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

Not to mention "Left-Wing Pish"

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Epiblog for the Feast of St Veronica Giuliani

It has been a busy week in the Holme Valley. The weather seems to have settled into a routine, and so do we. Next week we really must start “griddling our lions” and begin preparations for the Scotland trip, but for now, it’s been a time of furiously tying up loose ends, punctuated by odd moments of tranquillity, baking, painting and gardening.

Gardening is of course weather-dependent, and the weather has not always obliged. Debbie has actually rigged up two tarpaulins over the decking right outside the conservatory, so that in theory she can sit out there even when it’s raining. This hasn’t yet been tested out in practice, only in theory, at least not by Debbie. Matilda, however, is a different matter, and whenever she has been outside she scuttles under the tarp as the first raindrops fall, and sits there looking smug and self-satisfied, as only a cat can do, especially a cat who seems to think she thought of the whole idea in the first place.

The squirrels and the birds have been back from time to time, but Matilda ignores them, because she  has a nice sheltered spot where she curls up, next to the planter that has a big overhanging fern, which serves to deflect the raindrops that come in at an angle, and miss the tarp. All in all, I’d say Matilda has got it sussed.

Misty has been on various walks and runs, although nothing particularly new or spectacular. Her highlights of the week so far have included rolling in a cow pat, and lying down to cool off in a stagnant puddle of mud, the latter of which exploits led to her being given an impromptu shower with the hose pipe that someone had kindly left attached to the tap at the top end of Lockwood Cemetery. Considering the  liking that order collies seem to have generally for rolling in disgusting substances, you have to wonder why God/evolution/whoever designed them with gleaming white bits.

In the wider world, talking of filth and mire, the Tory leadership crisis goes on, as does the Labour leadership crisis. There is a real sense now of the country drifting out of control, with no leadership whatsoever on any side. David Cameron has gone off to Lanzarote on holiday and left us all to it. In this Tory version of Game of Thrones, Michael Gove was eliminated. I enjoyed typing those words so much, I am going to do it again. Michael Gove was eliminated.  Oh, and over in the UKIP corner, Nigel Farage resigned as leader. Having created chaos, anarchy, and spoiled the prospects of an entire generation, possibly an entire nation, he decided that his work here was done, and he did a Johnson.  Goodbye and good riddance. Flush hard, it’s a long way to the outfall.

Before he went though, he did have one last bleat. Theresa May, jockeying for position in the leadership contest, has been making hawkish noises about getting rid of EU nationals living in the UK, post-Brexit. Farage, who has a German wife, complained about this announcement. This is the man, let us pause to remember, who a fortnight ago was standing in front of a poster showing an alleged and largely photoshopped “swarm” of immigrants that were reducing the UK to “Breaking Point”.  Spot the difference, Oh yes, all the people on the “Breaking Point” poster were brown. That must be it.

Who would ever have thought, though, that Theresa May would turn out to be the best option for anything. She has been made so by the scary loopiness of her sole remaining opponent, Andrea Leadsom, who, until recently, was known as Andrea who? She is turning out to be the UK’s answer to Sarah Palin, although God alone knows what the question was. Frankie Boyle has suggested, rather brilliantly, that Andrea Leadsom was cooked up by Nazi scientists in an effort to counteract Dame Vera Lynn. One thing is certainly true. If Theresa May is a hawk, then Andrea Leadsom has the air of a pterodactyl nursing a secret sorrow.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, continued bickering amongst themselves. After all, it’s so much easier than actually opposing all the things that are wrong with this country to act like an extended family at loggerheads at a wedding reception or a Christmas dinner where none of them gets on, nobody really wanted to be invited, and some of them haven’t spoken to each other since some obscure row about Barbara Castle’s hairdo at conference in 1953.

Corbyn, however, continues to grow in my estimation. They should send him in to do the negotiations over our exit terms. He makes General De Gaulle with his “non” look like a vacillating waverer.  On the day Angela Eagle was threatening to launch a full-blown leadership challenge, Corbyn went to a meeting of his Allotment Association.  That’s the sort of grasp of priorities that appeals to me. I can quite honestly say, here and now, that if Eagle wins a leadership contest against Corbyn, in the teeth of opposition from the membership at large, and takes the Labour Party back to the bad old days of being in favour of benefit cuts, bombing the Middle East, and austerity, then I, personally, will never vote for them again.

Talking of Labour and the bad old days, this was of course the week when seven years of compiling a million word report stating the bloody obvious came to fruition, and the Chilcot Report was published, telling us all what we knew already.  There were no WMDs and the whole thing was George Bush’s idea, and we followed him more or less willingly down the primrose path of dalliance. On the two crucial issues which are still unanswered, 13 years later – was the war legal, and at what point did Blair know, or at least suspect, that the intelligence was faulty – Chilcot remains as mute as the Sphinx, and as enigmatic.

