Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two Thousand and Six R.I.P.

Happy New Year

Best wishes for 2007. May it be better than all your preceding years, and not as great as 2008.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Christmas day was unusual for two reasons. I didn't go outside and I didn't spend any money. It was refreshing to be isolated, kept busy deflecting the boisterous energy of my two anarchic nephews and the charming, acute questions of my niece.

Other than this I've read from a new biography of Jim Morrison, by Stephen Davis, watched The Meaning of Life and Superman, listened to Christmas carols, Abba and Adam and the Ants, visited some horses (yesterday), kissed lots of French cheeks (relatives of my brother-in-law), blogged and surfed and eaten too much duck, twice. It's also been great to catch up with my sister too, though we've yet to have a deep and proper chat and I hope we can today. Each morning my exotic, kind brother-in-law and I make coffee together in the early hours and enjoy the pre-crepuscular silence.

My nephews still believe in the existence of the red suited, airborne charioteer, so it was sweet and fun to see them get excited by the evidence of his visit on Christmas morning.

I've also thought about watching my new 'Lennon and Harrison' DVD but haven 't got round to it. Maybe today. I must also start reading and ranking the 117 essays I have to finish by Jan 5th for the George Soros Slovak essay competition, and think about how to approach the Eng Lit class I'm teaching on January 4th.

I'll write about Barcelona after I return there on thursday. Enjoy this third day of Christmas, ye citizens of Planet Earth.

For the first time in 35 years, today is no longer my Dad's birthday. Or is that fair? Surely not. Surely it still is? Why not? Just because he's graduated to another dimension doesn't mean he wasn't once born here today, does it?

After all Jesus-Joshua's birthday lives on Millenia after his death, and he wasn't even born on the day we say he was; but I know when my Dad was born and he only died in January.

The sun is about to rise. Are you ready for today?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to all my readers,

May Christmas be a joy and a delight for you and your loved ones, and may 2007 be a year of blessing and happiness for you.

My love and peace to you, in hopes for the end of the shadow and the dream.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Where my Mum is this Christmas

This is where my dear Mother is currently to be found:

A vast, largely uninhabited land, belonging to no government, happily overrun by glacial fauna. Antarctica is perpetually cold and icy and a long way from Britain. Well, unless you live in that area of Britain coveted by Argentina, that is.

I admire Mum tremendously for going here on holiday. I shall for merely the second time since becoming aware of yuletide festivities be missing out on her succulent cooking.

This is my Mum's first Xmas away from the family in 43 years. She has indeed fully earned some Christmas respite.

I might have wanted to ask her to bring me home a baby penguin but I think that would have been a bit mean of me.

Myself, I go to Barcelona today. Then, the following day, I go to to Biarritz, to see my sister and her husband and their children.

I know litttle about Barcelona, but this will shortly change.

Partridges and Peartrees No More.

When I was a child, outside my bedroom were two posters, one displaying a nursery rhyme (Three Blind Mice), the other the xmas carol 'The Twelve days of Christmas'. The latter was there all year all year round, which you might think a bit odd, perhaps.

Click here to read or refresh yourself with the lyrics of this song. You can also listen to the song as well. As Christmas carols go, I think it's pretty hot, at least in terms of the tune. I especially like the way it gradually builds up into a Wagnerian crescendo, if you hear what I mean. Maybe a bit like the end of 'Bolero' by Ravel. Only, at the end you're left less with the feeling that the whole world has been exhausted.

Not sure the lyrics do much for me though; which was why I was amused and delighted to discover, after the recent death of my dear Father (R.I.P), a different version of the songs lyrics, written by his good self.

At moments they show their age (penned in the early 80s), with the reference to 'memos' not emails and 'phone-booths'. But then, nobody asked time to move so flipping fast, least of all my Dad. Originally, when he wrote these lyrics, Dad's version had the name of the owner of the company that he worked for, instead of 'my love'. This company was not the best of the generally unsatisfactory jobs he endured since our family firm was sold to an American company, St.Regis, in the early 1970s.

Here it is anyway. His version:

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A five-part travel permit form.

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven rusty kettles
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight sub-committees
Seven rusty kettles
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me Nine Ex-directors
Eight sub-committees
Seven rusty kettles
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten flexi-time sheets
Nine Ex-directors
Eight sub-committees
Seven rusty kettles
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven tons of memos
Ten flexi-time sheets
Nine Ex-directors
Eight sub-committees
Seven rusty kettles
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve cuts in salary
Eleven tons of memos
Ten flexi-time sheets
Nine Ex-directors
Eight sub-committees
Seven rusty kettles
Six blocked up windows
Five redundancies
Four faulty copiers,
Three clapped-out phone booths
Two fire alarms,
And a five-part travel permit form.

More about my Dad later. Perhaps on January 9th, the first anniversary of his death. We weren't really that close, in terms of conversation and doing things together. But I always admired him tremendously, even though I would disagree with him at times. His main legacy must be the freedom he extended to me in not putting any pressure on me at all to be x or y or z.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Introducing The Sun

In Defence of Christmas

It's the time of the year when the value of Christmas is debated. So here is my oar, stuck in.

Because of Xmas some families come together and unite at least once a year, despite the possible fraughtfulness and insincerity.

Television schedules tend to be more focused in terms of 'quality' content (though quality is a relative word of course). This may be debatable.

When the institution of the birthday seems in decline, it remains an opportunity for people to give to one another, something they might not otherwise do.

You don’t have to buy ANY of the stuff the corporate advertising machine suggests you have to. You can simply enjoy the sight of street Christmas lighting while it lasts.

