Monday, December 26, 2005

Less than zero

I am just bearing it. I rise, I live, I sleep. When I find no joy, I grit my teeth and bear it.

I'm not hot. I'm not cold. I'm just warm, the warm blood pushed round and round, the whole of me numb and untouchable.

Sometimes I am so lonesome I could cry. But mostly I just hate them all and I'm glad they are not touching me.

I can feel the days ticking away. How many will I have? More than Alexander. More than Keats. Less than zero.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Law in war

A brilliant article by Jonathan Schell:

Does the regressive right, such fond worshippers of the constitution they, believe the president has the right to ignore the laws of the land in time of war? If so, could they point to the part of the constitution that gives him that right?

I know that's a bit difficult. Perhaps you'd like to try this one. We purportedly went to war with Iraq in the name of democracy, the rule of law and our values. What do those things mean? Democracy seems to mean no more than you vote once every four years, and what use is that? George Bush claims that his reelection entirely vindicated his every act in his last term and empowered him to do what he wishes in this one. George Bush appears to be above the law. And what are our "values"? I hear a lot of whining from some here about the "free market" but how come these great believers in "freedom" won't allow Bangladesh to sell the US cotton shirts without tariffs? Is competition only to be free in those areas in which the US has a huge comparative advantage? I note that Bangladesh is free to export nuclear submarines, which will help its economy no end. Naturally, were Bangladesh actually to develop nuclear technology, it would, being Muslim, become evil and need a severe bombing. More irony! Who says Americans can't do it!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Soft soap

Of course I realised that she must have found someone else who gave what I gave, or gave what I didn't give more likely. (I know I wasn't the peg for her hole; I doubt it exists.)

I'm not at all jealous (upsettingly so for most of the women in my life, who want me to care about that more, it seems, than they want me to care about practically anything else) but I concluded that I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea that my exes can be happy with anyone else. I don't really expect them to pine away without me but I feel a queasy possessiveness in seeing them with others, or seeing evidence of their being with others.

But why else would someone disappear without a word of goodbye? Girls like that kind of thing, I suppose. The dramatic, the weaving of a nightmare from a few uncomfortable moments and angry words; it's meat and drink to them. I am yet to meet a woman who didn't want her life to be a soap opera. For that matter, I haven't met many whose outlook didn't seem to have been written for them by a soap librettist, so unconnected from anything resembling a reasonable view of their own lives is it.

It's strange to see evidence of their life without you. You could look away but the life is still being lived. I suppose that's what makes me feel queasy: their ability to carry on unaffected. I suppose I feel I should affect you, otherwise why did I bother loving you at all?

I wrote to her once, drunkenly and stupidly. It's not like me. I'm able to turn my back on those who no longer want me without making a fool of myself in the process. I thought I would feel better for it and strangely I did, although I was ashamed of doing it. But I often feel better for doing things that are a bit shameful. Having anything to do with her in the first place, like that, I mean, is something I should be ashamed of. But, curiously, isn't. I don't feel ashamed at all. I feel I pursued my own happiness without interfering with anyone else's.

It's an interesting question, I reckon. If a secret of mine hurts someone, am I wholly to blame for having the hurtful secret, or must they take some of the blame because they went to the trouble of finding it out? Personally, I don't care to delve into secrets. I prefer to allow people in my life to have their own interior space. I am not seeking to justify or exculpate myself. I don't feel in the least bit guilty. I am hurt by the tears, conflict and anger, but entirely untouched by any feeling of guilt. I'd need to feel there was any crime in it before I did, and I don't. Do I have to feel guilty because I have fallen foul of someone else's code?

Hey, I know, in soap operas, secrets are always a bad thing, rarely a source of joy. They are catalysts though, which drive the action once they are uncovered. So of course, if you look at your own life as though it was a soapie, you think that uncovering secrets must bring change. But it doesn't. What passed still passed. The characters are all still the same people, and all that has been revealed to you is that you didn't know everything that you thought you did about them.

But I don't want to be known in toto by anyone. I'm far too afraid that there isn't much to know, that once you scour off the veneer, the wood beneath is plain, and the patterns you thought you saw were just accretions -- maybe just dirt!

If you peel him
hoping to reveal him
uncovering a pearl
Will you feel him
trying to conceal him
with another whorl?

Yes, I do like to believe there's a pearl beneath it all but, girls, pay attention now, I want you to want to know, not to know, because if all I am is a howling void, why didn't I clothe it in riches and viciousness when I could? And I do fear that all I am, scrubbed up and neat, is the scream of astonishment that I greeted the world with.

And then, sometimes, I want you to know. Did you know, I don't walk through life with fixed opinions about what I want or what I should want? And perhaps you might have tried to understand that that means I can't always agree with her views on those issues.

Ah well, maybe not. Soapie characters always know what they want. They need to be severely banged on the head or shot or suffer a lifechanging car accident before they change that in any significant way. But goodbye would have been nice. They usually script a good goodbye, and you feel robbed when a character just ups and dies. But you get over it. There's always more to come.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

ID crushed in Dover case


Score one for science!

This is what we'll be quoting at the fuckers every time they try to claim their religious beliefs are "scientific":

"The evidence at trial demonstrates that 'intelligent design' is nothing less than the progeny of creationism."

Evidence! We like that, us science types. Evidence. You have none. Just faith in your god, to which you are welcome, but not in our kids' science classes.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


"JB, you're a tiny man who takes his wedding ring off in hotel bars, and makes unfunny and sleazy comments about a stranger's breasts, knowing full well I work with your wife.

