31 October 2009


The Great Circle of Life
In the early 1970s I had the amazing good fortune to choose the village of Ban Pong, some 50 kms north of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, as the place where I would do my fieldwork in social anthropology. For two years I woke to the glorious panorama across the rice fields to the purple hazy mountains beyond. For two years I delighted each day in the wonderful cuisine offered by my hosts, and for two years I immersed myself in the lives of the two thousand plus souls who made up the population of this lowland rice cultivating community. Fast forward to 2009, having retired after a 23 year career with the UN, I decided to return to Northern Thailand which had been for me such a voyage of discovery and joy, so many years ago.  Last weekend, I went back to Ban Pong to participate in a major temple festival, and to experience my first overnight stay there in decades. Never have I felt more vividly the force of the ‘great circle of life’. Wherever I turned I was greeted by smiling, welcoming and, oh so familiar faces.  I would struggle to place this or that person only to realise that I was remembering their parents or grandparents, long since departed. Yet the welcome was nonethless warm and all-embracing.  I was no longer the young ajarn (teacher), there to question them about every aspect of their lives, but a respected elder, who, despite many years absence, nevertheless had a place in their midst. It was an extraordinary feeling, and deeply moving.  As I drifted off to sleep that night, to the glorious sound of monks chanting well into the early hours, I felt that there was no other place on earth I would rather be.
Text and photos Chris Mougne

30 October 2009

Stephen O'R's Oz

(Firstly, apologies to Stephen O’R because I should have posted this piece before the piece on Arachnoiditis that we published last week, 23 Oct – as the following piece was the lead-up to it … the editor.)
Macquarie Street

I am self-absorbed these days – more so than usual.
There is a street in Sydney, which is described in the opening pages of D.H.Lawrence's Kangaroo. It is one of the best locations in Sydney. It runs north/south from Hyde Park to the Harbour. At the north end – the harbour end, is the Sydney Opera House. It gets the morning sun and on the eastern side stands the oldest public building in Australia – the Barracks.
Going north from this are a run of important buildings – another grand colonial house (currently showing an exhibition of natural energy sources; the Sydney hospital with a statue of a wild boar outside it. The boar’s nose is shiny brass as if it’s been rubbed for good luck. Water drips from its mouth like an endless stream of saliva. Next to the hospital is the state Parliament - a pit of the most horrible type. Shiny-suited men are to be seen walking in and out of it. Reporters stand metres apart rehearsing their bullshit for the camera. Walk quickly past if you can. The Mitchell library is the last of the run built in the style of a Victorian edifice. Built to give us a taste of the British Library in London. I love it.
Most of the rest of the street on the eastern side is the west edge of the Botanical Gardens. Established in a colonial style a mini- harbourside, Kew gardens - it has trees from all over. Thousands of bats make their home here and leave from here to fill the skies with their sound in the evening.
The next building is the coach house for Government House that has been turned into the Conservatorium.  Young musicians come and go with their instruments packed for bus travel.
Finally we have Government House set in lush tropical Gardens. Built of stone, its Englishness pervading the interior and exterior in an intimate sort of way. Built for the top worthy of the state. It has a ballroom that is surprising small with a little stage overlooked by a balcony for the band which provided the music for the ‘Gay Gordon’ or a ‘dos I dos or six’.  Across the harbour lies the Governor General residence, more imposing, less intimate and less accessible.
Back to the street – Macquarie Street. Macquarie was the first Governor of Australia. The Opera House occupies a harbourside site on which had been a Shed for parking trams that left for wide streets all over Sydney. More about the house later.
The west side starts with a series of expensive apartment buildings. The last to be built is called the toaster – a name inspired by its exterior.  These apartments with their low ceilings are somewhat like large first class cabins on a cruise ship moored on the edge of busy Circular Quay where the ferries arrive and leave.
Up the street we have the Automobile Association of Australia building – a club where members can stay. A non-descript hotel follows next to a very grand Intercontinental Hotel where Bill Clinton stayed. He ran in the gardens every morning with his gang of bodyguards puffing beside him. The Intercontinental is built inside the Treasury Building. I suppose the treasury has been moved to a ‘more efficient ‘office space
without harbour views.
Then we have the Colonial Secretaries Building still occupied by the Government but without the secretary. Next door is the Astor built in the twenties as a wood panelled apartment block. Barry Humphries maintained an apartment here for some time but now its mostly car salesmen and Hong Kong Chinese. (Barry now lives in our old house in Greencroft Gardens with his lovely wife Lizzie. We originally bought the house with Lizzie in 1976:  the editor) There is no car parking at the Astor although you can park next door for $150 a week.
From the Astor to Hyde Park with a couple of beautiful exceptions – The Australian Medical Association’s beautiful colonial house being the prettiest - the street mostly comprised a series of ugly modern offices buildings from the fifties and sixties. Renzo Piano built an Apartment block on the corner diagonally across from the Library offering views across the Gardens to the harbour and the Ocean beyond. I once watched a cruise ship makes its way through this view. Somewhat like a large Imax screen with the white ship passing through the green fringes of the harbour towards the dark blue of the ocean. I could imagine the delight of the overweight passengers sitting in their wheel chairs drinking their first mango daiquiri.
Maquarie Street is the Harley Street of Sydney and I am self absorbed these days because of an incurable condition which had its conception in this street. One fateful day I went there to see a neurologist, a  Dr Kevin Bleasel. He was like a TV Doctor of the 1960s, with his crumpled expensive suit and thick grey hair. This was a man to be trusted – he even looked like he had played rugby.  I had a bulging disc that had exploded filling my sub arachnoid space with pieces of white stuff that jammed in the nerve canals causing the nerves to swell up and send pain messages to my brain. But he was the guy you could trust and he was in an office with a view of the gardens and harbour that Renzo would capture twenty years later with his terraces for millionaires.
I would have an operation preceded by a myleogram said Dr Bleasel – it was not a guarantee of success but would get rid of the most of the pain.  He was right on one count and not on the other but that’s another story. (see 23 October …ed.)


