Issue #68 - February 20th - 26th 2004

Alf, on a bleak December day
Dave perceives it as a bleak December day. Really, it is just a December day. Although, if we’re honest, what is December but a human construct for compartmentalizing existence? Not that Dave cares about that right now.
By Ashling Lynch

The beauty in the way that we are living (installment 4)
"I bet that if you tried one single time you'd get it." It's not an admittance of my suberb aiming and pebble-throwing skills, probably because these are none-existant; it's a 'life's funny like that' sort of statement, and we laugh.
By Dimitra Daisy

The long lost diary of Miss S L Gleaden (part 19)
"Don't worry about a thing. Everyone loves Great Aunt Jennifer!" But the diary did worry. As far as it was concerned, Great Aunt Jennifer no matter how lovely she was could not compare to the comfort of the oak bookcase.
By Rachel Queen

The end of the day was best. Buoyed by life and our ascent into the hills, we'd collapse into each other on the sofa, slurp on ice cold beers and laugh at Fools and Horses re-runs. Life made sense then.
By Paul Williamson

The Mystery of Love: Sherlock Holmes and Valentine's day
It was a typically dark February day when I decided to drop in at 221B Baker Street on my way home from the regimental club, for a little of the inimitable companionship offered by my good friend Sherlock Holmes.
By Hugo Johan

Risking Making a Corpse of Habeus Corpus
It's time to realise that to remove even one person's democratic rights is not only unjust - but also threatens our own rights.
By Duncan McFarlane



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Alf, on a bleak December day

Dave perceives it as a bleak December day. Really, it is just a December day. Although, if we’re honest, what is December but a human construct for compartmentalizing existence? Not that Dave cares about that right now. He sees the bleakness because he has just had a fight with his mother, an unreasonable middle-aged brunette. If he believed He existed, Dave would think God was scorning him with the weather. The sky appears grey and it is starting to rain. This is unfortunate for Dave who has nowhere to shelter. Thankfully, Dave is exceptionally good at turning inward, and his imagination will offer him a dry place to sit.

So it will be July and his mother will no longer exist. Alf will be his company and he will need no other. Alf cannot speak, but his twitches are indicative of his moods. Mostly Alf is contemplative, although occasionally he will become indignant at the sight of white rabbits. He believes their inferior intellect has done terrible damage to the reputation of ‘real’ rabbits. Dave chooses to ignore these outbursts, as they are rare, and really, who wants to pick a fight with a 6’ rabbit?

"Well, Alf, want shall we do today?"
Alf is quite indifferent, but Dave feels they should go to the seaside.
"Sorry, mate, no rabbits on the bus." The bus driver is typically discourteous, and Dave can see that Alf is becoming inwardly agitated at this blatantly bigoted rule.
"What do you mean? How the fuck are we supposed to get to the seaside?" "Not my problem, mate. Company rules. You could try closing your eyes and making a wish. No guarantees mind. Sorry, mate."

Alf narrows his eyes with contempt and shakes his fist aggressively, as the bus pulls away.
"Calm down, Alf. The Bus Driver’s right, we can probably wish our way there. Close your eyes."
Alf closes his eyes reluctantly, as does Dave. Together, they wish to be at the seaside and, because Dave is largely in charge of the world, they materialize there, each holding an ice cream.
"Excellent. Hey Alf, why did we want to come here in the first place?"
Alf shrugs, not mentioning that it was exclusively Dave’s idea.
"Christ, I know! We were going to have a pirate adventure, weren’t we?"
Dave is very excited by his plan, and does not notice Alf frantically shaking his head.

The pirate ship appears on the horizon, and sails toward the beach with improbable speed. It is large, black and foreboding. Darkness follows it across the sea. Alf feels he would rather like to stay on the beach in the sunshine, but he is aware of the precariousness of his existence, that if he is no longer part of Dave’s adventure he will cease to be. For this reason he is one of the loyalist friends Dave could hope to have.

