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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Cloud

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley.  Sadly, the weather has returned to being “changeable” at best, and – even more sadly – such sunny times as we have had, have managed to coincide perfectly with the points when I was stuck inside working on stuff that absolutely positively had to be done, so my grand plans for the garden, for instance, remain largely unimplemented. I will have to get my act in gear, as it’s already the first week of June, somehow, incredibly, without me noticing.

Matilda’s been able to take advantage of the sunny spells, though, and so has Debbie, when she’s not been teaching. Misty doesn’t care if it’s sunny, raining, snowing or what, as long as she can go walkies and chase sticks in the woods. And if Zak comes along for the ride, so much the better.  Actually, I could have substituted the word “Debbie” for the word “Misty” in that sentence and it would still have been true.  Especially if she can take her pruning saw and bring some of the sticks she’s retrieved back with her, and make a brushwood shelter in the garden where she pretends that Ray Mears lives.

Her latest thing is collecting resin from fallen branches. Apparently you can mix it with sawdust or something and make some sort of substance that will light your bush-fire even if it’s raining. I told her that Sainsbury’s have been onto the idea for months now. They’re called firelighters, and they’ll even deliver them alongside the weekly shop, but I suppose it’s more fun if you forage for your own while wet through and courting hypothermia. It’s certainly more fun than working for nothing for Kirklees College, anyway.  But then so is 18th century dentistry and bowel surgery in the desert using only a sharp stick and no anaesthetic.  And, of course, we’re shortly to enter the absurd, Kafkaesque period where rumour swirls around about how many hours Debbie is going to be allowed to work for no pay during the academic year starting in September. Oh, the joys.

I’ve had my head down all week, to be honest. The imminent arrival of Blood in the Air: The Chronicles of Kari True has seen me processing orders, compiling review lists, printing out labels, packing orders, shifting boxes to make room, and a myriad of other tasks attendant on any new book arriving.  Plus of course all the other stuff, like dealing with the garage over the camper’s “snags list” and doing the VAT return and writing up three months worth of receipts and arrrrrrrrgh. I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive, as the divine Joni sings. I’d go back there tomorrow but for the work I’ve taken on, stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular song.

I would do it, as well. Don’t think I wouldn’t. The week did, however, contain a small oasis, in that I had to attend Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for my annual cripple’s MOT and general checkup.  This time I didn’t see the redoubtable Dr Naylor, but one of his registrars instead, who, no doubt because we hadn’t met before, went through my case notes with me in some considerable detail.  The NHS may be under pressure like never before and under attack and threat of privatisation, but I have to report that, at the sharp end, it is still definitely alive and probing.

The upshot was that the feelings of constant tiredness, coupled with the attacks of shivering and feeling cold, and tending to nod off in the afternoons, could be because of some problem with my blood, or because the fact that I am apparently clinically depressed has disturbed my circadian rhythm (whatever that might be, I thought it was something to do with grasshoppers) or – looking on the bright side, both.  To check out the former, they sent me off to the Flea-Bottomist, who duly extracted an armful of the old Rhesus O’Negative (begorrah) which they took away for testing, and as to the latter, they once more offered me chemical bombers with which to blitz it, an offer which I once again declined in favour of persevering with St John’s Wort because I’d rather be a herbal zombie than a chemical one.

Oh, and yes I do have cellulitis, and yes I am now the proud possessor of enough penicillin to kill an army, which I have to take at carefully regulated intervals in order to see it off.  As far as my legs are concerned, the options for straightening them are as they were a year ago, so we’re no further on there, except in time, of course, which never stands still. I had ambivalent feelings about the hospital as well. It had been my home for six months, but on this visit I did find it threatening, just a tad, because of the thought that you could end up being admitted there and have no idea when, if ever, you would go home again.  The best thing about the day, to be honest, was being able to surrender my transport to the whim of others. Just for once, probably because being independent is so, so tiring, I was glad of it. I was delivered like a parcel or a sack of spuds to the hospital door by the patient transport service, I passed seamlessly into the care of a Scottish lady porter with a buzz-cut and tattoos on her forearms, who shoved me down the corridor to the nurses running the clinic, who parked me up until the Registrar was ready to see me.

