Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O'Brien

This story sees a 90s Serbian war criminal turned new-age healer (an obvious Karadzic manqué) turning up in a rural Irish backwater. Once established as a massage oil doling sex therapist, he impregnates the wife of a failed draper before the long-arm of an Garda Siochana whisks him off to stand trial in the Hague. Retribution is then visited on Fidelma, the woman he leaves behind by the wagging tongues of her neighbours and the altogether more terrifying hands of her erstwhile lover's former bodyguard. Forced to flee to London, Fidelma is transformed into that Irish every woman who leaves home under a cloud of disapproval or common or garden poverty, who then works in any menial job she can find, becoming strong in the process. O'Brien weaves a tale of violence and male weakness and female empowerment that is compelling and yet strangely tender. Mna na Eirean  have probably never had a more telling or powerful advocate.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The bigot in the changing room

Just had the following conversation at the gym. A stranger asked me if it was still raining. When I said it was, he responded by saying he was 'fed-up with this country' because it's 'crap now, always wet and full of foreigners'. His answer? Emigrate to Cyprus!
I wanted to point out that that would make him a foreigner too, but for some reason words failed me...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Johny Foreigner and the Spirit of the Blitz (Reversed)

Strange how we are so often told that the Blitz brought out the best in the British, how we refused to be cowed in the face of air attack on these islands, yet our Middle East policy is now - apparently - based on the total opposite. Could it be that Cameron actually believes, as per Mainwaring/Jones, that IS 'don't like it up 'em'? That, contrary to how the Brits took it on the chin from the Luftwaffe, that the assorted nasties ranged against us will crumble at the first rumble of RAF bombing? When Kenny Everett (yes, he was a Tory supporter, don't forget) put on his 'bomb the bastards' personna he was joking. But Cameron/Fallon and crew seem to have missed the punchline and enshrined the principle into foreign and 'defence' policy...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Art at the Brewery

Spent the afternoon at the Tetley, the art gallery and community space housed in the former Tetley brewery office in Leeds. The brewery was controversially closed by parent company Carlsberg a few years ago but the imposing main office, complete with wainscot panelled boardroom and portraits of late Tetleys, remain surrounded by art installations and community event spaces.
Shame the beer served in the cafe is now brewed in Northampton, as opposed to the traditional, but sadly now demolished brewery that dated from the early nineteenth century that until recently stood next to the office. The smell of malt and hops filled the air for generations of loiners.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The train now standing at Peterborough...

Returning from London by rail the other day, the train slowed noticeably as it neared Peterborough. Pulled by a diesel engine as we were, the speed reduction, we were told, was due to high winds - which reduced the speed of electric engines to 85 mph. As one of these was pulling the train ahead of ours, this was the reason for our own reduced speed. We weren't due to stop at Peterborough, but we soon did. After the guard was asked to contact the driver - never a good sign - an announcement was made, telling us that the unscheduled stop was due to a report that a tree had fallen on the line. The staff member serving drinks in my carriage seemed to wince slightly as he listened to the announcement. After a 20 minute wait, we started moving again. It was only then that he told us the reason for his trepidation: 'last time that happened, I ended up spending the night on the train' he said. Fortunately, the total delay was only an hour this time.

Saturday, November 07, 2015


Tonight I'm readying myself to stand at the war memorial in the morning. I used to go with my grandad, a WWI veteran, and my dad, who fought in WWII. I went with them as a boy because they told me it was important to remember their mates who were wounded and killed. Later, I learned it was also to honour all victims of war. But dad and grandad are gone now, so it can seem lonely, except I go in their memory, sometimes even carry one of their medals so I can remember when we stood together.
It can also feel lonely for other reasons, too. Mainly because I remember when a poppy was a symbol of suffering and loss, not something you felt compelled to wear for the sake of appearances, or to show 'respect' to a far right group that my dad would have raged over.
He was a proud Legion member. And I remember when the Legion didn't go in for a self-appointed guardian role, or or accept sponsorship deals from arms dealers, but existed to look after those who fought, as it did when they helped secure dad's war pension for hearing loss.
So remember tomorrow, remember the lost and maimed, the fatherless and orphaned, the bereaved parents, the widows - from all sides. Yes, that's another lesson I learned from my grandad: there are no 'winners' in a war - no matter what politicians, of all shades, tell you. He knew it for real: on a road leading from Macedonia into Bulgaria at the end of September 1918, he saw the Bulgarian Army surrender:

To us they looked to be either young boys or old men, starving, dressed in rags. They just threw their guns on a pile at the side of the road and shuffled off into the distance.
That was war to him, a cruel waste of life, of people and land. War was fear, suffering and loss - he taught me and I remember. Tomorrow, I will remember.