Monday, January 25, 2021
As the ice sheet advanced and retreated over the north west of Europe, human beings repeatedly pushed up into the landmass that would become the British Isles. Yet there was no permanent settlement until around 15,000 BC.
The so-called Jurassic Coast was not then a coast at all and what is now the North Sea became a hot and humid zone of woodlands and wetlands: Doggerland, a landscape and lifestyle opportunity described thus by Peter Ackroyd in Foundation...
Oak woods, marshes covered by reeds, and open grasslands covered the land. It was a warm and humid world. Red deer and voles inhabited the landscape; but they shared it with elephants and macaque monkeys. Among them wandered groups of humans, twenty-five or more in each group, pursuing their prey. They fired upon the animals with flint arrowheads, and used carved reindeer antlers as axes; they carried wooden spears. We do not know how they were organized but the discovery of ‘butchery sites’, where tools were manufactured and food prepared away from the main settlements, suggests a measure of social control.
Modern identities like 'Celt' and 'Anglo-Saxon' are to some extent a vestige of the nineteenth century nationalist posturings. Post-imperial migrations from what is now Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe were part of an older and deeper process. Ackroyd additionally notes how this prehistoric pedigree has persisted in the populations of England.
In 1995 two palaeontologists discovered that the material from a male body, found in the caves of Cheddar Gorge and interred 9,000 years ago, was a close match with that of residents still living in the immediate area.
My own paternal ancestors, these days designated as Celt-Iberians, arrived at some stage before the Roman legions, when the waters had risen and the archipelago was taking its familiar modern shape.
I've long assumed they took the so called 'Atlantic route' in rudimentary boats, but this map suggests that they just as easily might have walked it.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
And thus, unaware of the semi-severed connection between Jason Lever and that other con man 'Don Marco', we took ownership of the property adjacent to his in 2013.
Our first face to face encounter was not long in coming. We were walking our dogs on the road close to the old Spa, a few hundred yards from our main entrance, when Lever suddenly appeared from around the corner on his scooter and was duly chased by three of the dogs that reside at the Santiago de los Caballeros school there.
He stopped, apparently to introduce himself, but his opening remarks concerned his canine escort. When they follow me this way, he said, I like to stop and kick them.
Then, perhaps sensing our gathering dismay at this carefully packaged first impression, he continued: "But, if they continue to bother me, I'll give them some food..."
A moment of relief. Was he extricating himself? No.
"This will be their last meal..."
He described the crowning morsel thus: a big juicy steak packed with aspirin, "so they bleed out on the inside..."
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this was that there had been no question for either of us, at least at first, that Lever was trying to impress us, yet as the violent fantasy he projected grew darker, the insinuated threat that it betokened became ever less equivocal.
To all those that bother me, he seemed to be saying, I might start off with some reflex and fairly mindless aggression, but thereafter, if they don't back off, I will come up with something altogether more premeditated and vicious.
Several years later I would hear Lever boasting of how he lacks empathy, as if this were some sort of Australian superpower. But by that time we did not require any verbal confirmation.
Animal cruelty is a behavioural marker of delinquency, and worse.
That very first exchange with a man who thought this was an appropriate way to present himself to a couple out walking their three dogs, has remained vivid in my mind, increasingly leavened with hindsight.
At the time we were still resident in our original property in the village, a three storey town house, but the more extensive garden at the new place acted as a constant lure, and while we employed a builder called Edwin to establish basic level of habitability through 2014, we would show up with our dogs most afternoons just to enjoy the open space.
On one such occasion Edwin shared with us a short video he had made with his mobile phone. He had been working on some stairs and a narrow terrace along the inside of the front wall, which would provide our German Shepherd Jin with a zone of his own to patrol. From this position Edwin had a partial view into Lever's front garden as our neighbour was already being quite obstinate in his refusal to build his own wall.
Lever had appeared carrying a small black puppy that he had recently taken in and had started to repeatedly punch it in the belly. He then bent over and pushed the puppy's snout into one of the cactuses that were clustered there, rubbing it repeatedly back and forth, seemingly oblivious to the dog's wails.
This was one of the most disturbing things I have ever been made to contemplate, and I've seen some messed up shit.
And it was not an isolated incident. On numerous other occasions we could hear the abuse of this poor little puppy taking place next door and our own dog Mochi always used to go crazy with alarm and, dare I suggest, empathy.
