Neil Coppen

writings/ plays/ poetry/musings/travel journals and newspaper columns

WITHNEIL & I

September30

I’m sitting in the stuffy heated room of a cottage somewhere in Joburgh, Fourways. The corporation has drained most, they wonder around supermarkets with cigarette pinched lips. Backs bent from office chairs.Drunk on a bottle of red. My thatched cottage is sparse, one or two grubby couches, a TV that doesn’t work all that well. Stubbing cigarettes in empty wine glasses and eating dinner out of cans (cause the fridge is fucked). If only I were a better writer then at least I would have a cause to endure. If not for my art –then what? but I have no art, am artless. Expend energy cursing a premature winter, contemplating smearing myself in deep heat to fully inhabit this Withnail existence. Each morning I pass the stables, the property I’m staying on is a farm, a farm in suburbia, funny that, funny how electric fences fend off the city, keep ones pseudo paradises intact (so to hear the lovely coo coo of the high veld doves) At night the braying of horses mingles with police sirens, in the morning, coffee with horse piss. The property people eye it like hawks, I see them arriving every second day, knocking with a higher bid, waving blue prints for more Tuscan villas, one every three meters. White squatter camps- Charm less, ubiquitous. All cities possess a sadness a dirtiness. But without an ocean nothing cleanses .Footprints remain pressed on the back of this ugly insatiable beast.

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THE INDOMITABLE ‘MR MACKEE’

September30

Neil Coppen flies into London to attend a screenwriting Seminar by one the world’s most revered and feared mentor’s -Robert MacKee.

In a lecture hall in down town London, I take my seat in room full of fidgeting writers. Together we wait for ‘the man’ to step forth and expound his infinite wisdoms. At 9 am, the man, in question, takes his place centre stage. He sips nonchalantly from a steaming cuppa coffee, his trademark caterpillar eye brows scowling into the stage lights. Standing before us, looking suitably unimpressed is the godfather of screenwriting. A formidable and imposing legend, who, in his sardonic New York drawl, kicks off his three day Seminar by proclaiming ‘Writing a screenplay is not brain surgery or rocket science, its harder! Writing is the hardest and loneliest profession you will ever know.’

The man, Robert MacKee, seems to know what he’s talking about. To date MacKee’s former students have won 17 Oscars, 20 golden globes, 11 writers guild of America Awards and 91 Emmies. With sell out tours across the globe: Hollywood, New York, London and Rome and a bestselling screenwriting bible ‘Story’ under his belt. Robert MacKee is the guru most turn to in their time of creative need.

It’s a well known fact that when MacKee talks, Hollywood listens. Just glance across his book sleeve, peppered with luminous quotes from past students: Akiva Goldsmith (A beautiful mind), Peter Jackson, John Cleese and Jane Campion to name but a few (In fact it is said that the only notable person in Hollywood to have not yet attended the seminar is a certain Mr Spielberg)

MacKee however remains aware that ninety percent of his audience are not necessarily writers by profession, nor will they ever be. Rather dabblers, aspirants, avid cinema goers like myself, mobilized into writing by their frequent and mostly unfulfilling outings to the cinema. People who believe themselves to be in the rare possession of an idea that might transform the face of film making. How difficult could it be? Everyone has a story worth telling. Right? Wrong!

Cut to: a few years later. Close up: on desk of overflowing ashtrays, empty bottles. The disheveled writer slumped over a hundred unsalvageable drafts, each as unsuccessful and incoherent as the last. The indifferent blink of a lap top cursor failing to collaborate, let alone assist in unearthing the writer’s alleged genius.

At this point many might do as Nicholas Cage’s struggling writer character did in Charlie Kaufman’s film ‘Adaptation’- cough up the hefty sum (360 pounds in this case), to attend a screenwriting boot camp by the revered- Mr MacKee.
In Kaufman’s film, MacKee was portrayed by a suitably gruff and tyrannical Bryan Cox but after attending the three day seminar it would be fair to say the man is more deserving of a one man epic then a mere cameo. A masterful and compelling story teller in his own right, MacKee not only offers valuable insight into the elusive art of screenwriting but somehow manages to include an enlightening and comprehensive post mortem on pretty much everything that’s wrong with humanity and the world today.

So engrossing are his methods, so imposing his stature and delivery, that it’s no wonder the man has gone on to become the most celebrated and feared Screenwriting lecturer working in the world today . From his opening spiel, where he lays down the MacKee law, its clear how things are going to proceed: ‘There will be three fifteen minute breaks and a one hour lunch break over the course of each daily session. During the course of each day I ask that you don’t correct me, don’t correct my pronunciation and don’t interrupt me. If a cell phone goes off or a lap top pings it’s a ten dollar fine. If you happen to have a problem with my profanity, then there’s the fucking door.’

The room hangs on his every world. We sit scribbling in note pads , nodding like an obsequious bunch of school kids in the presence of their most feared Principal. Over the next three days, from 9 am to 8:30pm there will much scribbling and nodding, perched on the edge of our seats as the bullish Guru paces the stage, only ever pausing to refuel his bottomless mug. As with an immaculately structured screenplay, MacKee uses every minute of his Seminar to enthrall, provoke, impress and depress the audience of sometime and would be writers. Never once stooping to nurture the room’s collective insecurities, the writer’s famed and fragile ego. ‘I will not Patronize you,’ he reiterates ‘I can’t turn you into a writer, and while I may be a script doctor I can’t resurrect the dead’.

He’s brutally frank in pointing out, that out of the two hundred or so writers attending the seminar, it’s unlikely any will ever see their scripts enter the green lit phase. ‘Everyone thinks they can write,’ he cautions “that they have a story worth telling, that’s why there’s no smog in L.A, only the stench of rotting screenplays.’

The first day of the course proceeds with little interruption until an audience member, seduced by her teacher’s conversational charm, attempts to hijack one of his punch lines. This proves to be a fatal error. A silence ensues as he eye balls the culprit, a single accusatory brow arched. ‘Listen lady’ MacKee barks ‘This is my show, best leave the schtick to me’ He lets the silence linger, fixes his gaze on her for what feels like minutes. The audience fidgets nervously while the offender shrinks into the upholstery.

MacKee is no stranger to conflict in fact he embraces it as one of the Screen Writer’s most valuable tools. “If all human beings got everything out of life,’ he explains ‘then we would be no more interesting then a shrub. It’s the negative forces that allow people to prosper. ‘Conflict’ is to story what sound is to music. The conflict quantity in life is constant, it’s the quality that changes. The only way to live…. is in perpetual conflict.’

Wielding a barbarous and unpredictable wit, Mackee is able to transform his audiences’ giggles just as easily to horrified gasps. ‘You British I love you.’ he says in a rare moment of endearment ‘You fucked up this planet but I love you. You ripped the skins off every black, yellow and brown race that walked the face of this earth, but I love you…. you do great parades.”

It is with this type of irreverence, that he veers off on seemingly unrelated tangents. Debating the lack of meaning in modern life, satirizing everything from the Bush administration to the British empire. This is how a conversation on arch plot, mini plot and anti plot evolves into a pro abortion rant, and an analysis on story substance, structure and style merges into a bleakly funny investigation on deviant sexuality. ‘Ya know’ he smirks ’seventy percent of people who work in morgues in the USA have some sort of affiliation with necrophilia. It’s enough to make you not want to die. It’s enough to make you want to cremate your arse before any one decides to use it.’

It’s this ‘dark side’,MacKee deems crucial to the art of writing and something he elaborates further in his book. ‘A good writer has to have a love of humanity, a willingness to empathize with suffering souls, to crawl inside their skins, see the world through their eyes. Writers need to deal with their own inner lunatic.’ he says, in-between recalling a failed suicide attempt, his various brushes with insanity. ‘It’s a miracle I never hurt anybody, I was certifiable.’

Understandably MacKee is less than enthused by the current state of story telling, labeling it ‘a worldwide cross-media crises.’ Much of his seminar is devoted to raging against the film making sausage factory. Hollywood, while certainly a culprit is not solely to blame. “In France the smaller their audience is,’ he huffs ‘the better the film …If the film is empty and even the projectionist has walked out, then it’s declared a masterpiece.’

He goes on to dismiss the Indie movement as a “A load of Sundance wank’ and rolls his eyes at the current spate of story telling ‘gimmicks’ and ‘mind fuck’ endings creeping into the craft -M .Night Shyamalan of ‘The Sixth Sense’ fame would you please stand up.

When requiring film fodder to illustrate his theory on story been sacrificed at the expense of spectacle, MacKee turns his scalpel to ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Titanic’ ,dismissing them both as suck awful films. ‘If I had to watch another bi plane fly over a dessert in ‘The English Patient’, I would have set myself on fire’. As for Titanic, ‘Titanic,’ he groans ‘they should have just hung signs round the actors’ necks’ , saying ‘poor rich girl’, ‘abusive fiancé’, ‘oppressive mother’.”

As if attacking two of the world’s most beloved modern classics wasn’t enough, he proceeds to take liberal swipes at the two bastions of American cinema. Here Martin Scorsese is referred to as a sloppy and self indulgent story teller while Orson Welles masterpiece ‘Citizen Cane’ is shrugged off as an over produced, over bloated, hollow at the heart, empty exercise in film making. Refreshingly, there are no sacred cows in MacKee land. Popular opinion, or more often then not mediocrity, is clearly a tide worth scrutinizing. This is not to say he expects his audience to agree with his every contention, but so impassioned are his rants, that it’s impossible not to find certain irrevocable truths worth applauding.

‘With writing comes responsibility.’ he reiterates ‘Writers express meaning in an emotional way .It’s why Plato threw out the poets from Athens. Political powers are not troubled by ideas, it’s emotions that are dangerous. The one responsibility of the writer is to tell the truth, at the end he must be able to look down and ask: do I believe that? In a world populated with lies, we don’t need further writers adding to them.’

The final day of the Seminar concludes with an in depth analysis of the classic ‘Casablanca’. A story MacKee believes to be about faith in human beings. Structurally, he deems it to be one of the finest examples of cinematic story telling. ‘There are few films that have the ability to transcend time. Why is it then that nearly seventy years down the line, ‘Casablanca’ still rings true?’

It would be tough to find a writer that leaves the Story Seminar’s without a restored faith and reinvigorated pen. McKee’s overriding sentiment: ‘That good story telling is worth agonizing over, that story can make difference, resonate in the hearts and souls of human beings’ is a deeply affecting one. Thankfully the cinema canon is not entirely devoid of such examples. “Good writing makes an audience sympathize with someone as diabolical and Hannibal Lector in ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ beams MacKee ‘or Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘As Good As It Gets’, I mean how does a man throw a cute little dog down a chute and still manage to retain our sympathy, now that’s good writing!’

For more information of the Seminars visit www.mckeestory.com

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LOBZANG AND THE MOUNTAIN PIRATES

September30

to Alex on his 6th Birthday

 

His name was Lobzang

(and although very young)

was about to see a very BIG adventure through.

How BIG you ask?

well if measured in little persons terms

I’d have to say

A whole lot bigger then his little self

could ever grow too!

