Saturday, March 06, 2021
Friday, March 05, 2021
Everybody has one here, men in particular.
My cuñados: Leo, Cachorro, Coca, Pepsi, El Negro, Seco.
Vitor Hugo del Pozo for example is (el) Caleta.
I saw a news item this morning on the Interwebs which referred to a local lawyer: Chiltepe.
The near universality of nicknames in Guatemala is a phenomenon that was alluded to memorably in Francisco Goldman's first novel The Long Night Of White Chickens.
These monickers are like historical sellos, with a wider currency extending through the whole panza verde community.
At school and university, and then later professionally, I was often addressed by a variety of gently mocking plays on my first name — not the obvious one — and in Monaco (only) I was for a while known as Asparagus / L’asperge for much the same reason my most senior cuñado is known as Seco. (Though neither of us are perhaps quite as svelte as we were when we acquired these sobriquets.)
None of these however could be said to be have been tracking me throughout my lifespan in the way that Chapin apodos tend to do with their bearers.
Thursday, March 04, 2021
Standards of customer service have been creeping up lately in La Antigua. Almost literally.
On a recent trip to the Bodegona I was to notice how on more than one occasion fledgling staff members had crept up to the zone behind one of my shoulders with what proved to be rather helpful suggestions.
What gives? The pandemic gives I suppose, even as it takes.
The handiest of these little interventions occurred in the area of the wine rack where I was seeking a bottle of the Finca Las Moras malbec (a decent tinto that goes down well with memories of Mexico City) and yet could only find the cab.
My rummaging around behind the two bottles at the front was surely what drew the attention of one of the apprentices, and I soon had what I wanted, an item which had been standing on a lower shelf for some reason.
Wednesday, March 03, 2021
So said Ambrose Bierce, and the quip still works here if you drop one of the Ms as well.
Bierce rather famously vanished for good, in Mexico.
...for anyone that might need reminding: this post and others on the page have been made in the Docklands, London, from a UK IP address. As such they carry the same rights and obligations that apply to any other publishers in that territory, under the laws of England and Wales.
Comments and inquiries to email@example.com.
Tuesday, March 02, 2021
Monday, March 01, 2021
Their limited pool of neighbours include a mute and hyper-weird boatman, chirisbisco-face (above), two rather psychotic young girls of the same age as his daughter and a mysterious local man with whom the professor plays chess, a scenario which ultimately comes to echo The Seventh Seal.
The things and places of fond — or even just significant — childhood memory can be divided into those that can be revisited — usually accompanied by some discombobulation or disappointment* — and those which cannot.
In my own biography, one of the latter has been the Victoria Station Cartoon Cinema (1933-1981).
Sunday, February 28, 2021
20m first jabs now completed in the UK and in The Spectator Douglas Murray has been looking forward to an un-locking of life...
"At present, if everything goes according to plan, the best-case scenario is that at some point before the summer our desolate townscapes will become revitalised again by the over-85s hitting the streets...I have nothing against the over-85s. Many of the best people I know are over 85. But the notion that the octo- and nonagenarians are going to go out and kickstart the British economy for weeks single-handed strikes me as remote. Even with the promise that they will soon be followed up by the over-75s roaring on to the scene. If I were an owner of one of the few surviving restaurants I would prepare for this grand reopening by keeping the music low and printing a lot of larger menus."
Saturday, February 27, 2021
This Melbourne-based oddity is constructed around one extremely intense and disturbing home invasion sequence which lasts around ten minutes.
I suppose one can say it is part Aussie soap, part police non-procedural.
Such is the incidence of implausible coincidence that when a detective is challenged with the query 'Were you just in the neighbourhood?' one simply willed the screenplay to proceed with the line 'yes, of course'.
Anyone who has lived around here long enough will know that the person who observes that 'the whole department is crooked' is often the most crooked of the lot.
Friday, February 26, 2021
Bloomberg is today touting Iceland as a 'Covid success story’.
