Thursday, January 30, 2020

Scandal (1989) and The Trial of Christine Keeler (2)

Now that we’ve watched The Trial of Christine Keeler all the way through to the satisfying wrap up of episode six, there are a handful of additional conclusions to make.

We live in an era that would dearly like to paint Keeler as a victim, yet as the text before the end credits informed us, that’s not how she wanted it to be.

Amanda Coe has taken this as her cue to deliver carefully ambiguous characters across the board. It gets a bit cake and eat it at times, but her sympathetic approach to the likes of Profumo, Mandy Rice Davies and so on propels the drama even where the surrounding dialogue is a bit on the nose.

The only obvious villains here are the police, who are all rather ACAB. (Though the C in the acronym could also stand for cabinet ministers.)

Hypocrites make up a large-ish subset of the overall population of abusers. The Catholic church alone is a strong indicator of this. Yet what about self-styled non-hypocrites, such as Stephen Ward? One might take licentiousness to the point of righteousness, i.e. hypocrisy.

My father’s friendship with Ward has led to speculation within the family that perhaps we should have interrogated him a bit more about the girls living in Wimpole Mews. Now that I have watched this series (and simultaneously re-acquainted myself with John Hurt as the ‘not a real doctor’ in Scandal) I feel it is really about Ward that I should have shown greater interest.

One of the frustrations of both the new series and the 1989 feature film is that the tale of Jack Profumo’s adultery is quite tame by the standards of modern politicians. At the time the Cold War made it a tad more interesting, yet Ivanov is very much a secondary figure in both adaptations.

The truth is surely that the real scandal is going on in the background. We get one scene of debauchery at Cliveden and facts emerge in court which have apparently not deserved a scene of their own beforehand, which gets a little frustrating. I plan on reading one of the two books that concentrate on Ward and his ‘secret world’ to fill in some of these gaps.

The full story about the scapegoat of the incident will be stuck in the archives until 2046 apparently, when I could conceivably still be around to read about it. One presumes that the Duke of Edinburgh will almost certainly not be.

Keeler herself is perhaps not as interesting a character as the tabloids of the time would have had us believe. Many modern Latin Americans would certainly crack up at the fine distinction being made here between real pimps and tarts and the likes of Ward and his girlfriends. 

(Almost) lastly, there’s clearly only one café in the whole of early 60s London and it’s called The Regent. (The boards outside reminded V how much she used to like ‘scampi’ in London's pubs.)

2046 is a great movie.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Plague Year

Britons returning from Wuhan are set to be quarantined for two weeks at a military base. 

Back in 1665, even allowing for the fact that London was then a much smaller metropolis, the range of orders and provisions laid down by local government to limit the spread of infection are both fascinating and pretty extraordinary. 

One has to wonder if the modern equivalents of Mayor and aldermen are as capable of such concerted and thorough action. (I've marked in red some of the more interesting provisions.)

All this is on top of the requirement by the Lord Mayor that physicians should tend to the sick without charging as well as providing free medicines. 

It always used to freak me out a bit how, during the short journey between Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner, the Piccadilly Line on the London underground seems to laterally-undulate rather like a snake (though more noisily) as it circumnavigates various submerged plague pits.

Excerpt from Journal of the Plague Year, by Defoe...