Now as Lobzang’s story just goes to show

That’s’ it not about how little you are in the universe

but about what you do

and what you know

and how, the goodness ,that resides deep inside

can change the world

no matter how BIG

no matter how wide

Lobzang lived in a snow capped Himalayan land

where golden barley danced in fields

and wooly beasts lugged

plough’s through stubborn sand

His father- a humble farmer

Sang songs of praise

To his hardworking yaks

And bore the monthly harvest

On the crooked ol crutch

Of his crooked ol back

But how then is this story about Mountain Pirates?

Surely this cannot be?

For Pirates from popular tales

Do not roam the land

Instead set sail upon the sea!

 

But these Pirate Men were different folk

Descending from the far northern reaches of the East

Cruel men with cruel hearts

The temperament of wounded beasts

Who once upon a distant time

Drank deep from Kali’s black spring of eternal life

Enabling them to live forever

While plunging the world

into eternal hardship and strife

Who -for many hundreds of years

Robbed and looted the seven high seas

Filled deep their bottomless pockets

with Saphire, Diamonds and Rubees

And when the Colonial Ports and Empires had begun to wear thin

Still the pirates persisted-refusing to give in!

‘Just because we’ve robbed all there is to rob

(stated the Emperor Pirate to his crew)

Doesn’t mean us pirates are done then with the job!

The Emperor leaned forward

To let his men in, he spread his wide (wind worn) lips

And flashed a gold toothed grin

‘I know of a new treasure -beyond our wildest dreams’

….where oh great Emperor?-begged the crew

 

‘At the source ,my good men , of the Himalayan streams

For there lies in that forsaken mountain land

A treasure so sacred

A treasure so grand

A statue of the Golden Buddha

More priceless then any precious stone

More sought after -Then the Queens’ jewel infested crown

The Rajas Peacock throne!

 

And the Pirates jaws hung low

Soo low that they scraped the very earth

and deep in their bellies the hunger did grow

To plunder this mountain land of all its worth!

 

However their limited brains could not quite understand

How Pirates of the sea could as easily turn too pirates of the land?

 

‘What oh Emperor..

Is a pirate without his parrot?

A pirate without his ship?

This Mountain Pirate Profile

Is one we simply do not fit!’

 

So the Emperor lugged his men to the Himalayan Mountains

And clicked his jeweled fingers

To which swarming like a cloud of flies

Appeared a flock of black crows

Swooping and tumbling

Through the sliver clouded skies

Then perched a black crow

On the shoulder of that enquiring Pirate

Who bit his foolish tongue

and grew very suddenly sheepish and quiet

 

The Emperor spoke again…………..

‘The people that inhabit this land

Are Holy men, thankfully for us, they’re not very bright!

We can expect little resistance in our robbing of their Buddha

For these fools know not how to fight!

 

‘Er…And a ship? …oh wise Emperor’

A brave Pirate protested again from the back

‘Where do we intend to store our treasures sir?

‘What then will be our pirate’s mode of attack?

 

Good question, beamed the Emperor

‘On these rivers a boat of wood will not suffice

So from this glacier -I command ye men to carve me galleon of ice!

 

Again the nervous pirate probed………

‘Now Oh Wise Emperor Captain-

A Galleon of ice, would indeed be a truly Remarkable feat!

but how will it be made to stand the relentless midday heat?

 

And with that the Emperor uncorked a potion

…from what looked like a bottle of Kashmiri Rum

Out swept an ominous black cloud

that collected itself into the shape of a dragon

and swiftly swallowed the sun

and from that cloud Dragons nostrils

Swept a bitter cold freeze

Causing the barley to droop in the meadows

and warm Autumn colours to shiver and wilt from all the trees

 

and from then on

The Pirates worked with picks

For many long miserable days from the imposing blue Glacier

they chip… chip… chipped away

 

From out the valley,

not a single sound could be heard

no not a defiant chirping cricket

or sweetly singing bird

Instead a deep and loathsome moan

as the great ‘Ice Galleon’ lurched

from out its cave

across the hills of snow and stone

 

And the Pirates sung

And chugged on rum

‘ Oh the cruel deeds left to do’

‘Oh the cruel deeds not yet done’

Then blowing horns -

To sound their attack

They swept through the villages

Riding on the backs of fiery eyed yaks

with sharpened horns

and eyes that flickered flame’s of crimson red

‘Hand over ye gold idols-they bellowed or all be left for dead’

Left for our crows to peck out yer eyes

Then throw yer skinny corpses to fuel our raging fires’

 

‘You boy!!’

And they pointed to Lobzang

Who stuttered on his words

And tripped upon his tongue

 

‘Where then be this Buddha of old

This Buddha of gold

It resides in a near by monastery?

So we pirates, have been told

 

And Lobzung had little choice

But to find his frightened voice

And much to the entire villages dismay

He pointed a trembling finger

and showed the pirates the way

 

And the pirates

In a furious frenzy swept through that monastery

Cutlasses glinting in ceremonial candle light

The Holy Lamas fell back

Alarmed at the terrible sight

 

‘ahhhhhh, this here token will suit us just fine!’

and with that

the pirates snatched the golden Buddah

from out it’s perfumed shrine

 

And once they had bundled it onto the Galleon

The pirates seemed to vanish into thin air

leaving the Lamas and the village folk

Doubled over in defeat

Crumpled in despair

 

and

standing on a hilltop

silent and alone

stood the elderly lama

face- weathered with worry

solemn as the mountain stone

 

“Let us make sword’s , like they have’ said Lobzang

Fight them for our Buddha, tooth and nail

Ill fight them old lama, I will

I’ll fight them without fail!’

 

And the Lama looked at the determined boy

and gently shook his head

War is a monster my child

It’s belly never satisfied

It’s hunger never fed

 

Then he turned wincing into the setting sun

We must practice patience, persistence child

To ensure the safe return of our holiest one

 

For you must remember Lobzang

That there is still a lot left for you to learn

That what is given is taken

Then given in return

For just as the winter

Returns each and every year

So too must the summer

to melt that frozen tear

Meditation

Will bind us together

Just as individual threads entwine to create a rope

We may have lost our ‘Holy one’ my child

but not yet our precious hope.

 

You have been chosen to carry this message

For it is our communal prayer

Deliver it to each and every monastery in these hills

Carry it now

With haste and care

We will all join together on the night of the swollen moon

Hurry little lobzung for that time approaches soon!

 

 

Armed with bread crusts and a flask

And on the back of his wonky donkey

Lobzang set about his task

And when his mission

was over and done

So rose that swollen moon

and withered the fiery sun

 

All at one the villages and surrounding monasteries

Chanted a united OHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

Tinkered on Tin bells

and banged their triumphant drum

 

And deep in each of their hearts

They did truly hope and yearn

For peace again in their mountain land

For their ‘Buddha’s’ safe return

 

Hidden deep beneath the frosty decks

Of the Galleon

The captive Buddha

began to radiate and glow

So warm and bright

That the beams cut through all the ice

and melted all the snow.

 

Now the pirates were so startled

By this radiant, beautiful light

that they puzzled for hours

over… how it possible.. for day

to so interfere with night?

And while lost in this curious muddle

They did not notice

Their mighty Ice Galleon

…..melt and drip

to form a mighty puddle!

 

The Pirate Emperor cried

-abandon ship

-flee! -men -flee!

But the sudden gush of Icy water

Caught them by surprise

And swept them all to sea

 

The next morning- in the village

How brightly that new sun shone

For when Lobzam woke

He must have thought it to be all a dream!

for the Pirates and their ship were gone

and the river shimmered with infinite riches

Including the holy Buddha

(who sat smug and smiling)

On the bed of that golden stream.

Petulant Petals on a Mourning Mountain

September30

There was an uprising on the mountain side yesterday, just over the decrepit old fence with its rusted barbs and rotten wood poles, on the slope beneath the black shadow of the cloud.The field of fierce yellow flowers curled into my palms with the seduction of a kitten. They coyly brushed their petals against my cheek and coaxed me into lying amongst their long green stems.

Then with all the petulance its petals could muster one stared me deep in the eyes and spat at me, at my kind. I took it by the throat, between my two fingers and threatened to snap it at the veiny top of its stem. It wept drops of dewy sap before I let it free, and it shook hard the remains of my fingerprints.

We are fighting she whispered, her yellow companions nodded emphatically in the wind. The war against mankind, against your kind. We have mustered up our defenses of barbed acacia and prickly pear, we have spoken to the rivers and babbled with the brooks. We have conversed with the messengers of the skies and signaled to the insects to prepare their defenses. Such a pretty flower had seen one to many a companion, picked and fondled, plucked and fingered, stroked and straightened to brighten up the vase of dull living room.

I pulled the burnt scabs of old bark off dead tree stumps, the limbless trunks, the mutilated black licked wood , gray and soulless. Waiting to burn in the stone cottage fire place.I felt the dying warmth of daylight on the rocks blunt ugly faces, I kissed their gnarled lips and wondered why my head was not as a peculiar shape as theirs.I exchanged my pain on that mountain beneath the black cloud shadow, I listened and they listened, crouched in their density, peering over my ridiculous web of stupidity

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ACCORDIAN MAN

September30

I noticed him huddled amongst the harbor masters and hussies in a down town bar. I don’t recall seeing a sadder more dejected looking fellow. What with that crumpled hat pulled over ears, a newspaper Rollie dangling despondently from lips. Sitting there conversing with an empty bar stool in-between sipping on a triple. Ubiquitous to down town Durban, most would dismiss him as run of the mill street loony. Brain decayed by cheap spirits, the type you encountered either cursing reflections in shop windows or raving against the tides of on coming traffic.

 

But this man was different, different for the Accordion that hung from his neck. I was fortunate enough to discover their music, when in a fit of divine and drunken inspiration he launched into an impromptu session of Accordion blues. It was a set he had lovingly dedicated to that same vacant bar stool. A set that left his brow sopping, finger tips bleeding and us -the unsuspecting bar stragglers- inconsolable with our gin soaked weeping.

 

To say his music had an effect on whom ever heard it, would be to underestimate his gift all together. To listen to him play was to have ones sadness, ones silt simultaneously dredged to the surface. An experience that lead me to consider, that this man, most commonly dismissed as mere deranged mortal, might in fact be the closest thing our city had to covert angel.

 

I never forgot that night, the man, his music. A few weeks later, upon leaving a wharf side restaurant, I heard his Accordion again, this time like a stowaway rat in search of a piper followed its strains to find him crouched amongst the Veggies pier fishermen. They invited me to stay a while, to sip from their communal bottle, which I did, taking a few generous sips before attempting to strike up a conversation with the man. There are many things I hoped to discover. Such as: what had bought this poet, this sentimental loon to haunt the cities streets and shore lines with his music? Was it Booze, bankruptcy or heart break? And who was it that sat beside him on that bar stool Synonymously laconic in his responses (god knows how many journalists had tried and failed to extract the myth from downtrodden maestro), he sat for a while eyeing me skeptically through the cloud of cigarette smoke that spouted from his lips. Then finally he rose to his feet and threw open his arms, exclaiming: For her, for her’. The fishermen laughed as I strained my eyes in all directions, eventually allowing them to settle on object of his immeasurable affection- the twinkling Cityscape, toes skirting the water’s edge, clad in her skimpy nightgown of salt and humidity.

