Four Poems by John Comninos

his was the dance
crow had danced in youth
in praise to god, 
for dance was his love
and love the body’s 
without chagrin
or prevarication, 
this was joy
joy until god fled 
and steps
and flight 
he had not moved since
his soul became still as god’s voice
sleep was the exception
untainted by the lost world
within faint confine
he dreamed
and he dreamed he awoke
and he dreamed he danced
again and god

love and love
he woke with
upon waking, his dreams
were simply moments
and god
the God of the dance
an understudy

it was as if christ
it was as if christ,
the median, was in his inner sight
and he could not yet see the end; 
he peered towards the core 
with fear, for in this place 
was the surrogacy of hope
like some ancient artifact that held him; 
he thought about the grail, 
its containment, and he felt lost
without it, lost with it—wondered 
if he was moving,
travelling—between fragments,
less of his past
or the divisory elements of the now
and while he wondered

it was as if Christ
became an augment to heart, Christ—
soothing, sonorous, solist

it was as if Christ, until now,
had waited to speak these words,
as if Christ had bent

into his hollow frame
to promise the very grail,
how blood and flesh meet

in this holy surprise

he knew his soul
he knew its stem
its voice, its creed
its stupefaction
he had known it
when he waited
for god in a church
had observed
the pure enchantment
of its ancient quiver
when he had looked at
jesus and his perfumed
feet and a woman
washing his body
since then his soul
had never denied him
and now in the reach
of an uneven love
he knew
once more 
the call
of its passions
pure as breath 
upon the new day
in a new prayer, he bent
towards this 
for this was his soul
and he knew 


we laid them at rest
walked the short walk
from star to grave
bequeathed them
towards their own dust

onlookers seemed drawn
in grimaces of grief

they watched the deaths
as distant deities
the tragicomedy,

the priests led the way
and then the wood
and then the others
and then the descent
always down always

we filled the graves
with sand and rock
the dirt, itself, 
alien, though familiar 
as children, we tasted
the ground

the spade in my hand
was comforting
a comfort to touch 
and shovel and dig
propel the past

finally we lay
the elements down
patted the ground
my hand pressed there


John Rueal Comninos is a Gestalt Psychotherapist and Play Therapist as well as a Pastoral Psychologist. He initially studied theology (LIC.Th) and became a Presbyterian Minister and later studied Pastoral Psychology at Stellenbosch University (M.Th.) and Gestalt Therapy at UNISA and has extensive experience in trauma, he lectured broadly in Psychology at Huguenot College and lectured and supervised students in the Masters Programme in Pastoral Psychology at SU and in the Masters programme in Play Therapy at the Play Therapy Centre, Wellington.


by Peter Cowlam


A reining in at the eco-centre. Dials
in reverse for the lost trials of inspection.
Ends but a stunted survey,
fixated on crowds and venues. They are here,
young obsessives of ‘belonging’, cropped in line,
and blessed by the shades of the dead, each 
    with plans
for a history staggered by restarts. Bets
are made on the fall of dice, down payment
on the strategists of destruction. We ask,
what news, when there’s a fifth apocalyptic 
horseman, bringer of fire, floods, dearth, the crackle
of flames in our trees, earthquakes and migrations.
There is an old prince, there’s a new king reigning.


Crunch Time for the Pheasant

by J. W. Wood

Martin Hugginson was an ordinary man who dreamed of the extraordinary. Everything about him was average: his looks, his height, the condition of his hypothalamus – in fact, the size and condition of every organ. Including that one.

Unusually for someone so ambitious, he was also a nice boy. You know – get a job, get married, have children. Make his parents proud and have a nice life.After he graduated from the University of Coventry with a lower second-class degree in psychology (“very creditable,” his tutor said) he began to cast about for a career.

A few months of botched applications and failed interviews followed. Then he spotted an advertisement for a Junior Data Assistant at the National Statistics Office in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

“That’ll do me,” Martin thought.


The National Statistics Office (NSO) was housed in one of those 1960s blocks which always seem to be located near a station. Wherever you live in the world, you’ve seen one like it: grey, filthy, rectangular windows and a flat roof. The kind of place that, when you pass in a train, you wonder who or what dwells within its walls. Somewhere that looks more like a filing cabinet than a place of work.


I should have told you Martin got the job, but you probably guessed. After all, Junior Data Assistant at the National Statistics Office hardly sets your hair on fire, does it? A lower second in psychology from Coventry University was more than enough to perform what was needed.

Martin’s job consisted of handling data enquiries from the public and government departments. He had twenty days holiday on top of public holidays, a final salary pension and £22,000 per year – much less than other graduates. But Martin didn’t care. It was a start.


The NSO’s Nuneaton site hid a secret. At its heart there lay a grass quadrangle. Perhaps the architects imagined an oasis for those crunching numbers inside; a place to have lunch or chat to colleagues. Maybe even contemplate boredom-related self-harm.

It was almost always deserted given the amount of rain pouring down nine months of the year. There were four sodden wooden park benches facing each other, one on each side; two waste bins for lunchers to put sandwich wrappers in, and a one-legged pheasant.

No one knew how the pheasant got there, or why it didn’t fly away. Sometimes staff spotted it venturing up to the roof, where it would squawk and cackle. But it never flew away. It probably fed on any worm unfortunate enough to poke its head through the grass, or on scraps of sandwich tossed to it by employees. Maybe someone was secretly feeding it drugs, which explained why it never left. Its feathers were dark red and it had yellow eyes. It compensated for its ambulatory disability by being the loudest bird Martin had ever heard in his life.


Martin’s boss welcomed him on his first day with a nondescript handshake and a brief grin. Paul Harfrow was two years away from statutory retirement and had worked in this building for thirty-four years. He’d long ago settled here, and it had settled into him, weighed down by a Herculean gut that preceded him everywhere.

“This is your desk,” he told Martin, pointing at a dark plastic-looking table, eight feet long and four feet wide with an old-fashioned computer on it. “We’ll look at what you’ll be doing later.”


Martin was given a week to read through the induction manual, make sure he knew where things were on the server, and hide in the toilets when he couldn’t take being at his desk any more. He undertook these non-tasks in a giant enclosure under strip lights, then went home and ate sausages or beans with potatoes – mashed, boiled, fried. Sometimes he ate a curry.

Back in the office, the nearest employee to him was twenty yards away. He was called Trevor. Trevor was bald on top with long, unkempt grey hair that stuck out and ran down his neck. He was quite old, about the same age as Paul Harfrow. Martin had noticed Trevor dozing off after lunch. He smelled of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

After a week of surfing the internet and listening to pheasant squawks, Martin started wondering if this was the right job for him. But then, that Friday morning, he met Fenella Clarke. And someone gave him something to do – at last.


Fenella Clarke was a slash of scarlet on the used cellophane of the National Statistics Office. She worked as Executive Assistant to Tom Taylor, the top dog in this place. They looked like a couple out of an office furniture ad: Taylor, a trim man in his late fifties with dark charcoal suits, a white shirt, and blue tie; Fenella in a pencil skirt and two-inch heels. She had a long wavy perm, deep crimson lipstick, and big glasses with thin frames. She was young, like Martin.

Martin found her unbearably sexy. So much so that when Tom Taylor came to his desk that Friday morning to greet him as the new recruit, he looked down and away. Even though Fenella did no more than stand behind her boss holding a tablet computer. But when you’re twenty-two and your hormones are on fire, that’s enough.


“Settling in all right, are we, er, Martin? Did Paul give you enough to do?”

Martin could tell by the way Taylor looked at him he was expected to bullshit. So he did: “Oh yes, thank you, Mr. Taylor.”

The two men shook hands perfunctorily. Tom Taylor smelled of soap – a reassuring smell.

“Good. Well, there’s something I’d like you to do for me.”

“Certainly, Mr. Taylor – just name it.”

The pheasant crowed in the quadrangle down below.

“Bloody bird. Still, you’ll get used to it,” said Taylor with the kind of quick smile that suggested he never had. “Now look. The Department of Health has asked for a multi-variant analysis of health outcomes for all children born between 2000 and 2015 split out by region and gender, parental income, and marital status. I know it’s a lot to ask, but Fenella here will give you a hand, all right?”

Martin said it was fine by him. In particular, working with Fenella was especially fine.

“Very good. Oh – and I need to see something by four PM today, OK?”

Martin nodded like a marionette on speed, and Taylor was gone. Fenella Clarke waited until her boss was out of earshot then sat down in Martin’s seat.

“Right. Let’s call the people at Health and find out what they want.”

“Well, I imagine it’s to do with policy.”


Fenella stared at him as if he’d just declared a belief in virgin births via extra-terrestrial c-section. “Or maybe they’re battling a journo and want to kill the story. Let’s see, shall we?”

And with that, her manicured nails reached for the phone on Martin’s desk.

“Simon Tickley, please,” she demanded.

“Tickley here.”

The voice boomed out from Martin’s speakerphone. A voice used to ordering expensive wines in central London restaurants. Martin imagined pink-cuffed shirts, silk ties, and double-breasted suits kept buttoned up to hide a not-so-incipient beer gut.

“Simon? It’s Fenella Clarke from NSO Nuneaton. I wanted clarification on your request.”

“Fenella! How are you?”

Martin pictured Tickley’s tongue out on a stalk, his leer echoing down the phone.

“Fine, thanks, Simon.”

Either Fenella was playing it very cool or she had no interest in him. Martin suspected the latter. “We have a new colleague – Martin Hugginson. He’s going to assist me with your requests. So: do you really want multi-variant blah blah bollocks, or what’s your problem?”

A cough at the other end. The pheasant crowed. Martin wanted to kill it, even though he’d not been in the job a week.

“Fenella, my dear. You know me too well.” Tickley chuckled. “Gordon Bells on The Times – No-Balls Bells – uncovered our plans to offer healthcare vouchers to single mothers. He’s got a hair up his arse because his wife left him and he’s going to do a piece about single-father families being neglected. I need ammo for a rebuttal.”

“I see.” Fenella paused and looked at Martin like he was a particularly bland sheet of wallpaper. “Something that proves that the Southeast is full of lone daddies selflessly parenting on their own, right?”

“Right. And ask your wallah – oh sorry, Martin. Martin, if you could please prepare the full analysis to make it look proper, that would be great.”

They said their goodbyes, then Fenella pressed the OFF button. She turned to Martin, her brown eyes sparkling. Martin felt his heart beat faster. Then she said, “Do you know how to do a full-stack interrogation in SQL?”

Martin shook his head. The pheasant crowed. Inwardly, he swore he’d murder it after lunch.


That night, Martin was eating a ready-meal curry straight out of its plastic container. He’d failed to murder the pheasant. But he had given Simon Tickley what he wanted. He’d also microwaved his meal-for-one curry for the requisite three minutes, but botched the removal of the cellophane covering such that it slopped among the sauce. He watched the TV news and navigated this mixture of cellophane and chicken Madras with a plastic fork.

The health minister came on. Martin watched him deny that healthcare vouchers were prejudicial towards single-parent families headed by men. He heard the Minister talk about protecting lone fathers, who – the Minister acknowledged – did a great job, constituting as many as ten percent of all fathers in certain regions.

However, that was complete nonsense. Martin and Fenella had invented the number for Simon Tickley via a statistical dump so large and impenetrable no one would read it. Least of all Simon Tickley, a policy man who didn’t read at the best of times, and remained untroubled by reflection of any kind. Why waste time thinking when the fate of a nation rested on your expanding paunch? The ten percent statistic did serve one purpose, though: it launched Martin’s career at the NSO.


Martin became adept at creating statistical reports that proved nothing. Fish stocks that weren’t real. Bogus plastic card manufacturing plants somewhere near Hexham, Northumberland. Meanwhile his relationship with Fenella remained at best cool and professional; glacial might be a better word.

Perhaps his biggest thrill came from hearing the numbers he’d invented being used in newspapers, TV, and radio. OK, he didn’t invent them: rather, he drew conclusions the evidence didn’t necessarily warrant because he knew that’s what those asking the questions wanted to hear.


One day, Martin plucked up the courage to ask Fenella out for lunch on the pretence of staking out the pheasant. She accepted his invitation, even though his sexual confidence was less than zero after a three-year on-off relationship at uni with a woman who was out of his league and knew it. In other words, he’d been used – and was understandably wary. Not a good look to a young lady like Fenella.


“We could throw a net over it then sit on it or something. Or feed it poison seed. Or put it to sleep and drive it to Norfolk. That’s kind of like dying,” Martin mused as he sat with Fenella in the quadrangle, munching on a fish paste sandwich while trying not to think about what was in the paste.

“Martin! That’s shocking! How could you be so heartless to a poor, defenceless bird?”

Fenella tossed the last crust of her sandwich onto the grass and the pheasant hopped over on its one good leg to peck at the scrap of bread.

“Don’t do that! You’re feeding the beast!” Martin protested.

“Aren’t we all, Martin? Aren’t we all?” Fenella paused then asked, “I wonder how he stands up with just one good leg?”

Martin wondered whether he knew anything about the size of a male pheasant’s wedding tackle. When he realised he didn’t, he muttered something about resting on his tail feathers. It was clear by this stage that his attempt to manifest an air of manly hunter-gathererness had failed. Fenella stood up, wiped the crumbs from her packet of crisps off her dark skirt and tossed her empty Diet Coke can in the bin with a decisive thunk.

“Come on. We’ve got those data tables for Lincolnshire’s potato production to take care of.”

Unable to resist such arcadian overtures, Martin screwed up his sandwich-wrapper and threw it at the bin, but missed. When he went to pick up the wrapper, he thought he saw the pheasant’s yellow eyes laughing as it hopped around on its one good leg.


Though he didn’t know it, Martin’s stock was rising in what might be termed the corridors of power. Those corridors were in fact a warren of offices infested with mildly overweight younger men and, sadly, fewer women. The men had impressive yet useless degrees from grand universities but couldn’t have nailed two bits of wood together if their lives depended on it. Anyway, Martin’s name was increasingly being spoken of in said corridors.

“Get Hugginson on it,” went the cry.

Martin accompanied Fenella to the annual conference of government statisticians in London. This year, the title was ‘From Repository to Policy: Helping Ministers take evidence-based action’. The word “repository” made Martin think of the word “suppository” – but then, he was still only twenty-two.


At the conference, Martin clapped loudly after Fenella’s presentation and she noticed him doing so. He also met Simon Tickley in the flesh: Simon was as well-dressed and overweight as Martin imagined. Tickley was also going bald, and would soon reveal aggravated indigestion caused by the over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol. In other words, he farted a lot.

In his conversation with Tickley, Martin used terms he didn’t know the meaning of, such as “Pearson’s R” and “Student’s T”, in an effort to impress. It worked – mainly because impressing Simon Tickley, a man of Olympian stupidity, was not difficult.

During the conference dinner that evening, Martin sat next to Fenella while the Head of the Cabinet Office droned her way through a speech. They ate Chicken Maryland made with used engine-oil, or so it seemed, and drank a lot of low-quality wine. After dinner the entire conference headed for the bar at once.

Martin tagged along behind Fenella. As it turned out this was a good move. After about an hour, Fenella was visibly drunk and asked Martin to help her get back to her room.


Once in her room, Fenella wasted no time on preliminaries. Under the auspices of a goodnight kiss, she stuck her tongue in Martin’s mouth. After a brief moment of astonishment, he responded, and before they knew where they were, as the tabloid press would say, Martin lay on Fenella’s hotel-room bed with Fenella on top of him.

During proceedings he tried everything he could not to reach the top of his asymptotic curve. He thought about potato production in Lincolnshire, the number of public toilets in Cumbria, renewable energy installations off the Pentland Firth. He even thought about the pheasant in the office quadrangle, though this nearly softened his powers of analytical penetration to a catastrophic degree.

As a result of these thoughts and the amount of alcohol they had consumed, Martin managed to sustain his input until Fenella was satisfied with the results. After that she rolled over and fell asleep. Seconds later Martin was also asleep.


When Martin awoke, he wondered if life could get any better. His new job was going well, he had just slept with the girl of his (recent) dreams, and it seemed as if the world lay before him like an open mollusc. Only not one that was open because it was dead.

Of course, the pheasant in the office could disappear, which would improve matters further. When he got back to the office, he no longer noticed the pheasant, though he could, admittedly, still hear it croaking.

As to Martin’s self-interrogation whether life could improve further, it was about to – at least from his point of view. But perhaps not from the perspective of the British state, its taxpayers and civil servants.


You see, Martin began to gain power. And power, as we all know, is the greatest narcotic – or hallucinogen. For instance, Simon Tickley invited him to a shooting weekend. This consisted of people dressing up in clothes from the nineteenth century and blasting away at defenceless ducks and geese who died in agony from their gunshot wounds. Martin had never wanted to kill anything and the sight of dying birds made him feel sick. Especially if they weren’t that bastard pheasant.

He went anyway because he’d been invited and thought it might be good for his career – a word he’d recently learned to attach to sitting in an office and doing what he was told to do when told to do it for eight hours each weekday. He also remembered the other meaning of the word “career” – to run around wildly and with no apparent purpose.

That Christmas, Simon Tickley sent him an expensive bottle of brandy from an upmarket store in London as a gift. He didn’t mention that he’d put it on expenses – effectively, the taxpayer gifted Martin the brandy.

As Martin’s power in government grew, so he became aware of his ability to affect change. One time he decided taxing condoms would be a great idea because he didn’t like using them. So he fed the opposition parties bogus statistics about the need for better family planning. He built an argument from evidence stating that funds for this should come from the user base for family planning. The government caved in, and the world’s first “Pay as you Come” legislation was born.

However much his power grew, he had still done nothing about the pheasant. He celebrated his first work anniversary over lunch in Nuneaton’s most exclusive eatery. Fenella gazed at him across the table, her passion for him at its fullest flower. Amid such happiness, he remembered the pheasant back at the office and frowned.

As he perfected his own life, so the pheasant’s existence became more of an affront. Soon the very idea that this bird would have the temerity to squawk and shit where he worked was offensive to him, and he swore he would remove it, come what may.


Shortly after this first anniversary lunch with his inamorata, Martin experienced his finest hour. After no small amount of crafty planning and inventing numbers, Martin succeeded in bringing the UK’s first publicly funded Rock History Museum to Nuneaton, rather than London or Liverpool or Manchester or Newcastle or Glasgow or Belfast or anywhere else. He did this by supplying dodgy numbers to policy-makers too lazy or bored to check them. He also befriended an MP who liked rock music and the sound of his own voice and made sure he was properly briefed.

However, the rock-music-loving MP died suddenly. He passed away true to his policy objectives, since his heart attack occurred in a hotel room, in the presence of a forty-six-year-old stripper, an ounce of cocaine, a bottle of VSOP cognac and a carton of cigarettes.

His long-suffering wife was said by the media to be “devastated”.

After that MP’s passing, Martin’s life nosedived. An independent candidate was elected to replace the rock-loving people’s representative and this candidate was not just independent in name: she also possessed moral fibre, profound intelligence and a commitment to the truth. Her name was Stella Maryton and she was a single mother who believed in the free distribution of condoms. She had short hair and her enemies spread ugly rumours about her private life. Nobody liked her very much because she was honest.

Her many positive qualities meant that when she took over, she soon discovered Martin’s bogus statistical evidence relating to the Rock Museum. After some further digging, she also uncovered Martin’s fairy tale fish stocks, Hexham’s ahistorical plastic card factory, and the filching of public funds for everything from VSOP cognac to condoms, hotels, and restaurants.


Meanwhile, Martin closed in on the pheasant. Not with a gun or knife or some poison food. Nor even by sticking a hungry fox or gun dog in the quadrangle where it lived. No, Martin was using the deadliest weapon he knew – the power of statistics to confuse and bamboozle.

However, Martin hadn’t reckoned with Stella Maryton, the advent of her anti-statistics bill, her powers of forensic research, or her capacity for networking. During the first few months of her tenure, Stella had browbeaten everyone from the Cabinet Secretary to the media (off the record) about how the misuse of statistics was turning the UK into a banana republic. She used the term “fantasy island”, which made lots of influential people scared, because they liked to imagine both they and the country they ran mattered.


Based on statistical evidence, Martin constructed an argument for the legitimacy of denying existence to certain forms of wildlife (that is, killing them) on the basis of fundamental human rights such as air, water and food. Naturally this was tricky, since many would say that the wildlife had just as many rights to these things as humans.

However, by perverting a few numbers about guinea fowl as carriers of various nasty human pathogens, and armed with several examples of bat-to-human transmission from China which many have found useful in recent years, Martin prepared to declare numerical war on his avian adversary.


Stella Maryton introduced a private member’s bill criminalising the use of inaccurate data to influence public policy. This was an excellent idea, since those in public life had been deluding innocent people with fake numbers for more than 3,000 years.

She gave lots of abstract and high moral arguments in favour of the bill. The kind of arguments with which everyone in public life likes to agree. Misleading stats, she argued, were divisive (true), anti-diverse (possibly, though she never explained why), racist and sexist and other things (see previous bracketed description).

The MPs loved her bill almost as much as they loved to be seen on the side of moral right. So it was passed unanimously, with just one or two old MPs who represented constituencies nobody could place on a map dissenting. The new laws were associated with a long prison term and disbarment from public life for offenders. To the MPs voting for the bill, this was the modern equivalent of being hung, drawn and quartered and having your head stuck on a pike then paraded through central London.


After weeks of careful plotting, Martin had the pheasant in the sights of his public policy blunderbuss. He identified some of the more venal MPs who might be persuaded to advance his anti-pheasant cause in the House of Commons in exchange for some public title – you know, those mystical letters after people’s names that sound good even if you don’t know what they mean.

He fed those MPs lots of statistics and charts with bullet points on them. He used terms from data science, broken up into small units so the MPs could read them out loud even if they’d had too good a lunch in a restaurant they could never afford thanks to some billionaire who wanted the government to stop taxing him.

Then Martin sat back and waited. But he was to be disappointed – majorly so.


The police came for Martin when he was on the phone to Simon Tickley trying to get the Department of Health to declare stray birds a health risk. They hauled him out of his chair and shoved him over his desk and tied his hands behind his back in handcuffs. Then they read him his rights and marched him off to prison in full view of Trevor the dozing non-entity and his soon-to-be-former girlfriend Fenella Clarke, who pretended not to know Martin even though her cheeks were now as red as her lipstick.

As Martin was escorted from reception by the police, he turned around and looked through the glass to the quadrangle. The pheasant was flapping around like a demented puppet. And this time he was certain: those caws, cackles, and squawks through the glass were the sounds of that deformed bird laughing at him.

J. W. Wood is the author of five books of poems and a novel, all published in the UK, and the satire ‘By Any Other Name’, forthcoming from Terror House Publishing in the US later in 2023. His work has appeared in The Poetry Review, London Magazine, TLS, etc. and has been shortlisted or nominated for several awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Bridport Prize. A dual citizen of the UK and Canada, he is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. You can find out more at his website.

The Cemetery for Amateurs

Harry Greenberg

There is, somewhere in Prague, a most peculiar cemetery – I cannot say where, for I was taken there by car when fog lay over the city like a fetid blanket. It’s for musicians. But not any musicians. Only amateur musicians who have played in an amateur symphony orchestra or chamber ensemble at least three times.

‘Before their death, that is,’ said Pavel my guide. He gave a solemn laugh. He also explained that a condition of their being buried in this cemetery was that they were devoid of talent. ‘To a most remarkable degree,’ he said.

‘Come,’ he added, ‘let us visit.’ We left the car and walked between two high wrought-iron gates and to the gravel path that wound its crunching way this way and that between expanses of grass on either side.

‘You will like what you will see,’ said Pavel.

His English has a peculiar intonation that makes a simple prediction sound like an order. ‘You will be able to amuse your friends,’ he tells me.

The path came to an end and the cemetery lay before us. On each horizontal grey marble slab there was a musical instrument, of stone. Here a violin, there a cello; somewhere else a trumpet and further on a drum. A stone clarinet stood at an angle of thirty degrees, possibly at the same angle at which it had been played.

Pavel gave one of his laughs, and pointed. Someone had placed two testicular-shaped pebbles at the base of the instrument.

We inspected the entire cemetery. Pavel stopped sometimes to comment on a grave. This one played like an angel, a fallen angel but an angel nevertheless. That one’s violin screeched like a banshee; he was so bad that he was allowed to play in public only if he sat as far back as possible only pretending to play. The conductor had allowed this because the talentless wretch’s mother doted on him and paid for tickets for all the family so they could come and hear ‘my son, the violinist, play’.

She was tone deaf, it was said, to the extent that she never noticed anything was amiss when, like a screech owl, he played his practice sessions. There was also the rumour that she was totally without hearing and that her violinist son only simulated play even when rehearsing. But of this there is no proof that might stand up in a court of law.

‘Even here,’ said Pavel.

He added that there seemed to be no lengths to which some parents would not go to convince themselves that the hopes they had cherished for themselves might at least be realised in their sons or daughters. It was, he added further, the triumph of narcissism over mediocrity.

He gestured to where a harp of stone with wire strings, now rusty, commemorated a harpist who had lost a finger from each hand and had been in much demand despite the curiosities of her performance. Further away to the left was a lute (or was it a flute?). Played by someone who’d had a cleft palate, hence an eccentric embouchure, it had left much to be desired.

Perhaps the saddest of all were the half pianos. Of these there were two. Pavel explained that each half had once been a half of a whole. ‘Do you mean to tell me,’ I asked him, ‘that these are replicas of two halves of the same piano?’

‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘One for the musician’s left hand whose right had become incapacitated due to an embolism or an amputation,’ he hardly remembered which. ‘The other, for the right hand because the left had been damaged by machinery or a landmine,’ and again he could not recall which of the two it was.

But the most sinister stone was that of the conductor. You might be pardoned for expecting to find a magisterial figure in full evening dress, poised, on his toes perhaps, a grimace of intention on his brow or some such expression commensurate with his calling. But all there was to be seen was a small square of concrete, just large enough to accommodate such a person, and on it, a little to one side, a baton. Lying there as if it might have fallen from the grasp at his last performance (several more examples were included but these have been removed on the grounds of good taste).

Finally, Pavel turned to me. ‘What do you have to say?’

‘It is remarkable,’ I told him, ‘in almost every respect.’ He paid no attention to my implied criticism.

‘You will tell your friends, you will instruct them to come here.’

‘I will be delighted,’ I said. ‘You must give me the address and how to get here.’

‘Just imagine,’ Pavel said as we drove away into the fog, ‘how it will be on judgement day. They will all rise up and join into their orchestras and play with such intensity, such fervour, and such,’ he paused and did his laugh, ‘such cacophony as has not been heard for centuries, millennia even. Of course by that time music will have changed so much that how they play may well be in fashion.’

He laughed and gently nudged me in the ribs as we drove deeper and deeper into the fog. The next day he accompanied me to the airport. The fog had thinned considerably and the augurs for our departure were promising.

It was only when I sat observing the clouds and meditating on mediocrity that I realised he had not given me the location of the cemetery.

Pavel passed away soon after and I was told that he was probably interred in the very same cemetery we had visited. But no one seems to know where it is and as the years go by I wonder more and more if we went there at all. Such is the conflation among memory, truth and fiction these days it is difficult for me to know what to believe.

Harry Greenberg was a counsellor to victims of torture, and spent many of his latter years writing and publishing stories, articles and witty asides on Jewish life and upbringing. His Letters to Kafka is published by CentreHouse Press and is available at Amazon Kindle and on most other ebook platforms. There are plans to publish more from Harry’s backlist.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 10

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

“Give it a rest, can’t you?” snarled Morgan, his eyes scanning the green for a large stone to dash the creature’s brains in. He didn’t feel right. His stomach hurt. They’d been scuttling between shadows for ever and Loki’s obsessive chant, entirely lactic in nature and pitched somewhere around middle C was curdling his temper. Besides, he was sure they’d passed this mossed-over apology for aresidence at least twenty minutes ago.

Loki came to a standstill. “I can’t. It’s the only thing keeping me going. Caerphilly, Orkney, Caboc, Isle of Mull, Crowdie, Dunlop—”

Morgan ground his teeth. “How much further is it?”

“Dunno. Hey! Hey!” A sharp little elbow jabbed Morgan’s knee. “France! I could go back to France. Back to France, I said. That’s the real land of milk and honey, you know. They’ve got at least one cheese for every single day of your year. Cabécou de Rocamadour, Bleu de causses, Le Fougerus, Crottin de Chavignol, Murol, Vacherin Haut-Doubs – I’m more sophisticated than what you thought, ain’t I? Le Fium’Orbo, Pithiviers au foin, Aisy Cendré, Bougnon, Frinault, Fromage Corse, Nantais – Oh, hang on, I think we turn right at this tree. Or is it left? No, it’s right. Right, I said, right. What’s the matter with you, not knowing your right from your elbow? Tomme de Savoie, Abbaye de Belloc, Livarot, Gris de Lille yes, I’m right. It was definitely left. We’re nearly there. La Taupinière, Figue—”


“No, of course I haven’t finished. I’m an expert in my field. An expert, I tell you. I can keep going for hours – Mâconnais, Maroilles, Ardi-Gasna, Dauphin – Why do you ask?”

Morgan smiled, having spied a dead branch, half-hidden in the grass, nice and heavy, just the thing. “Because if you don’t stop right now, I’ll fucking do you in.” Loki took him literally, stopped dead, and began to water the shrubbery.

“That’s it, find your own way.”

Morgan dropped the branch. His guide lowered his voice. They continued.

Ossau-iraty-brebis Pyrénées, Cantal, Bûchette d’Anjou, Pavé d’Auge, Péardon, Camembert, Arômes au Gène de Marc, Chaource, Gaperon, Baguette Laonnaise, Banon, Roquefort, Oh Queen of cheeses, Laguiole, Langres, Laruns, Petit-Suisse, Chabichou du poitou, Brie, Mimolette Française, Selles-sur-Cher, Raclette, Brocciu, Tomme de Romans, Valançay, Beaufort, Morbier, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fleur du Maquis, Sancerre—

Morgan sighed.

“You don’t have to walk next to me, listening,” Loki pointed out. “Skip on for a bit. Pont l’Evêque, Tamie, Salers, Comté, Fourme d’Ambert, Bleu de Haut Jurat, Soumaintrain, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Reblochon, Vignotte, Rollot, Bleu de Laqueille, Tomme d’Abondance, Neufchâtel, Cîteaux, Rigotte, Pérail, Boulette d’avesnes—–”

“Oh, God.”

“He won’t help you. Not here. Carré de l’Est, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Chevrotin des Aravis, Coulommiers, Dreux à la feuille, Saint-marcellin – at least I’m not repeating myself – Poivre d’Ane, Epoisses de Bourgogne, Grataron d’Arèches, Olivet Bleu, Olivet Cendré, Palet de Babligny, Picodon de l’Ardèche, Saint-nectaire – Oh, bliss, bliss, bliss—”

Several dozen obscure French cheeses later, Morgan happened upon Rowan and Hermaze and was awarded a brotherly hug.

“Welcome home, brother, such as it is. Glad you managed to escape.”

Hermaze shuddered. “That cathel’th no plathe for a man. It’th full of nymphomaniakth and fanthy boys. Warned you, didn’t we?”

Neither seemed pleased to see his companion. Rowan, in particular, began twitching with antipathy. “What are you hanging around with this little bastard for?”

“Bathtard,” echoed Hermaze. “Thtinkth of pith, too.”

“I needed a guide. Sorry.”

Nökkelost,” sang Loki, with blithe indifference, calling to mind the cheesy delights of Scandinavia, “and Gammelost, Pråstost, Danbo, Samsø, Gjetost, Jarlsberg, Maribo, Herrgårdsost, Våsterbottenost, Hushållsost, Mesost, Esrom, Havarti—”

“Filthy curd addict,” scowled Rowan. “He makes make me sick.”

“Bad enough you coming back where you’re not wanted,” declared Elverin, emerging to shake his dusters, “without bringing Puck to cause even more trouble.”

“Puck – he said his name was Loki, or was it Cupid?”

“Puck,” snapped Rowan. “He’s bloody Puck.”

Hermaze barred the door. “Well, don’t think you’re coming in here, becauth you’re not, you thpying little turncoat runt, you filthy agent of matriarchy.”

Puck smirked. “Juustoleipä, Ilves, Tutunmaa.”

“He’ll have to come in, unfortunately,” muttered Rowan. “We can’t stand out here letting the world and her husband overhear all our business.”

The atmosphere downstairs was subdued. After exchanging stories, a large pot of herb tea was brewed and the entire company sat around peering disconsolately into their mugs.

“Sorry,” Morgan said for the fiftieth time. “I had nowhere else to turn.”

Cuajada,” mumbled the connoisseur formerly known as Loki, “Queso Ibores, Cabrales, Diazabal, Mahon, Castellano, Burgos, Roncal, San Simon, Queso del Tietar, Amrano, Manchego, Mato, Penamellera, Picos de Europa, Queso majorero, Queso de Murcia, Afuega’l Pitu.”

“See how the mighty are fallen,” said Backus with a deep sigh. He glared at the youngsters perched under the window stabbing at their tapestry frames. “Let this be a lesson to you all. See what happens when you put Self first. This ugly thing started out as Eros, a godlet with the divine task of bringing together Twin Souls, and finished up as the Trickster, resorting to pathetic scatological pranks just to get noticed.”

“I’ve decided on Pwwcha now, if you don’t mind. Pwwcha, I said. At least the Welsh still remember me. My name’s changed because I learned how to adapt, to go where I was still believed in. As for history, bug off. I stuck it out longer than you did.”

“He’s nothing but a great big spoiled baby.” Backus’ lip curled. “That’s why he’s so keen on milk products.”

“It’s neoteny, actually,” countered Puck. “And that’s a recognised condition, ain’t it? Halloumi, Caciocavallo, Mascarpone, Asiago, Pressata, Canestrato Pugliese, Mozzarella di Bufala, Crescenza, Fiore sardo, Bra, Raschera, Fontina.”

Backus sniffed. “You think you’re so clever, but all you’re reciting is a catalogue of coagulated rancid body fluids.”

“You can talk, toxin-monger, you can talk. At least I never dabbled in ethanol. No wonder your memory’s gone. No wonder, I say. Nothing wrong with mine though, and I can still remember you in your alter ego. Hey, boys – does the name Dionysus mean anything to you? Dionysis, I said. He invented the hangover. What a gift. Yes, and what about that donkey, Backus? A jenny, wasn’t it? I heard tales…. You don’t want to hear about that, do you? It’s always the same with the converted, ain’t it? Like people preaching clean air immediately they give up smoking.”

“What’s he on about, Sernunnos?” demanded Backus, looking uncomfortable. “This Dionysus, what’s he got to do with me?”

Sernunnos averted his eyes and shook his head. “No good going into all that again. Don’t worry. It’s been programmed out of you. You wouldn’t believe me if I explained. Now, what are we going to do for our Hertha-friend here?”

“Look,” said Morgan, “just tell me how to activate the stone circle and I’ll be on my way.”

“Dionysus, Dionysus,” mumbled Backus. “I’m getting some very nasty flashbacks here, very nasty.”

Puck sniggered. “And so you should. Toma, Ubriaco, Canestrato Pugliese – no, I said that last one already.” He nudged Morgan. “No good you thinking along those lines, squire, you won’t get nowhere near the portal. Nowhere near, I tell you. They’ve put a twenty-eight hour watch on the place. We’re going to have to find another way – and pretty damn quick, too. There’s a house-to-house search scheduled for tonight, immediately after moon-up. It’s top secret. Casciotta di Urbino, Castelmagno, Montasio, Murazzano – I’m not repeating myself, am I?”

“I told you he was a spy,” snarled Rowan. “How else would he know that?”

“Goddess, how can you stand him?” yelled Hyacinth, flinging down his sewing. “Let me kill the gut-headed little bugger.”

Puck immediately retaliated by unbuttoning his front and creating an impressively large lake around himself. “Robiola di Roccaverano,” he chanted, his whine now overlaid with a patina of truculence. “Touch me and I’ll flood this hovel. Flood it, I say. And I’ll call the Mothers, see if I don’t. Taleggio, Ragusano, Stracchino.”

“Bathtard traitor.”

“I am not.” Puck shrugged. “Am not, I say. How could I be? I never gave a damn about any side, anywhere, at any time, and on any of the planes. I’m neutral. Impartial. Ambisexual. I always was. Always was, I say, right from the beginning. What was it to me whether the darts hit home or not? I never stuck to the rules, anyway. To start with the arrows were made of gold. Everything was sweetness and light and love. Where was the fun in that? Boring. I caught Vulcan on an off-day and persuaded him to make me some lead-tipped ones. That added base lust to the equation. Lust, I said. Then I ran up a few wooden ones myself and invented love’s down-side – marriage. A leaden arrow in one throbbing heart, gold one in the other, blackthorn splinter in a third – now that was potentially interesting. As for this damn silly them and they and all the rest of us gender nonsense, I couldn’t give a flying fuck how it turns out. And – let’s be clear – the only reason I agreed to help this great Morgan lump was because he promised to take me to Hertha for a pig-out – Ricotta, Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo, Grana Padano, Casciotta di Urbino.” He paused. “You might as well help him, because if he goes, you’ll get rid of me as well. Toscano, Provolone, Scamorza, Quartirolo Lombardo—”

Backus threw up his hands. “If they’ve put a guard on the circle, that’s it, we don’t stand a chance.” His face contorted. “You know, I’ve got this very nasty picture of somebody being torn limb from limb.”

“Indigestion,” Sernunnos said hastily, “probably.”

“There must be another way out,” pleaded Morgan. “What about this Lilith and Eve business? Apparently I have to get permission off one to see the other to ask permission to leave.”

Rowan sniggered. “Not that it helps much, but tradition has it they’re one and the same and that Lilith started calling herself Eve after she had her makeover. Apparently, it was during her hunter gathering phase. It didn’t last long.”

“Where can I find her?”

“Well,” Sernunnos began. “No, no, forget it. It’s just a human story.”

“What? Tell me.”

“According to legend, long ago, in the Golden Age, the Great Mother Goddess lived amongst us. Then something happened. We offended Her. Or something. Nobody remembers. Anyway, She left us and went back to Her celestial home in the sky. The only way to reach Her is by climbing to the top of the Great Tower and calling Her name. Unfortunately, the tower has no door, but the story promises that whoever can find a way in and succeed in making their way up the staircase will be granted his heart’s desire. Of course, as I say, it’s only a human story.”

