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

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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Epiblog for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley, but before I proceed to talk about it, I would just like to make one thing clear. Squirrels do NOT hibernate, despite the tendency of well-meaning bloggers to write about them doing so.  Anyway, weather-wise it’s been a pretty dismal week, with rain and gales, and sometimes, for a change, gales and rain.  There were a couple of days where it was vaguely sunny for a while, but it was always only that bright, pale, counterfeit gold of January sunshine, that you know isn’t going to last.  Yesterday, I got up, and it was sleeting. Then it stopped, and the sun came out. Then the sky darkened, and it hailstoned. Briefly. Then the sun came out, then the next time I looked, it was sleeting again.

Deb’s brother, his wife and my little cousin were here, because Chris has kindly been doing some decorating for us (of which more later) so we were all huddled round the stove, chatting and (in Adam’s case) playing games on his phone, with the occasional pot of tea, while Debbie took Zak and Misty out and left us to it.  When she got back she said it had been snowing hard, and sticking as well, up above Meltham, but back at our level, it had turned to heavy rain.  Needless to say, Deb and the dogs were all bedraggled to buggery and needed to warm up and dry off.

Matilda has been spending more and more time sleeping of late. When she does go out, she still likes to sit on the decking, surveying her domain, and expressing a vague interest in the squirrels by chattering her jaws at them (in a threat that both she, and the squirrels, know she is powerless to execute) but by and large, in this weather, she happily dreams her way through the week, occasionally waking to stretch or make little squeaky noises, then curl back round and resume dreaming about whatever it is cats dream about.

As for us, we have decided to bite on the bullet and get on with the long term plan to sort out the kitchen. Long term as in so long term you would probably need time lapse photography to see any movement, and what movement there is, is on a truly glacial scale. However, every so often, the tectonic plates collide and shift, and the master plan lurches on another few feet towards its final objective.

This has been one of those weeks. It all started with the floods, oddly enough. When I saw that the people who had lost everything in the Calder Valley were appealing for free second hand washing machines and fridges, and the like, it spurred me on to offer them our old fridge. I was going to put it on Freecycle, anyway, one day, but the fact that there were actually people saying they needed it, spurred me on, and booted it up the batting order. Once that was gone, collected by the burly man who picked it up like a child and bundled it into the back of his car, this left the space behind it, because the new fridge was much smaller, and went elsewhere.

This is the space, now earmarked for a pantry, which Deb’s brother has kindly rubbed down, primed, filled, and papered for us. Then he’s coming back to paint it, following which all we need is some kind of rudimentary shelving, and much of the food-related clutter can be stashed away.  As a result of this, I spent some considerable time on the mind-numbingly tedious task of going through the Crown colour charts online at B & Q’s web site, trying to find the colour to match the existing walls.  I have done this so you don’t have to, but believe me there are 13 pages of yellows.  I was amused by the names of some of the colours (Custard Cream, anyone?) but I think ours is probably “Buttercup”. Meanwhile, Debbie has found a Welsh Dresser on Ebay (don’t ever Google for Welsh Dresser with safe search turned off, and never under any circumstances for Welsh undresser. Take it from me.) It always amazes me that you can find furniture on the internet. None of that going down to “Sellit & Soon” on Holderness Road, paying cash on the nail for a walnut radiogram, and then borrowing a handcart to trundle it home! Ebay has Welsh Dressers. And possibly Welsh undressers, and even cross-dressers, but don’t go there. I am not a cross dresser, though I have been known to get annoyed if I can’t find any clean socks.

We hope (or at least I do) that the end result of all this potential chaos, when the Welsh Dresser is delivered on Friday by two burly rude mechanicals, who may or may not be Welsh, we will once more be to contribute to a better standard of life, untroubled by running over errant packets of Bisto in my wheelchair, or never being able to find any carrots.  The final piece in the jigsaw will eventually be getting a smaller sink, again to enable me to get in and out more easily, and possibly mounted on a lower unit, to make it easier for me to do the washing up. I shall be very sorry to see the double Belfast sink go, but I guess the practicalities of the situation are undeniable.  Still, maybe we can sell it back to the plumber, to defray his bill!

Thus, it has been an eventful week. With my other leg, I have been fighting a battle once more to get my bin emptied, and matters came to a head on Tuesday and Wednesday. The black bin, which had been missed for two collections on the go, was rammed to the gills, and piled up beside it were about a dozen bin-bags that had accumulated since then. We aren’t profligate with our rubbish, we recycle whatever we can, and the food waste, such as doesn’t go in the dog or the cat, go into my home-made composters. But nevertheless, such are the mores of our times, when it comes to packaging, that even a relatively frugal household of two people, a cat and a dog accumulates rubbish at an alarming rate. It looked like one of those news shots of the “Winter of Discontent” that they always wheel out when dreary politicians are arguing that we don’t want to go back to the 1970s. [As an aside, I would be quite happy to go back to the 1970s, or at least my 1970s. The girls were fine, the ale was brown, as Hilaire Belloc might have said if he were here right now, the summers were all scorchingly hot, and the music was a blast. I could still walk (in fact I could run) and I spent a lot of time playing cricket. What’s not to like?]

