Tuesday, 12 October 2010


People go caving, don't they, mad bastards, do it for fun, they do. And hiking, up in the Cairngorms or Snowdonia, dressed, more or less, in their underpants. There's always the mountain rescue guys;  they have helicopters and thermal imaging stuff. Yachtsmen go Hornblowering down to the sea, in flimsy craft, Gales in  North Uzera, Force Ten in South Uzera. And they are all, in their own minds, invulnerable. Nasty old snow's not gonna take me by surprise.  Or, No, I'm a mariner, me, know these waters like the back of my hand, just have to do some tacking.  And backing. Nautical stuff. And there's always the RAF Rescue blokes, they can pull you out of the drink. Ah've been cavin', me, man and boy, for't best part of eighteen months, there' s nowt tha can teach me, subterranean  'omesick blues, got 'em in me blood. No danger of me getting stuck or drownded, checked all me ropes, I 'ave. And any road up, there's potholing rescue teams, right good lads.

When I was a kid, recently, really, in the scheme of things, I was one of those brinkman types. Used to ride on the open platform of the old yellow-and-blue Birmingham Corporation buses, like the Routemasters, but not so good; it was at the rear, for getting on and off, and an upright chrome pole was in one corner of the open platform, so's you could hold it, getting on or off, but I leaned my back against it, hands in my pockets, school satchel clasped between my knees, as the bus hurtled towards the next stop, where I would disembark;  lots of us did it, a rite of passage for twelve year olds, and one pothole would have thrown us off the platform into the path of the bus or car or lorry behind. Later, I sailed the North Atlantic in midwinter. It was a deathtrap of a tub, the SS Ramore Head, 6ooo tons, carrying Vauxhall Vivas to New Brunswick, when seasoned old seamen were tucked up in their bunks, some of them, in monster seas, throwing their guts  into their buckets, I'd be out on deck, down towards the stern, just digging it, man, the huge power of it,  as the ocean threw the stern upwards and it came crashing down, the deck almost falling away below my feet, Oh Lording, thy sea is so huge, my boat so small; for those in peril-ing, on the sea. I loved it. Take me out of my turbulent waters and you extinguish my flame. That was F Scott FitzGerald and that was how I lived. Later, pronounced Dead At The Scene, but revived, in hospital,  by a very cool doctor, after the first of, well, more than one drug-induced RTA. Little things, I'd always stand right up to the edge  of the platform, at Coventry Railway Station, toes hanging over;  if there was an edge I wanted to be on it; should have been killed, well, more than once.  For a bet, I'd consume a half-a-bottle of whiskey, topped-up with old fashioned Barley Wine (loony juice ale, for younger readers) consume it straight down in one gulping, determined   go. You know how when Popeye had his spinach you could see a blast surging through his body, right out to his extremities, it was like that, Ka-Pow, like a nuclear elixir. And naturally, to even consider such a thing, one had to be, already, stone-mad, out of your mind  drunk, only the truly bizarre, only the off the wall crazy having any meaning which  meant anything. Take me out of my turbulent waters and you extinguish my flame.

It's a long time ago now, even though it's just the same brief, candle in the window,   womb-to-tomb continuum, and I don't like to think about it. When I have  thought about it I have managed, eventually,  to  do so with a little grace and a deal of understanding and I am not as hard on young men as many blokes my age. Take them out of their turbulent waters and you extinguish their flame. At least, unlike them, bless,  I wasn't encouraged,  by the likes of Mrs Clarkson's gobby son, Jeremy, to drive sideways in stolen cars or exposed, before puberty, to every imaginable form of sexual activity, leaving nothing, as it were, to be discovered,  invented  for oneself;  every conceivable depravity, perversion and cruelty, and then some, laid out before the boys' soon-jaded eyes, even their wetdream imagination colonised by consumerist Ruin,  their very lust hijacked and sold back to them, unrecogniseable as their own, relentlessly mechanised, stereotypical, Eat This, Bitch. That Jamie Bulger shit, where did those little lads learn about all that, if learning it be ?

Some of us do do risk. It is selfish and stupid and invites a good, righteous motherfucking from those who don't, from those whose taxes pay for the helicopters and the ambulances, from those who man the helicopters and ambulances, however much that smacks of ingratitude.  But on the other hand, the ones who do do risk, they'll be the ones who crawled out of the sea. We have been here before, the danger and the uncertainty of creativity and imagination and discontent versus the Rewards of Obedience. Risk is who we are,  some of us .Take me out of my turbulent waters and you extinguish my flame.

