Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Hypostasis of the Archons

On the day of my birthday I typed the words “The Hypostasis of the Archons” into my mobile phone and sent it as a text to my ex-wife, the mother of my child.

The funny thing is, of course, that using predictive text, my mobile phone did not recognise the words, “The Hypostasis of the Archons“ at all. Well it recognised some of the words, but not others. The others I had to spell out. Hypostasis. Archons. Letter by letter. Hypostasis. Archons. Therefore my mobile phone now contains the title of an early Christian Gnostic text in its memory.

The Hypostasis of the Archons.

This is one small victory for humour and sanity against the forces of separation and control.

My mobile phone, symbol of the technological world of mind-control and economic constraint - where every phone call can be monitored, and every phone traced, where your value as a human is measured by the cost of the gadget in your pocket and the price of the label on your breast, creation of the Archons - also contains a secret message. It now contains the key to an understanding of how to defeat that very world.

The Hypostasis of the Archons. It means, The Reality of the Rulers. It is an early Christian text, one of the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi in 1945, a soul-searing psycho-political interpretation of the creation of a false world by the ideological forces of the collectivised ego.

When I first found the text on the internet is was like a thrill of instant electric recognition passing through my whole body. The first lines are as follows:

‘On account of the reality of the authorities, (inspired) by the spirit of the father of truth, the great apostle - referring to the "authorities of the darkness" - told us that "our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness.”’

Our contest is not against flesh and blood....

It is against the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness....

Not against the body. Not against the human. Not against sex. Not against need. Not against grief. Not against hunger. Not against pain. Not against what a human needs to do to assuage that hunger and pain.

It is against the ideology of control. Against the whip and the prison. Against the shackles. Against the cells. Against torture. Against the evil of slavery. Against Rome and its collectivised insanity. Against the Emperor who is the embodiment of madness.

What we forget when we consider Christianity now - in its Romanised, sanitised, modernised form - is how deeply radical it was. It was the religion of the slave, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the defeated. It was a psycho-political reaction against the triumphalism of the sex-war-state machine that was the Roman occupation of Europe and the Middle East.

The early Christians did not call themselves Christians. They called themselves the Poor. Their religion was not only a religion, it was also a political movement. Their self-designation as the Poor was also a statement of identification. It was a statement of political intent.

Rome was a state based upon slavery and upon the subjugation of nations. Slavery is abuse, pure and simple. The slave owner has absolute control over his property. His property is the body of his slave - the body of the nation - whom he can abuse sexually and emotionally at his will. Rome was the political entity of sexual and economic abuse. It was a system of internal and external control. Christianity in this context is the realisation that true freedom lies beyond the confines of the body and the mind - what the slave owner has control over - in some other place. In some realm that cannot be touched.

This is why "our contest is not against flesh and blood; rather, the authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness.”

The Poor did not blame the victims of sexual abuse for their abuse, but the authorities of wickedness - Roman state power and Roman control - who inflicted this abuse upon them.

Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. How much has really changed?


Evolutionary evangelism

Between intelligent design and evolutionary processes there’s a heaven and earth difference. CJ Stone explains.

I’ve been having this weird sensation of late. I’m in a shop, or on the street, surrounded by other humans, when I get this startling feeling of being outside of myself and looking down on the world. All of a sudden it seems very strange to me. Us humans seem like oddly-shaped, twittering mammals, perched up on our hind legs, and living almost entirely in a world made up of the products of our brains, horribly divorced from nature and from the planet we inhabit.

It’s a commonplace to refer to the human race as the high point of evolution. As Shakespeare puts it, in his inimitable style: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”

Obviously Shakespeare doesn’t know some of the people I know. Noble in reason? Infinite in faculty? The beauty of the world? Overweight, opinionated and petty-minded would be a better description. Drunk on their own sense of self-importance.

As it happens Shakespeare wasn’t referring to evolution when he wrote those lines. Evolution hadn’t been invented yet. In Shakespearean times the world was still being made in six days, and women were still being squidged together out of lumps of clay wrapped around a freshly plucked rib.

How times have changed. These days we have DNA and genetic engineering. We don’t need plucked ribs. We have stem-cells instead.

I have two friends who don’t believe in evolution. One is a fundamentalist Christian, who thinks we are all being conned by secular relativism, and who insists that the world is a lot younger than we are led to believe. The other is a follower of Madam Blavatsky.

My friend, the follower of Madam Blavatsky, said: “there’s no such thing as evolution. Look, the lion is already perfect, the hippopotamus is perfect, the crocodile is perfect. Who’s ever heard of an un-evolved crocodile? None of the animals need to evolve. The only thing that needs to evolve on this planet is us humans.”

I liked that line. Later I told it to my friend the fundamentalist Christian, and later again I overheard him saying it to someone else. I think I should have warned him that ultimately the line derived from Madam Blavatsky. Maybe then he might have thought twice about using it.

I just like planting thoughts in people’s heads.

Personally I don’t know whether evolution exists or not. I have no scientific background and cannot argue either way about the fossil record or about the processes of mutation in DNA. It sounds like a plausible enough explanation to me. I’ve always accepted that evolution must play a part in the overall form that us mammals take, in the same way that I accept that the Earth goes round the Sun and that gravity makes things fall to the ground. It seems to me that the more elegant and simple an explanation, the more likely it is to be true. That applies to gravity. It also applies to evolution.

Also – and this is where I get really puzzled – it seems to me that there is no necessary contradiction between the idea of a creator and the idea of evolution anyway. After all, wouldn’t it work just as well to say that evolution was the creator’s creation? If evolution exists, couldn’t the creator be manipulating it?

Why do some people seem so obsessed with hanging on to one particular narrative interpretation of reality and defending it so aggressively against every other possible explanation? This has always struck me as a football supporters version of a cosmological debate. My team versus your team. My team, home or away, and I’ll fight you in the car-park afterwards if you dare to disagree.

