Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Pray for Hitch

Christopher Hitchens has recently been diagnosed with throat cancer. Or he's 'battling' throat cancer, as the papers say. This might be a result of his long and close relationship with tobacco and scotch, or it might not. Not surprisingly, some of the Christers that Hitchens so frequently excoriates can barely contain their Schadenfreude, and they know exactly what – sorry, who – is responsible for Hitch’s state of health. I found this nauseating piece of smugness on a minute or two ago:

The militant God-hater, Christopher Hitchens, has been diagnosed with throat cancer, Fox News is reporting.

Subtext: ‘Hooray! 'Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.' God is great after all!’

Hitchens is well known for his hatred of God and the Christian faith.

A couple of words too many there. Hitchens does not hate God. It would not be intelligent to waste hatred on non-existent entities when there are flesh and blood dictators, arrogant censors and mirthless, death-infatuated clerics out there to focus it on. It is true that he hates the Christian faith, though. Well spotted.

Despite his irrational anti-theism, we admonish all followers of Christ who read this post to pray that the sovereign Spirit of God convict him that his worldview is entirely false, he has sinned against a just and holy God, and that he repent and receive Jesus Christ as God and Savior.

Hitchens is irrational? Surely, sir, from your perspective, it is excess of rationality that he should be taxed withal? After all, look at the claims he is dismissing: God creates the world and human beings, but fails to foresee their disobedience. (Advice to men and gods; don’t have kids or creatures if you are not prepared for them to outgrow and outshine you.) So, miffed, He decides to flood the Earth and drown his creatures, instead of just zapping them, Dalek-like, into nothingness. That would surely have been easier, as well as a good deal more hygienic. In the event, the flood proves to be a bad move and a waste of time, as the human race remains stubborn, and God realizes that unless they shape up, they will all have to go to the nasty place He originally created for Satan and all his angels. Why does that follow? Well, God is so good, so perfect, that He cannot allow the sinful into His presence. So infinite is His goodness that He needs must cast them into unremitting torment. Stands to reason. That He, of His goodness and bounty, might devise some humane and intelligent system of post-mortem rehabilitation does not occur to Him. The best plan He can come up with to avoid this outcome is to incarnate in an obscure and illiterate Roman province, sacrifice Himself to Himself, and expect subsequent generations to believe that this solves the problem. Admit it, this whacky scenario and the manifold arguments cooked up to justify it do require ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, to put it at its mildest. I could devise a more effective Plan for Mankind in my lunch hour. So I wouldn’t hold your breath for Hitch’s conversion. Is the Pope about to join the Moonies? Well, then.

It is not our place as Christians to say the specific reasons why Mr. Hitchens has contracted this disease.

Oh, come off it. Why are you writing this piece, unless to imply that as Christians, you know exactly why Hitchens has fallen ill, and jolly well serve him right, too? Excuse me while I bring up my lunch. Smug hypocrisy affects me that way.

We only know that God often uses illness as a means to bring people to repentance and faith. We can only hope Mr. Hitchens responds.

Yeah, well. It is not hard to imagine what his response to that would be, is it?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Assert yourself!

The term ‘assertiveness training’ cropped up today with my Algerian pilots’ group. I tried to explain what this meant, and I didn’t do it especially well. They had interpreted ‘assertiveness’ as being synonymous with ‘bossiness’, so I tried to explain that it was in fact a positive quality, but I’m not sure they really got it. In any event, the idea that people charged for training in what they took to be imposing your will on others struck them as something of a swizz. As I have pointed out many times before, Arab blokes are never wrong and asserting themselves is simply what they do.

I envy this sort of easy confidence up to a point, although it can be very irritating. It comes of never having been challenged, of never having met an opposing moral viewpoint, or even imagining one could exist. Once, when the topic of freedom of speech arose, they said absolutely, they were staunch advocates, with the understanding, naturally, that it should entail no criticism of the government or religion. I think I called an early coffee break at that point.

