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Doing things by the book
A strange tale of The Bible, bashing and beating the bookies. Plus "Taxi" repeats and a fairly stale princess
Eamonn McCann, 16 Aug 2001
It was the rock of ages ago which attracted my attention to Keynsham, near Bristol, and to James Tabu and his righteous machete.
Years, decades even, since I’d seen or heard tell of Keynsham, near Bristol. Time was, I’d hear it half a dozen times a night.
The name Keynsham was regularly intoned and spelt out – K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M – on Radio Luxembourg, one of only two stations playing decent music back then. The other was AFN, the American Forces Network, broadcasting from Frankfurt to the hundreds of thousands of US soldiers scattered across Europe. Powerful signal, powerful music, heaps of jazz and R&B.
Probably the single most regular – relentless would be a better word – advertiser on Luxembourg was Harold Bachelor, whose “Infra-Draw” method was guaranteed to pin-point the football fixtures most likely to end all square each weekend. All you had to do was send Harold a postal order and he’d send back a list of the week’s favourite draws which you marked out on the Vernon’s or Littlewoods pools forms and hey presto, problems solved.
It did occur me to wonder why, if Harold’s scheme really worked, he didn’t just do the pools himself every week and live richly ever after. Another complication arose from the fact that many people in our area didn’t approve of winning the pools. The top prize was £75,000, which it was widely believed was far too much for the likes of us to be able to handle. “You’d go mad”, my mother said. I had to agree with her.
Others said that if you really wanted to win the pools the thing to do was not to send your money to Harold Bachelor in England but to pray to god here in Ireland. If god wanted you to win, you would. But if god could see that winning wouldn’t do you any good, you wouldn’t. Which was neat.
I somehow got it into my head that Heaven and Keynsham were alternative destinations. To opt for one was to reject the other.
You sent your money to: “Harold Bachelor, Infra Draw Method, Keynsham, that’s K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M, near Bristol....” Became engraved in my memory, that formulation.
And suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, there it was again, in a newspaper intro: “Keynsham, near Bristol”.
The story told that 16-year-old James Tabu of Keynsham, near Bristol, had been sentenced to seven years in a young offenders’ institution for slashing Derek Britton with a machete.
Mr Britton had been working on his car parked outside his Keynsham home one Sunday afternoon when young Tabu chanced along, asked Mr Britton what he was doing, stood around seemingly interested for 15 minutes and then pulled out an 18-inch blade machete and began belabouring Mr Britton around the head and body. Mr Britton was somewhat saved by the fact that he was wearing sturdy overalls, but suffered a horrendous blow to the head which fractured his skull and required 24 stitches, as well as gashes to the shoulders and neck and numerous defensive injuries to his hands and arms.
The court heard from James's father that his son had gone out for a stroll after returning from church where he had listened to a sermon about the Christian requirement to honour the Sabbath. It appeared from the reports that, strangely, the defence hadn’t called biblical scholars to expatiate on the issues raised by this circumstance.
After all, is it not explicitly laid down in Exodus 35:2 that anyone who discovers a neighbour working on the Sabbath is enjoined to put the miscreant to death? James may have committed an offence in the eyes of the law, but his offence in the eyes of the Lord was surely that he didn't go far enough. Ought this point not to have been made in his favour?
Indeed, a competent biblical scholar might well have argued that the prophetic teenager had shown remarkable restraint generally. He would have had solid scriptural backing for administering machete blows to many another Keynsham sinner that Sunday afternoon. Leviticus 19:27 leaves no room for doubt that death is the due reward of any male person with hair trimmed around the temples. I think we can take it there will have been more than a few of that ilk in the vicinity of Keynsham, near Bristol, on the day .
In the adjacent countryside, James might well have encountered a farmer violating Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field even as his wife churned butter while wearing garments made from two different kinds of thread (19:20) (cotton/polyester mixes are much favoured in the Bristol area, I am told). Such a pair would necessarily have had to be put to death – although not by machete, I hasten to add. James might have had need of assistance: the entire town would have been required to assemble and stone the couple to death.
All this is clear enough. But while on the subject I should mention an e-mail from a friend in the United States posing a conundrum which, I confess, I had not hitherto considered. Is it OK to enslave Canadians?
Leviticus 25:44 tells us that it is permissible to possess slaves, whether male or female, provided they are obtained from neighbouring nations. My friend makes the point that many US Christians have fulfilled their duty under this injunction by employing Mexicans in their homes in conditions which appear fully to conform to the norms of slavery. But none of her friends, as far as she knows, has a Canadian slave.
"Why can't I own a Canadian?", she wonders. "Is there a rule against it?"
I have to admit that I just don't know. Perhaps some other biblical scholar out there can help?
But back to James, who now has seven years to develop and expand his knowledge of the Good Book. If I lived around Keynsham, near Bristol, I’d give up prawn cocktails before he gets out. Eating shellfish is an "abomination" (Leviticus 11:10). True, no punishment tariff is explicitly set out. But a clout on the skull with an 18-inch machete could hardly be considered unreasonable.
And oh yes, I almost forgot. The main point. Prosecution counsel in the case was one James Bachelor, QC. Put through law school with postal orders, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised.
When it’s later than late and you’re stoned as a crow the things you encounter as you flick through the channels can seem for the moment terrifically significant, achingly eloquent, convulsively hilarious. But even then you have a sense that the cold light of dawn will show whatever it is up as humdrum, run-of-the-mill, unremarkable.
On the other hand, a re-run of an old Taxi episode the other night had Jud Hirst intent on a football game on television and calling to everyone in the garage to come quick and see the instant replay of some horrendous foul or brilliant strategem.
“In my country,” burbled Andy Kaufman’s East European mechanic Latke shuffling obediently towards the screen, “we don’t have the instant replay. We have to force them to do it all again”.
There’s an idea here.
And talking of joke Taxis... “Africa has an AIDS crisis because black people like bonking so much” – Princess Gloria Von Thurn Und Taxis.
What to do about marking births and deaths and suchlike when you’ve given up on superstition....
Back in 1871, the Paris Communards solved it thuswise:
“Jean and Marie declare their wish to place their child, Lucien, under the protection of the legal authorities elected by a popular will. You wish to give as special protection to your child Citizen Lazar Stefan and Citizen David Lucie as godparents, who accept the responsibility should his parents ever fail him. May he respect democratic institutions, develop necessary moral, human and civic qualities, so that when he comes of age he may become a citizen with ideals of brotherhood, understanding, respect for freedom and solidarity for his fellow men.” – A cut above the baptism babble, n’est ce pas?
The text is taken from the depiction of a child’s formal registration with the Commune in Peter Watkin’s sensationally good 2000 film, La Commune, available only on video because no commercial distributor can be found.