Monday, December 29, 2014

Sri Lanka: After the Tsunami

"The Queen of the Sea": Wreck of the holiday train in which some 1700 people died On December 26th 2004

I have visited Sri Lanka many times. Perhaps the most memorable, and certainly the most poignant visit was in April 2005, just a few months after the Tsunami in which over 30,000 Sri Lankans had died. The most horrific sight we saw was the wreckage of the train, close to the main road between Colombo and Galle, near the village of Telwatta.

Tourists surveying the damage

Close up of damage to a second class carriage

Close by were the temporary huts and tents in which those who had lost their homes were living. I have often wondered how long people remained in them before they were re-housed.

Temporary housing on the Colombo Galle road

Temporary housing among the palm trees

Tents on the beach

Perhaps the most surprising sight was this sign photographed outside a tent, not far from the train wreckage.

Antiques open for business?

I remember that our driver found it amusing, and I suspect that I did too. We were not sure whether it was an indication of its owner's sense of humour, or of an indefatigable spirit and a determination to get his antiques business going again.

We also visited the cricket stadium in Galle, which had been badly damaged by the Tsunami, and was used as a temporary camp for people displaced by the Tsunami.

Cricket ground at Galle just after Tsunami

Renovation of this stadium did not begin until over a year after our visit.

Cricket ground at Galle April 2005

On our return we were taken to visit the Turtle Sanctuary which had been almost destroyed, but had somehow managed to reopen in March. Apparently in the aftermath of the Tsunami local fisherman, desperately in need of money, had turned to turtle egg poaching.

Tank in turtle sanctuary damaged by Tsunami

I did wonder at the time whether we were being voyeuristic in visiting the scene of so much recent horror, but people were very glad to see us, to witness their plight, to encourage tourism to recover and perhaps to put pressure on the authorities whose response was much criticised. I remember one man in particular going out of his way to shake my hand and tell me how grateful they were for the response of the Government and people of the UK to their tragedy. "We will never forget their generosity" he told me.

Among many memories of this trip is the remarkable story we were told when revisiting a hotel on the south coast in which we had stayed on a previous visit: apparently one of the elephants kept there had sensed that something catastrophic was happening, had broken free from its chains, picked up its keeper, and charged to higher ground before the tidal wave arrived.

I notice that Laura Davies, the UK's Deputy High Commissioner in Sri Lanka has written a blog in which a number of people have been invited to share their reminiscences of this dreadful calamity. It is well worth reading.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch in front of Turing's "Bombe"

The Imitation Game, the new film about Alan Turing directed by the Norwegian director of Headhunters, Morten Tyldum, has been justifiably well reviewed. The film moves backwards and forwards between three periods in Turing's short but highly dramatic life: his unhappy period at Sherborne public school; the Manchester years, culminating in his chemical castration after a conviction for homosexuality and his untimely death; his vital World War II work as the intellectual leader of the team that cracked the German enigma codes which according to some shortened the war by two years.

Curiously enough the film doesn't really cover his work on computation before and after the war. A viewer might indeed get the false impression that the "bombe", developed from an original Polish machine designed to crack the enigma codes, was the forerunner of the universal computing machine to which Turing gave his name and for which he is justly remembered.

The film's introduction included a statement that it was "based on a true story", and I irritated my other half afterwards by ruminating about the number of occasions I spotted in which the film departed from the actual story: Turing was not actually a Professor but a Reader; the house which was broken into and in which he died was in the Cheshire countryside not Manchester; John Cairncross, the Soviet agent, was not actually a member of Turing's team in the famous Hut 8; the appeal to Churchill which saved the war-time project was made in a letter signed by four people, including Hugh Alexander who is portrayed in the film as his bitter rival at that time.

The film makes much of Turing's relationship and year long platonic engagement to Joan Clark, which Turing's biographer Andrew Hodges feels gives a false impression of Turing's sexuality. In addition the image of the Heath-Robinson type machine, Turing's bombe, used throughout the film and in the pre-publicity to create Turing's persona as the "odd Professor", does not really match the physically neater, less dramatic machine that was developed for Turing's work.

