There once was a guy who wanted to know what two plus two was equal to. He could remember the answer he had been given at school but he wondered if it really was as simple as the teacher had said. His next door neighbour was a mathematician so he thought maybe he should be able to dispel any doubts he had.

He asked the mathematician, “What exactly is two plus two equal to?”.

“Four”, said the mathematician.

“Are you sure?”, he said.

“Absolutely”, said the mathematician.

“All the time?”, asked the guy.

“All the time”, reassured the mathematician.

The guy went away feeling happy with the answer he had heard.

However, as the days passed he began to think more deeply about the mathematician’s answer, maybe it would be a good idea to get a second opinion.

He knew accountants dealt with numbers so surely an accountant would know the answer to his question so he went down the high street until he spotted an accountant’s office.

He asked the accountant, “What exactly is two plus two equal to?”.

“Well, round about four”, said the accountant.

“Are you sure?”, he said.

“More or less”, said the accountant, “but anything between three point six and four point four is near enough”.

“All the time?”, asked the guy.

“Well, sometimes it might be a bit less or more than that but most of the time between three point six and four point four”.

This was not the answer he had hoped for, which troubled him a little. After pondering over this he thought it might be good idea to see a lawyer.

He asked the lawyer, “What exactly is two plus two equal to?”.

The lawyer sat up and looked around the room. He walked quietly to the door, opened it sharply and then looked out down the corridor. After he closed and turned the key in the door he stepped over to the window and pulled the curtains closed. Then he returned to his chair, put his hands together, smiled and asked, “What exactly would you like it to equal?”.


This letter was submitted the ‘The Friend’, a Quaker periodical publication, recently Still awaiting the editor’s decision as to whether or not it will be published.

Dear Friends

At present we, in the Central Yorkshire Area Meeting (CYAM), are being urged, on instructions from Britain Yearly Meeting, to adopt a policy which will safeguard children and vulnerable adults.  I refer to the society’s intention to have at least two members of each meeting CRB checked and ‘cleared’ for ‘child safety purposes’.

If I may begin by relating some of my own experiences of the Criminal Records Bureau and the certificates it issues.  I am a member of a large recreational association with branches throughout the country some of which have already been pressured into CRB checking their leaders and administrators.  The results have been notable as many long standing leaders, well known and respected by other members, declined to take such checks and as a result no longer participate in social events; one can only wonder what dark secrets they had to hide. If they were the only ones to disappear maybe that would not be so bad but not only the refuseniks but their friends have gone with them, depleting numbers somewhat.  However, if a reduction in numbers is anything to judge by I think we can say those groups are now far safer than they ever were in the past.

In addition to the effect on numbers, CRB checks introduce an unhealthy and unwholesome atmosphere of distrust to whichever organisation chooses to use them.  The implication is that everyone is guilty and poses a potential threat to vulnerable people [almost a reinvention of ‘original sin’]. The way to lift one’s self above such guilt is to undergo a CRB check. In this manner those with certificates are deemed ‘safe’ and the others, not so; in this way CRB checking also has a divisive effect on a group or society.  If CYAM gets its way and each meeting complies with the ruling we will have two people at each meeting house who may be entrusted with the care of children and other vulnerable people – and no one else.

In reality a CRB disclosure certificate achieves nothing. It doesn’t show a person is trustworthy, has done nothing wrong and, most important, of all says nothing about what he/she will do in the future.  Even the phrasing used on a ‘clean’ certificate raises doubts, for example  ‘Police Records of Convictions, Cautions, Reprimands and Warnings – NOT RECORDED’. Why not a straightforward ‘NONE’? ‘NOT RECORDED’ has a subliminal message ‘no record found but he/she may have offended, we simply don’t know’.  It certainly doesn’t tell you that this person will not murder, assault or molest someone in the future.

Why are some people so enthusiastic about such a useless measure?  For those with a desire to keep others under their thumb the appeal is obvious as it is way of controlling people, of sifting out those you like from those you don’t while under the pretence of doing something good.

I have yet to see one benefit of this procedure but so far I have only seen negative effects – financial cost to clubs and societies, loss of membership, loss of participation within the remaining membership, further reinforcement of the deep-seated distrust and suspicion which pervades society as a whole and yet our Elders and Overseers, who I understand are selected for their deeper understanding of Quaker values, far from demanding that we find a way forward to a more sensible method of our own and thus set the standard,  are urging us to follow the sheep.  Our society has a long history of dissent, of standing up to unjust or unfair laws, of saying ‘no’ to imposed procedures and being prepared to take the consequences. This is surely such an occasion to insist on being different.

