It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. The nights are certainly drawing in now, as Debbie discovered when she found herself getting back to the camper with the dogs in the dark, a couple of times this week. It’s been another crushing week, work-wise, with one book launch out of the way, and another two looming on the horizon. Then there’s National Poetry Day, around which we hope to hang two more, and that just leaves two for Halloween or thereabouts and one which doesn’t really have anything to tie it to. Either way, it’s going to be work, work work. Deb has also picked up an extra class, so, once more, after going round the loop of “I’m afraid there are no hours for you this year”, back in the summer, it now turns out she’s doing more or less the same as last year, but with the added pleasure of an observation in October. Marvellous. As I said to her at the time, in any negotiation, always ignore the first offer.
The aliens seem to have given us the real Matilda back, as she seems to have finally reconciled herself to the fact that we are back from Arran (or forgotten that we ever went away) and abandoned her new-found clinginess, in favour of her previous practice of ignoring us unless she wants feeding or feels the need to hiss at somebody. She’s also been staying in a lot more, in fact yesterday I was moved to suggest that someone should check her pulse, as she was curled up on the settee in the conservatory from about noon until after midnight, when we went to bed. I did hear her moving about in the early hours though, and constructing what sounded like a major civil engineering project in her litter tray, so obviously she was still with us. She’s also adopted the practice of observing the squirrels and birds through the closed door of the conservatory, as it is warmer inside, especially on those bright, crisp mornings we’ve been having of late.
The squirrels and birds are busy, as you would expect at this time of year. They seem grateful for the bird seed I put out, especially the squirrels, who rummage through it looking specifically for the sunflower seeds. There’s one particular old squirrel I noticed who comes down from time to time. He’s only got one eye and his ears are torn, and his tail is thin, not bushy. He also walks with a peculiar sideways, crabbed motion, as if the wires joining his brain to his back legs are twisted. Obviously someone like me who has had a brush with the grim reaper. I haven’t seen him for a day or two, and I hope he’s alright.
Zak and Ellie were with us for a few days, midweek, and Deb decided to give Ellie another go at a longer walk. They’ve been regularly doing 13, 14 miles without her, but Deb thought she would give her a try on a 10-miler, and she apparently acquitted herself very well, though when she got back, she ignored her tea and jumped straight up on the chair, still wearing her harness, and fell fast asleep, snoring. Poor little dog.
We’ve also had visitors this week, both expected and unexpected. The expected one was Owen, who called in on Wednesday on his way back to South Wales from Dundee, to collect and take back some surplus stock of books that had got here by mistake. When he arrived, he had a conspicuous bright red Hazel O’Connor style streak in his hair, which he explained was due to it coming in contact with some wet paint while he had been decorating the communal parts of his son’s flat. It was actually quite well executed and if Adam Ant was still looking for people to form a backing group, Owen would have been a shoo-in.
While he was here, he also took the opportunity to put up the string of prayer flags we brought back from Arran, which are now fluttering bravely out of the reach, I hope, of the squirrels who stole the previous lot. We were having a mug of tea and generally putting the world to rights, when a knock came on the door – Owen went and there was my neighbour on the doorstep. If she noticed his hair, she was too polite to comment – or perhaps she thought it was a fashion statement.
“Excuse me, have you lost a small white dog, only she’s in my house?”
I looked over to the chair where Ellie had been snoozing. No Ellie. I apologised, and Owen offered to go and retrieve her, and a few minutes later, returned with her under his arm, like a parcel. She must have got out through the cat flap and decided to take herself off for a one-way walkies, which is one of her specialities, unfortunately. So, for the remainder of her sojourn that day, the cat flap door remained firmly closed, not that Matilda was bothered, as she was curled up asleep with her nose in her tail, see above.
