Decameron

Posted by Barabal on Monday, April 13. 2020 in Decameron

The Decameron

The Decameron, subtitled Prince Galehaut and sometimes nicknamed l'Umana commedia, is a collection of novellas by the 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio. The book is structured as a frame story containing 100 tales told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death, which was afflicting the city. (Wikipedia)

Author: Giovanni Boccaccio
Original title: Decamerone
Translator: John Payne, Richard Aldington, James McMullen Rigg, Mark Musa, Peter Bondanella, others


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Some thoughts on being connected ( Tom Williams )

Posted by Barabal on Thursday, February 11. 2021 in Connection

Humans are, above all things, social animals.  They are not the only social animals, but human society ( and the word society is a clue ) depends crucially on many and subtle social interactions.  It's quite possible that the complexity of the human cerebral cortex evolved not to enable us to do higher mathematics and philosophical theorising, but mainly so that we can keep track of who owes us a favour and whose partner is messing around with whose best friend.

Generally we manage these social connections without even noticing.  They are so much a part of our world that we no more consciously negotiate our everyday social interactions than we consciously draw breath.  Some people ( and I am one of them ) think of themselves as not being particularly sociable.  You won’t see me down the pub; I seldom arrange to go out for a meal with friends.  I have often thought that I would be well suited to living cut off from most people outside my immediate family.

The past year has made me realise just how wrong I was.

Even the most anti-social person is defined socially.  A hermit is only a hermit if others know of and acknowledge their isolation.  Those Japanese soldiers who hid away from the world after 1945 ( some for decades ) were not hermits.  They were fugitives.  Fugitives do genuinely live outside of society and their situation is usually regarded as stressful and deeply unpleasant.  Hermits, by contrast, surround themselves with metaphorical signs reading ‘Do not disturb the hermit’ and then, I suspect, complain when ( as is more or less inevitable ) people turn up to visit their hermitages to see what all the fuss is about.

I am beginning to think of other human beings as rather like salt.  I don’t like salt.  I add hardly any to my cooking and, as a result, when I am served salty food I don’t particularly enjoy it.  Most people prefer more salt than me, but people who pour lots of salt on their food are a bit weird and it often makes them sick.  But even those who, like me, avoid salt will die if they don’t eat any of it.

So it is with people. ‘People who need people’, meaning, in the musical theatre world, happy, gregarious types ready to do the show right here, are actually a bit of a pain.  They are needy and often narcissistic and demanding to be around.  But we all need people a bit.

The UN defines solitary confinement as "the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact."  Solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as torture.  For people living alone in the UK, leaving their home for only an hour’s exercise a day for months on end, government mandated isolation is, on this definition, torture.  No wonder that so many people are breaking “the Rules”.  They go against the very nature of what it is to be human.

People like me are at least confined with my partner.  We are both surprised and delighted to discover that we still enjoy each other’s company after so long thrown closer together than we have been for most of our married life.  For many people, though, a single connection cannot replace the need for wider connections.  Sadly, in many cases, it is the escape that social connections allow, and the social sanctions on bad behaviour, that keep spousal abuse in check.  Without those wider social connections, refuges are finding themselves running out of bed-space even faster than ICUs.

Even within a couple, connections need to be nurtured.  Simply hugging is an important way to remain connected.  That kind of contact is critical between lovers and between parents and children.  The ban on direct physical contact between elderly people in care homes and their relatives is doing terrible damage.  The anecdotal accounts of rapid mental decline ( especially of those with Alzheimer’s ) are convincing and it seems likely that many elderly people deprived of physical connection with loved ones face physical decline as well.

Connections matter. If we truly valued mental health as much as physical health, we would make a more careful balance between the two when coping with diseases like Covid.

 
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Crystal Pendant ( Lizzie )

Posted by Barabal on Friday, June 5. 2020 in Ornament

Crystal Pendant

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It was 60 km from the Israeli border on the Egyptian side of the Read Sea. Hidden way down on an unused track, leading all the way to the beach, there were small bamboo Bedouin huts that you could rent out about 2m from the sea. When I visited there for some downtime now and then, there would be quite an eclectic group of people, they were mainly travellers that were passing through the area. There were no luxuries in these places, they were just basic Bedouin huts that were just big enough to sleep in, with the same area again for your clothes and a small bag, that’s it! One night when we were all gathered around the open fire, with the sea lapping in front of us, a group gathered round, which so often was the case, candles would be lit, leading all the way down to the fire and the sea. No sound or light pollution, it was magical, we would all chat about life and the meaning of it all, why we are here etc. Travellers were very insightful, spiritual, and usually we had a lovely discussion lasting through the late evening and into the night. Nothing unusual occurred and on the last night we were about to head off our separate ways, when a young woman of about 25 years tapped on the door of my hut, she had been in the group with us previously. I liked her opinions and chats within the group, but nothing really close. ‘Now’ she was stood in front of me, dangling a huge hexagon shaped crystal on the end of a silver chain. She said to me, that she had enjoyed the last few days, and that she was moving on. However, before she did, she wanted to give me this crystal necklace.

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She said that, she thought I would get the most out of it, out of the whole group, and that if I carried it around with me from now on, it would bring me luck, healing, spiritual fulfilment, prosperity, and good fortune would follow me all my days. I was a bit astonished and felt special that she had chosen me out of the whole group. She hugged me, gave me the pendant and said goodbye. I never saw her again. This happened about 20 years ago. I still have the pendant to this day, and I have to say I feel blessed in life, whether it is the energy from the crystal or not, who is to say? I’d like to think it is

 

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A Dish Served Cold ( Zoran Krušvar )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, June 3. 2020 in Supplies

A Dish Served Cold

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When the phone call ended, Mario's face looked a bit cloudy, even puzzled to some extent. Yet, as he unwrapped the layers of his thoughts and cast those that worried him aside, a reassuring smile formed on his lips and it quickly grew into a big, juicy, satisfied grin. His fingers tapped the screen of the smartphone and soon a new voice came from the speaker:

"Yes?" the voice on the other side was deep, dark and tired of life. Well, Mario thought, that is about to change.

"Hi, Ivan. Guess what just happened" Mario was trying to keep his cool, but he was actually quite excited and he knew it was probably obvious. He didn't care, he wasn't going to hide it for long.

"What?" Ivan's voice grunted from the speaker, and then sighed as if Mario already gave him the answer and the answer was as dull as a kindergarten butter knife.

"Tony just called me" Mario said and his smile grew even more. But Ivan was still unimpressed:

"Tony? Tony who?"

"Little Tony, you know… old Luca's grandson."

A pause and a sudden change of tone. Mario could imagine the arches of Ivan's eyebrows rising like a fucking McDonald's sign as he became curious:

"Oh. What the hell did he call you for? Did somebody die or something? Somebody caught Corona virus?"

"Oh no, no, no, no… He just called to tell me he got the job."

"What? Why would he do that? What job?"

Mario laughed and nearly shouted:

"THE job, Ivan! He got THE job and he called to inform me that we can count on him."

