Hello again and welcome to my jottings on the gable wall. Sometimes I don't know where things come from in my time warped brain- like the next item for example (well actually I do, it was triggered by a 'Learn to surf!' leaflet);
Learn to serf!
All right, you have been learning to surf the net, learning to surf the waves, now is your chance to 'Learn to serf' by immersion! Our intensive, 15-year course will really put you in the picture about peasant life at its grimmest. In fact the course is so intensive you only get a half day off a year (Christmas Day - which makes it the perfect Christmas present for your nearest and dearest). Otherwise you will learn what it's like to be at the beck and call of your lord and master, toiling away from dawn to dusk, summer and winter, with just a snatched snack which you brought in at your own expense (half a raw turnip if you're lucky) to keep you going. Weeding, hoeing, ploughing, planting, reaping, back breaking, intensive agriculture at its very best, labouring for another person's profit, you could hold your head up (if you were able to bend straight which you're not) and proclaim the magnificent job that you're doing for humanity and specifically for your master - but actually you're just too tired to say anything anyway. At the end of the day you can enjoy your short repose in a freezing cold shack with running water (mainly down the walls). Once a year or so you may get enough time and energy to have a chance to wash your only set of clothes (with 'Serf' washing powder of course).
Learn to Serf!(tm) is the very thing for you. At the end of 15 years you are free to 'buy back' your freedom for a modest fee which you couldn't possibly afford so instead you can continue for another back-breaking 15 years (unless you have the good fortune to drop dead in the meantime!). At the end of this period you might wish to applaud the experience of a lifetime but you'll be so clapped out you won't be able to, in fact you'll only just be able to keel over and collapse. You can't have a serf-eit of a really bad thing! Return to feudalism properly by enrolling your whole family! You won't live to regret it! In fact your life expectancy will be very short! Learn to Serf!(tm) is a Pre-Capitalist Production (now capitalism really worked out how to get people to work....)
The Paisley pattern
The old Ian Paisley had a pattern. He used ridicule, fear (of change, of 'the other', of Protestants in the North being overcome by the powers of Catholicism, republicanism and evil - as he saw it), he blustered and parried and humiliated. He used distortions and downright lies (see previous columns, e.g. NN 120). He attacked any change of any kind as being part of a slippery slope to enslavement and an all-Ireland Republic. He virtually invented the Protestant backlash single-handed to the modest reforms proposed and undertaken in the late 60s under O'Neill and continued to oppose any change, any rapprochement, any compromise, until very recently. Of course he was not alone in his intransigence, both or even all sides were at it, but he stands out as the king of intransigence in the Troubles. Ian Paisley was Dr No.
The new Ian Paisley, as First Minister, is part of the establishment, a 'yes' man. It is, of course, wonderful that around the age of eighty he could see the light and agree to cooperate, to compromise - or carve up power according to your interpretation - to implement the Good Friday Agreement (although because of his opposition to the GFA, the new deal had to go under a different label, St Andrews, but it was in all essentials the same deal). The boot will increasingly be on the foot of other people, although they may not be as skilled as Ian Paisley was at getting the boot in. Northern Ireland got no good deal from the British Exchequer for devolution, there is if anything declining money for social development. And - horror of horrors - the Paisleys became caught up in a scandal about their support for a particular private proposal for the Giants Causeway visitors' centre; Ian Paisley Junior wrote a letter supporting a particular proposal and claimed it had the support of UNESCO. It had no such thing. And Ian Paisley Junior also bought a holiday home nearby, at full price he attests, from the gentleman behind the visitors' centre proposal which he lobbied for.
Power has its price - ask the Greens in government in the Republic. While I wish Ian Paisley and the powersharing government every success in dealing with the many, basic, problems which Northern Ireland has to contend with (social, economic, and even political) I cannot help but think of the difference that could have been made if he had seen the light ten, twenty, thirty, or even forty years earlier. This remains one of the great 'what ifs' of the Troubles. Perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies, that he should eventually learn that cooperation is possible, but I certainly find it very difficult to feel grateful that he ultimately learnt something which his uncommon sense or his Christian faith should have made plain to him aeons ago. Let's hope the new Paisley pattern of cooperation takes off and lasts.
