Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The quince makes it into spring
© Jago

Leaves are so fashionable
© Jago

Au revoir

Well that's it for a month or so, friends. I'm off to see people in France and Italy, and may or may not get near a computer with enough intelligible going on in my head to commit to the great out there. I'll take a camera. Meanwhile I leave not only you, but my seedlings. The heartstrings twang. Hasta luego.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Heroin and fragmentation bombs

Whenever a drug dealer’s £50,000 motor goes by I think, tax them.
There are two top criminal enterprises in the UK; the drugs trade; and the MOD/”defence industry”.
When I say criminal, I don’t mean, as in morally wrong. I mean, as in criminal.
Tax the drug trade, give less to the “defence industry” (clearly I don’t mean skimp to the very edge of terminal scandal on the equipment of actual soldiers, sailors and airwomen, as has been the “winners do what it takes” philosophy since at least 1979. I mean take away the astronomical topslice that goes to the big league criminals.)
MOD/”defence”.
The drugs trade.
One legal.
The other not.
Just reverse them .

Monday, May 08, 2006


Wilfrid Ewart

Tomorrow in the battle think of me

Wilfrid Ewart was my grandmother’s brother. He is a significant, if bizarre, player in Javier Marías’s novel Negra espalda del tiempo. Having survived a large part of World War one in the trenches Ewart was found shot through the eye, a pool of blood on the balcony, in his room in the Hotel Isobel in Mexico city on the morning of New Year’s day 1922. He had written a successful novel,Way of Revelation, a period piece; and also - to my mind one of the all-time great bits of journalism about the Irish troubles - A Journey in Ireland, an account of a walk from Cork to Belfast in 1921 when he was captured both by the English and the IRA.
Marías draws on Hugh Cecil’s The Flower of Battle but my memories of my great uncle, derived from a sort of time travel to an old country house where apparently some of the dead end up, are different. Here is one:

I was sitting in the boothouse with Jack, and in comes Wilfrid, tall, hot cheeked, exquisitely turned out, distressed, still holding his starched linen table napkin with `Lion and Garter Hotel, Oxford` embroidered in one corner.
"Wisha," says Jack, reading the symptoms, "what’s wrong now?"
"They were making the most unsavoury suggestions."
"Who, now? Come on and be sitting yourself down and I’ll pour you a cup of tea."
"It’s not the hour for tea. I’ve just had coffee." But Wilfrid sat himself down on the stool, in a triangle now with Jack over towards the big coke boiler and the tea things and me on my jam tin under the small window so thick with webs that it let in only the gentlest and coolest of the light. Jack got up and went to the stove and the blackened kettle that also did as a teapot. He poured tea for no-one but Wilfrid, nor did he ever take Wilfrid at his word when he said he didn’t want the tea. Sure what was the point of coming to the boothouse at all if you didn’t want a cup of tea.
"Oh very well, as you will." Wilfrid took the mug and sipped noisily, slurping off the surface ripples under his perfectly trimmed moustache.
"Now," said Jack, "tell us what ails you."
"Nothing ails me. What should ail me? Fit as a flea. It’s this unwholesome obsession with sexual matters."
"Oh aye, and how did that come about?"
"They were having another go at me about Dolly Rawson’s breast."
"And which one was that?"
"Which one, how should I know which one. What do you take me for?" Wilfrid closed his eyes with a put-upon expression, almost as if he was about to whimper. "The left," he said, after a few moments.
"Beneath which the heart beats," said Jack. "No, I meant which one was Dolly Rawson. I don’t recall."
"For Pete’s sake, man, get a grip of yourself. There’s only one Dolly Rawson."
"Of course," said Jack, "of course there was."
We were on difficult ground. Wilfrid was so fastidious.
And yet Marías, making the point that the putative site of Ewart’s death, by stray bullet, in a puddle of blood, became a selling point for many hotels in Mexico City which could only fraudulently make that claim, writes: `El poeta canadiense Witter Bynner y su amigo William Johnson siguieron a Lawrence (David Herbert, el célebre responsable de El amante de Lady Chatterly) y su esposa a la ciudad de México en marzo de 1923 para descubrir que Lawrence les había reservado alojamiento en el Hotel Monte Carlo. Los dos se escandalizaron al darse cuenta de que por un extraña coincidencia su cuarto anteriormente había sido ocupado por un amigo de los cuartro, un inglés llamado Wilfrid Ewart.`
A friend of all four of them! Wilfrid, this great uncle of mine sitting in the boothouse talking about "unsavoury suggestions" was a friend and presumably an admirer of the writer of Lady Chatterly whose gamekeeper, as I remember, says things like... well, you’ve no doubt read it yourself.
"Look," said Jack, "did we not have this very conversation every day for the last infinity of days, did we not have it but an hour ago, and did we not say that, would you want Dolly Rawson to be not a girl, not a young woman at all, but a fine young boy, clean of limb and golden of mien and as beautifully spoken as you could wish and entirely of your own mind, then sure would that matter a jot or a tittle, and sure it would not."
Wilfrid turned his cold patrician gaze upon the black boot boy. "Why?" he said. "Why this obsession among the low born, the prospective bride’s mother, Boots, with perversion and vice? Have I ever, for one moment, suggested that I was a secret sodomite? Have I ever suggested that I entertained within my bosom a festering desire to commit lewd and unnatural and deeply repellent acts?"
"Well put like that," said Jack, "no, I suppose you haven’t."
"Suppose?" Wilfrid had an unpleasantly petulant shriek for so tall and imposing a man.
"Och calm down, for Christ’s sake," said Jack. "I’ll tell you the beginning of a wee and very short story, and you can tell us the end."
In fact I recognised the story, it was some Irish man of letters, not Joyce, certainly not Becket, possibly Yeats though a bit common for Yeats, maybe St John Gogarty, or Synge; I bet it was Synge, almost certainly Synge. But Jack it was who seemed to recall, "I was walking once between the bog and the mountains, oh it was one of those days of summer with the bees in the heather and the smell of the whin flower on the breeze, and larks never the one wasn’t singing when the other dropped to earth, and I’d been on my feet since dawn, and not a soul had I seen but the odd turf cutter in the distance, and one cart upon the road, and up afar a wee cabin, back from the road, with, you know, roses and willows, so I turned towards it to get me a drink of water and maybe a bit of bread, and I came to the half door, and knocked upon the lower half which was closed, and there came a woman, a fine young woman, and all she had about her was her skirt wrapped at the waist, and she said, I’m all alone, ‘tis a month back since my only man was buried.' "
He stopped. Wood pigeons cooed in the elms. A large tortoiseshell flew in the door, and out again. The coke stove muttered its acrid internal flare, deep within its huge cast iron belly. There was, inevitably, the murmur of innumerable bees.
"Well?" said Wilfrid.
"Let me read you a minute." Jack went over to the dark back of the room where there were shelves of a sort for his equipment and tools, and took out a volume bound in green linen. He sat down, opened it, and began:

But a mile further on a shifting patch of blue vividly contrasted with the hillside’s emerald green. A dark-haired handsome girl accompanied by a child came down the roadside.
“And where might you be making for?”
“Tullamore.”
“Have you your fiddle with you?”
The girl looked meaningly at my rücksack.
“Are you not the fiddler from Tullamore? Will you play us a tune?”
“I am travelling though Ireland. Perhaps I shall write an account in the newspapers.”
“Is that so? Will you give me one then?”
To be taken by the same person for a local fiddler and a vendor of newspapers is not everybody’s experience. Our colloquy continued for some minutes. When I continued my journey the girl and child were laughing amazedly, still unable to make me out…
After a while I sat down to rest near a cottage. An unkempt peasant woman brought me a glass of milk…

