It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley, and rather a sad one in some ways, as we have now passed Midsummer, and can only expect things to get colder and darker from now on. As someone who lives from summer to summer, and sees winter as purgatory to be endured, there’s always a sad sense of time passing on the summer solstice, well, for me at any rate.
All seasons are alike to Matilda, of course, since her life consists of sleeping punctuated by meal breaks, though she has spent quite a lot of time outdoors this week, as we’ve tended to have hot, sultry, dull days, where she finds a shady spot outside and snoozes there all day, instead of on her Maisie-blanket on the chair. Now that term itself is winding down, and the GCSE classes have come to an end, Deb has more time to take Misty out for longer rambles, as opposed to a quick spin round the park, up into the woods, or down the cricket field, so they’ve been doing 11-mile route marches once more, much to Muttkins’s delight. In fact, she gets so fussy when she thinks she’s going walkies, by the time they actually set off she’s probably already done at least a quarter of a mile, just in running back and forth to the door.
Debbie is, of course, demob-happy, and deservedly so. This has been a gruelling enough academic year without the additional issue of her pay arrears and all the attendant unpleasantness, and now of course she is already starting to worry that this furore over not being paid will adversely affect her chances of being offered any hours next term. I have told her not to worry, because I am pretty sure the College makes a habit of not paying any of its part time hourly-paid tutors until they threaten to come down in person and beat the door in, so my mildly sarcastic dunning letters and “final demands” will have seemed tame by comparison.
Other than that, Debbie’s main preoccupation over the last few days has been getting to grips with her new phone. Given that it took us two and a half hours just to get the back off the bloody thing so we could put the battery in, I could see that was going to be a bad omen, and so it has proved. It was not helped by Sony’s lack of a printed manual, the stingy bastards, though you can download one from the internet and print it out at your own expense, but the phone still does random things and surprises her, and occasionally me, into the bargain. Last night I had gone to bed and was asleep when at 12.30AM my mobile started ringing. Given that a mobile phone call at that time of night usually means bad news, I groped my way to consciousness and answered it, only to find it was Deb from the other side of the connecting wall, having mistakenly pressed a button on the touch-screen to call back a missed call from me, earlier in the day. She apologised, and I went back to sleep. The one good thing she has discovered about it is that she can get the internet on it, specifically Ebay, so she can now sit and surf for shiny things wherever she is, 24/7
As well as being sad at the passing of summer this week, I’m afraid to say I have also not been very well. My latest lot of blood tests from the hospital appear to be reasonably normal, but apparently I am deficient in Iron, and Vitamin B12, and this will have to be rectified, first by means of injections and then tablets. None of which stopped some foul bug invading my system on Thursday and laying me low. Only metaphorically – I did actually get out of bed and made it as far as the wheelchair, but all I did all day was snooze and sneeze and doze and ache, and I was about as much use as a fart in a colander. Friday was just as bad, and it was only yesterday that I started to feel a bit more like myself again. I could have done without it, to be honest. I hate the inconvenience of being ill, and of course it played havoc with my “to do” list.
So I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the outside world, to be honest. Tens of thousands of people – some say up to fifty thousand – marched through London yesterday to protest against “austerity”, an event which went totally unreported by the BBC, to its lasting shame. Of course, if Black Bloc had smashed a few bus shelters, it would have been top of the bulletin. For all the wrong reasons.
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg has vowed to re-create a truly independent Liberal Party once again. Ha. Good luck with that. And the DWP have been caught out yet again fiddling the figures, cherry-picking and publishing selective statistics. So, no change there, then. Perhaps the most significant story of the week was that some wag or humorist managed to hack the official “Twitter” feed of the Labour Party and posted a “tweet” promising a new Labour policy of a free owl for everybody. Not only was this amusing in itself, but several hundred people apparently said that if this was ever to become official Labour policy, they would definitely consider voting Labour. Which really ought to give Ed Miliband food for thought, on a number of levels.
Iraq continues to descend into a shambolic mess. Obama has sent several hundred “special advisors” to “guard the US Embassy”, which translates as “Navy Seals” to harass ISIS’s supply lines and carry out decapitation missions. Cameron has been too busy mugging up on Magna Carta to join in. He seems to think that the values of Magna Carta should now be the ones that underpin the teaching of “British values” in schools, which is quite ironic, given the Junta’s consistent attempts to undermine it and dismantle its hard-won privileges for the common man.
And of course, England crashed out of the world cup. Personally, I had very low expectations of the England team in this contest. If they were going to win, they would have had to beat some, or all of the following: Germany, Holland, Italy, Argentina, Brazil. Not going to happen. We can’t defend, we’re turgid and boring in midfield, and we have nobody who can score goals. On the plus side, though, Joe Hart knows all of the words to God Save The Queen.
Notwithstanding England’s hasty and ignominious exit, we shall, nevertheless, continue to have the World Cup served up for breakfast lunch and tea. The slots are already booked, sadly. In any case I am not sure I am comfortable with an international sporting event which has been built on misery and evictions, but I suppose I should have managed my expectations. It’s not the first time. The Greeks, God strafe them, shot all the feral cats in Athens in the run-up to the Athens Olympics, and the 2012 Olympics in London saw the Junta deporting Polish rough sleepers to tidy up the East End, using a loophole in EU law that enables people to be sent back to “comparable conditions” – not that anybody really bothered to check.
