Saturday, December 31, 2011

Only in India...

Only in India...

  • Can you go to the Government “Electric City” Office (as some call it) to pay your monthly bill and be turned away because of a power cut.
  • If your coco-nut tree is struck by lightning you’re entitled to a grant. When the Claims Officer calls to assess the damage it’s customary to offer a cup of coco-nut milk from your own tree.
  • If you’re destitute you’re entitled to a monthly government allowance. You must fill in the appropriate form declaring your sorry state and sign that you have no family and no friends and know nobody at all. The form must be witnesses and signed by somebody who knows you very well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Quickly She Passes

21/12/11 3—4 pm
However much of a nuisance these monkeys are to our coconuts and banana crops, there’s always a moment of reflection when one of them dies. One minute we’re shouting and waving sticks and berating them with bared teeth and in the next one of them is found dying. This one, a female (you can tell by the red face and backside) became seriously ill in a shady area outside my little Cave. If it sounds romantic, I’m afraid the wood ants had already started crawling all over her body while she was still breathing and twitching. Sad, because they are some of the nastiest ants I know. Rumi took some insecticide powder and sprinkled it over her body and I think it deterred them a little.

Wide-eyed in her Final moments
Her Nipple Swollen with  Undrunk Milk
 The human Mum with two of her children came out to see and to take a few photographs. You have to be very careful when you’re dealing with a dying ape because the others are near-by watching what it is you’re getting up to. Even if she’s there because they’d given her a good decking they still don’t really want us horning in on their act, and they have been known to bide their time and to take revenge. Moreover a dying monkey can easily deliver quite a nip, as a final sign of affection I’m told.

 Nonetheless we took a stout bamboo cane and propped her up a little so she could sit for a few seconds and see that someone had a little concern for her, holding her no grudge. She opened her eyes wide and looked straight at me. They were very bright and very clear and it look as though her mind was clear too. Just a straight look, all difference between man and animal swept away in that brief moment. “You’ll be all right in a minute, you poor old thing” I said. As if in reply she blinked at me and then she closed here lids. Her eyes were wide open one second and in the next they’d closed, long lashes she had like a doll, and her eyes closed just the same. It’s somehow tough not to sniff back a tear in situations such as this.

An Awesome Moment
22/12/11 10:28:03 AM
With humans it’s customary to leave the body outside all night in order to give it some air and to check whether death really has occurred. After we’d established her death, Rumi went on to give her a bath, her first and final ablution. All the relatives must have been watching from the trees because after we’d retired they came one by one to sit at the new flat patch of ground, to pay their final respects to a lady who must have been well known in the community. I get the feeling that the abandoned child will have found his place within this microtribe and that perhaps lessons have been learned by both sides.

While they were gathered round her grave they were quiet but they melted away on our approach. She’s buried by the side of the Cave where I go each day and I can see the spot from where I type these lines. I guess we could have put the camera against the fine-gauge mosquito mesh in the window frame and snapped the shutter, but it didn’t feel right. They showed us more than a little respect by coming to the place where we had dug and shovelled, and it was right to return that measure of propriety, to show that though the war still rages between us, we don’t hold any personal enmity.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How Many Leaves Does It Take?

I sometimes wonder how many leaves you need to call a book a ‘book’ and how many blades you need to call a fan a ‘fan’, and when I’m nonchalantly musing on that I wonder how many books you need to read before you can call a person a ‘fan’ of a particular author? I’ve probably got more dictionaries in my house than most people (one of which runs into eight volumes), but no person who’s perused my once expanding (yet now mercifully contracting) bookshelves has ever said “Oh I see you’re a fan of dictionaries” because people who like dictionaries for their own sake are often called other names, which it would be best not to enter into here.

Now apart from the sort of which which spins round and keeps you cool, the first time I learnt about another sort of fan was when I was 13 or 14 and heard about a rising group of young men who called themselves The Beatles. When I saw them on the telly, girls were jumping up and down in their seats and screaming, with tears were pouring out of their eyes. As plumb lines of mascara ran down their faces they hollered “John”, “Paul” and sometimes “George” and they did that because that’s what fans did, and that description’s as good for me now as it was then.

Rolling the clock on twenty years or so, a young priest had insinuated himself into my wee dwelling and was judging my character by my bookshelves. “Ah,” he said, “I see you're A Fan of Susan Howatch.” I had picked up one of her novels from the mobile library that turned out to be a trilogy which revolved around the internal dramas and wrangling within the clergy in the Church of England. I did find it interesting, even enthralling at the time because the first novel pulled me into the second and by the end of that tome I just had to go on to read the thrilling ecclesiastical conclusion. So much for my earlier notions about the dusty clergy. The shenannigans which went on behind the scenes coupled with the “making it all right in the end” somehow kindled my reflirtation with the Christian Church. I was a Hindu fish gasping for air in England's agricultural belt, and I felt I was, perhaps, still young enough to change my spots and swim in the Ocean of Christ. After all, water was water and I felt I'd rather live than die.

Later on I was called A Fan of Orchid, a term I thought wasn’t entirely inapt as the plants must have moving air in order to thrive. So I bought them a fan of their own, along with a Burg Humidifier and a lifetime's supply of Osmunda fibre. Yet I wasn't really their Fan according to my definition of the word. I was just nuts about them and I thought and dreamt about them morning noon and night. They were totally fascinating. From the moment of their husky microscopic births, they’re hurled into a life-and-death struggle: Born to be the prey of a Borg-like fungus, the orchid husk surrenders itself to the greedy mushroom but, like all living organisms the fungus has to excrete, and this fungus excretes simple sugars which to an orchid infant is like being fed mother's milk straight from the nipple. Human milk makes babies grow big and strong and the shit of a fungus is not only nectar to a mewling testiculloid seedlet, it’s also exactly the right ingredient for it to make a powerful fungicide known now to be a Phtyo-Alexin. Poof! Squirt! The baby launches its own poisonous ejaculate into the face of the monster, and the fungus retreats. The infant’s victory is short-lived though for the fungus, now given the equivalent of a bloody nose, nurses its wound in the corner of the ring while planning its next deadly assault. After all, it’s sure that babies aren't that hard to obliterate, so the micro-toadstool plans a renewed attack on the tasty babe, excreting an extra amount of sugary dung as its armoured plating grows.

Except of course that our infant is no longer an infant. It’s already grown to be a toddler after sucking in its first sweet load and toddlers can wield considerable damage. Even now I still reach for my temple which gives me trouble on a rainy day as memories of things my sister found she could do with a poker when she was aged 18 months are still a little too green in my memory, I'm afraid. In the meantime this orchidoid toddler has grown formidable power of its own. The latest pulse of primitive sugars excreted from the ravenous fungus has now fuelled the brattish seedling and an extra dose of fungicide is squirted into its fungal receptors, to make the orchid think it’s now got enough power to sprout a nascent testicle.

Of course this is a speeded-up version of what goes on in that mini world. It’s the fast-forwarded version yet the real process is extraordinarily slow and far more progress would be made by a human playing a game of chess by post, even if he used snail-mail and had to put a stamp on every move.

