Ethics and the ‘Refugee Crisis’

Every so often events occur on the world stage which appear to capture the world’s consciousness beyond the immediate and transitory nature of such events. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one such. The simple act of hacking away and bulldozing large chunks of concrete in a city that most people would never visit had resonances on what might be termed the world’s moral structure. Some kind of reordering had taken place.  I can remember hearing about it on the morning news as I was shaving in a small room in a Somerset conference centre. There have been other events that are similar, possibly Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, John F Kennedy’s assassination, perhaps the 9/11 attacks in New York. These are events which have not just a personal, nor a political, impact but also trigger a slight but real shift in what could be called our cultural morality. Seeing that wall come down, and the reaction of those Berliners whose city had been divided for so long, allowed a resetting of our moral compass, a slight but significant reordering of our value systems.

Of course this was not so for everyone, some who were ignorant of the event or simply so concerned with their sheer survival in a difficult world that such moments did not impinge on their consciousness. But for a substantial part of our world community these ‘moral events’ have  had an impact.

Just last month I returned from a two week stay in SW France, a holiday of relaxation, reading and warmth. Returning via Calais on the channel ferry I was shocked to be greeted by a whole port surrounded by a high steel fence, topped with razor wire. The fence even extended some distance down either side of the AutoRoute that led to the port. I suppose I should not have been shocked, there had been much publicity in the media of the problems at the port and at the entry of the Channel Tunnel. Friends and acquaintances were always ready to tell horror stories about hijacked vehicles and desperate refugees attempting to find some way to cross over to Dover. No, I should not have been shocked but I was when I looked over to my right.  Through the fence I glimpsed ‘The Jungle’, the name given to the large refugee encampment right alongside the AutoRoute. There was I coolly sliding through all the defences and barriers, confidant of a welcome once I had reached the UK. And there were thousands of my fellow human beings equally wanting a similar welcome. The image is still vivid in my mind and I struggle to know how to respond.

I know that thousands of volunteers from the UK have travelled to these encampments, helping out as best they can, bringing supplies donated from many communities throughout the UK. Others have travelled to the Greek islands, funding their own way there, seeking to respond to the humanitarian crisis that afflicts people fleeing from civil war, oppression or seeking to make a living for themselves and their families in less threatened parts of the world. I can, and have, donated and collected relief supplies. The action hardly seems to be enough but it’s the least that I can do.

I know all the arguments “our island is too overcrowded already”, “they should have stayed in refugee camps near their homeland”, “if we let them in it will only encourage others to make the journey”, ”most of them are young, male and economic migrants”, and horrifically “they only come so they can sponge off our benefits system”.  Others have refuted all these prejudices so I have no need to do so here. What troubles me is the question: what is the ethical response to all this?

When the wall came down politicians and pundits opined that it would take ten years or more for Germany’s divided halves to be reunited. This seemed, for a while, to be a consensus until Chancellor Helmut Kohl, by no means a charismatic or idealistic leader announced that it would be done immediately. No prevarication, no worrying over what the implications, economic, social or political, would be. It was to be done because it was the right thing to do. Germany had been wounded for so long, the humanitarian response was to heal her, whatever the consequences. Later a successor to Chancellor Kohl, Angela Merkel responded in a similar way when the flow of refugees from war-torn Syria began to accumulate. We will take whoever wants to come”, she said. “We will welcome them”. I know there have been subsequent grumblings and protests about both decisions but that does not detract from the fact that these were moral decisions, expressing humanitarian values, not craftily calculated political expedients.

I have sensed that despite the pronouncements of many of our own political leaders – and the propaganda of the right wing dominated press – there exists in our own country a great unease at what is happening, or more accurately, what is not happening in response to the so-called refugee crisis. You could call it the conscience of the nation but clearly it is not all the nation. Nonetheless we, as a whole, seek to find the ethical pathway, not just the political steps, to resolve this painful crisis of human need. In the same way as we responded to the fall of the Wall, to 9/11 our collective moral consciousness has shifted. This is the time to do ‘what is right’.

