Thursday, 28 June 2012

Measuring happiness

Yesterday, on the occasion of the launch of the Save Childhood project, the Grauniad ran a piece on unhappiness in childhood, something this country seems to be particularly adept at causing:

Typically, though, they didn't mention the fatherlessness epidemic in their lists of ills. The Centre for Separated Families, though, said this week, in response to the government's consultation on changes to the Children Act 1989:

"Unless family mediators, Cafcass officers, social workers, child support professionals, children’s centre staff and all the other individuals and agencies that parents come into contact with start to work outside the lone parent paradigm, children will continue to miss out on the vital relationships that allow them to grow and develop into psychologically secure and fulfilled adults.'"

I am in the middle of a lot of white-collar court work at the moment, but I am left to worry about how you are getting on.

Your medical records tell me that you are hitting, spitting, biting, not sleeping when you should and sleeping in Mummy's bed when you do.

They tell me that you are scared of the bath, have successfully refused to go to nursery on occasion, and are scared of the abstract notion that someone you've not seen for 19 months is going to take you away. There is even a suggestion that someone you are calling 'Uncle' has appeared in your life and is acting as your confidante, whilst your Aunty is referring her own sister's parenting to health visitors for intervention.

Unfortunately, that doesn't sound like a very happy little boy to me. It would be a poor kind of father who wasn't bothered about that - and I am very bothered about it. For the time being, though, all I can do is paperwork.

Love from Daddy.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

What's on the cards?

According to a YouGov poll in the last week, 80 per cent of Brits (and 88 per cent of fathers) think that 'Fathers day is just another way for companies to make money on cards and presents'.

This is slightly curious, given that 52 per cent of those questioned also disagreed with the notion that 'Fathers day is unimportant and just another day', but reflects the fact, I think, that whilst the day may be important, it is not treated as such, because fathers aren't regarded as important.

In the 18-24 year old age group, only 73% agreed in any way that 'Fathers are instrumental in bringing up children'. Well, what you've never known, you don't miss, I suppose. Given that only two-thirds of children have their father around, why would many more than that think they were important?

Step-Mum accidentally took me into a card shop last week and I had to leave, because all the saccharine rubbish was too upsetting. They don't do a card which says 'Thinking of you today because someone stole your child'.

Nevertheless, with the help of Moonpig, I have sent a few cards this year, to the fathers in your maternal family, all of whom have seen you more recently than me.

Most of them are professing Christians - one of them even works for the church, with young people.

All of them have stayed silent for the last two years or so. None of them have ever sought to disassociate themselves with what is being done to you, as it was done to your late Grandmother.

I could talk about 'Good men doing nothing' - but instead, noting that two of them have children younger than you, I will remind them that what they deem appropriate for you, could happen to them one day. To celebrate today for themselves, whilst agreeing that others don't deserve the same, makes their position the ultimate in hypocrisy.

And as they enjoy 'their' day, with their children and family around them, they have no more rights to fatherhood than I do. They are just running their luck for a little longer.

Ironically, it's me that's fighting to change that - for all of us. Including you.

Love from Daddy

Saturday, 16 June 2012

A busy week

After our Scottish sojourn, it's been an action-packed week in the world of the disenfranchised father.

I received word that on Tuesday, Brighton Congress Hall closed its contact centre. As you know, I consider them about as acceptable as testing cosmetics on monkeys, but unenlightened churches usually set them up with the best of intentions.

More to the point, the likelihood is that the fathers who were going there are now facing disruption at best, and quite likely cessation, of their ordered contact with their children. Many of them will have been ordered to see their children at the Army.

Meantime, silence from Mummy's solicitors. They send lots of letters, but when their threats come to nothing and they start to have to respond to correspondence, they tend to look at the court diary and hope they can hold out until next time, because there is nothing they can say which will help their client's position. So much for the paramountcy principle.

Thursday brought the announcement of the Government consultation on changes to the Children act.

There is almost nothing proposed that can't already be done within the Act - a judge is empowered to imprison or fine mothers who breach contact orders (even if their solicitor says they are innocent) - and to reverse residence. Such recourse is common if you are a Dad upsetting the CSA, but otherwise reserved for 'show' cases.

I feel let down by my party, after all the pre-election rhetoric, but nevertheless, the proposal is an improvement, so we must bank it, like the gay movement did with civil partnerships. The world will not change, so they will have to revisit the issue.

Over the last two days we have received some interesting documents, which we are still studying. Amongst them is my police record! It makes interesting reading, especially compared to the stories various people an organisations have told.

Yesterday I sent Mummy a very pleasant text asking which Dentist you are seeing. No reply. Maybe that means no dentist, I don't know. The court rang to change the hearing time for Monday - fortunately not by much; I also sent my fathers day cards.

I'm on the Bakerloo line now - not bound for Scotland, where you told us it goes, but for Trafalgar Square, to see what happens there today.

And tomorrow? Well, amongst other things I have a sermon to deliver!

