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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of SS Peter and Paul

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. I’d like to say that preparations for our “Grand Depart” for the Isle of Arran are progressing apace, but in truth I, personally, have done sod all towards it, and Deb, too, has been busy elsewhere. So we really must get our act in gear next week. It’s remained stubbornly hot and dull, with occasional showers. When it showers, it really showers, as well.

When it stops raining, the birds come out and patter about on the decking and on the roof of the conservatory. Matilda finally noticed one doing precisely this one morning during the week, and mirrored its movements exactly, stalking it from below. It went over to one corner of the roof, she went over to the corresponding corner of the conservatory floor. Eventually, though, the bird got fed up and flew off, leaving Matilda looking rather disconsolate.

Muttkins has had a succession of long or short walks, depending on the weather, sometimes in Zak’s company, sometimes not. It seems unbelievable, but it will be a year on July 3rd since we went up to Baildon Moor and picked her up from the farm and brought her back here. July 3rd is also the fifth birthday of my little niece Holly, so we’ve got a double cause for celebration.

Another cause for celebration is, of course, the end of term. In one sense, it ought to be a cause for concern, as well, since it marks the start of the lean months when Debbie will not be earning any money until at least September. Plus I still have to lever the remaining arrears out of Kirklees College with a crowbar just to bring us up to date [which is also exactly the sort of tedious admin that has stopped me this week from getting on with preparing to go to Arran].  Set against this, though, at least Debbie can shrug off the stress and hassle of another academic year, and relax for a while. I think it’s starting to get to her: she came back from college one day last week, the TV was on, softly, in the background, with a wide shot of Copacabana Beach and Adrian Chiles wittering on aimlessly about Suarez snacking on Chelleni, with some fava beans and a good chianti, and said:

Oh, are you watching the cricket?

Yes, says I, it's the first test between Argentina and Nigeria, the wicket looks as if it might take spin on the final day, but I'm just waiting while they send Geoffrey Boycott down there to stick his car key in the surface, once the beach volleyball's finished. Sometimes, it’s not the size of the disk, it's the speed of the processor that's the problem.

She’s also taken up cooking, insofar as pouring boiling water over couscous can be defined as cooking. This has been necessitated by the occurrence this week of several final classes marked with “bring and share” food and drink sessions at the end.  I’m not sure what her colleagues think of couscous, but she managed to make the kitchen table look like an explosion in a couscous factory.  She has returned from these events laden with carrier bags of cupcakes, crisps and chocolate biscuits, plus at least one bunch of flowers and two or three thank you cards signed by her entire classes, so she must have been doing something right.

For my own part, the week progressed better than I had hoped, in health terms at least. The foul bugs that had infested me last week fled, their departure hastened, no doubt, by the onset of the vitamin regime which commenced at the behest of the Consultant at the last hospital visit, including Ferrous Fumarate and Vitamin B12. Mind you, this could be just coincidence, but either way, I was pleased to be feeling more like myself. I can admit now that I was worried in case it was more than just a bug, but this time around, at least, I seemed to have dodged a bullet.

The outside world, beyond the confines of our little enclave, is full of bullets to dodge, of course. Literal and metaphorical. Mostly in Syria and Iraq at the moment, but watch this space, in a week where President Obama committed armed drones to the theatre of war: the Pentagon said some of the drones and manned aircraft it was flying over Iraq were armed, but that they would be used to gather intelligence and ensure the safety of US personnel on the ground, rather than carrying out air strikes. And if you believe that, dear reader, how do you feel about the tooth fairy? 

Here at home, the BBC has continued to ignore the voice of legitimate protest against “austerity” and the cuts. As I sit here typing this, they have already had 6000 complaints about the lack of coverage of last Saturday’s central London demonstration, and they compounded this yesterday by ignoring the protest in Westminster by members of Dpac, a group set up specifically to oppose the effects of the cuts on disabled people. 

Since we can’t rely on the BBC to report things truthfully and accurately any more, we have to piece together the story from a number of other sources. Demonstrators set up a camp in the grounds of Westminster Abbey to protest against cuts to financial support for disabled people.

Members of disabled people against the cuts (Dpac) pitched tents and said they intended to occupy the green outside the doors of the Abbey until 22 July.  The Dean of Westminster was asked to negotiate with the protesters on Saturday evening, after they claimed he initially refused their request for permission to stay.  The group also sent a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, urging the church not to forcibly remove them from its grounds. Around 100 protesters began the demonstration, but a heavy police presence meant their number dwindled to around 50. There were scuffles and confrontations and apparently several onlookers and tourists were surprised by the amount of overkill the police were using compared to the actual threat, of two or three dozen disabled people locking themselves to the railings in Parliament Square. 

