that droning noise

I notice that apart from the widespread complaint that the German pilotless planes ‘seem so unnatural’ (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and ‘an indiscriminate attack on civilians’.

After what we have been doing to the Germans over the past two years, this seems a bit thick, but it is the normal human response to every new weapon. Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day. Every weapon seems unfair until you have adopted it yourself. But I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won’t stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out. In other words, you are hoping that it will fall on somebody else. So also when you dodge a shell or an ordinary bomb—but in that case you have only about five seconds to take cover and no time to speculate on the bottomless selfishness of the human being.’

George Orwell, 30 June 1944


“Said a day laborer, “I can’t sleep at night because when the drones are there … I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can’t sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared.” Added a politician, people “often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming because they are hallucinating about drones.”


Would you have nightmares if they flew over your house?


“When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them,” an unidentified man reported. “Because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed, women, men, and children. … Twenty-four hours, a person is in stress and there is pain in his head.”

‘Every Person Is Afraid of the Drones’: The Strikes’ Effect on Life in Pakistan

competition,Jesus and pacifism

Forgive me for what I am about to blog (I know not what I do) but I can’t sleep and the sky has brightened up in that gunmetal grey, Ulster way and here I am blogging at 4.37am ( which is guaranteed to lead to an mess of a post ) possibly with things I don’t really mean or sweeping statements that I may regret writing.
Anyway, I’ve thoughts on my mind.
Today I was thinking that if I loose my faith it’s probably going to be one of two things that push me over the edge.

Number One.
Suffering and pain, especially the silence of God in suffering and pain.But I expected that to be challenge.

Number two. What feels like the ‘unworkability’ of  Jesus’ commands in day- to-day life.

I had expected the first threat, the silence and feeling that God wasn’t there or was just a phantom.
But the idea that it might be the voice of God that pushes me over the edge is something that I’d never considered.

It may be the thing that wears me down because unbearable suffering and sorrow doesn’t happen every day,
but the day-to-day, (tomorrow morning when I wake up for example) does happen everyday, and it’s  in that day-to-day that I’m expected to live life,
and it is also in the day-to-day that a Christian is supposed to be living out commands such
‘..turn the other cheek
or ‘..give him your cloak as well
or ‘do to others what you would have them do to you‘. …everyday.

A Christian is called to follow Jesus.

How is a man supposed to mesh  this sort of crazy counter-cultural stuff in the dog eat world streets of Lisburn City?

How a Christian is supposed function in this panicking, worried and fearful atmosphere without compromising and keeping his holy bits for Sunday morning?

Every step seems to scream that life is a competition.
Well not every step, but large and very important segments of life seem based on competition such as the job market.

(Ah, another duel at dawn with my old arch-nemesis ‘the job market’.)

I’m looking for a job at the moment, or paid employment .

But the only way I can effectively obtain a job is by getting more competitive,  by sprucing up my cv and applying for jobs and hoping that I fill in my application form better than someone else,
or that I am more eloquent in an interview,
of competing and hoping that I am a stronger  ‘more suitable’ candidate that someone else.
My hope is to be more alert in spotting an opening or opportunity than someone else and force my way through the merest c rack, thereby proving my worthiness.

Or else what?
Just sit here and hope for a surprise phone call,
or for some kindly benefactor,
or to have a chance conversation with Ireland’s only urban farmer who offers me a chance to learn the trade on the spot,
or to try and risk it on some hair brained scheme?
No,that won’t work, life doesn’t work like that. You have to earn it and prove that you are worthy and better, a hard worker. Don’t sitting on your arse,  get out there and show the world what you are made off.

There might be a job in a very caring charity doing very caring work,
yet you have to compete for that position and prove that you would be a more caring person than someone else. You have to trample and gobble to serve.

Or to become a minister or pastor and tell people about God’s grace  and unmerited favour that you can’t  earn, (‘Only by grace can we enter etc.’)  you must  pass exams to prove that you can do it and earn your way in.
So  only by qualifications and high enough marks can you enter, only by academic gifts can you stand.

But is Christianity compatible with competition and competing?
Is it not something much closer to community and co-operation, with sharing and grace, with gift and service?

For example I might see a job opening and would like that job to earn some money and go on holiday, pay the rent, learn to drive.

But at the same time I also know that x other people would like that job as well so that they can go on holiday, buy the kids Christmas presents, get some dignity from paid employment etc. and that makes things difficult.

So what do I do if I am to  take that whole ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you‘ command literally, that whole bit about loving your neighbour as yourself seriously?

It almost suggests that I should go into the interview with a view to giving up my rights to the job. I might be equally well qualified, even more qualifed but if I am following a God who gave up his rights and majesty does that have implications for job hunting.

Or are there different levels of neighbour?
Like is it OK to compete and strive and fight and trample over your neighbour if you are doing it for the sake of your family?

To even voice that seems dodgy, the perceived wisdom is that of course you should do anything to protect and look after your loved ones, it’s your responsibility to provide. But who are our loved ones? Who is your brother, who is your mother?

I found this article earlier on  and it quotes from someone called Donald Hagner

“Love for one’s neighbour means acting towards others with their good, their well-being, their fulfillment, as the primary motivation and goal of our deeds”

I thought it might be the silence of God that would send me over the edge,but it might just as easily be the voice of God, the trying to build your house on the rock and not the sand.

