Obituary for the Union of Scotland and England

The Battle of Culloden 1746

After three centuries of atrocities and privateering Great Britain Incorporated, the union not the island, is on trial in 2014. If the ordinary Scottish people decide it Great Britain may yet swing in execution dock.

In the froth and rot of post reformation, after a number of attempts, the Scottish Parliament was finally absorbed by the English Parliament in 1707. Most Scots were against the Act of Union, but because of the lack of enfranchisement, and with the help of the Scottish landowners, bankers and merchants, the Duke of Queensberry pushed the act through and, when he came to London to announce his success to the king, the duke was greeted by cheering crowds of gentry along the way.

After Jacobite opposition finally caught fire the same Duke of Queensbury stepped in again. With well paid soldiers and Hessian mercenaries he defeated the opponents of union at the battle of Culloden on 16th April 1746.

At the dawn of empire the ruling classes of both England and Scotland ganged up like infamous highwaymen to pillage the whole world and get rich. The pillaging started with the slave trade. Scottish merchants transported slaves and used them on their plantations. On Jamaica, 30% of the plantation owners were Scots. The Union was about making money and about joint ruling class solidarity – and it still is.

"What force or guile could not subdue 
Thro' many warlike ages 
Is wrought now by a coward few 
For hireling traitor's wages. 
The English steel we could disdain, 
Secure in valour's station: 
But English gold has been our bane 
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation."

Robert Burns

It only became illegal to own a slave in Scotland in 1778, and wealthy Scottish families still kept young black boys and girls to serve them after the act was passed. The sentiments of mythomane, imperial pugs like Cecil Rhodes were echoed by the patriotic guff of James Thomson, the Scotsman who wrote Rule Britannia:

“When Britain first, at Heaven's command 
Arose from out the azure main; 
This was the charter of the land, 
And guardian angels sang this strain: 
Rule, Britannia! rule the waves: 
Britons never will be slaves."

With the growth of the colonies the Scots found many opportunities. In India especially, they were the soldiers, the doctors and administrators, the educators, engineers and surveyors. The phrase Tom Devine, the eminent Scottish historian likes to quote is:

“The English ruled the empire, but the Scots ran it.”

Glasgow grew into a powerful industrial city and Edinburgh into a centre of of a learning. Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, provided the ideology and the justification for the one sided trade in British products like: opium, tea, cotton, fabrics, saltpetre. Clydeside provided the ships. Scotland was fully integrated into the British state empire and benefited from British colonialism and neo-colonialism.

*     *     *

At the end of empire, two world wars and a depression later, there were different reasons to stay united. International working class solidarity was alive. The trade unions and the Labour Party held the British union together in the hope of being able to create a more equal, wealth sharing society. When the establishment of the welfare state finally did take place after the Second World war many Scots were rescued from poverty; the union grew stronger.

The question of Scottish independence only re-emerged fully after Thatcherite policies took hold in the 1980s and partially destroyed Scotland's productive capacity. Furthermore the Scots watched in frustration and anger as their government, based in the South East of England, pillaged Scotland's oil wealth, misused it and then privatised it. During the time of the Tories in power, inequality grew and grew in Scotland.

We know that New Labour held a referendum in Scotland in 1999 and then helped create a new Scottish parliament. This helped the Scots gain some control over their own destiny and some measure of freedom from rampant neo-liberalism, but the overall trend towards inequality was not reversed as Scotland still lacked fiscal and political independence. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were carried out in its name.

In 2011, Scottish Nationalists won 65 of the 129 available seats, formed a government and started to push for independence.the  In 2014, now the Scottish may decide they want to separate from the white elephant responsible for damaging the fabric and weave of British society. According to Blair Jenkins, Coordinator of the "Yes Campaign" Britain is the the 4th most unequal country on the planet. In 1707, it was the ruling classes of both countries who caused Scotland and England to unite in 1707, but if Scotland gets its independence in 2014 it will be because the majority of Scottish people desire it.

Meanwhile, following tradition, the “No Campaign's" biggest donor is a modern heir to the Duke of Queensbury: Ian Taylor, a CEO and oil executive found guilty of paying millions in Iraq in return for oil contracts. Nothing changes; the beneficiaries of union are the Scottish establishment and the wealthy; Scottish journalists, managers and politicians in British sinecures: these are our own Eastern Ukrainians- they are tied to London by their ambition and opportunism.

The modern equivalent of the Jacobites, however, are against a union (with the exception of that maverick George Galloway). The Scottish National Party (SNP), The Scottish Green Party, The Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, and Labour for Independence and The Radical Independence Campaign all supports the "Yes Campaign.'

Currently, all the policies of the Conservative-Liberal coalition seem to be a direct attack on the welfare state and social democracy itself and so they are a direct attack on one of the prime reasons for preserving the union.

Scotland, is small, educated and resource rich. It has a nascent self-government that still looks after the interests of its people and it is both industrious and seeded with promising high tech industry. It has its tourism and all its traditional products to sell to the world and it will be accepted with open arms into the European Union. With 1.8 billion pounds, an independent Scotland could set up a defence force as big as Denmark's, it wouldn't need the Trident submarines based at Faslane.

The "Yes Campaign" release irritating soundbites worked up in right wing think tanks; spurious nationalistic emoting about loyalty to Britain is their preferred rhetorical weapon; technocratic arguments are deployed to confuse the simple minded (You wouldn't understand). The biggest problem for Scots - they are told - is the problem of which currency to choose. The SNP is plumping for the pound.

Members of the "No Campaign" make menacing noises about the dire consequences of leaving the union. A politician like the Conservative Ruth Davidson snarls about dangerous "economic realities". What this really amounts to is a series of lightly veiled threats: If the Scots vote for independence and social democracy then the City will do to an independent Scotland what they did to Greece. They will short-sell Scotland's government finances into oblivion and do everything to destabilise its economy.

At a more personal level, the many Scottish politicians on the British gravy train are saying:

"Don't you dare take away our chance to sit at the 'High Table' with the G8, NATO and the UN Security Council, don't you ruin our chances to go job hunting at Davos, Bilderberg and TED after a stint in power.'

In summary, right now arguments for union are equivalent to arguments for neo-liberalism. For this reason the Union will be disbanded.


Animal poem 4: Mom finds a Black Mamba in the kitchen

Rumbling along

The phone rang

"There's a BLACK MAMBA in the Kitchen, said mom

I saw it.""Please come quick. Dar'"

"Phone Walter," said dad

"I already have."

So we turned around at the Crocodile Inn

Right near a sign that said "BEWARE, Hippos crossing."

And we raced back to be with Mom

Who was in the house with the snake.

The phone rang.

"Walter and Leigh have come to help."

Walter is in the kitchen with the snake

Leigh is five paces behind him

My mother five paces behind Leigh.

Coming up the driveway,

Pulling up to the door,

Running into the house,

"Where's mom, where's Leigh?

Let me see, let me see. "

"It's OK, now.

Walter's with the snake."

He has a stick with a loop.

He's poking amongst the dishes.

The Black Mamba is hiding right behind the soup plate stack.

"Careful Walter!" we cry,

In a rather cowardly fashion.

Walter with the snake,

Leigh behind him,

Mom behind Leigh,

Dad behind Mom,

I am behind dad,

Tere behind me,

The Kids behind Tere.

Well it doesn't happen every day

That a BLACK MAMBA in the kitchen

Hides behind the soup plates.

