It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. The weather has continued its inexorable slide into autumn, and so have we. The dogs have been coming back from walkies wet and windblown, and then snoozing, steaming, and farting by the fire, and the other day, Matilda came in from the garden with a huge decaying wet leaf stuck to her leg, a sartorial addition of which she was totally unaware. I picked it off her, and she hissed at me for daring to touch her leg. No change there, then.
There are leaves everywhere, of all colours and hues – yellow, and pale, and hectic red, as Shelley might have said, were he in our garden at the moment. Matilda doesn’t seem particularly fazed by the weather, actually, to say she was such a fair-weather cat when we first got her. She seems to be actually enjoying staying out in the gathering dusk, listening out for hapless little rodents rustling in the foliage, sometimes for hours at a time. Either that, or like many other cats I have known, she has a second, and possibly a third, home.
The darkening nights have also brought with them the inevitable fireworks, of course, and this year we’re trying to help Misty out not only with Canicalm, but also by buying her a “Thundershirt” which is like a close-fitting blanket/ dog-coat thing that you Velcro round the dog’s torso, and apparently it works by making the dog feel safe, cherished and cuddled. Well, that’s the theory, but it’s early days yet. Anything that makes her less terrified of sudden bangs and flashes is a good idea in my book, so we’re going to give it a go.
If it works, I think Debbie and I could do with one apiece, since we could both do with the calming influence of feeling that we are being cherished and cuddled. Debbie has at least reached half-term, still without being paid for any of he work which she has done since 11th September. When people ask these days, I say “Oh, my wife does voluntary work for Kirklees College.” In one of my emails to the College recently, I compared the admin staff to Schrödinger’s Cat, in that nobody really knows if they are alive or dead. They didn’t like that, but at least from the fact that they replied, we can cross off the “dead” option and replace it with “merely inept”.
I had four books to get off to press last week; Kyle Franklin and the Knights of Heaven; Mac and the Lost Tribe; Great Aunt Fanny’s Moustache, and The Meeting Room. I managed the first two of them, and was 79 pages into The Meeting Room, out of 209, at close of play on Friday, so I was pretty much bushwhacked by the time the weekend came around. Great Aunt Fanny is waiting for the illustrations, anyway. So, a solid week’s work, including also doing all the invoicing and packing right up to date and, somehow, unaccountably, fixing the vacuum cleaner. I worked out that the loss of suction was due to a hole in the bag, if you’re interested (no, me neither.) Anyway, changing the bag solved it. My dad would have been proud of me.
George Osborne is someone else whose bag appears to be leaking, at least from the point of view of the nation’s finances. “Austerity” isn’t working. The Junta’s proud boast, its very reason for existence was to reduce the national deficit to nothing by the next general election in 2015. We found out very quickly that this was not going to happen, and George Osborne has, in his tenure as Chancellor, moved more goalposts than the badgers, but last week, we learned that the deficit is actually rising again, partly because the Blight Brigade’s squeeze on workers’ wages has meant none of the people who have been put to work on a pittance, or on zero hours contracts, or been forced into declaring themselves “self-employed” in order to get the benefits numbers down, have been able to pay any taxes.
Meanwhile, twenty MPs have declared earnings of more than £100,000 pa from second jobs, in the same week that Lord Tebbit suggested that the poor should “earn” their benefits by pulling up Ragwort. I suppose we should be grateful to the ageing psychopath for once more igniting the smouldering controversy surrounding Lord Fraud and the “disabled”, just at the point where it was in danger of fizzling out. The point all these people are missing is that there is no correlation between the salary of a person and their “worth”. I mean, look at all those worthless MPs, on huge salaries.
Sometimes, when I look around me, I think that we’ve all fallen through a collective time warp and we’re in a slightly different, but nevertheless still recognisable, version of the 1970s. We’ve got a weak, ineffectual Labour Party, an international economic crisis, doubts over the continued availability of oil, a great British public that often sounds like Alf Garnett crossed with Enoch Powell, without any of the redeeming features of either, and the casual racism of “The UKIP Calypso”.
I couldn’t believe this vile piece of crap when I first heard it. In fact, at first, I thought it must be a spoof, but then I realised that the concept of satire is way beyond Mike Read’s pay grade. As is the concept of irony, particularly the irony of singing a “protest” song about immigration, in a cod Jamaican accent. Oh, but it’s just a bit of fun, say Mike Read’s supporters, usually adding “don’t you remember the calypsos of Lance Percival?” Er, yes, I do, and they were crap as well. Someone should tell these people that the Pope has abolished limbo.
