Fighting ships tour (3)

I last saw the Mary Rose museum in the 1980s.  The ship was being preserved, the museum was good but the building was pretty grim.  Going back has been a bucket list item for me.  The museum is absolutely outstanding.  The stated intent is that it be a memorial to the 500 or so men who lost their lives.  That puts it in a different light somehow.  35 men escaped with their lives, all the rest of the crew, the soldiers and officers drowned – the ship was rigged with netting and this hindered their escape.  That’s about the size of our church I guess.  I wonder what a memorial to the lives and accoutrements of our members would look like.

As I go round the museum, it hits me powerfully and very obviously given the huge quantities of recovered “stuff” that everything is crafted, it all uses natural materials – or simply manufactured ones – wood, horn, textiles of wool and leather, metal objects of pewter, iron and bronze.  There’s no plastic! I am a little museum-ed out so I start to reflect that my fancy coloured leather polo belt and buckle, metal watch strap and leather shoes would probably survive.  And the lace ends to my shoes – we stare at Tudor shoe and jerkin lace ends too!   There’s just so much stuff -little bits of plaid shirts, woolly socks, leather jerkins, bow staves, buckets, rosaries and the fun named “ballock daggers”.  Well, you can possibly imagine what the hilts of the daggers resemble from the name…

I’m fascinated by the information on the crew’s bones and facial reconstructions.  Bad teeth and twisted or compressed spines, arthritis and healed fractures.  These are fit, prime fighting men in their twenties and thirties.  This is a world of simple “survival of the fittest” and being on the gun crew or an archer does skeletal damage: I’ve ripped an obviously un healed shoulder injury trying my hand at pulling a half weight archery bow – the full bow is 79lb draw weight I think.  (That will make swimming fun for a while) Not the souvenir Henry V111 bath duck I was planning on buying but either didn’t see or totally forgot about. I didn’t buy a T shirt either.  Shame.

Here, by contrast with the other two ships, the gun barrels are pretty primitive – they look like pipes wrapped in thick metal “bandages” – there are a few cast bronze guns but I think these are possibly iron?   I recognise the planes, Tenon saws and the oddly shaped marking gauge from the carpenters shop – woodwork seems not to have changed too much.

The boat section is pretty massive – but it’s really the artefacts and the story they tell, and the imaginative way the museum tries to help me understand such a different worldview that makes such an impression. There are holograms and high tech stuff in plenty but the ordinary finds sort of speak a little louder somehow. I have to do the museum in a couple two hour stints and a last minute dash round because there is just too much – after a while it’s “oh another amazing Tudor artifact, where is the tea shoppe?!!!”






Fighting ships tour (2)

30+ years ago I went to the Mary Rose exhibition as an 18 year old student.  I looked across at HMS Victory and realised we didn’t have time left to visit.  So going back is long overdue!

After seeing Warrior, I’m immediately struck by how small she seems.  Trafalgar and history books don’t make me realise the scale.  I should know – I made her in Airfix as a kid – it took ages.  But maths and scale always escape me.  Inside, I am further surprised because I am 5ft and her decks are a hand breadth above me.  Down in the Orlop or lower deck and towards the hold, even I have to stoop.  Men weren’t much shorter then – the sailors would have spent their working lives ducking and cramped.  Down in the hold we see the barrels and casks.  A gallon of beer a day is the ration – 8 pints of weak beer isn’t a lot of liquid and the diet seems basic and very salty.

It must have been foetid, dark, slippery with blood during battle, and deafening. More than any other ship I have been on, I have a strong unnerving sense of historic awe.  Admiral Nelson was on this ship.  Under his command and that of his Captain, Hardy, a major battle was won.  I am not particularly sensitive to all things weird and wonderful but I feel a profound sense of respect standing in Nelson’s “command” cabin.

Like Warrior, the mess areas have hammocks slung above them, cannon and ropes everywhere.  The audio guide is excellent and there is plenty of time – I’m early and the big party of school children are not on board yet!  I’m a modern human, and the Orlop deck, where the surgeon operates, fills me with horror and revulsion.  Basic carpentry tools are laid out, it seems.

Our modern expectations may be too high, but this is life in the raw.  I struggle to understand life this far back in history – it shouldn’t surprise me I think, ruefully, that I find the bible worldview so very different and hard to take in sometimes.