And so we came to today, the feast of St Alban. St Albans these days always carries faintly ridiculous overtones. I don’t know why, and I do apologise in advance to anyone who lives there. It’s one of those places, for me, like Biggleswade, where you imagine 1930s bungalows, spinsters cycling to matins, and old colonels in blazers and Oxford Bags taking a Pekingese for a walk at Sunday teatime. If E F Benson hadn’t appropriated Rye as the model for his fictional town of Tilling in the Lucia books, St Albans would have been a good alternative, apart from its lack of seaside.
Of course, I am doing St Albans a massive disservice here, for in reality it has a long and noble history stretching back to the Roman foundation of Verulamium. Legends assert that St Alban was a Roman soldier at Verulamium, and he may even have been a Romano-Briton. Mind you, legends assert lots of things, Legends asserted that England could win the World Cup. Some scholars assert that Verulamium was actually part of an enclave which resisted Roman rule, but that doesn’t really stack up with Alban being part of a garrison there.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Alban, a pagan, is said to have sheltered a priest who was fleeing persecution. Alban took the priest's cloak and allowed him to escape. Roman soldiers arrested Alban, who was later beheaded. Bede, writing in his Ecclesiastical History, dates the martyrdom to the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, around 305AD, but modern scholars favour around 209AD, in the reign of Septimus Severus. A cult developed around St Alban, and the fifth-century St Germanus of Auxerre mentions that he visited a shrine dedicated to Alban during his crusade through Britain preaching against the Pelagian heresy. I used to know what the Pelagian heresy was, but I am ashamed to say I have forgotten. It has joined that huge amount of stuff that has been driven out of my head by new stuff that has made its way in. This is but one of the many ways in which I resemble Homer Simpson.
Bede had previously mentioned a church dedicated to St Alban, and the supposed site of Alban’s martyrdom, Holmhurst Hill, became the site of an Abbey, founded by King Offa (he of the Dyke, no sniggering at the back) in the 8th Century AD. After that, the fate of St Alban’s relics becomes more problematic. During one of the many Danish incursions, they were said to have been transported to the Isle of Ely for safe keeping. St Canute’s church in Odense claims to have relics of St Alban, stolen during Canute’s raid on York in 1075. However, there is also the tradition that St Germanus of Auxerre was rewarded for his visit by being given some of the relics of St Alban.
And there is might have ended, because most of St Alban’s relics were apparently scattered during the Dissolution, but a bone believed to be a relic of St Alban, the first British martyr, was returned to Hertfordshire by a group from the church of St Pantaleon in Cologne, Germany, and presented to St Albans Cathedral. The bone was placed inside the restored 13th Century saint's shrine on 29th June 2002. So there you have it. St Alban in a nutshell.
I’m not sure, as usual, that St Alban holds any major lessons for me, other than to keep out of the way of stroppy Roman soldiers with sharp swords, and, to be honest, I would probably have done that anyway. But the story of St Alban is indicative of something else, I suppose – the ever changing palimpsest of the English landscape, from Roman Town to the site of two bloody battles in The Wars of The Roses, in 1455 and 1461, to relative prosperity in the 18th century as a market town on several stagecoach routes, the silk industry and the straw plaiting industry in the 19th century. In some ways it’s a story that’s replayed across many towns in England, making up the patchwork, the very fabric of our social and local history.
It looks like I shall shortly be off on one of my peregrinations through that fabric again, anyway, but not southwards, northwards this time, as the day of our departure to Arran approaches. The camper must be packed, Matilda consigned to the care of Granny, and my wheelchair, with me in it, pushed up the ramps to enable me to transfer into the front passenger seat. There are still a few weeks of summer left, I suppose, though when we get back towards the end of August, it will be all hell and no notion again into a new term and a new academic year.
I wish I could get enthusiastic about going off on holiday but I am not feeling in very good nick right now, and to be honest, I worry about having some sort of major medical emergency and screwing everything up again, just like I did in 2010, when instead of setting off for Arran, I ended up spending six months in Huddersfield Royal. Let’s hope not. I’ve long since given up dreaming of waking up cured one morning, but it would be good to wake up tomorrow morning feeling that this foul bug had quit my mortal frame and I was back to something like what passes for normal. I don’t know how successful I will be at maintaining this blog from the Isle of Arran, though, especially given the staggering amount of stuff I need to take with me to work on, and the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t nature of internet connections on the Island. But the road is calling. Farewell, farewell, to you who would hear, you lonely travellers all, the cold north wind shall blow again, the winding road does call, and all that.
So, you find me at a strangely downbeat end to a strangely downbeat week, really. In limbo. I’ll no doubt be better tomorrow, but I am sitting here right now, a bit like T S Eliot’s Gerontion, a dried, wizened old man in a dry house. Eventually, I hope Deb will be back from Wessenden with Misty in time to watch Belgium v Russia or whatever delights the TV has to serve up for us tonight. I might even try and have something to eat, for the first time in two or three days. Begone, foul bugatry!