DAY 197: Year’s end

December 26th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, we’re nearing the end of the atrocious year 2016 (apologies to any of you who were born or fell in love or had an outstanding success in it – it’s generally had enough disasters to counterbalance anything like that; and here are Flo and Joan to remind you of them – have I already posted it?). It’s nevertheless the case that something important has happened, and I’ll repeat what I posted yesterday on Facebook, itself a rehash of a post from a year back: It was by Jonathan Freedland, an unusual ‘straight’ journalist to visit the Calais jungle. One of many to pick up on the obvious points, which I then (the other day) rather heavily underlined:

‘Jonathan Freedland was writing on Calais a year ago; and (reminded by Facebook as usual) it made me think of British people in particular, my friends, and the world. Two or more years ago some of us would see there was huge suffering in Palestine or Iraq or… and get convinced that it was our responsibility to do something about it. We talked about it all the time, our friends would mostly find us rather eccentric and maybe they had a point.
But last September (roughly) a major change took place. A miserable deprived refugee camp grew up half a day’s drive from London;
Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 17.20.26and a very large number of British people started to care about it, and did something, working hard, or collecting money or clothes or food, or going over and working with the refugees: some staying for weeks. You can’t blame them. Now those of us who care, who act are no longer the small and boring minority, and Freedland’s piece is evidence.
Now the jungle has – I hope you remember, I was writing about it back in October/November – been demolished with great chaos and brutality; and the people are still ‘with us’ , not so near, but scattered, cold and hungry in Paris or centres all across France. It’s much more difficult to help them; but with the links we built up over the past year we can and must keep that spirit of solidarity, that community alive. This is a tribute to Izzy Tomico Ellis, Caroline Gregory, Clare Moseley, Riaz Ahmed , Chiara Lauvergnac, Isis Aurora Mera and many others who’ve inspired me to help keep this movement going.’

So well done, all of you who’ve been part of the movement. What’s needed now is, as Gramsci would say, to make it hegemonic; and as Gramsci’s compatriot Chiara would say, it would help if people answered the phone. (Actually of about 40 on my list of phone numbers, three can be relied on to answer the phone, but they have active and busy lives and I’m just hanging around.) My big success recently has, I think, not been mine. And it’s been nothing to do with Calais or Syria, which are too intractable for me; my Nablus friends Lana Abu Odeh and Maalii Hamzeh,

studentsLana and Ma’alii and friends

who’d been accepted on a course at the university of Stavanger (why you’d want to study in Norway in January beats me, though maybe they have some good heavy metal bands or in a quieter frame, ‘dreamer and thinker’ Aurora Aksnes.) Where was I? Oh, they were refused visas by the Norwegians – not, as you’d expect, by the Israelis – on the frivolous grounds that they had ‘insufficient ties to their homeland’.

So I naturally pulled all the stops out, wrote protesting letters to e.g. Anette Trettebergstuen,Screen Shot 2016-12-26 at 18.32.15 the head of the Norwegian pro-Palestinian MPs in the Storting who is (surprise?) the only out lesbian in the Storting if you believe Wikipedia (Which goes go show something about alliances and politics); and to the immigration minister who is ‘popular for her hard line on migrants’, and presumably straight (same source). And I got up a petition to the minister on under pressure from the militant Padma Sol Mera.Getting up petitions is, naturally, harder than the average amateur like me imagines; you have to address the petition to someone and, ideally, embellish it with photos and videos and probably jingles. Anyway, I sweated, wrote it, posted it on Facebook, tweeted it etc. Twelve hours later (I think), Lana wrote to say they’d been granted permission to enter. No thanks to me and my petition, I’m sure, it was some Norwegians in Palestine pulling the right strings. But it kept me occupied over the Christmas break. I hope they get their wishes and are off in Stavanger adding English drama to their list of accomplishments in three weeks time. The obvious text, and I’m sorry I can’t fid a quote from it, is a bit from ‘Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan’. the standard medieval work on travelling from Iceland (which is pretty much the same as Norway) to Jerusalem (which is indistinguishable from Nablus) in the 14th century. Of course they were occupied by Crusaders rather than Israelis at the time.

But, rather than go that far back or search for poems by Norwegian lesbians (I advise against that): here is a poem from an anthology for Cecilie Løveid’s


60th birthday.

[BUT BEFORE THAT, as the poem is a bit lone: here is a snatch of the Oslo String quartet rehearsing Beethoven! I’ve never posted – or indeed found – a rehearsal before.]

