What does it mean when the Prime Minister says: “The UK will ‘Do it’s duty’…”?

One consequence of 24 hour news coverage is that there only ever appears to be enough time for one story.

We have lurched from relentless Labour leadership coverage to Refugee crisis. Seamlessly. The television news channels and their press siblings are presently acting as a de-facto conscience prodding our Political masters into action.

In the Political world, however, the name of the game is now inaction. Given the tragic-comedy scenario which our current leaders have inherited inaction might have been considered a good thing. Cerberus was a terrifying, mythical three-headed beast. Bush, Cheney and Blair were three very real, very monstrous heads acting as one hellhound. Masquerading as guard dogs they were marauding and salivating attack animals. Their bite marks are to be found everywhere.

After cynically manipulating the September 11 attacks as justification for the Iraq invasion Bush pronounced the Iraq conflict as “over” years ago. “Job done” he proclaimed. His hubris allowed him to believe he was directing the show. History has not yet had a chance to mock his naivety. The reason being it is not yet history. It is ongoing. A long, tortuous final act – still running it’s course with no end in sight.

Put aside WMD, Dr Kelly and claims of self-defence. When it became clear that another story needed to be concocted to assuage critics of the invasion the stance was altered. Regime change became a valid enough reason for invasion and deconstruction of a sovereign state. Saddam was a tyrannical and sadistic leader with a gang of family and army accomplices carrying out his tortuous whims.

Indeed, he was. We all knew that. We all had for many years. He was only one in a long line of evil men suppressing the people they proclaimed themselves to be defending.

The tragedy is that our actions – our stated good intentions – have been so appallingly misjudged, misrepresented, duplicitous, mismanaged and self-serving that the West is now the shameful villain in this performance. If there was anything funny it would be farce.

So much has changed. Twenty years ago we were moral. By “we” I mean the Western alliance. By Western alliance the British meant “Britain” and “America”. The British largely perceived the West as the USA being led by wise, old Auntie Britain. We were there to whisper in the ear of our unruly charge if it was acting like a petulant teenager.

Then a sickness seems to have set in. America was humiliated and it wanted revenge. It needed to seek justice. The people who died in New York truly deserved justice. What followed was less justice and more reckless retribution. And we were part of the posse. American policy got sick and we contracted whatever it was. They got chickenpox and we got shingles.

Bush and Blair began covering their tracks. They claimed to be encouraging a rise of democracy in the East. The charade continued in the form of support for the “Arab Spring” with money, weapons and endless talk of righteousness. I stand by the word charade. Not because the Arab people do not deserve democracy but because “we” misled them. Our democracy was hard won, bloody and horrifying. It took centuries. We appeared to offer a shortcut. We would hold out our hand and lead them to democratic and free societies.

What we see now is the lie. We will not even accept terrified, displaced families. We shall watch them scream, splutter, weep, crawl, climb and swim to get to our borders and then we shall say No. Britain in the 21st Century still looks down imperiously on foreigners and – ultimately – to Britain you are not a refugee. You are foreign and all that entails.

The shame we should feel is beyond description.

And once again we fall short. Our defence is that, really, the people should be safe at “home”. Safe in their bombed, burnt homes. No food. No water. Rape, murder, torture and death. Death from the air and the streets around them. Back there is where they should be – where it is home for them.

Our defence is implausible. “We” did not start the war in Syria. “We” did not start the Libyan conflict. “We” did promise protection and did not delver it. Having raised the hopes and the aspirations of millions of people and starting wars to show that we were righteous we walked away. We left them to get on with it.

“We” can argue in a court that “we” did not start these conflicts. That is disingenuous at best. A lot of intellectual energy has gone into avoiding responsibility. Politicians have become so adept at self-deceit that they claim the vicissitudes of their policies as intentional outcomes. The Bush and Blair era was bereft of integrity. We cannot avoid “doing our duty”. There is no hiding that it was the cinders of a fire started by Western intervention which set the neighbourhood alight. We set a blaze in a dry land full of kindling.

Now we refuse to help them out of the burning wrecks we helped create and it seems we are not even prepared to piss on the flames to help extinguish them.

I live in Britain. That is why I write “we”. I am complicit in this. These decisions are being made by politicians we elected in Britain. This is a democracy and so I, by association, share that shame.

Since March 2003

Since March 2003 the Iraq invasion and subsequent “war” has cost us dear.

Many troops and seemingly inestimable civilians have died. We have moved from self defence to regime change as the justification.

It deflected discussion away from Saudi Arabia and also strengthened the distrust of the West. Afghanistan was left on the back burner.

What was the positive? If preserving life was the goal then it appears we failed. Epically. What have we secured and what precedent have we set?

Worth reflecting upon.

Some sun on Coll

I had a few days on Coll with Malcs last weekend. Friday was lovely weather – the other days not so good!

There was live music in the air from concerts at An Cridhe organised by the Tunnell Trust.


This snap shows the Manse and Loch Eatharna taken from An Cridhe – always such an enjoyable stay. Thanks to Malcolm and all the people on Coll.

The next snap is the meadow behind the Manse. I believe it used to house Angus’ sheep. Sadly, Angus passed away in January. R.I.P


T.S. Eliot going cheap

I popped into a second hand bookshop this afternoon to ask if they could recommend somewhere for poetry books.

They had received a pile of Eliot and Auden books and I left with 2 bags filled – including Faber and Faber imprints of Eliot’s poems with that lovely 1930’s, thick, uneven fibrous paper.

All for very little money. Oh, how I skipped up the road…*

(* actually, I waddled)

Sabeen Mahmud

I confess the original story passed me by. This conversation with the mother of Sabeen caught my eye, however. I found it very touching and quite inspiring.

Such a cruel thing.

The world seems full of “frightened”, extreme, people defending self-interest, tradition and ignorance. I wish they were a bit more frightened of killing and persecuting others.


Another year has flown by

As of today it has been more than 20 years since my brother passed away.

He would have been dismayed by the Labour Party condition but may well have embraced the SNP transformation. I shall never know.

He would still, I am sure, have been cheeky, funny, irreverent, charming and serious about facing up to inequality. I think he would have been a Teacher. He would still be thin and would have laughed at my fat belly!

All of this is supposition. He shall never be any more than he already was. Which was more than enough.

Music and light

As a young man two people in particular seemed to me to have been blessed by some God.

They died roughly a year apart when I was in my very early 20’s.

One was a musician and the other was a photographer.

Andrés Segovia
Andrés Segovia
Andrés Segovia dominated classical guitar. Some felt he was too vain and assumed too much. His version of Recuerdos de la Alhambra – which featured as a theme tune on a popular tv programme – was often the first, and only, classical guitar many people knew. The other celebrity player was his “pupil” John Williams. Those two, along with the wonderful Julian Bream, seemed to have everything I could ever want. They travelled, they met artists and they played guitar beautifully.

My other passion was photography. For good reason, Henri Cartier-Bresson was always singled out as the doyen. The pinnacle. He was a master of his craft and very widely known.

Ernst Hasas
Ernst Haas
However, for me, the photographer I admired most was Ernst Haas. He managed to take wonderful colour and black’n’white images. His striking image of an oily sky in midwest America adorns most picture shops on the high street and is even sold in Ikea. It is nothing to scoff. It is because he took images with colour which you can look at time after time and still enjoy. Few photographers manage such balance and composition.

Google Ernst Haas and look at the range of his images – or visit his Estate website then realise he was pioneering this. He was discovering colours and shape in photographic images. Faster and with more acuity than most.

I just realised it has been almost 30 years since both these men passed away. It seems no time at all.

Reflection on 42nd Street by Ernst Haas