You get time off from work, for no reason, for doing nothing. If you are not self-employed, you will even get paid for this.

Even people who don’t drink much get drunk, which must be good for their spirits. People can get fat with a good conscience, too.

People look after the homeless slightly better than normally.

You can wear cracker crowns and be reassured, once again, that the jokes from crackers still haven’t improved.

You can give roof and shelter to a tree. Even though you have to uproot it first, which is a bit of a bummer for the tree, I suppose.

It snows, sometimes.

It is a good and reasonable thing, in my opinion, to celebrate the birth and incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, in the person of Joshua BarJoseph

Yes, Joshua (Jesus, if you want to be Greek about it) probably wasn’t born in December. But who knows when he was (March/September?). One might as well associate his birth with the return of the sun, post winter solstice. Yes, Christianity stole and transformed Pagan sites and festivals. But at least it kept the memory of them alive in doing so. Depaganisation might have been even worse. Think John Calvin from the start.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Zed and Jules

I am not, as a rule, a producer of fiction, since I don't have much of a facility for plot development. It's true, as I wrote earlier, that I don't find 'stories' that interesting. In the books and films I like I'm far more interested in moments of dialogue and character depiction than in the unfolding of any given plot. Anyway, I thought I'd put a bit of dialogue down here, which I wrote two months ago. The theme is in no way original. I will confess that outright.

It is immaterial to me where the scene takes place, but preferably somewhere with comfy armchairs. I am happy to accept that it might be considered a ‘pile of old: choose your noun.’

J: Ok, shall we start?

Z: Sure, whenever you're ready.

J: I Just hope this recording device works. Testing testing ….yeah, its fine, right

Z: How’s your coffee?

J: Er, fine I think, yes good…yours?

Z: Very nice, thank you. It is good to drink coffee.

J: Indeed.

Z: Shall I kick off the proceedings or would you like to begin?

J: Er, I think I can manage, thanks…I think we’ve already begun, haven’t we?

Z: So it seems, yes (laughter)

J: Right, Zed, is it ok if I call you Zed?

Zed: That’s fine, absolutely..why not. Zed is a marvellous name. Thank you for giving it me. You show yourself to be a man of taste.

J: Why, thank you sir

Zed: Isn’t this the point where everyone shouts “get on with it”?

J: It may be yes. It may very well be. Right, Zed, so, how long now it it that yiou have been observing the life of homo sapiens on Planet Earth?

Zed: Ten years, 3 months and 21 days. I must say it has been a wonderful experience. Thank you so much for having me. I have found your Planet unusually intriguing, if in need of a little tender loving care. Thank you.

J: Please don’t mention it. It has been a joy to know you Zed, to have had you with us.

Zed: It is good to know that one can be a cause of joy; this is very reassuring.

J: Zed, may I ask what you were doing before you began to observe us?

Zed: I was at home. I had just finished redecorating our village hall. I guess this is what you could call it. You see, we were preparing for one of our more lavish celebratory festivals. I was busy, right up to the day I accepted the challenge to come here, in fact. However, it has been so good to be here Jules, so lovely. Such a shame I’ll be going home soon. So sad, despite the fact I look forward to being amongst my own kind again and returning to my former body.

Jules: May I ask where “Home” is Zed?

Zed: Well, for the last 2 years it has been your charming basement, hasn’t it? The one you had spruced up for me so nicely. But no, I see what you mean. Before I came to this planet, my Home was Groffan, near Twagbin on the planet Leefthrug. Do you know Leefthrug?

Jules: No, I’m afraid I don’t, sorry.

Zed: Hmmm I didn’t think you would… No matter. But you really must come and visit some time. If you do, I can assure you, you will be most welcome.

Jules: Why thank you Zed, you are very kind.

Zed: You think so. Really? I’m not so sure. It’s all relative, of course. If you think I’m kind you should meet Klack. She’s awesomely kind, really she is. It's astonishing in fact.

Jules: Zed, would you like a refill?

Zed: Oh yes, please, your coffee is terrific.

Jules: So Zed, would I be mistaken in saying that you're an alien from another planet who came here in peace to observe life on our planet.

Zed: That’s right Jules, you’ve got it in one, you are amazing; though I’ve only been interested in studying human behaviour it must be said.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Elf at last

Me as an Elf

Happy Buildup to Christmas

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Francis John McConnell seems fairly sound and sorted:

"We need a type of patriotism that recognizes the virtues of those who are opposed to us. We must get away from the idea that America is to be the leader of the world in everything. She can lead in some things. The old "manifest destiny" idea ought to be modified so that each nation has the manifest destiny to do the best it can - and that without cant, without the assumption of self- righteousness and with a desire to learn to the uttermost from other nations."

As usual, the middle path between two extremes shines the greater light, waking us up from our delirious dreams.

Apparently, England have to score 557 runs in two days to avoid re-instating its traditional practice of losing the Ashes. Is 279 run a day too much to ask ? Surely not. May the spirit of Botham descend.

I reflect, amused, on how this talk of 'runs' and the 'Ashes' may be confounding my American readers. By way of a clue, think of the sport cricket (not the insect), which is a little (a very little) like your baseball but less frenetic and more gracious.

Prostrators in Boudnath -August 2005

I wonder if this will work.

Yesterday in a nightclub I was told that I'm not Shakespeare. Yes, you're right I thought. Nor is my first name William. I think my friend thought that I think I'm a better writer than I am; that this was the reason my posts, especially my recent ones, have been 'too long'. I don't think I'm a 'better' writer than Shakespeare, but I am a different writer. He seemed particularly taken aback when I said I didn't want to be Shakespeare. It was as if he thought everyone should want to be Shakespeare, that it is a kind of blasphemy not to want to be him. Intriguing. Do you want to be Shakespeare?

