Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Feeling Guilty...

In mid-February, as reports of the COVID-19 virus spread, people started stockpiling supplies of toilet paper. It started in Hong Kong, where an armed gang stole 600 rolls. Then there were reports of people fighting over rolls in Australia. Statements were then made about the robustness of the UK's supplies of the stuff, and people were begged not to panic buy as there was more than enough to go around. Given that the virus doesn't even cause a runny nose, let alone diarrhoea, the need to panic-buy loo rolls seemed somewhat bizarre to me. I chortled merrily at the foolishness of the general public, and continued to order my usual online groceries.

By the middle of March, with reports of a lockdown being imminent, and two online deliveries arriving without any toilet paper, I was beginning to feel a little foolish for having so sneeringly dismissed the urge of other people to stockpile. I still had "some" supplies, so I wasn't quite desperate, but the supermarket shelves were completely bare (and not just of toilet tissue) - not something I had ever encountered. By dint of phoning around, I managed to locate a packet of nine rolls (I was tipped off as to the expected delivery time - just after Mass, fortunately!) and I virtuously resisted the impulse to grab two packets. The fact that, being on crutches, I couldn't actually carry two packets had nothing to do with it...

My mother then had a grocery delivery which arrived without toilet paper. She was following official advice about the elderly staying inside for the next 12 weeks or so, and I wasn't going to be able to just pop around with a few spare rolls. A friend on Twitter pointed out that Amazon was technically out of stock, but, unlike the supermarkets, it kept the orders open until the stock arrived, and then delivered it according to their records of who had requested it first.

This seemed like a good idea, and, on the basis that toilet paper might not arrive for quite some time, I put in an order for my mother and then added a separate order for myself. My mother's supply arrived within a week. However, the predicted delivery date for my order was the beginning of May, so, not sure how things would be developing, I went ahead and ordered toilet paper in my next online delivery.

To my surprise, my next supermarket delivery actually included toilet paper. Nine rolls. I felt like celebrating... only I was feeling just the teensiest bit guilty, because I hadn't even finished my supply from February...

...but only a teensy bit, because, when I went to a supermarket last week, they had loads of rolls sitting in the aisle on a large pallet; I concluded that the panic-buying had stopped. In actual fact, it seems to depend which supermarket you go to...

Now, I mentioned previously that I'm a little out of things at the moment due to my medication. I discovered this morning that I had failed to put my watch forward to British Summer Time - ten days after the clocks had changed. And, despite noticing that there were references to Spy Wednesday on Twitter, that the Mass of the day was not that of the Lord's Supper, and that the Office I'd prayed was for the Wednesday in Holy Week, I actually somehow thought tomorrow was Friday...

Given this, it will come as no surprise to read that I forgot to amend my toilet paper order on Amazon. Reader, it arrived today. All 36 rolls.

I might find myself doing something like this...

...or even this...

Monday, 6 April 2020

Taking Liberties...

I mentioned in yesterday's post that, at least in Thanet, people appeared to be observing the Government's instructions to limit the number of times they left the house and to observe social distancing rules on the occasions that they did so.

The Government's official website currently has a banner with the following information:
"Stay at home. Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home.)
If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times. Wash your hands as soon as you get home. Do not meet others, even friends or family.
You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms."

The website itself gives more details. For example, you are allowed out for exercise, but only once per day, limited to an hour, and observing the standard distance of 2 metres. You should go out alone - unless you are with members of your household. Walking your dog should, apparently, be combined with the exercise period, and only be the one trip a day. Presumably, should you have a dog which is used to going out both morning and evening, then it has to cross its legs.

I made a few comments about the lack of consistency shown by the Bishops of England & Wales in shutting all the churches. However, the inconsistencies in official guidelines / regulations / laws* (*take your pick - it seems to depend on who's talking) is somewhat disconcerting. A lot of the goodwill which accompanied the original request for lockdown will be lost, and if this continues, it will inevitably lead to civil disobedience. From what I have seen so far, the confusion is already feeding into different conspiracy theories circulating online.

Now, it is always possible that the inconsistencies are purely and simply due to confusion, incompetence, over-zealousness, and people being, well, people. To be fair, this is the most likely reason. However, we have been lied to by various authorities and organisations right from the start, so it is hardly surprising that people worry when 2 + 2 doesn't appear to add up to 4.

Initial reports suggested that contaminated meat came from a wet-market in Wuhan, China. Bat soup was mentioned, and most of the press reports continue to push this theory (though they try to downplay the fact that it started in China because, well, racist...). The Chinese government definitely lied to the World Health Organisation about when the outbreak actually started, which made other countries slower to react to the threat than they might otherwise have been. But back in February I realised that there was a Level 4 laboratory in Wuhan (I mentioned before that I have an interest in research on viruses) and the emergence in Wuhan of a coronavirus which was carried by bats, and bearing similarities to the SARS virus was just a bit too much of a coincidence.

Two months ago I tweeted a query about this to a friend, and was discouraged from pursuing the matter, being told it was rumour-spreading, and anyway the cause was irrelevant. Now, following further revelations about safety procedures from people working in the lab, the reports of the destruction of medical files (and blood samples) on a new respiratory virus back in late November / early December and the speed with which field hospitals were constructed - practically overnight - in Wuhan once the seriousness had been admitted to the WHO, I am not the only person wondering about that Level 4 laboratory. I am not suggesting that there was a deliberate release of a biological weapon, or even that it was being researched as a biological weapon. I am of the opinion that poor safety procedures led to the escape of a virus which was being studied.

With air travel being as easy as it is, the threat of global infections has increased considerably. We have had SARS (2002-2004), H1N1/09  "swine flu" (2009-2010), MERS (2012), Ebola (2013-16) and Zika (2015-16) and with the outbreak of each of these we were warned that they could devastate the human race. We also had the normal outbreaks of "seasonal" flu, which actually caused large numbers of deaths on a yearly basis. However, with none of these did the Prime Minister of the time feel it necessary to give a press conference warning that our loved ones could die from it. The NHS came under pressure, but there was no call to shut schools across the whole country. No lockdowns. And, while the press has been critical about the delay in calling for a shutdown, it all happened relatively quickly.

