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

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Sunday, 28 December 2014

Epiblog for the Feast of St Thomas A Becket

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley.  The first half of the week was dominated by last-minute preparations for Christmas, while the second half was largely devoted to keeping warm.  Both halves involved food, to a great extent.  I never feel “Christmassy” these days unless and until I hear the lone chorister (Hi Ho, Silver, Awayyyy!) singing Once In Royal David’s City, to kick off the festival of nine lessons and carols on the radio.  By then, it’s too late to alter the course of events, Christmas will be Christmas, and that’s that. For good or ill.

This year, I heard it while prepping the veg for Christmas dinner the next day.  Normally, I like prepping veg, as a mindless, meditative exercise. This year, however, was slightly more mission-critical as Deb’s dad was going to join us at the festive board.  Plus, Debbie was going to take Zak and Misty for a long tramp on the moors on Christmas Day itself, although given the weather, tramps of any stature would have been best advised to head for the nearest hostel.

Anyway, this meant timing would be more crucial than usual, which is why Christmas Eve found me topping and tailing sprouts and singing along to “Most Highly-Flavoured Gravy”, and reflecting on the magic that used to attach to Christmas Eve, when I remember my mum dragging me round Crowle Street in the snow, stuffing last-minute Christmas cards in the letterboxes of neighbours as it got dark.  That particular year, I seem to recall it had snowed as well.  It’s odd that it’s things like that which I particularly remember, rather than the presents I got.  Not that I didn’t appreciate the presents. I probably appreciated them even more when I realised they weren’t delivered via the chimney by a fat, bearded, supernatural entity, and that my Dad had worked a number of hours at building real aeroplanes in order to earn the money to buy me the model one I found wrapped up under the tree.

I wouldn’t even have known the word at the time, but it was the sacramental nature of Christmas Eve that seemed to touch a nerve somewhere inside me. The thought that it was a magical time when you might just find yourself tramping through the deep snow across a field or two, and enter a barn, dark at first, until the wick of your lantern burned up, then full of the steam and the smell of the oxen, and see them kneel in their stalls on the stroke of midnight, as in Hardy’s poem.  Much of that wonderment has rubbed off since, but there are still glimmers, here and there, as in listening to the Christmas Eve carols and joining in with those old familiar words that we used to belt out when carol singing with the Methodist church choir and the Boys’ Brigade in Brough.

Christmas Day itself was something of an exercise in logistics, by comparison.  It would have all worked, if Debbie and the dogs hadn’t been 45 minutes late back, meaning that there was a necessary degree of re-organisation involved in turning stuff up or down. The resulting meal was less satisfactory than I’d have hoped, but it was eaten with appreciation.

Boxing Day dawned bright and clear, though things quickly went downhill in several directions.  Firstly I found myself fulminating at the Junta’s proposals to repeal the ban on fox hunting.  Given their complete callousness, lack of compassion, and hatred of the people they’ve been persecuting since 2010, I suppose it was naïve of me to expect that they would display any pity for animals, especially given the badger cull.  Anyway, at least they have nailed their colours to the mast, for those who were in any doubt. They are in favour of charging around the countryside like a gang of medieval Yahoos with a pack of dogs, killing and maiming animals. OK.  I  didn’t really expect much more of them, to be honest.

The justification that the ban is somehow unworkable, however, doesn’t really stand up. If the police put as many resources into cases of animal cruelty as they do into dispersing peaceful demonstrations by “Occupy”, then we’d soon see if the act was “workable” or not.  As it is, the police don’t seem to give a stuff, and the police and crime commissioners care even less.  When there are arrests and trials for animal abuse, senile magistrates let those responsible off with a caution. The two suspects who were arrested on suspicion of arson by Greater Manchester Police in respect of the Harpurhey Dogs’ Home fire have been quietly released without charge. Very poor, GMP.  Four out of ten, must try harder.