Remember the last time Iceland was touted as a success story? (I am not referring to Euro 2016).
Aside from the fact that it is an island in the middle of nowhere on the New Zealand scale, somehow I don’t imagine track and trace would be such a logistical nightmare there.
Identifying killers on this island of little over 360,000 people does however appear to remain a tricky business...
Those convinced that the universe starts supernatural before it is in any way natural can be both reassured and perplexed by the presence of evil in the world.
I don't count myself among their number, as the existence of something spiritual, unitary, and omni-benevolent as the source of all physical reality is for me an interesting possibility rather than any kind of certainty.
I'm basically on the vice versa side of believing in order to understand, but wherever you are on this, the problem of evil is usually filed under 'unsolved'.
Recent events have led me to return to this little headache. If I examine my own thoughts on the matter I find that the conclusions I have tended to reach are neither fixed nor consistent.
Not wanting to subscribe to the standard monotheistic notion that evil is a metaphysical force in the cosmos — out there — perhaps even personified in the form of diablos and demonios, I tend to think of evil actions as having occurred as a result of something resembling poor judgment, or even poor taste.
An almost aesthetic deficiency in a person, if you like.
Socrates said that evil actions were the result of ignorance, but that's not quite the same thing. For what he means is that it is not possible to voluntarily do something we know to be evil. Really? Yet this can be a result of an inadequacy of reason as much as lack of knowledge. So maybe my aesthetic analogy still holds, as there sure are loads of people lacking both the good taste and the basic awareness of this lack.
St Augustine meanwhile grew up amongst Manichaens who would have it that the whole cosmos is set up as a battleground of equal and opposite forces for good and evil. Once settled as a Christian the best explanation for BAD he initially seemed to be able to come up with was that it was all going to be for the good in the end. Right.
He then seemed to adopt the idea that evil was a form of nothingness, a negation.
Leszek Kolakowski explains, kind of...
What is and should be, exists; what is but should not be, has no existence. That is what Augustine seems to be saying when he talks of evil as pure negation. So both good and good things exist, and corrupt things also exist; but corruption itself does not exist. Can we make any sense of this?
No, I think the answer would be.
Ignorance and poor critical judgement are sticky states that most individuals only rarely shake off. Augustine at least makes the suggestion that we are always free to be either good or bad at any given moment, though he thinks we are generally good when acting in a state of Grace and bad when we act out of volition, aka free will.
In the Jewish tradition Maimonides had some similar ideas to share. Each and every one of us is born somewhere on the moral and emotional spectrum and have the obligation to nurture and develop our own character from there. If someone tells you that you are arrogant, go forth and practice humility...and so on.
He also saw evil as arising where good was absent (later known as the privation theory) and concluded that our individual attributes were more likely to lead to bad actions than those that derive from our shared humanity. Not especially good news for people that lack empathy.
Strictly speaking, evil cannot be known, for one cannot know nothingness. But the possibility of evil–in other words, of decay and corruption–exists because everything except God, and thus also man, was created from nothing, and hence is subject to change.
Many thinkers, Jewish, Christian or otherwise, try to contain evil within their worldviews as an inevitable side effect of free will or at least the non-unitary nature of physical reality, and some indeed go on to posit that collectively the civilised values that we promulgate will always have a downside no matter how hard we try to be the best we can be. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support this.
When I was first working in digital media in the early nineties I found I had a ready-made comparison to hand. The Internet was then already providing socially useful ways for people to communicate and collaborate in cyberspace, individuals who might have struggled to meet up physically and do this before. This could apply to handicapped flower-arrangers or it could apply to people who wished to copulate with dolphins.
The freedom that the Net presaged, would always have two sides to it, but surely not equal and opposite in the Manichaean sense. Back then, the task was to convince the mainstream that the positive effects would significantly outweigh the deleterious and that draconian state censorship or surveillance was not the way forward.
This takes me to a study I have probably cited before, contained within the 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Robert Browning.
