What is Fascism? And Are You A Fascist?


What is Fascism? And Are You A Fascist?

We studied the rise of fascism in our Ethics class, and it was fascinating and slightly scary. As we learnt about the typical components of fascism, I could see similar traits in society today—things that I consider to be new and modern, are key traits of fascism, and can be seen through history. I will explain what fascism is. You can ask yourself whether you would be considered a fascist.

Some key historical figures were fascists, and their legacy was not a good one: Hitler, Mussolini, Mosely. Therefore today, only the most extreme groups want the label ‘fascist.’ But if we examine what fascism is and does, you will see trends in politics today, and this is worrying. We should notice the signs, and ask where it might lead and whether we want to go there. Perhaps if people had seen fascism in Hitler, Mussolini, Mosely, their grip would have been loosened before it grew too strong.

Fascism grows when there is hardship: a country in an economic slump, a group of people that feels a loss of status, a society recovering from an unexpected hardship. From these troubles, a strong leader can emerge and people want to follow, they want to believe that there is a simple cause to their problem and a simple answer. They want to belong to something. Fascism always seems to have a charismatic leader, someone who leads from the front and demands loyalty. The focus of the ideology tends to be on the leader. When the current leader goes, the group tends to disintegrate.

Jason Stanley (author of How Fascism Works) has defined fascism using some key points. They’re useful, so I will list them below and you can decide which ones you can see in society today. Just remember, a fascist does not have to be an angry little man with a funny moustache—the new face of fascism strives to be polite and acceptable.

  1. A Great Mythical Past. A fascist leader will talk about how things used to be better. ‘In the 1970s, we had true family values.’ ‘We used to be able to govern the country properly.’ They ignore all the problems that were actually in the past, and focus on a mythical ideal, longing to return to that era.
  2. Propaganda. A fascist leader will promote their own message and say that any alternative view is a lie. Apparently, Hitler and Mussolini both did this, saying that things reported in newspapers were untrue, telling the population that their opponents were liars. The idea of accusing the media of ‘fake news’ goes way back in time. (Scary, huh?)
  3. Anti-Intellectualism. Fascist leaders appeal to people with limited education, the speeches are not necessarily clever (because truth doesn’t matter) and they appeal directly to emotions. They therefore dislike and try to discredit academics (because they will offer a counter view, or question the authenticity of the claims being made). Education is therefore sneered at, experts are shunned, people are told to ‘think for themselves’ which really means, ‘don’t question what I am telling you and don’t listen to someone who might have studied this issue.’ (I think we should be wary of people who tell us ‘the experts don’t know what they’re talking about.’ In my experience the ‘experts’ usually know more than the rest of us!)
  4. Unreality. This is another interesting one—apparently fascist leaders tend to love conspiracy theories. They always have an enemy who is trying to sabotage them, talk of subterfuge is encouraged, they want people to be paranoid.
  5. Hierarchy. Fascist leaders always have a dominant group of loyal followers, those who are ‘true to the leader.’ Anyone who questions the general message is eyed with suspicion, and removed from the ‘inner group.’ As stated earlier, everything focusses on the leader.
  6. Victimhood. Fascist groups always state that they are the victims of another group—they have been oppressed, or made poor, or cheated—and this has been caused by a definable ‘other.’ (Hitler blamed the Jews, gay people and Roma, but other groups held to blame over the years have been black people, feminists, immigrants. I wonder whether in the near future, ‘white males’ will be added to the list—people who can be blamed for whatever has gone wrong.)
  7. Law and Order. Fascists declare that they want a return to law and order, and the group against them are the criminals. The ‘other’ people are the ones to blame for crime, for stealing, for rape, for drugs, for violence.
  8. Anti-Decadence. Fascists claim that the moral fibre of society is under threat (blaming the ‘other’ group). Only they, and their followers, have good morals; the rest of civilisation belong in Sodom and Gomorrah.
  9. Work Ethic. Fascists claim that the ‘other’ group are lazy, mere parasites of society. Fascists claim they are hard-working, deserving of better. (Hence the ‘Work will make you free’ motto above the gate at Auschwitz.)
  10. Nationalism. Fascists promote great nationalism, and shun other nations. They strive to make their country ‘great again’ and nothing else matters. They will wave the flag, wear a uniform, and march. This gives a great sense of belonging to the followers of fascism, they feel part of something, a renewed sense of pride and purpose.

There are variations of the definition of fascism, but I have listed the key ones that seem to arise regularly. We need to be wise, to notice the signs and not be fooled by a great speech or a charismatic leader. Sometimes the truth is mundane and unpopular, but it’s still the truth. As I said in my previous blog, if we view people of the past as more evil than us, if we refuse to acknowledge some of the same elements in society today (in us!) then we are doomed to make the same mistakes.
Thanks for reading. Be wise.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

In my next blog, I will tell you about my trip to Malta (a slightly sunnier topic!)