Although he was writing about Gandhi and pacifism George Orwell expressed something of the practicality of Christianity in the real world.

‘In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews?Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question…’

It’s all very well having lofty ideals but how do you propose it working in real life?
Jesus, it’s all very well saying turn the other cheek or do unto others but how do you propose it working in real life?

Homage to Catalonia

I had set myself the challenge of reading 100 books between Christmas ’11 and Christmas ’12 but I can see that I’m going to fall well short of 100 books. Part of the problem is that I’m a magpie with a chapter here and a chapter there. Also there is a couple of books reading in a church history book.

So it’s testament to George Orwell as a writer that I am able to finish his books from beginning to end. There are few writers that I can say that about.

Having said that ‘Homage to Catalonia’ is probably my least favourite book of his, which isn’t to say it’s not a good book (because it is) but that it’s about something that I find hard to relate to. The Spanish Civil war doesn’t really grab my attention so the book doesn’t really grab my attention as much as ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ did or ‘Animal Farm’.

There is one bit though that did stand out, namely the part in which Orwell describes being shot in the neck. It is the only time I remember reading about what it’s like to be hit by a bullet, something  I hope I never have to experience.

The reason I like Orwell as a writer is that he is clear and concise but has a sense of humour. Because of that he can join my small (but slowly expanding) group of heroes. Not that hero is the word I’m after.

fuel poverty

This morning I went to wash my feet and ran the hot water in the bath. It was freezing. Come to think of it the house was a bit cold as well.|
This led to that feeling in your gut that you hope isn’t true, but alas it was true.
We had ran out of oil.

Heat had already been playing on my mind this week already. It had cropped up in a number of books. Henry David Thoreau mentioned it in Walden

‘The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. What pains we accordingly take, not only with our Food, and our Clothing, and Shelter, but with our beds, which are our nightclothes, robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter, as the mole has its bed of grass and leaves and the end of its burrow!’

The subject of keeping warm had also made an appearance in ‘A Homage to Catalonia’ where George Orwell describes the hardships of the front line.

‘In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles and the enemy. In winter on the Saragossa front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last’

and later

‘Meanwhile, firewood – always firewood. Throughout that period there is probably no entry in my diary that does not mention firewood, or rather the lack of it. We were between two and three thousand feet above sea-level, it was mid-winter and the cold was unspeakable’

Yesterday morning our electricity was cut as NIE carried out maintenance work. As I cooked my pancakes on a camping stove my mind pondered the amount of energy we require to keep warm, to keep our homes heated and comfortable.

Then this morning I discovered the oil tank empty.

I suppose that this reflecting about fuel and the like gets me down. We need to stay warm and staying warm means burning fuel, usually fossil fuels, expensive fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere. And it’s expensive and getting even more expensive. More and more of our income is  tied up in buying polluting, unsustainable fossil fuels to heat our  heat inefficient homes. The main reason we need oil is not even to stay warm, but to dry our clothes with there being no room to for a tumble drier.

There are few (if any) more important things (if any) than staying warm. You can imagine our ancestors huddled in a cave around a campfire thousands of years ago or cutting turf from the bogs of Ireland. This was vitally important work in the days before cheap fuel.

The way we keep warm presently is so unsustainable and there seems to be no serious efforts to make it sustainable. Those little wood burning stoves look the business but Ireland is a tree desert so is there enough wood to go around?

I wandered down around the new Titanic Visitor Centre in Belfast last week and got to thinking if this was a wise use of money?

Part of me was wondering would it not have been a wiser investment for the future of Northern Ireland to use the money (90,000,000 pounds) for something like planting trees and making a forest, or investing in insulating homes or eco homes?

If there are about 700, 000 households that would have been about 125 pounds for each home to install better loft insulation or buy draught excluders etc.

Or to plant a mammoth forest, like acres and acres of forest. John Seymour recommends ash trees as being good for burning and relative quick growing. Plant trees everywhere, no more big buildings I reckon.

down and out in paris and london and belfast and lisburn

I finished reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London yesterday afternoon with the sense that it was time well spent. It’s a good book and a good read as well with surprising amounts of humour, especially when it comes to his friend Boris the Russian waiter and his eternal optimism that today would be the day that things would finally look up for the pair.

There is a bit in the book that reminded me of The Big Issue sellers on Botanic Avenue or scattered around Belfast who can be found standing at the same spot day most days of the week for hours on end. Mr Orwell writes

‘if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course–but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout–in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.’

the Road to Wigan Pier + pineapples

My hunt for used books ended up in me buying a battered copy of  The Road to Wigan Pier’ by George Orwell from a bookshop in Dundonald, mildly grumbling about the £3 I parted with to buy it. But  148 pages in and I’m glad I did buy it. Orwell may have been writing in the 1930’s, but much of what he is writing about unemployment and workers, or the British Empire rings today.

Well maybe not so much the British Empire, but other ’empires’. What about fruit empires for instance?

‘the high standard of life we enjoy in England depends upon our keeping a tight hold on the Empire, particularly the tropical portions of it such as India and Africa. Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation – an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little isalnd where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes’
passage from ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, George Orwell