So I was perhaps (despite my earlier denial) a fan of orchids, although spelling the abbreviation full into ‛fanatic’ would have been far more appropriate for me. But what about my electronic book collection? Terry Pratchett? Does Amazon Dot Co Dot Ukay really think that because I’ve purchased three of his books for my Kindle that I Am A Fan? When I “Shop in the Kindle Store” I Am Greeted by them with “Kindle Best Sellers”, “New & Noteworthy” and “Recommended for You”† followed by a list of 27 Terry Pratchett Novels, interspersed with a peppering of other books one of which went under the name of Butterfly Knight. Now don’t misunderstand my point. I have nothing against Terry Pratchett, apart from the fact that he’s far too rich, far too famous and has far too many fans, quite apart from being far too clever with words. for my liking and now know that It is dangerous to read this man. Allow me to give one example:

Last year I was touting for cheap titles, and saw that Equal Rites was on offer at £1.99. So I bought it and actually started to read it, while marvelling at how a book can be delivered to me by Magic somewhere in an obscure paddy field in South India. I started to read it with googly eyes and soon I didn’t feel quite so good, which wasn’t really much to do with Mr Pratchett but probably quite a lot to do with being in the Land of Delhi Belly, even if I was 2,000 miles away from the capital. Knives were stabbing my guts and our heroine Eskarina was hobnobbing with the laundry ladies in the bowels of the Unseen University and plotting against the Male Chauvinist Pig Wizards Upstairs who had ruled the roost for far too long. This lady could attend to washing clothes and deliver a punch in the Goolies which, when you think of it, is far cleverer than being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. My guts hurt like mad, and laughing at Eskarina hurt even more, but what hurt most of all was a batted remark in Tamil which I heard the boys deliver amongst themselves, namely, “Well if he’s laughing at a bit of writing on that Kindle things he can’t be that bad.”

“Can’t be that bad? Can’t be that bad?” I thought, “Man I’m bloody dying here!” I was gasping my final breaths. There’s three words for three different types of breaths in Tamil which a dying man takes, with a special one signifying the very last gasps. Unfortunately I can’t remember even one of them, but I’m sure that the final one must have had variation or tone which meant convulsed in unpleasant laughter, because that’s what was happening to me. And why the heck shouldn’t times be modern and I be leaning and dying over my Kindle with my mind on Disc World, even if that’s the last place I’d want to be at my departure?

That’s the place I was now: Dying, and all because of this book it seemed. Except that the old wizard in the story only had seven minutes left to live before passing on his Hat to a baby girl, and I unfortunately had to live for about as many days, and the baby boy I passed all my worldly and ethereal things to had since matured into a young man aged twenty-six. He had a great body, but sadly not much clue as to what’s Really Going On Here and I had very little time to teach him what wasn’t happening and would probably have to sum it all up in four small words which are NOT A LOT, REALLY. Which when you think about it is probably the best way of saying it in the first place.

So with the convulsive death of my body we appear to have come round full circle, and we ask, ‘Have we ended up in exactly the place we were before we started or is there a difference?’ The answer of course depends on whether you have a viewpoint. If you have, then you’ve moved a long way by the time you reach this point, and if you think you’ve moved, the amount of movement will be in direct proportion to your thought. But if you ponder deeper, diving beneath the choppy surface waves of thinking, you’ll see you never really moved because you were never ever really anywhere to begin with. The fan needs to cool you because it chops the waves of mind, but that can only happen as long as you believe you have a place here, and when you realise you don’t there’s no ‛you’ to keep itself apart from the rest of the stuff that isn’t there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Citizen Barney Leaves the Hive

“Welcome to our crazy country Barney: We’re lucky to have you!” is one of the most delightful SMS’s —text messages— I’ve ever heard. The message was delivered in a roundabout way to my carer Barney as we arrived at the Cambridgeshire County Council headquarters, Shire Hall no less, on our way to the pomp and grandeur of the Civil Citizenship Ceremony.

While my left ear was receiving this message of charm and welcome, my right eye saw a councillor dash out to the delightful West Indian car park attendant called “Fred” to ask rather urgently “Has the Mayor arrived yet?” “The ’oo?” said Fred as his face lifted in a gaze of total puzzlement.

The occasion was the Citizenship Ceremony of my carer and friend Barney.
I first met Barney somewhere in a paddy field in India when he was three years old. I was trying to dandle him on my knee, but he was far more interested in showing me the progress he was making in saying his ABC. Barney raced ahead but stumbled on the letter Q. His face twisted in frustration as he began to wonder why the alphabet was racing backward, so I handed him back to his uncle to help him with “koo” and RST.

The next part I remember easily was when he was a rather weedy little boy of ten. By this time he’d picked up English well, and when he started answering me back in that tongue I felt he was well and truly on his way. He said his English teachers were telling him about a film called “My Fair Lady” which he was asked to see but couldn’t. So when I told him the tale he gazed in wonderment and asked whether we could play that game and would I take the part of Professor Higgins. “Well you’re neither a lady, and your hair and complexion’s a bit light for this rôle, my little bantam chick” I answered, “but I don’t suppose I’d be terribly good at being Professor Higgins either. I suggest that you just stay as Barney without the Rubble and I’ll just be John without The Sir. Let’s put all we’ve got into this project to see how far we can take it. It may not work, but rest assured we’ll have a lot of fun along the way.”

A few more little hops, and all of a sudden my little bantam has grown into a strapping young man, and we’re in Cambridge Shire Hall, the nerve centre of the County of Cambridgeshire, the fastest growing county in the UK, which operates a dual world system of administrative realities. One of them is a paper world where everything is strict, magnificent and correctly managed. In this world the Citizenship Ceremony is managed with an opulence which reflects the past glory of the British Empire. Places are allocated, names are taken and everything falls into place with precision split-second timing. Messages are left on my answering phone that I may bring an extra guest, adding that everything is laid on for the wheelchair user. The car park attendant will show us to a Disability Parking Slot, where-after we’ll be directed to the Service Floor and Lifts.

But in the real world of concrete not paper it’s cold and wet with driving drizzle and slippery steps. There’s an amiable but jobs-worthy car park attendant who doesn’t seem to know what a Mayor is. I’m chilled and raw and I’m waiting right at the bottom of a flight of stone steps, which is as much of a nightmare for wheelchair users as it’s always been.

The ceremony is received deep in the Inner Chamber of the Hive, where The Queen or Her authorized portrait receives the citizens of foreign lands, citizens who through associative contact with the UK have fed and grown, worked and turned themselves into plump budding pupæ, ready to hatch into fresh, opulent British Citizens.

The Hive is vibrant and buzzing now, mainly with the background hum of Musac which the Master of Ceremonies adjusts with his volume knob. A friend and I la-la along with it and receive a slight scowl from one of The Suits. We’re evidently not supposed to celebrate by voice until the National Anthem begins. After to-ing and fro-ing with some official worried looks when the Mayor and his wife appeared to be late, we begin. Citizens all have to exit to divide into two groups. One is for those who want to Swear their allegiance to Her Majesty and the other’s for the swarm who find that quietly affirming their intention is enough. The Musac rises to a volume sufficient to cause a few members to dab their eyes, everyone says their name —Barney’s warble is especially clear— and the new pupæs’ skins are popped as they duly emerge from their cases, eyes and skin shiny, iridescent and a little moist.

A cup o’ tea and a biscuit together with a chat from the Mayor is enough to harden their tender skins and drones, workers and future politicians are ejected out like popcorn from the warmth of the Hive out into the driving November drizzle. The ritual and the ordeal has past, we’re heading home, preparing to have a celebratory meal and put our heads down for the night. Sooner or later he’ll find that waking up British is much the same as waking up as anybody else...

