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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Epiblog for the Second Sunday of Lent

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. It could almost be spring, but I don’t want to actually say the words, for fear of banishing the spell. The Archers have finally got around to appointing a flood warden (it’s David Archer, if you cared. No, me neither.)  Just when the rest of the country is finally drying out and that bloke in Muchelney has finally been able to recover what was left of his submerged car.  In our garden, the remaining standing plastic greenhouse has been reduced by yet more gales to a "tattered Arras", but on the plus side, the snowdrops are holding their own and, this morning, I looked out of the conservatory window and found that the remainder of Maisie’s indestructible daffodils by Russell’s mosaic had come into flower. “Faire daffadils, we weep to see ye haste away so soon”, as Robert Herrick might have said if he were here right now.  The ones in the stone trough at the front are in bud, as well.

Matilda and Misty have been vying for patches of sunlight on the conservatory rug. On at least a couple of days, it was so warm that we had the conservatory door open,  allowing Misty to wander in and out at will, something that she hasn’t been able to do since last summer.  Freddie and Zak have been to stay this week as well,  Zak benefiting from a couple of 13-mile walks with Deb and Misty, and Freddie getting to sleep in his brand new fleecy dog bed, in front of the stove. Matilda has been looking enviously upon it and coveting it, and it can only be a matter of time until we find Freddie sharing it with her, possibly against his will.

Debbie has been preoccupied with John Steinbeck’s use of language to convey emotion in the characters of George, Lennie and Curley’s wife. Yes, it’s GCSE exam season again, building up to the point where they all go mission-critical around exam time.  Tin helmets and NCB suits are the order of the day. It’s about time they started doing some decent books for GCSE English though. The chief virtue of Of Mice and Men seems to be its brevity.

I’ve been ploughing steadily on. Everywhere I turn there are mountains of things needing to be done, but all I can do is to make every moment count and try and knock off the ones with the biggest payoff each day. Unfortunately, the stock problem reared its head again, I have got book layout work coming out of my ears, the VAT return was due, I still have to pursue Kirklees College over Debbie’s pay arrears, and somewhere I’m supposed to find time to do some marketing.  It’s a symptom of the fact that we’re slowly recovering, I suppose – it’s better being busy than sitting here watching the wind blow the cobwebs, but it’s the relentless nature of it that sometimes gets wearing. It’s like being charged by the North Koreans, you mow down the front row and behind that there’s another one, and another one behind that, all singing Gangnam Style.  Before you know it, another day of your life has gone by and you lie there listening to the sound of your tired bones singing you to sleep.

I finally completed the first stage of my art giveaway this week, which is, I suppose, some kind of achievement. In the end we’ve offered about half the found portfolio in return for donations to Rain Rescue, Mossburn Animal Centre or The Freedom of Spirit Trust for Border Collies, and about half of what we offered has been taken up. Debbie, who thinks that all art is pretentious crap, especially mine and Lucian Freud’s is delighted that some space has been freed up, and the prospect of any of my stuff being framed and stuck on the wall here has considerably lessened. I guess I should take some comfort in being in good company.  I would love to find some way of painting full-time, but I can’t see it as a route to paying off my debts before I die, somehow.

The only mildly amusing bit of news that has percolated through to me from the outside world this week was that the fire station in Downham Market, Norfolk, burned down because it a) caught fire and b) didn’t have a sprinkler system. Downham Market is where my Rudd ancestors came from, and is a place for which the phrase “Normal for Norfolk” might have been invented, so I wasn’t entirely surprised by the story.  I hear they have requested emergency cover from Trumpton.

Other than that, it’s been pretty bleak and bloody. In a variation on the famous opening of George Orwell’s 1940 essay The Lion and The Unicorn, as I type these words, civilized men in a far away country are conspiring to kill me.  There seems to be a perception that the crisis in the Crimea has gone off the boil, but today’s referendum on whether or not to become Russian might well see it all kick off again next week. Mr Putin is already in a grumpy mood because thieves broke into the Kremlin and stole next year’s election results, and he doesn’t want to waste any more money on printing.  Joking aside, though, it’s no laughing matter if they go ahead and turn the gas taps off, especially since Margaret Thatcher saw fit to dispose of our own indigenous energy reserves underneath our very feet, as an act of political vandalism.

I was reminded of this because the week saw the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the miners’ strike in 1984.  I wasn’t involved at the time – I only moved to Barnsley in 1989, and our fight, at the time, was against the Poll Tax and the final round of pit closures in 1992. I never met Arthur Scargill, though I did march behind him, and a number of pithead union banners, and the Bishop of Wakefield (Nigel McCulloch, at the time) in a demonstration against closing the pits, in 1992. I was struck once more, watching a documentary on the dispute, by how bloody it all was at the time. Not only the violent confrontations on both sides, but also things such as people going hungry and kids being sent to bed without any supper. Thank God things have improved in the last thirty years…er…oh.

