DAY 249: Memories – Harping on a Knee

June 20th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

My sister, with het usual perspicacity, has suggested that I should keep a blog of my recent life, which has indeed been more than usually mouvementé. My knee – I hate to keep harping on it, and indeed to harp on a knee seems a fine metaphor for a time-wasting occupation – has been giving me much grief despite injections which the NHS, or one particular untrustworthy doctor, swore blind would have me leaping around and throwing away my crutches in seconds, has been grumbling away with increasing intensity; while in an attempt to sort out my parlous financial situation I’ve put myself in the hands of a lawyer (£10 for a phone call) and am trying to produce the usual statement of incomings and outgoings.This work(the statement, are you still with me? Thanks) is a fascinating mélange of fact and fantasy, the facts being the huge amounts spent on school fees and credit card repayments and the fantasies being things like £22 for school trips and video rentals. Do people read this garbage, and what do they do with it? I’ve nearly completed the statement, am waiting for the knee to get its act together, and for the lawyer who in my mind plays Germany to my Greece, the ant to my grasshopper, to wave a magic wand over my debts. And I’m trying to find an analogy between (on the one hand) the difficulties of an old man in Islington, beset with a sea of sorrows and lacking the courage to end them; and the state of Europe, or indeed the world, fenced in, detained,


Campsfield detention centre

ruled by authoritarian maniacs armed with every weapon from video cameras to drones to tear gas and ready to shoot teenagers on sight either if they are the wrong religion or simply (if in an American high school) out of a blind destructive urge. The analogy predictably doesn’t work. Only the pervasive despair does.

 Stories and politics

As usual, I’ve jumped into a debate without realising that it’s been going on for decades, and I probably need a decade of my own (which I don’t have) to catch up with the literature. About a week ago, my eye was caught by some stuff about possible new directions for Palestinian leadership on Al Shabaka; and (I think) in the same estimable publication, something about folk stories, or was it poetry? Which prompted the following brief interjection on Facebook:

‘Hysterics suffer from reminiscences [Freud]
History is a nightmare which I am trying to forget [Joyce]
I’ve been reading recent articles in ‘Al-Shabaka’: on reinventing Palestinian political institutions – yet again! – and on oral history. Somehow in my confused mind these come together, so that people earn a place in the political institutions according to their memories; as streets in Nablus’ Balata camp are named after lost towns or villages. This relates (partly) to the Home Office practice of giving you rights according to how we believe your ‘story’.
I feel that telling stories is currently a more hopeful practice than building institutions. Do the stories have to be credible?’

Apart from misquoting Joyce (‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’, but I think my version has some merits), I find – I surely knew – that the relation between Palestinian political institutions and memories has been endlessly debated over the last seventy, if not a hundred years. I could cite Laleh Khalili’s Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration, although that’s itself far from being the beginning. Palestine, that nation of refugees, has a vast library of refugee stories – literally. And to turn from the discouraging search for a better ‘leadership’ to the search for better stories, of which there are many, could be a much more creative use of the time we have left to us. I do try, in my feeble way, to help refugees have their stories believed; but surely the first step is that the stories should be heard.



DAY 248: Risotto

June 4th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

To move to a grander scale in the grand scheme of things, setting aside mass carnage in places too numerous to mention, human rights abuses ditto, the shooting of a clearly marked paramedic on the Gaza border by the Israeli occupation force, drownings including of children in the Mediterranean. East and West, it was only to be expected (as I have finally come to conclude) that the fragile fabric of the universe which there were a number of reasons to conclude was not as secure as we had thought  was indeed crumbling (has anyone written down the Grand Theory of Everything? Does the Higgs really do what it say on the packet?). Things, which I had thought persisted in space and time, were unpredictably vanishing. I could cite about three cases from today, but let’s restrict our attention to a packet of arborio rice which – naturally – I wanted in order to make a risotto. I’d cut up an onion and various herbs and started  some oil melting and stuff and – hey! Where was the rice?

A week ago, there was a nearly full pack (okay, only a pound,


but no one around here would have eaten it) in the rice-cupboard. Now there was nothing. Nor in any other cupboard neither. Could that amount of rice have dematerialised? Could it have been taken by bailiffs to settle some rather picayune debt of which I was unaware? I naturally – given my currently rather fragile nature, which in the asylum-seeking trade we term ‘vulnerable’, rapidly became reduced to a weeping gibbering wreck.

Like the rest of us I’ve passed through a fairly disciplined school system (it’s evolved over the years) which filters the youngsters so that they come out getting to ‘know’ things about the ‘world’ (note the scare-quotes). So that we’re deemed to know about French, or chemistry, or Marxism, if we know that the past subjunctive of ‘nous voyons’ is ‘nous vissions’, or that cadmium has two valency electrons, being a transition element in group 12 (I hope) of the periodic table, or that the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas. And not only would these ‘facts’ get you through your GCSEs, but they were ‘true’ and told you something about the ‘world’, which was safe and stable and wouldn’t go away. In particular, a packet of rice, if you put it in the cupboard, would stay in the cupboard unless there was some compelling reason for its disappearance.

