Holiday? Not really…

Tuesday 14 March 2017 by matt

A holiday is a period of relaxation and possibly hedonism.  For me this is most easily achieved in familiar surroundings where there are few surprises - at home, perhaps - and certainly not by visiting foreign lands for the first time.  Journeying abroad to new places is therefore travelling or making a trip, and rarely occurs without the intent to meet family or friends, or take part in some particular occasion.

It is always good on such trips to learn about the place visited from the point of view of a local, and especially easy if staying with one.  On the most recent trip I’ve undertaken, however, learning about the place was the main intent, though as one of a coachload of others on an organised tour there would be little obvious chance to see it through locals’ eyes.  Below is my rather rambling and purely personal reflection on this trip which, while hardly following a pleasure-seeker’s itinerary, certainly boasted comfortable accommodation, genuine hospitality and sociable companions.

The lands concerned were Israel, Occupied Palestine, and Jordan, and the tour was correctly billed as a pilgrimage - a journey towards the sources of one’s beliefs.

I approached it anticipating two sorts of learning - primarily about events and circumstances in those lands in Biblical times, but also about present events and circumstances in those lands.  The party was fortunate to be accompanied by two experts.  Our clerical guide was a senior Anglican working and frequently travelling in the Middle East, a region about which he is hugely knowledgeable, and in regular contact with many faith leaders there.  Our local guide, a Melchite Catholic born in Jordan, with Israeli citizenship and living in Jerusalem, gave convincing interpretations of contextual detail to aid understanding of cultural references in Bible accounts, as well as filling in background on the complex situation for people today as we travelled through Israeli and Occupied Palestinian territory.  So in spite of not staying in locals’ houses, we were able to gain a little contemporary insight.

Further contemporary insight came from three particular visits in Occupied Palestine - to the Jeel al-Amal Primary school and boys’ home started by a Palestinian Christian family in Bethany, to the hospital run by the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, and to the Women in Hebron Cooperative.  The visits all followed the universal pattern of a welcome talk by someone from the institution, a brief tour of the facilities, and an opportunity to buy craft products made by or for the benefit of the members.  The school dining hall and dormitories were clean and bright, the hospital was busily but calmly serving its queues of patients, and the Cooperative was staffed by cheerful and hard-working women.  However, we were told that the boys’ home accommodated many from broken homes who would otherwise easily fall into serious trouble with the occupying authorities, the hospital meeting room displayed histories of several cases treated there of apparently wanton injuries caused to youngsters by occupying soldiers, and the lunchtime hospitality of the Cooperative was remarkable given its location in what felt like a recent war zone.  The central souk area of Hebron was almost lifeless - a handful of traders were clinging on, some resignedly, others more desperately.  Our Cooperative contact explained that as soon as an Israeli settler moves into a house, existing residents around it are turfed out to create a cordon sanitaire which the Israeli army then guards, installing observation posts and checkpoints.  The effect mimics a tumour, slowly growing and colonising space previously settled by established communities, whose inevitable fate is eventual strangulation.  Several members of the coach party were visibly shocked at what they saw and heard, and will have taken back to their home countries clear images of the difficulties being created where two communities live separately in ignorance and fear instead of sharing their common humanity.

These difficulties are invariably more concentrated at the boundaries.  I suspect our coach routes were planned to minimise overall travel time, and our crossing points across the separation wall selected accordingly.  The checkpoint delays we encountered were mostly trivial - no worse than stopping to pay a bridge toll.  However at one, where we passed from Israel into Occupied Palestine, the queue in the other direction was hundreds of metres long.  Re-entering Israel, the coach was boarded and our passports and visa cards carefully checked by a girl soldier in a formal, but perfectly friendly, manner.  Out of the window could be seen a car driver, the boot packed with trays of canned soft drinks, having to unload its entire contents.  The two soldiers were, again, friendly enough to make an attempt at helping to repack the driver’s goods, but looked pretty bored.  Bored soldiers are potentially dangerous to anyone within their range.

Other parts of Occupied Palestine felt more relaxed.  Israeli guards at their posts outside the gates and within the precincts of Old Jerusalem idled their time away drinking coffee.  However, in answer to a question from one of our number the local guide was emphatic:  “Action?  If you want to see some action, just throw a stone in their direction!”.  It might have been comparable to Northern Ireland during the Troubles - though I was never there then.

