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The trouble with religion (part 94)

In which we discuss a suitable Sunday topic


The Mother phoned up today, as she does regularly, to tell us all the latest exciting goings-on in her social circle. Her friend George, who she knew from church, has died aged 85, after a long illness. “Of course, he’d been ill for years,” she said, “and he was in great pain. By the end he was screaming. ‘Take me, Lord, take me!’ It was a blessing when he died.”

When it comes to religion, The Mother is a great fan of this sort of logic. If The Family Car Crash Of 1988 ever comes up in conversation, The Mother will no doubt say something along the lines of “You had such a narrow escape! It just proves that God was looking down on us.” Now, it’s true that I almost lost a) my life b) an eyeball;* but I’m not sure God deserves much in the way of credit. It is fair to argue, though, that the Family Car Crash Of 1988 was a Good Thing: the insurance windfall paid for a piano and a university education.

You can’t really argue, though, that taking the life of an old man after he’s had a long and painful illness, so bad he begs you to kill him, is a good way for any deity to behave. If God really wanted to bless a man who had been a devout churchgoer all his life, a churchwarden and church committee member for many years, someone who every Sunday had been up at the altar receiving the body and blood of Christ devoutly believing that the said God had personally told us all to do this every week,** if He had really wanted to grant him a boon, wouldn’t he have saved him the several years of pain and suffering?*** But, no, in The Mother’s religious logic, bringing the death after George had been calling out for it loudly for a while is the kindly Godly way to behave, not letting him die after a short illness a few years ago. It leaves me thinking: just what does count as compassion, for the religious?

* Strangely, although my life was saved by a pretty narrow margin, I never realised until many many years later just how close I’d come to being killed. Instead, I concentrated on the irony that my eyeball was probably saved by my poor sight, as the thick plastic lens in front of it absorbed the impact of the shards of glass that hit me. With extra irony, the sight in my other eye is almost perfect.

** Although of course, Jesus didn’t want me for a sunbeam do it on a Sunday morning.

*** Let’s not get into the tragic story of George’s wife, either.

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Obituary

In which the cat, finally, is not going to return


The phone rang on Saturday morning, and The Mother was on the end. “I’ve got some bad news,” she said.

As a conversation opener, it’s not exactly ideal; but it is, at least, straight to the point. “What is it?”

“The cat’s died.”

The cat has been in The Parents’ care for the past 18 months or so, ever since we moved down to Bristol. Nevertheless, he was still always My Cat, and there was always the thought that one day he might move back in with us, once we had a house in a cat-friendly area (check) and cat-flap-friendly doors (uncheck).

Cat at Christmas

My dad found him, on Saturday morning, stretched out dead just inside the cat flap. No signs of injury. The night before, he’d been happy, relaxed and purring; the parents did not try to find out why he had died. He was about a month or so short of his tenth birthday.

Sad to think that I’ll never again be woken by him climbing on top of me and miaowing. He was, I always thought, an unusually intelligent cat: it’s hard to be sure, but I’m confident he understood at least five or six words of English, and when he was a bit younger he regularly wanted to play fetch. He also managed to survive three months living wild, a few years back, after The Mother lost him en route to the vet. Maybe there will be other cats one day, but they’re all distinct.

In a few months time, I might suggest to The Parents that they take on a rescue cat, because I’m sure The Mother is going to miss having him around the house. For now, though, I’ll content myself with getting annoyed at the random neighbourhood cats that dig up our back garden; and remember lying back in bed stroking one cat in particular.

Cat

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Photo Post Of The Weekend

In which we remember Latvia


All that snowy weather we’ve been having – almost all gone now, apart from the enormous pile of snow cleared from the office car park – reminded me of the holiday we took a couple of years back, to Rīga, Latvia. “Make sure you wrap up warmly,” said The Mother. “Get proper thermals. Lots and lots of layers.” “You’ll need to take sunglasses, too,” said Dad, “or you’ll get snow-blindness.”

All of which we ignored, fortunately, because we’d have looked bloody silly. Rīga in February was not too dissimilar from Britain in February, being grey, damp, and largely snow-free; it shouldn’t really have been surprising, because it’s on about the same latitude as Dundee. We took plenty of photos; but for some reason they never appeared on here.*

Baltic Revolution Memorial, 11. novembra krastmela, Rīga

View of Rīga

Museum Of The Occupation, Rīga

Latvijas Zin?tņu akadēmija (Latvian Academy of Sciences), Turgeņeva iela, Rīga

Daugava river and railway bridge, Rīga

* Unlike the above anecdote about the snow-blindness, etc, which definitely has.

