It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley, and one with yet more wind and rain. I don’t know if we are actually going to get any real snow this year, although usually if we do, it comes at the end of February or the beginning of March. I’m hoping we can get by with a mild winter, although “mild” is a relative term when the country is being lashed and trashed by a rolling Atlantic gale every two days, with no hope of respite or letup.
We’ve been so lucky, so far, touch wood, compared to Devon Somerset and Cornwall, not to mention Dorset, Oxfordshire and the Welsh Marches. David Cameron has now officially taken personal charge of the flooding crisis, like a latter day Cnut (subs, check spelling) which means we are all doomed. They should do what Labour did in the great drought of 1977 and appoint a minister specifically for it. The day Denis Howells was appointed Minister for the Drought, that summer, it promptly pissed down, and continued to do so for the next six weeks; I know this, because I was hitch-hiking from Hull to Bridlington on that very day.
Here, the week started bright and sunny, for Monday and Tuesday at least, and Matilda was almost basking in the pale sun as it filtered in through the conservatory windows. She’s discovered that spot on the rug where Tiggy used to lie around this time of year, where what sun there is, is concentrated onto one spot. I reminded her of that proverb I quoted in last week’s blog, about the cat that lies in the sunshine in February will creep behind the stove in March, and she blinked at me, and yawned.
Wednesday saw the weather back-sliding into wind and rain again. The poor garden never looks its best at this time of year, but now the days are getting slightly longer, I can see the extent of the damage the gales have done, and it’s definitely worse than last year. The entire vista looks like it’s been sprayed with mulched leaf-mould from a high-pressure hose, and the pond is full of the muck. So much so that on Wednesday, when she went out into the garden to do her necessaries, Misty failed to notice that the pond even was a pond, fell in it, and came back plastered up to her shoulders with vile, brown, pongy mud and bits of leaves. A Border collie may be cheaper if they ever re-introduce the dog licence, on the grounds that she’s only black and white, but keeping the “white” bits actually looking white at this time of year is a full-time job, akin to painting the Forth Bridge.
As time passes, Misty is becoming more settled and less nervy, overall, fireworks notwithstanding. It’s hard to believe we’ve had her for seven months or so now. She is still completely random in some of the things she does (the mad collie-dog agility chase through the house every morning, incorporating jumping onto and off my bed, for instance) but her recall and behaviour off lead is getting back to something like where it as before she was scared out of her doggy wits back in November. Considering that she is such a good natured little dog overall, she seems to have a knack of inspiring a level of terror completely out of proportion to what damage she could actually achieve.
So it was on Monday, when Father Jack brought the camper van back from the garage, newly welded and MOT-ed, and I found myself negotiating with him around the edge of the lobby door, he being unwilling to come any further into the kitchen.
“I’m afeared of your dog; I think he might bite me,” he said, sounding for all the world like an extra from James Herriott or Heartbeat. If he’d also used the word “vitnery”, that would have clinched it. As it was, he left a happy man, clutching his cheque, albeit still afeared. Then, on Wednesday, the man from Clarks came to fix my wheelchair and asked me to keep Misty under control. I assured him that the worst she would do was probably hi-five him into a state of catatonia in the hope of being given a dog-treat, as hi-fiving for dog treats is currently Misty’s favourite thing in all the world. Anyway, my wheelchair is restored to health, even if I’m not, with two functioning brakes, and I am no longer leaning drunkenly to one side (except for those occasions when I am, actually, drunk) or in danger of losing one of my wheel-rims.
Friday was cheered up by the arrival of some knitted leg warmers from Auntie Maisie, who has been prodigious in her efforts to knit us all into a state of warmth this winter, bless her. Leg warmers may well be deader than tank tops and sideways-ironed flares in fashion terms, but nevertheless they are an essential item of clothing for surviving a wheelchair winter. However much I thrash about, rave incoherently, and stamp my feet during the day (and this varies, depending how stupid other people are being) I can never get the blood sloshing around my body and keeping the extremities warm like I used to when I was up and lauping around. Consequently, I spend a lot of my time sitting in draughts, of which our house has many, and getting nithered to the very bane, as Father Jack might have said if he were here right now. The other year, I actually got frostbite on my feet. Maisie made me some leg warmers last year which I wore more or less to destruction, so these new ones arrived just in time. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Talking of Auntie Maisie, her indestructible daffodils now look as though they might be about to actually come into flower, although I haven’t seen the snowdrops in the garden yet this year. There has also been lots of activity from the birds, and the squirrels seem to have woken up. So, it seems everybody is under the impression that Spring has sprung. All we need for a full set is Brenda the Badger. Let’s hope that we’re not all going to get a short, sharp shock in March.
