It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. I billed it last week as the week from hell, and it didn’t disappoint. There have been days this week when I wondered what the hell was coming next, and when it did arrive, I wished I hadn’t bothered wondering. Days when I sprinkled the Canicalm on Misty’s food and seriously considered topping off my breakfast cereal with a generous dose of it, as well.
The animals have, I supposed, been the least affected by the comings and goings and vicissitudes of fortune. Matilda has been coming and going more or less as normal, apart from the day she got caught in a hailstorm, a circumstance over which she was most unimpressed.
The dogs have been around their usual circuits, doing their usual things: rooting in the undergrowth, snuffling in the leaves and, in Ellie’s case, licking an unattended Ryvita which Debbie had unfortunately left unattended on a plate within her reach. Fortunately Debbie saw her do it, otherwise she would never have known. It looks as though Ellie has inherited Zak’s official mantle as the “snapper-up of unconsidered trifles” – and, indeed, unconsidered Ryvitas.
The birds and squirrels have been continuing their ongoing banquet on the decking. I had actually made some Hare Bari Kebabs (a sort of cauliflower, potato and pea vegan pakora) last week. These are known in our household variously has Hari Kari Kebabs, Care Bare Kebabs or Hari Krishna Kebabs. Anyway, there were four left, and, as they were hanging around, and not wishing to poison anyone particularly, I added them to the dish for the birds and the squirrels, having crumbled them up first. I thought the birds would benefit from the flour which had absorbed the fat and the oil.
It didn’t take long for the first squirrel to arrive and assess the situation. It obviously worked out that underneath the top layer of Hare Bari Kebabs, there was wild bird food in the rest of the dish. It then proceeded to remove each one of the pieces of kebab carefully from the dish, cast them aside, and rummage through the remainder, looking for the sunflower seeds. I reminded it that in this house, you shut up and eat what you are given It took absolutely no notice.
Shakespeare once wrote something to the effect that when sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions, and that has certainly been true, in a week which has seen whole armies of sorrows on the march. As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, it’s been the revenge of the computers. Last Sunday, the Epiblog was late because I spent the afternoon backing up 53,000 files, after having a computer disaster of gigantic proportions on Sunday morning which required the deployment of a windows startup disk. I thought I had sorted it, but no, on Thursday it recurred, and this time the startup disk didn’t work. I had potentially lost four days’ work at that point, and I was not a happy man. I hadn’t exactly started the week in a sunny mood, either.
By the end of Thursday, I went to bed mentally totting up the cost of a new laptop, plus all of the replacements or upgrades for the software I would end up having to buy again. Not surprisingly, it was a restless and fitful night.
I was up and about early on Friday for a variety of reasons. Having had another fruitless try at getting Windows to load properly, I ended up calling Colin, our mobile computer expert. He was here in about 10 minutes, though to be fair, he was already in the area with another client, he diagnosed that it was actually probably a hardware problem with the laptop’s keyboard (I’ve written a few million words on it, so he may well be on to something) and within minutes he had popped it out and was delving about in the innards underneath. He connected it all up again, apart from the bit that had been causing the trouble, plugged in an external keyboard (of which we have at least three lying about, fortunately) turned it off, turned it on, and hey presto, here I am. At a cost of under £50.00, for which he will also throw in bringing and fitting a new integral keyboard for the laptop next week, it’s a lot cheaper than a new machine, which would inevitably have had the hated Windows 8 as its OS, and I haven’t lost everything.
If you are in the Holme Valley, Huddersfield, or the general Cleckhuddersfax area, I cannot recommend this man highly enough. He also let Matilda out for me while he was here, as she had, unusually for a visitor, graced him with her presence and come through from Colin’s to see what all the fuss was about. So, that was one bullet dodged, and the first thing I did was to back everything up. Again.
That was the last bit of good news this week. Unfortunately, in the early hours of Saturday morning, Deb’s dad, who had been ill for a while and had been back in hospital for a week or so, died in his sleep at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. It’s still too early to start philosophising about an event which we haven’t properly taken in, and in any case, in his last days, he was adamant that he didn’t want any fuss, but obviously I can’t let the fact go completely unremarked.
It wasn’t until Deb and I had already been together for a while that I met her Dad, and once I had met him, I could at last understand where Debbie had inherited her quirky characterfulness from, as it had previously been a mystery to me. He certainly was a character, as the many posts on the Holmfirth Harriers Facebook page in tribute to him will attest. His running career also encompassed Longwood Harriers, and for a considerable while, he held their marathon record. He had the misfortune, purely as an accident of history, to have been in the prime of his own running career at exactly the same time as a plethora of other athletic heroes were having theirs. Had he not been a contemporary of Derek Ibbotson and his ilk, he may well have run for England, or even Great Britain. He could, almost certainly, had he “majored” his Irish granny, have run for Ireland, but England was his preference.