My stained heart whimpers

My stained heart whimpers
beaten to a purple pulp
by deafening defeat
the beat all but silenced
to a peep
never comes any more
as never before
replaced by fears and regrets

Joselyn Morton

More on BBC Maida Vale Studios

BBC Radio 7
It can be fascinating to hear or read ‘eye witness - I was there’ accounts of events and memories of places of historical interest.
Following on from my background to Maida Vale studios last week, a listener e-mailed to say " it's nice to hear someone talking about what is now history - and I was there".
James, the listener, went on to explain:
"When I was an apprentice electrician (what seems a hundred years ago) the company I worked for was updating the electrical installation in what I think the BBC called ‘ The Abbey’ but I seem to remember walking across the floor of a very large area that I was told was an ice skating rink in the past . I was overawed when we went to tea break in the canteen and sat at the same table as  Geraldo, his singer at the time - Archie Lewis and his guitarist Ivor Maraints. .
I also remember the Charlie Chester show rehearsing there . A few years back I went to the Maida Vale studio for a concert of the ‘ BBC Organ Club’ with Nigel Ogden , of which I was a member (does the club still exist and is the organ still working ? )
Thank you James for a very interesting ‘I was there’ account of your experience at Maida Vale.
The BBC Organ Society still exists, and Nigel Ogden continues to provide musical entertainment regularly on Radio 2 in ‘The Organist Entertains’ . His first appearance on the series was in 1972, and the executive producer, Bob McDowell, assures me that, thanks to the BBC Organ Society, the Maida Vale organ is certainly still in good working order.
Earlier this year, The Organist Entertains celebrated its 40th anniversary, and those who are interested might like to know that on 27th October Nigel's programme will be about all the existing BBC Theatre organs.
In addition to a host of music programmes to be broadcast as part of the 75th celebrations, drama lovers might like to know that on 30th October Radio 2 will be broadcasting a live production of Brief Encounter, with Jenny Seagrove in the role made famous by Celia Johnson in the 1945 film adaptation.
I think I might even be switching my allegiance over to Radio 2 for what promises to be a very special broadcast.
You can find out more details about the Radio 2 Maida Vale offerings on their website: www.bbc.co.uk/radio2
Mary Kalemkerian, Head of Programmes, Radio 7
BBC Radio 7 

Oxford Saturday Matinee Club

Remember, remember the 14th November. This is when Oxford’s new Theatre Company, The Oxford Saturday Matinee Club presents a strong mix of Science and Religion with the UK Premiere of COLLIDER by Shaun McCarthy at 2pm at the East Oxford Community Centre. All tickets will be £2.00. (There will be door sales and running time is 1 hour). COLLIDER is directed by Katie Read and stars local actors James Card, Amy Enticknap, Steve Hay and Holly King.
The biggest scientific experiment in history, the Large Hadron Collider is about to be switched on. Scientists are confident it will prove that the universe began with a big bang; religious creationists fear it will create a black hole and destroy the world. Science and religion are on a collision course.
Against this contemporary background of ‘big ideas’ COLLIDER explores the personal lives of four characters – two scientists, a visiting American evangelical pastor and his wife. Their lives unravel as it is revealed the pastor is not who he seems, his wife is becoming a serious drinker and the two scientists are arguing about more than science, plus the LHC is beginning to dangerously malfunction.
A topic that includes Science and Religion is a bit of a stretch – evidently you can not only look forward to a dispute on the origins of life but a bit of burlesque striptease as well.
Katie Read has founded this new company, with a view to providing cheap and accessible theatre for the locals in Oxford. Try and get to see it if you can. (Buses run from London every 15 minutes. and I’m sure Katie won’t mind some out-of-towners.) It’s a brave time to start a new theatre company but remember They Shoot Horses Don’t They – in a recession people need entertainment to take their mind of the grim reality of their worrying lives. Bearing this in mind, Katie is charging the price of a cup of coffee for a piece of original theatre performed by professional actors. At worst, it could be somewhere warm to pop into; at best it could be that touch of magic to brighten up your week.
Joselyn Morton
(Maybe instead of yet another mindless and expensive office company Xmas party, you might like to book the Oxford Saturday Matinee Club to entertain and thank your staff for all their hard work during 2009. The Editor )

