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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Epiblog for the Feast of the Blessed Richard Whiting

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. Plus we have had the first of the real winter storms, although it’s still been unseasonably warm. In fact, it’s been the warmest year since whenever or something, but then anyone with half a brain can see that the climate is screwed, probably to the point of no return.

The wind and rain during the week has wrecked the trees, and there are now very few leaves left on the bough. Most of them are strewn “thick as autumnal leaves in Vallambrosa” and no sooner do I pick them up and put them into bin bags to make leaf mould for next year, than another golden snowdrift covers my wheelchair ramp.

I did notice though, on Saturday morning, when I was grubbing around getting ready and transferring into my wheelchair, that the red prayer flag which the squirrels stole last autumn, and which had unaccountably become lodged in one of John next door’s Cotoneaster trees, was still there. Against all the odds. It had been previously hidden by the leaves of other trees obscuring it, but there it was – the red flag flying here. Maybe it’ll see me through this winter as well. I hope so.

There are broken twigs, too – quite substantial ones, which, in my medieval life, I gather up and break into short lengths to use as kindling for the stove. So, all in all, the weather has been wild. And woolly. The birds and the squirrels have been hoovering up anything I can put out for them, and who can blame them? It must be hard for them to find food elsewhere when the weather’s so bad.

The squirrels, in particular, I’ve noticed, when they come down to the dish of bird food, have abandoned their previous dainty habit of picking up one sunflower seed at a time, and nibbing it as genteelly as a guest at a New Yorker book launch might nibble a canapé. Now, they put both their hands into the dish and pick up handfuls of grain, stuffing it into their bulging cheeks as fast as they can macerate it with their sharp little teeth. I haven’t seen the old squirrel for days now, though, and I fear that the worst has happened to him. Sleep well, old warrior, in squirrel Valhalla.

The pigeons have been down as well, pecking their way through, methodically, but the most impressive sight was on Saturday morning when I came back in from putting out the composting to see three huge crows lumbering around on the decking, just outside the conservatory door, taking it in turns to feed from the dish. Matilda was eyeing them up from the safety of the padded armchair six feet from the stove, her eyes glittering and her tail swishing. “I’d steer clear of them, if I were you,” I told her.

She’s actually been spending more and more time indoors now, which is only to be expected, given the foul weather. Plus, she is getting on a bit. Given that she was nine when we got her, she must be coming up to twelve this year, which is 60 in human years, same as me. There is also the issue of the fireworks. No sooner had we got Guy Fawkes safely out of the way than we start in on bloody Diwali, so it’s been like bomb alley out there again these week, every night as soon as dark falls.

She got particularly spooked on the night before Diwali, Tuesday, when I had just let her out onto the decking as a particularly loud salvo went off, just across the valley. I actually heard her growl from the other side of the conservatory door and I opened it to let her back in. In fact, she would probably have come through the door if I hadn’t opened it first – somewhere, deep in the crinkly recesses of her furry little walnut brain, the Cheetah genes kicked in and she probably touched 90mph in her transit to her little hidey-hole in the front room. I’ve never seen her move so fast, twelve or not.

Unfortunately, though, fireworks are still the bane of our lives, especially where Misty is concerned. On Saturday she was spooked by bangs of some description up on the moors above Meltham while out walkies with Debbie. Cue Debbie spending at least an hour out of her life wandering across the bleak landscape in driving cold, horizontal rain, like a latter-day Catherine Earnshaw, shouting the dog’s name at the top of her voice. Finally, just when she was about to give up hope, Misty emerged from the undergrowth up ahead and rejoined the walkies as if nothing had happened.

By this time, though, Deb was wet through, and on the verge of hypothermia, so she was not overly impressed when she then ran out of diesel on the way home. Fortunately she had enough in the system, once the van had stood for a while and it had settled, to start it again and just coast down the hill to Meltham, where there is a Morrisons, with a petrol station.

So, she got home in the end and both Deb and Misty were soaked. Deb, being a human, can dry herself, but I helped get Misty’s harness off and tried to dry her as best I could with kitchen roll. A while later, after she’d had her tea, she went to the door, and we let her out into the garden, to do her necessaries, at about 7pm. Five minutes came and went. No dog. Ten minutes came and went. No dog. Preparation of tea was suspended. Twenty minutes came and went. No dog. After half an hour, I was getting ready to put her on dogslost.co.uk, after having shouted myself hoarse out the front and out the back. The ‘phone rang. It was the start of a familiar conversation.

