Friday, 30 April 2021

Here Be Dragons

As you would expect, I take quite a few photographs whenever we're away, although probably nowhere near as many as the typical keen and committed photographer: this time about 250 in all, spread over seven days in mid-Wales, using two cameras. This is unusually low, even for me, but it was in part due to the weather. April in these parts is supposed to be unsettled, unpredictable, and notoriously wet – "April showers" are proverbial, and snow is not unexpected in upland areas – which leads to interesting atmospheric conditions, which creates interesting light, which means interesting photographs. Instead, we've had the driest April since the Triassic, and steady bright sunshine. Which means boring photographs. The shot above shows our residence for the week: detailed and informative, like a well-lit film set, which is excellent if you're an estate agent selling the place, but not otherwise. However, we do what we can. In some ways it's been an interesting challenge, photographing the Welsh Borders as if we were in the Dordogne.

A favourite walk is a curious valley near Llandrindod Wells known as Shaky Bridge. The original shaky bridge over the river Ithon is long gone – from old photos, it seems to have been on of those lashups of cable and planks that you see spanning gorges in the Andes – but it's a beautiful and haunting spot, once dominated by Cefnllys Castle, now just some grassy bumps at the top of a very steep climb. In the valley below lies St. Michael's church (Llanfihangel Cefnllys), also ancient, situated on a small hill and surrounded by a circle of yews thought to be at least 1000 years old. Llanfihangel in Welsh is "St. Michael's", and a local legend maintains that this is one of four churches dedicated to that Satan-stomping archangel set in a protective circle around the Radnor Forest [1] (Llanfihangel Cefnllys, Llanfihangel Rhydithon, Llanfihangel Nant Melan, and Llanfihangel Cascob) in order to contain the last dragon in Wales, lying asleep beneath the hills. The legend states that the dragon will awake if any of the four churches were to be destroyed. There has to be a Netflix mini-series there, wouldn't you say? And, no, M & S did not label their underwear "Llanfihangel" in Wales [2].

In the churchyard at Llanfinhangel Cefnllys are some lovely old gravestones, with inscriptions ranging from exquisitely engraved lettering to cartoonishly folksy representations of angels and, on the one below, a resurrected body rising from its coffin like Superman. An interesting detail I'd never noticed before is that a number of the stones are signed at the bottom by (I presume) their maker, but at a level that would be beneath ground in the usual upright configuration.

Another customary walk goes up to this recumbent stone lying near the summit of a hill, Bryn y Maen, close by the lake at Llandeilo. Unusually, despite its obvious antiquity, it is not marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, although an alignment of four upright stones in the valley beneath is marked and named as "Four Stones". This is possibly because it cannot be seen from the most obvious paths: mapping these upland areas in the 19th century must have been a thankless task, and the accuracy of even the oldest OS sheets is generally nothing less than astonishing. One of these days I must get around to reading a book we have describing how it was done (Map of a Nation: a biography of the Ordnance Survey, by Rachel Hewitt).

Towards the end of the week the weather did not so much break as crumble. The air trapped near ground-level by high pressure gradually became more murky – I've never seen so much dust kicked up at this time of year – and obscured the clear sunshine, filling the valleys with pearly mist. That bump on the faint horizon in the shot below is The Whimble, a small peak in the Radnor Forest. Who knows, that may even be where the legendary last dragon sleeps. Certainly, odd dragonish stuff goes on round here: mid-Wales, the Brecon Beacons, and Herefordshire are the playgrounds of Britain's special forces. Near this particular spot, some years ago, we saw an unmarked black Dakota flying low and slow through the valley. This time, we saw two peculiar-looking military craft flying close together and extremely low, which I later identified as V-22 Ospreys.

One notable absence, though, was the heart-stopping roar of low-flying fighter-jets, which used to regularly pop up out of nowhere: perhaps they're busy scattering livestock or worse elsewhere in the world. Certainly, one constant sight all week – much more noticeable in these days of minimal civilian air traffic – was a steady procession of parallel con-trails, aircraft flying in pairs and threes, all heading west at high altitude and at a slow, steady speed. Socially-distanced, of course.