Social event

Richard’s Birthday Party, October 24th 2009
Our instructions were to arrive at Gay and Richard’s house by 18.15 in order to have a libation or  two, meet & greet and then get on the bus to an undisclosed destination.
I envisaged people all over the Dordogne getting ready for the night ahead. The make-up, the hair, the perfume, the dress, the shoes etc, not to mention the chaps in their finery too. I have to say, it was worth the effort, the women were stunning and the men impressive. There is something about being dressed up that makes a man stand taller and a women feel sexier.
As people arrived and introductions were made and old friends exclaimed at how very glam we all were and the champagne cocktails complete with giraffe swizzle sticks (nice touch Mr French) were downed, the atmosphere was warm and exciting from the start.
Then two buses  arrived and we were aboard and away on our mystery tour. The secret had been very well guarded and the few insiders who did know kept very mum indeed.
Song sheets appeared as did Graham with his guitar who led us in a raucous sing-a-long. Very end-of-the pier and funny. Well, I didn’t think the one about the gay Alaskan was all that funny, but there you go. 
Fortunately we had Mrs. French on our bus who gave the driver instructions and in no time at all we were there.  
Chateau Puyferrat, 16thC,  fairytale turrets, a  chess game set up for intellectual giants,  vaulted ceilings, wall hangings, flagstone floors, princesses in the tower,  chivalrous knights,  smiling maidens proffering aperitifs and into the dining hall to find where we had been placed and who our immediate neighbours would be.
The room looked lovely, 3 very long tables set for a feast and  a smaller one specially for all the grandchildren. Perfect.
And a jazz group featuring Dottie Bart to serenade us throughout the meal.  
Dinner, as I’m sure you can imagine was superb. Course after course of exquisitely prepared and presented food and excellent wines.
And then it was time for the speeches. Polly, one of Richard and Gay’s daughters gave an affectionate account of her Fathers’ journey from childhood to here,  which was interesting and amusing and then the man himself stepped up to the mic to thank all the people who had helped along the way. Especially Gay.
And just as I was thinking what a great evening it had been, another door opened and in the next room was a band waiting, ready to rock. They were young but played all the ancient greats as to the manner born.  Kept us on our feet and bopping till the early hours.
But as all things must, this wonderful night came to an end and eventually we reluctantly climbed back onto the last bus home.  
What a swellegant, elegant party it was!
Judith Lord

