The plan is now to get off sometime early next week, but, like poor old Jimmy Cliff, there are many rivers to cross, before that can happen. The weather here, meanwhile, is still stuck in that curious half-summer/half autumn mode that seems to have characterised it of late. The temperature goes up and down like a yo-yo, and the choice seems to be between hot and sultry but dull (I can think of several film stars that description also applies to) and cooler but a bit more sunshiny. Whatever happened to those long warm sunny days of summers past?
Matilda’s still spending more of her time out of doors, as well you might when it’s sticky and clammy and you are forced to wear a compulsory fur coat. She is still no nearer catching any of the squirrels, either. She could have a great career as a Bagpuss tribute act. Poor little dote, though, she’s going to miss us while we’re away. If we ever get away.
Misty, Zak and Ellie have all had various walks, treats and meals, Misty because she lives here and the other two because Debbie always believes in treating doggie guests as equals. The only problem with these much longer walkies is that Ellie really can’t hack it as she just isn’t built for 15 miles of rolling moorland, so she has to go separately on her own. She’s only got little legs, bless her.
The last week seems to have gone by in a blur for me. Like the weather, I, too, seem to be locked into a pattern, especially when it comes to holidays. The preparation for going on holiday is always stressful and depressing, nobody does my work for me while I am away, so there’s always a massive backlog when I get back, and there’s always the chance of losing the odd pet and/or the odd person, given Debbie’s insistence on climbing every mountain and fording every stream. Plus of course, every year the holiday more or less coincides with one or two “significant” ie depressing, anniversaries.
Baggis Day, which we celebrate every year in honour of our former cat, Russell, aka Baggis, reminds me that on the 9th July 2005, while Deb was kayaking in Brodick bay and we were out of range of all mobile phones, the poor little cat was dying at Donaldsons, after Granny had found him, keeled over, when she came to feed him that morning. He was, and still is, the best bad cat in the world, something he excelled at for all his 15 years of life, and he is still remembered. And St Swithun’s Day, July 15th, this year, will be the fifth anniversary of my dash through the streets of Huddersfield to the sound of the blue lights and the ambulance siren, en route to having my innards re-assembled, followed by six months in hospital, followed by officially discovering I had Muscular Dystrophy. 29th August will mark three years since Kitty died, two days after we got back from Arran that year. So all in all, it’s not a happy time of year, and I could do without it.
You could be forgiven for wondering why I bother to go at all, and I do sometimes wonder and ask myself that very question. I do enjoy it when I’m there, although it usually takes a few days to slough off the feeling that I should be doing something and learn to appreciate, once more, the virtue of doing nothing at all. Plus, of course, my winters are very long, and the thought of not getting away at all, and instead spending July and August doing more of the same, watching summer fade and die around me, and marking the encroaching cold and darkness, without having had at least a break from the norm, is probably even worse. So, in short, if I don’t go, I’ll wish I’d gone, and if I stayed at home, Debbie would probably go anyway on her own (well, taking Misty) and then I would still be worrying about them, but from a distance of about 250 miles, which is even worse.
The other thing which having an annual holiday at this time brings home, especially one in the camper van, is how much my condition has deteriorated in the preceding twelve months. At home, there is no doubt that life is easier for me, with everything more or less set up to facilitate the use of the wheelchair, and with my profiling bed. In the camper there are no such refinements, and the bed is hard and unyielding. This is not all bad news: a hard bed is actually better for my spine, but the struggle to transfer four times a day – bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to front seat, front seat to wheelchair, wheelchair to bed, takes its toll and is always fraught with the possibility of falling off and doing myself some damage and/or having to call an ambulance.
You could also be forgiven for thinking that God doesn’t want me to go on holiday this year, either – my tooth, of all things, flared up painfully during the week. One of those big, back, lower mandible molar wisdom thingies. I don’t know if it’s sprung a leak or what, but there is absolutely no time to go and see the dentist and get it fixed up. It’s so long, anyway, since I have been, that I bet the surgery has closed down, or at least I have fallen off their list. And of course, right on cue, the camper van has decided to play up.
Characteristically, in previous years, as soon as term has ended, we’ve let the garage give it the once-over, on the principle that a stitch in time saves nine, and it’s always potentially easier to get stuff fixed around here than in the wilds of Scotland where the only option might be to take a tow truck back home. This year, however, I thought we could maybe do away with even that expense (a service is about £150.00) because it’s been behaving itself and it was only up at the garage back in March when they had it in to repair the vandalism. So, of course, a couple of days this week, it’s refused to start. The battery, however, according to the RAC man, anyway, is OK, and it’s holding its charge. Which means of course the worst of all possible outcomes, some little niggling electrical problem is draining the battery and it will take ages to find and cost gazillions to fix. As it stands at the moment, they’re coming to take a look at it tomorrow morning, and I am praying very hard for a good outcome.