To me this means commandeer all those ferries that transport all our imports and exports, our holidaymakers, our children on school trips and carry all those in ‘The Jungle’ and other such camps over the channel to join us here. Don’t count the cost, don’t listen to the prophets of despair -just do it. Our political leaders and administrators can work out the logistics from thereon. There are surely plenty of individuals and communities who would say ‘Refugees Welcome’. Most refugees will want to return to their own country once peace is restored, they will want to rebuild their homes and communities. But some will stay, Experience and history should reassure us that these remaining can be nothing but good for our country – think of the Huguenots, the Ugandan Asians, the Vietnamese boat people – all such influxes of refugees have had a truly positive influence on our nation and culture.

Now is the time to respond to humanitarian need with a human response and humans, as we have seen, sometimes react unexpectedly, selflessly and, in the end, with love. Now is the time to do it.


Andrew Chapman. October 2016

Please feel free to comment below….


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Reactions to The Leaving

The Leaving front cover only


Andrew Chapman’s new novel is out now.

Set in a remote corner of north west Scotland it is the story of one man’s search for a new life after his wife has disappeared. In the context of a compelling story it explores the nature of being a solitary yet still living within a community.

Andrew Chapman brings to this novel the characteristics of his writing which infused his previous books Beyond the Silence (2010) and Ikon (2012), a narrative drive which holds the reader’s attention throughout and a humanity which leaves one with much to ponder.

Here is a beguiling story set against the backdrop of a beautiful and unique location.

Some readers comments on The Leaving

Really enjoyed this book, couldn’t put it down. Read the last few chapters into the early hours of the night… the author reveals a depth of understanding of the pressures of an ordinary parish priest. A beautiful evocation of a remote Scottish community which left me searching trainline for the first available ticket.”

“I couldn’t put this book down …. the plot is full of intrigue, multi–layered and pacey. The characters are beautifully created and all held my interest. Andrew Chapman has a great way of describing situations and places …. Such interesting subject matters, and all very much woven around our human nature and relationships. A thoroughly enjoyable read.”

“A gripping novel with interesting characters, a mystery… addressing .. fundamental questions.”

Click here for more comments

Available online by clicking here or in all good bookshops (ISBN: 978-0-9564424-2-3)

Price £8.99  (post free in UK and Ireland)

Read it already? Why not post a comment on Andrew’s website –click here




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The true nature of health. An open letter to Harriet Baldwin MP.

Recently I signed a petition urging my MP, Harriet Baldwin, to support the National Health Service(Amended Duties and Powers) Bill I received a reply in which she strongly supported the current NHS reforms, particularly the greater involvement of private providers. She voted against the bill, which was a Private Member’s motion and will probably go nowhere.
This is how I replied:

Dear Harriet Baldwin

Thank you very much for replying to my signing the petition regarding the recent National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers Bill). I noted that you were one of the only twenty five MPs who voted against the bill. In your letter you set out, in a cogent fashion, the reasons why you see no dangers in the increased involvement of private providers and how more money is going in to, and more operations coming out of the NHS and in this you feel pride at what is being achieved.

I think a major misconception is buried in what you write. In your account the NHS is seen as an efficient (or not so efficient) illness machine, an industrial operation whose effectiveness can be measured by things that can be counted – waiting times, costs, operations carried out and the like. It is pertinent for us to remember the old adage ‘Things that can be counted are not necessarily important and things that are important cannot necessarily be counted.’

In this conception the human individual who is in contact with the Health machine is either ‘client’,’customer’ or, worst of all, ‘consumer’. We all become so-called ‘consumers of health care’ endowed with a selection of spurious and sometimes irrelevant, choices. We become acutely conscious of our ‘rights’ and grumble furiously when we think they are being infringed.

There is another way. It has actually been with us for as long as medicine has been practised but it is rarely talked about. To outline it is to describe how, in practical terms, health care could be organised in a way that differs from the model above and how creeping privatisation is an insidious influence.