I lived for fifteen years in a culture where most people would probably think the idea of ‘assertiveness training’ pretty bloody silly - indeed, pretty redundant. Greeks thrive on conflict, and you had better learn to handle it. Neighbours who have comparatively little happening in their lives and heads will periodically cause a stir about other people’s rubbish, cooking smells, television or kids, just to spice up the quotidian a bit. Most of my neighbours were very kind, but I have friends and colleagues who had no end of bother with theirs. On the day of my arrival to take up my first job in Athens, the woman who met me at the airport told me that the best way to deal with combative neighbours was to shout louder than they did, as nobody was really listening anyway. That job involved calling back those people who had called us to express interest in teacher training courses. After that, I would be expected to keep on calling those who had not committed themselves. Are we not pestering people, I would ask. Won’t they resent this?

‘No, no,’ the director said. ‘In the Greeze, if you want that people do something, you mas poosh them, you mas poosh them, you mas poosh them!’communicating through the form of her instructions the lack of faith that anybody really is listening to anybody else.

One example of Greek-style assertiveness may stand for many. On the day that the drachma ceased, after three millennia or so, to be legal tender, I sat in a branch of the National Bank with a heavy carrier-bag full of assorted coin salvaged from pots, jars, pockets and corners, waiting to convert them into Euros. This meant the difference between the cat and me eating or not eating that night, so I had to wait, and it was a long wait. Taking a numbered ticket and waiting to be called to a cashier was a relatively new system at that time. Earlier, those with louder voices and sharper elbows, usually little black-clad widder-women, got served first.

At three o’ clock or so, when I still had about fifty people ahead of me and as many more behind, there came a dumpy, upright pug-dog of a woman in a scarlet two-piece, enormous sunglasses and a necklace like a string of tennis balls. Ignoring the ticket dispenser, she advanced straight to the first cashier and initiated her transaction. This provoked a rumble of protest from the crowd – what is this, but wasn’t she ashamed, disgrace, take a ticket, Kyría mou*, like everyone else! But the lady was by no means ashamed, and she rounded on the company and said with magisterial indignation:

‘I have my mother out there in the car, and we have just come from Ayos Savvas!’ This provenance she enunciated most emphatically, separating the syllables: ‘A-PO TON A-YO SA-VA!’

Ayos Savvas! Saint Savvas, the oncology hospital! To Athenians, the name is as a fall of frost on a summer’s afternoon. The lady managed to convey that it was we, sitting there bored comatose on our benumbed arse-bones, that had wronged her, and not vice versa. By protesting, we were sadistically prolonging the suffering of Mrs Queue-Jumper senior, whose life hung by a thread out in the car. Of course, it may well have been the case that Mrs Queue-Jumper mère was in the pink of health and at that very moment at home enjoying iced coffee on her balcony, but pleading a sick relative in Greece will almost guarantee the instant capitulation of any who oppose your will, as it did here. There was muffled, grudging acknowledgement that the woman had a case, and she turned back to the cashier and concluded her business. Before leaving, she turned and called a short, reproachful efharistó ('thanks') to all of us saps still waiting.

It took me several years to feel able to call across a crowded (or empty) taverna to ask the waiter for the bill. It still goes against the cultural grain, but Greek waiters don’t perpetually scan the tables looking for brief glances and raised eyebrows the way they do in England; either you holler, or you sit there forever. I will never develop the sheer effrontery of the lady in the bank, and although at the time I could have throttled her, I admit to reluctant admiration for that sort of balls.

Kyría mou = madam, with a touch of ironic formality here.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

I write like...

Go here to waste a bit of time finding out whose writing style some computer programme judges your own to resemble. (I found it on Salmagundi) I pasted a few posts from this blog into the Analyser and was not especially pleased with some of the verdicts. Three times the computer told me I wrote like H.P. Lovecraft, about whom I know nothing beyond the hatchet-job performed on him by Bo over at Mvtabilitie a while back, where this bit of overwrought twaddle from Lovecraft is excerpted:

The aperture was black with a darkness almost material. That tenebrousness was indeed a positive quality; for it obscured such parts of the inner walls as ought to have been revealed, and actually burst forth like smoke from its aeon-long imprisonment, visibly darkening the sun as it slunk away into the shrunken and gibbous sky on flapping membranous wings. The odour arising from the newly opened depths was intolerable, and at length the quick-eared Hawkins thought he heard a nasty, slopping sound down there. Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.