There was a silence. Mario tried to imagine the shock on Ivan's wrinkled face, the changing color of his cheeks and the widening gap of his eyes. The information was quite big and quite unexpected. If it came from anybody else, if anybody else in the village got the job, it would have been big. But Tony? That was huge.

"The motherfu… and he called you on his own? Did Luca somehow made him call you?"

"I don't think old Luca can do much these days, apart from shitting in his diaper and waiting to die."

"That's so fucked up… he was such a great guy. But, you know, ever since his son Mauro, Tony's father, died in that accident…"

"Yes, old man was never quite the same. What a tragedy. And you know, we had no more actions after that day. Maybe it's a coincidence… but maybe Luca was the one who always pushed us, you know, the old bandit could never stay still… and then suddenly everything changed."

"Of course it changed. We all loved Mauro, he was someone you could trust, he was a solid rock! You could tell he was his father's son… and he respected his roots, his family and his village. And Tony… God forbid… do you remember Tony at the funeral? He didn't talk to anyone. And he escaped practically as soon as Mauro's body was in the ground. And now he got the job!"

"Oh, he was so drugged at the funeral he was heavily sedated…" sad images came rushing to Mario's mind. A line of silent people with their heads bowed, marching through the marble forest of angels and crosses, pebbles clattering beneath the heavy feet. It was a hot day, the priest was sweating and his service was short. Sure, Tony was there, at his father's funeral. Big, dark glasses covered the better part of his face, freshly shaved and damp, assumingly from tears… or was it just sweat? He was standing alone, apart from anyone else, silent. Nobody heard him talk; people approach him to give condolences and he would just nod, never showing any expression. He was drugged for sure.

"You think so? You think he only behaved that way because of the pills?" Ivan didn't seem very convinced.

"I think he was stoned like Arabian adulteress. I'm not sure if he knew where he was, and I wouldn't be surprised if he has zero memories from that day."

"So… you think we should trust him on this one?"

"Why shouldn't we? He is one of us."

"He was never one of us Mario, in his heart he wasn't. He was always acting strange, wearing only black clothes like an old woman and always reading some weird books… What was that shit? Magic? Satanism? Voodoo? Mumbo-jumbo? Did you know Luca once told me that at some point he got sick and tired of people talking about witchcraft going on in his own house, so he grabbed all Tony's books and burned them in the backyard?"

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"There was no screwing around with old Luca… not even for his grandson", Mario said, recalling Tony in his teens, the little misfit. Not very strong, never a fighter, always different than everybody else. Such a bad, bad combination for a village boy. Once they dragged him to a Sunday mass and he started screaming and shaking like he was possessed. So the priest, wearing his robe and everything, grabbed Tony, shoved his head in holy water and kept it submerged while reciting Lord's Prayer. Entire village was there, everybody laughed at the boy… well, everybody except his embarrassed family. Who knows what they did to him afterwards, behind the closed doors? The other time, he went to Prague for a school excursion. He came back with some Jewish gibberish written on his forehead, in the form of henna temporary tattoo. His father Mauro went berserk and scratched the thing off with sandpaper, together with a layer of skin. But that wasn't the end of it, the local kids, boys and girls, roughed him up and signed their names with pens and permanent markers all over his face. It sucked to be Tony; it really did.

"You bet your ass there was no screwing with Luca! And…"

"…but the kid was just into goth music or something…"

"…and don't you remember Tony's tantrums about that musical audition?"

"Yes Ivan, but those were all just some crazy teenage acting outs. Come on, we all did weird things in our puberty. I wanted to start a punk band to impress the girls at some point", he had to chuckle. He had no talent, couldn't sing, couldn't play, didn't own an instrument and his punk rock career lasted one afternoon when he cut his own hair and painted his face. His father promptly put an end to it; he pushed him out of the house, knocked him flat on the ground, washed his face with icy water from the garden hose and shaved his head with a razor.

"Oh, come on Mario, that was 1980 for fuck sake, everybody wanted to be a punk rocker! But dreams are dreams, and life is life. And you know what? Even if you became a punk rocker, it would have been a hobby and you wouldn't have lost your way because of it. We, all of us, we knew our place and we looked after each other, and after the village. We were wild, but we knew how to behave when it mattered."

Mario said nothing, but he knew Ivan was right about that. The villagers always stood together, no matter what. Even with Tony. The local kids kicked his ass thousand times, but once he was attacked in town by some townsfolk, by some bullies who thought it might be fun to beat little Tony up, it was whole different story. The village never took such things lightly. The bullies were located in matter of hours; there was a proper manhunt, with dogs, through pedestrian zone in the town center. They were captured, beaten to a pulp and forced down the storm drains, each down his own hole, which were then carefully blocked by dumpsters.

And Ivan went on:

"Tony was just plain self-centered. Christ almighty, he nearly ruined our action that night because he wanted to go to that stupid music school and become a musician… like that is a job and like you need to go to college for that. For heaven's sake, if you wanna play an instrument, you get an instrument and play it in your own free time. You don't whine about going to audition for… how do you call it… conservatorium in another city and expect your father to pay for it! And especially, you don't throw a tantrum during the action, endangering entire village! Oh, I can't be here, I need to go… it's my future… Can you imagine that prick? What if he ruined it? What if we were caught? Most of the men from village were there, if we all ended in prison, what would happen to the village? Who would look after the elders, the women, the children for fuck's sake!? The children!? Good thing his father slapped that nonsense right out of his ears that night. Mauro had a mighty hand; I think you could hear those slaps miles away!"

Mario remembered that sound. Tony's father really lost it that rainy night, it was the final straw and the inner camel of his patience was finally broken. Yes, he was hitting Tony with open palms, he never used his fists, but his hands fell heavy as clubs. There was blood coming out of Tony's ears, there were pieces of broken teeth in the mud. Other men stood silently, nobody interfered in family matters, but they all thought the same: Mauro should have done it long time ago.

"Yup, yup… you are right Ivan but still, he was barely eighteen, what did he know about life? It's different now. He's a grown man, and he knows where he came from. I guess that beating did him some good, after all."

"I don't know… do you really trust him?"

Mario took a moment to reconsider. No, he had no particular reason to have some great confidence in Tony, but he was willing to take a risk. Mainly because he felt sorry for the boy Tony once was, he felt that the village should have done more to help the little freak. Maybe they could have tried something different instead of punishing him all his life. And then, he also felt sorry for the old Luca, Tony's grandfather, who was such a role model to entire village. He felt sorry for Tony's father too, mangled in an accident. And Tony's mother, chewed to death by a bone cancer. Everything about that boy was such a sad, sad story. And now, when he is left alone, with nobody to lean on, now he called back to the village. Mario understood this, everybody needed to belong somewhere, with someone… and this guy was so desperate that he reached back to the village he once ran away from. Tony just wanted another chance to connect, and Mario felt he personally owed it, if not to Tony, then to his father and grandfather. So he said:

"Listen Ivan… we are up for some hard times again. People are losing their jobs. Vladimir got sacked, Davor too. Karlo is working, but he didn't get paid last two months. Others got their wages cut. It's bad, man. We could really use some supplies."