The Metropolitan police said that one person was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer as protesters sought to establish a camp and officers resolved to stop them. Police stood on top of tents in a bid to prevent the demonstrators from pitching them. It’s amazing how they can always find extra police when a Chinese despot wants to run the Olympic Torch through the streets of London, or there's a miners' strike to break, or there's a demo to kettle, or they panic because some people in wheelchairs might chain themselves to the railings. Where were this lot when the foxes were being torn to pieces in defiance of the hunting ban? Or come to that, where were they when my car radio was being nicked?

I’ll be interested to see how this one turns out, but I am not holding my breath that the Church of England will do the right thing.  Yes, Westminster Abbey is a national treasure and yes, there has to be some sort of right to private property and access, but there is also a right to legitimate peaceful protest, or there damn well should be. The policing seems as deliberately designed to sweep disabled people into the background as the policy which Dpac was protesting against: the loss of the Independent Living Payment, which will mean more disabled people being prevented from leading relatively independent lives, and consigned to care homes and the like, instead, because it’s cheaper. 

In olden times, one could have relied upon several dozen Labour MPs to show their solidarity with such a protest, but these days, it is Labour policy on benefits to be more Tory than the Tories, for fear of upsetting Daily Mail and Sun readers, and only John McDonnell MP had the courage to turn out and support the protesters. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader at the moment, was busy writing one of a series of what are beginning to look like increasingly desperate pleas to get me to donate £3.00 to the Labour Party for the chance to meet him in person at Doreen Lawrence’s gala bloody dinner at the House of Lords on July 9th.   

Readers of previous blogs will recall that somehow I have managed to get myself on the email list of “One Nation Labour” and as a result I receive regular updates from the Labour Party, jollying me along and urging me to donate to the cause. I always reply to these emails, and my replies are either wearily instructive, angry, or abusive, and occasionally all three. Clearly no-one ever reads these replies, or I would have been crossed off the list long ago. It just goes to show that at the heart of the current Labour Party there is a self-selecting, self-serving clique around Ed Miliband, and they are all sharing the delusion that if they put their hands over their ears and say “la la la la I can’t hear you”, this will be enough to win the next election. It won’t, and we will all suffer another five years of The Blight Brigade’s nuclear winter as a result. Which will be a tragedy. Meanwhile, I am going to reply to this email by asking Ed Miliband how much I would have to donate to guarantee that I would have no chance of my ever meeting either him, or Doreen Lawrence. 

And so we came to Sunday, and the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This rather “engineered” joint celebration is regarded by the Catholic church as a “solemnity”, having been previously designated as a Double, a Greater Double, or a First-Class Feast. It is also a Holy day of Obligation. I suppose we should expect no less of the two people who, between them, did so much to take the simple message of Jesus, codify it, complicate it, graft on some sort of compulsory morality, and turn it into a worldwide movement with power, splendour, wealth and influence. Thence comes orthodox doctrine and, inevitably, heresy. All of which sounds like I am disapproving of the process.  Which I am, sort, of. The story of St Peter and St Paul is so well known that I won’t even begin to insult your intelligence by summarising them. 

Without them, of course, Jesus would have gone down in history as just another Essene, a Gnostic raving in the wilderness. By the way, when I say I am ambivalent about the way in which Paul and Peter shaped the church, it is in no way intended to be a specific comment or attack on the Catholic church: the process can be seen over and over again, and not only in churches. You take a zealous, young, idealistic group of people, the Oxford Famine Committee, and you end up with Oxfam, a charity operating all over the world with a global HQ in Oxford with an atrium and clocks showing the time in every time-zone on Earth. 