The video was shot by me, even though it now belongs to You Tube. In fact, everything out here in my virtual domain belongs to someone else - well, apart from my ideas. But even they came from somewhere else, just like my brain.
It depicts Buddhists prostrating at, and walking around, Boudnath Stupa in Kathmandu in September 2005.

It was too crowded to dance much last night. I didn't want to flail around and hit people and spill my beer. Nice to see Stetson hatted ladies gyrating on the bar, however. Can we have this more in England please?

Friday, December 15, 2006

On Love

A few weeks ago I had an exchange with someone about the nature of love. She wishes to remain anonymous but permitted me to reproduce our conversation here. I liked the questions she asked, and how they made me respond and formulate my thoughts on love. Our conversation also involved Krishnamurti, whom she began by quoting, since she felt he expressed what she wanted to say. I begin by responding, then, to Krishnamurti.

"to be sensitive is to love. the word love is not love. and love is not divided as the love of god and the love of man, nor is it to be measured as the love of the one and of the many. love gives itself abundantly as a flower gives its perfume; but we are always measuring love in our relationship and thereby destroying it"

Yes, I like what is said here about how the love of god and of man should be united. It's interesting how the phrase 'love of god', though, can be interpreted in two different ways. Does it mean our love for God, or God's love for us? Presumably it can mean both, but often it's not clarified what's meant. I like to think that we should love others unconditionally in the same way that God loves us. I also believe, more controversially, that to God, it is more important that we love one another than that we love him/her (has God a gender?). After all, God is strong and does not need our love for his own needs (even though he'd quite like the affection, I suppose). More important is that we love one another. You will note that this somewhat turns upside down religion's obsession with worshipping and praising God all the time. But how can we love one another when we don't actually feel love for each other, but only indifference or hatred. Ahhh there's the rub. Is it that we should love inauthentically, insincerely, it may be asked. Well, no, but just acknowledging that one should love all people and ones 'enemies' is a start, even if you cannot do it. But I'm against guilt, or feeling bad for one's failings. On the other hand, just because universal love is difficult, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to attain it.

"love is not a commodity of the reformer or the social worker; it is not a political instrument with which to create action. when the politician and the reformer speak of love, they are using the word and do not touch the reality of it; for love cannot be employed as a means to an end, whether in the immediate or far-off future. love is of the whole earth and not of a particular field or forest."

Yes love is of the all, but that said love can also be, within that, for each particular 'field' and 'forest' expressed in a unique shape and form, reflecting the nature of that singular field or forest, the relationship between the lover and that beloved shape and form. I may get paradoxical about love sometimes. I may sound like I am in favour of universal love, while at other times I may sound like I'm being critical. But if I'm critical of universal love it is only of a particlular conception of it that would impose a monolithic, uniform type of love over all things and peoples; a love which doesn't respond in a living, sensitive way to who is being loved and by whom. See what I mean? Whilst I am against jealousy and partiality and in favour of universal love, this love must reflect the specific, individual natures of who is loved and by whom. Otherwise love becomes both diluted and a bit of a chore, or drudgery maybe. An objection to universal love, that it can become abstract and unreal, is certainly a valid one.

"the love of reality is not encompassed by any religion; and when organized religions use it, it ceases to be. societies, organized religions, and authoritarian governments, sedulous in their various activities, unknowingly destroy the love that becomes passion in action."

True, though I'm not aware of any non-religious organisations, at least today, speaking of love in their daily business. I can see that religions twist the love of God and our duty to love others into very bizarre shapes, and I could even imagine some authoritarian Government using an appeal to 'love' to oppress the populace and marginalize sections of it. Despite the need for vigiliance, however, I think an extreme privatization of love, such as we find today, whereby it's not spoken of publicly, except concerning eros, in the context of dating agencies and the commercialization of romantic advice, is also problematic since this upholds the feeling that it is not incumbent upon us all to love all people, including our 'enemies'. I know people might (especially in the UK) freak out in waves of cringeing embarrassment at the thought that we should talk of love in the public sphere. This, however, I think, is because of our sentimental, self-indulgent, narcissistic understandings of what love is.

"in the total development of the human being through right education, the quality of love must be nourished and sustained from the very beginning. love is not sentimentality, nor is it devotion. it is strong as death. love cannot be bought through knowledge; and a mind pursuing knowledge without love is a mind that deals in ruthlessness and aims merely at efficiency."

Krishnamuti sure has his finger on the button. We shouldn't, in the public world, be ashamed of non-erotic forms of love (not, of course, of eros either). Talk of love, in its spiritual, unconditional, non-preferential applications, should be as natural, more natural even, than our talk of law and rights. Love is that context for feeling and engagement that can give knowledge an appropriate structure, purpose and goal. Knoweldge without a context of love is mere information, a dead thing, without shape, coherence or life. It is the brain data of a machine. Machines will be ruthless because machines care only for bottom lines. They will destroy what stands in the way of maximal efficiency. But efficiency is valueless without a purpose.

"so the educator must be concerned from the very beginning with this quality of love, which is humility, gentleness, consideration, patience and courtesy. modesty and courtesy are innate in the man of right education; he is considerate to all, including the animals and plants, and this is reflected in his behaviour and manner of talking." ~ J. Krishnamurti

Did you know that in his early life Krishnamurti was lionized as the world Messiah by the Theosophical community? But he said no, go lionize elsewhere. Bit like Jesus in the desert being offered power by Satan, maybe.