"I know Mario, I'm just being… listen, if something goes wrong…"

"Yes Ivan, if something goes wrong, I will be to blame."

"Ok, but we need to be extra careful. That little brat could easily be a police informer and this could be, you know, a trap for us!"

Mario tried to imagine the weird, loner, antisocial kid in black clothes, wearing steel chains and dog collars as jewelry, painting his fingernails black, becoming a police informer. He shook his head and responded calmly: "We'll make sure we have a man to watch the road, don't worry. I will take my son with us."

"Oh, Daniel? Sure, he is a fine young man. How old is he now, 20?"

"Will be 22 this summer."

"Uh, how the time flies, eh? Ok, so what's the next step?"

"We are waiting for Tony to let us know when the supplies are coming."

"Ok. So we wait. By the way, do you have any potatoes left? I can trade you some wine for them."

"Your own wine?"

"Yes, sure it's mine."

"Dear Ivan… your wine sucks, man. I'll give you potatoes for free."

Daniel's hands were shaking like his bones were turned to jelly. He had a long talk with his father, he always knew this talk might come and he thought he was prepared for it. But he wasn't. He always had this romantic idea about the village actions, as an act of defiance, an act of rebellion, when all of them come together to break the law and take fate in their own hands. When they unite in a secret adventure that will bind the villagers forever. But now he was scared shitless and he wanted it all to go away.

The reason for all this commotion was Tony, the weird village boy who moved away. Suddenly he called to let Daniel's father know that he got the job at the customs. Now, for the village it was always vital to have a man at the customs, but it wasn't always possible. Having someone at that position meant having information about the trucks; when were they coming, when were they leaving, where were they going and what were they transporting.

This was an old habit. Maybe it can be regarded as tradition, since the village has been doing it for ages, even before they invented trucks. Historians could probably track it down to the time of sturdy hillforts and their proud chieftains, when some traders marched through these hills to sell amber and other goods on the shores of Mediterranean Sea.

The supplies were always passing down that road, and the village was somehow always in need.

They had to wait for three weeks after Tony's first call. In the meantime, the word spread through the village like a virus and seems like everyone got infected. People got serious. All conversations suddenly included prolonged periods of silence, neighbors simply looked at each other as if they were assuming that the other one knows perfectly well what that particular piece of non-information meant. The atmosphere reminded Daniel of some very formal event, where everyone tries to look very serious and not to fuck some unwritten rule or social convention up. This was going to be Daniel's first action, the final rite of passage, the definite entrance in the world of grownup villagers. He was to become a real, by all standards, man.

So why, he asked himself, why don't I want it? Is it because I'm scared? Because I most definitely am! Or is it maybe because of Diana?

Three weeks, it took him three weeks to call again and Daniel was sure the call will never come and everything will be put aside and forgotten. But after three weeks, Tony made another call.

There is a truck. Supplies for a supermarket. Big truck, well packed, all sorts of goods. It's being held because of Covid 19 safety procedure. It will be released day after tomorrow at 21:00. The weather forecast is heavy rain.

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Supermarket goods are not very valuable, compared to, for example, electronics. But most people can find use for only one TV, unless they want to sell. And putting goods on the market brings attention. So, it's safer to go for goods you can actually use, such as various groceries. Also, supermarket stuff can endure much more rain, tumbling and banging than electronics. That's why village likes big trucks full of supermarket goods.

Sure, Daniel felt the rush. The air was filled with it, he could hear the crackling of sparks and feel the tingling of his nerves. But at the same time, he tried to imagine himself as a thief. As an outlaw. A bandit. Now that it was all here, waiting to happen, it didn't seem romantic anymore. Am I going to gaol? Daniel thought. This was not how he imagined his life. And also, there was this thing with Diana, the girl he was seeing. She was by far the prettiest girl he ever dated and also very creative and open minded when it comes to sex. Unfortunately, every now and then she would start acting weird, as if she wasn't so sure in their relationship. So Daniel decided that they need some sort of private team-building, a weekend of romantic isolation somewhere where they can focus on one another for a couple of days. He made arrangements with a friend who had a most beautiful apartment – usually it was for rent, but since there was no tourists during the pandemic, Daniel got it for free. So the day after tomorrow, in the time of the action, Daniel was supposed to be in the apartment, hopefully in bed, with Diana. But now, now there is the action. He couldn't just say no to his father, it wouldn't end well. Father made it perfectly clear – it was about the entire village, and the village, the community, is more important than the whims of individuals. It was always like that, and it always will be.

On the other hand, Diana was hot.

Plus, I don't want to end locked up! I'm a college student for fuck's sake! Give me two more years and I will graduate, become a construction engineer, and one day I will volunteer to come back here and tear that fucking road apart! I will make a new one, with four lanes, and I will flatten all these God forsaken hills down and make that new road completely straight, no bends and no slopes!

When the rains came down, they came down hard as beatings Tony took while growing up. Daniel didn't use to think about Tony much. Or ever, to be honest. But now, since he suddenly made his way back into the life of the village, it was impossible to avoid some memories coming back. Daniel was four, maybe five years younger, which made all the difference when you are a child. He knew Tony, of course. Everybody knew Tony, how could you not? He was the only kid in the village with black painted fingernails and an obsession with classical music… and a collection of animal bones. It was as weird as a weird shit could be. He would find a roadkill, or some other dead thing, put it in a bag and take it to the woods. There he would make a fire, put an old pot filled with water from an old abandoned waterhole on that fire, and drop the carcass inside. He would let it boil until the flesh fell clean off the bones. He would then glue the bones together and make crazy little pendants or sculptures. He would also sniff the rest of the glue, return home in the middle of the night all fucked up, open his window, placed his keyboard piano next to it and play Bach or God knows what like he was possessed, like some cursed spook haunting the village, until his mother would come up, yank the cord from the wall and send him off to bed.

The other kids attacked him all the time. Daniel never did, he was too young. But he knew very well why other kids did. It wasn't just because Tony was different, or because he was weak and they were cruel. It was because beating Tony showed to everyone, to the village and to the world, that you were not afraid of him. You were not afraid of a guy who might, you never know, be into witchcraft, black magic, satanism or God knows what. What was he doing in those woods? With those dead animals? When he was high on glue, weed, mushrooms, pills or whatever, what did he whisper to those bones? Did he recite something from those obscure books he constantly stole from the libraries and bookstores? Did he chant some forbidden rhymes over the fire whose glow reflected from the glossy ebony of his fingernails?

Was it true that he could cast spells? Visit you in your sleep and choke you to death?

Yes, sure, the kids feared him. So, it was their priority to prove they didn't. And they proved it the only way they knew - by beating him up.

