I have enjoyed many of the school assemblies that I have witnessed, as a pupil, teacher and headteacher. Assembling together with all the form, house or school, has been quite a dramatic social gathering, with a frisson of mystery, anything might happen.
I can recall Mrs Negus, a teacher at Junior School, who would burble spittle as she sang Holy, Holy, Holy especially on the line ‘glassy sea’. There was the appearance of Jimmy Hill clothed in CCFC credibility and the moment we marked the death of Nehru the leader of India.
As for the religious bits, they tended towards the tedious. I spent more time cruising with St Paul around the Mediterranean than I do with Rob Bryden and I continue to have no idea why Paul’s Letters are so revered.
As a headteacher, there were quiet moments, as we considered some dramatic event ‘ As we hold the people of Dunblane in our thoughts or prayers’. For that assembly in March 1996, the whole community was invited in, one quiet, sombre Sunday. I also remember the awful grief that was present when children, pupils and parents gathered to mark the death of a pupil or the two teachers who died, in service, over the years.
There were joyful times, when individuals or teams marked successes and there were many performances: vocal, dramatic and instrumental that delighted, ranging from a growing Junior School Brass Band to the loud and raucous accompaniment that went with our Bhangra Dance Group.
Were we in awe?
Yes we were, in awe of the talents, diversity and skills of each other.
That’s what a school assembly can be, the gathering of a community, in which there are different world views and religions, emphasising what we have in common, what we share.
Government to ‘remind schools of their duty’ to carry out Christian collective worship
April 1st, 2021
In a departure from its previous approach, the UK Government has said that if it is made aware of English schools breaching a requirement to carry out a daily act of worship, they will be ‘investigated’ and ‘reminded of their duty on this matter’. Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for compulsory school worship to be replaced with inclusive assemblies – has expressed alarm at the statement, which marks a ramping up of enforcement of the archaic policy.
The statement was made by Education Minister Nick Gibb MP in response to a parliamentary question from fellow MP Sir John Hayes, who asked ‘what steps [the Department for Education] is taking to ensure that a daily act of worship is taking place in every maintained school.’
The UK is the only sovereign state in the world to impose worship in all state schools, including those without a religious character. In most of the latter, this worship is expected to be ‘broadly Christian’. Although schools with a high number of pupils from non-Christian backgrounds can apply – via a process called ‘determination’ – to have worship in line with another faith, they cannot opt-out of worship altogether. Parents may withdraw their children from this worship and sixth form pupils in England and Wales may withdraw themselves, but younger pupils may not withdraw without parental permission. And the process is often difficult with no meaningful alternative to worship offered in the strong majority of schools. This leaves parents to choose between exposing their children to religious indoctrination or isolating them from their peers with little or nothing of educational worth to do. It also leaves children who are too young to withdraw themselves forced to participate in religious acts of worship they may well not believe in.
In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child pressed governments across the UK to ‘to repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious observance at school.’ A prior report by the same Committee in 2016 also said the requirement should be abolished. This makes the Government’s enforcing of the law even harder to justify.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘Compulsory collective worship threatens the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families and is totally out of step with the kind of inclusive education we should be offering in a diverse 21st century democracy like the UK. The fact that the Government now appears to be saying it will enforce this archaic law to an extent that hasn’t been the case in over fifteen years is particularly alarming.
‘The Government should instead be taking steps to instead require inclusive assemblies that are suitable for all pupils regardless of background or belief.’
One of the UK’s leading brain surgeons, who has advanced prostate cancer, has said an inquiry into assisted dying is “absolutely essential”.
Henry Marsh, a retired neurosurgeon and bestselling author, received his diagnosis six months ago.
He has supported a call by politicians for the government to hold an inquiry.
The Care Not Killing alliance, which opposes assisted dying, said the law protected the vulnerable “from being pressured into ending their lives”.
Mr Marsh is backing a group of more than 50 MPs and peers who have written a joint letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, arguing the UK’s laws on assisted dying have fallen behind the rest of the world.
Currently, assisting a suicide is a crime in England and Wales and is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Intentionally helping another person to kill themselves is known as assisted suicide – this can include buying someone a ticket to Switzerland – where assisted suicide is legal – to end their life.
Signatories of the letter include politicians who previously voted against changing the law.
The letter was organised by Humanists UK, which Mr Marsh is an advocate of, and campaign group My Death, My Decision, of which he is a patron.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his own cancer diagnosis, Mr Marsh said he felt “deeply shocked and terribly frightened and upset” as it “gradually dawned on him how serious the situation was”.
The surgeon said in the past he had in “theory” been an advocate of assisted dying in “one form or another” but said he hadn’t thought it might one day apply to him.
“It is extraordinarily difficult to think about your own death,” he said.
The 71-year-old, who is due to start radiotherapy treatment in a few months’ time, believes “something should be done to change the law in this country”.
“My own suspicion as to why the opponents to assisted dying oppose a public inquiry is they fear that actually the evidence is so strong that their hypothetical arguments against it don’t hold water, that they will lose the debate,” he said.
