February 29, 2004

Nana's House

Last night was Aidie's first night away from home. Or more accurately, his first night away from Mummy. He stayed over at Nana's house.

With the new baby in a few weeks and depending on how long Mummy has to stay in hospital and how long Daddy can take off work and when Papa and Honey arrive from Texas, Aidie may have to stay over with Nana on more than one occasion. We thought it would be good to get him accustomed to the idea of going to bed without Mummy or Daddy and his usual routine.

I think Mummy was much more worried about it all than Aidie. We he saw us loading up the travel cot into Nana's car he wasn't keen on the idea, but when bedtime came around, word is he had no problem whatsoever. He slept through his usual 12 hours without waking up once. It was Mummy who called before and after bedtime to make sure everything was okay.

We did not have Liturgy this morning, so it was nice to actually have a real lie-in. Normally, even if we have no morning obligations, Aidie will wake up by 7:30 or 8:00 and either insist on going downstairs or get in our bed, which means sleep is over. This morning, Mrs H and I caught up on a lot of missed sleep.

I think Aidie should spend more nights at Nana's house.

Posted by david at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2004


Today we had our annual St David's Day pilgrimage to Llanthony. The more perceptive among you may realise that it is not St David's Day, so I should point out that we have our pilgrimage on the Saturday closest to St David's Day, so more people can attend.

As it was, there weren't enough people there to start a fight. Most of our community couldn't make it for various reasons. The Swansea people didn't come up this year. Fortunately we had folks from Bristol come up and lead the choir.

I've mentioned a bit about Llanthony itself in the past. What I didn't mention is that the service is invariably cold. Very cold. Normally, on or about the 1st of March the outside mid-morning temperature is about 45°F, which means the unheated church is a bit colder. Today it was more like 33°F outside with a moderate (or in British terms, heavy) snow on the ground. You can imagine how cold it was inside.

I have to say I felt a bit like St Seraphim of Sarov praying in the snow in Russia, without that part about the Holy Spirit keeping me warm. Perhaps I'm not a spiritual as St Seraphim. It has been suggested in the past.

In his brief homily, our own Fr. Seraphim talked about how St David used to jump into the cold sea (once he was ensconced at what became St David's in west Wales) to cool the passions. While he was at Llanthony, he clearly could have just stood in his monastic cell (which was located on the site of the church in which we were standing). He may very well have used the equally effective the Honddu brook running nearby.

I suppose it is appropriate that St David's Day almost always falls in Lent.

The Bristol people are part of a church under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Thus, their music was a bit different from our usual fare. And it was different from the EP church is infrequently attend in Shrewsbury, where the choir master has blended many different styles together.

What I have discovered in being exposed to these variations in music is how easy it is to follow and even pick up the ethnic variations in the Tones. I tend to sing along where I can even while serving in the altar. It is not so difficult when you already know the words. That's the great thing about the Liturgy. The tune may change, but the words stay the same.

This is like work of Christ in the lives of believers throughout the world. We may find ethnic variations in the presentation, but the Word stays the same.

Posted by david at 11:49 PM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2004

In Loco Parentis

From today parents can be issued fixed penalty notices, much like parking tickets, for up to £100 if their children are truant from school. Who has been given policing powers to issue these fines? Educational welfare officers and head teachers. Under the new act, magistrates also have the power to order parents into counselling.

This legislation has been brought about because, in the words of Education Minister Ivan Lewis, "Children have a fundamental right to an education." And if they aren't going to exercise that right, by golly, they are going to pay. Lewis emphasised that in local truacy sweeps, often half of the children caught out of school without permission are with their parents. What business parents have being with their children without the permission of the school, we can only imagine.

"Where parents are unable to fulfil their responsibilities, parenting contracts will provide them with the professional support they need and focus on what needs to be done to improve their child's attendance or behaviour.

"However, where parents are simply unwilling to fulfil their responsibilities, it must be right that society demands legal sanctions, and penalty notices for truancy will provide due accountability."

Bad enough? Ah, but there's more...

