Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Manus, a friend on the web, has very kindly, and at great expense no doubt, sent me a book about a topic that interests us both – how can we square the notion of God and “natural” disasters?

The least I can do is to read it, which I have, and offer my opinions on it.

There are good and bad things about “The Doors of the Sea.” Good; the title, and the length – short, barely a hundred pages.

Bad; no index, and the small but significant fact that it signally fails to answer the question on the cover, “Where Was God in the Tsunami?”

Although there are only some 23,000 words in “Doors” if the author, David Bentley Hart, was going to dodge addressing this issue directly, he had to find some other way of filling up even a little book like this.

Here's what he does. First, he gives a reasonable account of what happened in 2004 in Indonesia. Then, he sets up a fine big straw man, the atheist who says, “The Tsunami proves that God doesn't exist.” Then kicks him over. Easy!

Then, reasonably enough, he goes on to cite Voltaire and his poem on the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. He seems respectful of the work, although, pausing for a moment to inform us that, Voltaire's “ ...verse lacks the epigrammatic and syntactic brilliance of Pope's, of course..”

Well, of course, but what does that have to do with “Where Was God in the Tsunami?”

Then inexplicably, he produces Ivan Karamazof and his musings on the wickedness of human beings. Even Hart can see this is a stretch, for he has to tell us, “Admittedly, Ivan does not much concern himself with the randomness of natural calamity as Voltaire does, the evils Ivan recounts are not of impersonal nature but of men...”
So it's utterly beside the point. And what has any of it got to do with “Where Was God in the Tsunami?”

Nevertheless he goes on for several more pages on Ivan. Go figure. In fact, he ends the chapter thus: “Voltaire sees only the terrible truth that the history of suffering and death is not morally intelligible. Dostoyevsky sees – and this bespeaks both his moral genius and his irreducibly Christian view of morality – that it would be far more terrible if it were.” To which we can only paraphrase Tweedledum, (or was that Tweedledee?) “But it isn't, so it ain't.”

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Hart actually does get round to answering his own question, and I am just too dim to figure it out.
Perhaps Manus, who has doubtless read the book, can put me right. We shall see.

Anyway, that'll do for one day. “Naught but a blockhead ever wrote, but for money.”
Ain't that a fact.

Monday, 20 June 2011


It strikes Toad (that's me) that he should limit his blog ambitions. Perhaps one entry a month is within his infinitely tiny capabilities.
He sees he hasn't wrote a line since May 6th. Idle Toad.

So, an update. This is a good time to essay this, as Reb is this very day, leaving Medina de Campo with her chums on route for Toro. On a Camino, in fact. This leaves Toad alone, save for the company of the company of the animals, who are all as fit as fleas. How fit their fleas are, is harder to say.

Harry, the new dog is doing just fine. Noble, loyal, kindly. Every ten year old boy should be issued with a clone of him on that birthday. Bit sexist that - make it every ten year old child. There.

The main news item - indeed the only one - during the blog lacuna was, of course, Hugh Heffner's fiancee deciding not to marry the naughty old publisher.
Toad thinks she was wise, as he feels the age difference might well have proved too great.

Big excitement after writing the above. While walking the dogs I saw what looked like a dark green belt stretched across the trail, so I poked it with my stick. Of course it turned out to be a snake, which took off sharpish, chased by frantic dogs, who were unsuccessful. Still, a snake sighting is satisfying.