I mention this, the foregoing,  only because the moral of this story, the moral of this song, is simply that one should never be where one does not belong, well, not if one would survive long enough to develop angina or dementia or incontinence. Surviving risk has been my portion and now I must, soonish, in the scheme of things, deal with whatever is dealt to those who fail to Live Fast, Love Hard and Die Young, good fortune's miserable and protracted convalescence, the strengthening clutches of Death's fingers, this is what we survive for. If we survive.
Manys a cyber-historian has related, here, the life and times of far Afghanistan; the unspeakable wretch, wossisname, angry bald man, Kemp, has been out there, with-the-lads, for skymadeupnewsandfilth;  newboy Tory wanker, Rory Stewart MP,  has, rather more thoughtfully, portrayed the intrinsic belligerence of her sanctimonious, Koran-thumping  beardymen, fucking or fighting one another, their brothers, their cousins, the next village, the next province, the next country, the only technology in the village being, often, the AK 47 propped against the wall.  And Rory, now a Cutter-at-arms,  at least stencilled-in a history of trade and architecture and artefact and cultural cross-fertilisation along the Old Silk Road.  There's Flashman stories, and Kipling. And now there's CNN and skymadeupnewsandfilth. Even so, most of us know fuck all about Afghanistan, save that it's a murderous shithole, governed, after a fashion,  by puppet pimps and bandits, barbarism, oppression,  torture and mayhem at every bleak, Mohammedan turn;  the Talimen  a queer throwback, almost to the Stone Age. Shit-eating fuckpigs like Gordon Brown and David Cameron insist that a US-dominated so-called coalition must be in that Hell-hole in order to protect lives on the British street , that we must, instead of suffering casualties at home,  ship-out lads and lassies barely out of their teens for Ahmed and his brothers to kill over there, or, better still, send them home limbless, blind, Poppy fodder, Cenotaph fodder,  saving him the hassle of RyanAir and all that passport nonsense and apart from the odd Daily Mail or Filth-O-Graph melodramatic confection about equipment -as though war, or occupation could be organised and equipped so that no-one got killed  - most people couldn't give a fuck about Afghanistan. It's already cost Obama his second term, and serve his Uncle Tomming ass right, and no-one in the unelected UK govament wants the Big Society to be filled up with dribbling cripples, marching up and down in their wheelchairs. fuck, no;  huge convoys of hearses hissing along the streets of Wootton Wotsit, the British Legion spending Tony Blair's money on EasyThrow flowers, that's not what we mean by stronganstable Clegginess. Better off all round, especially now that we're skint, to just forget about far Afghanistan, there'll be enough for the soldiers to do, here, at home, as they do, heroes, every last lovimtobits mother's son of 'em.

The Western Isles labour, too,  under a fundamentalist,  but Presbyterian patriarchy, a handful anxious to impose its sour traditions and its Hush, Woman chauvinism on native and newcomer alike. Tut-fucking-tutting. Don't hang your washing out on a Sunday, lest the Elders take sanctimonious, two-faced umbrage and send ye tae Hebridean Coventry.  I went to a Wee Frees psalmody in Inverness a couple of years since;  it was a grim-looking choir from the Isles but it wasn't like a carol service, or Evensong, it was damned eery, hairs on the back of the neck stuff, sung in Gaelic, that nasty, vomity tongue, deploying the strangest harmonies;   if you didn't know, you would have been hard-pressed to identify this music as having come from anywhere in the British Isles;  it really was most impressive, as far as one could tell it was brilliantly, enthusiastically and devoutly executed but also frightful, really; scary, scolding, portentous, somehow ahuman, a sound that would curdle the milk of human kindness. No wonder the native population is in decline. Anybody'd want to get away from those horrid men and their bitches; Afghanistan, though, for Linda Norgrove, was a flight too far.

