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

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Sunday, 30 August 2015

Epiblog for the Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. We limped back from our trip to Arran on Wednesday morning, because Father Jack the garage man needed to see the PCB which had blown, to make sure he could order the correct one. They also had to replace the radio and the cigar lighter fuses, both of which had also blown while we were away, leaving us without a weather forecast or The Archers (apart from on our phones) and, more importantly, leaving us without the ability to charge anything up, until Debbie managed to rig up an alternative.

But the most pressing matter was the side door, which had jammed on its rollers, effectively trapping me in the camper for the last four days of the holiday. Not that this was any great shakes, as the camper is self-sufficient, except that it caused a problem with travelling back on the ferry, as you are supposed to exit your vehicle and leave it on the car deck. Fortunately, Caledonian MacBrayne relented and made a special arrangement to allow me to remain in the vehicle, otherwise our only other option would have been to go over from Lochranza to Claonaiog, where they do allow you to stay in your car, then drive over 100 miles extra, all the way up Kintyre and round by Inverary.

So, we arrived home in a mood best described as uncertain. We’d spent the previous night camped up at Walney Island, as part of our gradual peregrination home, in the teeth of a howling gale that blew the back tailgate open at 11.10pm while we were all in bed, causing a Wizard-of-Oz style whirlwind inside the camper. Misty fell out, and was trying to jump back in and failing; Zak jumped straight over me and cowered down, trembling, using me as a windshield, and Debbie had to struggle into her boots, wrestle the front passenger door open, go round the back in the dark and rescue Misty, shut and lock the tailgate, then get back in the front again. All the while, the wind was roaring and the rain was howling in and soaking all the bedding. Not good.

The trouble is that, once something like that has happened, you can’t easily get back to sleep, because you are lying there listening to the rain drumming and the wind screaming and just waiting for it to “pop” the catch again.  Eventually, it died down towards dawn, but by then it was time to get up anyway, as we had to get back to meet the garage’s deadline for this bloke who allegedly knew about PCBs to look at ours.

Surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be any major domestic disasters to greet us, apart from one or two of the herbs in the rampside garden seeming to have bitten the dust. Uncle Phil from Australia was in residence, and Matilda was in the garden.  Deb got on with the tedious chore of unpacking everything, with Phil’s help as a willing porter, and then came the moment of truth. The side door was popped and very carefully pushed out of the way, trying all the time to avoid further damage to the rollers, or what remained of them. Then Deb put the ramps in place, I shuffled across into the wheelchair, and they rolled me out into the driveway. Free at last, free at last, lawdy lawdy, free at last!

Between them, Deb and Phil managed to wedge the door back in its hole again, just as the RAC man had done at Lochranza four days earlier, and shortly afterwards the garage arrived and took the van away.  Thus ended the Arran trip, 2015.  If you want to read about it in detail, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I finish (again) We’ll Take The String Road.  I did, you will be pleased to know (or maybe not) re-write and type up the missing 20 pages of the 2014 trip that I had mistakenly burned on the fire before we went, under the assumption that they had already been done, so once more this book hovers on the brink of publication.

Matilda has been very “clingy” since we got back. I may be flattering myself, but I think she genuinely missed us, despite the efforts of Katie the Doggy Nanny and Granny and Phil to feed and water her and cater to her every feline whim during our absence. Misty and Zak just seemed to drop back into their old routine, accepting with a stoical canine indifference that someone had stolen the sea, and that beach with all those lovely pebbles, just crying out to be rearranged.

The outside world, meanwhile, has gone completely bananas while we were away. Or maybe it was always bananas, and it took spending two weeks of peace and relative tranquility on Arran to point out the contrast more starkly on our return. The government has extended the badger cull to include Dorset, even though it won’t do anything to affect bovine TB and will cause suffering and pain to what is, after all, supposed to be a protected species. It’s nice to know that UKIP haven’t lost their touch, however. I had feared that, after their efforts in the election campaign, they had shot their bolt and we would never hear any of their inspired lunacy again, but in a nice topical touch, this week, a UKIP councillor in Wales called for migrants to be “gassed like badgers”. 

David Cameron, after an invigorating splash in the alleged raw sewage off a Cornish beach, and being told to F-off by an assistant in a Cornish pasty shop, has had his revenge by creating yet more Tory peers in the House of Lords, including Douglas Hogg, who will forever be remembered for trying to claim to have his moat cleaned, on his MPs expenses. Remember, we’re all in it together.