However hard they searched, none of them could find the smallest crack in the stonework, not even the ridge of an old doorway plastered over. Already the sun was edging down towards the east. If it had been a halfway decent tale then the outline of an ancient entrance would have been revealed by the descending shadows. Or some clue: runes, perhaps, an ancient riddle, or a raddled old jackdaw on the point of expiry flapping down to impart vital information. But it wasn’t that sort of story and there was nothing.

The small crowd had already started to yawn and disperse when a familiar rumpus started up in the distance. Morgan winced and began throwing himself against the wall. Maybe it was his imagination, sparked by desire to save his shoulder, but he thought he could make out a faint echo in the east-north-east sector.

“Rowan, it’s hollow just here. Bring me a sledgehammer or something. Quick – before that damned pig brings Mum’s Army running.”

Too late, a hideously swollen Venus had homed in on Morgan and was bearing down on him, slavering with adoration. This was the man who had given her both soul cake and freedom. This was her brother, her hero, her friend.

“That’s no pig,” bawled Puck, above Venus’ express-train shriek of recognition. “That’s no pig, I say. I remember pigs. Mean little bleeders with bristles, pigs. They lived on acorns.”

“That’s inbreeding for you,” Morgan assured him. “And nurture, and getting away with it. It leads to bigger and better forms of Piggishness.” He flattened his body against the stonework and watched in dismay as time went out of sync. His eyes misted over. Venus floated silently forwards in soft-focus slow motion, as did Di and her muscle-bound cohorts.

“Move!” shrieked Puck, kicking his shin. “Move, I say.”

Morgan was instantly plunged back into a nightmare world of pounding feet and rising dust cloud. Of sow bark and bitching imprecation. Of glistening snout and gaping chops. Of flailing arms, and stout legs working like pistons. Of threats, and promises, threats of promises, and promises of threats. There was no escape. This time they were both destined to meet their various ends. Self-preservation maliciously held its breath until the very last possible moment, and then injected a massive dose of adrenalin into his bloodstream. Galvanised into action, Morgan leapt to one side a fraction of a second before Venus slammed straight through his shadow and into the wall, dislodging stones and a great section of wattle and daub panelling. Her head remained jammed in the hole. Beyond, he made out a narrow stone staircase curving away into pitch black oblivion. In that same instance he became aware of hands reaching out for him and took a running jump over Piggy’s gigot, chump chop, fillet, loin, neck end and blade into dark and dubious safety. High above, a tiny speck of light appeared and disappeared. The tower was so narrow that his outstretched elbows grazed the sides. Up he went, as fast as he dared, spurred on not only by the desire to evade recapture but also to escape from the remonstrative bubbles of saliva floating up from Puck’s blow-hole vomitory. Each had the name of a further variety of cheese trapped inside it, released as the bubbles burst against the dripping stone walls.

Remedou. Friesekaas. Quark. Appenzeller. Emmental. Friburgeois. Bergkäse. Raclette. Gruyere. Royalp-Tilsiter. Saanen. Limburger. Mondseer. Sapsago. Butterkäse. Sbrinz. Tête-de-Moine. Serra da Estrela. Vacherin Mont d’Or. São Jorge. Boerenkaas. Commissiekaas. Edam. Gouda. Leyden. Leerdammer. Maasdam. Bruder Basil. Oschtjepka. Sirene. Mandur. Burduf Brinza. Siraz. Liptauer. Abertam. Katschkawalj. Balaton. Lajta. Bryndza. Liptoi. Oszczpek. Podhalanskiiiiiiii.”

As the patriarchs tell it, Eve was responsible for bringing death, sin and sorrow into the world. But she was the second wife. It is said that, Lilith, the first, was even worse. Yahweh created Adam and Lilith together, but he used clay for Adam and – retrospectively, we must suppose – filthy and impure sediments of the earth to produce Lilith. Thus, she turned out self-centred, demonic, and totally evil. And that is what happens, it’s said, when women have the presumption to claim equality with men.

Well, he couldn’t go back. He had to go on. And on and on he went, sometimes not climbing at all, but hauling himself horizontally, knee to elbow in something approaching a foetal crouch, along the snake’s-gut of a passage, sometimes hurtling arse over tip – downwards, maybe, or not. But, in spite of such apparent evidence to the contrary, Morgan guessed he must still be making spiral progress upwards by the way the tiny patches of light before and behind appeared and disappeared by turns as he shuffled towards probable annihilation at the gates of the Celestial Abode, Eden, Paradise, the Queendom of the Blest.

It was slow work, much like clawing his way out of a treacle well. And as he continued, he remembered many things. And the things Morgan remembered were too painful to remember, so he tried to forget them, but they would not be forgotten. He started to sniffle, but was forced to stop by the need to listen.

The ‘Song of the Cheese’ had long since ceased, only to be replaced by something worse – a faint click and skitter of claw against stone, distant, but rapidly gaining on him. Rats terrified him, dead or alive, even in the Welsh – Llygoden ffrengig – literal translation, French mice, which didn’t help a whisker, whatever political nose-thumbing was implicated. The farm had been overrun with them in the early days of Caradoc and Rhonwen’s reign, great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats, brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats, grave old plodders, gay young friskers. Poison had been laid, but not all of the corpses removed. Fifty years later, mummified remains were still being discovered under floorboards and along attic beams, teeth grinning malevolence from tight, leathery masks, fine thick whippy tails a trifle dusty, but otherwise untouched by time. No one dared lay a finger on them, though Dai had dislodged one or two with a very long pole.

Morgan glanced over his shoulder. Life had afforded him no protection against rats. Not a sausage. If his literary bent had been encouraged he could have tried rhyming them to death, as did the satirist Seanchan Torpest when they ate his dinner—

Rats have sharp snouts

Yet are poor fighters

whereupon ten fell dead on the spot. But that was in the seventh century, and in Ireland. Weeping with self-pity, Morgan continued to climb.

Each step was now a massive block of stone, the riser measuring between two and three feet. Behind him, the noises had grown into explosive snorts and snuffles which ricocheted along the walls to overtake him. Persuaded that the pursuing rodents were distant relatives of the Porth rats, intent on belated revenge, he put on a burst of speed, rapidly hauling himself upwards, gibbering with terror.

The temperature plummeted. A thin wind began to grizzle around his ears, blocking out every other sound. Snowflakes started to fall, gently at first, riding the wind, and then whirling into a ferocious blizzard which brought him to a standstill. Something nudged the back of his ankles. He yelped, turned, kicked, and began inching backwards again, not daring to look at whatever it was. His reaching hands discovered an alcove in the wall. Stepping into it, he tied knots in his sheet and swung it across the opening to deter his assailants while he waited for the snow to clear. It took its time. When it finally thinned, he saw the steps continued on upwards for, at most, seven, then stopped abruptly in mid-air. No sign of Rattus rattus, but Adam was here had been scrawled on the wall. Behind him was another passage, dank and dark, and smelling of that very offensive toadstool, Phallus impudicus, the stinkhorn – either that, or a very dead something or other. The floor here was of puddled clay; the roof vaulted by massive, interlacing roots.

At the end of the passage was a small hole fringed with greenery.

He crawled out onto a grassy plain dotted with small blue flowers. A single, scab-barked old tree trunk, several hours round, stretched up into the massed clouds. Few leaves were visible from below, but clearly this tree bore fruit. The ground beneath it was knee-deep in cores at various stages of decay; more continued to drop at his feet as he stood staring upwards. The air was tainted by a smell as nastily sweet as belched scrumpy.

“Thanks for waiting,” snarled Mercher. Morgan jumped.

“How did you get here?”

“Since I’ve been bawling your name for the last half hour, I won’t demean either of us by answering that. Call it misplaced canine loyalty, but I thought you could do with the support. Ignored me, didn’t you? And finally, you kicked me in the teeth. Charming.”

“I thought you were—” Maybe that would be better left unsaid. Morgan looked at the iron steps hammered into the trunk. He looked at Mercher. “We need to go up. I suppose I’ll have to carry you.”

How does a mere man address the mother of all living? Morgan softly called out: “Ma’am?” After a while he tried: “Highness,” then: “Your Ladyship?” No answer was forthcoming. In the meantime, he’d never seen such clouds. To one side of the stout branches reared fair weather clouds, massive broccoli-headed mountain ranges, to the other, a mackerel sky, with spectacularly elongated shapes drifting against an azure backdrop, threatened imminent sea-change. In the centre, and feeding both possibilities, a shifting, trembling mass of pure white new cloud boiled over the edge of an invisible milk pan.

It was a breathtaking display of the awesome beauty of nature, ruined for ever by the gradual emergence of the night hag: first a leprous foot with long yellow toenails curling upwards, then ankles with crimped folds of flakily elephantine hide, a shapeless varicose-roped calf, a horribly droop-fleshed thigh, a massive triple-chinned arse, and finally the whole – an unspeakably disgusting crone shaped like a collapsing blancmange, as loathsome naked as he’d always suspected old women must be, a sight for making the eyes sore, for making the flesh creep, desire wilt, joie de vivre flee – with pendulous breasts swinging against a deeply-pleated stomach flap which mercifully concealed her pudenda, and liver-spot-dappled skin cankerous as the tree bark itself. If this was Eve then no wonder the human race was, for the most part, barely presentable never mind beautiful. If it was the Lilith depicted in the painted ceiling, then age hadn’t improved her.

“Bit low in the undercarriage,” snickered Mercher, fighting off his master’s restraining grasp in order to sink up to the neck in cloud.

Morgan shuddered. One thing was sure: he’d get no change here. The old hag was clearly senile judging by the way she was chain-eating unripe knobs of green fruit from the branches above and about her. The perfected technique suggested she’d been at it for a very long time. Not that this pastime appeared pleasurable. At each reach and pluck, a small moan left her lips, as if chronic repetitive strain injury had set in. And as she bit into the flesh her jowls quivered, her mouth puckered a sloes-in-vinegar grimace.

“Excuse me, Your Majesty.”

“Ugh?” She screwed up rheumy eyes. “I know that voice. Is that you, Adam?”

“Er, no, my name’s Morgan.” Venturing closer he saw the ancient matriarch was propped along a cleft branch surrounded by about a hundred greyish cats, all staring, and frantically scratching in unison.

The ghastly vision coyly drew a few wisps of water vapour round her flesh. “I knew you’d come creeping back to your Lilith sooner or later,” she mumbled through a mouthful of pale green crunch.

“Thing is, I’m here to beg a favour. I want—”

“If it’s about having a dog, the answer’s still no.”

“It’s not about dogs, it’s—”

“No dogs in here. And that also applies to the orangutan, the skelluidan, the mammoth, and the farocles. The answer to all or any of them is still No.”

“If you could just stop and listen to what I have to say—”

Lilith stopped. “Stop, I can’t stop. I’m far too busy.”

“It would only take a minute.”

“Stop, indeed – when I can’t keep up as it is. I have to do all this single-handed you know. No help whatsoever. You want to know why I’m doing it, is that it? Well, this is the Tree of Knowledge. Eating the fruit thereof was what started the downward slide. A bloody silly experiment, if you ask me. Knowledge brings unhappiness. Quote, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, unquote. And ignorance is bliss. Ergo the world can only be happy without knowledge, so if I dispose of every last apple from the tree—”


“Nobody will have to learn anything ever again, teachers will become extinct—”


“And Mankind be a lot happier.”


She stopped mid-chomp for the second time in a fair few millennia. A chunk of unripe fruit fell from her mouth as she cupped a hand to her ear. “Eh? What’s that?”

“The fruit – they’re pears. This is a pear tree.”

“Not apples?”

Morgan shook his head, hoping blame wouldn’t attach to the messenger. Lilith’s eyes bulged. She spat vigorously, broke off a twig, and began cleaning remnants of pear flesh from between her teeth.

“That vile, misbegotten, forked-tongue, lying worm-cast. Right back at the beginning you said he wasn’t to be trusted. I should have listened to you then.”

“I’m not Adam.”

“When I think of the aeons I’ve wasted forcing down those revolting green knobs. They never ripen, you know, it never got any better, and all for what? For nothing, that’s what. LUCIFER.”

Something rustled in the leaves. The clouds began to take on colour as the serpent slithered indolently towards them, winding itself widdershins round a series of branches: hyacinth beds, rainbows, sunlight through stained glass windows. As it finally emerged from the shadows, Morgan felt his jaw drop. There look, the Bible was wrong again. Nothing subtle about the creature. Each scale was painted differently, and he’d never seen colours of such intensity – some he had no names for. He stood transfixed, overcome by a sense of being surrounded by other colours he couldn’t see, sounds he couldn’t hear, of forever seeing as real what was unreal, of never knowing what really—

“Snap out of it,” yelled Lilith. “Ignore him and his mind games. Colour’s all in the retinal photo-receptors. He’s black and white, the same as everything else.”

“Forgive me,” murmured Lucifer. “I picked the wrong toadstool. From your quick lurch towards the outreaches of philosophical enlightenment I imagined we were dealing with psilocybe. Never mind. So, what can I do for you?” He hung poised between them, his scarlet – or perhaps the illusion of scarlet – tongue flickering with interest from a face that was one minute all lizard and the next of remarkable androgynous beauty. “Well?”

“Lucifer, I’ll get straight to the point. Adam tells me that these,” she pushed a half-eaten embryo fruit into his face, “are not apples as you told me they were. He says they are pears.”

The serpent’s expression changed to one of bewilderment. “I told you that? Are you sure it was me? I don’t remember specifically telling you they were apples.”

“I said to you: Is this the apple tree, Lucifer? Are those the apples? You said they were. What could be plainer than that?”

“No, I said it looked like the apple tree,” said Lucifer carefully. “You decided that it was. Then you asked if those were apples. I said that if it was the apple tree, then logically those must be the apples. Sound reasoning, I think you’ll agree?” He wound himself closer. “However, now that you come to mention it, they do indeed look like pears.”

The reptilian head swung towards Morgan. “How kind of you to draw it to our attention, whatever your name is.”

“Cut the crap, Lucifer,” snapped Lilith. “We both know it was deliberate. Don’t know when to stop do you, chaos-monger? Perhaps your mind’s finally going, since you can’t even remember my help-meet’s name.”

“I’m not Adam.”

“He says he’s not Adam.”

“Who else could he be? He’s here. He’s hairy. He’s got a dog, too. Don’t think I didn’t notice. Mothers see everything.”

“You’re not my—”

“I’m everybody’s mother, you silly git. I was the first. I created myself from nothing. I cloned myself a silly sister for company. Then the daft bint produced you. I warned her not to play around with her genes, but she would do it. Trying to produce a creature wise as serpents and harmless as doves; all she got was a scrap of serpent tail where it could only cause harm and a nasty tendency to violence. Still, between us we devised ways of making the best of things and got to quite like it in the end. Until you lot got ideas above your station and tried playing us off against each other.” Lilith cackled. “Then I re-absorbed her – or ate her. I can’t remember which.”

There was a short silence. Lucifer gave a discreet cough.

Lilith looked abashed. “All right, it was all me. Cloning came later. I just wanted to know what being subordinate felt like. But I’m still the Mother of All. Satisfied? Obviously not – I can see from your face that’s not what you’ve been told. So which version are they peddling at the moment, a sky father giving birth from his mouth, arse, thigh, or rib? Or are we back to the mind?”

“Still on the rib,” tittered Lucifer. “Though there is a school of thought—”

“And you can put a sock in it.” Lilith scowled at the top three inch layer of Mercher visible above the cloud. “Chancing it a bit, weren’t you, Adam, bringing a forbidden creature back with you?”

“He’s not Adam. He’s fallen through from the Other Place, where women are still supposed to smile, shave their legs, and keep shtum. He’s got himself trapped, so he’s come up here with his creature hoping you’ll send him back.”

“That’s out of the question. He stays.”

“What about the dog?” demanded Morgan. “It stinks. It’s got fleas.”

Mercher rolled despairing eyes. “I’ve got fleas? Have you looked at those cats? They’re overrun – dripping vermin. At least I can draw breath between bites. Even as I speak, ten thousand of their buggers are packing up and preparing to migrate to my fur, solely for economic reasons.” Morgan affected not to hear.

“It’s vile. Even licks its own testicles—”

“And occasionally recycles pre-digested food. I know all that. Dogs don’t change. But what’s that beside our happiness?” After several decidedly inelegant efforts, Lilith managed to haul herself to her feet. “I forgive you everything – the missionary position, the blood-sucking stories, and the babby-napping slanders. I forgive your fuelling of centuries of hard-breathing incubus and succubus fantasies, even the bellybutton fetish. Oh, Adam, after all these long ages, how can you want to leave again? We’ve got so much lost time to make up for. Come here.”

She flung open her arms. A shower of scurf, cores and pips, some germinated, fell from innumerable nooks and crannies in unmentionable and best unimagined places. Morgan backed hurriedly away.

“I’m NOT Adam.”

The serpent smirked. “He’s not Adam.”

Lilith smacked its head. “You think I don’t know that? He’s young. He’s relatively healthy. He’ll do.” Brightening considerably, shedding centuries with each step, she began waddling through the sea of cloud. “Let’s be at him.”

“You’re the Great Mother!” Morgan shrieked. “You can’t carry on like that.”

“It sounds as if you haven’t read the unexpurgated versions of your own mythology. Love them and leave them – that’s always been the Great Goddess’ motto. Actually, it was a bit more down to earth than that, but who’s standing in judgement? You’ll do for starters.”

“Sod that.” Morgan searched with his feet for the first metal rung.

Strangely, it was a lot quicker clambering down than climbing up. So quick, in fact, that there was no time to devise a plan. Setting aside any thought that his presence might not be wanted there, would he be able to find his way back to the Men’s Refuge?

The moon had risen. It was already waning, but still huge and silver. Dead or alive, Venus had gone from the base of the tower, but signs of a struggle remained. Noxious slurry was splattered on the wall. Most of the ground was churned up and the flowers had fled from every shrub in the vicinity, but worse that this – much, much worse – was the sight of a trail of cores leading away into the distance. Somehow, Lilith had got here first. Slowly, carefully, he edged round the shattered wall.

“Got you!” hissed Di.

Harmony soon fled from the hall of the Mothers. “For the love of Lilith send him back,” one-and-all howled. “And send that bloody animal back with him. I’m covered with flea bites.”

“No good blaming the dog,” Morgan insisted. “It’s her cats that are the problem. Look at them scratching.” Not that it proved anything. Everyone was at it.

“Not possible,” Kerridwins growled, twitching and slapping. “Fleas went out with Adam.” She coughed politely in an attempt to draw Lilith’s attention back to the matter in hand, but the Great Mother Returned was too busy with her first square meal in a very long time, and with observing the rapid revitalisation of the body sacred. Kerridwins looked round at the assembled women. “Right, what’s it to be – out through the Portal, or into cold storage?”

“I really think –” began Thorns, to a chorus of sighs, groans, and head-shakings. “Look, he’s an idiot and a troublemaker and he doesn’t know his place, but that’s mainly because of the rogue chromosome. If he’d had the benefit of our therapy it wouldn’t be such a problem. However, he’s still a sentient being – albeit a low-level one – and it seems unfair not to give him the choice.”

Kerridwins grinned. “All right, my dear. You’ve got a kind heart, but we do still have his education to consider. He came here for a reason. Well, Git? Which would you prefer, a corrective spell in our museum, or uh going back?”

Morgan hesitated. The choice seemed straightforward, but he didn’t like the look in her eyes one little bit. “Back to the Welsh Marches?” he asked. “You mean going back to Mam’s and Dad’s farm?”

She nodded. “If that’s what you want. But just remember, Git, and this is very important, call on us three times asking to return and you stay forever.”

Morgan stared down into the massive cauldron, troubled by the thin sheen of ice crusting its milky waters. A few women, summoned to raise the temperature, blew torrid breaths across the surface.

“In you go,” commanded a smirking Kerridwins.

“What’s this?” Morgan hung back. Something was wrong. Why wasn’t Thorns here as an independent witness? “This isn’t the Portal. Why aren’t you sending me back the way I came?”

“Oh, this is better. That stone circle’s for the hoi polloi. This is the literary route. Rebirth via the cauldron means you get inspiration, knowledge, and – hopefully – illumination. Or perhaps you’ve changed your mind and decided to stay?”

“No, no, fine, whatever you say.” It could have been worse. After all, she could have sent him back through the partially cleft Presents, and hadn’t he suffered enough? Taking a deep breath, Morgan stepped into the cauldron. It was far deeper than he’d expected, right up to his chest before he reached the centre, but contrary to expectation the water was pleasantly warm. He tried to relax.

“Down you go,” purred Kerridwins, pushing him right under.

It was so dark in the kitchen that it took his eyes several minutes to adjust. At first the lack of light led Morgan to believe it was night, but he soon realised that the windows had been boarded over. Here and there, sunlight fingered through knotholes in the crudely cut planks. Apparently, things had not gone well in his absence. Plaster was falling off the walls, leaving exposed the centuries-old wattle panels. The floor was ankle-deep in filth. Several scrawny hens were conducting archaeological surveys in the corners. A pheasant, two ravens, several rabbits and what looked like a Pekinese dog bled from the beams. And where was Mam’s pride-and-joy dresser?

Some bloody squatters must have moved in. Jesus Christ, Morgan thought, it hadn’t taken them long to turn the place into a grade one shit-hole. Good job they were out or he’d have taught them a lesson that wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry. But why hadn’t anyone stopped them? Surely even Pritchard-idle-Evans could have lifted a hand to phone the police. Violent eviction was called for. And an insurance claim to boot. This wasn’t the joyful homecoming he’d visualised.

Stumbling outside into the inevitable drizzle, he found the yard empty of stock. As he looked around, the hair on the back of his neck lifted. Orchard and garden were wastelands, armpit-high in weeds. The roofs of most outbuildings had caved in. His mini was a rusted hulk under an avalanche of partially composted hay. The enclosing wall was down. The gates were gone. Across the road, all that was left of Pritchard-Evans’ cottage was a grassed-over tump surrounded by blackened roof tiles. This hadn’t happened yesterday – nor in a year of yesterdays. When was he?

Morgan stopped dead, remembering Kerridwins’ self-satisfied expression, her words of warning. The evil bitch – this was all a game to her. She’d let him think he was getting what he wanted, but that was just part of the entertainment.

May we three All-Wise offer a word of advice at this point? The thing about wishes is that they very often do come true, but you have to be meticulously specific about what you’re asking for. Those whom the Goddess wishes to drive mad are first granted their heart’s desire. Wish in haste, repent at leisure. There’s a Welsh Marches Once Upon a Time warning tale, The Fairy Follower, which makes this perfectly clear. Some young know-it-all, mad with lust, brain-addled by love, too impatient to follow the scrimping, saving, wait until you can afford it, route to marriage prescribed by his elders and betters, called on the Fair Family, the Tylwyth teg, for help. Clear water was set for them. A meal of fine white bread and matured cheese prepared. One of the Other duly appeared, cleared the board, and agreed to grant the fool’s wishes. He got his riches all right, and marriage, but not, alas, to the object of his desire. His beloved dwindled and died. Instead, he found himself saddled with a cantankerous old money-bags widow who made his life living hell.

Now Morgan realised why Thorns hadn’t been there to see him off. Being the only one with a modicum of decency, she wouldn’t have stood for it. God damn it, now he’d have to go and eat humble pie; beg to be dispatched to his own time.

How to get back, that was the thing? Stone circle, he supposed. Muttering under his breath, Morgan trudged towards the hillside. Perhaps when he’d knocked a few heads together and made it clear that he wasn’t a bloke to be messed with, he could negotiate a proper return and persuade Thorns to accompany him.

“How do?”

Morgan jumped. What now? Seven foot square of Wild Man of the Hills blocking his path, that’s what, and each massive paw clutching a leather bucket slopping water over his filthy bare feet. Wild Man possessed a purple nose, wildly bloodshot eyes, and hair that had never in its long life met a comb.

“How do?” WM repeated, eyeing Morgan’s knotted sheet ensemble with childlike curiosity. He himself was dressed in some sort of cobbled together rawhide. “Be thee a friend from up country?”

Morgan gave a vague nod. “Yes, a friend.” The fellow looked harmless enough, in spite of his bulk and the scary backwoods get-up. Still, what the hell, it was his business if he wanted to take bloke-ism to the extreme. “You don’t happen to know the date, do you?”

“Ah.” Down went the buckets. Up came the hands. A few minutes of hair-tugging and scalp scratching galvanised the single brain cell into action. “’Tis Manday.”

“And the year?”

“’Tis All Zouls. Ah.” There was a short pause. Vaguely conscious that he hadn’t provided an entirely satisfactory answer, WM added: “Lew will know. Him will be here directly. He be bringing whome the bacon. I got to get on.”

Morgan watched him shamble into the house before resuming his resentful journey across meadow wrenched from Nature by his forefathers and now reclaimed by gorse and bracken, and the tall dead spikes of snawp. A path had been beaten to the stream, the lowest part of which was dug out to provide a muddy pool deep enough for the dipping of buckets. There was no sign of any attempt at farming, arable or otherwise. Mam would never have stood for this state of affairs. Things had certainly changed.

Suddenly terrified that the circle might have been destroyed, or simply ceased to exist, he began to run up the hill. He could see the stones, was in minutes of reaching them, when a hullabaloo from the castle ruins stopped him in his tracks. Screams, howls, yells, the beating of drums, and one final screech of triumph was followed by a profound silence. Minutes later, half a dozen more wild men streamed down the bank carrying a naked corpse. As they came closer he saw it was a large gilt.

“Is that Venus? Have you finished off poor old Venus?”

“Naw,” said the red-headed bloke. “This here pig is Marpessa. Every afternoon us catches she and every night us eats she, and next day she be alive again and us catches she again and eats she, and next day—”

“Yes,” Morgan put in hurriedly, “I get the picture. Big, isn’t she? Eat all of her, do you?”

“Ah. Every last bit of her, for us must. That’s the way of it. It’s we eat she or she eats we, see? Sometimes her comes little and sometimes her comes big and sometimes her be a she and sometimes her be an he and sometimes her be near and sometimes her be far and we has to go miles and miles and miles and miles to catch she.”

“Ah,” chorused the others, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah.”

“Plenty to go round,” suggested he of the orange hair, introducing himself as Mighty Lew. “And while we’re waiting you can help we beat the bounds.”

Morgan glanced nervously at the standing stones. Half an hour wouldn’t hurt, he decided. After all, the stones weren’t likely to run away, and he couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten.

They trooped into the squalid kitchen which was now full of acrid smoke. Two enormous man-sized saucepans simmered on the battered Aga. The pig was heaved onto the greasy table. Without further ado, Lew seized an axe, climbed up and began unsystematically chopping the carcass into manageable segments. It was a messy and desperate business which excited the hens to the limits of their endurance. Apart from flying bone splinters, an escaping squirm or two of intestine, the eyes – which the WM pocketed on the sly – and any blood which couldn’t be caught, every other last bit went into the pans: head, tail, trotters, bristly skin, lackadaisically cleaned chitterlings, and various other mangled organs from which Morgan averted his eyes. Hunger fled.

“Right,” Lew dipped his hands in the less full saucepan to clean them, “now for the boundaries.”

Morgan followed the gang out to the semi-derelict building which had once been the granary. Here, a considerable quantity of crudely made bows, spears and cudgels hung from nails, and the old feed bins were full of large stones. Each of the men selected a favourite weapon and filled his leather bottle with a pungent liquid attempting secondary fermentation in a lard-covered barrel by the door. Something gleamed yellow from the cobwebbed window. It was Dai’s chainsaw, guaranteed for life on account of its foreign ancestry and excessive price. The blade was corroded, but a little fuel remained and Morgan was sure it could still inflict telling damage in any hand-to-hand conflict. He shouldered it, accepting at the same time some of the pungent liquid, trying to ignore the container’s close resemblance to an inflated pig’s bladder.

Mighty Lew and his followers set off up the valley road, now little more than a dirt track overlaid in places with scabs of blistered tarmac. Looking back, Morgan could see that the farmhouse was the only remaining dwelling in the valley. There was no sign of the church. Even the pub had disappeared. “Where are we going, exactly?”

Lew paused at the crest of the hill. “Us ain’t got much of a patch. They English bitches nabbed most of the good land.” Facing west, he pointed to a line of trees marching along the top of the valley, and east, to what looked like an artificially constructed ridge, a miniature echo of Offa’s Dyke. “This here is about it, east to west. Us goes north till us hits the Heavingjobby Chapter, and south until us gets to the Berlinjobby one.”

“What – you walk right round it every day?”

“And the rest.” Lew looked at him amazed. “Ain’t you done it before? Blokes up where you come from must be doing it, too. Every chapter do do it. It’s the only way to keep them out, ain’t it?”

“Uh,” said Morgan. The others all stared at him. Everyone knew that. Their eyes narrowed suspiciously. Then, enlightenment dawned on Mighty Lew’s face. He grinned and clapped Morgan on the back.

“Ah, ’tis about porkicide, ain’t it? That right, ain’t it – you ain’t made a kill yet? No need to be ashamed, lad. We all been there.”

“Ah?” chorused the others, “Ah?” and, Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?”

“And that’s why you been sent to us, ain’t it – to sort out this Pig business and see if us old hands can make a proper provider of you.” Lew turned to the others. “Take him out tomorrow, won’t us lads? Make sure him gets his pig?”

“Ah,” enthused the others, with nods, and gap-toothed grins, “Ah,” and, Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah.”

“But for today, us’ll let he be an honorary bloke.”

“Ah,” the others agreed, “Ah,” and, Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah.”

They continued towards the boundary. Morgan saw that a large stake had been hammered into the ground a few feet from the road. When he was near enough to see that it was a totem pole covered with carved symbols indicating, with their ever optimistic upwards thrust, the male gender, the leather bottles were unstoppered, heads were thrown back, and a stream of greenish-yellow liquor was aimed at the back of the throat. Morgan felt obliged to follow suit…and choked. Never, in his entire life, had he encountered anything so foul. It was worse than the pondweed tea, far worse than senna pods, and worse even than Mam’s experimental health brews. It was about on a par with something pretty bad, though greener and murkier, lingering at the edge of his memory.

“’Tis a bit different from your recipe, I dare say.” Lew visibly swelled with pride, assuming that the pained expression on Morgan’s face was awe. “’Tis pork and dandelion champagne with wild barley – does the trick right enough.” And with that the whole troupe took turns, one after the other, at peeing copiously along the boundaries.

Getting a Billy goat to pee along the boundaries of a smallholding, or attaching bits of rag soaked in its urine or, even better, its rutting spray, to hedges or barbed wire fences, is a time-honoured method of keeping out foxes. In the Marches, and on into rural Wales, it is assumed that human male urine is a reasonable substitute. Women have always found such practices repellent. In this context, using dandelions was a fairly sensible idea. Leontodon taraxacum, dent-de-leon, pis-en-lit, wet-the-bed, pishamoolag, pissimire, is an extremely effective diuretic. The throughput achieved on this particular occasion was remarkable.

Piss a-bed, Piss a-bed, 
Barley butt,
Your bladder’s so heavy
You can’t get up.

“Have another drink,” suggested Lew, aiming high. “Gotta be done, for ’tis the only way to keep the bitches out.”

“How far away are they?” Morgan felt obliged to keep the conversation going, if only to mask his inability to contribute fully to the proceedings. Lew sniffed, and shook, and laced up.

“Five miles that-a way,” he jerked his head towards Wales, “less there,” with a nod at England. “Used to be that all the white witches lived in Wales, and all the black ones in England, but you know women. Can’t keep nothing cut and dried.”

Having emptied the first bottle, Lew had reached the amiable stage of intoxication. Morgan quickly substituted his hardly touched one and gauged it pretty safe to ask a few more questions.

“How did it all come about, Lew? Women with their own nation states for God’s sake? I mean, men and women, didn’t we all used to live together?”

Lew frowned. “Don’t they teach you no history up there? Where did you say you come from? Clun way, was it?”

“Near there,” agreed Morgan, tipping up the empty bottle.

“Well, wherever it bist, them shoulda told you.” Lew also took another long swig. He grinned. “Look, yours be empty. Here, get some of mine down you.” He watched. “That’s right, that’s the way. Now – how it came about was the mothers, see, them got the upper hand and tried to phase males out. When it come to choosing whether they’d have boy or girl sprogs, they all started choosing wenches. Supposed to be, what were it they said? Oh-ah, females were less trouble and higher achievers and more likely to look after them in their old age.” He sniggered. “They soon changed their minds when the Disaster come and they lost all their technowatsit.”

“Disaster,” echoed Morgan. “Technowatsit.”

“Advantage wiped out in an instant. Us all had to go back to the old ways.”

“Old ways.”

“Too late now – we ain’t budging. Not after the way we was treated. Thing you gotta unnerstand, Morg, is we got the magic chromosome and them bizzoms, they ain’t having it. No danger.”

“Chromosome,” said Morgan. “Not having it. But doesn’t that mean the end of human life?”

“Ah. That’s right, Morg. You got it in one. Hold on a few years, us can have every bit of land, far as Marpessa can roam. They bitches won’t be bothering we no more. Serve them right, and all.”

“But men won’t survive, either—”

“Have another drink,” insisted Lew, brushing logic aside. “And help we finish watering they boundaries.”

Morgan’s brain fogged over. At the same time, compassion stirred somewhere behind his pectorals. Men had it tough. What a waste of life this was, this endless downing of copious quantities of alcohol for the express purpose of producing copious quantities of urine. Women again: truly they were at the bottom of all the misery of the world. God damn it, why shouldn’t blokes live peacefully on their own, minding their simple business, without this constant pissing around for personal freedom?

“I’ve got a better idea,” he announced. “The Marches has been lumbered with holding England and Wales apart for far too long. Let’s cut ourselves free forever. Float out to sea. Become an independent testosterone island republic.”

“Ow we going to do that then, Morg?” Lew’s tone was kindly, but patronising.

“Ah?” came the chorus, “Ah?” and, Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?”

Morgan grinned. With a flourish, he started up the chainsaw. His audience hastily retreated, howling profanities. The blade bit and began gouging a deep channel through the red Hereford-Radnor clay. Lew nonchalantly swaggered back and straddled the trench.

“Missed a bit!” he yelled.

“What?” Morgan’s leg paid the price of his inattention. The blade chose that precise moment to strike a stone and bounce spitefully back, completely severing his left foot at the ankle. He looked at it, sitting there, expressionless, abstracted, detached. Reality kicked in. In so far as that was practically possible.

Oh, shit. It hurt. It was time to go. “I WANT TO COME BACK!”

Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press).

Perspectives on Eichmann: Explaining Perpetrator Behaviour, by Andrew Elsby

Review by Arjay Frank

Otto Adolf Eichmann (1906–62) has been the subject of a surprising number of studies, given that he was merely a middle-ranking officer in the Schutzstaffel (SS) – a lieutenant-colonel, in fact – and, as such, was responsible for carrying out the orders of others, and would have played no part whatever in the formulation of Nazi Party, or even SS, policy. His notoriety owes as much to the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) and to the highly dramatic circumstances surrounding his capture in Argentina by Israeli agents, his subsequent trial in Jerusalem on fifteen criminal charges, his conviction on all charges, and his execution by hanging in 1962, as it does to his actual involvement in the Holocaust.

Arendt’s influential book, in which she coined the phrase “the banality of evil”, was granted instant classic status, which has, to some extent, shielded her views from reasonable criticism or challenge. She attributed Eichmann’s actions in the Holocaust, especially his arranging for the transportation of Jews to the east despite knowing that what awaited them was extermination, to an alleged incapacity for moral reasoning, theorizing that Eichmann was, in all other respects, entirely normal. Arendt was primarily a political philosopher, and she explained Eichmann’s actions and personality in terms which would naturally have occurred to her, as a practitioner of philosophy. It is worth adding that, as a Holocaust survivor [1] herself, she has been virtually canonized by the liberal Western intelligentsia, and that, too, has helped to insulate her views against robust critical interrogation.

Arendt’s view is a theory, but it does not appear to be based on evidence. The German philosopher, Bettina Stangneth, and the British historian, David Cesarani, put forward a different explanation of Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour – namely, that he was an eliminationist antisemite, whose actions were driven by a fanatical hatred of Jews. This theory at least posits a motive for Eichmann’s actions, which Arendt’s does not.

Dr Elsby argues against these explanations and further argues that Eichmann was entirely normal, not in the cognitive sense of having limited moral awareness and failing to appreciate the consequences of his actions, but in the sense that he was motivated chiefly – in fact, almost exclusively – by a desire to optimize his own outcomes in material, social, and psychological terms, regardless of the cost to others to whom he was indifferent. This new argument is supported by reference to

(1) the social psychological experiments of Stanley Milgram on obedience to immoral authority and Philip Zimbardo on the influence of role on behaviour;

(2) Christopher Browning’s research on the perpetrator behaviour of a German police reserve battalion in Poland; and

(3) research on Einsatzgruppen commanders.

Eichmann’s background was solidly middle-class (his father was a bookkeeper), but he seems to have been a poor student, both at school and at the vocational college he subsequently attended but left without attaining a degree. His academic performance suggests that he would be considered, by most middle-class families, an underachiever: a person of mediocre intelligence and accomplishments. His early employment history – he worked in a variety of clerical and sales jobs – confirms the evidence of his academic record. There seems to have been nothing in any way remarkable about Eichmann.

At some point in the late 1920s, Eichmann started to read Nazi newspapers and to be influenced by the views published in them. In April 1932, acting on the advice of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a family friend (and later Eichmann’s boss in the SS), he joined, first, the Nazi Party, and then, a few months later, the SS. Quite fortuitously, Eichmann found himself in an environment in which a person such as himself – someone, hitherto viewed as a nonentity, who was eager, malleable, prone to hero worship, obedient to orders, and averse from responsibility – could flourish and obtain coveted rewards in the form of promotions, status, power, a sense of identity and self-worth, relative wealth, peer recognition, and the approval of his superiors.