'WHEREAS in the reign of our late Sovereign King James, of happy memory, an Act was made for the charitable relief and ordering of persons infected with the plague, whereby authority was given to justices of the peace, mayors, bailiffs, and other head-officers to appoint within their several limits examiners, searchers, watchmen, keepers, and buriers for the persons and places infected, and to minister unto them oaths for the performance of their offices. And the same statute did also authorise the giving of other directions, as unto them for the present necessity should seem good in their directions. It is now, upon special consideration, thought very expedient for preventing and avoiding of infection of sickness (if it shall so please Almighty God) that these officers following be appointed, and these orders hereafter duly observed.
Examiners to be appointed in every Parish.
'First, it is thought requisite, and so ordered, that in every parish there be one, two, or more persons of good sort and credit chosen and appointed by the alderman, his deputy, and common council of every ward, by the name of examiners, to continue in that office the space of two months at least. And if any fit person so appointed shall refuse to undertake the same, the said parties so refusing to be committed to prison until they shall conform themselves accordingly.
The Examiner's Office.
'That these examiners be sworn by the aldermen to inquire and learn from time to time what houses in every parish be visited, and what persons be sick, and of what diseases, as near as they can inform themselves; and upon doubt in that case, to command restraint of access until it appear what the disease shall prove. And if they find any person sick of the infection, to give order to the constable that the house be shut up; and if the constable shall be found remiss or negligent, to give present notice thereof to the alderman of the ward.
Watchmen. (Shutes
'That to every infected house there be appointed two watchmen, one for every day, and the other for the night; and that these watchmen have a special care that no person go in or out of such infected houses whereof they have the charge, upon pain of severe punishment. And the said watchmen to do such further offices as the sick house shall need and require: and if the watchman be sent upon any business, to lock up the house and take the key with him; and the watchman by day to attend until ten of the clock at night, and the watchman by night until six in the morning.
Searchers. (Female cannon fodder.)
'That there be a special care to appoint women searchers in every parish, such as are of honest reputation, and of the best sort as can be got in this kind; and these to be sworn to make due search and true report to the utmost of their knowledge whether the persons whose bodies they are appointed to search do die of the infection, or of what other diseases, as near as they can. And that the physicians who shall be appointed for cure and prevention of the infection do call before them the said searchers who are, or shall be, appointed for the several parishes under their respective cares, to the end they may consider whether they are fitly qualified for that employment, and charge them from time to time as they shall see cause, if they appear defective in their duties.
'That no searcher during this time of visitation be permitted to use any public work or employment, or keep any shop or stall, or be employed as a laundress, or in any other common employment whatsoever.
'For better assistance of the searchers, forasmuch as there hath been heretofore great abuse in misreporting the disease, to the further spreading of the infection, it is therefore ordered that there be chosen and appointed able and discreet chirurgeons, besides those that do already belong to the pest-house, amongst whom the city and Liberties to be quartered as the places lie most apt and convenient; and every of these to have one quarter for his limit; and the said chirurgeons in every of their limits to join with the searchers for the view of the body, to the end there may be a true report made of the disease.
'And further, that the said chirurgeons shall visit and search such-like persons as shall either send for them or be named and directed unto them by the examiners of every parish, and inform themselves of the disease of the said parties.
'And forasmuch as the said chirurgeons are to be sequestered from all other cures, and kept only to this disease of the infection, it is ordered that every of the said chirurgeons shall have twelve-pence a body searched by them, to be paid out of the goods of the party searched, if he be able, or otherwise by the parish.
'If any nurse-keeper shall remove herself out of any infected house before twenty-eight days after the decease of any person dying of the infection, the house to which the said nurse-keeper doth so remove herself shall be shut up until the said twenty-eight days be expired.'
Notice to be given of the Sickness.
'The master of every house, as soon as any one in his house complaineth, either of blotch or purple, or swelling in any part of his body, or falleth otherwise dangerously sick, without apparent cause of some other disease, shall give knowledge thereof to the examiner of health within two hours after the said sign shall appear.
Sequestration of the Sick.
'As soon as any man shall be found by this examiner, chirurgeon, or searcher to be sick of the plague, he shall the same night be sequestered in the same house; and in case he be so sequestered, then though he afterwards die not, the house wherein he sickened should be shut up for a month, after the use of the due preservatives taken by the rest.
Airing the Stuff.
'For sequestration of the goods and stuff of the infection, their bedding and apparel and hangings of chambers must be well aired with fire and such perfumes as are requisite within the infected house before they be taken again to use. This to be done by the appointment of an examiner.
Shutting up of the House.
'If any person shall have visited any man known to be infected of the plague, or entered willingly into any known infected house, being not allowed, the house wherein he inhabiteth shall be shut up for certain days by the examiner's direction.
None to be removed out of infected Houses
'Item, that none be removed out of the house where he falleth sick of the infection into any other house in the city (except it be to the pest-house or a tent, or unto some such house which the owner of the said visited house holdeth in his own hands and occupieth by his own servants); and so as security be given to the parish whither such remove is made, that the attendance and charge about the said visited persons shall be observed and charged in all the particularities before expressed, without any cost of that parish to which any such remove shall happen to be made, and this remove to be done by night. And it shall be lawful to any person that hath two houses to remove either his sound or his infected people to his spare house at his choice, so as, if he send away first his sound, he not after send thither his sick, nor again unto the sick the sound; and that the same which he sendeth be for one week at the least shut up and secluded from company, for fear of some infection at the first not appearing.
Burial of the Dead.
'That the burial of the dead by this visitation be at most convenient hours, always either before sun-rising or after sun-setting, with the privity of the churchwardens or constable, and not otherwise; and that no neighbours nor friends be suffered to accompany the corpse to church, or to enter the house visited, upon pain of having his house shut up or be imprisoned.