Coogee Beach Jones by Al Muhit

Resume: Wal makes contact with NZ High Commission in Delhi, Rebecca still believes she has to die until she throws away the crystal she’s been holding and they all sleep peacefully that night. Finally they board the plane to Delhi.
"This is not Delhi Airport "said Rebecca as they approached for landing. "
Wal looked, she was right. Panic passed when Wal remembered that it was the domestic terminal.
Priscilla Clark never ceased to amaze Wal, with her calmness, tact and practical thinking. When they entered the terminal Priscilla and Tessa, who was wearing temporary diplomatic ID, were just inside the door. Rebecca recognised Tessa at once and ran towards her. Wal watched as Tessa received the embrace he had expected in Manali. The Good Samaritan collected the bags and they were soon in the High Commission's four-wheel drive heading for the hotel.
Priscilla Clark, an attache, was the manager, administrator of the New Zealand High Commission. Wal felt immediately at ease with her, she had a quiet confidence which Wal found reassuring.
On the phone from Kullu, Wal had intimated that Rebecca was getting spooked by Indians, so Priscilla had left her driver at the office. Not content with chauffeuring them to their hotel, she did a little tourist drive through the government and diplomatic areas of New Delhi.
Over the next three days Wal began to experience nationalism for the first time in his life; indeed by the time he left India he resolved to stay a New Zealand citizen all his life, even if he couldn't bring himself to live there. There was a no-nonsense side to some New Zealanders that was quite unique.
The Imperial Hotel, which Wal had selected from Rebecca's Lonely Planet guide was in its own grounds and set back from the road, providing shelter from real life in New Delhi. Also it had a travel agency, so that plans could be made with little contact with the outside. The Imperial was a creation of the British Raj but its original pomposity had been softened with age and Indian independence. A huge entrance, guarded by uniformed Sikhs with large feathers in their turbans, led into a nicely rundown but vast and cool, foyer. Wal looked at the suite offered and having checked it for safety, soon had everybody ensconced in lounges waiting for afternoon tea.
Priscilla conducted a very low key debriefing over tea and then took them to the East West Hospital to have Rebecca's wrists checked.
The Good Samaritan set off for a traveller’s hotel and some much deserved rest. Later when he came to Sydney Wal discovered that The Good Samaritan had thought he was being 'dispensed' with. He had expected to be put up with the others.
Wal says he can't imagine why he didn't consider this, but puts it down to either The Good Samaritan appearing to not want to cause trouble in the polite, hypocritical typical of many of his countrymen-way, or the more likely scenario, that he was too distracted by the situation to notice. The Good Samaritan had also thought Wal was penny-pinching after being so flash up the valley. Wal says travellers have weird ideas about money and remembers himself screaming at some Balinese driver over twenty cents.
The East West Hospital was the organisation Wal had called, in the those first hours after the original phone call, and his perception of it being run by sensitive and intelligent people was proved correct. The doctor handled Rebecca's request to kill her by injection very calmly. " I'm sorry, I am prevented by my professional ethics from doing that " he said. He prescribed antibiotics and sedatives and Priscilla drove them via the chemist shop back to the hotel.
Chemists in India sell you only what you need. They count out single tablets and the cost was so reasonable that it made Wal muse that drug companies must charge prices they perceive the market will bear, depending on the  country. So much for GATT and the world trade agreement.
Back at the hotel Tessa and Wal, began thinking they had only one night to prepare Rebecca for her return to reality. They changed from humouring her and attempted to get her to face her situation.
Wal was clear that she should leave for the UK as soon as possible, but he knew arriving back into the cocooned world of West Sussex, in the home counties, would not be easy for Rebecca in her present condition. So both he and Tessa started to run a 'reality check'. Desperately drawing on their long past remembrances of 'tripping', they persuaded Rebecca to tell them about her experience.
Wal realised that up to this point he had been surviving moment to moment trying to keep Rebecca stable enough to keep moving. He now felt more secure away from the valley, and with Tessa, someone Rebecca trusted, to share the load. Of course neither of them had the skills required for such a counselling task. When Rebecca said that she only felt alive when she took Acid or ecstasy, Wal started in with " If you believe that, you've got a drug problem, Rebecca." Almost immediately Rebecca began to withdraw. Her two inquisitors realised they were getting out of their depth and began to lighten up just in time.
Wal locked the door to the suite and announced the key was under his pillow if any one needed it and they all slept.
to be continued ...

Cover Picture

In June this year when I was looking at our son Matt's old junior school, The Hall as an exercise in nostalgia, I could not help noticing this amazingly shiny stainless steel wall hiding a construction site. This is in Belsize Park, a street full of fine Georgian houses, which normally are kept in pristine condition. I thought there must be a good reason that planning permission was given to destroy 95% of two good houses. Surely it was for some better reason than housing some money manipulator's fleet of Lamborginis. Revisiting the site en route from my brother Ken and his wife Lin's flat in this street to our bus to Stanstead in Finchley Rd, I notice that there appears to have been no progress, except the open roofs expose the remaining structures to the elements. If you look closely, the gates to the site have now got legal parking spaces in front of them. Was all this with Camden Borough Council approval then?
All this makes me wonder about the class of ruler we have inherited.