"How do you suppose we board the ship, Alf?"
It is indeed a problem. The pirates are still at least a hundred yards from the beach, and can’t get any closer. They are shouting drunkenly from the deck, but neither Dave nor Alf can understand what they’re saying. Drunkenness is the perennial condition of most pirates, an unfortunate fact for those wishing to business with them.

"We can’t understand you, you drunken bastards!" Dave shouts, unwisely as it happens. Unhappy at being called a drunken bastard, Sober Pete, the most sensible pirate to ever sail the seven seas, jumps overboard and swims toward the beach. Thankfully, his progress is somewhat impeded by the absence of his right leg. Obviously he has a wooden leg, but for swimming such a thing is quite inefficient. Not to pour scorn on the concept of the wooden leg of course. Sober Pete has in fact grown rather fond of his, being as it is something of a badge of distinction in the pirate community. It would probably be fair to say, even, that today was the first instance in the last twenty-two years that he missed his original limb. Sadly, his fondness for his wooden leg cannot keep him afloat.

"Bloody hell, Alf, do you think that bloke’s drowning?"
Alf twitches, to indicate his positive response, which is lost on Dave.
"Maybe we should...Um...Should you help him?"
Alf punches him on the nose, to indicate his negative response, which is perfectly clear to Dave. "Right. Fair enough, but I really do think...Oh fuck it, it’s not like I can drown," says Dave, quite accurately, as he dives into the sea. Sober Pete struggles furiously but is a pretty crap swimmer, and is quite exhausted by the time Dave reaches him and starts to pull him toward the shore.

They fall out off the sea, spluttering, at Alf’s feet. Alf is unconcerned, but being a polite bunny rabbit, tries to appear worried.
"Don’t worry, Alf, I’m quite all right." Alf attempts to look relieved but, not being a professional actor, can only manage apathetic. Sober Pete, is grateful to his rescuer and, after introducing himself, suggests they go for a drink, to celebrate not drowning.
"But, Sober Pete...Well, I would have thought you’d be...sober." "Indeed, and I don’t intend to get drunk. I used to be ‘Drinks In Moderation Pete’, but the lads all thought that that was a bit much, and as I am sober, on the whole...Sober Pete seemed that bit more...dynamic."
"Right. Lets go then."

And so, the three new friends, or acquaintances, walk along the beach until they come to a charming little bar called Ahab’s Local, where, Sober Pete informed them, all the pirates drink. Sadly, it was only ten past eleven, and most pirates are too ashamed to go to the pub before lunch. That’s not to say that they don’t spend the mornings getting drunk, they just choose to do it on their ships.

There is one other man in the pub, a one-eyed pirate that Sober Pete claims to know.
"Bloody hell, that’s Surly Alan, I know him from my support group."
"What support group? Are you an alcoholic?"
"Course not, you idiot. It’s a support group for pirates who’ve been...maimed on the job."
"Oh right, sorry mate," says Dave sheepishly. "Should we go over?"
"Well, he’s pretty surly, but I don’t much fancy having just you for company. No offence Alf."

So the three approach the bar, and order three glasses of rum, which is the only thing available, this being a bar that likes to perpetuate stereotypes. Sober Pete coughs loudly, in an attempt to attract the attention of Surly Alan. Finding himself ignored, Sober Pete takes the less subtle, if more traditional, route of speaking.
"Alright Surly Alan. How you doing?"
"Okay," replies Surly Alan, without looking up, for he is indeed surly.
"What are you doing here so early?"
"Are you suggesting I’ve got a drinking problem?" asks Surly Alan, in a classic example of protesting too much.
"Eh? No, no, course not, mate." Sober Pete replies, made quite uncomfortable by the possibility of personal discourse with Surly Alan.

The four sit together in a companionable silence, broken only by the sound of Alf trying to sip his drink. Life as a giant rabbit is unquestionably difficult, the modern world is simply not made for one so enormous and fluffy.

Ashling Lynch



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The beauty in the way that we are living, installment three

"I'm not sure I remember why we do this."
"You would remember if we stopped."