Deb, meanwhile, has been getting together what gear she can, and enjoying the unaccustomed feeling of freedom brought on by not having deadlines for lesson plans and creating resources. As I’ve said before, the ideal career for her would probably have been something in the armed forces, except she has trouble remembering the points of the compass, and may often be heard muttering “Never Eat Shredded Wheat”, let alone the phonetic alphabet beyond C-Charlie. The other day we were watching something on TV and there was a recruiting advert for the RAF reserve or some such, and she actually said she’d often thought of something along those lines. Based on our life to date with the camper, I could presumably expect a mobile phone call to say she was lost and could I look something up on Google streetview for her, or that her Tiger Moth had run out of petrol at 20,000 feet.
The only other happenings for me this week of anything approaching significance were that I more or less established beyond reasonable doubt that I have accidentally burned the fair copy handwritten final draft of We’ll Take The String Road, because I am an idiot, and my brain is now like Homer Simpson’s in that every time I take in something new, it pushes out some of the old stuff, and I found the missing envelope of family history research going back to 1980, so once more I have been reunited with some very dead ancestors without having to bother to have to do the research all over again. Calling it an envelope, actually, is like calling the Hindenburg a blimp: the envelope in question is actually one of those big, old, basketweave gusseted manila jobs, a dreadnought, a battleship among envelopes, absolutely crammed with stuff from the days when “online” was something that happened to wet washing, and if you wanted to trace your ancestors, you had to spend hours poring over old documents or using the microfilm readers, in a library or search room.
Spending hours tracing the details of long dead people and wishing to imagine enjoying their company may seem odd, but when you look at some of the dead people in question, and compare them to some of the living people around at the moment, you begin to understand the attraction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is definitely one who pales by comparison, especially after this week’s budget. Thousands of words have already been written on the budget and thousands more will be: I don’t intend to add significantly to that mountain, you’ll be pleased to know. My observation is limited to noting how cynical and divisive it was.
Despite the fact that Osborne repeats the mantra about us being all in it together until he starts foaming at the mouth, in fact, the Blight have been practising "divide and rule" since day 1 of the last parliament. All of that rhetoric about "people sleeping away their lives on benefits with their curtains closed while hard working alarm clock Britain goes off to work" should have been debunked by Labour but instead it's taken hold, and now the Tories have just enshrined the division, with a budget which seems to be rewarding people for working and punishing those on benefits.
So, the choice facing the Labour Party now is a stark one. Does it, a la Liz Kendall, Rachel Reeves and others of that ilk, go along with the Tory world view, and hope to pick up some crumbs from the table of the floating voter, or does it try and unite the country behind a radical alternative vision to show that there is another, better, way. Get it wrong, and Labour will be out of power until 2025 or later.
In fact, what Osborne has done is to shift the burden of dealing with low incomes onto the private sector. Quite what happens when the “recovery” tanks in 18 months and living wage private sector jobs become rarer than rocking-horse shit, is a moot point. Employers in the private sector are going to think twice (or more) before creating jobs where they are forced to pay people £9/hr. Meanwhile, benefits in real terms are frozen for four years, and the benefits cap is lowered, for, I believe, the first time, disproportionately for people outside of the capital.
One Tory MP, though, this week, has at least spoken out for a specific group of people whom he feels are underprivileged and whom he considers should be given special treatment, because they are struggling. MPs.
A man who some have tipped as a future Tory leader, Adam Afriyie MP, has claimed it is “impossible” to raise a family on the £67,000pa which an MOP earns, and has put forward the idea, in an interview with Chat Politics, that, instead, MPs should not be given a salary and audited expenses but an “allowance” of up to £225,000 to spend however they want.
There are some people who are so far out that they are almost back in again. You feel like buying a Ouija board just to be able to ask them what colour the sky is on their planet, and do they ever do day trips back to the real world, to try and contact the living? I have heard of “one stop beyond Barking and well off the bus route”, but this bloke has long left Stratford-Atte-Bow behind, and is heading for Harwich at a rate of knots. Actually, though, I have a theory. He’s not that out of touch. He made his millions from hi-tech communications, after all. He’s just a smug rich whingeing Tory bastard thumbing his nose at the poor, the old and the ill because he can, because a load of selfish morons who are the spiritual heirs of Margaret Thatcher voted to put him in a position where he can say yah-boo-sucks to the rest of us, and he’s exercising that privilege in the way only a compassionless unfeeling boor could do. That’s my theory, anyway.
Other than that, life has pretty much rumbled on without me noticing it, this week, although I also noted the demise of Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister who was sacked my the Greek PM in the wake of the referendum, presumably as some sort of sacrifice in order to smooth the way in any future negotiations. I just think it’s sad that someone who was a potential character should be eased out of the frame, with the compliance of his boss, whom he also considered a friend, simply because his unorthodox methods and attempts to actually solve an intractable crisis and achieve something in the face of near-universal intertia seem to have rubbed the bean-counters in suits, the faceless accountants, up the wrong way. But then, I have been in that situation myself, so perhaps I’m identifying too strongly with him. Either way, I’m afraid the Greek PM has now lost a lot of my respect, but I doubt that he’ll lose any additional sleep over that, when he already has an overdraft the size of Mount Olympus, and what did I expect anyway – the man is a politician, after all.
