Well, hell-o again, here we are with issue No.160 – makes me feel old. I hope you have been able to get out in some of the fantastic weather that the month of May (on average the driest month in Ireland, if not usually so dry and sun-shiny) had to offer, though I must say my vegetabule seedlings could do with some rain. I also hope you have been able to get on your pushbike. But if cycling then always remember Rule No.1 of summer cycling; keep your mouth closed (or at least in such an alignment that insects don’t go straight in). Because if you cycle with your mouth open it’s unlikely to be a pleasant experience for you or the insect concerned. Give it the oul bit of ahimsa and protect an insect today (and yourself from uncomfortable spluttering and coughing).
Where is Art?
Where is Art? Has he got lost? Or is art in the eye of the beolder? Here’s a little true story. A long long time ago, way before the claws of the Celtic Tiger were sharpening themselves, there was a city named Dublin [I believe it’s still called Dublin – Ed]. It was the 1970s and the relics of oul decency were not yet relict. When Herself was a student in that fare city, she worked betimes in the small shop of a family friend. This person who ran the shop was called Kathleen and she was, still is, a gentle woman with a beautiful smile, an interest in humanity and the individuals who made up humanity. The shop was not so much a shop as a social centre; people would drop in, share the news of the day, have a cup of tea, and sometime later go on their way again. If they bought a packet of tea and some biscuits, or maybe some cigarettes, well, that would maybe increase the shop’s takings by 5% for the day, but maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Big business it was not.
A wide variety of people used to pass by and in, and all got their share of attention. Miscellaneous produce was sold, one time even including little pictures painted on board (plywood) which the guy who had painted them hawked around. I suppose you could call the latter similar to primitive art in at least a couple of ways; Irish country and peasant scenes with distinctive gable end houses or cottages and, even more distinctive, the people had round, blank, pink faces – no traces of mouths, eyes, noses, eyebrows, nothing. Herself got one of these pictures, a miniature maybe 12 x 20 cms, a peasant woman and children with the backdrop of a cottage gable. This piece of picture on board became a part of our family; it went here and there where we lived, maybe occasionally thrown in a box, maybe on the mantelpiece. It could have been used for a teapot stand though it wasn’t actually, that kind of thing. We called the picture McClutcheon because we didn’t know the artist’s name – McClutcheon was the fella that the painter of the pictures believed was after him (though just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you).
Well, the artist was Markey Robinson, and he died in 1999 (born 1918). A retrospective of his pictures is currently showing in a prominent art gallery in Dublin (the Oriel in Clare Street) and the exhibition and accompanying coffee table book demonstrates the different styles he utilised (not so primitive then). His larger pictures would go for well into five figures. His star is now quite high in the Irish artistic firmament although whether he is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, likeable or unlikeable, remains open to debate. We feel a bit like the cartoon showing a cross-section of a block of flats; in one there is a trombonist practising, and in the flat next door someone is saying “We used to complain about the noise until we discovered he was a famous trombonist”. Maybe that wee picture will get framed yet. It has stuck with us all these years it will stick with us some more. But now we have the name of the artist and it is ‘McClutcheon’ no longer.
Back to Faslane nuclear weapons base in Scoatland for the court case of a friend, Mark Chapman. He was charged with the catchall ‘breach of the peace’ (sic – it never ceases to amaze me how protesters at Britain’s nuclear weapons base can be charged with ‘breach of the peace’). A few of us travelled over and some of us stayed in the peace camp the night before, activities still continue at Faslane despite the end of Faslane 365, there had been a punk band festival that weekend. We revisited the scene of the non-crime at North Gate to refresh our minds on distances and context. Walking back the mile or two to the peace camp we saw a van with ‘Bomb disposal’ on its side inside the base; I called out about the whereabouts of some really big bombs that could do with dismantling but I don’t think they heard me….
The next morning we were up bright and early to have a quickie vigil at the South Gate as day workers went in. Civilian and MOD police checked us out. We got the fingers from one person working in the base (there are literally thousands working there) as they went in. We didn’t stay too long as we’d to get to court. Walking away, the civilian policeman stopped us to say how nice and peaceful we were (which sounded a mixture of plámás and a patronising attitude – just because we weren’t lying down on the road or blocking traffic). Two minutes later there he was sitting in his cop car taking photos of us! So that’s how nice and peaceful we were then. I know he’s expected to do his job, you can’t blame him for that, which presumably includes photos (for future reference) of protesters coming and going, but his attempt to be ‘nice’ by saying how ‘nice’ we were, followed by taking our photos, jarred considerably.
And the court case? Well, having travelled from Norn Iron we argued we should be taken early on and the magistrate was well disposed to so doing but regular court business, drunkenness and shoplifting, that kind of thing, came first. Then another peace activist who had a load of charges against herself. She didn’t contest the fact that she was locked on and blocking the road. What made her most indignant was the allegation by the police witness that she had walked to the police van when arrested, rather than being carried – she would never do that (walk), she said. She was found guilty but, in that magnificent Scottish legal phrase, ‘admonished’ – a legal, verbal ‘slap on the wrists’. The magistrate sitting that day was the most liberal of the local magistrates; he could have imposed a fine of several hundred pounds (which of course this braided-haired pensioner would have refused to pay).
Then on to my friend’s case. Being a witness I had to sit outside the courtroom, in Helensburgh (the court room has a portrait of the eighteenth-century Helen it is named after) before giving evidence. That meant missing the action but on a day with the sun streaming in, no windows that opened, and storage heaters that you couldn’t turn off, sitting outside the courtroom had its compensations. Police witness No. 1 spent 35 or 40 minutes inside. On to police witness No. 2. Meanwhile some other court business was being done during an adjournment. Then another adjournment at the end of the prosecution case (the defendant had the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses). The court reconvened and the magistrate responded to the defendant’s claim that there was no case to answer; the case was dismissed. The defence case was not required, us witnesses were ready and waiting but not needed. Fire-breathing on the grass verge and footpath, well away from all other protesters, was dismissed as being a ‘breach of the peace’. One small victory for common sense. So we went outside for some celebratory photos, with the other peaceniks and local support people.
