Freehold Tenancy of the Cerebral Kind


Picture for a minute a language wherein its speakers have to find a way of describing quintessential stuff like love and recollections without recourse to metaphor. Leave out, for a minute, the symbolic referents used to get over the problem of abstractions: mind-benders such as, What is this Crazy Little Thing Called Love I keep hearing about on the jukebox? What is a memory, because I’m damned if I can remember? What is this feeling of joy because trying to describe it is really getting me down? And, If death is the undiscovered country, then who the f**k would want to fly there? Try getting by in the bardic language of love and remembrance without borrowing heavily from the world around us – from the phenomenological world of things: of nature’s great spectacles, like hurricanes and heatwaves, and drops of water, and delicate plants and hearts of oak, and organisms – like love itself – that live for a day then die. There would be no picture, for one. My love is like a red, red rose would become my love is like a physiological entity, a feeling if you will, induced by the hormones oxytocin and endorphin that are secreted in varying quantity as an endocrine response to a strong impulse normally associated with human behaviours, most notably sexual reproduction and pair-bonding. For the dispassionate scientist of love, this most mammalian of felt experiences does not flood the senses, burn the fingers, smoulder with desire, or even – to borrow from the late, great Jackie Wilson – lift me higher and higher. Rather, it needs no symbolic transport to carry it from speaker to listener, because for the scientist love is not an abstract, it is biological function of higher mammals that finds its context socially. At a push, love is a trick designed by nature to make the bonding stick, to maximise parental success in raising their single offspring through a relatively long period of care and early years development. Or, to fall back on a metaphor, love is a trap for fools. Not that all parents are fools. One thing love is not is the force that makes the world go round. No, no. That would be angular momentum, conserved by something felt not only as a physical force but also, coincidentally, by lovers falling rapidly out of love: namely, inertia.

Let us think of the head without recourse to metaphor. A stab at the head might result in injury, but a stab at defining it? Can that result in anything other than metaphor? In ifkucinglovescience terms, the head is a biological development shared by nearly all orders of animal. Some heads, admittedly, are more head-like than others. Your average head contains brain cortex and that cortex contains centres/lobes tasked with different jobs. Vital organs generally situated in earshot (clear punmanship intended) of the brain endow the organism with hearing, seeing, tasting and smelling. Now let us do away with these inadequacies – with this dour, clinical description – and think instead of the head as a command centre for all sensory instruction. Better think of it as a nerve centre for all signals sent and received to and from various locations around the organism. Better still, how about as a whole universe in itself, or a third eye of higher consciousness, or even an ever-greying signature of physical identity? Maybe the head area as the part of the whole that we fall in love with most and remember best. Now let us go mental on metaphor. Let us wallow in the stuff as a hippo would in a mud bath. The head is now a house. The cranium is the walls, the eyes are the windows, the ears and nose the alarm system, the mouth the noise that emanates from it, and the brain? Oh! That chestnut. The brain is the sum total of the various rooms that connected by electricity, gas and water make the house a homeostatic, live-in system. But more than that, the brain is everything within the house that brings that house to life. An empty house is pretty brain dead as the living brain dead are pretty vacant. Hence, in making symbols of the head we have a perfectly suitable metaphor to describe a house to, say, an undomesticated E.T. who exists on an exoplanet without streets and cul de sacs. But one, nevertheless, evolved to have livings, sentient beings with heads.

Now let us take a tangential journey through metaphor back to sentiment. We are going to bring the head back to love via the house. Stay with me now. The de facto head of the household was, in days of yore, nearly always the man. However, in the larger houses, aka manors, a governess (she who put the manners into manors) was oftentimes employed to do what Mary Poppins couldn’t without bed knobs and broomsticks. Many governesses became so attached to the higher pursuit of etiquette that their sense of duty became their eventual raison d’être. As career spinsters their heart would often lie within the walls (or cranium) of the house. Once those governed under their wing (why use the word tutelage when the metaphor wing will fly?) had grown up and flown the nest, the life of the ex-governess must have been lonely and sometimes bereft. Comforted by an eternally grateful head of household, some may well have been allowed to grow sick and die there in their attic beds from where they rose again to resume their duties, this time as ghosts. To this day many a spectre – wearing heel length Edwardian frock, pigeon-breast blouse, talking like Eliza Doolittle could only dream of – goes drifting down dilapidated manor halls looking for kids to graduate from the school of propriety. They haunt the house. They fill the metaphorical head, in other words, with ghosts of the past. The memory that stole you away, out out the blue, from your present whatever-it-is- you-were-doing, that memory was actually the riffling of white diaphanous drapes in the conservatory, the kind you see in spooky films. And that sudden recollection of a girl you once thought you would love until death shook some sense into you, the one that made you drop your spanner in the alternator belt, rear up and whack your head on the underside of the car bonnet? That was actually the dog barking furiously in the kitchen from an inexplicable presence that, among the newest occupants of that big, old manor where legend had it an old lady in a long black frock died sitting primly in the attic one hundred years before, none but their dog could sense.

Dogs and metaphors – where would we be without them?





