Tag Archives: death

More than just part of the coronavirus tragedy

At the time of writing, 20,319 people have died in hospitals in the UK of coronavirus. If you include all those who have died in care homes and in the community, the total number is estimated to be over 45,000. No one knows exactly how many more will die.

At 3:15 this morning, just over an hour ago, my Dad died in Gloucester hospital and was added to this growing and harrowing statistic.

The magnitude of the coronavirus is hard to fathom. There are close to 3 million confirmed cases globally with a death toll close to 200,000. Cases have been confirmed in over 190 countries around the world. It has, rightly, dominated headlines and headspace for months now.

Dad and Mum on holiday in the Isles of Scilly in 2006

It is in this context that the magnitude of my Dad’s life now sits. While my family and I come to terms with this personal loss, I worry about his life being lost in this context. As the virus and its deadly impacts rage on, I see how people focus on this and might, unwittingly, reduce all that he was and is, to the statistical part he played since his covid diagnosis just over a week ago.

I think my initial reaction, as I fail to get back to sleep lying here listening to the unfathomably loud birdsong outside, is that it is this that bothers me most. I have long since been at peace with the idea of my Dad dying – I am not at peace with his life being reduced to a statistic that reflects nothing more than part of this last awful week and the part he played in this wider tragedy.

But strangely today I think I see things differently to yesterday – almost like in death there has been a strange form of liberation. Dad is no longer the stroke patient, the care home resident with worsening vascular dementia or even the latest vulnerable man to be diagnosed with coronavirus. He is no longer any of those things – at least not primarily. Instead, he is now the plethora of memories floating in the minds of eyes of the countless people and lives he touched.

For me, he remains the Dad that showed his love through actions. He enabled me to believe that I could do anything. He drove me both literally and metaphorically to take every opportunity that arose. So much of where I am today is because I started life stood on the shoulders of a giant of a man. A giant with a heart bursting with love who held so little of the vocabulary needed to express it. In my mind’s eye now there are not the words he spoke to me, but the image of the man who stood on the side of my metaphorical football pitch cheering me on every step of the way.

But this is just me. Elsewhere, as the news of my Dad’s death spreads, there will be people reflecting. Sat now watching the sun rise I like to think that as the toast pops in kitchens all over the country there will be people thinking of the man who started his own business and employed dozens of people. As kettles boil there will be thoughts of the man who volunteered to rebuild steam railways. As people head out to walk their dogs there will be anecdotes of the Scot who would always toast the haggis. As people walk out of the door there will be thoughts of him, my Dad, holding the church door open welcoming everyone in… Thinking now, if there is one act of kindness that best acts as a metaphor for my Dad it is perhaps holding the door open for others.

And then there is the family of mine, of his, who are all mourning him in their own ways. But who I hope are thinking of their Dad, Uncle, Brother who has played such a role in their lives over the last 80 years.

And that’s the other thing – 80 years is a really long time. And so much has happened in his life. It cheers me now as the colours take hold on the trees outside and the shades of the night-time grey slip away to think of the multitude of ways he has touched countless lives over the years and how they live on. The love he has left behind stands as a testimony to him, to the lives he touched. All that he was, and all that he is, is still in the hearts and minds of all those who knew him. He lives on through a thousand anecdotes, memories and personalities he has shaped with his love and kind actions. He lives on through his children and his grandchildren but also through every person who takes joy in riding the steam railway he helped restore.

For me, there is so much beauty in that.

The scale of deaths we are seeing from coronavirus are a tragedy. But I think this tragedy only ever makes sense if you understand it to be the sum of its part. When we talk of over 45,000 deaths in the UK, the magnitude of this can only resonate if you break it down to the individuals we have lost and the impact their lives have had on family, friends and the communities we all live in.

The zest for life my Dad held lives on through all of us that remember him for the man he was over those 80 years. No amount of his own death or others will ever, or can ever, diminish that.

This morning the sun is up and so am I. And this morning I’m going to put twice as much butter and marmalade on my toast as normal and smile the way Dad did each morning he did this. Because you know what, there is a lot to be said for the simple pleasures in life – my Dad taught me that.


Filed under Politics

Reflections on my Mum’s advanced dementia

“Death is coming for us all…the day we will have to face the crossing will come sooner than we think. I hope my day is many many years away, but… I don’t want to make the greatest leap in life in a vague dream. I want to have the chance to look it in the eye, to say: ‘You have had me in your sights all your life, but it’s on my terms that I come.’” Hendri Coetzee – Living the Best Day Ever


Sitting across from each other on slightly uncomfortable wooden chairs in the care home I watch my Mum interact with one of the staff. The young girl lays her hand on my mum’s shoulder, raises the volume of her voice slightly and asks if “everything was alright dear” and if my Mum would “like any help?”.

