For the love of single people…

…have a seating plan at your wedding!

Well, maybe not for all single people, but think about your guest list. Are there single people coming who might not know anyone there other than the bridal party? If so, have a seating plan so they have an assigned place to sit and assigned people with whom to make conversation with. Heck, maybe even use it as an opportunity to set them up with another single person on your guest list! [Just, for the love of your friends, choose carefully. I had a really bad set-up at a wedding once and it nearly put me off the friend…] In fact, I’ve already had conversations with brides getting married later in the year who were already – without my prompting – thinking of male guests they could pair me with. Those, dear readers, are excellent friends. I know some people think they’re a pain – but what isn’t fun about a colour-coded chart?!

Anyway, Saturday’s wedding – of one of my oldest friends – had no seating plan. Being a classic introvert, I resisted choosing a seat amongst total strangers (and almost exclusively happy couples/families) and waited until the last minute, at which point I discovered a fellow singleton who was willing to pair up with me for table security. Fortunately, we vaguely knew each other – just hadn’t seen each other in about a decade. This could have been a happy ending, were it not for the fact that the only tables with seats left were in an ante-room off the main hall, whose other tables were already occupied by the (estranged until a few years ago) extended family of the groom. We found an empty table and set off to avail ourselves of the buffet, assuming that others would join the table by the time we returned.

They did not. For the whole meal I was sat next to this guy with no one else to talk to. It was fine, we had some good banter (though I did spend a very long time trying to remember which of the girls in our group of friends he’d dated when we were at school) and he was at least something of a conversationalist. Of course, I should have predicted that a guy who had confessed to being an atheist when I mentioned I was a trainee priest (and who is something of an intellectual) would come out with some cracking questions – like asking me for my rationale for my belief in God.

It’s not that I minded the question or answering it, it’s just that getting into philosophical debate at a wedding isn’t necessarily my idea of a good time – especially after a couple of drinks. So I did what anyone else would do, I tweeted about it and got a surprising amount of tweets back – after which I felt a tad guilty, he was only asking a logical question after all! We then had the faith chat with a wider group of people, largely consisting of the children of clergy (including one atheist who could have been a 5th generation vicar). Oh, and later, just for good measure, the two of us discussed the pros and cons of the institution of marriage…deep.

Thing is, had there been a seating plan, we’d almost certainly have been sat together. (No exaggeration, aside from a bridesmaid and the brother of the bride, we were the only single adults there.) It just would have been a lot less awkward had there been other people sat at our table and may have diffused the philosophical banter. On the plus side though, we managed to acquire some extra booze. Every cloud…

Oh, and you know what you definitely should have at a wedding?
A bouncy castle that adults can use and an unlimited ice cream sundae bar. Awesome.

Happy History?

Much to my amusement, last year my little sister starting teaching history to 11-14 year olds. I say ‘amusement’ because firstly, she’s actually a drama teacher and that’s what she teaches most of the time; secondly, I have two history degrees whereas she gave it up after AS levels (though, in her defence took a couple of modules at uni).

