Fastest Hymn Sheet Monitor in the West

I was delighted to find that someone had left me the full lyrics for Judas and Mary I love strangers!

They are my favourite people. So kind. It made my morning.

The hymn sheet story was also a good excuse to get in touch with Mark who used to operate the other Hymn Sheet Contraption. He claims that he and Iain Turner were much faster than Graham Burton and I because Iain was a giant and Mark was really quick with numbers. If course, I don’t believe him because he also claims that he beat me in my very first 100 metres and everyone knows that’s just patently untrue.

The track at Chis and Sid was on not-very-well-kept grass (in the winter it was a rugby pitch) and was carefully arranged so that the home straight was up hill against a constant headwind. It made long distance races brutal because you’d be trying for a big finish but as you turned the corner a gale would kick up and you’d be struggling up the hill as your last reserves of energy seeped away.

Anyway, our school was big on sports and everyone had to do rugby or cross-country in the winter and cricket or athletics in the summer. Our summer PE lessons would have us going through all the track and field events one by one and the first we ever did was the 100 metres and I was in the same race as Mark.

It being my very first race and all, I didn’t know how to pace myself and I started rather slow. By 50m, I was a few paces behind the pack but I had a big finish and passed several people in the last 20m. I just managed to squeak by Mark at the finish line to finish in 14.2sec (that sounds crap, but remember it was uphill and against the wind and we were only 12).

Mark still maintains that he beat me that spring day in 1978 but we both know the real truth. I think the only way to resolve this issue is if we have a re-match.

How about it Mark? Are you scared?

Judas and Mary

When I was a lad, it was the law that every school had a religious assembly and, at my primary school especially, we used to sing 3 or 4 hymns every morning. In the assembly hall, we had two enormous (to a 10 year old) contraptions that dangled enormous hymn sheets from the ceiling.

One of the occasional duties of a 10 year old at my school was Hymn Sheet ┬ámonitor. There were two monitors to each hymn sheet contraption and, when the music teacher said ‘Hymn number 127’, one of the monitors would undo the rope from the cleat and lower the contraption from the ceiling. The other monitor would then rummage through the giant (to a 10 year old) sheets of paper looking for hymn number 127. After lots of searching and then hefting of hundreds of sheets – each bigger than a 10 year old – the first monitor would heave on the rope to return the contraption to the ceiling and then hang on with all his strength while the other monitor belayed the rope to the cleat.

Then the singing would commence.

The singing was fantastic. I remember one time, we had a visit from the Mayor of Bexley in all his mayoral robes and he pronounced that “he would always remember this as the singing school”.

We sang every one of those hymns. There were the hymns that everyone knows like What a Friend we have in Jesus and All Things Bright and Beautiful and Onward Christian Soldiers but there were also a few pop-songs-turned-hymns like Lord of the Dance, Morning has Broken and Any Dream Will Do from the latest (and first) Rice/Weber blockbuster and plenty of obscure songs that I have never heard before or since.

I was reminded of one of those obscure songs last week – my absolute favourite – when I read the most beautiful passage in the New Testament in Luke while camping at Sunset Beach.

36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

I loved that song. I wish I remembered all the words. I have the melody down on my harmonica but my memory, and Google, fail me for the lyrics.

Here’s what I remember:

Said Judas to Mary, “O what will you do
With your ointment so rich and so rare?”
“I’ll pour it all over the feet of the Lord
And I’ll wipe it away with my hair.”
She said.
“And I’ll wipe it away with my hair.”

Said Judas to Mary, “O think of the poor.
Think of all of the riches you can give to the poor
Something something something
If, your ointment, you sell it today.”
He said.
“If your ointment, you sell it today.”

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll think of the poor.
Tomorrow.” she said. “Not today.
For today I must think of my only true Lord.
For my Lord who is going away.”
She said.
“For my Lord who is going away.”

It’s funny how memory works – for that song to spring back into my mind so nearly complete after 30 years. I wish I remembered the rest.

It’s funny too how our collective memory works. So many of the most vivid, rich scenes spring from throwaway one-liners like

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.


11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

The whole nativity is only 20 verses of Luke, less than that in Matthew and not covered at all in Mark and John. Matthew and Luke made those little bits up but, in 2000 years, we did the rest.

Teaching creationism in religious education classes

The Guardian has an article about new government guidelines for teaching creationism in religious education (RE) classes. Schools will also be required to teach the creation myths of all the major religions and will be required to compare and contrast natural and supernatural explanations of our origins.

This is nothing new to me, of course, since we were taught creationism in school when I was a lad. As I have often said, there is no better way to inoculate teenagers against some of the zanier myths than to have them debate it with their peers.

[to our second year (7th grade) RE teacher]

Miss! So, was Jesus a bastard?


Er. Well. It’s true that Mary and Joseph weren’t married when Jesus was conceived, but we don’t usually call him a bastard.

Wasn’t me asking the question, by the way.

A kindly old man

I heard from several correspondents that they thought my attitude to religion (Christmas vs Holidays) was unusual.

One had been brought up in a religious environment and now rejects the whole shebang – she can’t understand why I am interested in Christian mythology at all. She wouldn’t even let me buy a children’s bible for our daughter because she still has bad memories of the nuns who ran her school. Another reported that their family, having walked away from their childhood beliefs wanted to get as far from them as possible. Still another suggested that I had fabricated my whole attitude just to be controversial.

For me growing up, the Church of England was like the kindly but eccentric old man who lived down the road. He had a whole bunch of fascinating stories and some of them may even have been true. Everyone knew him and liked him but no one took him very seriously. I have nothing but fond memories of him.

Perhaps, for people who were brought up with a more strict form of religion, a part of their identity is tied up in their religious beliefs? Maybe religion is like a strict aunt who tried to control their lives? When they finally break free from her controlling ways in adulthood, they have to let go completely and discard everything that might remind them of her.

I have often thought that these differences in attitude towards religion between Americans and Europeans (Malta doesn’t count as it’s pretty much a theocracy) can be attributed to the lack of religious education in schools in America. My son will never play the innkeeper in the school nativity play. My daughter will never sing Little Donkey in the Christmas pageant. They will never get to tease the RE teacher about some of the more way out stories from the bible.

The only way my kids will get a religious education is if we sign them up for the whole package and that requires actually believing that the stories in the bible are true. That can’t be right.

They are all so young!

My best, most vivid memories of school comes from the second and third year of secondary school (that’s 7th & 8th grade to all you mercans). That’s the period when I got into the most trouble, had my biggest triumphs, copped my first feel, made my first teacher cry (and the second a couple of days later), got caned for the first time [could that be related to the previous memory? – ed], was most active in sports, got beaten around the head hardest by a teacher, wrote my first song, wrote the most lines (le silence aides le travail) and a thousand other similar memories.

It was shocking to think, when I dropped my son off for his first day of middle school this morning, to think that those kids were only a year younger than I was in Mr Gooden’s class.

I feel a whole lot of memory-related blogs coming on…