My mum looks up at her and smiles with wide unfocused eyes. The staff member smiles back, hovers awkwardly for a moment trying to decipherer what this blank stare means before finally she walks over to another resident. As she makes her way over to a lady sat hunched in the corner I look back at my Mum and catch just the faintest flicker of a death stare from behind her eyes. It was an unmistakable reflection of something deep within her that these days only occasionally surfaces. Today this was a split second of a “fuck off am I your dear”.

Of course, I could have imagined it, I could have simply wanted to see a bit of her old self and so read too much into a distant stare. But, in that moment I think I saw my Mum: proud, wanting to help others – not wanting to waste people’s time in being helped, and ultimately using anger as a shield to hide away from all the insecurities and uncertainties of her life.

She focuses her eyes back on me, a second of surprise or alarm gives way to a meandering anecdote about the walk she believes she had taken that morning over Dartmoor. I ask if she saw any deer and she responds that she had, but only in the distance. This follows a second of silence and a drop in her eyebrows before she asks if I was OK to count? I promise her that I was more than happy to count to which she scoffs and says she doubts it. I once again miss the nuance of her reality.

Asking questions of dementia patients often only increases distress and confusion and so I try to steer the conversation back onto safe territory and say it was a beautiful crisp winters day outside. Her eyes look at me. One, two, three. Seconds pass with no response. I try a new path. I tell her that I recently spoke with her nephew, my cousin, and that he is happy and doing well. One, two, three. Eyes wide. No response. I try three of four times more and get little in response.

I decide not to push conversation. I sit with her in the weak winter sun surrounded by the stuffy air of the car home. Silence.

In the silence my mind jumps to memories at random. I think back to my mum cutting all the fire wood for the house by hand insisting that she was perfectly happy with her bow saw and no, she didn’t want me to come around with a chainsaw. I think back to her carrying heavy trestle tables out of the local scout hut as all the other mums stood and watched. I think about her slapping down any idea or suggestion that she might in anyway need any help.

With these thoughts in mind I smile at her thinking that I might get going soon. She doesn’t smile back. The staff member approaches and puts her hand on Mum’s shoulder and, just before Mum smiles up at her, she gives her a split second of that recognisable death state. The staff member either doesn’t notice or chooses not to.

The thing I feel saddest about when I leave is that Mum has so little capacity, so little control. Despite both the care home and my family doing all they can, we are no longer able to play by her rules and there is nothing we, or she, can do about it. She is left to be looked after by others. She is clearly being looked after well but they also clearly miss the very essence of her. I don’t think I am sad that she will pass away in the coming, weeks, months, or possibly years. I am just sad that it must be like this, not on her terms.



Filed under Health, Social comment

A future full of potential regrets

These are some thoughts inspired by a conversation I had with my fiance about how, at just 28 years old, most of my regrets still sit in front of me. It explores how regrets are also rather complicatedly mixed up in taking the risks in life that ensure I live the sort of life I, and others, can be proud of. A life lived to the full. 

Regret rests in the past. That is what we are told.

Regret resides in those residual reminders of actions, or inactions, of days, months, or years gone by. The mantra, so often used by oneself to torment oneself is that ‘if only I had another chance, I would have done it all so differently’.

This perspective is one that comes with age. Age forces regrets into memories of days, months, and years that now rest in our personal rear view mirrors, distorted by the lens of time that we all place over our memories.

And yet, even with the most painful of regrets, the ones that loom largest in our memories, the ones that haunt us without warning in the middle of the night, we know where they are. If we have the courage we can turn to face them, we can take action to rectify them, or at the very least, we can learn to live with them.

At the age of 28 though there is something far more terrifying, in my mind at least, than my existing regrets. This is the concept of all the potential future regrets that rest in front of me, in my future. Sitting on the side of the mantra of ‘I would have done it differently’ that still holds the agency to enact the change that could steer myself and others away from regret is ironically both terrifying and debilitating.

My main regrets sit in my unknown future not the past. This is a challenge unique to the privileged and the young – neither of whom normally realise their predicament.

Like a rabbit caught in headlights I can see paths roll out in front of me leading to actions and inactions that hold all the potential for regret. I can see them all too clearly but choose to keep going, to keep walking.

