Monday 8 April 2024


Shock’ was the reported widespread reaction to an accusation against a high-ranking politician, a Member of the Westminster Parliament representing a Northern Ireland constituency and the leader of his party. The man is contesting the accusation.

What’s shocking about a middle-aged man being charged with the alleged rape of a young woman?

Due legal processes will follow, with the accused considered innocent of all charges until found to be otherwise.

Something so commonplace cannot be shocking.

Dreadful, horrific even, yes. But no one could be shocked, given the dreadful horrors perpetrated on women everywhere.

We are not shocked by mass-killings of women, who are confined to a small enclave of territory by modern hi-tech military might, supplied, in large part, by nations founded on ethics of charity, love and mercy. 

There is nothing to be shocked about when an atrocity is committed on the basis of an appeal to freedom or on the basis of democratic rights. Such atrocities are commonplace and widespread.

Countries, who rest their political ethics on a God of Love, continually bomb, blast, invade and destroy other countries, invoking a God of Revenge to validate their actions.

There is nothing shocking in vicious acts by anti-state groups enacting violence for political or religious reasons. They are commonplace, across the globe. We cannot be shocked, yet we use shocked reactions as pretexts for acts of vengeful mass killing and destruction, that are modern, medieval and ahistorical at the same time.

Who can be shocked by the commonplace?

Countries do not act like they are shocked. They act as if untouched. 

Inured. Removed. Scot-free.


Though they are not.

The woman who was allegedly raped. The man who allegedly raped her. They are in and of us. The shock is the persistence of the act and the lack of impact in our lived experiences.

We continue perpetrating horrors on women. By rape and by war.

Shock? What shock?

Friday 22 March 2024


When you write dat?

All ma life.

One Love is a film treatment of a period in the life of Jamaican reggae musician, Bob Marley. Reggae is the music of ‘da people’, according to the film. A rich Jamaican patois is used throughout, to very good effect, adding to the musicality of the film, alongside the hit songs. 

Why make a biopic? Isn’t the music enough? Does it answer the question ‘who is da people?’ In a sense it does, leaning heavily into Marley’s notions of liberation through peace and unity, underpinned by Rastafarianism, a mystical Afro-centric religion that developed in the 1930s, as a response to British colonialism in Jamaica. 

The mysticism and anti-colonialism are alluded to in figures on horse-back:Haile Selassie, believed by Rastafarians to be God incarnate and a white man wearing a pith helmet. There is a telling image of the child-Marley running in a ring of fire, during which the figure on horseback appears, as if to anoint him in his role.

Marley’s relationship with his wife Rita, one of The I Threes, his backing singers, features in a few scenes. There’s a separate film to be made about Rita and the other women in that music/liberation world.

We’re in the mid-1970s. War is everywhere. Ford is in the White House. Carter will follow. Direct Rule is introduced by Westminster into Northern Ireland. The Maguire Seven are wrongly convicted of possessing arms for the IRA. Star Wars begins filming. The Apple Company is formed. USA vetoes a UN resolution in support of an independent Palestine. Pol Pot is in power in Kampuchea. The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam is formed. The Band hold their farewell concert, The Last Waltz. Trinidad and Tobago becomes a republic. Jamaica is collapsing through civil war.

Bob Marley emerges from the island’s music scene, as a local messiah, preaching a message of peace and love, through his music. An assassination attempt drives him, the band and family members out of Jamaica. They set up in London. They slip into a city experiencing race riots and efforts at liberation, underscored with two-tone and ska beats and juiced by the songs of The Clash. 

Marley fits right in.

As you’d expect from a bio-pic of a musician, there are standard scenes of childhood influences, being first discovered, becoming a public figure and superstar. Marley denies it in the film, though he lives as a prophet/saint/cult figure. After the sojourn in Europe, worn by the travails of the music business, personal and domestic challenges, he returns to Jamaica to live out his redemption. 

His complicated, extended family gather around him for a campfire rendition of Redemption Song. A key scene, setting up Act 3 and the ending.

Marley’s One Love Peace Concert gesture in 1978, shows Marley at his most politically prophetic. He holds aloft the hands of two white men, political opponentsMichael Manley and Edward Seaga, in an appeal for peace and unity. The film tells the story of how two rival gang leaders, allied to the politicians, convince Marley to return to Jamaica and calm the violence. 

Bono, a latter-day rock prophet/saint, mimics the gesture in linking the hands of David Trimble and John Hume for a final push ahead of the referendum on The Belfast Agreement.

One Love is not an account of a period of time or of a religion-political movement. It is a bright and engaging family homage to one of their own, taking the well-known arc of a contemporary pop star. Critics are not enamoured of it, saying the family had too much grip on it. They put up some money and Ziggy, Marley's son, kept firm hands on the production reins. As you might expect him to, when serving the legacy of a loved one.

