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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Epiblog for the First Sunday in Advent

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley.  The weather has been officially described by the local TV weather man as “quiet”, which I take to be another way of saying wet, dull, miserable, and cold, with occasional outbreaks of more persistent rain.  The only decent day this week has been today, which dawned with a brilliant Maxfield-Parrish-blue sky outside my window, and in one corner, the remaining golden leaves on the Cotoneaster next to John’s fence dancing about like flickering autumn flames.

Matilda’s still going outside, though, apart from on days when it’s absolutely persisting it down, when she just stands at the door and meows at me to make it stop. On Wednesday she came in, wet through, and with yet another dead leaf stuck to her tail, and she stood there patiently purring, while I dried her off with kitchen roll, as if this is now some sort of right which she can exercise any time she comes in drenched. Which it probably is, to be honest.

Muttkins is still suffering with the fireworks, and twice last week ran off when she heard some whizz-bangs in the woods, both times, thankfully, making her own way home and suddenly appearing like a pantomime fairy outside the conservatory door. Debbie is more or less resigned to keeping her on the long line until Spring, now, when the selfish idiots with fireworks have got tired of terrorising animals and gone on to some other equally anti-social activity. This week, she ordered a new, even beefier Karabiner, and she is now using actual parachute line instead of Dyneema.  The lengths you have to go to, simply to take your dog for a walk in the period between Hallowe’en and New Year.

Deb’s also, rather belatedly, discovered the delights of online vegan shopping.  Because the local Holland and Barrett didn’t have her pretend cheese slices in stock, she ended up not going into town to buy them, but she had an £8.00 off voucher that had to be used up by today, so she ordered some vitamins off their web site, then discovered another one that sold vegan ice cream and  another one that sold vegan bacon and so on, and so on. At one point she was even on Tesco’s web site:

“Stomach, bowels, and haemorrhoids,” she said.

“Mmm, sounds delicious. Does it come with a red wine jus?”

It turned out, however, to be one of the “dietary and lifestyle filters” you could apply to refine your selections on the site. Even so, this seemed rather bizarre; what foods are particularly bad/good for piles? Actually, if you do know, don’t tell me, I really am not that interested.  The reason I was only listening to her with 48K of my RAM is that I was actually trying to watch Inspector Montalbano on the TV. Eventually I gave up and admitted that I now had no idea what was going on.

“That’s because you can’t speak Swedish.”

It’s not been such a horrendous week on the book front, this week; well, it’s still been busy, but this time with catching up on all the loose ends that I neglected in order to get the four books I was working on all off to press at once.  This has meant that we have been able to indulge in the odd outbreak of what passes for domesticity, such as on Thursday afternoon, when Debbie had stopped teaching for the week, and Granny called by with my little niece Isobel.  Propped up on the sofa, near the stove, she seemed perfectly happy with her toys and her little blanket, and we had a great time, with my imitation of an owl being particularly popular (with Isobel, at least, the others were not so impressed). Eventually, after singing her all three verses of “All The Little Chicken in the Garden” she fell gratefully, deeply asleep on Debbie, so Debbie propped the Nexus Tablet up on her, and continued browsing for Karabiners.

My other attempt at domesticity was the continued importance of baking. I made another tofu, leek and potato pie, but we couldn’t eat it the same day I made it, so I proposed leaving it on top of the cooker to cool overnight, then I would cut it into slices that could be microwaved. Debbie said that she thought I was probably encouraging rodents by leaving stuff out, and I airily overruled her, reminding her that the cat slept on the settee in the kitchen anyway, so the pie was probably safe, unless Matilda decided to cut out the middlemouse and eat it herself.  The next morning I came trundling through to the kitchen just as Deb was going through the door to set off for her voluntary work at Kirklees College, to find, carved by a knife-point in the pie-crust, a paw-print, the word “Rat” and three “XXX” kisses. Ho bloody ho.