What do we make of this relatively novel phenomenon, the Aid Worker? Where are their heads to, as they say in the West Country?  I suspect them of all sorts. Not quite sure what. Vanity, We-Know-Bestism, maybe, but certainly the Disease of Conceit. Why else would anyone want to go to the most dangerous place on Earth, especially for women?  Squadrons of heavily armoured and tooled-up warriors  in tanks and armoured cars aren't safe, there. Armed policemen aren't safe, there. Fortified diplomatic compounds aren't safe, there,  but like the caver and the weekend yachtsman, the Aid Worker trusts to Fate, he or she will be  OK, just because. Lets face it, if they had any sense they wouldn't be there in the first place. Ah, but it's so's the wee girls can go to school, that's what it's all about. And doing good, in a general sort of way. What, let them sort it out for themselves?  I should co-co. What on Earth would we all do with ourselves?

Rory Stewart spoke of bright young Ivy Leaguers, career Aid Workers, sitting around in Kabul, insanely trying to graft bogus, pluralist, egalitarian NeoLiberal Capitalism onto mediaeval tribal societies;  Linda, as she has become known in MediaMinster, was apparently in charge of a multi-billion pound development of some sort, something which would have delighted Washington and Westminster, but obviouly meant fuck all to its ungrateful recipients. Let Geldof and his gang go and do that shit, Mr O'Bono, let him go and sing to the Talimen, see how long before they cut his balls off but, Oh,  ordinary daughters and sisters and wives,   let somebody speak sense to them, firmly; the Western Isles are bleak enough, and tragedy is keenly felt,  in the wee hovels and kirks; either way - an explosive vest or a a careless grenade - this is a stinker, which no amount of weird psalming will ease.

For, like Magaret Hassan in Iraq, poor Linda lies dead in a land she claimed to love, leaving her family seeking cloze-ya. She lies dead, killed either by the people she presumed, in her wisdom,  to help or by their invaders; a professional do-gooder, a meddler in forces over her head and beyond her ken. The caver sometimes o'er stretches his skills and his luck and surfaces, if at all, in a neat bodybag, strapped and stretchered;  the yachstman founders, food for the fishes, down in Davy Joneses Locker - delusions of grandeur and the Evil Eye, give you the idea, that you're too good to die, and they bury you, from your head down to your feet, from the Disease of Conceit.

Steely-eyed incompetence.
Another useless foreign secretary.

Ah, ha, Mr Deputy Spanker, I would just, ah, like to inform the House, that as ay distinguished and, ah, I might say, ay heterosexual  foreign seckatry  and the ah most gifted politician of my or indeed, Mr Deputy Spanker, of any generation,  that I obviously did everything right in the ah most unfortunate, no, tragic, case of Ms Wotsit, the lady so cruelly killed by the Talimen, or by our valued allies the Americans, or whatever. Nothing I could have done, like disagreeing with the Americans, which, I obviously  wouldn't of, could have changed the outcome, whatever it was and which will be revealed, Mr Deputy Spanker, after ay full and far-reaching cover-up addressing all the issues, only not the real ones. 

When  I, ah,  made my historic and ah demented speech to the ah party conference ay, ay number of years ago, whilst still in my, ah,  hobgoblin teens,  little did I know that I would father so many miscarriages or, as in the case of Mrs Nograve, such an utter and compelling ay-fucking-bortion.  We were confident that the ah, Americans, or whoever, would do the, ah, right thing and that we would be able to get all the glory for myself and my right honourable friend, the member for Bullingdon, my friend and yours, the ah, unelected prime minister. As it, ah, turns out,  Mr Speaker, we intend to still get all the, ah, glory, even though it was ay complete, ah fuck-up, resulting in the ah death, the ah, untimely death of Mrs Wotsit but thankfully not of my distinguished career as   foreign seckatry, ay heterosexual foreign seckatry....

  Labout jeers :  Fuck off you baldy faggot!

....as we can, ah, blame the Americans for everything. Only not, of course, to their faces.  I might add, Mr Deputy Spunker, that me and my right honourable, ah, friend, the ah, pretend prime minister, asked the Americans ay whole raft of searching questions, reflecting,  I might say,  the,  ah,  very searchingness of my foreign seckatryhood and to which the Americans told me to, ah, mind my own Limey business, just as you would expect valued and respectful allies to, ah, to do.  So there, Mrs Norwood is dead but it's her own fault, or its's the fault of the Talimen and quite possibly, no, certainly, Mr Deputy Splasher, the previous Labour govament,  which has left us such ay dreadful  mess to clear up but, had it not been for the party opposite, Mrs Nobody would probably have been alive today.  And finally, without ay hint of embarrassment or shame, I do assure the house of this: in no way whatsoever have I done anything wrong. And I am sure the, ah, House will join me in commending myself to it. Wogs, what are they like, eh?