Away from the cocooned warmth of the hive where he was swaddled with Musac and ritual, Barney must now pursue the hunt for the his own queen. Or she for him, as he may well soon find out!

L → R: Mr Adam Mars-Jones, The Mayoress, Barney and The Mayor

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Fuguing Great Read

This Place of Men (This Place of Men Trilogy)This Place of Men by Doug Cooper-Spencer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could never review this book because to view it you'd have to separate yourself from it, to be apart from it, and that was where my problem lay. Despite my most valiant effort to resist its siren song, I found it hard to be detached, and it was quite impossible to ‘view’ it with a professional eye. I tried. I failed. My reading glasses did their best to keep me apart from it, but they soon dissolved as my emotions and hormones flooded my cells as I was sucked deep into the narrative.

After what seemed to be a typical Mills ’n Boon-esque titillating start which attracted my libidinous side but repelled my heart (what would his parents say if they knew he’d entered NY College to troll the streets looking for dicks to suck?), the story settled into a very warm if slightly tense family situation with food, laughter, and a Mama our hero Otis clearly adored, even if he hadn’t seen her for over twenty years. For some reason I felt myself to be incredibly at home, with a humid fecund warmth and humanity coming off the pages as I remembered by own past home life and how I liked it, but how at the same time  I’d also been seized and driven by dark, unnameable, unmentionable desires which family must never know.  

I never read this book, you see, for to read a book you have to view it and hold it apart from yourself. You have to judge it and tell people what you think, and I couldn’t do that here. I couldn’t think about it because it wasn’t separate from me. I walked right into it. The Kindle disappeared, my bedroom vanished and I walked straight into the scene: Terrell with his wife and boisterous kids, the suave Stanton with more than a skeletal wishbone in his closet, the bishop trying to make his swansong, and of course Otis, poor lonely lovely brave Otis who carries the cross imposed upon him by the very ones who were supposed to hug him and make him better, not wring him tight and hang him out to dry. Poor Otis with his emotional back broken by those who were themselves crippled by their own blind prejudiced rituals and beliefs.

The sense of family life is incredible and the feeling that I’d walked right into the scene was particularly strong. I felt that the only reason the characters didn’t talk to me was because I was invisible, and I felt that if I’d materialised from nowhere in the middle of a meal, I’d have been handed a plate of food which I’d have devoured heartily. The fact that I was different, a white man, would have been neither here nor there. And even on the side of Otis the loner in the book, I felt his inner hospitality was vibrant and alive. Of course I’d never have deigned to ask author or character that I might approach Otis’s feet, but I felt nonetheless that if he’d spotted me he’d have brought us both a cup of coffee, told me how lonely being a fictional hero can be, and I’d have blubbed in agreement. He’d have welcomed me into an angelic part in Place of Men, and I’d have welcomed him back right into the lonely corners of the Cedilla novel. Would that either of us had had that power, or the right.

Finally the sex scenes. The book subtitles itself “A Story of Love, Religion and Sexuality”, a subtitle I felt may pull a lot of people in, whilst at the same time putting another lot of people off, and the people who were pulled in might not like the story much when they started to read it, and the people who didn’t feel attracted to the cover blurb would be the people who’d get the most out of it if they actually read it. The sex scenes themselves, by the way, were for me evocative, poignant and very effective, with that mystical elusive element left to the imagination. After all, we don't want every pore, drop and detail pushed into our face when we'd rather bring it here ourselves. I could not imagine these erotic — and limited — episodes giving offense to anybody.

I was one of the ones who felt that the opening paragraphs put the story in danger of lapsing into pornography and titillation, as mentioned earlier, and for that reason I put off reading the book for a very long time. There was also one sentence that I felt was out of place and didn’t work for me at all well. Nonetheless, these are venial issues. I normally give such books a wide birth and if I do dip into them, my eye is usually jaundiced because  I tend to berate it 3 times per page before giving it up in disgust, or merely boredom. It’s a lovely, heartfelt, beautiful story and I am truly delighted that it’s the first part in a trilogy. That ‘wishing it would never come to an end’ feeling was easily (and fortunately) assuaged for me by the knowledge that I had two more in store. I wanted to live forever in this warm male gay, family-oriented yet homœpatherotic world, when the wall between me the reader and the story turned from plasterboard to paper. I only had to poke it with my finger. The membrane was popped with a minimal yelp and the story and I became One.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 16, 2011

Self Directed Payments Benefits and You

If through no fault of your own you find yourself in receipt of government welfare benefits, you'll very likely have developed an open-hand and open-mouthed attitude regarding the money you get. As a bird in the family nest you'll have begun your life by learning to open your beak and squawking loudly until your parents dropped food into it. To start with, they'd have done it because they felt compassion for your helpless plight, but as things progressed they'd have fed you, more to shut you up than anything. And as you opened your eyes and moved around your nest, you'd have elbow-winged your way ahead of your siblings to get to the front first, to squawk the loudest and open your beak the widest, in order to get as much as you can.

And if you're in the United Kingdom you may end up on one of the many disability-related benefits to make sure you didn't starve through inability to stretch your hand. For a long time, if you didn't get better, you'd have stayed there. And stayed and stayed and stayed, growing more stately than an overgrown cabbage in an open society which is nonetheless an institutional cabbage patch but with invisible walls and wardens and with locks and keys removed. But remember: Your progression from oversized flightless bird to woody vegetable was not sudden. As you rooted into your virtual institution, you became set in your ways; yet as your once mobile arms ossified and your neck became less easy to turn, your jaw and mouth would have remained fully mobile. In one way or another, food and caring services would have arrived for you.
Don't Turn into an Ent

Sometimes this would have been great, but on occasions you may not have liked the food and something about the caring would have seemed off-kilter, may not not have been liked, or even uncomfortable and things may have been a little painful for you. Worst of all, you may have found that you'd been pushed headlong into that nightmare of scenes — the personality clash. You simply could not stand the person who had been assigned to you, and very likely the feeling would be mutual. What they did for you would have been carried out grudgingly and with a bad grace. You'd have been left feeling helpless and tense. You'd have been asked to sign your helper's time sheet and she'd have left 15 minutes earlier than stated. You'd have signed, of course. It would have been worse for you if you hadn't.

Yet remember that you were left with a moving mouth and open jaw. You first were able to squawk, but you ended up able to speak. At some point you may have moaned and groaned about your lot, and when it came to money you'd have doubtless remonstrated at how it was being spent. "Well if I was put in charge of the way it's spent I certainly wouldn't use it like this" "I'd do this" "I'd do that" "I'd do any number of things".

Now then listen up. If you really know what you want to the line of receiving care services, and you can keep records (and keep up with keeping them) there is a chance that you may end up being able to do just that. Every county in the UK has its own method of achieving this, and some no doubt will be better funded than others. In the area where I live, Cambridgeshire East Anglia, Self-Directed Payments just might accomodate your needs and put you in charge of who you're going to have, and how and when it will be done.

Every case is different, so there is no way of being able to describe the overall process. All I can do is explain what happened with me.