 

Then he picked up his accordion and began to play a slow bluesy tune, shuffling on the spot while he spoke. He told me how during the day he’d let her relish in her reputation as the city where the fun never sets, but come night he’d devote himself to loving her shadows, nursing her bruises- the faithful guardian who, wouldn’t, couldn’t forget. Once her suitors had satisfied their lusts, retired to their hotel beds, it was up to him to repair her broken heel, pull out a bar stool and buy her a drink. Then sing to her, sing her and her children to sleep.

‘Children?’ I had enquired.

‘Too many to name …without a name’ he had sighed impatiently . ‘The ones that haunt the East coast avenues, feed from restaurant bins, pawning their paradises from traffic islands. The one’s who follow her,-begging, tugging at her breasts and tearing at her hair.’

 

‘That quite a relationship you’ve gotten yourself into.’ I smiled, but he failed to find anything humorous about his commitment/ predicament. To laugh at him was to deny her existence, the veracity of their love-an unforgivable insult. Best accept his flights of unhinged whimsy as fact, relinquish all reason and succumb to a world, where it were perfectly possible (and not in the least bit unusual) for whole cities to seduce men. Even the fishermen seemed to accept his fantastical delusions with an unwavering conviction. They spoke of her ability to withhold the annual sardine run and therefore encouraged him to appease her with his music. Whether they truly believed this or not I couldn’t quite discern, but I got the impression that they were careful to renounce superstition in instances where their livelihoods might depend on it.

 

It was a love, the Accordion man went on to assure me that she reciprocated. Once she had discovered that he spent his days’ combing the Golden Mile beaches with a metal detector, she had conspired to assist him. She did this by concealing the wedding rings of careless weekenders in her sandy pockets. Rings disengaged from life long commitments to fingers, shallow enough for his metal detector to detect. Only once he had collected enough of these tokens, would he trade them in at Point Road cash converter. Such was his disenchantment toward love, at least the type that insisted on the insecure affirmation of golden bands, that he felt no guilt for the weeping brides clawing up the beaches in bids to retrieve them. This was how he claimed to provide for them both, foot the nightly bar bill, and perhaps more importantly save up to purchase the Instrument, I now watched heaving and wheezing between his bony fingers.

 

That night I stayed on after the Accordion Man had embarked on his nightly vigil, entreating the fishermen to fill me in on what sketchy details they knew of him. They spoke of how he had relinquished a life in the suburbs, a burgeoning blues career on the world’s stages, to be with her. How over the passing months, they had watched him drink his spirit dry, satchel her sadness, shoulder each and every one of her hungry orphans.

 

‘I worry about him,’ said one of the fishermen, piercing a hook through the mouth of a wriggling shad, before casting it back into the water.

‘She’s a jealous Stekkie, that Missus Thekweni. Each night we watch him sinking deeper and deeper.’

‘In love?’ I had asked but they had shook their heads in mutual disagreement

‘Sadness my bra, sadness.’

 

The Accordion Man however seemed stoic to his burden. Over the years, he could be heard (seldom seen, for he favoured the shadows) weaving his melancholic tunes through derelict shelters, rusted South Beach playgrounds, Point Road alley’s shrouded in lugubrious neon. His music offering glimpses of respite to the anguished souls sleeping in funeral home doorways, crutched on Addington Hospital benches or peeping from beneath cardboard shelters.

 

Inevitably, he’d end his evenings’ efforts’ back where he had started- the harbor’s edge. It was here, that he told me, that his love would reward him by mobilizing herself into a languid, mesmeric dance. Her machinery waltzing, yacht sails rippling, floating cities defiant of tug boat dictatorships breaking free to greet him. When he spoke of such occasions, his lips would spread with the first discernable traces of a smile, his down cast eyes flickering with wild childlike intensity.

 

It was silence that marked his disappearance, silence that swiftly set about reclaiming his nightly routes and haunts. An unsettling quiet that led me to scour the alleys, the piers, the dingy point road bars’, but to no avail. The following day’s newspaper headlines mourned the absence of the annual sardine run while on the sixth page of that same paper, I came across a small paragraph claiming that a harbor master had witnessed a lone figure, wading out into the rising tide in the early hours of Monday morning. A body that was later recovered and identified for the Accordion that clung to its neck.

 

I wept to think that this terse, unimaginative paragraph of news print was to provide the epilogue to my friends richly imagined and tragically lived fable. Suicide they suspected and we must forgive them for thinking so. I cannot help but see it differently, believing it was ‘sacrifice’ that led him weary and lovesick to the edge of that moonlit expanse. That it was she who had summoned him. Summoned him in salt whispers to seek out her arms from the loneliness of his shore. Beckoned him by hiking the tide of her skirt high above her knees, revealing both wasteland and wonderland-inky puddles that inverted her horizon into portholes to alternate universes. And him ,no doubt enthralled by her beauty while underestimating the portability of her pain (a pain manageable beneath concrete and stone but out here on this tentative marshy surface- less so) had set out to meet her.

 

With each irrevocable step, each sad note, he had sunk deeper and deeper into her arms. The silt rising to silence his Accordion lung, fasten tight that selfless singing tongue. Leaving the crumpled hat of a saint with no name- the final keepsake for her tides to claim.

Buddhist Philosophy 101

September30

My discovery lies in a sort of indifference to the world -at least my previous notions of it

Nothing really matters
Nothing matters at all
The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before

My heart is breaking.So? The world it seems is paved with broken hearts-paths we tread daily upon with little regard for the crunching sound beneath the souls of our shoes. I suffer-but know nothing of suffering and knowing nothing frees me the very idea of it. Suffering -pain -joy -happiness are ultimately the same thing-deceptions-further little illusions in the greater one- life

I’m in love! I’m mad ! limbless ! poor ! rich! miserable! ecstatic!

Wading now in the collective morning spit of taxi drivers
black lungs, cigarette stumps
collected at my feet
Tripping on the sidewalk of the world

a filthy deli street

and words, words, words
weigh my shoulders down
make my back ache
prize open my grit stung eyes
make my spirit wake

Tibetan ways to live and die
Kipling and his Colonial spy
Rushdie and his Midnight chums
Kerouac and dem Dharma bums

All you can do- as I understand it- is DO! with good intentions and curiosity and the knowledge that it all amounts to nothing in the end and that very thought ultimately makes the whole process a lot less painful but admittedly I battle to surrender to these philosophies myself because that would be to sacrifice all previous forms of Neilness- self importance, aspiration ,ego (my guardians along the paths to success!)

But I know now I’m not missed or loved or needed and the world has not stopped for me nor waits for me and that in truth I’m as alone and bald -as the day I was born. Where I escaped my mothers womb, crawled out my sacred belly tomb only to discover that I was….born into nothing
create into nothing

and will die into nothing

And so making mistakes and cursing gods for making me feel like a leper -for making me feel lost and isolated and strange and for not making me a film star or famous or extraordinary or great or a saint- is the bullshit , I deep down , always presumed it to be (though often distorted by my theatricality) .Cause it doesn’t matter! It’s all the same.We all return to the same plain dust, irrespective of what we’ve done or become. The wars that we fought- lost or won! and whatever’s been said before-matters fuck all, cause our tongues sleep too along with their secrets, our senses no longer open to their (sense)-itive and often (sense) -less ways and those that took offense or heart or joy at our words will someday die too and take with them all that unnecessary baggage . Having carried their burdens all their living days may be heard to utter (as dirt fills their nostrils)’Oh what a sweet waste of my precious emptiness!”

So I will not be ‘harbor’ like - and let other people anchor their shit (Or my own) in these waters anymore. Empty of expectation, fear and worry dependence or need, desire to have or be things. Easier said then done I suppose. Surely this endangers my creative pursuits? My purpose? This new found emptiness of mine?

I would not stop creating at the fear of it been, the pointless human indulgence it so often is but now begin to create, free from the limits and hopes of it making me immortal or respected or praised .Surely that means that my creativity will find a whole new purity. The simple and noble need to reflect and find a voice. Words to reveal the awesome inner workings of the great human wheel and words to celebrate the brave revolutionaries that have escaped its relentless cycle.

But then these are all just words, words , words and India turns some to madness. I’ve been on trains for three days flat. Running on no sleep and to much circular contemplation ,so humor me.

Neil

3 shorts extracts from ‘TIN BUCKET DRUM’

September28

SCENE 6

The table is turned to form a podium, and the narrator now slinks into the light as the tyrannical Censor wearing Military hat. The use of under lighting casts a looming shadow onto the behind screens. The Censor speaks in nonsensical evangelical rhyme. Gesticulating wildly and pounding fists on the podium for additional emphasis.

* Visual reference: Norman Catherine’s terrifying comic Apartheid policeman.

Censor: Good citizens, I have summoned you all to this urgent meeting

For it has come to my attention

That once again the silence has been disturbed

Censor whacks the table for emphasis, percussionist provides the sound.

By a hearts… Beat!… Beat!… Beating!

On each utterance of ‘Beat’, ‘beat’, ‘beating’ -He bangs fist on podium and percussionist accompanies him with drum

And it’s this, this Beat, Beat, Beating

This unlawful

Silence defeating

Din!

That has caused you all to stop,

With blatant disregard and in defiant fashion

Awaken and regard

Your own false and foolish passion

Good people of Tin Town -Who has led you to depths of such Sin?

Who has unleashed The Tyrannical beat the Rhythmic Devil’s?

The percussionist growing a bit cocky, rolls drums for emphasis, the Censor shoots him a disapproving glance to which he quickly shuts up.

That sounds and pounds within?

Who is it that sits amongst us today…. Eh?

He scans the audience suspiciously

Pulls you into this depravity

Who dares to challenge the Almighties

Sacred and Silent Decree?

Who is it that chooses to threaten this state?

Defy our leader?

Place our sacred silence in danger!

Another fist on podium and drum beat.

We must find the courage, good people

Weed out the culprit

Sniff out the stranger.

He sniffs into the audience, then something catches his eye.

Wena (who is it)? Woza (come here)

He motions for the culprit to come forward with a twitching finger. Silence as Nandi offers the child forward. He takes it carefully, holds his ear to the babes breast. A heart beat pounds proudly (3x), he looks up at the audience- appalled.

This….this…. child?

How can something so small, so harmless, make a racket so awful

Such an insolent heart beat in one so young

Is not just unnatural……. It’s unlawful!

It’s shameful, a disgrace

When children born into ‘Tin Town’

Do not obey the rules, the laws

When children do not know their place!

He bangs his fist on ‘Place’. The lights snap to an alternate state as the Censor switches to Nandi by taking off hat and turning her back to audience with pleading outstretched arms.

Nandi: I will teach her then, Give me time! She’s barely four weeks old. She has much to learn about the ways of this Town.

Then back into the unimpressed Censor staring down at her.

Censor: In order for this child to stay

From us all, she must be hidden away

And with each and every passing day

Offer her a hand- strong and stern

Guide her along her Silent way

I recommend then

…that to make a start

You crush the unlawful rhythms in her soul

Silence the beating of her heart!

