Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Angels - who are they and what do they do?

       Many years ago, when making an official visit to a city in the North of England, Queen Elizabeth II was accompanied by a troop of ceremonial guards. Resplendent in their glossy beaver skin caps and bright scarlet tunics, the soldiers were standing rigidly to attention outside the city’s magnificent Town Hall.
       “How lovely to see the Guards here in the North,” said the Queen to the Lord Mayor’s first lady.  She was simply making polite conversation, but, rather than simply nodding in agreement, the unfortunate lady made an embarrassing blunder. “Yes,” she replied, with a wistful sigh, “but they only come when YOU’RE here.”
       This remark was met by a raised eyebrow and a withering royal response: “Well, of course,” explained Her Majesty, “After all, they are my guards.”
       So what, you may think, does this anecdote have to do with angels?  The answer is simple. Just as these soldiers are assigned to serve the British monarch, angels too enjoy an immense privilege; that of carrying out the express will of the One who created them - the Universal Sovereign. 
       And, like the royal guards, angels cannot be ‘summoned’ whenever we humans need a parking space, want to know the future, or require personal protection when boarding a Number 7 bus. Nor do celestial beings help our favourite teams to score those vital goals - not unless commissioned to do so by Almighty God who, as we all know, is strictly impartial when it comes to the World Cup.
       So, while angels can and do aid people in extreme circumstances, this is almost always with a specific purpose in view. No human can claim to have their own personal guardian angel; if that were the case, why are some people protected while others are not?

What are angels? 

        Angels (or ‘messengers’) are invisible and powerful spirits, who are also referred to in the Bible as “Morning stars,” “Holy myriads,” and “Sons of the true God”.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “they have not material bodies as men have; they are either human in form, or can assume the human form when necessary. They are called ‘holy’ in Mark 8:38 and ‘elect,’ 1Tim 5:21, in contrast with some of their original number, Matt 25:41 who ‘sinned,’ 2 Pet 2:4,’ ‘left their proper habitation,’ Jude 6.....Angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender, the feminine form of the word does not occur.”
       Created long before mankind, there are a great many angels, as testified by the prophet Daniel who saw “a thousand thousands ministering to God, and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing before Him.” (Dan 7:10; Jude 14) 
       Each angelic being is an individual with free will, but in the scriptures only two are mentioned by name: Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?” and Gabriel who appeared to the virgin Mary in the gospel of Luke. Other angels mentioned in the Bible remain anonymous, no doubt to discourage men from worshipping them, and also because they are sent in God’s name rather than their own. Despite being invisible, when angels did become manifest to faithful humans in Bible times, they either appeared as ordinary humans or as awe-inspiring creatures who could be extremely beautiful.
        As previously touched upon by Vine, some angels forsook their heavenly positions to co-habit with human women on the earth. After the flood, however, the ability to take on human form was removed from these unfaithful beings, now commonly known as demons who cause all sorts of havoc on the earth.

Order and Rank 
        Again using the army as an analogy, angels have ranks, the foremost being the (one and only) Archangel Michael, also described by Daniel as the “great Prince who is standing in behalf of God’s people. Michael is thought by some to be the angel who led Israel through the wilderness (Ex 23:20-23).
       Seraphs (“burning ones”) command a high position around God’s throne (Is 6:2,6), shielding their faces and feet with two of their three pairs of wings, denoting their humility and respect for their holy position. Their role includes declaring God’s glory and, possibly, helping to cleanse sin from God’s people. 
       Cherubs, far from being the chubby-cheeked infants portrayed by Renaissance painters, are extraordinary spirits with immense power. Two cherubs were posted to guard the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve were evicted (Gen 3:24), and the angel who later became Satan fell from an eminent position due to his overarching pride (Ez 10:1-22)
       The rest of the Angels serve as agents, messengers and deputies of the Divine will, protecting and delivery God’s people and destroying the wicked. 
Super Powers 
       Described as “mighty in power,” angels are incredibly strong; in one day, a single angel killed 185,000 Assyrians when they came against Israel. (2 Kings 19:35)
       It was an angel who, as described in the book of Daniel, prevented the three Hebrews from burning to death in the fiery furnace when they refused to bow to a Babylonian image, while the mouths of the lions were kept firmly shut after Daniel himself was thrown into their den as an appetising snack!
       Angels are fast too, travelling at speeds beyond the limits of physical possibility. And, of course, they’re highly intelligent, being able to communicate with each other and to speak various languages. Even so, they don’t know everything and, in common with humans, there are some things they cannot understand. (1 Pet 1:12)

