Yin and Yang

When one considers how dependent we all are—especially such parasitic weaklings as artists, poets, writers, priests, philosophers—upon the hard one-track energies of the industrious producers and shrewd traders, it seems only fair to make our obeisance to enterprise, strength and cunning, before we proceed to show the limitations of such things. If we refuse to make such an acknowledgment, if we indulge in unqualified abuse of the solid, sterling qualities upon which our very existence depends, there is a danger lest our protests, instead of representing a free, detached wisdom, should represent a weak, violent, impotent rage.

“If we are not blinded by prejudice, we must confess to observing, every day, how many among the competent, energetic producers and traders are honest enough in their ‘deals’ and prepared to show indulgence, at a pinch, to their less sagacious rivals. We must also confess to observing how there often radiates outward from one of these successful men a vigorous aura of general well-being, of which all sorts of weaklings living at the circumference, so to speak, of this centre of energy get the benefit. Let us therefore make our bow to these dynamos of unsympathetic force. But at the same time let us remain devotees of happiness.

“But what of those weaker and poorer than we are? According to what we call necessity, we stubbornly go on our way, leaving so many consciousnesses behind us obviously suffering from various degrees of tribulation, such as, if we stopped and took the trouble to concentrate upon them, we might, after repeated and patient efforts, materially relieve. It is according to necessity, too, that we pass by the dead—pass them by, and unless they be of our own flesh-and-blood, take small thought even so much as to bury them!

“I picked up a dead frog this morning. Withered it was to a veritable husk of hollow emptiness, like a snake’s skin bleached by months of burning sun. I suppose many a bird had hopped against it, brushing it with wings or tail, many a butterfly settled above it, many a rabbit spurned it with unstartled, jerky indifference. Why should they care?”

From John Cowper Powys, In Defence of Sensuality, a self-help/philosophical book published in 1930.

I first published the above excerpt in a blog post on 21st October 2006, calling it “Powys and the Dead Frog”. I commented thus:

“I don’t normally post extended quotes, but this—including the dead frog—expresses in more masterly language what I would have liked to write today.”

Today, even more so:

According to what we call necessity, we stubbornly go on our way, leaving so many consciousnesses behind us obviously suffering from various degrees of tribulation, such as, if we stopped and took the trouble to concentrate upon them, we might, after repeated and patient efforts, materially relieve.

And playing the role of Powys’ “parasitic weakling” is Lokesh, from Ghetu’s story, “The Wretched“, published in my previous post. He is the anti-hero, who feels deeply about suffering. He tries and fails to understand the indifference of his fellows, whether it be the victims of terrorism and poverty in Mumbai generally or one starving cripple who catches his eye. His heart bleeds to the extent of bringing on a psychotic episode where he cowers among rats in the darkness until he realizes that they, like everyone else in the world, have no time for him. I guess he feels guilty for having so much when others have so little. The price of appeasing his conscience would be to give up all his privileges to help the poor and disabled.

But then there’s Ravi, who displays “solid, sterling qualities“, for he is one of

these successful men [who radiate] a vigorous aura of general well-being, of which all sorts of weaklings living at the circumference, so to speak, of this centre of energy get the benefit. Let us therefore make our bow to these dynamos of unsympathetic force.

 

He’s quite unburdened by any of this bleeding-heart baggage. Untroubled, he simply gets on with things , performs the needed acts.

As to which of them is the more useful or virtuous in today’s world, Lokesh or Ravi, I cannot say. This is not a sermon.

There is Yin and there is Yang. One cannot exist without one another.  And so it is with all the different kinds of people in the world: Levites, Samaritans, Marthas, Marys, Lokeshes, Ravis, Gopals, Ghetus, Anup Roys, terrorists, their shadowy “handlers”; politicians, news outlets, Hollywood, Bollywood, capitalists; you and me.

yinyang
Yin & Yang by William Mulder, 2015. Pine and ebony
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The Wretched

© Anup Roy 2018, edited by Vincent. The story was originally drafted in December 2008, inspiring my piece “Ghetu Files a New Story“. I started an edit in Jan ’09. It didn’t get very far, but Ghetu provided some edits of his own, amounting to a partial rewrite. We didn’t pick it up again till Feb ’13, but he became preoccupied with other matters and it remained unfinished. I think it’s a strong story with many elements, which make a good ending difficult, but I think it can be aired publicly now, to see what readers think.

Lokesh is always hungry at this time of the evening. His meal schedule is erratic, tends not to include lunch or dinner. He doesn’t really believe in those. His system never complains. The mere thought that he’s supposed to eat at set hours triggers a revolt. Instead, he waits till he’s hungry, then seeks out whatever is available. His sleeping habits are no better. He might stay awake all night, two nights even: catching up with his sleep on a busy weekday, sleeping like a log in spite of urgent assignments and the priorities of his boss. It helps that he’s the best worker in the office and his boss is pleased with his output. He can take advantage of this, for Mumbai takes a professional view. What you’re like as a person doesn’t count: your output does.

Strangely, his physique seems to have its own regimen and doesn’t listen to his rebellious mind. For example, at precisely seven in the evening his stomach rumbles like a monster awakening from slumber, newly ravenous for small wild animals. That’s when he gets too hungry to concentrate on work, slips out unnoticed, takes the lift and heads for that side of the office building where a boiled-egg vendor keeps his humble stall. It has become a habit. The vendor expects to see him. Without prompting, this wizened man with leathery hands starts knocking an eggshell with the handle of his knife, ready for peeling.

Of all his regular customers, Lokesh is his favourite face. That dreadful terrorist carnage happened here in Mumbai last week, November. Relatives of the victims still mourn but the rest of the city has staggered back to something it calls normal functioning. That is to say, the traffic snarl-ups have resumed; and so has the way people behave to one another: a mix of brazen pettiness and instinctive mistrust—and yet a sense of fellowship that Lokesh finds very confusing. How can you be so indifferent and insulting; yet ready to lend a helping hand to someone who offers you no challenge? What kind of a city is it? What does it want to be? Lokesh has given up on these questions.

It’s the time of day when the city is at its ugliest. Trains overflow. People fall from moving trains, unable to grasp any handhold not already claimed by ten others. People die every day on the tracks, no one is disturbed, no one gives it a thought.

Each new morning, the city’s everyday face is restored: a giant cauldron of ranting inhumanity. Once more the trains are packed like sardine-tins. The buses are over-stuffed with passengers. The atmosphere is heaving with motor fumes. The cheats are back on the streets looking for victims. Within days of the city’s being humiliated in its worst disaster, the usual “Spirit of Mumbai” has regained control.

He finds it hard to believe what happened to his most-hated, most-loved city, his Mumbai. How could ten terrorists, arriving in boats, hold the entire city hostage? Only Hollywood could write such a movie script: it was definitely not Bollywood material.

Thanks to the idiot boxes and the stupid flashes of “breaking news”, everybody was glued to their sets, trying to catch the action real-time. It was a boon for the foreign handlers of those ten misguided youth—they got instant updates on the movement of their commandos. It was the biggest day of ‘breaking news’ business. The real-time updates left many people dead and broke the backbone of free-media believers. Those idiots are, nevertheless, still not ashamed of appearing on the daily shows questioning the role of the police. Politicians, the ones so good at rousing mass hysteria, trying to turn one sufferer against the other, were nowhere to be seen. Those that were seen proved to be bumbling idiots … these small incidents happen in big cities, some of them said and earnestly believed. Mass murderers!

Nowhere else in this world could you see such shattering indifference. You could call it the “Spirit of Mumbai”.

Like everything in this city of Bollywood, the tragedy served as entertainment for those who came out unscathed. For these movie-buffs, this drama unfolding on TV was the best ever. But like all movies it ended, life reverted to normal. In retrospect, it blurred and dissolved, another unreal tale; faded into something he couldn’t feel any more. For here he is, quite unharmed. In an echo of Descartes, he declares “I am, that’s why I am.” Period.