He bangs his fists a final three times on the podium. Lights fade.

SCENE 8

We revert to a flashback- Umkhulu disappears behind the screen, re-appearing as the Censor. This time he dissolves menacingly through the gauze screen- back lit by a red light. He is accompanied by frenzied percussion that weaves in and out of his speech.

Censor: Good citizens of Tin Town, I bring good news

The way of the Silent Sir, you can’t refuse

A life free of all this Rhythmic sin

Free from the persuasive Rhythms that tempt you from this tin

Rhythm!

Making monsters from the mundane

Stirring ancestors from their graves to inspire REVOLUTION

Pollution!

Rhythm!

A sacred relative to ritual

Inspiring, unlawful, ungodly behaviors

Dancing ……Drinking …Promiscuity

Prostitution!

Rhythm!

That devours, consumes and ravages

Obscuring the mind

Turning you to wild undignified savages!

Good people, weed out your instruments of mass disturbance.

Rid this town of its cultural plague.

Burn the Story books, the dictionaries, the drums

Silence the laughter, the whispers, The songs

For the Almighty Silent Sir, HE HEARS ALL

Silence is the way to your salvation

Without it you fall

‘Good people

‘To drive the devil and his music from your town

To silence the noise in your hearts

You must first close the ‘Mine’ and ‘Bucket Factory’ Down

SCENE 12

The narrator appears from various points behind the central table, playing three gossiping town members.

Person1: It’s the work of the devil!

She’s an incarnation of evil

Breaking our silence

With that Rhythmic upheaval

Person 2: I’ve heard her before

Tapping on fences

Rattling tins in the shed

This child has demons

Tormenting her heart

Tormenting her head

Person 3: She’s Mad

She’s Distressed

She’s Wicked

She’s Possessed

The neighbors chatter wildly as the Censor rises menacingly to his podium accompanied by military drums.

Censor: ‘Good people calm yourselve’s, Calm yourselves’

‘I have decided, that it be only fair

In the interest of ‘ALL’ of our safety

To remove this Nomvula from her mother’s care.

It is now the responsibility of this state

To aid her in a sufficient recovery

In other words………

With watchful eye, and beady ear……

Rehabilitate!’

Wena, Woza!

The Little Drummer Girl’ accompanied by her trembling mother step forward.

Censor: After much consideration,

Deliberation

Procrastination’

It has been decided that the child is to be sent away.

Made to sleep by the well on the outskirts of the town.

Each day she will be forced to carry out an arduous form of community service, she will be made to do this until the first rain falls’

Censor switches to Nandi, by taking off hat and turning back on audience

Nandi: ‘But it has not rained in twenty years. She’s only a child, my only child.’

Then back to censor

Censor: We must Stop her before she commits further sin

Ticks one more pencil

Rattles one more tin

Stop her before she’s allowed to strike one more unruly blow

My mind has been made

The little drummer girl

MUST GO!

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Confessions of a Corporate Meat Puppet

September27

When not treading the boards, basking in the spot light and soaking up the applause- most actors have a dirty little secret. A portfolio of work that you’d be hard pressed to find adorning their glowing C.V’s. Despite the artistic gratification that comes with channeling the Shakespearean greats these opportunities are sadly not conducive to covering ones monthly rent. Instead the actor must frequently munch on hubris pie and like a majority of our hard working population bite the corporate bullet. A career alternative that pays the bill’s, feeds the famished belly and keeps any signs of a burgeoning ego closely in check. If anything the profession of acting has taught me stone cold humility, for just when I had thought I had cracked it playing Hamlet and my future bristled before me, along comes a job where for the sake of a few (and at this point very necessary) hundred rand I find myself standing outside a corporate office block at six thirty on a Friday morning dressed as a chicken. Alack for shame, from Hamlet to Omlette in the proverbial flash of a pan. Now when I say dressed as a chicken, I’m talking a yellow lycra body suit that leaves little of my religious orientation to the imagination, and a red feather boa head dress that is to provide the crowning humiliation to it all. Perhaps worse than being the token chicken for the morning is having to make the unimpressed, just crawled out of bed employees jump through a hula hoop. This of course is all in the name of an ‘Amazing Chicken Sauce’ competition – the very source or should we say sauce of my less than fortunate disposition. Despite several attempts to conceal my face beneath the limited plumage of my costume, a staff member happens to recognize me.

‘Oh my goodness!’ she bellows ‘didn’t you once used to be a serious actor!’

‘Na na ,you’re thinking of someone else’ I assure her

‘No, no man, you the guy from those plays, it’s defiantly you!

‘Just jump through the hula hoop wench and get your free cook in sauce sachet’ I mumble under my breath, wishing now that I had taken my folks advice and pursued that B-Com at Varsity. To exacerbate my mounting shame, I am then made to perform a five minute stand up routine to the staff on their lunch break. Only at this point in the proceedings, I portray a genetically engineered chicken with lines like : Wow this sauce makes me feel amazing– I haven’t felt this good since my hormone injections of 2000!

Sick yes, totally morally, ethically, inexcusably sick but humbling. And just when I thought I might have redeemed myself, erased the fowl experience from all living memory, commenced with my meteoric rise to the top– Durban , Bloemfontein ,Broadway! I’m shot down again. No doubt riding on the reputation of shameless-will work for ‘chicken feed’ thespian- I accept a lucrative but less than tempting offer to theatricalize an I.B.S drug for a pharmaceutical company’s National Conference. Standing before a roomful of discerning doctors, I’m forced to stoop to new scatological lows (A poor Woody Allen impersonation was tragically the only way i could go in personifying a nervous bowel). I thought I was alone in my employment as corporate meat puppet, until recently, when I had the sick pleasure of happening upon a singer friend of mine at a shopping mall- singing ‘Born Free’ while dressed as ‘cart wheeling’ tampon. More recently I heard that one of Durban ’s most critically acclaimed actresse’s was spotted at a mall promotion in Empangeni, wondering around costumed as an oversized sandwich! - What filling she had the misfortune or portraying she will not divulge. although I’ve tried to convince her that Lady Macbeth, Medea and Chicken Mayo has a certain ring to it.

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THE INDIA JOURNALS 2004-A shambles of recollection

September27

Plane to Dubai -heart scattered from Cape Town to Durban - why am I doing this? Oh god what am I doing!

Gather thoughts -remember that night at the view sight in Durban -alone -with a bad majut joint -where the moon was full and beckoned me on this journey. Remember why you taking this trip Neil. Remember too that you are falling alone and the darkness seems sinister and unwelcoming and that if you trust in the universe enough then it shall provide ,stretch out its long henna painted hands to catch you-I’m pleased to report it has

Clarity -seek it in the chaos ,the filth, seek it in the up and down -you’re on your own now cowboy and that’s as magnificent as it is terrifying.

Dubai in transit, I cry a lot here - tears behind the dark glasses- from the air this place looks like an intricate micro chip, an alien jellyfish -freeways - illuminated tentacles that wind and tangle themselves across one another.

This is the land that the sheik built. A product of too much oil and fuck all sense. The sun coast casino looks like an architectural masterpiece against such a sight. This mighty plastic pleasure zone .plastic cards, plastic lips, tits and other jangly bits. Money thrust into oily palms at alarming rates .I vanish into a designated smoking zone, sleep deprived, toes tingling. Arabs eye me through the cancerous haze and stroke their beards. I’m wearing a Gary Holmes burning cross print on my t shirt . ‘Oh god they might think I’m a Christian fundamentalist- fuck!!!’ move out fast back into the bright lights deciding that there is nothing more torturous then my paranoid overactive imagination!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pakastani woman befriends me on the plane, her son is an actor and she a TV presenter .She begs me to join them in Pakistan and work with their theatre troupe. She has large moon eyes -chameleon lids licking their circumference. She offers me soothing eastern mama wisdom while the sun outside bleeds into the black night .I feel less afraid of the darkness now,less afraid of facing New Deli at six that morning.

A man wearing a Punjab- Salaman Rushdie look alike with his twirly moustache-smiles from the down the isle -I know ill be fine.

Touch down, clouds part, well actually a grey haze to reveal Deli from the air. The humidity is worse then Madagascar and Durban combined. It knocks you off your feet. I thought it was winter in this hemisphere?? Sticky, hot, oppressive -bad start -just wait till the touts and lepers, beggars, thieves, porters- the ‘everything’ people warned me about- the infamous Deli airport-attack! The departure gate is empty-we sail through untouched. I was kind of made to expected the entire population of India to be surging outside, grubby palms outstretched- no such thing. I am denied my dramatic entrance. God Dubai airport is more daunting then this -with its sheer overwhelming pretentiousness and bustling, buying ,bitching masses

Which really goes to show that 99 percent of the things we worry about never happen-and that the lonely planet travel guide is responsible for propagating more fear then the Bush administration.

My introduction to Deli is alongside a 65 year old granny van Pretoria- Marie. She to is visiting Deli for the first time to buy clothing stock for her little hoek winkel back home. Marie I soon find out is a reborn Christian and racist -having got the Mugabe boot off her Rhodesian farm a few years back she relocated to Pretoria where she now lives as as (her own words) a ‘poor white’. Now this lady is not all together in the head but she’s a feisty and rather adamant old girl and when she offers me a free bed in her three star hotel, having not booked or planned a thing, I decide to go along for the ride.

Now three stars in Deli is more like a Maputo Slum , all dirty perspiring paint jobs and mango trees that sprout from derelict wall cracks.

We retreat to the air conned hotel room - Ouma Marie and I lying on the bed eating her awful home made fridge cake and watching Bollwood movies on TV. I kind of expected to hook with an attractive French back backer at the airport (as you do)-but in India beggars most certainly can’t be choosers and I’ve always had an affinity for old gals as you well know. But Marie proves through the course of the evening that she is not too kosher in the head and is in fact a bit of a pathological bullshitter-which I know you will think puts me in perfect company.

Whilst shopping in the Deli Markets she wears a disguise, a hand sewn black Muslim ninja outfit-so as not to be seen as a westerner and hopefully bargain cheaper prices from the traders. She goes to the extent of painting her exposed skin- brown in the hope of been considered an Indian. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Hindu’s don’t dress in such attire-nor speak in thick Pretoria accents and that she’s now more likely to be harassed for looking like a the wealthy bride of a sheik then a impoverished local.

I attend many shopping trips with her into town - Deli is shopping heaven and a theatrical spectacle like no other. In the Kashmir rug store we sip on jasmine tea whilst the salesmen perform a perfectly placed choreographic unveiling of the hand woven carpets. So precise that one would swear Mr Baz Luhrman had a hand in its orchestration.

One afternoon we stumble (for my sins) on a Christian prayer celebration out on a school field. Over ten thousand Indian worshippers have gathered and sing hymns in Hindi whilst waving their hands in unison. Ol Marie nearly platzed ‘ I never knew these blaady hindians even knew who Jesus was!,I just hope they don’t think he’s some blaady blue elephant god with six arms!’

Now there’s an interesting looking crucifix, I muse but dare say. Marie begins to take my hand and pray, tears rolling down her cheek while I sway along awkwardly and wonder how in gods name I’ve ended up at a Christian festival.

