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Thursday, 30 May 2019

The Special One.

Jose Mourinho, move over! Before his recent eclipse, the ex manager of Chelsea and then Manchester United was termed ‘The Special One.’ Now there’s a new kid in town.


The symptoms came suddenly and out of the blue, an upper right arm that hurt like hell, increasingly stiff and difficult to move. Put it this way, for the first time in my life I realise the advantages of the bidet. Worse, I have similar symptoms in my right thigh, which makes it difficult to bend and put on a sock. I’m contemplating some kind of Heath Robinson invention that will do the job for me, but, for the moment, I’m reduced to making a glove from said sock by half-turning it inside out, placing it carefully on a chair—cavern-side grinning up at me—raising my leg as far as it will go and guiding my toes in, sometimes successfully.

My wife at last lost patience and, a little crestfallen, I went to the doctors. “Frozen shoulder,” she said and handed me a leaflet. She was less forthcoming about the thigh but advised me to see a physiotherapist. “Eight weeks waiting list. I advise you to go private. Ask around.”

It was only at home, I realised how special I am. The leaflet gravely informed me of all the reasons I really shouldn’t be dealing with this: Frozen Shoulder affects only 3% of adults; it is most common between the ages of 40 – 65; it is more common in women, and more common in people who have diabetes and/or overactive thyroid disease. I fail every one of these benchmarks. But bear with me. I’m even more special.  Either shoulder can be affected, but most commonly it is the non-dominant shoulder. And yes, you’ve got it. Mine is in my bloody right shoulder. 

I felt like kneeling on the spot (right thigh allowing) and raising my eyes to heaven. ‘Why me, O, Lord? Why me?' And knowing the answer: ‘Because.’ In the end I decided against bothering the Lord for fear of retribution. In one in five cases the condition develops in the other shoulder two or so years later. I have no wish to be even more special.                      

Friday, 17 May 2019

Sex and Demons, corpses galore and magical fish

I was at a quiz, just outside of London and introduced to a severe looking couple, part of our team. When a question was asked ie how many books are there in the Old Testament, I did a quick count and came up with a number different to that of  Mrs Severe. I listed them, but when I came to Tobit, she hissed at me. ‘Tobit is not in the Old Testament!’
‘He is,’ I hissed back. I knew he was. Tobit and his son Tobias are the stuff of legend—sci fi and ‘The Arabian Nights’ rolled into one. I loved the story as a child, and read it still every now and again.

On reaching home, the mystery was solved—summed up in two words: Damned Protestants.

Tobit was included in the Old Testament by the Council of Rome (382 A D) The Council of Hippo (393 AD) The Council of Carthage (397 AD) The Council of Florence (1453 A D) and finally the Council of Trent (1546)

The Church of England was far more sniffy, relegating it to the Apocrypha, something dubious, something best left alone, and as for Judaism—good news. Moves are afoot to restore it to the canon. (Why it wasn’t in the first place is due to some weird rabbinical law involving who exactly signed Tobias and Sarah’s marriage certificate. (Don’t ask)

But the story!

Tobit is one of those wonderful characters, too good to be true. He shared all he had with his people, he buried those without graves, and when the Babylonian Sennacherib slaughtered a large number of Jews, Tobit buried them, too, at his own expense and to the fury of Sennacherib.
But Tobit wasn’t done with burying the dead. It seems to have occupied his every waking hour, scouring the country, burying people willy-nilly.  During one feast, he heard that a Jew had been found with his throat cut in a nearby street. Tobit, the one-man funeral parlour, the mortician of Nineveh leapt to his feet, located and then buried the corpse. More corpses were found the next day, and the indefatigable Tobit buried them too. One wonders how many sick people staggered to their feet rather than being mistakenly buried by Tobit. On this last occasion, however, the exhausted Tobit fell asleep before reaching home and God struck. Warm bird droppings fell on the good man’s eyes, blinding him on the spot. Tobit’s faith in God remained strong, his prayers stronger still.

Meanwhile, in the city of Rages, Sarah the daughter of Raguel was in deep trouble. Possessed by the demon Asmodeus, she had been given to seven husbands, each one of which was killed by the demon on their wedding nights. More than a little perturbed, Sarah locked herself away and fasted and prayed. Her prayers joined with Tobit's, and the angel Raphael was sent to sort things out.

The first step was taken when Tobit sent his son Tobias on a mission to Rages to collect an old debt, ten talents of silver. As the map shows, it's a long and wearisome journey from Nineveh to Rages.
A guide will be needed.

Tobias hires one, a mysterious stranger lurking outside his house—the angel—Raphael’s first paying job.
Tobias saying farewell to his blind father. (Tobit's wife is weeping in the background. All she ever
seems to do in the story)

On the banks of the Tigris, Tobias is attacked by a giant fish but drags it to shore by its gills. Raphael exhorts him to extract the gall, which will cure blindness, along with the liver and heart for a reason only Raphael knows.