Then she spoke to me directly:

"what do you understand love to be? i understand love to be a deep concern for everything and everyone. i don't believe love is something that can be separated or defined differently for different circumstances or as something that is measurable. you either know what it is and express it with everything you do, or you don't. don't wait for the 'right' people or 'right' situations and be particular with who or what you choose to love. that's not love. what's the worst that could possibly come from being concerned with the well-being of everyone and everything you come into contact with? and if everyone did the same, would you not benefit as well?"

I agree with you. I've touched on some of these issues above. But a question is what to do if you don't know what love is, and so can't express it. Yes, love can't be measured but surely it's different with different people, for different people. Otherwise you are not really loving a specific person but just a universal abstraction which you are fitting the beloved into. We need to keep a balance been the idea of universal non-discriminating love on the one hand, and on the other the idea that love is responsive to detail and reflects unique individuals. Does this make sense? Love is and is not a duty. We have a duty as a culture, I believe, to try to become universally loving people. But if you are not capable of such a love, obviously there can be no shame or punishment. I don't believe in punishment at all by the way. Just in restraining the dangerous for the sake of others; but there is no self-righteous ideology in this, as in punishment.

"but here's the tough question. how do you teach love to those who have no idea what it is? 'those' being A LOT of people - anyone who intentionally harms another person whether it be physically or emotionally...or anyone who is indifferent or apathetic...anyone who is selfish, greedy, corrupt."

The cause of this ignorance about love needs to be identified. It is, I believe, a degradation and deterioration of consciousness to a level of awareness much beneath that which it should be on. This degradation informs our educational, legal and commercial practices, wherein the 'best', most intelligent and respected of our cultures display to the learning, growing minds of the young a world based on self-interest, competition and war; which the young then seek to imitate. And so the cycle spins. Degraded consciousness moulding, informing degrading consciousness. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to Children, as it does to any who defend the mystic jewel within and, like William Blake, can see 'infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour'. To awaken people to a higher level of consciousness becomes the challenge. I think most people are like sheep. Indifferent, apathetic, selfish, greedy and corrupt because they see others, who are often set up as examples (leaders, but also teachers and parents) being these things. So they reason: why should I be different? Clearly, this is how you get on in the world. I'm not trying to excuse but to explain. We all have the opportunity and responsibility to change but I'm trying just to account for how things are.

Part of the problem is the belief in something called 'human nature'. This is understood, essentially, to be animalistic and driven by a particular neo-darwinian imperative regarding the survival of the fittest. This is a theoretical justification that is often wheeled out for selfishness. Religion traditionally has given humanity the means by which to aspire to a higher level but Religion is now bankrupt and decadent. It speaks only to the already converted or else to those easily susceptible to sentiment, I find.

"is it just a matter of being the example, showing love to those who you know will not return it, who will reject it in fact because they don't understand it? is it worth it? is it fair to say that if you truly understand love, you won't be hurt or impatient or resentful just because someone doesn't do the same? since you know they do not understand, this allows you to keep on loving anyway, does it not?"

Well, love should not expect to be returned. Obviously, in the context of romance one is wanting reciprocation but even here relationships work best when need is absent and when there is a celebration of one's own fullness alongside the fullness of the other in the context of a shared freedom. As for non-romantic love, certainly there should be even less thought about the need for reciprocation. In this love, one is making a stand in the universe, saying I want love to be the universe and so I shall be love towards the universe. One does this as an act of existential creativity, of defiance against death and hatred. Even if one fails one still does it because the alternative is always worse. The thing is, if enough people had this stance there could be no way that love would not become the universe. Does this make sense? So yes you wouldn't feel hurt, impatient or resentful if others whom you love hadn't yet learnt what you know about love. Indeed, your not being resentful is one of the ways that you shine the light. There is a great line attributed to Jesus in the heretical Gospel of Thomas – "There is light at the center of a man of light. If he does not shine there is darkness." Simple but wonderful. Obviously this applies to women too.

"but seriously, is there anything else we can do to help people understand what love is and why it is so necessary? our very existence on this planet depends on it."

Hope I've covered my main points. You have any other ideas? Yes, our survival does depend on it but fear does not help. It is a cancer at the heart of hope, the enemy and opposite of love. I have to go to sleep now. I have to teach a guy at the Slovak Parliament in the morning.


That was the guts of our exchange. I didn't hear back from her for awhile, but when I did, she said she had modified her views, saying that she now felt that education was the important thing. I agreed that education (of the right kind) is vital too, and mentioned that I thought John Lennon was wrong when he said that "All you need is love".

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Women and desire : Part II

Last Friday I was teaching my students at the bank about language useful for meetings. After that was done, we practiced. I decided we'd draw up an agenda of things to discuss and suggested as a first item Bratislava's congestion problems. I then asked my students what other points we'd like to discuss. Jason suggested we return to the more important concern- what do women want? Samantha smiled and laughed, having had no knowledge of our earlier discussions, but agreed to this.
After taking us masterfully through a range of possible congestion solutions, politely dismissing my off-beam suggestion that we fly to work in private airplanes, Samantha handed the chair over to Jason, who asked for Samantha's opinion on the vital question at hand, after we had summarized our earlier thoughts on the subject.

She agreed with the points made on Wednesday but wanted to add a thought of her own – women want to feel that men give them enough space to develop as they feel fit, as they wish, that women feel that the man is not overly controlling of them, and that the manner by which they protect and are devoted to them does not interfere with the granting of that freedom.

So there it is then. All wrapped up and sorted. Well, except that I should mention Gulliver's contribution of last night. That women want men to make them feel uniquely special and important in the man's eyes, to be specifically attentive to them in a focussed way. Maybe we can file that away under the desire for 'devotion'?

