Category Archives: Religion

Vampires – a Practical Guide

Vampire by Edward Burne Jones

Imagine you are a vampire hunter on the trail of a beautiful young girl who has just been taken by the evil yet strangely alluring Count Dracula and you have ventured into the family crypt to release her from her terrible curse and allow you and your family to sleep at night without a string of pungent alliums and a sharpened piece of two b’four.

The vampire appears!!!! Aarrghghg! You dive into your bag for the acknowledged accoutrements of vampire slaying; garlic, wooden stake, crucifix … when suddenly you remember that you’re Jewish.  What do you wave at the advancing fanged predator?

I’m sorry to say that this is a situation that has been vexing me for some months now, so I did the only thing possible.  Some research.

Vampire legends go much further back than one might imagine, although the word ‘vampire’ only really came into common usage in the 18th century and comes originally from Serbia.

Lilith - first wife of Adam

Mysterious creatures of the shadows who feast off the living exist in the myths and legends of nearly every culture around the world.  Early Hebrew writings describe a winged demon  with the body of a woman and talons like an owl.  Her name was Lilith and she was the first wife of Adam and, as she was created from the same earth as him, she believed herself to be his equal.  But she refused to be submissive, so God banished her to the realm of demons after which she was believed to devour infants and small children, seduce men, steal their semen and then drink the blood of her victims.  She vowed to feed off the children of Adam i.e. humans, forever.  Without Lilith there would be no vampires.

This type of vampire is called an estrie and the only way to make sure she stays dead is to stop up her mouth with earth.  Estries don’t always attack in obvious ways and they would sit on hands or fingers, waiting for the person to rub their eyes or mouth and they could then enter the body.  To prevent an attack by vampires, Jews would place a bowl of water at the side of the bed to wash their hands before walking, thus preventing invasion.

Vampire legends appear all over the world and it occurs to me that the form which the creature takes tells us something about the psyche of the region.  Often the vampire will appear in the guise of a beautiful woman in order to gain access to its prey whilst others present as monsters, animal forms or pallid and degenerate replicas of humans.  They are often shape-shifters which adds another layer of fear as the vampire hunter may not even know what he’s looking for.

Vampires legends in brief:

China - Chiang-shih

China – Chiang Shi:  A recently deceased corpse who becomes possessed by a demon, covered with white or green hair, with long claws, teeth, glowing red eyes and lethal halitosis.  It can fly and  change into a wolf.  Repelled by garlic, salt and rice.  Killed by a bullet or thunder.

Japan - Gaki

Japan – Gaki:  Pale-skinned, cold and hollow-eyed blood drinkers.  Can shape-shift, impersonate humans and possibly go invisible.

Philippines – Aswang: Beautiful woman by day, tubular-tongued blood drinker by night.  Prefers children and after eating them, its belly swells and it flies home and breastfeeds its own children with the blood.

India - Rakshasa

India – Rakshasa: If a child is forced to eat human brains it becomes a Rakshasa who then needs human blood.  Again a shape-shifter, sometime a beautiful human, sometimes animal.  It lurks in trees to spy out its victims and if you so much as stray into its territory you will become seriously ill.

Ireland - Leahaun-shee

Ireland – Dearg-Due: This ancient vampire goes all the way back to the Celts.   The only way to stop it is to pile stones on the grave if you suspect the incumbent might be a vampire.
The Irish  also have the Leahaun-shee who is not technically a vampire but is vampiric in nature.  A beautiful woman, she lures young men under her spell  and then effectively shags them to death.  I’ve known women like that.

Scotland – BaoBahan-sith: is similar to the Leahaun-shee but is always dressed in green.

Germany – Doppelsauger: In the Slavic region of northern Germany, the Wends believed that once a baby was weaned, if it was breastfed again it would turn into a vampire.  It would eat the breast and take the life force of the mother.

Africa: the Africans are generally terribly keen on vampire stories and have Asanbosam, Adze, Impundulu and Ramanga to name but a few. The Ramanga is my personal favourite because it not only drinks blood but eats the toe nail clippings of nobles. Now that is truly horrible.

The Americas are awash with stories because they have the varied cultures of French and African Voodoo, the West Indies and South America as well.  Their monsters are often female and often corruptly sexual in nature.  The Chupacapra of Mexico/Puerto Rico is particularly well known as a creature that eats the flesh and drinks the blood of domesticated animals.

