Archive for July, 2009

A Duck story

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I’ve always been very fond of ducks. They’re essentially rather jolly creatures I always think and I like that slightly aggrieved brurk brurk noise they make. The ducklings are essence of cute, the males are blokey in a duck sort of a way and the females always seem busy and slightly cross.

When I was at primary school we kept ducks as class pets and one summer we looked after them at home during the long break. My mother adored the ducks who would follow her around when she was gardening so she could feed them worms. She would cook an evil smelling stew of vegetables and pea pods specially for them and they showed their affection for her by eating the stuff with apparent enthusiasm. It was of great sorrow to my mother when these well-fed, organic creatures went missing from their duck house just before Christmas.

Yes, I know a couple of them are geese

Yes, I know a couple of them are geese

On my way home through the local park I watched the large numbers of ducks busying around the pond and noted the ducklings are obviously at the gawky teenage stage. What I also noted was that the ducks were all girls – I don’t think I saw a single lad. G suggested that maybe all the male ducks were gathering somewhere at a gay duck convention. He referred me to a rather beastly story about a Dutch museum, two ducks and an Ig noble prize (see what I did there). I found it in The Guardian so it must be true although I’m a little sad to think it might be. Just shows one shouldn’t anthropomorphise too much – one can be so disappointed.

Ramblings from the sick bed

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

I’ve been off sick for a couple of days and in between bouts of feverish sleep I’ve passed the time by listening to the news and watching television programmes on my laptop. Today the 7th British soldier this week died in Helmand- another day, another death.

When ex-President Bush sent troops into Afghanistan I remember saying to an old friend that Afghan British history didn’t fill one with optimism for a good result. Afghans have always been fearsome fighters and a trip to the Khyber Pass am, bears testament to previous attempts to subdue the populace. Along the hilltop are carved the coats of arms of the British regiments (I’m told ) remnants of the wars in the nineteenth century, part of the “Great Game” the territorial battle between the British and the Russian Empires. It didn’t really go well for the British and ended in withdrawal. The Russians occupied Afghanistan for about a dozen years in the late 20th century where (and again I am told) they managed to secure Kabul sufficiently for a relatively normal society to work, women able to be educated and to be educators and for commerce and government to work. The history is long, complicated and I’ve not really got enough life left to live to study it sufficiently to speak with any authority. But I will say that it’s always seemed like a buzzing wasp’s nest and going in there militarily seemed like poking a stick into a wasp’s nest and then stirring.
I could understand that the hills along the Afghan Pakistan border were sheltering Taliban, a more vicious, destructive group it would be difficult to invent. Their evil, grim ways of terrifying and intimidating a populace seemed something to be fought and the thick political and religious stew in which they boil produces toxic swarms of rabid young men and increasingly women to fly out into the world to wreak destruction.

The history, the arguments, the politics, the cultures and religious rifts are all beyond me and frankly I suspect beyond many ordinary British people. But then, looking at the political leaders one has to wonder what they were thinking. Our troops went into Iraq with less Parliamentary debate than was devoted to banning hunting. We know about the murky depths behind that decision and we know too that back benchers in the Labour party who also had doubts managed to overcome them.

When the military was sent into Helmand, John Reid who was Secretary of State for Defence downplayed the dangers – indeed he implied that there wouldn’t be a shot fired. It sounded unlikely even then and 176 deaths later we know for sure. Any anyway, the British military get sent into the toughest places because they are good. When Blair ordered troops into Iraq, I was profoundly wary of the argument that Al Qaida were operating out of a state where secularism had been imposed as rigorously as whatever it is the Taliban impose.

I just know that I would like our troops to come home after 6 years. And I know that watching Tony Blair being interviewed by a particularly unctuous Graydon Carter was pretty uncomfortable for me. Graydon pointed out that Blair is the highest paid public speaker in the world, eclipsing even Bill Clinton and Blair acknowledged that when one has been Prime Minister, one gets used to a certain standard of life. But he did it in a modest, half-smiley regular guy sort of a way. So that’s alright then.