'And that no corpse dying of infection shall be buried, or remain in any church in time of common prayer, sermon, or lecture. And that no children be suffered at time of burial of any corpse in any church, churchyard, or burying-place to come near the corpse, coffin, or grave. And that all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.
'And further, all public assemblies at other burials are to be foreborne during the continuance of this visitation.
No infected Stuff to be uttered. (!?) 
'That no clothes, stuff, bedding, or garments be suffered to be carried or conveyed out of any infected houses, and that the criers and carriers abroad of bedding or old apparel to be sold or pawned be utterly prohibited and restrained, and no brokers of bedding or old apparel be permitted to make any outward show, or hang forth on their stalls, shop-boards, or windows, towards any street, lane, common way, or passage, any old bedding or apparel to be sold, upon pain of imprisonment. And if any broker or other person shall buy any bedding, apparel, or other stuff out of any infected house within two months after the infection hath been there, his house shall be shut up as infected, and so shall continue shut up twenty days at the least.
No Person to be conveyed out of any infected House.
'If any person visited do fortune, by negligent looking unto, or by any other means, to come or be conveyed from a place infected to any other place, the parish from whence such party hath come or been conveyed, upon notice thereof given, shall at their charge cause the said party so visited and escaped to be carried and brought back again by night, and the parties in this case offending to be punished at the direction of the alderman of the ward, and the house of the receiver of such visited person to be shut up for twenty days.
Every visited House to be marked.
'That every house visited be marked with a red cross of a foot long in the middle of the door, evident to be seen, and with these usual printed words, that is to say, "Lord, have mercy upon us," to be set close over the same cross, there to continue until lawful opening of the same house.
Every visited House to be watched.
'That the constables see every house shut up, and to be attended with watchmen, which may keep them in, and minister necessaries unto them at their own charges, if they be able, or at the common charge, if they are unable; the shutting up to be for the space of four weeks after all be whole.
'That precise order to be taken that the searchers, chirurgeons, keepers, and buriers are not to pass the streets without holding a red rod or wand of three feet in length in their hands, open and evident to be seen, and are not to go into any other house than into their own, or into that whereunto they are directed or sent for; but to forbear and abstain from company, especially when they have been lately used in any such business or attendance.
'That where several inmates are in one and the same house, and any person in that house happens to be infected, no other person or family of such house shall be suffered to remove him or themselves without a certificate from the examiners of health of that parish; or in default thereof, the house whither he or they so remove shall be shut up as in case of visitation.
Hackney-Coaches. (Taxis!) 
'That care be taken of hackney-coachmen, that they may not (as some of them have been observed to do after carrying of infected persons to the pest-house and other places) be admitted to common use till their coaches be well aired, and have stood unemployed by the space of five or six days after such service.'
The Streets to be kept Clean.
'First, it is thought necessary, and so ordered, that every householder do cause the street to be daily prepared before his door, and so to keep it clean swept all the week long.
That Rakers take it from out the Houses.
'That the sweeping and filth of houses be daily carried away by the rakers, and that the raker shall give notice of his coming by the blowing of a horn, as hitherto hath been done.
Laystalls to be made far off from the City.
'That the laystalls be removed as far as may be out of the city and common passages, and that no nightman or other be suffered to empty a vault into any garden near about the city.
Care to be had of unwholesome Fish or Flesh, and of musty Corn.
'That special care be taken that no stinking fish, or unwholesome flesh, or musty corn, or other corrupt fruits of what sort soever, be suffered to be sold about the city, or any part of the same.
'That the brewers and tippling-houses be looked into for musty and unwholesome casks.
'That no hogs, dogs, or cats, or tame pigeons, or ponies, be suffered to be kept within any part of the city, or any swine to be or stray in the streets or lanes, but that such swine be impounded by the beadle or any other officer, and the owner punished according to Act of Common Council, and that the dogs be killed by the dog-killers appointed for that purpose.'
'Forasmuch as nothing is more complained of than the multitude of rogues and wandering beggars that swarm in every place about the city, being a great cause of the spreading of the infection, and will not be avoided, notwithstanding any orders that have been given to the contrary: It is therefore now ordered, that such constables, and others whom this matter may any way concern, take special care that no wandering beggars be suffered in the streets of this city in any fashion or manner whatsoever, upon the penalty provided by the law, to be duly and severely executed upon them.
'That all plays, bear-baitings, games, singing of ballads, buckler-play, or such-like causes of assemblies of people be utterly prohibited, and the parties offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward.
Feasting prohibited.
'That all public feasting, and particularly by the companies of this city, and dinners at taverns, ale-houses, and other places of common entertainment, be forborne till further order and allowance; and that the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection.
'That disorderly tippling in taverns, ale-houses, coffee-houses, and cellars be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague. And that no company or person be suffered to remain or come into any tavern, ale-house, or coffee-house to drink after nine of the clock in the evening, according to the ancient law and custom of this city, upon the penalties ordained in that behalf.
'And for the better execution of these orders, and such other rules and directions as, upon further consideration, shall be found needful: It is ordered and enjoined that the aldermen, deputies, and common councilmen shall meet together weekly, once, twice, thrice or oftener (as cause shall require), at some one general place accustomed in their respective wards (being clear from infection of the plague), to consult how the said orders may be duly put in execution; not intending that any dwelling in or near places infected shall come to the said meeting while their coming may be doubtful. And the said aldermen, and deputies, and common councilmen in their several wards may put in execution any other good orders that by them at their said meetings shall be conceived and devised for preservation of his Majesty's subjects from the infection.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Chechén and Chacá

