Dispensing Witan Wisdom Since The Days of King Eggbound The Unready...

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Epiblog for the Feast of St Edward the Confessor

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. We’re definitely on the treadmill now, only this treadmill has a downhill tendency that ends with Christmas. In a couple of weeks, the clocks will go back and the fairy lights will go up in town centres all over England and that will be it.  We’re also promised a massive belt of snow between now and then (although it was in the Daily Express so at best it will be inaccurate and at worst a lie) so it’s all shaping up once more for my least favourite time of the year, 

That time of year thou mays’t in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

The bit about yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang, could also be applied to my herbs, some of which have been taking a bit of a pasting from the weather this week as well. They also appear to have been providing a veritable smorgasbord of a buffet for any passing slugs, as well.

Matilda’s no great fan of it, either. She does go to the door each morning and I open it to let her out into the lobby, and thence her cat flap, but it’s a quick foray into the outside world, doing her necessaries in the garden, and back on the settee in Colin’s front room, curled in a tight furry ball with her nose in her tail, before you can say “Go-Cat”.  Misty, of course, doesn’t care what the weather is doing, as long as she can go w-a-l-k-i-e-s, the word which cannot be spoken aloud, a bit like the Hebrew YHVH, because uttering it brings about a cataclysm of milling dogs, as Freddie and Zak are staying here as well, for the time being.

It was such a cataclysm that was responsible for the first major domestic disaster of the week, when one of the milling dogs circling Grandad, in the frenzied anticipation of being led through muddy puddles on Saddleworth Moor, trod on the edge of the dog dish and catapulted the entire contents spraying over the tiled floor of the kitchen.  Having shooed the culprits out of the door, I set to work tidying up the mess. Misty’s food is called Skinners 18%, and is intended primarily for working dogs. It consists of hard little pellets of kibble, which we refer to as “Muttnuts”. There were 187 Muttnuts in the dish when it was upset.  I know this, because I had to pick them up individually with my grabstick.  As I said at the time, I was born to sing of love and eternity, and to paint with light, and somehow I ended up in a wheelchair, picking up Muttnuts with a grabstick.

I topped off that particular piece of idiocy the following day when, adding coal to the stove, I managed to knock the riddling plate through the hole in the grate and all of the red hot coals, and the riddling plate itself, fell through into the ash pan beneath. So I then had to wait for everything to cool, then un-make the fire, rescue the riddling plate, re-attach it to the end of the rod that enables you to waggle it, then put it all back together again and re-light the fire. Another ninety minutes of my life I won’t get back.

It’s been a week of tedious admin, in fact, when I haven’t been working on new books. I finally got around to filling in the necessary multi-page forms to apply for a licence from the Ministry of Justice to allow the cremated remains of my Mum, my Dad, Granny Fenwick and Auntie Maud to be exhumed and scattered somewhere more meaningful to them in life than a damp, dark corner of Hull’s Northern Cemetery.  It will now take six weeks for the MOJ to make a decision either way, which means we will probably not hear anything until the New Year.  Of all the things I thought I’d ever do in my life, filling in an application to exhume human remains was not one of them!

The whole thing nearly came to grief at the last minute because, on looking up the precise dates of Gran’s and Auntie Maud’s deaths on the family tree, I noticed that there was a distant Auntie who, if still alive, would have been a closer relative than either me or my sister, and who would certainly have to be consulted, and may even have held some sort of veto on proceedings. Oh bugger. How could I have overlooked her? I was facing the prospect of filling in the forms all over again.  Fortunately, a hone call to one of my cousins elicited the news that the Auntie in question was indeed distant. Distant as in deceased. I put the phone down and turned to Debbie.

“Hooray! She’s dead!”

That didn’t come out quite as I intended it. Poor old Auntie Doris, if you are reading this from the great beyond, it was more of a cry of relief that my entire day’s paperwork hadn’t been wasted. No doubt Gran and the rest are chuckling at my tribulations, up there in heaven, or wherever heaven is. After that, filling in the claims forms for Debbie’s salary seemed like light relief. [In addition to filling her life with organised chaos, the College also expects Debbie to tell them when she needs to be paid, instead of just paying her every month, like any normal employer].

The only news I saw this week, I saw by accident; Tommy Robinson has left the EDL, for some reason, and may or may not have forsaken some of his previous beliefs, depending who you talk to. I’m not entirely convinced, but maybe one of the things that does still make Britain great is that we’re prepared to give people the benefit of the doubt. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, and all that.  

