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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Here we are and spring feels within our reach, there has been some great weather in February, perhaps scaringly so in relation to global warming. However it should be noted March can be cold, and March 1937 was almost completely frozen [You remember it well then, Billy? – Ed].
Yew must be yoking: Nuclear waste for Newry?
If you wanted a laugh at an improbable scenario, it is that Newry could be used as a storage area for British nuclear waste; see The Irish Times of 7/2/19 https://tinyurl.com/y6gl887f “An area of granite bedrock near Newry may be suitable for a geological disposal facility (GDF), according to a recent preliminary report .....The area of rock stretches from Slieve Gullion to the Mourne mountains. Geological disposal sites hold radioactive waste hundreds of metres underground, and there are no current facilities in Northern Ireland.”
It does go on to say that “The British government’s current preference is that one facility would service the entire UK” and “Any future facility would need the support of the local community before it could be approved.” Clearly it is really a community relations plot to get all the people – Catholic, Protestant and others - of the area fully united - against this prospect. Yew have to laugh at the improbability of it. Not even ardent loyalists are going to demand a share of this British pile.
Using your noodle
As readers may remember, I occasionally share recipes and food tips, and there is a collection of my pieces put together in a pamphlet entitled Vegetarian & Vegan Cuisine on the INNATE website partly because a largely plant-based diet is an essential ingredient in not getting burnt in the global warming oven. Anyway here is another recipe giving my take on a wholecome Asian/Thai-influenced noodle dish or noodle soup. It is very easy to do but the different bits to it mean it does take some time to prepare.
Allow enough noodles for however many you are cooking for; if you use egg-free noodles this recipe is vegan. You will need good soup stock; you can use vegetable water and add onion stock cubes, bouillon and some finely chopped garlic, ginger and chilli which you boil in the stock for five or ten minutes. I use a whole, dried, homegrown very hot chilli which I boil in the stock and remove in its entirety when the stock has infused enough spicy hotness from it but you can chop up a small amount of your usual red chilli, according to taste, and leave it in. You will need a minimum of 300ml of stock per person, another half or more again if you want the result more soupy; it is a matter of personal choice. I would sometimes add some dried yeast extract (Engevita) for added richness and flavour – do this at the end if you want to preserve the full nutritional value of it, but of course there are lots of other things you can add or use including miso or lemon grass.
There is also tofu goes in this dish, and that provides protein. I would use 6 – 10 cubes of about 1½ cm size per person. You can use a firm tofu ‘as is’ or fry it – but as I often fry up tofu for it to last longer, or the leftover part from some I am not immediately using, I might have some to hand that I can chop up to the right size. Frying adds a bit more texture to the tofu.
Meanwhile prepare chopped scallions or chives, corriander or parsley, and toasted chopped peanuts. I would suggest allowing one to two tablespoons full of each per person. As corriander refuses to grow satisfactorily for me, and would not be around in the winter in my herb tubs anyway, I usually use parsley. Chop all these ingredients. Chopping peanuts is slow because they tend to slip away from under the knife so you could briefly grind them in a food processor if you liked – but you want very small bits, not powder. Then toast the chopped peanuts on a heavy pan, dry, for five or ten minutes under a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they have gone a bit golden brown.
For the final ingredient, for something crispy on top of the dish, I use bought fine fried and dried onion (this is lightly battered and can be bought cheaply in the Asian store I go to). But you can use something like broken papadoms.
When your ingredients are ready, cook your noodles, I cook them separetely to the soup stock for ease of dishing out but you could also cook them in the stock. Heat your stock with the tofu in it so both are hot. Pour the stock and tofu into good sized soup bowls. Add your portion of noodles. Scatter the scallions/chives, corrainder/parsley, and chopped toasted peanuts around the outside of the noodles. Add your fried onion or broken papadom on top. Sit down and enjoy, and any visitors we have had who have partaken have also greatly enjoyed it.
I would tend to use a fork and a spoon to eat it but that is open to personal discretion and if it is less soupy the liquid may get absorbed so just a fork will do. It is a very tasty dish, a good stock and the fresh herbs along with the toasted peanuts and the crispy onion or popadom make it delicious.