That night in Deli it rains, hot monsoon rains, lightening cracking. I escape the garrulous Marie and smoke a cigarette on a balcony over looking the city. It feels like Durban, It’s funny I don’t feel so far away from home here. It kind of feels like staying around the corner in Sparks Estate

I left soon for Manali after that .A night bus ride from hell, clinging to my saint Christopher, while the bus tumbled down the mighty Himalayan passes.

The city roads are an inspired chaos-cows trawl casually through rush hour traffic whilst monkeys rob pedestrians from their fence posts.

Indian drivers are either supernaturally spatially aware or just plain lucky. We put our trust in their hands. Their hands on the wheel. The wheel guiding us towards certain death and then back again. Each Rickshaw taxi trip is a religious experience. I have been reborn many times- officially stared god straight in his mighty and fearsome eyes.

Met a Canadian guy from Vancouver - also traveling alone. A mad adventurer, music lover-working on perma culture farms around India. We’ve decided to do a bit of missioning together sharing the price on a hotel room in Manali. He’s just like one on my cats back home-feels like I’ve known him forever.

Old Manali,the hash is good, so good. A place of apple orchards. Indian boys climb their branches tossing the fruits to delighted Hindi school girls. French Hippies wonder about with thirty year hang over’s. Elderly Tibetan woman, hobbling artifacts, faces sewn tight with wisdom serve ginger tea, with toothless smiles. Alpine forests clinging to the hems of the Himalayas great white skirts. Three mighty rivers pour from alternate glaciers. The guest houses balancing on muddy hillsides. To think that the gush of monsoon ,the insidious heat on mountain snow, could cause us all to sink ,so much deeper in our sleep, and wake the following morning in the Indian ocean.

———————————————————————————————————————

Isn’t expectation the worst thing? Everything the fucking lonely planet leads me to expect ,it’s the complete opposite, and in a good way. Nothing is how I thought it would be. It’s always better. So I’m learning to not to hold onto any preconceived ideas. The world is constantly surprising me ,inspiring me ,bowling me off my feet. It’s exhausting, I’m in a place known as little Tibet-Ladakha(kashmir). I feel as if I’m wondering the most ancient of lands . Its’ just surreal, the drive here was unlike anything I ever seen before. It took eighteen hours of the most impressive -diverse landscapes I have ever seen. Temples of Himalayan stone cut by ice blue rivers. I listened to Bjork Vespatine -a perfect soundtrack -

Climbed five hundred stairs yesterday to a Buddhist Temple perched on a mountain top to watch the sunset. Felt like I had found heaven. The views, the views. There are no words to describe.

All I can say dad is that this terrain makes Lesotho look like a sandpit or zen garden-and that you are not a certified land rover man till you’ve conquered these passes (the highest motor able ones in the world might i brag)

It’s off season ,autumn here. The valley I’m staying in is an oasis situated in a stark dessert basin All the trees burn with orange, lime and lemon yellow. Tibet is a few hundred kilometers away.

I’m in a really good state of mind, always surrounded by fascinating people that wonder in and out of my travels. I’ve never really feel alone and when I do its rather refreshing -just to be able to read and write and put thoughts together.

Dear Jill
If only I could find the words to describe the colour of the Ladakha leaves in Autumn
A ripe burning orange, dashes of yellow and lime.In a valley of temples and mountains
and further beyond that the mighty Himalayan peaks. Late afternoon light dances on the many corners and crevice casting cold and beautiful shadows. People walk the village swinging prayer wheels. Bells are always in the air. Cows can be likened to stray dogs- scavengers wondering the streets, chewing on any rubbish they can find, occasionally on some Ladakhis lovely Autumn nasturtiums. Prayer flags intercept ones vision as frequently as telephone lines do in suburbia.I saw an old monk today, his maroon robes tattered and torn, his face weathered like the surrounding hills. He counted a few measly coins in his hand- exactly how I imagined the character of the old lama to be in Kiplings ‘KIM’. Its a beautiful thing when a character leaps from the page of a book and into real life. Took a drive through the highest motor able pass in the world head and eyes popping from a combination of AMS and AWE

———————————————————————————

We start the journey up the pass at two o’clock in the morning - early snows have closed the road but I’m adamant to do this trip and manage to arrange a ride the one and only day they open the pass to transport military provisions to the Pakistan border. Every morning in India starts with Chai-ahhhhhhhhh, sweet chai that warms the soul and hands -cinnamon and saffron scent.

At this time of the morning the moon is still up and we begin to traverse glaciers that glow fluorescent under its light. Sometimes it looks as if the earth has plunged several kilometers from itself -leaving gaping crevices of ice-or that a giant eagle has ploughed its talons into the mountain side .Its a stark, inspiring moonscape-Temples ,totem poles, towering pillars of stone cut by ice blue rivers.

At a border post I climb out the vehicle and fall over -disorientated ,legs weak , head and heart pounding, a combination of AMS and Awe - AMS =improper acclimatization- (although is sounds suspiciously like something to do with a menstrual cycle).

A Tibetan woman walks me to her tented camp and serves me rice and vegetables which grows cold within seconds. The wind whips through layers of fleece , cutting the skin , burning the lips. Try to sleep for the rest of the journey but the magnificence of the scenery and condition of the road renders this impossible.

—————————————————————————-

I walk in ancient times
where the man in the field sings throaty songs of praise to his yaks.
Yaks who pull stubborn ploughs through stubborn ground.

I walk in ancient times
where elderly monks unlock secret doors to temples that have existed before
Christ and his crucifix
Shakespeare and his quill

I walk in ancient times
where mankind survives , trusts , prays upon
the Indecision of his god

Where dusty bound prayer books
collect history
in monastery corners

Where smiles are genuine- hard earned- offerings of joy

Where saffron is gold
and silk, elusive and essential as silver

Where prayer flags intercept ones vision as frequently as telephone lines

Where rivers turn wheels

and sun bakes bread

Where apples and apricots drip off valley trees
and children loose sleep in anticipation of the first harvests

I walk in ancient times
times of the drum and song

Of wood and hay
stone and clay

I walk in ancient times
where silence unveils secrets

I walk in ancient times
eat- sleep
rise- weep
by the journey of the sun

—————————————————

And Jesus was a Buddhist!!!!!!, according to the book I’m currently reading -who preached along these eastern hills of Ladakha. I saw his donkey today -tied to a post -sad old mule he was. Can donkeys ever look happy? Even with the knowledge he had of carrying the very woman who bore the Messiah! Maybe he regrets the burden of that journey. The burden that birth has had on time and history.
——————————————————

Golden God
stuck his head through the temple roof
away from the low hanging veil of incense
the warm glow of candle light
and generous worshipper offerings
Golden god wanted to gaze upon the state of his world -his culture
and once he had done so
wept great golden tears of sadness
—————————————————

I had a blade held to my throat this afternoon. I nearly stopped breathing, head propped up in what appeared to be a makeshift dentists chair. Then it scraped the surface , my eyes squeezed tight ,so as not to see my execution played out on the several mirrors placed about the shop.
Cool steel slides over skin, bull dozing the frothy lather as it goes along and to think one slight move, wince , grimace would mean blood on the barber floor. After several days of trekking it appears a particularly hirsute animal has crawled onto my face and died and this encounter with the blade is in fact a self inflicted luxury. Yes I agreed to place my life and hairy chin in the hands of the Abdulla scissor hands- the local barber- a diminutive Indian man who’s small but nimble hands can barley reach me in the chair.

It starts to feel like I’m being operated on .What with the countless bottles, ointments, perfumed concoctions and preparatory lathers that are splashed across my face. The barber( however small) takes great pride in his work and I allow him free reign to sculpt his own little facial masterpiece. The retreating afternoon light makes things difficult to see in the mirror( electricity is a spontaneous and rare blessing in these parts) .God I hope he can see or I might leave ala Van Gough -minus an ear.

On facing my reflection, a good hour later –I’m a little shocked- I resemble a very camp New York fashion designer- very Tom Ford -or perhaps a seedy seventies drug dealer. I dunno, but I start to think o’l Abdulla Scissor hands has been inspired by one to many bad facial hair carnations from Chuck Norris movies (common to all remote parts of the world). It takes much repair with my own razor a little later to create the more grungy back packer look that seems to be the fashion of these parts. That’s the joy of been lost in the Himalaya for a week -complete lack of an encounter with the external reflection. Except as a contorted blur reflected in a frozen waterfall encountered along the way. Admittedly the trek was the toughest amount of walking I have done in a very long time. Six to ten hours a day - camping in cheaply hired summer tents at heights of 6000 m on a route ,that we were advised not to take due to the early and bitter arrival of winter. Alone in a kingdom of stone and ice .Last signs of autumn thriving in the unlikeliest of places

On a mountain pass -that was
I kicked a single stone
that collided with another and carried it on its journey down the pass
and as they traveled-the rolling companions ,the rolling stones
began to convert further stones along the way
until eventually the entire pass moved as a single thundering congregation
and soon the pass that was
was no more
————————————
I saw a woman -along the way
in yellow skirt and head scarf
who vanished (camouflaged) amongst the yellow autumn fall
tugging a reluctant yak-by a chord attached through a ring in its nose

and every time -Colwyn- I encountered one of these yak’s (there were many). I made a point to stop and stare it deep in the dancing eye and then utter thy name proudly -three times
- Colwyn Thomas -Colwyn Thomas -Colwyn Thomas
so forever you shall be imbedded in yak consciousness
(as per your request)

——————————————–
The team ,we assemble comprises of a two Dutch folks, a jolly Oirish couple and a completely disinterested young geologist graduate from Cambridge, Who ,whenever asked anything about the fascinating stone formations surrounding us ,would grunt and refuse to divulge any of her sacred stone secrets-( To me that’s a bit like taking an art graduate to the 16th chapel-and them snubbing the ceiling by burying their nose in a Mills and Boon novel)

Now due to budget constraints, I end up sharing a tent with the newly engaged Irish couple. I think you can imagine where this is going! -what, with the late night chaffing of sleeping bags and inhibited moans- ( I’m constantly amazed at how people having sex at a close proximity- never think they can be heard!!) Anything to keep warm - I must admit, that sleeping at minus twenty degrees, I was hoping they might invite me to join their late night fire starting escapades-
but alas I froze on the parameters and stuffed big pink reams of toilet paper in my ears to block out the unsettling sounds.

(For pleasure I have learnt - to the jealous and reluctant voyeur- can sound like such painful torture)

Sleeping at these heights is further made impossible by the altitude- fresh bursts of mountain air does strange and wondrous things to the head and dreams….oh the dreams .I cant begin to describe but I know that there are people who pay a lot of money for drugs to produce similar (yet inferior) effects. Nights plagued by glorious yet disturbed visions. Maybe the Hindu prophets dreamt on this air and thus blue gods with eight arms and elephant heads were conjured up and written of. I figure I should try bottling some of it -lucrative little business on the side-‘Hey man… you got any fresh Himalayan air on ya??’

