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

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Maria Goretti

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. A week spent doing the preparation which is necessary before we can start to prepare to go on holiday. It might seem strange, having escalating levels of preparation, a bit like the US military with its DEFCON statues, but nevertheless, it’s the only way to ensure that everything, and everyone, necessary for the holiday eventually gets packed into the camper van and on the road.  As an example, in order to find some of the gear we'll need, like storm lanterns and guy-ropes and tent pegs, Debbie has first had to remove and excavate three terms’ worth of accreted teaching materials, worksheets, lesson plans, ILPs (no, I have no idea, either) which she has done by the simple expedient of “filing” them in the stove.

It’s been the final week of term of course, a cause for at least muted celebration, although sighs of relief are probably more apposite.  Thursday was marked by the traditional end of term “conference”, bracketed by two trips to the pub. When teachers say they are just nipping down the pub, especially on the last day of term, it’s a bit like the captain of the Titanic saying they might have a slight problem with frosted icing.  So it was that Debbie’s term finally ended at about 10pm, in a mixture of cider and gin & tonic, though not in the same glass at the same time. 

This meant that any celebration planned for the actual day of Misty’s anniversary were, by definition, muted, although it could be argued that Debbie’s sojourn in the pub included an element of carousing in Misty’s honour.  Debbie made it up to her the following day, though, with a long walk up Castle Hill to blow the cobwebs away.

The weather’s remained hot and dull; in fact, hot and dull just about sums up the week in general. Matilda has been enjoying the warm weather, and staying out in the dusk much longer than she normally does, although all she does is sit on the decking and watch and listen for little things rustling down in the garden below. Such is her little life, interspersed with eating, of course, and sleeping on her Maisie-blanket on the settee next to the stove.  She’s taken to having conversations with me, first thing.  These aren’t yet on the level of the in-depth discussions I used to have with Kitty about whether she wanted her Felix later or “naow”, or when I asked her who it was who de-stabilised Chiang-Kai-Shek and began the Long March, and she replied “Mao”. Matilda’s vocal effusions are limited to a truncated sound that comes out like “map” or “mat”, so I have to frame my questions accordingly: what is that thing that Mummy can’t read, Matilda? What did the cat sit on, Matilda?

In amongst all the tedious shit which has beset me from all sides (the spare part for the vacuum cleaner doesn’t fit, for instance - there are two types of Dyson DC08, apparently, and ours is the TW model. Who knew?) I have actually achieved something this week. I finished a book, Hauntings, the latest collection of poems and stories. I managed this by the simple expedient of deciding arbitrarily to leave out and unfinished story and two old poems that I’ve lost the only copies of. Hey presto, suddenly a book. Less is more.  I’ve also made some progress with We’ll Take The String Road, which has been forced to languish while I worked on other things I’d promised to do for other people.  So, there’s corn in Egypt yet.

I’ve also caught up on masses of accounts, which hasn’t done much to improve my mood, or to dispel the thought that I am sitting here while the sun shines and the summer slips away, wasting what remains of my life adding up the lack of success of an enterprise based on the fact that no-one gives a stuff about books any more, good, bad, or indifferent. Nevertheless, as an act of faith, having finally crowbarred some stock out of the warehouse, yesterday I sat and packed four huge cartons of books with orders that had been pending in some cases since April. 

As an upper-body workout, I couldn’t have asked for better, but unfortunately the consequences for me turned out to be a set of aches that wouldn’t go away and couldn’t be dislodged by Paracetamol. I do have some codeine-based painkillers in my meds bag, left over from my last “do” with the gallstones, but I’m very reluctant to take any of these, as they tend to make me see pink monkeys dancing on the ceiling, which is OK if you like that sort of thing, but most of us left it behind in the 1960s. Eventually, by dint of making myself some Horlicks (the de facto insomnia drink of boring old farts the world over) and taking yet more Paracetamol, I did, eventually, drift off to sleep.

The outside world has, once again, had to take second place this week, although it’s been impossible to ignore the Bloody Tour De France with its road closures and threats to tow away vehicles that would potentially block the route of the drug-raddled velocopedists. The local tourist body made a bid for “Le Grand Depart” and it was accepted, probably to the surprise of several local authorities who have had to stump up eye-watering amounts of money just to stage the event, at a time of “austerity” when Sure Start centres are closing left, right, and, yes, centre.  The organisers have plucked a figure of £100m for the "benefits" of the event, out of thin air, and this has been accepted unquestioningly by the media, especially the BBC, which has been running nightly rolling cycling news features in place of the local news slot formerly occupied by Look North. 