We wait, we wait and Walter is white faced,

And Leigh 's hands tremble, (a bit)

Walter tries, and the loop misses

We wait. He tries and misses again.

Then tries again and catches the snake.

Thank God. Walter has the snake.

"Let me see. Let me see."

It's grey, not black

It's small, not big.

It dangles.

Walter puts it into a big ice box and smiles.

"What are you going to do with that snake?"

"Release it into the wild.

I know a good place by the river and

The snakes like it. I'll take it there.

"Thank's Walter, (You really are like Tintin)

Thanks Leigh.


Thanks. "

You see, the insects like the light and food

So they come inside the kitchen.

The frogs like to eat the insects

So they come inside the kitchen.

The snakes see the frogs come in

So they come inside the kitchen.

And that's when mom saw slither past

The BLACK MAMBA that hid behind the soup plates,

That Walter caught,

That was released from an ice box

Into a nice place by the river.

By Phil Hall


I can see Mount Meru, what can you see?

Mount Meru J. Clauded

From our house in Tengeru, right in front, we could see the cracked stump of what used to be Mt. Meru. It had been bigger than Kilimanjaro. Then blew up. This happened a million years ago, more or less. Away to the right, between the branches of the lemon tree it was possible to see Mt. Kilimanjaro itself. through the haze of 100 kilometres. In the lounge there was a cuckoo clock. The house was lifted off the ground and sat on on brick pillars.

Tengeru was surrounded by coffee plantations. When we took our riding lessons, I would let myself slide to one side of the horse until I was at an angle, then reach out and pick the fresh red coffee berries off the bushes. You scrape the thin layer of fruit off the bean with your teeth.

Every school day a clean white van would come and pick me and my brothers up from our green corrugated bungalow and take us into Arusha to our primary school. The weather in Arusha was cooler and brighter than it was in Nairobi. Often it was overcast and then Mt. Meru would hide from us until we had nearly forgotten it was there. It would reappear suddenly; changed. Closer, further, greener, purple, rockier, more clear, or bleary.

Chris wrote to our grandparents: "I can see Mt. Meru, What can you see?" A mountain show every day.

My parents gave me a red bike. l was surprised that my legs had enough strength to pump the bike upright. I rode it round the lumpy grassy slope of the garden. My father got a new family car from the East African Comission: a Vauxhall Viva station wagon. It was white. On the first day the gear lever came out his hands.

Once I decided to go exploring and brought my brothers with me. We walked through the elephant grass until we found a small abandoned house with the roof caved in. After the house, we walked on through the until we came to a clump of trees, moving from sunlight into shade. The air cooled. We found a small lake, a dam. Trees overhung the water, enclosing it. We heard the sound of an axe. At the edge of the lake was a small rowing boat. I got in.  "We're going back, Phil." my brothers said. "You can," I said, "I am going on for a bit."

I pushed the boat out onto the lake and held onto the oars. The water was still and green. After half an hour my parents arrived and fetched me out.

We took John and Nola to the Game park. It was after the rainy season and everything was dark green and impenetrable along the side of the road.We drove along trying to find a way in, a track to take us to a nature reserve. Eventually we turned left and parked.There was a wooden poled fence along a precipice and far below a plain. On the now luscious plain were hundreds of buffaloes and wildebeest, most of them were on their haunches resting. As my parents and grandparents took in the view I decided to swing over the precipice from the pole fence. My father grabbed me and my mother swatted me. I cried out. All the buffalo and wildebeest stood up. Just then little Andy screamed. He had been bitten by a red ant on his thigh. Slowly the vast heard of animals started to gallop in the plain below. My brother and I had started a stampede.

One day Odauda and I were sitting on the bricks of a garden wall and behind him I saw something brown moving. I shouted his name. he didn't seem to understand. Finally he listened and stood up and near him was a snake. I don't know what kind. His strong thin aging body jumped in fright. He snatched his "panga" from his side and hacked angrily at the snake until it was three or four writhing pieces. "Philip saved my life" he said happily, not true, but anyway a small, small, repayment for those hours of parenting he gave us between coming home from school and my parents returning from work at the Daily Nation. He never lost his temper, but he was always firm with us. I remember how delicious his creamed spinach was and the "posho" and gravy he shared with us in his quarters

Not quite Therese de Lisieux

When I was 12 I was bespectacled and precocious and we lived in Upanga in Dar-es-Salaam. Outside our house was a Kungu tree. It was 1971-2 and my parents were in the thick of it. We had left England in disgust and My father had agreed to work on the new Socialist newspaper, the Standard with Frene Ginwallah as it's editor. That was his story to tell. We took over the flat from Neto the head of the MPLA in Angola and in the evening, in our small lounge there would be gatherings of people like Marcelino Dos Santos Vice President of Frelimo, and senior ANC comrades. I used to sit in on these evening gatherings and listen intently, intently to everything that was said.

It was the time of the appalling Vietnam war which daily reminded us of the iniquities of US foreign policy at the time of the retrenchment of South African Apartheid, the time of the dictatorships in Portugal and Spain. It all looked so clear cut then. The US, Britain, France and Germany and their allies were blocking all the motions raised in the UN against apartheid. These countries were investing heavily in South Africa as a bulwark against communism in the region. They were actively intervening and cooperating with the South African secret service and the secret service of Rhodesia, helping them assassinate and imprison idealistic African leaders who wanted something better for their people. Nelson Mandela himself was betrayed a CIA agent, Gerald Ludi.

Into the port of Dar-es-salaam came the beautiful pale blue figures of Chinese cargo ships and all Tanzanians who could afford them rode stylish sparkling blue Chinese bicycles. You could get "China Reconstructs" in the shops with huge pictures of gory operations being carried out under acupuncture anaesthetic; the patient smiling serenely behind a green sheet as, lower down, doctors removed his appendix, the doctor's rubber gloves covered in blood".

I flush with embarrassment when I recall how I used to join in with these conversations between liberation luminaries with some comment and, out of respect for my parents, these senior figures would look gravely at me, listen and then respond encouragingly. I would do my best not to shame my parents. We wore Tanzanian patterned shirts and went to the International School.

I remember Hank, a young and charismatic Texan friend of my parents. He came into the class to substitute a teacher one day, a modern Tarantino cowboy, but a real hero, not some shithead drug dealer or assassin, slim, in jeans and Texan boots. He said "Well kids. I am supposed to teach you some geography, but I'm not gonna. Instead, I'm gonna tell you how the United States stole Texas from Mexico." and he did. He also used to tease us because we had Kenyan colonial accents.

On one occasion when he looked after us for my parents he made me prepare fillet steak for him with whole peppercorns and garlic, and then he refused to share any with us, leaving us to eat bread. "I am teaching you what it's like to be poor and hungry and watch other people eat" he said. My parents tell me that he has spent the last 30 years as a teacher in Khartoum. Despite the ongoing civil war and the poor living conditions.*

In any event, as far as politics was concerned, I felt like Therese de Lisieux, I wanted to immolate myself on the fires of freedom and revolution. Our hymns had always been Paul Robson's and Joan Baez's songs, the music of the Russian army chorus, the songs of the French communist Maquis and the ANC national anthem. When I accompanied my parents to the odd ANC meeting I felt a great love for the cause and my serious high minded, responsible grown up comrades. Clear eyed, fully human and making great unselfish sacrifices for the good of a South Africa they might never see, with the full knowledge that their sacrifice might never be fully understood or acknowledged.