This seems to me to be equally true of both sides in the current debate around evolution and intelligent design in America. Some of the statements of the fundamentalist evolutionists* seem just as religious in their fervour as those of the more traditional creationists.

Here is the difference between religion and science. Science is a process, not a belief. It depends on testing theory against experiment in the laboratory. What it cannot test it cannot prove and is therefore outside the realms of science.

The idea that the universe is just some kind of a huge cosmological accident that happens to have thrown up intelligent life in one obscure and out-of-the-way corner – whoops! - like Charlie Chaplin slipping on a banana skin and falling down a hole, is itself only a piece of non-scientific speculation, and is more like theology than science.

Except, of course, that Charlie Chaplin never accidentally fell down any holes. He always did it on purpose.

You can believe it if you want. Or not, as the case may be. Personally I think it falls short of my requirement that an explanation to be both elegant and simple, since it involves all sorts of implausible convolutions of logic to work – cosmological accident after cosmological accident - not unlike the Aristotelian universe of spheres within spheres that preceded the Copernican view of the Earth going round the Sun.

But the question remains: are we merely animals, or may there not be some ultimate “meaning” in our lives? To me the answer is simple. Of course we are animals. And of course we mean something. In fact I would go even further and say that there can be no meaning without us. We are animals with language, therefore we are the animals that “mean” something.

Or at least some of us try to do some of the time.

As to whether we can evolve enough to secure our continued existence on this planet: that’s another question altogether.

*For an example of "theological evolutionism" and "evangelical atheism" at work, read Richard Dawkins.


Have you noticed that bird-flu masks make the wearer look like a duck? Is this a case of the self-fulfilling prophesy I wonder?

So what happened to bird-flu? A few months ago it was going to kill us all. Now it’s just a sub-headline in some Third-World regional newspaper. Not even worth the bother of thinking about.

When it finally hit the British Isles in April (as we all knew it would) with all the attendant media attention - not to say, hysteria - they immediately closed down half of Scotland.

It was only a surprise that they didn‘t shut down Yorkshire too.

I have only one word to say to anyone who was ever worried about bird-flu: “SARS“. Remember that?

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and a few years ago it was also going to kill us all.

Same thing. Reports from all over the globe. The latest statistics. People catching it in this, that or the other country. Speculations about it’s probable progress and possible sources. The latest updates. TV, newspaper and radio coverage. Fear of travelling. Panic buying, SARS masks, the whole thing.

So what happened to all those SARS masks? They’ve recycled them, that‘s all. They’re now selling them as bird-flu masks, the difference being that at least SARS was actually a disease of humans.

The last any of us heard about SARS was around 2003 when the total accumulated number of cases and the total number of deaths caused by the disease were as follows:

Number of deaths 774. Number of cases of 8096.

There have been no new cases since then.

Up till now bird flu has killed about 100 people and several hundred thousand birds. The birds didn‘t die of bird-flu. The birds were mostly killed by humans.

As I’ve pointed out before, of those 100 people who died, all of them worked closely with birds. These were people who were breathing in bird breath for up to twelve hours every day, mucking out bird manure while sweeping up bird feathers, in a totally enclosed, bird-infested environment; people whose whole lives were spent with their noses up a bird’s bum.

You don’t catch bird flu from any old passing bird. You most certainly don’t catch it from eating your Sunday lunch. In order to get bird-flu you have to go round virtually kissing chickens.

In other words, unless you have a penchant for being a little too intimate with poultry, you have very little to fear.

What is true is that the last great world pandemic, the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918, in which millions died, also began as bird-flu.

Here’s the difference. In 1918 there was a world war going on. The whole of Western Europe was scoured by these festering scars called trenches, full of slime, dead bodies, body-parts and innards, urine, faeces and rats. It’s true that the Spanish Flu began as a disease of birds, but it was spread in the trenches, which, I think, tells you quite a lot.

Was it the birds, then, or was it the trenches?

I’d also like to mention foot-and-mouth, a very real disease that struck the UK not so long ago. The trouble then was that foot-and-mouth was never actually a fatal disease, except when us humans got involved. Millions of animals died, slaughtered indiscriminately, for the sake of bureaucracy, in order to keep our animals certified foot-and-mouth free.

The most fatal disease on the planet is the human race.

Me: I’m the kind of person who is always in three minds about everything. In this case, as follows:

1) This is all being hyped up by the pharmaceutical companies to make money from developing vaccines for as yet unheard of strains of imaginary flu.

2) It is a conspiracy by the global corporations to keep us in a state of fear and distraction. What with global warming, the impending attacks upon Syria and Iran, the war in Iraq, and the ongoing loss of civil liberties around the globe, there are plenty of real things to be scared about. Bird flu just keeps our minds occupied with things we can do very little about.

3) It’s just us humans. Let's face it, we have always been a bit stupid when it comes to being faced with a prospective panic. It's what we do best. We must like being scared.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Hate Something

Woke up this morning with this little tune going through my head:

“You hate something, you change something; hate something, change something, make something better.”

It’s one of those irritatingly catchy tunes that once you heard it you can’t get rid of it.

Read a new version of this story at:

From Prediction Magazine.

Fox Hunting in the UK

Since February 18th 2005 fox-hunting has been illegal in the UK.

You probably think you already know my opinions on the matter, old leftie that I am.

Actually you’d be wrong. I am almost totally indifferent to the matter. Is fox-hunting cruel? Well, yes, no, maybe. I don’t know. But it seems a lot less cruel, to me, than some of the other ways we treat animals.

Take factory farming for instance. A lifetime in stinking, overcrowded conditions, being force-fed artificial food made from the used body-parts of other members of your own species, never seeing the sky, never breathing fresh air, walking, sleeping and eating in your own effluent, being treated like a factory unit on a production line rather than a sentient being with real feelings, living only for your own eventual slaughter.

Is that humane?

At least a fox is alive before it is hunted down. A least a fox has known freedom, has had a mate, has had cubs, has breathed the wild free air of the countryside, has known the exhilaration of the chase, with itself as the hunter as well as the hunted. And at least the fox has an opportunity of escape.

