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

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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Epiblog for May Day

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. The weather is, of course, now officially bonkers.  Last week, I was sitting here writing that it looked like the worst of winter was finally behind us, only to then experience several days in a row of hail, sleet and snow.  If there was ever any doubt that we have trashed the climate, it’s completely vanished from my mind: you’d have to be a deaf, mad, blind, climate-change denier to ignore the portent of this crazy four-seasons-in-one-day mish-mash.

Poor little Matilda has been caught out a few times by the capricious nature of the weather, especially the hailstorms, which literally start without warning. I have never seen her move so fast. She’s back at the conservatory door before you can say Jack Frost, who is another person she’s not too fond of. One particular night last week, the coldest one (was it Wednesday?) she went to the door and asked to be let out, so I just keeked it open a little bit and she squeezed through. Twenty seconds later, she was back, asking to come in.  Poor little cat. Well, large cat, actually, but I made it up to her by giving her a tin of sardines for her tea one night, and apart from that she’s spent most of the week in her “stable 1” position, on the settee in Colin’s front room, curled round with her nose in her tail.

Oh, apart from Thursday night. Because we are getting low on coal for the stove, the old cat flap which Stuart the builder put through the outside wall of the lobby in 1996 has been exposed again. The coal bags are normally stacked in front of it. Matilda was in the kitchen, gazing into space at nothing in particular, no doubt thinking catty thoughts, when suddenly her head whipped round and she hurtled over to the glass kitchen door, jumping up at it and batting at it with her paws. What the hell? Then I saw that on the other side of the door was next door’s cat, doing the same. I have never seen two cats having a full-on, handbags at dawn, standing on your hind legs, fight with a plate glass safety door between them, but it was quite amusing.  And how enterprising of next door’s cat to find a new way of annoying Matilda by exploiting the (literal) loophole of the uncovered cat flap to invade her territory, if the lobby can be described as such. Matilda seems to think it is, anyway.

Misty, by comparison, has had a quiet week, for her at any rate, with only the prospect of 14-mile route marches across featureless moorland encased in a perma-frost tundra of ice and snow to break up the unrelieved tedium of eating, sleeping, and barking at anyone who has the temerity to come to the door, whether they live here or not.  Deb has also been using the landscape as therapy, mired as she is in the boggage of the exam season at the moment, and counting down the hours until the end of term.

The squirrels and birds have been constant visitors as usual. The birds included more sparrows, a rare enough sight these days to be worth remarking, and a pair of loved-up wood pigeons that seem, perhaps, to be nesting ion one of the trees in the back garden, judging from the coo-cooing that goes on more or less constantly in the background. The surprise visitor, though, has been Brenda the badger, assuming it is Brenda and not just a random passing badger that happens to have battened on to us this year. Anyway, for the last six or seven nights, she’s been visiting the decking and hoovering up what’s left in the bird/squirrel dishes. Plus some stale bread that we put out for her, and some pumpkin seeds that Debbie bought a few years ago in the mistaken belief that they were tasty and nutritious, only to find out that she had been half right. It remains to be seen how long this phenomenon will last, but I was glad that my little nephew Adam saw it, last night, just before he went home.

As for me, I’ve had a quiet week as well. Sometimes I have been quiet because I’ve had my head down working on the three books at once that are going through the press, and sometimes I have been quiet because I’ve been feeling sick as a dog and dozing off in my wheelchair once the pain killers kick in. Whatever it was seems to have passed over me anyway, hastened by several piping hot draughts of hot orange, honey, cider vinegar and lemon, which has killed it off for now.  On the plus side, my second order of herbs arrived and I have been busy putting them in here and there during the week when the opportunity presented itself. I have also been plagued with a fault on my wheelchair, which, for those of you readers who can still walk, is the same as having a fault with your legs. One of the wheels is on its way out, and is no longer round. Roundness is sort of a sine qua none, as far as wheels go, so at the moment I am progressing through life in lurches, jinking and jiving like Ian Butler on the wing, and wondering if the wheel is going to finally go “crunch” one day and deposit me on the floor like a sack of spuds, waving my arms and legs around like an overturned stag beetle.