A Grand Purpose 
       Compassionate and intensely interested in human affairs, angels rejoice when sinners repent and look forward to seeing humans living peacefully and happily on the planet as intended. To this end, they have relayed messages to the writers of the Bible and are still helping with the preaching work established by first century evangelisers which continues to the present.
       Although they no longer appear visibly as in the days of the apostles, angels are still extremely active, doing God’s will by supporting His servants in the spreading of the everlasting good news.

http://www.amazon.com/Vines-Complete-Expository-Dictionary-Testament/dp/0785211608











Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Universe – by Chance or by Design?

         Pre-Charles Darwin, faith in a Creator went virtually unchallenged, the only disputes being those relating to Church doctrine and Bible interpretation. And for many years after HMS Beagle dropped anchor following its epic five-year journey, God remained in the ascendancy; even converts to evolution continued to believe He had triggered the entire process, sitting back on the sixth day to watch how life unfolded. 

       Times have changed. Over the last century, modern atheism has gradually but effectively used Darwin’s theory to try and eradicate the Almighty altogether, leaving all but the strongest faiths faltering with uncertainty. The British government has proved a powerful accessory to the secular cause by insisting on evolution being taught in all state-funded schools and universities. While still selling itself as a God-fearing nation, America too has its detractors, as atheists reject religious symbols, prayers and any practices which may indicate the existence of a Divine Being. 
      
So is the world now sinking into complete Godlessness? Has the hand that parted the Red Sea been cut short? Have we relegated the Bible to the SciFi/Fantasy section of the library?

      Scientists deal in facts. So let’s do that. Let’s examine a few facts which may redress the balance.

Precision

       Subject to physical laws and natural constants that seem uniquely tailored to support the planets, and contrary to Big Bang or Chaos theories suggesting it all just happened by accident, our Universe is so finely-tuned that even the slightest changes could destroy life on earth. Electromagnetism, gravity, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force affect everything in the planetary system, working together in perfect harmony to keep whole galaxies in their place.

      Think about it: How could NASA chart a course for a rocket without the precision of the planets, allowing them to time their orbits to a millionth of a second? How else could astronomers predict the next eclipse or meteor shower? As it is, the sun, moon and stars have a set pattern to keep themselves and the earth rotating smoothly. Did they evolve, or is there a superior intelligence out there?

      Many scientists agree with John Polkinghorne, previously a physicist at Cambridge University: “When you realize that the laws of nature must be incredibly finely tuned to produce the universe we see, that conspires to plant the idea that the universe did not just happen, but that there must be a purpose behind it.” 

      This view is supported by Australian physicist Paul Davies who says: “There is no doubt that many scientists are . . . scornful of the notion that there might exist a God, or even an impersonal creative principle.” He added: “Personally I do not share their scorn. . . . I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, . . . an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama.”

Complexity

      Of all the proofs put forward as evidence of design, this for me is perhaps the most telling. The sheer complexity of DNA, for instance, resulting from countless chemical reactions, shows the odds of it forming spontaneously are so small, it would be mathematically impossible. Yet every living organism is made up of countless complex parts, all dependent upon other complex parts for their existence.
  
       Take a single human cell. Within its membrane walls, several components need to be in place for the cell to split and reproduce itself: 1) The nucleus or control centre; 2) The nucleolus, where ribosomes are formed; 3) Ribosomes where proteins are created; 4) Chromosomes which contain DNA, the genetic masterplan; and 5) Mitochondrion, the production centre for energy-supplying molecules. 

       Quite an assembly. Yet, without just one of the above components, the cell would simple wither and die. Which poses a dilemma for evolutionists. How can a cell grow into a human or any other species if it cannot divide? How can it divide unless all the components are in place at the same time? How, in fact, could a cell form with other cells to create a human being or any other species? 

       Even if it were possible for a human male to evolve, what are the chances of a female counterpart evolving at the same time in order for them to reproduce? 

       Coming back to DNA, it's been described as a 'feat of engineering', packaged within the chromosomes so efficiently it beggars belief and containing all the instructions required to build a human body and keep it functioning for a lifetime. DNA's capacity for storing information exceeds anything produced in computer science; if human computer experts are unable to match this capacity, then how could mindless matter? (See The Origin of Life*) 

The missing missing link

       What about the fossil record, to which many refer as proof of evolution? Where are the host of intermediate relics which link one species to another? The fact is, despite many hoaxes, there is still no definite proof and some scientists believe the current evidence for Darwin’s theory is weak.