Katie Hopkins, someone who is famous for self-promotion and not winning The Apprentice, said this week that opposition to fox hunting is just jealousy dressed up as animal rights. Well, Katie, my dear, I can assure you I have never felt the slightest pang of regret that my circumstances prevent me from mounting up on horseback in a silly red coat and driving a pack of dogs to rip a fox to shreds, and to be honest, I can’t imagine the mind set where anyone would be envious that they can’t have a go at it. Mind you, Katie Hopkins also said this week that she thinks fat kids are being abused by their parents because of their diet. She’s very big on fat, Katie. Presumably her house doesn’t have any mirrors. 

My beard-chewing fulminations were interrupted by a domestic drama which was much more sudden.  It was 4pm and getting dark. Matilda had already put herself to bed for the day on Colin's settee. Debbie set off to take Muttkins into the woods and throw some sticks for her.

Sometime towards the end of this proceeding, Misty heard something - probably a firework, since there was some moron setting them off at 2AM on Christmas Eve, and they are pretty prevalent round here at the moment. Misty legged it, with Debbie in hot pursuit.

On her way back down to the main road, Debbie heard an awful bang. Next, she met a woman she sees occasionally out dog walking, who said "If you're chasing a border collie, I'd get a move on, she's just been hit by a car and it doesn't look good."

Debbie called on her former Yorkshire Cross Country champion running reserves and stepped it up by several gears. When she reached the road, Misty was lying partly on the pavement, party in the road, with four people round her.  Debbie sprinted to the house, got two dog towels out of the lobby, and shouted round the kitchen door to me "She's been knocked down! I'm taking her in!" [to Donaldsons, the vets] I phoned Donaldsons on my mobile and let them know. By the time I got off the phone and wheeled my wheelchair out into the lobby, Debbie had already scooped up Misty off the road, wrapped her in the towels, put her in the camper van, and taken off in the general direction of Donaldsons, at a speed calculated to escape Earth's gravitational pull. By the time I reached the end of the ramp, all I heard was the distant whine of the turbo-charger cutting in, as she went under Lockwood Viaduct.

Anyway, the vets checked her out (the dog, not Debbie) and, at a cost of £107.99, we now know that she had three cuts, two to one hind leg, one to the other, but no broken bones or other serious damage. She was a bit subdued that night, as you might expect, but once she’d had her painkillers, wrapped in some pressed ham, she curled up and went to sleep on the other settee in Colin's front room.

Stupid dog.  As I said at the time, on Facebook, cherish what you have, brothers and sisters, because you never know when it is going to be snatched away from you in an instant.

Our other, fat, “child”, Matilda the cat, was rather nonplussed by the arrival of the Boxing Day snow. She dithered on the doorstep of the conservatory and eventually turned round and went back into the kitchen, jumping up on the settee nearest the stove.  I think that’s known as voting with your feet, or in her case, paws. She did, later, stomp angrily into next door and go out briefly through her cat flap, in a futile bid to discover whether the grass really was greener on the other side. It wasn’t, so she came back in, curled up and went to sleep, which actually seems to be to be possibly the most sane reaction to waking up and finding that he house is surrounded by snow.

Today, she did pretty much the same routine, except that she interspersed it with a period of bird-watching through the conservatory door. The birds, especially the pigeons and jays, took great delight, knowing that Matilda was safely shut behind 2cm of double glazing, in strutting around on the decking, hoovering up the bird food I’d broadcast on the snow, and generally taunting the cat. Matilda, for her part, chattered and growled and swished her tail, and very occasionally waved a half-hearted, well-fed paw in their general direction. Then she gave up and went to sleep, which is pretty much the default factory setting for any make of cat.  Debbie, too, was quite excited by watching the birds, and called out to me, while I was otherwise engaged cooking her breakfast porridge, that there were two crows on the railing of the decking. I said I thought this was unlikely and she said, well, they could be blackbirds – or are they the same thing? The last time I castigated her on her lack of ornithological knowledge, she replied that what did I expect, she wasn’t Percy bloody Thrower, so this time, I wisely let it lie.

