Monthly Archives: November 2014

Tunes of Glory

 

bodies

He didn’t see the poppies grow down in Flanders Field,
It was over in Afghanistan where they cheered a record yield.
A bumper crop of skag that would spread across the earth,
Compared to wealth and power, our lives have little worth.
Was he fighting for the Queen, America or Shell?
When the lines are blurred, all shades of grey, no way that he could tell.
The War on Terror, the War on Drugs, it’s all a filthy lie,
Because there is no honour in queuing up to die.
For nations, flags and worthless men,
One hundred years since world War One and here we are are again.
His search for pride and virtue, all ended with a blast,
He trod upon an IED and now his future is the past.
Although he’s three years older, he’s still just twenty-one,
His life already over before it had begun.
And now his mam weeps bitter tears as she empties out his pan,
Of the stinking shit that gurgles from her broken damaged man.
Still, he got a medal and a poppy that he could wear,
When they wheeled him to the cenotaph where all the children stare.
At the empty space where once he had two legs like you and me,
Exchanged in wilful  ignorance so profit might be free.
To carry on destroying lives for power and their greed,
A war upon their wars is the only war we need.
Kill the Other, kill him now and make your country proud,
Their token thanks is all you’ll get when they wrap you in your shroud.
Then you can join the ranks of the millions gone before,
Nameless, faceless forgotten dead; no one’s keeping score.
A dozen here a thousand there, they really just don’t care,
As long as you keep dying so they can get their share.
So stuff their poppies, stuff their wars and stuff their tunes of glory,
They’ll never care about you and me, it’s the same old dirty story.

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James McClean: Resisting the Poppy Fascists

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Wigan Athletic winger and Irish international, James McClean, has released a statement – in the form of an open letter to his club chairman – explaining why he won’t be wearing a poppy during this year’s 100th anniversary of WW1.

He writes:

Dear Mr Whelan

I wanted to write to you before talking about this face to face and explain my reasons for not wearing a poppy on my shirt for the game at Bolton.

I have complete respect for those who fought and died in both World Wars – many I know were Irish-born. I have been told that your own Grandfather Paddy Whelan, from Tipperary, was one of those.

I mourn their deaths like every other decent person and if the Poppy was a symbol only for the lost souls of World War I and II I would wear one.

I want to make that 100% clear .You must understand this.

But the Poppy is used to remember victims of other conflicts since 1945 and this is where the problem starts for me.

For people from the North of Ireland such as myself, and specifically those in Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, the poppy has come to mean something very different. Please understand, Mr Whelan, that when you come from Creggan like myself or the Bogside, Brandywell or the majority of places in Derry, every person still lives in the shadow of one of the darkest days in Ireland’s history – even if like me you were born nearly 20 years after the event. It is just a part of who we are, ingrained into us from birth.

Mr Whelan, for me to wear a poppy would be as much a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially – as I have in the past been accused of disrespecting the victims of WWI and WWII.

It would be seen as an act of disrespect to those people; to my people.

I am not a war monger, or anti-British, or a terrorist or any of the accusations levelled at me in the past. I am a peaceful guy, I believe everyone should live side by side, whatever their religious or political beliefs which I respect and ask for people to respect mine in return. Since last year, I am a father and I want my daughter to grow up in a peaceful world, like any parent.

I am very proud of where I come from and I just cannot do something that I believe is wrong. In life, if you’re a man you should stand up for what you believe in.

I know you may not agree with my feelings but I hope very much that you understand my reasons.

As the owner of the club I am proud to play for, I believe I owe both you and the club’s supporters this explanation.

Yours sincerely,

James McClean

The man should be commended. Not only for an action that is brave, principled and honest but for one that contains a degree of risk; both to himself and his career. Unthinking soldier worship and poppy fascism are now disturbing aspects of the collective British psyche; it’s a courageous or reckless individual who bucks the trend of this particular brand of what is now almost mass hysteria.

The poppy and Remembrance commemorations – along with the hideously mawkish Help for Heroes – have been hi-jacked by politicians intent on equating the imperial bloodbath of WW1 with a noble sense of patriotism and duty; all the better to justify current and future wars. As with so much of British history, or rather establishment propaganda, these things are really about the present and the future; not the past.

The cynical usurping of the poppy’s original symbolism – peace, end to imperialist killing etc – for purposes of justifying the government’s appalling murder-fests elsewhere around the globe is truly repellent.

It is now utterly tainted and beyond redemption as any kind of worthwhile symbol.

Just try explaining to someone why you don’t wear one to find out exactly what that means. Try being a TV presenter who refuses to wear one. Try even wearing a white poppy and explaining why…

Sadly, it is rarely worn by its supporters to commemorate working-class canon fodder who died in an ugly and immoral dust-up between capitalist powers, scrapping over markets and territory. No, it’s an expression of militarist jingoism. They’ll tell you they’re honouring the ‘fallen’ who died so that we might be free. In reality, armed forces are usually the enemies of freedom. As James McClean clearly understands; as did the invaded and subjugated millions who suffered under the jackboots of the British Empire. The same British Army went into Tonypandy ready to shoot striking miners on Churchill’s orders. They rolled their tanks down the streets of Glasgow, prepared to crush the resistance of their own people. In reality we owe our freedom to those who opposed the state’s armed might – the suffragettes, the Chartists and the Tolpudlle Martyrs, to name but three.

It’s a depressing truth that we can’t wear a poppy and have people immediately know that we feel WW1 was futile and that every single dead soldier was a wasted life. Their deaths meant nothing, achieved nothing and changed nothing.

Remembrance Sunday is offensive not least because it paints an entirely false and dishonest picture; that those who died did so for ‘their country’ and that that’s somehow noble. It isn’t. It’s the Big Lie.

