You don’t have to be religious to enter into the spirit of Lent however, you might baulk at the idea of spending forty days and nights alone in the wilderness being tempted by The Devil. Much easier to endure a stag or hen weekend in Amsterdam or Talin depending on your budget. However, this is not what Lent was devised for and believe me, it is just as much a social construct as the wearing of sack-cloth and self-flagellation once were [ and still are in some circles ]. Lent is a time of self-sacrifice and preparation during which we anticipate the arrival of Easter and not because Cadbury’s creme eggs, delicious as they are, will be back in the shops. I was baptized into the Roman Catholic church for which I will always be grateful therefore, it all makes sense to me. However, I never understood why my cousin was shipped off to the Magdalene launderies where she remained for the best part of a year but that’s another story.
The choice of what you “Give up” for Lent is entirely up to the individual but bear in mind that it should bring benefits, if not to yourself then to others. You might want to refrain from eating chocolate for the period thereby forgoing a pleasure, or, you may wish to volunteer some of your time to help others. The current trend for volunteering however, seems to be followed by the same people who offer their services free of charge whatever the season so I’m not sure whether the arrival of Lent makes any difference to this group. Much better perhaps to give something up and donate the money saved to some worthwhile cause as we used to do back in our schooldays. I read somewhere that the Prime Minister, Teresa May has given up eating her favourite flavour of crisps for Lent. However, it didn’t say whether she was donating the money saved to any cause nor did it mention that there are numerous other flavours of crisps she could eat instead. I suspect, based on the fact that PM May has recently authorised the cutting of benefits to the most vulnerable that she won’t be giving much thought to those who are far worse off than herself. Has she even thought to give those crisps to her local food bank? I doubt it.
So, the period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday which is the day after Shrove Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras [ Fat Tuesday] or Pancake day. Traditionally, on that day you ate up all your eggs and flour by making pancakes before beginning your fast. According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent his Lent in the desert where he went for forty days and forty nights alone without food or water whilst he battled with his inner demons, or, The Devil if you prefer. Personally, I suspect that Jesus was like the Bear Grylls of his day and was well good at survival techniques and, being in a desert, there would have been cacti that he could draw water from and insects that he could nibble. It would not be my kind of retreat but it seems to work extremely well for prophets. Talking of which but in a different sense altogether, Lent is the ideal time for charities to get their begging bowls out. Not wishing to appear uncharitable, I do give regular sums to my own chosen charity however, as soon as the daffodils appear the entire world of charitable causes start up their campaigns.
I’ve worked for three charities so I have some insight into how they operate and frankly, there is hardly any difference between a charitable organisation and a Footsie 100 company. Having forged a career for myself working in both camps I know which of the two I would trust the most and the name doesn’t begin with the letter C. In many ways the charity sector has become another arm of government with the same rules applying as when successive Liberal governments applied the infamous “Poor Laws” to the sick and destitute better known as the deserving and the undeserving poor. The first nineteenth Century Tory government abolished the Poor Law and replaced it with a form of Welfare entitlements, the thinking being that if people were left destitute then social unrest and disorder would follow. Unfortunately, in more recent times with most Tories adopting Neo-Liberal thinking, the government has reverted back to the days when the poor were held solely responsible for their own misfortune and left to rot, literally. Consider for example, the case of a man or woman living in an area of high unemployment being punished for not having applied for fourteen jobs over the past two weeks when there were probably no more than three or four vacancies being advertised in the area during the same period. He or she is punished by having their benefits stopped simply because they lacked the creative ability to invent jobs that never existed in the first place. Clearly, they could use a few lessons from the likes of Tory MP Grant Shapps.