And so, his little habits, like his daily dose of two eggs, sprinkled with pepper and salt, loom large in his life. Without this punctuation to his existence, he’d feel lost, crazy. Perhaps this leathery old vendor adds some drug to the salt and pepper? He could find an different one: there are two more at least in the area. But whenever the old man isn’t there, his hunger too disappears. He has no stomach to get his daily dose from anywhere else.

There’s a ritual. The old man peels off the shell, Lokesh watches mesmerized as if in the front row of a Chekhov play. He sees a perfectionist unperturbed by the sound and hectic activities of the street; who with a goldsmith’s precision takes the egg, beats it with his knife; presses it between his hands, rolling it for some time like a potter making an intricate round pot; then peels off the shell with a dreamy concentration. Lokesh recalls his grandmother cleaning the rice before cooking, back home in Kolkata. Then the old man cuts the egg neatly in equal halves, and sprinkles salt and pepper on them.

All this time, Mumbai trudges along incessantly, its buzz of life accompanied by a cacophony of sounds. While it parades its trivialities, it constantly dangles its promise, its hope; like a magnet that traps and intoxicates all who come to this great city.

Standing here at the stall, taking his daily dose of eggs, his attention is diverted to the four-point crossing. Things happen here; vehicle collisions once in two days or so, for example, in which the police constable must intervene and pass summary judgment, assisted perhaps by a small fee. If he gets irked, or the scene too grave for his personal jurisdiction, then he must pass the case upwards to his superiors, filing charges against offender and victim alike, confiscating their licences.

The end of his feast coincides with a great chorus of honking, which gets taken up by the queues of cars from all directions. Generally the flow of the intersection is regulated by the changing traffic lights; but at green the front car fails to move. There’s only one lane, no chance to overtake if one breaks down. The strident noise of impatience rises to a crescendo.

This kind of sound pollution enrages his senses. If he were the Incredible Hulk, he could teach those people in smart sedans some manners. He sees that despite the green light, a boy is walking across at the intersection; his legs thin like bamboo, his crutch weakly held in a stick-like hand, his dirty hair recently trimmed. He wears a new orange t-shirt decorated with the name of a tyre company, together with giant tyre-prints. His shorts are dirty: probably because no company hands out free pants.

As with other such vagabonds, his age is hard to guess but can’t be above eighteen. It’s apparent he’s impoverished and malnourished. He crosses at a snail’s pace, constantly in danger of falling from his crutch. His head shakes, not from giving up in despair but from the frailty of his neck which can hardly support his head as he inches across. His distorted lower limbs hardly touch the ground whilst he shifts his crutch.

Now some drivers, especially the ones impatient to get home, get out from their cars to see for themselves what’s holding up the flow. The frail youth is soon focus of their anger: how dare he singlehandedly hold up this great Mumbai tide? Nobody comes to assist his passage to the other side of the street. The dirt on him makes him untouchable in this city where everyone has been declared equal.

Now a lady does step forward to volunteer. But once she realizes the extent of his need, she backs off at the last moment. The boy has his hand stretched out for the fine lady to hold but when she withdraws it, he clutches at the air, overbalances. No guardian angel swoops down to catch him before he hits the road surface.

Now he can’t reach his crutch, and tries to crawl towards it; but writhes in pain as he tries to drag his body along the hard surface. Like howling mad dogs, the cars keep on honking.

Lokesh having filled his belly watches the spectacle like everyone else, wants a happy ending as in any good Bollywood movie. Not that he expects the hero to make a swift rescue. This is more drawn-out, like one of those art films, in which it’s hard to avoid boredom. You’d think someone will be impatient enough to get out of his car and carry the boy out of the way; but no one does. Surely the police constable will do something. Doesn’t the government employ him for this very purpose, to guarantee free-flowing traffic? Someone is surely saying the government should have built a flyover to ease congestion at this narrow intersection, so this couldn’t happen.

It’s getting him anxious and irritated that nobody is coming forward to carry the boy out of the way. He’s not the only one. Of course he could have easily gone to the boy’s rescue but why he? He’s on foot and his way remains unclogged. At this very moment he can turn round, slip into his office building and take the lift back to his desk. No, it’s the duty of the driver at the head of the queue to clear up this mess. But he’s sitting in his air-conditioned sedan behind his designer glasses, waiting for someone else to do it. In that situation Lokesh would have got out, picked up the boy tenderly and put him at the side, out of harm’s way. He would hear words of sympathy from other onlookers, too. But then, the boy was dirty. Who would want to touch him, and expose oneself to God-knows-what germs?

Why should he push himself forward, in front of all these others, all equally eligible to volunteer? He left Kolkata six years ago, tenderly innocent like a puppy; but the city has armoured his heart in toughened steel. Oh, it has been trampled and broken many times: in truth it is held together with screws and sticking-plaster. When he left his parents for greener pastures he thought goodness natural and boring. It took two years and a thousand heartbreaks to realize that goodness is not just rare, but non-existent in this world. He sees his parents as good, but what does he know? They only love him because he’s their son.

He’ll wait on the side, a spectator like everybody else. He’s never signed any contract to clean up the world, so he can join the crowd in finding someone else to blame, he’s not sure who but at least he can always complain that the “the country has gone to the dogs”. And the traffic policeman? Nowhere to be seen.

But here’s Ravi, a colleague of Lokesh stepping out from their office building, wired up to his new mobile through earphones. Thanks to pirated recordings on mp3, on sale at the roadside, he can listen to at least five hundred Bollywood songs for half the price of a decent CD.

He doesn’t stop to say Hi to Lokesh, but dashes into the action, careful all the while to stop his precious toy from falling out of his shirt-pocket. He scoops up the boy and carries him like a baby, collecting the crutch on the way, and takes him to the roadside.

Like a giant python, the Mumbai traffic slowly uncoils and resumes its normal crawl. Ravi sets the boy down on the steps of the saree shop, on  the ground floor of their office building.

Thank God for people like Ravi. His heroism lifts people’s spirits. Lokesh smiles in relief, but Ravi has his back turned, removes his right earphone, listens intently to the rescued boy.

No doubt he’s still listening to some Bollywood hit song through his left ear. But here he is now, rushing towards Lokesh till they meet face to face.

— The boy is hungry man. He said he didn’t eat for two days. I better buy something for him. And Ravi rushes to the cut-fruit vendor.

— Shall we buy him some bread? It would fill his tummy.

— No no. We should give him something that would help him in the best way. I see fruits as the only answer. Bloody damn, there is no fruit juice shop here. Anyway, these fruits will do, Ravi says, taking two wrapped plates of mixed fruit to the boy. On closer examination he sees the deformed legs, hand and face; the head swollen like a giant eggshell with hydrocephalus.

The boy takes the fruit piece by piece, hurriedly devouring each one as if fearing it will be snatched away. Clearly he’s in genuine need, unlike those beggars who claim to be hungry but only accept money. Mumbai is full of them, as with people like Ravi, like Lokesh, all the kinds of people ever created. Surely part of a giant experiment playing out across the face of the earth.

He decides to buy two eggs for the poor boy. Seldom does the urge descend upon him to perform any charitable act: when was the last time? He’s gratified to discover that his heart can still respond to the genuine need of a fellow human being.

— Two eggs uncle, he tells the old man, who once again undertakes his professional ritual in all its detail. In a wordless flash of insight he sees the old man like a priest; one whose rituals magically stop the world, reducing the chaos of these streets to a pinpoint focus where the moment is infinite. As when a child is born.

— Do you know this boy uncle?

— Yes sir.

— Where is he from?

