Book Review of Mark Thomas's Extreme Rambling

by JoHarrington

Israel calls it security. The rest of the world calls it a land grab and civil rights issue. Comedian Mark Thomas walks the controversial wall.

When most people think of Israel and Palestine, they picture an excruciating situation where two nations are trying to live on the same landmass. When Mark Thomas looks in that direction, he thinks of a nice walk.

As a British comedian and civil rights activist, he's no stranger to pushing boundaries to uncover the truth. He's also into rambling in his spare time. Here the two collide.

The result is a book that is often hilarious. But it's just as often deeply disturbing and upsetting.

Rambling as an Act of Protest

The powers that be will always try to control where the public can congregate on land.

Rambling is the art of simply walking. It's always been slightly subversive in its political overtones. Following the right of way signs ensures that landowners don't quietly close the tracks, thus keeping that freedom and scenery for themselves.

It's happened. It will continue to happen. But the ramblers are ever vigilant. Barbed wire across a stile or a missing 'right of way' sign will be sure to meet resistance.

In Britain, that might mean a letter to the paper or a complaint to an MP. It might mean ramblers gathering en masse to walk the ways. Thus access is safe-guarded for the future. 

But that is just rambling. What Mark Thomas and his friends did was extreme rambling. Against stiff local opposition, often underscored with machine guns, he decided that his route should be alongside the illegal wall separating Israel and Palestine.

It's one way to play out a mid-life crisis.

Who is Mark Thomas?

He's a stand up comic and a human rights activist, who's also been known to support the Green Party.

For those unfamiliar with him, Mark Thomas is a British comedian, born and bred in South London. His routines typically point out the absurdities inherent in how government or large corporations conduct their business.

You laugh because the alternative is crying; and because he's downright hilarious.

His activities aren't confined to a spotlight on a stage. His television shows frequently take him out and about in Britain. Mark highlights all of those dirty, little secrets that officials would rather that the public were kept unaware.

I described him to American friends as being a cross between Bill Hicks and Michael Moore. British friends needed no introductions. He's Mark Thomas!

Mark Thomas on Nuclear Trains

This YouTube video will give you a good idea of how Mark Thomas works. NB: Strong language is used (with good reason).

The Free University at Glastonbury 2011

This is where I heard Mark Thomas speak about Extreme Rambling.

The Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts is one of the most anticipated gatherings in the world. It was at the 2011 event where I had the pleasure of hearing Mark Thomas discuss Extreme Rambling.

I was aware of the crisis between Israel and Palestine. (It would be remiss of me as a Briton not to be, considering that it's mostly my country's fault.) I have had, and in some cases still have, friends from both sides of the border.

Mark Thomas brought a fresh angle to the troubles. He'd been there and he was able to report first-hand things which he'd witnessed himself.

He took great care not to align with either nation. His walk had taken him on each side of the wall. His guides had alternated between Israelis and Palestinians; though sometimes both together.

The stories that he told had me instantly buying the book there and then. My copy is signed by the author. He wasn't the only speaker that day; but he was the only one who persuaded me that I couldn't miss a minute before learning more.

After his talk, he was met by two Israeli men, who had been in the audience. They were angry with him for placing Israel in a bad light. One of them told him that this was 'international anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head again'. 

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I was there and I disagreed. He had talked about Palestinian suicide bombers just as much as what he perceived to be an Israeli land grab. No side was singled out here and their human rights abuses were equally condemned.

Mark's journey around the entire perimeter of the wall had taught him that it was porous. If individuals knew where to cross, it was no barrier at all. He sat on a concrete stump for ages watching the human traffic move unchecked.

It gave a lie to the oft-quoted rationale for the barrier - that it stops terrorists blowing themselves up in Israel. Plenty of Palestinians were there to tell him that the intifada was already over when it was erected. That's what accounts for the drop in deadly statistics.

He was forced to reach the conclusion that the wall is ineffective for the purpose which it pretends to address. Neither of the Israeli men before us were able to accept that.

One was incandescent with rage. He would have done better keeping silent and letting his more eloquent friend argue the points. He actually said that criticizing Israel on anything is racist. Even his friend cringed at that.

But Mark maintained the balance throughout. The very nature of the wall means that Israel is not going to come out of it looking good; but neither did Palestine. Nor was it a discussion (or book) seeking merely to bash either side. The humanity of it all is what stands out for me.

