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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Robert of Newminster

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. A week which I might be tempted to describe in a single word, “shitnastic”.  I don’t know what it is about 2014 but so far its first 26 days have been marked by an unremitting mix of crapness and stupidity which, when set against the foulness of the weather, makes for a very unappealing cocktail indeed.

Matilda has managed to pick some fine bits of some days to go and sit outside, but largely she’s been confined to barracks. This morning she stuck her nose an inch outside the conservatory door, just enough to determine that it was pissing down with cold horizontal rain, and, with a mournful meow at me (because of course, the weather, like everything else, is my fault) she settled herself down on the settee beside the stove, to snooze away the dark days and dream of hunting little mousies through the fragrant grasses of Spring.

The dogs by and large don’t mind the weather, but it does add an extra dimension of hassle to exercising them when they come back wet, bedraggled and caked in mud, especially as this means that Debbie also comes back wet, bedraggled and caked in mud. We’re going through more towels than Huddersfield General at the moment, and the kettles always seem to be on the boil.

Yesterday (Saturday) Debbie set off with Zak and Misty in tow intending to do a long 10 mile walk, as part of her own fitness regime, yomping across the hills surrounding the Holme Valley. Unfortunately, when they’d been gone about 45 minutes, a storm of Biblical proportions crashed through the trees and hail and rain drummed on the conservatory for a good half hour. The wind was howling and the trees were thrashing and it was as black as Hell’s knocker outside. I predicted there would be an early return, and I was not wrong; the longer walk idea had been aborted, but even so, by the time she got back, Debbie was soaked through, the driving rain having even penetrated her waterproof jacket and trousers. The dogs looked like they’d been in a car wash then had a swim in a slurry tank. Not good.

Eventually, however, they were towelled dry and sort of clean, and Debbie’s wet waterproofs consigned to a heap just inside the door while she repaired the damage by getting changed and then sitting clutching a hot water bottle and an “Ainsley Harriot Hot and Sour Sechaun Cup-A-Soup”, which may sound and taste dreadful, but at least restored to her the power of speech.

Zak and Freddie have spent quite a lot of time with us this week while Granny and Grandad fulfilled various commitments and appointments, and generally Misty seems to enjoy their company, especially curling up on top of Zak in the armchair. Not sure that he enjoys it quite as much, but as I tell him, there will come a day when you might well wish for a hot bitch to be snuggling up next to you, so take it while you can, boy, take it while it’s there.  The presence of so many dogs milling around after a walk and at feeding time does bring with it further opportunities for canine mischief. Twice this week at some unspoken but obviously mutually understood signal Misty and Zak seamlessly switched feeding bowls in mid-scoff, which meant of course that twice this week, Zak had Misty’s Canicalm. Not that it’ll do him any harm.

I was telling Debbie about this on Friday when she asked me out of the blue if there was such a thing as “Humancalm”, to which I replied that indeed there was and it was called Prozac.  She’s still counting down the days to half-term, and has decided probably not to go for the full time post if it becomes available, though there was one bright spot on the blighted landscape of education this week, when the College finally paid up her arrears stretching back to September 2013.  Other than that, it’s been more or less a case of “the mixture as before” but with the additional hassle of machines and technology dying all around us as we struggle.

The HP Deskjet printer on which we rely for much of our day to day usage has developed a habit of yanking the paper in skewiff, and then (if it doesn’t jam in the process) kicking out something that’s been printed at an angle. A quick solution was needed, so I ended up buying an El Cheapo £34.99 ink jet printer from PC World, just as a stop-gap, while we find out a) if the HP really is broken or if there’s just something stuck so far inside it that it’s invisible to the naked eye and b) how much a new drum for the Brother laser printer is, that being the other option, and one whose persistent bleating for a new drum and toner kit I had hitherto been ignoring, on the grounds that the Deskjet was working fine.

Then Debbie’s mobile developed some sort of intermittent fault which means that sometimes it will work and the display comes up as normal, and sometimes it displays pixellated nonsense, and in the middle of that epic walk though the storm on Saturday, the GPS gave a feeble squeak and packed up, although in the latter case we think it’s just the batteries. Or maybe it was struck by lightning. Then, to top it off, Father Jack from the garage rang to remind us that the camper’s MOT is due on February 8th. Let joy be unconfined.

So, not a good week on the technology front.  In the midst of all the chaos, I tried to carry on working, but the problem was that I, too, was distracted. What I really want to do at the moment is paint. I don’t know why, but the painting bug has really gripped me. I think I’d even rather be painting than writing this. Well, I sort of do know why, but I probably don’t really want to admit it to myself; it’s that I want to get these paintings done while I still can. You never know the minute or the hour, and all that stuff. There may come a day when I can’t hold a paintbrush.   