25 October 2009

Stephen O'R's Oz

I had had the letter containing this word for some time –at least a year and I vaguely remember it being mentioned in the neurologist’s office. About two months ago I found myself looking at this report which had fallen out of a large envelope containing an MRI (magnetic resonating image) scan. I realised I had no idea what it meant.
I typed the word into Google, the new God we pray to many times daily, and within minutes I was to find out why I was in constant pain and had been for some years. Eureka! I now had a name for my ‘condition’ that was infinitely more dramatic than ‘chronic pain syndrome’. Chronic Pain Syndrome had always sounded like ‘this wanker complains a lot so give him a disabled parking sticker and lots of pain killers and he will go away.’
Arachnoiditis is hard to say and it took more than a few weeks before I mastered it.  The first bit is clear enough, for all those people who have a fear of Spiders, coming from the Greek for Spider.  Evidently the inside of the main nerve cable, known as the spinal cord, looks a bit like a spiders web. The spinal cord runs down the spine from the brain to the pelvis and carries all the nerves that connect the brain to the various bits of the body. Inside the cord is known as the sub-arachnoid space and this is a place where nothing, that God and her intelligent designers did not put there, should enter.
In the days before Cat Scans and MRI there were just X-rays, or long accumulated medical knowledge such as Ayurveda. The British stopped the funding of Ayurvedic training in 1835, when they were at the peak of their power, and the Indian people were busy providing the cash to build all those grand houses and monuments. This field of knowledge, that had cared for them in their early days of stealing the sub-continent’s wealth, was not available to call on in 1978 Sydney.
X-rays unfortunately gave very basic low res pictures that could only be read by geniuses called Radiologists but even they could not see discs on X-rays. Kodak marketed a toxic dye that could be injected into the sub-arachnoid space. The dye very cleverly coloured the fluid so that the invisible discs could be seen by the space they occupied and pronouncements could be made.
‘Oh yes well that’s the disc causing the problem there between L5 and S1. So what we will do is cut a slit above that area, pull the muscles back with a couple of clamps, and do the business’. The marvels of medical science.
Now to get the dye in was somewhat less than scientific and more like legalised torture.  The patient is taken on a stretcher to the x-ray department way in the bowels of the nice looking hospital that had had such a pretty sandstone staircase at its entrance. In the room was enough gear to make a decent Frankenstein movie but the centrepiece was a circular stainless steel table in a vertical repose position. At the bottom of the circle was a little step on which the patient was asked to stand.
The patient was then asked to spread out his arms in a manner not unlike the crucifixion pose of our saviour Jesus Son of God. When the arms were spread up and out, like one was ascending to the heavens, they were secured to the cool- to- the- touch stainless steel table with leather straps, a bit like one’s school sandals. Similar straps held the legs and, given that one was wearing a backless theatre gown, one started to feel a little vulnerable.
Now the kindly Doctor began to explain that he will be injecting a contrast liquid into the spine so that they can see what’s going on. The straps are just to hold me in position so that one will be safe. The table will be moved as and when they need to change the angle. All very straightforward, and sensible. The Doctor said there might be a bit of pain but it will all be over very quickly. ‘Do I understand everything?’ A weak nod of the head signals one’s acceptance of the situation and one’s agreement to something one could never have comprehended anyway.
One heard the most incredible noise that could only becoming from someone who was being tortured by a thousand-volt shock to the spine.  Then one realised that one was making this noise oneself. ‘Stop it!’ one shouted. 
‘It wont take long the nurse said.’  
‘ Fucking stop it now you cunts, aaaagggggghhhhh’ and other desperate noises.
A large needle was being pushed through the thick muscles that protect the spine from mere mortal danger seeking out the unseen sub-arachnoid space. Then it pierced the space hitting a number of nerves. Think dentist with no numbing of the gums and times it a million. Much screaming and yelling, but the arms and legs, which are attempting to flee the room, were tightly held in place.
This goes on for an eternity and then it stops.  ‘There we go - the dye’s in now for the pictures, smile please’ the torturer joked. The table was moved into a horizontal position, and the pictures were taken.
‘Now we will put you back to an upright position and withdraw the dye.’ Withdrawing the dye meant that the oil-based liquid would just flow back into the needle, its job well done, and life would return to normal.
‘Aaaaarrrgggghhh’ one repeated as the needle hit the nerves and the 1000-volt shocks returned. One knew it was bad because the nurse was stroking one like a baby – probably in an effort to avoid being killed when the straps were undone. The screaming and abuse meant that they cut the procedure short leaving most of the dye in the sub-arachnoid space. One was so grateful when the pain stopped that one did not immediately kill the Doctor and cut the hands off the nurse.
But one should have because the worst was to come some twenty-five years later. This is what I discovered when I read that Goggled information.
There are five ways to get Arachnoiditis.
1. Tuberculosis of the spine
2. Severe trauma to the spine
3. Spinal surgery can do it
4. An injection of cortisone that contained a preservative to give it a long shelf life, into the sub-arachnoid space
5. The Injection of an oil-based contrast agent into the spine to give greater clarity to x-ray pictures.
I had had them all, I realised, except for tuberculosis.  I was nearly 63 when I found this out in 2009 and that x-ray procedure had taken place in 1978.  Archnoiditis can show up soon after the damage has been done or it can take twenty years to show up.
Arachnoiditis means your nerves have been damaged in such a way that they send false signals to the brain, which over-reacts and sends the body into spasm or something similar in order to protect it from some unknown danger. As there is no danger the body gets confused and starts trying to find a way to deal with situation, to calm the muscles and relax them again. This leaves the body exhausted and in great discomfort. This process goes on virtually all of the time.
Meanwhile the nerves are beginning to adhere to each other inside the spinal cord. Sometimes they form a large cyst that becomes a hard solid lump. Sometimes the sheath of the nerves and the spinal cord itself begins to calcify and crumble like bad plaster. Shooting pains appear going from the spine to the feet. A strange burning between two toes was my first sign about five years ago. Now my feet are numb, the numbness stretching up to my ankles and just recently to my calf muscles.
I take narcotics, ‘hill billy heroin’ as oxycontin is called. Take too much and the days become dazed; take too little and you become irritable and constantly grumpy. I have become a grumpy old man at 63. But I am not alone with this disease known as ‘cancer without the relief of death’. Millions have had it, or have it now. I imagine everybody with disc or spinal problems from the late 1940’s  to the early 1980’s in Australia, New Zealand, USA and most of Europe would have been subjected to that needle in the back and then x-rayed. The x-ray procedure is called a Myleogram and the oil-based dye was stopped without much notice in the early 1980’s. It was replaced by an acrylic based dye. I had that to - God knows what damage that has done. It nearly killed me at the time. I spent hours vomiting way past when I had anything left to throw up. They gave me something to make me sleep after twelve hours.
When I awoke next morning I asked what was that all about. 
'Oh its ok they said they just forgot to give you the antidote injection and you were poisoned. You’ll be fine now.'
425 Americans sued Kodak in a class action. It was settled out of Court for $7million with legal fees taking $5 million of the seven. Even mentioning Kodak in this context will bring their legal team to break your resolve or at least bankrupt you.
The accepted wisdom is ‘incurable’ leading to the sort of pain pure morphine will not dull. I am still on baby morphine but do not look forward to a life on morphine which is not a life at all – I know I have tried it twice for 6 weeks at a time.
The moral? Don’t be born poor and work as a labourer. Don’t trust Doctors. I heard recently that when faced with a back operation you should get a second opinion. If that Doctor says its ok then get a third or a fourth or a fifth – thousands of Doctors. When you finally get an opinion not to have the operation take that opinion and never let yourself be strapped to anything.
Those of us who got this disease this way will die out in the next few decades and it will just be the rugby players, the car accident and war victims who will share it with the poor souls who get tuberculosis.
What more can I say? Oh please no more, enuf already.
Stephen O’Rourke
Sydney, 2009