Why? Why not stop now? To explain, I must tell you a little of myself.

I write these words with thousands of miles resting between me and the friends and family that I grew up with. Each mile serves as a barrier for why I can’t, or worst choose not to, spend the time with the people that mean the most to me.

The future holds a deceptiveness that leads you to think that it is infinite. Just as you fail to appreciate the beauty of the rising of the sun because you think it will always happen, so you can also fail to take the time or appreciate the beauty in being able to pick up the phone and speak to your parents, friends or loved ones.

Despite the warnings, the heart attacks, the high blood pressure, the years passing of my parents, I convince myself that the future will hold the same potential to always be able to pick up the phone, jump on a plane or even send an email to them.

This is of course not true. Life is finite.

Simply, you never appreciate what you have until it is gone.

I am all too aware that it is this that holds the potential for so much regret.

With this foresight, there is a question of why not take action now – look for a job back home sooner, close to friends and family? Why not take action to limit that potential for regret?

To answer this question, an explanation of my parents is needed. From the earliest age they encouraged me grasp opportunities with both hands. To fight for them and to appreciate them to the fullest.

All too clearly I remember both my parents repeating the phrase ‘just give it a go’ throughout my childhood.

Every day I feel the importance of living life, of giving it a go. I push myself to do things, to be bothered, and most of all to appreciate every bit of it – even the supposed failures. I think for that alone my parents are proud.

Life has thrown me around geographically. It dropped me on this earth in the UK but has since taken me all over. I sit now in East Africa thousands of miles away from the parents that made me who I am. I live, I make mistakes, and I regret them. But even these regrets I try my hardest to cherish and to savour because I know that these regrets are signpost to risks taken, choices made and a life lived to the full.

The biggest potential regret of not spending enough time with my parents should they die before me rests in the future alongside other potential regrets. I have no idea how I will react if suddenly the ones I care about are taken from me, but for now at least, that is a question for tomorrow. Today I plan to live every second to it’s full.

My regrets reside in front of me, but so does the rest of my life. I know I can’t have one without the other.

As always, please do contribute comments and thoughts below. 


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Why today I’m reflecting on the deplorable killing of 3 Israeli teenagers

On hearing the news that 3 bodies have been found in the West Bank that are suspected to be the three abducted Israeli teenagers, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach,  that went missing almost three weeks ago I posted the following facebook status:


I was referring to the fact that some armed groups have claimed responsibility for the killings (inc an ISIS affiliated group, and Sarayat al-Quds, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad). If it is shown that one of these groups, or Hamas as the Israeli government keeps claiming, is responsible, then the killings would constitute a war crime.

Almost immediately comments began to follow that status update with comments on context and the atrocious backlash that the Palestinian population has suffered after the abductions in recent weeks. Comments came thick and fast about what we have already witnessed: Israeli forces’ arresting hundreds of Palestinians, raids and damage of property, enforced restrictions on freedom of movement, the continued widespread use of administrative detention and of course a series of killings.

From these comments I assume that people felt one of two things. Either that they thought that by condemning one act of violence I was somehow tacitly condoning another. And/or that some context was needed to the killings of the teenagers for those who read my facebook status updates to understand ‘the other side of the story’.

Whilst I strongly reject the first (for hopefully obvious reasons) the latter needs a bit more exploration.

I strongly agree with the assertion that context is important in understanding violence and human rights abuses. It is essential. I would be fascinated to hear anyone argue anything different. Equally, as a human rights activist the principle of impartiality is important – so I would be equally as passionate about condemning killing of civilian x as I would of civilian y.

The perpetrator is not important, but the context is.

With this said, why then would my facebook status not include the ‘other side of the story’ that so quickly emerged in the comments below?

Firstly, like so many, that status came as a result of reading about and then empathizing with all those affected by the killing of the three boys. It was a knee jerk reaction to a deplorable act. The words that came to hand was that of emotion and human rights, “deplorable act” “war crime” etc.

This facebook status wasn’t an essay, an analysis or trying to make any wider point. It was simply a comment on a deplorable act to illustrate that International Humanitarian Law condemns such behaviour.

Secondly though there is also an issue around comparing and/or contrasting people’s suffering. Not only do I find this morally uneasy but also at times pragmatically unhelpful. I am not convinced that trying to compare levels of suffering is helpful to anyone. In contrast, I can see others use the language of others suffering to perpetrate further atrocities. For me, the death of anyone’s loved one deserves a mark of respect, not a reduction of that life into a statistic to be used and abused for political ends.

