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

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Epiblog for Gaudete Sunday

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. The weather has deteriorated remarkably, to exhibit all of the very worst features of winter in Britain. Cold temperatures, below freezing at night and not much better during the day; horrible driving rain for days on end, grey days when you never get to see the sun; darkness at four; yet more rain, drumming through the night. Oh, and did I mention the cold?  Yes, it’s true, there were a couple of days when it dawned bright, crisp and golden, but generally everything is sodden in the garden, and covered by a soggy mulch of dead leaves, some of which Matilda seems to bring in with her, stuck to her fur, every time she’s been out.

This was the week that the British Isles was supposed to have been hit by a “weather bomb”, a sudden and catastrophic lowering of air pressure creating a howling storm out in the Atlantic that was then going to sweep across the country like a Zombie Apocalypse, destroying civilisation as we know it.  In fact, what happened, here at any rate, was that it got a bit windy and it pissed down for three or four days solid. So from our point of view, the “weather bomb” was a bit of a damp squid.  A few of my friends (online, real-life, and both) who live in the Western Isles of Scotland were more seriously incommoded, with power outages and food shortages, not to mention ferry cancellations, but generally they took it in their stride. As far as they are concerned, it’s called ”winter”, and nothing much to get hung up about.

On Friday, having finished teaching for the week, Debbie decided she would take Misty and Zak up to Blackmoorfoot for a jolly jaunt in the rain and the dark.  I, meanwhile, was at home. I had been working, and I had also spent a considerable amount of time picking up Misty’s dried food, the aforementioned “Muttnuts”, off the kitchen tiles, because in the excitable milling about and running backwards and forwards that always accompanies preparation for walkies, Misty had put her foot on the edge of the dish and scattered them far and wide.

Granny arrived, wanting to leave Ellie with me while she went round to Adam’s for tea. There was no problem with that, except that Ellie wasn’t with her.  One minute, she was half way up the wheelchair ramp, following at Granny’s heels, the next minute, Granny arrived in the porch alone.  She went back outside, shouting “Ellie!” at the top of her voice, then came back in and went to the back door, repeating the process.  No response. Gradually, each time she went out the front, she retraced her steps further and further, then returned to the back door and once more issued her unanswered summons.  By now, her orbit was beginning to resemble one of the more eccentric comets, and I was beginning to fear that I would only see her once every few years, training a cloud of ice and rocks.  The next time she came in, she managed to put her foot on the edge of the dog dish and once more scattered the Muttnuts far and wide. I sat in the midst of the wreckage, blowing the dog whistle for all I was worth and shouting “Ellie!” but I might as well have saved my breath to cool my porridge.

Eventually, Granny’s forays brought her within the gravitational pull of a woman at the bus stop further down the road, who shouted to her that if by any chance she was looking for a little brown and white Parson Jack Russell terrier, she had seen one scuttling off thataway (points finger). Thanking her, Granny broke into a trot and was eventually able to catch up with Ellie, scoop her up in one fluid movement, and march back with the dog wedged under her arm.

Ellie was deposited on the dog bed while Granny administered a bollocking of Biblical proportions, leavened with several expressions that I had not realised she was familiar with. Admonished, Ellie curled round and went to sleep.

The week also contained, on Saturday, the anniversary of Tiggy’s passing, three years ago, but at the time, we were rather preoccupied with living dogs than ones which have gone to doggy heaven, and the day was generally a bit fraught, so we didn’t really get to commemorate it as it should have been commemorated.  Perhaps this evening might afford us a better opportunity.

The living dog who caused the problems was Misty. Deb had taken Misty and Zak up to Wessenden Head to walk them over the moors, even though the weather was deteriorating by the hour. The thing is, Debbie takes the view that if you can get wet through just taking them down to the cricket field (which you can, in this sort of weather) then you might as well go the whole hog and give them a decent walk.

