Editorial: Stop this Madness!

Stop the war in the Ukraine!

‘Do you know what I do to people who get in the way of me?’ asked the thuggish manager of a GAZOPROM plant sitting across the table from me.

‘No, what do you do to them?’

‘I destroy them,’ He said. And he stared at me, unsmiling.

This is a brutal, capitalist Russia, not a beacon of advanced, enlightened civilisation. The Russian nomenclature does not have many friends in a socially progressive Europe, partly because it does not deserve to have them. Arguably, the Russian answer to Western provocation and NATO expansion eastwards was comprehensible and foretold – if not excusable. Seen from the perspective of the exploited, developing world, we may recognise that bourgeois nationalism, such as the bourgeois nationalism of Russia, can form a firebreak against rampant US imperialism eager to get its hands on Russian natural resouces and to divide Russia up like a pie or a cake.

But if you are not a Russian nationalist and if you do not ally yourself firmly with the strategic aims of the Russian state and its corrupt actors, then your sympathy for Russia’s response to decades of NATO provocation – as the bodies pile high – must be severely limited. And no, the Germans in opposing Russia have not suddenly turned into Nazis.

The frightening fact is that competition between different centres of capitalism in the first part of the 20th century led to World War One. We are witnessing just such a competition between centres of capitalism right now. The priority now has to be to prevent World War Three.

Conservative Russian society is an example to no one.

Socialism arose in one of the most backward, top heavy, autocratic states in Europe. When socialism ended, Putin doubled down on the reactionary values that Soviet society had preserved in aspic.

Russia bypassed the 1960’s cultural revolution, that era of enlightenment and tolerance. In the U.S.S.R. they learned nothing from the struggles against racism around the world, the struggles for individual freedom and self expression, and the struggle for the emancipation of women. Russia is still that rather fossilised society that did not benefit from the social revolutions of the 1960s.

Russia would have more support and less opposition in the UN, Europe and the rest of the world had Russia settled on a more enlightened political system and not on brute capitalism; had it shown more solidarity with progressive social causes.

The celebration of toxic masculinity, the concentration of obscene fortunes, and the promotion of social conservatism have all provided excuses to the opponents of Russia. At the moment, the advancement of trans rights is an important part of the movement towards progressive social change in Europe and the USA. Naturally, trans rights are ignored and ridiculed in Russia. It is a mark of how socially retrograde Russia is. Conservative Russian society is an example to no one.

It is no coincidence that it is the right-wing populist, nationalist autocrats and former autocrats around the world, like Modi, Duterte, Bolsonaro and Trump most favour Putin; they share in his social conservatism.

An enlightened human being should not subscribe to the values of an intolerant, brutal, capitalist state like Russia. Russia Today. (RT) was notorious for pandering to the far right in Europe and the USA. RT inflamed feelings against migrants just as easily as it pointed the finger at US police brutality against African Americans.

What is to be done?

What is at issue now is the prospect of a dangerous nuclear escalation between an imperial USA and a nationalist Russia that threatens to destroy both the west and Russia and Europe. Peace negotiations should start at once!

And when the west and Putin manage to stop the war, then Putin will have to deal with the destructive consequences of the actions of his government. While the Russian speaking eastern and southern parts of the Ukraine will probably become attached to Russia, the Russian government will have to join in with Europe and the USA and pay for the reconstruction of what remains of the Ukraine – with no strings attached – before it is allowed to rejoin the international community.

US and European drug consumers are the real ‘bad hombres’: they generate the trade and cause the deaths

By Phil Hall

Again and again, it needs to be reiterated. Mexico’s war against the drug traffickers is mainly a US war. If Mexico has failed to defeat the drug traffickers on one side of the border, then the US has failed to defeat it on the other side of the border. The most powerful head honchos of the drugs cartel must be US citizens, not Colombians or Mexicans. Retail always earns more than wholesale.

There is a strange blind spot in the USA where a drugs trade generated by consumers in the richest country in the world suddenly becomes the problem of one nation: the problem of Mexico. What’s going on?

Personally speaking, I have never taken any hard drug. I used to act and look so square that no one has ever thought to offer me any. Yet I know that using cocaine and a wide variety of recreational drugs is considered normal and life-enhancing, especially by many people in the media, finance and creative industries. It is almost conventional wisdom nowadays that to loosen up and socialise effectively, a cosmopolitan European or US citizen with money will take some drugs – occasionally.

Dealers of all kinds sell recreational drugs everywhere. Drug dealers sell drugs not only in rough districts, in the way it is presented in a series like The Wire, but over the counter in corner shops, from cars parked on street corners, from suburban houses. There are even narcotics delivery services, courtesy of the pandemic.

Perhaps it was a reaction to the ideological attacks of Islam and its prohibitions in the noughties after 9/11, but alcohol, that legal drug, is currently promoted everywhere in Europe and the USA as the most life-enhancing, essential liquid that releases fun, love, friendship and freedom and marks your coming of age.

The dangers of alcoholism, a disease that destroys families and unleashes violence and costs the community dear, have now been dangerously downplayed. The modern ethos suggests that taking both drugs and alcohol can help turn you into a more mature, well-rounded and tolerant person.

Here’s the deal. Many journalists take drugs. Many journalists’ friends also take drugs. Drug taking is a criminal activity. Therefore, many journalists are – according to current law – criminals. Therefore, they advocate for the decriminalisation of drugs, all the time pointing the finger accusingly at countries like Mexico.

So we have many people who actually use the substances that cause the deaths in Mexico, over 150,000, calling the drug problem in the USA a ‘Mexican’ problem in an example of unadulterated hypocrisy. Journalists and politicians doing lines of cocaine and popping pills, condemn the Mexican government for failing in a drugs war that they themselves generate with their drug habits..