This is the wife that everyone knows paid for your Z5. Which, incidentally, you look a cunt in."

I've never been a boss, I'm glad to say. I was a patrol leader in the scouts, but I've never been a superviser of any kind. Not even a senior editor. I think I'm just not made that way. I do struggle, thinking back, to recall a boss who wasn't either an utter twat or breathtakingly insensitive. (The woman I mainly work for currently seems entirely unable to understand that I support a family and when I ask her for work, a reply within a week is due recompense for meeting every single deadline I've been set, no matter how ludicrous, but otherwise, she's okay.)

What I'm thinking is, they put you in a camp for a week, and by the end of it, what's left of your brain is thoroughly washed. Otherwise, how do you explain the inordinate number of nobs, who you doubt could manage to take a piss without someone to hold it for them, with "manager" in their job title?

Patriot games

Your country spies on you. The press knows but doesn't tell you because the government asks it not to.

What are the values we are fighting for again? Will there turn out to be any right we will not sacrifice to an enemy whose chief aim remains to make us leave them alone?

When we are called on to love our countries, what reason should we have for loving? We are becoming piece by piece like those we are asked to despise, but richer.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Drawn together

So the draw is made and the question is, what are our thoughts on the World Cup, the world's foremost sporting competition? (And a genuine world tournament, not just for Americans.)

Group A proves all those rumours about FIFA's rigging the draw entirely without foundation by providing home nation Germany with a group so easy they could send out their youth team and still qualify. They have a track record of starting slowly, but even so, I can't see them not being top of their group. The question is who will be second? Unless Germany is raised about 2000 metres, Ecuador are unlikely to win a match -- all their wins in qualifying were at altitude. Poland are very run of the mill, but Costa Rica are cursed by being Central American, therefore rubbish. Still, Ecuador do begin against Poland and will face a probably already qualified Germany last. I have a sneaking feeling they could snatch draws against Poland and a complacent Germany, and go through.

If they do, they will likely face England, who should win Group B. I say that not out of misplaced national pride, but because England have an easy draw too. England have not beaten Sweden in x matches, where x is quite a lot, but even so, you have to like their chances of doing a poor one-man team. That man is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and surely even Sven has worked out that if he is shackled, Sweden will struggle for goals. Paraguay make an easy opener for England, who will, one hopes, beat them regardless what team they put out, so superior are England's players. England actually do have good resources, believe it or not. The problem is that Sven is a poor coach. Yes, you read me right. He won the Scudetto because he bought some shithot players when Serie A was very negative and played at walking pace. The problem for England is that we have a team of players whose club sides build their success on pace and movement, but as soon as they put on an England shirt they all try to play like continentals. The pace drops and England's deficit in technical ability is exposed. Sven has three more, probably fatal, problems: first, he is too loyal to players who are out of form; second, he picks players and then tries to fit them into a structure -- he needs to do things the other way round; and third, worst of all, he allows England to play too deep, so that there is all too often a huge gap between the midfield and the attack. This latter was the reason we could not overcome Brazil in the last World Cup, when they were down to ten men and we were good enough to go all the way, if only. It didn't help then either that Sven kept an injured Beckham on the pitch and didn't have options in attack because he'd left them back in England. My view on England is that Frank Lampard went to another level when partnered with a decent holding midfielder. Either Gerrard plays that role or one of them is not picked. Simple as that. Who else would I consider besides Gerrard? Look no further than Scott Parker, a brilliant, combative midfielder, who wil run all day. Wright-Phillips on the right, Downing on the left and we have a quality midfield, able to compete with the best. Carrick would also be very acceptable in the DM role. What we'll doubtless get is Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Scholes and headscratching when we can't win against anyone even half-decent. Ledley King should not even be considered as a midfielder, but if he travels as a defender, the option is there. Up front it's Rooney and AN Other. I don't see a place for Crouch if you pick Rooney. Or Owen, if only because Stevie Gerrard forgets how to pass when he sees little Mikey, and pings the same long ball in for the whole match. I find Owen frustrating. Yes, he does score, but teams tend to mould their game around him, and it leads them to ignore better options. It's okay against Albania, but against better sides, it leads us to be predictable and all too beatable. What's needed is someone sharp and hungry. Okay, not many of them about because nearly all decent strikers in the Premier League are foreign. So maybe we're looking at Defoe, who is not in form, as backup for little Mikey. England have to win the group, because if they do they get a quite astonishingly good draw: probably Ecuador and then the better out of Portugal and Holland or Ivory Coast -- very doable. Unless I've read the draw wrong and it's Argentina again and probably yet another defeat on pens. Sweden should run up in the group because Paraguay are one of the weaker South American sides. If you draw Trinidad and Tobago in a sweep, you can rip up your ticket. They're along for the ride and the rather cliched patronising from the commentators.

Group C is the "Group of Death". There's always one: a tough group in which a half-decent side will bite the dust, or at least in which two or three fancied teams meet. Argentina are a very good side, well capable of winning the tournament. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing Juan Roman Riquelme, who is something special to watch. He strolls around the pitch, totally unhurried, and plays exquisite passes with astonishing accuracy and vision. Argentina possibly lack a bit up front but they're very competitive in midfield. Their match with Holland will be a highlight of the first round. Holland have rebuilt under van Basten, with a young side who play attractive, attacking football. The group could see one or other burnt though, because Serbia and Montenegro are capable of a result on their day, and Ivory Coast have some talented players. I'd say they are best of the Africans this time, and it's really unfortunate they were drawn in such a hot group. They'd probably have qualified from Group H. Still, they have Argentina first, and the Argies often play atrociously first time out. It's the Ivoirians first ever time at the finals, so they should be fired up. It would be a bold man who predicted this group, but sod it, I'm bold enough: Argentina and Ivory Coast to progress.