And so the greatest living Torybastard twists and squirms and snarls, like a muscly ferret, just as he did over the unfortunate and misused Mr Myers.  A proper man'd say, I think we got that wrong, I'm dreadfully sorry, it was a tough call and we called it wrong, it's a difficult situation,  this Afghan Coalition, it's shit, just like the one here, in Westminster, the Americans are really in total charge and the sooner the LibDems get out the better it will be for them and the country, just let the Tories, I mean the Americans, see how very little support there is for them.  Hague, though, is a worthless, bombastic braggart,  a soundbiting piece of shit and if the country was not so deeply Ruined decent people would just laugh their arse off, every time he opens his rodenty trap, Hague, the boy wonder, like Millipede  and Straw before him, is  Uncle Sam's bitch.  I suppose, if anyone turns up the heat, not that there are any so impelled in Westminster, he can always claim that a miscarriage detained him, were it not for his dodgy wife and her wimmens problems he would have done better.

What sort of a freak would cling to his position by dint of waving around, for all to see,  his wife's medical records?  The  sort of man charged with protecting the interests of Britons abroad. Aye, only not if it means arguing with the CIA or the State Department or the Pentagon, or any of the big boys. This is   the second time in a month or so that Hague has embarrassed the nation;  I wonder, in this age of defecit reduction fetish,   how many more cock-in-mouth moments, I mean foot,  he will be permitted.

Poor Linda, of course, through her career choice, her own conceit,  authored her own, awful demise; sometimes, daredeviling with our lives, profligate risk becomes reality; when the deal goes down, nuns get raped and aid workers get kidnapped,  that's how it is, sometimes they get killed, sometimes, the Know It Alls, like the ghastly Terry Waite, muddle through, to a bookdeal and a lifetime of shuffling, mediocre celebrity; sometimes, the thoughtless itinerant, like Liverpool's unfortunate Mr Ken Bigley, fall victim to the headchopping men of Islam.  It's a wild world and I find peril enough, here in Scotland, best part of England, without flying halfway around the world to stick my head in a lion's mouth and however we might admire the balls, the recklessness of those who knowingly do risk there will be many people, close, intimate - family and friends, lovers maybe,   and distant, incidental -  troops, journalists, villagers, countrymen who would have preferred Linda to have kept herself, God bless her, from turbulent waters,  from harm's way,  and  from Hague's.

Oh the Summer time is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming
And the wild mountain thyme
Grows around the purple heather,
Will ye go lassie go......


Mike said...

Mr I: sounds like you are penning your own obituary - I hope not.

Some days I feel like that, but then some days I'm surfing on top of the wave. Its a funny old life. One thing though is constant: the cunts won't get me without a fight.

call me ishmael said...

No, no, no, mr mike, nothing of the sort, just grasping at a perspective, trying to make sense of a young woman risking her life in the filthy arena of geopolitics. Either those close and moved by Ms Norgrove's death will endorse her career choice and its consequence or will, like me, regret it.

"Some days I feel like that..." There was nothing maudlin or morbid about my remarks, just ironic really, spent so much of my early life trying to destroy myself, one way and another and now here I am, taking the tablets, like a sensible patient.

Mike said...

Apologies Mr I, I must have mis-understood your meaning.

I too felt sorry for the young lass, out of her depth in the geopolitical shit, and unappreciated by the fuzzies who seem determined to resist "civilisation".

mongoose said...

The woman seems to have been a decent stick. All that Special Forces stuff is batshit bonkers. Let us just be grateful that the numbers who come to blood-and-gore grief are so very few - compared to the thousands upon whom death rains down in our name, that is.

