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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 2012: September 2013

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

So here we are back to the grin(d)stone – grin and bear it. Well, at least we did have a summer in terms of weather this year with that fortnight in July (well, fifteen or sixteen days as it officially made it to drought status in Ireland which is fifteen days without rain) and glorious sunshine. It did wonders in the garden particularly for heat-loving plants like courgettes, petunias and sunflowers which came on in leaps and bounds. So although the rest of the summer was pretty average, the fact of having that period of sunshine made a big difference, practically and psychologically (for me I mean – I can’t and wouldn’t dream of speaking for the courgettes).

I like the weather at this time of year, I can like the weather at any time of year, but seeing school uniforms makes me think of all those autumn schedules and I’m afraid that makes it overall my least favourite time. Once I’m back into harness properly and found my rhythm and routine again, well, it’s not so bad, but getting that far after a more relaxed period in the summer, that I do definitely not enjoy. But you have heard that complaint before from me [Yes, groan – Ed].

I hope you had a good summer break. Mine had lots of different but good bits to it but one small happening I enjoyed was stopping off at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Derry en route to Donegal and catching the Dutch band Harmony Glen on the ‘open’ stage at Shipquay Street. They played a great set to an enthusiastic audience with Irish traditional music and international and contemporary folk. Going Dutch has never been so good.

Wordy landings

It’s always good to add to your vocabulary, and, well, that sense of one-uppersonship that comes with having to explain the word you’re using. My latest is nunatak [Not a violent assault by a religious sister, I presume? – Ed] [Coming from the editor of a publication which is the homonym of ‘Nun Vile End Noose’ that takes the biscuit! – Billy]. A nunatak, from the Inuit word nunataq, indicates a mountainous area which stands uncovered by snow and ice, when all around is white, and thus certain flora may survive there which they could not underneath the snow.

I quite frequently look on Ben Bulben from a distance, that famous and easily recognisable hill or mountain in Co Sligo associated with WB Yeats, and indeed I have walked on top of it a couple of summers ago. I am delighted to learn it was a nunatak during the last ice age (so may have been the area around Clew Bay in Co Mayo). My source? “Secrets of the Irish Landscape”, edited by Matthew Jebb and Colm Crowley, RTE, 2013 (I didn’t see the three part RTE series broadcast in May). What is amazing is that it looks like the sandwort Arenaria ciliata still surviving on Ben Bulben lasted out the last Ice Age thereabouts, and its DNA is really ancient (possibly a million years) and unique to Ireland. But the species of the same plant from the Burren developed a bit more recently (perhaps 100,000 years ago) and has a different DNA.......and it is the parent of plants in Britain, Scandinavia and even Iceland. So Ireland has been exporting flora as well as importing it.

There are many other fascinating aspects to this wonderful book, including its coverage of Ireland’s Lusitanian connection (the Spanish/Portugese peninsula) for flora and fauna, its story of the Burren, turloughs (vanishing lakes in limestone areas), and the Céide Fields among others (the Céide Fields features as No.1 in INNATE’s quiz on nonviolence in Ireland). If anyone thinks the land of Ireland is boring then they are sadly misinformed or ill-informed. The book celebrates the breathtakingly detailed and painstaking survey which Robert Lloyd Praeger engaged in from 1895 onwards.

“I’m not a monster”
This piece was written before the news came through of Ariel Castro’s death, apparently at his own hand. The piece has been left untouched. – Ed.

Ariel Castro, the US rapist, imprisoner of three women and killer of unborn babies, “apologized to his victims in a rambling, defiant statement before he was sentenced. He blamed his sex addiction and others while claiming most of the sex was consensual and that the women were never tortured."These people are trying to paint me as a monster," he said. ‘I'm not a monster. I'm sick.’ “ (Guardian 2/8/13).

Perhaps psychologically, in his own survival mechanism, he believes this, or is trying to make it true because he says it. Indeed, he is not a ‘monster’. The portrayal of such horrible deeds as the work of a ‘monster’ is counterproductive because it sets such people apart, and convinces us that ‘normal’ people could never do such evil deeds. But in many ways he seems to have been a normal guy. That does not mean that he could not inflict appalling cruelty and hurt to others. It does not mean that he should not be held accountable, indeed it makes him even more guilty because he has no excuse. ‘Normal’ people can do all sorts of violent things if circumstances permit; acting ‘abnormally’ does not make you a monster.

Violence and nonviolence are both possibilities for humanity, for you and for me. Nonviolence can be nurtured as well as violence. Unfortunately in this case the man in question used his physical power to imprison and rape young women. He continued because he was getting away with it and once begun the possibility of turning back was remote because of the consequences for him. While there are strong questions about ‘sex addiction’ as a phenomenon, the idea that even if it existed it could justify such actions is ludicrous in the extreme.

Culturally there are questions about the kind of society which could produce such a person, such a man. Unfortunately evidence shows examples of such behaviour from different countries and cultures. Clearly he is not a typical example of a man but it nevertheless raises some unpleasant questions about what men are capable of, just as men are capable of nurturing, caring and compassionate behaviour.

In praise of....walking Walking is considered pedestrian but it should be anything but that. Even the term ‘pedestrian’ used in the sense of everyday, humdrum, boring, is a bit of an insult. Walking is what we do naturally from a year or a year and a bit old but there are so many different ways to do it, it can become an incredible experience. From walking at a slinge pace to brisk, energetic walking, from walking around your home environment to walking by the seaside, on country roads, tracks, across hills, through and around cities, the possibilities are endless.