It tells the story of a group of former German cops from largely socialist or social democratic backgrounds that are dispatched east by the Nazis and asked to participate in atrocities. The conclusions reached here are supported by many psychological studies. Take any ten men and give them an order to do something utterly awful and eight will comply without much of a grumble. One will refuse. And the other one will go above and beyond the original order in terms of sheer nastiness.
That's us: Humanity. But we are not always the same person in this spread. Most of us will spend our days amidst the conformist clump, but occasionally set off in the direction of one of the more stand-out extremes. This at least seems to me to be the conclusion of Browning's rather depressing study.
One can use Google to find various interesting lists of the types of evil. Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen has four in his.
Some of the evil done to me of late has featured at least three of these, often at the same time.
Thursday, February 25, 2021
On Saturday the 10th of August 2019 Jason Wade Lever passed on a scooter and made an explicit death threat towards me, verbally and with an unmistakeable accompanying gesture.
At the time I was standing holding a conversation on the pavement with a local man who has occasionally helped us with our garden: 'D'.
This was by no means the earliest example of Lever's violent intimidation directed against me*, and partly for that reason on this occasion I had made up my mind to ignore anything he said or did as I heard him coming around the corner.
And thus I only picked up the verbal gloss on the gesture (relating to how easy it would be for him to rub me out) and did not at the same time notice the pistol shape he was forming with his hand.
'D' however turned his head at just the right moment and once Lever had sped off, immediately inquired if I had spotted this virtual strafing. I in turn explained in Spanish exactly what I had just heard.
I then went inside and downloaded the cam footage to confirm that 'D' had indeed identified the gesture correctly.
Just like I had offered his wife redemption de buena fe despite her false testimony in 2018, in January last year I offered Lever an acuerdo de paz too at the Ministerio Público, based on the sole condition that he commit to desisting from acts of violence against me and my núcleo familiar. He refused.
He was then informed by the stand-in for the fiscal that the consequence of this refusal would be an investigation. 'Fine by me' he chirped up in English.
And the threats kept coming; I have a veritable stack of audio files now of verbal amenazas that Lever and his accomplices have since directed at either me or my wife:
"You're gonna be punished..."
"I should have killed..."
"Look out...I'll fuck with you..."
And so on. Direct verbal violence, albeit sometimes hissed or whispered, couched within an on-going campaign of anulación y desprestigio.
First prize for most chilling goes either to the smaller pile within this bigger one of threats shouted by Lever's tiny children — "Kill the witch" — or the one where the two words "una más" were uttered; the removal of "Ni" at the start a deliberate inversion of the proclamation which asserts a woman's right to live free of violence in this land.
Lever ought then to consider that these episodes and any subsequent ones are a part of (also the product of) a formal process, along with the ongoing investigation by the fiscales of the MP, who have already visited our home and gathered further evidence.
*This was only a fortnight earlier. Lever came around the same corner and swerved in right behind me deliberately in yet another drive-by intimidation/verbal insult combo.
Season Two in the pipeline....
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
When did Englishness become a thing?
The 'idea' of England as a unified political entity is said to have come to fruition in the reign of King Edgar (943-975), yet 'the peaceable' appears to have been laying an acquisitive eye on Scotland as part of this amalgam.
After Hastings the English language would enter its wilderness years and Englishness was put on hold.
It's hard to put one's finger on a precise breakthrough moment, but Hank Cinq's continental campaign of 1415, culminating in the battle of Agincourt, contains a number of key indicators suggesting that the process was nearing consummation.
Firstly, there's an instant when a group of Henry's young knights start speaking English, ostensibly just to annoy their French counterparts.
And then there's the account of how the French priest and possible double agent Raoul le Gay supposedly escaped from captivity at Harfleur and duly reported to the Norman authorities that the worst part of his experience had been the English beer.