Behind the cyathea here, you can just glimpse the trunks of our Chechén and Chacá saplings. 

There’s a ancient Mayan legend about these trees, always found together, one with a toxic black sap, the other with a brown bark that serves as the antidote. 

Kinic and Tizic were brave, warrior brothers, both of whom had a thing for the beautiful Nicté-Ha. Kind hearted Kinic’s motives were honourable. Tizic, let’s say, was a bit of a wrong’un. Their duel ended in a deadly draw. The Gods subsequently decided that they should be reborn as this forever affiliated dyad of the Mayan forest. 

I am not sure how they arrived in our garden, but I went through a phase a few years ago of collecting seeds during trips around the Yucatán. Poor Nicté-Ha came back as a species of white lily, which we have yet to acquire. The bamboo is irrepressible. 

In Theory...

Last Christmas (2019)

Last Christmas's big box-office hit was resoundingly declared a turkey by leading critics on both sides of the pond, but I honestly can't see what there is here to get all scroogey about. 

Many have bellyached about the 'twist'. Over at the Telegraph Robbie Collin says it 'lands on your head like a grand piano'. 

FFS, this movie is quoting sources like Fleabag and Sixth Sense in the way that Scary Movie parodied Scream. The payoff is not meant to be a twist at all. This is a Christmas movie, designed for repeat viewing, and its writers (Emma Thompson, her partner Greg Wise and Byrony Kimmings) are rather obviously aware that the majority of times it will be viewed, the audience will absolutely know what's going on. Anyway, if you don't twig within minutes of Henry Golding's first appearance, then there is something seriously wrong with you. 

Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian labelled it 'a grisly sub-Richard Curtis festive pudding'. Yet when it comes to Richard Curtis, the subber the better as far as I am concerned. Curtis's version of London, rather like Woody Allen's, is not one I recognise; in short, utterly irritating. 

Sure, Emma Thompson's London is more than a bit liberal elitey, but then so am I, and it is packed with little details that resonate. It feels real where it needs to be, and yet utterly absurd as the genre demands as well.

