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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 141: July 2006

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Guantanamo Holiday Resort
We don’t normally carry information about holidays and related issues but decided to make an exception in this case. We recently received this press release from Guantanamo Holiday Resort Inc:

Under same management
Gauntanamo Holiday Resort much regrets the deaths of three holidaymakers who participated in unauthorised extreme sports (hanging is only approved up to a point and when we are supervising it, hang-gliding not at all). They knew our strict guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not and we will be suing their relatives for damage done to our good name, when we are able to contact them, of course, as no one has been in touch with them for four years or more. When asked how he was getting along, one resident said “I can’t complain” (there is no truth in the rumour that he muttered under his breath “Because I’m not allowed to”).

“The staff have been very hurt that the care and attention they have lavished on residents should be repaid in this way,” General ‘Uncle’ Sam Packinpower said, continuing that “Our staff are very sensitive souls who have been much hurt by adverse media publicity. All we ask is a little tolerance and understanding. Breaking every international law in the book is tiring and dirty work, you know. Someone has to do it if the world is to be free for US multinational corporations to make money from poor people.”

Guantanamo Holiday Resort Inc, known widely and simply as Guantanamo (enquiries about franchises welcome, particularly from eastern Europe and Asia), has been in existence for over 4 years and these are the first deaths on our premises. We are dedicated to providing a complete experience in secure surroundings where residents will not be troubled by unwelcome distractions. We specialise in experiences which residents may not have had before as we reckon our guests are the adventurous sort. The number of staff which we have on hand to supervise residents and their activities is simply second to none. Our complete care package provides everything which you might require for a tropical stay, even down to toothbrushes and bijou accommodation, whatever rattles your cage. Room service is included in our special package deals. In fact, most of the residents who came reluctantly four years ago because they were persuaded to do so are still with us; they have been unable to tear themselves away and couldn’t leave if they tried. That’s how popular our establishment is – we have built up a worldwide reputation in just four years and have very high brand recognition.

We are working extremely hard to get residents to share with us the names and addresses of their friends and acquaintances so we can persuade them to join us as well. Some people think we’re very exclusive, only for certain nationalities and kinds of people but there is actually no evidence to this effect, in short, there is no evidence. Our clientele are drawn from various countries around the world though it is true that when it comes to religion, we do specialise in facilities for Islamic guests, perhaps you could say we have a special affinity, or is it infinity, for Muslims.

Guantanamo Holiday Resort is a wholly owned subsidiary, and holy integral part, of the USA-registered Life Changing Experiences, the people who brought you ‘Iraqnaphobia’, ‘Aghast at Stan’ and much more. And don’t be concerned about the cost; whoever you are, we’ll make you pay.

Gauntanamo – a place of legends. Come and visit us soon and in no time you’ll be joining in singing our theme song “Guantana-(night)mare-o”. Yes, we can provide a tropical experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your days – however long or short that may be. Guantanamo – the place to be neither seen nor heard. And do remember our proud motto, ‘Arbeit macht frei’, or was that someone else’s?

Contact us or our free “Amo Guantanamo!” stickers and posters!

Cycles of change – and a code of conduct
‘Tis the season to be a cyclist, though I believe that with a bit of expenditure on the right waterproof gear, cycling is a year around love affair. But there is a problem for cyclists. Where do you cycle? If you cycle on the roads in general it’s pretty dangerous and motorists don’t always show the care that they should in overtaking, turning and so on. If you cycle on the path – I mean the footpath where part of it is not designated cycleway – you are likely to annoy pedestrians.

The Northern Ireland Cycling Initiative (NICI) newsletter (May 2006) had a piece complaining about Peter Robinson asking questions about cyclists charged for infringing road regulations (the import was he should have been bothering about other things such as motorists knocking down pedestrians). The same week I received the NICI newsletter there was a letter in the Belly Tele [‘Belfast Telegraph’ – Ed] from a pedestrian who had an arm broken by a hit and run cyclist going on the pavement. There is a problem. In general I don’t believe in cycling on the footpath and take my chances on the road. But I do use the footpath on occasions. When? At a busy junction when I’m coming off a cycle lane but there is a gap before another cycle lane. Or when manoeuvring onto the road is going to take all day and be dicey when I’ve just a short bit to go before turning off. Occasionally, very occasionally, I’ll go on the path to get past bumper to bumper traffic.

Police turn a blind eye to cyclists on the footpath because a) they have other things to do, and b) they know the roads are dangerous. But while motorists and the level of traffic may have forced cyclists onto paths to some extent, there is no excuse for cyclists not giving way to pedestrians completely when on paths or shared spaces.