My novel Counting Stars looks at a future world where politics have gone wrong. It makes an interesting Christmas gift.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2YPNXFCK3U6SV&keywords=counting+stars+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419853&sprefix=ounting+stars+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1

Who is Evil? Visiting the ‘Seeing Auschwitz’ Exhibition


Warning: Some horrible images.

Seeing Auschwitz

I usually ignore the adverts on social media, but when Seeing Auschwitz popped up, I was interested. Advertised as a exhibition of photographs from the concentration camp, it stated that it encouraged visitors to look not simply at the photographs, but also beyond them, to the motivations of the photographer.

Since we visited Auschwitz (see previous blog: https://anneethompson.com/2019/06/11/visiting-auschwitz/) there has been something bothering me. Obviously atrocious things happened, people were treated worse than animals and it never should have happened. But why did it happen? When I look at photos of the guards, I do not see evil people—I see ordinary people who somehow changed so that they did evil things. I feel that unless we understand what drove ordinary, normal, people like you and me, citizens to become Nazi guards, we will not be able to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I arranged to meet a friend and went to the Seeing Auschwitz exhibition in Old Brompton Road, London. The exhibition was easy to find, and there were seats inside where you can wait (and a Nero opposite if you need coffee!) We had our tickets checked at the reception desk, and were offered free audio guides. If you take headphones, you can use the QR code and listen on your own phone. The audio tour matched numbers on the display, and you moved to the next one manually, which meant you could go at your own speed. The audio had music, to create mood, but it wasn’t overly melodramatic and most of the commentary was factual.

A variety of people were at the exhibition. Mostly women, though there were different age-groups, including a school class of teenagers with back-packs. It was busy, but not too crowded, so it was easy to see the displays. (I think they limit the numbers, so if you don’t buy tickets online, you might have to wait before being able to enter.)

The exhibition was a selection of photographs (I recognised several from the museum at Auschwitz). Some were huge, life-sized people drawing you into the scene. Some were smaller, and you needed to stand close to peer into the faces. They showed the structure of Auschwitz, how the camps functioned, the population of prisoners from around Europe. The audio guide also asked you to consider the purpose of the photographer, to see that the victims were treated as specimens, that there were no photographs of killing or disorder—everything was very regulated. This contrasted with images smuggled out by the prisoners, which showed cruelty, and mass death, and acts of rebellion that were quickly exterminated.

One section showed the guards relaxing on a day out. Their occupations were listed; an accountant, a doctor, a sweets manufacturer. But there was nothing to indicate what had changed them from these very mundane characters to heartless guards. Nothing helped me to understand why and how this happened. I find this troubling. If we look at images of the guards and we tell ourselves they were evil people performing abominable acts in the past, then we remove it from ourselves. If we cannot relate to the perpetrators, we will not guard against falling into the same trap. I expect some guards were evil, the role would appeal to sadists. But I think many were just ordinary people. There were photographs of the death marches—when the camps were emptied towards the end of the war and the prisoners marched for miles, many of them dying. The photos were taken from houses as the prisoners passed—by ordinary people—who had done nothing to stop the atrocities. Why? How was society gradually infiltrated so that gays and Jews and Roma were believed to be less than human, vermin, something dirty. What changed people like us, into people that allowed the holocaust to happen?

I still don’t know the answer, though it links with something we discussed at college this week. We were looking at the rise of Fascism, and the point was made that societies today that are defined as ‘fascist’ do not use that label themselves—because no one wants to be likened to Hitler or Mussolini. But this is my point. If we don’t liken ourselves to people who did terrible things, if we decide they were all somehow different, a nation of evil people, ‘other people,’ then it could happen again. I believe we need to start asking questions, trying to learn how it happened, enabling us to guard against the same tragedy.

If you want to visit Seeing Auschwitz you can buy tickets online until the 18th December. If you can’t go to an actual camp, then it’s a good exhibition to visit.

Thanks for reading. In my next blog, I will tell you about the Fascism lecture, and the ten points that define fascism—I was a bit shocked by how many I recognise in society today.

Have a good day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

I explored the idea of what our future might look like in Counting Stars. An exciting novel, it was great fun to write. I asked a scientist, and economist, and a lawyer: ‘What might change in the near future? Tell me what is possible, even if it’s not probable.’ I wove their ideas into a story about a family, because teenagers will be the same whatever the world looks like.

Available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle book. Another great Christmas gift idea!

