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The new series of stamps commemorating England’s victory in the Rugby World Cup comprises two designs for First Class stamps and two for 68p, the most usual rate for sending letters to Australia. All four designs include the winning score just to make sure Australian recipients of mail from England don’t forget it. There are different ways of handling victory. On the sports field, a certain amount of crowing is part of the fun, at least if you’re the winner. In life, however, although some satisfaction is inevitable, there’s rarely a valid need to emphasise the triumph and to do so may not improve future relationships.

Whether it’s doing better than someone else at work, being better informed than someone else or simply being right, generosity is more becoming than gloating. It would be good for our morale to chalk up a few victories today but better not to draw attention to it in a way that undermines other people’s.

The Ashes series have always been marked by strong rivalry. Their origin is commemorated in an Australian stamp. After the first Australian victory over England in 1882 a mock obituary ran in the Sporting Times "in affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia." This latest English victory is now to be marked by a set of British commemorative stamps. The stamps, including first class stamps and a 68p stamp needed to post a letter to Australia, will go on sale in a few weeks' time. If the precedent set by the stamps marking England’s Rugby World Cup victory over Australia is followed, the designs will include the winning score just to make sure Australian recipients of mail from England don’t forget it.

There are different ways of handling victory. On the sports field, a certain amount of crowing is part of the fun, at least if you’re the winner. In life, however, although some satisfaction is inevitable, there’s rarely a valid need to emphasise the triumph and to do so may not improve future relationships.

Whether it’s doing better than someone else at work, being better informed than someone else or simply being right, generosity is more becoming than gloating. It would be good for our morale to chalk up a few victories today but better not to draw attention to it in a way that undermines other people’s.


Fresh from his success as James Bond, Daniel Craig is niow filming the first installment of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, to be known as The Golden Compass. The book has sold 2.5 million copies so the film should do well.

In it each character has a daemon, a visible accompanying spirit that normally appears in animal shape. Philip Pullman says his daemon would probably be a magpie, because of his wide range of interests and his ability to steal ideas and weld them into his own writing. “I have stolen from every book I have ever read,” he says. Other inspiration for aspects of the novels comes from films, a Finnish phone directory and strolling round Lake Bled in Slovenia listening to the noise made by skateboarders.

Our lives too are enriched by the variety of ideas, sights and sounds that come our way. The ability to be sufficiently aware of what’s going on around us to take them in can be undermined by busy-ness, stress or ill-health. But there is relief to be had even in those situations by stealing a moment to observe and absorb.

Full-scale plagiarism is of course not acceptable but the level of theft of which Philip Pullman speaks is part of the communal sharing which enhances the life of all humanity. Bouncing ideas off others, watching the world around us, being influenced in our thinking by a film or book, are ways in which we can be consciously inspired by others. There are also whole ranges of sub-conscious influences that other people and various experiences have on us which help to shape our lives.

Let’s today celebrate this corporate wisdom to which we each make a contribution and in which we each have a share.

I am grateful to Franklin Thompson for permission to use his photograph.


Thousands from all over Rajastan and beyond converge on Bikaner at this time of each year for the Camel Festival. The camels, bedecked with incredible Rajastani textiles in brilliant colours, engage in numerous displays of racing, dancing and acrobatics. There's even a beauty competition!

To the westerner, beauty is not a word that immediately comes to mind in connection with camels. Not too easy for us to see it. The eye of the beholder is often initially influenced by cultural background and expectation but beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. When encouraged to really look, it is sometimes possible to see a kind of handsomeness in unexpected places.

Beauty in people can sometimes be nurtured by other people noticing it. Nothing need necessarily be said – such things are communicated at a deeper level than that – but to become aware of beauty, especially in someone whose features don’t have classical elegance, can contribute to that attractiveness becoming more widely noticed.

There will be much that is beautiful around us today. Some of it will strike us immediately; some is there to be seen when we really look. But to appreciate it, especially in other people, can add to the pool of beauty available to us all.


“Great God this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.” So wrote Robert Scott in his diary on 16th January 1912. He had just reached the South Pole and found the black flag of Roald Amundsen, showing that the Norwegian’s party had got there before him. Thoroughly demoralized, the five members of the Scott party died during their 800-mile trek back to their base camp.

Most people can identify with Scott’s enormous disappointment at not having been the first to the Pole. Most people enjoy being first, in small things like solving a crossword clue before others do or being the bringer of the very latest gossip, through to more significant desires like being first in line for promotion or foremost in influence over another person.

Whatever the psychological cause of this pressure to achieve what Scott called “priority”, it can play an energising and motivating part in our lives and in the progress of the world. What’s sad is when it prevents the kind of cooperative working which can be even more stimulating; and when disappointment at not being first undermines the justifiable satisfaction at what’s been accomplished.