[I should mention that this was the third in a series of such disappearances (or apparent disappearances) in twelve hours, and I was getting twitchy.] I wonder if Bishop Berkeley


had similar problems which unused him to doubt the reality of the material world. I know he didn’t exactly do that, but let’s suppose he did.

Of course eventually the rice turned up, next to the Shredded Wheat. I know rice is a cereal, but how could anyone have been so misguided as to put it there? I hesitated to turn inquisitor; I prefer to stick to my belief that the structure of reality is, in some essential way, fractured, and that causality had decided to take a holiday and play games with the rice. Jesus did it with
loaves and fishes,


it’s not too much to suppose that other kinds of food can mutate.

As I said, I found the rice and made the risotto. I can move on (or back) to the struggle and hope the universe will stay put for the time being.




DAY 247: Apology

May 31st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Not for the first time I find that I’ve fallen behind, or been devancé, by my confrères in the blog racket by having failed to post anything, not a single word, syllable or even character, as Easter moved on into Ramadan (can that be right?) and the Israeli state raised the art of massacring unarmed residents of Gaza to a new level. I could raise feeble excuses based on my state of health (my knees are currently atrocious, but I don’t after all type with them) or poverty (and I’m daily confronted by examples of better and more productive writers who are starving): my best excuse was given to me two years ago by someone I particularly admire: ‘Don’t write unless you have something to say.’ So I haven’t. To post the conclusion first, and save you the trouble of reading the arguments such as they are: what is going on is repression on a massive, even murderous scale. But it isn’t genocide such as affected the First Nations in America and Australia, and the victims, many of whom are surviving and living among us, will remain and become part of our culture. That’s a small starting point.

Accordingly, I have been thinking, in the face of the increasingly dire political situation (yes, that again) that something new seems to be happening, both locally and globally. I could mention a piece which claimed that the President of the United States was no longer that important. (Assuming that there was a period, say between 1860 and 1970, I stand open to correction, when he was,) It seemed a good point, and well and crisply made. We have to keep continuously focused on the small, the human, the thongs which escape being ‘news’. Many aspects of the world scene are simply atrocious, but relatively minor aspects of the so-called Grand Scheme of Things. I have to tell stories which point out the essential point: that the human beings, however much you dislike them, torment them or torture them, aren’t going away. Why not give up, make friends, and come to terms with them? You’d feel better about yourself; and if you loo; closely at your arguments against (economic, or whatever), you’ll find they don’t hold.

One article on the continuing story of the Great Return March I have managed to retrieve. I think I’ll copy it since it summarises something I’m increasingly understanding about the Palestinian movement, or people. It’s not about winning or losing, the people are, and will remain, simply there. It’s an interview from the Israeli +972 magazine – which I suggest you subscribe to rather than reading my thoughts such as they are – with Hasan al-Kurd, one of the group of independents who organised the Gaza ‘Great Return March’. This makes clear that the march was an expression of an independent political demand within Gaza, and certainly not promoted or sponsored by Hamas

Did you to travel to Israel in the past?

“In the past I was part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a left-wing Palestinian party that supports armed resistance — r.y.). So of course I was never allowed in. I have never met an Israeli in my life.”

Al-Kurd’s belief, as well as that of the other organizers of the Great Return March (“We are a group of 20 people, including four women, and we have members of all the political factions”) in nonviolent resistance has influenced a large segment of the public in Gaza, including leaders of local factions.

How is the leadership feeling a week after the attempt to cross the fence? After last week’s bloodshed I saw that Ahmad Abu-Ratima, who also helped organize the march, wrote on Facebook that the protests won’t cease, and that the attempts to breach the border will continue until the siege is lifted.

“Many of us are still in shock. We did not expect such a large number of people killed and wounded. But you know what? Even though we have more people wounded than during the 2014 massacre, I hear that many of them want to get recover and return to the border to try and cross over again.”

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City on May 11, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)


“Because they have nothing to do. They do not feel that they have any other reason to live. One of the positive results of our protest, despite all the pain that followed the massive loss in life, is that it gives our young people a purpose and a goal in life. This is why we feel we have started something new that is not going to stop. We will try to cross the border again on June 5th (on Naksa Day, when Palestinians mark the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 – r.y.).”

What conclusions did you draw? Not everything went as planned.

“You’re right,” he sighs, the pain still audible in his voice. “We made a lot of mistakes. We did not control the protest as we had hoped. The involvement of the other factions in Gaza and the coordination among all of them made things extremely complicated. It began when we discovered how difficult it is to control the individual actions of young, desperate people. As much as we pleaded with them not to get close to the soldiers or use violence, so as to not give the soldiers a pretext for shooting them, some of the young people did not listen and threw stones. After all, we know that the Israeli soldier, who does not think twice before shooting women and children, is waiting for the tiniest excuse to kill. We could not keep people at the distance we wanted from the border.

Unity in resistance

The conclusion (which is obvious, and if I can find a good piece which argues it I’ll paste it in) is that paradoxically a policy which was meant to destroy Palestinian nationality has created it.

[Parenthesis: Was 'Palestine' as a nation actually created by the Balfour Declaration? I'd defer to others, but an important component of national consciousness seems to be the singling out of this segment of the Levant for special treatment by the Brits, and the feeling of the inhabitants that they 'belonged' together on account of a particular oppression? Discuss.]