Jeg også husker våren, jeg også var
en sterk tapper jente med negleklør, som pakket inn
gaver, som tørstet og pakket inn gaver
og gikk frem til unge menn med ondt i sjelenPierre
Pierre med trilogien
Pierre med kyssene og meg
i brokadekjole og perlerhvordan kan jeg glemme
slike måneder, jeg var raggete
jeg var skitten, jeg vasket håret
bare av og til, men det skyldtes
å så mange ting, å
så mange ting
man glemmer
i slike søylehaller som mine
i vårmåneder som for alltid
har snudd ryggen tilPierre stående foran en altertavle
om våren skrev han brev
til kvinner han hadde barn med
til kvinner som av og til kom med toget
i hatter og bylter
og Pierre sa: det er ikke mitt barn
det er ikke mitt barn, det er ikke mitt barnPierre med trilogien, Pierre med gitarstrengene
med gitaren som gjør en pakt
som vil favne om alt
og sangene hans
har plass
til altveien
veien er lønnkammerets motsats, sier Pierre
og elsker meg i 1919, han elsker meg, våren
han henter meg, røver meg og elsker meg
1919 Gopher Road, Route 40, Tularosa alley
Main Street, Grand Street
4th Street, oh, the streets of Rome, sang han og sa
jeg hadde valget mellom Loire-Atlantique
og Arizona, Nevada, Santa Cruz
mellom park og himmel på en benk
mellom inkvisisjonspalasset og tvillingsinnsjøen

men jeg ble tausere, jeg vet ikke
hva som kom over meg
en slags skygge
jeg var en usedvanlig vakker datter
men delirisk, paranoid og nervøs
for vi befant oss i en grensetilstand, virkeligheten omringet
gjorde meg mistroisk,
mistenksom, alt syntes å være seigt
omskiftelig, på dårlige dager
var ingenting til å stole på
jeg hørte stemmer
og det eneste var virkelig
meg selv
datteren, Pierre
og en voksende redsel
den voksende skrekken for datteren

Pierre sang
en sang som het Dødens Venteværelse
for oss
side etter side, digresjon etter disgresjon
karakter etter karakter, mens han mistet seg selv
dypere og dypere
i en usynlig ørkens labyrint
omringet meg, oss alle
Pierre sang: mellom makt og avmakt
mellom rikdom
og det heslige livet
blant rotter og pappskur som kalles hus

jeg var den samme, hele våren
men jeg skiftet navn, til Mae
hang opp skjortene hans til bleking
og han sang

vi kjørte ut av byen
litt ut på ettermiddagen, min elsker Pierre
og jeg og noen andre jentunger fra gudene vet
det var tider for piler, broer, etterfølgere
jeg husker også den våren
hvordan det blåste
hvordan brosteinen løsnet
hvordan biljardkulene i lyshuset klikket
Pierre sa: jeg skjuler meg i sanger og jeg sa
jeg skjuler meg i sanger
Pierre sa: det er noe mellom oss
og jeg sa
det samme, men inni meg
når han så på meg og luktet lær

Pierre med trilogien
Pierre med gitaren hengende
på de dødes dag
sa Pierre
se ut, og jeg så ut
på de dødes dag så jeg ravner, kobraunger
en hvit liten kirke og pastoren
som knelte
og jeg husket
meg selv, en ravnsvart vår med negleklør
en jentunge og Pierre når han kom hjem
jeg kokte ris og hang opp skjorter, lefser
Pierre sa: jeg skjuler meg
i sanger, i dødens venteværelse og jeg sa
at det var noe mellom oss
men inni meg
luktet det og jeg husket
også meg selv

jeg var temmelig sterk,


I too remember the spring, I too was
a strong brave girl with fingernail-claws, who wrapped
gifts, who thirsted and wrapped gifts
and went up to young men with hurt in their soulPierre
Pierre with the trilogy
Pierre with the kisses and I
in brocade dress and pearlshow can I forget
such months, I was unkempt
I was dirty, I washed my hair
only now and then, but that was due
to so many things, oh
so many things,
one forgets
in such pillared halls as mine
in spring months that forever
have turned their backsPierre standing before an altarpiece
in the spring he wrote letters
to women he had children by
to women who now and then arrived by train
in hats and bustles
and Pierre said: it’s not my child
it’s not my child, it’s not my childPierre with the trilogy, Pierre with the guitar strings
with the guitar that makes a pact
that wants to embrace everything
and his songs
have room
for everythingthe road
the road is the opposite of the secret chamber,  Pierre says
and makes love to me in 1919, he loves me, in spring
he fetches me, robs me and makes love to me
1919 Gopher Road, Route 40, Tularosa alley
Main Street, Grand Street
4th Street, oh, the streets of Rome, he sang and said
I could choose between Loire-Atlantique
and Arizona, Nevada, Santa Cruz
between  park and sky on a bench
between the Inquisition Palace and the twin lake

