Sunday, August 21, 2016

the new normal

It was in the summer of 2016 that the new sporting normal finally asserted itself.

The old Soviet nations were struggling under the double whammy of large-scale drug suspicion and the collapse of any kind of state-sponsored support; China couldn't turn 1.4 billion citizens into more than a handful of medallists; and it was the supposedly traumatised British who came to the fore.

The reason? It was the brainchild of one of Britain's greatest Prime-Ministers, Sir John Major. History has been kinder to Sir John than his contemporaries often were. It was his introduction of a national lottery (with its emphasis on cultural and sporting projects as chief spending priorities) that in only twenty years transformed Team GB from failures at the bottom of the medal table in Atlanta to heroes in second place at Rio.

At a time when the nation was struggling with its identity, its place in Europe and the world, and indeed questions of whether it could even hold together, this global sporting success proved fundamental.

Nationalist politicians were ultimately powerless against the strength of repeated broadcasts of athletes wrapped in Union flags, tunelessly belting out God Save the Queen several times a day. And when Team GB finally beat Team USA to the head of the Olympic standings only eight years later, US Secretary of State Ryan Lochte described it 'like being held up and robbed at gun point'. President of the British Olympic Association, Lord Murray, replied with his characteristic dry wit, 'Well, he'd know'.

Of course, there were bumps on the road. There remain some faint memories of embarrassment that knighthoods used to be doled out to athletes who gained as few as four or five gold medals, and not necessarily at the same Olympiad. But those were different days, and we mustn't judge the past by the standards of today. After all, though it seems scarce possible now, at the time of the Sydney Millennium games even Australia was viewed as quite the sporting nation.

The most remarkable change took far longer. But eventually the old national football associations realised they were never going to win anything ever again and watched the Olympians with such envy that, five Olympiads after London 2012 the Great Britain Football Association was finally created.

And football (and with it the World Cup) duly came home.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

compromised

I have a confession to make.

The integrity of this blog has been seriously compromised.

I've always been proud of the fact that I have no party allegiance (apart, clearly and sensibly, from being strongly anti-Ukip) and have critiqued anyone and everyone from Jeremy Corbyn to Donald Trump. Even before politics got silly, Gordon Brown and George W Bush both received the tough side of my love.

And now I fear I have to declare an interest. The days of guaranteed impartiality on these pages may be nearing their end.

To be fair, anyone who has any knowledge of my voting record knows that it is remarkably colourblind. I've been privileged to be able to vote for friends in most of the places where I have lived. That means I have put policy and party and wider matters aside when I have stepped into the voting booth and voted largely for the person.

But now a man who used to be my next door neighbour, a man I first met as he cut out the roots of a tree in his garden next to my kitchen, a man who has cooked for me and poured me more glasses of wine than either of us could count, a man who has helped me in my darker hours and celebrated with me in all kinds of joy, a man who has walked with my dogs and whose kids have learned to play on my piano - in other words, a man I trust completely: a friend - this man is on the ballot for leader of the Labour Party.

So I am compromised. I have no impartiality. I am not qualified to speak to his politics, but about his character I will say:
Owen Smith is a good man, with a good heart, a heart and voice that says now for all to hear what I have heard in his home and mine for years.
I am a friend, and therefore biased, and my bias is based on this:
God has blessed me with many gifts, but the richest of them are my friends. I love Owen and Liz dearly, and am blessed indeed to have such friends as these.

So my blog may well be compromised.
But bring it on!

PS - if you don't yet know Owen well, perhaps this might help...

Friday, July 08, 2016

we rise again trying

There's been so much news recently that people have even been buying newspapers. Though as the news has been changing every hour, they've been more for a historical record than for keeping up to date.

The sliver lining, for now, is that That Man Farage seems to have gone. But as one can never believe anything he says, who knows whether he will stay away. Hopefully someone will make him illegal. There's one piece of censorship we can all agree on.

Except we can't.

An unelected bigot with a megaphone spooked the Prime Minister and forced us out of the European Union. Hopefully TMF will soon be confined to the pages that wrap chips, but his poison remains with us a while yet. We have work to do to get it out of our system.

The Tories are electing a woman leader and Prime Minister. If they have any sense they will follow this with a quick General Election; Gordon Brown learned what happens to Prime Ministers who don't ask the people to condone a political coronation. And the Labour Party is in such disarray that no-one has a clue what would happen if an election happened.

