The picture above is recent street art. You may have seen similar social media memes. The word, as you probably know, for such things is 'lionising'. It is a relatively benign form of stereotyping. In years to come it may be studied in universities (when we get to 'the other side', God willing). Whether or not the NHS staff are angels, it is notable that this is the perception on Day 32 of lockdown. But do you think any groups of people are being demonised at the moment?
Do you have any reservations, in month two of lockdown, about the loss of personal and communal freedoms?... anyway... 'Tidy home. Stay sane. Live lives.'
I sometimes have this fantasy in which I think certain businesses and shops should distribute their goods for free, indiscriminately. I have it particularly with jewellery stores when I walk by. I imagine them casting gold and emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds into the street. A kind of outrageously generous sharing with whoever may be passing by.
My naive fantasy is unlikely to come true but that doesn't mean I cannot give away what I have created at this time, even if banks and jewellers don't ('Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you...')
One other thing I would like to say about these present times. True colours are not shown when there is some great crisis. True colours are revealed when everything is calm. What is revealed in a crisis is either whether you are classy or not. And that is a different thing.
So, here you go - this freebie is called 'Irony - Evidence for God'. I have suffered so much for this book. It has always felt as if I have been punished a little by the Universe (c), in subtle, ironic, intimate ways for even daring to write it.
How can irony be evidence for God? The thoughtful will already see the problems with that since most ironies are negative. But you will have to read it if you want to find out.
I am no Voltaire. But I am no Scrooge either - I'm doing what I can in this crisis and offering this for free for the next five days (that's all I am allowed to do by the big A). You will either need a kindle or a kindle app on your phone or laptop.
Never say I don’t give back. As an act of subtle virtue signalling and shrewd business reputation management I am offering free downloads of my novella Destiny and Dynasty from today.
I can only do this for four days as Kindle Direct Publishing only allow a four day promotion. But... If you need an escape, you will find it a fun read with no sign of a virus anywhere (unless you want to call the Ravenscrofts viruses).
It isn’t a long read at around 45,000 words and I think that is good for these distracting and scary times. I know that I prefer to write shorter works. So go ahead, download it to your Kindle if you have one, or save it for a rainy day. If you don’t have a Kindle you can get the Kindle app for your device for free if you download it from an app store.
You can read the blurb and reviews on Amazon on the link. I have a worry that I haven’t corrected some typos in the ebook version, so if you are really bored you can count the typos. I think there are eight but you can prove me wrong if you are so minded and let me know in the comments. Hopefully the story won’t bore you that much. But I may have corrected them. Can’t remember.
I'm sure you didn’t want a blog on my thoughts on the current crisis. I have a slight concern for my readers. All I can say at the moment is that we should at least hold on to our God given freedom of expression.
In Birmingham, there is currently an exhibition of the ‘I
See You’ tapestry for the charity Open Doors at St Martins in the
Bullring – a kind of sowing together of an expression of love for women who are
being tortured and killed across the world because of their faith.
In between work sessions I went to see it.
And then it came to me. The idea…
I could do this… Open Doors and persecuted Christians are so
neglected that there might just be a way for me to make the whole thing a little
more… public. Pragmatism. I stood outside St Martins in the Bullring, where the
event is taking place, and I realised that I could simply buy a plastic petrol
filled canister, sneak it into St Martins, pour it over the tapestry and set
fire to the whole expression of goodwill. Then they would listen. Then the tolerant
British people would be persuaded that all this is real and that we really need
to support charities like Open Doors. A little radicalised, I warmed to the
idea, like a fire burning in my brain. Sure, I would get caught most likely,
but it would be for the greater good, for a cause.
And, as my family know, I
have a track record of burning places down (so be very careful if you harm me
or mine… I have matches and sometimes make bad choices).
I thought I had better pray about it before the action
occurred as I didn’t want collateral damage and felt it might be seen the wrong
way. Unfortunately (and rather boringly), God seemed to be hinting that I
should not actually physically burn down this thing as I would be hated and
misunderstood. Instead, it seemed he wanted me to be writing the words that you
read right now.
To give some context, as I fear I may have been a little
confusing so far... Last year there was a Christian charity campaign called ‘I
See You’ by a great charity called Open Doors whose task it is to help
persecuted Christians around the world from the relative safety of the West.
