Sunday, 31 May 2015

Some seriously tragic poetry !

Some seriously tragic poetry ! 2 of my poems from '80s that I've just sequelled.

"Claire/Hair " (JMH c.1984)

Claire, Claire
You've got lots of hair;
Mainly on your head,
But a little bit elsewhere.

"Stare" (JMH c.1984)

Stare !
Does anyone care?

(That last one was a more a performance piece for the fifth form common room)

"Claire/Hair/Stare Part 2" ( JMH, 2015)

Claire, Claire,
Don't despair
You didn't make DC's haireem
But you've still got lots of hair.

But it's just not fair
The tragic tale of my own hair.
It used to grow on my head, but now there's mostly bare
And yet it keeps appearing lots of places elsewhere:
Crawling down my back, sprouting from my eyebrows, ears and nose.
Everywhere I don't want it is where it grows.

It's just not fair.
So please don't stare
At the baren place where used to be hair.

Hair! Does anyone care?
Care about the tragedy of my hair?
Yeah? Neahhh!!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A different kind of election- Part 2

A different kind of election- Part 2

 Unlike Ed Milliband’s followers on 8th May, the despair of Jesus’s disciples after his defeat was very soon transformed to joy. Starting with the women, they saw Jesus literally come back from the dead, walking out of his grave, notwithstanding the huge stone and the roman soldiers guarding it (Matthew 28 v 1-10) (And many believe leaving his impression on his burial shroud currently residing in Turin). That’s a bit too much to believe isn’t it? Well even some of the disciples found it hard to believe it at first. Thomas wouldn’t until he’d actually touched Jesus’s wounds. (John 20 v 24-29). Others were only convinced when they saw Jesus eat some barbequed fish. (Luke 24 v 26-45).

 Jesus didn’t hang around too long with his disciples though. In a short time he’d ascended back into heaven. (Luke 24 v 50-51). (The traditional Christian calendar recently celebrated that event as Ascension Day). And although he left them, in a way he didn’t leave them, because he gave them a parting gift; his mate, the Holy Spirit, through whom he was spiritually ever present with them (and with his followers even today).(John 14 v 15-21) (This is celebrated by Christians as Pentecost- the Jewish festival of weeks).

  But that was not the end of the story. Not by a long way. He had a mission, a manifesto, if you like, that he was going to fulfil- to bring about his heavenly kingdom here on earth; to transform people and society not just in Israel but throughout the whole world. And unlike the manifestos and promises of our politicians which are so often broken, this leader is certain to implement his pledges in full. But it’s a two stage process. Two terms of government if you like. Although it doesn’t feel like it most of the time, we’re actually in the first term right now.

  Through his followers his “good news” manifesto is already being implemented here and now. Here in Britain it may seem like his kingdom is now on the wane. However, throughout the world lives are continuing to be transformed by that good news manifesto, bringing forgiveness, healing and a better quality of life with increased love, peace and joy. And yes even politically that “good news” manifesto should and sometimes does have a very positive impact here. Jesus himself in fulfilling the commission of Isaiah described himself as “preaching good news to the poor” and his teaching of love and compassion have inspired many of his followers to drive social reform and justice, especially for the poorest and most disadvantaged. Evangelical Christians like William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury for example were the spearhead for the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century and many of the factory/social reforms of Victorian Britain. And the seeds of the welfare state sown by a Liberal government driven particularly by Lloyd George, whose own politics were forged in the fire of his Baptist Christian faith. And today many Christians inspired by Jesus’s “good news” still campaign for greater social justice through campaigns like Make Poverty History, the Fairtrade movement and Stop the Traffik .  Many also reach out to the poor and needy through the work of the Food Banks, Street Pastors, Christians Against Poverty, the Salvation Army, Tear Fund, Christian Aid and so many other missions here and abroad.
  Of course, there are many good people with no Christian faith at all who strive to build a fairer, more just society. But even they I would suggest (though they may not recognise it) have probably been in some way touched by Jesus’s “good news” manifesto. His message of “love your neighbour as yourself” still remains a corner stone of our society and (some of) our politics.