There are loads of cultural references that worked for me: those little, hidden spaces, the benches with memorials, red buses in Regent's Street, the Docklands, Inigo Jones's 'piazza' in Covent Garden, which I have seen transformed since I first walked around its boarded-up colonnades in '79, and which went on to become one of the key recreation zones of my adolescence. 

But most of all, that song, one of the saddest festive ditties ever composed, and which at the close of 1984, established itself as the lifelong soundtrack to my recollections of a particularly melancholic phase of my existence. 

Its title, borrowed by the film, refers to at least three things here. One of them, the passing of its writer on Christmas Day 2016 is implicit in the 2017 setting I would suggest. George himself had proposed the idea of a screenplay scored with his music and had given Thompson and co permission to go ahead before his untimely death. I don't think it's a stretch, given some of the content and the release date, that we are also being asked to contemplate the mood of the final British Chrimbo before Brexit. 

And I think that overall, the movie earns its finale where Emilia Clarke is allowed to perform a surprisingly upbeat cover version of Last Christmas. 

Yet Mark Kermode went on air to complain that the whole sorry spectacle is grounded in a misinterpretation of George Michael's lyrics, which is one of the more misplaced criticisms one could possibly lay down about this movie.

What is is definitely grounded in is gentle yet sophisticated British humour. so while I can see why American critics* might not appreciate this, it's a little bizarre that it fell so flat with our own.

Can one really imagine that Emma Thompson, MA hons Cantab, doesn't realise that Michelle Yeoh's shop in Covent Garden market, packed to the rafters with Christmas tat, all year round, is an essentially silly idea? It's a JOKE. As are the fact that Tom 'works nights' and Katarina's mother's quip that Brexit should be blamed on the Poles. 

My feeling is that this grinchiness possibly reveals something about the way critics consume their films, in sessions of three or four in one go. Back in the early noughties we used to do this at a cinema in east London. And we found that the mood of one movie could readily bleed into its successor, so that one could struggle to adapt to the quiet sensibility of a piece preceded by another with a high body count. 

If you've just sat through a whizz-bang episode of Star Wars some of the poignant details of London life captured here might just pass you by. In this respect the moment where the writing and performance peak in Last Christmas occurs where Kate and Tom converse, sitting on the floor of his flat. There's something just a little bit moving about that scene and that location, which transcends the colourful campness all around it.

This isn't a one star movie; it has merits enough to deserve three, and we gave it an extra half star, just because it touched us as it amused us. 

PS: One of the best ways to witness Covent Garden in its previous existence as a fruit and veg and flower market before the transformation into cultural centre by the GLC, is a viewing of Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972). 

* David Fear, Rolling Stone magazine > Last Christmas is bad. Incredibly, shockingly, monumentally bad. The kind of bad that falls somewhere between finding a lump of coal in your stocking and discovering one painfully lodged in your rectum.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Tiempos Recios (2)

Readers may recall that I was struggling to see the elephant. Well, very soon afterwards it definitely manifested itself and turned out to be a bit of a mammoth. A very fine beast indeed. 

Some of my earlier reservations remain, such as the uncommon menagerie of styles, especially in the opening 150 pages or so. 

I went in blind with a sense that this would be a novel set around Guatemala's 1954 coup, notoriously cooked up by the CIA. We definitely get there in the end, though these passages were the most textbook-like and Vargas Llosa had meanwhile digressed in several directions around the timeline. 

At the heart of the novel is a kind of alternative history of the aftermath of the American intervention, specifically a take on the circumstances of the assassination of President Carlos Castillo Armas in July 1957, which is not the account you'll find on Wikipedia. 

He says the idea was suggested to him over a meal in the Dominican Republic three years ago by an old friend, the poet-journalist Tony Raful, to whom this book has been dedicated. One of those dinner parties, he adds, that one ought not to attend. 

Let's just bear in mind that Vargas Llosa gave public support to the least credible of the conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of Bishop Gerardi here in 1998 (the one peddled by Arzú), but the idea of Trujillista involvement in the magnicidio has been around for some time and Raful has written his own book on the subject. 