That way has to do with the nature of health itself. Health is a state of mind where the human individual feels at one with herself, not necessarily free from problems, disabilities or even pain. Not necessarily expecting to be cured, indeed at times expecting to die. She has come to terms with the deal she has been dealt, she is not letting it get her down. There is life to be lived, life in all its abundance.

So what does the Health Service have to offer her. Obviously, at times, highly scientific and controlled intervention where appropriate – the operation to replace a diseased hip for example – or long term drug therapy that can control a chronic mental condition. But she cannot make the decision as to what intervention might be best for her, or where to get it, without some skilled guidance. It is here that we alight on what could be regarded as the heart of the health service, the general practitioner, a medically-trained and competent individual who is in relationship with his patient. Often this will be a longitudinal relationship that may be spread, albeit sparsely, over many years. This contrasts with the vertical relationship that she might have with a specialist doctor which will last for the short length of time that she is under the care of the latter. That is, of course, quite appropriate.

Add to all this a number – 96%. That is the percentage of all contacts with the NHS that are made with a GP. It is a figure that has changed little over the years and it is all the more surprising when we reflect that in many health care systems in the world there are no GPs at all. It is a huge figure which is almost totally overlooked in debates about our NHS, truly the elephant in the room.

This is not to denigrate the 4% of care that takes place beyond general practice. The fact that so much is done within that figure demonstrates how efficient and effective is that care. Obviously there is some crossover between the two sectors, most Consultants will have relationships with the occasional long-rem patient that could be described as longitudinal but this does not detract from the argument.

And so I come to the crucial point. It is about what doctoring and being a patient is all about. It is expressed in this short statement

‘Health is a value that is created by a doctor and patient working together. ‘

There are some subsidiary clauses to that

  • health cannot be measured but its loss or its increase is always perceived by the patient

  • health is not necessarily dependant on the absence of disease. The dying person can have health

  • this health-creating partnership involves no hierarchy nor exercise of power (by either party). It is two human individuals quietly and privately relating at a deep level.

If we were to accept that this is true (and it is, we just seem to have forgotten it) we would want to place GPs and their patients at the heart of the Health Service, not in the spurious way making them ‘Commissioners’. That is an administrative task which is probably better exercised by a competent manager. No, we should empower, resource the 96% and not burden them with chasing futile targets and the like. Neither should we be doing anything that takes away from the one doctor, one patient structure (as for instance has the change of rules that makes a patient a patient of the practice, not of one doctor in that practice, surely designed to undermine doctor responsibility for any one patient.)

Which brings me to where we disagree. Privatisation. The way that the NHS is going makes, in particular, general practice a ripe target for private providers. It does not require much imagination to see how this could destroy all that is good about the Health Service and which has developed over the past fifty years or so. It would imperil the very activity that I have outlined above. It is inevitable that commercial and business decisions would ease out the personal, humane values that have been part of the health service for so long.

So there it is, two fundamentally different ways of looking at the NHS, yours and mine. I do not suppose I can shift you from your party line but I hope I can make you think. My credentials for all this are that I worked as a GP and a teacher in general practice for twenty-five years up to 1997. These are matters that I have thought about for decades.

With all good wishes

Andrew Chapman

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Another reader comments on Ikon

May I recommend my dad’s second novel, Ikon? Not because my dad wrote it but because it is a GREAT BOOK!

It is a gripping, epic adventure story told in a satisfyingly filmic style. Beyond this it describes how, as early as the 15th Century, Science, Christianity and Islam were not set as three enemies as they are today and moves further to suggest that established religions can hinder a person’s journey to finding a relationship with the spiritual. For people of Faith, Agnostics and Atheists alike this is a positive, exciting read from a true Renaissance man.

Ikon by Andrew Chapman. You can buy it through Amazon or here

Mary Dunn

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Reader responses to Ikon

I have just finished reading “Ikon”. I wanted you to know that I found it a compelling read. Difficult to put down. Not only a very absorbing historical novel, but a wonderful guide to a little known (in the West anyway) form of Christian spirituality.

According to William Dalrymple in his “From the Holy Mountain” Christians and Muslims still share churches in Syria. (Or did until recently).

