Pete Ashton’s Undercover has been delayed slightly by legal issues, but will be out in the next couple of weeks.
A copper who admits taking drugs, beating up suspects and urinating in kettles during searches… I wonder how it will be received?
Seamus Heaney is dead. I studied (ie read bits of) his poetry nearly 30 years ago. His death hasn’t hit me very hard, other than that 30 years thought. I didn’t really like his poems – too much mud and potatoes for me – though the one with the three-foot box, a foot for every year stuck in my head, at least partially.
His last words, apparently, were in the form of a text to his wife, written in Latin. ‘Noli timere,’ he typed. (‘Don’t be afraid.’) He didn’t say of what. It must have been difficult, too, what with modern predictive text. In fact, it strikes me as slightly pretentious. But then, he was a poet.
The famous psychiatrist R D Laing’s last words, uttered as he lay on the tennis court after collapsing from a heart attack, were, ‘But I am a f***ing doctor.’
Talking of psychiatrists, and moving in more rarefied air, here is Theodore Dalrymple on second-hand bookshops, and some of the oddities (human and printed) to be found within:
It is all the more remarkable, then, that in so materialistic an age as our own people can be found who not only spend, but want to spend, and cannot conceive of not spending, their working lives in such conditions, and all for little monetary reward. True, they are more or less protected by their avocation from the seamier and more violent side of modern society; burglars and armed robbers in even the worst areas for crime do not think to break into second-hand bookshops; and the comings and going of governments do not trouble them. Not for them, either, the shadow-boxing of modern party politics, in which one political mountebank sets himself up as the last bastion against the depredations of another, in truth not very dissimilar, mountebank. Rather they concern themselves with the eternal verities of light foxing, cocking, small tears to dust jackets, and the like. The worst that can happen to them is a gentle slide into insolvency as rents rise (all such shops are now found in the unlikeliest places because they can survive only where rents are low) and readers decline – both in number and in discrimination. For my money (of which, incidentally, they have taken a lot down the ages) they are the unsung heroes of our culture.
Finally, a strange blunder by the BBC, which used a 2003 photo from Iraq to illustrate the Syrian chemical attack. The picture actually showed shrouded skeletons recovered from one of saddam’s many mass graves. One of the first – if not the first – Westerners at the site was the Daily Mirror‘s Chris Hughes, a good friend of mine, who recounted the story in our book Road Trip to Hell (I know I would say this, but it’s a very good read).
A group of men, who were squatting around a shallow ditch, turned and saw us, taking in Julian’s camera. Adil, a dignified expression of sorrow falling upon his face, approached the men and talked to them for a while, frequently pointing to us and obviously seeking their permission for us to be there.
Finally, one of the men gesticulated for us to come closer, and we walked towards them nervously, fearing what we would see.
At the edge of the shallow grave, the men had placed a white sheet on the dirt; on it, they were carefully, tenderly, arranging the bones of a skeleton to make the shape of a man.
Those bones were all that was left of Hamid Omran. The men were his brother and cousins.
I spoke to them, through Adil. They were astonishingly dignified and polite, shading their eyes from the sun as they looked up at me and answering my questions calmly and politely.
The brother, Abdul, told me that Hamid had been arrested at their home by Saddam’s secret police and taken away for ‘questioning’ on some spurious grounds.
‘He didn’t like Saddam but he had done nothing wrong,’ he said. ‘They came for him in 1994 and the papers show that they killed him a year later. He was 31 when he disappeared and we have seen no sign of him from that day until this.’
He looked around. ‘They massacred people for the whole of the 25 years of that regime,’ he said. ‘Now we have found my brother, at least we can be at peace. But we still have to face the agony. But now Saddam and his friends will face agonies of their own.’
Carefully, he lifted his brother’s skull, and turned it to the side, pointing to a deep depression.
‘They hit him here with an axe or something and it broke his skull,’ he said. ‘But he didn’t die from that. They hanged him later.’
Tears formed in his eyes and he looked away in embarrassment, blinking and wiping his face with the back of his hand and placing the skull back into its position by the side of Plot Number 444.
‘Shukran,’ I said, straightening up and looking away, both to cover his embarrassment and because I was feeling highly emotional myself.
A man was lingering nearby. He told us his name was Mohammed Mohammed, and that he had begun digging graves here when he was 14, as part of his military service.
‘Every Wednesday morning, they had hangings at the prison at dawn and the bodies would come a few hours later,’ he said. ‘Always eight or nine to bury, sometimes more, many more.
‘The oldest graves in the cemetery are from 1983 and the newest are six months old.’
This was when Saddam had declared an amnesty for prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
‘I think I buried maybe 700 or 750 people. There could be two thousand here in total.’
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