My own view has never changed. Iraq was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, against the wrong enemy, and it has made everything in that area worse. True, Hussein is gone, but the manner of his unseating undermined international law and started us off down the road of pre-emptive drone strikes and extra-judicial murder.  Not to mention ISIS. I would have had a lot more respect for Blair if he’d just said, straight off the bat, “Look, Bush is a mad bastard who won’t listen to reason, and he is going to do this anyway, and we need the US on our side, because apart from anything else, in a few years we’ll need their help to replace Trident, so we haven’t really got a lot of choice.

Blair has always maintained he never “sexed up” the intelligence, and I do believe, here, that he is telling the truth, albeit in a rather selective and duplicitous way. He didn’t actually augment anything, he just picked the best bits out of what he had on offer, uncritically, and regurgitated them, while ignoring anything that might have contradicted his case. It was entirely in the spirit of The Latest Decalogue by Arthur Hugh Clough

False witness not to bear be strict;
And cautious, ere you contradict.

His contention is, and always has been, that he only realised the intelligence was flawed much later. My contention is, and always has been, that he probably realised it quite early on in the process, and, being pragmatic because of our need of the US (see above) he chose to cherry pick only the bits that supported his case, and not to challenge or independently investigate any of those, either. No-one will ever know. Barring some miraculous Wikileak of a “smoking gun” type memo or email, all of which will in practice have been shredded long, long ago, it remains a matter between Mr Blair and his maker. Curiously, no interviewer has ever asked him that one crucial question that would go a long way towards settling it – “Mr Blair, on what day, at what time, did you first realise that the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction was a confection of fairy tales?”

In the post-Brexit fallout, arguing about the events of 13 years ago and who said what to whom and when all seems a bit, well, almost self-indulgent, with the pound in free-fall and the first signs of a creeping economic malaise as, for instance, science and technology generally began to take stock of the loss of EU grants and pan-European cooperation. Obviously it’s not self-indulgent if you had a family member who died in Iraq, or indeed, on 7/7, a direct result of Iraq and another sombre anniversary that occurred this week, but it suddenly seems a long time ago.

I wish I could say that things had got better in the interim, but the appalling surge in racist abuse on the streets, on public transport, and in shops continues here, largely because the pond life who indulge in racist abuse now feel their practice has been vindicated and legitimised by the “leave” vote. A doctor was abused in the street in his native Plymouth by a mad racist granny who accused him of “looking Polish”!

Vile as it is, at least the post-Brexit racism hasn’t yet developed into a full scale race war, of the sort it seemed – at one point at least – was going to engulf Dallas during the week.  Sadly, however, I feel that the only difference is one of scale, and of access to semi-automatic weapons. A racist fruitcake with a bee in his bonnet in this country has to be determined enough to order in the parts of a self-assembly gun by mail order, then spend hours putting the thing together, before unleashing its horror on an innocent MP going about her business. In Dallas, he could probably have walked into Wal-Mart and come out toting an assault rifle. The NRA blamed the Dallas shootings on the fact that the protest march which sparked them off was a “No Gun Zone” or some such malarkey. Go figure, as they say in Dallas.

The situation isn’t helped by commentators who have attacked the “Black Lives Matter” campaign as being in itself racist. The mistake they are making is assuming that the slogan means only black lives matter, or black lives matter more than other lives. It means nothing of the sort. It means, if it means anything, that black lives matter just as much as white lives, all life is sacred, and it would be good if we could get to a point where black people didn’t feel threatened by the trigger-happy actions of a minority – and I stress minority – of law enforcement agents who seem to have fallen into a shoot first and ask questions afterwards mentality. But that’s a bit long to put on a t-shirt. Too long, even, for a nightshirt. Like all slogans, it is capable of misinterpretation, though, and of being taken to mean whatever the listener wants it to mean. See also “Take Back Control!”

So another week of febrile dog-days slips past, and actually I have made some progress this week. I’ve got the proofs off of one book, I have seven-eighths finished another, and I’ve printed out the third, awaiting my scribblings. It’s all positive stuff, and I’ve even painted a couple of eikons as well. All I need to do is keep it up for another 10 days or so, and then we can begin a different type of struggle for survival, at the side of Kilbrannan Sound, watching the seagulls. And if you think I am exaggerating, then pause to reflect how many times a holiday with Debbie has morphed seamlessly into an episode of I Survived.

Today is the feast of St Veronica Guiliani.  She was born in Mercatelli, in Italy, in 1660, into a large family. She was one of three siblings who entered holy orders. At the age of three she was apparently already demonstrating her compassion for he poor by putting aside a portion of her food and giving away her clothes to poorer children she met. At the age of 17, in 1677, and against her father’s wishes, as he had wanted her to marry, she entered the convent of the Poor Clares at Citta di Castello in Umbria. In her early years in the convent she worked as a portress, in the kitchen, in the infirmary, and in the sacristry. At the age of 34, she became Novice Mistress, then, in 1714, Abbess – a promotion she protested against and accepted unwillingly. 