It was suggested to me on the 29th April that there was something which may be of more interest to me than the Royal Wedding. A spider I'd just seen on a bunch of bananas purchased was disappearing into a dark crevice in the hand of fruits. Already I was more interested, and as I listened to my storyteller's narrative I found my interest had waxed to a tantalizing degree. I wanted to get on the phone straight away, but the people on the end of the Social Services line were going ga-ga over a Royal Kiss, and I wondered if their mood of sheer gullibility would last until Tuesday when the country returned from holiday.

This is briefly what happened to me and may well happen to you:

You'll call up, and after speaking to their friendly receptionist your brief details will be taken, and you'll be told that you'll get a call-back. Nothing will happen, and will continue to happen for quite a while. Ten to 15 days later you'll call again and remind them you're still there and again they'll offer to call you back. Another week, and you'll be calling to remind them again, only to be told "That's three times you've called us now. You won't get seen any quicker if you keep calling." You bite back your impulse to ask them what their definition of "keep calling" is and resign yourself to another wait. Nonetheless, you may well get a phone call that very afternoon from a lady (Let's call her Mesq'ita) who'll ask if you're up to a 45-minute interview over the phone and you agree.

Agree by all means, but have some water and an energy bar at hand to nibble. You'll need it, for Mesq'ita will then morph into a hybrid between Jack Russel and a Snapping Turtle. Her questions about your needs will snarl and snip. You'll have to to think fast and think deft. You may be tempted to play with some of her words and bundle them back at her in a slugging volleyball, but you'll find Mesq'ita's totally lacking in humour, and your tarball of sticky adjectives will be vapourised by her solvent-busting adverbial snaps.

Left defenceless for a moment, Mesq'ita cuts right in at me with a slick razor-thrust, and I am wounded. Without sufficient time to recover from her carbon tetrachloride squirt, I can only croak a reply that my head is spinning for a second and could I please be granted a moment's recovery time. "Do you fatigue easily?" was Mesq'ita's rejoinder here. I wondered if there was any young male in the land who could come through her fusillade unscathed and unfatigued, but I answered yes, by which time my breaths were coming in gasps, the room was spinning and hypoxia set in. Barney took over the phone, ¡bless him! and soon those two were snapping and hissing at one another down the line. Not long after that he finished, telling me that she would return if need be.

2nd Column Shows refusal
The following morning the phone went again. It was taken by Barney who said, "One moment, I'll see if he's available. Who shall I say is calling, please?" whispering "It's someone called Mesq'ita and she'd like a word with you". My body went stiff into rigid spasm again and I lay myself on the verbal altar, waiting for her to finish me off, but to my astonishment the claws were fully retracted and she spoke to me now in velveteen tones, licking my scars and asking me how I was doing. She added that the last thing she wanted was to cause me stress, and gave me time to get my breath back between questions. Quick, quick slow, ask ask... wait. Jab jab... stroke.

2nd Column = Refusal

I remember being arrested once. One cop jabbed and quizzed me with his probing words, then another one came in all offering me fags and slapping my back and telling me what a bastard the other guy was. Now we're in a recession. Who can afford the luxury of paying a Good Cop and also a Bad One? Double 'em up and roll them into one. Just have Mesq'ita, but give her a different hat. Have your own hats on too, practise your quick changes and with a fair wind, and truth to back you up, you may win your with your written plan and enter into a contract with your local government.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Guilt is mainly on my mind
a) That I haven't kept up with Diaspora
b) That I have left undone those things that I ought to have done
c) That I have done those things that I ought not to have done.
d) That I love doing things I didn't ought to be doing.
e) That I think I don't love the things I ought to be doing.
f) That I end up loving the things I ought to be doing anyway.
g) That I ever thought I wouldn't love the things I end up loving
h) That I determined never again to tell myself I didn't want to do the
things I thought I'd hate
i) That I didn't complete the job I should have completed three days
ago and ended up writing this instead.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Surprise Prize

I was sittin' in me old winged armchair this morning, grumbling about the weather and the price of postage stamps and feeling a sneaky suspicion that I'd turned into an old grandpa somewhere along the line, when one of the boys sauntered in with a parcel, saying “Looks like your shower gel”. After giving it a good old rattle Barney added that it “feels like you’ve got about six bottles of it here. We told you not to order *that* batch! S’pose we’re all gonna run round the village ponging of ‘Lynx Aluminium’ now!”

I mumbled to put it on one side and said we’d stow it all away later before I went back to the mysteries of why my scanner wasn’t working with 64-bit architecture. I’m someone who hates geeks and geeky things when the current project drifts into realms I don’t understand, but once things have fallen into place and pennies have begun to drop, I admit to being quietly impressed, wondering why people don’t take a little more trouble to understand the mysteries of their black boxes.

That box of 6 shower gels, ordered in a moment of hypoxic haze, annoyed me by not being tidied away and I asked Barney to unpack it and stow it away as it looked as if we might be in for a storm. His sentence began with a whinge, but half-way through opening the package his tone changed to wonder. He said that the parcel appeared to be somewhat different. Unexpected and unexplained.

It was all in a "Whiskas" box which had presumably held an assortment of delicate meals for Puss, he said, adding that on the inner cardboard sleeve someone had written “Old People's Breakfasts”. So I decided that the solution was clear: An old people's home had stocked up on shower gel, and the new Health and Safety Rules had banned the old timers from using it in case they slipped. I speculated that tubs of Fullers Earth had been ordered instead and now the old folks could take dust baths along with their cats. Both cats and old ladies would be far cleaner than with shower gel, anyway.

My excuses and implausible explanations quickly run out as the contents of the box began to seed out like a tombola onto our ample table:

Lots of small parcels spewed out of the box, each individually wrapped in pink tissue paper. There was a sugar mouse with a string tail such as I hadn't seen since the days of Christmas stockings, sweets, shells, a plastic rattle, a stick of rock, a bubble-blower, little pot of sand, a clay pipe and last but not least, a yellow clammy slug. I think you're supposed to eat it!

The boys whooped and laughed like little kids — and everybody was completely baffled.
Which is where we leave the tale. A packet of Bulls' Eyes was included in the mix and they're so good, we're going to suck our way through those first, and then try to find out who sent them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It Ran Out of Steam!

Into the Darkest CornerInto the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t like stories where ladies go out to a disco for a good time “dancing in that red dress until I caught the eye of someone, anyone, and best of all finding some dark corner of the club and being fucked against a wall” and I like it even less when it’s from ladies who are personnel officers. Sluts who give interviews and hand out important jobs are certainly not by cup of tea. Indeed had I known that there was going to be an abundance of this type of language in the book, I simply wouldn’t have bought it.

However I’d bought it for a song, and whereas some people don’t mind throwing things away which they don’t use, I am not of that ilk. Neither was I going to waste my precious breath complaining to Amazon until they relented to give me my 99p back.

The story opens with a court scene with the two major players, the accused Lee Brightman and the – alleged – victim Cathy Bailey (really! couldn’t the author have picked another surname?). The dialogue doesn’t pick up very well on the Kindle so we see:

MR ---------------------------------------------------------------------

MACLEAN ---------------------------------------------------------------------

MR ---------------------------------------------------------------------


MR ---------------------------------------------------------------------

MACLEAN ---------------------------------------------------------------------

MR ---------------------------------------------------------------------

BRIGHTMAN ---------------------------------------------------------------------

with the dotted lines being the dialogue. Took a while untangling the skein there. Not a good start at all, so combined with my opening paragraph, which runs on with little if any separation, so it can be tricky seeing who’s saying what. And what is being said is pretty boring.

