Friday, December 29, 2017

A Happy Christmas from Manchester City Council

Just received a penalty charge notice for driving in a bus lane at Hunts Bank (apt name, given the way I now feel about the place...) at 17.43 on Fri 1 Dec. I'm not a frequent visitor to Manchester and was only driving in the city centre as I was dropping my son and his mate at the MEN Arena for a concert. Although I accept I was in the bus lane, I only knew this when I saw a notice and the sodding camera once I'd turned right onto the damn thing (there was a much larger sign for the Arena immediately before the turning, which had far greater prominence than the penalty warning). Now £30 the poorer, I can give this categorical assertion without fear of future contradiction: I won't ever drive in this shit hole of a city EVER AGAIN.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Two Christmas firsts

Out of all my 56 Christmases this is the first one with a real tree and also the first I'll be working on Christmas Day.
Special greetings if you're also having a 'first' this Christmas  - be it good or not. And here's hoping for a much better world on 2018.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

2017: books that started and finished the year

The year started with me on the final few pages of Philippe Sands' magisterial and meticulously researched East West Street. Tracing the lives of his own grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, along with two international lawyers - Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, the narrative follows the implementation of the 'final solution' in and around the city of Lviv in Ukraine and the development of the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity to punish those responsible. Ending the year on a similar theme, but this time from a personal family perspective, in the form of Fergal Keane's Wounds provided a timely warning of the dangers of nationalism and inter-communal violence in pre and immediately post-independent Ireland. Keane describes the roles that his grandmother, great uncle and their friends played in the War of Independence, and later how those bonds were fractured by civil war - with his forebears on the pro-treaty Free State side, ranged against former comrades in arms who sided with the Republicans in north Kerry. Neither of these works could be described as easy reading, but both have immense relevance for the present. While Sands deals with the horror wrought on those subjected to Nazi atrocities on an epic scale, Keane presents a far more subtle picture of youthful idealism forced to choose between acquiescence to British rule, in the face of repressive violence from the Black and Tans, the Auxilliaries and that both perpetrated by, and visited on, the Royal Irish Constabulary or joining the IRA. Following the treaty that gave rise to the 26-county Free State, though still requiring an oath of allegiance to the British Crown, and the presence in Dublin of a London-appointed Governor General - the monarch's representative in Ireland - the nationalist camp split into pro and anti treaty forces, which in turn led to a brutal civil war, in which those who had fought together against the British took up arms against each other. Taking his focal point from the murder of an RIC officer, Keane shows how the protagonists in the later civil war had become so inured to the effects of violence that - in many cases - they were able to visit death and suffering on former comrades in ways that were every bit as brutal as the violence and wanton destruction practised by the hated Black and Tans and Auxies. He also describes how the Irish Republic addressed the wounds caused by the civil war; building a democratic state on the far from promising foundations of emnity and distrust that were hallmarks of a conflict that neither side wanted to talk openly about, or felt able to let go of in a full spirit of reconciliation.