Of course there is another reason why the journalist will ascribe ‘failure’ to a nation state and blame the supply side instead of highlighting the corruption on the demand side: It is easier then to keep doing lines of coke (or whatever) and point the finger at Mexico rather than jeopardising your own safety by reporting on your supplier and risking suffering the same fate many of your colleagues do on the Mexican side of the border.

The US is primarily responsible for the drugs trade. It is the centre of the trade. In almost every school and workplace in the whole of that country, a variety of drugs are available for distribution to every student or employee. Reflect on that. A nation of over 350 million people where most of those people can get access to illegal drugs if they want to get access to them.

Think of the massive and relatively undisturbed distribution network that must exist in a country like the US for almost every US citizen to have access to drugs. Think of the vast numbers of policemen and officials that must be on the take for that distribution network to be able to operate effectively

The supply side, very often, doesn’t even always begin in Mexico. Mexico is a conduit. The conduit passes across the border and continues to operate in the US. But what happens when the drugs are in the US? By racialising the drug business and saying that it is black people and Latinos from Mexico who distribute the drugs, you cover up the reality and obscure the true people responsible for the drug trade; the consumers.

It is a relay race and the baton of corrupt officialdom is passed across the border to US citizens and officials involved in the drugs trade. In fact, it would not be a mistake to call the US itself a failed narco state, though the country is so huge and rich that not even the drug business is big enough to define it.

Hurrah for muscular secularism!

Letter from an Ex Sheikh

I have always used pseudonyms when participating in online debates. Most of these debates are on sociopolitical matters in Chad and in the Middle East. Not being able to speak French and the high rates of illiteracy in Chad, mean that a large chunk of my contributions go to forums in neighbouring Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I have never been overly polemical in my criticism, or used searing words against a person–thanks to my Islamic up bringing. A person perishes, gets ill and changes. Ideas do not.  

Anonymity is a great source of truth and inspires meaningful debate. My grandmother used to tell me when I was very young that, before breaking the inconvenient truth to anyone, pack up your luggage and mount your horse. Was she in her nomadic way telling me to not tell the truth? I don’t think so. I think she meant: ‘Be prepared to take the consequences of telling it as it is, even if that means migration and estrangement.’.

I am here because my father refused to remain anonymous. However, you Phil, mostly take freedom of speech for granted. The worst thing that can happen to you if you wanted to say anything (when you wrote, Phil, an article defending Jacob Zuma for the online guardian) is that you get denied access to a public forum. 

Here, nobody would put a death threat on you or put you into prison or cause you to seek refuge abroad, though you might lose your livelihood if your comments were malicious or racist or if you violated somebody else’s right to privacy.  

I had never tasted freedom before and did not understand what it entailed before coming to UK. Even though I am almost totally free to write, say and to think as I please, my grandmother’s advice still shadows my every utterance. It is not what I write and say that is pertinent here; it is the topic itself. Should you be allowed to caricature Jesus, militant Christians, the monarch and virtually everything above and under the firmament, but not Allah and Mohammed?

Was it suicidal of Theo van Gogh to put his name to a film? I think, as things stand, yes it was. And it is suicidal for him, for me and for anyone wanting to say anything against Allah publically. Was it irresponsible of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to go public with her Islamic experience? Is her restricted, body-guarded existence in the West a self-inflected prison? I think no, it is not, because when she started speaking out she was a member of the Dutch parliament. I am not.

As I write this people are murdered in Afghanistan for apostasy. Everyday Western national flags get burnt in Muslim countries, but we do not see suicide bombers or similar public outbursts of condemnations from westerners.

I see, as an outsider, how deeply ingrained in mainstream politics is the importance of multicultural Britain as sacrosanct and any perceived upsetting of the delicacy of this ‘unity in diversity’ has to be neutralized. Perhaps, by tolerating and allow minorities to be vociferous. Many European counties are trying to salve their conscious for the way they let down Jewish people in Germany. I raise my glass to the politicians who call for ‘muscular secularism’. I have every reason to be fearful and to produce my analysis of political Islam, anonymously.

People like me, Ayaan, and Salman Rushdie are targeted because we are seen as apostates and traitors of the faith. This is not the case for westerners when the question or disavow their own religions – the people Muslims label the original infidels.

Our whispers are informed by reading and experience. That’s why they do not want us to speak out loud. It is too easy to quote the pro peace Meccan Koranic verses, which arose when Muslims were an oppressed minority, and to say this is what Islam is all about. I will use anonymity to set the record straight for I believe I have some sort of understanding of both arguments as well as standing in a healthy distance from both. 

Cruelty to Boys in Afghan Schools

By Asad Karimi

In Afghanistan, while girls have their right to education stripped from them, boys at schools in the countryside are victims of harsh treatment and abuse. Asad Karimi writes about his experience.

When I was in Afghanistan and I was six or seven years old, I didn’t like going to school. I hated it. I loathed it. I couldn’t stand it. The teachers, all men, didn’t help the students; they were not polite to them or nice to them in any way. On the contrary.

I was feeling excited about going to school. My Mother and my family wanted me to go because they wanted me to learn something and for me to become a doctor or engineer. Ha!

They spent their precious money and paid for my fees and for the books and for the uniform and they thought that the teachers would look after us. But I couldn’t learn anything at school because of the violence of the teachers.

They beat you with a long wooden pole when you were two minutes late. They beat you when you made a mistake. They hit you very hard on the stomach, everywhere, and the teachers humiliated you in front of the class. You felt so embarrassed.

While I was trying to write, they hit me on my back. When I spoke aloud as I wrote, they hit me with force. Even now, I tremble sometimes when I pick up a pen and lean over a notepad. I am still scared that a heavy stick will come down.