“Excuse me, have you lost a dog?”

“Yes! Have you found one?”

She was at the Railway Inn in Berry Brow. I thanked the very kind bloke (who was called Vic) for looking after her. God alone knows what must have spooked her enough to have made that distance in half an hour (including crossing the A616) but there it was. I’m guessing fireworks. Wearily, Debbie set off in the camper to retrieve her. When they got back, she was very quiet and chastened, and curled up on her bed behind the settee. (The dog, not Debbie).

Actually, there have been several times this week when I could quite happily joined her. The world has been a bleak and scary place during the last seven days. One of the few bright spots is that it seems that David Cameron has been caught out once more making up statistics to back up his case, this time on immigration. If there is one area where we need clarity and objective assessment, it is on immigration figures. However, not only does the government not collect them accurately and in a timely manner, but they selectively cherry-pick one or two figures, which really need anyway to be understood in the context of other figures, and they distil them into one simple soundbite which they then plaster all over a complicit media. They do it on the subject of benefits as well.

By the time the official watchdog catches up and raps them over the knuckles, the game has moved on. Plus, of course, any retraction or correction somehow never seems to achieve the prominence of the original story. I find it difficult to come up with a single word for what Cameron is doing. I toyed with “massaging” or “being selective” or “manipulating”, or “cherry-picking”, but in the end I settled on “lying”.

There is a curious disconnect within Cameron’s makeup which I have never really been able to pin down. To have said some of the things he has come out with, especially since the election, he must either be incredibly naïve and stupid, or incredibly duplicitous. This week, an exchange of letters between Cameron and the head of Oxfordshire County Council found its way into the public domain. Cameron, whose constituency lies within the county, had written a letter to the head of the council, basically asking him if it was not possible to make cuts in such a way that wouldn’t impact so much on front line services. The council leader replied with a step by step rebuttal, pointing out that the council had already been cut tot the bone and beyond in some areas, and there was literally nothing more to be done.

The letter, which takes apart Cameron’s claims one by one, is six pages long, and too long to quote in full here. The text of both Cameron’s letter and the council leader’s reply are readily available online. George Monbiot, writing about it in the Guardian, picked out one particular instance (again, an instance of dodgy statistics):

Again and again, he exposes the figures the prime minister uses as wildly wrong. For example, Cameron claims that the cumulative cuts in the county since 2010 amount to £204m. But that is not the cumulative figure; it is the annual figure. Since 2010, the county has had to save £626m. It has done so while taking on new responsibilities, and while the population of elderly people and the numbers of children in the social care system have boomed. Now there is nothing left to cut except frontline services.

I have no particular brief for George Monbiot, by the way. I once wrote him a letter ticking him off for something he had got wrong, and he never replied. Lately, his plat du jour has been wittering about the erosion and flood damage caused by run-off from farmers’ fields. But in highlighting this story, he may just be on to something. However, it still doesn’t answer the question of whether David Cameron is really too stupid to realise the effect of his own cuts (and these are on a council which has been relatively protected against the effects of “austerity”- imagine what a Labour-supporting northern council must be getting) or whether he knows full well and is just going on with a brass-faced assertion that white is black, up is down, etc, etc, on the grounds that if he repeats it often enough, people will believe it.

This was also in evidence when he stood up an announced the summary execution of “Jihadi John” in a drone strike on Thursday. Apparently the ISIS bogey-man had been taken out by a missile from an American “Reaper” drone. (Although, bizarrely, we were told that a British drone also “helped” in the operation in some unspecified way. Perhaps it held the other drone’s coat, I don’t know.) I have absolutely no sympathy for the fate of Jihadi John and I regret his passing not one jot.


The manner of it - extrajudicial execution by drone strike - does raise some very serious questions which seem to have been completely ignored by the media and the government. Again, either David Cameron does not understand these issues, which makes him stupid, or he knows full well what they are, and continues regardless, which makes him wilfully evil. Good for Jeremy Corbyn to have the guts to raise it, knowing full well that his words will be twisted and misinterpreted by the media in their ongoing campaign of personal vilification

It is this - we are not legally at war with anyone. We are at war, obviously, we are at war with a particularly virulent strain of Wahabi fundamentalism, and have been since 2001. But we aren't at war with a STATE. We never declared war on Afghaistan, or Iraq, or Syria - so the killing of "enemy combatants" by drone is, under international law, illegal.

