DAY 94: Mon15 June

Memories of Student Cross, holy water, and hypocrisy in high places.

I pulled a muscle in my side when getting up too smartly to answer the phone yesterday and I keep forgetting, to my continued discomfort. But to look the bright side, at least it means I can’t do exercises, again.

It took me rather a long time to get  going today, I found plenty to do in my night garb for most of the morning, mostly online. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I had a lot of emails to deal with, some bills to sort out. Not to mention Skype conversations with my grandsons 1 and 2, and my son-in-law who wanted to discuss the relative merits of polytunnels and polycarbonate greenhouses, so he can grow some Thai vegetables, herbs and chillies. 

The hypocrisy of lighting up No 10 Downing Street in green last evening in memory of the 72 deceased victims of the Grenfell fire – and presumably the many survivors still waiting, three years on, for decent rehousing – was matched this morning by news of Johnson’s latest wheeze. Behind the paywall of his old employer the Prime Minister was in preachy mood about defending Winston Churchill’s statue (I am not aware that anyone had any intention of toppling it) and establishing an Inequality (sic) Commission to spend six months looking at what can be done to remedy the inequities faced by Black people and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Never mind that several such inquiries have already come up with multiple policy and practical moves that would make an immediate difference, all of which have been ignored. Johnson wants the issue defused by kicking it into the long grass – or the deep snow, since it is supposed to come out at Christmas, just as the madness of Brexit will be upon us.

He has appointed Munira Mirza, a policy wonk at No 10 to head the commission – a woman who is sceptical about the notion of institutional racism, and poured scorn on previous reports for encouraging a BAME ‘culture of grievance’. So good luck with that. To add injury to insult the government is also planning to introduce a £100 fee for anyone seeking redress from an employment tribunal for allegations of racism at work. Just how much do Black Lives Matter to the man at No.10?

Hearing of the tragic loss of an American airman from Lakenheath Air Force base who create in the North Sea today, took me back to the several times I walked around the American air base back in the 1960s, around the perimeter fence that is. I used to take part in Student Cross, a Holy Week pilgrimage to Walsingham in East Anglia. Those of us from Sussex University joined the Oxford ‘leg’, another leg left from London, and the Northern leg set off from Nottingham, and another from Kettering. Each leg was made up of 10 to 20 men (in those days women only came on the Oxford leg). We took it in turns to carry a large wooden cross, covering about 25 miles a day. We stopped every now and then for a meditation, with liquid lunches and evening meals at country pubs, sleeping rough in village halls as guests of local parishes. It was a tradition that began after the second world war, when ex-servicemen gave thanks for surviving and in memory of comrades who did not. 

From Oxford our route passed the RAF base at Mildenhall and the brutal wasteland that was the US Air Force at Lakenheath. We were not welcome at the entrance so we would place the cross against the perimeter fence and say a prayer for peace. We were rarely left alone. The were very suspicious of us and would drive up to watch from a jeep inside the base. On one occasion we were buzzed by a helicopter which came overhead to find out what we were up to, using a loudhailer. I don’t recall a “Have a nice day!” but we did get a frosty farewell. 

I was a devout Catholic in those days. My sisters still are and one of them told me today she had volunteered to be a steward at her local church now that the Prime Minister has allowed people to engage in private prayer. The parish has introduced a coronavirus safety routine, written up on sheets of A4 which parishioners are supposed to sit on. Then they leave them where they prayed, so the stewards can know which seats or benches to sanitise. I joked about whether hand sanitiser had replaced holy water stoups at the entrance to churches – since March the Vatican has ordered the removal of holy water – and my sister explained that hand sanitiser had indeed been installed in churches. Well, they do say cleanliness is next to godliness.

After a quick lunch of fish pie leftovers, I set about clearing up the garden and mending some ageing garden furniture. All my efforts to restore one wooden chair which had collapsed on me while breakfasting with a  friend last year, came to nothing. It turned out the fatal flaw was not the element I had been working on but another irreplaceable broken part. I nearly took a tumble again. That chair is only good for firewood.

I’m not sure what Dominic Raab is good for. The current Foreign Secretary, who only discovered last year that Dover connects Britain with Calais, was on duty at the No 10 teatime briefing. When asked why he and other ministers are no longer flanked by science and health experts who can answer the technical questions he is not competent to, he smirked and said no-one had asked him questions he could not answer yet. I am sure many of us felt that he has not successfully answered many questions in his time. He assured us the experts were busy working on other things, though keeping the millions who tune in to these sessions informed about what is happening with the pandemic is kind of important, I would have thought. Especially, as Raab admitted, “the science is fluid” and changes with circumstances. Don’t these morons realise that we have more faith in the experts than in government spokespeople? He insists the experts will be back; we shall believe that when we see it. 

Our NUJ Zoom meeting this evening chewed over the assaults suffered by local journalists at the hands of ‘Cenotaph defenders’ in Bristol last Saturday, where there was some deliberate targeting. Journalists throughout the UK and Northern Ireland now feel they are under the cosh as rampant right wingers and over-sensitive leftists fail to appreciate what our jobs are, as reporters and photographers. It is a topic we shall return to with plans for a larger Zoom event to compare notes and share advice about covering civil unrest. We also discussed Bristol City Council’s error of judgement in not informing local media about their plan to rescue Edward Colston’s statuee from the dock, and the BBC’s likely further reductions in local TV news and current affair output.

More curry for supper and then Murder in the Car Park telling the true story of Daniel Morgan’s unsolved murder in 1987 and his brother’s 30-year battle to find the truth. Having built a compelling series of podcasts about the police  ‘investigations’, we are now being treated to a three part documentary. Will it be allowed to bring us any closer to the truth of what really happened?

And on the day that so many people high-tailed it to the shops, I’ll leave you with this thought. Fortuitously I bought a pack of 18 toilet tolls in Lidl last February, long before it was a popular panic buy. This evening we installed the last one, after 120 days. Is that a record?

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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