Traffic Flow on the Arab Street


We polled three separate classes this morning on how they thought leadership traits compared between six candidates over three American presidential debates: Clinton vs Dole 1996; Bush vs Gore 2000; and Obama vs McCain 2008. After watching extended highlights of the live televised debates, a total of 50 Emirati women were asked to assess the aforesaid candidates on the following criteria: articulacy, perceptiveness, self-confidence, self-assuredness, persistence, determination, trustworthiness, dependability, friendliness, and outgoingness. Neither banality nor mendacity were included, although stupidity came under close consideration.  Of those acceptable leadership traits, three – articulacy, self-confidence and trustworthiness – were identified as key character indicators common to what the pollsters say matters in U.S/Western political culture.

On a scale of 1-5 where 1 equals crap and 5 flatteringly untrue, a mean average was tabulated. Lies, damned lies and statistics? You could argue equally, in numbers there is truth.

Here’s what the stats returned:

On being articulate:

  1. Clinton ranked 3.9 in class 1,  3.6 in class 2, and 3.7 in class 3 (an average overall of 3.73), suggesting that our ladies need to brush up on their oratory and rhetoric. (Editor’s note: let’s face facts: Clinton is an easy 4. His homespun drawl belies a rare gift that keeps on giving on stages the world over).
  2. America’s most unquotable political bore Bob Dole cooked up 2.6, 3.15 and 3 respectively (2.92), a score inflated by the phonetic similarity of his given name – uttered with an American twang – to the Arabic word for gate, Bab. Well, who wouldn’t dare commend the man on being the first U.S. politico to know more Arabic than just the word Jihad?
  3. Truly in a class of his own, who could misunderestimate Bush on a knee-slapping, tub-thumping, gun-toting 3.5, 2.5  and 3.4 resuspectfulnessly (overall 3.13) ? It mattered not to our Arab analysts that with his shark-black eyes set dangerously close together he could barely read far less speak. What swayed it for them was invoking the name of the Big Man with Bush’s hand-on-heart pledge… should I be forshnut to became your predisent, when I put my hand on the bible, I will swear to (not) uphold the laws of the land, but I will also swear (not) to uphold the honour and dignity of the orifice to which I have become erected. So…help me God? The Lord moves in mysterious ways. Well He moved Bush into the White House, didn’t He?
  4. Gore suffered an inconvenient untruth with 3.3, 3.82 and 3.4 (3.51) respectively. The fact that he is a distant cousin to America’s great essayist and verbalist, Gore Vidal, is not for nothing. Again, so blatantly human when stood against his simian opponent, that to have outweighed Bush by a meagre 0.28 percentage points seems a travesty of justice equal to the one that denied him the presidency after the Florida recount.
  5. Obama racked up 4.0, 4.15  4.0 respectively (for an overall 4.05). And who can begrudge the lawyer from Chicago, or is it Hawaii, or Kenya, or Jakarta, or did he come up the Nile in a reed basket? Is he even a lawyer? Where did he come from, anyway? 4.05 for a latter-day Martin Luther King? My girls take a lot of impressing, it would appear. That said, Arab Street likes the sound of this habibi, as will the rest of us when he is replaced by a tongue-tied moron in a grey shirt, grey tie and grey underpants.
  6. McCain clearly didn’t do much conversing, or vocabulary acquisition, during his five years submerged up to his neck in a one square-metre bamboo cage in deepest Vietcong country. The senator in the skin mask might have been a one-time hostage to war but evidently was never a hostage to loquacity. Still, he can justifiably feel a tad hard done by bringing up the rear of two American political figures – Bush and Dole – who, for all the good they did to the English language, might as well have transplanted their mouths and their anuses. McCain’s oven chips – well and truly cooked. Plods along at a mediocre 2.5, 2.7 and 2.5 (2.57) disrespectfully.

On self-confidence;

  1. Clinton polled 4.3 in class 1,  3.82 in class 2, and 4.0 in class 3 (4.04 overall). Never one to eschew the limelight, the two-time president (or was it the two-timing president?) launched onto the scene in ’92 already emboldened first by Oxford then by the trappings of governorship. William Clinton Esq. could also draw on his ineffable charm, a charm that brought flocking first the ladies then, at the summon of his popular powers years later, trouble at mill.
  2. Dole polled 2.2, 2.9 and 3.1 (2.73 overall), which goes to show that, with a self-confidence rating of over 50%, if God did in fact create women He did so with a few wee flaws built into them. When the two came head to head, you could see Dole’s anaemic blood trickle down Clinton’s fangs with every whimpering cry for conservatism.
  3. Bush bagged 4.1, 2.12 and 2.7 (2.97), eliciting vastly different responses between class 1 and 2/3. Unlike on the world stage, where his self-confidence extended to gaffes, nervous snickering and inane grinning, to hit the 4s rating his persona must have exuded a confidence not normally attributable to someone of such limited means. One can only conclude that the class snoozed through a parade of style and substance that would undoubtedly clinch the presidency for the incredulous 43rd president, who spent the next four years in suspended disbelief. Be that as it may, by class 2 the niqab was off, so to speak. All they saw (and no, all the girls are classy and none are veiled) was a man at ease with his extended childhood. Ah, the arrogance of youth! (Bush was in his mid-fifties at the time of filming, by the way).
  4. Gore grabbed 3.9, 4.37 and 4.3 respectively (4.19), projecting a quiet self-assuredness based on an unwavering conviction that his opponent was a dyed-in-the-wool plonker. Gore spoke in measured tones, slowly and deliberatively, careful not to overstate the intellectual abilities of his audience of millions. Deep in the knowledge that his IQ points trumped nearly 90% of the electorate, his self-confidence may have been misconstrued for both smarminess and a lazy intellectual climb down. Nevertheless, our girls were comfortable with those character flaws, flaws they have to contend with in most of their menfolk.
  5. Obama polled 4.3, 4.37 and 4.3 respectively (4.32). Who could deny this man his stake in the annals of early 21st history? First African-Indonesian-American-Martian with a middle name not too dissimilar to that of Bush’s comic book enema…enemy: he with the beret, murderous eyes and bushy moustache. While Barack Hussein Obama was cutting his teeth on the great electoral roadshow, you might well say he was putting up great wooden palisades of words and metaphors behind which he barricaded his fragile confidence from the predators outside. Then again the guy might be that rare and protected species, aka the American orator. And that voice, oh! that gasoline voice. Half an octane lower and he’d have legions of front-row admirers spontaneously orgasm.
  6. Which brings us fittingly to Jock McCain. He wowed the Arab crowds with a piffling 2.5, 2.8 and 2.1 respectively (average of 2.47). McCain quivered and bumbled through the debacle, sorry, debate, leaving the great American public in no doubt of his leadership potential. But what enthralled the viewing public more than his steely self-belief, hewn from the rock of captivity, was the remarkable lack of coordination between the flow of his words and the movement of his face. One can only conclude that self-confidence sometimes needs no expression. Statistical analysis report: McCain a presidential dud, with a self-confidence rating of a shell-shocked war veteran with P.T.S.D. brought on by all the mortar fire still going off in his head forty years after the Paris peace accords, which in all fairness to him might well be his problem.