Her story is of interest to me, and maybe of general interest, because she was one of those saints who are said, like St Padre Pio, to have developed the stigmata – the actual pattern of the wounds inflicted on Christ during his crucifixion, manifesting themselves on her body in response to her life of constant prayer.  In 1694, she developed the impression of a crown of thorns on her forehead, and in 1697, the marks of the five wounds on her hands, feet, and side.

In a move redolent of Father Ted, the Bishop at the time, who must have been Umbria’s version of Len Brennan, had her removed from the convent and placed under supervision, to try and catch her out and prove that she was faking it in some way. Eventually, he was forced to conclude that she wasn’t, and she was returned to her normal duties after a period of humiliating inaction. The remainder of her life was uneventful, and she eventually died on July 9th, 1727, still in post, in the convent.  Apparently on her death, a mark of the cross was found on her heart.

For me, the interest lies not so much in the rather grisly aspects of the daily “nuts and bolts” of her stigmata, but that she seems – on the evidence of such accounts as we have – to have been one of these people who can bring about a change in their physical circumstances or environment purely by an effort of will.  This has been a basic, fundamental aspect of man’s relationship with what you might broadly call “otherness” since the days when cavemen painted pictures of successful hunts on the walls of their caves in order to bring about good fortune. By concentrating on a successful hunt and drawing it, they were “thinking it into existence”.

This isn’t a new idea – The Golden Bough by Sir James Fraser enumerates many, many examples of this type of thinking, which seems to be very deeply hard-wired into the human psyche.  What is interesting these days, though, is that we now might just have the first glimmerings through the world of particle physics, into how it might be possible to influence the perceived world simply by a massive and concentrated effort of the will  It’ll be a long long time before it’s fully understood, but if thoughts are merely a form of electrical energy and everything that we see around us is merely a shimmering mirage of electromagnetic particles, who is to say that the one may not influence the other, and that if you think about it long enough, and hard enough, over a period of many years, somehow the atoms of the palm of your hand transform themselves from atoms of skin to atoms of blood.

If this is within all of us, this capability, though the vast majority of us never attempt it and only a fraction of those who do attempt it ever succeed, then it also chimes in with the Neo-Platonist idea of God being present within all of us, and all we have to do is to find our way back through the maze by an effort of the will, to locate that divine chip off the old block, that divine spark, and tap in to it.

It’s an interesting concept (well, it is to me, anyway, I know you probably glazed over three paragraphs ago and I don’t blame you) because it also informs my idea of prayer. If, as Sister Wendy Beckett said, prayer isn’t simply handing big G a shopping list of the things you’d like today, please, but it’s more complicated than that, it consists of tuning into the divine and then channelling it asking God in effect to “stand with you” or with others during their difficulties or trials, then that too, it seems to me, could be part of the same process, a searching within yourself for the divine.

Yesterday was Baggis Day, the 11th anniversary of the death of Russell, the Baggis Cat, in 2005. It's funny, but life changed in many ways after that summer - it was the start of the 7 year battle with Barclays Bank, to name but one - and sometimes it seems it all began to turn to shit when little Baggis breathed his last.

He was the world's best bad cat. How can I enumerate his many peccadilloes? When but a kitting, he ate a GPO parcel band that had to be cut out of him in an operation that cost £127.00. Later, he managed to break his leg and got dehydrated by sitting in the window. One day I came home from work and found him on top of the wardrobe, where he had mountaineered, despite having a cast on his leg. One day he brought in a live frog from the pond and dropped it in Debbie's lap. That was quite amusing. He used to climb the net curtains at Crookes Lane, get to the top, turn round and come back down. He once sat on my shoulder while I stood to attention for the whole of the minute's silence at the Remembrance Service on TV.

RIP Baggis, me old chum. It was only the thought that if I didn't get out of bed and go to work then you would starve that kept me going in that terrible dark winter of 1992 when I almost gave up. For that, I owe you. Well died, old cat. And yes, I do pray for the repose of the soul of my dead cat, in fact I pray for all of them, and the dogs, even though I know it is highly inaccurate in theological terms. As I’ve said many times, I am not that interested in a heaven without dogs and cats.

Next week is going to be busy as well, but then that’s no surprise. It sometimes feels as if I could do with a holiday to get over just the preparations for going on holiday. But, it has to be done, even though I have to say that right now, I am far from being in a holiday mood.

But, it’s a relatively pleasant day, weather-wise. Matilda is sunning herself on the decking, Ellie is asleep on her bed, and Zak and Misty are off up Blackmoorfoot Reservoir with Deb. It’s probably the calm before the storm, but just for now I think I need to pause and maybe do a bit of soul searching to see if I can try and recapture some of that visionary gleam. Next week will come whether I want it to or not. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

And if I can’t do that, at least I can savour the peace of a snoozy Sunday afternoon,  Sunday tea-time, with a cup of tea, a jam tart or two with maybe a blob of vegan cream, and Wimbledon burbling, its incomprehensible commentary turned down low, in the corner.  Summer days.

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