I wasn’t at my best this morning, in terms of either physical appeal or mental alertness. That’s because myself and the present Mrs Collins had to get up at 4.00 a.m. in order to catch an Aer Lingus flight to Barcelona, so a French couple I’ve never seen (never spoken to either, although my present wife has, on the phone, once) can come and stay in our house for the next fortnight. We’re staying in theirs, in Perpignan, over the same period. It’s a bit like the MAD system they used during the cold war: Mutually Assured Destruction. You launch a nuclear strike on us, we’ll take you with us. You trash our house, we’ll trash yours...I exaggerate a little. What’ll happen is that our French guests will leave our house cleaner than they got it and we’ll leave theirs in a similar condition.
But even through red-rimmed, pre-6.00 a.m. eyes I noticed the SDLP’s Declan O’Loan and his missus lining up to fly off to Malaga, and further back in the queue for our plane was another SDLP luminary, Dolores Kelly. Do I begrudge them their holiday? Far from it. When you’ve had to work as hard as they almost certainly have to keep the SDLP chin above water, you deserve a wee bit of sun on your exposed bits.
Oddly, when I arrived in Barcelona and was driving the 100+ miles from there to Perpignan, it wasn’t the SDLP I was thinking of. Looking at the red earth and deep green crops and the big-breasted, rolling hills, I was reminded of a similar drive I took a few years back through similar country in California – similar landscape, similar names, similar climate. No wonder the Spaniards took to the west coast of America – it must have seemed a bigger, better version of home. In fact they liked it so much they robbed and slaughtered the native people with a relish and ruthlessness that still chills when you read about it.
So then we arrived at our lovely apartment in Perpignan and I checked out the wi-fi and found myself staring at an article in this week’s Belfast Telegraph, by Nuala McKeever. In the course of it, Nuala asks a terrifically middle-class question: “What is the problem with the Government admitting that it is talking to people who think killing other human beings is a smart way to get what they want?” Now being middle-class myself I agree with her - governments should talk to those committed to violence. But I want to curl in a foetal ball and hide in one of the cool cupboards of our Perpignan flat when I take in the implication behind Nuala’s question. To wit, that the way to getting what you want is not by killing other people.
Oh dear. Shall I tell you a hard, horrible truth, Nuala? You don’t get what you want if you don’t kill enough people. The Spanish conquistadors knew that. The generals who hewed out the British Empire knew that. Harry Truman, the President of the US, land of the free and home of the brave, knew it when he gave the thumbs-up to the obliteration of hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the guys behind the suicide bomb that killed over sixty in Iraq yesterday know it.
Killing people is indeed the ultimate assault on human dignity. But it’s how power is wielded in the world, and I can’t see any amount of middle-class tut-tutting or pretence changing that. Can you?