On Trustworthiness;

  1. Clinton polled 3.6 in class 1, 4.0 in class 2, and 3.1 in class 3 (overall 3.57), concealing his sexual peccadilloes remarkably well from a bunch of unsuspecting yet highly discerning 22 year-old Arab women.
  2. Dole polled a doleful 2.1, 2.62 and 2.3 respectively (2.34), which goes to show that it’s better to sell new cars than used ones.
  3. Bush polled a whopping 0.8, 0.9 and 0.9 (.87), falling an agonizing 0.041 points short of his all-time favourite number: 0.911. 09/11, That was the day the boy became a man and the man came of age. A pity it will never go down as a golden one.
  4. Gore, again judged unfairly, polled 3.7, 3.4 and 3.2 (3.43), and that’s without the recount. If only he had won the Nobel Peace Prize before the presidential debates of 2000, trustworthiness or no trustworthiness, Bush would romped to victory.
  5. Obama gets an impressive 4.0, 4.22 and 3.6 respectively (3.94), but that might be something to do with his middle name. “Aisha Mohamed? Would you trust a man called Hussein?” “Teacher, that depends on whether or not he was Iranian.” ‘Fair enough, Aisha.”
  6. Last but truly least, Rooster McCain, who gets the thumbs down from our girls, bagging a dubious 2.7, 2.65 and 2.3 (2.55), and affirming what women the world over have long suspected: that pear face never won fair maiden, not her trust at least.

Qualitative analysis: high degree of perceptiveness from women born too late to have any preconceptions of these candidates, other than Obama who they are happy to know, and Bush who they wish they hadn’t.

Verdict: it’s high time women of the world united to foment a peaceful takeover by virtue of being much better readers of men than men are of themselves and others of their ilk. Having systematically f*cked up the world since monotheism by downgrading the sacred feminine in favour of self-proclaimed prophets, all of whom had beards just so they could distinguish themselves from the female of the species, as well as having used unscrupulous statecraft to strip women of the socio-political nexus they held together in a pre-classical age before war became systematized, men have forsaken their right to govern anymore. Period. I mean, Jumpin’ Jack Flash!! Look around, folks. In the sea, on the land, in the air. See what we’ve done with men at the helm.

Prophets of doom. The bearded ones blew it. It’s time to pass the reins to the other 50%. Let the age of Aquarius begin anew.


The 8-4 Revenant


We make our own bed and in it we lie. We stand and fall by the choices we make. Little gods all of us. The Muslims calculate that we are categorically not, and that man’s lifescript was written by the only God, the big guy who does what any immortal would with all the time in the world on His hands: script-write our part in which the denouement is always the same, that we end up dead and either picnicking in His heavenly garden or feeding Hellfire. This they call maktoob. This I call the reason for their happiness.

But I was not exactly raised into a spiritualised culture that believes all things happen for reasons, reasons which may not appear clear to us at their time of happening. Rather, our Calvinist-infused mantra growing up was Life Is What You Make Of It. Life is there for the taking. Leave nothing for death but the burnt-out castle of your existence. So ingrained was this philosophy of finding our purpose (because it would not go out of its way to find us) that the responsibility we shouldered for every little thing we did rightly or wrongly, misguidedly or otherwise, was our weight to carry.

In time, though, I would come to learn this view was not universally shared. Merely by hopping on a plane to a destination plucked from the Adventures of Tintin, one could find broad swathes of humanity who didn’t feel the need to beat themselves up for every decision that backfired. It came as a shock to encounter those happy-go-lucky souls convinced that a divine wind was blowing their sails along to a port, any port would do. A masterplan governing the character and sequence of each successive event that combined to map this thing called life? Viewed through these Occidental eyes, it was therefore difficult to conceive of life as anything other than a series of personal decisions independently arrived at, some lousy, some inspired, all mildly consequential to their outcome.