Another thing I did with my students was teach them about writing stories. If any of my native English speaking readers are like I was before I trained to be a language teacher, you won't even know what the 'past continuous' is, let alone how if differs from or relates to the 'past perfect' or the 'present perfect'. All three of these are tenses, which one hopes you masterfully employ on a regular basis without knowing it.

Stories, as you may have noticed, usually happen in the past (simple stories anyway). For a writer this makes life easier, since you don't have to worry about two thirds of the absurdly complex English tense system. What, you don't think its complex? Go grab your nearest Slav and ask his opinion.

I walked (past simple)
I was walking (past continuous)
I had walked (past perfect)
I had been walking (past perfect continuous)

Unless you want to get all passive about stuff:

I was walked (past simple passive)
I was being walked (past continuous passive)
I had been walked (past perfect passive)
No, you can't do past perfect continuous passive, unless you want to say "I had been being walked". Do you?

These four past tenses (the so called 'narrative tenses') are all you have to worry about –as long, that is, as you avoid direct speech, which can then wheel in the other two thirds of the labyrinth in whatever way you want.

So, by avoiding direct speech, avoiding complicating chit chat in your story, you can simply focus on these four tenses (or seven if you might want to go passive) and sigh a very big sigh of relief that you don't have to bother about the mother of all tense nightmares, the Present Perfect and her even worse Grandmother, the Present Perfect Continuous:

I have walked
I have been walking

Simple stories remember, simple stories, I'm talking simple. For those learning to write, ok? So no comebacks, please, about how you can use the Present Perfect, for example, if you are alluding to your own or others' general life and experiences –for example in your preamble to your narrated past events. Phew!

Right. Keeping things simple, the things to know about these tenses in straightforward stories can be briefly summarised thus:

Use the present simple to talk about completed events that happened at a specific, finite time (at 8.30 yesterday I spotted some fine breasts) or to talk about sequential events that follow from others, as it were, step by step from the past towards the present (I picked up a marshmallow, but then I spotted some fine breasts and dropped it into my uncle's soup).

Use the past continuous to give the general background to your story (I was sitting on my balcony stroking my chin and all the birds were singing joyfully), or use it to give the background event or action to some other specific event which interrupts it (I was happily stroking my chin when I spotted some fine breasts) or use it (if you want, you don't have to) to describe what happened between two times or during a particular past time period (for the whole of the flight to Vegas I was sweating most profusely).

Use the past perfect to talk about something that happened before something else that happened in the past. Got that? (I missed my train because I had been preoccupied by the sight of some very fine breasts). Actually, I am suspecting that the past perfect gradually dies out, but don't tell Cambridge that, ok? I find it most useful in talking about causation, explaining why x,y, or z happened. You can get round it if you use shorter sentences, however, and if you use time referencing words like 'before' or 'earlier' etc. Still, there will always be occasions when it really has to be used.

Anyway, I thought I'd test my students' story writing skills and gave them free reign to write me a story about anything they liked, anything at all. I also said I'd write them a story, just to keep them company. None of them, however, wrote about sweat, marshmallows or breasts, not even I.

What I did write was this:

"Two weeks ago 2 million Martians were traveling across space on their way to Planet Earth. They were looking forward to conquering the human world and hoping we would all be asleep when they arrived.

Yesterday evening they arrived in the skies of England, just as Bolton were defeating Manchester United in a crucial Premiership match.

The Martians had never watched a football match before. They were very intrigued by the short trousered gentlemen, their antics, and the importance they seemed to place on the possession of a small, spherical object.

They decided they had been missing out on much in life and returned peacefully to the red planet, awestruck at how simpler it must be to play football than to conquer planets.

They will not be troubling the citizens of the blue planet again, but have begun to erect temples in honour of their new footballing religion."

A Light in the Darkage

I will return to the subject of women and desire, and give you feedback on Samanthas's views on this epic question, but for now wish to re-introduce you to the darkage blog, which is my favourite blog in terms of intellectual, philosophical and political content. This is the opening paragraph of longswords most recent entry, "Consuming the Future".

"We are already history's past men and women. The sooner we wake up to this fact, the less trouble we will make for the world, for those generations who must succeed us, and for the coming new era. The hollow conceit and vanity of our belief that we have arrived at "the end of history", at the final destination and accomplishment of all historical process -- that precisely we represent the future, and are the last word of the pronounced syllables of time; that we regard ourselves as the end goal of all social evolution, and even of the evolution of consciousness itself -- all this is so much fatal delusion, vain self-regard, self-flattery, self-deception, chauvinism and narcissism. We have become, rather, parasites on the earth and we feed upon even all future generations and their inheritance. Our conceit is so unlimited, our cupidity and avarice so boundless it seems, that we even presume to consume the future as if it were our preserve, to consume value which has not yet even been realised, as if the future also belonged to us and our appetites. Through various inventive financial instruments of credit and debit, we devastate and lay waste a future world and its values which have not been created. And we even seek to pre-empt and prevent from becoming effectual and real at all competing futures and alternative possibilities for the sake of our appetites and our self-interest. We have become truly disgusting."

What I like most about longsword's site is that he doesn't flinch at all from the degree to which things are now extremely dire for human civilization while remaining nonetheless, ultimately, an optimist who can see purpose and meaning in history and humanity and offer an original diagnosis of our ills. As to what can be concretely done to reverse our decline, he is not that forthcoming, but generally locates the fault, as do I, in a defect in consciousness and awareness related to our reductive 'narrow visioned' obsessions, inherited from modern science, which issue so universally in the narcissism and self-insulation we see raging everywhere around us.