To be fair to the NHS, wheelchair services, or whatever they are called now they have been privatised, did send the guy out on Monday, promptly enough, to look at it, but sadly, look at it is all he did, pronouncing it to be beyond repair, and saying they will order me a new wheel.  When will it come, I asked. Maybe it will come this week, he said. (It didn’t).

So, as in the song, with one wheel on my wagon, I’m still rolling along. Pretty much like the government, in fact, which lurches on from crisis to crisis. Jeremy Hunt, in his bid to become “most despised politician of the decade” is still putting his hands over his ears and chanting la la la la I can’t hear you, whenever anyone tries to talk him into resuming talks. Frankie Boyle, not normally a person I have a lot of time for, writing in The Guardian, not normally a paper I have a lot of time for, summed up the agenda succinctly. It’s all about privatisation.

Naturally, things won’t actually be improved; they’ll be sold to something like Virgin Health. Virgin can’t get the toilets to work on a train from Glasgow to London, so it’s time we encouraged it to branch out into something less challenging like transplant surgery. With the rate the NHS is being privatised, it won’t be long before consultations will be done via Skype with a doctor in Bangalore. Thank God we’re raising a generation who are so comfortable getting naked online. “I’m afraid it looks like you’ve had a stroke. No, my mistake – you’re just buffering.

It would be even funnier if it weren’t true, but the fact that it will probably happen tends to make the humour rather bitter-sweet.  Hunt keeps banging on about “fulfilling manifesto pledges” – point me to any page in the 2010 or 2015 Tory manifestoes where it says they are going to do a top down re-organisation of the NHS and then sell it off to the highest bidder amongst their corporate cronies!

The Tories must have been incredibly grateful for the bungling boobies of Labour giving them a ready-made distraction just when they needed it most. I can just imagine Cameron heaving a huge sigh of relief when the “anti-semitism” row broke out. It was just like Peter Griffin cutting away to a Conway Twitty gag. Labour are entirely to blame, for falling back into the twin traps of a) accepting the Tory agenda and b) apologising for things which weren’t really their fault. All that Naz Shah, the MP who started it all had to say was that she might well have forwarded a couple of tweets accusing Zionists of Nazi policies or whatever they were, but it was over two years ago and before she even became an MP. To be honest, I can’t even remember what I tweeted last week, let alone two years ago.

But then, of course, any criticism of the Israeli government’s massively disproportionate attempts to deal with the ham-fisted, pig-headed Hamas leadership’s encouragement of their own people to commit acts of ineffectual “terrorism” is always met with cries of “Anti-Semitic!”. Some blind fool enthused by Hamas fires a dustbin rocket that lands six yards inside Israel and mildly injures a passing donkey. Israel retaliates with a six-hour airstrike that takes out a couple of suburbs, a school and a hospital. People rush to condemn Israel, Israel accuses them of anti-semitism. It’s a depressing cycle, oft repeated.

What makes this different is of course, the Tories, the media, and half his own party (the ones who have trouble with the concept of a democratically elected leader with massive popular support) are all queuing up to use this as a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn. Enter Ken Livingstone, a man who never knows when to keep his trap shut, and proceeds to make it worse.  Well done, Labour, well done. With an open goal before you, you hit the corner flag. It’s like back to the bad old days of Mr Ed the talking horse. Idiots.

The reason the Tories are so happy to grasp the opportunity of talking about non-existent anti-semitism scandals is that anything’s better than Brexit. The great confusion continues to rage and once more it’s immigration that’s being used to stir the pot.  Like a particle of anti-matter in a Dan Brown novel, the idea that there are “too many brahn people over ‘ere” getting all our jobs, all our schools, all our hospitals, being given free flat screen TVs and council houses, and demanding that we alter our culture to theirs and sing Allah Things Bright And Beautiful and Halal Black Sheep, Have You Any Wool, has expanded to fill the known universe, and proves impossible to kill off.  Even the Tories are desperately trying to kill it, at least those who want to stay in the EU are, even though they started saying it in 2010, because they know it will (completely and mistakenly) be their undoing in the EU exit referendum.