1. The Radnor Forest is not an area of woodland, but a bleak, treeless bump of upland.

2. Marks & Spencer is a chain-store in the UK, whose own-brand goods used to be labelled "St. Michael", leading to various jokes about nocturnal visitations from a self-declared angel with his name sewn into his underpants.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Red Kite

Small tarn on Bryn y Maen

We came back from a week in the Welsh Borders at the weekend, looked up into the sky over suburban Southampton, and saw the very first Red Kite ever circling directly over our house. Once, it would have seemed like it might have followed us home... But let's back up a bit. In fact, let's go back forty-plus years.

My partner and I first met at university around 1974, had an on-again, off-again relationship for a few years, gradually coming to the realisation that there was probably no-one else out there for either of us who would be less annoying to spend time with in between our not infrequent moments of profound and occasionally transcendent pleasure and mutual understanding, punctuated by fierce and fiery rows. If Shakespeare is your reference for romantic relationships, then we're talking Beatrice and Benedick rather more than Romeo and Juliet. Frankly, apart from, say, the sort of arranged dynastic marriages that ensured the continuity of the royal bloodlines of mediaeval Europe, there is no better basis for a successful long-term relationship. We've been together ever since, raised two children and paid off a couple of mortgages, but have never married, though the prospect of a civil partnership is increasingly tempting in these uncertain days.

Anyway, it must have been somewhere around 1978 that we started making use of a cottage her parents owned near Presteigne, a town in the Welsh Borders, as a handy (and free) weekend and holiday bolthole, just a couple of hour's drive from our working lives in Bristol, me as a librarian cataloguing German and Russian books in the university library, she as a secondary school English teacher. It was far from luxurious: situated next to the constant babble of a stream, it was damp and cold even in summer, with slate floors set directly onto the ground, and no heating other than a single traditional fireplace and a couple of two-bar electric heaters. On arrival we would prop up the mattress and warm it up with one of the heaters so as to steam it off a bit. Wood would need to be chopped for the fire. It was a bit like camping, but with the convenience of a cooker, a fridge, and an indoor toilet. I suppose there must have been a bath, too, but I don't remember using it; neither of us has ever been big on bathing, anyway.

The Welsh Borders are still quite remote, despite their proximity to the lush farmlands of Herefordshire and Shropshire: a phone-signal "dead zone" where the beep of a mobile coming briefly and feebly back to one-bar life in one's pocket on some hilltop is a cause for rejoicing. In those days, however, it was like travelling decades back into the past, a past where eccentric old hill-farmers lived alone in one wing of ancient farmhouses with no electricity, and the high streets of market towns like Presteigne, Knighton, or Llandrindod Wells looked like the film-set for an Agatha Christie adaptation. The area also had a certain pull for artists, craft-folk, and New Age and alternative lifestyle enthusiasts of various sorts looking for a quiet life away from censorious eyes. The luxury of having no neighbours has long been a privilege of wealth in most of England: in mid-Wales it comes as standard.

The forty years we have been visiting the area have seen many changes. Now there are out-of-town superstores and industrial estates accommodating some surprising industries; for example, Llandrindod now hosts a pioneer in hydrogen fuel cell technology. Farmers ride quad-bikes up to their hill-pastures, and the factory-like barns of intensive livestock-rearing are appearing everywhere. But the native young continue to flee to the cities, tourists are few, and elderly incomers contribute little to local economies; "prosperity" is not the word that springs to mind when you observe the human inhabitants of this beautiful backwater.

However, one striking success story has been the unstoppable spread of the Red Kite. Back in the 1970s and 80s, the uplands of the Marches were where the last few kites were making their stand against persecution and extinction. If you went to certain remote spots, with a bit of luck you might spot one of these striking birds doing its graceful sky-dance over the corner of a field. If you were very fortunate indeed, around Easter time you'd see a pair doing their extraordinary mating ritual, which involves locking claws and cartwheeling through the sky: it looks more like mortal combat than anything else (did somebody mention Beatrice and Benedick?). A long-term programme of reintroduction by the RSPB and others since the 1990s has had spectacular results: in 2004, on my way home by train from a reunion with some old friends in Oxford, I was astonished to see a couple of Red Kites circling above Reading railway station. Since then they've become a common sight in Wales and England, especially up the M3 and M4 motorway "corridors", where substantial road-kill victims – pheasants, foxes, badgers, and the occasional deer – litter the hard shoulder and central reservation of main roads: rich pickings for scavengers.