I haven’t really been paying much attention to the news of the wider world this week, it’s that time of the year, to be honest, that makes me want to stoke up the fire, pull up the drawbridge and bolt all the doors. The winter evening settles down, with smells of steaks in passageways, as T S Eliot puts it, although in our house the steaks are “pretend” vegan ones from Holland and Barrett.  I did, however, note one very obvious attempt at news management by the Junta in the timing of the results of the enquiry into the death of Lee Rigby, released the day before parliament was due to debate yet another new “security” bill designed to increase still further the powers of the Blight Brigade to snoop into every aspect of our lives, smuggling through yet more anti-libertarian legislation under the pretext of combating a supposed terrorist threat which they themselves have been largely responsible for creating and sustaining,  We now have a situation where the conflict in Syria is becoming the Spanish Civil War of the 21st century, with young, misguided, impressionable people leaving the UK to fight on both sides of the conflict, now there are reports of UK nationals fighting as mercenaries against ISIS in that country.

The premise of the Rigby enquiry was that MI5 (who, if you read between the lines, had quite clearly dropped the ball, losing sight of one of the suspects, and apparently, also, on a separate occasion, attempting unsuccessfully to recruit him) were more or less exonerated, and the blame fell largely on Facebook, for not disclosing the various non-specific ravings in several “chat” sessions between the suspects and their “friends” about killing soldiers.  Bear in mind, dear reader, that one of the proposals in the bill under discussion in parliament the following day was that internet companies should be forced to disclose precisely this sort of detail, and ask yourself are these facts connected?

I’m afraid I just don’t buy it.  Several aspects of MI5’s involvement in the case were not discussed in the enquiry “for security  reasons”, so we will probably never know the true story, or at least not for fifty or a hundred years until the files are released, but, given the previous week’s revelations that Cable and Wireless (back in the days when I used to work with them on implementing government contracts, known as “Cable and Witless”) have been allowing the security services to siphon off traffic from their undersea cables, and given the revelations of Edward Snowden that basically, everybody was snooping on everybody, I can’t believe that the security services didn’t know what these jokers were up to.  They nodded off, with tragic consequences, but it’s much easier and more convenient to blame Facebook, especially with that debate coming up.

I always tend to assume that anything I write, especially online, is read by all sorts of questionable Herberts. In fact, some times, I write stuff just for them. They are like the people in Richard Thompson’s Small Town Romance

They peep through faded curtains,
They read your valentine

Not all political organisations are as adroit at news manipulation. It’s been the usual week of gaffes, blunders and bizarre embarrassments for UKIP, though. The BBC, which for some reason loves UKIP and treats it like a precious orchid, instead of exposing it for the festering mass of vile decaying bug-ridden compost it really is, decided to set up a stunt in the street and film it, under the general heading of “Would Nigel Farage be any good as Prime Minister” or some such malarkey. They got two large David-Blaine-type Perspex boxes with a hole in the top, and invited passers-by to pop a different-coloured plastic ball in the appropriate one, depending if their answer was “Yes”, or “No”.  Despite being given free publicity by a publicly-owned broadcaster, UKIP still complained, saying that the result was bound to be skewed, because the BBC had set up their experiment to be filmed outside a mosque.  The “mosque” in question turned out to be Westminster Cathedral, the Roman Catholic equivalent in this country to Canterbury Cathedral, prompting several wags on Twitter to “tweet” pictures to UKIP of other things that were also obviously not mosques, such as The Albert Hall, Kate Moss, or a moose.

Nigel Farage must have been still smarting from this when one of his party’s donors popped up in my Facebook news feed. On checking, I found that the story related to May 2013, when  one Demetri Marchessini donated £10,000 to UKIP that year, so I am not altogether clear on what he’s recently done that has brought him back out of the slime to the surface of the pond, but he has some entertaining views on women:

“Trousers are made for men's bodies, which are mostly straight up and down. Women's bodies on the other hand consists of curves. Women have big bottoms - they are meant to have big bottoms.  Countless women who would look lovely in dresses or skirts are embarrassingly unattractive in trousers."

His blog contains more colourful views, including: "There is a basic fact of life that women do not grasp — skirts give erections, but trousers do not."  He was, in fact, widely reported at the time as saying that single mothers deserved a slap and that date rape was a fallacy, which occurred when a man made love to a woman and did not satisfy her, and that such women had been encouraged by feminists to shout “rape” in such circumstances.  I am paraphrasing here, but it is all pretty much standard UKIP stuff, for a party that, whatever its public pronouncements, seems to prefer it when women put on a French maid outfit and bend over to clean behind the fridge.

Mr Marchessini also thinks that women who wear trousers are “hostile” in some way, and I suppose if this is true we must accept the corresponding position that men in skirts are placid and submissive, which will come as a great shock to the Scottish nation in general, and the Black Watch in particular.