They wouldn’t even let you write unless they told you to; they would assume you were drawing or doing something wrong. To put your pen to paper when you were not told to was considered playing. I still feel sorry when I think of my schooling in Afghanistan. By now, I would be in a much better position in life were it not for that school in Afghanistan.

Obviously, you were scared and in pain when they were beating you and sometimes the children were so frightened that they peed themselves. It’s hard to believe that this is true. That teachers can be like this.

I hated the role of school in Afghanistan. It is just a way of forcing you to learn religion. The Koran is fine to learn, but they didn’t teach any other useful things, except for some maths.

I was in trouble all the time when my family sent me to school. I decided not to go back. They thought I was at school, but at eight I was running away and I was meeting my friends and we shot catapults into the sky. We built home-made parachutes, and sometimes we just played football in the dust in our school shoes, with a small ball.

But everyday, if you leave school and have nothing to do and you can’t go to school and you can’t go home, it is as if you are in a strange empty place, nowhere; until the school bell goes and you can go home.

After a year my family found out that I was not going to school and hadn’t learned anything and they were upset and angry with me for a while until and I told them the truth that I didn’t like going because I was beaten constantly by the teachers and I was scared. They understood me. My father said:

What are you going to do in the future? Be a tramp? He was worried about me.

I wish one day to go back to Afghanistan and help the children there and give strong advice to the teacher and the community. My advice would be:

  1. Make sure children learn many things, not just religion.
  2. Do not beat children in school, not even a little bit.
  3. Let children feel free in school and happy.
  4. Have more activities at school don’t keep children stuck to their desks.
  5. Make sure boys and girls can study together. There is no problem with this.
  6. Eliminate tribalism between Tajik, Pashtun and Harzara at school. Encourage tolerance.
  7. Train all teachers to behave professionally and in a kind way towards the children.
  8. Help the schools with money. Children are the future and they must be helped.

When I came to UK I thought it was going to be the same as Afghanistan and I was afraid, but they told me not to be worried about going to school here. That the teachers were nice and that they would help me and I would have fun and make friends.

I got excited and overcame my fear.

Now when I call my father from England and I tell him I am at college, he is so happy, and he says with great emotion and pride:

Asad, don’t leave your education until you finish.

And he tells all his friends about me in the coffee shop and everyone knows I am here and studying and I hope the son-of-a-bitch teachers who beat me know too.

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.

Depression # 32 by Dan Pearce

Dan Pearce has done editorial work for many magazines and newspapers including New Society, Honey, 19, Oz, The Observer, The Times and Sunday Times, Mayfair and Penthouse. Dan has created book and record covers, political cartoons, comic strips and caricatures and he has written two graphic novels: ‘Critical Mess’ (against the nuclear industry) and ‘Oscar: The Second Coming’. His labour of love is the graphic novel, ‘Depression’ which is unfinished. He lived in Andalucia and then Umbria before coming back to live in the UK in Hastings. Dan went to the Colchester School of Art and the Central School of Art and his last painting was well received at the Sussex Open.

A rat race is for rats. We are not rats.

Jimmy Reid’s 1972 speech on alienation


ALIENATION is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society.

In some intellectual circles, it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe to be true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before.

Let me, right at the outset, define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes.

Alienation expresses itself in different ways by different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal anti-social behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by dropouts, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised.

Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping.

The irony is, they are often considered normal and well adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else.

They remind one of the character in the novel, Catch 22, the father of Major Major. He was a farmer in the American MidWest. He hated suggestions for things like medicare, social services, unemployment benefits or civil rights. He was, however, an enthusiast for the agricultural policies that paid farmers for not bringing their fields under cultivation. From the money he got for not growing alfalfa he bought more land in order not to grow alfalfa.

He became rich. Pilgrims came from all over the state to sit at his feet and learn how to be a successful non-grower of alfalfa. His philosophy was simple. The poor didn’t work hard enough and so they were poor. He believed that the good Lord gave him two strong hands to grab as much as he could for himself. He is a comic figure. But think—have you not met his like here in Britain? Here in Scotland? I have.

It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However, it is wrong. They are as much products of society and a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop out. They are losers. They have lost essential elements of our common humanity.

Humans are social beings

Humans are a social beings. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women. The big challenge to our civilisation is not OZ, a magazine I haven’t even seen, let alone read. Nor is it permissiveness, although I agree our society is too permissive.

Any society which, for example, permits over one million people to be unemployed is far too permissive for my liking. Nor is it moral laxity in the narrow sense that this word is generally employed—although in a sense here we come nearer to the problem. It does involve morality, ethics, and our concept of human values.

Jimmy Reid addressing the dock workers

Against the rat race

The challenge we face is that of rooting out anything and everything that distorts and devalues human relations.

Let me give two examples from contemporary experience to illustrate the point.

Recently on television, I saw an advertisement. The scene is a banquet. A gentleman is on his feet proposing a toast. His speech is full of phrases like ‘this full-bodied specimen‘. Sitting beside him is a young, buxom woman. The image she projects is not pompous, but foolish. She is visibly preening herself, believing that she is the object of this bloke’s eulogy. Then he concludes ‘and now I give‘ … then a brand name of what used to be described as Empire sherry.

The woman is shattered, hurt and embarrassed. Then the laughter. Derisive and cruel laughter. The real point, of course, is this: in this charade, the viewers were obviously expected to identify not with the victim but with her tormentors.

The other illustration is the widespread, implicit acceptance of the concept and term, “the rat race”. The picture it conjures up is one where we are scurrying around scrambling for position, trampling on others, back-stabbing, all in pursuit of personal success.

