Friday, 25 March 2016

Of New Years And Old Battles

It has started again.  It's Good Friday and this is going to continue now until the autumn. I know it's not my river, but I feel a little possessive of my personal space and, after each relatively peaceful winter, it usually takes me a while to get used to the idea that other people like to use the river too.  I guess today is the first day the hire boats are booked out. Both day boats hurtled past this morning at a rate of knots.  This would have irritated me, but not necessarily alarmed me.  I'll tell you why it did.

I woke up choking.  Actually, I didn't wake up choking because, as usual, I was awake at some ungodly hour before it was anything like light. Had I, though, woken up at a more sensible time I would have woken up choking. The two horse ladies had, as per their daily routine, cleared out bedding from the horses' overnight boxes and added it to the heap of stuff, much of which may once have been straw, in the paddock behind the stables. There it becomes part of our very own hellfire and clouds of choking, though not always visible, smoke will be blown whither the wind will. If a breeze happens to be blowing anywhere from south-west to north-west the chances are that I will receive the benefit of this aromatic experience. This was certainly the case today. The boat was filling with visible smoke coming through the mushroom vents and through the cabin window I leave open at night.

Outside and above the smoke the sun was shining, so I made a decision to move the boat out of the smoke and into clean air about half a mile down the river.  I carried out the preliminary checks, switched on the ignition and fired the engine into action.  Clouds of my own grey smoke mingled with the smoke from the burning straw, although mine abated immediately I eased the throttle back.  I pushed off from the bank, reversing out as a manoeuvre to cope with the wind and eased round into the river.  Arriving at my spot for the day I pinned the boat to the bank with mooring spikes for the fore, aft and centre ropes.  The bank was very soft from much recent rain. I was easily able to push the stakes in and only used my club hammer to make myself feel more comfortable that the boat was going to stay put.  It didn't stop me fretting that the wind was going to tug the boat adrift and pull my spikes out though.  I keep thinking I ought to buy some spares for when that does actually happen.

Having run the engine for forty minutes or so meant that I had a tank of hot water and a hot shower was too inviting a prospect to ignore.  I left my worries behind as I tended to the matter of my ablutions.  I was still pinned to the bank when I emerged from the shower, so I felt calmer.  I dressed and sat with my guitar and drums to prepare my set for the evening.  Being the monthly folk club night, I wasn't planning on using the drums, but I like to play them anyway.  I sorted out four or five songs and proceeded to play them through a few times.  What a lovely way to spend time.  I think I have an amazing job.

Then, just as I was getting ready to break off for lunch the first hire boat came through.  I heard it coming before it rounded the bend and and before it came into sight and I knew by the sound of the engine that it was unlikely to be able to slow down sufficiently.  I hurled myself at the door and tottered as quickly as I dared along the gangplank to grab the centre rope.  Holding on to it and leaning back against the pull of Day Boat Number One's wash I made slowing down gestures with one hand.  The speeding joyriders smiled and waved back cheerfully.  Yes, it has definitely started.  This will undoubtedly be the shape of my Easter weekend.  Two boats, travelling up and and later down each day of the weekend and potentially every weekend after that until October.  For now though should I continue my practice or wait for the other day boat to arrive?  Who knows, the second boat might actually have someone at the tiller who appreciates the joys of gentle river travel.  They might, but given past experience it was unlikely.  Nothing wrong with living hopefully though.  Day Boat Number Two came past within thirty minutes and did not disappoint.  They also waved back at my slow down salute.  I bet they think us river folk are so quaint and friendly.

The rest of the day was beautiful.  The breeze died down a little and there was a bright sun in a more or less clear sky.  The warm(ish) air meant that I could eat a leisurely lunch on the foredeck for the first time since last autumn with just the fenscape and my tinnitus for company.  Although I was closer to the twenty-six or so wind turbines than when at my mooring I couldn't hear them at all.  I completed my practice and whiled away some time pottering about before I needed to head back to base.  The return journey was going to take longer than the one to get here because I had to continue into the confluence to turn round, come back past my mooring, continuing for some twenty more minutes further until I reached the first place where the river was wide enough for me to turn so that I could eventually moor up facing the direction I preferred.  

When at my mooring, speeding boats scrape paint off the boat as the wash drags my boat against the jetty.  I'm not sure I prefer that to the prospect of being pulled off a bank and losing my pins in the river.  It has always puzzled me why people spend an enormous sum of money to hire a boat, presumably for a slower experience of life, and then try to emulate driving in the fast lane of the M1.  Usually the day boats also hurtle past on their return journey to the boatyard.  I assume that is because they have a deadline to meet for returning the boats.  Today, both boats came back more slowly than they had been travelling in the morning.  That made a nice change.  I was able to call a grateful "thank you for going slowly" to both rally driving boaters.  One even apologised for causing me anxiety on his morning passage.  I wasn't looking for contrition or apologies, but receiving such made a change.  Maybe the year won't be so nerve wracking after all.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Of The Next Phase In My Power Game

Nuts, ring terminals, cable, heatshrink, important bits of string cut to length.

I finally found a use for the quarter-sheet of 18 square mm ply that I bought several weeks ago. The purchase, from the timber merchant in a nearby village, was part of my half-baked plan to extend the battery storage area for my new bank of batteries.  I had no real idea how I was going to make a box to fit the fourth battery that would not squeeze into the available battery space, specially one that needed un-right-angled corners to fit the sleek curves of the walls in the engine room.  At the same time I bought another length of wood and thought that making some kind of frame would probably help.  That piece has been lying out of sight under some very beautiful, very clever, very shallow cupboards in my cabin.  I can't see it so it isn't really there.  As I was contemplating the proposed structure of the box extension the man who did my BSS testing a few weeks ago suggested a specially manufactured plastic battery box.  It cost six times as much as the timber, but the one I bought from the battery company that supplied my batteries did fit perfectly into another space in the engine room.  That is, it managed to fit perfectly once I emptied the storage box of the spare fuel and oil filters, fan belts gasket paper and assortment of fixtures and fittings I remain convinced are bound to come in handy at some point, along with other assorted shizzle, all of which is now filling a red carrier bag that doesn't yet have a home of its own and contributes significantly to the general lack of tidiness.  This, naturally causes me some anguish but, for now, the ply board makes a perfect workbench if I lay it on my bed. It certainly looks better there than standing up against the wall in the living area, where it has looked as though it might fall over and damage my computer or my drums at any moment.  Of course, come bedtime, I'll have to move it again.   This workbench, for now though, is a perfect surface for preparing my new battery inter-connects.  I realise I am making a bit of a meal about this task that I have been find increasingly ingenious ways to avoid, but I still have only two of the four batteries connected (in parallel, naturally).  

Today a nice courier called, Lee, delivered two reels (one red, one black) of the 40 square mm battery cabling, an overabundance of terminal ends in a variety of mostly inappropriate sizes and heatshrink that will become my new inter-connects.  When I've completed the job I'll put the spares in the red plastic carrier bag that will find a tidier home later.  All I have to obtain now is a crimping tool capable of crimping these huge terminals on to the destination leads and to find out how to apply the right kind of heat that will shrink the red and black sleeves into place without melting the cables' sheathing or setting fire to the boat.  YouTube will be my friend again, no doubt - specially for the theoretical underpinning - although I may have to extend my search for the tools to do these jobs.  