There has been no news as such this week, not that has reached me, anyway. Britain is paralysed by snow and ice, which, as a story is right up there with “Mafeking has been relieved” or “Catholic Bears Take Dump in Forest”.  Oh, and Nigel Farage has been named “Briton of the Year”, by The Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, a man who has done so much in his long life to contribute to those core British values of eavesdropping, nudity (specifically naked breasts, which is doubly ironic, given UKIP’s stance on breast-feeding) and offshore tax evasion.  These days, nothing much surprises me, but this is on a par with Jimmy Savile being given an award for childminding, or Dracula being honoured for services to the blood transfusion service.

It’s a classic illustration, though, of how someone can barge their way to the front in politics by appearing to be a man of the people, not answering any questions,  and yet seeming to have all the answers.  Without wishing to invoke Godwin’s law, the parallels with the rise of Hitler are striking enough to at least note, if not (yet) a perfect fit.  You have a period of unrest and hardship. In our case, the financial mess after the world banking crash of 2009, followed by four years of misguided “austerity” which has made things worse.  In Germany’s case, it was the Weimar Republic struggling to cope with the effects of the harsh reparations imposed by the Allies on Germany at Versailles.  And in each case, you have a distrust of mainstream politicians, and a man who comes along, presenting himself as an outsider, a man of the people, who has simple solutions to make Germany/England great again, by scapegoating the Jews/immigrants, delete as applicable.  Of course,  Hitler’s vision of “greatness” was a bit more global, whereas Farage’s is mainly confined to sending all the brown people home, being allowed to smoke in pubs, getting women to clean behind the fridge, and not letting gays stay in B&Bs.  But give him time.

Anyway, in this strange week where every day is like a Sunday, we have finally reached a real one. Another bright, sunny morning, where I was reminded, as I trundled down the ramp to put the rubbish in the bin, of T S Eliot’s “Midwinter spring is its own season”.  There can’t be many people who recite T S Eliot to themselves while putting out the rubbish, and my own extempore performance of Little Gidding was curtailed by my discovering the lid on the dustbin was frozen down, so I had to whack it with a stick to free it before I could dispose of the bin-bag. Nevertheless, there were all the elements of Eliot’s vision present in the garden and the trees across the road:

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.

And, indeed, as Eliot asks, where is summer now, the unimaginable zero, summer.  I looked through the calendar of Saints for today, and to be honest, they are a rather lacklustre, unprepossessing bunch.  Apologies to anyone with a special devotion to any of them, but my eye was caught rather by the fact that tomorrow is the Feast of St Thomas a Becket, which seemed altogether more interesting, and which also has a T S Eliot connection, of course, via Murder in the Cathedral.  I found that Eliot’s lines in the speech of the chorus, where they describe themselves as living and partly living, had particular resonance for me after the fiasco on Boxing Day. How easily we could have been mourning, rather than rejoicing, and who knows, maybe in an alternative universe, our other selves are.  One thing’s for sure, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve had it with partly living. From now on, as if I shouldn’t have already learned this lesson well enough from my own life in the last four years, I intend to try and cherish every moment, even the moment when you find that the wheelybin lid is frozen shut.  Because you never know the minute or the hour. You never know when you are going to find three drunkards with longswords (or the modern equivalent) barring your way and saying “Time’s up.”

So I’m now going to put this idea to the test by cherishing every moment of tidying up and rationalising the contents of the food cupboard.  There are going to be things which are even more of a challenge. By this time next week, it’ll be al over and we will, once more, have had to endure the most loathsome night of the year, New Year’s Eve, where we count the empty chairs and nurse our wounding regrets. Try cherishing that, me old matey.  Then there’ll be January, the month of tax returns and abandoned cats and dogs. That, too, will be a tough cherish.  So I had better get some practice in now, on these jars of piccalilli.


  1. Thanks Steve! a very good one this week :-D and So glad of course that all well for Misty and that she can look forward to a happy new year

  2. It's the Feast of the Holy Innocents today. It matters to me for all sorts of reasons, some of which are not compatible with political correctness.

  3. I'm sorry I missed that one. Will look into it