So, what information about the virus prompted this action?

In a similar way, the advice about going out has been inconsistent. People are being told to work from home where possible. But, supermarkets are still open for business. Now, by reason of queuing systems, barriers around tills and limiting numbers, one can ensure a certain amount of social distancing, but it isn't easy. On the other hand, people actually are allowed to travel to work, even if they are not deemed to be essential workers, if it is not possible for them to work from home. As a result, public transport is still operating. But the Mayor of London decided to cut the number of tube trains available (in order to discourage travel) with the result that people are having to go to work on crowded trains, unable to keep their distance. Many of these workers are in the hospitals, being exposed to cases of the coronavirus... and, even if they do not have any symptoms themselves, we are told that they can still spread the virus...

Schools are still open for the children of essential workers. I am a teacher, albeit not in work while waiting for knee surgery. I know from experience the size of classrooms, and the number of children still attending school because they are considered vulnerable or are children of essential workers etc. I do not for one minute believe that the children are all being kept two metres apart. That's just not going to happen. So all these children are circulating and are presumably able to spread the virus among themselves, even if they are not showing any symptoms... and then they go back to their homes at the end of the day. On public transport, for the most part.

But people have to stay at home, and can only go out once a day for exercise. There have been reports of some people being moved on by police because they were deemed not to be exercising but were instead sitting down to enjoy the sunshine. Even though these people were observing the need to keep two metres apart, they were deemed to be breaking the regulations. Various councils, horrified, decided to close their local parks, to encourage compliance. People have been fined. It won't be long before people are arrested for non-compliance.

It is generally understood that UV radiation helps to break down viruses. Viruses are strands of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat, and both DNA and RNA are damaged by UV radiation (it is what causes skin cancers.) There have been reports contradicting this, stating that the amount of UV light needed to kill the virus would be harmful to human skin, but a quick look on Google revealed at least one paper which had studied the effect of UV light on various viruses designed for "biodefense" - the authors used the data to calculate how much normal sunlight would be needed to destroy the viruses (solar inactivation) at different locations (presumably because they get different strengths of sunlight at different latitudes.) They concluded that:

"A midday solar effective flux of 0.17 J/m2254/min (implying a daily total fluence of approximately 50 J/m2254) might be “marginally effective” for inactivating viruses relevant to biodefense, e.g., a full-day exposure would produce about a 3-log decrease in infectivity for the more-UV-sensitive and much less for less-UV-sensitive viruses."

So, while sitting still in the sunshine isn't guaranteed to inactivate the virus, it isn't going to hurt. If anything, it will boost people's immune systems because of the increased Vitamin D production. And why, if social distancing is being maintained, is sitting still in the sunshine going to be so much more risky than running around? Are they afraid the coronavirus might catch up with people if they stay still? Or is it simply that the opportunity to take away basic freedoms has been too much to resist for some authorities?

As I said, the regulations being imposed are inconsistent. This has been exacerbated by what has been perceived as heavy-handed, authoritarian policing of those regulations in some parts of the country. The most likely explanation is that people in charge made sweeping regulations without thinking through the implications and are now unwilling to be seen to contradict themselves or admit overreaction. But frankly, the best way to ensure that people actually comply with whatever regulations are being put in place is to explain exactly why they are needed. Merely telling some people that they have to stay at home isn't the way to do it.

Sunday, 5 April 2020


It's been a very strange Palm Sunday. For several years (almost continually since Summorum Pontificum was promulgated) I have been involved in the singing of the beautiful chants the Church has for this feast. At the start, we only attempted to sing the Rossini propers, the very simple psalm tones designed to accompany the texts of the Procession and the Mass for those who are unfamiliar with Gregorian chant (or any musical notation, in my case!) Then, when we managed to get a few more experienced singers to come along, more of the proper chants were added. This year, having joined a proper choir, I was expecting to sing the full set. God obviously wasn't too keen on the idea - all Masses were suddenly declared off limits to congregations, and churches were closed. And, just to make sure our choir director didn't have any thoughts of going ahead anyway, parishes in Southwark were instructed not to have any servers or choir.

I have often pondered on God's mysterious ways, but this seems a little over the top. I mean, he could have just given me a dose of laryngitis...

Whatever. We are having to celebrate Palm Sunday remotely. I woke up early, and, thanks to the invaluable Mass listings being maintained by the Latin Mass Society, I was able to tune in for Mass at Portsmouth Cathedral. Unfortunately, about halfway through, my medication kicked in and I fell asleep. I woke up for the Consecration, dropped off again and surfaced during the Leonine Prayers and the chanting of the Ave Regina... Even though there is no obligation to watch a Mass, I felt that I wanted to try and catch a few sermons for my edification.

It does seem that the devil is unhappy with the number of people choosing to view the many livestreamed Masses on offer. I'm not sure about viewings for the Novus Ordo, but several people have reported difficulties in getting a connection. Last Sunday there were various excuses offered, such as the sheer number of people logging on, the fact that this was totally new technology for many of the parishes involved, and the bad weather and high winds interfering with wifi signals. By this morning, however, people had got to grips with the technology and the weather was (and is) gorgeous. But several feeds were interrupted by long buffering periods, Ramsgate's Mass not only failed to stream once past the Epistle but it actually failed to record, and the FSSP Mass at St. Mary's Shrine, Warrington completely lost sound by the time they got to the Passion. Usually, at the TLM, the sound is almost irrelevant, at least for the Canon, but not so for the Passion, especially if it's being chanted!

I know, I know... everyone is at home, video conferencing, streaming programmes, using the internet. But, I haven't heard any reports of difficulties in connecting to Netflix or Amazon Prime, or of any major problems when sports events (such as football matches) are being livestreamed. It seems odd that only Masses are affected to this extent...

Anyway, at this point I decided to give up, and went shopping instead.

I have been reading about how people are being told off for not complying with social distancing requirements, and for going out to sunbathe in the park - apparently sunbathing does not count as exercise, even if one is in the middle of nowhere. I was keen to see how the message was being received in Thanet...