Dr Elsby presents a compelling argument for his thesis and for his rejection of the views of Arendt, Stangneth, and Cesarani. His conclusion, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety, is as follows—

“Arendt seems not to have understood that most people do not conceive of issues in a reflective way to assess the moral choices inherent in them because there is no incentive for them to do so. Nor does she seem to have any appreciation of the decisive role of motivation and of pursuit of personal interest at the expense of others in normal human behaviour, of the fact that pursuit of personal interest is often unreflective, of the reality that perception is itself a motivated activity and that people do not attend to what they do not want to experience, and that following changes to behaviour to optimise outcomes attitudes may change to remain consonant with new behaviour if there is dissonance, that is, to optimise psychological outcomes. In such a context of research on human motivation evidence of eliminationist antisemitism in Eichmann’s utterances and actions after a certain date seems to reflect his having assimilated the SS vocabulary of genocide to maintain the good regard of his peers and bosses in the SS and to retain his elite SS identity and rank as well as involvement in the major task assigned to the senior echelons of the SS, not least as before it became the elimination of the Jews Eichmann had pursued Jewish emigration with similar fervour. Arendt’s intellectual conceit did in fact extend beyond Eichmann to disparagement and dismissal of psychiatry and psychology as means of understanding human behaviour, an extraordinary arrogance that resulted in her lack of appreciation of the primary role of human motivation in human attitudes, cognition and behaviour, including Eichmann’s. For Eichmann had a capacity for consideration of matters that concerned his own welfare, as in his presentation of self before different audiences, which indicates concern for consequences for himself. Eichmann participated in the Holocaust because involvement optimised material, social and psychological outcomes for him, not because he could not reason through the consequences.

“Eichmann’s banality was then one not of lack of moral reasoning or understanding of the consequences of his actions but of pursuit of personal interest regardless of cost to other people. It was not the case that had Eichmann engaged in moral reasoning or had greater understanding of the consequences of his actions he would not have done what he did as part of the process of extermination of the Jews of Europe, for his own psychological, social and material interests would have remained the decisive influence on his behaviour. Eichmann’s lack of moral reasoning did in fact reflect his optimisation of outcomes and indifference to the adverse consequences for others, and, as has been seen, Eichmann was aware of the consequences for the Jews of his arranging for them to be transported to what he knew were extermination centres. And, given the primacy of self-interest as a motive in human behaviour, had Arendt been in Eichmann’s position she could have done just what he did, despite the moral reasoning from which she judges Eichmann.

“Cesarani’s assessment of Eichmann seems more compelling, in that he acknowledges the lack of evidence of anything more than cultural antisemitism in Eichmann’s background and the evidence of pursuit of personal interest and careerism in Eichmann in a meticulous consideration of Eichmann’s background and career as an SS officer, though he does not seem to conclude that it was just such optimisation of outcomes that explains Eichmann’s having assimilated an eliminationist antisemitism rhetoric when extermination of the Jews of the occupied territories became Nazi policy and an SS objective. For Eichmann never had an ideological conviction that the Jews should be exterminated but rather an identity as an SS officer of some seniority of rank that he identified with and sought to retain by his perpetrator behaviour, an instrumental orientation to his role as an SS officer for the privileges and status it conferred upon him.

“Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour is then not explained by reference to a lack of capacity for moral reasoning (Arendt’s explanation), by obedience to orders despite moral anguish and out of powerlessness (Eichmann’s explanation in his memoir and the nature of the defence at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem) or by eliminationist antisemitism (Stangneth’s and Cesarani’s attribution). On the contrary, Eichmann transported Jews to extermination centres to optimise his material, social and psychological outcomes regardless of the cost to the Jews he transported, to whom he seems to have been entirely indifferent.

“Eichmann does seem to have been normal in terms of motivation, for most people pursue personal optimisation of outcome at the expense of others, and many are opportunists like Eichmann. What was different in the Eichmann case was context and outcome, not process and motive. It is possible that Eichmann had a greater desire than most people for belonging, elite identity, approval, involvement and power, though many maximisers have similar drives.”

To this I would add only that Arendt seems not have noticed that, although few people possess what she, as a trained philosopher, would have recognized as a capacity for moral reasoning, most of them manage to lead normal – that is, not morally reprehensible – lives. Not only is there no incentive for people to assess moral choices rationally: it is also the case that most people are not equipped, either by nature or by education, to engage in such complex and sophisticated thinking. Furthermore, most of the time, there is no need for anyone to do so. The majority of people act, quite unreflectively, in accordance with the prevailing standards of the family, group, or society to which they belong and with which they identify. In ordinary circumstances, that is enough to maintain a certain level, if not of goodness, at least of conduct that is not heinous or obviously culpable. [2]

Stangneth and Cesarani come closer to the truth, but their attribution of Eichmann’s perpetrator behaviour to eliminationist antisemitism does not explain why Eichmann had pursued the earlier SS policy of Jewish emigration with exactly the same zeal that he later brought to the altered SS policy of extermination of the Jews from occupied Europe. And Eichmann’s own explanation for his conduct – that he followed orders as a matter of conventional military discipline despite personally experiencing “moral anguish” – is so obviously self-serving that, in the absence of any independent corroboration, it cannot be considered credible.

Eichmann’s mediocrity prior to his SS career, and the fact that he must have disappointed his father’s hopes and expectations, make it more likely that he would have been susceptible to the advantages offered to him by the SS: opportunities to gain rank, status, the approval of leaders (or father figures), and an elite identity; to wear an impressive uniform indicative of an elite status; to exercise power and control over others; to inspire fear and elicit prompt obedience in subordinates; to give orders; to terrorize Jews (and, presumably, other victims of the SS) – and all this without having to accept any responsibility, and while being able to claim that he had always acted in conformity to a recognized military code and under the orders of his superiors. For a man like Adolf Eichmann – ein Mann ohne Eigenschaften [3] (a “man without qualities”) and a moral vacuum into which almost anything might have been poured – the SS role was perfect. It fulfilled all his desires and ambitions at once. As Dr Elsby points out, in other circumstances, Eichmann might have attained a middle-ranking, managerial post in the civil service or a corporate body, and retired on a modest but sufficient pension after a moderately successful and, on the whole, blameless career.

Unlike Arendt, Stangneth, and Cesarani, Dr Elsby argues not that Eichmann was normal except for an incapacity for moral reasoning, or that he was normal except for a fanatical hatred of Jews, but that he was normal in all respects. It is a chilling conclusion, but his argument is cogently made, and well supported by scientific evidence. His essay stands as a notable and original addition to the literature on Eichmann, the Holocaust, and the social sciences, particularly psychology.


Some people will recoil in instinctive revulsion from the view that “most people pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others”. In fact, however, there are at least two reasons why that conclusion should not seem especially startling, namely—

(1) The whole capitalist economic system of production and exchange is predicated on the highly questionable, but seldom seriously questioned, assumption that competition, which by definition requires people to “pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others”, is fundamentally beneficial and conduces to the common good.

(2) That “most people pursue personal optimization of outcome at the expense of others” is as good a definition as any of Original Sin: the sin of preferring one’s own will to the will of God. In less theological language, this is known as selfishness. This is an orthodox Christian doctrine, taught by the Church from the time of the apostles.

Dr Elsby set out to write an essay that would bring the insights of modern psychology to the study of perpetrator behaviour as exemplified by Eichmann and his role in the Holocaust. In doing so, he has raised broader questions for ethicists, moral philosophers, and theologians. To date, the question of human motivation – the reasons why we do what we do, which are often not the same as the reasons we give in public, or even the reasons we admit in private – has been insufficiently considered outside the social sciences. It is time that the insights offered by psychology and other social sciences were properly integrated into philosophical anthropology, if only to prevent philosophers from continuing to embarrass themselves by inadvertently exposing their ignorance of the currently available scientific knowledge.


[1] Strictly speaking, it would be more accurate to say that Arendt escaped the Holocaust than that she survived it. Though twice detained and once briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo, she eventually made her way to the USA in 1941. While she undoubtedly endured frightening and extremely unpleasant experiences, she was never incarcerated in any of the concentration camps or extermination centres for which the Nazis were notorious.

[2] And, of course, a small minority of people rise far above the normal level and can only be considered saints. It is worth noting that many canonized saints were not intellectuals and possessed moral knowledge rather than Arendt’s vaunted “capacity for moral reasoning”.

[3] Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities) is the title of a 1930 novel by the Austrian novelist, Robert Musil. Though it comprises three volumes and runs to approximately 1,700 pages, it was never completed, and most of the published editions incorporate at least some of Musil’s rough notes and preparatory sketches for the final chapters of his work. It is often considered to be a modern classic.

Arjay Frank is a London opera-goer with specialist interests in modern history and nineteenth- and twentieth-century orchestral and operatic music. Perspectives on Eichmann is available across most ebook platforms.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 9

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

The visible universe could lie on a membrane floating within a higher-dimensional space. The extra dimensions would help unify the forces of nature and could contain parallel universes.

—Savas Dimopoulos

listen: there’s a hell

of a good universe next door; let’s go

—e. e. cummings

Psychics have long suspected the existence of one or more parallel universes, and have often speculated that there may be doorways or portals in certain areas that allow entities to travel into our dimension and vice versa.

—J. Magonia, Worlds Unseen, 1999

What with his legs getting tangled up in the voluminous folds of the rather stylish rose-pink cloak thing he’d been lent to cover his shameful half-nakedness, Morgan was initially down more than he was up. Fashion of any sort being a covert hobbling device, what else did he expect? Away from the houses it became easier. At least there was less to bump into. But he still had difficulty in keeping up with his companions: better night vision on their part, perhaps, or maybe they were used to being perpetually in the dark about everything.

Then the moon heaved itself above the hilltop. Even the Man in the Moon had suffered a sex change: head thrown back, eyes closed, her mouth gaping in unrestrained orgasmic fervour. The countryside was now bathed in murky, cabbage-water light and Morgan no longer needed his hand held, as it were.

They’d reached the pond. The stone circle was already in sight, only furlongs away. With the exception of the two boys carrying Sernunnos, the rest of his companions dropped daintily onto their stomachs and began squirming up the bank. Morgan floundered after them, hampered by the cloak, which for decency’s sake he’d promised not to take off, and which trailed behind him like the draggled wings of a wounded fruit bat.

He was almost there, almost home. The minute he got back, Mam or no Mam, he’d have a quick wash and brush up, spray on half a pint of Brut, iron the front and cuffs of a shirt and coax the mini into Hereford. Tonight, it would be enough just to walk the streets, through the crowds, among his own kind, observing all the relatively normal people of that fair city as they tried to pull or to pick a fight. He could have a curry or a burger or something bizarre in the Church Street meat-free zone. He’d admire the phallic qualities of the church steeples – even the one down by Tesco which used to have the pronounced kink. Maybe he’d even slip a grateful quid or two into the cathedral begging box.

For the first time in hours, Morgan managed a smile.

Seconds later both daydream and stealthy silence were shattered by a burst of yelping, screaming, squealing and barking from above. Morgan froze as six or seven men stampeded past, uttering wild howls of disbelief, fleeing the pale bulk of an enormously distended Venus, squealing protestations of friendship.

“Lub you all lub this lubbly lubbly place lub you all lub this lubbly lubbly place lub you all lub this lubbly lubbly place.”

Close at her trotters bounded Mercher, nipping, yipping, yapping, swerving, doubling back and egging-on; mostly joining in for the sheer bloody hell of it after hanging around for several hours, bored witless, with nothing to do or smell, ever since managing to lose the kids.

Sernunnos verbally rounded everyone up and calmed them down. “The fat one’s a swine,” he assured them, “and the hairy one’s a hound. Hundreds of thousands on them live on Hertha. They’re harmless – most of the time.”

“Can we get on with this, please?” begged Morgan, hearing distant voices.

“Bugger,” squeaked Rowan, pointing downhill. “It’s too late.”

Several large figures loped effortlessly up the hillside towards them. Morgan gulped at the nightmare size of these Amazons on steroids, bogey-woman emasculators, and strong-arm feminists. No wonder the small crowd melted into the darkness. He dumped the cloak and decided to make a run for it. Not a chance. A determined flying tackle, with the applied optional extras of nail-digging and hair-pulling, and he was done for. One sat on him, adding injury to insult: fourteen stone if she was an ounce and all muscle.

“Hello, what’ve we got here then?” she enquired, in a voice which gave him the willies, being just about tenor, dipping to C on the bass stave, but definitely female for all that. He could tell by the size of her backside, for a start. And she was busily smoothing the crumples out of her fatigues.

“It’s a man,” replied her thick friend.

“Of course it’s man, dipstick. Who else would be out here breaking curfew and causing trouble at this time of night?”

“No, I mean a MAN not a man, a Man-man – a real low-down bastard scum MAN from Hertha. Feel his legs. They’re all hairy and big as tree trunks. And just you feel here and here and here.” Two pairs of hands did a quick running inventory of all the not-sat-on bits.

“Gerrorf me, you fat cows,” wheezed Morgan. “You’re breaking my back. Get your hands off my legs, you dirty depraved bitches. Leave me alone.”

“Watch your mouth, cock. That’s no way for a man to talk. Proper unmasculine, that is. You know what happens to men what try and behave like women. They grow boobs and muscles then their bits shrivel up. Is that what you want? Hertha, you say? Yeh, I think you’re right. He’s bloody hairy all over.”

“Hirsute – that’s the word. Feel under this armpit. You could plait that.”

“Or bead it. Roll him over. Let’s have a proper look. Ooooh, I say. Yes, we’re in luck. Watch those little fists though, bless him.”

“We have to take him down, unfortunately. Still, while we’re here we’d better see if he’s he got everything he’s supposed to have, ten fingers, ten toes and whatnot, just to write in our report.”

“Has this one got a navel?”

“What are you hiding down there, darling? Turn over properly. Let’s have a feel. Big boy, aren’t you? Don’t be shy.”

“He’s got a navel. See – in that little nest there.”

Morgan slapped the air. “Get your filthy paws off me, woman. What gives you the right to lay hands on me? Stop that. How dare you?”

“Oh, bless.”

“Calm down, dear. Calm down.”

“Help me!” Morgan screamed into the night. “Where are you, you bleeding pack of cowards? What happened to solidarity?”

Not that they’d all managed to escape. When Morgan finally emerged from the mini-scrum, the first thing he saw was Rowan, and then Mosaic, both hunched up and pretending to be past anything. Rowan’s eyes were out of focus. Held by the scruff, he was attempting to blow bubbles with a minute amount of saliva and twitching uncontrollably.

“Please, ma’am, can I go, ma’am?” Mosaic clutched his genitals, dancing from foot to foot as he darted anxious glances at the nearest bush, his face creased with the apparent agony of an over-full bladder.

“Aw, get out of it! Call yourself men?”

“Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. Really sorry, ma’am.” Both scuttled off into the darkness without a glance in Morgan’s direction.

So much for Brotherhood: he’d really hoped – but now he had something worse to worry about.

“Nobody would know,” insisted the second voice. “We really should check it all works.”

“Not worth the risk. We’ll have him later. Don’t worry: they soon tire of them. A seven-night from now he’ll probably be on the rota anyway.”

“Spoil sport.”

“You know the score – it’s about his mind, not his body. It’s about how he sees things, not what you see in him.”

Well-mauled, trouserless, and humiliated to the nth degree, Morgan was deposited on a marble floor like some awkward, over-sized package. For a moment he lay still, winded and trying to get his bearings. Women twattled on like starlings somewhere in the background, but he’d been left alone, suggesting a confident belief that escape was impossible. Because the large room or hall or chamber or whatnot was perfectly round, with wide passages leading off the quarters, there wasn’t even a corner to hide in. Above him arched a vast painted ceiling, prototype of Michelangelo’s puny effort, depicting the The First Judgement, featuring a dejected Adam being banished from an Eden looking remarkably like the landscape outside, by a strapping female with inadequate clothes and a great crest of moon-silver hair. There were cats everywhere. And flowers…or butterflies. Even the artist didn’t seem too sure. But all the uncouth animals – dogs, pigs, apes, blowflies, et al – were being kicked out two-by-two with Adam.

Footsteps approached, two lots – an out-of-time quick-march double act and a stop-and-start shuffle – and from different directions. The shuffler, being closer, arrived first: a pair of well-worn tartan slippers slid to a standstill inches from his head. Morgan shifted uncomfortably, picking up a certain smell that he associated with school changing rooms. After everything else that had been endured, he could do without athlete’s foot of the left earhole. A tall bloke, unmistakably human, with a false orange moustache and a matching wig, both slightly askew, bent over him.

“You all right, old chap?”

Morgan clutched at his tweedy turn-ups. “I want to go home. For God’s sake, get me out of here.”

“No can do, I’m afraid. Buck up. Not the end of the world, you know. We Brits went through worse in the war. Anything else I can assist you with?”

Raising a feeble hand, Morgan pointed at the ceiling. “Who’s she?”

“That’s Lilith, dear boy. First wife of Adam, don’t you know. Woman kicked him out. She wouldn’t shave her legs and couldn’t stand the dogs scratching.” The arrival of two pairs of hefty boots signalled the return of his captors and the fellow hastily disentangled Morgan’s fingers. “Ah, time for the off, I fear. Be seeing you.”

“Wait!” screeched Morgan, clawing at the tiles.

“Up you get, darling.” The fractionally smaller of his captors yanked him to his feet. Morgan looked about in vain for Mr Tartan Slippers. He seemed to have vanished off the face of the wherever it was they were stranded.

“That bloke I was talking to. Who was he?”

“That’s Lucan.”

“What, Lord Lucan?”

“How should I fucking know? He’s just a figment. We call him Useless Lucan. Every time he comes, he disappears.”

“Here, darling,” said the other harridan, going ferociously maternal on him. “Let’s get you tidied up.” Pulling a large rag from one pocket of her combats, she spat copiously on a corner and began rubbing the mud from his face and knees. And undoing every one of the jacket buttons he’d so carefully done up. Not so much tidying, as arranging the goods to better advantage.

The room began to fill up with big old women, most of whom should have been well past what they so obviously had in mind, all dressed up to the nines and obviously living in ignorance of the significance of the words mutton and lamb in juxtaposition. They smirked. They simpered. They giggled. They peered and they prodded. They pulled back his jacket lapels to look at his chest. They salivated. And coyly batted cats’ fur false eyelashes. It was all an act. Every bit of power was in their hands. He hated the lot of them.

“How cute. It’ll wash up nicely.”

“He’d look lovely in blush pink. I simply adore the contrast between barbarian savagery and gentle masculine shades.”

“Lemon yellow, I feel.”

“Do you think we could get his hair to grow long?”

“Slim him down a bit?”

“Or fatten him up?”

“Are you sure he isn’t meant to look like that?”

“What – a bit of rough, you mean? Could be.”

“Where did you find him, Diana?”

“Wandering about on the plain in the dark,” said Di, readjusting Morgan’s boxers, the legs of which had been tweaked up and down once too often. “We don’t know what he was up to. It’s probably another accidental – we’ve had quite a few oddities coming through recently. Fall-ins are getting more frequent now that the fabric’s being weakened by all the playing around with radio waves in Hertha – Goddess help us if it rips apart – we’d be overrun.” She looked at him dubiously. “He could have been sent, I suppose.”

“Where are you from?” demanded the nastier one, giving him a shake.

“The Marches.”

“Marches? Never heard of it.We haven’t got anybody there, have we?”

“Where is it?” A meringue blob in apricot took Morgan by the arms and enunciated, kindly and very slowly, “Where-is-Mar-Ches, dear?”

“Be-tween-Wales-and-Eng-land, you ignorant, bloated old—”

“That’s enough,” snapped Di, smacking his legs. “Nice boys don’t talk back. Have some respect for your betters.”

“Well, if he wasn’t sent and you just found him, who’s going to have him?”

“It’s my turn,” insisted a quadruple-sized vision in green.

“It’s jolly well not. You had the one that fell through from the Bermuda Triangle.”

“He doesn’t count, Nepenthe. That idiot was no good to anyone. He didn’t know whether he was fact or fiction.”

“It was better than nothing, my dear Grrrrmaine. I’ve had nothing exotic since the Mary Celeste.”


“Did he say something?”

“Nothing important. You learn to ignore their noises.”


“Shh, sweetie, this is woman talk.”


“Tut tut. Excitable, isn’t he? Touch of hysteria, perhaps?”

“Time of the month, I expect. Listen, darling, you just concentrate on keeping your hormones under control. We’ll decide what’s best for you.”

“But the poor fellow’s got rights, too,” murmured the smallest and youngest of the newcomers. Not bad-looking either, Morgan thought, slim, by comparison with the rest, and with a faint golden sheen to her hair and skin. She reminded him of someone. He wondered if she was of mixed origin. If so, she might have remnants of proper womanly feelings like compassion and knowing her place, together with an inbuilt directive to boost and nurture the bruised male ego. She might take pity and help him escape. He tried smiling.

Instead of responding, she patted his head. “Poor ignorant creature – perhaps we should see what he’d prefer to—”

“We’ll have none of your equality nonsense tonight, Thorns, thank you very much. This is supposed to be a party.”

“She’s young. She’ll learn. Still getting used to her Regen.”


“That’ll do, Thorns. Goddess’ sake, leave off the psychology, just for one night. Don’t you ever get tired of being so wishy-washy unfeminine?”


“Now, now, Thorns, let’s not spoil tonight over a man. You know they’re never worth it.”

Thorns nodded. “You’re right, Nep. He’s not worth falling out over.”

“Rosie—” pleaded Morgan. Everyone gasped. Thorns looked affronted. He had a sense of déjà vu as her eyes flashed, the smile tightened into a snarl, her fists bunched menacingly. He took a step backwards. She came after him.

What did you call me? Do I look like a man?”

Di slapped him. “How dare you address a lady in that way? Keep your foul mouth shut. Now apologise.”

More bodies crowded into the space by the minute, most were carthorse-sized women towering over the few human – the latter carefully avoiding meeting Morgan’s eyes. He took advantage of the crush by backing slowly towards the least busy passage. Di firmly brought him back.

“Look, sweetie, I’ve had enough of this silliness. Behave. You came of your own free will.”

“I damn well didn’t.”

“Well, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, you did, so here you’ll stay for seven years and a day at the very least. That’s the law. When on Mars do as the Martians do. Get used to the idea, chum. Why all the fuss? Look around. Lots of other Hertha-men here. They’re all happy enough. See the one in the bright green? He’s Thomas the Rhymer, our resident poet, been here for aeons. He plays the lute, too. And the black-skinned twins: stunning, aren’t they? Romulus and Remus – none of us can tell the difference, but we don’t have to. They come as a pair. There’ll be plenty of company for you when you’re not working.”

“Working at what?”

“Silly boy.” Di laughed and patted his bum. “Not another word.” Morgan opened his mouth to argue and her benign expression instantly changed to a lethal I-mean-it Mam-type glare.

“I’ve just had a wonderful idea,” said Grrrrmaine. “Why don’t we give him to Kerridwins as an extra birthday present? He’s Welsh—”

“I’m not.”

“And you know what a thing she’s got about Celts.”

Everyone beamed at her. “Brilliant! You have such wonderful ideas, Grrrrmaine.”

“Oh, go on,” Grrrrmaine nonchalantly re-pinned her wild green hair, “not really. I’m simply pragmatic – and philosophically flexible. You know how generous Kerridwins is, though. Struth – we’ll probably all get early regeneration.”

“That’s a thought. And you have so many.”

“We ought to dress him up like a Celt.”

“Don’t they go round like this normally?”

“Something on the legs, I think.”

“What – like greaves? That would be a shame.”

“And I think there’d be loads of white clay in the hair.”

“Ugh. No, leave him au naturel. Let’s gift-wrap him.”

Morgan flinched as someone produced several yards of a diaphanous pink fabric. A dozen hefty women advanced on him.

“Quick, she’s coming.”

“Bugger that,” said Morgan, bunching his fists “Hands off. I’m not being wrapped up like a thing.

“Don’t you enjoy giving pleasure?” asked Di. “Goddess, what sort of man are you? Hold his arms, Pickup.” The nastier one stood on his toes and effortlessly clamped his arms to his sides. “Great. Now, we’ll simply twist this round here, and through there, between these, and over there. That’ll do.”

The crowd parted and through it sailed a massive woman. Morgan’s eye widened with horror. Even through the gauzy material he recognised her. It was that woman – BB, big as a bus, all done up like a Christmas tree. And if it wasn’t her, it was her even uglier sister. The more he struggled, the tighter Pickup and Di twisted the fabric. His squawks of protest were drowned by a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’growled in voices artificially lowered to somewhere near bass to match the importance of the occasion.

The wraps came off.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have. Oh, bless! Just what I’ve always wanted.”

For God’s sake, it was even her voice.

“Where’s he from? Where are you from, cutie-pie?”

“Down under,” said Grrrrmaine. “Oh, you mean him? An outpost called Wales.”


“Oh, Grrrrmaine, you always produce the right answers, right on cue. Wales is my absolute favourite. And what’s your name, sweetheart?” Kerridwins gave Morgan’s arm a playful little slap which left a row of rapidly purpling wheals. “Come on now. Out with it.”

“Morgan Llew—”

“Morgan? Isn’t that a girl’s name? Bless. Never mind. We’ll find you a more appropriate one. Welsh, hum. Daffodil might be nice – Oh, got one, have we? Violet? No. Daisy? Tulip? No. King-cup? Not really. Something tall and green perhaps. Hemp? Reed? Leek? How about Hemlock? What’s that in the Welsh? Tegid? Cegid? Cegit? Git for short. Yes, Git it shall be. That’s nice. I simply love everything Celtic. We’re going to get along just fine. You can do bookkeeping, can’t you, Git? I’m sure you can. You shall be my secretary.”


She bent towards him and whispered: “It’s just a euphemism, dear.”

“Don’t care what it is, the answer’s no.

“Now you know you don’t mean that.” Kerridwins chucked him playfully under the chin. “Everyone knows that when a man says no he means yes, oh, yes yes ye s– yes, please. It’s in his nature. He just can’t help himself.”

“I said NO and I meant bloody NO.”

“Oh, go on with you.” She turned to Di. “Show the dear little fellow to my suite. He needs cleaning up a bit. He’ll soon settle down when he’s been given the drink. You will, won’t you, dear?”

“Not a chance. Let go of me, you ugly bitches. Leave me alone.”

“No need to be coy, dear.”

“If I’m supposed to be employed by you,” he bawled, “this constitutes gross sexual harassment in the workplace.”

“No such thing,” Kerridwins calmly assured him, throwing open a hitherto concealed door. “This is exactly what you hoped would happen. Silly boy, you know you wouldn’t have come here dressed like that if you didn’t.”

It’s often said that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t put a pudding into a gatepost – or a gatepost into a pudding for that matter. Of course you can. At least you can when it’s sexual imagery. Next morning there was her majesty flitting around a room that was nearly all bed looking pretty smug and him black as a thundercloud still with his socks on.

“Oh,” Kerridwins purred, “don’t worry about it, my little kitten. You’ll improve, I dare say. And don’t forget we’ve got seven whole years to get it right. Well, can’t hang around all day reassuring you. Fragile male ego, or not, we women have important work to do. Tidy up a bit, there’s a good blossom. Pick up my clothes. Make the bed.”

“Fuck that. Where are my clothes?” Morgan demanded, in a voice several shades more petulant than he would have liked. He was a MAN. How dare she expect him to perform on cue, when she fancied a bit. Men didn’t solely exist for providing sexual gratification for the opposite – or adjoining, abutting, vicinal, conterminous, near enough, real or imagined – gender. As for doing domestic work, was he some sort of slave? This wasn’t on. It really wasn’t. What sort of a world was this?

“Now, Git, as I’ve told you a hundred times, drink your tonic and you can have some nice new clothes and go outside for a little walk round. Here you are. Two big mouthfuls that’s all. Be a brave boy.” He lashed out, trying to knock the goblet over but she was too quick for him. A single drop spilled onto the crumpled bedclothes. It sizzled. At that Kerridwins went all mean and nasty. “Get it down you before I come back, buster, or else.”

Tears of frustration blurred his vision. “Hŵr,” he yelled at the closed door. “Butain, gwrach, buwch, gast.”Thus he exhausted all the approaching rude words he knew in the Welsh.

“Oh, Git,” she said, reopening the door, “I do love it when you talk dirty Celtic. Try and remember some more.”

Cachu hwch.”

Kerridwins smiled. She lingered.

Morgan swallowed hard and decided to verbally prostitute himself. “Why would a beautiful woman like you want to keep me prisoner?”

“Oh, my sweet little Git, when are you going to realise that I’m doing this for your own good. You know what I want from you. Not much, is it? In return I offer protection – from the other women, some of whom are quite dangerously predatory, my dear – and enormous privilege. Only within the secure framework of matriarchy can a real man like you develop his full potential.”

“If you really cared,” sighed Morgan, fluttering his eyelashes and quoting verbatim from a women’s magazine he’d just happened to glance through last time he went to the dentist’s, “you’d set me free. Free to follow my heart and live my life. Free to come back to your loving embrace of my own accord.”

“Right,” Kerridwins looked slightly taken aback. “It isn’t as simple as that though, my little pleasure craft. Even if I’d let you, no human can leave A-noon before time without Lilith’s say so.”

“Then let me see her.”

“Lilith hasn’t been back for a while. All requests have to go through Eve.”

“Then I demand to see her.”

The mood changed abruptly. “Demand? Demand? You can’t. She’s away. Eve hasn’t been here in living memory. And that’s a long time let me tell you, because we’ve mastered regeneration. Play your cards right, sweetie, and you too can live forever.”

“I’d rather rot in chains. I’d rather from my nose unto my chin have the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in. I’d rather—”

“That’s enough of that. Get that tonic down you. Pick up the goblet. Do as you’re told right now. That’s better. I’ll talk to you again when it’s taken affec— when you’re feeling better.” Bang.

Morgan sniffed the stuff. There was an overpowering smell of honey, so far so good, he quite liked mead. But this particular sample looked a bit green about the gills, all murky and moithered, with a faint odour of valerian, which is a pretty enough flower used in love philtres from time immemorial. Cats like it. Rats, too: forget the piping, a pocketful of valerian was the key to the Pied Piper’s success. Maybe it also contained mandrake. Kerridwins was keen on all things Welsh and lover’s mandrake figured in Celtic magic. Gwyn eu fyd y pridd, y gwreiddyn a’r noson hon. Women with all eternity at their disposal wouldn’t be put off by the lengthy rituals of exhumation, naming, reburial, and re-exhumation of its man-shaped root.But there was also the little matter of the fag-burn-sized hole in the bedding where that drop spilled. Morgan poked his finger through it.

“Ninety-nine per cent unmoderated testosterone,” he conjectured, “plus two dollops of Viagra, a pinch of Spanish fly and a little something to scrape the memory clean for good measure. Better than leg irons. I’ve got to get out of here effing quick.”

Humming the best bits from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Morgan launched himself feet first from the window, discovering in the process an eternal truth: it’s always much further down to solid ground than expected. Although the flapping of his voluminous improvised toga slowed him down, he still landed badly, right in the middle of a bed of highly perfumed raspberry-pink flowers which immediately sprang away and clung to the walls. The leaves trembled. Their sharp red talons hooked into both sheet and skin. Morgan rolled away, moaning as quietly as possible, onto grass which was too green to be normal, and as tightly curled as pubic hair springs. Luckily the courtyard was empty with the exception of Thomas the Rhymer, who was sauntering backwards and forwards scribbling erotic verse with a bright purple quill. Morgan limped up to him.

“Thomas Learmont, I presume?”

His greeting was acknowledged with a stiff bow and a supercilious flare of the nostrils. “Thomas of Ercildoune at your service.”

“Tom, do us a favour. Tell me how to find Sernunnos.”


“I’m trying to get back through the whatsit, the portal. One of their old geezers, this Sernunnos, knows how to work it.”

“Sorry, chum, don’t know and don’t want to know.” Thomas sighed. “You know the trouble with female genitalia is that nothing rhymes.”

“Why don’t you come back with me? Being trapped here must be terrible for you, for any decent man.”

“Go back to Earth?” Thomas’s eyeballs, already somewhat protuberant, bulged dangerously. He had no eyelashes, Morgan noticed, nor eyebrows. He’d noticed the phenomenon before, in certain medieval paintings. “No chance. Not with a father who expects me to farm for a living. Overseeing shit shovelling on some miserable Scottish estate isn’t my idea of the good life. I like nature – in its place, in a poem, or through a window. But who wants a career concentrating on every aspect of a cow’s rear end? Would you?”

Morgan shook his head. The argument seemed familiar. “But how can you stand it here with females in charge? It isn’t natural.”

Thomas bridled, which was a fine sight. And, peering closely, Morgan observed that the poet had plucked his hairline to make his forehead look more impressive. “As a matter of fact, I can’t go back until Good Friday and Shrove Tuesday change place. Anyway, I like things the way they are. I’m kept pretty busy, what with one thing and the other. My art is appreciated here. And well rewarded. Everyone reads me. In fact they memorise me. And set my work to music. What more could a creative writer ask for? I suggest you go back inside like a good fellow, have a stiff drink, and leave well alone.”

“And I suggest you, Sire Lief-to-lyve-in-leccherye, take a long running jump up your own backside.”

Take a long running jump / Up my own backside.” Thomas gave this due consideration. “Doesn’t really scan, does it? Is that what passes for poetry where you come from? Are you really sure you want to go back?”


“Hang on. Since you’re in the trade, or at least on the peripheral edge, can you think of a word to rhyme with labium majus?”

Morgan thought about it. Not finding a satisfactory answer, he contented himself with muttering, “You poor sad bastard,” and flounced away. The sight of the black-skinned twins, pounding the path in leopard-skin tracksuits and keeping fit with perfectly choreographed movements, stopped him. They also stopped. To examine Morgan’s sneer.

“Who are you staring at?”

“Who are you staring at?”

“Call yourself men? Look at you.”

“Look at you. At least we’re not wearing our beds.”

“Look at you. At least we’re not wearing our beds.”

“How can you stand it, being ordered around by women?”

By then they’d got their act together and answered in unison, running on the spot. “Leave off making waves, honky. We don’t want to go back. We’re onto a good thing here.”

“All right, don’t go back, take over. It’s only natural for men to rule. You could be in charge here – kings, emperors.”

Romulus and Remus looked at each other and smirked. “Hey, brother, you want to be king?” enquired Remus. “You want women all over you every minute of the day and night?”

“You want to be Emperor and live in ten-star luxury?” Romulus grinned. “You want everything you want even before you’ve thought of it?”

They gave each other ten. “Yeh, we do.”

Thomas sniggered.

“And you could have all that,” said Morgan encouragingly, “if you put women back in their rightful place and restore the natural order.”

“Don’t you get it?” asked the twins. “We have it already, man.”

As Morgan opened his mouth to deliver a sermon on selling, birthright, and messes of potage, one of the side doors opened. Two women emerged carrying trays of seedlings. One was chewing daintily on a yellow butterflower’s wing. Nobody said another word. Their eyes slewed guiltily away. Thomas strolled off, casually pacing between the flowerbeds and muttering to himself while cleaning his ear with the tickly end of the quill. The twins got up speed. Morgan slunk towards the nearest exit.

The street beyond resembled the back alley of a Turkish market. It was hot, dusty and dirty. It was also totally lacking in technology. One might be deliberately indulging in the primitive, as with the most expensive foreign holidays, for there’s nothing as good as a brush with galloping dysentery to make you feel you’ve had a good break, nothing like viewing real poverty at close range to make you feel warm and secure and glad to be home.

There were traders everywhere, pushing through the crowds selling everything from kittens to pastries to handicrafts to netted pots of the flying flowers. Weather-beaten old geezers squatted on the narrow pavements selling fruit and vegetables to house-husbands keen to haggle about prices. From the point of view of the female elite, it was a good system: everything directed towards lengthily servicing their needs; everyone kept so busy beavering away earning a crust they had no time to discover what idle hands and tongues could be capable of.

Clearly the women had no sense of fair play. It appeared that for the most part, men were expected to run homes in addition to engaging in low paid employment.

A few predatory women browsed, fingering lengths of homespun cloth, assessing art objects, desultorily chatting as they sized up the talent. Their eyes drifted in his direction. Conscious that he stood a good head and shoulders above the rest, Morgan opted for making himself scarce and dived down a squalid side street which opened out into an even more squalid square. This was clearly the economy pack end of the city. Rough wasn’t the word for it. Twenty or so ramshackle stalls leaned against each other, selling stuff that fell off the back of the day before yesterday’s handcart. Pushers offered phials of antidotes against the commonest aphrodisiacs. Small time traders hawked jars of one-hundred-and-one per cent guaranteed wrinkling cream, almost genuine syphilis certificates, fairly convincing stick-on boils, rampant halitosis gums, and sore-tattoo kits. The advantage of being in this area was that nobody looked closely at anybody else.

Morgan was just working up to ask for directions out of the city when a low rumbling began. His first thought was of an earthquake…or the local equivalent. Brasmatia, perhaps, like the three-day ambitious slide forward of Herefordshire’s Marcle Hill in 1575. A wave of homesickness washed over him. Then he realised that instead of running for their lives, all the traders were furiously packing away their wares and dismantling stalls.

“The fucking pig’s back.”


“Not a-bloody-gain.”

“Third time today—”

“Why in Goddess’ name can’t they get rid of it? Call themselves women—”

“I notice none of them offers to help clear up afterwards.”

“Never changes, does it? Dirty mindless jobs are men’s work – always were, and always will be.”

“Need some men in charge, Peony. They’d soon sort things out.”

“Right on, Hollyhock, but that will be the day.”

The rumbling rapidly grew louder. Another sound rose, a siren, a signal, a two-minute warning, a desperate ululation that contained within it the voiced race memories of millions of stuck pigs cut off in their prime.

And if pigs have had it rough, sows have had it even rougher. Grilled uterus of sterile sow was a delicacy in imperial Rome, soaked in brine, rolled in bran, served in a hot wine sauce. But this was as nothing besides a patrician dish of sows’ vulvas and teats. Pliny was of the opinion that those of sows who’d absorbed their first litter had the better flavour; others preferred the taste of virgin organs. Pigs were always valued – in first-century Gaul a piglet fetched five denearii, five times more than a litre of wine – but this business of porkers being held sacred doesn’t ring true. Jupiter might have been suckled by a sow, but that never stopped anyone enjoying a bacon butty.

Venus was almost upon him before Morgan realised that the bark and wail of despair was prompted by loneliness and not fear of the butcher’s knife.

