Monthly Archives: July 2011

Watching the innocent die.

The terrible capacity of the human heart and mind to destructive urges is well know to Christians. It is something we are asked to acquaint ourselves with. On Good Friday we sit and watch a wholly innocent man die. And we ask ourselves – how do we add to these things? What do we do which leads to the death of the innocent? We examine, in painful detail, just how we add to the suffering of the world, because we believe that by causing suffering, we cause God to suffer.

And we also sit and see just how painful suffering can be. There is no glamour, no light relief in the thing. We do not imagine there is anything fun about it, any desirable element, any excuse. It is not a pleasant exercise, but it is a necessary one. Because from time to time there is a great deal of suffering in the world.

All of this gives a terrible, but in a way familiar, place to sit when we look at the hundred or so deaths one man can create in Norway. On the one hand, we can begin to imagine, only begin, mind you, just what it is like to be a parent whose child is missing; a parent whose child very probably drowned in pain and terror. On the other, we can begin to imagine, only begin, to think of what impulses of cruelty, of self-conviction, could drive somebody to think for one flicker of a second that it was perfectly fine to carry out mass-murder.

How did you solve the murder, Father Brown?’ That is, in different forms, the question G. K. Chesterton’s famous detective gets asked. The answer is always more or less the same, too. ‘Because I know what it is to be a murderer, a thief, a liar.’ Father Brown is, in fact, a kind, generous and honest man, but deep in him, and deep in all of us, lie impulses to dark things. When we are twisted by dark desires or by the imbalance of our minds humans can spill over into terrible acts.

The sheer scale of this, the closeness of this to our own culture, gives an especial horror to this. Where is God? Well, once again, he is helplessly suffering. Once again, we sit and watch him suffer and can do so little to help.

But what we can do, matters. We can turn, resolutely, from all thoughts of the kind which lead to this tragedy. The best thing we can do to make the world a less evil place is to start by resolutely learning to like our fellow people, and taking steps to learn to understand and sympathise with those for whom we have no natural warmth. Hatred generally dissolves with understanding and care. And if, gentle reader, you think that path is in any way easy, or a soft option, try and live it for a dozen or so years, and report back.


Equal agony for all?

Proper middle class people have teeth that are all their own. I however am a cleaner, and I do not. Today I went to the dentist to have three teeth extracted. Two on one side of my jaw, one on the other. One on each side was reduced to a mere root, which had been crowned and then lost the crown. The third was a tooth whose gum had receded, and whose life expectancy was short.

I react very badly to adrenaline in local anaesthetic, so the anaesthetic is without it, which makes it generally less efficient. The nice girl was running a bit late. She numbed my gums at both sides, and drilled a filling out and re-stuffed it. She was a bit horrified that my last dental visit was only a year ago, because rather a lot had not been done.

Then she scraped a bit at the gums at both sides and asked if I felt it. I did. She added more anaesthetic. Then I made light and hilarious conversation about my portfolio of jobs, while the anaesthetic took hold. Then she scraped at my gums – it was no better. I apologised. She added more anaesthetic. I made light conversation about publishers. She laughed a lot.

She scraped at my gums. It really did seem less bad, and I said I could not feel a thing. This was not wholly true. She started on the extraction of the duo on my left side. I let out a squawk. She stopped. I apologised. She added more local anaesthetic. She then started on the right side, on the grounds things were better there. They were worse. I stood it for some time and then stopped her. I apologised. She added more local anaesthetic.

She went back to the left side. It was bad, it was really bad. I stopped her. By now my appointment has run seriously over time. I apologised. I spat out a lot of blood. I got a new tissue. She explained I had now reached the limit of anaesthetic allowed. She could give me antibiotics, because probably the problem was infection at the root, combined with the lack of adrenaline in the mix.

By now, both sides of my mouth felt seriously battered despite the anaesthetic. I said she should at least get out the loose tooth, and try the left root. She took out the tooth in seconds. It was not a great experience, but at least the tooth came fast. The root on that side was hollow, the crown having come out post and all. This gave a bit of grip, and although the whole thing was bad, it was reasonably fast.

We paused. We re-grouped. I spat out a lot of blood. I rinsed and spat a lot of bloody mouth wash out as well. She and I both hoped that the anaesthetic on the right side was helping a bit more. She started on it. I bore it for a bit. I stopped her. She repeated her offer to give antibiotics and to have me back. The trouble was that I now had a battered and disturbed root, over a suspected abscess. I would then need to come back and endure the whole thing again. It was not appealing.

I told her to press on. If I needed a break I would stop her. Now, remember this is a solid root, and there is little to grip. There followed a desperate struggle. She struggled to grip the root and pull it out. I struggled to stay and the chair. I remembered a friend, a final year medical student, who has sometimes she says, to hold down agonised children. I decided that if she could hold down children, it ought, in theory, to be possible to hold down myself. Tears ran down my cheeks. In the end, I stopped my dentist. I made a lot of bad jokes very fast, about anything, including I think sawn-off legs. I asked how much longer. She said the root was now loose and she could, she thought, get it out in a very short time. I prised myself back against the chair. She got the damned pliers back in my mouth. There was a brief and worse agony, and then, surprisingly, there was no dentist in my mouth.

