The Friday before Easter

Last April I went to an event with George Mitchell, Tony Blair, Bertie Aherne, Bronagh Hinds, Seamus Mallon & others to mark 20 years since the signing of the Belfast/ Good Friday agreement. (I went looking for the blog post on it & discovered that I hadn’t written one, dammit. I’d forgotten how useful blogging is for capturing moments that would otherwise be lost.)

It was a reminder of the work it takes to build a foundation for peace. Nothing just happens- it takes commitment, time to listen & a determination to build trust and consensus. It’s not a job with regular hours, or annual leave.

As the peacemakers spoke, it was clear that our current generation of politicians have different priorities. Seamus Mallon was wonderfully scathing, but no I can’t give you an example because I didn’t write it down…

This year there was nothing good about the Friday before Easter. I woke up to the news that Lyra McKee had been killed by rioters in Derry. When I gathered myself, I found Girl2 watching Derry Girls- the episode finishing with Clinton’s Derry speech . The confluence had me in tears. The hope for the future we had was embodied in Lyra McKee.

Thousands of people were killed in “the troubles”. Too many have been killed during “the peace”. Ms McKee was a force of nature, a talented investigative journalist doing her job. I knew her only from Twitter, we had friends in common. I admired her work, her humour, how she knew everybody. There have been many stories of her generosity, curiosity and warmth.

But what’s different about Lyra McKee’s life and death has been the variety of people she touched. She was a child of our peace, someone who should never have known our violence, much less be killed by it. She was a powerful advocate. She embraced social media. She’d found her love and moved to be with her. She was fearless in her journalism & had a book ready for publication. For young people, for Belfast, for Derry, for writers, for women, for the curious, for LGBTIQ, for politically interested, for the lost, for so many people, Lyra was ‘one of us’.

Her murderers called her death a ‘tragic accident’ & said their volunteers would be more careful in future.

The reaction to her murder has been incredible. Her friends used paint to mark red, as bloodied, hands over the building used by the dissident republican group. Such disregard for the big boys. Such courage.

The funeral was shown live on two television stations. The Prime Ministers of UK and Ireland, the Irish President & a representative of the Queen attended alongside family, friends, colleagues & local politicians. From a Catholic background, Lyra was buried from the Church of Ireland cathedral, with a service conducted by clergy from both denominations. Lyra brought people together.

Referencing the local political stalemate (we’ve had no government since 2017) and the politicians sitting together in the front of the congregation, the priest wondered, “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29 year old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?” There is hope that this will mark a changing point, and cynicism that we’ve had potential changing points before, but our politicians dig deeper trenches.

Politicians won’t change until we tell them too. In May, we have 2 elections- for local councillors and for Members of the European Parliament. Our so called leaders will take their cues from those results.

Vote carefully. Vote for good. Vote for bringing people together. Take responsibility for our mess. Make change happen.

#NotInMyName

#TeamLyra

#DemandBetter

Make memories, experience emotions

Months ago, Kileen suggested a night out. Of course I agreed. We arranged the eating part & connected with the others. We were going to a talk by someone I was only just aware of – a floppy haired tv explorer chap. I’d seen a programme or two, but he’s been doing it for years and I’m not an explorer type of gal.

I got home hours later than expected, and am now a fan. Bloggy buddies, Simon Reeve is your man. He was a troubled teen, leaving school without qualifications and with mental health problems. When he admitted to being overwhelmed by life, a kind woman at the dole office told him to just take things step by step, and he did. To the gate, to the corner shop, to the train station, to Scotland, to Glencoe, to that rock, up another bit. Somehow, woefully unprepared, he avoided the need to be rescued & celebrated enormous physical achievement. He even made it home again in one piece. Prior to that, his experience of exploring had been in Granny’s car, directing her to go left, right or straight on, regularly ending up by the biscuit factory.

Eventually, Simon got a job sorting the post for the Sunday Times. When he gathered himself enough to look round the workplace beyond the post room, he got involved in investigations. By 19, he was leading a team. By 20 he had the bit between his teeth and left to research his own book, The New Jackals. That was published in 1998, was quietly well received, and vanished.

In 2000, he published One Day in September, about the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The accompanying documentary of the same name won an Oscar.

When the attacks happened on September 11, 2001, Reeve’s phone started to ring before the second tower was hit; it didn’t stop ringing for a year and a half. All that research for The New Jackals had made him the author of the only work on Bin Laden & al Qaeda, and in demand.

By this stage I was entertained, moved and agog. There is more to smiley tv guy than I could have imagined. Isn’t that the way?

Nearly half way through the show, and he moved to chat about the programmes made for the BBC. There are many, many series, starting with Meet the Stans and Places That Don’t Exist, moving around the equator and the tropics, and currently working on the Americas. I have much to catch up on.

Tales of toilets (and pigs), being arrested by the KGB and starting down the barrel of a rocket launcher. Armoured undies, wooden swimming goggles & a huge bolt (thrown locally, Belfast is kind to visitors) were all pulled out from travel kits.

The message wasn’t about tall tales or beautiful views; instead, you haven’t journeyed unless you’ve met people. Talk to people, eat the food, experience the light and shade of the world. Push yourself to experience a wee bit more. Look for adventure close to home. Meet people.

When questioned about when or where he’d like to have lived, Reeve was also clear that he’s happy with the here and now, the opportunities to travel, and ‘my lad’.

Grounded and humble, curious, open and grateful, Simon Reeve is worth checking out. I have much to explore!

