In the aftermath of the Manchester bomb atrocity there were so many stories of the kindness offered by strangers to those who were victims, or were caught up in, the attack – the guy who drove through the night, giving lifts home to those stranded; the woman who guided children to the safety of a local hotel; and all those who offered food and shelter for the night. Then there were the gatherings – in Manchester and Liverpool – which were, as one young woman expressed it on Channel 4 News, ‘more about love and not hatred.’
In this respect there was nothing unusual about Manchester. The kindness of strangers, in Tennessee Williams’ memorable phrase, is a quality we see repeatedly after such terrible events. And though the gatherings and vigils that follow might seem, especially for those with a sceptical or cynical turn of mind, predictable, they do perform a valuable service. Not only do they bring us together when we feel at our most frightened and vulnerable, they also remind us, as George Monbiot insists in his column today, that ‘human cooperation and reciprocity are so normal we scarcely seem to notice them.’ It can be easy after this kind of atrocity – one in which children and young people enjoying their first taste of freedom and independence were sought out to be deliberately blown apart – to conclude that there is no humanity, that we are an intrinsically fallen species. Continue reading “Manchester: the reciprocity of kindness”
This is the story of a chess set carved from waste wood by a German prisoner of war, gifted to my father who had been tasked with guarding him below decks on a cargo ship bound for Egypt. Along with 1500 of his compatriots the POW had been captured after the D-Day landings. Later, in a POW camp in Egypt, the German soldier carved the chess pieces from scrap and gave the set to my dad when he was demobbed from the British Army three years later. The chess set is now unaccountably lost. Continue reading “The story of a German POW and a missing chess set”
There’s a mysterious song by John Prine that always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. In it he sings about Lake Marie, where, ‘standing by peaceful waters’, he would camp with his girl, catch a few fish and grill sausages on the barbecue. A place of simple happiness. But then, in the last verse, everything changes: watching the TV news he sees that the naked bodies of two girls, their faces horribly disfigured, have been found on the shore of Lake Marie, and suddenly:
All the love we shared between her and me was slammed,
Slammed up against the banks of Old Lake Marie!
That’s just how I feel this morning, hearing the terrible news from Nice, a beautiful city by the sea where the two of us have spent several joyful vacations – a love passed on to our daughter who goes there most summers, and will be there again in a few weeks.
A lifetime ago, in the late seventies, returning from a camping holiday somewhere in the Dordogne, the Tarn or the Auvergne, those beautiful, unspoilt regions of la France Profonde, we would stop in some small town or village on the 14th of July and watch as the fireworks lit up the night sky and the locals celebrated their national holiday.
That past seems like another country now. This morning I grieve for Nice, for France, and for humanity. Ordinary people living their ordinary lives have always been casualties of war, but since the start of the twentieth century wars have placed civilians more than soldiers in the gun sights. Whether it be by the technology of total war or the tactics of the suicide bomber.
Nice: posts on this blog
The love you lost with her skin so fair
Is free with the wind in her butterscotch hair
Her green eyes blew goodbyes
With her head in her hands
and your kiss on the lips of another
Dream Brother with your tears scattered round the world.
Jeff Buckley, recorded live at the Bataclan, Paris, February 11, 1995
I posted this as a response to reading of the horrific scenes at The Bataclan on Friday night because as soon as I heard of the terrorist attack there I remembered that in my music collection I have an EP of tracks recorded there on 11 February 1995 during a stunning performance by Jeff Buckley acclaimed by a rapturous audience. It’s always had a special meaning for me because I saw him perform a very similar set at the Luxor in Cologne just over a week later, on 20 February 1995.
Now I discover that Aaron Goldstein has posted a similar response to mine on The American Spectator Spectacle blog. This is what he wrote: Continue reading “The Bataclan: Your tears scattered round the world”
The writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik, in an article for Al-Jazeera has made an interesting analysis of the Paris attacks that is, I think, well worth reading.
What the terrorists despised, what they tried to eliminate, were ordinary people, drinking, eating, laughing, mixing. That is what they hated – not so much the French state as the values of diversity and pluralism.
It’s the first of the two articles he has posted on his blog here: AFTER PARIS Continue reading “After Paris”
The words of Martin Luther King, from Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter feed. What more is there to say this morning?
To face history is to face the tragic. Which is why many prefer to look away. To decide to engage oneself in History requires, even when the decision is a desperate one, hope.
– John Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook
At first, there are no words. Then Salman Rushdie – a man whose opinion carries more weight than most in the present circumstances says this:
Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.
I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.
‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion’. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.
Continue reading “Je Suis Charlie parce que l’amour plus fort que la haine”