Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’
A dry morning. Miracles do happen but say it softly for the weathermen warn that more drenchings are on the way. Meantime Albert and Bill were able to follow their annual ritual of waering silly hats, which serve to make them look like ancient mushrooms. The old biblical piece about putting aside childish things does not apply on the allotments.
Given our ages it is perhaps not surprising that Christmas is in many ways a sad occasion. Of course we all enjoy the pleasure of our grandchildren, but behind the smiling masks lie memories of Christmas past and the many who shared them wth us and no longer do. I sometimes remark that the magic has gone, but that depends on age. I still remember the sheer joy of waking on Christmas morning to find a fort, complete with lead soldiers galore, at my bedside. I am sure that a similar sensation awaits kids on Tuesday. For lead soldiers read computer games.
The one thing above all others that mystifies me about the modern Christmas is the fact that over one in three of the population will attend a church service. That wouldn’t have been strange during my boyhood since nearly everyone went to church at some time during the year. Easter and Harvest Festivals always drew huge attendances and the majority of children were packed off each week to Sunday School. But today church attendances thrughout the year are low, so why do so many feel a need to go along at Christmas?
That is a rhetorical question for I have no idea. All I know is that many of my pals feel a near-compulsion to go along. Asked if they believe in God the vast majoroty say yes. It is the defintion of God that troubles so many in a questionning age. But when you sit in a cathedral – which buck the trend with attendances at services up by one-third – it is difficult to believe other than in the existence of a greater power.
One thing is certain, we would miss our churches if they didn’t exist. Anglicans alone give £50 million to charities and perform an astonishing range of social services. Anglicans give up 22.3 million hours every month to work that benefits their local community. Asked in a recent survey to name the services of which they are most proud churches listed night shelters, food banks, credit unions, housing trusts, legal advice, street patrols and support groups. And many could have mentioned the provision of meals over Christmas.
The only statistics I could find related to the Anglican church. But it is certain that the others also perform valuable services for their communities. All of them also provide something else, a sense of belonging and sharing.
As a boy I had no choice other than attend the village chapel umpteen times each week. I cannot claim to have found God, but what I did experience was a sense of being part of a wider family, one in which everyone cared for everyone else. I cannot imagine that there was any great need for social workers as we know them today. The sick were visited daily, gardens of the elderly or infirm were cultivated, a ‘poor fund’ ensured that no one suffered deprivation.
Christmas was exciting even in the eyes of cynical teenagers. Nativity plays attracted full houses, carol singing took in every house, ‘gift tubs’ set the pulses racing. And the story of a stable held everyone in its spell in an age yet to be polluted by the voices of strident sceptics. God is with us the minister would proclaim and, looking back, I sense that He/She was. I certainly know that to the adults that was a comforting thought at a time of war.
I have almost talked myself into renewing my long-gone church attendance. Almost, for I have to confess that I am one of the millions who have walked on the other side as the very core of the old British way of life struggles to survive. It is certainly hypocritical to bemoan what has happened yet make no move to help.
Over the next few days churches of all denominations will be full to bursting. The congregations will sing ‘Oh come all ye faithful’. But just how faithful will we be in 2013 to institutions without which our communities would feel a great sense of loss and guilt?
Yet more rain! It seems unfair that people south of Croydon are being asked to forego baths over Christmas when we don’t even need to go indoors to have one. This morning we resorted to laying planking over the worst of the hen-run bogs and a hundred or so Columbian Blacktails gathered round to gawp. Albert addressed the multitude but it reminded me of mass meetings at Leyland Motors when mad people on the platform harangued a crowd of blokes openly reading The Sun.
An hour later, and by now as wet as Norman Lamont, I headed for Tesco armed with a two-foot long list perpared by she-who-must-be-obeyed who has the unenviable task of preparing meals to feed a hundred people we only see once per year. Arriving at the Tesco car park was somewhat unnerving, I have arrived at Wembley Stadium and encountered less angry motorists. But, with some trepidation, I found a space and followed the crowd of trolley-pushers.
During the course of the year an elderly friend often tells me that she has made her restful daily visit to the superstore. It is, she always says, a lovely place to walk around and to stop in an aisle for a chat. Today she would have been more likely to stop for a fight. There were zillions of people shooting up and down the aisles, pausing only to throw something into trollies already loaded to capacity. Drop a packet of Bisto and you could be sure that someone would crash into you, and be equally sure that no apology would be forthcoming. For everyone seemed very stressed and in a state of high anxiety.