The system only started to come apart once.  After I’d been to the pharmacy, I decided to try and find my own way back to the ambulance discharge lounge, and asked two security blokes, who were sitting behind a kiosk desk, staring glassily into space, whether the discharge lounge was down this corridor, indicating with my finger extended in the traditional pointy manner. “Yes, mate,” they replied, so I set off. The corridor was, of course, about four miles long, and by the time I’d propelled myself five eighths of the way along it, to where another corridor intersected with it at right angles, I was having misgivings (as opposed to having Miss Givings, which I can assure you is altogether more fun).  I paused to consider my options. I was pretty sure that I was on the wrong corridor, but the question was, should I persevere or should I veer off down the left hand corridor and see what happened.

Just then, a young girl carrying an armful of files came click clacking towards me and I could tell from her badge on a lanyard that she worked there. So I stopped her and asked her if she know where the lift to the discharge lounge was. After initially thinking I was making some kind of joke about airport departure lounges (no, I have absolutely no idea either) we overcame that particular barrier, only to find out that she hadn’t a clue.  But she did kindly volunteer to skip along the left hand corridor and check it out for me. She returned, like the spies that went into Canaan, with good news. It appeared that this corridor joined another corridor, and that the other corridor contained a lift to the discharge lounge.

Thanking her, I set off with renewed vigour. When I reached the end of that corridor, I found that what she had omitted to tell me was that the lift was at the very far end of another four mile corridor, running back parallel with the one I had initially travelled down.  Muttering under my breath, and wishing the security guards an early acquaintance with a disused lift-shaft, I set off up the final leg of what had proved to be a massive U turn, three sides of a square, and trundled into the lift. It was a positive relief to be scooped up once again and delivered home by the ambulance service, where I found Debbie sitting in the driveway in the camper van, fuming because she’d got back from teaching without her house keys and been unable to get in.

We have both known that this appointment was scheduled for months in advance, and in any case, any normal person keeps all of their keys on one fob. Then, if you’ve got your keys, you’ve got all your keys. Despite this, and despite the fact that she’d made good use of the time by cooking herself some couscous on the camper stove, eating it, and then falling asleep, somehow all this was still my fault. I would like to have the jury take into consideration the additional crime of being male in a public place.

Friday saw me madly trying to catch up with all the stuff I’d neglected on Thursday, while keeping half an eye on the D-Day “Celebrations”.  The week’s news hadn’t really impinged on me in any meaningful way, to be honest, though I did note two stories that made me smile. A man wearing a gorilla suit was shot by a vet in Tenerife at the zoo, with a tranquilising dart, because a panicky member of the public had reported an ape on the loose. He was actually a staff member, and had been wearing the suit as part of an exercise to simulate how they would tackle the escape of a real gorilla, if it ever happened. I’d say they came out of it with flying colours, and fortunately, despite being hit with enough tranquiliser to stop a 200KG beast, the zoo employee survived. Plus, on the bright side, it did give me the chance to reprise the old joke about “Was he wild? I’ll say, be was absolutely livid!” on Facebook.

Then there was the guinea-pig, now inevitably renamed Randy, who escaped from his enclosure at a wildlife park in Warwickshire and, during his short period of relative freedom, managed to mate with 100 female guinea-pigs and make them all pregnant.  Way to go, Randy. I gather the wildlife park has subsequently had several enquiries from Peruvian catering establishments.  Other than that, it’s been a pretty sombre week, sadly, with not only D-Day but also the Newark by-election.  I don’t think anyone comes out of that particular imbroglio well. Even with many traditional non-Tory voters casting their ballots tactically to deny UKIP, even with the Tories throwing everything including the Butler’s Belfast sink at it, no doubt to the continuing interest of the Electoral Commission, their majority was still severely curtailed. UKIP came second, which should be sounding big alarm bells for Labour, except that someone seems to have shot Ed Miliband with a tranquilising dart, and the Lib Dems trailed in sixth, just above the monster raving loonies, the electorate having subjected them to pretty much the same experience as that meted out by Randy the guinea-pig to his colleagues, but without the promise of a subsequent happy event to mitigate the shock.

So we came to D-Day, and the inevitable feast of compulsory patriotism mixed with religion used for the purposes glorifying war which we seem to get served up by the BBC and others at all these types of events. As usual, the message is that if you don’t support our troops and respect the memory of the D Day veterans you’re some kind of commie Muslim fellow traveller, or worse. See also under the absolutely disgraceful and unauthorised use of Lee Rigby’s name on the ballot paper by far-right groups in the election.   Plus, I have to say, that some of the media were extremely patronising in their interviews with the men who took part, many of whom are now elderly and frail.