There were very few cars on the road, and hardly anyone on the Margate Main Sands or Westbrook Bay. This was noteworthy in itself - I live on a road by the beach, and normally, on a sunny Sunday, I have real problems finding anywhere to park when I return from Mass. Today, not only was the place practically deserted, but, on my return, I was able to park in the identical space I had vacated earlier...

The petrol station was my first port of call, and I was surprised to see that most of the pumps had been switched off. This was not due to any shortage, but purely because they were so quiet, the cashiers found it more practical to keep an eye on just a few pumps. One of the cashiers actually rushed out when she saw me arrive. "I recognised you," she said, "and we're ever so quiet, so would you like a hand filling up your car?" She even provided me with a pair of disposable gloves to use when tapping in my PIN.

The supermarket was similarly deserted. Only one door was open, but security staff were encouraging people to go straight in. One member of staff went to get a mobility scooter for me. There were empty shelves for items which could be stored such as rice, pasta and sauces, but plenty of fresh produce. I must confess to getting more than the bread and milk I had originally set out to buy, but it was such a pleasure to go round the aisles with everyone keeping a good distance and the store being so less crowded than usual that I couldn't resist buying some treats - biscuits, oranges and wine for me, Dreamies for Miaowrini. I spoke to several members of staff who were busy stocking shelves. They seemed pleased to be thanked for their efforts, and it's worth reminding ourselves, I think, that they have been bearing the brunt of the public's frustration due to queues and shortages, while being very much in the firing line for catching the coronavirus, given the number of people they encounter.

Another member of staff offered to take the mobility scooter back when I had put stuff in my car. At first she thought the battery had died, as it refused to move. I explained that it wouldn't move unless the "driver" was seated, and so she sat down... As I left the car park, I heard a distinct cry of "Wheeeeeeee! This is fun!" so I'm pleased her good deed was rewarded!

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Mass In Time Of Pestilence...

Shrine of St. Augustine, Passion Sunday
Just at the time when celebrating the Mass in time of Pestilence would be a really good thing, the whole country (and most of the world) is in "lockdown" to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Apparently, despite the existence of a Mass in time of Pestilence in the Usus Antiquior, it somehow was ditched when they produced the Novus Ordo Missal, so they had to make up a new version pretty quickly. Why didn't they just use the original Mass? The inimitable Fr. Z had a few thoughts on the matter... rather scathing and pertinent thoughts!

This lockdown is a strange state of affairs in the UK. Schools (those major institutions which are stuffed to the rafters with pathogen-incubators, (ie. children) are closed. However, in order that staff running rather vital services (such as the NHS, utilities, supermarkets and such like) are able to go to work, schools are being kept open for those children. And also for the children classed as vulnerable in any way. And for the children who have EHCPs (these used to be called "Statements" of special educational needs.) By the time you've factored in that little lot, the number of children still at school is quite high, so your pathogen-incubators are still passing stuff between themselves; that's ok, apparently, because children don't get it very severely... at least that's the theory.

Supermarkets are also open, because we all still need to eat. People who are self-isolating (either because they have the symptoms of the coronavirus or because they are in a particularly vulnerable group and don't want to catch the coronavirus) are reliant on food deliveries, but unfortunately demand for these slots has been high, and due to early panic-buying, which was allowed to go unchecked by the supermarket chains, even if you get a delivery slot there is no guarantee you can find everything you want. It's therefore often easier to go the the shops in person... but that means that people are in contact with others, thereby risking the spread of the virus...

Off Licences (for the benefit of any of my foreign readers, these are shops which sell alcohol for consumption off the premises) are considered to be a vital service, so these are open as usual. Strangely enough, garden centres are not considered vital services. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, you can't buy seeds or whatever you need to grow your own vegetables, but you can sit among the weeds and drink yourself into oblivion.

The Government originally declared that churches could be left open, provided they weren't attracting large gatherings and that social-distancing was observed. The Bishops decided that they would shut them. All of them. Masses would still be celebrated by the clergy, but without a congregation present and behind locked doors. Some decided that even a server was too much social contact. It's a slightly disconcerting state of affairs when the country's politicians believe that churches are more necessary than do the Bishops. What does that remind me of...?

I am not a virologist. I do have quite a good scientific background, and microbiology was a large component of my B.Sc. degree. I also like reading stuff about contagious diseases, Ebola being one of my favourites, as it livens up the teaching of Biology somewhat. Teenagers are totally unimpressed by tales of the discovery of cures for anthrax and smallpox, but a brief description of the symptoms of Ebola Zaire gets even the toughest boys looking slightly queasy. However limited my experience, I do have some basic scientific knowledge. I have yet to read an article which explains why it is safe to go shopping (directly handling items that other people may have picked up and returned, as well as being unable to avoid some contact with people) but not to go and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray, or even to attend Mass. Weekday Masses are hardly crowded affairs, and the majority of churches were built for much larger congregations. Stopping the reception of Holy Communion for the laity is understandable. Closing the churches is not.

That being said, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays has been removed in England & Wales. Many priests, wishing to offer some comfort to their parishioners, have started to livestream their Masses. I never felt inclined to watch recorded Masses, but knowing that the Mass is actually being offered then and there has a very different feel to it (at least for me!) I think that the nature of the Traditional Latin Mass actually helps here.

The Novus Ordo Mass, even when celebrated reverently in accordance with the liturgical norms, appears to me to have a more social aspect. It is almost expected that people will make the responses out loud together, to repeat the verse of the Responsorial Psalm, to offer the sign of peace to each other, and to stand, kneel and sit at the appropriate points. In the Usus Antiquior, however, the prayers are offered by the priest, and the few responses needed are made by a server who represents the rest of the congregation. The congregation itself is free to participate in whatever way it wishes. There are no rubrics to say what the congregation must do, only custom. The people can sit or kneel in silence to pray, can watch the liturgy unfold, can follow the words with a Hand Missal, can allow the music (if there is any) to lift the heart and mind to God, can meditate on the many writings of saints on the Mass, or can pray a Rosary... even getting up to light a candle or two is an option. People do not have to pray the same way at each Mass, or even the same way for the whole Mass. All the prayers of the laity are offered through the priest in the Holy Sacrifice. We aren't expected to respond in any single way.

