Tag Archives: Iran

I met an interesting woman from Iran

I met a traveller from an antique land.

You meet people. You lose touch.

In December 2001, I met a woman: an Iranian who had moved to the UK in 1973. She had lots of money.

Assasinated Ahmad Shah Massoud

The assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud

I met her about three months after the September 11th terrorist attack on New York, After 9/11, she had arranged to go to Afghanistan with help from the brother  of assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud – Massoud had been assassinated two days before the 9/11 attack. But, after the recent killing of four journalists in Afghanistan, she was told the visit was too dangerous. So, instead, she went to recently war-torn Kosovo and Macedonia. The war in Macedonia had ended around four months before I met her. She came back to the UK with 12 video tapes and 2,600 digital still photos.

She could speak Iranian, English, Arabic, Armenian, Turkish and German.

She had hard eyes.

She told me: “I’m not rich. If I get £100,000, I spend £25,000 here and £25,000 there.”

She was abused as a child and lived in Abu Dhabi. She was a friend of actress Viviane Ventura and an acquaintance of actor Omar Sharif.

She once had to go to China to buy a plane. She knew the general involved.

The assassinated Shapour Bakhtiar

The assassinated Shapour Bakhtiar

She had British and Iranian passports and was related to Shapour Bakhtiar – the former Prime Minister of Iran assassinated in 1991 by three of Ayatollah Khomeini’s agents in Paris. And to Mohammad Mossadeq – the Prime Minister of Iran overthrown in a 1953 coup organised by MI6 and the CIA to install the Shah.

She told me she was thinking of writing her autobiography but, if that news got around, she said, there would be panic calls from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia offering her millions not to publish. She told me she had lots of dirt on the Saudi royal family.

A former Swedish boyfriend found oil in Texas and she spent one year in Los Angeles. She had stories of the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Hefner’s parties. Once, she told me, she lost £5 million in a London casino.  Her third husband was Lebanese, a professional tennis player, half French. There was physical abuse. She mentioned a knife.

“I always went for the wrong men,” she told me.

She lived alone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Iran

You meet the most extraordinary people at the Edinburgh Fringe

Everything at the Edinburgh Fringe is inter-linked.

Do I look Jewish?

American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer had a bit of schtick in his Edinburgh Fringe show last year which he is not using this year – well, he won’t after reading it here.

He would ask a man in the front row of his audience: “Are you Jewish?”

Depending on the reply, he then said either “That’s great,” or “That’s terrible,” and added, “It must be terrible to LOOK Jewish and not to BE Jewish.”

Yesterday I was crossing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and a still small voice asked: “Are you Jewish?”

Two bearded men were standing at a table dressed in black and wearing skull caps.

“No. Sorry,” I replied.

Three steps further on, I reconsidered my reply and turned back.

“But what would you have said if I were Jewish?” I asked. “What are you selling?”

“Nothing, But are you Jewish?”

“No, but I know someone who is a Jewish American comedian.”

The young man on the left was smiling. The older man on the right was not smiling; he never smiled. I think he was probably Israeli rather than Jewish.

“You know someone who is Jewish?” the man on the right said suspiciously.

“Do I know someone who is Jewish?” I asked. “Yes. He’s a New York Jewish comedian.”

“Give him this, then” the jollier Jew said, handing me a leaflet.

“He can come on Friday,” the unsmiling presumed Israeli said reluctantly.

The leaflet said:

Come join Chabad for your Shabbat live experience!

All in one Shabbat Dinner, Fun, Laughter, Friends, Great food. Lots of L’chaims and much more.

I was tempted to convert.

There was a Jewish thread running through the day.

A little later, I got chatting to highly charismatic part-Iranian actor-comedian Jody Kamali from Bristol who told me he had to get an Iranian passport and change his passport name to Sam (well, that’s what it sounded like) when he visited Iran otherwise they would not have let him in; there was a drawback to this because they might then have forced him to do three years military service in the Iranian Army.

That is not part of the Jewish thread to the day, but I also got chatting to Jody’s director. I have no idea what his name is. That is one of the quirks of the Fringe – you can have terribly interesting conversations with fascinating people but forget to ask their names. Anyway, he had a moustache, was tall and was not part-Iranian…

We are back now to being Jewish… well, Jew…ish.

What he was – indeed, is – is Jewish-Scottish-Portuguese; he speaks Portuguese to his mother and is living in dream accommodation while in Edinburgh – the Austrian Consulate.