But, unfortunately, Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system at Faslane continues, as does plans for its replacement. The Scottish government and the majority of people in Scotland are agin it but relatively powerless to stop it (that would need massive civil disobedience I think, or a major strategic rethink). Britain holds weapons of mass destruction, each one eight times as powerful as a Hiroshima, and these are a blight on the landscape, politicalscape, worldscape, a massive waste of money, and an invitation to dodgy regimes everywhere to join the nuclear club. It is a sad reflection on modern Britain that it still believes it needs these illegal weapons. Just the threat of them uses a ginormous amount of money. Actually using them would be a war crime. The logical thing might be to dismantle them in a gesture of magnanimity but Britain is desperate still to project itself as a big boy on the world stage and there is the idea that doing away with nuclear weapons would be seen as a sign of weakness. Doing so would actually be a sign of real strength but the ‘might is right’ attitude puts many people in a blindfold – and, literally, they cannot see beyond their own noses.
I don’t know if you remember in school the person who could write an English Literature essay on the book without actually reading it, just picking up enough in class and from the back cover to get a pass mark. It requires real skill. Here it goes. I read the headline in the paper in the shop but didn’t buy it, indeed buying it would have been supporting its nonsense. It was the British newspaper The Daily Express and its banner headline for 21st May 2008 proclaimed “Immigration at all time high” (I have spared you the capitals) with the sub-heading “It’s no wonder 2 million Britons have moved to live abroad”. Talk about non sequitors – or have all the immigrants coming to Britain to do the jobs the British don’t want to do affected the weather so that people have moved abroad? Or affected the politics so people have moved abroad?
And are the newspapers in France, Spain and Australia complaining in banner headlines about the ‘two million Britons’ who have moved abroad with a big share going to these countries? You can’t have it both ways – it being all right for Brits to move where they want but not all right for people to move into Britain. I would have also thought that most, not all, but most of those who have moved abroad have done so to better themselves through work, a better environment or lifestyle, better weather and the like. The idea that people have moved out because other people have moved in, to do the jobs that need doing, is incredible nonsense.
There are some in Ireland, thankfully perhaps not as many as in Britain but a number nevertheless, who would feel similarly about immigrants. We live in a complex world of push and pull factors regarding all kinds of migration. Ireland has changed beyond recognition over the last couple of decades and part of that is due to immigrant workers and immigrant cultures. We are the richer both materially and culturally. It is a win win situation.
Green moral dilemmas
I have previously written about the need to phase out planned obsolescence (!) through an obligation on manufacturers to keep making parts available, and the need for government support to make repair a cheaper option. In a high wage economy, repair will always be an expensive option compared to buying a new machine which has been made at cheap, poor world wage levels.
We met this dilemma recently in relation to our washing machine, which was atypical in that it’s a top-loader (if you have the space to spare above the machine, a top-loader is easier to load and unload). It was 6 or 7 years old and we opted to go for repair which would cost almost half that of getting a new machine. This was a calculated risk because, if something else got banjaxed in the near future, we were going to be rather out of pocket. As it turned out, the person we engaged for the job, who looked at the machine and said he had ordered the part, never came back to us despite repeated phone calls, so some time later we were on to Repair Firm No. 2. They offered us a similar working, second-hand machine for around the same as repairing the existing one, with a six month guarantee. We went for that. Will it last? Who knows? Maybe we’ll be left all washed up or rather all not washed up if it goes down the tubes, we certainly hope we won’t be left high and dry.
But my point in the first paragraph is, I feel, very pertinent. Donkeys years ago machines were always repaired, if at all possible, because of the economics involved; buying a new one was going to be much more expensive. Today, white goods have to be recycled, legally, but I feel it makes sense for governments to assist repair firms in a way which would help restore that old economic balance in favour of repair and against replacement. Repair now, while stocks last.
My perverted mind
I can’t help it; seeing all sorts of things in web addresses when the words of a title are allruntogetherlikethis. The latest one is the Norn Iron Bill of Rights Forum which within the last couple of months passed its report over to the NI Human Rights Commission. Their report is online at www.billofrightsforum.org I entirely support the Bill of Rights process in de Nort but my alternative reading of the above website is the Bill O’ Frights Forum; Ian Paisley confesses that he was just pretending to be a born-again compromiser and he’s really still an old bigot and begins to raise hell again, P. O’Neill from the IRA states that they haven’t gone away, you know, they were just taking an extended break, and Bertie Ahern insists that he was worth ten times the amount of money people slipped him. Oh, and Tony Blair decides that the best way to unite the faiths, which is where he is trying to put some of his energies these days (it looks like he wasn’t very forward thinking when he was instrumental in starting the Iraq war then, maybe unconsciously he’s trying to undo some of the damage he has done), is for the faith communities to wipe out the atheists…….while George Bush decides to start ‘one last, good war’ while he still has the chance. It’s the way my mind works, I’m sorry, I can’t help it.
- - - -
Anyway, that’s me until July aye. Gorge Bush is coming to town in the meantime but I feel at this stage the appropriate thing is just to ignore him. War criminal he may be, pathetic poser (cf that uniform, the POTUS Pilate) but he is also now a lame duck president who isn’t going to change during his presidency. When he came to Norn Iron before I was involved in pulling out the stop(s) signs, and while I respect those who feel he should be welcomed properly, as befits a war criminal, me, I think, nah, why bother. I think I’ve better things to do. CU in July,
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).