The Association for Education Welfare Management has asked the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, for the power to check up on home educators. Currently the local education authorities have no responsibility to make enquiries about homeschooling families. The forthcoming Children Bill may have something to say about that.

Jenny Price, the Association's general secretary, said, "We believe that the forthcoming Children Bill, together with the new education service arrangements for safeguarding children, offer a most useful opportunity to develop and implement effective practice in this area."

The Children Bill, which promises to be the most far reaching reform of children's services for 30 years, will use the excuse of protecting children to remove as many educational rights from parents as possible and insure that children are purely creatures of the State.

Proponents of the Bill are even using non sequitur scare tactics to support their position. Ms Price supported her views by saying, "Let's not mince words: there are paedophiles who know how to make contact with children and parents." That's right, unless your children are safe at school, they are likely to be abused by paedophiles, even if they are with you.

Homeschoolers realise that the plan is to play on the ignorance of educators and the general public. The spokesperson for Education Otherwise, the biggest UK organisation representing home educators, commented, "Currently many professionals who come into contact with children are unaware that home education is equal in statute with school education and that home educated children are at no greater risk of educational failure, social exclusion, neglect or abuse than those who go to school."

If this Government gets its way with the Children Bill, you can be sure who will be the big losers: parents, and of course, children.

Posted by david at 03:46 PM | Comments (1)

February 25, 2004

Bye Bye Baby

The election of 1997 saw a large number of women come into Parliament. The Blair-led Labour Party wanted to appeal to the more women, so they put up a lot of women candidates, particularly in seats with significant Tory majorities and little hope of success. In the landslide that followed, many of these women, dubbed "Blair Babes", joined the backbenches.

Jane Griffiths standing in Reading East was one of those Babes. She even increase her majority at the 2001 election. However, under Labour Party rules the activists in the local constituency have the option to deselect an MP for the next election and name another prospective candidate. That's what has happened in Reading East.

Ms Griffiths has not been accused of impropriety. She's just not the quality of candidate that her local Labour Party is looking for. She will be replaced as a candidate at the next election by Tony Page, who may have no record on the issues, but has a record of cottaging offenses.

Cottaging is the practice of having gay sex in public toilets. The Government has planned to make it legal, but had to abandon this while the legislation was in committee. Maybe Mr Page can work to change all of this.

Posted by david at 12:13 AM | Comments (2)

February 24, 2004

Replacing One Tax with Another

As reported here a few days ago, the Government's Strategy Unit was proposing the taxing of fatty foods. Because this was disclosed in The Times, the Treasury and the Health Department got upset and the report was re-written. The paragraph about the fat tax now says that the idea came from the British Medical Association. The Government disowns it by saying, "However, there are no signs that any current Western government sees policies of this kind as desirable or feasible."

Don't think that Blair & Co are reducing their lust for money. Inland Revenue (our version of the IRS) has assumed new powers to charge a 50% tax rate on incomes for those who have income outside their regular employment, such a rental property, free lance work, or investments. Rather than being taxed on a separate return, it will be taken directly out of pay cheques.

Posted by david at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

Ubiquitous Reminders

Since the passing of my brother, Mrs H has been emphasising our need for life insurance. She realises that I could go at any time, a fact that doesn't really need reinforcement in my mind. After shopping around on the internet, we found what seems to be a reasonable premium for a modest payout, but they wouldn't take our order online, apparently due to some of our answers to the health questions.

After a couple of gentle reminders from Mrs H, anticipating the possiblity of being left high and dry at any moment, I rang up the insurance company, only to be put on hold while they retrieved our internet application. To take my mind off the wait, I was provided with a little easy listening music.

No sooner had I been left holding the phone when the crooning voice of Frank Sinatra gentle reminded me:

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.

It was a just a bit unnerving.

Posted by david at 10:53 PM | Comments (3)

Ultimate Pop Star

Surveys are only as good as the source group. Ask who is the greatest pop star of all time and answers will vary widely. One way to avoid asking opinions and yet get a reliable answer is to look at the actual number of records sold. Or more specifically, singles.