I forgot to mention he is also part German/Austrian. His grandparents were Jews in Germany before the War. They managed to get out when Hitler was on the rise and moved to Austria. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to my mind, but, throughout the War, they pretended to be Catholic and went to a Catholic Church.

“So I’m Jewish and I’m a Catholic,” the director said to me, shrugging. “The guilt, my dear! the guilt!”

You do meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories at the Fringe and Edinburgh can be a very small place, throwing up one degree of separation.

I spent last night with Charlie Chuck.

I will re-phrase that.

I spent yesterday evening with Charlie Chuck, starting at a launch for the SpaceUK venues at Surgeon’s Hall and I had a fascinating chat with their sound supremo Wayne. I forgot to ask his surname. This is the Fringe. He had vivid stories of growing up as a Forces child – his father started in the Forces on the Borneo campaign and ended with the Falklands. As a child, Wayne wanted to be a Queen’s Messenger because it was well-paid and meant travelling the world with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

He has an extraordinary knowledge of the ethnic ebbs and flows of history. You would think he was a history teacher in ‘real’ non-Fringe life. In fact, he owns a record label in Manchester. He says there are 13 record labels in Manchester and he vaguely knew 24-Hour Party Person Tony Wilson – now there was an extraordinary person if ever there were one; I encountered him very peripherally at Granada TV in the 1980s.

Wayne also knew late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s brother Alex, a music executive… as did SpaceUK boss Charlie Pamment who, in one of his former  professional incarnations as an agent, remembered putting Malcolm Hardee on at the Raymond Revuebar in London’s Soho. Now that must involve anecdotes worth dining out on!

One can but hope against hope that Malcolm turns up as a character in Michael Winderbottom’s planned movie Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica.

Charlie Pamment told me that his SpaceUK venues are staging the largest number of shows at this year’s Fringe – 229 separate productions. Other operators have more venues, but SpaceUK has more shows.

After that, Charlie Chuck and I we were off to the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party at the Counting House, future scene of the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 26th August.

Never underestimate the power of a random blatant plug.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party seemed to be less a party than a full-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony staged in a pub complex on a hot night. The throngs were so large that I never did find comedian Eric, whom I was supposed to meet. A regular audience member at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek club in Greenwich, he was persuaded by Malcolm to become a stand-up and used to be a submariner.

But I did bump into singing Hitler comic Frank Sanazi and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award inspiration Gill Smith and Scots comic Keara Murphy who, like Janey Godley, is not playing a full Fringe show this year but has picked up seemingly endless one-off gigs in town.

The Free Festival launch party was some crowded sweatathon which seemed to merge together an extraordinarily large family birthday party, the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Swedish sauna. I stuck my head into the performance area – the Ballroom – looking for Eric, and you could have grilled a sausage by simply holding it in mid-air over the audience.

Comedian, blogger and sometime professional photographer Ian Fox was taking photos for Laughing Horse at the event and, for a time, had to abandon taking photos in the Ballroom because his lens steamed up. He showed me three photos which he said had been taken within three seconds.

The first showed the audience but with a cream discolouration area rising from the bottom.

The second was starting to be blobbily out-of-focus all-over with the condensation.

The third was an abstract of giant blobs – taken at a point at which the water particles had overwhelmed the lens.

I felt very much like the lens.

It is easy to be overwhelmed at the Fringe.

Then my phone rang.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s son Frank.

“I thought you were in South Korea,” I shouted.

“I’m back for a few days,” he told me. “Then, next week, I am off to see Poppy in Palestine.”

Poppy is Malcolm Hardee’s daughter.

The late great would have been chuffed his kids are globetrotting.

Let us not get into any discussion of whether or not a passing reference to Palestine continued the day’s Jewish thread. To quote Malcolm:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Because, round the edge… fish.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Racism, Scotland, Theatre

The man who kept accused war criminal Ratko Mladic’s hat in his living room

I posted this blog a few months ago but, with the arrest yesterday of former Serbian general Ratko Mladic, I thought part of it might be of interest again. It is about one of the most interesting people I never met.

* * *

Bill Foxton is dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Politics

A canny gaun man, the IRA, the SAS, the Oman war and the plan to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969

I agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she said Society doesn’t exist. It is made up of individuals. ‘Society’ is something made up by sociologists.

Just like History does not exist. It is made up of and by sometimes extraordinary individuals.

At the weekend, amid all the TV and radio reports from Libya and the non-reports about what is happening in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen, there was a tiny news item about trouble in Oman. This reminded me about one of the most interesting people I never met. He was a man you don’t meet every day.

He’s dead now and we’re back to that famous Rutger Hauer death speech in Bladerunner.

