Friday, 7 June 2013

Dr Sarah Alexander - You could become all flame

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can say I keep my office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’

March 17.

Three hours after leaving the hotel, I  finally reached the Bazaar as the evening light was dimming. At least the air was cooler, three hours on a bus that could double as a slow cooker is pretty much my limit I'm afraid. I am relaxed enough now to make these notes, but I spent most of the afternoon in a state of mounting panic since nothing about my experience seemed to tally with the many descriptions I had collected, not least from my esteemed colleagues back at the university. Indeed, we will have to have words when I return.

First off, the bus was not full, far from it. There was myself, being the exhausted academic, stereotyped in her canvas suit and sunglasses, hair haphazardly tied back with what could be a genuine example of local head wear, or something that is churned out by a factory in China and imported for the purpose of making the foolish visitors feel that they are contributing to the local traditional economy, and only two other passengers. From what I could make out they were certainly related, possibly married, but for whatever reason were sitting about five seats apart, occasionally throwing out the odd crumb of conversation without apparent reference to the previous statement or reply. As far as I could tell they were speaking different languages. Was this for my benefit? Something to amuse themselves on the trip? If so, I never caught so much as a glance in my direction. All in all it made me feel extremely uncomfortable and I was glad when we pulled up at what I assumed was some kind of "comfort" stop pending the next leg of what was starting to feel like a never ending journey.

Except, no, the driver stood, turned, bowed theatrically (again, for my benefit alone?) and leaped down to the barely delineated road below. This was it. This? This was the fabled Bazaar? I had already adjusted for the tradition of hyperbole that infested the reports of what went on here, but even the rout of all exaggeration had not prepared me for the shoddy sight that awaited. My travelling companions had slunk out of sight ahead of me as I struggled to get my rucksack down from the step. There seemed to be no one around but me and the bus. I had come in search of silence and I seemed to have found it exactly when it was of no use to me.

The doors to the Bazaar were locked. Wonderful. I wandered around the building to no avail, then turned back towards the "border". I had been warned to expect the worst when crossing. Searches, intimidation, possible interrogation. At the moment the boundary seemed to be demarked by a few sandbags, one of which was revealed with closer inspection to be a sleeping dog.

Insanely I wondered if the locals were somehow hiding nearby. Perhaps as I walked down one side of the building they were scuttling en masse along the other, signalling to each other pantomime style to be silent, struggling to contain their laughter. Well, it wasn't funny. The light was fading fast and I  needed somewhere to stay, never mind a guide to take me to the object of my quest.

The dog sat up and barked happily. Not that I am such an expert on the intonation and timbre of canines, but rather that I could see he was responding to a young boy loping along towards us with his arms stretched above his head, fingers waggling as if he was conducting the landscape.

I called out to him in what was, I hoped, a relaxed, cheery fashion. He looked at me as if I was breathing fire. At least he did not turn and run, but began to pet the dog, which ran around his feet.

After my attempt at some truly awful Arabic, it became apparent very quickly that he spoke a hybrid language which, whilst including lapses into relatively fluent English also comprised some local dialect with which I was unfamiliar and, bizarrely, some French. I explained that I was looking for the garden of the Desert Father and I needed to find a place to stay until I could organise the second part of my journey. He looked at me, then looked at his dog. The pair of them locked eyes and for the third time that day I felt that a joke was being shared and that joke was me.

I asked again about a place to stay but he answered a question I had not asked, referring instead to my introductory remark, "Abba Shenouda, oui, bustan al-rohban. The garden, not far, my dog knows the way." I asked him if we could walk there. His dog looked at me as if I was simple whilst his master nodded and set off away from from the Bazaar, finding a path I had not seen from my earlier vantage point which initially tracked the border but veered away towards the mountains.

Very quickly we came to a sheltered area at the foot of the red mountain. A huge outcrop of rock stretched out like a root, and cradled behind, completely hidden from view but not hidden from the sun that would creep up across the whole area in the morning, was a surprisingly large area of cultivated land and a one story dwelling, more than a hut but somewhat less than the majority of more traditional flat roofed properties I had noted on my travels.

"Abba Shenouda is here?" I asked, "He will see me?"

The boy answered "Oui, he will see you".

"Can you tell him I am here please?"

"Non, He has gone to gather flowers on the mountain."

"But you said he would see me."

"Oui .هو في كل مكان في مركز الكون  "

I was starting to get the feeling again but I was simply too tired for paranoia, too tired for Arabic, too tired to deal with the consequences of my ridiculous academia.

"Can I stay here? Till Abba Shenouda returns? Do you think that would be alright?"

He nodded enthusiastically. Good. I really did not want to hear that "Oui" again for a while, however beneficial the affirmations had been.

On stepping through the only visible entrance, reassuringly comprising a solid wooden door and bolt, I found myself in a blood orange room of much more sophisticated construction than I had anticipated. Set into the walls were areas for storage, and large wooden beams supported the roof frame above a fired clay workbench in the centre of the room. Oddly, the uniform fiery orange of the room did not have a hot, agitating feel, quite the contrary, the air was cool and still and, momentarily, so was I.

I do not know how long I was standing taking in the ambiance, long enough for my little friend and his dog to scarper back from whence they came. I am about to unfold some of the blankets that are resting in the alcove and will try to get some sleep. It was not my intention to spend the night here but other options are limited, and the one constant in the tale of the desert father is his open hospitality. Only thing is I can't see any option but to bolt the door. Hopefully if Abba Shenouda does return with his flowers (for what purpose? Medicinal/ herbs?) then he will still be as patient and understanding as in his philosophy when he finds is locked out of his own house by the neophyte, like a monastic Fred Flintstone.