Eventually Mochi would start to react frantically at the mere scent of our lurking neighbour. (She died last year from a mysterious internal bleeding that our vet tried unsuccessfully to treat with antibiotics.)
For us both it is a matter of profoundest regret that we did nothing about it at the time. This was what we have come to see as 'the period of appeasement' (the subject of a future episode), the span of two whole years where we repeatedly witnessed disturbing examples of unhinged behaviour, yet took no action because we ourselves were not the direct objects of it. The path of least resistance was to look away.
Though in the specific case of the animal cruelty our options were then fairly limited, as Guatemala had yet to pass its Ley de Bienestar Animal (2017).
Lever, apparently aware that we had become inconvenient witnesses to his callousness, made a ham-fisted attempt to apologise to me one afternoon in the village, when I bumped into him walking the puppy with his then girlfriend.
The problem, he explained, was that he had grown up with female dogs and was just not used to males.
Shortly afterwards the little black puppy disappeared and was replaced with two bitches.
PS: Edwin has gone on to become a witness to Lever's constant moronic and brutish harassment of my wife.
In this still taken from a security cam video (2018) he is standing in our entrance along with a colleague, conversing with V about another project when Lever whizzes by again insulting her both verbally and with an obscene gesture.
Friday, January 22, 2021
We took in a classic movie this week, starring Karlheinz Böhm, son of the legendary Austrian conductor. You'll have to wait a day or so to find out which one.
(If you want to hear how this symphony supposedly ought to sound, try Harnoncourt.)
Böhm senior also scored many a long car journey with my father — specifically his interpretations of the Brahms symphonies.
Aside from its greatness — which hardly needs to be explained, by me or anyone else — the reason Beethoven’s music has had such special significance for me these past nine months is that it is the product of a person who was profoundly alone, and who found remarkable power and possibility in aloneness.
Nevertheless, a week or so later James Wood wrote in the LRB of how, as a child, he conspicuously failed to pick up his father's obsession with the music...
I disliked Beethoven’s bombast: the melodramatic dynamic contrasts that seemed like huge arguments followed by wheedling tears; the endless endings of the symphonies, as the brassy orchestra wumps from tonic to dominant to tonic, over and over again. The beer-cellar heroism in major keys – the aspect of Beethoven that sometimes offended even Adorno as ‘ham-acting’, ‘a mere “boom boom”’. Even the beauties of the famous slow movements – the or , say – seemed stiflingly ‘noble’ on a dull Northern English Sunday afternoon. The string quartets with their polite rustle.
I still stand amazed, especially with the stuff scribbled down by the 'deaf old bear', and yet as I grow older, the music and my prevailing moods seem further apart than they did thirty odd years ago in a corner room at Girton.Perhaps old Ludwig was just a little too humourless for 2020, though he was nevertheless fond of a drink. Indeed, it has been suggested that he died as a result of the lead in his vino tinto.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Over the past eight years I have accumulated enough material to write quite a juicy piece of fiction about the escalating incidents of encroachment and violent harassment that we have suffered at the hands of an Australian citizen named Jason Wade Lever.
It's really such a long and complicated story that I have fretted over how to share it, as I feel I now must. In narrative form, as protocol dictates, names and details would be altered, but here on this medium I shall be open and factual. And episodic.
Our first encounter with this individual in 2013 began with a description of torture and concluded with a thinly veiled threat (...of poisoning).
Veiled threats led to not-so-veiled threats, and to repeated acts of aggression in the streets of our village, with no care for who might get caught up in them: friends, family, children. Trespass, both digital and physical.
But in particular there has been a pattern of vile, misogynistic and frankly pervy abuse directed against my wife.
And then there is the stuff at which most well-balanced teenagers would turn up their noses: an intense and utterly infantile, six-week cyber-bullying campaign and behaviour like this — giving the finger to our security cameras while he wizzes by on a douche-ati.
A panza verde professional that came to hear of our plight and who, whilst not personally acquainted with Lever, occasionally mingles amidst the same ex-pat cliques, decided to conduct an investigation into this individual, entirely off his own bat.
When he presented his report to me in his office, it was a tale of alcohol and substance abuse plus mental problems, yet he added that Lever was pretty well liked within his own milieux, considered to be non-violent and widely believed to have put many of his past problems behind him by marrying a nice local girl.
That, however, is not the story I am going to tell.
But to begin with, like all good tales, it has a bit of a backstory...
Longer-termers around here will no doubt recall this rather sordid character, Jeffrey L. Cassman, who went by the name of Mark Francis whilst on the lam here in Antigua.
