After my last posting about being an atheist, you would probably expect me to be fairly ambivalent about Christmas. But I am not at all, I love it, and it’s all down to some intangible nice feeling that I get because of all the trappings that come with the time of year.
I like Christmas carols, (as long as they are being played at Christmas and not weeks beforehand in shops), I like turkey dinners, I like Christmas pudding, I like Christmas presents (it’s not just because it’s a gift, although that is nice, it’s the excitement of opening the wrapping paper to discover what’s inside), I like Christmas trees (proper ones, that have come from a real forest and smell as a Christmas tree should and not of plastic), and other decorations, and I even like nativity scenes. I suppose much of what I’ve described is not particularly about religion, but I even like some of the religious side of it. You can’t really object, it is a religious festival after all, but just because I am a non-believer it doesn’t stop me from just liking the atmosphere and the Christian tradition that we celebrate at this time of year. I suppose it is because, to use Richard Dawkins’ now infamous phrase, I am a cultural Christian. I grew up in a Christian country, in a generally Christian family, and so I like much of the tradition that comes with that.
But the other thing that I find at Christmas is that I somehow also feel more Swedish at this time of year. Christmas is the one time of year when what I do is a complete mixture of my English and Swedish background and that has affected the way I have celebrated it, such as the carols we listen to and the way we decorate the house. It is also because I associate Christmas with St Lucy (or Sankta Lucia in Sweden), which is actually a festival on the 13th of December, but in Sweden it often gets tied in to all the preparations for Christmas itself. I think it is all down to a feeling that Christmas in Sweden is a lot more old-fashioned and less commercial than it is in this country. That is probably misguided, as I haven’t been in Sweden at Christmas since I was a small child, but I like to cling on to that belief.
Writing this entry I have realised why it is that I like Christmas so much. It is the pleasant old-fashioned nostalgia that it brings and thoughts of spending time with my relatives (most of whom are unfortunately no longer around). It reminds me of what we all probably like to think of as a more innocent time when we were children and when Christmas was not all about shopping and spending money.
There’s a certain neatness about the week in which Nick Clegg admits he doesn’t believe in God being the same week that Tony Blair converts to Catholicism. Religion and politics rarely mixes in British politics, and so it is unusual for there to be so much discussion about it.
Personally, I cannot understand why someone saying they don’t believe in God should be such a big news story. I know so many people who don’t believe in God, (and it is probably a majority amongst my friends in the Lib Dems), that I tend to think of it as the norm. Even those friends who do believe in God would think nothing of someone saying that they don’t believe in God and wouldn’t think any worse of them because of it. In a country where there is a decent percentage who say they have ‘no religion’ in the census, it is odd that there aren’t more politicians who say they are atheists.
I have a lot of sympathy for the view of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he says:
It matters less to me [that a politician doesn't believe in God] than to know they are honest and reliable and that what beliefs they have they hold sincerely.
To me, it is someone’s principles, values and morals that are important, not how they come by them. One phrase I have heard which I like and probably sums up where I see myself, is that of someone being “an atheist with Christian values”.
To me, it is your values and principles that are most important. I don’t care whether someone has them because they are a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew or if they have no religion at all. You don’t have to believe in God to have the same values and principles as everyone else. You can simply believe in them because they are right.
I used the fact I was in London this Wednesday to visit somewhere I’ve been planning to visit for a while – Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields – and I was very pleased that I did.
The museum is in a set of three houses that were built by architect Sir John Soane in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The houses were used by Sir John Soane as his own residence, but he also started collecting items that interested him and were useful from an architectural point of view. So this house is now a mixture of ordinary household rooms of that period, and a fascinating and occasionally bizarre collection of items that stuffs full a whole series of large and small rooms, corridors, courtyards and galleries that make up the rest of this jumble of a building.
But as well as being an interesting place to look around, with more and more unusual things to see at every corner, it was also incredibly atmospheric. I arrived there at about 4pm, just as it was about to go dark, and so with much of the house only lit by candles, it got more and more mysterious as it went on. The staff make strenuous efforts to preserve this atmosphere by only admitting a set number of people at a time, and by ensuring all mobile phones are switched off before you go in. I think this is probably a place to go to at least twice – once as it is going dark and once in the middle of the day when the daylight allows you to see more of the things that are on display.
If you’re fascinated by architecture and history then you should definitely go. But if you’re in London are simply fascinated by unusual places, then it is also a must see. Oh, and it’s free to go in as well!