So that a kite should appear above our house in Southampton, having finally made our annual trip to Wales, cancelled in 2020 for the first time in 40-odd years due to Covid restrictions, seems highly appropriate. I wonder if it's got its eye on the yappy little dog next door? Or maybe the ancient tomcat that sprays its daily news bulletin all over our garden... We can only hope.

Fire in the valley below Llandegley Rocks

Friday, 23 April 2021

The Pleasure of the Fleeting Year

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans, and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.
Sonnet 97

I think number 97 might be seen as a suitable "lockdown" sonnet to celebrate, or at least mark, Shakespeare's birthday in these times of lockdowns, social distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing. It's been a strangely upside-down time to celebrate anything, hasn't it? We did the full suite of family birthdays over Zoom in 2020, and have now almost completed a second round. I imagine you, too, may have tried blowing out candles over the internet: it's not easy.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

By The Tide of Humber

Not the Humber

Another year, another crop of literary anniversaries. We've already had Keats's death (but still no satisfactory answer to my hat-related query), and now it is Andrew Marvell's 400th birthday. To the non-specialist, Marvell is probably mainly known as the author of a single poem, "To His Coy Mistress", which you can read here if you've never come across it, or your memory needs refreshing. It's a fine, much-quoted and anthologised poem, wittily combining those eternal themes of sex, death, and the passing of time. However, Marvell was a complex character – poet, Member of Parliament for Hull, a man of shifting political loyalties, possibly gay, possibly a spy in Holland, possibly even a Dutch double-agent – and he wrote a number of even better and more interesting poems that reflect the shifting nature of English society and politics during those dangerous and transformative years. There's a decent summary of his life and works here.

Now, although this is not a literary blog and I no longer have anything of any great interest to say about either the man or his poems, if I ever did, I read a poem in the TLS recently (no. 6156, March 26 2021) – one of three published as "Three poems for Andrew Marvell at 400" – which sparked a certain series of Marvell-related memories, thoughts, and events which have a baffling conclusion. This is a slightly convoluted story, and in the end one with no great significance to anyone but me. So, bail out, or bear with me.

The poem in question is "By the tide of Humber", by Angela Leighton. You can read it here (apologies, if it seems I'm setting rather a lot of homework this week). If you enjoy poetry, and know a little about Marvell, I think you'll agree this is a very good poem indeed. To peer through the elaborately-worked surface of "To His Coy Mistress" and scry the death by drowning of Marvell's father in the Humber lurking beneath it is a remarkable and, as far as I know, unique insight. It is also couched in some wonderful language: I love "hackling flow", for example, which I take to describe the sort of agitated, cross-cut wave patterns I have often seen walking down by the Avon when the tidal influx starts to back up the river's weaker outflow.

It often seems that there are even more good poets at work out there than there are good photographers. Certainly, nearly every week I seem to come across some new-to-me name, a poet who is apparently well-established, with several well-reviewed and even prize-winning books put out by a major publishing house; this, despite decades of (admittedly casual and intermittent) poetry reading. Only recently, for example, did I come across Thomas A. Clark (via Andrew Ray's blog Some Landscapes), who has managed to reach "selected poems" status without previously attracting my attention. I can't decide whether it's me, him, or his publisher that needs to try harder... Which is just a face-saving way of saying that I had never, to the best of my memory, come across Angela Leighton before. So, naturally, I looked her up.

To my surprise, it turned out that she is an exact contemporary of mine, born in February 1954. Moreover, like me, she was an undergraduate at Oxford from 1973-76 and, also like me, was studying English. Which is a matter of curiosity and interest to me, if not to you. Having had a certain number of, um, Marvellian encounters myself in those youthful years, I made a hasty scan through my still reasonably reliable memory bank, just in case this was someone I might have had good cause to remember. I also sounded out various friends, just to be sure; but it seems our paths never crossed, Oxford being a rivalrously collegiate university, further sub-divided by many circles of interest which only rarely overlap. Which is probably just as well. I was an arrogant, hedonistic, and unreconstructed young man in those days, quite unlike the arrogant, sober, and thoroughly reconditioned old man I am today.