but I became more silent, I don’t know
what came over me
a kind of shadow
I was an exceptionally beautiful daughter
but delirious, paranoid and nervous
for we were in a borderline state, reality surrounded
made me distrustful,
suspicious, everything seemed to be sticky
changing, on bad days
nothing could be trusted
I heard voices
and the only real things were
my daughter, Pierre
and a growing fear
the growing terror of the daughter

Pierre sang
a song called Death’s Waiting Room
for us
page after page, digression after digression
character after character, while he lost himself
deeper and deeper
in the labyrinth of an invisible desert
surrounded me, all of us
Pierre sang: between power and powerlessness
between richness
and the hideous life
among rats and cardboard shacks that they call houses

I was the same, all spring
but I changed my name, to Mae
hung up his shirts to be bleached
and he sang

we drove out of town
in the early afternoon, my lover Pierre
me and some other girls from gods know where
it was a time for arrows, bridges, successors
I also remember that spring
how windy it was
how the cobble came loose
how the billiard balls in the candle house clicked
Pierre said: I hide myself in songs and I said
I hide myself in songs
Pierre said: there  is something between us
and I said
the same, but inside me
when he looked at me and smelled of leather

Pierre with the trilogy
Pierre with his guitar hanging
on the Day of the Dead
Pierre said
look out, and I looked out
on the Day of the Dead I saw ravens, young cobras
a little white church and the pastor
and I remembered
myself, a raven-black spring with fingernail-claws
a young girl and Pierre when he came home
I boiled rice and hung up shirts, flatbread
Pierre said: I hide myself
in songs, in death’s waiting room and I said
that there was something between us
but inside me
there was a smell and I remembered
myself too

I was rather strong,



DAY 196: The integers

December 20th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

The moderately sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the last two posts were given the same (positive) integer or element of Zintegers (as we say in the business). I don’t think I ever said when I set out on this road that I wouldn’t do this; all the same it seems embarrassing, and I don’t have many of the usual option like sacking the member of staff responsible for assigning integers to posts, since it’s me. Other options include pretending it hasn’t happened (which I can hardly do); or declaring the rules don’t apply any more since it’s nearly Christmas, season of misrule. Or inventing a new kind of arithmetic in which integers play a more fluid role than we’re accustomed to; but my powers of invention would probably run out long before. {Or, finally, simply correcting the mistake and pretending it never happened. Why didn’t I think of that before?)

But what, you will probably be asking, of my birthday and Christmas, twin feasts which owing to my parents’ spectacular incompetence or divine malevolence fall within five days of each other? At my birth, seventy-eight years ago, I was put out (I’ve been told) in the snow in my pram under the supervision of a nurse whose child-rearing ideology owed more to the ancient Spartans than to the rising influence of D. W. Winnicott.  Things have definitely improved since then. I was fortunate enough to garner a respectable number (or positive integer)

Ci8nBeAXAAAfXOlDaesh cadres having a modest party (or something)

of friends and relations around a birthday table groaning under the weight of the usual goodies (cheese, crisps, aubergines and so on). There’s nothing, as we’re agreed, to celebrate about the last year on the world scale. On any indicator (decent behaviour to refugees, failure to elect insane right-wingers, survival of civilian populations in cities) the year 2016 as I’ve said in the past marks a notable decline. As for myself…

I did claim, and I’ll persist in doing so, that it’s been a good year for me. That I haven’t died might be a plus or a minus, no one’s sure about how you assess that; while being dealt a dirty blow by a virulent strain of pneumonia which left me hardly able to walk led to my losing the usual distractions like meetings and demonstrations. But here I am, still in one piece, and rejoicing in many friendships; with 36 people, most of whom I know, wishing me a virtual happy birthday.