Trade Union disputes also featured in the news this week because of the deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn. Bob Crow’s untimely demise at the age of only 52 serves to remind us of the transitory nature of life. If I may be allowed to quote Mr Gordon Sumner, “how fragile we are”. Or, as the Anglo Saxons preferred it, “lyf is leone” – life is lent, not given.  Tony Benn’s death was, to a certain extent, more expected, in that he was 88 and he had recently been very ill, but nevertheless it was another hammer blow to the aims and aspirations of all those who struggle for justice and fairness in a society which is increasingly making war on the poor, the old, the ill, and the disadvantaged. I was reminded, bizarrely enough, of one of the times England’s football team crashed out of the World Cup. The morning after, when all around was defeat and demoralisation, I stuck two of those plastic St George flags on the car windows and drove to the office. One of my colleagues happened to mention that it was a bit late, putting up the flags the day after we’d been ignominiously trounced, and I replied that I thought that it was precisely the time when we should have been flying the flag.  To show we may be down, but we are not out. I get knocked down, but I get up again.  That’s what we have to do now. Parts of this country in the last four years taken more of a shitkicking than they did in the miners’ strike. It’s time to turn round, and fight back. And if that means we have to stoop and build up Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land, with worn-out tools, then so be it.

To do this, however, we need a more effective opposition. Well, just any opposition, really. I wonder where we can find one, given that it’s only a year till the 2015 election. By his pronouncement, this week, that Labour would not consider a referendum on Europe if elected, Miliband has once again shown the former white working class core Labour voters that he doesn’t give a stuff about their concerns.  Every time Labour does this, it drives the people they ignore more and more into the arms of UKIP, who claim to have all the answers. It’s no good wishing the EU wasn’t an issue – the hateful spew of vile bigoted propaganda issued by the Junta since 2010, which has done much to inadvertently boost UKIP’s prospects, has made it an issue, like it or not. As with the debate over benefits, what is needed on Europe is to take on the Junta’s agenda and defeat it, not to concede the field of battle without a shot being fired.  All Ed Miliband has done is to add a few thousand disgruntled ex-Labour voters to UKIP’s tally in 2015, to add to the many thousands of disgruntled ex-Tories who had already decided to vote for them.

There is nobody at the next election for people on the left who distrust the whole EU political project to vote for. I won’t vote UKIP, because I know that their stance on the EU is in fact a thinly disguised veneer behind which lurks a much nastier idea: round up anybody vaguely brown and deport them all to Bongo-Bongo Land.  But there are many others who are not so discerning. Meanwhile, just in case we were in any doubt as to their true intentions this week the Blight Brigade passed a law which allows them to close a local hospital by executive order, against the wishes of the local community. This is because they were beaten twice in the courts trying to do it under existing legislation, so they just changed the law, to make what they want to do legal.  They aren’t alone in this of course, Labour passed legislation in 2002 to make the previous year’s illegal contiguous culls for Foot and Mouth retrospectively legal.  The Junta were supported in their efforts to further trash the NHS by the Liberal Democrats, so remember that, at election time, when the Lib Dem candidate tells you he went into politics to “make a difference” – what he meant was “make a difference to the availability of healthcare in the UK”. And not in a good way.

People were queuing up in the media to pay “tribute” to Bob Crow and Tony Benn, in a manner reminiscent of the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death, when those who would cheerfully have seen him hanged in real life surged onto every media channel, brandishing their onions and lauding him as a statesmen whose like we would never see again.  The BBC commissioned the following poem on Bob Crow, from the performance poet “Atilla the Stockbroker”, and then refused to broadcast it on the grounds of “balance”:

There was a man who held his ground.
Fought every inch, and won the day.
His legacy, his members’ lot:
Good work conditions, decent pay.
By Tories and their tabloid dupes
And those who seek more than their share
Just like Millwall, his favourite team,
He wasn’t liked, and didn’t care.
But those who worked in transport knew
Their leader stood right by their side.
No management could lay them low:
They wore their union badge with pride.
He spoke for passengers as well:
Safety, not profit, always first.
Opposing fatal funding cuts -
Paddington, Potters Bar the worst.
Bob Crow. A boxer’s grandson, he:
Led with the left and packed a punch.
The bosses knew he’d take them on:
No smarmy smile, no cosy lunch.
We need more like him, that’s for sure:
Upfront and honest to the last.
He bargained hard and kept his word.
A union leader unsurpassed.
As zero hours contracts grow
And bosses offer Hobson’s choice
Let us not mourn, but organize:
Get off our knees and find our voice!
This man worked hard for workers’ rights:
A fair wage, a safe, steady job.
So join a union and stand firm.
That’s the best way to honour Bob.