Court on Monday, meetings at Westminster and elsewhere on Tuesday, and so it continues.

Busy, busy, busy.

Hang on in there, mate.

Love from Daddy

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Showers on the Fife Circle

If you'd asked me a week ago where I would be now, I certainly wouldn't have guessed that I'd been in Scotland since Sunday.

Step Mum has had the most unorthodox of bank holiday weekends - by not having any time off work! Indeed, she has been working long days and late nights throughout.

When you were a baby, it was me who once brought you and Mummy with me to Glasgow for a night - I remember going to Baby Gap in Buchanan Galleries to buy your dedication outfit. Now, it's Step Mum, as the earner in our household, who is bringing me to Scotland, owing to her employer's late shout calling in her weekend.

As it happens, the job's not finished yet, so having flown up on Sunday night (less said about the two hour delay arriving to find they'd booked the wrong hotel  and McDonalds for tea, the better!) we are still here! This has caused a few logistical issues, but it's given me the opportunity to have a few days away from London - and neither of us have had to cook for a week!

Today, I am trying to 'clear' Scotland. I first came up here about ten years ago and by the end of today, connections permitting, I will have travelled on every piece of railway in Scotland over which scheduled passenger trains run. I've done a few bits which are freight-only, too, but those days are over now, probably for good.

I've been to the Bo'ness and Kinneil railway, Ardrossan Harbour, Largs, Alloa, and last night I dropped in to Inverkeithing and found that yes, you can still ride behind a 'Skip' on the Fife circle, 1708 off Edinburgh. I'm going back for the whole run this evening. It reminds me of a time when I used to do a lot of trips behind Class 67s, and it reminds me of you.

You of course have done a fair bit of mileage up here, too. You've been to Kyle of Lochalsh, and you've been over the stretch of line I'm on now, between Linlithgow and Polmont, albeit asleep at the time!

I sent you a postcard yesterday. It is as much as I can do directly. We are waiting for the next court date, and Mummy's solicitors, whilst sending me weekly letters with some new threat or other, are ignoring my repeated requests for them to confirm when the court order, some 18 months old now, is going to be adhered to.

Their only response? They tell me that Mummy isn't breaking the order at all. I am struggling to find a definition of the word 'shall' which fits the meaning they are ascribing to it!

You're not seeing me though, are you. That's the reality. So the words are of little consequence and the pieces of paper of no meaning.

Love from Daddy

PS: I've not been able to post what I wrote earlier yet. I'm now on the 'Skip' job now, coming round the Fife circle curve at Thornton Junction. 67011 in charge again and it's slinging it down, so I'm in the saloon!

Paisley Canal earlier this afternoon was my final scheduled passenger mileage in Scotland.

I wonder when you will next come up here?

Friday, 1 June 2012

The uninformed worshipper?

It was good that, after lobbying from a number of us, THQ decided to make the congress meetings available to watch again (although not for long, I hear - SP&S need to protect their revenue!).

General Bond is a powerful speaker. She has a limited but distinctive range of speech inflections - Step Mum and I still (fondly of course!) mimic her high-pitched 'Who wouldn't want it?' strapline from her installation address.

For as long as she spoke about Jesus, she was on fire. Some of her political comments crashed and burned with me, though, but that's for another time. What the General does impeccably is lead an Army meeting. She has an innate musicality, and a sixth sense for creating and moulding atmosphere in a hall.

The musical highlights of the congress for me were not 'Blood of the lamb lite', (good as it was), nor the contributions of the staff sections. They were in the closing moments of the morning meeting, as the General led the congregational singing.

It is one of the beautiful freedoms of Salvationism that we have next to no set liturgy. As a meeting leader, the idea that you can take the congregation on a journey with the freedom to deviate, or stop off, at the spirit's guidance, is a wonderful tool. And so, having deftly rolled an uncommon but beautiful combination of tune and old Army words (SASB 643, 'We the people of thy host', to 'Healing Stream') to the boundary as she made her appeal (marred only by a howl of feedback from the PA system) the General decided to start knocking the ball all over the ground.

What happened next wasn't her fault - but it should teach us a valuable and transferable lesson.

"Let's sing the first verse of 'Jesus, keep me near the cross'".

The pianist had no need to change tunes, but the a/v team were out of the game. Not everyone knows those words any more. Barely anyone has a songbook of their own in a congress meeting these days. Those that could sing it (a good number, of course), did, and those that didn't know it, struggled.

You could have typed the words out several times in the time available, or searched the songbook for them.

But the screen stayed blank.

Undeterred, the General, being an all-rounder, bowled the pianist a googly. Or did she?

I happen to think that if you are the pianist in the Albert Hall for a congress led by the General, you ought to be able to manage the founder's song without the copy. Plenty of Army pianists could have. Great Grandad used to pick a chorus and surreptitiously indicate to his teenage son what key he wanted it in, sharps indicated by fingers on the right hand, flats on the left.