That doesn't mean I'm not grateful for the efforts, the bravery and the sacrifice of the generation that stopped Hitler, including my dad. It means I am sadder than ever to see the brave new world that came about as a result of the 1945 election is being dismantled around our ears as we speak.  God knows it's bad enough that people died so we could have decent housing, healthcare and education in the first place, without seeing their sacrifice trampled in the mud and the rise of fascism again across Europe. Have we learned NOTHING in the last 70 years?

Pause to consider the irony. In the week where we were supposedly giving thanks for the sacrifice of the fallen on D-Day in the struggle to stop Fascism, it was announced by the Junta that we were looking at the prospect of the first ever secret trial.  We only found out about the existence of the trial itself because the media managed to overturn, partially, a reporting ban, but even so, all we know now is that there are two defendants, known only as AB and CD, who have allegedly been engaging in some malarkey prejudicial to national security which is so drastic as to warrant ditching Magna Carta and 800 years of Common Law Jurisprudence and trying them in secret, a secrecy so complete that we, the people, will not even be told the outcome or the sentence.

We’ve already had the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which criminalises any behaviour “likely to cause nuisance and offence”; we’ve already had the Justice and Security Bill, where, under the legislation, the government would be able to cover up its own crimes by introducing “closed ministerial procedures”, in effect excluding the public and the media from proceedings where the Government is a defendant and “national security” is said to be at stake.  These are all very dangerous precedents.  While no one would argue that there are circumstances where a degree of anonymity is advisable in court, both in “security” cases and others – rape proceedings for instance – nevertheless, this precedent would allow any unscrupulous government to cook up any poodlefaking nonsense about national security and try anybody for anything without due process or scrutiny. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust the present government to run a bath, and I doubt, given what we know about the run up to the Iraq invasion, that Labour would be any better – but just imagine what a UKIP government could do with such carte blanche.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Lawrence McNamara, Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, on the same subject:

This request for secrecy is a landmark in the trend to institutionalise and normalise secrecy.  It will inevitably damage public trust in our justice system and our governments.  It is difficult to see that damaging that trust will foster national or international security. A cloak of secrecy in criminal trials will not result in ‘secret justice’.  It will result in secrecy at the expense of justice.

Despite the fact that we’re busily inventing the justice system so beloved of the Gestapo, this hasn’t stopped politicians of every political hue from trying to hijack the D-Day anniversary for their own ends.  It is mainly the far-right, of course, with groups such as Britain First flooding social media with “share if you think this is a disgrace” type posts, usually involving dubious and warped statements where usually Muslims in some way shape or form are the fall guys.  Or immigrants. (They regard the two as synonymous anyway).  Jade Wright, writing in the Liverpool Daily Echo, of all places, nailed this rather comprehensively for me:

I’m pretty sure that my friends wouldn’t knowingly post links from a far right group’s site. But when the photo shows a brave D Day veteran with the words “We will remember them”, people share it without looking where it came from. It must have escaped Britain First that those brave D Day soldiers were putting their lives on the line fighting a war against fascism. My grandma and granddad both served in the war, in the WAAF and RAF. They would both be horrified to see important anniversaries highjacked [sic]  by any political party. Patriotism and racism are two very different things. I am  hugely proud to be British. But the country I’m proud of is a vibrant, multicultural one with people of all different faiths living together peacefully. It’s a country that helps the sick and educates every child for free, where all adults have the vote and we have progressive laws in place to protect the most vulnerable.

The more mainstream political parties are not above appropriating the imagery of the Second World War for their own purposes, either. As political blogger “Beastrabban” has pointed out

The Tories too, have had absolutely no qualms about using images from WW2 in their election propaganda. I can remember their 1987 election broadcast being awash with images of dog-fighting Spitfires, ending with an excited voice exclaiming ‘It’s great to be great again’. All while Thatcher was doing her level best to destroy real wages and smash Britain as a manufacturing nation in the interests of the financial sector. The satirist Alan Coren drily remarked that the broadcast showed that the War was won by ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’, and stated that it was highly ironic that in reality all the servicemen went off and voted Labour.

There was also the issue of the BNP “Spitfire” election  leaflet, of course, that turned out to be bearing the squadron identification letters of one of the Polish squadrons in the Battle of Britain.  Labour’s Second World War mythos is tied up with the 1945 election and the foundation of the Welfare State, so I can imagine that, given their current policy of being the Tories, they probably want to keep quiet about all that welfare and social justice stuff.