This may well do for the day. We shall see.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Laden down

On September 11, 2001, a friend of mine was in the city of Cuenca in Ecuador. When images of the collapsing twin towers in Manhattan were seen on TV, an impromptu fiesta broke out. All work stopped, much strong drink was taken and each of the innumerable re-runs of mayhem was heartily cheered.
This was not because the people of Cuenca were notably pro Osama bin Laden. But they were, said my friend, clearly and notably anti-American. I do not know why this should be. No doubt they had their reasons.
The death of bin Laden reminded me of this ugly little story. What did they do in Cuenca when that news came through, I mused? Probably not what many in the United States did: Whooped, Yee-Harred, back-slapped, waved Old Glory and sang “God Bless America.”
It's all over! We've won World War Three! Everything will be all right now! All that tiresome nonsense of airport security – the taking off of shoes and the confiscation of our hair gels - can be scrapped, the dollar will resume its rightful place as the King of Currencies, and Bill Gates will resume his position as the richest man in the world. It will be a special relief to Barack Obama, to know that now there is slightly less chance of Osama being elected President instead of him by a careless miss-reading of the ballot forms.
Best of all, we no longer have to look fearfully under the bed each night!
But, sadly, it was not to be so simple. Naturally, the first reaction of the White House was to issue a pack of lies: bin Laden was armed, blazing away, and using his wife as a human shield. This was quickly replaced with a different, rather less glorious version in which the Evil One was unarmed and not cowering behind his woman.
Is the second version true? Very possibly, because it seems that that whole incident was videoed by the American troops wearing little cameras on their helmets. This led to an interesting photograph of the Obama 'team' huddled over computer screens, watching the grisly drama unfold before their very eyes. Among those present was Vice President Biden, a devout Catholic (why are only Catholics described as 'devout?' Why do we never read of a devout Jew?) who was described as clutching a string of Rosary beads. One can only speculate if watching a man murdered, presumably with his full approval, provoked any subtle moral issues between the Biden ears.
Unfortunately, had it not been for all this Watching And Recording History In The Making caper, the first pack of lies would have served perfectly nicely.
Also, the whole boiling has instantly and inevitably spawned a bucketful of conspiracy stories. One clear reason for this is the absence of any photographic evidence of Osama's body. Too unsightly, it seems. This in a nation where unretouched pictures of a 'live' Donald Trump are readily available, and can be seen by small children.
So, very likely a majority of the simple folk of Cuenca, Ecuador will form the opinion that bin Laden is not really dead.
How soon before the first sighting of the Satanic Saudi driving a New York cab, with a fake Hawaiian birth certificate on the dashboard?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Very Spanish Sunday

An extraordinarily Spanish sort of day yesterday.

First, it was warm and sunny, which helps. At 11.45 to Mass as usual, accompanied by two young pilgrims who are staying with us, Rachel and Jean. Mass was enlivend by Don Santiago getting to the consecration only to find he had left the chalice in the vestuary. We all had a smile, including him.

Then to the Ayuntamiento for wine, vermouth, shrimps and strawberries (the last provided by us). The strawbs had blueberries in them - arandanos in Spanish, which puzzled the locals, who don't care much for being puzzled, but no harm was done.

Then there was a long Spanish bickering contest at the table about certain people not doing their bit as far as local politics and village life is concerned.
Reb promised to become the Mayor as soon as possible.

Then home for a nap, then back at four for chocolate cake, flan and Champagne for the April birthdays, of which there are several.

Then off at five to Sahagun to hear the Pasos, the big Passion Week floats, being auctioned off. People bid large sums of money for the right to carry them around. This odd blend of religion and lucre is intensely Spanish.
Much shouting, badinage and applause.

Reb was conducted to a front row seat by our pal the local vet, and so I strolled up to the Deportivo Bar. The Sunday bullfight was on the TV, utterly ignored by the Mus players. I watched two 'fights' (not the right word at all). The first was a shambles by a torero who was plainly too scared to do it right. I don't blame him being scared, but that being the case, he should not have gone into the ring in the first place.
Nevertheless, after poking his sword from a safe distance a couple of times roughly into the bull's neck, he managed to bleed the unfortunate and noble beast to death, for which he was given a standing ovation.
The second matador was an oaf named after 'El Cordobes,' the man generally regarded as vulgarising the Corrida almost beyond repair in the 1960's.
El Cordobes 2 was brave enough, and skillful. And, like his namesake, he was also utterly flashy and tasteless, constantly jumping up and down and flinging himself into a kneeling position. He received, not only a standing ovation, but two ears as well.
Then back in Sahagun, there was a procession of marching bands, playing the weird braying and whining music, backed by dozens of drums, that we know from the Godfather movies. Some of the uniforms resembled what one might expect a Serbian postman, in 1920, to wear, or possibly a Bosnian station master in 1890.

