Fighting the road

 Posted by at 4:35 pm  Hitting the Potholes  Comments Off
May 272014

Fighting the road and longing for the end. Pain: the accompaniment to life’s little troubles. Are we nearly there yet? Not far now. How far is it? Let’s play a game. Are we nearly there yet? Throw yourself into the battle, muscles cracking, screaming hurl yourself up that hill. Yes, I know, it looks like a vertical cliff to me too. Get your fingers in the crack, lever it open, cut through your complaining, whining mind, what’s a torn nail compared to the glories that await you. 

A gaggle of girls with their giggles and their wisdom lead us on to the doors cut in granite. Are we in Tolkein country? No not at all, see who’s over there. A second hand car salesman who looks suspiciously like Nigel Farage dressed up as a grinning baboon with a pint of bitter grasped in his  trembling fingers, or at least the residue of a pint of bitter. Standing back a little, muttering to each other, are the remains of the political elite, loosening their ties so they can breathe, sweating, their suits dusty and torn. And here, a rough and ready firing squad, volunteers, fingers twitching ready on the triggers of their newly acquired semi-automatic weapons.

Is it possible to get this door open? Is this another cul-de-sac? Is this another fine mess you’ve got me into? Shall I go and continue to fight the road or run and hide in the toilet until I can face language again, until the patterns settle, sentences form, meanwhile crouch and let gravity whirl me away.

May 232014
Harry K sat in a chair142

Parmenides of Elea (Παρμενίδης ὁ Ἐλεάτης; fl. 5th century BCE )- single known work is a poem: On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides describes two views: In “the way of truth” part of the poem he explains how reality (coined as “what-is”) is. In “the way of opinion,” he explains the world of appearances. (These ideas had a strong effect on Plato, and in turn, influenced… etc.) Part of the poem describes the journey to a very far place:

The mares that carry me as far as longing can reach
rode on, once they had come and fetched me onto the legendary
road of the divinity that carries the man who knows
through the vast and dark unknown. And on I was carried
as the mares, aware just where to go, kept carrying me
straining at the chariot; and young women led the way.
And the axle in the hubs let out the sound of a pipe
blazing from the pressure of the two well-rounded wheels
at either side, as they rapidly led on: young women, girls,
daughters of the Sun who had left the mansions of Night
for the light and pushed back the veils from their faces
with their hands.
There are the gates of the pathways of Night and Day,
held fast in place between the lintel above and a threshold of stone;
and they reach up into the heavens, filled with gigantic doors.
And the keys—that now open, now lock—are held fast by
Justice: she who always demands exact returns. And with
soft seductive words the girls cunningly persuaded her to
push back immediately, just for them, the bar that bolts
the gates. And as the doors flew open, making the bronze
axles with their pegs and nails spin—now one, now the other—
in their pipes, they created a gaping chasm. Straight through and
on the girls held fast their course for the chariot and horses,
straight down the road.
And the goddess welcomed me kindly, and took
my right hand in hers and spoke these words as she addressed me:
‘Welcome young man, partnered by immortal charioteers,
reaching our home with the mares that carry you. For it was
no hard fate that sent you travelling this road—so far away
from the beaten track of humans—but Rightness, and Justice.
And what’s needed is for you to learn all things: both the unshaken
heart of persuasive Truth and the opinions of mortals,
in which there’s nothing that can truthfully be trusted at all.
But even so, this too you will learn—how beliefs based on
appearance ought to be believable as they travel all through
all there is.’

(tr. Peter Kingsley In the Dark Places of Wisdom 1999)


 Posted by at 9:49 am  Holy Fool/Hero  Comments Off
May 232014

Hinges, articulations, joints, junctions. Eyes swivel suspiciously, uneasily. Danger is just around the corner. Waiting for me. Waiting for you. Itchy alert spine. Intestines on high alert. Alone I am unhinged, disarticulated, disjointed, broken, disjunctioned. The way through cannot be seen, imagined.

When I saw in a pre-election news sheet the Labour Party using the government’s phrase, hardworking people, I was very disappointed and in that moment realised that something much more was needed, that I needed something much stronger from them. Not to go along with Daily Mail propaganda. I want them to be leading the debate about what sort of world we should be valuing, what are the values that I could join with. There is what might be called a soft fascism sweeping Europe. Yes it’s a protest by those who feel sidelined, left out of the debate and the only people who are giving these protests a voice are those who would victimise identifiable groups such as immigrants, asylum seekers, the unemployed, those on benefits.

As the paradigmatic ideology of globalisation under the sway of multinational corporate capitalism begins to crumble (or at least the cracks are becoming visible) without any viable alternative in place the intensity of contested views, riots, and protest covering all shades of opinion, increase and tend towards violence. Anxieties and fears are cranked up, talked up by opportunistic politicians.

