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

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Wulfstan

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley, but then, when isn’t it? At least the rain seems to have stopped hammering down, for the time being at any rate, and the weather forecasters are saying that the remainder of January will continue to be “mild” whatever that means. If you don’t believe me, and you want to read their forecasts for yourself, you will find them in Waterstones under “fiction”.  Personally, I can’t believe that we’ve already had 19 days of war and attrition, it only seems like the other night since we were all together round the fire for New Year’s Eve.  Meanwhile, we’ve lost some more herbs through waterlogging, in a trough which I stupidly forgot to bore some holes in during the summer, and which is now full to the brim – or was, until I managed to tip some of the rainwater out by the simple expedient of leaning over in my wheelchair and picking up one end of the said trough in question.

Matilda’s become much more discerning about when and if she goes out, of late, mild weather notwithstanding.  She has been seen, not by me, but I have no reason to believe it is not true, to go outside and then come back in specifically to use her litter tray.  Nigel also used to do this, so I can believe it happened. At least she doesn’t share Nigel’s erroneous conviction that as long as the feet are all in the litter tray, the bottom must also be in the litter tray. Something about which Nigel was often wrong, and with disastrous consequences. Matilda’s now got to the stage where she actively refuses to give up her perch on the settee next to the stove voluntarily, even if Debbie wants to sit there. It’s a long way from her first night with us, which she spent hiding under the sink and growling continuously.  It can only be a matter of time, if she keeps on like this, before she ends up curling round and going to sleep on Debbie’s knee, which will at least give Deb something on which to rest her laptop.

Misty’s also been seeking the warmth more, although her preferred method is to curl up behind the settee, rather than on it. God alone knows why, any normal dog (ie one that wasn’t a borderline collie) would just curl up on the rug in front of the stove. Anyway, you’d have to ask Misty why, but, given that she has a furry brain the size of a tennis ball, I doubt you would get much of an answer. She does, however, recognize the rustle of the packet of dog treats and the presence of food generally as a reason to emerge and sit hopefully in your line of vision, giving paw on the offchance, while we are having breakfast.

Debbie’s now two weeks into her prolonged countdown to half-term, and the College payroll department are still struggling with the logistics of paying her the claims they have screwed up owing to maladministration and inefficiency, going back to September 2013. There will be a final decision tomorrow on whether they will pay the outstanding arrears, having now claimed not to have had some forms which we know they had in their possession on December 20th, and one of which they emailed me a PDF of, last week, with a query about the hours! So, we shall see. I was sorely tempted to send them an email which included the phrases “judgement plus costs in the small claims court” and “winding-up order”, but let’s hope they come to their senses in the morning, pay up, and it doesn’t end with fisticuffs.  Then they can go back to what they normally do all day, something more in tune with their intellectual and administrative capabilities, such as playing Sudoku and pinging laggy bands at each other across the desk.  News also came this week of the possible availability of a full-time, contracted post in Debbie’s department which, if she were to apply and be successful, would mean that she would not get paid for 37 hours a week instead of not getting paid for 17 and a half. Watch this space.

Debbie, meanwhile, continues to dream of making a fire with Ray Mears (don’t we all) and was practising with her flint and some tinder on the hearth the other night.  I asked her whether she thought it was entirely wise to be trying to start a new fire on the hearth next to a bucket full of coal, a wicker basket full of firelighters and candles, and a stack of kindling twigs, when there was already a perfectly serviceable fire in the grate; I mean, what could possibly go wrong? I received the usual mouthful of sarcastic and abusive invective for my trouble, so I gave up and just put the kettle on: at least I would be able to offer the fire brigade a cup of tea.

Sometimes, however, it’s what she doesn’t say that causes the most damage. I made her some rustic guacamole on toast for her breakfast the other day, and she wolfed it down. While she was eating hers, I was busy making my own - croissants with marmalade. To save on washing-up, I asked her if I could use her plate, now she had finished, and she allowed me to do so before telling me that the dog had also licked it.  She has this thing at the moment about eating fresh fruit, so she has been chomping her way through a net of tangerines from Sainsburys, referring to them as “oranges”. When  challenged her on this, she said that, as far as she was concerned, anything that was round and orange was an orange. I tried to reason with her, alluding to the existence of satsumas and clementines, and Eamonn Holmes, all indicators that you can have something round and orange that is not, actually, an orange, but to no avail. I think I will have to by her a copy of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit for her birthday.