The conceit allows Vargas Llosa to re-animate a personage from La Fiesta del Chivo (2000), Trujillo's fix it and fix them man, Johnny Abbés García, a key player in what was arguably the Peruvian's last great novel. He's been phoning it in recently, but not here.

Abbés García is one of a handful of key protagonists in this book, none of whom, it must be said, are particularly nice people, yet are nevertheless treated fairly compassionately by the author.

In between their personalised trajectories we get chapters that read like a history book. As if Spielberg suddenly switched to a History Channel-style documentary midway through Saving Private Ryan

But on balance this doesn't bother me all that much, as I recognise that a non-fiction release about the fate of Castillo Armas would be read by almost nobody, while this first edition in Spanish of Tiempos Recios has a run of 180,000 copies. 

And it is interesting, with a writer who has worked hard to separate out his roles as Nobel Prize-winning purveyor of literature and as right-of-centre political hack, to see him consciously serve up a hybrid such as this. ('Investigo para mentir con conocimiento de causa'.

In the final chapters he switches into first person mode and describes an interview with one of the individuals he has fictionalised, Marta Borrero Parra, aka Miss Guatemala, who duly suggests a different version of some of the events in the earlier narrative. 

The last paragraph (above) summarises a heartfelt position that I am completely on board with — that the US sponsored 'liberationist' invasion of Guatemala in 1954 was the punto de inflexión, e.g. the moment the path forked in the 20th century history of Latin America. 

Thereafter the only ways forward were those of extreme left and extreme right and decades of debilitating conflict. And the template for US policy, on this continent and elsewhere, had been set. 

Vargas Llosa notes how Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was in Guatemala City at the time selling encyclopedias and had to take refuge in the Argie embassy. I myself recall the quotation on the side of El Comandante's tomb in Santa Clara, Cuba, which specifically identifies the fall of Árbenz as the moment which radicalised him. 

He goes on to assert that the Cuban revolution would not have taken the form it did, had not Fidel witnessed how the gringos behaved towards Guatemala's democratic, modernising government. 

This is all largely true, yet my reading of Guevara's biography is that he had already formed an opinion on American involvement in the region, specifically by comparing the reformist governments of Guatemala and Costa Rica, and anyone who has read The Motorcycle Diaries will know that his political formation stretched back even further. 

Nevertheless, not only is the Guatemala coup a precursor to later events in the Caribbean, it is more significant than the deposition and murder of Allende in Chile, for the latter really was a bit of a commie whose ideas of economic reform were not unlike those of Maduro in contemporary Venezuela. And Pinochet was not an outsider leading an invading army of foreign-funded mercenaries like Castillo Armas. 

No, the horror of what the Yanks did in 1954 is that it crushed a genuine if ultimately naïve attempt to lift Guatemala out of feudal torpor and lay the foundations of a modern social-democratic state. 

Árbenz tended to admire Taiwan over the People's Republic and yet fell victim to a concerted defamation campaign conceived in the offices of a New York PR company that sought to finger him as a Soviet stooge. And all so that United Fruit might continue occupying land it didn't use and avoid paying a centavo in taxes. 

Anyone with an interest in this country and the history of the region should give this novel a go. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Countdown (2019)

I think it is fair to say that in terms of using smartphones and their apps as the basis of horror screenplays, the bottom of the barrel is now being scraped. 



Jocoteco más presumido...

Pretty much everyone in 🇬🇧 knows that Paul McCartney is a wanker, so Arjona might as well record a collaboration with J Balvin and shut the @#£& up about his dignity. It’s as if his parents sent him off to some finishing school for pompous pelotudos in Buenos Aires...

Say no more...

Monday, January 20, 2020

Muscular Christianity

Here on the charge at Hastings is Odo of Bayeux, the man who commissioned the tapestry. 

Brother to William and a bishop. Even in 1066 this was fairly outré behaviour for a member of the secular clergy.

Yet being a respected man of the cloth, Odo apparently paid heed to the technicality that he was not permitted to draw blood and thus eschewed the pointier sort of weapon in favour of those designed to deliver blunt trauma. 