If you want to buy a copy, the link is here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner/dp/0995463212/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?crid=2PDCW3KBUU1BG&keywords=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668695965&sprefix=counting+stars+by+anne+e+thimpson%2Caps%2C73&sr=8-1

What I Think About Dying


In England, it is Remembrance Sunday, when the churches are full of people wearing poppies and singing rousing hymns about young men who died protecting their country. It’s one of the few occasions when we think about death, the apparent waste of a young life, someone ‘giving their today for the sake of our tomorrows.’ Death of a young person always seems like a waste, doesn’t it? Unfulfilled potential.

Actually, I think death of other people is always horrible. Whatever words people say, trying to be kind, about the person ‘living on in our hearts’ is mostly not true. They are gone, and we miss them. Sometimes we miss them for the rest of our lives.

But I don’t want to talk about that, I want to talk for a little while about our death—yours and mine. Because whatever else we might know about life, we can be sure that one day, it will be our turn. When I had my brain tumour, I thought a lot about death. Everyone with a brain tumour knows that death is real, and it might not be very far away. Some people choose to push the thought away, to ‘keep being positive,’ but I’ve never been one for avoiding difficult issues, so I thought about it, and prayed about it, and came to some conclusions. I share them with you now because one day, you will die, and maybe these thoughts will help you when the time is near. Maybe someone needs to hear them today.

For me, death is intrinsically linked to God, so even if you don’t believe in anything, bear with me.

Firstly, I do not believe that death was some ghastly mistaken afterthought. Nor do I believe that it happened because mankind sinned. If you read the story in Genesis, about the creation of humans and what their purpose was, then we can see, right at the start, there was a ‘tree of life.’ Why do we need a tree of life if there was never intended to be any dying? No, it was all part of the plan. We were created with an expiry date! I find that comforting. Death, when it comes, is not due to anything bad, something humans caused; it was always part of the plan.

Therefore, when it’s time for dying, I absolutely believe that God has it sorted. And if God has it sorted, it will be better than we can imagine—which is why it’s also scary—because it is beyond our imagination. Anything we can’t imagine happening is scary. I suspect that being born was scary, but we don’t remember that far back. The thing is, I think it is meant to be scary, because we are not supposed to be dead, not yet. If we all went around wanting to be dead, then imagine the mess! It would be very untidy. Being alive, wanting to be alive, means that we do not want to be dead. Which is how things are meant to be.

I also believe, absolutely, that when it is time for me to die, God will make me ready. But not beforehand. If a child is given a train ticket to hold at the start of the journey, they will probably lose it, so a good parent gives them the ticket at the end, just before they need it. God is a good parent, so we will be ready to die when we need to be, and not before. Whenever I talk to people with terminal illness, and they tell me they are scared of dying, I tell them that they probably won’t die today. When it’s time, maybe not until the actual minute, God will make us ready. And ‘dying’ isn’t really a thing. The people who I have been close to have all been living even if living more slowly, right up until they died. Their bodies may have been broken, but they never stopped being themselves and having opinions and emotions. Until you are dead, you are alive.

Personally, I believe that when it’s time, Jesus will collect me, because that’s what he said he would do. We don’t die alone, even if no other person is close. Dying is about God, and souls, and probably where we physically are doesn’t matter much (though I hope to have sight of the sky and something beautiful). We tend to think of Heaven as ‘up there’ and far away. But I think that Heaven is near, all around us, through a veil that’s very thin, but we don’t see it. Heaven is a different dimension, not a place far away. I think passing through that veil will be very easy, and then we will rest, until it’s time for a new earth, and a new body (and I’m hoping the new body has a better singing voice than the current one!) But that’s all for later, not something worth thinking about really.

My own view is that when Jesus died, he paid the price for everyone, for all time, and that no one needs to be scared about dying. We can all trust God on this one. Other people disagree, so you must make up your own mind—but looking to God for answers is definitely a good start.

So that’s it: What I think about dying. Not very complicated, and not scary, not if you trust God.

But I hope you won’t die today and you will enjoy every day that you are alive. Make the most of it! Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thank you for reading.
anneethompson.com
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One of my novels, Invisible Jane, includes the death of a child. Invisible Jane is a lighthearted love story, but includes a description of explaining to a child about death.
Available from Amazon as a paperback or Kindle book:


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invisible-Jane-Anne-Thompson-ebook/dp/B073T3TX6G/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?crid=379H2328YJXDN&keywords=invisible+jane+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668341175&sprefix=invisible+jane+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C68&sr=8-1-fkmr0

An account of having a brain tumour (which will only be of interest to fellow sufferers or their family) is in: How to Have a Brain Tumour. You can read it for free if you have a Kindle. Also available as a paperback.

