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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Epiblog for St Bruno's Day

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. A week I could, to be honest, have done without, except that technically it counts as part of my life, and my Mum always used to say you shouldn’t wish your life away. Since I am now a year older than she was when she died, that’s a lesson I can feel being reinforced, every morning when I wake up feeling slightly worse than I did when I went to bed the night before.

The weather, for what little I have actually seen of it, has been dull, but warm. So warm in fact, for this time of year, that I let the stove go out (deliberately) on Friday, then only re-lit it in the evening. At least we’ll save a bit of money on coal if it carries on like this.

Matilda approves of Indian Summers, if her morning routine is anything to go by. She yowls for food, then, when I have got up and fed her, and she has chomped her way through the offering in her bowl, she follows me to the conservatory door, winding round my wheelchair wheels the way she would wind round anyone else’s legs, and waits for me to open it and let her out on to the decking.

Then she goes round the side of the house, and in through the cat flap set in Colin’s side door, across Colin’s side of the house, through the bifold doors, into the kitchen, thence to the conservatory door, to be let out onto the decking. Following which she goes round the side of the house, see above. After about the fourth time, it can get very tedious. As an annoying flurry of misdirected energy, it’s rivalled only by Debbie getting ready for work.

Misty, meanwhile, continues to settle down, I’m pleased to say. It must be about ten days since she last did a completely random, gaga, unexpected thing, which I guess must show that she’s become used to the rhythms of the house; the various comings and goings of Granny, Grandad, Freddie, Zak, the postman and the Sainsburys delivery man. However, on Thursday night, she was being distinctly odd. A sudden reversion to the old, skittery Misty. She kept sticking her head under the kitchen table. Then suddenly reversing and letting out little wuffit, then repeating the process all over again. Almost like she was trying to pounce on something. What the hell was she doing? The only thing I could see that might be spooking her was a box of blank CDs, but I couldn’t imagine that was it – she’d never shown the slightest interest in computers or audiovisual equipment before, and her reaction to music is usually limited to her tolerating me singing “Old John Braddleum” at her while furfling her tummy.

Debbie finally declared that she couldn’t stand it any longer, and crouched down to see what the problem was.

“Oh my God, it’s a frog.”

Within a few seconds, she had caught the offending amphibian and evicted it onto the rainy wet, cold, slimy decking, where no doubt it would be very happy. Misty got praised for alerting us to its presence, even though she was probably actually trying to incorporate it into her diet, as a tasty and nutritious snack. She actually ended up with a dog treat for her trouble, which I am sure she viewed as a poor substitute. The wider question, of how a frog came to be on the tiled floor under the kitchen table in the first place, remained unanswered. I am hoping it hopped in when the conservatory door was left open to allow the dogs to go into the garden, because the only other option is that there’s a secret underground frog-tunnel from the outside world into the kitchen, and I don’t like to think about that! As Sherlock Holmes said, once you have discounted the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Or something.

In terms of my week, if I listed everything that’s gone wrong or fallen over this week, it would be tedious and depressing, so I’m not going to! Suffice it to say it’s a week when events – and indeed people - have conspired to threaten and undermine everything I‘ve tried to do, and for every step forward, I’ve probably taken one back. I have put solutions in place, only to see them bring their own, new problems. Still, nobody said paying off my debts before I die would be easy, but sometimes I despair at the UK book trade and also at the actions of people who I mistakenly thought for a quarter of a century or so were friends and colleagues who had my best interests at heart. Nuff said. Don’t get me started, or we’ll be here all night.

It’s been a week when idiocy was abroad. The sort of week my dad would have called a silly buggers’ outing, all round. Hardly politically correct, but then since when are we responsible for things which our dads used to say, in their more embarrassing moments? Well, the answer is, according to The Daily Mail, perpetually – for ever and ever, amen.

According to The Daily Mail, Ed Miliband would be an unsuitable candidate for Prime Minister because of some things his dad once said. Excuse me? I can think of many reasons why Ed Miliband would be a useless Prime Minister – not least because he’s been such a feeble and useless leader of the Labour Party and of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition – but none of these have anything to do with his dad! One of the Mail’s wackier allegations about Mr Miliband is that he is buried quite near to Karl Marx, so presumably they feel he may have been affected by post-mortem Marxist underground seepage or something.

