Heading West, to the North
21 Nov 2003
Devilstick Peat, a professional fool and ex-soldier, on peacemaking and the circus revolution in Northern Ireland, and planning to join the Circus2Iraq.
Hi there,

For those of you who don't know me. I'm a full time fool called devilstick peat. When I say full time fool, I don't just mean it's my job (i.e. red and yellow suit, lots of bells, silliness etc). I also treat it as a way of life (i.e. seeing the humor in the horrid, the treasure in the litter, the rainbow in the storm etc).

Its been a strange life, being a fool. Strange but full of "interesting times". Very interesting times. Take the last few days for example. I had to go to Glastonbury to meet up with Paddy and Charlie (two group leaders from CHILDREN'S WORLD INTERNATIONAL). Together we were going to Northern Ireland to run an integration tour.

"So, you got your passport with you"? asked paddy.

I laughed saying "We're only doing the north, so I wont need it".

"But we're still flying, so you need photo I.D. even though it's still an internal flight".

For a second or two I panicked as my mind run through a mental checklist of my pockets and wallet. Then I relaxed as I remembered that I did indeed have photo I.D. Then I remembered what it was.

"Oh yes, I've photo I.D." I said with an air of confidence.

"Oh god, I'm in the shit" I thought with an air of certainty.

The young lady at the airport check in was around 25, with tied back blond hair, too much makeup, and a bored look on her face. "Can I have your I.D. please gentlemen"? she said

Paddy handed over his passport. Charlie handed over his passport. I handed over my I.D. card for Warwick castle. It has a number, my name and a photo of me on it. Me in my fool’s suit, complete with horny hat and a big smile. Not a friendly smile, oh no. This is the big, slightly deranged, manic, "you-really-don't-want-to-get-on-the-wrong-side-of-me" smile that I normally save for my first play group session with children.

It was so disappointing. She didn't bat an eye lid. She just gave it a quick glance then handed it back along with my boarding card. But the funny thing is that my Warwick castle I.D. is only valid for the castle. And due to the fact that I no longer work there, it isn't even valid for there. Yet it's good enough to get me onto a plane!!!!!! So much for tighter security.

So, here I am, back in Northern Ireland, working for one of my two favorite charities. The reason I like CHILDREN'S WORLD INTERNATIONAL is that they have their own goals and few morals about how they reach them. Take this tour for example.

"The European year for people with disabilities" have paid for "CONTACT A FAMILY" to bring C.W.I. to Northern Ireland and run integration workshops. Getting children with severe learning disabilities, and children without severe learning difficulties working and playing together. We done it the other year in Belfast and some of those friendships are still going strong. Like I say. That's what we're paid to do and that is indeed what we do do.

BUT..........That's not our only goal. You see, what we're really doing is convincing them that making friends is soooooooo much fun, that it never occurs to them to wonder if the wheel chair was made by a catholic company, or a protestant one. (actually, none of today's children were in wheelchairs, but hey, you got to allow me a little poetic license).

The thing is. If you can convince an 8 year old that not all Catholics have hoofed feet, and not all protestants come complete with devil horns. Then when he's 80, That's 72 years of fear and hatred that never happens. And that folks, is peacekeeping. REAL peacekeeping.

Sending in the army, kicking in doors and giving people grief might be
called peace keeping, but it aint. All that does is breed more anger. You
cant put a fire out with petrol. It don't work. Believe me, as an ex member
of the British army (infantry) I know. What we got to do is teach the army parachute games, give them red noses and baggy clowns trousers, then send them to play with kids. Not just in Ireland but the world over. That's the only realistic way to bring about world
peace. Any old fool knows that.

The trouble is that we old fools don't run the world. Instead its run by politicians and multinationals. Which is why solders wear khaki instead of clown clothes, and carry guns in place of custard pies. It's also why I, an ex British solder. Armed now with nothing more dangerous than heart, hope, and a pigs bladder on a stick, spent last night sitting in
a republican bar, underneath the flag of the local branch of a well known paramilitary/terrorist group, listening to some great live music and thoroughly enjoying the crack. .Like I said. "Its been a strange life, being a fool. Strange but full of "interesting times". Very interesting times".

I just hope that my Warwick I.D. gets me back on to the plane home. Otherwise
it's a long, cold swim.


The last two days of our tour was to be spent with the same children. One day we'd all meet at the special school, the next day we'd all be at the mainstream school. In the morning of the first day, standing against the wall, were two girls with severe learning difficulties (S.L.D. children). The way they didn't join in made them stick out like a sore thumbs. It wasn't that they weren't enjoying the session. Indeed, they both had smiles on their faces. The big broad innocent types of smiles that the gods saved especially for children.

No, the problem was that all the fun, new friends, and enjoyment overwhelmed them. It was, quite literally, too much of a good thing. In that situation you can't force the child to join in. All you can do is leave them be and let them join in at their own pace, and sure enough, 15 minutes latter and they were both playing and working with as much joy and zest as the other kids.

That night we scoured the town in search of a eating house who's vegetarian menu stretched further than veggie-burger and chips. (When we were in Kosova I had to survive on bread, tomato salad and raw onions. To this day, the mere mention of tomato salad can bring about a reemergence of my nervous twitch, and a far away, Vietnam type look to my eyes).

At one point, as we strolled around the town centre, we were passed by two army vehicles . Protruding from the top of each one was a soldier, their young, nervous eyes scanning the rooftops, windows and us (I found myself wondering if I too was really that young when I carried a gun). Then I noticed Paddy and Charles reaction to the sight.

