Sunday 7 September 2014

Afore they.

“Do you know anyone round here who does building work?” 

I’m in the post office, in the corner behind a heavy glass door there is a public telephone, there are fresh picked garden roses in a vase on the counter, and the man behind the counter is smiling.

It’s 1992, a different time and place.

The man, Bernard, who has a moustache that makes him look like Jacques Tati is speaking French, me too come to that, and although he tries to retain a professionalism by not favouring one local artisan over another, he gives me the phone number of Gilles.

I ring Gilles up, he comes round in his blue builder’s lorry, and get’s stuck in the mud and has to walk home.

The Lorry sinks further into the mud over the next seven days and then he returns with Mao who is a farmer and therefore has a tractor. The blue lorry is pulled out and my infant son’s first words are “stuck in the mud, stuck in the mud”.

Gilles isn’t a builder in a blue lorry anymore, he was good at it but he much preferred growing fig trees in his garden and is a renowned expert on the matter, even having been known to read complex tomes on the subject in a language other than his own.

He started being my friend when his daughter and mine started ballet school together and he and I started playing volleyball together on Sunday’s instead of going to church.

He’s a recluse, doesn’t leave his garden very often.

I’m a recluse too, so though we are friends we rarely see each other, but when we do we kiss, laugh, he invites me around to see his new house and I never seem to get round to it.

We let another year slip by and then we repeat.

I saw him today in the market.

He congratulated me on the fact that I had ridden my bike up valley and down to be there, I guess I looked like the effort had told.

Then he gave me a leaflet.

About the dam.

“Ah, la barrage alors.”

“Ah, LE barrage” he corrected.

The dam is hot at the moment. It’s also NOT at the moment, but some people – mainly the rich and greedy and powerful want it to be and the local folk who aren’t don’t want it to be. Some of these have occupied the potential site, climbed the trees to protect them and the rich and greedy have sent the riot police in to move them.

The fact that the dam is not really needed is ignored on one side and understood on the other.

And some people have started a hunger strike.

I looked at the leaflet Gilles had given me.

Gilles is on the hunger strike.

My first reaction, flippant of course, was to advise him that coming to a market full of ripe melon, bursting tomatoes, fresh baked pizza and some of the best cheese that the Pyrenees can offer might not be the most sensible thing to do.

“I’m ok he said”.

I hope so.

But maybe hope is not enough.

In 1981 when Bobby Sands died from the effects of his hunger strike in the Maze prison, Belfast.
I was 26 and had been hoping that he wouldn’t have to.

I was hoping that someone who could effect the situation – a British Prime Minister perhaps – would look at what was going on, look at really what was going on and act, as a fellow human should when someone is dying.

I hoped that someone would help.

Now, I believe he died in a fight to be recognised as a Political Prisoner along with his colleagues - specifically, and I am trusting to Wikipedia here, he started his hunger strike for the following rights:

1. the right not to wear a prison uniform;
2. the right not to do prison work;
3. the right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits;
4. the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week
5.     full restoration of remission lost through the protest

I know the mantra – can’t negotiate with terrorists, can’t do this, won’t do that etc. – but, hey, you know what? This didn’t have to end the way it did.

And i don’t want my friend Gilles to die.

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