Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The Empty Shell-Everyone's Hell"...ref. Camus

Lives are incomplete, a process.
Yet others seem to live their lives
To me
Who drifts and dreams
Of living.

Envious of their cheerful chatter
Pacing past with purpose.
While I'm content to
Fritter and potter
To pass the day in any way.

Well not content, I guess.
I want what others haven't got.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


It had been the worst day ever! It had gone well beyond the category of 'bad day' to a new, unknown-to-me-before level of terrible. Uncle George was there when I woke up. I knew he was there before I was even properly awake cos I could smell the kippers frying. We only ever have kippers when Uncle George comes. The strong, smoky whiff pervaded the room and I wrinkled my nose in distaste. I could tell football practice wasn't going to get priority, but nevertheless I pulled on my shorts and jersey, and packed my gearbag.
'Hello Uncle George', I acted surprised to see him.
'Well, if it isn't Rasher!' he predictably replied, ruffling my hair in that annoying way grown-ups do.
He always called me Rasher cos I was a bit chubby, like. Mum called it 'big-boned'. Mum could dress anything up.
'Uncle George ain't the worst', Mum would insist, when I would protest at his proposed visits. 'It'll be nice to have 'im for Christmas dinner, eh?' She would nudge me into reluctant acquiescence.
''spose', I would mutter in grim reply.
I sat down by the range, as Uncle George took up all of my side of the table. He wasn't even that big, just sprawling in that way that made him seem really big. Just after nine, I noted. Training was at ten. I sat limply kicking my gearbag in front of me, hoping Mum would remember.
'You'll not be going to training today, lad', Dad said, gently. 'We've 'ad a bit of news'.
Mum turned from the table to face me. Her hand clenched the handle of the frying pan, and she had a pained expression. This isn't Mum, I thought. Mum's the cheerful, bouncy one. What's going on?
'Wh..whats going on?' I ventured. It came out as a half laugh, nervous, like how I answer Mr. Peters, the maths teacher in school, when he pounces on me with a problem. Maths isn't my subject.
Dad heaved himself up from the table, and drew a stool beside me, two big wellies stopping the swinging of my gearbag. He slapped a hand heavily on my shoulder, and I could see the intention behind this gruff and awkward gesture. Mum was sitting at the table now, cheek resting on her hand, her back to me.
'Son, you're going on an 'oliday. With Georgie 'ere. Just for a while like'.
He withdrew his hand, and clapped his hands together, as if to say 'job done'. I didn't get it. Why was Dad sitting here, talking to me? Dad should be out on the farm, in his shed, doing stuff. Dad's always doing something.
'Tell 'im Bill', came Mum's voice. 'Tell 'im the reason 'e's going'. Mum's voice seemed angry, urgent. My mind raced to remember some wrong I may have done, for which I was being punished. There was Grandad's watch I thought, in a moment of panic. They've finally discovered it!
'Your ol' Mum is sick', Uncle George said, looking at her all the while. 'She's going to have to rest up for a few months, and can't be looking after you'. Uncle George's voice was hard, and his narrow eyes were judging.
'Mum, what's wrong?' I asked, pleadingly. I wanted to rush to her, throw my arms around her, but I thought better of it.
Mum looked at me, helplessly. I was afraid she would cry. Mum...the cheerful one.
'It's true, love. I'm going to have to take some time to recover. But I'll be fine, and you'll be back again before you know it.'
'You'll be living with me, up in Yorkshire. Plenty of work on the farm, keep you out of trouble. make a man out of you, eh?' Uncle George shovelled a forkful of kipper into his mouth, tore hungrily into a crust of bread and noisily slugged down the remaining tea in his cup, promptly holding up his cup for more.
Mum duly responded, drawing the teapot back and forth as she poured, to allow the tea to pass through the clogged spout.
'For how long? When will I be home again?' I wheedled. 'I don't want to go. I'm staying', I said hotly, my voice sounding like Danny's little sister when she's throwing one of her tantrums.
I raced out of the room, stamped loudly up the stairs and jumped face down onto my bed, the rough wool of the blanket scraping my flushed skin. I was vaguely aware of the raised voices downstairs. Dad was shouting something, though I couldn't make out the words. A door banged. I reckon that was Dad leaving. I never heard Dad shout before. In fact, I've never even seen him really angry before. He's just...well...Dad. Goes about his jobs on the farm every day, and has the same, placid manner as all them cows he milks.
I strained to hear what would follow, but could hear nothing, except for the geese outside.
I knew Mum didn't like Uncle George any more than I did and only put up with him cos he's Dad's brother. All he did was eat up the nice food without so much as a 'thank you' and make cruel comments about me that he thought were funny. 'Cept no one laughed.
I heard approaching steps on the stairs and sat up in bed quickly, wiping my eyes with the sleeve of my jersey.
'John?' Mum's voice was gentle as she closed the door behind her and came to sit on the edge of the bed. I refused to look at her, focusing instead on a fraying hole on the blanket by my crossed leg.
'John, love. I'm sorry.' Her voice wavered and I knew if I met her eyes I'd start crying.
'Why can't I stay here, Mum? I'll mind you. Or I can help Dad. I won't be in the way. I don't like Uncle George...'
'I know, love. If there was any other way. It'll be only a few months.'
'Months?' I was horrified. Days would have been too much in Yorkshire. I vaguely recalled the time we went up for Grandad's funeral. We had to stay in George's empty, dark old house. I remember the steps on the stairs were so tiny, even I had to put my feet sideways to fit on each step. There were two slop buckets on the concrete floor in the kitchen where all the waste was thrown for the pigs. They looked and smelled like vomit. I couldn't go. I wouldn't!
'I'll explain to you when you're a little older why we have to do this, but it's my only chance'. Her hands were pressing on mine, urging me to understand, to say it's alright.
I was visibly sobbing by then and Mum drew me into her warm embrace. I didn't usually let her hug me so easily, but now I didn't want her to let me go.
'Will you be ok Mum? Promise you'll be ok'. I realised I had only been upset cos of having to go with Uncle George, and didn't even think of Mum.
'I have a very good chance now. But it is costing a lot of money and will take a lot of time. We didn't have the money so Uncle George is helping us out'.
'And I've to work for him!' The words were out before I knew it.
'No, John. It's not like that. It's just...' Her voice went all squeaky at the end and the silence hung in the room like a delicate, wavering cobweb whose spun threads were soon to be snapped.
I knew at that moment things would never be the same.