March 18th.

Incredibly, it is mid-day and when I put pen to paper here it is not because I have been exploring and interviewing all morning, it is because I only woke up ten minutes ago.

Abba Shenouda has not returned. Or at least, if he did I not hear him knocking on the door which seems unlikely, no matter how deep my sleep was. I need to rustle up some breakfast, seems rude to eat from the garden so I will strike out for the bazaar and let someone sell me some overpriced manaqeesh and tea.

Also must note that one warning I was given by the other professors is proving correct: nothing electronic lasts here. My phone, which became useless for calls and internet pretty much ten seconds across the border, is now also struggling to record voice notes so I am pleased I packed these notebooks. Plus, the internal clock is scrambled. My watch is still ok but according to the phone it is now the 19th March. I hardly think I was THAT tired.


Perhaps I was more exhausted than I anticipated. The walk to town, which yesterday seemed little more than a hop and a skip in the company of my young friend, stretched out ahead of me in a fashion that I just could not undertake in the boiling heat of mid-day. Resting in the shade of the cliff for a while I watched the heat waves shimmer and dance across the sand, sometimes almost indistinguishable to the eye, other times lining up in a solidifying formation, a dance troupe of the intangible following a rhythm defined by the landscape, performed for no one. If it sounds like I am starting to hallucinate then it was true then, but not now, not after I sauntered back here to this cool shelter and spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the overgrown garden. It occurred to me that it would be just like the usual comedy of my life to head over to the tourist trap Bazaar to barter for some rustic junk only to have the Abba pop back for supplies and head out again, none the wiser to my presence.

The sun is setting across the garden releasing the night time smell of the desert, the awaking creatures, the transformation of solar to lunar, Kusuh for Selardi, the masculine blaze overpowered by the female mystery...

That was a sharp return from my reverie. I was certain I saw a figure watching me from the edge of the garden, the dusk disintegrating the edges of his figure and obscuring his face but clearly enough visible to make me cry out in fright. As I shot upright I realised  the figure was not, as I had already subconsciously decided, the desert father, for it was as small as a child, even adjusting for perspective, but then as the moonlight strengthened over the wizened trees beside the wall there was nothing there at all.

March 19th?

It's ridiculous how easy it is to lose track of time here. You would think that having nothing but the sun and the moon to focus my attention on would simply matters, but I am forced to conclude that my recent travels have played rather more havoc with my sleeping patterns that I was previously prepared to concede.

Specifically, I had another visit from my young guide and his dog. His conversation was more fragmented than I expected after our first meeting, but perhaps he used up all his English on the in response to the questions he encounters most often where is who are why why not. From the disappointingly small amount of sense I could extract it was apparent that his mission was, at least, one of compassion. He had bought with him, or rather his dog had bought with him via a bag currently dangling much too closely for my comfort from the animal's charming but saliva filled snout, some provisions and a newspaper in English. I did not recognise the title, it seemed to be much concerned with African affairs but as allowed myself the puzzle of working out place of origin from the of purchase price my eye rested on the date of publication. First rested, then had a good stab at burning through to the back page.

Sensing distress, the dog began to jump around. The boy too backed away as I turned to him.

"What is this?" I said, stabbing at the top of the page, "March 21st? Is this a weekly publication? Dated ahead?" But I knew as the words pointlessly left my mouth that not only would the boy fail to understand, but that the chances of there being a weekly newspaper called "The Daily Chronicle" were non-existent.

"21st March?" I persisted, "Do they deliver newspapers from the future at your Bazaar?"

I caught his arm. He did not struggle but looked at me with a look of pity that I did not see that I could deserve.

"Sabet, the driver, he pass it to me yesterday. Five days you have been here, I have not seen you, bring you food, friendship, The food of one person is enough for two, food for two is enough for four, and food for four is enough for eight."

I released his arm and asked my head to stop spinning. Calm, calm.

"Where is Abba Shenouda? Why has he not returned? How long until he sees me?"

Where why how

" Abba Shenouda has gone to gather flowers on the mountain. He will see you."



Presumably it is safe enough to date this entry simply with the month - I have had to accept that the desert heat and relaxing state of the garden has made me completely unable to tell when I have slept from noon to noon and not realised. Part of the reason for my weariness is simple enough to explain. However relaxing the atmosphere within the walled garden, there could be no dispute that large parts of the various beds were over-run, both with planted and overly flourishing blooms and a variety of suspicious looking and encroaching climbing Ivy. My plan is to smooth the waters with Abba Shenouda for imposing so much on his hospitality (rent free, let us recall), by tending his garden until he returns from the mountain, which return becomes more imminent with each passing day.

My friend (I realise it is so terribly rude not to have learnt his name but now I cannot think of him as anything other than simply "my friend") has taken to calling every couple of days with bread and other simple provisions. I give him token amounts of money from the decent enough balance I have left, he doesn't seem to care either way. He is not the most helpful in the garden however, preferring to sit and watch me as I chop and dig. With no previous empirical evidence to support this supposition, and indeed some to the contrary, I feel that I am developing a talent for cultivation. the soil within these walls appears, to my inexperienced eyes anyway, to have remarkable properties. Plants embedded the one day break through and flower within a matter of days.


