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

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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Epiblog for the Seventh Sunday After Trinity

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. Yes, we’re still here, becalmed. The camper van came back from the garage, finally, on Friday, and on Saturday morning, its battery warning light came on again. Since this was the issue which first caused it to be the subject of Father Jack’s ministrations, I couldn’t help but feel that, precisely one week later, we were still stuck in the same time-warp. So, tomorrow, we call the garage and give them the good news.  Other than that, we’ve been busy tying up what loose ends we can, although packing the camper to go off on a trip is a bit difficult when you don’t have access to the camper.

Matilda has been dutifully attending to her usual round of catty tasks, patrolling the decking, lying on the decking, sitting by the food bowl in expectation of being fed, squirrel-watching, and going to sleep on the settee in Colin’s front room.  She has also extended her repertoire to include fighting, or at least she did one day last week when we heard the sounds of a scrap between her and (presumably) a marauding cat that had entered “her” territory, outside in the garden.

Eventually, she appeared, having come in through the cat flap, apparently none the worse for wear.  However, when on her way to bed that night, Debbie paused to make a fuss of her and noticed what appeared to be another cat’s toenail embedded in the fur on top of her head.  I don’t think it had actually penetrated, but Debbie removed it anyway.  It was strangely appropriate, though, because I am sure that there were many occasions when she was younger when Debbie herself returned from a night out with someone’s toenail embedded in her head.

Misty has so far managed to spend the week without getting in any fights or incurring any toenail infarctions, although for some reason known only unto collie dogs, she has twice felt the irresistible urge to roll in cowclap while out on one of her many route-marches, and has had to have it cleaned off her by yours truly, upon her return.  Why do they do it? Tiggy, bless her, used to do a special variant when we were on Arran, rolling in guano, and even, on one memorable occasion, in the remains of an actual deceased seagull on the beach.

As for me, apart from occasional diversions into canine grooming, I have been busy trying to strike down the thicket of outstanding tasks, on the assumption that this weekend would see us en route to the Isle of Arran. I have been more successful in some tasks than others. The entire book trade seems to be gripped with a collective obsession for Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, to the extent that apparently certain Waterstones buyers, for instance, are literally unable to think of anything else.  It’s the times when I have to talk to people like that which really make me appreciate all the more the days I spend cleaning cowshit off the dog.  In any case, my efforts were unnecessary as it turned out, as we can’t get to Arran without the camper, see above. Still, I have done what I can, and on the domestic front, Katie the doggy nanny, Granny and Uncle Phil between them are set to take occupation and administer to Matilda’s every culinary whim, so that’s at least one thing crossed off the to-do list.

As you would probably gather, having been head-down, nose to the proverbial grindstone, I haven’t been paying much attention to the outside world anyway, although there are certain stories which are impossible to avoid, however much you concentrate on meditating on the stupidity of Waterstones.

It wasn’t all bad news. The Scottish National Party discovered they did have principles after all, it was just that Alex Salmond had locked them away in a drawer in Holyrood and it took Nicola Sturgeon a while to find the key. By threatening to vote against the partial repeal of the fox hunting ban, they effectively scuppered Cameron’s plan to relax even further the already unenforced law on the subject, and forced the Blight Brigade to retreat to fight another day.

All that Cameron had to offer in return was to bluster about the SNP being “opportunistic”, which is about as ironic as Prince Philip, this week, addressing a community group he was meeting in East London with the opening line “And who do you scrounge off?” Taxi for Mr Kettle, I think, in both cases.

Still, - and this is a sentence you won’t see me type very often, so make the most of it – good on the SNP. I hope that they will do more of this sort of thing, specifically to the Blight’s “austerity” plans, and all the Tories can do at the moment to stop them is to witter about English votes for English laws, although their current plans for these are woolly, imprecise, and unworkable as they stand.

It is pleasant to see David Cameron suffering in discomfort though, and if you think I am being harsh in saying that, I think we should perhaps pause to consider that all the time he was whittling on about understanding that parliament had voted against bombing Isis in Syria, and respecting the decision, we were actually bombing Isis in Syria. And he knew we were.