Henry's effort to unify the states of on either side of the channel — in effect a brazen attempt to turn France's civilisation into our junior associate in a vice versa-fication of the status quo which had prevailed for nearly 400 years — would stoke the Hundred Years War, the losing of which would, slightly perversely, signal the true arrival of England as a nation state on the world stage. Though, this would also be the lead up to acquisitions via reverse take-overs, first by the Welsh (Tudors) and then the Scots (Stuarts).
Those mounted English aristocrats of the later Plantagenet era, who spoke a Germanic language and burned young French girls at the stake in order to infuriate their near continental neighbours, had only recently been conversing almost exclusively in Norman French and their closest ancestors would in general have hailed from an area right behind what Erwin Rommel would later dub the Atlantic Wall.
This is a sure indication of just how malleable and self-selected Englishness was to become as an identity in the future.
By way of an aside, it can be observed that it is also for this reason in the main that the English still consume more red wine than most other Europeans (along with all that warm beer) — perhaps an oddity given our island's own damp climate — as, for a significant part of our history, Bordeaux was in all but name, part of England.
A couple of years ago I came across this shelf in a Parisian bookshop where, rather than Dark Age texts like Beowulf, translated contemporary British and North American fiction had been collected under the heading Littérature Anglo Saxonne.
It's a little ironic that it is now the French, more than anyone, who perpetuate the myth that the English (and the Yanks too) are 'Anglo-Saxons', for they earlier spent a large part of the middle ages perpetuating the myth of King Arthur, a notorious British Anglo-Saxon basher, and did so with the clear objective of suppressing the cultural distinctiveness of the society overrun and overhauled by Duke William in 1066.
I say cultural rather than ethnic distinctiveness, because it has never been so easy to frame Englishness as a racial identity in the modern sense, no matter what a certain substratum of White Van Man would have us believe.
One might say that the 'native' English have been Britons who were first Romanised, then Anglo-Saxonised, then (at least partially) Vikingised, before that famously unambiguous conquest of 1066, by Normans (French-speaking Vikings) accompanied by Bretons, descendants of Britons that had fled the Saxon hegemony several centuries earlier. This in turn led to long rule by a dynasty hailing from the aforementioned vineyard-abundant parts of France.
Even those original Britons were themselves a compound population deriving from groups that had wandered in from the areas we now refer to as Scandinavia, Germany, France, the Low Countries and Iberia.
The wall in Cornwall, as well as the wal in Wales, derive from a Germanic word for Celtic-speakers, which also came to refer to slaves or serfs. A reminder that for much of our early history — notwithstanding all those tales of Camelot — a Celtic identity was even less desirable than an Anglo-Saxon one*.
Yet another incident from Henry V's campaign in 1415 reveals how Englishness was at that moment somewhat delicately poised between the enduring lure of francophone pretentiousness and the rather earthier realities of British demographics.
The defender of Harfleur, Blason de Raoul de Gaucourt (1371-1462), an English gent with a suspiciously continental-sounding name — founder member of the Order of The White Lady on a Green Shield and the slightly kinkier (and froggier) Order of the Fer de Prisonnier — believed that the ideal way to resolve a siege was in fact a tournament of mounted chivalric jousts, a l'outrance, underground. And so he had tunnels dug for this specific purpose, by Welsh miners.
Many reasons are cited for Henry's triumph at Agincourt, most notably his archers and the mud. It certainly also helped that the French, under the rules of chivalry that they themselves had made up, were obliged to allow their opponents the choice of battleground, a traditional gallic courtesy that Wellington would also be availing himself of at Waterloo exactly four hundred years later. We English have an enduring aversion to being out-flanked.
It was also recorded that the flower of French chivalry, having apparently put aside many of their famed differences just in order to amass there in such superior numbers, accordingly demanded conjointly to be in the vanguard, such that this spearhead ended up stumbling over its own innumerable heraldic banners as it advanced towards the English longbowmen.
*It is often said today that the overtly 'Celtic' identities of Wales and Scotland have been distorted by 19th century Romantic phoney-ness — and its modern rehashings — yet it is also true that the Victorians were long keen to put the Anglo-Saxons to similar use at Westminster.
