In comparison, the animals have had a leisurely time of it. Matilda’s days are filled with snoozing on the chair in the conservatory, in the sun, on her Maisie-blanket; snoozing on the settee next to the stove overnight on another (different) Maisie-blanket, or sitting on the decking in the unaccustomed, bright, Spring sunshine, blinking. With occasional breaks for stacking away sachets of cat food, that is more or less it. Once or twice Misty has tried to “round her up” but Matilda is capable of quelling such presumptuous behaviour with a single baleful glare, or, occasionally, a witheringly pitying look.
Misty is enjoying Spring, especially the novel concept of going for walkies in the daylight. She also charges round the garden at top speed, doing her customary three circuits when I let her out first thing in a morning, especially if I have stoked her up first by singing “Run, Tebbits, Run, Tebbits, Run, Run, Run” to the tune of the old Flanagan and Allen favourite. Actually, thinking about it I could work it up into a whole verse:
“Run, Tebbits, run, Tebbits, run, run, run;
Claiming expenses was fun, fun, fun;
But bang! bang! bang! goes the revolution’s gun,
So run, Tebbits, run, Tebbits, run, run, run!
Yes, it has a certain jejune insouciance, as Brian Sewell might say. When she hasn’t been flaked out in a patch of sunlight on the conservatory rug, Misty has been coveting Freddie’s bed, which of course is empty most of the time, when Freddie is at home. This came as a surprise to me, as I had fully expected it would have been Matilda who, by now, had claimed “squatters’ rights”, but no, Misty beat her to it. This despite the fact that it’s actually a little too small for her, and to get in it she has to curl round in a tight ball, with her nose in her tail.
Anyway, their blameless little lives continue, whatever their foibles, and the highlight of Misty’s day is when she sees Debbie preparing to depart on a “walkies”, even though she doesn’t know the actual word, and therefore doesn’t respond to it. And, of course, my blameless little life continues as well, for the moment anyway, thank God. This week has largely been spent editing Blood in the Air, the first Kari True fantasy novel, and by Thursday I had spent so long in a world of elves, demons, and mages casting spells that I was actually glad to get back to real life, or what passes for it, and – without wishing to give out any plot spoilers – I was almost as relieved as the elves when they managed to close the portal that had opened up to another dimension and stop all the bad stuff coming through. “Elves have left the building”, I muttered to myself as I turned over the last page of the manuscript. It certainly gave a whole new dimension to the idea of “elf and safety at work”.
The Saxons, of course, recognised the concept of someone being “elf-shot”, which was their way of describing anyone who was suffering from some unexplained malady of the mind or body, or both – that they had been unknowingly pierced by an arrow shot by elves, and this had turned them fey. By the end of the week, I was certainly feeling elf-shot, if not shell-shocked (but sadly, not Michelle Shocked). By the way, when I googled for “elf-shot” to refresh my memory of the definition, it also included all of the results for “self-shot” which was quite startling, especially as I had “safe search” turned off at the time.
But at least on Friday, like Snow White, I woke up feeling happy (other dwarfs are available, see under dwarf conifers) because Owen was due to visit. It had been a while since he had graced our humble abode, having been grappling with various issues on his own homestead front since then (most of them involving drainage and, specifically, dealing with the four million cubic tons of rain which the weather dumped on Wales last winter). He was here for a little over 24 hours, but in that time he managed to: fix the saggy steps on the decking; dismantle and disassemble both the dead plastic greenhouses; put up some new trellis; fix the leaky guttering over the conservatory door; dig all the brambles out of the front garden; unclog the gutter over the lobby which had been causing damp down the wall; and, of course, fix the tray on my wheelchair, so I am now typing this on the proverbial level playing field, rather than the previous drunken slope, caused when the 25KG bag of coal fell on me, some weeks ago now.
He also tackled an emerging problem which had only just begun to trouble us – the downstairs loo backing up. Prosaic as it may seem, it was, in fact, potentially quite serious. Apparently, according to Owen, who had lifted the outside drain cover and looked into the matter (in both senses of the phrase – ewrgh!) there was probably a blockage in the public sewer which could, also, potentially trouble other people along the road, so it had to be reported to Yorkshire Water, which I duly did. The issue was that if the sewer was blocked, then the water could be escaping under the house and undermining the foundations, causing a gigantic sinkhole that would swallow our house, and open up a supernatural portal to the otherworld, from which demonic “Douglas Hurds” would issue and take over the garden.
