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Friday, 31 August 2018

Aleister Crowley meets Elizabeth McBride

Every book has a life changing moment. There are four in The Gift

Lizzie ran, unsure of the consequences or whether she meant to. She ran, veering right over cobbles and tramlines until tall, more substantial buildings enveloped her. She imagined she heard her aunt’s penetrating shriek and ran all the faster, hurling herself into Lord Street and crashing into a middle-aged man who held her and laughed.
“Who are you running from? Have you stolen something?” He sounded amused.
Lizzie struggled in his arms. “Get off me. Let me go!”
He lifted her up so that her face was inches from his. She smelled tobacco and a sweet underlying fragrance that made her feel sick. His eyes, brown and compelling, bore into hers. “You think I will hurt you in a crowded street. I am not going to hurt you, and you are not going to run away.” His eyes confused, hard like glass, and a moment later drawing her into a brown swirling ocean.
He put her down gently and squeezed her left shoulder. “Now why are you running? I want to help you, Lizzie.”
“How do you know my name?”
He seemed surprised. “You fight back. Good. Now, you think it unfair that I should know your name. Well then, my name is Aleister Crowley, and we are on equal terms.” He shook her hand but didn’t release it. “So tell me who you are running from?”
From the end of the street came a high shriek. “Lizzie Tobin! Come here this minute.”
“That’s not my name,” Lizzie hissed. “It’s McBride. Lizzie McBride.”
“ McBride, a fine name. Do you want to go with her?”
Lizzie slumped at her aunt’s approach.
“Do you want to go with her?” Crowley insisted
“No. I hate her.”
“Hate can move mountains. Wait here. Don’t move.”
Crowley released her hand and moved, blocking her from Aunt Joyce.
“Will you excuse me, sir? Lizzie, come here at once!”
He bowed. Lizzie imagined him smiling, imagined his eyes. His voice was soft and she knew he was going to betray her. “I caught her just now. A wilful girl, if you’ll allow me.”
“I’ll allow you, Mr…?”
“Crowley. She is most wilful. Most wilful indeed. The sooner we’re at sea won’t be too soon for me!”
“It’s a pity they cannot be trained…like dogs.”
Lizzie tried to run but her legs wouldn’t move. She watched Crowley bend lower as though whispering something intimate, and then her aunt drop on to all fours, barking madly and turning her head as though guarding a bone. Pedestrians stopped, some forming a loose circle around the deranged woman, and Crowley looking almost as shocked as them. Lizzie began laughing and at once her legs regained movement. Then she saw Uncle Jim, hovering uncertainly at the far end of the street.
Crowley reclaimed her hand. “I think we should go now… Did you enjoy that?”
“I did. I did.” Lizzie felt guilty but she had enjoyed it. She wanted to turn back and see more. Was it bad to hate someone so much – her own mother’s sister? Her smile faded.
“Don’t feel guilty or sad, Lizzie. Those two things will kill you.”

Friday, 24 August 2018

I had just walked past two aliens and survived.

I walked past a man with a face that didn’t belong. This was the conclusion I drew after three cups of coffee and a morning thinking about it. It was a sunny Monmouth morning, and I was walking down Monnow Street when I moved to one side, allowing a couple of indeterminate age pass by.

The woman passed in a blur. Not the man.  Both, though, were tourists; we have plenty of them in Monmouth. Coaches deposit them at one end of town and they’re given an hour to walk up our one main street, check out our charity shops and numerous coffee bars, a pub perhaps and then back to the coach.

These looked like tourists. They walked primly as though wound by the same key, eyes fixed on something invisible ahead, and mouths fixed in a small, willing-to-be-amused smile.

But there was something about the man: his face. It was airbrushed to perfection, tanned to a perfect, pale honey colour, and so incredibly smooth. This may give the impression that I stood in front of him, staring and making copious notes. The fact that it was merely a glimpse reflects perhaps the power of the experience. If a minor deity took on human form he too might have skin as smooth as silk or porcelain with an unearthly honey-coloured tan.