As for my week, it’s been the usual mix of pointlessness and frustration. For some reason, probably because I registered with Dogslost.co.uk when Misty went missing back in November, I keep getting lost dog notices popping up in my news feed on Facebook, and this week I noted on from Rotherham Rescue Rangers to the effect that an old, ill, border collie dog had been handed in to the vets in Bramley, and they were desperately trying to trace his owner, in case he had to be put to sleep in the morning.  Knowing, as I do, of the existence of the Freedom of Spirit Trust for Border Collies, I cross-posted it on their Facebook page, reasoning that they would surely step in and help a border collie in distress. But it was too late, sadly. The next morning, I found out that the dog had died at the vets in the night, and they were thinking it was probably antifreeze poisoning. Ah well, we tried, and although he didn’t know it, that poor nameless dog didn’t die alone, because he was surrounded by, and mourned by, a wide circle of cyber-friends and mourners.

Perhaps they could make his remains the basis of “the Tomb of the Unknown Animal” and make it a condition of the punishment of animal abusers that they have to go there and make a pilgrimage on their knees, wearing sackcloth and ashes. I am thinking here particularly of those people who, this week, at Niton on the Isle of Wight, poured several buckets of poison down badger setts, in an effort to kill their inhabitants, and possibly any passing dogs and children to boot. Because of DEFRA’s mistaken, short-sighted and useless policy of badger-culling in a vain effort to stop Bovine TB, it now seems that people in the farming community have got the idea that it’s open season on badgers, which is yet another demonstration of the law of unintended consequences.

This came in a week when Owen Paterson, the alleged environment secretary, was forced to admit that his Department had got the figures wrong for more than two years. It suspended the statistics of herds under movement restrictions due to the disease and of the incidence rate since September 2011. And it admitted that the data is likely to be "revised significantly downwards for 2012 and 2013".  At the same time, the figures for the cost of the police operation to monitor the badger culls and keep apart the farmers and the saboteurs were put into the public domain. These were apparently £1800 per badger. (Which contrasts rather markedly with the £4 2s 6d the police customarily spend each year enforcing the fox-hunting ban, but hey ho)

1558 badgers have been culled, at an averaged-out cost of £2,246* per badger. Given that a double room at The Savoy costs £346.48 per night, for that money it has taken to kill these badgers, the government could already have put them up at The Savoy for six nights. Leaving aside the arguments against culling badgers, and the many reasons why the proposed cull will not help in stopping the spread of bovine TB, purely on cost grounds alone you have to wonder if it is money well spent.

*This is based on the figures given out by DEFRA in October. I do not know whether it includes the £1800 per head in this week’s news but I suspect, from the delay between the two announcements, that the £1800 is indeed on top of payments to contractors. If so, this would give a figure of £4046, or 11 nights at the Savoy each with some “spends” left over for sightseeing. I rest my case, it was getting heavy anyway.

Meanwhile, I was burning the proverbial midnight oil and waiting for the coalman, which is not as much fun as waiting for Godot.  The coal yard had phoned and explained that the only time they could deliver our coal was 7.30AM on Friday, as they were so busy with other (presumably larger and more profitable) customers.  Because of my fitful sleep patterns these days, I decided that the only way I could guarantee being up and around to let him in at that time on a morning was to spend Thursday night not in bed, but dozing in my wheelchair by the stove, which I duly did, wrapped in an alpaca wool poncho and clutching two hot-water bottles. I managed to sleep until about 5.45AM, then something disturbed me and I couldn’t get back off again, so I logged on and caught up on some backlogged emails, much to the surprise of anyone who was around to receive them.