  So what about his second term? This first term has been going on for nearly 2,000 years! If we’d had a Labour government elected earlier this month I genuinely believe it would have made this country just that little bit fairer, a tiny bit more like Jesus’s kingdom on earth and that could only be a good thing. However -and it’s a big however- the fact is this country and this world would still have remained full of lots of injustice, pain and suffering. It’s just that one small corner of this dark world might have turned a small fraction of a shade lighter.  It’s the second term where this world gets really transformed.  

And when will the second term of Jesus’s government start? When he physically returns to earth . And when will that be? Unlike the timing of Jesus’s first coming, which many believe was very precisely predicted by Daniel, there is no exact prediction of when he’ll come back. It’s the very question that Jesus’s disciples asked him just before he left them the second time. He promised them that he’d be coming back and bring his kingdom with him. They wanted to know when. A not unreasonable question. Unfortunately they didn’t get answer the answer they were looking for. He told them’ it’s a big secret which only the Father knows, now just get on with your job of sharing my message with the world (Matthew 24 v 36). The bible does say certain things must happen before he returns, in particular that the good news must be preached “to all nations.”(Mark 13 v 10). However it doesn’t say how long the interval will be between such events and Jesus’s return. Peter (a man not exactly known for his own patience) tells us in his letters that it will be “soon” but that God’s “soon” is not quite the same as our “soon”. For to Him “a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years”. (2 Peter 3 v 8). In other words Jesus might come back tomorrow or it might not be for another thousand years.

  So what will Jesus’s second term be like? It will be fantastic, amazing and all the other superlatives. Health issues, pain and suffering? A thing of the past. There will be “no more… pain, sorrow or mourning”, for “the old order of things [will have] passed away.” (Revelation 21  v 4 ). Global poverty? At last we will have a ruler who “with justice will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (Isaiah 11 v 4   ).  Education problems? “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah  11 v 9 ). So an end to the poverty of ignorance too. War and violence? Defeated for good. For He will be “the Prince of Peace” (Revelation 9 v 6) who ensures there will be “no more death” (Revelation 21 v 4) . World peace and complete disarmament ; “ He will… settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares…Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”(Micah  4 v 3).  Racism and sectarianism? Abolished. A great multitude of “every nation, tribe, people and language” will unite under him. (Revelation 7 v 9).

  So how will this new leader get elected? He won’t. I’m afraid this perfect society won’t be a democracy. So will it be a dictatorship then? Absolutely not. It will be a theocracy. In our sinful world where men’s natural inclination is to exploit other men democracy is our best safeguard against  oppression and injustice. However, democracy often gets it “wrong” (As my fellow labour party members would point out- look at who we’ve just elected!). That’s because even in the fairest and most proportionate democracy (which ours certainly isn’t) those electing our rulers and the rulers themselves are fallible sinful human beings. They will make bad mistakes and sometimes catastrophically bad ones. Personally I thought Tony Blair in many ways was a very good Prime Minister but in my view he made a very serious mistake over going to war in Iraq.Far better to have one completely just, compassionate and wise ruler that we can trust always to do the right thing. Sadly, no such person exists, unless ….  as Christians believe, Jesus was that one perfect ruler and unless he really is coming back.

To be continued…

Monday, 25 May 2015

Events...A Poem That Doesn't Rhyme

Life would be so predictable, so safe and easy if it weren’t for events.    
Those dastardly disruptions to our carefully drawn plans.                                         
Like sudden summer storms, like a young man’s tumour                                              
Or the runaway horse who runs you down.     
Life would be so predictable, so dull and boring if it weren’t for events.  
Those joyous interruptions to our daily drudgery.                                                      
Like sudden spring snowfalls, like an unexpected gift
Or the unlooked for lover who steals your heart.

(Extracted from the novel "Space Ark-A Discovery.")

