The Equality Act 2010 and Women Bishops

In the light of the UK Equality Act of 2010 there are some serious questions for the Church of England to be addressing over the next months as it collectively ruminates on the trauma it delivered, to itself and the waiting public who still care what the institution makes of itself in third millennium Britain.  By 6 votes  the legislation which would have been put in play to ordain women as Bishops into the Church of England failed.  Ironically the vote failed to reach the required two thirds majority in the House of Laity.  Testimony claimed some that this was not about systemic misogyny or sexism, but a matter of deeply held theological difference, which must be honoured.

First female Bishop in Africa

At the same time as the Church of England Synod was failing to legitimise the

the first female Bishop of the diocese of Swaziland

As the Church of England says NO – one of the Southern African churches says ‘Yes’.

equality of women across its organisational remit,  one of her African sisters was on the move. African christians, so frequently lassooed into conversation to add  ballast to the argument of conservative forces against opening up the Church to yet another equality, whether that of recognising the right for persons with the protected characteristic of sexual orientation to be ordained, or of the challenges around gay marriage, were welcoming the first female Bishop of Swaziland – Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya into their midst.  A clear reversal of fortunes and dynamics, of which the Church of England and its leadership should take clear note. The newspaper headlines calling out from billboards in the streets made clear the opinions of some of the press and general public about what had been holding up such an appointment over the last decades of political and civil society change.

160 years of male domination in the Anglican (colonially planted) church ends today, calls out the billboard.  For the Anglican church in England it will be interesting to see which year is set for the timeline to be adjusted to by the editors responsible for the sales strap-line.  For change is coming, and will come – and other churches on the move are not simply the churches of our former ‘colonial’ cousins, in New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Canada, but emerging from across Africa.  At present the signs are smaller than a child’s fist, but they will undoubtedly grow. As confidence builds,  old shibboleths are overcome, and the onward march of civil entitlement and equality is understood, this renewal of the Anglican church will emerge in India, South America and even have a presence in China and the far East, alongside other minority churches seeking to express the equality which has been ‘in captivity’ within the founding mission statement of the churches for so many generations.

The Equality Act of 2010 has a history rooted in the evolution of the declaration of Human Rights which emerged on the 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the horrific experiences of the second world war and was the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.  Unfortunately the male ascription of sibling affinity, somewhat undermined its ability to transform immediately the gender inequalities which were endemic across European polity at that time. The first article announces in the same tone adopted by so much of the liturgy of the Anglican church, references to brotherhood, and the assumption of the male is the referent for all ascriptions of humanity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1 of the Universal declaration announces: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. And Article 7 declares that : All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Protection from discrimination

This is the deep political and civil entitlement context out of which the Equality Act 2010 eventually emerged into our legal landscape.  The 2010 single Equality Act which outlines 9 protected characteristics which public authorities have a duty to protect and to actively promote inclusion are as follows:
age;
disability;
gender reassignment;
pregnancy and maternity;
race;
religion or belief;
sex;
sexual orientation.

Equality Act  Section 149 para 7

This public duty applies to all public bodies, though there is some form of exemption which operates for the General Synod buried deep in its inner legal workings – which has left the Church of England free to evolve its own decisions about how authority, power and talent acquisition and development can be managed in a manner which clearly privileges certain types of male. These days of being let off the hook though may soon be ending after yesterday’s shocking result. A result which visibly shook Archbishop Rowan Williams, and his heir apparent the Rt Revd Justin Welby – and the majority of General Synod members in all three houses.

The church needs a prod

In Prime Minister’s Question Time this afternoon UK Prime Minister David Cameron was asked to comment on the no vote at General Synod and mentioned that the Church of England might be in need of ‘a sharp prod’ (@cllrbpiper).  There will undoubtedly be numerous prods being poked through the railings surrounding Lambeth Palace, across the desks of church bureaucrats and into the meetings of Bishops and the Archbishop’s council in the coming weeks, to provoke the Church of England’s corporate imagination and ingenuity to finally realise the aspirations of 42 out of its 45 dioceses, and overwhelming 70% of its representation at General Synod.