Music made Marley. His celebrity chimes with an urge for liberation among European and American young people. That’s where the (cultural) dollar dominates, though the urge for liberation has been commodified, driven on-line and individualised. Marley, as a figure, is an instance of early globalisation, with pop culture bleeding from one region into a world-wide phenomenon. The scene with the gold record Exodus tells it.

Don’t expect depth and exploration. See the flawed documentary Marley (MacDonald, 2012) for that.

Colour, joy, pathos are there aplenty. Some context too. The standout scenes are music ones: exciting a local producer with their rendition of Simmer Down, a Skatalites song; discovering the impetus for the song Exodus in a film soundtrack by Ernest Gold, as the band listen to it through a fog of ganga smoke.

The human side of Marley is presented by his relationship with his children. He’s seen as a multiple father, rather than a hands-on one. He’s a nifty soccer player, seen in joyful scenes with band-mates and friends, who refer to him as ‘skipper’.

If you like reggae, you’ll like this. It won’t blow your mind, but taken with some herbal *, it will pass a glad evening.

This is very watchable biopic, saved by its soundtrack.

The songs survive. Simmer down.


One Love, film, 2024, on general release

Simmer Down, Bob Marley and the Wailers

* tea

Wednesday 13 March 2024


Despite years of detective work and the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money, another attempt by the UK state has failed to bring truth and justice to scores of victims of the violence of the so-called Troubles period in Northern Ireland. 

This attempt, known as The Kenova Report, is the latest in a line of successful obfuscations, generalisations, duplicities and the ‘washing of hands’ typically produced by all regimes hell-bent on maintaining power, by not owning up. 

No one will stand and give account. No one is accountable. 

No one will be charged. No one is accused.

No one will be condemned. No one is guilty.

No Monarch, Lord, Lady, Minister, MP or General will face consequences. 

The accomplices of the scot-free UK State Forces are in the Irish Republican Army. Like their handlers in the UK secret services, police and army, they will not be brought to book.

At the centre of the activities under investigation are those of British state agents running members of the Irish Republic Army (IRA) as double agents, by covering their activities of murder, kidnap, torture and defaming. One dead IRA member is worth less than one double agent in war activities carried out in tight areas of cities and towns and among small rural communities, leaving legacies of hurt, grief and shame long after the state agents retire on top-end civil and military pensions, easing into armchairs offering good views of mantlepieces laden with honours, gongs and medals, for service to the Crown.

The takeaway message from the report is that the state, in collusion with the IRA, conspired to murder some of its citizens.

The body, with a bullet in the back of a head, dumped on waste ground or on a country road, is the legacy of this report. The sickly taste of having been traduced one more time sours the mouths of the victims’ families.

The writers of the report call for apologies from the British State and the Irish Republican Army, who colluded to kidnap, torture and kill people without any consequences.

Could this happen in any other part of the UK or Ireland?

A leader of the Republican Movement, a cover-all term for political and military groups and their supporters, if not their members, and now the leader of Government in Northern Ireland, immediately issued an expression of sorrow and regret.

It is no more than anyone would say. We are all sorry for what happened.

The Secretary of State for the UK says that now is not the time for an apology. When is it the right time? It awaits the issuing of individual case briefings and the finalisation of the report, likely to happen on the other side of a UK election. Hand-washing by electioneering?

How does a human make an apology, when it isn’t meant to have any consequences?

The classic steps are similar in all human languages. More arcane versions are being developed in computer languages, as part of Artificial Intelligence advances to equip robots with this vital piece of software.

In English, a classic apology goes as follows:

I am sorry for …


I will …


By way of illustration, consider an incident involving two footballers, in a heated game in a women’s tournament.

Player 1 says

I am sorry for breaking your leg.

I will not do it again.

She may go further.

I will visit you in hospital and bring grapes.

Player 2 may accept the apology. She may consider it insufficient. She may not consider it sincere. 

A variation on this classic formula is widely found in contemporary public life.

I am sorry that you were...


The notable changes from for to that and from to you clearly demonstrate the shift of agency from the apologiser to the person receiving the apology. A further significant change is from action to emotion.

This form of the algorithm is commonly used in cases where the apologiser is under pressure not to give way.

Player 1 says

I am sorry that your leg was broken.

I am sorry for the hurt this has caused.

Player 2 may accept this apology. Or she may doubt Player 1’s trustworthiness.

Elaborations on this variation occur widely in public life. It is known informally as The Half-Apology and, more formally, as The Politic Apology.

Only by actively ensuring that war never again gets a grip in a just and equal society will there be no further need for apologies.

The Apology Algorithm

Friday 9 February 2024


… An often-asked question in the Kingdom, currently distracted by the monarch’s health problems, for which he is shunted straight to the front of the best medi-care queue in the land, while citizens wait in long, long sore lines for prostrate cancer and other treatments.

Politicians haven’t been up to much really, though they’ve asserted they are busy with constituency work. Managing to maintain their income as members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) despite not working the Legislative Assembly for two years means they have, despite alleged political differences within and between parties, managed to pull off a stunt unparalleled in democratic politics: keep their jobs and their pay as public representatives, while not fulfilling the core role of representation. 

