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

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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Dogfan

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. As I sit typing this, I am surrounded by piles of gear and kit, maps, guidebooks, and propped in the corner is a large piece of pallet-top, to which is pinned a piece of A3 paper, a list of everything that we still have to do before we can go away.

We’d both have hoped to have got away before now, but we always do this when we’re setting off on a trip. We massively underestimate the amount of preparation necessary to actually get the camper shipshape and on the road and massively over estimate our ability to do it in the time available. Given that we can’t afford the luxury of keeping the camper in full operational mode with all the food and gear on board while it’s just parked in the driveway (and it would be unwise anyway, unless we really wanted to encourage someone to put the side window through and help themselves) we have no option but to start from scratch each time.

Checklists help, of course, up to a point. But, unfortunately, just writing “don’t be tired” on a checklist doesn’t make it so, and we are both knackered. Debbie, understandably, after three terms of teaching, and me because the iron tablets at the moment seem to be going down without touching the sides or having any discernible effect.  So, another week has gone by, we are where we are, and where we are, is still here. We will get going, probably in the next three or four days, and funnily enough, I noticed in my notes from last year that we didn’t get off until 21st July 2013 and we still managed to get to Arran twice last summer, so there’s hope for us yet.

Matilda remains blissfully unaware of all this activity, largely because she has been spending a lot of time on her summer holidays, out on the decking, ignoring us.  She has actually been one of the chief causes of the delay, or at least concern over who is going to feed her has been.  For reasons I won’t even begin to bore you with,  the normal arrangements are potentially in question, and after the debacle over Kitty, I definitely don’t want to confine her to a cattery. Obviously there’s the (expensive) option of the Doggy Nanny, who will come in twice a day and feed her, at a price. What we really need is someone with no commitments and lots of time on their hands who could come and live in our house for three weeks. The position is paid, and still open to last minute applicants.

Misty, meanwhile, is getting into practice for the mountainous, hairy-arsed regions of the North, with five long walks on the trot, two of them over 11 miles each. As I speak, she is curled up on her cushion, asleep, which is not surprising, really.

I’ve been ignoring the outside world, but it’s been impossible not to be aware of the conflict in Gaza. My sympathies, such as they are, lie with the ordinary people on both sides who are the victims of extremism.  Hamas are a bunch of hotheaded idiots. Whatever their grievances, they are not going to be resolved by firing rockets made out of old zinc dustbins and Citroen 2CVs into Israel. The last time I checked, more people died per year in Israel from road accidents than from Hamas rockets, but it’s not about numbers. Every dead person is 100% dead, and Hamas know that Israel will retaliate with massive, disproportionate, and deadly force.  They always do. It’s like prodding a scorpion with a stick and expecting it only to tickle you in return. Israel will carry out the usual indiscriminate collective punishments because they can. Nobody’s going to stop them, least of all the USA.

So the leadership on both sides is incapable of realising that two wrongs don’t make a right, and every time it flares up, innocent people die and the cycle of vendetta and revenge gets ratcheted up another few notches.

Meanwhile, here at home, the massive public sector workers’ strike on Thursday went largely under-reported by the BBC, and what reporting there was, was simplistic and biased.  The Junta’s line that the strike would hurt “hard working families” was parroted without question. Has it not occurred to the BBC that public sector workers are also “hard working families”. They trotted out the usual collection of yummy mummies complaining that for an extra day out the year they’d had to take responsibility for their offspring instead of bundling them out of the door of the 4x4 at the school gates. The climax was an engineered “confrontation” between a public sector worker on strike and the owner of a local shop, who was representing the private sector. Oh how I longed for her to say “If I don’t get a living wage, you will have no customers, no shop and no job.” But if she did, the Beeb edited it out.

We also had the first reports of the “legacy” of Le Tour de France. Leeds City Council is spending a further £29m on a cycle track.  This is the same Leeds City Council that underwrote the £11M fee for actually staging the race.  I must be missing something here, but I don’t see how this can be described as a legacy.  To my mind, if a self-funding bike race in Yorkshire built a facility that was afterwards made available to local people to use for free or at a reduced rate, that would be a legacy. To spend a further £29m on something that is already going to make a thumping loss, is throwing good money after bad.  And if you doubt my maths, pause to consider this: the race was watched by an estimated 2.5m people on its transit through Yorkshire. In order to gross the estimated, claimed extra £100m into the local economy, each of those people would have had to spend an extra £40.00 that they would not have spent anyway in Yorkshire that weekend, and even then, it wouldn’t have gone straight back into the coffers of the local authorities who shelled out for it, and who are going to have to recover it through the council tax in years to come.

