Friday, 31 July 2009

Alternative nursery rhymes

I have seen a fair number of alternative words to hymns on blogosphere of late. My favourite (though I can't for the life of me remember which blog I read it on) was Trite Worship Song, though the alternative Gather Us In amused me as that was the hymn we used to sing at the Rite of Welcome at my school every year and I still squirm whenever I hear the tune.

What is bugging me at the moment are the alternative words to nursery rhymes I have picked up over the years which have come back to haunt me now that my children are singing the real thing. So, when Hugh is belting out London bridge's falling down, falling down, falling down... a protest song from university passes through my head: Education is a RIGHT, is a RIGHT, is a RIGHT. Edukashun is a RIGHT, not a PRIVILEGE.

Billy Connolly managed to ruin Old Macdonald had a farm with Old Macdonald was dyslexic, ay-ee, ay-ee oo and as for Spike Milligan's Grand Old Duke of York, I almost feel ashamed of myself for even remembering it in front of children. And when they were up they were up and when they were down they were down, and when they were only halfway up - I was arrested.

It works the other way as well. I can't listen to Wagner without seeing Porky Pig in a Viking helmet chanting Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit! or hear Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody no. II without memories flooding back of Tom and Jerry's epic battle over a grand piano. Oh dear...

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Women and Euthanasia

In light of today's disastrous ruling by the House of Lords in favour of Debbie Purdy, I thought I would make a few comments about women and euthanasia.

Unlike beginning-of-life issues, Assisted suicide and euthanasia may appear at first glance to be fairly gender neutral. If anything, men may seen to be the more likely targets, if one considers the fact that more men than women commit suicide, particularly among the younger age group. But within the world of assisted suicide, women,not men are the principle targets. When Dr Jack Kervorkian killed 69 people during the 1990s, 71% of them were women and the most publicised cases of individuals challenging the law on assisted dying have been women – in this country Diane Pretty and more recently, Debbie Purdy.

If we consider the age group that is most likely to be effected by changes in the law on euthanasia – the elderly - women are going to bear the brunt because, as SCBI points out in its paper ‘Euthanasia and Women’, women by and large live longer than men in western countries and the majority of older persons are therefore female.

Women are more likely to be poor than men in old age, more likely to have taken career breaks and been unable to contribute to pension schemes and more likely to have earned less during their working lives, regardless of their qualifications. Professor Silvia Canetto of Colorado State University found, during her research looking at the Hemlock Society’s database, that mercy killings are typically administered by men to women, and two-thirds of victims were female. Professor Canetto concluded that “the taking of one’s own life tends to be seen as a masculine act, thus mercy killing appears as a more permissible way for women to commit suicide.”

But as Sidney Callahan comments, the issue goes deeper than that. Like it or not, women tend to take the role of carers within society, more so than men. Even today, women still play a significantly greater role in the raising of children, for example, so the transition from carer to dependent can be extremely harrowing for women and lead to feelings of worthlessness and frustration. These feelings need to be addressed compassionately, not compounded by creating a culture in which ending one’s life is treated as the decent thing to do. The 'right' to die very quickly becomes the 'duty' to die as some euthanasia advocates already acknowledge.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

More on Aung San Suu Kyi

Say a prayer for Aung San Suu Kyi, who is awaiting the verdict of her trial. She was charged with violating the conditions of her house arrest after a Vietnam veteran swam across the lake to her house, but critics of Burma's military junta have condemned the trial as a cynical ploy to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up during election time. She faces five years' imprisonment if convicted, and has already spent fourteen years under house arrest.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Something nasty in the science lab

During my friend's birthday bash the other night, I got chatting to the lady next to me at the dinner table about school, which neither of us particularly enjoyed. Part of the way thorugh the conversation, she said that, in her school biology lab, they had a number of unborn babies in glass boxes which used to be brought out for them all to look at once a year.

I was so distressed the poor woman apologised for mentioning it, but I just couldn't believe a school would be allowed to keep dead babies on the premises to parade before vulnerable teenagers. Considering some schools won't even allow pictures of unborn babies to be shown during talks on the grounds that they are too 'emotive' or 'upsetting', I was appalled that there are schools in Britain that proudly exhibit the real thing, without any qualm of conscience whatsoever. Does anybody know, is this actually legal?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Quaglino's, my dears

We had our first night out in months, yesterday, celebrating a friend's 30th birthday at Quaglino's. It was awfully posh and I prayed - as we stepped inside the chic bar area, with its leather sofas, blue lighting and a cabaret murdering a song I didn't recognise - that nobody would notice that my little black dress was from Dorothy Perkins and that I had brushed about three inches of dust off my party shoes before we set off.

