....................................................... J U L Y - 12.


see also



Time for a new story....



I first stumbled on Heathcliff when scouting for books. This was several years ago in Hastings Old Town. A struggling little cafe had dedicated a corner to customer book-selling: 5% commission. I soon noticed that half the books had HR pencilled inside the cover, with weird prices that always ended in a 9: £1.79, £2.39, or just 69p.... which, come to think of it, was expensive for those times compared with now.

It was on my second visit to the cafe when Heathcliff appeared. He added several tomes to the shelf, and we soon got talking. Was our first topic Gurdjieff or Hesse? Heathcliff would remember. Like me, he enjoys discussing books and authors. Most of all he wants to hear about those he doesn't know, and in return to describe those he does. He's a small wiry specimen, mid 40s I guessed at the time, full of life and ready to laugh. I liked him a lot, I recall, especially for the conversation: philosophy, biography, fiction, nothing was outside his range. I soon learned that books weren't his only interest; he spends some of his time traipsing surrounding countryside. Often, he takes a train several stops then walks back through fields and lanes. He's inclined to immerse himself for days in nature like this. He's as contented roaming hedgerows and woods as discussing Dostoyevsky or the French Revolution. On several occasions I've joined him on these jaunts. They're as memorable for the conversations as for the fun of aimless wandering. I recall most the weird pleasure of homing-in occasionally on rarely visited issues that only kids might discuss but soon hit an impasse - whereas we, with our greater depths of thought and experience, are able to reach some kind of a logical endpoint.

Another intriguing aspect of Heathcliff is his memory. Tell him a date of some event, or link it to a name, for instance, and he never forgets it; or ask him a date of when someone famous was born or when they died.... or where, if he ever knew, and he'll recall it instantly. I can only just about recall the date of a couple of birthdays, so to me this is impressive. Then there's his interest in the supernatural - which I don't share, except in how it relates to psychology. I wouldn't say Heathcliff is religious in any traditional sense, and he's never offended when I ridicule or reject it as humbug or some kind of conspiracy, but he brightens and latches without hesitation to any mention of mystery or afterlife.

It's true that few people I meet are as apparently intelligent, thoughtful, nature-loving, anti-war, anti-establishment, perceptive, reasonable, open, friendly and trusting as Heathcliff. And it's true that few I meet are as ready to enter such deep prolonged philosophical discussions on any topic without drying-up, and respond with interesting views and ideas as Heathcliff. It's true also that few people I know are as fascinatingly eccentric and life-affirming as Heathcliff, or as cheerful upon meeting me perchance on the promenade where we'll inevitably dive into some meandering esoteric symposia - only to awaken an hour or so later surprised that more than the apparent few minutes have past. All this is true enough.... and yet... beneath it all lurks a profound naïveté. Isn't there always a catch?

You'll doubtless be familiar with those deluded characters we sometimes observe on TV who so fill their houses with stuff that to get anywhere they have to crawl through tunnels between boxes and packages and all sorts of clutter and trash they've accumulated over the years. Heathcliff belongs in this group. He must own 20,000 books, at a rough guess, maybe double that for all I can tell; plus generous amounts of other junk. His inherited house is solid with it, and on 4-levels. The house sits in a long terrace of individually painted houses about 4-metres in from the pavement. Most have steps up to the front door, some have steps to a basement flat. Heathcliff's has no steps down, but instead there's a narrow walled area from which grows several huge buddleia shrubs.

To Heathcliff, a tree is a living entity with a soul and an individuality like a human being - except unlike a human the tree, maybe even a blade of grass, is pure, uncorrupted, as deserving of the freedom to thrive and enjoy its existence as any other plant or creature on Earth - or for that matter, presumably, the universe. I can just about see this point of view. It reminds me of Janism, or is it that branch of Buddhism where the monks brush the path ahead for fear of crushing an insect as they walk? I confess that, in the same way, I feel uneasy when using slug pellets. But if I don't protect my runner bean plants until they're high enough to reach the sticks I've placed for them to climb, then I may as well not bother to sow them in the first place. But then what about the 'poor' beans if the slugs win, and 'poor' me when there's no beans to pick? Maybe I'll tackle Heathcliff on this when I next see him.... if he doesn't pass me by in disgust.

Because, you see, a few days ago I betrayed my good friend Heathcliff.... I betrayed his trust. He expected me to support him and I deliberately and blatantly let him down. What's more I'd do the same again in the circumstances. It was no dilemma for me because I know well that when loyalty triumphs over reason the result can be disastrous: there's consequences for taking sides against one's conscience, and consequences for the victims of misplaced allegiance. In 2003 MPs who let themselves get whipped into voting for invading Iraq, against their conscience and better judgement, will probably regret it for the rest of their lives - all too aware of the widely predicted consequences of their misplaced loyalty: with > a million dead, they have something to answer for.

