Man’s best friend

The question of whether animals have souls (and thus, whether any of our furry friends will be joining us in heaven) is one that has perplexed Christians across the years. A quick google of ‘do animals go to heaven’ will take you to a whole host of sites exploring Biblical texts and theological arguments, so I won’t bother to do that here.

What is clear in the nation of animal lovers that Britain is, animals are no strangers to the church. Church cats are fairly common (as are the rodents they’re supposed to remove); pet blessing services are not uncommon – particularly in rural areas; a central London church conducts an annual ‘blessing of the horses’ service; and livestock can (and often is) used augment the liturgical seasons.

There are horror stories, of course. Like the tale of the donkey employed by a parish to bring a touch of reality to Palm Sunday. Unfortunately, it gave up the ghost in the church’s vestibule – before it had completed its starring role in the re-telling of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Apparently, it’s quite difficult to move a dead donkey, and even harder when small children are crying and demanding to know why they can’t have a ride on it.

Then there are the animals that turn up simply because their owners have chosen to bring them. Yesterday, on my second Sunday of church visiting, I spotted two canine members of the congregation…

Both were of the ‘very small and slightly pointless’ genre. One was a rather attractive tiny Daschund (in my opinion not quite so pointless, as it’s not the kind of dog you’d carry around in a handbag, plus, it literally resembles a mini ‘proper’ dog). The other was an utter fur-ball (one could even say overgrown squirrel), (probably a Pomeranian) that wouldn’t look out of place in a designer handbag belonging to Paris Hilton.

Fur-ball was across the aisle and a couple of rows up from me, so I had an excellent view of him all through the service. [I know it was a he because I overheard the owner talking about him after the service.] The owner’s child took him outside at frequent intervals and most of the rest of the time it sat in the aisle, adjacent to the pew. There, it spent a great deal of time staring at me, which was just slightly disconcerting.

It was also on a retractable lead – meaning that (in theory) it could easily be retrieved if it wandered off. At one point it did just that, sauntering across the aisle to the pew opposite, trailing its lead across the width of the aisle, creating a near-invisible trip hazard just before the collection was taken up. Sadly, for lovers of comedy falls, a steward swiftly asked the owner to retract the lead, but it didn’t stop me imagining potential calamities throughout the prayers.

Fur-ball also went up for communion. I’m not sure if he received a blessing or any of the elements, doctrinally I believe either would be controversial. Truly, this is inclusivity at its most extreme.

The service wasn’t a long one, dogs are usually quite happy with a bit of peace and quiet, so why the need to bring them to church? I believe ours quite happily settles down in a patch of sun, listening to the Archers omnibus on Radio 4 while my parents head off to church. Each to their own, I suppose.

Burn baby burn

A four-day British heatwave has drawn to a close. Miraculously, a weekend fell right in the middle of it, enabling the population to make the most of the sun. Spending much of the weekend in assorted London parks I had plenty of opportunity to observe what happens to the British when the sun comes out…

Essentially what occurs is that they (we) lose touch with reality. After all, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Not only do the Brits head outside when the sun is at its strongest, they do so in the skimpiest of clothing and with minimal protection.

First off, let me confess that I’ve been guilty on both counts. I forgot the sun-cream on Saturday (but after purchasing more on Sunday I have carefully re-applied it diligently) and did wear a vest-top under my t-shirt yesterday so that I could avoid a tan-line over lunch in the park. [I’m slightly ashamed of doing this second thing as not quite two years ago I criticised others for similar actions.]

But, why do we seem to think that the British sun can’t damage us? Sure, we don’t see much of it and are probably severely deficient in Vitamin D, but risking skin cancer? Foolish. Don’t people realise that in most hot climates people cover up in the sun in order to protect themselves? True, on Sunday I had practically bare shoulders, but I was evening out the exposed flesh-ness by carrying off the maxi-dress thing – meaning my legs were covered and (most genius aspect) could sit cross-legged in a graceful fashion. But you should have seen some of the poor lobsters in the congregation at church that evening!

Also, can I make a plea – bring back hats! Once upon a time, the British were famous for their hats and summer meant Panama time. Now everyone simply gets overheated and burnt. (I have currently have a very sensitive patch of skin where my hair parting is.) Personally, I’d love a big floppy straw creation, 1930s style. Then I could go punting with a charming gentleman wearing a Panama and carry a parasol. (Actually, before I get carried away with this fantasy, presumably if one is wearing a hat one doesn’t also need a parasol?)

As it’ll be at least a week until the weather scorches up again, you’ll have time to read the Guardian’s guide to dressing for the heat. I would like to point out that as I started writing this post last night, I thought of the maxi dress, parasol and hat comments before its author did – it’s just that (yet again) my thoughts ran along the same lines as their writers. Honestly, they should just employ me and be done with it…

Disillusionment

Election time has rolled around again.
I’m a big fan of democracy and will drone on (at length) about how important it is to use your right to vote.

Right at this minute a historical moment in British politics is taking place. On ITV, all three leaders of the ‘big 3’ political parties are engaged in a televised debate – for the first time ever. Yes American readers, 40 years after JFK V Nixon, we’ve joined the modern era…

Instead of watching it, I’ve got Have I Got News for You (satirical political comedy) on in the background, simply so I don’t miss the start of Outnumbered. In the mean time, I’ve been searching for cheesy karaoke games for my Wii, cleaning my bathroom & now writing this post. This is a dramatic change from the girl who 11 years ago used to make a point of watching PMQs every Wednesday and wrote her A-level politics general study on a comparison of New Labour and the New Democrats.

