A more perfect union?

Ugh. Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America. Just over two months from now executive power will be transferred from the sublime Barack Obama to an apology of a man, one who despises, disrespects and misuses other people because of their gender, their sexual orientation, disabilities, religion and/or ethnicity. He’s a man who reviles and threatens others and who has made no secret of the fact that he wants to throw out and keep out anyone who doesn’t fit into his vision of America. It is beyond all understanding that he is the choice of a country which proudly proclaimed to the world “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. These words are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, one of the first sights to greet the untold numbers of European immigrants who settled and made America their home; a statement of intent, a promise of refuge and a spark of hope for desperate people fleeing poverty, war and oppression. How things change.2016-11-10-15-05-32The despair that millions of Brits felt after the referendum in June must be magnified many times over across the Atlantic right now. We’ve seen and heard reports from dozens of US citizens who are in fear of what may come. For all that Trump gave a conciliatory (if vacuous) speech as he acknowledged the result yesterday, his previous rhetoric can surely leave nobody in any doubt as to his goals; and as to his behaviour – can there be a single woman in the USA who doesn’t feel the slightest shiver of distaste at his repulsive brand of ‘locker room talk’? Even those gurning hordes at his rallies must surely cringe when they hear it.

Some commentators have called this election a ‘whitelash‘, a result created from the fear the white population have for the growing non-white sector of the country, which apparently is on the cusp of becoming a majority; and also as a counter to the fact that they’ve just had a black president. This may be the case, I don’t know. And maybe I exist in a relatively comfortable bubble here in the hills of mid-Wales, surrounded for the most part by people who work the land, create art and celebrate the seasons. As well as sheep, of course, who outnumber the human residents a hundred fold…but I really thought things were better than they’ve turned out to be. Foolishly I believed that Martin Luther’s Dream had been taking shape over the last sixty years or so.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes” and he was right, of course he was. You can even argue that it can be useful to make mistakes – but only if you learn from them and only if they do not have consequences which are harmful. Sadly, I think that this mistake (for mistake it is, I have no doubt) will prove to be harmful to many people – I just hope that it doesn’t turn out to be catastrophic.


Now I’ll drag myself out of this miserable frame of mind and tell you what we’ve been doing this week, which is a little more low-key than the events across the pond. First of all, we visited Hereford on Monday and took Alex with us. It was the first time she’d been there and within five minutes of getting out of the car she’d declared that it was the coldest place we’d ever taken her. Now I know for a fact that this is wrong – on a visit to Tenby several years ago we’d been plodding up the road from the car park, well wrapped in coats and scarves, when we emerged onto the High Street overlooking North Beach. We were slapped in the face by a freezing, sleet-filled, malicious gust of wind so strong that it almost blew us over. Ok, it was February half-term but we’d expected to arrive in Carmarthenshire, not Siberia. So the vote goes to Tenby. That was the coldest place we’d ever taken her.feb-2016-tenbyA deceptively mild February day at North Beach, Tenby, taken by Lizzie a couple of years ago

At Hereford we warmed up with some lunch before strolling down to the cathedral. I recently extended my nerdiness by learning about various aspects of medieval church architecture and so I can tell you that in the pictures below there are two different types of ceiling – alright, you can see that for yourselves but due to my nerdiness I can tell you what they are. On the left we have the twelfth century cross-ribbed groin vaulted ceiling of the side aisle; and on the right are the much more ornate tiercerons of the nave, introduced mid-thirteenth century and shaped like palms. There – that wasn’t too painful, I hope?

There are plenty of effigies, as usual. A couple of bishops:

and the deceptively peaceful looking Sir Richard Pembridge, Knight of the Garter, who died in 1375 – the only effigy I know of that has three legs. The extra leg was made as a replacement when his right leg was damaged in the seventeenth century, but whoever made it added a garter. Shame on them! The garter is only ever worn on the left leg (it’s there but my picture only just shows it, sorry). The mistake was rectified and a suitably garter-less right leg added to the statue. The bungled limb is leaning against the wall a few feet away.

After the excitement of Hereford Cathedral (not to mention a rare visit to Waitrose) we enjoyed very different activities the following day when we met up with the community woodland group again. A few hours were spent cutting back and burning overgrown brambles, hazel and rhododendrons before we stopped for tea and cake. Some of the guys had been out delivering firewood (a natural consequence of managing the area) and one of them – Bob – had also collected two beehives to install at the woodland site. Over a cup of tea Bob announced that he’d had to leave a third hive behind because the colony had failed and that he had the dead queen in his pocket. This statement was met with polite interest from everyone else until Bob reached into his inside jacket pocket, pulled out a small glass tube and emptied the dead queen onto the cake.

Wow. And guess what – she wasn’t dead after all. We sat mesmerised, gripping our mugs of tea as Bob tried to pick up the semi-conscious bee and get her back into her tube with one hand, whilst still holding onto a piece of fruit cake with the other. Eventually he managed (because he’d eaten the cake and now had two hands free) and the ‘dud’ queen was returned to captivity to await her fate. This is where things became even more surreal as Bob explained how he was planning to spend the evening dissecting the bee and checking her out under the microscope. There was mention of ovaries and bee semen but at this point it all became too much and we opted to get back to manual labour.2016-11-08 13.52.07.jpg

To be perfectly honest, the matter of the bee wasn’t the strangest thing that happened in the last few days – that accolade surely has to go to the bizarre election of Donald Trump – and with a bit of luck I’ll wake up tomorrow and find that the entire week has been a dream. Until then I’m off to console myself with a couple of Tunnock’s chocolate mallows.

Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong

Hildegard of Bingen

2 responses to “A more perfect union?

  1. Oh God, what else is there to say…

    In other news – love Hereford cathedral, although I’ve almost always been during very low light, so can’t exactly claim to have ‘seen’ it properly. The Cantilupe tomb features in a Phil Rickman story, Midwinter of the Spirit (dreadfully apt title for this week) – the book is better than the TV series, which although I enjoyed it, left out so much – not sure if they’re your sort of thing – a bit Marmite-like I suspect.

    May have Hildegard’s words tattooed somewhere…

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