The Riserdrummer Christmas Message 2015


Yep, another 12 months has flown by. The world is full of new people, and is missing others that are no longer with us. There’s happiness and joy, sadness and sorrow, trouble and fear, hope and excitement.

My message this year is going to take a serious note…

This year there’s been a huge amount of discussion in the media relating to the part that religions of all styles play in the challenges facing the world today. The issue of how to address the threat from ISIS/IS/Daesh has caused deep rifts in certain countries between the Muslims and non-Muslims. The Middle East has been torn apart, not just by IS, but by the civil war in Syria, the resurgence of the Taliban, and the never-ending problems in Israel and Gaza. Throughout Africa, atrocities are being committed in the name of one God or other. In France, in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in the US, we’ve seen the terrible consequences that result.

Our newsfeeds are literally awash with stories of a massive migration away from the most trouble-torn areas of the world, raising questions and debate as to how we manage such an influx of people, whilst still upholding Government’s elected mandate in all European countries to protect the electorate.

I wish there were some simple answers – or even some complex ones – to these issues. Sadly, I suspect there may not be one for some time.

However, I do have one thing above all that I want to stress. As a Christian, the thought that anyone could use God as a justification for killing is abhorrent. And anyone that does – well, it’s clearly a religion thing rather than a faith thing. There’s a big difference between the two, which may not be that obvious to many.

Faith is the relationship between a person and God. It’s the belief, the bond, the knowledge of eternal truth that goes beyond the ability of man to rationalise, prove or explain. And true faith can’t support the actions of many we see around the world, whatever they call themselves. True faith is based on love, joy, peace, mercy, grace, and understanding.

Religion, on the other hand, is the framework that we build to try and formalise all of that and put it into a box we can carry around and show people. Every single aspect of a religion is man-made, and therefore subject to mans failings, desires and faults, except faith. And anyone claiming a ‘righteous war’, be they IS, be they Westboro Baptist fundamentalists, be they whoever, operates from a base of hatred, judgement, anger, bitterness and separation – none of which has any connection to faith in the God I know.

My prayer, for now and the new year to come, is that religion takes a back seat and faith abounds in our hearts and minds. Only when that breaks out in this world will we see the seeds of change.

May the peace of the season, the love of God, the joy of family and friends, and the understanding of this special time, be with all of you.

Merry Christmas!


Young Fellow My Lad…


“Where are you going, Young Fellow My Lad,
On this glittering morn of May?”
“I’m going to join the Colours, Dad;
They’re looking for men, they say.”
“But you’re only a boy, Young Fellow My Lad;
You aren’t obliged to go.”
“I’m seventeen and a quarter, Dad,
And ever so strong, you know.”

. . . . .

“So you’re off to France, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you’re looking so fit and bright.”
“I’m terribly sorry to leave you, Dad,
But I feel that I’m doing right.”
“God bless you and keep you, Young Fellow My Lad,
You’re all of my life, you know.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll soon be back, dear Dad,
And I’m awfully proud to go.”

. . . . .

“Why don’t you write, Young Fellow My Lad?
I watch for the post each day;
And I miss you so, and I’m awfully sad,
And it’s months since you went away.
And I’ve had the fire in the parlour lit,
And I’m keeping it burning bright
Till my boy comes home; and here I sit
Into the quiet night.”

. . . . .

“What is the matter, Young Fellow My Lad?
No letter again to-day.
Why did the postman look so sad,
And sigh as he turned away?
I hear them tell that we’ve gained new ground,
But a terrible price we’ve paid:
God grant, my boy, that you’re safe and sound;
But oh I’m afraid, afraid.”

. . . . .

“They’ve told me the truth, Young Fellow My Lad:
You’ll never come back again:
For you passed in the night, Young Fellow My Lad,
And you proved in the cruel test
Of the screaming shell and the battle hell
That my boy was one of the best.

“So you’ll live, you’ll live, Young Fellow My Lad,
In the gleam of the evening star,
In the wood-note wild and the laugh of the child,
In all sweet things that are.
And you’ll never die, my wonderful boy,
While life is noble and true;
For all our beauty and hope and joy
We will owe to our lads like You”

Robert William Service

Conversations with my Grandfather

My grandfather, James Cannon, passed away nearly 20 years ago.


I often think of him, his experiences in life, and regret not having taken the time to ask him more about his life. You always think there will be time to have those chats when you’re younger, don’t you?

I wonder what he would think, and what he would say, were he here to talk to today.

Born in 1920, he was a man of that time in all senses – masculine, determined, definately not one to bemoan his lot, nor someone who would broadcast when things were not going well. He was a working man, and a very private, proud man.

When he passed away, I was away from home with work, and therefore had a lot of time alone to think about him, something I have continued to do through the years since his death.

What would we talk about, given the chance? Given a few more hours, what would I ask?

I would talk of my life, my journey from small child to husband and father. What would he think of the choices I made, of the path my life has taken? I would expect honest, loving, blunt truth from him. I would know when I had screwed up, and when I did the right thing. I know he loved Rebecca and would have adored the girls, and that there would be no small amount of pride in how his grandson turned out.

