[Go back to the related issue of Nonviolence News
Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Well, how did you survive the cold weather?
With a smile on your face or a burst pipe in the attic or garage? Or both (once
it was fixed). Those who remember these things say it was maybe the worst cold
period Ireland has had since 1963, and to see the likes of the Lagan or Foyle
frozen over was impressive (though where we are the temperatures were lower
nine years ago after Christmas but that was not so long a cold spell). It was
pretty dangerous underfoot and under wheel and injuries of one kind or another
were common from falling. But I’ll just share two images with you. The first
was buying a cabbage in my local greengrocers – complete with free snow still
on it! Fresh or what? The second was seeing a young child, perhaps three years
old, being pulled along the street in a makeshift sled consisting of…..some
rope tied to a strong supermarket bag which the child sat in. Oh to be Jung!
It is well past Christmas, in fact last
Christmas is fading away into the back of our memories. But the relevance of
the title of this piece will come at the end of this short piece. Shortly
before Christmas I was cycling along the busy main road, just after dark and
less than 1k from home. A car came to the end of an adjoining road on the same
side as me, and, in the way of not very considerate motorists, didn’t stop at
the stop line because it looked like it was going to edge into the traffic
immediately after me, going in the same direction. At least that is what I
assumed. Except I assumed wrong because the driver hadn’t seen me and just kept
coming. Fortunately he just bumped my front wheel, buckling it and sending the
bike slamming to the ground. In the split second as it was happening, my
thought was to try my upmost not to fall into the outside lane where a car
could have been whizzing past at a rapid rate. By some miracle I kept upright
and my feet found the ground. I scanned the immediate vicinity for witnesses
but there were none – and fortunately no traffic passing in the outside
lane so even if I had gone flying on the ground I would not have been run over.
The driver reversed back into the side road
and got out as I picked up my bike off the road. He was young (early twenties)
and very apologetic, “I just didn’t see you.” This was undoubtedly true but
as I had front and back lights, another flashing back light, reflective
armbands and another reflective belt hanging on my backpack I was actually pretty
well lit up. I didn’t have a scrape or a twinge so I took yer man’s details to
pay for the bike repair – a back light had also smashed.
As I started to walk away, lifting the
front half of my bike with its badly buckled wheel, a woman in her twenties
came over to me out of a red van. She hadn’t seen the accident but had seen me
picking my bike off the road and the interaction with the driver who had
knocked me down. She had pulled in, waited until my interaction with the
driver had finished, and then offered me and my bike a lift home. Thank you,
Debbie from a Belfast drain clearance firm, for your kindness and
consideration, take a bow.
Bringing my bike in for repair, I ordered
flashing LED armbands for all the family members for when they are cycling, and
they do, in the dark. I have decided that to be seen in the dark by motorists
you need to look very much like a Christmas tree, and in this instance the
driver did not recognise me as an object from the side. I think I was very
visible but that if drivers are only looking for car-shaped objects they may
not recognise anything else so the Christmas tree approach is the only one.
That doesn’t guarantee safety – I have had one car follow another turn
right across my path in the dark without looking properly - causing me to
swerve urgently to avoid being run over – but it seems the only sensible
precaution. Cyclists in the dark – please profit from my story and
follow the Christmas Tree Principle. And if you see a Christmas tree pedalling
around Belfast on a pushbike, feel free to give a friendly wave.
PS The same thing almost happened me very
recently, exactly the same scenario, it was a taxi driver this time so there is
no likelihood he was an inexperienced driver. This time I was lit up like a Christmas
tree, complete with flashing armbands; fortunately I slowed slightly and he
only stopped when he would have knocked me down if I was one metre further
forward. It looks like some drivers simply do not see or recognise
non-motorised objects on the road, no matter how well lit up – we’re the
wrong shape, so, unfortunately, I can offer cyclists no guarantee that they
won’t be knocked over, even if they are Christmas trees.
It’s always good to get to the occasional
academic session on conflict and related areas, keeps the mind ticking over
trying to get to grips with the concepts put on display (and also trying to
sort out the jargon sometimes). The Institute of Irish Studies at Queen’s does
some good series and I attended some of their sessions in October-November, one
of which was by the Institute’s director, Dominic Bryan, who is always worth
listening to and jargon-free.