The unexpected visitors took the form of Scott from Arran, and the police, of whom more later. Scott arrived on Friday morning and kept us entertained with his tales of Arran since we came home, and of the year he spent in Australia. Sadly, since his return, he is feeling that there aren’t really any job opportunities on Arran for him, and thus he will, like so many other young people from the Western Isles, have to leave and try and make his fortune on the mainland. He brought two welcome gifts from his dad, a CD of Phil Rambow and a book which has just been published by Feis Arran, concerning the remnants of the Gaelic culture on the Island. I was especially taken with the Gaelic proverbs, including one that translates as “It is only at evening that the hooded crow pisses”, which I took to be their sort of equivalent of the opera not being over until the fat lady sings. I may have to start randomly introducing it into conversations in a knowing, gnomic fashion. Either way, it was a top present and I must write and thank them.
The visit of the police was rather harder to explain. To backtrack slightly, the Arran Silkie, although parked in our own driveway, at the end of March, was the target of vandalism that left it with four slashed tyres, two cut brake pipes, a damaged door lock, damaged brake calliphers and superglue in the petrol cap lock. Needless to say this produced a huge bill and a wrangle with the insurers, who, thankfully, paid up most of the cost in the end. Because of the cut brake pipes, the police were involved, and in the course of discussions with the local PCSOs they did, at least, kindly promise to check up on the house if we were away for a long time in the summer.
At the end of July, I texted the number the PCSO had left with me and told them we were setting off on holiday. Of course, that was the day the dashboard caught fire 600 yards up the road and we were forced to turn back, then were delayed setting off by a further week or so. In all the hoo hah, I had forgotten to untext the police, so I was quite surprised one day during the week of enforced waiting for the van’s electrics to be fixed, when I was sitting in the kitchen working, to receive a text from the PCSO saying “Dear Mr Rudd, I have checked your house and everything seems to be OK”. I resisted the temptation to text back and ask if they’d seen the grey haired burglar in the kitchen, sitting in my wheelchair and using my laptop, and left it at that.
Anyway, fast forward to Saturday afternoon, and once more I am sitting there in the kitchen working when there is a sharp rat-a-tat-tat at the door. Debbie was off up on the moors with Misty, so when I opened the door and saw a policeman standing on the end of my wheelchair ramp my first thought was “Oh, God, what’s she done now?” but he set off on a different tack:
“I’m sorry to bother you. We’re attending a lady who is having breathing difficulties further up the road and I wondered, is the house next door to you occupied, and do you know who the owner is?”
“Do you mean number 113?”
He did a quick mental count up in his head before he replied “Yes”.
“It’s ours,” I said “It’s all one house inside.”
“Ah, right. It’s just that there seems to be a dead rabbit in the front window.”
Several possibilities crossed my mind, the first being that it was Matilda, until I remembered she was still firmly welded to the settee in the conservatory, see above. There was the outside possibility that one of the other neighbourhood cats had caught a rabbit, brought it through the cat flap, and released it, only for it to expire on the windowsill. Then I remembered.
“Ah, I know what you mean. It’s a carved wooden elephant, lying on its side.”
“Oh,” he said “Now I think about it, it did have a bit of a tusk. Oh well, sorry to have bothered you, sir.” With that, he made to go.
“Ah, I know what you mean. It’s a carved wooden elephant, lying on its side.”
“Oh,” he said “Now I think about it, it did have a bit of a tusk. Oh well, sorry to have bothered you, sir.” With that, he made to go.
“What about the woman with the breathing difficulties, can we do anything to help?”
“Oh, no sir, it’s all under control, I have four paramedics on the scene”.
And so he left. And I came back in, slightly puzzled, and resumed work. Discussing it with Deb later, I could only surmise that he’d been killing time outside while the paramedics did their stuff, and had gone for a stroll and noticed Deb’s wooden carved elephant and jumped to the conclusion that this was one of these animal horror houses where the RSPCA go in and find a dead rabbit, 14 mummified cats and a deceased pensioner whose legs have been nibbled away from the knee down, still sitting in the chair watching a burnt out TV. If so, a carved wooden elephant must, by comparison, have seemed rather a disappointment, though it will undoubtedly have saved him a great deal of paperwork.
