Something I hope you’ll enjoy

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It’s weird, as long as I’ve had this blog up and running (for over a year now), I’ve never posted anything music related. I thought I’d mix it up a bit, and so, I present To Kill a King with Choices. I know that I tend to avoid around 99% of the music videos that people post on blogs and Facebook, but this video really is something quite special and, with that in mind, I really hope you take aside a few minutes and treat yourself. I’ve seen this group live 3 times in London so far, and will probably go and see them again before the year is through. A guy I used to work with knows some of the members and they sound like a very decent bunch of people. Anyway, enough from me, enjoy.

The Perfect Gift

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Motivated by what could quite realistically be classified as a near pathological generosity, the junior pharmaceutical events facilitator, as if driven by some weird mix of obsessive compulsion and a kind of atavistic and entirely irrational superstition (though of course in certain academic circles and by way of numerous and refreshingly innovative yet largely overlooked interdisciplinary works, the behavioural habits associated with these two phenomena are now believed to arise less as the result of mutually exclusive cognitive processes as had been previously reckoned, but are – in point of fact – better understood as being negligibly differing manifestations of a common psychological irregularity, i.e. as equitable and almost entirely resembling extensions of the same underlying anxiety related condition; An area that many noted and respected scholars working in the field of Anthropology lament may be a significantly under investigated field of research – though it is perhaps worth mentioning that a great many professionals in the Psychological community do not seem to share such enthusiasm for this kind of speculative work, while those working within the more rigidly defined parameters of what is commony referred to as the hard sciences couldn’t care less either way, and are becoming increasingly vocal as to being very over just this kind of exercise in ourobosian semantics), firmly believed it to be not worth returning home from her recent and wholly successful gig coordinating a major Big-Pharma marketing event in Paris if she didn’t bring back some kind of meaningful memento from her trip for the man with whom, for up to 4 nights a week, she has been sharing the queen sized bed of her Zone 3 semi-detached house.

640px-Northfields_tube_station-londonAn instinctually selfless character that also just so happens to somehow satisfy 4 of the 6 criteria required for the proper diagnosis of a personality disorder, as outlined in the DSM-V, in its sense of obligation, she chose not to hit up the Parisian souvenir shops which, in the name of universally sanctioned ubiquity, stock products including but in no way limited to: miniature Eiffel Tower fridge magnets, I ♡ Paris meshed trucker caps, drapeau tricolore cuffed socks and ludicrously priced novelty postcards together with a wide and impressive selection of anatopically displayed articles such as authentic Chinese produced Bavarian beer steins, screen printed t-shirts featuring the work of notably British “street” artists and novelty polyester Rasta caps (which, by the manufacturer opting to produce their caps from this particular synthetic material, as opposed to the more customary woven wool variety, makes them guilty of not only committing a gross disservice to the crafts workers of the Caribbean who know crochet as a profession, but also of a certain insensitivity to the culture they are trying to commodify. That is, of course, only one way of looking at it. From another angle, it could be argued that the polyethylene cap is an ironically knowing and self-consciously substandard appropriation of Afro-Caribbean culture and that its actual raison d’etre is therefore as some sort of satire statement on Europe’s patronizing attitude toward the peoples of the Caribbean basin. Which would make the appearance of such an item in France, the birthplace of post-structural theory of all places, appear not only entirely appropriate but almost expected. And which could go in some ways to explaining exactly why the people who buy and choose to wear these hats receive looks of utter revulsion and derision from everybody in the immediate vicinity of the wearer with the sense not to be wearing one. However, perhaps this would be radically overthinking the matter. It’s probably much more likely that the whole thing can be explained by the lower production costs incurred by using low-quality polyester as compared to more expensive wool) but instead to detour several kilometres with a notion to find that most antagonistic of food products: foul smelling French cheese.