David Cameron announced that he was planning to cap rail fares to help the ubiquitous hard-working families that pop up everywhere in his speeches these days.  Yet when Ed Miliband announced a proposal to cap energy prices in order to, er, help hard working families, Cameron denounced it as “Marxist” [which seems, by the way, to have somehow become a swearword] and “a gimmick”.

But the prize prannet of the week award has to go to Owen Paterson, whose apology for the lamentable failure and chaos of the pilot cull of badgers included the memorable statement that “the badgers moved the goalposts”. As a feeble fig-leaf of an excuse to cover up incompetence it’s right up there with “the dog ate my homework” and “a big boy did it, and then ran way”, both of which I expect the Junta will use next week to cover up some other clanger. The plot cull has not killed enough badgers, and the Minister was pointing out that this was because badgers don’t stay put in one place, something which I, and every other opponent of the cull, has been saying for weeks, if not months. 

Either that, or they didn’t accurately measure how many badgers were in the pilot cull area to start with, which questions the whole basis for the cull, if correct.  It just shows it up as what I have said it was all along – a feeble attempt to be seen to be doing something, to appease the Brian Aldridges and the David Archers of this world, when what we should really be doing is examining the whole basis and the premises upon which the dairy industry operates, and asking awkward questions about why it is that the only reason “reactors” have to be slaughtered anyway is because the EU demands it.

To round off a week of depressing idiocy, Rachel Reeves, a Labour MP who many tip as a future leader of the party, was reported in the press as saying that, if elected in 2015, Labour would be as tough, if not tougher, than the present Junta on benefits:

She added: "It is not an either/or question. We would be tougher [than the Conservatives]. If they don't take it [the offer of a job] they will forfeit their benefit.

Leaving aside the fact that the “job” in question, if not actually mythical, will probably be some kind of unpaid internship or zero hours contract, once again it is very dispiriting to see Labour failing to engage with and challenge the popular myth, fostered by the DWP propaganda, that people on benefits are some sort of worthless scroungers who have opted for a cushy number.

Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact. I repeat my contention of last week: while there will always be a tiny minority that try to “blag” the system, the vast majority of people on benefits would like nothing better than to get themselves, and their lives, back on track.  Take Tom Weaver, for instance, who launched an appeal on Facebook this week to try and find himself a job.  Ex-Royal Signals man Tom, who was left paralysed and in a wheelchair following a stroke in 2010, posted a humorous message on a Facebook group for former members of The Royal Corps of Signals, saying  he was “looking for a job” despite being unable to walk and only having the use of one arm.

So window cleaning is out of the question.  I could answer the phone and I can use a PC.  I’m not looking to be paid a wage. Yes I’ll work for free. I just can’t spend my life watching Judge Judy re-runs. Inbox me if you can help.

In four days he has apparently been inundated with offers of help and support from around the world.  Good for him. I hope he gets something commensurate with his obvious talent, skill, humour, and motivational attitude.  Not only because he seems a thoroughly good, able chap, who’s had an undeserved kick in the nads from life, but also as one in the eye to all those people who write off the wheelchair-bound as useless leeches on society.  I hope also, that with the help of health professionals, he may eventually be able to recover still further. And although he’s said he would be willing to work for nothing, personally I don’t think he should, nor should he have to. The labourer is worthy of his hire.  

The Labour Party, however, is not worthy of my vote, at least while it has Rachel Reeves in it.  Last week, I said I might have to hold my nose and vote Labour at the next election despite their being a feeble and useless opposition to the slash and burn policies of the Junta, basically just to annoy The Daily Mail, who, being closet fascists, don’t like Ed Miliband’s Jewish heritage.  But I am not voting for a party that’s more Tory than the Tories. If I wanted to see a further five years of spineless collusion with the enemies of my class, I might as well vote Liberal Democrat!  So, sorry Ed, but Rachel Reeves just lost you my vote in 2015.

Anyway, it’s all a long way away from the life of St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day it is today.  He’s known as St Edward the Confessor not because he had a habit of owning up to stuff he hadn’t done, but in recognition of his having lived a contemplative lifestyle but not having been a martyr. He was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England and is usually regarded as the last king of the House of Wessex, ruling from 1042 to 1066. He was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, in this case by his second wife, Emma of Normandy, and was born between 1002 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire. He is the patron saint of difficult marriages (of all things) and it may well be that he gained his supposed expertise from his experience of family life in his early years, which were a confusing mish-mash of betrayal and exile, as rival factions vied for the throne.

