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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Grimonia of Picardy

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. Sadly, the much-trailed “return of summer” didn’t happen, at least not here, anyway.  It’s still been warm, well, warm-ish, but the sun’s definitely gone.  Maybe it’ll have one last hurrah before the dark nights and cold days set in.  Once it’s gone, it’ll be gone, though.

Misty doesn’t seem to mind, as long as she gets a walkies, and this week, with Debbie making the most of her own last week of freedom before assessments start at college. On successive days they did 10, 13 and 11 miles respectively, including a very boggy tramp up Black Hill.  Matilda, however, is more discerning, and has been turning up her nose at the cold and the occasional showers. On Saturday, she spent more or less the whole day asleep on Misty’s “bed” – a large squashy cushion underneath the temporary table in the conservatory – which she seems to have appropriated while we were away in Scotland, and which she now seems reluctant to give back to Misty, even though we’re now home again. It’s got so bad, in fact, that one day during the week Matilda was asleep on the bed and Misty lay down on the carpet alongside it, with a big sigh. Matilda woke up, growled in her sleep, and turned over so that her back was to Misty. End of contest.

Debbie’s new passion, apart from walking, is mushrooms. Following on from her foraging for edible seaweed on Arran, she’s got the “food for free” bug, big-style, and these days she rarely comes back from one of her dog walking forays without a pocket full of fungi, which we then spend a variable, but inevitably fruitless, period of time trying to identify to see if they’re edible. I have made it clear to Deb that the only circumstances under which I will eat mushrooms are a) if they come from Sainsburys or b) if I have known them from childhood and grown them myself from scratch. But that doesn’t stop her, so if, one day, dear reader, this blog unexpectedly fails to appear, it will be because I have given in and, at her suggestion, unwisely ingested a fatal blewitt.

This might actually be the best option, in some ways. Only kidding, folks, but some times this week, it’s felt like it. I spent the whole week doing accounts, more or less, apart from a brief break to produce some posters for the publicity for the appearance of Katherine Wood at Melbourne Festival, a week from today. (The Assembly Rooms, from 3pm, if you’re interested). The only other break from routine was my annual (in this case, six-monthly) visit to the hospital for what we jovially refer to as my “raspberry ripple MOT”.  Even that was a cock-up.  On Thursday morning I had a phone call which I missed picking up in time, and the 1471 lady could only tell me that someone had called me, and she did not have their number. I am constantly plagued by people calling me up from the Indian sub-continent (and possibly incontinent) who want to convert my entire back catalogue to Kindle format. While this is on my list, it is currently number 47, just below “build a box girder bridge from old cornflake packets”. So I didn’t pay it any mind.

A bit later, the phone rang again. This time it was my old chum and compadre of six months in Calderdale Royal, Bernard, who wanted to come over and see us. This is always a welcome event, and in addition, it would be an excuse to stop doing accounts for a while, so I gladly agreed. He would come over at three.  Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. I thought it was Bernard re-arranging, but in fact it was my consultant’s secretary, reminding me that I had an appointment at the infirmary at 2pm, that day.

“But it’s tomorrow!” I protested.
“No, it’s today. I did try and ring you earlier to remind you.”
“But the ambulance will be here any minute, then.”
“Yes.” Click. Brrrrrrrr.

Panic gripped my breast. For one moment, I thought it was Debbie, but no, it was panic. Somewhere, I had Bernard’s phone number, but where? And was there time to find it before the ambulance came to take me away, haha? Or would he have a wasted journey and find the door locked and wonder what the hell I was up to? I couldn’t even get his number from Mrs 1471, because the secretary’s call had neatly wiped his number.  Fortunately, Bernard’s granddaughter was on Facebook, and I managed to get a message to Bernard via her that I was basically an idiot who no longer had the mental capacity to organise his own life.

As for the appointment itself, it was pretty much what I expected.  As for the pain in my shoulder and arm, keep on taking the painkillers.  As for the depression scale scores, the consultant himself takes a different view to his registrar, and feels that a chemical solution is not the answer. Keep on with the St John’s Wort, though. So, no happy pills for me, I am glad to say. One of the side effects, apparently, is anorexia, and when I told Debbie this, she gave me one of her funny looks and said that it might not necessarily be a bad thing. Mr Consultant’s solution is that I should see a psychiatrist who specialises in CBT. Which I am happy to try, but it’s years since I have ridden a motorbike.  Watch this space.