At risk of stating the obvious we are the Religious Society of Friends, we seek the truth, we endeavour to stand for the truth, we accept nothing but the truth and in our quest for the truth we develop a sharp eye which enables us to accept that which is of value and worth and reject that which is puff.

I feel our myopia is reaching chronic levels.

This one certainly leaves you wondering . . . how a government minister played a key role in implementing laws, was subsequently responsible for the area of government to which the laws related, and then contravened the very law she had been responsible for enacting but kept her job.  And with our dear leader’s blessing.Baroness Scotland A statement issued on behalf of Baroness Scotland reads, “”She hired Ms Tapui in good faith and saw documents which led her to believe that Ms Tapui was entitled to work in this country.”  So that’s alright then.

Just exactly who are Gordon Browns friends I’m not sure, but I am certain he won’t have many amongst the working families and pensioners of the UK.

Some time ago, in the face of utility companies, energy suppliers in particular, banking inordinate profits the government was considering imposing a windfall tax which would then be used to fund pay-outs to the poorest households in the country. An alternative, capping the profit level of these companies, was mentioned but never got a sideways look into the government agenda. The profiteers’ response was to protest and insist they must protect their profits to ensure future investment and developments – just how that works out or for whose benefit was never explained, but maybe that doesn’t matter. The energy companies put their prices up by the most obscene proportions imaginable last year and got away with it; it worked, people paid up, the energy companies liked what they saw, did it again this year and are now wallowing in money.

The government has now changed its tune and is saying they will not go for ‘short term gimmicks or give-aways’ but have been ‘working hard’ and ‘focusing’ on long term measures which will provide households with permanent fuel efficiency e.g. loft insulation. Precisely how you work hard at focusing on loft insulation takes some understanding as fitting insulation and draught excluders is relatively low-tech; these techniques have been around for many years and are readily available either at low-cost or, for some people, free. Even if every available insulation technique were applied to a house it would still need to be heated in winter; insulation doesn’t generate heat it only helps you hang on to it for a little while longer once you have got it. In my own experience these measures make very little difference to a household heating bill, they simply enable the house to remain warmer for longer.

So why has our dear leader Brown changed his mind? This is speculation and is based only on his past behaviour not on any inside knowledge; the talked about handouts would have been funded by a windfall tax but that is not going to happen – no tax revenue, no payouts. And why is there no windfall tax? Because Gordon Brown cannot face up to anyone with power and influence. This has happened before; big business has got shirty over something the government has threatened to do, made a few loud noises and the government has backed down. Name one instance of Gordon Brown standing up to big business. . . . . I’m listening. You can’t remember one? Neither can I. Brown is a political coward. He has no balls, no guts, no fire. He may be a ‘nice man’ but the working families and pensioners need someone who is prepared to fight for them and protect them from corporate greed.

Tony Woodley, of Unite, is quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying –

If greedy fuel companies have won out over struggling consumers then this is not just a disappointing move by the Government but a downright disgrace.

Yes, we need measures to improve fuel efficiency but these should not be paid for by needy people. At this moment in time people need immediate respite from the struggle to pay their gas and electricity bills.

There must be a rethink and cash assistance for every needy household in the land. It cannot be right that big business is allowed to bank their obscene profits while ordinary people will shiver this winter.”

Which just about sums up the situation.

Contrary to popular belief The Times isn’t every Englishman’s favourite newspaper but it does throw up interesting little articles now and again. While rummaging amongst some old copies recently I came across this item. The British, and English particularly, have always considered themselves kind-hearted and generous though perhaps not overly so. Within our isles there are many variations, as you might expect, and some regions are well-known for opposite traits; the Scots, Aberdonians especially, are reputed to be thrifty and Yorkshire people are careful, as they put it [or just plain tightfisted as others would say], for example, but behind our stoic outward-facing masks we all have beating hearts of gold. At least that is what we like to tell ourselves and anyone else who is listening. Unfortunately, as Richard Morrison points out this notion simply doesn’t square up with the facts collected by the Office for National Statistics. During the last 50 years we have been less and less willing to give to charity, and at the same time have become more and more uncaring for others. If you have the means and the opportunity it is OK to flaunt your wealth, preferably in the most contemptuous and shameless manner possible, it is perfectly acceptable to cheat others and to put down those less fortunate than yourself. Morrison pins everything down to an absence of ‘love’ in our society, I would use the word ‘care’ but otherwise, in essence, agree with what he says; if anything I would be even less charitable than he is in describing our society, we are simply a bunch of greedy and selfish, uncaring tightwads.