Nothing more could be done that day, however, and, since our house, in common with M. Lautrec, has “Toulouse”, it was not a major problem. Yorkshire Water had my mobile number and said they would send someone round to look. So the rest of the evening was given over to quaffing, carousing, and catching up on old stories, and a good time was had by all.
The next day, at just gone 7AM, I was ligging abed with a slight hangover, and having a rather pleasant dream where Gwyneth Paltrow had asked me if I wanted to help her define “unconscious coupling” then passed out naked on my sofa, when my mobile rang. It was Yorkshire Water. They would be “on site” as they rather professionally termed it, in twenty minutes. Argh! Shit! (Literally) There was no time to lose. In fact, there was no time, Toulouse! I had just about struggled into my clothes, slid across on my banana-board into the wheelchair, and trundled through in the kitchen, when I heard the “beep-beep” of the reversing warning on their wagon outside. Fortunately, Owen was already up (well, it was 7.20AM) and outside in the front garden digging up brambles, so he intercepted them and showed them the damage.
Half an hour later, they were on their way. There was good, and bad news. The good news was that they had put a camera on a string down the hole and the public drain was clear. So there was no immediate prospect of the house disappearing overnight into another dimension, and therefore I didn’t need to do a crash course in Elvish magic to close the portal again. The bad news was that this meant the blockage was somewhere between the charmingly-named soil stack, and the loo. And was definitely our problem. Undeterred, Owen set about dismantling the soil-stack, which was definitely above and beyond the call of duty. From there, he “rodded” back into the house, but whatever it was still resolutely refused to shift, despite Debbie doing an impromptu trip to Wickes to purchase fifteen feet of a wire divining rod thing in the form of a “flexible drain cleaner”.
By now, Owen was running out of time, so he had to set off back to Wales, leaving us to phone John the plumber in the morning. Whoever has been eating polyfilla then crapping in our downstairs loo has a lot to answer for. It ain’t me, babe, oh no no, it ain’t me babe, it ain’t me you’re looking for, as Robert Zimmerframe would doubtless say, if he were here right now.
As I said at the time, it’s all part of the perils of being a householder, and, in a sense, we’re lucky to have a house to hold. Especially as the bedroom tax eviction notices have already begun to be issued. One person who won’t have to worry about the bedroom tax, or about having to live on fresh air because a benefit she relied on has been “sanctioned”, is the former Culture Secretary, Maria Miller. I’d like to say she did the right thing and resigned this week, but in fact it’s truer to say that the continued screams of rage at her illegal greed finally reached the ears of the Prime Minister, who, fearful of the damage she could do to his election prospects, and for no other reason, certainly no moral reason, reluctantly prized the keys to her ministerial red boxes out of her grasping evil fingers. Even then, she gets away with financial murder. She defrauded us out of some £45,000 of taxpayers’ money, was forced, grudgingly, to repay £4,800, and then received a severance payment of £17,000 in lieu of notice when she resigned as a minister! So all in all, I make it that she is £58,200 or so up on the deal. If anyone doubted that there’s one law for them and one for us, then try this simple experiment. Resign from your job, then toddle down the labour exchange, tell them you want to make a fresh claim, you left your last work voluntarily, and ask them for your £17,000 cheque. Let me know how you get on.
It’s becoming clear to me that there is a small, but persistent, group of hard-core scroungers who are leaching this country of taxpayers’ money, contributed by hard-working families to the public purse, and giving nothing back to society in return. Many of them have never had a proper job or done a stroke of hard work in their lives. They don’t want to work. They have no interest in earning a living, as they are quite happy with their featherbedded, scrounger lifestyle funded by the rest of us. They are supposed to turn up and sign in at least once a week, but they rarely do – in fact, some have set up complicated agreements with others to sign in on their behalf, or to enjoy mutually-agreed absences. This is what used to be derisively known as “Spanish Practices”, back in the 1970s, when it was the print unions such as NATSOPA and the NGA doing it. However, there is a way of identifying these people and dealing with them. Not by using ATOS, not by checking to see if their curtains are closed all day, it’s much easier than that – they all have the initials “MP” after their name.
Owen happened to mention that on his way here he had actually passed Kellingley Colliery, which, as I type these words, could have only days left before the gates are padlocked for good, throwing 800 miners onto the dole. At this time last week, there was some talk of Cameron and the Blight Brigade undergoing a Damascene conversion and actually getting involved in plans to save the pit. I thought at the time this seemed pretty unlikely, and so it has proved. In fact the deal is a loan of £10million of taxpayers’ money to provide a “managed closure” for the pit. Quizzed on a local news programme during the week as to why the government was able to magically throw £squillions of “taxpayers’ money” at failing banks, but would not similarly intervene in the case of Kellingley and our only other two deep-coal pits, a politician (didn’t catch his name, but he is the suit responsible, apparently) said they had looked at it and there wasn’t sufficient taxpayer interest in any plan to keep the mines open.