But risk is a funny thing. It is just true that it is more fun to drive fast than it is to drive slowly. I used to know the A45 between Dunchurch and Coventry. Taught to drive it by my father. "Straighten the road, boy!" In the days before cameras and points, I knew where the manhole covers were on the bend by "The Rootes". "Near-side wheels between them and tight to the curve." And of course, driving, as we all did in those days, in a relative piece of shit that could fail at any moment - a wheel fell off one of mine once in Cheylesmore - well, at 70mph you are half-a-second from a grisly, it's all over now, baby blue, death. One more stat on the "unlucky" side of the ledger. Middle daughter is now old enough to sit in the front passenger seat. "You're breaking the speed limit, daddy." Dear me. But now and again, without the kids in the car, a nice bit of road out in the wilds, on the way to Lincoln or out on the fens by Cambridge...

Agatha said...

A brilliant and sustained piece, Mr. Ishmael, and one deserving of a better response than I can give it. As a safe pair of hands, so utterly risk-averse I won't even go on a fair-ground ride, I really cannot understand or condone the risk-taking you describe as dominating your young adulthood. I really think that life is hard and painful enough without deliberately courting activity that will challenge the bodies' defences and healing ability to the utmost, not to mention the resources of the NHS. I would have said, in my usual sexist way - ah, its a man thing - teenagers trying on masculine behaviours, establishing their place in the hierarchy, testosterone-fuelled and audience-directed. But you have clearly pointed out that its a woman thing too, and now I'm at a loss.
A memory has surfaced, triggered by your essay and the horrors of warfare in foreign lands. When I was a little child in Bradford in the early 1950's I saw a beggar with no legs sitting on a little wooden trolley, which he propelled by pushing with his hands against the ground. I was shocked and cried. I was with my dad, who told me the man was an old soldier and he'd had his legs blown off in the war - I guess it was the First War, not the recently-ended Second War, but I may have been wrong. I asked my dad why someone wasn't looking after this poor half of a man. He said he didn't know.

Elby the Beserk said...

I am a cautious soul by nature, but have been down a few caves, walked into lampposts on Mandrax and taken truly industrial doses of fine psychedelics. Indeed there is little out there that my liver hasn't shaken hands with at some point or another. Me'n Keef go way back.

Now where were we?

Dick the Prick said...

I guess there is some slight difference between risk and calculated risk or, even perhaps, death wish. This lass sounds a bit of a prat not perhaps quite in the running for a Darwin award but at least she doesn't have to worry about her winter fuel allowance or kiddies education fees.

Not good though but in the general scheme of things not too bad, either. Quick death - ah, take your bonusses when you can get them. There was some news story on today about a lad getting his head caved in over his girlfriend's hat! Cheers though, a bit depressing to chronicle our fucking useless government and its disgraceful foreign policy (if sucking Yanky military cock counts as policy these days). Fuck, wasn't WW1 & 2 meant to be about something but this? Uurrgghh.

PT Barnum said...

Having spent my childhood in too much physical danger from other people, I have an unhealthy disregard for death - my own, anyway. But I struggle with what feels to me like the hubris of these Aid Workers, offering themselves as models of humanity, inserting themselves into other people's dramas far far away. And for what?

black hole sunset said...

I've done some damned stupid things over the years. Imbibed, driven and spent like a man possessed, at one time or another. Ruinously so, at points.

Last month, in a shameful first, I rebooted out of an alcohol death mantra to find myself being sped, noisly, through the streets of Manchester by paramedics who were more considerate and professional than this pissed up fool had any right to expect.

A berserker-like departure that my stomach now churns at the thought of. Bank statements show what must be five rounds of shorts, I remember three.


yardarm said...

The politicians of all parties, diplomats, spooks, bureaucrats, brass, alumini of the best schools, graduates of the best universities apparently did not have the wit to pick up a history book to find out Afghanistan is a hell of a place. Or bother to ask any Red Army veterans ' How did you fare in the `stan, comrade ' ?

In the past decade these open mouthed dimwits have landed us two military defeats and a colossal recession and left everyone else to suffer the consequences. In the nineteenth century at least one British diplomat paid the price for his folly by having his severed head displayed in Kabul bazaar. Wonder how Hague`s would look in his baseball cap ?

call me ishmael said...

There's nothing to give up, mr bhs; you know?

Consumerism tells you that you can only stop smoking by substituting - for as long as possible- some other expensive and unnecessary product, it tells you that its ok to drink yourself to death, its ok, you're an alcoholic, you can't help it, its ok, you're ill, when all you are is being stupid, made stupid, by them.

