Thursday, 7 March 2013

Angels watching over you

Woking Street Angels have produced a short promotional video:

WSA Promo 2013(Short) from Woking Street Angels on Vimeo.

This is all about Woking Steet Angels who patrol the streets of Woking on Friday and Saturday nights

if it is not visible above for some reason then click HERE

Monday, 4 March 2013

Storm Warning - some personal reflections

I've been reading a book that has taken me back to our Peshawar days. Storm Warning: Riding the Cross winds in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Borderland (Radcliffe Press 2013) by Robin Brooke-Smith, who was Principle of Edwardes College Peshawar

The title comes from an Iqbal couplet which is cited by the head of Pakistani Intelligence Service the ISI in Peshawar:   "Oh Eagle do not fear the crosswinds / They are blowing to make you fly higher.'

Robin is a close friend. We overlapped in Peshawar, when I was working in a Drug rehabilitation project as Drug Advisor. I used to go round to the Principal's House to watch rugby on occasions, for a meal (I remember Scottish Country Dancing there)  and even preached in the little chapel. Robin used to come round to our house in University Town to watch a video and get a way for a short while.  Reading the book was to be transported back to those heady days.
I even appear in the dramatis personae at the front of the book as 'CMS representative for South and Central Asia'  and I know a number of the characters in the book, mainly from the church side:   Bishop Manu (USPG Gen Sec), Humfrey Peters the Diocesan Secretary  Cecil Williams (Principal of Edwardes High School and then Bishop), Rev Ghani Taib, Col. Tressler and Col. Khanwal Isaacs, the college bursar. We know each other, we have shared bread together.   I am facebook friends with a  number of them.

I also developed a great affection for the Principal's house staff: Ilyas the chowkidar, the driver   Fayaz, Raj the mali, and of course  Yousef the cook, who used to bring me sweet milky 'bed tea' when I stayed over during later visits. I also remember 'Jet' the mine-dog (we also had a ex-UN, failed-mine dog called Nicker, who we renamed 'Snicker'!)

Our son Tim had a term at Edwardes College School in the hot, humid summer of 1996 that Robin mentions. It was the first time he had worn a jacket and tie. The heat nearly did him in and helped him decide to go into boarding at Murree Christian School (MCS) in the cooler climate of the foothills of the Himalayas.

As Regional Director I participated in the Centenary Celebrations in April 2000, visiting Pakistan with my wife Rachel. I preached at the Centenary Service, but was also involved in some behind the scene diplomacy with Church of Pakistan leadership, which helped to change the story a little.

And for me the highlight was the contrast between The Band of the Irish Guards and the Khattak Dancers.  It was as if a history of the Raj and the NWFP was being enacted before our very eyes. The Great Game seemed somehow very real...... and as yet unfinished.

I even wrote about it in a piece I did for my masters back in December 2000, the same year as the centenary celebrations:
‘Carry on up the Khyber’:  A Strange Loop in Peshawar.
Helping to ‘Change the Story’ in a situation of complexity and cultural diversity.
Robin has gone into much more detail and writes a fascinating mixture of personal and poetic reflections on college life, with a sharp grasp of the bigger picture -  the wider geo-political context in which a drama was being played out in a college campus.  It makes for fascinating reading.

But I thought I would quote three extracts from what I wrote, which echo and in some ways add another perspective to what Robin has written: 

Principal’s House, Edwardes’ College Peshawar,  Easter Sunday
A week of celebrations is about to take place to mark the Centenary of this old institution. I have been invited to represent CMS, which had a significant role in the foundation of the College and give an address during the Celebratory Service.

I arrived to learn that the Diocese has refused  to allow the use of All Saints Church in the Old City, next to the old Edwardes’ School (where the college started) for the Celebration Service. In addition an advert has been placed in the local Newspapers entitled APPEAL AND PROTEST, appealing to ‘worthy leaders’ on behalf of the ‘parent body’ and ‘owners’ who had been ‘humiliated’ and deprived from taking part in the centenary celebrations’.  And signed: ‘The Moderator Bishop’s Commissary and the Officers of the Diocese of Peshawar, Church of Pakistan’.
On Saturday, a press conference was held, resulting in a number of published articles, which appeared in the local Urdu and English papers on Easter Sunday. The Frontier Post declared ‘Edwardes College Principal’s appointment termed illegal’. It went on:‘The church is sad that having taken advantage of our vulnerability and innocence we have deliberately been deprived from our rights and authority in the College. Given that the Church is the legal owner and the initiator of the College, it is an injustice and an insult that we have deliberately been kept out of the Centenary celebration’. 

Edwardes’ College is a very significant college. One of the staff quoted a Pathan friend as saying that ‘the NWFP has nothing to present except Edwardes’ College’ and commended its Principal as a man of great strength, honesty and integrity. Yet the church feels that they are not involved in THEIR college and that a conspiracy is underway by the Government to take the college away. What had caused such polarisation and ambiguity, and extreme positioning of opposing forces ?

Khattak Dancers


The NorthWest Frontier Province (NWFP) is the wild-west of Pakistan, part of the untamed, semi-autonomous FATA areas  (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).  Pathan culture is one of the oldest democracies, with the ‘Shura’ (village elders) system, and a strong tribal code ‘Paktoonwali’ with its emphasis on honour and shame, relationship and revenge, hospitality  and hostility. Women are closely guarded and cocooned behind ‘chadar and chaar diwaar’  (cloth covering and 4 walls)  

Steeped in history, this is where Churchill as a war correspondent took pot-shots at Hill Tribeman (as recounted in ‘My Early Life’) Untamed by the British Raj, it was a final outpost of the Empire before the Durand Line, running through Afghanistan along the line of the Oxus River (now the Amu Darya)   separating the ‘British Lion’ from the ‘Russian Bear’. This is where the Great Game [1] was played immortalised by Kipling’s Kim. Full of romanticism, adventure, treachery. Boy’s Own country.
Since the Russian Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Peshawar has been also been ‘deluged’ with over a million Afghan Refugees. It has been a hot-bed of intrigue, drug smuggling (Afghanistan is the World’s No. 1 producer of Opium) and Guns (Darra Village where any weapon can be copied and Kalashnokovs sells for a few pounds). This is all symbolised by ‘The Khyber Pass’, connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan, the scene of the ‘Carry on’ film drama of the title.