Away from present-day hassles, it seemed that we were never far from a church built on or over a site of Biblical significance.  I don’t think these edifices made much impression either way on whatever faith I may have, but seeing and experiencing the unchanged terrain, geography, climate and relative proximity of places in which familiar stories are set added an enormous context to the bald narratives, and has certainly altered my perspective on them.  Similarly, small descriptive details, such the characterisation of Caesarea Philippi as “the Las Vegas of first century Galilee”, supplied by our local guide provided an interesting slant which has added notable colour to my understanding.

There was undoubtedly a heighted intensity to hearing Biblical accounts of events read out while standing in the places in which they occurred, whether ‘traditionally’ or as a conclusion of documentary historical evidence.  It was also moving to celebrate communion in several significant locations, though for me the Anglican roots of our observances there also highlighted the congruence in my mind between many styles of Christian liturgy and worship and the popular image of hierarchical pre-Christian priesthood.  In my view such liturgies obscure the simpler idea of sharing bread and wine as a way of symbolising adherence to certain important shared beliefs and values.

To help regain a lighter balance during such serious pilgriming, some individual hedonistic relaxation was nevertheless incorporated.  Watching over each other in slightly unfamiliar surroundings, my better half and I took it in turns to swim, first at Tiberias in the cold Sea of Galilee after the thin surface sheen of unknown provenance had been broken up by a strong breeze, and later at Sweimeh in the Dead Sea, where sharp rocks at the edge made suitable footwear as important as swimwear.  Both of these aquatic excursions were enjoyable, possibly more so after rather than during the event.

During time spent in Old Jerusalem and in Petra, both easily justified their reputations as not-to-be-missed.  The streets of Old Jerusalem narrow into alleys, then tunnels, and could in parts almost seem like sewers if they were not kept clean with the aid of miniature buzzing refuse tractors.  Then they open out to a small square and become instead strangely reminiscent of the end of a Cambridge college corridor opening out to a court.  In Petra, it’s a long hike through the Siq, along the colonnaded street, up the steps to Ad Deir monastery and beyond to the two magnificent summit viewpoints over the valley to the west.  One of my few regrets is that I did not take the opportunity to sip tea with the Bedouins there brewing up, but the journey back included camel and horse rides which will have to do - until next time.

Both sites, plus Jerash and Herodion, are historical examples of the tremendous talent for construction which was clearly available in the area two thousand years ago.  The water cisterns and water management systems, tunnels and defensive works, huge theatres and temples, and streets with built-in drainage, all endure as a record of ambitious and successful projects.  No doubt many died during such works, but the evidence of knowledge and skill on the part of designers and engineers is undeniable.  Audacious infrastructure projects, harnessing the knowledge and skills of contemporary designers and engineers, are also taking place in the region today - what a pity so many of them are so ugly in both appearance and intent!

Rising at 3am for the final coach journey, to the airport, seemed fully in keeping with the busy schedule of the previous days.  And another reason why I label this memorable outing, with a good measure of high-living and many excellent chances for learning, as a trip, not merely a holiday.

Article 50 (continued)

Sunday 12 March 2017 by matt

Rt Hon Mr Philip Hammond
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear Mr Hammond,

ARTICLE 50

Thank you for your broad response, dated 27 February, to my letter regarding the need to deny triggering Article 50.

From my perspective the many assurances you have repeated, about the government seeking this, pursuing that, and working to or expecting or wanting the other wonderful outcome to the many serious challenges which triggering Article 50 would precipitate, are more empty promises. They are implausible given our starting point, and not backed up with any hint of a planned approach to achieve delivery.

The non-binding referendum which created this mess was established as a result of one of several cavalier manifesto commitments by your predecessors. You have already, recently, happily ignored another of these, and I therefore urge you to act to limit the massive damage which will otherwise be caused by the fallout of this one.

Since you have not given any reason to have altered your own good judgement prior to the referendum, that the best way to safeguard the UK’s influence, security and prosperity is to remain in the EU, the least I can now ask is that you give your support to the two amendments currently proposed to the EU (notification of withdrawal) bill:

  • to require the approval of both Houses of Parliament before any agreement with the EU on the terms of UK withdrawal can be concluded; and
  • to ensure that EU citizens legally resident in the UK maintain their existing rights.

Adoption of these amendments will help to reinforce the sovereignty of our Parliament, and to establish the UK as a fair and generous friend and neighbour as we enter negotiations which have the potential to impoverish all your constituents and many more.

