Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Moonraking, atheism, and raki to come

I was talking to an old Baha'i friend, during the Moonrakers' festival in Slaithwaite, about Robert Alter's new (and excellent) translation of the Book of Psalms, and the friend said she was always surprised by how many atheists seemed to know more about religion than the religious practitioners themselves.
It occurred to me afterwards that I really don't like being called an atheist. It implies that subscribing to a large and unwieldy structure of belief, in something for which there is not the slightest evidence, is the natural condition of humankind, and that those who don't are lacking something.
I know some religious practitioners take an even more extreme view. Orhan Pamuk in Snow paints a subtle and disturbing picture of the gulf between madressah students and secularists in a run-down city in eastern Turkey. The Islamic students regard "atheism" not even as a position, but as a positive affliction; a virulent mental disease from which, with luck, one can be cured - a bit like the fundamentalist Christian/Muslim take on homosexuality.
But in fact not subscribing to a body of superstition is the condition of modern humanity, and that condition can only be described as a lack, a "being without", from a world view that supposes that the privileging of whatever religion, sect, cult or whatever, that the user of the term "atheist" happens to subscribe to, is the norm. This is patently not so. It's not just not so epistemologically, it's not so statistically either.
So the term atheist is redundant. You do not normally go round characterising yourself by the things you are not - as for instance a non-drug addicted non-Scientolgist non-marathon running non-member of the Royal Family or aristocracy; because this tells me nothing about who or what you actually are. If you want to describe a human being, surely it is more honest, as well as more economical, to describe their qualities and attributes, not what they are not.
Except, of course, in the context in which my old friend described me as an atheist at the Moonrakers' festival in Slaithwaite; there, it was necessary to adduce two groups, one of which had "a faith"; and priviledged it above all others, which were in error to a greater or lesser extent; and the other group which was fascinated by faith, as by literature or music, as an aspect of human behaviour; the origin of all such phenomena being within humanity itself.

The Moonrakers' festival? Illustrated above. And putting the photo up I notice a coincidence. I have just come back from Turkey, and of that amazing country there will be more. But for now, Slaithwaite, like Turkey, traditionally knows much about "woollen manufacture, the spinning of cotton and silk, and silk-weaving". And it is no doubt in honour of this knowledge and skill that two of the lanterns occasionally, and contingently, move into the configuration on the left of the photo above, the star and crescent of the Turkish flag.

Whoring for George

So St Anthony Charles has been hired again, this time to model the role of global toady to aspiring Washington rentboys and girls, and as propaganda arsepiece for the Great Crusade; or, as Yale apparently puts it, to teach a course on faith and globalization.

Monday, February 25, 2008


If you're going to write you have to think about self-censorship. Even though you shelter under the fiction that fiction is just that, you have to write about something, and that something has to be from your own experience, however vicarious, imagined, remixed, plagiarised or fantasised.
Some writers seem to contrive a world in which they have no part except as the incorporeal presence behind the voice on the page — PG Wodehouse, Molière perhaps, though I don't know much about Molière; the parodists and satirists — while others — Howard Jacobson, Javier Marías; the great interpreters of what it is to be human at a certain time — seem to use their own experience, however much transformed.
And so with humble bloggers. I am at the moment working on a short story that I wrote a few years ago, but it needs a lot doing to it. It's fiction, but it has facts in it, for whatever those terms are worth. (Did a certain farmer have three daughters? Yes. Did I go back and meet one of them after fifty years? No.)
By chance I recalled the three beautiful daughters of this farmer on this blog, way back in 2006, and I mentioned that in my teens I had been in love with the middle one. In truth I hardly knew her but… you know how it was when you were young.
So last week, when I was working on the life of fifty years ago on the peninsula at the southern tip of England, an anonymous comment appeared on that post, or rather two in succession.
The first said: Who are you Jago? I am one of the three daughters of the farmer.
The second said: Who are you Jago? I lived at Poltesco.
That's a voice over all those years, from the girl who drove the green Morris van bumping through the dust and stubble with tea and saffron cake for the men building the rick, arriving at just the time I was working on the story. Which of course she knew nothing about; she, and I didn't know which sister she was at the time, had only read the blog post. (Three sisters also figure in the sci-fi version of the Perseus myth I'm trying to write on-line at the moment.)
However the sitemeter soon told me roughly where whichever sister she was lives now, no longer on the southern peninsula where we were all young, and I replied to her by name (though spelt wrong, I now remember). It's the eldest, A (both she and the youngest were gorgeous in their ways) but not her.
A's been back to the blog to find out who I am, and then a couple of times again for a few seconds, without a word, and now she's gone.
And after that slight intrusion from fact, I can get on with the story, which still needs about three hundred words taken out before it's neat and as good as I can get. Leaving behind it in my brain the swirling relics of fact, like litter in the wind around a field of broken statues.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I suggested to S (11, and at a loose end) that he made an animated film. He looked at me a little blankly; "what do you mean?" I gave him a camera and a tripod. I went to cook the supper. J gave him the blu-tack. By the time the meal was ready he had completed his first oeuvre. You saw it here.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Wet dark green algae on stone at this time of year is a problem. On Saturday J slipped and fell down some steps and broke her arm. Breaking an arm is a generic term, covering a full smash up of everything available to chipping the end off a bone. In this case J put down her hand to take the impact, which consequently went from the heel of the palm through, and I'm guessing here from a diagram I've just googled, the carpals and straight up the radius; the shock dissipating a little beyond the elbow but, and here's the destructive bit, chipping a bit off the wrist end of the radius - a distal radial displacement. You come out of hospital with a plaster cast (in the UK - I gather, surprise surprise, we're a bit retro in these things) and your arm in a sling. And we call it, because we English don't like to seem intellectually pretentious by giving things their precise names, a broken arm.
The National Health Service may occasion a bit of waiting around on hard chairs, in a queue, with darts on the telly, but once you get to where the action is it's impressive; as things always are when you get to watch a team of experts doing their daily work.
So, J is on her back on a high bed with a cylinder of "gas" and an inhaler on her right, and me holding her hand. At this point the doctor, a well built bearded man in glasses, is slowly seeping Novocain round the radiocarpal joint. Having given a minute or so for this to start working he probes for the fracture itself, and feeds the anaesthetic between the bone and the chipped off bit. Meanwhile he describes another anaesthetic procedure which is available, just to pass the time for us, I guess.
When J says the area is numb, the other two in the team arrive, the plaster nurse and a woman not in uniform whose job it is to pull from the elbow end. The doctor then gets J's hand and wrist and twists the hand hard downwards and backwards pressing, I guess, with his thumb on the bone chip and pushing it back into place. This is obviously what he's doing, but it looks like he's trying to twist her hand off. Meanwhile the plasterer winds a thin fleece bandage round her forearm from the elbow down, and then starts with the wet plaster bandage and, the magic bit, between them, swiftly but unhurriedly, they produce an arm in a plaster cast that is holding, so the subsequent X-ray reveals, the chip back on the end of the bone in exactly the position it was before J fell on it.
By this time I worship the pair of them, and I don't want to leave the woman pulling from the elbow end out of it either. I know they're only doing their jobs - but they are so good at it, and so kind, friendly, matter of fact while they're doing it.
A chairman of a bank, or a supermarket checkout person, a council executive director, a gas meter reader, they're only doing their jobs, but I don't feel the same about them.
Now it's four to six weeks to heal.