“My brother, O my brother, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Shit. If it took one to know one, then she’d smell him out. She’d betray him. I’m not your brother, he wanted to scream, whatever they say, Morgan Jones-Jones is not a Pig. Nil suidae. Or mochyn.Not even a porcelet, thank you very much. Instead, he took one look at the massive dust cloud proceeding the thunder of trotters, flipped the acre of sheet over his arm and ran like hell from the mayhem and uproar, the screaming and cursing, the shattering of earthenware, splintering of wood, the oink and squeal of Venus denied, ending up bent double and breathless in a dingy courtyard hard up against an abandoned toadstool house. It was a collapsing Coprinus comatus – Shaggy Inkcap, Lawyer’s Wig – covered with creepers and almost strangled by encroaching trees. Black ink oozed from the deliquescing gills, outlining the rounded cobbles, the patches of viridescent moss.

Morgan sank gratefully onto the doorstep and closed his eyes. Birds sang. A few neglected flowers vibrated their wings. It was nice. It was peaceful. Somewhere nearby a particularly pleasant sound could be heard – the splashing cadences of some water feature, an artificial brook tumbling over rock perhaps, or a weathered nymphet pouring water from her lichen-stained urn. Feeling a sudden desire to drink, to splash his face, to cleanse himself of the veneer of terror, Morgan padded eagerly towards the shadowed corner from whence the sound emerged.

There was no fountain. No spring. No water feature.

Instead Morgan discovered a small gargoyle having a slash against the wall. His jaw dropped. He’d thought himself immune to the grotesque, but this creature, elf, imp, goblin, or whatever,was something else again, more really truly Other than any of these other truly Others. The face was older than Neanderthal nightmare, warped and twisted, resembling a frying mass of soft cod roes, a pickled walnut, or a section of coiled and convoluted intestine compressed in a jar of formaldehyde, even cervelle de canut – a cheese dish from Lyons known as silk-worker’s brains, but that’s another story. Morgan finally decided the creatures physog looked like its own head turned brain-side out – with cursory finger-modelling to provide an approximation of humanoid features. The nose was an off-centre spike, its mouth a lipless purse, and the ears were huge afterthoughts, bigger than its hands, flapping bat wings with tips so long they’d been looped up over its scarlet jelly-bag hat and tied together in a lopsided knot. It – he – was wearing an oversize emerald green Babygro, damp, stained, and fastened from crutch to Adam’s apple, with at least fifty unmanageably tiny buttons. The sudden appearance of Morgan made the creature jump like Hertha. His aim, already bad, was directed against himself.

“Leave me be. Leave me be. Bug off. I ain’t doing nothing wrong,” the bwca whined, hurriedly doing himself up and making a complete dog’s dinner of it. “Ain’t you a stud? What are you doing spying on me, hey, hey?”

“Who are you?”

“Who am I? Who am I? I’m Cupid, you silly ignorant sod.” He kicked Morgan’s leg with a dripping foot. “Bug off. I ain’t done nothing.”

“Cupid, my arse.” Morgan grabbed the creature by the scruff and lifted him up so that they were face-to-approximation-of-face. He sighed. Life was full of disappointments, but anything less like Arthur Mee’s depiction of the god of love, son of Venus, as a pretty, naked boy with wings and a quiver full of arrows, he had yet to see. “Where’s your wings then, you ugly little weasel?”

“Loki, then. I’m Loki, all right? I got to go. I got to go. Put me down. You’d better, or else I’ll be pissing all over you.” Dropped from shoulder height, the homunculus bounced twice – “Aw! Aw!” – before scuttling back to the wall to resume urinating. “Can’t help it, can I? No, I can’t. Not my fault I don’t hold water. What do you want anyway?”

“Have you any idea where I can find Sernunnos?”

Loki darted a sly glance in his direction. “I might have. I might have. Depends who it is doing the asking.”

Morgan hurriedly stepped back, avoiding the foaming spring tide, and explained his predicament as succinctly as possible. “So, can you help?”

“Maybe I could. Maybe I could if you made it worth my while. If you made it worth my while, I said. You got any cheese on you? Any cheese? I could murder a sliver of Cheddar.”

“Sorry, not a crumb. Now, can you take me to Sernunnos?”

“Or cream? A thimble of milk? Skim would do. You’ve no idea what it’s like, three hundred years without a sniff of Stilton. I still get the cravings. I still get the cravings, I tell you, and withdrawal symptoms. Don’t gawk at me like that. All right for you lot living in a land of milk and rennet, curds and whey, and junket. See, while you weirdos go for fungus – fungus, I say – all your mouldy-grape and rotting-grain brews, I get – used to get – my highs off dairy products. So, like I said, it depends.”

“Depends on what?” Morgan watched in disgust as the buttoning-up process began again.

“On you agreeing to take me back with you, of course.”

“You wouldn’t like it. Things have changed. There’s hardly any countryside left, for a start. Traffic everywhere, and low flying jets all summer. What with the noise, pollution, swine fever, foot and mouth disease—”

“Fuck you, then. Fuck you, I say. I’m off.” Loki glared, arms akimbo, and started to disappear from the feet upwards. The grey-matter face hung on the air for a few seconds longer than the rest, pia mater quivering, the two halves of frontal lobe executing a restricted jig as they bulged up and down on each side of the longitudinal fissure.

When he’d finally gone, Morgan stopped retching and took stock. Bad move. He should have said yes. Greed was the strongest motivating force that existed. And he could have fanned the creature’s dormant addiction with talk of Welsh rarebit. Who else would he find to risk his neck for what could be shovelled down it? Too late now – or was it? A stench of dried ammonia lingered. Small ripples were spreading out from the puddle as a splatter of yellowish raindrops disturbed its surface.

“All right,” Morgan conceded, “when I go, you go. Is that a deal?” Why not? Who cared? Back home, the undersized monstrosity could soon be knocked on the head.

Loki slowly reappeared, his approximation of a grin first. “Promise there’ll be Cheshire and Wensleydale, Blue Vinny, Coquetdale, Derby, and Sage Derby.”

“Plus Hereford Hop,” Morgan attempted to look pleasant. “Now which way do we go?” Sensing a slight hesitation, he added a few other cheese names gleaned from the supermarket deli counter. “And as much Lancashire, Red Leicester, Coverdale, Curworthy, Single Gloucester and – uh, uh, what else? Oh, and Double Gloucester as you can eat.”

“Down here.” Loki scuttled behind the toadstool and pushed through a gap in the hedge. Masses of flowers flew off in all directions. Several thorns felt moved to attack. Morgan fought back and emerged from the foliage to be confronted by endless rows of membranous egg-shaped houses, arranged in a neat grid, reminding him of Mam’s egg trays. “Straight on till we come to the double-yolker,” said the little monster, “then sharp right, sharp right, I say. Stilton, Stilton, yum-yum, I love Stilton. Come on. Come on, I say, what you waiting for? Dorset Drum, Shropshire Blue, Denhay, Yorkshire Blue—”

Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press).

Fiji’s Half Century of Independence

By Émile St Clair

Fijians on 10 October 2022 celebrated their National Day, and looked forward to the 2022 general election, whose exact date at that time was yet to be announced. Fiji Day prompted at least two high-profile articles in Fiji’s national press, those of Mahendra Chaudhry and Dr Subhash Appanna. Both articles are rooted in Fiji’s recent history, with as good a starting point as any located in the country’s constitutional changes conferenced in London in the July of 1965. At that point A. D. Patel, leader of the Indo-Fijians, demanded full self-government, with an elected legislature, established along the lines of universal suffrage, a condition rejected by the ethnic Fijian delegation, who feared loss of control of natively owned land and the resources it yielded, should an Indo-Fijian government predominate. The British meanwhile were determined that Fiji be self-governing and eventually independent. Having no better choice, Fiji’s chiefs negotiated for the best deal they could get.

Appanna in his article, ‘Citizenship and Belonging’, has as his main focus ethnic tensions throughout Fiji’s independence, from the cabinet system of government established in 1967, when Ratu Kamisese Mara was the first chief minister, to the 1970 electoral formula, with its timetable for Fijian autonomy and Fiji’s position as a Commonwealth nation, and on thereafter. Central to the 1970 formula was a distribution of power between the indigenous population and the country’s Indo-Fijians, those whose ancestors had been brought in as indentured slaves for work in the sugar plantations. In the capital Suva, on 9 October 1970, the British flag was lowered for the last time, with the Fijian flag raised in its place on the following morning, 10 October 1970 – Independence Day. Seventeen years after independence, as Appanna highlights, the two major political ethnic groupings were still at a point of conflict. Obstacles to finding a shared way forward were mountainous, so it seemed.

The situation had deteriorated to the point in 1987 where the National Federation Party, Indian-dominated, was joined in coalition by the new Labour Party, which brought with it powerful support from Fijian and Indian trade unionists. The coalition achieved success in the April elections. The new government and a legislature marked by Indian interests saw widespread Fijian protest, with leaders of the new administration arrested. Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka led a coup d’état, demanding greater protection over Fijian rights and settled Fijian dominance in all future government. Compromise through civilian rule proved difficult, and with poor political progress Rabuka led a second coup, reimposing military rule. In the last days of 1987 Fiji was declared a republic, and the 1970 constitution was revoked. One result of that was Fiji’s expulsion from the Commonwealth. Thereafter Rabuka appointed a new civilian government, with a new constitution, with emphasis on a greater share of power in the hands of native Fijians.

The Market in the Capital Suva

Rabuka was elected to parliament under the 1990 constitution, and became Prime Minister in 1992. Later a Constitutional Review Commission was briefed to recommend changes that would reduce constitutional ethnic bias. Throughout the mid-1990s the country’s politics focused on constitutional revision, with a set of recommendations proposed in September 1996. In the following year Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth, with constitutional changes approved a year after that.

Fiji’s first prime minister of Indian ancestry was Mahendra Chaudhry, elected in May 1999, but not without Nationalists opposing his premiership. In his first months in office arson and bomb attacks in the capital Suva were linked to extremist agitation. In the August a no-confidence motion was put forward by nationalist legislators, but Chaudhry survived. In the May of the following year a group led by businessman George Speight took Chaudhry and his government hostage. Chaudhry was deposed, with Speight claiming only to be acting in the interests of indigenous Fijians. Speight was supported by rebel members of the army’s counter-revolutionary warfare unit. The coup was followed by widespread looting and destruction of Indian-owned businesses in Suva. The president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (who for most of the post-independence period had served as Prime Minister), declared a state of emergency and assumed power. Negotiations ran aground. The army declared martial law. Chaudhry was stripped of power.

In July 2000, in order to re-establish democratic principles, a Fijian-dominated interim administration was installed, civilian in character. The Bose Levu Vakaturaga or Great Council of Chiefs appointed Ratu Josefa Iloilo as Interim President. After fifty-six days of confinement, the rebels released their hostages, whom they’d held captive in parliamentary buildings. In the following November Fiji’s High Court ruled that the military-installed government was not legitimate, and decreed that May’s ousted parliament was still the country’s governing authority. Legal appeals went on into 2001. By then the Great Council of Chiefs reconfirmed Iloilo as President. A general election was called for in August and September. Chaudhry did not retain his post, and in September 2001 the interim premier, Laisenia Qarase – of the nationalist Fiji United Party – was confirmed as Prime Minister. Tensions between the military and the elected government did not diminish, while there was also the wider political landscape to consider. For example, in 2002 there were plans to privatise the sugar industry, which faced a parlous future after the withdrawal of EU subsidies. In the continuing power struggle, while Qarase’s party achieved slender victory in the May 2006 elections, in December the military leader Voreque Bainimarama seized power. He dismissed Qarase and established himself as the country’s sole leader, as brief a manoeuvre as that might be. He restored executive powers to President Iloilo in 2007, who promptly named Bainimarama Interim Prime Minister. Bainimarama himself appointed an interim cabinet, promising imminent scheduled elections, but without committing to a timetable. He curtailed activities of the Great Council of Chiefs. In 2009 the Fiji Court of Appeal ruled that the Bainimarama government had no legal authority given the 2006 coup, which prompted President Iloilo’s announcement that since he’d abolished the 1997 constitution the country’s judges could consider themselves dismissed. Iloilo delayed national elections until 2014 and appointed a new interim government. Again, Bainimarama was Prime Minister. Bainimarama has been a major force in Fiji politics ever since.

On the Buses, Suva

Appanna reflects on it all –

• The 1970 constitution 
• The two major ethnically identified political parties
• Obstacles militating against common objectives between the two communities
• The 1987 multi-ethnic coalition
• The 1970 constitution overturned
• The 1987 coup, and with it reports of violence, robberies, rape, all manner of atrocity
• The second coup, Fiji as a republic, expulsion from the Commonwealth
• For Indo-Fijians the sense of loss and national isolation
• Ratu Mara’s success in incorporating Indo-Fijian interests into the 1990 constitution

– and by these reflections perhaps unconsciously underlines the importance of Fiji as a nation state with a written constitution, one surely serving all its citizens and respected by each alike.

A Typical Roadside Business, Savusavu

Chaudhry, a former prime minister of Fiji, as noted above, and the first of Indian ancestry, is the leader of the Fiji Labour Party, and his article, like Appanna’s, appeared in the October 8th edition of The Fiji Times – i.e. two days before Independence Day, mark of Fiji’s casting off the yoke of imperial rule. The title of Chaudhry’s article: ‘Are the people free?’

It is doubtful that Chaudhry thinks the Fijian people are. He asks to what extent in the fifty-two-year journey towards building a nation has the 2013 constitution and Bill of Rights ensured principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)? The actuality, he says, leaves a lot to be desired, when Fiji’s ‘free’ people live in fear of speaking out, of victimisation, of discrimination, when the reward for agitation against the status quo is detention and persecution. These are Chaudhry’s prime examples of Fiji’s Bill of Rights undermined in its key points. He cites many other violations: little adherence to the protection of workers’ rights; restrictive impositions on the trade unions; abrogation of the right to peaceful protest; denial of the right of union officials to engage in formal politics; short-term contracts imposed on civil servants; the lost right of civil servants to appeal against perceived unfair promotions, unwarranted transfers, unwarranted disciplinary action; the removal of the right of public-service unions to collective bargaining, etc.

‘Freedom’ of the fourth estate Chaudhry also calls into question, with a culture of repression and censorship against the media. Prominent in his argument is the Media Industry Development Decree of 2010, where journalists who breach it often find themselves landed with fines, or even worse, jail terms, not the best conditions for national media to operate freely and independently. Chaudhry points also to recent amendments to the Political Parties and Electoral Act, of particular relevance given the coming elections. The right of candidates and political parties to appeal to the High Court against decisions of the Registrar of Political Parties and the Supervisor of Elections – that right has been removed. Further, political parties, activists and candidates are required to publish a financial breakdown, to the last cent, underpinning promises to the electorate. Is this, Chaudhry asks, the kind of flawed democracy Fiji wants?

Island Paradise

So to the general election of 2022, which was held on 14 December, for the election of fifty-five MPs.

Prominent campaign issues turned on a struggling economy, rising national debt, ethnic tensions, poverty. At the time of the election itself, the Fijian Elections Office (FEO) made use of an electronic app for the preliminary count, which failed momentarily due to a software glitch. For that reason the FEO took down the app as a temporary measure. That did not prevent Western media reporting on the issue, with the Guardian news website, in an article posted on 15 December, stating

‘Provisional results had the opposition People’s Alliance party hovering in the mid to low 40s and incumbent prime minister Frank Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party in the mid-20s four hours after polls closed. The results were taken offline for a number of hours and, when they returned, the results had flipped.’

The same report went on to say

‘Rabuka [of the People’s Alliance party] said the new data didn’t match the raw data the party has from polling stations.’

With the app returned to operation, and with the ruling FijiFirst party now shown to be leading, five opposition parties demanded the counting process be suspended and a recount begun, though observers claimed not to have seen significant voting irregularities, and added that whatever bug had got in the app, it had now been fixed.

Four of the nine parties contesting the election passed the five per cent threshold required for entry into parliament. Mahendra Chaudhry’s Labour Party was not among them, achieving only 2.7 per cent. FijiFirst won twenty-six seats; the newly formed People’s Alliance (PA), twenty-one; the PA’s coalition partner, the National Federation Party (NFP), won five. The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), retained three seats. Therefore no party won an outright majority, but in the formation of coalitions SODELPA was the obvious kingmaker. So it turned out, with SODELPA forming a coalition government with the People’s Alliance and the NFP, ending FijiFirst’s rule and Bainimarama’s sixteen-year tenure as Prime Minister, replaced in that office by Sitiveni Rabuka of the People’s Alliance, the party he himself had formed. Rabuka, let us not forget, the instigator of the two military coups in 1987. That said, Bainimarama conceded defeat peacefully. It will be interesting to see further evolution in Fiji’s politics and social weal.

Émile St Clair is a travel writer, based in Nelson, New Zealand. He has a particular interest in Pacific Rim life, trade and politics.

Tagore Prize 2021-22 Awarded to Sudeep Sen

Review by Peter Cowlam

All of us here at Ars Notoria are delighted at the news that our poetry editor, Sudeep Sen, has been awarded the prestigious Tagore Prize for 2021–22. The Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize, a literary honour in India conferred annually for published works by Indian authors, recognises novels, short stories, poetry and drama. Sudeep’s work to be so honoured is his Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation, a collection of poetry, prose and photography, published by Pippa Rann Books & Media UK (182pp hb).

Sudeep receives his award

The judges’ citation reads—

‘Sudeep Sen writes a powerful and intimate testimony to the human life inexorably and agonisingly devolving, in real time and in direct confrontation with Nature that runs its rebalancing course, keeps the Death by its side and doesn’t shiver at the sight of human arrogance. The impact Anthropocene is making, as a collection of observations that directly address the conundrum of our present and our future, but also in regard to the innovative utilisation of genre, is impossible to overestimate.’ 

The author’s reply reads as follows—

‘I am delighted that Anthropocene, has been awarded the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize. This book, which coalesced during the pandemic, is essentially a plea for positivity and prayer in these fervent times. Using multiple literary genres and tropes, it endeavours to address the wider geo-politics of our time. I hope this award will serve to sensitise a greater number of people to very urgent issues that need acute and immediate attention – such as climate change, and our global need for unity and humanism. “Hope, heed, heal – our song in present tense.”’ 
With the coveted prize

It might be recalled that at the time of the book’s launch, Ars Notoria carried a review, which is reproduced below.

The term ‘Anthropocene’ has been proposed as the definition of the geological epoch dating from the start of significant human impact on the earth, and on its ecosystems. Anthropocene is also the title of Sudeep Sen’s latest (multi-genre) book of poetry, prose and photography – published in the UK in a handsome hardback edition from Pippa Rann Books. I have a feeling this won’t be the last poetic (and literary) outcry against the ravages we inflict on our planet, with the cost not only to ourselves.

While a reversal of human rapacity is the clarion call of our era, growing louder by the day, it’s far from clear that timely correctives will be put in place sufficient to avert ultimate catastrophe. Despite the overwhelming evidence that climate change is a reality, and that dangerous levels of CO2 and methane are rising in our atmosphere, there is vested interest, there are powerful lobbies – of governments and corporations – doggedly resistant to climate treaties and any meaningful change in consumer habits. Meanwhile the globe is subject to weather extremes, coral reefs suffer bleaching, seas and rivers fill with plastic, micro-plastics enter the food chain, over-trafficked towns and cities are obliged to impose congestion and emission charges. Plastic pollution has even been detected in human placenta.

That’s the grand narrative. But what of the personal? Anthropocene is divided into nine parts, and roughly these comprise, pessimistically, a survey of the background realities of the globe as it is today, an apocalyptic vision of the world as it degenerates, the impact of the pandemic in collective and individual terms, then, as an optimistic contrast, there are skyscape photographs taken from the author’s terrace in Delhi, there is a celebration of persons, places and geological phenomena, there are the consolations of light, friendship and human togetherness, in balance with strictures imposed by nations in lockdown, with a strategy for survival of those restrictions with our mental health intact. Finally there is an epilogue.

In Part 1, the prologue, the poet is fulsome in his prose description of what he terms the ‘choreograph [of] the seasonal orchestra’, the first of many alliances of his poetic method with music (somewhere later in the book we infer music as his restorative). Frida Kahlo heads up this section, with an epigraph: ‘I paint flowers so they will not die.’ But death is the stark reality, with a reported news feature from ‘the President of the island nation of Kiribati […] informing the rest of the world that [with rising sea levels] the first country to be submerged would be theirs – and that their people would be the first “climate refugees”.’ More of the politics is touched on, with the world and its elites taking not enough notice of what is actual – the planet’s ecological crisis, with it the resurgence of fascism, the pandemic, and resulting from it the misery of enforced migration, desperate peoples dispossessed in their droves. Where once the artist celebrated nature in its colour and diversity, now there is hard descent into warnings against its destruction. The weather has certainly changed.

Part 2 begins with a plaint against human folly in its rapacity, ‘where everything is ambition, / everything is desire, everything is nothing’ (the poem ‘Disembodied’, p28). We are confronted with variants of the apocalyptic: ‘…over-heated air sucks out everything’; ‘Rain where there never was, / no rain where there [once] was.’; ‘Climate patterns [in] total disarray’; ‘…man-made havoc.’; ‘Earthquakes – overground, underground, / undersea’; ‘destruction, death’; ‘cyclone, flood, / pestilence, pollution.’; ‘Stillness, ever still – all still-born’ (‘Global Warming’, p30), and in ‘Rising Sea Levels’ (p31) there is a granite outcrop that once jutted out of the ‘ebullient’ sea, fifty metres from the shore, but is seen no more. ‘Asphyxia’, the poem on page 37, tips its hat to Eliot, in an unreal city, with a yellow fog, and yellow smoke, and urges ‘Sweet Yamuna’ (not the Thames, but a river in northern India) to run softly, till the poet of our day has ended not his song but his dirge. On page 38, in ‘Summer Heat’, macadam melts into a viscous black sea, a neem tree is bleached of its natural colour, power lines are down, in all there is limitless barrenness, while on page 39, in ‘Amaltas’, ‘sparking laburnums / […] ignite, incinerate’ under a searing 48°C. Some vision, where the city is reduced in appearance to that of a ‘glass mirage’ (‘Heat Sand’, p40), and where the science fraternity is telling us of ‘new highs’, where ‘meteorological indices shatter’ (‘Afternoon Meltdown’, p41), ‘unfinished flyovers // collapse’ (‘Concrete Graves’, p43). The contrast to excessive heat is given us in ‘Endless Rain’ (page 44), but the rain is followed by drought, then by an unstoppable monsoon (‘Shower, Wake’, p47). Examples of what ails human agency in all this is summed in bronchial disorders (the physical) and the tragedy of accentuated social division (the psychological).

Part 3, ‘Pandemic’, bears the subtitle ‘Love in the Time of Corona’, an enforced disposition Marquez (who is surely invoked) would have immediately understood. Page 54 reproduces the front page of The New York Times (a) as a mortician’s black slab (or so it seemed to this reader) and (b) a roll of the dead, names listed when the US death rate as a result of the virus was touching 100,000, responded to in ‘Obituary’ (page 55) as a conflation of ‘micro point-size fonts / on an ever inflating pandemic’. In ‘Obituary 2: Nine Pins’ (page 61) the poet names those personally he has lost to the pandemic, and amid a fourteen-haiku sequence (‘Corona Haiku’, pp62–64) the question is asked ‘will we find a more / compassionate world, after / this pandemic’s death?’ One suspects that with our current crop of leaders, and the multinationals that have got them in their pocket, we cannot bank on it. As to our mental health, ‘lockdown’s uneasy / solitude – turning into / another disease’ (page 64) does not give us hope of instant remedies, once the viral threat has passed, despite some few emollients (see Part 4, ‘Contagion’).

Part 4, ‘Contagion’. Can they salve the pain, a ‘eucalyptus steam inhalation, Ventolin sprays’, a ‘mixed concoction of ginger’, ‘black pepper, turmeric and organic honey’ (‘Implosion’, p79)? Or with these is there only ‘temporary respite’ (ibid)? Can machine technology ease the stress, with a charge of air from an electric vent? ‘I like this hellishly good blast that shakes all the embedded molecules in my bones’ (‘Icicles’, p81). ‘Fever Pitch’ (page 82), which in its epigraph recalls Thom Gunn and his man with night sweats, has its variation on that theme in an age of climate change and contagion: ‘The unknown boiling and freezing points that I hide within myself provide the ultimate enigma that even the most specialized doctors and architects find hard to map.’ Here more than ever throughout these poems we see what in the poet’s mind exists as the opposition, seldom a dialogue, between art and science. In their conflicting strategies in defining the human malaise ‘there is no room for unscientific thought’, or more fully, from ‘Heavy Water’, pp87-89)—

‘Families of electrons, protons and neutrons speed away, whirring in patterned loops, forgetting all the while that the heart of their orbit may actually feel and breathe. But in science, there is no room for unscientific thought – as if science and the arts, coolness and emotionality were mutually incompatible or different from each other.’ 

In a pandemic the truth of our mortality is brought closer into consciousness (‘Preparing For a Perfect Death’, p91)—

‘Get you papers in order – choose / your inheritors fairly – with love, care. // Outline clearly – who gets what, / what they are required to execute.’

And in ‘Icarus’ (pp92–93) there might even be a death wish: ‘The image of Icarus has been flying around / in my head. I cannot get rid of it….’ ‘I pray for Icarus to return to take me / away….’ But here among us earth-dwellers who have not crashed from the sky there are still life’s attractions. Instance Dinesh Khanna’s photograph on page 96, precursor to a meal (feasting, a social event), of chopped red onions, chopped red peppers and a clove of garlic on a chopping board with knives, despite the poet’s irresistible urge to make a crucifix out of the latter. ‘Corona Red’ (page 97) is the poem that accompanies (‘…is this a new metaphor of our / times?’). And after the metaphor, what are the other symptoms of our troubled era? The testing of friendships in enforced social distancing (‘Scar’, p99)? The alarming rate at which both fake news and the coronavirus replicate (‘Ghalib in the Time of Crisis’, pp100–101)? They are certainly among the leading contenders.

Part 5, subtitled ‘Skyscapes’, sees text give way to a series of photos the poet took from his terrace in Delhi, with his focus on a single subject (an horizon washed with trees, low-rise flat-roofed buildings and their attachments), under a big sky and subject to differing lighting conditions, ranging from evening twilight to cloudy to inky to fiery sunsets.

Part 6, ‘Holocene’, scientifically the interval of geologic time, approximately the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history, wherein the influence of human activity has been so profound it is deemed appropriate to ascribe its own name (cp ‘Anthropocene’). Poems in this section include a celebration of persons, places, and the terrible majesty of geological phenomena: ‘Four centuries ago, Akrotiri’s ancient site fell / grandly to volcanic death, victim of several quakes’ (‘Akrotiri’, p121). There is a homage to Derek Walcott. English hours take in a visit to Herefordshire, and with it the concretion of passing moments, with ‘…the kind of clock I want to measure time by – / time that depends / on the company of those who care – / time minutely layered / on this open windblown Herefordshire terrain…’ (‘Witherstone’, pp122–125). Another sequence of haiku (‘Undercurrents: 20 Lake Haiku’, pages 126–128) offers similar lyricism: ‘geese squeak, cormorants / dive, fish summersault…’ We are in Marseilles when, philosophically, the question is asked ‘Have these voyagers left something behind, / or are they yearning / to complete the incompleteness / in their lives?’ (‘Disembodied 2: Les Voyageurs’, p129). The section ends with ‘Disembodied 3: Within’ (page 130), and further philosophical probing: ‘…life, birth, death – / regermination, rejuvenation, nirvana.’

Part 7, ‘Consolation’, cinematically introduced by Stanley Kubrick: ‘However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.’ In life there is hope, and in death there are hopes for an afterlife (‘Burning Ghats, Varanasi’, (pages 136–137)—

‘In the super-heated pyre, I hear another ritual pot break,
		another skull crack, another soul take flight.
I see some shore-temples slow-sink
					into the swallowing river –
effects of unpredictable tides and climate change
	taking with them, both the mortal and the immortal –
Holocene’s carbon-footprint – its death text, unceasing.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust –
			water to heavy water, life to after-life.’ 

And from ‘Ganga, Rising’ (page 138)—

‘Here, there is no space for perfectly rounded pebbles or gentle musings – only large granite
outcrops can shackle the soul’s ferocity – a jagged fierceness – not harsh, yet quietly robust.’

And from ‘Shiuli | Harasingara’ (page 140)—

‘Soon the festivities, food,
     flowers, camaraderie,
prayer, will infuse everything –’

We are reminded in ‘Breastfeeding’ (page 150) of the social world and how that does not necessarily comply with the strictures of science, in that love is an imperfect equation, and similarly in ‘Air: Pankhā Pattachitra’ (page 151) are reminded of ‘the spare simplicity / of pure clean air.’ Not everything is lost.

Part 8, ‘Lockdown’. The writer has a natural, inborn, and after years of toil a disciplined strategy for dealing with the solitude and lack of social contact national lockdowns have imposed on the masses. It’s to be found in recourse to writing and reading, and has a distinct advantage over exploit and action in the world, its locus described in full in ‘Poetics of Solitude, Songs of Silence’ (pp162–165). But there are other pastimes more easily called upon: ‘words of grief; words of love, hate, wisdom. / Paper crafts its papyrus origins // journeying from tree to table / through clefts, wefts, contours, textures…’ (‘Paper T[r]ails’, p157). And what were the things we did in early childhood?

Part 9, ‘Epilogue’, is in the nature of a linked list, with prayer and meditation, closing with a chant and a cerement, and a rite of passage for the dying, where ‘breathing is a privilege’, ‘friends perish, the country buckles, airless’, sentiments which might seem pessimistic as a conclusion. However, one has only to remember how inexcusably reluctant governments, corporations, and we as individuals have been in meeting the challenge our post-industrial way of life has thrown at us, when at the same time there remains a volume of powerful voices denying human complicity in our current climate disaster, with the Holocene an inter-glacial period where warming is said to happen anyway, regardless of us. But even if that is so, the amount of CO2 and methane we are pumping into the atmosphere is measurable, and has reached proportions we know are not good for us, for other species, and for the planet in general. And for as long as that is the case, there is need for the poems of Anthropocene, and for their author, Sudeep Sen, who with his wide fanbase, and this latest offering, will not disappoint its members.

En passant Noted, throughout Anthropocene, is the author’s fondness for skeletal imagery, frequent reference to bronchial irritations, and the condition asthmatics endure in the drawing of breath. Noted too are life’s dramas in comparison with the operatic, ‘striation’ and its cognates a favourite word, and, unsurprisingly given the book’s subject matter, repeated reference to meteorological phenomena, weather events, cloud shapes, cloud formations, cloud breaks, layered skies, and as metaphysical embodiment errant clouds yearning for rain.

Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 19802015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury) and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann).  Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over twenty-five languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times,Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on the BBC, PBS, CNN IBN, NDTV, AIR & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf / Random House / Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museo Camera. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture / literature”.

The Tragedy of Mister Morn, a Play by Vladimir Nabokov

Review by Peter Cowlam

Nabokov, an aristocrat dispossessed by the October Revolution, in what is typical for him applies aesthetics rather than political discourse as filter over the coup Mister Morn has successfully repelled. The distortions of social unease are just a spectre to be poeticised over. It is Morn, who is secretly the King, who has delivered what Tremens, the revolutionary leader, could and would not – four years of peace and prosperity. That figurehead of revolt, in a breeze of world-weariness, has ensured his survival only in feigned denunciation of himself – at least as the action opens – having entered a tacit pact with the King, whoever that personage is. The sole image the people have of their monarch is masked, such as that appearing on coins of the realm. His royal presence permeates his nation through pageant and ritual, while his carriage is probably empty when out on official procession, explaining why its blinds are permanently drawn. That veil on the actuality is what facilitates the King’s other life as Morn, a man free to walk the city and judge the mood of its market squares, and know what his people think.

To Tremens – a man who deplores previous ages of revolution – that amorphous concept of ‘the people’ is all a wasted effort. History’s worst outcome has been the elevation of the common man, whose gift to the world is the debased culture a long issue of Nabokovian characters has subsequently debunked and satirised. Tremens is not motivated politically to deliver a better world. That disposes of the need the play might have to engage with revolutions, with why they occur, and with how new leaderships emerge in their aftermath. Tremens carries with him a brand of Schopenhauerian insistence on blind will, a force infusing everything, one that reduces all before it to poetic, romanticised ruin. In Ganus, a fellow-revolutionary, who has escaped exile, who is on the run, who has come to believe the revolution was a mistake, there is an absence of that true calling. Perversely nihilism has its own optimism, when Tremens adds that ‘somehow I sense…hidden within him…that spark, that scarlet comma of contamination, which will spread the wondrous cold and fire of tormenting illness across my country: deathly revolts; hollow destruction; bliss; emptiness; non-existence’ [I.1, ll 320–25].

Morn’s is not the only disguise. Ganus, in his conjectures of adultery, agrees to attend his wife Midia’s soirée, made up and costumed as Othello (Othello, consumed by jealousy and suspicion). Once there he gets himself quietly drunk in a corner, having to put up with Morn, the central guest, who shows as a force for good with a lightness of touch and a poet’s sensibility. He happens also to have infatuated Ganus’s wife, Midia, a part probably best played with chic scheming astuteness. There are other things Ganus has to tolerate. The century (the twentieth) is characterised as a northern country (like Zembla, one assumes, ‘a distant northern land’ (cp Nabokov’s Pale Fire)), a remoteness of visions, bombs, churches, golden princes, revolutionaries in raincoats, and blizzards. Ganus/Gradus suffers also the revolution’s poet, Klian, a coward ultimately, and a man locked into ancient structures, where genius cannot thrive without the eroticisation of its Muse. Other outpourings are from Dandilio, a rationalist buffoon, who has defined human happiness according to scientific theory. The tragedy of Mister Morn is his flirtation with Midia, Morn challenged to a duel when Ganus can stand it no more. In the drawing of lots to establish who will take the first shot, that etiquette is subverted by Tremens and Dandilio, who engineer matters in Ganus’s favour. The King’s bodyguard and confidant later lets him know who Morn really is, but he’s saved the bother of committing regicide when Morn elects to shoot himself. Easier to say than do. Morn, a force for life, now rues his liaison with Midia – ‘a shallow woman’, he says – then in an abrupt volte-face is prepared to sacrifice his kingdom for her. When he flees, renouncing his kingship, Tremens urges his rebels to further destruction. When Ganus thinks the King is dead, he is quiescent; when he learns he is not, he vows to kill him. By now he’s fully in the Othello role, but without make-up.

So these self-deceptions perpetuate themselves. Morn without his kingdom wastes in lassitude, conforming less and less to the cult that has given him artist status. Midia is exquisitely bored, both with him and with the rebellion, whose destruction hardly touches her consciousness. She throws him over, in favour of Edmin, the King’s confidant, a man whose presence has the air of apology. Into that debris of human relations Ganus arrives, at the point where Midia and Edmin have just eloped. He aims his pistol at Morn just as Act IV’s curtain falls.

Act V. ‘The people’, that amorphous entity above, fight back against the rebels, because it’s rumoured the King isn’t dead. Dandilio has worked out who Morn really is. Soldiers close in. Klian pleads for his life, and says he will serve the King. Tremens and Dandilio philosophise ludicrously. All ends ambiguously, with Morn declaiming the illusory nature of statecraft, then receding into the night, either to shoot himself, or end Morn’s delusion once and for all and resurrect himself as King.

Therein is also the curse of pseudo-democracies.

Written in the winter of 1923–24, The Tragedy of Mister Morn first appeared in book form in Russian in 2008. Its verse translation into English is by Anastasia Tolstoy and Thomas Karshan.

Peter Cowlam studied Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts. He has had plays performed at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, and by the Dartington Playgoers, and has had readings at the State University of New York and for the Theatre West 100 Plays project in Bristol, England. As a novelist, he has won the Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction twice, most recently in 2018 for his novel New King Palmers, which is at the intersection of old, crumbling empires and new, digital agglomerates. The Quagga Prize is awarded for independently published works of fiction. As poet and writer of fiction his work has appeared on the Fairlight Books website, in En Bloc, The Battersea Review, The San Francisco Review of Books, The Blue Nib, The Galway Review, Easy Street, Literary Matters, Eunoia Review, The Brown Boat, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Liberal, the Criterion, and others.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 8

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

When seven long years had come and fled;
When grief was calm, and hope was dead;
When scarce was remember’d Kilmeny’s name,
Late, late in a gloamin’ Kilmeny came hame!

For Kilmeny had been, she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew.
—Kilmeny, James Hogg, 1770–1835

This bed was damned hard. How was a bloke supposed to get a decent night’s sleep with bare springs poking into his stomach like witch’s fingers? Trouble was, Mam didn’t agree with new-fangled ideas like replacing mattresses more than twice per lifetime. According to Mam-wisdom, those properly exhausted by the day’s labours could nod off anywhere, ergo, if you couldn’t sleep, better get your lazy backside outside and do more strenuous work. Men’s work. Cleaning out the cesspit, for example, or surreptitiously chopping down a neighbour’s trees and hauling home the firewood, or slaughtering that damned pig. Morgan sighed, for thus it has always been. Even so, he couldn’t remember ever being this uncomfortable before.

Morgan opened his eyes a temporary crack, only to be dazzled by the unbearably bright morning light. Thank God for eyelids. Hang on. Grass? Mud? A small turd-coloured worm and its small worm-coloured turd, a green and black ladybird – surely that meant he was out, not in. Moreover, he must have been lying outside all night, which just showed how much people really cared about his well-being. Levering his torso upright with his elbows, Morgan bum-shuffled backwards until he was supported by the nearest stone column.

The light was still too intense. Oh, oh, oh, his head – never would he touch alcohol again. And what appalling nightmares he’d endured. Something must be seriously wrong with him to dream up such lumpish and overbearing females…unless this was a cross creative artists must bear, their sleeping minds delving into the grossest outreaches of their imaginations for inspiration. Very likely, he decided, though it hadn’t figured in any of the Making a Million Dollars From Your Writing guides he’d studied.

Morgan risked opening his eyes again and this time discovered something very troubling. If it was morning – and it must be because the light was getting stronger by the minute, the sky bluer, the shadows longer and pointier – what was the sun doing rising in the west over darkest Wales? Everyone knew that the sun rose in the east, over darkest Essex. It always had, unless Herodotus was to be taken seriously. Pluto was the only place where it came up in the west. And Pluto was miles away. Good God, global warming wasn’t after all a cynical ploy to instil fear in the masses and make certain self-satisfied billionaire blackguards even wealthier! The ice caps must have melted, flipping the planet over in the night – except that it couldn’t have, otherwise he would have fallen off.

