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Dreaming of Dali

Lying half awake one recent mosquito infested night, a vision of a castle. Entering a tiled courtyard, almost empty. On the bare wall to the left is mounted a plump red sofa, meaningless, out of context. Above that two bulbous shapes painted in a cheap-looking glitzy gold. And above this are mounted two white toilet bowls. Is this art? Is this a museum? The wall above the bowls is festooned with hanging bales of yellow straw.

To the right of the tiled courtyard stands a life-size model of a camel with a stepladder leading to a small platform at its hump. The sleeper climbs the 8 steps to the platform. There is a telescope fixed to the platform, with the wrong side facing the platform. It cannot be swivelled to face the right way, so the sleeper looks through the wrong end at the the wall that looks diminished, far away. And stares at the face of a blonde goddess with pouting lips.

Graham Greene once said that a writer’s business is to observe, read, absorb and forget (not Greene’s own words, but the gist), so that the re-remembering becomes original material, processed through each writer’s unique DNA. Bless the mosquito that jogged this memory. Driving through the Pyrenees in 1976, crossing over from France into Spain through Andorra and chancing on a little town in Spain called Figueres, birthplace of Salvador Dali. Thanks to a lowly mosquito for jogging this distant memory of a museum that opened in 1974.

A Glimmer of Good News on the CO2 Front

Although global CO2 emissions increased in 2012 by a record 34.5 billion tonnes, this number represented good news nevertheless; a slowing of the annual pace of increase to less than half of its 10-year average, from 2.9% to 1.1%. All the more remarkable when one considers that the global economy expanded by 3.5% in this period.

For more details on the regional breakdown of these emission figures, see the link below for a summary in English of the report from the Netherlands Environmental Agency.


Why do I write?

Certainly not because it’s easy. It’s a lot of hard work and some days the flow of words dries to a trickle and then there is much soul-searching and self-examination. Shouldn’t I be doing something else? There were several other post-retirement careers planned; teaching English, running a literary cafe, opening a restaurant, freelance scientific editing. All of the above were appealing second careers, but they did not happen. The imperative to tell stories was too powerful. There are stories all around us. That mousy character you don’t look at twice on the U-bahn, but she is the only person in a crowded carriage in the underground with the moral courage to speak up and to face down a bully who verbally molests a young girl travelling alone. The down-at-heel aristocrat who looks like an ageing harlot as she desperately tries to keep up appearances and be a worthy descendant of a long line of illustrious forbears, the last of the line. The world-renowned purveyor of fine wines who had to overcome cataclysmic misfortune to reach his position of eminence in the trade. The bohemian lover of the good life who flaunts his good fortune, health and wealth in front of a succession of wives only to end his days a physical wreck supported by a loyal fourth wife young enough to be his daughter. The Cold War veteran who discovers love and a family on the other side of the divide. This is the gamut of human existence. There is no need to make up stories. Hundreds of these stories lie in the streets in front of us, as rich a tapestry as only life can make it. There are stories of courage, of cowardice, of love, of forgiveness, of patience, of forbearance, of betrayal, of fortitude; all of which need to be told.

I am 65 years old, and I feel the urge to tell these stories. I am restless when I don’t write and at this stage in my life, I think it is a wonderful way to live. There is nowhere else I would rather be. So take a moment to stop and listen, to slow down the rushed pace of your life. The stories that have come, and the stories that are yet to come; these stories are all for you.

Lessons from a discarded kitchen timer

I like to cook, and a kitchen timer is an essential piece of equipment. This fairly new one simply stopped working  one day and was responsible for the burnt stew that was served to an unexpected guest last week. No amount of twisting and prodding could induce it to work, so it was unceremoniously tossed into the garbage can, where it started ticking away to save its life. It’s back on the kitchen table again. I wonder if I can extract a moral from this story.
How about this? We all make throw away judgements about people on first acquaintance; “She’s soppy! He’s a fool!” and toss them into the garbage heap of our memory. Perhaps we should listen again to see if someone’s ticking to save their lives…

I inherited 16 billion today.

I inherited 16 billion pounds today and I’m looking for suggestions on how to spend it. Maybe I’ll invest in a nuclear plant at this place called Hinkley C. Not sure what the C stands for. Cancer? Can anyone out there help me? Here’s what my advisers have come up with so far.