These are the obvious but unintended consequences of repression directed against an entire population. Similarly (to turn to my second theme), with all attempts – and they’re getting more extreme all the time – to ‘stem the tide’ of refugees/migrants/whatever coming to Europe. You can kill them, jail them, drown them; they’ll keep coming. The humane solution is also the sensible one, and it costs so much less. Who would have imagined five years ago that the whole of northern France (nearly) would be so quickly transformed into, essentially, a police state? Who has the courage to call a halt to the process?

I’m reminded of what Izzy reported from Chios a year ago – and it’s hard to believe things have got better:

‘Tonight there are over 50 people sleeping outside the two camps on Chios. They arrived in the previous days and were all told there was no space. As we have seen several times before they were forced to walk between the two; carrying their children and their bags and an overarching cloud of hopelessness as they were repeatedly told to go back to the other.

Many have received threats of police removing them physically, others are sick, many haven’t eaten properly for days – all are tired and nervous of what comes next.

The situation here is unbearable, it’s of a horrific and catastrophic state I’ve not yet experienced on Chios.

Not even when fascists tried to burn children alive in their tents.

Or when an entire camp was emptied and given nowhere to sleep.

Now we are reaching a time where arrivals to the islands are straining them to a level that they simply cannot accommodate. Official figures for Chios estimate nearly 4000 people on the island which is almost three times over the official capacity. Meanwhile, the EU is pulling funding and the meagre presence of NGOs will be totally gone by the end of July.

But it’s not even this that is bringing the people here to the brink of collapse; it is the dark cloud of knowledge that something big is coming. For a year deportations have been discussed, fences have been constructed, legal systems that were put in place to ensure human rights have been sabotaged and detention centres built.

Now many people face huge uncertainty regarding the outcome of their asylum applications. Lawyers contact is minimal in many cases and a system designed to fail is leading to more and more arrests and deportations.

There is space on mainland camps but the islands continue to be used as giant holding cells. A macabre limbo where people wait often close to a year to know if they will either be sent back to Turkey or to a new camp to have their application for asylum in Greece simply considered.

One in three people here have witnessed a suicide in the camp, many have scars all over their own wrists and the mental torture deliberately inflicted through deplorable conditions in the camp and a seemingly neverending asylum process is taking its toll.

In a month there will be no going back.

Many of us on the ground here are failing at putting the daily suffering in front of our eyes into words. It is not from lack of will or fear but from exasperation, from the inability to describe the total despair that surrounds us. For years people have spent time gathering families, belongings and packing their bags – fleeing all that they knew and now they have been imprisoned on the shores of Europe.

To call this a prison is no understatement and by no means embellishment.

Those involved in this crisis have spent months putting photos into the public domain, stories and videos.

Dead children in the sand, smiling families finding solace in the sadness or capsizing boats has failed to create sustained action.

A post from Lesvos in the early days of this crisis was titled:

”The children’s feet are rotting – you have one month or they will all be dead.”

Nearly two years later I assure you, you have one month or many of these people will be deported to unsafe countries; locked in cells with no trial or will have been driven to trauma, despair and mental collapse the average human cannot imagine.

Many people have asked me why we aren’t talking, why we aren’t posting – in all honesty we don’t know what to tell you anymore.

Please just fight, hard and fast. The beginning of the end of this chapter of Europe’s refugee ‘crisis’ is approaching, the arrivals won’t stop and neither will the wars or natural disasters but any ounce of fairness or humanity that was left is about to be utterly extinguished.

If you don’t act the next photos you will see will be of children behind bars; of young people being forced onto boats to Turkey on masse, of more suicides and of faces who still hold traces of shock at what they found here in the pursuit of safety but are utterly resigned to the fact humanity has totally failed.’





DAY 245: Lamentations

May 7th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

My mind has been running, as minds do run, when it hasn’t been obsessed with royal


babies or hostile environments or the impending departure of the King of the Emirates- for where ? on the strange work known as the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, which every day as more populous cities are abandoned and sit lonesome like widows, seems more relevant. Aside from the fact (which only a crossword maniac would pay attention to) that
three of its chapters are acrostics with 22 verses corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, it does ask the question of where is God when our beautiful cities have been destroyed in this shitty way by the Hebrew equivalent of Daesh (say)? It’s a common enough question, and as usual God isn’t about to provide an answer. The other much-loved look (by me) know as  Ecclesiastes or Qohelet seems to take the more reasonable position that none of this is God’s business anyway, and we just need to keep thinking about him before the grasshopper gets to be a burden (pretty soon) and desire fails (not yet, I’m afraid). Which leads us to the question of why people write books at all. As the Preacher says ‘Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.’ Amen to that!

Which brings me naturally to the weekend I spent at what the Quakers call their Yearly Meeting (Annual Conference to you), finding the friends deeply absorbed in the need to bring out a fresh edition of their standard text ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’. Why/ Of making many books there is no end, how will it help to add another? The motion to revise passed, of course, nem. con., and I didn’t have the eloquence required to marshal the (I’d have thought) obvious arguments against the enterprise:

!. The Quakers a) are bad at discipline b) don’t think it’s a good thing. So why do they need a book of discipline rather than a poetic book which says, say, some tosh about how God made the world, or loves the world, or has ways which are mysterious but just; and about how we are here on a vale of tears to live a life of suffering – all put in fine and poetical language so that the masses, if they don’t actually believe it, will at least find it comforting.