Fighting ships tour (1)


HMS Warrior – such a beautiful ship, moored alongside in Portsmouth Historic dockyard.  She was the “nuclear deterrent” of her day, who “never fired a shot in anger” Built in iron, armoured with iron and teak which form a huge, deep plated box called a citadel around the main fighting weaponised part of the ship and below the waterline: massive and towering masted.  I visit her with a guided tour by three informative, passionate guides. Obsolete not long after her build, she reminds me of the rapid advance in modern computing over my lifetime.  She is lucky to have survived the long decline of usefulness.

What surprises me are the guns.  They still look like Elizabethan cannon.  Cannon on sledges, not wheels, I’m told. Which apparently is progress.  Somehow I think that a Victorian ship would have advanced a little more.  They swivel, have accuracy and range and a whole lot of nasty ways of effectively maiming, killing and generally taking out ships: grape shot, heated shot, canisters loaded with metal – anti personnel, anti ship.  Rack upon rack of rifles – Enfield rifles; Marines weapons have white slings as they “like to look pretty” when they kill people we are told. I’m not sure why I have always found the history of fighting fascinating – we are a murderous, brutal race I think.

The tour guide points to growing naval professionalism – uniforms , pay, leave – no more press ganged men.  The ship is manned I remember by about 700 – 800 (one of the other!) men.

With 18 men to a gun crew/mess ,the 4-5000 calories required a day tell me life was brutal still. The food is “cooked” in a galley and dished out by the men’s mess cook – each 18 man mess has one for the week. The guide goes through the arduous physical procedure of loading and firing the guns. Cleaning, loading, ramming, priming and finally firing before repeating at a rapid rate that seems unbelievable. No wonder they needed the suet puddings which bulked up their diet. We descend to the boiler rooms. The statistics are chilling – the average age at death for stokers is 48, 4 hours on 4 hours off shifts, 40+ degrees heat and lungs filling with black crap from shovelling coal.  She can progress on sail alone, but steam is the new technology – huge mind blowing amounts of coal are required.

The officers have a fancy wardroom but we are told that in battle stations, all the furniture, all the wooden partitions throughout the ship are stored, maybe even thrown overboard to make her a fighting gun platform. I need a sit down with a cup of tea after my fact overload.


Reflections on Luke (3)

The last of the pre-prepared posts!  Going to have to go offline and do some thinking or get out and get a life for a while …….

“A man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him.  For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in a cemetery outside the town…Jesus demanded “what is your name?”

“What is Jesus doing there other than to have an encounter with this pathetic man?  A man totally outside the boundaries of anyone’s idea of decency and normality. Chain breaker, driven by the real “dark side of the force” – powers I have only encountered fleetingly, scarily on a “mission trip” to Birmingham.  Which have disintegrated him. No family, no security, no warmth of any kind, only welcomed by the bones of the dead.  I marvel at Jesus’ courage – I would have run a mile.  But he knew what to do and had the power and discernment to deal with the demons who are forced to bow before him.

I wonder what the man’s real name was?  Sitting, clothed at Jesus feet, this newly minted disciple just wants to follow.  I’d guess we would encourage him to “spend time” with Jesus, get his life a little sorted.  Jesus just seems brutal – go home, tell your family about what God has done.  He’s alone again.  In a region where Jesus has just caused total economic chaos and probably lost a farming “gang” their income.

So what happened next?  Did his family welcome him?  Accept him with open arms?  Tentatively? Or throw him out? Questions, questions – I have a mental file full of them and there’s rarely a nice, neat bible answer to them.

So: has Luke met him – was he an “early adopter”, a founder of a little church.  Did Jesus just heal him because he is good and he brings that kind of restoration?

I guess this man challenges out my fear.  I would never in my wildest dreams approach someone like him.  Obviously! Given the single female and naked crazy man scenario! But there’s probably a lot of situations where I put my chin down into my jacket and tell God he will need to find someone a bit braver than me…..maybe I limit what God might possibly want to do?

Reflections on Luke (2)

Writing is good for me.  I’m forced to slow down and think and creating prose is very refreshing after a screens day.  And it forces me to turn text into reflection which hopefully becomes action…….