I noticed one rather large lady, who could easily hold her own in the Wigan Rugby League scrum, who was pushing one trolley and towing another. She was clearly in a foul mood and was taking no prisoners. If Tesco award Club Card points for bruises dished out she would be on her way to a free baseball bat.
Having found the majority of what felt like a year’s catering requirement, I eventually reached the check-outs. Because I wanted to be home before nightfall I elected to do my own till work and experienced illogical bouts of gratitude when the computer recognised bar-codes. It did occur to me that stores such as this are on to a very good thing, we select our own goods and oversee our own payment.
It was really like a scene from Orwell’s 1984. Thousands were obediently obeying tannoy announcements and quarrelling only with each other. At one point I joined a jostle for brussels, and we don’t even like the things. From time to time we were told to keep moving, at one point I did so without my feet touching the ground. But, my daughter tells me, one has the advantage of price bargains. I confess that I saw no sign of my fellow clones checking labels and the few that I glimpsed were confusing. A huge stack of boxes of chocolates bore a poster proclaiming that the price was slashed to £5 and two cost only £10.
One man remarked that this was “all about one day”. He is right, for the store reopens on Boxing Day. But it did strike me as sad that what used to be the most magical time of the year has been reduced to this.
In the late 19th century the churches of the time came together and decided to abolish Hell on the grounds that it was adversely affecting recruitment. But today I realised that in the absence of a theological version the people have created one of their own.
I came away reflecting that I would much have preferred being at the Christmas party of the Witney set. But even that may be less joyful this year for the Camron’s are probably nervous about being entertained by Rebeka Brooks, James Maxwell and Jeremy Clarkson since the latter might have a mike concealed about his person.
TOMORROW; A TALE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE
This is one of those mornings when one looks back with regret at having refused the chance to emigrate. Someone near to the allotments had erected a mass of flashing Christmas decorations in their front garden, now they are draped along our boundary hedge. Inside our domain, roof panels compete with fallen leaves and two coops have sunk into a sea of mud. And as we struggled to restore order a bitingly cold wind carried away our curses. Chicks at Easter are the stuff of dreams and painted eggs, chickens in December are a recipe for POIS which to the unitiated stands for pissed off in spades.
But for most of the gang things could be a great deal worse. All around us we see people suffering great hardship, not least the young people, many of whom in these parts are searching for work. Today we learn that the government is proposing to apply pressure to cancer sufferers with the threat of taking away their disability allowances should they fail to satisfy ”back to work” panels that they are truly incapable of working. Clearly whichever halfwit came up with this wheeze has never endured the experience of cancer. The truth is that in their desperate search for more ways of reducing costs the government are looking in the wrong place.
As with their reluctance to tackle the nation’s big earners and tax evaders, Cameron and Osborne are also avoiding any move likely to offend their other supposedly big supporter’s group, the over-65s. But having the dubious privilege of being in that category does not necessarily mean that one is, as the Cockneys have it, brassic-lint. Some of my pals are reliant on the state pension and there is no possibility that they could exist solely on that. But the majority of us enjoy a company pension awarded before the government began to destroy such things. To be blunt, we can manage perfectly well without winter fuel payments, bus passes, free TV licences and special tax allowances. Of course we like to have them but with so many younger people suffering real hardship, as against a reduction in pleasures, we can see no reason for special treatment simply because we are ancient.
Of all the bountiful gifts bestowed on us by politicians in the grip of obsessions about ‘grey voting power’, the most ludicrous of all is the bus pass. Most of us have never bothered to obtain one but we know many who have, and few of them really depend on them to get them from A to B, a feat that would be unaffordable without a free pass. Most of those we know who carry a pass in their purses or wallets regard them as a ticket to ride purely for the sake of riding somewhere. One couple have developed a hobby of travelling the length of the land, a journey of, presumably, a zillion bus stations and irritable drivers.
Nick Clegg recently said that millionaires who happen to be old should forego benefits such as bus passes, TV licences, fuel payments etc. He went on adovocate means testing, an emotion-firing term if ever there was one. Some high-profile figures have already taken action, the ‘Surviving Winter Appeal’, supported by the likes of Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Dimbleby, Ann Widdecombe and Joan Bakewell, calls on the better off to hand over their winter-fuel allowance of up to £300 to those in greater need. The scheme is to be applauded but essential welfare decisions should not be determined by charity.
Neither should they be determined by means testing or ludicrous talk of millionaires (Clegg has become so close to rich ministers that he imagines they are typical citizens). The simple way to tackle this issue is to use the tax system. Anyone sufficently flush to be paying tax at 40% could be excluded from elderly benefits. It would save a good deal of treasury expenditure which could then be used to further assist youth employment and care of the elderly infirm.
