Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 3: The Authority


The chief priests and scribes hold an emergency meeting

"Good afternoon, gentlemen.  I trust we are all aware of our reason for meeting today?  Good.  The situation has escalated dramatically after yesterday's upheaval in the temple, and with the added pressure of the Passover feast at the end of the week, we simply must find a way of neutralising this man before he causes any more trouble.  You all know how precarious our positions are already; the Romans need hardly any excuse to abolish Temple worship altogether - and I don't need to spell out what that would mean for us as scribes and high priests.  We will not let this Jesus be that excuse.

"Now, our best option is to catch Jesus in either an outright blasphemy or a statement of revolution.  So far he has been frustratingly careful, but we sent Joseph and Matthias to talk to him this morning.  Joseph?"

"Thank you, High Priest.  Yes, Matthias and I found Jesus in the Temple courts again - fortunately not overturning tables this time, but his preaching was drawing an alarmingly large number of people.  It was hard to push our way through the crowd, but we finally got close enough to ask Jesus this question: Was his authority from heaven or men?"

"That's a good one, Joseph!  There's no right answer to that, is there?"

"Exactly what we were hoping, Luke.  The man is more cunning than you'd expect, though.  He saw through it straight away, and fired another question right back at us.  'When John was baptising people - was that from God or not?' he asked.  Well, you can picture the situation.  We were surrounded by this crowd who all believe that John was a true prophet - it would have been as much as our life was worth to say that he was deluded.  Yet it would stick in my gullet to own that rabble-rouser to be a holy man - and you know what Jesus' next question would have been, don't you?  'Well, why didn't you believe him then?'  Matthias and I kept our mouths shut and made our exit as quick as we could."

"Am I to understand, then, that you failed in your mission to entrap this country rabbi?  Two of the finest minds on this council were left shamefaced and dumb by some Nazarene upstart?"

"To be fair, High Priest, this Jesus has clearly been trained by the best, wherever he comes from.  I heard him arguing later with some of the Sadducees, and I was blown away by his responses.  They were worthy of the finest rabbinical masters."

"Thank you for that, Nicodemus.  I'm glad to hear you are so enamoured of our friend's intelligence.  Perhaps we will send you to ask him some questions next time.  In the meantime, does anyone have any more useful suggestions?

"No?  Well, it seems to me that our only hope now is to attract a defector from his side.  Simeon, Luke, Zachariah - you spend the next few days mingling with his disciples, and pounce on anyone who seems to have the least bit of a grudge.  We need to move quickly on this thing, but with the following that this wretched man still has, we simply can't just move in and arrest him in the middle of the Temple.  The rest of you, keep your eyes and ears open.  Let my secretary know immediately if you hear or see Jesus do anything that might give us some leverage.

"We will meet again tomorrow, gentlemen.  Remember, Passover is the deadline.  I need progress, and I need it now.  Good afternoon to you all."

Mark 11: 27-33 

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey
2: The Commotion

4: The Anointing
5: The Betrayal
6: The Burial
7: The Precaution 
8: The Resurrection

Monday, 30 March 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 2: The Commotion


Two temple traders complain about the recent ruckus

"Three days' takings I've lost, Samuel.  Three days of my money down the drain, thanks to that joker."

"Tell me about it.  Did you see my pigeons?  Everywhere, they were.  Some even got into the Holy of Holies, and the priests didn't like that, I can tell you!  It took me ages to round them up."

"Pigeons?  Well they're OK - they're homing birds, aren't they?  You shake a bag of food, and back they all come.  My coins don't do that.  You know what all those beggars are like in the temple courts - one chink of a coin and they come running like chickens round seed.  When that madman turned my table over, half the money didn't even hit the floor before it was gone!"

"At least you didn't get in the way of his whip, Hosea.  Poor old Jedidiah got driven right out of the courtyard.  I know those Ark of the Covenant models he sells are pretty tacky, but he didn't deserve that."

"No way!  I tell you, crucifixion's too good for guys like that.  And what do we pay the temple guards for, anyway?  They should be making sure these lunatics don't even get in - especially if they're armed.  There's been too much of it lately."

"Damn right.  They all come in spouting about freedom and holy war, and next thing you know it's poor hardworking guys like us who are suffering for it.  Mind you, sounds like this one's got a vendetta against the religious leaders, too.  Did you hear what he was calling the Pharisees?"

"Sounded like 'hypocrites' from where I was standing."

"Oh yes, and that wasn't the half of it.  Poisonous snakes, dirty graves - that man had a mouth on him!"

"Brave guy.  Tell you what though Samuel, if he's insulting that lot in public he's not going to be around long.  They don't want anyone disturbing their holy little bubble.  You mark my words, they'll disappear him double-quick.  I bet they're cooking up some scheme right this minute."

"Well, I look forward to seeing it.  Even if he was just saying what the rest of us have been thinking for years - and you know it, Hosea."

"Yes, but that's the point, isn't it?  We are smart enough not to say it to their face.  And we don't cause a commotion right on their home turf.  And so, my friend, we are still going to be alive by the end of the week."