I know it’s a truism to say that the way you can tell if a politician is lying is that his lips are moving, but I was surprised that this wasn’t made more of. Basically, the Prime Minister ignored the sovereign will of parliament and lied, if not emphatically then at least by omission.  This sort of thing is precisely the reason why people hold politicians in such low esteem and feel that whatever they voted for (be it a cap on care home costs or a high speed trans-pennine rail link) their wishes are ignored by arriviste politicians who are much more interested in changing their bank accounts than in changing society.

If we had any doubt about that, this was the week when, just over a week after the budget when George Osborne told public sector workers that, in the spirit of “we’re all in it together”, they faced another five years of stringent restraint and annual increases of 1 per cent, we learnt that MPs have awarded themselves a 10% pay rise to £74,000 pa. I say “awarded themselves” although in fact the award was made by IPSA, an “independent” quango, which was set up to advise on MPs’ pay and to ignore public opinion on the matter.  I’d also like to know what IPSA costs us, per annum, if it comes to that.
Both the BBC and Channel 4 News wheeled out some identikit drone of a Tory MP, I missed his name, but does it matter, who said that he was in favour of the pay rise because, without it, parliament would be made up of “the rich, the mad, and those who were unable to do anything else”.  Quite how that differs from the present situation was not made clear.  I think whoever he was, the MP probably had a Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award in irony.

Cameron’s official position is that he opposed the rise, but since it’s been suggested by an “independent” body, then it would be rude not to, thank you very much, ker-ching! In the same week that MPs were reluctantly accepting an additional 10%, (well, dear boy, since you insist…) the Tata steelworks in Rotherham announced 700 job losses, which will devastate Rotherham still further, a town which is already on the floor in terms of economic deprivation and which is now being run by a junta of unelected government Gauleiters. This follows hard on the heels of the news of the closure of the last deep coal mine in Yorkshire. What price your northern powerhouse now, Mr Cameron?

The Blight Brigade will, of course, when challenged, point to the fact that they have created some potential jobs in Yorkshire – the secretary of state won’t be calling in the proposal to despoil the North York Moors National Park with a giant potash mine, and this week, they gave permission for the construction of a facility to breed beagles for laboratory experiments at Grimston, near Hull.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark (who he, anyway?) has allowed an appeal by Yorkshire Evergreen [which is part of US animal supplier Marshall BioResources] to breed beagle puppies and other animals for drug testing at the site, where dogs taking part in “scientific experiments” will be made to inhale toxic substances via masks, be force fed through tubes, and strapped down so that they can be injected with drugs. They will be exposed to weed killer, pharmaceutical drugs, and industrial chemicals.

I don’t really have the words to express my contempt for this decision. Well, I do, but they will quickly descend into Anglo-Saxon. I’m not going to debate here the rights and wrongs of animal research. I have said many times that the experiments have no scientific validity and are only done because the law, which is outdated and inappropriate, demands them, and there is no political will in the government and no will at all in a scientific community that relies on the funding which comes with the experiments, to rock the boat in any way at all. And so the status quo is maintained, and the animals continue to suffer.  If we really want to test toxic substances on living organisms, I would suggest that we start with MPs who accepted the pay rise.

To leaven the dish of bad news and negative stories, I should perhaps record that Dr Jo Patterson, of the Welsh School of Architecture, has succeeded in building an eco-house in 16 weeks (it’s actually part of something called the SOLCER project, she didn’t do it single-handed) in Brigend, which gives back more energy to the National Grid than it consumes. I was especially interested in this because of my interest in social housing generally, and particularly in turning neglected brownfield sites into self-contained “Rooftree” communities as a way of solving the social housing crisis. The SOLCER house (no, I have no idea what it stands for) is not much to look at, but then neither were the prefabs, yet they solved the housing crisis in 1945 – they may not have been homes fit for heroes, but they were a start, and a lot better than asking ex-servicemen to sleep under bridges, which seems to be the de facto position these days

Anyway, somehow we came to today, the seventh Sunday after Trinity, without really noticing. There are a few saints I was tempted by today, notably St Arsenius the Greater, but given my current state of mind, I didn’t trust myself not to be facetious.  So I turned instead to the Anglican tradition, and found that one of the set texts for today is the feeding of the five thousand, a Bible passage often referred to but, I suspect, very seldom actually read.  So I read it, in the full-fat, high-tar King James Bible authorized version.