In effect, a baseball bat. It has always amused me that in public at least the Guatemalan legal system is geared up to resolve disputes through a process of reconciliation, yet almost every lawyer I have ever had here has privately opined that the best way to handle matters is in the manner of Odo above. 

Post-conquest Odo ended up owning Kent, which is where he recruited seamstresses to produce this monumental piece of medieval propaganda. 

After a spell in the nick, he later set off on the first crusade, died en-route and was laid to rest within the cathedral of Palermo. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

New funding model

The Queen's Sandringham estate in Norfolk has been receiving around £650,000 in EU CAP subsidies. 

Yet presumably, as the revenues from the crown estates revert to the Treasury, before being paid out to those members of the Royal Family who are still up for the job, this was quite a sneaky way of getting Johnny Foreigner to part pay for our pomp and circumstance. 

Regardless of the position they might take on Harry and Meghan as individuals, there will surely be analysts of the free-marketeer bent who will be keeping a close eye on how things pan out for them in 'North America'. There's a funding model being established for all members of the subsidiary or 'spare' branches of the Windsor tree. 

'Walmart with a crown on it'. It's a Brexit-ready solution. 

Meghan is not a UK citizen and is now unlikely to ever become one. Does Harry have a green card? 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Garden of Forking Paths

This morning I re-read The Garden of Forking Paths, perhaps the archetypal Borgesian metaphysical enigma, written in 1941. 

It should perhaps be read as a companion piece to any more contemporary piece of popular scientific explanation, say The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli, in the interests of constructive bafflement over deceptive clarity. 

It’s one of those stories stacked with juiced-up sentences, not all of which will ignite the synapses on any given reading. 

My take-out today was as follows. The garden is, physically at least, an English garden, located in the fictional town or village of Ashgrove. When the train arrives at the station, nobody announces its name. 

Twice narrator Dr Tsun makes the point that the path he follows is on an incline, downwards. 

At the heart of the garden there’s a structure, which houses an even greater labyrinth, an infinite novel. And a man called Albert. Dr Tsun’s encounter with him is at once apposite and arbitrary. 

The nature of this novel is a riddle about Time, a word that it is careful never to mention during the course of this ‘guessing game’. 

Not all possible futures can be reached from a given location on the path. 

Borges had a solid, very modern grasp of the relationship of consciousness to the ‘flow’ of time. "Century follows century, and things happen only in the present. There are countless men in the air, on land and at sea, and all that really happens, happens to me."

This part of the story suggests an additional riddle for me, that may not even be ‘in’ the text. 

Consciousness is our subjective experience of the path, of the absence that is time, but is it always the same track that we are descending?  At times in my life I’ve had a strong sense of being on a specific and connotative path and at other times very much off it, lost in the labyrinth. 

Gregory Norminton once quipped that 'If God is truth, Satan was the first storyteller.' Put less theologically, the conscious mind is the universe's storyteller, stringing together those moments where we sense that the present is happening to us into a beaten path of apparent continuity. Yet is this just an analogue version of an objective path or indeed paths?

Both the English version of the title and the Spanish (El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan) give us a plurality of paths through the maze. My intuition is that might encompass not just the bifurcations, but different originating paths. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The best of times, the worst of times...

Of all the incidents of murky political violence in the Guatemala I have known, this one (just) pips the bashing of Bishop Gerardi to top spot, as the murkiest of all. 

On May 10, 2009 attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano was shot in the back, and then four more times in the head and neck whilst out cycling in the capital. 

The next day a pre-recorded video emerged in which Rosenberg blamed the President and his wife for his imminent assassination. The government was rocked. Eventually a UN investigation concluded that the lawyer had himself offed precisely to effect a rocking of Álvaro Colom’s government. 

The trouble is, the UN investigators (CICIG), now outcasts, were somewhat mysteriously present at the crime scene before the posthumous video went public. 

This enigma is now the subject of a non-fictional political thriller by Guatemalan diplomat Fernando González Davison.

Cooking is Mood

We knew the chef here as a toddler. 

The very best of luck to her with her new YouTube channel. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Monday, January 13, 2020


I seem to be the only member of our household prepared to eat a white, Cavendish banana.

All our dogs adore criollos, but give them a bit of blanco and they'll spit it out almost at once. 