The Danes, under Sweyn Forkbeard and his son, Cnut [a man who, like Hilaire Belloc, has bedevilled typographers ever since] were harrying the country, and following Sweyn's seizure of the throne in 1013, Edward’s mother fled to Normandy, followed eventually by Æthelred. Sweyn died in February 1014, and leading Englishmen invited Æthelred back on condition that he promised to rule 'more justly' than before. Æthelred agreed but died in April 1016, and he was succeeded by Edward's older half brother Edmund Ironside, who carried on the fight against Sweyn's son, Cnut. Edmund died in November 1016, and Cnut became the acknowledged king. Edward again went into exile, but his mother had had enough and changed sides, and in 1017 she actually married Cnut. In the same year Cnut had Edward's last surviving elder half-brother, Eadwig, executed, leaving Edward the Confessor as the leading Anglo-Saxon claimant to the monarchy.

So, having lived in an era of uncertainty, in a family that put the “fun” into dysfunctional, Edward remained in Normandy, was brought up a Norman, and in 1042, on the death of his half-brother, Hardicanute, son of Canute and Emma, and largely through the support of the powerful Earl Godwin, he was acclaimed king of England. In 1044, he married Earl Godwin's daughter Edith. That summary actually considerably simplifies another period of intense to-ing and fro-ing, including Harold Harefoot ruling as Hardicanute’s regent because Hardicanute was too preoccupied with fighting his own battles at home, Earl Godwin arranging to have the eyes of Edward’s half-brother Alfred put out to prevent him from ever becoming king, and Edward’s mother finally being forced out of the country to exile in Bruges. It was anything but plain sailing.

He was also in quite a weak position when he came to power. He was dependent on the support and goodwill of the three leading earls in the kingdom, Leofric of Mercia, Godwin and Siward of Northumbria. He only really succeeded in staving off a planned invasion of England by Magnus, King of Norway because Magnus rather carelessly died before he could put the plan into action.

The worst crisis of his reign came in 1050-1051, and it centred on that old chestnut, who was to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Edward had promoted one of his close advisors, Robert, Abbot of Jumièges, over a local candidate. Once in position, Robert accused Earl Godwin of illegal possession of some lands that belonged to the Archbishop. In September Edward was visited by Eustace, count of Boulogne. His men caused an affray in Dover, which obviously hasn’t changed much since 1050, and Edward ordered Godwin, as earl of Kent, to punish the town's burgesses, but he took their side and refused. Archbishop Robert then accused Godwin of plotting to kill the king, while Leofric and Siward supported the king and called up their vassals. 

It all looked very nasty for a while, but Godwin’s position weakened when his men refused to fight the king. Godwin and his sons fled. Their differences were only settled when Edward agreed to replace Robert with Stigand as Archbishop, who was more to Earl Godwin’s liking.  Godwin himself died in 1053, but this was not the end of the problem for Edward the Confessor, as he then faced an undercurrent of trouble from Godwin’s two sons, Harold, and Tostig, who was Earl of Northumbria. Gradually, his old allies died off and were replaced by thegns of the Godwin family, or loyal to the Godwins. Edward failed to prevent  a rebellion led by Morcar to oust Tostig in 1065, which drove him, too, into exile, and, since he was childless, acknowledged Harold Godwinson as his successor, although William the Conqueror also claimed that the throne had been offered to him by Edward on his death. 

He devoted the remainder of his reign to building St Peter’s Abbey, the first Norman Romanesque church in England, where he was buried (and which later became “our” Westminster Abbey, when Henry III tore it down and built over the site in 1245) and died in London on January 5th 1066.  When Edward died in 1066, he was indeed succeeded by Harold Godwinson, who was defeated and killed in the same year by the Normans under William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. On October 14th, in fact. 947 years ago tomorrow. And the rest, as they say, is history.

He was canonized in 1161 by Pope Alexander III, and is commemorated on 13 October by both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Saint Edward was one of the national saints of England until King Edward III adopted Saint George as patron saint in about 1350. It was Henry who was responsible for the translation of the remains of Edward The Confessor to their present tomb in 1269, an event which happened on October 13th and thus gave rise to the saint’s feast day. For some time the Abbey had claimed that it possessed a set of coronation regalia that Edward had left for use in all future coronations. Following Edward's canonisation, these were regarded as holy relics, and thereafter they were used at all English coronations from the 13th century onwards, until their destruction by Cromwell in 1649.

The Vita Ædwardi Regis states Edward:

was a very proper figure of a man—of outstanding height, and distinguished by his milky white hair and beard, full face and rosy cheeks, thin white hands, and long translucent fingers; in all the rest of his body he was an unblemished royal person. Pleasant, but always dignified, he walked with eyes downcast, most graciously affable to one and all. If some cause aroused his temper, he seemed as terrible as a lion, but he never revealed his anger by railing.