‘Ability to choose’
Humanists UK’s chief executive Andrew Copson said he was “deeply sorry” to hear about Mr Marsh’s diagnosis.
“The ability to choose how, where, and when we die is a fundamental freedom, which cuts across party political and ideological lines,” he added.
“In coming together to demand an inquiry, Henry and the lawmakers who have signed this letter have put the voices of the terminally ill and incurably suffering at the centre of the debate.”
Jean Farrer’s sister-in-law, Anne Vickers, 75, travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland in 2015 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer which couldn’t be treated.
Ms Farrer said her sister-in-law was an “active, independent, funny, joyful person” who decided to end her life when she felt the quality wasn’t good enough any more.
Supporting calls for a public inquiry, Ms Farrer said she understood it was a “complex area” with many safeguarding issues, but said her family had been caused so much pain and distress because it was not legal.
“There were so many other things we could have been doing in the last 12 months with her to make her year the best it could have been,” she said.
Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, said he was disappointed there was another “push” to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
“Our current laws protect the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly, the sick and disabled from feeling pressured into ending their lives, exactly as we see in the handful of places around the world that allow assisted suicide or euthanasia.
He added: “At a time when we have seen how fragile our NHS is, how underfunding puts pressure on services, and when up to one in four Brits who would benefit from palliative care, but does not currently receive it, to be pushing this ideological policy, seems out of touch, dangerous and desperate.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Any change to the law in an area of such sensitivity and importance must be for individual MPs to consider rather than a decision for government.
Just 16% said it should, with 31% saying they didn’t know.
The poll also showed majorities of Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters, and majorities of Remain and Leave voters, all agreed on the topic.
26 places reserved
Twenty-six places in the Lords are reserved for C of E bishops and archbishops as of right. The National Secular Society argues for the end of this practice, as part of its campaigning to separate church and state.
Mr Gary Kibble, headteacher Batley Grammar School Carlinghow Hill, Batley West Yorkshire, WF17 0AD Cc Batley Grammar School Local Governing Body Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE, Secretary of State for Education 26 March 2021 Dear Mr Kibble, We are writing in response to the school’s actions following protests regarding the use of a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. We hope, first and foremost, that the school’s first priority is the safety and wellbeing of the staff member in question, in addition to the safety of other staff and pupils. The situation has disturbing echoes of the killing of Samuel Paty, the history teacher murdered by a Muslim fanatic who objected to his use of cartoons from Charlie Hebdo in a class about freedom of expression. We were disappointed at the school’s immediate response, which included the suspension of the teacher; an unequivocal apology for using a “totally inappropriate” resource; and withdrawing teaching on the associated subject. We are further concerned by claims that this statement was in part written by a representative of one of the groups protesting. The protesters are clearly seeking to attempt to impose a blasphemy taboo which will restrict the freedom to teach. Their bullying tactics appear to have succeeded. The school’s initial response was to acquiesce to religious demands. This was unfair to the teacher in question and will further fuel a climate of censorship brought on by demands to accommodate unreasonable, reactionary religious views. By issuing an immediate apology rather than defending the principle of free expression, one of the most precious pillars of our liberal democratic society, the school is siding with religious fundamentalists. Teachers should have a reasonable degree of freedom to explore sensitive subjects and enable students to think critically. Education should open minds rather than close them. Those responsible for our children’s education must therefore place a high value on the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which is applicable to ideas that may shock and offend as well as those which are received favourably. Your actions have sent the opposite message to students. This incident is also likely to undermine teachers’ freedom to do their jobs, on any number of sensitive subjects, both within your school gates and beyond. It is patronising to assume that all British Muslims will take offence at the use of a cartoon. We urge you to keep in mind that the protesters who shout loudest are not representative of all Muslims. We understand that your school wants to promote cohesion and inclusivity. But this cannot be achieved by pandering to religious groups who wish to dictate what can and cannot be taught within the school. We ask for an explanation of the rationale behind your decisions on this issue. And as investigations are carried out into the matter, we urge you to uphold the vital principle of free speech and not submit to the unreasonable demands of those who seek to impose blasphemy taboos on society as a whole. We look forward to your response. We are considering this an open letter. Yours sincerely, Stephen Evans Chief executive, National Secular Society
Cheltenham and Liverpool, two examples of what happens when we follow neither common sense nor science.
For many in Ireland, St Patrick’s Day Celebrations traditionally include a trip across the water, to The Cheltenham Gold Cup. In COVID 2020 the racing went ahead. C & W Hum members Egghead, ponder an issue that will not go away.
At the very start of the Covid problem a group of our past prime ministers and senior ministers from all parties approached Prime Minister Johnson saying looming was a huge crisis, above all party beliefs, and a group of them working together on its solution would be better for the country. These ministers had experience of emergencies and made useful contacts, but B Johnson refused to accept the need for their help. He wanted to go it alone.
The result was disastrous.
The independent SAGE is far more direct (honest) than the Government-appointed SAGE. More of the Independent SAGE are active in their research fields as opposed to the Government-appointed SAGE who have more of the administrative type and are under the thumb of the Government.