And so we came to Sunday, which is St Veronica’s Day. It’s also the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, of course, but I’ve never seen the rationale in celebrating 350 years of divisive sectarianism, so I’ll leave that to the people with the drums, the bowler hats and the sashes. St Veronica is the patron saint of laundry workers and photographers, for reasons which will probably become obvious in due course. She was allegedly a pious woman of Jerusalem at the time when Jesus was busy turning the world upside down, not to mention the tables of the bankers. The legend which attaches to her is that she was so moved with pity when she saw Jesus carrying his own cross to his place of execution, that she offered him her veil, so he could wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the gift, and held it to his face. When he gave the veil back to its owner, his image had been miraculously transposed on to the cloth, a la The Turin Shroud, I guess.
There is, as with almost all early saints, some doubt and confusion about this. There are those scholars who say that the “Veronica” refers to the veil, and not its owner, and that it derives from the Greek word “icon” and the Latin for “true”, vera. Thus it was the veil that was the “vera icon”, not the woman who owned it. By the 13th century, the term was being used for the relic venerated as a true relic of Jesus in Rome, but it has long since gone.
Whatever she was called, she is not referred to by name in the relevant passage in any of the four Gospels, and that well-known modern theological expert Mr Mel Gibson chose in his film The Passion of the Christ, to call her “Seraphia”. The incident has become associated with the sixth Station of The Cross, and has been depicted in art many times.
She doesn’t seem to have much going for her in the way of other miracles, but she became a saint long before the present rules about having to do intercessions and all that stuff, so I suppose she was sort of elected “on the nod”. There are some mentions of her in the Apochrypha, one where she is supposed to have cured the emperor Tiberius by touching him with a cloth bearing the image of Christ, presumably the same veil, unless she had a stack of them in the ironing cupboard at home. The devotion to St Veronica and the holy face of Jesus was officially approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885.
In researching St Veronica I also discovered that the most common “pass” used by the toreador in bullfighting is called a “Veronica” because he holds his cape out by the corners in the same way as St Veronica is usually portrayed holding up the veil with Jesus’s image on it.
This is possibly the single most interesting thing about bullfighting, a crime of which I know very little, except that Hemingway waxed boring on it, and the bull should win far, far more often than it does, see also under the right to arm bears.
So, there we have St Veronica, Dear Reader, and as usual, I am at a loss to take any particular inspiration from the incident. It is interesting, however, in view of modern revelations about God and nuclear physics, to look at any instance of images being burnt onto any material, be it the Turin Shroud or Veronica’s veil, and to wonder about the atomic power that would be necessary to make such a thing possible. Of course, all the scientists amongst my readership will probably have fallen off their chairs laughing by now, pretty much as people did 200 years ago when Benjamin Franklin wondered what would happen if he flew his kite in a thunderstorm with a key tied to the string. I was just moved to make the comparison by remembering those images of the shadows of people permanently blasted into stone walls by the A-bomb blast at Hiroshima.
Of course, for that theory to be even mildly tenable, several other things also have to be taken as read – the existence of Jesus for instance, and the fact of his divinity (or at least that he had more static electricity than you could shake a stick at – or a veil). None of these are givens in my world any more, except that I am reminded once again, as I am whenever I think of the crucifixion and of Jesus dragging that heavy cross through the hot, sweaty streets of Jerusalem, if it really happened like that, with the crowds jeering and the Roman soldiers spitting on him and licking him when he fell… I am reminded of standing that day in Holy Cross Abbey in Ireland, and feeling whatever it was that was being transmitted – that’s the only word to use – transmitted, by that tiny fragment of wood said to be a piece of the true cross, in its gold case on the chapel wall: the heat, the smell, the spices, the Ras-El-Hanout, the cries of the crowd, the adobe walled buildings, the palm trees, the shouting, the what I can only describe as the ancient yellow sandiness of it all.
That last bit, now I’ve written it down, sounds and looks crazy. “Ancient yellow sandiness”? What the hell? Unfortunately, sometimes you cross burning boundaries where you can’t smuggle the meaning back to those you have left behind. It had meaning like a dream has meaning, and when you wake up, what seemed so powerful and important turns out to be absurd and stupid. I know, also, that I felt the same feeling again, or a tinge of it, while I was waiting to go under the anaesthetic in 2010. But then I was probably delirious.
You pays your money, and you takes your choice. As always. Perhaps these episodes were just my febrile imagination. Certainly, the God I attempted to describe in last week’s Epiblog would not be compatible, particularly with the idea of Jesus and his mission on Earth, although to be honest, if that is the sort of thing God really is, how could we ever know the innermost reaches of its mind, its reasoning? Anyway, that is probably me done for the day. I should really be getting ready to go on holiday, not sitting here writing blogs. I have done something towards it today though, I sewed up the rip in my scarf. As ye rip, so shall ye sew. Euripides, Eumenidies. Oh well, it’s all Greek to me, as Mrs Merkel said.
God alone knows where I will be at this time next week, or how many teeth I will have. No change there, then.
God alone knows where I will be at this time next week, or how many teeth I will have. No change there, then.