He was also, which surprised many people, an intelligent bloke, who was more than capable of holding his own in a discussion with anyone on a wide variety of subjects. I only say this because people don’t automatically think of athletes as being well-read and well-informed, though he certainly was. I didn’t always agree with him, but he could put forth and structure an argument, when he chose to.
In his latter days, following his retirement from “active” running, he still followed races both near and far, and became almost as well known as a spectator, as he was when he actually competed. He also loved going out for a run, or, latterly, a walk, himself, with one or other of the many dogs, especially Lucy, with whom he did have a special bond, and whose death deeply affected him, and then with Zak, whom many Harriers will remember as possibly the only canine spectator at their Leeds Road training sessions. I had to break it to Zak that I would have to be his honorary Dad now. He was singularly unimpressed, but at least he gave paw.
There are people who knew him much better than me, who can eulogise him much better than I can. But, like Alf Tupper, he was the Tough of the Track, and, like Alf Tupper, he often caught people by surprise, both on and off the course, especially those who underestimated his face value.
Because his birthday was only a day or so separate from Burns Night, and because I celebrate Burns Night because of my mother’s Scottish blood (though I’m not entirely convinced it wasn’t just Ribena) we had, once or twice combined both celebrations, and during one such meal round at our house I read him the poem The Song of The Ungirt Runners, by Charles Hamilton Sorley, the poet who was killed, like so many other poets, in the First World War.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.
Anyway, he’s gone, and, although he wasn’t a particularly religious man or a Bible-believer or anything like that, I think he hoped that, in the world to come, he’d be jogging along over the moors with Lucy at his heels, and maybe with little Freddie as well, trying to keep up, huffing and puffing along behind, as fast as his little terrier legs will carry him. That’s how I’d like to think of Mike, wherever he is now,. Running because he likes it, through the broad, bright land.
Other than that, it’s been a pretty normal sort of week. Par for the course. Apart from the iceberg, the Titanic wasn’t a bad ship, either. The entire internet, it seems, spent the whole week arguing about what colour somebody’s dress was, while kids were still dropping like flies in Africa from entirely preventable causes, such as lack of clean drinking water. Madonna (remember her?) was capering about in a cape on stage at the Brits, surrounded my male dancers who were definitely not gay despite being naked from the waist up and dressed as horned, green, Satanic fauns. One of them grabbed her cloak and tugged at it, intending, a la Bucks Fizz in Eurovision, to reveal a much skimpier costume underneath (had I been there, I’d have been shouting “keep ‘em on”).
Unfortunately, the cape was made of sterner stuff, and Madonna came off with it. Off the podium, that is, doing a full “Humpty Dumpty” down the stairs. Still, she got up and finished the song, so it wasn’t all good news. It reminded me of What A Swell Party This Is…
Have you heard about poor Blanche
She got hit by an avalanche
Game girl, though, she got up and finished fourth.
The Brits has always been known, though, for carefully-choreographed car-crash television, from Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox’s buttock-clenchingly bad attempt at being joint hosts, to Chumbawama tipping an ice-bucket over John Prescott, to Jarvis Cocker baring his arse at Michael Jackson, the latter definitely a risky enterprise, if you ask me. So, who knows if Madonna did it on purpose or not. All I know is that you never see Madonna and Maradonna in the same room at the same time, and I, for one, think that is something worthy of further investigation.
It could just be, of course, that the “material girl” was caught out because her cloak had just too much material. Meanwhile, the row in the UK about poverty and living standards rumbled on. As I said last week, the Junta were really rattled by the jolly old, good old Church of England telling it like it was about the unfair, divisive, and hurtful policies of “austerity” driving people into poverty and then punishing them by denigrating them for being destitute. The fact that it had got under their skin and stung them was confirmed this week when, in a spiteful piece of “The Empire Strikes Back” type publicity, the government pointed out that the Church of England employed people at less than the “living” wage.
Justin Welby, much to my disappointment, apologised in various media interviews. Had I been the Archbishop of Canterbury, I would have said “the living wage is still higher than the minimum wage, and we constantly look to improve the working conditions of our colleagues. What about all those minimum wage and zero hours contracts jobs “created” by the Blight Brigade?”
I might have gone on to quote Matthew 7, verses 1-5:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Or, indeed, that quotation from one of Michael Foot’s speeches
''We are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. This is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of the initiative, I would answer: to Hell with them. The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do.'
The greedy and mean were certainly at it again this week, with both Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind caught out by yet another of these “fake sheikh” type “stings” by a combination of Channel 4 and The Daily Telegraph. When will these politicians learn? It just goes to show the utter contempt with which they regard us, the electorate that put them there. And we can’t even say that we’ve got the finest politicians money can buy, because most of them are lazy, inept, stupid non-attenders who are at best, past-masters of “present-eeism”, when they can even be bothered to turn up and saunter through the odd lobby. And if Ed Miliband is suddenly so keen on MPs having no other employment, why didn’t he sign my 10 Downing Street petition to that effect, when I started it a year ago?
