Tag Archives: Northern Ireland

The Beginning of the End of the Six County State

4 Mar

So here we are. For the first time ever Northern Ireland’s government isn’t unionist dominated. Unionism has repeatedly failed its ‘people’, focusing too often on single topics rather than wider issues. It isn’t enough to just want to be part of the UK, you need to do more than lip service – rim jobbing the conservatives in London isn’t being particularly British, but it is what unionism seems to have become. When you’re out of thinking with the rest of the country you so badly want to remain part of on issues like women’s rights, marriage equality, and anything to do with the LGBT community, eventually the voters will desert you.

35% of those eligible still didn’t vote this time round, and their apathy is in part because of the failure of politicians to be forward thinking or responsive. Sinn Féin have succeeded by refreshing the optics, preaching equality (though as I wrote on Friday, I’m concerned about how that will play out for non-republicans once they’re in ‘control’ ) and motivating their populous. Unionism sits on past glories, complacently assuming that the public will come out and vote for them.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 2009.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 2009. Image © 2017 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

They now have three weeks to reach an agreement for power sharing. SF have already said they won’t accept Arlene Foster until the investigation into the heating cock up is complete. Arlene refuses to budge. With no agreement then we’d face yet another election or go back to direct rule from Westminster. The latter won’t please republicans, and would surely motivate a return to violent protest and terrorist manoeuvres from the likes of the IRA. But with our assembly now no longer Unionist-controlled I expect the DUP to force through a situation where direct rule is enforced, breaking any progress from the peace process. The DUP is like Nero fiddling while the country burns, willing to fuck everyone and blame the fall out on anyone but themselves. It’s not enough to be linked to the £1/2 billion wasted  through the RHI scheme, the fortunes wasted in court battles over gay blood etc, why not waste yet more in a pointless series of elections until everyone snuffs it or simply grows bored of the whole damn thing.  I could be wrong, but then power balance is shifting and the Unionists know this. The DUP in all probability would rather collapse Stormont than allow a nationalist rule.

Thanks to Brexit  I suspect within ten,  if not five years,  we will have a vote in favour of a united Ireland. And with that a return to civil unrest from small vocal factions. But none of this should surprise. Northern Ireland will simply be following the examples of the other colonies in the former British Empire, redefining itself as a nation shaped and influenced by the British presence but with its own culture. We just aren’t economically strong enough to stand without help from outside.

What would it be like for a Northern Irish Brit in a united Ireland?

I suspect odd. Its hard to imagine that the territorial imagery would disappear, but one suspects there’d be a lot more tricolours flying and that would probably rankle hardliners. None of my protestant friends in the south of Ireland ever seem particularly bothered, and I don’t even recall any of them of British descent complaining about being on the end of prejudicial treatment, and that’s exactly how it should be when reunification finally happens. Defining one’s nationality is a complex business, and most of us have at least one strand of ancestry that is imported from outside the island. Self-identifying as Irish or British shouldn’t stop you living a normal life in either country, or being allowed to display paraphernalia that relates to your nationality. There’s no reason why the Orange Order couldn’t continue to march and celebrate its past (they already do in displays across the Irish republic, which are closer to peaceful pageantry than anything in the North). And finally we could all celebrate St Patrick’s day as a shared heritage.

But I think British residents will be scared, paranoid, and anxious, and likely to fall into antagonistic language and behaviour with little provocation. They know the perceptions of the past just as well as the republicans. Hopefully they won’t be intimidated out of areas or out of the island. In the past, the British might well have treated the native population appallingly, but one needs to remember that we are not responsible for our ancestor’s antics, only our own. Certainly the thought that I might be persona non grata simply because I carry a British passport is most uncomfortable. And I don’t wish to be ridiculed because of my heritage, any more than republicans wish to be for theirs.

Uncertainty breeds fear. Fear breeds anger. Anger breeds trouble. And that is the situation I foresee. This summer’s parade season could be a real melting pot of pent up anger.

Undoubtedly the change is now on us. And I find it hard to believe that things will swing the other way any time soon. We should all begin to prepare for the possible outcomes of an ideological swing and a new national identity. Border poll or not, I will remain Northern Irish – proudly aware of my mixed heritage and upbringing informed by bother British and Irish culture. And I only hope that whatever happens, we are able to retain that sense of identity as the very face of Europe alters.

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Power is about to shift…

3 Mar

As I write this, 70 of the 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly Election for 2017 have been announced. And it makes for an interesting glimpse into a changing country. Sinn Féin hold the largest number of seats with 24, and the SDLP have 9. The DUP have 18 and UUP 9. Taking Aliance out of the proceedings that gives a nationalists a five seat lead.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Disappointingly the country appears to have shunned the opportunity to usher in a change in our country’s leadership – the embittered, stubborn, starkly green and orange parties Sinn Féin and Democratic Unionist Party are still on top. And its hard to see how anything is going to change while that remains the case. Northern Ireland is a shared country whether you like it or not. And the only way to move forward is through mediation and negotiation and compromise.

But then I’m a broadly liberal leftist long lapsed from a background of unionism, so its easy for me to say. I don’t hate my fellow citizens because of their religion or their politics or what language they wish to converse in or what way they define their national identity. But it matters to many others out there.

Without a change, I can’t help but wonder if the assembly will not just be brought down again? And if it does, then surely direct rule from Westminster is inevitable? And to do that would be foolhardy, because that will give many militant republicans the excuse they need to reactivate a campaign of violence against the perceived British threat in the country, and take us all back to pre-1997 times. Its not as if the leaders of the two biggest parties actually give a toss about the Northern Irish people anyway, and our democratic views. The DUP backed Brexit in spite of the majority of Northern Ireland voting to stay IN Europe, and Sinn Féin still refuse to sit in Westminster for ideological reasons, which means they aren’t actually helping to represent the people either. A right golden shower the lot of them.

