Tuesday 9 October 2007


I have long been aware that I need more patience. But reading the little booklet by the Jesuit, Fr Richard Clarke on the subject gave me a much more profound insight into the importance of this virtue, the ways to exercise it and the benefits thereof, both in this world and the next.

I won't give away the plot but do recommend it (Patience, by Richard Clarke SJ, published by CTS). I can honestly say that since reading it recently, I have already coped better with a slight illness, dealt more calmly with a host of minor annoyances, and responded more lovingly to the kids in times of stress... And as for my driving...

Of course, it will all wear off soon - but then I can always re-read the booklet as a refresher!

Saturday 6 October 2007

Mass for the Dead

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am teaching the chlidren to sing the plainchant Mass for the Dead,

This is stunniingly beautiful music and covers a huge spectrum of the human emotional response to death in a way that modern 'celebrations of the life of...' simply do not.

The main theme - from the opening words - is praying for the repose of the soul of the dead person. Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine 'Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord.' But there is also the stormy passion of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) and the beauty and hope of the In paradisum.

Further, the fact that for the past several centuries, so many saints and ordinry people have been buried with this music resounding (including my late Mother) adds a particular potency to it.

And if one knows some of the more modern Requiems (Faure, Durufle etc) one dlelights to learn where they got so many of their themes - and how brilliantly they worked with them.

Intermittent blogging

Somehow, blogging is low down on the priority list compared with some of the other demands on my time: apart from earning a living, there is so much to do with the chldren. At present, I am teaching them to sing the Plainchant Mass for the Dead, as we are leading the singing at a Mass for teh dead on Remembrance Sunday in the traditional rite. Other than that, their multiple comitments to music and sporting activities, and our love of going out walking together as a family mean that I rarely sit down at my computer with time on my hands. Perhaps as the nights draw in I will keep the blog up-to date more frequently.

Monday 27 August 2007

Walking again

Just back from a long bank holiday walk in the hills. Half way up the first hill ( a mere baby compared to the other two peaks we were planning to take in) Dominique started to complain of having a headache, being tired etc.

However, when asked about her favourite book this holiday, she went on about Dick King-Smith for the next hour and a half, taking in nearly all the height gain for the walk. And then announced her headache had gone.

Distraction remains one of my preferred ways of dealing with these things!

The walk was fantastic: sunny weather and a good breeze to keep us cool, three peaks and a picnic on top ; a mountain lake and a long descent through a beautiful valley back to the car. The views from the peaks and ridges were stunning and the great thing about walking as a family is that everyone gets the chance to chat with everyone and to have some time alone, too.

Seven hours later, we've just got home - and poor Goldie has collapsed in her basket!

Thursday 23 August 2007


Ant got her GCSE results today and did very well - 10 A*s and an A. Her friends all seem to have got the results they hoped for too, so everyone is very happy.

Her school has had exceptionally good results this year, so a lot of credit must go to them. However, I can't help reflecting on the Head's nervousness when he first interviewed her and learned that she had no TV and wondered how she could stay abreast of current affairs and the modern world. I feel our policies have been vindicated too.

Monday 20 August 2007

Architectural heresy

We went to a church in Scotland that seemed to me to have been designed by a heretic.

It was deliberately flat - the whole aesthetic stressing the horizontal rather than the vertical. The tabernacle was tucked away in a corner. The crucifix did not have Christ Crucified, but rather Risen. There was no central aisle. and so on... In fact in every way it was designed to break with the traditions of Church architecture: traditions which have developed to communicate a sense of the sacred. And the result was that the congregation behaved with no sense of the sacred. They did not genuflect to the tabvernacle, but walked straight past it, bowing oddly in the vague direction of the altar - or the priest? Or the crucifix?... They chatted before and after Mass as though in a coffee shop, and so on....

Chrisitianity is an incarnational religion or it is nothing. Those who commission or design Churches like that either don't understand the implications of that fact or are heretical...


Just back from a few days camping in the Scottish Highlands. We had arranged to meet another counter-cultural family there and spent a few days walking - including climbing our first Monroe.

The kids had a great time, as did we. They all looked after each other, encouraged each other on the walks, played together in the river, took the dogs for walks and runs and so on.

There was quite a lot of discomfort of one sort or another: wet clothes, over-crowded tents, long walks in the rain, washing (and washing up) in cold water, and so on. All very character-building!

Despite all that - and dull weather and lots of midges - we all declared it a great success.

Sunday 12 August 2007


I took Bernie, Charlie and Dominique to the climbing wall yesterday. We were the only ones there, so could mess about a bit - falling off on purpose and swinging on the rope etc. I let Bernie take charge fo the safety rope for my climbs, and for the little ones. It is a great builder of trust and confidence to let the kids take serious responsibility for each other's well-being 0 nd mine!

Friday 10 August 2007

Picnic and conversation

We went for a picnic yesterday - a four mile climb into the hills to sit by a small lake. Bernie and I (and Goldie, our golden retirever) then decided to walk home (another 10 miles over the hills) while the others went back by car.

It gave me and Bernie the chance to be together and chat about something or nothing for a few hours.

In fact we got talking about love and marriage; about some friends whose parents are splitting up, and another firend who had a baby by a boy she has since split with halfway through the sixth form.

This was sex education as it's meant to be, in my view - an intimate conversation between parent and child about the meaning of love, the value of waiting, and the purpose of marriage.

And it was a gloriously sunny day, too!

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Picnic - kids only

The three kids at home (Ant is still away) took themselves off for a picnic today, down by the local river. They took Goldie who loves to swim, and all went for a dip - it was a blazing hot day! Bernie (14) was in charge - and we feel quite confident in her ability to look after them all on such a trip: and it is important that she knows that we do. They had a great time and returned safe and sound - though somewhat shattered!

Holiday pastimes...

Yesterday we took the three younger kids (Ant being away) to grandma's. She's re-decorating a room , and needed the old wall paper stripped off. So we took our steam stripper and a few scrapers and spent a happy afternoon peeling paper off the walls.
I let Bernie operate the steam stripper: she burned herself once but not twice: that's education! I didn't let Charlie have a go despite his clamouring - and despite being confident he could do so safely. I preferred to keep it as something that only the eldest child (present) could do. I think it is important to give the older children more responsibility than the younger: we make many more demands of them, so helping them feel there are positive aspects to being older is also important.

Driving Education - based on Sex Ed...

From the BBC News www site:

"The minimum driving age must be raised from 17 to 18 to stop young people "killing themselves and others", MPs have said.
The Commons transport committee also wants learner drivers to spread lessons over a year before taking the test and a complete alcohol ban for new drivers.
Novice drivers should be banned from carrying passengers aged between 10 and 20 late at night, the report adds."

So MPs are to considering coming down heavily on young drivers. Surely this is the wrong approach. Based on the government's approach to teenage pregnancies and sexual health (as advocated by Brook and fpa), I would suggest the following guidelines:

1 Above all we must not criminalise young drivers or make them feel guilty;

2 Driving is a normal and pleasurable activity enjoyed by many adults: why should we be so hypocritical as to impose a ban on young adults enjoying this as soon as they are p[hysically able to reach the controls?

3 Remember, preaching won't work: simply saying don't drive fast is not realistic;

4 It is natural for young men to wish to drive fast, show off, and be aggressive - and therefore wrong to punish them for, or make them feel bad about, these natural tendencies; it might harm their self-esteem!

5 We should be issuing free crash helmets to all young people who want them, regardless of whether they have a licence, and regardless of age (crash helmets have been proven to save lives...) Denying them this simple safety precaution is tantamount to criminal neglect.

6 Above all we should educate young people on how to drink-drive safely, how to handle corners at high speed and so on, and offer all this education without being at all judgemental. Let's teach safe (or at least safer) driving to all from the age of 10 onwards, when these desires might start in some...

Breast is best (but don't tell!)

From ‘The Times’ the other day...

