Category: History


‘Thumbs Up’

The most important memory I have of my father I keep in a silver cigarette case.

He was born in 1928.

His fondest regret was being too young to fight in the thick of WW2.

He joined the Royal Marines and was present when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

He always felt that he had somehow missed out.

He wanted to be a hero and I think he might have been if he had been born sooner.

But then I would not have known him.

We were never totally close but we had a secret signal, a ‘man to man’ thing that was called the ‘thumbs up’.

My father caught Leprosy in Palestine after the war.

They brought his body back and I visited him before the cremation.

I kissed his forehead.

It was cold and reminded me of the wax fruit my mother kept in the bowl on her dining table when it wasn’t being used for dining. 

His right hand was badly decomposed, all of his fingers were gone, apart from the thumb, which was pristine.

I had a knife.

The most important memory of my father I keep in a silver cigarette case. 

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“Whore”

There is a time before fame, a time before the new universe is born, before the screen and the keyboard and the cell phone and 24/7 CCTV surveillance; a time before the absolute governance of celebrity, greed and gratuitous acquisition.

I am ten years old. I sit on a soft carpet in front of a small monochrome television in a terra-cotta room that exists not for human habitation but for the shelter and protection of the people in my father’s paintings.

It’s a room in a frame.

For the cobbler in the red fez it exists.

For the veiled women haggling over vegetables in the souk it matters. 

For the tall Arab girl gazing out across the rocky beach at Merkala, her djellabah blowing in the warm sea breeze it’s the future. 

For the kiff smokers drowsing at their pipes it is real.

For the fakirs, the snake charmers and the holy men and me?

I can’t speak for them but for me it is a vault for my father’s treasures.

Vernon thinks – A prison for his seed?

Vernon has known my father and has worked for him for a long time, since before I was born, but he still doesn’t understand him, his motivation, the way he thinks.

Craft is everything to my father: talent, intuition, creativity and art are delusions; know-how, workmanship, cunning, guile, shrewdness and trickery are more important than talent.

Talent, and to my father I think it’s more than just a word, is but a side effect of madness.

There are other pictures in my father’s house.

In the big hall, for example, are two full sized prints of original canvasses by a painter called Richard Dadd. 

When I was younger I would wonder if his surname was a misspelling of the other word for father.

Richard Dadd murdered his father with a kitchen knife, believing him to be the devil.

Is this why I am here, why I am constantly alone, why I am schooled privately by Sister Rose, why my father and I are never alone together, why he has never held me, smiled and called me his son?

Does my father fear that one day I might murder him because I am talented?

My father is in Hollywood, a place in America, working on a picture, that’s his craft.

He packages dreams and turns them into images that flicker on large screens in people-packed auditoriums. He has made many and they have made him rich. I watch them sometimes on television.

They seem to me to be all the same, although the settings are different. There is always a good man who usually has some kind of weakness, which he overcomes; and an evil man who seems to be strong in the way that the good man is not, but is ultimately shown to be weak.

Once, I ask my father if the dreams he packages are his dreams.

He smiles and tells me he pays talented people to dream for him, pays them well, makes them rich, pays them a lot of money.

And then he says:

“But not as much as the talentless people who pack the auditoriums to witness the talented people’s dreams pay me!”

Then he laughs a cold and unhappy laugh.

The talentless people, the ones who have made my father rich, are called The Public or, sometimes, The Fools or The Punters. 

The talented people, the dreamers, are referred to by my father as The Writers.

I decide at an early age that if I ever have the choice as to whether I am to be like my father or be a dreamer I will choose the latter.

A visit from my mother is promised, has been imminent since as far back as I can recall.

My mother is a drunk and a whore.

I read those words from my father’s lips one day as I watch him with Penelope in the garden. My mother lives in hotels and on aeroplanes with worthless men and sometimes tries to act.

An actor is another kind of dreamer.

My father has made a deal with other men of power in the dream business that they should never let my mother be a part of their packages.

I think perhaps this constriction on her may be the cause of her drinking and whoring.

Vernon enters the room. My eyes remain on the flickering images on the silent television screen. I know what he’s thinking.

He hates to be an agent of disappointment but it’s his burden, as having a drunken whore for a mother is mine, and I let him bear it.

It’s his own fault for putting off the moment: he should have told me immediately, this morning, after he had replaced the telephone handset in its cradle.