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This, unfortunately, is the point at which the disparity between her good nature and what the resourcing departments of major corporations currently describe on the “desired skills” sections of job advertisements as a detail orientated approach interrupts what was otherwise the perfect gift idea. You see, while the guy, with whom the junior pharmaceutical events facilitator has been sharing the majority of her free-time for the last 7 months, may have confessed to a real jones for super strong tasting cheese, he cannot recall ever mentioning anything about the stinky smelling stuff. A small piece of cheese 101: Strong does necessarily imply that a cheese will be stinky, and vice versa.

800px-Cheese_shop_P1010071A pleasure it would be to wax lyrical about her being led into a private back room in which, behind lock and key and in its own hermetically sealed vessel, sat a truly repugnant-to-the-point-of-mania smelling gear, but that would be far too much of a narrative cliché and the kind of lazy storytelling device that you’d expect to read in a novel from the 1890’s – or see in any mainstream Hollywood adventure movie, except for those features that film historians have settled in agreement in defining as the New Hollywood (or post-classical cinema [or American New Wave]) period. And besides, it didn’t actually happen. Instead, the sales clerk in the small but ornately decorated fromagerie passively ushered our friend along the store’s glass top counter to the appropriately stinking assortment of cheeses and advised that the preferred choice amongst her regular cliental is the Munster; a real doozy of a number, fashioned from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the remoter and far westerly parts of the country.

She sat on that train from La Gare du Nord to London’s St. Pancras Station with a wheel of what is widely considered to be one of the world’s foulest smelling dairy products honking away beneath her seat for over two hours. Her trek to the station must have been an upwind affair because at first, as she sat there, reading her glossy women’s magazine and drinking a glass of white wine from the gifted bottle that the event’s venue management staff had given as a sincere thank-you for being so accommodating and pleasant to work alongside, she attributed the ever growing farty stink that was creeping right out through the lining and plastic hard-shell of her carry-on sized Scorpius brand roller-cast luggage on the gastrointestinal manoeuvres of the geriatric guy she sat beside.

stink-bug-facts-640She, as one has come to expect of any individual who spends excessive amounts of their time neurotically obsessing to make sure that, in any awkward situation, the other party is never put in the position of feeling embarrassed or self-conscious about something that they – especially one in his advanced years – have little to no control over, and who would certainly never let the offending party know that she knows that they have accidentally let one off, at first didn’t even consider that the blame for the stink was resting under her rear, as it were. However, by the time the train jolted to rest at St. Pancras International in London, although the stench had just short of contaminated the entirety of her carriage with a sort of dank stench that online reviewers have described as akin to a tramp’s fart or an old sock filled with dog-shit, still she hadn’t identified the root cause for what had been a hugely unpleasant journey for two dozen or so other passengers. It was, in fact, only after noticing that the stench had followed her all the way home did she realize that the god-awful reek was in the express ownership of her own self.

Of course, it didn’t take long before she realized that keeping the stuff at her place was a bad call. It ruined the air of any room in which it was placed, and storing it in the refrigerator, under the hypothesis that cooling the cheese would lessen the smell, instead only resulted in all her food– and indeed the plastic interior of the fridge itself – absorbing that dreadful smell. In the end, and taking cues from the bear deterrent techniques advised to all campers practicing in regions habituated by grizzlies, browns, and even the polar variety, she wrapped the Munster in a plastic grocery bag and hung it out of her second story bathroom window.

The material exchanged hands the next afternoon together with warnings that this stuff was something to be taken serious. The guy with whom, for more than half the week, the junior pharmaceutical events facilitator has been shacking up with and getting up to all sorts of unspeakable carnal acts, had the Munster in his possession for all of 20 minutes before deciding that there was absolutely no way that this wedge of stink was going anywhere near his own home. In truth, he wasn’t particularly excited about eating the stuff, but knowing that finding out that she had made an error of judgement in her choice of gift would prove actually physically painful for her and that he would then have to spend the next half hour explaining how much he appreciates the thought and effort she had put into the gift, and that if they were ever to have a future together, he would probably never hear the end of this, he accepted the gift in earnest.