Remembrance Day Poem – As Life Goes On


Now, and Then

IKEA homeware packed in boxes,
Heaps of stuff littering the hall, then squashed into the back of the car.
Last hugs, cheery goodbyes, the drive to uni.
Snippets of home, spread around the strange smelling room,
The lanky excited-scared almost-man says goodbye,
And the mother remembers.
She remembers the feel of the bowling ball weight on her hip when she carried him,
The feel of his tiny hands on her cheeks when he offered snotty kisses,
The snuffle of breath as he slept against her shoulder,
She remembers the child as she looks at the man.
As she wishes him well, holds back tears until she has driven away.

Billycans and clothes stuffed in kit-bag,
A train to London packed up tight, then hurry to find the right squad.
Last hugs, tearful goodbyes, a band plays on.
Heaving the bag, look around for friends joining too,
The lanky excited-scared almost-man says goodbye,
And the mother remembers.
She remembers the feel of the bowling ball weight on her hip when she carried him,
The feel of his tiny hands on her cheeks when he offered snotty kisses,
The snuffle of breath as he slept against her shoulder,
She remembers the child as she looks at the man.
As she wishes him well, holds back tears until he has joined his unit.

The posts on Facebook show new friends and nightclubs,
Texts assure his food is fine, his studies easy.
He doesn’t discuss the drunken evenings, the sleepless nights, the fear of loneliness.
But his mother knows, she reads it in unsaid words and tired-eyed photos.
And she waits. As life goes on.

There are no letters and the News shows little,
Bold battles move to the Front, the headlines proclaim.
They do not discuss the fallen comrades, the sleepless nights, the fear of injury.
But his mother knows, she reads it in unsaid words and tired-eyed photos.
And she waits. As life goes on.

The war ends. The boy returns home.
Yet, not a boy, become a man.
A man who will not speak of horrors,
Will not discuss the stench of death,
The sight of his friends, falling.
The nights when he still hears the screams, still fears the dark.
But his mother knows, she reads it in sunken cheeks and, eyes so weary.
And she waits. As time goes on.

The term ends. The boy returns home.
Yes, still a boy, almost a man.
A boy who chats and loves to amuse,
Loves to debate the point of life,
Who meets all his friends, laughing.
The nights when they drink, talk at length, sort their beliefs.
And his mother knows, he is safe and content with life, has a future.
And she waits. As time goes on.

by Anne E. Thompson

Anne E. Thompson
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Cairo, Egypt. Blog Five.


Visiting a Souk

After breakfast in the hotel lounge, we took a hotel car to Khan Al Khalili – a sort of bazaar in the Islamic district of Cairo. The hotel cars are more expensive than using local taxis, but they’re easier than trying to explain in non-Arabic where we want to go, and we know they’ll have seatbelts and not take us to the wrong location. We found places in the guidebook that looked interesting, booked a car to take us there and then walked back to the hotel. Neither of us especially like museums or monuments, and this proved a good strategy for seeing some of ‘real Cairo.’

The car dropped us, and we walked round the corner, into a myriad of ancient lanes lined with stalls, a whole mishmash of sights: Chickens and rabbits and pigeons in cages. Men pulling wheeled carts. People balancing crates on their heads—one young man on a bicycle had a plank on his head stacked with eish baladi the local flatbread. Stalls selling fruit, and cloth, and drinks.

There were stray dogs and skinny kittens—cats were everywhere—sleeping on a food-cart hotplate, sharing a beggar’s blanket, curled under stalls. We watched eish baladi being fried in a sizzling vat of oil, hoisted out by a net on a long pole, the oil dripping off, then heaped on a stall for the flies to feast on. There was a fabric shop, with burst sacks of fresh cotton on the street outside. The streets were busy, with uneven hard-packed mud to walk along, and I felt as if I had wandered into a stage set. It was marvellous. It was also the wrong place! We checked the map, and realised we should have been across the street, in the lanes that make up the bazaar—we were in a market intended for locals (much better, in my opinion).

When we entered the bazaar proper, it was very crowded. Many of the shops were aimed at tourists, and stallholders called to us, inviting us to look, telling us they had the best products, the lowest prices. We had come to look, not to buy, so we disappointed them. Like all roads in Cairo, traffic and pedestrians shared the space. There were tuktuks here (we didn’t see them in the centre of the city) and they mingled with the lorries and bikes and pedestrians, vying for space in the narrow lanes. The air was full of pollution and spices and the sharp tang of limes from a nearby stall. A woman sat on the kerb, her short round body swathed in flowing black, selling bunches of mint. Children sat nearby, screaming at cars when they passed in some noisy game. Men with shiny round trays carried glasses of tea.

We passed the faded finery of ornate mosques, and crumbling walls, and red brick buildings; all powdered in brown pollution. The road was often uneven, often with holes or dirtied by dog mess.