Indie-SAGE repeatedly stresses that pandemics like COVID-19 spread like fire. Therefore, as soon as an outbreak is detected it must be stamped out immediately – no procrastination. This, the Gov has repeatedly failed to do – unlike countries like New Zealand which do appreciate the importance of acting immediately to virtually stamp it out.
Indie-SAGE has again and again emphasised the need of a smart test, detect and trace system with forward and back tracing. Here again our government have failed miserably. Further, those countries who release from lockdowns slowly and cautiously control the virus far better than the trigger-happy ones.
Most governments did not learn from (March 2020) the Austrian ski resort Covid epicentre. Neither did they learn from the Cheltenham Horse Racing or the Liverpool v Atletico football match.
This is how the situation/controversy was reported:
Coronavirus: Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid and Cheltenham Festival ‘led to spike’ in coronavirus deaths. The government had repeatedly dismissed the need to cancel mass gatherings in the days leading up to the events
By Isobel Frodsham, Sky News
Tuesday 26 May 2020 17:26, UK
More than 50,000 fans attended Liverpool’s game against Atletico Madrid at Anfield in March 2020.
Liverpool’s Champions League home match against Atletico Madrid and the Cheltenham Festival contributed to an increase in coronavirus deaths in the UK, a scientist has said.
Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, said the two events held in March had “caused increased suffering and death that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred”. He said data from an app used to report COVID-19 symptoms showed that Cheltenham and the North West both became “key hotspots” for the coronavirus.
Thousands of people gathered at Cheltenham Festival this week
Over a quarter of a million people attended this year’s Cheltenham Festival
Despite several European countries and cities already being in lockdown by the time the sports fixtures took place, Prime Minister Boris Johnson waited until 23 March to announce his own “stay at home” message in the UK.
More than 251,000 people attended the Cheltenham Festival from March 16-19 this year – a drop of nearly 15,000 compared to 2019.
Liverpool’s exit from the last-16 of the Champions League on March 11 was watched by around 52,000 people inside Anfield, including 3,000 visiting supporters who had travelled from Madrid – where such events had already been suspended.
Atletico knocked Liverpool out of the Champions League at Anfield winning 3-2 after extra-time to prevail 4-2 on aggregate
By the time Mr Johnson ordered the lockdown, the number of coronavirus cases in the UK stood at 6,650 and the number of deaths was 336.
Since then, nearly 37,000 people have died in the UK after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, and there have been more than 262,000 cases.
Last month, Liverpool City Council announced plans to jointly investigate the spread of the virus in Merseyside, alongside the University of Liverpool and John Moores University, following the match.
Professor Spector, who works in genetic epidemiology research, said: “Two weeks after the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool game against Atletico Madrid, we saw the number of people reporting COVID symptoms in the COVID Symptom Study app from those particular areas increase and both areas became key hotspots in the UK.
“This suggests that both events were, in part, a cause for the spread of COVID-19 in those areas.”
Crowds have flocked to Cheltenham this week
Cheltenham became a ‘key hotspot’ for the coronavirus following the Festival
Data from the Kings College study shows a higher number of cases in Cheltenham and Liverpool compared to their surrounding areas from 22 March to 29 March.
Liverpool City Council’s director of public health Matthew Ashton is convinced the game against Atletico Madrid should not have gone ahead.
But the government believes the events took place within “clear guidance” given at the time. A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News: ”It is our absolute priority to protect people’s health and our advice to the public is based on direct, continuous consultation with scientific and medical experts.
“There are many factors that could influence the number of cases in a particular area, including population density, age, general health, and the position of an area on the pandemic curve.”
Ed: Yes and a crowded racecourse and football stadium probably won’t help.
Cheltenham and Liverpool are examples of what happens when we follow neither common sense nor science.
Events that have happened previously in March BGB muses
2nd March 1969 saw the maiden flight of the French version of the supersonic aircraft Concorde. The pilot was Andre Turcat from France
On 4th March 1681, Charles ll granted a Royal Charter to William Penn to establish a colony in North America. This ‘colony’ is now known as Pennsylvania
On 5th March 1987, 180 people died when the cross-channel ferry ‘The Herald of Free Enterprise’ capsized due to the bow doors being left open. The ship was sailing from Zebrugge to Dover
7th March 1806 was the birthday of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Married to fellow poet Robert Browning. She died in 1861 in Florence, Italy
7th March 1802 was the birthday of the artist Edwin Henry Landseer who was renowned for paintings of animals. His most famous painting is ‘The Monarch of the Glen’
On 8th March 1702 Queen Anne became Queen of Great Britain. She succeeded William lll who died in a riding accident
10th March 1886 saw the first Crufts Dog Show at London. It had been held occasionally at Newcastle, but the London show confirmed it as an annual national event. These days Crufts is held at the NEC in Birmingham
“Beware the Ides of March” (Shakespeare) is on 15th March. It was set in the Roman calendar as the deadline for settling debts. Julius Caesar was assassinated on 15th March 44 BC
16th March 1872 was the date of the first ever FA Cup Final held at Kennington Oval between Wanderers and Royal Engineers. Wanderers won 1-0
On 19th March 1834, 6 farm labourers referred to as The Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced to transportation for swearing an oath to form a trade union. They were sentenced to 7 years as convicts in Australia. Due to public protests, 5 of the Martyrs returned to England 3 years later.