I would suggest an informal code of conduct for cyclists using the footpath and, indeed, routes through parks and such spaces where cyclists may or may not be legally permitted:
1) Considerate/Non-aggressive cycling – not frightening anyone, as slow as needed, stop or slow up drastically near young children, animals, elderly people or anyone who might become frightened to see someone suddenly bearing down on them.
2) Using the footpath as the exception rather than the norm.
3) Using bicycle lanes when possible. But cyclists have a choice, and if going on a cycle path doesn’t suit they should use the road.
4) In general, respect for pedestrians. Just as some of us are also motorists on occasion, so also almost all of us are pedestrians.

Anyway, it’s the season to be a fair weather cyclist. So get out that rusty old heap, or that beautiful sleek machine that has hardly ever been used, and ‘on your bike’. And remember the first rule of cycling, particularly summer cycling: Keep your mouth closed (unless of course you want to supplement your diet with insects).

But to come back to where I started, with the May 2006 edition of the Northern Ireland Cycling Initiative newsletter. The following relates to the UK but I would surmise the relative cost of cycling/motoring is at least as large, and possibly larger, in the Republic:
“ The cyclist is ‘a guest on roads that are paid for by motorists’ so said the motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson. Every cyclist has heard similar accusations countless times. In fact the opposite is true. In law, cyclists have the right of way on roads; motorists must use them under licence and as studies by Transport 2000 and Leeds University show, it is the cyclist that subsidises the motorist. For every mile a motorist drives, taxpayers subsidise the journey by 21p after taking into account accidents, maintenance and pollution. Rob Ainsley, writing in the London Cyclist, the magazine of the London Cycling Campaign, estimated that costs of cycling on a similar basis amounted to 0.21p per mile. Rob reckoned that this figure did not take into account of [sic) hidden national benefits such as health and savings to the NHS.” So there you have it. Cycle with pride.

Ode to a pound shop
My local ‘pound shop’ has closed down, presumably due to the impending redevelopment of the building it was in. ‘Cheap’ shops continue to flourish but the ‘pound shop’ is a fascinating phenomenon although extinguished earlier in the Republic than in Norn Iron (the Irish pound/punt after it diverged from the British one was usually worth less meaning that purchasing power was less, and then pounds were totally extinguished by Euros which made a ‘pound’ shop something of a misnomer). Anyway, I’m not sure many people write odes to a pound shop, so, as I often undertake tasks no one else will do, I decided I would do this serious and sensitive task [sounds a bit ode-ious to me – Ed] [your pun-ishment is worse – Billy].

In for a penny, in for a pound
Now they’ve gone and shut you down.
What’s the neighbourhood coming to?
Where will I get my useless glue?
My cheap and cheerful tools and bits
That bend and break after just a little,
Tapes for ducts and ducks and drakes,
Spices and ates for your bake,
Christmas presents from young kids -
To get things now, they’ve got the skids.
So redevelopment has got you too,
No more plastic flowers or paper for loo,
A bit less plastic coming from China,
And ornamental yellows rhinos
(I’m exaggerating now, it’s true,
But zillions of things I cannot pursue).
War toys and guns would make an appearance,
But the post office sells them with a vengeance.
Inflation hit and a pound bought less,
It was still a wonder, I do confess.
In your place, a shopping mall
And prices vast, beyond the pale
And faces matching, I do say.
Is nothing sacred, is nothing saved?
You’ll not live to see another day.
Your goods produced for very little,
A surviving wage, and lots of spittle,
Toiling away in terrible conditions,
But exploited less than some. I wager.
So will you have a wake to mourn?:
Admission, well, it’s just one pound.

[I would suggest keeping the day job – Ed] [That’s all right, I can take a pounding – Billy]

No one likes to be made a muggins. So when I saw graffiti on a hoarding at the Beersbridge Road, Belfast, advising that “Muggins in East Belfast is totally unexceptable” (except it was in capitals which I will spare you), I thought, how right. ‘Muggins’ is English slang, probably related to being a ‘mug’ and certainly dating well back into the 19th century. Making a mug of people is unfair. And ‘unexceptable’, the writer hardly meant ‘unexceptional’, presumably ‘unacceptable’. So I agree.

Oh, but what is the following sentence? “Those caught will be severely dealt with”. Ah, so it’s not ‘muggins’ at all but ‘muggings’, making three spelling or grammatical errors in the one sentence. Now, I certainly don’t agree with muggings, robberies committed against individuals perhaps with violence or the threat of violence, but nor do I support vigilante/paramilitary action ‘severely dealing’ with muggers.

