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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 184: November 2010

[Back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

I hope you’re in good form as the real winter comes in. It has been an interesting year in the garden with the cold winter/early spring, with an effect on many plants, e.g. our chives of different kinds had a more major flowering/going to seed later on that in the early summer, the opposite of the norm. And our red hot pokers started flowering late and then a big number of flower heads came together.

We have already had a number of frosts, not very hard, though hard enough to turn the courgette plants to mush but not hard enough to take all the leaves off the lilac. In recent years we might not have had frosts until well in November – twenty or thirty years ago there were always frosts in October in our neck of the woods.

Winter cycling, and a Paisley joke
I return [you are always returning and indeed recycling – Ed] to the topic of cycling, and winter cycling in particular. I enjoy winter cycling, even if it’s only commuting to work, partly because it brings you into contact with the built and natural environment in a way that is often lacking in winter. But you do need a certain amount of kit for winter cycling – certainly in the dark and/or dark days, and I list it below. Altogether it’s a fair bundle and a fair cost but you can start with the essentials, beginning with visibility and working up to comfort. But compromising on safety is never advisable.

Safety: A reflective belt and/or reflective vest is wise even in daylight and even on the brightest days a driver can be unsighted by low sunlight, or simply not look. But in the dark good reflective gear is a must. There’s a wide variety to choose from. I also wear white trainers on the bike as additional reflection. In the dark – I kid you not – I either wear or have on the bike a total of four lights, two front and two back. I now use a forehead mounted light which probably illuminates me more than anything around me – exactly what I want – as well as a front cycle light which I may have in flash mode. On the back of the bike I have a red bike light and a flashing light on my backpack. Given my experience over the last year of drivers not seeing me, even when well lit up, this is the minimum I would venture out with, as well as a helmet on my head.

Comfort: A good, warm, breathable jacket and trousers are advisable if you are travelling any distance with any regularity. These will set you back considerably, e.g. £140/€200 for the jacket, rather less for the trousers. But the jacket will do for cold and wet weather walking as well. Gloves are a matter of personal choice: you can see what are available in the bike shop, use ordinary gloves, or, as I do, ski gloves which are not only weatherproof but superbly warm. I wear white trainers almost always for cycling, changing into shoes if I need at the far end (and have a pair of ‘office shoes’ waiting me). If the weather is really wet I use wellington/water boots under my waterproof trousers; guaranteed 100% dry at the far end.

I wish you safe cycling, whatever the time of year, and may the wind always be at your back.

And finally the Paisley joke. This one probably stretches back thirty or so years when Ian Paisley would have held a demonstration or a gospel meeting, or both at the same time, at the drop of a hat, particularly in Belfast but in other parts of the Wee North as well. So he was known around and about for doing this kind of thing. But one day he is seen in the centre of Belfast, just standing there, with a bicycle over his shoulder. He is not saying anything. So someone goes up and asks what he is doing, and he responds in his usual booming voice, “I would have thought it should be clear - I am holding a Raleigh”!

Island bopping
Was at the Paul Brady concert in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast as part of ‘the Festival’ when he was accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra. I thought most of it worked very well but then Brady is a good musician. And he had the sense not to have them accompany him on some songs such as The Island. We heard a range of material including a very beautiful piece, Mother and Son, written after the recent death of his mother. I’m not going to enter the debate about the Traditional v Rock etc versions of Brady, there is nothing to contradict, simply different genres and we can like or dislike songs from either (I would tend towards the more acoustic and traditional Brady but the more traditional songs he did at the gig all seemed to be about soldiers!).

You can still see comments on the web today attacking The Island in the context of the times. So perhaps you can imagine how traitorous this was seen to the republican military machine at the time it came out, 1985. But the questions he asked then are the ones that deserved to be asked; Would “the twisted wreckage down on main street bring us all together in the end’? Was “young boys dying in the ditches what being free is all about”? Those who attack the song have not answered the questions he raises, even yet.

Political evolution
A piece in the Irish Times, 14/10/10, by Dick Ahlstrom, on political evolution, was based on a piece in Nature, summarised as “Political structures evolve in much the same way as biological species, according to new research. And just as species can decline and vanish without warning, unstable political groupings can also degrade and disappear……The international research team from Japan, the UK and New Zealand showed how it could build “family trees” for emerging political structures to map out their evolutionary development…..Interestingly, these results indicate that political evolution, like biological evolution, tends to proceed through small steps rather than through major jumps in ‘design space’,” they say. They also found, however, that retrograde steps do not have to progress on this “sequential” basis and can come apart more quickly than they are assembled over time.”

I suppose it depends on whether you take all this in a deterministic way or not. Was the Russian Revolution a departure from, or a confirmation, of this theory? Did the growth of Stalinism merely reproduce and amplify the worst aspects of Tsarism? How would you apply this theory to politics, North and South? In the North following the Good Friday Agreement, politics, and republican politics, was very slow to move on leaving space for a loyalist backlash against changes. The Good Friday Agreement may have been one step but the system it set up needs to take some further steps in terms of democratic decision-making and accountability. The question is how this can be done when politics remains seen as a two-community zero sum game.

In the Republic, the conservative and clientelist nature of politics, which emerged very soon after the setting up of the Free State, has not served the people well. While economic growth did eventually come – again, arguably, the Republic playing catch-up with most of the rest of Europe – a significant proportion of the gains were squandered through developers, the banks, and their government cronies (not setting limits on the property boom but encouraging it through tax breaks). As bail out has followed bail out, and the prospect of a bailout for the state beckons, nothing has fundamentally changed in the nature of politics except the distrust which has grown among ordinary citizens. A step forward in terms of choice and accountability, and away from clientelism (politicians getting elected on the basis of promoting individual’s interests in relation to the state, as opposed to receiving services as a right) is essential. But who will take that step? Fianna Fáil is sure to gets its comeuppance at the next general election in the Republic but whether the other parties would have done better remains a good question.

Unfortunately, political evolution in Ireland cannot be said to be at an advanced stage. But let’s see what steps can be taken because otherwise, North and South, we will continue to experience stunted opportunities for all our people.

The lateness
Nonviolent News manages, most of the time, to come out in the first week of the month but the Headitor has asked me to explain that the late arrival this month was occasioned by his having what he called Groundhog Day Flu. He called it that because when he woke each morning for nine days his head felt exactly as it had the day before. I wouldn’t give the ould divil the satisfaction of commiserations but I said I’d mention it.

You do know, too, of course, that Nonviolent News is not produced in a modern production plant by a nonviolent army of elves or even by what a West Belfast peace and community worker, Sean Cooney, used to refer to as “the leprechauns – the people close to the ground!”. It is done, as with all INNATE work, on a voluntary basis by a gang of slave labour – only kidding, if you are allowed kid about such things, stop that phrase at “on a voluntary basis”. We don’t get paid to work here. In fact himself (the Ed) says we should pay to work here. Strange old world isn’t it. Reminds me of the old US peace movement adage – “You’ll know peace has come when community groups have all tunding they need – and the navy has to hold a bake sale to fundraise for their new warship.”


That’s me for now. This is November so a certain mid-winter festival, of both religious and secular significance, is fast approaching but I cannot bear to utter the term before December. Anyway, I wish you good health and good endurance as that season starts to encroach – I enjoy it when I get there but getting there is another story. See you in December, 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).

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