He’d seen things you people wouldn’t believe and, when he died, almost all those moments were lost in time, like tears in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

In the mid-1990s, I (almost) wrote the autobiography of a Soviet sleeper agent who, let’s say, was called Ozymandias. I have blogged about him before. He believed that the British and the Spanish were the most violent people in Europe. He told me about a British friend called Bill Foxton who, he said, had gone to public school in Somerset, then joined the French Foreign Legion for five years and fought in the Algerian War of 1954-62.

“At that time, a lot of guys in the Legion were German,” Ozymandias told me, “Many of them former S.S. men. Bill told me that during the French Algerian War in the early 1960s, when they entered a village to ‘clear it up’, the Spaniards were the only ones who would shoot babies in their cradles. Even the ex-S.S. men didn’t do that.”

After his experiences in the Algerian War, Bill Foxton returned to England in the Swinging Sixties with lots of money in his pockets and met lots of girls who fancied him and, according to my chum Ozymandias, joined a privately-run special services group. They used to train Idi Amin’s bodyguards in Uganda and there was an incident in Qatar when the Emir’s brother was shot.

“Finally,” Ozymandias told me, “in 1969, Bill was employed as one of a group who were paid to go and kill Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. But they were stopped at London Airport by the British security services and the private company they worked for was closed down. Because of his experience, Bill was persuaded by the British authorities to join the SAS and was immediately sent to Ireland 1969-1973.

In a previous blog, I mentioned an extraordinary true story in which an Irish Republican was kidnapped in Belfast, drugged and put on a plane from Shannon to New York. Bill Foxton was involved in that. He was also a member of the British bobsleigh team in the 1972 European Championships. He was an interesting man.

In 1973, he was sent to fight in the secret war in Oman which, at the time, was called ‘the Dhofar insurgency’ and was said to be restricted to southern Oman; it was claimed the Omani Army were fighting some Yemeni insurgents. In fact, the insurgents were backed on the ground by South Yemeni regular troops supported by East German advisors and troops, acting on behalf of the Soviet Union. Oman was backed on the ground by British SAS troops (plus, in the early stages, the Royal Navy) and by units of the Shah of Iran’s army and the Jordanian Army. The commander of the British forces was an admiral and his problem was to cut the rebels’ supply routes from South Yemen into Oman. The British strategy was to construct three fences along the border, manned by more than 5,000 Iranian troops. Behind these three fences, inside Oman, the war was fought by the British SAS and Oman’s mainly Baluchi army while Jordanian desert troops defended the northern part of the desert in Dhofar province.

In 1975, Bill was inspecting a sector of the border fence when East German troops fired an RPG – a rocket-propelled grenade – at him. He was alone, but managed to jump back onto his jeep and drive off, holding his blasted and bloodied arm onto his torso with a torn strip of his uniform. He held the strip of fabric with his teeth and drove with his other hand, while the enemy troops continued firing grenades at him. He drove about 6km to a British base where a Pakistani medic came out to see him.

“I think I’ve lost my arm,” Bill said through his clenched teeth.

“Well, let’s have a look then,” the Pakistani medic replied sympathetically. Bill let go of the strip of fabric he was holding with his teeth and, when his arm fell out, the medic fainted on the spot. Alan fainted too. They flew him to the British base at Akrotiri on Cyprus, where his arm was amputated and, by the time my chum Ozymandias met him, he had an artificial one.

“I am a big man,” Ozymandias told me, “but Bill has a neck twice the girth of mine. He may only have one arm but, when we met in 1982, I could see immediately he was extremely tough. Red hair, red beard, strong, broad neck. We immediately got on.”

According to Ozymandias, Bill Foxton had won an award from the SAS:

“At that time, Bill had already lost his left arm but was still a serving member of the SAS; he was training in the deserts of Oman with younger SAS troopers closing in on his position from all sides and he buried himself in the sand. He dug a hole with his one good arm and simply buried himself deep underground. The SAS troopers passed over him without realising until he told them and the Regiment was so impressed they gave him their Award.”

After the secret war ended, Bill decided to stay in Oman and started running the Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF) Beach Club: apparently a splendid, well-organised place with a restaurant full of ex-patriot British soldiers from a wide variety of armies. He had his SAS Award plaque hanging on the wall of his office.

I heard all these stories about Bill Foxton from my chum Ozymandias and then, one day in the 1990s, I accidentally heard him being inteviewed – Bill Foxton – he was by then spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and apparently also head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission during the Yugoslav wars.

