Cough cough

So, we did that thing, you know, where you take an ickle baby to church on Christmas Day. Unlike the carol service the other night, which we had to abandon after 20 minutes due to said ickle baby screaming his ickle bright red head off, he slept through it and all was well. We had a zillion people cooing over him. One dared to make some reference to the ickle baby Jesus. We winced.

Anyway, having sat next to two coughing old ladies swapping tales of their antiobiotics, I wasn’t dead chuffed about shaking their hands for the peace-be-with-you bit. However. It did give me a new theory about religion. It all makes sense now: religion has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with epidemiology.

Shaking hands to share peace. Communion. Sharing the body and blood. It’s all about sharing germs. Your close-knit community of old shares its germs and raises its collective immune system. Except now we all only come together at Christmas. So steer well clear of the coughing old ladies.

In other news, we’re having Christmas just the three of us as a fambly [/Dickens]. Thanks to Louis this will almost certainly mean us eating in separate sittings like every other day. But anyway: thanks to a surfeit of Marks and Sparks vouchers I got in trade for some old mobile phones, our entire Christmas spread has cost us 82 pence cash. Beat that, Robert Peston!


Dissenters: D & E


Whenever the Diggers are mentioned, it is normally in the phrase ‘Diggers and Levellers’, as the movements were so closely allied.

The Diggers in fact began as the True Levellers in 1649. Both are not strictly religious groups, in that their motivation was political, but their focus on the Bible gives them a place here.

We’ll save the Levellers for ‘L’ in this series, but the groups were united in their belief in ‘levelling’ the social order to a more egalitarian footing.

The Diggers were founded by the Rev William Everard, a radical preacher who encouraged local people to cultivate public land at St George’s Hill in Surrey in order to meet their needs, and his friend Gerrard Winstanley, a formerly wealthy merchant tailor from Lancashire now forced to herd livestock, having lost his trade in the English Civil War. Everard stole away from the movement when trouble later started.

Winstanley quickly became known for his writings on the harmony of men and nature and the birthright of the common people to dig their own land.

His philosophy was essentially a true communist one, asserting the role of small self-sustaining communities without the need for a ruling class.

This was underpinned by the Bible, in particular Acts 4.32: “32: And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”

The Diggers were vigorously persecuted by Cromwell’s New Model Army, but continued to dig the land and air their cause, particularly in Surrey, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.

Even at their peak they only comprised a few hundred people, and fizzled out by 1651 – but their legacy has influenced British political dissidence ever since. The Republic of Heaven, a key concept in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is a phrase from one of Winstanley’s writings.

Elim Pentecostal Church

The Elim Pentecostal Church was founded by George Jeffreys (1889-1962), a Welsh evangelist with a Congregationalist background who had been converted during the Welsh revival of 1904. He founded the church at Monaghan, Northern Ireland, in 1915.

The name (officially, since 1934, the Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance) came from Exodus 15.27 – “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters” – and was intended to convey a sense of spiritual refreshment. Jeffreys became famous for his inspirational mission tours around the UK, something like a Billy Graham of his day.

Jeffreys later spilt away from the main group and founded the Bible-Pattern Church Fellowship in 1939, another Pentecostal church with affinities to the British Israelites.

He was succeeded at Elim by George Kingston, who founded many congregations in Essex in particular. The Elim movement continues today with more than 500 UK congregation, united by beliefs in the divine inspiration of the Bible, the second coming, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and bodily resurrection.

English Lutherans

Strictly speaking there has never been an ‘English Lutheran’ movement in Britain (though the name was used in America from the 19th century), but various British-born followers of Martin Luther had an important influence on the Reformation in this country.

Most notable was Robert Barnes (1495-1540), who openly sermonised in Cambridge on the gospel, and accused the Church of heresy. He was influential on other reformers such as Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer who like him were later executed.


Episcopalianism is broadly an alternative term for the Anglican Communion, theologically distinct from both Catholicism and Protestantism.

The Episcopal Church in the US was the first Anglican church outside Britain, founded just after American independence and obliged to be separate because of the Church of England’s requirement upon clergy to swear allegiance to the Crown.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion and recognises the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are many other Episcopal churches worldwide.

Parenthood and its discontents

As if having a baby wasn’t exhausting enough, the received wisdom on looking after the little blighter is a nightmarish minefield of theory and counter-theory. The chief debates are these:

  1. ‘On demand’ vs ‘routine’. Theorists abound and create whole industries around their bestselling books. On the left, I give you attachment parenting: William Sears, Margot Sutherland et al. They say a baby should be given everything it needs when it wants it, and favour things such as co-sleeping (see below) and carrying them around everywhere in a sling. The debit side is that it can be very punishing on parents, and leaves their needs forgotten. On the right, the ‘controlled crying’ etc brigade, led by the dreaded Gina Ford, who advocates dividing your day into 10-minute chunks and forcing the baby to fit in with it, heedless of neurologists’ observations that night waking/feeding helps babies’ brain development.It’s notable that Sears has 8 children, and apparently Ford has… none. Tracy Hogg (‘the baby whisperer’) claims to tread a middle path, but is really a Fordite as far as I can discern.
  2. Breast vs bottle. Paediatricians don’t seem to give a toss for the breast, and in hospital happily try to foist formula on anyone who isn’t producing milk, or whose baby is ill and needs extra feeding (we were lucky as Oxford has a ‘milk bank’ and a stern ward sister arranged for donated milk). Meanwhile midwives are ardent breastfeeding campaigners and it’s hard to get them to admit how miserable and gruelling it can be, or help you consider alternatives.
  3. Dummy or no-dummy. Dummy use has been shown to be a preventative factor against cot death, but then again it can also lead to more ear infections, and in some babies seems to cause ‘nipple confusion’ making breastfeeding even more complicated than it already is.
  4. Co-sleeping or separate room. Western cultures don’t like the former as it disrupts the mother-father relationship in bed, and there’s the fear of squashing the mite (though this is extremely rare unless alcohol or drugs are involved). There are potential cot death risks for either argument, and in practice most people have a cot next to their bed.

Oh, and a special note for Dunstan Baby Language, whose nice-little-earner-DVD identifies 5 different cries baby makes and claims that all their needs can be met by spotting them and responding appropriately. Yeah, right. (There does seem to be something in it – but babies need more than five things.)

There’s probably more I’ve temporarily forgotten, addled with sleeplessness as I am. Anyway: it’s all bloody depressing, and I suppose going with one’s intuition is as good as anything. Of all the books I’ve looked at so far, one called Fatherhood… The Truth, although somewhat melancholy, is by far the sanest I’ve read. It’s by Marcus Berkmann – yup, the one who used to write for Your Sinclair. Surely, surely, if you can program a Spectrum, you can raise a child.