More Shameful to Distrust than to Deceive

Rory and Brendan, sharing a few beers and more than a few laughs. Just like old times. They’d fallen out now and again, lost touch for a couple of years after college – who doesn’t? – but in eachother’s presence they were still the same cheeky bastards bitching about everything in the world and ripping the piss out of one another. You could set your watch to it; greetings, slaggings, braggings, moanings, chucklings, supportings, huggings, farewell…ings.

Trouble was, something had changed. On the surface the banter and back an’ forth appeared the same, but it merely hid a darker reality. A mutual acquaintance, a fella they knew from school – not well, but to see, ya know? – had suffered the incredible misfortune of dying. As a result of using drugs. Rory’s drugs. Any other person would be ok with this. Well…not ‘ok’ exactly, but they might just bemoan fate, or luck, or amateurs not taking the fucking shit properly, or cutting/lacing/mixing it with some lethal stuff that really did the damage. Then they’d shake their heads, tut once or twice at the sadness of it all, and leave it at that.

Plus, Rory and Brendan shared everything; when Brendan lost his virginity – finally, at 23 – who was the first bloke he boasted about it to? Rory. When Rory got engaged, Brendan was the only possible person he had in mind for Best Man. When neither wanted to go to college after getting their Leaving Certs, each talked the other into it…with the usual mixture of bullshit, compliments, insults and wise-assery. When either became a little too full of themselves, the other would be sure to bring them back down to earth.

So it cut Rory up that he couldn’t confide in his longest and most trusted friend. For you see, Brendan was a cop. Not just any Garda either – Brendan was a Detective Inspector…with the National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his explicit remit was to investigate narcotics fatalities and pursue those responsible. He had a whole Task Force at his disposal!

There was, therefore, an undercurrent of finality to this meet-up. A Last Supper quality. Brendan could detect this subtle atmosphere, even if he was unaware of its cause. And Rory…Rory now had absolutely nobody to turn to. Nobody to hear him, console him, absolve him. Was this his penance? Or was it just a prelude to the real punishment that was to come?

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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The Vatican Pimpernel

A more motley collection of individuals could not possibly have been assembled. Across Europe, a network was created that included in its ranks some of the most unlikely figures; communists, priests, two Free French secret agents, a few escaped Prisoners Of War, a Swiss count… The man responsible for wrangling this bunch together was Hugh O’Flaherty.

The Very Reverend Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty.

It was 1943. Il Duce’s removal had resulted in thousands of Allied POWs being released. Germany’s immediate occupation of Italy endangered the freedom of these men. Monsignor O’Flaherty aimed to construct an organisation with one purpose; to aid and abet the escape of as many people as possible from the clutches of the Nazis.

In the early years of the Second World War, O’Flaherty had toured Italian POW Camps in order to discover the fate of those Allied servicemen who had been reported Missing In Action. Via Radio Vatican, he would broadcast any news of such inmates, in the hopes of reassuring their families back home. Some of these men, remembering his visits, asked for the Monsignor’s assistance upon being set free.

O’Flaherty did not wait for permission from his superiors in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He and his aide, Major Sam Derry – himself an escapee – coordinated the response. Over the next few years of war they would shepherd to safety thousands of desperate refugees. As well as Allied soldiers, the needy were Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust.

The Nazis tried everything to stop the Monsignor. Obersturmbanführer Herbert Kappler, head of the SD and Gestapo in Rome, ordered a white line painted on the pavement of St. Peter’s Square, where Italy meets Vatican City. The threat was simple; if O’Flaherty crossed into Italy, he would be murdered. The head of the fascist police in Rome, Ludwig Koch, was explicit in his intention to torture and execute the man of the cloth.

To no avail. Every SS attempt to assassinate Monsignor O’Flaherty met with failure. He wore various disguises in order to travel freely when outside the Vatican, and he could rely on the protection of his numerous allies. One such friend was the British Ambassador to the Holy See, whose butler John May was so brilliant in his help that O’Flaherty was moved to call him, “A genius…the most magnificent scrounger”.

