Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Aeschylus who lived from 525 to 456 wrote these few lines about bereavement: “Drop, drop– in our sleep, upon the heart sorrow falls, memory’s pain, and to us, though against our very will, even in our own despair, comes wisdom, by the awful grace of God.”
Those words were spoken to the world again by Robert Kennedy after announcing the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968, and uttered to remind the American people of its sudden bereavement that his brother, John F Kennedy, was also murdered by a white man. These words echo through every age on a pain that visits us all sooner or later.
Losing a member of any loving family is the exact moment when that pain comes to those left behind. It was Aeschylus that came to mind when a man deep in sorrow told me about the loss of his brother recently. More than anything else closure was missing, and that means many things to different people. I wanted to help and not by offering clichés that border on ignorance of the depth of his despair. I offered instead what I though were helpful insights into the randomness of life. I needed to know more for little enough can be known in what was ultimately a brief conversation in trying to purchase a second hand car.
A beautiful young girl, Sharon Creaven, was 12 years old when she was killed in May of 1998. It was also the exact moment too when the killing of Raymond Forde began. He was barely 5 years older than Sharon, and that reckless ride that morning coming from church when his car tried to overtake 3 more and could not, and when Sharon died as a result, was the day no one could forget, least of all him who could not forgive himself either.
He was charged with dangerous driving causing the death of Sharon, found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in an adult prison at the age of 18 years old. He served 3 years. He said to the judge at sentencing that he would gladly have given his own life in place of Sharon’s. He meant it and would not stop trying to give up his life such was the depth and meaning of his remorse and sorrow. He never intended to hurt anybody yet another teenager did. He would be in prison at the same time and would serve little more than a year for the rape of a 20 year old girl.
How was prison going to reform Raymond, a adolescent not yet old enough to vote in Ireland, who was neither a child but not yet a man, and beset by testosterone and the mindset of most male teenagers that they are right and the rest of us are wrong. Reform him from what? Was his sentence nothing more than a prejudiced opinion on behalf of a judge and a system that was meant to punish and exact revenge but not forgive which was the only path to redemption. Another predator circled his family at this time too.
When Raymond was less than a year in prison and his family were in the emotional hold of that same sentence, a man claiming to be from the Department Of Justice visited them. Brian Hassett, then 52 years old, presented himself as a probation and welfare officer who was there to offer early release for their son. Of course it would cost 3000 Irish pound. They did what any loving parent would have done and handed over the money. Hassett, who had already committed burglary, car theft, fraud, criminal damage, and larceny had read about their son in the local newspaper and hatched his plan well. It was another nail in Raymond’s coffin.
When Raymond was released from prison his deep feelings of remorse, regrets, and self worth could not be reached. Life offered now and then hope, but he could not shut out the memories of when Sharon died and all that followed.
So it was when he went for his last ride in March of 2013. He was alone at 2:45 in early morning when his car crashed and he was killed instantly. He was 31 years old.
Closure has yet to come for Sharon and Raymond families. Yet, life offers that very promise for those left behind for they were free spirits when they went over to the other side. They are there now for their families when in doubt, in crisis; there on still days when a gentle breeze reminds them they are not alone; there at night to help watch over them. The place where they are can never be troubled again while knowing that their families carry on the banner of their spirits that still lives in part in every one of them.
That is the reality of what I believe closure is or needs to be, and hope it is what Sharon’s and Raymond’s family can embrace. It is also why I believe that the reason that I met Raymond’s brother Pat that day to purchase a car, is that I was sent to meet him by Raymond. It was too easy, too coincidental. Patrick had just advertised a car on the Internet for less than 2 minutes, and I was there in front of him 20 minutes later. The stars were aligned just right. Raymond and Patrick had something on their minds and I was just the messenger to let them both know what that was. I hope this message is heard and understood by all.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
What do YOU remember about the scorching summer of 1976? Forget the torrential downpours and bask in this magical slice of nostalgia from a very different Britain
• June 25, 1976, was the hottest day on record for many places, with temperatures pushing 100 degrees fahrenheit
• Heatwave had begun two weeks earlier and would last until the end of August, the worst drought in 300 years
A lioness fainted in Norwich.In Yorkshire, the surface of the M1 started to buckle and to crack. Proceedings in the notorious ‘Black Panther’ murder trial at Oxford Crown Court had to be suspended while a woman was carried out of the public gallery suffering from ‘heat exhaustion’.
At the Wimbledon tennis championships, umpires were allowed to remove their jackets for the first time in living memory and at a Newcastle hospital, laundry staff walked out complaining of intolerable temperatures.
On Merseyside, the AA reported: ‘Nearly every major road was littered with overheated cars.’ And it wasn’t just cars that were overheating. In Hampshire, there was a ‘tremendous upsurge’ in 999 calls to domestic disturbances.