I stopped hundred a day, dedicated smoking just like that, spent a hundred quid at an Allan Carr clinic, took about three hours, a led group discussion and ten minutes hypnotherapy. Nothing to give up, Just stop, just like that.

I never quit drinking, I still drink, but sometimes, not habitually, not daily, weekly, sometimes not even monthly. One day, in my early forties, I just realised that drinking was my father's script, it's what he did, and I just did it because he did it. It was man stuff. And, after a momentary reaalisation, I just didn't drink for a while. And I've been fine since. Sometimes I drink, most times I don't. You don't want any more of those coming round in the ambulance moments, fuck that, I've had more than my share of those, one's too many.

jgm2 said...

Mr Ishmael, I too, in my mid-forties have had a (very) recent epiphany with booze. I spent the summer driving around the West coast of the US. Long road-trip, LA - Alaska and back. An average of 250 miles a day. 500 miles some days. Zero other days.

And for years (15 or 20) I've made a point of giving myself a month off the booze every year purely because I once read somewhere that your liver totally regenerates itself in three weeks. Give it an extra week for luck. My own personal Ramadan.

Sometimes, depending on how abusive I've been I might take two months. Sometimes three. Let the liver recover a bit before setting back to war with it again.

So I thought to myself - perfect - I don't want to be waking up with a hangover and 500 miles ahead of me to my meticulously pre-booked motel. Plus I definitely don't want to be skittling some fucking yank while pissed in Buttfuck, Montana. They won't release me until I'm 250. I shall take my month off the booze in the US this year. So I did.

Then, when I got back we had a series of hard-drinking friends and relatives over for three or four weekends so I kinda got back into the groove. But towards the end there I was actually resenting 'having' to pour more red wine into myself. Because, well, you know, that's what we've always done. I wasn't actually enjoying it any more.

So I've just had another month off.

Perhaps it's all part of growing up. Just like you're able to eat like a horse and drink like a fish without really putting on weight until you're about forty (give or take a couple of years) perhaps so it is with booze. You just stop enjoying it. Your body changes. The hangovers ain't worth the late nights of talking bollocks past each other any more.

Or,as you say, perhaps it was never really you in the first place. It was just kinda the done thing. The accepted activity of an evening.

That's not to say I've gone teetotal. I've decided this years bumper crop of apples deserve better than being scoffed by slugs so I'm going for several gallons of cider. Off to siphon my heady alcohol/vinegar mix now in fact.

Which goes half way to your point about consumerism. If you're going to be drinking yourself to death then at least spite the fuckers for the tax. If I smoked I'd grow my own tobacco. Got to be a better saving against shop prices than a few tomatoes in the greenhouse.

Either way fuck 'em. I'm not spending my way out of their recession.

mongoose said...

Jeez, lads, will you fucking stop before we are all in slippers and winceyette nighties?

But alas, it is true. Even I have eased off the booze. And it is amazing how the tolerance of it fades so quickly. I went out with a couple of mates last week, had a few but not many, and thought I was going to die so pissed was I. I am become reborn as an amateur drinker. And do you know, I don't think that I care.

Never done an ambulance gig though. Maybe I've always been an amateur and didn't know it.

black hole sunset said...

Thanks all. I've told no one what happened, other than your good selves. Being carted off to A&E is a warning that's as devoid of bragging rights as it is sobering. I drink very rarely, but usually to excess, no more of that.

I basically "forgot" to smoke one day because I'd run out of cigs and there wasn't a shop next to the office. By the end of that day I hadn't smoked at all. Over the next few days, food tasted great, even water took on new, subtle textures. The spell lasted about four months - no gum or patches - until the next time I got really drunk and fancied a smoke.

I was staying in non-smoking digs at the time, I'm pretty sure that was a major factor because, until being pissed, the only time I felt the urge was when I came home at weekends. Nowadays, food and drink are just slightly different flavours of tobacco.

I'll have another go, without chemical assistance: that Zyban stuff made me feel so out of sorts I needed a cig to take my mind off it (which wasn't one of the stated side effects).

mongoose said...

I have never smoked, Mr BHS, - well, dope doesn't count, does it? - but last year a couple of my friends - a couple - both bought one of those electric fags. They stopped smoking the real ones on the spot and stopped the smoking the electric ones a couple of weeks later. Over. Finished. And we all still go boozing a bit but it is done.