So who has sold more singles in the UK than any other artist or group? I was surprised at who wasn’t on top. It wasn’t the Beatles. It wasn’t Elvis. It wasn’t even Elton John. And the biggest surprise of all – it was a Christian. Someone who is actually well known as a Christian in this godless land and almost unknown in the USA.

Sir Cliff Richard has sold 20.96 million singles in a career that has spanned five decades. In fact, he is the only artist to have had a Number 1 hit the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. He’s still after his first Number 1 of the ‘00s. He is a clean-living, soft-spoken, scandal-free man – enormously wealthy and not at all flashy – hardly the proper example of a pop star.

Posted by david at 10:23 PM | Comments (7)

February 22, 2004

Education on the Cheap

The Goverment has come up with a way to save lots of money spent on education. They could save as much as £2.2 billion by increasing class sizes. Forget that old target of reducing class sizes to improve the quality of teaching and learning. That's yesterday's wisdom. Now they want to increase the size of secondary school class to as large as 90 pupils.

Now I know you are think that 90 teenagers is a lot for a teacher to control. Don't worry, the Government has thought of that. They are doing away with teachers. After all school are only legally required to have one person on staff with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). That could be the headteacher (as school principals are known in this country).

Before they get to that point, they will have one teacher over each of these mega-classes with cheap unqualified teaching assistants helping out.

The report by Sir Peter Gershon, head of the Government’s efficiency review notes: “Gone are the days of every school having to have a full ‘complement’ of directly employed QTS teachers. Staff could be bought in from agencies or come in on secondment.”

Even though it is a report from a Government-appointed review body, ministers were trying to distance themselves from it. This is a bit disingenuous, given that Education Secretary Charles Clarke already signed an agreement on workforce reform with most school unions last year that included a provision for teachers to supervise classes of up to 60 pupils.

Posted by david at 02:41 AM | Comments (2)

February 21, 2004

Clean Trash

Any of you who have known me for very long know that I'm not exactly an environmentalist. After all, one of my most popular songs of all time is my anti-environmentalist anthem, "Throw Another Log on the Fire".

Thanks to Mrs H, however, I am now washing the trash. She has gotten onto an eco-friendly kick and uses the various coloured recycling bags provided by the council (by my council tax at who knows what expense). Since they only pick up the each bag every other week, we have to do something to reduce the pong.

Tonight we had cauliflower cheese sold in a little plastic tray with cellophane over it (Mrs H would normally make it from scratch of course, but we were pressed for time). So there with the dishes was the little tray. It's only going to go into the clear bag (textiles and paper go in the purple bag - I've been informed this includes ratty old t-shirts I never wear). But it's going in clean.

Posted by david at 12:38 AM | Comments (8)

The Joke's on Them

Being on this side of the Pond, I have been a distant observer of the flap over Conan O'Brien's trip to Canada. Thus, I haven't really been fired up to write about it.

National Review and Telegraph columnist (and Canadian) Mark Steyn has captured it perfectly. Many thanks to Fr Pat Reardon for sending me the link to Steyn's article in the online version of the Wall Street Jounal.

Posted by david at 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2004

With Lots of Salt and Vinegar

Hooterville is now the home of a world record. Yesterday the owner of a local chippy and former mayor set the record for the largest bag of chips. Out at the local racecourse, he set up a bank of industrial fryers and brought in boxes and boxes of chips.

The old record was around 397 lbs. Alan Williams, who always promised to buy a website from me in my previous employment but never did, started frying at about 9:30 yesterday morning and broke the record about 1:00. Not wanting to be outdone anytime soon, he kept feeding the baskets with cold potatoes and dumping hot chips into the giant bag. By the time he was finished he nearly doubled the previous mark set by some Belgians. When I rang his chip shop today, he was out and none of the ladies working there were sure of the exact weight - just that it was around 800 lbs.

That's one big bag of chips. There was no information about how much salt and vinegar was required.