#HelpHarry

We’re all bored of Brexit, and it hasn’t even happened yet. Politicians are being asked if they wouldn’t just vote for something ‘to get it over with’ as if it weren’t their job to do better than taking the easy option. But, ye gods, the politicians we have in Westminster…

The government has no idea what’s happening, and the opposition aren’t doing much opposing. There’s a bizarre fixation on the marginal result of a flawed referendum. They ignore that the result was achieved via fraudulent means. Leavers no longer suggest that leaving the EU will bring an economic boost. There’s talk of ‘enough calories’ & ‘surviving’. I still don’t know for why. I understand that some people thought that the EU was bad for the UK. My view was different. I can’t claim to always be right, but nothing in the years since the referendum has convinced me that leaving is a good idea. The majority of the votes in NI – the only part of the UK with a land border with the rest of the EU- were for remain.

I have lived my life in the UK, ultimately governed by Westminster, and I wish only the best for the whole population. But, for many of us, Ireland is not ‘the rest of the EU’, it’s the rest of us. It’s as much part of our lives and identity as where we currently live. Donegal means more to me than Derby.

Lots of folk from NI choose to spend time in Donegal. Holiday homes, caravans, AirBnBs, hotels are all filled with the likes of me and mine. Family history, family holidays, family & friends. And our pets.

As I’m getting excited about our seaside site opening for the season, I thought I’d check out what I need to do to keep Harry right.

I shouldn’t be surprised by nobody having worked out how to apply international rules to the practicalities of NI life, because OF COURSE they haven’t. Because Brexshit.

He needs a rabies jab, and to get a passport. He’ll not be happy, but grand.

Read on. A blood test 10 days later. A health certificate after 3 months. (We leave the EU in 3 weeks, unless a miracle happens.) A new health certificate for every visit (most weekends & more during school holidays). Well, that’s awkward, impractical and probably expensive. Surely nobody’s going to be able to do that?

Read on. Pets can only enter Ireland via Dublin airport. Really? Nobody can even pretend that can apply to NI visitors.

Wouldn’t it be great to think that our local politicians were negotiating arrangements to suit our reality? But that’s not the case. The NI politicians with influence are working against the wishes of the majority of the NI electorate, the voices of business, farming and our civil service. They are so happy to have some power, they are listening to nobody when it comes to how they use it.

I’d switched off, worn out by the nonsense. A westie sized problem has reignited the rage.

Update! Lovely vet dismissed my concerns and suggested we all go get a beer in Donegal. Yay! We love lovely vet.

However, nothing has actually changed. Official guidance is what it was yesterday. A collective decision to simply ignore it doesn’t change that reality. We’re due to leave EU in 3 weeks, except today the Prime Minister says it might not happen. Nobody seems to have any idea what’s going on & there are no reliable sources of information. I got riled by the Brexit issue in miniature- not because I was scaremongering, but because I’m scared. We’ve had years of havoc, and no end in sight. If I were a business owner, I’d be beside myself. The government is so caught up in internal battles that no energy has gone into real world planning.

3 weeks until Brexit and the best advice is ‘ignore all regulations’. How is that Not Scary?

on being broken

I’m in limbo, I feel. Not quite one thing or the other. I don’t know much about what’s going on, and I don’t have the energy to care. I should be freaking about the unseasonable weather and upcoming shambolic departure of UK from the EU; I’m more ‘meh’. These are potentially life changing processes being handled poorly, if at all, and I don’t have the oomph to even tweet my MP. She appears to be in denial about one, and thinks the other is going swimmingly, so what’s the point? Also, who am I?

Tomorrow is international Rare Disease Day. Traditionally, this is the busiest time. There are presentations to perfect and politicians to persuade. There is the clutter of banners and posters, and the play packs to assemble. There is usually snow. All is different this year- the weather is scarily warm and pleasant, and I have no banners or lists of to do. I’m not organising or presenting; I’m tagging along.

I spent years doing all I could do. I made it my business to be in or around all the conversations- rare disease, neurology, co-production, ME, system transformation, leadership. And right now, I’m done. I’ve stepped back from most of the things with which I used to fill my days. I’d wondered if I’d be bored, but no. I don’t even have the brain power to be bored.

I’m sleeping and reading, and sleeping some more. My brain and body are slow moving- I have no idea what day it is and the family are home from schools before I’ve properly woken up. I have taken to tidying and organising in little chunks. Charity shops and sellers of little boxes are happy that I have taken inspiration from Marie Kondo. I discovered books I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen before, without any recollection of choosing or purchasing before losing on the shelf behind the drawers. I got rid of many many books, as well as the wee cheat of drawers. Kitchen cupboards have been transformed-we can find things without all the other things falling out. Radical stuff.

I’ve signed up for some volunteering at events in March- getting to participate in festivals in this way is new for me. I’m dipping a toe into a different aspect of living in Belfast. My health has meant I’ve missed out on lots over the years- I’m hoping I can manage these, with plenty of rest and a seat. Spurs Fan does wonder how my decision to step back from volunteering has resulted in volunteering for new things, but why not? Events are not the everyday business of running a charity. They are short bursts of interesting activity to tempt my dormant brain cells. They are the outside world and community and conversation. They are time to remember myself.

Soon, it will be time to head west to the seaside, to the caravan at the beach. The weather will be back to normal by then. I will be sleeping and reading and embracing the emptiness, the wind and the constant sound of the sea.

I’ll need all that space to deal with whatever the changes resulting from the UK leaving EU will actually be.