The next day, despite the heavy fall of snow, Uncle George and me set off. Dad was silently watchful all morning and Mum was acting like nothing was happening. The kippers were on the go again. I was growing to hate the smell. I acted like I wasn't about to burst with fear and misery, and like I was perfectly ok. It occurred to me we were all just playing a game, like 'school', or 'shop' or something. And soon we'd stop all pretending and be normal again.
I was good at pretending. Still am, in fact. I became so good, that soon I forgot what 'normal' was.
Uncle George was the best at the game and came up with some right good stories. I knew they weren't true, but I understood the rules of the game and knew I had to play along. Else, I'd lose.
As we drove past Danny's red house, I imagined him out the back, building a snowman, chasing his little brother and sister around. I longed to be there, playing around with them, part of the fun.
'So. Your old mum is sick'. Uncle George said evenly. ''Appen she's always been sick. Never knew a good thing, your mum. And now look where it's ended. I'll bet she wishes she never made off with that pitiful excuse of a brother of mine. Your mum's a whore, she is. And now look where it's got 'em', he finished with a self-satisfied grunt.
I didn't know what a whore was, but I guessed it was something bad. I wasn't going to ask Uncle George, so I just said 'hmm'.
The car jilted along, the soft scraping of the snow the soundtrack to my transition from home to Uncle George's, from Cotswold to Yorkshire, from boyhood to manhood. Things would never be the same.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dance of Light

A sea of light pours through the darkness of my soul
Washing o'er the pain of lies and loss
That dwell like squatters: stubborn usurpers.
Feeding my hunger to be alone.

You brought that sea of light; it gushes forth from you.
I slowly learn to trust it will not disappear.
With wary caution I draw the curtains from my heart
To let in love and life and light.