Properly awake now, Morgan observed that the countryside looked all wrong. There was no cloud and rain veil, for a start. No glowering winter sky. No wet black road unzipping the opposite hill. Everything was terribly, terribly green, not to mention wild and lush. Where were the scuffed-stone walls? The thick swathes of stock-proof blackthorn? Blackthorn is vital. And not just for its stock-containing properties. Thorny, pleasant-to-your-face rose for England, aggressive thistle prick for Scotland, flaccid leek for Wales, and deceptively harmless-looking bog shamrock for the other place, fair enough…yet for the British Isles as a whole nothing is more admirably suited to be an emblem of the indigenous temperament than Prunus spinosa.Blackthorn’s not much to look at but has a nasty temperament: rip you to pieces as soon as give you the time of day. Never mind all that extraneous information. He’d use it somewhere, sooner or later. But where were the sagging fences composed of rusty barbed wire and sheets of corrugated iron, with bits of brass bedstead shoved in for good measure? As far as Morgan could see, the slope down to the stream was in the right place, but there was no sign of the farm, the church, or the castle ruins? No trace of the whole damned village for that matter.

And what about the ubiquitous hill maggots, for Christ’s sake? What sort of Welsh Marches landscape has no sheep? Where had everyone gone? Admittedly, there were some funny buggers living round here – spoon whittlers, hop-pillow makers, tax dodgers, benefit fraudsters, craft potters, small-scale dope farmers, and a hell of a lot of keeping it all in the family – but even if the SAS had bombed in from Hereford to do a practice ethical cleanse overnight, and remove all signs of habitation to boot, there would still be sheep. They were what had convinced the Welsh to embrace Christianity on the grounds that the Old Testament was a damn good sheep-farming manual.

Anyway, the SAS wouldn’t have been up for restoring the stone circle. Someone had. Each column stood completely upright, shining in the sun, either freshly sand-blasted, or newly quarried. Morgan trembled. What it boiled down to was that this wasn’t Home. He stared at the alien landscape for a very long time. Nothing moved. It was watching, though. The feeling was exactly like being watched by Mam’s third eye, the one in the back of her head.


Slowly it dawned on him that something else was lacking, an absence infinitely worse. Where were the comforting phallic symbols of the British landscape, the gloriously male monotheist church spires, the chimneys, tall or squat, ridged or hooded, the battalions of pine trees, pillar boxes, BT poles – all those things necessary for the reassurance and sympathetic uplift of the fragile male ego? Phallic significance could be read into anything, everything, everywhere, if you put your mind to it. Not here though, apart from this sticky-uppy stone circle, and being a circle in itself lessened the uppy-significance of the stones. Morgan shuddered. The contours of these hills were such that they all looked like well-rounded bellies and bums and cellulite-dimpled thighs. The landscape vibrated with unrestrained fertility. Even the trees and bushes, and there were plenty of them where there shouldn’t be, for normally sheep nipped off anything that had the audacity to flourish a leafy one-finger salute above ground, were lollipop-rounds – like the paintings of toddlers or overpaid New York naïve painters – every last one weighted down by an over-abundance of bulbous fruit.

Morgan sat. And he stared. He pondered. And he sat some more.

Sheela-na-gig. The name just popped into his head. Why, he didn’t know and not knowing made him even more uneasy. There’s a carving of that gloriously immodest lady on the church at Kilpeck, not so many miles up the road, between Pontrilas and Hereford. Ten-year-old Morgan almost died of shame when he was dragged there for a Sunday afternoon picnic – Mam’s idea of a picnic that was, reduced-price currant buns, carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs – as a treat during the school holidays.

“Don’t say I don’t take you nowhere, Morgan Jones-Jones.”

At least it made a change from Borth, which was where the family took their one-day annual holiday. There’s a place: Mam Heaven.

“Don’t walk on the sand dunes and mind the marram grass. Oh, look, a shell. I do believe it’s a razor – and another. Pick them all up. Yes, every last one. It will save me buying grit for the hen’s gizzards. And since we’re here, fill these half dozen carrier bags with seaweed for the asparagus bed. Go on. Nobody’s taking any notice of you. Oh, those sea-pinks are pretty. Thrift, it says on the sign: a lovely name. Keep watch while I borrow one for the garden. I just so happen to have a trowel in my bag.”

Nothing else memorable at Borth, unless you counted vicious Welsh seagulls and great big transparent jellyfish dotted about the beach like giant snot globs. Some years a solitary ice-cream van limped over the horizon but Mam was too mean to shell out for a cornet, claiming she didn’t like the look of the vendor.

“Don’t know where his hands have been.”

Getting back to Sheela-na-gig, the woman has no shame at all. No knickers either, the brazen hussy. Go and see for yourself. There she is, crouched on the side of Kilpeck church, not just showing everything she was born with but holding it all apart to make sure everyone gets a proper eyeful – and pulling a nasty face as well. It’s said she’s the fertility aspect of the Great Mother Goddess so what can you expect? Poor Morgan, not expecting to be confronted with anything of the sort, and praying, as he’d never prayed before, to any old god that would listen, that his Mam wouldn’t put on her glasses for a better look, wanted to jump inside a grave and bring the stone down to hide him. In the meantime, crowds of people milled around, complete loonies, being Oh-so-civilised, gawping and muttering, ‘Oh I see’ and ‘how very interesting and ‘gosh, look at that, Pagan and Christian co-existing’, as if nothing was wrong.

Earth and Other, Other and Earth, that’s why Morgan was following this train of thought. He didn’t yet know it because, his head being in the state it was, he’d forgotten the date. We three, the All-knowing, the All-wise know. What that small corbel of the Goddess so flagrantly displays – her vulva, not to put too fine a point on it and use the C-word – is also carved into that archetypal symbol, the vagina-shaped Vesica Piscis. This is the feminine principle of generation from which spring all other geometric forms, the triangles, squares and ‘golden mean’ rectangles that abound in sacred architecture.

Got the picture? No? Fish bladders! Stick with us. This could be important. Imagine an oval formed by two intersecting equal circles. Yes? Well, there you have egg and womb and entrance, representing equilibrium between equal forces, the interpenetration of heaven and earth, of spirit and matter, life and death. It’s a shape extensively used in the Christian church, especially as a frame for the Virgin Mary and Jesus in stained glass windows, though the symbol predates Christianity and the age of Pisces. It was used by the ancient Egyptians in construction of the pyramids, and can be found at some of the megalithic sites. In short, it’s the symbol of creation – and not the imaginary creation of that old man with the white beard and pointy Jupiter finger either. More to the point, it is mankind’s gateway to this world and therefore, inevitably, to – the Other.

Morgan quickly moved on from contemplation of the sacred profane to mindless repetition of The Ancient Mariner, the memorising of which – at the age of fourteen – had not, as expected, increased his pulling power. “It is an ancient Mariner and he stoppeth one of three by thy long grey beard and glittering eye now wherefore stopp’st thou me the Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide and I am next of kin the guests are met the feast is set may’st hear the merry din he holds him with his skinny hand there was a ship quoth he hold off unhand me grey-beard loon eftsoons his hand dropt he holds him with his glittering eye—”

He was interrupted by the arrival of Mercher, who turned up dragging its chain, looking as bad as it smelled while attempting to whistle insouciance through its canines. The dog had nothing much to say for itself today, which mattered not since Morgan wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Mercher sniffed suspiciously at the stones, scraped disconsolately at a bank, then burst into full-blooded baying as Venus erupted from the earth like newly planted daffodil bulbs after an autumn downpour, a land-locked parody of Botticelli, without the shell, or the modesty, but with the haunches. Not that body image concerned Venus – one quick sniff of the fruity air and off she thundered. Few pigs reach the Elysian Fields other than through a bacon factory and rashering severely diminishes the appetite. Moments later she could be seen hurtling up the opposite side of the valley, galloping from tree to tree as she cleared fallen fruit with all the delicacy of a giant vacuum cleaner.

Morgan inspected the hole through which Venus had arrived. He could just about remember falling. As everything seemed to be operating back to front, perhaps today it was possible to fall upwards, in which case he could easily climb back down again. He lowered himself into the pit and began scooping out loose soil with his bare hands. Mercher joined him, panting heavily and trailing strings of drool as it enthusiastically scraped earth from one side of the pit to the other, and as often as not into Morgan’s face.

“Get away from me you stupid fucking animal. Do you call that helping? And did anyone ever tell you how bad you stink?”

Mercher drew back his gums. “That’s rich, coming from you, after the last few days, begging your pardon.”

“At least I never stank of sheep.” Morgan shuddered. “Ugh. Disgusting dead lanolin smell.”

“Not surprising. I’m a sheepdog. I’m Welsh. If there had been any decent entire bitches within a thirty-mile radius I’d smell of them. And before we discuss your personal and if I may say so somewhat solitary and cerebrally-fuelled habits, we’d better get out of here. This hole is starting to heal over.”

They scrambled out. Within minutes the displaced earth had been sucked back into the wound, shuffled down, and new grass was sprouting. Mercher thoughtfully provided a shot of nitrogen. Soon it was hard to see the faintest scar of Venus rising.

“That’s it then,” said Morgan. “I give up. None of this is real. The only thing to do is wait for whatever it is to wear off. I’m going to have a kip.”

Loosening the baler twine, he stretched out on the grass and waited. From time to time he attempted a few breathing exercises to stave off panic. In one-two-three. Hold one-two-three. Out one-two-three. Gasp. Hyperventilate. Fat chance of sleeping though – he was too terrified of what might be around the next corner or under his feet. So he just waited, his eyes flicking here there everywhere. Mercher departed, leaving seventy per cent of his reek behind. The sun clawed its way up the sky. And still nothing else moved.

The temperature rose sharply. It couldn’t be November, thought Morgan. Even a late Indian summer never gets so hot. At this point Coleridge kicked in again and he began to worry about dehydration. Shielding his eyes, he peered into the distance, following the course of the invisible stream downwards, and right at the bottom of the hill, more-or-less where the farmhouse should have been, he made out a nice round little pool.

Another ten minutes and forty-seven unpunctuated lines passed before Morgan risked leaving his sanctuary for a quick drink. Since there was still no one to be seen, he decided on a swim. Off came the baggy old apology for a suit, the detachable starched collar, the cobble-elbowed shirt, the vest, the Union Jack boxers and, last of all naturally, the socks. In he jumped. Tepid bliss. So much so that he turned to positive thinking: either he was still asleep – in which case better be careful he didn’t drown in the bath – or he’d wandered into the wrong valley during the night. It was easy to confuse one with the next. How green was my valley? As green as several hundred other such geographical features, Morgan suspected. As for the standing stones, the Marches were full of the damn things, so many that people hauled them out with JCBs on the sly and used them as gate-uprights, scratching posts for cattle, beer-garden ornaments, even base plates to replace rotten thousand-year-old oak timbers in unsuspected early medieval halls posing as barns. There were at least three other stone circles in the farm’s vicinity. Give it another few minutes and he’d get his kit back on and sort the situation out. As soon, that was, as he’d finished experimenting with the use of a continuous stream of excess gas as a buoyancy aid. But another odd noise, something between snorting and choking alerted him. It wasn’t the dog. Nor was it Venus. He bobbed down, hands clasped round his genitals in the classic man-disturbed-without-trousers pose.

But where were his trousers? Half a dozen hunched pirouettes on the pond bottom, squinting into the sun, established that all the clothes he’d flung down on the bank had vanished. Only the boxers, and his socks – one toe-less khaki and one heel-less black – lingered right at the water’s edge, soaked through from the waves he’d been creating. Not that it mattered, since he put them on underwater, in a heart-warming display of modesty. When Morgan finally emerged, splashing and cursing blue murder, he made out his trousers ripped in half, flapping like death-ship flags from the topmost branches of the nearest tree, with his shoes nearby, suspended like weights on the length of pink baler twine. His effing and blinding was answered by a running chorus of snorting and sniggering, jeering and hooting from whatever bastard creatures had put them up there.

The minute Morgan clapped eyes on them, all hope fled.

There were four perched up in that tree watching him. One thing was certain, humanoid they might be – one of them was wearing his jacket – but they definitely weren’t human. They were as alien as the landscape. Nothing rounded about them though, quite the opposite. They were skinny and spindly, excessively long-limbedand long fingered. Every feature was pointed, ears, eyes, chins, even their mouths were almost perfect V’s. But it was their pallor that did it: pale as the living dead bar a faint purplish blush to cheeks and lips. And with eyes the no-colour of February rain. They were as fragile-looking as dandelion clocks. And the hair, great crests of it – silver, moon-shadow, with just the very tips tinted a different hue for each of them, bright blue, violet, saffron, pink, so that as their heads moved the ends rippled in spectacularly coloured waves, exactly like the coat of Mam’s chinchilla Persian when she had a mind to stalk grasshoppers. Fourteen, or thereabout, Morgan put them at, a nasty age as far as he could remember, obsessed with self and with self-loathing, and preoccupied with the first stirrings of the acne-hormonal crazies. He steeled himself for another quick look. It wasn’t his imagination. Apart from the hair colour they were indistinguishable. Carbon copy clothes, too. Baggy Mao Zedong suits in very pastel shades. The one with the violet-tinted hair stood up on a branch and began a fair imitation of an outraged orangutan, hooting and beating his chest, scraping at his armpits, jumping up and down.

Morgan walked away, hoping the kid would miss his footing. Now was the time to go back to the stone circle and crank up some optimism. He might have missed something, some hole or door or entrance or cave or aperture or shaft or qanat or burrow or tunnel mouth. If it was there, he’d find it. Or, God willing, stumble upon a perfectly reasonable explanation. He might, for example, have blundered into a film shoot. He could still be dreaming. The sharp sting of a hail of unripe fruit on his back put paid to the latter. Little bastards.

Mercher reappeared the instant Morgan set foot inside the circle. The dog did a quick round of all the stones, smelling the base of each before cocking its leg and turning the space into home territory in its own inimitable way. “Weird place, this. Nose doesn’t work properly. I want out of here.”

“Fine. Me too. Got any ideas?”

“Ask them.”

“Ask them?”

“Anubis, was that reflected soundwaves, or just indecision? Ask them.” Mercher crouched, gaze fixed on the middle distance, craning its neck first one way then the other. “Bugger me – fleas are biting hard in and out today.” Thus began a full-scale emergency scratch, followed by a violent ear-shaking, drool-whirling, chain-rattling session, before frantically scrubbing its behind along the grass for about twenty feet, yipping and whining with discomfort. For an unexpected encore, the dog sat down and licked its own testicles.

The aliens watched from behind the stone columns in silence. They were the perfect audience. Only when Mercher collapsed, performance over, exhausted nose between exhausted front paws, did the nudging, pushing and whispering start.

Finally, Blue-hair yelled: “Hey mister, is that a dog?”

“Don’t be daft,” sneered Yellow-hair. “It can’t be a dog. Everyone knows dogs aren’t real.”

“Well it sure as Hertha ain’t a cat.”

“It is a dog,” Morgan assured them. “Belonging to me,” he added, hoping it wasn’t listening. Mercher raised one ear and exhaled, but said nothing. The boys ventured a careful few yards nearer.

“A dog? A dirty dog.”

“Really a dog? Wow!”

“Aw, smell that.”

“No dogs here?” enquired Morgan.

“Not one,” mumbled Mercher. “I checked.”

“You can’t have checked everywhere.

“Did so. Flat world. Came to the edge.”

“Dogs went out with Adam,” said Blue-hair. “They’re extinct. They were Man’s best friend, you see.”

“Everybody knows that,” smirked Yellow-hair.

“So you can’t be from round here, can you?” said Violet-hair. “Did you come through the Portal?” He tentatively laid one pale hand on a stone pillar.

“The what?”

“The Portal. It’s the old way through to the Otherworld.”

“This? The stone circle? A sort of gate, you mean?”

Violet-hair nodded. “Yeh – kind of.”

Yellow-hair snitched his nose. “Everyone knows that.”

“Ain’t much used anymore.” Violet-hair puffed out his chest, pleased to find some jerk who knew even less about things than he did. He lowered his voice. “Leads to a bad place called Hertha where people sell their grannies.”

“The Underworld,” added Blue-hair.

“Terrer,” squeaked Pink-hair, not to be outdone.

“I got lost and ended up here by mistake. No offence but I need to get back right away.” Morgan attempted to sound relaxed about the problem, man to man. “We’re going to have to activate this thing. Can any of you guys help me out?” Violet-hair shook his head. It was quite impressive. But disappointing.

“Nah. You’d have to get a Mother to help you use the Portal. None of us know how. Boys aren’t taught science.”

“And girls are?”

“Yeah, but a girl wouldn’t help you. No chance.”

“Would your mother?”

“They might. Perhaps. If they were in a good mood.” He looked doubtful. “The thing is, not many people use the Portal these days. A whole lot came through many years ago. Not like you though. They were smaller, with,” Violet-hair stretched his eyes into flatter slants, “and sort of browner. But there was something wrong with them. They all died. The Mothers said there’d been tinkering with the building blocks of Nature in Hertha and all non-essential excursions there were cancelled for the foreseeable future. Not that we would have gone anyway. Only Mothers can do stuff like that.”

“I could take you with me,” Morgan offered, desperation overcoming good sense. He opened his mouth to make further, wilder and thoroughly unkeepable promises, but the sheer horror on Violet-hair’s face stopped him. “What’s up? Wouldn’t you like to see what uh Hertha’s like?”

“Boys don’t,” he said.

“Don’t like adventure?”

“Of course they don’t. It’s not masculine.”

“Everybody knows that,” chanted Yellow-hair. Morgan shot him a nasty look.

“Well,” he said, abandoning that line of attack, “better take me to your mother, then. I’ll ask her to get this contraption working. I’ve got to get back somehow.”

Violet-hair fidgeted. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Not many people come through anymore. None of them go back. They’ll want to keep you. The Mothers like playing with aliens.”

“And you’re really alien,” Blue-hair assured him, pointing to Morgan’s chest. “You’re all furry. Not like those brown ones. You’re more like the cats. And that dog.”

“Or the old human-tale apes,” observed Violet-hair. He looked thoughtful. “You might be the missing link.”

“All right,” said Morgan. Mustn’t yell. Mustn’t shout. Mustn’t seize the nearest heads and bang them together. Must keep calm at all costs. “So, your mothers probably won’t help me. Fine, then let’s go ask your fathers.”

They all looked at him and then looked at each other, before wrapping themselves in a mini-scrum. After a few minutes they emerged, cheeks a little more purple-flushed than before and not meeting his eyes.

“It’s dangerous,” announced Violet-hair, “and unmasculine. We’d be in real trouble if we were caught. But we’ll do it if you give us the dog.”

“Sod that for a game of shepherds,” snarled Mercher, preparing for the off. “I’m not going anywhere with those wankers.”

“Done.” Morgan had already dived on the chain. He wrapped it round his wrist.

“Shutup,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “How else are we going to get out of here? Go along with it for a bit. Be nice. Wag your arse. Lick and slobber. Entertain them. Do something disgusting. What do you mean like what? Just act natural; do the things you usually do. Snuffle at their genitals. Sample a few assorted turds. Pee against church doors. That’ll keep them quiet. Meet me back here in a couple of hours.”

“I don’t trust you. How do I know you won’t bugger off and leave me here?”

“Because I’m relying on you to keep the farm clear of cats. Look – we’ll go into partnership. I’ll buy a proper gun, maim them, and you can finish them off. We’ll market the fur.”

“And get me a couple of young bitches?”

“Yeh, yeh, whatever you want. All right, let’s go.” Morgan handed the chain to Violet-hair, who passed it on to Pink-hair. Mercher licked all round, grinning and wagging and making enthusiastic little let’s-go-play runs, almost pulling Pinkie over.

“Me and Hyacinth are taking you to the fathers,” said Violet-hair. “Crocus and Orchid are going to hide our dog where the Mothers won’t find it. You know what they’re like.”

“Don’t I just. Mothers!” Morgan had a sudden and inexplicable vision of death-mask bared teeth, tried to think, drew a blank, and left it at that. They started off down the hill in the direction of the pond. A long drawn-out wolf howl stopped them dead in their tracks. Already Mercher was playing up, grizzling and digging its heels in.

“What’s the hell’s the matter now?”

“Not spayed bitches?” howled Mercher. “I know what cheating bastards humans are. And no fobbing me off with dachshunds or Chihuahuas or any such abnormalities. Promise me?”

“I promise to let you choose your own bitches,” shouted Morgan. “Now can I go? Can we get on with it?” They continued down the slope. “Hyacinth, that’s an unusual name for a boy.”

“Suppose,” said Hyacinth.

“And what’s your friend’s name?” asked Morgan, nodding his head at Violet-hair.

“He’s called Lupin. What about you?”



“All boys are named after flowers. They’re nice masculine names. Pretty. Not like some of the poor old guys. Morgan’s not too bad, but imagine,” Lupin grimaced, “being called Sernunnos, or Hermaze.”

“We’ve got to be careful,” Hyacinth cautioned him. “We’ve got to keep out of the way of the Mothers and any rotten girls prowling around. Especially with you half-dressed like that.”

“Why?” asks Morgan, glancing down. He’d got his vest and jacket back, but no trousers, of course, and his dad’s old shirt hadn’t stood up to the rough handling either. He looked all right though – just a bloke who liked wearing shorts. “Is there something I should know?”

“Let’s hope you don’t find out. They’re all bad news. Mean. Cruel. And they’re bullies. Never let them get you on your own.”

“Never trust any of them, no matter how nice they seem,” piped up Lupin, sounding as if he was reciting a lesson, “they’re only after one thing as any father will tell you. All of them will interfere with you given half the chance. Let a bad Mother get her hands on you and you might never be heard of again.”

“Oh.” Morgan straightened his face. “I see. So where are you taking me exactly?”

“To see a really, really old bloke, to Sernunnos.” Not a leader, it turned out. Men didn’t have leaders. “Sernunnos is so old he was about when things were different and there’s just a chance he might remember how to use the Portal.”

By now they were trooping along the valley bottom, the boys getting more jumpy by the minute, speaking in whispers, keeping under cover, flitting from tree to tree, and encouraging Morgan to crouch lower so that he was hidden by the foliage. Soon the rampant greenery subsided into manicured parkland. Birds started to appear: small and every colour of the rainbow, moving in noisy flocks several hundred strong and reminiscent of starlings. There were butterflies, too, and flowering plants…or not. He wasn’t sure. The difference was blurred. As was his vision. Both seemed to move…or not. And hum, or vibrate…or maybe not.

Soon they reached the outskirts of a settlement, situated more or less where the old village had stood in the early eighteenth century, with dwellings of sorts dotted about in small arbours, hardly visible until you were right on top of them. This was real Green country. No roads, just grassy tracks. Not a vehicle in sight. The houses themselves were modelled on scaled-up Nature, especially the ones furthest out. Think exaggerated Roger Dean fantasies – cracked amethyst geodes, turned outside in; partially concealed caves with serpentine staircases; interconnected magpie nests or exotically contorted seed pods strung between trunks and approached by gossamer ladders. In addition, there were homes resembling extruded fungi – puff-balls, slender stalked chanterelles with linked walkways, even sulphur polypores piled up like pancakes. Nearer the centre of the settlement the dwelling places were standard dome shapes made out of some opaque material that gave slightly under pressure, a bit like the membrane of shell-less eggs– what Mam, against all the evidence, referred to as cockerel’s eggs. Yolk-less and useless, these must never be brought into the house, but tossed over it. No mean feat—

Morgan squawked as he was suddenly grabbed from behind and shuffled inside one of these cockerel-egg domes.

The first thing he focused on was the cat, a big skinny thing, Egyptian-looking, steel grey with a pure white diamond on its chest. Damn and blast it, he thought, everything else here arse-backwards yet there still has to be a bloody old flea-ridden moggie sitting on a chair. The cat stretched, snarled and dealt him an almighty swipe across his bare legs.

“Fuck you, human.” It stalked out, tail swishing.

“Bastet, Bastet.” Quick as a flash, an old geezer ran after it, wailing and carrying on, pleading with the creature to come back inside. Ignoring him, it arranged itself just out of reach and treated the world to a display of acrobatics incorporating thorough nether hygiene techniques. When they tired of watching that, the egg’s occupants gawped at Morgan.

“Who in Terrer’s this?”

While Lupin and Hyacinth gabbled out an edited version of ‘The Finding of the Hairy Stranger’, Morgan took the opportunity to size up what passed for grown men here. He sniggered to himself. These were puny little creatures, without exception, as stick-insect skinny as the boys. Not much taller, either. And talk about decrepit – all three were mangy and manky and battered, with boils, black teeth and broken nails. No fancy hair for them either: more like six-month toothbrushes – well chewed into the bargain. It was only when they introduced themselves that Morgan realised every last one was in drudge. The hideous scars and warts and boils were painted on. The only one really getting on a bit was Backus, still sorrowfully croaking, “Bastet O Bastet O Bastet,” in the doorway.

As cats’ names go, Morgan supposed Bastet wasn’t too bad. Nothing worse than folks on their suburban doorsteps calling in their moggies with posh names –ZarAthUstra, ErAsmus, RimthURsar, ÆlUrus, TrismOgistUs, ColoQUINtida, MarAnA-a-atha, XanTHIppe, HypERMnEstrAH – all finally descending, in despair, to puss, puss, puss, accompanied by the downmarket rattle of spoon against plate. Even, in extremis, growls of: “Come here, you cooking fat.”

Backus himself was as wrinkled as a raisin, his skin dead-white marbled with purple thread veins, eyes much the same; the last pathetic stub of hair had faded to the colour of old retsina. “Sit down, lad,” he said, finally making a brave effort to pull himself together. “Nothing personal. My Bastet isn’t used to so much bare skin, that’s all. Speaking of which, we’d better get you covered up before someone sees you.”

One imperious hand was raised. Rowan – a stunted, russet-haired fellow – shed arthritic senility to scuttle off and rummage for a sheet which Morgan dutifully wrapped around his near-nakedness, while Hermaze quit drooling and mumbling to bring him a warm drink, a particularly nauseating herb tea.

“Now then,” said Backus, “young Lupin and Hyacinth here tell us you came through the Portal and need a bit of help getting back – and what they were doing up there when they were supposed to be finishing their tapestry assignments I’d like to know but we’ll go into that later. What we need to know is, did you come by accident or design? Were you mucking about with some ritual, or were you summoned?”

“No way was I trying. I don’t want to be here. I simply want to go home.”

“Yes, yes, we understand that. We want to help you, but what we can’t work out is whether you’re a straightforward fall-in or whether the Mothers had a hand in it. They keep quite a few Hertha-men up there. Guests, supposed to be – hanging around for centuries, some of them. Things have been quiet for a while, but we’ve heard rumours of to-ing and fro-ing again, so could be that a talent scout spotted you. Or,” Backus swallowed convulsively, “it may be punitive. You haven’t had a run-in with a Mother have you? Offered physical violence? Answered back? Taken her name in vain? Laughed out of turn? Raised your eyes to heaven? I hope not. I really hope not.”

Morgan’s bowels tied themselves in two half-hitches and a granny knot. “Tall, are they your Mothers? Big?”

Backus nodded. Hermaze nodded. The boys nodded. Rowan put one hand a good foot above his head and drew a hefty hourglass shape in the air surrounding himself.

“Might have.” Morgan’s colour drained out leaving him nearly as pale as the rest of them, barring the sickly overlay of green, as his mind conjured up an enraged Miz Kurswell. She was tall as him, easy. Broad in the beam, too. Front like a ship’s prow, and with Big Hair, white, but ever so tastefully pewter-rinsed. He’d upset her, could not for the life of him remember how – some trifling thing – yet was pretty sure the harridan was out to get him. “Are you telling me that w-w-w-w-women really are in charge here?”

Nobody spoke for a full minute which was an answer in itself. Then Rowan edged up to him, licking his lips nervously and leaning forward to stare into his eyes. Morgan moved as far back as his chair allowed.

“Why?” Rowan whispered. “Aren’t they where you come from then?”

“GOOD GOD NO,” bellowed Morgan, sweating a bit and pressing all thoughts of Mam as deep into his subconscious as he could reach.

“And it works all right?”

“Naturally.” Morgan turned crimson. “Women do as they’re told back home. They wait on us hand, foot, and phallus. Dozy bints by and large. Not a lot up top. Good for some things, mind – the three Ks, you know, and the other – but men run the show, men are in charge, men make the decisions, Oh, yes.”

“Just as I thought!” crowed Rowan, striking a heroic pose. “Not all laughing at me now, are you?”

“Dear-oh-dear-oh-dear-oh-dear-oh—” Old Backus began wandering backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, wringing his hands and taking on again. “Morgan, you poor lad, it’s clear to me that the Mothers have summoned you here for a reckoning. I know it. They won’t be satisfied till they get you up there.”

“Up where?”

“If you ask me…” chipped in Lupin.

“Nobody did,” said Backus snapping out of it pretty smartly. “You and Hyacinth would be better employed inventing some very good reason for not finishing your assignments. We had all this with your embroidered tray cloths, and the petits fours, AND the candle dipping. I haven’t forgotten.”

“We should storm that place,” Lupin shouted, after the obligatory adolescent two and a half minutes of silent sneering and mimicking. “Those prisoners might be from Hertha but they’re still men like us. You lot are always going on about brotherhood and masculism. We’ve got to act. There’s been too much jawing and not enough doing.”

“Right on,” agreed Rowan.

“You-ought-to-know-better-Rowan-what-an-example-to-set-don’t-be-so-silly-violence-never-solved-anything-besides—” Backus paused to suck in air. “Besides, it’s not in our nature. Civilisation relies on the gentle and loving self-sacrifice that masculinity epitomises to, well, to be civilisation. Change is needed, agreed, but we must use peaceful means – negotiation, compromise, diplomacy – lest we turn into what we oppose. Really, I don’t know what it is about this generation of boys. Quite, quite different from how we were at your age. Some of you are very unpleasantly aggressive. Tom-girls. Ugh. But this poor lad, this innocent—” He sighed. “Oh, what shall we do for poor Morgan? How can we help him? They’ll hunt him down sooner or later. Of course they will – their depraved appetites will see to that.”

“You’re jutht their type, I fear,” agreed Hermaze, with much sighing and head-shaking. “The perfect thtud. Ith the hair you thee,” he glanced down to where Morgan’s sprouting knee poked from beneath the sheet. “We’re all lacking in that department – or we depilate quick ath we can – tho they really go for it. In gender thtudith we call thingth like that la différenthe.”

Gender studies,” sneered Morgan. “Male. Female. That’s it. What’s to study?”

Backus shook his head. “You poor innocent.” Stifling a sob, he clasped Morgan’s shoulder. The rest of the group also homed-in, a soft cuddly close-up-as-you-can-get-without-meaning-something-else group buddy-hug, punctuated by little incoherent mumbles, a few tears and murmurs of all brothers under-the-skin solidarity.

“We’ll take you to Sernunnos. Do everything we can to get you home.”

“Remember, whatever happens, we’re here for you.”

“To comfort. Listen. Share recipes.”

“And uglification tips.”

“Bros in adversity. For ever and ever, Ourmen.

After ten minutes of silently flitting between dwellings, Morgan was ushered into a narrow cleft, barely wide enough for him to squeeze through, and guided, backwards, down a spiral stone staircase with steps so shallow it was hardly possible to get a toehold. Although the floor was ridged and rough, the cave at its base was more designer grotto than dwelling. Stalagmites and stalactites joined to form convenient room dividers. Icy water cascaded down a rockface, spilling through a series of pools fringed with ferns and what might have been striking bromeliads – as beloved by Mam – or nasty-looking, mightily segmented insects.

The largest space was unfurnished save for a massive adze-hewn table and some hefty stools. At one end of the table sat a hunched little figure, an older version of the other boys, painting for dear life. This one was as pale and angular as an albino daddy longlegs, with eyes pink-rimmed from inadequate light. His elf-locked hair was splotched a dozen different colours. So were his clothes. This was Mosaic, an underground artist, who threw aside his brushes and galloped to meet Morgan, throwing his spindly arms around him.

“Morgan, isn’t it? If only you knew how I’ve longed for this moment, Morgan. I’ve had these dreams, these visions of a wonderful place where men and women live together in perfect harmony. See? I’ve captured them in my paintings.”

Morgan looked at the images of angular buildings, tall skyscrapers of glass and steel, trees of a thousand sharp elbows, all neatly arranged flanking a grid of perfectly straight streets. And along them strolled tall, powerful, androgynous beings in dresses, politely conversing.

“Is this how Hertha looks?” demanded Mosaic. “Is it how I imagined it?”

Morgan hesitated. “Ye-es.” There were some lovely straight lines, not a curve anywhere, but men in drag? He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as the other’s silence demanded further artistic feedback. “The trees are nice.”

Thankfully, Sernunnos chose this moment to shuffle in, wearing pastel green camouflage and accompanied by Baal, a truly monstrous cat, sleek, black, tall at the shoulder as a Labrador, and with bright red eyes. Clearly this fellow ranked pretty high judging by the way everyone scurried round kowtowing and making sure he was comfortable. Candles were lit. More of the pondweed herb tea was brewed. A rough-and-ready armchair was dragged from an adjoining room and piled high with cushions. Morgan was allowed to approach only when Sernunnos was comfortably settled, blanket over his skinny legs.

Sernunnos really was old, far older than Backus. His hair had only the faintest sap-green tinge to the silver, and fell into two points, which curled forward, like ram’s horns. Bird bones pressed sharp and tight against the puckered parchment of his skin. His fingers were cramp-clawed talons. Nevertheless, his eyes were bright, and when he spoke Sernunnos still seemed to have most of his marbles.

“Well, the good news is,” he croaked, “that I know the dance sequence to open the Portal. I’ve used that route quite a few times myself – illegally, of course, and not for some time, but it’s like riding a uh a thingamajig a what’s its name – short-term memory’s the problem, I can remember Boudica and her shenanigans as if it were—”

“Opening the Portal?” prompted Morgan.

“Ah, yes, found out how by accident. Just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time and saw the Mothers sending a procuress through. What a sight – all done up like a Fairy King, with her muscles strapped down. They do it differently these days, I believe. Siloxane and—”

“Will you help me get out of here?”

“I’ll try, naturally. Dangerous, though. We have to wait until after dark. The Mothers seem to know about everything – eyes and ears everywhere. If they should catch us….” He drifted off for a moment, then brightened, and came back grinning. “Does anyone on Hertha remember me? They ought to, the fun and games we used to have with fertility rites. All sorts of things I was called: the Horned One, the Green man, god of the Other World. All of it complimentary, don’t you know. Popular, that was me – and not just with the ladies. Know why? Eh? Know why? Because it was yours truly who developed yeast. Yes, I gave Hertha men control over brewing beer. And in return, they presented me with the wheel. Not that I was allowed to develop it. No space being a flat world – couldn’t have people falling over the edge.” He sighed mightily. “Those were the days. Ah, those were the days. Mind you, last time I was there things seemed to have changed for the worse. There was some female in charge, calling herself a Virgin Queen. Couldn’t be doing with that sort of madness – too much like home – had to get out fast.”

“I see,” murmured Morgan, trying to keep his impatience under control. “Well, that’s all very interesting.”

“Yes,” agreed Sernunnos. “It is. But what I didn’t tell you was—” He frowned. “Where was I? Ah, yes. I’m in charge of landscapes and gardens here, you know – bit of a comedown, but there you go. Whereas my job used to be breeding new varieties of food plants, these days I’m reduced to supervising the donkey work. Anyway, after the yeast, I invented the potato. Had to work on it in secret. Marvellous vegetable, delicious – banned here, alas. Well, it’s addictive. I mean, have you ever heard of people going back to acorns and couch grass after eating spuds? No. But there’s more to it than that. Oh yes. It was my retake-over bid. Unfortunately, it failed. See, unless you have the antidote, it seriously stimulates the sex hormones – testosterone in men, oestrogen in women, makes men more aggressive, and women more passive. As such, it’s the perfect tool of government: leaves no trace, especially if you persuade them to eat the skins. I’ll never know how the Mothers found out but that’s another story. Couldn’t let it go to waste though. On my last visit, I gave a handful of tubers to some fellow – Rawley or Rally or such-like – in return for the loan of a fast horse to get to the nearest gate. Did the potato catch on? It did. Good. Good. So what’s Hertha like now?”

Morgan scratched his head. “Well, there have been lots of technological innovations.”

“Magic, yes. Go on. Tell me about the struggle for supremacy.”

“In a nutshell, there isn’t one. When it comes down to it,” declaimed Morgan, “men are still in charge, in spite of all the bleating for equality. We let women believe things are changing. We give considerable publicity to overt acts of suppression in other, supposedly more primitive, places. We allow a handful of carefully selected women to get top jobs – but then we make her one of us so that pretty soon she reacts like a man and despises the women who haven’t made it. Basically, apart from those few aforementioned, there are no institutions or areas of government where women have anything else but token roles, except in a supportive capacity. WE are the masters.”

“That’s definitely because of the potato.” Sernunnos nodded sagely, stroking the cat that lay with its eyes open a thin red crack. “All that power in exchange for a broken down nag. Go on.”

“The thing with women that you might have missed,” Morgan continued kindly, “is that you have to keep them busy. Reproduction is very handy. Make sure womankind knows that she isn’t fulfilled without progeny. Four or five sprogs, well spaced out, will keep a woman out of the running for up to twenty years, especially if money’s a bit tight. By then she’s knackered and grateful to stay home and put her feet up. Fashion is good, too. Keep a female focused on her looks. Make sure she knows how she should look to be a Real Woman – which, naturally, must be nothing like real women look. Slam it home. Then keep changing it. Too fat. Too thin. Too this. Too that. Then, by the time she’s lived long enough to be powerful she’s got her first wrinkle. Now she’s too old. Look through her. Pretend she’s invisible. Cue for a nervous breakdown. A lot of energy goes into image that might be severely disruptive if used elsewhere.”

“Thath all very well and good,” lisped Hermaze, “but it doethn’t help uth. I mean, obviouthly your women aren’t like ourth.”

“Hertha women sound completely feeble,” said the one with the pretty powder blue tips, who’d been so busy dusting the rock pools. “Call themselves women – they sound like mere shadows of Our Girls. I like a woman to be a woman. Big. Powerful. Protective. Lots of muscle. Strength of character. It makes me feel like a proper man.”