As it happens, Lee was the driver who brought me things a few weeks ago.  He thought he knew the way this time, but he had entrusted his whereabouts to his satnav which, as you may know, has odd ideas of its own when it comes to the postcode at this farm.  He only remembered there could be some kind of special instruction to the courier when he found himself and his VW Transporter being directed across the river where there was no bridge and being pointed at a final destination in the middle of an apparently empty field on the other side where there was, of course, no building (of either the in or out varieties) to which he might reasonably be expected to deliver his consignment.  Still, each day brings a little measure of progress.

Having recently made a total pig's ear of trying to construct my inter-connects with chopped up lengths of brand new heavy-duty jump leads and somehow cutting some of them too short, I decided to adapt the "measure twice, cut once" rule to "measure four times and don't dare cut anything yet".  Instead I remembered the huge ball of sisal string I have been carrying around in my junk percussion box and decided to measure the lengths I needed in string.  That way, expensive mistakes might be avoided and I could make sure that each side of the circuit carried the same number of long and short lengths of cable thus equalising the resistance on the flow and return sides of the circuit and hopefully reducing the likelihood of unnecessary voltage drop ... unless, of course, I am making it worse because some of the lengths of cable will be longer than they would need to be simply to connect to the battery terminals.  I don't know.  I'm getting another headache thinking about it.  

I just thought I'd let you know I am making progress.  Now, where can I put the work bench?

Power Update:  Today was the first cloudy day P.S.  About 36w being generated by the panels and trickling about 3.5amps into the batteries keeping them nicely around the 13v mark.

Of Just Another Love/Hate Relationship With Computers

I am not a patient man. I have been told many times by people that I am VERY patient, but that is usually only with children and aspiring ceilidh dancers.  There are, though, some things with which I find it impossible to keep my cool.  Among those things are machines that don't do what they are supposed to do.  I have friends who seem to get very excited by the prospect of dealing with something that doesn't work - think cars and boats and computers, for example.  I appreciate that some people are wired very differently from me and and see it as a challenge to give the kiss of life to an inanimate gizmo.  I am not one of those people.  If I buy a thing I expect it to work.  And, if there are few if any moving parts to wear out, it should just keep on working ... shouldn't it?

My first very own computer!
I’m not new to computers and certainly not new to Macs.  My first Apple computer was one of those clunky, little postboxes with a built-in 9” monochrome screen in the 1980s.  In those days they were still horribly expensive and, when colour came along, I could only aspire to an SE, which these days would seem little more of an advance on a coloured crayon.  After all these decades I do not consider myself particularly techy, so I prefer technology that is built to behave.

Since November 2015 I have been experiencing a problem I have never before encountered with Apple computers.  My mid-2012 MacBook Pro went very, very slow and eventually refused to do anything, even to shut down.  I had to resort to extreme behaviour with the power button.  The computer didn’t learn its lesson and the problem persisted, but at least it started up again.  I took it to the Apple Store and a succession of tech support people spent hours with it over the course of a few appointments (often staying behind after hours - I can’t fault their enthusiasm), but to little avail.  Eventually the only solution they came up with was to wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system.  I was shocked.  I thought that was a thing one only did with Windows systems.  I had backed everything up, but it was still inconvenient and restoring my backup data restored the problem, so we wiped, created a new user account and reinstalled for the second time.  This time I only reinstalled my documents and applications.  Of course some of the non-Apple applications for which I had paid good money never came back, but the computer seemed okay for a few days.  Then I couldn’t shut it down again.  I haven't had the time or the heart to trek back to an Apple store, specially since the nearest is at least fifty miles away and since their brightest brains couldn’t find the fault before.
So, since the end of last year I have held down the power button to shut the computer down, but to reduce blood pressure and anger management issues I have left it on most of the time.  The Finder (the Apple filing system) does its own thing and works when it feels like it.  Applications mostly seem to work and sometimes nudge the Finder back into action … until I want to shut down - at which point the Finder quits and the shutdown process hangs. I wondered whether leaving the beast on all the time meant it had a lot of housekeeping to do, but leaving it “hanging” overnight hasn’t helped.  When the computer does restart it opens a bunch of applications that must have been open last time it shut down properly, even if I quit them before attempting to shut-down or restart. 

Today I wanted to use Air Drop to import a file from my iPad to write what was to have been this blog post (but which will now be the next one), but it is not playing ball; hence this rant.  I'll have to connect a wire and do it the old fashioned way.  For months I have trawled discussion groups and Apple support forums for clues as to what to try next and nothing I have seen till now has cured the problem.  The most likely-sounding piece of advice seems to be that Finder preferences have perhaps become corrupted, but since I can’t locate any Finder preferences where I expect to find them, not even when starting in safe mode, I’m without a clue. I shall resort to writing to a local group of enthusiasts, I think, and see what they have to offer. (The suggestions have already started rolling in as I write this.)
I wondered whether an OSX update might help and OSX 10.11.3 seems to be sitting in my iTunes updates tab and awaiting a restart.  Several attempts to complete the installation have failed. I assume the installation is not finishing because the computer is not shutting down properly.

I ran my G4 PowerBook for twelve years by keeping it away from the web and just using it for my music without any problems.  Unlike some people I do not get excited over computer challenges. On the contrary I am a bit jarred off and seriously considering going back to the dark side just to get some work finished and to be able to stop wasting time over this irritation!  

Much as I love computers I hate them.

On the other hand there are always these:

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Of A Child's Ear And An Unrelenting Year

Sound has always attracted, interested and intrigued me. My earliest years were spent in relative isolation so I had plenty of time to listen to things.  Having limited contact with other children I spent those years in a world of my own imagination in a first floor flat just sahf of The River ... where cabbies allegedly feared to venture after dark. In my childhood Albany Road, now mostly a park, was lined with a mixture of buildings (many of which had somehow escaped the blitz), rubble and I'm pretty sure there were also some prefabs, but I may have made that up.  There was also Mr Harrison's sweet shop.  Albany Road linked the Old Kent Road (how many other streets have their own definite article?) to where Walworth Road meets Camberwell Road. A trip to a park, or to my grandmother's flat (Nan lived pretty much where she'd always lived, not far from the Elephant And Castle), or playing with cousins, was a rare treat.  My favourite outings were to go "down the lane". I never worked out whether "the lane" was actually Westmoreland Lane or East Street. It was probably both and both were the sites of vivid street markets where the sounds of hundreds of people confined and milling in close proximity produced a hugely different acoustic experience from the reverberation of our concrete stairwell, the snug claustrophobia of our kitchen, the dry ringing sound of Nan's square (surrounded and overlooked by Peabody's finest architecture), or the sound that resulted when Mum pulled up the sash window to speak to Paul's Grandmother down in the yard to which no one else had access.  Even at an early age I know I relished those differences and found them very exciting. Of course there were also the street cries of the market traders. Every cry from every costermonger was an incantation, although the message was usually incoherent and became just a fascinating sound. On cold days we would usually buy a hot sarsaparilla and, as a very special treat when Nan came with us, we had dinner (what these days we would call "lunch") in the pie shop. I always had the meat pie, mash and liquor. Mum preferred a pot of jellied eels with her mash. The only thing I missed when, at the age of twelve I eschewed meat and became a vegetarian, was the almost phosphorescent green, eel-juice liquor that was such a evocative taste from my childhood.