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Be My Queen

 "Be My Queen"

“I need not wine, I need not beer,
  They are not the drink that brings my heart cheer.
  I do not hunger for bread, nor yet for meat,
  A far finer food I long to eat.
  Let me drink of your kisses,
  Let me taste of your flesh,
  You are my rich banquet,
  All that I love the best.
  I will give you my all if you take my hand
I will make you my Queen of all of my land.”

From the contemporary  Elijhaville music hall song “Be My Queen ”, Year of Freedom 870. (Extract from novel "Space Ark-The Discovery" 23/3/15)

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The fine art of prediction- a different kind of election

The fine art of prediction- a different kind of election
Part 1



 After the defeat

  A small group of men and women huddle round a table. His most loyal followers, brothers and sisters in the cause

 A cause that now seemed smashed and broken. How had it come to this? They had thought he’d be the one to restore the nation. Only days ago the crowds were hailing him as the triumphant leader who would bring them victory against their enemy. They seemed on the verge of glory. So how had events turned so suddenly? How had people turned so suddenly? It could only be because they were beguiled by their enemy’s lies. And so he was defeated. Utterly. And now he had left them. Alone. Leaderless.  And their enemies continued to rule without anyone to challenge them. Life went on for them, but right now it seemed a life without hope

  No this was not the Labour shadow cabinet after their shock election defeat. This was Jesus’s disciples after his crucifixion and death. And it concerns a rather different sort of election.
  Labour’s humiliating election rout and may or may not lead to some future political resurrection. That may or may not bring them eventual electoral glory in 2020 . And if it does they might (or might not) restore a fairer society and a prosperity shared “by the many rather than the few”. After 7th May 2015 I have given up on making political predictions after even the best pollsters got it so badly wrong. (At least I was instantly cured of my recent addiction to opinion polls!)  As one of those who campaigned (and prayed) for a Labour election victory in a small way I shared in the misery of defeat on 7th May. If there is an opposite word to serendipity (surprised by joy) this would have been the time to use it. Surprised by despair.
Signs of hope ?
 And yet everything had seemed to be going so well. All signs pointing in the right direction, especially those “Vote Labour” boards blossoming all over Gravesend. The opinion polls were all converging to level pegging and I’d even made my son plot a graph to prove this. Pretty much everyone projected this to mean a Labour (minority) government. And the sun was shining, which was always meant to help get out the slightly “lazy” labour vote. I remembered the sun was shining too in  May 1997 when Hannah and I pushed our 4 month old twins in their double pram up to the polling station at Gravesend Grammar School and we voted for Tony (well Chris Pond was our future MP but you know what I mean).  And now we had just gone with the same twins to another polling station for them to cast their very first votes. We’d all voted Labour, even Josie, despite her more radical inclinations to vote Green.  We had a really good local candidate who’d served the town as councillor and Mayor (and unlike the previous candidate had wisely avoided crashing his car during the election after allegedly having had a few too many).