The situation with Heathcliff, in contrast, could hardly be more trite. Yet to him, so it seemed to me, it could hardly have been more profound. He phoned to ask if I'd help him erect a restraining net to contain his burgeoning buddleia shrubs. The neighbours, apparently, as well as the council, have been complaining for years. Heathcliff explained this to me some while back, and I'd seen it too. My response was to shrug and advise him to cut it down. The bushes, after all, were encroaching considerably onto the neighbour's property and restricting their light, blocking any chance of direct sunshine. And the adjoining wall was severely cracked too, from expansion of roots. Probably the drains and other services were being undermined below the pavement too. When I turned up there, Heathcliff produced this huge net and we began to stretch it around the mass of flowers and greenery... when out come the neighbours.

I went straight over and began talking with them. Why they hadn't already cut what was on their side puzzled me, and I told them so. At which, the guy went to fetch his clippers, then to Heathcliff's horror began cutting the growth back level with the boundary. I'm not sure if I've ever been glared at with such loathing and disapproval as Heathcliff directed at me then - as if I'd coaxed the neighbour (well, maybe I had a bit). I said that had it been me living there I'd have painted weed-killer on it ages ago. Then, sullenly observing the trimmings, Heathcliff informed his neighbour that his soul would rot in hell - or some such fate. Heathcliff is probably incapable of physical aggression, but I'd never seen him in such an aggressive mood before. I'm sure, right then the best joke in the world wouldn't have touched him. The situation was truly bizarre, even hilarious. Not wishing to provoke him further, I hid my amusement. And the neighbours were surprisingly friendly and pleasant; for one thing, they hadn't cut the growth back before because they were apprehensive about upsetting Heathcliff, unsure how he would take it. They were obviously overjoyed at letting in the light at long last. Yet I could also sense Heathcliff's pain as the aromatic violet flowers fell away.

Although Heathcliff never uses expletives, he cursed his neighbour with the over-zealous vehemence of a thwarted 7-year-old, pouring out all the venom of abuses and threats he could muster: declaring that he'd make charges against them, would sue, and so on and so forth, ending with a shrill: 'Can't you see how beautiful those flowers were?'

As though in an attempt to placate Heathcliff, the neighbour and his wife both said they could. They then declared that the back garden was a much more problematic issue with a huge sycamore, or maple, that Heathcliff refused to cut back. Heathcliff tried to drag me away. He told me he didn't want me talking with them. Even so, I continued chatting with the neighbour's wife who, to Heathcliff's irritation, was recording the whole episode on her mobile phone - or pretending to (she was as amused as me at the absurdity of it all). I have good neighbours, but I'd have been just as happy to have Heathcliff's - I thought they'd been remarkably tolerant.

After clearing-up the twigs a bit and mumbling annoyances at my betrayal, I left Heathcliff to brood alone over what had happened. I'd witnessed in him exactly the kind of conduct I recall of a friend my own age when I was about 10, which had astonished me even then for its lack of consideration for someone else's position, its rejection of any thought of compromise. How was it, I wondered on both these occasions, that these friends of mine who I respected so much and liked - especially the instance when I was a kid - were unable to see things from the other person's angle... to place themselves in another's shoes? For Heathcliff - at his age - such a monumental blind-spot is truly inexplicable.

I do understand Heathcliff's angle on nature though, how humans are creating concrete jungles, destroying the natural environment in so many ways around the planet. And likewise just 'up-the-road' with that new housing estate, industrial park, shopping centre.... whatever. But for thousands of years people have been managing the little plot around where they live. And this was a residential street - not a hedgerow or field or other rural spot. To confuse these, in the context of this event, is really short-sighted, I think. So now I'm just hoping that by the time we next meet, Heathcliff will have reflected on how inappropriate his response has been - and on the fact that my apparent betrayal was really not betrayal at all, but rather an attempt to correct a misguided injustice.. and maybe will realise that he isn't the only person on the planet, that other people have rights too, and views that are as valid and as worthy as his.


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You should've been there....

It’s the afternoon of July 17th. I’ve been fiddling and faffing about on the internet for a couple of hours, responding to emails, scanning ‘subversive’ political news (such as THIS), tweaking things, and I’m more than ready for a wander out.

Incredible, the sun’s shining; and it’s warm. Instead of a jacket, I shove swim-shorts and a small towel in a Morrisons bag and head out. I make for the cliffs, then after that I'll go as far as the Firehills about an hour away. First I have to traverse the promenade from the pier to the Old Town, where the cliffs start.