I know that the daffodils are coming along nicely because I got the chance to examine them in close detail while preparing the glass recycling for collection. Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council, may God strafe them for this, decided to stop collecting glass for recycling in our area in April 2013, at the same time as they put the council tax up by £2.00 a month. Consequently it tends to accumulate, and we’ve only had two real trips to the bottle bank since, one when Owen was here, and one when I gave the blokes who cleaned out the gutters last year an extra £20.00 to take it all away and dump it. I had the bright idea of getting rid of at least some of it by separating out the wine bottles and putting them on Freecycle, figuring that they might be of use to amateur winemakers. Debbie won’t let me make home-made wine any more, partly from the fear of explosions and partly because the last batch I made tasted like rats’ piss, with an aroma of peasants’ feet.
This makes it sound like there were hundreds of wine bottles, but in fact there was enough to fill a couple of cardboard boxes. What there was, though, was another couple of boxes worth of clear glass bottles, very similar, which had previously held the organic carrot juice which Debbie quaffs on a regular basis, in an attempt to be able to see in the dark and be as orange as Clint Eastwood. Anyway, I put the whole lot on Freecycle, and an arrangement was made for some woman who expressed an interest in them to come and collect them on Thursday. So, on Thursday morning, which was, thankfully, bright and clear, albeit freezing, I spent two hours of my life separating them out from the rest of the glass recycling (it never ceases to amaze me how much stuff is still packaged in glass, when plastic must be both cheaper and lighter) and boxing them up ready for her to arrive.
I had asked her whether she was a winemaker, and she had replied that no, she wasn’t; she wanted them for an artwork. I was quite interested in this remark, and looked forward to quizzing her about it more when she arrived. Which she never did, of course. I should have known. My only previous experience with Freecycle was exactly the same. Freecycle is a nice idea, but until they make the bids legally enforceable, like they are on Ebay, it’ll always be a complete waste of dog farts, run by superannuated hippies with the organisational skills of a bloody Womble. Of course, it banged it down with rain overnight on Thursday which meant that on Friday morning I spent another two hours of my life picking the bottles up and putting them back in the crates with the rest of the glass, and sweeping up the mushy remains of the boxes. This is my life, these days, I am beset by idiots who hang on my every move like dingleberries.
Talking of which, the saga of the book stocks rumbles on. I now have a list of the stock which needs moving, but when I asked for the further detail which would enable me to get it actually moved, namely the number of pallets and the number of loose boxes, and what each title was packed in (ie 12s, 24s, 80s etc) I was told this wasn’t available. I am still puzzling as to how they managed to come up with the fact that there were 903 copies of Arthur Mee’s Hertfordshire just by looking at the pallet. Either their warehousing skills have improved enormously to the stage where they have evolved psychic powers, or they used X-Ray specs or something, who knows. It is, however, another bloody thing that will need sorting out next week, just when I feel like spending the time painting, something that I feel like doing increasingly these days, partly for the calm it brings me when everything else around me is a raging ball of chaos, and partly because of an obsessive need to chronicle my life while I still can.
My plans to give away all my old artwork, however, have not been progressing as quickly as I may have hoped. One reader of this blog compared what I was trying to do (give away all my old paintings and drawings in return for donations to Rain Rescue, Mossburn, or The Freedom of Spirit Trust for Border Collies) to Princess Diana auctioning her old dresses for charity. I think that’s over-egging the pudding, to be honest, but I would like to see them do some good, and I’d rather they were up on someone’s wall, even if it’s only covering a damp patch in the downstairs loo, than mouldering away in a portfolio somewhere.
The problem has been finding the portfolio. We found a portfolio this morning. It looks very similar to mine. In it were... four A2 colour posters of tooth decay, clearly a left over from the day when Granny used to visit schools as a travelling tooth fairy and mental dental hygienist. [Big sigh]. So it's not my portfolio, which is now officially lost, including all its contents, and which has not been seen for four years. Also lost is a framed painting of Skiddaw and a massive attempt at a medieval "Doom" painted in oils on a plywood board that was originally a pallet top. Debbie denies putting any of it on the fire while I was in hospital, so, in the words of the late, great, Toyah Wilcox, it's a mystery, it's a mystery, I'm still searching for a clue... as they say in all the best ad campaigns, watch this space. If I do decide to stand as an independent at the next election, I might get offered the post of Minister Without Portfolio.