An actual "Bombe"

But perhaps, as Mark Kermode said in an excellent review in the Observer, the audience needs to see its wires spreading out like entrails, mapping the complexities of its creator's mind

In the credits at the end the viewer is told that Turing committed suicide a couple of years or so after the period covered by the film. That was the verdict of the Coroner, but we really do not know. Mark Kermode rightly is more circumspect about this, simply saying that Turing died in 1954 "having apparently taken a bite from a poisoned apple." Turing's mother was always convinced that his death was an accident. A prominent Manchester citizen, former Conservative local politician and brilliant Mathematician who knew Turing, maintained until the end of her life that Turing was murdered by M16. The scary security atmosphere in which Turing lived and died, in which nobody was allowed to say anything about their war-time work at Bletchley, well evoked by the film, makes her theory more understandable.

I couldn't help but reflect on the irony that the film was directed by a Norwegian. Towards the very end of his life Turing was told of dances for men only in Norway and in 1952 he holidayed there and began to study the Norwegian language. Norway turned out not to be the libertarian paradise of his imaginings, but he did meet a young Norwegian who in 1953 came to visit him in England, but after what Turing referred to somewhat obscurely as the "Kjell crisis" when allegedly police all over the North of England were searching for him, he returned to Norway without their actually meeting.(1)

Finally, in case I have given a false impression, I would thoroughly recommend this film. I think I enjoyed it even more than Mike Leigh's recently released Mr Turner, and that is saying a lot.

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1.Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing the enigma (Vintage Edition, London 1992) pp. 476, 483.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Crabbe and Britten: a Sense of Time, Place and Tradition.

Rev. George Crabbe (1754 – 1832) English poet.

My impression before I began this blog was that relatively few East Anglians had made much impact on the national still less the international scene since the time of Boudica. But the list is longer than I thought: among the major figures are Cardinal Wolsey, Oliver Cromwell, Horatio Nelson and Thomas Paine, the latter perhaps the most important of all. In the artistic world Gainsborough and Constable have a national if not an international reputation. Eupedia's list of famous East Anglians includes a number of modern figures: Diana Princess of Wales, Geoffrey Archer, Bernie Eccleston, Stephen Fry, Richard Attenborough and, from a slightly earlier era and perhaps most significant of all, John Maynard Keynes, but none seen to me to be essentially East Anglian figures.

Perhaps the most important modern figure is Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), whose life and work was rooted in his native Suffolk, and whose return to England was inspired by another Suffolk man, George Crabbe, who does not even appear in Eupedia's list.

BBC Production of Peter Grimes, Benjamin Britten centre, Peter Pears on the right

The son of a Lowestoft dentist, educated at Greshams School in Norfolk and the Royal College of Music, the young Benjamin Britten composed over 40 scores for theatre, film and radio in the 1930's. In April 1939 he and his partner Peter Pears followed his friends Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden to America. When war broke out they were advised by the British Embassy that they should stay as artistic ambassadors. Perhaps Britten's most notable achievement in this period was the opera Paul Bunyan, for which Auden wrote the libretto.

Despite the embassy advice both Pears and Britten had felt they should return home, and when in California in 1941 Britten picked up a copy of the Listener, and read an article about the Suffolk born poet George Crabbe by E.M. Forster, whom Britten knew, the call of home became too strong to resist. Forster's article awakened Britten's longing for that grim and exciting sea coast around Aldeburgh. He obtained a copy of Crabbe's poems, which like most Suffolk people he had never read and perhaps never heard of, and in 1942 set out on a Swedish boat on the rather perilous journey across the Atlantic back home to Suffolk, a plan of the opera Peter Grimes already completed.

For Britten his opera, first performed in 1945, was a manifesto for the reconciliation of art and place.(1) We can view it, along with other works notably including Waugh's Brideshead Revisited which appeared around the same time, and sold out immediately, as the climax of the retreat which artists, architects and writers had over a decade made from abstraction, formalism and the aesthetics of the Bloomsbury critics Roger Fry and Clive Bell, towards the celebration of a national culture rooted in rural England. The same period had seen a new found enthusiasm for Georgian and Baroque architecture, hitherto regarded as alien implants, and even a developing enthusiasm for the Victorian so reviled by Bloomsbury.