As a result, it seems to me that the Traditional Latin Mass is much more suited to the livestream format than is the Novus Ordo. Priests who are averse to celebrating ad orientem will, I think, find the total absence of a congregation disturbing: at least one priest was reported as printing out pictures of his parishioners to stick to the pews so that he could remember them at Mass. It seems very sweet. But the Mass isn't offered solely for those parishioners who the priest can see: the Mass is attended by the whole Church: Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, and this sort of gesture weakens our perception of this truth.

Of course, there is no obligation to "attend" a livestream Mass, and some people find it to be spiritually unfruitful. Personally, while it's not a patch on the real thing, I find the availability of the livestreamed Mass a great help. I can put aside the time for God, just as I would if I was actually at church for Mass, by turning off phone notifications and not looking at anything else online. Knowing that there are other people watching at exactly the same time is a comfort of sorts, which is where it differs from an event which is merely recorded. The priests (and sometimes laity) who have taken the time to organise the hardware setup which allows the livestream to be broadcast deserve heartfelt thanks.

Finally, the Latin Mass Society has done an exemplary job of collating details of many TLMs being livestreamed around the country, so it is possible to find one happening at a convenient time, and to access the feed as easily as possible. They have also produced many free prayer resources (including information for priests wishing to learn more about the traditional Mass) and information regarding the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance and Holy Communion.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Return Of The Mac...?

It has been nearly 2 years since I last posted on this blog. This post will be a sort of stream-of-consciousness affair, just to see if I can find the old blogging mojo - and also whether anyone is still bothering to read it!

I didn't know whether I'd ever get back to blogging, though I had no intention of deleting the blog itself - as I had explained to so many people before, the existence of links from other websites meant that, if I had deleted it, a porn site would probably take over the address. Occasionally I sent out a link on Twitter, or via email, if a question arose that I'd already answered. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet too loudly, I knew that I was reasonably good at writing, and some of my stuff had been entertaining and informative. It could get a little frustrating however, that, despite all the time and research I spent on my serious pieces, the stuff people really seemed interested in was the cat posts.

I used to complain that, when I had time to blog regularly it was because I was doing nothing worth blogging about. Conversely, when lots was happening, I didn't have any free time. The past two years have borne this out - lots happened, and I didn't have the time to blog. First of all, Fr. Tim became seriously ill and nearly died. He therefore retired as Parish Priest of Margate. Thanks be to God he survived, and went off to recuperate with his sister in Bournemouth. We will all have to watch his blog, the Hermeneutic of Continuity to see where he will fetch up next.

I continued to worship at St. Austin & St. Gregory's Church in order to help Fr. Bernard McNally - he was holding the fort by providing the Sacraments. Once a new Parish Priest was appointed, I gave him a bit of administrative support until he'd had time to settle in, and then switched to attending the Traditional Latin Mass at the Shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate. Six months without the Usus Antiquior was almost unbearable. I was very blessed to be able to find another regular one so near to home (the Isle of Thanet is not very big, and it takes me about the same time to get to Mass in Ramsgate as it did to get to Blackfen.)

Unfortunately for me, my own health took a decided turn for the worse. I lost my teaching post, and was told that my knee joints had pretty much collapsed, meaning that I would need knee replacement surgery - the left knee first. I am now having to use crutches to get about. It took a while to get onto the hospital waiting list - there were various administrative hurdles to be negotiated - but just before Christmas I was told that I had been successfully added to the list, and it would be about 6 months' wait...

...Only, unfortunately, the whole world suddenly found that it was being shut down due to a pesky little organism called COVID-19. All elective surgery has now been cancelled. The good news is that I had managed to sort out my registration as a disabled person before the rest of the country caught the virus and blocked the government phone lines, and also that my GP had finally recognised (from the X-rays and the description of the damage to my joints by the Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon) that I was going to need something rather stronger than ibuprofen and paracetamol while I was waiting. Being on morphine has the added advantage of making my rather uneventful days positively zip by. I am doing a pretty good imitation of a cat. Apart from praying the Office, "attending" livestreamed Mass, checking Twitter and making something to eat each day, I spend most of my time napping.

Miaowrini seems happy enough with the current state of affairs. I'm home all the time, and so am available for the dispensation of treats (she loves Dreamies - I think they're called Temptations in the US) and ear-scritches pretty much on demand. She has me well-trained: she doesn't even have to miaow, she just stands and waits, looking at me expectantly. I'm such a wimp that I can't bear todisappoint such trust, and out come the treats. However, I'venoticed that she is getting fat, so I shall have to try and harden my heart against her blandishments. I can reduce the number of Dreamies dispensed at any one session anyway...

I've been through the health situation before - though it was just the one knee that time, with the added difficulty that the damage wasn't so clear on the X-rays, and it was suggested by some of the doctors I saw that the whole thing was actually in my mind. Not having to question my own sanity this time around makes it much easier to bear. However, the illness last time was the way God called me back to the Church. There is a little niggle in the back of my mind that there might be something equally earth-shattering around the corner this time too. Not sure if it's just for me (like before) or, given the weird stuff happening in the world (and the Church itself) just before this all kicked off, maybe it'll be even bigger.

Watch... and keep praying.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Friends In High Places...

Cllr. David Hurley is a regular visitor to St. Austin & St. Gregory's Church, Margate, where he often assists at the Sunday morning Missa Cantata, adding a little touch of gravitas to the proceedings!

As well as being a devotee of the Traditional Liturgy, Cllr. Hurley has a fondness for this little blog of mine... mostly, I suspect, because of the cat posts. Having declared himself "not a cat person" when I first made his acquaintance, he was rapidly shown to be a real soft touch when two local moggies adopted him. Let's be honest, they didn't so much adopt him as launch a full-on strategic assault. From the first manoeuvres (allowing themselves to be gallantly defended from a local fox in the garden), to getting a catflap installed in the conservatory, the scheming felines have wrapped the poor man round their furry paws.