To give you an idea of how pervasive the feeling is, this week a pub, the Royal Oak at Attleborough (the one near Nuneaton, not the one in Norfolk) published an on-line petition because they claimed to have been told to paint out the red cross of St George that adorns the front wall of the pub, because it might cause offence, by the local council. The pub is painted outside in white, and the red cross is actually quite striking, and has been professionally done, and to be honest, if attention hadn’t been drawn to it, would have passed unnoticed, especially as it’s apparently been painted like that for the last 15 months. But the landlady was adamant she’d been told to paint it out.  I did vaguely wonder whether wires had been crossed and actually it was something to do with planning and conservation, because Attleborough is a conservation area. I do know that councils can get very sniffy about that sort of thing. We had some official correspondence a while ago demanding we trim back the trees along the frontage of the house because they were overhanging the road, so I wrote back to the council by return of post applying for a tree preservation order on the trees in question.

However, I digress. It turned out the solution was even simpler. The phone call from the council had been a hoax. When the local paper asked the council, they basically said they had never been in contact with the woman and didn’t give a stuff what colour she painted her pub. Warwickshire police, who were also asked, just in case, said they would only get involved if it was a traffic matter.  Which it wasn’t.  But, as a measure of how firmly the great confusion has taken hold, a) nobody bothered to check on the phone call and b) the online petition shot to 10,000+ signatures in the first hour or so.  All with comments from the usual suspects saying we want our culture back and St George was our saint (the fact that he was Turkish is lost on these people, as Oscar Wilde said, ignorance is a precious flower; touch it, and the bloom is gone.) This is the speed with which people will be queuing up to give the EU the boot, fuelled by a heady cocktail of xenophobia, fear, and ignorance, on June 23rd. Time to start stocking up on canned food, bottled water, and candles.

I was mildly surprised to hear that the pub in question hadn’t bothered to check back with the council, until I realised of course that in effect they have just benefited from the sort of publicity which you would have to pay lots of money to acquire by commercial means. Even I have now heard of the place, and I live 200 miles away! I do think though, that people who post comments on social media about “our culture”, should probably be required to learn and recite a Shakespeare sonnet from memory before being allowed anywhere near a keyboard. Being able to know the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re” would also help.

I can only assume that similar rabid xenophobia was behind the decision of the MPs who voted against accepting 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from the camps in France. I hope their dreams are haunted by the screams of drowning children until the end of their worthless, miserable lives, which I hope will be soon.  It has been a good week for the government to bury bad news, of course, with the media dominated by the verdict in the Hillsborough enquiry.  I was an unwitting bystander to the disaster – well, not so much a bystander as a bydriver… I was living in Chichester at the time and we had just bought the house at Carlton, near Barnsley. Simon, my Chichester friend, had very kindly agreed to come up for a weekend and help do some joinery work, and we were all driving up there in his car. There used to be two massive cooling towers on the right hand side of the M1 (they were blown up a while ago) just about opposite where the road from Hillsborough came in to join the motorway on the left, and as we approached, we saw police in high viz jackets actually walking about on the motorway, frantically waving the traffic over into the outside lane.  How they avoided being run over themselves, or even winged, I’ll never know.  They were putting out bollards to close off the inside and middle lane.  Needless to say, everybody was slamming on the anchors “toot de sweet” and a bit of a melee ensued. Meanwhile, a convoy of ambulances, blue lights and all, swept up the slip road, on to the near-empty motorway, and disappeared at speed in the direction of Leeds. We looked at one another. Bloody hell!

We later found out that is was part of the sadly all-too-belated medical evacuation.  It all seems so long ago now, which puts into perspective the purgatorial wait for something approaching due process and justice for those who lost family members that day.  It has also prompted, as did the death of Thatcher, a further outbreak of hostilities, with both sides choosing to re-fight the salient points of what actually happened, fuelled by mutual hatred – the Tories’ hatred of the working class, especially as manifested by football fans, and the Liverpudlian hatred, with good reason, of a party which has brought such devastation and economic depression to the North and to Liverpool in particular, and of the Tory media which is its mouthpiece. Those on both sides have reprised the role of the fans who turned up late outside the Leppings Lane entrance.  Those with an axe to grind against Boris Johnson reprinted his infamous Spectator article, which spoke of the dependency culture and victim mentality and other slurs. In fact, that article was ghost-written by a staffer and appeared under Johnson’s name, because Johnson at the time was too busy horizontal jogging to know or care.