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Because his own obsessive personality quirk is an aversion to ever throwing away perfectly good food, for the last week, the cheese has been sitting in a cupboard in one of his office’s staff kitchens, its gross stench slowly swallowing any clean air with which it comes into contact. As a matter of his own comfort, however, the particular kitchen in which he placed the Munster is actually on the other side of the building from where his own department sits. Ordinarily the guy would feel bad for inflicting this sort of horror on a group of otherwise unassuming co-workers, however, in this particular instance, that kitchen serves the Legal Department and he feels entirely vindicated by this fact.

A quick one before the weekend

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It’s been another busy couple weeks on my side and I’m away again this weekend so I haven’t had a great amount of time to work on anything even resembling a coherent piece of writing. The best I can offer is another doodle that I threw together in Illustrator. I hope you enjoy, and I’ll have some better written work on here soon.

The NES was one of the first gaming systems that I ever played and I’ll never forget the hundreds of hours I spent sitting in front of the TV with this thing in my paws, trying time and again to beat Super Mario Bros. 2. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure if I ever did complete that game. I remember gripping the controller so tightly during those particularly difficult later stages that I’d force an impression of its cornered edges into the sweaty palms of my little hands. Sometimes I would apply such pressure that I’d actually bruise. I also head-butted the screen of my Gameboy while playing Wario once, but that’s an altogether different and much darker story.

Blessed are the forgetful

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“There is no teaching, but only recollection”  – Socrates

Last year I saw a stand-up comedian who, after riffing for 10 minutes on his recent travels across the United States, concluded his set (which was admittedly quite low on laughs) by idiomatically declaring to the half-cut Friday night audience that “when you experience different cultures, it enriches the soul.” How odd a thing it is that you can have the most horizon broadening of experiences while travelling, but sometimes, for whatever reason, it’s actually the most trivial and kinda goofy details that linger in your memory long after you return home. Perhaps I should explain.

TownHall I’m not that long home from a trip to Brussel, a city founded on the River Senne by the descendants of Charlemagne, during the 1st Christian Millennium, a time many medievalists refer to as the darkest of the Dark Ages in pre-renaissance Europe. Brussels is the host city to the headquarters of NATO and the de facto capital of the European Union, embodying the spirit of both international cooperation and European solidarity. This is kind of a weird idea to get your head around because Brussels was once the centre of Belgium’s far reaching and ruthless colonial empire. Marlow, the protagonist in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, refers to 19th century Brussels as a “whited sepulchre.” This easy-to-overlook remark originally appears in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (23:29) and characterizes anything that appears outwardly beautiful, but is “full of dead men’s bones” within. The expression was used by Conrad to give a literary two finger salute to the vastly misleading rhetoric used by Belgium when onanistically congratulating their so-called civilizing missions in Africa. The campaign of Belgian imperialism, as it turns out, was not so much concerned with bringing enlightenment to the African locals but aimed at seizing power and wealth from them in as brutal a fashion as possible. Like with pretty much every European capital I’ve ever visited, the history of Brussels is a dark and violent affair, defined by war, murder, revolution and colonial atrocity. All that was a long time ago, and the country is different now, but it’s just that kind of haunted and conflict driven history that keeps those of us who are easily seduced by the sinister romance of all that kind of jazz, and who never tire of hearing more about it, absolutely enthralled. I went on the guided tours, I asked questions, I learned a lot. And yet, the most prominent of all my memories from the trip, the first thing that always comes to mind when I think about Brussels, and indeed anything even remotely related to Belgium, has nothing to do with any of that cool historical and cultural stuff. My most immediate recollection is the strength of the water pressure in the hotel shower. That’s the first thought that appears in my head when I think about this entire geographic region; the force of the water sprayed out from a nozzle fixed to the hotel bathroom wall.

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Similarly, I travelled to New York a few years ago and was privileged to spend time in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. New York is an intoxicating place and I am complete agreement with Christopher Hitchens when he wrote that “time spent asleep in New York was somehow wasted.” I saw live jazz at the Lincoln center, indulged my greatest flaneuristic predilections with an elongated stroll from the Upper East Side via Central Park to the Lower West Side of Manhattan, hung out with some Williamsburg hipsters (on account of whose generosity, and most gratefully, I experienced my first taste of authentic American cornbread and collard greens), ate in the famous Spotted Pig restaurant and drank a beer in the oldest Irish tavern in NYC (McSorley’s Old Ale House – a bar with former patrons including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Teddy Roosevelt).