— I don’t know but he was in the care of a missionary who used to bring a group of kids, some crippled, some retarded, to the Central Park near my shanty in the evenings. They would utter strange cries. You would hear them coming, and the weird sounds they made were disturbing, I tell you. They are not like ordinary people.
The wizened man fell silent, concentrating on his craft.

— Ok … then what happened?

— The padre died a few days ago, that I know. I’ve no idea what happened to his flock of cripples—except for this one, of course. I imagine he’s looking for the missionary. Who’d want to tell them the bad news? They know little of the real world, these poor fellows, cursed by none other than God himself. Who knows what sins they may have committed in a past lifetime?

If I might make a suggestion sir? It’s good that you are feeding him. But don’t make it a habit. Once he knows you are there for him he will come everyday … he might even die crossing the road.

One more thing, forgive me sir, but I have seen much life. These people have a special charm, they are actually little devils. They will very easily trap you to meet their needs. Once you fall for that invisible trap … you will be accursed for life. You cannot throw it out, you cannot swallow it. Don’t look at him, I am telling you. Stay put, for you are perhaps a good man. The devil can easily catch you unguarded. We use special charms to stay away from unseen evils on our daily life, you see we have to interact with all sorts of people. I can see this boy has influenced you much already. Not a good sign, sir. Here’s your eggs.

He never knew this old man could speak so much. Old people … once they get an audience, they start. His father, too—slowly turning into this kind of blabber.

— Do you eat eggs? Lokesh asks the boy who is clutching a small piece of pineapple in his dirty hands.

— I love them, says the boy in a feeble voice with shining eyes. He takes them in trembling hands.

Lokesh feels the warm touch of the boy’s arms. What makes those hands shake so? The vibration stirs him somehow, as if it shakes him out of a deep sleep. He’s dismayed to find himself catching the shakes too, as his strength seems to crumble inside. He can’t have caught an illness from him already?

It’s like a fit, he can’t control it. He looks around to Ravi for rescue, to be scooped up in his arms as he did with the boy. But Ravi is nowhere in sight, perhaps vanished into the swaying rhythms of a Bollywood soundtrack.

He runs for cover, sprints towards his office, jabs the elevator button. How long it takes to reach the floor! Must get out of here, save himself somehow.

He takes the stairs, reaches the first floor of the car park, where it’s poorly lit. Hiding in the shadows behind a car, he shakes with silent sobs till his shirt is wet with tears. the world is too heavy, it crushes the soul. He swoons into some kind of anguished reverie.

Later: how long has he been here? He has no idea what time it is now. Mosquitoes are biting, the air smells of dirty engine oil; but he doesn’t notice his surroundings. In thought he’s reliving last week. His fellow Mumbaikars were being shot by terrorists. The usual throng was sitting or sleeping on the grimy floor at the CST—Chtrapati Shivaji Terminus Station, where a grenade was thrown into their midst. They were quite helpless: he felt it with them, for them. Someone, a fellow-citizen, had a gun pointed at her by a lunatic. He felt her panic a second before the bullet hit. He read the silent plea in all the victims’ faces as they thought of their loved ones—wife, husband, children—in their last moment.

He steadies himself. How can anything matter in this lottery? He’s alive, he could die any moment, his body mangled in a heap with others. A bomb could go off in a commuter train, on his way home. Can he do nothing about any of this? As a small clog in this giant wheel of efficiency, shouldn’t he just keep on turning and not squeal? That’s all a cog has to do, turn smoothly and silently. Not step out of line, not agonize about salvation.

His sobbing stops. He feels the wetness of his shirt, his body aches from crouching in this spot. It’s swarming with rats, this is their turn now. At other times of day, groups of drivers play cards here while waiting for their bosses. Sometimes they share the humble contents of their tiffin boxes. Their eyes light up at a hint of achaar, spicy pickle. Meanwhile Lokesh and his colleagues, a few storeys above, would be wondering what tempting new dish to order up. He has never seen so many rats in one place. Huge ones, like bandicotas. God knows where they come from, where they go back to.

Now he feels like an uninvited guest, interrupting these rodents’ routines and family life. If he stays any longer they might tell him in human tongue he’s not welcome. Time to decide, before Mumbai swallows him up in its cruel indifference. Time for a change.

Why not go with the wretched, to wherever he’s staying, find some way of rescuing the others? Inhuman the city may may appear; but still there are pockets where it’s an oasis of humanity. Plenty of people have dedicated their lives, given up lucrative careers, just to take care of the not-so-privileged. Even in Mumbai.

What’s to stop Lokesh doing likewise? Not for them, only his conscience, his own salvation. Why run with the crowd, their prejudices, their rules? There’s a greater rule: to treat all humans with humanity.

He takes the stairs down through several floors of this multi-storey car park. The walk will freshen his mind, a clear head is needed. No good relying on every emotional impulse. He’s not the type to rush into anything. In fact he’s not one for decisions. He returns to the steps of the saree shop, where he’d left “the wretched”. No one there. Everything back to normal, just another day. Another minor collision. The policeman calls both parties aside, hears their arguments, settles the matter.

His phone rings: it’s Ravi.

— Where are you? Still in the office or gone home?

Lokesh doesn’t want to betray any emotion.

— Still here, going home now. You?

— No man, I am at a strange place. I’m with all these handicappped. It’s a shithole, man, next right from Central Park. Gopal lives here, I came to drop him home, if you can call it home. More like a pigsty, it stinks so bad. And there’s blood, some of them fight each other you know—fucking retards!

— Who’s Gopal?

— That kid who fell down crossing the road, that you were sitting with. I went to fetch a taxi, drop him off at his place. When I came back you were not there. I waited a while but then he fainted. The egg-seller told me the address.

— Oh, that kid?

— Yes, they are all kinda retards. They’re hungry but can’t even say so. I’ve just ordered a huge amount of food for them. Look, I need some contact details of societies for underprivileged. Can you be kind enough to google it for me please from your computer?”

— I will. Do you want me to come there?

— No need. Things are under control. Just give me some numbers, kind sir.

— Okay. Lokesh disconnects. He feels as though a heavy door has been slammed in his face, leaving him an outsider, shut out from everything, an exile in his own land, wretched.


See also “Yin and Yang

Life-story part 2

This instalment has been harder to write. I’ve had to question assumptions I took for granted in my last; and to accept that there may never be answers to some of them.
“My father died in the war,” I used to say, “so I never met him.” It wasn’t true but I wasn’t told any better. In fact he’s alive today aged 96, at least he was last year when my ex-wife looked him up, took photos, reported their conversations to my daughter. She found him still sharp-witted, physically active, interested in women rather than his offspring in England—eight of us to date. Widowerhood seems to have perked him up. I shan’t be asking him any questions about the circumstances of my conception.

dateI’ve found a booklet called Baby Days: a Record of Baby’s life. My mother—I shall call her Iris, it’s easier—started to fill it out some time after I was born, as you can see here. The details provide some factual evidence. What I’m trying to understand is how I came to be conceived; which of the tales I was told over the years have credence; which, if any, can be dismissed.

weightIt goes on to record details of my weight at birth: 8 lb 8oz. She told me I was delivered with the aid of forceps. I estimate conception took place around May 17th, 1941, and that she’d already been in Perth several months.

In September 1940 the Japanese invaded French Indo-China. In the same month, the Malaya Infantry Brigade, with HQ in Singapore, was augmented with Indian and Malay troops, plus a battalion of Gordon Highlanders and two from Lancashire. This was six months before the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. J J Mulder acquired a job which took him overseas. He feared what could happen, insisted Iris go somewhere safe. Her best friend Margery, who’d married a Chinese Singaporean, Sin Sitt Goh, fled to Kashmir. They stayed in touch by post. Iris went to Perth.

Many years later, she told me that she’d had an abortion in Singapore. It didn’t go well, she got peritonitis. J J was furious. She told me his job was “single status” and (without consulting him first) feared he’d be sacked if they had a baby.  There can be no reason to doubt her confession. (When I was a child she told me I’d had a brother who died. I thought of him as a twin.)