2. A book, as a basis for a religion, should be something you turn to to help you survive the unbearable daily grind, and it should be packed with nuggets of handy information about how you survive. This has nothing to do with discipline. Look at the AA Twelve Steps – they say nothing about discipline, because they say, basically, that you’re going to be incapable of it. As I’ve often been told, the important thing is to give up before you start, That, I feel, has the kind of poetry in action which makes it possible to get somewhere. Your cities have been destroyed, none of you friends will console you. Despair. It seems a pretty good basis to build on in Europe right now, and if I had the energy I might start a religion, buy a shopfront, write a gospel and all that stuff. I can’t say that the triumph of the Msys and the Javids (and the discomfiture of the Rudds) can be taken as a sign. But an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign – I guess that’s us.


On a completely different topic, I’ve been learning yet another way in which I was massively ignorant about the law; I’m sure there are more to come. You know how we (you and I) think of time as a continuum, or an ever-flowing stream, and if we’re supposed to bake a cake for forty minutes assume that this means something between thirty-nine and forty-one (say). The lawyer’s conception of time is completely different, which is why it’s lucky they’re never allowed to bake cakes. For a lawyer, time is divided into discrete units of six minutes – I expect it goes back to the Babylonians – think of the Code of Hammurabi -, but I can’t find a reference offhand. The consequences are obvious: if Meghan calls her lawyer Angelique about her marital status under EU law after Brexit and Angelique replies ‘Sorry, love, I’m at lunch, I’ll call you back in an hour’, Meghan, who finally gets a two minute conversation, is going to be billed for six minutes of Angelique’s time (say £10 at £100 an hour), since the legal accounting system allows for no shorter units. The historian, who sees time

in a completely different way (what was the date of the battle of Barnet? how many weeks did Hey Jude occupy the number 1 spot, and which weeks were they?), not to mention the astrophysicist or the person who searches for quarks or works out orbits for drones, where a nanosecond can make the difference between eliminating a bad guy and a blameless family, as often happens. Meghan (to return to her) will also be billed for six minutes that Angelique has spent worrying about EU law and families (twelve minutes if she’s really worried). The latter, or some student in her office, will have also spent time working out all these costs and checking them – think of the tine taken thinking about time! Time squared!!


DAY 244: The black flag

April 9th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink


I ‘ve been thinking quite a bit these last few days about law and morality and how you tell the difference. These thoughts were prompted not by idle academic speculation, but by the Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem’s condemnation of the State-promoted massacre of demonstrators in Gaza. With that condemnation went a clear call to Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators – which forcefully quoted Judge Halevy’s ruling in the trial of soldiers involved in the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre An order that permits live gunfire at unarmed civilians is blatantly unlawful, B’Tselem claims: ‘The hallmark of manifest illegality is that it must wave like a black flag over the given order, a warning that says: “forbidden!” Not formal illegality, obscure or partially obscure, not illegality that can be discerned only by legal scholars, is important here, but rather, the clear and obvious violation of law …. Illegality

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 08.44.32

Murdered villagers from Kafr Qasim

that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt—this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the soldier’s duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his action.’

Well, as a result of Judge Halevy’s eloquence, eight IDF soldiers were convicted of murder; they had shot dead about forty  villagers, me, women and children, who had violated a curfew (which most of them didn’t know about). It should be said of the eight soldiers all were free in three years. All the same, clearly the event and the phrase have stuck in the minds of Israeli rights activists, who are prepare to insist that it’s still wrong to obey ‘manifestly illegal’ orders; and who accordingly try to persuade the soldiers to disobey. I haven’t seen reports that any of them have. As for any chance that any of the soldiers involved in the ongoing massacres in Gaza would face trial, it seems unimaginable.

In fact, when we think about it, we can recognise that there are cases where the law is a matter of convention and isn’t about ethics (parking tickets for example); and others where you can be seriously sucked without incurring any legal penalty, like cheating at cards. The two areas are separate, and fine people with fine minds earn a living distinguishing them. I recommend to you (I found it by random googling, as I usually do) Howard Zinn’s ‘Law, Justice and Disobedience’. Zion is a worthwhile read, as he served his term being disobedient on the Vietnam war etc, a friend of Daniel Berrigan and Nom Chomsky and an enemy of Plato. And he agrees with the rest of us that you can and should disobey laws when it’s the right thing to do; that ethics trump law. But the soldier’s blind obedience is untrumpable.

In other news Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers Florence and Opelo Kgali, who were due to be on a detention flight from Heathrow tonight (second attempt) have once again been saved at the last minute. Will there be a third attempt?