At the time this snap was taken at a gasolinera in Ciudad Vieja in 2010, Cassman had been wanted by the FBI for a couple of years, as he'd made a career of swindling a bunch of people back in his native Tennessee and nearby states.
It was a punter from Arkansas who eventually rang the bell on one of the 'fool proof' investment schemes touted by Cassman Financial, forcing the eponymous 'advisor' to flee south over the Tropic of Cancer with his spouse and then nine children. (Oh, and in excess of $350,000 that didn't really belong to him).
Ensconced in Antigua as 'Don Marco' he was soon up to his old tricks, not exactly full ponzi, but a friend of mine once shared with me a prospectus for a 'fool proof' tuctuc fleet start-up that JC had circulated, which insisted it would pay double digit returns from the first year onwards.
Eventually some of his ill-gotten gains from both here and stateside went into a local operation called El Ocelote SA, the name of which is still proudly displayed right inside the entrance to the business that now meets the world under the umbrella brand El Barrio. (It is also a company whose utility bills I discovered had been registered to my own private address, but more on that nonsense in future episodes.)
I have no reason to conclude that this estafador has ceased to be a sleeping partner of sorts there. He was certainly back in Antigua a couple of years ago, having announced proudly on the interwebs that he needed to check out his various business interests.
Before he was marched off in handcuffs, one Jason Lever, occasional miner, had also reportedly been Cassman's employee. And with Don Marco off to spend a four year sentence in federal lock-up (he pleaded guilty), Lever soon re-styled his image from employee to co-proprietor; the new alpha.
At the time we acquired this property next door to this still-single Western Australian larrikin, I had no notion of any connection between this pair, but its significance cannot now be discounted, because readers might remember how Mark Francis, auteur of GuateLiving, became my wholly uninvited digital snooper and stalker.
His blog is long gone, but not before I harvested it in its entirety.
Using his alter-ego, Cassman presented himself as a Latin mass exclusive, Catholic fanatic (years behind bars have not prevented him adding four more offspring to his tally), as a right-wing extremist (and one that has lately segued effortlessly into support for the insurrectionist-in-chief) and as an unrepentant xenophobe.
I generally hesitate to bandy about the R word, but the level of respect he showed to this country and its inhabitants whilst he skulked around here as an unwanted guest was almost certainly deserving of it.
Above all, a hypocrite, for the word on the streets after his arrest was that his extra-marital indiscretions had contributed to his downfall. Yet somehow his wife has stuck by him, even though he scammed her close family as well and had left her in a run down house with their now ten kids when he was carted off back to Nashville.
I never met him and it remains a mystery to me what I could have done to merit those flourishings of attention that began to appear like a morbid infatuation. This is the first time I have in a sense responded personally and proportionately to the drip drip of caustic abuse I had for almost two years.
Yet this experience was but a tiny part of this 'ripping yarn' recounted at some length elsewhere...
Even if the connection I intuit here is coincidental, the undeniable commonality for me is that men who are pretty much all facade and who derive pleasure from preying on others, also tend to suffer from simmering resentments.
And vendettas often have deeper, more twisted roots than one may at first be able to grasp.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Monday, January 18, 2021
Druk joins the greats of Thomas Vinterberg's back catalogue (The Hunt, Festen...) in the 'don't hold your breath for an American remake' bucket.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
The past, present and future are 'local' not global phenomena. Modern science owes this revelation to Albert Einstein.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
The passing of 'La Canche', so soon after her shrine-like shop beside La Merced, had us traipsing back down memory lane this afternoon.
The 'absolute blast' described by the poster comes afterwards when one learns that this feminist WWII caper with lashings of misogyny and suggested gaslighting was co-written by a man accused of abuse in Hollywood by eight different women.
The action is set on an American bomber dubbed The Fool's Errand en route to Samoan islands from Auckland and there are some very strange individuals on board. Describing two of them would involve unnecessary spoilers, but there is also a grisly Scotsman and a gremlin.
The latter can be rather unfavourably contrasted with members of the rampaging reptilian mob in Joe Dante's 1984 classic, which were comfortable as both actual and metaphorical presences in the plot. This larger, more bat-like cousin is seemingly disconnected from all the other unfathomable stuff going on around it, including an apparently impossible attack by Japanese zeros.
It's true that the term Gremlin originated in the RAF during the 1920s, but these little beasties were always supposed to be mischievous rather than downright malevolent.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Watching the impeachment debate in the House this morning has left me slightly underwhelmed with what one speaker referred to as this 'tabernacle of democracy'.