When I was old enough to reason things out I asked her how I could have been conceived when she was in Australia and he was in Java. She said he came on leave, a couple of times. It’s feasible, as the Italian and German navies hadn’t reached south-east Asia and the Japanese didn’t start naval hostilities till after Pearl Harbour. But I’m sure it was invented to maintain the falsehood she never intended to clear up.

It was Margery Goh who told me and my ex-wife about my real father. She was dying of throat cancer when we visited her, and chose to break a life-long promise. If not for that visit, I’d remain in ignorance today. I chose not to confront my mother, she being unwell by this time and widowed from her third husband. My ex-wife thought differently and wrote her an angry letter from the Isle of Skye, encouraged by the friend she was staying with. That’s another story.

Iris was distraught that I’d found out. I said I didn’t hold it against her; but thought to myself that if I’d found out as a child, I’d have made a great fuss and somehow made it back to Australia on my own to live with him instead of her.

The truth is, I never got on well with my mother. I often hated her, even before leaving Australia at the age of four, then occasionally up to perhaps eighteen. I felt shame at the fact, but there it was. Perhaps hate is better than the numb absence of feeling I had thereafter. There was no mother-love. She had no maternal instinct, but gratefully followed the regime of Dr Truby King, who was held in high regard in Australia and New Zealand as the authority on baby care—as Dr Spock was later, in the US.

Truby King’s method of raising children involved doing everything according to a routine, ignoring the wants of the child and sticking solely to the routine in place. In order to utilize baby care methods as a means to regulate behavior, King suggested implementing a uniform schedule in which each aspect of the baby’s life was controlled. This included specific times for feeding, sleeping, bathing and bowel movements. Jock Mc Culloch states in his book “Colonial Psychiatry and the African Mind”, that King believed that at the age of six weeks, toilet training should commence and be continued until the child was sufficiently trained.

Cuddling with an infant was not to exceed 10 minutes per day and there was a specific hour set aside for holding the child; this was the only time the parent was allowed to hold the child. If an infant started crying, the parents were supposed to let him or her cry without giving additional attention. The concept behind these baby care methods is that after a few days, the baby would fall into this routine and would sleep through the night, making the parent’s lives much easier. Other aspects of Truby King’s method include letting the child play by himself and bringing the child outside for some fresh air, regardless of the temperature outside. (From this site)

Fortunately we lived in a lodging-house where the other women were kind and easy-going. I was not slow to make comparisons.

ianstudio1s
tinted studio portrait sent to my mother’s parents

So now she had some explaining to do. How did Iris Gwendolen Mulder, aged 32 and married, get involved with Harold Laurence Amey, aged 18 and living with his parents?

Her answer was extraordinary. I’ve thought about it for days. Could it be true? I’ve come to the conclusion that it probably is. She said she had a letter from Jan Jacobus somewhere which would prove it. I didn’t ask to see it. He had written to tell her he’d had a dose of malaria in Java. His sperm count was affected. He knew how upset she was about the unnecessary and nearly fatal abortion; how she grieved for that lost child. He gave her his blessing to meet some decent healthy man, have his baby, stay safe in Australia till this beastly war was over and they could be together again. No one would ever need know.

I guess truth can be stranger than fiction. I did go to Australia to meet my father after I’d traced him, with the wife he’d married in 1947 after the freshly widowed Iris rejected his offer and returned with me to England. I stayed with them for about 10 days over Christmas, with my then wife and our two children (his grandchildren) but we only had one chance to talk about these matters. He had very little to say, only that he’d offered marriage but she thought Perth wasn’t the best place for me to grow up. I was a bright child who’d almost taught myself to read, after making a connection between the words someone read to me (a story about a rabbit and a carrot) and the sound that went with each letter.

He said “We have a very good University in Perth. This is a good place to live.” I have no idea whether he knew he was being used as a mere sperm donor. If not, what a cruel burden to put upon such a young man with high enough principles to honour his obligations. It was clear that he never forgave Iris. Yet he sent a food parcel to her in England, after hearing about the rationing there.

Now I have the written evidence that she never meant to acknowledge my father, let alone marry him. It’s in Baby Days.presents
Both grandmothers are listed, but one is simply “Harold’s mother”.

Life-story, part 1

I want to tell the story of my entire life up to the present: the bare-bones series of events, with no fanciful embroidery. Let it be like a series of chess moves without the expert commentary. Let it be like a dispassionate ship’s log. Let the facts tell their own story. As far as possible, I will leave out feelings, impressions, memories, motives. Perhaps some of these may be deduced by an astute reader. In any case some of this ground has been covered years ago in other posts.

I owe this effort to posterity, or rather that tiny section of it which might take an interest; and most of all to myself, so I may belatedly grasp my true identity and nature; then devote myself to being that person.


Gensing Manor, watercolour by my great-aunt Olwen

Here is a photo of Iris Ward aged 4, with her parents on August 13th, 1913, at a family gathering at Gensing Manor. She wants to sit on her mother’s lap, but my future grandmother is big with a second child. A second photo  shows that she gets her way.

wilfulchild
Click to see the full group photo

She is a wilful and determined child.
Click to enlarge

As soon as she reaches 21, old enough to escape parental jurisdiction, she books a passage to Malaya, invited by Doris Holdsworth who’s gone before, and invites her to join her dancing academy. Both ladies have been influenced by Isadora Duncan, that fast-living dancing queen who took Europe by storm in the Twenties. Both are doubtless swayed by the lack of eligible young men in England after the Great War. Up to the nineteen-seventies and beyond, St Leonards-on-sea was notable for the number of its elderly spinsters, many still dressed in mourning for the loss of a first love decades before.

In Singapore she meets a Dutchman and marries him in St Andrews Cathedral

Wedding1934
Jacobus Jan Mulder (b. Jan 4th 1904) & Iris Gwendolen Ward (b. Aug 31st 1909)

He wants her to give up being a dancing teacher. Together they run an outlet of Ciro Pearls, then acquire The Gap RoadHouse, on the East Coast Road. It was an idyllic life: servants, white privilege, tall handsome husband, dancing in the midst of society, everything she’s dreamed of.

But the Japanese are threatening Malaya, Singapore is the cherry on top. Jan Jacobus is called outstation to other islands, does secret work under cover of a job in the radio network. He’s in the loop of what’s going on, tells Iris to get out while she can, go stay with someone they know in Perth, Australia. He gets caught up in hostilities. They never find his body: he was either shot or drowned. Iris doesn’t get confirmation till the war ends.

In Perth she meets a boy. She’s 32, he’s 18, lives with his parents on a farm. They meet at a dance in a community hall, where the boys are one side, the girls on the other till shyness is overcome. He takes her on to the floor, they converse, he talks about horses, they agree he’ll give her lessons. I piece this together from what I’ve been told. All I know for certain is that I popped out on March 3rd, 1942, “the day that Java fell”, as she used to say. Her husband was probably in Java at the time. I never heard of Larry till I was 48, from a friend of my mother’s who’d promised never to tell but felt she ought to, just before she died.

Harold Laurence Amey, my real father, enlisted as soon as he was 21. Before that he would have needed his parents’ permission, which I guess under the circumstances they would not have granted. I met them when I was three, with no understanding of who they were, nor was I ever introduced to him, when he was eventually demobbed and returned to Perth. Learning of my mother’s widowhood, he offered marriage. He’d had time to think about it while while half-starved in the Malayan jungle, wondering if he’d survive.