What could be of great assistance as Synod says goodbye to Archbishop Rowan and prepares itself to welcome in his stead the Rt Revd Justin Welby when it convenes some time during the coming year, is to consider the public duty which all citizens in the UK are asked to be mindful of.  This is the duty which  every public authority in the UK is tasked to actively promote and attend to within its own organisation and is announced in the Equality Act of 2010 – which I attach below.

Love thy neighbour

Although a statement of well sculpted legal text, it spells out clearly a late modern vision of non-discrimination, the preconditions for a flourishing meritocracy, and the sort of world in which God might be pleased to dwell in.  That final clause is not one detailed in the Equality Act itself. But it is one on which the Established Church of England might like to ponder, and post across its churches, as a contemporary intention for mission.  It may not make as good spiritual poetry as the ancient Aramaic of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves, but it might just spell out some of the consequences of trying to work out the consequences of its founder’s central brand statement for the church today.

Equality Act 2010

Section 149    Public sector equality duty

(1) A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—
(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
(c)foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
(2)A person who is not a public authority but who exercises public functions must, in the exercise of those functions, have due regard to the matters mentioned in subsection (1).
(3) Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
(a remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;
(b) take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
(c) encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low.
(4)The steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled persons that are different from the needs of persons who are not disabled include, in particular, steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities.
(5) Having due regard to the need to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to—
(a) tackle prejudice, and
(b) promote understanding.
(6) Compliance with the duties in this section may involve treating some persons more favourably than others; but that is not to be taken as permitting conduct that would otherwise be prohibited by or under this Act.
(7) The relevant protected characteristics are—
age;
disability;
gender reassignment;
pregnancy and maternity;
race;
religion or belief;
sex;
sexual orientation.
(8) A reference to conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act includes a reference to—
(a)a breach of an equality clause or rule;
(b)a breach of a non-discrimination rule.
(9) Schedule 18 (exceptions) has effect.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/149

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Bridenapping – a new twist on an ancient patriarchal art

Celebrations in the local hostelry after the bride has been seized is not so far back in our culture as many of us suppose.

Celebrations in the local hostelry after the bride has been seized is not so far back in our culture as many of us suppose.

 

Today’s Independent has a piece by Emily Duggan in which she reports on the existence of a scarcely reported phenomenon of bridenapping in over 17 different countries.  The UN spokesperson Aminata Touré, chief of the Gender, Human Rights and Culture branch of the UN Population Fund, is reported as saying: “What we really need is more research to come up with the level of the problem. For something to be registered as a crime, it has to be reported; that’s the problem, because it’s often seen as a cultural practice and not a crime. When it’s not perceived as a crime, it becomes even harder for this practice to be registered as one. These are issues that sometimes it is problematic even to talk about. The bottom line is that women are considered as commodities – both by the husband who takes them and their own families who accept a deal.”

Well yes – because although the excesses of bridenapping are still being carried out with the default acceptance by the authorities in many countries included in this Independent on Sunday report in Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya, China, across many countries in Africa including Somalia, and from my own first hand reported experience in DR Congo, aswell as in some countries in South America – the resonances of this in our own Western idealised Hollywood weddings are still extremely present today.

This is not to diminish the appalling offence of bridenapping as it is being executed today on the lives of young women seeking to live out their lives independently and freely, and finding this avenue cut off precipitously by force by a marauding male, or more frequently small team of males.  A form of legitimized rape, and long-term removal of a woman’s life options comes on the back of any cultural legitimation of buying, selling, removing by force of women from their communities, whether the wider culture seeks to diminish the offence by placing the word husband next to the man who has appropriated another’s life.