Jack paused, his finger on the page. "Well?" he said.
"Well what?"
"Do you recall her countenance?"
"The unkempt peasant woman. She was not attractive. She was a slattern."
"Ah come on now, sir. She gave you milk, you took the milk, you drank the milk, she refused payment. She was a decent woman. Just a little déshabillée, maybe."
"Killing. Absolutely priceless."
"What’s that then?"
"Your lingo. I mean, Boots… Déshabillée. Priceless."
"Je voudrais," said Jack, unperturbed but steady and meaningful, " vous rappeler que pendant la guerre quand nous étions par example à Paris q’étais moi-même, d’habitude, quand nous nous metions dans quelque mauvais pas, c’était moi qui pouvait nous nous tirer de la merde, par ce que vous, monsieur, vous parlez Français comme un cheval."
"Didn’t I say he was killing?" Wilfrid turned to me, almost giggling.
"And was she?" I asked.
"Was she what?"
"Déshabillée."
The shutters came down again. "Certainly not. As my man here has pointed out, she was a perfectly decent woman, if scruffy."
"Ah, but it’s the other," said Jack, "that dark-haired handsome girl, that your man here is interested in. Now what was she saying to you there?"
"I have written it as it was. It is transcribed from my notebook."
"No, what was she saying to you? She asks if you’re the fiddler, she says will you give her a tune. You talk about newspapers. She asks will you give her one then. Man, sometimes I think you are the dumbest individual on God’s whole earth."
Wilfrid glared at him with a very confused expression.
"Was she beautiful?"
"I’ve said, she was handsome."
"Was her hair up or down."
"As I remember, it was gathered at the nape of her neck. She loosed it as we talked."
"Oh, Jesus, there’s some great tragedies in this world. Was it lank, was it dull like a donkey’s back?"
"It fell in coal black glossy curls all the way to her waist."
"A hunched back was it?"
"As straight as a hazel wand."
"And loins like a lyre, no doubt. Well, the legs on her, maybe they’ll be the saving of us yet, the legs on her, are we talking Mullingar heifer here, are we talking beef to the heel?"
"As I remember, they were good enough legs to dance the night away."
"A slender lass - but, don’t tell me, with a chest as flat as a board."
Wilfrid sobbed.
"History, repeated as farce," said Jack in perfect mimicry of Wilfrid’s beautiful pre-1914 accents.
"It was not a farce."
"But you write, `When I continued my journey the girl and child were laughing amazedly...”`
Wilfrid put his face in his hands and wept, and Jack made no attempt to comfort him. Eventually he raised his noble head, a few spikes of the manly coiffure sprung free, as when bits of veneer are lifting. "There was a child with her, for god’s sake."
"Waiting to be sent home with a silver sixpence."
"I don’t believe in droit de seigneur."
"I’m sure no more did she. I don’t know what she believed in. Sure I don’t know what my own Ma believed in, but I was real enough, and none the worse for it, no more than your average human being, conceived, born, not yet dead. All I’m telling you is the honest truth."
"You’re telling me nothing, nothing, nothing," screeched Ewart. A stagger and lurch, the door like a camera shutter opening and closing its tall rectangle of blinding light.
Jack sat twiddling his thumbs for while. "Huish," he said.
"Clos," I agreed.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Jago&Son take the children to the playground
© Jago

Jago&Son take the children mountain biking
© J

SVT again

The next time my heart started beating at three times its resting rate I knew what caused it. We were staying with friends. The previous day I’d had a hard bike ride, then we’d driven up to Cumbria, and him now known as Renman and me had sat down late at night to finish a bottle left over from supper and then, you know how it happens sometimes, drifted into that state where duty, however painful the consequences, prevents one going to bed until every available bottle has been emptied or one falls lifeless.
The next morning, Sunday, J and I went for a walk on the shore, I walked up a sand-dune, and bingo, rat-ta-ta-ta-tat.
Four hours later, and this time I really did need persuasion, I ended up in a doctor’s surgery in Wigton, though the doctor was not a man of Wigton, he expatiated on what he told me were dissident but undoubtedly correct Russian theories while he spent an hour or so connecting me to his laptop. Then he spent another twenty minutes looking at the screen before suddenly muttering a name I didn’t catch, sending for an ambulance, and fiercely listing all the pleasures of life known to man, finally thundering that they were not for me, no more, not one, not ever.
After ten minutes of this the paramedic and ambulance driver entered with a wheelchair. I said I had already walked about three miles in my present condition and could for sure make it to the ambulance. They spoke of regulations, they were liable to be sued and sacked if I didn’t comply, I sat in the wheelchair, was wrapped in a blanket, tied in with a leather strap in case I fell out, totally invalided and infantilised in ten seconds flat, wheeled twenty metres to the ambulance. Which I was allowed to enter under my own locomotion, put on a bed, connected to a beeper, given a tablet which I had to keep pressed against the roof of my mouth, and we set off for Carlisle with J following behind in the car.
Somewhere on the way I dozed off for a minute. When I came to my heart was beating normally. I told the paramedic my news. We could stop, transfer me to the following car, we could all go home.
This was not the case.
Instead I ended up in a room of my own in the hospital, looking out through the window onto a ward where people of both sexes, most of them getting on a bit, were lined along the walls in beds so close together it was a wonder the nurses could work between them. My room was spacious and full of high tech equipment to which I was connected by many wires.
My heart was constant at about seventy. I felt fine. Nurses moved around me. One, a short young woman, had a clipboard and was asking me regulation questions. She came to religion.
“None,” I said.
“No,” she said, “what religion are you?”
“I’m not,” I said. “Honestly.”
She started to rise slowly and smoothly into the air. My eyes were fixed on the successively revealed zones of her body, waist, hips - when her shoes went past I would know, but I didn’t want to leave it that long.
“I’m whatever religion you are,” I gabbled. “Your religion, that's what I am.”
She seemed irritated. I looked away. The whole room was rising. Or rather a nurse the other side of the bed had pressed a button and my bed was slowly and silently sinking on its big metal slider.
“OK," I said, "no religion.”
She stabbed the clip board with her pen, sighed, and departed.
A houseman came to see me. We hit it off, one of those easy relationships that seem to have been there for ever, though you’ve never seen each other before and never will again. He looked at the computer analysis. “There could be, just a chance, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. I’ll go and see what my Registrar thinks of that.”
In his absence an elderly auxiliary with another clipboard came and asked me what I would want for supper. I said I wouldn’t need any, I was going home.
“You’re right” she said, “you don’t want to eat here. This is a PFI hospital. It doesn’t have a kitchen. The food comes up the motorway from Manchester in containers. The scrambled egg is frightening.”
The Houseman came back. We chatted a bit more. Then he sighed. “My Registrar thinks nothing of the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome hypothesis.”
I began to commiserate. “No, no he said, "it’s excellent. He’ll come and see you, then you are free.” He gave the impression that no such joy was in sight for him.

The Registrar was very like the Houseman, but older, at least thirty, and wearier. He gazed at me objectively for quite a few seconds. “People like you” he said. He paused to let the unsaid sink in. It sunk in like this; my heart had probably cost the National Health Service - what? - £1-2,000, half of which would have gone in accountancy fees, management costs, failed management severance allowances, PFI repayments, PFI re-mortgaging for profit withdrawel, headquarters costs, the cost of transporting warm scrambled eggs in sealed containers the 170 kilometres from Manchester.
I started to say that it wasn’t my idea to come to the hospital, it was the women in my life, it was the doctor in Wigton...
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, “with his Russian theories.” I had already realised that whatever I said was just digging the hole. He told me a couple of things to do if it happened again, basically a sudden compression of the thorax, coughing or trying to suddenly expel air while holding your breath. “Bye,” he said. He too was a pleasant man.
I thanked the nurses and J and I walked out through the long PFI style ward with its beds of old people too close together for the nurses to work properly. When we got back to our friends she who is now known as Renwoman had cooked a delicious, convalescent friendly fish pie, with which I drank only a small glass of wine.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Above Dollar Ogo
Go back fifty years at the right moment, this punt would be at sea below.
© Jago

Labour burns

Reports are coming in that the NewLabor shuttle, attempting to return with 87% of its heat shield tiles damaged or missing to its now alien home planet of Democracy to pick up much needed supplies (which the Captain had boasted they could survive indefinitely without) has burnt up on re-entry.
This has not yet been confirmed.
Sadly, I have no idea whether this is true. It came to me, as of a voice from the heavens (oxygen starvation) near the top of a lung-bursting climb.
No doubt the few remaining rank and file Labour loyalists would complain that it is just this sort of childish nonsense which drives their bosses into extremes of knee-jerk authoritarianism. I am suitably chastened.