Everyone agrees there are at least another 15 years of coal reserves at Kellingley alone. Can someone direct me to the interest to the taxpayer, when 20% of our energy needs still rely on coal, in closing our own reserves and denying them to ourselves, turning 800 taxpayers into 800 “dole-wallahs” overnight, in an area of high unemployment and low prospects, not to mention the knock-on effect of their loss of spending power on the wider community of local shops, businesses and suppliers, and handing the levers of power (literally) to unscrupulous gas oligarchs in the mode of Vladimir Putin (not gay) and coal shipped in from places like South America where the miners work in appalling conditions, often under-age and with no safety legislation?
The only reason it is “cheaper” for our power stations to buy foreign coal while British miners are put out of work is that the market is rigged, the same way as it was rigged in 1992 in the “dash for gas” that saw the last round of major pit closures by Heseltine. The government could address this, for instance, by putting an import tax on cheap foreign coal, and using the ring-fenced revenue from this to subsidise the eventual managed decline of our own reserves, encouraging the swifter development of clean coal technology and the development of fossil fuel alternatives, perhaps even engineered on the same sites to make use of the skilled workforce. But they won’t. The chances of the Junta pulling that one off are about as likely as those of Cameron deciding he’s a Buddhist.
One story which has vanished from the media is that of Yashika Bageerahti, who has been dropped like a red hot brick. Clearly she was last week’s deportee, darling. One aspect of the story which interests me to the point where I believe it is worthy of further examination is the reason why Air Mauritius changed their mind between the Sunday, when they refused to carry her on a deportation flight, and the Tuesday, when they were seemingly happy to do so in the face of a howl of protest and subsequent boycott. Clearly some pressure had been applied – but where, how, and by whom? Legally, Air Mauritius were just as able to say no to the Border Agency on the day of Yashika’s deportation as they were on the Sunday, so what had changed in the interim? Being a crotchety old busybody, I rang Air Mauritius’s PR department and asked them precisely that question, saying I wanted to post their side of the argument on my blog, for balance.
They referred me to another number for their press office, which either rings out or is constantly engaged. If there was pressure, it must’ve come from the Mauritius government, rather than from ours – since we had already done everything we could. What on earth could have persuaded the Mauritian authorities to lean on their airline in that manner. Well, one answer is of course, a large bag of money. Or a large suitcase of money. Or a large crate of money, depending how corrupt/skilful at negotiation the Mauritius government was. Interestingly, I find that there has been some international criticism of the UK’s DFID for channelling UK foreign aid to Mauritius via opaque offshore trusts and similar mechanisms, rather than more transparent channels. This makes it very difficult to see where the aid is going, and how much of it is “aid” that ever actually finds its way to anyone who wants aiding.
I wouldn’t know the Mauritian government from the Martian government, but a person of cynical disposition might look at this and conclude that one scenario which fits the bill is that the UK DFID offered Mauritius a sudden and additional package of “aid” channelled via a trust accessible to members of the Mauritian government in return for them leaving on Air Mauritius to change their stance and fly Yashika’s deportation flight. If I were an investigative journalist, that is the trail I would be following, and also wondering if this is the only instance where this sort of transaction has taken place, or have there been others? Clearly, if this was the case, it would require the government in Mauritius to be as corrupt, uncaring and venal as our own, so no doubt they will want to issue a statement saying that nothing of the sort ever took place. I wonder if the Port Louis branch of Staples sells shredders?
There are some times when I really do think I am gong to have to send the Blight Brigade a bill for having my jaw re-wired, and one such happened this week when David Cameron claimed to be a Christian and that he was doing God’s work. In his Easter Message (since when the hell did he have an “Easter Message”) he claimed in effect that it was Jesus who started the Big Society, and that Easter is about more than just chocolate and eggs.
“The Bible tells us to bear one another's burdens,” he is reported to have said. This, from a man who is guilty of promoting an ever widening gap in our society whereby the brunt of austerity is borne by those least able to do so.