In a study of mothers commissioned by The Infant and Dietetic Foods Association (IDFA), Dr Lee found that the decision to bottle feed was a "pragmatic decision based on personal circumstances".
"Some do it because of the pain of feeding or so they can feed their child at more regular intervals, some so they can share responsibility for feeding the baby, others because they are thinking of going back to work.
"Many mothers feel an immense sense of guilt and failure when they move on to the bottle, and this latest debate about advertising is likely to make them feel even worse."

This seems to me to typify so much that is wrong with our society. Despite all the medical evidence that breast-feeding is the best option - not forgetting common sense and the emotional bonding aspect too - we must not tell people this simple truth as it may upset them when they put their own convenience above the well-being of their children...

Friday 3 August 2007

Sail Camp

The kids are a way for a week at sail camp. So at last I have time to update this blog. Ant is one of the instructors (RYA qualified) the other three are learners. They have had a great week in terms of weather, and will doubtless return exhilerated and exhausted. Meanwhile Anna and I have had a lovely time: our first week with no kids to look after for 16 years (we've had one weekend away alone but that's all in all that time) So we've done a lot around the house and garden in the mornings, and taken each afternoon off to go for long walks, ending with a pint in a pub and ne need to get home at any particular time. Bliss.

A Bit of a gap

It has been a while since I posted and lots has happened, about which I may or may not post eventually. the gap was maily because life was busy and blogging is not the top priority for a counter cultural father...

It was compounded by my forgetting my account details due to not blogging for a while and having to get those helpful chaps from Google to sort me out.

Thursday 19 April 2007

Me - ahead of the times...?

For years I have annoyed those around me in Church (and embarrassed my family) by proclaiming 'I believe...' when the new translation required 'We believe...'

I did this for a few reasons - one is my inherent tendency to be counter cultural; more importantly, however, was a sense of outrage at the translators having the audacity to translate 'Credo' as 'We believe.' The official text of the Church had never changed, in other words, it was only in English-speaking countries that this innovation hade been introduced. The third reason was that I had been given good reasons for 'I believe' (eg in Mons. Knox's Creed in Slow Motion) whereas the reasons for 'We believe' had always seemed entirly bogus.

However, it now seems as though I am to be vindicated: the new translation reverts to 'I believe' and will be in force from Advent this year (I understand) so I am now officially ahead of the times...

(The new translation is better on almost every count - have a look at it on Fr Finnigan's valle adurni blog ).

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Which Pope am I?

I took this quiz to discover which 20th century pope I was.

Why don't you? (see link to quiz below)

Thanks to the Hermeneutic of Continuity site for the recommencation.

Which Twentieth Century Pope Are You?

You are Pope Pius XII. You're efficient and dedicated, but not very approachable.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Screwtape on Humanae Vitae (4)

This is the last of the Screwtape letters published to mark the 25th anniversary of Humane Vitae in Catholic Family newspaper in the UK some years ago (and re-printed with the author's permission) For previous ones, look earlier in the blog....

My dear Hogwort

I seem to remember that this correspondence started because you felt that Slubgob over-rated the importance of the campaign against Humanae Vitae. I trust that you now realise how critical it is in its own right, and also how much you young tempters can earn from the skill with which is as been executed.

Over the last twenty five years, we have managed to cause such havoc within the Church, that serious thinking has been almost abandoned by very many. Hearsay, opinions and feelings count for more than the teaching and traditions of the Church.

Using people’s reluctance to obey Humanae Vitae as a bridgehead, we are on the verge of storming the citadel. It has even got to the stage where people see sex as so indispensable that the idea of a celibate priesthood is simply outside their understanding. (You will notice in passing, how important a part of our plan it has been to undermine devotion to She whom we don’t name; and to all the virgin saints, who give the lie to that particular deceit.)

Again, it reflects another of my favourite strategies: the idea of what’s natural (that wonderful word). Since their Fall, celibacy is of course unnatural to them. As it is not particularly attractive, we can easily persuade them that the ‘unnatural’ is bad. And of course the what comes naturally to them (since that first great victory) is anything but chastity, charity, faith, hope...

It’s as though they haven’t known from time immemorial that we’ve damaged their nature from the word go, and as though they were wholly unaware of the supernatural destiny that awaits them: here, we hope!

However, do not slide into an over optimistic view of things. Despite the excellent work that we have done, there is still a large number of people loyal to the papacy, and as always, that particular office is one we have not been able to corrupt.

The other thing we should realise is the danger of pushing too far too fast. In the past, (for we should learn from the past, however much we prevent them from doing so) whenever we have had the Church on its knees, He has always intervened. Sometimes quite spectacularly, He produces those great warriors they term saints, whose existence is an eternal pain to us. So until that day when we are ready to storm Heaven as well as Earth, we need to proceed with some caution. He has guaranteed that He will protect His Church while He has power to do so, and so far He has always been true to His Word.

So our strategy must be the attack on individuals, to draw them away from the Church. The same old thing, you may be thinking. Well, on one level, yes. But again do not fall for the snare we set for them that new is better. However, we have used the dissent from Humanae Vitae to launch a development of the strategy, and this is the final point I make about it. We have now managed to persuade a few influential people that Humanae Vitae is wrong (as it is difficult), that therefore there must be something wrong with the Church to have proclaimed it and stuck to it so steadfastly, and that therefore what is required is a new version of the Church.

Thus we have developed a sub-culture apparently within the Church that is actually motivated largely by a desire to re-create the Church according to our designs. We know, even now when all is going well, that they will not wholly succeed. But we can hope that a number of people will lose their faith in the process.

So to summarise: our attack on Humanae Vitae is a part of a larger attack on the whole body of the Church, an attack which works at many levels, and involves a number of powerful strategies. The fact that sex is of no interest to the diabolic intelligence is irrelevant. Slubgob is right to make you study it, and if you have not learnt all these lessons from his tuition, then the fault must lie with you. Slubgob is, of course, above criticism.

If ever you doubt the importance of the Humanae Vitae battle, remember this: those loyal to it are so much further from our grasp than the rest. Many are developing the alarming characteristics of saints. Look at them if you dare: they are the foot-soldiers of the Enemy on Earth.

Your affectionate mentor


Saturday 14 April 2007

Birthday Party

Today was Bernie's 14th birthday so we had a few friends round for her party.

I had been observing that her friends parties were getting more and more extravagant: swimming, ice-skating, laser quest, go ape high ropes course (at £20 er kid...)

So we had a party at home. Ant and I devised an afternoon consisting of a number of outdoor competitive games, by which the kids, working in two teams, accumulated cash (Monopoly money) to buy kit to construct something.

The teams decided which activities they wanted to compete in so that tehy wouldn't feel forced to do things. In the event they chose to do all of them. These included designing a team logo and painting it on each others' faces, then having a treasure hunt, three legged race, and so on.

Then they had to build a roman style catapult, to hurl a water balloon further than the other team.

This was followed by a perty tea with cake.

All the kids took part with gusto: make-up disappeared beneath face-paint, and teenage dignity beneath gales of hilarity.

On leaving many said what a great party it was: sometimes allowing teenagers to be kids can really work (though you do have to be careful to get it right)

Monday 9 April 2007

Tree house progress

The latest treehouse is progressing.

Already the little ones like to play up here - it's a bit precarious, but we do risk!

Ant assures me it will be safe eventually...

More cake

And and Bernie have been at it again! This time it's a spring cake.

PS I don't know why some photos are presented on their side on blogger - they're all the right way up on my Mac.

Easter fun

As well as the liturgical aspects already referred to, we have had a lot of family fun at Easter.

The day started with a candle-lit breakfast and the giving of Easter eggs (only one for each kid - but see later...). The table was decorated with an Easter tree hung with eggs decorated by the kids, as well as a profusion of daffodils.

After that we had an easter egg hunt in the garden: I had hidden mini-eggs all over the place: wedged in craccks in trees, in the flower beds, in various dens and tree houses, in cracks in the walls etc. This is an eagerly-awaited anual tradition!

