42 Days

By Jay Griffiths

“I’ve got cus-tard on my un-der-pants” is probably not a mnemonic Mozart would have used. It was for a rhythm of long long, short short: long short, long short short. Easily memorable, it worked well for a novice player in a Samba band, as I was for a few days, a couple of years ago.

It was a stupendous band, all wigs and wiggles and whistles; tambourines, ribbons, drums and huge shouts of LIBERTY as we circled the walls of Campsfield prison for innocent refugees, just outside Oxford.

Many of the captives tried to smile and wave at us, knowing freedom in any language it speaks, in music, in colour, in word, in sky. From the inside, looking out, sky is the symbol of freedom; the unbowed clouds, birds flying free as the wind. Very little sky was allowed to those inside, uncharged with any crime. Surrounding the prison, the designers used a brick wall so high they stole they sky.

Skylessness could drive you mad. So can deliberate injustice. In detention without charge; it isn’t only the human body which deteriorates in captivity but the human mind.

Maybe the politicians planning this grotesque legislation of 42 days without charge should be locked inside the houses of parliament for the same length of time, during which those of them who are innocent of any crime could consider the unfairness of innocence imprisoned. Some of them, though, it has been argued, are guilty of war crimes, and a few are moral accomplices to genocide. Even they should not have to endure imprisonment without charge, and I’d happily go along and play for them.