Group D is weak because Mexico were, surprisingly, seeded. They're not particularly strong but they have two of the weaker "third world" sides in with them. Angola will look forward to the game with former colonial masters Portugal, who will flatter to deceive before being eliminated tamely, probably at the quarters by England. Iran gave us that great memory when they duffed the States a while back, but it won't be happening this time. I'd have thought Mexico will be too strong for them and I don't think Angola have the quality to beat either of the big two.

Group E will be hot. Vastly overrated USA have a tough group to get out of, and will likely have their limitations thoroughly exposed. Italy are nothing like as good as they think they are though, while the Czechs are capable of going a long way if their better players are fit and on form. The key man is obviously Nedved, who is one of the world's best players. Ghana could well be dark horses. They're not likely to be mugs, and will certainly fancy making it torrid for their opponents. They have a lot of pace, which will not suit Italy, who tend to be uncomfortable against sides who come at them. Still, you have to like Italy and Czecho. It's a hard one to call though. I wouldn't be surprised to see either, or both, of the others qualify.

Group F presents the mouthwatering prospect of Brazil thrashing Australia. Brazil are going to be bookies' favourites and they're my idea of the winners. The talent at their disposal is incredible: Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho, Ronaldo are just the biggest names. This tournament will provide Ronaldinho in particular the opportunity to stake his claim to be the greatest player of our day. He is truly brilliant on his day, and could yet turn out to be our Pele. He has to take his chance in Germany and set the tournament alight. This is not to overshadow Brazil's other talents, in particular the brilliant Kaka, a player of exquisite vision and touch, and young Robinho, who will, one hopes, make Australia's pedestrian defence a mockery. Still, the Aussies have a chance of qualifying. They open against Japan, who are very beatable. The strongest team in Asia, they might be, but under Zico they're not half the team that they were under Troussier at the last World Cup. Hiddink is a very canny coach and he will realise that a win against Japan and a draw against Croatia might be enough to see Australia through. Croatia are quite beatable, nothing like as strong as they were a few years back, when they had some genuinely good players. Much as I hate to say it, I see Australia and Brazil progressing. That could put the Aussies up against Italy in the round of 16. Italy are the kind of team Australia could do well against. The Aussies are rubbish at the back -- they really do have a second-division defence -- and workmanlike in the middle. I don't think players such as Bresciano and Grella or Skoko should be competitive against Italy's better midfielders, but Italy are negative and rarely make many chances in a game. Expect Hiddink, should he come up against them, to pack the midfield and look to grind out a result. I'd be trying to play it at a very high pace. Italy do not like that.

Group G is an interesting one. France ought to skate through. Although they are probably not as good as they were when Zidane was at his peak, they are still good enough to progress easily. I know we said that last time, but really, expect them not to fuck up badly again. Switzerland are possibly the worst of the European teams, Togo are nohopers and South Korea will struggle to do as well this time as they did last. I wouldn't like to say who'd qualify out of those three. One hopes the Koreans though, because they'll give poor Spain nightmares!

Group H could provide an upset. Tunisia are capable on their day. Ukraine are a one-man team, but that man is Shevchenko, at last on the big stage. Spain have never won a major trophy, despite their players' talent. Maybe this time? Well no. I very much doubt it. Their players are not that talented and they rarely gel. They go in for agonising defeats -- hilariously against South Korea last time, when they could really have gone all the way. Still, I'm tipping Spain and Tunisia to get through, and with their easy draw, Spain should progress at least to the quarters.

So, overall, what do I think? Last time the football was atrocious and Brazil were far from convincing champions. They clearly have the talent and resources to win it. None of the European sides really convinces. Yes, I think England have a chance, but under Sven they just lack that bit extra that they'll probably need. It would be wonderful for Holland to finally win it, even if that does mean van Nistelrooy gets a medal, but I have my doubts that they're good enough. The same can be said of the Czechs. Perhaps a bit short of really good, although who knows on the day? Spain and Italy have chances, of course, but I wonder whether either is really up to it when the crunch comes. Argentina could win it. They definitely have the quality and they won't mind putting the foot in when guts are needed. Germany have to be respected, but they lack quality, and I'd actually be surprised if they won it. Still, they were rubbish last time and nearly won through sheer bloodymindedness. The Asians seem unlikely to shine this time, and the Africans are not particularly strong these days. Neither Nigeria nor Cameroon made it and other countries in Africa tend not to have enough depth to be really competitive. Australia can probably go as far as the last eight with a bit of luck, but they'll need it to beat Italy, if they meet them. More than that would be fairy-tale stuff and has to be accounted unlikely. The US, one hopes, will be sent packing early doors. If not, there is sure to be someone too strong for them -- I can name at least a dozen teams in the tournament that I'd expect to beat them fairly comfortably. So the Zen fiver is on Brazil, and maybe a sneaky place bet on la France, who have an easy enough draw (Tunisia, Italy/Australia looks okay to me and they would then play the winners of England/Argentina if all goes to plan).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Whoops, I invaded Iraq

Mr Bush admits his Iraq intelligence was wrong. Now he needs to take the next step and admit that he had reason to believe it was wrong, because he was told that it was, and then he can be impeached.