It was Grandad’s birthday this week, and I have spent some time working on a portrait of him and Granny sitting on a sofa with Freddie, Zak, and Lucy, their previous dog, whom I “resurrected” to include in the picture. I had forgotten what a slog working in acrylics on a large canvas is, and I ended up having to burn the proverbial candle at both ends to get it done in time. I wasn’t particularly pleased with the result, either, but he seemed happy enough when I presented it to him on Burns Night, when they came over for a meal to celebrate his birthday.

Burns Night was a rare convivial evening in a week that up until then had been pretty adverse, one way or another.  The Sainsburys man delivering the order, which included vegetarian haggis, had never heard of Burns Night, apparently, so I filled him in on a few salient details while he was unloading the carrier bags. I only celebrate Burns Night really as a passing tribute to the Fenwicks, my mother’s ancestors.  I’ve already done the whole Scottish independence thing here, and I don’t really have anything to add to that, except it is always a pity to see misplaced nationalism overcome common sense, whoever we’re talking about.

Anyway, haggis (vegan) was consumed, and the Selkirk Grace was said, by me at any rate with feeling:

Some hae meat, and cannot eat
And some can eat, but want it;
We hae meat and we can eat
So may the Lord be thankit.

The news from the outside world continues to convince me that we’re living in some kind of strange Orwellian parallel universe where up is down, black is white, good is bad, and so on, and the law of unintended consequences has started to run out of control. One unintended consequence of the weather is that, apparently, a “ghost ship” full of cannibal rats may have been blown into our territorial waters by the succession of prevailing westerly or south-westerly gales. The Lyubov Orlova, which broke its tow-rope while being towed to the breaker’s yard off Newfoundland last year, has been adrift on the high seas ever since, and is supposedly now heading our way.

The only living creatures on board are apparently a swarm of cannibal rats, reduced to eating each other ever since the food ran out.  Presumably shotgun-toting UKIP supporters will be out in force along the cliffs of Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, just in case it makes landfall. In a way, I rather hope it does. I have this vision of the ramp coming down and the last surviving rat, the size of a Rottweiler, lumbering ashore and asking for directions to the bins behind the nearest McDonalds. 

Other than that, the news has been more about things that haven’t happened, or are unlikely to happen.  Stan Collymore, an ex-footballer, received a storm of abuse and even death threats on Twitter after he accused Luis Suarez, a footballer, of pretending to fall over in the opposition’s penalty area to obtain the advantage for his side of a penalty kick.  Twitter and the police seem to have done nothing about this, in the same way as Twitter seems to have done nothing about the death threats, trolling and abuse hurled at the people featured in Channel 4’s “Benefits Street”. But this week, two Twitter “trolls” were jailed for abusing the woman who wanted Florence Nightingale on the bank notes, and the Labour MP Stella Creasey. So once again it seems that a double standard is operating here, and Twitter, and the police, are being selective about whom the prosecute.  I’ve no particular brief for Stan Collymore, and I neither know nor care whether Luis Suarez cheats or not, but someone, somewhere, needs to decide and take appropriate action. A death threat on Twitter is either an offence or it isn’t. Consistency needs to be applied.

Another thing that didn’t happen this week was that another week went by without the Blight Brigade announcing the date of the inquiry into the effect of benefit cuts which parliament voted for on 13th January.  So next week, I will be writing to my MP pointing out the constitutional necessity of following the will of Parliament and asking when the inquiry will be set up. If I get an answer, I’ll post it here.
The Blight Brigade managed to not tell the truth on at least three occasions that I spotted, though there may well have been more. Cameron himself announced (because the Tories are rattled for once, by the continued Labour attacks on the cost of living) that apparently we are all better off.  Our take-home pay is finally on the rise for all but the top 10 per cent of earners, with the rest of us seeing our wages rise by at least 2.5 per cent.

Oh really? The Junta’s claims  only  take into account cuts to income tax and national insurance, using data leading up to April last year. The New Statesman promptly published a chart showing that in fact, when the full effect of all the pending and announced benefit cuts and changes takes place, almost every sector of society will be worse off in real terms.

 “The data used … takes no account of the large benefit cuts introduced by the coalition, such as the real-terms cut in child benefit, the uprating of benefits in line with CPI inflation rather than RPI, and the cuts to tax credits,”

wrote the New Statesman‘s George Eaton. He also pointed out that other major cuts such as the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, and the 10 per cent cut in council tax support were introduced after April 2013 and were therefore not included in the Coalition figures.

The BBC, meanwhile, have been shamelessly re-broadcasting DWP press releases as if they were in some way factual and not confected by cherry-picking official statistics and quoting them out of context.  The story was along the lines of "nearly a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work" adding that "The DWP claims 980,400 people - 32% of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance - were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013.”