Everything was wrong back then, and everything is wrong now, Daniel concluded, climbing through the mud and bushes towards his designated spot. The veil of raindrops was thick and nearly as heavy as his heart. Diana didn't take the cancellation of their romantic weekend very well, but that was the least of his problems. Just before they left the family house, his father gave him a very carefully wrapped present. There was a very small teardrop in the corner of the proud father's eye; tonight was his good son's first action, tonight his bloodline will continue with a tradition that probably lasted from ancient times, with maybe just couple of small differences, since the bronze age traders preferred not to use trucks. Daniel carefully opened the present, even though he already guessed what it was by its weight. He was right, it was the hammer. A good, expensive hammer, with a heavy head and a short handle. A solid tool, one you can rely on. Daniel knew he will not be using it tonight; his position was fit for a rooky, on a hill, as an observer. Away from all the real action. Still, he had to carry a hammer, just like everybody else, because that was their way.

Each participant will carry a same hammer.

Daniel will be on the small hill above the road. He will observe. He will be the first to see the truck approaching. If there are other vehicles on the road, he will give the signal and cancel the action.

If there are no other vehicles, which is likely because the road is not very busy at this time of day, especially on such bad weather, he will give the signal that the action is on.

The truck will drive down the straight section of the road, probably accelerating, gaining speed. It will then reach the bend. The bend is sharp, and the slope is rather steep. The road was supposed to be protected by the signs and a side fence but they were all conveniently removed by an unknown perpetrator. On the critical spot, where the truck driver needs to hit the brakes, there will be a man with a big barrel of oil, waiting for Daniel's signal. The oil, the rain and the old treacherous road will do their part, and the truck will tumble down the hill, to the flat meadow where the other villagers will be waiting.

If the driver dies in the process, God save his soul.

If the driver stays alive, but loses consciousness, then the lucky bastard gets away with it!

But if the driver somehow manages to stay alive and keeps conscious, the villagers will step away, turn their faces away from the truck, close their eyes and start praying. Only one of the villagers, the one who was previously appointed by Daniel's father and whose name was never disclosed to others, will approach the driver, wrap the hammer with cloth, and smash the driver's head so that he is surely dead. He will then return to his spot and other villagers will never know who did the killing.

The truck will then be opened and looted before anyone arrives.

That was the plan, that was how it was always done… but now Daniel wanted to get the fuck out of there… and at the same time, he couldn't.

If I step away now, he thought, I'm going to ruin the action.

If I step away now, I will never be able to face my father again.

If I step away now, I can never return home.

Tony sat alone in his small office, behind the badly organized desk buried under chaotic pile of papers, documents, envelopes… His uniform was neat, his hair short and tidy, his fingernails cut and colorless. There was no ornament of any kind on him, or around him - just the official state coat of arms above the door. He's passed a long way from the eye-catching boy he once was.

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Then he reached into his pocket and added one more envelope to the scene. But this one was different, it had no address, nothing written on, Tony was sure that even police wouldn't be able to find any fingerprints on it, except for his own. It was like no one ever gave this envelope to him, this chubby package filled with a multitude of 200 Euro banknotes. Yes, the fact that Tony was a loner didn't mean that he had no contacts. True, those contacts were made online, on some very rarely visited web sites, using creatively invented names and sophisticated pieces of software that promised safety and anonymity. Apparently, the people from his old village weren't the only ones who thought his new job might bring some unexpected perks. For example, there was this truck registered in Bulgaria, which recently went on a journey towards west Europe. The official log of this truck told Tony that the driver wasn't going for the shortest route, which probably meant he went for those border crossings where he had safe connections. Now, this truck entered the Schengen area and then turned around, when Tony was offered a hefty bribe to let the truck pass without looking inside.

Daniel was standing on his spot, trying to make use of some branches and get as much cover as he could. Even with all the rain, he had decent visibility of the road and the traffic. There was not much of it going on, just as it was planned. All he had to do was wait until 21:00 and then wait some more for the first truck that will come afterwards. If it's alone and it looks like a supply truck, I will give the signal and the action will start. That's it, nothing more. Easy job. I'm not really doing anything wrong, I will just make a phone call and confirm that I see a truck. Now, this is not a crime, is it? His heart was kicking like a mad mule in his chest. He could have been in a bed with Diana right now. They could have been banging, or maybe just cuddling and watching films. Or maybe that new series that Diana likes, something with some kids and their magical keys, and every time Diana bitches about how they shouldn't have changed the name of the town.

A pair of headlights twinkled in the distance and a lonely car came driving through the rain.

A car. It's only a car. But it's nearly time, so the next vehicle might be the truck. And then what? Somebody, a person, is driving that truck. Someone's son, brother, father is behind that wheel. There are three ways this action can end, and two of them include killing the driver. Third option has him just severely hurt, though he still might die later in hospital.

I can't do this!

I can't!

Another set of headlights appeared in the darkness.

Daniel typed a text message to his father: "I can't do this!" then turned his phone off and ran back into the forest.

Mario read the message, screamed "SHIT!" and smashed his smartphone into a tree. Then he grabbed the nearest guy and growled: "Call Ivan, NOW!"

Ivan replied "Ok, I got it!", ended the call, grunted "Shit" to himself, waved his head and added: "I knew his kid was too soft". Then he dragged his barrel to the middle of the road and let the oil flow.

If Daniel stood his ground, maybe he would have noticed that the truck doesn't really look like the usual supply truck. This one was a bit smaller, with no recognizable logos or brands on the sides. Scared and shaken as he was, Daniel also could have missed those details, yet there was a chance.

But since Daniel ran, the action just went on according the plan.

Tony counted the money one more time. The big bunch of Euros was nice to have and the mere act of counting something calmed him down, just like counting sheep before going to sleep. He needed something to calm him down a bit, because all of this was slightly too much even for his nerves, and he had quite a tolerance. He learned a lot of things over the years, he knew details about things other people didn't even believed in, stuff that could bring nightmares and cause paranoias. But how did those simple thugs, those low-level mobsters from Bulgaria, manage to get their hands on something like this, that was a complete mystery to him. But sure, he shouldn't be surprised, these days there are lots of people traveling from east to west, and not everyone is a goatherder. People with some very serious knowledges are also on the move and somebody could have easily gotten in touch with somebody else, which ended with some people having access to something they didn't quite understand, but they knew it had value.

So, the truck was carrying something when it went west, and it was also carrying something on it's way east. And in both cases, it was something that shouldn't be seen by anyone. So naturally, Tony concluded that this truck must have something very interesting on board. He took the money, but he never intended to let the truck pass without knowing what's inside. Tony did some research, he checked some dates, some news portals, some books and scripts, and he pressed some of his contacts until they agreed to drop some information. So even before the truck came, Tony had an idea about what to expect, and that's when he made a first call to the village.

Three weeks later, the truck has arrived, and Tony finally got his chance to take a peek.

Thinking about it now, it was just perfect.