There was something strangely satisfying about keeping watch for the coalman, just me and Matilda, keeping vigil by the fire – a touch of “Unless the Lord keep the city, the wakeman waketh in vain” about the whole thing, and I thought of the army of nocturnal workers out there and found myself singing along mentally to Tom Waits in Tom Traubert’s Blues:

Goodnight to the street sweepers
the night watchmen flame keepers
and good night to Matilda, too

Needless to say, the coalman didn’t deliver until 8.50AM. 

While I was preparing myself for my sitting-up vigil, I listened (for the first time in months) to "Today in Parliament". MPs and members of the House of Lords were pissing around and making stupid jokes. Topics of debate: the Profumo Scandal of 1963 and the rodent infestation in the House of Commons. How much are we paying these clowns?

Meanwhile, there are people sleeping out in the cold, in doorways and under railway arches. Tell you what, MPs, *I* can tell stupid jokes and make dry puns, for £5000 a year LESS than what we are paying you, so you had better watch out, you'd better take care.

Gez Walsh wrote in his blog this week, coincidentally:

"Wars are a result of politics. I wish these problems could be sorted out by sending politicians out to fight each other, and I also wish that where there is famine, the leaders also starved, until the problem had been solved: if they too suffered the same as the people they inflict their stupidities on, I'm sure some of the world's problems would be resolved a lot sooner."

I'd go further. Make the MPs sleep in a sleeping bag in Parliament Square tonight. And every night, until there are no more homeless people. Problem would be solved in a fortnight.  Bastards.

Finally, to round off a week whose trademark seems to have been frustrating idiocy, Waterstones Loughborough refused to consider a signing session for one of our authors on the grounds that sales of her books were too low, which is a bit like refusing a blood transfusion because you are short of red cells.  Or in their case, brain cells.

So, yes, a week in which the fruitcakes have taken over the bakery, I am afraid, as was shown by the UKIP councillor David Silvester from Henley-on-Thames, who defected (I almost typed “defecated”, which would probably have been more accurate) from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party over David Cameron’s stance on gay marriage (something looks odd about that last bit, but then it’s not me who has love-ins in the rose garden with Nick Clegg).  According to Mr Silvester, the storms and flooding which have wrecked large swathes of our green and pleasant land are the result of God’s wrath at the UK having embraced gay marriage (oh, give over!)

I am not a theologian, but as I have said elsewhere whenever this particular red herring breaks the surface, do you really think that a supreme intelligence which is capable of existing and having existed forever out of time, and encompasses all the sins and joys of the universe and everything that ever was, is and shall be, world without end, amen, is really going to get upset about two gays in a register office in Droitwich? I mean, if you are God, that would be a bit of a waste of dog-farts, wouldn’t it? I really wish all these “religious” people would stop getting the bag on about gay marriage and start concentrating on the massive revival of spiritual values this world needs – not who does what to whom with what, but things like loving thy neighbour as thyself, as a general principle, and let the details work themselves out, behind closed doors if necessary!

Politics is full of people who know what’s best for us, of course, or think they do, and who, like Mr Silvester, think we are dumb enough to swallow any old crap they put before us, without question. One such being George Osborne, who has undergone a sudden Damascene conversion this week and decided that yes, we can afford a rise in the minimum wage to £7.00 per hour, because the country can now afford it, with the recovery underway!

Pausing only to re-wire my jaw at such a staggering display of hypocrisy, could I just point out, dear Chancellor, that you have got the string bag inside out.  Firstly, the “recovery”, such as it is, is limited by geography and sector, is only happening because you stopped meddling with cuts, and is, I am afraid, unsustainable anyway, based as it is simply on a return to debt and people going back to their bad old ways of racking up liabilities based on the theoretical value of their house.  Any sustainable recovery is more likely to happen because you increase the minimum wage, rather than the wage increase being a result of the recovery. Plus, I wonder how many of those minimum wage people realise that the effect of any increase you give with one hand will be snatched back with the other, in the promised post-2015 benefit cuts, which are bound to impact on the low-paid.  While there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, and all that, I am afraid Osborne’s gesture is a completely cynical intervention, prompted purely by the fact that the Labour Party seem to have found their balls for once (perhaps they got an anatomically-correct Kier Hardie doll for Christmas) and are turning up the heat on Osborne’s shirt tails over the cost of living.

