VEGA News Item

God Gives the Tunes, The Devil Writes the Words - Something to Die For - 03/09/2007
Solemnizing thanksgiving for the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, last week opened with the introit O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest, and proceeded, perhaps sheepishly, to the second hymn, the ever-useful 23rd Psalm...
Solemnizing thanksgiving for the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, last week opened with the introit O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest, and proceeded, perhaps sheepishly, to the second hymn, the ever-useful 23rd Psalm to the tune Crimond. The doggerel is worth notice, even if many preachers and congregations give it scant attention.

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by

My soul he doth restore again
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness
E’en for his own name’s sake

Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,
Yet I fear no ill;
For thou art with me, and thy rod
And staff me comfort still

My table thou has furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

Words from another and contemporaneous source put these sentiments in a different way: “Hopes return for lamb after woes” and it pronounces good news – “people are buying more lamb”. To give asylum and comfort perhaps, in the sanctuary of those pastures green. But no, there is dominant bad news this year. The Meat Trades Journal (31 Aug 2007) spells it all out: “Foot and mouth disease (FMD) and the subsequent ban on red meat exports, in combination with low prices during spring have made 2007 an especially difficult year for farmers. Trading conditions have been tough… Rising feed costs, as the global price of wheat soars, is just another problem farmers have had to contend with and, to complete the picture, this summer’s unseasonal flooding has simply added to farmers’ worries.” Well, shepherds and their flocks have always had to suffer Acts of God. “The Lord tempers the wind to the shorn lamb” is an illusion in what is often death’s dark vale.

And then, there has been an unseemly “price war”, which “resulted in a 5 to 6% reduction in prices of lamb joints over Easter, compared to the same weekend in 2006. As prices dropped, people bought more lamb, and actually ended up spending more money overall than when lamb was more expensive.” The MTJ’s hymn of praise tells that the amount consumers spent on lamb is up 9.5% year-on-year in the 52 weeks ending 15th July 2007. “Frozen lamb has performed particularly well, showing remarkable growth of 23.9% year-on-year. Fresh lamb, which is a much bigger market than frozen (nearly 5 times the size and worth £499m in the 52 weeks ending 15th July) also grew, but by a less staggering 6.9% year-on-year. The frozen lamb market was worth £107m at retail in the same period, making the total lamb market worth £606m.”

Congregations reeling off the verses of the 23rd Psalm might have augmented their thoughts for the hallowed lamb and their significance for the fate of the late Princess of Wales with a few data on the retail trade. The prose of the MJT explains: “The biggest lamb retailer, predictably, is Tesco, with a 23.3% share of the market… Sainsbury’s is the second-biggest seller of lamb, with a 17.8% share. Independent retail butchers hold their own well in the lamb market, taking 16.8% of all the money spent on lamb… Asda is third, with 9.5% and Morrison’s fourth, with 8.5%.”

Probably the blow “most serious for the industry as a whole was the export ban, but the temporary movement ban also cost farmers money as they were forced to keep finished animals beyond their best, watching their value deteriorate as they passed their prime and paying for the extra feed needed to keep them”, remarks the MTJ’s commentary, adding that “30% of our sheepmeat is exported. Hopefully contact would have been maintained with traders in Europe and we can get back to a fairly quick resumption of export volumes. France is one of the main markets. 70% of our exports go to France so it’s a key market for us to get back into.”

Is this restoration the dear old C of E with its allegories in a twist thinks of the restoration through the protective paths of righteousness that penetrate death’s dark vale. Is this the hypocrisy the worshippers think children can appreciate? Fairy-tales and children’s rimes can be perplexing enough but what are they to make of pious priests leading these orisons of perjured praise? The lamb and its fate deserve less of this dissembling in churches and in the market place and in the Grace and on the plate. Some of the sanctimonious verses should be dropped or revised. The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate have been disremembered from All Things Bright and Beautiful and allusions to our foes’ corruptible politicks and knavish tricks have been removed from sung versions of the national anthem played at the end of Princess Di’s memorial service. And if God calls the tunes and the Devil writes the words, we must remember that the butchers’ anthem goes God gives the meat, the Devil sends the cooks.  

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