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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 266: February 2019

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Well, hello again as January 2019 has slid away to oblivion, which is where most people like Januarys to have slid. Despite a cold spell recently (the witch or warlock concerned was locked out of their house), the winter has been relatively mild to date. My barometer for the first ‘hard frost’ of the winter is the nasturtiums in the garden which only go to mush when they hit -2°C or so, and that only happened at the very end of January in my neck of the woods.

The empire comes home to roost
I am certainly not the first commentator to speak on this area, nor will I be the last, but I will do so anyway. The Irish border issue has been a key factor in the debacle that is UK decision making on its relationship, or lack of it, to the EU. This has exasperated many British people who have felt the Irish had no right to affect the Destiny of a Nation in such a way. How ironic this all is given the effect of British policies in Ireland in the past and even the present.

The recent Troubles in Northern Ireland were seen as a drain and a drag in Britain but they did not fundamentally affect the nature of British politics. Yes, from a British point of view the violence and unrest in Norn Iron required a certain amount of attention, had a cost in lives and money and security policy (whether that was right or wrong), and were something which had to be dealt with when after partition and until 1969 Britain had been pleased to be able to ignore the North. However the Troubles did not fundamentally alter the nature of British politics; there were hawks and doves in both the major parties, and British secretaries of state and their minions were relatively good or bad fairly irrespective of party background.

In Britain partition in Ireland had been seen as ‘a solution’, the end of the ‘Irish’ problem. The nineteenth century and the early twentieth had of course seen Irish politics impinging on British parliamentary politics as the nationalist movement flexed its constitutional muscles. After partition Britain thought all that had been left behind. The ‘Irish’ issue of course stemmed from Britain’s colonialist venture in Ireland, and I speak as someone who, on my male line, comes from planter stock previous to the Ulster plantation.

But here we are towards the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century and Irish politics is still impinging on British politics in a major way. As indicated, there are many in Britain who feel it has ‘no right’ to do so. But as frequently mentioned before in these pages and elsewhere, in relation to border issues the power relationship of 27 (including Ireland) v. 1 (Britain) is a scenario that British politicians had largely not analysed or they might have had more realistic expectations of what Brexit might achieve for them in negotiations; their attempt to ‘divide and rule’ failed.

There has also been appalling misunderstanding in Britain of some their nearest neighbours. Most people in the Republic are well disposed towards Britain – although this does not mean that self interest, or the desire to preserve peace in Ireland, will be set aside. The idea that the ‘backstop’ is being used to punish the UK for leaving is arrogant and insular nonsense, likewise the idea that it is being ‘weaponised’ by the Irish government to bring about a united Ireland. There are no easy answers to the problems that exist given both side’s red lines, and a Northern Ireland Minister admitted in the House of Commons that there is no ‘off the shelf’ technological solution available (having studied many different countries) for avoiding a hard border in the event of a divergent Brexit; if Brexiteers wanted to continue down that route then they have a lot of work to do to come up with A Detailed Plan, which they have so far not done.

However the origin of the problem lies in Britain’s past and the outworking of the British colonial legacy in Ireland. The problem of overcoming the issue of the border in Ireland is a direct result of British or English actions over the centuries, in particular the seventeenth century Plantation of Ulster. Of course all this has been mitigated by many factors on all sides in the period since. But if people in the UK want to blame anyone for issues to do with ‘the Irish backstop’ and border then they should look to history and the actions of their forefathers. The (British) empire has indeed come home to roost. It is not going away just yet.

Litter bugger
While I object to litter being thrown in the streets, or anywhere else, I would not usually confront someone engaged in the act of littering. This is for a variety of reasons, and it is only one, fairly minor, form of anti-social behaviour. ‘How will people react?’ is certainly one thought that would colour my response, or if I am in a hurry I would let it go, or it does not feel worth it, or wonder how people would react to an old fogey like me. However recently I ran out to ‘the road’ on my bicycle in the early evening, already well dark, to get something in a shop. As I was going to lock my bike to a post I saw a man in the driver’s seat of a car immediately beside me throw out some litter onto the street. ‘OK, here goes’ I said to myself and I knocked on his window and said I objected to people throwing litter from cars. I was polite but firm.