Fr Michael Morris,

Harbledown, Kent.

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Christian Beginnings – from Nazareth to Nicaea AD30-325

A review

 This is a book which is, in the truest sense, radical. Geza Vermes, an historian of New Testament studies, is recognised as one of the world’s greatest experts on the historical Jesus, Christian beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this book, possibly the last of many that he has written, he turns his attention to the extraordinary journey that started with the charismatic teacher and Jew, Joshua BarJoseph and culminated in the verbal formulation of Jesus as the eternal second person of the Trinity, con-substantial with God the Father himself.

Vermes brings to his work not just a penetrating gaze but also an acerbic wit. The depth of his knowledge of Jewish writings of the period, in particular the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, is unparalleled. It is in the application of these gifts that he is able to dissect and illuminate the early Christian writings showing us that by paring down the over-writing, the glosses and the later additions we can begin to get a picture of a historical Jesus, and what an unfamiliar picture it is. Jesus is seen as a man quite recognisable to the Jews of his time, a charismatic healer, exorcist and teacher, preaching ‘the religion of Moses and the biblical prophets, but a religion adapted for the requirements of the final age.’ It was this final age that he referred to as the Kingdom of God, a state of life in his present age – or at least imminent.

Nowhere is there evidence that Jesus ever thought that he was founding a new religion, let any kind of worldwide church. It is to others that we have to look for such creations.

Vermes’s wide reach of knowledge of the para-Biblical literature enables him to probe that story – or stories as they were. There are three broad stands, the early Judaeo-Christian church in Jerusalem, originally led by Peter who was soon superseded by James, the brother of Jesus. They saw themselves as a reforming sect of Judaism, adopting the charismatic and eschatological stance of Jesus himself. They expected their present age to soon pass and a new age to be ushered in by the return of the dead Jesus, whom they came to identify as the Jewish Messiah. They had no conception of Jesus as a supernatural being, let alone the Son of God. They found themselves in dispute with Paul and the Hellenic church, particularly over the matter of circumcision and the keeping of the Law. In time they became known as the Ebionites (the poor) or Nazarenes (followers of Jesus of Nazareth). Their strand of Christianity probably lasted until the 5th Century AD but then died out.

It is the appearance of Paul on the scene, some time after the death of Jesus, a Pharisee from Tarsus (in Asia Minor) who preached quite a different message. His appeal was to the Greek world, a world which stretched from Asia Minor to the Near East and North Africa. Through all parts of the Roman Empire the lingua franca and the culture was Greek. In the words of another eminent theologian, the late Dennis Nineham “shortly after the death of Jesus, Christianity went west.” Paul preached a Christ (Greek word for Messiah) whose death was atonement for mankind’s original sin (a concept unheard of in Judaism). Whereas both Judaism and the Judaeo-Christian church were primarily concerned with actions, an ethic, Paul’s concern was with belief.  Action was secondary to the cardinal belief in Jesus Christ as redeeming Saviour. For Paul Jesus was the heavenly Son of God, not equal with the Father but only just subservient to him whose death and resurrection would lead to his return in glory in the very near future. Paul has no concern with Jesus the man. Apart from his death and resurrection he has no interest in Jesus’s biography. (There is his account of the Last Supper but there is some doubt as to whether this was interpolated later. Paul’s Greek followers did not seem to practice what we would recognise as an Eucharist.)

The third strand was to lead in the end to the formulation of the Council of Nicaea (the Nicene Creed). It is seen in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel the Gospel of John. This gospel is dated later then the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and Vermes considers that the extraordinary prologue “In the beginning was the Word (logos in Greek) was a later addition to the book. The rest of the Gospel makes no reference to the concepts outlined in the prologue in which Jesus is identified as the pre-existent logos, identified with God (though, perhaps, lesser than God). This is the divine Jesus who became incarnate (Vermes outlines the misapprehension that Jesus’s mother was a virgin; in the Hebrew Bible Isaiah speaks only of ‘a young woman’ and was probably referring to the birth of Hezekiah, an 8th Century BC Jewish king). Jesus is killed but God raises him from the dead and he is returned to sit with the Father until the end of time.