Let's not stop there. Tony Blair's days are numbered, but I'm not alone in wanting to see them ended in disgrace.

Bush's lies are quite hard to nail. Many times he hinted or suggested, and was not specific. But Blair was. He said that Saddam had weapons 45 minutes from British targets (and had to weasel this down from the hint that he was talking about mainland UK, preposterously, to targets in Cyprus). This was a clear lie. Even if Saddam had had the weapons he was accused of, which at the time was at the very best doubtful, the intelligence based as it was on the uncorroborated ramblings of a drunken defector who would have sold his mother for a drink, he certainly had no capability to deliver them against British targets in Cyprus or anywhere else. At the height of his powers, he had had a few Scuds, just about capable of hitting Tel Aviv at the very outside of their range. Blair knew, as did we all, that the Americans were confident they had taken out Saddam's Scud capability, and it turned out they had.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

At Mapoto Gorge

A few weeks after that, I saw Perks in the street.
I hailed him and he stopped to talk.
Why Perks, I said, I haven’t seen you since Mapoto Gorge.
He looked puzzled.
I’m sorry, old chap, it’s not ringing a bell.
Mapoto Gorge. Summer of 18—. A battalion of Her Majesty’s finest facing up to ten thousand screaming fuzzies intent on dismemberment.
It seems like something a man wouldn’t forget, Perks said.

This left me rather bemused. I was quite sure I had seen Perks in the Gorge. He had dispatched with his service revolver a fuzzy who had been inches from disembowelling the colonel. Why would Perks claim not to have shared such a glorious hour? He certainly would not lie. He was a gentleman. Had he suffered some terrible accident, robbing him of the memory? You heard of such things but Perks seemed to be in excellent health and sound in both body and mind.

That evening I was to dine with Jackson, who had also been at the Gorge. I resolved to ask him about Perks.

Dear fellow, Jackson said, as we were enjoying a selection of cheeses, of course Perks was there. He shot the fuzzy who was mere seconds from dispatching the colonel. No one who had seen his heroism could forget it. He was a lion that day.
Most curious, I said. Because he denied it utterly and yet I saw him with my own eyes.
I think not, Jackson said. You yourself were not at Mapoto, having been laid up with a fever some days before.
I was not? That cannot be. I remember it vividly.
I do not recall your being there. Jackson said no more and we let the topic pass.

I was most disturbed. I could recall Mapoto Gorge as if it were yesterday. I decided to consult another old soak, to get to the bottom of this morass of conflicting memories.

I called the next day upon Arbuthnot, colour sergeant of the regiment, who would be sure to remember who had and had not fought at Mapoto Gorge, he being a man of quite legendary talents in the field of memory. He never forgot a face, be it white, black, yellow or any shade in between.

Arbuthnot received me with delight.
It’s very kind of you to call on an enlisted rank, sir. I’m only sorry I have nothing suitable to offer you, but India tea and best British biscuits.
Could a man wish for finer, Arbuthnot?
He laughed heartily. A better man in a tight scrape was never invented.
It’s been a while since we last met at Mapoto Gorge, Arbuthnot.
He looked puzzled.
There was that affair in Shanghai, sir. Do you not recall? He winked.
I had never, to my knowledge, been to Shanghai, or even to China, or anywhere east of Calcutta for that matter, but I did not feel I could challenge the prodigious memory of Arbuthnot, so I winked in return and said nothing.

Arbuthnot had a clear picture of Mapoto Gorge.
Ten thousand fuzzies, sir, as you say, and us no more than the low hundreds. The fire so hot that they were beaten back at last, howling as they went.
And do you recall Perks’ rescuing the colonel from his doom?
Indeed I do not, sir. I saw an incident in which the colonel was spared the loss of his bowels by a young man armed only with a revolver and indomitable courage, but that man was Lieutenant Jenkinson, sir, later to be eaten in the Congo after a foolhardy charge of a band of pygmies, the power of whose poison darts he underestimated. A fine officer.
But I remember clearly seeing Perks, I said, although I did not like to disagree with a man renowned throughout Her Majesty’s army for his powers of recall.
You could not, sir, said Arbuthnot. You were not at Mapoto Gorge.

That settled the affair for me and cleared up the mystery. I had somehow acquired a memory that was not mine. Perhaps in my fever I had read some newspaper account or other and become confused. Why I should include Perks in my imaginings was the deepest part of the mystery, but I supposed it was because I had always considered him with warm regard.

A few weeks later, I attended a supper party at the Marquis of M—’s London residence. I was delighted to meet the Lady N—, wife of the colonel of our regiment, and to engage her in conversation. I mentioned to her my high esteem for her husband, a man known for his gallantry and love of action.

Indeed, he was a good man, she said.
Perhaps you could tell me a little of his career after Mapoto Gorge, for I left the service after that action.
She gave me a look that will haunt me until the day I leave this earth.
After Mapoto Gorge? Sir, there was no after for my dear Alfred. He was cruelly disembowelled by a fuzzy that fatal day.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I realised I was doomed when the clairvoyant offered my money back.

She couldn’t even be bothered to lie about my fortune. All she needed to do was say, I see great riches, but no, professional pride stopped her. She saw only greyness and so did I.

I sighed and waved the money away. She wasn’t responsible for the future.