       In his book Darwin’s Enigma, Aerospace engineer Luther D. Sutherland wrote: “The scientific evidence shows that whenever any basically different type of life first appeared on Earth, all the way from single-celled protozoa to man, it was complete and its organs and structures were complete and fully functional. The inescapable deduction to be drawn from this fact is that there was some sort of pre-existing intelligence before life first appeared on Earth.”

       Donald E. Chittick, a physical chemist, says: “A direct look at the fossil record would lead one to conclude that animals reproduced after their kind as Genesis states. They did not change from one kind into another. The evidence now, as in Darwin’s day, is in agreement with the Genesis record of direct creation. Animals and plants continue to reproduce after their kind. In fact, the conflict between palaeontology (study of fossils) and Darwinism is so strong that some scientists are beginning to believe that the in-between forms will never be found.”

http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-Enigma-Luther-Sunderland/dp/0890512361

*http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/The-Origin-of-Life-Five-Questions-Worth-Asking/#?insight[search_id]=38122c94-7ee6-47af-9cd1-901edf2f4de2&insight[search_result_index]=0


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Picking up the pieces of a broken heart


       Can there be anyone over 16 who hasn’t suffered heartbreak at least once in their life? Other than Sheldon Cooper, that is. When faced with emotional distress, we might envy his total lack of commitment to anything which can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula.

       But facts speak for themselves. The vast majority of teenage relationships fail to result in marriage, while those that do have a high divorce rate. That adds up to an awful lot of break ups and the inevitable heartache that follows.

       You don’t even have to be seriously involved with a person to suffer such pangs; Alice in The Runaway Children is devastated when rejected by her rock star hero, Ricky Retch, while there’s many a teenage girl who goes into serious mope mode if Justin Bieber or other crush doesn’t ‘follow’ them back. And, though they may not show it, heartbreak happens to boys too. Love doesn’t always play fair.

       Matt*, the son of a friend of mine recently split up from a girl he was nuts about. No one really knows why. He was kind, courteous, considerate and respectful of his girlfriend’s deeply held religious beliefs. Sex before marriage was not on the table and he happily abided by strict rules of conduct - agreeing to chaperones, early nights and strict codes of behaviour with no illicit fumbling! Because he loved her. Wanted to marry her. Things progressed, their respective parents met and all seemed set for a winter wedding. Sadly, out of the blue, the young lady ended their courtship.      Nicely, of course, yet with very little explanation. Matt was devastated.

       We’ve all been there. A break up is possibly the most traumatic blow we could ever endure, crushing self-esteem along with any thoughts of happiness and leaving the victim in a hollow of despair. And no wonder. Romantic love is THE most powerful emotion we could ever experience. Shakespeare penned sonnets about it, singers have crooned about it, novelists have immortalised it and even Solomon, the second wisest man who ever lived, was completely bowled over by it. He too experienced unrequited love when a beautiful Shulammite on whom he’d set his heart rejected him for her one true love. But then, he did have 1000 wives & concubines to soothe his fractured ego!

       After a break up, you may feel as though you’ve been thrown into a dark, dank pit. But there IS a way out. Just start climbing – one step at a time:

Stage 1 – Denial, when you can’t believe our loved one doesn’t want you any more. For days, you’ll wait for the phone to ring, convinced he/she will change their mind and realise they just can’t live without you.

Stage 2 – Rage, which can turn love to hate. “The cheek of the guy/girl! How dare they reject ME!”

Stage 2 – Depression, in which despair takes over and self-esteem hits the floor, as you wonder if you’re worthless and unlovable.

Stage 4 – Resignation,giving you a realistic view of your circumstances. It may still hurt, yet you’re beginning to glimpse a time when things will be better.

Looking ahead

       As family and friends will tell you, wounds heal in time. Problem is, they hurt now. Healing a broken heart is like setting a broken leg – you know it’ll get better eventually but in the meantime, it’s simply agonising. How can you lessen the pain? Well, crying will certainly help, so don’t hold back. Tears don’t make you weak – even the strongest people shed them at times, so feel free to have a good, old blub to get some of that pain out of your system.

