Saturday, 7 December 2013

Being in the right place at the right time.

People who know me will be aware that I have often commented on my good fortune at being born when I was, the good fortune enjoyed by many people of my age. Not only did we not have to pay to go to university but many of us, myself included, received a grant to do so. It was a little like being paid to do what you wanted to do anyway. Okay, so it wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was enough to live on, for me at least, and could be supplemented by working in the holidays without my having to work all through the term time as well. And then, when we graduated there were jobs a-plenty for us to fall into. 

Yes, I know that some of my generation didn’t follow the same route. Not everyone went to the grammar school but many of those who went to the secondary modern schools received some sort of vocational training before they left. And not all of those who went to grammar school went on to university but there were jobs with training available for them too. 

It wasn’t a golden age, I am quite aware of that, but in many ways it was a gentler age than the one we live in now. 

Someone who might agree with me is Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson particle man. Interviewed in today’s newspaper, he doesn’t actually say he was born at the right time not he does say that he feels he might not have been able to make his scientific breakthrough in today’s academic climate of having to produce “papers” on this and that at regular intervals. When he was busily working, trying to locate the God-particle, whenever his department did a research assessment and asked everyone to give a list of recent publications, he regularly just replied, “None”. They might have got a little exasperated with him but then he was nominated for the Nobel Prize so everything was fine. 

The fact remains, however, that he made his discovery because they left him to get on with it. But he commented, “Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.” Isn’t that a rather sad indictment of our times? 

Now, what about the man whose life was saved by a phone call? In the midst of the awful weather that has hit the UK during this week, a chap called Ray Mooney in Hemsby, a place by the sea in Norfolk, was about to rush to his back door, presumably to see what was going on outside, when his phone rang. So he walked back inside the house to answer it. As he did so, the back half of the house broke away and slid down into the sea. A lucky escape! By all accounts we got of very lightly here in Saddleworth. 

In Saturday’s Guardian the centre spread is always a selection of photos, images of events around the world. One of today’s was this one, a picture of the Krampus. All the caption told me was that, according to Alpine tradition, the Krampus walks the streets in search of delinquent children during Krampus Night or Krampusnacht in its original form. So I found a little more about it. 

Krampus is usually represented as a beast-like creature, generally demonic in appearance. Apparently the creature has roots in Germanic folklore; however, its influence has spread far beyond German borders. Traditionally young men dress up as the Krampus in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, northern Friuli, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Croatia during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of the 5th of December (the eve of Saint Nicholas day on many church calendars), and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Krampus is featured on holiday greeting cards called Krampuskarten. There are many names for Krampus, as well as many regional variations in portrayal and celebration. 

So it’s almost a part of the Christmas celebrations. Saint Nicholas rewards the good children and the Krampus punishes the bad ones, carrying away the worst offenders in his sack. I suppose it’s one way of controlling your offspring but it’s a little more severe than saying that naughty children will just get a stick of coal in their stocking. 

The Krampus probably has its origins in a much older tradition, going back to old Norse mythology. Like many other old ways it was absorbed into Christianity. The early Catholic Church tried to ban the Krampus as being too pagan but it was paired up with Saint Nicholas in the 17th century. Then in the 20th century there were further attempts to get rid of it but still it persisted. Nowadays, in our age of what many regard as the nanny state, the debate continues about whether such a frightening figure is really appropriate for children. They should try reading fairy tales. That grandma-eating wolf is more than a little scary. 

Over in Santiago de Compostela they are taking measures to protect the baby Jesus in the “belén”, the nativity scene in the Obradoiro Square in front of the cathedral. (Belén is the Spanish name for Bethlehem, hence the name for the nativity scene.) Last year Jesus was kidnapped by protesters, people who had lost their homes because of the banking crisis. Mary and Joseph had nowhere to go when the baby was due to be born and these people wanted to make the point that they had nowhere to go either. 

This year they’re keeping an eye on baby Jesus to avoid a repeat protest. But the “desahuicios”, bank repossessions of houses are still a serious business.

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