As if the world wasn’t mad enough, tomorrow, which is Bastille Day, ironically enough, parliament will be asked to rubber-stamp a piece of the most fundamentally anti-libertarian legislation in recent years, which is saying something.

I was absolutely infuriated by the way the journalists were summoned to Number 10 to be TOLD this was happening - what happened to Parliament hearing about it first and debating it? Since when did Parliament become a rubber stamp for the behind the scenes stitch-ups of Cameron Clegg and Miliband?

(Actually, I can probably answer my own question there, the answer is ever since Labour gave up any pretence at being the opposition to the Blight Brigade)

We only have the word of untrustworthy politicians that there is an increased terrorist threat. Ever since Blair's ill-judged support for Bush's overseas adventurism in the wake of 9/11, we have had this cycle of making ourselves targets for every hothead East of the Euphrates with an AK47, then passing ever more anti-libertarian legislation off the back of that, to restrict the liberties of the rest of us in response to a threat which, if it does exist, we bloody created in the first place! Remember, as well, that this legislation can be used not only to keep tabs on the Slough branch of ISIS (membership 12, if you're lucky) but also at the end of the day on ANYONE the Blight Brigade Junta doesn't like.

I am aware of the argument about well, what happens if a terrorist atrocity happens that could have been prevented, and my answer is that the security services don't need mass fishing expeditions, they already know who they should be looking at and there's plenty of existing legislation to be used if necessary. One of the recent terrorist threats was foiled by the French – using existing powers – who stopped a plan to blow up the Eiffel Tower. I can’t imagine how Theresa May reading my emails is going to prevent ISIS from finding out where the Eiffel Tower is. If we have to turn all of England into an armed camp with 100% surveillance, 24/7,  just to nominally safeguard the freedoms our fathers fought for in 1940, there's a certain irony there. If this was France, the cobbles would be winging their way through the Junta’s windows, and there would be piles of burning tyres on the motorway.

And so, after a fraught, frustrating week, we came to today, the feast of St Dogfan, whose name appealed to me because obviously, I am a bit of a dog fan myself. This Dogfan, however, was a Welsh martyr, descended from the chieftain Brychan Brycheiniog, a Prince of Powys, of Brecknock. He was slain by pagan invaders in the fifth century.

St Dogfan’s name is associated with a plant called Mwyar Doewan, or “Dogfan’s Berries” which grows freely on the Berwyn mountains. According to an old tradition of the Berwyn Shepherds, the annual tribute to St Dogfan was a quart of Berwyn berries.  It became the custom to present this gift to the vicar of the parish on the morning of St Dogfan’s feast, and the first farmer to achieve this on the day was let off a year’s tithes!

The church of St Dogfan at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant in Powys is also famous because the incumbent, William Morgan, was the first person to translate the Bible into the vernacular Welsh in 1588. Morgan’s parishioners were apparently unimpressed by the amount of time he was spending on this translation, as opposed to his parochial duties, and Morgan found himself summoned before the Archbishop of Canterbury to explain himself.  He so impressed the Archbishop that he made Morgan his personal chaplain and made the requisite funds available to him to complete the translation!

St Dogfan is undoubtedly interesting, and his church, a grade II listed building, is full of unremarked gems. But his life holds few or no lessons for me, apart from don’t bandy words with pagans carrying sharp objects, which I already knew, to be honest.

I wish I could say I’m looking forward to next week. I am, actually, until I think of all the things that could go wrong. Debbie goes missing, Misty goes missing, Debbie and Misty go missing, I fall off my banana board, Matilda goes missing. I suppose there are no more certainties in life these days as there were when St Dogfan launched his ill-judged attempt at converting the pagans.

Right now, I find myself in the position of the Anglo-Saxon poet of the seafarer:

Grove bears blossom,
Burghs grow fair,
Fields show fruitful,
World seems new.
All spurs on                                       
The eager-minded
Spirit to sail,
In one who seeks
On flood-ways
His faring.
So cuckoo admonishes
With sorrowful voice,
Sings, summer’s guardian,
Boding sorrow
Bitter in breast-hoard.

Oh well. I’ll probably enjoy it when I get there.                                    

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