       You need to look after yourself too. Eat well and take exercise to recover all that emotional energy. Then channel it into interesting and enjoyable activities. Above all, don’t spend too much time alone. Seek the company of genuine people, family and friends, who really care about you. And if you have a faith, then pray, pour your heart out.

       Learn from the experience. Be analytical. Examining what went wrong will help you to avoid the same mistakes again. For instance, what reason did the other party give for breaking up with you? Make a note of it, even if you feel it was a unfair. Why do YOU think they rejected you? Is there anything you could have done to prevent the breakup? Has the relationship thrown up any flaws in yourself, or ways in which you could improve emotionally? How can you apply the experience to future relationships, and how would you conduct yourself differently next time?

       Make a list of comforting sayings to which you can keep referring. These could be from novels, films, plays, scriptures, poems - anything that hits a chord and helps to lift your spirits. Music can help too – but avoid moody, romantic music which could drag you down.

Remember too, in the middle of distress, it's hard to see an end to the misery. But it IS there. Time, patience and hope, along with these practical steps, will help you to reach it.

 

“Questions Young People Ask Answers that Work Volume 1” http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/

 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Pantomime





        Strange.  I’ve always thought of pantomime as a peculiarly British tradition - as unique to our ‘green and pleasant land’ as the Union Jack, jellied eels, bacon and egg, strongly brewed tea and Marmite.
       Yet every blog I write about panto gets more views from the States than from dear old old Blighty. Maybe the Brits take this ancient mummery for granted. After all, it’s been going strong since Roman times when, along with bread and circuses, it kept the populace pliant and less likely to revolt over the dire state of the nation.
       Similarly, in our day a good pantomime provides a welcome distraction from the miserable winter weather, the endless recession and the absolute fortunes spent on Christmas presents which nobody wants. But whatever is happening in the world, there’s one thing we can count on; from November to February pantomimes will be playing at almost every UK theatre. 
       What is it that makes pantomime so special, so beloved of children of all ages? Distinguished Shakespearean actor, Sir Ian MacKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) explains: “Pantomime has everything theatrical: song, dance, verse, slapstick, soliloquy, audience participation, spectacle, cross-dressing and a good plot, strong on morality and romance. What more could you want for a family outing? I believe there’s more pure theatre in a pantomime than you get in Shakespeare, and if it works, it’s unforgettable.”
       Audience participation is one of panto’s most endearing aspects, with the cast positively encouraging audiences to shout, cheer, sing, heckle, hiss and boo! The result may seem anarchic, yet there’s a strong discipline involved – certain rules which unite both cast and audience, creating unity from mayhem!
       Now I’m going to say something really contentious: If you’ve only ever seen a pantomime in the West End, you’ve probably never seen panto! Unfortunately, the bigger the show, the more likely it is to be a vehicle for TV reality and soap stars, retired politicians, pop singers and comedians with smutty jokes.  It may have plenty of glitz and glamour, but very little authenticity.
       For pantomime in its purest form, Act One Panto, a small touring theatre which specialises in the genre, comes as close as it gets to the strolling players of old, featuring mime, songs, dance, acrobatics and comedy – all incorporated into the plot.  Artistic Director Jule Watson has studied pantomime in depth and, while adding her innovative flair into the mix with a contemporary slant, she believes firmly in keeping its traditional core intact. “Before you can break a rule, you first have to keep a rule” is Jule’s maxim. 


How to create a Pantomime?


       Creating a pantomime with Act One is very democratic. After the current season’s productions go on tour, Jule consults with her cast and crew, inviting suggestions for the following year’s offerings. Then, once the theme has been decided, she’ll telephone or email me to commission the script.
       It’s now left to me to create a general outline for Jule to consider. At the same time, I’ll start picking the brains of family, friends and colleagues for jokes or funny anecdotes. (The best of them invariably come from youngsters!) These are all scribbled in my notebook, ready for inclusion where appropriate, along with ideas of my own and any snippets I overhear when out and about.
     Then I think about it. And think about it. And think about it some more....until finally, I get down to the actual writing, which can be completed within a relatively short time, depending on how my ideas are forming.
       Then it’s back to Jule who’ll consider the physical aspects of the show, such as visual gags, special effects and ‘business’. For example, for Alice in Pantoland, we had the comedy duo, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, ‘galloping’ Monty Python-style around the auditorium on wooden hobby horses. (This year’s offering, Follow the Yellow Brick Road, is even more ambitious......let’s just say the actors will need lots of energy and a good sense of balance!) Meanwhile, Act One’s technical team are also hard at work, designing the sets, costumes, sound and lighting, and choosing appropriate songs - some of which are specially composed by our resident Maestro.   