The Lib-Dems might gain seats.

The truth of the Referendum is that families can't speak without pain. Half of us are now "bad losers"; the other half of us are "ignorant racists" who had no idea what they were voting for. And I have no idea if those who are spoken of as taking over the two main parties have any kind of vision of unity for the country; some of their words I read demonstrate very party-based thinking, and in a world where we are already stuck in the trench-mud of polarisation and hatred, I'm kind of praying for more than this.

I'm getting the opportunity to practice the principles I'm praying about too.

In the Shire, we have some projects going on in the various churches, and one or two strong voices are speaking against them. I regularly talk about how it's fine to disagree - openly, kindly, with grace - so I can't complain when folk take me up on this and voice their differences. And indeed, I welcome it. A good project needs a lot of discussion happening, so difficult questions help. Though there are days...

And I have to be Rector for everyone. For those who think the projects are the best thing since sliced bread (wisely), and for those who can't understand why everyone isn't still cutting their own bread. With an axe...

Ronald Reagan said: The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally - not a 20% traitor. I'm not a Ronald Reagan fan, but I do like common sense, and this certainly qualifies as that. It certainly passes as essential wisdom in days when everyone rushes to pick sides and then shouts abuse at the other with a megaphone, or fails to speak at all.

In the Shire, what unites us is everything. What divides us is pifflingly small.

In the nation we need leaders who grasp that sense and walk us down that road. I don't really care what colour they wear on their political badges (I never have done).

And in the Church of England's General Synod, this is the weekend when those gathered will take time to talk and listen and think and pray about human sexuality again.

The book, Journeys in Grace and Truth, to which I contributed a chapter, has gained quite a lot of coverage around this. One conservative commentator, Ian Paul, does not like it (do read his review for yourself). I should count myself lucky; he calls my chapter "fascinating, moving and...highly engaging" - before picking holes. A lot of the time I feel he just doesn't quite get what the book is doing - and this makes me pause. For I realise that in these church discussions I am sure there are times when those who disagree with me stare at me like I'm stupid whilst thinking, "he just doesn't get it, does he?"

80%.

Friends and allies.

We need a vision for unity and leaders who can communicate this vision compellingly so that we are raised up from the polarising sickness of these days, the stinking trenches of our minds that mirror the warfare of a century ago and risk destroying millions more lives. It is not enough to be right. Those who come after us will have no idea what we thought was right or why. They will judge us by the way we divided the world friend from friend, family from family, son from mother, father from daughter, and they will have no comprehension how or for what tiny-minded reason we did it.

Unless, of course, we don't.

So I am pledging to love those folk who disagree with me in the Shire. To listen again to those who didn't like my chapter and see them as people with beating hearts and not mere producers of words on screens. For we do not end hatred with hatred but we overcome oppression with love.

And if it doesn't work, well, we rise again trying.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

grace and truth

Jayne Ozanne contacted me a few months back, asking if I would contribute to a resource she was preparing for the CofE General Synod.

The Synod will be discussing human sexuality in July, and Jayne wanted to offer a book for all members that came from Evangelicals who (through their encounter with Scripture) held different views than those who normally hold the airwaves with what is called the 'traditionalist' standpoint. Evangelicals who support gay people. Evangelicals who support gay relationships. Evangelicals who can find a place for gay people in the Church of God and the heart of God without having to use the word 'sin' somewhere in that place, and without having to throw their Bibles away either.

Well count me in.

I find myself in exalted company - the press around the book launch has focussed on the bishops involved (the Bishop of Liverpool and my own area bishop in this diocese, the Bishop of Dorchester), as well as other very public church figures.

I have been delighted to receive emails, texts and messages from folk who have read the book already, and I'm pleased to say they have been very positive about my few words. I must add that as I read it, I especially enjoyed Gavin Collins' chapter - he very much uses Scripture in a way that I appreciate - though the breadth of the book is excellent, and I do think it helps give a depth to the debate by re-framing the Evangelical perspective away from the one-dimensional 'traditionalist' stance.

Judge for yourself. You can find it on Amazon, or direct from Jayne.

And here's the Bishop of Liverpool talking about his take on it all:

Sunday, May 29, 2016

old friends and family


There's a piece I wrote on here, years ago, which finishes with the story of the passing of Gladys Gregory. A saint of God.