There is inevitably a caveat to this generous proposal from a bunch of codgers. Real action must be taken to tackle bankers and the rest of the top 1% of earners. We realise that they are the privileged friends of very rich government leaders but so long as they are allowed to pocket their millions without paying any tax to speak of, no one will volunteer to help, no one will truly feel that we are all in this mess together.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Which Gareth Gates hit contains the words “We’re caught in a trap”? 2. In which series did Mark Benton play a tramp called Sheldon? 3. Who produced the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels? 4. What is a firebat? 5. Where are your fontanelles? 6. Which American protest singer is linked to the “dustbowl ballads”? 7. Who wrote the stories subsequently televised as “Poldark”? 8. In which time device would you find an escapement? 9. The port of Archangel is in which country? 10. The Titanic was launched in which city?
We will remember yesterday for some time to come. We constantly hear ministers banging on about all being in it together, about this country or that being in an even more parlous state than us. And of course we know that there is no ‘us’, ours has become a deeply divided society, split into segments by enormous differences in wealth – or lack of it -and by race. Yesterday we suddenly experienced a total ‘usness’. It appeared at Lords.
The scenes at the home of cricket were almost unique. I say almost, having in mind similar scenes some years ago at Old Trafford when the last day of a Test match against the Aussies drew a similar response. At Lords the authorities for once deserve a pat on the back for setting low prices (plus free entry for kids), and opening those hallowed gates to all prepared to turn up. In the event 25,227 did, some queuing through the night.
There were no elitist corporate groups, no mob of obscene singers, no activities other than watching an enthralling day’s play. Here was living proof of two things. Those who say that Test cricket is dying are totally wrong, those who say that ‘ordinary’ folk have fallen out of love with the great game even more so. The packed house represented a total cross-section of society and, although loyalties were divided (but despite that everyone wanted to see Tendulkar), it responded to all that happened as one. Just for a day the old days in which sport brought together people from all walks of life and race returned. And by way of a bonus England performed magnificently. At the end the crowd as one saluted both teams.
Sadly it was a mere oasis in a desert of division which grows by the day. Today we learn that the Osborne plan for growth isn’t working, today we hear more exhortations to pull in our belts. Benchmark GDP statistics which compare us with other economies say nothing useful about ‘us’ because ‘we’ are not all in this together. In fact some are swelling like pumpkins, others shrivel, especially the ever growing number of young unemployed. Last week’s 2010 ONS figures show that the City paid £14 billion in bonuses. Bob Diamond of Barclays received £6.5 million, Stuart Gulliver of HSBC took £9 million. In fact, wherever you look, the richest became even richer last year.
A well timed report from the Resolution Foundation yesterday laid bare the raw figures. Of every £100 rise in national income since 1977, the half of the population on average or below average income received just £12. For much of the past 30 years the bottom half did see their income rise slightly, so they didn’t notice they were falling badly behind the rest. Now the cuts are leading to near-crisis financial conditions for many families, and the signs are that the now apparent inequality is creating a politically unsustainable situation. Our social elastic is heading for breaking point.
More and more ‘ordinary’ people are becoming aware of the huge differences in reward, in fact many are already in punishment mode. Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has underlined where we are; “The top 1% has taken a hugely disproportionate share of growth while the middle and below have stagnated or fallen”.
Osborne’s purloining of “We’re all in this together”seems to recognise the political embarrassment of a future where half the population falls further behind while the top tenth vanishes into a realm unrecognisable to the 90% of basic-rate taxpayers. Yet he simply doesn’t seem to grasp where he is leading us. In fact he is now talking of the abolition of the 50% tax rate, only paid by the already very rich.
If he makes that move at a time when food, gas, electricity and petrol prices are rising, pay frozen, cuts in benefits, high inflation, he may well find that for the first time in decades half of the population will cry enough is enough. At the very least that one act will make people more aware than they have ever been of the fact that ‘us’ has become ‘them and us’. And even in a pragmatic society like ours it may prove the final straw. Ever the opportunist, Ed Milband is talking of the ‘squeezed middle’. He is right although why he fails to mention those at the bottom is hard to fathom.
To an extent we have always been a divided society but it is only now, as the cuts begin to bite hard, that people bother about it. Lying awake worrying about mortgages, jobs , bills greater than income and a sharp fall in living standards whilst knowing that the rich are getting richer by the day does funny things to people!
But it was good to recapture the feeling of oneness, if only for a day!