No sooner had Debbie opened the door of the van and let them out into the car park, even before she had got Misty clipped onto the Karabiner, some inbred half-wit idiot let off his shotgun at a “grice”, up on the moors, and Misty took off like Usain Bolt on hearing a starting-pistol.  There was no way Debbie could have caught her, even though she was a former Yorkshire women’s cross country champion. Misty is made for the 100m dash, not the long run, and with Debbie it’s vice versa. So all she could realistically do was sit there with Zak and hope Misty returned.  If she’d driven off, and then Misty came back to the spot where the van was, she might have set off in yet another direction.

At home, where I was steadily ploughing through the annual task of writing a stack of Christmas cards, the phone rang. It was a very nice lady who asked did we have a dog called Misty. Yes we did, I said.  Well, they had her with them in their car, she had been barrelling down the white line in the middle of the 60mph limit road over the tops towards Rochdale and Oldham, and they’d managed to stop their own car, stop the traffic, grab her collar, and get her to safety. Then they’d taken her home and phoned the numbers on the dog tag. That dog tag was the best £6.00 I ever spent.  I thanked them profusely, and told them to hang fire and I would contact Deb on her mobile and she would come over and collect Misty from them.

This was where the problems started. Wessenden Head, despite being bare, windy, high up, covered with a combination of snow, heather, sheep, stone walls, and bugger all else, has no mobile phone signal. There are many places in the Holme Valley where you can only make a mobile phone call if you are standing touching the phone mast with one hand.  “The mobile phone you are calling is not available”.

At that moment, I could quite cheerfully have punched whoever at Virgin was responsible for this debacle.  I was stuck in the house in a wheelchair, Debbie was sitting in the van up in the snow at Wessenden, not knowing that Misty had been found, and the clock was ticking.  As there were no communications staff within arms reach, I contented myself with hurling the phone into the conservatory. It hit the floor once, then the door, and bounced off, back onto the dog bed. 

Fortunately, at that moment, Granny arrived like the demon king in a pantomime, with Ellie (firmly secured on a lead) in tow.  Did I know Misty was missing. Yes, and I also know she had been found.  My aborted phone calls to Deb had actually registered enough to make her phone squawk feebly, but not actually connect. She’s tried to call me back, reasoning I was maybe ringing about the dog, and, when she couldn’t get through to me, had called Granny. Using Granny’s mobile, which seemed to work better for some reason, the details of where Misty was were conveyed to Deb. Half an hour later, they were reunited.  I have no way of comparing the almighty bollocking that Debbie undoubtedly administered to Misty with that unleashed by Granny on Ellie, but I would imagine it was comparable, from Misty’s subdued nature on her return.

So, we don’t have much money, but we do see life, as Granny Fenwick was fond of saying. Other than that, hone life this week has been dominated by pre-Christmas chaos and we’re all clinging on by our fingertips, waiting for the Solstice, when things begin to turn around again.  Next week is Debbie’s last week of term, and then we will have a few days to catch our breath before the entire world shuts down for Christmas.  Amongst all the cheery missives and Christmas cards in the post this week was Debbie's annual statement of her former occupational pension from way back in the dim & distant when she was a social worker.  It contained the heartwarming message "If you had died on 30th November 2014, we would have paid you £7642.43". I can't help feeling that she has missed a trick there somehow! And, given their penchant for pointing out the bleeding obvious I was also surprised that there wasn’t some small print that said: on the down side, you would of course be dead.

I have been diverting myself by watching Masterchef again, albeit out of the corner of my eye, and only using 48K of my RAM, in what is laughingly described as my “spare time”. I have however learned two things from it this week – “When you are cooking pigeon on the bone, there’s no place to hide!”  Oh, really? What about behind the fridge?  And, apparently, when you are dressing a dish, the flowers always go on the plate last. So, that’s where I’ve been going wrong, putting the brown sauce on last.