Her son was Stuart, warden & treasurer alongside John Murphy of fame and memory when I first arrived at Pontypridd. The photo here has them both at a picnic lunch we had in the vicarage garden there to celebrate the re-opening of church after the interior renovations in 2005. Alongside them, Gwyneth Williams, and behind her, Anne, Stuart's wife.

If ever I have to explain what keeping the fifth command looks like I need only describe Stuart and his mother. She cared for him beyond measure as he grew up; he repaid this love every day as she grew older. He watched over her decline, and (with heartbreak) the passing of Anne as well.

A quiet Anglican, he never really shouted about his faith. But worshipping with his fellow Christians was the bedrock of his life. He sang in the choir at St Catherine's from boyhood days till the choir morphed into music group in my time, and then he sang in the music group. He knew all the hymns; he had no idea on many of the worship songs, yet he stood at the front and worshipped any way.

He would tell a story of his grandmother's funeral - a time when the presence of Jesus was so thick in the room, that he expected to open his eyes and see him.

On Friday I drove to Pontypridd and attended Stuart's funeral. All the folk in that top photo are gone now. Like Gwyneth, St Catherine's was Stuart's home from home. Like Gwyneth, I expect he is overwhelmed by the wonders of Glory, and the joy of hearing those words - "Well done, good and faithful servant." At last, he's not outshone by John; at last, with his devoted Anne, he is now opening his eyes and seeing the great Love of his life.

I spoke a few words at the service in church and finished by saying: Stuart, we will miss you; thank you for being one of us; see you again one day.

Gill Tuck took the service, and she went on with the family to Glyntaff; I got waylaid. I hope Stuart wouldn't mind. I see the folk at St Catherine's so rarely, and one of the joys of remembering those old friends who go before us is that we do so with old friends still around.

So I took a little time with those who lingered in the church.

I'm often dumbfounded by those who say - "I don't need a church to worship God." I guess they actually mean "a church building", and if so, I completely agree. But a church is not a building, it is a people. It is relationships. It is - as Stuart and Gladys both knew so well - a family. Families have their moments; but we are bound together by something stronger.

I do need a church. I am not built to worship alone, though I do pray and worship and live with God daily in my own walk. But I belong to Jesus within his family. The process of leaving Pontypridd was  enormously hard because this was my family; I regularly get asked if I miss Wales, and the honest answer about the place is - no. But the people? Ah...

Here are Derek and Pauline, and Joyce and Gill and Stewart and Jason, and Jane and Teg. Ken and Trish and Julie and Alan and Andy and Enid and all sorts of others had already left by the time we thought to take the photo. I debated with a group of curates here recently about how close you get to folk in your parish; friends, or just friendly?

As I chatted over coffee and watched and listened and looked and saw, I thought of those who I saw through Ponty to Glory: Stuart and his mother, of John Murphy and his best mate Ken, of Gwyneth, of Cynthia; I thought of those I saw through Ponty to ordination: of Martin and Chris, of Wayne, of Miles, of Karsten; I thought of those I saw through Ponty to places far and wide, and of those who shared the journey for a while: of Dan and Kirsty, of Richard and Naomi, of Matt, Matthew & Sion. I looked at the people around me and thought of the folk back in the Shire.

Friends, just friendly, or...

Another question occurred: when folk meet me, I am often asked - Do you have a family? They mean are you married, and my usual answer is - No, it's just me and a Springer. But seriously, next time I get asked "Do you have a family", I really must reply -

O yes. So many of them. You wouldn't believe it.  

Monday, May 02, 2016

friends, shysters and BBQ tests

So my holiday slowly draws to a close.

I've had a great time. Later this year, I hit one of those, you know, "significant" birthdays, and so I decided I would spend all year catching up on friends. When I planned this trip I hoped I'd be able to see a few folk as well as Gill and Ben, and so it has worked out.

It's a long list - in addition to the Owens family here in Florida, I've had time with JD Walt and his family in Franklin, Tennessee, with Tom Fuerst from Memphis, with Jared and Krystal Ribble from Nashville, with Mark Benjamin in Asbury Seminary and Sean and Rebecca Gladding in Lexington, and with Tory and Elizabeth Baucum in Virginia. That last stay gave me chance to catch up with a few other friends in the DC area - especially Graeme Chambers and Karen Wilson - and to lecture at the Truro Church, Fairfax VA, version of the St Paul's Theological Centre on "Romans in an Hour" for Matt Hemsley and his eager crowd of Saturday morning theologians.