SVT

Last week my heart started skipping a beat. That’s how it felt. It would beat fifty-six times quite regularly, and then - the fifty seventh wasn’t there. I had to wait for the fifty-eighth. At first I thought I’d just missed it, moved my finger or been distracted. I asked J to take my pulse. She confirmed the phenomenon though, as we never see anything in quite the same way, she described it slightly differently.
I’ve had trouble with my heart before, but it’s been straight supraventricular tachycardia where the heart beats between 140 and 240 times a minute, sometimes for several hours. (Should you already be touching the corner of a handkerchief to you eye, deeply affected by my matter-of-fact heroism, I should mention that am no more on the verge of death, or even debility, than normal, which is not much so far.)
A slight digression about death. Daughter T and son M were up for Easter with their children. This being a 1790 merchant clothier’s house (of which we inhabit a third), the second storey was once a weaving room, with something like twenty six windows, and is now our living room. It covers the whole of the house, with the main chimney stack, a substantial block of masonry, going up through the middle.
Every night in the summer J goes into the garden last thing to hunt for slugs. This particular evening as we’d sat long at the table, she decided to go out on her slug hunt as I was clearing up the kitchen. She told me she was doing that. I registered that she was doing that. I then, when I had finished in the kitchen, a quite automatic routine, completed that routine by locking the outside door, and I went upstairs to join everybody else.
After maybe fifteen minutes M said, “Is that the bell ringing? Where’s Mum?”
“She’s out in the garden catching slugs,” I said. Then I connected two parts of my brain which had been out of contact.
J has many wonderful qualities. Sweetness of temper under all circumstances is not one of them. I was down the stairs, two flights, spiral, in 1.7 seconds (possibly the onset of the ectopic superventricular episode, though I haven’t made that connection before). J had been standing in the cold night for ten minutes. I made my peace with her, referring to the romantic beauty of the stars &c., as best I could, which was imperfectly.
An hour or so later, when we were again relaxed together, M had said that while we were downstairs T, the eldest, had instructed him and A that when we got back up again nobody was to, under any circumstances, laugh. Everybody had agreed that this was a good plan. She had then, as J and then I crested the rise, run to hide behind the chimney, making strangulated noises, and only emerged two minutes later, eyes wet.
The kids got into recounting difficult moments with us. E.g., the day before M and I had been up at a quarry on our mountain bikes. There was a particular drop that I wanted to try, but only when someone else was there to pick up any remains. It turned out to be straightforward, but from above, about a metre and a half of it looks vertical - nothing to the hard guys, but scary enough to the likes of me. M said that while I was doing it he was thinking to himself, “I hope he doesn’t kill himself now. In the general scheme of things it would be no bad way for him to go, good in fact. But - I’ll have to tell Mum. How do I do it? Do I ring her on the mobile and say, yes, yes, we’re having a great time, but, oh, and by the way.... Or could I sneak back, take the car and drive back to London, abandoning wife and children, and wait for things to sort of sort themselves... or... And wine being the trigger to much invention, we joined him in this amusing speculation.
So my death, like everybody else’s, is a permanent possibility.
The first time I had ectopic superventricula tacychardia our GP gave me a special note for A&E which got me straight through the waiting drunks and sports injuries and onto one of those hi-tec beds from the starship Enterprise, connected to a machine that went beep-beep-beep twice a second.
The young registrar - I use that term at random, I know nothing about the hierarchies of doctordom, but he wasn’t a consultant - was beside himself with delight. He was going to administer a massive (I may have added the “massive”) bolus of drugs straight to (I may have imagined the “straight to”) my heart. There were many, many doctors, young nurses, auxiliaries, cleaners (OK, OK) who had never seen this procedure, and when they had all been summoned, which might take some time, the maestro would proceed.
I liked this idea. I am one of those quite shy people (my family don’t totally agree with this characterisation) who doesn’t mind getting on a stage and acting. This was both live theatre, and just like being on telly. What more could I want?
Then the other bit cut in. Bolus. Massive. Drugs. To the heart.
I saw Dracula. I saw the stake. And the breast was mine.
A whumppff! of sheer horror.
Which clearly hit my sinoatrial node a violent wallop and jolted it back into action.
By which time the crowd was gathering. The registrar was just out rounding up the stragglers, and then the circus would begin.
He re-entered the theatre glowing. I didn’t know how to mention it. “Look,” I said, “I’m terribly sorry, but... you know, it’s stopped.”
“Stopped? Don’t be silly. You’d be dead.”
He pointed to the monitor for confirmation that I had not passed on.
Gradually the awful consciousness of what his ears and the steady 64 a minute beeping must have already told him, registered, and the joy drained from his face.
The news went round the crowd. Disconsolate and muttering they began to drift off.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I really am sorry.”
“Well, I suppose... not really your fault,” he murmured.
What a colossal-hearted man.
(To be continued).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Quizás como el nacimiento del Cuervo, pero mas pequeño.
© Jago

Political parties, national fear and loathing, local elections

If all the hopefuls in Thursday's local government elections don't want our vote to be affected by the behaviour of the two largest political parties, then why do they tie their colours to those twisted masts? Why don't they start different, less loathsome, even quite likeable local government parties, with local government policies, that we could vote for with enthusiasm?

Not a moon, down the barrel of a gun.
© Jago

Holes in the brain

This is a comment on Pedro's blog, but so you should know the worst I put it here too:
Visual memory is perhaps not the worst to be lacking. I have no spatial memory - not in the sense that I can't for instance rotate 3-D shapes in my head, but in knowing where things actually are. Yesterday I was explaining the shape of the house (an old mill building) to a friend. Suddenly I was puzzled. I pointed to a wall and asked my wife, "Surely the bedroom above can't be that small."
"What do you mean?"
"Well.." I gestured at a small space inside the front door, "that wall..." (I assumed the bedroom was the same size as the space I was looking at).
"And," she said, "what is beyond that wall?"
"The house next door," I said (with that "of course, do you take me for an idiot?" intonation.)
"Well, go and have a look," she said.
"What, next door?"
"No," she said, "into the study."
I didn't have to. At that point I remembered that in the study, where I am sitting now and sit a substantial part of the day, is a sort of anomalous stone platform to my right where I keep my two road bikes. It is where I gaze absently when nothing else is going on in my brain - that is, a lot of the time. And yet in explaining to my friend the layout of our house, in which we have lived for sixteen years, I had entirely forgotten about this 1.5 metre wide platform, and subjected our spare room to a procrustean fate, cutting 1.5 metres from it's length.
My wife gave me that look... those who have been together a long time know the one. Not despair, exactly, and, you hope, tinged with affection.

Friday, April 28, 2006


livingroom moon rising
© Jago

Dandelions

Pedro Terán says “It’s funny how you can know two things for years and not notice that they are the same thing.”
The other night I had a dream. I was playing catch with my grandsons who were in a line in front of me. The one to my left tricked me. He had the ball, feinted to my right, but then threw it to my left. Caught off balance, I lurched clumsily to my left, arm outstretched but far too late to make contact with the ball. The force of my movement woke me up.
Whereupon I thought, slightly agrieved, “Hang on a minute. What deceived me was not a grandson, it was a story (“I am going to throw the ball to your right”) sold to me by the virtual grandson in my brain. But my brain was the sole engine of that story. An “out there” object in my brain tricked the subjective presence of my brain. It was me who was tricked, and I was doing the tricking.
Pedro’s story of the dandelion also suggests that the brain has many virtual sites which seem at one time or another to be paramount, and the conscious “I” wonders among them without much logical record.