With that said, a balance at this point then has to be struck. Clearly those in power are not following this line of thought and are already using these tragic deaths to justify furthering a pattern of events that have been occurring for much longer than the last three weeks.

Netanyahu has openly blamed Hamas for the killings and has promised revenge for what he described as a murder “in cold blood by human animals”. As a result we have already seen a sharp increase in the bombing of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli housing minister, Uri Ariel, has called for the extrajudicial executions of leaders of Hamas and for Israel to “start a wave of construction in the settlements in response to the murder of the abductees.” – something which in itself would be the cause of forced displacement, a myriad of human rights violations and is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

So simply ignoring the context isn’t sufficient either. Mourning the loss of innocent civilians whilst watching on at the on-going violations of others is as equally morally and pragmatically undesirable.

The challenge for myself, and others then looking to comment on these killings and the atrocious backlash being experienced across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is how we speak out in an equal and fair way without reducing people’s suffering to just statistics or worse, campaigns fodder.

This is something that I am still struggling with and thinking about. For now, I use human rights language. Hence my response as I tried to keep it simple when responding to one friend who asked about the killings of Palestinian children:

facebook 2


While some might think of human rights language as cold and legalistic, I think of it as a powerful liberal tool that encapsulates the importance of the individual. It is not always perfect but it does allow space for people to expand on individual violations when they want.

This morning I chose expand on the deplorable killings of three Israeli teenagers. This has no bearing on my thoughts on the other violations occurring in the region.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East

Coping with death: 10 years on from the Madrid bombings






Today the internet has been awash with reflections and analysis of the 10th anniversary of the Madrid bombings that took the lives of 191 people and injured 1,820 more. The political aftermath in Spain has been analysed, the role of Al-Qaeda examined and the role of ETA dismissed (by most).

And yet, in all the articles I have read, with the exception of a few survivor stories, there has been a dearth of analysis to describe how people are feeling.

Us Brits know only too well that these occasions act as a sombre reflection on the needless and violent loss of life. I write this with confidence because I have seen these sombre reflections echoed on the 7th July in London. I have no doubt that some American friends can say the same for the 11th September in New York.

Being in London on the 7th July is a strange experience as the macabre anniversary intermingles with the vibrant life of the capital. Life bustles on with only the subtle behaviour changes of the living hinting at the loss that families, communities, and the nation experienced.

While life speeds on, a few people will struggle to get out of bed on these anniversaries. For some the weight of their loss will once more sit on their chest as they lay awake and alone next to the shadow of the ghost of a former lover. A few though will be out of bed and on the way into work only to uncharacteristically find themselves lost in thought as they wait at the bus stop thinking back to the awful explosions.

Many more though will go through their day changing their routine only a fraction to be a small part in the wider ritual of loss that is now, for better or for worse, part of their national identity.

This change in the national mindset is like a shard of glass inserted deep into a national psyche. But the rupture that caused this change is not just about a sense of grief or loss, but also vulnerability. This vulnerability can manifest itself in individuals, and especially survivors, in ‘what if thoughts’. What if I hadn’t been running late that day? What if my wife had been working from the office that day? What if…

On days like this, on anniversaries of atrocities, our own mortality sits slightly closer to our hearts and weighs slightly more on our subconscious.

Politicians will talk with bravado about how these attacks will not change us. They will say that they will make us stronger in the face of adversity. But, deep down we know that we are changed. We know that there is now a chink in our personal and collective armour. We know that we have experienced vulnerability and that this has crushed our completely false sense of invincibility.

For some this anniversary will bring flooding back an intense wash of emotion…grief, pain and loss. For many more though it will leave us feeling uncertain, insecure, and vulnerable.

My message then to anyone who is reading this and is today feeling out of sorts is this: it’s OK. It’s not ‘letting the terrorists win’ to feel whatever you’re feeling.

Death, near-death, and collective grief are messy subjects that don’t fit nicely into political rhetoric or motivational clichés. We are what we are – a jumble of thoughts, feelings and emotions that are shaped by our experiences.

Thousands of people across Spain and especially in Madrid experienced something truly awful 10 years ago today. No amount of pressure will squeeze their individual responses into a politically useful box.

This article was cross-published on the International edition of ehospice

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On Ariel Sharon’s death and my own hypocrisy

Yesterday, Ariel Sharon was buried. While the world responded to the death of ‘a courageous war hero/a vile war criminal’ with a war of words, I have been fighting my own battle with my own thoughts. Let me explain…

Ariel Sharon
After Sharon’s death an inevitable war of words broke out.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as describing Sharon as a ‘courageous warrior,’ who played a ‘central role in the struggle for the security of Israel’.

