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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Epiblog for the Feast of St John of Sahagun

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley, even though summer does seem to have come to an end, somewhat prematurely, is it’s still nine days to the solstice.  Sadly, though, the warm and humid weather of last week has well and truly broken, at least for the moment.  Before it did, we had a very pleasant barbecue last Sunday evening, outside on the decking. The first time I had been out there, using the ramps which Owen so kindly constructed for us, this year. That, together with starting writing it too late in the day, was one of the reasons why last week’s blog was so late.

Anyway, a pleasant time was had by all, and the mobile little barbecue thingy that Debbie bought from IKEA to take on holiday with us when we go off in the camper performed very well, browning vegan sausages, pretend prawns, and rashers of faux-bacon, all of which were accompanied by a big bowl of salad, chopped and mixed by yours truly.  Half way through, Granny arrived with Zak and Ellie, having walked them over in the warm of the evening. There was plenty to go around, so she ended up staying as well.  Eventually, however, she felt the pull of home, and tottered off into the night, faithful poochies at her heels, as always.

This is why you should never leave a party before the end, or else you might miss the floorshow.  It had been a terrific evening up to that point, but then the Titanic was having an absolutely spiffing voyage, until it hit the iceberg.  Attempting to negotiate my way back up the ramp, over the threshold and into the conservatory, somehow, I got stuck half way up. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have turned round on the decking, and gone up backwards, then I could have used my legs as well for additional propulsion.

Anyway, I didn’t, and though – as it says in all the best police statements – drink had been taken, the main problem was my wheels started slipping, and my arms weren’t strong enough on their own to hold me. Debbie rushed from inside to the doorway, leant out and grabbed the lapels of my fleece, all she could reach in that instant, but it started to come off over my head and the inevitable ensued. Gravity triumphed over levity, I rolled backwards, then, on “landing” on the decking, the wheelchair itself tipped over backwards, with me in it. I managed to take out a small stone ceramic owl that lights up in the dark (we only have the classiest garden ornaments, us) and one third of a garden lily. The owl was stuck back together on Monday morning, and the plant re-potted, and both are doing fine, in case you were worried.

I, however, was not so good. Stuck in the chair, on my back with my legs in the air, I couldn’t reach my mobile to summon help. There was no way that Deb could get me back in the chair on her own.  She shouted that she’d get me the house phone, and reappeared in the doorway with it. For some reason not entirely clear, but probably to do with speed and panic, instead of just coming out and handing it to me, or dialling 999 herself, she threw me the handset.  Because I was currently lying on my back like a stranded beetle, waving my legs in the air, my catching wasn’t at its best, and because it was dark, her aim was a bit wappy too. The phone struck me a glancing blow on the forehead just above the left eyebrow, and skidded off into the darkness, amongst a load of shrubs in tubs. We recovered it the following morning, surprisingly no worse for wear. Unlike my head.

Meanwhile, I had managed, by dint of wiggling my hips like Chubby Checker, to send the wheelchair one way while I rolled the other. This meant that at least I could reach my mobile. I dialled 999 wearily, and explained what had happened. I asked for an ambulance, because the last time I fell off my banana board while transferring into the chair, about two years ago, that’s what they sent. This time around, the 999 operator started asking me if I was actually injured bleeding or unconscious, and seemed unsure whether I needed an ambulance or not. All I could do was reiterate the situation, and in the end I just said send who you like, send the lifeboat if you must, but please send somebody.

A few minutes later, with commendable speed and despatch, three burly firemen knocked at the door, and were admitted through the kitchen by Debbie. Having assessed the situation, they did a “fireman’s lift”, plonked me back in the chair, and wheeled me up the ramp and into the house. I thanked them, and they left.  Upsetting though the experience was (spiritually, and literally) it did have a hidden up-side. Previously, there had been some speculation as to whether the elevated decking, now getting on for 20 years old, was going to rot through, but the fact that it took the combined weight of the aforesaid trio of burly “pompieres” plus me, indicates that it is probably a lot stronger than it looks.