Apart from the fact that international justice is now whatever the USA says it is, there is no process, and people are likely to find themselves vapourised at the press of a button, it's the precedent it sets. If you can kill someone with a drone in Syria without due process what's to stop the government doing it here? And not only against ISIS, but against anyone they don’t like? The precedent has been set, the Rubicon has been crossed, and we are now in uncharted territory. Plus of course, reducing Jihadi John to a smear of strawberry jam on the wallpaper has probably already recruited another 1000 or so wannabes who will be wanting to replace him.

Kate Allen, the head of UK Amnesty International, has written a blog on this which explains the situation much better than I can. It is too long to quote here in full, but this is the crux of it:

"When I tweeted last night about Amnesty’s alarm at the news that the UK has been conducting summary executions from the air, I was met with a barrage of replies. A large number of those replies said simply; these people deserved to die.

The principle of the rule of law does not require the subject to be likeable in order to be protected by it. Indeed, it is obviously most necessary when they are not. Security is a justifiable aim of any government and it is clear that we are talking about people who frankly revel in jeopardising that security.
But the legal question is this: is the threat they pose to the UK, from Syria, one that can justify the suspension of the rule of law and the dismissal of the very concept of accountable justice?

If we allow this to become the norm, countries all over the world could conduct aerial executions of perceived enemies on the basis of secret, unchallengeable evidence. Would we honestly be so relaxed if this was an announcement from Moscow, or Beijing, or Pyongyang or Oceania?"

Judging by the recent fawning over the Chinese head of state during his visit to the UK, I would imagine the Junta wouldn’t bat an eyelid if Beijing started executing dissidents by drone strike. After all, cheap steel seems to outweigh human rights every time.

I didn't particularly want to log on to Facebook on Saturday morning. I normally look forward to having a quick squiz round to see how my friends are doing over the first cup of tea of the day, even though these days I have to wade through reams of memes to find the odd nugget that says a cat has had kittens or a kid has passed an exam, or people I know have had a great holiday. I once did an informal audit of my Facebook friends and a surprisingly high proportion of them were dogs and cats. There’s even a tortoise.

I knew, though, that on Saturday morning, Facebook would be full of hate - that amongst the perfectly reasonable and heartfelt expressions of sympathy for the victims and families affected by the outrage in Paris overnight, there would also be people seeking to use this as an "I told you so", to claim that the refugees are in fact an army of ISIS on the march and they are coming here next, and we should close all our borders, not accept any migrants, and send 'em all home, look after our own first, etc etc zzz zzz zzz contd. p. 94.

I could, of course, just hide these posts and conclude that, since somehow I've acquired quite a lot of friends on Facebook, in that sample there will inevitably be one or two clodpolls who believe everything Britain First comes out with. But really, hiding it isn't the answer.

Leaving aside for the moment that we don't yet know who has done this, though we all assume it is some kind of “would be Islamist in name only fascist gang of cowards”, let's just go with that assumption and list a few things out. I always find that helps.

Not all terrorists are Muslims
Not all Muslims are terrorists
Not all refugees are Muslims
Not all immigrants into the UK are Muslims, in fact, given the preponderance of economic migration from eastern Europe, probably most of them are Catholics!

Examining the theory that there are ISIS terrorists mixed up in the refugee stream:

France has not been taking refugees. And, if it comes to that, we're only taking 20,000 over five years. The 7/7 terror attacks in London were carried out by people who were home-grown radicals. But, even assuming somehow that an ISIS death squad had managed to get in with the refugees, even if they were moving around within the Schengen area, the most dim-witted border guard would have noticed the guns and grenades at one or other of the many borders they would have had to cross to get to, say, Germany and thence to France, especially in a crowd of people who otherwise have only the rags they stand up in.

There are women and children in the refugee stream, by the way, it is just not reported as prominently in the media. Also, a common pattern is for the man to set off and find somewhere safe, then send for his family.