“You’re a proper namby-pamby,” sneered Morgan. “I’d be ashamed—”

Powder blue’s eyes widened. “You should be ashamed, standing there with your great hairy legs and dirty fingernails. Look at those horny toes. It’s abnormal. You’re nothing but a,” his face twisted with contempt, “a misogynist.”

“Leave it out, Elverin,” snapped Sernunnos. “You’ve never been to Hertha. You wouldn’t understand.”

I wouldn’t want to. A-noon’s quite good enough for me, thank you.”

“Look, most of us aren’t asking for that sort of supremacy,” said Mosaic. “All I want is equality.”

“Why not supremacy?” demanded Rowan. “We had it once.”

“That’s just myth,” insisted Elverin, “people tales.”

Sernunnos shook his head. “It’s the truth. I was there. Long time ago though.”

“I don’t believe you.” Elverin’s blue tips quivered. “It would be completely unnatural. Women were made superior. They were created in the image of God after all.”

“God’s male,” said Morgan outraged.

“Don’t be profane,” gasped Elverin. “How could a Creator be anything but female?”

“He just is. God the Father. Vicar told me.”

“And he’s male too, I suppose. What nonsense. I’m not listening to this sort of blasphemy. You’ll be telling me next there’s no such thing as Original Virgin Birth. Then we’ll be struck by lightning.” Elverin pinched his lips almost flat, which was quite a sight. “Don’t listen, any of you. Leave well alone. I’m all for a bit of liberalisation – letting us choose our own colour schemes and so on, but there’s such a thing as going too far. Bar a few minor niggles, we get along fine. The Mothers know what’s best for us.”

“Ith quite dark now,” whispered Hermaze. “We really ought to make a thtart.”

“And that’s another thing,” shrilled Elverin, “it isn’t right, this going behind their backs. If they’ve called this filthy Morgan creature, it’s probably for a very good reason. You shouldn’t – AW! He struck me. Did you see that? The filthy alien struck me.”

Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a Bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are her Holocaust novel Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press). Granville has long been interested in myths, legends, fairy-tales, and in her writing has combined these tropes with her close study of the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle – all these facets euphorically alive in Curing the Pig.

The Alphabets of Latin America: A Carnival of Poems, by Abhay K

Reviewed by Inderjeet Mani

Latin America can lay claim to some of the world’s most magnificent geographies and vital ecosystems, teeming with unique life-forms and vibrant subcultures. The area has also borne witness to vast empires and savage colonial histories, and fired the imaginations of many gifted writers and artists. In The Alphabets of Latin America, the poet-diplomat Abhay K. distils this vast multiplicity into a festival of short poems that serves as a fascinating travelogue and guidebook. Visiting the length and breadth of the region while posted in Brazil, the poet shares universal moments of yearning, sadness, insight, and transcendence. Like some of the author’s other works, the book has already been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish, Italian, and Malayalam.

There are gems aplenty to be found in this literary El Dorado. A poem on Borges is a brilliantly Borgesian mirror. Writing about Brazilian calabashes, the poet tenderly recalls the bottle gourds grown long ago by his mother on the thatched roof of their simple home in Bihar. A hymn to Yemanja, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea, paints a vivid picture that brings to mind a Botticellian Venus. At Iguazu Falls, the poet is drenched, dumbfounded, and silenced, at once saddened by thoughts of a dying planet and yet drawn towards that elusive union with nature. Romance and sensuality remain, thankfully, ever-present. In Brasilia, a rising moon mirrors the awakening of desire; in Medellin, lovers wandering the streets experience their romance as a supernatural event; and in Bogota, a star-crossed pair makes a tryst with destiny. At Buenos Aires’ Barolo Palace, whose design mirrors the cosmology of the Divine Comedy, the poet ascends to paradise in the company of a Beatrice who reminds him of what is truly important.

The longer poem Carnival: Prufrock at the Carnival in Rio sparkles with energy and wit, the strictures of individual anxiety and alienation that mark T. S. Eliot’s dry original dissolved by the fizzing ecstasy of samba dancing and revelry:

No, I am not Ram or Buddha, nor was meant to be
I am a flirtatious lord, one that will see
a samba queen dance, in her full spree

Whether the subject is the city of Santiago or the work of Frida Kahlo, haikus are to be found leaping like flying fish from the page. I enjoyed some of the lighthearted surrealistic tableaus, including this postcard-like picture of Brasilia:

Brasilia is a string of shining pearls at night

Brasilia is an exotic Turkish delight
Brasilia is a coiled serpent ready to bite

Among the Latin American writers who take their places on Abhay’s stage are Cortazar, Garcia Marquez, Castro Alves, Jorge Amado, Lispector, Mistral, Neruda, Fuentes, Paz, and Vallejo, their collective presence a marvelous invitation to the reader to further explore their work and that of others mentioned in the book. Building such bridges between cultures must be instinctual for a diplomat, and this work dutifully celebrates the ties between Latin America and India. The Ambassador Abhay remembers Victoria Ocampo, who was Tagore’s great muse, and imagines himself as Cecilia Meireles, whose poetry was deeply influenced by both Tagore and Gandhi. In bringing these two civilizations together, the poet merges their landforms, letting the waters of the Ganga and Urubamba mingle and allowing the Andes to serve as the setting for the Hindu myth of the Churning of the Ocean (Samudra Manthan). The poet here becomes a shape-shifting shaman, soaring over the Andean peaks and seeking mummy-hood and reincarnation into a hummingbird or condor. Figures and themes from one culture are transplanted into the other; at the Mayan citadel of Tikal, he is reminded of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, imagining a Mayan Buddha meditating under a local equivalent of the peepul tree.

Though the poems are often panoramic, the images sometimes fail to cohere together, due in part to the limited use of figurative language. Certain poems may also have benefited from greater syntactic variation and experimentation. These, however, are small failings given the overall impact. And light as the verse often is, the poems do not shy away from darker passages of the region’s history. The events of the duplicitous capture of the last Inca emperor Atahualpa and his final garroting are narrated by the victim himself, in keeping with the traditions of magical realism.

The extreme brutality of Latin America’s political past and the continued instability of the globalized present make one wonder about the poet-diplomat’s stance towards history and time itself. In his response to one of Ruben Dario’s most melancholy poems, Abhay proposes a hopeful humanism:

Man is happy for he is alive
like a Quetzal full of colors—flying
no greater joy than to live and thrive
no deeper despair than dying
to be, to know, to find one’s way
the bliss of having lived and to hope
that tomorrow will be better than today

In a commentary on the ‘dancing stones’ of Macchu Picchu, where the mortar-free stone masonry quietly settles back into place after earthquakes, Abhay offers this succinct advice:

those who dance, endure and stay
those who don’t, are blown away.

Inderjeet Mani (@InderjeetMani) studied fiction with Carlos Fuentes and has had a long personal involvement with the literature of Latin America. A former professor and scientist from the US, he is now a fulltime writer living on the Gulf of Thailand. Mani has authored two novels Toxic Spirits (2019) and The Conquest of Kailash (forthcoming), tpgether with many other titles from Oxford, Nebraska, MIT, and elsewhere, as well as shorter literary and scientific works.

Abhay K is an Indian poet-diplomat and India’s twenty-first Ambassador to Madagascar and Ambassador to Comoros. He has previously served in diplomatic capacities in Russia, Nepal and Brazil. His published collections of poetry include Monsoon, The Magic of Madagascar, The Prophecy of Brasilia, The Eight-Eyed Lord of Kathmandu, and The Seduction of Delhi. Books he has edited include CAPITALS, 100 Great Indian Poems, 100 More Great Indian Poems, New Brazilian Poems, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 7

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

That’s the thing about people from the Welsh Marches, we All-Wise Three have observed, they’re neither one thing nor the other – and sometimes they’re both. Offa’s Dyke was supposed to keep the Welsh out, as were the Marcher Castles…or possibly to keep the English in. A case could be made for either and – again – the research possibilities are worth considering. Be that as it may, the end result was a skinny strip of forgotten land where time, if not standing still, at least dragged its hobnail-booted feet way behind the rest of the country until well past the middle of the twentieth century. Norman French words were still in general usage in the fifties: donnays for hands; toro for a bull; jasper for wasp; even ashyet for a plate. Yes, what it boils down to is a tucked-away bit of land between Saxons and Celts full of funny customers. Of course, for a real good chip-on-both-shoulders moan, being Welsh for the evening is the thing.

“Why wasn’t the M1 built in Wales, tell me that?”

“What did the English ever do for us? The dirty Saxon invaders stole our land, our water, the coal from our ancient forests. They tried to murder our language. They laughed at our women’s funny hats, our singing, and our love-spoon carving – and made filthy jokes about our natural affection for sheep.” And so on and so on.

But if it’s a question of handouts, they’ll switch back to being English pretty damn quick. Mam gave up being Welsh when the Prince of Wales didn’t answer her letters suggesting star-ratings for organic dung; right narked she was.

The Porth’s parlour was a gloomy place, even with lights on and a fire roaring half way up the chimney. Two black marble clocks quarrelled grimly about the time. Morbid religious pictures dwelling on the low points of Christianity lined the walls. A framed text embroidered by Mam in her younger days hung over the fireplace. THOU SHALT NOT, it stated. Needlecraft not being her thing, she’d left it at that.

Most of the mourners stood around nibbling daintily at bits of food. Pugh didn’t. He wolfed it down, same as always, but he had neither good manners nor shame, even going so far as to poke bits of meat down his trouser front for the ferrets. Everyone else had missed breakfast in anticipation of a really good feed. Already stomachs were rumbling nineteen to the dozen, but it was considered polite to decline second helpings until really pressed. Mrs PE understood this. She pressed. Those present then felt obliged to load their plates, achieving spectacular feats of engineering with sandwiches and salad and slices of this and that, but all the time with a resigned air, as if unwilling to give offence. All chutney, however, was left untouched. Everyone knew about Mam’s foraging – that Waterdrop Hemlock might have been meant for Dai, but she wasn’t one to let things go to waste and it could be in anything.

The vicar beamed love and light and sympathy at Morgan. “They were a fine, God-fearing couple, your parents.”

“You think?” Morgan flinched, still smarting from the sobering slaps by means of which Mrs PE had persuaded him to change his clothes. Damn frightening, the speed with which she’d divested him of that suit and forced him into an equally dated brown one. Gentle sex, my arse. And she hadn’t minded where her eyes went. Another drink might help. It was probably time he tried the elderflower wine. True, it smelled faintly of tom cat, but all the other bottles were in circulation. Morgan was hungry, but there wasn’t much left on the table that didn’t contain pig; from both his parents’ and Venus’ viewpoint, pork pie seemed singularly lacking in taste.

“And what is more, they stood by their wedding vows,” murmured the vicar, “a rare thing, these days.”

Morgan nodded vigorously. “As Mam said: Divorce, no, murder, yes.”

Those standing nearby coughed loudly in an attempt to drown his words. Except, that is, for the vicar’s wife, a cowed little church mouse, who’d been prevailed upon to try some blackberry wine and accepted because it so closely resembled Ribena. She giggled and giggled and would not stop until Owain bestowed on her a look entirely devoid of Christian forbearance.

He raised his voice. “They stood by them through richer and poorer, for better, for worse—”

“Worse,” echoed his wife, with feeling.

“Worse and buggering worse, was what Dad said.”

“Till death did them part,” added the vicar hastily.

Morgan opened his mouth. Reece shut it for him.

“Ah,” exhaled the mourners, nodding judiciously and averting their eyes from the scuffle by the sideboard, “till death did them part. Amen.”

Vicar having had his say, the eating and drinking could begin in earnest. Mrs PE discreetly removed the piddling little glasses and replaced them with the half pint tumblers previously concealed under a suitably black cloth. She took her duties as hostess very seriously, at the same time making sure her own glass was never empty. Noticing that the vicar’s wife had finished her wine, she gave her a refill, which speedily followed the first. Next time Mrs PE looked her way the poor love was sitting with her skirt ridden right up her legs, revealing glimpses of tattered underwear any respectable woman wouldn’t have worn for fear of a road accident. And she was patting Reece’s thigh. Vicar didn’t seem to have noticed, but Mrs Reece the Hill was watching them with intense interest, perhaps hoping they’d run off together so that she could burn the farm down for the insurance.

Those of the mourners finally replete began scouring their memories to find something good to say about the deceased. It took some doing. The pauses were long and ruminative.

“Dai was a good farmer.”


“He kept to the old ways.”

“Muck, you mean?” The vicar looked dubious. As far as he was concerned, some of the old ways were extremely suspect. May Day lechery, for instance – the maypole itself was lewd, though nobody else seemed to have noticed the fact. And some of the antics of Morris dancers left nothing to the imagination. And then there was Corn-showing and Crying the Mare, not to mention Scottering and Burning the Bush, which were both without doubt vestiges of pagan sun worship. He’d had to speak very strongly to a group of young people trying to revive these customs in the hope of commercial gain. Everyone ignored him. He’d had his five minutes. No good him going on about gods anyway, pagan or not. His God wasn’t up to much. All right for funerals, and weddings when the bride was six months gone, but if you wanted a real good god-fearing God get yourself over to the chapel. Now there was a God. He was terrifying.

Gradually, and possibly to annoy him, the conversation slid around to even older beliefs – ghouls and ghosts, vampires, and finally, the Twyleth Teg. The F-word was considered unlucky and rarely used. Besides, the local Fa*****s weren’t fragile little winged creatures with clothes fashioned out of flower petals but dangerously unpredictable creatures referred to as Pharisees or, and better, The Fair Family. Mrs Reece the Hill knew a woman who knew a woman who knew a woman who knew a woman who had a second cousin thrice removed whose grandmother’s friend used to sell butter to the Fair Family at Carmarthen market. The Plant Rhys Dwfn she called them.

“Pale they were, with white skin and silvery hair. The same size as us, more or less, a bit taller, perhaps. Proud though. You had to mind your tongue. Say something untoward and the money would turn to dust in your hand.”

“Fairies,” sneered Morgan, breaking the taboo. He was too upset by discovering that every last one of the remaining sandwiches contained ham to notice the secret protective signs made by the majority of the mourners. What he really fancied was a nice bit of cheese, a hunk of Cheddar or Stilton. Caerphilly would do at a pinch, or even Double Gloucester. “There were plenty of fairies where I’ve just come from. They had special pubs for them, and a club, but the ugly ones hung round the gents’ on the off-chance.” He chewed mournfully on a vol-au-vent. Neither Chinese Bangles, Iron Maidens nor the Duke of Exeter’s daughter would have induced him to admit it, but his knowledge of fairy tales, watered-down myth, legend and history was better than most. Not by choice. Virtually the only books – apart from the Bible and gardening manuals – allowed into the house during his childhood had been a set of 1954 Arthur Mees Children’s Encyclopedias, bought at a sale for a pound, foxed and smelling of damp. Since these were allegedly educational, Sunday afternoon reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading of these had been de rigueur.

“Careful,” said Mrs Reece the Hill, keeping a close eye on the progress of the vicar’s wife’s hand, “you never know who’s listening.”

“He’s talking about poofters,” explained  Pritchard-Evans sagely, “queers.”

“Isn’t such an utterance classed as racist nowadays?” murmured the doctor.

“Abominations in the sight of God,” thundered Owain.

“There are some right queer things up in the mountains,” declared Pugh, who should have known.

“Ah, Pugh means the Llamhigyn y Dwr – those evil beings that pull men into the lakes and eat them alive. Like giant toads they are, but with wings and a tail.”

“Or the Gwyllion, living alongside the mountain goats.”


“And then there’s the Cipenapers, stealing babies.”

“Ah. Ah.”

“I’ve been buzzed by the Will o’ the Wisp,” said Pugh, caressing a twitching something in his trouser pocket, “more times than I can count.”

“Gnats,” snapped the vicar. “They’re nothing but gnats. Good Lord, the English have done away with this sort of idiotic superstition. While they move forward towards the mid-twenty-first century, certain of the Welsh and their neighbours are still looking longingly back at the seventeenth.”

There was a short pause as everyone tried to wring out the gist of what was probably intended as an insult.

“Our dear departed friend Dai had no time for the English or any other foreigners,” Griffiths finally murmured to nods of approval. Just now, this was a Good Thing, European subsidies being a thing of the past.

“He didn’t have much time for the Welsh either.”

“Ah. Ah. That’s right enough.”

“He was careful though.”


“Being careful never hurt nobody.”


“No?” Mrs Reece the Hill shot her husband a look of pure distilled venom.

“And she was an excellent housewife.”

“Indeed, she was. You could eat your dinner off Gwenffrewi’s floors.”

“Why would you want to?” asked Morgan, genuinely puzzled. “We had plates, same as everybody else.” He faltered before the Look directed at him by each of the women. “What?”

“Oh, and her wonderful garden—”

“Her wine —”

“Ah, her wine….” An expectant pause followed. Being the steadiest on his feet, it was left to Pritchard-Evans to go round with more bottles. His wife turned a funny puce colour. She sat down hurriedly, closed her eyes, and slowly slipped sideways, a shower of silver falling from between her knees. A bit like the girl in the Mother Holle story – except that in her case it had been precious jewels falling from her lips – and the other way round, too. Griffiths saw silver and leapt into action.

“Careful!” shouted Reece the Hill, struggling to break free of the vicar’s wife’s arms, hands, legs. “Don’t touch them. You never know where they’ve been.”

“Watch your mouth,” snarled Pritchard-Evans.

“Watch me!” yelled Pugh, who’d got hold of a demijohn of one of the newer wines, as yet un-bottled, and was demonstrating how he once drank a yard of ale in three minutes flat at Ludlow Fair. Purple liquid spurted from the corners of his mouth and trickled down his neck, creating runnels in the grime. His eyes were crossed, and he was panting by the time he’d finished. Seeing the state of him triggered Pritchard-Evans’ memory. He delicately brought the subject round to that afternoon in 1982 when the emergency services had been called to this very house.

“Took two coppers to break it up,” he cackled. “And one of them got a black eye doing it. Ah, the dear departed were a right pair of sinners.”

“What’s needed,” opined the doctor, who fancied himself an expert on matters of local history, “is a Sin-eater. He’d be passed bread and beer over the corpse, whereby in eating and drinking he took upon himself, ipso facto, all the sins of the defunct. He was given a pecuniary incentive in addition, naturally.”

“What sort of name is Ipsefactoo?”

“The Chinese will do anything for money.”

“Filthy pagan nonsense,” barked Owain, sin being his department.

“Nonsense,” murmured Cadwallader. “Look to your Bible, my good sir, Leviticus sixteen, verses twenty-one to twenty-two. You’ll find the Sin-eater’s origins there in the description of the scapegoat. The rite was supposed to ensure the soul of the departed might be delivered from purgatory.”

The vicar took a deep breath. “Sin,” he began.

Mrs PE had expected plenty of leftovers, enough to feed them all for a fortnight, but the table was bare. She was long past caring, so Morgan roamed the house in search of something, anything, to eat that hadn’t started life as a pig. He discovered vintage custard creams in a canister and wizened apples in what passed for the fruit bowl. There was a great deal of tinned cat food – in case the girls ever fancied slumming it – but the labels were cagey about what, if any, meat had been used. The fridge yielded one cold potato, two shrivelled marrows, half a tomato complete with fur coat, a few gnarled roots, possibly mandrake, wrapped in plastic film, and a bowl of reject eggs. Morgan brightened up. He couldn’t and wouldn’t cook much but he made a pretty mean omelette. Pity there was no cheese. Mushroom, he thought, and stumbled towards the door. At this time of year there should be plenty in the fields.

Outside, the clouds pressed down, biting blur-edged holes in hilltops, paring away the valley sides like a giant eraser. Morgan raised his eyes to his sheep wandering the slopes like lost souls, coughing and complaining, envying goats and their wickedness, and wondering what they’d ever done to deserve it all. A lazy wind came sloping down over the Black Hills and nipped at him through the threadbare suit, wailing all the while like the Cyhyraeth warning of impending disaster. Too late, for that, way too late. Except that he immediately lost the stitch holder keeping his trousers up. But, like father like son – there was plenty of baler twine hanging off nails around the yard. Pink, this time.

Morgan was right, as he should have been after the number of times Mam had forced him out at daybreak to hunt them down, the damp fields were densely peopled with fungi. All sorts – horse mushrooms, ceps, blewits, puffballs, fairy-ring champignons. Right at the edge of the coppice, under a stand of dripping birch trees, he discovered a few very attractive fox-and-white spotted ones. Perfect. He liked a bit of colour.

The gathering of which, we add quickly, being the All-wise Three, only goes to show how quickly common sense drains out on moving into the city. Enter Amanita Muscaria – a poisonous fungus widely used to illustrate children’s fairy-tale books – the caterpillar smoked his hookah on a particularly fine specimen in Alice in Wonderland. Otherwise known as Fly Agaric because of the medieval practice of crumbling the cap into bowls of milk to stupefy flies – or so they said – it is a five-star Timothy Leary hallucinogen used by the Sami people for centuries. So enthusiastic are these Laplanders that a uniquely gymnastic method of recycling is employed, that is to say, they stoop to drink their own piss. And where did the Sami pick up the habit? It was from their reindeer. True, cross our hearts and hope not to change gender. Reindeer go mad for the stuff; whole herds can be rounded up by scattering bits on the snow. It’s rumoured, though we never witnessed this for ourselves, that Vikings went berserk on the stuff.

Symptoms begin about half an hour after ingestion and include uncontrollable twitching, Olympic grade leaping and cavorting, stupor and visions. All of which brings into question the Father Christmas myth and the reindeers bounding across the sky. What exactly was in that first sack? But its use wasn’t limited to relieving the boredom of the frozen north. Dionysus’s Centaurs, Satyrs, and Maenads relied on ritual use of the fly-cap for erotic prowess – and that we were around to witness – plus the gift of prophecy, the suspension of time, and an enormous muscular strength which did Dionysus no good at all in the end.

And then there’s the Druid business. Being picky over food is hardly a British characteristic: quality generally takes second, third, a hundred and fourth, place to quantity. Full mouth, full belly, no questions asked as to its origins as long as it’s cheap, and there’s a pound or two of sugared something or other to follow, that’s the route to the British heart and its death wish. So why are Brits so unwilling to eat free fungi that their Continental counterparts relish? The answer has to be that fear of being poisoned is the last vestige of a deeply ingrained tradition that certain toadstools contain such magical properties that they can only be consumed under the direct control of the Druids themselves.

A brief soliloquy follows, mostly to while away the time waiting for Morgan’s toadstool omelette to take effect, but also because we like the sound of our own voices. Skip it, if you must.

Millennium in, millennium out, priests of most religions come up with a new sacrament, some substance which acts as a catalyst for renewed perception, which is supposed to conduct power, but in reality retains it. Religion is awareness, you see, and awareness is to strive for balance. For Christians the sacrament is wine, supposedly to soften the mind because of the tendency to cold fish emotions and over-intellectualism. That of Zen was tea, which allegedly sharpens the thinking processes amongst introspective people too much concerned with feeling.

But what now – the quest for self-knowledge doesn’t stop just because nobody will accept a Great-I-Am religious leader. In a culture so immersed in objective facts as the present, so addicted to reason, so estranged from the experiencing self, what else but psychedelics can hope to crack the shell? Maybe the taking of drugs isn’t just mindless escape. Perhaps it is the courage of desperation, a flight back into inner reality in an effort to rediscover an inner balance; a search for the tacit knowledge and experience beneath the explicit veneer; a bid to make intellect the instrument of the feelings, rather than the master; a first dip of the toe into vertical, far ranging, non-consecutive sacred time, even while the physical self is being bombarded with the chaos and limited vision of profane time with its even more limited cause-and-effect vision.

If things fall apart, then the centre cannot hold. The Akashic records are there to be read. Kali Yuga dies by its own materialistic hand. And perhaps at some level our randomly Chosen One knew what he was doing.

Morgan wasn’t happy. Not because of the walls, floors and ceiling bulging in, out, out, in, up and down to get him, not even when they tried improvisations. It was hearing the damn cats’ thoughts, all of which concerned him. None were complimentary. Cats have no idea of linear time, thus they were able to rake through details of both his past and future incarnations for dirt-dishing – pigeon shit scraper-up in a Mesopotamian temple, centipede in Babylon, rent boy in ancient Rome, bubonic rat in medieval London, catamite to the entire Hell Fire Club, short-lived lugworm in York, April 3rd–12th 1843, rent boy again in twenty-second-century Lunar City Three, mutant sperm donor in twenty-third-century Newer New York, space influenza bacterium in the year—

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Dog bullock,” spat the Blue Colourpoint, encouraging her friends to join in.


“Septic fur ball.”


Tucked away at the back of the fireplace cupboard was Dai’s old 12-bore, untouched since Mam had used it to such effect in the 1992 fiasco. Now covered in dust, its barrel somewhat bent, the faithful friend was still willing to have a go. Morgan raised it and took aim. The window shattered. A light bulb exploded. Water began to seep from a winged water pipe. Pickled onions burst from a crock like malt-brown ping-pong balls. The cats scarpered. Warming to the idea of bloody mayhem, Morgan took ten league leaps after them – twice round the yard, in and out of the tumbledown buildings, over under over the tractor, up the granary steps, and down again to tunnel through the hay bales. Fuck, fuckety-fuck.

“And me. And me,” whinged Mercher.

“Shut up, dog. I’m listening for cats. Puss-puss-puss, here sweetie, come out, come out wherever you are.”

All he could hear was giggling. After a great deal of heart and pocket searching the Boardman family had decided that going ahead with the fancy dress Halloween party was actually a mark of respect for their poor dead neighbours. Life must go on. And on and bloody on – nobody had known that better than Mr and Mrs Jones-Jones. Since they practically lived next door – in rural terms – many of the young guests must pass the Porth Farm gate. Usually they ran like hell, in spite of it being hammered into their skulls by ignorant adults that there were no such things as witches. Now that she was dead, they made no bones about stopping to stare at Morgan the Murderer.

Morgan tried to stare back. The vision in first one eye, then the other, blurred and danced, forcing him to turn his head this way and that like a demented pigeon. By now he was at the twitch stage. Muscles were contracting at random, here, there and wherever, jerking him around so much that, looking at his suit, you’d think the Kilkenny cats were trapped inside fighting to get out. For a good five minutes he attempted to make sense of whatever it was he was seeing. Most of the kids had limited themselves to variations on the sheet with eye-holes theme. Or crêpe paper witches. But one dedicated parent had produced an ET. Not to be outdone, a neighbour had forced her gangling ten-year-old to become an American Werewolf in Ludlow, something that would come back to haunt her and the West Mercia Constabulary in the years to come. There was also a pumpkin, plus a fistful of fairies, elves, goblins and what have you. The idle remainder had made do with face paints: pink and green and blue, or tiger stripes and running sores, augmented with plastic tridents, spiders, bats, pointed ears, fangs, bulbous or hooked noses. Crowd of ugly buggers, he finally decided. It couldn’t be helped.

“Here, kitty, kitty—”

Being felines, and thus sly, deceitful and self-serving, they’d taken advantage of his attention being focused elsewhere to streak out of the yard. Morgan lost interest in his audience just in time to see the entire coven making for the hillside. Vaulting the stile, his feet barely touching ground, he bounded and cavorted after them. Killing the cats was a point of honour. Cat-hating was hereditary. Dai had been a committed cat-hater but had stopped at cutting off tails. Even then he hadn’t accepted responsibility, claiming an accident with the mangel-wurzel chopper. His son would do better. His son would finish this once and for all.

A flash of topaz eyes led him into the stone circle. It was silent here, barring the groans and whimpers of the castle ghosts who were on their annual parole. The clouds moved aside as the moon rose, full of itself, trying to shed light on the proceedings. And the dog arrived, trailing several yards of rusty chain.

“Mercher, that’s my name. Fast as the wind. Moggie bone cruncher. Cat-flesh masher.”

The cats blew raspberries and shouted insults concerning the canine habit of re-cycling their own and others’ pre-digested food.

“Aaaaawooooooh,” howled Mercher. “Let’s get the bastards.”

Cats, dog, and man circumnavigated the stone circle in a wildly erratic dance at high speed. Not only were the cats skilled at ducking, weaving, and doubling back on themselves, but it was difficult to run and gauge what allowance to make for the damaged shotgun barrel at the same time. Mercher took charge of the situation and began yelling sheepdog commands at Morgan in an attempt to round up and dispatch with teeth and stock. Disaster struck when Venus arrived, circling widdershins, an unlucky decision as she met the whole lot of them head-on. Her affectionate nudge sent Morgan slipping and sliding across the damp grass towards the tallest of the stone pillars which, luckily, was not at all damaged by the impact.

A great black void opened in the hillside beneath Morgan’s feet. He felt himself falling, falling, falling, and crying for his mam all the way.

Phorcus, or Orcus, was the son of Ceto and Nereus, a marine deity who was a shape-shifter. His name became a synonym for the Underworld, for Hades. Porcus:Pig. Orc was ‘young pig’ in Pictish and Old Irish, hence Orkney, Islands of Young Pigs. Perhaps.

Anyway, Orcus-Phorcus sired the Gorgons and he sired us, amongst many others. Or so it is said. (Who really knows? The child is Mother of the man – leave it at that for now.)

The Three Fates, the Phorcides, Morai, Parcae, Graiae, the Triple Brigids, the Three Blessed Ladies of Britain, the Three Mothers, the Weird Sisters – we prefer the All-Wise Three but, call us what you will, we hold the power of life, existence, and death. Even the gods bow to our decrees. Our decisions are final. We are the Goddesses of Destiny…and though fragments of the Whole we intend to see balance restored.

Complete and utter blackness.

No moon. No stars. Nothing.

Not even the usual Mam-come-quick-there’s-a-UFO-over-the-slag-heap lights from Canadian or whoever’s military jets practising low-flying on speed. Quiet, too. Except for the beat of a distant heart?

When the hell was he?

Morgan swam about for a bit sucking his thumb and moaning to himself about the lump on his head. After a while he noticed a very dim red glow pulsating in the bottom right hand corner. There was music as well. Vintage Pink Floyd. And if the dam breaks…many years…and if there is no room upon…hill…and if your head explodes with dark forebo…see you on the dark side of the moon. The red glow intensified. After some violent kicking and thrashing, he found himself being sucked towards it, backside first, via a narrow downward sloping tunnel, the walls of which were soft and spongy and a bit too moist for comfort. What was more, they expanded and contracted in waves, shunting him along with a peristaltic motion reminiscent of caterpillars scrambling over hot gravel. He was breech-delivered onto the beaten earth floor of what looked like a fair size bar, decorated with stone slabs and gardening utensils, scythes and sickles mostly, though there were a few bill hooks, pick-thanks, even a teethed hewk.

The cadaverous barman – wearing a hooded arrangement of ex-army surplus blankets against the intense heat – was applying a strickle to a particularly large scythe propped against the beer pumps. Every few minutes he spat on the gleaming blade. It sizzled. Morgan took out his thumb.

“I’ll have a beer, please.”

“Eat. Drink. Be Merry. For tomorrow you DIE.”

“Oh. Half of Nuremburg then.”

The barman laid down the strickle, shoved his hands up inside the loose sleeves of his designer tepee, and bowed low enough for Morgan to see that he had no irises.

“No, I said: ‘Eat. Drink. Be Merry. For tomorrow you DIE.’ Right?”

“OK. OK.” Morgan’s eyes flicked nervously round the walls. This was a grim place and a half all right. Even for North Wales on a Sunday morning. Which, from the atmosphere, was where he imagined he’d ended up. More like a cave than a bar, really – Aha – stuck in a cave between two churches with the matins bell ringing? Where else but Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandyssiloigogogoch? Though he couldn’t remember the journey. Or the churches. And there was no bell, come to think of it. As for eating, no sign of a menu anywhere. No bottles on the shelves either. And what the hell were gravestones doing decorating interior walls? Sideways on, some of them, too.

Here lies my wife, here let her lie;

Now she’s at rest, and so am I.

To say the least, it was an unusual take on the themed pub.

“I said,”began the barman. “Oh, what’s the use?” Clicking his tongue with annoyance he reached beneath the counter and brought up a massive sand-glass, which squatted top-heavy, huffing and puffing, and clenching its buttocks until a sharp slap forced it to rethink its anal-retentive stance. Pale grey powder, more like ashes than sand, started to flow.

“I’m not very well,” declared Morgan, “And furthermore, I’m not here. This is only a dream. I’ll wake up soon.”

“All is illusion,” agreed the barman, tapping his bare phalanges on the wood. He raised his voice and declaimed – in the style of Andrew Motion, but with attitude and the advantage of a natural echo chamber: “Row, row, row your boat, Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.”

“Good voice,” lied Morgan, taking his fingers out of his ears. Mine host snorted.

“Last orders, please. Two minutes fifty-five seconds. Two minutes fifty. Forty-five. Forty. Come on, come on – Thirty. Twenty-five. We rely on the catering side to make our living, you know. No profit in alcohol.”

“OK. Fine. What have you got to eat?”

“Broad beans and pomegranate seeds.”

“How about just a snack?”

“Certainly, sir. Pomegranate seeds and broad beans.”

“No chips? How about a bag of crisps? Peanuts? Suppose I’d better take some of that other stuff then, if that’s what it takes to get a drink.”

“For one?” Grimacing with disappointment, the barman jerked his head towards a candlelit alcove in the wall. “Take a pew. I’ll bring it over.”

Clearly he should have used the definite article. There was just one empty seat and that was at the back of an alcove already occupied by three putrid old bags, two of them busy with their handicrafts. The third was asleep. A grubby child of about seven sat in the dirt, playing Jack-stones with an eyeball and a handful of very small vertebrae. One of the women was using a spinning wheel to produce thick rainbow-coloured thread from thin air while her even uglier companion made do with distaff and spindle. Both threads joined to coil across the bony knees of the third, whose seagull claws lay in her lap clamped round a pair of gardening shears. Ignoring everyone else, the child abandoned its game – her game, lack of undergarments soon cleared up that particular confusion – and began rolling around drooling and coughing out guttural recriminations to herself.

Ha’penny short of a shilling, Morgan thought. Dippy. Not a lot up top. Simple. Low on coal when they baked her. Put in with the cake and taken out with the pastry. An innocent. A natural. Two bricks short of a load. A tile loose. Screw missing.

“There you’re mistaken, Morgan Llewelyn Padrig Arthur Caradoc Jones-Jones,” quoth she of the spinning wheel. “The child is one of us. But we had already forgiven you. Your error is due to a simple misunderstanding of life, death, the universe, everything, and our purpose is to re-educate you. You see before you the Three Fates…”

“You sing?”

“Oh har har har har har, you hear that?” cackled distaff and spindle. “Har-har-har-har-har-har, he thinks we’re off har-har Albion’s Got Talent.”

“Whatever that might be. As you know, I watch very little TV. Mostly documentaries. Granted, I might have caught a glimpse of it while waiting for the news though. Yes. Three Fates. Like the Three Decrees. Ha ha. Very funny. No. We four are more correctly known as the All-Wise Three as in rulers of destiny, chum.”

“But, if you’re four, how can you be…?”

“Quiet, please. Only ask questions when you’re given an answer. The All-Wise Three, I said. Four of us, yes. Think in terms of Past, Presents and Future, if you will. Now, introductions. My sister here with the florid complexion and bitten nails is ClothO. Obviously I’m Lachesis. Together we constitute the Presents. Our youngest and oldest sister is Atropos. Not very attractive names, I admit. A trifle outdated. We’re thinking of inventing new ones.”

Morgan scratched his head. This wasn’t how Arthur Mee had told it. He looked anxiously towards the bar. Where the hell was that drink? How in Hades had he ended up in such a hell-hole?

ClothO smirked. “We summoned you. We picked you. You’re going to be the twenty-first-century hero, laddie. We decided…aw! What was that for?”

Lachesis stopped pinching her leg. “That hurt me as much as you. Don’t forget what we agreed – third person narrative.”

“You might have called the kid something a bit pleasanter,” persisted Morgan.

“Didn’t I say you understood nothing? The child and the old woman are two and the same person. Try equating past with future. The future is both the unknown and the very well-known at one and the same time. You lot all know where you’re heading. The past is also unknown territory, since you learned nothing from it. It’s all a big spiral with the points furthest away in what you call Time coiling round and lying right next to each other. Young and old. See?”


“Oh, dear. Same old problem. It isn’t real, you know, Time. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Time isn’t constant. Which lasts longer, an orgasm or a flea bite? No answer? Of course not. While you’re experiencing Time, you’re outside it. No? All right, how about Rip Van Winkle’s little adventure in the Kaatskill Mountains? All he did was play a game of ninepins and when he came back the next morning twenty years had been swallowed up. Versions of that story all over the world. Lots from your neck of the woods about dancing in fairy rings. Time can’t be turned into a quantitative science, however expensive your wristwatch is. Everybody’s pretending. Can’t you just accept it as a human construct?”


“Grub up.” The barman slouched across and banged down a litre glass of warm beer and a chipped white plate with a handful of withered beans, a wrinkle of seaweed, and seven pomegranate seeds which had seen better days.

“Good God. Is that dinner? How much?”

“Thirty-nine pounds fifty. Service non compris. On the house if you clear the plate.”

“Taking the piss a bit,” Morgan muttered at the departing back, keeping his voice down in view of the experimental sweeps being made with the razor-edged scythe. “Forty pounds, give or take. For this muck.”

“Muck! Muck, he says,” yelled ClothO. “Beans – tonight of all nights. Some people would give their eye tooth. Ask that Perseus bloke. Tell him. Tell him. Well, if you won’t, I will. And give him a knuckle sandwich to boot. I’ve kept quiet for long enough. No good trying to stop me. It ain’t just you spinning this story. Hallowe’en ain’t it, you big daft sawney. And what’s Hallowe’en when it’s at home? The meeting of Earth, Otherworld, and Here-in-Between, that’s all. Beans, you big gawby – and you’re not as good-looking as we were led to believe, no, not by a long chalk, nor as well-built neither – are worth their weight in gold for keeping off ghosts. There ain’t a ghost on Earth or Other that’ll stick around if you spit beans at it. I learned that in ancient Rome. Mind you, they said the same about witches but that bit ain’t true. I know that for a fact. Witches used to ride to their Sabbaths on bean stalks. No need now. They use those little motorised boxes that run everybody off the pavement. You know, with the all-weather hoods. Don’t believe me? Take a good look inside the next one what swerves towards you pretending the steering’s up the creek or they’re gaga. If they’re genuine ancient crones you’ll see them laughing their thermal longjohns off in there, listening to Iron Maiden while rolling a joint, casting on knitting spells with a score card pinned to the intarsia knee-cover. Only ten for an old bat. Twelve if they’re hobbled to a Zimmer. Twenty for a girl with four inch spike heels. Another five if she shows her knickers when she falls plus ten if she wasn’t wearing any twenty-five for a mother struggling with a pram plus a bonus of five for each additional snot-nosed brat thirty for blokes out on the piss fifty for a traffic warden or a ponced-up businessman cause a prang or pile-up proceed immediately to GO and collect $200 are you listening to me? Anyhow you got to eat them. The Beans. There’s all sorts of nasties around tonight. Besides he won’t let you out till you do. Well, he might. If we let him. After he’s done some scything practice.”