TODAY’S SPECIAL QUIZ ON THE SUBJECT OF FESTIVALS; 1. What type of festival has become associated with Reading? 2. In which country is an Eisteddfod celebrated? 3. What is the season leading up to Christmas known as? 4. Which Scottish city hosts what is claimed to be the world’s largest arts festival? 5. Yom Kippur is the Day of what? 6. Which Hall is the centre for the BBC Proms? 7. Which religion celebrates the festival of Passover? 8. Since the 1940s, Cannes has hosted what type of Festival? 9. The Buddhist festival of Parinirvana is also kmown as which Day? 10. The celebrated Spalding Flower Festival takes place in which county?
A mini-monsoon greeted us this morning. We splashed about whilst the hens gathered in a large crowd rather like those we so often join at the Old Trafford cricket as we wait for the heavens to relent. Why in such dire straits the hens don’t retire to their coops, or we cricket buffs to the bar, remains one of the mysteries of life. An even greater one is why TV commentators cannot learn to keep their opinions to themselves!
Andy Gray and Richard Keys have established themselves as the anchor-men of Sky football and, given the sheer volume of it, seemed to be set for life in a job that many a soccer devotee would do for nothing given the chance. They have performed well but one always suspected that Andy Gray in particular was what we used to call ‘blokish’, the sort of guy who for so many years voted to keep women out of the Old Trafford membership. It is of course utterly irrational, a referee or assistant can be brilliant, average, or useless but their quality has nothing whatsover to do with gender. I hope they do survive but doubt if they will, either way I hope that the episode will bring them to their senses. Surely their self understanding should tell them that beliefs of the kind they revealed went out with the ark and if they can’t see how daft they are they should take up residence on one.
But stupid though all that was it made little impression on my rage-meter by comparison with the news about Dementia patients. Cuts in care services are expected to force as many as 50,000 sufferers out of their homes and into residential care. That will cost the taxpayer a fortune and is inhumane.
Many thousands of carers have struggled for years to look after their aged relatives in their own homes, and have just about managed to cope given support. This has been largely cut and now many patients are left bedridden, in unchanged incontinence pads and are malnourished. The carers in turn are at risk of stress, depression and other serious illnesses.
Chief Executive of the Alzheimers Society, Jeremy Hughes, has lambasted the government. It is, he says, “an absolute travesty that so many people with dementia are being forced to struggle without the care and support they need. The consequencies of this represent an unacceptable human and financial cost”. Amen to that.
Incredibly the care services minister, Paul Burstow, agreed and commented that many carers feel let down. What he is doing here is to shift the blame on to local authorities who have been forced by massive cuts in funding to slash services. It is hypocrisy, it is disgraceful.
We all know that Osborne and Cameron are determined to cut every public service to the bone. The wisdom of that is now widely disputed even by people such as Sir Richard Lambert of the CBI who yesterday launched a savage attack. But the economic argument apart, are the multi-millionnaires proud of what they have done to thousands of vulnerable people?
Proud to be British? Not when we allow callous cruelty of this kind whilst protecting tax dodgers!
CAMERON HAS OFFENDED THE NURSES!
One of our pals has been in hospital since before Christmas and for a time we were all worried about him. However, he is now back at home and is recovering from his operation.
When we called today with his eggs he was singing the praises of the nurses on the ward that became his home for nearly five weeks. Nothing was too much trouble, the place was spotless and the clinical care “brilliant”. But Alf’s report on the nurse’s morale is a different matter.
The so called ‘efficiency savings’ imposed by the coalition have led to enormous pressures and the nursing staff are near to breaking point. And they are angry at the talk of the ‘private sector taking over’ since they know only too well that the profit makers will certainly not be willing to become involved in acute medicine. But the final straw came a few days before Alf bade them all a grateful farewell.
The nurses that he came to admire were extremely angry at Cameron’s remark about the NHS staff being ‘second rate’. Any chance of a positive relationship between the coalition and those on whom we depend totally when trouble strikes has gone for ever!
THOUGHTS FOR TODAY; “When we win an Olympic medal we’re English ; when we riot and throw petrol bombs, we’re West Indian”….Winston Price “Continental people have sex lives, the English have hot-water bottles”…George Mikes “The English aren’t really interested in talking to you unless you’ve been to school or to bed with them”…..Lady Nancy Keith “I would like to live in Manchester, England. The transaction between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable”……Mark Twain “Brighton has the perennial air of being in a position to help the police with their inquiries”…..Keith Waterhouse
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1.Washington 2. Emmerdale Farm
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 Which film actor, who died in 1973, played the lead role in ‘The Cruel Sea’? 2. What part did Liza Minnelli play in ‘Cabaret’ ?