Britten's return to Suffolk was part of an established pattern: by the late 1930's most major figures in art and letters were living in the English countryside, in a world they saw as threatened not only by forces from without, but by social, economic and technological changes within. Britten himself made this point when he was granted the freedom of Lowestoft in 1951:

I am firmly rooted in this glorious country and I proved this to myself when I once tried to live somewhere else ... Roots are especially valuable nowadays, when so much that we love is disappearing or being threatened, when there is so little to cling to. (2)

The celebration of rural life and the concerns for its future had begun before the war: in Surrey E.M. Forster, with the aid of Vaughan Williams had staged Abinger Harvest and then in 1938 England's Pleasant Land, a land which had survived threats from Norman knights and enclosing Squires and now from modern developers. Forster's Listener article, which evoked Britten's homesickness, had above all emphasised Crabbe's Englishness:

To talk about Crabbe is to talk about England. He never left our shores and he only once ventured to cross the border into Scotland. He did not even go to London much, but lived in villages and small country towns. He was a clergyman of the English Church. His Christian name was George, the name of our national saint. More than that, his father was called George, and so was his grandfather, and he christened his eldest son George, and his grandson was called George also. Five generations of George Crabbes!(3)

It would be a mistake to think that this cultural conservatism was necessarily accompanied by political conservatism. Benjamin Britten voted only Labour or Liberal throughout his life, and I suspect the same was true of E.M. Forster, but certainly not of Evelyn Waugh! Even Mr "Civilisation" himself, Kenneth Clark, reputedly voted Labour in 1945!

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1. Britten's own introduction written for the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945 is well worth reading.

2. Alexandra Harris, Romantic Moderns, English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (London 2010) p 166.

3. "George Crabbe : the Poet and the Man" By E. M. FORSTER, The Listener, 29 May 1941. I have put the full text of this article in another blog, because it does not appear to be available anywhere else in its entirety, and is an important document, not only because of its impact on Britten but also because of its reflection of a national mood. Radio had become an important medium by the 1930's, and it played an important part in what Alexandra Harris aptly calls "re-antiquating" England.

Forster, Crabbe and Britten: The Listener, 29 May 1941

The Listener, 29 May 1941
This blog consisting solely of an article by E.M. Forster has been posted to accompany a blog on George Crabbe and Benjamin Britten. Britten read this article whilst living in the United States in 1941 and as a result decided to return home to the Suffolk Coast, and to write his first major Opera, Peter Grimes , about the character created by Crabbe. I also think it is superb writing, originally of course delivered as a radio broadcast during the dark days of 1941. That ever present sense of peril, "when England stood alone", and the word "England" itself was virtually synonymous with Britain, would of course have affected Forster's listeners, and those who like Benjamin Britten read the printed version.

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George Crabbe : the Poet and the Man
 By  E. M. FORSTER

To talk about Crabbe is to talk about England. He never left our shores and he only once ventured to cross the border into Scotland. He did not even go to London much, but lived in villages and small country towns. He was a clergyman of the English Church. His Christian name was George, the name of our national saint. More than that, his father was called George, and so was his grandfather, and he christened his eldest son George, and his grandson was called George also. Five generations of George Crabbes!

Our particular George Crabbe was born (in the year 1754) at Aldburgh, on the coast of Suffolk. It is a bleak little place: not beautiful. It huddles round a flint-towered church and sprawls down to the North Sea -- and what a wallop the sea makes as it pounds at the shingle! Near by is a quay, at the side of an estuary, and here the scenery becomes melancholy and flat; expanses of mud, saltish commons, the marsh-birds crying. Crabbe heard that sound and saw that melancholy, and they got into his verse. He worked as an unhappy little boy on the quay, rolling barrels about, and storing them in a warehouse, under orders from his father. He hated it. His mother had died ; his father was cross. Now and then he got hold of a book, or looked at some prints, or chatted with a local worthy, but it was a hard life and they were in narrow circumstances. He grew up among poor people, and he has been called their poet. But he did not like the poor. When he started writing, it was the fashion to pretend that they were happy shepherds and shepherdesses, who were always dancing, or anyhow had hearts of gold. But Crabbe knew the local almshouses and the hospital and the prison, and the sort of people who drift into them; he read, in the parish registers, the deaths of the unsuccessful, the marriages of the incompetent, and the births of the illegitimate. Though he notes occasional heroism, his general verdict on the working classes is unfavourable. And when he comes to the richer and more respectable inmates of the borough who can veil their defects behind money, he remains sardonic, and sees them as poor people who haven't been found out.

