance and with each Sunday blessing he was disintegrating before our eyes. At an editorial meeting, one of my colleagues suggested we should comment on his infirmity. Someone took the line that the Pope was weakening the Church by parading his incapacity, that he should do as past popes had done: withdraw into invisibility, in mute acceptance of God’s will. All of a sudden Mahler sprang to mind. ‘Absolutely not,’ I erupted. ‘What the Pope is doing is bringing decline and death out of the closet, showing that it happens to us all, that it is not shameful. He is setting an example. He’s telling us not to lock away our popes and grandparents in care homes but cherish them in our midst, able or disabled, until the end. He is manifesting dignity in death, and the value of life.’

Quoted from Norman Lebrecht, Why Mahler? page 206

Five Years On

Five years on from the last school reunion I attended, I was there again yesterday for the 55th anniversary reunion of our starting at secondary school in 1960.

I thought I’d relink the two posts I wrote about the experience back then.

Glad and gay


Yesterday’s experience was even more weird and wonderful that that of five years ago. I don’t yet trust myself to write about it publicly. Perhaps as the days pass I may find the mental and emotional equilibrium to do so…

A Song for Jenny

Like lots of people, we’ve watched A Song for Jenny this week. A few days later than most people, because we don’t have a TV licence, so we have to watch it on BBC iPlayer.

My strongest memory of that day in 2005 is of getting a phone call from my son Tom.

I was working in my study in the middle of the morning, the phone rang, I picked it up, he said

“This is Tom – I’m OK.”

“What do you mean: You’re OK?”

Two of our children were living and working in London back then. I can’t imagine what I would have felt if the conversation had gone like,

“Have you heard from -?”

“What do you mean: Have I heard from -?”

“Turn on the TV.”

… Though this powerful drama helps me to imagine what I would have felt.

My heart goes out to the Nicholson family, and all the other families who were left bereaved by the horror of that day. Would I, as a priest, have been able to forgive and love those who had murdered my child and 51 others?

I don’t think I would. I think I would have said, “Well God, you’d better help me to forgive and love these people – if you want to and can. But until you do – I’m going to hate the hell out of the people who have done this evil thing.”


Here’s the list of the dietary requirement options for the conference I’m going to be attending in September. It takes up probably a good 25% of the whole booking form.

Vegetarian but eats fish
Demi-Vegetarian (no red meat)
No beef
No pork
Nut allergy
No seafood
Diabetes (low sugar)
Other: Please specify

I suppose it’s no joke if you do have food allergies or intolerances of one kind or another. But I also can’t help thinking we’ve become a lot more picky than we need to be. Too bad there isn’t a
No tasteless

Fun with Linux

For several years I was a real Linux devotee and proud of it. In spite of the frustrations, it seemed to me a model of how computing should be, and a parable of what human endeavour (and the Christian Church) could be, if people worked together instead of trying to compete or make a profit from everything. I even built my own computer and installed various versions of Linux on it, and used it most happily.

That ended when I found myself one day in John Lewis, looking at a reduced end-of-line MacBook, and realised /I could afford it/! For a while it seemed like perfect bliss: MacOS was based on UNIX, but it worked. Seamlessly. Without the frustrations that so often were part of the Linux experience back then.

That was the beginning of my love affair with Apple which lasted through two laptops and a desktop computer, and a couple of iPads. But when the last of those MacBooks was reaching the end of its natural life, and upgrades to the next OS were just coming thicker and faster, and outstripping the hardware so that I could no longer run the latest versions of essential software, and the prices had risen so high… I found I could no longer be a Mac user.

So the next step was to buy a PC laptop (the very one on which I’m typing this) and a desktop machine running Linux. The desktop was a bit wobbly, and for a while I installed Windows 8 on it, but have recently gone back to Linux Mint; while the laptop became my primary computer. And I have now set up a dual boot system on the laptop and installed Linux on the ‘other half’, which is the half I am now principally using. And remembering just what fun Linux is, what a sense of achievement there is in learning how to do things with it, and the freedom to do things that are not constrained by the tech-giants like Microsoft, Apple and Google. Linux has come on a lot since I last used it, and has even more to offer than it did then.

