Category Archives: History

Bana Alabed’s story to be published

Watching live on Periscope as Bana Alabed stayed so positive while the bombs were falling all around her in Aleppo was one of the most memorable and heart-rending things I’ve ever seen.

Now she is to publish her story in book form, according to this piece in The Guardian.

As far as the eye could see were destroyed buildings and in the background the thuds of bombs exploding and fighter jets and helicopters whining and whirring across the sky above.

She pleaded for an end to the war. The little family, including her brave mother Fatemah and four-year-old brother, often appeared on the roof of their home, where they grew boxes of herbs and vegetables in polystyrene containers.

Masses of people joined in each scope and typed messages of support and sympathy but all of us were utterly frustrated that we were unable to help.

She had 360,000 followers eventually. She became like a relative. For every single one of us her simple, stark messages personalised the dreadful horror of the bombing in a way not even an award-winning journalist could. She was quite open about the fact that she expected to die soon. Eventually their house got hit. They escaped but soon after the broadcasts stopped.

Finally she broke her silence to let us know that she was safe. So brave.

For me this little girl succeeded in defeating the ugliness and brutality of war by simply being human, in the face of the impersonal and unthinking politicians who can and do order innocent lives to be snuffed out at the touch of a button.




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The not-so-funny ha-ha

One of the worrying consequences of Donald Trump’s Great Wall will be its effect on wildlife. A recent piece in Scientific American mentioned that wolves, ocelots and even jaguars have been seen along the existing border walls. “Environmental groups say that migration corridors are crucial for the recovery and survival of wildlife along the border”, declares the article.

The piece also mentions the fact that architects have referred to the wall as a “pharaonic project”. It’s as though Trump, like the Pharaohs and their pyramids, sees it as his right to build a vast structure to memorialise his reign as supreme leader of the USA; indeed, it’s almost as though he feels he now owns the USA.

And it’s only natural to want to protect one’s property, of course. Somehow I doubt whether Mr. Trump is too concerned about the ramifications of his proposed barrier for border wildlife, given his apparent lack of concern about environmental issues generally.

But, funnily enough, when I read the Scientific American article my mind drifted back to a school trip … and a day when I learned that some people need to keep animals out of their territory.

Every summer, two or three coachloads of boys and girls aged around ten would set off from our school to visit various places of historic or cultural interest – museums, wildlife parks, a picturesque place at the seaside. I remember a wonderful afternoon’s rock-pooling in Aberavon, for instance – that kind of thing. Isn’t rock pooling fun, by the way? It’s enjoyed all over the world, as here by some young people in New Zealand.


On this particular occasion, we visited a large and quite ancient stately home.

Our guide was very knowledgeable but regrettably her pronounced stutter was the cause of a great deal of giggling by our young party, much to our teacher’s embarrassment and annoyance. There was a very fine collection of p-p-p-paintings, for instance. And I remember that she showed us the underground i-i-i-ice house, which, intriguingly, was where food was kept fresh through the winter.

Owners of stately homes in England and (as in this case) Wales have used a variety of methods to keep out intruders. But not all intruders are of the human variety. The incursion of animals, especially deer and sheep, can be a big problem, apparently, which is why the land closest to the house is often surrounded by a long, grassy, wall-backed trench, like this one in Farnley Park, Leeds.


Anyway, as time passed the mirth continued to spread like waves across the gathering, growing with every verbal hiatus, as the poor lady’s face became increasingly flushed and our teacher almost apoplectic with rage. We were a cruel bunch!

haha3But things were about to come to a hilarious climax, as we arranged ourselves along the trench that surrounded the house.

“And this”, announced our guide, “is the house’s h-h-h-h-ha-ha-h-h-ha-ha-ha!” – at which point everyone fell about in complete hysterics.

I’m pleased to report that both our long-suffering guide and the teacher shared in the hilarity, in a small incident that has stayed in my memory ever since.

Image credits: rockpools – By Dhartley (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha – Steve Partridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha wall sign – By Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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