Meanwhile, fire raged across Bellerby Moor in North Yorkshire. It was the most extraordinary 24 hours of an extraordinary summer, and it was June 25, 1976 — 40 years ago today.e
But the stories from around the country that day — in some parts of Britain, the hottest recorded, with temperatures pushing 100 degrees fahrenheit — don’t just show the intensity of the epic heatwave that had begun two weeks earlier and would last until the end of August, causing the worst drought in England in 300 years.
They illustrate what a very different country it was from the one we inhabit now: more innocent, less knowing and sophisticated.
The Southern Echo newspaper proclaimed ‘the Tropic of Hampshire’, and quoted the manager of the Cowherds pub overlooking Southampton Common, who said the heatwave was having a ‘quite ridiculous’ effect on customers, who were asking for up to ‘six lumps of ice in their drinks, instead of the usual one’.
Any kind of drinks would have done for the hundreds trapped for an hour and a half on five Tube trains backed up between Finchley Road and Baker Street stations on what was then the Bakerloo Line, following a signal failure at 10.34am.
On the day that the London-set horror film The Omen went on worldwide release, the real horrors in the capital were underground, where dozens of passengers fainted and others stripped to their underwear.
The suffocating heat was alleviated only slightly when people started smashing windows, initiated by a man later described as ‘a blond sun-tanned giant, bare to the waist’ who began swinging from two straps, launching himself at the glass.
Next day, one passenger described the nightmare: ‘In our carriage, the first window shattering, which seemed to set the fashion for the rest, came approximately 50 minutes after the train had juddered to a halt and some time after the first fainting fit.
‘The blond man glanced at the fainting woman, muttered something inaudible and let fly with his foot at the glass. Everybody else, brushing glass off each other, said that it was a very good idea, but we wished he’d warned us first.
‘After that, every few minutes or so, we would hear distant tinkling sounds from up and down the tunnel. As more windows hit the track it made things a little less hot but not much.’
Eventually, just after noon, the stricken trains limped into Baker Street station having taken 90 minutes in life-threatening conditions to complete an eight-minute journey.
If today’s compensation culture had prevailed back then, who knows what claims would have followed? Yet London Transport, far from offering compensation, scarcely even mustered an apology, pointing out tersely that nobody required hospital treatment.
It was a day on which those who sought respite from the remarkable heat had to pay a price. At Southampton Lido — on a weekday, remember — people queued for three hours to get in. On the coastbound carriageway of the M5 in Devon, there was a 17-mile tailback (or ‘bumper-to-bumper queue’, as it was then known). Indeed, that Friday was the prelude to a weekend which saw more cars on Britain’s roads than ever before, an estimated eight million, described by the RAC as ‘the biggest motoring bonanza ever’.
Packed roads into Margate and Brighton were described as ‘a giant centipede of steel’. Inevitably, there were thousands of breakdowns.
For the AA in the Midlands, June 25 was the busiest day of the year so far, and the burns unit at Birmingham Accident Hospital reported more than 20 cases of motorists scalding themselves by removing radiator caps after their cars had overheated (those were hands-on times).
The AA warned motorists: ‘Flush your radiator regularly, empty out the anti-freeze and check your fan belt.’
Cars did not have air-conditioning and neither did most department stores. In Southampton city centre, only Debenhams had air-conditioning, installed at considerable cost eight months earlier — but it was too expensive to switch on.
An hour’s use would exert the same strain on the electricity tariff as ‘maximum demand’ for an entire month, costing the then unimaginably extravagant sum of £2,500. ‘We didn’t appreciate the full implications,’ said the store manager.
The sweltering temperatures afflicted even buildings where treally serious business was going on.
At Oxford Crown Court, the judge in the trial of kidnapper Donald Nielson, who was nicknamed the Black Panther and accused of murdering coach-company heiress Lesley Whittle, 17, ruled that most of the hearing should take place in the morning, before the heat got too intense.
However, the trial still had to be suspended when the woman in the public gallery fainted. It was the proceedings in another courtroom that blistering Friday, however, that properly showed how dangerous the heat could be. At an inquest in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, the coroner recorded a verdict of death by misadventure on 16-year-old Stephen Drinkwater who, the week before, had dived into the River Ouse to cool off after spending the day, during a break in his O-Level exams, working in a nursery greenhouse in temperatures of up to 95F.
The sudden shock of the cold water triggered a fatal heart attack.
Animals were also at terrible risk, even those expected to cope with the heat. At Roberts Brothers Circus in Norwich, it all got too much for Roberta the lioness, who fainted and came round only when a bucket of water was thrown over her.
At nearby Norwich market that morning, potatoes cost only 8p a pound, having been 13p a pound a week earlier. This was deeply worrying for growers, forced to deal with a glut because the weather had brought the crop to early maturity.