This story first did the rounds about a year ago, and was debunked then by various fact checking web sites as being clearly bollocks. What the DWP are doing, in effect, is conflating two different sets of statistics – the numbers of people being migrated off the previous Incapacity Benefit onto ESA, and the numbers of “fresh claims” for ESA which are dropped for one reason or another, before the final award stage.  The DWP are doing this to give the erroneous impression to Joe Public that the people on IB, now they are faced with the prospect of a strict and rigorous now test under Atos, those notorious dead-horse-floggers known for insisting that people with terminal cancer are fit to work, are bottling it and admitting they were swinging the lead and were never really ill in the first place.  Whereas in fact, the situation is more accurately summarised by the ILegal web site:

"In excess of 2.3 million claimants incapacity benefit claimants are being tested under the much stricter 'Employment & Support Allowance' regime and those who are 'examined' on a second, third or even fourth occasion are being completely left out of the figures.

"Had the BBC fully reported the facts, they would have had to report that in the six months between October 2012 and May 2013 an average of 83% of 1,078,200 incapacity claimants were passing their assessments and 88% of the 1,332,300 repeatedly assessed were re-qualifying for the allowance."

Furthermore, Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, writing in reply to an MP who had queried the DWP’s cavalier use of statistics, said:

"Of the 600,000 people who have been migrated from Incapacity Benefit over the past two years, only 19,700 have dropped their claim. This is the figure that should have featured in the headline, but the 900,000 figure was used instead."

You expect this sort of thing of the Daily Mail, it’s meat and drink to them, but the BBC? If it’s not just sloppy journalism by someone called Tarquin on work experience then it’s very bad news indeed. The BBC has gone over to the dark side.

The third, and final example, concerns the unemployment figures. The Blight Brigade wants this figure to seem low because it can then build further on the house of cards that is George Osborne’s unsustainable “recovery”, and claim that “austerity” worked (apart from for the people whom it killed, of course).

But can we trust the figures any more (I might add, could we ever, but that’s a separate argument)? Since the “tough” new sanctions regime started in October 2012, the staff at job centres have been encouraged to “sanction” people by knocking them off benefits for 13 weeks for a number of potentially minor infarctions. A number of commentators estimate that there may be as many as 1,015,000 people who are unemployed but not claiming JSA, or 43.7% of the unemployed workforce.

Then there is the mystery of the 230,000 people who seem to have vanished without a trace from the official IB/ESA statistics.  This is outlined by the Vox Political web site:

We know from the DWP itself that benefit reassessments have been taking place at a rate of 11,000 per week, and the assessors have been finding 68 per cent of claimants 'fit for work'.

This means that in the last year, the work capability assessment will have found 389,000 people 'fit for work' and kicked them off-benefit. Around 40 per cent of them - 155,600 - are likely to have appealed, in which case they will still be on the system.
So the number of claimants would have dropped to 1,806,600. We now have 2 million claimants. Some of them will be brand new; some of them may be re-claims. We don't know how many.

The fraud rate is 0.7 per cent. Assuming all those people have given up pretending to be sick/disabled, that means 1,634 people correctly had their benefits cut off, while 231,766 were treated unfairly by the assessors. This suggests that a number between 191,766 and 231,766 people have been wrongly knocked off the books

Leaving aside the issue that many of these “jobs” being created will be low paid and will need to be topped up by in-work benefits, I repeat my original question – how can we trust any of these figures?

Meanwhile, in the background, the imbroglio over the loss of revenue from the loophole I mentioned over the bedroom tax last week rumbles on, with estimates that this policy, which was unprofitable anyway, is now going to suffer the loss of the 40,000 to 60,000 pre-1996 cases at £728 per year, and this is a £29m reduction in government income.

Statistics are heavy going, I admit.  I am the first to say “my head hurts” and reach instead for my paintbox instead. Yet these glib soundbites and Daily Mail (and now BBC) headlines will lose Labour the next election, unless the Labour Party manages to find some equally glib, facile and memorable way of rebutting them. 

Meanwhile, I can at least help you by simplifying the Junta’s own statistical pronouncements.  They are lying through their teeth and hoping that the “recovery” won’t go bang before the next election, while trying to distract anyone from asking awkward questions by tales of giant cannibal rats, Romanians and Bulgarians all coming over here to claim our benefits and take our jobs (hang on, I thought we had record employment, make your mind up).

So, at the end of an extremely depressing week, we come to the Feast Day of St Robert of Newminster, who lived from 1100AD to 1159AD. I shall be 59 years old myself in three months time, so his “dates” have resonances for me. It is thought that he was born in the village of Gargrave, near Skipton, but he studied at the University of Paris. Unlike those people in the song who didn’t want to stay down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Paree, Robert returned to Gargrave as a parish priest. He became a rector, then joined the Benedictine community at Whitby Abbey.