So gently loving, like the delicate ripples of a stream
Dancing lightly on the surface, reflecting Heaven's light.
Your heart-filled laugh, reassuring smile
Lure me from my shadowed solitude.

Now resting my head in the hollow of your neck
Your strong arm engulfing me holding me tight.
I feel your pulse against my cheek
I want this to last forever, this perfect joy.

I know it can't. Light fades away with dusk
Like a butterfly in springtime.
And joy can burst any time like a balloon
Leaving a shock of nothingness but a broken memory.

But sitting here, my heart feels light
No longer burdened with the heaviness of shadows
But beating in time with yours, sharing your light.
I yield to the force of life, calling, calling...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Time to change.

Time passes by, on and on.
I'm passing by, on and on.
Time is invisible.
I'm nearly invisible.

A cloaked thief,
Stealing through the world.
Take and take with no return.
Plunder on.

But things change. Time heals.
The dark of winter lifts
To herald spring.
Nature dances to time.

Can time change me?
Can I stop in time?
I bow my head and wait
for time to work its magic.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The man in the grey suit.

He haunts my dreams, the man in the grey suit.
I saw him first in the corridors of Belarus.
Long, unending corridors whose stench holds the key
To the countless cruelties that sadly linger on.

I wake one night, steal quietly out
sleeping bodies safe in their other-worlds.
Out in the dark passage, suddenly arrested,
I glimpse a figure, tall, cold, brooding.

Grey-suited he was, but then he was gone.
In the stretching corridor I'm left alone
With flashing chargers from flashy cameras
That capture but a fraction of time and place.

I've seen him since, the man in the grey suit.
He chills me still, for I'm plucked from ease
against my will. To the horrors within those walls
thrust upon so many. I shut my eyes.

For what can I do? But I'm not absolved,
Cannot forget. And if I nearly do,
Deja-vu: I find myself running, like Sysiphus
Pushing the stone. The grey-suited man.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Those mad days

His friends are so weird! They think their lives are so important. Look at them there, self-conciously trying to have fun, take some time out. Awkward. Not kids anymore but trying to remember how they used to play. Yellow meadow with long grass, golden sun, birds flying freely overhead in the moving cloud shapes. The setting is perfect. They even bring along some balloons, just so they know their intention is fun. And then a camera to record it all.
"Remember what fun we had that day in the meadow?"
"Oh ya! What a great day!" Heads all nod in enthusiastic agreement.
Fun, fun, fun...what great fun!
Reunited after their first year in college, they go up Tailor Hill, where they used to hang out, drink out of cans from Smoky's 'offie'
But the darkness that lurks inside each of them, even as they play, make light, have fun will never be mentioned. Maybe that's a good thing? But maybe not.

He brings along a skateboard just so his friends don't think he's weird. He feels alienated though, and thinks he's alone. The naivity of his friends irritates him. Big smiles, hearty laughs, hugs all around. Why pretend? The blackness is all he can see now. Blackness first thing in the morning, blackness last thing at night, and a sort of smoky blackness all through the day. He's ok with this, as long as he's not surrounded by people who only see sunshine. He's ok, now that he's made friends with the blackness. He sees it in others too, even if they don't see it themselves. Or pretend not to. He doesn't know which annoys him more.

But here he is today, pretending with the best of them. He smiles back at them, laughs at the proper moments, accepts their hugs. And for a little while, he forgets. Crouching in the prickly grass, hands caressing the light balloon, something moves in him. He's not sure quite what, but he feels fragile. The weightlessness of the balloon makes him feel floaty, dizzy, like he's not in command of himself, but some other, greater force. Stilling himself, legs crossed on the grass, he regards the others. For now there is silence. Jessie, obviously not comfortable with this says "Who's seen the new Harry Potter?" And this draws out a whole new conversation, which lasts for surprisingly a long time. John has nothing to say. He hasn't seen it, nor does he wish to. Why is it important? He stretches himself out flat on the grass so he can only see brown blades of grass surrounding him, clouds overhead. They have become invisible and even their voices more distant. He feels better now, more at peace, grounded...