It also seems that, while we’ve been away, the migrant crisis has turned even nastier, if that was possible, with more deaths from drowning, and suffocation, and more vilification of migrants in the media.  The release of the immigration figures this week, which were featured heavily on the BBC for instance, was done against the backdrop of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and at Calais, and – although I am not sure to what extent this was deliberate – it served to give the impression that the UK was being “overrun” by eliding the two stories together.  The end result is that once more, in the popular mind of the great British public on the top deck of the Clapham omnibus, there is no distinction between legitimate EU immigration, economic migrants, illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and all the other shades in between.

And in the meantime, every day,  more children drown.  

Another crisis that seems to have turned if not nasty, then at least surreal and bizarre, is the Labour leadership contest.  I have been amazed, looking at the continuing hoohah from the rather distant perspective of a camper van parked at the side of Kilbrannan Sound on the Isle of Arran, by the sudden procession of New Labour dinosaurs erupting from the swamp and crashing through the undergrowth of the media, roaring, squealing and trumpeting, in a last-ditch attempt to stave off Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge.

Barry Sheerman cracks me up: “We’ve had people who we disagree with attempting to join the Labour Party before, and we’ve always got rid of them, because we’re DEMOCRATIC socialists!” – You have to admit, it’s the way he tells ‘em.  Peter Hain is “underwhelmed” apparently, by the leadership candidates. Actually, I share his opinion of three of them, apart from Jeremy Corbyn, that is. Alistair Campbell says that a Corbyn victory would be a “car crash”. I suppose after the Iraq war, he must see car crashes everywhere…

What these people can’t stand is that there is a democratic process in place which is serving to point out how out of touch they are – something they are compounding and underscoring by their constant bleating that the “wrong” candidate is winning. What they can’t stand is that people are showing just how pissed off they are with having had to watch spineless Labour mutely accept the Tory lies and the Tory frame of reference on things like the economy and benefits; apologising for things that weren’t ever Labour’s fault; siding with the Tories in Parliament; promising to be more Tory than the Tories; abstaining… I could go on. I frequently do.

Amongst the seasoned Labour campaigners and grass-roots activists posting on social media, there has also been consternation at the Corbyn phenomenon. “Where were all these new people last May?” asked one of them, plaintively. Well, if they were anything like me, they were holding their heads in their hands, in despair at the feeble attempt of Ed Miliband to oppose the Tories by seeming to be as like them as possible, which ended in electoral disaster.

I am under no illusions. Labour under Corbyn’s leadership would get a very rough ride from the Tory press between now and 2020. Corbyn needs to get media-savvy and fast. The rapid rebuttal squad needs to make a swift reappearance.  He needs to make sure that everyone is “on message” just as Blair did, although of course the message is vastly different.  He needs to up his own personal game and lose some of the retired geography teacher image. He needs to realise that large swathes of the electorate are easily taken in (they did after all vote for UKIP, a party with no policies) and he needs to realise that arguments do not win elections on their own. He may even have to compromise on one or two policies.

But if he can do all of that, and retain the majority of his support (particularly amongst the young) and the party can get them incorporated into the party and integrated into local branches so they will be the footsoldiers and activists of 2020, then he has a chance.  At any rate, given the choice between a leader with  some ideas and vision, but poor media skills, and a leader who interviews well but who is just another identikit drone promising to crack down on benefit scroungers more than the Tories, I choose the former. At least then in 2020, Labour will have given it their best shot, unlike the five wasted years of running and hiding between 2010 and 2015.  I rest my case. It was getting heavy anyway.

It’s been a strange week since we got home here, as well. In one sense, because Debbie has another few days until term starts, it still seems like we’re on holiday, but on the other hand I have come back to a stack of things which need sorting out, some of them very urgently, and I really should be getting on with them and making inroads, but my heart, and parts of my head, seem to have got left behind on Arran. We seriously discussed, this year, disasters notwithstanding, what would happen if we just decided to sell everything we own and with the resulting £4. 2s. 6d., try and establish a new life somewhere else. The dogs loved Arran. They had dips in the sea to cool down, sheep poo to roll in, mountains to climb, a warm bed at night, treats they probably wouldn’t get at home, and a whole beach of stones to rearrange to their heart’s content.

And we do know people who have done precisely that (sold up and moved, not rolled in sheep poo) and they seem to be thriving on it.  Without wishing to embarrass them by naming them, we were grateful for their help and advice on a couple of occasions, too, this trip. The problem, I suspect, is that we only see Arran at its best of course, and apart from the practical considerations of where would we live and what would we eat, and what would we buy it with, there’s also the psychological issue of could I survive a winter where the days are long, dark and cold – I have enough trouble with the winters in West Yorkshire as it is.

