Archive for April, 2004

Winning Iraqis’ Hearts and Minds

The American military is seen here winning hearts and minds by sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners and torturing one by telling him he’ll be electrocuted if he falls of a rations box. Canadian TV showed a programme alleging a pre-mediated massacre of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan (55MB QuickTime video here).Can I hear you saying "My Lai", good people? What splendid tactics to show the middle East that we respect human rights while we "liberate" Iraq. "Dad … What’s A Terrorist?"

humiliation1naked Iraqis forced to lie on top of each other while US soldier poses and grinsgrinning American soldier points at hooded Iraqi's genitals

Wines and Whines

The Wine

On an uncharacteristically balmy April evening, my misanthropic pal Bill
(an indexer by trade, possibly the only one to have been praised in a
review of a book he indexed) and his charming and hitanthropic wife Rebecca came round for dinner. Not only did they come round for dinner, but they also cooked and brought round said food, and several bottles of delightful wine that was wasted on an oik like me. Bill is a wine buff and feels I need educating; I only ever buy wine of a value more than £5 if it’s reduced in Safeways to £3 because I find the tradeoff between quality and quantity an easy one to make. So, we had:

  • Champagne: 1989 Veuve Clicquot brut
  • Dry white: 1997 Riesling Grand Cru Florimont, Bruno Sorg (Alsace)
  • Introductory claret (Bordeaux): 1998 Ch Fourcas-Dumont, cru bourgeois,
    Listrac
  • Then: 1989 and 1990 Ch Léoville-Barton, 2e cru classé, St-Julien
  • Sweet wine: 1989 Ch Doisy-Daëne, 2e cru classé, Barsac

To my surprise, my favourite was the sweet wine – maybe because it was alfresco dining on a warm night. Most excellent vintages, most excellent friends, most unwelcome hangover.

The Whine

As you’ll know if you’ve ever received a page not found error message on this site (and that’s not very likely, in a meticulously organised operation like this, is it? ahem), I dislike life insurance companies. But today I’m going public with my anger at the buggers. My Multiple Sclerosis was diagnosed in 1999, but probably began in 1995 when I was 29 years old. It is episodic, the main symptom was optic neuritis, and I have no lesions in the brain, only two at the top of the spine. Medical opinion is therefore that, not only am I very unlikely to die from MS, but I’m actually going to be pretty well off considering other people with more vicious forms of the disease: "about 10% of MS patients will suffer … from no more than moderate disablement with few repercussions on their social and professional life. These are patients in who MS began when they were 20 to 30 years’ old and evolved by Episodes rather than Progressively and whose main symptoms are Optic Neuritis and Sensory Disorders without Pyramidal or Cerebellar Deficit. " (also: "most people with MS have a normal life expectancy" – National
Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
, "people have a normal life expectancy" – University
of Nebraska Medical Center
.)

So why the fuck do life insurance companies load my remiums?!?!?!?!
The latest life insurance company to do so is Scottish Widows, who have told me that their underwriters are likely to add 50% to 75% onto my premiums. Now, I’m not so stupid as to want to be insured against disability through MS – all I want is that, should I die in the next 22 years, my mortgage is paid off and Nongyaw and the kids have a small income. Statistically, I’m no more likely to die before I’m 59 than any other smoker. In addition, they demand Nongyaw be tested for HIV and Hepatitis, due to the fact that she’s Thai so must have been a prostitute, and also they need evidence that we are who we say we are due to anti-money laundering legislation.

WHAT? Can you imagine some Al-Quaida operative attempting to launder money by taking out life insurance with Scottish Widows? If they load my premium because of benign MS, what are they going to do to his when they see "occupation: suicide bomber" on the application form?

January 1st 1994

That was my deadline to become a famous musician.As you’ll probably have realised, it didn’t happen so I went to do something more productive (like bum around the world reading tarot cards and playing guitar). The remnants of my dreams of fame, riches and jacuzzis full of nubile groupies were dusty cassettes that I digitised and posted here. So I was delighted to find this mail in my inbox this morning:

I am not usually the person to send unrequested mail to strangers. Anyways, i stumbled upon your blog whilst browsing for the Stiff Lil Fingers and the IRA, and i just wanted to express…uh…say that that one song of yours is very niceee and that i had it playing up and down in my media player, y’know the one with the piano and that certain tin pan alley feel (song, that is, not media player). So, and that is my point, even if you and your band will, as i figure, never ever ever even get…uh, well you know what i mean. It was worthwhile for that song, very nice, very good.

OK, so it’s not fame .. but it’s lovely that someone I don’t know took the trouble to write! Bill Wilson, who taught me to busk, once said that everyone had a number one record in them, and I always thought that Killing Time was mine because it’s not miserable, and it took about 15 minutes to write, whereas most of my songs took years to gestate. Wish I’d mixed the damn solo better. So, if you’re reading, Britney …

Colourful Kids’ Bangkok

Bangkok is a mass of homogenous concrete, having been built largely in the last 30 years and subject to two property speculation bubbles when buildings were thrown up as fast as the architects could scribble. It’s metaphorically a very colourful city, but physically drab and grey. When you travel by bus as a newbie, it’s terribly difficult to orient yourself, as all but the old Rattanakosin area looks exactly the same.

But the Bangkok that our students at Amnuay Silpa School made from cardboard and Plasticine is much more vibrant:

model of Bangkok made of junk by schoolkidsmodel of Bangkok, different angle

Note the BTS skytrain in rakish purple running above the road, and the daringly pink Baiyoke
Tower
with its tinfoil satellite dish. Wish it had really been like that ….

Happy 3rd Birthday James

Yesterday was the third birthday of our son James, whose stubborn refusal to appear for 20 hours on March 31st 2001 makes him an April Fool. When Nongyow was pregnant, we’d been warned that he might have some genetic problems, and when he finally decided to make his entrance to the world, he was blessed with my rakish good looks and an interesting blood disorder called G6PD
(or favism) that makes him unable to metabolise aspirin, quinine (so no gin and tonic) or anti-malarial drugs, but gives him resistance to Malaria. More problematically, he was born with bilateral equine talipes – or, in less-PC language, two club feet, and looked very much like the kids on the preceding link.

james newbornJames 1 year oldJames in plaster, and girl's top in order to induce psychological problems and a confused sexuality

Anyhow, fortunately, a brilliant physiotherapist named Alison Keeling-Smith was up on the first day to look at him, and soon had him fitted with footplates and a Heath-Robinson style system of bandages and strapping designed to encourage his feet to grow properly. Twice a week I took him to Alison for physio, having the straps changed, footplates remade – and on one occasion he had his right foot in a plaster which slid off 2 hours after we got him home when he attempted to kick a football.

james runningAfter 18 months, Alison had got his left foot perfect, and his right foot almost there, but not quite, so they decided to operate. Bear in mind that a couple
of decades earlier, my mate Millsy had had his ankles broken twice by the same age to deal with his talipes. Although it was a risk-free 10 minute op, there’s few things as harrowing as holding your child down while he’s injected with a general anesthetic. The rapidity with which they fall silent and immobile is terrifying. But the op was a success – though he was somewhat pissed off at having to crawl round the house rather than walk, and now he’s fine, just requiring special boots until it’s time to start school. Here he is, running at his playgroup.

So, as I raise a glass of gin and tonic (which will remain forever untested by James) to the genius of Alison and to say, Happy Birthday son.