“All right, I’ll eat the bloody things.” Morgan put one leathery bean on his tongue, gagged, and immediately transferred it to his cheek, holding it there with saliva and will power. The rest he palmed, shoving them deep into his pocket.

ClothO nudged him. “We saw.”

“You mustn’t take too much notice of her,” said Lachesis. “She’s full of superstition and wind. Magpie brain, you see, full of squirming bits and pieces of maggot information. I’m the one with the education. I knew Pythagoras and he wouldn’t eat beans. Not on any account. Nor his followers. It was taboo.”

“Only because they made them fart.”

“How vulgar. It was taboo. You know why? If you eat beans, you eat your parents’ heads. Yes. It’s true. Ghosts live in beans. You can tell by the way the flowers grow up round the stalk, in a spiral, portending resurrection. Por-tend-ing. Giving warning of. Foreshadowing. Cretin. The spiral symbol is antediluvian. That I do know. Sumerian shrines were flanked by spiral posts. Your people had their spiral castles and dances. When the Romans threw beans at ghosts they were being helpful: it was so that they could reincarnate.”

Morgan choked. “So if I meet Mam and Dai tonight….”

“Prepare to be A-maze-d.”

“Finished? Now, are you going to tell him about the pomegranate seeds, or not? What, no warning? Not even a mention of Persephone? She’s a relative of ours on the Greek side. And her Queen of the…. No, all right. And there was me thinking we were obliged to.”

Lachesis leaned over and fixed Morgan with a hideously bloodshot eye. “Eat up, there’s a good fellow. He gets so nasty when people don’t finish what he puts in front of them. Thinks catering’s one of the creative arts. Never could take rejection.”

“Wait a minute,” Morgan mumbled round his thumb. “This Persephone.” He shunted the seeds from one side of the plate to the other, playing for time. “Her name rings a bell. Tell me about her.”

“Persephone? See the barman – well, in a way she’s his wife. If you like. Sort of. Golden sickle though, instead of a common or garden bill hook. Says it’s for harvesting, but I can remember when she had a very nasty little castrato fixation. Will that do you? No? OK. She’s Ceres, she’s Demeter, Alphito, Danaë, Io, Cardea, and Kerridwen. She is the Barley Goddess and you’ve just drunk her. She’s the White Cow, the White Mare, and the White Sow. She’s the mother of Jupiter, the White Goddess of Death, and also the White Lady of Inspiration that you came home to find.”

“Anything else?”

“You trying to be funny? All right. According to Graves, Persephone ate seven pomegranate seeds and that er yes. That’s all. Everything clear?

“As pig swill. Look, the beans were bad enough. I can’t stomach the seeds.”

“Eat them,” leered ClothO. “Go on. Just one, then. You can manage one, big boy like you.”

“Even for just one I’ll need another drink.”

“I wouldn’t bother my little love. When my other half here said you’d just drunk her – her being herself down there – she left out the last word. You’ve just drunk her urine was what she meant. They shove anything in beer. Unless you’re in Germany. They got their priorities sorted out years ago. Issue of Law there. Water hops yeast barley. That’s it. Anything else and you’re done for. If nothing else, they always win on penalties. Like I said, anywhere else beer can mean anything. Stick to spirits is my advice.”

As if to prove some sort of point, Atropos minor rose from her rolling around, legs crossed and with her hand clutched between them.

“Not on our feet again,” snarled ClothO.

Atropos minor mewed and glucked a protest. Snatching up Morgan’s glass, she peed into it. Her aim was not good, but the noises stopped. One final and impressive fart later, she wiped her hands on a corner of filthy garment and settled down by Atropos major’s feet to fall asleep, snorting and gulping like a dormant hedgehog.

“That’s the future for you,” sniggered ClothO.

Morgan looked askance at his smeary, clouded glass. Something was moving in the greenish-amber depths. It reminded him of something. What? And where the fuck was this anyway? How did he get here? He focused on the walls, the tombstones, the sickles, his plate, as if seeing them properly for the first time. He sensed himself teetering on the razor-edged dividing line between the commonly held illusion of reality and reality itself. It was unfortunate that ClothO chose that moment to yank up their skirt and scratch their crotch. Morgan’s jaw dropped halfway down his chest.

“What you gawping at?” she snapped, “Surely you’ve seen the carvings at Catal Hüyük.”

“You’ve got no refinement whatsoever, have you, ClothO?” snapped Lachesis. “It was a mistake, attempted mitosis. Right from the beginning I knew it was a mistake. All right for pond weed, for spirogyra, but for a superbly complex creature like myself – Damn Loki to high Heaven for suggesting it.” She glared at Morgan. “You know, people are funny about the Presents – plenty of philosophical arguments about the Now – but unless they’re TEFL teachers they don’t like thinking about splitting the Present. And yet it has to be done. There just isn’t enough time in a day anymore. I like to introduce the subject gradually. She couldn’t give a damn. That’s her all over. Present Very Simple, you see, whereas I’m nearer Present Perfect. Sitting down, with full skirts and so on, it usually takes a while for people to realise. But not if some gnarled old hand is fidgeting about under our knicker elastic.”

Morgan gulped. “But you’re….”

“Siamese twins? No. Not exactly. They’re identical twins physically conjoined at birth. We, on the other hand, are the Present partially divided. A retrospective action. Think of it like Continuous Present, shall we say, boring, and Narrative Present, which can be anything you like. Come on now, you claim to be a writer. Is that correct? Hard to say when it’s a question of sharing your arse. I think so, though. Only it doesn’t quite work yet, so it doesn’t really matter. Our roles overlap still. But then, we’re only divided from the waist up. For the present. Makes things very difficult. Of course, all four of us were One to start with. In the Beginning there was only the sacred Now.”

The penny dropped. He was dead. All the lonely things his hands had done had finally landed him up in Mam’s Other Place. Hell for him threatened to be an eternity of geriatric female putrescence. Well, he’d prefer honest to goodness flames.

“How do I get out of this bloody mad house?” he bellowed, leaping to his feet, every limb and appendage twitching and jerking in self-antipathy. Ibotonic acid, Muscimol, alcohol, and distilled essence of Waterdrop Hemlock, all on the circulatory rampage. (What did you think she did with it? Sooner or later, Mam had reasoned, Dai was sure to get his filthy paws on some. It was part of a Plan involving several hefty life insurance policies.) One flailing arm sent the glass of…liquid…flying. Not a nice lapful for either Present. Both the plate of seeds and an ashtray full of perfectly salvageable dog-ends ended up in the Sabre Tooth Whatsit droppings. Chairs toppled. The table thudded into the wall which gave to accommodate it with a hiss of escaping gas and a cloud of pale spores.

“Oh, shit!” ClothO and Lachesis grabbed at the spun thread. “That’s it. Now we’re in trouble. Get on with it or the whole bloody world’ll come to a standstill.”

A trapdoor began to open, like an eye, right in the middle of the floor. The temperature plummeted. Atropos major stirred. The scissor hand started to flex. She muttered in her sleep.

Morgan opted for abuse and self-harming. “Fucking load of lunatics,” he screeched, his voice wobbling on the outer limits of falsetto. “No. No. Just bloody No. It’s not real. Only a dream.” He smacked himself in the face. Hard. “Old woman and the kid the same person. Two hags sharing the same cunt.” Slap. Slap. Slap. “Ugghhhh.” Smack. “Wake up! Wake up!” Quick headbutt to the wall. “Wake up, Morgan Jones-Jones, you stupid bastard.” He stumbled around, jigging and shaking – “Mind the thread!” bawled Lachesis – making things worse by the minute. Tombstones fell like playing cards. All the hardware rattling and crashing in sympathy. That damned music seeping through the perforated walls. See you on the dark side of. And Time Gentleman Please Himself started plodding forward, swinging his scythe along the ground as the hole widened. Flames licked the edges. Feeling his backside burning, Morgan swayed towards Atropos. Already she was chundering on her old gums, rediscovering last week’s breakfast.

“Another minute and he’ll have had her awake,” hissed Lachesis. “Do something. It might be years before we get another hundredth monkey.”

ClothO grinned. One big fat arm slammed him into the wall. Can a spindle be classed as an offensive weapon within the meaning of the Act? Yes, probably, if it’s pointing at your genitals. A fist the size of a Bath Chap put an abrupt stop to his capering.

“Don’t whatever you do wake her up my lad. It’ll be curtains for you otherwise, see, she’s the one what’s got the shears. You want to go? You want to go? Then eat the pomegranate seeds. Not my fault they’re all over the floor. I can’t help what they’ve been in neither. Pick them up. Sooner you get yourself outside them sooner we can all have a bit of peace. Eat the buggers. Gawd Awmighty, must I use brute force? Open your mouth. Never mind n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-ing, you don’t breathe until you do. That’s it. Now swallow. SWALLOW. Worse than giving worming pills to a blummin cat. It’s for your own good. You and the rest of your ilk. You Pigs gotta learn. Think I like doing this? Think I like your spitandribble all over my fingers? That’s it. Done. Don’t know what the fuss was all about. Haven’t seen such a carry-on since your mam made you drink senna pod tea on Saturday nights.”

“Quick!” screamed Lachesis. “Pick him up. Give him here. For it to work, the present has to be dissected. There won’t be time otherwise. He’s got to pass between us…quick, shove him through our shoulders.”

One gnarled hand grabbed his hair. Another pushed his rib cage up towards the shuddering ceiling. A third yanked at his waistband. The last seized his ankles and gave an almighty heave, which sent him flying past their gaping mouths and bloodshot eyes, back into the kermes-tinted blackness.

“There we are. Go on. Bugger off. Thirsty work that, and mine’s a double.”

Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a Bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are her Holocaust novel Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press). Granville has long been interested in myths, legends, fairy-tales, and in her writing has combined these tropes with her close study of the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle – all these facets euphorically alive in Curing the Pig.

Nothing Stays Put, by Harry Greenberg

Nothing Stays Put

The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes – a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom – 
for sale in the supermarket! We are in 
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics – 
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labour?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
dispensed on the sidewalks; freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor’ s buttons. But it isn’t the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it’s

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother’s garden: a prairie childhood
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed, and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above –
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood. Nothing stays put. 
The world is a wheel. All that we know…that we’re made of…is motion.

Harry Greenberg was a counsellor to victims of torture, and spent many of his latter years writing and publishing stories, articles and witty asides on Jewish life and upbringing. His Letters to Kafka is published by CentreHouse Press and is available at Amazon Kindle and on most other ebook platforms. There are plans to publish more from Harry’ s backlist.

Six Poems by Peter Adair

London, 1983

O I had a future. 

Patrick Kavanagh

Once there was a bedsit the size of a coffin.
Once there was a man pounding out on his typewriter
short stories that never made the classic Irish canon.
The inmates twist and turn on their celibate beds.
Each avoids the other, scuttling up and down the stairs,
apprentices in loneliness. Once, at midnight, the Irish labourer
yells ‘I too am a human.’ The rest is silence.
Black-clad Hasidic Jews pass by, inscrutable, aloof.
On summer nights a chanted prayer wails from a nearby house:
a lament for the ghettoes, the pogroms, the gas chambers.
The IRA is blowing up Harrods, troopers and horses,
dividing heads and limbs from bodies to unite an island.
The dole queues groan across the country.
The city boys flaunt their jags and bling,
for this is Thatcher’s champagne paradise.
With grandiloquent futility Michael Foot orates
(MPs can still orate) and waves his stick at evil
Tories. He’s sure to be the next PM, wild-haired
outside No 10, inaugurator of world peace.
Once there was a bedsit on Forberg Road, Hackney.
Once there was a man, existing on the dole as writers
and artists do. O he had a future, a future,
though Ted Hughes never did call round for tea.

The Non-Activist

lies in his bed
on the roof
while the rain
soaks his sheets 
and bones,
too dozy
to wave a hand,
going with 
the non-flow
as shouters,
mouthers of prayers
strut past
with white flags,
black flags,
a bash of Lambeg
drums, Kalashnikovs,
a million pounding 
feet and, at the back,
with a last 
puzzled look,
the severed heads.

Dear Editors

Thanks so much. I was delighted to get
the rejection slip, you so-called editors
of The Poetry Rag with its – how many? – 
twenty readers. I miss not sharing a page
with Zara, Geoff, that squiggle of Creative 
Writing MAs, verse-from-prose begetters.

I was gripped by all those poems about poems,
paintings, films, Jim’s trip through Crete.
A standout, a classic, was Simon’s ludic
Ode to Nietzsche and His ipod. 
Ah, John Donne on speed. Or has old Simon
gone right up his cyber bum?

I loved the cover – that daub of vomit
splashed on by a five-year-old Pollock.
As for the print, still using toilet paper
to absorb the bardic flow of words?
NB erratum, page 13, where Amanda
dondels her bairn. Was she throttling it?

I was thrilled to catch up with Zowie’s
biog, still puffing her piddling pamphlet
from the Self Love Press. Her mum, her dad,
her friends will treasure the hallowed copies
she thrust upon them (oh ye happy captive readers).
Well, Zowie, who needs the sales of Bowie?

The Makers are unmade. The Muse has fired
her hordes of scribblers, but wreathed her few,
her precious few. Who needs your filthy rag? 
On finest vellum, in a deluxe edition,
I’ll publish myself. So thanks, dear editors. 
You tend your cabbages. I’ll grow my roses.


if I bit if I ate				
					her face would taste sour
at aisle seven			
					she bends lifts
stacks shelves	
					Bono is power-cycling
in Central Park		
					Sunblest Hovis leaves
flutter from trees
					philanthropic crumbs swirl
through Tesco’s granary	
					I sniff multi-seeded swill

she throws her bread		
					on water hurls it
at Osbert and Orca
					stuffs the mealy-mouthed
her sole companion	
					a shaky girl
labelled ‘Dunce’
					marched out
in front of the class
					a BA (Hons) graduate
stoops and stacks	
					he’s read the classics bends to Fate

her woe knows no best-by date
					her hands no rest
she sweats at the oven
					bakes a feast
she’ll never eat		
					tin soldiers brass bands
lick the Leader’s arse	
					her watch is running fast
to paradise
					the silver wheaten falls about me
Ceres God bless thee
					fills my trolley

I reach for the soft rolls
					she raises
a pyramid of loaves
					crashing through girders
the overseer sees off
					his catch of slaves
a peasant slips and flies
					a loose cathedral rafter
the first will be last
					the losers will win
I place a tin of tuna
					in the food bank bin

Unfinished, at a Day Centre

This morning I am all fingers and thumbs
gripping the saw, pressing the wood
tight on the block. Steadying my arm,
I cut as straight as I can – once I was
skelped for hacking the lawn’s edge
with a hoe. You silly eejit, she said.
But you pat me on the back when I fumble
to shape the base of this bird box I must
make. You’re on a roll. You’ll get the knack.

When I rest, you chunter on about the news.
They say it came from a bat…I hardly hear you,
for my robin – my slip of a robin – flits to a twig 
and sings, sings to the sun, a feathery glint 
in my eye. And though my muscles ache
I scrape steel notes on rusty strings
till, breathless, I snip the last sliver and the wood
dunts on the ground: on one day, at least, one thing
falls into place. It will be easier next time.

Finished for now, I slump into the chair, settle
like the sawdust that someone will unsettle
and sweep away while my robin – my poor robin –
warms her eggs that will never crack open. 

Best Before 

He hardly sees 
the shelves,
lifts cans,
instant meals.

burnt toast.
Cries stick 
in his throat.

He swallows
An old tin
rusted on a shelf.

He would spill
tight-lipped words
like the slop
he’s slipping on.

Doesn’t fret
at the sluggish checkout.
The click of the till
flames hymns.

Fumbling, he forgets
to lift his change.
Aged ten years,

he sucks dry
this bittersweet.

Peter Adair’s poems have appeared in The Honest Ulsterman, PN Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Boyne Berries, A New Ulster and other journals.  He has been shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. A poem is included in Eyewear’s The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019–2021. An e-pamphlet Calling Card is available from Rancid Idol Productions and Amazon. He worked at a number of jobs, from labouring to bookselling. He lives in Bangor, Co Down.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 6

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

What happened now Mam was gone? Without that huge and slippery post over which he had for so long vainly tried to throw his tiny mooring rope he was adrift in a venomous sea. Without the forever-shifting barbed wall there was no longer even the faintest hope of finding somewhere to safely place his back. Morgan wrapped his arms round himself as a convulsive shiver ran down his body. Then he noticed every cat crouching and staring as if he were a particularly tasty strain of mouse.

“Go to hell.” Picking up his mug, he hurled it at the nearest, a monstrous blue-cream with baleful eyes, and felt like crying when it hit the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.

“I’ll have a look-see if the doctor’s come,” muttered Pritchard-Evans, scratching his head with both hands as he slid round the door. “Back directly.”

Lying toe-rag: it was twenty minutes if it was a day. Pritchard-Evans was off to phone round the news. He couldn’t contain himself for another second. It didn’t take his cronies long to come running either. Talk about vultures gathering. Nothing happened so often in that village they would have fought running battles with the world’s paparazzi for a hint of local scandal – and won.

Naturally, Mrs Pritchard-Evans was first over the finishing line.

Morgan winced, as he has always winced – and known he shouldn’t. But, still. Not a pretty sight at any time, that woman, big and pale and greasy. Mrs PE possessed a face as round and lumpy as an old-fashioned suet pudding boiled in a bag inside the copper along with the washing, eyes like withered currants and a chapel-prim little worm-in-the-rosebud mouth sucked in where she’d had all her teeth out for reasons of economy. Her looks after herself as they say round there, which meant she drank and guzzled on the sly, the usual quiet, private, doomed attempt to fill a vacuum inside, to smother frustrated intelligence and quieten the loss of hope. Speed and excitement had mottled her doughy cheeks with madder blotches. The currants gleamed. Pink rubber gloves flapped like displaced gills from the poacher’s pockets of her outsize-plus green tabard.

Mrs PE slowed to a waddle as she crossed the yard, pausing to rearrange her expression. She had three vices: one, stuffing herself silly; two, compulsive vacuuming; and three, being chronically light-fingered. Which is why she was doubly excited, things being as they were. Morgan, poor lad, being an orphan and a bachelor, therefore totally useless, would need someone to do for him. And his Mam had no end of nice little bits and pieces.

In all fairness it has to be said that there was another side to Mrs PE. She’d tried to mother Morgan on and off for years. When she could get away with it, that is, since shows of affection had been put a stop to very early on. Having no inclination in that direction herself, Mam always viewed any touchy-feely stuff as incipient perversion. Banished to the side lines, Mrs PE limited herself to looking after a few basics – secretly hanging a bag containing seven woodlice round his neck to ease his teething pains; drawing out thorns with a sloughed adder skin; rubbing his persistent warts with a scrap of stolen beef, which was then buried in a mole hill. And, in his troubled teenage years, there’d only been her to warn the lad about the Gwragedd Annwn, the naughty Welsh water maidens of pond and lake, reservoirs even, who weren’t backwards in coming forward, and always on the lookout for a human cywely, that is to say, a handy bedfellow.

Now, at last, Mrs PE was in her element.

“My poor lamb,” she crooned, clasping Morgan to her bosom. “And to think I saw this coming. All the signs were there, but what can we do, what can we do? Year in, year out, your mammy would bring in hawthorn blossom for her wine, no matter what. And eat blackberries after Michaelmas even though the Old ’Un had flown over them. This year we’ve had apple trees blooming after the fruit set, broad beans with black leaves, and corpse candles in the churchyard. And I dropped a loaf getting it out of the oven last Thursday week. Worst of all, didn’t I dream of weddings? Dreams always work contrariwise. Dear, dear. God do move in mysterious ways.”

Released, Morgan noisily sucked in air. Mrs PE whipped off the tea towels. It didn’t take her long to wipe the grin off Dai’s face, but Mam’s expression was already set fast so she covered her up again, and finished by tidying round a bit – no need for all this mess, whatever.

“Afternoon.” Spurred on by both private and professional curiosity, Griffiths the Antique would have beaten Mrs PE to first place if he hadn’t stopped to investigate a skip outside a cottage some fool from Birmingham was time-warping back into the eighteenth century. Even so, his Volvo bounced into the yard, chassis skimming the concrete, the protruding mahogany sideboard festooned with warning Sainsbury’s bags, mere minutes after Mrs PE’s arrival.

He was another big one. Size isn’t such a problem tucked away in the back of beyond. There’s precious little else to do in the countryside but grow food, process food, fill your face or something else’s, and deal with the remains, but he was disgusting with it. His waistcoats and trousers were perpetually ripped and stained. He always had a fat Havana cigar stuck in his mouth though it was never lighted. He didn’t smoke. Griffiths the Antique sucked on it hard, as on a cow’s black teat, until his dummy disintegrated, at which point, Pugh the Ferrets usually rescued the thing and mixed it in with his Golden Virginia. The village kids called Griffiths Mr Toad. You could see why. There was an unpleasantly green tinge to his skin, and curious knobbly protuberances covered his forehead above a letterbox mouth so wide it ended either side of his cheekbones. He was a man who knew everybody’s business and all the contents of all the houses. Nobody ever worked out how. The minute the quarterly bills were overdue, he’d start making offers for bits and pieces out of the blue, things that had been packed away in attics for years, things people had forgotten their grandmothers had forgotten. He lusted after Mam’s collection of Spode chamber pots and the Victorian decoupage screen in the back bedroom. After a grunt and shuffle of commiseration, Griffiths shot upstairs claiming he needed to use the lavatory.

Pugh the Ferrets hadn’t needed telling. He turned up anyway, but he was always skulking about listening at corners disguised in his army surplus camouflage. By the look of him, it was time he took a needle to those holes. Not a good idea to keep ferrets in trouser pockets, especially not when the fabric is worn down to the warp. On the other hand, it was always worth watching his expression change when the nasty little rodents chewed through the lining and ran up and down his legs nipping at things it didn’t bear thinking about.

And if he wasn’t enough, the next arrival was a double dose of misery – Reece the Hill dogged by his missus. They say times are hard for sheep farmers. He should have hired himself out. With a face like a wet week on Llandudno pier out of season, Reece the Hill would have been an asset to any pro-farming campaign aimed at the conscience vitals; one look at him and this prosperous, perennially under-taxed nation would be convinced massive subsidies were necessary. His wife never let him out of her sight. There was a very good reason for this. Ten years ago Reece’s granny left him several thousand pounds but he refused to spend a farthing. Starve-Crow-Farm they call his place. It hasn’t even got an inside loo, though it did have the benefit of running water, straight off the mountain. Frogs came down out of the taps every spring – in one piece sometimes.

Hereford farmers live rich, they say, but Radnor farmers, being misers, die rich. As he didn’t hold with banks, a great deal of Mrs Reece the Hill’s time was spent looking for the hidden cash in order to leave him.

None of those present liked – or trusted – each other. Backwards and forwards they traipsed, poking their noses into what didn’t concern them, watching the competition for gleanings like hawks, brewing more tea, and deliberately getting in the way while waiting for Dr Cadwallader to turn up and officially pronounce the dead, dead. Morgan sat back and let them get on with it.

Cadwallader must have been knocking eighty but was still practising. Nobody within a twenty-mile radius would dream of consulting anyone else, no matter what strings of letters they trailed. He was an apiarist in his spare time, you could smell him coming, honey and wax and Dettol. And hear him too, because he hummed most of the time, Mozart and Beethoven when he was in the mood, but mainly the Beatles.

Bee-keeping was the secret of his success. No honey was ever wasted on bread and butter; little on sore throats. Every last comb-scraping went into making mead, most of which he distilled. Illegal? Of course, and all the better for that. Strong? It could blow your head off. The good doctor swore it cured everything from depression to infertility and, applied locally, piles, gonorrhoea, and brewer’s droop. He had several favourite quotations, including Virgil, Next I come to the manna, the heavenly gift of honey – which explained why several score of red-neck Marches’ farmers had heard of The Georgics – and the Atharvaveda, O Asvins, lord of brightness, anoint me with the honey of the bee, that I may speak forceful speech among men – which encouraged greater consumption than was good for them by both henpecked husbands and put-upon wives prior to their regular Friday night brawls over the housekeeping money. His surgery was usually packed because he treated animals as well, undercutting the vet.

When he finally arrived, the doctor didn’t so much walk in as lurch from doorpost to table. There was nothing unusual about his condition for most of his days were spent in a pale amber haze. Nobody complained. That was how it always had been – and it worked, more or less. His examination was, to say the least, perfunctory. Hum, let’s take a look hum tasting much sweeter than wine dead, they were dead, time of death hum hum eight days a week, cause – they were old hum hearts only last for so long and the sooner the undertaker could get to work on Mam’s face the better hum with diamonds, yeh.

By now Morgan was repeating his eviction notice, but without bothering to get the words in any particular order. Pritchard-Evans discovered a half bottle of Gordon’s gin tucked behind his telephone table. He never did work out where it came from, but passed it on to Morgan, partly out of kindness, but mostly for entertainment value, while Mrs PE bit her tongue and tried to look on it as an investment.

“You got someone to sit with you tonight, Morgan lad?” enquired Cadwallader.

“I’ll take care of him.” Mrs Pritchard-Evans got her stout self between the doctor and Morgan’s vacant gape in a flash. There’d never be a better opportunity for a really good look round. “Co-op’s on the way to collect the,” she nodded towards the table, “diseased.”

“Good. Good. I’ll leave him some sedatives, enough for a couple of days.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Terrible blow for the poor fellow, losing both parents in one day, phone me if there’s anything hum hum.” As he left, Cadwallader closed Morgan’s hand round a bottle of his golden elixir. “You get yourself a good night’s sleep if you can, my boy. Hum-mmm hard day’s night. Things will look better in the hum.”

Morgan had the decency to wait for Mrs PE to firmly show everyone out before downing the lot, gin, all the sedatives, plus the mead liqueur, in quick succession. For a short while his head felt like a soft-boiled egg being scalped with rusty pliers. After that, and for a few moments before oblivion kicked in, he felt much, much better.

’Twas an evening in November –
As far as I remember –
I was strolling down the street with drunken pride,
But my legs were all a-flutter,
And I landed in the gutter,
Where a pig came up and lay down by my side.
I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I best not utter,
When a woman passing by did quietly say,
‘You can tell a man that boozes,
By the company he chooses’ –
And at that the pig got up and walked away.

The tricks of old Circe deter us from wine,
Though we honour a Boar, we won’t make ourselves swine.
—British Magazine, 1761

“It’s all very well putting out plenty of tasty food,” grumbled Mrs Pritchard-Evans, “but what are we going to offer people to drink? There’s not a drop in the house. You can’t give them tea. What’ll it look like? Someone’s going to have to do something. There’s still time to pop along and get a few bottles of tonic wine from Lewis the Chemist.”

“I’m not buying any alcohol,” said Morgan, clutching his waistband to stop Dai’s trousers falling round his ankles. Perhaps making do with his dad’s old black suit was a mistake. The thing was forty years out of date if it was a day, and made to fit a bloke who’d been a different shape entirely. Four inches too big round the waist looked daft enough, but when it came to the moth-holed jacket only shallow breaths combined with deep and abiding religious faith could keep the buttons fastened. There were moth chrysalides in the pockets, too. And Dai had cut off most of the fly buttons just to rile Mam.

“Not a drop,” Morgan repeated. He himself was now strictly teetotal. This time he meant it. His head still felt a bit strange, but at least he could think clearly again. Intoxicants were exactly what the word said: toxic. Poison, in other words. The glorification of alcohol by the media was a government plot to keep the masses down. It was part of a gigantic international conspiracy. While people were either busy drinking, drunk, or recovering from being drunk, they weren’t doing whatever it was the ruling classes didn’t want them doing. He wasn’t having any part in it. “The cellar’s stuffed full of Mam’s homemade booze. They’ll have to make do with that.”

She sniffed. “Except that you’ve been looking for the key for two whole days now.”

“We’ll break the door down as soon as I find a safety pin to hold up these trousers.” Morgan rummaged in Mam’s sewing-box, bringing up cards of seventy-year-old horn buttons, corset bones, a coral teething ring, and twists of darning wool. There were no safety pins. He made do with a slightly rusty stitch holder. His fingers continued to inch downwards, guided by instinct or buried memories. Right at the bottom, under a tangle of knicker elastic, they closed on a gigantic black iron key, which he waved triumphantly under Mrs PE’s nose. “Patience rewarded.”

For several decades, Mam made wine with the same enthusiasm that she’d brought to chutney. Anything free that would add flavour and body to sugar, yeast and water had gone head first into the fermenting bucket, whortleberries, blackberries, parsnip tops, peapods, hips, haws, and flower petals. But whereas she sold the bulk of her chutney, every last drop of wine had been laid away – gallon upon gallon of it. Row upon row of recycled bottles lined the cellar walls, the contents years old, maturing beyond reason. She never touched a drop, simply liking the look of them, and understood from women’s magazines that having a wine cellar gave one a certain cachet. In addition, it sent Dai demented with longing. He’d last found the key in 1992, and drunk himself paralytic. Mam gave him the hiding of his life when he finally stumbled out, but he’d reckoned it well worth it.

Now it was Morgan’s turn. He felt his way down the unlit cellar steps and tried the key. The door swung creakily open.

Mrs PE trudged slowly after him, a muted clunking accompanying her movements as she stared dubiously into the gloom. Reasoning that as she couldn’t see Morgan he couldn’t see her, she carefully examined the base of the mustard pot she was polishing and, satisfied by the hallmark, sent it to join the other silver concealed about her person. The cats slunk along the walls, keeping an eye on her and counting spoons, but Mrs PE snapped her tea-towel at them and went back to the spread, reckoning she’d done the lad proud for the funeral. The Jones-Jones might have lived like niggards but they were getting a right splendid send-off to be remembered by. Not just the sandwiches, but a good innings of cold cuts and chutney, and a massive raised pork pie, as well as tiddling little vol-au-vents and sausage rolls and other insubstantial social necessities. The soul cakes – to her great-grandmother’s recipe – and proper bara brith – from the 1958 Gas Board recipe book – provided the coup de grace. She sighed with satisfaction when Morgan emerged from the cellar bearing two dozen bottles of assorted cowslip, elderflower, blackberry, gooseberry, and damson.

After an inexplicable moment of panic, the sight of so many gleaming bottles had caused him to rethink his abstention. There was enough wine down there for at least twenty years. A small glass now and then couldn’t hurt. Moderation was the answer. Never more than a couple of bottles a day. He opened some damson to let it breathe, reasoned that he’d better test the stuff, and filled a tumbler.

“Will you try some, Mrs Pritchard-Evans?”

“Careful,” warned Mrs PE remembering Dai, his ranting and his rolling eyes, and the ambulance siren screaming up the valley road after Mam had finished with him. For the time being she limited even her hardened self to a thimbleful. “This stuff’s strong. You don’t want to let yourself down in the church.”

“Oh, come on – it’s only fruit wine.” Self-preservation ensured that Morgan’s conscious memory of that time was hazy. In retrospect, Dai had spoken of it wistfully: an all too brief visit to Faerie, leaving the miseries of everyday existence behind. The first sip was thick and fruity, quite sweet, with intense purple prose overtones. Perfectly acceptable, he thought, for country bumpkins. He gulped down what was left, and reeled as liquid fire scalded his throat, melting his tonsils, paralysing his vocal cords.

In a vain attempt to save face he stumbled away to the quiet of Mam’s cubby-hole of an office. He still hadn’t managed to get her desk open. Now it seemed simpler just to yank the front off each of the drawers. This proved highly satisfactory. An old biscuit tin labelled egg-and-veg money was stuffed full of fivers. From what he could make out the farm accounts were in good order, too. One thing was certain – Mam would have made sure the money stayed in the family. Therefore he was probably quite comfortably off, free to devote his days to creativity, and to Rosie, with any luck. Thanks, Mam. Morgan lapsed into a happy daydream with Rosie kneeling – scantily clad, hair tousled, eyes languid – at his feet, smiling sweetly as he counted banknotes into her little hand. The image couldn’t be sustained for more than thirty seconds. Rosie’s eyes flashed. Smile became snarl. Both hands bunched into fists. He hurriedly snapped out of it.

A sudden thought occurred to him. Someone else deserved a vote of thanks. Yes, and he’d ignored her for three days now, even allowed Pritchard-bandy-Evans to feed her along with everything else. Morgan made up his mind to liberate Venus. Henceforth, she’d have the freedom of the farm and dine on the best of everything.

After extensively testing the bottles of cowslip and blackberry, and reappraising the damson under Mrs PE’s mildly disapproving eye, he staggered outside clutching a couple of soul cakes rejected for having sixty per cent burns. Cold, damp air smacked him in the face, but failed to sober him up completely. In front of the sty he slipped and dropped to his knees in a pool of slurry trickling slowly from the pen. One pink-rimmed eye watched him through a chink in the door. A deep and mournful groan suggested that no food had passed snout since the accident. Morgan held out the cakes and an eager mouth almost took his arm into the bargain. Hardly able to tear his eyes from the enormous, chomping teeth, he hung over the gate entertaining confused thoughts about the Venus de Milo.

Certainly the sow deserved her freedom, but it would probably be safer to take the edge of her appetite first. All he could find was a swede, a sack of layers’ mash, plus some frozen tripe, undoubtedly meant for Mercher, in the garage freezer. It was no time to get fussy. After tipping the lot over the sty wall, he strained back the bolt before pulling the gate ajar from a safe distance with a hay rake, then hurriedly retreated, walking backwards, slipping and sliding, splattering himself up to the waist with combined farmyard ordure as he tried to convince himself that he’d done The Right Thing.

Priddeu Annwm: The Spoils of Hell.

Câd Goddeu, the Battle of the Trees, was one of the three frivolous battles of Britain, occasioned by a dog, a white roebuck, and a lapwing, all guardians of secrets, stolen from Annwn – the Celtic Underworld – by Amaethon ap Dôn. He and his brother, Gwydion ap Dôn, fought Arawn, ruler of the Underworld, with sword and riddle to ensure that these creatures remained on the Earth. Gwydion’s last foray into Annwn resulted in another theft, and thus were the sacred swine of Pryderi brought to humankind. Strange, we think, that pryderi is translated as concern, anxiety, to worry or fret.

The church was packed with long faces, all much practised. Everyone for miles around knew that what Doctor Cadwallader had written on the death certificate wasn’t the whole story. Any minute now the cast of Pigs in Blue might turn up in force and most of those present yearned to appear in an episode.

“Thing is, look you, did the son do it?”

“What a thing to say.”

“Not unknown, knocking off parents. Remember those two boys, in Jersey was it? Or Ayrshire – somewhere to do with cows. They did their mam and dad in for the money. The pair of sinners got caught in the end, though. And put away so they couldn’t do it again.”


“Well, the Jones-Joneses must have had money.”

“All farmers are rich, whatever they say.”

“Anyway he looks like a bad ’un.”


“I always thought there was something funny about him.”

“Ah. Ah.”

“He was an accident. The missus was getting on a bit when she had him. They’re always a bit you know when they’re born in the hot flushes.”


“And what a day to choose for the funeral – Nos galangaeaf. Halloween.”

“It shouldn’t be allowed.”


“Will you look at the state of him – he’s two sheets to the wind.”

“Ah. Three parts chemist all right.”




Wedi meddwi. Drunk as a Lord.”

“That’s guilt, that is. He done them both in. No doubt about it.”


Cadwallader kindly palmed Morgan another bottle of his best as he shuffled into the church and, with bowed head, stumbled pew to pew down the aisle. The congregation fanned at the air as he passed, assuming that the appalling smell was a baked-bean-induced rhech from the row in front. When Morgan showed signs of making for the choir stalls, Mrs PE – his keeper – gave him a discreet shove, toppling him sideways. Morgan slumped gratefully, fortifying himself under cover of one of Dai’s big check hankies. Mam’s brew and the doctor’s didn’t mix. The hammering in his head grew steadily worse. His stomach was rebelling, too; during the service he burped and hiccupped a running refrain. Thankfully, he made no effort to sing, though he did smother a laugh when the vicar started eulogising.

The whole congregation waited with bated breath to hear how Emrys Owain could possibly dress up the Jones-Jones’ life for the occasion. It was common knowledge that throughout their marriage they’d fought like cat and dog, using the most terrible language at full volume. They never went to church after the christening. For years he’d played the part of a dirty old man to get her goat and she was a husband beater who landed him in hospital once, though she’d managed to hush it up. Dai claimed his wife repeatedly attempted to poison him and there’d probably been some truth in the accusation for more than once she’d been seen gathering young heads of Waterdrop Hemlock by the brook under the light of a full moon. Mrs Jones-Jones – deceased – had been mean as dirt, never gave a penny to charity. Indeed and to goodness she’d even haggled about prices at the Mothers’ Union jumble sales when buying second-hand clothes for them both. Worse, she’d rigged her scales, habitually cheating on weight, as well as short-changing.

“Dai and Gwenffrewi were of the old school,” Owain began, “living simply, not given to extravagance and ostentation—”

Morgan’s snort of derision was cut short by a painful jab in the ribs from Mrs Pritchard-Evans. He subsided. It was all unreal, as if watching a DVD run by him on >FF. Nothing made sense. And he didn’t believe it was happening anyway.

Arglwydd, trugarha wrthym,” intoned the vicar.“Lord, have mercy on us.”

“Too right,” replied Morgan. Raising his dad’s handkerchief he partook of the doctor’s mead. Church, flowers, twin coffins, the unctuous voice, all faded from his consciousness. He slid to his knees. And there he stayed.