Detention poem
The World Beyond
A peep through my window
Makes me feel like a widow,
Grief-stricken to the toe, Like a King Fish being
pursued by a foe;
Cribbed, cabined and confined,
Without a nose to smell then world around.
Over the twenty-feet fence
And towards the horizon,
Nature opens up its beauty.
Aircrafts that cross my view, birds that flap by
in joy,
The landscape gardening that is new,
Thanking the spring message.
But while I stare and peep
My life seeps sorrowfully in a deep.
Wrapped up in despair and confusion,
Like at the confluence of White and Black Volta,
I see a future that is bleak,
And a dream that is meek,
Oh fate, why hast my destiny slipped?!
From a hunger striker at Campsfield, 11 April 1994
-Twenty-four years ago -and already, they had hunger strikes at Campsfield! What will it take to make a change?
In the world of music, if you’re in the UK, you should be looking forward to the double bill of Lekhfa (Egyptian alternatives) and Tamer Nafar (Palestinian rapper), They’re passing through London on the 27th (Rich Mix) and other venues which I can’t be bothered listing. If you want to impress your friends with your knowledge of the Egyptian scene, try Lekhfa’s Kent Rayeh




DAY 243: The interview

March 28th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

So  where did it all go wrong?
We all have different memories. Izzy Tomico Ellis and Niamh Keady-Tabbal have picked on the 2016 EU-Turkey deal as a peg on which to hang a two years’ catalogue of betrayal and disaster; well researched, thoughtful and graphic, describing the devastating results for refugees, in particular  in Europe, for the Syrians. I, like many others, learned of the ‘refugee crisis’ in the summer of 2015 – September was a particularly active month, seeing in  the brief moment when the image of Alan Kurdi’s dead body on a Turkish beach brought home to the West (even to readers of the Sun) the price they would have to pay to suppress the coming misery and suffering. From then on, one must suppose, there were many in Europe who were even so determined to enforce the boundaries by whatever means  - even if it included mass drowning; while on the other side there were many who felt that Europe had to change, and to become a place of welcome and sanctuary.

Will it, can it happen? I’m not really so much interested in an imagined future of ease and luxury for all; as in a future where no one is sleeping in the snow and being beaten by the police. Or subjected to asylum interviews such as iIve been reading for the past few days, beginning: ‘I conducted a status interview under caution with the subject with the aid of HO interpreter. The subject confirmed she was fit and well and understood both the interpreter and the caution. The subject’s account is as follows though I will state that I believe the majority of it to be false.’ Reading this (it continues in much the same vein, and I’d have to redact it like mad to give you the gist of it), naturally drove me into a state of extreme rage. Have we always been a society in which the traumatised arrivers are automatically disbelieved – because, make no mistake, however many walls we put up, there are going to be more. How did it come about that Othello, who arrived in Venice with a similarly dubious story, was not only believed but promoted to general



I ran it through, even from my boyish days
To th’ very moment that he bade me tell it.
Wherein I spoke of most diastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field;

Of hairbreadth scapes i’ the’ imminent deadly breach;
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery; of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history;
Wherein of anters vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak — such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline;
But still the house affairs would draw her thence;
Which ever she could with haste dispatch,
She’d come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse.

Ok, Othello’s (and Desdemona’s) end could – if you have a mind to it – be taken as a warning against believing the story of the migrant. (Who had had a bad time in Aleppo, too.) But Othello perhaps didn’t know he was being promoted, and invited to dinner, in a society like ours where endemic structural racism could lead to jealousy, madness, and death. He’d have been better off staying with the Anthropophagi.

Invention of Tradition Department

Since when has Wednesday in Holy Week been caked ‘Spy Wednesday’? It seems to be suddenly a generally accepted festival which commemorates the woman using a pot of very precious ointment (Oil of Olay? Clarins?) to wipe Jesus’ feet, leading to a dialogue in which two sensible opposing points were made:


The disciples: This is a waste, this ointment could have been sold for a lot of denarii and the proceeds given to the refugees.

Jesus: The refugees you have always with you, me not.

Discuss. But what has this to do with spies (much in the news these days); or with the service of Tenebrae which I just managed, belting though the rain and traffic jams, to catch the second half of (at St James’ Piccadilly)? (By the way, Lucy Winkett who sang the soprano in Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Tenèbres, is completely wasted as a liberation theology vicar, when she could certainly win more souls by singing sacred motets. But I think I digress.)

I won’t post the Couperin – it’s too long, and I have a nasty feeling that I’ve done it before, and I’m certainly not going to scroll back and see if I have. Instead I offer you a very different piece I discovered in the past week, Bettina Schroeder on brushes and electric ukulele.

And, as a final treat on an already long (if overdue), here’s a poem which has been the rounds on Facebook and wowed a number of my friends, none of whom I’m afraid are heavy hitters in the poetry prize nomination world..


Ahmed is messaging me, stressing about his phone credit

And I’m stressing too, frying eggs and aubergine

At the same time.

Ahmed’s in Cosenza, good for him

His documents are OK, I’ve got his location

And number, but from his photo

It looks like he’s in a safe house. Can you show me a picture

Of where you sleep? Of your door? Of the outside? Keep an eye

On that slice of aubergine, it’ll burn. The admins don’t like the pic

though the house isn’t safe to Ahmed

How long since he got fished up in Catania? and got his papers…

The NGO threw him out a week ago, now he stays with a friend

On the floor of a room (with a door). Coffee’s ready, drink it quickly.