Anyway, read him for yourself, but let it not be said that there are none who hold a torch to the despair of our times and spread light in the darkness.

His prose is almost unremittingly serious but in a style that is very cogent and easy to read. I believe he is, like Bertrand Russell for example, a master at explaining what otherwise might seem obscure or inaccessibly 'deep' ideas. I'm not sure if he would be happy to see himself as a populariser of profound thought. But he certainly doesn't inhabit an ivory tower. His lack of jargon, his rejection of that alienating, convoluted, lifeless prose style so common amongst academics, is very refreshing to me.

He can also be funny and kind, which are always crucial ingredients in a thinker, I find.

On Women and Desire

This morning I was teaching my delightful students from a Slovak bank for the fourth morning in a row. Two men and one woman. They are supposed to be 'intermediate' in their knowledge. While I can accept this because of their dodgy knowledge of our elaborate yet beautiful tense system, I find it challenging to remember (and often even to believe) that they are at this level, given the wonderfully interesting discussions we have been having.

Yesterday was particularly fruity on account of the absence of Samantha (not her real name). Would we have traversed the old question (focussed famously upon by Freud in 1933) – "what do women want", if she had been present? Perhaps not, though we have vaguely determined to bring her into the debate tomorrow, our final day together.

Apparently, those who shun complexity will be happy to know, there really is no mystery at all, not at least to Ferdinand and Jason. Both, unlike me, are attached, Jason being married, Ferdinand having had his girlfriend for a significantly long period. Apparently, so they concluded, what women primarily want is to be protected by a man, because women are "weak". Secondarily, what they want is for their men to be devoted to them. Jason was happy to accept as a third ingredient in this soup of desire the need for a man to satisfy their needs for emotional dependency, which is what Susie Orbach and Luise Eichenbaum, the authors of "What do women want" seemed to be saying when I looked at that book (much to Amy's withering amusement) in the mid 90s.

Jason told me that though he had long accepted the strength of the desire for a 'protector' in women, he said that this had now been proven for him in a recent survey he'd read.

Hmmm. So what do we all think of this then, boys and girls?

As a man raised in a matriarchal family, wherein the three females (my Mum, and two sisters) have always been dominant, to my perception anyway, it goes against the grain to think that women are weak enough to need protecting. Personally, of all those people whom I have felt seeking to wield power over me, most have been women. This, in one sense makes me constitutionally very feminist since I assert and uphold the reality of female power. I do not consider women to be weak at all. But in another sense my feminism is rather strange, since feminism's primary axiom, that women have been oppressed and are still oppressed, doesn't ring true to me when I reflect on the experience of my own life. Indeed, if anything, I wonder if sometimes, or even often, particularly nowadays, it is from the reality of female power that men need to protect themselves.

On the other hand I can grant that my Family may be a little unusual, much though I love it (perhaps the unusualness is partly why I love it). And I do see that a patriarchal dispensation has been in place and dominant for most of recent history (by recent I mean the past few thousand years); and, also, that in many parts of the world today men still act and feel like stilted, puffed up peacocks in their attitudes towards women, in their belief in the alleged stupidity, untrustworthiness, duplicity, carnality, over-emotionalism and basic irrationality of the ladies.

Anyway for both of these reasons - because a) I believe that women are not weak and b) because I resent arrogant male oppression of women – I found myself reluctant and unwilling to accept the proffered undoubtable wisdom of Jason and Ferdinand.

But I'm not really interested in what I think. What I really want to know is what women think about Jason and Ferdinand's ideas. I should make it plain that they are very nice, gentle and charming men, by all accounts.

In any case, we shall perhaps hear from Samantha tomorrow.

Musings of an eighteen year old Gentleman

I thought I might post online one of the first things I ever wrote, of a self-consciously 'creative' nature at least. Something that also a) wasn't intended for a teacher or any other authority and b) had a certain value in my eyes and was felt by me to have expressed myself well.

It was written to my good friend Adam Lidster sometime in late 1989, shortly after I turned 18. I believe he had earlier voiced sentiments in the direction of the imperatives of carpe diem - to seize the day that is, and not let life slide by.

Actually one line of his I still recall...

"We must clutch onto the things we want to keep before the years swallow them." Simple yet appealing, like his music, which he regrettably has now forsaken.

Anyway, this is what I wrote.

"Dear Adam,

You refer to our standing at the brink of life, with the key unused in our inhibited palm – too true. And who will thank us, who listen, who care, who understand when aged sixty or whatever we consider the lost opportunities, when we contemplate the immense harm our passivity has wrought.

"The strength of a nation lies in its youth."

As I see things it's a question of spirit. Unfettered by the hassles of life : illness, conventions, duty, family, age, personal inhibitions, systemised employment, selfishness and lack of honesty and frankness the human spirit would climb to unbelievable heights, creating actualisations of our most potent visions of utopia. For would you agree, can you imagine the impossible?

Given what we've got and within our asset's scope we can create the perfect world for a perfect living. A human's desires are simple: Food, shelter, drink, love and fraternity, stimulation of personal interests (reading, sport, whatever).

Everyone would do the job they were best at and this would be what they wanted to do. All would ensure that other people found the perfect post. None would be alone.

Mysteriousness, darkness, morbidity, selfishness, anxiety would vanish since discussion would be radically open.

Nobody will harbour secrets, yet privacy will be retained and purified. All will recognise that life is "shared". Nothing will stand to cause dread in the hearts of men.

There would be no hunger since people would appreciate the gorgeous nourishment and authentic satisfaction derived from sustaining others.

People will realise that when your neighbour suffers, you suffer, since existence is a shared phenomenon.