If we wore poppies and held Remembrance Day parades to apologise to those slaughtered, if such events were collective acts of penance and regret for the sheer pointless waste of human life, for industrial-scale mass-sacrifice on the alter of selfish economic gain, then they would be truly worthy.

But they aren’t. The whole sickening jamboree is a carnival of dishonesty, hypocrisy and reaction. We should play no part in legitimising that. We should not be complicit in brainwashing future generations. We should reject absolutely that invading and then perishing in foreign lands, purely to further US-Brit geopolitical interests and control of other’s resources, is a worthwhile and moral objective.

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The Art and Science of Single Malt Whisky

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I’m sure you – like me – were appalled on reading whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murphy’s verdict that some upstart Japanese single malt is now, officially, the world’s finest single malt whisky. The idea that such a thing could ever originate from outwith the shores of Scotland is, like time-travel and invisibility cloaks, scientifically impossible.

Possibly even more appalling was the degree of presumption displayed by the Japanese distillers, Yamazaki, in labelling their potion ‘whisky.’ As all right-thinking people know, if it isn’t distilled among the bonny banks and braes of God’s Own Country then it’s bloody well ‘whiskey’ thank you very much. And I don’t give a tinker’s cuss what Wikipedia says to the contrary.

Apart from anything else, how can you take seriously something purporting to be single malt yet calling itself Yamazaki? It sounds like it should come with a 500cc engine and handlebars.

Sadly, while discussing with friends on Facebook this ridiculous and nonsensical development, it became apparent that genuine appreciation of the sacred uisge beatha is hampered by reverse snobbery, unsophisticated palettes and unforgivable ignorance. Here then, is a simply entry-level guide to the noble art of whisky and the etiquette required for its correct consumption and, thus, enjoyment.

 1. Scotland has four whisky regions (five, really, to true connoisseurs). Each with its own distinctive and highly individual character. They are the Islands; comprising Islay and Skye (although Islay should be considered the fifth region in its own right; such is the glory and towering majesty of its offerings), Highland, Speyside and Lowland.

2. Broadly speaking, whiskies from each region, while varying greatly from each other, will share strong core characteristics. Thus we can say Island malts are maritime and peaty. Highlands are smooth and floral, Speysides are sweet and delicate and Lowlands are light and fresh.

3. Of course that’s the general consensus. In reality, Islay single malts are the finest drinks ever created in the history of humanity. Laphroaig is the most complex and richly-favoured of them all. It is the undisputed King of single malts. Any who hold otherwise will be people of flexible morality, dubious virtue and questionable integrity. Ignore them.

4. Similarly, while Speyside produces the inarguably impressive The Glenlivet (it should always have ‘The’ to give it both its correct appellation and the respect it deserves) its produce tends toward the bland and sickly. The wearily ubiquitous Glenmorangie, for example, is commercialised nonsense. Adequate for grandmothers and the English but unfit to be taken in the company of men.

5. Ice in single malt whisky is not a matter of personal taste. It is wrong. Always. Its extreme temperature wrecks the balance of the whisky and chemically alters its taste. It numbs the palette, too, leading to an inability to actually taste, in all its complex magnificence, that which the Great Architect has seen fit to gift us. Single malt whisky should always be kept and taken at room temperature. Don’t be a peasant. Leave the ice in the freezer.

6. Water. Nowhere is there greater ignorance and reverse snobbery than on the question of water with one’s whisky. In many cases water can actually unlock the bouquet and release hitherto unknown wonders. As a very crude general rule, the higher ABV% of the whisky should dictate the ratio of water to whisky. I once had a superb Cadenhead’s bottling of a 12 year old Bowmore that clocked in at an eye-watering 74% ABV. Drinking it without water would have been utterly stupid and entirely pointless. Such high alcohol content serves only to numb and freeze the taste buds and palette and all that you will taste or smell will be the alcohol. A note of caution: water taken with single malt whisky should be of the lowest possible mineral content. Water with a high mineral content will act in much the same way as ice; it will ruin the balance and, again, chemically alter the whisky’s taste.

7. Our Celtic brothers and sisters from the Emerald Isle try their best, bless ’em, but that non-peaty, triple-distilled-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life juice they peddle is but a sorry apology for the mighty kings and queens of Alba. If you must drink whiskey then their blends are actually better. Jameson’s being particularly fine.

8. Another fallacy; the older a whisky is does not automatically mean it will be better. Some single malts mature very early. The Bowmore Legend, for example, carrying no age statement but widely understood to be only eight-years old, is a particularly apposite case here. The same point in reverse, I once had a 31 year-old Black Bowmore. It was, literally, black. As a result of stewing in oloroso sherry casks for three decades. I bought it for £175.00 and sold it a year or two later for £1050.00. It currently retails for circa £7,500.00 per bottle (yes, you read that correctly). Its rarity value is what commands such a price tag; not the quality of the whisky. Those who’ve tasted it tell me it’s virtually undrinkable.

9. There is such a thing as truly bad whisky. But remember; no whisky is even worse. Always.

10. Finally, few have so adequately captured the compelling power and eternal mystery of single malt whisky as the late great Campbell Armstrong. He deserves the last word here.

“The perfume, distilled perfection, bottled wonderment, magnetised him. He’d never seen liquid so golden and pure as that distilled from the cold clear waters of Speyside by Alchemists. Grapes made plump by the sun only gave you wine and what was that but a polite lubricant during a meal? A fine malt was something else. A triumph of nature; its drinkers were disciples, druids. Even the bloody names on the bottles were mystical incantations. Tamdhu. Tullibardine. Lagavulin. Strong Scots names that made Chateau This and Cabernet That decidedly unimpressive; effete little drinks for dilettantes.”