Even genuinely intended friendly advice can sometimes take the form of someone saying to you, ‘Listen, you look after number one’. Or as they say in London, ‘Bang the bell, Jack, I’m on the bus‘.

To the students I address this appeal:

Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.

Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.

This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it,

‘What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?

Profit is the sole criterion used by the establishment to evaluate economic activity. From the rat race to lame ducks.

The inhumanity of the giant consortia and monopolies

The vocabulary in vogue is a give-away. It is more reminiscent of a human menagerie than human society. The power structures that have inevitably emerged from this approach threaten and undermine our hard won democratic rights. The whole process is towards the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands.

The facts are there for all who want to see. Giant monopoly companies and consortia dominate almost every branch of our economy. The men who wield effective control within these giants exercise a power over their fellow men which is frightening and is a negation of democracy.

Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter.

In essence, it is an ethical and moral question, for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society.

From the Olympian heights of an executive suite, in an atmosphere where your success is judged by the extent to which you can maximise profits, the overwhelming tendency must be to see people as units of production, as indices in your accountants’ books.

To appreciate fully the inhumanity of this situation, you have to see the hurt and despair in the eyes of a man suddenly told he is redundant without provision made for suitable alternative employment, with the prospect in the West of Scotland, if he is in his late forties or fifties, of spending the rest of his life in the Labour Exchange.

Someone, somewhere has decided he is unwanted, unneeded, and is to be thrown on the industrial scrap heap. From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable.

The concentration of power in the economic field is matched by the centralisation of decision making in the political institutions of society.

The necessity of devolution of power

The power of Parliament has undoubtedly been eroded over past decades with more and more authority being invested in the Executive. The power of local authorities has been and is being systematically undermined. The only justification I can see for local government is as a counter-balance to the centralised character of national government.

Local government is to be re-structured. What an opportunity, one would think, for de-centralising as much power as possible back to local communities.

Instead, the proposals are for centralising local government. It is once again a blue-print for bureaucracy, not democracy. If these proposals are implemented, in a few years when asked “Where do you come from?”, I can reply: “The Western Region“. It even sounds like a hospital board.

It stretches from Oban to Girvan and eastwards to include most of the Glasgow conurbation. As in other matters, I must ask the politicians who favour these proposals—where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community? Of community life? Of a sense of belonging? Of the feeling of identification? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answers. Such human considerations do not feature in their thought processes.

Value human beings!

Everything that is proposed from the establishment seems almost calculated to minimise the role of the people, to miniaturise man.

I can understand how attractive this prospect must be to those at the top. Those of us who refuse to be pawns in their power game can be picked up by their bureaucratic tweezers and dropped in a filing cabinet under “M” for malcontent or maladjusted.

When you think of some of the high flats around us, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one could get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet.

If modern technology requires greater and larger productive units, let us make our wealth-producing resources and potential subject to public control and to social accountability. Let us gear our society to social need, not personal greed. Given such creative reorientation of society, there is no doubt in my mind that in a few years we could eradicate in our country the scourge of poverty, the underprivileged, slums, and insecurity.

Even this is not enough. To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural or, if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country.

A necessary part of this must be the restructuring of the institutions of government and, where necessary, the evolution of additional structures so as to involve the people in the decision-making processes of our society. The so-called experts will tell you that this would be cumbersome or marginally inefficient. I am prepared to sacrifice a margin of efficiency for the value of the people’s participation. Anyway, in the longer term, I reject this argument.

To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility.

The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people. I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It is a social crime. The flowering of each individual’s personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone’s development.

In this context, education has a vital role to play. If automation and technology is accompanied as it must be with full employment, then the leisure time available to man will be enormously increased. If that is so, then our whole concept of education must change.

The whole object must be to equip and educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession. The creative use of leisure, in communion with, and in service to our fellow human beings can and must become an important element in self-fulfilment.

Universities must be in the forefront of development, must meet social needs and not lag behind them. It is my earnest desire that this great University of Glasgow should be in the vanguard : initiating changes and setting the example for others to follow. Part of our educational process must be the involvement of all sections of the university on the governing bodies. The case for student representation is unanswerable. It is inevitable.

Have faith in the goodness of people!

My conclusion is to re-arm what I hope and certainly intend to be, the spirit permeating this address, which is an affirmation of faith in humanity.

All that is good in man’s heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit In

‘Why should we idly waste our prime.
The golden age, we’ll then revive, each man will be a brother,
In harmony we all shall live and share the earth together,
In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall love each fellow creature,
And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature.’

It is my belief that all the factors to make a practical reality of such a world are maturing now. I would like to think that our generation took humankind some way along the road towards this goal. It’s a goal worth fighting for.

Jimmy Reid, 1972

Jimmy Reid on Parkinson arguing the case for unions

Hamba kahle, Harry. 


1st May 1939 – 9th October 2022

by Leigh Voigt

How does one give an unbiased, honest appraisal of one’s own husband and have the gall to call it an obituary? Does one resort to clichés? Borrow words from the pens of others? No, one hones in on an aspect seldom seen by the general public – that of an artist, a private man, who worked in solitude and quiet contemplation.  

    Only someone who took in his tea, (me) and perhaps paused for moments of brief conversation, will notice the subtle changes in the making of a painting from beginning to end.

    The painting in this case is a portrait of Tony Hall. Neighbour, friend, journalist, activist, socialist, conservationist, in a word, a mensch.

Tony Hall, oil on canvas, Harold Voigt

    The inspiration behind wanting to do a portrait of Tony Hall was a charcoal sketch by John Singer Sargent of General Christiaan de Wet, who bore a remarkable likeness to Tony. Another was the 1832 portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres of Monsieur Louis-François Bertin. Both served as ‘back of the mind’ motivations for the portrait done in 2000. Tony was a charismatic figure with a colourful background and equally striking features.


