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

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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Epiblog for the Third Sunday of Epiphany

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley, and we’ve seen the first really cold snap of the winter. The snow has all gone, melted away within a day of falling, unless you want to go and look for it on top of Wessenden or West Nab, in which case feel free, send me a postcard, and if you see Debbie and Misty up there, tell them to come home, where the stove is nice and warm.

I thought I was going to be in more pain and discomfort than it actually turned out, but the two or three really cold days were still unpleasant.  The weather was great, don’t get me wrong, with beautiful blue skies and crisp clear almost Alpine air, especially in the mornings – it was just the temperature I had issues with!  The nights were cruel, though, and I couldn’t help but think of all the lost and abandoned animals, and the lost and abandoned people, come to that, who would be desperately trying to keep themselves warm until dawn.

Matilda hardly ventured out at all, other than to do her necessaries in the garden, and despite the sunshine. It was quite amusing to see her tip-toeing gingerly through the remains of the snow, then getting fed up of cold feet and making a run for it back to the door to be re-admitted to the relative warmth of the conservatory.

Despite the fact that they should, by rights, all be hibernating by now, the squirrels have actually been more in evidence than of late – presumably some of their other normal sources of food are denied to them, so they have been falling back on the birdseed and other stuff that we put out. As have the birds, with blackbirds, pigeons, and at least one robin being the most frequent visitors.

After last weekend’s escapade in the snow, the walkies for Misty (and occasionally Zak) have been less eventful this week, although as I said above, the higher you get up on the hills and the moors, the more likely you are to find stubborn pockets of snow resisting the few weak rays of the sun.

Other than that, it’s been a pretty straight up and down sort of a week. I spent it planning, doing accounts, working on books, and dressing up like a Michelin man in fleecy hoodie, hat, scarf, leg warmers, et al.  Plus two hot water bottles.  I find that, much to my surprise, I seem to have committed to about 17 projects this year, although admittedly some of them are mine, so they can always be shoved down the batting order if things start to get a bit sticky. Either way, it’s a scary prospect, but on the other hand, it’s the only way out of the mess I landed in back in 2010, so, close ranks and carry on. Forward, the armoured brigade!

While I was cogitating this and trying to get to grips with kick-starting some of the stalled projects from last year, two of our authors, meanwhile, have been working on a project for helping the Calder Valley Flood appeal. Which also involves a book!  Gez Walsh and Joel Duncan, who are respectively the Official Poet Laureate and Official Young Poet Laureate of Calderdale, are running an open competition for poetry and prose submissions from the schools in the Calder Valley affected by the floods.  Not only did the floods cause major disruption to the education infrastructure, with some schools being forced to close or amalgamate for the period of the clean-up, but there was also the psychological effects of the events of Boxing Day and beyond.

The idea is that the winning entries will all be published by us in a book, provisionally entitled Floods of Tears and Laughter, which will chronicle the experiences of the students concerned and will be sold to raise money for the flood appeal.  The idea has already been enthusiastically received by a couple of schools, with one head teacher emailing out to all her contacts just on the strength of being told about it on the phone!

Anyway, it’s early days yet, but I guess I had better revise the figure to 18 projects, as we are hoping to get this title out of the way before Easter.  The sooner the book is out, the sooner it can be garnering contributions for the fund. Even if it only ends up raising £4. 2s. 6d, that’s £4. 2s. 6d. they didn’t have yesterday. So, watch this space, I think is what I am saying.

It seems that we are not the only ones who are concerned with the welfare of schoolkids, however. This week the government announced a new web site where parents would discover the crucial signs to watch out for if they wanted to know if their child had been “radicalised”. Apparently these include spending lots of time online, being uncommunicative, and not bothering to change your clothes or something, which probably means 99.99% of all teenagers are “radicalised” by that yardstick. In fact, I may even be a bit “radicalised” myself. Mummy, mummy, I’m being groomed!

It really smacks of two things, desperation, and paranoia. Oh, and pandering to the Daily Mail, I suppose. Sadly, we can only expect more of this sort of thing, because, in the run up to the EU referendum, Mr Cameron will be doing his level best to appear tough on Muslims, though this will invariably be couched in terms of “tough on terrorism” or “tough on immigration”, as if they are one and the same, in order to out-Kipper the Kippers of UKIP and prevent the disaster (for him) of a vote for Britain to leave the EU.  In case you think I am joking about the level of paranoia, a Muslim schoolkid in Leeds this week was investigated by police after he handed in a piece of homework which included the sentence “I live in a terrorist house” and the school called the anti-terrorism line. As it turned out, it was a “terraced” house, and the child was guilty of nothing worse than malapropism, but I wonder whether the school would have pressed the panic button  so readily if he had been a white kid called Wilf?