I date this April as the work I have done in the garden suggests enough days have gone by to make it impossible to be March. Oh, I know I am foolish, I should make my way across to the border and re-establish my bearings in time and space, send a message back to the university, but I cannot risk leaving, each time I take a step away from the door towards the horizon I can hear the corresponding footfall of Abba Shenouda, not so far off in the distance, his arms festooned with bright stems and herbs.

I was saddened today when my friend appeared. He awoke me from a dream that slipped away but I could not be angry with him as I could see immediately that he was pained, and also the source of his pain. His dog, his faithful companion in this area of nothing, was clearly unwell. His canine hide was shrivelled and his breath came in shuddering fits. An illness, just last week he had been leaping around the garden, underfoot. The boy, so adult in his physique, still a child in his pain, sank to his haunches beside his animal, a hand across his eyes.

My friend's face was heart-breaking to see. The lines on his face were intensified, the sun damage, perhaps normally held at bay by his youthful energy, relished the opportunity to manifest across his features, giving him the impression of one years older than I knew him to be.

Even at this distance from my homeland I am crippled with the reserve that has simultaneously protected and pickled in aspic the social mores that created me . I knew I should put my arms around him, comfort him in some way simply through my very existence but I could not find the mechanism which would force my staid muscles to obey my rebellious instructions. But I had to take some action, I could not turn away entirely, so I sat beside him and began to speak. What I thought I was doing I had no idea, but given that he wasn't going to understand more than a third of what I was saying, I reached down deep, right back to the bright parish mornings of Sunday School, enraptured by Jesus and St Assisi equally, each little bird that sings.

To my surprise, but much more to my relief, the moment passed and my friend gazed up at me with something approaching wonder before suddenly scooping the skeletal dog, so reduced as to be almost weightless, and darting again out of the garden. No learning is wasted. How many years have I insincerely preached that mantra to my dis-interested students, and now here, with no one to witness, I find that it is true.


I will need to try and reconstruct the dates retrospectively. For the moment I have to record that I seem to have acquired, if not a disciple, then certainly a zealot. Today my friend was not alone when he called, bringing with him a woman who could have been anything from his mother to great grandmother, so hunched as she was inside an indeterminate number of dark garments. At first I was too distracted at wondering why she did not turn to steam within her swaddling so overpowering was the heat to be too perturbed at her appearance. Before I could tear my thoughts away from that conundrum I found that she and my friend had cheerfully plunked themselves down in the middle of what I had come to regard as my living room floor.

A strange set of eyes on me restored all my awkwardness and I moved about the room gathering pieces of bread and cups of water in order to give my ridiculous body something to do under such scrutiny. By necessity I joined my guests on the floor in order to pass out the refreshments. The intake of water seemed to break an internal dam because the woman began to spout a stream of closely connected sounds that defied understanding, and not, I suspect, only through lack of language. The speech was heavy, scraping through the air without pause for smile or expression of light. The words were chained inside a well of misery, it was impossible not to feel the need for release.

How foolish I must look, when, as if I am back in my classroom, I begin to lecture on death. I have made an intuitive leap that the vacuum of expression in the old woman's voice can only have been sapped so terribly by the loss of a loved one who filled the space.

I explain about the twin bothers, Thanatos and Hypnos, death and sleep, Hypnos especially, who arrives to take away the pain of his brother's visitation,   Apollonius "She wailed, and leaning back her neck breathed Hypnos who walks with Thanatos ; for verily it was ordained that both should have all things in common and pursue the works of the elder brother: hence women, weighed down with sorrowing eyes, oft-times, while they weep, fall asleep." and then Colluthus "Nothing shall part us in our love till Thanatos at his appointed hour removed us from the light of day."  All is inevitable, immutable, Aeschylus ""For, alone of gods, Thanatos  loves not gifts; no, not by sacrifice, nor by libation, canst thou aught avail with him; he hath no altar nor hath he hymn of praise; from him, alone of gods, Peitho (Persuasion) stands aloof."

What happened next was quite bizarre, as if, indeed, the little tableau was not bizarre enough. The woman got to her feet, and with great dignity rearranged her the scarves across her face to reveal her shockingly young features. "Thank you Ammas" she said. "ألف ش".

Sometime following

Apparently I have become something of a local curiosity. This is very close to the opposite of my intent but it seems that if I have any chance now of greeting Abba Shenouda it will be as one of many. First is was the a stray visitor in the afternoon, as I admired my handiwork at keeping the grove, content to sit with me and listen to whatever tales I cared to recount in order to bring the audience to a close, then groups of three or four, and now it is difficult for me to find time in the day to tend the garden or prepare the vegetables for the evening meal.

My friend has not visited for a few days but has sent what can only be his elder brother, so powerful is the resemblance. He calls me "Abbas Alexander" or "Desert Mother" in what I take as good natured jibes, but the names have stuck and are now how I am universally addressed, no matter how much I protest.

I feel that I am understanding the needs of my strange students so much more than I ever did in those rooms of bored young women. No one here is attempting to scribble their personal mythology behind the screen of a textbook, here the faces are upturned, the chatter suspended as I run through the very near infinite catalogue of stories I have taken in and transported, waiting for release.