McsorleysDespite all these interesting experiences, the first thing I remember when I think of New York is seeing an Arab hat salesman vomiting into a public bin on Bleecker Street (the man was Arab, not the hats). I’m not entirely sure why, but every time I think about that guy throwing up, it makes me laugh, but I’m just surprised that such an odd and unforeseen little incident would go on to become the cognitive thumbnail my brain uses as a shorthand representation of that trip.

As soon as you actually leave a city or a country, that place is no longer a concrete geographical location; it becomes more of an abstract and disjointed collection of ideas and impressions. And it’s not like these weird memories are something that can be managed or controlled, or even that they are happening on a conscious level. I have forgotten warehouses of knowledge that I used to hold dear, and yet, vast swathes of the trivial and inconsequential remain with me still.

In an interview filmed for BBC television in 1962, Vladimir Nabokov remarked that “the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes,” and though the eloquence of both Nabokov’s speech and his prose are not to be contested, I would argue that a memory by no means needs to be loved to become strange. All memories become warped and twisted by the shifting light of time. We forget and misremember, constantly. My own mother, as an example, no matter how many times I tell her that I loathe the stuff, will absolutely always make a lasagne for when I visit and defiantly argue that I had always said I loved the dish. She is, of course, quite wrong.

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Memory, much like character, is by its very nature an incredibly flawed system, and we are probably all the better for it. The alternative puts me in mind of Ireneo Funes, the eponymous character in Jorge Borges’ fantasy short story Funes the Memorious. After he has the unfortunate luck of being thrown from a horse, Funes is blessed – or perhaps condemned – to spend the rest of his life remembering absolutely everything that he experiences to the minutest detail, including “every crevice and every moulding of the various houses which [surround] him.” However, as Borges – the story’s narrator – notes, Funes, despite his incredible powers of recollection, was “not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions.” Memory is not everything, then, and the Borges makes it his business to point out that “in the teeming world of Funes, there were only details, almost immediate in their presence.” Borges is touching on an argument that has been quietly ticking over in philosophical thought for millennia. Socrates had plenty to say on the nature of memory, as did Descartes and Hegel. More recently, the notable French philosopher, Henri Bergson, for example, suggested that in some way everything that has happened to us is remembered, but as a rule only what is useful comes into consciousness. Failures in memory, Bergson contends, are not so much failures of the mental part of memory, but of the more physiological mechanisms used in bringing memory to action. Such philosophical waxing lyrical is all well and good, but does little to explain why I keep thinking about Belgian water pressure.

Memory doesn’t come in the same sequential linear form as first hand experience, it’s more like a collection of fragments, puzzle pieces with fuzzy edges that only sort of connect, and as I’m getting older trying to remember the particular narrative sequence of certain events is kind of like trying to construct a story after only reading every second page of a novel.

I’m yet to meet the person whose memPhrenologie1_(87k_edited)ory is without fault and would be highly distrustful of the individual who claimed such an endowment. It seems that we have no other immediate alternative than to make-do with the mess of a filing cabinet we keep in our heads. The battle, therefore, is not necessarily to try and remember everything that we experience but to endeavor to articulate what we can recall in an interesting way. In my own case, I believe that is a foundational requirement that an adult human be able to recite at least one full poem off by heart, one absolutely filthy limerick, one song, one joke and one entirely-humiliating story. It’s not much, but if all else I have to fall back on in a social situation is a story about a man vomiting into a trash-can then I could be doing a lot worse.