Yours sincerely

Matt Sendorek

“Doing the right thing is not always easy – but it is always right!”

Article 50

Sunday 29 January 2017 by matt

Rt Hon Mr Philip Hammond
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear Sir,

ARTICLE 50

Every time I sit down to write a reasoned account for you, as my MP, of my view on this important current matter, some new development occurs which bears strongly on my argument, and I have to re-write it. This has gone on too long, so I will therefore now simply state my settled opinion:

You should use your vote in Parliament to deny triggering Article 50.

Prior to the June 2016 referendum you were quoted as saying:

“As an historic sceptic about the EU, I believe that, on balance, the benefits of the single market with the deal we have got and the unique terms of membership now offered to the UK, mean that we will be safer, stronger and better off if we remain in the EU. So to those who care passionately about Britain’s influence in the world, I say that our voice will be louder and more persuasive if the United Kingdom votes to remain on June 23.”

On the Sunday immediately after the referendum, 26 June, on the TV programme Peston on Sunday, you said:

“I believe that it is essential that we protect our access to the Single European Market. Whether we like it or not, our economy over 40 years has become shaped by that access, and to lose that access now would be catastrophic.”

Yet here you are helping to lead the headlong charge towards leaving the EU and the Single European Market! You are teamed up with other people you believe, on balance, are pursuing a catastrophic course to make the UK less safe, weaker and worse off, and make Britain’s voice quieter and less persuasive in the world!

Before the referendum I was equally supportive of remaining in the EU – while also not considering it the perfect institution. I voted to remain in the EU. I still believe the UK will be safer, stronger and better off if we remain in the EU. The only things since then which have changed (Mr Trump’s election, among others) have served to reinforce my view.

You will be well aware that the referendum is not legally binding (see Commons Briefing paper CBP-7591, 17 May 2016), and that its result is not, legally, the will of the people (see quotes from AV Dicey quoted in the High Court judgement, 3 Nov 2016). You will also be familiar with the well-known Burke and Churchill quotes on an MP’s duty to use his good judgement, and the MPs’ Code of Conduct which confirms that “Members have a general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole”.

It was of course supremely foolish of Parliament to allow a simple majority to decide a fundamental constitutional issue, but it would be madness now to relinquish the chance to fix this massive error.

I therefore hold you honour-bound to follow what your original faithful and disinterested judgement led you to believe, and to safeguard the United Kingdom and the interests of its public and your constituents by objecting to the bill authorising notification of our intention to withdraw from the EU.

This prominent notice in the corridor of a Primary school in your constituency at which I volunteer is clear on the behaviour expected of its readers and leaders:

“Doing the right thing is not always easy – but it is always right!”.

If you do what you know to be the right thing on this occasion I will vote for you at the next Runnymede parliamentary election. If not, you will suffer the ignominy of having it drawn to your attention ever afterwards that you voted for what you knew perfectly well to be “catastrophic” for our nation’s interests.

Yours faithfully

Matt Sendorek

PJ Harvey in Brixton - 31 Oct 2016

Tuesday 1 November 2016 by matt

In Brixton last night, PJ Harvey let her work speak for itself.  No distracting light show, just warm and cold whites to highlight the black-clad musicians - no diverting chit-chat between numbers, just the names of the band and thanks at the conclusion - no pre-show muzak, just the buzz of anticipation from those gathered and waiting.  All was focused on the songs, the whole band of ten musicians combining forceful percussion, asymmetric rhythms and riffs, and reverberant chords to generate an enveloping atmosphere.  The simple unrelieved blockwork backdrop, raised during the first number, complemented the layers of sound and against all this as a base PJ Harvey delivered her phrases and chants in sharp, direct vocals.

The show presented as a unified whole, from the entire band marching on with drums to the final choreographed bow and exit.  Wearing a crest of black feathers which accentuated her head movements it was easy to see PJ Harvey as a big bird, or a tribal dancer channelling big birdness, as she responded to the music, also often echoing tribal dancing, and imagery of the lyrics.  With dignity and grace she expressed herself sufficiently clearly to be effective for all those in the auditorium close enough or tall enough to see.