When we reached the centre of the market it was even busier, and many of the products were the same as you would see in an English market—cheap clothing and plastic houseware. Inflatable legs were strung over the walkway, modelling various brands of trousers. Large dolls (like American Girl Dolls) stood in rows, modelling baby clothes. There were windows displaying sexy lace underwear on voluptuous mannequins—yet all the real women seemed to be covered from head to foot in flowing robes. (No one seemed to see the irony of this.)

Random men approached us at intervals, to practise their English, or to give unwanted directions. Always polite, always with smiles, sometimes overly persistent. We smiled back, and walked on.

There were constant car horns. Speakers blasted a sport’s game commentary or an Islamic sermon. The call to prayer echoed from minarets. I saw smiles, lots of smiles, especially when we responded to vendors’ calls in our limited Arabic. There was also lots of spitting in the street, and fingers pushed up noses, and loads of shopping carried on heads—all very different to an English market.

It was a fabulous walk back to the hotel. The sun was hot, the air thick with pollution, but there was so much to absorb, so much life to be part of. Wonderful.

Thanks for reading, I will tell you more about our visit in another blog. Hope you have a lovely day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Visiting the Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Blog Four.


It was Sunday, and we had booked a tour to visit the pyramids, so when I woke with a headache I was disappointed. The trouble is, I am a fairly anxious traveller — I force myself to visit interesting places because I really want to see them, but sometimes my body reacts and pretends to be ill. I have to try and decide whether I actually AM ill, or if it’s just nerves and my silly brain playing tricks. I took some pills, and felt very sick, but I was almost positive that this was all due to nerves. I don’t usually mention my anxiety in blogs, because I don’t want it to be what defines me, but if you suffer from nerves, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. I find that praying then forcing my mind to think about something unrelated (like playing Duolingo) usually makes me feel better. I forced myself to get up, slinking round the room like a slug while I sipped water trying not to be sick again, got dressed, and informed Husband that I was fine, no need to cancel. He gave me worried looks. At 9am we went down to the hotel lobby, and met the car we had booked. As soon as I was in the car, watching the streets of Cairo as we travelled through Giza, I felt better. That’s the thing with nerves, if I can distract myself, they disappear and I can be the person I want to be.

The car came with a guide, which isn’t my favourite thing because generally they talk too much. I let Husband (who is more polite than me) chat to the guide, while I looked at Egypt. We drove through various districts that are poorer than central Cairo, where the hotel is. It reminded me of India, though I didn’t notice the same abject poverty, the same despair, that I have seen in India. Then we left the city and entered the desert.

As we arrived at the pyramid area, I was surprised to see another city — a sort of satellite city, out in the desert. I had assumed the pyramids would be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but sand, plonked deep in the desert. It was a shock to glimpse them between buildings as we drove through the edge of a town. We came to the parking area, and went to buy tickets. Our guide was very helpful here. He seemed to know everyone, and he stopped people approaching us to offer horse rides and camel rides and photographs, and a myriad of other offers. I have read that touts can be a problem by being overly persistent, but he shielded us from all of that, so I forgave him for talking too much. He was called Samii, by the way.

Husband wanted to go inside the Great Pyramid, so he paid an extra £20 and joined the long queue. I knew it would be a steep climb down a narrow shaft, deep into the inner chamber of the pyramid. Not something I will ever want to do. Instead, I walked round the edge with Samii and tried to ignore all the facts he told me, as I wanted to soak up the atmosphere of the place. Actually, there wasn’t much atmosphere worth soaking up, as the sky-scrapers of the nearby city distract from the desert, and there are too many tourists. The pyramids of Giza are wonderful to visit, but it’s hard to find any romance there. We wandered round the area where the workers (Samii didn’t call them slaves) lived. There were ancient carvings around the doorposts, but some had modern graffiti on them. Shame.

Samii showed me the round indentations in the stones, where rivets would have held them in place. There is something awesome about the pyramids, even with all the tourists. They would have been bigger (you can see the edge of where they would have reached) but stones were removed over the ages to build other buildings. A bit like the Colosseum in Rome, which had bricks pilfered over the years. The age is astonishing. Way back, in the time of Moses (if we date him about 1400 BC) he would have seen pyramids that were already a thousand years old. The Romans would have seen them as ancient structures.

I also hadn’t realised how many pyramids Egypt has. As we wandered round the Great Pyramid at Giza, we could see other pyramids in the haze in the horizon. Different Pharaohs from different ages built pyramids in places convenient for them.

We drove down to the Sphinx (which is on the same site, but a long walk in hot desert sun). At one time, a canal from the Nile would have lapped around the Sphinx, and you can see where the limestone has been worn away. He would have had a beard too, but I think it fell off and is now in the British Museum in London. And he once had a nose, and there are several rumours as to where that might be!

