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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Epiblog for the Third Sunday of Epiphany

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. And a cold one, with winter starting to bite with a vengeance. Gales, rain, hail, and snow have all featured this week, and on a couple of memorable occasions, we had all four together.  The main casualties have been the flag of Free Tibet, which is now dipped permanently at a respectful 45 degree angle, the copper wind-chime mobile thing, which used to hang off one of the trees and which was flung across the garden like a Frisbee by one particularly vicious gust, and the shed door, which, despite all my fears to the contrary, did actually remain attached to the shed, though it went on a sabbatical for a day or two, flapping wildly in the mad wind, but somehow, the buckled hinges held. 

It’s now propped back in place (the catch no longer meets or catches) with two stones from what will, one day (I live in hopes) become my rockery. Everything inside the shed was wet through, of course, and in any case, the roof is losing more strips of timber every time it blows a hooley, so ultimately, it’s looking like one of this year’s garden projects will be to dismantle it and replace it, either with another shed or with something else. I would suggest a water feature, but that would be tempting the weather-gods to give us another dreary, wet summer.

So, another week where we ended up battered and bruised. Poor little Matilda found herself more than once caught in a sudden hail shower, hard and stinging as the arrows of Agincourt, and had to run for it, or rather scuttle for it, ears flat and belly low to the ground, across the decking and in at the conservatory door faster than you could say “Cool for Cats”.

Misty’s walks have, also because of the weather, been more localised than in previous weeks, as Debbie, in a rare display of self-restraint, has seen sense and decided not to go yomping thirteen miles over Black Hill to Crowdon in a blizzard and freezing fog. I was quite surprised by this, because she’s normally a girl who can’t see an envelope without wanting to push it, a mental attitude that will, one day, I am sure, lead to her being given a ride in a big yellow helicopter. But, this week, at least, wiser counsels seem to have prevailed, and Misty has, instead, been playing in the woods, trotting round Blackmoorfoot Reservoir, or swimming in the rather bracing, icy waters of the River Holme down near Armitage Bridge.

The birds and squirrels have also been busy about their business, and we’ve almost gone through a second bag of bird food.  At least their antics provide some entertaining “Cat TV” for Matilda to watch from the interior side of the conservatory door. No more prayer flags have gone missing, and, indeed, somehow, miraculously, the one the squirrels lost half way up John’s tree is still there, caught precariously on a thin branch in such a way that it has nevertheless defied everything the week’s storms could chuck at it. Every morning, when I swing my legs out from under the warm duvet into the chilly atmosphere, I look for it, and give it a sort of mental salute in an “Oh Say Can You See…” sort of way.

What we’re all waiting for – praying for, in my case – is spring. It has to happen, it will happen, eventually. There will come that day when you know you have made it through another winter. At the moment, though, I feel like I am living in a painting by Breughel, trundling over the ice, and picking up fallen twigs and branches with which to light the stove. Plus, it will, apparently, get colder yet, before it finally warms up, so there’s always that to look forward to!

Unfortunately, this week, the outside world has often seemed as bleak and wintry a place as the confines of our own garden. The pre-election fever continues, febrile as ever. Can we really take five more months of this? Am I the only person in the UK who doesn't give a tinsel fairy's fart if there aren't any TV debates before the next election? In fact, I would welcome them having to go back to having to convince people at public meetings, where they could be heckled.  With the possible exception of the Greens, whose heart is in the right place even if they are in La-La land on defence policy, I wouldn't care if someone put all the rest of them in a bag in the river with some rocks. And don't try and tell me there is any correlation between what they might say in such an event and what they would actually do if and when they achieved power because they are all lying conniving self-serving shysters. Nick Clegg, meanwhile, has apparently said that he won't sit in a cabinet with Nigel Farage. Which is a shame, because otherwise we could have locked both the buggers in there, and prevented them from causing any further mischief.

The media frenzy and political fallout over Charlie Hebdo continues, with Benjamin Netanyahu, no less, marching through the streets of Paris to uphold the right of journalists to free speech. I did not see the ghost of Tom Hurndall marching beside him, but I am sure he must have been there, rejoicing over the sinner that repenteth. David Cameron is another who has been busy prattling on about freedom, while at home his Junta is formulating yet more plans to record and keep every email, text message or social media chat, just in case.  Quite how the cause of national security can be served by my text to Debbie of “Don’t forget to pick up a bag of muttnuts on your way back from college!” being stored deep in the vaults of GCHQ escapes me.  The thing is, you see, that in all of the recent outrages, or foiled outrages, the people who perpetrated them were already on the radar. So it’s not a case of needing to access your Facebook chat in order to prevent anything, it’s a case of the security services doing better with what they have already got.

But of course it suits the Blight Brigade to have us all cowed and scared and divided and looking for Islamic extremists under the bed. It’s the politics of the five minute hate, from 1984, and at the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, it’s also the politics of Hermann Goering, although the quotation hasn’t ever been conclusively attributed to him:

Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

Whether or not Goering actually ever uttered those words, it’s nevertheless a fairly cogent summing up of what’s being done to us with increased terror threats, surveillance, and juryless trials where the accused isn’t even allowed to know the charge against them. Especially as, statistically, you are probably more likely to die of a surfeit of Lampreys than in a terrorist outrage.