WTF? Judge, gentle reader, to what mortifying abyss of darksome shame, to what stygian gloomihoods, what pitchy, tenebrific abhorrencies and graveolent fly-blown vilenesses I now must count myself squashed, squelched, battered, shattered, mown down and blast by so condemnatory a comparison! Of course I don't fucking write like that. Do I?*

One post was judged to ressemble the style of Stephen King, another to that of Ray Bradbury - why do I get compared to horror writers? - and another, truly shamingly, was compared to Dan Brown. Dan fucking Brown... the humiliation. I might delete that post. I also got compared to David Foster Wallace, of whom I am sorry to say I had never heard, so I don't know if I should be chuffed or pissed off about that.

Still, I was not compared to Barbara Cartland or Enid Blyton, so I won't get too down about this, as at least I do not stand before you denounced for pallor and wershness of savour, a void of gustatory gratification, tepidity of blood, benumbed and ascintillate wanness...


*No. Computer says that paragraph was written by Daniel Defoe. It decided that the paragraph from Lovecraft was written in the style of Kurt Vonnegut. It's obviously early days.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Jesus and Mo

Reblogged from the excellent Heresy Corner. It could have saved me the effort of writing several recent posts if I'd found it earlier.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The End is Nigh

Bugger me, another one. Christers on You Tube cluster round me like moths around a flame. I have been naif enough to imagine that a reasoned message or two pointing out the contradictions and barbarities of evangelical Christianity might make 'em see a bit of sense, knock some of the dashed nonsense out of them, what? The children of the Tripartite Zombie God-Man are made of err... denser stuff, however. A minute or two ago I opened this:

God Bless you steve! i guess you dont know where your going when you pass on, but i dont want you to go to the bad place, what ever horrible past you have had can be washed away by the blood of Jesus. i dont know what you had to deal with in childhood, i assume it must have been horrifying beyond belief, but no matter what youve been through your entire life, you dont have to go to hell.

Behold, my son, verily I say unto thee, he that sendeth an unsollicited message unto a stranger, let him be circumspect, and let him in no wise impute evil unto that man his parents, or his brethren, or unto them that did compass him about, being a child, for it is fucking assinine, thou dolt.

the only thing i can think of to make any sense to you is, if you believe in Jesus you cant lose because if it turns out that Jesus is the Savior your set, and if its just a bunch of nothing than you wouldnt lose anything either.

Yeah, 'do like da guy tells ya, cuz whaddaya godda lose?' was proposed a long time ago, not by Don Vito Corleone, but by Blaise Pascal. It was sordid then, and it's sordid now. Also dumb. How can you decide to believe, if you already don't believe because you think the proposition is ludicrous?

but i can tell you something that has started to scare me, if you look at every single near death experience patient, they are all similar, all a spirit of light and LOVE, all being a loving God OR seeing a man with holes in his feet and legs.

Nice of your God to scare you. Anyway I could give you a fair bit of information about NDEs and how they are all things to all believers, who at the hour of their almost-death see Jesus, Krishna, Guanyin or Dot and Arthur Sugden from the chip shop, depending on their conditioning. However, I won't, because:

i dont read replies, and will not respond so i dont want you to type something i wont see.

Well, at least you are honest in your intellectual dishonesty.

oh man im sad though,

Really? Why is that?

i just hope you will look to Jesus when the earth begins all the earthquakes, tidal waves, and the red planet appearing in the sky with the eclipse and blood moon. When all the chaos and torment really begins, remember Jesus.

'Eclipse and Blood Moon'. I like that phrase, it sounds rather like the Japanese title of a Shakespeare play*, although I'm not sufficiently well-read in Shakespeare to say which one. (Anybody like to suggest one?) Actually, the next lunar eclipse is going to be on September 28th, 2015, and some Christers are of the opinion that Jesus will come again at that time. So if you are a believer, you now know exactly when to return your library books and stop the papers, and it'll be up to your conscience if you pay the broadband bill or not.