A time after the previous time

Today I was tired and had to ask for my guests to return to their homes early. In truth I felt the weariness in the tongue as much as the body. I would not have thought it possible but I believe I have told all I know. Worse, as I scan the gardens for inspiration I am aware that I have neglected the grounds in place of talking, and there are distinct patches that have become bare through lack of attention. I am a poor tenant, small wonder Abba Shenouda does not return. How can he until his property is restored to glory? Oh vainglorious fool to allow the death of the garden for love of the affection of crowds! I raise my head to the moonlight and rest my gaze on the distant horizon, dominated by the eternal hills. The sliver light bathes the wild foliage so high above once tended greenery here, no longer vibrant, so much in need of regeneration. Tomorrow I will remove myself to the quiet for a while.

Tomorrow I shall go to gather flowers on the mountain.

Abba Poimen said: "A man may seem silent, but if in his heart he condemns others, he is talking ceaselessly. Yet there may be someone else who talks from morning until night, who, because he says nothing unprofitable, is truly silent."

In the garden

Sunday, 10 February 2013

paul constance of the open hand presents the baglama masters of the bazaar

Elektron records, October 1969

PMR E55 6300 (mono)
PSR E55 6300  (stereo)

Original sleeve notes:

These are the days of THE OPEN HAND. And through the fickle fingers of fate Mr Paul Constance, open guitarist extraordinaire and all round citizen of the world found himself a stranger in a strange land. Stumbling from the steely gaze of the border patrols he was rescued by the siren song of MUSIC flowing across the hostile plains from the local trading post, MUSIC of the people. Welcomed with THE OPEN HAND of the true musician, Paul took his fill in ears and heart and tape recorder and now he asks you to OPEN your soul to the baglama masters of the bazaar.

"When Paul Constance came to the bazaar my brother ran to the border and shouted "There is a guy here with a recording machine that works, come see!". My father and I did not believe him but we left our post and took our instruments. That night we marvelled at the miracle of a tape spool running and our own sound echoing back over the desert, the first time we had heard ourselves in many years. We had a big party, with Paul and his blonde girl dancing and singing, and then it was morning and they were gone." - Abdul Hadi Fazi, The Borderline Bazaar, September 1969.

Track Listing:
  1.   Border song  - 5.58 ( أغنية الحدود )  
  2.   People dancing forever and long forgotten – 2:22
  3.   Which side of the mountain can you trust – 8:06
  4.   Your Eyes Are Like The Blacked Out Sky – 10:35
  5.   What cannot be heard – 5:55
  6. "Your Eyes Are Like The Blacked Out Sky" (reprise with flute) – 18:04
Reviews and critical response:

New Musical Express, 29 October 1969:  "The most exciting aspect of this unusual album is not so much that it contains the first solo recordings ever by any member of The Open Hand to date, but that Paul Constance himself hardly appears on his own LP, the music being supplied by the virtuoso musicians who entertain the weary travellers at a remote desert trading post. If this is an example of what the travels of Constance can lead him to then long may his experiments continue to push out past the accepted frontiers of pop.

It would be hard to pick a stand-out track but the cumulative effect is like being ship wrecked in a sandstorm, as thousands of individual pin sharp notes rise and crash like the waves against your senses.

The latter part of the album is one long freakout, and makes for more challenging listening, especially midway through the the reprise of "Your eyes are like the blacked out sky" where a lone female vocalist becomes increasingly prominent, moving through a series of modular melodies and chants before ending with something which, to these unaccustomed western ears at least, rather resembles agonised screaming.

All in all though, a brave step forward and a nice stop gap before the back to basics Hand album we have been promised by Christmas."

Rolling Stone, November 1969:   "...Jesus Christ someone bazooka these baglamas..."

Total Music Guide (2005):  "A forgotten footnote in the history of rock, this poorly recorded series of five cheesy tourist friendly folk tunes and one nightmarish jam was put together by Open Hand guitarist Paul Constance from tapes made, presumably, whilst stoned out of his head in some hookah den somewhere. The final track briefly gained notoriety through the suggestion that the un-named female vocalist on side two of the album was in fact Samantha Moon, which would make the rather disturbing content of "Your eyes are like the blacked out sky (reprise)" her last known recording prior to her disappearance. Never available after the original pressing, this is one footnote which deserves to stay at the bottom of the page"  NO STARS.

Your eyes are like the blacked out sky (reprise) link temporarily unavailable.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Col Thomas Morgan 1969 Part Two - Eight Miles High

In summary: Secret agent Col Thomas Morgan has been dispatched on a flight to an unusual mission that seems to involve his private life in some way. See part one elsewhere on this site.

The book was small enough to fit into his suit pocket without ruining the lining. He had removed it from the case they had packed for him since he knew there was no way he would be able to stomach a newspaper on the flight. The principal disadvantage of knowing what was really going on in the world was that you could easily discern your superiors sticky fingers smearing and distorting the newsprint until The Times resembled a word search puzzle from which you could pick out the few truthful phrases and re-arrange them into something resembling the departmental memo seen earlier in the week.

But now he didn't want to read the book. Why had they chosen this to accompany him? Nothing ever happened by accident. There was a message here and for the first time he did not want to hear it.  Were they laughing at him? Or was it another warning? Signs and portents, they were the stock in trade of a good agent. Not the ridiculous visions that some claimed, but the proper understanding of  an ordered world, and the keen eye that could pick out disorder, discontent, disharmony.

Maybe there was a code sheet hidden inside? He held the book upside down and ruffled the pages aggressively, trying not to let the white against orange title discomfort him any further than it already had. Nothing. He forced his eyes across the opening sentence. "The cabin passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes - I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive". A cold sweat crept across him, and bled though into his heart. He was losing control of his own environment, being absorbed into a story that had already been written.