Or, if further evidence were needed, both of Cameron’s two-way-facing duplicity, and of the anti-Muslim paranoia, you need only look at the Prime Minister’s announcement that Muslim women will be forced to learn English and if they don’t they will be at risk of deportation.  This, again, is a sop to the white van men of bigot Britain. What Cameron will not say, is that actually this will have a minimal effect on immigration from the EU, because they way things stand there is absolutely nothing stopping the entire population of Kracow, for instance, moving here tomorrow and taking over Droitwich, if they want to. Nor do I see any indication that Polish women who don’t learn English will be deported.

Nope, it’s playing to the stereotype that can be heard in every pub, in every taxi, on every building site throughout the land. There’s millions of ‘em comin’ over ‘ere, takin’ our jobs, getting free council houses and large screen tellys, and they’re all plotting to blow us up or murder us in our beds, etc etc.  This is what’s behind the petitions on the government web site to “stop all immigration until ISIS is defeated”. Ho ho, that’s a good one, if only it was that simple.  The really ironic thing is that the people who are most likely to vote rabidly in favour of Muslims being forced to learn English are the ones you see posting things on social media like “We want are [sic] country back!” – the people who say “could of, would of, should of”, who don’t know the difference between “there”, “they’re” and “their”.  In an even more supreme piece of irony, even topping the fact that the knuckle-draggers of the EDL don’t know the difference between “lose” and “loose” the Home Office itself announced the policy on its web site, and spelled “language” as “langauge”. Typos are the curse of every writer, and yes, these things happen, but even so, you would have thought that someone would have checked that particular announcement, very carefully.  I shake my head at this idiocy and I wonder idly what would happen if Spain passed a law requiring all the English expats on the Costa Del Sol to learn Spanish, or be sent home?

But, for now, it’s open season on Muslims so the government can be seen to be tough against a general background of xeonophobia. And no-one cares. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. This week, the Bishop of London, the one whose name escapes me but who looks exactly like John Peel, said that Church of England clergy should reach out to those of the Muslim faith by growing beards. I’m not sure quite how this sits alongside the Church’s various pronouncements on women bishops, but perhaps stick-on comedy whiskers and tubes of stage glue will be provided, backed up in the longer term by testosterone injections?  I am not entirely sure that the Church should be concerning itself with the need to embrace swarthy, Middle Eastern men with facial hair, I mean what would Jesus do? Oh, hang on…

This would be funny, in fact the whole Islamophobia vs reach out by growing a beard debate would be, were it not for the fact that, behind it all, though it’s no longer “news” of course, the boats are still coming, and people are still drowning. Two boats capsized (or were capsized, maybe?) off the coast of Greece this week, with over 40 deaths. According to Gabriel Andreevska, conditions at the Gevgelija camp on the Greek/Macedonian border are dire – bitter cold, snow and ice, lack of food, lack of warm clothing.  Coincidentally, it being Holocaust Memorial Day soon, I happened to catch a TV programme yesterday about the film units that were sent in by the allies in the immediate aftermath of the liberation of Belsen, Auschwitz and Dachau, to capture for all time the horror of what had taken place and make sure it never happened again.  Part of that mission included bringing home to the German people what had been going on, just up the road, in some cases.

Of course, in Nazi Germany, you were likely to end up with a bullet in the back of your head if you raised any objections, and in fairness, the Germans did have at least one go at getting rid of Hitler, but it is in the human nature sometimes to “watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by”, not to ask too many awkward questions, or, in Biblical parlance, to pass by on the other side. The same thing is happening today with the refugees. Obviously on a smaller scale, and no-one has gotten around to the idea of mass extermination of refugees quite yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up in a speech by Donald Trump if the US election goes down to the wire.  And yes, that is a joke, but let’s hope it stays a joke.

By far the biggest story of the week here in the Holme Valley, however, has been the shock news of plans to close the A & E department at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, demolish the building entirely, and replace it with a much smaller unit dedicated to planned procedures only on a different site.  If these plans go ahead, in future, all urgent cases will go to Calderdale Royal Hospital, the other half of the Calderdale and Kirklees NHS Trust.  This is a perfectly good hospital, which already has a busy A & E, and it is about six miles further on from Huddersfield town centre.  Oh well, no problem, I hear you cry.  The problem, which is a problem, is that this distance is as the crow flies. What the NHS needs is a highly trained, dedicated flock of patient-carrying crows. Who needs the air ambulance anyway?