What’s the deal with this mid-life crisis? At what stage in evolutionary history did that little voice begin nagging us with: What the hell am i doing with my life? Why am I living in a desert? What the fuck happened to my marriage prospects? Where’s the women of my dreams? Why did I end up doing this shit for 40 hours a week, 42 weeks a year? Why did I end up as an economic migrant? Why did I save that puppy knowing he would change the course of my 30-something years? And if life is indeed what you make of it, is it too late to unmake it?

The Revenant. The word sounds good rumbling from a gastric pit of heartfelt conviction. Comes gurgling up and vibrating past the uvula, against the palate and back down the nasal cavity as many a French word does. As this controlled expulsion of air moves toward the front of the mouth, the lips start wagging and pursing. The word is pouted out, pushed, blown, respiré, and if your French is good enough – which mine n’est pas – the euphonious effect sends shivers spiralling down the spine of anyone in earshot.

Revenant – noun. From the French verb revenir, to come back, to return.

One can return to an indirect object, such as I return to you or home. One can, for that matter, return to oneself, as in I came back to myself, or I avenged myself. While failing to scale the dizzying, spellbinding heights and lows of Di Caprio’s character Hugh Glass, I came back, too, in a manner of speaking. Coming back (in the sense that these personal journeys take time), is possibly more accurate.

The frontiers were already fronted by the time I tried to be that frontiersman. As an itinerant hippy with a penchant for far-off places, I milked it for a good twenty years before the penny dropped, or more accurately, the riyals and the dirhams. Broke at 40, prospects sinking, relationships faltering on the question of my true worth, the choices were narrowing with age. The Gravy Train was departing Platform 9 & 3/4s for the oil sands and what fool wouldn’t board it with nothing to lose and everything to gain? Little did i know that money is not the be all and end all, that when you turn your own life inside out, then that phrase nothing to lose and everything to gain, inverts itself to become everything to lose and nothing to gain. I wanted romance and passion all along and gave myself instead a simulacrum of it. Then The Revenant came along and the fantasy machine sputtered back to life. Now I saw not the humdrum, mechanistic means of becoming financially secure; now I saw a cryogenic man being heated back to life. It was duly decided and not by any force majeure: my own personal showdown with Fitzgerald would be a knife fight by the icy banks of the photocopier next to the ‘coffee corner’ where the talk is seditious and the threats to walk away increase daily. It is there I will gain my vengeance, in this life and not the next (sorry Maximus Decimus Meridius).

The parallels are hit as they are miss. I went fur trapping in the dry dominions, searching a quiet and modest fortune without the concomitant glory. Almost run down by marauding natives in Toyota Corollas, I’m surviving the privations of luxury to smuggle out a bundle of cash worth every elk hide that was brutally got by Glass, Fitzgerald and the rest of their frontier party. I was left for dead. It’s funny how distance makes the heart grow distant. The weather was extreme, the way back arduous, less than certain.

Where the she-bear comes into the life narrative, I cannot say. I’m thinking there might have been a physically undetectable mauling somewhere along the way. The outward signs, the six-inch claws gouging acres into my back and fracking my face, were always absent precisely because the mauling had turned inward from an early stage. It scratched the soul, deep drilling into the bedrock of the brain to extract that good oil lighting the spirit. And all for a bucket of gold.

Man’s struggle against nature. Man’s struggle against his own nature. Glass is the revenant, he who returns from an improbable place. He bucks his fate or, put mathematically, shortens long odds with every successive event on his journey back to reckoning. His struggle is a leitmotif of the seemingly ordinary life. So, if your are wearing a shirt and tie instead of a bearskin, if you’re battling the photocopier instead of the elements, and you know that it’s the bearskin you ought to be wearing and the elements you really ought to be battling, then you’ll know that you too can be a revenant. Death is a conscious choice, after all.





Self-Taught: Monitoring The Vocab Stockpile



Will Self & the Defenestration of Crypto-Lexicographical Codswallop

“And on The Guardian pedestal these words appear,

My name is Will Self, king of kings:

Look on my words, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Will-ymandias – by the Second Coming of Percy Bysshe Shelley

       You’ve got to love this guy. He’s a hard act to follow and even harder to precede, but  imagined in the parlance of the Self himself, the compliment might instead go something like: having an enduring affection for this goy is a sine qua non. More than likely, though, his choice of words would be dripping with English sang froid on account of the scalpel he incises with when surgically he writes. Let’s face it, Self has more ways of saying essentially the same thing as the Jews have for Yahweh and the Muslims for Allah. Even at the ripened age of 50-sum, the boy’s got game. Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster could not conspire to keep Will Self’s hand out of the alphabetic fire. Yip, this guy’s diction leaves me for dead, in a most edifying manner.

There, I hoodwinked you. But before I venture further into the murky world of words, I must digress without remonstrating the anterior cruciate of my eclectic somnabulance too much (now that is just piffle!). Hoodwink – seems straightforward enough in its etymology. Enter the flux capacitor: you’re temporally regressed to Paris in Anno Domini 1474, to a squalid, whoring flagellum that wriggled into architectural being just inside La Porte De Clignancourt. In this fleapit addendum of the damned, where harlots cling to the mortified remains of last year’s brood, where charlatans hustle in dank passages, and jongleurs in colourful tights hold street court with acts that are the forerunner to the Edinburgh Fringe, the Capuchin hoods of the medieval geezer conceal a knowing signal of the eye. The hoodwinked do not even know they have been hoodwinked because the hood covers the sly wink.