Personally,  the D-Day recollections that I found to ring truest of all for me were those which the late Keith Marsden used in his song St Aubin Sur Mer.  St Aubin Sur Mer was one of the coastal villages just behind the British beaches on D-Day, and the scene of bitter fighting. Marsden, a much-neglected songwriting talent and sadly no longer with us, wrote the song after talking with D-Day veterans. In fact he seems to have had a bit of a “thing” about D-Day in general, because he also wrote Normandy Orchards, a sad, elegiac lament about the waste of life and unrequited love brought about by war

They say you can still hear the village-hall band,
grey, ghostly couples still glide round the floor,
But Normandy orchards were waiting to welcome
new partners for death in the mad dance of war…

Normandy Orchards has been recorded by Tom Lewis, on his album Mixed Cargo, but I looked in vain for any online rendition of St Aubin Sur Mer.  Marsden doesn’t pull any punches, though, when it comes to the way politicians seek to appropriate the past for their own ends, and remember, this was written before Blair and Bush railroaded us into Iraq, in fact Marsden had been dead 12 years when that happened:

We had patriotic heroes. We had make-believe old sweats,
But none had come with nineteen-fourteen innocence for fun.
If we paid the bill again for them, this time they'd not forget,
And there'd be a golden future when the present job was done.
But heroes, sweat or dreamer, the Old Reaper didn't care,
As the Germans swung their scythe through us at St Aubin Sur Mer,
As the Germans swung their scythe through us at St Aubin Sur Mer.

And now I see the glories of the brave new world we've made,
From the slaughter and the sacrifice, the maiming and the pain,
And I see the lying leaders as they posture and parade,
And trample on the dead men's dreams and ride to war again,
So don't tell me I was lucky I came back from over there.
The lucky ones died with their dreams in St Aubin Sur Mer.
The lucky ones died with their dreams in St Aubin Sur Mer.

I’m afraid that the “lying leaders” were very much in evidence on Friday, posturing and parading. I repeat, this is in no way intended to reflect badly on, or deny, the heroism and sacrifice which happened on all sides on 6 June 1944, and in the bitter campaign that followed as the Allies clawed their way across the Bocage country of Normandy. What I am opposed to, however, bitterly, is the appropriation of those acts of courage, heroism and sacrifice being appropriated for purposes for which they were never committed – often for purposes diametrically opposed to the reasons why they were committed.

I noted, for instance, this week, that inch-high metal studs have been installed outside a luxury block of flats to deter homeless people from sleeping in the doorway. They were added to the floor of an alcove by the main entrance to the flats in Southwark Bridge Road, South London, and were publicised on Twitter by an outraged priest, Rev. Sally Hitchiner. And well done her.  Did people fight and die on the beaches of Normandy so we could have a society where people (some of them ex-service personnel) have to doss down in doorways and under bridges anyway, let alone one where the rich and powerful treat these people as an infestation to be deterred, as if they were rats or pigeons?

Did they die on Sword, Gold, Juno and Omaha beaches so we could have a society that inflicts brutality and prejudice on the ill and the unemployed, particularly those with long-term conditions or disabilities?  Did they fall and die for the Bedroom Tax and ATOS assessments?  Did they mix their blood with the Normandy surf so the NHS could be dismantled without any mandate, and the 1930s diseases of rickets and TB be ushered back in?  Did people give their lives to build a country where a mother and her two small daughters could be wrenched from their home, banged up in a detention centre and then deported without due process and while an appeal was still being heard, back to a country where the least of their fears is going to be kidnap and/or female genital mutilation, as happened this week in the case of Afusat Saliu and her daughters?

I remember once having an argument – or at least a discussion – with my Dad, when he was still alive, about one of Bob Dylan’s protest songs – from memory, Masters of War.  My dad made the point, and it’s a valid one, that had the US army not done what it did in 1944, then Bob Dylan, and many others, at best would have been singing in German and at worst would have vanished from trace as many other people called “Zimmerman” probably did in 1941-45.  This is a valid point. But the US army of the Vietnam era was not engaged in an anti-Fascist crusade, Dylan’s song in any case is about the people who manufacture the weapons of war for all sides in every conflict, and, in any case, part of the freedom that people fought for in the struggle against Hitler is the very freedom to stand up and say when they think something is wrong or unjust. So I am standing up now and saying that the appropriation of D-Day by politicians of any hue to further their aims, especially the foaming-at-the-mouth “patriots” who say “hit like if you think we should take Britain back” are not doing this in my name. Not in my name.

Anyway, D-Day + 70 years came and went, and with it Saturday, which was a complete washout, and somehow we have arrived at the Feast of St Clodulf of Metz.