So what further horrors can Christmas bring? If you’re old enough (and Lana, Maalii, Leo, Isis et al aren’t), you’ll remember the Christmas bombing of _64751490_linebacker-victimsHanoi in 1972. I can’t promise this won’t repeat; the bombing of Gaza in 2008 which preceded ‘Operation Cast Lead was, you’ll remember (however young you are), well under way at Christmas. And I don’t expect any parts of Syria, whatever their religious affiliation, to be at peace this Christmas, unless it’s the peace of the grave. We must pray for peace and justice – whatever they are; and while they aren’t here, we must work to support the victims of war and injustice.

Have I posted Robert Lowell’s ‘Waking Early Sunday Morning’ before? It seems appropriate to quote at least the conclusion:

O to break loose.  All life’s grandeur
is something with a girl in summer …
elated as the President
girdled by his establishment
this Sunday morning, free to chaff
his own thoughts with his bear-cuffed staff,
swimming nude, unbuttoned, sick
of his ghost-written rhetoric!

No weekends for the gods now.  Wars
flicker, earth licks its open sores,
fresh breakage, fresh promotions, chance
assassinations, no advance.
Only man thinning out his kind
sounds through the Sabbath noon, the blind
swipe of the pruner and his knife
busy about the tree of life …

Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war – until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.

And equally, even if it’s repetitious and hackneyed, I could recall Antoine’squestion about the point of armaments: ‘Pourquoi ces canons?’

DAY 195: Christmas etc

December 10th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

This may be the first of the new generation of ‘shorter’ posts which I announced a week ago in desperation, when I realised that all my creative energy was going into Facebook; since as I said (on Facebook), I thought a post had to be 1000 words long. I’d forgotten about Modernism; if Webern can write three cello pieces which add up to two minutes and 22 seconds; and if, in the even more extreme era of Twitter, you can get 140-character novels (twitter novels) like this one from A. L. Kennedy:

It’s good that you’re busy. Not great. Good, though. But the silence, that’s hard. I don’t know what it means: whether you’re OK, if I’m OK.

then surely a fifty-word blog post is allowable.  This anyway is going to be in between, it being breakfast time on Saturday with no one about. I can’t bear to write about the state of the world right
Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 09.26.54

Supreme Court discussing Brexit

now; but here are some musings prompted by Isis Aurora Mera. We (and many others, as happens in these exchanges) were discussing inequality and Christmas and the responsibility of parents in teaching poor kids that rich kids get a better deal at Christmas, and why. Or not, if you follow me. And whether kids also learned the lesson, so often promoted on Facebook and elsewhere, that their families are wonderful, so it doesn’t matter if they’re rich.

It would take me more than a post to dissect this widely held belief, marshalling the evidence on both sides. Here’s my own experience, if you believe it. About sixty-five years ago, my parents were a bit strapped for cash. They were by no means grindingly poor, but they had made the mistake of sending me to a school where most of the kids were filthy rich. But that’s another story – or is it the same? So, about this time, just before Christmas, they came into my bedroom to tell me that they couldn’t afford a ‘big’ birthday present, and I’d have to be content with the piano score of The Marriage of Figaro – which, tbh, I wouldn’t have chosen if it had been up to me.

They didn’t tell me that our family would get more money in due course; (which was true); or that we were happier than families with more money (which would have been dubious). What lessons are children meant to draw from these comparisons anyway? Normally, over long experience, I’ve seen them not get that they want and learn that that’s the way life is. And that happiness is a different question altogether, it comes and goes as you get sick or suffer breakups. I’ve been moderately happy for most of my life, and particularly in the last year – but that’s temperament, and that may have been my parent’s fault too. Why I don’t envy those of my friends who have better health, or more fun, or more beautiful bodies, or more money (to return to that) is simply good luck. 13709905_10100436465369543_614918931758165180_n I early learned that if the world is bad (and it is) it’s mainly because of structural inequalities (class and race, and later I learned about gender and so on) which will get better, not by moaning about them, but by fighting them.

That’s not to say that’s the way I’ve spent my life. If I had, the world would be a much better place and I’d be totally exhausted.  But it’s OK as a philosophy. Now Jessica comes along and confuses me by asking is war a continuation of patriarchy by other means? After a lot of coffee and hard thinking, I feel: don’t confuse your contradictions. War’s war, class is class, racism is racism, patriarchy’s patriarchy. Fight them all at once, however complicated this may seem to be. Then take a break, have a party, and unwrap your presents – if anyone has given you any. And you can dance to, or discuss the significance of, ‘Sorry.’


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