Clarity. He needed clarity of thought. The noise of the propellers, the unrelenting chatter of the couple behind him, some idiot singing, the mild pain in the leg broken three times waking up and responding to the change in air pressure. Shut them out.  Shut them all out, down, this is not the real, this is a sham, a shameful sham, a sham that is always the same, always the same sham, sham, shamantha, Samantha dancing, Samantha laughing, Samantha undressing in the warm moonlight, Samantha absent in the morning when he reached for her, Samantha, Samantha, Samantha, why not open the door and jump out of the plane?

His eyes snapped open, with a hint of psychotic china doll titled upwards too quickly. It was quieter, thankfully. Most of the the other passengers had reached a comfortable point in their ongoing relationship with the free alcohol being served, and, coupled with a more steady drone now the plane was comfortably through the clouds, were drifting off to mumbling slumber. Clarity, clarity of thought. He rummaged around his subconscious and closed a few doors. Go again.

He recreated the events from earlier that morning, tweaking the odd moment to make it more bearable. Piece by piece he recreated the Major's office, the photographs of his old cricket teams proudly arranged across the walls, the warm leather of his upholstered desk, the imposing blackness of his chair, unaccountably empty, his voice booming out an impersonal speaker in the centre of the desk.

"Tell me Morgan, what do you know about a girl called Samantha?"

That had thrown him. "What? Sorry, what?"

"Samantha, Morgan. Do you know a girl called Samantha or not?"

"I know a girl called Samantha. I know a girl called Emma very well and two called Polly if you are interested."

"Don't get snappy Morgan, this girl of yours is trouble and I think you should be the one one to sort it out."

"Trouble? What kind of trouble? Yes, she's a bit flighty, you know, but they're all like that these days."

"For God's sake Morgan, spare me your advice about girls. Actress, isn't she?"

"Singer mainly...but yes, she has been in a few films. What of it?"

"Location filming? Abroad?"

"Sometimes, look, what's this all about?"

"Secrets, Morgan, secrets that are winging their way across borders, mysteriously turning up remarkably close to where your singing actress belle is plying her trade. And where is she hearing these secrets Morgan? Do you talk in your sleep at all?"

"How dare you! How dare you question my loyalty!"

"It's coming down from far above me, old man. That's why I couldn't be here today. If they had their way you'd be in one of their special interview rooms right now. The way I see it, either this is your mess and you get the chance to clean it up, or you're in it up to your neck and you'll run for cover with our eyes upon you. You'll find a case packed at the door, it has everything you'll need. Good luck Thomas. We may not get to speak again"

The shameful burn he had felt in that room, too unclean to be dealt with personally, under observation like a rat in a box responding to stimuli, was turning to a more righteous flame. They thought he had been consumed in the fire, but he had more substance than they knew.

There was a sudden disturbance at the front of the plane as they began their descent. The two stewardesses who had been cheerfully handing out drinks and food for the duration of the flight were looking rather less cheerful as they tried to restrain a colourfully dressed man into his seat. He was shouting about how famous he was, that he was a member of The Open Hand, baby, that they were number one.

As the plane tilted towards the desert runway Morgan thought about that phrase. He had heard it before, but where and how floated just out of reach. The open hand. That is what he would give them. Full disclosure. Whatever was happening here he would tear the walls right down, prove that Samantha was innocent, and ram their conspiracies back into their smug establishment faces and beyond.

Calmer and more dangerous now, he waited till the majority of his fellow passengers had, often unsteadily, made their way off the plane before himself heading for the door.

Morgan paused at the top of the stairs and turned his face up to the searing sunlight. He had no idea who his contact was, where he was travelling to, how he would find Samantha or what he could say to her if he did.

Behind him he heard the hurried steps of one of the stewardesses.

"Sir, SIR! Don't forget your book." She took a good and slightly too intimate look at the cover as she went to hand it to him.

"Keep it" said Thomas gruffly, barely turning his head.

"Oh no sir, no point," she said, slipping it back under his arm.. "Graham Greene,  A Burnt Out Case. I know it well. I think that's a good choice."

Signs and portents. He felt discomforted, alive.

samantha sings

Friday, 18 January 2013

Jean-Jacques Baptiste - Find the Lady

Socrates: Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Another day, another coach full of confused tourists walk up and down the main avenue of the Bazaar waving their telephones in the air, contorting their bodies through aerobic masterstrokes that would satisfy Olympic judges as they try to connect with a signal that has been mercilessly pommelled into the earth several miles previously. A few brave the searing heat outside and raise their devices toward the sun, as if begging for divine intervention from Ra. As has been the case for many centuries now, however, none is forthcoming. Only shadows are thrown down behind the men and women, powerful and dark, as substantial in their own way as the warm reflections they now tracked.

From within the cool shelter of his shop, Jean-Jacques scans the newcomers for signs of weakness. He is not a cruel man at heart, but like all men his nature is divided and at war with itself. He is fortunate enough to have at least devised a mechanism to cope with the dichotomy, the divided soul, and if he has temporarily escaped judgement then it is surely his role to judge others who would follow him.

The group of tourists begins to dissipate, drifting out into the enormity of the huge main hall, dissolving into the mass of humanity that rushes through the building until the group can no longer be distinguished as a single unit. So far Jean- Jacques has found no reason to move. He stands behind his counter as stock still as the many sculptures that are crammed into his emporium.