These are fascinating times to visit the US. There is an election going on that defies reason. I have met no-one - no-one - who supports Donald Trump, yet he seems to have the Republican nomination sown up. I have met several who sort-of support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presumptive nominee, though I have yet to meet an out-and-out Hillary enthusiast. I have met Bernie Sanders enthusiasts - including some who know it's crazy to be so enthusiastic about a man who is clearly unrealistic, but who remain amazingly motivated by him anyway. And I have met folk who deeply support the (very much) third placed Republican, John Kasich, a man we in England know almost nothing about.

(Interestingly, the story I heard about Kasich, and from different sources, is of a man of deep principle, a man of faith but not bigotry, a man who draws different sides together, and a man whom one Democrat I spoke to would vote for if he were the Republican nominee given either Bernie or Hillary as the Democratic candidate simply because they see Kasich as a far better option for the country.)

It's hard for a foreigner ever fully to understand an election in someone else's country. Having visited here many times, and lived here briefly a long time ago, I guess I dare risk my ignorance (and your patience) just a little. And the folk I've spoken to seem to think my thoughts not so wide of the mark as to be ridiculous.

So: I just don't get Trump. I don't get why so many folk have voted for him. I do understand that sometimes America can be brash and insular, and that in the wider world today there is a rise of fear and isolationism that wants us to put up barriers and hide from everyone else. Trump plays to those fears. But the majority of Americans I have always known have been typified by politeness, kindness, good manners and speaking well of each other. This is the best of their country and it is a reality within it. Why would anyone elect a man who trashes the best of their country with a slogan (Make America Great Again) when everything he does is about broadcasting the opposite?

One of the people I spent time with here actually worked for Trump at one time. Their judgement was far, far more condemnatory than anything I offer. Yet people are still voting for him.

I'm left wondering if Trump is a shyster or a Hitler. I don't know if he speaks without thinking and every word that comes out is thoughtless to the future, an opportunistic grab for present power, unscrupulous, unethical, but also unplanned. Or, if he is methodically sowing dislike and hatred of others, and through this methodical sowing of hatred, bringing violence as a commonplace into the political arena. And once he has power, the way in will be the way on. The power of the mob that got him elected will be the power of the militia that keeps him in place. God help us all.

To my shock, I have found folk here who fear exactly the same.

So I sit out in the Florida sunshine and pray - God bless America. Don't grant her the leaders she deserves, but the leaders all of us need at this time. We should all get off our backsides and on to our knees because this fairground sideshow election has the power to change the world for everywhere and for ever. I am not saying - pray for Hillary. Or (heaven help us) Ted Cruz.

I am saying that sitting back and passing comment on the electoral process of another nation (as lots of us in the UK are doing) or even of your own (my US friends) and not getting down and asking God to help us at this time is to risk re-arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. I don't know what the "right" answer is. I might suggest however what a right question could be:

O Lord, please help the US as it completes this electoral cycle, to make good choices. And deliver us all from evil. Amen.

When it comes to the election in November, I have a very confident prediction for you.

Simply apply the BBQ test. America votes for the president it wants to go to the BBQ with. Every time. They did not want to go to the BBQ with Mitt Romney four years ago. I'm not sure anyone wanted to go to the BBQ with Michael Dukakis, back in the day. Al Gore fell foul of this. Presidents Carter and Bush Snr too. And this time, I don't think Hillary is a particularly good BBQ candidate; though she may just be a better option for many than Trump. If, however, the Republicans can yet use their byzantine process to come up with someone else, this simple test may yet work in their favour.

Or we could club together and buy an island in the South Pacific somewhere and sit it all out...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

thanks

The Llandaff Clergy School is in Oxford this week, and I took a trip into town to see if I could catch a few folk whilst they were there.

It was lovely to see Peter, still working on building projects at St Catherine's; Irving, whose wisdom helped me through some difficult days in my first curacy; Chris, who was once a neighbour; Roger, who used to live in one of my parishes.

Archbishop Barry gave a moving address at the recent Church in Wales Governing Body, speaking of the impact of his wife's death at the start of the year. It was typically honest of him, and filled with faith and yearning, and a very Welsh sense of God and Gospel. I found it beautiful.

I was delighted especially therefore to catch both Barry and also Christopher Smith, Archdeacon of Morgannwg.