I escape my parents' house with the decisiveness of a fish escaping a faulty fish tank - a phrase I read in a book in 1998 and haven't managed to forget since: here it means I do it seeming sure it's the only thing to do even though I have nowhere to go and outside it's starting to snow. It's unremarkable, sparse, thin and hard snow which I resent it because it makes the pop songs about sunshine and lemonade sound wrong. Even so, after I've listened to them for long enough my head starts to clear and I can smile again and skip down the streets. I end up going to see a friend at a restaurant where he works and he gets me drunk on seven star brandy which makes the world spin so sweetly for a while. It also confuses me enough to be unable to think of the quickest way to where I am supposed to be meeting my brother thus giving me an excuse to run around, checking one corner after the other, under the snow which by now is falling heavily and making my home town look like a Christmas postcard and me almost glad I've spent seven hours on that soddy train, because if I hadn't I wouldn't be here to see this.

Five days later I leave an internet cafe -thinking how easy it is to underestimate the greatness of having a working computer in your front room until the day it stops working- to discover the weather has changed. A warm, wet wind has taken over Athens bringing what I decide to name (not quite lemonade, but maybe) orange juice weather with it. It's an incredibly uplifting sort of weather and it makes me dreamy beyond belief too. It makes me want to run down streets and write love letters.

I walk home following the cable lines and when I get there I open my windows, light a couple of candles and sit on the couch staring at the record player spinning and thinking of the good things in life, and at that moment I feel like I'm doing something important. I feel almost like I'm praying.

The next day and since orange juice weather persists (and also since I have studying to do) I decide to name the patch-of-grass-with-three-benches-and-a-playground-on-top-of-a-hill-overlooking-an-ugly-highway-and-an-even-uglier-part-of-town which I have discovered lately "the park" and drag Nick and Mina there. There's no sunset to see because a cloud is blocking the view to it, but it's a light, fluffy cloud (though fairly big for its kind I have to admit) and the wind is still heart-achingly warm, humid and unruly.

We sit down on some rocks and talk about all sorts of nonsense I think I will forget soon afterwards, but I don't - shoes and flying kites and the greek equivelant of Pancake Tuesday, which is a lot less tasty but a lot more fun. All the while Nick is throwing pebbles at the oddly-placed lamppost some five metres opposite us (why stick a single lamppost halfway down a hill that's not really a park nor really a pathway is beyond me, and maybe it is why it's not working anyway). Or rather I should say Nick trying to throw pebbles at the lamppost opposite, because the pebbles invariably fail to hit it.

"You should take the wind into consideration when aiming too" I remark after noticing I've been watching this go on for a while.
"I've realised this since the fifth throw" Nick protests.
"Is this the sixth one?"

I watch some more admitting to myself I quite like my joke and then Nick says "I bet that if you tried one single time you'd get it."

It's not an admittance of my suberb aiming and pebble-throwing skills, probably because these are none-existant; it's a 'life's funny like that' sort of statement, and we laugh. I look around for a pebble and discover the only one that's within reach looks rather useless. I pick it up anyway; I think that if I try too hard I will certainly fail; then remember that a boy I once loved told me that it's easier to make something go the way you want it if it's spinning, so I try to make the pebble spin as I throw it.

It doesn't even seem to be going fast, or straight enough. We all watch it near the lampost, then disappear - its own greyness against the post's- and I think it's lost, then change my mind and raise my fist in amazement and celebration as it goes "bang!".

Of course I don't try again.

As we walk back a wide smile is stuck permanently on my face and a rare feeling has gripped me, a feeling that reminds me of the greatness of being seven year olds. It's the feeling that I'm drunk on my senses and the brightness of the afternoon is within me as well as around me - the feeling that the world is my playground.

Dimitra Daisy
(More by this author)



Note: this is a diary of sorts. The author would like to thank the cast, especially Nick and Mina, for being there and being themselves. Oh yes - 'The beauty in the way that we are living' is a song by Club 8.