Most of the dislike of fox-hunting, I suspect, is down to class-prejudice. Oscar Wilde once famously described the occupation as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable". It is generally posh people who like to hunt. And anyone who has seen the yah-yah brigade dressed up in their ridiculous costumes, haw-hawing and snorting over their champagne on a Boxing Day morning, will know what a repulsive sight they can present.

So what? They probably don’t like me much either.

What’s annoying is that while the Countryside Alliance (the political organisation of the unspeakable) claim the so-called “right” to go chasing across the countryside following packs of hounds baying after a fox, they spend the rest of their time denying us the right merely to ramble and have picnics where we please. Most of them are landowners, remember. Some of them are major landowners. Some of them are the biggest landowners in the country, and it is still the richest 10% who own 90% of the land. That’s 90% of the land that is unavailable to the rest of us. And you wonder why we feel overcrowded.

So let them hunt, that’s what I say. I don’t care. Just let the rest of us get at least some access to the countryside.

Most of that land they claim to own was once ours in any case. Who gave it to them?

There’s that old apocryphal story about the land-owner and the squatter. You probably know a version of it. The land-owner says: “get orf my land!”

“What makes it your land?” says the squatter.

“My father gave it to me.” “And what made it his land?” “His father gave it to him.” “And what made it his land?” “He fought for it.”

“Right!” says the squatter, rolling up his sleeves. “I’ll fight you for it then.”

So what’s the fox-hunting debate about really, do you think?

I think it is a convenient cover-story and a sop to all those pathetic back-bench Labour MPs who have failed to keep their own Dear Leader in check.

So what that Tony Blair broke International Law with the invasion of Iraq? So what that maybe up to 100 thousand Iraqi people have died so far (and that we can’t even be bothered to keep count)? So what if we break the Geneva Conventions, use torture and imprisonment without trial as a matter of course, create resentment and bitterness amongst Moslems and thereby guarantee an increase in the terrorist threat? So what if we steal their oil, wreck their monuments, ruin their economy, destroy their independence and ignore their history? So what does any of that matter?

At least we saved some foxes.

Excuse me if I’m not all that impressed.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

War is a Racket*

This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance.

How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?

Philip K. Dick

War and Imperialism

You can read this story here:

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Memories of a Free Festival

Bill "Ubi" Dwyer at Windsor Free Festival.

"So what is a free festival?

"It's a party. It's a camping trip. It's a social gathering. It's a spiritual occasion. It's a celebration. It's a political protest. It's a rally...."

“Reclaim The Archetypes!”

Two old festival goers meet in a pub, and begin reminiscing about a particular festival. Except that, within ten minutes, they discover that they have no memories in common: not one memory coincides. They know that they were at the same festival on the same date, but beyond that nothing. They remember entirely different things.

"Were we even at the same festival?" one of them asks, archly.

The cliche about the sixties is that whoever remembers them wasn't there. The line about the free festivals might be: whoever doesn't remember something utterly unique about them wasn't there.

The difference between a free festival and a pay festival may appear obvious on the surface. A free festival is free. But, while they have a common origin - the earliest free festivals, such as Woodstock in the United States, and Phun City in the UK, having started as pay festivals that went wrong - the main difference lies in the organisation, there being no overarching structure of control at a free festival, and no profits for the corporations. Thus the differences are - actually - immeasurable.

So what is a free festival? It's a lot of things.

It's a party. It's a camping trip. It's a social gathering. It's a spiritual occasion. It's a celebration. It's a political protest. It's a rally. It's a bike rally, a truck rally and a political rally all at the same time. It's an alternative economy, a market, where you can buy and sell all sorts of things. It's a craft fair. It's a place where you can meet new lovers or old friends. It's a showcase for bands and for alternative technologies. It's an exercise in collective decision making and collective dreaming. It is the model for a certain type of pop anarchism. It's an extended family. It's a cheap holiday. It's a safe place to bring the kids. It's a romantic interlude. It binds you to the past and anticipates the future. It's all of these things and more.

Inspired firstly by the film of Woodstock, which came out in 1968, and then by the sequence of free concerts held in Hyde Park during the late sixties and early 70s, the early free festivals were unique affairs.

The slogan for the Windsor free festival, one of the earliest, held at Windsor Great Park during the August bank holidays between 1972 and 1974 - reclaiming what had once been common land - was "Pay No Rent". That tells you a lot about what was going on at the time.

In fact, the man who first conceived of the festival, Bill Ubi Dwyer, a civil servant who utilised government copying facilities to publicise the event, saw it in a vision. He saw a mass of people, like a gathering of the tribes, on Crown land. And when attempts were being made to block his progress, by denying him permission, he said: "I personally have God's permission for the festival."

This is the stuff of legend, of course. It may or may not have happened. But if it didn't happen, it ought to have.

And that's what people seem to remember about the festivals. Something archetypal: something reflecting a mythological dimension, like a stirring from the depths..

As Willow, 51, from Glastonbury said, referring to the Stonehenge festival: "To me it was like a strobe light. You saw the sacred and the profane interacting every minute. On mid-summer's eve, it would buzz, it was like a dome came down over it, and I saw whirling orange spirals in the sky, and everything became completely archetypal." And she likened the atmosphere to one of those Goblin Fairs of Fairy-stories: a place where anything can happen.

Des, 53, also from Glastonbury, agreed.

He was remembering one particular festival.

"Might have been Trentishoe. Right on the North Devon coast. I remember we got there about four in the morning. You couldn't drive to this place. You had to walk up a track. And I remember as I got to the bottom of the valley with the crest of the hill in front of me, these three people and a goat appeared through the mist, and there was this woman, a very tall Apollonian figure, with long blond hair wearing a loin cloth, and some bloke carrying a big bundle tied up on his back and leading this goat on a lead. They were leaving this festival and walking back up into the world. And it was a bit like something out of Crock of Gold, you know, the James Stevens book. Because it was so mythological. They just seemed so majestic."