If you go to Bethany you’ll find a colt

Say the lord has need of him. (Bethany, al-Azariya

Where they shot the girl Abir four years ago at a bus stop)

Take the colt and bring it I’ll ride to Jerusalem

Never mind the checkpoint, the people will shout

And the admins say.

Ahmed’s borderline but just this time OK. Hosanna! Oh Sir thankyou please please

Can it be quick

I need to call my mother in Syria.


Lucky Marko the Eritrean he’s in La Spezia

Escaped across the desert, tortured in Libya, washed up in Lampedusa

Requested protection

A minor, Dublin, can I translate his documents?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord

His sister’s in France, his guardian’s done the paperwork

He can catch the plane. But the Turkish army

Are planning to enter Sinjar, God’s gone west again

Three quarters destroyed already, two doctors left. Millennia ago

Those people worshipped peacocks.

You can bet the story’s nowhere near its end of endless

Heroes and heroines and butchers


So we listen and. watch, and share the human lives and deaths

As they cycle mindlessly for ever.

Do you believe? In what?







DAY 242: Love and lawyers

March 10th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

More years ago than I care to think – actually, before I was born if not long before – you may remember that a high-profile royal got entangled, if that’s the right word, with an American divorcée. wallisHis name, at the time, was the Prince of Wales (ring a bell?), hers was Wallis Simpson. There was no end of a hoo-ha,which culminated in The Abdication Crisis which compared to many subsequent crises from Munich to the current refugee ‘crisis’ seems to have been rather a storm in a teacup: but which pitted the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the then Archbishop of Canterbury (the baddies) against fascist sympathiser Edward Prince of Wales, many of the masses backed by the Daily Worker, and a motley crowd of non-establishment figures (the goodies).

Interestingly today when a somewhat analogous situation has arisen the C of E has hastened to say that Meghan Markle’s divorce bothers them not a whit. In fact, the Royal Family (if they’ve said anything) and the Church seem to be pretty cool about


Harry’s fiancée. However, as my confrère ‘Free movement’ points out, in an article  which I’ve already plagiarised on Facebook, it is as you might imagine her immigration status which risks putting a spanner in the works of an impending national jollification. The obstacles in the way of a non-EEA national who wants to get wed to a Brit and settle here are, as you can imagine, almost insuperable given the State’s fear that she (let’s suppose it’s a she) might end up as a burden on the taxpayer, living off handouts and what she can pick up in the bins outside Harrod’s. Will she need to call on the NHS? What if she gets disabled and tries to fiddle a claim for benefits?

Indeed, before the whole royal wedding bonanza kicks off and we start worrying about what we, the taxpayers, are paying for Meghan (who seems able to look after herself atm), the Home Office ask for a substantial guarantee upfront in terms of the couple’s income. I’ll spare you the details (you can find them at the source I’ve cited); but it means that with no children to support yet, the couple would have to demonstrate that Prince Harry has an income of £18,600 a year or savings equivalent to £16,000 plus 2.5 times the shortfall. Where there is no eligible income, the savings necessary will be £62,500, but this must be held in a cash account for a minimum period of 6 months.

That is not all. As well as consulting Appendix FM the couple, or their lawyers, will need to examine carefully a separate appendix, Appendix FM-SE. This sets out additional requirements not immediately obvious to the unwary. The income must be earned income and proof must be provided on exactly the right format of documents. Online bank statements, for example, have to be “accompanied by a letter from the bank on its headed stationery confirming that the documents are authentic or which bear the official stamp of the issuing bank on every page”. Many banks refuse to do this, leading to a situation of evidential impossibility. Any omission is punished with refusal and forfeiture of the application fee.

Oh Meghan! We can only wish you the best of British luck and a good immigration lawyer (Leigh Day, Duncan Lewis or the Islington Law Centre come to mind, and they could probably use the money. as well as charging substantially less than their competitors in your neighbourhood. Furthermore, you’ll recall that Meghan herself has quite a list of legal roles – in Suits, I believe – behind her). And if Harry, like his predecessor Henry VIII, turns out to be given to changing his mind and divorcing or beheading his wives, you can’t necessarily count on the rough frontier justice that you’re used to where the NRA rules to call in your friends to settle accounts.

In other reruns of the thirties, the fascists seem on the way to gaining power in


Italy, and ‘42nd Street‘ is, my sister tells me, a smash hit in the West End.I seem to be constantly harping on the negative, although I share this tendency with many of my best friends. Let’s instead recall the three little birds and their message to Bob Marley: don’t worry, every little thing’s gonna be all right. Particularly if you’re heading for a royal wedding.