*Japanese titles of Shakespeare plays:

'The Flower in the Mirror and the Moon on the Water' = The Comedy of Errors
'The Mirror of Sincerity' = Pericles
'The Oar Well-Accustomed to the Water' = All's Well that Ends Well
'Lust and Dream of the Transitory World' = Romeo and Juliet
'Swords of Freedom' = Julius Caesar

From Small World by David Lodge.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

'Daddy, daddy, you bastard...'

Leila approached me yesterday at lunchtime to inform me that she was worried about her report from the last course. She is by far the most conscientious and linguistically talented of all the students I teach, and has won golden opinions from teachers for her talent and from fellow students for being a kind and considerate colleague. As my report was a glittering encomium that was no more than her due, I was puzzled. She had ignored every glowing comment in praise of her manifold scholarly virtues, and was exercised chiefly over the fact that she was down as having only 98% attendance, and two lates. Since she was the last in a queue of students querying this and that minute detail of their reports and attempting to bargain with me to whack up their grades, I felt mildly peeved that she was ignoring that thoroughly deserved praise. The Libyan embassy, in so far as it is capable of formulating a coherent policy, requires only 80% attendance of its sponsored students, which seems to me to allow a perfectly reasonable amount of wiggle room. I pointed this out.

‘No, no,’ Leila said. ‘You don’t understand. If my father saw this, he’d kill me.’ There was no flicker of a smile to indicate that she was using the cliché with its usual hyperbole. I’m not suggesting that it was a genuine fear, of course, but she did look very worried. If she were fifteen I might not have been surprised, but she is slightly more than twice that age. Why should her father even get to see her report, let alone comment on it?

This is naïf of me, of course. A month or two ago, another Libyan lady told me that her father and brothers have refused to speak to her since she decided to come to England to study for a PhD without first seeking their permission, thereby bringing disgrace on them. She lives alone in a foreign country, does she not, with no man to protect her honour, so the conclusion one must inevitably draw is that she’s a rampant nympho who bangs like a shit-house door and has escaped to England to indulge her lust with the kuffar. Stands to reason, man, innit, yeah? Leila’s father probably requires documentary evidence that she isn’t whoring around in this sink of iniquity, at least during the hours of daylight, so instead of suggesting she tell him plainly where he gets off, I went to the office and had the offending figures altered. They were probably in error anyway, as Leila was always in class before me on the days I taught the group, sitting there looking serious and slightly anxious. That’s often how you recognise the conscientious students – they wear worried frowns.

Lena is a friend from Cyprus who lived from the age of seven to twenty-odd with her parents in Sydney. One evening she went alone to listen to a talk organized by the university there. In her absence, her father did a bit of research and ascertained that the building where the talk was held was opposite a brothel. He blew a gasket. On her return, he subjected her to an interrogation about the layout and appointments of the university building; whose portrait hung at the top of the staircase, did one turn left or right at the top of the stairs to get to the ladies, that sort of thing, because otherwise he could not be entirely satisfied that she hadn’t been out to earn a bit of pocket money by turning a few tricks. Later, she lived in Athens with a man to whom she was not married, and preparing for her father’s visits from Cyprus - announced last minute, presumably in an attempt to catch her out - would entail chucking her boyfriend out of the flat and hiding every item of male clothing.

‘Why the hell do you do it?’ I’d ask. ‘Why don’t you tell him you’re thirty-four and who you live with is none of his bloody business?’

‘You don’t understand. It wouldn’t make any difference if I was seventy-four,’ she explained patiently. ‘If I was unmarried and living with a man, he’d have a fit if he knew.’

My whole point was that I knew that, and I was suggesting that she simply allow him to have his fit – it wouldn’t hurt anybody but him, after all. But it doesn’t work that way. Where daddy plays the heavy-handed paterfamilias, his ego is to be massaged at all costs, and daughters are infantilised until he slips off the perch.