“Is it this afternoon, Vernon, or this evening?” My eyes remain attached to the screen, its silent images miniaturised in them.

He walks to the window and pretends to gaze out over the driveway.

The big metal gate strains against its chain in the light breeze.

I turn.

Vernon can feel the intensity of my stare on the back of his neck.

The question hangs in the air like dust caught in a shaft of sunlight.

 He turns and his eyes meet mine for a broken moment before they swerve downwards to the carpet.

His words, the pertinent ones, are almost out, struggling at the back of his throat to be released, but he fails them:

“Why don’t you switch it off, Jon,” he says instead, “how can you follow it without sound?”

The machine also has problems with its voice; a repairman is expected.

“It’s alright,” I say, “there’s a trick Sister Rose taught me… I can read the shapes the words make on the actors’ mouths, just takes a little practice. I’ve become quite good at it. The grey haired woman has just told her brother about the missing diamond…”

I’ll tell him, I don’t know how but…

His secret has become suddenly redundant, his burden is hollow; I can hear him thinking, his sadness and relief and something bitter that he recognises as shame: he knows I despise him for his cowardice, for his transparency.

“I know she’s not coming, Vernon.”

He kneels down and gently touches my face, his hand resting there a while before he raises it to my hair and self-consciously ruffles it.

His body shakes in a way that betrays the tremors in his heart.

There is nothing more to say about my mother’s latest aborted attempt at a homecoming but, like the fool he is he says it anyway:

“I’m sorry, Jon. She thinks she may be able to get back to the UK in a week or so, she’s reading for a part in a play. She sounded ok, but disappointed herself.”

I no longer feel disappointment. After all, it’s happened so many times before. You can’t be disappointed when disappointment is what you expect.

“Come and help me in the garden?”

I shrug.

The word “whore” is a word I’m not entirely sure I know the meaning of. I’ve heard it spoken on the television and I’ve read it on my father’s lips and I’ve called Vernon one in my head.

So my mother is a whore, but whores are not always women.

I know it must be something bad and sometimes, but not always, is about sex.

My father once called a writer a whore when they were arguing at a dinner party.

I think it has something to do with doing things that you don’t really want to do but you do them for money.

Native America

Harmon Percy Marble was an Indian Agent between 1911 and 1926. During this time he made hundreds of images of Navajo, Menominee and Sioux Native Americans. While lacking the artistic sense and quality of the work of some of his better known contemporaries, Marble’s photographs probably provide the most honest and uncontrived portrayal of Native American life available to us.

Founding Fathers

foundingfathers.jpg

Founding Fathers: Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Red Cloud,
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve been damned by some as an unbeliever, an anti-christ. It pleases me, therefore, and reinforces my self esteem, to know that to others I’m the cool atheist across the street.

My youngest daughter calls me daddy and my mother insists that I was brought up a good catholic kid and on the right track.

So I drink a lot of whisky. So did my grandfather. Who doesn’t? It’s a family thing. At the age of fifteen I was a good father to three kids, and I always went to confession.

Now, suddenly, I’m an apostate Jew. I wake up one morning and that’s it.

Corner shop proprietor Anita Devi — I knew her father, he was like a Rabbi to me, although he was an apostate Sikh — told local reporters: ‘I’m sorting the papers for the delivery wallahs, you know, like it’s 5am, and in walks Dustin Hoffman. “It’s not safe,” he says, “but I’m a very good driver, Mrs Robinson.” I ask you, do I look like a Nazi dentist?’

No comment, no jazz.

However, Kafka told me this sort of thing was a possibility and, hey, Anita, he gave me a couple of other clues too: like, until this beard grew overnight I was Al Pacino a la Godfather 2, like an old dead uncle always insisted I should be. And Bukowski told me once that when I realised I’d failed as a writer I could maybe scratch a living as an Ernesto Guevara lookalike. Now I’m a 55 year old Ratso Rizzo.

Life’s a bitch. Forget about it. Just learn the lesson: never judge a close relative by his cover.

‘The problem with American power is not that it is American. The problem is simply the power. It would be dangerous even for an archangel to have so much power.’ Tim Garton Ash.

‘Stop this bullshit now.’ Cindy Sheehan.

Video clip

“I have a dream” video clip

This is the entire address. It lasts about 17 minutes. What else do you need to do that can’t wait?

If you can’t remember it or if you’ve never experienced it or if you think it’s got nothing to do with your life —

CLICK HERE

Just do it.

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