Perhaps today we might particularly notice times when we’re motivated by the desire to be first, to check that this isn’t preventing fruitful cooperation, and still to delight in what we’ve done even if others have got there before us.


When Ekaterina Dmitriev married Yuir Malenchenkov in Texas, it was a life-sized cut-out she stood next to. The real Yuri, wearing a bowtie over his flight suit, was circling 240 miles above the earth in the International Space Station. Peering into each other’s eyes via a satellite video, they exchanged vows and blew kisses. Ekaterina, who has to wait until November to see her husband again in the flesh, said that being so far apart had brought them so close together that they didn’t want to wait.

Time apart is important in any close relationship and “giving each other space” a generally accepted maxim. But the balance is not always easy to achieve and participants in a relationship, friends or partners, do not always want the same. Give and take, and mutual sharing of perspectives on what each wants, is often necessary.

Perhaps today it might be worth while reviewing our intimate relationships to see how the balance feels to us, and asking those close to us how it feels to them.


This weekend sees the anniversary of the publication in 1908 of the first instalment of Scouting for Boys by Baden Powell. Its success led to summer camps for boys based on its philosophy, which includes the precept “Be Prepared”, and to the forming of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

Being prepared included acquiring skills in camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry. But it was also about developing a particular outlook on life.

In 1909, Chicago publisher William Boyce was lost in one of London’s classic fogs when a Boy Scout came to his aid. After guiding Boyce to his destination, the boy refused a tip, explaining that as a Boy Scout he would not accept payment for doing a good deed. The boy's automatic reaction was to be helpful. His disinterested concern inspired Boyce to take the Scout Movement to America. But the story’s also a reminder that getting prepared must include, as it had done for the boy, working on our instinctive reactions to situations, so that they reflect the values we hold.

Today opportunities will arise for which we were not prepared and our reaction may well have to be spontaneous. Let’s make sure that our own preparation for life includes developing an inner bias towards generosity and helpfulness.


Queen Bees will have to slum it under new European Union import rules which only allow a retinue of 20 bees to accompany the queen on her voyage. The EU is limiting the size of bee batches coming into Europe to stop exotic pests – a small hive beetle and parasitic mite – from hitting the continent. “We need simple import rules to make sure these bee parasites do not hitch a ride to Europe” said the EU Health Commissioner.

Hitching a ride is something human beings do too. Sometimes people let others do the work, make the decisions, pay the bills, even organise their lives. Simple laziness can be one reason for this. But it is also occasionally a justifiable way of allowing others to give help and support to someone who needs it.

St Paul wrote that we should “carry each others’ burdens.” Each person may sometimes be the one doing the carrying and at other times the one being relieved. If today there’s any area of our lives where we’re letting someone else carry us at the moment, we might ask ourselves why we’re allowing it. If we’re helping carry another’s burdens, it might be useful to check they’re not taking advantage of us.


An inmate in an American prison wrote to seek advice from a computer magazine: Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say Weather eye am write oar wrong, it shows me strait a weigh. As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore eye can put the error rite, its rare lea wrong. Eye have run this poem threw it, so am shore your pleased two no its letter perfect awl the weigh – My chequer toiled me sew!

The questioner wanted a fail-safe spell checker but of course, there isn’t one. Only he knows what he actually wants to say and as with the rest of life, it’s not appropriate to let someone else make our decisions for us. Christians will want to include God in the decision-making progress, using prayer as a way of letting God offer guidance and prompting. Most people have friends or family with whom they will wish to talk over any major development in their lives. But in the end, it is important that each person makes up their own mind in matters that affect them.

Let’s today be grateful for those we can ask to prompt us as we try to get things right in our lives and be proud of decisions we have made which turned out well.


As Tate Britain risks trouble as it features Mark Wallinger's anti-war display, other modern is both less controversial but more confusing. The artist who drew these faces did it with a pin. It is the oxidating process that causes the pinpricks to blacken. Eventually, of course, the whole banana will go black and the bananas will be of no further value.

Sometimes when we look back over our lives, we may feel that some of our achievements will fade with almost equal rapidity. Perhaps we would benefit from the same confidence that even something with such a limited life has a value.

Tonico Lemos Auad also gathers up carpet fluff that he shapes into squirrels and headless human beings. Even if by now most pause-for-thought readers are becoming despairing about the way modern art is developing, once again there may be something to learn from his technique. There may be much about our lives which, like the dust, feels to us to be worthless but which stimulated someone else into being creative.

St Paul writes about God as one who takes people who feel they are not worth much and makes them significant contributors to the renewal of the world*. So for God's sake as well as our own, don’t let’s play down our value to those around us or even to the wider community. We may feel sometimes that we have not got much to offer but who we are and what we do may have a much wider value than we recognize.

* 1 Corinthians 1:28