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The long lost diary of Miss S L Gleaden

Previous Exploits of Miss S L Gleaden and her diary
|1|2|3|4|5| 6|7|8|9|10|11| 12|13|14|15|16|17|18|

The story so far:

The diary of Miss S L Gleaden had peacefully travelled the world with the dippy but loveable adventurer. Its life had been interesting and slightly unpredictable, but no matter where it was S L Gleaden provided a safe corner in her rucksack. Until that is insisted that the pair should part company catapulting the diary into a whirlwind of bizarre and slightly random situations and as a which placed it into the hands of the young New Zealander Rebecca Phillips.

It had been 6 years and 3 months since the Phillips family had seen Great Aunt Jennifer in Orelando Florida. The trip had involved excitement, adventure, and ice cream.

Great Aunt Jennifer's house was big and misshapen. The walls which were once painted bright white were speckled with dust. Plants grew tall and trees interlocked protectively shielding the house from the outside world. For two whole months Rebecca and her sister had spent their time scrabbling in the cool damp undergrowth, making dens, which they decorated with broken crockery, writing letters written in secret code, solving about a million mysteries. Resting only for long tall glasses of fresh lemonade, or big round bowels of chocolate ice cream.

When Edwards Phillips announced to the two girls that they would soon be returning to the higgledy-piggledy paradise he was met by a frenzy of excited shrieking. Weeks later and the girls had stopped shrieking but hadn't stopped talking about the forthcoming holiday.

"Do you remember the time aunt Jennifer told us the story about her trip to Nepal…"

"Do you remember the time we solved the mystery of the disappearing milk bottles?"

"Do you remember the time we stayed up all night and saw the shooting stars?"

Rebecca was excited. Not only was she going to see her great aunt but her mother had decided that she was now grown up enough to pack her own hand luggage. She began by looking over at her bookshelf. If she thought hard enough she could have recited the opening paragraph from each book. It was hard to pick a book to accompany her on the journey. In the end she had decided to pack "the voyage of the dawn trader" her favourite book from the Chronicles of Narnia. She stared at it hard, imagining that she could see through the thick dark cover and onto the first line of print. From her imagination she read:

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

The line made her laugh and she had been able to remember it since the very first time that she read the book.

Then she pulled a tatty, well travelled book which began:

"What does one pack when preparing for a journey like this?"

Rebecca looked at the diary of Miss S L Gleaden. She had spent numerous hours contemplating the life of the diary in the time before she acquired the it. It really was a mystery. Rebecca loved mysteries. And there was nowhere on earth better to solve them than at Great Aunt Jennifer's house.

The diary of Miss S L Gleaden sighed as it was pulled from the shelves. Over the past weeks it had begun to feel quite at home. The bookcase made out of darkly stained oak exuded peace. Tucked between "Boy" by Roald Dahl and "willow farm" by Enid Blyton, the diary had felt safe. The diary felt that this was the fate it truly deserved after an anxious life of upheaval and turmoil.

Rebecca, as though sensing the books anxieties whispered:

"Don't worry about a thing. Everyone loves Great Aunt Jennifer!"

But the diary did worry. As far as it was concerned, Great Aunt Jennifer no matter how lovely she was could not compare to the comfort of the oak bookcase. Its opinions, however, did not count for much. After all the diary was just a book and had no choice in the mater. Rebecca neatly packed the book alongside "the dawn trader" which incidentally was very happy to be accompanying her on her adventure, in a bright red and yellow rucksack.

Whilst the diary might not have excepted to begin another adventure I'm sure you the reader did, because by now you will be well aware that some months later the diary washed up on the shores of a small town in the long forgotten county of Cumbria. Locals were impressed by the story contained within, not to mention the book's ability to wash up on the shores of a landlocked town, and after many hours were able to track down the explorer herself and made sure that the book returned to her but not before they had read it from cover to cover of course…

to be continued...

Rachel Queen

More By This Author




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That summer. We must have walked the length and breadth of Northumbria that summer, saw our skin turn pink then red then the occasional brown, felt our feet swell to resemble mallets the size of Calcutta and our limbs tingle and ache at the prospect of the gradients, but we carried a bag full of bread and cheese necessities, and that summer, that summer was the greatest of my life.

