Friday, December 06, 2013


hello there

33 years and a couple of days ago today something strange, or rather unusual, happened.i was 7, nearly 8. i woke up to a cold, December morning in New Marske, went downstairs and found my Mum & Dad watching the television. this was strange, as back then we had only 3 TV channels, and usually they only started broadcasting at around midday.

what was being broadcast was scenes of more people than i had ever seen in my life, gathered around some building. the clearest image i have of them in my mind was a group of people who had climbed up to a ledge of a building with instruments and were busy playing music. the guy talking over the images was saying something along the lines of "people too young to remember The Beatles are playing their music constantly".

when i asked my Mum and Dad what it was on the tele, they told me that someone called John Lennon had died. it was the first time i had ever seen my parents upset.

at that time, my knowledge of Lennon was limited to, if we are in the business of honesty, cartoons. there was a cartoon series based on the adventures of the band, and one early evening one of the three TV stations, i think maybe BBC 2, showed an animated film, i think Yellow Submarine. at some point maybe Help! was on TV too.

not long after this i found myself in Australia. before we left, i remember my Dad giving my Auntie Susan a mirror which commemorated Lennon. i recall my Aunt crying. whether it was because we were going, because of how sad she was that John was gone or, more likely, both i don't know, have never asked and never will. i just know on that day, at that time, i learned what it is to care.

to Australia, then, where i learned more of this Lennon. Australians, for all their legendary pommie-bashing as they call it, hold British music - The Beatles in particular - in the highest regard. for the three or so years i was there i can remember frequent shows celebrating Lennon, the man and his music.

as the years passed and the countries i lived in changed, i learned more of this man. i learned of him as a symbol of peace, love and freedom. i learned of a man who some did not like at all, suggesting that things he did in his life and the way he treated and acted towards others did not make him a suitable figure for peace and love.

mostly, however, i learned of a man who showed that you could sit in bed for a few days, singing songs, and make a better, longer lasting stance against something than you could by bringing violence to the streets.

picture by Pedro Netto

today something strange, or rather unusual, happened. James, who is 7 and nearly 8, was woken up and allowed to watch the news. for all the hundreds of channels we have, the news ones are the ones he is not allowed to put on, normally. the horrors of the world can wait a while.

today was different, though. today was the morning after the night before. during the night a man had passed away. a man that James was aware of, and had joined in with the majority of the nation singing happy birthday to, and celebrating.

Madiba, the father of a nation, one of the most treasured and loved children of the world, had passed away during the night.

he was, as i hardly need say, no ordinary man. he wished to be, though, for his dream was that we all saw the world along the lines he did. many, many of us out there in the world don't. we do not fail him in this; we fail ourselves.

picture by Festival Karsh Ottawa
mostly in our world we live in a way governed and guided by fear. fear of what might go wrong, fear of what might happen to us. Nelson Mandela was governed and guided by hope. hope of what the world could be, hope of how we should live.

he went to prison for his actions driven by this governance of hope. after 27 years he walked free from his prison, turned around and sought to work with those who had put him in prison to bring about the world of hope he wanted to see.

he was a man who showed you could bring a better, longer lasting world by using your hand to shake the hands of others than you could by making it into a fist.

i felt that handshake once. when i lived in Cape Town i lived across the road from Tuynhuys, the office of the Presidency in that city. it will have been in 96 or 97, and he was on one of his famous walkabouts.

most of the brief conversation i had is mostly forgotten. i can recall he asked where i was from, and i can recall being amazed that he was aware of such a thing as Middlesbrough, due to no doubt our adventures in football at the time. i will, however, always remember that handshake.

 in the film Invictus, the one thing Morgan Freeman got wrong was Mr Mandela's handshake. Freeman played it as just a trivial, normal thing. it was not. Mr Mandela would embrace and cover your hand, making that handshake and indeed you the only thing that really, particularly mattered in the world at that moment.

he sought to shake the hand of as many people as he could in his life. i can only have faith and trust that all who did felt the same and remember that now.

picture by mrgarethm

over the next few days, weeks and years the internet shall be awash with all that he did, biographies and comments. to those about to exploit Mr Mandela for some, any or all political reason, i direct you to this post. basically, please do not do it.

many are speaking of how we will never see a man like him again. well, that's wrong. as mentioned earlier, all of us would do well to be a good deal more like him. you would hope not, but if the world ever again faced the injustice and the just plain wrong ways that Mr Mandela did, you would hope a leader would rise too; a leader in his mould.

i find myself thinking of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, John F Kennedy, John Lennon, Guevara and Martin Luther King Jr. all men who had an idea of a world governed by hope. all men who had many that stood against them, neither sharing the vision or wishing to see it even have a chance. all men killed, perhaps slain, because of what they stood for. Mr Mandela's hopes and plans for South Africa, and the world, went against what many wanted. that Mr Mandela had at least changed the world so far that he was able to pass away peacefully, in his home, surrounded by family and loved ones, says much of the power of the vision this one man had. 

this nation that i stand in, this country that has proudly and lovingly been my home for some 20 years, leads the world not in just mourning the passing of a great man, but the celebration of a life that was devoted to showing and making the world all that it could be. 

someday, maybe, the world will work to be at the peace he worked his whole life for. may he rest now in eternal peace, may who he was and what he did never, ever be forgotten. 

on this day and every day be excellent to each other. 
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