22nd March 1824 saw the establishment of the National Art Gallery in London. It is sited at Trafalgar Square
On 23rd March 1956, Queen Elizabeth ll laid the foundation stone of the new Coventry Cathedral. The cathedral was designed by Sir Basil Spence and was opened by the Queen in May 1962
On 25th March 1306 Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland. The coronation of a Scottish King took place at Scone Abbey in Perthshire. The new king would stand on the Stone of Scone and be lifted by the nobles and clan chieftains (Sounds a bit like Game of Thrones? – or Scones!!)
27th March 1871 saw the first ever international rugby match. It was between Scotland and England played at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh. Scotland won (obviously !) by 2 tries and a goal to England’s one try
At the annual Varsity Boat Race on 28th March 1012, both boats sank soon after the start. This is unique as this had never happened before or since. The Boat Race starts at Putney Bridge and ends at Mortlake by Chiswick Bridge
Humanists UK at UN calls for the immediate release of the President of Humanist Association of Nigeria March 15th, 2021
Nigerian Humanist Association President Mubarak Bala.
In an intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has called for the immediate release of the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, Mubarak Bala, who has been detained and imprisoned in Nigeria’s Kano state without charge for over 300 days.
In an intervention made by video during a debate with the President of the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson stated,
‘First arrested in April 2014 and detained in a psychiatric ward on the grounds of his humanist beliefs, Bala since came to lead the Humanist Association of Nigeria and is an important figure for humanists and human rights defenders globally. He subsequently was arrested again in April 2020, accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammed via Facebook, contrary to the Cybercrimes Act of Nigeria. However, Bala is yet to be charged for this crime, and so remains detained indefinitely, which represents a gross infringement on his human rights.
‘A court order issued last July granting him a meeting with legal representation was ignored by his captors who continued to deny him this basic legal right. It was not until October that he was granted preliminary access to a lawyer, meaning he was imprisoned without any legal representation for six months. Bala is also detained in Kano State, a region that allows for the operation of Sharia Courts alongside secular courts, where blasphemy carries the death penalty, and where riots and murder are not uncommon for accusations of blasphemy. There are fears for his safety even while he is held in custody.’
Copson went on to call for Mr Bala’s immediate release and for him to be given unfettered access to legal counsel. His treatment starkly illustrates how the global prevalence of blasphemy laws continue to threaten the rights and safety of non-religious people and others across the world
The Census 2021
The following article appeared in the local press:
One question in the forthcoming Census is more important than it might appear at first sight. The information gleaned will provide a basis or justification for many decisions on social policy taken by the government for years ahead.
The question is “What is your religion?” It sounds straightforward but in practice is well known to give misleading results compared with the preferred question “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion. If so which?” The first question produces a very much higher level of religious belief than the second used in other polls such as the British Social Attitudes Survey which consistently shows that the majority of the British public have no religious belief.
The difference seems to come about because most people have been brought up in a particular culture which is associated with a particular religion. So when asked what is your religion (implicitly assuming that you have one} and you feel that if you have to pick one out of a list you pick the one with which you are familiar. If I come from a Christian culture for example, I am going to pick that rather than declare myself to be a Hindu. Probing deeper however about beliefs reveals that the affinity, if any, is cultural, rather a belief in the tenets of the chosen religion or a strong association with the Church. So the appropriate tick if you are in that category is the first. No religion.
Why it is important that this survey gets it right is that government and local authorities use the information in their social planning for all aspects of public life including health , education and social services. The continuous support for publicly funded faith schools for example which Humanists continually object to, is justified by saying that the majority of the public in that area are of that faith, when in fact the majority really want a secular state school.
The great anomaly of having bishops sitting in the House of Lords (unique in the UK compared with other democracies) is justified on the grounds that ‘we are a Christian country’, when that ceased to be the case many years ago in terms of the actual beliefs of the population.
So my strong plea to everyone filling in the Census form is :
If you are not religious, Say So.(Ed. Emphasis)
Dr Brian Nicol, Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists
Poem for the month, chosen by Secretary Audrey.
‘Adlestrop’ by Edward Thomas
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
TV & Films to Look Out for in March
Saturday 20th March:
23.20 – BBC2: Love and Mercy – An excellent film for a Saturday night. A biopic of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, following the singer-songwriter at two periods in his life. In the 1960s, he is at his creative peak, but haunted by inner demons that take their toll on his mental health. By the 1980s, he is broken and dominated by a shady doctor. A new relationship offers a chance at recovery. Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks. A definite ‘must-see’ film.
Sunday 21st March:
21.00 – BBC1: Line of Duty – The long awaited new series of the very best British police drama directed by Jed Mercurio and with Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar reprising their roles as DS Steve Arnott, DI Kate Fleming and Superintendent Ted Hastings. Kelly Macdonald is their adversary. “We’re only interested in bent coppers!” (Sorry I can’t write in a Belfast accent!)