It isn't like that now, of course. As I write this, the sun draws shadows on the walls of the room, and the cloudless sky seems like an invitation to the hills, but I can't even hoist my saggy soul to the newsagents and back, so what price on those hills now, you mistress of Northumbria?

The end of the day was best. Buoyed by life and our ascent into the hills, we'd collapse into each other on the sofa, slurp on ice cold beers and laugh at Fools and Horses re-runs. Life made sense then. This is how I understood life to be; all that you needed was the love of a good woman, a beer at the end of the day, and the occasional ascent into the hills, and everything would work out fine.

Nearly every day we would walk. We'd fill the bag with tap water, bread, and cheese and, by first light, we'd be gone. Why did we walk so much? I'd like to say that it was because we were on some sort of ephemeral quest to 'find ourselves', or that climbing hills was a great way of keeping fit, but the truth is probably nearer to the fact that walking was cheap. Of course, it did help us to keep fit, but that was merely a by-product of our meandering, and I'm sure we spent a minute or two pondering life's big questions, but as for finding ourselves? We'd already done that. Ours wasn't an escape. Only zen- hippies and pseudo-mystics escape into the hills. We walked because we could afford to. It was ALL we could afford to do. Getting a job was out of the question. The only jobs available were wringing chickens necks at the local chicken factory. We'd rather be penniless and free. We also loved each other to the exclusion of everyone else. We thrived in our own little bubble, not needing, not wanting, to let anyone else in. Other people seemed merely an inconvenience. We'd put up with them, of course- at weddings, family gatherings, or on the occasional night out- but we'd relish the moment when our heads hit the pillow, and the door was firmly locked. So walking into the near- wilderness gave us that, too. It enabled us to exclude all others without purposefully excluding them. We just didn't see them.

I am walking now. I am walking now and I don't know where. I told myself to only go to the newsagents, just get a paper and go on home, but then all of this happened, all of you got to me, and now I am walking, walking into the fog, air tight in my throat, scant sign of summers sun.

I am walking into what?

Paul Williamson

(More by this author)



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The Mystery of Love:
Sherlock Holmes and Valentine's day

It was a typically dark February day when I decided to drop in at 221B Baker Street on my way home from the regimental club, for a little of the inimitable companionship offered by my good friend Sherlock Holmes. And in his inimitable way -as is his wont - he ignored me flat upon my being shown in by his disapproving housekeeper, the name of whom always evades my mind, especially after all these years. In fact, it appeared as if he took no cognizance of my entry whatsoever, being clearly involved some intricate and animated discussion with himself, no doubt regarding a strange squarish object - the like of which had so far escaped my sphere of familiarity - situated on the desk in front of him. Now, there was nothing strange about this... well, certainly not about the fixity of his concentration betrayed by the incessant flickering of his eyes, nor about the way his face seemed to shift from expression to expression, or the irregular tapping of his one finger on the desk: it had all the hallmarks of that marvellous phenomenon I've been so privileged to witness as often as I have: his formidable brain in magnificently full flight! However, three things did strike me, and piqued my interest perhaps somewhat more than would otherwise have been the case: firstly, it seemed out of place for Holmes to be engaged so at his desk, when normally his thinking would be conducted in his large and comfortable wing-backed chair, fronting which, in fact, there now blazed a roaring fire which necessitated the removing of my coat. Secondly - almost unthinkably for Holmes, he had become so engrossed in his deliberations, that he had allowed his pipe to go out. But it was the third thing that intrigued me most: the box-like object that he was staring so intently at was giving off a distinct and eerie, bluish glow!