Once again, it’s been a week when there has been so much going on here, that news from the outside world has had a job to filter through into my consciousness. I did hear that Mark Harper, the immigration minister, architect of the “immigrants go home” placard vans, has been forced to resign for er, employing an, er, illegal immigrant. Why am I not surprised? You have only to read Mortimer Feinberg’s book Why Smart People Do Dumb Things to realise that hubris can blind the political classes (featherbedded and sheltered as they are from the vicissitudes of life) to ordinary, everyday common sense. The Junta has been very vocal about pressing for the maximum penalties in the case of people caught out dong what Mr Harper has been doing, so it will be interesting to see if a prosecution is forthcoming. Maybe they’ll deport him. O/C Latrines, Falkland Islands, is vacant at the moment, I hear.
Meanwhile, the Home Office continues to dog and harass Mariam Harley Miller, whose appeal is now pending (see last week’s blog for a link to the petition against her deportation) and Isa Muazu continues to languish in the Harmondsworth detention centre, while Theresa May has seemingly escaped parliamentary censure for wasting taxpayers’ money on a futile attempt to deport him on his own private jet in the middle of the night, despite that fact that his hunger strike had left him blind and unable to stand. Maybe Mariam Harley Miller should ask Theresa May if she wants any cleaning doing.
I have, however, finally had a reply to my letter to my MP, Jason McCartney, about the likelihood of a start date for the enquiry which Parliament voted for into the effects of benefit cuts on poverty. As you may recall, Parliament voted very emphatically that such an enquiry should take place. He says:
The backbench debate on welfare was initiated by Labour MP Michael Meacher, Conservative MP Peter Bottomley, and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming. As far as I know none of the details of any inquiry have been released, and as it was not business in Government time, Ministers are not compelled to take any action.
So, there you have it. Parliament clearly expresses its will, and the Government is going to ignore it. This leads me on to another question. If the Government is not compelled to take notice of the will of Parliament as expressed quite clearly in the overwhelming vote for an inquiry, and Parliament is not able to enforce that will on the Government, what use are any of the buggers? Let’s just save some money, disband the lot of them, and turn the House of Commons into a shelter for the homeless. It would be a much more productive use of the building, especially given Shelter’s current estimate of 80,000 children in the UK either homeless or in temporary accommodation, and the situation neatly summed up in the 21st December edition of the satirical magazine Private Eye:
In 2011 Grant Shapps, then housing minister and now Conservative Party chairman, announced the solution to this problem: give local authorities the flexibility to offer homeless families a tenancy in the private rented sector.
Alas, the number of families accepted as homeless since the election is up by 34 percent – a rise fuelled by the shortage of social housing, cut in housing benefit and, er, the high cost of private rents. The private rented sector is in fact the fastest growing source of homelessness. The number of families becoming homeless after losing a private assured shorthold tenancy has more than doubled in England in the past three years, and more than quadrupled in London.
With the supposed solution to homelessness itself fuelling homelessness, the effects of the coalition’s latest wheeze are likely to be bleak: an extra £100m announced in the autumn statement to spend on increasing Right to Buy sales – which will get rid of any remaining social housing even faster.’
It’s not been all bad news this week, though. A client of one of the Trussell Trust’s food banks was given a new pair of boots by one of the workers there, who noticed on his regular visits that his footwear was disintegrating. Each small and random act of kindness is a brick in the wall of the new Jerusalem. The collie dog and the guinea pig belonging to the family whose house was wrecked in a gas explosion in Clacton were found, miraculously, still alive in the rubble and wreckage. The dog began barking when a rescue dog, Reqs, was deployed on the search, which goes to show that the old adage is true, the best way to find a lost dog is with another dog.
Woosie the cat was returned to his rightful owners, after being missing for three years. He had been living as a semi-feral in the grounds of a Ginster’s Pies factory near Plymouth, where workers fed him tidbits and sandwiches. For some reason, after three years they decided to catch him and take him to the local vet for a check up. The vet discovered Woosie was microchipped, and the rest is history. What Woosie himself thought about having to leave the enclaves of the pork pie factory and go back to a mixture of ordinary wet and dry cat food is not recorded, but his owners did say he had gained a lot of weight in his absence and was “considerably heavier” now than when he went missing.
Zak the Chihuahua is another one who’s been piling it on, but in his case he definitely needs it, and it’s all part of his recovery. He was found, abandoned, frozen almost to death, and starving, in a cardboard box on 22nd January, and taken to East Midlands Dog Rescue, who immediately took him to their vets. For a few days his fate was uncertain, but in the meantime, because his picture had been posted on Facebook, he went “viral” and the vets and the dog rescue have been inundated with people sending him dog treats, toys, blankets, and offers of good homes for him when he is strong enough.