Monitoring the Peace Monitoring
I have been reading the latest Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report (No.5) which, as usual, is a bumper bundle, crammed full of facts and statistics. We mentioned it in the news section of Nonviolent News 266 but my coverage here is intended as a slightly more in depth, if impressionistic, look at some things which particularly stoked my interest, and this is without going into many areas it covers such as dealing with the past. Because it is over two hundred pages, A4, crammed with information and satistics it is impossible to summarise – it is itself a summary of research and statistics. It can be found in the Publications section of the NICRC website at www.community-relations.org.uk
The first comment is to quote that old saying that if you are not confused you don’t know what is happening. Some things in Northern Ireland are going in the ‘right’ direction, such as the decreasing number of incidents of violence. But the lack of political progress is hampering a move forward on a variety of areas including social issues and community relations. The achievements under the T:BUC community relations plan are quite modest and, I would say, the plan is itself pathetically inadequate to meet the North’s needs. But then you come across a survey statistic (p.177) which states that 78% of people would prefer to live in mixed religion neigbourhoods; most people may not act on this, they may be unable to act on it, but something like this does give you hope. And the sense of happiness and wellbeing is quite high (p.21, p.171) relatively speaking.
One of the political themes which has emerged since the breakdown of government in Northern Ireland and Brexit is the possibility of a united Ireland, or at least of a ‘border poll’ – which could, of course, depending how it takes place, be a very divisive time. One confusing factor has been wildly different figures as to the number of people who now support a united Ireland (44% and 45% in two polls). A kernel of sense creeps into this matter by the reference to the fact that some surveys were done face-to-face, and some remotely, giving very different figures (p.53).
Two other surveys, including the Life and Times Survey, which does have a good reputation for accuracy, gave 2017-18 survey figures of only 21% or 22% supporting unification – figures which would have been close to the previously thought norm. These two surveys were conducted face-to-face, the other two showing 44% and 45% support for unification used on-line research.
Which figures are correct? The ones face-to-face or the ones done remotely? Your guess is as good, or better, than mine. Normally face-to-face is more likely to be accurate but where people are worried about giving the ‘wrong’ impression (and this happens in surveys) they may not speak their mind. Given the high level of flux in Brexit and its aftermath I would think no one can be categorical, and speaking anecdotally there do seem to be a lot of previous ‘remainers’ (for Northern Ireland staying in the UK!) who would seriously consider joining the state south and west of the border. We must await further developments, as they say. Meanwhile the report does draw attention to the complications and confusion over citizenship and rights after Brexit (p.51).
Northern Ireland has some major problems outside of sectarianism and the political divide. For example, while it has low unemployment it has a high level of economic inactivity (p.25, p.151). The number of long term sick and disabled at 10% is double that in Britain, and the trend since 2013 has been upward. Perhaps this is a legacy of the Troubles but it is a very concerning one.
Racism is always concerning but white-on-white racism seems even more perplexing in terms of motivation. Given the relatively low level of people in Northern Ireland of ethnicities other than white ones, the majority of racist crimes (p.98) are indeed white-on-white, with Polish, Baltic and Portugese people presumably being the main victims. Sectarian motivated crimes have shown a steady decline with 694 recorded by the police in 2016/17. There were 4 attacks on church buildings in 2017-18 and eleven on Orange or Apprentice Boys halls. This amounts to about one attack a month on ‘symbolic’ premises in 2017-18 whereas there was a recorded peak of 11 a month in 2009-10 (p.99).
In something as well researched and put together as the Peace Monitoring Report there might be a very occasional bit that you do not understand but you would be hard pressed to find any mistakes or even interpretations which could not be stood over (even if you did not particularly agree). While the issue is gone into in more depth elsewhere in the report, I did disagree with the expression (p.41) that Theresa May was “forced” into a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP. She chose to go into this arrangement of her own free will as the easiest option available to her to stay in power after a disastrous general election for her in June 2017. The possible negative ramifications for Northern Ireland of this arrangement were obviously not a major issue for her.
