Monday, October 31, 2005

Imperial War Museum

“Sorry I kept you waiting. And you had to endure this clown...” he muttered, referring to the actor playing a Canadian soldier, who was marching some 7 year old kids up and down the large museum court. “As I said on the phone our poster collection is rather weak on Palestine, but by all means have a look, see what you can find. We would like to purchase more but our annual purchase budget... I can’t tell you how much it is, but it’s less than a round of drinks. You get my point.”

He was right, nothing was directly relevant. But I found a World War I British recruitment poster in Yiddish. A soldier can be seen cutting the ties of a Jew, who is quoted saying ‘England made me free, now I will pay my debt’. ‘Join the Infantry Reinforcment!’ England set the Jews free? well, in early 20th century, anti-Semitism was probably less a problem in the UK than in most parts of Europe, and some Jews rose to prominent position in Britain’s ruling class, as celebrated in the poster, showing the faces of Hebert Samuel (Home Secretary), Edwin Montegue (Secretary for India) and Rufus Isaacs (Lord Chief Justice); but the first immigration law, the ‘Alien Act’, was passed in the UK to prevent East European Jews fleeing to London from the pogroms and misery of Tsarist Russia. The same Tsarist Russia, where anti-Semitism was an official State policy, was Britain’s ally in the war.

[The poster is probably pre Balfour declaration, Zionist sentiments are not used here]

Later I had a look at the contemporary section. Strange, uneasy mixture: I found the ‘No War on Iraq’ fliers and posters for the 15/2/2003 anti-War demo, right next to coalition propaganda fliers in Arabic for the Iraqi people, promising a new Iraq of 'progress, education, liberty, stability, security, rule of law, prosperty, democracy, and justice'.

The logo was especially disturbing: the occupying forces chose the image of a handshake – between an Iraqi hand (dark skinned, under an Iraqi flag) and a white hand, beneath the acronyms of MND (Multi-NAtional something) / South East. Of course, no American or British flags were shown on the poster – after all, this was a ‘Coalition War’, not a US/UK invasion.

The need to mask Imperial power is not new in the Middle East. When they captured Jerusalem, in 1917, the British were very careful not to display Union Jack flags, and not to use the King’s image on stamps and banknotes - unlike in African colonies, for example. The British knew the Middle East requires a more sophisticated approach.

But this 21st century propaganda had nothing sophisticated about it. It was as lame as this whole neo-conservative adventure-horror trip. Hiding behind meaningless acronyms, or a logo of a ‘handshake’, can't really fool anyone.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

October Critical Mass

1151 London cyclists showed up to this month critical mass (cz counted)
the police threatened to ban the event, but they didn't; because so many people showed up? because they felt nice that warm October evening? who knows.
Critical mass pics always fail to capture the sense of empowerment and solidarity which accompanies this mass aimless drifting through central London. The buz is druglike.

Highlight was twenty minutes cycle-jamming Parliament square, heart of the paranoid age 'demonstrations exclusion zone'. You won't find any mention on the Guardian or the BBC; but on indymedia you can find reports, videos and a scary green monster.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

birdflu xmas

I'm not the only one with H5N1 fantasies.

Even if I was allowed to leave London, which I'm not, I don't think I'd ever be able to get round the Felixstowe Exclusion Zone. I've heard they shoot people who try to cross the M25 now, so it's really not worth the risk.

Longing for the Suburbs?

It’s not cold yet. The sun is plunging like your coffee maker in the morning, staying low – ho – low. Soon time will be up for daylight saviours. And plane trees, so triumphant, shed their leaves; in a month, the poplars will go bare as sardines after dinner. The poplars: their small leaves will rot and disappear so quickly, before real winter even starts: January. While the plane trees, carry on, carry on, their leaves big, dry, like chopped off giant hands. They linger, all the way to April.

last year's leaves

But not cold, not yet; November round the corner, and I can still cycle without gloves. Damp, and dark, and disconcerting: yes. But cold, no. not yet. Last week I could say something silly, and clichéic, like I love London in the autumn, and what a revelation: the sweet excitement in the air, the squirrels crazy in the parks, the foliage of follies. Today such terms are unthinkable. All I can think of is last year’s leaves, and me, with a sack full of them, going down the hill, the One Tree hill.

Monday, October 17, 2005


S and me were discussing our plans regarding avian flue H5N1, aka GenZ, aka bird flu. Apparently they're going to put the royal ravens at the Tower of London in special cages so they don't come into contact with migrant birds, who not only come to this country to get jobs and enjoy the health care system, but bring diseases which will kill up to 500,000 people in the uk.

anyway. escape is probably wise. Something inside me wants to stay and see this metropolis melt down, and blog it live, but who knows if i'll survive.

So.. evactuation. where to? Australia seems a good option.

[scene one: long queues in the rain in front of the Australia House, the Strand, London.
Inside, a woman is banging her head on the bullet-proof windown separating her from the Visa official. But the official is a screen: it is projected from somewhere.

