Issue #93 - December 16th 2004 - January 6th 2005
With fingers crossed (for F.B.)
The Mon Gala Papillons Memoirs
Dear Father Christmas
Best of Friends: Jack and Sarah
News they missed
NaNoWriMo: Part 2 (The Interview)
Live review: Ballboy @ the Water Rats, London, 8th December 2004
With fingers crossed (for F.B.)
The trembling didn't stop for hours, then. I could see it every time I tried to coax a flickering match towards a jittery cigarette; see it in the jagged star the frothed hot milk described on the surface of the sluggish black coffee to which I had fled and which I was pouring down, one after the other in a vain effort at waking from this; could see it drowning in the muddy pool spilt into the saucer every time I tried to put my fingers to the cup.
And meanwhile the birds were cooing softly in the trees, the leaves of which were beautifully dappling the table in a delicate cross-hatch of shade and golden sunlight. This was what I'd fled here for, and it meant nothing to me. There were white clouds drifting sleepily in front of a freshish breeze through bluest skies, and I knew, coldly and rationally, that all around me millions were still somehow as happy as they'd ever been, and some - right this instant - happier even than at any other time. But it was unreal to me, this thought. I tried to find its traces in the faces passing endlessly by, but all were terribly terribly blank - all excpet the ones in which there lingered a hint of bitter sadness, well-hidden I supposed, but flayed open before my naked glaring eyes only, as if lit from within by a luminous black light. It made me feel lonelier than ever before, this sadness in which we all participated without being able to share it with anyone.
Laid over this I could still see her face, more solidly now than when I had walked up to her and seen it melt immediately. The saddest dreamy smile, the tears that wouldn't quite come. And then the terrible words that did, as I sat down next to her, and wouldn't stop, moving monotonously from one fact to the next, coldly, clinically, objectively descriptive. Detailing everything. What they did to her. I say coldly, and it sent a shiver coursing through me - the same shiver that had not quite stopped now, even in this summer sun.
At the time I could think of nothing but putting my arms around her, my hands grasping helplessly at her shoulders, my fingers involuntarily remembering the cool feel of the flesh I had thought I could - I had so wanted to - forget, cut out of my life like the cancer it had once become. But there we sat, hunched together as she spoke, my focused dully on one trouser-covered kneecap. I could say nothing - there was nothing for me to say - but prompted when I could, on the half-formed and woefully inadequate intuition that this was necessary. That somehow talking about it was supposed to be good. For her. I still don't know, but there was nothing else to do.
And for those few moments - but they weren't so few, they took exactly as long as they needed to, which was long enough, far too short and much too long all at once - the anger and the hurt was completely absent.
Not nagging weakly, trying to rise from habit but overwhelmed by and subsumed into her much greater hurt and, perhaps, anger - like now, looking back - but completely absent. Just her, there, in my arms, saying that she wasn't afraid of me.
But it is returning now - the anger, the hurt - and much though I try to tell myself that it is negligible compared to hers, I can't help thinking that it isn't, that this is mine and that that is hers, and it cannot ever become mine. And I remember how once, and for so long, I'd tried to be the person that could make it mine, and how she'd resisted that, how hard she'd kicked against allowing me to do that. Kicked so hard that eventually it had to succeed, so hard that even underneath my thickest skin the bruises still lay blue and smarting. It hadn't been easy.
And now, just when she had succeeded, for this to happen, for her to, perhaps only in a small way but still, to need me again. And what could I do but come running, even if reluctantly. Though I'd come to know now that nothing would change, and no amount of generous hopefulness or faith would make it change - that this time, too, though it might take a lot longer, she would throw me out like some soiled diaper the moment things were going better and I was of no immediate use anymore...
And then there comes, swimming up before me again, her face, and I lose myself in it again, I know I can't escape this: I see her eyes melting into that smile again, as she sees me walking up to her and I know I'm stuck in the web again already - there's no escape from this. It's already too late.
But at the same time I know that I'll stick it out this time, as I watch my clumsy fingers flicker on the useless hand resting on the table, trembling. Somehow I will be okay after this.
And then it strikes me that, against all this, and perhaps, against all the odds, I wish that this was true also for her.
And I wish... I wish... I wish that wishes sometimes come true. Or at least, this once, just this once...
And my shaking fingers bend and cross and clench, and finally come to an uneasy rest.
The Mon Gala Papillons Memoirs
If I hear of an indiepop(ish) festival at Bush Hall next autumn I'll just book my flights to London straight away, even before the line-up is announced. Then I will pencil the date and not-so-patiently count down the days to that last hour before the festival starts and the magical things that it will make happen in the darkness of Uxbridge Road. Because if something happens twice is just will happen again, don't you think?
Let's start this story with Martijn and me leaning against the railing on the pavement outside said Hall, eating as fast as we could and trying to guess who the second, not-on-the-bill "girl from New York" that had be rumoured to be playing could be. She used to live somewhere else, apparently, but then she moved to New York - and that were all the clues we had... Well hasn't just about everyone done that?
"Do you think... that it might be... Amy Linton?"
I hadn't listened to any Aislers Set records in about a year or maybe more, and still the song felt familiar -like entering a room in which I used to love spending time- and all the words came back to me too and I caught myself singing along effortlessly to every song. And swooning. And whispering I was about to explode at any minute. I say that's a sure way of telling that a band used to be your favourite one, don't you think?
But as you can probably guess I didn't explode and so I got to watch the first, on-the-bill girl from New York too. Mascott played the sort of music that Rachel likes better than I do - an acoustic guitar, a violin, a piano, a girl singing - and they didn't even play the one song of theirs that I had come to love over the past month; but at the same time, they played the sort of music that sounds just about right when you are sitting on a confortable chair in a more than half-empty, butterfly-adorned music hall and the night is still young: sweet, somehow cool and a little dreamy.
