Category Archives: Humour

#CountingOurBlessings

In the old soviet era, the bolder more stoical Russians sustained themselves like oppressed peoples all over the world with humour. One of the popular formats for jokes was to repeat to ones friends and neighbours reports from  a fictional radio station – Radio Yerevan (Radio Armenia)

One such joke ran that the station had reported the economic forecasts for the following year.

“It will be terrible,” ran one such report, “Natural disasters will strike, the crops will  fail, tractor production will plummet. The rouble will collapse, and there will be widespread hunger and demoralisation- but happily, there is good news”.

“What’s that the?” neighbour would ask.

“It will be a whole lot better than the year after”.

Well, things did change for the Russian people, and notwithstanding current difficulties, most Russians would not want to go back to their old regime. Things did eventually get better, if not yet perfect.

We would do well to remind ourselves of how optimism lifts people in times of change as we enter our own period of modest uncertainty with the approach of a General Election in May 2015.

No sooner have the Magi arrived in our churches with their gifts to lay before our mangers, than our party leaders are similarly out on the road bringing less tangible largesse in an attempt to close the Christmas season down, and bring the news spotlight back onto themselves. This will continue as we observe the circumcision of Christ and that troubling account for all,parents, when the young Jesus is left behind in the Temple by oversight of Mary and Joseph,,

Thereafter, Jesus and his family disappear from history until his cousin calls him to his mission many years later.

During that time Jesus lived an ordinary life, and so shall we, whatever the politicians and even the liturgy may say to us.

It occurred to Brother Ivo that before we get caught up in the partisan battle, it will do us no harm to encourage each other during the remainder of the Christmas Season by counting our blessings during these early days of 2015.

Brother Ivo was taught to be methodical about such analyses so here are a few headings for you to consider , and perhaps add thoughts of your own as we learn to start #CountingOurBlessings .

Our Constitution is under discussion, yet none of us fears greatly for our lives and freedoms under our present current constitutional arrangements.

We have a Monarch of unquestioned and unrivalled probiity. Her vast experience may be called for if the election yields a multi-party parliament with various permutations of Government needing to be negotiated. We know and trust the Queen to play her part with impartiality, and the Armed Firces and Police will stay out of the matter entirely. Happy is the country with such stability.

Our politics are robust, yet despite widespread cynicism, the remarkable question is not why our politicians  are so bad, but why- looking at others around the world- they are they so much better than in most other countries. Opponents will not be imprisoned, and notwithstanding occasional malfeasance., you would not now how to go about bribing one, the ballots will be honest and true. Do we value our politicians and their parties for that most comfortable of political expectations? Are we yet #CountingOurBlessings

The economy is a contentious issue, yet it will do us no harm to remind ourselves that the difference between the parties in the previous Party Leaders debates was over budgets differing by only one or two billion pounds. The contentious ground was remarkably narrow. Whatever happens, the supermarkets will be full, we shall overspend next Christmas, the holiday industry will be advertising on full throttle in the next months and even the unfortunate  will find the food banks fully provisioned.

Our “austerity” debate is largely about whether our government spending should return to the level of of few short years ago, when few of us were feeling despondent at Radio Yerevin levels. Our NHS will continue to do sterling work so that many will be healed and restored, whilst our hospice movement confers upon most of us the blessings of palliative care.

This is not to say that there are insignificant differences, yet we are the fifth largest economy in the world and even the worst scenario is infinitely better than the prospects for most of the world’s inhabitants.

A UK welfare claimant receiving the highest allowance under the benefit cap of £26,000 pa stands in the richest 1% of the world population’s income  income – and that is before one factors in the value of a lifelong pension, free healthcare and schooling for children.

Brother Ivo is no Dr Pangloss: he simply does not need to have pointed out that come what may, we shall continue to be vastly blessed in comparison with our brothers and sisters across the globe. None of us turns on a tap expecting to drink infected water, we have a temporate climate which yields few natural disasters, and our security at many levels is greatly to be envied from abroad.This is why so many people would love to come and live in these islands.

We have religious freedom despite there being concerns at encroachment, and despite anxiety at the arrival of newcomers, the North/South divide and the problems of our young getting on the housing ladder, we are a nation largely at social peace one with another.

These are great benefits to acknowledge in these early days of the year.

The Kings knelt in thanks for the gift of the Christ child, the saviour of the world. We too should do so, firstly and foremost,

Whilst we are there, however, it will do us no harm at all to close our ears to those who would have us fearful, anxious, suspicious or be-littling of each other.

This week Brother Ivo will be tweeting on the hashtag #CountingOurBlessings in a small protest against the negativity that the spin doctors will try to stampede us towards.