The Guardian in contrast ran an article by the Oxford academic Avi Shalim which concluded, “His enduring legacy has been to empower and embolden some of the most racist, xenophobic, expansionist, and intransigent elements in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.”

No mention of war crimes, but equally not exactly the praise lavished on him by some.

Meanwhile activists and human rights organisations have used this moment to highlight his role in massacres such as that in Sabra and Shatila in 1982 which saw hundreds and perhaps thousands slaughtered.

For myself I opted for silence while I struggled with my own thoughts.

In the aftermath of Thatcher’s death I wrote and spoke, to the dismay of most on the left, about the need to show respect and to not celebrate a death.

I still stand by those comments.

But a personal experience keeps reoccurring in my mind which makes it difficult for me to not pick up my metaphorical pen.

When I started to learn Arabic before heading to the West Bank in 2012 I was taught by a Londoner who had fled Sabra and Shatila in the early 80s to make a new life for herself in the UK.

She spoke with a brittle absolutism about the past that reflected a personal experience that outweighed all the history and politics that she had so obviously read. In my own mind I foolishly criticised her for this while pompously praising myself for my ability to stand back and reflect on things objectively.

One time we were sat in a café repeating lists of Arabic words when we, as too often happened, got side-tracked into conversations about politics and religion. I can still remember clearly the London sun coming in through the window catching her downcast eyes as she told me of some of her very earliest memories. She told me about one night when an explosion went off in the middle of the night and in panic she ran outside in her pyjamas and just kept running through fear before finally breaking down and crying.

In that moment my books seemed obsolete and useless. In the pain of that story what seemed like crass historical absolutism seemed, for a short time, completely justified.

I write this now because whenever I read an article about Sharon I think, not of my Arabic teacher, but of a young girl crying in the middle of the night.

Sharon, although never mentioned by name, was a central figure in her story. He was the Israeli Defence Minister of the time.

He was the Defence Minister who an internal Israeli commission into the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 found ‘personally responsible’. He was the Defence Minister who had decided that Phalangist militias ‘should be sent in’ to the camps despite the risk that they would massacre the civilian population there. And as a result, he is the Defence Minister who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds or maybe thousands, for the children, pregnant women, and the elderly, some of whom were found to have been brutally mutilated.

Sharon has gone to his grave without ever facing justice for his role in this war crime and others he oversaw.

These thoughts have been weighing on me in the last few days. I am fully aware that writing these words won’t help bring justice for any of his victims or their families. Nor will it help people who experienced the harsh repercussions of his policies.  It certainly won’t help those who see Sharon as a hero and who are mourning him as I write.

In fact I am not sure this blog will help anyone – especially not me. I am still not sure why I am writing it. I know the ever quick to judge bloggersphere will jump at the chance to accuse me of hypocrisy, inconsistency and double standards.

All I know is that it felt important to write it. Somehow if I didn’t write it I would feel like I wasn’t being honest with myself.


Filed under History, Human rights, Middle East, Politics

On Thatcher, Mandela and death

Thatcher Mandela
A few days ago a friend of mine emailed me to ask what I thought of Peter Tatchell’s article, “Mandela: Heroic but failed on HIV, poverty & Mugabe” considering that I had been so vocal in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death (See Celebrating Thatcher’s death is wrong both pragmatically and in principle and Thatcher is dead, but Thatcherism is alive: If only it could be the other way round).

On the face of it, following my own logic I should have been upset with Peter’s article. I should have been saying, just as I did for Thatcher, let’s give it a rest, let people mourn and leave the politics out of it…for now at least.

But I wasn’t and nor did I feel I should be.

It has taken me a few days to think this over. In short I think it comes down to a degree of respect for those mourning the death of a loved one. Peter could have waited to write that article, but in the grand scheme of things I am not worried that he did not.

Why? Because very few, if any, of those who cared for and loved Mandela would be troubled by Peter’s article. Throughout he maintained a measured respectful tone that didn’t lose sight of the fact a person had just died and that people were in mourning.

This is markedly different to the witch is dead celebrations that followed Thatcher’s death.

There is a freedom of speech issue here that I will passionately defend. If the state tried to stop people voicing opinion after a death then I would be the first to criticise that. But just because we have the right to do something, this doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

I would be more than happy to condemn the blithering idiots at the Westboro Baptist Church for producing a video and social media campaign claiming Mandela is going to hell. But do I think the state should stop them from doing this? No.