The situation wasn’t quite as promising as it seemed for shoppers, either. In other parts of eastern England the price of potatoes had dropped so low that many farmers stopped lifting them.
The farmers were facing all sorts of headaches; perhaps it seemed symbolic to them that The Wurzels song I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester had just been knocked off number one in the charts.
More probably, they didn’t notice. They had other problems, the National Farmers’ Union lamenting that, because the grass wasn’t growing, their members were having to feed the cattle with hay that, in a normal year, would be stored until the autumn.
By that Friday, the heatwave was still only a fortnight old in England and Wales, and only just reaching Scotland, where ‘around 50’ anti-apartheid protestors turned up to heckle French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, as he arrived in Edinburgh to meet the Queen, whose ‘brilliant yellow dress and yellow turban-style hat’ perfectly matched the dazzling sunshine.
In Scotland, as elsewhere, just about everyone expected the freakish weather to break at some point, but already there were dire warnings that Britain was on the verge of suffering the most severe drought for centuries.
While the Wessex Water Authority began a ‘frantic’ search for ‘new sources’, the Anglian Water Authority announced a hosepipe ban. There was one already in the Bristol area, saving an estimated million gallons a day. It wasn’t nearly enough though. A Bristol Waterworks Company spokesman went on local TV news to explain that reservoirs, already low after a dry summer the year before, were losing nearly six million gallons a day through evaporation.
Soon, hosepipe bans would spread to the rest of the country, with tap water rationed in some areas and dramatic plans even drawn up to run a pipeline along the outside lane of the M5, so that water might be pumped from the Midlands to the stricken South-West.
Not that the Midlands weren’t parched. The June 25 editorial in the Birmingham Post, unwittingly hinting at the climate-change debate that rages today, asked whether ‘some radical change’ might be taking place in ‘the weather pattern of the British Isles and Western Europe’. Its verdict was that it was ‘far too soon’ to draw conclusions.
Nevertheless, it is odd now to look back and see how much trouble the 1976 heatwave caused, at least for those of us who were children at the time, and recall it with fondness.
Trying to mitigate the effect of the sun could be fun in itself. The most widely reported piece of medical advice that Friday came from a casualty doctor at London’s Charing Cross Hospital who solemnly recommended a pint of beer and a packet of crisps ‘to replace the liquid and salt you lose through sweating’.
In Huddersfield on the same day, soft drinks manufacturer Benjamin Shaw & Sons proudly declared that it was increasing output by 100 per cent. And the Wall’s ice-cream factory in Gloucester reported an ‘all-time peak’ in production.
Not even ice-cream was without its controversies, however. Gwilym Roberts, the Labour MP for Cannock, was quoted in the Yorkshire Post deploring reprehensible vendors’ tactic of ‘fobbing kids off with smaller dollops in their ice-cream cornets than they dare give grown-ups for the same money’. He vowed to raise the matter with Prices Secretary, Shirley Williams.
For those who didn’t cool off, with short measures of ice-cream or anything else, the heat was overwhelming just about everywhere.
A public information notice warning about the drought, erected by the road in the Bridport area of Dorset in September 1976
At Wimbledon, in the hottest conditions anyone could remember, dozens of people were treated for sunstroke. An Egyptian spectator caught pinching women’s bottoms turned out to be an official at the Egyptian Embassy who promptly claimed diplomatic immunity. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘There was nothing we could do.’
On Centre Court the next day, a young Englishwoman took advantage of the debilitating heat; 20-year-old Sue Barker storming back from a set and two games down to beat Maria Bueno 2-6 6-2 6-1. Bueno, 36, from Brazil, later said that, like a flower, she had wilted in the sun.
For Miss Barker, who was already that year’s French Open champion, victory came as consolation after the announcement on Friday, from Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burnett, chairman of the All-England Club, that he would not give in to the women’s demands for the same prize money as the men; they got £10,000 against the men’s £12,500.
‘You are not worth the same,’ he said. ‘You don’t work as hard, and in the early rounds especially your matches aren’t as attractive.’
This year, both men and women winners will each get £2 million.
Those truly were different times.
They invited the media along to the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille on Thursday to see the new pitch being laid. They should probably have invited Robbie Brady along and given him the old one to take away and hang on his wall.
Surely this is one green field of France – well, more brown field of France, if we’re being honest – that deserves a loving home where its significance can be properly cherished.
Those of us who were there the night Brady’s header hit the Italian net, well, we’ll never stop reminding people we were there the night Brady’s header hit the Italian net.
And, when you think about it, with that evocative combination of first name and surname, how could we ever have doubted Robbie Brady — even more appropriately, a left pegger with a goal-den touch — would end up an Irish football hero for the ages.