By the time I got back from hospital, I was feeling pretty ropey, which is not really how it’s supposed to work, but I took some more painkillers and fell asleep in my wheelchair next to the stove for an hour and a half, and when I woke up I felt slightly better, so I started work again, since up to that point, on Thursday I had produced precisely zippo. Then Debbie got back with Misty, so I broke off and made us all some food (Misty had a bowl of muttnuts as per usual, Debbie and I had vegan chow mein). Then, while washing up, I dropped and broke a wine-glass. The perfect end to a perfect day.

The outside world has been impossible to ignore this week, much as I would have liked to pull up the drawbridge and turn off the TV and internet.  A woman was beheaded in a London garden.  ISIS are threatening to behead a British hostage, having already beheaded two American ones. There is no real linkage between the London beheadings and the Middle Eastern ones, though, despite what the likes of The Sun would have you think. They, and various other tabloids, made sure to mention that the man accused of beheading an 82-year old woman with a machete had “Muslim connections” and had originally come to the UK from Nigeria, aged 12. I’m no psychiatrist – if I was, I could just talk to myself in the mirror – but, given the fact that he was allegedly wandering around trying to machete the local cats because they had “stolen his lighter”, if there is a political dimension to this horrible event, it’s probably more to do with the cuts in mental health provision.  Not that this stopped the fish and chip papers from wringing every possible drop of xenophobia from it, of course.

As for the British hostage in the Middle East, Mr Cameron has been busy sabre-rattling at the NATO conference in Newport. Obviously, threatening yet more air strikes and to obliterate ISIS is not going to prolong his chances much. The hostage, I mean, not Mr Cameron, although, on second thoughts, if the cap fits… I really don’t know how many more times we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of history, create yet more lunatic fringe Jihadis, and repeat the whole cycle over and over again. Probably until the oil runs out, I guess.

Just in case there wasn’t enough madness in the world, the febrile, ill-tempered referendum on Scottish “independence” continued rumbling on the northern horizon, increasingly threatening, like a gathering storm. I’ve given up the argument, largely because the majority of people who are going to vote yes are doing so purely out of emotion and not logic, so no matter what I say, they’re not going to change their minds.  One aspect of it all has, however, been preoccupying me increasingly, is the defence aspect.  I make no apologies, therefore, for returning to this as the dog returneth to its vomit.

The SNP have said that, given an “independent” Scotland, they wouldn’t be that bothered about controlling the border between Scotland and England. Rail News, no less, pointed out in its 2014 edition:  

In a leaflet entitled “Your Choice. Opportunities in an independent Scotland”, the Yes Scotland campaign group looks forward to how an independent Scotland might look six years from now. It imagines an English-born person moving to Scotland to live but travelling by train to visit family in Manchester and finding that independence has made no difference to the rail journey, with “no border controls, or customs posts” and no need for a passport.

That’s all fine and dandy, but, as the Save The Royal Navy web site has remarked:

The SNP does at least recognise the importance of the maritime domain to the UK, Scotland alone has a longer coastline than China. They are rightly critical of Westminster’s failure to invest in maritime forces, in particular the axing of maritime patrol aircraft and the lack of patrol vessels. According to the broad strokes of the whitepaper, the “Scottish Navy” will consist of two frigates, four mine countermeasures vessels and a ‘command platform’ all taken from the Royal Navy. There is also vague talk of talk of constructing OPVs and auxiliary support ships ‘shared with the UK’. The new navy is supposed to number about 2,000 personnel, initially to be drawn from Scots already serving in the RN. This assumes that Scots serving in the RN will be allowed to transfer when required by Scotland and that they would actually want to leave one of the world’s foremost navies to serve in this baby navy.

As a hasty paper exercise it is easy to create a navy based on what the SNP considers to be its ‘share’ of the RN. Whether this division should be done on the basis of GDP, head of population or even length of coastline is another discussion but the devil is in the detail. Taking a couple of Type 23 frigates and basing them in Scotland may sound simple, but like most defence assets they require a complex logistics and support tail. Ammunition and spares are sourced and managed by a UK-wide system run by the MoD and a sophisticated training pipeline is needed to produce competent crews, not something that can be replicated easily. When it comes to the crunch and whatever the SNP may claim, it is very hard to imagine the First Sea Lord agreeing to give away his very precious warships without a great deal of ‘blood on the carpet’ first.