My mother said no. She couldn’t wait to get back to what she saw as civilization, longed to see her parents again. She’d sent numerous letters and photos of me, to show how bonny I was. Surely they knew the truth? I’ve been told that but now I doubt everything. My birth certificate showed I was the son of Jan Jacobus Mulder.
bcert
My mother and I came back on the Rangitata, heavily loaded after being hastily converted back from its wartime role of transporting troops. We were on the Aliens list, being technically Dutch:
Rangitatapassengerlistclick to enlarge. Note that H/D stands for Household/Domestic—or in my mother’s case “housewife”, I guess
Lacking maternal instinct, my mother had largely left me in the care of other women during her time in Perth. I had no idea corresponding to “father”. I wasn’t exactly an orphan, but my grandparents were shocked when they met us at Tilbury and first first heard me speak. This wild child of a wilful mother must be baptized, and taught manners.

There and back

We had a ten-day window free, so we seized it, took a plane to Jamaica. It was partly a surprise visit to see Karleen’s granddaughter on her 21st birthday; but also to catch up with many old friends. It was too long since we’d last seen that extraordinary island,  Karleen’s home for more than fifty years. I once thought it might be mine too. I’d pulled her away; now the elastic was pulling us back, and we let it take us.

We didn’t have time to play tourists. The closest we got was 2 nights at the pretty Ocean Palms Hotel in Ocho Rios, one of those resorts where cruise liners unload their passengers for beaches and tours.
We could look out at the sea from our balcony.


I liked the Art Deco style, the restaurant jutting out . . .

so when you went for breakfast . . .
you could look over and see the fish . . .

. . . and watch the real tourists pass by

The only reason we went to Ocho Rios was for a reunion with St Hope Earl McKenzie: poet, painter, writer of stories, philosopher, academic. Karleen knew him well from when she worked on the University campus, and typed his manuscripts, being one of the few people alive who could read his handwriting. I was another, and shared this delightful load when I spent six months in Kingston in 2004, without meeting him till now. Karleen wanted to meet his wife Trudy as well.

Our visit to Ocho Rios was near the end of our stay after many adventures, of which the high spot for me was seeing my step-granddaughter on the day she took flight into adulthood . . .

withStepGranddaughter

There is much more to show and tell, next time.

Breadcrumbs . . . . . . . .

centaur
Click on the link to see the new diagram

. . . . . . . and how a new diagram was born.

Ever since abandoning all idea of publication in book form, I’ve been looking for a way to help a reader visiting this site. 325 posts have been reissued after editing & classifying their themes. Expect the same number again trickling through over the next few months.

We like real books, especially hard-backed. They look good on our shelves, we can pick them up anytime and flick through, perhaps years later. E-books are good too. They remember where you left off, no need for a paper bookmark. You can easily annotate them or add highlights and marks. But you can’t lend them. You can do word-searches but you can’t flick through easily looking for a particular description. Non-fiction books benefit from being indexed.

Wayfarer’s Notes is too big to go in a book. It has too many images, some of them copyrighted by others. It is stuffed with copyrighted quotes; some of them might run the gauntlet of “fair use” but others not. It is subject to authorial revision day and night; open to reader comment ditto. It doesn’t belong in a book, which is necessarily static, necessarily copyrighted because it costs time & money to produce. It belongs here, free to whoever arrives with knowledge of the English language and a suitable device to pick up the Internet. Having once beaten a path to its door, readers are free to return any time, to share an odd moment, perhaps add a comment, no matter how long ago the post was written. Time?—not a barrier in this world of literature. Here you’ll find nothing but bite-sized chunks, large breadcrumbs, but there’s no reason for them to go stale. They’re safe from birds & vermin.

In the Pacman game, you try to eat all the breadcrumbs before a ghost eats you. Here you can take all the time you want. “Wayfarer’s Notes” is not going away.

The difficulty has always been to offer a guide for a wayfaring visitor lost in the forest with all its criss-crossing paths. Every tree is different, but how to find one’s way? In the fairy story, Hansel & Gretel rely on a trail of breadcrumbs; but the birds come and eat them, they’re no better off than before. Breadcrumb navigation is now a standard term in Web design: a way to know where you’ve been and how to get back where you started.

This is not a blog in the sense of offering anything topical, in the world’s view or my own. It’s simply a loose collection of essays that gets added to occasionally. Like any reader, I’m interested in what’s new; yet anything from an author I like is new if I haven’t come across it before. “Latest” has no special value; not for me, not for my ideal reader. All the same, it’s interesting to know when something was written; and to see how someone’s ideas and style have evolved over time.

I’ve tried offering elaborate arrays of clickable topics, designed to encourage the wayfarer into the forest labyrinth. Only the breadcrumbs were lacking. There’s a snag in WordPress. It can’t keep track of visited links; or rather, not on my free subscription. I would need to upgrade to a Premium Plan at £7 per month. Stop paying that? Advanced Design Customization lapses. The golden coach reverts to a pumpkin, the white horses to mice, scampering away in all directions.

So we’ve taken a walk on the wild side, leapt not for the first time into Vincent’s own webspace. I pay a modest subscription, but could migrate to GoogleDrive; which I imagine will remain until Kingdom Come and Cyber-Apocalypse.

Take a look, hop on the Site Map; hop off at any theme of your choice. SITE MAP

The moment; and The Rainbow

At Hambledon Lock, trying to capture a momentary eddy in the tumbling water
(post first drafted on 5th Feb)
These days, I find little impulse to write. The process of dusting off more than a decade of posts for reissue, especially classifying them by topic, keeps reminding me that I don’t have anything new to say: only the same in different ways. A single set of themes can be traced from the start until now. It’s not a narrative, but a series of notes and snapshots, which may sometimes rise to the status of essays. Their chronology might interest a scholar, just as it interests me; but not the casual reader so much. “Two or three gathered together”, or scattered—wherever you are I’m forever in your debt. Without your encouragement thousands of well-spent hours would have been diverted—possibly frittered—elsewhere.

Never mind the might-have-beens, those alternate universes which, if they were to exist would be infinite in number. There remains only what we have now. Its possibilities are without limit. How shall we choose our way, moment to moment? It’s easy to think and behave as if we run on rails, like a tram or train, our route determined already. We could think of ourselves as motorists, free to roam at will; but then we’re constrained by the road network and all the rules enforced for safety.

One day, having returned to full-time office work after a long interval, I conceived the image of an aimless pedestrian and changed the name of this blog to “A Wayfarer’s Notes”. Walking seemed the ultimate symbol of freedom, especially for me after dramatically recovering from decades of so-called CFS. What do I mean by “aimless”? When there is neither agenda nor baggage.

So long as we have unsatisfied wants or needs, we have an agenda: to fix that lack. I started these writings when, for the first time in my life, I had everything; and knew it. That awareness has held to this moment. Still, there was baggage to be discarded: every vestige of belief, the notions of salvation that we cling to—some path to love, money, God or ideology. Sometimes we may see it as simply vanquishing our enemies, be they agents of malign Fate out there the world, or demons within our own heads.

Of the various arts, literature is the one I’ve been drawn to most: both reading and writing. But for me, writing is a craft not an art, a kind of making. If there are different parts of the head for “engineer” and “poet”, I’d guess at a proportion of 70-30 in my case. I can brood endlessly about clean functional design in things I make with my hands. It’s more satisfying than tapping with these fingers, or scribbling in my notebook.

And when it comes to art . . . I like to think in universals, that every man can be his own artist.* Each can acquire to some degree a skill in living gracefully. Someone asked me what I intended to do with my retirement. “Grow old gracefully,” I replied. “Surely you mean disgracefully?” said he, having known me since 1984 when I recruited him for my quality control team at BACS. I know what he means though. Those shackled by family, debts and other cares sometimes dream of freedom as being able to say “F— you!” to the world.

To me, living gracefully— forgetting the “growing old” bit, when it doesn’t nudge at one’s elbow—must always involve some ongoing project, preferably making. And so I shall go on dusting off this site, cutting and polishing, as one might do with a stone, to reveal its translucency, veins and strata. Classifying & indexing each post according to the mix of topics takes time. In a labour of love, you don’t count time. It dissolves into eternity.