But let’s cut the Mail a bit of slack, here. Assuming just for the moment that we are all responsible for the actions of our fathers, and that the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons, even unto the third generation. What did Ralph Miliband actually say, that was so anti-British and heinous? The Mail’s beef seems to be that Ralph Miliband wrote, as a 17-year-old refugee from the Nazis, fleeing to this country, that

‘the Englishman is a rabid nationalist’


‘you sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to show them how things are’.

Note the “almost”. Still, I can see instantly why this would get up the nose of The Daily Mail – they are indeed rabid nationalists, so they wouldn’t like seeing the sort of thing they believe in blindly dissed by a 17-year-old Communist! He’s also alleged to have said, aged 45, writing of his disdain for the British Establishment, that it included:

‘Eton and Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge, the great Clubs, the Times, the Church, the Army, the respectable Sunday papers ... the House of Lords ... social hierarchies, God save the Queen.’

If this is to be introduced as evidence of “hating Britain”, then it presupposes that these things constitute “Britain” - which they don’t, in my book. At least not on their own, not materially. Not in any way that matters. Britain for me stands for brass bands, dry stone walls, steam trains, cathedrals, cricket, green hills, the Magna Carta, country pubs, archery, Wesleyan chapels, tolerance, respect, and sticking up for the underdog, to name but a few. So, actually, what The Daily Mail is saying is that Ralph Miliband hated their idea of “Britain”. Well tough shit, Daily Mail. I couldn’t give a stuff if they turn Henman Hill into a multi-cultural BMX circuit. I hate your idea of Britain as well. And so did George Orwell, by that yardstick, when he wrote, at the end of Homage to Catalonia:

And then England--southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way, especially when you are peacefully recovering from sea-sickness with the plush cushions of a boat-train carriage under your bum, to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don't worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday. The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth's surface.

Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen - all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.

Still, I don’t doubt that The Daily Mail probably does think that George Orwell, who in Animal Farm and 1984 wrote searing attacks on communism, probably is a dangerous lefty. The fact that he is dead probably doesn’t matter, see also under Ralph Miliband and Karl Marx. There are several layers of irony about the Spanish Civil War anyway, not least of which being that the anti-fascist slogan, “If you tolerate this, your children will be next”, which was originally on recruitment posters for the anti-government forces in Spain, and which was (much later) turned into a song by the Manic Street Preachers, has now been appropriated by the far-right fascist EDL as their song of choice for their protest marches.

My dad was no saint, but in his own way, he loved Britain. He loved nothing better, on his retirement, than to sit on Brough Haven photographing the ships and yachts in the Humber. Some of his views would, today, be politically unacceptable, but he was a product of his times. Like many others, including Ralph Miliband, he did his bit to resist fascism from 1939-1945, in his case manning an anti-aircraft gun on Fairlight Cliffs (although he did once tell me that, on principle, they used to fire first at any aircraft they saw, and check afterwards whether it was one of ours or not). In 1982, when the Falklands was invaded, the entire production at Brough was switched to Harriers more or less overnight, in anticipation by the MOD of replacing aircraft losses which, thankfully, never materialised, and he slogged his guts out with the rest of them. In fact, apart from five years when his objective was to blast the crap out of them, the remainder of his working life was spent building aircraft for the RAF or the Fleet Air Arm. Anyway, if anybody wants to have a pop at me because of anything my father did/said/believed, then feel free! I’d be all agog to see what you can come up with.

I mean, what can you say about The Daily Mail, that hasn’t been said already? In March 2013, transsexual teacher Lucy Meadows killed herself after news of her sex change was published in a Mail article which monstered her and questioned whether she was fit to be teaching children, insinuating that there was some sort of incipient, inherent, link between having a sex-change and being a paedophile. This is what the Daily Mail does, see. It takes one little nugget of fact and confects an unholy mess of fabrication, bile and innuendo around it. Very cleverly. You have to admire their artistry. They know just how far to go without overstepping the line. Of course, the fact that their Editor, Paul Dacre, is also head of the Press Complaints Commission might be a helpful factor here. Just sayin’.

More than 182,000 people signed a petition calling for The Daily Mail to sack Richard Littlejohn over the nasty, sneering, character-assassinating article he wrote on Lucy Meadows. The PCC’s ruling was:

“The commission has received a number of complaints about this article following the death of Ms Meadows last week. We are able to inform you that the commission has previously investigated a complaint about this coverage following publication of the article, and the matter was resolved. However, we are unable to provide further information at this stage.”