Walking to work can set you up for the day, walking after work can help you relax and adjust to a different tempo. It can be a means for getting you from a to b, or it can be the way you get your exercise, at any age, or both of these things. At most levels it requires no special equipment beyond what people are likely to have already – a strong pair of shoes or a pair of trainers and, in our environment, a good waterproof coat. Of course if you are doing hill walking you are likely to require more equipment: a good pair of waterproof boots, waterproof trousers, and navigation devices such as a map of the local area and a compass (or mobile phone app to do the same thing). Hill or bog walking can be marvellous in Ireland and is usually save as houses but on hills visibility can change from full to almost nothing in a minute – not the time to realise you are close to cliffs or any kind.

Walking can be done in solitude, with a friend, or in a group, informal or formal. Walking groups exist in many places and some cater for all abilities, and can complement your own walking or be the main focus. The costs involved in most walking groups are very modest and most are run on a non-profit basis.

Walking can also have political and social connotations. It is a great leveller. A walking tour of a city or site of interest is the best way to get a feel for it. Walking as a pilgrimage or spiritual or reflective activity, possibly silent, possibly not, can be a wonderful way to mark an occasion or share a belief or cause. Oftentimes provision can be made for those who are not able-bodied; marching is but an organised form of walking and on 12th July parades in Northern Ireland provision is made for those unable to walk, or walk very far, to travel in the accompanying taxis or cars. The old Pax Christi International Route was a conference that happened ‘on the move’ as people wended their way from different starting points to the final venue, talking about issues on the way (it took place twice in Ireland). Peace pilgrimages on foot, by an individual or group, are common but remarkable; a Buddhist monk walked to the G8 conference site in Fermanagh from Belfast in June. There is something about the pace of walking which makes it different; slow travelling instead of ‘slow food’, deliberate, methodical, dedicated.

Unless there are a horde of you going on an unmaintained route it is also not damaging for the environment. It’s an activity you can engage in from two years old to a hundred. That said, Ireland, Republic or North, is not exactly in the forefront of walking provision in the countryside as it should be both for both natives and visitors and, unfortunately, in some places farmers can hold sway, denying access to routes. I am not saying farmers may not have legitimate concerns about walkers, and most are very accommodating, but they are custodians as well as owners of land and Ireland could use some access legislation like there is in England while still meeting farmers’ needs. No one wants to ‘walk over’ others’ rights but at the moment a few unreasonable land owners can hold out against the rest of the community.

Walking. It’s good for your sole and your soul (however you understand the latter term). The shortest step can be the beginning of the longest journey, literally and metaphorically.

Misc Well, I wish you well as autumn glides on and winter approaches. But it seems strange to think that Seamus Heaney will wield his pen no more - “The Death of a Natural(ist)” - though he worked hard at his craft, he has been such a colossal and benign feature of Irish cultural life for so long that for him not to be around is a bit strange. The affection in which he was held is perhaps best reflected in the three-minute standing ovation at the All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park between Kerry and Dublin.

On another note it was good to hear in July (Irish Times 17/7/13) that social cohesion in Ireland remains strong: “The researchers studied data from 34 countries including 27 members of the EU – before Croatia’s accession – and seven other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. They found the strongest social cohesion in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. After Australia and New Zealand, Ireland belonged to the next-best group. The Irish showed top ratings in the sub-categories of solidarity, helpfulness and strength of social networks but only average ratings regarding overall fairness and civic participation.” Plenty of room for improvement then.

I don’t know if you caught the news in early August that the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry uncovered declassified British government documents revealing the existence of a secret interrogation centre in Ballykelly, Co Derry in the early 1970s. A dozen internees at the time were subjected to various torture techniques but the location of the interrogation centre was previously unknown and it looks like the British authorities misled the European Court of Human Rights on the matter.

Another Northern development over the summer was the DUP effectively pulling the plug on the Peace-building and Conflict Resolution Centre at the Maze/Long Kesh, blaming (or using the excuse of) recent behaviour by Sinn Féin, their partner in OFMDFM. After brazening it out for years against much loyalist and some victim opposition, but presumably with the intent of giving Sinn Féin a quid pro quo, Peter Robinson stated that “"For the centre to be successful in promoting peace and reconciliation, there must be a broad consensus about how it will operate.” Where we go from here is the multi-million dollar question but the whole development had a number of issues needing addressed from a peace sector point of view as the editorial in Nonviolent News 208 explored.

I leave you with a thought about radiation levels at Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, busy leaking vast quantities of water into the sea. Radiation levels had not looked so bad but “Tepco had initially recorded radiation near the tank at about 100 millisieverts an hour, but admitted that this was because the equipment used could only read measurements up to that level.” (Guardian 2/9/13) – the actual level was 18 times that. You couldn’t make it up. This in an extremely advanced technological nation, and they say nuclear power is safe. Unfortunately that dire situation – Fukushima - will run and run for some time yet, aeons actually.

Oh, and as well as ‘Misc’ (the title above) being short for ‘miscellaneous’ it is also an Irish word for mischief. So don’t you be getting up to any of that divilment now, unless it’s in a good cause – 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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