I wanted to share a couple of points coming
from Dominic Bryan’s paper on commemoration in loyalism in the North, “Forget
1690, Remember the Somme: Ulster Loyalist Battles in the 21st century”. He
commented that of 54 loyalist murals on main roads in Belfast, only one is now
of King Billy (bring back King Billy!); 11 are of World War 1 and of these 10
show UVF symbols (which, if current, would be illegal but is allowed because
it’s ‘historical). In UDA dominated areas you do see representations of the
First World War but not in the same way as in UVF areas – this allows UVF
symbols to be ‘legal’, despite any historical link between the ‘old’ UVF and
the UVF founded in 1966. One memorial with WW1 iconography looked like a
memorial to the fallen from that war – except it wasn’t but a memorial to
UVF men killed in the Troubles.
What was even more fascinating to hear is that
the Portadown Drumcree parade – you know, the contentious one that seeks
to come back down by the Garvaghy Road – had been labelled as a Battle of
the Boyne commemoration but suddenly, and without notice in 1998, became a
Battle of the Somme commemoration (‘Somme’ contradiction here perhaps?). Why?
I’d say presumably to do with the significance of sacrifice (‘Look what we
sacrificed, so you can’t betray us’) whereas the Boyne could look a bit
triumphalist, as Dominic pointed out. He stated “the relationship between the
commemorations of the two battles is revealing of political strategies and
control of public space by particular groups rather than as an indicator of
broad social remembering” and quoted Neil Jarman “We use the past by
remembering selectively those events that help to explain or justify what is
happening in the present, a present that can therefore be portrayed as the
inevitable and only outcome of those same events. The changing needs and
circumstances of the present mean that memories are monitored and re-evaluated,
and our understanding of the past is adapted to changing circumstances”.
A final point from this fascinating paper
was his noting the sacrosanct nature of ‘war’ memorials to paramilitaries on
the different sides; police etc do not interfere with them but they may be
marking territory – and thus having a divisive effect - in exactly the
same way as the kerb-painting and murals of the past. I have fond memories of
a photo in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ perhaps fifteen or more years ago; it showed
a loyalist painting kerbstones (red, white and blue) in my, mixed, area of
Belfast. The tin was shown in the photo – you could plainly see the
‘Guaranteed Irish’ symbol – he was using ‘Fenian’ paint made in the
Republic to mark his Britishness!
Dan de dan dan, it’s that time of year
again. I hope you’re formally dressed, nothing less than a bow tie for the
ladies and a long dress for the men will do. Yes, folks, the moment you have
been waiting for since time immemorial (if your watch has stopped), it’s the
one, the only, the genuine, the incredible Adolf Awards, named after a certain
gentleman of the Twentieth Century where we give awards for conspicuous
disservice to peace, human rights and the environment.
Without further ado (we can’t afford the
trumpets this year, in fact we can’t afford any ado’s either, and as for the
fee the trumpeters would have charged, well, we won’t trumpet it from the
rooftops), ladies and gentlemen, we bring you this year’s nominations –
Warmonger of the Year: Sorry to have to do
this but it has to be Barack Obama. Just look at the editorial in this issue
of Nonviolent News; a ‘warmonger’ is someone who sells war, and that was what
Obama was doing with his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech – selling
the US administration’s brand of war to the world.
Marathon Men and Women of the Year: Forget
the sports people, this has to go to all the politicians of Norn Iron, and
particularly the DUP and Sinn Féin politicians, for their marathon negotiating
sessions on the transfer of justice and policing to the NI Assembly. Only,
unlike the original marathon runner, they didn’t drop dead at the end, and
lived to tell the tale (whether all the Super-DUPers will live past their
electorate next time around remains to be seen).
Financial institution of the Year: NAMA.
As in the mother asking – “Is this the body to sort out Irish bad debts
and set the country and its financial institutions on the right track again?”.
To which she gets the answer from her offspring, “Na, Ma”.
Brass Neck Award: Tony Blair. Regretting
nothing, he seems to have learnt nothing either, or if he had then he wasn’t
letting on to the Chilcot enquiry in Britain into the Iraq War. Blair also gets
The George W Bush Perpetual Trophy for Inability to Learn from the Past. And
he is sent to represent the EU, inter alia, in the Middle East?