However – and when you have read this next portion please hop across to the report on the Independent’s pages to see the extent of the challenge which faces the legislature in the affected countries and the UNPF as it seeks to make cultural inroads on the problem – however.  We in our celebrity, meringue laden, Bridegroom assisted by team helmsman of Best man and his crew of Ushers performance of marriage, where the Bridegrooms sword hand is free to fend off any attempt by the bride-napped family to regain their daughter, where the Best Man is situated behind the Bridegroom precisely to defend his

The Bride and Groom depart with the applause of family and friends - the history of bridenapping in our medieval past long forgotten

back, and where Father’s still ‘give their daughter’s away’ in marriage to another man – all these practices hark back to an age which now in most of Western Europe has happily passed into the archive.  But the cultural practice of male power, dominance, privilege and inter-male exchange persists.  Not to mention the popularity of recruiting wives from Thailand, Russia, the Philipines and countries where a woman can be a means by which her wider family gains access to previously undreamt of financial resources – whilst her own understanding of her rights and freedom to choose can be substantially constrained.

A timely piece and one rich with implications for action both here in the West, as well as in the halls of the UNDP, and the legislatures and communities of the 17 countries named and shamed so far.

The Independent on Sunday – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/bridenapping-ndash-a-growing-hidden-crime-2367811.html

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The best people to sort this all out.

 

Every once in a while large organisations with international clout and mega-billion budgets, which bestride our societies like Colossi, reveal their feet of clay, and their heads of – well if not clay then certainly some base metal.  These immense juggernauts which gather up so much passion, resources, time and human energy, suddenly spew out their harvest, and whilst convulsing, the command centre desperately seeks to keep its balance and authority.

Two such Colossi this last fortnight have suffered such implosion. One is the epitome of the capitalist phenomenon of unfettered growth ‘giving the people’ in their purchasing millions, what they supposedly wanted and reaping the benefits in a multi-billion pound empire. The other has had incontrovertible power and authority over millions of faithful Catholics across the world, and multi-billion pounds of real estate, but its days of holding sway over the hearts and minds of four million Irish men and women could well be numbered.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, this last week faced unprecedented attack and criticism from a government report which found one of the dioceses, the diocese of Cloyne in direct contravention of the stated policy of the church to co-operate fully with police investigations of alleged child abuses in the diocese.  Stung undoubtedly by the swingeing remarks by Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the negligence of the Church authorities and leadership to address the appalling cover up of sexual abuse by priests and those placed by the Church in authority over children in its institutions, Archbishop Diarmuid, claimed that there was cabal in his own Archdiocese and in the Vatican which was failing to drive through the reforms in procedures, which the Irish Bishops’ conference has ratified and for which he has pastoral oversight. Key individuals, including the Bishop of Cloyne, have failed to fully cooperate with government prosecutors and investigators, preferring to protect the institution according to the old rules, not recognising that the order of play has fundamentally altered.

Across the water in Westminster a similar attempt was being launched by Robert Maxwell, to save the nerve centre, as he bewailed the failure of those whom he had appointed to uphold the standards and values which News International required from their employees. A foam based custard pie thrown by one of the audience, was the vote of no confidence expressed more eloquently, but less democratically, than a thousand words of fresh copy.

The point is this.  Institutions as Mary Douglas reminds us in her wonderfully adroit exposition of How Institutions Think, have hidden sequences which catch individuals in their traps and hurl them down paths they never chose. It is all part of the latent power of groups and the ways in which individuals collude with the wider organisation’s themes and cohesive values in order to maintain the group’s unity and identity.

In the Catholic Church in Ireland this has meant that child abusing priests have been protected against prosecution for the sake of maintaining a myth of rectitude and the unbroken interlinked chain of power of priest, bishop, cardinal, pope and ultimately God.    At the News of the World it has meant that hacking or accessing information which would give advantage over and against its opposition and maintain high volumes of sales allegedly became an accepted mode of behaviour.

