Caution and the cardboard box

We have peace in Northern Ireland at last, so obviously everything is going to be fantastic now that we don't have the direct rule from London to screw things up (or to take the blame).

The deal could have been done 30 years ago, you know, and ironically the same people who scuppered that particular deal are now in charge of the country.

There's a message here for peacemakers all across the globe: don't bother with moderates, because they cannot deliver, and they can always be accused by the extremist of selling out.

You have to be ruthless, ignore the moral issues, sideline the moderates and get the extremists on board because they already have the name of hard men and can get away with concessions the moderates would have been crucified for.

Statistically, of course, the chances of being directly involved in the Troubles were always slight.

About 3,000 people were killed as a direct result, and in that same time period the death toll on the roads was over 6,000. But the increased threat did make you more cautious and thoughtful.

I remember once driving to a house call when I noticed a cardboard box at the side of the road. I stopped the car and sat for a while, pondering it.

It was just a cardboard box on a small country road, almost certainly just a piece of stray litter. There were no wires, no traditional whiff of cordite, no merry ratta-tat-tat of gunfire in the distance, and no sign of any insurgents -apparently 'insurgents' is the politically correct term nowadays - to my eyes, it was not suspicious.

I weighed up my options. Should I take a 10-mile detour against the distant, but very concrete possibility of being an innocent victim of a booby-trap bomb ('collateral damage' is apparently the politically correct term nowadays), or should I take a look?

It was time to make a decision. I stepped from the car at a prudent distance, and looked sternly at the box, because I consider myself an alpha-male. The box looked back at me.

Observing the conventions, I discerned that it exuded a faint air of menace.

'You're alive, you're dead,' it seemed to be saying, 'it really doesn't matter to me. Do you feel lucky today, punk?'

For a long moment neither of us moved. All myself and the box needed was an Enrico Morricone soundtrack.

Then, carefully, I turned around and made the detour, because fortune might well favour the brave, but the devil hates a coward.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com .

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