PJ Harvey Brixton Oct 2016

The overall experience was indeed an experience, and a powerful one.  The content had been assembled from laments and reflections inspired by visits to places recently or historically ravaged by war, and recorded as part of the albums The Hope Six Demolition Project and Let England Shake, plus a few older favourites.   This sounds inordinately depressing, but was not - it is satisfying to hear an argument well-put, even around depressing events or topics.  Between numbers band members moved quietly to their next instruments while what sounded to me like various avant-garde interludes played out, connecting the numbers and preserving attention.  During the last number the backdrop slid down again to signal the coming end of the show, for the whole of which PJ Harvey was totally in control, setting the mood and maintaining an intense focus on the images she was rendering.  Though not normally my choice to stand throughout, it seemed strangely appropriate that a small extra physical commitment was demanded in return for being in the audience at such a commanding performance.

Summer coding 2016

Wednesday 31 August 2016 by matt

In early June I responded to a @codeclublondon tweet asking for volunteers who were STEM Ambassadors to help with a summer coding camp.

This turned out to be a series of three all-day events called Digital Nurture Coding Club run by TechMaids at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and I took part in all three.  These notes are from my own point of view as a helper, and intended mostly as an aide-memoire of personal STEM activities.

Event One

The first event was on Thursday 28 July 2016.  It was open to children from 11am to 3pm and three separate activities were available:  Makey-makey, controlling LEDS with an Arduino, and mine, controlling devices with Raspberry Pi.  One adult, including me, was running each activity and there were a further two adults available in the room.

About nine children, mostly of Primary age, attended, including two girls.  Event arrangements were kept quite informal and, from my perspective, more like a Raspberry Jam, with free flow of people and demonstration/explanation of kit and coding - in a regular Code Club the aim is that everyone works on a small code-based project.  My robotic arm, driven via Scratch and Python on an original 2012 Raspberry Pi Model B, generated the usual interest, and I was also able to show some simple coding experiments using my new Raspberry Pi 3 with a ProHAT to turn LEDs on and off, and of course build traffic lights.

With just two Raspberry Pis, I wasn’t really geared up to let the children get independently hands-on with actual coding, but I reckon my demos should at least have helped to broaden their outlook.

Event Two

The second, similar, event was held two weeks later, on Thursday 11 August.

A problem with the first event had been that the local wifi service would not comfortably support multiple laptops accessing the internet, and some children had therefore found difficulty in using online Scratch.  I solved this for the second event by installing offline Scratch, which enabled several children to make good progress with Code Club and CoderDojo projects.  Other activities on offer were Makey-makey, and, as ever, my Raspberry Pi-controlled robotic arm.

Before lunch there were seven boys, again mostly of Primary age, attending and three active adults (including me) plus two student helpers, and quite a studious atmosphere.  At lunchtime it seemed a small group visiting the Museum had discovered the event and joined for the afternoon, boosting the number of children to around twenty and creating a much busier and buzzier vibe.

There were also Picoboards available, with drivers installed on four laptops, and I showed one of the children how to make use of it.  However, a planned project to make a drum kit proved unsuitable as the laptop sound volume was not enough to be audible over so much other activity.  At closing time many children were asking to continue a little longer - always a good sign!

Event Three

The third, and last, event for 2016 was a further two weeks later, on Thursday 25 August.

Activities this time included offline Scratch, Makey-makey, interactive web development using Javascript, and in the afternoon also my Raspberry Pi-controlled robotic arm and a SenseHAT programmed via Scratch, although there were only three adults, including me, available to demonstrate and assist.  There were seven children at the start, including four boys who spent the whole morning together each developing their own versions of a Scratch project based on Code Club’s Boat Maze.

After lunch they played each other’s games, and evaluated what they liked and what could be improved.

Two girls joined after lunch and started the Boat Maze activity but didn’t have time to finish it.  Following last time’s sound volume problem, I had brought an amplifier to help boost levels for the Picoboard/laptop combination, but in the event the Raspberry Pi activities, including writing your own scrolling message in Scratch for the SenseHAT, provided enough interest and the Picoboards were not used.

Reflection

I enjoyed all three sessions in different ways and enjoyed being prompted to try a few new things myself (Picoboard, Scratch on SenseHAT).  The lessons, mostly obvious, I would draw from the experience are:

- it is necessary to be pretty flexible in arranging and assigning activities when the number and likely abilities of children attending are not known in advance

- it is useful to have a starting activity available which can help to gauge the ability of each child

- it is safer not to rely on local wifi if offline options can be provided

- it is good to let children continue as long as they find an activity interesting and are happily engaged

- it can be useful to have some sort of written activity sheets available so that children can try to make progress themselves without needing immediate intervention

- it is always good if the children have something, however small, they have created to enthusiastically show their parents at the end!