And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.  And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.  And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.  And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.  And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.

So, here we go again with the miracles.  Actually, what struck me on the first read through, and it’s literally years since I read this, is that the pastoral imagery of Jesus as a shepherd and the disciples as sheep is present even here. I shouldn’t be particularly surprised, though, because the New Testament is shot through with it.  Various Biblical commentators, writing on this particular passage, contrast this mention of the sheep-shepherd relationship with the false leaders of Israel whose teachings Jesus was subverting. Also, it has been suggested that the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes is not intended to be taken literally, but rather as a metaphor for the hunger these people had to hear the Gospel, and that the preachings of Jesus were sufficient to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the crowd. I am not a theologian – half the time, I don’t even believe in the Bible, although some parts of it make more sense than others, but – at the risk of becoming tedious and repetitious – if there is no such thing as reality, which is becoming clearer and clearer with every new discovery of particle physics, then is there any reason why a massive effort of the will should not  bring about a desired result? Jesus takes the loaves and fishes and prays that there will be enough to go round.  Given that you would imagine that a prayer from Jesus, who had a broadband connection to God, probably got more priority than my musings and mutterings and febrile warblings in the watches of the night for St Gertrude of Nivelles to look after Matilda while we are away, who is to say what happened? 

Collective hallucination is one possible “scientific” explanation, but equally you could consider what if Jesus at that juncture somehow “jumped the points” and set off down a different track into an alternative universe where there was enough food to go round, and somehow took everyone else with him? Their lives were changed in more ways than one.  Of course, all the usual caveats apply – to even discuss this you have to believe that Jesus existed, that he was who he was, and that the thing really happened. Otherwise, it’s just another myth.  These days, I don’t know if I’m in the believer camp or not.  If I was still of a religious bent, I would say that Jesus is testing me, these days, by his absence. On the other hand, you could just as equally say that maybe I have been looking in the wrong place, when whatever it is, was under my nose all the time.

I haven’t forgotten, either, that this week contained a sombre anniversary. St Swithun’s day, which was a good day, weather-wise, and if it stays like that for 40 days I shan’t complain, also marked the fifth anniversary of me being whisked off to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for a life-saving operation that was the start of a six month stay in various hospitals and which culminated in my coming home that Christmas in a wheelchair.  As I wrote last week, in my semi-delirious state as I went under the anaesthetic, I did, somehow, experience a slight return of that feeling I’d had in Holy Cross Abbey, and it was while I was stuck in hospital, in the autumn of 2010, that I started writing these Epiblogs again. I came home that Christmas feeling that I had been handed a second chance, and determined to do something with the remainder of my life. But what?  Five years later, I am still no further on, and no wiser.  If only I had Jesus’s knack of interfering with “reality”, eh? Not forgetting also that yesterday would have been my mother's 87th birthday, her early and untimely death in 1986 being another thing I would rectify if I could but change things like Jesus changed them.

Still, they also serve who only stand and wait, and it looks like we’ll be doing quite a lot of that next week, depending what the garage discovers tomorrow morning when they have to undo their work of last week to find out exactly where they went wrong, then re-do it again, but right this time.  So, for the second or third week running, as I write this, I am finishing by saying that I don’t know where I’ll be this time next week, possibly the Isle of Arran, probably still here.  Whatever. With the wind in the willows, and the birds in the sky, we’ve a bright sun to warm us, wherever we lie. And, I hope, a jug of red wine.

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