So anyway, de toute façon, I’m sitting there outside a bar in a small town by a lake in the central highlands of Burma (or Myanmar, as they having been insisting and we have been ignoring in favour of colonial revivification since 1989), as you do. This hotshot photographer from Toronto is sitting on the other side on the garrulous but very likable female barrister from the self-same city. We fall into talking. I say that someone has been hoodwinked, for reasons i can no longer recall. Thought that was a perfectly normal, legitimate phonetic route to go down, seeing that we were in Burma – sorry, Myanmar – and the clocks were running down to midnight on this the ultimate day of 2015. So, the photographer gasps in disbelief. ‘Hoodwinked?’ Then in that ineffable and slightly irksome big round green fruit North American city sophisticate kind of way, exclaims HOODWINKED? Upping the vocal notches still, he then rants, ‘what the fuck does that mean? Hoodwink? I’ve never heard HOODWINK before. I mean what does that MEAN? The final word attenuating as he chimed it right out of his smoke-free lungs.

I try explaining without making too much of an arse of myself. ‘You know, hoodwink. Means to…hoodwink someone. You know?’

‘What?’ he decries. ‘Like pulling down a hood and winking? I get that part. I get it. But i mean, what does it MEAN?

We scramble for the smart phone, the postmodern arbiter of all things everything. Shit. We’re in Burma, rural Burma – sorry Myanmar. Of fucking course there’s no arbiter to arbitrate this spot of definition-deficiency. Internet is that thing that lives elsewhere. So, scraping the barrel of my temporal gyrus, I make the nueral handshake and soon the synonyms are flowing faster than the Myanmar – sorry Burma – beer from the keg in the kitchen. Dupe; fool; kid; deceive; trick; pull the wool over one’s eyes. Now do you see, Mr Ace Photographer?

Fuck yeah! Why didn’t you say? Hoodwink. Who uses hoodwink? In the middle of Burma? At New Year? Who in their right mind uses hoodwink? I love it. Tell ya…’

He’s in his stride now, regaling me with the story of the Japanese girlfriend who, upon being ditched in favour of Narita Airport and a one-way ticket home to Canada, farewelled him with the unforgettable, but eminently forgivable, line: Go fuck your face!

What does that mean?’ he announces. ‘Go fuck your face?’ I mean, how do you fuck your own face? I’d like to know that.’

‘How do you hood your own wink, for that matter?’, I added for good measure as the countdown commenced to midnight and another year beckoned for those dastardly words. .

Will Self writes as few others scarce can or dare do. He is a curious hybridization of an 80’s under-performing undergrad with a nose for neologistic modernism, and one of those polymathic linguaphiles scattered to the four winds of empire, reluctantly repatriated after partition in 1947. Proust on a Monday, Calvin & Hobbes on a Tuesday, Rumi powdered with Rachmaninoff midweek and a nihilistic dose of Turgenev and Indie-Punk come the weekend.

I’ve just read a piece by him on his tainted blood (not the Soft Cell song). Stopping frequently in the lexicographic lay-by of my limited vocab to consult the map of obscure words and aphorisms, I came across the following: the great pathetic roué, the sooty furlongs, the hypertrophied concrete bunkers, the admiral-tipped bodkins, the no-nonsense veridical Guignol, and most imperious of all, the fictive inscape. If they didn’t exist, you would have to invent them, which of course he did. No, closer to the truth would be to compare Self to a midwife, but not the conventional type, rather the type who does the impregnation before delivering the miracle of birth onto the white space of various media.

For someone who, by his own recurrent admission, whacked his grey cells a bruised shade of purple with opiates and cocaine, it is small wonder that he can fetch words – specializing in the sleepers strewn across our 600,000-strong English lexical canon – quicker than a 2-year old Labrador a stick. The harder they are, the faster they fall. If Adolf Eichmann had been a 7-letter word, Will Self would not have needed Mossad; he would have been camped out on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, book in one hand and rollie in the other, before Eichmann ever set his sights on obscure, little San Carlos De Bariloche.

As pole dancers are made in the villages on North Thailand, so words are formed in the Wernicke’s Area of the temporal lobe. When you fuck this up consistently by hammering the head with drugs, brain acuity can often go by the wayside. But not in the case of our Will. He bucked the trend there, didn’t he? Scag was grist for the mill for him, making la farine plus fin dans sa tête.  You can picture it as a kind of cerebral battle of Monte Casino – Self’s Wernicke’s Area defended viciously by his SchutzStaffel intellect against the Opiate allies besieging him on all sides.

You’ve got to love this guy. He has held out against the forces of globalized democracy, whose prime directive is to make us all say the same shit with diminishing returns from the vocabulary we used to boast. In a world where the outscape is factive and bloody dull to boot, Self’s fictive inscape is a welcome retreat, into a interior hidden kingdom of mountains – like Bhutan squeezed into one’s head – which when you near them turn out to be Will’s vocabulary piled high, still lifting under a process of Selfian orogenesis.

It is these stockpiles of the wording mind that make climbing Will Self such a technical challenge, yet if summitted offer the lucky few a Wittgensteinian view of reality worth every goddamn penny, or if you’re a young Wittgenstein growing up in Vienna, a krone.