I spent most of my waking hours with my mother, unless she went to work.  On those days I stayed with Nan - mostly.  One day I had a three year-old's adventure trying to follow Mum to work.  I think I lost her when she boarded a bus bound for Aldwych, so I went window shopping instead.  I vaguely remember being picked up from a police station.  I was certainly closer to my mother and I didn't really know my father very well.  Although he lived with us he had three jobs and worked long hours.  Actually I think he worked all of them. I can remember only a few things we did together. We were not close when I was young. We grew further apart in my adolescence. It took us nearly five decades before we managed to bridge that estrangement. I am so grateful for the second chance those final eight years gave us when I lived with him and learned to love him.

I always took refuge in sound.  Memory informs me that I spent hours standing at the window in the sitting room of the old tenement block that overlooked the mile-long Albany Road listening to and compiling a mental catalogue of the sounds that interested me.

This brick may be all that is left of the flat where
I lived till I was nearly six. I salvaged it when the
building was among the many being pulled down
to make space for Albany Park in Camberwell,
London.  These days it lives in my van
just in case I need an old brick.
Some sounds came from the street and some floated into hearing from within the block of flats. I devoured vocabulary and if I did not know a word I made one up. Sometimes my made up word took preference over the more established and commonly used one. Articulated lorries were "mom-moms" because of the distinctive sound of their engines as they climbed a shallow incline from the Thomas A Becket, the notorious boxing pub on the corner of the Old Kent Road. This fascination sometimes got me into trouble. One of my favourite sounds was the "ka-ka" that results from ringing a bicycle bell with the top unscrewed. My mother discouraged me from using the word because she thought it sounded like a swear word. Our lives were very much influenced by the "old lady", Paul's Grandmother, who lived in the flat below. I don't remember any particular encounter with her, but I do know she must have possessed a supernatural ability to hear what we got up to. Mum was in fear of disturbing her with our noise and definitely didn't want her to think I used swear words. Consequently a lot of my dialogue was in my head, or with my host of imaginary friends, of whom Doh was the most loyal. Fortunately Patrick was never jealous and understood that Doh and I had always been together. In cowboy games, when my cousin Kenny (who made the best gun sounds of anyone I knew) came round, I always died in spectacular and silent slow-motion. "The poor boy even has to die quietly," Aunty Doris would say.  I suppose Paul's grandmother was prone to complain. I know my mum would do anything to avoid conflict, so I learned the art of silent dying. 

To be fair, my silent world was never truly silent because there was always music somewhere.  My parents and grandparents loved to sing. Mum and Nan were always singing at home. Grandad was always in demand to sing dahn the pub when someone got on the joanna or even if they didn't. In later years when we went round to see Nan on a Saturday or a Sunday, Grandad would usually stagger in after lunchtime opening and continue the show, before the wrestling came on the television.  Having been generously rewarded in whiskies for his efforts in the pub, his baritone had just one setting - loud.  With his acting sergeant-major voice, loud was actually very loud.  Since even my deaths were characteristically silent I found him overwhelming and often frightening. I felt out of my depth when he tried to engage me in what he probably perceived as friendly conversation. I thought it was my fault that I failed to follow his alcohol-propelled reasoning.  I became very familiar with the "Oh-wa Danny-ya Boyyyyy-ya ....." style of singing decades before I realised it was a thing. 

Mum and Dad sang together, harmonising in thirds. We also had a Redifusion box on the wall in the kitchen that we clicked on when we wanted to listen to the wireless. We could choose the Light Programme or sometimes the Home Service I think. If the Third Programme were an option we never took it. We also had a wind-up gramophone and Mum and Dad let me play any and all of their extensive collection of popular contemporary and inherited 78s. Somehow, by the age of three, I could locate any song they requested and they never knew how I did it. I would put them on and dance and dance and dance. 

My parents' music and music from the wireless informed my musical universe. I think our worlds began to diverge with Merseybeat. By 1967 we inhabited completely different dimensions. 

Of course I had been aware of pop music before 1966, but that was the year I discovered pirate radio. Nan gave me a little transistor radio and it was tuned permanently to Radio London, the floating one. I wrote about it in a previous essay. The first band I claimed for myself was The Monkees. I saw them perform at Wembley in 1967. The following year I saw Tyrannosaurus Rex, David Bowie, Roy Harper and Steffan Grossman. The first 45rpm single I bought with my own money was "Purple Haze".  I'm rather proud of that. It could have been something far less worthy. How I loved Jimi Hendrix. Three years later he was one on the acts I really wanted to see at The Third Isle Of Wight Festival. I was taken ill on the last day of the festival, missed his performance and within weeks he was dead. 1970 was a horrible year for musicians dying. 1971 wasn't much better.  

2016, though, has seen slaughter on an altogether different scale. Yesterday it was Keith Emerson, the day before, George Martin. The year started out badly and since the beginning of January we have lost Paul Bley, Pierre Boulez, David Bowie, Dale Griffin, Glenn Frey, Jimmy Bain, Black, Signe Tole Anderson, Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Dan Hicks, John Chilton and I daresay more I have yet to find out about.  At times some of these musicians have touched my life quite deeply; others, naturally, less so.  I mentioned having seen David Bowie at the second concert I ever chose to attend.  That was in 1968. I saw Mott The Hoople perform many times before they found fame with David Bowie and "All The Young Dudes". At the time I thought they were one of the best live bands on the circuit. Buffin, like many in this list, seems just too young to have gone - Alzheimer's too. So cruel. Jefferson Airplane were so much a part of the sixties and the whole revolution coming out of the American West Coast scene that anyone my age could not have failed to have been touched by the loss of both Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner on the same day. Although I certainly enjoyed their early albums I can't claim to have been a diehard fan of E.L.P., but I loved The Nice back in the day. During my first trip to Switzerland in 1969 I picked up an album of theirs that wasn't available in England. That pleased me greatly as did my trip to see them play at Croydon's Fairfield Halls that same year. Keith Emerson was performing the usual acrobatic tricks with his Hammond, but when he moved on to the hall's pipe organ he looked over his shoulder and called out, "Do you think they'll mind me sticking knives in this one?"  

I also saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer's first (okay, probably their second) gig in 1970 at the Isle of Wight. George Martin, I think, probably touched us all and I cannot select just one song of his ... oh, of course this is the one for me ... no wait, it's this one ... or this ... or this ...  No I can't decide on just one and it's difficult to find definitive versions on YouTube.

There are many months left of 2016 and we are going to lose more musicians before the year is out. I have often pondered why the death of someone I have never met in person is such an emotional experience.  Music has always been one of the most important and stabilising things in my life. Music has been with me in my highest and lowest times. Music got me through some very dark days I experienced in my adolescence and has sometimes helped on even darker ones since. Other songwriters have found ways of getting to my truths in ways that have frequently eluded me.  I may not have known the musician, but I have often been very intimate with their music. Some of that music is deeply embedded in me, or do I mean ME?

I was a teacher in a primary school when John Lennon was killed.  I didn't understand why I felt so upset by his death and I couldn't explain it to the head who asked me why an overpaid pop star's death should be more important than an unknown elderly woman who brought up a family and died alone.  I understood what he was trying to say, but that unknown woman hadn't embedded her art in my soul. Maybe that was a failing in me.  I couldn't say for sure. What I do see is that this year's harvest has reaped a number of people not so different in age from me.  Such a dramatic illustration of my own mortality is demanding my attention. I suppose there is a generation of musicians following the baby boomers who have already and will increasingly be moving on. I suppose newer musicians touch the lives of others too, but I don't really see who they are and I don't have the same emotional ties. Surely our generation is not unique in having such a fundamental intimacy with the music of our awakening years?