And then Stevie Jackson came on stage looking imacculately Stevie-ish in a suit, complete with guitar, bad jokes, songs about girls ("because, you know, I like girls") and charm which to use on the ladies. He reminded me of those times of old when we wandered around the continent in search of Belle and Sebastian gigs, and all the Stevie-moments this entailed. Especially that cold December morning in 2001, when... actually you probably don't want to hear about that, but maybe you can put up with me murmuring, "was that really so long ago?" for a while, and when I'm done with that I will add that those memories weren't the only reason for me to smile: Stevie is a natural born performer, he knows how to make the audience love him and I like being charmed, too, so I smiled a lot. And exclaimed "oh isn't he cute" a couple of times. What can I say, certain habits are hard to break even if the three years between 2001 and today feel sort of like a lifetime.
And then Pipas walked on stage and my heart stopped, and then it started again because the sight was too good to miss. Despite what Martijn says, they weren't all that much like Pipas: they looked perfect on stage, as if it was the place for them to be (which if you asked me, it was) and they nearly sounded like a band too. Here, you can cue Lupe shouting "we're not a band" and Mark saying "we're band", repeat to fade into your favourite Pipas song, which they probably played: the setlist was perfect too and it included 'Book launch', which was this Pipas fan's dream come true and a new song that Aitor named "bad boy rap song" which Lupe nearly acts out as well as sings it. Adorable. They did drop a guitar and press the wrong button on the laptop a couple of times but they remembered all the words to all their songs (as did I, for that matter: you know a band is your favourite one when you don't need to listen to any of their records before going to see them in concert, and you still remember every bit of every song) and what instruments to play in each one; and they looked as sweet, full of colour and in love with life as their songs sound that I couldn't help but bounce and wonder how come the whole wide world isn't in love with them. I know I am. (If I could, I would marry them both.)
The Television Personalities
And then... then... then the Television Personalities climbed the stage and I was gripped by the feeling I were a witness to something really, really special. You see, I had walked in the room that evening thinking I would see them again in eight days in Athens - that this would be the start of something - but by that time I have learned they won't, and the fact that it is an one-off made that night a little more special still. As if it needed that. To me, the Television Personalities are the band who started indiepop and also the band that defined the perfect pop song at least a dozen times, which makes them about the best band in the world if such a thing exists. Because really, who cares about things like trumpets and tge right sound when you can have the whole wide world packed in a simple, short song with rough edges, half-badly played, yet capturing enough sadness to make it stop turning and enough innocence to make it start again? Pop is all about stopping the world and starting it again within the span of three and a half minutes. It is about writing songs about the fact that Geoffrey is the kind of guy who always gets home when it starts to rain, and singing them in a way that just has to have people smiling... And that is why the Television Personalities were perfect.
It sort of is why they still are perfect, too. Because even the sound wasn't great, most of the songs were too new for my liking and Dan Treacy was a half-depressing, half-uplifting sight, and even though I didn't quite understand -I felt too young and too sleepy, too sober and too happy- I got very excited when they played 'Silly girl' (because I agree wholeheartedly with whoever said it is, in a way, the greatest love song) and I wanted to kiss Dan when he sang the Pastels were at Salvator Dali's garden party, and the line 'we sit by the river/ drinking lemon tea' brought tears to my eyes, goodness knows why. And I was left staring at the stage, at Victoria Yeulet who shared vocal duties with Dan and who looked like she could be in a band twenty years younger -a band born when some of these songs were written, like I was- and made me think this wasn't a reunion show but a start of sorts.
And when they sang 'No more I hate yous' as if they were in a room alone and they meant every word, getting drawn into the song the way children are in a game, well, then my heart did stop and start again for the second time in a few hours. And the world looked a little bit different after that, in a way that still makes me smile. And it might do forever.
Saturday night started with another American, not-on-the-bill girl, and part of what made watching Stephanie Says so lovely was that it sort of felt like a secret. Stephanie's music sounded just this little bit uncertain -a bit too big for a living room, a bit too small for a music hall- and most of all, really quite sweet. She reminded me of Laura Watling somehow -the whispery confessions, the simple songs, the talk about the seaside- and her voice is quite perfect too. You might want to look out for her.
Bill Well's Trio
The fact that it was Bill Well's Trio turn to take the stage meant two things: that we'd get to look at Stevie some more, and that we'd get to listen to some jazz. Having had a good look at Stevie on the night before and being a bit too young for instrumental music, we soon got bored and ran away, and didn't get back for quite a while despite the fact that Andreas, whom we bumbed into, informed us jazz music is good for you. To be fair, it was a good sort of jazz, the one that doesn't take itself too seriously and yet manages to make you think of cities and landscapes, rivers, cafes, rain, that sort of thing, and I found the passion in Bill Well's playing touching. And Stevie looked and sounded cool of course. I don't know - you can always blame the excessive intake of indiepop for my being unable to follow a song that lasts longer than three and a half minutes.
Bridget St John
We run back in for Bridget St John just to find ourselves sitting next to an old lady who was holding on to walking stick and looking eagerly at the stage. (She turned out to be Bridget's mother.) A lot of people seem to have found Bridget's performance magical, as I am sure it was in some ways, but I have long grown out of liking the simple beauty of folk music. I also happen to think that it is nearly impossible to do a decent cover of a Nick Drake song and those should, therefore, be left alone, so as soon as she started on 'One of these things first' we ran off again, only to bumb into more of Bridget's relatives, get a little drunk and decide that we're the sort of people who would rather watch Bearsuit on any day.
Stuart Moxham and Louis Philippe
When we wandered in again in time for Stuart Moxham and Louis Philippe we found some of the aforementioned members of Bridget St John's family in our seats, so we ended up sitting on the floor, which was quite enjoyable... unlike the set, which must have been, umm, quite forgetable, since I can hardly remember anything about it but commenting that this is the sort of music people write after they turn forty. Which wasn't meant to sound as mean as it does, I swear! Still, it was quite touching to hear Louis Philippe say how thrilled he was to be playing with Stuart Moxham because he had always been one of his heroes, and to watch the little girl who was sitting in my seat watch the two men on the stage with bright wide eyes. I was happy and time went by fast and before I knew it I was left wondering wether it was Jens Lekman on next, and whether I should get excited about it.