If you haven’t heard it, don’t sully your ears. I am not going to add to the oxygen of publicity by giving it the full I. A. Richards critical analysis treatment (I am not even that happy, pace Linda Smith, about Mike Read having access to the oxygen of oxygen.) However, two particular bits of what might loosely be described as the lyrics do bear some critical scrutiny.
The leaders committed a cardinal sin
Open the borders let them all come in
Illegal immigrants in every town
Stand up and be counted, Blair and Brown.
Opening the borders refers to the claim, often made, that Labour needlessly extended the range of people from within the EU who could come here, something for which, as the blog “Not the Treasury View” has frequently pointed out, there were very good reasons at the time. And of course, spineless wimp that he is, something for which Miliband has subsequently apologised, instead of telling the Daily Mail to go to hell. As Jonathan Portas, author of the blog, said at the time:
So; the new migrants get jobs, contribute to the economy, pay taxes, don’t use many public services, and don’t take jobs from natives. What, exactly, is the problem? The decision was correct at the time, and the UK should be proud that, unlike most of the existing Member States, it was prepared to take that decision on the basis of rational argument and good analysis, rather than fear and prejudice.
It is, of course, true that the UK has a persistent problem with youth unemployment and inactivity – and that this was true even before the recession. But research suggests that this has little or nothing to do with immigration; it is about educational underperformance among disadvantaged young people while at school, the poor quality of much post-16 education for those who are not going to university, and our neglect of the school-to-work transition. And it is just as bad (often worse) in areas where there are few immigrants as in areas where there are many.
“Illegal immigrants in every town” – well, of course, if they are illegal immigrants, then they are presumably not EU citizens, since they have the right of free movement and to come here anyway, which is one of the (many) things actually wrong with the EU, and which, until we have politicians sensible enough to fix it in a calm and rational manner, will continue to feed the foaming bigotry and xenophobia of UKIP. But is that assertion even true? Portas again:
How many illegal immigrants are there in the UK? Unlike other such questions - how many 12 year olds are there in the UK? how many gay Jews? - where, although we don't know the exact answer, either survey and administrative data allows us to make an informed and reasonably accurate guess, we don't know, even approximately. But a new initiative by the Metropolitan Police suggests that the number may in fact be surprisingly low.
He goes on, in a lengthy and detailed blog posting far too long to reproduce here, to extrapolate that the country-wide figure might be as low as 50,000 to 70,000, extrapolated from the detail of how many people arrested by police actually turn out to be illegal immigrants, out of all the arrests in a given year. I know, of course, that you can prove anything with statistics, but the article is definitely worth scrutiny, especially given the authoritative nature of the author and his former “inside track” on how the treasury, and government works. And, of course, as Portas also points out, studies suggest that legal immigrants, far from being a drain on resources and services, are actually net contributors overall to the economy. They pay more in taxes than they consume in services. The fact that the Junta chooses to take that surplus and squander it in firing £800,000 missiles at ISIS, instead of investing it back in more hospitals, GPs (of whom there is a crucial shortage) and health centres, is not the fault of the immigrants.
But the problem is that you can’t put the above words to a calypso beat and sing them to the sort of gullible people whose lips move even when they are not reading the Daily Mail. A very telling section of the UKIP Calypso’s lyrics reads:
“Labour and Tories shaking in their boots
when Ukip kick them up the grass roots
Meanwhile down in Clacton-on-Sea,
Ukip are making history,
Douglas Carswell, we're quite adamant,
will be the first MP in parliament."
Yes, I know. It makes William McGonagall look like W. B. Yeats, but we shouldn’t forget that at least one person interviewed in Clacton said that they were voting UKIP this time because “the previous MP was rubbish, and never did anything for the town.” I kid you not.
UKIP’s strategy, as the full horror of this crime against music began to spread on social media and by word of mouth, was first to offer the Red Cross the proceeds of its sales, to help the fight against Ebola. The Red Cross, to its eternal credit, told UKIP to stuff its money up its Ebola. Or its arse, UKIP doesn’t really know the difference anyway. Then Nigel Farage came out bleating, saying that “the left” were more concerned about the UKIP bloody calypso than they were about child abuse.