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Broadcast

In which we recommend some telly


Regular readers might remember that, back in the mists of time – well, December – I mentioned that we’d been watching The Wire on DVD. And that it was very good. None of the bogus and ridiculous “science” you get on CSI;* not much patronising or heartstring-tugging, no deus ex machina and no wrapping the plotlines up inside an hour; just lots of what was – to someone who doesn’t know anything about the real thing, like me – lots of realistic investigative work.

Well, we’ve finally finished watching Season One, just as it finally makes its way onto the BBC. And, to be honest, I’m glad we had the DVDs to watch it from. It took us six months to do, twice as long as it will take BBC2 to show it. It’s a complicated programme, and we ended up watching several episodes twice because we hadn’t been concentrating the first time. In the end, we had to make sure that we only tried to watch it when we were definitely wide awake, otherwise we’d end up missing half of what went on. If we’d tried watching an episode on late night TV every week, we’d have been baffled – we had enough trouble with Dexter season two, just finished on ITV1,** and as unlike The Wire as it is possible for a cop show to be.***

I did wonder, idly, about recommending The Wire to The Parents. They’ve always liked police procedurals, both on telly and in books, and long-form dramas, so, I thought, they’d probably love it.**** But then, I remembered, how much The Mother tuts at the slightest hint of a bad word. The Wire has realistic dialogue.***** It wouldn’t work out. Before they were ten minutes into the first episode, she’d have asked to turn it off.

If you’ve seen the mysterious trailers for The Wire on the BBC, and you’ve not heard of it, go and watch it. It really is good. Very good. As for us: we’ve had the Season 2 DVDs sitting on the bookshelf since Christmas. As soon as we’re properly awake, they’re going in the DVD player. Hurrah!

Update, April 2nd: BBC2 currently seem to be showing episodes of The Wire daily. Meaning that, for one thing, they will whip through the whole series in under three weeks; and for another, if you didn’t start watching on Monday then it’s already too late. Tonight is Episode 4, and the plot is already well under way.

* insert your favourite “CSI [somewhere]” joke here. I’ve mentioned CSI Bedminster myself before, and Half Man Half Biscuit have produced CSI:Ambleside.

** I’m still not used to the name “ITV1″. In my mind it’s still the old federated network – Yorkshire TV where I grew up.

*** Dexter, though, certainly had more tension. Even though we knew full well that there are at least three more series after the one ITV have just been showing, we were still on edge at practically every cliffhanger.

**** Unlike us, they have a DVD recorder, so it would still be compatible with their in-bed-by-10 lifestyle.

***** And at least one scene where every single word of dialogue is a swear word. Every word. A bit like the opening scene in Four Weddings And A Funeral, but set at a scene-of-crime.

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Advent update

In which we fail to open the Advent calendar


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the advent calendar my mother sent us:

So far this year we’ve opened it every day, but I’m not really sure how long that’s going to last.

This is a quick update to say: yep, we’re way behind now. So much so that we can now open at least two doors per day until Christmas and still not run out of chocolate. Well, at least my mother needn’t feel guilty any more about forgetting to buy us one each.

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Advent

In which The Mother sends an advent calendar


Despite my age, my mother still makes sure to send me an advent calendar every year. I’m not quite sure why she feels the need. She buys me one, sends it, we remember to open the doors for a few days, then leave it and suddenly remember, around the 20th, that we now have a few weeks worth of chocolate to eat. So far this year we’ve opened it every day, but I’m not really sure how long that’s going to last.

When I was small, of course, I got one every year – but always kept the previous years’. This was in the days before chocolate advent calendars – or, at least, the days before my mother felt it worth buying chocolate advent calendars, which I didn’t start receiving until the 90s. Back when I was a child, every year on the first of December the advent calendar collection would be stuck up on the doors of the house, and every day thereafter I’d run around the house opening each day’s doors. We did, after a few years, start running out of doors.

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It took a little wine to make a window

In which we discover a Lesbian who wants publicity


This post has nothing, really, to do with the above title; I was listening to a Hefner album this morning, heard the above lyric, and liked it. Maybe soon I’ll write something which applies to that title, post it under a different title, and so on.

I burst out laughing at the news – which you’ll have heard by now – that campaigners on Lesbos are suing a Greek gay rights organisation* with the aim of getting rid of the word “lesbian”. The word, they say, infringes their human rights. I’m smelling a rat over this story.*** I suspect that “campaigners” actually means “publisher Dimitris Lambrou”, who is the only person mentioned in any of this. If he wants us to stop using “lesbian”, he really ought to come up with an alternative suggestion, because “gay woman” doesn’t really cut it in my opinion. I suggest “dimitrians”, or possibly “lambroans”. Either would be ideal, I reckon.**

The Mother had something to add when she heard all this. “Back when I was a nurse,” she said, “we used to get crank calls all the time. One girl I worked with had a man on the phone, who said: ‘are you a lesbian?’ ‘No,’ she answered, ‘I’m Church of England’.”