It would be funny, if food were not so much at the forefront of the political debate at the moment, with the continued hardship inflicted on the poor and miserable by the Tory Junta’s “austerity” and benefits cutting policies.  The Bishbosh of Canterbury obviously reads my blog, anyway, because no sooner had I typed the words last week about why isn’t the Church of England denouncing this situation from every pulpit, when up popped Justin Welby and did just that.  I had very low expectations of him, when he came to the Office of Archbishop. To be honest, I thought that Rowan Williams was much better at being a “turbulent priest” but I can understand why he must have got fed up banging his crozier on the same doors over and over again.  I was hoping his successor would have been John Sentamu, which would have been like Mourinho becoming manager of Manchester United, never a dull moment.  Anyway, I have written to the Archbishop, telling him if he keeps this sort of thing up I might have to start going to church again. No doubt I will get the standard “nutter” reply from some ecclesiastical flunkey or equerry.

My culinary skills were insulted this week by two very august personages in the form of Baroness Jenkin and Michael Portillo.  Old Portaloo can safely be defused simply by recalling election night 1997, when the national grid nearly fused by people putting on the kettle for a cuppa at 3AM, the moment everyone had stayed up for. Baroness Jenkin, who, from her picture, looks like Tim Minchin on a bad day, says that poor people can’t cook.  Well, stuff you and the marrow you rode in on, Baroness. I’m a poor person, and I can cook.

I may be in the minority, I admit.  People have got used to convenience foods, and in an increasingly crowded and narrowed school curriculum, what we used to call “domestic science” has probably gone out of the window.  That could be cured, of course, by restoring some of the “austerity” cuts which Baroness Jenkin’s colleagues have inflicted on education, and eventually, the effects would percolate through.  I think, however, that the interest in home cookery has probably never been higher, and what stops a lot of people cooking who might otherwise do so, at home, is that they get in after working long hours in dead beat jobs where they have to have benefits to top up their meagre wages. Which, again, is something we have to thank the Tories and the mini-tories for. 

It takes a considerable effort of will to start making pasta from scratch and pounding herbs in a pestle while singing gay Neapolitan operetta, when you can just about keep your eyes open. Easier to reach for a tin of beans and the can opener.  Assuming of course, that you have a tin of beans, because if the DWP have sanctioned your benefits for missing the bus to your appointment, you might be like the woman I saw on TV this week who had five potatoes and an onion to last out the week. Anyway, Baroness, bloody Jenkin or whoever you are, I take no lessons in cookery from someone whose idea of entertaining is probably to get the caterers in, and who probably made the remarks after consuming the House of Lords annual per head figure of five bottles of Veuve Clicquot at one sitting.

While you are hiding behind the fridge from the pigeon on the bone, you could perhaps do a little light cleaning, which would help out UKIP, as once again they have been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons.  One of their members has allegedly also been “on the bone”, the splendidly named Roger Bird, who, it turned out, seems to have been doing just that, in the shapely shape of one Natasha Bolter.  I will forebear from making further comment, as I have no wish to intrude on private grief, but I suppose we must at least be grateful to him for making UKIP’s position on women clear.  During the week, I was actually the recipient of an act of kindness, which it seems appropriate to mention at this point. I had ordered some print which was supposed to be couriered to me, but owing to reasons of stupidity, the idiot printers had put the wrong house number on the parcel, and Parcel Force (or as we used to call them back in the day, Parcel Farce) had attempted a delivery to somewhere where I was not, given up, and taken the box to the local post office for me to collect.

Given that I can’t even get up the slope out of the driveway without someone giving my wheelchair a push, they might as well have left it on the moon for all the use that was to me. However, when I phoned up the post office and explained my predicament, the owner of the franchise very kindly, at his own expense and trouble, loaded the box into his car and drove it round here. He was, like most of the small shopkeepers and postmasters round here, Asian, or British Asian.  These are exactly the people who the likes of UKIP, Britain First, and the BNP would have us believe are leaching on the economy while plotting acts of terrorism. Just sayin’.

Speaking of wheelchairs reminds me of course that amongst the other “what the hell?” news stories this week was the court judgement that the disabled spaces on buses aren’t guaranteed to be for wheelchairs, apparently.  A wheelchair user sued First Bus because he tried to get on one of their vehicles and some stroppy woman was taking up the wheelchair space with a baby buggy and refused to move it.  The driver refused to intervene, it went to court, and First Bus won. So there you are, that’s another obstacle to getting to the dole office in time now, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to trundle through life on a set of wheels. It would really do some people a world of good to wake up one morning and find they’d lost the use of their legs, starting with whoever the idiot was that decided to defend the action on behalf of First Bus.