Since the 50s these relatively insipid bananas have become the most internationally-traded variety, thanks largely to their having been used to plug the gap left by the Gros Michel type, then attacked and depleted by Panama Disease. 

They are named after William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, who received a batch from Mauritius around 1834 and thereafter cultivated them at his Chatsworth House property. 

The most familiar form, in both supermarkets and sex education classes, is the Gran Nain or Chiquita banana, Chiquita being the modern name of the United Fruit Company of some notoriety in these parts.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

Tom Hanks received his first Oscar nomination in 19 years today for his role in this movie. Having had no previous exposure to Ted Rogers, watching it was a bit like sitting through The Theory of Everything never having heard of Stephen Hawking.

And not being innately inclined from childhood to regard this man as unimpeachably beatific, as well as finding both puppeteers and predicadores inherently rather creepy, I did find my internal Jimmy Saville klaxon was sounding a few times during its running time. 

Anyway, for the uninitiated it perhaps helps that Hanks is not actually playing the lead here, rather Welsh actor Matthew Rhys as a fictionalised version of journalist Tom Junod, who wrote this profile piece of Rogers for Esquire

The action is set over two decades ago in 1998, yet we found ourselves being reminded of this only once a piece of technology had entered a scene. There has to be something culturally significant about this. 

Back then, if you made a movie about the 70s, the period would be an ubiquitous presence. Ditto a movie about the 50s, made in the 70s. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A bite out of the pizza

We had a rather poor meal the other day quite close to home. I don't like to give bad reviews online, naming names, so I won't do it here, only to say that two of the worst experiences of dining out we've had in the last couple of years have occurred in El Panorama, and there really aren't that many places to choose from.

I can't remember if I wrote up the previous one. I'll usually only use the written word where the negativity of an experience has some rather personal aspect to it that goes beyond the more general quality of the food and service. (If I did express some vitriol on social media, it will have been to mention the fact that some reprobate in the kitchen apparently took a substantial bite out of the 1/2 pizza that we'd asked to have packed up para llevar.)

Back at my (still) primary residence in the UK, there's an historic tithe barn — above  which is regularly used for events, weddings in particular, and it has astounded me how attendees at these gatherings have occasionally taken to Tripadvisor afterwards in order to diss the caterers. 

Note, these people were not the paying customers, they were honoured guests at someone else's special day. The Internet has become a place where basic manners have been exorcised and these evil ectoplasms are seeping back into the non-digital world. 

By far the greatest restaurant-based infámia that has ever happened to me took place over a decade ago in the centre of Antigua, and I did then feel the need to not so much pile-in as bile-out right here on this blog. 

We'd invited out an old friend, a restauranteur who happens also to be a close relative of the incoming alcalde. The meal was fine, the service was what it had always been at an establishment we'd regularly frequented since it opened in '96, though by then it had changed ownership, and not to especially good effect. 

Then came the bill. The bottom item was an unspecified and substantial surcharge. The waitress had made no mention of this when she passed me the piece of paper. 

I called her over. She explained that she had recognised my wife as a member of a large party that had gathered there the previous year and when payment was collected at the end, management had found themselves quite a bit short and had decided that it was now up to me to make up the difference...without mentioning this at any stage before presenting the bill, and even then not really mentioning it.

I duly explained that I had not been present at this earlier event and that my wife had attended only briefly and had left sufficient funds to cover the cost of her own meal, even though she had in effect been invited to join the long table by an old friend, already seated. 

The group had included some panza verde stalwarts and was fluid. It's quite possible that when the bill eventually came, someone dodged their own contribution by pointing the figure at those that had departed sooner. Worse things happen in this country. 

Yet no matter the original circumstances, this attempt to balance the books using guilt by association in a manner which defies all the rules of good sense and hospitality beggared belief. 

And when I called over the manager his rudeness further embarrassed me in front of my guest and guaranteed that we would never return. (The restaurant, for a long time the most popular in all of Antigua, went out of business shortly afterwards.) 

This week, rather than taking to the interwebs, we called over the manageress and, constructively I hope, explained how fried plantains are supposed to be prepared in a frying pan and not go anywhere near a microwave oven, and are thus supposed to retain a modicum of moisture.