We haven't seen as much of him in Margate of late as we'd have liked, though, as he has been awfully busy with various duties in his home Borough of Gravesham... last year he was chosen to be Deputy Mayor, and this year he has nabbed the top spot...

Photo: Kent Messenger

His Worship's Mayoral Chaplain is Fr. Innocent Abonyi, Parish Priest at St. John The Evangelist Church, Gravesend, and he will be offering a Mass for the new Mayor's intentions, and the success of his Mayoral Year, on Wednesday, 20 June 2018, at noon.

Cllr. Hurley's chosen mayoral charities are The House of Mercy, Demelza Hospice Care For Children, which operates across Kent, and Alzheimer's And Dementia Support Services, which is based in Northfleet.

I'm ever so pleased for Cllr. Hurley, who works very hard for his constituents, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the very best, and many prayers for his success over the coming year.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Travels & Travails...

I have really taken to living by the seaside. I find that I dislike leaving Margate and its environs more and more, especially when the weather is good. However, one cannot insist that one's friends always do the travelling, and so, last Bank Holiday Monday, I went off to visit one of my friends in London. Fortunately I enjoy train journeys, which made the fact that I was heading in to the sweltering, stuffy city on what promised to be a beautifully sunny day with a pleasant breeze somewhat more bearable...

My latest mobile phone has a really snazzy camera. I amused myself by trying to take a few photos out of the window on a very fast-moving train...

I was particularly impressed by the shot I got as the train sped over the bridge... I anticipated seeing nothing more than blurry bridge iron-mongery...

I had a great day with my friend, though I was shocked by the amount of grime and grit on my face by the time I got home. The clean sea air was a welcome contrast.

Tuesday morning was warm, but overcast. I had arranged to visit my mother (with my car, so she could do some shopping) and, as I left Margate, it started to rain. I had heard a weather forecast predicting showers, and so I hoped it would all soon pass over. It didn't. The rain got heavier.

There had been very little traffic as I headed to the M2. Gradually, as the rain became heavier, the traffic began to build up. I dislike driving in heavy rain... there are too many people who whizz past at stupid speeds, sending up huge amounts of spray. However, this time the rain was so heavy that people were driving very slowly. There was one section of the road which had so much surface water that, driving at 15 mph, the water was being pushed up in a wave as high as the car windows... and then, just before we got to my exit, traffic ground to a complete halt. The rain was now so heavy that my windscreen looked as if I was in a car wash.

After about an hour, we managed to crawl forward far enough for me to get to the motorway exit sliproad. A few impatient souls had actually risked using the hard shoulder to get there sooner... and, when I reached the bottom of the sliproad and saw these vehicles stationary just a short distance away, I knew that this was not going to end well. The police arrived and directed us all round back to the M2, as the A249 was completely flooded... I found myself in another traffic jam, but this time heading back towards home.

I didn't fancy driving all the way back to Margate in order to follow the coastal route, so I switched on my phone's Google Maps directions app. It started well, but then directed me off the main A roads onto a much narrower road... and then onto a road which didn't have any markings... and then onto a single-track road... surrounded by huge hedges...

I then spotted a woman in her front garden, putting something in the bin. The rain had eased up a bit, but not much, and I was beginning to lose faith in my navigational aid. I stopped to ask directions. Unfortunately, I didn't know exactly where the map was taking me, and asking how to get to Eastbourne didn't seem particularly helpful. So I asked if the track hit a main road any time soon. Which main road? Any main road. As long as it had tarmac and road markings. She assured me that the road was at the end of the track.

I set off again. The track was becoming very muddy, and very narrow and the hedges were getting higher. However, I thought that I must be on a recognised route because by now there were two vehicles behind me. I drove over a slight rise, and braked to a dead stop. The road ahead was completely under water - about six car-lengths. The water went as far as the hedges at the side of the track,and I had absolutely no way of gauging the depth.

Because it was a single track road, the two cars behind me meant that I couldn't reverse. Fortunately there was a small passing place to my right, and so I reversed back into it, praying that I wouldn't end up in a ditch, and stopping at right-angles to the track. My plan was to watch the two vehicles which had followed me. I assumed they were locals, and would know how low the road actually dipped. The car directly behind mine was about the same size, and I thought that I could watch how high the water went before venturing across myself.

Alas! The woman in the car behind mine didn't like the look of the water either. She copied my manoeuvre, ending up next to my car, on my right, and blocking my view. The third car was a big one, and the male driver had obviously become impatient with us, as he promptly sped through the waterlogged patch. As my view had been blocked by the other woman driver, I still couldn't work out how deep the water was. In the meantime, the cautious woman driver sped off back the way we had come. I hesitated, but all the horror stories about people getting lured into deep water by their sat navs kept preying on my mind, and I tried to retrace my steps.

Meanwhile, Google Maps kept telling me to go back. I followed the track again, but there must have been a fork in the road which I had missed first time around, because I eventually drove past the cottage I had asked directions at... but facing in the same direction as before! I could feel a rising hysteria, as I seemed to be trapped in a Kentish Bermuda Triangle. Another 4x4 drove up behind me. I could sense waves of irritation hitting me from the driver. As soon as the track widened a bit, I pulled over as far as I could and he overtook by driving over the bank of the road. I then did my best to follow as quickly as possible. When we reached the flooded patch, he drove through at speed, which seemed to get rid of some of the water. Muttering a Hail Mary under my breath, I positioned myself as near to the centre of the road as I could and started to drive forward...

It was a pretty close call, I think. 

I eventually reached a main road. I had no idea which direction I was travelling in,and I had given up on the Google Maps app which was still trying to direct me down side roads. Finally I spotted a sign for Maidstone, and followed that. Tunbridge Wells was signposted from there, and I knew my way pretty well from then on.