Isn’t it interesting how often these creatures are female and involve breasts and babies?  Is it at all possible that some of these stories emerged in cultures who were terrified and mystified in equal measure of blood, women, childbirth, breast feeding and women’s perceived power to enchant and ensnare?

Nosferatu

Modern Vampires

Although vampires have appeared in fiction and poetry since the 1700s, it was Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which changed the depiction of vampires into elegant, sophisticated and desirable beings with their romantic suggestions of virginity, sex, blood and death.

Now, of course, vampires are all the rage with ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and the ‘Twilight Saga’ and psychologists think that this has come about through a combination of the modern fascination and pre-occupation with sex and the enduring terror of our own mortality.

But what’s really interesting is that every so often, present day societies will still become convinced that vampires are among them, these hysterics often emerging at times of terrible political or economic turbulence.

In 1970 it was rumoured that a vampire haunted Highgate Cemetery in London which a local man claimed to have exorcised and even that he destroyed a ‘nest’ of vampires in the area.
In 2002 stories of vampire attacks swept through Malawi in Africa which culminated in one individual being stoned to death and four others being attacked, one of whom was the Governor who was believed to be colluding with the undead.
In 2004 a Romanian family feared that their dead relative had become a vampire so they sensibly dug up his corpse, ripped out his heart, burnt it, mixed the ashes with water and drank it.

Clearly vampires are everywhere so, in true Wartime Housewife style, here are my top tips for repelling or killing these modern-day, blood-sucking hooligans.

How do you know if a grave contains a vampire? Get a virgin boy to ride over the grave, naked and bareback on a virgin stallion.  When the horse stops at a grave and won’t move forward, there’s your vampire.

Preventative Measures: Garlic, nailing clothes to coffin walls, do not invite them in to your house (no really, don’t), religious symbols* made of silver, mustard seed, wolfsbane, mirrors will sometimes repel.

Killing a vampire: sunlight, a wooden stake through the heart, preferably made of aspen or hawthorne (although this might just immobilise it), decapitation (dead cert), total immersion in running water or fire, drinking the blood of the dead, a silver bullet or knife, holy water, nail its coffin shut with silver nails.

* In order to bring this fascinating subject back to the beginning, religious symbols are a relatively modern method of protection.  The Catholic church decided that they, and only they, had the power to kill vampires and this is where the idea that a cross would repel these beasts but only, only mind you, if it was held by a true believer.  Presumably the unbelievers deserved to die. They also had the monopoly on holy water which should be thrown directly onto the vampire in question.

If you are at all worried, please feel free to contact this website for further advice.  And consider adding silver nails, sharpened sticks and a small phial of holy water to your DIY kit.  The rest, as one would expect, are probably Storecupboard Ingredients.

Christopher Lee - that's more like it

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Harvest Festival

Foodscape photograph by the wonderful Carl Warner

Aha!  I am back amongst you!

However, I am in such bad humour about so many things today, that it’s hard to know quite where to start.

I will begin with Harvest Festival because I attended the Harvest service at Boy the Younger’s school today.  As we went in, I said to my friend “what do you think the chances are of us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ or ‘Come ye thankful people come’.? “Zero,” she said, laughing.

Well it was worse than zero.  I realise that in some aspects of life, I am an unspeakable old fuddy-duddy, but why does everything that involves children have to be turned into an entertainment?  In a moment of desperation, I fed my programme to the beaming baby in the pew in front so I am unable to delight you with the nauseating detail of the ‘service’.

The children sang several feeble pop songs with the word ‘Jesus’ in them, most of which had stupid actions with which the parents were encouraged to join in.  When we were asked to clap our hand to our heart, I’m sorry to tell you that I quietly intoned “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America…” followed by a hand-jive, which had the parents on the row behind dissolving into nervous giggles.

Then there was a really good bit where it all stopped and young and delightfully handsome young man from the nearby CARE village stood up and thanked us all for the donations of food which would be given to the residents.

After this, the Reverend Blodwyn stood up and began the ‘It’s behind you’ section of the service where all the children were encouraged to shout out stuff about vegetables, after which she delivered a lecture about the environment.  Just in case the children hadn’t worked out what rain was, she put up a handy Powerpoint presentation with a character from a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon in which the character gets rained on. Ha bloody ha.

There is absolutely no need for church to be boring.  A good minister can deliver a sermon which will not only uplift and encourage, but will leave the congregation with something to think about for the rest of the week.  Hymns can be joyful and spirit raising, a reading in the hands of a decent reader is a lovely thing to listen to.

