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Found wisdom

Friday, 16 October, 2015 1 Comment

My mother had a habit of jotting down facts, figures and bits of wisdom that took her fancy. The scripts were ornamented with arrows, underscores and ambiguous spellings. Here’s an example:

Mammy's wisdom

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Wednesday, 14 October, 2015 0 Comments

On 3 December 1976 in the violent run up to the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play a free concert in Kingston to ease tensions, seven men stormed his house with machine guns. Marley survived the attack and went on to perform at the concert. A Brief History of Seven Killings, which won Marlon James the Booker Prize last night in London, is an imagined oral history told by witnesses, killers, ghosts, politicians, beauty queens, CIA agents and Keith Richards’ drug dealer. The book is full of crime, cursing, sex, drugs, death, laughs and literary devices. Snippet:


Dead people never stop talking. Maybe because death is not death at all, just a detention after school. You know where you’re coming from and you’re always returning from it. You know where you’re going though you never seem to get there and you’re just dead. Dead. It sounds final but it’s a word missing an ing. You come across men longer dead than you, walking all the time though heading nowhere and you listen to them howl and hiss because we’re all spirits or we think we are all spirits but we’re all just dead. Spirits that slip inside other spirits. Sometimes a woman slips inside a man and wails like the memory of making love. They moan and keen loud but it comes through the window like a whistle or a whisper under the bed, and little children think there’s a monster. The dead love lying under the living for three reasons. (1) We’re lying most of the time. (2) Under the bed looks like the top of a coffin, but (3) There is weight, human weight on top that you can slip into and make heavier, and you listen to the heart beat while you watch it pump and hear the nostrils hiss when their lungs press air and envy even the shortest breath. I have no memory of coffins.

But the dead never stop talking and sometimes the living hear. This is what I wanted to say. When you’re dead speech is nothing but tangents and detours and there’s nothing to do but stray and wander awhile. Well, that’s at least what the others do. My point being that the expired learn from the expired, but that’s tricky. I could listen to myself, still claiming to anybody that would hear that I didn’t fall, I was pushed over the balcony at the Sunset Beach Hotel in Montego Bay. And I can’t say shut your trap, Artie Jennings, because every morning I wake up having to put my pumpkin-smashed head back together. And even as I talk now I can hear how I sounded then, can you dig it, dingledoodies? meaning that the afterlife is just not a happening scene, not a groovy shindig, Daddy-O, see those cool cats on the mat? They could never dig it, and there’s nothing to do but wait for the man that killed me, but he won’t die, he only gets older and older and trades out wives for younger and younger and breeding a whole brood of slow-witted boys and running the country down into the ground.

A Brief History of Seven Killings Dead people never stop talking and sometimes the living hear. Sometimes he talks back if I catch him right as his eyes start to flicker in his sleep, talks until his wife slaps him. But I’d rather listen to the longer dead. I see men in split breeches and bloody longcoats and they talk, but blood comes out of their mouths and good heavens that slave rebellion was such ghastly business and that queen has of course been of bloody awful use ever since the West India Company began their rather shoddy decline compared to the East and why are there so many negroes taking to sleeping so unsoundly wherever they see fit and confound it all I seem to have misplaced the left half of my face. To be dead is to understand that dead is not gone, you’re in the flatness of the deadlands. Time doesn’t stop. You watch it move but you are still, like a painting with a Mona Lisa smile. In this space a three-hundred-year-old slit throat and two-minute-old crib death is the same.

If you don’t watch how you sleep, you’ll find yourself the way the living found you. Me, I’m lying on the floor, my head a smashed pumpkin with my right leg twisted behind the back and my two arms bent in a way that arms aren’t supposed to bend and from high up, from the balcony I look like a dead spider. I am up there and down here and from up there I see myself the way my killer saw me. The dead relive a motion, an action, a scream and they’re there again just like that, the train that never stopped running until it ran off the rails, the ledge from that building sixteen floors up, the car trunk that ran out of air. Rudeboys’ bodies bursting like pricked balloons, fifty-six bullets.

Nobody falls that way without being pushed. I know. And I know how it feels and looks, a body that falls fighting air all the way down, grabbing on to clumps of nothing and begging once, just once, just goddamn once, Jesus, you sniveling son of a mongrel bitch, just once that air gives a grip. And you land in a ditch five feet deep or a marble-tiled floor sixteen feet down, still fighting when the floor rises up and smashes into you because it got tired of waiting for blood. And we’re still dead but we wake up, me a crushed spider, him a burned cockroach. I have no memory of coffins.


Living people wait and see because they fool themselves that they have time. Dead people see and wait. I once asked my Sunday school teacher, if heaven is the place of eternal life, and hell is the opposite of heaven, what does that make hell? A place for dirty little red boys like you, she said. She’s still alive. I see her, at the Eventide Old Folks Home getting too old and too stupid, not knowing her name and talking in so soft a rasp that nobody can hear that she’s scared of nightfall because that’s when the rats come for her good toes. I see more than that. Look hard enough or maybe just to the left and you see a country that was the same as I left it. It never changes, whenever I’m around people they are exactly as I had left them, aging making no difference.

The man who was father of a nation, father to me more than my own, cried like a sudden widow when he heard I had died. You never know when people’s dreams are connected to you before you’re gone and then there’s nothing to do, but watch them die in a different way, slow, limb by limb, system by system. Heart condition, diabetes, slow-killing diseases with slow-sounding names. This is the body going over to death with impatience, one part at a time. He will live to see them make him a national hero and he will die the only person thinking he had failed. That’s what happens when you personify hopes and dreams in one person. He becomes nothing more than a literary device.

