“HOW CAN WE LIVE WITHOUT A PLACE OF SAFETY?”
Monday 27 August 2012, 8pm
A mix of age and experience joined Chairman, journalist and well known radio presenter Allan Little in welcoming John McCarthy to the inaugural ‘Frederick Hood Memorial lecture’ on the last day of this years Edinburgh Book Festival.
Allan Little opened the evening by telling the audience about Frederick Hood. A 28-year-old Investment Manager from Edinburgh who was tragically killed in Austria in 2008 by an avalanche. His employers ‘Walter Scott’ had set up the memorial lecture in his memory by way of tribute.
Little then went on to introduce John McCarthy as not only a fellow journalist, tv news reporter and radio 4 presenter, but also as an inspiration to his own journalistic career. But went on to say that it was only after his release after 5 years in captivity in The Lebanon, did McCarthy have the celebrity spotlight cast on him.
John McCarthy took to the lectern to respectful applause and immediately paid tribute to Frederick Hood, whom he described as “a remarkable young man”.
He went on to describe the time he was kidnapped. He was in the Lebanon researching a programme, and after hearing of the kidnap of others in the area he decided to return back to the UK to continue his work. It was this journey back to the airport that started his well-documented ordeal.
He told of the terrifying moment that his car was suddenly stopped and surrounded by other vehicles whose armed occupants dragged him from his car and locked him into the boot of another car. He was driven for miles before being thrown into a small concrete-walled room, which he described as being no bigger than a large safe.
His first thoughts were of how terrifyingly unreal the situation was – and then of home. He reflected on how lucky he had been in his life leading up to this situation. His education, his family, his own capacity – as yet unfulfilled and how he wanted those good times to return.
But they didn’t. What replaced them were very unhealthy living conditions, awful food, being chained up and blindfolded interactions with his captors – some brutal. He told of the terrible beatings he could hear other prisoners taking, coupled with the awful screaming that ensued. He spoke specifically of one individual that took a particularly cruel beating. The noise was awful, and reached a sudden end on the sound of a loud bang. The individual had been executed.
While blindfolded his sense of hearing was heightened, so these noises were all the more terrifying.
From his capture until the moment he was released five years later, he only saw the faces of five men. Three Americans, Terry Waite and Brian Keenan.
McCarthy said that the relationship with Brian Keenan grew over the years and they found that their polar-opposite lives, pre-capture gave them a lot to talk about and left them as great great friends.
They got each other through some un-imaginable times with their broad conversation and humour. Keenan was from Belfast and had a very thick Belfast accent. One day, while struggling to understand Keenan he remarked “Will you stop taking like Gerry Adams!” Keenan replied, “Only if you stop talking like Prince Bloody Charles!”.
McCarthy went on to talk about how he dealt with Keenan’s release, how he first heard about ‘The Friends Of John McCarthy’ set up by his girlfriend Jill Morrell to aid his own release. How he was eventually set free and the subsequent adaption back to normal life that he had to deal with.
Everything from finding out his Mother had died while he was away, regaining the understanding of perspective (something he’d lost after being trapped in a small, windowless, concrete cell for 5 years)- through to dealing with his new celebrity status.
Then as he was adapting, the sad death of his father and then his brother added to his strain.
Married life and fatherhood has given him new focus – as has the ability to recognise the thrill that can be found in the most mundane things in life, from shopping to walking about freely.
As he finished, an admiring audience applauded John McCarthy’s true candor.
To bring an end to the event, Frederick Hood’s father took his turn at the lecturn and spoke about his son. His talents, his workplace, his love of life and the Fedora hat that he wore everywhere.
Following this he presented John McCarthy with such a hat to mark a remarkable evening.