Finally, at the moment there is also an interesting exhibition there on the Adam Brothers and some of their architecture in London and Edinburgh. So it is also well worth visiting before the 12th January 2008. And while you’re there, also have a walk round Lincoln’s Inn as that is also really interesting, and so incredibly quiet compared to the noise and bustle in the surrounding area.
As I’ve been in London for the last two days, this has been my first chance to write about the leadership result. Obviously I’m over the moon about it, and if anything it has been a huge relief after the last two months – which has felt more like two years. The best moment after finding out the result was walking through Piccadilly Circus on my way to Nick’s victory party at Planet Hollywood, and seeing the words “Nick Clegg Elected Lib Dem Leader” scroll across the big screens there. It was a great moment.
It’s fair to say I am both excited and nervous now about the future. Obviously I think Nick will be a great leader, but after the difficulties of the last few years you can’t help but wonder how things will work out.
Today’s reshuffle though has been a good sign of the way forward. I like the way that the Shadow Cabinet has been grouped in to teams reflecting many of the themes that Nick talked about during his leadership campaign. I think this will help people work together and will lead us to come up with some better policy ideas that cut across departments and which resonate with the public. It also gives a clearer spokesman for each theme that the public will hopefully get to know. If I can pick out one person though it has to be Willie Rennie. He has been given a new role as “Chair of the Parliamentary Campaigns Team” which given his reputation as a pretty formidable campaigner will be a big boost to the Shadow Cabinet. He has also been a huge support to Nick’s leadership campaign and has done a phenomenal amount of work behind the scenes to help get him elected.
Ages ago Peter Black tagged me as someone who should answer these questions. There was a time when you got lots of these things by email but these days they appear to be on blogs instead. I started this a few weeks ago and then didn’t come back to it until today, so here are my answers:
8 things I am passionate about:
- Spending time with my friends
- Liberal Democrats
- Visiting the coast
- People who make me laugh – either friends or comedians
- Listening to good music or seeing it performed live
- Taking interesting photographs
- Visiting my favourite places – Sheffield, London, Aberystwyth, Paris, Siena
- People who have interesting new ideas or ways of looking at things
8 things I want to do before I die:
- Fall in love with someone who I then spend the rest of my life with
- Travel the world (unoriginal but it’s true)
- Achieve something good that lasts after I’ve gone
- Write a best-selling novel
- Get elected to parliament
- Learn Italian
- Become a qualified ‘Blue Badge Guide’
- Help elect a popular and successful Liberal Democrat Government
8 things I say often:
- When I was at/ in… (which is how I always start my many anecdotes about places I’ve worked, places I’ve lived or just generally about things I’ve done in the past)
- I’ll be in the office late tonight
- Yes please, another coffee would be great
- Bloody Liberal Democrats
- No…yes (the answers I have to give at the checkout on every one of my twice-daily visits to my local Tesco Express – are you paying for petrol, do you have a clubcard?)
- Hello Me (yes it’s annoying, but it’s the reply I instinctively give if people phone me and say “Hello it’s me”)
- Why on earth does the bus have to sit in town for 5 minutes, then for another 5 minutes outside the Hallamshire Hospital and then again for 5 minutes outside Notre Dame School? (another one of my daily gripes – this time from my journey to work. I have been a grumpy old man for years.)
- God it’s cold (but that’s just been over the last few days)
8 books I’ve read recently or am still reading:
- Night Angels – Danuta Reah
- The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
- Play To The End – Robert Goddard
- The Time of my Life – Denis Healey
- The Long Firm – Jake Arnott
- John Major : The Autobiography
- How to be an Even Better Manager – Michael Armstrong
- Death at La Fenice – Donna Leon
8 songs I could listen to over and over and do:
- The Facts of Life – Black Box Recorder
- Stronger – Public Symphony
- Head Home – Midlake
- Thank U – Alanis Morissette
- Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol
- Rehab – Amy Winehouse
- Chiquitita – Abba
- Play Dead – Björk and David Arnold
8 things that attract me to my best friends:
- Being broad minded
- Sense of humour
- Allowing me to gossip or be bitchy but keeping what I’ve said to themselves
- Being a little bit quirky
- Being positive and supportive of me, when I am feeling down or in a mood
- A willingness to go to the pub
8 people I think should do Crazy Eights:
- Joe Taylor
- Matt Davies
- Colin Ross
- Alex Wilcock
- Ed Maxfield
- Joe Otten
- James Graham
- Iain Dale
So that’s it. I am not sure they are exactly crazy, but it might give people some idea as to what motivates me and what sort of person I really am. I hope that some answers will also surprise people.