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Driver did his best, but it wasn't enough. At one point it even looked like he was going to save the day, like he was going to keep the truck on the road, but eventually the mechanical beast lost it's grip. The truck started skating down the road sideways and in a blink of an eye it was flying through the night. To the men waiting at the bottom of the hill, it kind of looked like a huge white whale breaking the waves and coming down ferociously, followed by the rumbling of tones of rough water. Just like their stone age ancestors did with mammoths, the villagers chased their prey over the edge of the cliff and when it came tumbling down the steep, muddy hill, they were ready to jump on it and get their reward.

To everyone's relief, the driver was dead before they reached him. His head appeared to be comfortably resting on an airbag, but the quick check confirmed he was gone for good. Mario whipped the rain from his eyes; the shit his son just did was killing him on the inside and he had to stay focused! There was no place for errors here, it all had to be done as quickly as possible. He will have to deal with Daniel later, and it's not going to be nice. But now, the truck! The truck! Let's get the supplies and run away!

Mario waved to his comrades and they quickly approached the back of the truck.

The back door was opened.

On a second glance, even with the night and the rain, it was clear that was not as much opened as it was broken. This wasn't strange, the truck just tumbled down the side of a hill, but it did look more like the doors were bent from inside out. Mario pointed his flashlight inside:

"What the fuck…?"

The truck was empty.

No pallets, no boxes, no supplies.

Somebody cursed: "That motherfucker Tony tricked us! There's nothing here!"

Other voices added:

"Is this a trap?!"

"Mario, we should go! Now!"

But Mario wouldn't move, except for the hand holding the light.

"It's not empty", he whispered.

"What?"

"It's not empty!" he yelled and climbed inside.

Others quickly followed, and it immediately became clear that everybody was right:

No, there were no supplies for the village.

Yes, Tony did trick them.

Yes, this was a trap.

And no, the truck wasn't empty.

There was blood everywhere. And there were three human bodies scattered around, naked, female, there hands and feet tied by duct tape, their mouths gagged with rags. Mario's first thought was that these poor women were abducted and taken somewhere to be sold, and now they got killed in a truck accident because of that little bastard Tony! But other things were here, too. The sides of the truck were decorated with symbols he didn't understand. Five-point stars, lines, curves, some things that looked like constellations, or hieroglyphs, or contemporary art as far as Mario was concerned. One thing was sure – it all looked very scary under the shaky light of their flashlights.

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The strange drawings seemed to spread like flames from one center, where there were more details, more symbols, like it was getting increasingly important to add something more right there, more content, more… magic? In that center, there was a box. It was bolted to the floor, but the lid was off. Did it open in the crash? Inside the box there were pieces of broken pottery. Some sort of a vessel must have been inside, obviously something that was supposed to be protected from harm. Mario couldn't make sense of it. It just felt wrong.

"Let's go!" he said to his men, and they were already jumping out when he heard a loud sigh.

One of the women was still alive.

Mario came back, not sure should he call for help or hammer her down. Yes, she was alive, but she looked very bad and Mario couldn't even imagine how could she possibly survive. He pulled the rag out of her mouth, so she could get more air.

"Ubiĭ me…" she whispered. Her language was not Croatian, but Mario sure could understand what she was trying to say. Was she Macedonian? Bulgarian? Ukrainian? Shit, why is she asking me to kill her? What did they do to her? Whose truck is this? Looking closely, he was now able to see that there were some other tracks on her body, not just from the crash. Old bruises and scars, many of those looked like marks from… animal teeth?

"Ubiĭ me predi da se vŭrne", she said again "Ubiĭ…" and then she fell silent and the next moment she was no more.

Mario jumped out and ran. His men were already on the move, one group was waiting for him amongst the nearest trees, they were aiming their flashlights at something in the grass. As he approached them, he realized it was another body on the ground. Only this one had clothes on, and a hammer tied to the belt.

Shit, it's one of ours!

It was indeed. Renato, the car mechanic, casual drunkard, and the best cards player in the village. His throat was ripped, his ribs torn apart, his chest opened, and the steam was rising from his still warm inside.

"It was some beast! Some animal! Like a wolf or something…" one of the guys was crying. The other was drawing crosses in the air with his fingers and mumbling prayers.

"A wolf? Here?" it was a disaster. Men were shocked; one of them sat in the mud with his face in his palms, another was pacing aimlessly within a three-meter radius, yelling "Fuck! Fuck!", the third and fourth were trying to investigate the crying guy who was shaking and mumbling:

"I don't know! I don't know! It was… it was just a big, black shadow!"

"No wolf can do this, man! Oh my God, Renato!"

I don't know! I've seen it jump in the woods… It took a second! Just a second! It grabbed and threw Renato like he was nothing… nothing…"

"Fuck! FUCK!"

"We have to move! WE HAVE TO MOVE!" Mario shouted.

"We can't just leave him! Like this?? I'm not leaving him!"

"Ok, ok…" Mario was trying to think, but his head was spinning with all the information. "Ok, take my coat, wrap it around him so we don't have to look at his wound while we are carrying his body to the village. You will take his arms, you take his legs, you and I will grab him by his belt, each from one side. Let's move!"

"Oh my God! This is insane! What kind of shit just happened??"

"SHUT UP AND MOVE!" Mario's scream finally snapped them out of it, and they were on their way. Carrying a corpse through the woods, in the night, with rain and mud was a grim task. They were all fighting for breath, sobbing, but rushing as fast as they could as if it was some sort of race. Nobody said anything about whatever killed Renato, but they were all aware of it. It was somewhere out here. They weren't safe until they reach the village.

We just need to get there… just need to get back home… then we will sort everything out. Somehow. Mario was thinking, trying to calm himself. I will have to do something about Daniel, and about Tony, he can't get away with this! And Renato… Renato is on Tony's head, too! We need to burry him and take care of his wife and his daughters… we will avenge him! And what about the police? We'll think of something, we just need to get to the village, to safety…

The rain started to calm when they reached the narrow path that leads straight to the village, and they could see porches and windows with the lights on. The village was waiting for them, and Mario already felt better.

We will live through this. All sorts of troubles happened here through the centuries, and the village always somehow lived through it all. We'll live through this, too. As long as we all stand together, we can make it.

There was someone ahead of them, on the path. Men with flashlights, Mario assumed those were some of their own guys who ran ahead. He waved his light and they waved back.

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"Hey! We could use some help!" he shouted, and the men rushed towards them. Only when they moved, Mario realized there is another human shape lying on the ground.

"Oh God, not again!? Is that another one of our guys there?"

Nobody responded. For a moment Mario thought these might not be their people, what if these are cops or Bulgarian mobsters? But couple of moments later they came closer and he recognized their faces. They looked frightened and shocked but there was also something else. They were avoiding to look at Mario.

"What happened here?" he demanded to know.

"I… I am sorry, Mario…"

"What? What are you saying?"

And the men just looked at Mario, and towards the body on the path. Mario's face turned pale. He released his grip on Renato's belt, and three of his companions struggled to not let go. The other men jumped in to help them, while Mario was staggering like he was drunk towards the body on the floor. His neighbours walked beside him, ready to catch him, to help him in any possible way, but he was unaware of the world around him. The only thing that existed was this body of a young man, nearly a boy in front of him. Mario felt like a ghost hovering outside his own body; all the sounds were muffled and distorted, the sight was blurred and it all seemed so very slowed down. He shook his head, trying to negate, refusing to face what happened here. There was a hand on his shoulder; he shook it off and said: "No."