  I’d been door-knocking with Lesley and “MH” that evening to “get out” the canvassed labour vote. Nearly everyone we spoke to who’d said they would vote Labour indicated they’d done so. No sign of last minute changes of mind. And whilst I was out a serendipitous event.  I came across my old car that I’d sold 10 years earlier. The only car I’d ever owned from new. A red Nissan Primera.  X984 OCP. It drove beautifully, but I had to sell it when the gear box bust and Hannah wanted a people carrier. I‘d never liked that blue Vauxhall Zafira, which drove like a small tank and had the fuel consumption of one too . The Zafira had recently been replaced with my much sexier red C4 Picasso. And now I thought about it all the cars I’d ever owned and loved had been red. When Tony Blair led Labour to that glorious victory in 1997 I was the proud owner of a red Peugeot 306. That car drove like a dream (despite or may be because of its lack of power steering) and I never had to replace even a single tyre on it. (Sadly I was forced to exchange it for an older blue car because we needed more boot space for the twins’ stuff).
 An omen?
 Like an epiphany it dawned on my sun-lit mind that every time I’d owned a red car the red team (as Ed’s sons liked to call them) won the election. In fact come to think of it didn’t my dad even own a red Maxi when Harold Wilson won in 1974? For those less familiar with “vintage” British Leyland cars the Maxi was basically a fat Mini, although it was probably not much bigger than the current Mini. It was marketed as a versatile family car. A people carrier of its day if you like. Basically this meant it was a hatchback with a large-ish boot area. Unlike with my noughties Zafira, in the 70s you didn’t need extra seats to carry more kids. You could just whip off the parcel shelf and chuck the kids in the boot. I remember my brother Frazer and I happily sleeping in that Maxi’s boot all the way to Cornwall on our summer holiday that year. I digress… Anyway, it seemed clear to me that the reunion with my beloved red Nissan Primera was an omen. A sign from the Lord promising the red team’s victory (or something like it), just as all the pundits had been predicting. When I got home I posted this on facebook. Just 2 minutes later we saw the exit poll…. I was beyond swearing.
  No more predictions!
  For the nth time I have now given up on predictions. I don’t seem to be very good at them (although at least I’m in good company there). Starting aged 15 with my bold prediction that the world would end on 21st June 1982 and followed by my numerous failed predictions of England’s performances at each World Cup and European Championship. No this time I really have given up predicting stuff. Perhaps it’s not that I’m bad at predicting stuff. It’s just that life, events have this annoying habit of not doing what they’re meant to.  Why does life have to be so unpredictable?
   Some rather more accurate predictions
  There was and is nothing uncertain and unpredictable though about Jesus’s apparent defeat. Nor about how that defeat was turned into the glorious victory of his resurrection. It may have come as a shock to his disciples, but it shouldn’t have done. Jesus knew it was going to happen and gave them advanced warning; “He said to them, “The Son of Man is going be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” “(Mark 9: 30-31). Across the 4 gospels 10 times Jesus is recorded as predicting his own death and resurrection. But Jesus was not the first to predict this. The Hebrew Scriptures (our “Old Testament”) are  sprinkled with such predictions from the book of Genesis (3:15) written by Moses about 1,400 (or may be even 2,400?) years before , through the Psalms of King David (e.g. Psalms 16, 22, 38 & 69) over 1,000 years earlier , the “major” prophets  Isaiah  (chapters 50 52 & 53) and Daniel (chapter 9) around 500 years previously and the “minor” prophet Zechariah  (chapters 11  12 & 13) about 400 years before.
  Two remarkably accurate predictions
  Perhaps the two most remarkable ancient predictions about Jesus’ death and resurrection are from the books of Daniel and Isaiah.
 In Isaiah chapter 53 we have an amazingly precise prediction about Jesus’s death and what it would achieve. So precise that you could be forgiven for thinking that it was written by Jesus’s followers after his death rather than 600 years before he was born. It’s sometimes even described as “the Gospel of Isaiah”. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed…. He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death… Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days…. After he has suffered he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by knowledge of him my righteous servant will justify many…”

 In Daniel chapter 29 v 24 – 27 there is another remarkable prophesy of the coming of a Messiah/anointed saviour. Like Isaiah’s suffering servant he is killed for the sins of others and makes atonement for them. But that is not the most remarkable bit. Many who have carefully studied the text interpret this as predicting the exact year that this Messiah would be revealed then killed. 476 years (490 Hebrew years) after the decree was given to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls. This would be King Artaxerxes’ decree to Nehemiah to rebuild the city’s walls (Nehemiah 2:1-8). That decree was issued in the year 445 BC. 476 years later gets us to 32 AD- pretty much our best guess for the year of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion one week later.            
 (See e.g.   )                                                  

To be continued….

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Reflections After the Election... The penalty miss

Reflections After the Election... The penalty miss

There was a moment in the election campaign when Ed Milliband had a chance. A penalty awarded to him . True it was at the opposition end against a hostile, angry crowd. For those who remember the 1990 World Cup semi-final , it was his Chris Waddle moment. Unfortunately like Chris under lots of pressure he fluffed it. He ballooned it over the bar. And like England's chances of World Cup glory his and Labour's chances of election glory died . We didn't realise at the time as the opinion polls were still giving Labour a falsely high reading. But it was still probably the decisive moment.