She asked me to spit and rinse, and warned me there was quite a lot of blood. I cannot say this surprised me. Then between us, we got the blood off my face and my hands. She remarked that most people would have quit, but I just kept making jokes – I replied the alternatives were too terrible to contemplate. I did not add they involved screaming loudly and hurling myself at the door. She added sorrowfully that she was usually good at extractions. I am a compassionate person and did not add any of the answers which sprang readily to mind.

There was a waiting room of potential patients, and were I a really nice person, I might not have made the joke I did while paying at the desk, because some of the patients looked as if they were the nervous kind who are liable not to realise it is wholly painless to visit the dentist nowadays. My excuse must be that by the time I got outside, I was barely capable of walking. I bought an ice-cream, for sugar and cold, and handed in a prescription for antibiotics, and went and sat in the car till I felt better.

Driving home I mused on the fact that instead of feeling pain as my jaw returned to life, I was actually feeling less pain gradually as levels of insult faded. Now I am home and in pyjamas. I propose a quiet evening of editing and the dogs will not get much of a walk at all. I am sorry for this – but on the whole I feel they will have suffered less than either me or my dentist.

du temps perdu

So, I get out the strimmer and start to anticipate the pleasure of outdoor work on a lovely day, bolstered by knowing that the rain starts again tomorrow, making strimming very hard.

First I discover mice have gnawed the cable. Heck. I shorten it, and then find the plug is one of the welded on Elven Safety kinds. I go in search of a new plug, find it on a broken toaster, and remove it, and then refit it to the strimmer.

The phone rings. I answer it. It is a call form a hospital patient whose name is mumbled and I don;t know if I known them or not. I call back. It is a premium rate, and they get their money’s worth out of me by telling me this at extraordinary length. I leave a message.

I strim. the strimmer reaches no distance at all, and I run out of flex. I track down the extension lead, which had been used to light the chicken shed. I have to cut the wire to get it back. I pull the wire back. I wire up the end of the socket (the kind you use outdoors). After I have done this, I find the mice have eaten through the flex. I cut out the damaged flex and re-wire the socket.

My son rings. We chat. Then I find there is still damaged flex. I cut out the damaged flex. I rewire the plug this time (other end of wire). Then I discover I have lost a screw and cannot close the plug. I hunt for the screw. I find a new plug and unwire it. I re-cut the ends of the cable to suit the new plug. I rewire the plug.

I come in for a cup of tea and a modest slice of bread and a tomato. I blog. Gentle reader, this has taken most of the afternoon. The blogging was the SHORT bit. I am still hoping to get SOME strimming done, but no longer will it be the whole garden, not anyhow.

Yes, I am cross, you guess right.

So once again the wretched Church of England, or to be more specific, its House of Bishops, is embarking on a review of (specifically) whether gay people in partnerships can become bishops (oh, the irony that they cannot marry each other, because the same church has opposed the legalisation of gay marriage) and (generally) of same sex relationships.

I have been introspecting recently, and I have finally put my finger on what (apart of the glaring injustice and downright wilful stupidity, that is, and I am never a fan of either) put my finger on what so enrages me about soi-disant ‘Christian’ attitudes to gay relationships. Soi-disant because of course thousands of totally committed Christians know these conservative attitudes are unbelievably stupid.

So beyond the idiocy and cruelty of these beliefs (and idiocy and cruelty were never hall-marks of Jesus of Nazareth) the really exasperating, inflaming thing about them is that they totally pervert what the gospel, his gospel, is about.

That extraordinary, difficult, demanding man was totally unimpressed by conventions. He rode rough-shod through many of them. He stunningly told a man who would follow him, but only after he had done his duty by his parents, that he should leave to dead to bury the dead. He welcomed the town bikes, and the bankers, swindlers and collaborators. He courted ritual impurity, and (because he observed that ditching your wife was really, truly, not what God had in mind as a recipe for human growth and happiness) somehow that same radical figure who challenged and upset almost every status-quo he could get at, reach or otherwise manipulate, has got landed with supporting an oppressive Establishment morality that was creaking ominously when I was a girl, and would by now have shuddered to to a merciful death, were it not for the attempts of a load of old men to prop it up.

So lets try again, shall we? Jesus never had anything to say about two blokes or two girls in bed together. He had a heap to say about money (though he socialised with cheats) and an unbelievable amount about never seeking any kind of revenge and always forgiving. He practised ‘inclusivity’ on a daily basis, and he challenged again and again, as much in his life as his words, the concept that any kind of ritual purity mattered. Forgive, give, love, welcome, challenge. Those are his values. And it does not just infuriate me, it hurts me deeply to see his church, his body, blind to what he was and what he did, and driving on with stuff anybody with even a rudimentary sense of theology ought to know is the most terrible drivel.

And the time for pussy-footing around and niceness is well past. And yes, I am rather cross. Maybe you guessed.