Almost all disasters have multiple causes, and there is no doubt that the excess fans milling about were a factor. But so was the failure of the police to contain and deal with the situation, the decision once they were admitted to the ground to direct them to compounds already full, the failure to recognise what was unfolding, and act promptly to summon appropriate medical resources, the general lack of communication between the emergency services themselves and between the emergency services and the public, especially those searching frantically for lost family members, and last but not least, the decision by the police to cover it all up and to resist, stubbornly, every subsequent attempt to uncover the truth since.

Apart from the last one in that list above, it’s possible that if only one of that list had been missed out, the outcome may have been so much better. The police have a difficult job, and often lives, their own and other peoples’ depend on their decisions, which sometimes have to be made on the spot. But at the same time, they have power vested in them to police us by public consent, and in order to maintain our trust they need to ensure that if mistakes are made, they are owned up to immediately, and remedial action is taken.

One disaster which was, fortunately averted before it ever happened, this week, was the shutdown of CERN, the multi-billion pound atomic particle accelerator buried under miles and miles of the Swiss countryside, by a weasel. The unfortunate mustelid trod on something electrical that had about a bazillion watts going through it at the time, and blew the lot. It’s a good job they weren’t in the middle of one of their atom-smashing, particle splitting experiments at the time or even now we would be watching rolling news reports of a giant mutant glow-in-the-dark nuclear weasel, or even worse, an anti-weasel, trampling through the smoking ruins of Zurich, like Godzilla.

This has been a grim week, though, in the world, errant weasels notwithstanding.  Proof, if proof were needed, that it’s a mean, nasty, compassionless society came in the form of a follow-up to the case of a homeless man who was hailed as a "legend" after saving a young girl from spending a night on the streets of London when she missed her last train home. Nicole Sedgebeer, 21,  had missed her last train from Euston to Milton Keynes and was on the verge of bursting into "drunken tears" she was offered help from a homeless man called Mark Collins.

Mark walked her to a 24 hour cafe where she would be safe to wait overnight and, leaving her with a cup of coffee, he went off to collect his sleeping bag before returning in the morning to walk her back to the station for the first train. Nicole posted her story on Facebook in the hope that "this story makes people look twice when they see a homeless person", prompting comments from her friends that Mark was a "legend". This all happened a couple of months ago, and since then, moved by such a heart-warming story, people have been showing their appreciation by the means of donating online. £13,143 has been raised, and it would be a nice finish to the story to find that with some of that money, Mark had been able to find a flat somewhere that he could then use as a base while seeking employment.

It would have been nice, but sadly he has yet to see a penny of it, because a charity working in the area, Safer Streets, has recommended that it might be more appropriate to give the money to, er, them, instead, than as a handout to a single individual.  Here we go again, back to the  patrician “well, I would give you a sovereign, my man, but you’ll only go and spend it on drink!” attitude. Safer Streets is a project run by a larger charity called Change, Grow, Live, whose chief executive pays himself £180,000 per annum. Go figure.

So, anyway, without really noticing, we have reached May Day, my favourite month of the year is here, and it’s crept up on my while my back was turned. The merry month of may, in the spring time of the year.  No doubt Jack in the Green will have been up at dawn at Hastings, the Cornish in Helston and Padstow will have been singing Hal-an-Tow, and the Green Man will have been seen in the meadows around Oxford. I was in Oxford for one of those mornings, either May 1st 1974, 1975 or 1976, and it is indeed a spectacle. Worth getting an early bus, to see all those people in fancy dress, some of whom have clearly been up all night, wandering around at 5AM. Morris Dancing for breakfast tests the strongest constitution, even if you are only a spectator.  These are but a few of the things that make England great, of course, but they are interesting remnants of a past now largely obscured, largely forgotten, when the horned god Cernunnos was being ousted by the Romans, and Herne the Hunter and his wild hunt were heard, and occasionally seen, hurtling through the skies pursued by a pack of spectral hounds at midnight. Before the Roman came to Rye, or out to Severn strode, and all that. Last night was Beltane, one of the four great “sabbats” of the Wiccan year. I did know what the three others were, but I can only think of two of them right now. Mind you I forgot Uri Geller’s name this morning when I was trying to describe him to Deb and had to resort to “that bloke who bends spoons”.