That chance was the BBC Question Time programme on 30th April. He was asked to apologise to the nation for Labour's economic record; for "over-spending" and "over-borrowing", leading to the economic crash . He started to have a go at explaining why Labour had no need to apologise, pointing out that the USA suffered the same fate from a global banking crisis. However he hardly addressed at all the essential question. Did Labour's poor economic management contribute to the severity of the crash and the subsequent huge debt and deficit? Almost as soon as he started to explain it he just gave up. It seemed like he'd admitted defeat; that it was all too complicated to explain to the studio audience and they probably wouldn't believe him if he tried. Well I'm sure many of that studio audience wouldn't have believed him. Certainly not that rather aggressive blonde woman with the frightening eyes (The one posing as an "undecided" even though she was a committed Tory). But there was a much wider audience out there; the millions watching on live TV or replaying extracts later on i-player or social media. He owed it to them to try to explain. Yet instead of doing that he veered off into talking about all the wonderful things Labour had spent the money on; new schools and hospitals, etc. He was just playing into his opponents' hands. Ahh! so that's where all the money went! Hence Liam Byrne's infamous  note and hence why we weren't strong enough to withstand the banking crisis. It looked like he just didn't have an answer and that he'd been "found out".

The sad truth though is that he did have an answer, a good answer. No it wouldn't have been easy to convey to the audience, but he owed it to them and the whole country to give it a proper try. ("At least I tired" says Ed's Newzoid's puppet. Well on this one Ed you didn't try hard enough). Labour can whine at the unfairness of the right wing press stacked against them. But a live BBC programme watched by millions has far more reach than a fatuous headline in the Sun or Mail.

What he could and should have said is something like  this. Yes Labour did increase borrowing and spending over its 13 years, but moderately and well within our means for the growing successful economy that they'd delivered before the global crash. (Nearly 10 years of record growth). As a % of GDP their borrowing before the crash was lower than the debt they'd inherited from the previous 18 years of Tory government. Our borrowing was almost exactly the same as Germany's and little different to the USA's (both of whom had right leaning governments). In fact in 4 out of 10 years before the crash Labour ran a budget surplus (the Tories did so in only 2 out of 18 years) and their average budget deficit was less than 2% of GDP while the Tories' had been over 5%. The Tories in opposition pre-crash had also effectively agreed to match pound for pound Labour's spending/borrowing commitments. They might have offered more tax cuts and spent less in certain areas, but they were not committed to borrowing any less . This suggests either of  two things. That as judged at the time Labour were following an economically sound approach. The alternative is that the clever Tories knew it was a recklessly dangerous approach but they were going to keep quiet about it, because it was their cunning plan to let Labour crash the economy so they could get back in! Even I do not think Cameron & Osborne are that devious and they are certainly not that smart!

The massively increased debt and deficit which Labour left was not caused by Labour spending too much. It was caused by having to bail out the banks when they crashed due to their own economic mismanagement. This effected Britain more than most other countries because we had a particularly large and (up to then) successful financial services sector, (something which both Labour and the previous Tory governments were very proud about.)

Yes Labour did make some economic mistakes but they were only the same ones that virtually all western governments made and which the Tories certainly would have made. Whilst their own economic management was basically sound, the world's banks' was not. They had risked too much in dodgy speculative assets like sub-prime mortgages. When this was was recognised it was this that led to the banking crash, credit crisis and following economic recession, not just in Britain but throughout the western world. So why didn't they act to restrain the banks before it got to that stage? Well the perceived wisdom (foolishness) had been to let the banks get on with it; let the market take care rather than regulate them. In fact the Tories in early 2008 were arguing that the banks were still regulated too much! All western governments had been seduced by that free market idealism; just let them get on with it, after all we're making so much money in taxes from the financial services industry.