What sort of response can the Labour Party give? Perhaps nothing. Weakened by too many years worshipping at the trough of the City of London, ashamed of so much of what Blair/Brown did. It must be a sort of corruption.

Unhinged I flounder around seeking something to connect to. It’s got to make sense in a world where everything is subjected to doubt and scepticism.

Who are the craftsmen and women who can rehinge me? Where will I find them?

May 232014
Circe crop colour143

Lunch with this dreadful woman Agnes at the Made In Brazil. I had eaten so much pork, I had begun to feel like a pig. And my head was throbbing from the beer. That, and her incessant repetitive voice.

“Neck ya” she says. “Neck ya.” It sounded like that anyway . Greek, I thought, as she babbled on and on, or maybe she was reverting to a primitive form of Scots. Glaswegian. I couldn’t tell. I definitely wasn’t getting the signals: whatever it didn’t sound like an invitation to further intimacy. Thank God for that, I told myself.

But then I could have been wrong, I thought. Beyond knowing by now, half of me was ready for violence, half of me expecting to be kissed. How many beers had there been? I had lost count. That and the repeated visits out front for her to smoke another cigarette, and with it the chance for her to wave the smoking tip and shout more foul comments and abuse at the stall holders and passers by on the street. Time and again I had had to put my arm around her and take her back inside.

Be on your guard, I told myself. Be on your guard. But my defences were down and my mind was clouded over. I didn’t do drinking any more, I told myself. I certainly didn’t do drinking this much beer. Ever. And never ever at lunch time.

“Get this down you,” she says. She was holding out another bottle. There was a cut wedge of lime in its neck.

I hesitated. “Well,” she says. “Go on. It wont bite you. Go on.”

Strange, but that was exactly what I was thinking. Bite. Alcohol. Narcotic. Strong poison. Definitely enough to send a man down. Blind, or kill him. Or turn him wild. The thing was, I was becoming more and more attracted to the idea.Circe colour141

These days you wouldn’t call Agnes a fair-locked goddess. Once maybe long ago, she would have been a handful then, but her hair had paled and thinned, and she had long since lost that original grace, and the extraordinary lustre and gloss she had once had. She smelt bad too now, a mix of cigarettes, stale wine laced with spirit, beer and old perfume.

Come on, I kept telling myself over and over, there was only one word to describe her – dreadful. Dreadful. And yet.

I took the bottle from her, and peered down its neck. It was too dark to see anything. I noticed my hand was trembling. It was a fine tremor. I wondered if she had also seen, I asked myself, the pulse, pulse erection I was getting.

“Go on,” she repeats. I raised the bottle to my lips. Her voice went on and on, repelling without repelling, attracting without attracting. There was no way of reasoning any more. Golden garlic or the lily leek!

This moly stuff, I dimly recalled as I gave a loud belch and tasted the pungent flavour of raw onion in my mouth. Thank God for that.

Granny Dooms

 Posted by at 10:49 am  Echo Effects, Fundamental Perversions, OUT in the WILDERNESS  Comments Off
May 152014

Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Agnes joined me in the Made in Brazil north London café restaurant last Tuesday. I had gone there to write. “OK, I’ll have the feijoada”, she says, “but I am not drinking, so I’ll only have a beer.”

“You can’t smoke,” I say as she brought out a packet of ten and extracted a thin white cigarette. “Don’t tell me what I fucking can or can’t do,” she says fixing me with a dark stare. But she got up and went out of the entrance of the restaurant and stood on to the steps to the street.

A few moments later I heard her shouting at one of the stallholders on the street. “Join me in the Underworld. What’s that on your fucking T-shirt supposed to mean?” she says. There were several male voices but I couldn’t pick up anything of what they were saying.

Then I heard her kicking off some more, “I am here to eat pork you know,” she shouts. “So you know what you do with your Allah, don’t you?”. I got to her and put my hand around her waist and guided her back inside. She still had the cigarette in her right hand which she waved in front of her like a smoking gun, and I noticed the brown staining on her first two fingers. Her finger nails were stained and curved too. There was a roll of thunder.

“They could do with a fucking good lightning strike”, She says. Then she laughed, a mix of shriek and chesty heave. It turned to coughing. It reminded me of my grandmother.

“Lucky Strike”, I say. Granny Dooms I was thinking.