The mud was red with blood.

"No!"

Daniel's head was untouched, his eyes closed, his face calm in his eternal sleep.

"NO!"

The wound started below his left shoulder and it split the young man's body all the way to his right hip. His bowels were exposed, they glimmered under the flashlights.

Mario fell on his knees and hugged his son's head, with a dreadful mixture of scream and sob. He was squealing and gasping, biting his own lip and squeezing the dead face in his arms like showing his love would bring the boy back.

"It's me…" Mario cried, "It's me!!"

The muffled voices tried to comfort him:

"Mario, I'm so sorry…"

"Yes, we all are… we are going to find the motherfucker who did this, do you hear me Mario?! We'll get him!"

"Mario, we are here for you…"

But Mario just shook his head and cried:

"It was me! If something happens, I am to blame! I AM TO BLAME!"

"Hey…" one of the voices said, "this path leads only to the village, nowhere else. If Daniel was killed here, then the beast…"

They all looked towards the distant houses, where their wives, children and elders awaited their return with supplies.

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In one of the houses all lights just went off.

Tony was at his desk, now clean. He threw all the papers on the floor; he didn't want them. He never wanted to deal with this crap, he needed space! Now his fingers were on the edge of the table, moving with precision and grace, sliding over the invisible keyboard of his imaginary concert grand piano.

This was what he wanted; this was the life that was taken from him. To be a musician, an artist! This was what they murdered, his parents and the entire community, when they bullied him, molested him, blackmailed him and in the end forced him to leave his dreams aside and do something right for himself and for the village! This was what his father said, and his mother approved. Entire village endorsed it! They bring you up to do like your daddy done, don't they?!

But now, now it ends.

Tony was far from understanding the demon he sent to the village with that truck, but one thing he did understand: it's a devastating force and it will bring doom upon them, and upon everybody nearby. It will leave the entire area deserted, so no one will ever live in that damned village anymore!

And he kept on playing that tune on the edge of the desk, that haunting melody, along the choir that was ringing through his head. He heard it perfectly clear, as any real musical talent would, and he instantly wove his own arrangement for piano. It was perfect! He kept on playing, swaying his body in ecstasy.

If, by any chance, he had a real piano instead of his desk at that very moment, there would be some beautiful music echoing through the night.

The choice would be very appropriate, "Dies Irae" by Mozart.

 

 

 

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Gilding Lilies ( Tom Williams )

Posted by Barabal on Friday, May 29. 2020 in Ornament

Gilding Lilies

 

Books, they say, do furnish a room.

Once those books would have been fine leather-bound volumes, the embossed trim and the gilded titles complementing the dark mahogany of the bookcase.

Time passed and leather bindings became a thing of the past. Now books were more utilitarian, with card covers. These covers were no longer decorative and not necessarily protected in glassed bookcases. So we got the dustjacket, a paper cover that guarded the card cover from damage. These could be quite plain. This is a relatively decorative one.

When paperback books became more popular they originally had the same relatively plain covers as the dust jackets. Penguin famously changed all that with the introduction of brilliantly coloured covers, the different colours originally being linked to different types of content – yellow for psychological novels, green for crime, dark blue for biography, cerise for adventure, red for plays and in this case orange for fiction. The covers originally had a grid design with the title and the penguin logo like this:

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Gradually, though, more illustrations were introduced.

Paperback design became an art in itself, both decorative and part of the business of selling the books. Book covers became both a practical sales tool and, as in the days of leather bound volumes, a decorative element. Books once again came to furnish a room. In fact, there are companies that will supply books purely as decorative items, such as booksbythefoot.com whose website features this example of book covers as ornament.   

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Booksbythefoot.com is concerned only with the spines of the books, but the covers can be works of art. Dust covers have followed the design lead of paperbacks and, especially on large “coffee-table” books they can incorporate beautiful images.

The artwork on paperbacks has become increasingly elaborate, but at the same time often quite formulaic, with different types of cover clearly representing different genres. Here are a couple of non-genre (“literary”) covers.

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Interestingly, The Last Days of Leda Grey was given a much more genre specific "romance” cover when it was released for mass-market publication.

The most elaborate and striking covers, unsurprisingly, are often those of graphic novels where cover designs can be so significant that the books often include an appendix with additional covers, some of which are spectacular images in their own right.

This can even lead to the rather strange situation where a hardback cover has a dramatic decorative image which is then protected by a dust cover with another startling image. By now any functional, marketing, rationale for the cover is consumed in the effort to produce a book which is in itself ornamental in appearance as an object to furnish a room.

Book covers are practical in that they keep the books from falling apart. These early 19th century volumes are bound copies of separate plays, all protected by being placed in “proper” covers.

They are, however, also ornamental. The tooled spine and gilded title go beyond anything that is strictly required to protect the pages.

In time the ornamental aspects came to serve a double function – aesthetically pleasing but also selling (sometimes aggressively selling) the book. Here we see books that represent historical, romance, and action/adventure genres. All are reasonably typical (though the James Bond design is a little dated). All are aiming to be reasonably decorative, but this is subordinated to the selling message.

I'm particularly interested in the idea of covers as ornament right now because I have decided to take my titles away from a conventional publisher and published myself. The first thing this means is that I have control of my cover design. Here you can see how the design of the first of my about James Burke is changing from that produced by Lume Books to that commissioned by me.

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Is my cover more use or more ornament? Obviously it is designed to sell the book, but it is doubtful that the additional sales of an e-book that will probably be priced at £2.99 will cover the significant cost of the cover. But to me, like many authors, the cover is the face that my baby shows to the world, and I want my baby to be as pretty as possible. The cover is practical, certainly, but it is also a thing of beauty – an ornament to any bookcase.

 

 
 
 

 

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Don't or Do? ( Barabal )

Posted by Barabal on Tuesday, May 26. 2020 in Prohibition

Don't or do? 

( are you telling me or setting a challenge? )

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Lesson to be learnt from ( Tom Williams )

Posted by Barabal on Thursday, May 14. 2020 in Prohibition

Lesson to be learnt from

 

Prohibition (noun)
/ˌprəʊhɪˈbɪʃ(ə)n,prəʊɪˈbɪʃ(ə)n/
1. the prevention by law of the manufacture and sale of alcohol, especially in the
US between 1920 and 1933.
2. the action of forbidding something, especially by law.
"they argue that prohibition of drugs will always fail"
 ENGLISH LAW
a writ from a superior court forbidding an inferior court from proceeding in a
suit deemed to be beyond its cognizance.
 a law or regulation forbidding something.
'there should be a prohibition on further subjects until people have caught up with the ones
they have so far'

 
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Retreat from the Sweet ( Lizzie )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, May 13. 2020 in Prohibition

Retreat from the Sweet 

 

Don’t sprinkle the kiddy winks with sugar

Substitute sugar wherever you “could’ah”

No sugar in hot drinks tea or coffee

Don’t rot your teeth, for sure no toffee

Soft drinks and Tizer will not do

Try something different, burst out with the new

Snap crackle pop, the sugar will rot

Everything from your mouth to your bot

Cereals are OK for you, but sugar, that won’t do

Try honey, that’s the natural option for you

Busy bees are the answer, they’re working for us

To produce runny honey that’s a must

Take all of your goodies from under the bed

An put runny honey in the cupboard instead

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Do we really need a camel? ( Tom Williams )

Posted by Barabal on Sunday, May 10. 2020 in Supplies

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Do we really need a camel?