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner” (Dinner party host comment about Jesus)

“I’d not noticed the slur on Jesus’ competence and claims here. I’d been so focused on the drama of Jesus and the sinful woman. Simon the pharisee may have invited him as “guest of honour” but he certainly hasn’t shown him any respect.  How did this lady access such a respectable and formal dinner?  Did she perhaps know one of the men?  I bet that then as now, “respectable” members of the establishment were no less tangled with sleaze.  Jesus confirms she was a sinful woman – she did have “many” sins to forgive.  But I’m struck by her abandoned, public, defenceless weeping and honest display of socially risky and costly love for Jesus.  She really was repentant, she was ashamed – and she was thoroughly forgiven.

I’m not sure of the last time I wept at Jesus feet, totally floored by my sinfulness. Such a very public, messy display.  I can recall a couple of episodes of similar grace producing embarrassment – but nothing quite as dramatic as here.  I’m told it’s good for me!!

It’s so easy to assume that a half way competent life and a reasonably cleaned up character are sufficient – after all, it’s easy to measure myself along with others and feel just about ok.  But God is the gold standard and I’m pretty lacking here!  Jesus found it acceptable to be loved and cried on by this complex lady and she must have found “no part of his body language or voice gave her any rejection”.  I have had times when someone has done this to me and said exactly this and all I can say is “how can I possibly reject you – I am so aware of my own shortcomings and sin”


Fantastic Scones and Where to Find Them

A little bit of light relief after an intense day of details and learning a new data system which left me hating I.T. more than usual – it kept crashing at significant moments.

“I feel a little praise song is due for the wonders of the humble cheese scone. I’m trying to lose a little weight to fit my interview suit and having carbohydrate fantasies.  As my walking friend says, all I need to do to lose a little is drop a few carbs and the weight crashes off.  She doeesn’t think it’s fair but says she’ll survive a new ice age and I won’t……..

The National Trust have earned my ire, replacing their very tasty plain scones with over fruited monsters. A baited trap for unwary cream tea buyers with weird raisin avoidance issues.  I did think, in a moment of madness, of covering a cheese scone with cream and jam. And then thought perhaps not – some experiments are best not made.  Chutney doesn’t go with clotted cream even for a dyed in the wool Devonian.

So here’s my top 5 list of the best cheese scones and where to find them based on recent experiments.

1. The M&S cheese scone – warmed (amazing)

2 The Waitrose cheese scone – warmed (equally amazing, not so keen on the coffee)

3 The Otterton Mill cheese scone.  Worthy, healthy, fantastic after a long walk (lots of butter)

4 The Exeter Library cheese scone.  Very, very worthy (brown flour)

5 The Lee Abbey tea cottage cheese scone. Seasonal to summer and a long way to go. Lots of mustard. Lovely garden and people though.

And the best and most odd cream tea award ever goes to Charlie Fridays of Lynton for the chocolate chip scone (warm) with clotted cream and nutella. Put it on the bucket list.  It’s probably best not to move for an hour afterwards.

Reflections on Luke (1)

Our church is majoring on the bible book of Luke this year.  So I’m writing a few reflections as we go through.  The first stanza is story based reflection – I am not imaginative so I can’t picture the scene – I have to think my way round with words and text.  My second stanza is reflection – I’ve cut it a little as it’s mine and personal.  What would you say if you had been there, watching all this?

“Lord if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.  Jesus reached out and touched him. I am willing he said, be healed” (Jesus meeting a man with an advanced case of leprosy)

I can’t imagine the state of desperation of this poor man.  An advanced case of leprosy, no cure,  pain sensors wrecked, so much damage and disfiguration.  And above all the isolation: apart, condemned to a lonely life with other sufferers, no future.  No hope.  And unable to worship in the temple.  He’s unclean.  Not holy.  Someone who will contaminate with his very touch.  And yet in him is a little match flare of confident hope and he comes to Jesus and begs him, on his knees to make him clean.  Such a risk, yet maybe he’d seen this truly compassionate man touch and heal others.  He asks to be made clean before anything else – a heart needing worship and God’s recreating love.  And Jesus touched and healed him, making him clean, declaring him acceptable. No wonder he couldn’t keep quiet. No wonder he’s shouting his healing and God’s praises to all who will listen.

Lord, help me come to you with the areas where I find it very difficult to talk to you ………………..(provide your own blanks!) You tell me, gently, to remain in you. Help me remember I have a God with a gentle touch, a Father who has made both men and women in his image, who doesn’t and won’t reject us, who is love.