Whether prosecuting a campaign to out paedophiles in British communities, or simply acquiring yet another piece of juicy political, royal or celebrity gossip and enabling an embarrassing photo opportunity, the journalistic end started to justify the means. And so a form of journalism emerged which placed those who practiced it and those who consented to its practice, clearly in a rat trap.

And those caught in a trap and hurled down the path have been senior directors and executives. Down this last fortnight have hurtled Andy Coulson, Rebecca Brook, and eight other reporters associated with the News of the World.  But also down go the wider employee base of the paper which after one hundred and sixty years precipitously ceased production – caught in the after shock of the revelations, as the Colossus starts to crumble. At  this point, with extraordinary Chutzpah the command centre steps forward.  ‘I think’ said Rupert Murdoch to the parliamentary committee convened to investigate the crisis  ‘“that, frankly, I’m the best person to clean this up.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin obviously thinks the same. However whether he will be able to clean this particular cess pit of buried difficult, embarrassing and criminal behaviour is uncertain. Unfortunately for the Archbishop, like his fellow beleaguered multi billionaire leader of News International, much of the current trouble has happened on his watch. Archbishop Martin’s discomfiture with the criticisms made this week by the Taoiseach have stung him into an outburst at members of his own clergy, the retired Bishop of Cloyne and some of the entrenched protectionist culture practiced in Rome.

When Archbishop Rowan Williams made direct criticisms of the Irish Catholic Church and its inability to grip the issue of child abuse last year Archbishop Martin was reported to have “rarely felt personally so discouraged”.  At that point Archbishop Martin had said that those working to renew the church did not deserve the remarks, which “will be for them immensely disheartening and will challenge their faith even further”. Of course any criticism is disheartening, but the report produced by the independent panel of investigators this Wednesday showed that the collegial prompt from Lambeth was in order.

Now the only way forward for Murdoch and Martin is apparently to shake the dust of their amputated feet of clay from under them and seek to put as much distance from their corrupted limbs and torsos as Colossal brass necks will permit. Whether the strategy will work for either of them – only time and tide will tell. For the sake of Milly Dowler’s parents and family, and for over 13,000 children and adults who have filed cases against the Irish Church since the Catholic Church began the process of reporting such cases to the Police in January 1996 it is to be hoped that the process of clarification is carried through thoroughly.

Last Wednesday’s lacerating 341 page government report on numerous cover ups of paedophilia by Catholic priests between 1996-2009 in the County Cork diocese of Cloyne, will take some digesting. Whether the command centre of News International or the Irish Catholic juggernaut can be overhauled to be seen as roadworthy, fit and safe to travel on in the future will be a task for government, law enforcement and the judiciary to enable. But ultimately it is you and I, the readers, purchasers, parishioners, and congregations to decide.

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Rice Christianity – from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

Not since the Fidei defensor turned excommunicated renegade has there been such a public falling out with Rome on account of the actions of an  independent thinking Anne. At 18.36 precisely on the 28th of July,  Anne Rice, author of Interviews with a Vampire and one time Catholic returned prodigal, posted on her face book page the following notice:

‘For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.’

The other Anne, sister of Mary Boleyn and wife of Henry Tudor, was a similarly feisty lady. A champion of the spirit of the European Reformation, Anne owned one of the first copies

Anne Boleyn - A champion of the spirit of the European Reformation who lost her head in the struggles at the English court for succession.

of the revolutionary Tyndale Bible. This Bible was a radical and future orientated item to own, a veritable iPod of change. Tyndale’s Bible brought sacred texts previously the privileged possession of  the clerical elite into the hands of the laity. English rather than Latin, the voice of the peasant rather than the court, the Aramaic and Koine Greek of first century Palestine rather than the politically corrected translation of the Constantinian Empire.