The people who are desperately trying to reach Greece are actually FLEEING FROM precisely the people who fired the shots and threw the grenades last night. But supposing the meatheads are right, and there are terrorists in the refugee stream, that points up even more the fact that the whole process needs to be much better MANAGED by the EU, with transit camps, screening, medical checks, etc as I have been arguing all along. At the moment, it is haphazard, random, and chaotic. Because, with the possible exception of Angela Merkel, EU politicians have been blowing and puffing hot air and jockeying for domestic advantage rather than getting on with sorting out the biggest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. Yes, David Cameron, I do mean you.

Anyway, there will, sadly, be even more of a "hardening of hearts" because of this outrage. It was a process which had already begun, as compassion fatigue sets in, but it will now be hastened by politicians such as David Cameron and Theresa May, not to mention Farage, posturing about immigration and telling lies in order to make themselves look good/electable in the eyes of the Daily Mail. And all the white van man Sun-reading morons who make up Bigot Britain will be even more sure that they need to "send 'em all back where they came from".

ISIS want this sort of reaction, because they don't care if petrol is poured on the bonfire. They love death and carnage, they thrive on it. But the really sad thing is that now, all refugees are likely to be tarred with the same brush, and because of the reaction of the "send 'em home" brigade, people – possibly children, will die of hypothermia and hunger this winter in the refugee camps because of this attack. Well, because of this reaction to this attack. And the boats will carry on coming, and people will drown.

I know two people who live in Paris, one purely through Facebook, and another, a girl I used to work with, back in the day. I'm glad to say they are both safe. It goes without saying that I feel desperately sorry for anyone in Paris this morning who is having to cope with the worst news that could have happened to their loved ones and families. I can only hope that people will pause and reflect before making a bad situation even worse by blaming refugees for this appalling atrocity.

By the way, I don't think the Paris atrocities were "revenge" for the killing of Jihadi John - these things take months to plan and I wouldn't be surprised if, when the truth emerges about who dunnit, it wasn't being planned well before the refugee tragedy even started. What does concern me, though, is the speed with which an apparently intact passport was found “in the vicinity” of one of the dead suicide bombers. The passport has been immediately seized upon as proof that the refugees are in fact an army of Jihadis on the march, because it shows that the holder passed through the Greek island of Leros and claimed asylum there.

I am normally the last person to believe internet conspiracy theories. Usually, as with the case of the “faked” moon landing or the idea that the Twin Towers were actually dynamited and not brought crashing down by the impact of two hijacked airliners, for them to be correct, it would require an unimaginably high number of people to have all been “in” on the secret and to have kept quiet for years. Human nature just doesn’t work like that. But I would like to hear the answers to some questions about this passport.

Is it possible for someone to be blown to pieces by a suicide bomb, yet for the passport to have survived? Exactly how near to the body was the passport? Is it real, or a fake? Did it show any signs of having been in an explosion? Was the bomber actually the same person as the holder of the passport? Or is it possible it was stolen? Those who have most to gain from it being a genuine Syrian passport carried by a genuine Syrian terrorist are of course those (including Mr Cameron) who want to step up our bombing campaign in Syria. I wouldn’t put it past French intelligence, for instance, to “find” a passport that strengthens the case for French involvement in an enhanced Syrian campaign. Yet it appears from the latest reports this morning that at least some of the plot may have been carried out from a terrorist cell based in Belgium. So when do we start bombing Brussels? (This is for all those Christmas dinner sprouts! Take that!)

These unanswered questions will not stop the rush of the Gaderene Swine to blame all refugees for the crimes. The Facebook page of David Cameron himself has comment after comment of the “send ‘em all home” variety, interspersed with “bomb the Middle East flat” and exhortations for the UK to go in “with boots on the ground” and “clear the whole region”. Others, elsewhere on the internet, are even more brutal: “Take the nearest Muslim to the vet and have them put down”. Says one charming correspondent.

As well as being a boon to the right-wing anti-immigration movement, and a boon to ISIS, who would, to be honest, have claimed responsibility even if they hadn’t done it, this atrocity is also grist to the mill who say that “all this is caused by religion”. It’s actually exactly the opposite. It’s caused by people trying to impose their belief-system by force. That has absolutely nothing to do with the true nature of religion, establishing a contact and a relationship between that which is “you” and the awesome power that drives everything for ever. The problem is that over the years, humanity has allowed religion, essentially a spiritual quest, and morality, the basis of laws and everyday living, to become one and the same thing, using various questionable texts from the time of Christ to justify their actions. Thus, the send ‘em all home brigade, who only ever go to church to hatch, match and despatch, harp on about the clash of cultures, claiming that Britain is a Christian country.