DAY 241: Truth

February 24th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

We all of us have our problems with it, being constantly required in everyday life to tell it, the whole of it, and nothing but it, so help us God; and while reference to Pilate and jests, or the post-truth era may get us some mileage, there are situations where the existence of only two alternatives (truth and lies) seems unnecessarily
simplistic. (And I don’t want to get caught up in the sixteen alternative theories of what truth is which, according to Wikipedia, the philosophers have to offer – I’m sure that every one of them is too simplistic, and not naked enough.) Here is one of the most hilarious ones I came


The Naked Truth  (Klimt)

across recently, in which one Robert Mugabe (remember him?) and Amber Rudd – her again, I fear – find themselves on opposite sides of the truth-question. I refer to the recent SSHD v JM (Zimbabwe) [2017] EWCA Civ 1669. Mr Mugabe has had a pretty bad press for as long as I can remember; but one of his good points, I feel, was that he wouldn’t let the Brits deport people to his homeland unless they wanted to go. How many other rulers in his position have allowed the deportation to go ahead, the better to imprison or torture the deportees! Not so Mugabe; and the Home Office is naturally waiting to see if now he’s out of the way they can start deporting thousands of Zimbabweans against their will.

Which brings me to J.M., a man who has little in common with Mugabe except a belief  that you shouldn’t be deported if you don’t want to. This was unfortunate, since once the Home Office had decided it had enough of J.M. (his AIDS, his destitution, his dealing in Class A and B drugs), they tried to send him back ‘home’ asap. Annoyingly, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t accept him unless he signed a statement that he wanted to go. This he refused to do. He was interviewed by immigration officers on 1 October 2014 who recorded him as being “polite and courteous throughout” but he explained that he did not want to return to Zimbabwe. The Home Office therefore faced an unusual ethical prublem: they needed to require J.M. to say something (‘I want to return’) which was untrue.

At this point, is there any wriggle-room? Ms Anderson (counsel for the Home Office) submitted that, even on the judge’s construction of the section, he had misdirected himself in concluding that the Secretary of State was requiring JM to lie to an Embassy official. She submitted that, as the two section 35 Notices indicated, the Secretary of State was seeking consent or agreement and was not seeking to dictate that JM should use any particular wording to Zimbabwean officials. She said it was not the Secretary of State’s position that JM had to lie. Furthermore, when the Court put to Ms Anderson that it could be said that by saying: “I don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, JM was giving his consent or agreement, she was constrained to accept that the Court could well interpret what he said as sufficient. The trouble is that while J.M. would sign the truthful statement  ”I
don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t admit him if that grudging admission was the best he could do. What to do? Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive! In the outcome, the court decided that ‘the Secretary of State cannot lawfully require JM to tell Zimbabwean officials that he agrees to return voluntarily because that is seeking to use the general power in subsection (1) in a manner which is inconsistent with and contradicts the specific limitation in subsection (2) (g), under which JM can only be required to answer questions in interview accurately and completely’ (Got it?) And he even got damages for unlawful detention – which we could think of as a happy end except that he never should have been detained in the first place.

What do we deduce? Fist, as you might suspect, that the Government will stop at nothing, including forcing people to lie, in the hopes of getting rid of them. Second, that they can’t always get away with it – that given a nice judge on a good day, you might end up with a decision which has something to do with morality. But I wouldn’t count on it. Morality? Speaking truth to power? Among many examples recently, I suppose the one that comes to mind most strongly is high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez telling a packed rally how much President Trump gets from his friends in the NRA.

The opposite of truth (or one opposite) is fiction; and fiction is what the minions of the Home Office usually think we are constructing when, traumatised and tempest-tossed, we get around to telling them our life-stories. Surely Dido

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 22.36.38

was more tolerant with Aeneas – to whom she had given asylum, despite his not being an obvious victim of persecution – when she (and everyone else, we’re told) listened raptly to his story:

Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant.
Inde toro pater Aeneas sic orsus ab alto:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum

eruerint Danai, quaeque ipse miserrima vidi               5
et quorum pars magna fui.

and so on. Did she find him credible? The horse? Laocoon? I doubt if they’d get past even a novice in assessing asylum claims.

So I suppose we have to go on remembering that, alternative facts or not,as the Ink Spots remind us it’s a sin to tell a lie.



DAY 240: The snow

February 16th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Or have I referred to snow before, in these divagations? At least three winters have passed, I think, (2015-2017) since this journal started; and it would be surprising if at some point I hadn’t commented on its presence in a facile way, either as a news item because refugees were (as they are now) freezing to death in it in the streets of Paris while the state’s hirelings shut the doors of its shelters and rip their tents; or because I have used it as a metaphor for something (whiteness, blanketing, cold, stillness, it’s an easy game). [128 names of unaccompanied minors were listed as in danger in Paris by a group of concerned lawyers a week ago as temperatures plummeted. And of course the same is happening across Europe. Who gets to read about it?]

What does this social disintegration signify? I was reminded the other day that Jorie Graham, who I refer to perhaps too rarely, was notoriously caught in a snowstorm when bringing her daughter’s forgotten leotard, and saw a huge flockimages-2 of starlings, then tried to grasp the problem of unity in multiplicity:

Then I heard it, inside the swarm, the single cry

of the crow. One syllable – one – inside the screeching and the skittering’

inside the constant repatterning of a thing not nervous yet not ever still – but not uncertain – without obedience -

yet not without law – one syllable – black shiny, twining on its single stem,

rooting, one foot on the earth,

twisting and twisting -
I could go on, and as you will remember, Jorie does, in ways which I couldn’t begin to quote or analyse thank God. (Indeed, flicking through her writings she seems to draw on snow quite a lot, which leads me to think that she ‘s a denizen of the northern United States.) What I hadn’t realised, being pretty ignorant about poetry among other things (e.g. the classification of click-consonants or the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus or how to fix a leaky tap) is that Ms Graham in an earlier poem had touched on some of my own obsessions (not snow) viz. tear gas and the CRS. Yes! Writing about Paris in 1968 – you’ll remember – in a reminiscent mode in ‘The Hiding Place’ from ‘Region of Unlikeness’ – how much of it can I get in?

