Issue #53 - October 24th - 30th
Sister Janice and the man who lost himself
Swansong for Mon
Sister Janice and the man who lost himself
Sister Janice is the Friends Of The Heroes agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career.
These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed. Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer...
Hello there, fellow inhabitants of the cosmos,
Sister Janice would like to assure you that she'd love to be doing the advice column this week, but she's currently indisposed. During the course of a somewhat eventful evening, she has told me that she's aware of my secret drinking habits; informed me that I should seek help; offered her services as a Cosmic-Adventuring Advice Dispenser; instructed me that facing my problems is the first step to overcoming them; gyrated around The Space Shed to various retrospective-dance tracks; imbibed about a litre of rocket-fuel-based cocktail and passed out semi-naked on the floor. I have covered her, and made her relatively comfortable on a small pile of communion cushions left by the nuns who re-furbished our little craft. She will be fine in the morning, apart from a headache and a damanged sense of pride. One she will cover, I suspect, by acting as if nothing ever happened.
Perhaps I should not be telling you all this. I don't do it to disparage her, although I once would have done. I do it to explain why she couldn't make it this week, because she really, really wanted to. She has many stories to tell you, of our new adventures, of our encounters in space and our bravery in the face of -
Oh, who am I kidding? Of her adventures, encounters and bravery. I've spent most of the week saying things like:
'Errr...do you think that's wise....?'
'Don't pat him there, that's considered an erogeneous zone on this planet'
'I'd hold that at the other end or it'll blow your head off'
'I don't think we should take hallucinogenic plants in a crocodile-infested swamp'
'Look. YOU may think its fun to bare your genitals to a bar full of space-sailor and do the can-can to a dirty space-shanty with a selection of stranger's underwear draped strategically around your body, but frankly I find it pays to be a little more circumspect in some situations'
And so on. The sort of things you say when you're with someone who has stopped worrying about life, and just started to enjoy it. The sort of things you say when you're too scared to do the same. Tonight, I sat and nodded as she lectured me about drinking her vat of convent wine. I didn't mention that I had spent the night in question scared to leave The Space Shed because of the gang of delinquent kaleidoscopic octopi that were hanging around the area and that, when Sister Janice had returned to The Space Shed, half the gang of said cosmic creatures now her best friends, I'd hidden behind a portrait of Jesus until they had finished what was left of her alcohol supplies and slumped into drunken stupors.
I didn't say anything because I realised how bloody boring it sounded.
Sorry to be so direct. I don't use profane language as a rule. I watch my words, I watch my actions, I even watch the thoughts that come into my head. I'd love to just let go, like she does, but I really don't know how you start. I have always been too aware of my own inadequacy at dealing with situations. I have been so scared to get into situations that I never learned how to handle one. As a result, I run away, and I learn nothing.
Janice, on the other hand, faces everything, and learns...... well, she must have learned something, although whatever it might be isn't immediately apparent right now.
Tonight will be different. I'll set the co-ordinates for a little place I've heard of in the belt of Orion. A planet full of dancing-girls and captivated boys. Boys of all ages, reduced again to their childlike state by the beauty that flaunts itself before them. Not a brothel, nothing so seedy. There are plenty of planets to go if you want that sort of thing. This is where people go to see something beautiful, to forget themselves. If you're lucky, you can do that by just watching a sunset. Some can do it in the everyday. Perhaps, one day, I'll learn that.
For now, I'll have a night away from this person that followed Janice into space. This person I've grown used to calling me. Perhaps, on return, I'll find that person has changed a little. But let's not ask for too much. Tonight, I'll just watch the dancing.
Love, and admiration
Yeah, that's the letter. I'm sure she'll find a problem in there somewhere to solve. When she wakes up.
Don't go holding your breath for that, will you?
...tonight I think I'd rather just go dancing there'll be time enough for worrying when we're old.
Be happy, if you can
Swansong for Mon
Across the borderlands at night they came, exhausted to the soul and dragging trails of blood behind them. The omens had not been good and the people, blank-eyed or weeping, expected bad news.
They did not expect the news that came. They could not conceive of it.
"Gwynedd...?" Owain asked, practicalities half out of his mouth, but unable to form his words in questions for their safety now.
"It was Mon alone they wanted." His son sank to the ground, arm tight against bound ribs. "And it was Mon they got."
"Cachiau!" Dilys spat, and ranted and raved out all the fury she felt. "We could have resisted! We should have resisted! They should never have got so far! How could they have reached Mon without... without..."
"Dilly..." Owain caught and held her, waiting until desperate tears flooded from her wild eyes, then he swayed with her, keeping her close.