"Where is the third book?" demanded a Cambridge friend, as we stood around sipping champagne.

"Is it very depressing?" chimed another, "how about a comedy next time?"
"It might be worth a try, just to prove I could do it."
"At least one which ends 'and they lived happily ever after.'"
"What about a book where nobody dies?"
"Where would the fun be in that?"

It was so nice to meet up with old friends, even though I find it slightly scary that we are all moving inexorably towards the dreaded 30 milestone. I had the rare opportunity to talk literature with other Eng lit nerds, and ate delicious food at an hour of the night when I would normally be fast asleep, but it was fun to do the whole 'young professional about town' thing for an evening.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Yes, the Pope appears to have Catholic tendencies...

...and scientists at Monash University have worked out that children who run around during the day sleep well at night. Well, that's sorted then. They also made the extraordinary discovery that a warm bath before bedtime aids sleep.

Not so well-reported was the discovery that pointless studies which prove the blatantly obvious act as an excellent sedative for tired parents. Yawn.

Friday, 24 July 2009

John Ryan RIP

I heard on the radio that John Ryan, creator of Captain Pugwash, has died aged 88

I never watched Captain Pugwash - I'm not sure they were still being made when I was a child - but I knew of John Ryan because of his Cardinal Grotti cartoons. I met him once at an event the Catholic Herald was hosting when I was still darkening the doors of that establishment and he was incredibly friendly.

Requiescat in Pace

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Snowed under

Sorry for the gaps, I am buried under a mountain of work at the moment, including trying to prepare a manuscript by the end of the week. I promised to advertise these conferences I am speaking at over the summer: Evangelium in August and SPUC National Conference in September, at which I will be speaking on Feminism, abortion and bioethics.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Atishoo Atishoo, we all fall down

A friend who has recently recovered from swine flu rang me today, suffering from a severe case of cabin fever. She said that for the five days she was unwell, nobody would go anywhere near her. When somebody brought round some shopping, they dumped it on her doorstep and ran. "Don't you want me to pay you?" asked my friend. The answer was no, she didn't want to handle anything that a sufferer from 2009's very own Great Plague had touched - including money.

"I really understand all those references to leprosy in the Bible now," she commented.

I am not against taking sensible precautions, but put it this way: if you enter a crowded train, there is every possibility that you are breathing the same air as a person with swine flu, ditto bustling department stores, churches, schools, nurseries, pubs, supermarkets, toddler groups, theatres, cinemas. If you don't want to handle anything a sufferer of swine flu has touched, do not accept change in a shop, do not touch any handrail, cash machine, door handle, chip-and-pin machine, do not press buttons to call lifts... alternatively, get a GRIP people!!

Sunday, 19 July 2009


We are back from E's PhD graduation. It was a beautiful ceremony, held in the Senate House, full of old traditions. The graduates are presented to the Master of College by the Praelector, who gives a short speech in Latin saying that the candidates are sound in morals and learning, then they go up individually, kneel, place their hands into the hands of the Master and he confers the degree in the name of the Holy Trinity. Graduates are permitted to opt out of kneeling or the use of the Trinity but I noticed that hardly anybody did this time. It added a certain something to the proceedings when Lloyd Grossman knelt before the Master to receive his MPhil.

We had cream teas afterwards, sitting on Trinity Street in the sunshine. It was wonderful to be back in Cambridge, but we were there so briefly that unfortunately we didn't get the chance to meet up with old friends, so we are planning a slightly longer, more relaxed visit with the children later in the year. I couldn't help noticing, as we walked through the so-familiar streets of the town, that it really did not feel like home any more. I had the sense of being back in a place I love, that holds countless happy memories, but where I no longer really belonged. The last time we came, I found myself thinking all the way to the railway station, "I wonder if we could find some way to come back here" and felt miserable as the train pulled away, but nearly a year on, life has moved on and I am quite relieved that it has.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Wedding Anniversary

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary. Gosh, doesn't time fly? My wedding day was one of the most wonderful days of my life and the beginning of a chapter that has certainly been a challenge but has been happier than I could ever have imagined.