Posted by david at 07:19 PM | Comments (0)


I have just been informed by a reader that I am a Googlewhack. If you Google "j*rkin*ss plac*ntas" replacing the asterisks with the letter "e" (I've done this to preserve the whack when Google indexes this entry) you will see that my archive page for July is the only listing. That's because I mentioned the former term on the 15th and the latter on the 14th.

Googlewhacking is the practice of entering a search of two words normally found in the dictionary which bring up only one result.

Posted by david at 01:26 AM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2004

Higher Taxes for Food and Shelter

You might not know it from my recent entries, what with everything that's been going on, but I haven't been ignoring the world around me. Besides, I have at least one UK reader who depends on me as their sole news source, and I can't let down my readers.

It will come as no surprise that taxes are going up again and I'm complaining about it. We are lucky here in the Shire. Our council tax (the money raised locally to fund local government - combined with money supplied by central government) is only going up by 10.4% this year. Council tax is similar to property tax in the US, except that it is levied on the occupants of a property, not the owners. It is a personal tax based on the roof over your head. And rather than being assessed on the actual value of the property, the accommodation is placed in a one of four tax rate bands.

The exception is second homes. People who have holiday homes in the Shire will see their council tax rise by 90%. That is not a misprint or a mistype. Ninety percent. The only reason it is 90% is that this this the maximum allowed by law. The purpose of council tax is to fund local services. Mrs H commented to me that isn't exactly fair that those who principally live elsewhere and only occasionally use local services should pay by far the largest amount to support them.

But back to our single-home dwellers... 83-year-old Elizabeth Winkfield is headed for prison because she won't pay the almost 18% increase where she lives in Devon. She lives on a state pension (social security) of £312 a month. Her council tax went up by £99. By contrast, old age pension increased by 1.7% last year. Relative youngster, 71-year-old Sylvia Hardy is going to jail because the increase in tax for her flat, one band lower that Winkfield's, is £91.

These ladies and other pensioners are likely to be around longer to keep paying council tax because the Government is now planning to tax unhealthy food more heavily. Restaurant food has always been taxed with 17.5% VAT (sales tax) like most other retail goods. Supermarket food has always been exempt. Now foods with unsaturated fat (e.g., milk, cheese, butter) or otherwise deemed less desirable by the Government will be 17.5% more expensive to drive consumers away from them - and of course to raise more money for the Treasury from those who just can't obey and eat what they are told to eat.

Posted by david at 11:43 PM | Comments (3)

February 18, 2004

Little Bodyguards

If I had any confidence while flying, it was that Aidan was there. I wasn't so sure that my days weren't up, but I was hopeful that my parents' link to the future wouldn't be severed.

Now with the second offspring coming due in a few weeks, I'm wondering if we should keep them separate, so that we always have an heir and a spare. This is kind of like when one member of the Cabinet stays away from the State of the Union Address, so if some sort of Independence Day scenario happens and the Capitol is blown to smitherenes - or if there is an overabundance of virgins (or raisins) in heaven and a hajj-like convergence of suicide bombers on the Hill - then somebody in the line of succession survives.

Alternatively, perhaps keeping them together at all times - and with me - is a sort of life insurance. Nonetheless, I'm not going to be happy getting on a plane, even with both offspring.

Posted by david at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)

The Abyss

The first part of our journey to Texas took us to the environs of Gatwick Airport. Because the flights to Houston leave in the morning, we had to stay nearby overnight. As is our custom, we searched Expedia for the best deal.

In selecting overnight accommodation, I forgot two important rules: price isn't everything and don't go where you've had a previous bad experience. When I picked up Mrs H and child at Gatwick in December as they returned from their trip to Texas, the best deal I found was at the Ibis Hotel, so I took it. Mrs H and I had noticed this before on Expedia but had stayed elsewhere. Mrs H isn't particularly good at deciphering the pronounciation of names and instead of calling it the /ī'-bĭs/ she called it the /ə-bĭs'/.