And I’m sitting here thinking about something that I haven’t actually heard voiced yet. But what happens if Sinn Féin come away from this election as the largest political party in Northern Ireland? Ignoring their catalogue of cover-ups (notably with regards sex abuse cases) and their power-hungry control of republican ideology in Northern Ireland (there’s as many kinds of republicans as their are unionists), we’ve never had a republican party as the largest in NI. The balance has always (by design more often than democracy) lain in the hands of the unionist parties, and for decades the unionists and loyalists have been happy because they’ve benefitted in things like employment, funding, rights etc. The republican voice has been silenced (once upon a time, literally), oppressed, which in turn has only helped to stir up support.

Right now we’re at loggerheads, with both sides bashing each other where possible, positioning themselves as ‘us’ and ‘them’. They put down propositions made by the others because of the potential for small victories. They turn simple things into massive issues. They allow prejudice to dictate policy and propaganda does the rest.

Whats scares unionists is what will happen when the power finally switches. It seems rather improbable that a republican dominated political arena is going to sit back and allow loyalism to continue its triumphant marches and shouting and brow-busting. That call for a referendum on a united Ireland can’t be far away now, and that scares the unionists because it might actually go through. Most of us don’t want to leave the EU, and joining up with Ireland is a sure way to ensure we don’t. Britain doesn’t actually care about Northern Ireland. We’re a population of 1.8million out of some 64 million across the islands. We’re a massive drain on resources, particularly bearing in mind our habit of fighting on a regular basis, incurring vast policing costs etc, every time we have a “celebration”. Will the republican brothers and sisters treat the unionists with open arms, and remind them that Ireland has already embraced Protestant culture as symbolised in the orange on the Tricolour? Sadly, probably not. Instead, the sort of hostility that has been shown to many of them is likely to be returned. Its the way of the wild. Captive turns captor. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, not actually how you were treated…

I’m slightly scared for people like me. Those of us who sit somewhere between the ideologies. Not necessarily undecided, but who are aware of our backgrounds, and the complex web that we were born into without say. Northern Ireland is occupied – the politicians decided to remain as part of the UK, not the people themselves, and so a border poll would be interesting, to finally give all of us a say. We aren’t all going to get our way though, and as Brexit has most recently reminded us (and indeed the US elections), when voting is split, things can get nasty. I don’t want to return to violence. I don’t want to be scared of visiting friends across sectarian divides, or to be picked out because I don’t see eye to eye with official lines of whatever persuasion.

Its time to stop being complacent. Time to learn to moderate, to co-operate, and to stop wallowing in the past. Think about the people.

Who am I? (Part 1)

3 Dec

During the annual summer tensions in NI this year a relative asked me why I was so “against [my] own people.” That is, why so critical of the protestant/unionist population that I ostensibly hail from? The answer at its most basic is simply because I don’t feel that the so-called representatives and leaders of unionist, loyalist or protestant people actually do speak for me and my views. The more comprehensive response is probably based in a tortured sense of identity.

A statue of William III in Carrickfergus. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Symbol of protestant resistance in Northern Ireland – a statue of William III in Carrickfergus. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

The exposure to ideology I had growing up was almost exclusively protestant/unionist. The rhetoric of ‘Ulster says No’ and ‘1, 2, 3, DUP’. Orange bands on 12th July. My father worked for Bill Henderson, the owner of the Belfast Newsletter and former Ulster Unionist politician. My grandfather’s shop in Derry had been firebombed by the IRA and left a lasting impression on the family. This was the world I knew.

But I was also removed from much of what went on. We lived at the foot of the Craigantlet hills during my formative years in a fairly isolated house. Trips into town weren’t overly frequent, and I only recall a couple of instances of evacuation owing to bomb scares. My bit of East Belfast wasn’t known for its tension.

Once the quiet lane behind our house was on the news as someone was shot in his car. I remember the police coming to the door asking questions, telling him we’d heard nothing then telling mum we’d heard all sorts of things. I’ve no idea if we actually heard the shooting or not.

By the 1990s we had moved into the Garnerville housing estate right beside the RUC training barracks. A mighty wall of green corrugated iron with cameras all round faced our living room. The sound of their band woke us many a Saturday morning. I took it all for granted that this was how things were.

Somebody else was shot in the alleys behind the new house. An internal loyalist affair.

I accepted security checks in shops – the queues outside Debenhams as bags were searched. I didn’t think twice about the presence of soldiers on the streets, or the fact that the police carried guns. They scared me, but I wasn’t a law breaker so I didn’t worry excessively.

At some point in my teenage years my attitude shifted. I questioned the assumed unionism I had been brought up in. I watched nightly news reports of tit-for-tat attacks between Catholics and Protestants and knew none of us were safe. If I was stopped in the street by thugs I was screwed either way. I couldn’t sing any tribal anthems. I felt unsafe watching the bonfires. I didn’t like the hatred of Catholics expressed by many.

My Christian development changed how I thought. I became wary as I devoured Jack Chick publications and attended a Brethren church. Both fountains of intolerance and hate. But I also had a Methodist minister at school. My BB and youth club was at a large pentecostal church. Our Scripture Union group at school was a real mix of backgrounds.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

I began working with a peace group – the Horizon Project. A cross-boarder, cross-community group aimed at bringing different young people together. I made friends for life here. I saw an alternative future. We were basically all the same. No thoughts of violence. Plenty of hormones.

I read Augustine. I refused to join the school’s Combined Cadet Force (CCF), a way of preparing school boys for the British military. Instead I ended up head of our Social Services unit, working with disabled kids, elderly folk and the like. I outed myself as a pacifist, a conscientious objector.

I am working class protestant by birth. As a child of the 80s we had the upper hand. The population majority. The majority representation in government. Historically unionism had maintained control through gerrymandering. Internment had targeted republicans almost exclusively, ignoring crimes committed by loyalists. While I couldn’t fault the police chasing bombers and gunmen I still cannot condone the prejudiced persecution of the wider republican community and the comparative lack of pursuit of the loyalist bombers and gunmen.

I am a Northern Irishman. I hold a British passport but I am not British. I am happy to be called Irish because that’s more like what I feel. But given the option (and this should be widely recognised officially) I am Northern Irish. This country is heavily influenced by cultures of Ireland and Britain. Since before partition NI has felt different from either parent nation- but with overlaps. Ideology means many here refuse to accept the impact that that heritage has had on shaping them, how much they carry, to the point where they shout you down when you speak up for that inheritance.