Chromebook and BT Homehub

After my last upgrade of my Chromebook, it wouldn’t connect to the Internet via the BT Homehub.

This is a pretty common problem according to what a Google search throws up, and occasionally what I found there has worked, though mostly it’s involved tinkering with the Homehub settings (for which you need to be able to connect to it, d’you see the problem?) Why should a Chromebook update have messed with the Homehub settings?

Anyway, after a frustrating couple of weeks of not being able to use it, I was playing around with the advanced settings on Chromebook and thought I’d try pressing Restore Defaults. Wonder of wonders, we were suddenly connecting to the Internet again.

I haven’t seen this fix on any of the forums. Could it be this simple after all? Anyway – note to self – next time Chromebook goes AWOL from the Internet, remember to try this.

A blog post written in Emacs

Still trying to find a good way to write blog posts in Emacs and then post them to my WordPress blog that doesn’t involve running of Lisp publishing projects, or extensive editing of HTML files to remove breakline tags.

Will it work if I publish this post to HTML, then open the file in Chrome, copy from the browser and paste into WordPress new post window?

It seems to work, except for a couple of strange anomalies…

COMMENT: There’s got to be a better way!? This is roundabout and fiddly; though it does solve the problem of the unwanted linebreaks.

A draft blog post

When I draft a blog post in Emacs Org Mode, and then copy and paste it

to WordPress, WordPress adds line breaks at the end of the visual
lines (i.e. those visual in Emacs) where you don’t want them to be
when you put it in HTML. This doesn’t happen when you /export/ to
HTML. Does it always happen if you copy and paste?

It /does/ happen when you copy and paste. Let’s test again, to make
sure it doesn’t happen with Export to HTML.

It does happen, even when you copy and paste formatted HTML text. What’s going on? Why does it behave like that? (This paragraph typed directly into WordPress dashboard, Edit Post.)

Because I can

The aim of drafting blog posts in Emacs and then posting them to Storyteller’s World…

I haven’t yet worked out how to do that with the Emacs extension Org2blog; I’m wary of trying to add extensions to Emacs in Windows, with directions that look as if they’re Unix based.

So for this I’m drafting in Emacs, then copying and pasting into Windows Live Writer to see if that works.

Here goes…

There’s liars, and then there’s politicians

It’s going to be increasingly difficult to decide how to vote in the Election. The further it goes on, the more it becomes obvious that many of the politicians are

a) liars, and/or

b) think the voters are idiots, and/or

c) are acting as if the General Election was a series of the X-Factor
(cf b above).

So the Tories are promising to eliminate the deficit and run a surplus by the end of the Parliament, apparently thinking we have forgotten that the deficit has actually increased during their time in power.

While Labour are promising to spend more money on everything, while not increasing taxation or borrowing.

And neither of them is telling us how?

When are we going to hear from an honest politician saying: There’s only so much you can bring into the Treasury by cutting benefits to the poor and paying public sector workers less and less. If you want all these services (health care, education, benefits, pensions) you’re going to have to pay for them. That means raising taxes. Maybe 5% on the basic rate and 10% on the higher rate, along with closing tax loopholes and making sure that corporations and billionaires pay what they should. (I’m pretty sure most of us wouldn’t mind paying more tax for a proper NHS, provided we were confident the tax system was fair.)

Here in Oxford East we have a wonderful MP in Andrew Smith. I’d vote for Andrew with no hesitation, if I wasn’t so p*ssed off with the Labour Party leadership, policies, cowardice, and its record the last time it was in power. So does that leave me with only the choice of voting Green, even though some of their policies (e.g. on the place of faith in public life) are just barking mad?