Individuality would flourish since nobody would have to be anything other than what they are. The diversity that will grow would be authentic and therefore spectacular.

Such a world, the real object of our hearts desire, would reflect and embody our innate potentialities. This is the world that haunts me.

We consider ourselves "individuals", not part of the whole. We don't care about those many whose love has not invaded our hearts (in fact, for convenience sake, we'd quite like to abolish love and replace it with "mutual respect"). We hate those we don't understand (they disturb the placidity of our ego's). We claim as much of the world for our own as we possibly can. We scoff at profundity and debase life. We are small minded and hopelessly self-conscious.

You think you're sick. I know I'm mad but in ways one has to be.

Why do we remain cluttered old wrecks begging the eternal footman to strike us down a little sooner and spare us this pain?


I am sure I must have included in the original letter some other kind of everyday references to our life at the his working as a shelf stacker at Tesco's, for example, and to my ongoing efforts to orientate my head around the facts that my Family had moved from Cambridge to deepest darkest Suffolk, and that I had to find things to do before I left for my South American trip.

As you may note I was a bit of a utopian in my youth. I remain one today, though I ally this now to a calm, cautious scepticism towards any kind of distemperate, unbalanced, naievely optimistic (or else despair-addled) activism that might conceivably repeat the dreadful errors played out by the utopianisms of Lenin, Hitler and Mao (for example). This, in effect, makes me a conservative revolutionary, I suppose. That oxymoronic paradox consoles me that whilst I may have my head in the clouds, my feet remain in touch with the earth, mingling with the ants.

Night Owl

I can't sleep, so guess what? I'm writing more of my blog.

Actually, I've often wondered whether going to sleep at, say, 7pm, shortly after work, and then waking at about 2am might be a better use of ones's time; better to enjoy the peace and quiet of the dark hours in any case.

Four hours or so of undemanding, utter calm in one's environment, wherein distractions will be few (depending on how international one is in one's range) seem the perfect opportunity, in the midst of the cacophonous helter skelter that is the technobabblish, urban west, to find peace of mind and solace of soul; and, moreover, to get on undisturbed with whatever one needs do, or wishes to do, of a solitary nature. Does that sound kinky?

In addition, one will be fully awake when one starts one's day job, energised by the preceding hours of mirthful absorption in whatever.

Anyway, voices of dissent no doubt will arise regarding the call of social life, the need to 'go out' and mingle in the hours of early darkness. Fair enough. But every night? Of course, maybe this notion is easier for me because I'm not very routinised in my sleep patterns. I could imagine some nights going to sleep at 7pm, others at midnight and feeling ok about this variability.

Usually I have no problems with insomnia; usually, unlike tonight. And do you know what the best cure for insomnia is I've found. Can you guess? A very hot bath. Heats you up, steams you up, makes you very, very drowsy. Problem is, on not merely one occasion I have incurred the wrath of those in nearby rooms for running a bath and waking them up.

Something perhaps that needs inventing: silent bath running facilitator. Perfect for insomniacs of the world.

Morrissey got my vote in the ongoing BBC search for the Greatest British Living Icon. Why? Quite simply because he was my favourite of the personalities offered as a choice. My next favourite was Stephen Fry.

Objectively speaking, none of the offered candidates represent Britain because Britain no longer knows what Britain is. As we don't need telling, britain is undergoing a severe identity crisis, 50 years in the making.

On a different note, I thought, without any reason for thinking so, that my readers might be interested in a little article I penned in early 2005 about Slovakia. I've already posted it here, along with some other travel doodlings, towards the bottom of the page. But I include it below, in this post.

I sent this article on more than one occasion to the local expat English language rag, the Slovak Spectator but without joy. I met the Editor who had declined it in the Irish pub the other night. On account of his broad smile and mild, endearing manner, I forgave him for his lack of interest and refusal to even acknowledge my submission. He, of course, had no idea who I was and I wasn't going to remind him - which might have been impossible anyway.

A friend in England, an editor no less, wondered why I thought anyone would be interested in the internal dynamics of my identity issues, as they relate to the question of my living in Slovakia. I see her point, to an extent but not entirely.

She seemed to imply that I should have been trying to 'sell' Slovakia as if it were a brand, as if I wanted Slovakia to join the ranks of countries corrupted and polluted by tourist invasion. Such invasions, as I knew they would, have proceeded apace without my help and now prompt the British Government, presumably consequent to Slovak Governmental pleadings, to devise and scatter beer mats instructing stag night macho boors to behave themselves, keep quiet and not get drunk, or else. The reach of New Labour's nanny state is not to be underestimated, clearly. Anyway, if they have an influence on reigning in our tasteless vulgarity in this gentle city (which I doubt they do) it can't be that bad.

When Slovaks discover to their bewildered surprise that I have been here as long as I have, they often say "Oh, so you must like it here then?" as if to like it here were not something a reasonable person would do. Such a response underlines the main point I make in the piece. Arrogant and self-assertive Slovaks are not. This is a main part of their charm actually. But their self-abasement can go too far, and this is the problem.

Here it is anyway. My editor friend said it would not appeal to a British or non-Slovak audience and she may well be right. But Slovaks whom I have shown it to have universally liked it. They generally agree, albeit sometimes sadly, with my analysis of their nature.

What is it about Slovakia?

"If I am to be honest when I ask myself why I came to Slovakia my mind goes blank. Of course, I know why I left the UK but that is another tale told by an idiot signifying nothing. But why Slovakia?