However, the NHS does not have such a capacity of corvids, though I dare say the local crows will have a busy time of it anyway, probably feeding off the ones who didn’t make it to A & E within the “Golden Hour”. That six miles between the hospitals might as well be 60 miles, or 600, if your ambulance is stuck in traffic on the Elland by-pass.  Plus, of course, those of us who live out in the boondocks to the south west of town already have a potential 15-20 minute ride (even in an Ambulance with the sirens going) to get to HRI from the Holme Valley. The same will be true of people who live out to the north and east of town, in places such as Mirfield. Maybe they should consider issuing everyone in the Holme Valley who has a dodgy ticker with one of those James Bond jet back-packs so they can make their own way to Calderdale Royal and rise above the occasion.

Joking apart, however, it is a ludicrous proposal. As I said above, Calderdale’s A & E is already busy – indeed, A & E departments all over the country are under massive strain – and the knock on effect of taking away the A & E at Huddersfield will undoubtedly increase pressure on Calderdale Royal and other neighbouring NHS Trusts such as Barnsley and Wakefield. Huddersfield is one of the largest towns in England with a massive student population. It all comes down to costs, of course. Costs and cuts, and it is a sorry tale when you look back to see how the hell they got into this mess in the first place.  Calderdale Royal was built under the PFI (Private Finance Initiative) a famously dodgy smoke and mirrors deal originally invented by the Tories but perfected under Tony Blair’s New Labour regime, whereby the public got their new hospital, but on the never-never, in a secret deal which meant they had to pay for it, well, basically forever.  No-one actually knows what is in the contract, apart from those who signed it, and in the interim years three things have happened.

One, Calderdale Royal and HRI joined together to become the Calderdale and Kirklees NHS Trust, Calderdale bringing its debt with it to the party. Two, the debt has grown massively to become a howling black hole which threatens to suck in everything around it and which is, in the modern parlance, “not sustainable”.  And three, we now have a government which is hell-bent on breaking up the NHS into small, manageable pieces that can be hived off to its chums in the private healthcare world, using whatever levers and crowbars it can lay its hands on to achieve this, and set against a background of cuts all round.

Because of the illiterate, voodoo economics of Thatcherism, which attempts to run the country as if it was a corner shop in Grantham, everything has to pay its way, everything has to make a profit, and we have to live “within our means” (until there’s a war in the Middle East, then suddenly there’s an emergency fund down the back of the sofa to pay for all those missiles).  The fact is that the government, we the country, have control of our own money supply. They could, if they wished, print enough money to buy Calderdale Royal out of this iniquitous contract, likewise all the other PFI deals. The money could then be recouped out of the substantial savings this would make in NHS costs over the next say, 20 years. The reason they don’t do this is entirely political, it has nothing to do with economics.  The decision to put this plan out to public consultation was actually taken by the local clinical commissioning group or CCG.  But we shouldn’t be under any illusions whose finger is on the trigger of the gun that is being held to their head.

The government is doing, in fact, what it has done ever since 2010 – cuts at one remove, cuts at arms length, right across the public sector. The process goes like this – the government gives the decision-making power to a local body, eg the council. It then immediately cuts the budget to that organisation because we have to be sustainable and “live within our means”, according to the Blessed Margaret,  putting the organisation, whatever it is, a council, a CCG, a QUANGO, or whatever, in an impossible position. The organisation is the one that catches the flak, the cuts get made anyway, and the government says “nothing to do with us, Guv.” Government by abdication, cutting the public services by remote control, and if it all goes wrong, there will be a public enquiry, heads will roll at the organisation concerned, and lessons will be learned.

The local Colne Valley MP, Jason McCartney, has come out strongly in favour of the campaign to save A & E at HRI, which has prompted some to say that this campaign is so important, it should be above politics, as it concerns us all. That is all very fine and dandy, until you remember that he, or at least his party, have had a large hand in creating the very situation which has now become a crisis of unsustainability. As local historian Edgar Holroyd-Doveton said:

Conservatives MPs and our local MP Jason McCartney, voted for the budget down in London, and when this means £170 million a year less for Kirklees, then blames the councils ‘labour’ administration for the cuts.  Jason McCartney, voted for the National Policy Framework which reduces building on brown field sites, and then blames the council for the extra development on green belt.  Jason McCartney fully supported all the Conservatives bills that restrict NHS expenditure and led to the set-up of the parameters that Clinical Commissioning Group has to work in. The government imposed the review on the commissioning group…. Who now, of course are totally to blame (along with digs and fingers pointed at doctors). In fact blame anyone and everything but the Conservative government. And meanwhile the Conservative MPs are of course 'very concerned' when posing for photographs back in the Constituency where the voters are.