It turned out to be no matter. No sooner had the pianist wafted their bat at the incoming delivery and looked for a tune book, than General Bond plucked the ball from the air, one handed, as, with a commendable choice of pitch (not a cricketing analogy this time!), she started the singing 'and now, hallelujah!...',  a capella.

Boom. That was what made my hairs stand on end.

The Albert Hall can be a swine to sing in - that's why those 'mushrooms' are there! But putting thousands of Salvationists in that famous cauldron and letting them sing is a dead cert for making a glorious noise. The most mellifluous and vocally-competent football crowd you ever heard.

In four distinct parts, 'boundless salvation, for you and for me' rattled round the walls, conducted, song book in hand, by the General herself. How I wish I'd been there, just for that.

But if you didn't know the words by heart? Well, we were halfway through singing it for the second time before the words appeared, accompanied by a bit more PA howl...

If the ISB had played one of their big pieces badly, or the ISS had forgotten a repeated chorus or coda, people would have been quick to say so. But when the audio visuals are poor, something that actually impedes the worship of the congregation, why the silence - and why let Powerpoint steal our spontaneity?

If I am in the congregation, my needs are few and simple, but increasingly forgotten - and this is true for lots of corps and lots of other churches now, but demonstrated by the congress.

I need to hear the spoken word
It really is inexcusable when the microphone gets switched on after someone has started speaking. How can I understand, be touched by, and respond to things I cannot hear or make sense of? See also: Mix, below.

I need access to the words when I sing
If you want me to sing from a screen, I need the words, the right words, to appear. I need them to advance at the right time; not to be expected to 'just know' when, say, a line is repeated. I need the words to be correctly spelled and punctuated. If this is too much to ask, can we just use the song book, which meets almost all the requirements?

This is divine worship. The best for the highest applies. If you can't play the piano, you don't offer to be the pianist. If God's not given you the gift of spelling, you might not be the one to write the slides.

Whoever runs the slides must give the task their full concentration, and must be sufficiently competent to dig out (or even type!) words quickly in order to help the leader of the meeting maintain their flow. Dare I say it, but no small degree of familiarity with scripture, and with Army music, songs and ecclesiology is necessary, and that these competencies are as critical as that of the pianist's ability to read music and play the piano.

I need an idea of the tune, and when to start singing!
Many songs in the Army song book have multiple tunes, and some of us like to mix them up even further than those suggestions (some of us even remember the rule, written in the songbook, of checking every verse actually fits the tune you've selected!).

How often, though, have you been in a meeting and a song is called, you rise to sing, and the first sound the band plays is the first note you are expected to sing? An introduction won't kill the band. It will introduce the tune and key, and it will give the congregation chance to get ready to sing. If it's not obvious, the meeting leader can also tell the congregation to which tune we are going to sing.

I need to hear a decent mix
It sometimes feels like the only feedback everyone accepts in an Army meeting is the howling through the PA, or the thud of people tapping on microphones to see if they're on.

Many Army halls have PA systems set with no reference to what is a useful EQ balance. Too much bass, too little mid and treble, and thus vocals are often indistinct. I'm coming to worship, and not at the Ministry of Sound. If I can't hear and understand the spoken or sung word, I cannot respond to it.

I need to be able to sing my part
Choral singing is as much a part of Salvationist DNA as brass bands, if not more so, because it is more inclusive. We sing, we sing well, and we sing in four part harmony. Amazingly, we have done this since 1986 with a tune book that has barely any words in it, whilst the Welsh and Scots churches, supposedly behind the times, are still producing tonic sul-fa books for those who want them.

Why are we trying, particularly through the auspices of 'Scripture based songs' and the like, to turn Army meetings into 'Songs of Praise'?

Why are we so often, needlessly, being pushed into singing in unison? In that same congress meeting, did we really need to have 'Lobe den Herren' (which has survived the test of a long, long time) to the ridiculous new 'walzy' arrangement, when that monochromatic 'amen' could have sounded again from God's people in glorious technicolour? Vocally, as scripturally, there are many parts in one body.

Your Great Grandad was known as a man who was not easily riled, but Big Granded remembers that one night, in an Army meeting he was leading as a Divisonal Commander, he turned from the platform to a very talented 'busker' at the piano, saying "Captain, could you just play the straightforward harmonies, please?" Save it for the offering, or the band or songster piece. Congregational singing has to be functional or it falls down!

When left to their own devices, those Salvationists in the Albert Hall did not sing in unison. Let's remember our heritage, and at least give people the choice by giving them the chance. This is their worship, too.

Second only to the General's skill and craft as a preacher and meeting leader, I was struck that congress gave us an example of how more and more, we are seeking to use modern technologies, which can make or break a meeting, and the extent to which people engage with the ministry of God's word. We need worship to be inclusive, accessible, clear and simple. And we need to remain true to who we are.

These tools (and boy have some corps spent money!) are only as good as the workmen. Maybe it's time that we should elevate the standing, the training, and our expectations, of the person doing the audio-visuals. We have made them the most important person in the meeting, after the preacher.

Love from Daddy