As a newly qualified teacher of English, of all the places in the world I could have chosen, why on Earth did I choose Slovakia? Such is a question I've often been asked by Slovak students struggling to understand why someone chose to leave the 4th largest economy in the world for the sake of one of the weakest in Europe. To put it bluntly, it was because I was offered a choice by the language school where I qualified to either come here or go to China. And China, despite my adventurous nature, seemed a little too far a field for a first posting. So I came here.

Retrospectively, seeking more justification, I told myself it was because I'd always been interested in the effect of communism on human society and wanted to experience first hand its effects on a nation struggling to wake up from its nightmare. But always I knew this was not the reason, for no such thoughts had occurred to me. And despite my appreciation of the beer, and my love of the gorgeous women, they weren't the reasons either. Indeed, due to my own, or is it Britain's, ignorance of mitteleuropa, before I came here I was entirely unaware of these much touted emblems of Slovak glory.

And yet what interests me now, and what troubles me, are those self-deprecating questions of students, mainly young talented students, who simply failed to understand why a native born Briton should choose to leave a country that so many Slovaks are eager to escape to. While the queues of the hardy and determined waiting patiently in line for their visas outside The British Embassy have vanished, what has not is the desire, among too many Slovaks I believe, to uproot and seek a new life westwards, where it is believed the streets are paved with gold and all things are possible, and happiness and fulfilment rain liberally on all.

Surely I am not the first expat to experience the frustration of coming face to face with Slovak lack of self-confidence, about the achievements of their country and their general global status. It is expressed through a domestic and international political cynicism bordering on total disengagement and an almost dogmatic blindness to the possible ills and dangers of unbridled Western influence, be it cultural or economic. Yes, it may prove in the short term interests of this country to spend a few years being the obedient servant of Washington. Yes, inward investment, spurred by low taxation and cheap labour, are doing the Slovaks a favour by raising their profile in the world. But why judge your own value by the interest shown in you by others? Nations, like individuals, should feel good about themselves for their own reasons, not because others are attracted to the opportunities you offer them.

To me, the reasons for this national lack of patriotic self-belief are fourfold, and embedded in history. Firstly there is the 900 year legacy of political invisibility inside the Hungarian and later Austro-Hungarian Kingdoms. Secondly, the influence of a Roman Catholicism emphasising collectivist values over individualist entrepreneurial ones, and content to uphold the Habsburg-Hungarian supremacy. Thirdly, the curiously delayed and late stage of Slovak industrialisation and urbanisation compared to that of neighbouring states. And finally, of course, the 40 year oppression under a Soviet controlled, Prague centred communism which, however, failed to generate a level of self-bolstering dissent and defiance commensurate to that found in the Czech lands.

Not much, of course, can be done about the past. What has been suffered cannot be undone. But what can be done is to move on and stop locating in oneself the cause of history's disservice. I am not advocating that blame should be directed elsewhere. Scapegoats are not required to cleanse oneself of guilt. Blaming the Church, the Hungarians, the Russians, the Germans, the Czechs would be to merely posture at ghosts of the past for no purpose other than to cover over one's own unreconciled feelings of self-blame. Even if it was these elements' fault in the past, so what? The past, as it is said, is history and was a grubby time for everyone. Importantly, these things are not oppressing Slovakia now; and yet sometimes it feels as if they are still, because in imagination Slovaks allow it to be so, by allowing the memory of the past to inappropriately live on in these profoundly altered, dynamically evolving times.

Unlike when I think why I first came here, when I think of what Slovaks could and should take pride in my mind does not go blank. Although I have to admit that my mind does not fill either with that type of imagery normally associated with national prowess- thank God. I mean military imagery. That Slovakia, unlike Hungary, has not had an empire, that Slovakia, unlike the Czech lands, cannot boast a Holy Roman Emperor, that Slovakia, unlike Poland, has not at one time stretched from the Baltic to the Black seas, are all reasons, I would suspect, that, in the national subconscious, if not conscious, mind may add fuel to the fire of Slovak self-depreciation. But why should it? Especially in a world which one hopes means what it says when it says that it has put the glory of war and conquest behind and beneath it. If anything, the relative cleanliness of the hands of Slovakia from the bloodbath of history should be something to draw a deep sense of self-respect from, if not something to take positive pride in.

When I think of the greatness of Slovakia my mind settles on the feeling that I live in a deeply peaceful, kindly, safe, civilized and gentle nation, one with a rich and various folk culture, a deep love of family and friends, an unhurried, uncluttered style of life, where I can walk drunk through one of the largest housing estates in Europe, Petrazalka, and feel entirely safe; where children instinctively give up their seats for the elderly on public transport and where, unlike in Britain, they do not think it's cool to undermine and torment their teachers. I have heard it said that Slovaks are lazy and drink too much. Maybe it is because I am lazy and do drink too much, and so am not a good judge, but little in my experience bears this out. What Slovaks are is quite simple-they are too passive, not forthright, not engaged, not confident enough. Exactly the opposite from the English, who suffer, though decreasingly, from a superiority complex, Slovaks suffer from a disabling inferiority complex which, too much of the time, they seem only indifferently interested in combatting. Put simply, as a nation they do not love themselves enough, and not nearly as much as they deserve to.

It is not, of course, that Slovaks do not take pride in their country. But my hope, whether I leave as I may in the near future, or whether I live here for the rest of my life, is that they learn, and quickly, to take pride in themselves for more than their awesome natural landscape, their prowess on the ice rink, the glamour and comeliness of their ladies, and the quality of their beer. May they please take pride in themselves for being Slovaks. And may their best and their brightest please stay (and return) and build up their country and develop their potential and grow shamelessly to look the rest of the world squarely in the eye, with trace of neither irony, jealousy nor bitterness."