Friday, 11 March 2016

Of Sunshine And Smiles

I'm walking on sunshine and don't it feel good!  With a nod at Katrina And The Waves (or Katrina And The Minidisk, as I fondly remember her) I am basking in the delight of my new solar power installation. The weather has even changed from the recent unremitting cold, rain, sleet, snow, frost and wind to calmness and sunshine. I have heard the kingfisher this morning, the moorhens are very busy and have even overcome their winter shyness. The sun is streaming through the fenestration on the port side and the temperature in my cabin is an acceptable 20.8 degrees.

For a few months now I have been looking forward to having solar power installed. My son, on my recent visit to the USA, is one of the people who has asked how much money I anticipate it will save me. To each enquiry I have had to admit that it will probably save me very little.  My mains hook-up at my rented mooring records each unit I use and I pay a monthly amount for the total number of units consumed. As it happens I actually use very little electricity and pay amounts that turn my friends that peculiar shade of envy green.  Looking at all the preparations and the expenditure on the components and labour on my solar system a rough estimate suggests that I should break even in about thirty years.  Both the boat and I will probably by gone by then.  So why oh why?  Firstly, I anticipate there will eventually come a time when I feel confident to leave this mooring (and seek some new rendezvous?) without fear of breakdown and that is when I shall reap the full benefit of my installation.  It has always struck me as utterly crazy that, in this day and age I am expected to burn diesel simply to keep my fridge working and top up my batteries if I am not connected to mains electricity.  Many boaters run their engines for an hour or so in the evenings when away from their marina moorings. so, secondly, I wanted to do something that didn't result in yet more diesel fumes, engine wear and unnecessary fuel use.  Using the navigation app on my ancient phone uses up the battery as fast as a bucket with a hole in it leaks water.   Therefore, thirdly, I want to keep my phone and computer batteries charged without worrying about them when I'm away from base.  Until now that could only be done using the inverter when the engine is running.  Yesterday, though, I entered the new era. Tim, from Onboard Solar, trekked over from Derbyshire, drilled holes in my boat, fitted panels on the roof, an MPPT controller and, for good measure, a solid 12v outlet in the engine room so I can keep my phone charging while I'm using it to navigate.  He worked amazingly quickly and efficiently and now I am even more aware of how useless I am at practical stuff.  

Two weeks ago I spent close to three hours sitting and gazing at four new leisure batteries trying to work out how to fit them into the not quite available space and how I would then connect them without wrecking them. I have half a sheet of unused ply and some batten that I bought from the timber merchant in the next village that I was going use in an attempt to make an extended battery box in the engine room (don't ask how, I never got past the half-formed notion stage).  Since then I have wasted more time and money on following the advice of the man in the local car parts shop who didn't have battery cabling for sale, but sold me some heavy jump leads and the wrong size of terminals that I have been trying to make into inter-connects for my new batteries.  I fully understand and subscribe to  the "measure twice, cut once" philosophy of diy. I shall endeavour to measure thrice in future. Watching Solar Tim at work reminded me of the importance of having the right equipment to do the job. A bad workman may blame his tools. I also blame the lack of them.

B.S. (Before Solar)
So, bullet in mouth and biting down hard, I got back on to the web and, with advice from Solar Tim on what I really need, I hit the credit card.  I hope that this time I shall actually be able to use the bits and the tools I have ordered. I cannot explain why I find myself fascinated by tools, often wondering what they are for. I may see something in a shop and think "that will definitely come in handy", but in the end it invariably doesn't. I have made many pointless purchases.  Moving on to the boat and having little spare space has helped contain the urge to buy tools I shall never learn how to use. There remain many objects in my toolbox for which I remain hard-pressed to account.

When I started to discuss and research my solar options I realised that I was going to need to change my inverter.  An inverter changes battery electricity into the kind of electricity that most people get when they plug something into a wall socket. I could attempt to go all technical on you and point out that the inverter changes 12v DC into 230v AC, but I suspect that, at best, I would sound unconvincing. During our initial telephone discussion, Solar Tim advised me that I needed a 2.5kW pure sine wave inverter to be able to come off the grid given the things for which I use electricity.  I have an inverter at present (which I think I may have switched on three times in the past four years) that came with the boat but, brothers and sisters, its sine waves are not pure and my tablet threw a hissy fit yesterday when I tried to use the inverted electricity coming from my sun-kissed batteries to charge it up. iPad beeped every other second as it couldn't decide whether it should be on, be off, charge or discharge. Likewise my dvd monitor flashed its red standby light at me and went into a sulk. Who knew that impure sine waves could evoke such standoffish responses?   As I have searched over the months for an inverter that met the criteria originally decreed by Solar Tim I have become increasingly confused. I have attempted to understand incomprehensible web-sites and viewed hours of YouTube videos that claimed to explain these mysteries to people like me - well-meaning but ultimately incompetent bodgers.  There was only one inverter I could find that seemed to fit the requirements closely enough and it was on sale for about £1600. I nearly went ahead and bought one.  However, it was not 2.5kw output, but 2.6 and it came with its own specific controller.  I thought I should check with Solar Tim that this would still be compatible with the rest of his plans.  I sent my guru an e-mail.  He wrote back, "I'm in India.  We need to talk when I get back ..."  That couldn't have been clearer. I was on the verge of making an expensive mistake. I stepped back from the brink of another ill-advised purchase.

P.S. (Post Solar)

After the work had been completed yesterday (in less time than I have hitherto spent staring at dormant leisure batteries) Solar Tim headed for e-Bay and quickly found me a secondhand, though unused, and even more powerful inverter rated at 3kw.  The owner was a two-hour drive away, so I bought it and arranged to pick it up immediately at a fifth of the cost my research had turned up.  The inverter had been sitting in a cupboard since being purchased.  It clearly sounded like my kind of tool. The owner turned out to be even more of a newbie than I am and apparently about as technically confident.  I liked him immediately.  He had also only been living on his boat since last October and had spent all his time in a marina. I liked him even more. This did mean that I had to like myself a little less - pride is so unbecoming.

So here I am on Day 2 P.S. (Post Solar).  I unplugged my mains charger yesterday and haven't plugged it in since.  Last night in the dark I watched the readings on the controller as, after interpretation, I discovered there was no charge coming from the panels and no charge going into the batteries.  The darkness was obviously working and I found it riveting.  The battery charge hovered just under 12v.  Scary.  By 8 o'clock this morning  there was a little charge coming from the panels and about half an amp going into the batteries which were recording 14.1v. Joy and jubilation!

Update (expect more of these) 11:53am Day 2P.S.  2w of charge are being generated by the panels, the batteries are practically fully charged and reading 14.1 volts. 

Regarding Katrina and the Minidisk:
Several years ago the ceilidh band was booked to play at some sort of 18-30 event in the function hall on the site of a holiday centre at a local seaside resort.  We were the support act.  Amazingly we were booked to play for two hours before the main attraction of the evening - Katrina (sans The Waves).  I couldn't really get my head round that until the delightful Katrina hit the boards.  Her band for the night was the instrumental accompaniment on a pre-recorded minidisk. Her set lasted for maybe three or four songs - about fifteen minutes - although my ageing memory may be faulty.  We shared the dressing room and she was a perfectly delightful person.  We found plenty to talk about. The punters out in the pit seemed perfectly happy with her performance and I suspect her leather ensemble in the tradition of Suzi Quattro or Chrissie Hynde didn't go entirely unnoticed. It would have been inappropriate to have enquired what sort of fee such a performance could command, but that has never prevented private speculation.