We are going to follow Holy Week closely this year. But no pointy hoods for us. So far.

Friday, 1 April 2011

April Foolin'

This being April the first, and the Day of Saint Crossan's sacred toenail, Toad fondly remembers this date in the year 1990. It was his first April Fool's Day in Toledo, Ohio, and he decided to treat the readers of The Blade to 'a bit of fun.'

To achieve this he called on his new friend Homer. It must have been Homer's idea - a brilliant one, naturally - to run a story saying that, in order to improve the somewhat unhappy reputation, (thanks, among others, to the late John Denver) of the city - the Movers and Shakers thereof had decided the place needed a new name. New name, new beginning.

And the the new name was to be Fallen Timbers. There are historical reasons for this, too utterly obscure and tedious to be gone into here.

So, the story asserting this was duly run, at the top of Page One, with Homer's byline on it.
Naturally, Toad, (Patrick, as he was then) saw no reason to inform the Publisher, John Block, of his actions.

The result was, very early that morning, Homer got a rather irrascible call from John, asking why he had not been appraised to this earth-shattering bit of news in advance.

Homer pointed out the last paragraph in which he had inserted a sly reference to April 1st, but John was not wholly mollified. Far from it. "You shouldn't have let him do it, he told Homer."
"But he's the managing Editor," said Homer

Patrick, as usual, escaped unscathed.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Nice meeting

Well, Toad promised he would report on the meeting of the aged near Saldaña yesterday.

Not much to report, though. Reb, myself and a lady who had lived in Barcelona virtually all her life, having left Palençia at seven, I think, and recently returned, did most of the talking, which she clearly enjoyed, sat in a row facing about seventy locals with about ninety-five walking sticks between them. Remarkable number of men, considering. Roughly half, I'd say.

The lady from Cataluña reckoned that Palençia was nice, the people here were nice, the quality of life here was nice, the tranquillity here was nice. In fact, everything here was nice. We both agreed. The audience agreed, and rattled their sticks to show it.
We all also agreed that Barcelona and London and Pittsburgh are not as nice. Unless you are under about seventy.

We both managed to handle the language reasonably well, or so the audience assured us. Probably just being nice.

This orgy of niceness took about two hours. Then Reb and I took off to Sahagun for gin and tonics, as soon as was decent.
The drinks were nice.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Yesterday, to a great barking and hysteria from the dogs, Miraglos, Leandra and a lady from the local Junta arrived.

As a result, tomorrow Reb and I are going to a village near Saldaña to give a sort of presentation, if I understand rightly, about being foreigners living in Castilla y Leon.

If I understand wrongly, it might be about almost anything - beekeeping, quantum theory or the Albigensian Heresy - things of which I at least, know nothing.
So, we will go, armed with a stout dictionary and do our best.

The trouble is, that despite living in Moratinos for four or so years now, we spend virtually all day speaking English to one another, and our Spanish does not get much of an airing. I will probably explain this to the audience, if I am capable, and maybe try to explain some of the oddities of the English language to them.
If any of them are considering learning English, which I doubt, because they will probably all be over 70, and like me, somewhat set in their ways - this will swiftly put them off the notion forever.