Nonetheless there were a few things which began to intrigue me slightly: Cathy can only go shopping on even days. She has to check the locks on all her apertures when leaving the flat, starting with the outer window and ending with the front door, and in the right order too. This twanged deep sympathy notes within me from my own past and furthermore when coupled with the realisation that Cathy was entering into an abusive relationship with Mr Brightman, chords in the minor key vibrated inside me, and I was siding with our heroine, desperately hoping she wouldn’t come to too much harm ~ even if she remained a committed two-dimensional character throughout the narrative.

As everything boiled up to a seething climax I sided with Cathy, urging her on to biff, bonk and humiliate and torture the nasty man with everything she’d got. I was jumping up and down clenching my little fists and cheering at the end as loudly as if Tottenham Hotspur had just scored a goal when, all off a sudden:

The tale ended.

We were 91% of the way through the book. The tale had ended. This is the bit where the audience rises and walks out of the cinema, with 9% of the film left to run. I don’t. I have to remain in the cinema until the last credit has been shown, the projecting equipment switched off and the lights have come back on. So I read and read and read, wading through the incredibly dreary bits. The new lover-boy, Stuart, is a one-dimensional being. He is quite attractive for me, but only because “he smells of hospitals”.

The dreary dialogue ends with yet another terribly-formatted court room scene, and after all that an incredibly boring spiel from the authoress relating what gave her the idea, and how she had started to form and draft the book.

Ms Haynes works for the Police Force, as I understand it. If she attends to her work with the same care she writes her novels, I’d begin to get a little concerned if she were to be in charge of my patch.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Hyperglycæmic Birthday Cake

The Christmas ThrowawayThe Christmas Throwaway by R.J. Scott

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was in two minds whether I'd ever admit to anybody that I'd gone and bought this book. It would be giving in to teenage crushes, which have never really left me. An incurable romantic, I'd just ventured out into the big brave world of futuristic cyberpunk*. Reading this story of futuristic techno macho men (and even more macho women), I'd swum in the rough-and-tumble of waters I hate and found that, despite myself, I'd been shaken, bounced and depressed, sent on a bad acid trip and rattled to the bones. Yet not entirely put off, for the author had pampered me with my favourite chemical tipple: 10 ml of Brompton Cocktail† and I fancied I saw light at the end of the tunnel, for I really loved the hero by this time and looked forward to the time when I'd become strong enough to read the next volume in the series.

But shame on me! This review isn't about the young Richard Morgan and his creations, the spotlight has to be on Mr (?Mrs ?Miss ?Ms) RJ Scott, the author of an 'unwanted present in the toecap of an Xmas stocking' (the book under review). The reason I bought it was I wanted a delicious and indulgent dessert after my wickedly spicy first course of Altered Carbon as I felt I needed pampering, pleasuring, massaging and being touched up in the nice as well as the naughty places, because I had fallen out of my wheelchair when I was ten years old and been picked up (before hitting the ground) by a policeman in shiny uniform and lovely gleaming buttons and things. He'd held me tightly and affectionately, implanting a fetish within my psyche which had embedded itself into the genetic make-up of my being, imbuing me with a delightful malady which I've no intention of attempting to cure. So imagine that the clock had wound its way on so that I was a teenager again and the wheelchair had been replaced by a park bench and I was sleeping rough on it and been woken by a dashing 24 year-old copper who asked me to move on.

This copper, Ben, feels all protective and things towards this shivering chilled waif (whilst the seeds of desire swell) and the waif has a big chip on his shoulder which he wants to remove by throwing it at the copper; however once he's thawed out in the copper's mother's house, he discards the chip in favour of Mum's Christmas baking and bon-femmie. Warmed by the moisture of the homely grub, his own hormone-enriched seeds begin to swell and sprout and he starts to fancy Ben's pants and uniform, as long as he keeps them on.

Meanwhile, the dashing policeman develops the hots for the lad, especial if he can get his pants are off. Well the boy's 17, but with his 18th birthday at the stroke of midnight on December 27th, both parties can just about manage to hold their love-tanks in reserve until that date. What's more, they show admirable self-control, merely cuddling on the sofa at 11 pm on the night of the 26th and are so enwrapt snoozing and snogging that they don't open the release valve of their mutual passions at the stroke of midnight: they wait a whole two hours more before they have their wicked way with one another.

And that... is that. The cake looked lovely while it was on the stand in the shop, but it was altogether too sickly-sweet. My worry now is what I'm going to read for my dessert to Broken Angels‡ after reading it. I'd had the vague plan of taking it to the bathroom with me to flagellate the bishop over the Christmas Throwaway story, but the occasion just didn't rise to it. The one who was thumped was me, on the back by my friend when I choked on apple. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I wasn't even in the right fairy tale.

* Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
† Brompton Cocktail: Interpret according to your proclivities.
Broken Angels will be the second book in the Trilogy which began with Altered Carbon

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

James Bond on Empathic Methedrine

Altered CarbonAltered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Typing limitations urge me to try reviewing this in Q/A format:

Did it linger or stay in Mind?
Did You Dream About It?
Very much so.

Did it have "Got-to-Get-Backness?"
I used every spare moment I had to switch on my Kindle, even to the extent of letting friends decide which food I'd probably like to eat.

Did it Tweak Deep Past Memories?
Yes. Ancient composted memories stirred up their fine tilth.

Did it have "I-don't-want-it-to-End"-ability?
Yes, I wished it wouldn't.

Glad you read it?

Did it go "soggy" in the middle?
A little bit. I rushed through the Innenin and italicized Jimmy de Soto bits, feeling it was stronger without them.

Did you get lost in it?
Indeed I did.

Would I want to read another one of his?
Definitely, but not yet.

If it was an eBook, was it it well formatted? Were there chapter divisions?
Well formatted, well indexed and only a few typos.

Was it swamped by/did it swamp another book & if so which one?
Yes, it squished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, which was beginning to irk me. I've been to University and got Eng Lit Degree and all that jazz too. It was a bit like know-all students playing literary consequences. I look forward to returning to it, however.

Anything Else?
I hate tough-guy macho violent books, preferring gentler, deeper strings of my harp to be played, so I was surprised when I found myself being magnetised by it despite myself. Takeshi Kovacs [hero], you're a tough brutal thug, but I can see your thinking and I sense that there's something loving buried deep inside you. You'd never admit it, of course.

Now, Richard Morgan, please let me clear you out of my head for a month or so while I look for something Completely Different.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Frozen Sky ~ Needs Thawing and Proper Cooking

The Frozen SkyThe Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book sparked a lot of interest for me. Apparently, Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, has the potential for supporting Life, particularly in the light thrown by the discovery that tube worms and various clams can and do thrive in deep oceanic geothermal vents. In the story, this is a given and I was heartened to find that our heroine Vonnie is spurred on by ecology and outreaching rather than pulling out your laser and blasting everything that moves (although as I recall, there is some blasting and splatting as well). I also liked it that I could dredge up my schoolboy memories of chemistry, and go out on the net and investigate and find out fascinating details such as the poisonous hydrogen sulphide (bad egg gas) being a potential 'messenger molecule' between brain cells and elsewhere in the body. All in all, a fascinating bundle of things for me to go out and investigate and learn from.