"Hey John", Sue's voice drawls above him and he feels her toe nudging his elbow. She looks so huge, lurking above him like that. "You're very quiet?"
He hears the birds noisily caw as they propel forward in the evening sky. He closes his eyes to her looming presence.
"I'm just tired", he says after a pause. "Just want to sleep". That's all he feels like doing these days, and it's the truest thing he's said all day. He's not in the mood for this "playdate" or whatever it's meant to be. He feels stupid carrying around his skateboard. The balloons, red of all colours, just say it all.

Conor would have coped better with this. He didn't need to pretend. He got the madness of it. Conor was mad. He was his own man: unpredictable, non-compliant, he did what he felt like doing, with little regard for consequence. And he usually got away with it. People made allowances for Conor because he was Conor, the mad one. And then he went away. Last summer, instead of going to college, he took his rucksack, a pair of boots, and got the hell away. Nobody heard from him since.

John would have liked to do that. Conor was the only one ever that John felt at home with. Because behind Conor's madness, he was the sanest, truest person he knew. He was sharp and incisive. He saw things for what they were. But instead, John was left with the blackness, and Conor was gone off to discover the full spectrum of colour freedom had to offer. He admired him for it, but he also hated him. He had suddenly become the interesting one, the nomad, the free spirit, leaving John as...what? He didn't even know.

Sue had planted herself on the grass beside John. He knew she liked him, for whatever reason. But he wasn't interested. He squirmed away, feeling her eyes on him. He just wanted to get away, have some time alone. More time alone.

He didn't know what was going on in his head. He didn't know what he wanted. He felt numb. He would go home, to his room, put on some Stone Roses and smoke a joint. What a fucking cliche.

He slowly sat up, took his skateboard and balloon, and said, "Hey guys, I'm gonna head. I'll catch up with ye soon".
"No, John, hang on...we'll come too", they say, gathering themselves up. With his back to them, he rolls his eyes, though he isn't surprised. They follow him like sheep, the only sound the scraping of the long grass as they trudge through it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

My friend, the sea...

What does he see
As he looks at me
Perched over the railing
Staring, staring
The sea, roaring?

Like my raging mind
Ebbing and flowing, to-ing and fro-ing.
Angry thoughts at war
Like waves crashing
Beneath the calm serene sky.

My gloved hand clenched
Around the cold metal rail
Betrays my disarray,
My oneness with the sea.
Does he notice this?
Can he see me?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Every Grey Day