Anyway, there is now a web site, and there has been a demo at the CCG meeting and a rally, no less, in St George’s Square in Huddersfield yesterday, around the life size bronze statue of Harold Wilson in the plaza in front of the station.  I would have dearly loved to have gone, but because of the timing, if Deb had taken me down in the camper, Misty would have missed her walkies, and at the end of the day, though it’s a nice romantic idea to think of me manning the barricades and singing We Shall Overcome, in real life, I can perhaps do more good for the cause from my desk here.

I don’t often do this, because if I gave in to the idea in general, this blog would just become a mish-mash of hyperlinks, but this is the link to the official government petition to prevent the A & E closing. They are trying to get to 100,000 signatures. If it hadn’t been for Huddersfield Royal, five years ago, I would have been disappearing up the chimney at the Crem de la Crem. So if you’ve ever liked anything I’ve written, or laughed at any of my gags, please consider signing it if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.  The petition is here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/118690

And so we came to today, at the end of a packed week.  To be honest, I looked at the collection of Saints whose feast-day is celebrated today, and none of them grabbed me.  I am beginning to think that maybe the stories of the saints are losing their appeal for me, or at least the vast majority of them, the sort who were bishop of somewhere or other for twenty years and then died, or the mad Columban missionaries sailing around the Western Isles trying to convert the Picts and getting their heads snicked off for their trouble.  So I have to fall back on the fact that this is apparently the Third Sunday of Epiphany, and turning to the texts appointed for today I find that one of them is the bit from St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians that comes just before my favourite section, about seeing through a glass darkly, and all that stuff. This is 1 Corinthians 12 –

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.  And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:  and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.  For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

I feel sure that John Donne must have had this text rumbling around in his mind when he wrote his wonderful sermon about no man being an island.  No doubt the Corinthians groaned inwardly every time they heard the flap of the letterbox go, but St Paul has seized upon a brilliant metaphor for the campaign to save our local A & E. We can’t all be the fiery orator, we can’t all be the patient, plodding, eye-for-detail person who nitpicks through the official proposal and teases out the lies, we can’t all be banner-painters, or placard-wavers, or garnerers of online signatures, but together we can accomplish much more than each of those people separately can.

As I’ve said many times, a football team with no forwards and eleven goalkeepers would find it hard to win matches (though, given their current run of form, Manchester United might consider giving the idea a whirl) and it’s no good abstaining because, according to Milton, anyway, in one of those sonnets he knocked off in between sterilising all those nappies, “They also serve who only stand and wait”.  I guess this is the rejoinder to my musings about being a hermit last week. The life contemplative might seem superficially alluring, but even the decision not to take part in life, in politics, in spirituality, is still a decision, nevertheless.  We are all part of the body, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, and all that, and the death of a refugee in the Aegean, the death of a patient on the way to A & E, the death of a homeless person in the precinct, diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.  Whether I like it or not.

And, as I am involved, I guess I had better try and do something, although it would be a hell of a lot easier if Big G would a)  work out what my purpose is and b)  somehow communicate it to me.  It’s not that I have given up hope of it ever happening, but I would sort of like to know what it is I am supposed to be doing while there’s still time to do it. Yesterday would have been Deb’s dad’s 78th birthday, and it’s only about four weeks to the first anniversary of his death. If I needed reminding that time is zipping by, that alone ought to be enough.

But, as it happens, I don’t need reminding.  So, tomorrow, everything will start up again and I already have three potentially difficult phone calls to make in the morning. Still, I might as well get all the pain over with at once. One to the garage to book in the camper for its MOT, One to a bookshop who seems to think payment is an optional extra that they can opt out of, and one to the cleansing department of the local council to ask them why, since I am apparently on the assisted bin list, my driveway now looks like a re-run of the winter of discontent because the bin wasn’t emptied – again.

Still, all of these are first world problems, as I am the first to point out to myself. No doubt it’ll be another week of editing, packing, doing accounts, leavened by the occasional turning out of cupboards as part of the spring cleaning (I have set myself the target of at least an hour of housework every day – this is over and above the stuff I normally do, things like clearing out the disaster area under the sink, for instance. I don’t know how long I can keep this up, but, as George Herbert said in his hymn:

A servant with this clause,

Makes drudgery divine:

Who sweeps a room as to thy laws

Makes that, and the action fine…

So, maybe that’s my task – at least for the foreseeable – to make drudgery divine. In which case, I had better make a start, because Debbie has brought back a very muddy Muttkins who needs her tea, and has just announced her intention of going up and getting into the shower while still wearing her walking boots, as the only way to get the mud off them. Three peeping toms have already handed themselves in to police for counselling.  Time to batten down the hatches then, once I’ve fed the dog, bombed up the fire, and made some tea. Tomorrow will be here soon enough, and even though the song says tomorrow is a long time, it’s not at all, really.

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