During their fish supper, Raphael tells Tobias he is to marry Sarah the daughter of Raguel. Tobias is not best pleased, aware that the marriage will be little more than a one night stand.
But Raphael has a cunning plan. On that first night Tobias is not to touch Sarah but instead burn the fish’s liver and heart. The fumes will drive the demon away and Raphael will bind it in Upper Egypt. (I love the specificity)  On the second night it will be all systems go, and on the third night they will be blessed with child.
Tobias and Sarah and the Angel makes three.

Great happiness ensues; Tobias gains a beautiful wife and large dowry and returns home to a father no doubt relieved he doesn’t have to bury his son. You can have too much of a good thing. Tobit’s joy is increased even more when Tobias instructs him to rub the fish gall into his eyes and his sight is immediately restored. (For those into 'Specsavers' or ophthalmology in general )

This story has everything, sex and demons, corpses galore and magical fish. In Pilate’s words: ‘Truth? What is truth?’

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Thank you Ruth


Almost a  year ago, on our way back from Iceland, we met a lovely couple whose names I won’t mention for fear of embarrassing them. But Ruth (Christian name should be sufficiently anonymous) had just finished a book, and rather than take it home with her, gave it me because she thought I might like it.

I could see from the start that I almost certainly would, but at home I had a TBR pile of books a mile high and so ‘Beyond Black’ was placed, not quite, but fairly near the bottom of the pile.

A week ago I began reading it and was transported to a particularly seedy lower middle class culture, its leading protagonist, Alison, with even darker roots than that. Alison is a genuine clairvoyant, her gift more a curse than a blessing. She has a spirit guide called Morris along with his even less savoury friends, lowlife who had damaged her badly, very badly, as a child.

Explaining to her spiritually arid companion, Colette, on a car journey home, Alison describes her curse, and why other clairvoyants are more buoyant and positive than her:

“But you see, Colette, some people . . . manage to have lovely thoughts. They have thoughts that are packed inside their heads like the chocolates in an Easter egg. They can pick out any one, and it’s just as sweet as the next.”
The lights changed as they shot forward. “What?” Colette said.
“But other people’s heads in the inside, the content is all mixed up and it’s gone putrid. They’ve gone rotten inside from thinking about things, things that the other sort of people never have to think about. And if you have low, rotten thoughts, not only do you get surrounded by low entities, but they start to be attracted, you see, like flies around the dustbin, and they start laying eggs in you and breeding. . . . And so when you have certain thoughts – thoughts you can’t help – these sorts of spirits come rushing round. And you can’t dislodge them. Not unless you could get the inside of your head hoovered out.” And so Alison is haunted, literally, by a past that she’ll never escape.

And this is the beauty of the book. It’s a book far removed from the horror of King or the more traditional gothic novel.  It's the horror of the mundane, if you like. The book is replete with ghosts, ghosts as commonplace as cigarette butts or discarded fast-food packaging, and made real because of that fact. In this respect, despite the veins of sly humour throughout,  Beyond Black is as much a profound character study as anything horrific, and the over all air is one of quiet tragedy.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Frodsham has its ups and downs

Frodsham has its ups and downs. When we were teenagers, to score a party in Frodsham was the very height of cool, the world it represented, and the girls being so far removed from our experience. They talk of grass always being greener etc but for us Frodsham was a dazzling viridian.
Suffice it to say, I never scored a party in Frodsham. I bear different and more recent scars.

On the top of Frodsham Hill is a magnificent War Memorial. I hope and trust the local British Legion are able to drive there, because looking back I wish we had! Well, I did at the time.

We took the Sandstone Trail, tortuous, scenic and psychically destructive. I don’t mind climbing hills if and when the target is in sight but the Sandstone Trail doesn’t play by those rules. I’ve forgotten how many times we were almost in sight of the top when the trail suddenly swooped down and we had to start all over again. Those trees, for me, represent less the indomitable spirit of nature than a symbol of despairing clamberers taking root, preferring the stationary to strained sinews.

At last we reached the top, though I found it hard to believe and remained in suspicion mode for a time. But no, this was it.
Above and below, views of the estuary and in the far distance
Liverpool. In theory you can see the two cathedrals.

And below, Frodsham. A nice google earth view, though the laptop
alternative is less onerous. 

Frodsham, possibly named after a Saxon called 'Frod' ie Frod's village, or a corruption of 'Ford' ie village on the ford. I prefer the first hobbit like possibility. But, more to the point, somewhere down there was a pub.

And there certainly was—the strangely named Helter Skelter* pub and its fabulous beers and equally fabulous food, and all was right with the world again.

It doesn't look much on the outside but the food and the beer were of remarkable quality. 

Required reading in the pub's toilet. So, which beer drinker are you?
I was so desperate for a drink I'd have even gone for Blonde, despite the deserved odium.

*Probably not the Beatles Song, more likely a tribute to the helter skelter on Overton Hill 1908 to 1977, lovely photos