I’m a modern day mudblood. In my veins courses Irish catholic heritage, and Ulster-Scot protestant heritage. I’ve recently taken a DNA test as part of my genealogy research, and I’ll be interested to see what the science says about my family’s make-up. Most of my Scottish line I’ve traced back to Ireland. My grandfather used to joke (at my grandmother’s expense) about her having Spanish forefathers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the results lean very heavily towards an Irish ancestry, with perhaps a little Scottish. I’ll share the results in the new year when they come back. Maybe they’ll suggest something else, but right now I feel it would be disingenuous to disown my Irishness.

We are products of the society we are born into. We don’t make a choice in that – nature does that for us. Most of us inherit the politics and religion of our parents. Some of us will move away from that faith, mostly into atheism, but few will shake their politics. As a nation we need to learn to move past this original sin mentality that keeps us fighting each other, dividing us up into ‘us’ and ‘them’. We cannot keep brow-beating this generation for the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. We cannot treat every republican or unionist as if they are militant with a grudge to spend. We cannot repeat the errors of the past.

Twelfth bonfire, Newtownards. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Twelfth bonfire, Newtownards. Photo © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

I acknowledge the injustices perpetrated by my perceived community in the past. I understand the feeling of disenfranchisement by the perceived other community. I understand why people on both sides got caught up in militant struggles, defence and retaliation. I understand we are not a healed society. But we cannot continue like that. I’ve heard such anger and bitterness from both protestants and catholics this last year – the fears of the other haven’t gone away, with both firmly believing themselves to be right and the others bitter and vengeful. Its scary to listen to. If only they could hear themselves.

I listen to lines about how the Twelfth celebrations are an example of pageantry and aren’t sectarian. Then I see the bonfires becoming adorned with flags, election posters and other weighted symbols and they become totems of hate once again and I cannot be a part of that. Tribalism and sectarianism only cement division and mistrust. They weaken us. They allow us to be manipulated by those in power. For a Christian order, Orangeism stands out against Jesus’ command to love our enemies (Matthew ch5 v44).

I believe in dialogue. Listening. Trying to understand. When someone tells me I’m wrong I’ll listen to their argument, I’ll try and research the areas I’m faulty in. And either I’ll reaffirm my position or it will change. Being able to stand up and say, ‘Yup, I was wrong’ is important. I want to understand, to move forward. I’ll listen to any politics, any religious exchange, and I’ll stand and ask questions of myself and others. Testing one’s faith, one’s understanding, is important. I have broken my own rules, my own prejudices repeatedly, and been happier for it. I’m not betraying my ‘people’ because tribalism is something imposed on us by societies and the xenophobic. I’m being true to myself.

Belfast City Cemetery – Shared History. An interview with Tom Hartley (2014)

29 Nov

September 2013. I’ve recently been exploring Belfast City Cemetery for the first time in search of family graves. Even though we have quite a few relatives perpetually resting here, my protestant relatives aren’t keen on visiting – perceiving it to be in something of a no-go area, located as it is in the heart of nationalist West Belfast. I’m somewhat taken back by the run-down state of huge sections – the evidence of repeated vandalism, poor signage, and difficulty in navigating. I write to Tom Hartley, a Sinn Fein politician who has researched the history of the graveyard, published an excellent book on the subject and regularly gives tours. I receive a reply from his office that emphasises the ongoing work to improve the cosmetics of the cemetery.

View across Belfast City Cemetery, March 2013. Photo © Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved

View across Belfast City Cemetery, March 2013. Photo © Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved

February 2014. I’ve been researching a radio feature on the history of the cemetery, hoping to focus on the potential for it as a location of shared history between the Protestant and Catholic communities. I reach out to several local politicians for an interview and only Tom replies in the time I have available with any sense of engagement. Ultimately the feature was abandoned because I wanted a more rounded set of voices. I’m disappointed in particular in the Protestant leaders (I’d contacted the former DUP Mayor of Belfast, Gavin Robinson, but he declined to take part) -as its their community history that I think we can build a story out of.

I’ve been back researching the cemetery in person several times since then, with more work to do.  Belatedly, I present here a slightly edited transcription of the discussion between me and Hartley, without additional comment. A loose discussion between two men, ostensibly from opposite sides of the community divide in NI, but with a shared interest in the history of the cemetery space and the city we were both born and bred in.

We meet 10.45 am, Wednesday 12 February 2014, a short walk from the City Cemetery, in the Culturlann on the Falls Road – my first time at this location. I enter the cafe area, find Tom, order a coffee and as I sit, hit record on my Sony minidisc. We join the conversation after the opening salvos…

TOM HARTLEY: …Its about knowing your own city.

ROBERT SIMPSON: One of the things I’ve been trying to do over the last couple of years, is actually go to places that when I was growing up I wouldn’t have been to. Places that either were forbidden, because of the Troubles and things, I was too young to travel around, or just kind of peaked my curiosity.

I took a trip into the Bogside last year – first time I’ve done that –

TH: Did you survive it okay?

RS: I survived [laughter]. But I mean, having been in Derry forever, my grandparents live there, it was somewhere I’d never been properly.

TH: What school did you go to in Belfast?

RS: Campbell College.

TH: Campbell College… so that’s the C.S. Lewis connection?

RS: That’s the one, yeah. Very tenuous C.S. Lewis connection…

TH: But nevertheless still there.

RS: I actually grew up round the corner from where he did, so its all very familiar territory. I feel quite bad I’ve not been up [to the cemetery] before.

TH: Well for instance, across the road is Dominican College. One of the great artworks of Belfast is in the college and that is a stained glass window by a man called Harry Clark. Now if you know anything about stained glass windows Harry Clark is one of the pre-eminent stain glass window artists in this country; he’s dead, he died in the 1930s but his windows are very famous, you know…. There’s another stained glass window in Townsend Presbyterian church by a woman called Wilhelmina Geddes… So its all sorts of material that you find here in this part of the city, which we as a city should be celebrating.

