Tuesday, 15 April 2014

CIA in Kiev

Putin is refusing to lay down his weapons which could mean trouble ahead for all of us.  Has tensions rise between pro-Russian militants and Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of Ukraine, CIA director has gone to the capital of Kiev to meet face-to-face with officials. Meanwhile, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is accusing the CIA of encouraging Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations, and, of course, this is a claim that the US agency denies. Who is right or wrong in this exchange of words? I for one know whose side I’m on 9and it’s not Putin’s side). The CIA boss' Ukraine stop came as armed, pro-Russian separatists occupied government buildings in 10 cities in the east despite warnings from Kiev.
A big war could be just around the corner if someone loses his head, with Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov coming forward, blasting threats out of his mouth, threatening a "large-scale anti-terrorist operation" to reclaim the buildings, but so far that has been nothing but talk.
Meanwhile, according to US military officials, a Russian fighter jet made multiple, close-range passes near an American warship in the Black Sea at the weekend.
The officials said a Russian Fencer made 12 passes, and flew within 1,000 yards of Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook at around 500ft above sea level.
War games as of yet.
Let’s hope it stays that way.

CIA boss John Brennan made the stop in Kiev as tensions rise to the east

Pro-Russian separatists have seized buildings in key eastern cities

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A Room For A Poet

Taken from my collection of short stories, Talk About Proust, available now on Amazon

A Room for a Poet

-       For Joseph Brodsky

The floor of his room is cluttered with papers, the keys of his laptop are almost worn out, his almost bald head itches because he wears a hat whenever he goes out and the hat makes his scalp itch, and the walls, the fireplace, even the mirror of his writing room are obscured by books and photographs of home.
Where is home now?
Isn’t this place where he lives now his home?
His chair and desk are stationed in front of the small window. For a long time, when he was at home (?), home being three hours away by plane from where he lives now, he had no desk to write on and no space to put a chair in front of the window in his living room. Now, free at last from the past, the poet can put his chair and desk wherever he pleases.
Back home (but this is home now!) he was persecuted by his poetry and religious beliefs, laughed at by jealous minds, and he wrote in secret for so many years. Because of that, of the persecution and jealousy and shouting; a bit of verbal abuse in the mix, the poet finds it hard to get along with others and many mistake his seriousness and loneliness for arrogance, but only if they knew the truth they wouldn’t judge him so harshly.
After years of putting up with abuse he decided to emigrate and never return to his country.
And who can blame him for that?
He worked hard, saved all that he could, and one day, without saying a word to a single soul at home, he called a friend, bought a ticket, and emigrated, knowing in his heart that he wouldn’t return to his country, but he was fine with it.
But can’t a person have more than one country?
Didn’t Brodsky left Russia and called America his home?
And didn’t Liao Yiwu settle down in Berlin?
Ma Jian in London?

Home for the poet is where he can have a room to write.

Once the poet left his country he stayed at a friend’s house for a few months, sleeping in the spare room, a comfortable place but it wasn’t yet his room, the place where he could do as he pleased. He found a job and after weeks of searching, he also found a nice room to rent, a room that would become his poet’s room for a long time, a place where he read for hours, every single night after work. While lying in bed, he always had a book in front of his eyes and in the middle of the night he would get up to go the bathroom and find the light on in his room and a book lying by his side.
In the beginning, while he got used to life in a new country and perfected the language, he worked at a hotel, helping out in the kitchen and restaurant, working alongside other immigrants, many of which came from his country, and at night, before the end of his shift, he would wrap up some food in cling film and take it home with him so that he could save money to buy notepads and a laptop. But before he wrote a thing he read loads; Proust, Lorca, Rimbaud, Plath, Brodsky, Berger, Pessoa, Byron, and once his reading habit was satisfied, a habit that had been on hold for years, he started to patrol the streets, cafes, pubs, and he started to write sporadically. Soon his poems got him noticed, the poet gained some money from his writing, and he also met a good woman.
The years went by smoothly, his fame kept on growing, and one day he got a call from his parents asking him to come and visit, then he got a call from some mayor in his hometown asking him to come and read his poems in his mother language, but the poet always said no.
The people in his country thought he was being arrogant and many of them went as far as burning his books. Some people said he thought he was too good to go and visit, but the truth was the poet was scared of going back home and not being able to return to his room.

“This is home now,” he says as he exits the room.
The wife is in the kitchen preparing dinner while their newborn is fast asleep. The poet kisses her neck, and afterwards he refills his cup of coffee and makes his way back to his room.
The wife says, “Dinner will be ready soon.”
He says, “Okay,” and keeps on walking.
Alone in his room, he keeps on writing to pay the bills and to keep his dream alive.
He was right; this is home now and he’s finally happy.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Goodbye, Sue

The news of Sue Townsend’s death really took me by surprise this morning. Only yesterday I found an old copy of the first Adrian Mole book in one of my bookshelves, and as I was flipping through the pages I thought, “It has been a long time since I read this.” Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years and Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction were also in there, and my wife also has a few books by Sue Townsend in one of her bookshelves. (The wife and I have different bookshelves).
Sue Townsend was not only an inspiration for women everywhere but also to writers of all sexes and ages. She lived a life worth writing about, living home at the age of 15, married when she was 18, and –whoa!- she was a single parent with three children at 23. But this did stop her from achieving her dreams? No, so maybe the new generation could take some inspiration from her.
While working various jobs she wrote in secret for 20 years and joined a writers’ group at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester when she was in her 30s. Aged 35 she won the Thames Playwright for her play Womberang and a year later published the first Adrian Mole book. And the rest, as they say, is history and although this great writer is gone, at least she left us some good books to enjoy.