You see, the thing about Jens Lekman is that he went from being just another bloke who records a few songs in their bedroom or something to being a popstar in Sweden in just about a year, and I have to say that up to last Saturday I couldn't quite see why that might have happened. I still don't really know but I have an inkling, and I'll try to make you see: Jens Lekman songs are like Jonathan Richman, the Magnetic Fields and, ummm, Frank Sinatra (bear with me - I can't think of anything else to say) all rolled up into one, served in a way that goes straight to one's heart. They're good but sort of bad too, straightforward and twisted at the same time; but their main strength is that they can touch everyone sometime, somehow. I had seen him live before, with a full band too (in a festival in Sweden: my memories include leaning against a tree and thinking I'd freeze to death, mostly) and it sounds hard to believe but he was better on his own. And if a man can get twenty or so people dancing as if their lives depend on it with just with his voice, a guitar and a ukelele (and a little help from four Swedish(-looking?) kids who started dancing madly just as the first song started, and seemed to be having so much fun everyone else must have felt they had to get up too) then he deserves to be a popstar. Sort of. Don't you think?
See you next year, somewhere, then.
Love and London,
Dear Father Christmas
Dear Father Christmas,
I know it is quite a long time until Christmas and you will be surprised to hear from me so soon but I'm getting quite excited and was wondering whether you would like me to help to get the presents ready? Even though it is early I think you must have started getting the presents ready because I don't think you would have time if you left it all until Christmas Eve. Anyway, I'm on holiday from school in two days so I will be able to help you a lot. I'm very good at wrapping up presents and I could probably help you look after the reindeer. How are they? Are the polar bears well? Have you had any trouble from the goblins this year?
I think that if you wanted me to help you, you would need to pick me up in your sleigh because I'm not sure that I will be allowed to go all the way to the north pole by myself.
Please write back quickly and let me know what you think about the idea.
Lots of Love
Sorry it has taken me so long to write back. Eric, the Elf who normally collects my post was away on his summer holidays. Donald who was doing his job whilst he was away has been having a bit of trouble with the postal round and missed your letter for a few days. Maybe you could leave any letters you write, on the table by the front door, rather than underneath your bed from now on. It will make them much easier for him to find.
I am afraid I will be going away for a holiday with Mrs Christmas in a few days, but you could help me by being a very good girl and helping your mum and dad around the house. It makes my job a lot easier if there are good children around. Donald told me that your car looks like it could do with a clean so maybe you could offer to do that.
As me and Mrs Christmas will be on holiday for a little while I will not be able to reply to your letters. Perhaps you should wait until a bit nearer Christmas before you write back?
The reindeer and the polar bears are all very well thank-you. They send their love. Have a very good summer holidays,
Lots of Love
Dear Father Christmas
Remember you told me to wait a while before writing back to your letter? Well I did wait for a little while, and then I forgot about waiting because me and mum and dad and Suzy went on holiday! We went to the sea-side and stayed with Grandma and Grandad. It was really good and I went swimming even though mum said it was too cold. I really enjoyed myself and didn't even mind when I got the flu and had to stay in bed because grandma bought me lucozade. Then I went back to school and we started learning about the Egyptians and cogs and I am afraid I won't be able to help you with the presents because I won't have another Holiday until Christmas and by then it will be too late!
I hope you won't mind. Did you have a good holiday with Mrs Christmas?
I don't know what I would like for Christmas yet but I think I would either like roller skates or a some stilts.
Hope you and the polar bears and the reindeer are all well.
lots of love
Thank you for your letter. I'm very glad that you had a good holiday. Mrs Christmas and myself also had a very good holiday. We went to Finland and did some sunbathing and sightseeing. It was so good that we decided to stay for an extra few weeks. The only problem is that now we have a lot of catching up to do and I have asked Eric and Donald to help me wrap presents instead of checking my post until December.
Keep being good and I'll see what I can do about the stilts and roller skates.
Lots of Love
P.S. I bet your mum and dad would be very happy if you did the washing up for them.
Dear Father Christmas,
I hope you and Mrs Christmas got caught up wrapping your presents? I have been very busy lately too. We have been practising for the Christmas play at school. I am in the choir which means I have to be on the stage all of the time.
I have also been doing a lot of washing up. Mum and dad are very pleased and don't even mind that I have broken 3 plates so far.
I have been thinking a bit more about my Christmas present and I wonder if I could have a necklace making set instead of stilts and a roller skates? I am sending you an advent calendar that I made at school I thought it might be useful so that you don't miss Christmas! I also found these carrots in the fridge for the reindeer.
Lots of Love
Thank-you for the calendar. Me and Mrs Christmas took it in turns to open the doors. We really liked your picture of the caterpillar under door number 7. Very unusual for an advent calendar. The reindeer were very pleased with the carrots but they ate the whole bag all in one go and I've had to put them on a diet. You had better not send them anymore. Besides I think your mum and dad might have wanted to eat the carrots.
You are being very good doing all of the washing up. Eric said that when he was visiting he poured himself a glass off water and it tasted a bit soapy so you might like to try using a little less washing up liquid and rinsing the things after you washed them.
I hope the school play goes well. I'm sure you will be very good in the choir.
Lots of Love
P.S. Eric noticed that your bedroom was a little bit of a mess. Perhaps you should tidy it.
Dear Father Christmas,
I am on holiday! Only from school though, we are not going anywhere so please don't think you need to take my presents to another house. I have been helping mum put up the Christmas decorations today. The tree is looking lovely. I made sure that she put it well away from the fireplace so you'll be able to get in no problem.
Don't worry about the carrots, Mum must had had another bag somewhere else because she made us eat them with our tea the other day.
Anyway I won't write very much because I know you are very busy and won't have much time to read.
Lots of Love
P.S. I think I might want roller skates after all.
We are indeed very busy here. Mrs Christmas and myself have been wrapping presents for the last 10 hours without a break! The reindeer have been practising their takeoffs and landings for the last two days. I think we will have everything ready for Christmas.
Eric said your bedroom was looking very neat and tidy last time he collected your letter. I can't wait to see it. I see so many messy bedrooms in houses where naughty children live, and I have to think twice about whether to give them a present.
Well Mrs Christmas is calling me so I better go,
Lots of Love
Dear Father Christmas,
I have just been shopping with mum and dad and because you are working so hard I made them buy you apple pies instead of mince pies. I'm sure you must get a bit sick of mince pies and apple pies are much nicer anyway. I will leave out two for you so you can take one home for Mrs Christmas.