In many ways, with the above description and his acknowledged love of hunting, Edward is an unlikely saint, and there is a theory that his canonisation is more to do with politics, Papal struggles and rivalries at the time, and the need of the English Royalty to legitimise their succession retrospectively. Certainly, things such as attributing his childlessness to deliberate chastity in marriage are probably a case of later chroniclers over-egging the pudding. So, fascinating as he undoubtedly was, and interesting as I find his life and times, I have to say that he doesn’t really do much for me, as a saint.  And as a king, if he did really promise the succession to two different people, he set up England for a catastrophic series of events when the power vacuum caused by his death ultimately saddled us with the Normans.

Spiritual insights from the life of St Edward the Confessor, then, are few and far between, at least for me they are. In fact, they have been few and far between altogether this week, but that’s just about par for the course these days.

To balance out the “hooray she’s dead” moment over dear old Auntie Doris, I did have a considerable shock when I logged on to the Chichester Folk Song Club Facebook page and found that one of my old friends from the club had died on Monday. I had known for a year or so she was not very well, and in a nursing home, so the news wasn’t especially unexpected, but the manner of it was rather startling, a bit like when I found out by text message that Cousin Ted had died.  And now Pat has walked the lonesome valley. She was 82, which I suppose isn’t a bad innings. I published three of her books,  Follow “Mee” to Gloucestershire, Hampshire Hauntings and Hearsay, and Hampshire at War, an Oral History 1939-45, so I have lost an author and a colleague, as well as a friend. I hope, anyway, that her books will live on, as a memorial to her.

As I said, it’s been a week of little spiritual comfort, to be honest, although I did note, drily, that professor Peter Higgs, the theoretical physicist who predicted the existence of the Higgs Boson, the so called “God Particle” has apparently criticised the “fundamentalist” approach taken by people like Richard Dawkins in their stance of militant atheism.

"What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind."

Which is what I said, only slightly less concisely, a few weeks ago. I trust my Nobel Prize is in the post. 

I don’t suppose I shall feel much better in myself until after Christmas now. It’s just a question of buckling down and getting on with it. It’s not as if I am short of things to do, it’s the motivation that’s lacking.  I could do with some of Tom Weaver’s get up and go.  The problem is that at this time of the year, the nights grow long and dark and cold, the days aren’t much better, and I feel myself once again torn between wanting to opt out of a commercial Christmas on spiritual grounds, and yet  desperately needing to be part of it, for our economic future.  And, of course, I feel time slipping through my hands like grains of sand.  Tesco, meanwhile, never backwards at coming forwards when it involves the commercial aspects of Christmas, has apparently run an ad based on the theme of “All I Want for Christmas is a Puppy”, totally ignoring the fact that 7,000 unwanted and homeless dogs are put down every year because of the sort of irresponsible pet ownership they are advocating. So that’s another one for the boycott list. Nothing that a donation of a couple of million to Wood Green Animal Shelter or Rain Rescue couldn’t sort out; are you listening, Tesco?

So, yes, I keep coming back to that Shakespeare sonnet which I quoted from at the start, because there are some other lines in it which seem to apply to me, right now:

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Yep, it seems like that time of year when it’s all too easy to remember that you got to walk, that lonesome valley, you got to walk it by yourself. Or trundle it, in my case. Ain’t nobody gonna trundle it for me, or untrundle it, if that’s even a word. Which reminds me, I must do something about getting the side of my wheelchair fixed, because the same arm that the bit dropped off now has a loose Allen key screw that means it wags about like Misty’s tail, especially when I am carrying stuff on the tray. So that’s another one for the to-do list.

Next week? I don’t really want to think about next week. Even counting my blessings isn’t really doing it for me now, to be honest. The stove’s ticking away, and Freddie, Zak, Misty and Matilda have all been fed and are snoozing on various chairs, sofas, cushions and blankets, and I’m just gong to lock up for the night. In Australia, it’s already tomorrow.

Oh well, close ranks and carry on, I guess. Forward, the armoured brigade.


  1. Nothing to say except bless you, thank you for the epiblogs and may the darker season of the year be concealing generous pockets of warmth and light and solace. And get someone to do their stuff with that allen key, that being a smallish problem and easily solved.
    Raising a toast to you and yours, most particularly the slumbering menagerie. May the coming week treat you gently.

  2. Steve, I have been reading your epiblogs for a while and would like to say that they are amazing. Am also raising a toast to you and yours and as Dave Allen used to say, May your god go with you.

  3. Thank you both for your kind comments

  4. I wish someone would remind the benefit-bashers that the overwhelming majority of claimants have paid their National Insurance contributions for many years before /claiming/ on their /insurance/.

    Something that seems to be conveniently forgotten.

    Curtaintwitcher de Mustardland