Tyndale and Wycliffe before him exploited the new technology emerging out of the fifteenth century.  Gutenberg’s printing press prompted a knowlege revolution of unprecedented proportions. Scripture was released from the ‘thought police’ of the Vatican.  Clerical control of the the thoughts and imagination of the faithful was severed. The printing press providing the means for mass distribution of ideas, and the bold scholarly translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular of German, English and French revolutionised sixteenth century Europe.  At the centre of the firestorm in the Tudor court was Anne Boleyn with  her copy of Tyndale’s Bible. Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII triggered papal excommunication and the emergence of the Church of England, independent from Rome, with the monarch as the temporal Head of the Church.

Anne Rice whose Facebook post has caused a stir in virtual Christendom

As with Boleyn so with Rice.  This time the internet not ink and paper, courtesy of one Mark Zuckerberg not Johannes Gutenberg. Nevertheless a similar gauntlet has been thrown down to the Vatican. No marriage was being annulled, but questions around the efficacy of same sex-marriage  informed a great deal of the anxiety which led to Anne Rice’s profile update. This issue of which marriages can be approved of by church and state is part of today’s ‘great question’ mirroring Henry’s troubled question on his leveritical marriage to his brother’s wife centuries ago.

“I believed for a long time that the differences, the quarrels among Christians didn’t matter a lot for the individual, that you live your life and stay out of it. But then I began to realize that it wasn’t an easy thing to do,” said Rice, in an interview given to the AP news from her home in  California. “I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t make this declaration, I was going to lose my mind.”

The conclusion that Anne Rice came to was that she could no longer be part of a church which she perceived as anti gay, anti democrat, anti feminist, anti artificial birth control.

Since her post, over 100,000 Facebook members have become friends with Anne on her facebook page, many of whom have been long term followers of Anne through her writings on Vampires and her metaphysical fiction series, “Songs of the Seraphim.”

It makes you wonder what could have happened with the other Anne had she had the facility of engaging directly with the villeins and peasantry of the kingdom.  Comments on the dissolution of the monasteries would have been extensive and spawned a number of fanpages for Wolsey, Thomas More and the Northern Rising and Robert Aske. Henry VIIIs role as temporal head of the Church of England would have been widely disputed no doubt, and the Pope’s excommunication of the King and the withdrawal of the papal legate would have occupied numerous blogs and tweets on the twittersphere.  But with the traction of social media, Anne might have survived the savagery of a King desperate for a son and the violence which he meted out on his second wife in her perceived betrayal of him in failing to provide a baby boy and secure the Tudor succession.

Which raises the question about what this new form of Rice Christianity, denouncing the perfidy of Rome and its stagnant out of kilter positions on gender equality, same-sex relationships, the privileging of the unborn child over the welfare of the birthing mother might be harbinger to.

Gutenberg's printing press spawned a thought revolution across Europe in the sixteenth century.

Gutenberg’s press opened up a way of sharing and expressing ideas which the political economy of the Holy Roman Empire and the Divine right of Kings never recovered from. The populations touched by the ink of the printing presses never returned to their former pre-enlightenment state.  In Britain the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible emerged as a new Trinity to face down the old ‘restrictive’ practices of Rome – it heralded married priests, communion in both kinds, services in the vernacular,  energised a movement towards mass literacy and saw an upsurge in vestry power.

So what of Zuckerberg and the growing band of disappointed pilgrims  now identifying with Anne Rice’s disillusionment with the Catholic Church.  The internet provides a new technological tool for realising virtual communities with an unprecedented means for associating, sharing ideas, providing practical support and enabling the spread of ideas internationally across generations, genders, ethnicities and ideological persuasion.

When Anne Boleyn’s fiance set his face determinedly against the Holy See – the religious and secular landscape underwent a seismic change. Whether Anne Rice’s self-exclusion from the fellowship of Rome will result in similar shock waves is not yet clear. What is certain however is that in an age of internet connectivity and virtually shaped communities, the pre-modern stance of the Roman Catholic church on issues of equality, diversity,  the rights of women over their own bodies’ reproductivity and redress of paedophilic transgressions,  will be exposed to immense pressures of public reflection and criticism, with alternative modes of performing its religious functions developed outside of the control of the religious hierarchy.