Something registers. Predatory senses kick in and he flicks across the eyes of those he can see through the large glassless window. There, at the back, he senses the increasing excitement of a solitary middle aged man, entirely average in appearance, who is pathetically failing to feign disinterest in the painting that Jean-Jacques has placed front and centre of his teasingly hap-hazard display. The price is insultingly low even for the most hackneyed copy, but this is not a copy. This is a portrait of his mistress painted by the great artist that you know (it matters not who take that to be), acquired by Jean-Jacques many years ago by means of which he is not proud, means that led him to be exiled here, in this place that is barely a place at all. He tenses, exhales. He is ready.

The tourist believes that he is going to leave this place with an item worth millions for which he has knowingly paid a pittance to the owner. Such avarice, such sin. As soon as his victim crosses the threshold, willingly and of their own volition, their punishment will begin.

The man breaks through the crowd and is level with the shop entrance. With no more than three lightening steps Jean-Jacques is at the window. Facing into the shop and with a sleight of hand worthy of a demonic contract he flips an arm behind his back for a fraction of a second and slides the painting to the right into a hidden groove which takes it through a curtain which itself conceals a slit cut in the wall between Jean-Jacques shop and the unit next door. The horribly printed cheap card copy of the painting which has been resting against the fully farmed canvass falls forward to take it's place.

This not his favourite part. Oh, he enjoys playing with "Can I help you Sir? Oh, the one in the window? Of course, just let me...Is something wrong Sir?...Sir?" but what follows is what sustains him even if he cannot always fully partake in the experience.

He remembers many years ago wandering the streets of his native Paris. The noise, the light, the sheer humanity round about him, and, of course, in amongst it all the chicanery, the hustlers, the fraudsters. Le Bonneteau, Three card Monte, Find the Lady, all descriptions of the same elegant theft, but to him it would always be The Three Losers. As a young man he had been haunted by the thought that he had divided himself each time he fell in love, follow the lady, now you see her now you don't, twice, three times, three souls desperately trying to find something they have been shown but was was never actually there, Les Trois Perdants.

Quite admirably concealing his embarrassment if not his disappointment, the tourist declines to look around the shop any further and leaves. He will almost certainly turn left, Old Tom's market next door is an eye catching cornucopia of decomposing cinema memorabilia. It is inconceivable that the old master painting will not leap out at the man as he passes. Jean-Jacques imagines the thought processes churning through the visitors mind - my god it was the next door window! - and waits for the rattle of Tom's door (almost perpetually locked whether occupied or not) and then the satisfying swoosh of the curtain as the original painting returns through the secret passage via Tom before he opens his door and another swift tap from Jean Jacques sends the copy through to next door.

He picks up the painting, along with a canvas bag containing a number of higher quality prints and briskly leaves his shop. He knows Tom will keep an eye on things once his part is played. He darts amongst the labyrinthine corridors of the bazaar distributing his copies to those who owe him a favour, or are taking bets on how many will be spotted and examined by the end of the day. Jean-Jacques has no interest in how the others amuse themselves, his card was marked a long time ago.

Jean-Jacques imagines the hot fury of being battered by the crowd as his mark chases the insubstantial treasure. It is in front of you, it is gone, don't give up now, she is in there somewhere, come on come on, one more, believe the evidence of your eyes. Your day becomes lost in a fever dream here, no here, no, keep searching. Frantic, you run from point to point, your goal in the window just ahead, there she is, no she's gone. You are chasing shadows, flickers in the flame, consumed. Time has abandoned you now, and before you can breathe the shutters are closing and you have nothing but loss to leave with as you join your fellow travellers, who are content with their acquisitions.

The Bazaar can become deserted as suddenly as over-run. Even if it is a mystery where so many of occupants retired to, or re-appeared from the next day, Jean-Jacques has no interest in investigating. In the still evening he wanders through the lanes, noting the presence of his many props in random shop windows. Traveller, he thinks, this was my gift to you. Your reward for hunting reflections instead of experiencing the sights and sounds around you. It is a kind cruelty if wisdom is imparted.

As he walks on he imagines he hears other footsteps beside his own, two sets, three. He knows that his own lesson is not complete, that this place is not done with him. One day he knows he will attempt to return to his shop and find that he cannot quite seem to reach it. The location will be blurred, the familiar shortcuts leading back on themselves, the signage unintelligible, the locks strange. He sees himself running from point to point, catching a glimpse of his window and door only to find other designs in their place when he arrives. Find the lady.

One day, perhaps, but not today at least.

Socrates: Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness

Blindness and sight

Sunday, 23 December 2012

It's a Christmas Mirabelle, Charlie Brown

Mirabelle the cat flattened her bones until she was more or less existing in only two dimensions, and slipped under the locked heavy wooden double doors of the Bazaar, rising from the floor on the other side as if re-inflated by the displaced air around her.

She took a moment to allow the scents to settle. Her eyes had immediately adjusted to the half light as the illumination from shafts of moonlight fell into the centre of the main hall and echoed out through trails of dust on either side. What she had to do. of course, was concentrate on switching frequencies in her feline vision so that her view was not crowded by the many hundreds of spirits that were wandering around the Bazaar, some repeating the same sequence of movements in an eternal loop, others seemingly more aware of their surroundings. Mirabelle did not want to see them today. She had learnt that they could not touch her, or, crucially, feed her, but it was mildly irritating when they obscured the clear line of sight to something that she could catch and eat.