So, that’s alright then. Then there was the issue of Wood Green Animal Shelter, of which I have written previously on this blog. To recap briefly. The Daily Mail published an article which implied that a wealthy dog owner had left her pet, and a substantial legacy, to Wood Green, who had promptly had the pet in question put down and yet still kept the legacy. I heard about this, and fired off an angry letter to Wood Green, which elicited probably a better and fuller reply than it deserved, from Alison Campling-Williams at the shelter. It turned out that Wood Green had complained to the PCC about the article, and, for once, had won:

I am pleased to tell you today that the complaint has now been resolved and the Mail on Sunday has sent us a letter of apology. The newspaper has acknowledged that we were unaware of the legacy when Henry arrived in our care and that the decision to euthanize him was based purely on welfare grounds. The newspaper also apologised for the distress caused to the Charity, its staff and volunteers.

I asked if, in view of this, The Daily Mail would be printing an apology and making a donation to Wood Green:

They won’t be printing an apology or making a donation I’m afraid – as ever, it seems that unless you have high-powered lawyers to fight your case, they generally tend not to! They have written to our Trustees to apologise and admit they were wrong but this is what is classed as a private apology so we can’t print it.

So, once more, with one bound, they were free. Then there was the article about Mick Philpott, about which I was one of the many complainants to the PCC. This was the one headed “Vile Product of Welfare Britain” that implied that all recipients of benefits were workshy scroungers who were likely to set their house on fire and kill their children. In this case the PCC ruled that – as I said in a previous blog – because the article was a matter of opinion and not presented as fact, the author can say what the hell he likes. So that basically gives The Daily Mail carte blanche to spew whatever venomous shite it pleases, as long as it makes it clear that it’s an opinion.

Which is, ultimately, probably what they are going to say about the article regarding Ed Miliband’s dad. Clearly, the PCC is a busted flush and whilever it remains in the gift of Paul Dacre, it’s unlikely that justice will ever prevail. Still, I intend to complain about it, and I hope I am one of many.

What I am interested in, though, is the genesis of the article – of this particular article. I mean, we know that the “newspaper” in general has an agenda, but why this particular article, in this manner, at this time? Well, one answer is that Ed Miliband has finally discovered what his balls are for, after three years of supine agreement with the Junta, and has actually started proposing policies that threaten the powerful vested interests which fund, inter alia, The Daily Mail and the Tory Party. But we can get nearer than this. Why this article, why now? What made Geoffrey Levy write this, right here and now? The motivation was obviously smearing by association, but what was its precise origin? Did Geoffrey Levy get up one morning and think “I’ll trawl through Ralph Miliband’s 70-year-old teenage diaries and see what I can turn up”, or did an editor tell him to do it? And if the latter, did the editor think the idea up for himself, or did someone tell the editor to think it? I’m not an investigative journalist, but if I was, I would be asking those questions. And the person I would start by asking about the timing would be not Geoffrey Levy, but Lynton Crosby, David Cameron’s new attack-dog spin doctor. Just sayin’.

As I type this, The Daily Mail is still trying to stave off the shitstorm of criticism it has unleashed, and I have to say that it’s really lovely, and cheering to my heart, to see them on the receiving end for once. The potential exists, of course, for people to put still more pressure on the Mail’s advertisers to pull their support for the paper, which would really hurt them in a spot most tender to them: their wallet. The Mail’s reaction has ranged from blustering that it’s Ed Miliband who should be apologising to them (for having such a boring dad that they had to dredge up obscure 70-year old diary entries? for defending the memory of his parent? search me!) to a grudging admission from Alex Brummer, the Mail’s City Editor, yesterday, that:

“I think it [the article] just had the wrong label on it. Sometimes articles which are comment should be labelled and made clear that they’re comment... So perhaps it should have said comment on it to make absolutely clear it was comment instead of a special report.”

Which is very interesting. The Mail dodged the complaint I made to the PCC over the Philpott case article because it was adjudged to have been merely comment. Now they have admitted the Miliband piece was comment passed off as something else, that will be the starting point for my new complaint. We’ll see.