Alone. Morning. I just keep waking up. Why? Day stretches ahead of me like a yawning mouth. I don't bother to pull the curtains. I know it's a grey day. These days are all grey.
I heave myself wearily out of the bed, and pulling my nightgown around me, shuffle down the stairs, blindly making the porridge. Which too is grey. And tastes grey. The radio spurts out words about life outside like spitfire-too alive for me to catch or care. The kettle swells and bubbles to the boil and I pour the water carelessly over the grey wilting teabag, and with the rusting spoon, crush it against the side of the cup, extract it and dump it into the dirty grey sink. I take the milk from the fridge, noting the paltry, staling items on the shelves: a few browning bananas, a bowl of mashed potatoes from two nights ago, a few yogurts brought by my daughter about a month ago, a packet of unopened ham, and a half a block of cheese. I slurp my tea down, as if I'm in a hurry, and looking at the ring of old tea at the bottom of the cup, wonder what to do now.
I leave my bowl and cup in the sink, along with yesterday's delf and carelessly pour some water over them to soak. I don't bother with wash-up liquid. I plug out the radio and am hurtled into the assaulting silence, each movement seeming to echo too loudly.
In the bathroom, I look at my ashen face in the mirror. I see an over-familiar piece of furniture that just wears with time. I draw my hands over my grey stubble, but don't bother to shave today. I pull on yesterdays clothes that hang limply over the chair at the end of my bed, and sit back on the bed, wondering what next.
I sit there, wondering how I can fill my day today, and nothing happens. I lean back and open the curtains, greeted by the grey droplets sitting on the window. I see the rain dropping into little puddles on next-door's roof extension. It's too wet to go out.
My eye is drawn to the smiling photo of my wife on the dressing table. It's covered with a film of grey dust. I accept the dust as the ravage of time. Its thickening coating puts more and more distance between us. I usually glance at the photo, and look away again, thinking it better to get on with my life. Fine job I'm making of that!
Today however, something draws me towards it, and sighing heavily, I take the frame in my hand. I pull it closer to me, noting the life in her beautiful face. I rub away the dust that occludes her face, and see her bright green eyes, and laughing red lips, the top of her nose wrinkling in that way of hers as she laughed. Pulling the sleeve of my jumper over my hand, I wipe away all the rest of the dust, trying to remember on what occasion that particular photo was taken. Certainly it was on one of our holidays, for we rarely used the camera for any other reason, but what was the particular occasion? What was she laughing at? Who was with her at the time? I cannot remember at all! Several years blur into a grey fog and I feel robbed and violated of a happier time. I feel angry at time for what it has left me with.
As I gaze at the picture, I think of the grey ashes that I spread over the cliffs of Dun Clochar that November morning, the sky heavy with black clouds. I watched them swirl away with the wind as I emptied the wooden box, some landing on the blades of grass underfoot, others carried by the wind to God-knows-where. I remember how surreal it all felt: this ash, this grey cloud of dust was my wife! She was here with me, barely three days before, talking, breathing, moving... And now?!
After watching her ashes disperse, I walked back through the fields, and finding a stone wall, sat with my back to it, gazing at the wasteland ahead, and the bare tree in the distance. This is where my wife grew up. She would walk through these fields towards the cliffs as a child for family picnics. The cliffs are where she would come all her life for peace and inspiration. Where was she now? My heart was squeezed flat with sorrow, so utterly alone. Yet I remember as I sat there, I could not cry. I felt the clouds bearing down on me. I envied the crows as they returned to their homes in the tree. I sat there all day, unable to move, hardly noticing evening falling. Then, something strange happened: As I looked ahead, into the grey emptiness, a picture of my wife flashed before me, and just as suddenly it disappeared. It appeared so clear against the muggy clouds and stony ground: my wife as a child, her long dark hair tied over her back, her large, clear eyes taking everything in, always a dreamer. I continued to sit. I didn't will the image to return; neither did I reject or deny it.
I continue to look at the photo, wondering, not for the first time how someone with such life, can be rendered so dead? Ashes! Why her? Why not me?!
As I gaze at the picture, I realise that I am dead. I'm dead to life. I don't know how to go on. Each day has become an exercise in trying to shorten the long, empty hours of the morning and each nightfall brings with it a sort of relief. How am I meant to go on?
I draw the picture to my lips, feeling the cool glass against the cracked, dry flesh of my lips, and kiss it with all the tenderness that I can. Placing it back on the dressing table, I open the creaking door to face another day.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I scramble to this place of rest
With leaden feet and heaving chest.
I’ve walked all day, I’m tired and sore,
Don’t want to be here anymore.
My lifelong dream to do this trail:
Alone, unfettered, a ship in sail
Upon the sprawling ocean deep,
No work deadlines, no loss of sleep.
But now I stumble, no longer able.
My dream, my vision growing unstable.
I long for worldly things like cars
And showers and Starbucks, chocolate bars.
But as I stop and breathe, I see
The setting sun surrounding me.
I feel I’m flying towards the source,
Immersed in nature’s power and force.
It’s gold embrace, silken and pure:
This is it! Of that I’m sure.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Control