I checked up on Mr Marchessini’s more recent writings, to see if he is still with us, and indeed he is, commenting on the Junta’s proposals on the issue of domestic violence:

It is reported in the press that the Home Secretary will be announcing powers to allow the police to prosecute men who are guilty of “psychological and emotional abuse”.  I must say that I do not think that this has been carefully thought out.  Under the terms of the bill, a man could face up to fourteen years in prison.  It is important to remember that all the women have chosen their husbands or lovers.  If they find they do not like them, they can divorce the husband or leave the lover.  But to send them to jail is monstrous.  For those who are married, the wife made marriage vows to look after her husband for the rest of her life.  If she sends him to jail, those vows become lies.

So, there you are, girls. Get your skirt on, and remember your marriage vows. And if your husband clouts you, you can always be the one who has to flee the marital home with whatever you manage to stuff in a carrier bag before he hits you again. Now get in the kitchen and make my tea, you chattel.

You look at this stuff, and you think “who the hell votes for this set of clowns anyway?” but people do, in their droves, and without necessarily knowing what the party they are voting in stands for, anyway.  Part of it is down to political ignorance, part apathy, and these days, the overwhelming reason is intolerance, xenophobia, and racism.  For which, as well as UKIP, David Cameron and Ed Miliband are to blame.  Cameron because of his ill-judged decision to spend four years pumping out bile about how immigrants are the cause of all our woes, failing to realise that in a race to seem tough on immigration, tough on the causes of immigration, UKIP could out-Kipper him at every end and turn, and Miliband because he a) accepted the Cameron agenda without question and b) abandoned vast swathes of his traditional, typical white working-class support and failed to engage on the issue, having first failed to challenge the premise.

Cameron’s empty and vacuous pronouncements on immigration were dealt a further blow this week when ONS figures showed that net immigration had increased over the same period last year.  The headline figure, of course, as usual, masked a slightly different story if you drilled down into the figures, because a significant proportion of this is EU immigration, which we can do absolutely nothing about. Even Cameron’s proposals to limit access to UK benefits for EU migrant workers are only as workable as the EU will let them be, which hasn’t stopped Miliband from joining in a chorus of “me too”, in the Dutch auction that will eventually lead to the 2015 election being won by the party that promises to string up asylum seekers from the nearest lamp-post.

Unless something is done to challenge the basic premise of what passes for the current “debate” on immigration, we are heading for a country where all of the reforms and advances in society that have taken place since the 1960s  will eventually be reversed under a tsunami of bigotry engendered by politicians willing to sacrifice principle for power at any costs, and we will start seeing signs in our streets saying “No Blacks, No Irish, No Muslims, No immigrants, No Gays, No disabled people, No benefits claimants”.

A brief preview of what such a society based purely on selfishness and greed might look like was available this week in the form of “Black Friday”, an orgy of consumerism that saw people fighting each other in the aisles of the nation’s supermarkets for a cut-price TV.  Black Friday is another unwelcome import from the USA (see also under prom nights and trick or treating) and was originally a phrase used in the retail trade to denote the day, somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday, which traditionally marked the start of the Christmas trading season, where a store’s finances, after languishing in the red for much of the trading year, would finally tip into the black as consumerism kicked in and people realised there were only three or four weeks to Christmas. Once this trend had been noticed, the larger retailers in the US, who are not stupid, although they are totally amoral and venal to a man, began to encourage this trend by scheduling specific sales to coincide with this period, and feed the greed.  Now, of course, it’s become an annual media event as well, and the one feeds off the other, with the media almost cheering on the participants in specific retail scrums.  All it needs is a voice over on an endless tape loop of Thatcher intoning over and over again, like a demented Dalek,  “there is no such thing as society”, and you have a much truer, and much more chilling, vision of the future than Orwell’s one of a jackboot stamping on a face.

So we have arrived at Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent. It’s also St Andrew’s day, of course, and I did toy briefly with the idea of once more going North of the Border for this blog, but I have spent a lot of time there, metaphorically, since September, and I don’t really have anything to add to what I wrote on St Margaret’s day, recently, that I hope that the SNP annihilate the Westminster parties in Scotland in May 2015, the Junta because I hate them, pure and simple, and Labour because they need to be taught a lesson.  This doesn’t mean I am wavering from, or rowing back from, my belief that the SNP’s version of “independence” as offered in September’s referendum was an uncosted, unsubstantiated fairy-cake of disaster, but it’s possible that the SNP might actually create more mayhem for the Blight Brigade at Westminster post 2015 than a renewed Labour “opposition”, especially as there is no obvious successor to Ed Miliband.

