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Monday, 28 December 2009

Porridge weather

I must get up and help clear the drive but first I'll have porridge. "How I detest this snow" mutters my mother who feels trapped by it.
I (and the Oscar in his fur) free to put on long socks, long johns, trews, thick vest, shirt, jumper and Harris Tweed jacket plus neck warmer and gloves, wearing Sealskin oversocks with my Viking Dry boots - far cheaper than footwear from most hiking shops (tho' their price has risen since they've been 'discovered') - rejoice in the crunching of the pristine snow, the blanketed trees, the laced upper branches, the trickle of the water between gaps in the ice on the river, the grey sheep and the black cattle moving slowly across a whitened landscape and the light on the snow reflecting upward like the sun on the sea.
* * *
Might there be a tipping point at which it becomes politically possible to bring Tony Blair to the International Criminal Court at the Hague for ordering the invasion of Iraq? Corfucius has coined the term 'Poodlegate' - using words and pictures that captures my anger at this man's deeds and subsequent comportment in the public arena.
My friend, and some time legal representative, Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, has helped write the book on the legal position. He and his legal colleagues failed to get the invasion of Iraq declared illegal by the House of Lords on the grounds - effectively - of droit de seigneur. Sovereign immunity is the formal term. A head of state can be arraigned for private acts deemed illegal (acta jure gestionis) but not public ones. The concept of acta jure imperii decrees that the word 'illegal' has no meaning in this context - a more sophisticated answer to the question 'why treason never prospers.'
Until the 1950s sovereign immunity was near absolute. In 1976 The Council of Europe adopted the European Convention on State Immunity, signed in Basle on 16 May 1972 . In 2004 the United Nations, which has been working on state immunity for decades, finalized a conditional approach which lacks the ratifying number of signatures.
Shiner is focusing on specific cases of abuse in Iraq. Blair, as tricky to handcuff as jelly, is protected by friends in the mountainous terrain of plausible deniability, but over the next decade the connection between his character and the consequences of his decisions will be strengthened, written, witnessed.
(My position: My family has served in the military; my daughter is in the police. I vote fairly regularly for Labour, locally and nationally, though a supporter of Margaret Thatcher in her early years and have a family tradition of supporting and working for what might be called 'the establishment' - with a string of minor honours to our name from CMG through OBE to a knighthood; schooled at Eton, Westminster, Winchester and Oxford and Cambridge, with, in my case, additional association with American universities - Pennsylvania and Michigan. My animus towards Tony Blair is that he started a war. He turned us from being 'the good guys' - defending ourselves from the Armada, Napoleon, Hitler and the Argentinian dictator, into something quite the opposite. He invaded another country. He stirs in me my own fears of self-deception about how 'we' - the British - should comport ourselves. Calling on the same symbolism, he broke the thread of Our Island Story.)
The temperature is down to -11°C but the air's dry and it doesn't feel that cold. I cleared more snow from the track to the house. The car wouldn't start. An AA man who came out swiftly, despite high demand for his help, and walked up the track with me to the house - not wanting to risk his van getting stuck - borrowing a hair drier to melt ice from the filter. Then we left the engine running for 30 minutes. Tomorrow we expect more snow. I will try to get the car down to the road and back tomorrow. Had we a horse and cart we'd not have this difficulty over hardly a foot of snow.
Dusk came and a light sleet began. Indoors it's warm with a log fire. My mum and I watched a DVD of Ten Canoes. What an amazing film - an absorbing rambling story told by David Gulpilil:
'Bout time to tell you a story, eh? Then I'll tell you one of ours...It is longtime ago. It is our time, before you other mob came from cross the ocean...longtime before then...Ahh, you gotta see this story of mine cause it'll make you laugh, even if you're not a blackfella. Might cry a bit too eh? But then you laugh some more...cause this story is a big true story of my people. True thing.
* * * So the car - a Fiat Sedici with 4 wheel drive - just skids on the driveway when I try to get it just a few feet out of its shelter. Taking it out of Brin Croft's icy sloping drive and then down the hill to public road is impractical. Winter tyres are for obvious reasons in very short supply. Indeed the British seem to be quite unfamiliar with them. "We can have some for in early January - £279 for a fitted pair" says a tyre supplier in Inverness. Others offer the same at far higher prices. We've still to get the car down there for fitting and the weather isn't set to change in a hurry. I learn to my surprise that snow chains - which I could have bought by credit card and had brought to the foot of the track by taxi - are now illegal in the UK. Apparently on the continent it's illegal not to have them. There's some novel device called an autosock that can be fitted to tyres but they seem to be an idea in cyberspace. We've no salt. We are this country's unpreparedness for heavy snow in microcosm. Meantime we've arranged for a friend with a more powerful 4 x 4 to be on hand if there's an emergency with mum, who'll also meet me or Sharon at the end of the drive if she's heading for the shops in Inverness. The ridiculous thing is that I only have to wheel my bicycle to the end of the track and I could then cycle into town because the main public roads are well salted.
* * *
A couple of hours later and the problem's sorted. Found Ness City Tyres on Harbour Road on the web. Phoned. They happened to have a pair of exactly the right size winter tyres - £207 fitted. Sharon and I used a mixture of digging, salting, carpets under wheels, more digging and rocking back and forth to get out of the drive. It took us an hour and a half of graft to get the car along barely 50 yards to the gate onto to the track, after which the going was easy, with the A9 clear to Inverness. Tyres fitted in 30 minutes. Coming home they pulled us up the driveway without a pause. Lesson learned.
The low road home to Inverarnie

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Simon Baddeley