By coincidence I had also been thinking about lightning strikes a few days before. I’d got to the poem with the title ‘Dooms’ by Martha Sprackland (LRB 08 May 2014, P 7 ) about Roy Sullivan (1912-1973) who got hit by lightning 7 times. But to be frank I preferred the text I had found in The Lakeland Ledger Oct 23rd 1977 (P 7). Here is some of it under the headline Bolts from Sky High Have Struck Gentle, Upright Roy 7 Times

‘DOOMS, Va. – Roy Sullivan, bless his beleaguered heart, is as gentle and upright person as can be. He pays his bills, loves his family, goes to church, has never harmed a soul.

Why is it, then, that Roy Sullivan has been struck by lightning seven times?

Seven times. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap. Zap.

“Lordy, I wish I knew,” he said. “It’s awful. I don’t believe God is after me. If he was, the first bolt would have been enough…”

…After constructing 4 lightning rods… By Zeus, that ought to do it.

“Well, you don’t know. Lightning has a way of finding me.”

…Jolt number one came in 1942 in a lookout tower; number two in 1969 while driving his truck; number three in his front yard; number four in 1972 when the bolt searched him out through the fuse box; number five in 1973 when he thought he had outrun a storm and got out of his car to watch it; number six last year while checking a campground; number seven last July, fishing.

“Ever been shocked real bad? It’s worse. Ever been scalded? It’s much worse. It’s like being cooked inside your skin.

“Just before it strikes I smell a certain smell, like sulphur and my hair bristles all over. That’s the signal. In about two seconds, no longer than three, it hits. Too late to hide.”

…It does beat all. But good luck to you, Roy Sullivan, and pleasant dreams.’

Then I’d also read that Roy Sullivan died in 1983, but that bit wasn’t in Martha Sprackland’s poem either. He committed suicide – he had been unhappy in love – a single gunshot to the stomach: lightning strike and suicide.

“By Zeus that ought to do it,” Agnes says.

As a lad

 Posted by at 1:25 pm  Anti-Gravity Surgery, Fundamental Perversions  Comments Off
May 082014

As a lad I used to run on those mountains in spite of or maybe because of the abuse suffered soon after my birth – cast out to die on the mountain, abandoned amidst the bare, unyielding, ungiving rocks. No soft flesh to nourish me, merely a rare thistle to chew on, until a passing and laughing shepherd chanced upon me. I must have been grey with death. Perhaps he saw the glint of an eye like a lost coin catches the sun and promises a free lunch. A lost shepherd searching for his lost sheep only to find the burden of a son. Or bones for the stock pot. All because of some crazy oracle. Oh yeah, I know it all came true but that’s just chance. Sleep with my mother, murder my father! What sort of life is that? Of course I should have taken my chances and boarded the boat for Africa, made a fortune, become a king . . . Instead, well you know how the story turned out and here I am seeing only flashes of light and memories, groping around. Let me tell you, blinding yourself is not a good idea, better to cut your throat.

But there is always another point of view. It seems to me that I see better now. I can see what’s what. Of course you will say, is that an improvement, is that progress? Can I bear the weight of seeing how things are? Probably not. Seeing amounts to having responsibility and responsibility is crushing. 

But, here comes another point of view, old age is approaching. I realise that it’s tough to decide exactly when one becomes old. Except for one person on the planet there is always someone older than yourself. Allowing for the problem of definition there does seem to be the phenomenon of forgetting. Perhaps forgetting will allow the responsibility to slide off one’s sloping shoulders, one’s bent back will quiver and reject all attempts at the blame that others try to pile up on one’s shoulders. I forget. I can’t be held to blame for things that happened so long ago. And there is always that brave effort at claiming, I did my best.

So let’s get on with it. Let’s climb those hills and visit the oracle. Which oracle, you ask. Who cares, one is good as another. And I promise to keep quiet about what I can see. Unless.

May 052014

Afterwards I spoke with Agnes who served us coffee . She owned the bar called the Taverna Necromanteion (‘Taverna Death Oracle’) which we had found at the corner of the cross-roads of the village at the bottom of the hill.

Or rather was spoken to, as Agnes mostly talked rather than listened. “I’ve lived here more than thirty years”, she said speaking her English in a mysterious and not unattractive half-Greek and half-Glasgow Scottish accent. Her bar was modern and quite prosperous looking, the tourist buses stopped regularly, and several of the passengers, most of whom were old and many also overweight and infirm and unable to manage the walk up the hill, preferred to stop there sitting on the black sofas to talk with Agnes, or rather to hear her talk to them, and drink coffee and white spirit. While once a flaxen headed and wild beauty, Agnes now looked an aged and unhappy soul, judged by the lines and dark shadows around her sad eyes. Despite the evidence of prosperity in her bar she explained to us that business was bad. “The taxes are terrible”, she said rolling her ‘r’s, and that she longed to sell up and leave this damp, green and foul plain on which she had lived for the last 30 years. Not that she wanted to return to Glasgow. “I last went there for a week seven years ago”, she said. “It was terrible, expensive, and I couldn’t afford to live there”.