Do I hope (a big hope I know) that someone who was part of this campaign might read this and reconsider? Yes. Do I personally think they were misplaced, inconsiderate and disrespectful to publish such rubbish straight after Mandela’s death? Of course, it goes without saying!

So in short, Peter and anyone else should be free to write and criticise Mandela, but I would personally lay down two principles before I would put pen to paper criticising anyone soon after their death:

  • Either be measured, respectful and conscious of those in grieving (like I feel Peter was in his article) or
  • Just wait a little while and allow people to mourn before turning to the politics of someone’s life.

Judging by the response I got from the Thatcher articles I don’t expect many people to agree with this but hey, that’s OK. I would just ask those who don’t to imagine it was their own loved one that had just died and ask them to think how they would like others to behave during such time.

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Celebrating Thatcher’s death is wrong both pragmatically and in principle

I was due to speak on the BBC World Service tonight but after sound check my internet and phone died.

This however is roughly what I had hoped to say:

“Both pragmatically and in principle, celebrating Thatcher’s death is wrong.

In principle, at such a difficult time that is shared by all humans  – death – we should be looking for the human side of Thatcher. We should be seeing the side of her that has friends and family who are going through great pain at the moment morning their loss.

At the same time though we should not under-estimate the genuine pain and anger that is felt by many and has been bought to the surface by her death. In principle we must let people morn but we cannot forget the harm her policies have caused.

Pragmatically though we should be focusing our energies on the neo-cons who now sit around the cabinet table implementing her legacy with terrifying efficiency. Celebrating the death of an 87 year old moves us no closer to tackling this blight.

In fact the opposite, it alienates us from everyone who looks on disgusted that people could be rejoicing at another human’s death. It puts us in that unpalatable category of Galloway and the Socialist Workers.

If this discussion was about the death of Thatcherism I would be the first one in the streets. But it is not, Thatcherism lives on more powerful and more accepted than ever before.

All that has changed is that an old lady is now no longer with us.

If people want to celebrate that it is their right to do so, but I think it is wrong and ultimately not useful”


Filed under Politics

Thatcher is dead, but Thatcherism is alive: If only it could be the other way round

So thousands of views later and literally hundreds of messages (most of which assume I am some sort of die hard Thatcherite) about my original post I feel like it is time to respond.

I believe in freedom of speech – passionately so. If you want to tweet about Thatcher within hours of her death, then knock yourself out – it’s your right.  This, in line with my freedom of thought, does not stop me thinking that you are tasteless to show such little remorse or humility in the light of a person’s death.

There is little politically that Thatcher did that I agreed with. But I am not about to spend my time jumping up and down on her grave (or tweeting not very good jokes) about her. People are in mourning for fucks sake.

Her life and now her death were political and many think that justifies a public argument within seconds of her death. Personally I take her death as a reminder that behind every politician is just an ordinary person that has friends, family and yes….even emotions.

Imagine if you will that your mother had just died, would you appreciate this sort of public reaction?

Ah, but as Mark Steel tweeted “It’s fair to complain about my lack of compassion, if you have no compassion for victims of apartheid, Pinochet, sinking of Belgrano…” Grow the fuck up. ‘She showed no remorse to others so I can’t show her any remorse’ …really? What playschool of ethics did you attend Mark?

Using her death as a political football moves us no closer to dismantling the toxic legacy that she left.

This though can wait until another day.

For now, my thoughts go out to all those who knew her and are mourning their loss.


Filed under Politics, Social comment

Major Bob Astles, the self styled ‘British adviser’ to Idi Amin passes away

Major Bob Astles, the self styled ‘British adviser’ to Idi Amin has passed away in south London.

It was announced earlier this week that Major Bob has been cremated as per his wishes after passing away three weeks ago. Only five people attended his funeral.

Dubbed ‘The White Rat’ for his support of Amin’s reign, Major Bob stayed in touch with Amin until the former President’s death in 2003.

Henry Gombya, the editor at the London Evening Post where Major Bob wrote a regular column said that Major Bob “never… regretted his time” with Amin. He added that he felt that he “did what he had to do”.

Major Bob was imprisoned for 6 years after Amin’s exile in 1979. It was reported that he then moved back to London and enjoyed a life of luxury living in a £1,000,000 house.

He was allegedly the inspiration for the British doctor in Giles Foden’s novel ‘The Last King of Scotland’.