This is a fail-safe design. I’ll buy that, pardon the pun. Some of the best minds in the world have been working on improving design and safety features for decades. Two plants of this design generation are under construction, in Finland and France. They are both currently having problems keeping to budget. They were budgeted at around only 3.5 billion each (and that’s Euros, mind you, while my inheritance is in pounds sterling). Both these plants are expected to be completed between 2014 and 2016.

On second thoughts, I remember what my grandmother told me. Son, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. So maybe I’ll think it over and won’t sign the contract just yet. In the meantime, I’ll go and tilt at a few windmills. I’ve heard they’ve come a long way since Don Quixote’s day!

Spare a thought for the words of renowned Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami after Fukushima. “This time no one dropped a bomb on us … We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.”

Ironwood Poacher: Almost there…

The cover is complete. Compliments to the software and design people at CreateSpace for a setup that allows a novice to make such an appropriate cover layout. Waiting for final page proofs before releasing it for publication. In the meantime, here’s a copy of the blurb that will accompany the book on the Amazon page. Too long at 150 words? I agree. Only the first 6 lines will show on the sales page, with an option to expand to the entire description. All comments and feedback welcome.

The old adage says: if you stand at New York’s Times Square long enough, the whole world will walk by. A short story deals with a tiny slice of life on a local scale but can, like a hologram, contain the big picture or illustrate universal themes. These ten stories have backgrounds that range from India to small-town America to Italy and even, in the case of Enigma, to outer space.
In December 2012, a violent incident on the outskirts of Delhi traumatized a nation and triggered an outpouring of soul searching. A young woman and her male companion were attacked in a bus. The man was beaten with a metal bar and left incapacitated while the girl was brutally raped and then seriously injured in a frenzy of bloodlust as an aftermath of lust. The case attracted wide media attention and struck a chord in the hearts of millions of urban middle class who were shocked that such a thing could happen to one of their own kind. When the girl died of her injuries thirteen days later, there was an outpouring of grief and violence nation-wide. The mass protests and agitation in urban centers throughout the country were an expression of anger and disbelief that the nation that nurtured Gandhi and non-violence could harbor individuals like these. Far more egregious is the petty tyranny of low-level officials in rural areas and the title story in this collection is a reflection of that.
The European Union is an unprecedented, brave and bold experiment by thirty-odd countries venturing into uncharted territory. Many economists have predicted that the experiment is doomed, and there is no shortage of possible reasons for failure. The Flood is a parable on the need for common myths to weld communities together.
Cassie is a child’s memory of adult marital stress in small-town America, while the two following stories Maestro Ladrini’s Villa and Heavy Duty are simple love stories, set in Italy and India respectively. In addition to India having an Italian-born queen (Sonia Gandhi), both countries have this in common. They are populated by hot-blooded, voluble and demonstrative peoples.
The Orbs of Celeris is the story of a dreamer, a Don Quixote who tilts, not at windmills, but at established mores. Ironically, the lance in this tale is a windmill.
There is some magic in the story of the eccentric Mrs. Macawley. It’s an author’s privilege to dissemble the truth that is stranger than fiction, and it is for the reader to decide what is truth and what is fiction in the story.
What if history repeats itself? Conception is a story of events leading to the second coming, or parousia, in the 21st century.
The Voyager I space probe apparently left the solar system sometime in August 2012, the first man-made object to do so. Around 150,000 people worldwide have reportedly volunteered to take a one-way trip to Mars, the theme of Enigma.
In A Night at the Taj Mahal a sixteen year old boy tries to find a shortcut to a University education and the secure employment that presumably comes with it.


Kopi Luwak: Essence of Civet Cat

Kopi Luwak is apparently the best coffee in the world. It’s also the most expensive. Passing by an upscale coffee shop in Hong Kong recently where the variety was on offer, this blogger decided to splurge and order a cup to try and decide whether the Asian civet cat’s gastric juices (where the coffee beans first ferment before being excreted, cleaned and roasted) live up to their reputation.

The brand was obviously not in high demand, because the order caused a bit of a flap at the counter and then I was told the coffee would take around ten minutes to prepare, although there was not a civet cat in sight. The coffee, when it finally arrived, was  served in a round-bottomed flask held on a stand with a clamp, a smaller version of flasks used in chemistry labs the world over. See the recent Economist article below for more about how and where the coffee is produced.


Unsurprisingly, to this untutored palate the coffee tasted thin and weak, so for the best coffee in the world, visit just about any coffee house in Vienna. Equally good, and tied for first place is South Indian filter coffee, particularly in Mysore, where one can order a 2 by 3 (2 cups served for 3 customers), a 2 by four, or any other desired fraction.