There now follows an extensive review of the patristic literature of the 2nd Century AD – figures such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Origen. All these non-Jewish, Greek speaking scholars were familiar with the concepts of the Greek philosopher, Plato (4thCentury BC) to the extent that they are known as ‘neo-Platonists’. Vermes charts the course of theological discourse that eventually culminated in the Council of Nicaea in AD325. The disputes within the Church were still huge and acrimonious but the Emperor Constantine, who had convened the Council, used his considerable clout to force an agreement. That is what gave the world the Nicene Creed, a doctrinal formulation that still confuses to this day.

At the end of this journey Vermes asks, rather light-heartedly, what the man Jesus would have made of the Council. Perplexed is his conclusion. Vermes suggests that a new ‘reformation’ is called for , ‘zealous to reach back to the pure religious vision and enthusiasm of Jesus, the Jewish charismatic messenger of God and not to the deifying message that Paul, John and the church attributed to him.’

It is challenging to imagine what such a movement (it seems inappropriate to call it a ‘church’) might look like, devoid of supernaturalism and oppressive conceptions of guilt but imbued with an ethic that might bring in what could be called, the Kingdom of God.

Christian Beginnings – from Nazareth to Nicaea AD30-325  by Geza Vermes.
Published in 2012 by Allen Lane ISBN 978-1-846-14150-8

 Andrew Chapman 14 February 2013

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The Black Book

ayia sofiaIn one of those mildly exciting episodes of happenstance I was just finishing The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk – a Turkish author of whom, I am shamed to admit, I knew nothing – when up popped Michael Berkeley with his Private Passions (BBC R3) and his guest was the same Orhan.

What a relief it was for I was both confused and entranced by the book, so to hear the author speak was surely going to clear the mists of incomprehensibility. i was not disappointed.

The novel is set in Istanbul around 1980, a place and time where the East abutted the West, and not only that, where the modern abuts the old, the old Ottoman Empire and before that the Byzantine Empire that disappeared with the collapse of Constantinople in 1453. All these times and places are there, distilled into the couple of weeks of time that the novel traverses.

Galip, a young lawyer has lost both his wife Ruya and his cousin, Ruya’s stepbrother,Celâl. Both have gone missing and Galip is sure that they are together. Celâl has been a columnist on the daily paper for many years and Galip is sure that the mystery of their disappearance lies in those columns. he begins to take on the identity of his cousin to the extent that he starts to write the columns under the missing man’s name.step

The book is, in a way, a collection of short stories, either Celâl’s writings or the narrative of Galip’s search. Understanding that made the book more penetrable. Pamuk’s writing of description and place is intricate, detailed and fascinating. The sense of place is strong throughout. His technique sometimes involves sentences of paragraph length. This takes some getting used to but once I did I could settle into the rhythm of the work.

There is much more to the book than this but that remains for you to discover. It embraces Sufi mysticism, Islam, Hollywood movies and much, much else.

Finshing it feels as if I had conquered a complex and hard Alpine climb. I am left with the feeling that Ihave read something that could be called great. Truly worth reading its resonances will surely last for a long, long time. I nearly gave up on it after fifty pages. I am eternally grateful to the reading ethic which made me persist with this book for I would have never have discovered this master-work.

The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk. (translated by Maureen Freely) faber and faber. £8.99.  ISBN 9780571 225255

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It is soon to be the 10th Anniversary of the London demonstration against the Iraq war. This is what I wrote at the time.


Ten days ago I went on the Stop the War march in London. Me and a disputed number of others ranging from 750,000 to 2 million. In my view well over a million. We started at the Royal Festival Hall, walked down to Blackfriars Bridge and then back down the Embankment. We reached the Embankment tube station after an hour and a half. This was the official starting point of the march and at this point we were told that the head of the march had just reached Hyde Park. We looked across the river and saw that there was still a solid phalanx of people going past the Festival Hall. We knew that another arm of the march was starting from Gower Street so at that point the march must have been some six miles long at the least. Six miles and whole streets wide. There was no question of keeping half the streets open for traffic – the whole of Central London was closed.