The woman, pleading with heavy Australian accent: but i am an australian citizen. My husband and kids are in Jalong.
Televised Official: I'm sorry but as you know since the 19th of November we do not allow entry from infected countries. There is not exception unfortunately.
woman, weeping: but i just want to get home.
Official: we had to take this measure to protect your family. No one can be allowed to enter. It will not be safe for your family.
Woman: I have my health check here
Official: I'm sorry

so it's better to get there before they impose a quarantine on the rest of the world.
We had a look on the Australian immigration website. Apparently they welcome 'genuine tourists'.

A genuine tourist

I think i'll need to to get my look together.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

what is failure

Medina sent me this one... criculating internet jokes is against my religion..
but you should definitely try this one.

1.) go to
2.) type in 'failure'
3.) press the I'm feeling lucky button (instead of the google search one)

google will probably fix this so share the pleasure before they do

Obscure visual sign of the week (4)

options are:

1. Kill yourself, save the planet

2. No Jive dancing

3. No pedestrians

4. Women only

Correct answer in the comment section

Friday, October 14, 2005

the camp dervish at the Bonnington Cafe

Yesterday, at lunch time, N and I were sitting in the Café and reading, when a man interrupted us: ‘sorry, you look like interesting people... are you interested in a conversation? Or would you prefer to keep reading?’
Me and N looked at each other, and said simultaneously: ‘I’d rather keep reading, sorry’.
‘What are you reading?’ said the man, excited. There was something camp about him, and he moved like a water buffalo.
N: just a Dona Tart novel.
Mink: the memoirs of the first British Governor of Jerusalem.
The man sat down at our table, uninvited, his eyes opening: ‘fascinating! I’m so interested in colonial history. Because we are all subjugated by white Colonialism. I’m from India, you know.’
He looked Indian, perhaps, but had a mild Yorkshire accent. He continued: ‘but as Marcos says, we are all Indians.’
N: you mean Zapatista Marcus?
Camp man: obviously. I’m just passing through here in London... but I find it impossible to stay. Such high level of repression. The highest level of repression in the world.
N: hmmm.. dunno about that... have you been to the US lately?
Man: it’s worse here, I’m sure. Everybody you talk with on the street interrogates you, as if they worked for the MI5. It’s because they’re all sexually repressed, they cannot express themselves. It’s like what Foucault says in the History of Sexuality. There is no freedom here. And we Sufis believe you must free yourself of everything. Even of god. Allah is just a sound for us. It doesn’t mean anything.
N: wait a minute... what kind of Sufi are you?
Man: I’m a dervish, actually.
N: I mean, you can’t speak for all Sufis. You can’t lump everybody together. Maybe your Order is different... do you have a sheikh?
(N has recently become sufi himself)
Man: No, we dervishes believe in leading by obeying, like subcomandente Marcos. That’s why Sufism is can be seen as embodying the principles of the EZLN.
N (getting a bit impatient): how can you say that Sufism follows Zapatista principles, when Sufis came much before?
Man: Before, after, it doesn’t matter. You know, it’s like the Muslim story about Jesus. We call him Isha (sic). We believe he died for us...
N: but according to the Koran Jesus didn’t die.
Man: but there are many stories, not just one need to be written. That’s why they had the Fatwa for Rushdie: because he opened many stories in the Koran, while they wanted just the one written story. Writing corrupts speech, because it forces one version. It makes story into propaganda. Read Chomsky. He says it all.
I begun to lose interest and went back to my book. But the camp dervish excited loud voice made it difficult.
Man: I want to overcome this Western Dualism. There is no self. I want to awaken us to the other.
N: but by ‘awakening to the other’ you’re just accepting the self/other dichotomy, not overcoming it.
Man: I’ll rephrase it: awaken with the other. See the other, you’ll see yourself.
N: but that’s so obvious. Everybody knows that.
Man: of course. I tell you only what you always already know, what is always already obvious.
They continued talking for a while, until they came to the subject of Chiruki astronomy, at which point N exploded.
N: you don’t know shit.
Man: fuck you... with all respect. I don’t think you should call yourself a Sufi. Can I have the bill?

death of a squirel

i told you it wasn't death of natural causes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It’s sunny today, and warm. I found a dead squirrel in the bin in front of the house this morning. Something furry peeped out; at first I thought it was a hat. But then I saw its mouth gaping open, and his eyes red with blood.

I suspect foul play. I have more to say on the subject, maybe tomorrow.