RS: I have to say I agree, and that’s actually where I come into this, this project, this piece I’m doing about the City Cemetery… I’d read some of your comments from a couple of years ago about the City Cemetery and the lack of… the protestants that weren’t coming in and you seemed to be making some effort at the time to try and address that and that was quite interesting for me because coming from where I come from and my family – we have family buried in City Cemetery. My grandfather hasn’t been up to see his parents’ grave in years…

TH: Why not?

RS: I think for him it was an emotional problem. His problem was that he put – in his specific example, he’d put a wooden cross on the grave a few times and it had been removed and vandalised repeatedly, and I think he found that…

TH: Distressing?

RS: Yeah, after a while.

TH: Yes

RS: So that’s his personal thing, obviously that may be different for somebody else – may have other reasons, but I’m aware there has been a lot of vandalism…

Damage to headstones in Belfast City Cemetery. March 2013. Photo © Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

Damage to headstones in Belfast City Cemetery. March 2013. Photo © Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

TH: …Well, there has been, but it’s like I suppose any open space in this city, but we have worked hard as a community to reduce it. I’m not so sure that, given that it’s a big open space that you’ll ever, totally… eradicate it. .
But I think you can raise community awareness about the site, how valuable it is and what it means to us as a city. And if you get communities then around the cemetery, I think we’ve already achieved this, taking ownership of the cemetery and beginning to see it as a very important site in the narrative of Belfast then that begins to change the way people view the cemetery.
But also, you know, I have a view that in the 1970s and 80s and really the 1990s, Belfast City Council gave up on the cemetery. So you had a lot of vandalism, theft. Also it was overgrown you know, and where a spot is overgrown it encourages drinkers and vandals so all that has been cut back and while we haven’t reached the position I think where you could rest… With the work that has been done or achieved, it is still a much different space today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

RS: I think I was even reading stuff online from forums from 5 or 6 years ago and there are people talking about the state of the cemeteries then, so obviously there’s a lot of work that’s been done. I’ve been up to both the City Cemetery and Milltown, and my first impressions – I actually wrote to you about this last year – my first impressions of Milltown were considerably better than City Cemetery. It is more obviously neglected… but then, that’s coming from someone who hasn’t had the benefit of being up here for 20 years and seeing the changes.

TH: When I went into it first you could hardly see the inner sections… overgrown… And now, you begin to see even when you walk along the frontage of the Falls Road you begin to see the layout. There’s been a lot of undergrowth, trees , naturally seeded by the birds. Then given the weather and the global warming – you cut one year and the next year its just as bad. Now I think the Council needs to then be on top of that situation. I suppose in an older type of cemetery it’s a bit difficult because of the stone surrounds. Whereas if you look at the new lawn type sections at the top of the cemetery, where you don’t have surrounds, where headstones are by and large of similar height, then what you begin to get is a section that is easy to maintain, whereas some of the older sections are difficult in that sense to maintain. But I think that’s up to Belfast City Council to find ways of looking after the cemetery.

RS: Your own book [Belfast City Cemetery: The History of Belfast Written In Stone, Blackstaff Press] that you published on it is, I thought it was a great read, very informative and its, it is actually very well balanced for someone who, I guess for someone who has been a politician and has a particular allegiance – your representation of the story of Belfast City Cemetery is the story of the people, and I wouldn’t say is in any way a biased one. Which is what a good historian should be…

TH: Well… I of course see it as the history of my city; and its like you could have a different political view than I have, and that’s democracy but it doesn’t make you – really it doesn’t make you essentially the enemy. You’re not someone to be avoided. And your history and where you come from – is probably a part of my history – the history of my city. I just see in that in this city politically there are dimensions of who we are. And that enhances our sense of us, it doesn’t diminish. So its not something that I think, ‘I’m going in here to write as a republican’, I’m just writing as someone who loves this city, its people and its history, and its difficult at times and there are really difficult… situations that you deal with. For instance I don’t believe – and this is I suppose the public person in me – I don’t believe that we should be hurting each other over our dead, and I think we do that. And whether its desecration of a grave, of a war grave or a republican plot; or what we say – the way we talk about the dead, I think we have this great capacity in our society to hurt each other over our dead, whereas I have a view that the dead do represent multiple dimensions of us as a city and we should use that history, that complexity, and that often difficult history as a way of enhancing our sense of us, not diminishing us.

RS: I think that’s something that you and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir [Lord Mayor of Belfast at time of interview] actually have gone to great pains to do – to make it a more inclusive thing. It seems to me as well that you are at times bashing your head against a brick wall with the reaction that you get from some parts of the certainly the loyalist and unionist community.

TH: Well, I mean, oddly enough now, in their defence, I have done walks through the cemetery with loyalists, and I have to say, I always found them very open to history. And I have brought them in, a difficult walk for me, through Milltown Cemetery. But they were there, they came. So, in some sense I think that when you look at elements say of the loyalist protest… and then that very quickly becomes a monolithic view of a whole community. And the one thing I learned in politics, or the one thing politics taught me, was don’t ever look at anything in a monolithic way because then you stop seeing opportunities and you stop seeing; you stop seeing the human element and how you can make contact, and how you can engage and how… You can talk about our history and you can differ about it, but that doesn’t mean you end up sticking out your tongue at someone you know and huffin’. And sometimes I think we do a form of that in society – you’re the baddy and I’m the goody. But life is much more grey than that. And history teaches me that. And in their defence now, I have walked through Milltown Cemetery with loyalists, and they would disagree with the politics of those who lie there, but what was important was that they were in Milltown, they were looking at that history, they were engaging with it in the walk and I think that’s very important.

RS: Is that something you struggle to do, to – not necessarily personally, but is it an uphill struggle to encourage those from the loyalist backgrounds to come into this neck of the woods again.

TH: No, I’ve had many loyalists in the City Cemetery, I’ve led numerous groups from the protestant/unionist community and no, they come in. Now, a lot of those walks would be into the City Cemetery… but nevertheless the complexity of our life, our history, is to be found in City Cemetery as much as it is found in Milltown Cemetery.
I have a great sense of people being open to the history of this place. And they don’t have to agree with me; and as I say, you can agree or disagree, you can like or not like the politics of the people who are buried in Milltown and City Cemetery, but what you can’t disagree with is that it’s the history of our city, and therefore because it’s the history of our city, it belongs to us. All of us.