Harry Voigt Exhibition, 2004

   Harold Voigt first had to persuade Tony that a portrait would be a fitting acknowledgement of their friendship. Tony acquiesced, no payment required, just a few hours of his time, during which all Tony had to do was to sit still. A few photographs were taken and good-natured banter ensued until Harry had enough visual information stored in his receptive mind. Months went past during which the portrait slowly took shape. It was Harry mastering his craft, from a spontaneous, loose drawing straight onto a large prepared canvas, to the final measuring by the grid system of a photograph.

The painting took at least 6 months to complete. He would work on other smaller canvasses at the same time, but always be drawn to work on the portrait. He became obsessed with the painting, every now and again calling someone in for confirmation that he was going in the right direction, getting it right. We always tactfully assured him that it was. Although he was supremely confident that his work was good, he often sought a sounding board, someone’s comment, either positive or critical. He seldom took any notice, just wanted interaction with another voice, a viewer with an opinion. Any passer-by or lunch guest would be called in to comment, for Harry to watch their response, if any.

The Studio Chair, Harold Voigt

  Nearly all Harold Voigt’s paintings were produced in this way, carefully considered, altered, reconsidered, scrapped, reworked, until suddenly one day I would go into his studio to find it signed.

   Harold defined and refined the techniques of the Old Masters. His dog-eared Degas monograph, his second-hand John Singer Sargent open on the table next to his once-white chair, all bore testament to his desperate need to improve, to perfect, to supersede the best of the best, if not for the world, then just for himself.  

Last minute touch up

  In Harry’s studio, in a home we have lived in for nearly fifty years, his studio was a sanctum; cluttered, redolent with artist’s studio smells; oil paint, turps, oils, books, marble dust and rabbit glue. An alchemist’s laboratory, a craftsman’s workroom.  His tools – his brushes, pens, pencils, crayon, chalks, nibs, scrapers, markers, all laid neatly in rows.

‘An alchemist’s laboratory, a craftsman’s workroom’

Studio Green Chair, Harold Voigt (detail)

   The windows with some of his aphorisms written in yellow crayon can never be Windolened, his walls never repainted, his stuff never recycled. Here a plaster cast of Mrs Piles, there a child’s zither, a set of Arthur Mee’s encyclopaedia, at least fifteen dusty old telephones, none of which work. His collection of little radios, Sony, Sanyo, Phillips and Grundig, occasionally appeared in his paintings, as did lamps, kettles, spectacles and chairs, plenty of chairs. A simple chair could become an object of sheer beauty, or nostalgia or even loneliness. Günter Schlosser once said Harold Voigt could make something out of nothing. A rusty wheelbarrow tells a story. A spade. A bell.

The Trowel, Harold Voigt

 Sketches, scribbles and colour swatches scattered all over the place, taped to the walls, propped against easels, on the floor. Not quite like Francis Bacon’s studio, but pretty close.

    Harry was an extraordinary man. Head and shoulders above the rest. With very deep footprints, long strides and with his quiet reliability in a marriage lasting 56 years, he is present in every brick, every nail, every brushstroke and in every curry I make.

The Guest Room Lamp, Harold Voigt

Winter Sunlight, Harold Voigt

Wilderness Blue and Ochre, Harold Voigt

Wheelbarrow, mixed media on canvas, Harold Voigt

Abandoned Building in Desolate Landscape, Harold Voigt

Buffalo Skull and Sheep’s Bell (detail), Harold Voigt

Mrs Piles, 2020, Harold Voigt

After a long and difficult struggle with many health problems, especially Parkinson’s, Harry died in his sleep at 12.15 am, on the 9th October, 2022, in his own bed at home, watched over by his two sons, Max and Walter, and his wife, Leigh.

    We shall miss his eccentric, intelligent and creative mind; his extensive knowledge, his guidance and most of all, his presence.

    His beautiful paintings, his self-built house and his remarkable self-discipline will serve as a benchmark for his family and future generations, and his paintings will be his legacy.   

Hamba kahle, Harry. 

Photographs through an art filter

Experiments with photo art applications, in particular the PRISMA application.

by Philip Hall

Passing photos through ready-made filters hasn’t really taught me much about how paintings and drawings are made, but doing this for a decade has taught me how important it is to have an artist’s eye and how the artist’s eye – even when it is automated and a little sugary – can be so transformative.

My first experience of art was difficult. I was six and my father dragged me around the Louvre in Paris and all I wanted to do was to sit down. I tried to show interest. I remember the little picture of the Mona Lisa at the end of our long walk through the galleries.

There was a cordon to stop you from getting too close. It was a little dark. There, a lady with a smile looked at me from the painting. She had a strange, high, wrinkle-free forehead. It was mysterious; why was my father showing me this? I wasn’t tall enough to see the pictures, either, so I had to crane. There was another small picture my father looked at for a while. What was he looking at? I asked him. I think he said it was a picture of Adam and Eve. Well, my mother’s name was Eve, so I looked up at it. But it was quite a dark painting. I couldn’t make anything out.

The art that my parents seemed to value was African art. Even the drawings and paintings on the wall. Wherever we went, our parents bought handicrafts and the creative work of the people of the countries in which we lived. Pride of place were Makonde carvings, ancient and abstract. They showed circles of people intertwined or holding hands and forming one sculpture made from ebony. Dark, hard, ebony.

My next encounter with art was in France, where my grandfather – despite the fact that he said he didn’t like modern art – took me to all the modern art galleries along the Cote d’ Azur. I visited them arm-in-arm with my grandmother. The highlight for me was the Chapel Matisse, which, strangely, at age 14, made me cry. I came back 40 years later with my wife to see it again and I cried again. And I hardly ever cry.