We struck a deal that should she ever get to a bit of history that needs explaining, or needs more background info, or some random facts, she’d come to me. Admittedly, I have a sketchy knowledge of many bits of history. I ended up specialising in the history of the British Empire [I rant about this here] and honestly, there’s probably no one currently living who knows more about Methodist missionaries & Maori education in NZ between 1848 & 1853…(I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a niche subject!)
Anyway, I digress. Over a drink on Friday, my sister mentioned that one of her pupils had asked her why all the history they studied was sad, so she’d decided to have a “Happy History” themed lesson to show them that of course not all of it was bad. Thing was, she was stuck for ideas.
I thought. Our friends thought. No one immediately had a bright idea. The only thought that struck me during the whole conversation was the invention of the Pill. Surely that was a happy event in history?!
But the thought’s been bugging me and it’s a fascinating question. All the supposedly happy historical events that come to mind – wars ending, abolition of slavery, decolonisation – had negative aspects for the other side, for other people:
The end of WW2 came at the cost of millions of lives, particularly those killed by atomic bombs in Japan. The abolition of slavery is celebrated throughout the world, yet its end caused a bloody war and slavery still exists today. Many nations who received their independence were in chaos just years later thanks to civil war.
This evening I’ve thought of some which I’d like to regard as “happy” but there’s still a niggling voice in my head saying “but what about….??”. I give you:
The fall of the Berlin Wall. [But what about the Germans who liked living under Communism? Like in Goodbye Lenin?]
Man on the Moon. [What about those who died in the Space Programme before and after?]
The freeing of Nelson Mandela & the end of apartheid in South Africa. [Struggling to think of anything negative, but it did have a negative impact on some Afrikaneers, and you can’t ignore it, even if the end of apartheid was absolutely the right thing.]
And what about cultural history – like the birth of famous composers, writers, scientists. Surely that’s fairly happy and uncontroversial?
If anyone can think of any others, I’d be most grateful! Maybe we could then all celebrate with a “Happy History” month, or something similarly fun and not at all dorky. Or maybe, like the big sign proclaiming “Physics is Fun!” in my school Physics lab, “Happy History” is in fact a total oxymoron.


Since the weekend, I’ve been having the most amazing e-mail dialogue with a total stranger, thanks to the wonders of the internet.

No, I’ve not re-entered the world of online dating! It’s actually something far more sensible and enlightening.

Having posted my protest photos on flickr on Sunday, I received a comment on one of them from an Israeli girl in Haifa, who asked how I had become so interested in the Palestinian situation. It wasn’t a confrontational comment, simply a genuine enquiry, so I replied and every day this week has seen a continuation of the conversation. It’s not angry or attacking, just two people sharing their thoughts regarding a conflict that they don’t agree with, but for different reasons.

I’m not going to say much (because I have other plans for this dialogue in the future and I’ve not asked her permission to show the messages in full), but I just wanted to share with you a few of her comments that have really got me thinking.

Firstly, challenging my belief in pacifism:
“I wish I had the privilege to be a pacifist. I can’t. For every fact that you will raise, I have a thousand counter backs. That only shows you that both sides are right- Israeli and Palestinians. There is not only one truth as there is not only one solution.”

Secondly, an interesting philosophical dilemma:
“Now i wish to ask you a question. Is there a difference between a situation with the same result, but with different intentions? When a terror bomber explodes himself on a bus wishing to kill many people, including children, or when a soldiar wishing to kill someone with blood on his hand mistakenly kills a child, does it count that the first guy wished for it and the second one didn’t?”

I’ve replied to both these comments with my own views and feelings, but philosophically, it’s hard. Pacifism is an idealistic belief which hasn’t yet seen any success in political circles, as many years of studying history has taught me. Similarly, I believe that all killing is wrong, but that God will judge those who kill in the end. But accidents do happen, and I have sympathy for soldiers who kill civillians unintentionally. I have even more sympathy for soldiers forced to be in the military, like those in Israel on their compulsory military service.

The bottom line is that I’m really grateful that this person has got in touch with me and is leading me into a fascinating and challenging discussion about something that I am hugely passionate about. And I’m even more grateful that it’s happening in a peaceful and non-confrontational way.

Life’s important questions

This is a piece of paper I came across recently during a rather mammoth weeding & archiving operation that’s been taking place in my office.

There’s no indication of where it’s from, but I’d love to know if it was someone’s warped idea of an ice-breaker!

My plan’s to keep this over my desk for a while as it gives me a wonderful sense of perspective at a time when work in general is not so great…in fact, I won’t even have a job at this rate in about 6 week’s time.

Ikea Philosophy

Not sure if this totally rings true, but I liked its sentiment. And it’s not often you see philosophy amongst the Flarkes, Ektorps, Billys and Bennos…