Hope you are well and not too tired,
Lots of Love
P.S. I've changed my mind about the roller skates I borrowed Amy's pair today and fell over and grazed my knee.
Thank you for getting apple pies for me and Mrs Christmas. The elves were wondering if they could have a pie too? I think it is going to be a very cold night this year so I would really appreciate a big glass of sherry.
Make sure you go to bed nice and early and get to sleep. I don't want to here from your mum and dad that you have been awake all night like last year.
I better go I have 234 more letters to write to children before I go to bed.
Lots of Love
Dear Father Christmas,
Thank-you very much for my presents they were brilliant! I only opened them today because I was in hospital on Christmas day and kept falling asleep. The reason I was in hospital was because I was feeling very excited on Christmas Eve and so to take my mind of my excitement I tried to hop for as long as I could. Then I fell over and hit my head on the mantelpiece and I woke up in hospital.
I came home today and we are having a mini Christmas. Mum and dad didn't tell me it was going to happen until I woke up this morning because they were scared I would get too excited again. I have been playing with necklace-making set all morning because I'm not allowed to go on the stilts until I calm down.
I hope you and Mrs Christmas can have a good rest now.
Lots of Love
P.S. if you see the tooth fairy could you ask her if she found my tooth. I left it under my pillow but she might not have known to look whilst I was in the hospital.
Jack and Sarah
Jack and Sarah were friends, after a manner. Which is to say that they weren't as well befriended with each other as with some other people, but much better than with most.
Jack had a French poodle, pure-bred for many generations, which he took for a long walk in the park, every day. Sarah had another type of dog, or rather, a whole font-set full - a close inspection would reveal hereditary traits of at least seven different species. And that was usually just where people stopped counting… Sarah would also take her dog for long walks in the park, every day.
That is, of course, where and how Jack and Sarah met. But it didn't happen quite as easily or as quickly as that sentence would suggest. And, most importantly, they didn't fall in love. No, that's right, they didn't, not even in the end. They did end up becoming rather fast friends though. Not that they ever visited much or anything, but eventually each was looking forward to his or her afternoon walk for rather more than just the fresh air, the exercise or the happy panting of their pets.
Though they didn't meet for a long time, they were of course well-aware of each other's existence from quite early on, as people who frequent the same piece of earth are wont to be.
Afterwards, Jack would sometimes think to himself that he must have noticed Sarah before she did him, as he was - perpetually single - boy, and boys are always more on the lookout for pretty girls, which Sarah certainly was, aren't they? And Sarah, who was a girl, and as a girl knew a few things that Jack, as a boy, would just never understand, thought that she must have been aware of Jack long before he was of her. As it happened, they never thought it important to talk about this to each other during their walks together, and even if they had it would not have helped, as neither of them could have provided even the vaguest date for this moment. Such is the nature of these things that they just slowly percolate, and then one day it's there, steaming on the table, without anyone being able to say for certain that it hadn't already been the day before.
Anyhow, long after that day - assuming for convenience's sake that there had been a specific day - had come and gone, there still had been no obvious reason for them to actually meet. They might have said "Good afternoon" in passing once or twice, in that manner of perfect strangers for whom the actual goodness or otherwise of the particular afternoon in question was of no import or relevance, but otherwise that was it. Perhaps then already, too, there had been leavening but private smiles when each had spotted the other, but that, as yet, would have been less a function of the other's presence as of a general affirmation that, indeed, all was as it should be, and all was well with the world.
It was inevitable thought hat the day should come when the ice be broken and they should really meet, and when it finally did happen, it was - fittingly - as a result of the combination of the impeccable breeding of Jack's poodle and the haywire provenance of Sarah's mongrel.
At the time, it is true, Jack was feeling less and less comfortable with his perennial singles status, and concomitantly more and more interested in Sarah - though, to be honest, it is equally true that he was becoming more and more interested in just about every girl that he saw. However, it was Sarah who was on hand when Jack's poodle, whose name we shall never know, perhaps taking his cue from some half-felt empathic intuition of his master's desire to show off to this other girl, took it into his head to have a tilt at a hapless squirrel foolishly scuttling across an open lawn. Or perhaps it was just his innate and painstakingly refined dogginess - precisely that which Sarah's poodle so decisively turned out to be lacking in - taking over. Who knows? Who cares?
The fact remains that the next thing the poodle was tearing along across the lawn, his leash effortlessly plucked from Jack's unsuspecting hand and flapping along behind him like the scarf of a classic motorist. Which led in turn to the following event, which was not at first surprising, but rapidly became so: Sarah's dog followed suit, plucking her leash with equal ease from Sarah's hand and haring off in her own hot pursuit of the poor squirrel.
Except, it turned out that she wasn't after the squirrel after all! By virtue of a fortunate accident of triangulation, she was much closer to the wee sleekit tim'rous beastie than the poodle was, and though she was considerably smaller than the long-legged thoroughbred, she got there first… only to turn and square off against the larger dog instead, teeth bared, hackle raised and snarling. This bought the tachycardic squirrel the time it needed to leap into the eventual safety of a large tree, up which it scurried to the highest branch, from where it sat surveying the strange scene below with chattering outrage.
The poodle, meanwhile, taken aback completely by this blatant and bewildering display of canine infidelity, had come to a shuddering halt, or at least, had tried to. As it happened, its front-paws had evidently got the order to halt somewhat before it could reach the hind-legs, and for a crucial few milli-seconds, while the front-paws dug deep and solidly into the lush grass, the hind-legs came careering on, so that the overall effect of it was of the entire dog bunched up into an impossibly small space for an animal that size, and then the whole came tumbling down into a comically cubist mess of paws and tail and ears and what-not else.
So, while one dog - itself a rather messy composite of various bits of various dogs - was bristling with all her might under the supposedly supportive chirping of her tiny patron in the tree far above, the other was desperately trying to extricate itself from the ungainly know it had become. Watching all of this were the two humans, Jack and Sarah, each still standing stock-still stunned with shock, exactly where they had been the moment that the melee had kicked off, each still with a now-leashless hand extended, and each with mouth open, frozen in silent commands that had not come.