Mark 11: 15-19

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey

3: The Authority
4: The Anointing
5: The Betrayal
6: The Burial
7: The Precaution 
8: The Resurrection

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 1: The Donkey


Judas Iscariot argues with the other disciples

"Well, I've never been so embarrassed in my whole life!"

"What's up, Judas?  You didn't enjoy all the cheering?"

"A donkey, that's what's up!  A flipping baby donkey!  What kind of animal is that for the saviour of Jerusalem to ride in on?  I told him I knew a guy with a good horse, but oh no, he sends me and Matthew off like a couple of farmhands to get a donkey.  It makes fools of all of us, that's what it does.  No one's going to take him seriously after this."

"Oh, give over.  The crowds loved it!  You heard them - hosanna to the Son of David, and all the rest of it.  And we were right in the middle of it!  I never thought a poor fisherman from Galilee would be able to say that!"

"Well, make the most of it, Andrew.  They might be cheering today, but crowds are fickle things, you'll see.  He should have seized the moment!  Ridden in, stormed the palace, started the revolution.  I told him if he waited, we'd get nowhere.  He wouldn't listen, would he?  Just gave me that funny kind look he has, as if I'm a little child.  And sent me off to get that ridiculous donkey."

"Ah, poor little Judas.  Is your pride hurt by having to lead a donkey about?  Were you born to better things?"

"Shut up, Peter!  This is nothing to do with pride.  Just if Jesus wants to be king, he ought to start acting like one.  That's what I think."

"Maybe he is.  It reminded me of that bit from Zechariah, you know?  How does it go?  'Rejoice, daughter of Zion!  Here comes your king, triumphant and victorious; humble, and riding on a donkey."  Something like that, anyway.  Surely fulfilling ancient prophecy is pretty good for a messiah?"

"Oh, Bartholomew the scholar.  Ancient prophecy's all very well, but it's not much use in the here and now, is it?  What we want is the new world Jesus was talking about, with us all on thrones and the Romans kicked out.  Isn't that what we're following him for?  Isn't it, James?  John?  You two were quick enough to try and bag yourselves the best seats for when Jesus is in charge."

"Hey, that was our mum, not us.  Anyway, you heard what Jesus said about that.  'The last will be first and the first will be last,' - which now I think about it, fits in pretty well with his king-riding-on-a-donkey act.  If you're looking for power and glory, Judas, I think you're following the wrong guy."

"Yes, and that's just what's so frustrating.  He could do anything, Jesus could. Anything!  He's got that spark, that... that.. charisma.  You've seen him!  He just has to crook a finger and people will do what he wants.  If anyone could save this wretched country he could - and I thought he was going to do it!  And then he sat on a donkey and threw it all away.  Just threw it all away."

Matthew 21: 1-11 

Other Conversations from the Cross

2: The Commotion
3: The Authority
4: The Anointing
5: The Betrayal
6: The Burial
7: The Precaution 
8: The Resurrection

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Easter bonnets

Somehow, somewhere, an Easter bonnet must have entered my life.

Because when I read the words, "Easter Bonnet Parade" on Toby's pre-school newsletter, I immediately had a few mental associations.  Home-made.  Spring flowers.  Easter eggs. 

I am sure I've never worn one.  I've definitely never made one.  But some kind of folk memory told me what I had to do.

That, and Google, of course.  A few clicks brought up this handy Netmums page, and I thought the chicken-on-a-nest idea looked pretty cute.

Now, of course, for items like this you basically have two options.  You either set your kids loose on it and encourage them to go as crazy as possible so that it is abundantly clear that it is All Their Own Work, and not that you are totally uncreative and/or forgot all about it until the night before.  Or you give in to your competitive streak, banish your children completely and go for top-notch perfection.

Well, I tried for option 2.  Next year I'm letting Toby do it.


The hardest part was getting everything to stay on.  I selected double-sided tape as my weapon of choice, but raffia and straw hats seem to be Teflon-like in their unstickiness.  And then there wasn't really anything to stick the eggs and chicks to.



Toby's initial reaction was, "I don't want to wear a silly hat."  When it came to it, though, he was really excited.  A little too excited.  The other children paraded demurely across the stage and posed neatly in the centre for their parents to take a photo.  As I stood ready, camera focused, Toby hurtled across, parting company with the hat somewhere around the middle.

I had to collar him afterwards for a photo.

Unsurprisingly, we didn't win!  But good fun and chocolate eggs were had by all.  So that's what counts, isn't it?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Easter baking, Easter writing

It's almost Easter!  To celebrate, I've been doing some seasonal baking.  And I'm writing a special blog series for Holy Week.  It's called Conversations on the way to the Cross, exploring the events leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection through the mouths of some of the people most closely involved.  So watch out for a post every day from Palm Sunday, March 29, to Easter Sunday, April 5!


In the meantime, you may want something to eat.  Try these recipes.

Easter Biscuits


Some years ago, when I was living in Bristol, I wandered into a local chemist for something.  On the counter they had small bottles of cassia oil, with this recipe attached.  Intrigued, I bought some.  The cassia oil is long gone, but the recipe remains.  It works just as well substituted with cinnamon (a relative of cassia).  If you happen to come across any cassia oil, the original recipe called for 6 drops.