RS: I would agree with that. You wouldn’t say there are still no go areas in Belfast for one community or the other, or are there?

TH: Well, I think there are tensions in areas, and you can see it, we have to…. You can see… the situation in the Lower Newtownards Road the other week… But… There’s a burial ground over in the Lower Newtownards Road beside the Methodist Meeting House… I would campaign as much for that history and that story to be told as I would for a story on the Falls Road to be told. And I suppose given my face, and the atmosphere that you find in parts of the city, you do need to take that into account. But I have spoken in all areas of Belfast on the City Cemetery, and I’ve always got a great reception – always. People are always interested in hearing about the history of the place. Now that doesn’t mean they agree with me, but they come and they listen.

RS: What was it that prompted you to start researching the Cemetery?

TH: Oh that’s a long story.

RS: You grew up around here?

TH: About five minutes from here. Think I was born here, so that’s where it all began. Where does it all begin? I’ve been trying to unravel that…. I suppose way back in the 1970s I was involved with the Republican Press Centre and we used to get journalists from Britain coming across to us and at that time we had 13 or 14 big British military forts round West Belfast – something like out of the Wild West. And they used to ask us to take them and show them, and in between showing them the forts I would point out this street and that street and this… And that then eventually became the tour, became a tour for me when the West Belfast Festival started in 1987. So it was ready made because I just, through the years had brought all sorts of people round to show them the place. So when ’87 came along I organised a bus tour, and then I ended up in the City Cemetery and started to become very interested in that so. I gave up the bus tour and started to do a walking tour of both the City and Milltown, and that lasted for about 6 hours. And I used to have a badge “I survived Tom Hartley’s tour.”
But then it just got too much, cus it was 6 hours. I mean I could do it, but I could see when I started off in the City and wind my way eventually into Milltown and then I could see at the end of it people gasping for breath. Mind you, they stayed with me and they loved it. But it was a bit too much so I broke it up, so we have a separate tour, we have a tour of Milltown and we have a separate tour of City which I do. And so its been a long story.

RS: I’m right in my understanding of the geography of Belfast and the history of the cemetery in that it was initially basically a Protestant burial ground, with a few Catholic burials after the dispute?

TH: Well it was meant to be an interdenominational. Then the dispute arose, between the Bishop Patrick Dorrien, catholic bishop Patrick Dorrien, and the Belfast Corporation, of course the Belfast City Council. And the dispute was over who had ultimate burial rights for those to be buried in catholic-blessed ground. And so a stillborn child would not be buried in catholic-blessed ground, nor would a suicide, or someone that had been excommunicated.
The last category, and I was telling a group this story one day, and I said, the last category was a Catholic who had bought a grave as a Catholic but then became a Protestant, and a voice at the back of the group went “God Forbid!” [laughter].

So eventually we ended up with two cemeteries you know, Milltown and the City. But the story for me it is the one narrative and indeed I’ll be launching a book at the festival on the 31st July on Milltown Cemetery to tell that element of our history. [Milltown Cemetery: The History of Belfast Written In Stone, Blackstaff Press]

RS: My understanding of the geography is that now the City Cemetery is surrounded by nationalist areas on all sides.

TH: Yes, yes, aye. Well, I mean, when it opened first of all it was outside the City boundaries, and they had to have what is called a Local Parliamentary Act to give the Local Corporation the right to get the land. You see when I was growing up on the Falls Road, this was [the Culturlann] of course a Presbyterian Church and I remember the Orangemen coming in here, marching in here on 12th July. They would march up Broadway, down to Beechmount Avenue, and then up the road and into here – this building. And so this, there was a Methodist Church, Presbyterian churches and on this road, a Church of Ireland and so there were, I would say right up until the 1950s – the streets here, Thames’s Street – there would have been Protestants living in these areas. But after 1970, for example the congregation of this church probably moved on given the crises. So, you know the Fellons Club on the Falls Road – it’s a club for to be a member you have to be an ex-prisoner. But it started off as a Methodist Hall. Life is much more complex and layered than we pretend.

RS: Does that strike you at all as curious I guess, that there is this little space full of dead protestants in the middle of…

TH: No, not at all. Why would it? Its I mean…. If you start looking at it that way… ok… I suppose there were… The reality of course is when you get to know for instance sometimes there’s as many tensions between Presbyterians and Methodists and Church of Ireland as there is between Catholics and Protestants.

RS: Agreed.

TH: Its just happened that way. Does that make, in a sense I just see that as, I’m glad they’re there cus… I’m able to tell that story. And I’m able to tell it for people who may not appreciate the depth of it.

RS: I don’t mean that to sound sort of political. For me its curious that for a society that’s still so bogged down on these divisions, when you get to the City Cemetery its actually quite inclusive.

TH: Well, you know, everyone’s equal in death. So… in some senses it offers an opportunity, because of its location, it actually challenges you – how do you tell that history? So there’s a grave it in of Rutledge Kane, a very famous Belfast Orangeman, and minister of the Church of Ireland and he was instrumental in creating opposition to Gladstone’s First Home Rule Bill, but on his headstone it says “A loyal Irish patriot”. So if you think you’re a loyal, you think you’re an Irish patriot, and with loyalist you’ll say, how does that fit in? And the same with unionist heart, the heart of modern-day unionists who would not adopt the term Irish, nor even Irish Patriot and yet this man who was key in opposition to Gladstone’s First Home Rule Bill sees himself as Irish and sees himself in the context of the culture of this island. And there doesn’t seem to be a conflict in his life between how he sees himself as a unionist, and he is, and how he sees himself culturally a part of this island. Now some modern day unionists would find that difficult too… so I think that’s the challenge.

RS: If I can ask one more question of you its what do you see the legacy of the Troubles on the City Cemetery story?

TH: In what sense?