It took me a total of six and a half hours to get to Eastbourne... the journey usually takes around two and a half hours. To add insult to injury, my mother informed me that she had been busy watering the garden, as there hadn't been a spot of rain there all day...

I will never trust Google Maps again.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Brief Kitty Update...

When Furretti had to be put down, I wasn't sure whether I would get another cat to keep Miaowrini company.

When I looked after my friend's cats a few years ago, both Miaowrini and Furretti had been rather "put out" by the strangers, and neither cat had been pleased when the next-door neighbours moved in with two cats of their own. I know that most cats prefer to have their own territory, but wanted to check to see how Miaowrini got on alone.

Before Furretti's demise, Miaowrini had been over-grooming: her tummy was very pink due to the thinness of the white fur, and her leg had a balding patch on it. I had put it down to stress due to the neighbour's cats, but, on reflection, I think Furretti had had a few fits in my absence, and this had scared Miaowrini and stressed her out.

Once it was obvious Furretti was not coming back, Miaowrini's behaviour really changed quite drastically. She had always been quite reserved, and easily scared off by sudden movements. That stopped. She started to purr more. Suddenly she was sleeping on my bed much more frequently, and miaowing furiously if I was in what she obviously considered to be "her" spot! She started to demand to be stroked! She would meet me at the door when I arrived home, lead me in to the front room and roll over onto her back to show her tummy in a rather cute manner.

In addition, almost overnight, she got fatter.

Even her tail seems to have filled out. And I am not still putting out food for two cats... the reduction in food bills for the cats was quite noticeable. But Miaowrini's tummy flap (which most cats seem to develop when they have been spayed) is becoming more of a tummy roll...

She definitely seems to enjoy being the sole cat of the household, so I shall refrain from getting a rival kitty. Watch this space for further updates!

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Rosary On The Coast At Margate...

Following the witness shown in Poland and Ireland recently, a group of lay people in the UK decided to try and organise a similar day of pilgrimage and prayer for the re-flourishing of our Faith, for the grace to build a culture of Life and for true Peace to reign in the hearts of all peoples and nations.

You can find out more about the initiative on the website.

Thanet, that small pimple on the easternmost end of Kent, had two pilgrimage locations being organised - and I was delighted that Margate (led by Fr. Timothy Finigan, Parish Priest of St. Austin & St. Gregory, Margate, with St. Anne, Cliftonville) was one of them (the other was Ramsgate).

We gathered on the King's Steps at 2:45pm. Sadly, despite having truly awesome weather last weekend, today was much more typically April weather. It was cold, and very wet... I have no idea where the wind was actually coming from, but it felt as if it had started somewhere in Iceland and had picked up speed along the way...


We chanted the Litany of Loreto (in Latin) as we walked in procession from the King's Steps down to the Main Sands...


...and then we prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, the Prayer to St. Michael, the Consecration to our Lady and a few other prayers, but not necessarily in that order... I was cold, wet, and my fingers were turning an interesting shade of blue as I had been asked to take photos and my phone doesn't seem to respond when I'm wearing gloves. In addition, I had forgotten to bring gloves. I'd also forgotten to bring a hat and scarf (did I mention the wind?) The conditions certainly added to the penitential feel of the devotions!



The seagulls were all lined up on the sand... I wasn't sure if they were hunkered down and having a bit of a rest from the wind and waves, or if they were keeping an eye on the interesting bunch of people who might suddenly produce a picnic hamper...


I thought it was a wonderful initiative, and do hope that it will become an annual event... though maybe arranged for a Sunday in July...

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Failing To Follow The Narrative...

It is better that one should suffer than that many should be corrupted. Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour. Murder kills only the individual -- and after all what is an individual?" With a sweeping gesture he indicated the rows of microscopes, the test-tubes, the incubators. "We can make a new one with the greatest ease -- as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself," he repeated.Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932.
For Alder Hey Children's Hospital to continue to fight against Alfie Evans' parents desire to take him abroad for treatment, something of an ideological nature must be at work.

In 1993, Anthony Bland was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state following injuries sustained in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Because the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration was, at that time, deemed to be basic nursing care rather than treatment, the hospital went to court to determine whether this could be considered to be treatment, as the provision of treatment, if not deemed to be in the patient's best interests, could be stopped.

Anthony Bland was not dying. He was not responsive, but he was not dying. Neither was he in pain. However, when his food and water were stopped, it was necessary to give morphine to relieve the pain he experienced while being dehydrated and starved to death.

Since this landmark case, removal of artificial nutrition and hydration of patients who are deemed to be "beyond treatment" has become more and more common.

Newborn infants with severe disabilities have also, under NHS guidelines, been "allowed to die" by not providing basic care... with the cooperation of the parents and doctors (who, no doubt, said it was in the child's best interests.)

When Alfie Evans was deemed to be profoundly brain damaged due to an undiagnosed degenerative neurological condition, the hospital authorities proposed removing the artificial ventilation. This would, in their opinion, result in Alfie's death in a very short time, probably a matter of minutes. However, his parents disputed this cessation of treatment, maintaining that their son was responsive (when not under heavy sedation) and not in any pain.

The hospital immediately sought to have Alfie's "best interests" determined by someone other than the parents, and arranged to have a court order made out to that effect.

Such determination to see the toddler die, despite other medical provision being made available elsewhere, suggests very strongly that this was intended to be a test case, a precedent in law.

In other words, a profoundly disabled child is a burden on the parents and especially on the State. It is therefore better to "allow" the child to die. If the parents do not agree, then the responsibility for the "welfare" of the child must be removed from them and given over to someone appointed by the State. The State will therefore be able to ensure the child dies sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately for the hospital, not only did the parents fail to follow the expected narrative, fighting tooth and nail for the survival of their son, but Alfie himself failed to follow the path mapped out for him, and he managed to continue breathing on his own.

The total intransigence of the hospital authorities is breathtaking. Despite the baby still managing to cling to life for nearly 48 hours after ventilation was removed, despite a hospital being on standby in Italy offering care for as long as Alfie needs it, despite specialised transport being on standby to take the baby, and despite all of this being available at no further cost to the NHS trust, they have chosen to return to court (hardly a cheap option) in order to oppose the toddler's removal from Alder Hey.