The campaign was aimed at suffering Christian women and supporters were sent
pieces of cloth and asked to embellish them with the words ‘I see you’, both to
show suffering female Christians that they were not forgotten and to show the
Government in the UK the amount of support there was for those who are tortured
and persecuted because of their faith. The cloths were presented to the great
and the good, to Parliament, and are now going on display in churches.
I was busy when I did mine. But I dutifully sent back the
cloth with my design and with a few tasteful stickers on it. I took pictures of
my design but sadly my phone and pictures got erased in a bathroom flood which
made my Samsung J3 go kaput. Which rather put out my fire. I emailed our MP,
Gavin Williamson, asking him to support the Open Doors event and meetings for
the umpteenth time and was only slightly alarmed today when for all of his
words of support I heard that he couldn’t be arsed to attend the event.
So I didn’t burn down the display. Instead I wrote these
words which you are kindly reading.
Update 2019... I think it right to repost this parable every year until it happens... This may take some time... Convert the Christmas spirit...
This is probably the most important parable that I will ever write. It is also the one I have worked on for the longest period of time. The central metaphor will perhaps give the appearance of being trite, schmaltzy or twee. That was not my intention. I chose this metaphor as I still feel it is the most appropriate for the subject. It is not intended to be unnecessarily didactic in tone, but the nature of parables is to send a spiritual message.
Anyone who tells parables has to decide whether they will explain them or not. In this case I'm trusting in your intelligence and imagination.
'Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear...'
There was once a good king, a king like the sun, who ruled over a cold island with three peculiar children. It was winter and they say that winter is the end of the story of the seasons. But it depends on when you start the story.
Some people hated the royal family, but that was because they tended to get a bad press. Most of the people thought the king was harsh. He always seemed to be on some long journey and his absence caused many of the people to doubt that he even existed. After all, he was never on TV or the internet.
From a distance, he often seemed negligent or downright cruel, if it is possible to be both at once. He did not do terrible things, but he allowed them and would not explain why.
Two of the royal children were as disobedient as vultures. But the third child was as faithful as a robin, refusing to fly away when the winter sun grew austere. Her kindness was all the more remarkable because she was unable to walk. She was as loyal as frost clinging to a car window (for which the people also cursed the king in the mornings).
There hadn’t been a real Christmas on that island for over a hundred years. Although there had been some imitations of it. No-one even knew what Christmas was like anymore. Those who had heard of it either thought it brutal and regressive (following a highly popular Netflix series about what Christmas may be like and a series of stereotypes which were expressed in the arts and media about the character of those who might like Christmas) ... Or else they thought it was yet another money-making scheme, heavy on the merchandise and manipulation.
But the faithful robin-child, after reading of true Christmas, asked her father if they could celebrate too… as the people in far-off places were said to do. She had only read stories of Christmas and it was because she had lost a friend in one of the past winter months that she found her courage.
She entered the throne room in her wheelchair and the king looked sadly at his cold iron sceptre, like a man haunted by ghosts which only he knew about.
"We need Christmas father. Things are getting worse on the island," said the robin-child.
"The island is sick," replied the king.
"Then there is hope of healing. You have healing in your power."
"What do you think Christmas should be like anyway?" the king asked, "Like water? Like the sea's tide turning? Like rain after a drought? Like a river flowing?"
"I don't know."
"Or like the earth? Like an earthquake and a shaking, or a kind of sifting of the good and bad?"
"No not that, Christmas should be for everyone and that sounds destructive."
"Or like the air? Like a wind blowing across the land? Like a change in the atmosphere?"
"I don't know."
"Or like fire? Like tongues of flame? Like a wildfire?"
"I simply think it should be like a new, better season. Like Christmas in the old stories."
But the king went on to tell his daughter yet again that if his children and people continued to misbehave, they would never see Christmas. It was within his power to make the winter months warmer and lighter since kings and queens still hold great power. But it was catch 22 – without the comfort of Christmas, people found it hard to behave, but if they did not behave, the king would not give them Christmas. The king's conditions felt very patronising and simplistic.