The next day, I felt like crap. I had a bump on my head from the phone, bruised ribs, and I had strained the muscles in my right shoulder. Gradually, during the week, things improved, and at least it took my mind off my thumb, which has, conversely, quietened itself down a bit. I have since suggested to Debbie that maybe next time we have a barbecue, though, we should just invite the fire brigade to send along a delegation from the outset, as this would save a lot of time at the end of the evening.

Matilda has had, for her, a busy week, also, including, unusually for her, having to defend her territory. I was sitting working on Wednesday and Matilda was sprawled out like a discarded set of bagpipes on the cool floorboards in the front room. A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and I looked up to see Poppy, the little black cat from next door, sitting in the middle of the conservatory rug, having no doubt come in through the open door (open because of the stifling heat).  Matilda saw her at exactly the same time, and thundered across the room. Poppy turned tail and fled, with Matilda lumbering after her. At the turn, the order was 1. Poppy, 2. Matilda, and in third place, the fat old guy in the wheelchair. A short head separated 1 and 2, and several lengths 2 and 3. I sat at the door, calling Matilda back, aided by Misty, who had come in to see what all the fuss was about.  Eventually, Matilda returned, eyes like saucers, and tail the size of a bog-brush.  As predicted, she had failed to catch the interloper, as I saw Poppy later on in our front garden.

The next day, on Thursday afternoon, Deb and I were sitting in the kitchen when Deb drew my attention to the conservatory door, which was again open. A squirrel was half way up the door jamb, clinging on like a gecko, and craning its neck to see whether there might be any additional sources of food inside.  Matilda did not need to be involved in this instance, as the squirrel in question met Debbie’s stern gaze, got the full-on gamma-ray treatment, quailed, jumped down, and fled up the tree.

As I said to Debbie, they are getting too tame for their own good, really, though they did have a rude awakening when Ellie and Zak were here on Friday. For some reason, Zak (65 in human years) suddenly decided he was affronted by a squirrel with its nose in the dish on the decking, just outside the open door. In one bound he was off and after it. The squirrel escaped, of course, but Ellie had also exited through the door, after touching the floor just once in between the armchair where she’d been sleeping and the outside world, in a manner reminiscent of the late, great Freddie, who was legendary for hurling himself at the glass whenever there was a squirrel in the garden.

Ellie is not allowed outside unsupervised, because she has a habit of turning every excursion into an adventure, and, true to form, this time, when Zak returned from his pursuit, he was alone. The previous time she escaped from out the back, she was found in the front garden of a house seven or eight doors up the road, heading resolutely towards Netherton with no obvious route plan. The time before that, she tried to get back into the house, but unfortunately it wasn’t our house, it belonged to one of the neighbours. You begin to get the idea. With some weariness, we prepared for a full scale search, possibly involving external agencies. However, Ellie saved us the trouble. When Debbie went out of the front door to start traipsing up and down the road, searching, Ellie was rooting around unconcerned in our front garden, and was unceremoniously scooped up, scolded, and replaced in the armchair, with the door from the conservatory firmly shut, after the dogs had bolted.

Sadly, that has been more or less what has passed for fun in our household this week. Last night, Granny, Adam, and the dogs came round and I made them egg and chips for tea while we all watched England draw inexplicably with Russia in Euro 2016 because of the masterly tactical move by the manager of stubbornly refusing to put our two best goal-scorers on the pitch. Mathematically, we can still qualify, as the old saying has it, but it may not come to that, and Hodgson’s cunning plan that this is such a crucial tournament that we can get away with fielding the Second XI and going out at the group stage may not be necessary, as we’re highly likely to be disqualified anyway, because of the behaviour of the England fans, sorry, thugs, in Marseilles. Calling these people fans is like calling ISIS muslims.

