Sunday, January 01, 2017

the festive one

A bumper festive issue now it's all nearly over, that time of year when facebook goes wild with images of celebration, cake, and social inequality, and Elvis McGonagall writes a poem that says it all. Here's this year's one: Unholy Land
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
Someone’s erected a trampoline instead
The foxes are bouncing, the baby awakes
Mary screams “Joseph! What’s this for Christsakes?

Eighty miles on a donkey and me up the duff
No room at the Premier Inn, I’m not chuffed
Where’s the Wise Men with frankincense, myrrh and gold
The angels, the shepherds, the lo and behold?

Who gives a toss about a gymnastic dog
A badger that goes “boing!” or an airborne hedgehog?
I was promised some glory, the birth of a King
At the least I want to hear Aled Jones sing"

But while we’re shopping bombs are dropping, 
                                                         I've lost all mirth
Aleppo’s burning the meaning and truth from this birth
So goodwill to all men for what it is worth
And let’s pray like fuck for some Peace on this Earth.

(The picture of Bath in the rain is to counterbalance not illustrate: it's by Peter Brown and is in the exhibition A Bath Painter's Travels at Victoria Art Gallery till 19 February - well worth popping in. )

Frome of course does everything its own way, and the Night Market Before Christmas at Silk Mill was full of delightful local craft from independent traders plus a full band around the fire in the yard.
Solstice celebrations featured Midwinter Magic at the Wheatsheaves: music and poetry, organised by Sara Vian, pictured here playing with her band.
A great set too from Sue Harding, and fine words from Graham Owen and Liam Parker (Thanks Patrick Moss for my pic)

More music at the Cornerhouse last Friday, where Pete Gage with his band were on brilliant form ~ do get their CD Left Over Blues if you haven't got it already. The last night of the year was lively here too, as musicians gathered for an informal session at Martin Earley's generous end-of-year party.

Frome's 'hub' role isn't only as a cauldron of creativity, as expressed in gigs, markets, shows, and other events ~ it's a rural thing too. There are so many amazing walks within a short radius of the town, and the weather has been friendly.
White Horse at Bratton on Boxing Day was breezy, but a Christmas Eve day walk to Longleat was balmy though I can't report how the Disneylike Beatrix Potter characters look when illuminated as we were hustled off the site by six security personnel having been identified on camera as walking in on regular footpaths without paying the £31.95 price of a glimpse (but if you're disabled it's only, oh, £31.95 ~ unless you're aged 3 in which case it's £22.95). I don't include this to add a sour note ~ we had a lovely walk and a great day, especially with a stop at amazingly welcoming Cross Keys en route back ~ but to highlight the fact that local walkers have been in conflict with Longleat for the last five years over the about-turn on ramblers' rights after genial bohemian Lord Bath handed over control to his son Caewlin.
The 900-acre estate was a priory until the pillage of Henry VIII's 'Reformation' and, since its grounds are crossed by several routes between local villages and towns, there existed until 2011 an understanding between laird & serfs that these could still be used on foot even when vehicle- barriers were up for an event.  There's much to take your money anyway if you linger, but we were on the Pleasure Walk, a woodland sculpture trail still listed as free to all visitors, so 32 quid seemed a high fine for passing an illuminated hedgehog. (There's more in the national press about the history of the walkers-v-capitalist toffs conflict and the family's own battle for the soul of Longleat.)

And this small struggle between indigenous locals supported by vociferous incomers against a mighty money-making mentality, ironically, segues perfectly to my last event of this post.
If you google Standing Rock you'll find it's a small reservation in North Dakota occupied by ethnic Hunkpapa Lakota, Sihasapa Lakota and Yanktonai Dakota. You'll also see, although you probably already know, that Standing Rock has for 8 months been encamped by thousands from other tribes, joined by supporters from other parts of America and the world ~  including about 4,000 US war veterans ~ in protest against a crude oil pipeline installation across their land. (pic Huff Post) The camp is now closed for winter, as freezing blizzards will ensure enough delay to void the project, but for a month, until the day the fires were dowsed, one of those international supporters was Frome environmental activist Ben Macfadyen.
When he arrived back in Frome, Ben met with so much curiosity he decided to have an informal meeting to respond to questions about his experience of working at the camp.  He'd been drawn by the core mission of the native protesters: to protect the water because 'water is life'. Ben went initially as an environmental activist but realised when he arrived that the pipeline was only one aspect of cultural oppression. His induction showed him native history not taught in any schools, even those in reservations. There's a big emphasis on the induction process, and elders rely on daily sessions of 'decolonisation' to ensure the incoming, white, supporters recognise that these are prayer camps to hold what is sacred not to empower conflict. This didn't come easy news to many, as the Lakota tribe are warriors and the vets were hardened to confrontation, so meetings were often long and conflicted. Ben says he learned 'to carry on chopping wood and shovelling snow' as the best contribution he could offer.
There seems much to learn from Ben's insights on the struggle: holding focus on peace, the central role of women, and solidarity through diversity. 'Solidarity is when you tend the fire for people who don't feel safe,' Ben said. Perhaps for those of us who feel powerless in terrible times, the best we can do is tend the fires and hold our own values. Until of course, the Snow Bird comes to save the water and war is averted by the power of natural forces...

So now end the revelries of December, and thanks to all my friends and family for the best of times in the worst of times, and I'll leave you all with a toast to the year ahead: my January Song:
 Let us praise New Year resolutions, their pusillanimous tyranny,
and let’s praise their abandonment half way through January.
Let’s eat more cake, and abridge that long debate 
about detoxing, how much we don’t need this big glass of Pinot 
- would be just as happy without it! - oh go on then, I’m not driving.
Let’s admit this new year will be just like the last: a wrangle 
with self discipline which our more articulate decadence will win. 
Let’s praise the clich├ęs that let us off the hook: 
“It is winter – be kind” - “Men like love handles.” 
Ah, the love handles of our lives, the soft slack self-indulgence 
that under-bellies every good intention. 
Let’s praise BAD intentions. Take courage, take heart: 
Here's a toast to whatever is hidden in the dark.

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