The Blight Brigade haven’t had a good week when it comes to figures and statistics, come to think of it. Up to 40,000 people will receive a refund of their Bedroom Tax thanks to an east London “hero”, after he discovered that the government have wrongly assessed who is liable for it. Peter Barker, a freelance financial advisor, had worked out that council and housing association tenants getting housing benefit for the same home since 1996 are exempt from the bedroom tax. Last week ministers from the DWP grudgingly acknowledged that analysis is correct. Councils are now indentifying tenants eligible for refunds. A conservative estimate puts the cost to the government at £26million.

It has also been reported that the suicide of Stephanie Bottrill from Solihull who jumped in front of a lorry on the M6 on May 4 last year and, in a note, blamed her death on the financial strains aggravated by the bedroom tax, meaning she would potentially lose her home of 18 years, would have been exempt had this loophole been acknowledged by the DWP, and, if she was still alive, eligible for a refund.  I have been criticised before for writing “un-Christian” things about Iain Duncan Smith, the minister responsible for her death, but I really hope that, for the remainder of his life, however long or short, each night as he tries to sleep, I hope he hears her fingers scratching at his window. And if that makes me a bad Christian, Big G will judge me accordingly, when my time comes.

Not that the Blight will take any notice. Last week, on Monday, calls for a ‘commission of inquiry’ into the impact of the government’s changes to social security entitlements on poverty won overwhelming support from Parliament. The motion, by Labour’s Michael Meacher, was passed with a massive majority of 123 votes; only two people – David Nuttall and Jacob Rees-Mogg – voted against it. But there won’t be an enquiry. Nothing is going to happen. David Cameron is going to ignore it.  This turn of events raises serious questions about the role of Parliament in holding the government of the day to account, influencing legislation and taking effective initiative of its own, and it should provoke a massive outcry across the land. I am not holding my breath.

Still, at least the Labour Party are trying, bless their little hearts, hampered they are by a leader who believes that we are all capitalists now, or so his business spokesman Chuka Umunna said today. I seem to have got onto one of their dreary fundraising/volunteering email lists since I took part in that spectacular “dialogue of the deaf” conference call hosted by Caroline Flint, and I take great delight in replying to every email they send me with a standard answer that I will only support their fundraising and campaign for them if they insert the following words into their constitution:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

I don’t know who, if anyone, reads my replies, but unless and until Rachel Reeves apologises for her remarks about people on benefits, I would rather vote for the fascinating witches who put the scintillating stitches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses of the ladies of the court of King Caractacus.  Just so we are clear on this.

And so we came to Sunday, the feast of St Wulfstan, which, since he is the patron Saint of vegetarians and dieters, probably involves lots of Quorn, nut cutlets, and lentils.  Wulfstan is not to be confused with Wulfstan, Archbishop of York. To prevent possible confusion, he is often known as Wulfstan II, to indicate that he is the second Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester. This would work just fine, except that the first Bishop Wulfstan is also called Wulfstan II to denote that he was the second Archbishop of York called Wulfstan. Shades of I’m ‘Enery the Eighth I Am”. As a further complication, Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York, was the maternal uncle of Wulfstan II, Bishop of Worcester. Got that? Good. I’m just glad they didn’t make a film about him – Wulfstan II 2: The Sequel.  I suppose that forenames where in shorter supply back in Saxon times, when everyone was called things like “Hobbinol”, “Colin” “Orm”, and “Tharg”.

Wulfstan, who lived from 1008AD to 1095AD, was born at Long Itchington in Warwickshire, a village whose very name is testimony to the scarcity of flea-powder in Anglo-Saxon England.  He studied at the abbeys of Evesham and Peterborough, received ordination, and joined the Benedictines at Worcester. Wulfstan served as treasurer of the church at Worcester, was prior of the monastery, and finally was named bishop of Worcester in 1062.

