Billy King

BILLY KING: RITES AGAIN

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts [and the worst puns in town – Ed]

Well hello again, and welcome to you, April is usually the driest month in Ireland so it is (I hope this year too) a great time to be out and about. And if you are out and about, literally or metaphorically, I do hope you understand that the shortest distance between two points is the way that you want to go – and not a straight line, unless of course you decide that a straight line is the way you want to go. Going in a straight line, on anything, can be tedious; going in the way you want to go can be effortless and joyful. May a thousand crooked lines blossom.

Once upon a time

Once upon a time there was a country, part of an island, that was divided. And in the smaller part of that country there was further division between people. They could not agree and they could not agree to disagree, so they often killed each other, or forced people to flee from their homes, or did other horrible things to each other. Even when the killing stopped there was still pain and disagreement, and the people suffered because no way forward could be agreed on many things which needed agreement to proceed. The people In Control, at the top, added to the problems and indeed some had been involved in the fighting and killing.

When the killing had stopped inside this place, weapons of war were still made, and some of the people In Control gave more money to build new and more efficient weapons of war so other people could be killed elsewhere in the world, and so those In Control could go to war when they wanted. They called this peace. It was not peace. It was a shocking insult to anyone who respects peace and what has to be done for peace. It was really war. But, as we all know, war is peace, and money and jobs, no matter how terrible their product, are all that matters. This is what is positive in life. We should roll over and accept it.

Weapons of mass distraction

Things have certainly changed massively in a few decades in how news and views are disseminated. Social media means you can get news ‘out there’ even when the established ‘mass’ media ignore you – though the concomitant danger is when people only pay attention to the social media they agree with and ignore everything else. In this latter situation we arrive, as in the USA, at people in the same place living in parallel universes. [Sure Norn Iron has had parallel galaxies for hundreds of years – Ed]

However my comments on social media are a preface to asking some questions about the mass media in relation to a couple of recent peace actions in Belfast. The mass media still have inordinate influence. Both actions, deliberately (because of Covid), were small actions by a few people. The first took place at PSNI headquarters in Belfast on 22nd January 2021 when the TPNW/Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons kicked in to international law; see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50862311953/in/dateposted/ The second was St Patrick protesting about military drone production at Spirit AeroSystems on 17th March 2021 (as mentioned in a news items in this issue); see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/51046065166/in/dateposted/

Press releases went out to ‘all’ the media, including broadcast. Five photographers turned up at the nuclear disarmament event. News items subsequently appeared in “The Irish News” and the “Andersonstown News”; this seemed to fit the Norn Iron stereotype of criticism of the British state only appearing in CNR/Catholic, Nationalist, Republican outlets but you would think that an issue of such political import as the UK acting illegally in international law (and totally ignoring said law) would be newsworthy for ‘everyone’ irrespective of national allegiance [What would make you think that? – Ed]. Obviously there was a good bit of theatricality in both, as in street theatre, particularly in the event with St Patrick – though St Patrick did issue a statement partly based or modelled on his ‘Confession’.

In the case of St Patrick making an appearance to drive out military drones and missiles, two photographers appeared (it was St Patrick’s Day) but we are not aware of any mass media coverage. The lack of coverage of the latter is particularly interesting as a) With Covid there were no other St Patricks about, b) Ditto Covid, the only ‘St Patrick’s Day issue’ in Norn Iron really around was whether there would be wild Covid-regulation-ignoring parties and rioting in the student Holyland(s) area of Belfast, c) Given the transferred imagery of St Patrick driving out drones rather than snakes, it did seem visually interesting. (and both events got a fair bit of social media attention, the first one ‘going almost viral’ in a couple of countries far from here).

So why did the mass media not bite? Was it they considered that a) Neither issue was of any importance or interest to readers/viewers/listeners and/or it just slipped through the net (which is the same thing), b) It was only a few peaceniks doing their thing harmlessly and they could be ignored – there was no drama and no violence involved, or c) In relation to Spirit AeroSystems (and Thales missile production which was also mentioned) there were jobs involved (550 at Thales) and ‘East Belfast’ jobs at that so that could not be questioned or raised as an issue, or d) Some unknown reason(s) understood only by the media workers concerned.

Answers on a postcard please, or an e-mail will do (seriously, comments to innate@ntlworld.com if you feel like speculating). If I was choosing, my money would be on the jobs but I be wary of conspiracy theories – though, as they say, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.

Near death can make you value life for everyone

Near death experiences can make you value life – not just your own life but others as well. There is a brief reference to this in an article looking at one man’s attempts to grapple with the phenomenon of near death experiences: Psychiatrist Bruce Greyson said that after their experience ““They see a purpose in life they didn’t see before. I don’t know of anything else that powerful.” When the writer of the article, Alex Moshakis, asked for an example, Greyson said “ “I’ve spoken to people who were policemen,” he says, “or career military officers, who couldn’t go back to their jobs, couldn’t stand the idea of violence.” I ask why. He says, “The idea of hurting someone becomes abhorrent to them.” He shrugs. “They end up going into helping professions. They become teachers, or healthcare workers, or social workers.” “

Very interesting. Near death experiences can of course be explained in a number of different ways, and the release of endorphins as we go on the voyage and passage to death may explain a lot and I am not going to get into possible spiritual ramifications of it all in this space. And I’m afraid it is highly unlikely I will be able to comment to you when I eventually get there. However, if the near death experience gets at the core of our being in some way, stripping away all the other layers of socialisation and environment, Greyson’s description actually puts nonviolence at the centre of our existence. In other words, nonviolence is deeply, deeply innate in us. And that is also pretty good when you are involved with an organisation named INNATE. See https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/mar/07/the-space-between-life-and-death

The current Norn Iron situation in one sentence

A friend in another country, extremely well up on conflict, international affairs and nonviolence, asked me for my take on the current situation in Northern Ireland. I wrote over a page and a half or so in response. After he had come back again, saying he was always amazed at the complexity of conflicts, I wrote back with my partial summary of a summary, referring to Brexit: “Most Prods/unionists backed/bet on the wrong horse and are now complaining about the result – but they don’t deserve to lose their shirts”.