A SWIFT AND ALL TOO SUDDEN CHANGE IN MY IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

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On Monday 21st July I entered Homerton Hospital’s Accident and Emergency unit in East London troubled with a case of double-vision that had been bothering me for a number of days – it was my stupid and foolhardy male pride that stopped me from seeking assistance as soon as I first noticed the onset of the complaint. Upon explaining my symptoms to the clerk at the reception desk, I was promptly rushed into the emergency room for an urgent CT scan and was swiftly relieved of a sizable volume of my blood so that it might be used for testing purposes. The X-ray computed tomography (as I’ve never actually heard anybody call it), besides subjecting my brain to a year’s worth of otherwise undesirable radiation, revealed no sign of traumatic injury, haemorrhage, cerebral infarction, brain tumour or aneurism. The bloods also came up totally clean. It was concluded that I was not suffering from any immediately life-threatening malady and, following a number of quick tests to ensure that my motor skills were in correct working order and a brief round of questioning to ensure that I was fully corpus mentis, I was discharged and ordered to arrange an appointment with my GP as soon as possible.

EyesAccording to my GP, the double vision with which I had been struggling – referred to as diplopia in medical parlance – was the result of a dysfunction in the VI cranial abducens nerve in my left eye (an affliction otherwise referred to as 6th nerve palsy). I am told that a unilateral abducens nerve palsy is the most common of all the isolated ocular nerve palsies, a moderately interesting, if an almost utterly useless, piece of information. With the issue identified as an affliction of the nervous system, my GP made appointments for me to undergo further blood testing to confirm that I hadn’t developed diabetes and to rule the possibility that I could have an underactive thyroid. Following these tests, an appointment to meet with a neurologist and to undergo an MRI scan was then arranged.

In the fortnight that followed, I had my blood taken 6 times, I managed to steal 2 hospital gowns, I took three separate eye tests – including vision, spatial perception and differentiation examinations – and was subjected to a tedious number of motor skill proficiency evaluations from which it has been concluded that although my balance, coordination, reflexes, limbs and digits may be in sufficient working order, I have little potential and few prospects as regards a career in tightrope walking (or any gymnastic activity for that matter).

MRII went for my MRI scan on an overcast Wednesday afternoon at the radiology department at Homerton Hospital. One observation as I sat in my gown and socks in the facility’s waiting room. The lady immediately ahead of me in line for the scan was a heavy-set African woman with limited English and an irritable disposition. With a woman of her size, the provided standard issue open-backed gown did little to cover her more sensitive regions. Please bare in mind that, even at the best of times, these are not exactly the most flattering of clothing items ever devised by our species, so I’m sure that you can imagine the totally inadequate service that such a sartorial abomination would provide to the modesty of an overweight, middle-aged, African woman. The assistant nurse (an incredibly camp and highly affable guy in his mid-twenties) tried to help the African woman by clumsily draping a second gown over her back and directing her already sleeved arms through a second pair of armholes from behind, which from where I was sitting kind of looked like he was attempting to put her into some sort of wicked half-nelson grappling hold. All the time, and in very broken English, she’s insisting that she doesn’t need the second gown and the two of them are flapping around in this awkward and clumsy reverse tango-like exchange that really only results in myself and the other nurse in the room getting an eye-full of exposed middle-aged arse at least a dozen time. This may not be one of the most appropriate times that I’ve ever laughed out loud, but when you’re a few minutes away having your bacon fried with radio-waves, you take any comic relief that you can from what is otherwise a very stiff and sober business.

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Nobody in the history of western medicine has ever looked this good in a gown

My neurologist, a man I am yet to actually meet in the flesh, specializes in the development of acute and early inpatient rehabilitation services for patients after they have experienced vascular and traumatic brain injury. He examined the results of my scan and consulted with the registrar, under whose tender mercies I had now been submitted, who informed me that they had detected a number of lesions (or “white spots”) on various parts of my brain. These areas of inflammation are, it was deduced, the cause of the palsy in my 6th nerve. The registrar made a point of assuring me that many cases of this nature and involving patients of my approximate age and level of health (ie. a non-smoker with a strong heart rate and no family history of brain related maladies) have been known to generally represent isolated incidences and there is a chance that I will most probably never encounter any issues of this kind ever again. He asked me what I thought, and I offered my own thoroughly amateurish research into the possibility that I could be experiencing the early signs of Multiple Sclerosis. I was hoping that he wouldn’t, but he agreed that it is quite plausible what I am experiencing could be an early symptom of Multiple Sclerosis. This was an incredibly inconvenient piece of information to receive on an otherwise uneventful Friday afternoon. It really put a downer on my weekend plans.