This was deeply impressive to the young man, who set about remaking himself as his own archetype.

It was this quality that separated the festivals from ordinary political events. Because, although there was a political intent, to do with the liberation of private property, born from a specifically anarchist perspective, the events themselves brought up much that was deeply embedded in the human heart*.

Not that everything was perfect.

Willow also remembered the biker riot one year at the Stones, when the Hell's Angels had moved in and attempted to take over. The bikers and the travellers had ended up eyeballing each other across the main drag, until the bikers had backed down. You had to be willing to protect yourself. But in later years the bikers became as much a fixture of the festival as everyone else. Willow had only escaped the fearfulness of the occasion because she was, as she says herself, in fairyland at the time.

Steve, 51, from Cardiff, was also aware of some of the negative aspects of the culture.

He was hitch hiking home from one festival, when he collapsed. "I got to Bristol to an interchange there, and there was a whole queue of people, more festival goers, maybe twenty, thirty odd people lined along the road," he says. "I'd been walking for hours, it was hot, I was tired, and I must have just flaked out: you know, exhaustion, heat, everything." He came to several hours later. But what struck him was that the other festival goers hadn't even checked if he was all right. "I'm thinking, where are all the people, where are all these hippie cool people gone? They all left me here. I could have been dead."

So there was also a kind of narcissism there. Some people were just too cool to think about anyone but themselves.

Later came the introduction of heroin and cocaine, and the consequent involvement of the criminal fraternity, before Ecstasy, Acid House Parties and Rave entered the picture in the late eighties, reviving the scene again.

The last great free festival was held at Castlemorton Common, near Tewkesbury in the Malvern Hills in May 1992. It lasted about four days and up to 50,000 people attended. There was a big court case afterwards in which fourteen people were charged with "Conspiracy to Cause a Public Nuisance". Between them, the policing operation and the court case cost the British Taxpayer approaching £5 million. All fourteen people were found Not Guilty. The infamous Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 was enacted precisely to stop this kind of event from ever happening again..

Since then there have been a few other attempts to create a major free festival, most notably The Mother Festival in 1995, effectively splintered by the police into several smaller scale events. And every summer across the country small groups of people still gather to sit beneath the stars, in woods and fields, round an open fire, to revel in each other's company, sometimes with music, sometimes not.

As to whether there will ever be another large scale festival in the United Kingdom: that depends.

It's down to you.

The Trials of Arthur by CJ Stone & King Arthur Pendragon: Element Books June 2nd 2003, ISBN 0-00--712114-8.

Useful links: Squall Online.

*- "Anarcho United Mystics (AUM) started working back in 1977 because the 'revolutionaries' kept overlooking the need to change themselves as well well as the world, and the 'occult/religious' kept overlooking the need to change the world as well as themselves. These oversights reulted in 2000 years of failed revolutions and millions of people wasting their lives with religious/spiritual illusions and dogmas. After all, what is the motive of revolution? Ultimately, it is love. Love objects to the injustice of the present system, the starving millions, the wars and corruption of the ruling powers. But this love, the essence of revolution, is the easiest part to overlook and the forgetting of it has resulted in hundreds of failed revolutions and useless religions". Tim Corber, AUM Newsletter, 1980

The Top Five Free Festivals.

Phun City, July 1970.

Originally conceived as a paying event, organised by Mick Farren of the Social Deviants: when the organisation collapsed it turned into the first ever UK free festival. Several bands who had been invited were asked to pay for free. The only band who refused were, ironically, Free. The promo slogan was "Get Your End Away At Phun City!"

Glastonbury Fair, Summer Solstice 1971.

A visionary affair. Organised and paid for by Andrew Kerr, ex Personal Assistant to Randolph Churchill, on Michael Eavis's dairy farm in Pilton, Somerset, it became the model for all subsequent Glastonbury Festivals. As Kerr said at the time: "If the festival has a specific intention it is to create an increase in awareness in the power of the Universe, a heightening of consciousness and a recognition of our place in the function of this our tired and molested planet." Whew!

Windsor Free, August Bank Holiday 1972-74.

The last festival was violently attacked by the police, with a number of arrests and several injuries. Such was the negative reaction to this in the press that the police left the festivals alone for over ten years after that.

Watchfield, August Bank Holiday 1975.

Not a particularly good festival, by all accounts, it has the unique historical distinction of being the only free festival in which the British Government collaborated, by providing the site: a disused airfield in Berkshire. A model for the future, perhaps?

Stonehenge, Summer Solstice, 1974 - 1985.

The Mother of all Free Festivals. The longest lasting and best remembered. Started by Phil Russell, aka Wally Hope, after a vision - an experience he shared not only with Bill Dwyer, but with Andrew Kerr too (is this a pattern?) - it was finally stopped in 1985 after the infamous Battle of the Beanfield: effectively a police riot. Gatherings at the Stones on Summer Solstice night resumed in 2000 and continue to this day. No festival, although there have been various attempts to set one up in the vicinity. One day maybe?

Remembering Bill Ubi Dwyer

I helped Ubi Dwyer to publicise a free festival in Phoenix Park, Dublin, 1978.

By Garreth Byrne

I first came across Bill 'Ubi' Dwyer in April 1978 at the top of fashionable Grafton Street near St. Stephen's Green in Dublin handing out leaflets about a free music festival being organised for the bank holiday weekend of 5-7 August. The venue was The Hollow in Phoenix Park, in the western suburbs of Dublin. The word peace was prominent on the leaflet and other messages like: Everybody welcome, catholic and protestant. "We are all one" ended the leaflet at the bottom. It contained a request for help, donations and offers to play music, with a contact address. Pictures from the Windsor Free Festivals decorated the text.

I had read bits and pieces about the Windsor festivals in the British magazine, Peace News, which I'd subscribed to when teaching English in Zambia during the mid-1970s. It appeared to be part of the flower power anti-authority wave that had rolled across the Atlantic from San Francisco since the late 1960s, on the crest of the greater, world-wide anti-Vietnam War wave.