That is a huge number of people, almost certainly I shall never again be in such a large aggregation of my fellow human beings. The equivalent, perhaps, of twenty Twickenhams or fifteen Wembleys.

As we walked along, talking, reflecting, occasionally chanting (though it was really quite difficult for the cheerleaders to get us polite middle-Englanders into voice), the mood was surprisingly subdued. And then we heard it. The Roar.

From way behind us we heard it, quiet at first but then in a steady crescendo as it rolled down the march towards us. It came upon us like a vast auditory Mexican wave. When it hit us intuitively we waved banners, hats and shouted. Not slogans, not chants, no “Tony, Tony, Tony, out, out, out!” just a shout which melded into the great roar.

Within a few seconds it was past us. It was if the Severn Bore had passed over the march. In its wake, once more, we were quiet. The roar had touched us and passed on.

I have heard other roars. In Grosvenor Square in October 1968 there was a huge roar but that was a roar of anger – anger at a futile but vicious war, anger at the trampling police horses and flailing truncheons. This roar was not like that. At the time it was difficult to see what it was about. Every quarter of an hour or so it returned, sometimes from the rear, sometimes from the front. It must have been sweeping back and forth along the six miles leaving no-one in any doubt that something was being said.

It is only later that I can reflect and puzzle out why I was walking down those London streets, shouting and cheering. Yes, to stop an unjustified war was the clear motivation but the roar was also telling a different message – or, indeed, many messages from the very many people there.

Perhaps the roar was for the sense of powerlessness. It had some features of a primal scream (coming from deep down, inarticulate, relieving) but it was not about personal injury. We roared for a world where two-thirds of its people live in poverty. We roared for the 3,500 people who died of hunger on September 11, 2002 – and every day thereafter. We roared for society – our society – which was changing in ways we deeply oppose. Where basic constituents such as health and education are seen as ways of enriching the few at the expense of oceans of debt accrued by young people, by hospital trusts. We roared against the destruction of our planet by the rich and powerful, at the tearing up of even the most tame of environmental agreements. We roared at a globalising world that does not share resources globally but uses globalisation to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. We roared against an economic system that turns us all, each and every one of us, into consumers, valued only for what we can be persuaded to spend and thus deprived of our own humanity – our relationships, communities, cultures, loves and hopes.

All this and much, much more fuelled that Roar. We do not know what effect the day will have but we do know that on February 15, 2003 the people of this world of ours roared.



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Reds under the bed

I can remember the time (around the age of 14) that I turned up at the familial dinner table wearing a CND badge. My parents were horrified, you would have thought that I had just returned from storming the Bastille or besieging the Winter Palace. To them it was clear evidence that I had irrevocably changed, no longer the compliant little boy who would read The Daily Telegraph, no I had metamorphosed into a pimply revolutionary, prepared to hurl down the bastions of society as they knew it.

All for one cheap, tinny CND badge.

In the subsequent acrimonious discussions I was particularly hurt by this. “You wait, when you grow up and have to earn a living your ideas will change.” Indeed it seemed to be a general assumption that young people might be Left Wing but, as they matured they would drift towards the Right. There was probably some truth in this. Most of my contemporaries are of the Daily Mail – golf playing set. I have lived in a constituency that for all my forty years of residence has never failed to return a Conservative MP. My greatest fear is that in the future this might even be UKIP member (United Kingdom Independence Party – purveyors of total bollocks).

So perhaps there is a built-in, age related ideological shift. When I was a student in London there was an array of leftist organisations to which I was attracted, my favourite was called Manifesto, they appeared to be engagingly radical without being hard-lined, doctrinaire socialist or communist. In retrospect I suspect I was more taken with the ambiance than with the dialectic. Left wing medical students were rare (one of my fellow-students always wore a pin-stripe suit on all occasions. Inevitably he ended up as a Harley Street cardiologist, unlikely to shake the bastions of power and privilege from there.)