One day there was a front page picture in the Standard of me and my brothers and friends and other ANC kids playing together in a house I had put together out of packing cases and placed on the lawn of the Standard Flats. The byline said. "Soon these children will be joining the struggle for a free South Africa".

In 1972 we had a hallucinatory little holiday in South Africa with my grandparents and witnessed apartheid first hand, thank you John for that, and we saw the racism in some of our relatives and the overwhelming love and desire to overcome racism in other relatives. Mike and Dallas in first place, with their brave hippie souls confronting the oppressive mood, emotional tearing of South Africa head on. They caught the brunt of the emotional storm that was South Africa in transition in the way that only open good idealistic young people can do.

I love them both for that and for shielding us and giving us some perspective as we saw what had been, until then, just mythologised by exile. John and Nola, meanwhile, were trying to "dispel" and penetrate my parents ideological brainwashing, but ended up by just adding another dimension to the ideological puzzle of love that was our homeland.

One day in Dar-es-Salaam my parents sent us to the ANC camp with their friends. We rode so proudly on the Chinese truck into the camp. These fighters and heroes shared their provisions with us and made a delicious chicken stew. After the stew and the day we spent there I begged one of the leaders of the camp. "Please, please. I want to help. Make me a spy. I want to help the ANC. I can spy for you. Please." He just laughed. I was left feeling ridiculous and gauche. But many of my fellow ANC children did in fact go on to get training in Russia and fight in Angola and elsewhere and now they participate in the post- apartheid government.

On the way back from the camp we saw a group of approximately ten Afro-Americans with big hair. They noticed us in the truck with the ANC comrades and we could read the disgust on their faces, displeasure that whites should be tolerated by true black heroes, like our ANC comrades. To us from our modest barefoot childhoods, who were a small white harvest of the red earth of South and East Africa, they seemed like, creamy hybrids. They glared at us as we rode past on the dirt road.

* Working in Saudi Arabia I met a close friend of Hank's from the Sudan. He is no longer there. He went back to the USA to do a Phd.


Harrod's Cornish Pasties and Colman's Mustard

Excess, and for a few, with the occasional Jay Rayner along for the ride, does not constitute a thriving "foodie" culture. The foodie culture in the UK is a bubble; a squeaky mish-mash of borrowings and mutations. Our food culture has no centre or integrity or wholeness to it.

I hate most British cooks as much as I hate most British estate agents.

Perhaps the recession will help us get rid of a few of the culinary false trails that have been laid recently, and knock down a few of the great white TV hopes on British TV. I want the recession to sweep away the chintzy pre-Raphaelites like Gordon Ramsey; I want it to debunk the (post)-modernists like Heston Blumenthal, and get rid of media fabricated naifs like Jaimie Oliver.

Riffing off Italian regional cooking, offering derivative French style haute cuisine dishes and rootless concotioneering should definitely not be emulated. That way lies madness.

Conversely, the only time I went into Harrod's to buy something, was 25 years ago. If quality were important to the store, then it would not matter what I bought, it would be better than the same food anywhere else. I bought a pasty, and it was the best pasty I have ever eaten and probably ever will.

I think the secret to the pasty must have been in the meat, of course and in the texture of the potatoes, the brave black pepper seasoning and, the strong flavour of the pieces of Swede, in the degree to which they cooked the onion and the quality of the lard and flour in the pastry.

I am scared to go back there in case the pasties are no longer any good. That would be so disappointing. But you see that was a foodie experience, and though I bought the pasty in Harrods, the ingredients were not too expensive. People can learn to make pasties like that and learn to love pastry made with proper lard and Swedes.

Let's take a country which does have a thriving food culture: In Mexico most people are not rich, with the exception of Carlos Slim - who was the richest man in the world when I last looked.

For some recipes the middling classes do go out and buy the complicated, hand made sauces and pastes in the markets so there is a parallel with the British, but let's take Chiles en Nogada, for example, (Stuffed poblano chilies with a walnut cream sauce). This is one of the greatest dishes there are for you to experience on our Earth. Well, the ingredients are affordable. Every region will have it's own variant in the centre of the country, and every part of that region its own variant and every housewife her own version. That is a proper cooking culture.

Perhaps, the Mexicans respect our food culture more than we do. When Cornish miners went to Pachuca in Mexico, they brought pasties with them and now everyone in Mexico who knows about food knows that Pachuca is famous for its delicious pastis. I have tried them, they aren't bad at all, but not a patch on the real thing.

How many of us cook our own pasties? The fact that someone sets up a shop with an authentic sounding name in yellow and black and sells disappointing pasties at railway stations, filling them with Balti and irrelevance, shows a lack of respect for our own food culture. Our food culture is undervalued. We don't need to make foods more Italianate or Frenchify them or fill them up with curry, all we need to do is respect our own authentic traditions and then take it from there.

Pies are one of the most wonderful foods on the planet and England and is the home of the pie. We should all be making pies and pasties at home and there should be pie making competitions everywhere and pie shops.

British industrial food is the best, just like British industrial architecture - all those potted and canned goods, the sauces and the extracts and the spreads should share the glory with Brunel. Nobody does it better. It's not rustic food, but it's great.

That's what Blumenthal should be doing - taking British industrial food culture further and inventing new HP Sauces and Marmites. The sardine spume, foam-rubber or whatever it is that he invents is along the right lines, but it's nothing as good as Gentleman's Relish. His creations are too French.

Coleman's mustard is fantastic with roast beef. But I heard how a chef from France, came over here to educate us about good cooking, and how he spoke of the horrible scouring taste of Coleman's. What demonstrable ignorance. Why take cues from parvenus?

I suppose it's about self hatred in the end. Why do British people retire in Spain and France and Greece? Why do they go and live where they are not wanted? For the same reason they prefer derivations, in a minor key, of the food cultures of other nations?

Lawrence's bleary Mornings in Mexico

Lawrence visiting Teotihuacan

In most of Lawrence's writing his zip is undone and "Mornings in Mexico" is no exception. His metaphors for Mexicans are insectile. He insults them continuously and ridicules them. Calling them "dumb-bells." His description is a laughable caricature of a Mexican country life that relies on his readers thirst for exoticism and their ignorance.

One example:

The churches, built he says by the "Spanish" (the writer had no concept of Criollo or Mestizo) are likened to lonely white figures in rags surrounded by brown ants.

"The great church stands rather ragged, in a dense forlornness, for all the world like some big white human being, in rags, held captive in a world of ants."

D. H. Lawrence's literary arse hangs out baboon-like from his trousers. He gives us not so much a descriptive picture of a remote Mexican village, but rather a Boshean portrait of his own prejudices. His book is an offensive rant under the guise of a travel sketch. Compare his dated racism to the beautiful and accurate descriptions of Bruce Chatwin or a Jan Morris.

And then there are all those irritating, almost authentic, Mexican Spanishisms he uses to give his vignettes veneer; fiesta is translated into "feast", justicia misspelled as "justizia". And how about his constant and reprehensible generalisations.

Lawrence feels at liberty to speak of the "average Indian", of their "stiff little bodies", "eyes like flints" and "sickly grins", Indian men are "lounging", of course and their villages are "vacuous" and he goes on, exemplifying all the way, about how childish and idiotic and unintelligible the Indians were - like the cawing parrot he describes in the opening paragraphs, his straw hatted men may provide grotesque echoes of the behaviour of white human beings like Lawrence, but they don't cut the mustard.