homerbrainNoticing my obvious anxiety, the registrar assured me that, should the latter be the case, it would be advisable to refrain from getting ahead of myself and assuming the worst. While the image of the wheelchair-bound and wholly dependent cripple may be the prevalent impression one associates with MS, I am told that such cases are in fact quite rare and I should make every effort not to think in terms of such extremes. The spectrum of Multiple Sclerosis, he tells me, is actually rather broad and the condition can manifest itself in all manner of varying degrees, depending on a whole host of different factors. While I must commend the doctor for his measured and pragmatic approach to addressing my concerns, his words did sod all to comfort me.

I was asked if I had any questions, but the best I could muster croaked out of me as a series of disjointed and partially irrelevant banalities about moving forward and “advisable courses of action” and some other stupid shit that I can’t even remember. He sent me for some more blood tests and informed me that I should expect to receive a letter of referral to the National Hospital for Neurology at some time over the next few weeks. Right now I’m experiencing a kind of Schrödinger’s Cat type situation whereby until I find out for sure exactly what’s going on in that brain of mine, I feel like I both have a serious disorder of the central nervous system and don’t. I admit it now. I am scared.

Time is the Enemy

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I’m so busy at the moment that I just don’t have all the time I’d like to write. I’ll be going to Belgium this weekend, Budapest (for a stag party which I know I’ll be most certainly writing about) the next and then I have this Rock the Farm festival going on at the end of the month. Maybe while I’m abroad I’ll get some writing done, I have a few ideas that I want to get out, but time is the enemy at the moment. What I do have is this little doodle of R2D2 that I threw together in Illustrator while waiting for a train a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoy it.

Under Pressure

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The bookshelf above my bed is now beyond overloaded and I’m quite certain that it’s going to collapse any day now. We’re at breaking point. One of the screws on the bottom left corner is looking particularly dodgy, and despite my best efforts I can’t get the damn thing tightened back into the wall. I can only hope that if it’s to go then it goes while I’m out at work, otherwise I’m afraid it could kill me.

What a way to go. I wonder which book would do me in, who would be the publisher? Assassinated by Abacus; a Faber & Faber finishing; rubbed out by Random House; massacred by Pan MacMillan; ousted by the Oxford Press. Would it be a hardback that delivers the final blow? 1984 or Brave New World? One of those weighty paperbacks, the copy of Infinite Jest or the Hunter Thompson anthology, would definitely do me in. Without a doubt, that copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare certainly has a menacing heft to it. They’d be an irony to Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy finishing me off. Then again, how about if I wasn’t crushed by the larger tomes, but suffocated under a pile of those smaller works; asphyxiated by Amis; a Steinbeck strangling; smothered under Salinger. Or maybe there are enough of his books up there to leave me mangled by McCarthy. Perhaps if The Aeneid, Ulysses and As I Lay dying fell on me all at once it could be considered one of the first cases of an intertextuality related fatality. Cause of death: literary modernism.

I’d never have this worry if I’d just fork out for one of those Kindle contraptions. But a screen is not a page and it never will be. Anyway, that’s enough being morbidly whimsical for one day.

Tinder and International Armed Conflict

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Tinder, the matchmaking mobile app that pairs users based on mutual physical attraction, is not exactly the most obvious place you would expect to find yourself involved in a discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as the entirely clichéd but weirdly fitting Liverpudlian platitude insists: “life is full of surprises.”