The cost at the moment has been estimated at £37m, but the organisers have promised to publish a full financial assessment in December 2014, by which time all those responsible will have collected their OBEs and knighthoods and moved on, leaving the council tax payers of Yorkshire to pick up the tab, having realised that the Emperor was not, in fact, wearing new clothes at all.  Meanwhile, Madame Toussaud’s unveiled its new waxworks of Prince William and Kate Middleton, while the real thing was at Harewood House to cut the ribbon and officially launch the bike race.  Or was it vice versa?

Talking of appalling old waxworks, Leon Brittan has had a poor week as well. Amnesia may have worked for Ernest Saunders, but forgetting what was in a dossier about alleged paedophile rings operating at the core of the 1980s political establishment and featuring various alleged entertainers, and who he gave it to, and what happened hasn't cut it for Leon.  Since at least one of the people on the alleged list was allegedly a member of MI5, and Leon Brittan’s permanent secretary at the Home Office, to whom the file was handed, was Sir Brian Cubbon, who was allegedly also a member of MI5, someone less charitable than myself could be led to assume that it was no surprise that the police allegedly shredded it, along with the alleged dossier on Cyril Smith that MI5 allegedly disposed of.  I have often said that the only way in which someone like Jimmy Savile could have got away with abuse on such an industrial scale was that he was being protected by someone or a succession of someones, in a position of power.  Now that David Cameron has been forced, reluctantly no doubt, because he needs more bad news attaching to the Tories like he needs another hole in the head, to order a review of this episode, maybe the truth (or at least a version of it) will emerge and there might be some justice for the alleged victims, at least one of whom has (sadly not allegedly) committed suicide.

I'm not in favour of trial by "the court of public opinion" but if there have been crimes committed, and these have gone unpunished, then those responsible should be arrested, charged, and, if found guilty in a court of law by a jury of their peers, punished justly according to the law. If we don't have that, we might as well go back to the dark ages.

In fact, some times I think we are.  It is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and this involves fasting. Muslims in Cardiff have been working with local takeaways and curry-houses to provide meals for the homeless. In fairness to the BBC and the other media, it did get reported, sort of, but compared to the many features and mentions given to the misguided idiots from Cardiff who have joined what they see as a jihad in Syria, it was minuscule.  I don’t know why I am surprised. Good news stories featuring Muslims rarely make it into the mainstream media, which is usually preoccupied with the spittle-flecked ravings of the likes of Anjem Choudary.

As well as the non-feast of Ramadan, today is the feast of St Maria Goretti. We could also have had the splendidly named Anglo-Saxon princess, St Sexburga, but I just didn’t trust myself not to be smutty.

St Maria Goretti was born near Ancona in Italy on 16th October, 1890. After the family moved to a village near Anzio, her father died of malaria and her mother struggled to make ends meet and keep the family together. When Maria Goretti was only 12, in 1902, she was attacked by a neighbour called Alexander who attempted to rape her, and, when she resisted, repeatedly stabbed her.  As she lay in hospital dying of her wounds, Maria Goretti is said to have forgiven her attacker.

The murderer was captured, tried, and imprisoned. At first unrepentant, he apparently had a dream one night where Maria appeared to him in a garden and gave him flowers.  From that moment, he became a reformed man and repented killing Maria. On his release, he went directly to Maria’s mother and begged her to forgive him, and she is supposed to have said “If my daughter can forgive you, who am I to withhold it”. 

Bizarrely, when Maria Goretti was declared a saint in 1950, having been canonised by Pope Pius XII for her purity, as a model to youth, and most importantly for her forgiveness, which extended beyond the grave, Alexander, her murderer, was present in the crowd in the square of St Peter’s in Rome, to celebrate her elevation to the sainthood.  St Maria Goretti is now the patron saint of rape victims, which I suppose makes her quite an appropriate saint to bookend a week which has seen all sorts of manifestations of the sleazy underbelly of 1970s and 1980s public life in Britain exposed finally to some sort of scrutiny.