24 October 2009


Spirit Possession in Northern Thailand
'Participant observation' is the term used to describe the rather loose methodology adopted by most social anthropologists when conducting fieldwork.  Basically you learn by joining in, which for the most part of my own fieldwork, in a village in Northern Thailand in the early 1970s, meant such things as taking part in village festivals, attending funerals, going to the temple, even trying my hand at planting, harvesting and threshing rice. 
When invited by B, a fellow anthropologist, to accompany him to a spirit possession 'jamboree' (for want of a better word!) in urban Chiang Mai, I found that participant observation took on a whole new meaning!  
Bill had explained to me about the female spirit mediums who became possessed by identifiable male spirits, each an historical character in Chiang Mai’s 18th and 19th century hierarchy.   Each medium, once possessed by one of her male spirits, and dressed in the appropriate costume, would adopt male behaviour, talk like a man, become a man…  When possessed, a medium could earn a great deal of money giving advice on anything from how to revive a waning love affair to choosing a winning lottery ticket.  Normally working individually, in their own homes, the mediums of Chiang Mai would come together once a year for a series of parties.  It was to one such party that B took me that day.
B’s briefing did nothing to prepare me for the extraordinary scene awaiting us as we passed into the garden of our 'hostess', a medium possessed by a senior man in the hierarchy.  Sitting around a large circular dance area were groups of relatives of the thirty or so mediums present, each holding on to small suitcases filled with brightly coloured clothing ready for one or other of the spirits liable to possess 'their' medium during the course of the day.
In the centre were the mediums themselves, swirling and whirling and waving their arms, passing bottles of beer and whiskey from one to the other… occasionally slowing down and collapsing in a heap before their relatives when a possessing spirit left them and waiting until another entered, propelling her/him back onto the dance floor.
After we had watched this fascinating spectacle for some time, the dance floor suddenly cleared and the traditional northern Thai band stopped playing.  Moments later a new, and entirely more thrilling drumming began, as a group of exotically clad drummers in dark glasses danced their way slowly to the centre of the dance floor, their double ended drums slung jauntily to one side.
At this point our 'hostess' strode over to me and took my hand authoritatively, indicating that we were going to dance together.  Resistance is not really part of the social anthropologist’s code, so I found myself moments later standing between the two lines of drummers, in full view of everybody, preparing to dance a dance I didn’t know.   I told myself that as long as my partner was in front of me, I could attempt at least to imitate the movements, but was dreading the inevitable moment when the dance would require us both to turn in the other direction at which point I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do next.   The dreaded moment came, all too soon, we turned… and then… nothing…
The next thing I knew, the drumming had stopped and I was walking to the edge of the dance floor, feeling rather shaky, with mediums patting me on the shoulder, grinning at me, congratulating me on letting the “spirit enter”, on becoming one of them… and then there was B, open mouthed with admiration.  “Wow, Chris, how did you ever learn to dance like that?”  He told me how for ten or fifteen minutes we had danced, with every step, every movement, every gesture perfectly coordinated. 
I could remember nothing after the moment I started to turn…  Possession?  Hypnosis?  After more than 35 years I still can’t account for what happened…  and just a few months ago I visited an old friend, another anthropologist who had also worked with the spirit mediums of Chiang Mai a little later in the 1970s than B.  He had recently found some of his old fieldwork photos and proudly handed me one of the very same medium I had danced with that day.   The face was unforgettable, the eyes as forceful and piercing as I remembered, but what I am unable to explain is that I clearly remembered my mysterious dance partner as a being tall and quite heavily built, whereas the woman in the picture was small and slender, like most other Thai women of her generation…
 Chris Mougne