Coalition of the willing

He talks not like an elected representative, but the chief executive of an occupying power. Maybe for once his perception of himself is near the mark.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In answer to my question about snakeshead fritillaries below, Charlie Whittaker, clearly a man of wide interests, sent this link.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fatwahs and immaculate conceptions

Given how religions are based on The Truth, it’s surprising how coy their élites can be about the nature of that Truth. When The Guardian reported the Judas Gospel story it emphasised the populist bit, that Iscariot the bad guy might have been the good guy after all, because he was acting on the boss’s orders. But though it mentioned Christ’s crucial quote, “For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me,” it didn’t explain its appalling heresy for Christians who believe in the Nicene Creed. That is to say, “the man that clothes me” means that Jesus, if we are to take what He says as fact, was not a man, but a god disguised in the flesh of a man. His words would give credence to what some say they saw after the crucifixion, the spirit of Christ hovering above the cross, laughing at all the idiot humans gathered round its base who thought that He was dead.
The enormity of this revelation is not so great now that Christians understand how theology can only be an embarassment in the modern world, but in the three hundred and twenty five years following Christ’s death huge numbers of people made war on, tortured and burnt huge numbers of other people in a squabble over just this fundamental heresy, and Jesus’s manhood was not fully established (in the eyes of most believers at least) until 325 AD.
Likewise, of more recent significance, some twat has resurrected the Salman Rushdie fatwah. And what was that about? Well, those who shape Muslim thought are quite happy for the unlettered rank and file of fellow believers, operating at about the intellectual level of The Sun, to think that Rushdie’s crime against the Prophet in The Satanic Verses was to say that he went with loose women. Heavens above - how many great male figures of all religions didn’t go with loose women at one time or another? The whole Greek pantheon, for a start, give or take the gender specificity of the term “woman”; Gautama, Saints Antony, Augustine... Paul - even JC himself according to the films, which know as much about it as anybody does.
Though one cannot expect the followers of Islam to agree that their Prophet was in good company in this respect, nobody is pretending he was a cold and asexual man.
No, the sin of Satanic Verses is clear, simple, and much worse. In the story, the Prophet’s amanuensis (remember the Prophet himself did not read or write) decided to change the odd word of the Angel’s revelation, first just an “a” or a “the”, to see if Muhammad noticed when he read it back to him. When he didn’t, the amanuensis grew a little more adventurous.
The Word of God is supposed to be immutable and sacrosanct. But if Zâid ibn Thâbit was messing about with it, what does that make it? Provisional and slippery. Clearly the kind of lads who rushed around Bradford burning things couldn’t be entrusted with any such dangerous idea. Much better to say it was because the Prophet went with loose women. (Or even prostitutes. But this too is dodgy ground. What are the however many virgins contractually available to martyrs in Heaven but compliant bodies provided by the house?)
The Immaculate Conception of the Christians is interesting for a slightly different reason. It’s all a bit tacky, and they don’t really like talking about it at all. A lot of Catholics, and this isn’t just ignorant peasants, used to think until quite recently that it referred to the precise process by which the Holy Virgin became pregnant. I knew even an ex-priest who thought this, and maybe that’s what they were taught, to save awkwardness (this same guy, an old friend, left the priesthood one cold wet night when, as a very junior servant of Christ’s cause on Earth, he'd been out to administer the last rites, found a cold wet and starving mother and baby on the street and brought them in to the priests’ house ("Fathers" waited on by nuns) for warmth and a meal. The senior men of God told him to put her and her baby back out on the street again where she belonged. At three o’clock the next morning my friend got out of bed, packed his few things, and walked out. “What, the house...?” I asked. “No,” he said, “the whole package.”)
The Immaculate Conception wasn’t invented until 1854. The question had been raised of how the V. Mary could have been permanently and essentially without sin as, since Eve’s trifling indiscretion, every human being in existence had been and would ever be conceived in sin.
This was an embarrassment. There was no doubt that Mary’s parents had been at it in the usual way preparatory to her conception, with unCatholic bodily secretions and maybe vocalisations and all the rest of the unfortunate business. What to do? What to do? In 1854, Pius IX went and asked God, and God told him that Mary had official exemption from the curse of Eve. She had been conceived without sin.
But then the Curia might anticipate the questions of the great gullible unwashed (the kind you might find in the street of a wet cold night.) “Conceived without sin? And exactly how would you set about that, father? Tell us the method and maybe we could be giving it a go.” No, inform on a need to know basis, but best hush it up as much as possible.
The only religion which seems to avoid this kind of muddle is Hinduism. There you can worship what deity or demon you want, with whatever attributes you wish, and nobody seems to need to kill you for it. Hardly a proper religion at all in fact.
A book here that might be worth having a look at

Friday, April 21, 2006


Crouching in the vegetation here... hardly daring to breathe... I feel immensely privileged
© J

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Noise and silence

I was riding up the very steep hill out of H, eventually towards Hades [SE 136 049] and Elysium [SE133 054]. An old lady came out of a house gate further up, a little oedemic about the legs but smartly dressed and carefully made up. As we tottered past each other, me upwards on the lowest granny gear, the old lady with ten centimetre steps valleywards, we exchanged greetings. Mine was, good morning, though it was probably well into the afternoon, and she said, “I’ll ‘ave yer by.” I have no idea what it meant, but I took it to embrace our relative athletic prowess.
A couple of hundred metres up the road around twenty stones the size of my head but rough square-cut crashed down on the road in front of my wheel with some forceful clatter. I looked up the three metre dry stone wall to my left and there was a disconcerted, very hairy Alsation that had just demolished the top two courses of the corner of its garden wall. I said nothing. It neither.
I awaited the third happening, because things are meant to come in threes. But there was no more.
Except the day after, yesterday evening, I was riding up to High Brow, an even steeper, stonier less travelled track. On one side was a hanging oak wood, on the other another high dry stone wall with a narrow grass verge at the bottom, and there on the grass, neatly side by side like they had been taken off and carefully placed before someone climbed into bed, was a pair of Reebok ankle boots, black with white logo, in good condition.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Dilly's bling
© J

Jarndyce's metaphor

I have just come, far too late and via Curious Hamster’s exemplary analysis, to Jarndyce’s metaphor in justification of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq:

You're walking past a duck pond. In the pond, a child is drowning. You have the power to save him. There are twenty people sitting on the bank doing nothing about it, and you fail to swim in and save him. If he drowns, you've done a bad thing.

OK, most metaphors fall to pieces in the end, but this one never gets together in the first place. I suggest that slightly more robust, though clearly not invulnerable, is:

There is a prison which we helped to set up and staff. Over the years a régime of bullying and even lethal abuse emerged. At first we encouraged it. Then the prison governor gave some friends of ours a kicking. We stormed the prison and killed some of the prisoners. Then we withdrew, leaving the prison governor in charge, but we put the prison on short rations, which the prisoners had to pay for through the nose. The young and weak died in significant numbers.
The bullying continued, got worse, and to stop it we occasionally flew over the prison and bombed it. Tales of lethal substances inside were rife, though, apart from stuff we had helped the governor to procure, not substantiated.

Ten years after we gave the governor his first kicking we decided to go and give him another, even bigger one, kill a lot more prisoners, steal as much stuff as we could, trash the prison infrastructure, and liberalise the prison régime by handing over power to a group of conflicting prisoners’ councils.
Despite the resilience and good will of a majority of the prisoners throughout this time, parts of the prison descended into non-stop, high casualty rioting, and the infrastructure deteriorated even more. The bullying did not stop.

We started to talk about leaving the prisoners to their own devices and going and kicking the shit out of another prison next door.