St Clodulf, in common with others of his era, had a name which is often spelled in a variety of ways – Chloduf, Clodulphe, Clodould, to name but three, but is more commonly known as St Cloud. He lived from 605AD to 696 or 697AD, and was Bishop of Metz, in Northern France, from approximately 657AD to 697 when he died. His job appears to have run in the family, because he was apparently the son of Arnhulf, who was also the Bishop of Metz. Just to confuse matters further, before his ordination he had married a woman whose name is not recorded, and who bore him a son, called Aunulf, just to confuse things further. When he became bishop, his wife took the veil and entered a nunnery.

In 657, after he became Bishop of Metz, he began a process of re-decorating the Cathedral of St Stephen in that city. But perhaps, for the cat lovers amongst us, his greatest attribute is that he was the brother-in-law of St Gertrude of Nivelles, the patron saint of cats. For this reason, although when he died he was buried in the church of St Arnulf in Metz, he was also venerated in Nivelles as “St Clou”. Having said that, some scholars believe that the supposed connection between Arnhuf of Metz and St Gertrude of Nivelles was at best a distortion of, and at worst a fabrication of, documents written long after the event.

Once again, at such a great distance in time, we have to take the supposed holiness of St Cloud on trust.  The best you can say is that, coming from a noble Frankish family, he could have shone in the king’s court, on the battlefield, or in many other areas open to the nobility of the time, but instead, he turned his back on all worldly matters and entered the clerical profession.

Something which, on occasions, can seem very tempting. I doubt the clerical profession would have me, however, and what I know about theology could be written on the back of a fag packet and still leave room for most of the Koran. A better option might be to follow Debbie’s leaning, and go and live in a yurt in the woods, with or without Ray Mears, but sadly, my present state precludes even that.

So, once more, another Sunday teatime finds me pretty much where I was last Sunday; waiting for Deb and the dogs to come back from Spring Wood, waiting for Matilda to come in off the decking and want feeding, waiting to see what my blood tests show about why I am tired all the time, waiting until the relentless hubbub starts up again tomorrow and I resume the unequal struggle against the apathy and inefficiency of both the book trade and people who I once counted as colleagues, in an attempt to drag myself out of the mire of debt: waiting, waiting, waiting, while life passes me by, and it’s only two weeks to Midsummer.  I can’t remember the exact quotation, but John Lennon once said that life is what happens to you while you’re waiting for something to happen. I groped feebly towards it in Zen and the Art of Nurdling, when I was talking about fielding:

Fielding is often seen by cricketers as something you do while waiting for it to be “your turn” to bat or to bowl.  Yet, for most of the players, fielding is what they do for most of the game, in fact the fielding is the game, in the same way as one day, some people find that, as John Lennon once said,  life is what happened to them while they were waiting for something to happen.  So, when you are fielding, especially in the deep, you should maintain the mental fiction that every ball is going to end up coming your way.  It won’t, of course, because fielding in the deep is like very much else in life, Lowis.  It consists of long periods of routine, even tedium, interspersed with seconds of crisis, major importance, or sometimes, blind panic.

Tomorrow is Dorothy’s funeral, up in Inverness. Yes, it can finally be told, I am indeed a “friend of Dorothy” and I don’t even like scatter cushions or interior design; I’m not that good with pot plants, either. Anyway, joking aside, the thought of Dorothy’s life, cut short at the same age as I am now, 59, and, in a different but related way, the thought of all those young lives cut short of D-Day, all that wasted potential, once more stirs a feeling in me that I ought to stop maundering about like a dingo with the mange and start to do something more with the time I have got left, however long, however little. Maybe I ought to be praying to Big G that I find the courage to take the pruning-shears to my own life, and lop off some dead wood. But that, of course, would imply a degree of change, and one thing I am definitely certain on is that I don’t like change. At least, I don’t like change that I am not in charge of, especially when it affects me. The trouble with that attitude, though, is that change still happens whether you like it or not. The graveyards are full of people who once thought themselves indispensible. My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Or, as the Zen masters put it:

A flower falls whether we love it or not, and weeds grow whether we love them or not, and the peach blossom smells gorgeous, even when we are not around to smell it.

Even though it’s only a fortnight to Midsummer, I hope that there will still be peach blossom to enjoy a while yet, which implies a “me” for a while yet to enjoy it. And a “you”, too, if you want it. I’ll let you enjoy my peach blossom, if I can enjoy yours.

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