House Arrest

I wonder what it is like to be under house arrest.

Before I was ill, I used to think it was a cushy number. You could stay in all day, watching television, reading books, playing the mandolin and other relaxing activities.

Maybe not daytime television, not if you want to keep your sanity.

OK then, house arrest frees you up to learn a new language, a musical instrument or a complicated tap dance routine.

I was busier out in the World in those days but for six months now I have been told to be “careful” whilst I am, hopefully, recovering from a brain haemorrhage. This, in its own way , has been a kind of house arrest.

Consequently I have a lot more sympathy for the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Burmese Pro-Democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in the news this week.

She has been in and out of house arrest and fully-fledged detention for 13 out of the last 20 years and was supposed to have her latest 6 year sentence reviewed when a crazed American man broke the rules of her incarceration by swimming across a lake to visit her.

They had never met until that day but the American, John Yettaw, said that he wanted to meet her. Great. She may now have to stay under arrest for even longer.

She is under arrest, in case you don’t know, for supporting democracy in a country, Burma, where freedom is only granted to people who either support the present regime or keep quiet.

She has become the figurehead not just for Burmese democracy but also for the 2000 or so political prisoners who are also being held captive by this unpleasant regime.

My imprisonment through illness is small fry in comparison.

In a week when we in Britain have been reading all about our politicians’ greedy or just plain stupid claims on their expenses forms, it is sobering to remember other politicians who really do warrant our respect.

Aung San Suu Kyi isn’t allowed the luxury of a second home to be under house arrest in, and, as far as I know, doesn’t get any allowances for swimming pools, tennis courts or mortgage interest payments or anyone to pay for pruning her wisteria.

Maybe the senior Conservative MP should have remembered this when he said yesterday as he was resigning over the expenses scandal: “I’m glad I am going and wonder why I ever bothered to come here.”

He was there, lest he forgets, to represent his constituents in a democratic system that people died to create.

Lets forget him and his like, and think instead of those politicians who are making a real difference.

Ms Suu Kyi in Burma, Morgan Tsvangirai, the new Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, who has been beaten and imprisoned for democracy and the now dead and, I hope, not forgotten, Zhao Ziyang, who 20 years ago this year, when he was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, made a stand against the government’s repression of the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. He was subsequently “purged” and spent 16 years in detention.

So when I feel gloomy about my loss of liberty through illness, I consider myself lucky to live in a country where the worst of our political problems is the low calibre of our politicians.

I have also wondered how Aung San Suu Kyi spends her time. I hope she likes gardening.

I am not being flippant, honestly. Gardening is one of the great therapies. It gives us joy in the present when plants burst into bloom and hope for the future as we plant for next season, next year, the next decade even, or longer.

I don’t know about Ms Suu Kyi, but during this period of enforced inactivity, I have been brought back from despondency many times by the simple pleasure of what is growing in my small back garden. I wish her that happiness too.

When is released from her House Arrest, soon I hope, being forbidden to leave home will not have put her off her garden. Like me, I hope, she will have been planting for a future life which will be long, happy and free.

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