The train to work sometimes goes slower, sometimes faster. Sometimes it stops in a tunnel and everyone who has a watch looks at it, and those who don’t are thinking they should buy one at the next opportunity. I am looking at the pretty legs of the girl opposite and thinking about butter.

I don’t eat it because the fat is no good for your heart and you have to keep the cholesterol down. But I start thinking, a good heart is no use to anyone if you’re not living. And I have never understood cholesterol. I’m just doing what the doctor orders and hoping to live forever. I have no idea why.

When the sandwich woman stops at our office, the competitive types are first to reach her. I sometimes wonder, if they’re that keen, why they don’t just run down to the shop. Then I start thinking, if I really cared myself what sandwich I had, I’d run down there myself.

But I don’t care. Perhaps there was a time when a sandwich was a thing of joy; when the fillings were novel and the experience was fresh. I am doubting it though. Sandwiches are a fixture of the working day, like the PC, the aircon, the tube train scuttling along the tracks: you only ever need to think much of them when they go wrong. I take prawn and avocado and smile at the lady. She doesn’t even look up.

Perks calls me in after lunch. We’re going to have to let you go, he says.
Oh, I say.
It is very quiet in his office. I can hear his PC whirring away and the distant murmur of people on the phone in another room, but nothing intrudes.
Is there anything I can tell you? he is saying.
It’s not you. Well, it’s you but you know.
Don’t worry.
You don’t seem... quite as bothered as I might have expected.
Well, are you?
Yes, of course.
I raise an eyebrow. I know it is impressive. I have been practising.
He shuffles some papers. No, you’re right. Best for everybody. End of the week, okay? We’ll pay the month but, well, you know.
No need to have the condemned man around, eh?
Perks frowns but he doesn’t say anything.

I am staring at my screensaver, a slowly revolving diamond. A fake diamond, I am thinking. I look closer. How could you tell? I don’t know how you’d know. I remember a friend’s wife had an eternity ring he had bought her – the stones were cubic zirconium. She didn’t mind. It’s the thought that counts, she said, and I was puzzled because I was wondering what she thought the thought was, actually.

Walking into the house, I shout, Hi honey, I’ve been sacked. It seemed as though it would be funnier when I thought it up on the train.
Sorry darling, Jem is saying. I didn’t catch that.
Sorry darling, I am saying, I was canned.
Fired, you know, given the boot.
Oh, I’m sorry.
No, it’s okay.

They’re restructuring, I say to her as we eat dinner.
She doesn’t look up. She is eating the whole of her meal with her head bowed. She isn’t looking at me at all.
I think that’s business talk for sending all the jobs to China.
Did you have a job that they could send to China?

She puts the plates in the dishwasher and goes to watch some television. I am standing in the kitchen. It is already dark outside. Not much moon to see by. I am glad I have no reason to go out.

I have something to tell you too, she is saying.
I don’t know whether it’s the right time, she is saying.
I know she has something to tell me. I do not need to be a clairvoyant to know what is coming.
I have met someone else.

Which is a curious thing to say because you would hardly expect to get married and then never meet a single other person.

Oh, I say. I am wondering whether she needs me to be angry. Perhaps I could give indignant a shot. I have never really done indignant. I am thinking about how you do it. A harsh tone? A scowl?

I am scowling.
Please don’t be upset, she says.
I want to say, I’m not upset, I’m just trying out a scowl, but she is already crying.
Do you want to know who it is? she is asking.
No, I say.
It’s Alistair Perks. I’m so sorry. We met at a party.
Yes, I know.
You know it’s Alistair?
I know you met at a party.

Which one of us leaves? I am asking her.
Well, I think you should, she says.
I don’t ask why. I glance out of the window. It has started to rain.
Okay, I say. I am thinking about what I should pack. Can I get by with a holdall?

The station is dark and quiet. I sit alone on the platform. I am thinking, perhaps I will just not bother going into the office. Perhaps I’ll just be sacked right now. I am thinking about going to the seaside and getting some sand in between my toes. Perhaps I’ll do that instead of going to the office tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll just have an away day break. Perhaps I just won’t come back.

The rain is falling lightly. I am waiting for a train to somewhere else. I knew I was doomed when I lost the will to contest my doom, but it feels just like waiting for a train always did.



She pushes the suds over the plate. She is looking at it. Soap runs down her arm, drips back on to her shirt. She uses a nail to scrape it, a little something the soap wouldn’t shift. She wipes her hands on a towel. Suds remain, just a few. She runs the cold tap to rinse them off. The dirt stays in the suds, she knows. She hangs her hands over the sink, dripping dry.
Don’t they just fly, the germs, she is wondering. Don’t they just land? She shakes her hands. It’s too humid, they wouldn’t dry if she stood here all night. She just wipes them down the front of her shirt.
Jake-o’s feet pound on the stairs. He is running down. She calls his name but he isn’t stopping. She can hear his voice, a pipe trilling in the still air, but it’s birdsong, sweet and undecipherable. A bass replies, and he is walking back. He passes the door, and she smiles. She has caught his eye. He smiles back, stopping to look at her for just a moment, then he’s back up the stairs.
What was that about, she calls through to the lounge.
Don’t worry. He just wants me to go read to him.
He stops by the doorway. She wonders whether he has ever thought about a second shave. Sometimes Jake-o tells her that the bedtime kisses scratch. Has he ever thought about shaving to save that soft skin from the rasp? She looks down at her hands, the wrinkled and loose skin at her fingertips.
I can do it, she says.
No, you’re okay. She is picturing his hand on the kid’s shoulder, his hard hand cradling the child’s face. She is hearing the murmur of his voice, the whisper of the sheets, the silence of a descended night.


