Wednesday, May 29, 2013

the things we gain

The things we gain in life that really matter are few and far between.

In the small town where my sister lives, someone has won an extraordinary amount of money on the lottery. An extraordinary amount.

Really, you have to feel sorry for them. Their life has just finished. If it was known who they were, their kids would no longer be safe, they would be besieged by needy people asking for help, their families would fall apart as people struggled with the unfairness of their generosity (or perceived lack thereof).

It's a small town. They'd have to leave, quickly and quietly moving out of state to start new lives, gain new friends, hoping all the while that the extent of their wealth was never known.

Gaining that is losing the lottery of life.

Sure, I'd like a bit more cash. I'd like to be able to buy a slightly nicer house than the one I rent, drive a slightly newer car, not worry about affording holidays. The usual things.

And then I count my real wealth.

I was chatting last week to a friend, someone I first met through my current work, and I said - the important thing is the people you meet. He retorted - no, you meet some jerks. The important thing is the friends you make.

He's right.

On this trip I've spent some great time working with friends, talking with friends, catching up and relaxing with friends. Above all - eating with friends. I will need to exercise when I get home; I have been fed like a king by friends and family alike! And I'm talking about the food, and I'm talking about the relationships too.

Like everyone else, there are days I dream about a better bank balance.

And then I see how rich I am. And I'm grateful.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


They're dropping like ninepins. The last Pope, the Dutch Queen, Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes - and now today the ultimate icon of our age has announced his retirement.

At the age of 38, David Beckham is to retire from football.

I can't remember how many times I wateched him in the red of United at Old Trafford. Even when he left, even when his passion seemed to dim for a while, nothing could take away from the memory of his precision passing, his peerless crossing of the ball, his match-winning free kicks, and the odd wonder goal.

This is a favourite game of mine. I was there with my mate Chris, a West Ham supporter. Being with me in the North Stand (as then was) Chris sat on his hands as Paolo Wanchope scored, and then stood and cheered with the rest of us as United put seven past his own team.

And what a display of United in that period it was: a Scholes hat-trick, a Beckham free kick, an Andy Cole goal and the obligatory strike from super-sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Two of the goals come from Beckham crosses, pinging in bang on target with fearless accuracy from the dead ball line.

It's easy to look at DB and smirk about the voice, the haircuts, the tattoos, the wife, the decline of his powers as he passed thirty.

But I have to question that attitude.

When we require our heroes to be more than they are (so a footballer must be intelligent, but heaven forbid he's an intellectual) don't we make a crucial mistake? Surely we stop enjoying what makes someone so special, looking at what they are and instead we look at what they are not. We fail to see remarkable positives and stare at a void that shouldn't ever take our attention. "Beethoven - I mean, yes, he could play piano, and he wrote some interesting music, but he totally failed to grasp his potential with the Indian market."

No-one wins on that score. The kicks are free, but pointless, and the goal behind them is purely destructive.

David Beckham inspired a million kids - more in all probability. He may not have been quite the greatest footballer ever, but he was right up there. Watching him play was a joy. And I am grateful. I will always value the memories I have of his distinctive style and that red, United no.7 shirt on his back.

He inspired me, gave me great joy, and the world has changed with the end of his playing years. Thanks David. I wish you well for whatever you do next.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Sometimes in life it's good to have treats. I've just had a weekend full of them. 

We had a work event at the House of Lords on Friday night. In all honesty, I went there feeling a bit blase. But with good colleagues, and with the fun of being on the Terrace and helping lead a tour, it was all rather fun. 

Sometimes the things you don't think too much of turn out to be really great.  

Next day I had lunch on Saturday with Tory, my dear friend, and we shared stories and life and insight and joys and frustrations. And treats. He was in London, visiting from DC for a few days. Next weekend, I am in DC, visiting for a few days. We will meet again then.

Sometimes the things you really look forward to are amazing.

I'd made a decision to go to Covent Garden to see the Royal Opera perform Verdi's Don Carlo whilst I was in London. I didn't have a ticket, but there are a few always available on the day, and my wonderful friend Rosy was up for it - so we turned up at 7.30am and waited. I especially love Jonas Kaufmann's voice, and the chance to hear him sing 'live' in the Opera House was something I didn't want to miss. 

I've been to more operas than I can remember. Here are my top three: Aida in Florence in the mid nineties. Turandot at Covent Garden about ten years ago. And Saturday night's Don Carlo

Very rarely do you see something so close to perfection that you never want to see it again. David Tennant's Hamlet. Jane Eaglen's Turandot. The whole darn cast on Saturday. It was an immense experience.   