Monday, February 22, 2021
Peter Ackroyd > Anglo-Saxon civilization was created by a pandemic.
He's referring to the largely un-sung plague of the 540s, probably bubonic or pneumonic, which emerged out of Egypt and devastated the late (or sub) Roman world.
It seems that for some reason the 'native' inhabitants of Britain, my own paternal ancestors, were more adversely affected by this pestilence than the Anglo-Saxons, at that time established mainly along the eastern side of the island.
The population catastrophe amongst the Britons of the west permitted Saxon leaders like Ceawlin to penetrate the wealthy agricultural heartlands of Salisbury Plain towards the end of the sixth century.
The western saxons established their own kingdom of Wessex, which would ultimately evolve into the kingdom of England.
Meanwhile many Britons shifted across the water having concluded that life is all right in Armorica, thus founding the semi-independent cultural enclave that came to be known as Britanny.
Some of these Bretons would be back several centuries later on as a key part of the Duke of Normandy's invading army in 1066.
My next door neighbour during my fresher year at Girton was one Gus Le Breton.
Every other year the staff at Colet Court used to put on a play. I say every other year as I can only remember two of them. Agatha Christie's Ten Little N Words and Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit.
Our first form mistress Jane Addis (a wonderful woman) played Elvira in Coward's comedy and I can clearly remember the way she wafted around the stage in a shimmering dress.
One of my classmates in Mrs Addis's 1B (by dint of surnames in the same section of the alphabet) was Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter, half-brother of Rebecca and all round popular kid, captain of just about every team and so on.
So, I ask myself, does he too have a fond memory of that quite lavish mid-70s production, and for that reason has chosen it for his first feature after work on Spooks (not that sort) and Downton Abbey?
It's a bit of a re-conjuring. I'm not sure how much of Coward's original dialogue has been exorcised. I suspect quite a lot. Apart from one great line about billiards, much of it seemed a tad bland.
There was definitely a point quite early on when I realised that the thing I was most gripped by was the furniture. And its vessel, that extraordinary Art Deco villa in Surrey called Joldwynds.
There are also some grass tennis courts and a river boat to drool over. Nothing to be ashamed of.
And then there is the odd pleasure of seeing Michele Dotrice — oooh Betty — again, who would have been playing the long-suffering wife of Frank Spencer around the time I first came across Blithe Spirit at school.
Coward wrote the play in Snowdonia after his London office and attached apartment were destroyed in the Blitz. It was first performed in the West End during 1941 as the war was about to reach its turning point.
Edward Hall has shifted things back a bit, to 1937, perhaps because these days it would be harder to place a comedic situation in the middle of that conflict without somehow referencing it. (Though when one is smack in the middle of a world war, not mentioning it may be just what you want to do.)
Yet in a roundabout sort of way, this story is situated in wartime Britain.
Back in 2001 Hillary Mantel wrote a fascinating piece in the London Review of Books entitled The Dead Are Among Us, which tells the story of Helen Duncan, aka Hellish Nell, a Scottish medium who became the last woman convicted in the UK using the 1735 Witchcraft Act. In a 1941 séance, she had 'materialised' a sailor from HMS Barham, a warship that at the time the Admiralty had not admitted to having lost.
Mediums like Duncan were then flourishing again as the number of separations and personal griefs expanded. And in 1941, again, the Royal Navy recognised spiritualism as a religion and permitted its sailors to perform spiritualist ceremonies at sea.
Sunday, February 21, 2021
In the latter part of 2019 Mrs Lever made use of a dedicated Instagram account (@carmenvsb) to blare out to the whole world just how much she uncontrollably detests us.
As the days went by, some of them featuring a little sequence of new posts of a spiteful nature usually backed up by truly perverse hashtags, I became the principal target of this torrent.
I supposed at the time that this was some sort of cretinous attempt to get a rise out of me and that the best approach would be to simply ignore. Pissing into the wind and all that.