It’s impossible to write about the moment in the moment, because it passes so rapidly, to be replaced by further moments, bringing further feelings and ideas with them. In truth, there is plenty to say.


* Man, in the old inclusive sense: “A human being (irrespective of sex or age). Man was considered until the 20th cent. to include women by implication, though referring primarily to males. It is now frequently understood to exclude women, and is therefore avoided by many people.”

Not being “many people”, I’m grateful for the OED’s acknowledgement that the English language transcends the centuries and resists the tyranny of activists.

BACS = Bankers’ Automated Clearing System. We worked together on several projects after that and still keep in touch, so he knows I’m an unpredictable maverick. He’s ten years younger and still working, so we can’t really share that kind of language any more. Furthermore, he does secret work now, which of course he has to deny, so we can’t talk about it at all.

Could anybody write up moments like D H Lawrence?  Here’s how he ends Chapter 1 of The Rainbow, “How Tom Brangwen Married a Polish Lady”:

  “I came up,” he said, speaking curiously matter-of-fact and level, “to ask if you’d marry me. You are free, aren’t you?”
     There was a long silence, whilst his blue eyes, strangely impersonal, looked into her eyes to seek an answer to the truth. He was looking for the truth out of her. And she, as if hypnotized, must answer at length.
      “Yes, I am free to marry.” The expression of his eyes changed, became less impersonal, as if he were looking almost at her, for the truth of her. Steady and intent and eternal they were, as if they would never change. They seemed to fix and to resolve her. She quivered, feeling herself created, will-less, lapsing into him, into a common will with him.
     “You want me?” she said.
     A pallor came over his face.
    “Yes,” he said.
     Still there was no response and silence.
     “No,” she said, not of herself. “No, I don’t know.”
     He felt the tension breaking up in him, his fists slackened, he was unable to move. He stood there looking at her, helpless in his vague collapse. For the moment she had become unreal to him. Then he saw her come to him, curiously direct and as if without movement, in a sudden flow. She put her hand to his coat.
     “Yes I want to,” she said, impersonally, looking at him with wide, candid, newly-opened eyes, opened now with supreme truth. He went very white as he stood, and did not move, only his eyes were held by hers, and he suffered. She seemed to see him with her newly-opened, wide eyes, almost of a child, and with a strange movement, that was agony to him, she reached slowly forward her dark face and her breast to him, with a slow insinuation of a kiss that made something break in his brain, and it was darkness over him for a few moments.
     He had her in his arms, and, obliterated, was kissing her. And it was sheer, bleached agony to him, to break away from himself. She was there so small and light and accepting in his arms, like a child, and yet with such an insinuation of embrace, of infinite embrace, that he could not bear it, he could not stand.
     He turned and looked for a chair, and keeping her still in his arms, sat down with her close to him, to his breast. Then, for a few seconds, he went utterly to sleep, asleep and sealed in the darkest sleep, utter, extreme oblivion.
     From which he came to gradually, always holding her warm and close upon him, and she as utterly silent as he, involved in the same oblivion, the fecund darkness.
     He returned gradually, but newly created, as after a gestation, a new birth, in the womb of darkness. Aerial and light everything was, new as a morning, fresh and newly-begun. Like a dawn the newness and the bliss filled in. And she sat utterly still with him, as if in the same.
     Then she looked up at him, the wide, young eyes blazing with light. And he bent down and kissed her on the lips. And the dawn blazed in them, their new life came to pass, it was beyond all conceiving good, it was so good, that it was almost like a passing-away, a trespass. He drew her suddenly closer to him.
     For soon the light began to fade in her, gradually, and as she was in his arms, her head sank, she leaned it against him, and lay still, with sunk head, a little tired, effaced because she was tired. And in her tiredness was a certain negation of him.
     “There is the child,” she said, out of the long silence.
     He did not understand. It was a long time since he had heard a voice. Now also he heard the wind roaring, as if it had just begun again.
     “Yes,” he said, not understanding. There was a slight contraction of pain at his heart, a slight tension on his brows. Something he wanted to grasp and could not.
     “You will love her?” she said.
     The quick contraction, like pain, went over him again. “I love her now,” he said.
     She lay still against him, taking his physical warmth without heed. It was great confirmation for him to feel her there, absorbing the warmth from him, giving him back her weight and her strange confidence. But where was she, that she seemed so absent? His mind was open with wonder. He did not know her.
     “But I am much older than you,” she said. “How old?” he asked.
     “I am thirty-four,” she said.
     “I am twenty-eight,” he said.
     “Six years.”
     She was oddly concerned, even as if it pleased her a little. He sat and listened and wondered. It was rather splendid, to be so ignored by her, whilst she lay against him, and he lifted her with his breathing, and felt her weight upon his living, so he had a completeness and an inviolable power. He did not interfere with her. He did not even know her. It was so strange that she lay there with her weight abandoned upon him. He was silent with delight. He felt strong, physically, carrying her on his breathing. The strange, inviolable completeness of the two of them made him feel as sure and as stable as God. Amused, he wondered what the vicar would say if he knew.
     “You needn’t stop here much longer, housekeeping,” he said.
     “I like it also, here,” she said. “When one has been in many places, it is very nice here.”
     He was silent again at this. So close on him she lay, and yet she answered him from so far away. But he did not mind.
     “What was your own home like, when you were little?” he asked.
     “My father was a landowner,” she replied. “It was near a river.”
     This did not convey much to him. All was as vague as before. But he did not care, whilst she was so close.
     “I am a landowner—a little one,” he said. “Yes,” she said.
     He had not dared to move. He sat there with his arms round her, her lying motionless on his breathing, and for a long time he did not stir. Then softly, timidly, his hand settled on the roundness of her arm, on the unknown. She seemed to lie a little closer. A hot flame licked up from his belly to his chest.
     But it was too soon. She rose, and went across the room to a drawer, taking out a little tray-cloth. There was something quiet and professional about her. She had been a nurse beside her husband, both in Warsaw and in the rebellion afterwards. She proceeded to set a tray. It was as if she ignored Brangwen. He sat up, unable to bear a contradiction in her. She moved about inscrutably.
     Then, as he sat there, all mused and wondering, she came near to him, looking at him with wide, grey eyes that almost smiled with a low light. But her ugly-beautiful mouth was still unmoved and sad. He was afraid.
     His eyes, strained and roused with unusedness, quailed a little before her, he felt himself quailing and yet he rose, as if obedient to her, he bent and kissed her heavy, sad, wide mouth, that was kissed, and did not alter. Fear was too strong in him. Again he had not got her.
     She turned away. The vicarage kitchen was untidy, and yet to him beautiful with the untidiness of her and her child. Such a wonderful remoteness there was about her, and then something in touch with him, that made his heart knock in his chest. He stood there and waited, suspended.
     Again she came to him, as he stood in his black clothes, with blue eyes very bright and puzzled for her, his face tensely alive, his hair dishevelled. She came close up to him, to his intent, black-clothed body, and laid her hand on his arm. He remained unmoved. Her eyes, with a blackness of memory struggling with passion, primitive and electric away at the back of them, rejected him and absorbed him at once. But he remained himself. He breathed with difficulty, and sweat came out at the roots of his hair, on his forehead.
     “Do you want to marry me?” she asked slowly, always uncertain.
     He was afraid lest he could not speak. He drew breath hard, saying:
     “I do.” Then again, what was agony to him, with one hand lightly resting on his arm, she leaned forward a little, and with a strange, primeval suggestion of embrace, held him her mouth. It was ugly-beautiful, and he could not bear it. He put his mouth on hers, and slowly, slowly the response came, gathering force and passion, till it seemed to him she was thundering at him till he could bear no more. He drew away, white, unbreathing. Only, in his blue eyes, was something of himself concentrated. And in her eyes was a little smile upon a black void.
     She was drifting away from him again. And he wanted to go away. It was intolerable. He could bear no more. He must go. Yet he was irresolute. But she turned away from him.
     With a little pang of anguish, of denial, it was decided. “I’ll come an’ speak to the vicar to-morrow,” he said, taking his hat.
     She looked at him, her eyes expressionless and full of darkness. He could see no answer. “That’ll do, won’t it?” he said.
     “Yes,” she answered, mere echo without body or meaning. “Good night,” he said.
     “Good night.”
     He left her standing there, expressionless and void as she was. Then she went on laying the tray for the vicar. Needing the table, she put the daffodils aside on the dresser without noticing them. Only their coolness, touching her hand, remained echoing there a long while. They were such strangers, they must for ever be such strangers, that his passion was a clanging torment to him. Such intimacy of embrace, and such utter foreignness of contact! It was unbearable. He could not bear to be near her, and know the utter foreignness between them, know how entirely they were strangers to each other. He went out into the wind. Big holes were blown into the sky, the moonlight blew about. Sometimes a high moon, liquid-brilliant, scudded across a hollow space and took cover under electric, brown-iridescent cloud-edges. Then there was a blot of cloud, and shadow. Then somewhere in the night a radiance again, like a vapour. And all the sky was teeming and tearing along, a vast disorder of flying shapes and darkness and ragged fumes of light and a great brown circling halo, then the terror of a moon running liquid-brilliant into the open for a moment, hurting the eyes before she plunged under cover of cloud again.