Seeing these photographs I feel embarrassed sufficiently to apologise for the state of the boat's paintwork.  My infrequent and failed attempts to rub down and repaint have not stopped repeated outbreaks of rust bleeding through.  It is all in hand, so never fear.  Come summer, the boat will be divested of widows, exterior furniture and solar panels to spend a month being blasted back to bare metal and rebaptised with layers of primer and coats of the under and top variety.  I wish I could make a decision about what colour(s) I want though.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Of The LDS Church’s Continuing Assault On Sexual Minorities And In Praise of Love

Health and sanity warning:  This post is another rant - and a long one at that.  Although reasonably well-informed through extensive reading and personal experience it is not in any sense an academic study.  However, if anything in the following paragraphs prompts anyone to research further I would consider my work here is done.

In my previous essay I tried to explain why I still find myself fascinated by some of the behaviours of the LDS/Mormon church, its leaders and the direction in which their policy pronouncements are taking the organisation.  If this sort of thing irritates or bores you I suggest you move on.  There’ll be nothing for you here and I promise I shall get back to music and boats soon. I would sincerely like to think that I could finally leave Mormonism behind me in a past I could forget.  Unfortunately, people I love and care about (including children and  grandchildren) are still very much caught up in what I have previously referred to as a “cult”.  More recently I have attempted to avoid using this emotive term and tried to describe the Mormon church as a  “high-demand” group.  I came across this term in in Luna Lindsey’s interesting study, “Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control”.  She reasoned that the word “cult” tends to close off discussion no matter how many of the criteria the LDS church fit when examining the characteristics of cults.  With some reluctance I find myself having to agree.

That the Mormons (along with a number of other religious, quasi-religious, political and campaigning groups) have been in an ongoing campaign against the rights and freedoms of sexual minorities cannot be contested.  While they have mainly targeted gay men and lesbians, many - if not all - people who shelter metaphorically under a rainbow umbrella have been in their sights.  Mormons have always had a rather idiosyncratic view of appropriate sexual behaviour and sanctions for any who deviate from their rules have been fierce.  From castrations and enforced marriages in the nineteenth century midwest, through to the superstitious lies of much of the twentieth century, the torture of outed students at Brigham Young University in the 1970s who were coerced to undergo experimental psychological conversion involving vomiting and electric shock treatments, to the snake-oil of so-called reparative therapy of more recent times, Mormons have been on the front line of a manufactured battle against the caricature of a threat from homosexuals.  From their beginnings and up to the present, formal and informal expulsions have been a more or less effective means of encouraging discipline in the ranks.

The church, and the campaigning groups they have organised and funded to mask their direct involvement, has lost battle after battle as human rights have become more equally distributed in many western democracies during the past few decades.  Grassroots LDS members have lost life savings with no chance of compensation when they have contributed in faith and as "requested" to misguided homophobic campaigns that have failed as the law has quashed proposed amendments to constitutions and equality legislation.  Even so, the hard-won rights of sexual minorities remain under continued attack.  The Mormon church has generally cloaked its loathing of homosexuality beneath its demands for chastity.  The church has tried repeatedly to control the most intimate aspects of people’s lives in its attempts to consolidate its power and influence.  It is currently facing lawsuits over the one-to-one interviews bishops (the equivalent of a parish priest - Mormons always trade-up the levels in their rigid hierarchy) are “required” to hold with everyone.  Even children and teenagers can be quizzed about personal and sexual matters and parents may not be invited to be present.  I have recently paid the fee and undergone investigation to update my certification with the Disclosure And Barring Service for any work I undertake with children.  I don't know whether Mormon adults working with young people are now required to submit to being checked. They never used to be. Tragically, some bishops have allegedly attempted to cover some suspiciously creepy ground when interviewing young people.  Anyone, child or adult, might be asked to describe intimate thoughts and behaviour as part of a process of determining "worthiness" or perhaps “repentance”. should they be found wanting.  I remember being interviewed by our bishop in the 1970s when my wife and I were asked if our bedroom activities included oral sex or “funny positions like animals”, both apparently on the unapproved list. At the time I thought it odd, embarrassing and intrusive, but I hadn't yet reached the stage where I considered such inappropriate inquisition as being part of the ammunition of control and such was my lifetime of compliance that I accepted it was within the bishop's remit. 

Having eventually lost California’s Proposition 8 after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and having seen equal marriage become reality in many places, Mormon leaders have continued to try and make the harassment of sexual minorities seem like a worthy cause.  Last November, the church’s Handbook of Instructions for their ecclesiastical leaders was quietly revised to confirm that, should there be any children in a family with same-sex parents, they should be denied access to parts of the church’s programme that peers would normally be expected to enjoy (including, for example, baptism and ordination to the priesthood - all males over the age of twelve are expected to hold the priesthood - defined as an authority to act in the name of God).  The attempt to slip the new clarification in quietly did not go according to plan and the church has probably found the ensuing publicity inconvenient. It has had to send in the apologists to limit the damage.  I suspected that this policy change wouldn’t affect many people, but it seems that, at 26%, Salt Lake City has the largest number of same-sex partnership households with children of any metropolitan area in the USA (see here) However, since this policy appears to contravene their second “Article of Faith” - "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins … "etc - it is yet one more inconsistency that the apologists have to explain.  What is more, the policy change also states that once the children reach the age of eighteen, and are legally able to make their own decisions they may be baptised and receive the priesthood (if they fulfil other worthiness criteria) providing  (unless the policy has been recently modified ... it happens) they disavow the relationship of their parents, agree with church policy to condemn same-sex relationships and move out of the family home.  Nice.

The latest information to cause a bit of a stir is a videoed q & a with “apostle” (I said they always trade up!), David A. Bednar.  He may be following orders, but he seems to have drawn a short straw in becoming an LDS spokesperson on lgbt issues.  Following the recent death of the arch-homophobe, Boyd K Packer, and the recent relative silences of others like Dallin H. Oakes, “Elder” Bednar seems to be proving an intellectual lightweight trying to justify the unjustifiable.   If, however, you want to try and get into the mindset of one of the most powerful lobbying organisations on the planet here’s a little taster.  You can find it on this Facebook post if you are interested.

I shall also add my transcription of his answer to the end of this essay in case you feel moved to study his comments in more detail.  His answer covers a lot of the same ground as this blog essay from 2011.

The question that set his discourse into motion was, 

“How can homosexual members of the church live and remain steadfast in the gospel?”

The first thing that struck me about the question is that it seems manufactured.  Embedded in the question is an assumption that staying in the church is worthwhile.  I have seen figures guessing that between fifty and ninety-plus percent of gay Mormons leave.  Why stay aligned to an organisation that despises you, fails to affirm you as a person of equal worth and opportunity and undermines all your attempts to construct a fulfilling life?