On Sunday morning, after breakfast and conversations and nearly staying too late, I treated myself to a very different experience of church to my usual weekly diet of Calverley parish. I went to Westminster Abbey. I've never really been there before; I mean - I've wandered into the nave. I've never paid the extra and seen the Quire or Poet's Corner. I've never been to a service. To worship feet away from where the Queen was crowned was awe inspiring. To praise the King of kings in this place has a remarkable resonance. I know the double patriotism of the Christian and the earthly belonging is viewed by some as suspect; I see the point, but also find it capable of wonder and value. 

The choir sang beautifully; Vernon White, Canon Theologian, preached superbly. The combination of a really quite touching and emotive sermon and splendid Cathedral style worship was beautiful. 

Then I walked through the cool spring sunshine, and enjoyed the sudden crowds. It had been quiet when I'd arrived. It was quiet no more. London is full of tourists, and that included me. I don't belong there, and have no desire ever so to do. But I do enjoy visiting. I do enjoy the treats. I do enjoy the opportunity to see and hear and marvel at gifts and excellence and beauty. I enjoy stopping and thinking about Churchill as he gazes still at the Houses of Parliament, at the Unknown Soldier alone returned from war, at the statues of once-famous men that pop up unbidden around every corner, at palaces and offices and shops and spaces and people who affect me because I am a person too, being treated to moments shared with those who never knew me.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Hall of Infamy

In February he defended himself to the hilt. He was innocent. He would regain his reputation.

In May he admitted guilt.

Stuart Hall, a man in his eighties, an Icon of broadcasting on these shores, a presenter of It's a Knockout and news and sports, a wordsmith, one of the glories of the BBC.

Guilty of indecent assault against thirteen women. One of them a nine year old girl. No matter that these charges are historic; no matter that the last of these crimes dates from nearly thirty years ago. His sins have found him out.

It's almost too painful a story.

For the victims, the avuncular tea-time TV host turned their lives to secret horror. And fear. And shame.

For his own family, the man they love has betrayed that love with sordid acts & the get-away-scot-free mentality of Celebrity that caused him to deny, deny and deny again.

For the man, his whole working life thrown away by wandering hands. Everything he ever did lost and replaced by a reputation he never sought, but earned as he now signs the sex offenders register.

For the rest of us, bewilderment. There are icons we see smashed and (frankly) something in us doesn't care. Public figures are brought low, and sometimes something in us even enjoys the process. And then occasionally there are those whose demise leaves us bereft. Even though we feel for the victims. Even though they deserve their shame. Even though they have been despicable, and not merely unlucky or foolish.

It's a bereavement. There was something certain - this was a good guy - and now the rug has been pulled, and the memory of his laughter pouring out of our TVs becomes hollow, eerie, creepy. This wasn't a good guy. The certainty was built on sand, like the castles on It's a Knockout.


Regular readers know my form. This is where I add a spiritual bit, where I turn things slightly and make us think about ourselves and don't let anyone get off lightly but also add some mercy. God is in this somewhere.

God is in this somewhere, for sure. I'll probably read someone else's blog and wish I'd written their words.

All I can add is that many years ago, someone wronged me deeply. They were regarded as a good person, and as far as I know that's still how they are seen. They never apologised to me, though to be fair I've not looked for that. I don't need such an apology, and I don't need anyone else to tell me that what they did was wrong either. What was done hurt me more than I understood at the time, and went deeper than I knew. You can't always choose the hand you are dealt - but sometimes you have to choose how you play that hand.

What did I choose? Slowly, very slowly, I learned to forgive.

It was painful, and it dominated my thinking in ways I hardly spoke of to anyone.

But it actually happened. For real.

Twelve years elapsed before I next saw this person; and in that time I often wondered how I would speak to them, what I would say, what I would ask. In the end, it was a non-event. A chance meeting. Casual. And I realised that I didn't need to say anything because, actually, I had forgiven them. I haven't seen them since.

God had walked me through painful years and together his & my tears had washed me clean. No - that's how it felt; the reality is different. The reality is that this is a broken old world, with a God who loves it so much he shed his own blood as well as his tears. I was as much forgiven as forgiving - if not for that, for other things. This was not a monster with whom I spoke, just another person; I was not a victim anymore, just another person.

I do not think that court cases, judgements and falls from grace end stories from the Halls of Infamy. But I do believe in forgiveness. Forgiveness that transforms victims into more than conquerors, and restores monsters back to humanity.