Monday, April 17, 2006


October is warmer than April
© Jago

the quince tree is not just a pretty face
© Jago

End of the garden (but in June, not now)
© Jago

The spirit of English Cricket
© Jago

A point of principle

Every time I write something on the British Government/inert anaerobically pullulating mass of the Parliamentary Labour Party/unspeakable quagmire of rotting shite we call Downing Street, I mean it to be the last. I really am a strong believer in doing things that are fun, constructive, enjoyable, creative, all that stuff. Sometime over the weekend J and I walked down to the white bridge, it was warm and sunny and just ahead were our son and daughter shoulder to shoulder laughing about something and up ahead again were five grandchildren, mounted on bicycles, bows and swords at the ready for the rocks and woods, they were shouting at the tops of their voices, the birds likewise, a woodpecker drumming, and we observed to each other that it was all OK. And that’s the kind of thing I should write about. The British Government/inert anaerobically pullulating mass of the Parliamentary Labour Party/unspeakable quagmire of rotting shite we call Downing Street, could they just be like sewage management and refuse collection, something which has to be done but we can comfortably ignore; or like a pathogenic body which has lodged in ours, unexpellable, but something we can encyst so that it festers in isolation and its gaseous distillations, which could kill from disgust alone, let alone toxicity, are imprisoned by impermeable membranes.
Sometimes I think that’s possible. Then you read stuff like this; the Saudi Arabian state imprisoned and tortured four British citizens for crimes which they knew, and the British Government knew, had been committed by native Wahabists. The British Government, incapable of a statement of principle, incapable of defending or standing up for it’s own citizens, incapable of anything, quite frankly, than getting its tongue as far as possible up the arses of bullies, torturers, militaristic thugs, atavistic oligarchs (all this, it is true, may be uniquely part of the psychopathology of Anthony Blair, but it does rub off, you know, you suppurating pus of New Labour, you can’t plead you were just obeying orders, or not quite yet, not till Princess Tony has been in power a little longer and done a little more relevant legislation); the British Government, incapable of championing anything but manifold and manifest oppression and degradation of the ordinary of the earth, could not demand that their citizens were immediately released, and shame the Saudis into doing so, because, apart from it not being in their governmental nature to do anything other than what was vile, they were tied to the Saudi Royal Family by webs of corruption so deep and strong and interpenetrating that they had no freedom of movement. So that when the Saudi Royal Family imprisoned and tortured four British citizens, the British Government acted “discreetly” and “behind the scenes” (oh for Hamlet to skewer them through the arras) - that is to say not at all. And the four British citizens endured imprisonment and torture for months (what fantasies we have of Princess Tony, Jack Straw, that Reid guy and a. n. other or your choice being substituted for our innocent citizens and put under the probe and the vice) while the British Government/inert anaerobically pullulating mass of the Parliamentary Labour Party/unspeakable quagmire of rotting shite we call Downing Street dithered and pussy footed oleaginously around for months. Fair enough. We’d had a New Labour régime for six years by that time. We knew the kind of creatures they were.
But now this. The British Government is arguing in the House of Lords for the immunity of Saudi torturers of British citizens. It is, they say, a point of principle.
Oh, sorry, you do have principles then.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Email: Baluchistan and the Highway Code

Dear Kali Mountford,
I see that Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism operations chief, has said that US-backed Baluchi Sunni guerrillas have been involved in an attack in Sistan-Baluchistan last month in which over 20 Iranian government officials were killed and the governor of the provincial capital was wounded.
My query is, are we permitted to glorify this? I would appreciate a fairly prompt answer as I feel the glory coming on but do not wish to be in breach of any recent anti-terrorist legislation.
While I am writing to you I would like to take the opportunity of thanking you for your letter of 22 March about the consultation on the draft of the revised Highway Code. Your message there is encouraging.
I would however like some clarification of your fourth paragraph where you ask me to encourage the rogue cyclists of London “to use their cycles with due care, not only to other road users but also pedestrians”.
I will happily do as you request as I am always pleased to be of public service. However there are logistical problems. As you are no doubt aware (though I can see those exchanged pleasantries with “ministerial colleagues” [your para three] may drive such trifles from all but the least excitable head) you constituency, where I live, lies some one hundred and eighty miles North of London. In order to do as you suggest I would have to travel to and from the Capital, and I would need accommodation while there. A small central two bedroom pied-à-terre would be sufficient. I would also require a bicycle on which to roam the streets and exchange views with commuting cyclists.
I do not lead your privileged life, working as you do at the hub of decision and opinion making, that glorious and hegemonic capital which politicians, especially high flying politicians such as yourself, tend to confuse with the greater nation which exists outside Parliament and the City and which may only occasionally register on their peripheral vision, so they project the ills of London (eg in education) onto the nation as a whole - hence the longer they are there the more delusional they become; however from the odd bit of intelligence that gets here I gather that the main danger to pedestrians in London is from car drivers (accounting for half of all fatalities) and, if pedestrians are in danger from someone on a bicycle, it is likely to be from an MP - though clearly not of your party, with its great love affair with the luxury motor car.
However, I ramble on. Perhaps you could let me know about the glorification of US-backed terrorism, and about the transport and accommodation for my London Mission.
Best wishes

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Elephant in the room


Is not the elephant in the room the sale of BAe’s twenty per cent share in Airbus?
As a thought experiment we could consider that one of the biggest areas of organised crime in Britain is defence and the defence procurement industry. I don’t mean this metaphorically, I mean literally. I don’t have any evidence for this - well, beyond the BAe fraud case; the revolving doors between the military, the civil service and the arms manufacturers; the gift of export credit guarantees to arms traders; a succession of dodgy MOD procurement audits; millionaire British officers “advising” gulf state sultans on defence; that kind of thing. No evidence at all. It’s just it seems obvious that where you have a massive organisation, Defence Procurement, which is a bottomless pit for Treasury money exceedingly ill spent and is massively screened from the public gaze by the Official Secrets Act, then you are looking at the potential for organised crime on a gigantic scale. And it is almost like a law of physics that were there is the potential for organised crime, then criminals will fill it. And successive governments are so mired in complicity (to put it politely) with this organised crime that the very thought of democratic investigation gives them the vapours. Once you the Prime Minister, whoever you are, have presided over this level of corruption for a year or so, you are locked in.
And so I reckon it’s quite significant that BAe is selling its stake in Airbus, the most successful civilian aeroplane manufacturer in the world - sure civil airlines are big agents of global warming but I still reckon they’re better than the military industrial complex - and investing the £4.5 billion they hope to raise in weapons of destruction (I can’t remember how many have to be killed at one go before they become weapons of mass destruction) under the aegis of the Pentagon.
This will have the effect of binding the British Government even more tightly into the - cess pit? - the horizon to horizon polluted ocean of British-American military criminality (how many billions of dollars of Iraqi money given away to criminals by the Coalition of the Willing? - I can’t remember.) It will tie American dominance even more closely into the heart of the UK government, and hasten its journey - whichever grouping is in power - towards the secret, security dominated, summary justice wielding, Parliament neutering state of which the present Prime Minister dreams and, on occasion, dreams aloud.
As for guarantees that British employment will be secure, is EADS, a company owned by those “weaker economies” of Germany, France and Spain, really going to be all that worried about job losses in the land of the Bushmonkey?
OK - a hunch isn’t enough to go on. OK - there is nothing rotten in the state of British defence procurement. There is no elephant in the room. But I am puzzled. I have here a magazine which I bought in WH Smith in November 1994. It has a photo of the lovely Mark Thatcher on the front. In a long leading article Business Age announces that of the £200 million that Wafic Said received in offset oil for the Al-Yammamah (BAe) arms deal, around £40 million went to the Thatchers via Mark Thatcher’s offshore bank accounts, and £30 million went to the Conservative Party to fight the 1987 and 1992 elections. Business Age announces that in February 1993 Mark Thatcher had £41 million on deposit in three Swiss bank accounts; that the idea of oil instead of cash came from Sir Peter Levene, head of procurement in the Ministry of Defence. And that the audit that covered up the transfer of these considerable sums to the Thatchers and the Conservative Pary was conducted by the Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, who was a former defence official working for Levene... and - it goes on, it sounds hugely paranoid, what Curious Hamster would call tin foil helmet stuff.
Oh, and that Bourn’s final report was suppressed by the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the (New before his time?) Labour MP Robert Sheldon, who did not even allow the other members of the committee to see the report.
Maybe Business Age made it all up, and that’s why it’s never mentioned. But I still think there’s an elephant in the room. And a government not as mired as its predescessors in defence corruption would stop the sale of Airbus wings until the Serious Fraud Office had finished with BAe.