He rises above the dense heads of his Mexican villagers to sprinkle their "hair gleaming blueish" with a Latin quote or two in a sarcastic literary benediction. Cheap glass beads. He rounds off with pathetic and self regarding Swiftean metaphors. Oh how D.H. Lawrence imagined he towered over these Mexican ants.

He ridicules their politics and their faith:

"a life sized Christ - undersized; seated upon a little table, wearing a pair of purple silk dangling woman's frilled knickers, a little mantle of purple silk dangling from his back, and his face bent forward gazing fatuously at His naked knee, which emerges from the needlework frill of the drawers."

We can paraphrase Lawrence - "These Indians don't get it. Nudge, nudge. They are comic in their religion, much like those apes I remember having tea parties with in Regent's Park Zoo."

Lawrence was being supercilious after Mexico's revolution and civil war. By then Diego Rivera and Clemente Orozco were painting Murals in Mexico City on the subject of the dangers of religion and the glories of Indian culture. The flow of Zapata and Villa and Carranza to Calles escaped him. The Mexican cultural revolution escaped him too. The Mexican intelligentsia were far more cosmopolitan and polyglot than Lawrence with his bloody schoolboy Horace, indescriminately displaying his writerly plumage to any who cared to look.

O.K. Lawrence found a writer's voice, but what's the point of having a writer's voice if you are just going to talk poisonous shit with it. If he were alive today I'd want to kick the little bastard's head in.

Reunion in Berlin

I hadn't seen Sheesheck and Sunil for a long time. When I say I hadn't seen Sheesheck I mean since 1976 when we were both 16. That's a long time. The last time I saw Sunil, I think was much later. Was it '91 or was it '96. In '91 he came to see us in Teddington, where we were living at the time and in '96 - well, let's gloss over that.

I asked Cesca if I could stay with her and she was very kind and agreed. I looked forward to seeing her too. Sunil was in Berlin and Sheesheck would come up from Poland from his country hill top home and stay with his son. The plan was that we would drink lots of beer at some point.

I flew to Berlin. At the airport I met a student of mine. No, she wasn't a student, she was the social organiser at the University of Kent, I tell a lie, and she was going to Turkey.

I landed at one of Berlin's airports, a flat place on the outskirts, and trained in to the centre. I had an address  Cafe Einstein, and set out to find it.

I marched down a wide street for about half an hour before I realised something was wrong. No one knew of any Cafe Einstein. The streets were empty of cars and the roads cordoned off because Germany was about to play Argentina in the world cup. Again, the streets were wide and flat and people criss-crossed them looking quite pleased.

The only time I have been told off for policemen for Jay walking was in Munich in 1981. I crossed the road and two policemen came towards me. Why did you cross the road there? I didn't understand the question. To get to the other side. I said. You must cross the road there. They said. And pointed to the official crossing place.

So the Berliners were Jaywalking. And I was just walking too, taking it in. But running out of time. If I don't make this meeting then I probably shouldn't be there I thought. This is my escape clause for everything. But it doesn't work for me on the 281 bus. I am suffering the consequences of the 281 bus right now.

Two weeks ago I realised I wasn't going to make my train and so got on the 281. Inspectors demanded my ticket, a little bit of white paper and I couldn't find it. Now I know that if young people are caught without a ticket then they give a false address to the inspectors. My humiliation - I had to empty my bag and scrabble on the floor - was for their benefit. Let this be a warning. If we can do this to a lecturer, then what could we do to you! They were going to take me to court, but didn't after I wrote them a begging letter.

But then it happened again on Friday. I was going to miss the train and had to take the 281 again. This time I was sitting innocently in the front seat at the top when a man in a beige gabardine coat sat in the seat across from me. I felt his presence settle and glanced across. Tall. Long hair (ringlets) down to his shoulder, Malaysian coffee coloured skin,black thick rimmed glasses. It started. Cough. Cough Cough.. ...Cough..... Cough.... Cough.

I know, irritating isn't it. It turns out he was a colleague. And by the end of the week I was spitting bright green, my chest hurts, and my bones ache and... cough......cough cough......cough! I want to find this guy and kick his arse.

So don't always flow. If that flow takes you to the 281 bus.

I stopped at a tourist office and they sent me back the same way and it would take a while to walk, they said, and so I walked and walked and came across the very place where Himmler had started the programme of genocide against the Jews. It was where a hotel stood. They had torn out the building where he planned the deed, which ended up with my great grandmother in Treblinka and my great aunt in Auschwitz. I stood looking at the place for about 10 minutes in silence. It was a very pleasant summery day.

You can't escape these places, said Sunil when we were talking later on. They are everywhere. We were walking past a train station. The people who were deported from Berlin to the camps were deported from that platform, he said. And pointed at a non descript railway platform which we popped up to look at.

Which side of the road was the cafe?  The road was as broad as the Rhine or the Dneipr. The central reservation full of trees. It would be hard to see a cafe from so far away. Then it narrowed and on the other side of the road I saw a Cafe. Painted yellow, Cafe Einstein scrolled across a wall.

I walked up the steps and looked into the dark interior. Dark wood. No one. Then wandered to the back and looked down onto the patio and in pleasant array saw Sheeshek leaning back with a beer, his son to one side. and Sunil holding hands with his other


The volcanic eruption of Paricutin

Painting of the eruption of Paricutin by Dr Atl

This current, and controversial, mathematical modelling of the extent of the volcanic ash cloud must partly be thanks to the ISODATA logarithm that David J. Hall came up with around 1962.

However, for all the science behind the predicted dust cloud movements, my brother, a senior pilot who has extensive experience in flying in volcanic areas like the airspace over Indonesia, considers that the actions of NATS demonstrateS a lack of imagination and initiative. Flights could be re-routed, he suggests.

In Mexico we have volcanoes and vulcanologists in the family. This is not surprising as Mexico has a strap of volcanoes across its midriff.

In 1943 Teresa's parents and grandparents, in what was then the small town of Uruapan, felt earth tremors and heard rumbles for many days beforehand. When the volcano erupted they and saw the thick black ash cloud and at night a red glow lit up the horizon. At night, in the distance, they saw the red plumes and of lava and the boulders shooting up like fountains of sparks.

If you drive from Mexico city or Guadalajara to Uruapan, as I have done countless times, then you know when you are near Uruapan because with increasing altitude the weather cools, because you enter pine forest and because the landscape starts to smile and dimple and the hills and mountains to look more rotund, like breasts. Consider this as you drive to Uruapan. Everyone of those hills and mountains was once a volcano.

But when, in the district of Parangaricutiro (I love Tarazco names), Dionisio Pulido, a farmer and goat herder remarked to the pulque and mezcal drinking clientele of a cantina in the town of Paricutin, that the soles of sandled feet burned when he walked across over a certain part of his farm, they laughed.

Dionisio Pulido

Later, when the inhabitants of Paricutin could hear and see the evidence for themselves, they listened to him describe how a crack had opened up in the earth and describe how it smelled of sulfur and how it whistled like a freight train and hissed and threw up ash and smoke, more attentively.