And it was only when the puzzled poodle had finally recovered its shaky paws and, half in outrage at the escape of its quarry - and perhaps more, the unseemly and in fact unsporting manner by which this had come to pass - and half in a doomed effort at masking its all too palpable embarrassment, had allowed a half-moaning and pathetic howl to escape its throat, that each human, but simultaneously, had suddenly subsided into bubbly fits of giggles.
Filtering it somehow through these giggles, Jack managed to strain out an all-but forceful command for the poodle to "come to heel, boy", followed shortly by a similarly muffled command from Sarah. But whereas the poodle, probably more glad of the opportunity of beating a more-or-less graceful retreat thus afforded, than out of obedience immediately turned and trotted back to Jack, head sunken - and not without managing to half-trip once or twice on the trailing lead - Sarah's mongrel stood dead-still for some moments more, until the poodle's arrival at its master's side seemed to reassure her that the coast was truly clear. Then she too, though bounding joyfully and proudly - in all too sharp and obvious contrast to the poodle's sheepish shuffling - returned to Sarah's side, where she proceeded to give the hand extended towards the limp leash a hearty lick, before pausing to throw a tremendously mocking and triumphant glance at the cowed bully slinking around Jack.
And that, since it's not necessary to note in detail the small-talk that then ensued, is the day that Jack and Sarah finally became friends, though nothing more became of it, not then or afterwards. After that, each day they would share their walk, placidly talking about this or that or sometimes not at all, in sharp contrast to the feisty one-upmanship that soon made for an equally firm friendship between the dogs.
This carried on for three years or more, during which Sarah had her heart broken once or twice and hurt a few times more, by other people, and Jack had his share of heartache too. And sometimes they would discuss this with each other, and sometimes not.
Then Jack got a better job in another town, and moved away. He never wrote Sarah, or phoned her either, and neither did she write to him or call. Years went by. Jack found another park to walk the poodle in, but never made another friend like that. Then the poodle died, peacefully in its sleep, from old age. And instead of getting another one, Jack found a nice girl who liked him too, married her and settled down to having children. Slowly, inevitably, he lost contact with all his old life, back there in the town where he had once lived.
Sarah carried on walking her mongrel in the same manner, in the same park. She too found a lovely man who was perfect for her and she for him, but they decided not to marry. And when her pooch died too, equally blessed with a peaceful and timely demise, she found another one at the shelter, whom she grew to love a lot, though secretly she thought that no other dog would ever have quite the personality as that strange mixed-breed had. But she walked the new dog, too, in the same manner, and in the same park, day by day, sometimes with her man and sometimes not.
But Jack and Sarah did meet again, just once. A few years later, Jack heard that an old friend of his had, whom he had not spoken to in two years, and the only on their birthdays, had died unexpectedly, and he returned to his old town for the first time, for the funeral. His wife had never been there nor met any of his old friends, and besides, there were children to take care of at home now, and so she didn't come along with him.
And on a whim Jack went - at the usual time - to the park, and yes, there was Sarah, and they walked as of old, talking placidly of this and that or sometimes not at all, though now of course there was just the one dog, wondering idly who this stranger was. And no, they didn't fall in love now either, nor did they finally realize that they had been in love all along and bitterly curse the waste years. They just liked walking with wach other once again. And when they finally parted again, with a peck each on the cheek and hug, though after a slightly longer walk than they had used to have, Jack was still excited to be going back to the woman he had married, and Sarah equally so to the man that she was with.
And so they never saw each other again, or spoke even, and for all that, and - perhaps - because of that, remained the best of friends for ever after, until Jack died, peacefully, in his sleep one night, of ripe old age, and his wife wept for him.
And the next morning Sarah too just would not wake up, turning slowly cold in the arms of her weeping man, but with a smile upon her own lips.
And so all things must end, but some things end better than others, and here, now, this story too must bid you all a fond farewell, goodbye, and wish you all a happy new year, a happy life and a friendship - perhaps - like that with Sarah and with Jack.
News That They Missed - 2004
Most of the media avoided reporting what should have been some of the biggest news of 2004.
This is an attempt to give a round up of ten major events that didn’t get the coverage they should have, and some of the history needed to understand them. Apologies for any that are missed out.
War in Congo continues – over 7 million dead
'History will one day have its say ; it will not be the history taught in the United Nations , Washington , Paris or Brussels , however , but the history taught in the countries that have rid themselves of colonialism and it's puppets' Patrice Lumumba , Prime Minister of Congo , 7 July 1961 , in a letter to his wife before his murder by soldiers loyal to the future military dictator Joseph Mobutu , in a coup supported by the British , American and Belgian governments (De Witte ,2001 , 184)
Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba
‘The State of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world’ Tony Blair , Labour party Conference , 2001
Tony Blair told the Labour Party Conference in October 2001 that
“If Rwanda happens again, we would not walk away as the outside world has done many times before.”
At the same time massacres were taking place across the Democratic Republic of Congo, just as they had through decades of war and dictatorship before, and as they do to this day – with over half a million deaths per year in the last decade. There was no attempt to prevent them by Blair’s government or the United Nations then – and there still is no serious attempt.
Why not? In 2002 the UN reported that at least 85 multinationals were trading with the same Congolese warlords who have been responsible for rapes , massacres and the looting of the country's mineral wealth - including Barclays Bank , De Beers and Anglo-American plc. Barclays were generous enough to provide Tony Blair’s constituency office with a personal assistant at the bank’s expense according to the House of Commons’ Register of Members’Interests. De Beers donated £2 million to the Blair government’s continuation of its Conservative pre-decessors’ Millenium Dome Project. The UN reported in October 2003 that De Beers was still involved in corruption in Congo. Blair has appointed Chris Fay , non-executive director of Anglo-American plc , to chair the British government’s Committee on Business and the Environment.