But Church, among many other things, is one really good opportunity to teach your children that there are times in life when they have to be quiet and behave with decorum.  There is an unending stream of complaints about how children can never sit still, can’t concentrate, can’t keep quiet.

A large part of the problem is that children are not taught to be quiet and behave with decorum.  Everything they do has to be entertaining.  Well life isn’t always entertaining, in fact, quite large chunks of life can be a bit boring and require us to keep our gobs shut when we’d rather not.  Sometimes we have to be quiet for the comfort of others.

Children need to be taught that there are times to have fun and times to be quiet and still.  How can they learn to think and reason if their minds are being swamped with a constant and unrelenting cacophony of sounds and sights and ‘stimulation’?  How can they learn to appreciate the small and simple things with which they’re surrounded if they never have a moment’s peace in which to do it?

I love Harvest Festival; whatever one’s spiritual pathway, it is completely reasonable to be grateful that we have enough food and that we still have farmers out there producing it.  It is a gratifying experience to share some of that produce with those who have less than us. I personally thanked the farmers in the next pew for growing our milk.  They did the narrowed eyes thing and left.

When I was at school, the Harvest service was a beautiful thing.  The girls doing cookery baked fabulous loaves to look like sheaves of corn, flowers graced every windowsill and the joyful Harvest hymns rocked the rafters as the organ thundered and the choir sang descants that could have lifted the tiles off the roof.

The last ‘hymn’ was called ‘Harvest Hoe Down’ accompanied by a tinny recorded sound track and a bazooka solo from some invisible children – I don’t need to draw you a picture of how awful that was.  I left Boy the Younger’s service with my teeth ground down to powder.   I accosted a teacher in the playground and pleaded that, just once before I BTY leaves, could we sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’? Just once. “Why?” she answered.

It all makes ‘Cauliflowers fluffy…’ seem positively Wesleyan.

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Sunday Poem 65

When I last saw Rev. and Mrs Marple, I enquired as to the difference between a Rector and a Vicar.  In the past the Rector (from the Latin’ to rule’) ran the Parish.  In many parish churches you can see a list of rectors going back centuries, many having Norman names.  These Rectors often lived miles away, having been given the living as part of a package of privileges, and contributed very little to the wellbeing of their parishioners, leaving the day to day running to the Vicar.  Vicar originally meant substitute, from the same route as the word ‘vicarious’ meaning ‘in place of’ and, as is so often the case, the Rector was well paid for doing nothing while the Vicar who did all the work received a pittance.

Nowadays, there is very little difference between the two, except where there is a team ministry.  Otherwise, probably the only distinction between the names is, as A.P. Herbert’s verse suggests, that one sounds grander than the other.

A.P. Herbert was a poet, novelist, humorist and playwright.  He was educated at Winchester and Oxford and although he was called to the Bar in 1918, he never practiced.  In 1935 he became the MP for Oxford University until the university seats were abolished in 1950. He was sent to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1943 as part of a Parliamentary Commission to investigate the future of the dominion, and supported the cause of independence over Confederation as a result. He was knighted in 1945. He served in the Royal Navy during the First World War, surviving Gallipoli and drew on that experience for his novel The Secret Battle which was published in 1919.  His war poetry is very touching and worth a read.  During the Second World War, in addition to his parliamentary duties, he served in the Royal Navy, on patrol-boats in the Thames.  He retired from the House of Commons in 1950.

The Church – by Sir A. P. Herbert (1890-1971)

In Scarlet Street, where I was born,
Two clergymen reside.
But one of them is sad and worn,
While one is puffed with pride.
They hold the very self-same views
About the Gentiles and the Jews
And Life and Love and Liquor.
They also draw the self-same pay;
But Mr. Gray is Rector Gray,
While Green is just a Vicar.
And that’s the trouble in the case;
I do not say they bicker,
But you should see the Rector’s face
When someone calls him ‘Vicar’.

And how the Vicar smiles and sings
And shines like some reflector,
When people not in touch with things
Refer to him as ‘Rector’.

No, do not ask me what it means
And which of them will join the Deans,
    And which the Bishop quicker;
Don’t ask the Vicar why he writhes
When anybody speaks of tithes –
    It only makes him sicker;
You’d better take it, child, from me,
For some high cause we cannot see
It is more glorious to be
A Rector than a Vicar.

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London – Part 1: St Paul’s Cathedral

We had the most wonderful time in London.  We got to the Aged Parent’s gloriously warm house  late morning, and headed into town for lunch and an afternoon of cruising round the shops.  The day was finished nicely with fish and chips and the DVD of ‘Nativity’ – I sobbed throughout, as usual.