We left via a little souk (a market) selling various statues and carvings. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a papyrus shop. Guides often take you to visit their friends rather than to what you want to visit! This was interesting though, and we saw a demonstration of paper being made from strips of papyrus, as they would have made it in ancient times. Samii offered us a drink, and I managed to ask in Arabic for a cup of tea with sugar (and actually received a cup of tea with sugar, which was by no means certain!) It was hot, and very black, and it arrived in a tiny glass. Perfect.

Returned to the hotel exhausted, but extremely happy. Sometimes, it is definitely worth forcing yourself to do things that seem scary.

Hope you have a great day. Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

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anneethompson.com
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I like starting clubs…


I like starting clubs. Always have. Some have been more successful than others.

One of the first clubs I started, aged about 7, was the SSO Club. I made badges, and put a pot next to the telephone labelled with SSO Club Funds, please give generously in bright letters. I figured that when people came to borrow our telephone (which happened a lot) they might mistake the club funds for the telephone donations box. Club funds would be spent on snacks (sweets) for our club meetings. SSO stood for: Secret Service to Others and the plan was that we would do ‘good deeds’ without anyone knowing. I devised a series of merits that could be earned when the good deeds were revealed at club meetings (while we ate the copious amount of sweets earned through misdirected telephone funding).

We never actually had a meeting, as no one else ever joined the club (my brother was meant to, but he was an awkward little wotsit, and was never easily persuaded into playing my games). Nor did we ever earn any funds. I do still have the badges somewhere though.

At Junior school, I once joined another club, a song-and-dance group that my friends invented. I could neither sing nor dance, so they put me in charge of costumes. This was a mistake, as I have never been even slightly interested in clothes. I think they had visions of Pans People, shimmying in shiny sexy outfits. I asked my mother if I could borrow the jester’s outfits that we had worn in the Letchworth carnival that year. When I arrived at the practice studio (Carol Watkin’s garden shed) they were less than excited to be dressed in bright yellow and red shapeless tunics—one size fits all—more tent than bikini. I don’t remember whether I was actually fired, but I don’t remember attending any rehearsals after this. They were never famous.

Letchworth Carnival in the 70’s

As an 18-year-old, I took over the church youth group (not sure whether this counts as ‘starting’ a group). I ran it in the exact same way that they youth club from my previous church had been run, with a variety of social events, light refreshments, and a 10-minute religious talk at the end. I was quite a stickler for the religious talk, and insisted that the embarrassed adult who had agreed to drive us all to bowling in Crawley also did a talk in McDonald’s afterwards. That club was more of a success than the SSO and when I left for uni, I handed over a group of about 20 teenagers (I think my sister led it after I left, and then my brother—same genes).

The adult Anne still likes starting clubs. I have run a breakfast club for teenagers, a baking club on Sunday afternoons, and have been involved in running various other groups and clubs in the town and at church. At present, I am doing nothing…though I feel the village is crying out for a cake-eating discussion club (because I like making cakes and discussing things). We will see.

Anne E. Thompson
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The Best of Days, the Worst of Days…


Today has been a mix of highs and lows. Mostly highs, so I will start there.

As you know (if you read my blog regularly) we had booked a house in Italy for the summer, but popped home after a couple of weeks to attend my niece’s wedding. After the wedding, we returned to La Thuile for the rest of August. It felt like coming home as we drove from the airport, past ‘our river’ that races through the valley, to the view of ‘our mountain’ with the glacier that reflects all the moods of the sun.

Anyway, today I suggested that we should go to a café for an espresso (which is one of my favourite things about Italy—sipping a coffee in the sunshine, somewhere beautiful). Husband suggested that rather than walk to the nearby café (‘our café’) we should try somewhere new, on the other side of town.

He directed me along lanes, through the park next to the river, up narrow streets. We arrived at a pretty building next to the river, with a family sitting in lounge-chairs in the garden. At our arrival, they all jumped up, assured us that they were open, and the man showed us to a table in the shade. He then disappeared.

I looked around. On one side was the river, on the other was mountains—all very pretty, perfect for a leisurely coffee. The man then reappeared, carrying cutlery and glassware, and a basket of fresh bread. He smiled welcoming as he set our table. Lots of eye-contact between Husband and I, neither of us spoke. The man hurried away.

Now what? The man was so welcoming, the bread looked freshly baked, dare we say that we only wanted a coffee? Husband said we should just order something small (we already had dinner reservations for the evening at ‘our restaurant’). The man reappeared with the menu, and we chose a couple of dishes. Neither of us understand much Italian, so it was a bit random. What arrived were platters of cheese and meat, which went perfectly with the house wine. We finished, an hour later, with the espresso that we had come for. It was all very unexpected, and very lovely. A good time.