What? I’m sorry? Nigel Farage knows as little of my views on child abuse as I know of his on musical taste. How dare he suggest, just because I think his tacky little piece of racist scum masquerading as “fun” is an evil act of propaganda worthy of “Der Sturmer”, that I am in some way blasé about child abuse? If there is a link, which I doubt, it’s that the various buttoned-up weirdos and sexual fruitcakes who make up UKIP, especially the ones with an overarching and unhealthy interest in what gays get up to behind closed doors, and the ones who think of women as sluts, are far more likely, in my view, to be interested in that sort of thing. Glass houses, Farage, and stones. Be very careful, especially as your party has voted in the EU parliament against sex education in schools, which means that the onus would now be on parents to teach, or to neglect to teach, their children about what is, and is not, appropriate sexual behaviour.
It’s a mad world, with people like this around and at large, and it seems it’s going to get madder yet. As my old granny used to say, “there’s more of them out, than in.” Now that Ebola has spread to Liberia, I eagerly await “Britain First” calling for all librarians in the UK to be deported. You may think that far-fetched, but remember the paediatricians. Sadly, the idea that all our problems could be solved by getting rid of all the foreigners is now the default position of many, including several politicians who should know better – well, let’s be honest, who do know better, but they can’t ignore such a tempting bandwagon.
Independent Yorkshire blogger “Another Angry Voice” decided to try and unpick this idea further, in one of the graphics on his blog.
What exactly would your methodology for getting rid of all the foreigners be? Who would you get rid of? People born abroad? (that would include a lot of Brits) People with foreign ancestry? (that would include a lot of Brits, too.) Dark-skinned people? (what about Poles, Germans, French, etc). Then you’ve got to consider the practicalities: forced deportation and “internment” camps? Just kill them all? I suppose what you’re asking for is for some system of ethnic purity tests (let’s say at least 4 generations of “pure British” blood) a system for marking out non-Brits (maybe some kind of armband or tattoo) and some special “residential” camps to keep the foreigners away from the “true Brits”. Does that sound like a good (if slightly familiar) idea?
Given the lack of democracy shown in the heavy-handed policing of the “Occupy Parliament Square” demonstration this week, we’re already a long way down that road – the police role as the arm of the fascist state, in this case, suppressing protest and disquiet in a brutal and illogical manner. How Britain has the nerve to lecture the likes of the Chinese on human rights amazes me. What also amazes me is where all these extra police come from. It seems there’s an unlimited supply of bobbies whenever there’s a Royal Wedding and the streets need to be cleared of detritus and undesirables (as they would see them), or when some Chinese dictator wants his goon squad to run through the streets of London with the Olympic Torch, or when there’s a miners’ strike, but – oddly enough – they’re nowhere to be seen when someone’s nicking your car radio, or some little scrote is setting fire to the local dogs’ home. I think there must be a refrigerated storage area under Scotland Yard, where they are kept in suspended animation until they are needed to do something anti-democratic, then they’re thawed out by the promise of overtime, which we pay for through our taxes.
The forces of law and order have not been idle round here, though! I have had a reply, finally, to my letter of a few weeks ago now, castigating the Police Commissioner for Greater Manchester over the behaviour of the police in letting the suspect for the Manchester Dogs’ Home arson out on bail, and asking them to press for the most severe penalties the law would allow against anyone guilty of the crime. Basically, over the course of a sheet of A4, it admits that the Police and Crime Commissioner cannot influence the police, that the police are still “looking into” the crime, and totally fails to respond to my point that the media responsible for naming the suspect and thus prejudicing the trial should themselves be charged with contempt of court. BBC research reveals that the salaries of the majority of the PCCs are between £70,000 and £85,000, although the commissioners overseeing the three major forces of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and West Midlands each receive £100,000. In addition, the Greater Manchester Police Commissioner has a chief executive on £90,000 pa, and a staff of 40. If, despite all this, they are truly unable to influence the police in any way, in terms of their general practice and enforcing the letter of the law on animal welfare in particular, or, indeed, generally, then they would be better off being abolished and the money being given to dog rescues instead.