It had become increasingly dark and cold in those winter months in so many ways. And the dark and cold had soaked into the hearts of the people, so that even the streets saw puddles of blood. The blood had a voice, but by this time only the king could seem to hear it. Nobody cared about all kinds of roses crushed underfoot. Gentleness had emigrated. It was as if the island was under a curse.
At the start of December, the king sat on his throne and wondered whether he should allow his island child her peculiar request. He was undecided, since two of his children were so naughty (they were always fighting and rarely did what he asked). When he told them to love, they hated. When he told them to forgive, they held grudges. When he told them to not be too proud and condescending towards the people, they simply looked down their noses at the less privileged. It had got so bad that the people were cursing the royal family because of the actions of the princes. “The royal family are judgmental bigots!” the people would sing. Or else, “The king is in the altogether, he’s altogether not there!” And blood on the streets didn’t help. The people would take strange, dangerous potions and dance wildly into the night or else treat each other as badly as the princes treated them.
The king wondered whether he should simply give a present to his daughter and ignore the others. But then he considered that Christmas should be for everyone and an exclusive Christmas had never happened before. But why Christmas on his island alone? There was the Commonwealth, and the people there could be said to be worthier? One last worldwide Christmas for everyone (even though that had never happened before). What had happened before can happen again, for good or for evil. He had told all his children to behave and they had largely ignored him. What should a good father do? He, did, after all, have his enemies and ghosts. And the land had enough problems already, ready to break and divide for the sake of a freedom which was only hoped in.
One of the naughty children didn’t believe Christmas was healthy, he thought it probably meant, a pair of socks as a present, a lot of disappointment and probably a lot of grief. He didn't like anything about Christmas. The other thought it was unlikely to happen again before the end of the world. He simply thought there would never be a genuine Christmas again. But the faithful robin child would read old stories and she believed that even if they were only to have one last Christmas it would be a good thing for everyone on the cold island. It would help them to prepare for the coldest and darkest of days. She too loved the people of the island.
But the winter winds pummelled them all and the thunder made it seem as if the sky may fall at any moment. And the naughty children started to doubt that their father really was good – not because they wanted Christmas, but because he seemed to allow so many bad things and then said it was some kind of test. And never explained why. The tests were always the same anyway, they were either endurance tests or self-control tests, but the king, because of his ghosts, considered that an unfair criticism. Kings can do that and you can't tell them that they are wrong.
The king had set out conditions for there to be a Christmas. He had said that if his children talked to him, keeping their conversations secret, and if they were well-behaved and if they trusted in him, he would give them Christmas once again and the Christmas would be both a relief and a healing for them all. Hearts would turn warm and there would be more light, like the light of a baby in a manger. But the trouble was that he had three children and only one of them was behaving. The majority were not. In a sense, it was because of the naughty children that the whole island did not get Christmas, especially the fault of the naughtiest leading prince who had been given more than the others and who was relatively healthy.
So, the king faced a quandary – he had promised that he would order Christmas throughout the land if all his children behaved. But how could they behave when all was cold and austere and there was no Christmas? The robin princess had talked to him on countless occasions about this, about how Christmas would be good for both him and the people, about how it would make things better, about how a good father should not deny the request of an obedient daughter simply because others were not so obedient. About how Christmas itself would swing the hearts and souls of people onto his side. About how, while he delayed, the people and the children suffered together. About how he had also promised to grant any request made persistently. About what kind of good father would deny Christmas to his children anyway? About how he wanted free will love from the people and he would get that if he gifted Christmas.
But the king simply looked at his cold iron sceptre, shrugged and said that unless his people and his children talked to him, behaved, and trusted in him, he couldn’t send Christmas.
“But you also once said nothing is impossible for you,” said the robin princess.
“These are the conditions,” said the father with a stern face that did not suit him.
“But you once said that even a bad judge would rule in favour of a petitioner if they persisted, and I have pestered you about this for years.”
“These are the conditions,” said the king, his face like flint (which did not suit one whose glory was supposed to be greater than the sun).
“But how can the conditions ever be met on this island where the streets drink blood without conditions changing so that the conditions are more likely to be met?”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Why must you win every argument?" replied the Princess, "It isn’t endearing. People are suffering. What kind of good father would deny Christmas to their children? You told us that you love us.”