Anyway, there will be a further blog re this as soon as possible, as it promises to be nightmarish fun.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Interesting Times

Toad is gamely trying to meet his target of a blog a day during Lent. Is already far behind of course, but plodding on.
Yesterday, Sunday, was a milestone in Moratinos life. Bruno, the Italian Hospitalero, threw a big lunch for the village. His wife, an imposing lady, was there to help. Reb and I had were aware that he was going to do this, but we thought it would be at four p.m. I had already made a tortilla for the post Mass vermouth session in the town hall, and olives and pork scratchings and all sorts were being eaten beforehand. Then we all toddled off to the new Albergue to eat a seven-course Italian feast, including two kinds of pasta and God knows what all else. It was excellent. Afterwards, stuffed like Strasbourg Geese, Reb and I went home and slept far too long.
If Bruno plans to treat the pilgs like this, he will be bankrupt in a week. Of course he will not.

But places for pilgs within a couple of miles of our house have mushroomed in the last few years. When we first came here there was an Albergue in Terradillos and one in San Nicolas. Now there are two in Terradillos, one in Moratinos, with a hotel on the way, and another one due to open soon in San Nicolas, built and to be run by our chums at the Bar Barrunta.
Toad wonders if they can all survive, let alone thrive.

We both suspect that this will be a bumper year for the number of pilgs. We also suspect that a great many of them, due to not having a job, but with plenty of time on their hands, will have little, if any, money.
From time to time we get people deliberately doing the Camino with no money. We had one recently. A nice young French Canadian, dressed in top of the line walking gear. He seemed to be doing it on charity as a sort of experiment.

It is officially Spring here now. Sun blazing, buds budding, dogs dozing, Bob warbling, more pilgs passing.

We got the big table out in the yard and oiled it. Looks good.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


This is Rosie, a wonderful little girl, who is probably as smart as the other three dogs put together, and certainly the only interesting item on today's blog.

Toad is reading a book first published in 1964, called 'Essays of a Humanist.' It is by Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous, grandson of Thomas Henry. An outstanding egghead in a family of outstanding eggheads.
What strikes Toad most though, is the blatant optimism. Surely, by 1964, nobody thought things were ever going to be all right from then on?
Julian Huxley was an optimist. He thought that, as we got older, as we got to know more scientific stuff, we would evolve into being nicer, and wiser and kinder.
How wrong could he be? Oh well.
One of the chapters is called 'Education and Humanism.' In it, Huxley, quotes another egghead, Prof. Elvin, who thought that, “A tribal boy's education may be a better preparation for life in a tribal society than is our education for life in our vaunted technological society.”

Well, Doh! Stating the bleeding obvious, was, no doubt, any reader's first impulse. All education is, in some form, tribal. Nobody can dispute that. It works by carrying on traditions. Can be facts, can also be total prejudices.

And there can be problems. Toad has just emerged from a slight balls-up on the Catholic site he keeps his beady eye on. One of the contributors, (Toad 'misremembered' which one) some weeks ago, bemoaned the fact that she had - at massive expense, no doubt - decided that her son would not get his head stuffed with the usual secular, run-of-the mill, nonsense. Instead she opted for top-of-the-line Catholic nonsense, at Downside Abbey, no less - the Catholic version of Eton, if such a scary concept could exist.
To her understandable horror and chagrin, the school duly stuffed the lad's head with nonsense as ordered, but entirely the wrong kind!
They stuffed him full of atheist, nihilist, nonsense!
Infinitely more pernicious than any other kind of nonsense!
When Toad heard this originally, he was amused, but now he is sympathetic, and thinks that the lady in question has grounds for suing the venerable institution. We are entitled to the nonsense we pay for and expect!
Once a head is stuffed with any kind of nonsense, substitution is by no means an easy task. One can only wait and hope that nature will take its course and in due time the bad nonsense will work its inevitable way through the system and be evacuated, freeing up a space for more acceptable nonsense.
In the meantime, the lawyers can roll up their sleeves and start charging...

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

God's Little Jest

"Did you feel the ground shift a bit just then, Eve? I shouldn't eat that Cox's Pippin if I were you. A snake just told me it's been genetically modified."
(The apple, that is, not the snake.)