Land Registry proposals

Saturday 28 May 2016 by matt

Rt Hon Mr Philip Hammond
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Dear Sir,

LAND REGISTRY PROPOSALS

I write to inform you, as my MP, of my view regarding current proposals affecting the Land Registry. I have just returned my response to the Consultation on moving Land Registry operations to the private sector issued on 24 March, but some points were not covered by the questions so I have made them below.

Selling off the Land Registry, a public asset, would be detrimental to our national interest.

One of the fundamental duties of our government, after defending our security, is to promote democracy, the rule of law, and individual liberty. These values are indeed explicitly endorsed as ‘British values’, and required to be passed on to future generations at school.

As a public asset, the Land Registry is key to all three parts. Democracy is only effective with an informed citizenry, and the Land Registry safeguards our ability to keep ourselves informed about land ownership, probably the greatest single source of wealth and power amongst individuals and enterprises in England and Wales. The rule of law is likewise dependent on access to authoritative information about the legal status of property and its ownership. There can by definition be only one such authoritative source, and it would be a dereliction of duty on the part of the government to fail to maintain firm control over such a foundation of our communities. Individual liberty should include the freedom to seek details about ownership of neighbouring properties. Exercising individual rights will only be hindered if this ability is in any way compromised.

The announcement on 24 March from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills claims that “The preferred model being proposed is … a contract between government and a private operator … with key safeguards … being maintained”. However, the performance of other privatised functions suggests that such safeguards will eventually be avoided, evaded or whittled away in the name of operating efficiency, the harmless-sounding terminology often used to obscure profit extraction.

With interest rates at historic lows, it should not be a priority to “pay down debt” as also claimed by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in justification of the proposal. The alternative suggested reason, to “enable other investment for the benefit of taxpayers” is an equally unlikely outcome judging by the recent record of the Cabinet Office, as uncovered by the National Audit Office, in similar circumstances.

There is neither need nor justification for the proposed change to Land Registry status. Such interference with a satisfactorily functioning public agency is either a form of state vandalism or an attempt to extract short-term cash and would in both cases amount to irrational disruption.

It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it!

It is an important component of the national administrative machine whose sale would simply incur longer-term expense to remedy.

In my opinion, should this consultation result in a proposal to implement the stated preferred option (privatisation with contract), it will simply demonstrate that the government is letting ideology and short-term opportunism override its duty to safeguard the longer-term national interest. I urge you to act in whatever way you are able to influence your colleagues accordingly and avert such a mistake.

Yours faithfully

Matt Sendorek

A worthwhile weekend

Monday 18 April 2016 by matt

I know this piece is full of glib cliches, so apologise in advance for unoriginality.  It nevertheless records my sentiments as faithfully as I’ve been able.

My enjoyment this last weekend was amply supplied by a special backstage pass for the 2016 Concert for Lilly.  The deal included the privilege of doing the “turn off your phones please” announcement, and indeed meant being shackled to a laptop in the wings for the duration of the show, and rehearsals, trying to click the right button at the right time to display the intended visuals on the large screen which formed part of the stage backdrop.  For me, it was a good deal.

The annual Concert for Lilly raises funds for the Lilly Uganda orphanage, a project founded by two sisters from a family at our church to house and educate abandoned children in Kampala.  The concert features musical contributions of different styles from a variety of performers, all of whom seem to have been infected with the quiet but doubtless determined enthusiasm of the founders.  They produce a professional show, aided by top-notch sound and lighting direction using the Magna Carta Arts Centre facilities.  My ancillary contribution should be foolproof, but not when a piece of paper finds its way under the mouse at the key curtain-up moment and hinders triggering the opening video.  I’m rather cross I didn’t see that coming, but then who still uses a mouse these days?

My view of the show from the wings means an occasionally unbalanced sound and no idea how the audience actually saw it, but offers a (by definition) unique perspective on each performance.  The range of talent known to or unearthed by these sisters among their family, friends and acquaintances is extraordinary, and the result was a tremendous evening, being both intimate and full-on.  It’s good to see that folk who appeared in the event years ago have continued to take their music seriously, moving onward and upward - watch out for the first single by Sophie and The Giants this week!  Whether original work or cover version, live music is unbeatable, and the cause in which this concert was produced only enhanced the sense of its worth.