So here is the quandary, the mystery and here is the parable – that the good and kind king had seen how cold and dark his land had grown and truly understood the suffering of his people (having lived as one of them, in another land, a long time ago). Yet he denied them Christmas, saying it was the fault of his enemies, or of his children, or of his ghosts. Saying that conditions needed to be met, saying that his timing was perfect. And often saying nothing at all.
And still, the faithful robin princess and the people waited to see if a good King and Father would really delay Christmas on that cold, dark island for reasons known only to himself and his ghosts. And the robin princess, her heart broken because of the blood on the streets, knew that the only thing left to do was to keep on asking.
This short story leads on from last year's Halloween story in which two teenagers narrated a tale at a campsite near to which a river ran. Their names were Joe and Danny. The hero in their story was named Huckleberry. Sadly, all of the characters died in the end. But ol' man river carries on... The River Part 2
“Last year two teenagers drowned in this river.”
It had, of course, made the news. But the campsite hadn’t closed
down. Everyone had assumed that the teenagers were drunk. And after a few days
and a little grief, the news agenda had moved on, leaving only a few people to
invisibly grieve. The dead teenagers may as well have been invisible for all
the world cared. All that was left was a gaudy yellow and black sign on the
riverbank warning people not to swim there.
The wind that evening was like a messenger, as if a reminder
of grief. There was something about the river, especially at dusk, which made
people think of stories. Maybe it was the rush of the current, a flow which
seemed to speak of a flow of words. Or the bulrushes, long since having split
open with their gentle inner-life seeds to a cold reception.
Ezra and Jeremy were work colleagues on a fishing holiday.
Both were middle aged.
“I hate this time of the day,” said Ezra.
It was getting harder to see the orange fishing float as the
light faded. They had pulled up that morning in a huge campervan owned by
Jeremy. Work had been kind to them both. They were prospering and it seemed
right to take a break from their latest office success.
“It always reminds me of those stupid ghost stories I would
hear as a child. And I hate stories.”
Jeremy was not immune to being spiteful. In fact the two
men's entire relationship seemed to be based on a kind of teasing banter devoid
of any expression of outward concern.
“You arse. Why don’t I tell you a quick story and then we’ll
“No. I don’t want to hear it.”
“So, I’ve just got to think of a name for my hero…” Jeremy
looked around in the dying light, from the dark voice of the river to the black
silhouette of the trees.
And a whisper in the ear.
“’Huckleberry’. Yes, that’s right. Like Huckleberry Finn. I
like that. That’ll do. It just came to me. Anyway...”
“Please shut up. I hate stories.”
“I know you love them really Ezra. Anyway, Huckleberry, our hero, found
himself hunted by a werewolf.”
Ezra sighed, “Is that a spoiler? Was he in London? Isn’t
there a film about that?”
“Shut up. Huckleberry owned a massive campervan. Not as big
as mine, but okay for a civil servant's wage… Sure, he’s a civil servant, that’s
right… In fact Huckleberry’s campervan was so large that it caused huge
problems in terms of parking until Huckleberry secured some rental land for the
van to be parked on. He decided to go on holiday to Cornwall. That’s where
certain kinds of Londoner will always holiday. He had booked a spot on a
caravan site in Cornwall near the sea. There were woods nearby, huge pine trees
and a forest. And a monkey-puzzle tree, because they say that the devil sits in
“Are there many pines in Cornwall, I thought that was just
“Shut up. Huckleberry found himself surrounded by pine trees on a
camp site in Cornwall and he enjoyed his holiday until the last day. He had got
into bed in the massive campervan and he heard some strange noise at the
window. All of the curtains were drawn and there seemed to be a tapping noise or
a scratching at one of the windows. Annoyed by the sound, Huckleberry got out
of bed and went to the window, pulling open the curtains. Guess what he saw…”
“Your pretension personified?”
“Nothing. There was nothing at the window. Except for this
clawing in his heart and soul. It was like hypnosis, it was like a fever, it
was like the smell from some strange flower or like the song from a siren…. Do
you like that bit Ezra? That was really clever… Suddenly he felt an
overpowering inclination to leave the campervan and walk into the woods. So he
closed the door behind him, absent-mindedly locking it. Perhaps to prevent any
werewolf from getting into his bed and pretending to be his granny…”
Jeremy stopped there because he remembered that Ezra had
just lost his grandmother who had lived to a respectable 103. It was a little
like verbally falling into a river and getting a foot stuck in the muddy silt
on the river bed and not pulling the foot loose and climbing out. The river
sucked him deeper and he should have struggled but he didn’t struggle and
didn’t climb out for a moment or two.