Congolese factions and foreign troops from neighbouring countries sell diamonds , coltan (a material used in making playstations , mobile phones and other high-tech gadgets) and other valuable resources at knock-down prices to these firms as long as the war continues. On top of that the factions and neighbouring governments can be sold arms – like the British Aerospace/BAE Systems Hawk trainers and spare parts sold to Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe by British governments from Thatcher’s to Blair’s. BAE systems donated thousands of pounds to Labour party funds in sponsorship and other deals under Blair and has extensive links with his government. Opposition Conservative party MP Michael Portillo has been a non-executive director of BAE for several years. In October 2002 the UN named BAE as one of the firms still involved in illegal arms sales in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mugabe’s regime intervened in Congo in order to secure its share of the loot. The British government only turned against Mugabe when he began abandoning free market policies (Mugabe was never a democrat and had been massacring his own people ever since he came to power) and threatening to seize land belonging to the De Beers family – the owners of one of the largest diamond firms in the world.
The Rwandan military – mostly Tutsis - victims of genocide in - are now involved in massacres of Hutus in Congo (Hutu extremists being those who carried out the massacres in ). Like the Hutu extremists before them they kill civilians along with combatants.
After gaining its independence from Belgium in Congo was briefly a democracy under elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumuba . The Belgian , British and American governments supported a military coup by Tshombe Moise with the aid of Colonel Joseph Mobutu in 1961. Tshombe had Lumumba and many other opponents of his dictatorship murdered. This prevented Lumuba’s attempts to prevent foreign firms controlling Congo’s mineral wealth.
Later the same powers backed the military dictatorship of Colonel Joseph Mobutu who came to power in his second military coup in 1965. Mobutu went through a pantomime of 'nationalising' Congolese industry which left most of the 'state-owned' companies such as the oil company Zaire Fina with foreign companies owning 60% of their shares. Decades after the coup even the nationalised mining company GECAMINES had its marketing operations run by Belgians seconded from the Belgian Society General financial institution (Lumumba-Kasongo, 1999,77-109).
When Patrice Lumumba’s grandson Omasase fled the torture and killing of his family by Mobutu’s dictatorship in 1991. He was arrested by British immigration officials for having a false passport. He died on the 8th of October 1991, pinned to the floor by prison officers. The prison doctor saw them still on top of the unconscious man when he arrived and found Omasase dead. Other prisoners testified that the officers had jumped on and kicked Omasase. A 1993 inquest found the death was unlawful killing due to excessive use of force – but no legal or disciplinary action has been taken against the killers (Human Rights Watch, 1997 , p47-49). In 1998 the British government was still arresting asylum seekers for travelling on forged passports – including 2 refugees fleeing the continued killings of Albanians by Serbs and vice-versa in Kosovo. In 2003 a British court ruled such arrests are illegal as they breach Article 31 of the 1951 Geneva Conventions.
In 1994 Laurent Kabila led a rebellion against Mobutu in Congo, beginning a series of civil wars which continue today even after Kabila’s assassination in 2001 and Mobutu’s death. These civil wars are accompanied by repeated invasions by the militaries of other countries either intervening in support of one faction or another or pursuing rebels across the border in their own civil wars. In many cases these have merely been excuses to loot Congolese mineral wealth. Zimbabwean, Angolan, Namibian, Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian forces and militias organised by their governments continue to periodically massacre and loot in Congo. The Ugandan and Burundian forces have received training and equipment from western mercenary firms including the US- based Military Personnel and Resources Incorporated ( which has close links to the Pentagon ), the British based Sandline International and Executive Outcomes of South Africa. As in Macedonia the Pentagon has been involved in bringing these mercenary companies into Congo and continuing the civil wars.
Over half a million Congolese die as a result each year.
Again. And Again. And Again.
De Witte, Ludo (1999) and (2001) , ‘The Assassination of Lumumba’, Verso , London & New York , 2001 , p 184-5
Lumumba-Kasongo (1999) , ‘The Dynamics of Economic and Political Interactions between Africa and Foriegn Powers’, Praeger , London , 1999
Ngemi , Yaa-Lengi M (2000), ‘Genocide in the Congo ‘ ,Writers Club Press/I-uinverse.com , New York , 2000
Channel 4 (UK) , 29 Sep 2001 7.30pm GMT, ‘Unreported World’
Human Rights Watch (1997) , ‘Racist Violence in the United Kingdom’ , HRW, London , 1997
Australian government refuses to hand over oil fields to East Timor
Despite having gained its independence from Indonesia with the support of the United Nations in 1999 East Timor is still being denied control of oil fields which belong to it under international law but which are being held by the Australian government.
East Timor , a former colony of Portugal , was first granted its independence in 1975 after the ‘carnation revolution’ by the lower ranks of the Portugese military over-threw Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal itself and granted independence to all former Portugese colonies. It was almost immediately invaded by Indonesia with the full support of the United States and Britain who used their Security Council vetoes to prevent any United Nations action against this annexation. They then provided arms, training and intelligence officers to aid the Indonesian dictator Suharto (who they had helped to power in a military coup) in a campaign of massacre and torture against the Timorese. What Suharto – and the British, American and Australian governments and oil companies – wanted to control were the large oil fields of the ‘Timor Gap’ – the channel between East Timor and Indonesia.
As a result of occupation and losing these oil-fields East Timorese have become some of the poorest people in the world.
East Timor finally gained its independence in 1999 after the United Nations intervened when massacres by Indonesian forces once again began there , sending in peacekeeping forces , many of them Australian.
Under international law any sea within 22 miles of the coast of a country is part of the territory of that country – and anything in that sea – fish, oil deposits etcetera – belongs to that country. In the case of channels of sea less than 44 miles wide between countries the boundary is drawn half way between the two coast-lines.
However Australia is refusing to accept this and refusing to hand over oil fields which are in the Timorese half of the channel. While East Timor was under Indonesian occupation many of these oil-fields were granted to Australia under a treaty with Indonesia. The Australian government refuses to agree to international mediation of the dispute. So East Timor remains one of the poorest countries in the world , unable to afford significant investment even in education , healthcare and transport – and having to consider becoming yet another indebted third world country. The Australian government under Prime Minister John Howard tells the Timorese they should be grateful that Australian troops helped them get independence. East Timor’s President Xanan Gusmao disagrees given that the Australian government supported the Indonesian occupation for decades and refuses to hand over oil fields that belong to Timor.
Hutton report made false claims on death of Blair’s Iraq WMD critic– Kelly couldn’t have committed suicide by methods it claims say ambulance crew and doctors
The ambulance crew which was called to the scene of British government scientific adviser Dr. David Kelly’s death has told reporters that claims made in the Hutton report into his death were false. Several doctors have also questioned its conclusions.