When I was at my lowest, in 2010, broken and ill and needing help, these godly men supported me in all sorts of ways. There were days when I was not charitable toward them at the time - there were days I was not charitable toward anyone at the time - but they went out of their way to help, to give me time, to give me opportunity and to provide for me so that I could begin the road to recovery. I am healthy and thriving in ministry now largely because of them.

It is always a pleasure to spend even the briefest of moments with them, and it was a special delight to be able to thank them yesterday for their role in those weeks and months and to talk about life now. Barry ensured I had space and provision to go to Asbury for a season which began my healing; Christopher believed in me when I had forgotten how to. In the pain of those days, I was sometimes quick to tell folk how I felt wounded by the church. It's only fair in the light of these days that I point out I had an archbishop and an archdeacon putting time and money and belief and commitment into helping me through...

Barry has been Archbishop of Wales since 2003. When he eventually comes to retire, I hope he is judged kindly. He has certainly not hidden from controversy! But for me, he was always thoughtful, caring, an inspiring preacher and a real friend.

And he, and Christopher, along with many others, will always, always have my thanks for all the life-affirming care they gave me.

I recently preached a sermon in which I commented on those who say "I don't need to go to church to worship God". Remembering that church is the people, not the building, my response, especially as I meet up with friends like these is -
"Well I do".

congratulations



The Gospel reading in our Sunday services this week was the story from John 21 about Jesus and Peter having breakfast on the beach after the Resurrection. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and tells him to follow him once more.

It's a story I love for all sorts of reasons, but largely because it reminds me of an occasion years ago when I was almost overcome by the struggle of life.

It was my second year at theological college. I had to pull out of the degree course and swap to the certificate course because I was unwell and needed less stress. I had been asked to join a mission trip to Jerusalem to work with the two Anglican churches there, and my doctor thought it would do me good. But I still felt like a failure.

After the mission week, we got to tour around Galilee and other sites, but still I was grumpy. Everywhere we went, we just got out of the cars, took a photo, got back in the car and drove off. I wanted to take time, to breathe the air Jesus had breathed, to smell the scents, to take it all in.

So after we stopped at the Mount of Beatitudes I stomped off in a sulk. I know, can you believe, me in a sulk..?

One member of the group came to me and told me it was OK - if I wanted time alone I could have it. Everything was close together on the lake. There was a bus back to Tiberias where we were staying. I'd be fine.

"Good," I said, the embodiment of grace. And they left. Taking my lunch with them.

So I wandered down through the orange groves to the lakeside and sat on the beach by Tabgha, the site of the breakfast story. I was all alone. It was a grey day, with a mist on the lake, no other tourists anywhere in sight, and I cried out to God. I wanted to serve him, I wanted to be ordained - but I couldn't even succeed in training for ordination. I was failing at everything.

And in my misery I felt him whisper in my ear. Find a stone. I paused, bent down, picked up a rock from the beach. He whispered again. See how it looks like an arrow head? So I am sending you. It will be OK.

And I got up, popped the rock in my backpack and walked back up to the road - but time had passed, and the evening was setting in, and I needed to get home. I found the bus stop - and discovered the timetable was entirely in Hebrew. I never quite made Hebrew class at college. For the first time, this caused me some regret. I had no idea if there was a bus, what time it would come, or if I would be standing there till Tuesday week. So I decided to start walking the eight miles back to Tiberias.

Maybe I'd thumb a lift?

Maybe I'd be shot for that gesture in Israel...

I put my hand out occasionally as cars passed me by. And then one stopped. An old red thing. A Nissan I think. And the driver seemed nice enough. He was, it turned out, a professor at a Hebrew university, a philologist - and he spoke five or six languages. English was number five or six.

We chatted in pigeon English and pigeon French, and he asked what I did. I told him I was training to be a priest.

And then he said words which completed my day. My week, my year. Words I have never forgotten. Words, the like of which I thought only ever got spoken in the movies. But they were spoken to me. On the beach I had felt like a failure. By the time we got to Tiberias I felt ten feet tall.

No longer was God whispering in my ear. He was driving me home.

Those simple words which pierced my soul were:

"If you want God's want, you are - how you say - Congratulations."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

bach to the future


This afternoon I attended a memorial service for a friend from college. Nigel was at Merton for eight years, starting before me, and was CU Rep there the year before me. He died two years ago. He was a kind, gentle, generous man.