Mark Thomas Talks About Extreme Rambling

Extreme Rambling is an Emotional Roller Coaster

Mostly you will be laughing your head off. Occasionally you will be angered or distressed. You will never be bored.

There were times, while reading Extreme Rambling, when I had my fist shoved in my mouth to stop myself laughing uproariously out loud. That's the penalty for losing myself in its pages at 3am, when the rest of the house is asleep.

That's one of the major selling points of this book. It's funny. It's more than funny. It's Mark Thomas at his dry, satirical best.

It felt wrong finding so much humor in a dire situation, but his story-telling wasn't irreverent either. When the jokes stopped to describe a terrible instance of civil rights abuse, then that hit all the harder for the previous levity.

Within the space of a paragraph sometimes, I could go from crying with laughter to staring in shock at the words on the page. Goosebumps get raised reading this; and the whole gamut of emotional responses are reached.

Some things stand out, like Mark's increasingly desperate responses to Palestinians mildly asking if he'd heard of the Balfour Declaration. He ended up trying to pretend he was Scottish and using Culloden as a historical flashpoint of solidarity.

Or like the 85 year old man with a broken back, lying for over three hours in the blazing sun, just feet from an Israeli checkpoint. His family had watched him over-reach and fall from an olive tree. They were begging for the guards to open the gate, so they could get him medical attention. But the gate only opens twice a day and regulations were regulations.

Sixty women have given birth at checkpoints, before the eyes of the unyielding military unwilling to allow passage to the hospital. Five women and thirty-six newborn infants have died as a result.

Then you get the pure farce. Like the moment when the barrier was deemed to pass right through a West Bank apartment block. Overnight the balcony, living rooms and a bedroom, in several homes, were in Israel, while the kitchen, bathroom, hallway and other bedrooms were in Palestine. It took mere hours for the residents to get arrested for illegally crossing the border.

There are wry smiles reserved for some of the uses given to the wall in remote places. It serves as somewhere to project movies onto, during film night in one village. Others use it as a canvas for their artwork or slogans, though not always with any real intelligence. "It's like Hallmark-does-graffiti!" Mark bemoans, looking at one section.

These stories and more are recounted faithfully in Extreme Rambling. I thoroughly recommend it.

Mark Thomas Reads from Extreme Rambling

Israel-Palestine Conflict on eBay

Latest News Stories About the Israeli Wall

Everything is possible as Ireland look to scale Israeli wall to reach first ever Euros  The Irish Times
Palestinian child dies after chase by Israeli soldiers  The New Arab
Israeli municipality displays Talmudic pictures at Jerusalem's historic wall  WAFA - Palestine News Agency
The tragedy of Jews who can't stand with Israel
Updated: 11/20/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 10/25/2013

Always a pleasure to find you commenting away. :)

cmoneyspinner on 10/25/2013

Thumbs Up!! For both articles. :) I'll talk to you over at the other article. I'm hogging up the comments module over here anyway.

JoHarrington on 10/25/2013

Awww! Now you're seriously making me blush, but I do know what you mean. The internet revolutionized my social life too. As it did with all deaf people!

cmoneyspinner on 10/25/2013

And I love you too!! Thank God for the Internet and especially for online writing communities. I'd never meet up with cool people like you otherwise.

JoHarrington on 10/25/2013

You know I love you and have your best interests at heart! :)

cmoneyspinner on 10/25/2013

Sounds like a plan. :)

JoHarrington on 10/25/2013

'Breaking practically everything'? :o You patently need adult supervision with this one then, so let's alter the strategy accordingly.

Get your husband into Mark Thomas, then sit back to be entertained and informed as he plays those videos! Job done!

cmoneyspinner on 10/24/2013

LOL. He's too old now and doesn't have the energy he used to. Since he's put up with me breaking practically everything in our home for a little over 3 decades, he can be in charge of the Entertainment. :) It's been fun visiting with you, as always.

JoHarrington on 10/24/2013

I feel that you need to put your foot down here. Or buy your own headphones. LOL

cmoneyspinner on 10/24/2013

Don't make me laugh. He controls the headphones too. He says I've broken too many of them. The cheap ones don't work that well and we can't afford to keep replacing the expensive ones. It's true. I have broken quite a few. But it's not my fault! However, there's only two of us in the room. I don't who else I can blame!! We both know he didn't break them! :)

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