I looked up today to see which saints have feast days, and to be honest, once again, they struck me as a rather uninspiring, though no doubt worthy, collection,. It is also the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity today, but once more, I found no particular inspiration in the readings which have been specifically appointed for the purpose. One thing which a fortnight on Arran, watching the clouds changing places over Kilbrannan Sound and the seagulls wheeling did do for me, spiritually speaking, is that it clarified a number of issues for me.

I’ve become more and more convinced that God is something to do with time, and vice versa. I know I keep coming back to this idea, like the dog which returneth to its vomit, but there is something compelling to me about tying the two ideas together.  And also as I have said before, I don’t have the words to explain what it is. In fact, I suspect it’s probably something that can only be explained using maths, and maybe even not then.

Quite where this leaves us with God as a bearded bloke on a throne, father of Jesus, and general manager of heaven, judging the quick and the dead, is a moot point.  If God invented time, or in some way time is a part of God, there was no time in Eden, and God himself/itself must be outside of time, which is also a concept impossible to explain. It can, however, sometimes be felt, and it is certainly easier to feel it in a place like Arran, which is presumably why St Molaise spent so much time in his cave on Holy Island, looking out over Lamlash Bay. I did also carry out my promise, such as it was, to Julian of Norwich, to have another bash at her on holiday, although I am still largely none the wiser what she is going on about, but I cling to “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” And I am becoming more and more convinced of the strong links that speak to me at any rate, between her “nutshell” analogy and the world of sub-atomic physics, which is starting to look less and less like a world of scientific certainty and more and more like a world of religious probability.

In one sense, it could be argued that  Jesus, God, and all the Bible stories and all that goes with them are simply a mythological re-telling or an attempt to interpret some very basic concepts about the human condition. That if there is “reality”, there has to be “not reality”. That if there is “time” there has also to be “not time”.  You could even argue, although I have nothing like the knowledge and background to do so, that all religions are telling this story in some way or another, once they are pared back to their basics and shorn of the “moral” aspects (some might say “baggage”) that their various holy books and texts have acquired over the centuries.  Ultimately, it comes down to how you define your relationship with the infinite. Even in Zen Buddhism, though in that particular instance, it’s more about recognising that there is no difference between what you call “you” and what you call “the infinite”, and that it is in fact a false dichotomy.

None of which, either, answers the question why? If there was no time before the big bang, why is there time now? Although the idea of time being driven by God does fit perfectly with the concept of a God who knows how our lives will end up, but still allows us the free will to live them.  We live life forwards and understand it backwards, as someone once said, I forget who.  There are also those for whom this will seem a rather scary, deterministic, almost pagan idea – time is remorseless and merciless sometimes, as well as being a great healer. I must admit, if I start to think about eternity for too long, my head hurts.  Who knows where the time goes.  Time is, however, fascinating stuff, and has been ever since the first Neolithics noticed the turning of the seasons and put up standing stones to mark them.

Talking of time, and the passing of time, this week has also marked yet another of the sombre reminders that seem to cluster around the summer months, in that it was three years ago on 29th August 2012, that Kitty died. Once again, who knows where the time goes. Soon, it will be autumn proper, and once term starts again, we’ll be back into a routine that will only pause with Christmas. The thought of everything I have got to accomplish between now and then really does make my brain reel, in such a way that thinking about eternity and multiple universes would almost come as light relief.

Before then, I guess, we’ve got a few days, maybe a week, to enjoy the company of the animals that currently surround us, and the humans too, if it comes to that, before Uncle Phil heads back once more to the “scorchio” climes of Darwin – maybe a few more days of warmth and sunshine and the apples ripening and the last of the summer flowers. I’ve got some wallflowers coming next week, which should brighten the place up a bit.

I freely admit I don’t know where this ”God is time is God” idea is leading me. The last thing the world needs is a new religion, and it must all fit together somewhere. But I strongly advise anyone seeking any sort of spiritual guidance to follow your own heart and ignore my feeble ramblings, although I would have said that all along, even before I got onto this current schtick.

Meanwhile, I am going to meditate awhile on the sound of the waves on the coast of Arran, and remember myself being there, and remember Kitty as well, good little cat that she was, and think of the Zen story where two monks were talking and one was lamenting his home, which was far away, and he was missing it; the other monk looked at him and said “how is it far, if you can think of it?”.  So, how is Arran far, if I can think of it? And how is Kitty far, if I can think of her?

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