I have no idea whether or not the UK government has any intention of sharing the products of GCHQ and Menwith Hill with an “independent” Scotland, to tip them off in the case of any increased threat levels. I have no idea if Alex Salmond is planning to set up a Scottish Intelligence Agency, although scrutiny of some of the “Yes” voters would seem to indicate that recruitment to such an organisation might be an insurmountable problem, if so.  But even if we did pick up the phone and warn Hamish McBond, what would be the practicalities?

As I understand it, Scotland would be entitled to 9% of the UK's defence assets on Scottish soil, and I am struggling to understand how this would work. Say there are ten bases on Scottish soil each staffed by 500 people. That's 5000 jobs, one way or another, based in Scotland. For ease of calculation, let's call the 9% actually 10%, so the new “independent” Scotland takes over one of the ten bases lock stock and barrel. What happens to the rest? Presumably they are already sited where they are for strategic reasons as much as anything else. Does Scotland buy them from the rest of the UK, if so, has the SNP costed it out, and what's the figure? What currency will be used?

People I've been arguing with on other forums have said, in effect. well, since Scotland will no longer have a part in the UK's wars, they will need fewer armed forces personnel to defend Scotland. But Scotland has a longer coastline than China, says the Admiral above. If you keep the base in Perthshire, how's that going to stop an ISIS suicide squad landing on Ardnamurchan and making their way from there? I'm sure if I've thought of it, they will have. It doesn't even have to be ISIS, it could be INLA/The Continuity IRA or whatever they call themselves this week. In fact, they're more likely.

Given the blasé, laissez-faire, “Trust me, it’ll be OK”, attitude being exhibited by the SNP towards border security (as, indeed, with all their other promises) I can’t see that the rest of the UK would have any option but to step up to the plate and put something in place on the English side of the border, with implications for trade and free passage. Otherwise, England will be surrendering a porous northern border which will be a route for at the very least smuggling, contraband and drugs, and possibly much worse.  Surprisingly enough, Ed Miliband seems also to have worked this out, and said as much this week, the first sensible thing he has said for some months. 

I am, of course, aware of the Zinoviev letter, and other “reds under the beds” scares, and, although terror does increasingly have an international dimension and the returning “Jihadis” have vowed to do us harm, it’s probably much less of a risk than the dire economic consequences for Scotland of “independence”.  But it is still a risk, and of course, carries with it the attendant risk that the Junta will use it as a pretext to enact yet more anti-libertarian legislation in an effort to re-bottle the very genie they have created. So, not good all round, really.

Nevertheless, it looks increasingly likely that Scotland will vote for this version of "independence", which is absolutely nothing of the sort, and gives them nothing they haven't got already, except additional costs and possible grief, in return for one brief moment of Proclaimers-fuelled tartan tribalism. If Scotland does vote "yes", there will undoubtedly be one hell of a party. I hope they enjoy it, because the hangover is going to last for decades. Still, at least they’ll have a new head of state. Er,…oh.

One extremely unpleasant aspect of the entire Scottish imbroglio is that there has been a corresponding rise in casual anti-Scottish racism and sentiment amongst the nationalist parties here in the UK.  Corresponding, that is, to that fomented by Alex Salmond, the SNP, and the wilder fringes of the “Yes” campaign. “Britain First” has already started asking people to “share” on Facebook a picture of a Union Flag if they want the United Kingdom to remain united. Beware, though, the law of unintended consequences, because this is what one of their supporters posted underneath [spelling, punctuation and grammar as per the original]:

The scotts have a unique opportunity to throw away the shackles of the royal family and get out of the EU and loose the retards in British government that let the muslim immigrants in that want to slaughter th british. I say they should separate and if it works I will be their 1st immigrant

Let us pause briefly, and savour the delicious aroma of irony.

We don’t need "Britain First" to promote xenophobia and hatred, though, when we have got a ruling Junta hell-bent on doing it for us. Wadih Chourey, who suffers from Down’s Syndrome, is set to be deported by Theresa May because his parents, who were his primary carers, have now died. Yvonne Parmenter, who started the campaign against this heartless, compassionless action, said:

“Wadih came to the United Kingdom in 1997 because his life was in danger from the various gangs operating in Beirut who were victimising him because of his Down's syndrome. He has lived in Twickenham, London, since his arrival and was looked after by his parents and is now being looked after by his brother. He cannot cook and needs help with washing and dressing himself.
His life would be in danger on two counts: firstly he will not be able to look after himself and secondly from violence.”