She was more accurate than we thought. The amazing thing is why I didn't remember this from my previous visit. I think my memory focused on the unannounced fact that in the morning is important to return the little folded piece of paper in which the credit card style key is tucked. Otherwise, the hotel guest is liable to be charged for a £4.75 breakfast which they have never seen. My serendipitous discovery of this small print and my complaint to the desk clerk became my principle recollection.

I forgot all about the bed. When we arrived, Mrs H's shock at the compact size of the room and the interesting character of the lavatory/shower facilities was superceded by her assessment of the bed. It appeared to have a little give, but she discovered that this was actually the duvet, not the mattress. In her enlarged condition, Mrs H has a difficult time getting comfortable on the best of mattresses. This would portend a sleepless night ahead.

I forgot all about the pillows. They were about as thick as my laptop, but not quite as soft. There was only one on the bed when we arrived, but I found that the staff had thoughtfully placed another on the shelf in the corner of the room.

We had requested a child cot when we booked the room. I had to go with the desk clerk to the storage closet on the next floor to retrieve the flimsiest infant travel cot I have ever seen and then set it up myself. This occupied all of the floor space in the room.

I'm not suggesting that Mrs H complained about the situation. However, it does remind me of a plaque we later saw hanging up in the hall of our friends' house: "If Mama ain't happy... ain't nobody happy."

You would think that the fact that at before 6:00 pm the hotel "restaurant" only had (undoubtedly microwavable) chicken Balti for £5.75 remaining from its list of five possible entrées might be another negative. Instead, the driver of the courtesy van from the airport warned us that the food was inedible and that we should eat at the pub adjoining the hotel five minutes walk down the road. He was right.

We may have had to walk in the cold and misting rain, skirting puddles and pushing the pram over uneven surfaces, but the meal was excellent. Certainly the highlight of the evening. The prices on most of the menu were a little stratospheric, but even the items down in the breathable part of the atmosphere were tasty.

I had the fish and chips, and just as I expected the barman taking my order initially thought I was another America tourist trying quintessential British cuisine. I assured him that I was quite an established resident and my selection was based upon affordability and not quaintness. Once my credibility was established I learned that we had more in common. We both have trans-Atlantic marriages.

Back at the hotel, and unlike Mrs H, I managed to get a few hours of sleep. We had booked places on the 6:30 am "courtesy" van (which, though free to the hotel, cost £2 each back to the airport). We arrived at reception at exactly 6:30 to watch the van pull away. The 7:00 trip was fully booked, so we had to get a taxi, thus eating up all of the savings we had from not staying at a hotel with mattresses.

The Ibis is a world-wide chain with 670 hotels in 36 countries. My advice: be safe and avoid any of them. I would recommend staying at one of the other chains also owned by the 4000-hotel Accor group, such as Red Roof Inns or Motel 6. After all, at Motel 6 they'll probably not try to charge you for a breakfast you haven't been served and you are almost guarranteed a mattress.

Posted by david at 03:35 AM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2004

14,583 and Counting

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh.

The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.

So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Sometimes the days of our lives are not even half of seventy years. All the more reason to number our days.

This passage is from what was already my favourite Psalm (numbered 89 to the Orthodox readers, 90 to the Catholics and Protestants). I had looked at it as though my life was half over, if not when I turned 35, then next month when I reach 40. In terms of half a life, I have looked back with discouragement at how little I have accomplished. Or in the words of this Psalmist, Moses, the Lord has not established the work of my hands - no doubt due to my own failure to submit to that establishment.

When I look at it as another half-life of opportunity, the future is bright. When I realise that a half-life can instantly become a whole life, things dim just a bit. If I had to cash in my chips now, I'm afraid the house would be the big winner. Or to use a more Biblical reference, I have managed to parlay my ten talents into two.

The short whole-life prospect that came into focus with my brother's death was amplified by the requirement to journey to Texas and back in a large metal tube hurtling through the air, at times in excess of 600 miles per hour. I didn't really like flying before 9/11. I really don't after. It's scary enough worrying about the quality of aircraft construction and maintenance, without factoring in the machinations of Muslims with theological uses for plastique and visions of 70 (or 72) virgins (or white raisins, depending on your translation of the Qu'ran). I spend take off and landing praying the Trisagion prayers (with a heavy dose of extra Jesus Prayers). Zipping along at 39,000 feet I may be 7.4 miles closer to heaven, but I'd rather not use it as a shortcut.