Gone But Not Forgotten


He passed away three years ago yesterday. There was nothing could be done. Dogs cannot describe their symptoms, only in as much as their physical discomfort speaks it for them.

He had been limping badly for months. I had taken him with me to France four months prior to his death and even then it was evident that walks in the vast forest of Compiegne were not the wondrous canine adventure they had once represented. Indeed, the very sight of the tree line stretching away toward Paris had brought to those transparent eyes at best a look of indifference, at worst dread.

Initially, I thought it was hip dysplasia. The way he was going lightly on his hind quarter suggested a mechanical ill-fit or maybe rheumatoid arthritis. For a dog born in the Eastern Mediterranean, a life in damp NW Europe might well be leaving him singularly susceptible to the fraying of those Aegean bone ends. A visit to a vet confirmed the hip theory. A shot of cortisone later and Harry was bouncing on a new set of shock absorbers. To my dismay and his quiet disappointment, this spring in his step soon ran out of tension. Within a week he was back to his old moping, hobbling self. He walked through that beautiful forest as if each and every step was shot with pain, his likeness stabbed with pins by juju witch doctors in a far away forest. His pain was my pain, and much as i did not want to accept the fact, he was going downhill rapidly.

When neither relationship nor job failed to satisfy, i took Harry home to England. I remember well him sitting serenely on the back seat of my VW as we boarded le Chunnel in a freight transporter. I swear, it was as a passenger in a car that Harry loved best. Sitting on his haunches, watching the world go by with the sort of knowing one associates with a previous life. That’s how I remember him three years after he went from my life.

Back in England, his condition deteriorated, his mobility reduced to cinders. The woefulness in his eyes could have melted the heart of the iceman. Unable to bear this rapid demise I was witnessing, Harry was taken for a second opinion. Within minutes, the trusted Yorkshire vet located the pain not in his hip but rather in Harry’s knee. Just as i had suspected! The French vet had been wrong all along, and not only guilty of medical incompetence, he had also acted with a pomposity and peremptory manner i had elicited from no other Frenchman or woman, in spite of their global reputation for cutting off that Gallic nose despite that Gallic face.

When the vet’s roving hands hit the weak spot, Harry curled his lip, baring those ferocious gnashers. It was his wont when someone touched him off-limits.  An ACL – anterior cruciate ligament – rupture was the Yorkshire vet’s diagnosis. Now, this is a sporting injury by any measure. In footballers it is treated with six-months of inactivity followed by stringent rehabilitation. In dogs, however, the snapping of the ligament necessitates the same response as a racehorse breaking its leg. Undaunted by the vet’s gloomy prognosis, horrified by his offer of instant mercy, I mobilized the troops within to invade the headspace that would become the colony of ideas. What could be done? Dogs manage on three legs, don’t they? Better their three than our one, right?  Soon, it dropped like rain from the sky. The solution lay in the pioneering science of orthotics. If they could mould a stifle brace to the knee of an injured horse, by God they could do it with a dog a tenth of its weight. A few resourceful calls later, and I had my deliverance. American technology had gone Transatlantic, allowing a whole generation of dogs with mechanical injuries the chance of a second life.

Returning to the vet, I told him of my discovery. Impressed, excited by this development, he went home and read all about it. Calling me up, he seemed buoyed and ready immediately to make a cast of Harry’s knee joint. It was arranged then, to take my bewildered and inconvenienced dog boy off his comfy bed and in for exploratory treatment the following day. I had resigned to spending the next year as the dog’s de facto physio. What the hell? I had parented him for nine years, so this was the least I could do.

That evening the weather took a turn for the worst. The cold snapped, as it had nine years before, the day I found him half-drowned, half drenched, half-dead at the foot of a mountain at the other side of the European continent. My friend, and Harry’s second favourite person in he world next to my father, had come to visit. Out into it the three of us ventured. Harry loved having his dad and his uncle chaperoning him. We had his back. The snow floated down in fat flakes. The sight of it gave Harry a new lease of life and into white wilderness of the village he forayed. His demeanor had visibly improved. As always, Harry knew. I don’t know how. He just knew. This pain would soon abate and like the pensioner after the hip replacement, the old eyes would regain their youthful sparkle.

And then it happened. He slipped on ice and went down. Bang! We could hear it. Like an explosion inside his knee. Helpless he lay there, in the snow, ashamed to be collected up, afraid to be left alone. I laid him down on the sofa and for reasons I still cannot fathom, left him there with my Mum & Dad while I fled to the ignorance of my friend’s place. In our hearts we both knew that this was a fall Harry could not come back from .

The following morning, I collected his heavy self up and carried him to the car. Quite what he thought of all this I still cannot say. For a mutt with a prescience he was remarkably inexpressive about this, what would come to be his green mile. When the vet met me it was with quickened steps. ‘Yes,’ he uttered, excitedly. ‘I think this might actually work.’ When i lowered Harry onto the treatment table, the vet’s face fell almost as fast a the dog’s legs from under him. ‘The other one popped last night,’ I said. ‘He went down like a stone.’

He was dejected for me.

‘I am sorry,’ he replied. The man’s eyes said that orthotics was no longer the pioneering voyage worth taking.