Despite some misgivings locally about his ability to hold the office of bishop, he demonstrated such skill after the Norman Conquest that he was the only pre-Conquest bishop to be kept in post by William the Conqueror.

For the next three decades, Wulfstan rebuilt his cathedral, cared for the poor, and struggled to alleviate the harsh decrees of the Normans upon the vanquished Saxons. However this did not stop him from supporting the Normans when it mattered. In 1075, Wulfstan and the Worcestershire levy put down the rebellion known as 'The Bridal of Norwich' of Ralph de Guader, Earl of Norfolk, Roger de Breteuil, 2nd Earl of Hereford and the Saxon Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, against William the Conqueror.

Wulfstan founded the Great Malvern Priory, and undertook much large-scale rebuilding work, including Worcester Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, Tewkesbury Abbey, and many other churches in the Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester areas.  Sixty-three years after his death, at Easter of 1158, Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine visited Worcester Cathedral and placed their crowns on the shrine of Wulfstan, vowing not to wear them again. He was canonized in 1203, by Pope Innocent, inventor of the “Smoothie”. Among the miracles attributed to him was the healing of Harold Godwinson’s daughter.

So, that was St Wulfstan, that was. An interesting chap, no doubt, but I am not sure what, if anything, I am supposed to have learned from reading him up. Given the churches that he founded, you could argue that he was the earliest progenitor of the Three Choirs Festival, and therefore responsible for Elgar. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.  With some of these medieval saints, though, you get the idea that Sainthood was for them just a natural progression in the afterlife of a busy political and administrative career in this world.  I’m afraid I tend to think, when I think of Saints at all, of people such as Father Vincent McNabb, and if there isn’t already a “cause” for his canonisation, then I think I might just start one.

One of my regular readers contacted me during the week and asked me why I am so angry all the time.  It’s true, I regret to say, I probably am. The only times when I am not angry are when I am eating, sleeping, or painting, these days. I’ve been doing a lot of painting – far too much for the good of my “to do” list, in fact. I may have to ask Debbie to hide my painting gear back under the seat in the camper, where it languished for 18 months, otherwise I will get nothing done this year that needs to be done. It did set me thinking though: upstairs, where I cannot easily get at it, and will therefore have to rely on outside help, is a massive “portfolio” stuffed with paintings and sketches. I might get them all out, scan them in, put the scans online and then offer the originals on Facebook to anyone who wants them, on the understanding that they donate what they think it’s worth to Mossburn Animal Centre, Rain Rescue, or the Freedom of Spirit Trust for Border Collies.  That would a) de-clutter the house and b) raise £4. 2s 6d for good causes in a naughty world. Better than them just going on gathering dust in the attic, while I get older and older down here, like a latter-day Dorian Gray.

But yes, why am I so angry. I suppose it comes from hating injustice and wanting to rectify it. You may not agree with my assessment of what is just or unjust, but that’s what drives it.  It’s the creed of the Rudds:

And this shall be our creed - as I will say to you
For faint cries in the distance
to a cause that needs assistance
against all wrong that needs resistance
we shall stand forward
and do what we can do.

That, I suppose, coupled with the Fenwicks’ altogether more straightforward battle cry, “A Fenwyke”, capable of being encompassed within the short swing of a claymore. Oh well, it’s Monday tomorrow, in fact it’s “Blue Monday”, officially the most depressing day of the year.   I shall spend it compiling spreadsheets and working on a new project so secret that, if I told you about it, I would have to hunt you down individually and silence you.  No change there, then. But, in the meantime, it’s a Sunday evening, it’s cold and dark outside, but here in the stone-flagged kitchen, the stove is ticking away and Debbie has got back from walking Misty and towelled the mud off both of them, and there are animals and a wife (at least one) to feed.  Let’s hope it all gets in the correct dishes, though at least two of them are allegedly so hungry that they wouldn’t know or care, and Matilda eats whatever you put in front of her, whenever you put it in front of her, which is why she is the size of a house end.  Meanwhile, I hope your Monday’s not too blue. I advise anger – the best, indeed, some would say the only, way I know of raising the temperature at this time of year.

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