What IS pantomime?


       Literally, the word means All-Mimicking - ‘Pan’ [Greek word for‘All’] and ‘Mimos’ [Greek for ‘Imitate’). Think vaudeville with a plot and you may get an inkling what it involves. The story is usually taken from a popular fairy tale, interwoven with topical themes to which the audience can relate, i.e. the price of food, political manoeuvring, the comings & goings of high profile figures – the sort of material comedians use but – and this is vital – without the smut!
       Although traditionally performed over the festive season (Nov-Feb) panto attracts audiences throughout the year. Act One puts on shows during the summer at theatres, schools, residential homes, private parties and community centres.
       One thing you should be warned about – pantomime can be very, very loud, especially when the audience is encouraged to join in. A classic bit of business is the “Behind you!” scenario, when a monster/ghost/animal keeps appearing behind one of the characters and the children are asked to yell when they see it. The character (usually the Dame) will turn around, only for the monster/ghost/animal to dodge out of sight. “Where is it?” asks the Dame. “Behind you!” cry the kids who get beside themselves with frustration!
       Another well-used gag is the ‘argument’ between two characters when one will say “Oh no it isn’t!” while the other, again urging the audience to join in, says “Oh YES it is!” and so forth. Make sure you and your family have a good gargle before curtain up! You’ll also be expected to join in the singalong at the end!  


Pantomime Characters


       Regardless of the theme of a pantomime, certain stock characters are common to all:
       The first person we meet is the Dame, normally an impoverished widow who, after introducing herself, gives the audience an overview of her circumstances, accompanied by jokes, cheeky asides and bucket-loads of tears. She bewails the loss of her husband, moans about her feckless son/nephew or frets about her vulnerable daughter or niece. Often, there’s a wicked baron/witch/landlord lurking in the wings, threatening her with eviction. But, whatever the circumstances, they’re inevitably dire and highly melodramatic.
       From the moment the Dame appears, you can’t help noticing her appalling taste in clothes – Anna Wintour she is not! Frumpy, old-fashioned frocks in hideous, garish colours are the norm, while her hair is – for want of a better description – a wig in not-so-glorious-technicolour! As is her face with its grotesque rouge and over-applied lipstick. Another give-away is her voice; no simpering soprano this, but a deep resounding medicine ball of a voice which reaches a crescendo when its owner is roused! You’ve guessed it. The Dame is played by a man! This custom dates back to Elizabethan times when acting was despised and women were not permitted to take part. Whoever plays the Dame not only needs incredible skills, but also a commanding personality so as to whip up an audience yet prevent things sliding into anarchy.
       Just to confuse you even further, since Queen Victoria’s reign, the Principal Boy, (eg. Prince Charming) has usually been played by a woman whose fetching tight-wearing thighs are regularly slapped, macho fashion, by her own fair hand.
       Then we meet the Baddie. This may be the Baron already mentioned, a Wicked Witch, Cruel Queen, Evil Wizard, Captain Hook or Bullying Ogre. Like the Dame, this role calls for a big personality; a Boo-worthy bogeyman who knows how to goad an audience yet can also make us laugh.
       As a counterbalance to the Baddie, a Good Fairy or Fairy Godmother can be featured, using her magic when all other solutions fail.
       Other characters include the Juvenile Leads – Jack and Jill, Aladdin and Jasmine, Beauty and the Beast, for example. The typical male lead tends to be rather feckless, a bit of a dreamer, yet is always likeable and basically kind-hearted. His female counterpart, the Principal Girl is feisty and practical, and both characters must be excellent singers.
       Some productions feature a Funny Animal, such as the Goose (Mother Goose), cats (Dick Whittington), horses, chickens, donkeys, cows, and dogs, all good dancers and always more intelligent than their human owners!
       And, of course, no pantomime would be complete without the ultimate Comedy Duo. Tweedledum & Tweedledee, Biff & Boff, Bill & Ben. Neither are particularly intelligent, but the daftest of the duo is the butt for his partner’s practical jokes. Having this couple in the show provides many opportunities for the sort of slapstick, knockabout humour children love.  