The fact that we seem to have somehow managed to create such an atmosphere of xenophobic bile that it has culminated in us having, in effect, exported our version of the Blackshirts to Europe, is probably another unintended consequence of the Brexit debate. Back home, here, the level of the “debate” though it hardly qualifies to be called such, has reached a new, nasty pitch this week, with only 11 days to go to the poll itself.  Actually, the Brexiteers do have a point. There is a large group of young men in Europe, who will soon be making their way to Calais, intent on entering Britain, and these people are violent, lawless, ignorant, intolerant, and intent on fostering hatred in our towns and cities. The trouble is that they are England football fans, they all have British passports, and we can’t really stop them coming back, however much we might want to.

It has got to the stage now where it seems that, on the Brexit side at least, the debate is being conducted entirely on emotional terms, with a driving force of unfocused xenophobic nationalism that is completely – and unashamedly – unconnected with facts or reality.  In this respect, it has gained a boost this week by the yet further, continuing, celebrations of the Queen’s 90th birthday, which seems to have been going on now for about the last three years.  The whole country is decked out with Union Jacks and street parties and, while I am an admitted monarchist (because the alternatives are all much, much worse) the atmosphere it has fostered, combined with the Brexit campaign, is at least febrile, and at best, very, very weird. A friend tells me of an informal discussion she witnessed between two supermarket workers and a customer. The customer had a “Brexit” badge on her coat and one of the supermarket workers was congratulating her on it, then turned to point at her colleague and said “Oh, take no notice of her, she wants to stay in, she’s a traitor!”

Now, this is one colloquial exchange and in no way statistically significant, but that use of the word traitor strikes me as highly significant, redolent of the mindset of the Brexit supporters, and the reason why it really looks as though Britain, in 11 days time, will perform an act of insane self-harm, in economic terms, which will take two generations to repair, if indeed it can be repaired at all. Because somehow, Brexit, through a campaign which is an admitted tissue of lies, has nevertheless come to engineer it that the patriotic thing to do is to vote to leave, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a traitor.

I don’t normally link to other articles in this blog. I know that’s sort of the whole point of the internet, but I prefer if possible to use quotations and give a reference to their source, because I think it spoils the flow of reading something if you have to click off it and then read something else, and then click back again, but I will make an exception this week.  I have – in the last few days – read two articles that have more or less summed up, for me, the case for remaining. Both are very long, and challenging reads, and one at least is larded with invective, but they both repay reading. In fact, speaking as someone who was, at the start of 2016, vaguely considering voting to leave until I saw who else was in that camp, and, as a consequence, started to look into the economic implications of a “Brexit", I’d strongly recommend – especially if you are thinking of voting to leave, or still undecided – reading both of them, even though it means investing half an hour or more of your life.

are the articles in question. I apologise for the F-bomb in the second one's link, but as you will find in the article, if you read it, he is even more exasperated than I am with the imminent act of collective self-harm we seem about to inflict.

If you don’t read the articles (and by the way, despite being on Facebook, the first one is actually a well-marshalled summary of some actual facts, especially on the immigration issue) William Gadsby Peet, in the second one, made two or three particularly telling points about the ability or otherwise of a “Brexited” UK to strike new, independent trade deals  quickly enough to prevent economic chaos.  He points out that, in the event of a vote to leave, the process takes two years. That is two years of economic uncertainty, stagnation and lack of confidence, lack of investment, and pressure on the pound.  Plus an end to any existing support we get from the European Social Fund, the Europpean Economic Development Fund, and any specific disaster funds such as the flooding fund. Germany and France, in particular, will be in absolutely no hurry to strike any sort of deal with the UK, post-Brexit. It is in their interests not to, after all. If the UK is allowed to waltz away, and then everything carries on much as before, with no apparent dire consequences, this will send what they consider to be the wrong message, and feed the incipient groundswell of the right wing in both those countries towards their own “Frexit" and "Gerexit” movements.  And that is the last thing the EU wants. It wants to be able to point to Britain as an economic basket case and say “look, this suffering is what happens when you turn your back on the EU!”