A different kind of vertical

Monday, 12 October, 2015 0 Comments

A fairly recent headline reads: “Tidemark goes verticals, machine learning and benchmarking.” It makes little sense to those who are not familiar with the vocabulary of the information economy and it makes even less sense to those who might have learned English as a second language. I mean, “Tidemark goes verticals”. What’s that about? Actually, vertical is now a standard tech marketing term, and it’s usually used in the plural, to make matters worse.

It’s a very different kind of vertical that interests the American photographer Richard Silver. In his Vertical Churches series, Silver has produced a unique collection of panoramic vertical photos of churches around the world. He created each image by interlacing up to ten photos of the subject and the results are spellbinding. Places of worship in the series include the Wangfujing Catholic Church in Beijing, the Church of the Transfiguration in Krakow, the Holy Name Cathedral in Mumbai, the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York and the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Yangon.

Vertical church

Grief is just love with no home

Sunday, 11 October, 2015 0 Comments

Mammy and Daddy

“Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.”

Stephen Dobyns

Remarque on right and wrong

Saturday, 10 October, 2015 0 Comments

In the fourth installment in the Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web (original Swedish title: Det som inte dödar oss), author David Lagercrantz quotes Erich Maria Remarque as saying: “It’s always the wrong people who have the guilty conscience. Those who are really responsible for suffering in the world couldn’t care less. It’s the ones fighting for good who are consumed by remorse.”

The graves

A month of mourning and cake

Tuesday, 6 October, 2015 1 Comment

How does one measure the extent, the expanse of human loss? And when it involves the loss of a beloved mother, how does one explain the feeling of anguish left by the absence of so constant and cherished a presence? Words fail. Although a month has elapsed since her death, the pain remains acute.

One source of comfort in these sad days is the support offered by her friends and neighbours. Their loyalty and support is heroic and the beautiful memorial cake baked by the saintly Milly Hanley expresses love better than any phrase or sentence. The act of taking the time to create something nourishing in the style favoured by my mother is the ultimate tribute to her legacy.

Milly's memorial cake

In Memory Of My Mother

Sunday, 6 September, 2015 1 Comment

Our loss is enormous. Our hearts are broken. Our sorrow is great. Our hope is that our mother, Catherine O’Donnell-Fitzgerald (29 July 1928 – 6 September 2015), will smile up at us and down on us — eternally — because we will be forever in her debt.

In Memory Of My Mother

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday —
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle — ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life —
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh


To My Mother

Sunday, 6 September, 2015 0 Comments

Now that the great battle has entered its final round, it is time to dwell upon the “love of unforgotten times” as Robert Louis Stevenson so perfectly termed it.

To My Mother

You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

My mother

The Eternal Roma

Saturday, 5 September, 2015 0 Comments

“In my life I have been fortunate to have explored fascinating places around the world. There is one particular city though, that keeps giving me new emotions every day. It is Roma (Rome),” says video-maker Oliver Astrologo. In this beautiful clip, Oliver captures what Henry James noticed a century ago when he visited The Eternal City: “Here was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.”

The cruelty and inhumanity of the “brothers”

Friday, 4 September, 2015 1 Comment

The image of Aylan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach is being portrayed as Europe’s disgrace. What it really illustrates, in fact, is the cruelty and inhumanity the wealthy Gulf Arab states that are refusing to help Syria’s refugees. On Wednesday, Amira Fathalla of BBC Monitoring sought to explain “Why Syrians do not flee to Gulf states.” The harsh reality is that “Without a visa, Syrians are not currently allowed to enter Arab countries except for Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen,” she wrote. One cannot imagine that there’s a long line of refugees waiting to enter Sudan and Yemen.

Today, in the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor follows up and spells out the inhumanity of the neighbours: “The Arab world’s wealthiest nations are doing next to nothing for Syria’s refugees.” Here, he names and shames: “six Gulf countries — Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.” Shame be upon them.

Arab states

And where will the Tunisians go?

Thursday, 3 September, 2015 0 Comments

Back in June, a young Tunisian Islamist arrived at a tourist beach in Sousse, on the Gulf of Hammamet, which is a part of the Mediterranean. “In the midday sun, Seifeddine Rezgui pulled a Kalashnikov from a parasol and opened fire on the beach, sending holidaymakers fleeing for their lives. He threw explosives at the pool area before continuing inside the Imperial Marhaba hotel,” reported the BBC. By the time the police shot him, he had murdered 38 tourists. Three months earlier, Islamist terrorists killed 22 people in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

Michael J. Totten visited Sousse recently and his post, How to Destroy a City in Five Minutes, is chilling. It is especially relevant in light of the crises that are engulfing North Africa and their knock-on consequences for Europe. Snippet:

“Hotels are laying off workers. Shops are empty and many will have to be closed. The city is reeling with feelings of guilt and anxiety. Guilt because one of their own murdered guests, the gravest possible offense against the ancient Arab code of hospitality, and anxiety because — what now? How will the city survive? How will all the laid-off workers earn a living with their industry on its back? Sousse without tourists is like Hollywood without movies and Detroit without automobile manufacturing.

Even Tunisia’s agriculture economy is crashing. Prices are down by 35 percent because the resorts don’t need to feed tourists anymore.”

What will become of the the unemployed Tunisian hotel workers? How will the country’s agricultural labourers survive the winter? Despite the risks, crossing the Mediterranean may be their best option. The question then is how should they be classified: migrants in search of work or refugees fleeing the barbarism of ISIS?