However, following the best political practice he starts by changing the question into a form that places him on familiar territory.  Instead of being truthful and saying from the outset that there is no way that gay and lesbian Mormons can live openly, normally and remain steadfast members of the LDS community, he falls back on the old LDS Newspeak stunt of denying that there is any such person as a homosexual; there are (as LDS leaders have often said) only "homosexual behaviours".  He claims we are not defined by sexual behaviour, but he’s wrong.  As a species we are hardwired to sort and classify as strategies for making sense of our world.  We assume that someone is part of a society's majority unless told otherwise.  Defining by sexual orientation is just one of a number of ways we relate to others.  By claiming otherwise he is flying in the face of the common use of language, scientific research and legally accepted definition.  Of course, we may not be defined solely by orientation, but it is a huge part of who we are and spills over into much of the rest of our lives.  David Bednar goes on to talk about gender being an essential characteristic, the difference between male and female spirits and how differently men and women think and observe as though the Venus and Mars options are fixed.  If people's characters really conformed to these binary definitions I wonder why a church president would need two counsellors, or why there are "quorums" and "high councils" set up to oversee and advise?  The world is never simple and there are often many answers.  We may not be defined solely by sex, sexual orientation, physical ability, intellectual capacity, physical appearance, race, colour, culture, beliefs, circumstances, class, caste, age or any other single description, but we do classify according to situation and circumstance.  For some people it is important to know whether another has been unfailingly law-abiding and while that characteristic may not define them it is one that helps to build a picture.   To claim that we are not defined by sexual behaviour or inclination is misleading.  The church would have no problem defining someone as unworthy if they did not meet the so-called standards and set up home with a lover of the same sex.  Weirdly he starts to talk about beautiful or handsome people. Does this have any relevance or any bearing on the issue, or even reality?  Whatever point he was trying to explain using this odd analogy seems to have missed the target.  Whether "good-looking" or not, anyone might experience the same challenges and despair as anyone else.  If he thinks having acceptable bone structure leads to shallowness of character one of us is missing something important.  Just as perception of physical beauty and other defining characteristics can be placed on a sliding scale so can sexual orientation.  There is a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to orientation being influenced by a variety of factors, including some that occur in the womb.  He talks of what he calls same-sex attraction as a “limitation”.  I have trouble seeing this as any more of a limitation than the limits experienced by those who can only love and desire people of the opposite sex - although, I suppose I should admit that straights have more choice given their relatively greater numbers.  Apart from the biological drive to procreate which is clearly felt more strongly by some than others, what completes us as people is not the fact that we feel more strongly attracted to our own sex, the other or both, but surely the fact that we find we have a capacity to love and be loved.  To point out that we are not victims of homosexual attraction, because we have “agency” is another red herring.  Being gay is not in itself a problem. The attitudes of other people though are sometimes a different matter. We act with agency when we have developed the appropriate intellectual and motor skills.  It is nothing to do with any mystical construct such as “atonement”.  Besides, the only evidence that there was a divine being who was sacrificed as an atonement for the sins of mankind are ancient writings of men and women who needed to find ways of explaining the world in terms that made sense to them.  These days an “atonement” has little meaning to most people beyond that of consolidating power in the hands of a minority, of inducing guilt and encouraging compliance through investing unwarranted power and authority in ancient texts of desert nomads and the insistence of self-appointed leaders who have a clear interest in keeping the money flowing in. 

The main theme of his talk is that church approved relationships are all about “chastity”.  Here is where trotting out the same old lines begins to unravel.  The LDS church spins around the whole concept of “family” - defined as a father/mother/children unit where the husband/father (effectively the family’s patriarch) is obedient to the laws and commandments of God while the wife/mother/children are obedient to the righteous leadership of the family patriarch.  Chastity, according to Mormons, can only allow for sexual relationships between a legally married man and woman.  Anything outside that definition is “sinful”. Outside of the worship services there are numerous social activities in the LDS church designed to bring men and women together so that they will eventually team up as married couples and bear numerous tithe-paying LDS offspring.  There are single young adult groups (for 18-26 year olds) and separate single adult (for the over 26s) activities in every LDS community designed specifically for this purpose.  Whilst, of course, sexual contact between unmarried couples is frowned upon and may, if discovered, lead to disciplinary action (though not always) modest displays of affection are accepted and indulged.  If not (or not yet) partnered, single, heterosexual Mormons live in hope that they can meet their eternal partner and marry in the temple.  Courting couples can sit through church services holding hands and it is appropriate to exchange kisses at other times.  Holding hands is not considered a contravention of the law of chastity.  In contrast, lesbian and gay Mormons have no such hope for any kind of fulfilling future.  They can only anticipate unrelenting celibacy.  They are not even permitted to enjoy the simple comfort of holding the hand of one they love.  The twelfth article of faith states that Mormons are subject to the laws of the land.  Even if a same sex couple can be legally married respect for the law doesn’t apply on Planet Mormon.  A gay couple getting married would lose their church membership.  As has happened in the case of the law of consecration, plural marriage and the institutional racism that has pervaded Mormon history, God changes his mind when the the going gets tough.  Were the church to come under sufficient legal and financial pressure as encouragement to treat gays on a par with straights it is quite possible God would find way to let gay couples marry, live in peace and remain (should they so wish) fully fledged members.  When same sex marriage became legal the law gave the LDS church a way through the challenge.  David Bednar’s rhetoric makes it quite clear that the issue is therefore not about chastity at all. 

How lucky we are that in recent years LDS leaders have begun to teach that  “simply being attracted to someone of the same sex” is not a sin.  That has not always been church doctrine as victims of the “Strengthen Members Committee” or the “Standards Office” at Brigham Young University would testify. This article gives a history of the behaviour of the moral police at BYU.  Spencer W. Kimball’s fire and brimstone book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” had a harder edge.  Biblical quotes also suggest differently.  Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”
Matthew5:28 “…whosever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”.  That the attraction is now not in itself the sin is a modern construct and one that attempts to compromise in order to curry some favour and somehow prove that church leaders are listening.  Again, to suggest that tagging someone with the label, “homosexual” is “inaccurate” makes no sense for reasons I’ve already suggested.  Many church leaders have labelled men and women “homosexuals”.  If you doubt this look again at chapter six of “The Miracle of Forgiveness”.  Anything else is playing a semantic game.  Kimball (whose hand I once had to shake and who gave me the creeps) displays his poor grasp of what homosexuality is when he argues in the same chapter that being gay is wrong because the world’s population would die out if everyone were gay!  Gay relationships have historically been recorded in pretty much all civilisations and have, as far as evidence can be found, remained a fairly consistent and small minority of any of those civilisations.  There would appear to be little danger of the world becoming depopulated as a result of everyone going gay.  It didn’t happen in Ancient Greece and it certainly isn’t going to happen now.

David Bednar claims that Mormons don’t discriminate, he isn’t a bigot and that the LDS church extends “Christlike love to all sons and daughters of God.”  This is simply more evidence that Mormons continue to mangle the English language to try and make it mean whatever they decide it means.  Somebody please buy the man a dictionary.  Of course they discriminate as the November policy clarification continues to show.

He talks of “the Father’s plan for the eternal destiny and happiness of his children”.  Again this is manipulative fantasy.  Because he read something in a book, whether it be two hundred or two thousand years old, or because he has good feelings about something (the recently past president/prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley's definition of how God talks to his prophets) doesn’t provide sufficient evidence that he is right and everyone else is wrong.  I may say the same about this blog post, but the difference is that I am pretty sure that others may have different opinions from me and that does not make either of us good or bad; simply different.

So, he is not a bigot (yes he is); the LDS church does not discriminate (yes it does); neither Joseph Smith nor Thomas Monson created the plan (I’ll give him that one, since it has evolved over the years by committee decisions made by many, many men); “the Saviour, through his atonement makes the plan operational, effective in our lives and the father has not changed his mind about how the plan should operate” (meaningless, self-referential, manipulative and delusional).