Thankfully, if Anne Rice continues to keep her head in the ensuing noise in the twittersphere and blogsphere, there will be at least one place where those interested in exploring Christianity can gather, abandoning the bitter misogynistic and homophobic discourses which are now perceived  as commonplace in Anglicanism and embedded in Vatican house rules. It may not be an upper room, nor a Queen’s bedchamber, and only a humble page – but it could signal the beginning of new reformation – and for that only time will tell.

You can follow Anne Rice’s public separation from formalised religion and independent journey forward as a follower of Christ on Facebook –  http://www.facebook.com/annericefanpage.

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Fridays are a great day to look forward to the week-end and sum up the week that has been – except frequently I find there is no time!

Here is Beth Nielsen Chapman getting her priorities right –

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Paraskevidekatriaphobia – fear of Friday 13th.

Who is afraid of  big bad Friday the 13th? Well whilst on the twittersphere at the time of writing, it hasn’t made the top 10 of trending topics with Inception and Ramadan – there are a huge number of #related tweets on ‘why do things always go wrong for me on Friday 13th’  ‘spooky’ and general excuses for countering the protestant work ethic and staying in bed.

So back to the title. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is literally fear of Fridays when they happen to fall on the 13th day of the Roman calendrical month – so what is all the fuss about?

A study in the British Medical Journal provocatively titled “Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Health?” published in 1993,  undertook an examination of road useage, supermarket attendance, and hospital admissions on a Friday 13th as against the previous Friday the 6th in the South East of the UK. It was discovered in this limited but nevertheless wryly enlightening piece of research that whilst the utilisation of supermarkets remained fairly constant between the two fridays, the likelihood of hospital admission  as a result of a transport accident was increased by as much as 52%. The report’s abstract finishes with the recommendation that staying at home, if not under the duvet, is to be recommended.

Whatever the shortcomings of the above research in terms of managing out other contextual impacts on road traffic accidents in terms of weather or specific local alterations in condition between the two Fridays in the study’s area of control, the South West Thames region of the UK and its associated stretch of M25, it does point to an enduring public anxiety attached to Friday the 13th in the UK which could do with some explication.

As David Emery points out on his blog in [http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/friday_the_13th_2.htm]

The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year (there happens to be only one such occurrence in 2010, in the month of August) portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. According to some sources it’s the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people refuse to go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t eat in restaurants; many wouldn’t think of setting a wedding on the date.

The figure in the United States, according to  Dr Donald Dossey, an American psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias, of those who experience a phobic response to Friday the 13th,  could be a staggering 21 million people in the US alone.  An unknown but probably significant proportion of phobia sufferers simply refuse to go to work when this particular conjunction of 6 and 13 coalesce – a combination which occurs from one to three times annually.

So where has this fear of 13 come from for the North European and North American mind? I put this geographical limiter on quite purposefully because in China and in Egypt the number 13 is not an omen of bad fortune, but a sign of luck and of happiness.

If we consider the roots of dominant northern societal myths, we need look no further than the Norse myths of Scandinavia, and the dominant religious motifs emerging from Judaeo-Christendom for some indications of wobbly moments around the numbers 13 and 6 some interesting details emerge.

In Norse myth a banquet at the gods Hilton – Valhalla – saw twelve gods on the celebrity invitation list. However Loki, the one that they all loved to hate, the god of mischief, was not invited.  He crashed the party and brought the total number of guests to, you guessed it, 13. Loki got in amongst the conversations, and provolked Hod, the blind god of winter into an assault on Balder the Good.  Balder was killed – remarkably by a sprig of mistletoe (thereby hangs some other tales for Christmas) shaped in a spear, thrown by Hod.  The number 13 as a poor choice for dinner invitations has endured to this day.