We got up relatively early for a Saturday and headed into town on the tube.  The Boys get very excited about going on the tube, particularly Boy the Younger who oohs and aahs at every bit of dark tunnel and every bit of decorative tiling at the stations. 

Our first stop was St Paul’s Cathedral.  I last went there in 1982 so it was a glorious revelation for all of us.  The first revelation was the entrance fee: £12.50 for me and £4.50 each for the boys.  As I was standing, swearing vilely at the information board, a very kind Guide pointed out that if we nipped across the road to the Tourist Information kiosk, they would give us a tourist map which had a 20% discount voucher.  Therefore, entrance for we three plus a guide book came to just over £21.  It had better be good, we thought.

It was.  We were given ipod thingies which had the most extraordinary guide, including film footage and choices of information so you could tailor your visit completely to your own interests.  Boy the Younger had to show me how to work it, of course.  It’s really hard to describe the wonderfulness of it, particularly as you aren’t allowed to take photographs but one of the highlights for me was seeing William Holman Hunt’s painting ‘The Light of the World’ which I find unutterably beautiful.

St Paul himself

Naturally we trudged up the stairs to The Whispering Gallery and whispered frantically to each other – thankfully wheezing works just as well.  There was also a Eucharist Service performed while we were there which was lovely and what was even nicer was that virtually every hour, the clergy asked for a moment’s peace for prayer and contemplation which made me somewhat less inclined to order the merchants from the temple.

Boy the Elder then decided that he wanted to go up to the next level, The Stone Gallery.  This involved another hundred or so stairs, so he and BTY skipped up with the camera with instructions to photograph London.  They came down with some smashing pictures and demanded that we make an unaided attempt on the summit, aka The Golden Gallery.

Taken by Boy the Elder

Now, I went up there in 1982 and came down every step on my bottom, pausing periodically to change my underwear, and I only did it then because I was trying to impress a boy.  I had forgotten just how hideous it actually is.  The dome of St Pauls is actually in three parts.  There is the inner dome which is above The Whispering Gallery.  There is then a conical structure on the top of that, around which is built the outer dome which is the familiar and iconic image of St Paul’s. 

Also taken by Boy the Elder

In order to ascend to The Golden Gallery at the top, you have to climb a narrow, open fretwork, iron spiral staircase which winds its way between the cone and the outer dome.  On either side and below, it just drops away into darkness.  There are narrow platforms which serve as passing places, but otherwise you just go up and up and round and round in a way of which Dante would thoroughly have approved.

We got about a quarter of the way up when BTY did what I was desperate to do, but couldn’t because this time I was trying to impress MY boys.  He burst into tears and wouldn’t go any further.  I can’t tell you how relieved I was.  We scuttled down and ran straight into the crypt for some refreshment.

And that is where the horror started. 
I jest – but can I just tell  you that a mug of tea, a plain scone, two tiny tubs of fruit salad and two Fantas came to £14.95.  Another change of underwear please.

I will tell you about The West End and our arrival at home tomorrow.

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Two precious minutes of silence

I attempted to observe the two minute silence this morning.  The elderly lady I was with came in and started chatting, but when I pointed to the clock and said “Oh gosh, it’s 11’oclock”, she said “Oh I’m so awfully sorry, I’ve forgotten your elevenses!” and then proceeded to have a discussion about whether I wanted tea  or coffee, biscuits and what type, how hungry was I etc.  Whilst this was a laudable display of compassion for me (who did hunger and travail) it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’m a big fan of the two minute silence.  Not for every minor mishap, or when a footballer breaks his toe, or every year for fifty years after a train crash, it’s a matter of perspective.  The First World War was something on a scale which I pray we will never see again.  The Second World War was fought to protect us from tyrants, to stick up for oppressed people and to endorse our national concept of liberty. 

More recent wars can be difficult to understand, the motivations for them muddied by economics or religion and it is ever harder to be convinced of the righteous nature of military intervention.  Why did we go into Iraq but not Zimbabwe?  Why do we sit back and let China oppress Nepal?  Should we have let Argentina have the Falklands back?  The problems and solutions are never simple and never without repercussions and I don’t envy the people who have to make those judgements.

Whatever one’s view of the righteousness of individual wars, the families of dead soldiers mourn just as deeply for the dead of Afghanistan as for the dead on the Somme.