The other day a woman was massaging her shoulders. She was almost asleep but she thought she heard the woman say, you don’t have too much tension.
Really, she said, and she was saying, I’ve given up on it, but only inside: she didn’t want to weird the therapist out. She was drifting, thinking of a beach, a long, hot afternoon and no sandflies. She is looking out at the people in the sea, jumping the waves and having fun. At least, they’re shouting and laughing as though it is fun.
She was thinking that the beach was only a few kilometres away, twenty minutes in the car, but somehow, whenever she did get there, the sun was just too hot for Jake-o, the flies ate her top to toe, and the stingers had drifted in and no one was swimming, jumping or finding the waves any fun at all.
She wakes up and it is as though she has been sleeping in the shade. Her head is a little heavy. The woman is packing up.


What you thinking, she asks him.
Nothing, he says.
You could make something up, she wants to tell him. Not thinking is forgivable but not talking is treason.
But she doesn’t say anything. She realises she is tired. She realises that the weariness that has come over her like a dream is not the heat but the stifling of feeling that comes each evening when she has tired out. It is like a whisky calm. She embraces it because it is chasing away any stress, making all pain unfeelable. She would never take to drink while she can just wear herself out in the day to day.
If she was not so tired she might reach over and touch him, but she couldn’t say why. Sometimes, she is thinking, that’s what holds you back, the having to know why and say it.
Flies smack into the screens. She can hear their patting against the wire behind her head. Sometimes there is a rhythm: thud, thud, thud-thud, thud, thud, thud-thud. But then there will be a break and she feels frustrated that it didn’t keep up.
They’re going to cut me, he says.
They’ve told you?
No, they won’t say anything. It’ll be a fucking email.
She winces.
I’m sorry, he says. I’m sorry. I’ve told myself I won’t take it out on you. But it’s upsetting.
There’s other jobs.
It’s my job.
He doesn’t seem to have realised he has raised his voice. She strains to hear whether it’s woken Jake-o, but there’s nothing to hear but the buzz of whatever buzzes on these sweatsoaked nights.


She can hear him in the kitchen. She is trying to convince herself that he would be no less of a man without work. He will find it hard without a job, although she can’t think he’ll be without a job long. Maybe she’ll work. Maybe she’ll go out to an office and he can keep house. Men, she is thinking, they are no fucking use for loving, they’re so hard to love. Then she reminds herself that Jake-o will be a man down the track and it feels she is betraying him to think that a man cannot be worth her love. And maybe that just isn’t true, she is thinking, but none of their vagabond hearts, if they were good, led them to her door, and sooner or later, as her mother told her, you have to dip your scoop and drink whatever the well is filled with.


It has begun to rain. It has come on fast and heavy. She has to run, almost, to get the windows closed. The flies have stopped battering the screens, she notices. She’s thinking, do they have nests or something? Where do they go when it rains? Where do they go at all, when they’re not here, pushing headlong into the mesh of the screen, reaching for the light, a fake moon we put there because we stopped trusting the real one to show us where to walk?


The rising son

Naughtyman has a beautiful smile. It is so beautiful, I want to freeze time for him and never allow him to age a moment. He is running on the spot, laughing, in the sun, for no reason but joy at being alive.

I do not know whether love is something you do or something you feel. I know that I am holding Naughtyman as he sleeps on a warm night, his breathing calm, untroubled.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lie down with dogs

This handshake happened a year after the crimes Saddam is currently being tried for. Nuff said.

Romance and Yasmin

Ven kerida, ven amada
ven al hodre de la mer
ven te kontare mis males
ke te metas a yorar

The words look like nothing much on paper but the voice! It is almost unbearable to listen to. It sounds as though centuries of longing have been packed into each note.

The best music reaches into you, pulls out from you the things you hide and makes them your wings. The best music consoles you, uplifts you, emboldens you. Sometimes it makes you profoundly and inexpressibly sad, because it has touched something nothing else can get near, so closely do you guard it.

And if one day a wandering Jewess should sing me to the shore with these words, I am ready to listen and have the tears come to my eyes.

Friday, December 09, 2005


If I cease to dream, I cease to be. Sometimes, I want to be; sometimes, I want to cease. But the body, numb, endures.

If my dreams are shattered, I can never put them back together. It is a failing. I know that but I can't seem to get over it. All I need to do is say, never mind, I'll simply find a new dream, and voila, there it would be. I do wish I could avoid the anger that follows on the shattering.

I have had to refuse to paint any more pictures. If I paint one more, and it does not come into being, I don't think I can stand it. I have had to stop wanting, stop dreaming.

Apart from two, three poems and a couple of short stories, I have not written anything for a year. I know it is a year because they have just had the novel-writing month. That was when I last wrote any of my novel.

It is a good novel but I will never convince myself of that. I know, I should bin it and start afresh. But I will never convince myself of that's being any good either, and I have lost the desire just to do it.

I can't unravel it. Do you know what I mean? I don't feel desperate or upset about it. I feel confused. I feel as though I have become enmeshed in something that I cannot break out of.

I do not mean the wife and kids. I could fix everything wrong there. I mean the not fixing it, the reason for not fixing it. I feel that I am impelled by something that is outside me, alien to me. But it isn't.