As I said to Debbie, we don’t have much money, but we do see life. Sadly, sometimes, however, life is random, pointless and bloody heartless instead of being mildly amusing and quirky. The refugee crisis is worsening in Europe, as once again, no one is managing the process and countries have now started shutting their borders unilaterally. I argued a while ago now that the only way in which this crisis would be averted would have to be by some kind of pan-European response that sees a temporary, but managed, derogation from the Schengen agreement which allows free movement of people inside the Euro zone, in tandem with a process for scaling out agreed quantities of refugees on a formula based on land mass, population density and resources, and the establishment of humane transit centres where these people could be assessed, properly documented, checked medically, and prepared for the next stage of their transition. None of this is happening, except that the closure of borders is derogation from Schengen by definition, but is being done in such a way that it will inevitably provoke violence.
And, of course, when pictures of dead children are replaced in the fickle media a few days later by pictures of live refugees rioting, this produces the inevitable backlash at home – not that it needed much provoking in the UK, where attitudes to immigration and asylum have been hardened by five years of xenophobic Tory propaganda which helped fuel the rise of UKIP. Thank God there are people around like Gabriela Andreevska, who has apparently begun a single-handed effort to hand out food and water to refugees in Croatia, or that British couple who have been trying to help the dozen or so boatloads of refugees that make it to Lesbos every day.
John Betjeman’s caricature of the woman praying in Westminster Abbey, in his 1940 poem of that title, seems, unfortunately, to be on the verge of making a comeback here in England, or at least her attitudes do:
Keep our Empire undismembered
Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by thy hand
Gallant Blacks from far Jamaica
Honduras and Togoland.
Protect them Lord, in all their fights
But even more, protect the Whites.
Think of what our country stands for
Books from Boots and country lanes
Free speech, free passes, class distinction
Democracy, and proper drains.
Lord, keep beneath thy special care
One-eighty-nine, Cadogan Square.
We can only expect to see more of this sort of thing in the run up to Remembrance Day, of course. The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain has already given it a brief airing, especially when Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the opposition, didn’t sing the National Anthem at the memorial service. I have long been uneasy anyway about the mixture of religious pomp and military celebration. What happened to “Blessed are the Peacemakers”? And I say this as a monarchist (or at least a believer in the idea and institution of a monarchy, as a bulwark against having arriviste politicians as president).
I have to say, also, that the National Anthem is unutterably dreary. France, Italy and Poland have all got better anthems, and there is undoubtedly a case for letting the Welsh have Land of My Fathers, the Scots Flo’or O’ Scotland (though Caledonia by Dougie MacLean would be much better) and the Irish, well, probably alternate weeks of The Wearing of the Green and The Ould Orange Flute or something, or at a pinch, Danny Boy, while we have either Barwick Green, Jerusalem, or I Vow to Thee my Country, though even the latter is a queasy mix of religion and nationalism.
Jeremy Corbyn refused to sing the National Anthem because of his beliefs and principles, and I have to say that I would rather have someone who believes in something and stands up for it, however difficult this may make life for them, rather than just bellowing along with the rest of the herd, even though you don’t believe a word you’re singing. As has been pointed out several times, it’s not as if everyone who fought in the second world war was a Christian who believed in the monarchy, anyway. My own father had only a very rudimentary faith (probably where I get it from) and a marked aversion to singing in public, especially at funerals and the like. He never went to church from one year’s end to the next, and, like most of our family, his only contact with organised religion would have been attending the crematorium services of other family members. That didn’t prevent him and his mates and a few million others from stopping Hitler in his racks.
No doubt it will all surface again when Corbyn wears a white poppy on Remembrance Day. Personally, I would wear all three – a red poppy to remember those of my family who didn’t survive, especially the first world war, a white poppy to express the hope for peace and no more wars, and a purple poppy to recall the animals who suffered and died in war zones, through conflicts sparked by us, a supposedly superior species. No doubt this year we will see, once again, the government trying to appropriate Poppy Day for political ends, with the subtle peer pressure of “if you don’t wear a poppy you can’t possibly be patriotic or support our troops” and the much less subtle attempts of fascist organisations such as Britain First to misrepresent what the struggle against Nazism was all about.