And yet there can be no denying that aspects of this cybergrudge were genuinely unsettling. Someone I had barely exchanged words with was engaged in an obsessive, abhorrent and actually quite feverish smear campaign against me.
And bear in mind that at this stage I had forgiven Mrs Lever for reporting me to the police for attacking her when I was not even in the country and had every reasonable expectation that she would understand what a near miss that had been for her and would thus do everything possible to avoid further conflict.
And yet, just to be sure, the judge had made her sign an acuerdo in which she promised to behave in future and rein in her husband as well.
These were some of the key take outs from her social media malice...
- I have no talent; neither as a photographer nor as a writer. (Subjective, that one, I know.)
- My clothes — and hat in particular — smell, and I do not bathe. (Less so.)
- I am a 'fake entrepreneur'; indeed my whole life is one big fraud (We sold our company for an eight figure sum over two decades ago. I am no longer really any sort of entrepreneur, fake or otherwise. Anyway, under whose criteria?)
- I have no genitals, a negative sperm count and am otherwise infertile: ‘Microphallus Rosbif’. (Objectively false.)
- If I could have children, they'd be inbred retards, and so the universe has done the gene pool a big favour. (Intelligence, or the lack of it, is up to 73% heritable, she would know.)
- I am married to a "psycho hose beast" (Just horrid.)
- The pair of us resemble a couple of concupiscent apes (Ditto.)
- I suffer from penis envy (In fact I have never really envied any other human being for any reason, let alone for the size of their sexual organs.)
- I am a homosexual. (And this would bother her why, exactly?)
- I am a nerd. (Are we still in secondary school?)
- I am a sociopath (See Episode 5.)
- I have very British teeth (That one, at least, is broadly true. Ever since I have had any gnashers at all, they have been looked after by the same dentist as HM The Queen and most of the rest of the Royal Family.) *
- I am a bitter old man that nobody will miss when he’s dead (We shall have to see, won't we?)
In one month alone there were 45 individual put downs of this nature. There was no other content at all on this feed. I have archived every post.
Who really has the time in their life for so much hate?
There was clearly a fair bit of online research involved.
On some levels it's truly pathetic, yet on others rather obviously disturbing.
I suppose there are many of us that post something on social media at some point that we later regret, perhaps because we were a bit tipsy or just not in a particularly good place at the time, but two or three times a day, and for months?
Much of it could be characterised as racial and gender abuse, along with other forms of discrimination (relating to my nationality, for example). In short, a cacophony of belittlement designed to demean and destroy, and not just psychologically.
This stinky chorrio of really rather pathological nastiness went on until the very day that Lever himself received his denuncia for violence against women. That sure put a cork in it.
At first she removed only the two posts which might further incriminate him because their content tallied rather obviously with the declarations already made by my wife at the Fiscalía de Mujeres and INACIF and detailed in the denuncia he received.
For example, the text alongside one of these posts almost perfectly matched an account given of the demented and demeaning misogynistic poem that Jason Lever had recited to my wife on March 5, 2018 and which she had detailed to investigators. (Third one down, below.)
A bit later on Carmen Violeta Solares de Lever deactivated her entire Instagram account.
That might have given her a degree of deniability — the old 'I woz hacked' ruse — but she then resurrected it shortly afterwards as the social media front end of Roadkill Grill, the Levers' erstwhile business here in La Antigua — complete with all the followers that she had acquired almost entirely on the back of degrading us. (The clue here was that the indexation on Google was identical.)
It was at that moment in November 2019 that I contacted Instagram with a formal complaint. I had ignored the daily drivel as it was delivered, but there was something about the notion of their use of a platform carefully nurtured via a proper hate crime to promote a shabby fast (though al fondo quite slow) food joint that really — and I mean, really — irked me. Whatever one thinks of this, there are few things lower than an attempt to profit on the back of defamation and hate.
I do have to hand it to her though, this first example below is doing some fairly heavy lifting in as much that it manages to insult both of us, simultaneously and yet with a degree of differentiation.