There is currently a petition to keep him in the UK, but given the current febrile attitude of heightened terror alerts, and the preference already shown by Theresa May to spend bazillions of taxpayers’ money in quixotic gestures to expel other cases, I don’t hold out much hope. I cannot help but wonder though, if Theresa May would have shown such an interest if he’d been called Walter Chutney and born in Droitwich.  I also wonder how she sleeps at night. Not that I care much if she doesn’t, in fact, having suffered it myself since 2010, I think the misery of sleeplessness would be an appropriate suffering to be visited on her, and if that makes me a bad Christian, badabing, badaboom.

So, here I am again, and it’s Sunday, and I’m typing this, angry, disillusioned, and raging as usual. The cat is asleep on the dog’s bed, the stove needs bombing up, the dog is somewhere up Wessenden Head with Debbie, unless some idiots have been shooting grouse up there, in which case the dog will have run off and that will be something else I’ll have to sort out. The sheep’s in the meadow and the cow’s in the corn, and today is the feast of St Grimonia.

According to French legends, St Grimonia was the daughter of a pagan Irish chief, who converted to Christianity at the age of twelve and made a vow of perpetual virginity. It does happen, but usually girls grow out of it naturally, some time during their first term at University. Grimonia, however, was made of sterner stuff, and, when her father imprisoned her for refusing (quite reasonably) to marry the man of his choice, she escaped and fled to France. She became a hermit in the forest of Thierache in Picardy. Unfortunately for her, messengers sent by her father managed to track her down, and offered her the choice of return to Ireland and a forced marriage, or death. She chose death, and was beheaded.

A chapel was built over her supposed grave, which became famous for miracles, and the burgeoning cult of the saint led to the foundation of the town of La Chapelle around it. On September 7th, 1231, her relics, together with those of another Irish saint, Proba or Preuve, who supposedly suffered the same fate at the same time, were all enshrined at Les Quielles. In the wars in the fifteenth century her relics were translated to the abbey of Hennin Lictard, between Douay and Lens, where she is honoured together with Saint Proba her fellow martyr. Other than that, nothing much is known about St Grimonia.

Try as I might, the only lesson that I can derive from the life of St Grimonia, is that eight hundred years or so later, people are still being summarily beheaded, often young women, often for similar reasons to St Grimonia. Unfortunately, lunatic fringe extremism in religion of all denominations is a bit like a many headed Hydra, you lop it off in one place and it grows again. If I can be allowed to use that simile to describe beheadings without being accused of unconscious irony. Nor should we be too precious and superior about the Church of England, either: these days, the worst they can do is serve you sweet sherry when you asked for dry, or give you a Chinese burn for getting the flower rota wrong, but it’s not so long, in historical terms, since we were snicking people off at the neck in this country for either believing or not believing in transubstantiation, depending who was in power that week.

I can just hear you saying, dear reader, at this point, that I’m a fine one to talk about combating extremism, when in my own way, I’m as extreme as the Taliban. Unlike those fine gentlemen, though, I do at least recognise at least some of my own flaws, and I’m conscious of the need for me to improve.  Who knows what I would actually do, if given power and dominion over those I castigate. Probably give them the benefit of the doubt, if they promised to go their ways and sin no more, I guess. Reading that bit back, I realise I need to be careful. I am getting perilously near to taking the first steps on the road to an understanding of forgiveness, and that would never do. Could it be that, since I got back from Arran, although, like George Herbert, I struck the board, and cried “no more!”, also like George Herbert, I’ve heard one calling “child”, and I replied “My Lord”? Surely not.

Ironically, it’s another fine, sunny day today. The sunlight bathes the trees and the garden, and no doubt bathes the green fields of England. Sunday teatime, the time of peace, when old ladies are summoned by bells to evensong. I guess we should enjoy it while it lasts, because I have a feeling that the coming week is going to be more like the end of Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold. We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto, and we’re not in Britain for much longer, either.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Still, as Kenneth Williams was fond of singing, in the persona of Ramblin’ Syd Rumpo, “If you like beetroot, I’ll beetroot to you”.


  1. Entertaining - as always, thank you.

  2. Absolutely love your blog, SF - long may it continue.