[Photo: Ryan Angelo Deponio & Vicki Glover in Aladdin] 






                     

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Are you a gossip - or is that just a malicious rumour?

       Accused of misappropriating church funds, a previously popular and effective minister was hounded from his parish. Some time later, the perpetrator of this rumour, by now burdened by guilt for his unwarranted remarks, called on the victim to beg for his forgiveness.

       The minister said nothing at first, just closed his eyes for a moment in thought. Eventually he beckoned to his visitor. “Come with me”, he said and led the way to a top-storey window at his home, pausing only to pick up a pillow on the way. Once there, he ripped the pillow open and shook out the contents. Within seconds, hundreds of feathers were dancing on the breeze before floating into the distance.

       “There!” said the minister. “Go and pick up every one of those feathers – if you can. Then you’ll know how hard it is for me to forgive you.”

       According to the Bible writer, James, “the tongue is a little member,” yet it’s harder to control than any other part of the human body. In fact, if we could control it, we’d be perfect people; but as none of us can honestly claim never to say the wrong thing at some point in our lives, we need to make allowances for others, even when unkind things are said about us!

       Celebrities, of course, are prime targets. Bust-ups between stars are the source of endless speculation. Married couples in the public eye often have to endure gossip spread by total strangers, while social media is an endless (and often unconrolled) source of mis-information and rumour. 'Post-truth' they call it, as if any kind of lie is now acceptable. 

       But you don’t have to be famous to play a star role in someone else’s fevered imagination. Living as I do in a small farming village, I’ve been the subject of rumours myself. One such involved a supposed affair with my (then) next-door neighbour – who (I suspect) encouraged the belief to make his (ex) girlfriend jealous and bring her begging again to lie obligingly under his feet! Managing to stoke the flames even higher, the young man started parking his pushbike on my drive, much to my annoyance. (Had it been a Ferrari, perhaps I wouldn’t have minded so much!)

       Years later, my daughter’s reputation came under fire after she left to go to London. Apparently, a malicious rumour started going the rounds that I’d packed her off somewhere to disguise her non-existent pregnancy! Meanwhile, as well as all the ‘affairs’ I’m meant to have had, I’ve also been dubbed an alcoholic, drug addict and anorexic – all at the same time! But then, that’s nothing to some of the weird and lurid tales I’ve heard about other people in the community.

       Not all gossip is bad, though. It often provides useful information such as marriages, births, illnesses, deaths and other matters relating to friends and neighbours. Such conversations prove we’re interested in and care about the people we know.

       Even so, we all need to watch that a seemingly innocence, off-the-cuff remark doesn’t cause problems. For example, “I think Jennifer has a crush on Peter,” could create misunderstandings – especially if Jennifer has someone totally different in mind. Or it could result in Jennifer avoiding Peter out of embarrassment, effectively putting the mockers on a pleasant friendship.

       Another embarrassing situation; you may have said something about another person, only for them to find out where it came from and confront you with it! Surely, it’s always better to be open and frank, to raise any issues you may have directly to their face! You may even find your beef with that person is utterly groundless.

       Twitter, Facebook and other social network site have made rumours run faster and wider than at any time in history, which is why caution should be applied before we send that message. These questions may help you decide whether what you have to say, either verbally or electronically, is really worth repeating:

Is it true? That gossip you’ve heard may be really juicy, but have you checked the facts? If there’s no truth in it, you could, at best, end up with egg on your face or, at worst, be guilty of slander.

Is it fair? Okay, someone you dislike has done something stupid. It’s so tempting to tell everybody you know, so they can share your contempt for that person. But will they? Or will they have contempt for you. Let’s face it, who wants to be friends with a malicious gossip? And talking about someone when they’re not there to defend themselves just isn’t on either.

Is it kind? Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to resist harmful gossip is to imagine it being said about you. How would you feel in that position? Could you really hurt another person’s feelings or harm their reputation? And how would a loose tongue affect your own reputation? Do as you would be done by, is the key.

      Suppose, though, that you’re the recipient of malicious gossip. Remember that, by consenting to listen, you’re colluding with the gossiper - which makes you an accessory to their spite. Usually, we can discern when a conversation is turning towards hurtful remarks and it can take tremendous willpower to stop nasty gossip in its tracks – but it’s easy enough to do. A simple “Let’s change the subject, I’m not comfortable with this,” will usually do the trick.

      It will also mark you out as a kind, fair-minded individual who can be trusted by your peers.