Together with a band of monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York, he established a monastery in the winter of 1132 in a temporary structure on land given to them by Archbishop Thurston of York, on the banks of the River Skell near Skeldale.  Here, they practised the strict Benedictine way of holiness, austerity and dedication, eventually attracting the attention of a rich new novice, Hugh, Dean of York.

Using Hugh’s money, they were able to put up more substantial buildings – the core of what eventually became known as Fountains Abbey, because of the large number of natural wells and springs in the area.  They also switched allegiances and came under the influence of the Cistercian movement, introduced by Bernard of Clairvaulx.

St Robert was said to be favoured with gifts of prophecy and miracles. In 1138 he led the first colony sent out from Fountains and established the Abbey of Newminster near the castle of Ralph de Merlay and his wife, Juliana, at Morpeth in Northumberland.

During his abbacy he achieved the foundation of three more new monasteries. The monasteries were established at Pipewell (1143), Roche Abbey near Rotherham, (1147), and Sawley (1148).  Because of his church-building activities, he is often depicted in religious art as an abbot holding a church. St Robert ruled and directed the monks at Newminster for 21 years until his death.

He couldn’t be a saint without miracles, of course. In one instance, a monk is said to have fallen unhurt from a ladder while working on one of the buildings. St Robert was a close spiritual friend of the hermit, Saint Godric. On the night Robert died, St Godric is said to have seen a vision of Robert's soul, like a ball of fire, being lifted by angels on a pathway of light toward the gates of heaven.

As a small monastery of only some seventeen monks, Newminster Abbey was one of the first religious institutions to be dissolved, in 1535, by Henry VIII, and the site has been privately owned ever since, but St Robert’s tomb in the church of Newminster had become a place of pilgrimage. A variant feast day is also celebrated, June 7th, the date of his actual death.

59 years old was a reasonable knock in those days, and I have to say that founding four or five different monasteries in one lifetime is, indeed, going it some. I’m not so sure about the sketchy nature of the “miracles” but, as I’ve often observed, the entry requirements seem to have been much more lax in those days. Of his achievements, Newminster Abbey is now in ruins, and even the ruins lie on private land and are thus inaccessible to pilgrims, if any.  I’ve been to Roche Abbey, which is now English Heritage, though a long while ago. And of course, like every Yorkshireman, I have been to Fountains.

Roche Abbey was quite impressive, I recall.  Mind you, the only thing I remember with any clarity is that we took Lucy, Deb’s old family dog (she of the Burns Night portrait, see above) and there was a rope swing over a stream at the edge of the Abbey Grounds, which Debbie felt compelled to try out, as you would.  Lucy got quite excited by this and rushed into the stream, standing directly underneath where Debbie was suspended, and barking her head off, leaving Debbie no option but to let go of the swing and drop into the stream. Happy days!

Saint or no saint, though, Robert of Newminster certainly achieved more with his life than I have done with mine. And of course, both of us will leave ruins behind us. In my case, it could well be the ruins of a publishing business, depending on the outcomes of the next few months. I really do have to get my act in gear this year, time is short, and the challenges that we’re facing are probably as grave as they have ever been.  Suffice it to say, no names, no pack drill, but people who mean us no good, some of whom I once mistook for friends and colleagues, are up to their usual knavish tricks again, and the business is going through a period of flux and rebuilding anyway.  The new books are not the issue, and the digital books are safe, and provided I have got the will and the strength in what’s left of my body to carry on, I will carry on, and so will the business, in one form or another.  But the major problem is now the issue of the stock of the existing titles in the warehouse, and what happens to it, going forward. So, there may be some hard decisions to take next week, and I’m not looking forward to it. Oh, and that secret project which I was so excited about last week crashed and burned, so it’s now back on the drawing board.

Like I said, 2014 has been a challenging year so far, and next week looks no better. God had been markedly absent from things lately, I know he’s busy, but boy, I could do with some help right now. Perhaps I could tap into St Robert’s gift of prophecy and working miracles. In the meantime, we fall back on “at least”.  At least the stove is lit and at least there’s food, so let the Lord be thankit. At least the dog’s asleep on her bed, and at least the cat’s curled up in a tight ball with her arm over her face on the settee by the fire. Sensible cat. 

So, at least while I still have the ability (however questionable) to churn out a picture or two, I’m going to do some more painting tonight, to relax me on the eve of battle.  That, at least, I can do, without anyone questioning my means and my motives.  I’m sorry if this seems obscure, but I don’t want to make a potentially bad situation worse than it is by being more explicit at this stage, so let’s leave it that the cat is happy, the dog is happy, Debbie is (as much as one can ever tell) happy, the house is warm, dry and secure, and at least there’s no one actually actively trying to kill us.

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

No comments:

Post a Comment