22.00 – BBC2: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind – Fact-based drama. A 13-year-old boy living with his family in rural Malawi comes up with a solution to solve a famine by creating a crop-saving wind turbine with the aid of a library book and a bicycle dynamo. First, though, he must persuade his father to allow him to use parts from his bicycle to build the windmill to irrigate the land. Directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, with Maxwell Simba.
22.00 – BBC4: Sylvia – Biopic of troubled poet and novelist Sylvia Plath whose creativity was deeply affected by her long and ultimately futile battle with depression and her turbulent marriage to Ted Hughes. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris and Amira Casar.
Monday 22nd March:
20.30 – BBC1: Fawlty Towers – A welcome return of the funniest ever sit-com. After all years of seeing all of the episodes umpteen times, I still laugh out loud every time.
21.00 – ITV1: Unforgotten – The penultimate episode of this fascinating crime drama
Tuesday 23rd March:
21.00 – BBC2: The Detectives: New series. Police are called after a wealthy man suspected to be linked to drug crime was taken from his home by an armed gang.
Wednesday 24th March:
21.00 BBC2: The Terror – Further episodes of this enthralling thriller set in the Canadian Arctic Circle and based upon the fateful expedition of Lord Franklin. With the end of their provisions in sight, the officers contemplate a tough, risky strategy. The next episode is at 21.45
Thursday 25th March:
21.00 – BBC4: The Lone Ranger – Don’t expect too much ‘Hi Ho Silver’ in this 2013 comedy Western. The story of how a lawyer left for dead after an ambush is saved by a mysterious Native American fugitive. Concealing his identity behind a mask, he and his new ally hunt down the outlaws behind the attack. Starring Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
01.35 – Channel 4: Locke – Tom Hardy gives the performance of a lifetime. This one-man thriller is shot almost completely inside a car on the motorway. This slice of real-time drama is an unexpectedly thrilling treat. I definitely recommend this film. Record it to watch it at leisure – you will not be disappointed. Starring Tom Hardy, with the voices of Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott.
Friday 26th March: Two great Oscar nominated films and a good night for fans of Elton John
21.00 – Film 4: The Shape of Water – An excellent Oscar winning fantasy. A mute woman who cleans up at top-secret government lab makes a life-changing discovery when she finds an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held captive, and they embark on an extraordinary relationship. Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones.
23.35 – BBC1: La La Land – The film that came so close to winning Best Picture Oscar. A jobbing actress and a struggling jazz pianist fall in love and attempt to realise their respective dreams in Los Angeles. A Bafta-winning musical, starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend.
19.00 – BBC4: Elton John Electric Prom – 21.00 – Elton John at the BBC
There are currently some excellent new films available on Netflix:
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – A great drama of the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927. A posthumous Oscar nomination for the late Chadwick Boseman and starring the excellent Viola Davis and Colman Domingo
The Dig – Based on a true story set in the 1930’s, a wealthy landowner hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate mounds on her property. He and his team discover an Anglo-Saxon burial ship. Starring Ralph Fiennes in one of his finest roles and Carey Mulligan.
News of the World – Set in Texas after the Civil War, Tom Hanks is brilliant as usual visiting remote townships to read newspapers to the people. On his travels he rescues a young German girl who has been bought up by the Kiawa Indians. In my view, the star is the 12 year old Helena Zengel who almost steals the show from Hanks. Look out for that name in the future!
Moxie – Inspired by her mom’s rebellious past and a confident new friend, a shy teenager anonymously publishes a magazine calling out sexism in her school. Ironically, I watched this film while all the furore following the murder of Sarah Everard and the clashes at Clapham Common was happening. Very poignant!
Mank – I haven’t yet seen this 2021 Oscar nominated film set in 1930’s Hollywood and is centred on the scathing wit of alcoholic screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz as he finishes the script for ‘Citizen Kane’. Starring Garly Oldman as ‘Mank’ and Tom Burke as Orson Welles. BGB
‘The Armchair Audience’ by Jacquie Campbell
The theatre world and its loyal supporters are all now holding their breath in the hope that live performances will actually be able to start in the summer. But, in the meantime, there’s still plenty of theatre to enjoy from home. Here are a few ideas – in each case, the ticket price covers the whole household.
Last month I said that we had bought tickets for Barnes People, a series of four monologues produced by the Original Theatre Company. Each monologue is just around 20 minutes long, so easy to watch whenever the mood takes you. We enjoyed all four of them, with funny and poignant performances from Jon Culshaw, Matthew Kelly and Jemma Redgrave. But, if you only fancy one, then we recommend A True Born Englishman – from Adrian Scarborough, playing a Buckingham Palace footman. Tickets are £7.50 per performance from http://www.originaltheatre.com.