In 1978 I was involved in the production of an Irish nonviolence magazine called DAWN. I was curious to hear a first hand account of the bohemian protest scene that I had missed out on by spending some critical early years of my teaching career in spartan parts of Africa. I wrote to Ubi Dwyer and he invited me to interview him at his home in Glenageary, a leafy suburb not far from the upper class seaside suburb of Dun Laoghaire.

I approached a tidy, modest bungalow off Glenageary Road. From the front garden came a waft of primroses, wallflowers and tulips. A note on the door directed visitors around to the back garden where stood a spacious two-roomed caravan. Ubi stood up from a composted seedbed with a trowel in hand and greeted me. He was then in his mid-forties, tall, wearing a casual yellow and blue suit, had thick silver hair with a matching moustache. He spoke in a deep, confident articulate voice. The accent was Irish, with international traces.

At his own expense he had printed 150,000 leaflets and posters to publicise the Phoenix Park Festival. He and a tiny number of helpers had been distributing them around the city. He had already spent £850 of his own funds on stationary, stamps, phone calls and leaflets. Small donations had been received. About 70 groups and individuals had volunteered their musical talents. These included WATFORD GAP (England), RAVING GALE (Limerick), U2 (not yet a global force, then resident in Malahide, a bourgeois seaside village north of Dublin), ROCKY DEVALERA & the GRAVEDIGGERS (Dublin) and a French folk singer DOMINIQUE.

What had got him into this free festival lark? He told me that ten years previously he'd worked on an Australian newspaper and then considered himself to be a sort of nonviolent anarchist. In Australia he befriended some expatriate American flower power people and learned that there was a "worldwide movement for love and change." He pondered these conversations, gave up his job, travelled, meditated and studied world religions. His study of Hinduism in particular convinced him that free festivals had great potential as a medium for change.

I noted sceptically that the Windsor festivals of the mid-70s had attracted a lot of drug trippers and hedonists who hadn't a notion about changing the world. Ubi agreed but insisted that many other people had been positively affected, so he would continue his efforts. (He had been arrested and jailed in England during Windsor 1975 and returned to Ireland after being released. He worked as an assistant in the physiotherapy department of a Dublin hospital, where he was popular and had a knack for cheering up the patients.) He insisted that free festivals were for everyone and added in a tone of utopian liberalism reminiscent of Voltaire: "Even if the National Front turned up at Windsor - and I disagree with them vehemently - I personally would go and greet them. I wouldn't turn anybody away and I don't agree with the aggressive street confrontations of some NF opponents." In hindsight it is surreal to imagine a weekend musical lovefest involving the NF, Hell's Angels and 57 varieties of militant trotskyists, maoists, feminists and anarcho-syndicalists, although I'm sure the popular Irish singer, Christy Moore, could sing a funny song on the theme if anybody cared to pen the lyrics.

The weather became warmer that year as May dovetailed into June. I decided for the sake of exercise and curiosity to help distribute Ubi's festival leaflets. We went to various locations on bikes, occasionally around teatime midweek but generally on Saturdays. Ubi rode out to Rathgar where my office was based and we headed for any suburb he had targeted. Leaflets were distributed at shopping centres and door-to-door. One Saturday morning there was a big Charismatic religious rally at the Royal Dublin Society hall in Ballsbridge, so we stood at the entrance handing out leaflets there. Another day we leafleted in Castleknock which straddles the north-west perimeter of Phoenix Park. We took the opportunity to look at The Hollow, a natural amphitheatre with sloping grass banks shaded by fine oak, sycamore, chestnut and elm trees. A small roofed bandstand stands in the centre.

That evening we quenched our thirst at a pub adorned with portraits of Irish presidents - Douglas Hyde, Eamon de Valera, Erskine Childers, Cearbhall O'Dalaigh and the then incumbent Paddy Hillery. In Phoenix Park is the stately residence of the largely ceremonial Irish President. The election of women like Mary Robinson (1990) and Mary McAleese (1997) was at the time something in the unimaginable future. I suppose I went leafleting half a dozen times or more when not otherwise busy with my unpaid work for DAWN magazine and the penal reform group, the Prisoners Rights Organisation, of which I was secretary. The weather stayed dry and I enjoyed getting to know different parts of Dublin.

A week before the scheduled event volunteers conferred at a parish hall near Ubi's home. I arrived to find about twenty young people and one older man, Fergus Rowan, a personal friend of Ubi who was then in dispute with the Bank of Ireland over its failure to rescue his horticulture company Rowans Seeds when it had run into crippling cash flow difficulties. The time for the meeting passed. We patiently waited for Ubi to turn up. A half hour elapsed and I walked to his caravan. "Let them wait a bit longer. I've been doing most of the work up to now. Do they expect me to wipe their arses?" were his tetchy remarks when I asked him to come to the hall. This was the first hint I had of Ubi's double personality. I walked back to the meeting place and told them he was coming. "He's one big Ego," noted a young rock fan ruefully. After another quarter hour he arrived. It wasn't a comfortable meeting.

Saturday 5th August the first morning was bright when organisers began to arrive at The Hollow. The first band played to a trickle of spectators. By midday I spotted half a dozen individuals in wheel chairs at one corner, supervised helpfully by Fergus Rowan and a friend, who had arranged special transport. Gradually the attendance swelled to a few hundred individuals and parents with children. More bands arrived and got their gear ready. By lunchtime the sky had clouded over and there was a heavy downpour. Ubi donned a yellow showerproof cape and put a cheerful face on things by dancing and twirling to the music around the bandstand. I noticed a sharp row he had with members of one band who got nervous about the possibility of electric shock and wanted to switch off the AC/DC system. He effed and blinded loudly at them and insisted that the show go on. The shower died down, the sun reappeared, and Ubi disappeared. More people turned up to listen and the music went on smoothly until about 7 p.m.