Dioniso told his story to the local authorities. It is one of a series of eye witness testimonies the municipality gathered for publication:

"At four O'clock I left my wife next to the fire we had made from forest wood and then I noticed that in one of the corals of my farm a crack had opened up in the earth and I saw that it was the sort of crack that is only half a metre deep. I turned back to light the brazier again, when I felt a thunderclap, the trees shook and I turned around to speak to Paula. That was when I saw that the hole, the earth had swollen and lifted up two or two and a half metres high and a sort of fine powder, grey like ash, began to go upwards from a bit of the crack that I hadn't seen before.

More smoke went up and immediately a loud whistle started and kept up and I noticed the smell of sulphur. That was when I got really scared and began to go back to help yoke the ox quickly. I was stupefied and I didn't know what to do and I couldn't see my wife or my son or my animals nearby.

That was when I came to my senses and remembered Our Sacred Lord of the Miracles. I shouted 'Blessed Lord of the Miracles, it was you who brought me into this world.' And then I looked at the crack where the smoke was coming from and my fear disappeared for the first time.

I rushed to see if I could save my family, my comrades and my animals, but I couldn't see them. I thought they must have taken the the oxen to the ranch to water. I saw that there was no water on the ranch and thought that it must have gone down the crack. I got really scared and got on my mare and galloped off to Paricutin where I found my wife and son and friends who were waiting for me, because they thought I was dead and they would never see me again."

Paricutin by Murillo

The eruption grew more and more spectacular and soon geologists came from Mexico City and pronounced that a new volcano was being born. And after the geologists came the painters and the poets. Dr Atl and Murillo both painted the baby volcano. Jose Revueltas wrote a book about it entitled Vision of Paricutin and Pablo Neruda gives it a little mention too. Paricutin stopped erupting ten years later.

To get to the volcano you have to go to Angahuan. It is a true Tarazco village. Many of the people still have trojes. Trojes are little wooden houses built on stilts in which the all the ordinary Tarazcan people used to live before the Spanish came. The women all wear the traditional rebozo. It particular bright, but dark shade of blue. Every village and region has its own rebozo. The men wear plain white and hats. There are only a few trucks and cars in Angahuan, most of the people still uses horses.

To get to the volcano you have to ride a horse. The horse picks its way through the bush and the lava flows until you get to the old town. Nothing remains of it except the steeple of the church poking up above the roughness of the lava waves. From the buried town you ride on to the volcano itself.

The inhabitants of the town didn't believe the lava would cover it. They all gathered in the church and prayed for a miracle. Slowly the wall of lava advanced and people realised that despite their prayers the lava flow would reach the town after all. They evacuated everything. The lava covered the whole town and fifty yards beyond the town it stopped.

We climbed to the top and it didn't take long. A little vapour still rises from the small rocks around the rim. It smells of sulphur. Right at the top of the volcano is a notice which says:

"Lord I thank you for saving us when the volcano Paricutin erupted. You know what you are doing Lord, but but why oh why did you take my land?"

Was this a note from Dionisio Pulido himself - from his son? Perhaps it was from a neighbour whose land was also engulfed by the lava?

Ten years of ash and thunder has left a rather underwhelming little black hill. We walked to the top and then I ran down its side as if it were a giant sand dune. It took me about 12 seconds to run in giant leaps from the cone to the bottom where my family was waiting.

The people in the municipality were relocated to a town they call San Juan. But behind their backs people call it San Juan de los Conejos (rabbits). Because they ran like rabbits from the lava flow.


Summer junctions


"You've got to go dad. Now."

"Wait, I am doing something important, I shout."

I am writing a Kattabatic letter to someone, dredging up smooth relics of the past from dank psychic catacombs that smell of candle wax and old Frankincense, when the phone rings.

"We're in hospital." Says Rose. "I'm afraid Heini is not well. You can hear him I think. Here. Listen."
Heini makes groaning sounds in the background.

"He's speaking in English, I don't know why. You know he never spoke good English and the two nurses are asking him to please speak in German because they don't understand a word. He's also repeating that poem, you remember the one. 'Little moments make an hour, little words a book...' Where did you find that poem by the way."

"It was from an old American English school book - long out of print." I answered. "Here I'll pass you onto Heini.

I overhear:

"Das ist Phil, Heini, Phil."

"Heini we love you I shout."

"Help" moans Heini.

"I am afraid he knocked the phone away Phil. He's not making much sense. I just wanted you to know."

"Yes Rose, a hug for you too we love you."

"Thank you, thank you." She replies politiely.

"Where are Andy and Chris by the way?"

"They are down waterskiing in Golfe Juan with their families."


Carmen gives me a hug after the phone call.

"I'm sorry dad."

"He's yours too." I say. I'm sorry for you too. Now do you wish you had come to Munich with us?"

"I met him once before." she said.

And then I really do have to run out of the house to take cousin Carmen (15 - from Barcelona) to a place called Bawdsley Manor near Woodbridge in South Suffolk.

I am afraid we'll never make it. I tell Carmen. "40 minutes from New Malden to Liverpool Street no way."

"We will," she said.

And so we rush. Connection after connection. On the train I tell her mischievously.

"Look Carmen, if we make it then that's a good sign and it means you're going to have a great holiday. But if we don't then you weren't. I believe in fate. I believe that every single second is accounted for."

We arrive in Liverpool Street. I buy the wrong ticket, don't know that I have, but as I reach to put it into the machine and run to the train (It wouldn't have opened.) a hand reaches out and opens the turnstile for me.

I am about to make the train with Carmen and then, just as we are about to board, I look at the platform clock and time slows down for precisely one second.

12:29:59 switches to 12:30.

The door bangs behind us. We sit down as the train departs, breathless.

In Ipswich a lady comes up to us. "Are you going to Woodbridge? Yes. Follow me, the train's about to leave." and so we scurry after her, get on the Woodbridge train and, breathless again, sit down.

Soon the train reaches Woodbridge and we get off and take the taxi to Bawdsley manor, passing Sutton Hoo on the way there. I am teaching my niece a narcissistic game she can play with the other teenagers that evening to helpget to know them.

"And so what was in the wooden bowl?"

"Honey," she says "and then I shared it with everyone."

"Aha. That means that pleasure and happiness is important to you and that you like to share it with your family."

"How about your wall?"

"It was transparent and constantly in movement I saw nothing and I heard nothing from the other side."

"That wall signifies death."

Bawdlsey Manor is right by the sea. There's a beach with sand and little sailing boats and motor boats, Very pleasant. The Suffolk folk are there. We drive past an ice cream van and up a hill to the Manor gates. Carmen is nervous now.

"Have fun." We say goodbye. She is so focused on what comes next she doesn't look back as the taxi turns around and drives back down the hill.

"Ice cream?" The taxi driver asks. And we lounge about eating ice-cream - mine was mint and vanilla with chocolate chips - and watching the children catching mossy green backed crabs which nip and push at each other in annoyance in colourful buckets.

I stare at the water trying to read a message in the complicated semaphore of sunlight on the ripples.

At my shoulder is Tezcatlipoca

I sacrificed myself on the Pyramid of the Sun

Eve, Tony and Phil Hall climbing the Pyramid of the Sun

When I first came to Mexico in 1984 I came to Vera Cruz. I wanted it to be a magical experience and so I closed my eyes and stopped up my ears with an NME Jazz collection and opened up again in the centre of Xalapa. The light was fading but I could see the church, the steeple and all the people and from the gardens a view of El Cofre de Perote. In the distance el Pico de Orizaba.