Marches, sit-ins, helicopters, gas

They stopped you at gunpoint asking for papers.,,,

and torn sheets (for tear gas) thrown down from shuttered windows

and bread; and blankets, stolen from the firehouse.

The CRS (the government police) would swarm in around dawn

in small blue vans and round us up.

Read it all! Particularly the man who started beating the girl in her eighth month.

In my own small way I’ve been having a similar problem with how you unify experience- haven’t we all? The weather (oh don’t let’s go back to that), refugees, buses, gigs in Islington, ballet, what’s on Netflix, getting phone credit for people in tents -yes I could write a good few lines on that. How can we be convinced that these multiple experiences are unified simply by the fact that one person is having them? I should go back to Husserl who probably thought either that they were or that they weren’t; but I lost my copy of Ideas I ten years ago, and I didn’t understand it too clearly even then. This person worries quite a lot about all his experiences and their seemingly amazing diversity. Is there any meaning to being part of so many different frames of reference? I could for example give you the benefit of my recent information about the long-running battle of our old friend the SSHD with a seemingly endless sequence of Sri Lankans, who are arrested, beaten up, and so have a not unreasonable fear of persecution, but can’t (of course) get asylum in the U.K. because they can’t produce the documentary evidence that they had the experience which led to the fear, indeed that they were even in court; notoriously, the British legal system currently operates on the assumption that all refugees’ stories are made up, and in particular that documents from Sri Lanka are probably forgeries and acquired for a few rupees in a not-unreasonable-fear document shop. (See for example P.J. (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWCA Civ 1011.) But why should I do that – it would probably needlessly distress you when there are so many other problems in the world? Did their persecution actually happen?

To change the subject if only slightly, Stand For Humanity, an outfit run by


Yasmin Autwal, a friend of mine, has produced an 18-minute talk on themes which run on roughly parallel lines to some of my own usual ones – Calais, not being apathetic, connecting with your fellow humans and that; about halfway through the talk an impressively wise old 78-year-old geezer tells her that yes indeed things are now worse than they have ever been. (And, like Jorie Graham, he was around in 1968.) But how does he know – say about the time of the barbarian invasions, or the conquistadors? Was it snowing then – not to mention on the retreat from Moscow, on which I’ve quoted Victor Hugo’s snow-filled lines a couple of years back)

And, whatever the 78-year-old may say, there’s always (as Edgar says in King Lear), worse to come:

The worst is not

So long as we can say, This is the worst.

It’s easy, as Billie Holiday reminds us, to blame the weather when what is really responsible for the whole débâcle is neoliberalism; and that isn’t going to go away unless we give it a pretty good push.







DAY 239: The box of all boxes

January 31st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been thinking, as I expect you often do late at night when there are no phone calls to Lebanon to keep you awake, about Russell’s paradox – you know, the one about sets which are not members of themselves. With which, year after year, I’ve had the third year mathematicians in stitches. It’s the usual problem of going round in circles which afflicts us all, and I met it in a particularly acute form when I was looking for the files which another volunteer (call her Zenobia) had placed in a secure place called ‘Dropbox’ and posted me the link to. A brilliant idea, and I had great fun with the files until I realised that I’d only been given access to a part of a much larger whole, and there were fascinating documents that I couldn’t reach. Why? I’ve hinted at it in another place: but the essential idea is that there is (in our huge system which interests me not at all) a folder called ‘Dropbox’ which contains everything interesting. The reader will surely understand what I mean.  crivelli
[A picture by Carlo Crivelli which has nothing particularly to do with what I've
been saying but fills up a bit of the page.]

The point, if I can ever get to it, is that the folder called ‘Dropbox’ which I was sent (are you still with me, reader? Good) is part of a much larger folder called confusingly ‘Dropbox’. The latter had loads of amazingly cool stuff (don’t expect me to tell you what that was) and I hadn’t been given the link to that! I am, of course, too old and daft to grasp these smart lawyers’ tricks, so it’s taken me some time to work out a strategy for evading what’s being done here; I think that, following Russell, I’d have to make a copy of the big dropbox inside the small dropbox and then construct a new box of all boxes which… Could I avoid an infinite regress which would make the laptop explode? I’d certainly then be

Chinese box

breaking some law, and not just a logical one.

You may remember (probably not) Malvina Reynolds’ ‘Little Boxes‘, a hugely popular song when I was quite a lot younger, involving boxes and doctors and universities and, of course, lawyers. It has the same elements of regress, and the same inevitability. I’d dearly love to be given the key (the dropkey?) to this conundrum.

[Since I am not an intellectual property lawyer, more’s the pity, I’m unable to pronounce on the popular and dangerous TickBox add-ons for streaming loads of stuff through your TV for free. Very profitable lawsuits, in which I can only play a spectator role are on the way.