She slunk along the dark side of the corridor, scanning the lunar powered spotlights for signs of small four legged movement, but was distracted by an unfamiliar smell that threatened to overpower even the normal assault of spices, rusting metals, dubious fabrics, ancient paper, and various dead things that continually collided in an olfactory whirlwind inside the hall. Something else was here, something that was alive and not alive at the same time.

Opening her jaws slightly she drew in more of the foreign scent. It was so sharp that it was almost painful, so she closed her mouth and began to track the invisible path down the corridor. Within a few steps she saw the new thing. It was a plant of some kind, a giant plant god of some sort, bigger than a man, and covered in spiny needles, like a million tiny claws. A memory that was not hers directly, but was preloaded into her species finally woke up - she knew now it was a tree, even if she had never seen one before. Why was it here? And how had it got in? Most importantly, could she eat it? It smelled strangely intoxicating. She sent a factional signal through the electrical centre of her brain and brought back the ghosts to try and get a clue.

The half solid people swarmed around the huge green plant, alternating pawing at it and then stopping to stand and stare. No one ate any of it. Mirabelle began to loose interest.

Just to be on the safe side, she thought that she should claim ownership of it anyway. Less hesitantly, she strode up to where it sat, murdered and imprisoned in a large metal basin, and rubbed the side of her face along the lowest branches, nonchalantly giving the very edge a little chew, just to see.

What she was not aware of was that in reaching up for that illicit taste of a forest she could never see, another inherent cat characteristic had kicked in. Her tail, consumed with the conflict of eat/don't eat began to thrash about in an sign of conflicted nerves, striking a small plastic box on the edge of the basin.

A carnival of light flashed across Mirabelle's startled eyes. Colours alternated patterns on the floor and, with diminishing strength as she raced back toward the door, onto her back. Flat once again, she exploded out into the familiar desert darkness. Her panic subsided and she pulled at it until it became anger. She turned towards the shack she shared with the shape they called Faziz and began to think about when she would let her claws out on him to restore her equilibrium.

Inside the Bazaar the lights played on, reflecting either on the empty stalls or the empty crowd depending whose eyes were not there to see.

I will celebrate a shoestring Saturnalia

Monday, 3 December 2012

Col Thomas Morgan 1969 Part One: Strange Days

The sky was a dull grey that did Col Thomas Morgan's dark blue MG MCT MG sports model no favours as it trundled though the sleepy London streets towards Westminster. A Sunday morning in October 1969, what could be finer? A few more hours kip wouldn't have gone amiss of course, and it hurt that Samantha hadn't returned his calls so the rarity of a night in his own Mews flat had to be spent single in a King sized bed. Yes, he could have headed to the clubs, but it just didn't seem to have the same appeal as it had a few years ago. The music could be endlessly long, and the brief period where his smart militaristic jackets and blazers happily co-incided with popular fashion had faded from view as quickly as it had crept up on him in the first place.

This was a troubling recollection. Wasn't it more or less his job not to let anything creep up on him under any circumstances? Remember that time in Haiti with the the poisonous snakes in his golf bag? Or the black clad assassins silently gliding along threads of steel above the streets of New York as he clung to the fascia of the Empire State? He had tried telling that story to Samantha at the ridiculous nightclub she had insisted taking him to last month but her eyes had glazed over and before he got to how his life had been saved through his spring activated titanium spiked shoes she had wandered off across to the edge of the stage where five ludicrously hairy men were caterwauling about elves or something of equal inanity.

It was still early enough to get a parking space right outside of headquarters. Well, not headquarters exactly, but sub annexe 8 of headquarters, where all the "special" agents had been redeployed to have them reporting out of the one office for efficiency.

The office was hidden below street level, under the facade of a genteel tearoom. Until recently the subterranean level was accessed by stepping in to the adjacent red phone box, dialling 666, and descending in a one person lift through the false floor, but then someone...Morgan was that young oik in the raincoat and thick glasses...had pointed out in his cockney nails on a blackboard accent that it was much less suspicious to walk in though the front door of a cafe to have a cup of tea that to go in a phone box and bloody disappear.

Personally, Morgan thought it rather more suspicious that a tearoom would be open at nine o clock on a Sunday morning, and he rather missed the phone box trick, but his was not to reason why.

As he approached the lace and doily decorated glass of the front door, he was startled as an area of refuse at the corner of the shop front unfurled and put out a hand. Nestled in between the empty boxes and general rubbish awaiting collection, presumably sleeping off the excesses of a Saturday night spent singing about goblins or god knows what, was an unwashed bearded hippie of the type that made Morgan want to click his heels together, activate the spikes through the front of his spats, and send this peacenik home.

 "Hey man," mumbled the face that was more hair than skin, "Want to know the secret of the universe? Don't even need to cross my palm with silver, brother, these are the days of the open hand, we have no secrets here." His ragged arm outstretched hopefully notwithstanding.

Without turning his head, Morgan grasped the handle to the teashop door, which clicked open pleasantly, setting him up with time for a parting shot before the customer warning bell perched inside the frame chimed haphazardly.

"No secrets? My dear chap you couldn't be any more wrong". Ding ding. Yes, he still missed his phone box but having had the opportunity to deliver a little bon mot that would sound excellent if they were being recorded, he felt happier.