I'm not a regular viewer of this soap opera, so I suppose I will have to allow that this particular episode might not be typical.
Yet, just as Brexit tended to expose what is both good and bad about the UK's parliamentary system, #POTUS45 has been a sort of flesh and blood bug test of the US Constitution for the past four years.
Some of the problems I perceived today can be attributed to personalities. Nancy Pelosi's own uninspiring contribution was along the lines of "Lincoln, bla, bla, Kennedy, bla bla, last best hope...etc."
She's not the only American politician who seems to think history exists in order to be recited like passages from the Bible.
There's a deeper issue. Westminster-style oratory is famously adversarial. The way different speakers pop up and tussle verbally during the course of a debate allows for a process akin to thesis+antithesis=synthesis. It may be rare, but you sense that opinions can fluctuate in the collective during the time allocated.
Instead, inside this recently-violated tabernacle, the members of congress pop up and deliver, from notes, the opinions they all must have already possessed when they woke up in the morning. That's really not how democracy is supposed to work. it's certainly not how the Athenians did it.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Sunday, January 10, 2021
During the course of a short sojourn on the Mayan Riviera a couple of years ago I discovered that the key I had been given opened every room in the hotel. This immediately struck me as good material for a short story. The circumstances of my discovery would provide the impulse for the narrative.
I've probably mentioned here before that I have a particular affinity with stories set in hotels, the older and grander the better, so this particular title did rather jump out at me.
In truth the room in question here, and the hotel which contains it, are not quite as central as Dicker's title might suggest, or rather they are, but as the drain around which the rest of the plot eddies and circles. Slowly and rather over-elaborately.
Still, this is good clean Eurotrashy fun, an enjoyably middlebrow mystery set amidst Geneva’s banking community.
Saturday, January 09, 2021
“This day was left at my house a very neat silver watch, by one Briggs, a scrivener and sollicitor, at which I was angry with my wife for receiving, or, at least, for opening the box wherein it was, and so far witnessing our receipt of it, as to give the messenger 5s. for bringing it; but it can't be helped, and I will endeavour to do the man a kindnesse, he being a friend of my uncle Wight's.”
Samuel Pepys, April 17, 1665.
A case of watch where you open that box.
I once had some clients in government institutions during the nineties who would go to near extraordinary lengths not to be seen to be receiving any sort of tribute, even a bottle of plonk at Christmas.
Friday, January 08, 2021
There's a new mute-ation in the USA and it is of Trump's Twitter stream.
Saturday, January 02, 2021
A favourite phrase of my mother's.
Charlie Brooker's scathing annual review got the big budget update just in time for the bad news mega-event that has just concluded.
I guess there are several ways to appraise this movie, but most obviously in terms of its animation and storytelling versus its metaphysical payload.
I know I can all too easily be sucked into the latter, so I am going to largely avoid the temptation. I'm grown up enough to enjoy a good ghost movie without believing in spirits, and I don't think one has to be heavily invested in mind-body dualism in order to get a kick out of the humour and imagination that went into the making of Pixar's latest film. (Actually, one doesn't even need to hold jazz in particularly high regard, for that matter.)
I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end and although it used to be the default that each new animated feature that came out of this studio was incrementally better than the last one, it's been a while since I have genuinely felt that to be the case, yet Soul really could be described as their best yet, on some levels, if not all.
There was a part around the mid-point where I did start to feel I perhaps wasn't entirely on board. Bertrand Russell said we mistake the struggle for life with the struggle for success and the film itself seemed on course for making this mistake, until suddenly, upliftingly, it wasn't.
And anyway that part featured a particularly wicked calico cat, so I was cool with it!
The scenes located in the Great Before and the Zone reminded me of rather trippy dreams I had as a young child. This colourful overworld didn't quite hang together and one supposes that attempts had been made to offend as few true believers as possible and the end result was a sort of cake and eat it ontology.
It did make me ponder what would happen if we were to suddenly suffer from a collective religious amnesia, misplacing the over-bashed texts we have accumulated from decidedly less informed times, and had to come up with an entirely new and modern existential rationale for the next generation, starting entirely from scratch.
Soul starts off down that road, but it's an American product at heart, addressing American audiences before all others, so it pulls up before the whimsy can fully present as doctrine.
Overall rather glad it was this movie we chose to watch on New Year's Eve (2020) and not the one from the night before.