This is too irrational to be just about the treatment of one child. It just doesn't add up. This was meant to be another stage in the push for euthanasia to be seen as a valid and sensible choice... and one chosen by the State for individuals no longer deemed to be "useful."

At this moment, 5:40pm on Wednesday 25th April, Alfie Evans is still clinging to life, and the Court of Appeal is deciding whether Tom and Kate can take their son to Rome.

UPDATE: 7:17pm Wednesday 25th April 2018. The Appeal was rejected, as "nothing has changed." It seems as if the State cannot (and will not) allow any defiance.

Pray for Alfie Evans and his family. But more importantly, pray for our country which has not only forgotten its Christian roots, but has forgotten its basic humanitarian instincts.

UPDATE: 28th April 2018. Alfie Evans died at around 2am. RIP

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

What Is Being Hidden...?

It is now over 24 hours since Alfie Evans had his ventilator turned off, despite last-minute legal challenges from his parents. The doctors at Alder Hey Children's Hospital had previously stated that Alfie would be unable to survive on his own for more than three minutes.

After he survived overnight against all the odds, many of us hoped that the hospital authorities and the court would allow Alfie to be taken to Italy, where the Bambino Gesu Hospital had offered to care for the toddler for whatever remained of his life.

It is one thing to insist that further treatment is futile, and so cannot be provided by a hospital, especially in these times of NHS rationing. But to refuse to allow a child to be taken abroad for possible treatment and palliative care, at no further cost or inconvenience to the hospital, is just bizarre.

In my first post about Alfie, I remarked on the decisions being made ostensibly "in the best interests" of the child. When the parents refused to accept the verdict of the hospital authorities that it was in Alfie's "best interests" to be allowed to die, as his brain was too damaged to allow him any real quality of life, the hospital went to court to appoint someone more amenable to their views about Alfie's treatment, basically denying the parents any rights over the treatment decisions for their own son.

When, through constant campaigns on social media, Tom Evans and Kate James managed to find a European hospital willing to treat Alfie, the hospital ensured that the parents were prevented from taking their son out of Alder Hey. Even more bizarrely, the reason given was the danger to Alfie that might occur due to the stress of travel. So travel was opposed by the hospital on possible health grounds, while that same hospital was preparing to remove ventilation which would (in their opinion) definitely result in the child's death.

So, as mentioned earlier, many people following the case were confident that, after having survived for so much longer without ventilation than originally anticipated, Alfie would now be allowed to travel to Italy.

To the amazement of us all, the hospital opposed Alfie's removal. In addition, the clinician presenting evidence to the court hearing stated that it would not be possible to allow palliative care at home for Alfie because of the breakdown in relationships between the parents and medical staff. One interesting tweet from a journalist revealed that the clinician was still in hospital scrubs when in court.

How touching... the hard-working clinician hadn't even been allowed to change.

This makes me even more sceptical about the attitude of the hospital. I have never seen doctors or nurses wearing scrubs outside a hospital environment (and I've worked in many hospitals.)

Since when does the difficult relationship between a patient's relatives and medical staff prevent them going home? And the apparent fear experienced by some doctors due to the hostile atmosphere would be unnecessary if the child was no longer in the hospital.

It all seems to indicate that the medical personnel have something to hide. What could possibly be worse than Alfie dying at home or abroad... unless it is Alfie living. Or, if Alfie died, then a post-mortem carried out somewhere other than Alder Hey might reveal uncomfortable truths about the care, or lack of it, provided by Alder Hey.

Earlier today, a group of doctors from the Medical Ethics Alliance released a statement which outlined concerns about the behaviour of clinicians at Alder Hey. They have asked the GMC to investigate the medical tyranny which, in their view, has brought the whole medical profession into disrepute.

Remember that Alder Hey was the hospital involved in the scandal of retaining the body parts of dead children, and selling the tissues of live children to pharmaceutical companies.

Looking at the reports written by Alfie's father, it seems that there are many questions to answer about the care given to Alfie.

Why did doctors dismiss Alfie's parents' concerns about his lack of progress on three occasions, stating that the baby was "lazy" and "a late developer"? Why did Alfie catch a second chest infection in the hospital, after coming off the ventilator? What were the infections? Why was the cause of his seizures not diagnosed? Why did they first tell Alfie's parents that they would allow him to be transferred to another hospital, and then, when a hospital was found, admit that they had no intention of letting Alfie go? And finally, why are they so determined to ensure that Alfie dies in Alder Hey rather than at home?

Something's rotten, and it's not in the State of Denmark.

Parental Rights...

Last night I blogged about the treatment of Alfie Evans (or lack of it) at Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

As of 11am this morning, Alfie is still breathing unassisted. That means that he survived for 13 hours longer than the doctors said he would. During the night, the toddler was reportedly being given mouth-to-mouth by his parents, as he didn't appear to be getting enough oxygenation - his fingers were going blue - and the hospital authorities deemed the provision of oxygen through a mask to be "treatment" and all treatment had been withdrawn by order of the courts. They even prevented his parents from giving oxygen to their son.

The last-minute bid to stop removal of Alfie's ventilation tube by granting him Italian citizenship was dismissed by Mr. Justice Hayden, who said that Alfie was obviously a British citizen as he was habitually resident in the UK, and therefore under the jurisdiction of the High Court.

It's difficult to get reliable updates, as Twitter is awash with retweets of old information, and the mainstream media only now appears to be reporting on Alfie's case - but again, with old information. From the latest post on the Facebook page for Alfie's Army, it seems that, sometime during the night, the hospital decided that they would, after all, allow oxygen and water to be given.

From this, it is obvious that the doctors were wrong when they said that Alfie was too brain-damaged to breathe unassisted for more than three minutes. The decision of Mr Justice Hayden to allow the hospital to remove ventilation was obviously based on the incorrect "diagnosis" given by the doctors. Despite this, it seems that the authorities are still maintaining that they know what is in Alfie's "best interests" as the parents are still unable to take Alfie out of the hospital and transfer him to Italy.