So, anyway, somehow we stumbled through the week and came to Sunday. The clocks have gone back, today, and, while I welcomed the extra hour of sleep, I viewed with no great enthusiasm the way the night “drew in”, and it was already dark at 5.30pm. As I’ve said before, the day the clocks go back marks the start of winter “proper” for me, that long, dark tunnel that leads to the Solstice. There are but 66 days left until the end of the year, apparently, and I have a frightening amount to accomplish in that short time. Just thinking about it makes me feel tired.
I looked around for a saint to write about this week and, apart from St Cedd and St Alfred the Great, whom I have to admit I didn’t realise had even been elevated to the sainthood (presumably culinary skills aren’t part of the interview process) they all seemed rather an unprepossessing bunch. I disregarded Cedd and Alfred because we’ve done quite a few Anglo-Saxons lately, and while I find them perpetually interesting, I’m aware that the reader doesn’t share my excitement. So I did something that perhaps I don’t do often enough, these days, looked in the Book of Common Prayer instead,
I was particularly taken by the Compline (evening prayer) service for today, a piece of worship of which I have often admired the language and the imagery:
[Brethren,] be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith.
And then this bit, from Psalm 91:
Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High: shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope, and my stronghold: my God, in him will I trust. For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter: and from the noisome pestilence. He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers: his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night: nor for the arrow that flieth by day; For the pestilence that walketh in darkness: nor for the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday. A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee…There shall no evil happen unto thee: neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.
Oh, if only that were true – or rather, if only I could believe that it were true, and applied to me. But, as I already suffer from “the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday”, where does that leave me? Is the Psalmist trying to tell me, in some demented extension of Mary Baker Eddy, that the reason I have muscular dystrophy is that I didn’t believe strongly enough in God as my hope and my stronghold? Reading it more closely, then, I realised that it isn’t actually promising me immunity from these things, merely saying that I should not be “afraid for” (ie because of) them.
I’m usually willing to give Big G the benefit of the doubt, but these next few weeks really are a time when I could indeed do to be delivered from the snare of the hunter and the noisome pestilence. It is certainly a long while since, apart from occasional glimpses which are few and far between, I felt safe within God’s feathers. I didn’t even know God had feathers. Apologies, a feeble joke, and I do really understand the image of being sheltered and protected, in the same way as a bird protects its chicks.
I would love to believe that I was somehow immune in the battle of life, that a thousand would fall beside me and ten thousand at my right hand, but it would not come nigh me, but my experience of life tells me otherwise. I’m sort of caught in a double bind – I no longer seem to have the faith to say that it doesn’t matter what happens to me, everything will be alright in the long run, and yet at the same time, when the logical extension of that position would be to give up trying to make sense of God, or whatever passes for it, and turn my face to the wall, I keep coming back to it, like a niggly tooth or a pebble in my shoe. And in any case, it’s not just me; what about some justice and righteousness for all the people in the world who are victims of the plague, the noisome pestilence? What part does Ebola, for instance, play in the grand scheme of things? Yes, I know it’s been caused in part at least by the greed, neglect and stupidity of mankind in general, it’s not some supernatural entity brewed up by Big G and visited on humanity from on high, like the plagues of Egypt. OK, so people say God brings about his change, his work on Earth via the actions of man, but why should this be the case? He’s God, and if he wanted to, he could say “Shazam!” and cure the lot of them. Once more, I’m not getting this complex nature of the mind of God, and it irks me, and troubles me. I find myself like George Herbert in The Collar:
I Struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
Especially the last bit, when I look out on the garden on an October day, towards evening. Is the year only lost to me? But then at the same time, again like George Herbert, I keep coming back to this:
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thought I heard one calling, Childe:
And I reply’d, My Lord.
So, here’s the deal, Big G, me old pal, me old beauty. We seem to be sort of stuck in this together, you and me. As Bob Dylan once said, I’ll let you be in my dreams, if I can be in yours. And if you can see your way, next week, in the midst of the various battles in which I will no doubt find myself, to make sure that a thousand fall at my right hand, but it comes not nigh me, I’d be grateful. Selfish, but grateful. And still no nearer to understanding why it has to be that way. That’s probably one for C. S. Lewis, but right now, I can’t find the book and I have dogs to feed and soup to make, and miles to go before I sleep and all that jazz. So I’ll close with the end of the Compline service, in the version I would like at my funeral, actually, to end on a cheery note, and lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.