My son is an officer in the Royal Logistic Corps, so the subject of ‘Supplies’ obviously made me think in terms of military logistics.  Although dinnertime conversations mean that I can now tell you much more than most people about how to ship military equipment from England to Afghanistan, my understanding of logistics is neither that deep nor does it go that far back.  I thought it would be interesting, then, to look at how logistics operated in the ancient world.  As you don't want an enormously long essay ( and I don't have time to write one ) I’ll touch briefly on the ancient Persians and Alexander the Great, before talking about the logistics of the Roman Empire.

Persia


There must have been a time when wars were simply skirmishes between different tribes fighting over land on the boundaries of their territories.  Logistics then would not have been an issue.  As soon, though, as we have states moving against other states some distance from their borders, the whole question of supplies becomes crucial. 

Herodotus recounts how, in the sixth century BCE, Cambyses, the second Persian King of Kings, moved to attack Ethiopia without making proper provision for supplies.

"Angered … he at once began his march against Ethiopia, without any orders for the provision of supplies, and without for a moment considering the fact that he was to take his men to the ends of the earth.  He lost his wits completely…  They had not, however, covered a fifth of the distance ( to Ethiopia ), when everything in the nature of provisions gave out, and the men were forced to eat the pack animals until they, too, were all gone.  If Cambyses, when he saw what the situation was, had changed his mind and returned to his base, he would, in spite of his original error, have shown some sense; but as it was, he paid not least attention to what was happening and continued his advance.  The troops kept themselves alive by eating green-stuff so long as there was any to be had in the country, but once they had reached the desert, some of them were reduced to the dreadful expedient of cannibalism.  One man in ten was chosen by lot to be the victim.  This was too much even for Cambyses; when it was reported to him, he abandoned the expedition, marched back, and arrived at Thebes with greatly reduced numbers.”

It’s probably significant that Herodotus says that "he lost his wits completely".  The Persian ( Achaemenid ) Empire was huge and Herodotus must have understood that proper arrangements for supplies was absolutely crucial to military operations on the scale that Cambyses would have undertaken.

Alexander the Great

The Persian Empire collapsed eventually, and, in time, we had Alexander the Great ( 356 BCE – 323 BCE ).  He inherited the logistical reforms of his father, Philip, who had been the first general to use horses rather than oxen for carrying supplies, which allowed supplies to be transported much faster, facilitating troop movements.  Philip had also improved the mobility and flexibility of his armies by increasing the supplies carried by individual troops themselves.  

Alexander developed the organisation of the baggage train, appointing an officer - the Skoidos - to be responsible for everything from the defence of the train to the distribution of supplies.  As he moved further east, he also supplemented the horses and mules of his baggage train with camels, which could carry substantially heavier loads as well as being able to cope better with arid terrain.  

There’s a fair bit of speculation in our understanding of Alexander’s logistics.  Then the Romans arrived on the scene and, being Roman, left quite a bit in the way of accounts.

Rome


The Roman army was huge.  Some people attribute the fall of Rome to the costs of maintaining it.  And while in the early days soldiers were expected to supply their own kit, as time passed, the Roman military became almost entirely funded by the state.  They needed arms and armour, building materials and medical supplies - but most of all they needed feeding.  A legion is estimated to have required, for example, 18,000 lb / 8,200 kg of grain every day. 

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Rome was required to ensure the supply of the armies’ needs, even though they might be based thousands of miles away.  To give just one recorded example, in 215 CE, the commanders of the army in Spain informed the Senate of a shortage of money, clothing and corn.   They said they would try to get money themselves, presumably from local taxation, but clothing and corn had to be delivered from Italy.  The Senate agreed that these demands were justified and enough corn to feed the army had to be shipped from Italy to Spain.  This sort of thing happened all the time.  Sometimes shipping was arranged by private contractors and other times the Roman Navy was used.  Corn would be shipped from provinces all over the Empire to provision the armies ( obviously the grain was not always shipped via Rome ).

It is important to note that the army had to request the Senate for approval for this corn to be bought.  The Senate jealously guarded its right to control military appropriations and hence ensure that the army was controlled by the legislature and not the other way round.

The Romans had a substantial logistical capability within each army, which would have a large detachment of mules together with drivers and sometimes wagons.  A legion should have 600 – 1,200 mules.  If there was a shortage of pack animals, carriages or manpower, the military could requisition from the local population.  Hence Christ saying in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain’ – a reference to the idea that a Roman soldier could demand a civilian in an occupied country should carry his pack for a distance. 

Each Roman soldier was supposed to set off with a week of food on his person and the baggage train would carry a further 3 to 4 weeks’ worth of supplies.  If Roman rule had been established in an area, the army would have built ( or requisitioned ) granaries to hold supplies of grain with supply depots linked along a system of military roads to provide for all the units in the country.

The ability of Rome to maintain lines of supply across the Empire, not only enabling the legions to campaign effectively in hostile countries but also to maintain standing armies in pacified provinces, was essential to the success of the Empire.  When the cost of such a vast military network meant that the system collapsed under its own weight, it was centuries before logistical supply on a similar scale was be contemplated again.

 

SOURCES

Herodotus The Histories Penguin Classics

Kings and Generals. Alexander the Great: Logistics  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahfyIxLlbGA

Erdkamp (1995) The Corn Supply of the Roman Armies during the Third and Second Centuries B.C. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte

King James Bible: Matthew 5:41

Invicta History. Roman Army Supply Lines and Logistics  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1Vo8VnazNw

303 Comments More...

Flour Power ( Lizzie )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, May 6. 2020 in Supplies

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Flour Power

 

No biscuits, cakes or buns

No flour to make anything from

Virus has made everybody bake

The cupboards are bare, what can I make flour1.jpg

Thinking cap on, mull it around

Ill have to go out, see what I can find

I trudge off the shops, what do I see

Empty shelves where the flour would be

Ill cook other things that dont need it

Cheese sauce no, pancakes no, pastry no, bread 'no

All needs a bit

What happened to the flour supplies?

Will be great if I could make something niceflour2.jpg

Some cake to devour and something to ice

No probs, things will get back to normal soon enough

Up until then just tough

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Too much reality ( Amy Dowdey)

Posted by Barabal on Thursday, April 30. 2020 in April 2021

Too much reality

     My last client for the day Rose wiped her tears away and stuffed the tissue in her pocket. She apologized, as she always does, for crying as she gathered her things to leave. We both pulled up our masks before I pulled back the plexiglass partition clearing the way for her to leave. Without the partitions, in person therapy sessions would not be possible, and I would still only be doing telehealth sessions.  

