Monthly Archives: October 2010

Father confronts pro-life campaigners

I must admit, I hesitated at first when putting up this post. Abortion is an incredibly sensitive issue and as a result is also very polarising. Coming from a country where it is illegal and living in a place where it is free on the NHS, I have experienced both sides of the argument and frankly, do not wish to discuss my own opinions on the matter. What struck me most about this article and the video which goes with it was not so much the matter it deals with but the direction it comes from. Many people see abortion as specifically a women’s issue, which it is not. This, however, is a man’s perspective. I found it very moving.

“You’re killing your unborn baby!”

That’s what they yelled at me and my wife on the worst day of our lives. As we entered the women’s health center on an otherwise perfect summer morning in Brookline, two women we had never met decided to pile onto the nightmare we had been living for three weeks. These “Christians” verbally accosted us—judged us—as we steeled ourselves for the horror of making the unimaginable, but necessary, decision to end our pregnancy at 16 weeks.

After extensive testing at a renowned Boston hospital three weeks earlier, we were told our baby had Sirenomelia. Otherwise known as Mermaid Syndrome, it’s a rare (one in every 100,000 pregnancies) congenital deformity in which the legs are fused together. Worse than that, our baby had no bladder or kidneys. Our doctors told us there was zero chance for survival.

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Manly Poems – Gethsemane by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve recently been reading up on my war poetry, especially after viewing the Scottish National Theatre’s Black Watch this week. I stumbled across a beautiful and tragic poem by Kipling, dealing with the subject of war as was his wont in later life.

The Garden of Gethsemane sits at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and is famed for being the place where Jesus prayed with his disciples the day before his crucifixion.  In the Book of Matthew, Jesus prays: “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Kipling likened the predicament of Jesus to that of all soldiers. Their destiny, their duty, is not theirs to will. After the First World War, the image of the conflict as the slaughter of masses of soldiers as Christ-like figures became widespread. The idea of a soldier’s submission to his commander’s will became tarnished beyond repair.

This piece exemplifies a great turning point in English literature and indeed, in Western literature generally. After this first global conflict, war poetry became anti-war poetry and remained so. Gone were the days of glorifying the honour of death in war.

Gethsemane

(1914 – 1918)

The Garden called Gethsemane

In Picardy it was,

And there the people came to see

The English soldiers pass.

We used to pass – we used to pass

Or halt, as it may be,

And ship our masks in case of gas

Beyond Gethsemane.

The Garden called Gethsemane,

It held a pretty lass,

But all the time she talked to me

I prayed my cup might pass.

The officer sat on the chair,

The men lay on the grass,

And all the time we halted there

I prayed my cup might pass.

It didn’t pass – it didn’t pass –

It didn’t pass from me.

I drank it when we met the gas

Beyond Gethsemane!

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Theatre on both sides of the Irish Sea

Considering my close proximity to the great cultural hub of Edinburgh, home of the Festival and countless venues, it really is shameful that I hardly ever go to the theatre. However, it would seem that when it rains, it pours and this week I’ve seen not one but two terrific productions, one in Dublin and the other in Aberdeen.

Last weekend, I flew home to Dublin as I had hardly seen my family all summer. The night before I was due to return to Scotland, my father and I went to see a play by Ibsen called John Gabriel Borkman.

Set in the late 19th century, the play is based on an incident that Ibsen recorded from an earlier period in his life, the attempted suicide of an army officer who had been accused of embezzlement. The Borkman family fortunes have been brought low by the imprisonment of John Gabriel who used his position as a bank manager to illegally speculate with his investors’ money. The action of the play takes place eight years after Borkman’s release when John Gabriel Borkman, Mrs. Borkman, and her twin sister Ella Rentheim battle over the future of young Erhart Borkman. The cast includes some serious talent including Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw of Aunt Petunia fame, as well as Lindsay Duncan, who played Servilia of the Junii in the HBO series Rome. The play’s timing made it very interesting to watch. The Irish public’s recent experiences with the likes of Anglo-Irish Bank has now led to a severe lack of sympathy for a story such as that of John Gabriel Borkman’s.

The play, though written as a tragedy, was treated by the audience as though it were a black comedy, with many people laughing out loud at Borkman’s clear signs of delusion and desolation. A figure such as his simply did not pull at the heartstrings of an audience already hardened against such tales of moral failure.

On Friday night, I went with a bunch of university friends to see the award-winning Black Watch play by Gregory Burke at the AECC. The play is synonymous with the famous Black Watch Regiment, the most senior regiment of the Highlanders. It is based on stories heard by the playwright during his research interviews with former soldiers of the Black Watch who had fought in the controversial and on-going conflict in Iraq.

In late 2004, the Black Watch Regiment, which is based around Tayside and Fife, was the focus of a  political controversy resulting from a United States Army request for British forces to be moved further north outside of the British-controlled South-East of Iraq in order to replace forces temporarily redeployed for the Second Battle of Fallujah.Despite objections in Parliament, the deployment went ahead. Based at Camp Dogwood located between Fallujah and Karbala, in an area later dubbed the “Triangle of Death”, the Black Watch came under heavy and prolonged mortar and rocket attack by insurgents. On the 4th November, three soldiers and an interpreter were killed by a car bomb at a check point. The high profile nature of the deployment caused a magnification of these deaths back home in Britain.

As if this were not enough, later that same year it was officially announced that the Regiment was to be amalgamated with all other Scottish Division regiments to form what is now the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The Secretary of Defence of the day, Geoff Hoon, was heavily criticised by the SNP for “stabbing the soldiers in the back” and being motivated solely by political and administrative concerns, with little regard to the effect on morale.

The play deals with a fictional platoon of soldiers experiencing all of the above first hand. Through song, dance and acting, the show tells the story of a regiment with a proud history and a war that to this day leans heavily on the national conscience. It is magnificent.

From its first performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006, the show has received rave reviews, standing ovations and 22 awards. I had expected something very good, but I was blown away by the raw, uncomfortable, visceral urgency of it. I was struck by how relevant the story still is today, with the conflict in Afghanistan showing no signs of an imminent end.

The production was all the more arresting for that one of the lads I saw it with is joining the Black Watch next September.

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The things I let myself get talked into…

This is Ciara Ryan, the sabbatical President of Charities this year at the University of Aberdeen. I met Ciara first when she signed up to climb Mt Kilimanjaro with my society about two years ago. In the mean time we have become good friends, traveling round East Africa together, climbing superlative mountains and campaigning to get her elected to her current position.

Usually, I wouldn’t be much bothered to climb mountains in Scotland. It’s not so much the climbing as the rain. The Three Pap Challenge (a charity event which involves climbing three Scottish breast-shaped mountains in a weekend) was, therefore, not really what could be considered my ‘thing’. However, Ciara kind of rushed me into it so that when the time came, I couldn’t back out – clever girl. The next thing I knew I was huddled into a minivan at ridiculous o’clock on a Saturday morning with a bunch of super-keen medical students who had been drinking since God-knows-when. Within 48 hours, we had ascended Bennachie, Lochnagar and finally, the Pap of Glencoe, from the summit of which could be beheld the most spectacular views over Loch Leven and Glencoe.

And another couple from the weekend in general:

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