Of course, we don’t need the lies of The Daily Mail to attack the ill, the poor, and the unemployed. [I originally typed “likes” of The Daily Mail, but my laptop keyboard has had so much hammer that a couple of the keys have duff connections. Still, as typos go, it’s probably one of my more accurate ones.] We also have the Conservative Party, who have been disporting themselves at their conference, announcing yet more policies designed to appeal to white van man bigot Britain if we are unfortunate enough to be cursed with them again after the 2015 election.

Increasingly, these days, I find this blog replacing my previous political blog, The Bolshy Party, because there is no difference between the spiritual life and the political life or me. I’m not quite sure where this will lead. Still, rather than re-type it, it is easier at this juncture to quote from what I wrote then.

While it’s tempting to think that some of the people who post stupid, ill-informed and badly worded claptrap about people on benefits on social media sites are actually Tory Central Office by any other name (and undoubtedly some of them are) unfortunately, most of them aren’t. And what this means is, that the Junta’s propaganda is working. It’s an insidiously simple (if inaccurate) nasty little cocktail of twisted fiction, and it goes like this:

There is no money [subtext, Labour spent it all]. In order to “pay down” the deficit, we have to make cuts. There are lots of “scroungers” on benefits whose benefits could be cut to help “pay down” the deficit and ease the burden on “hard working families”. To make matters worse, there are lots of immigrants coming over here and taking all our resources [subtext, Labour relaxed the controls and let them all in]. This, again, is nothing new – historically speaking, that is. It was par for the course in 1930s Germany, for instance. Pick a group in society, scapegoat and demonise them, and appeal to the supposed patriotism of the remainder. Divide and rule. The disabled, the ill, the poor, and immigrants (specifically Muslims) are the new Jews.

Most people who are on benefits want to get off benefits. You don’t live on benefits, you exist. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but if you are on a ship that sinks and you manage to save yourself from drowning by clutching a bit of flotsam or jetsam [I never know which is which] you don’t plan to spend the rest of our life bobbing up and down in the briny – you hope to be rescued one day, so you can resume your place at the Captain’s table. [Of course, these days, the analogy doesn’t hold so well, because you are likely to find that any flotsam (or jetsam) has been privatised and some rich people have used it to start a barbecue on the beach.]

So, we can look forward to homelessness, for instance, going through the roof if and when Cameron gets his way over taking away benefits from the under-25s. It’ll be the Junta’s equivalent of Thatcher’s Poll Tax. The problem which people who disagree with all this simplistic, twisted shit pumped out by the DWP’s propaganda department and regurgitated by the Daily Mail, have, is finding an equally glib five-word soundbite to rebut it. The fact is that, to unpick the clever little knot of misrepresentations I’ve just set out above, you need to read boring academic studies that show that, for instance, in many cases, the government has been lying over the figures, and that many of the “jobs” which have allegedly been “created” in the “recovery” are in fact zero hours contracts, work experience or workfare, and if you took all those out, the figures would look just as sick as they did in 2010; you need to read the boring academic studies that show that long-term unemployment is linked to lack of opportunity and long-term economic depression. It’s not rocket science, it’s all worthy stuff, and, unlike the Junta’s assertions, it’s all true, but I bet you’ve already switched off, and I don’t blame you.

I have often been accused of caring more about animals than I do about people, to which my answer is usually it depends on which animals and which people – but, in truth, I don’t believe the arc, the rainbow of compassion should be limited to a selection of colours, it shouldn’t be either/or, we ought to be able to find within ourselves the full spectrum of colours; but let’s talk about people this week, then. When Gandhi wrote:

I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man

He was actually talking about cruelty to animals, but he might equally have been writing about Hamzah Khan. Starved to death in a land of plenty, as the title of the old broadsheet ballad has it. Just as true today as it was in Victorian times, unfortunately. [I first heard the phrase in a song reproduced by Roy Palmer, but it’s apparently also been attributed to Will Rogers, in 1930s America.]

There was a depressingly circular aspect to the news this week that this poor kid had apparently starved to death and then been left to decay for two years in a soiled baby-gro in a house filled with rubbish. This was the week that Baby P’s mother was released from prison. In 2007, baby Peter Connelly suffered a similar nasty and distressing death caused by a combination of neglect and parental abuse. As did Kyra Ishaq, starved to death by her mother in 2008, and Keanu Williams, beaten to death by his. Not to mention Daniel Pelka, whose short life of starvation and bin-scavenging ended in his premature demise. Do we sense a pattern developing here?