And that strength was for me the inherent weakness of the 'book': although I thoroughly enjoyed my explorations, I had to remind myself that this was a 'novel' and not a research project given to me by my biochemistry master. If it had been that, I'd have grasped the project with aplomb, gophered some essential data, showed him the draft of draft of my 'story' and waited to see what Sir thought. If Sir had given me a pat on the back and told me it was a splendid start, but please flesh out the story more (if I intended to lengthen it) and to cut out some of the clutter (if I was going to keep it short) I'd have been heartened and begin to make my plans.

However, this is quite dreadful as it stands. It was a "fascinating bundle of things for me to go out and investigate" indeed, but I had to go out and do the investigating which I loved doing, but I was reading it on my Kindle, and can press buttons and things which go out and investigate for me. But supposing I hadn't got a Kindle or a good net connection?. What then? I would be well and truly stumped, stymied, painted and snookered into my corner! My dinner was supposed to be presented to me on a plate. Admittedly it was tasty chicken drum-sticks on the bone, but they weren't even thoroughly cooked. I had to finish them off in the oven myself and go to find tissues I could clean my fingers with!

More can be read on the Jupiter Project which is purported to be happening in 2020.

On the Europa Jupiter System Mission:

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Manual That Crept

ContainmentContainment by Christian Cantrell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While reading this story which has received some rather enthusiastic reviews, I kept on having the feeling that I was reading a technical manual — and I rather liked it. Of course it wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea, or plate of coils and chips, but I was after all, reading Science Fiction.

Science Fiction has surely to be fiction with a lot of science in it. Switch them round and you'd have fictitious science, which simply wouldn't work at all. So without further ado, I read the fiction that goes into the science within it. And I could mostly keep up with the science, although at times it was slightly beyond me, but I don't have a problem with that. Not being a true scientist I can't attest to the authenticity of the science, but it seemed OK as far as I knew, at least at the beginning.

There's a loose story with a lot of particular detail in it and I found myself being particularly interested in the delicate matter of the interface between the biological workings of the brain and the implant inserted into it, along with the problems that can occur as the tissue begins to harden in the presence of conductive metals, even if they're sensitively aligned and harmonised.

Little by little the background atmosphere of the technical manual began to fade as the story welled up from its damp pages like an exotic fungus. This was going to suck me right in, I felt, and I settled myself in good and snug, to have a Good Read.

The story inched its way along. I didn't have a particular problem with that because inching is by and large the story of my life. It kept on reminding me of 2001 ~ A Space Odyssey, and I'm sure that part of its DNA at least was founded in that root-stock. I felt quite pleased when I sniffed out the odd red herring (but does the author really have to lecture the reader on what a red herring is?), however my sense of smell grew far too confused along the way: our hero Arik may well have become hypoxic and disoriented himself in the narrative, but does the reader really have to feel oxygen-starved as well?

I liked it in parts, I was really gripped at certain points, but my attention did keep falling apart, particularly towards the end, and the silly spelling mistakes at key points didn't help.

I ended up desperately wanting it to end, and now, with the penning of this brief review, that job is done and dusted.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Game For A Laugh??

 T r a n s l i t e r a t i o n:

A    Grand
  Of the Effects Produced by INHALING
Nitrous Oxide, Exhilerating, OR
L A U G H I N G   G A S  !!

Will be Given At         The Masonic Hall
Saturday  E V E N I N G,   15th

&   ^   &   ^   &   ^   &   ^   &

30   G A L L O N S    O F    G A S
w i l l   be
p r e p a r e d     a n d    a d m i n i s t e r e d
t o    a l l     i n    t h e     a u d i e n c e  
w h o     d  e  s  i  r  e      t o     i n h a l e   it.

MEN will be invited from the audience, to protect
those under the influence of the Gas from in-
juring themselves or others. This course Is adopted
that no Apprehension of danger may be entertained.
Probably no one will attempt to fight.
THE EFFECT OF THE GAS  is to make those who Inhale it
LAUGH, SING, DANCE, SPEAK OR FIGHT, &c, &c according to the leading trait of their character. They seem to retain consciousness
enough not to say or do that which they would have occasion
to regret.

N.B. The Gas will be administered only to gentle-
men of the first respectability. The Object is to make
the Entertainment in every Respect, a Gentle Affair.
&   ^   &   ^   &   ^   &   ^   &   ^   &   ^   &

Those Who Inhale the Gas once, are always anxious to inhale it a second time. There is not
an Exception to this Rule.
No language can describe the Delightful Sensation produced. Robert Southey, (poet) once said
that "the atmosphere of the highest of all heavens must be composed of this Gas."
For a Full account of the Effect upon some of the most Distinguished Men of Europe,
see Hooper's Medical Dictionary, under the head of NITROGEN.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A foil-wrapped refresher

The Fire Gospel (Canongate Myths)The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I purchased this over the Christmas period as a present to myself, after liking the review, and because it was going for such a bargain price. As soon as I'd done that, I squirreled it away in the archives and forgot all about it.
I'd previously been reading my way through The Diviner's Tale by Bradford Morrow, and was feeling soggy and saturated by the time I'd reached the end and as I was looking for something short and cheery I felt this Fire Gospel might just be the thing to dry me out and warm me up a bit.
Except that by the time I'd started to read it I'd completely forgotten what the story was supposed to be about. Therefore, as books have always been a serious matter for me, that's the way I took it.
It would doubtless come as no surprise to seasoned readers to discover that I found myself splurting and coughing not long after starting the book, but it came as a considerable surprise to a greenhorn like me. It happened to me one morning when all-of-a-sudden I  sneezed over my morning cuppa, spraying a mist of tea and Canderel Sweetener all over my Kindle screen. Oh dear!

Yet it was a nice surprise to be expecting a cold sandwich, only to find that the dish had been flambéd by the waiter, right in front of my eyes and at no extra cost. The book set off a sequence of small explosions in my psyche which danced like jumping jacks - cracking and leaping and yet hopping back to snigger at you when you thought the show was over.

Theo (our hero) had wanted (and won) fame and fortune, having landed himself a gorgeous, slim and highly seductive lady who now manages his affairs as well as acting as his care-giver who gives him as much sex as he wants; she's also a highly successful literary agent who can pleasure him with a spare eye glued to her wristwatch whilst monitoring total sales volumes. One hand pleasures him (sexually), and the other one acts as nanny and mouth mopper:
"Jennifer, still talking, jammed her cellphone between her jaw and shoulder, and extracted a small item from her jacket pocket. She handed him what at first appeared to be a condom foil but proved, when torn open, to contain a moist towelette."

At one point the selfsame "wife" must needs produce a gun to protect her charge. It appears as if from nowhere from her slender person before slickly returning to its source: "She had already returned her weapon to wherever she’d concealed it before. Theo couldn’t imagine a cavity in her snugly tailored clothing where a hunk of steel could be stashed away without causing a bulge, but it was done."