Friday, April 07, 2006


The delicate touch of the hi-tech master
© Jago

The brute malice of things

Some people are born engineers, and I am not. I’m too convinced that insensate objects have intentions - not rationally convinced, obviously, that would be ridiculous, but somewhere in that deeper area of knowing that we share with hedgehogs and frogs, I know that things do things on purpose.
This became irrefutable - my primitive conviction, not the conscious agency of objects - when this morning I shut a high vertical hinged cupboard door on my own head, and didn’t attack it. Not attacking it was the crucial bit of the proof. Reflecting afterwards, I realised that that cupboard door had been left unpunished not because flailing out with my fists above my head would have been ineffective and perhaps dangerous, but because I accepted that the blow to my head was not the cupboard door’s fault. Whereas when the corner of the hood of the extractor fan strikes me woundlingly on the temple I don’t behave like a wishy washy liberal, I clout it back; a ringing blow to its smug white enamel top; or rather I used to until I realised that the reason the light over the hob failed every three weeks (the time it takes me to forget the exact location of the extractor hood) is that the lamp filament was shattered by every punitive percussion.
J kindly shares my views on the bad behaviour of inanimate things. Once when I was going to bed my jersey was being particularly recalcitrant, you know the way they do, somehow tangling it’s sleeve round my neck and then knotting it. When I’d finally extracted myself from this gratuitous bit of knitwear judo, I flung the garment down on the chair with enough force to remind it to behave better in the morning. J had come in from the bathroom during the tussle and was leaning against the doorframe, apparently trying to suppress a coughing fit. When she was better she said, in a tone of mild shock, “My goodness, was your jersey being unruly?”
Nobody likes being struck or curtailed in their movements, but I also have a particular hatred of metallic or other loud objects which fall off shelves and clatter in a clangorous way. They seem to me impudent and insulting and so I swear at them, face to face, obscenely and personally, and kick them if they are within kicking distance.
Given all this it is unsurprising that I am not much of an engineer. And it is one of the qualities my son M has inherited, it seems. Other not-born-engineers will recognise the predicament. You decide to fix something because it can’t be that difficult. At some point, much further along a much longer timeline than you thought possible, the thing you are fixing arbitrarily self destructs in a way that is going to be difficult and embarrassing to explain to the expert you are going to have to take it to to get it sorted out. So you take desperate measures - usually involving a lump hammer, a rusty chisel and an old bit of scaffolding.
This, minus the scaffolding, is what my son had done. The seat pin on his bike was jammed in. To cut a long story short, hours and a lump hammer and chisel later, he had succeeded in mangling it and then getting it stuck as far down the seat tube as it would fall, resting on the bottom bracket (the technicalities of this are irrelevant, just recall one of your ten most embarrassing moments). This meant that the new seat post sat on top of the old one - manageable, but not ideal adjustment wise.
If I wake up at three in the morning, and I often do, my brain is ready for mathematical problem solving. As I failed GCSE maths the first time (five good GCSEs, that’s a joke), this is very perverse of my brain (I once almost had to get out of bed at four thirty to look up Euclid’s proof that there are an infinite number of prime numbers). But sometimes I can persuade it to solve non-mathematical problems, and in the small hours of that morning I realised that if I rammed a tapered broom stick down the seat tube and jammed it in the offending seat pin (a hollow cylinder) I might be able to get it out.
I explained my plan at breakfast. There was a general air of scepticism, rather indelicate; urban mythic trips to A&E to have intrusive objects removed were alluded to. I remained calm.
Unfortunately there was no broomstick of the right size lying about but - maybe I am usually too impatient, and the solution to an engineering problem cannot be forced but depends on a convergence of the right agents in the fulness of time, and here there was the common miracle. The previous weekend M had cut some small branches off a eucalyptus tree, and, like love at first sight, my eye lit on one that I knew, suitable tapered with a kitchen knife, would fit increasingly snugly within the seat post’s circumference the harder I shoved it down.
The brusque insertion and delicate extraction had to be repeated many times before I got the exact technique, but the whole thing only took about an hour and a half. It’s true that in the end I had to resort to a monkey wrench and some serious torque. But no damage was done to any components. The new post slid in all the way, should that ever be required on truly desperate descents. And if by the end of it the bike felt as warm a glow towards me as I felt towards it, then another affectionate link between man and metal has been forged.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The dwindling democratic air


"There is absolutely nothing, in my view, that should come before the basic liberties of people in this country to be freed from the tyranny of this type of organised crime."

That's Tony Blair talking about, in per centage rank order of dreadfulness, drug trafficking (40%), people trafficking (25%), fraud (10%) and other organised crime (15%).
In deference to the Prime Minister I think we'll ring-fence fraud, New-Lab sphincter-wise, right now. It's clichéd I know, but a man who's cuddled up just one slippery prophylactic layer away from the mafia needs total protection from the brutally obvious.
And if there are crimes worse than people trafficking (which includes slavery, torture, rape as the ingredients of choice), then what are they? I think we find ourselves on the same side as Tony here.
In fact, most of us disorganised, non-organised or frankly useless criminals find on reflection that we are against crime in general, with a few let-out clauses for our own tiny trans-legal excursions. It's not me who's going to say "give the slavers and crack barons their heads".
But he's a slimy proto-totalitarian, the Prime Minsiter, nonetheless. A lot of people think he's thick, blinkered, has a tunnel vision that would lead in the end, if his legislative programme came to fruition, to a lethal and paranoid absolutism, Like Stalin or Saddam Hussein. But he's not thick, Blair, and he's not blinkered, he has a vision of startling clarity and focus which he knows will lead in the end, if his legislative programme comes to fruition, to a benign and wise and caring fatherhood of the nation, where no sparrow will fall without a lens on it. Just like Stalin or Saddam Hussein.
An exemplary demonstration of his virus-like cunning is there in the quote at the top. I don't know if his Downing Street subversion-sniffers caught wind of it or whether the Prime Minister and his speech writers subconsciously sensed its imprint on the dwindling democratic air, but the most powerful and economical analysis and demolition of any NewLab claim to be anything but the party of the New Repression was Karma Nabulsi's Don't sign up to this upside down Hobbesian contract.

"[Hobbes] sets out a cold contract among individuals to form the state: the individual surrenders part of his liberty to purchase security, which it is the sovereign's job to determine... How much of your liberty do you yield to your protector? As much as he says he needs to provide you with protection."

That is the Blair/Bush/Stalin/Hussein line.

Against this Nabulsi posits


"a social contract... the purpose of [which] is to protect a citizen's liberty... In this version... the sovereign citizen does not surrender sovereignty, but only specific powers and functions to the state."

What was it Blair said again?

"There is absolutely nothing, in my view, that should come before the basic liberties of people in this country to be freed from the tyranny of this type of organised crime."