There was a decent pretence at breakfast going on, with a handful of customers and an almost equal number of waitresses. Morgan wandered about for a few moments, making a play of studying the menu, just in case, before heading behind the counter and through to the stockroom, where, to his immense irritation, the door took no less than three attempts before it recognised his voice activation code.

As far as he could tell from the log book in the reception area  (a total misnomer, since there was no one there to receive him, meaning more previously prepared wit was going to waste), he was the only person that had signed in to the building that morning. The Major, who had summoned him, was either late - unheard of, but these were strange times - or had not left since arriving last night.

Morgan was looking forward to seeing the Major again. It was not often that he was asked to take instruction from the Major directly so he knew it must be important. But he also knew how much the Major enjoyed the perks of command, and he could reasonably expect that after a cursory chat to meet requirements, the better part of the day would be spent being briefed on the golf course, then on to Downing Street for lunch with a cabinet minister, or prime minister quite possibly, it had happened before. Maybe he could get a message to Samantha to meet him there.

He strode purposefully enough along the empty metallic corridors, but what was the purpose if no one else was there to see it? The place was dead, it was as if the enemy had already occupied and no one had noticed, or cared. Room after room was empty, some with open doors, some open doors showing open filing cabinets and open files. These are the days of the open hand, we have no secrets here.

He wondered if he needed a change of career, but then caught himself. That was where the trouble always started, after all. Look at his fellow agents, what a shower they had become. Drake went on holiday and never came back...went mad in Wales or some other such nonsense...Steed had gone native, hanging about with all his sweet young things, chasing clowns and mad scientists, more concerned with getting the right kind of velvet on the collar of his suit than the big picture. And as for the new crop, all the ridiculous departments known by a single letter only, like those degenerates over at "S", or a tortuous acronym twisting the English language to get something suitable enigmatic such as the laughable NEMESIS. Of course, he was under no illusions. No doubt his fellows felt equally well disposed toward him.

He knocked on the door of the Major's office, and was rewarded with the familiar bark. "Oh do come in Morgan, we haven't got all day."

He stepped through, starting with "Do you know Major, they are making disposable hippies nowadays..." but this trailed away to nothing as he registered the empty chair behind the similarly bereft desk.

Off to the side of the desk was a rather rickety phone table, on top of which a small speaker was relaying the Major's voice. This was new, and like almost everything else that had come along in the last three years, Morgan did not like the look of it one bit.

"Morgan old boy," boomed the speaker, giving evidence of the power if the voice behind it, "I have a job for you. An unorthodox job ,  I grant you, but one which will mean a great deal to me personally if you take it on, do you understand?"

Morgan did understand. "Am I to take it, Major, that this job the books, so to speak?"

"Oh now, don't get the wrong idea!", the Major hurrumpted, "It's official business, all above board and what not, but not everyone has to know our business, do they? Some business works best as a secret. That is what you are after all, isn't it Morgan? A secret sort of agent?"

Morgan was pleased the Major had put the words "sort of" in the middle of the job description. It made it sound a little less ridiculous.

"So pick up your passport and get to Heathrow. There will be instructions for you there."

"But what's my cover?" This was altogether too quick, where was the dossier, the preparation, the planning?

"Oh, no cover needed Morgan. That's the beauty of it. For this one, you can go disguised as yourself."

"I don't follow."

"Yes you do Morgan, and that's why I know you will carry out my instructions to the letter."

"But what's the mission? Who's the target?"

"Tell me Morgan," crackled the speaker, rather sinisterly, "What do you know about a girl called Samantha?"

Everywhere he goes he stays a stranger

Col Thomas Morgan Will Return

Friday, 2 November 2012

Your ping test means nothing round here old man

Start with the moon used to this sort of thing, her blacks crackle and drag. Close in, close up, the silver coin of  Kohnsu, Diana, Toth, exerting gravitational force over point of view as above so below. Pan back with relief and the infinite night starts again to encroach at the edges, the white light reducing into the centre of the screen like the tunnel vision of a depressive.

Take a second to evolve and engage perception a little further along the electromagnetic spectrum. Float above the raging torrent of waveforms as they tear across the desert, battering through any form in their path. The insane highway, going everywhere and nowhere for nothing  E = h x nu.

The air is bisected unilaterally a billion times over, the space between us now just an absurd cheeswire of colour and dense colliding signals singing through the wire lost in the night. A lone vehicle approaches the border, it's occupants nothing more than a momentary, fractional, resting place for a billion tiny particles which pass through their flesh, bones, hearts. Do they leave any trace of their radiated presence? Who can say what biological or spirtual processes are instigated, tainted, or improved as they invisibly buffet and irradiate the body?

Drop down to race with the river, fly just above the surface of the crazed rainbow, an unstoppable charge.

But here is the waterfall, here is is the edge of the world. Abruptly the rug is pulled out from underneath and the particles crash to the earth, through the earth, diverted underground or destroyed. Wave upon wave of demented frequencies continue to hurl themselves across the horizon, trailing now like fireworks and falling in a beautiful arc of colour, the invisible waterfall a silent fury at the edge of the flat earth.

Stand on the warm sand in the freezing night and wonder at the sight of the ocean of light being held back by nothing. The land has no interest in these invaders and they shall not pass. Your body is clean, unaffected now by the EM assault, owned entirely by the moonlight. You know how it is out here on the perimeter there are no stars, out here we is stoned immaculate.

this is the land where the Pharaoh died