In 2002 I left Athens to live in a town in the Peloponnese which I had visited on business many times, and never particularly liked. I put my dislike down to the facts that every time I went it was never cooler than 40 C, and I had to live out of a suitcase, and I desperately missed my cat. I also felt obscurely uneasy wandering the sweltering, broken-flagged streets at night. In sea-front cafés, large men in loud shirts sat at their complete ease with their beers, one big, sandaled foot resting on the opposed knee. They swung worry beads around their index fingers. They exuded sweat, Hugo Boss and an air of masculine entitlement. They seemed to challenge you to challenge them. They definitely weren’t men who would grieve if separated from their cats. In a sea-front bar one sundown, I fancied a Martini. I had counted on the generous measures you get everywhere in Greece if you order scotch or vodka, but the barman poured me a thimbleful of red Martini into the teensiest glassette of spun sugar delicacy, and handed it to me with a smirk. The men in the bar watched, expressionless, as I drank it. I was given some nuts, with the implication, perhaps, that I had none of my own. A foreign πούστης (pouf) of course, he’s English, they are all πούστηδες. Ι really wished I had ordered a scotch, even though at that exact time, most unusually, I didn't want one.

Anyway, while I was down there flat-hunting, I had dinner with a good friend from Canada who has lived in Greece for many years. I mentioned my vague feeling of unease in this town.

‘Yeah,’ she said evenly. ‘It’s evil.’

‘Oh, come on!’

‘You think I’m joking, huh?’ Obviously she wasn’t.

I couldn’t move into my new flat immediately on moving out of Athens, and so stayed a couple of nights with Ruth, a friend who is Greek but had spent a fair chunk of her life in Australia. She speaks fluent English with an Auzzie accent and has a large collection of put-downs and one-liners picked up from the gay blokes she used to share a house with. (Re. a local queen who thought himself discreet, ‘daaling, he is fuck'n tredgick!’) She was expecting a visitor, a woman unknown to her who was to act as go-between for Ruth and some forty-something bloke who had made a bit of money and now felt the time to wive it had arrived. I said I would make myself scarce while the initial appraisal by the go-between was conducted. I was about to make a facetious suggestion that I would hide my shaving foam and razor from the bathroom when Ruth said ‘if you want your shaving stuff, I’ve shoved it in the top cupboard.’

‘How did it go?’ I asked, after the go-between had introduced the two parties.

‘Μαλάκας είναι,’ she said. He’s a wanker.

They had been introduced on the sea front. Your man had sat Ruth down and ordered for her coffee and fruit, and once she was ensconced, he had gone, chunky of muscle and hairy of back, into the sea, where he displayed great athleticism at great length. He had seemed to think she ought to be both impressed and grateful. He would probably be the type of man who, when out with his lady, would devote a few moments each time she sat down to positioning her limbs until the required degree of modesty was achieved.

‘Chroisd, wad a fucken idiot,’ she mused.

Why do you want this, I asked. Why do you want to fit into this system where men aver ‘my wife’s married, but I’m not’, and uphold their divine right to stick their knobs wherever they like? They can’t commit adultery unless they find a woman to do it with, and they’re intelligent enough to see that, but if it’s one of their own herd that gets covered, they’ll smack her about for it. The undercurrent I sensed on the sea front and around town is one of male violence, and the entitlement of men to rule by force.

Usual answer. You don’t understand; I live here, so I have to fit in. OK. You are right. I don’t understand why you want to fit in.

Another friend never had any doubts about anything, least of all her own views. ‘Men are in crisis!’ she told me one evening, in the same tone as she might have told me the train leaves at six, so don’t mess about. It’s too late now to introduce her to my Algerian student who was giving me his very grave opinions on western immorality as exampled in our town:

‘If a boy here look his sister in a bad place, (i.e., a pub where men outnumber women) he don’t will go in there and take her out!’

That seems to assume that the number of unaccompanied females abroad of an evening is evidence that their brothers are not sufficiently concerned with family honour to be patrolling the streets looking for them. Mohammed, if they did, they’d probably get their teeth smashed in - and in my view, deservedly.