His comments about the necessity for male and female spirits in a relationship is cute but again shows a wilful ignorance and shameful lack of understanding.  I am, as anyone with the patience to have read this rant will realise, writing from a personal and anecdotal perspective.  I have been in two long-term relationships - a straight marriage (or rather one that I came to realise was a mixed-orientation marriage) and a gay partnership of well over a decade.  I suspect that I shall never quite be able to shake off the sorrow, the shame and the guilt for the failure and pain caused to people I love through the failure of my marriage.  I shall, however, always be grateful to have been in a relationship with P, with whom I have discovered how to love and how to be loved, how to support and how to allow myself to be supported.  P and I are two individuals who love and trust each other.  We don’t agree on everything, but we talk and we discuss and we can accept and respect points of view that are different.  We don’t shout, we don’t accuse, we don't coerce or manipulate and we really are able to talk about anything.  I have to conclude, contrary to Elder Bednar’s assertions, that these priceless bits of self-knowledge are unlikely to have come to me during my marriage.  I am almost certain I am a better person, absolutely certain I am happier, better balanced and more fulfilled for knowing and loving P.  My family relationships have been through difficult and sad times, but we have all emerged on the other side stronger than before, each loving the others and all in regular contact again.

I would love to see a time when all members of my family are free of the control of the high-demand group that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I missed my window opportunity to have much say when I recognised the futility of trying to change anyone's beliefs. I decided it was more respectful, courteous and grown up to let my loved ones make their own choices. That's not to say it isn't important to be prepared to account for ourselves and our actions. I see, though, no need to have respect for particular ideas and belief systems. All beliefs should be subject to serious scrutiny and, having passed muster, not be let off the hook of continued examination. Ideas come from people and beliefs are there to be challenged.  I can, though, accept and respect my loved ones for having made good choices.  They will, of course, have to live with whatever consequences ensue - as shall I. As for good, that remains undefined in this exercise.  I am relieved that, through whatever twists and turns of mental gymnastics they need to perform, the committed Mormons in my family show their love and interest in me and my life along with whatever respect I may have earned as father, grandfather and father-in-law. In the unlikely event that any of them read this, my antipathy to the organisation that plays such a significant part in their lives does not diminish in the slightest my love and respect for each of them.  In the end it is not about obedience, or chastity, or the money, or atonement or any other myth or system of control.  Isn't it about love?

I hope THAT is responsive to the response.

Here is the text of David A. Bednar's answer to "a question from Chile", 

“How can homosexual members of the church live and remain steadfast in the gospel?”

“First I want to change the question.  There are no homosexual members of the church. We are not  defined by sexual attraction.  We are not defined by sexual behaviour.  We are sons and daughters of god and all of us have different challenges in the flesh.  There are many different types of challenges.  Would it be a challenge to be very beautiful or very handsome and in the world in which we live never develop deep character because we are able to open doors and have success just because of our physical appearance and we become shallow and superficial in many aspect of our lives?  That can be a challenge in the flesh.

Some people have physical limitations.  They may be born with a body that is not fully functional or we may have an inclination to be attracted to those of the same sex.  Through the atonement of Jesus Christ we are blessed with moral agency.  Agency is the capacity to act and not simply be acted upon.  (Holds up bottle)  This is a bottle of water.  It is an object.  It has no capacity to act. It is an object that can only be acted upon.  So this object moves if I cause it to move or if some other force causes it to move … You and I are not objects.  We are agents blessed wth agency because of the atonement of Christ.  And with that agency we are to act and not be acted upon.  That agency gives us the capacity to determine how we will respond to the variety of challenges we experience in the flesh.  So you choose - you act in accordance with the teachings of Christ.  Simply being attracted to someone of the same gender is not a sin.  There are many members of the church who may have some manifestation of that attraction.  They honour their covenants.  They keep the commandments.  They are worthy.  They can receive the blessings of the temple and they can serve in the church.  It is when we act on the inclination or the attraction, that’s when it becomes a sin. So, the reason I began my answer as I did is that in this question the word “homosexual” was used to describe or label a member of the church. It’s an inaccurate label. We are sons and daughters of god and we determine how we respond to the variety of challenges that we face in mortality through the proper exercise of our moral agency.

Now I want to speak very directly to you. The world teaches that we must be tolerant and accepting. There are some things we do not accept or tolerate. We love all people with whatever challenge any person faces. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of the Saviour’s church is to assist people in receiving the strength to deal with the challenge. So we do not discriminate and we are not bigots. We extend Christlike love to all sons and daughters of god. But what is the purpose of the father’s plan?  We come to the earth, we are blessed to receive a physical body.  Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the family is central to the father’s plan for the eternal destiny and happiness of his children. That plan is halted in anything but a marriage between a man and a woman. Now Joseph Smith didn’t create the plan.  Thomas Monson didn’t create the plan. God, the eternal father created the plan. The Saviour, through his atonement makes the plan operational, effective in our lives and the father has not changed his mind about how the plan should operate. So please do not let the voices of the world confuse you or lead you in a different direction as you come to better understand the Father’s plan then you will understand the purpose for marriage between a man and a woman. I hope that’s responsive to the question …

See a related point is that there is a divinely designed difference between a female spirit and a male spirit. You need to read and study over and over again the Family Proclamation.  It teaches that gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose. So whenever you take those divinely designed differences the capacities and talents of a female spirit and of a male spirit and they are sealed together by the power of the priesthood it creates a unity and a oneness, it creates a whole that cannot be achieved any other way. Sister Bednar and I have been married for forty-one years.  She is (other than the Holy Ghost) … the greatest teacher I have ever had. She does not think like I think. She does not see what I see and I learn a lot from the things she sees and thinks that are different from me. Sometimes men and women get frustrated with each other because they don’t see things the same way. They are not supposed to see things the same way and the education that comes with a man and a woman in a marriage ordained of God is one of the richest blessings of this life. Now we’ve taken a long time responding to this question, but hopefully you can sense that the length of this answer emphasises the importance of this topic in the world in which we live.  That’s why we have taken quite so long.”

Friday, 4 March 2016

Someone Is Telling Me Lies

First of all I need to remind myself that this is a blog post I am writing, not a book, although I suppose it is possible that one day a book could be forthcoming.  Secondly, although I stopped believing in  Mormon teachings more than half a lifetime ago, and finally resigned my membership more than a decade ago (when I discovered such an action was even possible) the LDS church still manages to reach into my life and I continue to let it.  Thirdly, I wanted to respond to a recent video recording of one of the Elders in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, David A. Bednar.  That will probably be my next post, but before doing that I felt a bit of context would help.

Mormons love their witty phrases and as each new one gathers momentum through repetition in Sunday talks, meetings and conferences, one that probably applies to me now is “they leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone”. I don’t think this is because I carry the memory of either a happy or unhappy upbringing or feel any great sense of attachment or loss, but more because of the danger I think the LDS church poses to others.  I admit a certain anger when I discover how many lies I have been told and have in the past accepted without subjecting them to appropriate scrutiny, but like they say, “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over”.  Yes the lies have caused me anguish, but I have been much more angry at myself for my gullibility. 

