The Lord of Misrule

By the end of wednesday – day four of 2017 – top earning CEO’s in Britain had already earned as much as the average person earns in a year. This means that for 361 days of the year they are just adding on wealth the rest of us have to get by without. This wealth inequality has been growing every year for several decades so presumably the fat cat date is moving closer to January 1st. I had a conversation with someone in their mid-seventies recently who blamed the younger generation for causing the loss of interest on their savings by taking out mortgages they could not afford and thus causing the financial collapse and the credit crunch. This seemed to me to be topsy-turvey economic thinking of the worst kind. Who were the bankers and politicians who facilitated the collapse – certainly not poor young people trying to get a toe-hold on the fabled ‘property ladder’ (what ever happened to buying a home). They were greedy speculators who created a credit system that helped them get rich but put all the costs when it went wrong on society. This wealth has been sucked out of society never to be seen again most likely. His generation by in large hold all the wealth, they also benefited from the welfare state, received free university education, experienced wealth equalisation in a period of stable growth and  made money from government give aways such as the council-house sell offs and privatisation. No one younger than me is likely to see the kind of wealth equalisation policies experienced after the second world war, brought in by the great reforming labour government of 1945 and sustained through the post-war consensus by all political parties until 1979. The social fabric, the idea that we are truly ‘all in it together’ hardly exists in government policy, or in the media that sustains in. Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, and did her best to make sure that became the truth. But all that is left without society is self interest and empty loneliness. This conversation made me think ‘do many older people think like this’. Are they angry for the wrong reasons. Are they punishing the young by voting for governments and policy decisions that the young by in large simply do not want. If so this is a double tragedy. Last night we celebrated 12th night, a tradition to end mid-winter festivities stretching back thousands of years. 13 people gathered around a table made heavy with shepherds pie, plum cake and wassail ale, and made light with candles and conversation. We read the new Christmas poem by Carol Ann Duffy (The King of Christmas), passing a mobile phone around the table, each in turn reading a verse. In it she describes the Lord of Misrule tradition of 12th Night whereby the person who finds the bean in the plum cake turns the world upside down: ladies become gents, lords beggars, husbands wives. For one night only, we step in to the world of the other and see how the other lives. We see the pleasure and misery that comes with another’s life, and revel or reveal in the new light we have been afforded. This is the journey we are all on, to find the magnitude of character to look beyond ourselves. It is not easy. It will sound old-fashioned to some but simple virtues like faith, hope and charity should not lose their lustre as time passes. They are gifts well remembered on 12th night, as gold, frankincense and myrrh. And who was the Lord of Misrule in our house last night? Well, in our case no one found the bean, perhaps baked somehow into the cake, or more likely swallowed mistakenly. There’s a lesson in that too I’m sure.

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