It is nothing of the sort. When I see the hedge fund managers sell all they have and give the proceeds to the poor, then I will believe this is a Christian country. When I see the meek inherit the earth, then I will believe this is a Christian country. When I see the children fed, and the swords beaten into ploughshares, then I will believe this is a Christian country. When I see the refugees having their wounds bound, being given alms, and put up at an inn, instead of being left in the ditch while people pass by on the other side, then I will believe this is a Christian country. Until then, woe on ye, Pharisees, you whitened sepulchres.

Whatever the final outcome, though, the Paris massacre will not be good for the genuine refugees. If, as looks likely, it is now inevitable that the Schengen Agreement will be abandoned and once more border controls will go up all over Europe. This is actually something I said I hoped would happen, but in tandem with the establishment of reception centres, medical and other screening, and a quota system to apportion refugees according to the host country’s resources, population density and other factors. Now, it looks as though we shall get the former without any of the latter, and fortress Europe will develop a siege mentality that will leave those fleeing conflict in an even worse position.

Today seems an appropriate day in some ways to reflect on mayhem and carnage being carried out in the name of “religion” as it is the Feast Day of the Blessed Richard Whiting, who, on this day in 1539, was dragged through the streets of Glastonbury tied to a hurdle, then hanged, drawn and quartered on top of Glastonbury Tor, because, as the last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, he had resisted its sequestration by the Crown at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII was another one who confused (perhaps deliberately) religion and morality, only in his case, he wanted his own morality, even if that meant making up his own religion as he went along. He would not have been out of place in ISIS. Someone should maybe tell them that the rest of the world has moved on almost half a century.

As for me, I am actively counting the days until the emphasis starts to swing towards the light again. I don’t like actively wishing my life away, but on the other hand, these dark miserable days, full of domestic challenges and news of disasters, are no good for my mental health. In the same way that problems always seem more manageable with a cup of tea in your hand, if it’s fine and sunny outside and you can go and sit in the garden, even for just a few minutes, and centre yourself, then you can come back refreshed and renewed, and have another go.

I have great plans for the garden in 2016. I know I say this every year, but this year I am really going to make an effort. At the moment, it’s a seething mess of leaf-mould. If I can, I’d like to put my plans into effect at long last, because I think that, at times like these, it’s important to do something to redress the balance, however small. My planting half-a dozen roses is not going to stop the next ISIS attack, but ultimately, if there were more roses than guns, the world would be a better place. (Not if there was more Guns ‘n’ Roses, though.)

I happened (by accident) upon the writings of Brian Bates this week, and specifically his exploration of the concept of “Wyrd” which occurs often in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) poetry and which is usually translated as “fate”. Two quotations in particular stood out:

Nothing may happen without wyrd, for it is present in everything, but wyrd does not make things happen. Wyrd is created at every instant, and so wyrd is the happening.

Wyrd existed before the Gods and will exist after them. Yet wyrd lasts only for an instant, because it is the constant creation of the forces. Wyrd is itself, constant change, like the seasons, yet because it is created at every instant it is unchanging, like the still center of a whirlpool.


The pattern of wyrd is like the grain in wood, or the flow of a stream, it is never repeated in exactly the same way. But the threads of wyrd pass through all things and we can open ourselves to its pattern by observing the ripples as it passes by

I was particularly struck by the similarities between this interpretation of “Wyrd” and the Confucian idea of the Tao, the watercourse way. Plus, of course, that idea of wyrd being created at every instant, just in the same way that John Gribben and other proponents of his theories claim that we create “reality” on the hoof, choosing one out of an infinite variety of possible universes at each millisecond of time. It’s wyrd in all senses of the world when the Germanic philosophies of the dark ages, the Tao, and string theory all come together in one unlikely concatenation, but at he same time, for me, strangely, it offers hope – hope that there is a choice, and we’re not all just hurtling down pre-destined metalled ways to our doom. Time is inexorable, but we have a choice what to do with it.

And then, of course, on Friday, I was moved to look up, once again, the final stanza of Auden’s poem, 1st September, 1939.

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.

A time like this puts us to the test. We can either use our “wyrd” to join in the general rush to denigrate all refugees for the actions of seven terrorists, or we can stand strong, and, alongside the people of Paris, “show an affirming flame”


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