His response was to ask if I was so clean myself, to which I replied that I didn’t throw litter in the streets. I certainly didn’t want to get into an argument about who was holier. He did pick up the litter he had thrown immediately before – but not eight or so smaller pieces which looked like car park pay and display tickets crumpled up – he indicated that these were not his when almost certainly they were (they had evidently just been deposited there or the wind, or his car pulling up, would have scattered them) – as I had not seen him actually throw them out of the car I didn’t make an issue of it.

His further challenge to me was “Do you live here?” which is fascinating. My accent, not being local, might have meant I lived elsewhere. Of course he was being defensive and believing that attack is the best means of defence but the idea that someone is not entitled to criticise a litterer because they don’t live locally is an interesting one – when some people from ‘further away’ might be much more horrified than I was at his action.

He was a man of about 50 years of age. He should have known better from when he was a tenth of his age. His response was to lie (about the other litter he denied was his), to imply ‘everyone does it’ (“Are you so clean then?”), as well as to try to insinuate my comment was invalid because I might not live locally. This was probably a fairly typical response from someone who knew what they were doing was wrong but they would do it anyway because they were entitled to do it. Would he think better next time? A very small chance, though he may check better whether anyone will see him or is likely to give out to him as a result. And while he was sitting there in his car waiting for someone in the convenience store, or whatever reason he had for being there, he could have made a nice neat pile, got out and put it in a nearby rubbish bin, or sorted it and taken it home and binned it there, either course not involving much additional effort. Keep her lit(ter).

Composing compost
While we try not to waste food, any food waste – including potato peelings and the like – as well as other garden rubbish goes in our compost heap which is adorned with a ‘pound shop’ slate sign saying ‘Trespassers will be composted’. As veggies we don’t have meat products which could particularly attract rodents. Most people may not have the space to have their own compost heap or bin but if you do it is a great example of nature at work; ours turned into a wormery by the migration and breeding of worms, and that makes it even better. We have two together; one fully decomposing with material not added from about November to be ready in spring, and one to which material is being added from one November to the next. The worms migrate of their own volition from one pile to the other through spaces I left in the wall between the two heaps. Other plant matter from the garden, including weeds that haven’t yet seeded (or the seed heads removed) and unwanted plants get added.

The amazing thing is that the ‘new’ heap usually looks bigger/higher than the ‘old’ but as it rots it reduces to a small fraction of the space.You can also compost a small amount of paper – a good way to dispose of relatively confidential documents that you don’t want to put in your recycling bin – once covered in kitchen waste it would be a brave person who would go looking at them, and they will be quickly illegible. And because all this ‘waste’ is not wasted, it helps to grow the next season’s veg and flowers. So even with a small garden or tubs in a yard, a compost bin is a must, and there should be no musty smell either.

The not raving raven
The poet Padraic Fiacc (born name O’Connor) died recently. His life and significant work had been celebrated in Belfast at an event less than a year ago; his gritty imagery and remarkable life on both sides of the Atlantic make him a fascinating figure. While not to everyone’s taste (and few poets are) it may be that his uncompromising dealing with the Troubles will help to keep his work in the mind of many.

But poetry is a fascinating occupation because bad or mediocre poetry allows you to be silently or not-so-silently vilified - or more likely simply ignored - and just a few make it to be national figures. Few countries have a poet who becomes a national hero like Pablo Neruda in Chile but if you do make it into popular consciousness, like Seamus Heaney, then your presence is nigh on ubiquitous.

I once, many moons ago, saw Padraic Fiacc in the grocery section of my local Dunnes Stores. So moved was I by this event that I wrote an epic ode to mark the occasion:
“I saw a poet
Shopping in Dunnes,
I presume for bread
And not for puns.”

I am awaiting the plaudits and a prestigous job as Poet in Residence at some lauded institution. How is that for pathos? [Bathos you mean, and that ‘Residence’ is likely to be a ruined building with no roof. Don’t give up the day job, Billy – Ed]


Well, that’s it for me for now. We live in fluid political times as Brexit reaches towards its denouement/climax/nadir/insert your own phrase here. The perception on different sides is not only that it is a bad idea to blink first, but that blinking first might lead to pressure for further blinking concessions so it is better to stare resolutely ahead. The problem with that is that it is not going to get A Result apart from the dreaded Special No Deal Brexit with all the trimmings.

Poker and mediative processes are different things entirely; I’m not saying Brexit discussions are a ‘mediative process’ but it all needs an element of that to get something over the line. Though it may be worth remembering both Havelock Ellis who said “Progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another”, and Eugene Ionescu who said “You can only predict things after they have happened.” See you in a month, 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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