Of course, everyone who is dead is 100% dead, so, for them and their next of kin, percentages become meaningless, and it’s this that the Junta harps on about, because they don’t want to see themselves monstered in The Daily Mail, because governments always have to be seen to be doing something, however stupid and ineffectual. Oh, for a politician with the guts, the balls, to stand up and say “Look, unless and until we disengage with these people, they are going to pop up all over the place in greater numbers, and the only way we can stop them is to sacrifice all of the freedoms we fought for in 1940 and turn the UK into a fascist state with barbed wire and machine-gun posts on every corner. And I am not prepared to do that.”

No politician will ever say that, though, a) because it would mean telling the truth for once and b) because – especially with the current lot, and the even scarier lots queuing up in the (right) wings, it would rather suit them to have Britain turned into a cross between Colditz and Auschwitz.  It would save them having to worry about the time when people start rioting in the streets because of “austerity”.

Perhaps that’s what George Osborne is counting on, since he’s once more attempting to convince people that black is white and red is black and vice versa.  This week, when they could have been discussing something useful like how to get homeless rough sleepers off the streets in this bitterly cold weather, parliament instead was doing its usual punch and judy show over the Office of Budgetary Responsibility’s austerity report. (How much money, I wonder, could be saved by scrapping the Office of Budgetary Responsibility?)

Because Labour have announced plans that could add an extra £170bn to the deficit by the 2020s, George Osborne has been quick to condemn this as some sort of return to profligacy, totally (and deliberately) ignoring that an investment of this magnitude in public works would bring positive benefits to the economy, and a return on investment in the form of a higher tax take.  Ed Balls, to give him credit (and there’s a sentence you won’t see me type very often, so make the most of it) said this in the debate:

Three factors can bring the deficit down: spending cuts, decisions to raise taxes, and what happens to the underlying growth of the economy and the tax revenues which flow from that. Ultimately, the only way of reversing the problem is yes, to cut spending, and yes, to raise taxes… but also to get the economy growing in a stronger way which will bring in tax revenues.

George Osborne has been rather coy about that aspect of things, because while the economy is (technically) growing, the jobs that have been created are in low-paid, often insecure work – to the extent that many people, although in work, are still on benefits, an added drag on growth - and there is lower productivity. As a result, income tax receipts are a cumulative £68 billion lower than Osborne’s 2010 forecast, and national insurance contributions are a cumulative £27 billion lower than he planned.  And this was the man who was going to have eliminated the deficit by now.  As Mike Sivier has pointed out:

Osborne’s own plans would cut government spending – mostly on the kind of wealth redistribution that allows the poorest and the working-class to enjoy a reasonable standard of living – by around 26 per cent, totalling a massive 41 per cent since 2010, if a Conservative government is returned in May. In addition, he is relying on a £360 billion borrowing spree by UK citizens, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility – which will leave households with an amount of debt 180 per cent larger than their income (see the image at the top of this article).  Just think about that. Back in 2010, he was comparing the national debt to households having ‘maxed out’ all their credit cards. That was when the debt totalled 78.4 per cent of GDP (the amount of income the nation generates every year). Why is he now saying that households should take on a burden that is proportionally more than twice as large?

It’s all very dreary. Dreary and weary as a wet weekend in January. The more so, because Labour seem incapable of landing this on Osborne’s jaw and making it stick. What will it take for people to see through this sneering, capering pantaloon? Oh, I forgot, it will take them not to be distracted by government inspired media scare stories over terrorists and immigrants, who are, to many of the hard-of-thinking, one and the same.  Not forgetting the scare stories about how various lumps are falling off the NHS as it buckles under the strain of trying to cope with a typical English winter, dealing with meaningless targets that ignore clinical priorities and create forests of paperwork, and being dismantled and sold off by a Junta that assured us at the last election that it was safe. It’s easy to tell when a politician is lying: his lips are moving.

So, after a long and trying week that plodded by on leaden feet (and I haven’t even bothered damning Ageas insurance, Santander PLC, and EE, surely the most misleadingly-named internet provider in the word, since their provision is most frequently nothing, and nowhere: suffice it to say that the barge-pole long enough to touch these sets of clowns has not yet been invented) we come to the third Sunday of Epiphany.  After discovering (more or less by accident) that it was Year C this year, and that January 6th didn’t fall on a Sunday, I identified and read today’s texts, according to The Book of Common Prayer.  The one which spoke most to me was 1 Corinthians: 12-31, and here is part of it, in the full-fat, high-tar King James version:

 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?  And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?  If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?  But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.  And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.  And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:  that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

A Church, a religion, if you like, is made up of many people, all pursuing different roles and purposes.  This is one reason why it’s as futile to accuse all Muslims of being terrorists as it is to accuse all Roman Catholics of child abuse. Or all Anglican vicars of being shy, stamp-collecting ecclesiologists.  You might as well blame your arm for your foot treading in dog poo. The leaves are many, though the root may be one, and as for religion, so for society – it contains rich leaves and poor leaves, healthy leaves and sick leaves, young productive leaves and old withered leaves, and each one not only has a place, but is necessary, to show us both that there is such a thing as society in the first place, and to remind us that our own status on the tree of life is by no means fixed, and the branch you are sitting on may, one day, be sawn away from under you. Take a tip from one who knows.

Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind: No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were: therefore seek not to send for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

People who attack “religion” are frequently attacking not the basic concept of spiritual belief, but the misguided actions of those who consider themselves religious, and who are often nothing of the sort.  And yes, there are those in the church, any church, who do literally believe that the Bible is the word of God revealed, and there are those who have looked at it, and read it, and said, hang on, half of this is simply a desert bushcraft survival manual for The Children of Israel.

It is all too easy to dismiss the spiritual life as being the blind leading the blindly obedient, indoctrinated from birth, and taking all their experience of Big G from a book.  But this takes no account of the moments – what TS Eliot called “the moment in the draughty church at smokefall”, when you just know. You just know, in a way that goes deeper than words. In the same way as you just know you love someone, but describing how or why it's like that always seems to lessen the experience.

The moment, sitting on the roof of my Granny’s air raid shelter, aged eight or nine, when I looked at the trees on the horizon and was suddenly struck by their beauty. The moment when I sat on the end of the slipway at Brough Haven and watched the dancing light on the waters. The moment when I walked under the great Cedars of Lebanon in the college gardens and saw the sunbeams.  The moment when I looked out of the window of a room at Loughborough University in 1986, and saw the same sunlight dancing on a pool of rainwater on the flat roof of the building opposite, and knew, just knew somehow, that my dead mother was still OK, somewhere, and was happy.  The moment in Chartres cathedral when I saw the pattern of the stained glass reflected on the marble floor. The moment when I stood in front of the relic of the true cross in Holy Cross Abbey in Ireland, and felt and smelt the heat and spice of the streets of Jerusalem, these and many others have been my epiphanies, and they have nothing to do with reading about God in books.

As W B Yeats put it:

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

I do occasionally get feedback, beyond the normal comments on Facebook and on the actual blog itself, from people who actually take the trouble to email me. Usually, these are Nigerian gentlemen seeking my assistance in importing a cabin trunk stuffed with $50M in US dollars into the UK, or earnest Americans, intent on ordaining me as a deacon in my very own church, if I will only send them £250 for a certificate.  But occasionally, as I said, real people write. I was asked this week, for instance, whether I “write all this stuff” myself. I was tempted to reply that I give Matilda cat treats and in return, she points at the keyboard and tells me what keys to press, but no, it is all written by me, myself, personally. Well, with the help of my evil twin who we keep in the attic, but we don't talk about him. 

Another correspondent commented “I wonder that you can be bothered”, as if being bothered was something that took effort on my part. I suppose she meant “be bothered to write it” but if I’m not bothered one day by the mess our once great country is in, if I’m not bothered by cruelty and injustice, to humans and animals alike, if I’m not bothered enough to want to do something about it, and strive for a better world in which we, in the words of Abdu’l Baha (1844-1921) one of the stalwarts of the Bahai faith, “Tend the sick, raise the fallen, care for the poor and needy, give shelter to the destitute, comfort the sorrowful and love the world of humanity with all your hearts” then that’s the day to hack out to Interflora, because that’s the day I’ll be dead.  Actually, put a hold on the flowers: when Arthur Mee died, in 1943, it emerged that people sent small donations to children’s charities, marked “For Arthur Mee”. I’d be more than happy if people sent a widow’s mite to the local animal shelter “For Steve Rudd”.

Anyway, we seem to have got onto rather a morbid tack, somehow, although it’s hardly surprising on the eve of a week which contains Blue Monday, famously the most miserable day of the year. But we’ll get through it somewhere, somehow.  We muddle through.  There’s no point asking God about Blue Monday, because the only answer you’ll get is “this is the day the Lord hath made”. Religion doesn’t (at least it doesn’t for me, I only wish it did) give me any answers into why there is pain, death and suffering in the world, or why it has to be that way. The nearest I have ever been able to get, and the nearest I suspect I ever will get, in this plane of existence, is that Big G’s ideas of justice and suffering must be very different to our own limited human concepts of these things, but then you might expect that from something which underpins all reality, is outside of time, knows everything that has been, is, or shall be, world without end, and takes upon itself the sins of the world.  That’s gonna hurt in the morning, as they say. Beyond that it is down to faith, and listening, and sticking out dark nights alone, and keeping your lamp trimmed.

So, for my part, next week, I’ll just keep on Breugheling: gathering my sticks, illuminating my manuscripts, scribing my texts, feeding Matilda, my own version of Pangur Ban, and Misty, the bratchet, as fine as any to be found in a medieval bestiary; lighting candles and incense, cooking (vegan) stew and dumplings, and waiting for the ice to thaw, and the annual miracle of redemption and renewal to start. They also serve who only stand and wait, and that "serving" also includes serving stew and dumplings, so please allow me to take my leave of you for a while: I have an appointment with some carrots.

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