Believing that God is on our side and we have a divine right to blow people to smithereens does, unfortunately, tend to reduce us to the level of the likes of ISIS, as that is precisely the affliction they suffer from. And the more it goes on, the more likely we are to see it visiting us back here at home. Once again, we seem to be re-visiting the 1930s as in C Day Lewis’s 1938 poem, Newsreel.
Fire-bud, smoke-blossom, iron seed projected –
Are these exotics? They will grow nearer home:
Grow nearer home – and out of the dream-house stumbling
One night into a strangling air and the flung
Rags of children and thunder of stone niagaras tumbling,
You’ll know you slept too long.
I’ve thought long and hard and I can’t see anyway in which God could endorse one side at the expense of another in any conflict. I think Bob Dylan nails it:
If God’s on our side, he’ll stop the next war
Coincidentally (or maybe not) in the same week as the Corbyn national anthem hoo-hah erupted, an announcement was made about the effectiveness of the bombing campaign against ISIS. According to the defence secretary, the RAF strikes in the 11 months since September 2014 have killed 330 ISIS fighters.
Leaving aside for a moment that for every one killed, we've probably radicalised another half dozen nutters hell-bent on revenge, the missiles we have been firing at them cost about £800,000. Assuming we got lucky and took out all 330 with one missile, that is £2424 per ISIS fighter killed, not counting the ongoing costs of maintenance, aviation fuel, pilots' wages etc. [Obviously, some of these are costs we would have anyway, though I suspect we're using a lot more fuel than we would be doing in peacetime] If it took two missiles, then that goes up to £4848 per ISIS fighter killed, and so on. Surely there must come a point where it would be more cost effective to get their bank details and offer them ten grand each to become Buddhists. OK, maybe not, but apparently there's no money for schools, hospitals, libraries etc. I wonder why?
Corbyn has been the focus of intense media scrutiny again, as a rattled establishment and their newspaper poodles try anything and everything to distort the message and smear him, since they can’t defeat him on the economy. The latest revelation is that Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott had a “fling” in the 1970s, after Corbyn had been divorced. Man has sex with woman, shock horror sensation. Actually, it shows how out of step with the political establishment Corbyn was, even back then, because while he and a woman were engaging in consensual heterosexual sex, the Tory cabinet of the time stand accused of either engaging in and/or covering up the abuse and possibly murder of young boys from children’s homes. Typical Corbyn contrarianism.
And so we came to Sunday, a grey day that couldn’t ever really decide if it wanted to sunshine or not, and the feast day of St John Houghton, the first person to be martyred in England under the persecution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
Born in Essex in 1487, he left Cambridge with degrees in canon law and civil law and was ordained in 1501, becoming a parish priest. From this, he went on to become a Carthusian monk, a novice at the London Charterhouse, until 1516. He was then prior of the Beauvale Carthusian Monastery in Northampton and of the London Charterhouse. In 1534, he became the first person to oppose Henry VIII’s act of supremacy, and was imprisoned, along with the Blessed Humphrey Middlemore. When the king relented and modified the oath to include the words “insofar as the law of God permits”, John and several other of his monks felt this would be sufficient to permit them to sign it, thus securing his release. Following this, however, the remaining members of the Charterhouse were forced to sign the modified oath by troops who arrived there with that express purpose.
On February 1st, 1535, parliament – or probably Henry – moved the goalposts asnd now required that everyone must now sign the original oath, unaltered. St John, together with St Robert Lawrence and St Augustine Webster, asked Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chancellor, for an exemption, and were immediately arrested and put on trial for treason.
Because of his vows, St John Houghton refused to speak in his own defence in court and refused to co-operate with the proceedings or sign anything. Despite the gravity of the charge, the jury reported that they could find no actual evidence of malice to the king, so Henry threatened them in turn with arrest on the same charge, leaving them no option but to bring in a verdict of guilty of treason.
St John Houghton was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 4th May 1535, alongside the Blessed John Haile and three others. His corpse was then chopped into pieces which were put on display at various locations around London as a warning to others.