He escaped from Aldburgh as soon as he could. His fortunes improved, he took orders, married well, and ended his life in a comfortable west country parsonage. He did well for himself, in fact. Yet he never escaped from Aldburgh in the spirit, and it was the making of him as a poet. Even when he is writing of other things, there steals again and again into his verse the sea, the estuary, the flat Suffolk coast, and local meannesses, and an odour of brine and dirt --tempered occasionally with the scent of flowers. So remember Aldburgh when you read this rather odd poet, for he belongs to the grim little place and through it to England. And remember that though he is an Englishman, he is not a John Bull, and that though he is a clergyman, he is by no means an 'old dear'.

His poems are easily described, and are easy to read. They are stories in rhymed couplets, and their subject is local scenes or people. One story will be about the almshouses. another about the Vicar, another about inns. A famous one is 'Peter Grimes': he was a savage fisherman who murdered his apprentices and was haunted by their ghosts; there was an actual original for Grimes. Another -- a charming one -- tells of a happy visit which a little boy once paid to a country mansion, and how the kind housekeeper showed him round the picture gallery, and gave him a lovely dinner in the servants' hall; Crabbe had himself been that humble little boy. He is not brilliant or cultivated, witty or townified. He is a provincial; and I am using provincial as a word of high praise.

How good are these stories in verse? I will quote some extracts so that you can decide, Crabbe is a peculiar writer: some people like him, others don't, and find him dull and unpleasant. I like him and read him again and again; and his tartness, his acid humour, his honesty, his feeling for certain English types and certain kinds of English scenery, do appeal to me very much. On their account I excuse the absence in him of a warm heart, a vivid imagination and a grand style: for he has none of those great gifts.

The first extract is from 'Peter Grimes', it shows how Crabbe looks at scenery, and how subtly be links the scene with the soul of the observer. The criminal Grimes is already suspected of murdering his apprentices, and no one will go fishing with him in his boat. He rows out alone into the estuary. and waits there -- waits for what?

         When tides were neap, and, in the sultry day, 
         Through the tall bounding mud-banks made their way ...
         There anchoring, Peter chose from man to hide,
         There hang his head,  and view the lazy tide
         In its hot, slimy channel slowly glide;
         Where the small eels that left the deeper way
         For the warm shore,within the shallows play;
         Where gaping muscles, left upon the mud,
         Slope their slow passage to the fallen flood.
How quiet this writing is: you might say how dreary. Yet how sure is his touch; and how vivid that estuary near Aldburgh.
      
         Here dull and hopeless he'd lie down and trace
         How sidelong crabs had scrawl'd their crooked race;
         Or listen sadly to the tuneless cry
         Of fishing gull or clanging golden-eye;
         What time the sea birds to the marsh would come,
         And the loud bittern, from the bull-rush home,
         Gave from the salt-ditch side the bellowing boom:
         He nursed the feelings these dull scenes produce,
         And loved to stop beside the opening sluice.

Not great poetry, by any means, but it convinces me that Crabbe and Peter Grimes and myself do stop beside an opening sluice, and that we are looking at an actual English tideway, and not at some vague vast imaginary waterfall, which crashes from nowhere to nowhere.

My next quotation is a lighter one. It comes from his rather malicious poem about the Vicar of the Parish 'whose constant care was no man to offend'. He begins with a sympathetic description of Aldburgh church, and its lichen-encrusted tower and now he turns with less sympathy, to the church's recent incumbent. Listen to his cruel account of the Vicar's one and only love affair. He had been attracted to a young lady who lived with her mother; he called on them constantly, smiling all the time, but never saying what he was after; with the inevitable result that the damsel got tired of her 'tortoise', and gave her hand to a more ardent suitor. Thus ended the Vicar's sole excursion into the realm of passion.

          
         'I am escaped', he said, when none pursued;
         When none attacked him, 'I am unsubdued';
         'Oh pleasing pangs of love', he sang again,
         Cold to the joy and stranger to the pain. 
         Ev'n in his age would he address the young, 
         'I too have felt these fires, and they are strong';
         But from the time he left his favourite maid, 
         To ancient females his devoirs were paid: 
         And still they miss him after morning prayer.
 