The other “WTH” story was the non-story that we have apparently been possibly complicit in torturing people as part of “The War On Terror”. Well, strap me to the mizzenmast and row me out to sea.  I'm slightly confused that this has come as a surprise to people. Was it only me who assumed the UK was complicit in rendition, black prisons, and torture, probably since about 2002, maybe even earlier, and that when our politicians said that we weren't, they were lying to us?

It’s the same with the NSA listening in to and bugging our conversations. They are all at it, like fiddler's elbows. The justification for it, which people have been asking for this week, was George Bush said "jump" and Tony Blair said "How high?" And I'm not surprised by the poor nature of the intelligence gained, either. If someone attached electrodes to my goolies, I'd tell them anything they wanted to hear, and lots of stuff they didn't, including the Hull City forward line for the 1969-70 season. Over and over again, until they turned off the current.

Accompanied by such idiocies around us, once more we have stumbled through to Sunday. This Sunday is “Gaudete Sunday”, when the church gets out its rose-coloured vestments and candles and we are enjoined to “rejoice” for the Advent season:

Gaudete in Domino imper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

Which may be translated as

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

And is apparently based on Philippians 4:4-6 and the first verse of Psalm 85.

So, this Sunday, I suppose I should be looking around for reasons for rejoice. I can think of lots of things not to rejoice about: MPs voting themselves pay rises and refusing to consider cheaper champagne;  refusing to approach the EU for help in funding food banks; playing Candy Crush Saga on their phones when they should have been contributing to a committee; wilfully denying any link between their policies and the effects of “austerity”, zero hours contracts, the Bedroom Tax, et al. Cuts and yet more cuts, and all the time, they are borrowing more.

So, Justin Welby, you have a lot to get your Episcopal teeth into. Rose-coloured vestments don’t come with rose-coloured spectacles.  And yet, and yet, I can find reasons to rejoice, if I really try. I can rejoice in the life of Tiggy, which we were lucky to share for fifteen years.  I can rejoice that we have enough food, for now at least. I can rejoice that there are people who are kind enough to find an escaped dog running in the road and rescue it. In fact, that there are people who devote all their spare time to rescuing lost and abandoned dogs, and trying to re-home them.  I can rejoice (if that’s the right word) in the efforts of people to combat the Ebola outbreak – and at this juncture I can mention Gez Walsh, who is doing a charity gig at the Black Bull in Skipton on Tuesday 16th December, next Tuesday in fact, in aid of the Ebola appeal. 

I wish I could rejoice in more. There are more things in which to rejoice, but the ones I’d most like to rejoice in are barred to me, some of them permanently.  I’d like to rejoice in the feeling that my prayers were answered, I suppose, probably most of all, right now.  But the only way sometimes to confirm a positive is to infer it from a negative.  The fact that I didn’t die in 2010, and the fact that we are just about managing, hard though it is, and the fact that we’re better off than a lot of people, in real, absolute terms, not just in this country but elsewhere in the world, is, I suppose, evidence of some sort of positive effect. Whether any of this would have happened without me praying for it is a moot point, of course. You can’t measure prayer in a test tube.  And, I suppose, in the same way as physics seems to be saying these days that we make up reality on the hoof as we go along, one person’s prayer may not work in the same way as another’s. I can’t tell you how to pray, because what I know as prayer may not work even for me. Prayer itself may not be a homogenous activity; there may be many forms of prayer, as many as there are people praying.

Perhaps what I should be doing, instead of worrying about whether prayers get through, is going into next week rejoicing in the small things and hoping to build on them.  Like the I Ching says, it is better for the small bird not to try and fly too high. So the rest of today will be muted rejoicing that we’ve got this far, while looking forward to the start of the process of casting off the darkness, at the end of next week.  Right now, though, I have a marrow to stuff.

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