Going out for the evening is a little difficult at the moment, so to celebrate the occasion, I am being treated to a Thai Duck curry takeaway.

As I like to say during marriage talks - I LOVE being married, it's fun! I'm really really keen on it!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


I have a couple of very busy days ahead followed by a mad dash to Cambridge for my husband's graduation, so blogging may be a little sporadic for the rest of the week.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Soft Play and other such harmless pursuits

A pleasant but exhausting afternoon at a soft play centre, where Francesca, Hugh and their little friend hurled themselves in and out of ball pools, tumbled down slides and negotiated obstacles that faintly resembled giant marshmallows. I have to plan our outings quite carefully these days as Francesca is absolutely determined to do exactly what her brother does and has no sense of fear at all. NONE WHATSOEVER. So as far as I am concerned, this elaborate fun house built of crash mats is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The children can be daring, adventurous and completely safe. Having said that, Hugh (who is a three-year-old with the physique of a five-year-old and therefore a little clumsy at times) has managed in the past to find the one miniscule sharp edge in the entire building and bashed his eye against it, so I try not to relax too much...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

The Great Gatsby

I am reading The Great Gatsby at the moment. F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of those authors I somehow managed to miss when I was studying English Literature (I started reading Tender is the Night on my A-level English teacher's recommendation, but never finished it) so I thought I should go back and read a couple of his books. I have to admit, I am underwhelmed. The tone is a little too cold and detached for me, but I intend to persist until the end to see if I can make friends with Gatsby and co somewhere before the last chapter.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Radio Debate

The other day I was asked to take part in a live debate on Premier Radio about the ethics of creating human sperm in a laboratory. I tried not to think about how I would have explained to my Nanna (God rest her soul) that I was going on the radio to talk about sperm, artificial or otherwise, and said yes. I was really quite nervous when I discovered that I would be debating against a senior scientist, thinking: “Oh great! It is going to be the usual scientist vs. fluffy ethicist scenario.”

However, in the event it was nothing of the sort. It turned out that Dr Bryant and I shared similar opinions on a number of issues, such as the importance of fatherhood, though we disagreed completely on the central issue of embryo research. I oppose embryo research on the grounds that you cannot use human life as a means to an end and no reason is strong enough to justify the destruction of early human life, whereas Dr Bryant felt that although the human embryo is undoubtedly human life – the raw scientific facts bear that out – it is not “a baby”, so to speak. I stated that attempting to distinguish between human life and personhood, as the reference to a baby implied, took us into very murky waters ethically and that it is illogical to try to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the protection of human life. You can't say logically that human life should be protected at 14 days or three months or at birth, it has to be protected from the very beginning.

It was a very good-natured discussion and I think we were both respectful of one another's positions even though we were in disagreement. I never feel that there is very much point in taking part in debates (and these are all too common with subjects such as abortion and other life issues) where the other person is just there to shout you down or try to make you look ridiculous. I have found myself in discussions where the representative of the abortion industry has indulged in dirty little tricks like trying to talk out the debate, made statements that are blatantly untrue or shamelessly caricatured my position. Ad hominem attacks are pretty common, closely followed by straw man arguments and good old-fashioned sectarianism. You know the sort of thing: “You're a Roman Catholic aren't you?” as though they had just discovered some really dirty secret about me, or the patronising wave of the hand and “yes, well, that's just your Catholic position isn't it?” Direct insults I can cope with, the assertion that I have to be rescued from some form of indoctrination I never remember suffering, gets on my nerves slightly more. So, thank you Dr Bryant. I enjoyed our little discussion and hope to meet you either on-air or in the debating chamber again one day.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Swine Flu joke...

...courtesy of my sister.

Eeyore: Sneeze and you're dead.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


The other day a mum at a toddler group was asking me about ethical charities to support. This is a question I am getting asked with increasing frequency, I suspect because of the growing realisation among concerned individuals that many charitable organisations support embryo research, abortion, euthanasia and other unethical practices. The SPUC Charities Bulletin contains a list of approaching three hundred charities, spelling out their position on life-related issues, but by necessity it concentrates on exposing unethical practices rather than promoting 'safe' charities.

As a general rule, I always advise people to support local charities where they can make enquiries about precisely where money is going or to support charities with a very specific focus. For example, The Smile Train performs operations on children with cleft palate, Mary's Meals provides a meal a day to schoolchildren in developing countries.