It didn't help that she was right and that the Cymru throughout the nations knew it. But what could they have done? The weapons of Rome suppassed anything which they could offer in defense; and their wealth! The Empire could afford vast standing armies, which didn't have to return for the planting and the harvest. What were the warrior bands against that? Outnumbered and out-manoveured, that's what they were.
Owain barely heard the question from the hearth and, looking into the bewildered, childish face of his youngest daughter, he found that he couldn't reply. The reality hit hard. How could he protect her now? How could he feed her and ensure her survival into adulthood? How could he keep her safe the day, let alone for the rest of his days?
His wife pulled away, stronger now for her tears, but no less bitter for it.
"The Romans?" Megan asked, wide-eyed and staring past her mother, lest the troops were about to invade their very hearth.
"Yes, the Cachiau!" Dilys spat again.
Iestyn piped up from the corner, full of the certainty of his five years,
"The merlin are dead!" Ederyn spoke up, wincing with the pain it caused him. "Massacred... all... of..."
"Son..." Owain moved a step, but was rooted there by the expression of fleeting madness turned up towards him on his son's face. "It's..."
"Dead! Where were the Gods? Where were they, Dad? Why didn't they save them? Why didn't Bran stop them coming? Why didn't...?"
"Dead?" Iestyn called out, in case he had misheard. He giggled, but no-one else was laughing.
"Dad! Why didn't the Gods come?" Ederyn yelled and the effort spliced agony through his ribs.
Owain turned and walked out into the night, unable to find an answer nor to admit it.
Dilys stood amidst the chaos of her family. Her youngest children suddenly mute and incomprehending. Her eldest boy destroying himself before her eyes. She held out her hands, until Megan and Iestyn ran to her skirts; then she led them to where her Ederyn sobbed.
Crouching, she gathered them all, babies and man, her children, into her arms.
"The merlin are dead?" Iestyn asked, wide-eyed.
"In flames..." Ederyn murmered.
"In Annwn and talking to the Gods themselves on our behalf!" Dilys corrected her son, aware that horror stalked his mind now and might never retreat again. "We will not surrender. We will never die."
"The merlin can't be dead." Iestyn decided.
But Ederyn, his eyes focussing past her, shining in terror at the things he'd seen, merely laughed and laughed and laughed.
This story is based on the historical massacre of the druids on Ynys Mon (modern day Anglesey, in North Wales), which destroyed the only contemporary rivals to the Roman Empire, thus preserving the trade routes for the Emperor. This was done in the name of civilisation, freedom and liberty. To learn more about this event, click here.
The Gaza Bombings and The War on Terror
The bombing of a US embassy delegation to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza on the 15th of October marked the escalation and further internationalisation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a result of Bush's 'War on Terror' and Sharon's enthusiastic adoption of it in Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad denied responsibility for the attack which killed 3 American bodyguards from the US embassy in Israel , as did the Palestinian Authority(PA). So who was responsible? Palestinian Authority police have arrested members of the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) - a coalition of Palestinian militants. The PRC denies any involvement. The attack came the day after a US veto of a UN Security Council motion to condemn the Israeli government's construction of a 'security fence' in the occupied territories which in effect annexes Palestinian farmland, houses and water supplies. The Bush administration was quick to blame Arafat and the PA for not cracking down hard enough on terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Arafat has certainly gained from the intensification of the conflict - his approval rating among Palestinians rising from 33% to 50%. He has not been above funding and training terrorists such as the Al Aqsa Brigades while publicly decrying them in the past. However his influence over such groups is limited and antagonising the US would be almost suicidal. Many Palestinians believe that the one with most to gain from the bombing is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - and believe Mossad - the Israeli intelligence service - was responsible.
Another possible culprit is Al Qa'ida which is not just a single organisation but an ideology and global movement of Islamic fundamentalist organisations. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have strengthened and spread these kinds of movements globally so that now even if Arafat's Fatah party, Islamic Jihad and Hamas ended violence these others might not.
The Gaza attack may have been part of the strengthening and internationalisation of the Islamic fundamentalist movement as a reaction to Bush's global 'war on terror'. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become internationalised. It's worth noting here that the Bush administration has given a US federal government contract to the US-based firm Bechtel to build a pipeline from Iraq to the Israeli port of Haifa. George Schultz, ex-US secretary of State, is a Bechtel director. The attack may have been motivated by the US's obvious bias towards Israel. How can Sharon afford to keep occupying the West Bank? US loans and financial aid. How can Israel continue to occupy the West Bank and Gaza in defiance of the whole Arab world. US military aid , training and technology. The Gaza attack may have been targeting CIA agents. The CIA frequently use US embassies as bases and as cover identities and some sources claim some of those killed were indeed CIA officers.