Financial Scandal of the Year: We don’t
like to kick someone when they’re down, so we won’t give this award to Iris
Robinson. But we would note that it took just a couple of years for Norn Iron
to get its very own serious political financial scandal – makes a change
from the focus being on the Republic most the time. Instead we give the award
to all the Banks, in all countries, who are continuing to pay out massive bonuses,
having been bailed out by the public purse.
The Grass is Greener On The Other Side of
The Hill Award*: To all the decision makers, financiers and firms involved in
planning, setting up and running incinerators around the country. May you not
dioxin. * On this side of the hill it has gone brown and been killed off.
Global Warmers (Emperor Nero) Award: The
governments of the world, and most especially the governments of larger and
richer countries in the West (including Ireland), for their pathetic failure to
come up with, and implement, a coherent plan to avoid the terrible effects of
global warming. And there is no real prospect of success this year either.
Depressing at best, and deadly at worst.
The Beam Me Up Scotty Award for
Contribution to Global Warming; You and me, yes, you and me, for continuing to
fly when we could avoid it. Flying’s contribution to global warming is much
greater than the amount of pollutants emitted because most of it is released a
couple of miles up where it degrades much more slowly.
Carcinogen of the Year: It has to be
aspartame, and the award goes to the legislators, food regulators, drinks and
food companies, supermarkets and shops, all of who know that aspartame should
be banned – not just because of the risk of causing cancer but for many,
many other drastic side effects as well - but do nothing about it because it
would create a bit of a stir and damage firms’ profits. You try finding a
‘soft’ drink without it in your supermarket but you’re soft in the head if you
The Ploughshares Into Swords Award: The
Irish government and political parties for continuing to allow the USA
uncontrolled access to, and use of, Shannon airport for their military and
human rights misdeeds in various lands. The Republic once had some form of
positive military neutrality – this is negative military sleeveenism.
Neutrality, my Erse.
Horsemen of the Apocalypse Award: To all
those arms companies/profiteers developing pilotless drones and military
robots which are the future face of rich countries’ war-making, and the same
rich countries who are paying top dollar to give themselves the ultimate
military fix, death to the enemy (and lots of civilians) with no risk to
themselves. Truly pitiless and pitiful. At the moment these are remotely
controlled – as one report put it “If you’re good at computer games,
you’re in” – so ‘games’ can be preparation for killing. But armed
autonomous robots and robotic weapons are coming soon.
Racist Capital of the Year: Probably not
the Racist Capital of Europe, but it is hard to argue against Belfast being the
Racist Capital of Ireland after last year’s story of Roma being forced out of
where they lived, fearing for their lives . Racism and sectarianism – the
evil bedfellows that haunt us yet.
Lost without Trace Award: The Report of the
Consultative Group on the Past in Northern Ireland, chaired by Robin Eames and
Denis Bradley. Just where did it go to or get lost? Down the kitchen sink? Or
down with the stinking kitsch? And why was it commissioned if it was not going
to be followed up?
Promotion of Democracy Award: The EU
establishment who ensure Ireland always has a double dose of democracy to end
up eventually voting the ‘right’ way, nothing less will do – as in last
year’s second neverendum on Lisbon. As they used to say in Norn Iron –
Vote early, vote often but vote the right way - or else.
High Living Award – As in ‘High Cost
of Living Award’ – it has to be Dublin, which tends to be not only rather
more expensive than elsewhere in the Republic but woefully more expensive than
the North; Dublin was found to be 30% higher on average for common services
including 45% more for the services of a mechanic, and 29% for a dentist.
Well, that completes our Awards ceremony,
and indeeding my Colm for this month. It’s still hard to believe it’s 2010,
ten years after the ‘false’ Millennium (it was a year out, you know). But in
another ten years we’ll have 2020 vision. Anyway, I hope winter starts to
recede in good time this year – there’s enough skating on thin ice
around, figuratively speaking, without adding the real thing. Until we meet
again in a month, I remain your disobedient nonviolent activist, Billy [If
that’s the case, why haven’t you changed your surname to ‘Rebel’ or some such
instead of ‘King’? – Ed] [But anything you King do, I King do better
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).