Around 4 p.m. Ubi reappeared at the bandstand and looked the worse for drink. His reeking breath and raving demeanour suggested several double shots of Irish whiskey in addition to the customary pints of Guinness. A uniformed member of the Gardai (police) and a plainclothes detective tried to reason with him. He was escorted from The Hollow, somehow got to the ferry harbour at Dun Laoghaire and took the boat and overnight train to London. British newspapers reported a week later that Thames Valley police arrested him as he arrived at Windsor Park intending to launch a banned free music festival there. He was sentenced to jail and didn't return to Dublin until the autumn of 1979. I sent a note of sympathy to his mother in Glenageary, with a breakdown of expenses for duplicating programmes handed out at the festival in Phoenix Park. He sent me a polite acknowledgement after his release from prison.

The Phoenix Park festival went smoothly on the Sunday and Monday, with good sunshine and attendances of around three thousand on each day.

The world wasn't changed by this or any music festival, but U2 within a few years became a major rock band and two decades later Bono capped his career by lobbying the Pope and various world leaders on the issue of third world debt. Another Dublin rock star (who didn't perform in Phoenix Park) was Bob Geldof and he gave the moneyraking rock industry a temporary conscience with his celebrated 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopia. Fundraising concerts didn't change the world either, but fans rocked their asses off and felt good for having supported a charitable cause. Meanwhile the prime movers and shakers of the rock industry drive people's fantasies and keep smiling all the way to the bank.

Two weeks after Phoenix Park the first Carnsore Anti-nuclear Rally attracted an attendance of 10,000 in the south-east of Ireland. There were speeches, workshops and free music by people like ballad singer Christy Moore. This captured the imagination of the Irish media in a way that Ubi Dwyer's event couldn't hope to do. The anti-nuclear movement mobilised public opinion against moves by the Irish Government to build a nuclear reactor.

Ubi Dwyer promoted a spent flower power peace-and-love approach to social protest. Radical people in the Ireland of 1978 had other concerns and took a grim attitude to social change. Sinn Fein and its sympathisers were deeply concerned about the smouldering H Block crisis in Northern Ireland. Peace campaigners and social workers desperately worked against violence. In the Republic the assorted women's groups were beavering away at sexual equality projects. Poverty and unemployment were increasing as the recession deepened. Individuals like myself were quietly involved in peace and human rights and prison reform campaigning. An incipient environmental movement was gathering momentum. Adi Roche and other campaigners would launch the humanitarian Children of Chernobyl relief organisation twelve years later. Free rock concerts featuring booze and cannabis were thus seen as flippant distractions. Puritanical activists would have regarded Ubi Dwyer as an irrelevant, madcap exhibitionist in the Ireland of 1978.

In the early 1980s Ubi Dwyer was to be seen some weekends standing near Grafton Street dressed in an imposing clerical soutane and matching hat handing out assorted leaflets and engaging curious passers-by in consciousness raising conversation. To some he seemed to be a figure of fun, to others he may have looked like a street evangelist. He bought the clerical gear at Wippels Ecclesiastical Outfitters, a noted London clothing shop frequented by priests and bishops of the mainstream churches.

Around 1984 he circulated a funny memoir of bicycle travels around Ireland undertaken during his holidays over a period of years. It was entitled Senator Sunflower, after the name he gave his peripatetic bike.

What was he trying to achieve? Maybe he was evangelising against what he called the Forces of Awe and Boredom. His aims were sincere and he was highly liked by friends and hospital patients. His eccentric habits didn't attract a following in Ireland. The Forces of Awe and Boredom still haunt the world.

My association with Ubi was only for a couple of summer months in 1978. He and I were of different temperaments, with different cultural and social interests. I enjoyed his company for that short time and moved on. I subsequently promoted third world cultural awareness in Ireland; have dabbled in freelance journalism; have taught English in Africa; done a spell of rural development administration with an Irish aid agency in Tanzania; and have spent periods teaching in China and the Middle East. I'm a bookish, mild-mannered person and have followed my lights in my way. My musical tastes are mostly classical and folk

Ubi Dwyer was a rumbustious, garrulous, hyperimaginative and irrepressible individualist who did things in his own zany way. He was what we call "a bit of a character". He made an impact in the cosmopolitan, atomised mass society atmosphere of south-east England for a few years, but made no headway in the deferential, small scale and more family centered Irish society almost 30 years ago.

A website like this can serve a useful purpose if more of those who were bemused by Ubi Dwyer's zany lifestyle and persuasive personality would record their impressions, and tell us about how their subsequent lives proceeded from then until now.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Turn-Around

Two hours one way, the briefest breath of foreign air, and then back on the boat for the return journey. They call it 'the Turn-Around'

Tobacco Smuggling in the UK

It was 5.30 on a cool but bright Monday morning. The sun was just nuzzling over the horizon sending sprays of orange light into the milky air. I met Louie at a pre-arranged spot outside the pub. He was carrying a black briefcase, dressed for the part in a flared pin-striped suit, with a stripy shirt underneath, his half-inch thick glasses catching the light and obscuring his eyes. He looked like some psychotic dentist out on emergency call. He said he wanted to blend in, to look inconspicuous. “No one will notice me dressed like this,” he said. “Ha.” And he gave me this conspiratorial look.

We were going tobacco smuggling.

We'd made the arrangements the night before. I'd met him down the pub where he told me the deal. I was to bring £50 with me to buy however many packets of Golden Virginia, which I'd hand on to him, and then, two days later, he'd give me my fifty quid back, plus £16 extra. He made it sound like it was a big deal.

"Hang on, Louie," I said, "sixteen quid. It's not a lot for a day's work is it?"

"No, think about it," he said, tapping his temple wisely, and giving me this arch, knowing, business-like look: "a free trip on a boat, a day out, a couple of pints, and then you come back with 16 quid in your pocket. You can't argue with that can you?"

Well I could argue with that. It was the least convincing argument for an illegal deal I'd ever heard. Sixteen pounds to put my liberty on the line. Fortunately I knew that it would also be an immeasurably entertaining day, and worth all the discomfort just for that.