For some reason, Beltane always makes me think of that passage in East Coker by T S  Eliot

In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn.

When I was at university I knew a bloke who was “into” that sort of thing. I don’t know if he ever did the naked dancing round the bonfires, but he was known for performing Hebrew banishing rituals in the early hours. I remember having a discussion with him one day about religion, during which I said “Do you think there is a God, then?” to which he blithely replied, with a smile, “My dear boy, there are Gods, in the plural!” Of course, there are religions which do have “gods” which are different “manifestations”, or aspects, of the same entity. Hindu Gods that can be either destroyers or preservers, for instance. In Hebrew mysticism, the Quabalah, the sacred diagram or “Tree of Life” contains points called Sephiroth, which are again symbolic of aspects of divinity, such as Chesed, God of Mercy, or Geburah, Lord of Hosts, and so on.  In a sense, I suppose, though I am no theologian, that when we pray to a particular saint to intercede for a particular purpose, assuming we do, all we are really doing is “channelling” that particular aspect of God that concerns, or is concerned with, our particular “intention”, be it the welfare of cats, or the most hopeless of lost causes.

May is dedicated in the calendar of the Catholic religious year as Mary’s month. Hopkins famously wrote of it that

May is Mary’s month, and I  
Muse at that and wonder why:          
Her feasts follow reason,         
Dated due to season

Some churches have specific Mary altars, or processions where the statue of the Virgin Mary is taken out of the church and processed, occasionally being crowned with flowers. Specific “Mary Altars” can be set up, and rites amended to include the Hail Mary. You might expect the church authorities to frown on this sort of thing, or at least to regard it as an ecumenical matter, but in fact Pope Pius XII was all for it, and issued an encyclical to that effect.

It is the obvious association of fertility and bounty with the concept of motherhood and birth/rebirth which are all knitted together in this concept. Once more we are4 back to the aspects of divinity – spring redeems, winter punishes: something which medieval people perhaps understood more readily than we do in our modern houses.

Having said all that, for all our modern double-glazing and central heating, and supermarket deliveries and broadband and surroundsound, I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking how fragile the membrane of happiness is, and how, in a way the reverse of disasters, how happiness only happens if all of a long list of factors are present. The house is warm, it’s late at night, all the doors are locked, the dog and cat have been fed, the stove is ticking away, the badger’s been, we’ve had our meal, Deb is snoozing in her recliner, Matilda on Colin’s settee, and Misty on her bed, and I’m just going to watch the end of this, or listen to the end of that, then I am going to go and get into bed and get warm.  How easily all of this could be snatched away.  How easily, if you removed one or two critical bits, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Life is lent, not given. One day, your loved ones might go out to a football match, and never come back. It was twenty four years ago this week that my father died. Cherish what you have folks, cherish what you have.

For me, I guess next week is going to be pretty much more of the same, Bank Holiday notwithstanding, and my favourite time of year vanishing before I can do anything to stop it. Not that I can do anything to stop it. I seem to have increasingly less control over my own life, so stopping time itself in its tracks, or even slowing it down, is certainly going to be beyond me! My other option would, of course, be to try and savour it as much as possible, but right now it’s all hell-for-leather and devil take the hindmost. So I guess I will be left lamenting May’s passing, a month from now, pretty much as I did last year. I may plant out the remaining herbs, and allegedly there are some roses and bedding plants on the way from Jersey, if they ever get there. If the weather permits. As Shelley might have said, if winter comes, spring can be far behind.

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