According to Ozymandias, Bill kept a hat in his living room in Britain. The hat belonged to Serbian General Ratko Mladic – who is still on the run for war crimes as I write this. During the Yugoslav wars, Bosnian forces ambushed Mladic’s car in an attempt to assassinate him; he was not in the car but his hat was. So the Bosnians killed his driver and gave the hat to Bill, whom they admired. That was the explanation Bill Foxton gave.

In 1999 he was awarded the OBE for his work in Kosovo.

By 2008, he was working in Afghanistan, running humanitarian projects.

The next year, in February 2009, he shot himself in the head in a Southampton park with a 9mm Browning pistol after he lost his life savings – reportedly over £100,000 –  in the $64 billion Bernie Madoff fraud.

His death was not news except in the local Southern Daily Echo in Southampton. The BBC mentioned it as a ‘human interest’ aside to the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fraud story, like a teardrop in rain. His death went mostly un-noticed, but he intersected with History.

Oh – that British plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, the year he came to power… it was allegedly stopped because the US Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth ‘protecting’.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Politics

A death in Scotland yesterday, Albert Einstein and the legend of the horsemen of Central Asia

Yesterday morning, the morning of Christmas Eve, my mother’s cousin died at home in Scotland.

Here is the closing passage from a book I almost wrote: the biography of an Italian archaeologist. There were personality problems. It may still get written…

***

“One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman,” he told me as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome. “The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.

“Another Central Asian legend tells of a horseman who rides alone across the desert but, when he looks at the shadow he casts, he sees that Death is riding behind him. The shadow of her long scythe is touching his shadow as she swings it backwards and forwards. At any time, she may strike the final fatal blow but, until then, he only sees the shadow.

“Since Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, we know that time and space cannot be separated: if you travel across physical space, you are travelling through time as well. When I was given that bouquet of flowers in Iran, the past caught up with me. I had been running, turned round and saw a shadow. I realised I had managed to destroy my life piece by piece. I destroyed almost everything. Lovers, career, options, the potential for wealth, peace of mind, success.  I somehow managed to throw away all the possibilities. My failure at the Burnt City was too great to recover from. When I saw the site for the first time, remember I shit in my pants? When I sat in that tent and saw the sunlight coming through the flap and saw the desert, boundless and bare, stretching beyond. I couldn’t deal with it. I could feel the ground starting to go down and down in a spiral under my feet. I could see and feel Time sucking me in. But the irony is that, as an archaeologist, I don’t feel I’m dealing in dead and destroyed things. I feel the continuity and the importance of what has survived, lasted and developed. Archaeologists don’t uncover dead civilizations. They uncover the interplay between events and people.

“I know I was close to death in Kurdistan when the young boy shot me in the arm; I still bear the physical scar.

“I know I was closer to death when I was in Haiti and faced the Tonton Macoutes. That was really very close.

“But the effect of imminent physical death was much less on me than the effect of those events way back in my childhood. Those scars stay with you through time and they never heal. The first five years of your life are what is important because you are so receptive and the scale of importance given to each event is so gigantic. When I was about three, my father came and told me that, if I didn’t do some little unimportant thing he was going to beat me. I was three years old, looking up at this overwhelmingly strong adult who was looking down at me with a very serious face. I felt so helpless and in such immediate danger. But my father was just joking. Joking! The result was that all the insecurities started to take hold of my mind and, later in life, I wanted to either control my insecurities or run away from them or both. I never wanted to feel that helpless again. My father doesn’t even remember it happening. But I remember it vividly 51 years later. The scars have travelled through time like the bullet wound on my arm.

“Maybe you are even affected before you are born. The foetus is receptive to light and sound and voices and pressures and pains and chemical variations in the body of your mother…..and your individual mind – your unique neural map – is formed at the same time your brain is formed. By the time you are five years old, maybe 80%, 90% of your future is already within you?

“People tell me I have a good memory for dates, but even I am still surprised how vivid something that happened 51 years ago can be in my mind. Things that happened 10 years ago are as vivid as the present. I remember my days with Wendy the Wessex Bird so vividly. The feeling of her body; the first time I penetrated her. Just a week ago, I saw Ingrid crossing a street in Rome to avoid meeting me. She is now 48 and still looks lovely; I could vividly remember her coming through a door thirty years ago. As vivid as yesterday. The past is not the past; it is still living today, travelling with you in your memory.