But I should say in conclusion that the Peace Monitoring Report is a hugely impressive and valuable document and a tribute to the compilers, publishers and funders. You have no excuse for being ill-informed as to where things are at in Norn Iron.
I was previously unaware of Pendle Hill Pamphlets www.pendlehill.org and not being a Quaker as well as living on the east side of the Atlantic pond there was probably no reason why I should. However No.451 in their pamphlet series is “Humanity in the face of Inhumanity” by Sue Williams (published last year, 2018), and was brought to my attention and I had a chance to read it.
For those who don’t know her, Sue Williams is an amazingly experienced mediator and conflict-dealer. She and her late husband Steve were the representatives at Quaker House in Belfast from 1987-1991. In this short pamphlet she looks at some experiences she has had of ‘humanity in the face of inhumanity’, people of all sorts – ‘ordinary’ people/civilians, soldiers, bureaucrats – who acted with courage and concern in situations where they need not have done so, and some where they were literally laying their life on the line to act in the way they did in defence of others, their wellbeing and rights. It includes examples from Northern Ireland.
I am not going to go into all the different stories which are intentionally very varied. I will share one however which speaks loudly in terms of perseverance. In war torn Uganda in 1985 there were six armies fighting for control. In this situation normal services had broken down, including the postal service. So when Sue and Steve Williams were going to one badly affected area, they brought mail with them, and agreed to bring outward mail back when leaving.
An elderly man approached them with a shoe box which he wanted brought out containing meteorological readings for the previous fifteen years, the period since they had last been able to be collected. He didn’t know how long he could continue doing this task. The reader of this story might get a sense of dedication – it was long ago since he was paid for doing this job – and perseverance, but also perhaps futility, for what use could all these readings be after such a long time?
Sue and Steve Williams did indeed manage to deliver the box of meteorological readings to the right place. But instead of it being a triumph of bureaucratic uselessness, the recipient considered it extraordinary – “This will enable us to complete the picture of data for a region that has been a complete blank for so long. It will help us predict things like locust cycles, which destroy crops.”
Somehow this story made me feel emotional about the dedication of a man who kept doing what he could in extraordinary circumstances, well beyond what anyone might have considered ‘reasonable’, and it was of wider significance. There is a lesson there for us all, including peacemakers, because the drip, drip, drip of water can indeed affect even stone.
There is one other sentence in the pamphlet which I wanted to comment on, this is where Sue Williams says “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but humanity.” This is difficult to grasp. The statement here comes at the end of the story of a street kid in Haiti who had nothing but shared the nothing he had. My understanding or interpretation of this is that the misery and violence inflicted on individuals by poverty does not have an opposite in the accumulation of wealth, but rather in the humanity of sharing and the treatment of all human beings as worthy of dignity. Unfortunately this learning is not well understood in today’s world; I don’t want to imply it was previously well understood but the growing economic inequality today seems to indicate it is more of a problem today than in recent decades.
Incidentally, a 1991 article by Sue Williams, “A personal view of nonviolence” appears in Dawn Train No.10 which is on the INNATE website at www.innatenonviolence.org and a 1990 interview with Steve and Sue Williams in Dawn Train No.9 is at www.innatenonviolence.org
Before I sign off I should note that the failure of the Trump-Kim North Korean denuclearisation talks, while regrettable, probably means the end of Donald Trump’s personal dream of a Nobel Peace Prize, at least for the moment. Trump also showed himself someone who is a very poor negotiator, not so much ‘the art of the deal’ as ‘the inability to stay on a sensible even keel’. As for his dream, a Nobel Prize for Trump would have had the world in laughter and amazement - but then it has previously gone to a mass murderer like Henry Kissinger, and more recently to Barack Obama before he had done anything (and before he succeeded in doing very much on an issue like nuclear weapons).
That’s me for another month, I’ll see you at the start of April – which is on meteorological records the driest month in Ireland. See you soon, Billy.
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).