I’m sure I’ve heard that story before, as a joke. Never mind.

“She didn’t know what it meant, you see,” continued The Mother, making sure I got it. “Mind you, neither did I then.” This would have been in 1960 or so. And I’m not surprised. Back then she was pure and virginal, The Killing of Sister George hadn’t been made, and I definitely doubt that The Well of Loneliness was on the curriculum at Cleethorpes Girls’ Grammar.

* actually, in the stories I’ve read, it’s not entirely clear what type of organisation is being sued

** He would no doubt object to “sapphic”, too, because he’s claiming that ‘new historical research’ has discovered that she was married and loved men. ‘New historical research’ presumably means ‘I looked it up on Wikipedia’, like I just did; it gives both of the stories Lambrou mentions and references them to a 1982 edition of her surviving poetry. In short, his claims aren’t new, by a few thousand years, and nobody’s going to be surprised by them.

*** it’s just as iffy as the “man regrows missing finger” story, also in the news, which Ben Goldacre has easily debunked

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Pests

In which FP is repelled by a pest repeller


It looks like I’m a pest.

At the parent’s house, upstairs. I can hear a ticking noise. Something like a ticking noise, anyway. Something, once every second. Bzzpbzzpbzzp. It’s quiet, but penetrating, and I’ve barely been able to hear it for a minute before it becomes intensely annoying.

I rummaged around, trying to track it down, finding out where it seems loudest. And I find: on the landing, something glowing red and plugged into a power socket. BZZP!BZZP! “Ultrasonic pest repellent” it says, on the side.

“What? You’re not supposed to be able to hear that!” said The Mother, when I asked her about it. “You can’t hear it. You’re kidding me.”

“Nope,” I said, plugging it in in front of her. “You mean you can’t hear it?” I said, as I was holding this thing, loudly going BZZP in my hand.

“No,” she said. “Nothing at all.” BZZP!

The Parents are, it turns out, worried they have mice. There is, on a regular basis, a rustling somewhere between the floorboards and the ceiling. The cat is evidently not putting the putative mice off; so they’ve invested in this device, to scare the mice away. Only pests can hear it, it says. And, erm, me. I can’t believe that I have superhuman hearing, so presumably I’m just a pest.

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Notes on Riga (part 2)

In which we’re warm on holiday


“Ooh, how are you going to cope with the weather,” everyone said, when I told them I was going to Riga. “You’d better get some warm clothes.”

So I went out, shopping. I bought an all-enveloping thick wooly jumper (in the sale, Burtons in Middlesbrough) and a rather nice brown wool coat (in the sale, Debenhams at the Metro Centre), and, well, that was it. “That’s no good,” said The Mother. “You should have been going to sports shops. You should have got some skiing clothes, lots of layers, something waterproof, make sure you’re properly insulated.”

“Have you packed any sunglasses?” said Dad. “You’ll need sunglasses if you’re going somewhere like that in winter, otherwise you’ll get snow-blindness.”

“That’s a nice coat,” said someone at work. And then she laughed. “You’re going to freeze if you’re wearing that to Riga.”

Take a moment to spot the common theme here. Lots and lots of advice, on what to wear, from people who have never ever been east of Margate.* We do have a Resident Pole in the office, though, who has travelled up that way, and she thought I’d be fine. “I always think it feels colder here,” she said, “than on the Baltic. It’s something about the dampness here.”

And, it turns out, she was almost right. It was certainly damp and grey in Riga, with overcast skies most days, and sometimes a fine misty rain; but it didn’t feel any colder than Britain in winter. No frost, no snow. Chunks of ice floating on the river and the City Canal, but otherwise just like home. If I’d taken skiing clothes, I’d have melted.** As for needing sunglasses – the thought still makes K giggle.

* Well, The Mother went to the Dalmatian coast in 1972, but that doesn’t exactly count.

** One thing we found: every building in Riga, every shop, museum and restaurant, keeps the heating turned up on full blast. On the other hand, when you come inside wrapped up for winter, you’re expected to take your clothes off. All the museums we visited had free cloakrooms at the door, and restaurants and cafes all have communal coat-racks that everyone happily uses.

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Career options

In which we wonder why FP never thought of that


The Mother is always fond of saying: “you know, with your brain and your skills, you could have done so much better for a career! You could have done anything you wanted!”

So, when we heard on the news this morning about the teenager who allegedly made millions from internet crime, I was slightly surprised she didn’t say anything. I was almost expecting: “Why didn’t you do that? You’re just as bright as he is! You could have made millions from botnets and fraud by now if you’d only put your mind to it!”

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