The RSC have been doing some wonderful work online throughout the last year to keep audiences and students engaged. I recently did a couple of their ‘Deep Dive’ workshops on pieces of text from Romeo & Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream and can’t recommend them highly enough if you’re a Shakespeare fan. But even if you’re not, their latest production Dream should be worth a look. It’s an online performance, narrated by singer/songwriter Nick Cave, and set in a virtual midsummer forest. The actors are performing live, but you see them as avatars. You can simply watch it for free, or you can pay £10 and become part of the interactive performance, turning into a firefly and exploring the forest using your mouse or other tracker on your device. I’m definitely taking the firefly option! It promises to be magical, but you need to be quick – performances are only on until Sunday 20 March. http://www.rsc.org.uk
And, finally, if you’ve got young children or grandchildren, then The Old Vic are doing performances of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax as the fifth in their ‘In Camera’ series of live productions. The Lorax was a big hit when done in the theatre, and has been specially adapted to work as a live-streamed show. It’s only on from 14-17 April and booking has just opened. The cheaper tickets go fast, so get in quickly! We saw A Christmas Carol like this in December and can’t recommend it enough. A wonderful family activity, or maybe even an Easter gift to the family you can’t be with yet. http://www.oldvictheatre.com.
At last! A joke with a humanist in … although he was only just squeezed in by BGB
A Humanist was having a drink in a local pub. After finishing his drink he decided to make his way home. When he stepped outside the pub he noticed a Nun raving and shouting about the sins of alcohol and the ‘demon drink’ and the debauchery and squalor caused by drink.
The Humanist asked the Nun if she had ever had a drink
The Nun said, ‘No – I will not touch it – it is evil’
So, our Humanist, being a bit of a rationalist chap said, ‘Well how can you make these statements about alcohol if you have never had a drink? ‘Surely you should have a drink of alcohol first before you start telling people how bad it is’
The Nun said, ‘Well I wouldn’t know what to order if I was to have a drink’
So, the kindly Humanist said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I will buy you a drink, so you can see what alcohol tastes like – and afterwards, then you can criticise alcohol, because you will then know what it tastes and feels like!’
The nun said, ‘Well that is very kind of you, but what do ladies usually drink?’
The Humanist said, ‘Well, most ladies I know drink gin’
The Nun said, ‘OK, I will have some gin. But can you please ask them to put it in a small cup because I don’t want people to see me drinking alcohol from a glass. If they see me drinking from a cup, they will think that I am drinking a cup of tea’
The Humanist said, ‘OK, I will do that, I will buy you a glass of gin and I will ask the barman to put it in a small cup for you’. And off he went into the pub
He said to the barman, ‘Can I have a glass of gin please and can you put it in a small cup for me please?’
The barman laughed and said, ‘Is that blooming Nun still outside? – She stands outside every night to get someone to get her a cup of gin!’
Next week will be our 50th Zoom Meeting!!!
Since Lockdown, Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists have met most weeks
not (alas} physically but in zoom gatherings, hosted by Treasurer Adrian.
In these meetings:
we remember and try to support individual humanists who are in peril, recently Zara Kay, imprisoned in Tanzania and Mubarak Bala, now imprisoned in Nigeria.
We follow Humanist UK’s campaigns, for example, opposing the growth of Faith Schools.
Alistair introduces us to a favourite artist, or school of painting. Yesterday a theme was ‘Eye’, some of the images he chose are sprinkled in this newsletter.
Brian (BGB) provides a quiz, which is less like Pointless, more like The Inquisition.
Mo and Andrew, describe their last week, working as foresters/woodlanders, in Warwickshire’s green woods, as the seasons change around them.
Egghead (code name for a sub group of members) offers issues and cartoons.
Increasingly, Bedworth members introduce us to pieces of music, yesterday it was Faure’s ‘Listen With Mother’.
Sometimes, Jacquie, talks about the splendid virtual theatre performances that we can watch in lockdown and flamboyantly, speaks some lines (from her Stratford home!)
Mayor’s Chaplain Jane, who works as a school speaker and representative on the local SACRE, can be counted on to provide accounts of the meetings and issues that she faces.
These zoom meetings are strange events for strange times: Audrey seems to partially or completely, disappear from view; John is always a welcome contributor, how we love to see his collection of braces; Bill joins us from Lichfield, how we love to identify him, through his aliases/disguises.
We hear about what each of us has: read, watched, listened to in the previous week, assisted by BGB with his TV recommendations.
These virtual get-togethers, have a serious purpose (promoting humanism) and a light hearted side, which usually takes over, a weekly antidote to COVID depression.
Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists zoom sessions occur on Wednesdays, starting at 7.30 p.m. If you would like to pop in, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and an invitation will be supplied.
At this week’s gathering, John promised to provide details about a programme about a Japanese Tsunami, here they are:
Japan’s Tsunami: Caught on Camera – Amateur footage and eyewitness accounts of the Disaster that struck Japan on March 11th 2011.
Broadcast at 11.10pm on Saturday 13th March on More 4 Freeview 18 and Freesat124 now on All 4 Catch up.
Look after yourself, look after each other, take care, stay safe.
His findings may have been pushed aside by our current fascination with other topics but they deserve and cry out for our attention.
‘much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos’.
‘Government policies have led to the ‘systematic immiseration’ of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty’
‘Some observers might conclude that The DWP has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitised version of the19th Century workhouse made famous by Charles Dickens’.