This morning, I was introduced to a charity I had never come across before called OliveAid. This charity works in partnership with Bethlehem University, funding needy students and planting olive trees in the West Bank to replace the thousands that have been destroyed as a result of the conflict. Purchasing olive tree saplings at £25 a time may seem like a rather odd way of dealing with that region's many problems, but it aims to do what mere emergency relief cannot do - ensure a sustainable future for Palestinian farming families who are trapped in an otherwise unbreakable cycle of poverty. The revenue from just twenty trees is enough to support a family of four. According to the founder's blog:
Since our launch in December 2008 we have been able to plant over 1,000 Saplings in twelve different locations, and also to fund six new Scholarships for needy Students at the University.

Monday, 6 July 2009

A life of Hell

h/t to Oli at Super Duper for this post about prostitution. Unfortunately, it is still fashionable for educated people who really ought to know better, to take either a Benny Hill 'wink-wink, isn't it naughty?' approach or to succumb to the 'they're so empowered, at least they're not stacking shelves at Tesco' idea when it comes to this subject. Don't get me started on Secret Diaries of a Call Girl. One of the shabbiest television programmes I have ever seen that touched upon the subject of the 'sex industry' was the BBC Panorama programme Can Condoms Kill? in which Steve Bradshaw visited a legal brothel in the United States and behaved thoroughout as though the girls there had made a career choice like any other and he was just visiting some nice little cottage industry. The Madame was presented as a line manager in a sharp suit, responsibly looking after her employees and the girls were strong, happy, contented professionals. One would never have guessed, watching this ludicrous display, that the overwhelming majority of prostitutes are drug-dependent and desperate to get out or that the leading causes of death among prostitutes are homicide and suicide (in that order), closely followed by HIV infection. On that last point, the programme suggested very strongly indeed that prostitutes who use condoms are completely safe from HIV. But then, why on earth would the BBC be interested in the facts...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Lazy Weekends

We've been enjoying a weekend in Wiltshire, visiting my parents. The children have spent most of the time making friends with Bertie the West Highland Terrier (who has taken to these two imposters remarkably well) and splashing about in a paddling pool in the garden. You would not believe quite how much entertainment three inches of cold water can provide for two small children. Bliss.

Meanwhile, I am busily editing a manuscript...

Friday, 3 July 2009

A Tale of Two Babies

"Many years ago, my father was a Jewish physician in Braunau, Austria. On one particular day, two babies had been delivered by one of his colleagues. One was a fine healthy boy with a strong cry. His parents were extremely proud and happy. The other was a little girl, but her parents were extremely sad, for she was a Down syndrome baby. I followed them both for almost 50 years. The girl grew up, living at home, and was finally destined to be the one who nursed her mother through a very long and lingering illness after a stroke. I do not remember her name. I do, however, remember the boy's name. He died in a bunker in Berlin. His name was Adolf Hitler."

Jerome Lejeune, the discovery of the Down Syndrome gene

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Hot hot hot

Hot day
Hot house
Hot children
Hot train
Hot office with temperamental air conditioning units
Hot hot hot hot hot
But then, since this is England we are talking about, it will probably be chucking it down with rain by the morning so I had better make the most of it...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Man Rules

h/t to Stephen for emailing me this. And yes, it did make me laugh.

The Man Rules
At last a guy has taken the time to write this all down
Finally , the guys' side of the story. We always hear "the rules" from the female side.

Now here are the rules from the male side.
Please note... these are all numbered "1" ON PURPOSE!

1. Men are NOT mind readers. 1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down. We need it up, you need it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.
1. Sunday sports It's like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.
1. Crying is blackmail.
1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one:
Subtle hints do not work!
Strong hints do not work!
Obvious hints do not work!
Just say it!
1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.
1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.
1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all comments become Null and void after 7 Days.
1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.
1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one
1. You can either ask us to do something
Or tell us how you want it done.
Not both.
If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.
1. Whenever possible, Please say whatever you have to say during commercials.
1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.
1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a colour. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.
1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," We will act like nothing's wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.
1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, Expect an answer you don't want to hear.
1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine... Really.
1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball or golf.
1. You have enough clothes.
1. You have too many shoes.
1. I am in shape. Round IS a shape
1. Thank you for reading this.
Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight;
But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.