So days passed walking from snowy pass to snowy pass-and the people who sold me those expensive hiking boots -Lied! Feet a mangled, blistered, contorted mess -and when plasters run out- masking tape has to suffice. Walking this much- in such a vast, inspiring lonely space allows one to think thoughts until there are no more thoughts left to think and just when you think you’ve thought-well- everything there is to think you recycle old thoughts (rethink them) and thus certain profound revel elations, delirious little epiphanies occur .So I’m a changed-deranged -slightly re-arranged man since my week in the mountains .Refreshed –inspired. Exhausted and Invigorated. We went to a restaurant in Leh , on the night of our return-( the second great trek-respect to the forefathers!) to celebrate our survival of one of the coldest camping sights this side of the Himalaya- a few shots of whisky at this altitude goes a very long and drunken way-and so stumbling home that night, to our guest house( With the Irish couple- I’m starting to sound like their adopted son!) we happen to hear loud jovial singing emanating from a Community Hall. Upon investigation -peeking through a frosted window- we suddenly find the doors swung open and an excitable group of Ladakhi women in traditional dress surround us -take us by the hand and pull us inside. In a drunken confused blur, I make out the lettering on a large red banner strung across the hall rafters. It reads -’THE LADAKHI WOMENS ANNUAL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE’ Before I know it -John (the Oirish bloke) and I are dancing in a big circle about the room, the only two men in a hall full of hundreds of Ladakhi woman aged 19 to 90- ( the older ladakhi women resemble the Triplets of Belvue -with their wrinkled faces and braided plats) singing traditional songs and attempting to maintain a bit of our masculine integrity by not falling over in the process!

I am pleased to report, The Ladahkhi Sisters are well and truly doing it for themselves in these parts

Leaving Leh- it makes me all a little sad. All the stores begin to close for their winter hibernation- the streets empty and lights now remain off. It’s time now for the winter to claim back its passes and I leave with the knowledge that my insignificant footsteps will be filled with snow in a day or two. As if I was never here! What little regard the mountains have for ones memory. There’s comfort in the knowledge, that when it is time the summer shall seek its rightful place on the great turning cycle. Farmers return to their fields, festivities to the calendar, flowers to the pots. Ice will melt and rivers will recall the joy of their previous summers journeys and rush uninhinited towards the oceans. I’m learning, out here, that our souls too experience these seasons and cycles .Only on my travels I seem to experience all four of them in single day

So guru Neil advises -on parting: No matter the chill ,dear friends never-NEVER- forget the prosperous Summer’ our souls are all capable of experiencing

too much fresh air? - I think so-
Love with five fingers splayed
Neil

—————————————————————————————
New found Vegetarianism
New wave Humanitarianism
Coca- Cola Buddhism

Studying palms
Graft on self sustainable farms

I’ve heard organic veggies reach supernatural sizes!
Feed the monkeys
Kick the misers

Comb the stars
(when the city smog hasn’t stolen them)
then slouch in bars

find love in Buddha
-and the back of parked cars

Finger yoga on my remote control
wash in dirty water
to cleanse a dirty soul

open your book
your legs
your mind

… excavate the find

Converse with god
then gutter dogs

Preach the light
Pray in shadows
kiss the step
I may not kneel upon

live my faith
with covered face

- forgotten-

Sing the praise
and gag on cotton

Free Tibet -(where’s that?) on my bumper sticker

levitate on dope
meditate on liquor

and I wonder
can natural healing?
Stop internal bleeding?

Or restore the loss of feeling?
to these fingertips?

—————————————————–

I Visited T.I.P.A today -the Tibetan institute of Performing arts .Buildings collected commune like around a central courtyard and performance area .Been the wrong season, I was dismayed to find the Spring Opera (lhamo) Festival was….well not on. So I enquired for special permission to view the opera museum, which at this time of year is also closed. Luckily I managed to convince an old Tibetan door keeper to unlock the doors to the museum

He turns a switch to which fluorescent tubes flicker to reveal glass cabinets placed around the room. Waking the ghosts-who open button sewn eyes. Deteriorating dummies dressed in rat nibbled costumes -centuries old, confront me. This theatrical burial ground ,this smell is instantly familiar.That musty Prop Shop damp that I now understand to be a universal scent and to the wondering actor and his craft a strangely homely and comforting one.The walls are adorned with peeling yellow Lhamo posters announcing fantastic tales of gods and demons, fisherman and miracles. Love –betrayed, swayed ,strayed. Emoted through shrill song and grand gesture. The beheaded masks of rituals, gaze (through cobwebs) from the wall -flared nostrils ,three bulbous eyes, curious as to this western man who beams at the recollection of his childhood. When the illusion of the theatre stood still (at the NAPAC Open day-in glass cabinets similar to this) still enough for the boy to decipher the source of all that deceptive theatrical trickery.

Outside, a young girl practices her lyrical dance (as if submerged waist deep in water. Her fingers brushing imaginary ripples across the surface). Another girl strums on a sitar like instrument oriental and angelic it sounds and seeps through the windows into the museum. Stirring now the artifacts and their memory. Who yearn to woken again with a furious dance one to set motion to their robes and shake free the settling dust. I contemplate -in a spontaneous second placing one of the masks on my head and dancing wild sudden circles about the room .Placing on this act-the same necessity a man has to walk his boisterous dog every once and awhile. These archives house the dusty bound books of Indian and Tibetan set design and paging through them -reminds me of lying on your bed -in Woodstock (turning similar pages) recalling the stories of our childhood (which were in so many ways- one) .Our building block set imaginings, quality street sweet wrappers as gels over torch light -to achieve the desired lighting effect of course!

I have no doubt, the art inside us both Matthew may just (one day soon) set the very world alight.

Shrinegar-Kashmir

Through muffled hailers ,men sing an anthem, a prayer- distorted camaraderie. They sing all night on Ramadan. Fierce -like an army preparing for battle and it drifts into the valley and over the Dhal lake, mingling with the low hanging fire smoke. Creeping in like a lethargic ghost. Ramshackle house boats doorsteps deteriorate into the swampy lake surfaces -Noah’s ark one was aptly titled). Gondolas wind through absent minded canals, oars pulling through a tangle of gunk and weeds. Mosquitoes and bats- eaters and eaten -the pink evening haze summoning their arrival with a hue. And it is both horrific and magical out here .A magic with a certain loss of innocence or perhaps that’s just me, carrying the burden of pre conceived -press propagated ideas of this war torn state. Constantly wondering whether its leprosy or landmines that left that beggar on the street corner without his hands?

The prevailing political itch or more like prevailing gaping wound that clumsy politicians attempt to stitch closed with infected knitting needles. For sure as a telephone pole, a tree, a freshly carved cricket bat will appear (to the passing eye) at regular intervals, so too will an Indian soldier with his gun. Stern men -bunched behind sandbag bunkers, their fingers tapping impatiently on triggers, waiting for that moment of crisis .Chicken littles’ waiting for the Pakistan sun to fall from the sky. That crucial moment that will allow them to assert themselves as a necessary (if not vital) addition to the Shrinegar landscape. And most of the time its boredom that is responsible for the firing of that first fatal bullet. Peace processes put men out of work, men out of worth. Guns were not created with the purpose of sitting smug beneath smelly armpits or strung across shoulders in the nature of a handbag .Why that would be belittling to both arm and armored.

I saw a building in the centre of town with its facade blown off, like a doll house hinged open -revealing the inner workings, wires and rooms. Barbed wire- an ubiquitous ivy, strangling every possible wall and fence. I visited the mosques, one in particular is alleged to house a single beard hair of Muhammad. A single thread of human chin hair and pilgrimages are made. Men and women in their thousands pour to this place of worship every year to weep and rest eyes upon the prophet’s holy stubble! Faith is indeed both a fearsome and fantastical thing.

At this same mosque, a man prays aloud from his Koran, in army uniform and beret, gun resting obediently by his side. A woman with face covered in black veil wails like a lunatic possessed proceeding to kiss a dirty step repeatedly. A step, she is not,due to her gender, permitted to pray upon.

One afternoon I see a crow floating past our house boat stoep, on the bloated corpse of a sheep and feasting on its surfaced eye .At this point I start to feel like that poor old sheep .The last remaining tourist corpse left for the Kashmiri carpet crows to feast upon and feast they do.

I got stoned on the first afternoon on the lake and a kindly gentleman offered me a free boat trip to see the sights. A sundowner cruise of sorts, why not! I hop on excitedly -innocence of a child -show me the world kind man of the river!

But as we begin, I realize I’ve been duped- and that this aint no free sight seeing, this boat is in fact sailing straight to a Kashmiri carpet store. And so the kindly old boat man turns into the archetypal salesman from hell and takes me to a little island far far away- where I can run but certainly cant hide and swimming is not an option.

It’s a part of the lake that resembles a haunted o’l Mississippi swamp and I begin to think ( once can of course put this down to hash inspired paranoia) that if I don’t buy one of his god damn rugs then he’ll wrap me up in one of them and end up as a fish food in a swampy grave .I’ve seen movies like this!

’No I don’t want a rug!’ - but he persists- not even two hours of shaking my head sweetly and saying no thank you can begin to quell his persistence .’No thank you sir ( subtext: now please take me home and don’t kill me!) does nothing to curve his technique . He continues to unroll hundreds of them, one after the other until eventually I get to the point of mad delirium - laughing hysterically at the utter absurdity of his brutal barge pole tactics .Pitching and punting, in the hope that my credit card might suddenly replenish itself and leap from wallet to curl itself ,like an affectionate cat, on one his rugs. Three hours pass and the man is still going at it. A psychological terrorist breaking you down- until you want to weep like a frustrated coward and buy a rug just so he’ll’ row you safely home. What makes it worse in Shrinegar - is that the salesman and their stores are all on mobile boats. In the mornings you wake to find your house boat under house arrest. Taken siege and circled by over twenty water hawkers - ”Saffron , Saffron sir?’ Vegetables? Paper Mache pots? Hash,Hash? ‘Fuji film’ ‘Fresh flowers’ .Floating pawns we’ve become. Prisoners to the buoyant businessman and his cunning, insistent ways.

On the way out of Shrinegar to Jammu, a bus accident leaves corpses strewn across the road in front of us. Saris seep- wet crimson silk on tar. The traffic piles up for miles. Small tea stands, nestled in obscure patches of jungle , do thriving business off the delayed commuters who sip (impatiently) on copious cups of chai to pass the time while a circus of police men and fools fumble about to clear the mess. In India and life, someone’s physical end is another’s financial beginning and so it goes. Go round again -the great merciless turning of the wheel

In Jammu - the supposed major terrorist state of Kashmir-our bus breaks down for four hours - in a bad part of town - and I start to worry cause the locals on the bus grow deeply concerned
’Sitting ducks’ they say ‘to those terrorist bandits! They’re fond of the night busses in these parts’
Christ….the fear grows so enormous -that I scribble my eulogy- my epitaph on a piece of paper
and say a little prayer that if I perish tonight , then at least ‘my last words’ may have a chance of finding their way safely back to my family. It’s too pitiful to try remember what I wrote
but I recall requesting Geoff Buckley ‘ Hallelujah ‘ at my funeral- Which in retrospect was not such a bad choice
—————————————————

I see my life come shining
from the west unto the east
any day now
any way now -
I shall be released

————————————————-
I started to feel a little lost here in Dharmshala- an orphan abandoned by the universe. It’s usual array of angels and omens absent but they came, they always do in various fantastic forms
like yesterday..