The Gaza attacks may also have been an attempt by whoever was responsible to block the 'Geneva Accords' peace plan which has been proposed by Palestinian intellectuals and former Israeli cabinet ministers - the Bush administration , Arafat and Sharon have all largely dismissed it.
Whoever was responsible the attack was probably linked to the 'war on terror' - whether Arafat, Mossad or Al Qa'ida were the ones trying to intensify it or win a victory in it. In the West Bank and Gaza , just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism won't be ended by continuing the occupation or further military strikes - and the occupation won't be ended by terrorism. A settlement is still possible. Even now 85% of Palestinians want a bilateral cease-fire with Israel and 66% even support a unilateral cease-fire. It could be that attacks like the Gaza bombing would continue for a while even if a settlement were reached with extreme Israeli fundamentalists trying to destabilise a settlement from one side while Jewish Zionist fundamentalists tried to destabilise it from the other. That's certainly something that happened in Northern Ireland. However the level of casualties being sustained by both sides would drop massively.
Instead the Gaza bombing was followed by Israeli strikes on Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza which killed 8 militants - but also 4 civilians including women and children - and critically injured an 11 year old boy - as well as injuring 99 other civilians. These attacks were condemned even by ministers in the Israeli coalition government. This was followed by Hamas missile attacks on Israeli settlements and towns. A previous cease-fire agreement made under the US 'road-map for peace' plan was broken repeatedly by the Israeli government - 19 Palestinian civilians including 6 children were killed in the first 6 days of it. After Palestinian militants killed 2 Israeli civilians in an attack on a settlement in the Gaza strip the Sharon government formally ended the cease-fire and invaded the West Bank and Gaza again , killing 6 Palestinians , on the 4th of October . Arafat, Sharon and Hamas maintain their political support by encouraging their own people to kill and be killed. At the same time an independent commission on human rights in Afghanistan established by the UN has found that the war there continues and human rights abuses by occupying, government and resistance forces are increasing - while Amnesty International say women continue to suffer repression and abuse. In Iraq a report by the US based Human Rights Watch has documented at least 94 concrete cases of US forces killing unarmed civilians with case studies and eye witness reports from Iraqis and western journalists. The occupying forces keep no records of Iraqi casualties but from visits to mortuaries in Baghdad and Najaf the Independent newspaper journalist Robert Fisk has estimated the violent death toll among Iraqis at around 1,000 per week - which dwarfs the numbers killed by Saddam's brutal dictatorship. British and American troops also continue to die in the occupation.
The main obstacles to peace are those who remain in power by promoting further conflict - Arafat, Sharon and the Bush administration. President Bush stated in an interview with Fox News on the 22nd of September that Iraq and Afghanistan are merely 'battles' in 'the war' on terrorism. His administration continues to expand the 'war on terror' globally to institute an American empire or 'pax Americana' through 'regime change' imposed by military force in Syria, Iran, North Korea and China. War with an emerging superpower like China would mean World War Three. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly linked to this global war on terror. People across the world need to make it clear they will not accept the ratcheting up of conflict to the point that Israel-Palestine style conflicts intensify and spread across the world. Nor should we tolerate risking a third world war with China.
Tales From The Front Line (part two)
The Story So Far: It's the day of the England versus Turkey match. Bob and Paul, our intrepid explorers, find themselves ensconced in the murky belly of a hostelry in the city of Nottingham, intent on watching said match. Later on, they will witness the creepy Caledonian melancholy of a musical duet and various appendages who purport to call themselves Arab Strap. Oh, and Bob's wife has threatened to leave him. Again.
"I know her from somewhere."
"You shagged her?"
It was just after 3pm and the pub was packed. Already it reverberated to the familiar sounds, smells, inflections, infections and inflictions of contemporary England. Grown men were farting into other men's pints, and the women stank of stale perfume and spoke louder than they should. And what were they doing in a city centre pub on the day of a vital international football match anyway?
"I thought it was you!"
The afternoon passed by in our customary barrage of same agains and confidentiality. Oh, how we cackled with our fellow English brethren when we thought that Scotland might get knocked out, but then afforded them a smile when they managed to scrape into the play-offs (somehow I can't imagine the Scottish ever affording us a smile); How Bob delighted in a thigh-rubbing incident with a well-to-do 40-something who squeezed her way into the seat next to his, and how I almost soiled my trousers when her husband- all muscles, scars, and a San Tropez tan- parked his mammoth frame in the seat next to mine; People I didn't know were talking to me about things I didn't care about; I counted four people passed out in a alcohol induced slumber; There were a couple of ejections (which my colossal compatriot seemed to take a great interest in), a minor scene involving a misplaced Burberry baseball cap, and, to a testosterone induced crescendo of "Get yer tits out for the lads" one flashing of female busoms. And the match hadn't even started yet…
To be continued...