  

      

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The journey begins - Excerpts from The Runaway Children Volume 1

 Joe’s Imaginary Friend

As a scientist, Richard Hadwin was particularly opposed, not just to Mr Big, but also to fairy tales, magic, heroes with supernatural powers, assorted legends and God - anything, in short, that couldnt be measured by a twelve-inch ruler.
"I think the boy needs a psychiatrist," he'd growl.
"Just who IS this Mr. Big?" asked Mrs. Hadwin.
"I don't know his real name," said Joe. "I call him Mr. Big because he's very strong and he looks after me."
"Look, Joe!" sighed Mr. Hadwin, exasperated "Once and for all, there is no such person as Mr. Big!"
"There is! There is!" yelled Joe. He knew what he believed and no one could persuade him otherwise.
"Now, let's try and be rational about this," suggested Mrs. Hadwin as she drew the boy onto her knee. "You've got a Mummy and Daddy who love you very, very much and there's nothing we won't do to keep you safe. So if you ever have any problems, all you need to do is come to us. Okay?"
Joe nodded and his Mum gave him a kiss, and his Dad ruffled his white-blonde hair affectionately and sent him off to play. Yet, that night and every other night before he went to sleep, Joe would talk to Mr. Big.

The Global Order Brotherhood

Miles squinted under the orange glow of a nearby streetlight and eventually made out what looked like a metal ball with a piece of rope hanging down from it. He then realised it wasnt a rope, but a snake twisting upwards before splitting into three heads, which coiled around the ball. Whether it was the night air or the image, Miles couldnt tell, but he began to feel cold and shivery, as though a hundred cubes of ice had been poured down his collar. What is it? he asked, scarcely able to breathe.
This, said Jeff, is Babel - the symbol of the Global Order Brotherhood. You see the globe? Thats the world and each head of the snake represents a different means of controlling it - Fear, Corruption and Lies. Take a good long look at it, Miles. 
Its horrible! said Miles. I wish I hadnt seen it now.
Promise me something, Miles Jeffs hands gripped his shoulders even more tightly and his voice became harsh and urgent, much as it had when talking to Miles parents.
Promise me! If you ever see this symbol, the three-headed snake, youll run. Run for your life! For your own sake, your parents sake, the sake of the whole world - run! Run and never look back! Promise me!”  

Men in macs

Then something awful happened. Joe let go of Alices hand and stopped. He didnt know what was happening. He didnt know why Miles and Alice were running, or who the big men were. All he knew was he wanted to be with his parents. Slowly and deliberately, he started to walk home.
In her panic, Alice didnt notice Joe slip away. She and Miles kept running, not daring to look behind them, jumping over ditches, scrambling under barbed wire, panting until they felt their lungs begin to burst. At last they reached the trees and flung themselves into a mass of dense undergrowth until they could catch their breath.
Only then, did they realise that Joe wasnt with them anymore. Wheres Joe? cried Alice, looking around frantically. Weve lost Joe!

Fernlee Forest 

"It's ME!" came a booming disembodied voice "I'm bleeding!"
"Who are you?" yelled Miles.
"I'm Larch," was the answer, and a man's head suddenly appeared from the high branches of the tree which Miles had started to strip. "When you cut me with a knife, I scream!" 
"I'm Beech" another head popped down from the tree," and if you steal my bark, I'll die!"
"And I'm Horse" said yet another head "and if you hurt me, I will whinny and kick and bite you - hard!"
All at once, dozens of people started jumping out from all over the place; down from the trees and out from the enormous ferns that fringed the forest. At first, it was almost impossible to distinguish the men from the women, as they all sported beads and smocks and dreadlocks, and their faces were smeared with greeny-brown gunge, and their makeshift clothes, dyed to blend into their surroundings, were decorated with assorted leaves and feathers.
"I didn't mean any harm!" cried Miles "I'd never hurt a tree on purpose! Honestly I wouldn't."
Beech bent over him menacingly, his face contorted with rage and his breath foul. "The trouble with you townies, you never think! You just don't care about the environment, do you! Well? Do you?" 

