Tuesday, September 18, 2007

So Doku

On Sunday I attended the Times national So Doku championship, even though I never solved one of these puzzles in my life. I was there as part of my brilliant career as invigilator, and my job this time was to check the answers of the participants. There were over a hundred of them, all sitting in one room. Most of them looked in their 40s and 50s, lower middle class, more men than women (3:2 ratio. I counted. Invigilation makes you very bored). Almost all, save three or four, were white. I don't know it that's the profile of the average so doku fan or the average Times reader.

I sat there and watched foreheads furrow, eyeballs roll, fingers stretched, and tongues peek from tightly closed lips as they tried to get the numbers right. I thought how once we humans preferred to run around and try to climb treas and kick balls. But now we sit in a room and write numbers into little boxes. What a technocratic society we live in. We measure a genius by her or his ability to arrange a nine by nine matrix in the right way and quickly as possible. Other societies may pick their geniuses by their ability to get the best apple yield or to crack car locks.

But I heard somewhere that there's a lot of creativity in writing these puzzles, and the ones produced by computers are hugely inferior. So humanity still kicks ass. The composers of Sunday's puzzles stood at the side of the room, a quiet couple of earnest and lean looks from the So Doku Syndicate, the group that really runs the universe. They reminded me of the virtual reality terrorists of Kronenberg's Existenz.

For so doku fans in my readership, two set of puzzles are waiting for you, if you want, the junior ones for under 12 and 13-16. I tried the one for under 12 children, and failed. I used to think I was good with numbers.
The white man jumped into the 38 bus through the back doors, saying very cheerfully to no-one in particular, 'good old Ken Livingstone. Giving Londoners free buses'. He then turned to stand in profile, and suddenly became quiet and gloomy.

Some of my friends have made an art of travelling all across London on these bendy buses where you don't have to show your ticket to the driver. There's enough of them to get you anywhere, albeit in winding routes. I'm usually too impatient, and also too worried to get caught. When I'm not in the mood to pay, like today, I stand next to the electronic-ticket-reader in case an inspector comes.

I'm reading the new Koetzee book in hard cover and it's hard holding it up while standing.

A man with an indian accent said: 'My grandfather was a great man. He died laughing'.

Free rides come with a price. The bus terminated its journey two stops after Angel, and long before my stop. It was sunny, and I decided to walk to college. The streets sprinkled with some unexplained English good nature and properness that almost made me feel I'm not in London. But then the red brick house, that beautiful 1930s gothic tower. I would so much like to live there. Or squat it for just one winter.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's my birthday today and I started it with a cold shower. I was supposed to be over that stage in my life, now as a legitimate rent-paying occupier of living premises. Well the fact I don't need to show a Section 6 Warning on the door doesn't mean I get hot water. Gas to the flat was disconnected last week by the long arm of the law, chasing some long-gone tenant. Getting it back is not easy.

At the meantime it's DIY all over again, had to install my camping-stove on top of the IKEA kitchen. The oven is working, being electric, but I somehow never got along with ovens. What can one do with ovens? Roast veggies. Cook eggplants to prepare Baba Ganush (eggplant spread). Hmm that's it more or less.

So cold showers. Dreading them is part of the deal. But so is the liberation they bring. It is that little push you often need in the morning. It's a reminder that you are stronger than you think. Not just about endurance and resilience, but also learning to live with your body, and letting it enjoy the world at it is. As the gushes flow down your skin, you feel your back straigthen, your shoulders broaden. One last wash, one more second, and you are ready to face the day with a shivering smile.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Chapeau Bas

After three years of struggle, the village of Bil'in in the West Bank has won its fight against the 'security' fence that was stealing its lands for a yet-unbuilt settlement. In three years of weekly demonstrations involving Israeli and International supporters, the Bil'in village committee has proved itself among the most imaginative, resourceful and inspiring non-violent direct action campaigners in the world. They staged their resistance-performances every Friday, tirelessly, to an unappreciative audience of teargas-bomb squads. Actions included setting up a settler-style outpost; squatting empty houses in the nearby settlement; barricading in a cage with a goat on the route of the fence; a piano recital and more. (This is my account of one action, two years ago).

Today the Israeli Supreme Court declared the route of the fence illegal. On the overall schema of things, this small victory may seem insignificant. There are a thousand more defeated Bil'ins in the West Bank and Gaza, a million more defeated Bil'ins in the world. But for me, the real victory, and the one that should serve as example, is the Bil'in demonstrators ability to maintain their resolve, creativity and humanity in the last three years. Bravo.