I did have a flatmate, a dental student, who was a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. They were to the left wing what the Wee Frees are to the Protestant church, unable to speak to any of their fellow organisations because in Marxist (in the case of the Wee Frees, biblical) terms they were impure. After he qualified I lost touch with him only to hear, five years later, that he had set up a string of dental practices in South London, staffed them all with Australian imports and was sitting back collecting the profit without ever having to lift a drill in anger. Here was one of the most extreme of Rightwards shift that I have ever come across.

As for me I started work in the NHS and waited for my conversion to come. Rather surprisingly it didn’t. I moved into general practice, an environment where most of my colleagues were either actively or passively right wing. Perhaps my natural inclination to swim against the tide kept me left-inclined. The grass-roots nature of the work reinforced that. Still, I thought my parents’ prediction would eventually triumph.

So here I am now, nearly three score years and ten, meant to be wise and conventional and what do I find? I’m not.

No. It has not happened. In many ways I am more left-wing than I ever was. I suppose I mean I am anti-capitalist, egalitarian and anti-establishment. I can identify at least two influences that may have brought this about. One is that I have been a regular reader of The New Internationalist for many years. This is a journal that publishes material that you rarely read in the main stream media. In the extreme it is a kind of antidote to The Daily Mail (not that I ever read the latter, I will admit.)

The second is a form of radical Christianity – actually hair raisingly radical – which feels much like those heady days of student left-wing politics. All bets are off, the ethic is built again from the base.

So I am enraged to read that 93% of the gains of the 2009-10 US economic recovery went to the top 1% of income groups, that women in the Church of England are denied equality with men, that gay clergy are expected to be celibate whereas their straight colleagues have no such strictures visited upon them.

I despair at a globalising world that does not share resources globally but uses globalisation to keep the rich rich and the poor poor; at an economic system that turns us all, each and every one of us, into consumers, valued only for what we can be persuaded to spend and thus deprived of our own humanity – our relationships, communities, cultures, loves and hopes.

No, it hasn’t happened. The drift to the right seems to have missed me. But maybe I shall undergo a deathbed conversion and join the UKIP. I had better dig out my old CND badge, a talisman to prevent such a sophistical tergiversation.

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The morality of rice pudding

Now here’s a question. Do you always finish a book? Do you ever experience that moment, a few chapters in, when you ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”. The words are marching past your gaze but nothing much is going in. Is that the point when the crunch decision comes, do I give up on this book?

My son-in-law (well, one of them) finishes less than fifty per cent of the books that he starts. I admire him. He has no time to waste on a project which he is a) not enjoying or b) finds of no value.

For me, being an early baby-boomer, finishing something up, be it unpalatable food like rice pudding or boring Noddy stories, assumed massive moral implications. Consequently I find it hard to abandon a tome at the crisis point referred to above. No, I plough on, carving out the stolid unyielding text (much like the rice pudding) to find some substance, some coherence.

And sometimes it works. At the moment I am nearly halfway through Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book. It took me chapters of elaborate description and strange characters to begin to get any sense of what is going on. I was very, dangerously close to going against the grain and abandoning. I rather fancy that many others would have already thrown in the towel; but no, I persisted and I find that it has grown on me. I recognise that each chapter is its own entity, in a sense the book is a collection of short stories. The sense of place (Istanbul) is now becoming more powerful and I am beginning to discern what on earth it is that is going on. I now pick up the book with enthusiasm, taking it at a chapter at a time and curbing my pernicious habit of continually calculating how many pages I have left to reach the conclusion.

All this would have been lost to me if I was an early abandoner. On the other hand I would have sooner been able to raid my pile of new novels accumulated over Christmas. They remain an anticipation of delight for when Orhan and I have reached the end of the line, a sweet prospect only slightly marred by the thought that I may be fighting off abandoning them in the way that I have struggled with The Black Book.

Just as the Church of England needs to recognise that sex (and rice pudding) is not a moral issue so must we accept that reading is not a moral issue. You read, you don’t read – it’s your choice.

Orhan Pamuk The Black Book.


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