75g butter
75g sugar
1 egg
185g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
50g currants
caster sugar, for sprinkling

Cream butter and sugar, then beat in the egg.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, and stir into the creamed mixture.  Mix in the currants.

Place the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Roll out (the currants determine the thickness), and cut with a 7.5 cm round cutter.  Bake at 170°C for 12-15 minutes until just golden round the edges.

Sprinkle with sugar and place on racks to cool.  Makes 15 - 18.


Simnel Cake


The traditional recipe has a layer of marzipan baked in the middle of the cake.  This year, I decided to adapt Nigella Lawson's Marzipan Fruit Cake, which has chunks of marzipan mixed into it.  Here's my version:

150g raisins
100g glacé cherries, halved
150g ready-to-eat dried apricots, quartered
100ml apple juice
250g marzipan (plus 250g more for the topping)
50g ground almonds
zest of 1 lemon
175g plain flour
75g sugar
100g butter
2 large eggs

20 or 24 cm round cake tin, greased and lined

The night before you want to make the cake, mix the raisins, cherries and apricots with the apple juice and leave to soak.  Dice the marzipan and put in a bag in the freezer.

Making the cake is dead easy: just beat together the almonds, lemon zest, flour, sugar, butter and eggs.  Drain the fruit and add with the frozen marzipan.  Spread evenly in the tin and bake at 140°C for about 2 hours.  Leave to cool in the tin.

To make it into a Simnel cake, roll out about half of the remaining marzipan to a circle to cover the top of the cake.  Brush the cake with marmalade or apricot jam, and stick it on.  Use the rest of the marzipan to make 11 small balls, and stick these on top.  Brush with egg white if you like (I never do) and put under the grill for a few minutes to brown the marzipan.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Springtime - and sadness

It's a long, slow build up to spring around here.  I found myself wanting to shout at the daffodils to get moving, as I chivvy Toby to get his shoes on when we're running late.  But finally there's a sunny day here... and another one there... and a tantalising smell of green growing things in the air... and I got my camera and went hunting for springtime.

Crocuses
Magnolia buds (and blue sky!)
Daffodils on the windowsill
Flowers on the village green
Snowdrops
Even an early clump of primroses!
Alder catkins
A coot adjusting her nest
Courting mallards

But in the middle of all this new life, I turned on the radio this afternoon and learned that Sir Terry Pratchett had taken the hand of Death.  He was a man of immense imagination and immense humanity.

Not many people can claim to have created a world.  Still fewer have welcomed 70 million people into that world with them. And probably only one has made it as funny, serious and fantastic as the Discworld.  RIP Sir Terry.


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Marvellous Miscellany

Seven things that you may or may not find interesting.  But first, a picture.

Weekend Cottage 2 by Toby White.  Note the numbers above the doors, the chimney (and are those solar panels?) on the roof, and on the right, a tap with hose attached.  All his houses include this feature.

1.  I have six growbags in the back of my car.  This is the cheap and cheerful approach to starting a vegetable garden.  Once the frost has finished, the plan is to fill them with courgettes, spring onions, rocket, green beans and tomatoes.  Out of all those, tomatoes are the only ones I have grown before, but apparently they are all easy to cultivate.

Shiny seed packets!
And yes, I will take the growbags out of my car first.  Unless the weather is so bad that I need an impromptu greenhouse solution, in which case mine's the vehicle with green beans hanging out the window.

2.  Toby at dinner tonight: "I've tried the fishcakes and they're not good.  And I have nothing to dip in my ketchup.  So... I'll just have a bacon sandwich."

So I'm running a restaurant now?

(Since he actually did try the fishcakes twice, we compromised with a tuna sandwich, as long as he ate his peas.)

3. Recently I saw a man walking along the cold, muddy canal bank - barefoot.  Apart from that, he was fully dressed, had a dog, and looked like any other man walking along the cold, muddy canal bank.  Was he doing it for the health benefits?  And are there any?  I think if I tried that I'd be amputating my frostbitten toes at the end of the walk.

4. My latest recipe trial was peanut butter and orange cookies.  I don't think I'll be sharing that one with you.  They're OK, but as I said to Graham, they lacked something.  He responded, "What, flavour?"  Oh, that'd be it.

You can have a picture.  They looked good.

5. Things that Theo likes doing that we don't like him doing, in order of disgustingness:
   - headbutting his reflection in the mirror
   - investigating the kitchen bin
   - peering into the toilet

6. Things that Theo likes doing that we don't like him doing, but are preferable to those other things so we let him do them anyway:
   - rearranging our carefully ordered boxes of CDs
   - emptying all the plastic boxes out of the kitchen cupboard
   - pressing all the buttons on the TV remote

7. I just found out that we will be able to see a 90% solar eclipse on the 20th of March!  Weather permitting, of course (please please please let it be clear.)  Googling "UK solar eclipse 2015" brings up several links to local newspapers, and I was amused to see that the one for my place of birth carried the heading, "Reading, Bracknell and Wokingham are set to be plunged into gloom on Friday, March 20."  Meanwhile, the rest of the country will be enjoying a spectacular astronomical event.