After our lunch, we discussed what to do, as I have hurt my leg and can’t walk far. Husband suggested we went ‘up the mountain on the cable car.’ I knew this was something he really wanted to do, and we had just enjoyed a lovely lunch in the sunshine, so I agreed. I hate heights. It was even worse than I imagined.

The ‘cable car’ is not a cable car, it is a chairlift—designed for skiers in the winter, and mountain bikers in the summer. I watched the chairs as they flew down the mountain, turning at the bottom, slowing for passengers, then continuing back up the mountain in a continuous loop, never actually stopping. I saw a few people nearly getting bonked when they stood up but didn’t move out of the way quickly enough, and I tried to learn from their mistake as we joined the line of young men with bikes. We fed our tickets into the machine, and stepped forward. A man appeared from his cubicle and hovered near the emergency-stop button. We stood in place, the chair arrived behind us, we sat back, a bar was lowered in front of us, and we rose towards the sky.

I decided it would be best to keep my eyes shut. This worked fine on the way up. It felt like flying, I could hear birds and smell the pine trees, and the temperature grew gradually cooler as we rose. We reached the top, Husband yelled at me to let go of the safety-bar, a man hovered near the emergency-stop button, I leaped off the chair, remembered to hurry to the side, the chair sailed past me and I was on solid ground. All great. I felt rather pleased with myself, and enjoyed looking at the views and watching the young men as they raced down the mountain on their bikes. Then we decided to go back down. Then it all went wrong.

As we fed our tickets into the machine, the man emerged again to hover near the stop-button. Obviously we looked incompetent. The chair swept behind us, I sat, the bar was lowered, I shut my eyes and pretended I was flying. Then Husband (who I have now forgiven) mentioned that the safety bar was raised and lowered by the passengers—in other words, him. That felt very unsafe. If you have a fear of heights, you will know that the fear is connected with falling, and the belief that somehow you might fling yourself over the precipice. I am not scared in airplanes, because I cannot fall out. I am terrified on cliff edges because I might fall over. Now I was being told that if I lifted the bar (yes, I know that this was entirely in my control and wouldn’t happen, but fear is not rational)—if I lifted the bar, I would plummet to my death. I took deep breaths. Then Husband mentioned something about the view below, and fool that I am, I opened my eyes. I was not flying. I was suspended on an insecure chair, miles above ground, with nothing but a moveable bar between me and certain death. My heart stopped, I thought I might vomit (pity the mountain bikers below!) and I started to shake all over. I think I whimpered.

For the next few terrifying moments we sailed through the air. I shut my eyes and prayed very hard and tried not to think about how it would feel to fall. Then we arrived. The same man hovered near the emergency button (they didn’t seem to do that for anyone else!) and I managed to stand, to move out of the way, to walk to the nearest bench. I didn’t speak. Somehow, I survived. But it was bad, very bad.

I hope your day is full of good things, and that you cope with the bad things calmly.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Weddings, then and now.


We came home from Italy in time for my niece’s wedding. I really enjoyed it—it was an afternoon full of prettiness, and declarations of love, and being with family. I haven’t been to many weddings recently, so I was interested to see how much things have changed from when I was married in the 1980s. Many things were the same, but here are some of the differences:

Venue. Most people were married in church. My friends who married in a registry office (the only alternative to marriage in a church) did not include the ‘traditional’ elements of the wedding. So no long white dress, no walking down an aisle with the father of the bride, no music. A registry office wedding tending to be brief and functional, with very few people invited to attend.

Today, the possible venues are varied. My niece’s wedding was in a barn, and the layout was almost exactly the same as any small chapel, with an aisle and flowers and rows of seats facing the front. There was even a wooden lectern to rest a book on. In England a non-church wedding can’t include hymns or prayers or Bible readings, but there was music.

I sort of understand why ‘the church’ demands that non-church weddings don’t include anything religious, because God, and the worship of him, is not a game; not something to pick up and use like something of no importance. Therefore they want to regulate how their holy things—the holy book, hymns, prayers—are presented. However, I feel sad that if someone wishes to include God in their wedding but for some reason does not feel able to marry in a church, they are excluded from all outward signs of this. They can still invite God to be present, and they can pray internally, but I feel sad that English law makes it difficult for a couple to include God unless they want a church wedding. Over time, every marriage faces challenges, and wanting God to bless your vows, including him in the marriage seems sensible to me. I think a wedding is less likely to use religious things inappropriately than other places (like football matches, where hymns are allowed to be sung).

Vows. Some of the vows said at a wedding are legal requirements. These are the same wherever you marry, and they don’t seem to have changed since I was married. They have to be word-perfect, and said in the presence of witnesses and a person certified to register a marriage. In the past, at a registry office, these were the only vows said. Today, it seems popular to add your own vows.