Dr. David Kelly was an adviser on chemical and biological weaponry to the British Ministry of Defence. While he was a supporter of the war on Iraq he was not willing to take part in the distortion of facts and intelligence by the British government. Blair distorted intelligence in a 'dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction' and statement to parliament in September 2002. He attempted to make parliament and the public believe that Saddam's regime could launch missiles with wMD warheads on British or allied targets with in 45 minutes. In fact Saddam had no long ranged missiles - and had never used WMDs even during the first gulf war when he fired conventional warheads on scud missiles into Israel. Blair also claimed Saddam had developed ‘mobile chemical weapons laboratories’ in the back of lorries , which he was supposedly using to hide his WMD programme from UN inspectors. This claim was passed on to the Bush administration and Colin Powell presented it to the United Nations as evidence that Saddam was continuing to develop WMDs.
Kelly , an expert in the field who had repeatedly visited Iraq as an inspector in the past, told the press and subsequently parliamentary select committees that both Blair's claims were false. The ‘mobile labs’ were not suitable for chemical or biological laboratories - and the '45 minute' intelligence referred to battlefield weapons - not long ranged missiles. Blair claimed the threat from Saddam's supposed WMDs was 'serious and current' - Kelly said the evidence showed that the threat was 'modest' and certainly not immediate. Saddam had no such weapons but might wish to develop them if he could - which , under sanctions, he couldnt.
Blair and his ministers were furious at Kelly’s refusal to cover the lies they were telling as part of their war propaganda. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw demanded that Kelly accompany him to appear in front of Parliamentary Select Committees – while complaining that the MoD had sent him someone ‘so junior’. In fact Kelly was one of the foremost WMD experts in both the UK and the world. Straw's remark was part of a government and MoD campaign to isolate and demoralise Kelly.
Straw , Blair, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and Blair's then press secretary Alastair Campbell decided to make Kelly take all the stress. They used the pathetic trick of narrowing down the list of possible sources that the 45 minute claim was false in their dealings with the media to a handful of experts. Then they agreed to confirm who the actual source was if the media 'guessed' it. With the entire media and parliament questioning him relentlessly and his colleagues in the government and the MoD having turned on him Kelly was left in an impossible position. When he was found dead Blair was able to divert demands for an inquiry into his false claims on Iraqi WMD into a narrower inquiry into the circumstances of David Kelly's death.
The Hutton report claimed Kelly died from an over-dose of coproxamol tablets combined with blood loss from slitting his left wrist. It also claims that an area of grass 2 to 3 feet in each direction was covered in his blood. The ambulance crew who came to take him to hospital say there was no such area covered in blood – only a very small amount of dried blood on his left wrist and a spot on his trousers. Some doctors have ludicrously speculated that the blood may have ‘gone straight into the ground’. Kelly supposedly died of blood loss by cutting an artery with only a single small spot of it (the size of a 50 pence piece according to the ambulance crew) spraying onto his clothes ? And the rest disappeared into the ground within the few minutes between the ambulance being called and its arrival ?
Other doctors have pointed out that the dosage of coproxamol which Kelly is said to have taken in the Hutton report could not possibly have been enough to result in his death.
No new inquiry into Kelly’s death has been called for by the media or the official opposition.
British government jails asylum seekers without fair trial, plans to jail citizens without fair trial
While the media spent almost a month going crazy over David Blunkett helping his lover’s nanny get refugee status in the UK they didn’t seem nearly so worried that the government is busy trying to remove our most basic legal rights.
We have our own Guantanamo Bay at Belmarsh prison where asylum seekers and other foreign citizens who are claimed to be terrorist suspects have been in jail without any proper trial since 2002 under anti-terrorism legislation passed after September 11th. They were not tried by jury or in public but by secret tribunals with the evidence against them not revealed to them, their lawyers or the media. They can be jailed for the rest of their lives under this legislation without ever getting a fair trial. Some have lost limbs due to being unable to get exercise; others have gone insane in solitary confinement. This practice has been condemned by the and by the Special Immigration Appeals Committee which Blunkett established. The Law Lords – the highest court in the UK – have ruled that indefinite detention without fair trial is illegal under the Human Rights Act which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The government simply ignored the ruling and continues to illegally hold foreign terrorist suspects without any fair trial.
Blunkett repeatedly proposed legislation to allow British citizens to be tried and jailed in the same way. In other words trials held in secret with judges, prosecution and defence lawyers all vetted by the same intelligence services and with the defendant not allowed to know the evidence against them. This continues to be the plan of Blunkett’s successor as Home Secretary Charles Clarke MP . We are told to trust that the government will use intelligence responsibly – the same government that mis-used in telligence on Iraq’s supposed WMD programme so badly. Even if we did trust them once such legislation was passed the door would be open for them or any future government to declare any or all of its opponents terrorist suspects, try them in secret without revealing whether it had any evidence against them and jail them until they died of old age.
If such legislation is passed the right of habeas corpus – not to be jailed without a fair trial by jury – which took 800 years of struggle from Magna Carta in 1215 on for all British citizens to get – will be gone. For some reason this isn’t big news.
Electoral Irregularities and Exit Poll Discrepancies in US Presidential Elections lead to recounts and inquiries
Covered in two previous articles Covering Electoral Irregularities and Opposition Demands for Inquiries and Recounts – the Ukrainian versus the American Presidential Election and Done Deals - Presidential election rigging methods in 1960 , 2000 and 2004.
British government plans Electronic and Postal Voting and ‘Criminal Database’ in UK – risking same fraud problems as in US Presidential Elections
British elections have not suffered from irregularities and fraud on the scale that American ones have for the simple reason that they have been held using paper ballots counted and re-counted in public. No voting machines are used to record, store or count votes. Postal voting has in the passed been restricted to people who cannot get to the polling stations due to illness, disability or having to be out of the country at the time of the election.
The Blair government wants to change all that. In the European Parliament elections of 2004 they introduced all postal voting in the North of England – no-one was allowed to vote at polling stations. They attempted to force Scotland to do the same – but Scottish officials refused to agree. The Electoral Commission warned that all-postal voting is an invitation to election fraud.