I really don’t know where to start with this claim: perhaps a good place would be Matthew 23:27
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Followed up by Acts 23:3
"God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"
I would love to know what is remotely Christian about presiding over a government that has dismantled the NHS with no mandate to do so; that has wilfully pursued economic policies which have deliberately caused unemployment, bankruptcy and homelessness; that has made the poor and the ill into pariahs by means of vicious, untrue and divisive propaganda; that has encouraged and fomented racism; that has used taxpayers’ money to fire missiles costing £800m a time at Libya when that money could have been used to alleviate child poverty at home; that has introduced in effect internal repatriation via the bedroom tax; that has driven people to suicide and starvation because their benefits were stopped, and that has consistently robbed the poor to give to the rich, in a bizarre reversal of the Robin Hood philosophy? Where is the “love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be”?
If that’s Christian, then give me King bloody Herod every time. To paraphrase Ian Hislop on another occasion, if David Cameron is a Christian in anything but self-applied name in order to lever out a few more percentage points in the polls, then I am a banana. If Cameron is anything, he reminds me of an old pagan king of Britain, old King Coel (who became King Cole in the nursery rhyme). As you may recall, he was a merry old soul who called for his pipe and he called for his bowl and he called for his fiddlers three. Or in this case, his fiddlers 650-3, their elbows sawing manically back and forth while they sign expenses form after expenses form, and Rome burns about their, and our, ears.
Anyway, this brought us to Palm Sunday, one of my favourite times of the year. As I said at the head of this blog, next Sunday, Easter, we may well be off in the camper somewhere in the wild, woolly-arsed regions of the North, where men are men and internet connections are considered an effeminate irrelevancy. So there may/may not be a blog next Sunday, or there may be a double one the week after. I suppose David Cameron might be thinking of himself as Jesus, riding to power in triumph one day, and hated by the crowd the next, but I have to say, unlike Jesus, he only has himself to blame.
Jesus, on the other hand, was called upon by God, who was also Jesus and vice versa, to “take one for the team” and die for all of us. You can begin to see why I find theology so taxing. Particularly as I have never been able to find a convincing answer to why it had to be done that way. But this is old ground, I have been over it many times. Once you accept that for whatever reason God either failed to foresee the fall of man or allowed it to happen anyway, knowing full well what the consequences would be, then felt that the only way out of that impasse was to become man, suffer a human death, and then defeat that death by rising again, the idea of Judas as the necessary betrayer – in fact the man who made the whole thing possible – becomes perfectly sensible In fact, we should maybe be singing “stand up, stand up for Judas”.
I must admit, when I first read the Bible stories as a child, I was astounded when it came to the crucifixion, that Jesus didn’t just use his super-powers to get down off the cross then and there and zap the Romans, in the same way as the heroes of the comics I read at the time did to Germans, Martians and Fuzzy-Wuzzies, depending if you were talking about Tough Duff the Commando (I have no idea if he wore underwear, before you ask) Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, or The Wolf of Kabul. You can see how I grew up warped. Since then, I have learned, I suppose, that there are other types of victory, other than obvious ones, and that Jesus appears to have been playing a long game. On the other hand, it is possible to be so subtle that the majority of people miss your point and have to have it explained to them.
As with any event in the Bible, it is possible to interpret Palm Sunday in a whole spectrum of ways. There is the literal, historical, this really happened style of interpretation, which sets out to establish that a man called Jesus existed at that time, and rode into Jerusalem that Sunday on an unbroken colt in order to fulfil ancient prophecy and identify himself as the Messiah. (As a general rule, in the Bible, whenever something inexplicable happens, you can usually put it down to some wacky ancient prophecy being fulfilled). Then there is the mythological, James Frazer’s Golden Bough type interpretation, which says it’s all meant to be symbolic, pointing to other resurrection myths in other cultures. Then there is the atheist interpretation, which usually involves at some point the word “bollocks”.
I’m sorry if you came here looking for the answer to that. I don’t know. The best I can manage is that we will never know the mind of God in this plane of existence. I must admit, such is the lamentable state of my own faith, these days, marred by my hand-to-mouth existence, my busy-ness, and by the lack of any exterior guidance, that quite often I find myself wavering between those two extremes. I suppose the best I can say is that next week, Holy Week, in fact, I might – if I am carried off like a parcel in the camper van when Debbie declares a holiday – find the time to meditate and catch up on a few prayers. I owe big G a long prayer, explaining my absence on parade, but then I guess he already knows that, if he is actually listening. In the meantime, I guess if Palm Sunday does have a lesson for me, on a very basic level, it is enjoy it while it lasts, because you never know when things are going to turn nasty. You never know the minute or the hour. The kettle is on the stove, the cat is on the settee, and Jesus is on his donkey, riding into Jerusalem. The ripeness is all.