The argument is often advanced in favour of large-scale organisation, be it of churches or charities, that they can achieve so much more by scaling up, by acting like a business, than if they remained a ramshackle ad hoc committee with trestle tables and a collecting tin. The danger is of course, that they (the church, or the charity) become too concerned with self-perpetuation and forget what they were trying to achieve. One wonders how many people would continue to donate to Oxfam if they read Paul Theroux’s coruscating comments about aid workers and their negative effect on Africa, in Dark Star Safari.
Personally, I try and concentrate my charitable efforts, such as they are these days, into smaller charities where I know that my weedy widow’s mite will not be swallowed up in paying someone to polish the clocks in the atrium, but has at least a fighting chance of getting to the people or causes that the charity is trying to help or achieve. In the same way as these days my church is not some lavish baroque cathedral with censers swinging and monks chanting plainsong, attractive though those can be in certain circumstances, but often a clump of trees, the front seat of the camper van, or the windswept wilds of Walney, with the plainsong provided by a passing seagull:

When one’s friends hate each other
how can there be peace in the world?
Their asperities diverted me in my green time.
A blown husk that is finished
but the light sings eternal
a pale flare over marshes
where the salt hay whispers to tide’s change

As Ezra Pound put it, much better than I can.  I’m not saying all charities are like this, or all churches, and I’m not saying that those which are the most self-perpetuating, are like that all the time. It does sometimes feel though, that Oxfam doesn’t actually want to abolish hunger and world poverty, because what would they do then? Apart from sign on. Likewise, the church occasionally seems so preoccupied with its own worldly wealth, pomp and power, that they have forgotten that Jesus, if he was around today, would be with the people dossing down under the railway arches, or rifling through skips: outside, with the protestors in the tents. 

True, Oxfam and their ilk have done good works. Criticising the Junta for causing poverty in the UK and getting under their skin, for one thing. And the churches have done immense good in spreading healthcare and education in the developing world. So it’s not all bad. I guess what I am saying, what I am arguing for, is a re-balancing, a re-assessment on behalf of organised religion, concentrating on the core message, and following that to its logical conclusion, however painful the conclusion you come to. 

Why is this important? Because now, the church of England has to respond to the challenge laid down by the Dpac protestors, and either stand with them, or stand by and let them be removed by the police. Given the outcome of the previous “Occupy” protest at St Pauls, I am not hopeful, though I would be glad to be pleasantly surprised. 

I’ve often said, to an audience of minus one, unless you count the cat or the dog, that what the country needs is a massive spiritual awakening, something to shake the foundations of the banks and the city, to re-focus people on things that really matter. Maybe that process has to start with the church, or churches gong through that process. Not gay marriage, not women bishops, not coffee mornings or flower rotas, not genteel collections of raffia items for recycling for Africa. 

What we need is some sort of temporary rapture. Stop in mid-sermon, walk away from your plough in mid-furrow, get up from your desk, and if you can physically make it, go to Westminster and occupy the Abbey. And stay there until this cruel law is reversed, and all the other cruel and unchristian laws enacted since 2010. And stay there until there is an end to homelessness and a commitment to build new homes for all that need them. 

I’ve been taken to task before for being self-referential and quoting from my own stuff, but I wrote this ten years ago in Here Endeth The Epilogue and it’s still true today: 

Just for a fleeting moment I had a vision of a new church. A new church for a new era, where all the leaves recognised they were leaves like all the other leaves, and that they had all sprung from the same root. Imagine a church with the intellectual rigour and the anthems and the cathedrals of Anglicanism, the pomp and majesty and symbolism of the Catholics, the contemplative and peaceful life of the Quakers, the reforming zeal of the Methodists, assembling hand-loom weavers on the windy moorlands of Northern England to sing ragged hymns and tell them there can be a better world in this life AND the next; the innovation of the people who are willing to believe in things like spiritual healing - and who is to say they are wrong, it could just be science that we don’t understand yet. Imagine if we all rose up together one day and went to one place and let out a resounding shout that war shall cease and poverty shall cease and everybody shall have enough food and water.

Well, as Father Ted would doubtless say if he were here right now, that would be an ecumenical matter. It’s good to dream though, once in a while. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams. I'll let you be in my dreams, if I can be in yours.

Meanwhile, back here in the wide-awake world, or what passes for it these days, I’m going to earth up some spuds, I think, provided it doesn’t rain, and then see if I can knock some tasks off tomorrow’s list, today. But before any of that, I’m going to put the kettle on, because dreaming is thirsty work. 


  1. Jesus wouldn't have been thought of as a Gnostic, I don't think. He was too faithful to the Jewish tradition for that. He would have probably gone down as a Wisdom thinker with a revolutionary take on the Israelite faith. A prophet in the Jewish tradition, yes; Gnostic, no, I don't think so. Richard

    1. This is wonderful! Thank you.

    2. OK I bow to your superior knowledge. Gnostic always makes me think of Gnocci. mmmmm, Gnocci. Yum yum.