The other night, I matched with a gal [1] – as happens – but before I had time to offer even the most usual of introductions, she confessed to only being in London on a brief vacation, and next thing I know, Jennifer (this is by no-means her real name) is suddenly three and a half thousand kilometres away. We kept messaging a little and I found out that Jennifer is a twenty-something medical student from an affluent middle-class background who enjoys computer programming (she’s a self-confessed nerd), talking politics and playing drums in her spare time. Recently, however, the increasing pressure of her studies means that she’s had to limit the time spent entertaining many of her hobbies. We share a liking for the music of Led Zeppelin, The Cure, The Stokes, MGMT, Nirvana, Aerosmith, The Beatles, Artic Monkeys and The Rolling Stones, and both get a kick out of the I Fucking Love Science website. The last time I chatted to Jennifer, she was on her way to a bomb shelter following a warning that Hamas forces were planning a rocket attack near the hospital where she is currently interning.

Jennifer, as I should probably explain, comes from a small and predominantly secular town located along the demarcation line separating Israel from the West Bank. Through no misdoing of her own, she has been dragged into the latest chapter of a brutal and bigoted conflict that has been raging in the Middle East for generations. It is an ugly confrontation stemming from a difference in the promises that differing gods made to different people, resulting in two peoples of relatively equivalent size each claiming a celestially ordained right to the same land and more than prepared to kill to assert that summum jus.

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Right now, it’s Tuesday 22nd July and Operation Protective Edge, an Israeli Defence Forces led offensive in the Gaza Strip is in its 14th day. So far the operation has left hundreds of Palestinians dead and countless more injured while Israel has suffered a considerably more modest, but no less tragic, 27 fatalities.

It’s important to remember that myself and Jennifer are talking on a dating app, so we’re trying to keep the tone as light as possible (“if you could choose only one magical power which will it be? Teleporting, telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, or flying? ) but it’s not long before talk turns to the conflict.

Political narratives like the Israel-Palestine situation not only insist upon a division in public opinion but actually try to direct it. The majority of people (or at least the young people) living in Jennifer’s region (or at least those with a similar socioeconomic background) would much prefer to see the two peoples coexisting in peace:

I have many Muslim and Arab friends, some Palestinian close friends… but the situation has been escalating. And the world kept quiet until we started working to lower the attacks… Maybe if you were living here you would have got the situation, because it’s not a normal life.

Jennifer tells me that she and her friends live in a state of “constant fright.” From a young age she was taught to take note of the nearest bomb shelters and to recognize unattended baggage. I would go crazy living in the midst of that kind of shit, but with a glibness not often found in such situations, she added “Yeah, but we’re not gonna let it take us down.” Signing off from our last conversation, and displaying an unexpected appreciation for irony, Jennifer told me of her good friend that had been at the mall when the Tseva Adom warning sirens began to sound, as panicked shoppers scrambled to the nearest shelter, and in a moment of remarkable cool under fire, the friend noticed that the song “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees was playing over the shopping centre’s speaker system. Overall, however, there’s a disheartening resignation and acceptance of violence in Jennifer’s outlook. Here is a trainee doctor, someone who has taken the decision to dedicate herself to the preservation of human life, and even she must accept that:

Saying no to violence is unfortunately not always the option I believe after living here. We made agreements with Jordan and Egypt and made peace and no issue there. We agreed to cease fire now and agreed with Egypt and Hamas rejected and continues firing rockets as we speak. So I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient hearing (it), but do believe Israel has the right to protect itself like many other countries will do so too.

“War” George Orwell wrote “may be necessary, but it is certainly not right or sane.” If Hamas put their weapons away then perhaps there could be an end to the war. However, for Israel to put their weapons away could mean an end to Israel. After all, the Hamas Charter is quite explicit when it says that “Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” For Jennifer and many like her, Israel’s military action and their use of violence is a matter of defence:

I don’t wish for harm, but when a group of people don’t want us here at all, wish for all of our deaths and shoot rockets indiscriminately, I believe we should work to stop it.

Israel says that the motivation behind its attacks in Gaza is an intention to prevent further cross-border attacks into southern Israel by Hamas militants, but as Arthur Koestler writes in Scum of the Earth, his 1941 memoir recounting his observations in France at the outbreak of the Second World War:

To fight a war only for the purpose of ending the danger of war is an absurdity. As if a person condemned to sit on a powder-barrel should blow himself up deliberately, out of sheer annoyance at not being allowed to smoke his pipe.