RS: I guess I’m aware that the Troubles has affected everybody in respect of all the areas… and my impression, my impression of what the Troubles has led about to, as you intimated in some of your articles a couple of years ago, was the protestant abandonment of the area for a while at least and obviously there’s a lot of vandalism that has occurred and neglect which…

TH: …I think the word ‘abandon’ is too, too strong. I just think circumstances, you know. This area was, you might say, in the middle of a war zone, people were frightened. And then the practice – cus when I would often do the walks I hear from people that they used to come every Sunday, but the nature of the conflict then, people were frightened to come and are still a bit frightened. And in some senses stories of vandalism, mayhem in graveyards, reinforce that message, whereas in fact if someone is coming along to the cemetery and they are frightened, all they have to do is speak to the staff. The staff at the cemetery are brilliant. Staff in the cemetery will bring them to a grave, you know will find out for them… so it is, I think it is changed. But of course one of the ways it impacted of course was for instance Pat Finucane is buried there; a young woman called Livingstone who was killed by a plastic bullet is buried there; there’s the very first ‘blanket man’ Kieran Nugent, is buried at the top end. So you can begin to see there are a number of burials that have taken place there that reflect that element of the conflict. Although Milltown is a lot more serious, Milltown really is really reflective of the trauma, and all dimensions of it, suffered by the Belfast Catholic population during the conflict.

RS: Thank you. I don’t want to take up any more….

TH: I don’t mean that at all to sound sort of political but I think there is challenges there. How do you tell the story? So when I was in Milltown. The one thing I don’t want to do when I bring people on a walk is to hurt them. They have sensibilities. And in fact what happened with one chap, at the end of the walk he says “You know Tom, I lost my father, my father was shot by the IRA, and this is…” But then I thought the great thing, not just that he told me that, but the fact that he was there. And to some extent I think, I think that in some ways the present political crisis really does create a view of Loyalists as one block, and they’re not.

RS: They’re not at all.

TH: Although I think that tends to make it difficult for people who actually want to say look, this is complex, layered, difficult history but its ours. Its about narrowing that ground isn’t it?

RS: I think so.

TH: The comments about learning the Irish language. As if learning a language is radically going to change your view of the world.

RS: I don’t understand that, that obstruction to the language thing because if we look back a hundred years there’s plenty of the Protestants and the ancestors of modern day loyalists who know the language.

TH: The one thing has been said about the language belonging to the Catholics of Ireland…. It doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to all the people of this island. It even belongs to people who don’t speak it. I mean I’m not an Irish speaker, but it belongs to me. It’s a part of Belfast – Béal Feirste, Shankhill, the old Church, Stormont, if you think about it all these Irish… Ardoyne, Divis, Carrickfergus, you know, Stranmillis, Ballyhackamore, we’re steeped in it.

The grave of Samuel Scott, first 'victim' of the Titanic, in Belfast City Cemetery. © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

The grave of Samuel Scott, first ‘victim’ of the Titanic, in Belfast City Cemetery. © 2016 Robert JE Simpson. All Rights Reserved.

RS: It’s the language of the island really, isn’t it. We’re all just temporary custodians of the island. No, its interesting. I think I’m too middle ground to worry about some of the stuff… I don’t get worked up in the same way…

TH: Well, I wouldn’t class myself as middle ground. But I think all of us have a right to…. Once you even say that its like you start to fall into a trap. People just like the history of the city, like the history of the island, and history is difficult. There’s no use running away from that issue. Its difficult in how you tell that story. I found it more difficult to tell the story of Milltown, which first of all I thought I knew, than say the City Cemetery, cus at the time to some extent I was outside this history and as I got to know it and embrace it, but Milltown is the raw history of my experience. Which is, so… How do you deal with people killed by the IRA? How do you deal with state killings? How do you deal with British army killings? One of the things in Milltown, I tried to update the number of people killed in Belfast in the 1920s, and in Belfast in two years there were 4 or 500 people – 500. And what I find odd about it is there is such an intense discussion going on now about memory and remembrance, and yet a hundred years ago, just under 100 years ago, 90 years ago, 500 people died in this city [through] conflict. Now they’re probably remembered in terms of families, but this society doesn’t tear itself apart for that period. And its still close. I don’t know what the conclusion is but it seems to be at odds with all this talk of closure and memory…

RS: Is that not in some ways, what would you call it…? My impression about some of the issues about closure and about those specific events that we have to remember and we have to be offended by when somebody else remembers it, its almost the impression I get, but that in a way just seems to be a justification to continue the rows and the rants and the upset…

My recording runs out here. The conversation moved from the cemetery towards issues of shared history, the representation of memory, and trauma. Ground that I believe is fertile for further exploration. Politically this is, I believe, where we are frequently manipulated – emotionally steered to suit an agenda that we may not even be aware of. In 2016 we have marked the centenaries of both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, and have become acutely aware that questions of loyalty and nationality were incredibly complex for many of those involved in those struggles. Belfast remains a divided city, most acutely observed in the working class districts – spurred on by fear and a sense of disenfranchisement and neglect. But those communities which are being deprived of social development and investment have more in common with each other and their mindsets than they might realise.

As someone from a mostly Protestant background, I wish more would pay attention to the history of the city and venture back into the City Cemetery and reclaim their relatives’ plots. The desecration of plots, and in particular repeated attacks on the Jewish plots which this interview didn’t even get near examining, shows a violent hatred and xenophobia which should not be tolerated in a modern city.

My thanks to Tom Hartley for spending the time talking to me. I can heartily (pun intended) recommend both his books on the histories of the cemeteries, available from Blackstaff Press. Links below.

I’d be interested in continuing these conversations with other interested parties. Please contact me via the blog comments, Facebook, or via email to rjesimpson[at]gmail[dot]com.

Belfast City Cemetery: Written In Stone
published Blackstaff Press, 2014

Milltown Cemetery: Written In Stone
published Blackstaff Press, 2014

Too close for comfort: The sex trial of a reality tv star

7 Feb
Reality tv star and singer Jeff Anderson, performing in 2013.  Image © Robert JE Simpson.

Reality tv star and singer Jeff Anderson, performing in 2013.
Image © Robert JE Simpson.