So it was that I ended up on Tuesday having to get shouty-barmy with the council and threaten to stop paying my Poll Tax if the bins weren’t emptied that day.  Our scheduled collection day is a Wednesday, so to be honest, I expected them to ignore me and come on Wednesday as normal, but to actually empty it this time. However, on Tuesday a little bin wagon turned up and they actually emptied the black bin. Let joy abound, I thought, as I heard them crashing about in the driveway. Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I went out to put the bin back in its appointed slot (I can just about tow an empty wheely bin, more or less, in my wheelchair, but a full one is way beyond my feeble strength) and found that they had indeed emptied the bin, but had left all the bin bags. Maybe they thought they were my entry for the Turner Prize. Maybe the dustmen were two Corinthians short of a Bible. I don’t know.

Debbie insisted, against my advice not to bother, in picking up all the loose bags and putting them in the empty bin itself, thus creating, once more, a full bin. Back to square one. Fortunately, a second set of dustmen did come on the appointed day, and lo, they emptied the bin. And there was rejoicing in heaven, and the dead awoke and showed themselves to many. Selah. I know – before you tell me – it’s a first world problem, and I should be glad I don’t have to scavenge through a gigantic midden of my own shit, as the poorest have to do in India, and this is of course all very true. I’m just conscious of not having much time or strength left, and I would rather use what I have, if at all possible, for something more useful than howling fury at Kirklees Council, just to get them to do something right, for the first time of asking, that I pay them for.

Another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Huddersfield actually becoming a third-world problem, on the grounds that 21st century medical care will be potentially harder to obtain in an emergency, is this ongoing imbroglio of the closure of first the accident and emergency department and Huddersfield Royal, and then the hospital itself.  The campaign has been rumbling on, but the organisers, notwithstanding the fact that yes, they are volunteers, have made some major tactical errors. The focus should be on raising awareness of, and garnering signatures for, the online petition, while preparing a detailed rebuttal of the CCG’s plans. Instead, they have introduced the massive diversion of a paper petition, which guarantees nothing, and does not have any status as such. I became convinced that people were signing the paper petitions (which were originally only intended to mop up the people who were not computer savvy and/or online) thinking that they were contributing to the online total because both totals, paper and online, would be added together. I tried to point out to the organisers that this needed flagging up, and they ignored me.  As if to prove the point, I asked my sister-in-law, who is both computer savvy and online, on Saturday, if she had signed the petition, and she said yes, she’d signed it in her local post office.  No, says I, the online petition. What online petition? (She has now signed it.)

The Facebook page the campaign is running is also a shambles, with people asking the same questions over and over again because the organisers can’t or won’t put up a pinned FAQ post at the top.  They are, however, planning to have a pop concert in Greenhead park. Yep, that should sort it.  I’m not ditching the campaign per se – I have written to the CCG asking them if they factored in a figure for the additional deaths that would occur in their risk assessment of the nearest A & E for the Holme Valley being over in Halifax, and if so what was the figure. If they didn’t, then they are probably guilty of some sort of neglect, a failure to carry out due diligence, or something.  So, either they do have a figure, in which case they are basically saying that X additional deaths would be acceptable (!) to save the costs involved, or they didn’t factor in a figure, in which case, if they didn’t consider this crucial factor, how can we put any faith in any of their proposals?

And, in a further development which probably came as a surprise to those who naively believe that “politics” has no part in the campaign to save our A & E, the local MPs announced that they had secured a “debate” in Westminster Hall on Tuesday on the issue. These “debates” are the sideshow affairs where the government shunts off contentious or hot issues – such as whether Donald Fart should be banned from Britain – and there is no debate actually in parliament, nor is there a vote.  The local MPs look good, because they will get a couple of soundbites on Look North, and the government will trundle out the permanent under-secretary for paperclips at the Department of Health to say that this is entirely a local matter. End of. And then, when and if the online petition does gain 100,000 signatures and is considered for a debate in parliament proper, it will be a case of “Oh, we’ve already done that one, haven’t we…?” You mark my words.

Wednesday also brought with it, as well as the dustmen, Holocaust Memorial Day, with its emphasis this year on not just standing by and letting evil things happen. Coincidentally, it also brought (to me at least) the stories of the asylum seekers who were being forced to wear red wristbands to make them immediately identifiable, as indeed did the standard issue red front doors on the accommodation they have been given in Middlesbrough. Unfortunately, the local fascists, knuckledraggers and yobboes also made that connection, and have been singling out those houses to throw eggs, dog crap, and other nasty things at the said front doors. At least it was red wristbands and not yellow stars, yet. When they came for the asylum seekers, I did not speak out, for I was not an asylum seeker. And while it was all going on, on Wednesday, David Cameron stood up at Prime Minister’s Question Time and referred to Labour allowing in “a bunch of migrants” from Calais.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to hate the glossy-haired, dish-faced pig-botherer any more than I do, but I surprised myself when I saw him braying those words on TV, with all the other Tory yahoos cheering him on.  If there had been a brick anywhere to hand at that moment, Debbie would now be scouring Ebay for a new TV.  I’ve been told this week that I should lighten up. Look at the viral clip of the panda rolling in the snow, stop reading The Guardian and start reading The Sun (in fact, I read neither). So, how do I even begin to approach this in a light-hearted way. I suppose the overbearing, staggering hypocrisy of the situation would be funny, if it weren’t tragic.