Sail Away


click here for lyrics and more
I can’t remember the train of thought, or musical musing, which led me from Laurie Anderson to Randy Newman. It may have gone in the other direction. I ordered “Sail Away” on the 10th of Jan., then posted the piece about Laurie (O Superman) 2 days later. They patently have much in common, being led by ideas, with the music often an ironic accompaniment. They both subtly invoke America as a favourite butt for their satire. Moreover,

[their] best songs implicate the listener *

and

[they] presume an intelligence and literacy in [their] audience *

as I do too, with visitors to this site. Accordingly, I present without further comment God’s Song (that’s why I love mankind). It opens in a new window or tab. Here are the lyrics:

Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why / For if the children of Israel were to multiply / Why must any of the children die? / So he asked the Lord / And the Lord said: Man means nothing he means less to me / Than the lowliest cactus flower / Or the humblest Yucca tree / He chases round this desert / Cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be / That’s why I love mankind / I recoil in horror fro the foulness of thee / From the squalor and the filth and the misery / How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me / That’s why I love mankind / The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree / The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV / They picked their four greatest priests / And they began to speak / They said, “Lord, a plague is on the world / Lord, no man is free / The temples that we built to you / Have tumbled into the sea / Lord, if you won’t take care of us / Won’t you please, please let us be?” / And the Lord said / And the Lord said / I burn down your cities—how blind you must be / I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we / You all must be crazy to put your faith in me / That’s why I love mankind / You really need me / That’s why I love mankind


* See article in Popmatters: “What does Randy Newman say when he talks with God?” which includes this:

Greil Marcus suggests that “His best songs implicate the listener” (Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music. New York: Plume, 2015. p.108), while Kevin Courrier argues that Newman “presumes an intelligence and literacy in his audience” (Randy Newman’s American Dreams. Toronto: ECW Press, 2005. p.xvi).

The article also saves me from trying to set down my own thoughts after listening to the “Sail Away” album, and goes beyond them. I particularly like its use of the word “maltheistic” which cannot be found in the OED. Wiktionary is helpful though:

maltheism: The belief that there is an evil God or gods.
Etymology: macaronic nonce coinage from mal-, from Latin malus (“bad”), + theism (compare misotheism and dystheism). Attested in Usenet discussions from 1985

O Superman

O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad. O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad. Hi. I’m not home right now. But if you want to leave a message, just start talking at the sound of the tone. Hello? This is your Mother. Are you there? Are you coming home? Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don’t know me, but I know you. And I’ve got a message to give to you. Here come the planes. So you better get ready. Ready to go. You can come as you are, but pay as you go. Pay as you go. And I said: OK. Who is this really? And the voice said: This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the hand, the hand that takes. Here come the planes. They’re American planes. Made in America. Smoking or non-smoking? And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. ‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice. And when justice is gone, there’s always force. And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom! So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms. In your arms. So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms. In your electronic arms.

In homage to the avant-garde diva and prophetess whose song reached #2 on the British pop charts on this date, October 17th, 1981.

I used to have a cassette of her album Strange Angels. I liked it so much that I gave it to my elder daughter as a generous gesture; her tastes being off-beat and eclectic, even more so than mine. She was horrified as if I’d given her a live scorpion. My younger son had a trick greeting card once. I think he got it in Malaysia. When you opened it, a dried scorpion leapt out on a concealed spring.

I’d place Laurie Anderson in whatever pantheon houses Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, only her irony is more acerbic. I don’t see Americans in general or the Nobel Prize committee taking her to their hearts.

Here are the lyrics to her “Hiawatha”. To listen to her unearthly rendition, click here (opens in a new tab).

By the shores of Gitche Gumee
By the shining big, sea water
Downward through the evening twilight
In the days that are forgotten
From the land of sky blue waters

And I said: Hello Operator, get me Memphis Tennessee
And she said: I know who you’re tryin’ to call darlin’
And he’s not home he’s been away
But you can hear him on the airwaves
He’s howlin’ at the moon
Yeah this is your country station
And honey this next one’s for you

And all along the highways
And under the big western sky
They’re singin’ Ooo oooooo
They’re singin’ Wild Blue
And way out on the prairie
And up in the high chaparral
They hear a voice it says: Good evening
This is Captain Midnight speaking
And I’ve got a song for you
Goes somethin’ like this:

Starlight Starbright
We’re gonna hang some new stars in the heavens tonight
They’re gonna circle by day
They’re gonna fly by night
We’re goin’ sky high. Yoo Hooooo hooo
Yeah yoo hooo Ooo Hooooooooo
So good night ladies
And good night gentlemen
Keep those cards and letters coming
And please don’t call again

Geronimo and little Nancy
Marilyn and John F. dancing
Uncle took the message
And it’s written on the wall
These are pictures of the houses
Shining in the midnight moonlight
While the King sings Love Me Tender

And all along the watchtowers
And under the big western sky
They’re singing Yoo Hooooo
They’re singing Wild Blue
And way, way up there, bursting in air
Red rockets, bright red glare
From the land of sky blue waters
Sent by freedom’s sons and daughters

We’re singing Ooo Hoooooooo
We’re singing Wild Blue
We’re singing Ooo Hoooooooo Ooo Hooooooooo

And dark behind it rose the forest
Rose the black and gloomy pine trees
Rose the firs with Cones upon them
And right before it beat the water
Beat the clear and sunny water
Beat the shinning big, sea water

 

Rooted here

kwithwidetree
Sunday July 29th 2007, near the prehistoric Ridgeway Path in Saunderton Lee: Karleen in front of a single beech tree, once part of a much-pruned hedgerow, then left to grow on its own

I’ve been hors de combat for a few days, still not fighting fit but enough sometimes to let my fingers walk across a keyboard. It’s time to explain what’s going on here at Wayfarer’s Notes. Some weeks ago I realized that its words, reader comments, links and pictures belong nowhere else but here. No e-book, no anthology in paper or hardback.

I’m slow to grasp what may be obvious to others, ever proceeding * by trial and error, obstinately persisting in mistakes.The fool who persists in his folly, that’s me. It’s the only way I know, but seems to work  in the end.