Obscure visual sign of the week (3)

1. No more than one child at a time

2. Reproducing is bad

3. Black silhouettes are not allowed

4. Children must not play on this site

Saturday, October 08, 2005

When you hear the tutor instructing to prepare for the last posture, Shavasna, relaxation, you feel as if you have won a well earned prize. The two hour practice has driven the clouds of anxiety from your mind, leaving behind almost a clear sky. But when you lie down, and lay your hands alongside your body, these troubling thoughts sneak back, one by one, dancing in the darkness of your closed eyelids. You try to keep them at bay, forcing your mind to focus on your breath. It is an ongoing struggle; when you succeed, it seems as if you disappear altogether for a brief moment, to a place of no thought, no consciousness, just a complete, and utter rest.

When you come back from these lapses, you are usually overcome with weariness; at times you see things, things that come from the dark, glimpses of nightmares. How this troubled journey can be considered relaxing, you do not know; yet when you hear the words commanding you back to the surface, and you slowly gather yourself and open your eyes, you feel revived, recovered, as it were, from the pains of being.

* * *

You close the co-op ten minutes early; you are by yourself today, and you do not want to stay behind too long. When you finish, the time is almost half past seven. Outside night had fallen; you wonder what time it gets dark nowdays – six? Half five? - the days disappear so quickly in October, it’s like watching a crashing airplane; soon it will get dark before four o’clock. You post the keys through the letterbox, as usual, and hear them make a sound as they hit the floor; only to realize you had left your water bottle inside the shop. Well, too late now.

As you unlock your bicycle, you notice three 16 old boys walking up the sidewalk, their pace cocky, their conversation loud. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but the music is unmistakeable, songs of inner-city bravado. It would be sensible to get out of their way, but you realize you don’t have enough time. Fortunately, the slightly dim neighbour from upstairs starts chatting to you through the window. You do not understand his sense of humour, but you are grateful, all the same. “Do you have jewels in there?” he asks, pointing at your bicycle panniers. “No, just lentils”. The boys have passed you; the neighbour says good night. You are about to get on the bike and cycle away, but you see the boys lingering not far, on the corner of the estate. They are up to something, their voices hissing with excitement; they light some sort of fire cracker and shoot it – at whom, you cannot tell – then they run away, laughing.

A moment later, a big commotion, and another pack of kids comes running from behind the corner, all swearing and shouting. There are about ten or twelve of them; it would be silly to try to cycle away now. They run towards you. “Where is he? Where’s he gone?” You are slow to reply; maybe you just don’t want to get involved. One of them grabs you by your shirt and shakes you, pushes you against the rubbish bin; another one takes something out of his pocket and waves it angrily in the air. You wonder if it’s a knife; your bicycle loses balance and tips over; you point towards the alley to where the first gang disappeared. The object in the boy’s hand now seems more like a mobile phone, though you’re still not sure. Shit, shit, they shout, where they gone, that way, where. The boy shakes you one more time, then lets go; the group loses its centre, wondering in all directions. Suddenly they are going, running, back to the estate. The last one to stay behind picks your bike from the floor. He turns his face to you, attempting to look hard; maybe he’s trying to say something. For a moment you think he’s about to try to get away with your bike. Strangely enough, you do not think about your notebook computer or your wages from last night at the Café – both are inside the bicycle panniers; it’s the prospect of losing the bike which terrifies you. You hold on to the bike; he then hands you the handlebars, in an awkward gesture, still keeping a tough face. Was he just trying to help? Or did he give up the idea because the bike was too heavy, loaded with two panniers?

Later, as you cycle home through the back streets, the moment of confrontation flashes back. Tonight could have been much worse, you know. That frustrated aggression could easily have found you as a target. Like anyone living in London, you have witnessed violence on the streets: a man chased down by a group of fifteen youngsters, brought to the floor and kicked all over his body; a man smashing a shop window in the middle of the day; a woman narrowly escaping from a violent man in a car; the aftermath of a shooting, a street away from your home. On those occasions, you chose to cycle away as quickly as possible, leaving it for others to deal with. But after three years of living in the poorer parts of London, it is only a matter of time and chance before you find yourself in an unpleasant situation. No damage done; you should consider yourself lucky.

More troubling, you find, is your almost lethargic response to the situation; when the boy waved the object towards you, you stared at it numbly, apathetically, as if you were an observer, a bystander. You used to think of your dislocated slowness as something quaint; ‘you’re as slow as a florescent light switching on’ said Lily once. Now this slowness seems more like a dangerous fault. Now, your inability to act and react without calculation feels like a crippling disadvantage.

You had plans to go to the Ritzy to watch David Cronenberg’s new film, The History of Violence, but you decide to leave it for another day.

Monday, October 03, 2005


An idea for a short story/novella: a fictive account of the life of Paul Wittek, a scholar of Ottoman History. The story will start in 1948, when Wittek returns to Europe which he had fled before the war. He travels across the continent, trying to retrieve the archive that he had had to leave behind, and to pick the pieces of his former life; it will end in 1950, with the publication of the second part of his article on the Ottoman Tughra in the Journal Byzantion, and before he is ready to depart the continent and return – this time for good – to London.

Saturday, October 01, 2005