Anyway, having settled the question of any possible intersectionality or kompromat, the main point, for me, was this: the writer of this excellent poem on the subject of Marvell must have sat the same finals papers as me. Oxford final exams are a relentless trial of stamina: in 1976 we sat eight three-hour papers over four days, dressed in stifling formal academic dress (so-called "subfusc") during one of the hottest summers on record, sitting at those silly little collapsible desks in the very same Examination Schools building we had occupied three years previously. It's a feat of endurance you tend to remember vividly, or attempt to wipe from your memory, especially if you had to undergo the extra mile of torment known as a "viva": which in my case, I did, twice... 

Now, it is no great secret that there are two main routes to exam success. The first is to study long, deep, and hard, so that you enter the exam room equipped with an encyclopaedic knowledge of your subject, ready to counter whatever the examiners can challenge you with. Let's call this the Berowning Version [1]. The second, which we'll call the Ladbrokes Method, is to game the system: you study the form of past papers, and make an educated guess as to what is likely to come up this year, and thus where to concentrate your revision efforts. In extreme cases, this "revision" amounts to an attempt to catch up with the work you failed to do while diligently pursuing opportunities for intersectionality of the more entertaining kind. It won't surprise you to learn that I was a Ladbrokes scholar and, as it happened, for the "1600-1740" paper I had placed a heavy each-way bet on Andrew Marvell.

So I was completely flummoxed, that hot June morning, to discover that, yes, the anticipated question on Marvell was there, but, no, I could not frame any sort of answer to it. It was a long time ago, Tuesday 15th June 1976, but the memory is still vivid. The question quoted a famous couplet from "The Garden" ("Stumbling on melons as I pass, / Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.") and asked, bafflingly, something like: "What does this tell us about society in 17th century England?" Well, who the hell knew? Apart from the unhelpful conviction that a subliminal rhyme with "arse" was lurking in the background, I drew a complete blank, and had to lever my Marvell quote-hoard edgewise into some other, vaguer question. So it struck me as amusing that Angela Leighton, co-candidate in that year's finals, had returned to the scene of what, for me at least, had been a bit of a shipwreck, so to speak, and one that only a very select band of people could possibly also have experienced or witnessed. So I sent her an email that both admired her poem and recalled that exam-room alarum.

Angela Leighton was kind enough to reply – I always think it's a good measure of any artist, whether they respond to fan mail (yes, looking at you, Alice Oswald!) – saying, in effect, that she could not recall that fateful "stupid and un-literary" question but wasn't surprised that I could. Which made me realise that, although I could recall the actual quotation and the pure, pharmaceutical quality of my perplexity, I couldn't actually remember the bizarre and unplayable spin put on the question by the questioner. I may be lazy, and prone to distraction, but I can be relentless when my curiosity is aroused. So I did the obvious thing, and asked the Oxford English Faculty Library whether they kept a collection of past papers, and if so would anyone be prepared to dig out and dust off the set from 1976 and give me the exact wording of the question in the 17th-century paper that included a quotation from Marvell?

Which they did, the very next day. Librarians are wonderful like that, aren't they? Just to be at work in the current circumstances is rather noble; to respond to the mad whim of some ancient alumnus is doubly admirable. I didn't even need to use my access-all-areas On Her Majesty's Bibliographic Service code word (that's right, I am a BS agent). But there was a problem. They sent me an apologetic email with scans attached of the three pages of questions that had been set that year, as deposited in the library. There was no such question on the paper. Not even close. 

WTF? I mean, seriously: What? What on earth is going on here? It is one thing to have a wet sponge of confusion thrown at you when you're young; quite another to have the bucket emptied over your head as you approach old age. I suppose there are only three conclusions to be drawn from this. Either (a) I am a deluded, memory-impaired old fool whose grasp of past events has finally degraded into fantasy; (b) some malevolent spirit or entity has deliberately removed that question from the paper, simply to cause me to question my sanity; or (c) that is not the actual paper we sat in 1976, but some alternative version filed by mistake or design – see (b) – in its place. Obviously, I prefer (c), am prepared to contemplate (b), but fear and reject (a), like anyone else a few birthdays either side of 70. Besides, I have always remembered that stupid bloody question. Always! I think... Worse – or perhaps encouragingly – I don't recall answering any of the nineteen options on that printed, archived version; I'm not even sure I could have done. I certainly couldn't now.