I immediately resolved to find out what new mystery my friend had become embroiled in him, and of course to be of as much assistance as my abilities allowed. Though I knew Holmes would not resent my presence, I also knew better than to attempt an intrusion. However, I knew from experience that should I be willing to show enough patience, he would soon be glad of a sounding-board for his theories. I therefore removed myself for a while to his - of course, immaculately constituted - library, and there availed myself of what I was not in the least surprised to find was a first-edition - in pristine condition - of an extremely rare English translation of Plato's Symposium. As I grow older, I find myself returning to the classics, and was right now embarked on this volume. I returned to Holmes' study - where I found all as before - settled myself into my usual chair by the fire, found my place, and lost myself in this classic disquisition on the nature of love. I had reached the end of that classic - and sympathetically rendered - account of that mysterious emotion as given by Aristophanes, having half-forgotten my fascination with the scene in the room beside me, when suddenly Holmes' somewhat arch voice hauled me out of my reverie.

"And may I ask, my dear Watson, with what trove of knowledge are you in the process of enriching your intellect?"

I was startled, but of course not surprised by the complete lack of a greeting - Holmes' sometimes staggering lack of the requisite social graces is something I have never resented, and certainly ceased trying to correct for a long time now. I am, however, somewhat ashamed to say that the abruptness of the question elicited from me a somewhat more curt response than I would normally venture.

"The Symposium."

"Ah bravo, Watson! I see brevity and directness has at last started to take root in your manner. And bravo yet again on your choice of reading-material! The perennial Greeks - those staunch proponents of all that is reasonable and logical. And also certain other... Your choice, I presume, was influenced by today's date?"

"And why should that be?"

"Would you mean to tell me that you are not aware that you have chosen to call on me on that most amorous day, the feast of St. Valentine? I was most touched!"

"Oh indeed! No, I assure you, Holmes that I am far too old a fool to keep track of those details. I assure you - both my visit to you on this day, and my choice of reading-material can be fully and confidently ascribed to that which you so detest: coincidence!"

"So you would often have me believe, but have I not often enough yet demonstrated the rational necessity of that which had initially presented itself as coincidence? But let us leave it there; these coincidences as you would have them, might yet turn out to be most propitious, because - as you may have noted from my demeanour - I am right now embarked on the investigation of a mystery to which, I must regretfully allow, I have not yet been able to make any sense of. Perhaps our practice of the Socratic method might be just the thing to shed some light on it!"

"So I've seen, yes, and in fact I have merely been biding my time to ask you about that mysterious box on your table?"

"Ah that! Very observant, my dear Watson, but I am afraid that once again you have fallen into your old habit of rather too rapidly rushing to an unwarranted conclusion."

"But what do you mean?"

"The box to which you refer - mysterious as I grant that it may seem to you - in fact bears only the most tangential relation to the case at hand. It - the box, not the mystery - is in fact the newest in appliances: a personal Computing Device."

"Ah, I have heard of them, but never actually come into contact with one. But I must say, Holmes, that it strikes me as most irregular to find you of all people in possession of such a device!"

"Yes, indeed it is true that - as you well know - I am somewhat sceptical of science and technology, preferring to employ my innate reasoning faculties, but after all, too severe a rigidity in any matter is often considered a vice, is it not? And you yourself, old friend, have often rendered my researches valuable assistance by you employment of the newest techniques and scientific equipment. And in this case, it pains me to admit that we certainly seem to have stumbled upon a device, that if used judiciously, leads to great improvement. In this case specifically - it is the only way to access what you may permit me to describe as a little vice of mine..."

"My dear Holmes, frankly - I am shocked!"

"Again, Watson, I fear you may have jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion. The vice to which I refer is a rather delightful little nook on the so-called 'internet' which glories in the name 'Friends of the Heroes'. Quite delightful, really."

"But why the friends of the heroes? Surely it would be more interesting to pay attention to the heroes themselves?"

"Ah, but have not we - the two of us, I mean - frequently proved that the hero is mostly irretrievably lost without the support lent him by a faithful and trustworthy friend? But enough of that. You were interested, I venture to suggest, in the nature of the mystery confronting me at present?"

"Oh most certainly. But what then could it be, if it was not this Computing device?"

"Before we proceed, may I mention to you that, even prior to your welcome visit, I was honoured to find myself, on the morning of this most romantic day, sharing breakfast with a most delightful young lady."