Church weddings also include certain vows, as listed below:

I, N, take you, N,

to be my husband,

to have and to hold

from this day forward;

for better, for worse,

for richer, for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

to love and to cherish,

till death us do part;

according to God’s holy law.

In the presence of God I make this vow.

When I was married, the bride also promised to obey her husband.

Couples today seem to write their own vows. I’m not sure what I think about this. I was wondering what I would promise if I wrote my own vows. Marriage lasts a really long time. I think being faithful is important (because otherwise, what is the point of a marriage?) Promising to forgive is essential, and to try and listen. I think respect is important, and for me, being able to share anything and to laugh together lots, matters. Staying together, even when times are tough, is also part of being married.

Gender Roles. Traditionally, the bride was given away by her father, and accepted by her husband. I was completely happy with this when I was married (though actually, my brother gave me away). Today, many brides consider this sexist (not sure why I didn’t!) Even if they walk into the venue with their father, they may have words that don’t involve being given from one man to another.

There were other differences, but these were the main ones. However, the occasion was still about a couple committing to each other, it was still about love, and everyone dressed in their best clothes and arrived hoping to have fun. There was still a meal, and lots to drink, speeches (though these are not always said by males only today) and laughter.

The Cake. When I was married, we continued the tradition of having a tiered fruit cake, with formal white icing. The bottom tier was cut and shared with guests, the top tier was kept and used as a christening cake when the first baby was born. As people tended not to have children immediately, most couples removed the icing and shoved the cake in the freezer until they needed it. Eating it a few years later felt decidedly dodgy, but as far as I know, no one was ever poisoned.

Today, many couples choose not to have a fruit cake, which seems an excellent plan to me (does anyone other than my brother like eating fruit cake???) There is still a cake, and it is still cut (which is a tradition which I never liked, and I wanted to leave out from my wedding, but I was told there must be a photo!) The wedding we attended had a red velvet cake and chocolate brownies to share, which are a much better idea.

Whatever traditions are followed, weddings are still about love, and a couple committing to stay with each other. Rather marvelous I think. Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Next Monday I’ll tell you about our return trip to Italy. It was very interesting to live somewhere different for a while, and learn about a small town in the Alps.

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Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News?


Good News or Bad News?

Is the message of the Bible good news or bad news? Often the physical book even describes itself as a ‘Good News’ Bible, and Christians often refer to the good news of the gospel message. But is it good?

Sometimes this feels a little ironic to me. When churches then go on to explain how to ‘become a Christian’ a person must meet certain criteria, I think it all starts to sound more like bad news! I was taught that to ‘be a Christian’ I must understand that Jesus and the Holy Spirit and God are all one, I must repent of my sin and ask for forgiveness, I must acknowledge that Jesus died for my sin, and ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This was all achieved by praying ‘the prayer’ which somehow encompassed all the above. Going forward, I should attend church, read my Bible every day, praying frequently—confessing my new sins and striving to live how God wanted me to live. Most difficult of all (in my view) I should constantly be looking for ways to tell other people how to be a Christian, encouraging them to undergo the same process. Anyone who did not meet the above criteria was trapped in their sin and doomed to hell and eternal torment. Very bad news indeed. Most of the people who I love do not fit into the rather narrow category above.

Yet, when I read the Bible (point seven above!) things seem a little different. Jesus said he came to show people who God is, and he accepted people before they had done any of the above. Sometimes he told a person they needed to change their life, or give away their money, or repent of something they were doing wrong—but this was always after they had come to him. There wasn’t a form to complete, or a waiting list; the disciples didn’t regulate who could approach (and when they tried to, Jesus told them off!) People simply came. People were simply accepted.

I also read that after they came, after they had been accepted, they generally changed, they often wanted to be different, better, people. But the changing, the wanting to be changed, was afterwards. It was not an entry criteria. And they tended to differ in what they actually believed, they had different views of theology (which is shown in the later books in the Bible, where we see them having arguments about things).

Several of the books in the Bible were written by Paul, and I’m still not sure what authority they should have (as I have discussed in previous blogs) but I do think his views are helpful today. One of his letters describes Jesus’s mission as reconciling people to God, and that a Christian’s mission is to continue this—to be an ambassador, helping people to be reconciled with God. I do not, personally, feel I should be telling people what they are doing wrong, or insisting that they believe certain things (like in the Trinity) or changing their behaviour. But I would like to tell them that God wants to accept them (right now, just as they are, warts and all!) I would like to remind them that God wants them to be reconciled with him, and that everything that’s wrong in their lives does not count any more. All the rest of it—how they personally live out that truth—is between them and God.

Perhaps this is good news. Perhaps this is what our message should be. What do you think? Good news or bad news?

Thank you for reading. My next blog will be more about our holiday in Italy at the beginning of August. Enjoy your day.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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