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.