When Rome was finally liberated by US forces in 1944, 6,425 of the aided escapees were still alive. They came from over 25 nations, including Britain, South Africa, Russia, Greece and the USA. Their diversity reflected the principle expressed in one of Monsignor O’Flaherty’s favourite sayings:

“God has no country”

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…✞ ☾ ✡ ॐ

 

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A Wake To Remember

The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 was a devastatingly lethal example of Mother Nature’s wrath. In November of that year, the event variously known as the ‘Big Blow’, the ‘Freshwater Fury’ and the ‘White Hurricane’ tore through the Great Lakes Basin of North America and killed more than 250 people in the process. It was the deadliest natural disaster to hit the lakes in recorded history. The Great Lakes Storm also sank 19 ships.

One of those ships was the SS James Carruthers.

After the winds blew themselves out, copious amounts of wreckage washed ashore. At first, evidence of the SS James Carruthers was slow to arrive…but then a large field of flotsam was discovered to the south of her known course. The grim news was confirmed when the bodies of several crewmembers made land at Point Clark.

The Captain, William H. Wright, was identified by his thick red moustache.

By the following evening, a number of corpses remained in the local morgue, waiting to be claimed by family members. Along with many other fearful men and women, Thomas Thompson of Ontario scanned the lifeless forms, looking for signs of his son John. ‘Missing’ still provided hope…but a body brought a chance to properly grieve and say goodbye to his beloved boy.

Thomas suddenly stopped short, his breath caught in his throat. A cadaver whose face and hair looked just like John’s. A cadaver whose eyetooth was missing, just like John’s. A cadaver whose left forearm had a tattoo – ‘J.T.’ – just like John’s. Even then, Thomas did not want to believe that it could be his son lying on the slab…but the presence of several scars and a birth defect affecting the toes represented overwhelming evidence.

Convinced, Thomas Thompson arranged to take possession of the remains and began the process of notifying his family.

***********************************

Organising a respectable funeral did not come cheap. A coffin had to be purchased, as did a plot of land, gravediggers had to be hired, as did catering and a whole host of other apparently necessary services. Add to that the cost of mailing relatives spread out across the Canadian landmass, and Thompson senior was forced into considerable debt in order to provide Thompson junior with a proper send off.

So Thomas can be forgiven for having decidedly mixed feelings when, in the middle of his own wake, John strolled into the family home with nary a scratch on him.

JT, it transpired, had overslept on the morning of his ship’s departure, so had spent the fateful voyage as a landlubber enjoying the sights and sounds of Toronto. He subsequently read accounts of the sinking, and even spotted his own name among the lists of the dead, but chose not to inform his family as soon as possible via wire, telephone or even mail. Rather, he thought it best to take a slow train to Hamilton…whereupon, instead of heading straight home to explain in person, he ambled about and visited friends.

Eventually, at the urging of one of those mates, John Thompson reluctantly made for his parents’ house.

Upon the arrival of her boy, Mrs Thompson broke down in tears of overwhelming joy, thrilled to see him alive and well. John’s father, however, was practically apoplectic – partly because of the financial losses incurred, but also probably because now he looked like a complete idiot for identifying a total stranger as his son.

“It’s just like you to come home and attend your own wake!”, Thomas yelled.
“You can get right out of this house until this whole thing blows over!”

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

*The crewman who Thomas Thompson mistook for John remains unidentified to this day
*The wreck of the SS James Carruthers has never been located, and is the largest sunken vessel in the Great Lakes Basin yet to be found.
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Sporadic Emotional Break

A bloke with “Workers of the World Unite” emblazoned on his t-shirt sits in a stairwell, sipping tea & occasionally nibbling a pecan danish, because he is too frightened of his fellow workers to countenance having lunch in the office canteen. In between bites of the shaking danish – due to his anxiety, it’s not just some sort of naturally tremulous pastry – he wonders what it is that made him this way. What it was the made him so scared of strangers, and crowds of strangers in particular, that he suffers an emotional reaction similar to a panic attack.