The economic crisis that followed the banking crisis was not like previous economic slumps that come round every 10 years or so. It was an almost unprecedented global economic disaster in terms of it scale. Of course if you'd known in the previous years that we were going to be hit by such a ferocious tsunami you'd have taken action to protect yourself. Like the Pharaoh in the story of Joseph, warned in a dream about a severe 7 year famine following 7 years of plenty, you'd have stocked up in the good times to prepare for the harsh times. But unfortunately Gordon Brown like other western leaders never got the dream and presumably neither did David Cameron (or as leader of her majesty's opposition he would have felt duty bound to share this divine foreknowledge). To call it "Labour's economic crisis" is a bit like London having been hit out of the blue by a devastating meteor and then talking about "Labour's meteor".

Sadly, Ed explained very little of this to the nation, leaving many with the impression that since he had no proper answers to the allegations of economic incompetence the Tories were probably right. They couldn't be trusted with the economy.

It was in that context that the SNP card seems to have played so strongly. If you'd had doubts about whether these crash-causing "borrow and spend" socialists were safe to run the economy, how much bigger did those doubts become when you recognised they could probably only be in power with an even more extreme version of the same pulling their strings?  A version that actually wanted to smash up and destroy the United Kingdom!

Without any adequate explanation of  Labour's economic record, frankly I cannot blame  the 2 million more people who chose to vote Tory at the last minute. They did not do so because they thought the bedroom tax and the creation of 1 million foodbank users was a great thing (more of the same please!). They did not do so because they thought forcing housing charities to sell off affordable housing at a big discount was a fantastic idea or that they loved the extension of the free schools policy (resulting in lots of schools in areas where they're not needed performing worse than local authority schools).They voted Tory mostly despite these things.  Neither did they do so because they thought Labour was too "left wing" and challenged too many "vested interests". Some of their more progressive policies were actually their most popular, eg limiting private sector stakes in the NHS, moderate rent controls and removing "non dom" tax status. No, the key reason why the previous "don't knows" and "undecided" flocked to the Tories at the last minute was they felt safer there. Safer, because they were genuinely worried about the alternative. They were worried about what damage to the economy and the country might be done by a Labour government who seemed not to have owned up to their part in the economic crash, propped up by an even more extreme group of economic incompetents, who actually wanted to break up the country.

On 30th April Ed Milliband left the Question Time platform, tripping and stumbling as he did so. This was a neat metaphor for what had just happened ; he'd tripped and stumbled when he'd had the chance to set the record straight on Labour's economic record, and he fluffed his chance. We'll never know for sure whether if he'd responded better it would have made a difference. Who knows may be the Tories would have scored elsewhere? But there was a real chance and he blew it.

 Sadly, it wasn't just for himself and Labour that he blew it. It was for the whole country and especially the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable. I fear they will be ill-prepared for what an unrestrained conservative government will do, hell-bent on its "roller coaster" ride of spending cuts.

Ed is a nice guy, an intelligent man, but I'm afraid he proved ultimately he was not up to doing a very difficult job. Not the job of Prime Minister, which actually I think he would have been pretty good at, but the job of returning Labour to power after the economic meteor that hit us "on their watch".

 Let's hope that Ed Milliband's replacement as Labour leader does a better job of telling Labour's story, without tripping and stumbling on the stage. Let's hope that just like after Labour's "shock" defeat in 1992 this new "shock" defeat will allow Labour to re-group and pick someone new who can lead them to victory and a better future for the country in 5 years time. Sadly, it will take a lot more than 5 years to repair the damage that I fear is coming over the next 5 years.

A lament for leaders lost

So it's goobye to Ed, Nick and Nige'.
Well you can say at least you tried.
You didn't lose because of your policies
But more because of the fear of the SNP
And people didn't trust the Eds with the economy
After the crash that left us with "no money"
Or at least that's what we'd been taught
Even though it was really the banker's fault.

You've got to do better at spinning the stories
That's why you all lost to the Tories.
It doesn't really matter whether or not it's true
As long as you convince them that will do.
That's why Blair won elections and now Cameron as well
But it'll be Bojo next time Andy give him hell !