"Again, frankly you shock me, Holmes. While I am have made my peace with the indisputable fact that gentlemen of a younger and unattached disposition to myself engage in these dubious practices, I - unfashionably or no - still cling to the conviction that the mark of a gentleman is his discretion!"

"My dear Watson - what must you think of me! For all my sometimes flagrant disregard for custom, you must not think me unsympathetic to your outrage had what you seem to allude to in fact been the case. Once again, however, I think you will find yourself mistaken in your assumption - and that your unreasoning (and may I add, unbecoming?) rash of moral indignation has prevented you from asking the far more rational question of this information's relevance to the matter at hand!"

"And pray, Sir, what might the true situation, and this relevance, entail then?"

"Well, as I was sitting down to my kipper and tea this morning, my landlady - who evidently shares the same distaste as you, my friend, for these types of circumstances - reluctantly showed into my dining-room said young lady, her admittedly very... tempting? - I am teasing you of course! - demeanour sadly clouded by a trouble look, mixed equal parts with perplexity. Now, I ask you, my dear Watson, was a... gentleman... to show such a lady the door - in deference to the appearances of decorousness?"

"Of course not, Holmes. You cannot think me to expect that. But pray continue - what was the source of this lady's 'troubled demeanour', as you put it?"

"Ah! So we come at last to the crux of the matter. The matter which had so confounded the young lady - and which, I must reluctantly admit, continue to exercise the same effect on myself - would be nothing more than a simple package which the young lady had but this very morn received."

"And have you seen this package?"

"Oh yes - not only seen it, but the lady thought it well to leave it in my care until such time as I may adequately be able to plumb it's secrets."

"Well go on, do not beat about the bush so - produce the package, so that I may see for myself what is so ineffable about it!"

"Aha! But your own choice of vocabulary has given away the nature of the game. As you might presently observe for yourself..." And sliding open a drawer in his desk, Holmes proceeded to produce an unremarkable package "at first glance there appears to be nothing remarkable about the package itself. And no," he said, pre-empting my question "nor on closer examination either. The mystery truly is... 'ineffable'!"

"But then I quite fail to see what could be so fascinating - not to mention distressing - regarding this package... Unless, of course, you are - as I have known you to do before! - deliberately leading me in circles about the question. That is: unless the mystery resides in the contents of the package, which I notice is no longer sealed!"

"Very good, my dear friend! But I am afraid that as you are half-right, conversely you must also be half-wrong, if my arithmetic has not deserted me now, in my hour of need! You are right insofar as I have concealed the contents of the parcel - and their possible significance - from you, but alas! Wrong insofar as you assume that the rectification of that small matter will lead you - or myself, for that matter - any closer to the heart of the matter."

"But Holmes, you must admit to being more than a little wilfully obscure here. Out with it, man! What then is the heart of the matter!"

"Ah old friend, it pleases me to see you fall so faithfully into the verbal trap I had set for you. The 'heart of the matter', you see, is precisely... the heart!"

And leaning contentedly back into his chair, allowed me to bask for a few uncomfortable moments in his pleasure at the bafflement and - dare I admit it? Horror - that I knew was scrawled across my face.

(To Be Continued...)

Hugo Johan

(More by this author)



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Risking Making a Corpse of Habeus Corpus

In 1215 AD English barons forced King John of England to approve a Great Charter of rights - the Magna Carta - including what would later develop into the legal principle of Habeus Corpus by providing that 'No free man shall be seized or imprisoned…except by the lawful judgement of his equals.' Habeus Corpus is effectively the right to be presumed innocent of any charge and not be imprisoned unless found guilty by fair trial by jury. In 1215 'free men' excluded much of the population - but habeus corpus rights were gradually extended in English law to cover all citizens , particularly through the 1679 Habeus Corpus Act. The British Empire spread this legal principle worldwide and so it remains a principle of law in the UK and all it's former colonies - from Kenya to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic have begun putting this process in reverse - a reversal which has accelerated since September 11th. In doing so they threaten it world-wide. First habeus corpus rights were removed from foreign nationals - now they are attempting removing them from citizens. The UK's 1973 and 1989 Prevention of Terrorism Acts (PTA) removed habeus corpus from terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. Terrorism Act 2000 widened the definition of terrorism to include 'the use or threat of action…designed to influence the government' or 'for for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause'. After September 11th the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act gave the Home Secretary the power to have foreign nationals suspected of terrorism jailed indefinitely without proper trial. The USA Patriot Act combined a very similar definition of terrorism as acts which "appear to be intended" to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion" with the same provisions for jailing non-citizens indefinitely without trial. An early draft of the 2002 USA Patriot Act contained a section titled 'suspension of the writ of habeus corpus' which was rejected by congress.