Goodbye, Sue and thank you for everything. To celebrate your life I will reread some of your work. 

Killing libraries

The library was my refugee when I was a kid, the place to be in the summer when most of my friends were enjoying themselves at the beach.
The old library in my hometown has long ago been closed, giving way to a more modern library, but not necessarily a better one, and that new library became another place of refugee when I was an adult. No matter how hard I try, I really can’t see myself living in a place without a library. Where I live now there are two libraries that I use quite regularly. Sometimes I go there just to sit down and unwind; to relax and take a break from the chaos around me. And in a library, most of the times, you always find peace and quiet. Even my kids like to come with me to the library and spend a whole day in there. Unfortunately we are now witnessing a slow death of the library, especially in this age of budget cuttings, this era of greed. We’re living on the iAge where i –and I- is all that matters. Blindly, the new generation follow their gadgets and forget about everything else, and there could be a time when the library becomes extinct. If that happens, what will the generation to follow do? Play on their iPads or whatever next gadget comes along? It won’t be the same and if this is the death of the library as we know all of us will be suffering a great loss.
When I arrived in London in 2005 the Charing Cross Library used to be my home away from the little bedroom that I was renting in South Bermondsey and I spent many good days in there. The library kept me sane, and it was in there that I started to chase my own dreams again and to push all the nightmares of the past aside. If my beloved library does close I will feel as if I have lost a fear friend.

Brooklyn library

Borough library

Jesus’ wife

According to a faded papyrus fragment which emerged in 2012 (and which I already wrote about, Jesus did had a wife. The fragment, known as the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, has been analysed by experts at Columbia University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which have concluded that, after carbon testing, the papyrus and ink used dated from between the sixth and ninth centuries. The Vatican tried to declare it fake but maybe now they will have to swallow their words. And maybe face up to their crimes, too? Hmm, no such luck, I think.
The tiny piece measuring 8cm by 4cm has been controversial because it contains a passage that reads: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife..." - a phrase never seen before in any scripture, and also: "She will be able to be my disciple".
Historian Karen L King from Harvard Divinity School gave the papyrus its name and said in a recent interview: "I took very seriously the comments of such a wide range of people that it might be a forgery.
"When you have all the evidence pointing in one direction, it doesn't make it 100%, but history is not a place where 100% is a common thing."
Wise words, but in the end we still don’t know much about this document…

The controversial document. Pic: Harvard Divinity School

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Do you know that there is a church in Poland that worships a plate of spaghetti? I kid you not!
The church, appropriately named The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is apparently a movement that promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools.
It’s followers are known as Pastafarians and the church has now been allowed to call itself a religion.
Maybe I will create my own religion and call it The Fried Noodle Worshipers. Hey, I love fried noodles!

Here’s what I managed to find out about it: I had to Google it (and I copied it from Wikipedia): In January 2005, Bobby Henderson, then a 24-year-old Oregon State University physics graduate, sent an open letter regarding the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the Kansas State Board of Education. The letter was sent prior to the Kansas evolution hearings as an argument against the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes. Henderson, describing himself as a "concerned citizen" representing more than ten million others, argued that intelligent design and his belief "the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster" were equally valid. In his letter, he noted,
I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
—Bobby Henderson.
According to Henderson, since the intelligent design movement uses ambiguous references to a designer, any conceivable entity may fulfill that role, including a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Henderson explained, "I don't have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with is religion posing as science. If there is a god and he's intelligent, then I would guess he has a sense of humor."
In May 2005, having received no reply from the Kansas State Board of Education, Henderson posted the letter on his website, gaining significant public interest. Shortly thereafter, Pastafarianism became an Internet phenomenon. Henderson published the responses he then received from board members.  Three board members, all of whom opposed the curriculum amendments, responded positively; a fourth board member responded with the comment "It is a serious offense to mock God".Henderson has also published the significant amount of hate mail, including death threats, that he has received. Within one year of sending the open letter, Henderson received thousands of emails on the Flying Spaghetti Monster, eventually totaling over 60,000, of which he has said that "about 95 percent have been supportive, while the other five percent have said I am going to hell". During that time, his site garnered tens of millions of hits.
There’s more about it on Wikipedia but I’m not going to bother to post it here.

They even have their own Bible, a book called  The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, written by Bobby Henderson. The book was released on March 28th, 2006 and it is available on Amazon. I know because I went to check it.
In the book Henderson employs satire to present perceived flaws with evolutionary biology and discusses history and lifestyle from a Pastafarian perspective. The gospel urges readers to try Pastafarianism for thirty days, saying, "If you don't like us, your old religion will most likely take you back".
It has close to 240 pages and doesn’t look that bad. I might (not) get a copy of it.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned, the church can now apply to be registered as an official religion in Poland, this after a 2013 court ruling was overturned on Tuesday. A few Pastafarians gathered outside the court shouting "pasta" during the hearing on Tuesday and welcomed the ruling.
And now what?
Now nothing.

Now this crazy world keeps on spinning around and I’m going to get back to my book.