It is, worth, though, taking a step back and looking at the entire process, coolly and dispassionately.  Syria is a total basket case, the more so since the Russians made their ill-judged intervention which will undoubtedly lengthen the conflict.  You have every chance of being bombed, starved, or blown up by ISIS. It’s no wonder that people are fleeing like never before.  So if you can get away, you pay your savings or whatever you managed to scrape together to someone who sends you off over the Med in an overcrowded leaky boat with a dodgy engine. Some of you, at this point, will die (this week, one lot of 18 and one of 40) by drowning, as your boat either sinks, or is sunk (I don’t suppose the Greek coastguard are that bothered about investigating themselves).

If you make it this far you then cross Macedonia and get as far as you can en route to your chosen destination in Europe. If you do reach The Jungle at Calais, even though your children were “refugees” in Syria, or in Lebanon, they are now part of “a bunch of migrants” according to the British Prime Minister. Apparently your worth as a human being alters magically according to your geographical location and how deep in the doodoo the Prime Minister is at the time. Well, I have news for you, Mr Cameron, any man’s death diminishes you, because you are involved in mankind, and if a clod or pebble is washed away, it is exactly the same as if a manor of thy friends were.  Therefore seek not to send for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. The thing is, it’s all fuss and bluster anyway. For all his dog-whistle rhetoric, aimed at the likes of UKIP, he can’t do anything about EU immigration, even though he might want to. Whether or not he will manage to alter this before the EU referendum is a moot point.  But it won’t stop his posturing frothing xenophobic blethering.

Conditions in The Jungle are appalling at the moment, by all accounts. In fact, none of the various camps holding refugees anywhere along the trail leading back to Syria is a picnic, right now.  The standpipes in the Jungle are potentially infected with e-coli, there are harmful levels of bacteria, caused by the vast piles of rubbish which attract rats, and the weather is cold and grim. It puts my minor difference with Kirklees council into perspective. The Macedonian camps have had snowstorms. All over Europe, the walls are going up against the refugees, and now Denmark has decided to start seizing their valuables. Next stop, gold teeth and spectacles.

So, no, I haven’t really lightened up.  Sorry about that. Anyway, we’ve made it through another week, somehow, and the ceremonial emptying of the cupboards and moving of the little sideboard has taken place, much to the detriment of this blog, because, in trundling back and forth with jars of Marmite, pickles, honey and peanut butter, not to mention olives, cornichons and gherkin spears for hours this afternoon (the sideboard had to be emptied before it could be moved) I have tired myself out, and now I am struggling to finish this today.  Today is the fourth Sunday of Epiphany, and the text for today is one of my all-time favourites: 1 Corinthians 13. Here it is in the full fat, high-tar King James version.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,  doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Clement Attlee, of course, once famously said, of charity, in 1920, that

Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.

Which is perhaps a more appropriate text for Google than for anyone else. But I have always understood that the “charity” in the Corinthians text also embraces ideas of compassion and love. An acknowledgement that any man’s death diminishes you, because you are part of mankind. I am not a scholar of Aramaic, or Hebrew, so please feel free to correct me – I’m on about as firm ground here as I was with the squirrels.

Maybe it is time for me to put away childish things once and for all, and concentrate my energies, such as they are, on the things that really matter to me.  Firstly, to safeguard the well-being of those I care for, as much as possible, secondly to oppose bad and unjust things wherever I see them.  The problem with lightening up, with having fun all the time, is that it takes away the necessary contrast that has to be part of, well, part of life, really… “if all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work”, as Shakespeare says in King Henry IV part 1.

So, as we’re on the eve of the second month of the year (one twelfth of 2016 has already gone, how scary is that?) and I’m starting to look for the snowdrops in the garden, the “fair maids of February”, I may be forced to confront an unwelcome truth. However much I might want to pull up the drawbridge, especially on a night like tonight when the stove is roaring away and the rain is driving down outside and the cat is curled up on her crocheted Maisie-blanket on the chair, only opening one eye from time to time to glare balefully at Debbie for making a noise, rattling the shovel when putting the coal on the fire, and Misty the dog is curled up on her dog bed, snoozing, I don’t think I can. Not while there are still lost animals, lost people, hungry people, and wrongs to right. How can I complain about my rubbish when the plague that is The Jungle still exists? It’s an itch I have to scratch.  If disengagement works for you, then fine, I would never condemn you for it, but perhaps it’s being so miserable that actually keeps me going! Go thou, and do likewise.

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