"Game on?" I said.

"Game on," said Louie, blinking from behind his milk-bottle bottom glasses.

So here we were, speeding down the motorway, heading for the ferry port at 5.45 in the morning, Louie rolling endless cigarettes, and explaining that, actually, he didn't need my fifty quid after all. He'd managed to get Big Ted to lend him the money. Which was a relief, really. I didn't want to get involved in any smuggling operations. I particularly didn't want to get involved in any smuggling operations with Louie, who is the least likely tobacco smuggler on the planet. Which is probably no bad thing. No one can take Louie seriously, not even the Customs Officials, who would be looking for some hard-nosed types, out to make a few hundred, rather than a demented dentist, satisfied with sixteen quid and a day out on a boat.

You've probably guessed by now that Louie isn't a proper tobacco smuggler. I mean, he's been on a few trips, and been caught once or twice, but he's hardly likely to make his fortune in the trade. His regular partner is Big Ted, who is just as unlikely in his own way, but at least has the advantage that he's been in the game for a few years. Originally I'd set out to do the trip with the two of them. This was several weeks before. I'd got as far as the ferry port before it occurred to me that I might actually need to bring my passport with me. So it was two unconvincing smugglers, and one unconvincing journalist, all just as unlikely to succeed in our own chosen trades.

Anyway, Louie and I had arrived at the port by now, and I'd parked the car. It was 6.10 am. Louie had gone in to get the tickets, which are called Flyers. There were a few dead-eyed young men about, gathered in knots in the car-park, or sitting in cars with the windows open, smoking cigarettes with a faint air of desperation, as if they were waiting for more than just the ferry to arrive. "Want any Baccy mate? Marlboro? Superkings?" They say the same thing to everyone.

The trip takes two hours. You arrive on the Continent, pass through Customs, walk across the road and straight into one of the many tobacco-shops lined up by the dock-side waiting to take your English money. The shops are full of English 'Runners': that is, the people who transport the tobacco, day in and day out, across the channel. They make this trip two or three times a day. It's like a job to them. They buy maybe two or three hundred packets of tobacco at a time, talking in English to the English-speaking assistant, who answers through a microphone from behind his bullet-proof glass. The exchange is mono-syllabic and brief. The money is slipped across, counted, and then the tobacco slid beneath the counter through a rubber flap, with a shove of the foot, in boxes of a hundred.

The shop Louie and I went into was clearly set up precisely for this smuggling trade, and nothing else. There's a skip in there. The Runners grab their tobacco and then set about stripping off the packaging and loading the separate pouches into the hold-alls they're carrying. All the packaging is then dumped into the skip, which is already overflowing from the debris of numerous journeys.

You wonder how the British government puts up with this: a supposedly friendly nation allowing dockside shops specifically set up to aid British smugglers. You wonder why there hasn’t been some sort of a protest. It makes no difference to the tobacco companies, of course. After all, they still make their profit whichever country the stuff is sold in, whatever the language is on the packet. Only the tax is missing.

After that the Runners might buy a few cans of strong lager, to help with the journey back. And that's it. Two hours one way, the briefest breath of foreign air, and then back on the boat for the return journey. They call it 'the Turn-Around'. No wonder the tickets are called Flyers. It's a flying visit. Then it's a two hour journey back, when they drop the tobacco off with the men in the car-park, pick up their money, turn around and start again. They go on like this until the van is full, and then drive off to whatever part of the country they come from. And that, in brief, is the illegal tobacco trade. Every port is Britain is bustling with it.

On the way back Louie was telling me about the times he's been caught.

The first time this bloke had came up to him. Hair down to his shoulders, looking like it hadn't been combed in a month. Leather jacket. He said, "I want to look in your bag." "Hang on mate, I want to see an official," said Louie. "I am an official," he said, and pointed to his official-looking badge. So Louie showed him what was in the bag. Three hundred and fifty mixed packets of tobacco. Golden Virginia, Drum, Old Holborn. And the scruffy customs official laid it all across the counter. "It's a fair cop," said Louie.

"And then he started putting it all back in the bag," Louie told me. "I said, 'excuse me, but that bag is my personal property. You can have the tobacco, but I want the bag back.'"

"That's all right, mate," the customs official had said. "I'm not going to confiscate it this time. But next time: be warned." And he passed the bag back over the counter.

So Louie had got away with it. But he wasn't so lucky the next time: he lost the lot. There's Louie, all 4'11 of him, struggling through customs with this giant-sized hold-all. You couldn't see Louie, only his legs, tottering away beneath the weight. "Like a hold-all on legs," as Louie described it. And he was pulled.

"Excuse me, can I look in your bag?" Same thing. 350 packets of mixed tobacco. "I don't believe this is for your personal consumption," said the official.

"Yes it is," said Louie. "I don't like any one brand, so I mix it all together. And then I freeze it."

"Freeze it!" said the customs official in laughing disbelief. "You can't freeze tobacco."

"You can freeze anything," said Louie.

But they didn't buy his story that time, and he had the whole lot confiscated, about £600 worth. "The first time it's a warning. The next time they confiscate the tobacco. After that it's a fine, and if you're caught four times it's a prison sentence," Louie told me.

"Let's hope you don't get caught this time," I said.

Anyway, the return journey over, we were passing through the customs hall on our way back to the safety of English soil. All the Runners were there, with their giant hold-alls packed to the brim with tobacco, mingling with the tourists; Louie with his psychotic dentist's brief case bulging with contraband. The Customs Officers were lounging about looking bored, glancing at passports, but very little else. We passed through without incident, except that outside there was one cool-looking dude with mirror-shades and a green shirt, leaning against the wall and talking on a mobile phone.

"He's Customs," said Louie, sounding nervous.

Well he might have been. Then again he might just have been talking to his wife. Whichever it was, he let Louie and I go on our way.

We got in the car and Louie rolled himself another cigarette. After that we went home.