“Anyway, storyteller-hater, it was to stop any intruder. And
Huckleberry turned towards the woods and there was a deep darkness. The cover
from the pines seemed to make the woods so dark. Pine needles carpeted the
floor. A little prickly, a little threadbare, but a carpet of a kind. And
Huckleberry was drawn into these woods. He had walked for a hundred or so
metres when he turned back and could only just see a light or two from the
caravan site. And he turned back up ahead and he saw something moving in the
woods and the calling, the pull of whatever it was still clawed at his soul and
he felt a hunger deep within him. It was a madness and yet it was like a
beautiful aroma which kept drawing him on…. Oh, that’s a clever bit too, I like
Anyway, he pushed through the harsh, sharp pine branches and
continued into the woods. All around him there were noises, a strange snuffling
noise. He though he saw a boar and he remembered tales he had once heard back
in London of how the devil had once turned into a black pig and the people of
the city had seen the black pig and that those who had seen it had soon died.
But he continued on and he saw something ahead. He realized that it was the
full moon and that he could see its light because there was a clearing up
ahead. And he stepped out of the woods into the strange circular clearing which
was surrounded on every side by thick woods. And up in the sky was the full
moon which seemed to laugh at him. Did you like that bit too Ezra? And look at
the moon tonight…” Jeremy pointed into the darkening sky.
“There’s no moon, it’s hidden behind the clouds and my moon
phase app says that it is fourteen percent waxing, so it’s not even full. You're deeply depressing me.”
But Jeremy was getting engrossed in his story and hardly
noticed the interruption.
“And Huckleberry wondered why it should laugh and why he
should imagine that it laughed. And there in the clearing were other dark
forms. There was a stone circle. In ages past, the ancestors had built a stone
circle in the middle of these woods, woods very much like those surrounding us
now, for a reason long forgotten. And Huckleberry wanted so much to stand in
the middle of the circle and yet he didn’t know why. But he obeyed this strange
compulsion, a compulsion which overrode even his most basic instinct for
survival (and for Huckleberry, that was no mean feat). So, he stood there, in
the night, under the laughing moon, in the middle of the dark woods and he
suddenly came to his senses. It was as if a spell had broken and suddenly its
hypnotic effect had no power. But there were now things moving on the periphery
of the woods. Strange shapes. Inhuman shapes. Forms which were not quite human…”
“Did you clone yourself again? Or was it Cthulhu?”
“…and then he realized what the forms were because they came
out from the woods and approached the stones. And he could see them clearly now
in the light of the laughing moon. They were werewolves. And their faces were
long, like the faces of wolves and their torsos were covered in fur and the
claws, the claws, can you imagine the claws?”
At this, in the latter dusk, Jeremy pressed the flashlight function on his phone,
shone it against a tree and set his hand far away from it but brought it down
closer to the torch light so that the shadow looked like it was a huge claw
coming towards Ezra. The shadow of a claw at least. The kind of trick which
could be played on a three year old.
Ezra was unimpressed.
“I’m only listening to this crap because I have to work with
“The claws Ezra, the claws…” he switched off the torch. “The
claws were huge, like serrated knives, like scimitars. Longer than any claws he
had thought werewolves (if he had believed in such things in sophisticated
London) could ever have had. And they approached. Now Huckleberry knew that
there was only one thing he could do. Well, there were a number of options, he
could surrender his life to those werewolves and those claws or else he could
run. But someone like our hero Huckleberry knows how to keep his head in a crisis
situation. So what he did was the action of a man who uses his brain. He used
the adrenaline in his body to climb one of the tall stones and then he crouched
at the top of the stone he had climbed…”
“Wait a minute, how did he climb the stone again?”
“He had good quality trainers and the stone had a rough
surface allowing him to climb.”
“Then why didn’t the werewolves climb too?”
“Their claws Ezra, their claws. The instruments which made
them such successful and merciless killers also prevented them from climbing.