I do not mean not having confidence in my writing. I have all the confidence in the world. I know I'm good. I never doubt it. I'm better than anyone else I know. And yet, I cannot write even the first words of something good.

I know I am a good friend, a confident speaker, a bold ally, warm, kind and genuine; but I cannot begin to be anything but alone, a trembling voice, an enemy to all, cold, spiteful and faking it, every day faking it. And not even faking it for gain, but to ensure I never gain a thing.


Sometimes I think that what I needed, all I needed, was someone to say this is what you do. I think I still do.

Sometimes, despite myself, I imagine a stone house by the wild sea, and I think, all I needed, all I ever needed, was someone to say this is how you get it.

How do I get it?

There is no one in my life who can give me what I want. It's too fractured and bitty, and I do not want what's on offer. Or I do not want to take the routes I know towards it.


I am sad that I don't enjoy writing any more. I just don't have any ideas. I haven't had any for a long time. No, I mean, I have ideas. Obviously, I have ideas. If you said, write about a man in a cage, I could write about a man in a cage; if you said, write about love, I could write about love; if you said, write about war, I could write about war; and if you could say it, I could say it.

Maybe I should work upwards. Write small and let it grow. A paragraph instead of a short. A single line instead of a poem. A dream instead of a novel.

Maybe I should do what I can and stop worrying about it.

It would be nice though if someone said I want you to write the book, instead of assuming I just would. But even those who said it, don't want it, don't want to know it, didn't want to know it, were just saying it, and I'd rather they didn't.

I feel always like I'm drifting in a boat, the river is calm and slow-flowing and I won't know I've hit the rapids until I've gone over the edge.


Sometimes I lie in bed and I'm thinking you only get three score years and ten.

I had a cigarette the other day. I liked it. Just one. It made my head spin. I think giving up smoking was the worst thing I ever did but I'm not sure that starting again wouldn't be the second worst.

Noble lords

God bless the Lords. While the Americans continue with their policy to make torture an accepted part of a civilised society's law enforcement (by, ridiculously, redefining torture so that it no longer means torture), the Lords have ruled that we will have no part of it.

Naturally, the government claimed the ruling was meaningless because it did not rely on evidence gained through torture, but this was their usual sophistry. The case was before the Lords precisely because of the use of torture evidence. Not "relying" on it is besides the point. It shouldn't be used, period.

So my faith in Britain is rekindled very slightly. We are a cigarette paper more noble than the Yanks.


Others we are more noble than include the Aussies. If an Englishman were to be sentenced to death in some backwards shithole that still employs capital punishment, it's true that the government would not do much to save them. Representations would be the limit; it would not threaten the relationship we have with the country in question -- we don't mind being friendly with barbarians, so long as they'll trade. But the government would express dismay, and would strongly urge an end to the practice. We at least show the form of being against state murder.

It's not worth fighting the death penalty, said John Howard.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Queensland Roar 1 New Zealand Knights 1

The Perth press have the knives out for Steve McMahon apparently, and reflecting on how poorly he has coached Perth -- and he has done a bad job -- led me to thinking about Bleiberg and the Roar. Why are the Roar doing so poorly? Clearly, the Knights are rubbish because they have not attracted quality players to their roster: their star striker played for Exeter recently, and aged Conference-level players are not going to pose many problems for the more competent defenders in the A-League (and indeed Devine posed no problems for the Roar). They looked a desperately bad side, hoping just not to get beaten, unable to do anything with the space the Roar often allowed them -- particularly in the case of Brockie, who was given acres by Queensland's refusal to play a back four with a left-back, despite having a very good one, and yet could do absolutely nothing with it at any point (Queensland simply let him have the ball and waited for him to fuck up, a tactic that worked very well).

Bleiberg persevered with a 343, which should have been a good formation against the Knights. Mark Caravella and they have nothing in midfield; the wingers should have been able to push up and make five up front when the Roar had the ball. But the four sat too far back, a line in front of the defence. They were far too static. Many times, a defender would practically beg the midfield to make a run, only to see everyone stand and wait for the ball. Receive the ball when you're tightly marked and you have nowhere to go but back to the defence. You don't have space to do anything. Time and again, Murdocca, McKay and Richter received the ball and just knocked it back to whoever had given it to them or simply lost it straight away. When they do find space, they try a miracle ball through the middle. I don't think I saw even once a pass from Murdocca to Richter, and certainly not into the space behind the full back. We have the fastest guy in the league and he never has a pass into space. Only when Carro came on did anyone show any willingness to move in midfield. Poor Osvaldo! He must be thinking he's playing in a different game to everyone else. He constantly found space, begging for the ball, but his clueless teammates all too often did not spot him.

Surely this is a coaching matter? Bleiberg can see the same things I can, and he has time to study the video afterwards. But none of Queensland's problems are fixed. He perseveres with Brosque, yet again ineffective up front -- it was telling that the one time Brosque received the ball in space on the left-hand side, he put in a fantastic cross, which Brownlie converted. That was about the only time Brownlie made a useful run. He simply never made himself a convincing target. When Simpson came on to replace him, he once more showed the other strikers how to be a nuisance, moving into space, losing his marker, picking up the ball facing goal and using it intelligently. Brosque's ability is squandered, because he is forever receiving the ball with his back to goal, never in space. If he's going to play up front, Bleiberg must show him videos of Despotovski or, better, Henry, and explain how those players are finding space and giving themselves the chance to create and score goals.