So there you have it. I hope you understand that this is not a nuanced (!) summary but a serious light-hearted attempt to put the current situation in Northern Ireland into a metaphorical one-sentence nutshell.

Spell chuck

The perils of the spell check going unchecked is something I detailed quite some time ago when I mentioned how, in an official Catholic Church press release, the now retired archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin (a lovely man incidentally, may he have a long and happy working retirement) became Dairymaid Martin and bishop Colm O’Reilly became Calm O’Reilly. It got a bit more unintentionally derogatory and political recently when my spell check questioned ‘Irishness’ and gave the following alternatives for it; bearishness, whorishness and feverishness. ‘Britishness’ brought up no question and no alternatives offered whatsoever, and ‘Frenchness’ gave just ‘Frenchless’ and ‘Frenchisms’. Yes, I know we live on a small island but that spiel cheek could do batter.

Cy-CLING etiquette

The legal requirement to have a bell on your bicycle presumably dates back to the era before motor traffic was as dense as it is today. These days, in busy traffic, a bicycle bell is about as much use as an umbrella in a strong storm. Unless you are going to, as the British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell did years ago, instal a transatlantic yacht fog horn on your bike, you couldn’t make a sound impression on someone enveloped in what amounts to a big and insulated tin box (be that car or lorry). Maybe there is a gap in the commercial market to be filled here.

But in the era of lockdown and cycling along greenways and through parks, what about bells this weather? What bellwether indication could be given? Well, in such situations a bell is a necessary piece of equipment ar an rothar; for safety’s sake you may need to quickly advise a pedestrian or cyclist that you are behind them.

But is it considerate or inconsiderate to do this routinely where the passing space is limited? Because there is as yet no established common practice, different pedestrians, or indeed cyclists, may take it differently; some will appreciate the warning that there is something coming up and past them, while others may feel, “there go those arrogant cyclists again, ringing their bells as if they own the place”. You can startle people by ringing the bell and you can startle people by not ringing it.

A judgement is necessary and it is difficult to get it right all the time. If I ring a bell and someone then moves over, or, if it is a dog owner and they make an effort to control their dog, I will certainly bid them a greeting and thank you – they deserve it, and it also indicates that the bell ringing was not a hostile act but a friendly notice or warning.

Perhaps as cycling continues to grow in popularity, the ringing of a bike bell will become, as maybe it once was, a routine act of giving notice of your presence. However I have written before about practising considerate cycling which means making allowances for sudden movements by pedestrians, or others, and taking care not to frighten anyone, as much as possible. And ringing a bicycle bell still doesn’t give you ‘right of way’, care is still needed, and some pedestrians may be deaf or with earphones installed (not always a wise move, if you are going to use headphones out and about I suggest you make it singular – one ear in and one ear out, for safety’s sake) and not hear even the loudest and most persistent bell.

But, if you haven’t had your bike out over the winter then it’s time to give it a check and have it back on the road. You don’t need to give us a bell when you do.

Showering the frog

Showering the frog’ sounds like it might be a euphemism for some aspect of personal care and cleanliness, but recently I did, deliberately, shower ‘our’ frog. When I say ‘our’ frog, I am not claiming proprietary rights, it is a frog which happens to be resident in our suburban garden and it is very much its own being. And I was mentioning it rather recently [You must have a frog stuck in your throat, it was only last issue – Ed], I am not sure it is the only frog around as I saw a smaller, juvenile, one last autumn.

Anyway, I was working away on the back of our house, repairing a concrete plinth or trim which exists at the bottom of the brick wall of the house, going down to the ground. At one point where there is a vent to provide underfloor ventilation there was a part of this which was ‘boast’, loose, so I had to take the whole vent off. As I did so there was a small flurry of building dust and dirt, some of it extending over the thick clump of montbretia beside it (Montbretia – the late summer, orange flowering plant which has indigenised itself in Ireland’s ditches). Then I noticed something very dusty and dirty, around 10 cm long, moving. It took a few seconds to realise it was ‘our’ frog which presumably had been in the montbretia. Worried that it might attempt to jump into the hole where the vent had been and be stuck in there, I replaced the vent as best I could.

I know frog’s skin can be sensitive and I thought anyway it might not take to a covering of building dust. So I ran off to get the watering can and it was still there when I returned half a minute later: I gave the frog a shower to clean off the dirt. Maybe it felt better for the shower, I don’t know, but it soon hopped into the nearby sage bush and I didn’t attempt to follow it after that – I still had a wall and vent to repair.

However I can now add ‘showering a frog’ to my list of life experiences. It beats washing your hare any day, and more appropriate.

Well, here we are in April and hoping for to an easing in Covid controls when and as that proves possible – and brighter days, literally and metaphorically. It will be holidaying ‘at home’ again this year but there is still plenty to choose from, and remember Ireland has an interior as well as lots of coastal places worth exploring. Not that we should not celebrate our coastline, and this is a small enough island that you can combine coast and inland activities if you want. Everyone has their favourite spot or spots, and even somewhere like Dingle and Kerry, following the departure of a certain dolphin to the Great Seabed or Beyond, still has lots of non-Fungieable assets. [It’s Easter time and I am getting hot and cross about your puns – Ed]

Wherever you go, when you can go, just take care – of yourself and others. Until I see you again, Billy.