When Sharon Shoesmith was summarily dismissed and ordered to carry the can for the Baby P disaster, five years ago, I wrote [again, apologies for the self reference] in The Bolshy Party:

- but everyone feels that they can do Social Work and everybody thinks they can teach, egged on by government initiatives to foster "choice" in the public services - choice that people really, actually, don't want. They want public services that work and deliver, not to have to choose between two dysfunctional underfunded public services (often contracted out to the private sector, because we all know how good the private sector is at running things, I mean we have only got to look at the financial services industry .... er...oh.)

While today's shenanigans at Prime Minister's Question Time between Broon and Cameron were vaguely entertaining, sort of a bout of "PMT at PMQ's", they will do nothing to help save future Baby Ps. Why the government feels it can run Haringey social services better than the people who are currently running it beats me (unless they have discovered a secret pot of money) and Cameron of course will not hesitate to jump on any passing bandwagon, especially one that allows him to indulge in a little bit of shroud-waving.

So, once again we hear the sound of stable doors shutting all over Westminster with a resounding clang. There will be an enquiry, involving Ofsted, the Chief Constable, Lord Somebody and probably the Keeper of the Queen's Privy Seal, for all I know.

But nobody wants to talk about the real problem, the lack of that secret little pot of money. Everybody's happy to talk about the symptoms, but not the disease. Until social work is properly funded and resourced, you will always have the situation where potentially, a harassed, lowly and inexperienced public official can make a mistake with tragic consequences.

It's a common assertion, especially around the dinner tables of middle England, that the public sector is overstaffed and feather-bedded. It's true, there is some wasteful and totally unnecessary spending in public life - MP's expenses, for instance, are a complete scandal. There is no way we should be paying David Cameron's mortgage! But, given that MPs aren't about to sacrifice their salary and expenses to make Haringey social services better funded, then there's only one other option: if you want a social services which really makes a difference because the caseload is not overwhelming and the people who work there are properly-rewarded public sector careerists, then the answer is a simple one - higher council taxes, but that is precisely the thing the angry mob fuelled by the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the News of the World refuse to countenance. You can't rebuild the ravages of sixty years of social decay on the cheap.

Things haven’t exactly improved in the funding department for social work since I wrote those words. We have seen massive cuts inflicted on local government funding by Eric Pickles, cuts that the Junta know will impact on things such as children’s services and welfare, but which they wash their hands of and walk away, leaving the people at the sharp end to pick up the bodies. Government by abdication of responsibility.

So we’re left now exactly where we were back then – or possibly in an even worse place, given that the director of children’s services in Birmingham has announced that, as things stand, they can no longer guarantee the safety of Birmingham’s children, and I bet that they are not the only council in that predicament. In fact, we’re probably back where we were in 1918.

“It is pitiful to think that thousands of these men had better homes in the trenches of Flanders than in the sunless alleys of our Motherland. Do thousands of children come into the world, to gasp for life in a slum; to go to school hungry for a year or two; to pick up a little food, a little slang, and a little arithmetic; to grovel in the earth for forty years or to stand in steaming factories; to wear their bodies out like cattle on the land; to live in little rows of dirty houses, in little blocks of stuffy rooms, and then to die?”

These words, written by Arthur Mee, himself a passionate believer in self education writing in “Who Giveth us the Victory” [George Allen and Unwin, 1918, page 139] are, sadly, for many people, still true, 95 years later, after the War to end all Wars. Although the social world which he described has changed beyond all recognition, in some cases real poverty still exists, and in other cases it has been supplanted by poverty of expectation, caused by the failure of educators to provide the circumstances where inspirational teachers can stimulate people to their full potential, leading them to assume that “education is not for the likes of us”

Meanwhile, in some nondescript council estate somewhere in Britain, with boarded up windows, graffiti’d walls, and broken glass in the streets, where there is no work and no prospect of any work, there is probably another kid right now, at the mercy of a depressed, alcoholic or mentally-ill single mother, struggling along, spiralling down and down, who will end up being despised by the media at the behest of the Tories, and who is getting ready to decide that enough is enough. And when her child dies, emaciated, scared, alone and in pain, there will be an enquiry. Lessons will be learned. What will it take, I wonder, for the Junta, for there to be an enquiry that concludes that some part of the fault lies with them and their cuts? How many more children have to die before they finally, grudgingly, acknowledge the phrase, with regard to Eric Pickles, instead of Sir Christopher Wren, Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice?