Major Bob Astles died of cancer at the age of 87.

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Filed under History, Uganda

The death of Mustafa Tamimi highlights a lack of accountability in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The death of Mustafa Tamimi is another example of people suffering from the misuse of tear gas in Israel and The Occupied Palestinian Territories. We have witnessed a series of deaths and injuries in recent years from tear gas canisters being fired directly at crowds. Tristan Anderson of Oakland California is suffering from brain damage, paralysis and seizures after he was hit in the head by a canister at a 2009 demonstration.

The Israeli army has described Mr Tamimi’s death as an ‘exceptional incident’; sadly we know this to not be the case. IDF regulations prohibit firing tear gas directly at people. It would appear though that the military regularly violates its own regulations at Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank. In April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bil’in, was killed by a tear gas canister that struck him in the chest.  B’Tselem has been warning officials about security forces’ fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations for some time now.

The IDF commanders need to leave in soldiers mind no doubt that they will face disciplinary action if they are caught firing directly at people with tear gas canisters. At the moment the lack of accountability is only entrenching this problem. Soldiers, and ultimately if orders are given, their commanders must face consequences for their actions.

Even the Daily Mail thinks it is a problem – enough said.


Filed under Uncategorized

The human impact of climate change

I get frustrated with people talking about the consequences of climate change as being some far off disputed theory. We are already seeing the consequences, it is just that they are affecting the group of people we have become so used to ignoring, the poor and marginalised.

The Human Impact report from the Global Humanitarian Forum states that climate change is leaving 300,000 dead every year (that’s the equivalent death toll of a 1000 September 11th). In addition the report states that 325 million people (that’s 4 times the population of the UK) are already seriously affected by climate change. This could be through serious weather events, rising sea levels or desertification which can bring hunger, disease and poverty.

Climate change is already, and holds the potential to increasingly, hamper our efforts to tackle poverty, malnutrition, human rights abuses and many more very worthwhile aims. For anyone who wants to see any change in the world that affects humans, tackling climate change has to be your number one priority.

Where to start? Without wanting to sound like a cliché and quote Gandhi, start with yourself. An average person in the UK produces 9.8 tonnes of CO2 per year (compared to just 0.2 tonnes if you live in the least developed countries). It is one of the great ironies that it is the developed world who is predominantly causing the problem of man made climate change through a system which has systematically screwed over the majority world (everybody else) but it is the poorest “bottom billion” who are disproportionately suffering.

Of course, due to the above mentioned ignoring of the poor and marginalised, we (the minority rich) refuse to except that our actions are causing such levels of human suffering. Why would you think about this? It is a horrible thought. But let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Most people, are not acting maliciously, it is an unintentional impact. We can see that when ordinary people are given easy and accessible ways of reducing the harm their actions have they tend to take it. Fairtrade is a good illustration of that. All we need is for people to associate their actions with the suffering we can see occurring because of climate change (or being extenuated because of climate change). It won’t fix the problem but it will start the wheels of change rolling.

Action doesn’t have to be painful. There is no beards, bare feet and beetroot involved in turning your thermostats down by one degree (and saving 10% on our heating bill). Sadly though, this by itself is not enough. Any environmentalist who tries to convince you a sustainable future in the next 100 years is all skipping through fields and cycling in the sunshine is either misleading you or exceptionally stupid (I wouldn’t rule either out).

We need to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Not just one or two of us, but all of us (well the 5% who make up the “developed world”). Some things will be better (hopefully), some things will be different and some things will be worse. What we need to do though is stop hiding our heads in the sand and do something.

Firstly, work out your personal carbon footprint on one of the many on-line counters. If you are normal, it will come out around 8-12 tonnes of CO2 a year. If (like me) you are a “greeny” (technical term) it will come out 4-8 tonnes of CO2. The startling truth is that we need to be aiming for 1-2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. This is a big drop by anyone’s standards. If you are already below 2 tonnes and live a relatively normal life then tell people about it. For everybody else, start with the easy things; change your electricity supplier, turn your heating down, get solar installed etc. None of this hurts.

I know people do not want to change. I know people do not want to think about the thousands of people dying, going hungry, loosing their homes and suffering but we do not have a choice. If we do not act now, we will go down in history as the generation who monitored unprecedented levels of suffering but did nothing about it. The scale of the current problem is only going to escalate. We are not prepared to deal with the looming crisis.