We then took Anna's mum out for a trip and picnic - the first of the year featuring chocolate, as the kids have been off it for Lent.

Back home, Bernie and I went out on our bikes with Goldie, while the other kids played in the garden; Anna did some gardening, while her mum, who had come home with us made a cup of tea. Then we had an Easter bonfire, with toasted marshmallows.

Lamb for supper (of course) and a delicious Easter cake, made and decorated by Ant.

After supper we performed Aichinger's Regina Caeli (for part polyphony: Charlie and Dom Soprano, Dernie Alto, Ant Tenor and me Bass) which only left Anna and her mum as an audience - they were very appreciative, though Goldie was not. She's not a very musical puppy...

After washing up and evening prauers, the llittle ones went to bed, and Ant and Bernie watched part of a film on DVD as an Easter treat.

Oddly enough, in this counter-cultural family, that is classed as an extremely enjoyable day.

Shame about the Boat Race on Saturday, but I'm getting over it.

Sunday 8 April 2007

Good Friday and the Easter Vigil

We went to both the Good Friday Liturgy and the Easter Vigil celebrated according to the traditional rite. Both were extremely moving and beautiful.

Highlights included the Reproaches sung to an arrangement by Victoria.

The kids' reactions ranged from genuine appreciation (Ant and Bernie, the teenagers) through interested observation (Charlie, 10) to surviving it pretty well (Dominique - but she is only 8...)

As they all play the piano and other instruments, they appreciated the music as a huge improvment on the all-join-in-never-mind-the-quality approach of our normal parish Masses.

The Latin isn't a problem either - with parallel English texts, there is no difficulty in following what is going on.

All in all a wonderful way to celebrate Holy Week.

Saturday 7 April 2007

Wrap-around childcare

New research by academics from Oxford (as reported in the Times) has shown that children in nursery care for long hours from an early age are more likely to have behavioural problems than others. What a surprise!

I predict the (UK) government will ress ahead with plans to make more such care available and to pressurise mothers into availing themsleves of it. When that goes wrong, they will say what we need is even more childcare froman even earlier age...

Friday 6 April 2007

Screwtape on Humanae Vitae (3)

(For the first two, see earlier posts)

My dear Hogwort

In my last letter, I outlined the first strand of our attack on Humanae Vitae, and explained the principle underlying it. The approach is simple: ‘if the Law is hard or unpopular, it must be wrong’.

I hinted that there was more to the strategy than that, and here we come to the most elegant (though not the most important) part of the deceit. Along with that stupid idea, we've managed to introduce another, even more absurd
one. The way we present it to them is simply: ‘what goes on behind bedroom doors is nobody else's business.’

You may find this harder to believe, but they swallow that one, too. I know that you, like me, can see the absurdity of the idea: as though the Enemy who created them and holds them in being could avert His eyes; as though all the virtues or vices that they develop in this most intimate sphere have no impact on their character or moral well-being, as though... well the list goes on.

The most exciting part of all this, from a strategic point of view, is also the subtlest. Pay attention to this, as it is a technique you can use many times in many contexts, and as long as your victim is unaware, he will nearly always fall for it.

We start by introducing the idea in a way that seems obvious. So we take the notion that human sexuality is a private affair, and by a sleight of hand extend the notion of privacy to include the Enemy. We deliberately do not allow them to work through the logic of that, for then even they might see how stupid it is. If they do start to think about it, whisper ‘prying priests’. A slogan like that will quickly get rid of any further serious thought.

The elegant part of the strategy comes next: once they have accepted the initial deceit, we can then work backwards, and get them to reinterpret their theology (such as it is) to fit in with their new convictions. Thus we start by saying 'what goes on behind bedroom doors is nobody else's business.' Once they believe that, we can get them to deny the teaching
authority of the Church - for the Church clearly teaches something different. But surely, I seem to hear you say, they'll realise that if the the Church teaches differently, then to be a Christian means accepting the Church’s teaching.

Not for a second. I find it hard to put across to you youngsters how easy it is for a competent tempter to prevent most humans from thinking such things - or indeed anything. By simple mechanisms, such as bombarding them with noise all the time - whether music from the radio, or constant television, or simply inane and unthinking chatter among themselves, we have almost abolished most humans' ability to think clearly about one subject for more than twenty seconds.

There are some, of course, who do think. These we attack with pride. The idea is that they know better than the Church . We encourage them not to study the Church’s teaching as humble children seeking to understand it and explain it to their brothers. Instead, we tempt them into the role of critics, looking to pick holes in the teaching, and re-write it as they think it should be.

One popular theologian was fairly orthodox until his dissent from Humanae Vitae. From that we led him to question the teaching authority of the Church, and he has now followed us so far that he doubts the existence of life after death. And the final irony is that when the Church points out that he is no longer teaching Christianity, he genuinely feels persecuted!

The strategy goes a stage beyond this, but I will leave that till my next letter.

Your affectionate mentor


Thursday 5 April 2007

Maundy Thursday - in Latin

Just got back from Maundy Thursday Mass in the Traditional Roman Rite (AKA Tridentine).

What with the incense, the ringing of the bells during the Gloria, the wooden rattle replacing the bells during the Consecration, and the procession and stripping o f the altar after Mass, it was a liturgy the children found really interesting. No need to send them off to Childrens' Liturgies when they can be nourished - and intrigued - by the richness of traditional liturgy.

Anna and the teenage girls all wore mantillas - the traditional black lacy veils with which women without hats always used to cover their heads in Church. The girls like them - Anna wears it more as a gesture of modesty and submission.

A Good Walk

The walk yesterday was fantastic! It was like a summer's day, and we went far from the crowds taking a path which may or may not have been a right of way - but in the open country, not farmed land, so I assume we had a right to roam.

We diverted from the planned route to explore an old quarry and slate mine, which had a satisfying cave, leading to a water-filled tunnel going deep into the hillside. It had the most wonderful acoustics. All the kids (and I) yelled and sang down it. Goldie was not quite sure about it...

Then we continued our diversion to the top of a hill we had been going to go around, and had our picnic at the summit. Once up there, it seemed a shame to lose height so we took a ridge path to the next summit and then dropped down to a pass to regain our original route.

We stopped by a mountain lake to cool our feet, and eventually made our way back down to the valley to where we'd left the car. Although the car park was packed, there had been long stretches where we'd hardly seen a soul.

Over the course of the route, we kept forming and re-forming into little sub-groups, so everyone spent some time with everyone else, whether singing and telling stories and jokes, having more serious conversations or simply walking in companionable silence.

Ant and I got a little sunburned, but all agreed (even the little ones) that it had been a marvelous day out.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Why walk?

Yesterday we went out for a walk as a family for about 4 hours (coverd about 7 miles in the hills with a picnic stop. Today we are planning something a bit longer - all day and around 12 miles, going over some serious hills/small mountains.

The smaller kids were asking why, and that seemed a good question. There are many answers. One is simply that Anna and I enjoy it (as do all the kids in fact, though only the elder two admit it before the event...). But beyond that, we value time together as a family away from distractions and pressures. Moreover, we have found over the years that one can have a very different quality of conversation while walking than sitting in the house. The time and space, the opportunity for long silences that don't feel forced, the fact that we are looking outward together at the beauty of creation, rather than into each others' faces (or not) create opportunities for talking about difficult issues in a relaxed way. Also it's a great way of keeping fit (it makes me laugh that people subscribe to gyms, drive there in cars, run on a treadmill with the TV on and an iPod in their ears, and then drive on to the next place...) We walk or cycle whenever we can for local things - and I guess we're as fit as we need be and much fitter than most.

And then the kids have such a great time: telling each other stories, singing songs, rolling down grassy banks, playing long imaginative games. And of course, it's a very economical and eco-friendly way of spending time in the holidays. It's a valuable lesson for the kids to learn how much enjoyment one can have from each others' company, with no gadgets, gimics, games or other consumable items (other than Anna's wonderful picnics, which are always a highlight!) And then they sleep so well at night.