Yet for me the killer chapter was the one where the Amazon reviews are scanned by our hero, giving delightful examples of pig-ignorant attitudes to books and reading:

"If you read the King James (per) version you won’t see the name Yahweh and if you don’t see it you can’t call it and therefore can’t be saved. Clever! So, in conclusion, read this book for the information but beware the traps and pitfalls. Satan’s hand is all over it."

and the one which creased me up until my chest ached and I was left gasping:

"I haven't read this book yet but I can't wait to read it so I am reviewing it early. The other people on Amazon who say don't read it are brainwashed stooges of the Catholic religion, which has been sexually abusing children for 100's of years. Who needs it? I already LOVE this book."

Left breathless, I can only add gaspingly: "If this book jaundices your opinion about Amazon reviews, give thanks you're not reading this review on it"

Wackily delightful, I award it five stars.
But not to amazon because they've got 16 of them already.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Everybody Sees My Green Light!"

These past few months people have been seing my green chat light on in Gmail.
Green means "online and available to chat".
Theoretically it means I'm "here".
Even when I'm not, apparently.
Apparently I'm here even when I'm switched off.
Even when I'm lurking with intent in the the seedy back alleys of Tiruvannamalai, a little bell will tingle and throb by my hip pocket. I'll cuss and pull it out and a message will say "Hi" and, "Uh, uh... sorry to disturb, I see you're busy"
I don't know whether this is pleasing or disconcerting to be always "here".
Where that might be I know not, except that I am always Here these days, it seems.
Even when I'm Not.

It's all down to the New God who's in our lives these days.
The Google God in the persona of Android.

Oh Android! Please don't start to make me Paranoid.
Let me switch off once in in a while to recharge my emotional batteries!

Hari Om!

Monday, January 31, 2011

My Boys Sure Take Some Beating!

Last Monday was very strange for me — unnerving and sad. It was the fourth and the final day of Pongal. Pongal is the South Indian Harvest Festival; it’s a late English August held on the 14th of January. Christmas here is usually a vague awareness that something might be going on, and if you have a name like John, some body or other will doubtless send a wave or holler a call of Merry Christmas, more likely in hopes of getting a present than a concern over whether your enjoying your own festival. Christmas is dwarfed because we’re getting ready for the New Year (the western one) and that’s dwarfed by the prospect of Pongal.
There are 12 days of Christmas, but only four days of Pongal: and on the fourth day of Pongal, the wise keep a low profile; their heads are kept down low, their eyes cast down to the ground, or on the bed with sheets pulled up to chins; on the fourth day of Pongal you stay indoors, or you creep into your garden cautiously and you don’t go outside your compound wall.
On the fourth day of Pongal, the ghosts of Old India rise up as the clock is wound back 30 years or more. In that time ‘we’ are the lords of the fiefdom, and ‛they’ are outcastes from the colony sector, who come to work in our fields and enter our boundaries, hands out-stretched in supplication. Old folks on their death-beds rise up from their final agues, hands stretched forth in hope of a bag of rice, not to nourish their skeletal bodies for now, but to nourish their souls for later on. My spine tingles. This can’t be happening.

The Present—Past Tense
Someone drops the lid of a saucepan. The clang shocks me out of my brown study. This isn’t the mid ’70’s — it’s Monday 17th January 2011, for Heaven’s Sake. The Old India has gone, and gone for good. The New India has arrived, the India that powers the software that runs British Gas. These days, India is everywhere, not just here. You know: the India where in the Home Counties I stub my toe on a sharp stone in the garden and curse because the street light’s bust. In a fit of pique I pick up the phone to dial the Council. I’m answered by a pleasant young man. He thinks I think he’s local, so I exploit his illusions and play with him for a bit. He wonders how I appear to know so much about him, little suspecting that his call centre language training hasn’t ironed out all the creases in his accent. I pick up the wrinkles in his speech envelope, because I specialise in the pieces that other people miss. I already know his Indian PIN code from the dialect twang, and I tell him my UK postal code and the number of my house. He apologizes profusely for the neglect ‛our’ local council has shown me, and promises that he’ll send a van round the following day. He asks if there’s anything else he can do for me, and I sigh down the wire, giving him a benediction in the Tamil Tongue as I disconnect the line. Perhaps he’s now wondering who is who and whether he’s awake or sleeping. I muse about him too, finding I’m wracked with a twinge of guilt, because I moaned about a street light, but I do have other lights in my village street. If the call-centre man is lucky enough to have a street-light, he’ll be even luckier if it’s working.

Snap Out of It!
Now I must attend; I must wake up from the dream within my reverie. I’m not sure which dream was which, but the one I’ve woken into now sounds urgent: There are shouts and calls and shrill reedy whistles as fingers are stuck in mouths. My Devaraj, normally so attentive, is only half ‘there’; mobile phones chirrup, and motorbikes are revving. ‟Sorry anbey” he says, putting on his coat, “There’s trouble” and he’s half out the door... I’m seized with panic as my dream cruelly collapses. This is like being left back at the hospital again, your mother going away and leaving you. I look pleadingly at him but he says he has to leave, and he’s left an uncle to see over me. My final plea is that of course he must go, but please at least tell me what all this is about, and it’s here that he takes a short pause and sits down to tell me the tale.

I Must Take the Beating

There’s been a bit of trouble, dear, he explains. A friend was involved in a motor-cycle accident and Barney went to help. It was in Anna Purna, a village which contains factions which rival ours; things were taken amiss and someone in a state of intoxicated insobriety called the Police. (The bastards, I think. The bastards called out bigger Bastards, who horned in to join in the fray. And the bigger Bastards’ policy is: take money first and beat the other side. Make an arrest for disrupting the peace, then take the culprits down to the Police Station for a further beating. There’s usually a big brutish bloke in there. They pick him out for his size and put a uniform on him and give a piece of rubber to beat people with.)

That’s what they’ve done with Barney. After the first beating, they’ve taken him down to the station for a further, harsher beating. I have to go to help. If they keep on beating him, they’ll end up making out an FIR, a First Incident Report. Once that’s done there’ll be no turning back. There’ll be a Court Case which will take months and months; his passport will be impounded, and he won’t be able to accompany you to England.

I have to go. I’ve got a different T-shirt to the one my brother’s wearing. While they’re taking a breather between beatings, we’ll switch shirts. Then when they see me with his top on, they’ll think he’s me, and I am he. So goodbye, my love, I’ll go and take what comes to me. Don’t worry —I’ll be back. Two or three hours, or perhaps a little sooner. I’ll be back.

Going to help out a mate in trouble is standard practice here, but it’s not just social politeness. It’s really vital. Helping out a friend is part of the survival mechanism. My tender carer, whose soft hands know every inch of my delicate frame, is going to swop places with his brother. He’s cheerfully going to submit to the pain, to let the Police beat him with fists, with sticks, and perhaps a rubber hose. And after that, he’s planning to return, and take his place along my side for the remainder of the night.

* * * * *

For a moment I wonder why the cicadas sound so shrill tonight, but then I know that the singing in my ears is just the sound of being stunned. I recall a recent commuication we received a week or so back: Barney’s Visa restrictions have now been lifted and he is free, should he so desire it, to apply for membership as a Reserve Policeman.

Laying Down His Life...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Two Tonys [i]

The Tonys were home-makers, and their kitchen turned out wonders.  Grisly wonders, on this occasion, laced with blood — pâtés and terrines.  I nibbled awkwardly at some crisp sheets of Melba toast, to show willing.” — From The Novel Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones ('literary sadist') to be published on Thursday 20th January, 2011.