I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist because I like the environment. From my own personal perspective I couldn’t give a shit if the Panda was extinct. I do care though about people. I care about the thousands who are currently dying, the millions suffering and the billions in the future who we are leaving with a pretty bleak outlook. At the moment the consequences seem foreign, but it is only a matter of time before they are on our doorsteps.


Filed under Climate Change, Human rights

It’s not just our leaders who are above the law

AGAIN, a police office will not face charges after a death of an innocent man is directly linked to his actions.  In this case, Ian Tomlinson’s family is left to wonder why justice is not being served. Suddenly my previous blog on how some people were above the law seems too focused on how just our leaders.

Straight after his death the police informed Ian Tomlinson’s family that he had died of natural causes, a week later the Guardian released footage showing him walking home and being struck and pushed by a police officer during the G20 protests last year.  A few minutes later he died.  The initial post-mortem said that he had died of a heart problem (this was conducted by a man who is being investigated for returning a string of questionable post-mortem results).  This post-mortem was conducted with only one medical expert present, why? His family was not there, why? The family then ordered a second post mortem that found he had died as a result of internal bleeding and a related liver problem.  This death was compatible with being hit with a blunt object! The Police then ordered a third post mortem that supported the conclusions of the second! The CPS considers this to be reason to not push for manslaughter charges because there is “conflict” in expert opinions.

Despite being filmed striking Ian Tomlinson, the officer concerned will not face charges of common assault because the botched investigation into Mr Tomlinson’s death took 16 months.  A charge of common assault can only be given within 6 months of the offence.

Put simply, despite being filmed striking Mr Tomlinson with a police baton and then pushing him to the floor, and then these actions being directly linked to his death be two separate post-mortems, the Crown Prosecutions Service deems this not a case that they can pursue.  Is this anything other than a miscarriage of justice? In my last blog I accused our leaders of living with impunity to our laws that govern our lives, but it appears that the police also live in this world outside of the laws that govern our lives.  This verdict pleases no one.  It leaves the officer with this hanging over his head as the family inevitably launches an appeal, it leave the family unhappy as it highlights the massive problems with the investigations.  It leaves the public’s opinion in the police in question.  This is so obviously the wrong decision to have reached that it leaves no one satisfied.


Filed under Politics

Sport Relief – Ignore the celebrities, it is the cause that counts.

Brad Pitt in the "One" Campaign. Just one example of celebrity charity culture gone crazy.

On Sunday 21st March I am going to do the 6-mile run in support of Sport Relief.  This is nothing compared to Eddie Izzards marathon-a-day feat or David Walliams swim across the channel but it all helps.  These two celebrities are rare examples of people in the publics eye that honestly believe in what they are doing.  I have heard both on numerous occasions give time, money and status to different events.  Sadly, I think they represent the minority of celebrities.

In the past I have been put off these mass fundraising events, the whole celebrity culture of gesture charity I find to be a bit nauseating.  Indeed, at first glance this is one of the same.  Celebrities boost their profile by raising the sort of sums of money they earn in a week and then pat each other on the back while the press slobber over juicy photo opportunities.  Who benefits here in the long-term, other than the celebrity?

What you cannot disagree with where the money goes however.  It goes to help disadvantaged, often marginalised people, both home and abroad.  It makes a real difference to real people’s lives.  OK, its not going to change the system; after sports relief (and comic relief) thousands more are going to go homeless, millions more die of starvation and billions face shortages of food.  It will though make a difference to some people’s lives, and this should not be sneered at. Sometimes its enough, and sometimes its all we can do is to help individuals.

What should be sneered at though are the self-promoting celebrities who are forced to smile in front of the cameras by their PR managers. Not all celebrities are like this, but sadly, the sceptic in me suggests that many are.  If celebrities want to help, do it behind cameras.  I was inspired to hear Sam Roddick talk about using celebrities cleverly behind the scenes to “seduce” politicians (If Angelina Jolie asks Gordon Brown for a lunch meeting he is not going to say no!).

Millions of ordinary people however, are giving up their time and money to support a really good cause.  It is amazing in an era which the press keeps telling us is marked by selfishness that people are happy to do these sorts of events.  I find it quite up-lifting.  I ask all of you to give generously to those friends and family who are taking part in this mass nation wide fundraising. Do not though fool yourself into believing (or even worse giving money to) those celebrities who like to promote nothing but their moral credentials. 

Did you know that Brad Pitt is worried about child poverty? Come on….

If you want to support me, log onto my secure just giving web-site. Thanks.

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Filed under Celebrity, Homelessness, Politics, Sport