The National Anthem didn’t exist in Tudor times, of course, but nevertheless there was the expectation of absolute loyalty to the idea of church and state when under Henry they became one and the same. Henry was but one of a succession of monarchs who were not at all fazed, with God on their side, by the idea of employing extreme violence against people who disagreed with their views on religion – although in Henry’s case it may have been more out of expediency and the desire to produce a male heir, than out of any genuine religious conviction, in much the same way that the people who squeal loudest today when someone refuses to sing the National Anthem probably never attend church from one year’s end to the next, and couldn’t recite the Lord’s Prayer, let alone the Nicene Creed.
Although the Church of England is in many ways more like a hobby than a religion, and we’ve given up the idea of snicking off people’s heads because they do/don’t believe in transubstantiation (in this country at least – some of the more evangelical members of the worldwide Anglican communion have rather robust views on gay marriage, for instance, and of course, outside the confines of the Anglican church, ISIS’s raison d’etre is behading infidels) this is nevertheless why I find it difficult to support the idea of the conjunction of church and state. Perhaps if we were allowed to render unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s, then people would be freer to follow their own hearts when it came to spiritual matters, and not be castigated for refusing to be forced into a one-size-fits-all religious straitjacket that is increasingly used to impute and impart a set of beliefs in the efficacy, necessity and even desirability of war which is completely at odds with the Platonic idea of God as the holy spark of divine redemption and goodness that can be found somewhere in all of us.
All of which is very heavy for a Sunday teatime, but then these days, even in the little oasis I have created for myself in the time between finishing this blog and the starting of the dark Satanic mills again on Monday morning, there’s still a sense of the heaviness going down elsewhere. Et in arcadia ego. What right do I have to sit here dozing by my stove when the nights are drawing in and the lights are going out all over Europe and there are people sleeping out in the open on bits of cardboard next to railway lines, or trying to carry their sleeping child through forests of barbed wire when they themselves are almost dropping from hunger and fatigue? Today,
at least 13 refugees were killed when their inflatable dinghy collided with a cargo ship at sea between Greece and Turkey. Six of those who died were children and another 13 people are still missing.
But what can we do? Specifically, in my case, in my situation, very little, apart from sorting out some stuff to send off, and continuing to write about the problem and arguing against the entrenched and selfish attitudes engendered by the press, the Home Office, and the DWP. As individuals, though, we can band together and circumvent the official channels – which seem to be clogged with mud anyway – and carry on sending food and clothes and carry on raising funds and donating where possible. It’s not how big your share is, it’s how much you can share, as the song says. And we just have to accept that the media are much more obsessed with whether or not a 66-year old politician is willing to mouth and mumble along with an 18th century dirge stuffed with questionable theology and promoting, ultimately, a linkage of religion with state-sponsored terrorism, than with a daily human tragedy which is just going to get worse and worse. And still the boats keep coming.
Once again, we find ourselves in the situation at the end of Auden’s September 3rd, 1939:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man in the street
And the lie of authority
Whose buildings grope the sky
There is no such thing as the state
And no-one exists alone
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame
All we can do, I guess, is do what we can do, and keep on keeping on.
Anyway, next week stretches ahead, containing, I believe, the equinox, which marks the start of that long dark descent into the underworld which only turns back at the Solstice. Deb has just bombed up the fire, and Misty is watching the rugby – or at least she was until she was scared off by New Zealand’s haka. The nights are drawing in, and it is time for frowsting by the stove. Next week will be fairly mission-critical for getting books out in time for Christmas, not to mention finishing off the VAT return which has been hanging around like a bad smell. And I have a dead rabbit to polish. Also, the surgery recently sent me a repeat prescription of the two drugs I now have to take all the time, Omeprazole and Furosemide, but this time it only contained two week’s supply, instead of the usual two months. Either it’s a mistake, or they know something about my life expectancy that I don’t, but either way, it’s tomorrow’s problem.
For now, though it’s time to make a hot water bottle and frowst awhile, and, since Matilda shows no sign whatsoever of moving off her little Maisie-blanket on the settee, to shut the cat flap door and stop off at least one of the many draughts that have once more returned to beset the house all winter. There may even be a hooded crow, peeing in the garden. Yes, it’s just one white-knuckle ride of excitement, here.