It's a mystery. But, perhaps, as I have speculated before, there is a fourth possibility: I am about to wake up in my narrow bed in our fourth-floor council flat in Stevenage New Town, aged seventeen, and everything that seems to have happened in the past fifty years was merely an intense, detailed, and yet oddly boring dream. Phew! It seems Mum was right about that late night cheese on top of a couple of pints of Greene King. So I will drift around in a daze for the rest of the day, extricating myself from a haze of false memories, and then meet up with some friends in the evening, when I will tell them about the amazing dream I had last night.

I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream—past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called "Bottom’s Dream" because it hath no bottom.
A Midsummer Night's Dream


Huginn & Muninn at Chauncy House, 1971

1. "Small have continual plodders ever won, / Save base authority from others’ books", as Berowne puts it in Love's Labours Lost. Plus The Browning Version is a play by Terence Rattigan in which ... Oh, never mind.

NOTE: I am in mid-Wales this week, where the internet and even a phone signal are mere rumours. I will moderate, publish, and respond to any comments when I get back on the 24th.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Unstuffed Birds

Green Woodpecker

Cuckoo and Reed Warbler

Here are a few more of what I have come to think of as "unstuffed birds"; that is, museum specimens given a new life in a new context, some more convincingly than others.

While making these, I have been driven slightly mad by a thrush somewhere out beyond our back garden, endlessly and loudly "singing" its limited repertoire of tweets and twiddles, morning to night. "I'm a thrush! I'm a thrush! You're not a thrush! Are you? Are you? No, you're not a thrush! 'Course you're not a thrush! I'm a thrush! I'm a thrush! ... [da capo]" I believe some of the other local birds have clubbed together to hire a sparrow hawk to take the noisy bastard out.


Sedge Warblers

Friday, 9 April 2021


I got bored with conjuring up new "framed" pictures, so somehow drifted into making a series of "ornithology" composites from my innumerable photographs of museum specimens. At the same time I also realised that my urge to go "dark" – reaching for a skull or some other piece of grotesquerie at any opportunity – is a bit offputting, so decided to walk on the sunny side of the street for a change.

I have to say I like these. I've always been fascinated by birds –I joined the RSPB at age 11, and am still a member – and it's been instructive to fend off the urge to make pictures of "dead" birds (although these are all very dead, obviously) or ironic birds (although I did have fun with three ducks on a wall) and to generally be upbeat in my choice of colours, etc. I can see that the equivalent of a set of Brooke Bond tea cards may be developing here, which could make for a nice, colourful book.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

The Parable of the Tribunal Reconvened

Tall tales

In the course of my delving into the blog archive (in pursuit of posts worthy of inclusion in a future "best of" Selections From Idiotic Hat volume) I found another one which seemed worth repeating, a full nine Easters later. I used to be good at this blog lark, it seems. Must do better...


The Parable of the Tribunal

In the comments to a previous post, I proposed that to have some talent, in itself, is not enough to achieve anything worthwhile.  You also need
  • Application. That famous "99% perspiration", or the "10,000 hours".
  • A generous measure of selfishness.  Life, particularly family life, with a creative genius is a quick route to despair, divorce, and denunciation.
  • Something to say.  Most rare of all. The Real Thing.  Accept no substitutes.
I might also add
  • A  trust fund.  Or, failing that, a taste for the (very) simple life.
Frankly, if you are in possession of all of the above, any actual "talent" is an unnecessary luxury. And, lacking them, the possession of any amount of "talent" is little more than an embarrassment, like having a car but no ability to drive.

This is particularly the case for those of us brought up in the non-conformist Protestant tradition (my family is Baptist; I am not). We have a difficult relationship with a deity that likes to get quite personal about things like laziness and failure. That notorious "parable of the talents" (Matthew 25:14 and Luke 19:12) is a central teaching for what we might call "shopkeeper's Christianity", and has been responsible for a lot of unhappiness.