Both Harry’s ACLs ruptured within days of one another. The rehabilitation, in the vet’s learned opinion, would be monumentally difficult for both owner and dog. His quality of life had now been scythed from beneath him and at the age of 9, could not be recovered so readily.

Watching him buckle and fall each time I stood him on all fours was about the saddest thing i ever did see. With a tacit nod the vet brought out the death warrant. Never had i signed something off with such a lack of flourish. I held him as my friend looked on, his eyes welling with tears. The dog never much liked surgeries; now less than ever. The vet approached with a sedative encased in a large needle, yet for each time he tried to find a vein, Harry rounded on him, snapping his jaws, flashing his teeth. Once the needle had gone in, still he would not lie and capitulate to his fate. Harry had fought death from the moment i found him as a sole survivor in a family drowning in the wilds of the Greek Peloponnese where he had been born illegitimate nine years before. When I picked him up shivering and bleating from that waterside on that cold January day in 2004, he was smaller than my hand, his heart a beat away from infant mortality. With warmth, love and condensed milk I fought for him then, yet here was me now, complicit in his premature death. For this he could not abide me. Another needle went in and like a great lumbering beast his head began to swoon. Now sedated, we lay him down on a blanket on the surgery floor and i kissed his beautiful head while the vet prepared the death serum. From the moment the heart-stopping liquid coursed through his veins, he was gone from me. Nine years on life’s journey with him and the serum had kicked him off the train as quick as that.

Nudging my head into his, still warm, I tried saying goodbye but it seemed insincere. Why farewell him when I would see him again some day? I didn’t know where nor in what guise, but I knew he would come calling again, in a daydream, in a traffic jam when least I expected it.



Where Pagodas Need No Watering

Buddhism, Burma, Myanmar, Reflections, Shan People, South East Asia, Spiritualism, Travel, Trekking, Uncategorized

There’s a land long long time locked away, behind the keyhole, Mandalay.

Peasants in the fields time slowing ticking, planting their rice making slim pickings.

The landscape stretches on and on, the monks’ flowing robes, the roosters at dawn.

Everything grows every vegetable every fruit, music from the earth, Thieving Magpie, Magic Flute.

Fields of Scotch Bonnet, Indian Red, magic lemon that numbs the mouth, nondescript things that go off in the head.

No room in the cupboard to describe it all: ginger, jujube , jasmine, the creeping sprawl.

Magnolias, primulas, tea leaves & teak, minute into hour, day into week.

Slow goes the river thru the Irrawaddy plain, nothing really matters, what was will be again.



Moon Reign O’er Me


Saturday is fast fading. The minarets still shine like Saturn rockets while out at sea the tankers chart a course along the edge of the known world. The winter sun will corkscrew down behind the mountains in around three hours from now and the purpose for the bronze cast of the crescent moon – al hilal – that juts from the top of the minaret will become clear as faith in the night sky.

How the sun does its parabola, is that the trajectory of love? It comes for a day: warms the dumbstruck in the morning with its pastel harmonies, dazzles at noon when the heat of passion ramps up, sustains itself throughout the afternoon, and then starts playing reddened tricks on the landscape, fading in power and intensity as dusk falls.

Here where the sky is flawless 350 days of the year the clouds do not arrive to obscure its path. The Arabian sun sets the human agenda with its moves, the quickness of its ascent, its peak power, followed by a slower, sometimes more dignified descent. Only when it disappears did we know it was there. Only when it burned us did we know that it was colour and not paleness we always needed. Only when its glare overwhelmed us with its everything did we realise that in its absence all we felt was underwhelmed. But best of all, even when at day’s end and it sinks behind the jagged mountains, our grin catches the moonlight knowing that while one sun comes to an end a new love will enter our skies, if not when it rises but whenever it chooses to shine.

Light is a rare thing when everything around is illuminated. If you don’t venture out into it you’ll never know if it had right kind of waves to truly penetrate.


What is the Ultimate Nature of Reality in a Classroom Full of Young Arab Women?


It starts thus: you walk into the classroom expecting nothing. And it ends like this: you leave with everything: with heads doing hoopla, smiles skewered and brains beguiled. Breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care.

How can we encourage critical thinking in our classrooms when those classrooms are located in parts of the world where thinking critically is effectively discouraged? So we stay off the private property and we dare to voice doubts on what they all know they know. Or they think they know.

Theology – perhaps the founding father of post-enlightenment critical thinking is strictly off-limits. Epistemology – the ‘what’ of knowledge – is just too damn recondite for a target audience more accustomed to casting a critical eye not on a thought but on a thing, a thing usually purchased at a shopping mall. Logic appeals because we are dealing with a people who snatched Greek equations from the anti-intellectual clutches of dark age Christendom. They then translated them and even improved upon them in some cases. So logic is in, but it’s also out on account of being a head-wringer for all but the most logical of logicians. La suite, we have the scientific method, which might have worked if there hadn’t been no method in the madness of teaching critical thinking in a society where thinking has not yet reached critical levels. The logical fallacies stand a fighting chance if we can only separate our slippery slopes from our straw men, our ad hominem from our no true Scotsman.

So the teacher quickly dispenses with formality, preferring to jump right in with both feet first: ‘what is reality?’ he asks. Hitherto disinterested faces turn like sunflowers, each as beautiful in its reaction as the other. ‘What do you mean by that?’ one asks.