The main result of this whole sorry episode is to highlight what some of us have suspected for some time: parents have no rights when deciding what is in their child's best interests if the state disagrees with their opinions.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Whose Best Interests...?

As I write, the case of little Alfie Evans is reaching a heart-wrenching climax... according to the latest tweets, Alfie has been granted Italian citizenship, and the Italian ambassador has reportedly said that any attempt to remove the ventilation tube would be considered as the murder of an Italian citizen.

Alfie was brought to Alder Hey Children's Hospital in December 2016, after suffering seizures. The condition affecting the toddler has not been diagnosed, other than to say it is a degenerative neurological condition. The hospital authorities ruled that there was catastrophic degradation of Alfie's brain tissue, that he was in a semi-vegetative state, and that further treatment was futile, inhumane and unkind. His parents disagreed, saying that Alfie was responsive. The hospital countered that the "apparent responsiveness" was merely the result of spontaneous seizures due to touching.

Earlier this year, Mr Justice Hayden ruled in favour of the hospital, saying that it was in Alfie's best interests to have ventilation withdrawn, and to be allowed to have peace, quiet and privacy, and he set a date for the withdrawal of the ventilation tube.

Alfie's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, have been fighting to keep Alfie alive ever since.

Up to this point, the story is tragic for all concerned, but not unusual. Sometimes, treatment which is burdensome for a patient and not likely to help has to be withdrawn. It's awful, especially when the patient is a little child, but sometimes it really is in the best interests of the patient, to avoid further pain and suffering.

However, Alfie's story has now started to take a more sinister aspect. For a start, Alfie is not in pain. He appears to be growing. And, when not being heavily sedated by the hospital, he appears to be responsive.

By dint of their constant campaigns through social media, Alfie's parents managed to attract the attention of an Italian hospital, the Bambino Gesu, who offered to take over Alfie's palliative care, including artificial ventilation, for the remainder of his life. Tom Evans had an air ambulance standing by, with staff capable of looking after Alfie's needs during the transfer. However, Alder Hey prevented Tom from taking his child out of the hospital, calling police to block the exits and warning him that he would be arrested for assault if he attempted to take his son away.

At the same time, the hospital and Justice Hayden, maintained that Alfie's "best interests" were for the ventilation tube to be removed. The pain and discomfort that would be caused by the removal of the ventilation tube (basically suffocating Alfie to death) would require the administration of two painkilling medications.

Alfie is not currently experiencing pain. The sedation would, by depressing his breathing still further, effectively kill him. But, according to the courts, it is in Alfie's "best interests" to remain in the hospital, even though his parents want to take him to a different hospital.

Alfie's parents are fighting heroically for the life of their son. They have pointed out that, when the sedation being given by Alder Hey has been reduced, Alfie appears to be much more responsive and alert. In a final attempt to allow Alfie to leave Alder Hey, he has been granted Italian citizenship, and the Italian embassy is trying to arrange his "repatriation."

The video clip shows how alert Alfie is today, 23rd April 2018...

UPDATE: In the past hour, despite the ongoing legal challenge from the Italian embassy, it seems that the staff at Alder Hey have removed the ventilation tube from Alfie Evans. He is struggling to breathe, but is still alive. The hospital have reportedly refused to allow oxygen to be administered, and have arranged for thirty police officers to be stationed outside Alfie's room. Whose best interests are being served now?

This whole case stinks. There seems to be no rational reason why Alfie should not be taken out of hospital by his parents. Even if there is no hope of recovery for the toddler, Alder Hey lose nothing by allowing him to go elsewhere to die. Perhaps they are afraid that Alfie will actually live if he is treated elsewhere, perhaps despite being severely disabled, and nevertheless demonstrating an ability to enjoy life.

The intransigence of medical staff and Justice Hayden, who appear to be absolutely determined that they will not be thwarted in their original decision seems almost diabolical.

It is almost as if Alfie Evans is a test case, in much the same way as happened with Anthony Bland in 1993, when it was decided to obtain the legal ruling that food and water administered through feeding tubes constituted "treatment" and as such could be withdrawn if it was deemed to be in the "best interests" of the patient. Since then, the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state has not been the only one to incur this withdrawal of food and water.

As predicted at the time, now it seems that any elderly person who needs intubation for food and fluids is in danger of having this "burdensome treatment" withdrawn "in their best interests" unless they have a relative able to fight for them. Perhaps the case of Alfie Evans is the same thin end of the wedge - if a child is severely disabled, ignore the parents' wishes and allow the court to decide that the end of their life is in their "best interests."

Pray for everyone involved in this awful scenario.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Learning Something New Every Day...

Until three years ago I lived in London. I had read about fog (particularly the old pea-soupers) but had never really experienced it as described in Benson's Mapp and Lucia or King's The Fog... I didn't appreciate how quickly fog could descend, and how thick it could get.

Living across the road from the beach means that, since my relocation, I have had ample opportunity to experience "proper" fog. I love it - especially the way it deadens sounds... everything goes so quiet... and watching a bank of fog approach over the water is really fascinating! And then there is the disconcerting (and, to me, thrilling...) experience of being unable to see what is just the other side of the road... or even as far as the waterline...

Zephyrinus was visiting the other day  (Fr. Finigan was offering a Requiem Mass for a friend of his) and he explained to me that this type of fog was called a "sea fret," a term I'd never encountered before.

And so, to consolidate my newfound knowledge, I decided to post a couple of pictures of the sea fret I encountered on Thursday...

For comparison, this is the same view, minus fog...

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A Pastoral Letter Worth Reading...

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Philip Egan, has published a pastoral letter, which looks as if it will actually be worth reading. Not just platitudes, but a call to action... and, more incredibly, action specifically in support of the unborn! The Catholic Herald has reported snippets: with any luck the whole letter will soon be available, as it is due to be read out this weekend.

It is amazing to hear that a Bishop of England and Wales is actually singing the praises of Humanae Vitae... and extremely sad that such praise from the leaders of the church should be so unusual.
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