On my second cup of coffee, I started working on his nationality. Had I glimpsed white teeth, the kind that glowed in the dark, I might have guessed American, but with no such clue, I settled on German . . . until I remembered their manner of walking, and that old film, ‘The Bodysnatchers’ came into mind. I had just walked past two aliens, and survived. Either that or the coffee was good.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Who'da thunk?

Harry Potter’s ‘Dementors’ have nothing on the soul sucking arguments of those seeking to expand the ‘gravy train.’ The latest example concerns councillors who have spoken out for more diversity in Local Government, this in response to a Welsh Assembly enquiry—this same Assembly who are seeking to increase their own number ‘to do a better job for Wales.’ Of course.

It’s reassuring to know that Monmouthshire County Council takes such things seriously. It even has its own ‘Democratic Services Committee’ that echoes this new need for greater diversity. So far all well and good, Mom and Apple Pie stuff, though you already know it’s leading to something less wholesome.

But first the strains of plaintive violins. Councillors went on to speak of the difficulties in balancing a career with being a councillor, as though free choice had nothing to do with it. They spoke of the need to attract more young people, and in the first hint of their true agenda, offer the first glimpse of a coy ankle—remuneration is key to encouraging diversity. “ I think on the basis of where we are currently at we have to accept we won’t do that with the remunerations where they currently are.” A rough translation, there’s not enough in the trough.

The violins get louder. It’s not just remuneration. Employers need to be more understanding and appreciate the valuable work that councillors do. “I’ve recently had two conversations with women of my sort of age, with families and jobs, and one said there was no way I could ever stand as a councillor as my employer would never let me have the time off,” one councillor said. 

Why should they? Not only would they be granting her paid leave, they’d also be subsidising her councillor’s ‘allowance’ of approx £15K (£22K if they chair a committee) through their rates.

In response to the inquiry and with no sign of irony, the council observed that a further barrier is ‘the image and the general distrust of politicians in general.’
Who’da thunk?
And who would have guessed that the Council’s response would be shared with the Welsh Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities committee, or that there was a need for such a job.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Beware those wearing wigs

A Mr. Bullock (I’m not making it up) has complained about cows mooing next to his home and as a result, Leeds City Council have set up recording equipment around the offending farm to monitor the sound over a period of twelve months before reaching any decision.

I’m considering making a similar request apropos the seagulls who wake us up each morning between 5.30 and 6 am. What in God’s name are seagulls doing in Monmouth? There’ll be trawlers up the high street next, old ladies slapping their thighs and singing sea shanties. It’s not on. But then a lot of strange things are happening with birds at the moment.

Feral chickens for one. Gangs of feral chickens have been terrorising the island of Jersey. Some one’s counted them. Six gangs apparently, with the largest one amounting to 100 chickens. They also wake up residents early in the morning, wreck gardens and disrupt traffic. Give me cows any day.

But back on to seagulls. It seems they’ve discovered the joys of urban living, one walking into a Greggs pie shop and walking out again with a bag of crisps in its beak. They’ve also discovered the joys of alcohol, but not as yet cigarettes. In Devon, Dorset and Somerset they’re scavenging leftover alcohol. In Taunton the RSPCA had to treat up to 30 gulls after they were found passed out or staggering around in a boozy haze. One even vomited on a firefighter who was trying to rescue it from a rooftop. They stink of alcohol and rescue vans smell like pubs on a Saturday night.

Sober gulls, too, are a nuisance. One writer has complained bitterly about incontinent gulls in Aldeburgh. The sea front is splattered with the stuff, buildings caked, even cars if parked for more than an hour. One resident complained: “It’s like the Dam-busters this summer, but with shit.” A follow up letter however put things in perspective. Seagull shit is water-soluble. Heavy rain will soon clear it up. Pigeons on the other hand . . . their plop does not clear up in the rain and has the consistency of chewing gum.

Mr Bullock, are you listening?