Over the last few years we’ve become used to reevaluating childhood heroes as ongoing revelations of sex scandals rock iconic British entertainers. While the majority of us accept that the behaviors were wrong, there’s a temptation to dampen the impact with an acceptance that culture was different in the 60s and 70s. But for the most we’re at a distance – shocked but not directly affected.

Wednesday started oddly. Switching on my social media platforms I was presented with a link: “The Voice contestant Jeff Anderson charged in Downpatrick Court with 15 sexual offences“. Clicking on through I found myself somewhat agog at the list of offences, the result of a two-year investigation by police.

Not that a minor celebrity being accused of sexual crimes is anything new or particularly surprising, but this one struck a nerve because I’ve met Jeff and know him slightly. In fact he’s a friend of the family, and at one point a regular visitor to our house. My brother was drummer in a band with him. I’ve photographed him, filmed him, sat with him at dinner at family events. I’d even been talking with someone else in media circles about collaborating on a filmed project that would highlight Jeff and the band as it was pre-2013. For the first time I find myself taken back by the media reportage.

Seeing someone you know being hauled before the authorities like this is strange. The vitriol and comment freely made online (often uninformed) can be hard reading. Its like an out-of-body experience at times. The press is limited by law with regards what it can report. The general public doesn’t understand this, and in between wide speculations, fire insults and further accusations without any consideration for the wheels of justice. No matter how hard you look, you struggle to find someone going on record defending him (even though we live in a ‘innocent until proven guilty’ society). But there’s plenty of vocalised assumption that if an accusation is made then it must be true.

I last saw Jeff a year or so ago in a shop in Belfast’s Botanic – I popped him a tweet but didn’t hear back. Our last proper conversation would have been summer 2013. I’m not entirely sure when I first met him, several years prior to that I guess. In all that time on a personal level, I found him to be pleasant, a bit quiet, but friendly and polite. He’d had some success as a contestant on ITV’s Superstar series (causing the band to go on hiatus for a period), and coming back from that with ego suitably inflated, I can understand what people didn’t like about him, but overall no worse than many in this industry.

One has to separate one’s knowledge of the person and/or their work and the gravitas of the accusations in a case like this. No matter how likeable I found him in person, the charges all centre around a lack of consent, and as someone who has been at the wrong end of sexual abuse myself I cannot condone such behaviour, and I cannot help but view the charges through the tainted eyes of one who knows how difficult it is to take a stand against an abuser. In other words, on a personal level I’m not merely disappointed, but shocked and horrified. One strongly suspects that if the charges are only being made public now following a 2 year investigation then the PSNI (the Northern Irish Police) must have a decent body of evidence with which to proceed.

The list of charges as detailed here are:

  • Theft of photographs belonging to a female, June 2011.
  • Possession of an indecent photo or pseudo-photograph of a child, September 22, 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between August 2005 and March 2007.
  • Indecent assault on a female child between August 1, 2005 and March 31, 2007.
  • Possession of an indecent photo or pseudo-photograph of a child on September 22, 2013.
  • Possession of an indecent photo or pseudo-photograph of a child on September 22, 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between April 1, 2006 and May 31, 2006.
  • Indecent assault on a female child between April 1, 2006 and May 31, 2006.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between January 1, 2010 and December 30, 2010.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between January 1, 2010 and December 30, 2010.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between January 1, 2012 and April 1, 2012.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between May 2011 and February 2012.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between May 2011 and May 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between November 1, 2011 and November 30, 2011.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between February 2011 and August 2013.
  • Voyeurism – For the purposes of sexual gratification recording another doing a private act knowing that the other person did not consent to being recorded for the purposes of sexual gratification between December 15, 2012 and March 30, 2013.

Anderson is now 25 years of age. The charges date back to 2005 when he would have been 15.  Reading through the charges several make mention of voyeurism and assault on children. The charges relating to 2005-2007 presumably then involve minors at a time when Anderson himself was close in age or a minor himself. This doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the charge, but may indicate a slight muddying of the waters. This isn’t an instance of a 50 year old radio DJ preying on a 14 year old for sexual favours. We have yet to be given exact details of the crime of which he is accused, but its worth stressing that mention of ‘child’ in the charges doesn’t necessarily indicate a paedophilic element – an association we’ve come to expect from the Operation Yewtree investigations and which some media outlets have implicated in their use of ‘Child Sex’.

Its clear that there are multiple charges of voyeurism – that is taking pictures or videos of others without their knowledge. The charges cover the entire period of 2005-2013. The ages of the other parties are not given, nor is any further detail at this stage. The timescale involved means its impossible to view everything with any sort of excuse for the excess of youth. A man in his 20s cannot ignore the importance of consent.

Thankfully this is now in the hands of the PSNI and the courts, and he will be tried according to the evidence – not public opinion – and we have to put our faith in the justice system to handle him appropriately. With this there is also a responsibility to be careful what is posted on social media. A quick dig around over the last few days has uncovered further allegations and reading between the lines, alongside snide commentary which prejudges and potentially prejudices the case. Anyone who is part of the investigation or was in court needs to be particularly careful. Those who are privy to further information need to pass this on to the authorities and not broadcast accusations on social media, as sympathetic as I may feel to their frustration.

There may be other victims too who wish to make additional claims, and its vital that these are done through proper channels. It is incredibly difficult to put oneself forward in a prosecution like this, but the existing case may give extra comfort and support to anyone in that position. If you have further information that might be relevant to the case, get in touch with the PSNI.

Anderson it was reported, was driven off from court in a Jaguar – a comment I took to be an inference to his/his family’s affluence, and a subtle way to present him as unlikeable. That and mention of his beard – a needless reference considering every photo used in the stories includes his beard. Much is also made of his appearance on BBC’s The Voice, no doubt reminding readers of the ongoing sex scandals dating back as far as the 1960s featuring men employed by (but not only by) the BBC. Jeff appeared in one episode of the BBC1 show during the auditions, but didn’t get picked. His CV includes work as an extra on Series 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and more notably ITV’s Superstar (2012) in which he made it through to Night 6 of the finals before going on to serve as understudy in the UK tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. He’s been involved in musical theatre and flitting between London and Ireland since then. The BBC end of things really is small in terms of his recognition and CV.