‘Whatever’, I growl through gritted teeth. My hands grip the thick steering wheel, whitened knuckles withstanding the vibrations. My right foot is pressed to the floor, both knees involuntarily jumping up and down, like they are doing some funny sort of dance.
The roaring engine on the highway is not loud enough. My left hand fumbles on the radio dials for volume and turns it up to its limit. Still not loud enough.
‘He’s not well, Andrew! Do something!’ My mom’s whining plea fills the air, and her tear-streaked, pathetic face is before me on the motorway.
‘aaaaggggggGGGGGGHHHHH’, I scream, making a ball of my fist and stuffing it into my mouth, biting down vengefully on the tightened, salty flesh.
I turn the windscreen wipers on to full, their frenetic squeaking against the dry windscreen recalling her high-pitched, gasping sobs.
I’m now aware that I’m crying! My eyes are full, my cheeks are wet, and everything appears a blur. ‘Look what she’s reduced me to!’ I think. Roughly, with the palm of my hand, I wipe my eyes, and angrily bang the steering wheel. It makes little impact against the noise of the engine and heavy metal. I do it again: Thud! And again: Thud!
‘I’m king of the highway’, I roar, punching my fist triumphantly into the air. The speed makes me feel good. I weave in and out easily between slow-assed cars. My head is jolting to the beat of the music.
‘Ha ha’, I laugh. ‘My head!’ It’s doing that totally on its own, like it’s a separate part of me!
I’ve an urge to jump in ice-cold water, and swim crazily. I’d beat any world record!
A blue light flashes somewhere. I look around, trying to locate it.
‘Screw it!!’ I’m already all the way down to the ground, I can’t go any faster.
‘He’s not in control, Andrew. Don’t let him out!’ Her outstretched trembling fingers do a little dance around her wild, orange hair, which always looks as if she’s had an electric shock. Why didn’t she ever do something with that hair? I often wondered. I was often tempted to take a scissors to it myself. What stopped me?
‘Not in control!’ I pooh pooh. ‘I’ll show her…!’
I clap my hands to the beat, flashing light like a disco light.
‘Look! No hands….!’
The car slams into the side of another car. I don’t even feel it, and the cop car piles up into the back of me. Just like the bumper cars.
‘Not in control’ I tut, shaking my head, a silly grin on my face.
A torch is rudely shining in my face, like someone calling me for school I the morning. I put both hands up to block the light.
The other cop is shouting into his radio for help: ‘Casualty on M767, 500 metres north of exit 22. Unconscious and bleeding from the head. Send a fire engine, she’ll need to be cut out…’
My head is spinning, like I’ve just passed out on the dance floor. The music is dead.
‘Hey, who killed the music?’ I ask the cop, who’s shaking his head, writing me off, giving me no chance.
‘Do you’ve any idea what speed you were doing?’ he shouts, clutching my shirt collar.
‘Speed, did you say speed? Where?’ I wait for him to get it, but he’s not very smart. Instead I throw back my head and laugh heartily at my own wit. I don’t see the lights or the cops or the mutilated face of the young woman in the car next to mine. I don’t hear the wailing sirens, or the crackling radios or voices of onlookers. I don’t smell the smouldering burn of the engine. I don’t feel…well anything.
‘Not in control’, I scoff incredulously.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Brother Isaac