How the attempted nobility collapses into incohate putrefaction now. The bladdered gas with Blairite liberty written across it's surface in lurid slime has a dodgy bung, the phrase "to be freed from". Not "to be free" from all organised crime, a pointless utopianism but syntactically harmless. No, we are to be "freed from", we the prisoners, passive, slack jawed, quaking, impotent, freed from the terrors that surround us, that have reduced us to this dark, now for ever inescapable shadowland where we are no longer agents, but subjects, ciphers, pitiful trash.
Who, what el Cid or Pol Pot, will do the freeing? "In my view..." it says.
It is the view of the Great Helmsman.
And how important is our liberation from any democractic responsibility for, any agency in our own "freedom"?
"There is absolutely nothing, in my view, that should come before th[is] basic liberty."
Absolute, then.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


Outlaw tombstones head for the greenwood
© Jago

The Elements of colour

The Bauhaus exhibition at the Tate Modern reminded me of a crime I had committed. I stole Johannes Itten’s The Elements of Colour from a library. I had thought it was from the library of Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka where I taught on and off for seven years, and over the last couple of days I have been trying to rationalise or in some way excuse this theft - and not making a very good job of it. There wasn't really the slightest fissure or irregularity where I could get a handhold on a good bit of specious self-justification, because Evelyn Hone was far and away the best place I have ever worked. I started the year after Zambian independence, and my first three weeks were spent thus.
In 1964, after, I don’t know, seventy years of colonial rule, Zambia, rich in copper, had fewer miles of tarred road than Jersey, and three secondary schools. My first students, though in effect colleagues, they being much older than I was, were six mechanics whose job had been to service government Landrovers. Under colonial rule these men were “spanner boys” and not allowed any supervisory position, nor permitted any notion of themselves as the mechanics they were. Now they were to become supervisors in three weeks flat, and as such had to be able to fill in detailed worksheets. But previously they had not been allowed to speak English to their superiors, communication was in pidgin, so called “kitchen kaffir”. So not only could they not fill in the forms, they did not have the conceptual theory of the four stroke internal combustion engine that only a linguistic structure can give. They could diagnose, analyse, fix the things, but they could not theorise about the physics and mechanics of their operation.

Jesus, we showed them - the old guard, that is. By the end of three weeks we were theorising about not just the land Rover engine, but the gas turbine, turbojets, turbofans, ram jets, pulse jets, if we’d had another week we’d have been in space. If people have a deep non-linguistic knowledge of how something works, adding the language and the theory is quicker than switching on a light in Jack Straw's "show your gratitude" Iraq.
And things went on from there. It was a brilliant place in those first years. So how could I have stolen such a beautiful book from them? I had to find an answer.
Nearly all my Zambian students are dead now it seems, even the high fliers, Winter Lemba who on his first journalism work-experience went into Angola with the MPLA, saw action against the Portuguese and had his story syndicated all over the world. Most of them were fairly ordinary young men and women, some outstanding. Greene Simpungwe, Rachel Makoni, where are they now? Not just AIDS that killed them either - malaria, car crash, poverty, violence.
I wasn't getting any closer to an excuse for stealing the book.
I got The Elements of Colour down from the self just now. First I was puzzled. The last withdrawal was 1980, and I Ieft Lusaka in 1973. I read the accession label. Oh. Ah. It wasn’t Evelyn Hone on whom I had committed an appling theft, it was West Cumbria College, Workington.
That place was a shitheap. The students were much the same as in Zambia, ordinary, usually pleasant young men and women, a few gifted and brilliant. But most of the staff (you know who you are, the good guys) were reactionary bigots, the teaching was grey sludge, the sky was often grey sludge too. I remember the place as a prison.

So I didn’t steal the Itten. I liberated it. It has a bright future.
No, that doesn't work either. Prison is just where you need colour.
Maybe I didn't walk out with
The Elements of Colour when the librarian was looking the other way. Maybe I sort of, you know, just had it by mistake after I'd left the college, maybe I didn't notice till I'd moved a hundred miles away. I don't think the place exists any more, the book might by now be a nugget of grey sludge ten metres down in landfill site.
Anyway, too late, like so many things. Too late.

K XVII 1923
László Moholy-Nagy
© 2006 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/ DACS

Ballard was right

JG Ballard was prophetic about London west along the Thames, it is a future and alien world, out of phase and fringed with spectral blurs tipped by just a fraction of a prismatic degree. Huge airliners constantly track the near horizons, bigger than the blocks of flats and and offices they almost movelessly overhang. Last week was on the lip of the cold waterfall of spring, and the tide came seething over the banks up through Richmond, past Eel Pie Island and across the meadows of Teddington and Ham like a precursor flood from the arctic ice cap. The sky there is full of parakeets, more and more all the time. O, J and I watched the Starwars dvd where Anikin goes over to the Dark Side. O at five understands many things like why those red streaks the androids shoot at the Jedi all the time never, ever hit anybody, in a way that I still strive for. Afterwards in the dusk J and I walked through the trees down to the lock at Teddington (Tide’s End Town, according to Dickens). We were on the narrower track on the left and suddenly a squadron of fifteen parakeets screeched down the wider track to our right at head height. They have scythe wings and dagger tails, and for a second a major part of my brain thought we were under attack from Darth Vader’s half-sensate death machines. The next day we were sitting in an old Victorian greenhouse with M, A and S celebrating M’s thirty eighth birthday and there at the next table, to consolidate the feeling of slightly halucinatory, millennial but euphoric unreality was David Attenborough of Planet Earth, bringing with him to Petersham, if only metonymically, all the exotic creatures of the globe now on the edge of extinction, narwhals and clouded leopards.
Moholy-Nagy and Albers at the Tate Modern were a tremendously impressive and benign learning experience rather than a great emotional high; I felt intellectually priviledged to be there; and also guilty at my directionless time wasting. Maybe if I’d been called Moholy-Nagy, and born in Hungary rather tha Chalfont St Giles, I too could have achieved something.

Friday, March 31, 2006


I have no idea what these are. I know where they are. The sea in the top right hand corner is the Atlantic Ocean, the coast of Spain somewhere south of Huelva. But what are the objects across which the two human shadows fall? I can only assume that they are two dimensional extraterrestrials, barely perceivable to our senses, travelling on semi-visible levitating vehicles (if indeed two dimensional forms need to levitate).
If that is my shadow on the left, then the paler being must have passed through my right leg on its way to the beach, and yet I remember no injury.
As more and more of one's life recedes, such bizarre phenomena stud what passes for memory with increasing frequency.
© Jago

What satire is for

In fencing there is a move called a stop hit. It’s like that Indiana Jones moment when a towering figure in black robes and hood challenges our hero with a complex and terrifying exhibition of swordplay. Indiana watches the flashing blade whistling past his nose with an expression somewhere between irritation and ennui, then he mutters, “Oh, sod it,” takes out his pistol, and shoots the guy in the guts.
That is basically a stop hit. Your sword-fighting opponent performs all sorts of feints, taps, changes of guard, the whole suite of moves ending in a graceful lunge which should put the tip of her épée against your heart. As she’s in mid lunge you stick out your own sword, gracelessly, and stab her in the tripes.
At some point I realised that in disagreements on important points of principle (racism, monarchy, nuclear disarmament were the kind of thing) there was no point at all in trying to put my case by serious argument (I’m talking about canteen-type situations here, not the bosom of the loving family) because you could lead the opposition logical step by logical step, with their complete agreement, to your conclusion, whereupon they’d stare at the ceiling with a vacant eye, then something beautiful and simple would dawn, they’d perk up and say, “Aye, but we need cruise missiles/a monarch/a sense of unquestioned racial superiority (the last not expressed quite in those terms), don’t we?” - the exact proposition they’d started with all those minutes or hours ago.
For a long time I couldn’t understand this. Then I stopped trying. I realised that there was no point in trying to change people’s deeply held beliefs by syllogism or any form of logic. All I could do, and it was much more effective, was try to ridicule, belittle, show an amused, amusing and utterly superior sneering derison for their most cherished convictions, with such sudden, brutal and often obscene rudeness that they were at a loss for words. This meant they didn’t express those views again in my presence - and hopefully felt slightly hesitant and uncomfortable about doing it at all.
This technique was not foolproof. It either didn’t work, or maybe my moral conviction diminished to vanishing point, with very big and violent rugby players. But as a way of advancing peace and respect for all people it sure beat the shit out of rational argument.
And that is the best and maybe only purpose of satire; to humiliate, grotesquify, belittle, make suicidal or mad or otherwise ineffectual, people who have become a curse to humankind.
Satire is not parody, it is not the kind of thing that the satirised could watch with chortling pleasure. They may watch it with complete incomprehension, so skewed are their ideas of themselves, their worth, their place in the world and their effect upon it. But the satirist’s hope should be that even if the victim gets only the slightest inkling of what is being done to them, they will flee screaming into the desert, to emerge months later as harmless saints, or preferably not at all (peace to their bones).
I mention this because I am in a day or two going to say something about the Member of Parliament who represents me, however fractionally, in the House of Commons. She is a Blair Babe, but more in the eponymous film sense, one of the short fat ugly lying ones who would be put at the back of any photo so only the top of her head showed.
Nice people may be shocked by even those perfectly objective, non-satirical observations on her person and character. But she is a politician. A New Labour Politician. She has invariably voted the Blair line.
New Labour has done some good things. I have some experience of the good things New Labour has done in regenerating one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. But I reckon that those good things have been achieved by a very small fraction of the government. For the rest, which includes most Cabinet Ministers, they need...
...When a caterpillar pupates, it doesn’t just change shape and grow legs and wings, it melts into a primordial soup and from that soup the lineaments of a butterfly and then the butterfly itself emerge.
New Labour needs to be liquidised, reduced to the same primordial soup. The emergence of anything like a butterfly is neither likely nor desirable, we are talking about politicians here. But at least the toxic secretions; the totalitarian tendencies, the contempt for democracy, the stupidity, arrogance, mendacity, staggering incompetence, servility to America, the Hobbesian distrust of liberty, the gated estate of power, all these might be encapsulated, excreted and partially destroyed.
New Labour is long past any engagement in rational argument. They have tipped over a catastrophe fold and they are in their present form irredeemable. Discussion, debate, are no longer options.
Satire will not bring them down, but it will help to soften them up.
I say all this because kind-hearted people do not like to see others hurt. But remember, these are politicians. When they give up the status of politician they will, given time, regain the status of human being, as most politicians do (a few Tories have to be excepted, and Home Secretaries as a class seldom make it). But as politicians, we must question whether they merit the decencies of our species. Satire fodder now. No more.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