I loved politics. In 6th Form I genuinely wanted to be a poltician – it’s one of the reasons I went to the university I did, because of its radical political history. [It says something for its students that when I arrived, the LSE Tories had a couple of hundred membes, LSE Labour had a few hundred, LSE Lib-Dems had just 30.] I threw myself into student politics briefly, enjoyed the odd demo or too (still do) and joined a political party.

Now it’s unlikely I’ll even vote for that party. Not because I’m disillusioned with them – it’s more to do with local politics in my constituency and tactical voting. But I am disillusioned with British politics in general. Our MPs have been tarred by the expenses scandal; no party is actually able to promise that they will deliver us from the global economic crisis; and our political system (First Past the Post) means that minor parties don’t really get a look in.

At least this year there’s the possibility of a hung Parliament and thus Independents and small parties have more importance. For an interesting exposition on what the disillusioned voter could do, read Andy’s post on Electioneering – he does more research into his posts than I usually do and seems to care passionately about the issue, thus he is far more eloquent than I.

Now for the public service announcements:

  • If you’re British, make sure you’re registered to vote. You’ve got until April 20th.
  • Remember to vote on May 6th. If you’re away, organise a postal or proxy vote. Don’t waste your right. I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for not voting in 2005. It wasn’t my fault – my polling card wasn’t forwarded to me quickly enough to sort the postal vote – but I was gutted. 
  • Do some research into who’s standing in your constituency and what their policies are. Read the manifestos of some of the smaller parties (the Greens’ came out today) and try and identify what you care about. 
Yes, politics can be dull and monotonous. Yes, many of us are disillusioned, but the truth is that unless you vote you lose your right to complain about it for the next 5 years. End of story. 
Image credit: A women’s liberation demonstration in New York.’Keystone’/Getty Images

Obsession

If there’s one thing that you can pretty much define as a British obsession it’s the weather. It’s a stereotype, but it’s also oh so very true… Lock a group of us in the lift and you can guarantee a weather comment will be a conversation opener.

We all know when something ‘big’ is heading our way and talk about it constantly in anticipation, during the event and for weeks (if not years) afterwards – whether it be flooding, heatwaves or snow.

Snow is a big favourite. Nothing like snow for utter CHAOS to be generated. (And that word is always in capitals.) Chaos, gridlock, standstill, big freeze…plus, lots of photos of cute children enjoying snow days. We adore it. No wonder ‘uksnow’ has been one of Twitter’s top ranking #tags over the last 48 hours. Only in Britain would people fall over themselves to document the movement of precipitation over the country…

I love a good bit of snow. February 2nd 2009 still ranks as one of my all-time favourite days – ever. But this particular ‘big freeze’ has been going on for ages, the first snow fell December 16th and I think it’s snowed somewhere in the UK every day since. I don’t like walking on ice (I’m paranoid about falling and breaking something, one of my good friends already has) and I’m not overly keen on having to remember layer after layer of clothing. Plus, this weekend is Girls Weekend #3 – eagerly anticipated since we booked it in August – and I don’t want people to miss out. Oh, and I have no camera to document it….and I need to get in to work tomorrow because my new bank cards are being delivered…rah.

But, this is all just a tad selfish. I’ve been chilly in my flat, resorting to the heating, hot water bottles, sleeping in a hoodie, wearing my ‘very cold weather’ coat and eating lots of winter comfort food. At least I have a flat, money for heating and a variety of clothes to wear according to temperature. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. I sat on a bus for 45mins instead of the usual 10, but at least I made it home safely.

As a nation, we are obsessed, but I can’t help feeling it’s a selfish obsession. We want to know what the weather’s going to be like for own benefit – if it’s going to be hot for that party, or wet for that cricket match or snow so we can have a day of work… Maybe we should spend a little more time thinking about its wider repercussions?

Bus Queue Ethics

The British love to queue. Whether it’s Wimbledon fortnight, a taxi rank or the (somewhat bizarre) 500m line to get in to see Dirty Dancing in the West End, the Brits are perfectly happy – even if it’s raining.

Today was a perfect example of this love affair. At bus stops around the capital, commuters lined up waiting for packed buses thanks to a 48 hour tube strike. At Waterloo there were lines snaking round the block, marshalled by efficient people in flourescent jackets.
Not all queues were as efficient and it got me pondering (on my 2 hour journey to work) on my own bus queue theory. One might even call it the ethics of waiting for a bus.
It is as follows:
  • The elderly, infirm and those with small children take priority regardless. (Though there may be slightly less sympathy for those with majorly huge buggies – you know, the ones that double up as baby carriage and small armoured vehicle.)
  • Subsequently, queuers (or queueees?) are prioritised according to distance. Those going the furthest taking priority over those going just a few stops. (A distance one might even call ‘walkable’.)
This morning this would have involved the forcible removal from the queue of girls attending a school less than 15mins walk away. Just because they get free bus travel doesn’t mean they have to use it – think of the teenage obesity epedemic!
It would also have prevented the selfish actions of individuals who, having got the last space on a bus (leaving others at the bus stop) then got off two stops later, amid much tutting from fellow passengers.
I would also have issued an edict that all travellers to Elephant & Castle (yes, that might qualify for ‘favourite named place in London’, shame it’s such a dive) and beyond had priority.
Of course, I would be too terrified to say anything like this aloud in such a queue, as I would actually like to see my next birthday.