The government responded that it backs ‘multi-channel’ elections – by which it means the same channels which have caused so many irregularities in American elections – electronic voting, mass postal voting and so on.
The government’s ID card scheme also includes a National Criminal Database the running of which is contracted out to a private firm. This has unpleasant echoes of tampering with the electoral register in the US in 2000 and 2004 where Republican officials who doubled as state election campaign managers for Bush wrongly and illegally removed voters from the electoral register. The numbers wrongly removed are estimated by the American Civil Liberties Union at 5 million – 1.5 million more than Bush’s electoral ‘mandate’ in 2004 and 5 million more than his non-existent mandate in 2000. In Florida in 2000 Republican Secretary of State (and Bush campaign manager for Florida) Katherin Harris contracted Database Technologies , a which has since been merged into its then parent firm ChoicePoint, to remove ‘ex-felons’ from the electoral register. They removed tens of thousands of people with no criminal record , and a disproportionate number of them were black – black voters being far more likely to vote Democrat.
Even Pentagon and CIA officials now admit that the US occupation of Iraq is the main cause of the insurgency there
See this report in the Boston Globe
US and British forces torture and killing of civilians and PoWs goes far beyond Abu Ghraib – still continuing – FBI & CIA organise arrest and torture world-wide
According to Amnesty International research Abu Ghraib was not an isolated incident.
The American Civil Liberties Union has released Pentagon documents which show that torture by US forces in Iraq continued during the Abu Ghraib scandal and took place in other prisons also.
Seymour Hersh , the journalist who uncovered the My Lai massacre in Vietnam has many contacts in the CIA , the US military and the Pentagon. He also broke the Abu Ghraib scandal story.
He has discovered that the published version of the US army’s Taguba report on Abu Ghraib has had sections on the rape of women and children removed – and that the Pentagon has there is video of the rape of children by Abu Ghraib personnel.
The nature of ‘interrogation techniques’ at Guantanamo bay has come to light. Sean Baker , formerly a military policeman serving at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba , was left with permanent injuries after other soldiers were told he was a prisoner and ordered to practise ‘interrogation techniques’ on him. They beat and choked him with the approval of an officer – only stopping when his orange jump suit tore open revealing his US army uniform.
The British Ministry of Defence admitted that British military intelligence officers were working with the American units responsible for torture at Abu Ghraib.
‘Private contractors’ working as ‘security guards’ for British and American firms in Iraq include commandos who were involved in torture and murder under Pinochet in Chile and South Africans guilty of murder and torture under Apartheid.
A report by ‘The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights’ or ‘Human Rights First’ detailed dozens of secret detention centres worldwide from warships off South Carolina to jails in Pakistan and Thailand used by US military and intelligence services to secretly hold thousands of prisoners without any supervision by the International Red Cross according to a report in the New Zealand Herald
The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture has also interviewed US Security Officers who confirm that prisoners are handed over to allied governments – including Egypt and Morocco – for torture – as well as being tortured at the US base on the island of Diego Garcia, which the US leases from the British government , which assisted in forcing the indigenous population off the islands from the 1950s on.
Human Rights Watch reports that the torture and killing of civilians by US forces is also widespread in Afghanistan.
Government blocks any attempt to question officers on continuing allegations of rape, sexual abuse and violence against recruits at Deepcut barracks
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed by occupying forces in Iraq – Hundreds more in each assault
See Iraq Body Count
Also covered in previous articles - 'Pacifying' Falluja Again - November 2004 and Opposites? and Selective Condolences as well as El Salvador in Iraq and Enjoying freedom at Home and Abroad among others
Copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2004
At the end of October, I wrote an article about NaNoWriMo despite never having taken part myself. Two-time NaNoWriMo-er Terry was kind enough to tell me all about the experience.
Terry is a 28-year-old writer and waitress in New Orleans, LA and you can read her livejournal here.
How many times have you taken part in NaNoWriMo?
This is my second year
How many times have you reached the goal of 50,000 words?
Not once. Never.
Why did you take part? What did you hope to get out of it?
I always start out with an initial goal of getting a novel out of it, but mostly end up with about 2,000 words.
What's your favourite thing about NaNoWriMo?
The pressure. I work really well under deadline, in the sense that I hone my procrastination to a T. To avoid sitting down and writing 50,000 words, I find the time to do laundry, work out, rearrange library, return old emails, clear the cache and "tune-up" my computer, clean out my car, clean out the glove compartment of my car (I found a small cadre of old sunflower seed shells, yet can't recall when the last time I ate sunflower seeds), call old friends, manicure/pedicure, and well, you get the idea.
What do you think are the advantages / disadvantages of writing a novel in a month?
The advantage would lie in getting past the "first novel" pressure. If you can do it once, in a month, you can do it again and again and again. The disadvantage would be the rushed storyline. I think it's a good idea not to NANOWRIMO (action verb!) your dream book, so as not to take the fire from it. Doing so could easily discourage you from getting that story solidly written out. I would write something from a completely different direction and leave the outcome wide open.
Did you go to any of the NaNoWriMo meet-ups in your area? Did you visit or post on the message-boards? Did they help you in any way?
I signed up on the New Orleans board, and was super-psyched about it, but then after a few days of not writing into the NANOWRIMO month, I ducked into lurking. After a week or so into not writing, I decided to hang it up altogether on the boards.
Do you write during the other 11 months of the year?
Yes, all of them, and oftentimes on bar napkins.
What have you learnt from NaNoWriMo about yourself or your writing?
Perhaps I don't work so well under deadline when it comes to actually writing, but I have acquired a newfound faith in my ability to absolutely rock my "to-do" list.
Will you be doing it again next year?
Try and stop me!
Ballboy - Live at London Water Rats 8th December, 2004
Unfortunate circumstances conspire to
prevent this being a full ballboy performance, a bereavement in a member's
family causing their tour to be cut short. Gordon McIntyre is keen to put
something on for the fans, though, and so the show turns into a solo acoustic
evening. It seems fitting given the support, and the event becomes a rare chance
to catch three contemporary songwriters without their respective bands.
A real treat.