Please retweet and feel to join his modest campaign if you too, wish to start the year with a proper sense of proportion, giving thanks that notwithstanding proper concerns for what needs to be done to address our nation’s problems, we are indeed of clear mind and full of thankfulness that we are indeed a most fortunate people.

Hound of the Basket Cases

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Copyright Getty images

It was Brother Ivo’s own fault for falling asleep with the radio on.

He was woken by the sound of a BBC  “comedy quiz”, which has come to mean a group of four left of centre people talking to an uncritical audience which regards the height of wit as being  someone asking ” Isn’t Sarah Pallin stupid?”. That always goes down well.

Before he could turn it off, he had been irritated into wakefulness  by one of the contributors, Mr Rufus Hound, fulminating against “balance” in the public space and the publicly funded national media.

Mr Hound is not a man of tolerant judgement. He showed himself to be foolishly prejudiced when, in the course of an earlier controversy over how the aspirations of the National Health Service might best be delivered, he declared that the Prime Minister “wants your children to die-unless you’re rich”.

He was later reported to be standing in this year’s European Elections to “defend the NHS”. What exactly the EU can do about this issue remains unclear and unexplained. 

Brother Ivo fears that he would take an unworthy pleasure in watching Mr Hound on election night, trailing in, tens of thousands of votes behind UKIP and others he purports to loathe. Tsk Tsk.

The more he has thought about it, however, the more he has realised that as with many other issues, his reaction is more complicated than at first appears.

The problem is partly about Mr Hound and his shallow views but that is not the end of it.

There is the underlying problem with the BBC which, by constantly commissioning such shows  is steadily slipping from the previous standards of maintaining balance within its public service broadcasting role. There are many witty people of more diverse views than Mr Hound, only the BBC just can’t seem to find them.

The problem goes beyond the light entertainment and current affairs programing and even touches Breakfast television

Recently, three three major Labour figures were regrettably implicated in excessive liberal attitudes towards the Paedophile Information Exchange. It had laid inadequately explored for years. The facts are largely un-controversial because they have been minuted with occasional notes in the politicians’ own handwriting. Specifically, the current Director of the National Council for Civil Liberties has already offered an unqualified apology for the organisation. Shami Chacrabarti enjoys a high reputation for integrity, not least at the BBC.

When newspaper headlines linked these Labour figures to the promotion of paedophilia, the front pages were studiously omitted from the array of front pages displayed on breakfast television, yet barely a week later, when an adviser to the Conservative government was arrested in connection with the alleged possession of child abuse computer images, there was no such reticence.

Without labouring the matter, we could readily agree a long list of issues on which the BBC has a broadly discernible cultural bias.

EU – pro
Abortion – pro
Israel – anti
Democrat – pro
Republican – anti
Atheism -pro
Cannabis legalisation – pro.
Anthropomorphic Climate Change scepticism – anti

Yet happily, there does still seem to be a conscious inclination by the BBC to offer contributors from both sides of a debate on prominent issues. It may not always be fair and equal, there may be some bias, but some respect is shown to balance. That was always the intention of Lord Reith who shaped its ethos during the 1930’s when intolerances were also prevalent in politics.

Mr Hound evidently finds this irksome. He would like it to change and lets be clear. This is not comedic exaggeration. Many on the Left think that they are so obviously right, that opposing views are not only wrong but morally repugnant. That is why they call their approach “political correctness”. There is no nuance, no room for reaching across to one’s opponent to seek find common ground.

There are, according to Mr Hound and his uncritical audience, issues where one opinion is so obviously correct that offering a tangential view is unacceptable and serves only to confer unworthy credilibilty upon deceivers and fools.

Brother Ivo wonders how much history Mr Hound knows.

Galileo was vilified when he first dared to suggest that the earth was not the static centre of the universe. “Everybody” knew that was nonsense. “What a dangerous fool!”

Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce were similarly regarded as dangerously eccentric for threatening the economic order of the day by campaigning against slavery. Wasn’t slavery part of the Natural Law identified by Plato and Aristotle? It was to be found in almost every country from Africa to Mexico, China to New Zealand, though oddly, since 1102, not in England.

This was thanks to Archbishop Anselm, a  fact that is frequently overlooked by progressives. We need a film about that, perhaps with the working title ” 900 years not a slave”

The Big Bang theory proposed by George’s Lemaitre was similarly initially offensive to the scientific consensus of the day because of its worrying echo of Genesis; it overturned the scientific assumption of a solid state universe and re-opened the philosophical question about how everything emerges from nothing. Atheists still haven’t cracked that problem so they rarely talk about it on comedy shows and prefer to vilify Creationists.

All of these ideas offended the received wisdom of the day, and would have fallen foul of Mr Hound’s ostracising  of the innovative.