Like me they too had been to Kosova, where armed soldiers are common place, and Albania where the sound of gun fire from running street battles made for an interesting back drop to night life, Tirana style. (And where also, the sudden ending of the sound of gun fire brought a new twist to the saying "dead quiet"). Yet the sight of these two vehicles shocked them. Not because they had soldiers in them, and not because these soldiers were armed, but because they were on the streets of Britain. And that was what upset them.

The trouble was that this wasn't Manchester or Liverpool or any other main land town. This was a place close to the north/south boarder, a place known as Stroke city. But don't bother looking for it in your atlas, it's not there. Well, not under that name anyway. What's that you say? "What name is it under"? Well now, that all depends on whose map you’re looking at.
You see. It's like this. If the map your reading was made by republicans (I.E. Those who want a united, independent republic of Ireland). It will be under the name of Derry. If your map is a unionist map (I.E. Those who want the north to remain in the united kingdom) then it's under the name of Londonderry. And if, like us, your stuck in the middle, in the politically correct verbal wasteland called no mans land. Then you call it DERRY/LONDONDERRY. And it's that diagonal stroke from which Derry/Londonderry takes it's nick name.

Now if that was the only difference that some of these people are prepared to fight and kill over, it would be an easy problem to solve, just change it's name to something completely different, but it isn't. This difference has friends, lots of friends. They're called painting the curb stones of your street in the colours of the British or Irish flag. Which school you went to. The estate or street that you live in. Whether you pronounce your "S"'s like Sean Hues or Sean Connery. Even your first name can give away which side of the divide you come from. Apart, these things are nothing more than small minded bigotry, but together. Together they become bricks in that giant wall called segregation. And that's really important, here's why.

If you take a community and split it into two groups, making sure that there's no social intercourse between them. Then neither group will see the human side of the other group. This means that it's easier to forget that the other man, like you, might be a father, or a brother, a member of a pool team, A HUMAN BEING............................... And lets face it. If it aint human, then where's the harm in shooting it, bombing it's pub, or beating up it's kids just because they took a short cut home from school, through your estate.

That shows just how powerful fear and hate can be. It also shows why it is that your never see the politicians from the two opposing sides finish work, then go down the pub together. If they did, if they got so rat-arsed that they threw their arms around each other saying "Your my (hic) bestish mate you are". Then the people would lose their fear and hate, which in turn would cost the politicians their power. And that, they will never allow to happen.

On the Friday it was the turn of the mainstream school to host our integration workshop. In the afternoon, as the children filed in after lunch break, a child came running up to me and throw her arms around me in a big, heart felt hug. She was one of the two S.L.D. girls I mentioned earlier, and was just at the right height to accidentally head butt me where it hurts.

"Thank you" she said as she squeezed me tight

"For what"? I asked with watery eyes.

She turned and pointed to a mainstream girl in the group. "Is she your friend"? I asked. She nodded. "What's her name"? I said in an attempt to get her to communicate verbally. For a few seconds she stood there, staring at the girl with a look of concentration on her face as she tried to remember the her name.

"I don't know, but she's my friend" she said, then she run across the hall to join the other kids.

That was one of those truly wonderful moments that one has to be there to appreciate, but for the rest of the afternoon, every time I looked at this girl who thought more of friendship than names or labels, I thought of the politicians who only know hate, and I found myself asking the following question.

Who's the one with the learning impediment. The girl who's learning difficulties are so severe that she'll never learn hate or bigotry. The politician who's power craving is so severe that he'll never learn the meaning of tolerance, peace and understanding. Or the society that not only decided which of these two should be in parliament, and which should be in a special school, but also knowingly got it the wrong way round?

The day came to a close and we packed away our kit. Done a lot of hand shaking, waving and good bye saying. Then got in to the car and headed for the airport, and our flight east, to Bristol, in the west of England.

The girl at the check in was around 25 years young, with red hair and the type of Irish accent that sounds so soft, you'd want to fall into it and wrap it all around you. "Can I be seeing your I.D. please" she asked. Paddy handed over his passport. Charlie handed over his passport. I handed over my Warwick I.D. card.
She burst out laughing and handed my I.D. to her friend. He too laughed and a small group of easy jet personal gathered around, passing it from one to the other before handing it back with my boarding pass. As I proceeded to the departure lounge I could feel the quizzical looks coming from the rest of the queue. "Now that" I thought "Is the sort of reaction a fool of my caliber expects from his I.D.".

And here I am, back in my little welsh village. Enjoying the quiet, peaceful life of a small community that has hardly changed for generations, and getting ready for my next adventure. Which (if all goes well, and if I can raise the cash) should be the circus tour of Iraq. (WWW.CIRCUS2IRAQ.ORG)

Which brings me rather neatly to the point of this email. You see, lots of people have shared with me their views on the Iraq trip. Some say I'm brave, some that I'm stupid, others say it's just an ego thing. The truth is I aint brave (I actually have to change my under wear every time I think about it, as opposed to every other month, as per normal), and as for stupid. Well, although I cant argue with that, I prefer the word "foolish", and yes, like all performers I have an ego. I couldn't get up on stage if I didn't. But none of the above, regardless of how true they may or may not be. None of the above come close to the real reason I fell the need to go, which is this.

If I said no to this trip. If I was to refuse the chance to go out there, meet, interact, learn from and teach with these people, the chance to interact with the children. Then surly I'd be as guilty of putting the diagonal stroke between arab/western, middle eastern/european as the politicians and killers are in stroke city, Northern Ireland. and I just cant do that. Wish I could but I cant. Not where children are involved. It wouldn't be right


go on, check it out. I dare you