When I was older, I read John Berger and John Berger said something that made a lot of sense. Art was paid for by the rich and very often reflected the concerns of the rich and so, the artists had to paint beyond the intelligence or understanding of the mercenary aristocrats and merchants. Or s/he had to paint with their complicity. Like a sort of court jester, or a confidant.

I saw The Draughtsman’s Contract. An aristocratic and childless couple hires a young artist. The husband is infertile. The draughtsman thinks he has been hired because he is talented and witty and good company. What he does not know is the wittier and cleverer he is, the more he seals his doom. He is there to impregnate the character played by Janet Suzman and then be killed.

The wealthy are more concerned with conserving their wealth and power through inheritance than they are with wit, science and art. The movie was off-putting because there were sex scenes with Janet Suzman, who got down on her knees like a brood mare (Peter Greenaway was being obvious here) and Janet Suzman was my mother’s best friend throughout school.

John Berger said that there was a fetish about original art and that there was very little difference between a reproduction and the original. The original was used as a way of monetising something because there was only one of it. He pointed out that the art of the rich shows off the possessions of the rich and presents the picture the powerful and wealthy want to present as a form of propaganda and that the art of that time objectified women.

I did not know at the time that Berger was responding to a much greater, deeper and interesting set of observations made by Kenneth Clark in his series Civilisation. Neither did I realise that Berger was contradicting the art critic Walter Benjamin, who believed that original art retained an ‘aura’.

When I was 18, suffering like hell, I travelled across to France to see my old school friends and my first proper girlfriend and then broke up with her. But it was a messy breakup. As we always did in Paris, we visited modern art museums and saw art house movies. I wasn’t as pretentious as my friends, but I tried to catch up. It didn’t come as naturally to me as it did to them. That’s where I first noticed Gustave Moreau. I still like his work.

We met again in Switzerland and I had an awful time with no money in Italy and finally had to try to get back and hitched across Austria. And I mention this because in Austria an artist gave me a ride from Vienna to Innsbruck in his combi. He was working for a quiz show programme where people answered questions from a telephone box and his job was to set up the telephone box. He said he would give me a lift if I helped him and I did. I set up his telephone box in the rain and the bright lights of the TV switched on and the quiz show hosts suddenly switched on their charm, too. Just like that. It was rather shocking and sinister.

But on our long drive, the quiz booth man explained conceptual art to me and told me about the marvellous Marcel Duchamp. He himself was a conceptual artist, you see. I and I saw what he meant and why Duchamp was great.

Remember, in literature and art, with semiology, the question of authorship is disputable. We are talking about the subjectivity of the viewer, mediated by society, and the subjectivity of the artist and his or her intentions and unconscious intentions and the influence of society on that author and so on and so forth. The 80s and early 90s were the time of post-modernism when D.Js like Fatboy Slim were mixing other people’s music and experimenting with it and calling it their own. It was the age of commercialisation, theft and sarcasm.

In Madrid in the late eighties, briefly, I spent time with an aspiring Australian film director who had just made a film called ‘Saliva‘ and who wore ski pants. I annoyed her a lot because I argued, having read something in El Pais, that the CIA had supported the abstract art of people like Rothko and Pollock and later Schnabel, as a way of undercutting the influence of radical figurative art. They didn’t want any Diego Riveras, thank you very much. They didn’t want political art, they wanted Andy Warhol. The Australian was furious with me. Abstract US art was sacred to her.

And I could continue to recount all the experiences that formed my appreciation of art, but I won’t. I just want to explain why I decided to take using an art app with a phone seriously. Without any pretensions to being an artist, I wanted to experiment by trying to take the pictures that I wanted to and then layering them over with filters.

In an age of a billion photographers, what does it matter? I can co-create. Did the app create art from my photo or did the photo allow the app to make it more like art?

Moreover, the technology is a phone. So, I have been using phones, which are annoying because the designer of the phone camera always automates it and tries to second guess the user. The photo that you take is already ersatz before you actually pass it through a filter. The following pictures are the selection of result of a decade of amateur experimentation with art filters, mainly from the application PRISMA.

Passing photos through ready-made filters hasn’t really taught me much about how paintings and drawings are made, but doing this has taught me how important it is to have an artist’s eye and how the artist’s eye – even when it is automated and a little sugary – can be transformative.

And now, in a strange turnabout, I have met an artist who says he is willing to contemplate turning some of these pictures into actual paintings, changing them again in the process. We shall see.

Pete in Rahima (2013)

The Other Side of the Sun (2014)

Southern Trains (2014)

Eve (2020)

For we like Sheep …(2018)

Fair at the Museum (2016)

Barbican (2021)

Ventilator (2021)

Sea Horse (2015)

Winchester (2019)

Fallen Tree, North Downs Way (2018)

Sodium Light of the Gulf (2012)

Self Portrait, Saudi Arabia (2014)

River Itchen (2018)

Thames Path (2022)

Flowers (2015)

Richmond Park, Ladderstyle Entrance (2022)

Pilgrim’s Way (2018)

Gertrude (2018)

Train to Venice (2013)

The Triangle (2021)

Gertrude (2021)

Stone Lamb (2022)

Brothers after COVID (2022)

Mini (2021)

John and Tere in Richmond Park (2022)

Flowers (2012)

Kitchen Still Life (2022)

Carmen Drinking Coffee (2017)

Piccadilly (2015)

View over Ranmore Common (2019)

Trees in Winter on Coombe Hill (2020)

New Malden Station (2014)

Peter Cowlam (2022)

Ice Cream, Venice (2013)

Net Curtains (2020)

Kingston Rowing Club (2020)

To and Fro (2014)

Vaporetto (2013)

Fox (2020)

Pollarded Tree (2021)

Eve’s room (2016)

Flower (2017)

Epping Forest (2022)

Pembroke Lodge Approach (2022)

Tea Shop in Skipton (2022)

Twickenham (2020)

River (2022)

Night Tree (2016)

Window (2021)

Screen (2021)

Skipton market (2022)

King Charles III’s Sacred Task: dissolve the institution of Monarchy

Bring the powerful to heel, don’t glorify monarchs and privilege

by Philip Hall

The idea that Charles III is divinely appointed to rule over us is ridiculous! Yet, ultimately, it is the metaphysical idea of the divine right of kings that gives King Charles III his legitimacy as the head of state. Ordinary British people are not citizens, but the subjects of a king whose soul was chosen by God to rule over them.