My brother may have gone much sooner than most people in the developed world, but he went the way I would like to go. He went to sleep in this life and woke up in the next. I just hope I have seen my children's children's children first. Or at least my children's children.

Children's children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.

However you measure it, life is short. My days have numbered 14,583 so far. I hope the number a few more - days I have left in which I make a difference.

Posted by david at 10:53 PM | Comments (1)

Linking Up

It is easy to get into a reading rut and just visit the same blogs. It had been a while since I linked out from my regular reading to their regular reading. I'm still reading the same blogs -- I've just added to them.

I think it all started with an link in Paradosis. James of the Northwest referred to something over on Confessio, where I discovered I was linked (albeit to my old URL, but it forwards here just fine). Then I was reading my old friend Josh Coolman's Grand Unified Mystery and clicked on the link to Decimation & Reconstruction and saw that Kevil Basil Fritts had linked to me as well. Then, while on my usually at-least-daily visit to St Stephen's Musings I clicked on his link to Jan Bear, more than anything because I'd not noticed it before, and I discovered that I am on her A World of Speculation. Jan also writes for the Orthodox take on the Onion, namely the Onion Dome.

As is my custom, I have added reciprocal links in the right column of this page (which may appear at the bottom of the page, depending on your browser and monitor configuration). This is for my benefit as well as yours, as I tend to use my links as blog bookmarks.

Posted by david at 03:02 AM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2004

Memory Eternal

About the time I was writing the previous entry about my mother's 70th birthday, my younger brother, my only sibling, passed out of this life and into the next.

I have only today returned from a very unplanned trip to Texas. We received a phone call at 5:00 am on the 1st and it has been a bit of a whirlwind since. I would have recounted the events on this blog, but for some reason it refused to cooperate with my parents' PC.

My brother and I were five years apart and of very different personalities. It would be fair to say that for most of his life we were not particularly close. Since the birth of Aidan, we had become much closer and he was a very affectionate uncle.

I suppose I never expected to bury my brother. The idea hadn't crossed my mind, other than when he had expressed his desire to be buried in Goliad. He had suggested he wanted to be buried standing up with his boots on. His request as to location was met, but as to posture was not. Even when he suggested his place and mode of burial, it was more an expression of his love for the place where we grew up hunting rather than particular interest in the family cemetary plot.

I still remember going with my dad to see him in the hospital nursery soon after his birth. I went with my dad to pick out the exact spot for his grave. In between, I was the best man at his wedding. Even if we weren't close, I was there for the big events. All of them.

It takes a while for it to all sink in.

In the next few days, I'm sure I will blog about various things that happened over the last few weeks. No doubt I will pour out reflections upon life and death and family. There is even humour to be found in the most somber of weeks.

May Dean's memory be eternal!

Posted by david at 11:45 PM | Comments (4)

February 01, 2004

The Feast of the Davidtokos

My mother is celebrating her 70th birthday today in Taiwan.

I'm not sure if we will even be able to give her a ring. Mrs H (my Mrs H, as that is my mother's name as well) left a few small gifts when she was in Texas and we sent a card. I feel bad that we can't be more involved in the celebration.

It was the same when my father turned 70 a couple of years ago. Not that he was in Taiwan. Rather, we weren't able to be there for the big party. Aidie was only 2 months old and were weren't in a position to afford to travel anyway. It occurred between their two visits to see us.

We also missed my parents' 40th anniversary a month and a day prior to my dad's 70th.

That's the only thing I don't like about being on this side of the Pond. Aidie is too isolated from my folks generally and we don't get to spend red letter dates with them and celebrate those noteworthy transitions in the stages of life. Admittedly, because of my parents' travel intinerary, we wouldn't have been able to join in the celebration today, but we wouldn't have missed some many others.

Posted by david at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)