Ok, so praise be, I have myself a job.
The comfortable shoes are doing their thing, even though every time I look at them I feel like a boy…hey, they are doing the job they were bought for.
I’m working in a shop.
But, let me tell you, working in this shop is like being a grown-up with their own dolls house.
EVERY thing in the place, I want.
It’s listed as lighting, furniture and gifts.
It should be known as Tinkerbell’s secret hideout.
I’m not going to go too much into it, but golly, we got some pretty shit.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks thanking my lucky stars, but also learning plenty of stuff.
Unbelievably, my boss has no computer system, it’s very organic, everything is written down, but it totally works. Bit of a relief actually. I tend to freak out at new stuff. Being left to lock up and do the alarm sent me into a blonde moment, but I bloody well did it. (uh, not complicated)
This is leading up to something, (I realise retail is not compelling reading).
Right, so 2 and a half weeks in … I’m getting my bearings, I’ve been left to open up alone.
It’s quiet, I’m fine-tuning my displays…there’s a woman, teeny weeny one, sniffing her way around. I had a compulsion to hand her a tissue. I didn’t, ok.
We talk about a lampshade, it’s not for her. It’s for her son. She has a flat in South Ken, he lives there., he’s studying.
Well. Oh! What university is he at?
(Me thinking, it must be Imperial, South Ken and all that)
He’s at Hendon.
Really? That’s a long way to go to South Ken.
No… Southgate!
Oh, ok, whoops.
Look, obviously, I must now of course say that this teeny weeny woman was from Cyprus, thus the accent factor factored.  She had set up her son in this flat whilst he did his studies.
I promise you, she spoke to me for an hour and a half, easy. That’s when I realised she’d been crying.
It’s quite hard to go into. I made it known early on that I had a student son also, thinking they’d both be Imperial.
Poor poor love, she obviously loved her child (24 that he might be), but the more she spoke, the less I could like this sad excuse.  According to her, the reason for his problematic attitude was the time he had spent in National Service, which, honestly, (oh god, am I saying this) but, as a mother, 26 months is loooong..
And, as she explained, even the fact that her husband was friends with the President, (ahem, sorry, pardon, what, the President?)  he couldn’t be excused.
After a life of luxury, living alongside his underlings freaked him out.
Plus. Really, upon arriving in London, he was attacked by a black man with a knife.
Who, he managed to overcome, and stab with his own knife.
And get prosecuted for.
It happens,
Hence. As his own mother  told me, he don’t like black people anymore.
Which she was very distressed about.
And lots of other stuff.
Seems quite messed up, like a thing you would only tell a proper friend..
Awful thing was, or, not awful…
She said to me, “and your son, is he angry, violent…?”
God, no!
As she let on during the conversation, her husband is a shipping magnate; they have Presidents as friends, their child wanted for nothing.
She did say to me though
Do you not think that the character is there at birth?
I have to say, yep.
I have plenty of times been given praise for the way the child has turned out.
For those that know us, ha, we know that Mitch has made himself.
Of course the Grannies and Uncool Matt have been always there but Mitch has always been him.
And no fortune could have made him better.
Just like a fortune could not make a mother’s son what she wanted.

London & Oxford photos by Roger Morton

23 October 2009

Mr  Mwezi's photos from Kabul



Curled up on the couch
or tucked up in bed
two spoons
end to end
asleep on the sofa
adrift in the hemisphere
you and your child
sleep without care
defenceless, seamless
in the dark of the night
lit by the moon
as you spoon
each other to sleep.