Pakistan means ‘Land of the Pure’ yet it is reputedly the second most corrupt country in the world. It was set up as an ideological and religious state in 1947, a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent. Its flag of predominantly Islamic Green, has a strip of white to symbolise space for minorities. But as they say in Pakistan in various sayings or texts in urdu: ‘majority has authority’ or ‘whoever has the stick has the Buffalo’ (‘jyski lathi, uski bayhns’)

Band of the Irish Guards

All’s well that ends well ?
The final Celebration was a grand affair with a large colourful ‘Shamiana’ [2] providing covering for hundreds of visitors in front of the New Centenary Building. The Governor of NWFP was the chief guest, with the British High Commissioner and Greek Ambassador, along with other Dignitaries. There were apparently marksmen on the roof because of a bomb threat against the band, which added to the drama of the occasion.  But the Church was present and represented by the Moderator and officers of the Diocese. A degree of reconciliation had taken place.  This had been given public expression and ‘face’ was saved.

The Pipes and Drums and Fifes of the Irish Guards, marched on in their military splendour, wearing large black, Bear Skins in spite of the heat – performing for half an hour. They were followed by the Frontier Constabulary’s troupe of Khattack dancers in an exciting display – like whirling dervishes with swords. It seemed like a hundred years of history was enacted before our eyes. The British Raj, pomp and ceremony, followed by the untamable excitement of Tribal Rule. ‘Carry on up the Khyber’ indeed! 

During the inevitable speeches, the Principal recalled the college’s academic past. The Governor made his opening remarks and a public promise of a donation to the college of 2 lakh Rupees (£2,500). The Moderator was invited to pray and used the opportunity to express the churches’ support. A scuffle of activity from the Commissary, a word  to the Master of ceremonies and a whisper in the Moderator’s ear. Then he also announced a contribution of exactly the same amount from the church.   A proper balance of power had been restored!

A postscript
During the after-ceremony lunch, there was a presentation of a British Council collection of English classic books, ‘the Everyman Millenium Collection’, to the College Library. The British Ambassador making the presentation gave the Principal a token book and chuckled.   He had chosen -  Machievelli’s ‘the Prince’ ! [3] 

[1] Peter Hopkirk The Great Game (OUP) - Captain Conolly of the Bengal Light Infantry first coined the term ‘The Great Game’ to describe the shadow play of British and Czarist agents across Central Asia as the Russian frontiers pushed closer to India’  
[2] A Shamiana is a very colourful tent used at times of public functions: weddings and funerals. Culturally  more often than not  representiing celebration – and a place where people are honoured publically. And attendance is everything.
[3] cf McAlpine A. ‘The New Machievelli: Renaissance Real Politik for Modern Managers’  (Aurum Press 1997) ‘There is no evidence to suggest that Machiavelli was himself an evil man. However he clearly understood the capacity for evil that links all of us. The point is not that Machiavelli advocated evil doing , rather that he accepted that for all human activity and especially politics will involve evil doing. Having acknowledged that evil is unavoidable, Machiavelli tries to show his Prince how to recognise it for what it is and to use it for his own advantage.’   Pg 6

I recommend the book. Buy a copy or get your local library to order a copy (I've been reading CMS's Crowther Centre library copy). Read it and let it transport you to the wild (north) west, frontier town of Peshawar, in the mid-nineties before 9/11 and the subsequent war of terror.

There are more details of the book first public response on Wordpress.
There will be a book launch at Shrewsbury School Saturday 16th March

Sunday, 3 March 2013


During a clergy quiet day at St Columba's in Woking, the chaplain  Rev Gillain Holland invited us to meditate on among other things, two of her fathers paintings.  Paul Robertson is a  Surrey born artist who has produced a series of religious festival themed paintings.  we were left simply with space to mediate with the painting and some accompanying notes. I found them stunning..

this is the description of ENTRY from his website 
 A series of paintings in which the use of colour, symbolism and evocative shapes and feelings express my thoughts about the Easter story. 'Entry' is a portrayal of the possible feelings of Jesus as He moved purposefully from the open countryside (e.g. Luke 7 v. 16-17), with its known areas of support (e.g. Luke 5 v. 11, 15), to set His face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9 v. 51). Hosannas echo in the air, 'white harvest' lines converge on the path descending into the confines of oppressive religion. The coruscating sun-shapes repeat downwards representing the Son who, willingly, went down for us. The branches and leaves spelling out 'Hosanna' (Mark 11 v. 9) change to 'Crucify' (Mark 15 v. 13) as they fall into the pit. The dark night of the soul approaches. The crown of glory is exchanged for the crown of thorns. The paths, rocky ground and brambles are reminders of the dangers in the parable of the sower (Mark 4 v. 3 ff).

Gillain informs me that more of her father, Paul Robertson's paintings will be available at St Columba's House during Lent and Easter.  I found the geometrical shapes, colours and images gripping and layered with meaning.

Holy Ground (and sacred:space) are running a multi-sensory, participatory vigil on Easter Saturday from 8pm to midnight. I'll be there and look forward to seeing the paintings among many other things.  Why not come along.....