Of course, he’d taken a first big step to that ultimate destination in Zenica back in November, although not too many of us there that night can actually claim to have seen the goal which permitted Ireland to dip one foot tentatively into the inviting waters of these European Championship Finals.
Those among the Green Army who did get a decent view down at their end of the fog-shrouded pitch were quick to immortalise the moment in song, already belting it out with gusto — they never go anywhere without their mate Gusto, you know — by the time we were all embarking on the long journey home from Bosnia the following day.
To the tune of ‘Twist And Shout’, it went: “Shake it up Brady now, shake it up Brady, twist and shoot, twist and shoot’.
“Pretty darn good, I reckon, since it presented an almost photographically accurate image of how the Dubliner did indeed find the back of the net that night.
Whoever the songsmiths were, I now wish them luck in their efforts to do justice to Brady’s moment of moments on Wednesday night and all it meant to so many.
“Something that draws its inspiration from, oh, I dunno, a combination of ‘Blonde On Blonde’, ‘Nessun Dorma’, ‘Good Vibrations’ and Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ might do for a start. Oh, and with a bit of Christy Moore thrown in as well, of course.
Go to it, lads and lassies, another big match this way comes. Speaking of which, Thierry Henry is once again — clever bi-lingual pun alert, readers — the main man out here. (Unless you’re Roy Keane, who made it clear yesterday he couldn’t be less interested in the possibility of history’s hand resting heavily on the shoulder of tomorrow’s ref).
Since Wednesday, the French papers have been littered with references to revenge, retribution and the settling of scores, and we can expect the madness to hit critical mass by Sunday at kick-off
The truth, I like to think, is we Irish have long since gotten over the Hand Of Gaul. (He says with an involuntary twitch).
It only took about six years but I feel I can speak on behalf of the nation when I say once we learned all about Sepp handing over those five big ones, why, every man, woman and child in the country could practically feel the pain of it all evaporating, not even leaving a scar. ‘Cos it’s not like we didn’t get a result, right? Just not on the night, yeah?
And now here are the French, with their survivor’s guilt, reopening old wounds. They still feel bad about it all, it seems, what with them going to South Africa and being awful and us staying at home and being sad.
Frankly, I think the only thing for it is for the FAI to hand over the five mill to them, just to show there’s no hard feelings, and to allow them to experience the transcendent joy we felt when, belatedly, we brought home le bacon.
Meanwhile, our people out here continue to do their bit to engender peace, love and understanding between our two great nations. Or make that peace, love and misunderstanding.
In a queue at a supermarket in Bordeaux one morning I spotted a footsoldier in the Green Army taking his place among the locals who were lining up to buy their baguettes and cheese and olives.
You could tell he was one of ours not just from the leprechaun hat, green jersey and radioactively florid complexion but because his two arms were practically elongated from the effort of trying to hold onto and keep upright a veritable skyscraper of six packs — on the very top of which lay a single packet of sliced ham.
And, in fairness, he wasn’t the only Irish visitor paying attention to his dietary requirements in the same shop.
Near the top of the queue, another boyo in green turned to the local behind him and showed him some item he’d just picked off the shelves.
The ensuing conversation was easy to hear since the visitor insisted on giving it the full Dublin.
“PARDONNEZ MUSHER!” “Qui?” “WOULD YIZ KNOW IS THIS GLUTEN-FREE?” “Je ne sais pas.” “RIGH’.” (A thoughtful pause, then): “DO YIZ MIND ME ASKIN? WHAT IS THE FRENCH FOR GLUTEN-FREE?” (A shrug) “Sans gluten?” (A cheery smile) “MAKES SENSE!”
The Irish fans might have led the way in the popularity stakes at these Euros but the Irish team is catching up fast. After the game against Belgium in Lille, a Dutch reporter at a Martin O’Neill press conference began a question with the following observation:
“The Irish are very popular in my country – not the team or the way you play – but the fans…”
O’Neill diplomatically ignored the bit in the middle and paid due credit to the always fantastic Irish support but the rest of us didn’t really know whether to wince, laugh or cry.
But it’s all changed now. The boost in confidence of that first-half against Sweden and the joy engendered by Wes Hoolahan’s splendid goal in the Stade de France has, on the back of Lille and Robbie Brady, been transformed into the kind of momentum and pride and self-belief that suddenly has people going pleasantly mad and thinking anything might be possible.
Although they’ve almost always had a bit of a mutual appreciation thing going, Irish players and Irish fans are now firmly on the same page in the sense that the team are beginning to give the supporters a run for their money when it comes to drawing praise and creating positive headlines.
The back pages and the front pages at these Euros are growing that bit closer.
Of course up against the star-studded hosts, the Irish are still the underdogs, yes, but be assured that in Lyon today the French will be wary of coming up against more than just bark, bollock and bite.
Allez les verts!