The first thing I ate, I bought from a cook shop. It was a dry pollo adobado. Chicken covered in bitter red. I stayed at the hotel near the main square and that night the phone rang. A woman's voice spoke.

"My name is Beatriz. I am an English teacher. Can I see you?" I answered "Yes, OK" to the mysterious call.

An attractive and buxom woman of about 30, an English lecturer at the university, picked me up from the hotel, took me to her house and I stayed with her the night. My parents made me polite and reciprocal, but to a frightening degree. I couldn't say no. She was kind and loved Graham Greene and especially "the Power and the Glory" and she never turned the television off so the globes of her body flicker in memory.

A few days later I managed to extricate myself... long enough to find a flat. Another lecturer at the university, a law lecturer and friend of Beatriz's, was renting it. I found a room with her there. Her friend was also called Beatriz. We sat together in her little kitchen and drank tea and talked about life and I didn't returned the first Beatriz's calls. It was too sudden for me and it was out of character.

The second Beatriz's boyfriend was a jealous and intense man so, although the courses hadn't started yet, I stayed out a lot. I wandered around town and met two British girls. Gap Year babes. They had no where to stay and so asked themselves home to meet my landlady in the hope of some information. One of the girls was called Jo. The other was a willowy upper class creature with straw blond hair who felt perfectly at ease in accepting gifts and attentions in return for gracing different Mexican men with her presence.

That same day Beatriz booted me out. She relocated me to her colleague's house across the balcony and gave the room to Jo and her friend instead. 

Despite this unfriendly act, she still had time to complain about the English girls and tell me what a dangerous game they were playing by leading on Mexican men the way they did. I heard almost nothing of the them after that, except that one had fallen and broken her leg getting off a bus and subsequently gone home and the other had fallen badly ill with malaria, but stayed on. Both, however, managed to take the the customary European jaunt around Mexican "exotica" and they had visited all the best beaches before they came a cropper.
But Beatriz had sent me to stay with a gay lecturer. Not only was he gay but he had, as his retinue, an entire university basketball team. I think his lover was the captain. 

Unfortunately, no money was arriving from home. I had to stay there but, couldn't pay my rent. The banks had been nationalised and the money was wandering the face of the Earth before it arrived in Xalapa Vera Cruz. The left had argued for the nationalisation of the banks, they had been nationalised and... la voila.

The gay lecturer with his male harem, coming and going, and his maid, watched every mouthful of beans and rice I swallowed and so I grew very thin. There is a photo of me in his patio behind a plant. 

"Darling, you look so handsome when you are thin." Mom said when she saw the photo.
Perhaps, Mom, but I was hungry. 

With the little money I had I bought fresh fruit and vegetables from the market. The maid, a portly and mercenary women was kind enough to teach me to make black beans properly. She looked on in amazement as I made my gazpacho:

"Gazpacho" Mexicano (Don't!)

Three fresh Jalapeno Chillies
Three large tomatoes

One onion

My idea was that the chillies would replace the green pepper. I ate the soup. Spoon after spoon as the maid watched. I felt a heat begin to creep up from my stomach. This was something new. Nothing burned, but my whole body flushed like a signalling giant squid, right up to my crown. 

"Te enchilaste" said the maid. 

And so now I really know what enchilarse means. It is a body flush; it isn't a little heat on the tongue.
Black beans and epazote, Mexico Food, Drinks and more.

By the way, an authentic recipe for Mexican black beans is as follows:

Frijoles negros

A large spoon of Pork fat or lard (Manteca)
A sprig of epazote
Black beans

Salt to taste

Cook until very soft in a pressure cooker.

The law lecturer would put on Jose Jose for hours and then, if I happened to be about, sigh to me. 

"Phil I am so lonely."
Wasn't the basketball team enough for him, the silly, bald importunate git? This man was a friend of politicians. Many of the politicians in Mexico are lawyers. In the time of the PRI of course, the PRIs politicians were all corrupt. Hank Gonzalez had a famous saying:
"In Mexico a poor politician is a poor politician (Un politico pbre es un pobre politico)"
They had links with drug traffickers, too. One night he invited one of his politician friends, a member of congress. The friend got drunk, slept with one of the basketballers and then left a pile of shit in the shower, and that has always been my metaphor for the PRI.

When it became obvious that my money wasn't going to come, so after all, and that I had no intention of making any other form of payment in kind, it was suggested that I go to live in student accommodation. So I did. I went to live with 15 other students studying at the University of Vera Cruz. Some of us slept on camp beds in a large room in the courtyard and others in the servants' quarters on the roof of the boarding house. It was right next to the university.

The men from the north of Mexico were tall and pale complexioned and some of them had green eyes and the men from the south and from Tabasco were smaller and their skins very dark brown. That gave me an idea of the variety of different people who live in Mexico.

Breakfast was included. Beans and rice and eggs and fresh chili sauce with a glass of sweet milk coffee. I had no money, but I was invited to parties and taught to dance salsa.

When I first started at the university I was told to wait for the head of the English department. I turned up punctually and waited. I waited until the afternoon and was told to come back the next day. I came back the next day and waited again. Nothing. By the third day, when the department head hadn't turned up but had just walked past with an airy
"Hullo." and "See you later I'm busy right now."
One of the lecturers, after laughing at me for my ridiculous punctuality and patience, eventually took pity on me. I think she was originally Polish; she pressured the department head until I was allowed to join a class of first year students of Mexican literature.

They were mainly girls. They were shorter and younger than I and so I stood out. They were a very festive lot. Every one's birthday party was celebrated with a cake and invariably the students would begin to shout:

"Mordida, mordida, mordida." until the poor birthday girl or boy leaned over and their nose was shoved into the cake.

But I learned something in the classes. The teacher was a solemn man beloved by all his students. They took him deadly seriously and treated him with great reverence. Used to the combative atmosphere of British higher education I was shocked by how well the group worked as a whole and how mature they were. Each stood up to talk about the work of Juan Rulfo, the great Mexican writer, with such eloquence and understanding that it astounded me. Why didn't we have this in Britain?

One of the students was an intelligent young man. He came from Vera Cruz. His name was Luis. One of these people who you meet and assume will inevitably become great and gather renown and then you never hear of them again.

He cultivated me and asked me to come and see Vera Cruz with him and visit his family and so I did for a couple of days. We stayed with his Mum who made tepache for us. Tepache is a wonderful drink, but an acquired taste. It tastes of rotten pineapple. It only really makes sense in Vera Cruz in the height of summer, around May.


Piloncillo (raw hard lumps of brown sugar)
Pineapple peelings

Clean the pineapple peelings well. Add lots of piloncillo and leave to ferment in a clean jug for two or three days. Cover the jug with a net, or thin muslin cloth. Drink with lots of ice.

Glossing now, I got to know Vera Cruz and met Luis's friends, one of whom we visited in prison. And he showed me San Juan de Ulua and I think he talked in a stream and I just listened and interjected occasionally. He had been a taxi driver in Vera Cruz, but had found a place at university because of his intellectual ability.

In any event the year rolled through eventfully. Which is a way of saying let's cut this short, and my parents' money arrived at the Bank of Mexico and I paid off my debts and decided to hold a big party to say thank you to my landlady and all my student friends.

We made a Cachaza, a varient on the Brazilian drink they sell during Carnival, (or so I was told). It is very dangerous. It is designed to be so.