The Babel Retreat 

It was only once theyd driven through the trees that Joe had his first glimpse of the Babel Retreat, a large fortress, dark and gloomy, skulking at the bottom of the valley in the middle of a mass of dark, swirling water. The nearer it loomed, the more hideous it appeared, its outer walls impossibly high and laced with broken glass and vicious razor wire. Only the moorland springs gave any hint of life, and these bubbled merrily downwards from the hills before converging into the lake. This treacherous water served two purposes. Firstly, it formed a moat around the building making it impossible for unwelcome visitors to reach; and secondly, it provided a constant water supply through a series of aqueducts leading to the cellar.  
On their approach, Joe heard an ominous creak as a large drawbridge was dropped, allowing the limos to cross the moat, and two enormous iron gates opened before them to reveal a large cobbled courtyard. Here, several women stood waiting, all dressed in long robes of purple and crimson, while their heads were covered with crisp, white veils and weird headdresses, which reminded Joe of the paper aeroplanes he sometimes made in class. The tallest of these women stepped forward to greet Mordant as he and the rest of his men left the comfort of their limousines, dragging Joe out with them. Grabbing the boy by the scruff of his neck, Skinner rasped in his ear. Now mind your manners, you little scumbag. That lady there is Sister Prism, head of this joint and your boss from now on. Sisters her title, so remember to use it!" 

Sister Prism 

Slowly, Joe glanced up into those cold, dead eyes. 
"Well?" said Prism, menacingly. But Joe was not going to be intimidated. Even if he was afraid of this tall, pointy-nosed lady with the alabaster skin, he would rather die than show it. Resolutely, he glared back at her, refusing to answer. Sister Prism was not accustomed to people defying her, especially rude little boys.
"Tell me your name, boy!" she warned, "Otherwise, I might think you are insolent, and insolent children have to be dealt with in a very uncomfortable way."
"I think he's shy," suggested Skinner "he's not said a word all the way here."
"Or perhaps he's dumb," said Sister Prism "which would be a pitiful waste of a tongue. Perhaps we should pluck it out and give it to someone who'll make good use of it. Like my cat, for instance!" She chuckled unpleasantly, and her finely chiselled nose began to wrinkle again.  

The canal chase 

"Is he coming after us?" asked Joe, anxiously.
"Just keep running, Joe!"  Roots urged, but Odi couldn't resist a backward peek.
"He's coming all right", he said. "Is he gaining on us?" said Alice.  "Heck no," Odi replied, "that guy's too cool to run!" Sure enough, Bevis had hardly accelerated. Even when the party he was following disappeared round a bend, he kept his pace to a confident stride, his long leather coat trailing obediently.
Roots led the way, feeling more unnerved by this stranger than by all the other agents put together. Somehow, he felt they wouldn't shake this one off so easily. How right he was. No matter how fast they ran, or how far they got, they had only to glance behind them to see the sinister figure advancing on them purposefully. 

The narrow boat

As the Judith Rose cut a swathe round the bend, Miles saw the lock zoom into focus, getting rapidly nearer.
"What do I do?" he called to Roots. "I don't know how to stop it!"
"Switch off the key!" Roots called back, but it was no use. "It's jammed!" shrieked Miles. "I can't move it!"
"Try turning the wheel" suggested Roots. That didn't help either. In fact, the whole engine seemed to work automatically and simply wouldn't respond to anything. And, all the time, they were getting closer and closer to the lock. To make matters even worse (if that were possible), the men in the dinghy were hot on their trail. Miles took a deep breath and did the only other thing he could think of. Only yards from hitting the lock, he pressed the button marked 'Boost'!  

The Blue John Cavern

Slowly and steadily, they continued along an underground river, the tunnel now so dark and narrow Odi began to hyperventilate again.
"Just what I need" he whined "another bout of close-to-phobia!"
"Claustrophobia." Alice corrected him. "Seems pretty close to me!" replied Odi, for once unable to think of anything clever to say. To his great relief, they soon reached another, bigger cavern. So big, in fact, it resembled a magnificent palace, adorned with shafts of sunlight from above. As the Judith Mary approached it's mooring, coming to rest on the banks of a crystal lagoon, all aboard gaped in astonishment.   Not only was the cavern wonderfully bright and airy, it was like no other they had ever seen before.
"It's purple!" Joe cried. "All purple and shiny!"
"We must be in the Blue John mines." Laurel suggested.
"But it's purple!" insisted Joe.
"Blue John IS purple, Silly". Alice tutted despairingly. "Don't you boys know anything?"
"Oh, so that's why it's called blue!" said Odi with a good dollop of sarcasm. "The stuff's purple, so naturally, you call it Blue. That's cool, and not at all confusing!"