Owain chose to turn a blind eye, assuming against all the odds that the bereaved was overcome by grief, as he did when Morgan arrived at the graveside, half-supported, half-dragged by Reece the Hill and Pugh the Ferrets. It was raining, of course. But that did nothing to disguise the overpowering pig slurry stink emanating from Morgan’s clothing. Even Pugh was wrinkling his nose a bit, and he hadn’t washed for several years. With the exception of Owain, the entire funeral party shuffled en masse to the opposite side of the grave. Reece tried to join them but seconds later Morgan was facedown, peering into the dark cavern of the infinite hereafter.

“It’s a double,” he croaked. “You can’t put them in a double.”

“Shut your trap.” Reece and Pugh kindly frogmarched Morgan behind a convenient sepulchre where they punched him into a reasonable state of sobriety.

“Close in death, as they were in life,” droned Owain.

Dishevelled, and with his nose bleeding, Morgan loudly objected to his parents being buried together. “BUT THEY HATED EACH OTHER.”

“We all hate each other, lad,” Reece’s lugubrious tone echoed his expression. “See, men and women were created to hate each other.” The sounds of agreement and approval of this sentiment came from a worryingly large proportion of the mourners.

“Ah. Ah.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself.”

The coffins were lowered. One of the trouser ferrets chose that moment to escape from a pocket and run down Pugh’s leg. And up again, forcing him to let go of Morgan. Bending forward over the gaping grave, Pugh began to slap at his crotch.

“Come up out of there, you biting bastard.”

“There’s disgusting,” whispered Mrs Reece the Hill.

“No respect,” muttered Miss Price the Arty-Crafty Shop.

Ffured!” screamed Pugh, by way of explanation.

“Ferret yourself!” retorted Mrs Reece the Hill, who was sensitive about her appearance. She turned on her husband who was now single-handedly trying to keep Morgan upright. “Call yourself a man? Are you going to stand there doing nothing while he calls me names?”

“Shhh,” hissed Mrs Pritchard-Evans.

“Shhh yourself, you fat nosy-parker.” Mrs Reece the Hill marched round the grave and prodded her husband. “Didn’t you hear me being insulted?”

“Quiet, woman,” barked Cadwallader.

The penny finally dropped. Reece glared. “Watch your mouth. You can’t talk to my missus like that, doctor or no doctor.”

“Shhh,” hissed his wife and Mrs Pritchard-Evans in unison.

Reece, totally flummoxed, was obliged to scratch his scalp violently as he attempted to make sense of this turnaround, momentarily letting go of Morgan, who toppled slowly over the edge to lie spread-eagled on top of Mam’s coffin splattering it with maudlin alligator tears and breaking his glasses into the bargain. It didn’t matter about the specs. He’d never needed them. He’d only got a pair because Mam was into screwing every last thing out of the National Health Service, it being English. Not that she was Welsh – unless she felt like it.

Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a Bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are her Holocaust novel Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press). Granville has long been interested in myths, legends, fairy-tales, and in her writing has combined these tropes with her close study of the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle – all these facets euphorically alive in Curing the Pig.

Three poems by Dominic Fisher

We are pleased to publish three poems from Dominic Fisher’s latest collection of poems, A Customised Selection of Fireworks, available from Shoestring Press later this month (May 2022).

A Customised Selection of Fireworks

It’s the sequence that really matters 
	colour rhythm flow
which isn’t something the lay person 
gets right every time.

Maybe start with deep frozen sparklers  
	some St Anthony’s fire
a few howling spiders, remembering
	odd numbers work best.

So, scotch bonnet, popcorn bombette
	high hats, puff adder
jammy dodgers, some gamboge, and 
	a titanium salute.

Next one or two long-range screamers
	a tequilla sunrise
some bloody cranesbill followed by 
a fat green mamba.

Nearly there now with a gentle brocade
	three knee crackers
a will-o-the-whip then the coup de grâce
	a haemo-goblin.

Excellent. Would you like the receipt? 
 Take care with my children.
Please light them only in darkness
	and enjoy the show. 
Shepton Mallet Prison, National Poetry Day 2019 

The word and the law
a hand and the blame
the logic of locks
and meanings of keys
all come to the same.
Inside is this side
outside is not.

Venus or Mars or a plane
a gull in the last of day
these are no more
than pictures on walls.
Someone is shouting
on another floor.
Footsteps go down to the hall.

You can consider 
how the world divides
or what freedoms could be
inside the inside
but you come to a door
locked on the side you don’t see
when they put you inside.
Under Arcturus

Day has come inside the walls,
dogs two doors down  
are loafing on a savaged lawn.
I came out here to see
higher miles clarify 
then monster gates of fire
but find I’m watching 
moths and bathroom windows  
orbiting a tree.

Now though, Arcturus
is over us. Shaded petals go
ultraviolet, are half ghost
as night-cats step across
ponds of yellow lamplight 
to tap our books our brains,
as soundless counterpoint
sends a two-halved moon
arcing through the leaves.

And now in the emptied air 
cities are burning out among
unseen towns, depleted stars.
The dogs get whistled in.
An ambulance flies 
howling through the sky. 
A down-the-middle moon
shivers in its half house
underneath our tree.

Dominic Fisher taught English language for many years, first in Turkey and Spain, and then in the UK in Bristol. His poems, now his main preoccupation, have been successful in major competitions and have been widely published and broadcast. He is a co-editor of Raceme magazine, and regularly gives readings, both in his own right and as a member of poetry performance group the IsamBards. This, his second collection, is his first published by Shoestring Press. His previous collection is The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead] (Blue Nib, 2019).

“From the precise re-membering of ‘Nocturnes’ and ‘Indoor Fireworks’, through the extraordinary beauty of ‘Walking Through a Half Open Book,’ to the genius of a culinary-minded Captain Hook swapping his prosthesis for a meringue-whisk, Dominic Fisher walks the high-wire of poetry, balancing surrealism with intense observation and an always erudite and playful love of words.”

—Deborah Harvey

“This poem [Dominic Fisher’s winning entry for the Bristol Poetry Prize 2018] I put on my ‘read again’ pile four times, knowing I couldn’t consume it all at one sitting – which is ultimately, I think, what I want from a poem.”

—Helen Ivory

“This is an outstanding collection [The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dead] by a writer with a distinct, compelling voice. Fisher is clearly fascinated by how opposites are really so close to each other: the living and the dead, work and play, the rural and the urban, the ordinary everyday and the complex.”

—Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism, University of Lincoln

The Best Asian Poetry 2021–22 (editor Sudeep Sen)

review by Peter Cowlam

Kitaab International is a Singapore-based publishing house, whose open call through various media outlets across the world, when the anthology was planned, resulted in 1,500 pages of poetry sent in by almost 500 poets. As commissioning editor, Sudeep Sen invited further writers from across ‘AustralAsia’ to send their work to him direct – authors he describes as ‘senior poets who might not have seen the open competitive call’.

The overall outcome is an anthology of highly able poets from a vast geographical region, encompassing India, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Israel, Nepal, Malaysia, Turkey, Sikkim, Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, China, Viêtnam, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus, Indonesia, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, with writers represented also based in the USA, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. With all poems of the anthology presented largely in English, it’s fair to assume its target audience belongs in the wider anglosphere, which reminds us of a remark made by the Argentine writer J. L. Borges, who in a series of lectures, which were gathered together and published in the 1980s, tells us that a major event in the history of the West was its discovery of the East, a discovery no less significant for its continuing consciousness of the East.

Apart from poems originally written in English, there are translations from a range of other languages: Farsi and Japanese, Turkish and Bhasa, Hebrew and Chinese, Urdu and Korean, Hindi and Afghani, among others. Included, as the editor tells us is often the case when talking of literatures from the Asian region, are Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and others, with the geo-cultural locus of ‘Australasia’ an inextricable link. Sudeep Sen adds to that Borges observation above a contemporary perspective. His is a description of the ‘idea of Asia’ as ‘hugely complex and diverse, its languages multifarious, its geographical stretch enormous’, and its ‘boundaries linguistically elastic’. He goes on—

‘Over the year-long process of reading widely and putting this anthology together, I have learnt so much more about the cultural expanse of the Asian continent – its ancient and modern traditions, that coexist and flourish concurrently – discovering hidden gems that were not otherwise apparent in the standard run-of-the-mill academic/trade anthologies. Individual poets shared their personal insights and knowledge with me so that I could explore their regions and literatures more deeply. It was like landing in a foreign country, where you have enough knowledge to navigate intelligently, but would never stumble upon the obscure alleyways if the locals did not point them out to you and lead you there.’ 

What the anthology adds up to is a richness in poetic voices, whose subject matter ranges over the whole of human situatedness. There are poems of testimony based on personal observation, of the visual and sonic effect of the words and structure of the poems themselves (image, rhythm, meter, etc.), there are minimalist poems, figurative poems, poems laid out on the page such that the concrete arrangement of text and white space is part of what the poem expresses, there is serious comment on socio-historical imperatives, there is satire, there are poems of war, of a world in contextual change, of family history, of psychological conflict, of the politics of Empire, there are feminist poems, and there are poems steeped in the intricacies of the linguistic art itself – and much, much more.

All in all, it’s a remarkable offering from the publisher, the editor, and the book’s 130 contributors.

Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 19802015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury) and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann). Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over twenty-five languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on the BBC, PBS, CNN IBN, NDTV, AIR & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf / Random House / Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museo Camera. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for ‘outstanding persons in the field of culture / literature’.

The Labyrinths of Time

by Peter Cowlam

A marine organism in unfathomable ocean depths receives light from a star a light year away, and responds, with a tiny twitch, the merest throb. By definition, the light the organism is influenced by has taken a year to reach it, as a staggered simultaneity, asking us to reconcile an apparent contradiction. But is it reconcilable, when the star as it appears now is not as the star now is, and that ‘now’ is not an absolute? Or do we leave it at that, when our ideas of ‘now’ and ‘nowness’ are inscrutable, problematic?

Or to take another instance, with Einstein’s thought experiment and the traveller on the tram. He sees a clock whose hands are showing nine o’clock, and recedes from it at the speed of light. If by some miracle of optics he were still able to see the clock, as he moves from it at light speed, he would only ever see the hands as he saw them when he left, fixed at nine o’clock. Conversely people on the ground will note time recorded much as they expect, with the minute hand moving continually through the minutes. Does this mean that for the traveller moving at the speed of light the hands are actually pointing at nine o’clock, while for those left grounded they move to a minute past, to two minutes past, to three minutes past etc?

This is just one curious aspect of the dissemination of information over enormous distances, and the behaviour of matter at very high velocity, as is put in mathematical terms by Jacob Bronowski—

Even the point about clocks running slow was singled out at last by an inexorable fate. In 1905 Einstein had written a slightly comic prescription for an ideal experiment to test it.

If there are two synchronised clocks at A and if one of these is moved along a closed curve with constant velocity v until it returns to A, which we suppose to take t seconds, then the latter clock on arriving at A will have lost ½t(v/c)2 seconds by comparison with the clock which has remained stationary. We conclude from this that a clock fixed at the Earth’s equator will run slower by a very small amount than an identical clock fixed at one of the Earth’s poles.

Einstein died in 1955, fifty years after the great 1905 paper. By then one could measure time to a thousand millionth of a second. And therefore it was possible to look at that odd proposal to ‘think of two men on earth, one at the North Pole and one at the Equator. The one at the Equator is going round faster than the one at the North Pole; therefore his watch will lose.’ And that is just how it turned out.

The experiment was done by a young man called H. J. Hay at Harwell. He imagined the earth squashed flat into a plate, so that the North Pole is at the centre and the equator runs round the rim. He put a radio-active clock on the rim and another at the centre of the plate and let it turn. The clocks measure time statistically by counting the number of radio-active atoms that decay. And sure enough, the clock at the rim of Hay’s plate keeps time more slowly than the clock at the centre. That goes on in every spinning plate, on every turntable. At this moment, in every revolving gramophone disc, the centre is ageing faster than the rim with every turn. [1]

This raises questions as to what exactly is a clock, and what it is a clock measures. Might it be something other than time? Does, for example, Jeremy Bernstein’s following ‘definition’ of a clock merely confuse the issue, or does its internal life, once it’s set in motion, really tell us anything about the phenomenon we call time?

First, we give a qualitative argument to show that the rate of moving clocks is slower than rest clocks. To this end, imagine a particularly simple form of clock. Consider two mirrors separated by a certain distance and imagine we have set off a light signal between the mirrors. The light will now bounce back and forth between the mirrors at a regular rate, since the speed of light is constant. (We can always imagine that the mirrors are in vacuum.) In principle this is a perfectly fine clock and we can make it as accurate as we like by decreasing the distance between the mirrors. Now suppose we attach the mirrors to the walls of something that can move so that the mirrors are in the vertical direction but we move the whole system in the horizontal at right angles to the line between the mirrors. Now we view this somewhat bizarre apparatus from the rest frame. Suppose the light starts off from the lower mirror. If the apparatus were at rest, then to hit the upper mirror the light would simply have to follow a straight-line path at right angles to the lower mirror. However, when the mirrors are in motion with respect to us, we will observe the light start off at an angle from the lower mirror to catch the upper one, which is moving. In fact, to make the round trip, as we view it from the rest frame, the light will have to follow a triangular path which is, evidently, longer than the path if the system is at rest with respect to us. Since according to the principle of constancy the speed of light is the same in both frames, we would say that the round trip is longer for the ‘clock’ that is in motion. Hence we would argue that the period of the light clock is longer when the clock is moving than when it is at rest. [2]

This of course presupposes that the speed of light is finite. But, supposing it has limits imposed on it only by virtue of the medium it is travelling through. Would it then be true to say that time permeates different media – different parts of the universe – at varying rates? Stephen Hawking thought it does—

Another prediction of general relativity is that time should appear to run slower near a massive body like the earth. This is because there is a relation between the energy of light and its frequency (that is, the number of waves of light per second): the greater the energy, the higher the frequency. As light travels upward in the earth’s gravitational field, it loses energy, and so its frequency goes down. (This means that the length of time between one wave crest and the next goes up.) To someone high up, it would appear that everything down below was taking longer to happen. This prediction was tested in 1962, using a pair of very accurate clocks mounted at the top and bottom of a water tower. The clock at the bottom, which was nearer the earth, was found to run slower, in exact agreement with general relativity. The difference in the speed of clocks at different heights above the earth is now of considerable practical importance, with the advent of very accurate navigation systems based on signals from satellites. If one ignored the predictions of general relativity, the position that one calculated would be wrong by several miles! [3]

Perhaps the central problem lies in what we think of as time. In the Hawking example, the two timepieces are doing something, and whatever it is they’re doing, they’re doing differently. The question is, are they really measuring time? In any disagreement with accepted science one would have to explain what it is they are doing. The difficulty with diverging from science’s established canon is that the only other realms we have are philosophy and metaphysics.

J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment With Time, first published in 1927, links precognitive dreams with a wholly different theory of time. From dreams of a predictive nature that Dunne himself had experienced he concluded it was the dreaming subject and not the surrounding train of events that intimated future personal experiences. For Dunne the moment of ‘now’ was not adequately described by science, which merely sectionalises time as a fourth dimension. In Dunne’s conception an endless sequence of higher dimensions of time measures our passage through the one, lone tier our physicality inhabits, the lowest. Each of time’s successive higher levels is accompanied, accordingly, by a higher level of consciousness. At the summit is the ultimate observer, whose view must necessarily be of eternity, with everything in it whole, singular, co-contemporaneous. The demands of our waking life prevent us from exceeding the present moment, though when we dream we enter a form of consciousness revealing to us more than is usual of our timeline, in connecting fragments of our future with memories of our past.

The novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov, who through these two main disciplines outlined his belief in an underlying pattern to the cosmos, nevertheless declined to suggest a supreme intelligence responsible for that design. But he was taken enough with Dunne’s proposals that, from October 1964, he indulged over two months in recording his dreams. The data he gathered were used to test the proposition that time to some degree operates in reverse, to the extent that a post or future event can leave its trace in a current dream. Nabokov was a lifelong insomniac, and the results of his inquiries were published in 2018. [4]

An important criticism of Dunne is in his layers of time, one stacked on another, and the reduction of meaning to an infinite regress, with reality always subject to one more term in the series of knowability.

Nabokov was also much influenced by Bergson, for whom time is a motive force, and is counter to Darwin’s evolutionary natural selection. For Bergson evolution springs from an élan vital, or in human terms the creative impulse, present from the beginning (ontologically speaking), and now bifurcated as intuition and intelligence, a manifestation unrecognisable without the action of time, and not necessitating environmental pressures. But what is the ‘action’ of time?

Time is the dimension of change, a fact which distinguishes it from the three dimensions of space. But how does genuine temporal change differ from mere variation as exhibited in space? When a road is said to change in breadth along its length, ‘change’ is being used only metaphorically, in contrast to its literal use when a child is said to change in height as it becomes older. Some theories of time and change do not really accommodate this distinction, and as such are sometimes accused of ‘spatializing’ time or denying the reality of temporal ‘becoming’. Some philosophers believe, indeed, that developments in physics connected with the theory of relativity necessitate this denial, because they seem to demonstrate that the notion of an absolute ‘now’ must be abandoned along with the Newtonian notion of the absoluteness of simultaneity. Events deemed ‘past’ in one frame of reference must be deemed ‘future’ in other frames, apparently indicating that the distinction between past and future is only a subjective, experientially based one rather than reflecting a genuine ontological divide. Philosophers of this persuasion adopt what is commonly called a ‘static’ view of time, thus partaking in a tradition stretching back to Parmenides and Zeno, who held the appearance of temporal change to be an illusion.

In opposition to the ‘static’ view stands the ‘dynamic’ view of time, traceable back to Aristotle and before him Heraclitus. By this account the future lacks the reality of the past and present, and indeed reality is continually being added to as time passes. The objection mentioned earlier is not difficult to overcome, since even the theory of relativity acknowledges that some events are past and others future, no matter which frame of reference is selected, and these may be said to lie in the absolute past or future. The relativity of simultaneity only requires us to revise our conception of the present, allowing it to embrace all events not causally connected to us by a physical signal. A more serious challenge to the dynamic view of time comes from J. M. E. McTaggart, who claimed that the notion of temporal becoming (bound up with the A-series of past, present, and future) leads to contradiction. But it seems fair to protest that McTaggart’s argument demonstrates not so much the absurdity of the notion of temporal becoming as the incoherence of his representation of that phenomenon. According to McTaggart, the phenomenon supposedly consists in future events ‘becoming present’ and then ‘receding into the past’, whence it apparently follows, absurdly, that all events are past, present, and future. But the lesson is just that we should not think of ‘the present’ as somehow ‘moving’ along the sequence of events from past to future. In denying the reality of the future, we may appeal to the fact that not all future-tensed statements appear to be determinately true or false.

The asymmetry of time is perhaps its most striking feature and the most difficult to explain. The fundamental laws of physics are time-reversible, and yet complex macroscopic processes like the growth of a tree or the breaking of glass could not happen in reverse save by a miracle. This is often supposed to be explicable by reference to the second law of thermodynamics, which implies that closed systems tend to evolve from conditions of less to greater disorder, or ‘entropy’. But why should the universe have been created in a particularly low state of entropy – or was this just an accident without which time might have been isotropic? And how does the asymmetry of time as we know it relate to the apparent non-existence of phenomena involving ‘backwards’ causation, such as time-travel? These are problems which are still very little understood by either metaphysicians or physicists. [5]

McTaggart’s ‘A series’ corresponds to our everyday experience of past, present, and future, the series of instances running from the far past, through the near past, to the present, and from the present to the near future and the far future. That is opposed to the ‘B series’, where instances are ordered earlier-than, later-than. In the ‘A series’, to the observer in temporal movement, events in time are in a moving relation, future to present to past. In the ‘B series’ time events are ordered in fixed relations to each other. McTaggart argued that the ‘A series’ was necessary to a complete theory of time, since only in the ‘A series’ does change occur. He added that it is also self-contradictory, and that our perception of time passing is, therefore, an illusion.

The Argentine writer J. L. Borges, in his essay ‘A New Refutation of Time’, [6] does not overlook the antinomy inherent in that title. He invokes Berkeley, who denied the existence of matter, explaining the world of appearance as only the construct of our senses, a set of images and impressions present only in our minds, changing from one instant to another. Hume later contended that there was no necessary connection between one event and another. For example, if I have always observed event A followed by event B, according to him it does not automatically follow that that will always be the case. If one can call into question event B always following event A, there are grounds also for suspecting that there is no sequential relationship between them, and that the two events are independent of time, which is to say that like matter time doesn’t exist. If matter exists only in the mind, then the changes matter undergoes also exist only in the mind, as too does the time taken for change to take place. That said, for all its argumentation, ‘A New Refutation of Time’ succeeds endlessly in undermining its own negations, with its author concluding that ‘The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.’

Perhaps more contentious than all these questions is the view of physicist James Barbour, who introduces quantum physics into the argument (which, it is well known, Einstein grappled with unsuccessfully in reconciling with relativity)—

Einstein’s theory of general relativity easily admits…a pluralistic notion of time. This is after all why it is called the theory of relativity. One can use any clock one pleases to measure the evolution of the universe. In the end no question about what really happened will depend on which one you choose.

The key question we face now is whether such a pluralistic conception of time can be realized in the quantum theory. So far, no one has found a way to do this. People have, with great effort, managed to make formulations of quantum gravity in which time is defined by one of the clocks in the system. But it turns out that the answers to questions about what really happened all seem to depend on which clock one uses to define time in the quantum theory.

One of the ways this problem arises comes from trying to describe what happens to the quantum state when an observer makes a measurement. Quantum theory tells us that we must change the state of the system we are observing at the moment that an observation has been made. But if different observers use different clocks to label when measurements are made, they are going to believe they are talking about different quantum states.

This suggests that a theory that allows all possible clocks must be a pluralistic quantum theory…. Disagreements about the evolution of the different quantum states may in this way become simply an aspect of the fact that different observers hold different information, which is represented in different quantum states. The challenge, as before, is to make sure sense can be made of the relationship between the views held by all the different observers, so that the world retains a sufficient coherence, and that to some approximation it can still be described in the language of classical space and time.

It is too early to tell if a proposal like this is going to succeed. But let me stress that it can work only if the world has the right balance of complexity and order. There must be sufficient complexity to ensure that different observers are completely distinguished from each other by their having different views of the universe. But there must be sufficient order to ensure that the different observers can agree that they are speaking about the same universe. Thus we are led once again to the notion that a quantum universe must be a self-organized world balanced between order and variety.

The consistent-histories formulation may also be able to express such a pluralistic approach to time, as different sets of consistent histories may be chosen that correspond to how the world would seem to evolve according to time as measured by different clocks. This is a strength of this kind of approach. The fact that the interpretation is built around a notion of histories means that time and change are built into the language of the theory. The key issues here again are the balance of complexity and order that the world must have if the pluralistic description of time in general relativity is to be recovered from the quantum theory.

All these approaches posit that time, as measured by clocks, is fundamental. But if there is a possibility that the theory must describe universes that contain no clocks, this may not be the most basic language to describe the world. One may then ask if there is available a language for the interpretation of quantum cosmology that does not presume that time and change have meaning.

Such an approach to the problem of time has been developed by Julian Barbour, who for the last several years has been arguing that the notion that time is what is measured by a clock cannot work in a quantum theory of gravity. Instead, he has proposed a radical view of quantum cosmology in which time has no fundamental meaning at all. The proposal is simplicity itself. According to it, what exists – the universe – is nothing but a great collection of moments. Each moment is a snapshot of the universe, a simple configuration of things. He calls the collection of all of these moments the heap. The heap contains a great many moments. But there is no sense in which the different moments can be ordered in time. They just simply are. Period. The quantum state of the universe serves only one function, which is to give the probability that any given moment may be found in this collection.

In this conception, all of physical law reduces to one kind of question. Some godlike being reaches into the heap and pulls out a moment. What is the probability that such a randomly selected moment will have some particular characteristic? To describe this, we need no notion of time or change. Nothing is changing in time because there is no time – the whole heap just is, period, and it is all that is.

Why then, do we have an impression that there is time, that we are changing, that you and I were here five minutes ago, and so on? According to Barbour’s idea, each moment – say, this one – is an entity in itself, and does not change. We believe in time, because our world is structured in a very special way. Each moment is structured so as to give us the impression that other moments also exist. We have memories and we see all around us evidence that can only be construed as telling us about other moments that we might like to say happened in the past. [7]

In essence, Barbour conceives of a universe giving rise to its entire stock of moments simultaneously, and what we call time is the approximation of those moments in a sequencing process that we ourselves perform.

At this point, the problem stretches beyond my powers of elucidation, though I cannot help but cling to a possible future where a solution is to be found.


[1] Bronowski, J., The Ascent of Man, BBC (London, 1974), pp 254–55

[2] Bernstein, Jeremy, Einstein, Fontana/Collins (Glasgow, 1976), pp 59–60

[3] Hawking, Stephen W., A Brief History of Time, Guild Publishing (London, 1990), pp 32–33

[4] Barabtarlo, Gennady (ed), Insomniac Dreams: Experiments With Time by Valdimir Nabokov, Princeton and Oxford (New Jersey and Woodstock, 2018), passim

[5] Lowe, E. J., ‘Time’ in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (ed Honderich), OUP (Oxford, 1995), pp 875–76

[6] Borges, Jorge Luis, ‘A New Refutation of Time’, in Labyrinths, Penguin Modern Classics (Harmondsworth, 1986), p 252

[7] Smolin, Lee, The Life of the Cosmos, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (London, 1997), pp 288–89

Peter Cowlam is a poet, novelist and playwright. As novelist, he has won the Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction twice, most recently in 2018 for his novel New King Palmers, which is at the intersection of old, crumbling empires and new, digital agglomerates. The Quagga Prize is awarded for independently published works of fiction. He has had plays performed at the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth, and by the Dartington Playgoers, and has had readings at the State University of New York and for the Theatre West 100 Plays project in Bristol, England. He has had four collections of haikuesque poems published (one in collaboration with Kathryn Kopple), also independently, and as poet and writer of fiction his work has appeared in En Bloc, The Battersea Review, The San Francisco Review of Books, The Blue Nib, The Galway Review, Easy Street, Literary Matters, Eunoia Review, The Brown Boat, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Liberal, the Criterion, and others. Peter Cowlam is the Literary Editor at Ars Notoria (

Saint or sinner? The Sins of G. K. Chesterton by Richard Ingrams

Review by Jon Elsby

Some years ago, a slim, paperback volume entitled The Holiness of G. K. Chesterton appeared. It was a collection of essays by various Roman Catholic academics who shared the (still somewhat eccentric) view that Chesterton should be canonized. Now, we have a book by Richard Ingrams – best known as the former editor of Private Eye and the founder of another magazine, The Oldie – which is apparently intended as a comprehensive rebuttal of the claims advanced in the earlier work. Ingrams is a convert to Catholicism, and his co-religionists might wonder whether his time would not have been better spent in pondering the sins of Richard Ingrams than in exposing what he alleges are the sins of G. K. Chesterton.1 However, the passion for the sensational journalistic exposé has clearly not left him, and his book is in the best Private Eye tradition of moralistic indignation and merciless iconoclasm. Curiously, in spite of his own conversion, Ingrams appears to have retained a good deal of residual anti-Catholicism, or at least anti-clericalism. As early as the Introduction, we find him writing this—

[The] saintly picture of Chesterton painted by the Catholic biographers involved isolating, as far as possible, three people who exerted a powerful if not damaging influence on the course of his career – his brother, Cecil, Cecil’s wife Ada (always known as Keith) and, in particular, the friend and mentor of both brothers, Hilaire Belloc.

The names of Belloc and Chesterton have always been coupled together and so became in the eyes of many Catholics a kind of Peter-and-Paul diumvirate defending the faith in the pages of their countless pamphlets and books. No-one has suggested canonization for Hilaire Belloc, but his reputation, too, has been zealously protected by Catholic commentators who saw him as the champion of Catholicism, a man who had spent a lifetime in defence of the Church – belligerent, admittedly, but admirable and sincere. Only A. N. Wilson’s masterly 1984 biography has challenged that perception, though even Wilson is generally sympathetic to Belloc.

Leading the field in the campaign to preserve the good name of both men were their respective official biographers – Maisie Ward (Chesterton) and Robert Speaight (Belloc). Ward, who wrote two books, G. K. Chesterton (1943) and Return to Chesterton (1952) was the wife of Catholic publisher Wilfred Sheed and a close friend of Chesterton’s wife Frances. Her biography contains a valuable store of information but, as Graham Greene wrote in a review, ‘It is too long for its material, too cumbered with affectionate trivialities … Mrs Ward has amiably supposed her readers to be all friends of her subject … One wishes too that she had remembered more frequently her non-Catholic audience.’

The same criticism could well be levelled at other writers, including Chesterton’s most recent biographer, Ian Ker, whose 747-page book, published in 2011, gives precedence, as Ward does, to Chesterton’s Catholicism and his religious writings – not surprising perhaps in view of the fact that the author is a Roman Catholic priest.

It seems that Catholic biographers cannot be trusted to tell – or even to recognize – the truth about their Catholic subjects. They will be biased. They will not be objective. They will ignore or gloss over inconvenient facts (that is, anything that does not redound to the credit of their heroes) and unduly emphasize and exaggerate their subjects’ virtues. Fr Ker’s views may be discounted on the grounds that, although he is a scholar who teaches at Oxford, he is also a Roman Catholic priest. In Fr Ker’s defence, however, we may point out that at least his scholarship prevented him from committing gross blunders, such as asserting that Maisie Ward was ‘the wife of … Wilfred Sheed’, when, in fact, she was the wife of F. J. (Frank) Sheed, a well-known lay theologian and Catholic apologist, and Wilfrid (not Wilfred) Sheed, the English-born American novelist, was their son.

When a writer is caught out in such an elementary mistake in the Introduction to his book, the reader may, not unreasonably, wonder how far he is to be trusted on anything else. For example, we find Ingrams doing what no previous writer on Chesterton has done – treating Ada Chesterton’s book, The Chestertons (1941), as a reliable source of information.2 As Ingrams himself quotes from Graham Greene’s review of Maisie Ward’s biography of Chesterton, we need not apologize for quoting, from the same review, what Greene has to say about Ada Chesterton’s memoirs. According to Greene, The Chestertons is ‘vulgar’, ‘inaccurate’, ‘badly written’, ‘expansive’, ‘discretionless’, ‘tasteless’, and ‘spiteful’. It seems, then, that there may be sound reasons for treating Ada Chesterton’s memoirs as a fundamentally unreliable record and ignoring them.

As we read Ingrams’ narrative, it quickly becomes clear that there are two villains of the piece: Hilaire Belloc and Cecil Chesterton. Belloc is depicted as narcissistic, egoistical, given to prevarication, cavalier with regard to facts in both speech and writing, violently anti-Semitic, obsessive, self-pitying, domineering, and manipulative. He is allowed no virtue whatsoever, nor any likeable qualities – facts which should make one suspicious, as Belloc had many friends and admirers, and no one who was as repulsive as the person depicted here would have had any.

But if Ingrams’ portrait of Belloc is harsh, one-sided, and unsympathetic, his depiction of Cecil Chesterton is even more so. Cecil, we learn, although highly intelligent, was ‘physically very unattractive’. He was ‘dwarfish’, ‘ugly’, ‘ill-favoured’, and ‘unprepossessing’. His voice and laughter were ‘harsh’ and ‘discordant’. He had an unpleasant habit of obtruding himself where he was not wanted. He was contrarian, argumentative, combative in temperament, pugnacious in manner, and indomitable in controversy. He stuttered and spluttered when he spoke. As a schoolboy, he was friendless and unpopular with other boys.

The effect of this torrent of opprobrium is to make one feel a certain sympathy for the unfortunate Cecil. After all, he could not help his appearance, or his temperament, or the harsh sound of his voice. Ingrams does not mention certain facts about Cecil recorded in his Wikipedia entry – for example, that he was wounded three times while fighting in France, or that, in spite of being sick, he refused to leave his post until the Armistice. Aged thirty-nine, Cecil died in a French hospital of nephritis. Clearly, he did not lack physical courage. And it is worth mentioning that Ada Chesterton evidently did not find him as repulsive as nearly everyone else (bar Gilbert) seems to have done.3 That Gilbert was able to love even the apparently unlovable Cecil surely strengthens his claim to sainthood rather than weakening it.

The worst flaw in Ingrams’ book, however, is not the violence of its animus against persons, but its insistence on judging late Victorian people by twenty-first-century standards instead of taking account of the very different regnant standards of the late Victorian period. However offensive we may find them today, racially derogatory epithets like ‘yid’ and ‘nigger’ were commonly used in those years, and for many years afterwards. And racism was not universally condemned, as it is today, but, on the contrary, universally practised. An Englishman of the Victorian age would have taken for granted the inferiority of other races and nations to the English; similarly, a Frenchman would have maintained, as a matter of course, the superiority of the French to every other race or nation on earth. Such views in monocultural societies, where the only contacts with people of other races were likely to have been mediated by the profoundly asymmetrical experience of imperial conquest and colonial rule, were not unusual: they were what ‘all right-thinking people’ thought. A tiny minority of wealthy, cultured, and well-travelled people might have acquired an immunity to these prejudices, but the great majority of the population had not.

If we consider the way Jews were depicted in Victorian literature, it is clear that anti-Semitism4 was normal in Britain at that time. Trollope’s portrayal of Jews in Nina Balatka and The Way We Live Now is certainly not unprejudiced. It took the humanity and generosity of Dickens to create the kindly Riah in Our Mutual Friend and the luminous intelligence and scrupulous sense of justice of George Eliot to create the eponymous hero of Daniel Deronda. But for the great majority of Victorian Englishmen, the stereotype of the Jew was Fagin, not Riah; and Augustus Melmotte, not Daniel Deronda. Ingrams shows no awareness of any of this, and makes no allowances for the cultural differences between that period and ours. Nor does he bear in mind that, if we indulge in the exquisite pleasure of condemning the sins of our ancestors from a lofty position of assumed moral superiority, then we shall have no reason to complain if our posterity judges us and our prejudices with equal severity.

In the case of Belloc, there is no lack of correctives to Ingrams’ biased and condemnatory verdict. Belloc’s biographers include Robert Speaight, A. N. Wilson, and Joseph Pearce. J. B. Morton has left us an affectionate memoir of his long friendship with Belloc. The late Fr James Schall, in Remembering Belloc (2014), has written a heartfelt tribute to Belloc, acknowledging the beneficial influence of his substantial literary and intellectual legacy. Cecil Chesterton is less fortunate. Although several of his books have remained in print, his literary achievements have been dwarfed by those of his brother, and he has not aroused the interest of biographers, with the exception of the English Carmelite friar, Fr Brocard Sewell. Perhaps it is just as well. If poor Cecil was really as awful as Ingrams says, then the kindest thing might be to pass him over in silence.

And what of GKC himself? The main focus of Ingrams’ book is on the unedifying details of the Marconi scandal, from which no one emerged with much credit – and certainly not the government ministers who stood accused of what today we should call ‘insider trading’. But the attention he has given to this unsavoury episode is entirely disproportionate. He treats it as though it were the fulcrum of GKC’s public life. He seems to think that GKC’s anti-Semitism, such as it was, effectively disposes of any claim to sainthood made on his behalf. But even the greatest saints were imperfect. Saint Paul was a zealous persecutor of Christians before he became the apostle to the Gentiles. Saint Augustine led a dissolute life in his youth and fathered a child out of wedlock before he became Bishop of Hippo, the scourge of heretics, and one of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Of the brilliant and scholarly Saint Jerome, it has been said that he always preferred an opinion to a friend. The saints are fallible, both morally and intellectually. They have flaws, not all of which are trivial. Like the rest of us, they bear the inexpungible taint of Original Sin.

What distinguishes the saints from ordinary people is that their lives have shown a pattern of what the Church calls ‘heroic virtue’. The question whether GKC’s life, taken as a whole, displays such a pattern is not to be answered by partisan polemics like The Sins of G. K. Chesterton. It requires a much more careful sifting of the evidence and a dispassionate consideration of what may be said on both sides of the argument. Ingrams’ book is well written, interesting, and, in places, entertaining. But it is neither objective nor, in any sense, a serious or scholarly contribution to a debate about the sanctity of G. K. Chesterton.


1In my Reassessing the Chesterbelloc (2016), I set out my reasons for thinking that a reappraisal of the reputations of Belloc and Chesterton was long overdue. I argued that, although their novels were of relatively minor importance, their works in other fields of literary endeavour – including, notably, Christian apologetics – deserved more serious consideration.

2Previous writers on Chesterton  are numerous. His biographers alone include, in addition to Maisie Ward and Fr Ian Ker, Alzina Stone Dale, Michael Ffinch, Michael Coren, and Joseph Pearce. Authors of critical studies of various aspects of Chesterton’s protean output include Ian Boyd, Margaret Canovan, Stephen R. L. Clark, Lynette Hunter, Mark Knight, Aidan Nichols, and Ralph C. Wood. None of them has suggested that Chesterton was influenced by his brother Cecil or Belloc as radically as Ingrams claims.

3The photograph of Cecil in uniform which accompanies his Wikipedia entry does not suggest that he was as ill-favoured as the witnesses quoted by Ingrams claim. He was short and stocky, but his features are regular and, while not handsome, they are by no means ugly or repulsive. It may be that the testimony of some witnesses concerning Cecil’s physical appearance is coloured by their dislike of his loud and rather harsh voice and of his assertive and combative personality.

4The anti-Semitism of Victorian Britain was not the fanatical, genocidal anti-Semitism of the Nazis, but it did involve a contempt and dislike for Jews and a view that they were fundamentally untrustworthy owing to their allegedly divided loyalties. It is odd to find Catholics like Belloc and Chesterton holding such views for two reasons. First, Christians are spiritual descendants of Jews. Our Lord, his apostles, the New Testament writers, and all the first Christians were Jews. Had there been no Judaism, there would have been no Christianity. Secondly, for centuries Catholics were accused of having divided loyalties (to the Pope and the Crown) and distrusted and discriminated against accordingly. One would have thought that their historical experience would have made them more sympathetic to the predicament of Jews in British society.

Jon Elsby’s spiritual and intellectual journey has been from Protestantism to atheism, and finally to Catholicism, an evolution he has traced in his memoir Wrestling With the Angel: A Convert’s Tale, published in paperback by CentreHouse Press. His most recent book, also published by CentreHouse Press, is Seeing is Believing, which develops themes touched on in his memoir, but with greater focus on the relations between faith and culture.

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