1 litre of pure cane alcohol (available from wedding cake shops)
2 litres of vodka
Juice of 50 limes
Juice of 50 oranges
Lots of sugar
Cinnamon sticks

Make a cinnamon tea. Add the rest of the ingredients. You can hardly taste the alcohol. It tastes wonderful and fresh but it has a deadly kick. And there lies the point of it and the danger.

After an uneventful party, with the little money I had left I went to Mexico City and I knew that unlike Jo and her willowy friend I would never see all the sights. I would only have enough money to travel to Mexico City and see Teotihuacan. And so I did.

And I ended up at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun and, annoyed that I would have to be going home soon, I made a pact, rather melodramatically - It was corny - I said silently: 

"I give myself to this country." - and here I turned to the distant mountains - "Let me return."

Subsequently, I did go back. It was the real intention of my true self to do so. You see us in the picture above 5 years later. My Dad, me behind him looking like his younger twin and my Mom leaning over to steady herself. My grandmother is at the bottom of the pyramid with my wife and my brothers and Anne are at the top.


Walk across Canterbury

Snowfall in Kingston-upon-Thames

Murder and death and cathedrals

Santa Maria de Tonontzintla, Puebla

We came to Guadalajara rather unwillingly. But once we there we really took to it. We went to live in Chapalita. It's pleasant. It has its supermarkets and nice shops and restaurants. The roads are lined with trees and there is a small park on a large roundabout with a wrought iron bandstand in the middle. The Glorietta Chapalita is very busy on Sundays, the rest of the week it is quiet. This is the place to walk your dog and let your children loose, to buy colourful paintings on Mexican themes, to eat sweets and raspados.

I have to explain what a raspado is. A raspado is what we know as slush. The vendor pulls a cart on wheels, really a large icebox with a big block of ice inside. She uses a metal scoop with a sharpened serrated edge to scrape off shards of ice and pour them into a plastic cup. Which flavour syrup do you want poured over the ice: Tamarind, coconut, strawberry, toffee? I like guava.

The first place we stayed at was a small 1930s flat. The walls were curved red brick and we had a veranda John could play on. The soft needles of a spruce tree filtered the light coming into the living room and scented the entrance hall.

I used to walk John to a Montessori school called CIPO which was just at the bottom of our road. John was ony one and a half. He used to stand still at intervals to stop and look.

"Come on Chicks, come on let's go. Mum's waiting."

But once I bent down to try and see what he saw. You can't see what a one year old sees by just kneeling low, you have to bend right down and then twist your head. Finally I got down to his line of sight, and looked. I saw a burst of sunlight coming over top of a house, amplified and reflected from glass. In Guadalajara the sky was bright blue and the temperature ranged from about 28 degrees to 34 degrees C. The first memories of all three of my children were relentlessly illuminated.

On our first visit into town we visited the cathedral and happened to be there as Cardinal Posadas was officiating. Showing a little religious opportunism, Tere got me to stand in line with John for a blessing. The Cardinal drew up in his rustling white and purple Cassock, blessed my boy with a look of concetration on his clean face.

That Easter we went down to my wife's home town by the old route that goes past Chapala. Mom and dad were with us. There, in Uruapan as we walked around the portales, I heard the news on a shop radio that Cardinal Posadas Ocampo had been murdered.

He was driving a white Grand Marquis to the airport and the Arellano Felix brothers caught up with him just as he parked his car. The door was pockmarked with automatic weapons fire. He died in a white cassok. He looked like a dove; his body slumped forwards, head resting on the wheel. .

Much later I learned what had happened at the airport that day thanks to Carlos Ramirez. The Cardinal was on his way to meet an envoy from the Vatican who he was picking up at the airport. Posadas was about to give the envoy a report on the links between President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the drug traffic.

Cordoba Montoya, Salinas's right hand - a naturalised Frenchman - phoned the governor of a central Mexican State, relative of the Arellano Felix. That governor then arranged for his cousin's outfit to assassinate the cardinal.

After the murder, an Air Mexico flight took the Arellano Felix away from the scene of the crime to Tijuana. It was later discovered that key military personnel later linked to drug mafias were also on the flight out.

When I try to recall the Cardinal now, I see him raising his  hand, and I see the look of concentration on his face as he blesses my son.

* * *

When we first arrived in Hampton Wick, on our first visit to the church we sat in empty pews on a weekday morning. As we did a priest ran past in white robes. Following father John at an impressive canter was Sister Margaret.

I ignored them both. But now, re entering stage left, Father John's appears again. Robes flowing in the opposite direction this time he ran across the church at speed, Sister Margaret still behind him, and went inside the vestry. Was this just a very busy church?

"Something's wrong, said my wife. See if you can help."

"Of course." I said and ran towards the vestry.

And as I jogged towards the vestry, the priest and the nun came reemerged. Father John said. "We are going outside to wait for an ambulance, you see what you can do."

I walked into the Vestry and saw a man in his sixties lying in on his back in the middle of a large square room. Upright and quiet, on all four sides of that room in high backed wooden chairs, sat 20 elderly people. The skin of the man on the floor had turned grey-blue and his mouth was wide open. The silence in the room was hypnotic.

"Why doesn't someone do something?"

There was no reply, nothing. So I instantly threw myself on to the elderly man and started to press down on his chest in a strong rythm. Nothing. The people lining the walls stayed silent. Could they in fact see me?Finally, I pressed my mouth to his cold blue lips, feeling the rough stubble of his face as I did so, and I started to blow. But I forgot to hold his nose shut and all the air leaked out.

"Help me someone." I called. "Aren't you his friends?"
Slowly, and awkwardly, a man got up and came towards us. "Blow here, I ordered" and got up to start pumping his chest again. With difficulty the man bent over, and weakly, ineffectually he blew and blew into his friends cold mouth. He too forgot to hold the nose.

The ambulence men came and took over, and trembling, the man's friend stood up. Sister Margaret looked at me smiling. "Who are you," she said, "an angel?
No, a clown. The man was dead. The whole episode amounted to a performance.

The next day I walked my children to the school and the school secretary asked to talk to me about a payment. As we spoke the phone rang. After listening for a while the secretary started to make sympathetic comforting noises and then put the phone down. She explained.

"One of our children's grandparents died in the Sacred Heart church yesterday. That was his daughter phoning to say her daughter wouldn't be coming in."

Realising who she was probably talking about I said "I know."

I day later I met his daughter coming back from the school. She burst into tears, hugged me and walked on.

But what I thought after that experience was this: What if I had remembered to hold her father's nose shut as I blew into his chest? Perhaps I might have succeeded. What is the point of a serendipitous event if you mess it up?

(1) Father John: A believer, a practical theologian and an erudite man. He is a supporter of the community currently doing research in Jerusalem. He has stood up to Israeli border guards on behalf of Palestinians 

(2) Since writing this I have taken two courses in CPR.


Dogs can also be dysfunctional family members

There were many dogs around before we were born, that left their mark. Pluto was famous.

I remember Whizzy.

My father's favourite dog, and mine was Whizzy. An Alsation. I was four and I looked up to him. He was clearly more intelligent and stronger than I was in every way. He used to meet us at the top of the drive in Langata and follow us all the way down the hillside. I remember Dad throwing sticks for him down into a little quarry.