Humanity Will Pay The Price For Esso's Greed.

On the same day that experts warned that the Greenland ice sheet is melting and that climate change is now unstoppable, with possibly devastating implications for the future of mankind, Exxon Mobil profits were reported to be up by 42% to $36 billion, a new world record.

Read more here:


Who's Our Saint?

I seem to be drowning in a sea of St. George's flags. They're everywhere: fluttering from flagpoles, streaming from cars, hanging up in people's windows all over the place. Not that I mind. I have this vague recollection that there might be some sort of football games going on somewhere, and that the flags may have something to do with that.

Mind you, it's always struck me as odd that we take an obscure Middle-Eastern mythological figure with a penchant for killing dragons as our Saint. The Irish seem closer to the mark. At least St. Patrick was a real figure, and had something to do with Ireland. It's no wonder we don't bother to celebrate our Saint's day. We have no idea who he was or why he has anything to do with us.

In fact when anybody talks about St. George’s day to me, bewailing the lack of a holiday, I always point out the same thing. “We already do celebrate our saint’s day,” I say. “The English saint is Robin Hood, and his day is May the 1st.”

Usually people agree with me.

But, what with that, and the D-Day commemorations a year or two back, it started me thinking about patriotism. I had a leaflet from the British National Party through my door, referring to themselves as "The Patriotic Majority" while telling gross lies about asylum seekers. This is not patriotism at all: it is racism hiding behind the patriotic mantle. As far as I am concerned this is the kind of provocative nonsense that gives patriotism a bad name.

It was Dr Johnson who said that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Sometimes, it seems, it can be the last refuge of the moral coward too.

Personally I have nothing against patriotism, if patriotism is defined as love of one's country. I'm not one of those obscure lefties who go around supporting other people's patriotism while denigrating our own. It's always struck me as odd that people on the left are more than happy to defend the right of Iraqi patriots to defend their own country against occupation, while bemoaning the patriotism of the English. In fact it is a good question to ask: what would you do if a foreign power was occupying our country shores right now?

You'd probably do what the Iraqis are doing: that is, you would resist it.

I guess it depends on what, exactly, you are patriotic about. There are many things that the English can be proud of, and some that we ought to be ashamed of. Personally I am proud of the sacrifices made by our troops on D-Day in the fight against Nazism. I am also proud (for all its faults) of our National Health Service. Mostly I am proud of our traditions of tolerance, and of our historical record of offering asylum to those fleeing persecution in their own lands.

I am not proud of our Imperialistic adventures in the past however - conquering the world and claiming its resources as our own - but even this is preferable to our current status as the little bully hiding behind the bigger bully's back, in order to get our cut of the world's wealth.

A while back I found myself being barracked on the street because I had the temerity to ask people to sign a petition against the forced detention of asylum seekers. I was called a string of obscene names, shouted down and insulted by people I can only guess were BNP supporters. Why? Because I believe that vulnerable people looking for asylum in our country should be treated properly, and not locked up.

Even on a purely selfish level this makes sense. By making asylum seekers illegal we are driving them into the arms of unscrupulous employers paying minimal wages, thus driving down our own pay and conditions too.

True patriotism is love of one's country, and love, by definition, is always welcoming, always generous.


I wanted to write a story once called "The Man Who Made His Living Out Of Dreams". But - typical writer's strategy this - it would have been far too nakedly autobiographical to have made a good story. In a sense that's exactly what I've been doing all these years: making my living out of dreams. Because it's my dreams that made me a writer in the first place.

The first story I ever wrote - this must have been when I was about fourteen or fifteen - was simply the transcription of a dream I'd had the night before. It earned me a startling 18 out of 20 from my sympathetic English teacher, and became the first of many to earn me these high marks. I don't remember all that much about it, except that it involved time travel in some way, and a little boy in shorts with grey socks - even then I was relentlessly autobiographical in my writing - and had the motto: "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and Time and Space all in a row..." Don't ask me what I meant by that. All I remember about it is that as I wrote the words “silver bells and cockle shells“ I heard a distinct tinkling of bells in my head, and that the words “Time and Space” seemed to be resonant of some deep meaning.

I was obviously wiser and far more imaginative at sixteen than I am now.

But there's a quality to dreams. An aura of myth. A mixed up kind of fairy-tale romance that, somehow, seems to shed light on the state of your emotional life. How else can I put it? If you wake up from a dream exhilarated or fearful it is because the dream touched upon some ancient part of you that knows exactly those feelings and why those feelings are there.

One early dream I remember involved flying on the back of a swan with a girl I was in love with at the time. I was all of eight years old. And before us there was this powerfully familiar mountain landscape that seemed to resonate within me, as if it was the landscape of my own heart. I cannot describe it better than that. The dream was a visual representation of a feeling: the feeling was love.

It is a much more stunted being than that expansive eight year old who is tapping away at his desk in front of a computer screen right now. I no longer go on midnight journeys on the backs of mystical swans. But my memory of that dream and of the feelings it encapsulates makes me more than certain that there is such a thing as love and that it is still worth striving for. That much at least I owe to my dreams.

Of course this view of dreams is a lot different than the reductionist views of the psychoanalytical school which - as I remember it - makes everything vaguely longer than it is wide a phallic symbol, and everything wider than it is long symbolic of the female sexual organs.

I kind of get why bananas might be viewed as penises. But tables? Since when did a table resemble a vagina, that’s what I’d like to know?

It has always puzzled me why Freud had it that dreams encapsulate sexual feelings in such a disguised way when, in fact - as my dreams seem to make clear - when you dream about sex you dream about sex.

Not tables. Not chairs. Not buildings. Not bananas. Sex!

So my advise to you is - if you want to understand your dreams - throw away your dream analysis books and concentrate on the feelings that the dream engenders in you. If you are fearful in your dreams, then it's because something in your life has made you fearful. If you are confused, it's because you are confused. And if you dream of flying to some exhilarating mountain landscape full of vertiginous love, then - lucky you - it is because you are in love.