Men are in crisis, are they, Alison? I don’t see much evidence of this outside the small circles where some men think they ought to be. I’ve had Leila worrying about paternal reaction to her end of course report at thirty-two. We have had endless requests from Saudi students for single-sex classes, and husbands pacing the street outside ground-floor classrooms to keep an eye on the proceedings, lest a nose or a hairline be revealed. Women resigned to mixed-sex classes often sit in a protective huddle, swathed in robes and veils, and almost have to be treated as a group within a group if they are not to be upstaged by men who seem to forget there are any women present.

‘Look,’ said one Saudi man to a colleague, ‘there’s two women walking on the road, one’s wearing a burqa, one’s wearing a short dress with no back, like they do here. Which one are you gonna rape?’ He smiled, open hands outstretched, his logic irrefutable. Crisis? What crisis?


Hmph. Not much of a break, was it?


Here, from the website of one of those organisations that will write an essay for you so you can get an A level without really trying, is a rather naive explication in bad English of Sylvia Plath's poem 'Daddy', whence I nicked the post title. Students pay for this sort of thing, and obviously many don't even notice that the writer is not a native speaker of English.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Do not adjust your set

I'm taking a break from blogging. Back soon, I hope.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Still here...

...but not a lot to say. My head's empty. I’m back at work on Monday after a week off, and reluctant as I am to start teaching writing and reading skills all over again, I have to admit that I am crap at leisure and need external motivation if I am to avoid my tendency to slump into inertia, solipsism and gloom.

‘You sound proper cheesed off again,’ my mother said accusingly, over the phone.

Since I had at that point only managed to utter the word ‘hello?’ I felt a bit of strop coming on, but thank God I managed to stifle it, because she was ringing to inform me she’d just put a thousand pounds into my bank account.

Sod all has happened these past few weeks, which is why the posts are thin. A while ago the bloody bed collapsed underneath me. Fortunately, it was at seven in the morning while I was about to get started on my second cafetiere of thick black coffee, and not three in the morning while I was out cold. Cost me twenty quid to have the council cart it away. I discovered that a replacement, guaranteed not to collapse at least until your great-grandchildren are bouncing on it, could set you back a good thousand pounds, and so have decided to do without. Instead, I put the mattress on the living room floor and now I need some bead curtains, a narghilé or two, and a dusky, doe-eyed boy (or two) to complete the beds-i'-the-east effect it's suggesting I exploit.

The ex-bedroom is now a study, or would be if I actually studied in it, instead of arguing with evangelical Christers on YouTube. Oh, I dunno. Maybe Jesus really is knocking at the door of my heart rart now - these people do try so hard to convince me. I seem to attract them in the same unfailing way I attracted con-artists in Greece, who'd accost me in the streets of Athens and claim to have been robbed by Albanians; could I therefore lend them 50,000 drachmas as they had to be in Larissa by nightfall? They'd be sure to send it on to me. Nothing Jesus people say makes sense, either:

'Really, I believe my own father (who I was EXTREMELY close to and died when I was 13) went to Hell. I say this because I know what his lifestyle was like, and I know he claimed to know God but did many things contrary to his confession. Does it make me hate God that my father is in Hell? Does it make me think it's unfair? [It fucking well ought to, darling.] Oddly enough, no. It is sad, and if I wanted to dwell on it, I could eventually work myself into distress. [Keep trying!] But I know that God is God, and I know that all His works are in righteousness.'
Why do I bloody bother? Frankly I don't know, other than that the whole evangelical trip retains its power to infuriate me thirty-five years after I left it.

I bought and assembled a new book-case this week, thus adding to my small collection of little odds and ends that ought to be holding the things together but got missed out. So far, none of the cases has gone the way of the bed. There is room in this flat for just one more – when that’s full, I will have to stop buying books or move to a bigger flat, probably in the city where I work. What a choice.

That's that, for the time being. The coming five-week course may bring a bit of drama and some entertaining mangling of the English tongue, but otherwise I shall probably take a break from blogging.

Don't go away.


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