On the face of it Mormons are almost benign in the same way that The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy describes Earth as “mostly harmless”.  I had one or two really lovely friends when I was involved with the LDS church.  I felt that most of the people on the ground were pleasant enough and honourable, but rarely was I able to cultivate the strength and quality of friendships that I have always enjoyed outside the organisation.  I rarely encountered anyone who seemed to share my interests in music and other arts or ideas, philosophy and politics.  Local leaders appeared to work hard to get me to abandon my musical allegiances, preferred activities and even my outside friends, unless they were targets as potential recruits.  Pronouncements would often be made in church meetings that caricatured in a most derogatory manner activities I found lifted me into happy places with no apparent evidence except that the prophet had decided that Satan was active in these projects.  Despite the fact I rarely agreed with the LDS position on many aspects of social policy and culture I didn’t see through claims that the church was led by prophets and seers until much later. 

It is known that the church does not tolerate dissent and people who break their moral codes and covenants have always been brought before their kangaroo courts and disciplined with excommunication or the lesser punishment of disfellowshipping - unless the perpetrator was deemed important enough for their misdemeanors to be forgiven (that may be something to explore another day). It is not until the past decade or so that I discovered the even more extreme punishments meted out without challenge in the church’s early history.  My essay about “The Ballad of Thomas Lewis” mentions something of this in the 2015 post “Relections on Life In A Cult 1”.

In my childhood, through my adolescence and into adulthood, until I stopped going to church, there seemed to be an extraordinary interest in matters related to sexuality.  This is particularly odd (although Mormons relish their reputation of being a “peculiar people”) since Mormon sexual appetites have been the source of much controversy and strife since the beginning.  The founder, Joseph Smith, married many women (at least thirty-four on record, two of whom were just fourteen years old), mostly without the knowledge or approval of his legal wife, Emma, and often without the knowledge of their own husbands whom Smith had sent away on missions that may have lasted for years.  The church was forced to cave on this “eternal law” in order to avoid the crippling sanctions, as well as the threatened imposition of others, which were causing damage to the organisation.  The manifesto of 1890 told their men to obey the law of the land and stick to marrying one wife.  This was not altogether successful and a further manifesto had to be issued in 1904 when plural marriages had continued to be found being conducted in the USA, Canada and Mexico, even among church leaders.  

In a similar vein, the history of the LDS church with regards to people of African descent has been less than honourable.  Brigham Young (another “prophet”, with fifty-five wives, and the second president of the church after Smith) was responsible for racist comments that nowadays are rightly considered outrageous.  Among these were that men having as little as one drop of African blood in their bodies would never be allowed to hold the priesthood, when such a “privilege” was afforded all other “worthy” males from the age of twelve upwards.  He didn’t think much of racially mixed marriages either, 
"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110).  
Being a prophet he should have had at least some insight that, in 1978, another “prophet”, Spencer W. Kimball, would declare that God had said that all worthy males may at last hold the priesthood.  Perhaps it was coincidence that by the 19070s the church was having some trouble getting permission to build a temple in Brazil and that the Brigham Young University sports teams had a bit of a problem arranging fixtures with other teams whilst the racial bans were still in place.  That’s not to mention the threat of the loss of tax-exempt status if the policy did not change.

So, coming back to sex, and growing up with all these dire warnings, I eventually felt resigned to damnation for failing to conquer the temptation to masturbate.  This wasn’t the worst of it though.  LDS teachings about homosexuality blighted much more of my life.  For several years speakers to the general congregations on Sundays would find some way to thump the pulpit about the evils of homosexual behaviour.  To my shame I bought into the lies that homosexuality was a deficiency that could be overcome as one might attempt to overcome an illness or an addiction.  As I was coming to the end of my teens there was still an overwhelming sense that homosexuality could be cured through making a good marriage.  Many years later, whilst in counselling after finally being diagnosed as having tried to cope with depression for much of my life, I worked out that I had never before been able to identify as gay because the very idea was simply something that could not exist.  My counsellor explained that it was in every sense “beyond the pale”.  I admit I have wondered about what could have been had I flowered into a healthy and whole adult - assuming such a creature has ever existed.  I am pretty sure now that I would have recognised some people’s loving approaches and I may well have explored relationships with one or two men for whom I can now admit I felt great affection. At the time, though, my feelings and attractions to other males were something I seriously thought was a phase I would grow out of.  By the time I reached my late thirties I had to begin to face the fact that I would probably not now grow out of these feelings … feelings for which I still didn’t have a name.

During the campaign for the November 2008 presidential election in the USA there was an even greater campaign being fought in California.  It was a campaign for God and for the moral salvation of the people of the state.  On 16th June 2008 the state began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  For Mormons, Roman Catholics and others holding strong religious convictions this was anathema.  An organisation known as Protect Marriage was formed from a number of feeder campaigns to fight this equality measure.  The presidential election was also an opportunity to introduce changes to California’s state constitution and “Proposition 8”, defining marriage as the legal joining of one man and one woman, was devised.  Voting on this was to be taken in California on the same date as the main election.  As with any political process in the USA a vast amount of money was required.  The film “8:The Mormon Proposition” explores how the LDS church was instrumental in finding the resources necessary to run the campaign.  Many people sacrificed life savings and their children’s college funds, because their bishops told them God required the money.  Any adult Mormon who had been “through the temple” would also have promised in a solemn oath to give all their time, talents and everything with which the Lord had blessed them to furthering the cause.  These oaths were naturally used as further leverage.  LDS leaders also suggested names of suitable people to front the organisation who would not immediately be associated with the LDS church.  Naturally they also denied any official involvement and had worked to cover their tracks.  They were found to have submitted falsified accounts of their support for Prop 8 and following an enquiry after the events had to revise their figures substantially upwards with suspicions that there was still much unaccounted for expenditure.  

I was very surprised to discover a personal dimension to this campaign. One of my own brothers, who had lived in the USA for many years, had donated money and gone out canvassing on the streets in California near to where he was living at the time.  He also told me it would be inappropriate for P to attend Dad’s funeral.  He had to go back to the USA before the funeral.  We ignored him and P was at the funeral to be my rock and my support.

As events unfolded over the coming months I felt an urge to try and work out my thoughts about the situation.  Coming out had cost me so much in terms of security, health and family relationships that I sure as hell wasn’t going back in again!  I sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil and the words to “Someone Is Telling Me Lies” eventually appeared.  As I continued to work on what I thought was going to be a poem it became clear it was really meant to be a song.  I hadn’t attempted to express any thoughts as either poems or songs for more than thirty years.  I had no plan to write more songs or to perform this one.  I had not even given any thought to how I would describe myself.  It was simply an expression of how I felt about those events.  I recycled a tune I had composed for my ceilidh band (and had rarely used) that I thought would work in this context.  I ended up recording the song using my Mac-based home studio and Logic and created a page on MySpace.  To this point, it is one of only two songs (the other being "Who's The Fool" for a local environmental campaign) I have purposely recorded as Marshlander and it sounds very different from what I now do in live performance.  Writing this unlocked a door through which trickled more songs.  When two friends started an acoustic music night in Downham Market I rather liked the idea of being completely acoustic, so Marshlander became a singer of his own songs with simple guitar and percussion accompaniment.  Maybe, when I get round to recording more of my songs properly, I’ll be tempted to throw the kitchen sink and the contents of the boat into the production.  I think though that I should probably not ignore the fact that anyone who has seen me perform solo will know me as an acoustic musician.  We’ll see.

Anyway, this song is now six or seven years old and I have since rewritten the words almost completely and worked a little on my singing voice too.  I have only ever performed it once and that was acoustically.  There may never be another Marshlander song like this.  For whatever it is worth, this is Marshlander history.

Go to this link for this old pre-formed Marshlander recording

A different and later version of some of the lyrics for this song.  It's all different these days.