‘What does it look like?’ To which most blush, remorseful not to know perhaps the most unanswerable question in cosmology. ‘Does it consist in waves of differing length? Does it shift according to the observer? Is it apparent in little pixels of differing colour or is reality a film in B&W?’

‘Are you for real, Sir?’ is the question on everyone’s eyes.

Just then a member of the unkindness of ravens fed faithfully each and every day comes tapping on the window, looking for its benefactor.

‘I mean is what we are seeing the same as what that bird at the window is seeing?’

‘But Sir, it is seeing you and you are seeing it, so yes.’

Another curveball is pitched. This time it’s about how the human brain is a live experiment in biochemistry. Chemical neurotransmitters flood the cortex then are flushed down into the blood stream. Do we see the world, for example, in favourable terms because we’ve received a mega-dosage of serotonin? When reality appears blissful and its constituent parts all bound by harmony, is that not a overdose of oxytocin? The class ponder thi

‘Have you ever looked at a person and thought ‘I am seeing this person in a new light?’ Some nod eagerly. ‘Have you ever let love turn to dislike, or even indifference?’ Yes and yes. ‘Seen the same thing from tow different angles and it appears totally different?’ A bombshell has been dropped in the room. ‘That is reality at work.’

Another asks: ‘Reality changing like when you hallucinate? Have you ever taken drugs, sir?’

When the conversation takes on a solemn edge, honesty really is the best policy.

No faces are veiled and now eyes really do grow large like harvest moons.

Their interest in finding out what happens to reality when LSD breaks down the barrier between ‘I’ and everything else is stoked further when the revelation breaks that blue tastes different from green on LSD. Attention is absolute when, after yet more probing, it turns out that molecules fizz before eyes that become electron microscopes. And as for motion: bodily movement goes at 100 frames per second, the hand leaving traces of the orbit it took when it was swooshed through the air. Yes, class, you can still see your hand as it was on the way to being here.

We digress. Peyote and shamanism crops up, which propels thought toward the necromancer in the tribe, the heady fumes and the rites that put the medium of two worlds into a trance-like state. It is here that the spirits of the forest are unleashed and everything that cannot be seen suddenly can be.

One student claims to live surrounded by djinns. Then another, then another. Purgatory, limbo and all the lost souls enter through the backdoor and suddenly the room is filled with spirits of a conversation that sought to ask: what is the ultimate nature of reality? Lost souls take seats at empty tables. The living – or what has only come to life in the past hour – are hooked on tales from another land called alternate reality.

Reality will never be the same for some of these country girls again. Shifted by the mere mention of itself, reality has shown its true colours. Lo & behold, it turns out that orange is not the only colour with a distinctive taste.



The Cosmic Wooden Spoon


There can be no worse karma laid upon an impoverished soul than to be a dog. And not just any dog, but a street dog. And not just any street dog, but a dog born on the streets of the Middle East.

There these woebegone canines take on a life best described as desultory, trotting along from who knows where to who knows when at who knows what time of the day or night. Their bodies are emaciated, their bones poking through such that all it takes is a sudden move and their ribs will puncture the hide. But that bodily disaster might be ultimately to their advantage, because then at least they will have some marrow to chew on. They are the unwanted, the caste-offs, the dalits of the dog world. Their sorrow is our indifference.

Their tongues loll almost to the deck on account of the temperatures they have to endure for the few summers they manage to cling to life. Their coats are dull and threadbare due to the deficiency of vitamins and the mange that routinely strips them half-naked. This sorry plight again may be to their advantage, as wearing an overcoat is not quite what the Arabian climate had in mind for much of the year. The only thing they can take for granted is that they will never go cold.

Their only friend is the Indian wallah who carts the supermarket’s butchery off-cuts out to the skip. The only other friendly face these dogs are ever likely encounter is the zealous migrant – that itinerant who arrives in the Middle East seeking only riches and leaves having found a purpose: namely, to alleviate the suffering of all the world’s waifs and strays. Of course, this mission is a hopeless one, because when these ex-patriots suddenly up sticks and repatriate to their developed worlds where strays are either sterilized or euthanized, the street dogs of the hot and heartless Middle East are the ones left to fend for themselves.

It is good to do one’s bit for the nameless ones. The effects of kindness are instantaneous. What seems at first an intimidating straggle of street punks led by a bristling alpha sporting a scar over his proud nose soon gives to a bunch of wagging tails, delighted not be be forgotten by the cruel world yet still wary that the kindness of strangers is but a trap for fools. Street dogs are many things, but fools they cannot afford to be. In spite of their hunger, the capos snap and nip the lowly henchmen, for in a world where they mean less than nothing, within their pack universe they have first dibs. Some kind of structure is needed if they are to make it on Arab street. To watch them is to realise that it is not through brutality and strict hierarchy that they overcome the odds, but through good old cooperation. They look out for one another while we stand back, looking out for only ourselves. In this way they may share in their misery, shrugging off the crappy karma that the cosmos has cooked up for them.

(n.b. During a year-long stint of volunteering at an unnamed shelter on an unnamed island in an unnameable gulf, the Indian dog handlers – with what little English they had at their command – told this writer that when the locals pulled up outside the kennels, even before they got out of their cars, the dogs would bristle with anger and hostility. The expletives were damn-near discernible in their bark. Conversely, when non-locals likewise paid a visit the dogs would go wild with excitement. At this the two men laughed as if this was the worst-kept secret in the world.)