So, they circled the stone on which Huckleberry crouched. From on top of the
stone Huckleberry could see that there were ten werewolves, and there were ten
stones and there was some kind of sacrificial stone in the centre, but he was
on top of one of the outer stones. And beneath him the werewolves howled in
hunger and frustration and he could see their hunger and he could see in their
eyes their hatred of what they themselves were but their powerlessness to
“You stole that line from that writer Angela Carter. That’s
“How would you know? You don't like stories. They simply did what they did
naturally, but part of them seemed to hate that, like the community of the damned
might. And Huckleberry’s legs hurt from his crouching but he was afraid to let
them hang down the stone so that the werewolves might tear at his feet with
those claws, so instead he had to sit cross-legged on the stone like a gnome.
And that was all he could do. He had nothing to throw at them. He would have to
wait until either help came or else morning came. But he took to screaming in
the hope that someone from the campsite would hear him. The people on the
campsite did hear the screams and the howls but they were too afraid to explore
“I don’t think Huckleberry would have gone into the woods in
the first place. Did you steal that idea too?”
“He was under a kind of enchantment from the werewolves,
Ezra, which they use to take their prey. So he sat on top of the stone and waiting
for morning. Soon his throat was ragged and sore from screaming and no-one came to save
him. But the morning was coming and he felt in his heart and in his knowledge
of folklore that the werewolves would retreat back to the woods to their lairs
or else revert to human form. So he waited. He was clever, so he simply waited, as, if he was patient and kept his calm, he knew he could survive this as he had
survived everything else life had thrown at him… that’s character building
Ezra, did you like that?”
“You really are a pretentious anus.”
“It took such a long time and the werewolves prowled around
the stones continually. But Huckleberry was patient and he simply waited and
concentrated on breathing techniques to keep himself calm and keep himself from
the strange enchantment which still clawed at his soul and made him wild and
willing to sacrifice himself so that it would all be over. In for seven, out
for eleven. In for seven, out for eleven. You should remember that, it's useful. Breath with me Ezra…”
“He resisted this delusion, this imp of the perverse (look that phrase up online Ezra), and he
resisted the werewolves and after a long, long time the dawn arrived. And it
was cold now and he shivered. One werewolf tried one last time to reach him and
failed. So the werewolves slunk back into the woods.
Soon Huckleberry was alone in the clearing on top of the
stone and the sun rose in the aching sky. His legs had locked and were painful. And
when he jumped to the ground they gave way from being in the same position,
because the night had been a physical torture as well as a psychological and
spiritual one. But it was day now and he lay on the ground breathing gasps of
joy at being saved and being alive. He was about to get to his feet and make
his way back to civilisation when he saw something once again on the edge of
the woods. It was the werewolves. They came boldly. No one had told them that
they had to return to their lairs and they were clever. So they raced towards
their food, our hero Huckleberry and tore into him with their claws. Huckleberry’s guts
spilled onto the grass and he was still alive to see himself split in half by
one of the claws on the central stone. He died screaming. Poor chap. Such is
the fate of civil servants.”
“Is that it?”
“This is why I hate stories. And stupid abrupt endings which resolve
nothing. It's dark, I'm going back.”
I was wrong. I really thought that the EU would veto an extension and there would be no deal. I resisted the temptation to bet on it because of ethics, but a bet of ten pounds would have made 160 pounds if there was no deal. It didn't happen, but all this is likely to resume on January 31st and who knows what has happened to Operation Yellowhammer now? Surely they should keep that going?
This is all boring politics. Anyone who is anyone (that's you faithful reader!) knows that tomorrow there is the annual Halloween story on this blog. It's your personal invitation to a Halloween party... cool to turn down, but so much cooler to attend.
It's all ready to roll... the Government isn't the only one with a plan...
It is called 'The River 2'. No faith-based didactic content in this one. Next year's story is likely to be called 'The River 3'. Like world wars, I think it important to think in terms of trilogies...
To anyone who is assuming that all 27 EU country leaders will agree to another extension before October 31st - have you ever watched how Britain does in the Eurovision song contest? And why is Operation Yellowhammer now in action? Anyway, whatever happens, the new Halloween story is all ready to roll on this blog - and free to read (yes free). Please don't say I don't give back to the culture. Think happy thoughts.