Pull the other one! The only sacred task that Charles has in front of him is to phase out the British system of monarchy; to dissolve the monarchy and return all crown properties and privileges to our democratically accountable state – to the people.

Charles III is not King Arthur; he is not a sacred king. He is not divinely appointed. He is not a unifier. Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and the warring corporations. It is a kind of opiate, an important distraction that we don’t need at a crucial time when the cost-of-living crisis is upon us – while US capitalism wars with Russian capitalism, fighting over lebensraum in Ukraine at the cost of half a million dead, and at the risk of setting off a world destroying conflagration.

What would really unite us now is not a jug-eared new king, but a fairer society. What would give satisfaction is to see our elected government call to hell the wealthy and the corporations that puppeteer our corrupt political system in Great Britain.

Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and for the warring corporations.

. . .

Kings and Queens brought people together into greater communities using brute power and oppression. Monarchical systems concentrated the wealth produced by the labour of ordinary people. Instead of sharing wealth with the people, the aristocrats generated luxury for themselves and wasted people’s work and the resources of the land on vanity projects.

From the beginning, monarchies had great pointless monuments like the Pyramids built. They enslaved millions and made civilisation more uncivilised, preferring to have huge luxurious tombs and religious buildings built instead of, for example, preventing the deaths of children from starvation and avoidable disease. The aristocrats had, and have, all the morality of lizard-eating snakes.

The ancient institution of monarchy is not as old or respectable as our dream of a happy communalism. When we were more monocultural society, monarchism grounded our beings in the land across a narrow racial and cultural spectrum. But let’s get our bearings, for God’s sake, we no longer live in a mono-racial, monoculture, we live in the multicultural Great Britain of 2023.

Poundberry, King Charles’ infamous architectural kitsch, photo Zonda Grattus

The Monty Python team put the question well: is a mystical connection to God and the land the basis for a good modern system of government? A king is not subject to the will of the people. The monarch embodies a divine appointment to rule and the right of the Monarch contradicts, by definition, the rights of the subjects of that monarch.

The monarch heads an aristocracy. The monarchical system contradicts, in principle, the ideas of liberté, égalité, fraternité. It is an insult to the ideals of social and economic justice. For modern humans living in democracies, the values of liberty, equality, fraternity and social and economic justice supersede any mystical connection one person might or might not have to the land. Respect for basic human dignity precludes us from agreeing to subject ourselves to another human. As Mark Twain said in private notes:

The institution of royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.

Tony Benn, who was himself from an aristocratic family, while he was respectful towards the Queen, was correct in his assessment of the foundations of a monarchical system.

I don’t think people realise how the establishment became established. It simply stole the land and property off the poor, surrounded themselves with weak-minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and it has been wielding power ever since.

Tony Benn, in conversation

Of course, the monarchy in the UK is not absolute as it is in places like Saudi Arabia. In Britain, the power of the monarch was circumscribed long ago by the Magna Carta (1215) and we eventually ended up with a constitutional monarchy, by way of the abortive English Revolution.

In the United Kingdom, the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution. The new King Charles III is relegated to the role of being a symbol of state continuity and the union. But the British monarchy underwrites the unfairness of our British class system. It is no coincidence that the link between the monarchy and the military is very strong and always has been. It is not just that the British people have acquiesced to becoming subjects of the monarchy, force of arms maintains the monarch in power.

I had an argument with a friend which marked the end of our friendship. He was a member of the SAS and, while he studied Arabic and French, he moonlighted as a bodyguard for Prince Charles and Diana on different occasions, when Diana was still alive. I asked him this:

I accept the monarchy and the current political state of Britain under Margaret Thatcher because that is the expression of the will of the people in a democracy. But what if a socialist republican government were to be elected into power? Would you swear loyalty to it?

He said: ‘No!’ That was when we parted company.

In fact, according to past revelations, one of the main alleged organisers of a possible coup against the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1968 was Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle. The Queen’s uncle, King Edward VIII, was a notorious Nazi sympathizer before he was forced to resign. The sexual behaviour of Edward VII was a hundred times more scandalous than that of Prince Andrew. Remember that the democratically elected Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia, was removed from office by the governor of Australia, the Queen’s representative.

Underlyingly, the ideals and principles of a monarchical system and the very real material foundations of that system are antithetical to socialism and equality. Though we should remember that four of the most progressive northern democracies in Europe apart from the UK, have constitutional monarchs: Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

The British monarch has no legitimacy in India, Africa, Asia or the Americas

Fifteen Commonwealth realms are now supposed to have King Charles III as their monarch. In the past, under the system of the British monarchy, Queen Victoria had the chutzpah to call herself The Empress of India (at Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s suggestion). Victoria presided over the British Empire. Britain colonised a quarter of the world and governed almost a quarter of its people not by divine right, but by conquest. Then Great Britain robbed the colonies blind in order to extract wealth and advantage. To maintain British imperial power, the British state over the whole period of empire, killed thousands in the colonies and oppressed millions on every continent. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were settled by colonialists transplanted from the mother country and dedicated to the extermination of the indigenous peoples of those lands.