Politicians however, especially those who sit on the government’s back benches appear to have no problem getting jobs, some of them have up to six at any one time, most of which they did not have to apply for. Now, call me cynical but isn’t being a member of parliament [ MP] meant to be a full-time occupation? I can understand how someone might do a bit of gardening on the side, say for an elderly constituent but these extra jobs I am reading about are not the odd hour here and there, they are extremely demanding albeit well-paid jobs that most of us dream about. Now, for a long time there was a lack of women prepared to enter into the male dominated bastion known as Westminster mainly because of the long and irregular hours that MPs kept. It wasn’t unusual for members to arrive at their offices by 9:30 am and still be in the building as Big Ben chimed midnight. Whether they were working or not is another matter but the hours they kept were not compliant with what we now think of as being child or family friendly occupations. You can’t just do a few hours between the daily school run or work from home. However, women have broken through into parliament and we are all better for it. Should this imply that MPs are now able to manage their time better and take on those extra highly lucrative jobs? Again, I doubt it.
It seems to me that there remains the same old cabal of male shits lording it up over the rest of us and giving those who put them where they are, the middle finger at every opportunity. And it’s not just the men, there are women MPs including our Prime Minister who find it amusing to knock those less fortunate than themselves. The person most favoured by the knockers on both sides of the house being the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who has taken it upon himself to be the voice of both the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. Only a few days ago, Teresa May in response to Corbyn’s criticism of the governments’ plan to fund more selective education at the expense of mainstream schools delivered a personal attack on the Labour leader whose own son had been educated in the private sector. Mrs May chose to ignore the well known fact * that the young Corbyn had been sent to a private school against his father’s wishes and that Jeremy has always campaigned for equal opportunities in all aspects of society. Grammar schools may well be a panacea for all that is wrong in our education system but unless the government funds sufficient numbers of places to accommodate all those who meet the basic requirements of a Grammar School education then they will only further corrupt the existing system. [ *Jeremy Corbyn felt so strongly about this that he divorced the mother of his child when she insisted that he attend a private school. ]
I suppose that it might appear that I started by talking about Lent and ended up discussing the behaviour of our politicians and the current state of education. Well, before you accuse me of going off at a tangent, may I remind you that for most of us and certainly for myself, school was were we first became aware of Lent with all it’s rituals and meanings. In fact, the classroom is where we learn about most things but especially, because we are removed from the safety of our own home environment where mummy or daddy can fill our heads with all kinds of nonsense, we mainly learn to socialise with other people, some of whom can be a bit scary. Now, I have friends of all faiths and some who laugh at the very idea that there might be a supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe, all of whom I treat with equal respect. I don’t subscribe to the creation myths found in Genesis and the Quran [Koran] either and yet I consider myself to be a Christian principally because of how I live my life. However, it really doesn’t matter what my friends choose to believe but I draw the line at those who claim their religious identity to be Klingon – they are just weird. Which brings me back to Teresa May our erstwhile Prime Minister [PM]. I’m not implying that Mrs May is odd but I find her extremely difficult to fathom out. She reminds me of Gordon Brown who also assumed office without having to appeal to the nation and whose only legacy was to reintroduce the word “Robust” into everyday usage.
Mrs May is the daughter of a vicar and as far as I am aware, an only child, so what went wrong? Did her parents not instill in her the same Christian values that the Catholic nuns and priests instilled in me at an early age? Clearly not, otherwise she wouldn’t think giving up her favourite flavour of crisps for Lent that much of a sacrifice. In October 2015 before she became PM she inferred that high levels of immigration made it impossible to build a cohesive society a fact that I tend to agree with however, not as much as I blame high levels of social inequality, lack of social housing and tax avoidance on a massive scale by her government’s friends and supporters. It seems that those who have the most to give don’t want to part with a penny if they can possibly avoid it. Both economic and technological progress has ensured that those at the lower end of society will find it increasingly harder to move upwards unless the government enables them by introducing the kind of policies that politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn espouse. Never mind if Corbyn is left-wing, Marxist or Klingon, his demands for Britain to adopt a more compassionate stance towards the downtrodden suggests a return to a State that was once much more benevolent than it has since become. I consider the teachings of Jesus Christ and Karl Marx to be entirely compatible, you just have to read them to understand that Socialism and Christianity are bed-fellows. Both Marx and his colleague Frederick Engels knew that it was not bloody revolutions that swept away the past but liberalization so perhaps rather than give up the crisps, Mrs May could go off into the wilderness and contemplate on this.