So despite the protestations of the little ones, we're off for a major hike today!

Tuesday 3 April 2007

Screwtape on Humanae Vitae (2)

Here is the second of these letters, originaly published in Catholic Family, and re-published here with the permission of the author. (For the first, see Feb postings)

My dear Hogwort

Your last letter displayed in many ways a lamentable ignorance of some of the basic principles of tempting. I find it hard to believe that anyone who has already completed two terms at the College - under the excellent tutorship of Slubgob himself - could write such drivel.

There is no sense in which we ever want the human vermin to enjoy themselves. Wherever there is pleasure, our job is firstly to persuade the humans to use it in ways that draw them away from the Enemy, and then to reduce the pleasure to the lowest level we can.

An obvious example is alcohol: we exploit the enjoyment of alcohol either to make a man dependent on it (an alcoholic gains no pleasure from either his craving or its fulfilment) or to cultivate a puritanical hatred of alcohol: and of those who drink it. Again, there is no enjoyment in that. The things we want to avoid are the moderate enjoyment of drinking, combined with the discipline of stopping after a few drinks, and the virtuous mortification of unhating abstinence (temporary or permanent).

I particularly enjoy corrupting through wine, given the astonishing value placed on it by the Enemy in choosing it as a sacramental element.

You should by now have realised the parallel with sex. We can encourage licentiousness to great advantage. In reaction to that we can stimulate a puritanical hatred of sex. And we can reduce the element of pleasure to a bare minimum in both cases. What we want to avoid is simply what the Enemy demands: absolute fidelity within monogamous life-long marriages that are open to his creative power on the one hand, or virtuous celibacy on the other.

However, the sex aspect of our campaign against Humanae Vitae was not the issue I wanted to focus on in this letter. I simply felt that I had to respond to some of the crass things you wrote in your letter to me.

What I do want you to think about is the overall strategy and its success. One of the greatest triumphs has been simply the spreading of so much confusion and muddled thinking within the Church.

One of the strongest arguments we use against Humanae Vitae is that people simply do not obey it. Believe it or not, that argument carries a great deal of weight, even among otherwise orthodox believers.

That triumph is due to some excellent spadework done by senior strategists over the last fifty years. The fact is that it never occurs to trained theologians that since Our Father Below's first great victory, men have been liars, adulterers, murderers, hypocrites... and that none of these facts causes anyone seriously to question the prohibitions. Our job is to make sure that they never ask themselves why what people do is suddenly the source from which the Divine Law may be deduced.

The amazing fact is that - incredible though it may seem - they rarely come anywhere near asking such a question.

There is more to it than this, but this is sufficient for one letter.

In the meantime. remember to send me the outline of your first assignment, for my comments: if I'm to help you I must have access to all your work.

Your affectionate mentor


You are wonderful! (or are you...?)

Recently, we went to a talk by a charismatic (I think - he waved his arms in the air during Mass, which is usually a clue!) speaker.

He was pretty good: orthodox in almost all he said (that's good in my book) except for one thing: he got us all to turn to our neighbour and say: 'You are wonderful!'

His view was that most of us don't hear those words often enough (as children or as adults) and therefore suffer from low self esteem, and that as children of God, we should be confident of who we are. He told us that he said this or a variant to each of his children every day.

Both Anna and I had problems with this, for slightly different reasons. Anna simply found it too bogus: "what if you're not! The people next to me don't know me - and if they did would know I'm not wonderful."

I was as concerned at the flawed theology and psychology. Theologically, if this is meant to represent what the Father would say to us, I think it's wrong: a much more authentic message (especially to say to your children each day) would be: "I love you!" That one is true of us, even when our children are less than wonderful - likewise it is a true representation of waht the Father says in all eternity to His children.

Psychologically, I have problems with the whole self-esteem movement, from which I think this type of thinking comes: Maslow, Rogers et al. I heard a great series of talks (on tape) by William Coulson, who was Carl Rogers' right-hand man till he recanted, and he warned of the dangers of TMP (too much psychology) and particularly applying therapeutic responses (eg to low self esteem) in a simplistic way without proper training or diagnosis. This seemed to me a classic example of that problem.

Easter Holidays

The holidays are here so we are very busy. We have taken our boats down to the sailing club and the kids have had their first sail of the year (Ant has been counting down the days till the start of the season for some weeks). Our wooden Mirror is still at home as it needs some repairs, so we'll try to get to that.

The treehouse progresses: photos to follow. We've been out for a few walks with Goldie (and are off again today for a good walk). We've started digging the garden and put some clematis in near the front door, where there was an empty patch.

I've also started teaching the kids to sing the Regina Caeli - a polyphonic setting by Aichinger ((1564 - 1628): Charlie and Dom sing the soprano line, Bernie the alto, and Ant the tenor; I sing Bass. The little ones are always a bit reluctant to practice, but now they've learned some of it, they are really enjoying it. I hope to have it ready for Easter day.

Monday 19 March 2007

Screwtape on Humanae Vitae

Some years ago, (on the 25th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae) 'Catholic Family,' a paper in the UK, carried a series of letters about it, copying C S Lewis' device of letters from a senior to a junior devil. The name Hogwort was coined before J K Rowling used something similar in the Harry Potter books. Here's the first letter (re-published, with permission):

My dear Hogwort

It seems funny to be writing letters again after all this time. Since the deplorable demise of Wormwood, I have not had anyone to supervise in the same way. Wormwood, let me remind you, would still be with us - possibly as a great tempter - had he only had the guts to follow my advice.

It still makes me furious when I remember how he let that simpering little human slip through his hands by a series of blunders that...

Enough. You ask for my advice and help in pursuing your studies, and of course I give it freely: which you would do well to remember when I ask for your help on any little matter.

Remember, however, that degrees and diplomas are of no use at all unless you apply the learning in practice for the conquest of human souls. That was one of the many errors that Wormwood made.

I would also point out that it is entirely inappropriate for a junior tempter like you to have, let alone express, any opinion on someone as senior as Slubgob. If you have heard rumours that he and I have had our differences, you are quite misled. He is the principal of your college, and you owe him respect and allegiance.

As for your specific complaint, that he is too interested in sex, I think that merely shows your own lack of experience. Of course sex is boring to us, and indeed, when used as the Enemy intended, wholly hateful. However, the potential for enslaving humans with it, and for causing division in the family, the Church, and the civic society with it are almost boundless. And the delight is that all this is accomplished by using sex, which was designed as a gift and a pleasure to take the creatures ever closer to the Enemy.

Slubgob is quite right to make you all study our sustained campaign against Humanae Vitae: When you come to have the responsibility for tempting souls, you will need to have all the weaponry possible at your disposal in this very rich area.

Over the course of my next few letters, I hope to give you something of an old campaigner's view of this particular battle: by the time I've finished with you, you certainly won't find sex boring: frightening in its awesome design by the Enemy, certainly; intriguing in its endless possibilities for corruption, definitely; but boring, never! For now, to whet your appetite and demonstrate the importance of this topic, I'd ask you to consider the fruits of our campaign against Humanae Vitae:

1 Widespread ignorance and confusion within the Church, from both laity and clerics

2 Disobedience, leading to the abandonment of vocations, lapsing of practice and loss of Faith

3 A 'pick and mix' approach to the Church's teaching, both of Faith and Morals

4 A total distortion of the role of conscience

5 Pleasure and desires seen to be all-important

6 A host of side effects, such as weakness in the Church's fight against abortion, etc.

If you are daring to think that none of these are explicitly linked to the use of contraceptives, forget it. I shall make the links clear over the next few letters, and give you some real examples - or case studies as you like to call them.

If you still doubt the importance of our attack on Humanae Vitae, just look at the other side of the coin, at those disgusting humans who still hold out against us and live by it, or attempt to. They tend to exhibit many, if not all, of these virtues that make our work so damnedly difficult:

1 Self control

2 Habit of governing their actions by their beliefs

3 Regular practice at standing up to the ridicule of the world

4 Discipline and obedience

5 Humility

6 Regular confession

7 Mutual respect and love

It makes me seethe when I consider them.