Forgiveness, which lies at the heart of the story of St Maria Goretti, is the hardest of all Christian lessons. My inability to forgive people is the chief reason why I am not a practising Christian. Although even when I was, I have to say that all that practice never did me any good when it came to the real thing.  Next week, on Wednesday July 9th, in fact, is Baggis day. The ninth anniversary of when Russell, the Baggis-Cat, died, back in 2005.  I often see that as a watershed moment. The point where my life started to unravel. We came back from Arran, he’s died, within a month, the bank had taken the overdraft away, and the rot set in, starved of cash, the business withered around me while I grieved for the loss of Russbags and got on with making him a mosaic for his little tomb in the garden. Seven years later, I had finally paid off Barclays, despite nearly dying myself in 2010, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven them. In fact, I still go out of my way to do them down, comment adversely on them, deter people from using them, warn them off, and I shall continue to do so until my dying day.  One of my chief aims in life these days, such as they are, is to inflict the maximum amount of damage on Barclays Bank, although lately they seem to be doing a good job of it on their own.  I will die cursing them with my last breath.

I have also never forgiven the death of Russell, either.  Like Kitty, who died in similar circumstances, he was an old cat, and maybe his time had come; but it doesn’t stop me being angry, and lashing out. This is not always productive of course, as the two people who are the most unforgiven by me for the death of Baggis are myself, and God almighty, the big palookah, the Swiss cheese himself, Big G in da house, on da throne. Beating myself up isn’t such a good idea these days, either – never was, really, especially as there is, and always has been, a crowd of willing volunteers happy to do it for me – and God is unlikely to pay attention to me thumping on the sky and telling him to keep it down.  He’s already sent his son round to sort me out. Allegedly.

So, it comes down to this. I am angry – furious, in fact, at the way my life has gone down hill, I am angry at all the losses I have had to suffer, and for the losses of my friends, both animal and human; I’m angry at the tedious shit that gets flung at me from all sides, and I’m angry at the manifest injustices of the world that go continually unpunished. Don’t expect any forgiveness from me.  I’m a bitter, wizened, angry old man in a wheelchair with lots of hate in his heart and lots of scores to settle before I go. The thing is, God, me old chum, I’ll start being pious and forgiving if you’ll see to it that, for a change, justice triumphs and the evil get punished.  Is that a deal? After all, isn’t there something about vengeance is mine, saith the Lord? I am getting fed up of the mind of God being unfathomable, I mean there’s being opaque and there’s being completely bloody obscure just for the sake of it.

And if you came here for comfort, all I have is anger today, I’m afraid, although some of it may actually be anger on your behalf, depending on who you are, reading this. I’m sorry these stones are still stones, and not transmogrified to loaves. I know what I should be doing is cooking up some mean soul food, then feeding my mean soul with it, once I’ve made sure there’s enough for everyone else, but I am old, and tired, and beaten in. The best I can offer you today is some words from Thomas Hardy, another one who knew a lot about loss, irony and suffering:

"I do not promise overmuch,
Child; overmuch;
Just neutral-tinted haps and such,"
You said to minds like mine.
Wise warning for your credit's sake!
Which I for one failed not to take,
And hence could stem such strain and ache
As each year might assign.

Apart from the bit about stemming the pains and aches, of course.  Still, well done, though, St Maria Goretti, you’re a better man than I am, dinner-gong. That’s why you’re a saint, and I am not. I take my hat off to you, or I would do if I was wearing one today. In the meantime, I am going to take myself off, instead, to the Isle of Arran, and check if the sun is basking on the rocks and the seals are shining.  At the moment, I’m not looking forward to going – or rather, I’m looking forward to going, just not to the barren miles of dreary tasks that need doing before I can actually go. Anyway, if there’s no Epiblog next week, it’s because Virgin have no dongles. As you would probably expect. 

Paradoxically, once I get there, I can start not looking forward to coming back, while praying for the continued safety of Matilda during our absence, so that, at least, should perk God up a bit, and who knows, maybe he’ll start talking to me again, and we might be able to patch up our differences, but I’m not holding my breath.

In common with Thoreau, I’ll be trying to find some solace in nature instead:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…

Thoreau lived before the days of the camper van, though, and in any case, I doubt I’ll find much marrow to suck. But perhaps there’s a vegetarian alternative. All relationships must be pursued to their end, says John Le CarrĂ©, for that is where the blue flower grows.  I don’t think I’ve found it yet, but there are at least some pleasant yellow flowers in amongst the marram grass and sand-dunes at the side of Kilbrannan Sound, if and when we ever get there, that might do me for a while.

Happy trails, and if you don’t hear from me in the meantime, smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for autumn.   

He said, resignedly.


  1. Hullo dear.

    Do be a luv and keep going.

    Things would be so terribly dull without you.

    Love and kisses,


  2. We'll have to see what sort of connection Beardy Branston can provide to my new super dongle, purchased this week for an eye-watering £24.99