On forgiveness

For all the calumny so regularly and indiscriminately heaped on it by Conservative commentators, the BBC does sometimes earn its keep. For instance, by accident this afternoon, washing up after lunch and half-listening to the news, I stumbled over this, in which BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner interviews Lord Tebbit on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Brighton hotel bombing.

Gardner, who in 2004 while on a routine reporting assignment in Saudi Arabia was shot and left for dead by al-Qaeda gunmen, remains paralysed from the hips downward — none of which has prevented him from continuing to pursue a demanding career. His book about all of this, Blood and Sand, is significantly more interesting than the money-spinning disability misery-memoir one might reasonably have expected under the circumstances.

As for Lord Tebbit, his own serious injuries sustained in the Brighton Hotel bombing — an atrocity that killed five people outright, and caused great suffering to many more — have done little to constrain the energy, forthrightness and courage with which, as even plenty of those who don’t always agree with him ought to concede, he engages with the great issues of our day. The bombing did, however, change his world, leaving his wife, Lady Tebbit, permanently disabled, requiring round-the-clock care.

About a decade ago, I happened to see the Tebbits out together, shopping for a birthday card in a big London department store. Lord Tebbit pushed Lady Tebbit’s wheelchair, paused in front of the display of cards and discussed various likely options with her. Quiet, unflashy, in some sense totally unremarkable, the scene has stayed with me ever since, both as a vision of what real, serious, until-death-do-us-part married love ought to mean — and as testament to what terrorism all too often does mean in practice. (Department of silver linings: the disaster also forced Lord Tebbit to learn to cook, and my carnivorous family members assure me that his recent game cookbook, rather beautifully illustrated, turns out to be very useful, too.)

Anyway, in the interview about, Gardner and Lord Tebbit discuss quite a lot — not just what terrorism means, or who should be held responsible for it, either, but also the extent to which forgiveness is truly possible, especially where the terrorist still, in effect, holds that what he has done was justified. These aren’t simple questions, nor can they be answered easily, even by those in position to say something particularly interesting about them. Thanks, then, to the BBC for providing an interview which never slips away from moral complexity into mawkishness or sentimentality — perfect viewing, anyway, for a rainy Sunday evening, and highly recommended.

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2 Comments

Filed under history, politics, television, war & peace

2 responses to “On forgiveness

  1. Gaw

    Tebbit’s thinking on this as well as many other subjects is remarkable: so fiercely rational and incisive. But, as you say, he recognises the manifold moral and political complexities inherent in the subject despite his own awful situation. I don’t think many have deserved more the description statesman-like.

    Having taken a first, cursory view of the post I can’t say the bonus recommendation of a Christmas present for my Dad was particularly expected – I’m anticipating a few ‘one-pot’ recipes so beloved of the male cook!

  2. For some reason, I find the way in which Tebbit talks about terrorism — that elaborate calm, gentle one moment and icy the next, a dash of dark humour here and a flash of unanswerable insight there — extremely moving. But I do also think the BBC did something clever in getting Gardner to do the interview, if only because, given the difference in their individual circumstances, their discussion kept throwing up such striking comparisons between terrorism past and present — what it was about, what to do about it, how to think about it. Lots to think about, anyway.

    Let’s now turn our thoughts, however briefly, to game cookery. As mentioned, I’m by no means a competent reviewer of the volume in question, as, for all my enthusiasm for game — its nutritional qualities, its historic and literary resonances, what it does for the countryside, both in terms of natural beauty and, as far as that goes, rural incomes — I’m too much of a vegetarian actually to eat the stuff myself, although I’m happy to say that my firstborn is no stranger to redleg partridges, teal, woodcock and their various hapless feathered friends.

    In general, something called The Poacher’s Cookbook by Prue Coats is the standby resource for dealing with whatever my husband brings home from Allen’s. So if I say that the Tebbit book seems to run along similiar lines, that’s quite a compliment. It looks practical, down-to-earth and, whatever debts it might owe to Jane Grigson (again, no slur, this — I don’t believe that it’s even possible to write a useful book about British cookery without running up yet more extravagant debts to the late Mrs Grigson) it shows every sign of being the fruit of genuine hands-on experience. The conversational asides are, of course, purest Tebbit — blunt, often funny, occasionally quite poignant — and Debby Mason’s illustrations deserve to become classics. In short, while celebrity cookbooks usually deserve the much-remaindered obscurity they almost invariably achieve, the Tebbit effort shows every sign of being, as with so much about Tebbit, exceptional. However second-hand, in other words, do consider this a very genuine recommendation.