Interestingly, those infuriatingly smug "wise virgins", who have loaded up their spare jerrycans of lamp-oil at the pump, also pop up in the very same chapter of Matthew. There's an unpleasantly petit-bourgeois flavour – Thatcherite, even – to these parables that is hard to reconcile with The Man's more profound teachings that challenge precisely this "because I deserve it" world-view. I have to say, Jesus as reported in the Gospels does seem to blow confusingly hot and cold on the subjects of the deserving and undeserving poor, the proper uses of wealth, and how far the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a Building Society account prudently tied to the FTSE 100 Index. Maybe he just liked to play with his disciples' minds.

With which thought, I did read said parable again – it is Easter, after all – and now present it to you from a different perspective. Let the hate-mail commence!


This Industrial Tribunal has convened to consider the case of Simon the Servant brought against Lord Hardman for constructive dismissal.

Let me remind the Tribunal, that constructive dismissal occurs when an employer's behaviour has become so intolerable, or the original terms and conditions of employment have been varied so substantially, that the employee has no choice other than to resign. Since resignation in such a case is not truly voluntary it is, in effect, a termination of employment. For example, in a case where an employer has acted like an utter shit, in order to get the employee to resign rather than dismissing the employee outright, then that capitalist bloodsucker is trying to effect a constructive dismissal.  Are we on the same page, now?

OK, facts:
Lord Hardman decides to go travelling for a couple of months. Nice work if you can get it. He divides up some serious capital, eight talents, between his three employees. However, this is not done equally or equitably. OK, eight talents won't divide by three, but to divide them in the proportion five, two, and one says something about his view of their relative merits, does it not? Also, it is a matter of record (Matthew 25:15) that Lord Hardman at no point explicitly instructed Simon the Servant what to do with the money entrusted to him, though we can accept the implicit instruction not to lose it or spend it on handmaidens. What may or may not have been said in private to the other, more favoured employees is not recorded.

The plaintiff decided to play safe, and stashed the cash in a "hole in the ground" account, paying little or no interest. One talent doesn't go far, and the minimum investment requirement for high-return cash investment products is a statutory two talents. His fellow employees, by contrast, decided to gamble with their employer's wealth. They claim the money was put into high risk structured investment vehicles, that they got lucky, and doubled their stake. In a couple of months, in the current financial climate? We should all be so lucky. However, it is not the business of this Tribunal to make allegations of corruption, money laundering, manna dealing or other improper use of funds against any third parties.

On his return, Lord Hardman went through a little capo di tutti capi routine, that resulted in the promotion of the other two employees, and the ritual humiliation of the plaintiff ("Where's my freakin' vigorish, you wicked and slothful moop?"), with open threats of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Lord Hardman is known to be a "hard man" who, in the words of the plaintiff's deposition, "reaps where he hath not sown, and gathers where he hath not strawed". We think this means that Hardman is a nasty piece of work, using business practices that border on the criminal. A man to be feared, in other words.

It is claimed that the whole thing was a set-up to persuade Simon the Servant to resign (and thus avoid payment of the statutory redundancy lepton). One talent out of eight? It was an insult, and a provocation. Understandably, Simon left Lord Hardman's employ immediately, but was encouraged by the Amalgamated Union of  Slaves, Indentured Servants and Handmaidens to file this claim of constructive dismissal.

The Tribunal upholds the claim of Simon the Servant against Lord Hardman, and awards him the exemplary sum of ten talents, to be recovered from Hardman Enterprises Ltd.

We assert that the Republic of Heaven shall be like unto this Tribunal, whereby no wickedness which has been  perpetrated against any of these, my brethren, will pass without redress and compensation, though we are divided as to the wisdom of casting any rat-faced exploitative wrong-doer into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We also emphatically strike down and reverse the judgement that "unto every one that hath it shall be given, but from him that hath not it shall be taken away even that which he hath" as both implausible and unpronounthable.

Here endeth the lesson.

Addendum 10/4/2012:
I am appalled to be informed that there are people out there who do not know the parable referred to, or who do not have access to a Bible (have they never heard of the internet?).  For the benefit of those foolish virgins, here is the relevant part of Matthew's Gospel:
 14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
 19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.