As for trade deals with the rest of the world, he points out that they, too, will be in no hurry to sign anything. By leaving the EU, Britain will have telegraphed to the rest of the world that it is now in a situation of desperately needing to sign up trade deals elsewhere, and the longer it is left by the countries with whom we want to trade, the more they can delay, the better the terms they will get from us, as desperation sets in further.  I’ve written many times that I am no fan of the EU, especially as it currently operates, and in the unlikely event of the UK voting to remain, I certainly don’t see it as an endorsement of the status quo (other ageing rock bands are available). It has to change and improve, but we can only influence that process in our favour if we are at the table when the deals are made.

In any decision involving the UK’s future, the economy has to be paramount. Anyone who has bothered to look into it already knows that immigration, in economic terms, has a positive effect on the economy. In terms of the Brexit argument it is a distraction, being used to whip up xenophobia in the face of economic sense. Immigrants come, they get jobs, they pay taxes.  Those jobs in turn create more jobs, and the economy grows, and with it the tax take, which is the way out of the wasteland left by the careless bankers and their world economic crash in 2008.  If you want the next generation of kids to grow up with the best prospect of getting a job, buying a house, getting on in life, and generally living in a stable and prosperous society, the only sane choice is to put away your bunting, stop blindly waving that Union Jack, tell the Daily Mail where to stuff its straight bananas, and vote to stay in and try and make the best of it.  Like me, you may not do so with a spring in your step and a song in your heart, but if we don’t, then the lights are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime, in the words of Sir Edward Grey.  Liz Hurley has apparently said that she is all for voting Brexit if it means we can go back to having old fashioned high powered light bulbs, screw cap or bayonet. I’m sure that her light bulbs will be a great comfort to her, when she gets back home after queuing in the street to catch a loaf of bread thrown off the back of an army lorry. Always assuming there is any electricity to run them.

It’s not just the weather that has turned nasty with the end of the week, either. As I was typing this, listening to the jazzy, syncopated plopping of heavy drops of rain landing on the conservatory roof, news was coming in that 50 people have been shot  dead in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, an incident seemingly unconnected with the fact that Christina Grimmie, a singer, was gunned down on Friday night in the same town as she signed autographs after a concert.  At the time of writing, though ISIS has endorsed the action, there is also a theory that it was simply the “lone gunman with a grudge against gays” theory.  Donald Trump, who is undoubtedly the Antichrist, has tweeted on the atrocity “When will we be tough, smart, and vigilant”- basically jumping the gun (no pun intended, I assure you) and blaming it on terrorists.

I know rhetorical questions are usually posed without any expectation of an answer, but in this case, Donald, in answer to your question, your idea of “tough”, will only make domestic terrorism worse, you will never be “smart”, and as for “vigilant”, unless you keep all of your citizens under 24/7 surveillance, with the total loss of civil liberties that implies, “vigilance” will not solve matters. Maybe that is the sort of society you, and your supporters, want.  Goodbye, America, it was nice to know you.

There was one little gleam, though, this week, one gleam in the gloom. Les Binns was on the news. Les Binns last crossed paths with me when, back in the day, as they usually say, he used to run a copyprint machine at the office, back in the times when I used to have a real job.  He progressed to a slightly more hazardous existence in the Army, doing one or two tours in Afghanistan, dodging bullets and IEDs.  After that, our ways had parted, though I do occasionally see things his mum posts on Facebook.  Imagine my surprise, then, to click on the news and find him being interviewed. He, now aged 42 and working in private security, had been on a lifetime trip to climb Mount Everest, and was within striking distance of the summit when he stumbled upon a female Indian climber who was having trouble with her oxygen. Further on, another climber, male, from the same expedition was also in trouble.  I have read (given that Debbie is quite keen on mountaineering) books about climbers who have gone summit blind and ignored the distress of others. You can see why.  It costs about £40,000 to climb Everest, these days.  And it must be so tempting to just pass by on the other side, and carry on plodding upwards.