Nigel was softly spoken and always thoughtful. He constantly encouraged me as I organised the CU with Karen Wilson, and when he and I would occasionally bump into each other through the years that quiet encouragement would always shine through.

The last time we met was in the college chapel in Merton just before Easter in 2014. He was as gracious as ever. We shared stories briefly. He smiled his melancholy smile; our parting words were that we would meet there again at  some other choir event.

The gathering today was filled with friends from thirty years ago. It was lovely to see familiar faces - and also to suddenly realise that one or two unfamiliar faces were in fact also simply familiar ones subtly obscured by the mists of passing time. Some folk have hardly changed at all; some of us (I include myself) are pretty obscure now.

David, Andrew, Claudia, Carolyn, Mike, Ann, Frances, Louise, Ruth - it was like Wednesday nights of old; how marvellous to see you all and to hear the tiniest fragments of the last thirty years. Thankfully most will be back in Oxford for the college Gaudy (reunion) after Easter. Louise reminded me of an occasion I had all but forgotten; I did the same for her. Her reading of Ephphatha in Mark's Gospel has never left me... One person recounted seeing a gathering of former students from the 1950s when we were undergraduates and thinking how ancient those folk were.

Of course, they were from thirty years before our time. We are now their equivalents. It's back to the future. Our faces almost fit, our voices almost match, our smiles almost work - even in memoriam - though the Porter's Lodge has electric doors, and there are chairs at some of the tables in Hall rather than benches, and someone has landed a behemoth of an organ where once in chapel there was a dainty faux-baroque thing on stilts.

Yet: this afternoon I discovered that now again in Blackwells Music Shop it is possible to acquire LPs - genuine vinyl. And so it was Bach to the Future for me, as just before the service I bought Alfred Brendel playing JSB. I think it's illegal now to play Bach like this, but you can get a permit to own a recording if it comes at 33 1/3 rpm.

Nigel was a fine pianist, and he loved Bach. I think he'd enjoy Brendel's playing, and the warmth of the sound I am listening to as I type this.

It has a gentleness, a soft melancholy, a kindness to it that is rather wonderful. My world is all the better for it.  

Friday, January 01, 2016

blessings

As midnight struck, and gathered friends all wished each other "Happy New Year", I realised with a surprising depth of shock that this year brings another Birthday.

Not a birthday, you understand. A Birthday. One of those Birthdays that make you ask, "How did that happen?"

How did that happen?

Too many blessings to number. Too many kindnesses received. Too many mistakes forgiven and forgotten. Not enough good done by me, and too much good done to me. And though there are times I wish I could blot out, wipe away, go back and tell myself to avoid or do differently, there are more times - so many more - that I cherish beyond words, with folk near and far and gone before who make all these days glorious.

I stood at midnight with a surprising depth of shock at what this year promises to bring; but on reflection the deeper surprise lies in gifts already received.

Ahead can only be hope that such blessings might not yet run dry.

Here's a seasonal song - the saddest of all Christmas songs - but the wish behind it is that we might get the chance to be together; as I start this year, I offer a Happy New Year, and a hope that I do indeed get to see as many friends near and far and old and new as possible in the months ahead. You are always the blessings I seek.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

happy

The remarkable news is that many people again received actual Christmas cards from me this year.

Unfortunately, you probably weren't one. 

That's because "many" actually means "more than three". So this is my appallingly weak apology to the rest of my friends and family. It's not that you are second best or that I love you less. Well, not much less. It's just that I looked at the list before me and realised you knew already in your heart of hearts that the chances of getting a card from me was very slight, and so I didn't want to disappoint you. By overachieving.

Anyway, nothing I could have written (and those who got cards realise that all I wrote was "squiggle, squiggle, even more indecipherable squiggle") could have beaten some of the Christmas letters I received. 

I haven't changed nationality, species, hair colour, address details with Barack Obama, my mind over anything all year. That apart, it's been a very exciting twelve months.

So exciting that I can't really find the words to describe it. Which is a mercy to all of us. So really, all I can do is exclaim - 

Happy Christmas! Which is the point of this message. Or, to those of you who became Corbynites this year, Happy Christmas Comrades! Or to this of you yet to see the new Star Wars movie, ***** ******** (plot spoilers removed). Or to Man United supporters, Happy Christmas 2016. Hopefully. 

God bless us, every one.