Which leads us nicely to an upper room in Jerusalem. There on the night before Jesus was Crucified – on the crucifixion day set aside by Imperial Rome and later adopted across Northern Europe as hangman’s Friday, thirteen men sat down to dine. One of this number was to betray Jesus, thus solidifying Nothern European anxieties around the unequal numbers for dinner arrangements.

In other evidence from the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, Friday has been traditionally linked to the day when Eve ate some delicious fruit from the tree of knowledge and offered it to Adam, resulting in their subsequent eviction from the garden, the Tower of Babel project was interrupted by God with the confusion of languages on a Friday, the Temple of Solomon was ransacked and destroyed on a Friday and although linguistically marked as ‘good Friday’ Christians have traditionally recognised Friday as a day of penance, fasting and general abstinence.

I’d be interested to hear from those whose cultures mark out Fridays and baker’s dozens’ in an altogether more favourable light. Meantime happy Paraskevidekatria – watch out for making deals on these strangely ‘marked’ days as some of the right people may not be in the office or paying due attention  – and may all your phobias be little ones.

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Wisbech: Grumpy Gordon and the tale of two Thomases

Last year I was asked to undertake a piece of work in Wisbech to inform some ongoing work the Council was undertaking to improve community cohesion and social integration in the Fenland District area.   I arrived in the town by the curiously named South Brinks which meanders along the River Nene and leads into the heart of Wisbech.  There stands the statue of Thomas Clarkson – the Wisbech Grammar School boy whose voice informed that of Wilberforce, and reasoned out the blight of the triangular trade in African enslaved labour to the Caribbean 200 years ago.   In some earlier research on the dismantling of the West African slave trade,  I had read his words in the cloistered environment of the reading room of the University Library in Cambridge.  In that somewhat sterile environment  his  passion was nevertheless palpable as he brought his intelligence and focussed passion to bear against the appalling  trade in lives which was being undertaken under the flag of early Empire and the script of English civilisation.   He was  resilient, courageous and persistent in his research and  lobbying to inform the consciense of eighteenth century politicians, churchmen, and ordinary citizens to see this particular form of  slavery ended.  In Wisbech his statue divides  the route which leads on into the high street of that which once was a thriving commercial hub for this part of  Eastern England,  and the arterial routes out to another  ancient estuary port of Kings Lynn.

In the mid- seventeenth century  the  inhabitants of Wisbech had been known as the Fen tigers because of their resistance to the draining of the fens. Their cause  echoed the resistance that the burgers of Cambridge had put up half a century earlier as the Great Fen of Cambridgeshire was drained. One Cambridge historian remarked in 1655 that  “the fens preserved in their present property, afford great plenty and variety of fish and fowl, which here have their seminaries and nurseries; which will all be destroyed on draining thereof.”   Ecological concerns and private interest nestling together in a political package which inspired resistance.

The draining or ecological sabotage of East Anglia, depending on which way you look at it,   was initiated through the economic speculation of  English noblity, received political approval from Westminster in the person of Oliver Cromwell, was enabled by local investment from French Hugenot refugees who had been granted landholding in the area,  and masterminded by the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden using technology pioneered in the Netherlands. This mixed bag of ‘outside’ interests,  confronted the indigenous population with enormous changes in their physical and economic landscape.  It  resulted in the migration of  the town’s founding river – the River Ouse,  and the introduction of a miniature Canal system echoing the inland port of Amsterdam just over 200 miles away, with dutch gables to match on the warehouses and substantial homes that line the North Brinks of the town. The draining of the fens turned Wisbech into a wealthy port handling the agricultural produce of the newly drained hinterland which was shipped out to London and across to Europe, and attracted inward investment in other mediums of commercial infrastructure.  These were days of pride and innovation,  with the banking dynasty of the Quaker inspired Peckovers,  easing the town into a time of opulence, which the graceful Georgian buildings of the Crescent and the North Brinks stand eloquent testimony.