I bumped into David , the Irish guy I met and traveled with in Malawi (two years back) - the one I bumped into ( by fluke) in the Pavilion shopping centre in Durb’s a few months later- the guy that came to jodys 21st b- day in Zinkwazi. Well there he was- clear as Bostik super glue- standing on the streets of Dharmshala and we feasted last night on great Indian food and fate

Oh omens the great cosmic showmen that point the way with the tip of a hat
and twirl of a stick, saying ‘welcome to your life, turn left (or right) at the next junction

————————————————————————————


Deli has bookstores and men in Gandhi glasses that work behind the counters
and screen printed Children’s story books that made my tears smudge the paint

ate at the vegetarian MacDonald’s yesterday (they’ve got Mac’currys’)
George Micheal’s faith playing and Bush /Kerry showdown of the TV.
Unsettling

Watched a Bollywood movie last night with Ted. Made more noise then the locals then talked to drunk varsity kids about joys and woes of Indian porn and Indira Gandhi .Then one of the kids threw up on Ted’s shoes and we decided to call it a night.

I have returned from my month long expedition into the wonderland that is Nepal and am proud to announce that the first Coppen to have reached Everest Base camp is alive and well and recuperating in Varannasi

It was too big to describe (quite literally) -the mountains were too big , made my words embarrassed, dwarfed them in their monstrous shadows, either that or they froze along with the ink in my pen but it’s enough to move a grown man to tears and sob did. Rejoice I did, exalt through cold, cold, cold bursts of Everest mountain air.

Now not to blow my own heroic horn and attempting to avoid the Huisgenooit story of the week style of writing, I will quickly try to recapture my one heroic deed achieved on those god forsaken slopes.

The date I dunno-but its a few days away from Everest base camp , I’m with two crazy cats ,Kim the Belgian /Indonesian stoner (with a grin as wide as the Ganjees) and Marty the Ozy whose face could quite easily be used as an endorsement for bully beef commercials. I met these guys in the glacial lake region and we are now attempting to cross the Cho Long Pass .Cut to Ariel shot of ominous Mordor type mountain location, mist trailing off peaks-you get the picture. The Cho Long Pass it must be told is not advisable without mountaineering experience and especially not after 12 o’ clock due to unpredictable, unforeseeable weather conditions.

Of course we don’t plan and stupidly ignore the warnings .To cut a long story short the three of us end us crossing the pass after two o’clock that afternoon .On reaching the summit one then has to cross the most precarious looking glacier, following the faint markings of footprints in the snow to see the way down the mountain and avoid (ala touching the void ) plummeting down a gaping crevice. By the time we Summit the pass the clouds have swept in and a fuck off snow storm is brewing. The footprints on the glacier have been snowed over and we can no longer see where to go or where those sneaky little crevices are hiding.

The three of us to put it mildly -panic - wild, wind swept panic. We get more and more lost on the glacier in the ‘cant see your hand’ in front of your face visibility. I expect one of us to be swallowed up at any minute by the hungry glacial monster and vanish without a trace .At this point I start looking around -wondering who we are going to have to eat first!!! Our happy little hike quickly transcends into a B- grade tv miniseries mountain tragedy of the week disaster!

Sadly this is only the beginning of our troubles ,cause just when the nightmare is beginning I must now (unfortunately) introduce a new character

Cut to long shot shot-through the terrible blizzard- appears a blue jumper, a man moaning and stumbling towards us. He approaches. Close up: his face- blue, His lips blue- a long snot icicle protruding from each nostril , foam from his mouth. He mumbles in Italian and falls over.

the stranger, the Italian it turns out has been lost alone on the pass in this storm, teetering on the edge of the ice berg, so to speak for some time. He is in the grips of bad altitude sickness, hypothermia, no co- ordination , slurring in limited English. He battles to stand for longer then a few seconds before toppling over. He’s lost his gloves and his hands have swollen to three times their usual size , fingers like fat blue shivering sausages. I try to lend him mine by they wont fit over his finger tips.

So Kim,Marty and myself , have to carry Mr Muddles (as he will now be named) through the snow storm for the next four hours , trying to find a way down the dreadful mountain and trying to keep Muddles conscious by calmly singing ’snowflakes that stay on my nose and eye lashes…these are a few of my favorite things’. Yip in the crux of death I turned to Maria van Trap songs (worrying …i know!).

We end up slipping all over the place, screaming at each other. Crying, Arguing, seeking shelter in a cave trying to find a solution. Dividing up mars bars and the (now) frozen chapatti I had in my pack

‘We have to leave Muddles’ says Marty ‘He’s not our problem, he’s slowing us down, we could all die out here!” But I can’t bare the thought of eventually finding a bed and knowing I abandoned a fellow human being to become an ice sculpture on that mountain. ‘No …he’s coming with me’ -Declares Neil in heroic rhetoric ‘I WILL NOT DIE TODAY AND NEITHER WILL MUDDLES’ .Movie music swells triumphant, the string section soaring.

In the end, as all stories with happy endings go, through the blizzard,we carry Muddles into a remote village, shining like nightingales lantern through the storm. Here we manage to find Muddles his much needed medical attention and blankets as well as warming our own shattered nerves over Chai and a hot Nepalese stove.

Cue the credits ……….

The End

The following story is the first in my Everest travel Triology- the collection is called……..

Marigolds ,Mountains, Maoists (and the red string)

MARIGOLDS


The nepali girl appeared from out of the mustard fields and intercepted the boy on his path-it was a welcome interception
a brown skin and twinkling eyed one.
the girl smiled -the boy returned the gesture through dehydrated gasps, what a picture he must have seemed - white skin- pink and ill prepared - backpack clutching his shoulders like a pertified child-
the girl took a step closer as if she might kiss him -kiss him to resuccusitate him -to breathe the air that the steep mountain path (and his cigarette consumption) had stolen from his lungs. Her lips looked sweet and he leaned forward unsure but thirsty to taste them-

she reached out, not with lips, nor face , but hands and strung a string of marigolds around his neck -a wreath of burning orange, its perfume instant - sweet and suffocating- (reawakening a distant memory of Mitchells Park as a small boy in the spring )He bunched the flowers to his nostrils and breathed deep. the girl bowed and giggled before wading -yellow dress deep- into the daisies and out of sight.

the boy continued his walking , fingering the delicate petals….musing

He was stopped again and again that morning-children burst from behind village doorways baring simillar wreaths which they strung around his neck till he resembled a walking boquet- a deepwali boquet

flowers sprinkled on his head , flowers behind the ears,up the nose, round the neck -squished between the toes - flowers that fell like monsoon rain and collected in big petal puddles at his feet- that inoxicated, seduced and delighted

maybe im a God! he mused, haha a Buddha incarnate!
he released his boisterous imagination and it played wild mischevious games with poor long suffering logic -until for a second he actually believed he was a GOD!
a giant one!
pebbles became mountains under his boots , a trickle of water turned into a raging glacial river
and he walked proudly over all the earth
singing i am a god , i am a god-im so much bigger then you!

a butterfly landed on one of the flowers around the boys neck-battered its wings coyly , thankfully, as it sipped on marigold nectar, and then another and another- not only am i God, im fucking mary poppins! -he quipt.
‘bless you’ the boy said -adorned now by butterflies-their light flowery wings tickling his face

I AM A GOD !!-see how they worship upon me! -he felt suddenly as if he possessed some enchanted control over the natural order of things -that if he tried really hard he could alter the seasons , or the weather, simply by clicking the cosmic switch of his fingers

It is imporatant to note that at this point our boy -the one in the story- had forgot that India has the capability of doing funny things to ones head-that he had travelled from a land where worshippers pray to eight armed gods - blue ones that ride the backs of wild tigers , ones with elephant trunks for a nose-

land of gurus and living godesses,pseudo saddhus and saints-land of reincarnation (dont kill that fly it might be your great grandmother!!!) and ressurection -Our boy forgot that it is possible to get severly stoned on such mystycism ……..

and now he was stoned! -swaggering confident- god like strides up the mountain path -he remembered the day- back in Dharmashala where a Tibetan Astrologer had told him that he had been a Tibetan holy man in his previous life-and he entertained this thought.
-what was my name? he mused -’and what the fuck did i do wrong in that life to be reincarnated as a white kid for the Durban suburbs!!!

Deep in such thoughts , he never felt the bees collect -a whole swarm gathering the pollen from his marigold wreaths-great generous basketfulls on their busy hind legs. His ears failed to register the distinct harmonising Buzzzzzzzz-which by now had grown louder then a deli rushour traffic jam-he did not hear for he was playing the songs of his own praise -loudly and on repeat -in his head!

then the first - a sting -slight and swift ,then another -as if his holy wreaths had become serpants-sinking their poisoned fangs into his tender neck. He tore the blessings from his neck in horror- snapping the strings and scatterring the burning flowers on the path below.

replacing the flowers was a garland of swollen marks , a tatoo of pain-neatly and perfectly formed , he battled to breathe for his neck was so inflamed- and the heavy lump- that was his pride- was now, not so easily swallowable.

but despite the agony
-the painful reminder -
its taste was not bitter on his tounge
but lingered more with the sweetness of honey

There’s a new sport called dung skating .Slip sliding away on the excrement of holy cows, down the narrow alley ways of Varannassi (the holiest and oldest city in India) and out onto the edge of the Ghats. The holy Ganjees with its great big grin- still carefully concealing its rotting paan stained teeth. Several bodies burn on open wood fires, one woman must have died petrified cause the look has remained on her face and as I watch them set fire to her corpse it’s unsettling From her frightened expression it appears that she can still smell her hair singe , feel her skin blister and pop as the flames engulf her - cremate her into a gray smoke ghost that chokes the setting sun. The air is full of such ghosts-as well as multi colored paper kites. Sometimes up to five hundred kites at one time, like a permanent flock of gaudy, excitable birds.

A man at the sidewalk perfume shop reveals a little glass container of fragrance .He spills a drop on my arm ‘Go on Sahhh, smell’ he urges ,I do, ‘What is it?” I ask. ‘Ahhhh Opium’ he smiles
A woman on the street passes me wearing a purple sari , a sari that bursts into several purple kites that steal into the air -as frightened butterflies do-laughing at the end of their strings
leaving her naked and blushing in a similar purple hue.

It’s a competitive sport-this kite flying. The aim is to intercept and destroy the other kites, like mating eagles, kites seduce and attach to one another before tumbling earthbound to their certain doom.

Today I met Babu, well Babu met me. A streetwise seven year old Varranassi kid. Babu insisted he accompany me on my adventure through the city and that I buy us both kites and coca colas, and together we sit on the edge of the Ganjees and fly them. This we did and what a meditative humorous morning it was. Little Babu, the Biggles of all kite fliers ,insisting I purchase the longest cotton string possible and the brightest fiercest kite we could lay our hands on. After the lengthy preparations and a hefty hundred rupee outlay, our kite was launched.