Keep your bicycle locked - the world depends on it
I have shared this information before but here goes. In Dublin in the 1950s there was a 'dedicated' (in the modern sense) bicycle theft squad. If a garda found a stolen bicycle then he (and they were he's) had to stay with it until someone, presumably the thief, came to get it and then they did a 'got yer' on them. It just shows how some things have changed. Bicycle theft is not top of the police priority list today, indeed we cyclists might consider ourselves lucky if it features anywhere on their list at all (I know someone in Belfast who found his own stolen bicycle, innocently bought by someone else who then returned it to the shop where they had bought it - the original owner never got it back).
So the moral of the story is to have a good bicycle lock and attach yer bike to a solid immoveable object. Even a good lock can be forced, perhaps using a car jack, but it may be a bit of a deterrence. Which brings us on to a different kind of 'deterrence' - Britain's nuclear weapons which (until early in the era of Tony Blair) were protected by ....... a lock rather like a bicycle lock, as we learned during the last month. After the initial gung ho attitude of the 1950s, the USA and USSR were at least somewhat concerned about a 'Dr Strangelove' situation of a mad or fanatical officer deciding to take it out on the world and introduced coded multi-point locking methods without which the bombs could not be armed. Britain, meanwhile, had a one key lock to keep their weapons safe; a twist of the key and you could arm the bomb. Ah yes, that'll do the job. Totally safe. Everyone can sleep in peace, there is absolutely no risk that a mad man (sic) could go about blowing people up in pieces, because there is no chance that he could get past the British failsafe method of a simple bicycle-type lock. Maybe it's a British culture of complacency and make do, I don't know, and while it's almost touching in its amateurishness it's also more than scary. What is still scary is the British Trident submarines could still launch an attack without any code from the British government - a situation which even the US have moved beyond, their submarines have to get a code from the US president.
The other point I would make here - and this is a point on which a lot of Western policy is based - concerns the idea that 'democratic' nuclear bombs are safer than 'undemocratic', i.e. that nukes held by nice, western 'liberal' states are no danger while nukes held, or potentially held, by other states are nasty and dangerous. Oh, so that's why Britain was selling weapons to both India and Pakistan when there was a nuclear standoff between the two countries some years ago (under Mr 'Ethical Foreign Policy' Blair). There are a number of fallacies about this. No, I don't want any new countries to get nukes, and I want existing countries to go naked into the conference chamber without them (cf Aneurin Bevan of the British Labour Party in 1957, who opposed just such a policy). But if you look at the historical possibility of US use of nukes, e.g. in Korea and elsewhere, then the 'safe country' myth falls apart. And whatever the 'big boys' have then others want too. When it comes to nuclear weapons then I am, in this regard at least, an out and out nudist. And feeling rather up the garden path without even a bicycle lock.
Adolf Award Nominations
Yes, it's that time of year again when we seek nominations for our Adolf Awards, for conspicuous disservice to peace, the environment, human rights etc. It shouldn't be too difficult for you to think of some people who deserve a prize - the tricky part is thinking of a humorous or original award that they should be given. Answers on a post card, or an e-mail, by the end of January to us at the usual contacts. It could make an interesting parlour game for Christmas or New Year - who really deserves some serious poking for fun. The nominations, which will be pored over (not to mention poured over if they're in before Christmas or New Year) by our panel of ex-perts will be given in the February edition. Watch this wrist.
I don't know why I bother. Each and every year it's the same and no one listens. There is me looking for a postponement of Christmas - just for a couple of weeks, you understand, to let me catch up. A week of two after the Orthodox Christmas would do fine. Then I wouldn't have to rush around so much at his time of year. Oh well, at least I try. [This reminds me of the letter writer advocating that the end ones should be left out of packets of biscuits because they always seem to be broken - Ed] [And your comments take the biscuit - Billy]
The very last few leaves have just fallen off the lilac bush recently and the end of the year approaches (I think of 'mid-winter' as January). And so I wish you a very Happy Christmas and an absolutely Preposterous New Year. No, I hope you do have a good seasonal break, I'm sure you need it, I do, and I'm not anywhere near organised yet. And, in the immortal words of Dave Allen, may your God go with you - so, until we meet again in 2008, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).