The same financial acumen of the Peckovers and their canny management of the local Banking system  weathered a run on their credit and  steered the town through the financial collapse which cut through the banking sector in the latter half of the eighteenth century.   Inward investment into two harbour quays and three railway companies brought rail hauliers and passenger trains into the heart of a thriving hub.   No wonder that a local vicar settled happily into authoring one of the iconic pieces of mid twentieth century children’s literature from here.  The Rev. W Audry creator of eponymous Thomas the Tank Engine series, a global phenomenon which has reached to Japan in its popularity, wrote about engines, carriages,  trams, field tractors and local bureaucracy, from the quiet retreat of his rectory in Enmeth only a few miles from the town’s centre.

But not all was sweetness and light.  Awdry has the steam engine Gordon, resistant to change, resentful of the arrival of diesel engines and unyielding in the light of  a changing portfolio of work. Gordon – proud in the passing glory of the North West Railway express passenger service –  is the signature of recalcitrance and the fear of change which Awdry writes into his tale of post-war Fenland.  And there were a number of grumpy Gordons present  in the documentary shown in the BBC The day the Immigrants Left last night. The busy and industrious Tomases and Tomasinas, from Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia,  harvesting asparagus, packing potatoes, getting up at 5.15am and working relentlessly until their 8 – 9 hour shift came to an end.  Awdry’s Gordon was inhibited by his philosophy that  “tender engines don’t shunt”.  Gordon looked down on tank engines and tender engines who did the shunting,  an activity which was beneath him.  In The day the Immigrants Left Evan Davis and his team had persuaded local unemployed residents to take up work which they wouldnt have necessarily envisaged alongside some of the European ‘incomers’.  Gordon in Awdry’s tale ends up going on strike and being locked up in the railway sheds  by a frustrated  Fat Controller.   In Evan Davis’s piece we watch somewhat shriven as opportunities to ‘take back the jobs’ apparently ‘stolen’ by accession workers are missed by those bearing sick notes, failing to show,  or overwhelmed by the learning curve which any change in work culture and environment necessitates.   Not all were Gordons however.  There were some moments of learning taking place even in the short 48 hours of the experiment of change.  There were one felt some Thomases in the sidings just waiting to be given a chance to shine.  It was good to see some openness to change, and a verbalised at least for the cameras appreciation of the work-ethic of their newest neighbours.  However even between the end of filming and the screening of the documentary one of the young skilled Wisbech carpenters had left the town seeking opportunities elsewhere, and two of those involved in the experiment had failed to be moved ‘out of the engine shed’.

Perceived economic advantage, change and adaptation.  Winners and losers.  Opportunities grabbed hold of, and those missed. Its a pattern which has shaped the human and physical  landscape of Wisbech and its hinterland over the past four centuries.  From the arrival of the French Hugenots, the draining of the fens, the banking acumen of the incoming Quaker Peckovers, the interest of railway barons, the diversion of the River Ouse,  the loss of the port,  the arrival by air, eurorail and southern ports of a new wave of energy and change from the continent.  Families from Portugal,  refugees from Africa, thousands of young men and women from the Accession countries of post communist Europe ready labour to harvest and pack crops,  start businesses in the town, reinject the commercial life of a town which the old Industrial revolution had moved on from.  It was all here, retranscribed for the third millenium.  Over the last five years the economy of the town, in terms of commercial activity in housing, purchasing of white goods, a thriving sunday market, a steady increase in council tax revenue, has all resulted in a tremendous injection of activity and life for the area.  Percieved economic opportunity, change and adaptation.    I was left wondering  what  Cornelius Vermuyden, Thomas  Clarkson,  Wilbert Awdry, Jonathan Peckover and the previous generation of Fen Tigers  would have made of it all.  And reminded that in the end Gordon had to be assisted in getting over his grumpiness and undergo a refit.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00r3qyw/The_Day_the_Immigrants_Left/

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