A British Army patrol in pursuit of Mau Mau independence fighters, MOD Official Collection, Mau 587

Look at it coldly! How can there possibly be a mystical connection of fealty between the monarch of the United Kingdom and the native populations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, who Britain oppressed?

Though, perhaps those same indigenous peoples do have a deep, almost mystical feeling of hatred towards the British monarchy for the British theft of farmland and mineral resources and the British violation of sovereignty and the many acts of oppression by the British. The British Monarchy, for example, can certainly sling its hook when it comes to claiming any divine right to rule over Ireland.

The United Kingdom is the place where the scattering began, as Merle Collins explained in a poem, and the UK is where the people of the former empire now gather, attracted by the wealth which that empire extracted from their different countries. When you look around you in the UK, you see that a large proportion of the people who form part of our multicultural society are here because ‘we were over there‘.

Charles I, whose head was chopped off in The English Revolution in 1649

What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society

Bevan talking to a patient at Park Hospital Manchester the Day the NHS came into being, University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences

What unites us in a post-enlightenment, technologically unified, globalised society is not a monarchy. What unites us, to the extent that it still exists, is being British citizens of a functioning representative democracy. What unites us is a system of social protection and welfare. What unites us in 2022 is free education and free health care. It is also negative liberty that unites us; the right to be free from persecution and prejudice

What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society; the bringing to heel of the wealthy corporations that currently puppeteer and corrupt our British government. What would really unite us would be the control, taxation and regulation by the government of powerful people and corporations who, without that control, have a tendency to behave like the ruthless commercial barons of the early part of the industrial revolution.

Social justice will bring social solidarity, not the anachronistic, counterfactual mysticism of an incredibly expensive celebrity cult.

The unification of Europe, and togetherness and kindness further afield, global unity and the elimination of conflict, is something the more enlightened spirits among us long for. All of us who believe in reciprocity and historical justice and the equality and rights of all human beings want unity, not splintering and division. But that unity should come about as the result of a proper democracy, not something as silly and irrelevant as a monarch.

We need a different system of government in the UK. We need an elected upper house and an elected head of state.

The real sacred task of King Charles III is to ‘love’ his people enough in order to have the democratically elected state abolish all aristocratic titles and inheritances and return all that property and wealth acquired through the system of monarchy back to the British people; from the property of the Duke of Westminster downwards.

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.

Obituary: Bryan Greetham, teacher, writer and thinker

By Pat Rowe

Bryan Greetham (1946-2022) the writer and thinker, died on Sunday 26th June in Estepona, Spain. Above all, Bryan wanted to help students of all ages be the best thinkers possible.

Bryan was born in Faversham, Kent. He failed the 11 plus exam and went to a secondary modern school. But this didn’t hold him back. He pushed to take his A’ Levels and got a place to read History at the University of Kent. Then he took an MA in Intellectual History at the University of Sussex. He was awarded a PhD, in moral philosophy by the University of Newcastle of New South Wales, Australia when he was in his 50s. He was an honorary fellow at the University of Durham.

Bryan loved teaching and was always happy to help any of his students. It was for them he started writing and had just finished the fifth edition of his first book, How to Write Better Essays, when he died. Some of Bryan’s more recent books focused on techniques to develop the art of thinking itself: Smart Thinking and Thinking Skills for Professionals.

Helen Caunce, Bryan’s editor at Palgrave:

“he demonstrated intellectual curiosity, consideration, astute judgement and – above all else – genuine warmth and kindness. There really is no-one I’ve enjoyed working with more in my publishing career. Bryan’s books will continue to represent the very best of study skills publishing: his work stems from a keenly felt desire to make the experience of studying at university more accessible – to make the ‘rules of the game’ clear – particularly for those coming from a less privileged background. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to commission so many of these inspirational books.”

Bryan had almost finished a novel about the moral dilemmas facing people in the Second World War but it will remain uncompleted.

I hope he will be remembered for his books and for the passion with which he taught his students and tried to help all those who bought them and later contacted him. As well as philosophy, which he loved, he also taught history and politics. Bryan was always curious about our world, constantly reading, writing and questioning our origins, our existence and our future..

Bryan Greetham was a generous contributor to Ars Notoria. Phil Hall, its founding editor, said:

Reading Bryan Greetham’s book resulted in an intellectual epiphany. Despite the fact that I thought hard and studied for so long, after I came across Bryan Greetham’s books, I realized that my thought processes were neither clear nor profound. Bryan’s book dispersed my mental fog, and it was important to incorporate his ideas into my classes at all the different universities and colleges I worked at in the UK and abroad. Bryan opened his students’ (and his friends’) intellectual horizons. His ideas were transformative. He was a great humane thinker and socialist and if everyone was able to think the way he suggested we think we would be living in a much better world, not in this strange infra-mundo.

Bryan wasn’t just an academic, though. He loved cycling and music. Cream, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin were some of his favourites. He supported his beloved Newcastle United FC, and he had many other interests that filled his life. Early on in his life, Bryan played piano and sang in a church choir. He played tennis, cricket, rugby and football, and he loved swimming.

After the UK, we lived in Portugal. Together, Bryan and I started an international college. After Portugal we moved to Australia. Then we lived in France and finally in Spain. But Bryan always loved Kent and that is where I will take his ashes.

Although he was not traditionally religious in adult life, Bryan had strong spiritual beliefs of his own, so maybe he has taken a Stairway to Heaven, to his own idea of heaven. I hope so.

Bryan wanted to feel he had done something good and useful. I know from all the messages he received over the years that he achieved this.

A toast to Bryan.

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.

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