Wednesday, 25 September 2013

An offer you can refuse. But don't need to.

The Catholic Church seems to have been sending some rather mixed messages in 2013. Forgive me being rather late to this but I don't keep that close an eye on the goings-on at the Vatican so didn't catch this at the time. It seems that in May the Pope, in a quite startling departure from accepted tenets, came out with this in an open letter to La Reppublica.

It's not exactly a once-in-a-lifetime offer - the head of a Church you don't belong to reassuring you that a God you don't believe in will forgive you and allow you a place in a Heaven which doesn't exist if you 'follow your conscience' - but from any secular viewpoint it's certainly a positive sign of moderation and modernity from the Pontiff. Any kind of recognition, especially from the Catholic Church, that atheists can be good people, is to be welcomed. It suggests at least a man who recognises the shape of the wider world in which his Church's followers live. The Church of which he's nominal leader, though, moved quickly to disavow any such notion.

So much for modernising - central tenets are going to take rather longer to change, it seems, than even the Pope may prefer. There are, though, some areas where the modernising momentum is clear. Check this out.

This is one of the most bizarre examples of mixing old and new I've ever seen; the Catholic Church showing that they can be both thoroughly modern on the one hand and simultaneously archaic on the other. It seems that the Church is now on Twitter [it probably has been for some time, but I'm a) not on Twitter and b) in any case extremely unlikely to 'follow' a religious Twitter feed, so was unaware of this]. I wonder how many aggregate years in Purgatory were saved overall as a result of this offer to the contrite. And who keeps the numbers, if anybody? Is there some celestial logbook somewhere, in which a heavenly functionary marks the time off for those eligible with a Godly pencil, or has that too been modernised, computerised even? I'd love to ask this Sacred Apostilic Penitentiary how they track these things. (Who appointed them, by the way, thereby giving them the authority to pronounce on these matters? Shouldn't they regard this as the exclusive right of God?)

Anyway, the Pope and his modernist tendencies. He may, to use The Tablet's Vatican correspondent's words, be 'seeking to have a more meaningful dialogue with the world', but there's only so much he can do, no matter how determined he may be. This is, after all, a 2000-year-old institution with some 1.2 billion members and a multi-layered, complex organisational structure. His job must be like trying to steer the largest ship on a gigantic ocean - no matter which way he's looking, or which way he turns the helm, the thing changes direction so slowly that it's imperceptible. Any changes he tries to make now are not likely to make the slightest difference until he has, in the eyes of his Church's members, long joined all those good atheists upstairs. Oh, hang on, that was one of the things that hadn't in fact changed after all, wasn't it? Oh well. Never mind.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Taking the biscuits seriously

As a result of a discussion at work the other day, I realised that it's been a good couple of years that I've been writing this blog already, and have yet to make an entry on something very, very close to my heart. There are many things people find important, of course – politics, religion, morality, climate change, music, whatever it is. And indeed I've written on those matters, but I've somehow missed the fundamental subject of biscuits.

Now my capacity to eat biscuits, as anybody who knows me well will tell you, is enormous. I would, quite happily, eat my way through an entire pack of dark chocolate digestives with a cup of tea. Only a sense of shame and a vague awareness that it's probably not good for you to do so prevents me from doing exactly that whenever the opportunity presents itself. And the disapproving stares of others who may have had their eye on a biccie, in the case of a shared pack.

At work there are very frequently biscuits in the offing, so I have to moderate my scoffage for all of the above reasons. Apart from, that is, the occasions where the generous person who's provided them has made the inexplicable decision to buy horse biscuits. Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate that I'm in a minority here, possibly a minority of one, but I regard Hob Nobs (even when they've been disguised under chocolate) as horse biscuits which have somehow found their way into the human food chain. Mixing equine foodstuff with proper biscuits in the same factory is just careless, frankly, and asking for trouble.

That it happens, and people seem to have turned a blind eye all these years, accepting these horsey treats into their homes, is probably down to oats. I'm often asked why I eat flapjacks if I'm so set against Horse Nobs, as they've become known in my office, which is to miss the point. I don't have anything against oats per se – mixed with the right ingredients; sugar, honey, chocolate etc, they're delicious. It's the Nobs specifically I can't be doing with. I can't fathom how people can't spot their error as soon as they bite into one, but it seems I alone in the world can see the truth – everybody else unaccountably regard them as delicious.

Other than that, though, there are just a couple of additional exceptions to my pretty broad biccy taste. One is custard creams - some kind of yellow chemical mix compressed into a mould and dipped in paint, they are neither custardy nor creamy for me, and the taste is... well, yellow, if such a thing is possible. The other is ginger nuts. No, no, no. Biscuits should a) not burn the roof of your mouth like a too-hot curry and b) come out of a cup of scalding hot tea after an indecently long dunk entirely unchanged by the experience. Now a digestive, sadly dismissed by many workmates who regard them as 'plain', a digestive knows how to behave in cup of tea. Get the timing wrong, and your digestive will punish you by falling apart as you lift it out, in protest at its treatment. You have to treat them with respect and delicacy to gain the full reward of their deliciousness.

I fancy that I know how to treat all biscuits, so I'm never happier than with a cup of tea and a tube of them for dunking. I merely ask, dear reader, should you ever be kind enough to come round for a cuppa and bring biccies with you, that you do me the service of selecting a pack made with human consumers in mind.