We watched as it danced wearily into the blue beyond. Babu displaying great skill and patience in the tugging and maneuvering of the string. ‘Our ones going to be the highest!’ he declares proudly but before our fluttering hope has found the joy of its wings, tasted the sweet air that accompanies ones first flight we’re tagged by the pesky kite gangsters from the rooftops. Our kite goes wheeling into the Ganjess river! Babu scolds me “I told you, you should have brought a stronger string stupid man’

As usual I bring my over excitable imagination to events and returning to the cremation aspect of Varranassi- the actual fact is that the Ghat cremations are surprisingly unaffecting-or at least less impacting then one would initially imagine. Varranassi and India is a macabre and chaotic circus full of such side shows. Employing the miracle workers , Saduhs, dancing girls, the acrobats, healers , undertakers, vendors, freaks, marching bands in it’s daily line up.

Roll up , Roll up
something for everyone
-delight and enthrall
-repulse and appall!!

Neil

Jodphur
The blue city
an indigo cubist oasis amongst desert hills
blue calms
the chaos of India has never been so calm
blue in every colour ,on every wall and in every sari-in every possible blue hue
All this blue should make me melancholy
I’ve never been this alone in my life
I am so alone out here -deserts make me feel that more then anywhere -all that space and silence and a blue desert! well I should be finding myself in a suicidal predicament-not so?
One would think I would be drowning in the blue silence- deep and sinking
but I’m buoyant surprisingly buoyant

and I’m me
just me
no frills
or spills
or hills
or drills
just me- and I just be in this crazy blue Indian fairytale of mine

neil

Vulture Man

on a tour of the palace museum today (im in Rajastan -the desert town of ‘Jodhpur’) I’m told a tale of a leper on the streets of Jodhpur - many, many hundreds of years ago- a leper who was regarded with sheer disgust by his community.

a desperate man who found his pitiful requests for a rupee or two , answered abruptly by the ends of broomsticks-wielded by the horrified housewives of the town, who hid their children and shrieked ‘be gone you rotting monster-be gone from this town!!!

and the pitiful,deteriorating beast -surely the Quasimodo of all India -only without a bell tower to hide his shameful face behind-crept into exile-finding solace in a vulture colony in the surrounding desert hills

And out here the Vultures soon learnt to trust the leper- even love him -for when fresh carrion was hard to come by, the leper generously offered a small piece of his own rotting flesh to the birds as a substitute. Thus a unique exchange began, a bond was formed and the leper was eventually declared king of the bird colony-King of all the vultures.

One day a Maharaja arrived on the very same hill and swiftly declared it the site for his new palace .The King of the vultures tried in vain to defend the colony but the Maharaja was unflinching in his plans and held no qualms in removing the pathetic bunch from their roost and abruptly beginning construction on his prodigious new fort.

The King of the vultures was never seen again but upon leaving the hill accompanied by his scavenger troops he swore a bitter and cruel revenge on the palace.

The vulture king may be a featherless forgotten bird
but the vulture king has spoken
and now the vulture king keeps his word’

Now as a tourist three hundred years later, I amble through these palace halls, epic in size and history .The story of the vulture man plays constantly in my mind. I’m in a tour group of about six people, mostly impatient Indian tourists who keep pushing to the front of the exhibits flashing their camera’s and ignorance.

’How does it end?’ I implore eventually from the back, impatient for the Tour guide to finish her fantastical tale of the Vulture man.She glances at an ancient crib that rests behind a red rope chord. We are now in the Nursery exhibit of the palace, the crib is ornate, two royal peacocks carved into a cradle, velvet red pillows with gold brocading, gathered at its centre.

’The vultures came from out of no where’ she continued –‘They took the Maharajas first born ,the Prince of the palace ,they stole him from this very crib and he was never to be seen again. All that remained was a scroll which read’

’The vulture king may be a featherless forgotten bird
but the vulture king has spoken
now the vulture king keeps his word’

at this stage a rotund woman in luminous sari scoffs loudly in disbelief and pushes defiantly past the red museum rope. Promptly plonking her equally plump baby into the peacock crib ,snapping photos excitedly and cooing ‘ Ah Maamies own little Maharaja! Smile for your mammy Vishnu….smile for Mammy….smile!”

I can’t quite recall how or what next happened! A combination of horror, awe and disbelief clouds my judgment of this afternoons peculiar events. I remember the stained glass widows of the nursery shattering, the sudden gush of daylight and dust poring into the dimly lit nursery. The air filled with feathers, screams and squawks . A frenetic flapping of wings. Large wings ,Vultures wings!

Once the birds had departed - the cradle stood empty again. Little Vishnu had vanished! All that remained was a small scroll. I know this for I held it in my own trembling hands and read it’s dreadful bold lettering out loud……..

The vulture king may be a featherless forgotten bird
but the vulture king has spoken
now the vulture king keeps his word!

India worships myths
is built on the very foundations of myth
It is in itself one great relentless, never ending, myth

the sooner one resides themself to this fact (and stops asking so many pesky questions) then the less confusing or strange such abnormal events become.

im going to bed -its been a hell of a day

with love
neil

dear familia

i arrived in Udaiper two days ago (famous for its lake palaces used as featured locations in Bonds Octorpussy )

Was firstly accosted by a mad japanese woman and then by an elephant-the elephant (as oppossed to the mad jap) i will linger on for a second-
An elephant!!!
that casually strolled down the main street-through the traffic, past the cows,past disinterested store owners- stuffing its trunk into the peanut vendors carts. No one raises a brow , or troubles themselves with paying any attention to the beast-
even when it proceeds to shit on someones car bonnet - This I gather to be interpreted as either karma or excessive dollop good luck.
which i love about this country-you never in the shit -only blessed by it -Holy shit !they call it

Initially i thought the animal to be a fugitive circus act -but the Indian elephant -when not playing the pink headed god ganesh -is a valuable form of transport and to locals about as surprising as your average lorry ( and only a little more curious)
————————————————–

a young girl dances out in the desert sands
her dance is furious, dust swirls round her bell adorned ankles
her orange and red sari blazes behind her
swoops
gathers
flails
flames

here i recall the line from a ryan adams song
-dancing like a fool set on fire-

as well as the lyrics from a John Adams opera ‘El nino’ - where they sing about a little girl who carries a desert star-

‘people shout at her
she wont let it go , she wont let it go
her hands are covered with flames
she wont release the star….she wont release the star
….although her chest ,although her hair
are on fire…..
are on fire.
….are on fire

they try to take it away
but how can she live without her star’

Im moved by the girls dance-
but im saddened at the same time - manipulated -like a puppet -only ever bought to life by strings - the strings of her fathers suitar -thats plays each time a tourist ambles past.

this image is further enhanced by the thousands of marionettes that hang from every available store

-Waiting sadly, heads hung limply, maybe in prayer
for fingers to find the ends of their strings
for fingers to tug some life into their weary limbs

Rajastan has an ancient tradition of string puppetry- (a particular fascination of mine)so im in heaven.

India,for me has restored that feeling of been a kid in a giant, dazzling toy store. Its the feeling i hoped i would rediscover out here,the wonder and awe i had started to lack before my departure.

i attended a puppet show at the cultural museum the other night-
the Rajastani puppeteers are master manipulators - who breathe the most impossible life into their puppets-
particularly enthralling was a marionette named- ‘The Magic Man from Bengali’ who removed his head halfway through his dance and tossed it-nonchalantly- from one hand to the next, even bouncing it on one foot like a hakkie sack. Unreal

and i relate to this man more then any -for like him ( out here) my head has been juggled about-at dizzying speeds and too alarming heights!

i must now rush to catch my Bombay bound bus -bollywood dreaming has got the better of me -off to the Indian metroplois-land of sin and celluloid- as you know two of my favourite past times

huge dollops of love
THE MAGIC MAN OF COWIES HILL
Neil

i arrived in Udaiper two days ago (famous for its lake palaces used as featured locations in Bonds Octorpussy )

Was firstly accosted by a mad japanese woman and then by an elephant- Who i will
An elephant!!!
that casually strolled down the main street-through the traffic, past the cows,past disinterested store owners- stuffing its trunk into the peanut vendors carts, and no one raised a brow , or troubled themselves with paying any attention to the beast\

hello

a young girl dances out in the desert sands
her dance is furious, dust swirls round her bell adorned ankles
her orange and red sari blazes behind her
swoops
gathers
flails
flames

here i recall the line from a ryan adams song
-dancing like a fool set on fire-

as well as the lyrics from a John Adams opera ‘El nino’ - where they sing about a little girl who carries a desert star-

‘people shout at her
she wont let it go , she wont let it go
her hands are covered with flames
she wont release the star….she wont release the star
….although her chest ,although her hair
are on fire…..
are on fire.
….are on fire

they try to take it away
but how can she live without her star’

Im moved by the girls dance-
but im saddened at the same time - manipulated -like a puppet -only ever bought to life by strings - the strings of her fathers suitar -thats plays each time a tourist ambles past.

this image is further enhanced by the thousands of string puppets that hang from every available store

-Waiting sadly, heads hung limply, maybe in prayer
for fingers to find the ends of their strings
for fingers to tug some life into their weary limbs

Rajastan has an ancient tradition of string puppetry- (a particular fascination of mine)so im in heaven.

India,for me has restored that feeling of been a kid in a giant, dazzling toy store. Its the feeling i hoped i would rediscover out here,the feeling and wonder i felt i had started to lack before i came over.

i attended a puppet show at the cultural museum the other night-
the Rajastani puppeteers are masters-highly respected men - who breathe the most impossible life into their puppets-
particularly enthralling was a marionette named- ‘The Magic Man from Bengali’ who removes his head halfway through his dance and tosses it-effortlessly- from one hand to the next, even bouncing it on one foot like a hakkie sack. Unreal

posted under commentry, travel | 1 Comment »

Faulty Watches

September27

At an antique store I plunged my hand into a fish bowl of broken wrist watches. Pulling out a hand full I examined them, each in a different state of neglect. Faces cracked, straps worn pale of their leather. Their hands marking different times, different days, years, centuries. Some mere mille seconds apart. It was unsettling, holding the stagnant seconds of someone’s life in my palm. Whose life? What were they doing when it stopped? How long did it take for them to notice? Did they miss the bus, the tram, the carriage, over boil eggs, because of it? Was it a gift, accessory, necessity? How many attempts did they make to repair it before discarding it all together?

Did Durban’s salt air rust its intricate workings, Or water prove the ‘water resistant’ guarantee worthless? Did the battery die or technology render it redundant? Did the previous owner (in the clutches of Alzheimer’s) forget to wind it and live the rest of his life wedged in that same interminable hour?

How easy it would be to forget that these seconds, these minutes, hours had ever existed, were it not for my fistful of watches, forfeiting their pursuit of punctuality to record and remember them. Their deaths seemed noble now, a selfless contribution to ‘times’ archives, times expansive memory. I wondered if whether somewhere out in the world a watch or clock (in a desperate bid of remembrance) is dying at every mille second of the day , in the same way they say babies are been born. Are there enough watches in the world to sustain this theory? Is all that time ultimately has to show for itself, a fish bowl of faulty watches?

I clenched my handful of broken time. For a second felt that the world had stopped. Time had ceased and I were god.

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