Just as man and all his fellow-creatures evolved specifically to live in the climates and land-masses of Earth, to migrate, mingle and multiply on terra firma, so did these writings evolve as a blog, discrete pieces each written to stand on its own, published across intervals of time. Occasionally they’ve reflected the seasons, or even world events; but I don’t see them as being anchored in time, merely parts of an ill-defined whole. They are rooted where they are: any attempt at transplant will only denature them. Why bother to migrate? Hannah Arendt asked a similar question, when space travel became a possibility:

The earth is the very quintessence of the human condition, and earthly nature, for all we know, may be unique in the universe in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice.

There’s vanity in being a book-writer, I’ve not been immune to it, and see no reason to call it a vice, but a legitimate spur and provocation to take up one’s lance, to joust at the lists, or vie for a place on the best-seller lists. There’s ambition: to be rewarded for one’s labour with a bid for fame or fortune. Maybe a shot at immortality, a means toward the denial of death, as I proposed when reviewing Ernest Becker’s book of that name:

. . . he succeeded in repressing death himself, by attaining personal distinction, proving superiority to the others and attaining a kind of immortality. What else is a Pulitzer Prize?

I prefer to be realistic, and admit that I do this for immediate satisfaction. One committed reader is spur enough. Failing which there’s my own self.

I’ve loved printed books from an early age, sometimes in loco parentis,  when left with them in lieu of a baby-sitter. They have a longevity which we mistake for permanence. They have a physical presence: you can use them to decorate your walls, recall their content by scanning their spines. And then again, there is the Internet, accessible from a small device which can fit in your pocket. I imagine it’s here to stay.

So, having decided to stay here, on this WordPress blog (just as Karleen and I have long decided to stay here, in this house, this neighbourhood, these Chiltern Hills), the thing to do is to improve the place and make it more welcoming. It wasn’t till I’d transferred every post, plus many illustrations and comments, into a single formatted Word document§, that I started to grasp a clear sense of its existence as a kind of unity. There are certain themes which run through its lifespan. They are its life-blood. They convey meaning and intent, as veins on a leaf convey water and nutrients, rising from the roots of a tree through myriad capillaries.

hosptree
From the local hospital, October 2010

I’ve never been constrained by any sense of what this blog is supposed to be about. It’s always arisen from the urge to write a post, in the context of this moment in space and time. The topics have been innumerable, but after all these years I’ve realized there’s no need to index them, when you can search a word or phrase. Come to that, WordPress offers the option to feature links to related posts, determined without human intervention.

Recently I set up a “console” showing a set of themes which in my judgement have permeated the writing of every post since the first in April 2006. They weren’t consciously chosen, but discovered retrospectively. Together I think it’s fair to say they are the reason I write. They link my life in an Ariadne’s thread of meaning.  Until I started, I had no idea where my thoughts would go. Following your nose like an excited dog takes you places you might not reach by other means. When you have no plan, and go where the feet take you, or let your fingers do the walking on the keyboard, you find answers to the question “Who am I?”. This gets us to the heart of true knowledge, as opposed to the hearsay we are taught. Ramana Maharshi says it’s the only spiritual path needed. When I know who I am I can be it more single-mindedly, not waste my life trying to be someone else. Nor should I side-track myself into pursuing any other ambition. Let my loyalty be to the moment. There can be nothing more strenuous. The reward is freedom. Everything else is escapism.

Freedom allows us to start again as often as we wish. As I proposed in a recently updated post ^,  true learning requires us to set aside preconceived ideas, and begin afresh. Every day a new beginning.


* in “Adaptation
from her prologue to The Human Condition, 1957, quoted in “Hannah Arendt on Action
from “The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker
§ 2,500 pages, 682,000 words, 416,000mb. Couldn’t upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing. It frequently crashes during updating. Compared to the native blog, it’s riddled with compromises.
Console
^Beginnings

a sort of quickly jotted psalm of thanksgiving

We cannot own love, only glimpse, feel it touch us, pass through, dwell in us.
We are more or less feeble receivers, picking up signals from an unnown transmitter.

Science is a petty thing before love, for it wants to know,
grasp, possess, dismantle to fragments
harness, claim, proclaim.
Yet science is a thing: wonderful, intricate, quasi-infinite in its macro- and micro- reach.

The fool has said in his heart, there is nothing, no one, no power greater than I.
When this “I” becomes small, it can enter through the eye of a needle
to see what has always been here, hidden in plain view.

What has to be done? No more and no less
than what you and I can do.
We are creatures. Yet in making
we can be raised up like prophets.

Something comes into being
that was not there before,
the miracle of creation re-enacted.
It is seen through the eyes, heard through the ears,
tasted, felt.

It is lauded and sung
through voice and writing hand.
It is described through the dancing of limbs.

If we are not grateful, we know nothing.
If we are grateful, we know how little we know.

are black & white swans mutually attracted?

swanpix
Left: the Swan River at Bassendean, where I lived to age 4; right: downtown where the river widens greatly. A black swan with her young at the water’s edge

I wanted to illustrate the kind of thought that can’t exist without language, and came up with “All swans are white” which any European might have said before discovering black ones in Australia.* It’s true that we depend on language a great deal. It lets us think all kinds of stuff, whether true (grounded in reality) or not. Our thinking and communication often loses track of that which has no words. Such as?—most of what goes on every microsecond across the universe, unrecorded and unexplained. Any physicists or neuroscientist who suggests that one day we’ll be able to explain anything and everything is talking like a priest, not a scientist: seizing on our readiness to pin our faith somewhere.

“All swans are white” is a proposition of logic, which can be either true or false. Karl Popper used it to illustrate a point about scientific method. The discovery of just one  black swan would prove it to be false. But he goes on to show that it’s easy to prove a scientific theory, but next to impossible to prove it true. There might be an exception that we haven’t discovered yet.

I see it rather differently. If you define a swan as an aquatic bird with a long neck and white plumage, it’s true. But if you want to be scientific, taxonomy and ethology would provide a definitive answer; the first as to whether white and black swans belong to the same species, the second as to how they behave towards one another. As humans, we easily recognize one of our own, despite ethnic differences; whether as a potential mate is a another story. In curiosity I looked this up and found a page on the RSPB website. It has this to say:

. . . However, if a given area is void of others swans of the same species, but does have other closely related wildfowl of the opposite sex, they are perhaps more likely to pair up and attempt to breed. The black swan is a nearer relative to the mute swan than any other swan species.

Black swans have therefore been recorded as producing hybridised young with mute swans, producing large mottled grey and white offspring. Not to be confused with juvenile mute swans! In addition, both black and mute swans have also hybridised with tundra, whooper and trumpeter swans and even greylag, snow and Canada geese!

From which I deduce that swans, aloof and superior as they seem to us—aristocrats among the aquatic birds—have no concept of “us, them & never the twain shall meet”. They prefer their own kind, but then, if it comes to it . . .

I started this ramble pursuing what kinds of thought are hard to share because we have no words for them. Since we have come to the animal kingdom (I mean the other animals) it’s worth speculating what kinds of thought they may have. There are the programmed instincts, and then the intuitions. In October, garden spidersI can’t think of a better word than intuition to describe the thought which comes nakedly wordless, when the head is untrammelled and receptive. There can be no better reason to go wayfaring.

I look at what I’ve written over the last twelve years, and how it has happened. Consciously I’ve tried to produce short pieces, each able to stand on its own, each a fresh beginning, each a fresh go at effing the ineffable. The goal was to please myself and an unknown reader, perhaps as yet unborn. The challenge was to capture thoughts flying in all directions, over the course of life, and frame them. But the unconscious motive, I now think, has been to address the question “who am I?” Such a simple question, yet one I’ve avoided most of my life; perhaps like most people, I don’t know. This, as I see it now, is the connecting thread that brings a unity into a collection of pieces amounting to 400,000 words.

The question can only be answered with intuition, which isn’t at the language-mind’s beck and call. As I write this, I realize I haven’t stepped into the outside world for days, out of a need for resting up.