I wondered then about the writer. Certainly not well educated or shall I say highly literate in English unless ‘he’ has one of the many forms of dyslexia – the odd error in public pronouncements is common but three in one sentence is pushing it. I make the presumption that the writer was male. I wonder whether he is a political activist, political-community activist, paramilitary fellow traveller or one of these as well as disgruntled citizen whose great aunt was mugged on the way back from the post office, her bag grabbed, or threatened with a knife. I feel a short story coming on, “The intelligent but poorly educated young Billy was on the fringes of an organisation with three letters”….. [That’s enough – Ed] [I wouldn’t want you to think I’m portraying the graffiti writer as a muggins – Billy] [OK, point made, enough – Ed]

The relatively constant gardener
Am I a constant gardener? Well, fairly, except when lack of time prevents engagement or the invasive, perennial weeds we have get me down. But I was looking at my large, red, oriental poppies recently, and very pretty they were (they don’t last too long), and I sometimes gaze incessantly at some amazing and beautiful indication of nature, and wonder at nature’s cooperation with me as a gardener. I do take satisfaction in a good display of colour or of vegetables and fruit for the pot or the plate.

But I also reflected on a constancy with the political part of my life. Yes, I like success (as they say, nothing succeeds like a parrot with an injured beak). But that’s not where I’m at, primarily. On the Bill Moyer Movement Action Plan [see ‘Workshop on strategising’ in Workshops section of the INNATE website – Ed] I ‘am’ a one to a three. That is, I ‘like’ picking up issues no one else is dealing with, running with them, struggling to get the issue the public attention it deserves, battering my head against brick walls. Maybe I enjoy the righteous indignation of it all. And when something starts to be successful? [Has it ever happened with you? – Ed] [Once in the occasional blue moon – Billy] Then I’m quite happy to hand it over to others, I’ve passed the baton, done my bit.

So, while I enjoy and take pride in something which has grown well in my garden, it’s the planning and the nurturing to the stage of success which interest me most. Though if there wasn’t the end result, and my brassicas always got cabbage root fly and shrivelled, my courgettes were always eaten by slugs, well, I would soon give up all but the most basic gardening. It is the challenge, the hope of a better future, in gardening as in life, that drives me on.

May a thousand flowers bloom. May a thousand projects likewise.

Putting the wind up you
Ken Loach’s latest film ‘The wind that shakes the barley’, is a powerful exploration of violence at a particular place and time; Ireland during the War of Independence and the Civil War. Other commentators have drawn parallels with Iraq. Some British commentators have accused it of a calumny of crimes, being pro-IRA, anti-British, akin to Nazi propaganda (I think a certain amount of this even before the film was released or seen). Others have accused it of portraying the British as the source of all violence; there is a debateable point here but if that is in any sense true then it portrays the Irish (and both sides in the Civil War) as learning (the same methods) fast. I think the simple starting point of the film may give this impression but, it has to be said, Britain was the big imperial power.

It’s a powerful and often honest film – not least in showing Irish-on-Irish violence as well as British-on-Irish. It is often not easy to watch in the sense that it is discomforting. There are a few historical quibbles I would have or make. I have no issue with Ken Loach’s socialism but think he may portray the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War as possessing a radicalism and socialism it did not have since, as I understand it, by far the greatest issue was the republican one of breaking all connections with Britain. One character speaks about local councils having switched allegiance to the Dáil in Dublin (actually an important nonviolent move in the nationalist struggle) but the impression given is certainly that ‘all’ councils have done so whereas only those in nationalist-controlled councils did so, an important distinction given the impending partition of Ireland.

I’m not going to discuss the film in depth but it is well worth watching; powerful, violent (certainly not ‘violence as entertainment’), discomforting, challenging about what was being set up for Ireland in the rest of the 20th century. The primary character, Damien, felt he had not chosen to be involved but was forced to be, and remains true to his ideals and what that entails. The possibility of nonviolent methods of struggle does not appear anywhere (aside from the mention of councils’ allegiances, mentioned above) which is a realistic assessment of how things were. We, as commentators the best part of a century later, as nonviolent activists, might understand other possibilities but the protagonists did not. I wonder, on the island of Ireland, North and South, East and West, how much more knowledgeable we are about the possibilities of nonviolent struggle in the 21st century? Despite the Troubles and commitments to work peacefully and constitutionally, I regret that the answer may be, ‘not a lot’.
- - - - - -

And that’s me until after the summer, oh, what an ominous phrase. Make the most of it because, come September, it will be felt to have gone by in a flash. Flash. See you sooner. And in the meantime, if you prefer soca to soccer, or don’t know which way a football is up, don’t grin and bear it, grin and ignore it and get on with all the other things in your life - Billy.

Who 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).

Copyright INNATE 2021