“If I find a ruined building, I need to know what happened inside the building: the forces that co-operated to make it what it was. The energy and social inter-action. About 5,000 years ago, the Arabian civilization was created. But it is not a distant planet. Those ‘dead’ things and ‘dead’ people’s actions are alive because of the long-term effects of their existence and their actions. That is the psychology of archaeology. It is like a giant meteor falling on Earth; it creates all kinds of changes and has all kinds of after-effects. When you watch a stone thrown into a pool, the effects ripple out and eventually disappear but, with events in history everything is linked. In order to understand the Arabian civilization of 3,000 BC, you have to go back to what was happening between 5,000 BC and 4,000 BC. Ruins don’t talk; what talks is the actions of people and you can only judge people by their actions.

“At the end of the Don Juan story, as I remember it, he is having dinner with Doña Aminta who is a depressed, boring, unhappy woman. But he has also invited the Stone Guest to dinner – the ghost of Don Gonzalo, whom he killed. While Doña Aminta is praying, the hellish Stone Guest invites Don Juan to follow him to Hell. He is not dragged or kidnapped…he has a free choice between life with a depressive, unhappy woman and the road to Hell. And Don Juan chooses to go to Hell. That’s my choice too. I want to be engulfed in the flames.

“I don’t want any name on my grave, because I have never had a name of my own,” he told me. “I only want those two lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.”

For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

“Do you remember the four lines before that quote?” I asked.

“I forget,” he said unconvincingly.

“The full quote is better,” I suggested.

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

But, when he died at the very start of the 21st century, it was suddenly and violently and there was no tombstone because there was no body. He had gone to talk to an acquauintance in the New World. The acquaintance’s office was high atop a tower which looked down on the rest of the world as if from heaven. I checked which side of the building the office was on. He must have have stood high up in the financial district of New York early on that bright, clear September morning and seen the plane coming straight at the building. He was consumed in the flames when that first airliner hit the World Trade Center on Tuesday 11th September 2001.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, History, Science

The British have always been a violent race

Once upon a time, an Italian historian told me this…

The British are a restless, disorderly race. They are not the cold people their stereotype implies. You rarely get anything as social as British pubs anywhere else.  German beer cellars are not the same.

The British like to fight.

If two Italians have an argument, there is a long period in which they just stand and insult each other – “You bastard! – You asshole! – Are you an idiot? – You son of a bitch!” – They shout a long string of verbal abuse at each other, but there is no physical violence. The shouting usually draws a group of people round them and, slowly, the two men get closer to each other and the insults get louder. Only at a very late stage might one try to physically attack the other and – immediately – the onlookers will separate them and hold them back. Real fights are rare. There is a saying in Italy – The one who strikes the first blow wins – because there is rarely a second blow – The fight is stopped.

The British fight in a totally different way.

If someone is offended, he turns suddenly and the most he says is “Fuck you!” then he immediately hits the other guy in the face with his fist. No-one has time to separate the two because, by the time they get there, a full fight has started. I saw it happen in a pub the second day I was in England and I have seen it many times since. Very few Italians have broken noses, but lots of English and Scots do because, with their sudden fights, there is no time to protect your face from the first punch.

The other facet which confuses foreigners is that so many British look like losers. They dress casually and shabbily, they don’t repair the legs of their spectacles for years and they look like they are past caring but, at some point, this apparently laid-back loser will turn round and break your nose. It is not a country where you insult someone lightly.

I was in a pub standing next to a stranger and he muttered something to this other guy who looked like a real loser, a real meek man. There was the tiniest of pauses and the meek guy just hit the stranger full-force in the middle of his face. His nose exploded. The stranger went straight down onto the floor and never got up and the meek guy turned quietly back to his pint of beer.

The Romans had twelve legions to control their entire Empire, stretching from the Atlantic to Mesopotamia. They had to keep two of those legions – two whole legions! – garrisoned permanently in Britain, because it was such a very difficult country to rule. The Germans, the Persians and the Arabs were all difficult too – dangerous frontier people – but the real problem the Romans faced in their empire was the Britons. In the 16th century, Cellini called the English “wild beasts”. Hippolyte Taine’s Notes on England, based on his impressions in the 1860s, said: “Friends and enemies alike described them as the most bellicose and redoubtable race in Europe.”

The British have always had a violent culture. And they have always displayed enormous tendencies to individuality. The British will walk miles to prove their fitness. They want to go to the North and South Poles and it’s the only country in the world where explorers’ biographies are enormously popular. The British are obsessed by Enduring and Surviving. They are fascinated – obsessed – by individuals. The British see the family as a collection of single individuals. In Italy, the family unit is everything. You have to be with the family. That is not the case in Britain. Individuality is everything.

13 Comments

Filed under Crime, History, Politics, Travel