Jack Straw apparently wanted £5000 per day, or possibly per hour, I can’t remember now, while Rifkind was claiming he had to take on this work because he couldn’t manage on £67,000 per year. Iain Duncan Smith, however, says people can live on £53.00 per week, although he has always refused many challenges to do just that. Come on, Tories, make your mind up. Unless of course, IDS meant “poor people can live off £53.00 a week”. The Commissioners who will be – completely undemocratically, as they are government-appointed commissars of the sort we once used to tease the Russians about – running Rotherham Council for the next four years can't manage on £53.00 a week. They are being paid £800 a day. There are five of them, so that is £4000 a day, or, to put it another way, £1,460,000 a year. I can’t help but wonder if, instead of cutting the rate support grant to the bone and beyond, Eric Pickles had been willing to invest that sort of money five years ago, say in children’s services in Rotherham, the outcome might have been different. As it is, Rotherham’s taxpayers, indeed all taxpayers, are being treated to the sound of the stable door being shut with a resounding clang, by someone they didn’t even get the chance to choose to do the shutting, and they’ll now have to pay for new hinges on top! Great result.
The government (if I can justify them with that grand a title) don’t care about places like Rotherham, of course, not until and unless something happens there that creates a situation which can be manipulated to political advantage, regardless of whether or not it will actually solve the issue. That’s when they shake the magic money tree and hey presto, enough cash to buy a giant elastoplast. They don’t care about any of the people their policies hurt and damage. You have only got to look at rough sleeping.
Rough sleeping has risen by over 50% across England under the rule of the Junta from 1,768 people in 2010 to 2,744 in 2014. Despite Boris Johnson’s promise that he would end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012, the number of homeless people in London has almost doubled from 415 to 742 people between 2010 and 2014. And, of course, that’s only the documented cases, the people who actually got counted, and doesn’t include the vast army of sofa-surfers, or those who, on the particular night of the census, managed to get lucky and find a bed in a hostel for once. This is based on a government set of statistics as reported by the homeless charity, Crisis, who also pointed out that homeless people are 13 times more likely than the rest of us to be the victims of crime, and the average age of death if you are homeless is just 47.
So, anyway, that was the week that was. A week when we all came face to face with the final frontier, even Leonard Nimoy. A week when we all had to face up to and acknowledge the transitory nature of life, that knowledge that we all carry round with us, like a pebble in the shoe, as soon as we become old enough to realise it. Today is St David’s day, and it’s also the feast day of the lesser-known, but splendidly-named, St Suitbert of Kaiserswerdt. I have absolutely no idea who he was or what he did, and to be honest, even St David seems a bit irrelevant, right now. Spring may be coming, it’s true, but right now, there is a sad time to be faced and endured, so my own feelings are more grounded in Lent than in joyously celebrating Maisie’s indestructible daffodils, which come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty, as Perdita says in A Winter’s Tale.
Today is also the second Sunday of Lent, so I turned to the Lexicon and found that amongst today’s “set texts” is Mark 9: 2-9, which contains the account of the Transfiguration.
And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
I’ve always been a great “fan” of the Transfiguration, at least of one particular representation of it, that painted by Guiseppe Cesari, also known as the Cavaliere d'Arpino, on a wood panel, in Italy in the 16th century. It hangs in the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, which is where I first saw it. It had been recently cleaned that day, and the colours blazed forth and bathed me in their light. I’ve been back many times to see it, I’ve even stood in front of it and sketched it, but nothing can compare with that first moment. The moment when I not only loved the painting, but realised that what it meant was that “art” was not only for the great and the good, but also for a snotty kid from the slums like me. I’ve reproduced it at the top of this blog, but nothing compares to the original.
I was also impressed by the Biblical account of the Transfiguration. Not because I think it’s literally true, though who knows what visions may be wrought by the power of the collective unconscious between a group of people who believe strongly enough in their substance, but by what it meant. Or what I thought it meant.
What it means to me, what the Transfiguration says to me, is it speaks of the possibility of sudden, blinding change, of revelation that there is something else, a world of pure light and goodness beyond. We only get a glimpse, and the curtain drops again, and you look around and all the angels and prophets have gone, and there’s just you, alone on the mountain. First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is. Then life goes on, and you’re back to peeling potatoes or putting out the ashes. But, without mixing my metaphors or pickling my prophets, with the Transfiguration, you have had a chance, like Moses, to peep over into the promised land. Backed up by a promise, in the form of a spooky voiceover by Big G in the Bible account, that there is something there, after all.
If it’s not too blasphemous a thought, that’s how I’d like to think of Mike: not dead, but transfigured, along with Lucy, running through the broad, bright land. The promised land. Sit terra tibi levis.