It's funny how the wheels turn. The last time I had two Tonys for company was 1972; they’d mince along in my direction before perching on the sofa next to me (keeping a wary distance) before to me and saying things like: “What have you been doing today?” or “We didn’t see you last week... hope things were OK” or “Tony managed to procure some Gjetost yesterday. We had to go to Robert Sayle to buy a stainless steel cheese slicer at a shocking price. We bought brown Rye-King and Cashew-Nutta from the health shop in Rose Crescent and found it perfect as a base on which we could lay the slivers, and cutting it in itself is quite a business. Anyway, the first thing Tony said was, ‘Make sure we save a slice for Little John, who can’t get any’ — Didn’t we, Tony?” and I was handed a brown crispbread smeared with brown goo and a sliver of some fudge-like substance balanced on the top. I was starving but I asked him if he’d he’d put it on the counter for me to take later. I couldn’t stand the idea of the expectant looks I’d get from them, eagerly awaiting my comment on the strange cheese, knowing full well that they’d have no interest whatever in my thoughts which they’d merely use as a springboard to launch into their chic opinions and judgments. I hate listening to people’s judgments on food I haven’t tried, and I hate listening to opinions of dishes I haven’t eaten when they’re prequelled with details of the ingredients you’ll need, methods of preparation and cooking. You’re just supposed to enjoy the dish first. You’re supposed to be enamoured with it so much that you end up gagging for the recipe.

I left the crispbread on the counter, determined not to take even a nibble as I’d been doubly insulted in one sentence: ‘Little John can’t get any’ indeed! It was true: I ‘couldn’t get any’ because until a few moments ago I had no clue as to what the Hell ‘Gjetost Cheese’ was. That’s always always a valid reason, of course, but somehow I don’t think that was what the Tonys had in mind. Although I was hungry, my real appetite gnawed at a deeper level. I didn’t go to CHE meetings in those days to eat vol-au-vents and go into soufflé recipes, but that was the groove into which people seemed to be channeling me. There were a few interesting people on the other side of the room, one of them a rather gaunt and hauntingly attractive youth who seemed to be lonely and searching. I recalled my first trip to India about eighteen months ago and felt we’d find some common ground. Yet when I struggled to stand and begin to hobble over all eyes were fixed in my direction. A few started to make ‘let me help’ gestures and before I knew it one of the dratted Tonys (who must have been following the direction of my gaze) horned in with a statement like ‘Let’s see what we can do to get you fixed up’. Nothing could have been more off-putting.
Allergic by now to cheese I’d never tasted, my small burning flame of desire was quenched by the smothering help of one of the Tonys. I altered my course and made a bee-line for the door as if I’d never had the slightest intention of making contact with anyone: I’m good at doing that. I did manage though to exchange a smile at the haunting youth — it was a swift glance which escaped their radar, and I even managed to roll my eyes heavenwards in their direction and that raised a further smile from the young man. Evidently eye-rolling had the same meaning in India. It was really nice, and it was enough for me.
The steps which ascended into the meeting room were perilous to ascend, but even dicier when you tried to go down. I’d given no thought to this vital aspect and was suddenly afraid of toppling over, both physically and from sheer pride. Providentially a hand appeared from out of the shadows. It was a mirror image of one of the opening scenes of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. In the classic (and gripping) romantic thriller a woman dressed in white from head to toe appears out of the shadows and solicits help to cross the heath, on the condition that ‘you will not ask me any questions, or interfere with me in any way’. On this occasion a figure appeared from out of the shadows: a man in a casual white suit which went from shoulder to toe. Middle-aged in appearance, with a kind face, his movements were soft and firm. He eased me down the perilous dark descent, then softly walked with me to the car, where he held the door open for me like a chauffeur. His actions were very physical, but gently so and his lilting Welsh asked if I’d be all right for going up the steps to my room. I said fine yes thanks, the steps to my room were very easy. I had somewhere else to go first but another night I’d be grateful for help and perhaps a little company, stopping short of the mention of ‘a coffee’ which was usually a lewd thing to offer in those semi-secret days.
“Don’t be put off by tonight,” he said, “they mean well, but seem unable to see that people do need to find their own way.” I said it’s OK and it didn’t matter and I was used to it by now. He stood outside on the steps of 5, Glisson Road, Cambridge and waved. Waved until I reached the end and turned right into Regent Street, then left into the imposing wrought iron gates of Downing.
All the way back I wished I’d accepted his offer of help, and I wondered if we’d ever meet again. You see, he’d saved me from the third insult from the Tonys which usually topped the evening. Politely but firmly one of them would put his hands together and beam the question which had me totally stumped:
“And what are you going to do now?”

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blanket Babies

I need to introduce a lifelong friend; a friend who's been constantly at my side from the cradle. This friend stays young, and when age comes, she is renewed. Somehow she is always fresh and fair. She warms me when I'm cold and cools me when I'm hot. In my native land she's cast off not long after infancy, but in India she's acquired new fans, and I'm happy to say her latest recruit is my handsome carer and lifelong friend, Devaraj whose name means God King.

In UK they're hardly given a second thought, but the other day when I sent a lady into town with a specimen to see if we could get another one, I became fascinated with the reports that came back to me. They had never seen anything like it. Too good for here, they said; and another added that nowhere in Tiruvannamalai could you get a thing like that. “Try Spencers Plaza in Pondicherry” added another one, “They've got them in there”. How people who have just seen something for the first time have no idea about it in the first minute, and yet know exactly where they are sold in the next is something I never really managed to understand, but at least I felt that I was on the trail, and that one way or another the cellular blanket may be had in India.

The greatness of the blanket is that it starts on you in a miniscule way. It jokes with you a bit by not feeling in the least bit warm when it touches your skin — the feeling is cool, although not unpleasantly so — it's a light covering more reminiscent of cotton slacks you'd wear in the tropics to let your skin breathe in the heat of the day. After a few minutes of having the blanket on my lap I touch it again, and again am greeted by coolness, but with a subtle difference: my legs feel warmer without being warmed; they feel as if they're starting to make their own heat, the body cells being stoked and primed and winking into life.

Like a second skin the blanket breathes. The breeze passes me, or the the fan oscillates and every puff of air movement is felt under the blanket. It's no longer a question of 'me' and 'it': it's joined with me and is a part of my being. It suffuses and osmoses, rocking with the baby on the top of the tree as the bough in the wind. The wind kept everything light and airy, and my mother, in tune with her oft-sung nursery rhyme theme, kept in tune with the rocking air when she provided me with the new wonder blanket. Mum was a walking advertisement rep, and she told me about the blanket's magical properties in such a way that I learnt the words as catechism. In many ways, like her mother before her, she manipulated and domineered every domestic situation; yet her ways which would otherwise smother me to stupefaction were here aërated and mollified, until they were made as light as the soufflés she showed off to her neighbours — feathery clouding sponges of near-nothingness which didn't sink, however much you fanned them.

Blanket of snow, night's thick blanket or blanket weed in a pond: all of these are smothering words, terms that allow no breath to enter. Cellular these miracles may be, but blankets they are not.

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Research into this new kind of material was actively under way in 1952, and by 1955 Early's of Witney, Oxon had gone into full production. The material was taken up by hospitals in a big way, as being cotton, the blankets could be sterilized by boiling. One make which springs to make was made by Zorbit who made The Antibac® made for Hospital use only. I had one of those for many years.