March 2018

Prison

‘Beware the Ides of March’ – Shakespeare’s reference to the fifteenth in Julius Caesar. Primarily a deadline for settling debts, it also proved a bad day for Julius. It is also, potentially, only a fortnight before Easter (another bad day for another big ‘J’).

The picture above is Kilmainham Gaol. There were a few bad days in there over the years. I’ve been to Dublin before but this was the first time I’d visited the gaol and it was an incredibly emotional experience. Regardless of which side you identify with in the Republican struggle for Irish independence, there is no escaping the brutality that was meted out after the Easter rising. DSC03556I would recommend a visit, it clears a lot of stuff up while posing many further questions. The rebels were arrested and ninety were to be executed. Fifteen of those ninety were killed but the rest had their sentences commuted. The only woman arrested was Constance Markievicz, a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army. She was in the holding cells, waiting  for execution, with all the others but the British government  became nervous about shooting a woman. By 1918 she’d become the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. Clearly, the line between criminal and politician has always been a matter of context. I can think of a few of our own today that I would like to see in one of those tiny cells.

Context – I knew I had something to say.

Context is everything. Not just for making sense but also in situations where a word or phrase is not familiar. If I was to say, ‘It was a huge pie but I managed to scrumplefunch the whole thing in less than ten minutes,’ then it would be a reasonable assumption that ‘scrumplefunch’ means ‘eat’. We do this all the time, especially those of us that consume books faster than English blokes drink lager on Spanish holidays. We infer the meaning through context. Obvious? Maybe. But it’s well to be aware that this works in the opposite direction. Especially in legal terms. It’s one thing accepting that scrumplefunch means eating but if you were to be compelled to go through with the action by law then it would be a terrible thing if scrumplefunch actually means ‘stick it up your arse’. See what I mean?

We’re constantly manipulated by careful control of words and context. Take the recent nonsense the Tories are trying to distract us from Brexit with. The Russian poisoning. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no apologist for the Russian State, they are as corrupt as anywhere else (read UK & USA) but this stuff just doesn’t bear scrutiny. If I was to use it in a piece of fiction then my contemporaries would rip me to shreds for trying to pass off a story that is full of holes and ambiguities. As Social Media extremists and easy-chair politicians make for the shed to arm themselves with pitchforks and blunt scythes, the wording of the accusation should be pointed out to them:

‘… as a type developed in Russia…’

And then there’s Bonkers Boris’s statement that it is ‘overwhelmingly likely’. That’s as stupid as ‘absolutely probable’. It’s clear that no-one has a clue and that we are being jerked around. Added to all that is the fact that the OPCW has had access to Russian chemical weapon sites for over a decade. Now Boris is comparing Putin to Hitler and threatening to not let important people attend The World Cup in Moscow. I’m sure that Putin is  a nasty bastard (like all of them) but you couldn’t make that up. Nevertheless, quite a useful example of bathos.

The point of this is the language. The same words are being used by everyone: the government, Porton Down, British right-wing media, the BBC, Europe and USA – ‘… as a type developed in Russia…’ You are only ever that careful about what you say for one reason: to persuade and then to convince. Usually of something that is a long, long way from being certain. If the public consistently hear the same words over and over again then they will, eventually, believe them to be true. It’s an old trick and a crude one but it works.

‘Let me be absolutely clear.’ ‘Strong and Stable.’ ‘For the many, not the few.’ ‘Drain the swamp.’ ‘We want our country back.’ ‘Britain is full.’ ‘Make Britain great again!’ (that one was from The National Front in 1975). If you keep repeating this stuff then it becomes part of the national consciousness.

And on a lighter note, the English language: what a nightmare! How the hell does anyone ever learn it? Back in the seventies I used to go to a Chinese restaurant, alone (eating out wasn’t really a thing then) and the waiter that I got to know was teaching me a bit of Chinese. I remember the frustration I felt when he told me that a symbol that I believed to mean one thing actually meant another as well. ‘It depends what context you use it in,’ he said. I gave up. How can you deal with that? And yet, in English, ‘I’m just nipping to the bank.’ Is that for a financial transaction or to do a bit of fishing? Threw and through? And pronunciation! Though, thought, through, trough. Moon and foot. This is why teaching phonetics should only be done when all other methods are exhausted. Chef, choir, cheese? Soar, saw and sore? For, fore and four? How can people cope with this stuff? My objection to my Chinese friend is ridiculous when you start to examine our own language.

Well, I managed to get all that off my chest. It’s the first day of Spring and the sun is out and my sandals are on (with socks, of course). SnowLast week made me seriously doubt that we would ever be warm again after our brush with The Beast from the East (who makes this shit up?) Just as I was beginning to relax, enjoying the bright gorgeousness of snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils, someone took a freezing cold, massive white dump on us. All that anticipation of light and warmth destroyed in one miserable weekend.

But now, my tomatoes have germinated, as have the cauliflowers, the spring flowers are back and the clocks have gone forward. It’s only a matter of time now that I will be sitting in my shorts and vest, in those barely identifiable chairs above, drinking gin in the bright, warm sunshine.

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