I would have asked him about his parents and grandparents, wondering what they were like, and how much of their character and values formed his. I know names, and I have seen a photograph of his father as an elderly man, but I would really want to know what they were like: what they did, where they lived, how they went about their lives, and whether his childhood was a happy one.

Most of all, I would want to ask him about his time in the RAF during World War 2. As a child growing up with comics such as Battle and Commando, war was sold as a glorified adventure story to an entire generation of boys. We read of gung-ho, jolly types who set out to give Jerry a bloody nose, before returning to have a quick game of cricket in the evening. We made colourful models of tanks, ships and aircraft, with barely a thought that we were
constructing minature tributes to instruments of death and destruction. I never knew, and Grandad certainly never told, that he had served throughout the war in Bomber Command as a rear gunner, probably the most isolated and fear-filled position on the aircraft. Sat in the perspex bubble looking away from the plane, it must have seemed that the only thing around you were the bursts of anti-aircraft fire, the searchlights picking your crate out of the night sky, and the enemy fighters seeking to send you to an early, flame-filled death on the ground fifteen thousand feet below. He served his time, and his country, in this very position, knowing all the time that the fate I just described had taken his brother, Cornelius, in 1943.

He would most likely have changed the subject, as it was clearly one he was not happy to discuss. But maybe, he would not have. maybe, he would have sat me down and told me of the terror, the stress, the physical and emotional fatigue, the feeling of despair that things would ever change, and also of the hope, the heroism, the camaraderie, the belief that, when the end of the war finally did arrive, they would be able to stand together knowing that, when they were called, they answered and did their duty.

I understand all of this now, far more that when I was younger. I still make models, but it’s a time to consider the whole truth, and not just the Boys Own stuff we were fed as children.

These are the things I would love to say, the things I would love to ask my Granddad, were I to have one more afternoon with him, a cup of tea, and a couple of armchairs by the fire.

Australia’s third-shortest, Broad’s best – the stats don’t lie…

60 Australia’s score in the first innings, their seventh-lowest score in Test history, and their second-lowest in the last 79 years. The only time they were bowled out for less in this period was against South Africa – 47, in Cape Town, 2011.

25 Number of balls (or 4.1 overs) it took Australia to lose their first five wickets, the quickest any team has lost five wickets since 2002 (prior to which ball-by-ball data is not available).

111 Number of balls (or 18.3 overs) Australia lasted. It was the shortest-ever first innings of a Test. It was also Australia’s third-shortest Test innings. Their shortest lasted 99 balls (or 12.3 eight-ball overs), in Brisbane in 1936. Thirteen out of Australia’s 14 shortest Test innings have come against England.

2 Wickets taken by Stuart Broad in the first over of the match. There have only been two previous instances, since 2002, of a bowler taking two or more wickets in the first over of a Test match – Irfan Pathan against Pakistan (2006) and Chris Cairns against England (2002).

0 Chris Rogers made the first duck of his Test career, in his 46th innings. If Rogers had not scored a duck during this Ashes series, after which he is set to retire, he would have had the longest Test career without a single duck, a record currently held by Australia’s Jim Burke (44 innings).

5 Number of England bowlers who have taken 300-plus Test wickets. Broad became the fifth bowler to join the list when he took the wicket of Chris Rogers with his third ball. The other four bowlers are James Anderson (413), Ian Botham (383), Bob Willis (325) and Fred Trueman (307).

6.1 Overs bowled by England when Stuart Broad picked up his fifth wicket. Since 2002 (prior to which ball-by-data is not available), no bowler before Broad had picked up more than three wickets in the first 6.1 overs of an innings.

0 Number of Australia’s top-seven batsmen who scored more than 10 runs during the first innings. Clarke was the highest run-scorer with exactly 10 runs. The last instance when each of Australia’s top-seven batsmen were dismissed for 10 runs or less in an Ashes Test was 79 years ago, in Brisbane in 1936. This has happened to Australia five times in all Tests, four of those against England.

8-15 Broad’s figures in the first innings of this Test, the best of his career. He has two previous seven-wicket hauls, against New Zealand (2013) and West Indies (2012), both at Lord’s.

14 Number of times that extras have top-scored in a Test innings. This is third such instance for Australia, with the last occasion being against West Indies in 1991. England conceded 14 extras which constituted 23% of Australia’s score of 60.

9 Number of times Broad has taken six or more wickets in an innings, the third-most for any England bowler, and the sixth-most overall.

1.87 The average runs per wicket conceded by Broad in the first innings of this Test. He took eight wickets and conceded only 15 runs. Broad is the first bowler to concede less than two runs per wicket when taking a five-wicket haul against Australia.

5 Number of times that three (or more) out of Australia’s top-four batsmen have scored ducks – Rogers (0), Warner (0), Smith (6) and Shaun Marsh (0). Each of those five instances have been against England, with the last coming 65 years ago, in Brisbane in 1950.

1 Number of England bowlers who have returned better figures than Broad during an Ashes Test – Jim Laker. Broad’s figures of 8-15 are next only to Jim Lakers figures of 10-53 and 9-37 at Old Trafford in 1956.

via Australia’s third-shortest, Broad’s best | Cricket | ESPN Cricinfo.

Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face

Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!

Murder, Treachery and The King of the Isle of Man…

OK, that sounds a little like a plot for Midsomer Murders.

Actually, it’s my ancestor. Yep, I have a killer in my genes (something that sounds so much like a line from a Carry On movie when I read it out loud).

The man in question was my 21x Great Grandfather, Sir John Stanley, KG, born in 1350 and destined to become Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the titular King of Mann.

The Stanley Coat of Arms

John was born to well-to-do parents who brushed with the nobility. John’s father Sir William de Stanley was Master-Forester of the Forest of Wirral and was well known for his tendency for repressive methods of governing.

John and his elder brother William (who inherited his father’s position as Master-Forester) also clearly also inherited his ruthlessness, and became involved in many criminal cases, including a forced entry case, and culminating in a conviction in 1376 for the murder of one Thomas Clotton.

John had, by this time, escaped to France and was serving with no little distinction in the English Army, which led his commander, Sir Thomas Trivet, to successfully petition for his pardon.

In 1385 John married Isabel Lathom, heir to the extensive lands of Sir Thomas Lathom in south-west Lancashire. The marriage took place despite the opposition of John of Gaunt, then head of the English Government, and gave John the sort of wealth and financial security he could never have hoped to have had as the younger son in his own family. John and Isabel had four sons and two daughters.

In 1386, John Stanley began his rise to prominence by taking the role of Deputy to Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland. After successfully leading an expedition on behalf of de Vere and King Richard II to quell a revolt, he was given the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He proved himself very adept at keeping potential rebels down, and remained a royal favourite. However, John was far more adept at politics than the King imagined, turned his back on Richard, and swore loyalty to Henry Tudor, soon to become King Henry IV.

John fared equally well under Henry’s rule, and his lands and estates grew under the King and his successor, Henry V.  In 1405, he was awarded the Knight Order of the garter, granted the position of Sovereign Lord of the Isle of Man, and he self-titled himself King of Mann.

John continued to serve Henry V throughout england and Ireland until his death (during a second spell as Lord Lieutenant) in County Louth in 1414.

Old movies, classic comedy and good clean smut…

There’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about going on a nostalgia kick.

In fact, there’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about using the word ‘quintessentially’, which I suspect is only ever followed by the words ‘British’ or ‘English’. You definitely never see anyone describing something as ‘quintessentially German’ – not even goose-stepping.

I’ve recently reconnected with a bunch of stuff from my youth, which leads me to write this epistle.

Here’s the ‘stuff’:

  • Vinyl records played on a proper record player with little tinny speakers
  • Black and white films, of the sort that always used to be on telly on a Sunday afternoon
  • 1960s BBC radio comedy – specifically ‘Round The Horne’
  • B-movie science fiction, generally from the 70s and early 80s

These items, in and of themselves, are fairly normal. You could easily read that list and silently – or audibly – go “meh”…

But it’s more what they evoke than what they deliver.

Take the vinyl records, for example. They, for me, demonstrate that great line from the movie ‘High Fidelity’, when, after Dick tried unsuccessfully to guess how Rob was rearranging his record collection (“Chronological? No… not alphabetical…”) Rob reveals his system will be autobiographical, so that “if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

I’ve not got many vinyl albums, but when I listen to the double live album Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, I’m back home with my parents, them sat watching tv in one room whilst I’m sat next door, listening to one of the world’s greatest protest singers delivering a lyric so great, you don’t realise how revolutionary it was until nearly ten years later… but you remember the message. When I’m listening to Dare by The Human League, or Upstairs at Erics by Yazoo, I’m back in that post-school, pre-serious work period where everything was cool, and I was a part of it.

The old movies? Sunday afternoons in front of the telly were great – especially if it was raining outside, and we sat in front of the fire watching films like ‘The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw‘ with Kenneth More, or – if we were lucky – a Carry On film. All a part of those days when you could watch a film and part of your eight-year-old mind still believed it might be real. And if it was a sci-fi b-movie so bad it’s good, the knowledge that it most certainly wasn’t…

Round The Horne was something I got to later in my childhood, but the repeats of the show were always something I looked out for. The cast was brilliant, with the leader of the gang, Kenneth Horne, often playing the straight man (in all senses) to Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and another ‘quintessentially’ BBC voice, announcer Douglas Smith. Listening to the show now, it’s remarkable how far they managed to push the boundaries of the BBC back in 1965, when the show was first broadcast. They had plenty of sexually repressed characters, innuendo by the bucketload, and the incredible ‘Julian and Sandy’, two unemployed actors taking on a range of different jobs. They were the most obviously gay couple imaginable, in an age when homosexuality was still illegal. The fact that they could get away with so much still surprises me, such as when they were working as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?

JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.

HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.

SANDY: Ooh, isn’t he bold?

Comedy nowadays struggles to fit in single entendres, let alone the doubles that Round The Horne was liberally sprinkled with. Entertainment has changed, and not really for the better.

In this age of digital downloads, 3D blockbusters and so called ‘talk-radio’, I’d rather stick with entertainment that… well, entertained.