Many politicians have rushed to deny the report but in our towns and cities, there are ubiquitous signs of austerity and hardship. Soiled cardboard and sleeping bags, in shop doorways. Schools bear witness that they now operate as a 4th Emergency Service; responsible for clothing and feeding children, before they can begin to learn.
Political realignments generate heat and excitement but they don’t focus on the human cost of austerity, which we will be paying for generations.
It’s all a long way from ‘the good life’ that Humanists hold dear and it’s happening on our watch.
The news that cases of Measles are increasing nationally and globally has led to me thinking about what I know, or think I know, about the issue.
Some years ago, I attended a splendid meeting organised by Coventry Skeptics in the Pub. The speaker was Brian Deer, The Sunday Times journalist who had investigated the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield.
Dr Wakefield proposed a link between the MMR vaccine and cases of autism and bowel cancer. Many people were very concerned by this link and many parents refused to have their young children immunised.
The alleged link, led to a dramatic drop in MMR vaccination rates and a rise in cases of measles. Had Dr Wakefield made an honest, reasonable mis-assessment, that would have been one thing, however The General Medical Council investigated Dr Wakefield’s work and conclude that the doctor was “dishonest, irresponsible and showed callous disregard for the distress and pain” of children. The GMC ruled that he carried out clinically unnecessary and invasive tests on children without ethical approval or appropriate qualifications. It has to be noted that Andrew Wakefield, did rather well financially from the situation.
Today we have social media sites criticised for posting footage that may encourage/ reinforce self-harm or recruitment to terrorist groups. Do we need to ban coverage of scientific/medical conclusions, that could lead to harmful social reactions, until those conclusions are verified by the medical establishment?
Humanist, republican and Green Party candidate Mark Summers shares his thoughts on the relationship between Humanism and republicanism. This guest blog post coincides with the eve of a Royal wedding and the annual Leveller’s Day celebrations in Burford. Mark who is also a Shelley expert and parish councillor for Long Lawford can be found at @New_Leveller on Twitter and newleveller.net
“If someone claims that in an earthly government things can go on perfectly well without the king’s ordering or dealing with anything, we can reasonably suspect him of wanting to get rid of the king altogether. Similarly, anyone who maintains that the world can continue to run its course without the continual direction of God the supreme governor has a doctrine that does have the effect of excluding God from the world.”
Exchange of papers between Leibniz and Clarke – Clarke’s first reply (26 November 1715)
This literary exchange between Isaac Newton’s close friend, the philosopher Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) and German natural philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) illustrates a fundamental historical link between republicanism and humanism. Viewed as a twin threat by the traditional ‘King and Church’ establishment they shared a common notion that facts and social structures should be determined by reason, being open to contestability and revision.
Modern republicanism and humanism were born in the same intellectual space. Inspired by the ethical and political writings of the classical world, especially the Greeks Aristotle and Polybius and the great Roman senator and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero they share a common heritage in the Renaissance. Indeed, Classical Republicanism was often used as a synonym for Civic Humanism. Since these beginnings in the Italian City States of the 15th and 16th centuries, republicanism and humanism have drifted apart slightly in terms of their objectives, with modern republicanism placing the advancement of liberty in political and constitutional terms as its central concern. This allows members of religious groups such as Quakers to espouse republicanism but not humanism.
So what were the historical commonalities and how are they reflected today? Central to the concern of Renaissance thinkers such as Niccolo Machiavelli was the provision of a public space as an environment for human fulfilment. Living in tumultuous political circumstances, Machiavelli was principally concerned with power and the responsibilities of those who wielded it to build a safe and secure society for all citizens. But during the seventeenth century, especially in England and Scotland, republicans started to build a case focusing on rights, albeit on the same foundation of public spaces.
Along with a concern for individual rights came an eagerness to question assumptions, to accept no authority as sacrosanct. As J.G.A. Pocock put it:
“…the Enlightenment generally [was] based on a complete rejection of prophecy, revelation and the Hebrew mode of thought at large.”
J.G.A. Pocock (1975) The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition
Putting together the related issues of human rights and a rejection of uncontested authority provides a core set of shared republican and humanist values for the modern world. The Humanist UK main webpage (retrieved March 2018) features the following definition of humanism from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy:
For a Humanist the crucial factor in deciding whether an action is moral is the welfare of humanity rather than the pursuit of the will of a deity or a sacred text.
There are two aspects of this statement which is reflected directly in republican thinking. Firstly, the word ‘deciding’ implies freedom of individual action, to weigh up evidence and come to a conclusion based on that evidence. Such an ability, free from coercion and the possibility of being punished in some way is part of the explicit goal of republicanism.
Secondly ‘welfare’ implies an interest in the general health and well-being of a group. This is a recurring republican theme, with thinkers such as Montesquieu emphasizing that a well-functioning republic requires widespread civic virtue, by which is meant the active participation of citizens united by a concern for the common good.
Over the past two decades political philosopher Philip Pettit has been instrumental in developing a modern view of Republicanism both as a theory of freedom and a system of government. Pettit has put forward what he calls the ‘eyeball test’ as one indicator of the level of freedom in a society. The test states that in an ideal society any individual should be able to look another squarely in the eye without fear or prejudice. This is yet another fundamental principle which the republican shares with the humanist, that each person should show respect to his or her fellows irrespective of class, political, racial or religious background.