I hope by now that you will begin to see why the attack on Humanae Vitae is not merely central to your studies, but to the whole diabolic strategy for the present era of the war.

Your affectionate mentor,


Decisions, decisions

Bernie has to tell the school today which subjects she wishes to study at GCSE. This is quite a complex choice, with a lot of options and implications for the rest of her studies from here on - and she’s only 13. We’ve been trying to support her by helping her think through the different possibilities without letting our own prejudices get in the way.

One way we’ve done that is to let her know what we think, but make it clear that it is really up to her. In order for that to be helpful, we’ve let her see that Anna and I have slightly different views on some things, and no fixed views on others - and we’ve got her big sister involved in the discussion too.

It’s a hard balance to strike: offering some guidance so she isn’t left feeling it’s all on her shoulders, whilst also giving her the right and responsibility to make the final decision.

Sunday 18 March 2007

Tell the parents?

The Guardian online carries an interesting article (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/publicservices/story/0,,2032752,00.html). It is about an MP's attempt to give parents the right to know if their under-age children are being given contraceptives or abortions.

Currently of course, we have no such rights in British law. When you pause to think about that it is quite shocking: people can be raping out children (as it is rape if they are under the legal age of consent) and GPs, school nurses and others may not only know, but also facilitate that, and claim patient confidentiality as a reason to keep us in ignorance.

Making time for the family

One of the issues in being a counter cultural father is making time for the family. I won’t go on about how much time I save by not watching TV (though it is considerable), but rather offer some reflections I’ve gleaned along the way in my reading and in going on a couple of time management courses at work over the years, and applying them to being a father.

On one of the courses, were asked to write down the four most important things in our lives and then prioritise them. Naturally, my wife and children featured... We were then challenged to consider whether the way we spent our time reflected those priorities... That lesson has stayed with me.

So one of the things I try to do is make time each week to plan the week ahead: not just in terms of work activities and other commitments, but also thinking about Annna and the kids and considering what I most need to do to be a good husband and father over the coming week. Sometimes it is very mundane stuff: listening to their music practice, making time to help with homework; at other times it is more nebulous: making sure I find some time simply to talk with and listen to one of them if I feel we’ve not really connected in the previous week; and sometimes it is very specific: having a conversation that needs to be had.

I have a theory, based on observing some of the problems that friends have had with their teenagers, that spending time with them when they want to spend time with you is very important. If you fail to do so, there comes a time when you want to be with them and they don’t want to be with you; when you want to put them right about something and they see you as the last person in the world whose views are worth considering.

So making time for them regularly, especially for the little things and the things that are important to them, is a high priority. And so far, my teenagers are still talking to me...

Mothering Sunday

Today, we started by going to a traditional Latin Mass, as a treat. It’s a long drive from where we live, but it’s always worth it. The air of quiet reverence and holiness, the space and silence in which to pray, and the sheer beauty of prayers that go back centuries and are hallowed by usage - not least by countless saints - make it a wonderful experience. Very different from our normal parish Mass - but as it was Laetare Sunday, we felt we would treat ourselves. Interestingly, the kids really like the Latin Mass; in fact the three eldest all prefer it to the New Rite.

The kids had all made lovely cards for their mother - and also for her mother, who was taking us all out to lunch for a treat. Home made cards are very much a part of our family tradition, and the kids are always very creative - each in his or her own unique style.

They had also baked and decorated a cake for tea, and written and rehearsed a song (using the Flanders & Swann tune for ‘Mud, Mud, glorious Mud’, but with words re-written about Mum, Mum, glorious Mum.) They did this together, with Ant on clarinet, Bernie on flute, and Charlie and Dominique on piano. Although not the most polished performance, it was delivered with great enthusiasm and affection and was duly appreciated.

Monday 12 March 2007

What are we reading?

In this sad family where we have no TV to fill our idle hours, we have to resort to reading. In fact we read a huge number of books.

At present, I (in my habitual fashion) am reading several: To Know Christ Jesus (a superb book by Frank Sheed which I re-read every few years, along with his Theology and Sanity); A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby for lighter reading; Syd Field’s Definitive Guide to Screenwriting; Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King, and Writing a Children’s Book by Pamela Cleaver, as well as St John’s Gospel. I’ve also just finished The Heresy of Formlessness by Martin Mosebach, which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in the impact of the Liturgical changes of the 1960s on the Catholic Church.

Anna is reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, St Frances de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, and Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare (which is extravagant by her standards - she’s more inclined to read one at a time (always excluding cookery books).

Ant is away at camp with the Adventure Scouts at present, but when here is reading Benedict XVl’s A Lenten Journey and Scorpio by Anthony Horowitz. I think she may also be starting The Seventh Raven (by Peter Dickinson) and Out of the Silent Planet, bu CS Lewis, as they are on her desk - but she’s not here to ask.

Bernie is deep in Sabriel by Garth Nix - she’s very much a one book at a time girl.

Charlie is reading The Lord of the Rings, The Rotten Romans, Belloc’s Cautionary Verses and Sophie’s Tom (Dick King-Smith) and any cartoon books that come his way. He’s a bit like me - a book in progress in every room of the house - including the bathroom...

Dom has just finished Escape From Blood Castle and is wondering what to read next. No - she’s decided: it’s How to Train your Dragon

Charlie and Dom are also having the Voyage of the Dawn Treader read to them as a bedtime story.

I don’t need (I hope) to extol the benefits of reading. We find that by making sure there are plenty of good and exciting books around, and by reading to them a lot when young, they all get the reading bug in various degrees.

It's probably worth saying that we all re-read a large number of books (I work through my P G Wodehouse collection once every few years, for example...). I believe a book worth reading is normally worth re-reading - or to put it the other way round, a book only worth reading once is probably not worth reading at all. So much of our culture is instantly disposable, but literature really shouldn't be. So perhaps that's another aspect of being counter cultural - not always seeking the new pleasure, thrill or sensation, but being enriched by re-visiting old friends in the world of literature.

If you’re not interested in books, this will have been a very boring post - but then if you’re not interested in books you are probably a very boring person....

Thursday 8 March 2007

treehouses and dens

One of the ways the kids entertain themselves is to play outside a lot. And one of their facvourite activities is building treehouses and dens.

These are great projects both for the teenagers and the little ones. They are labour-intensive so fill a lot of time, they require imagination and physical effort, and a lot of teamwork. The treehouses also need some supervision and occasional help from me - but the kids very much own the projects and can spend hours in creating them and then playing in them.

Why watch adventures on TV when they can have their own imaginary and sometimes real ones: it is not unknown for them to hurt themselves, and occasionally each other, in the construction of these. I see that as no bad thing: it teaches them about fortitude etc.

Here are some pictures of past projects: in order they are a treehouse (this one is actually designed to look like a nest, though that's hard to see here); a ground level den (with Goldie) and a wigwam den.

Counter Cultural at Church, too

Our poor parish priest. In one way, we look a bit like the kind of family he wants (and there are precious few of them at our parish): we go to Mass every week, sometimes one of us is at weekday Mass, our teenagers are happy to come to Mass, we go to confession regularly, turn up at Benediction, BUT...

We’re just the sort of family he doesn’t want: I kneel to receive communion, and the others all genuflect first; Ant covers her head in Church; we only receive under one kind, and never from extraordinary ministers; we won’t let our girls serve Mass, and set conditions around Charlie serving that means he’s not welcome either (eg not being required to do anything that would have been unacceptable before the liturgical changes of the 1960s, such as touching the sacred vessels); Dom and Charlie never go to the ‘children’s liturgy’, but sit through the Mass with us; we’re in the Life group rather than the Justice and Peace group; I’m organising a plainchant choir not a parish choir to sing banal songs unworthy of Church let alone an hour’s practice every week...

My contention is that there is a connection between our traditional approach to our Faith and the fact our kids are still keen on it when they get to be teenagers. They respond to the demands and challenges of a robust faith far better than to the ‘warm and cuddly all-inclusive, don’t believe anything that might upset anyone’ version...

Fun and games

Charlie and Dom have been having a lot of fun recently. Firstly, they made their own set of Top Trumps cards (Top Trumps are all the rage here: they are sets of cards containing data about a specific category, which could be from Racing Cars to characters form The Lord of the Rings, and to play you choose a category which you think is strong on the card you are about to play and announce it (eg Top speed 126 miles per hour) and if it is higher than anyone else’s, you win and collect the others cards and so on).. So Dom and Charlie made their own set, featuring members of the family and friends (and pets).

The categories they used were age, friendliness, chubbiness, eating speed (quite an issue in this house on occasion!) and craziness. They also included a brief description and where possible a photo. The results are hilarious.

They have now moved on to constructing a game of Cluedo, using our house as the template fro the board, and the family for suspects. I await with interest to see what domestic items they choose as murder weapons!

The things they resort to for entertainment, being deprived of their natural right to a TV...

Monday 5 March 2007

Watch less TV and be happy!

More reasons to cut back on TV. According to the BBC www site (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4436482.stm), the happiness experiment in Slough has found that reducing TV viewing by 50% makes people happier. (That’s difficult for us of course as we don’t watch at all - does that mean we’ll never be happy?)

Sunday 4 March 2007


This is quite an interesting area for me. As a teenager I was teased mercilessly for wearing straight trousers when flares were in, or for having my hair cut at home rather than by an expensive stylist, and so on. Partly as a result of this, I have always had a strong prejudice against fashion. It seems to me simply a way of persuading people to throw away perfectly serviceable things and persuade them to buy new things they do not need - and also to provide excuses for the fashionable (and particularly those with the money to buy new stuff all the time) to despise and tease the rest.

Anna however has a different view. She explained to me that people wearing colours that clash or clothes that don’t work together is as painful to her, aesthetically, as listening to discordant music is to me. Merely because I have no visual sensitivity, I shouldn’t rubbish it. What she is after is developing a sense of style, and she sees fashion as a fun manifestation of that exploration.

So she is keen to encourage the kids to find and establish their own styles.

She has mixed success. Ant only cares about what she wears for climbing, walking or sailing: it has to be good kit, but not the sort worn by those who kit themselves out expensively for everything and then do it only once. So ideally it should be well worn (though she was delighted with the new climbing harness Anna bought her for her 16th birthday a while back).

Bernie is quite stylish, to her mother’s delight. Charlie is more like me - a walking mess, and Dom likes to look pretty, but is happy to accept her mother’s view on what that means.

The bottom line for me is that as long as they keep it in proportion and don’t wear things that make them look like tarts, I’m fairly relaxed about this.

The tart thing does worry me, though. When I see kids at primary school age dressed to look like street walkers, it raises real questions about what their parents think they are up to. Girls may not realise the effect sexy clothes might have on boys or men, but their mums surely ought to.

Counter Cultural Weekend

So how does a counter cultural family spend a weekend? Here’s what we got up to this weekend.

On Saturday morning, after homework and music practice was done, we went for a walk with Goldie, our Golden Retriever puppy (only just a puppy still - she’s two in April, when I think we count her as grown up) It was a lovely morning, and the kids were full of life, though I was a bit grumpy, being full of cold.

After lunch Charlie had a party to go to, and Dominique went to the pictures with a friend (Charlotte’s Web). Bernie had a lot of music practice and homework to do, and Ant and I worked on a tree house she is building: it is going to be a pirate ship, quite high up in a tree in the garden. I had to fix the first of the major stress bearing beams to the tree at the top of a ladder. If I can master the technology, I’ll post photos as the project progresses (See below!)

In the evening the kids watched part of The Lord of the Rings on DVD before supper. Evening prayers and a bedtime story for the little ones followed. Then bedtime for the big ones. After that I took Goldie for a walk and admired the wonders of the lunar eclipse. And so to bed.

On Sunday we went to Mass early, then had breakfast, and I spent a bit of time with Charlie and Dom talking about Lent, penance etc (we try to have a Sunday Morning Religion spot every week, though it doesn’t always happen).

While I was doing that, the big girls were doing their music practice, and Anna was making a casserole for later and some sandwiches for lunch. We then went for a long walk in the rain and driving wind.

We had a picnic lunch in the lee of a monument at the top of a local hill, with ferocious gales lashing past us. Running down the hill in the rain was most exhilarating. We make sure we all have good wet weather gear for these occasions, so nobody gets too cold or miserable. The kids declared it a great expedition.

We then went to Benediction before returning home for a hot meal. The kids watched a bit more of the Lord of the Rings, while Anna and I went through our diaries for the next few weeks to check everything was going to work. Then prayers and bed for the little ones, and the trickier task of getting Bernie to go to bed at a decent hour. Ant is reading by the fire as I type this.

Friday 2 March 2007

Good News and Bad News at the Grammar School

The good news:

We heard today that Charlie has got into the Grammar School which Ant and Bernie go to, which is a relief. (And yes, it is a state Grammar - some have survived the comprehensive debacle...)

They are doing well there - and entrance is by competitive examination with no preference for siblings, so there was no guarantee he'd go there.

The bad news:

We went to the 6th form evening the other day, as Ant needs to start thinking about her choices after GCSE.

One of the subjects she's considering is History (16th Century) and I was leafing through a text book on Luther and found some extraordinary inaccuracies and biases. Inaccurate in that it stated that Catholics believed that priests re-crucify Christ at every Mass (which they don't) and biased in that it said: 'they even believed that Masses could be offered for the souls in Purgatory') that word 'even' is clearly a bias. An unbiased writer would have written 'they also believe...'

However it was not the occasion to go into battle (Anna assured me) and I am confident that Ant can deal with such prejudicial text books if she pursues History.

But it did remind me of the need to keep an eye on the stuff the kids are given to study: we simply cannot expect the schools to vet tests that are approved/recommended, and we cannot trust those who do the approving/recommending to be accurate, objective and unbiased (or even properly educated, I fear...)

Sunday 25 February 2007


Lent is upon us again.

The kids have given up sweets, chocolate, and juice. We have given up alcohol...

We all went to have Ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday morning: children love this kind of symbolism and ceremonial - they tried to keep the ashes on their foreheads through the whole day.

I have been teaching them the Gregorian Chant Hymn Attende Domine. You will gather that I am as counter cultural in my religious and musical tastes as in most other things.

Educating in the Virtues (5)

The one aspect of this I have not yet mentioned is the importance of habit.

What we are striving for is a habitual virtuous response.

Clearly the ideal is for an individual to consider each situation and choose a virtuous response. However, in reality, much of the time we do not stop and consider each situation - we react quickly and habitually. Which is why cultivating habits of virtues is important.

For example, I have a good friend who has the virtuous habit of only saying positive things about others, unless there is a genuine reason to say something negative (eg to offer a warning).

I would love my kids to have that virtue (not one I have yet cultivated myself, alas).

The key to developing habits, of course, is repetition. So exercising the virtues is like any other exercise: done regularly, it increases the strength of the particular virtue.

A great read on all this is C S Lewis' 'The Abolition of Man'.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

Doubly vindicated

Two reports in two days have confirmed many of my prejudices about the dangers of TV.

The first, in yesterday's Times (19 Feb) was about research linking watching TV from an early age with various health problems including obesity, and premature puberty in girls (this regardless, of course, of the quality of the programming). "Watching too much television as a child may trigger serious health problems such as autism and obesity, and in girls the early onset of puberty, a scientist has claimed. "

The second, reported on the BBC News WWW site today (20 Feb) was about the dangers of the sexualisation of young girls: "
The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real," said Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, chair of the group and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz."

This second obviously includes many other media, especially the dreadful teen magazines, but for younger girls TV is probably the prime culprit.

Two more reasons to opt out of the prevalent culture and bring your kids up with your values, not those of the media, advertisers and other exploiters and corrupters of kids!

Educating in the Virtues (4)

The other elements in our strategy to educate our children in the virtues are to seek out and discuss examples and to catch them doing it right and praise that (as well as, when necessary, chastise them for wrong-doing).

So we often discuss behaviour of friends etc at school, or characters in stories, in terms of the virtues (or lack thereof) displayed and the consequences.

Particularly when this is negative stuff about people we know and like, it also reinforces the whole notion of hate the sin and love the sinner, which is a very important distinction.

It also means we have to be honest when we as parents have failed in a virtue - I often find myself apologising for shouting unfairly at one or other of them, for example.

But the most important element is probably the positive reinforcement. So when Ant broke her nose, and was extremely brave about it, she received lots of praise and some tokens of appreciation to acknowledge her bravery.

Thursday 15 February 2007


I have often boasted that our children have far fewer injuries than those of parents who are much more risk-averse. I have had my come-uppance!

Ant broke her nose the other day, precisely because of our careless and irresponsible parenting.

We were out for a walk with some other (counter-cultural) friends and the kids were palying a complex game involving all sorts of charging around. Charlie and his friend set up a trip wire (using Goldie's lead). We all saw it - except Ant who chose that moment to charge at Dom and her friend, tripped spectacularly, and skidded over the smooth grass (which is why we'd thought the trip wire was safe) and found the one rock nearby with her nose.

We weren't sure she was hurt at first and only stopped laughing when we realised she was really crying.

To her credit, she was very brave, even able to say through the tears what a fine booby trap the boys had set!

But we still would rather take the risks and have them charging about enjoying themselves - even if Ant's nose is a little crooked for the rest of her life...

Educating in the Virtues (3)

A couple of posts ago I raised the question: ‘what are the virtues?’

There seems to be a bit of a contrast between modern ‘values’ and old-fashioned virtues. And as so often, I think the wisdom of centuries has more to offer than the current consensus.

To take an example, one of the few virtues which is universally applauded these days is tolerance. But I would far rather be treated with charity than be tolerated. By the same token, I would far rather treat others with charity - including ‘tough love’ where necessary, than tolerance.

If someone tolerates me, it often means they simply don’t care or understand enough to engage with me seriously. I’d prefer a good row to that! Not least because I might be wrong, and if tolerated will never discover that.

So the system of virtues we use when considering our children’s upbringing (and therefore our own behaviour - see previous post) is the classic set of faith, hope, charity, justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance.

In The Abolition of Man, C S Lewis describes values commonly held by all civilisations worthy of the name through history, and gives them the label of the Tao. Lewis was a Christian, and clearly the values he is describing are consistent with Christianity. However he was quick to point out, and give examples to demonstrate, that the values he is describing can be found in Norse, Ancient Greek, Roman, Ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Indian, etc etc cultures.

From another point of view, John Finnis, a legal philosopher at Oxford University, tries to establish the basis for good law in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights. He reaches a similar conclusion: that there are certain basic forms of human good on which any civilised society must base its code of law. His list is different, as much in style as in content,
from Lewis’s.

Lewis’ list includes: Beneficence (ie refrain from doing harm to others; do good to them where you can), Justice, Mercy, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.

Finnis identifies the following as the basic forms of human good on which any civilised society must base its code of law: Life, Knowledge, Play, Aesthetic Experience, Sociability (friendship), Practical Reasonableness, and ‘Religion’ (or a common philosophy).

Thursday 25 January 2007

Educating in the Virtues 2

Here’s our strategy: show and tell.

It really is that simple, and that difficult. That is to say, we try to demonstrate the virtues in the way we live our lives, so that when we discuss them with the children, they recognise them in practice and see that we really believe in them.

The great benefit of this approach is that it forces us to think very carefully about the virtues we would wish our children to demonstrate - and then live by them ourselves.

A few examples may help.

With all the current furore over gay rights versus the rights of conscience of Christians who actually believe in the Bible and the traditional teachings of the Church, we have been talking to Ant and Bernie about these issues. We want them to be quite clear that one can believe a homosexual lifestyle is wrong, without being prejudiced against homosexual people. It really helps that we are able to point to the fact that when a homosexual friend of ours was in a terrible state as his partner had been sent to jail for possessing pornographic images of children, we invited him to dinner on a weekly basis. He was and is a good friend: we still disapprove of his lifestyle and believe it to be bad for him and his (now ex-)partner.

Likewise, when we come to discuss the importance of love in the most practical sense, they will know that for years we have been supporting children in India.

And so on. That means that the virtue, when discussed, reveals to them something they already know from experience is very important. It also means we have to work hard to pursue in practice those virtues which we are quick to pay lipservice to!

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Educating in the Virtues

In a previous post, I wrote: ‘The tougher issue is helping them to recognise the dysfunctionality of homosexual behaviour without that turning into a prejudice against people who find themselves drawn to it. But that, I believe, is a lesson worth learning.’

But how does one do that? And more broadly, how does one educate children in the virtues?

Come to that, what are ‘the virtues’?

That will be the subject of a series of posts over the next few days.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

More on homosexuality

While it’s still legal to say so, and before the thought police are given their full warrant, I would mention that this counter-cultural father thinks it iniquitous to place children with homosexual couples: it is being done for political correctness rather than in the interests of the children.

I go further and maintain that homosexual behaviour is clearly deviant: to say that it is natural because a number of people are born that way is fatuous. Many may be born with a prediliction to murder, or paedophilia, or stamp collecting, come to that - it tells us nothing about whether such things are good, bad or neutral.

What is interesting in the recent debates is that the libertarian argument (it’s nobody else’s business what two consenting adults get up to...) seems to be a one way street. Two consenting adults who agree to run a bed and breakfast which excludes practicing homosexuals will soon find that it’s somebody else’s business.

Moreover, the gay rights lobby is moving well out of the field of what individuals get up to, and into the fields of public policy and education.

So how does a counter cultural parent respond?

Well, kids are not stupid: they can pretty soon see that sex is about babies and bonding. The tougher issue is helping them to recognise the dysfunctionality (and dangerous nature) of homosexual behaviour without that turning into a prejudice against people who find themselves drawn to it. But that, I believe, is a lesson worth learning.

The Worm Turns?

It’s funny for an interested observer to watch as the British Roman Catholic bishops are cornered and have to start behaving like...Roman Catholic Bishops. Normally they’re an inoffensive lot, quick to preach on the green agenda and other culturally acceptable things. But now they are having to confront the government over the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Specifically, they are having to point out that as these are currently framed, the Catholic Adoption Agencies in this country will have to close. Whether they would rather compromise and allow the agencies to place children with homosexual couples we will never know. What is certain is that the Vatican, under the leadership of the new Pope, will certainly not condone any such thing. So they are caught between a rock (Peter) and a hard place (Caesar). Caesar is starting to squirm a bit too: will that worm turn?

Sacred Drama

The Greeks (who knew a thing or too) took their drama seriously. The production of a Tragedy was an important communal experience, and one of the goals was catharsis, that purging of the soul through the extreme emotional and intellectual stimulation which good drama provides. Perhaps a close analogy is a family of wine connoisseurs who open a rich and potent bottle and fully appreciate the subtlety and power of the winemaker’s art.

We seem to have lost this understanding, and use drama and alcohol to while away idle moments.

This, you will realise, is one of the may reasons I believe that television is dangerous. Even if (and it’s a big if) the quality of programming is high, watching television regularly can be a bit like getting drunk regularly: we lose the capacity to enjoy the quality, we need stronger and stronger fixes to give us the same kick, and we develop a craving that makes life seem empty and flat (or at worst unbearable) without the constant stimulus of our drug of choice.

Which is why those who make television programmes have constantly to push the boundaries; why things which it would have been unthinkable to screen a few decades ago are the staple even of soap operas; and why the producers of Celebrity Big Brother in the UK have become the victims of the programme’s success. Through the media, not only television but also radio, press and much of the internet, we are bombarded with drama.

The key mechanism of drama is conflict. Open any book on how to write, or any critical analysis of a dramatic work and you will find that conflict is the spring which provides the motive force for drama, whether it is the inner conflict of an individual (Hamlet) or the epic conflict between Good and Evil (Lord of the Rings). That is why all news now has to be dramatic, every interview confrontational: we cannot follow sustained argument easily - we are so addicted to drama, that unless there is conflict, we lose interest and drift away.

So, as counter-cultural parents, we limit our children’s (and our own) exposure to drama. We make a big occasion of going to the cinema (and more rarely the theatre) and we notice that we and our kids get a far bigger kick out of drama as a result.

Sunday 21 January 2007

Prophets of Doom

I read this quotation recently:

"Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice." G. K. Chesterton.

It cast some light on my resistance to the prophets of gloom whose current demon is Global Warming. Whilst I am prepared to believe there is a problem, and certainly that we should not pour filth out into the atmosphere without heed to the damage we do, there is something about the fiercest prophets of doom which repels me. And it is precisely as Chesterton points out: focusing too much on these issues takes our attention from the real dangers.

Which is why it is particularly sad to see so many religious leaders jumping so whole-heartedly onto the green bandwagon.

Looking back over my life, I have been assured that many things (nuclear anihilation, over-population etc etc) were the deadliest threat facing us, complete with graphs or data proving that unless drastic action were taken we would never survive until the millenium. And yet here we are...

It all ends in tears...

An interesting occurrence at school the other day. Ant’s class were talking about IVF and embryo experimentation. Ant managed to get more and more worked up at the fact that nobody seemed even to notice that there was a moral question involved here, to the point where she felt that she needed to leave the class. She raised her hand to ask to be excused and promptly burst into tears (this is an absolute first! And given that she’s sixteen a very embarrassing one for her).

However it transpired that the minute she was out of the door, the conversation turned to what could have upset her, and a number of the kids piled in on how questionable the whole business was. Her teacher was good about it too, saying that she had been about to go into how many people felt extremely srongly about the issue - and Ant demonstrated that, provoking exactly the discussion the teacher wanted.

And none of the kids has been anything but supportive of her about the incident.

So while it was most unpleasant for her, it had some very interesting consequences.

Saturday 13 January 2007

Divorce Made Comfortable

I was interested to read the reports in The Times purporting to show that divorce does no harm to children. There is clearly a huge interest in making divorce ever more acceptable in society at large, as so many people experience it.

However, reading the report it became clear that the methodology was to ask children how they felt about divorce some years afterwards. Children being tolerably robust, this revealed that they tend to say it’s not been too awful. In fact, with their (divorced) parents and possibly new step-parents wanting to justify the new status quo, doubtless it will have been something of a mantra in many cases: ‘things are so much better now than when mummy/daddy and I were fighting all the time.’

However what this research did not seem to address (from the reports published) were issues like:
the educational, emotional, psychological or health outcomes for children post-divorce compared with those from a stable marriage;
the ability or otherwise of such children to sustain permanent relationships in adult life;
the impact of creating a culture of temporary relationships on children at large; and so on.

In fact, I fear that either the research was conducted with a particular pro-divorce agenda in mind, or it has been hijacked by those who wish to justify divorce.

Here is some contrary research - as published in a page called ‘5 myths about divorce’ by a Catholic Family organisation. Yes, yes, of course, they have a particular point of view - but look at the research!

The full site is at : http://www.catholic-family.org/Information/divorce.html

Myth 3: A divorce is better for the children - the conflicts in a bad marriage are too upsetting for them.

False! Another myth that seems reasonable to most people. But the facts are clear: "The outcomes for children in 'high conflict' intact families more closely resembled those for children in 'low conflict' intact families than those in [divorced] families". Whilst no-one denies that parental conflict is bad for children, the evidence shows that divorce makes things even worse.

Data, The University of Exeter: Exeter Family Study 1994.
Myth 4: The divorce makes a 'clean break' from conflicts so everyone can settle down and rebuild their lives.

False! "The experience of most children whose parents divorce is of increased conflict over an extended period". The advent of new 'partners', conflicts over access rights of the father or mother all mean conflicts can continue indefinitely.

Data source as above.
A nice summary is also provided by the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University:
"Children whose parents have divorced were on average less emotionally stable, left home earlier and divorced or separated more frequently ... The critical thing seems to be children's awareness that parents have, through choice, separated and for many this means a parent choosing to leave them."

Myth 5: The children would prefer it if their fighting parents would split up

False! "When children are asked what they would like they almost always say they only want one thing, that their parents should stay together".
Data source Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University.

Thursday 11 January 2007

Counter Cultural Parents

One aspect of raising counter cultural kids is to be counter cultural parents. So, for example. we are committed to each other regardless of what the future may bring - for better for worse was the promise we made, and we will honour that. That simple fact gives our kids a great deal of security - especially in an environment where they see their friends’ parents splitting up and all the problems that entails. One part of that is not using artificial contraception, but rather natural family planning. One could speculate about why, but the statistical data is clear: couples using NFP are vastly more likely to stick together than couples using artificial contraception.

Other ways in which we are different from the modern norms: we don’t owe money other than the mortgage on our house, and never borrow to buy things we can’t afford; Anna has given up her professional job to be able to bring the kids up; I work freelance, and keep as much of the holidays and half terms clear as I can. That means money can be tight (we haven’t had a family holiday away from home for years) but it feels worth it for other reasons. We aren’t great ‘consumers.’ We spend a lot of time with the kids - just hanging around with them as well as in more structured activities; we read a lot, we enjoy music, both performing and listening, we go to the theatre, we pursue hobbies and interests which all the family can enjoy (walking, climbing, sailing, cycling etc.) we play family games: card games, board games, charades etc. We work actively to educate the kids in our values and also to be critical and independent thinkers: an interesting balance to strike. We read to the little ones, and discuss the books the older ones are reading with them. And much of this is possible simply because we don’t have a TV - which frees up a huge amount of time and energy for many of these other activities.

Monday 8 January 2007


The kids went back to school today and Ant got her Mock GCSE results - all very good (nearly all A*s) which was heartening. The teachers are not all keen on our counter-cultural approach - some cannot imagine how a child without a TV can possibly be well informed and intelligent - so it was important to me for that reason (as well as intrinsically of course) that she should do well. I feel vindicated!

Thursday 4 January 2007

New Year

We were invited to stay with another counter-cultural family over New Year. They too have no TV (always a good indicator!) and do things a little differently. So when we arrived we found that they had set up a Quest in the woods behind their cottage. Our kids had been asked to bring Elven gear so came kitted out in cloaks etc, and were presented with beautifully made scabbards, daggers, swords pouches etc. Then all the children (our four plus our hosts’ three,) along with my wfe and I and two dogs set off on the Quest. This involved following a number of clues through the woods and undertaking various challenges, in order to collect the three essential whatever-they-weres. The challenges including swinging on ropes, walking on logs, going over or under fallen trees, following a rope trail blindfolded and so on.

It was a huge success, and got all the kids enthused about a long walk in the woods on a wet and windy afternoon, when they should have been watching commercials on telly...

Later our kids performed their traditional New Year’s Show (this year it was Snow White) with a tasteless script and songs set to tunes all the kids know (eg: (To the tune of Silent Night) Apples for sale, Apples for sale, Red and sweet, Such a treat. Don’t open your door, I don’t need to come in, Just open the window, I’ll pass you one in. Red and juicy sweet apples - Juicy sweet apples for sale.) Again this was a lot of fun for all.

What’s heartening is that our 16 and 13 year old daughters both enter into all of this with great enthusiasm for the benefit of the younger kids - neither of them are embarrassed or reticent about wandering through the woods in the rain in elven cloaks with younger kids, singing silly songs, dressing up, etc etc.