Imagine a nurse maintaining the job and wages, while not caring for patients. Or a hospital porter taking the money and not pushing a trolley. Or a classroom assistant collecting meagre pay for not crossing the school gates. Not to mention the home helps getting their measly pennies, never once in two years crossing a threshold and uttering the most welcome call a housebound citizen hears “Howya, it’s only me. Bit of a frost in it today.” Imagine. 

But the MLAs are back at it now … 

… with an Irish nationalist (Republican) First Minister for the first time ever. And a British nationalist (Unionist) as Deputy First Minister. Two women in the top jobs. The world’s media is agog at the historic turn.

The gloss dimmed on the whole affair, when news broke that one of the opposition MLAs made his excuses part way through Day 1. He had an urgent calling. Not back to his constituency on constituency business, but to the other end of the country, to run the sideline on behalf of the visiting team he coaches in the country’s most popular sport, Gaelic Football, as organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the GAA.

So important a role does the MLA play for the GAA, and for the county he coaches (not his own), that he fled the heat and history of the first day of the newly revived Legislative Assembly for the salutary cold, sweat and muck of a GAA pitch. By helicopter. At a cost of £3, 000. 

At least the MLA’s team won.

I have to declare an interest. I am a member of the GAA, on the hurling and camogie side. Regardless of who paid for it, this helicopter hubris shows how far removed the elite end of the association is from the lives of the rest of the members. £3, 000 would go well towards cancer treatment (Not for the monarch. He has more than enough).

But it’s not only in this part of the Kingdom and our conjoined Republic that hubris can be found among politicians.

Across the Irish Sea, down which there is now no border, as defined by the party that organised revisions to a trade deal within the Kingdom, a new sub-party is announced at Westminster by former (brief) Prime Minister Liz Truss and her acolyte and favourite sybarite Jacob Rees-Mogg. They formed Popular Conservatism, a bold attempt at positive branding. Pop Con for short. Which makes Jacob Rees-Mogg Pop Toff and, well, you can apply your own appellation to Liz Truss. Be kind to sweet breakfast treats.

Returning across the now defunct Irish Sea Border, we find that the elite Gaelic Football coach is kicked over the bar and out of the stadium as far as his party is concerned. He is suspended from a great height, though the matter is unlikely to go away quietly, especially with an election coming up. 

In case there would be a hiatus in sporting jocularity among MLAs, two heavy-weight, old-timey sluggers rise to the occasion to josh and grin their way through a spat involving clocks and striking.

Their hubristic chuckles, giggles and grins are an insult to the citizenry and do not augur well for future improvements in our lives.


Back at Stormont

Meanwhile at Westminster

Thursday 1 February 2024


... the fire engine is not far away. Red, loud, snarling, it bowls out of the station onto one of the city’s arterial routes, running north-south.

It can turn right and descend into the formerly marshy river-swamp that rests beneath the city centre mound. Or it can ascend to craggy heights that match the island summit above the boggy ground. All talk of ‘swamps’ and ‘craggy heights’ is out of date. Both destinations are dense population areas, with flats, houses, terraced streets, two and three-bed semis, shops, churches, schools, some light industrial units and sports grounds. 

Turning left presents the fire engine with three options. Within fifty metres, there’s a right turn and taking a steep downhill sweep, siren still blaring, it finds the riverside arterial route, also running north-south. Turning left then, parallel to the river, presents retail units, industrial and commercial premises, before diverging roads and another ascent take the fire-engine into a variety of suburban sprawls; private, public, affluent, impoverished.

By not taking the right turn and continuing along the city's upper arterial route, the red engine, its crew of firefighters making hurried final adjustments to their uniforms, bowls towards the north of the city, past colleges and call centres, industrial and residential zones, and the complex site of a major school-building project, on to the city limits, where the option of crossing the international border presents, readily enough in spite of recent disruptions to immigration, trade and travel. 

If the fire-engine doesn’t take the straight road north, but cuts a sharp left at the radio station, it comes up my street, very quickly passing my front door, siren blaring.

It has to blare. Cars are parked on both sides of the street. The 9a bus is coming towards it. Up ahead the daily wholesale delivery to the shops further away lumbers along the white line centering the road, trying not to clip wing mirrors or plummet into pot-holes.

The fire-engine is welcomed and feared. It excites and frightens children. Its denizens are admired, seen as heroic, performing a public service, often facing danger and threat. It is not all about coaxing kittens out of trees.

When the red streak has passed and the siren is no longer heard, I forget the engine and the firefighters. Not completely. Their jocular calls to one another sound from their compound beside me. Tannoys, not sirens, sound.

Grub up, Helen.” 

Marty, get in here and put the kettle on.”

When the engines drive out of the station at night, selecting their route and speeding to danger, I lie awake and wish them safety. 

When the siren sounds ...