He was always 'cheerful and in season gay', he gave the ladies presents of flowers from his garden with mottoes attached ; he was fond of fishing, he organised charades, he valued friendship, but was not prepared to risk anything for it. One thing did upset him, and that was innovation; if the Vicar discerned anything new, on either the theological or the social horizon, he grew hot, it was the only time he did get hot.

        Habit with him was all the test of truth: 
        'It must be right: I've done it from my youth.' 
        Questions he answer'd in as brief a way: 
        'It must be wrong--it was of yesterday.' 
        Though mild benevolence our priest possess'd, 
        'Twas but by wishes or by words express'd. 
        Circles in water, as they wider flow, 
        The less conspicuous in their progress grow, 
        And when at last they touch upon the shore, 
        Distinction ceases, and they're view'd no more. 
        His love, like that last circle, all embraced, 
        But with effect that never could be traced. 

The Vicar's fault is his weakness, and the analysis and censure of weakness is a speciality of Crabbe's. His characters postpone marriage until passion has died ; perhaps this was his own case, and why he was so bitter about it. Or they marry and passion dies because they are too trivial to sustain it. Or they drift into vice, and do even that too late, so that they are too old to relish the lustiness of sin. Or like the Vicar they keep, to the straight path because vice is more arduous than virtue. To all of them, and to their weaknesses, Crabbe extends, a little pity, a little contempt, a little cynicism, and a much larger portion of reproof. The bitterness of his early experiences has eaten into his soul, and he does not love the human race, though he does not denounce it, nor despair of its ultimate redemption.

But we must get back to the Vicar, who is awaiting his final epitaph in some anxiety

         Now rests our Vicar. They who knew him best, 
         Proclaim his life t'have been entirely rest; ... 
         The rich approved,--of them in awe he stood; 
         The poor admired,--they all believed him good; 
         The old and serious of his habits spoke; 
         The frank and youthful loved his pleasant joke; 
         Mothers approved a safe contented guest, 
         And daughters one who back'd each small request; ...
         No trifles fail'd his yielding mind to please, 
         And all his passions sunk in early ease; 
         Nor one so old has left this world of sin, 
         More like the being that he enter'd in. 
For the Vicar died as a child, who retains his innocence because he has never gained any experience.

Well, the above quotations from Peter Grimes and from the Vicar, one about scenery, the other about character, should be enough for you to find out whether you have any taste for the story-poems of George Crabbe. Do not expect too much. He is not one of our great poets. But he is unusual, he is sincere, and he is entirely of this country. There is one other merit attaching to him. The George Crabbe who was his son wrote his life, and it is one of the best biographies in our language, and gives a wonderful picture of provincial England at the close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Even if you are not attracted as much as I am by Crabbe's poetry, you may like to get hold of his life, and read how the poor little boy who rolled barrels on the quay at Aldburgh made good.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hilbre Island


Middle Eye and Hilbre Island from the Wirral Shore

At the mouth of the Dee Estuary, between the North Wales Coast and the Wirral, lies a fascinating island, or rather group of three islands, Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre, which can be reached on foot at low tide.

The old Harbour Master's House

Separated from the mainland about 10,000 years ago, the islands, or Hilbre at least, was inhabited at various times. There was a monastic cell on the island for 400 years until dissolution in 1538, and in more recent times it was leased and then owned by the Trustees of the Port of Liverpool.


The derelict Lifeboat Station

In 1945 the islands came under the ownership of Hoylake Council, and then the Wirral Borough Council. Hilbre is now maintained as a nature reserve. There are still two private houses on the island, but they are not permanently occupied.
Lifeboat Station View out to Sea

Since I first visited over 25 years ago I have always wanted to stop on Hilbre at high tide, and yesterday I finally made it. I was alone, the weather forecast was reasonably good, the early afternoon high tide made it possible to go out in the morning and return in late afternoon, and it seemed a perfect place to clear my mind from current stresses in my life.

The Slip Way


Interior of the old Lifeboat Station

Fireplace in the Lifeboat Station

So carrying almost as much food as if I was setting out for Antarctica, with newspapers and a book in case of boredom, appropriate clothing in case of bad weather, there is nowhere on the island to shelter other than the toilets, I set off on the two mile walk across the Dee Estuary.