But what’s this: the main road... closed? And there’s loads of tough-looking guys in black uniforms standing about. They have ‘SECURITY’ printed on their backs in white. Some in the road are wearing yellow tops. They look slightly less threatening – but that’s from a distance. Soon I hear horrible raucous singing. It’s coming from Pelham Place car-park. This is about half-way towards the Old Town. First is an enormous red Coca-Cola lorry with one side open. It’s set-out inside as a display area. A smaller white lorry behind is solid with cases of coke. About a dozen kids are queuing at the front to receive a free bottle. The car-park is virtually deserted - there’s probably about 20-people altogether. They’re spread around a bit, but are all watching a huge open-sided centrally parked lorry. This is flanked by two big stacks of loud-speakers - which is where the singing racket is coming from. About 50-kids and maybe 5 adults holding mikes are in the lorry screaming wildly and swaying to some indiscernible rhythm. I can only make-out the adult voices. It’s deafening. I’m walking away as fast I can. At the far end of the car-park I pass a TSB bus. I’d like to go up into it and ask are they dishing-out free cash, as the coke lorry is dishing-out free coke? I reflect that with all the security I might get arrested, or even shot. Who knows? I can’t get past all this fast enough. Keeping well clear of the multitude of security nerds, I eventually reach the cliff steps. YES! ESCAPE.

Two hours later I’m back. It’s 16.00, and the tide’s almost in. Perfect. Now the entire Stade area is enclosed within a barrier of solid corrugated security fencing. What’s going on in there? I can’t get near – not that I have any wish to – I’m heading for the beach. I’ve had a terrific walk; I’m hot and ready for a refreshing dip. Now I’m being stopped by two guards. They have foreign accents and look about as friendly as rabid wolves. I only want to get to the beach, I tell them. Beach is closed, one of them says. His manner is impatient, arrogant. They look tough enough to be dangerous. I return to Rock-A-Nore Road and go east towards the Sea Life Centre. I’ll head around the end and onto the beach that way. It works, but now there’s a different pair of guards coming along the beach. They look about as amiable as their colleagues. Amazingly, they pass, though not without watching me like hawks. I continue to the harbour wall where I take a swim…. Luxury… one of the guards watches me from a distance. There’s no-one else on the beach – this guard is there only for me. Once dry and ready to move I see the solid steel barrier has been placed all the way along as far as the Go-Karts. I have to walk maybe 200-metres on the shingle before I can return to the promenade.

A solitary woman sitting in the beach gets up as I pass. She asks, pointing towards all the fencing just erected, what's the best route back to the road. She has a German accent, and says she has to locate her students. I tell her I’m going that way. She joins me, describing her astonishment at the restrictions, the bomb-proof fencing, the incongrous sparsity of public, but above all, at the disproportionate number of guards – and all for a mere Olympic torch. I tell her the Olympics these days is a euphemism for a combined corporate orgy and military exercise.  I say it reminds me of when Hitler used the Olympics for political ends, and the guards are like the SS. As I speak I reflect that she's German and probably far better informed than me about the Hitler era. She agrees with what I say, and not without enthusiasm – as if surprised and pleased to hear me stating what she was already thinking. She adds that she isn’t looking forward to taking her students to London. I tell her the authorities there are setting-up unprecedented security at the Olympic park, that the army have missile launchers on high-rise flats, enough security staff to start a major war, and various other sinister so-called deterrents... and that's just what we know about. A show of strength is the aim there, I say, a show of invulnerability and power.

The next day when I wander along to the Stade most of the security fencing has been dismantled. I can see rigid boxframes of scaffolding behind what remains. This would have protected against even a charging vehicle. What the HELL were they expecting? In Hastings? Someone told me the council had been obliged to fork-out £10,000 for security. I'd estimate that what I saw would have cost quite a bit more than that. The only warming aspect of the whole mad episode is the public boycott, the indifference... Either way, during my brief presence on the seafront, there was scarcely more than a scattering of public anywhere.

It’s pretty obvious that the monumental publicity hype the Olympics has received is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the corporate establishment to reverse the public’s yawning tedium at the entire sham – because these days the public knows better than to be so easily duped, and by such puerile propaganda too...


Maybe there's hope for us after all? .....SEE ALSO: 'BANKSY'

(A 25.7.12 Yahoo news report stated that the British Transport Police, for one, were relentlessly searching-out and destroying all graffiti hostile to the Olympics, whether by Banksy or not. Is that totalitarianism I see looming on the horizon?)

Question: If sport is symbolic of war, then why do we have to tolerate both?

Answer: BIG CORP profits from both... (no need to explain who loses..).

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