But the question is, what do we do? I’ve spent ten pages (or so my computer says) up to here, ranting about injustice and poverty, on this fine and sunny Sunday morning, and it will barely have made a dent in the smug, self-satisfied, evil carapace of the likes of David Cameron [and you can probably insert any other politician of your choice, to be honest, from whatever party, they are all as bad.] Maybe we should all go on strike at the next election, and write “none of the above” across the ballot paper. I don’t know. All I know is it’s a beautiful, crisp, fine, bright Sunday at the end of a fairly shitnastic week, and I’ve got some herbs that need re-potting, which might calm me down, and make me less angry about the way that things are going. How much longer, though, are we going to put up with this? If you tolerate this, your children will be next…

Today marks the feast of St. Bruno, who really ought to be the patron saint of pipe-smokers, but isn’t. Bruno was born in Cologne, in Germany, of a prominent family. He studied at Rheims, in France, then returned to Cologne about 1055AD, was ordained a Canon. He returned to Rheims in 1056AD as professor of theology, and remained there until 1074, when he was appointed chancellor of Rheims. However, Bruno was forced to flee Rheims when he and several other priests denounced the archbishop in 1076 as unfit for the office of Papal Legate. Bruno later returned to Rheims in 1080 when the archbishop was deposed, and though the people of Rheims wanted to make Bruno archbishop, he decided to pursue the life of a hermit.

He became a hermit under Abbot St. Robert of Molesmes (who later founded the monastery at Citeaux) but then moved on to Grenoble with six companions in 1084. They were assigned a place for their hermitages in a desolate, mountainous, alpine area called La Grande Chartreuse and built an oratory and individual cells, roughly followed the rule of St. Benedict, and thus began the Carthusian Order. They embraced a life of poverty, manual work, prayer, and transcribing manuscripts. The fame of the group spread, and in 1090AD, Bruno was brought to Rome, against his wishes, by the splendidly-named Pope Urban II (whom he had taught at Rheims) as a Papal Advisor.

Bruno persuaded Urban to allow him to resume his former state, founded St. Mary's at La Torre in Calabria, sidestepped the Pope's offer of the archbishopric of Reggio, became a close friend of Count Robert of Sicily, and remained there until his death on October 6, 1101. He wrote several commentaries on the psalms and on St. Paul's epistles. He was never formally canonized because of the Carthusians' aversion to public honours but Pope Leo X granted the Carthusians permission to celebrate his feast in 1514, and his name was placed on the Roman calendar in 1623.

After Bruno’s death, the Carthusians of Calabria, following a frequent custom of the Middle Ages, despatched a roll-bearer, a servant of the community laden with a long roll of parchment hung round his neck, who travelled through Italy, France, Germany, and England, stopping at each place along the route to announce the death of Bruno, and in return, people inscribed upon his roll, in prose or verse, expression of their regrets, or promises of prayers. Many of these rolls have been preserved. In Catholic art, Saint Bruno can be recognized by a skull that he holds and contemplates, with a book and a cross. He may also be depicted crowned with a halo of seven stars, but we should not be deceived by this. Clearly he was a dangerous lefty who, even though he is dead, obviously despised Britain, and remains a threat today to those of us who like to keep our privet hedges neatly clipped and whose starched white net curtains are always twitching.

I’m sorry. I quite like the idea of withdrawing from the world, and living the contemplative spiritual life of St Bruno, if only the world would stop going to hell in a handcart. I mean, my life more or less already consists of poverty, manual work, prayer, and transcribing manuscripts. It’s very comforting at this time of year, when the nights are drawing in, to keep the home fires burning, bomb up the stove, and go round the house bolting and barring the doors. As they always used to be, from the times when men first started to gather round the safety of a fire, the monsters are all out there in the dark. But for some reason today, I am angry, after a bad week anyway, at home and abroad, and I just can’t seem to let it go. I want things to change. For the better.

I’m sorry if you came here seeking spiritual solace, and all I have for you today is dark, brooding anger. But is it any wonder; look at what’s all around us. Look at the country we’ve allowed to be made. The wreckage, the wastelands, the ghosts of all those dead kids. If you tolerate this, your children will be next.

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