I use the two minute silence, both today and on Remembrance Sunday, to silently commune with all the other people who also share that contemplative silence and to think about the broader concept of conflict.  The war in Iraq and the campaign in Afghanistan have resonances with our daily lives.  Every day there is a story in the news about a faith school viewed with suspicion, a racially motivated assault, fundamentalists planning hate campaigns or the spectre of terrorism slowly but surely turning Britain into a police state.  That is conflict on our doorstep, conflict between people and it deserves our attention. 

There is precious little silence in our lives and we should use this time to remember the past, meditate on the present and use that knowledge and compassion to inform our future.

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Going Green, Man

Green Man in my bathroom

A while ago, I mentioned that I had put a Green Man up in my bathroom and some of my readers didn’t know what that was.  Contrary to what you might think, it is not the decomposing corpse of someone who upset me, but an archetypal image found in churches and cathedrals.

Green Men appear in various guises; faces with greenery issuing from the nose, mouth or eyes, faces from which leaves are growing and faces disguised by leaves and foliage, often interpreted as ‘Jack in the Green’, another prominent figure in early English mythology.   ‘Green Man’ isn’t really a very helpful description and in their architectural context none of them is green and only a proportion of them are men.  Foliate Head would be more accurate but this has never really caught on.

Until relatively recently, it was generally accepted that the Green Man was a pagan symbol that has survived into the Christian period.  However, our understanding of pre-Christian and indeed the history of Christianity has advanced so much in the past fifty years and there seems to be evidence of foliate heads turning up in Mesopotamia, India and Nepal.  Many symbols which found their way into Christian iconography have their origins in classical and eastern mythology, but often the meanings change according to the time, much as words change their meanings over time.

Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire

Carvings of Green Men first appear in churches in the 11th and 12th centuries and their use as ornamentation has been subject to many interpretations.  These churches were built by wealthy patrons who directed exactly what they wanted in terms of structure and iconography and they were as much influenced by fashion as we are today.  This new style of architecture brought with it a new language of ornament which was primarily religious in content, but not always.  Images of demons and monsters are common warnings against sin and the inherent dangers of mortality and some of these images were copied from illustrated religious manuscripts.

Rich ornamentation was often applied to key focal points such as doorways, roof bosses and window surrounds.  The chancel arch was also a favourite spot for didactic scenes or images as it separated the nave (the secular part of the church) from the chancel (the sacred part of the church).  But foliate heads are also found anywhere where there is elaborate carving such as fonts, misericords and bench ends.

By the end of the 19th century, the Green Man had declined in popularity and architects had started to incorporate them into secular buildings such as a stone representation at St Enoch station on the Glasgow underground railway built in 1896.

York Minster, North Yorkshire

From a modern day Pagan perspective, the Green Man has become a symbol of the fusion between man and nature and a reminder not to lose sight of our connection with the earth and the natural cycle of life and death.  It has also assumed a more masculine character suggestive of the ‘wild man’, the hidden spirit of nature who could leap forth from us at any time.  For Neo-Pagan this is a powerful symbol of re-connection with nature at a time when the material world seems to have triumphed over a more natural existence.

I love looking round old churches and there is always a slight thrill when one comes across one of these foliate heads peering down from a cloister vault or peeping out from the tiny carved seat of a misericord, which would once have been obscured by a monk’s bottom.  Whether a Christian warning, a Pagan hangover or an expression of the cosmopolitan tastes of their commissioners, the Green Man is a solid reminder of the communion between man and the beautiful world in which we live.

For more information about Green Men, get your hands on a copy of the beautifully written and illustrated Shire book ‘The Green Man’ by Richard Hayman.

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Shining lights in a world of televisual darkness

I’m going to take the unusual step of doing a second post today, because part of it concerns programmes on television tonight and tomorrow.

The Boys and I have a lot of DVDs because there is almost nothing on the television that is either worth watching or that I consider suitable for the chaps.  Also, I never sit down before 9pm (later in the holidays) so there’s quite a narrow window of opportunity for the TV companies to entertain me.  And when I say “TV companies”, effectively I mean the BBC, because, other than ‘Heartbeat’ on ITV (which is like mainlining Ovaltine – in a good way), no other channel is producing anything on a regular basis that is remotely interesting or valuable.

So now we come to the positive bit.  Recently there have been some shining, glittering examples of good television, all incidentally on BBC, that have raised my spirits no end. Two of them are recent, adult programmes and two are on CBBC (the children’s channel) and have been around for a while.