75% of Acapella, plus Mr Accompanist

Good Prospects bassist goes walkabout

Sophie and (one of) The Giants - check out their single!

The concert raised over £3,250.

Land of Hope and Glory?

Thursday 18 February 2016 by matt

Rt Hon Mr Philip Hammond
House of Commons
London  SW1A 0AA

Dear Sir,

LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY?

Earlier this month I enjoyed a local People’s Prom concert, including the traditional Last Night music.

As I sang Land of Hope and Glory I wondered how it might be perceived by those who had not grown up here, including in particular a very talented young pianist who had entertained us.  I decided that with minimal poetic licence in interpretation it should be perfectly possible for anyone now living here who shared a British outlook to appreciate and endorse its sentiments.

Then today I read the news.

Land of hope and glory
A 92-year-old widow hopes to spend the end of her days with her only child, in Britain - the Home Office glories in ordering her to turn up at Heathrow for deportation.

Mother of the free
She was born under the British flag in 1924, and her father fought for Britain in World War I.

How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Why would any free Briton extol such callous behaviour?

Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set
Not wide enough to support the flesh-and-blood family of a Briton

God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!
No God made us mighty so that we could choose to deport elderly widows, and no God will make us mightier if we mistake law for justice.

We British are easily creative enough to find reasons to override this clearly erroneous decision.  I trust that, as my Member of Parliament, you will do whatever is within your power to ensure that it remains unimplemented before being permanently cancelled.  If not, I shall forever be reminded of such maladministration when I have the chance to hear or sing Land of Hope and Glory.

Yours faithfully

Matt Sendorek

Good horn, good brakes, good luck!

Wednesday 27 January 2016 by matt

Good horn, good brakes, good luck!  The three essentials for a successful journey by car on India’s roads were repeated to us in Kochi, Mumbai and Delhi, by taxi drivers who certainly possessed the first and last attributes, so the combination must perhaps be considered a form of Universal Truth in that country.

We travelled to India just after Christmas with a firm purpose - to attend the wedding of our fellow Choir member Titu.  You may remember his arrival at Staines Methodist Church, a contractor who had recently started working in offices on The Causeway, just as our production of his namesake Joseph (October 2011) was in full swing.  He sang with us and entertained us with Christian music from Kerala, some familiar and some not, but moved on as he discovered other choirs operating at a level more suited to his talents.  Then in July last year he revealed his marriage plans and we thought - “Why not?”.

Feeling quite adventurous, we managed to get ourselves as far as the airport hotel in Kochi, where we crashed out for the day in compensation for our overnight stay in the Delhi airport terminal waiting for our onward flight.  Our first taxi ride, a gentle introduction, brought us, two hours later, to Titu’s home near Kudayathoor.  The pleasure - and relief! - of seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar country was intense!  We met other, younger, friends of Titu from the southwest of London - Adam, Jo, Jahed, Richard and Kim - and also his Mum, aunt and brother Teddy, who royally and graciously entertained us with meals, delicacies and endless chai.

With just two days to go before the ceremony Titu seemed surprisingly relaxed, as preparations, including photocopying of choir music and arrangements for the groom’s grooming, gradually progressed around him.  Being New Year’s Eve we joined a watchnight service at his local church, inadvertently committing several protocol errors in the process - not observing the left/right men/women split, not removing shoes to receive communion and not wearing a head covering (ladies only) to receive communion.  However, these infractions passed unchallenged at the time, perhaps through our perseverance in listening to over two hours speaking and (enthusiastic!) singing entirely in Malayalam, which is also written in a non-Latin script.  In the Indian state with the highest rate of adult literacy, we were effectively illiterate.

Returning from the church, we celebrated 2016 in India with an inspection of progress at the new family home Titu is building, singing Away in a manger and Abide with me in perfect four-part harmony and eating ginger cake provided by his Mum.  Ominously, we then found the gates of our accommodation, a lakeside resort, were shut! - fortunately Jo, one of the younger friends, quickly scaled the back fence and let us in.  The first sleep of the New Year followed quickly, though Trafalgar Square, over seventy degrees to the west, was still waiting to hear Big Ben mark the start of London’s 2016.