OJW eating an icecream on the beach
© Jago

Gone out, back soon

Off to London for a week, grandchildren, the Bauhaus exhibition at the Tate, eat and drink. Have a good weekend

Wood Whale moving over open ground, Farnley Tyas
© Jago

Soul

Further to the guardian, it may be the best newspaper in the world, but the best to read and admire are not necessarily the best to work for.
A time ago I was going though a folder wondering what to do with various odds and sods; one piece that I liked I sent off to the guardian’s Face the Faith column. It is as I wrote it here.
The Face the Faith editor, who told me when he accepted the piece that he was a Catholic, cut the end off the article, ending it on “I go on, somewhere else”; thus altering my meaning to its opposite - a bit cheap, even from one of the devout, and I e-mailed him with a tirade about intellectual dishonesty.
He didn’t reply.

Read the guardian, work for The Times, that's my limited experience.

btw, when I wrote the piece I believed that research had shown religious people, of whatever “Faith”, were happier, richer, better balanced, more content than atheists. This proved to be a myth, without evidence. It now appears that in the hub of civilisation itself, the USA (Blair, Civilisation, 2006), strong and simple religious faith and a belief in the literal and superordinate truth of the Bible correlates with - oh, the kind of things you’d expect I suppose; incest, abortion, homicide.


There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002).

So when I said soul, “fills me with a constrained energy, moral, commercial, artistic, social, that soulless I never had”, that was bollocks. We don’t only feel better off for not being religious. We are.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Dollar Ogo country, winter
© Jago

Gringo Assholes Step Down

Placards for the successful rejection of the North American candidate and the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia.
A message for our own dear Tony too, perhaps.

Monday, March 20, 2006

This is an early 1960s picture, linocut and oils, by Nick Herbert. He lived then with his partner and baby son on the edge of Predannick, above Soapy Cove and Ogo Pons, in a half ruined pair of cottages called Jollytown. It was a tawny, wild, lovely landscape. They seemed to survive on bread and rabbit stew. I think the painting, 16 by 14cms, is the work of, potentially, an artist of note. Last time I saw Nick he was selling violins from a warehouse in London.
Years later, back from Africa, we walked past Jollytown from time to time when we were in Cornwall, but never went to pass the time of day with whoever lived there. I regret that we didn’t. There was an obituary in The Guardian, which I now can’t find, of the tenant, a well known sculptor and an aficionado of bike racing and the Tour de France - we’d have had at least three things to talk about.
Last time we were there the place was being used by environmentalist volunteers. It looked worthy, and unexciting.

The uncertain embers of punditry

The Guardian has gracefully received some top bloggers onto its Comment is Free site. Nosemonkey says:

This, of course, means we must now officially start the chants of "Chicken Yoghurt is a sell out!" and, in a few months' time, start moaning about how "yeah, man, he was, like the shit before he got famous - but now, man, nah... he's lost it", and raving about the next big thing instead... Ho hum, such is life...

It’s not a few months’ time, but anyway.
A context - libraries are good, huh? But there’s the possibility that libraries are not sincere institutions for the free and democratic sharing of all written knowledge. Not at all. Libraries were, from their ancient “mother” in Alexandria onwards, developed to corral and control the anarchic potential of the written word.
The same bipolarity goes for even the best newspapers, because a newspaper is a large public social undertaking, and has to be coherent and in certain dimensions predictable. It will have stockholders, an editorial policy, a hierarchy, reporters, feature writers and columnists, a style guide, a design, advertising, a sales team. It is arguable that in Britain and possibly the world this conglomerate of inputs, intentions and qualities has reached its highest form in The Guardian. Nonetheless, this only makes The Guardian the best newspaper in the world. It does not mean that it is the best source of news and commentary on any given subject ( Marcel Berlins on law, and Matt Seaton on cycling excepted).
Now a blog is, by orders of magnitude, a smaller, simpler kettle of fish. And I’m a typical timewaster in the blog proletariat. I write what I feel like, whether trite or obscure, banal or arcane, and I post pretty photos because the few visitors who drift myblogwards don’t read, they have an attention span of 11 seconds max. (you honourable exceptions, oh ye with the taste and intellect of gods, you know who you are because you are here with me now). Furthermore the design of my blog is crap because, though I’ve changed it a bit from the Blogger template, I haven’t been sufficiently arsed to learn the html to do beautiful things, like for instance the top bit of Chloe’s blog.
But, for all its failings and weaknesses, what it says is mine. I can mix sexual fantasies of the utmost obscenity with pointillist vilification of the Stalinist monster in Guardian colour supplement Welbeing clothing, Anthony Arsehole Blair; I can lie and cheat and swear and satirise, shamelessly mix fact and fiction until all hope of objectivity is lost, and from all this the truth will emerge - not just from me, I mean, from all bloggers - as much or more - more I would say - than from the media, print and broadcast, yes even from the good Guardian itself, with its money and its editorial policy and its style guide and its necessary and overweening self-importance.
And our Premium Division bloggers need to be aware of this. Chicken Yoghurt the blog is brilliant. I go there every day. Compare that with Justin McKeating’s (for Chicken Yoghurt is he) A death in the family .
It seems to me to be the difference between the flair of thought on its first burn, and the uncertain embers of punditry. The reasons for this contrast are clear and structural.
A career structure is emerging in blogging, and that is inevitable. We all recognise the élite, know who the A list are and, if we are honest, we might like to be among them. And a stern warning de bas en haut is never very credible.
I’ll give it nonetheless. Sam Wollaston (yes, The Guardian again) says that those “hundred best” whatever TV programmes, soaps, sitcoms, are known in the trade as “clips’n’cunts shows”. “Clips” are the snippets of “the best actors of all time” or whatever, and “cunts” are the pundits, “the people who yabber on between the clips.”
Blogging is not punditry. We prole bloggers talk largely to ourselves, but in a virtually infinite public arena which shapes our utterances to the way we want to be heard. What we produce is not, on the whole, solipsism. It is a new, mostly hyper-trivial, form of public discourse. It does of course lie along several continua with punditry. One of them is to do with the control exercised by expectations of others. With blogging, the expectation is in the writer’s take on the mind of the chance reader. With punditry, it also has to do with the expectations of the institution, however virtuous, which has graciously received the blogger into its presence. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes: not that I’d refuse them myself, but, unoffered, I recognise them for what they are.