Hazel McHaffie

metal theft

Warrington travesty

When our railings and gates were stolen eighteen months ago I found it hard to understand the mentality of people who would capitalise on others’ misfortune. Ruined railings Since then I’ve listened and watched with a growing sense of incredulity, a catalogue of sorry tales involving similar opportunistic or planned crimes, some involving personal injury as well as loss to the innocent victims. Apparently, according to this week’s figures, there are now 1000 metal thefts a week, costing the economy £770 million a year. Birmingham alone had 950 drain covers stolen in just six months last year. One church elsewhere has had its lead stolen seven times! Staggering statistics.

But surely revulsion plumbed new depths with the incident in Warrington earlier this month. It involved a plaque worth a mere £30 to scrap dealers. But this was not just any old strip of bronze; it commemorated the life and death of two young boys – 12 year old Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, who was only 3 – innocent victims caught up in an IRA bomb blast in 1993. What kind of a mentality sinks this low?

The names of children killed in brutal circumstances remain in the memory, don’t they? Damilola Taylor, Stephen Lawrence, Sarah Payne, Baby P, James Bulger, to name but a few. And where the parents respond to the event with selflessness and generosity, devoting their lives to bringing some good out of their tragedy, these memories are kept fresh and vital.

Instead of spending the rest of their days railing against the perpetrators of a crime that robbed them of their beloved son,Tim’s parents, Colin and Wendy Parry, became active in the peace process in Northern Ireland, vigorously campaigning for an end to the hostilities and divisions that had torn that community apart for so long.The community too, reacted positively by setting up The Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace which works nationally with people affected by conflict and violence.

Now it feels as if the thugs who desecrated this memorial are thumbing their noses at the Parry’s altruism. Not surprisingly there has been a national outpouring of sympathy and outrage which Warrington describes as ‘overwhelming’. The plaque will be replaced. Donations are still flooding in to the Foundation.

What’s more, the chief executive has appealed for everyone to follow the Parry’s example in ‘taking a positive approach to managing conflict, rather than engaging in any negative actions as a result of this incident.’

What a fine example of forgiveness and generosity of spirit. One can only hope that at least some metal thieves somewhere will be chastened and shamed into reforming their ways.


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There is hope

Lots of positive happenings to report this week. I’m feeling decidedly upbeat!

1. Structurally

When unscrupulous metal thieves stole our gates and railings in January this year, I was flabbergasted. How could anybody capitalise on others’ misfortune so cold-heartedly? Since then, of course, we’ve all heard of opportunistic criminals doing far worse than this: stripping copper from railway power lines; denuding church roofs of their lead; making off with war memorials and commemorative plaques; this week stealing a Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Even depriving a whole village in Berkshire of its garden gates in one instance, most of which were the property of pensioners. And victims have been hurt physically as well as psychologically, falling down manholes or sewers.

Repaired wall and pillarIn our case the theft merely complicated our insurance claim. Who was responsible – the car driver who demolished the property in the first place or the thieves who made off with them in the second?  The insurance companies argued of course, which in turn meant delay after delay in getting repairs underway. Eleven months’ delay in fact. But this week … hallelujah! The pillar is back, the wall is rebuilt. Only railings and gates to go.

2. Literally(!)

Saving SebastianIn my working life, the final, final touches have been made to Saving Sebastian which has now gone for printing ready for its January publication. Yes, really and truly. I had an eyeball to eyeball solemn assurance on Tuesday. And confirmatory email on Wednesday.

Phew! I so hate last minute pressure. Especially in relation to a book the contracts for which were signed in … wait for it … 2007! And it looked horribly like missing this latest January deadline too at one point. Now, normally I take the line of least resistance and do my utmost not to upset anybody’s feelings, but this time I confess, I threw a smidgeon of a wobbly and fired off a very ‘direct’ email.

This is more than just authorial impatience. When you tackle issues at the forefront of medicine, the whole scenario can change in those years. Having IVF and selecting an embryo to save the life of a sick sibling was hugely controversial when I first wrote this book. Couples had to go abroad for treatment. It still gives rise to fierce debate but is now permissible here in the UK in certain circumstances. So you’ll understand it’s doubly frustrating for me to go from being ahead of the controversy to trailing behind the news merely because of delays in publication. (King-size sigh.)

3. Domestically

Topping the list of positive experiences though, has been all the excitement of seeing our grandchildren in their pre-Christmas performances. Musicals, dance shows, nativity plays and concerts. In school halls and in the famous Usher Hall in Edinburgh.Usher Hall Each one performing to the very best of their abilities.

As a devoted grandmother, I sit there willing the right string to be plucked, the correct toe to be put forward, the complete words and actions to be remembered, so they are not disappointed with themselves. They, on the other hand, are young enough to work from the basis that of course they will get it right. They’ve been well taught. They have learned their parts thoroughly.

Nativity play

Their sweet intensity and effortless charm and quiet confidence bring a lump to the throat. The future is safe in their hands.

So, with all these things safely behind us, I can now concentrate on the last minute preparations for Christmas with a clear mind and a cheerful countenance. All in all a red letter week indeed.

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