Bleiberg does have the problem of lacking a decent striker, but he's not using his resources intelligently. Okay, he's dropped Baird, and rightly so, but Brownlie is no better. He has better touch, but he's not creative, and doesn't look to use the width that the formation has created. As I say, he makes the same run, flat across the line, every time, and you don't have to be a great defender to keep him marked. Indeed, Brownlie is looking to be marked. He is trying to receive the ball in front of his defender, never to one side, never into space. This would be effective if the midfield were sprinting up the pitch, looking to thrust into the box, but they are not. They are all standing twenty yards away watching him hold it up. Murdocca in particular needs to examine his game. In Bleiberg's formation, with Seo screening the back three, he needs to be playing his football in the opponent's half, as Carro did, not picking up the ball square from Seo. Who are you going to pass to, Massimo? If you look out wide, you are forcing the wingers to come back into your half too.

It's time to make changes. I've suggested previously what they should be and I hope Bleiberg wakes up and sees that it's pointless to persevere with the brand of football the Roar are currently playing. A flat back four is essential. It's no use playing 343 and expecting the two wide men to play as wingbacks -- 523 is a useless formation for football for reasons that surely Bleiberg must understand, they're plain enough. Too many times the back three has been exposed. Simpson (the other one) looks solid enough and Buess is the best leftback in the league, on his showings recently, although far from attacking. Playing with four at the back would allow adequate cover for Gibson (who didn't play against the Knights) when he goes forward (with little effect, although he's not hopeless on the ball) or when he makes a mistake, as he sometimes does, because of overconfidence. In midfield, the Roar are screaming out for Seo to play his football further up the pitch. He's very effective when he gets forward and you wonder why he doesn't do it more -- again, you have to think Bleiberg has told him to sit back; if Bleiberg isn't, he needs to tell him to get forward more; if he has, and Seo is ignoring him, he needs to put him on the bench until he learns who's boss. Carro is probably best bet for the other central midfielder. He was impressive against the Knights, turning the game around in the second half, when the Roar, dire in the first half, showed signs of promise. He tries things that don't work, but some of his work is excellent. The first match I saw, he was very good, but he had a couple of less good matches and Bleiberg seems to have lost faith in him. I think he needs another chance on the showing last Thursday. He should be training with Seo, working on an understanding. Get them doing 2 on 2s on the training pitch, and play them together in practice matches and six-a-sides until they know where each other is with their eyes closed. Richter should be on the right, no question. He should benefit from Carro's football, because Carro is always looking to play a player into space. That's partly why so much of his work doesn't bear fruit. He's passing to where the Roar's midfielders should be, and they're not there. So why hasn't Bleiberg made videos of Carro, and shown them to players such as McKay and Murdocca and said Look, this is where the ball is going, you need to make this and this run to get it? Richter needs to at least be shown the video of the last match, and shown how he could benefit from an understanding of Carro's game. He needs to be told to look for the pass into space, because with his pace, he should be burning past opposing fullbacks, not finding himself stuck with a left midfielder on his arse. Brosque needs to be on the left. He simply isn't a striker. He isn't convinced himself that he is one. Again, he needs to expect the ball into space. Facing goal, he's one of the most talented players in the league, the Roar's jewel. It doesn't always come off for him, but he does have the ability. Given a free role, starting on the left but allowed to roam, he will shine. Played as a target man, he's criminally wasted. He's not a functional, just do the simple thing player but it's okay to have one or two in a side who aren't. McKay has been starting on the left but he's useless. He's less rubbish in the middle, but he is pointless on the left: he never takes a player on and he is the least constructive player I think I've ever seen. I've watched Beazer Homes League wingers who knew more about the way to goal than McKay.

So who should play up front? I think Simpson #2 has to be given a start. He's lively, big and strong, and a neat passer. He works hard and puts himself about in a way that Brownlie just doesn't. I'd like to see Dilevski given a chance too. He's a curious player, because he seems quite intelligent and doesn't generally waste the ball, but doesn't really excite. He's fairly sharp though, and that counts for a lot. Baird, above all else, lacks sharpness. He's too slow to act, which means he is always under too much pressure and never quite has as good a chance as he might. His touch is poor too, and Dilevski's is far better. Up front is without question where Queensland lack. There's no one I've seen who is going to belt the goals in week in, week out. But a reasonably sharp player is going to get a few chances at least, and from what I've seen, Dilevski at least knows where the goal is and has a neat technique, striking the ball pretty cleanly. Worth trying. If he's doing nothing after a half or so, there's a bench full of useless strikers to replace him with. The alternative is to play Richter up front, but I think his poor first touch and woeful shooting would incline you not to. If you did, you could try Murdocca on the right. Dilevski has played on the right a few times, but I don't think he's effective there. He does a lot better on the left. He's two-footed but he favours his left.

Against the Knights, the Roar's best player was Buess, impressively solid and impassable at the back. The TV commentators criticised his distribution, but I think they must have been confusing him with someone else, because he passed it unerringly to McKay, who saw a lot of the ball and did nothing with it. If you think it's an indictment on the Roar that their best player against the worst side in the league was a defender, you're damned right.

The officials were, as is customary, useless. The referee had a poor game, with several wrong decisions and a penchant for pointless lectures when he should have been booking players. The Knights were the dirtiest team I've seen, dirtier even than Melbourne, but it's to be expected that they will scrap for it, so I think that one shouldn't be too hard on them for that. Caravella looked a seriously good player, as he has done throughout the season.