Geographically, we were now in the region of North Greece once called Epirus, and we were staying across the plain at a hotel located close to the banks of the fast running Acheron where it emerges from a steep sided gorge. It had been raining for several days now, the river waters had turned brown, and we had survived on a diet of beans and lupins, or some such well cooked food, and also delicious grilled meats that the local people put before us, before coming that morning to the village whose name is now Ephyra, and approaching the hillock in the middle of plain transected by four rivers (1.).

And close to the bay where, as some say (2.), Odysseus landed after he had parted from Circe (‘dread Goddess with a human voice’) on his quest to visit the Land of the Dead by way of one of the several entrances to the Underworld.

We walked to the summit of the hill where there is a church dedicated to St John the baptist, which is now suspended over a series extensive and massive walls, gateway, labyrinthan entrance, alcoves, chambers and rooms underneath that has been dug out in recent years, and is called the Acheron Necromanteion.

We found the church above closed and under repair, and I gathered several fir cones from beneath the surrounding trees on the hillside before entering the gateway to the place below. I did this because I dimly remembered that fir cones were once used to light the way of such places, and could also perhaps be left behind as offerings, or as payment as the custom goes for these crossings over.

So I gave one of these fir cones to each of my friends who wanted them. I observed that about half did, and half did not wish to receive them, and I also subsequently noticed that after we had visited below and a conversation had broken out among us as we stood on the top of the walls above as to what we had seen, our opinions were equally divided; those who had not taken a fir cone with them saying that we had seen and heard nothing, and those that had taken one with them saying that they had seen and heard something, and about the possibility of ghosts that come to drink the fresh blood of offerings that are made to them.

Although I had taken a fir cone to enter and indeed had left it below in the deepest chamber, I found myself reluctant to join in to this conversation. When asked at the end as to my opinion as to the meaning and value of a ‘Death Oracle’ , I found myself almost unable to speak as if there was a stricture at my throat.

“The dead appear to tell us that our task is to engage in our lives”, I managed to say finally.

Then on the way out of the labyrinthan entrance (3.), when I was alone with one of my friends, I held her hand as she wept for some minutes over the death of a relative who she told me was being buried that day, and somewhere far off, but not so far as we agreed together at that moment in the “split of time” as she had described it herself to us in the conversation earlier.

The next day it was still cold and it continued to rain heavily, there having also been a storm and lightning during the previous night. It was Sunday and I felt empty and strangely exhausted.

(1.) ‘the four rivers’
The Acheron (river of woe), The Cocytus (river of lamentation), The Phlegethon (river of fire), The Styx (river of unbreakable oath by which the gods swear), and The Lethe (river of forgetfulness)

(2.) The Odyssey Book 11, Vv 2-50 :
‘…When we had set the tackle in order fore and aft, we sat down, and let the wind and the helmsman keep her course. All day long with straining sail she glided over the sea, till the sun set and all the waves grew dark.
So she came to the deep flowing Ocean that surrounds the earth, and the city and country of the Cimmerians, wrapped in cloud and mist. The bright sun never shines down on them with his rays neither by climbing the starry heavens nor turning back again towards earth, but instead dreadful Night looms over a wretched people. There we beached our ship, and landed the sheep, and made our way along the Ocean stream, till we came to the place Circe described.
Perimedes and Eurylochus restrained the sacrificial victims while I drew my sharp sword from its sheath, and with it dug a pit two foot square, then poured a libation all around to the dead, first of milk and honey, then of sweet wine, thirdly of water, sprinkled with white barley meal. Then I prayed devoutly to the powerless ghosts of the departed, swearing that when I reached Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer in my palace, the best of the herd, and would heap the altar with rich spoils, and offer a ram, apart, to Teiresias, the finest jet-black ram in the flock. When, with prayers and vows, I had invoked the hosts of the dead, I led the sheep to the pit and cut their throats, so the dark blood flowed.
Then the ghosts of the dead swarmed out of Erebus – brides, and young men yet unwed, old men worn out with toil, girls once vibrant and still new to grief, and ranks of warriors slain in battle, showing their wounds from bronze-tipped spears, their armour stained with blood. Round the pit from every side the crowd thronged, with strange cries, and I turned pale with fear. Then I called to my comrades, and told them to flay and burn the sheep killed by the pitiless bronze, with prayers to the divinities, to mighty Hades and dread Persephone. I myself, drawing my sharp sword from its sheath, sat there preventing the powerless ghosts from drawing near to the blood, till I might question Teiresias.

(3.) 027