Fellow Visitor watching a Seal, in the distance the Welsh Coast
The tide was clearly coming in, anxious that I had left it too late, with less than two and a half hours to high tide I walked briskly and decided to cut out Little Eye. As I approached Middle Eye I was met by a guide who reassured me that I had plenty of time, and informed me that I would not have the island to myself, two others were already there.

Wirral Coast at High Tide
So I relaxed amongst the bracken of Middle Eye, and then leisurely strolled over to Hilbre where I found three other visitors who intended to stay over for four or five hours until it was safe to walk back.

Wirral Coast at High Tide, in foreground Middle Eye

It was a most delightful experience. Peace, calm, the seals bobbing in the waves, only a short light shower, and not a trace of boredom, I was rather sad to leave. On the way back I thoroughly enjoyed the view of the birds on Middle Eye, which I unfortunately disturbed, and then of others feeding on the mud flats, who took precious little notice of me or even of walkers coming out from the shore accompanied by dogs.

Middle Eye from Hilbre Island shore at High Tide

It was a fantastic day, one that will remain in my memory for a long time. Before too long I hope to do it again.

Seagulls on Middle Eye as tide begins to recede

Seagulls on Middle Eye as the tide goes out

Seagulls in flight, disturbed by approaching walker

Birds feeding on the mud flats as the tide goes out

I do rather like islands. In the past two years I have visited Madeira, Cabo Verde, St Helena of course, and a few islands in Oslo Fjord whose names I cannot instantly recall. Come to think of it I have hardly been anywhere else in that time. Obviously I am in a rut! Time perhaps to head once more for the continent, and I can think of two or three islands off the coasts of France that I would dearly like to explore.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Almost Like Watching Brazil"

Exeter City team that played Brazil on July 21st 1914

The Brazilians, hosts of this year's World Cup, have acquired a legendary status in the game since Stockholm in 1958, when players with silky skills and exotic names such as Didi and Pelé won the first of their record 5 world cup victories by defeating the Swedish hosts 5-2.

What is remarkable is that Brazil had played what is regarded as its first match only 44 years earlier, in July 1914, against Exeter City, a mid table Southern League team. This match, at the Laranjeiras stadium, Rio de Janeiro, home of Fluminense Football Club, was tagged on to the end of Exeter City's tour of Argentina. The Brazilian team played in white shirts, but for the first time the famous yellow and green colours were displayed on their sleeves.

Brazilian publicity, with emphasis that Exeter was a professional team

The match was characterised in the Brazilian press as almost a David v Goliath contest, the amateurs of Brazil against a rather physical professional team from England, the home of course of Association Football. The fact that Exeter had been professional for only 6 years, and were in the lowly Southern League, was not given much attention! The result of the match seems to be a matter of some dispute, but it is generally accepted that Exeter lost. The Brazilian players were in those days of course all white, although the Exeter team had watched a team playing in junior football in Brazil whose players “were all niggers, as black as your hat, and most of them playing in bare feet”. (1)

The Exeter players returned to England as war began and never again played together as a team. Surprisingly they all survived the war, but some sustained injuries which prevented their playing again.

This summer, to celebrate the centenary of the match, Exeter City are sending a team to play in Brazil, and the city itself is commemorating the tour with a specially written musical production at Exeter's Northcott Theatre.

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1. Almost like Watching Brazil When Saturday Comes 157 March 2000

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Fornicators, Homosexuals, Obama Voters .. : Hell Awaits You"

Gay Marriage demonstrations in the United States

I was interested to see this fairly comprehensive list of doomed groups displayed on the back of this Christian fundamentalist protester in the United States.

Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims are apparently bound for hell. So too are Feminists, Immodest Women, Democrats, Liberals, Evolutionists, and of course Atheists, and a few other categories that I have chosen not to repeat.

This is a fascinating insight into the world view of contemporary American fundamentalist Christianity, transformed by three decades of politicisation into a rather mean spirited movement which seems to me to have little to do with the teachings of the founder of their religion, not to mention the desire of the American Founding Fathers to keep matters of faith out of the political sphere.

This is not the kind of thing I usually blog about, except that I too was brought up with a strong fear of hell's fiery furnaces, but now like Iris Dement am not so sure! The nonconformist world in which I grew up set itself apart from the "world" of money and power, represented in rural England by Parson and Squire, it was narrow-minded and at times hypocritical, but I think there was a kindliness and an absence of hatred which differentiated it from the man with the board on his back.