Friday, May 31, 2019

Scotch and Wry

31st May 2019

Last week Europe held its elections for the European parliament.  Here's what the United Kingdom map looks like after the people voted and the chips were counted.

The yellow indicates the Scottish Nationalist Party stronghold wth its pro-Europe platform. The green represents the Brexit Party led by Trump wannabe Nigel Farage. The next day, the newspapers in Scotland were not ablaze with this SNP victory, but then these are not really Scottish papers. BBC Scotland, again not really Scottish, did not cover the SNP party conference speech by its leader Nicola Sturgeon.  Instead it covered the leader of the not-really-Scottish Conservatives, who command a whopping 12% of the Scottish vote.

England went for ultra right wing Bexit party in a big way and is poised to install either Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson as its next prime minster, or if not them, then some other Eton boy who will look after the interests of the old boy's club.

Here is a delightful little ditty penned by Trump look- alike, Johnson (Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to be precise - methinks there is a foreigner in our midst!) :

The Scotch - what a verminous race!
Canny, pushy, chippy, they're all over the place
Battening off us with false bonhomie;
Polluting our stock, undermining our economy.
Down with sandy hair and knobbly knees!
Surpress the tartan dwarves and the wee Frees!
Ban the kilt, the Skian Dhu and the Sporran
As provocatively, offensively foreign!
It's time Hadrian's Wall was refortified
To pen them in a ghetto on the other side. 
I would go further. The nation
Deserves not merely isolation
But comprehensive extermination. 

So, no wonder that yellow country of the north prefers to stay within Europe than go the isolationalist route of the great British Empire-that-was. Yes, the ditty is supposed to be a joke, but it wouldn't hit any Scot (Scot, not Scotch, ye dunderheid!) hard, except that this is in essence what we have been taught all our lives. "The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road to England!"  goes back to another fatuous upper class  Johnson, Samuel this time  circa 1750.   This British narrative persists, trying to convince the "Scotch" that  they owe their existence to the beneficence of the English (despite top economists now declaring that England will not survive its debts without Scottish revenues.)

Scotland, it's time to get off your knees and lift your head. As our ancestors wrote in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320:   For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches nor honours that we are fighting but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Any Scot still swallowing the empire line and recognising in their race a mere shadow of a people, is but a coof. It's all tinsel show, ribband and star. Ladies and gentlemen of Scotland, you have to believe that you are higher rank than a'that. Because you are. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Do Not Go Gentle

International Dylan Thomas' Day fell on the 14th of this month. To my mind, he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, poets of all time. By his own definition, his poems rank as some of history's best: "A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him."

Like most great artists, however, Thomas was an enigma: Depressive. Alcoholic. Self destructive.

But  words flowed out of him trailing clouds of glory, to quote another poet. If you have lost the joie de vivre, if life hangs limply on a bough, then drink of this golden cup handed to you by the poet Dylan Thomas and be born anew.

"Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying, Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

"In my craft or sullen art, Exercised in the still night When only the moon rages, And the lovers lie abed, With all their griefs in their arms. "

"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

And yet the bard himself failed his own test. He did go gently into that good night; he went stupidly, wastefully. He did not put up a fight when death kindly stopped for him at the age of thirty-nine. He kept pouring himself another, kept poisoning his liver until it could take no more. It's the Salieri Paradox that Peter Schaeffer points to in Amadeus: There is the imparted wisdom and then there is the imperfect vessel.
Salieri rages against God who has overlooked his piety and given the gift of genius instead to " a boastful, smutty, infantile boy...and give(n) me for reward only the ability to recognise the incarnation."

The heavenly chorus of words sang through Dylan Thomas; he was not the progenitor. He recognised the incarnation that was in him, an imperfect vessel, and that in the end was a fate too difficult to live with. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

One More Shot

3rd May 2019

Over the next week I will be in Israel finishing off some research before I take a final stab at the novel I have been writing this last year. After thinking of first century Israel for so long, it's an odd time-warp to be walking the streets of Jerusalem, or setting my pink toes in the sand along the shores of Galilee.

You need X-ray goggles to see past the the New Israel, the Muslim Israel, the Christian Israel. Never has such a small plot of land been overtaken by so many religious plots. I don't have X-ray vision, though. I have to just join the throngs of mostly scholarly writers trying to peal back  the super structure and delve into what could possibly have been there before.

It seems like it was never very far from conflict. The Israelites under the leadership King David threw out the Jebusites, and then after exile in Egypt and under Joshua, took it from the Canaanites. The Romans moved into Israel in 63 BCE, and set up a puppet government which is what empires always do. And then after about 140 years, we enter into another period of exile for the Jewish people while the Christian era took off. Once Christianity expanded out of the Middle East, the vacuum was filled by the new religion of Islam. And then came the Crusaders, who took it upon themselves to giddy off to the Holy Land and defend it against the Infidels. Israel, past and present, is an unholy mess, made messier by the clumsy tromping around of US president Trump. The last thing Israel needed was the rise of the religious nutcase evangelical right in America.

So it is a lot of noise, a lot of voices from the past, all clamouring for their bully pulpit. All you can do is put your head down,  eat your hummus, ignore the fearful patriarchy that finds a seat there, peal off the layers of lamb on your shwarma. and hope your ear plugs will hold out.

I'm taking another shot at telling the history of this place through the lens of a man who was supposed to be a Messiah, but who got himself crucified instead. In the Jewish mind, dying naked in the most humiliating of Roman executions disqualified the man from being "Mashiach," and the next two thousand years of human history has been Christianity's attempt to prove them wrong. The church that grew up in Europe under the aegis of the Apostle Paul came at it from one angle; the church in Jerusalem, led by this man's brother, had a quite different interpretation. Relatively recently modern scholars have been trying to push back the undergrowth to get a glimpse at what this all could have meant.

Me, I'm a novelist. The swirl of my thoughts falls into patterns like a spider filling in the corner of a doorway. I'm not interested in icons and certainly not in the spread of any religion based on fear and shame.
The historical thread is pretty thin: there was a man once who started a movement around the Sea of Galilee, and he was executed by the Roman authorities for sedition. Historically, that's it. But let me fit this Yeshua Ben Yosef into the web I am weaving. Let's take another shot at this.
My book is called The Second Coming.