Les did not. Les told his Sherpa that he wasn’t going to summit, and instead, commenced trying to help the two stranded climbers back down the mountain to safety. The woman’s life was saved. Sadly, the male climber was too far gone, and didn’t make it. Everest is a dangerous place, though not as dangerous as K2, where apparently 25% of climbers on average die on the descent.  By stopping to help these people, and changing his own planned schedule, we should not forget that Les put his own life in considerable danger. Once things start to go wrong at 29,000 feet, they don’t often magically right themselves.  So, well done, Les, you probably wouldn’t remember me if I fell off a shelf onto your head, but I am proud to once have worked in the same office as you. And in what Shakespeare called a naughty world, your good deed stands out.

Today, for all its drizzly dreariness, is the feast of St John of Sahagun.  He was born John Gonzales de Castrillo in the town of Sahagun, Leon, in Spain, and was educated by the monks of the Benedictine monastery of Fagondez. He was ordained in 1445, and at that point he resigned all of his benefices except that of St Agatha in Burgos, as a protest against religious pluralism.  He spent four years studying at the University of Salamanca, and then began to preach.

In the next decade he achieved considerable fame as a preacher, a worker of miracles, and for his ability to, as it was put “read men’s souls”.  After a serious operation, though, in 1463, he retired and became an Augustinian friar. He denounced evil in high places, and several attempts were made on his life, ending when he was poisoned on 11 June 1479, allegedy by one of two women who had taken offence at being denounced in a sermon about them living “in concubinage” with a powerful nobleman.  Not long after his death, in 1525, the process of his beatification began, culminating in October 1690 when he was canonised by Pope Alexander VIII.

Apart from the preaching and the miracles, I can sympathise with some bits of the life of St John of Sahagun, especially the bits about retiring after a serious operation (been there, done that) and denouncing evil in the rich and famous (ditto).  Other than that, though, I can only conclude, as I have been forced to do with several other saints I have researched, that the conditions for sainthood were a lot more relaxed in those days.

As for me, next week is pretty much more of the same. One of the four books I have been working on simultaneously since as long ago as I can remember, has finally gone to press. Technically, this means I should be feeling 25% less oppressed, but it doesn’t seem to work like that. Two of the four are my own projects, and it’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll have to ditch them (even though I have pre-orders for both) in favour of working on books by others. It’s the only way it’s going to happen, as other stuff is fast coming up on the rails.  Sad, but true.

Still, the end of term is approaching, which will at least be an easement for Debbie, although there is still the baptism of fire of the exams to go through, first.  It’s getting to that stage where I need to make a big list of everything that needs doing before we go away (if we even get there). But with the end of term comes the end of summer. I know the Solstice is theoretically midsummer, but inevitably I can sense a change, a downward decay in things, from then on.  The flowers of July are living on borrowed time, and the blossom of May is gone, long dispersed and dead for another year.

So, this autumn and winter is, for me, a pretty depressing prospect. At best it will be full of hard work, cold dreary weather, and struggling against the same 17 intractable problems, while having to acknowledge that I am, probably, getting weaker in my upper body. Six years on from my formal diagnosis, I’m not surprised, I suppose, but it’s another thing to worry about, even though worrying about it is futile, since it will happen whether I worry or not.

has now got almost 12,000 signatures, so that looks like it’s headed for being another small victory,  since there is no way it will get the remaining 88,000 needed to trigger a debate in parliament before 16 August, even assuming parliament, post-Brexit, even wanted to debate it. 12,000 is still, though, a significant wodge of people who want to see the animal welfare laws strengthened.

So, in an attempt to stay sane, in addition to this crazy life I chose of trying to sell books to people who have little or no disposable income, I’ll carry on sketching, and doing the occasional thing for myself instead of others. I’ll stake up my herbs, some of which have been knocked down by the rain, I’ll polish my clock, and I’ll continue trying to implement the power of gradual change and small victories.  And I guess I’ll carry on praying for the welfare of me, mine, and those less fortunate than ourselves.  Despite the fact that my relationship with Big G seems to have become troubled over the years, we are more or less still on speaking terms.

That, at the end of the day, is all that someone in my position can do. So now I’m going to make some gooseberry tarts.

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