On New Year’s Day, the eve of the wedding, we joined a late afternoon ceremony at the as-yet-uncompleted new house, where the local priest blessed Titu on his last night of bachelorhood.  Some hours away, Crystal, his bride, was being offered a corresponding blessing at her family home.  The evening at Titu’s continued with yet more food and choir practice late into the night, once some extra singers had arrived from Chennai.

Adam. responsible for playing the organ and leading the choir, needed a little rehearsal time in situ, so we left our accommodation next morning at 7am for the two-hour taxi ride to Kottayam.  Our driver was determined not to waste a moment and weaved deftly around potholes, spotted invisible gaps in the oncoming traffic in which to overtake, and bipped his horn at every opportunity to announce his intention never to stop.  His style was too much for one of our Chennai friends, trying to rehearse a Stanford motet as we travelled, and we had to break and allow her the front passenger seat to recover.  Of course, when we got to Holy Trinity CSI Cathedral Church, it was not yet open…

…but a limited amount of choir practice was eventually possible, once the organ manuals had been explored and its stops suitably configured.  Soon after the appointed time, the service was under way.  With the exception of one Psalm, sung in Malayalam, the liturgy, hymns and address were all in English and entirely recognisable, though performed under Christmas decorations and with plenty of still and video cameramen prominently in evidence.  Howard Goodall’s Love divine by the choir seemed to go well, as did Bob Chilcott’s Irish blessing.  As I recall, getting married can be quite a shock, and Crystal and Titu both looked alternately happy and suitably bewildered as they walked together down the aisle.

The reception, nearby, included a buffet catering for several hundred guests in each of two sittings.  There were no speeches, but a heavily decorated stage, attended by the camera crews and lighting chappies, was the set for endless photographs of the newly-weds with various permutations of guests.  This was a most sensible use of time - no need to hang around getting hungrier while the photographer fiddles.  Instead, let the picture-taking antics entertain those eating!

Two more hours in the taxi to get back, and we were getting quite used to the potential over-stimulation every road journey provided.  Now it was time for the blessing of the couple arriving at their new, still as-yet-unfinished, family home.

We were privileged to  be present and watched as the two were formally introduced to their new in-laws, and ceremonially fed each other.

We almost certainly (the various celebrations blur a little at this distance) contributed another beautiful rendition of Abide with me, a family favourite.  In the evening at our resort there was a second reception, for local friends and family associates, with more buffet food and another stage dressed for photos.  This time, however, a little karaoke was added to the mix as Adam sang Tom Jones’ The green, green grass of home in a fine baritone, accompanied on his iPhone (via the PA).

At the end of a long day, the English contingent clubbed together and arranged a room overnight at the resort for the bridal couple - more homely, we hoped, than the unfinished house.

Sunday morning started slowly but the day got going later when we had another hour’s drive to Kolenchery for the engagement party of a relation.  More buffet, more stage, more photos, and more beautiful and colourful saris.  Goodbyes were difficult after such an intense and happy long weekend but we managed to arrange a partial reunion in Kochi a week later and of course look forward to welcoming Titu and Crystal in Staines just as soon as both are here.  We wish them both the very best of good luck, trusting that, on English roads, good brakes are quite assured and a good horn quite unnecessary!

Syria

Tuesday 1 December 2015 by matt

Rt Hon Mr Philip Hammond
House of Commons
London  SW1A 0AA

Dear Sir,

SYRIA

As my Member of Parliament, I would like you to be aware of my view before casting your vote on any parliamentary motion on bombing in Syria.

ISIS/Daesh is evil and must, eventually, be wiped out.  Unfortunately, it exists in jihadi heads, both throughout the Middle East and closer to home.  Wiping out a part of it will merely encourage growth elsewhere.  Even with an all-out ground assault on Syrian territory, this would be an uncertain mission.  Simply adding a few UK bombs to the tally being delivered by other nations’ air forces is guaranteed to make no material difference to the outcome.

We should certainly support our allies.  When their actions are futile or counter-productive, we should unambiguously advise them so.  We need to find, with them, ways to build an ordered Syrian state, meanwhile cutting off ISIS/Daesh resources, containing their territory, and safeguarding our own with vigilance.

We should continue to set a good example by respecting international law, and observing national borders.  As I understand, current UK intervention in Iraq is in response to an explicit request for support from its government, whereas no such request has come from Syria.

I firmly believe that the decision eventually made should reflect our long-term interests for stability in the area and not simply fulfil some immediate, wild desire to appear strong by wielding force.

Yours faithfully

Matt Sendorek