When you read of stories like that, it does tend to restore your faith in humankind, at least until you remember the mean, miserable, callous, unthinking morons who left him out in the cold in the first place. Well, what does around comes around, and I wish them a complete transmission failure on a deserted freezing motorway at 4AM. Badabing, badaboom. No doubt that makes me a bad Christian, but to be honest I am getting fed up of waiting for Big G to dish out the lightning bolts these days.
And so we came to Sunday, and the feast of St Eingan, a Welsh prince and hermit, who died around 590AD. Other variations of his name include Anianus, Einon, and Eneon Bhrenin. There is also a tradition that venerates his feast day on 21st April, rather than February 9th. Despite his princely birth, in what is now Cumbria, he left for Wales, where he ended his days as a hermit at Llanengan near Bangor. He is said to have been a son of the chieftain Cunedda, whose family claims no less than 50 saints. I suppose there wasn’t a lot else to do in those days.
Eingan was also a cousin to the great Maelgwn Gwyneth, king of Britain in North-Wales, whose father was Caswallon lawhir, the brother of Owen Danwyn; and his mother Medif, daughter of Voilda ap Talu Traws, of Nanconwey, near Bangor. All of which serves to remind me, when I have found the missing portfolio, the next thing I need to look for is my copy of Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, by P. C. Bartrum.
Eingan, retired to Lhyn, or Lheyn, now a deanery in the diocese and archdeaconry of Bangor. In that part he built a church, and spent the remainder of his days in the service of God. He seems to have died about the year 590. St. Eingan is the titular saint of this church, in the place which today is called Llanengan.
So, that was St Eingan, that was. Another one who was sainted, it would seem, for being a holy and contemplative hermit, rather than for any specific acts, actions or miracles.
I seem to say this with increasing frequency these days, but I am not looking forward to next week. There’s the nonsense with the stock to sort out and all the other myriad irritations and daily chores that grind me down. Plus there’s an increasing feeling that I’m coming to some sort of crossroads again, where I’m being asked to decide what to do with what remains of my life. It even affects this blog. I started writing it originally – or should I say, I resumed writing it, as a spiritual exercise, having rediscovered some of what used to be my faith while lying in a hospital bed, contemplating the big questions.
I came out of hospital in 2010 zealous almost, determined to do good, whenever and wherever I could, having being granted a reprieve from near-death. But the sad fact is that I plunged into a morass of trying to sort out my own life and my own future (and, ipso facto, Debbie’s too, so that she is not left with a right old bag of mashings to sort out when I’m gone) all of which leaves very little time for actively saving the world. I can feel my energy levels gong down and down, especially so at this time of the year, when just fighting winter takes up so much of my available resources. Then there’s the time I’m forced to spend correcting the misapprehensions of idiots. I’ve also let down friends, one in particular whom I feel sure has written me off, justifiably, I might add, for not being around to offer support at a crucial time.
I wrote, and still continue to write, about my own struggles to believe in something called God, in the hope that others in a similar situation might find them of use in some way, but even that has become sidetracked by my reaction to the injustice and inequality I see going on around me as the Blight Brigade inflicts class war on the vulnerable. What am I supposed to do? Do I sit here praying and writing about amusing things the cat has done, like some sort of modern day St Eingan, withdrawing from the world like a hermit, while ignoring the fact that people are being sandbagged and carted off to detention centres? Do I say it’s no concern of mine that homeless people are freezing under bridges, or animals being abused? Yet for all that I bang on about it, I get the sense that I am preaching to the converted, and I sometimes think that the time I invest each week writing this blog could be far better spent painting pictures that could then be given away in return for actual donations of real money that would help alleviate real animal suffering. In an ideal world, of course, one where I was shorn of overhanging financial obligations and where people did hat they should do, did it right, and did it at the first time of asking there would be no conflict, and time enough for both. I get the feeling though, that this is not an ideal world, and I am not that sure about the next world, either.
So, here I stand, pace Martin Luther, or rather here I sit, on this rather bleak Sunday teatime, pondering my future, however uncertain, however short. It feels at the moment as if the real Spring will never come, and we’re sort of living in a phoney spring, a bit like the phoney war. Who would have thought it would be so hard to give things away, as well, just at a time when I need to be simplifying my life, be it artwork or wine bottles? Oh well, next week’s problems will still be there tomorrow, and there will be time enough for them then. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. In the meantime, I’d best get the coal in, bomb up the stove, put the kettle on, and maybe dream about those distant summers, back in the days when I “by the tide of Humber would complain” – the summers “before the war”.