He had tried to enter the canteen at lunchtime. It was busy but not packed. Nonetheless, the fact that people kept getting in his way, and he in theirs, began a chain reaction of nervousness. Then he had to clean a cup. Then he had to fight for access to the bags of tea. Then he had to gormlessly stand there, sticking out like a snowman on a sodding Sicilian beach, while the kettle boiled. Then there was no milk. He didn’t bother searching for spoons – there was a workmate whose endless activity around those drawers indicated that he must have been stocktaking the contents – and made his escape ASAP.

The stairwell wouldn’t have been so bad, except that coworkers kept coming up and down it. Technically speaking, he was sitting on a table at the top of the 3rd floor stairwell, but there was a door right next to him and there they would periodically come; entering and exiting with all the second hand awkwardness that comes from encountering a random paint-covered man having his lunch outside what you consider to be ‘your’ door.

He was employed painting the office studio. I probably should have mentioned that.

‘Fuck it’, he thought, his physical reaction reaching the stage that the medical community term Really Fucking Anxious, Actually. ‘I cannot hack this’. So, with a cursory text to his immediate boss conveying his apologies, out the front door he went. Hating himself with every step. The co-morbidity of anxiety and depression being explained yet again with another episode of his life.

Anxiety makes him do things, or prevents him from doing things.

Depression arises from all the things he did, and all the things he couldn’t do.

On and on it goes, no end in sight.

Fit for work? He isn’t fit to paint a wall.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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First Fight

In Junior and Senior infants, we weren’t allowed to bring drinks out to the yard during break time. Why? I had no idea. Still don’t. Possibly something to do with litter. Judging from the emphasis in Primary School, litter was the #1 issue affecting the Republic of Ireland between 1990 and 1995…closely followed by starving Somalis.

Anyway, one day I completely forgot this rule and carried a juice carton out with me into the schoolyard. Upon realising my mistake, I immediately dumped the offending item into the bin nearest the door…but the damage was done. A group of elder students – who seemed impossibly grown up at the time despite the fact that they were in 2nd class at most – had witnessed my crime. Swiftly descending upon me, they threatened to inform the authorities and make me rue my foolishness.

Fortunately, this was at the height of my popularity – something I only appreciated once I had absolutely no friends in Secondary School – and I could call upon the tallest lad in our class to back me up. Michael was his name, and it didn’t take too much persuading for him to fight my corner. After a bit of verbal sparring between Michael and the zealous rule-enforcers, everything was amicably settled.

For the rest of the break, the older students informed me of all the school practices that had to be followed without question. Sitting next to the wall at the far side of the yard, I nodded sagely as they imparted their dubious wisdom e.g. that it was forbidden to use toilet paper in the bathrooms, and that one must lick one’s hands after wiping one’s…bits.

You’ll be delighted to know that I never acceded to these supposed regulations.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Raccoon City. Dunwall. Rapture. The Master League. Los Santos. The Ishimura. Aperture Science Laboratories. The Animus. Rivet City. Windhelm. Kyrat. Liberty City. Black Mesa. Lytton. Malden. City 17. Ragnarok. Memorens. Shadow Moses. Jacinto City. Steelport. Nuevo Paraiso. Greenvale. Wellspring. The Sprawl. Tau Volantis. Aspari.  Union City. Helios. Mushroom Kingdom.

The places we go to escape.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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An hour to go

Precious seconds ebbed away, like the lifeblood from a mortally wounded rifleman. The tension was unbearable; my stomach was beginning to rebel. Corporal Stevenson turned and gave me a sickly grin.

“Nice day for it.”

Taking no notice of his droll remark, the deluge continued unabated. Some of the more raw recruits tittered, more out of nervousness and a strange sense of duty than from any real amusement. I merely kept an eye on my wristwatch, while trying desperately to avoid throwing up all over my boots. It’s setting little targets like that which help you get through the really tough times, I find.

Little targets. Hundreds of thousands of them, cut down at Cambrai back in November. What’s another thousand, give or take, here or there? If that’s what it takes, you’d be mad not to.

Wresting my attention away from the ticking timepiece, I cast my gaze over the men under my command. What possible difference could this few dozen soldiers make? What possible calamity could befall us, should we decide not to follow orders? What possible retribution could be meted out to us…that would be worse than the carnage awaiting us over the trench’s lip?

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

 

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