One dog I knew was the love sump for a whole family. He was a Cocker Spaniel of course. The Kreel family used to go up to him one by one, hold his soft jet black ears and look right into his shining eyes. They would leave him with their minds unburdened. But, just as they were relieved of of a little emotional care through close contact with the dog, the Spaniel began to look more and more soulful and troubled.

...like one of Thurber's dogs. Actually, this cartoon one of my mother's favourites.

Apollo, an Alsatian, was very protective and used to accompany my wife to the bus stop every day in Satelite as she set off for the UNAM. Satelite is where the large Louis Barragan monument is:

Once they were having a party and the whole family except for Teresa Senior, was behaving like a wallflower. She stood up, walked to the middle of the patio, looked round at everybody and said.

"Will no one dance with me?"

Apollo walked up to her, stood on his hind legs and rested both his forelegs on her shoulders. He was a big dog.

[I think we need to reevaluate what sentience is, BTW.]

In India we had a New Delhi dingo, half Alsatian, half street dog. He used to plaster himself against the air conditioner in hot weather. He was tall and thin, with wiry fur and he had a perpetual grin. He was wild, he was untrainable and he was very strong and he would scare our friends.

He would skitter with his long nails on the slippery tiles of the driveway where the long wheel base landrover was parked (Padma) and run at at full speed towards anyone who came to our gate, leaping onto them, teeth bared. He would only decide to lick or bite at the very last moment when he understood who it was. Sometimes he made a mistake and bit the wrong person. Or did he? He never made that mistake with my mom or dad though. My dad would bellow Futsak!

And he'd skitter to a halt at dad's feet.

When we first saw him he was a little puppy with a twisted wire collar with red flowers in it. The watchman had him. My mother actually came to love him like a son. But he used to howl and howl to be let out when he grew up and he would come back smelling of pigshit and rubbish and panting heavily. My mom would scold him fiercely just as she scolded us sometimes, and he would hang his head and look up at her briefly, slyly, smiling.

One day, of course, he didn't come back. We hoped that the watchman, who gone back to his village, had taken our canine brother with him. My mother could never talk about that dog. It made her too sad. I think my brothers and I were a little shocked when she said:

"I loved that dog like a son."

One dog, a large poodle, used to be my grandmother's favourite until I was born. They realised she didn't like me because she growled under her mutty breath as my granny showered me with affection. They used to close the door to the room I was in so the dog would never be alone with me. But the poodle bided her time and one day they left the door ajar and when they weren't looking she sneaked into the room where I was in my pram and took me by the head in her jaws and dragged me onto the floor. She was just about to finish me off when my grandmother came into the room and saw her. Toothy mouth clamped around soft baby head. I don't like poodles and I have my reasons.

Andy is an African. As we walked home from school in Nairobi the Guard dogs would launch themselves at us barking from behind the safety of their gates. Andy's best friend was Chris Getonga and Chris's friend was John Karanja. I can't remember who was kikuyu and who was Luo. Andy has never been able to get close to dogs since then. Dogs in Nairobi were naturally racist.

In Abingdon we had a dog, a Labrador with a white flash. When we took her for a walk in the park near the Abbey by the river she wouldn't come back to her leash no matter how much we begged. In a month like this, in cold February, it would take at least half an hour of chasing around after her until she allowed himself to be caught. In winter it was dark before we caught up with her and could finally go back home to watch playschool, Jackanory and Blue Peter. It was usually something like cauliflower cheese for supper.

My brother Chris's family has a dog, Bertie. Again, he is the object of every affection. Another Cocker Spaniel. His inability to speak feels almost painful. There is something reproachful about the way he looks at you. He is like a boy trapped in a dogsuit. Which, if you think about it, can't be that much fun. Ensoulment is a reality. By being with humans animals like dogs may somehow become ensouled.

I've known some dumb mutts too though. Recently a sweet Doberman Pinscher passed away. My daughters cried. She was called Tatcha. But I always heard her name as Thatcher. She loved food and became rather roly poly. "Rechonchito", as the Mexicans say. She was so strong and solid that you could push her with all your strength and she would only slide a centimetre to one side. And when she ate her dinner she would eat the dinner and the plate at the same time - and then vomit them both up onto the patio floor. However, none of this affected her. She'd come up to you immediately after vomiting with her huge muscle bound, Emily Bell-like jaw, pant and ask for a nibble of what you were having. Bulemia, perhaps?

Our neighbour's dog is a young pit bull who used to moan and howl while they were away - so they cut his nuts off and now he just whimpers. That would be a case of desoulment, wouldn't it?

Perhaps I'll ask Ilundi to write about Biki. He was her dog. Except I am not sure he was a dog. He was a big bony creature hidden under a lot of unconvincing fur. Could have been anything really. I remember the feel of his solid ribs.

I am sorry my children have not been able to own a dog. I don't know why we have never owned one. I married a busy Mexican more concerned with people than animals. We have lived in cities, not towns. Something happened. I can't understand why my children have never had a dog.

Perhaps we should do unto people as we do unto dogs. We should go up to them and feel their ribs and, let them bite our hands, and then scratch them where the fleas are. Don't you think London would be a better place if we could just go up to an interesting stranger in the street or a work colleage, hold both their ears gently and look deeply into their eyes? Of course it would.

The persecution of Manitas de Plata

Dad loved gypsy music. This love was strengthened after his trip to Granada and Seville with Mom, while we stayed with grandparents in Majorca in 1967.

All I can remember about Majorca is large windmills, some with their vanes rotating slowly, others with their vanes fixed, all of them placed at intervals across a darkening plain, like an exercise in perspective.

In the end their trip was cut a short because Grandpa couldn't cope with three little boys; the fuss he made cut short their holiday.

Much later, around 1987, Dad and Mom and I went together to a gypsy festival in the South of France. Manitas de Plata was going to play. It was a family, a tribal event. There were few tourists. Gypsy girls of all ages danced around the entrance to the main marquee competing for attention.

We went into the big tent for the show and waited for Manitas. However, a man who was not Manitas, came onto the stage to sing. He wore a gold medallion on his hairy chest and tight black leather trousers. He wouldn't go away. He sang gypsy pop music larded full of cheap sentiment.

When he stopped it was a relief. Then there was a long interval and the whispering started. Mom translated from the French. Manitas was angry because he felt he had been upstaged.

He did come on, but after 20 minutes of standing upright in a crowded tent, perhaps we were less receptive. He came on with an expression of displeasure on his face. With his silver and gold ringed fingers he started to strum and clutch at the strings. Still, there was no hush. The crowd decided to ignore him, this renowned musician.

Everyone around us buzzed and chatted, as if they were at a wedding party, and he was the leader of a wedding band.

After three songs Manitas gave up and left the stage.

We left after Manitas left, laughing with disappointment. We had driven a long way to see this.

In the car Dad remarked that, perhaps he could go without listening to authentic gypsy music for a while. The closer he got, the more authentic his exposure to gypsy culture, the more ridiculous and kitsch it felt: the attention seeking pirouetting girls, the hairy chested pop singer and the irritable Manitas de Plata had put a dent in his romantic idea of Gypsy music.

But I heard El Lebrijano, La Persecucion when I was in Spain and gave him a tape of it this tape reminded him of what had attracted him to Spanish Gypsy music in the first place.

"No fueron los Judios ni los Moros, fueron los reyes cristianos.
Ella se llamaba Isabel y el se llamo Fernando
Y cuando firmaron la ley no les temblaron la mano."