Toad is still ruminating on the events in Japan. Who isnt?

It strikes him that God showed a keen sense of humour by adding tectonic plates to His creation and then calling it "The Firmament."

Were there earthquakes and tectonic shifts in the Garden of Eden, he wonders? If not, it all seems a bit like overkill for eating a measly little apple.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Pilgrim's progress

Back in a soggy Moratinos after a brief stagger along the Camino between Astorga and Ponferrada. No more than about 34-odd miles in an afternoon, a full day and a morning. But Toad did manage to get lost up a mountain outside Molinaseca, which was exciting.
By the time he had scrambled down a virtual precipice, his little green toad legs had turned to jelly.

But most of it was a good experience. Toad decided to do this because a great friend of his was gravely ill. On the second day, more or less as Toad was musing on the eternal verities at the Cruz de Ferro, his friend died, it seems.

This got Toad brooding on souls. And it struck him that that was what Lewis Carroll was about when he has the Cheshire Cat fade away - leaving only a disembodied grin, a soul, in fact.
That's what happens to us all. We fade away. Maybe we leave a grin, maybe not.

There must be an awful lot of disembodied grins in Japan right now.

Toad did look in at Manjarin, but Tomas was not there. Not even his grin, as far as Toad could see. Probably off somewhere seeking the Grail, or beheading someone with his mystical sword.

Watching the footage from Japan in various bars, it struck Toad that it will be futile to make any more 'disaster' movies. The whole planet is a disaster movie these days. Probably always was, but now we can be sure that every act of God (and there are plenty) will be captured on video and served up piping hot within minutes.

Ain't life grand?

And Toad got to wondering if there were earthquakes in the Garden of Eden. If not, it seems a bit of an extreme reaction to eating a pokey little apple.

But, we must suppose God knows what He's doing.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Belay that!

Harry the new dog. He is a caballero. That's not his breed, it's his character.

Although Toad has promised to try to write a blog every day through Lent, he might well have problems doing so for the next few days.
One of his closest friends is not at all well and Toad is going to walk a bit of the Camino with him in mind.
It can't do his friend any harm, and the worst it can do to Toad is kill him. Or make him stronger.

He will get the train to Astorga and walk to Ponferrada if he can. It should take three days. Three days without dogs is a lot for Toad. For light relief and bedtime reading, he will take The Unquiet Grave, by Cyril Connolly.
Toad enjoys Cyril's moaning, self-flagellating and posturing, but dosn't expect anyone else to.

Giving It Up and Getting it On For Lent

Still life with dogs.

Toad, for that is my pen name, has decided to give up not blogging for Lent. As he has said before, the main obstacle to his blogging, is a little-known medical condition which doctors refer to as, 'idleness.'
However, he will at least try to knuckle down, subdue his disability, and produce a few words a day between now and Easter, with the ash still fresh on his forehead.

It will be largely boring, but will be relieved by nice dog pictures from time to time.

Why 'Toad'? It is because he is a regular on a website frequented by Catholics of the old-fashioned stripe that Toad remembers from his childhood.
His comments there are often a form of revenge.

But anyway, at one time some crazed Christian declared that what I, (under my other nom de plume(!) of Moratinos), had written was 'toadspittle.' So entranced was I that I adopted it as my new 'atavar', or whatever it's called. It has now become my persona.

Toad writes in the third person, 1: To distance himself fom his own preposterous comments, and 2: To avoid using 'I' every other word.

Toad, then, hopes this has cleared the matter up. But doubts it.

Among the topics that interest him will be God, dogs, blasphemy and the Cheltenham festival. We might also touch on the Alice books, South Wind by Norman Douglas, and 'The Unquiet Grave' by Cyril Connolly (two forgotten litery gems) and the chances of Spurs winning the Champions' League... But then, we might not.

Anyroadup, as they say in Leeds apparently, your contributions, by way of comment are welcome. As is violent verbal abuse.