According to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "We need to keep in mind that the people in US custody [at Guantanamo Bay] are not there because they stole a car. They are enemy combatants who are being detained for acts of war against our country and that is why different rules have to apply."

So if the crime is serious enough we can just assume anyone accused of it is guilty and imprison them without a fair trial?

Some will argue that terrorists don't deserve a fair trial or are too dangerous to be afforded one. Again this misses the point. Being accused of being a terrorist is completely different to actually being proven to be one. All of the Algerians arrested in the UK in December 2002 and held without trial for a year under suspicion of planning Al Qaida attacks were released last December after the government finally admitted it had no evidence against them. Many other suspects arrested after September 11th still remain in solitary confinement without trial. Some have lost limbs as a result - others have gone insane.

In the UK Home Secretary David Blunkett proposes a new anti-terrorism bill which would remove habeus corpus rights not just from foreign nationals but also UK citizens. A leaked draft of US Attorney General John Ashcroft's Domestic Security Enhancements Act involves different methods of achieving the same result . Blunkett and the Bush administration argue that trials would be involved. However these trials would be anything but fair. Captives at Guantanamo bay can have defence lawyers - but only those vetted and approved by the Pentagon. The last batch of these were fired for protesting at the unfairness of the trial system which broached even army court martial procedures never mind civilian law or the US constitution. Blunkett proposes trials held in secret with judges, prosecution and defence lawyers all vetted by the same intelligence services that brought us the Iraqi WMD claims through the Rockingham cell's long Operation Mass Appeal propaganda campaign. Defendants will not be allowed to be present at their own trial to hear the evidence against them. Effectively it would be trial by secret services who have proven themselves political tools rather than politically neutral guardians.

If a government can jail one of its citizens indefinitely without trial then a legal precedent is set which allows the current or future governments to jail anyone - anyone - indefinitely without trial just by accusing them of serious enough offences, whether there is any evidence to back up the accusation or not. This could potentially allow current or future governments to jail critics or opponents on trumped up charges.

On Saddam's capture Bush claimed "the secret police are gone forever". Instead it seems the coalition are keener on not only setting up their own 10,000 strong secret police force in Iraq - including many former members of Saddam's notorious mukhabarat force - but also risking a police state at home where being accused by secret services is sufficient to ensure a jail sentence. Iraqis are already held without trial in their thousands and suffer beatings - sometimes to death - in custody. The risk is that rather than bringing democracy to Iraq the 'war on terror' could end up eroding it in the US and Britain.

If Blunkett and Ashcroft succeed in getting their new proposals through parliament and congress it will mark another step in a process of wiping out within a matter of years rights of habeus corpus which took centuries of struggle and progress to secure. It's time to realise that to remove even one person's democratic rights is not only unjust - but also threatens our own rights. Comparisons to the rise of the Nazis would possibly be exaggerated but it is still worth remembering Pastor Neimuller's recollection that 'They came for the Jews. I was not a Jew. So I was unconcerned. Then they came for the Catholics. I was not a Catholic. So I was unconcerned. Then for the trade unionists and industrialists. I was neither. So I was unconcerned. Then they came for me - and there was no-one left to be concerned.'(1)

Offline Sources
(1) = Congressional Record 14 Oct 1968 - cited in Jay, Anthony (1996) The Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations , Oxford University Press, London & New York. 1996

Duncan McFarlane
(More by this author)



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