But to end with my own Alfred Hitchcock experience. I was walking in Iceland (sorry about that) when an Arctic Tern dived bombed me scraping my head with its talons. Had I been wearing a wig, it would have been gone. Our tour-guide explained why.

We were walking by a nesting area and Arctic Terns have no time for idiots. They are sometimes called paradise birds because they follow the sun, every year flying from the Antarctic to the Arctic and back again. Thus they enjoy two summers and the longest period of daylight than any other creature. Mind you, whether it’s worth it is debatable, flying 12000 miles there, and 12,000 miles back.

  In the Arctic they breed during the period when the sun never sets. I guess, having invested so much in the whole process, they don’t take lightly anyone walking anywhere near their eggs or chicks. Having said that, they keep themselves to themselves, neither mooing, boozing, or shitting all over you, but beware those wearing wigs.

** Metro
*** Cornell

Friday, 3 August 2018

Zombie Barnacles

We live in an era of fake news, though it may be more accurately termed ‘Pick-and-Mix’ news. Facts are omitted, others given undue prominence, but all interpreted and glossed to appeal to our separate and vociferous tribes.

In this beautifully produced book, William Cross does a scholarly hatchet job on the National Trust, the present guardians of Tredegar House. He is concerned with facts and demolishing the myths that have encrusted themselves around the now defunct Morgan dynasty like barnacles—Zombie barnacles—for they have an unholy life of their own. It’s part and parcel of human nature, I suppose, for it is also fake news that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction often trumps truth.  We love a good story, and sometimes truth just gets in the way. In this respect, Will Cross has done an heroic job. Time will see if the zombie barnacles are truly dead.

For the curious, these are just some of the myths explored and demolished.
The Morgans were descended from Welsh princes
Tredegar House has 365 windows, one for every day of the year. (It has seventy-three)
Henry Morgan the pirate was an ancestor of the Morgans of Tredegar House.

In 1758, Charles Gould married Jane Morgan for love
Few married for love in that day and age. We have a contemporary account of the union:
“I have,” answered he (Mr Thomas Morgan of Ruperra) “two girls. One is handsome; the other, not so well endowed by nature. In order to repair that deficiency, I mean to give her fifteen hundred pounds as a marriage portion. To her sister I shall only give one thousands. Which of them would you wish to have?”
Gould replied: “Allow me to enquire, which is the eldest?”
“The plain girl,” Morgan replied.
“Then if you please, sir, I’ll have her.”
Both sides were satisfied, especially when Charles changed his name from Gould to Morgan in order to preserve the family line. 

A tale that is not a myth but an interesting story nevertheless concerns the two sons of Charles and Jane—John Morgan and Charles Morgan. Both fought in the American revolutionary wars, John killed in action at sea, and Charles captured by the Americans at York Town. Before the surrender, an American soldier, Captain Huddy was captured and executed without trial. Hardly surprising. As Captain in the Monmouth militia he murdered those who remained loyal to the Crown. Even so, it was a bad call by a CaptainLippincott. It is, though, worth bearing in mind that Huddy had murdered several of Lippincott's relatives.

In consequence George Washington ordered thirteen British officers to draw lots for who would be executed in retaliation for Captain Huddy’s death. They were each handed a folded paper—twelve blank and one with one just one word, Unfortunate. Charles Morgan was fortunate. Captain Asgill of the Coldstream Guards less so, opening up his death sentence. All ended well however when he was reprieved after an intervention by the Queen of France. A different age.

But back to the myths:
Sir Briggs was buried standing up. To explain, Sir Briggs was a Morgan horse that survived the Crimean war and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Named after a servant of that name ‘Briggs’ the horse was unnoficially knighted and was buried standing up. There is no evidence at all for those last two claims.  
A golden gondola on Tredegar Park lake
Evan Morgan’s parrot bit Herman Goering’s nose.
After Evan’s death, a  black box of secrets was buried in the grounds of Tredegar House
The myths are first class and you want them to be true, but all are beautifully debunked in this readable and lavishly produced book.