DAY 80 Where have all the flowers gone?

January 29th, 2014 § 0 comments

So Pete Seeger has gone – if you’d asked me, I wouldn’t have been sure he was still around.seeger Here he is, in his prime, Talking Union. We still need people who can do that.

Every now and then as I see the scenes of Syria on the television, the bloodshed, the refugees, the stuttering diplomacy, I recall of one of those memories which I’d better write down because soon there won’t be anyone left to recall it. (Am I getting repetitive?) It concerns Lakhdar Brahimi _72609137_brahimi_afpwho, in the seventies, was Algerian ambassador in London. (Now you see the connection.) In this capacity, he gave a small dinner one evening; as far as I can remember those present were: Lakhdar and his wife Melitsa; my father and mother; myself and Jean; Louis and Hélène Althusser (yes, now you’re getting interested); and, to add to the diversity, Ernest Gellner. I can’t remember if there was anyone else, and I remember none of the conversation. Some years later, Gellner wrote a virulent attack on Said’s Culture and Imperialism, with a sideswipe at my father. Both are now dead, as are both Althussers (stop harping on that).

I wonder if Brahimi, whose mind is more occupied with the problem of forcing people to sit at the same table – or even in the same room – when they would rather be shooting each other, ever recalls that occasion – perhaps I should send him an email? It might be a distraction. At 80, four years older than me (birthday 1st January if you want to know), he may have even more memories than me – certainly more interesting ones. (Less than Pete Seeger, who is/was 94 at his death.) How would you rather spend your life – as a folksinger, or a mediator in intractable disputes? I have to warn you that the chances of getting to the top in either capacity – let alone in both, like Joan Baez or Bob Geldof – are slim.

Come to think of it, it might be worth writing to Brahimi, or better to the Algerian Embassy in London, for the date of the dinner, the guest list, and the menu. As for the conversation, I imagine MI5 have complete tapes, never mind GCHQ. How can they keep records of all these trivial conversations – I assume they do – while the BBC routinely destroys whole episodes of Doctor Who?8198mP4mwKL._SL1500_ Anyone got a copy of the Tenth Planet series episode 4? When did this society’s priorities go astray? Where, to repeat my original question, have all the flowers gone?

In a related development (you always say that), Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam have parted company – a misunderstanding over the star’s promotion of Sodastream, scarlettwhose products are manufactured in the settlement Maale Adumim (little boxes on the hillside), and therefore violate most of Oxfam’s principles. A point which, you might say, was lost in translation. But which allows us to segue into a relevant poem – on the daily routine of travel through the checkpoint to work in the settlement:


by Susan Abulhawa

It’s 3 am
In the cattle cage

The line is long
And thick
With bodies

You wait

jibneh sandwich
With cucumber
In a plastic bag
Clutched in your callused laborer’s hand

Your wife prepared your breakfast and lunch
She was up before you
And together you prayed a predawn salat

She kissed your face and said
Allah ma’ak ya habibi 
Allah be with you, my love

You kiss the faces of your sleeping babies
You haven’t seen them awake in months
And you wonder
Has Walid’s voice begun to crack yet?
Have Wijdad’s hips begun to flare?
How big was Suraya’s smile when she came home
with her report card?

It’s 4 am
In the cattle cage

Still, you wait
The line before you is so long
And behind you now, it is longer

Few speak
You’re packed so damn tight
That you hold one another upright

You see your own fatigue
Reflected in the weariness etched on
The faces all around you

You look away
Pine for a smoke
But who the hell can afford that?

You stare at the graffiti beyond the
Iron bars holding you in
Written just for you
By zionist settlers sucking the breath from your lungs

You understand the meaning
Of their English words
“Die Sand Niggers”

You pine for that, too.

It’s 5 am
In the cattle cage

The soldiers arrive
The line loosens
You take one step forward
Propelled by the weight of bodies
Behind you

Your jibneh sandwich
With cucumber
In a plastic bag
Is crushed.
It never survives

It’s 7 am
In the cattle cage

Now is your turn
You produce your papers
Unfold and refold
Eyes down
Heart down
Your shoes are down on their luck

You’re out of the line
Fifteen men before you were pulled aside
And you tried not to look
Not to hear the one begging
Don’t hit me

It’s 7:30 am
On the cattle bus

You ride
The country they stole from you
Seeds outside your window
And you imagine
The man you would have been
The man you should have been
Out there
Riding the family steed
The thoroughbred mares your grandfather
Raised and nurtured and loved
In a Palestine

It’s 8 am
You get off the cattle bus
Your crushed jibneh sandwich
With cucumber
In a plastic bag
In one hand

Your eyes down
Heart down
You put your toolbox down to knock
On the zionist settler’s back door
Where the help goes


The zionist settler boss-man yells
Mish hon el yom! 

Not there today

And all you can do is thank Allah that your
Wife and your babies are not
There to hear them call you

Sport: (to change the subject completely)

Immediately after I’d promoted the English women’s cricket team for an Ashes wipeout, they went and, in true English fashion, lost two games in a row, However, they romped home today in Hobart by nine wickets – Edwards 92, Charlotte EdwardsTaylor 50 to be accurate (I hope this is right I just write it down); and so clinched the series. So my reputation as a sports guru isn’t totally ruined. You may want to hang on for my tip for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or an assessment of the Jamaican women’s football team..

Anyway, for those of us like Seeger, Brahimi, and indeed me, who feel their get-up and go has got up and went, here is Pete singing about it (looking anything but old)…


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