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.