Whatever you think of its merits (or otherwise) as verse, it goes to show where the BBC’s true loyalty lies. Of course, all these people who go on about what a good thing Mrs Thatcher was, and talk about Union “dinosaurs” and “back to the 1970s” totally fail to acknowledge that, had our own native industries been allowed to grow and flourish instead of being angrily stifled, there would have been forty years of growth and development and innovation; they talk as if it would simply be a case of going back in a time-warp to the days of beer and sandwiches at 10 Downing Street, three black and white channels on the TV, and everyone driving around in Ford Anglias.

The Union barons of the 1970s are often denounced as being greedy and rapacious. Last week, IPSA, the body which oversees Parliamentary ethics at Westminster, released data showing that between October and November 2013, MPs made over 3,300 claims for expenses totalling £4.5 million.
This data covered 61 days and showed:

•On average, 541 claims made DAILY
•Each Claim was, on average, £135
•£73,300 claimed in expenses DAILY

Hmmm. Anyway, we have all made it to today thank God, and apparently, according to the Lectionary, it is the Second Sunday of Lent, and violet vestments are in order.  Sadly, the only violet garment I possess is an Australian “Lizard under the Moon” T-shirt, and I had already got dressed this morning, before I read the Lectionary, so I shall have to remain inappropriately attired. I hope Big G will cut me some slack.  In the absence of an appropriate saint for today, I appear to have given up saints for Lent, so I turned instead to the recommended Bible texts which we should, apparently, be studying today. Some of them (eg St Paul’s letter to the Romans) are – I must admit – rather dense and impenetrable. I’m sure this is my fault, rather than St Paul’s, but I glazed over when he started talking about circumcision and uncircumcision, and the best I could manage was a feeble joke about reading it in the hope of picking up some tips, a witticism which I may yet discard on the grounds of taste.

Psalm 24, however, was much more to my liking, prefiguring Christ’s entry into Jerusalem:

Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

It’s the “Selah” in the King James Version that does it for me. Every time. So much so that I am thinking of appending it to every email and letter I send. “Dear NPower, I am stopping my direct debit in your favour. Selah.”

But the passage that most held my attention was the description of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17: 1-9.

And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,  and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.  And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.  And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.  And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.

Assuming Matthew wasn’t making this up entirely, after a few hookahs too many, or whatever they had in those days, assuming Jesus hadn’t changed the water into wine while they weren’t looking, for a lark, this is a description of something between a mass hallucination and a supernatural experience. Like everything else to do with religion whether you believe in Jesus in the first place, and then go on to believe that he was transfigured in some way in front of his followers, is purely an act of faith. But it has set me thinking about the concept of transfiguration as a whole – about how a thing or a place or a person can suddenly become completely different.

For me, the concept is linked to art, because one of my favourite paintings was also in itself a transfiguration, for me. It was both literally and metaphorically a Transfiguration, because it was the painting of that name, by Giuseppe Cesari, in the Ferens Art Gallery, in Hull. I have appended it to the top of this blog. [I realise, by the way,, this is the second time in as many weeks that I have mentioned the Ferens. It’s a bit like buses, I’m afraid, you wait ages, then two come along at once]. 

When I first found my way into the Ferens, and stood in front of this painting, many years ago now, as a callow youth from the slums of East Hull, I was not only transfigured, but transfixed. I didn’t understand the painting then, in terms of subject matter, and I even didn’t understand the complexities of its construction and composition until much later, when I stood in front of it and sketched it for myself,  under the watchful eye of a museum guard – but, nevertheless, I knew, somehow deep down, that it was important, these figures and their strange aerial ballet. It meant something. Apart from anything else, it meant that art was not something that “wasn’t for the likes of us” – I could appreciate it, as much as the next man.

I guess what I’m groping at is that behind the idea of transfiguration lies the further ideas of hope, renewal, and that anything is possible. Shortly we’ll once more be in the period “bythene Mersh and Averill, whan spray beginneth to springe” and the woods around here will be transformed and transfigured by a new raiment of green. Maybe that’s the key. Maybe that’s what has been missing in my own life. A bit of transfiguration.

One of my online friends circulated an illustration on Facebook this week of the many and various reasons why people were admitted to a particular lunatic asylum in 19th Century America. Apart from the fact that some of them are almost scarily whimsical (“woman trouble”) I noted that the first two on the list:

Bad habits and political excitement
Kicked in the head by a horse

Were almost a perfect summary of how I currently feel.  But maybe transfiguration is possible, and somehow, painting seems to be the key.  I could, of course, be reading this all wrong, and in any case, financially, I have no option but to keep on with the books and try and turn things around. But the concept of transfiguration is maybe what could stop it all seeming so damn pointless, as it has been of late. Now, I see through a glass, darkly – but then, face to face. Or, as T S Eliot put it in Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So, for the first time in many weeks, I take some personal hope into the days to come.  The possibility of transfiguration. Well, it works for me. But for now, I have to go and get the coal in, and transform the fire, as the coals have sunk low while I was trying to write this, and the clouds have swallowed the sun.  And then I think I will transform some spuds into chip butties for tea. As the Zen masters were fond of saying: “after enlightenment – the laundry”.

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