Jennifer welcomes the notion of a two state solution should it bring peace to the region, but she firmly believes that Palestinians must first work to curb the extremist contingent amongst their own. If people really want to help, they should raise awareness of Hamas and it’s brutality and fight against it. The young who grow up around Hamas, she says, grow up with hate and are taught to be warriors. If people want it to stop, she stresses, they should stand in front of that regime that shoots rockets at Israel. Israel has agreed to cease fire but Hamas want none of it. The organization has made a point of undermining any discussions that could lead to a two-state solution.

We live in a media saturated culture that seeks to simplify even the most complicated of situations into easily digestible mini-narratives, but the Arab-Israeli conflict is so drenched in blood and hypocrisy that the situation is far beyond that of an evil and imperialistic oppressor persecuting an innocent and oppressed victim.  “The situation” Jennifer says “is messed up.” Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is without doubt in contravention of the Geneva Convention but that same treaty is quite clear in stating that “The parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.” Hamas launch rockets from densely populated civilian areas, they store munitions in public buildings – including schools and hospitals – and there is even talk of a donkey stacked with explosives being sent toward Israeli soldiers.

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Of course, with the torrent of misinformation and propaganda coming from both sides, it’s incredibly difficult to discriminate between the facts and the bobard. One simple aim on which we can all agree, however, is that the violence and killing must end. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” said Gandhi, and for Jennifer, working to end the violence will allow a space for discussion, negotiation and possible future reconciliation . At the moment, however, she believes the conflict to be too “emotional” and “blindly religious” for any progress to be made.

For the sake of posterity, the magic power I chose was telekinesis while she’s keen on teleporting – a romantic relationship would never work.

1. My reasons for joining Tinder were twofold, firstly to satisfy my disgustingly overblown male ego, and secondly, I had the arguably misguided intention of examining and contesting the claim that Tinder is a tool for female empowerment in the 21st century dating environment – and that is not even to touch on recent events involving sexual harassment at Tinder HQ.  In hindsight, what I actually found, as recounted in this post, is perhaps more interesting.

Solid Advice From a Very Cool Guy

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This week I was fortunate enough to attend a talk with Albie Hecht, the head of HLN, the television channel, and former CEO of Worldwide Biggies, founder of Spike TV, and a former president of Nickelodeon Entertainment.

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Albie is also a co-founder of Shine Global, a production company missioned with “ending the exploitation & abuse of children worldwide through the production of films and other media that raise awareness, promote action and inspire change.” Check out their work, it’s extraordinary. He’s also an Emmy and Academy award winner and also created the Kids Choice Awards. He was also involved in the creation of SpongeBob SquarePants, so bonus points on that one.  The guy is – what we call in the UK – a very good egg.

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The talk was probably one of the most interesting and educational hours of my professional life and I’m saying that without a single trace of irony. I actually mean it. Albie is a very real guy and his frankness was remarkable, discussing the topics of inspiration and failure with a candour that you really don’t see often enough these days. On the topic of inspiration and motivation he advised:

One piece that I learned is that the biggest metric of success in my life even until today…is having a great boss. If this one boss that you look at and… he’s inspiring and gives oppurtunity, is really collaborative, you see other people being promoted, it just means a lot to have that mentorship. Your direct boss is going to be your biggest metric of success and I would really urge you to look at that carefully. And one of the biggest things that they can do for you is let you fail. Fucking fail. That ability to let you fail and support you through that failure and that risk taking, that’s a big big deal. If you have a boss that’s doing that, you have a great boss. If you don’t, you oughta look for that boss.Try to get there because that’s going to be your biggest path to success.

As well as discussing his long-spanning and successful career, Albie took the time to talk on his most recent project, “1 Way Up: The Story of Peckham BMX” a documentary following two teens as they escape one of London’s toughest gang neighborhoods and race in the BMX World Championships.
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