Although republicanism encompasses a much broader view than narrow antimonarchism, it is still a touchstone issue for the principles I have briefly outlined. But with a British Monarchy apparently tightly constrained by custom and statute is the republican concern with rights in such a constitution relevant to the humanist? I believe it is, for the following reasons. Consider, for example, the Royal Prerogative, an essentially accountable power which can be used to bypass Parliament and the judicial system. Though today mostly exercised by Cabinet Ministers this dangerous appendage to the monarchial system must be dismantled and the powers controlled as Parliament sees fit. This is before we consider the status of the Monarch him/herself as Supreme Governor of the Church of England with its enshrined right to have 26 Bishops in the House of Lords is taken into account. Likewise the fact that all legal and executive authority derives from one single source means that the monarch is above the law and cannot be prosecuted or called as a witness in a criminal trial. To do so would effectively mean the Queen prosecuting herself or possibly giving evidence against herself! The existence of a person above the reach of the law not only causes a fundamental problem of accountability but certainly fails the eyeball test.
As both republicans and humanists argue for a society based on open communication, discussion, criticism and unforced consensus, the fact that the Monarchy not only enjoys exemption from Freedom of Information but also forces the media to sign restrictive contracts effectively handing editorial control of any interview material to the Palace presents us with further problems. Finally, that one particular family are kept in a privileged position in perpetuity without being subject to accountability cannot be regarded as promoting the common good.
I have aimed to show that while the modern ideas of republicanism and humanism have diverged in some ways the root concepts of open rational-based decision making, contestability and respect are fundamental core values. The enlightenment which began in the sixteenth century was powered by a willingness to contest ideas and when necessary replace them with new, better or more appropriate ideas. Both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz lie at the foundation of the rationalist enlightenment programme. That they equated republicans to atheists in a heinous category shows just how far we have come in the last three centuries. The fact that we retain a state religion while British republicans are still viewed with suspicion and occasional hostility shows how far we have yet to go.
An Opinion Piece from the Kenilworth Courier, August 2017
New evidence has been published about the continued decline in religious belief. The latest British Social Attitudes Survey showed that, in England, 53% of the population now describe themselves as having no religion. Forty-one per cent are Christian but Anglicans (the established church) are only 15%.
We are not a Christian country in anything other than a narrow constitutional sense.
These figures confirm that the Government, led by an avowed Christian, is going entirely against popular opinion in persisting with the policy of official support, and almost total funding, for faith schools and scandalously planning to allow them to take in only children of their own religious persuasion. It is obvious to most people that the policy is wrong on two grounds. First what is needed in our divided country is integration not segregation. This should start in schools. Second if you wish to teach moral behaviour it is no longer helpful to turn to religions which base their premise on a belief in God that no longer resonates with the majority and particularly younger people.
From a Humanist point of view we would like to see schools teaching ethical and moral behaviour which is not based on faith in a non-existent being but on human experience. Over the millennia we have learned what furthers the progress of mankind. We know that pleasure is better than pain, that cooperation is better than conflict, that kindliness is better than hostility and that all humans must be treated equally irrespective of characteristics such as gender, race, and colour. Children will respond to this with understanding. Requiring a belief in God is not helpful.
The following has been published today as a “Viewpoint” in the Courier Series of newspapers (Leamington Courier, Kenilworth Weekly News and Warwick Courier).
This is the latest of regular contributions to publicise the Humanist outlook and the local group.
This was published next to an article by the Attorney General Jeremy Wright who is MP for Kenilworth and Southam. Supporting the right to die
Humanists UK, the national Humanist organisation, is supporting its terminally ill member Noel Conway who wants the right to die, and this support is endorsed by the local group, Kenilworth-based Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists.
Noel has said that he wants to say goodbye to loved ones “at the right time, not to be in a zombie-like condition suffering both physically and psychologically”.
Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by his or her own personal values, and the freedom to make decisions about his or her own life so long as this does not result in harm to others. Humanists do not share the attitudes to death and dying held by some religious believers (notably Roman Catholics) in particular that the manner and time of death are for a deity to decide, and that interference in the course of nature is unacceptable. Humanist firmly uphold the right to life but recognise that this right carries with it the right of each individual to make his or her own judgement about whether his or her life should be prolonged in the face of pointless suffering.
It is completely wrong that people who are of sound mind but terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice to die with dignity. The deliberate extension of suffering as a matter of public policy is a stain on our humanity. The majority of the public want change but as long as Parliament is unwilling to act, it is up to brave individuals such as Noel to fight for all our rights. We will always stand with such courageous and public-spirited champions. The right to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing, must be understood to be a fundamental human right.
Legalising assisted dying must of course ensure that strict legal safeguards are in place and empower people to make rational choices over their end of life care free from coercion. It is very important that there are strong safeguards in any assisted dying law, but the international evidence from countries where assisted dying is legal shows that such safeguards are effective.
Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists