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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Vitus

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. Sadly, the promise of a scorching summer lasting three months remains, at the moment, any weatherman’s tantalising dream.  You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, as Robert Zimmerframe once smartly remarked.  In the meantime, we have dull warm days with showers, and occasional thunder.

The latter caused a particular problem, unfortunately, one which I must confess I hadn’t actually foreseen, and which almost had unfortunate consequences.  I was working away as usual and I had the conservatory door open because I could see that it was going to absolutely bang it down with rain at any moment, and when it started, I anticipated Matilda, who was outside on the decking, scuttling to safety, following which I would then shut the door and let it snow let it snow let it snow. 

So far so good.  The air was hot, heavy and sultry, and a huge clap of thunder reverberated almost directly overhead, causing the very atmosphere to vibrate, tintinnabulating like a bell.  I was vaguely aware of a black and white form emerging from behind the settee and streaking across the kitchen, and just caught sight of the white bob on the end of Misty’s tail as she vanished through the open door.  Oh shit, another lost dog situation.

I shouted to Deb that the dog had bolted, and she came through and, pausing briefly to berate me for being an idiot and leaving the door open in  the first place, went out into the garden looking for Misty. No sign. Meanwhile, the initial clap of thunder had been the signal for the deluge to start, and it was sheeting down like a car wash. Bang! another thunderclap. Matilda was also missing in action, and I could only hope she’d managed to hunker down under the decking somewhere until the storm passed over.  Deb came back in, hurrying through to the front of the house, without explanation, and disappeared into the waterfall that was rapidly covering the driveway. A few seconds later, she was back, dragging Misty by the collar. Thankfully, she’d glimpsed Misty charging wildly around between John’s apple trees, and had anticipated that she’d make a break for the front garden.  She was jumping up frantically, trying to get in the locked door of the camper when Debbie caught her.  I shuddered to think of her running madly, blindly, out into the road, especially as any motorist’s stopping distance and vision would have been seriously affected by the monsoon.

As quickly as it had come, the storm passed, and Misty, very subdued, curled up in a ball with her nose in her tail for about an hour, just inside the kitchen door, where she obviously felt safest.  The bad news is that this means that, despite the fact that we’ve had her for almost a year now, her fear of sudden loud bangs and noises is still as acute as ever, and I must admit I had been lulled into one of those famous false senses of security, and we are going to have to take appropriate precautions.  Whatever it was in her formative years that happened to scare her, it must have been very traumatic to have that sort of lasting effect. I had speculated to Deb that, given Misty’s area of origin, maybe she had strayed onto one of the military practice ranges in Northumberland.

Matilda, meanwhile, did eventually return, rather bedraggled but none the worse for wear, and I dried her off with a piece of kitchen roll in the time-honoured manner.  Other than that escapade, she has had rather an uneventful week, even for her, although she did almost catch a squirrel on Friday.  I had previously put out some stale bread buns for the birds, and – probably because it was partially hidden by the double jamb of the conservatory doors – I failed to notice the squirrel sitting just outside on the deck with a huge piece of a bread bap in its mouth. Matilda slipped out of the open door, and for a second they were face to face, each mutually astonished. Then the squirrel very wisely dropped the bread and legged it up the tree, with Matilda in pursuit, but by the time she’s lumbered to the top of the steps leading down into the garden, Mr Nutkin was already several forests away.

Wild goose chases – or wild squirrel chases, come to that - have been the order of the week.  I waited in vain for a delivery of jiffy bags on Tuesday (I know, it’s just one white knuckle ride of excitement here) because I needed them to be a specific size to send out the review copies of Blood in The Air, only to be told that Viking couldn’t be bothered to deliver to us that day, so I ended up having to bodge something.  Then, on Saturday, I got up at 7AM because Debbie’s upgraded phone was due to be delivered from that time onward. Needless to say, it didn’t arrive until 11:59.  By 4pm, we had finally managed to work out how to get the back off without using a tin opener, and, once the battery was inserted, it did actually work, about as well as any other touch-screen phone, ie not very well at all. Still, considering the elderly Samsung of mine she’s been using since her beloved Motorola died had itself started to display the symptoms of phone Alzheimer’s, some sort of change was inevitable. I was sad for the old Samsung. It never really dried out, after being immersed in the water that collected in Debbie’s anorak pocket as she climbed High Raise.

During the week, the camper van went up to the garage for its usual checkup before we contemplate leaving for Scotland in about three or four weeks’ time.  Unfortunately, owing to the fact that Kirklees Council has only bothered to repair the potholes on the actual route of the Tour de France, leaving the rest of the borough to degenerate into a moonscape shambles, we seem to have acquired a cracked engine mounting. Ouch. On the one hand, good job I have been trying to hoard money since this time last year, on the other hand, though, whoops there goes another rubber tree dam.  To continue the theme of things blowing up/breaking down, this week the thing on the end of the hoover’s flexible hose finally broke off, and it seems a new one is £43.70 (how?) and there is a crack in the glass in the front of the stove. I can’t remember offhand how much a new glass is, but it’s expensive.

Surprisingly, none of this happened on Friday 13th, but with this sort of shit screaming in at you from all directions, who needs Friday 13th anyway.  Talking of ordure, this week we also received our free copy of The Sun, which is being delivered to all households in the UK by Rupert Murdoch’s myrmidons, in a desperate attempt to boost sales. All households except those in Liverpool and Sheffield, where they still haven’t forgiven him for Hillsborough, and presumably omitting also any households where the many victims of his unscrupulous phone-tapping hack editors live. No? You surprise me.  If there was ever any doubt that this was a concerted effort, surfing a wave of crude “patriotism” based on our presence at yet another unsuccessful world cup bid, backed by politicians, we have only to look at the carefully-staged photos of the leaders of both major political parties and the Liberal Democrats, holding up their copies of the rag, with gleeful approval. I have to say that I hadn’t realised until now quite how dumb Ed Miliband was, but his decision to take part in this charade is yet another reason why he will never be Prime Minister.  For some reason, I seem to have got onto One Nation Labour’s email list, and this week I had an email from Baroness Doreen Lawrence inviting me to donate £3.00 to be entered into a prize draw for the chance to meet her, and Ed Miliband, at a “gala dinner” at the House of Lords. I was very tempted to reply asking how much it was for the chance of NOT meeting Ed Miliband, but since no one reads my replies anyway (if they did, they would have taken me off the list long ago) I decided to save my breath to cool my porridge.

Coming, as it did, hard on the heels of being told by the Government what British values (such as stopping off for a curry on the way home from the pub) consisted of, and why I was unpatriotic unless I shared them, The Sun was sort of the last straw, and I flipped, and posted this on Facebook:

Well. My "special" free edition of The Sun arrived in the post at lunchtime, and I have to say, it is the most deeply unpleasant, jingoistic, bigoted, xenophobic piece of crap that has ever crossed my doorstep.

If I could, I would find the #### responsible, and nail it to their head. Don't get me wrong, I love my country as much as the next man. I've devoted 25 years of my life to reprinting old guidebooks about its history. But I am sick to the back teeth of having "patriotism" defined for me. You can't be patriotic unless you "support our boys", apparently. Not quite sure which steaming pile of recycled spag bol we're referring to here, whether it's the mess in Iraq, the pointless waste of lives in Afghanistan, or the forthcoming debacle in Brazil. You can't be patriotic, apparently, unless you're clutching a pint of lager, you're draped in a St George Flag, and you're chanting "Ingerlund".

You can't be patriotic unless you drive a white van, like Britain first, and hate Muslims. I won't ask what happened to the "British values" of compassion, fair play, tolerance, gentle humour and looking out for each other, especially those worse off than yourself. No, we're a "Christian" country, apparently. Only if being Christian is to pass by on the other side, to ignore the people trying to sleep on the spikes.

The Sun can ### right off along with its Australian expat tax dodging owner. I don't take lectures on patriotism from steaming #####  in the gutter press. And as for the government, and its "British values", seeking to distract us from its war on the old and the ill by bogus patriotism, this is not a zombie government, undead but still walking. It is a dead government. Government for the dead, by the dead. Dead, deceased, moribund. Deader than Monty Python’s parrot. Deader than tank tops and sideways-ironed flares.

Let us then recognise it for what it is, and lay its sorry tale to rest in unrecorded, unremarked, unconsecrated earth. Cover its stinking carrion carcass with rubbish so that we no longer have to look upon it, let its bones disarticulate and crumble until nothing remains, let the earth lie heavy on it, and may God have no mercy whatsoever on its soul.

I had 59 “likes” and one person who accused me of being anti-English. Go figure. The hashtags above are for redacted bad cuss-words that were in the original. I ended up quoting from my own blog in my own defence.

When you see the Church lining up in serried ranks of Bishops and Archbishops behind the sceptres, thrones and powers of the Establishment at a time when poor people are suffering and being hardest hit, it does lead you to wonder why we allow an 80 year old woman in a tin hat encrusted with priceless jewels sit on a throne at the State opening of Parliament and make speeches about the need for austerity!

And yet, and yet… as Churchill once said of democracy, it’s the worst possible system, until you look at all of the others! So it is for me, with the Monarchy. I tend to dissociate the institution from its inhabitants. As an institution, the Monarchy acts as a constitutional bulwark against the ambitions of arriviste politicians, which makes Elizabeth II worth her weight in gold just for that, alone. And if I had to celebrate anything, I would celebrate the fact that Elizabeth II has managed to thwart the designs on power of all would-be presidents for the last 60 years!

In the same way that Orson Welles in The Third Man sneered that 500 years of civilization in Switzerland had produced the cuckoo clock, you could say that 150 years of democracy in this country since the Great Reform Bill has produced Jeremy Hunt. If you are looking for someone who is totally out of touch with the fears and concerns of ordinary people, it’s the professional political class, exemplified by both major parties (and the Liberal Democrats) not the Royals, that should occupy your gaze. Maybe we should go back to direct rule by the Monarch, and put Mr Hunt and his cronies in the Tower (except they might scare away the ravens; they certainly scare me!)

So I’ll be raising my glass of “Old Cloudy” and trying not to get too many raindrops in it, this weekend, to 60 years of Ruritanian muddle and fudge. To a constitution that allows for men in tights and tabards, called things like “Maltravers Herald Extraordinary” and “Rouge Dragon”, whose chief claim to fame is the ability to walk backwards up a red carpet while carrying a crown on a velvet cushion. I’ll be drinking to all the little villages like Swan-Upping on Thames, with their village halls, their bunting and their church and pub and cricket on the green. Yes, and spinsters cycling to Matins, if it comes to that. I’ll be drinking to the steam trains and morris men and cathedral choirs and people in waders rescuing mating swans, I’ll be drinking to the fishermen of England, a-working at their nets and wondering how much Royal Mail will charge to post a sturgeon from Cromer to London. I’ll be drinking to the ancient statutes that allow the Freemen and Burgesses of the borough to graze their cattle on the Westwood, or even Vivienne Westwood. Or, if wet, in the Village Hall. Can I borrow your lawn-mower, old chap?

And I’ll be drinking to the people of England – fair, tolerant, dreamers and poets to a man and woman, and with an eye for the underdog. The ones who go out of their way to hold raffles for lifeboats, homeless dogs and feral cats. They are where the true power of England lies, or should I say WE are where the true power of England lies, this curiously shaped little Island with its leg sticking out into the wild Atlantic.

I could go on at great length about Englishness. I frequently do. But, you will be relieved to hear, my ire has passed somewhat, or at least been replaced with other, hotter, more recent ires. Many ires in the fire, in fact. Not least of which was at the furore which blew up about the spikes in the doorway of the block of flats in London, deliberately placed there by the owners to deter rough sleeping. I wrote about these last week, and it seems it was but the start of a whole ball of confusion and recrimination on all sides. Predictably, Katie Hopkins, a failed reality TV show contestant who has since relied on her controversial mouth to attempt to prolong her waning “fame”, came out on the side of the landlords, describing the homeless as “vermin”.
Hopkins has her own desperate reasons to try and put off the day when she has to acknowledge her own failure and get a proper job, but even by her standards of muttonheaded unquestioning compassionless bigotry, this set the bar at a new low. I don’t know if she is familiar with the following quotation from Aneurin Bevan, in his Labour conference speech of 4th July 1948:

“… no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now. Do not listen to the seductions of Lord Woolton. He is a very good salesman. If you are selling shoddy stuff you have to be a good salesman. But I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were.”

I’ve seen vermin, and I’ve seen Katie Hopkins, and I know which I prefer. Boris Johnson, nominally at least the Mayor of London, waded in with his own suggestion that the spikes be removed. Because obviously, the solution to homelessness is more comfortable doorways!  Never mind the disease, let’s just keep on treating the symptoms, folks!  A philosophy that was also manifested this week in the Junta complaining about Oxfam’s latest poster campaign, which seeks to point out that the inevitable result of a coming together of “austerity” and welfare cuts is going to be child poverty and deprivation, right here in the UK.  The Blight Brigade complained that Oxfam had strayed beyond its core “charitable purposes” and into the field of political campaigning.  

The problem with the "charitable purposes" argument, it seems to me, is that in effect it amounts to charities being told to shut up and treat the symptoms, rather than tackling the root cause of the disease. I have no particular brief for Oxfam, or any large charity for that matter, but I don't see how you can passionately and assiduously work to alleviate poverty and specifically child deprivation, yet at the same time ignore the causes of those very problems in our own country: an unelected Junta waging class war. In effect, the "charitable purposes" argument is saying to charities, it's OK to rattle a tin on the street corner, but don't you dare try and change anything fundamental! Still, however bad things are at home, we can always look to the Middle East, and the shining success engendered by our timely intervention in Iraq in 2002, as that country progresses ever onwards and upwards to hitherto-unknown levels of stability and prosperity…er…oh.

So, after a weary week, we came to Sunday, and the feast of St Vitus. Oddly enough, during the week, while looking for some virtually unobtainable Peter Bellamy tracks online, I came across his setting of Kipling’s poem A Pilgrim’s Way, with its lines:

I do not look for holy saints to guide me on my way,
Or male and female devilkins to lead my feet astray.
If these are added, I rejoice—if not, I shall not mind,
So long as I have leave and choice to meet my fellow-kind.
For as we come and as we go (and deadly-soon go we!)
The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!
Thus I will honour pious men whose virtue shines so bright
(Though none are more amazed than I when I by chance do right),
And I will pity foolish men for woe their sins have bred
(Though ninety-nine per cent. of mine I brought on my own head).
And, Amorite or Eremite, or General Averagee,
The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And when they bore me overmuch, I will not shake mine ears,
Recalling many thousand such whom I have bored to tears.
And when they labour to impress, I will not doubt nor scoff;
Since I myself have done no less and—sometimes pulled it off.
Yea, as we are and we are not, and we pretend to be,
The people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me!

And maybe that is where I have been going wrong. Saints started out just like you and me, it’s simply that something happened to them to make them more remembered than the many thousands of unsung saints who lie forgotten in unmarked, unremembered tombs. Or maybe sainthood, whatever it consists of, is potentially latent in all of us, and we just have to find ways of bringing it to the surface.

St Vitus, at any rate, according to unverifiable legends, was the only son of a Roman senator in Sicily, and became a Christian when he was twelve. Unfortunately, his various miracles and conversions brought him to the attention of the Roman Administrator, Valerian, who tried unsuccessfully to shake St Vitus’s faith during an interview.  Although Valerian was unsuccessful, Vitus, his tutor Modestus, and their servant Crescentia decided it was prudent to flee anyway, first to Lucania, and then on to Rome, where Vitus, a glutton for punishment it would seem, freed the son of Emperor Diocletian from possession by an evil spirit. Diocletian was understandably chuffed by this, and invited Vitus to make a sacrifice to the Gods in thanks. Vitus refused and tried to explain about his beliefs, which led to Diocletian immediately accusing him of sorcery!

Despite being tortured, all three of them emerged unscathed from the ordeal and were freed when the Temples were destroyed in a mighty storm, an angel leading them back to Lucania, where they eventually died. Three days after his death, Vitus appeared to a distinguished matron named Florentia, who then found the bodies and buried them in the spot where they were.   Whatever nuggets of truth or otherwise lie hidden in this obscure narrative, nevertheless there was a strong cult and tradition of veneration of Vitus, Modestus and Crescentia in Lucania (the Roman province of that name in southern Italy between the Tuscan Sea and the Gulf of Taranto).

An even greater devotion to St Vitus developed in Saxony when the saint’s relics were translated there in 836AD.  He became, inter alia, the patron saint of epileptics, those afflicted with St Vitus Dance, dancers in general, actors, entertainers, and as a protector against storms (where was he on Monday, I wonder) animal attacks, and oversleeping. In later years in Germany and Latvia, his feast day of 15th June was celebrated by people dancing in front of his statue, and the name of the practice was eventually adopted to apply to people suffering from Sydenham’s Chorea. 

Saint Vitus is one of the Fourteen Martyrs who are known as the “Fourteen Holy Helpers” who give aid in times of trouble.  He is often represented as a young man with a palm-leaf, in a cauldron, sometimes with a raven and a lion, because, according to the legend, during his tortures he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar and molten lead, but miraculously escaped unscathed. St Vitus’s Day is also the subject of a popular weather rhyme: "If St. Vitus' Day be rainy weather, it shall rain for thirty days together".
Michael J. Towsend writes, in his book The Way,

The kindly observer who commented that the phrase 'The patron saint of Methodism is St Vitus' "summed up with reasonable accuracy many people's impressions of the Methodist Church. Methodists, surely, are supremely busy people, always rushing around organizing things and setting up committees to do good works. They can generally be relied upon to play their part in running Christian Aid Week, the sponsored walk for the local hospice or the group protesting about homelessness, and they are known, even now, to be activists in trades unions and political parties.

If that’s the case, then we clearly need a massive influx of the spirit if St Vitus to sweep across the land, much in the same way as 18th-century Methodism swept across Heckmondwike and into the River Calder. Starting with the Labour Party.

Today is also Fathers’ Day, apparently. I’m not quite sure when this particular tradition started and I suspect it may be an import from America, and in any case I don’t feel I need a specific day to remember my Dad, because he is, in many ways, with me on a daily basis. My humour is his humour, and increasingly, my likes and dislikes are similar to what his became. He taught me the value of truth, and also the value of cynicism. And many other values besides. True British values, such as dry humour and the value of spending the occasional day at the seaside, or sitting on the slipway at Brough Haven, watching the coasters go by.  The value of having an enthusiasm (his was photography, mine is proving people wrong) and the value of regretting, and questioning the need for war.  He ended up in Germany at the end of it, and saw the devastation, and some of the camps, at first hand. “It’s a great life; work hard and play hard” he once said to me. And he was right, about that as about so many other things.

I’ll certainly need a good dose of his worldy-wise, dry humour to get me through next week, which is shaping up to be another doozie. Organising the Kindle edition of Blood in the Air, fighting with the garage over the bill, and starting to work on the many and multifarious tasks which need doing before I can trundle off in the direction of the Isle of Arran with a clear conscience. And maybe a dose of his faith as well. I have said this before, but the lines in To Be A Pilgrim about

Whoso beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound, his strength the more is

could have been written with him in mind. He was as unconvinced as I am about the whole paraphernalia attached to organised religion, but nevertheless he got up and got on and got out there and did it, whatever needed doing. He was no saint, but then which one of us is? Thy people oh thy people, are good enough for me.   So, let’s raise a glass to Dads, I suppose, and remember them, today and every day. And as for next week, well, there may be trouble ahead, but for once I am going to take my (sadly only metaphorical) cue from St Vitus.  Let’s face the music, and dance.

No comments:

Post a Comment