Brother Ivo is all for diversity of opinion and tolerance. He opposes the democratic basket cases like Mr Hound who are uncurious about received wisdom especially when it comes from the Left.

Brother Ivo tries to be fair.

He did explore the idea to see if there was any merit in it, and in one regard he has to  concede that Mr Hound might potentially have a point.

Karl Marx never held down a job, could not feed his family and was depended for much of his life upon the  fortune of the mill owning family of Friedrich Engles. Whenever his theories have been put into practice they have failed miserably, and more importantly,they have always brought misery to millions.

Brother Ivo has never heard Mr Hound or any in the progressive movement treating Marxism and its followers to the same kind of visceral rejection and scorn that he reserves for David Cameron or Sarah Pallin.

As Venezuela falls into as much unrest as Ukraine, none of our cultural warriors of the Left are contrasting the outcomes there with the salutes and praise heaped upon the Chavez Government by Diane Abbott and George Galloway.

“Hugo Chavez was a democrat, not a dictator, and showed a progressive alternative to neo-liberalism is both possible and popular” Owen Jones.

Venezuela is an oil rich country where Mr Chavez supporters have created riots on the streets and a toilet paper shortage. You need $40,000 to contemplate buying a car. What do you think are the chances of Mr Hound and his fellow BBC panellists of building a comedy routine references these facts and the premise, “Isn’t Owen Jones stupid?”

The problem is that without balance there is no progress of human thought. Mr Hound and the Left prefer a pre-primed default cultural laughter for their propositions.  It is incidentally a lazy approach. Thus they will never explore the concept ” Isn’t Marxism dreadful”.

Marxists like Mark Thomas are still feted, whereas Ms Palin – who did actually identify the risks to Ukraine from Russia – continue to be reviled.

Despite being sorely tempted to support the notion that the nations comedians should be hounding Marxism from our airwaves and cultural respectability, Brother Ivo is a passionate believer in open and respectful debate, and subscribes to the view that he must defend the rights of all shades of opinion to be expressed proportionately and lawfully whether he agrees with them or not.

This is not entirely as noble as it sounds.

Once, maybe just once, Rufus Hound, by pure chance, must one day say something sensible -or funny.

Brother Ivo would hate to miss it.

Briefly speaking……

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At Christmas, Brother Ivo was given a small book of 10 second sermons written by the comedian Milton Jones, for whose off beat humour he has a soft spot. The title of the book is in fact “Even more 10 second sermons”, so there is evidently an earlier offering to enjoy.

Many of these truly “mini-sermons” are thought provoking yet profound in their brevity.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote – “ I am writing you a long letter because I haven’t got time to write you a short one.” Distilling one’s thoughts into a few words is an art, and a very important one. Many a preacher could usefully resolve to adopt its mastery as a New Years Resolution. 

There might even be a TV reality show in there somewhere. “ How succinct is your Priest?”

Congregations could call in Milton Jones to critique and instruct loquacious Ministers, leading to the ultimate acclamation at the end of the Service, as the grateful  Congregation’s rises as one in a prolonged standing ovation.

It is one of the merits of twitter that it compels one to think clearly and concisely, and Mr Jones has a facility for practicing what he preaches.

In the briefest of books he manages to offer sermons on all the main concerns of religious folk including,  Faith, God ,Heaven, Judgement, Prayer and many other important topics. As with any sermon, even where he advances a contentious idea, he provokes a worthwhile reaction. It makes you think.

With such a mercifully short work, Brother must not plagiarise or harm sales by quoting extensively, though it is very tempting to do so.

There!

Through this slight volume, Brother Ivo has been made a more considerate fellow already, and he has not yet finished reading  the entire book!

By way of encouragement to buy (for which there is no commission received) Brother Ivo commends two observations.

“Praying seems to be like trying to undo a knot. You never quite know what’s going to work, its just important to keep going. Also, best check what you’re trying to undo isn’t holding up something else that’s important”.

“Coming from a Christian home is like receiving the antidote to a poison on your first birthday. You can’t fully appreciate its worth until you’ve seen the effects of the poison at first hand.”

Having seen the effects of such a poison within many families, that observation lands with particular impact on this reader in particular, Every sermon will be read, heard,  or considered through the prism of one’s individual experience, but the shorter the message the harder it is to misunderstand or impose one’s own gloss .

There is much other wisdom like these and one cannot help but suspect that behind the comic mask is a serious mind. He may not thank us for saying so.

It the very clarity of the thought which is its principle value. There is much else that Brother Ivo would love to quote, commend, explore and expand upon, but that would not be fair to the time that Mr Jones has put into his reflections, so do just buy it and read it for yourselves.

It will not take long, but it may have a longer lasting effect than you appreciate.