I did note one item of Scottish interest though, in passing, which is that a Chinese student has started a research project on the Isle of Arran to measure the intelligence of the island’s native red squirrels. This was front page news on the local rag, The Arran Banner, which did give her full name, Ka Yee Chow, and noted that she was more often known by her friends and colleagues as “Pizza”. Considering that The Arran Banner managed to spell it “Piza” in once place on their Facebook page and “Pizza” on their web site, we have to conclude that the red squirrels are probably slightly more intelligent than a sub-editor on the Oban Times group.

I am finding it difficult to come to terms with how quickly this year has gone. It only seems like a few days ago since we ourselves were on Arran, and now it’s the season of Advent.  The bells of waiting advent ring, the tortoise stove is lit again, as Sir John Betjeman wrote in his Advent poem. For a long while I thought that the “tortoise” in “tortoise stove” referred to the colour of the glass in the door of the pot stove, which, after it’s been exposed to smoke for a while, does go sort of tortoisy brown and crazed like a tortoise shell. I was quite disappointed to find out it was a brand name, and I still sort of prefer my explanation, even though it is complete garbage.

Anyway, today I have found myself looking for the various readings and Collects for this first Sunday in Advent, in an attempt to convince myself that there’s more to life than getting 25% off a television in the Black Friday sale, especially as the said life in question seems to be slipping through my grasp faster and faster. I am saying this not to try and convince anyone else, I am not into religious proselytising; I’d really like, above all, to be able to convince myself!

It’s at times like this, when I watch the Black Friday mayhem on the news, that I do find a certain resonance in the reading from  Isaiah 64:1-9, for instance.

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens,
that thou wouldest come down,
that the mountains might flow down at thy presence,
as when the melting fire burneth,
the fire causeth the waters to boil,
to make thy name known to thine adversaries,
that the nations may tremble at thy presence!

That should get Tescos’ attention. Not to mention all these dreary politicians who think that the only measure of a person’s worth is their economic imprint.  Or, failing that, I suppose I could fall back on the reading for today from  Mark 13:

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

You never know the minute or the hour. That much at least is true. I seem to be saying it every week now, but life is an unpredictable business. Cherish what you have while you have it, and always eat dessert first.  And if there’s someone in your life you love,  go and find them, and tell them that you love them, right now. However many legs they have. I’ll wait. Twenty-two years ago today, to the day, in that dreadful year of 1992, our tail-less, but nevertheless characterful and extremely entertaining cat Sylvester went out, just after The Archers, and was killed, not ten yards from our back door.  Poor old Silvo. He was a great cat, he had a heart the size of a bucket, he was a real character, the second cat we lost in the same month of November that year, the other being little Halibut who went out one night and just never came back. Silvo’s going left a huge hole in our lives, and changed lots of things forever.

This probably has little to do with Advent, but I have always remembered Halibut and Silvo, the same way I remember every anniversary of every one of our pets.  Advent is supposed to be about looking forward, though, looking forward to a better world, where the metaphorical child can poke its hand in the metaphorical hole of the metaphorical asp, and the lion lies down with the lamb.  And we’re being enjoined to watch and wait and be alert for that time coming.  I don’t, in all honesty, see any signs of it coming soon, but maybe that’s just me.  We may not all believe (and I am not sure I do, to be honest) as Sir John Betjeman puts it, “that God was man in Palestine, and lives today in blood and wine”, but surely we can at least all get behind the idea of a better world tomorrow?

Ah, but, you’ll be saying, what do you mean by “better”? to which I can only quote, as I have done every time I’ve come to this juncture Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s little prince.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Feed the hungry, heal the sick, teach the children, house the homeless, respect the animals. That would be a start.

So, later on tonight, when I’m too tired and achy to sleep, I am going to practice waking and watching. I’ll be Big G’s sentry. I’ll take first watch. I was planning to be awake anyway. But as for me, right now, I have pies to make, and dishes to wash, and dogs and a cat to feed, and coal to fetch. Better look busy, Jesus is coming (allegedly)!




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