According to the reports in the press, he has been allowed to travel to London and Ireland while searching for work.  It remains to be seen how the entertainment industry greets someone awaiting trial for a string of sexual crimes.

Since news of the charges went public Anderson has removed most of his web presence. His Twitter has been deactivated, plus his Facebook and website. Other online presences haven’t been updated in some time. I’m not providing links as I don’t want to encourage harassment. Several members of his old band are on record as having not been involved with him in some time, and have stressed the importance of taking information to the police.

There will be those of course who don’t believe the charges, or won’t believe all of them. Those who know the man personally may find it difficult to equate the person they know to the person painted by the newspaper articles. There will be others who choose to say nothing. Silence is not something which should be punished – nobody has an obligation to express their opinions in public. I considered staying completely silent myself, but with previous blog posts relating to similar cases, and my own experiences of abuse, it would be an obvious omission if I didn’t raise the case. I’ll be following it and once it goes through the courts I’ll comment in more detail.

Punctum II: Locale

18 Jan
image for my upcoming exhibition 'In Plain Sight'

Image for my upcoming exhibition ‘In Plain Sight’

In May I will present my first solo photography exhibition, ‘In Plain Sight’. While finalising the list of works which will be on display is still some way off, I’ve been dipping into my archive of images from the last decade, revisiting photos I haven’t looked at in years (and in some instances, ever). Naturally, not everything was conceived with any artistic view – photographers and artists are as likely to take candid snapshots for personal consumption as anyone else. But in doing so, I must take a journey back to when and where many of the images were taken. There are thematically linked works around death and hurt – some will be shared, some will not. But at times, even the most aesthetically pleasing and happy image has cause to wound me – for every image hides a story.

Three years ago, physically sick with stress, and trapped in a space with no heating and only my dog for company, I packed up the last of my things and formally walked out on everything that made me unhappy and began on the real and metaphorical road to recovery and healing. There are images created during the worst days of my life which are among those I am proud of – moments of inspiration, visual notes for projects not yet begun.

The memories stirred by images may hurt, but the images themselves cannot – they record what was, not what is, not what will be.

Just as meaning can be placed upon a two dimensional image, a representation of a past reality, so too then can meaning be placed upon three dimensional spaces – actual present embodiment of past reality. Unlike images, spaces live and combine visuals with audio and aromatic cues. The combination can be overwhelming, and a much surer way to put one back mentally into a previous life experience. Where trauma existed in those spaces, a revisitation can be catastrophic.

I believe in constantly creating new memories, new images, new associations. Life is organic, transitional, evolving.

Cycling through County Down today I found myself whizzing along a route that used to form my daily commute. A road which led to unhappy memories. And yet I found myself content in the quiet countryside, exhilarated with the exercise, surprisingly safe in the space. I allowed myself to recall the reasons I was attracted to moving out here in the first place, the days of solitude that brought temporary serenity to me.

Over the last decade I have turned some of my worst days into positive ones by saddling up and setting forth on two wheels by my own steam throughout the Northern Irish countryside. Often with my camera secure in my panniers. Rather than feelings of fear, oppression, I clicked with the joy of escapism, revitalised. Out of the lion of the past came forth honey.

And so I return to my images, my photos, and my memories, and with the confirmation of experience, I am not afraid.

A biographer or family historian of the future may see my (or your) photos, and make connections, assumptions, interpretations. Perhaps they see something there that means nothing to you, or perhaps they hit upon some thread that you bury in your subconscious. Why has the photographer returned to a scene of trauma? Is it because they are looking for answers, unfinished business perhaps? Or is it simply because the past is no longer poisoned, and a new book has begun?

Annadorn Dolmen - Jan 2016

Annadorn Dolmen – Jan 2016

Waiting on a tip that never comes…

10 Aug
Galley on the tanker 'Aluco' - from Flickr Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/16104487498

Galley on the tanker ‘Aluco’ – from Flickr Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/16104487498

There’s a mild furore right now over the revelation that restaurant chain Pizza Express takes an 8% charge on any tips that are made by credit/debit card. Leaving 92% of the tips with the waiting staff. Sure, it is cheeky that the profitable chain should be ‘creaming’ off money that isn’t for the food, but does it really merit the outpouring of sympathy of waiting staff that the press is giving us?

But it goes further. According to the BBC, most restaurants use a “tronc” system “where all the tips are collected together and distributed evenly through the staff, usually with around 70% going to the waiters, and the rest given to kitchen and other workers”. Hmm. I’m not a mathematician, but that isn’t an even distribution of tips – 70% for waiters, 30% for chefs, dish washers, kitchen porters and their ilk? ie. those that do the bulk of the hard work in a restaurant business.

My first proper paying job was as a kitchen porter. I worked for a certain 5* hotel near Cultra in County Down named after a Scottish battlefield. Often we were in before the waiting staff, and we were still there hours after they went home, clearing up the shit that everyone else had left. And in all my time there what was the sum total of tips that was offered to me? Zero. Zippo. Zilch.

We worked our asses off on minimum wage, running round the kitchens clearing, cleaning, and trying to avoid the high-tension-led grief that easily spread from all quarters. Meanwhile the waiting staff swanned in, picked up their dishes and walked the short distance to their customers, all the while dressed in nice suits.

For this I am meant to feel sympathy for the waiting staff? They’re on minimum wage – boo hoo.  Its a relatively easy job, and they expect to get tips on top of that for simply smiling? My heart bleeds.

There’s nothing that upsets this former KP more than hearing a waiter complain about a tricky customer on table 3 while they waffle on about the 60 quid in tips they’ve received that evening while you’re actually on minimum wage and unlikely to be home before 3am, after you’ve scrubbed the gutters and degreased the fryer, and lost the will to live.

KPs are the lifeblood of any restaurant business. They ensure there are clean surfaces and utensils to work with; they’ll have them scrubbed and ready for re-use every five minutes if they have to, and they’ll not complain about Chef being too fast or slow. They keep your restaurants clean so you don’t fail your health inspections, and they make sure the food is ready for the waiters to deliver, and clean up again when everything’s returned. We do the bins so you don’t have to.

So seriously, stop whining you ungrateful gits.