It was here we used to walk, Brother Isaac and me. He was the only one who ‘got me’. He had a slow, laborious way about him, not only of walking, but of talking and of eating, and of carrying out tasks. Methodical, he was. Sometimes I wanted to hurry him up, impatient for an answer, or rushing to go somewhere else. But I could not rush him anymore than I could rush the leaves to grow on the trees, the daffodils to come up. And just like the leaves and the daffodils, it was always worth the wait. There must have been something about his slowness that made him wise. I yearned for that wisdom, but Brother Isaac would just smile and say ‘Ah, you are young. Wisdom will come later. And then you will wish you were young’.
‘What should I do, Brother Isaac? I’m confused’.
It was a February day and we were sitting on a bench. Brother Isaac pulled his greatcoat tighter around him to banish the cold. I didn’t feel the cold. I waited and heard the dead autumn leaves rustling in the breeze: a pile that had been swept against the edge of the path where we sat. A little sparrow flew down on the ground just in front of us, hopping along, its head fretfully jerking in different directions in response to sounds that I couldn’t hear. I gazed at it, amused by its ‘dance’, willing it to stay. A nearby dog’s bark startled it and away it flew to safety. I looked at Brother Isaac. Still there was silence. He looked so peaceful as always, his folded arms moving up and down with each breath.
‘My child, listen.’
I listened, willing him to go on. But he let me listen for longer. My foot scraped the dusty path as I tried to get comfortable, as comfortable as Brother Isaac looked. I noticed the far-off sound of a tractor ploughing and the whispering of the leaves in the trees. This was all life, I realised. All of this movement is caused by something living, some spirit. I’m not alone here.
‘Be still and listen to all of the sounds around you and the silence in-between. It is in this silence that you discover your self. Silence brings you in touch with your heart. Practice this and you will find answers.’
He heaved himself up, leaning against the back of the bench to steady himself. I remained seated as he did so, trying to take in all he said. It seemed a lot. I was not sure I would remember it.
I caught up with him easily along the path. The bell was now ringing in the chapel, calling four o’clock. This was when Brother Isaac retreated to his room for afternoon prayers. Every day. Day after day. And prayers in the morning and in the evening. I didn’t know how he did it.
As he shuffled along the path, using the stone walls at the sides to pull himself up the narrow steps, I followed slowly behind. At the tree he stopped, leaning up against the coarse bark of the trunk to catch his breath.
‘This tree was here when I came here forty years ago, just the same as it was before. In all likelihood, it was there forty years before that. And in forty years to come, it will probably still be here. Think of all the changes that this tree has witnessed. Wars have been fought, babies have been born. There has been joy and sorrow. And people have worried, and made themselves ill from worrying. But life goes on. This tree doesn’t worry. It just lives.’
His expression was one of wonder. His eyes twinkled as his spoke.
‘But we’re not trees, Brother Isaac’.
I was stuck for something to say, not knowing how to respond to his thoughts. So I tried to say something funny.
‘No, that is true. We are not trees. But we can learn from trees. Just as we can learn from Nature. Always keep that in mind, my child. Trust’.
With that, he took his hand from the trunk of the tree, and placed it on my shoulder. I met his gaze, and felt that look of someone who cares; who properly cares and understands and doesn’t just say so to make himself feel better. The world is full of people who say things but don't mean them; who talk and talk and talk because it makes them feel good. But Brother Isaac says nothing. And yet his look, his touch, his presence says everything.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


This is a satirical comedy on religious identity, centred around the Islam and Jewish religions. It tells the story of Mahmud Nasir, played convincingly by Omid Djalili, who on clearing through his recently deceased mother’s belongings, discovers that he was adopted. Following further exploration, he learns that his real name is Shimshillowitz, which can only be Jewish, a disaster in light of his son’s recent engagement to the daughter of a prominent Pakistani jihadist.
Going through this mid-life crisis, he plays around with the idea of being Jewish, even befriending his Jewish neighbour, who trains him in ‘the art’ of Jewishness, ie. not by learning Hebrew, but by dancing to klezmir music, attending a bar mitzvah, at which he tells Jewish jokes, and practicing wearing the yarmulke, which incidentally gets him into trouble at an Islamic rally he attends, headed by his son’s prospective father-in-law, soon to become his opponent. He is in an awkward position, as he needs to maintain a strong Islamic identity for the successful marriage of his son to his new fundamentalist family, but must also embrace his Jewish inheritance if he is to meet his biological father, who is on his death-bed.
The comedy is slapstick and wayward, and the silliness is what makes it funny. The best scenes are between Mahmud, and his new Jewish friend, Lenny, played by Richard Schiff, as they verbally spar with each other in reverse stereotypical fashion, both rejecting their religious identities, Mahmud lashing an insulting ‘anti-Semite’ in the direction of Lenny. The other memorable scene for me was when he was at breakfast the morning after he discovers he was a Jew, and he hears Jew in every sentence, (‘Do you..? etc)
While I enjoyed the humour in the film, its dramatic slant didn’t work so well. His wife was presented as a ‘too good to be true’ character, whose role was neither realistic nor comic. The ending of the film was pathetically syrupy and contrived, whereby Mahmud discovers a secret that will destroy the career and reputation of his opponent, the Islamic fundamentalist, and which he reveals publicly, giving a ‘happy-ever-after’ tone to a film that had so much more comic potential than that.