Last Sunday, ‘Sherlock’ launched itself onto the screen at 8.30pm on BBC1.  I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes fan in general and I have rarely read the books, although I rather liked Rupert Everett’s version in ‘The Case of the Silk Stocking’ – intuitive casting.  I must admit that it was the presence of Martin Freeman in the cast list which caused me to watch it, as he never turns in a duff performance and seems to choose his roles with discrimination.

This new version is set in the present.  Watson (Martin Freeman) has just returned, injured, from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and bumps into an old friend in the park who suggests that he should visit Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) with regard to a flat share.  They meet and we are immediately launched into the potential of their relationship.  Freeman is psychologically damaged by his military experiences and Holmes is the type of bonkers that only the upper classes can get away with.  Both are clever and both are functioning outside the experiential realm of ‘normal’ society.  There is a wonderful line in the first episode where a copper calls Holmes a psychopath. “High functioning sociopath!” he snaps back. “Do your research”.

From the very start we are drawn into a thrilling, sizzling chase around London as Holmes and Watson try to solve a seemingly unconnected series of suicides.  Watson is excited and bewildered by the ethernet speed of Holmes’ thought processes (which are frequently displayed on the screen as text) but he is his own man.  There is a brief and moving few seconds when, after Watson has encountered Holmes’ arch enemy in a car park, he is left standing alone, his posture and disposition every inch the soldier.

I have been reliably informed by The Father of My Children, who is a big Sherlock Holmes fan, that the premise for this version is very close to the original books.  There will only be two more episodes, the second being tonight at 8.30pm on BBC1.  On no account must you miss them.

The second shining light is ‘Rev’ co-created and starring Tom Hollander.  I am so sorry that I haven’t told you about it before as Monday night (10pm BBC2) is the last episode, but you may be able to catch a couple on iPlayer.

The hero of this humorous and moving series is Rev. Adam Smallbone, the vicar of an urban parish who has to contend with a dilapidated church and a virtually non-existent congregation.  Smallbone is a man who really wants to make a difference, but who is racked with doubt as to whether he’s up to the job.  The supporting cast of characters includes his lawyer wife who keeps his feet firmly on the ground, Nigel the smug and sanctimonious lay reader who clearly wants his job and the vulpine Arch Deacon who is too busy attending celebrity interviews to take Adam’s needs seriously.  And then there’s Colin, the down and out who treats Adam’s home as a drop in centre.

This is a comedy that is miles away from ‘Father Ted’ or ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ because it feels real.  Adam Smallbone may be a vicar but he is still a man, with all the failings and insecurities of other men.  He smokes and drinks and slobs about the house in his pants when no-one’s looking.  His relentless attempts to do the right thing and be the person that the public perceives a vicar ought to be, result in some funny and excruciating moments.  Hollander has a beauty and depth about him which turns any character he plays into someone we have no choice but to care about.  The characters are understated and there is no canned laughter and the series is all the better, and more intelligently funny for it.

If anyone from the BBC is reading this, please, please re-commission this series.  No really, please.

The other two programmes are on CBBC in the afternoons.  I am a complete fascist about what my children watch, even though many would not agree with my criteria, ergo, our large collection of DVDs.  They are not allowed to watch ‘Tracy Beaker’ under any circumstances, for example, because I think it’s completely inappropriate to show the constant bad behaviour and negative messages which are portrayed when there is no positive pay-off and no redemption for the characters.  But that’s just me.

However, there are two programmes on at the moment, from 5.15 on Tuesdays, which even I don’t want to miss.

The first is the TV programme of ‘Horrible Histories’.  Terry Deary has had years of success with his ‘Horrible Histories’ books, in which he conveys serious historical facts in a child-friendly and clever format.  This has now been translated to the television to great effect.  It is never patronising, it’s unerringly funny and some of the songs have us crying with laughter.

The programme that follows it at 5.45 is a sketch show called ‘Sorry, I’ve Got No Head’.  It has many familiar comedy faces, although the only one I can name is Marcus Brigstock.  It is just as funny as many adult sketch shows, but with age appropriate content.  The sketches which make us fall about are the two posh old ladies who insist that everything costs “At least a thousand pounds! A thousand pounds?  Oh I’d say at least a thousand pounds, dear”, The Museum of the Imaginaaaaaaaation in which there are no exhibits and the French exchange student who has lived with his English family for nearly 20 years and simply won’t go home.

It’s so lovely to be able to enjoy these programmes as a family, without at any point thinking “Oh my God, how am I going to explain that one?”   Well done BBC.

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