by Joselyn Morton

BBC Maida Vale Studios

Kiri Te Kanawa who will perform with the BBC Symphony orchestra on 30 October
One of the enjoyable things about running an archive network is that we also seem to be marking anniversaries, most of which are in celebration of performers/writers and their works.
This year BBC Radio is marking a 75th anniversary, not of a person, but of a building which was one of the BBC's earliest premises, and actually pre-dated Broadcasting House.
The building was created as a skating rink in 1909, but was later rebuilt as studios, becoming the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1934.
’ The Maida Vale Roller Skating Palace and Club’ was magically transformed into Maida Vale Studios, a complex of 7 BBC studios, 5 of which are still in use today .
During World War ll, Maida Vale served as the centre of BBC news operations throughout Europe but it was primarily for music, classical, jazz and pop, that the studios became widely known.
Studio 1 remains the largest classical music studio in London with space for over 150 musicians, plus an audience of around 200. Sir Adrian Boult conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra there and concerts broadcast on the Third Programme frequently came from Studio 1, Delaware Road, Maida Vale.
In pop music, the studios were graced by sessions from high profile performers including The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie and for 37 years until his untimely death in 2004, John Peel hosted his legendary Peel Sessions from Maida Vale. And the old crooner himself, Bing Crosby, made his final recording in Maida Vale (it was for Radio 1) prior to his death in 1977.
The ground-breaking Radiophonic workshop originated and was based there for 40 years, where amongst many other experimental musical compositions, the memorable Doctor Who theme was created.
Drama has also and indeed still has, its place at Maida Vale, where prestigious dramatisations ranging from King Lear to Don Quixote, and Fear on Four were recorded. Studio 6 continues as a radio drama studio; the last recording I was lucky enough to attend there was Alan Bennett's Lady in the Van, starring Maggie Smith.
Over the years, thousands of wonderful programmes have been recorded at Maida Vale and in celebration of this, on Friday October 30th, BBC Radio will be devoting an entire day,  Maida Vale At 75 when special programmes will be broadcast across all of our networks.
Many of the programmes planned will be broadcast live, but here on Radio 7, we will be bringing you some of the archive treasures from Maida Vale, plus interviews and our 3 hour special programme on the history of the Radiophonic Workshop.
In addition to a host of music programmes to be broadcast as part of the 75th celebrations, drama lovers might like to know that on 30th October Radio 2 will be broadcasting a live production of Brief Encounter, with Jenny Seagrove in the role made famous by Celia Johnson in the 1945 film adaptation.
I think I might even be switching my allegiance over to Radio 2 for what promises to be a very special broadcast. Allso on Friday 30 October from Radio 2, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra;
You can find out more details about the Radio 2 Maida Vale offerings on their website: www.bbc.co.uk/radio2
So there's a lot happening at the end of the month for all lovers of radio. More details will be available nearer the time.
Mary Kalemkerian BBC Head of Programmes Radio 7
BBC Radio 7 

Coogee Beach Jones by Al Muhit

Resume:Wal buckles, Beccy takes valium, charms the airline clerk and they are successfully checked through security when the flight is cancelled due to bad weather. Wal books them into an expensive hotel while they wait for the next flight.
Soon they were in a suite at the Alpine Inn explaining to Rebecca that the armed guards were to protect all the people in the hotel, not just to keep her there. She seemed to accept it and went to have a bath. Wal was on the phone like a shot.
He called Rebecca's mother and updated her. She told him Tessa, the aunt, was in the air. He called the hotel in Delhi, that he had booked from Manali, changing his booking and leaving a message for Tessa.
Next he called the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi. At 8 on a Saturday night he was put straight through to Priscilla Clark, who listened quietly to his story. He told her that he didn't think he could handle another day like this, and asked what should he do if the police became involved. She said it sounded like he was doing very well and how nice it was to meet a parent who cared. She went on to say the she would go and see Tessa in the morning and meet him off the 11 am flight. Her advice for dealing with the police was to ask for the most senior officer and only deal with him. Wal had been operating on an instinct that if he stayed in the most expensive hotels and talked only to the top people he would be ok.
When Rebecca returned from the bath she seemed to be almost normal, except that she still believed that because of the power of the mountains, the people from Verisht would come after her, and that she had to die. Wal strengthened by her confiding in him, took this paranoia in his stride. They ate in the room and after dinner he and Rebecca went for a walk.
The hotel was a modern mountain resort and happy Indian families were dining by lamplight next to a beautiful river which raged through the bottom of the gorge.
They sat on a swing and talked, Wal finding it strange to reconcile this peaceful moment with fighting and screaming in the taxis. Rebecca talked about her trip so far in India.
Rebecca had been holding a crystal for most of the time since Wal met her. In Manali she had said it represented the power the Verisht people held over her. She had shown Wal how it had cut her, even when she just touched her leg with it. When Wal tried to show her that it had a jagged edge and that it would cut anyone's leg she had pulled back from him. Now she threw it into the river as a gesture to Wal, and herself, that she was breaking way from the evil power of Verisht.
That night they slept peacefully. The Good Samaritan once again cleverly guarding the exit with his bed on the floor. Next morning Wal took a photo of the Good Samaritan dressing a smiling Rebecca's wrist wounds.
At the desk checking out, Wal fell into discussion with a couple of the men from the cancelled flight. He told them what he was dealing with, which turned out to be a good thing because when they got to the airport again Rebecca began to get paranoid about everybody. The game was reassurance, without crowding her.
Wal gradually informed more passengers of his situation and when a traveller Rebecca recognised, from Verisht, turned up, the other passengers distracted her from coming near Rebecca.
As the plane climbed out of the narrow gorge Rebecca said " It is going the wrong way. It is going North! "
" Planes take off into the wind " Wal said "it will turn around." Wal hoped it was indeed going to turn, and not go to some other strip before heading south. It turned.
to be continued ...