     I told Rose, as I always do, that this is one place it is always okay to cry. I could see her eyes crinkle when she smiled as she left and said she would see me next week. I have been seeing Rose for several months now, she is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic on her family. Rose has five children. Three of whom went into medicine and worked on the frontlines with patients infected with the corona virus. Two of those children became infected themselves, and while they did recover, they were extremely ill, and it was close. This took its toll on Rose, though she does not let them see this. She is grateful her family is alive and well now. 

     We keep some distance, but I walk Rose to the door. I watch her through the window as she unlocks her bicycle, puts on her helmet and rides away. I like Rose, she has changed her lifestyle quite a bit. Not everyone has, but it was important to her. In the beginning of the pandemic while we all sheltered at home pollution levels came down since people were not driving much and the earth began to heal. Animals came closer to the cities and we now live with more awareness of their presence. Animals were always there before. In my neighborhood there was the occasional bobcat and coyote sighting but now they walk the streets and sidewalks with much less concern for humans.   We are still in our homes much of the time, so they do not retreat.  The bobcats and coyotes are helpful, they keep the rabbit and rat population under control.  There are also a lot of large birds around that were not there before. 

     The next morning my first client of the day is waiting for me when I arrive. She excitedly begins to tell me about a new job that she interviewed for and thinks that she may really have a chance of getting. Julia is not wearing long sleeves today; the weather is beginning to warm up. I can see the scar on her forearm from her wrist heading up toward the inside of her elbow. Late last summer Julia attempted suicide. It was during subsequent wave of the corona virus. 

     Julia has a beautiful voice and loves to sing but her family could not afford college and she did not want to try and pay back student loans, so she did not go to university. Julia was working as a waitress when the pandemic hit, and she lost her job. She was able to get unemployment funding, and this helped for a while, but she lost her apartment and was living in her car. In time she moved in with a few friends to share the rent. Julia became very depressed when she was not able to find any kind of work, among other things, and eventually attempted suicide. She was found in time and taken to the emergency room. Very few people were able to get inpatient psychiatric care during this time. Julia had tried but was refused. Inpatient psychiatric units are built to prevent people from isolating themselves, so they were not safe and admission criteria was very strict. Currently plexiglass is used in the common areas of psychiatric inpatient facilities to allow for admissions without placing patients at risk. After Julia was released from the hospital, she moved in with friends who were willing to help her out for a while. She is very worried about leaning on them for too long and is desperate to find a job now. 

     My caseload is full of these kinds of stories right now, including doctors and nurses traumatized by the many lives they could not save. It is a little over a year now since the pandemic hit. We have a new president and while republicans and democrats will always be at odds with each other things feel less chaotic now. A vaccination has been discovered but producing enough for everyone takes time, so we keep physically distant and wait, and hope the end of this is near. The scars from this however will last. 

 

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If you go down to the woods today ( Zoran Krušvar )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, April 29. 2020 in April 2021

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If you go down to the woods today

 

"Do you see this Bob? Do you see?" a chubby man with cheeks red and round like a pair of tomatoes whispered to his pal. "It's beautiful! Beautiful!"

"Yes, Pat! It's breathtaking!" a thin man with thick glasses agreed, catching breath as if he were trying to prove his point. They have been walking for hours now, getting deeper and deeper into the forest, drowning in the scents of resins, clouds of pollens and shadows of tall trees. Their feet sank into the soft soil, blades of grass vainly scratched against the Gore-Tex of their expensive hiking boots, while the particles of big city smog evaporated through the pores of their skin. With every new step, they felt more connected to nature, more alive, more… well, just more!

"Well, let me tell you Bob… the nature really recovered! I mean, just listen to all those birds!"

"Sure thing, sure thing, Pat… It really did… ow, is that a squirrel?"

"Where, Bob? Where?" Pat grabbed a pair of binoculars, that he always insisted on calling "a binocular" usually followed by a long speech explaining how using the plural just doesn't make any sense here, and started frantically turning his head around as if his life depended on spotting the critter. 

"Over there, on top of that… err… what kind of tree is that one? Anyway, there!" Bob pointed with his finger, which he was unable to fully extend because of an old computer games related injury.

"Well, I can't see… oh! It's there! Oh Bob, that's one fine specimen, let me tell you! Such a beautiful tail!"

"Is it fluffy?"

"It sure looks fluffy to me!"

"Isn't this great Pat? Who would have imagined that just one year of coronavirus pandemic could do so much for mother nature?"

"Oh, Bob… you haven't seen anything yet! Wait 'till we move past those trees…"

"Which ones?"

"Those… oh, just follow me, Bob."

So they walked for another while, enjoying the freshness of air amidst the lush greenery, far away from the vile stench of civilization, until they reached the edge of a meadow and Pat gave Bob a sign to get down and be quiet. They were peeking through a thick bush, Pat with his binoculars (It's a binocular!) and Bob with eyeglasses almost as powerful. 

"Look", Pat whispered "It's over there. Do you see it?"

"The mushrooms?"

"Yes, but look at them! They grow in a perfect circle! Don't you know what that is? It's a fairy ring, Bob! A fairy ring!" 

"Wow! I've never seen one of those… well, shall we go closer?"

"No, Bob. Not yet. Now we wait for a surprise."

"What kind of surprise?"

"Well, it's a bloody surprise Bob! I can't tell you what it is, right? Just wait and keep quiet."

Bob wiggled his nose and adjusted his glasses. Yes, the woods were wonderful, but he wasn't really in shape for such an adventure. Even the long ride in Pat's SUV across the gravel road proved to be demanding enough, and not to mention all the walking they did afterwards. So he was absolutely fine with just sitting down for a moment and waiting for that big surprise. He leaned against a tree, and was ready to close his eyes and take a nap, when Pat started tapping on his leg like crazy and waving to look at the meadow. Bob looked, at first everything looked normal.   

And then he saw them.

"What the… Pat?"

"It's fair folk, Bob! Pixies! Look at them, look!" he shoved the binoculars into Bob's shaky hands "Oh my God, it's a bloody Tinkerbell, oh my!"

Bob focused the binoculars and there was no mistake – a handful of pixies were flapping above the mushroom circle, fooling in mid-air, doing little loops, rolls and spins. Soon the meadow started to glitter from all the pixie dust they were sprinkling around.

Bob nodded his head towards Pat and said: "Wow!"

Pat nodded back and took the rifle off his back. He placed it firmly in the pocket of his shoulder, calmed his hands, controlled his breathing and focused on the target. His finger squeezed the trigger and a shot thundered through the forest. The flock of pixies shrieked and disappeared so quickly that neither Pat nor Bob could tell where they went. Bang and they were gone. 

All but one.

Two friends crossed the meadow carefully, with a long, warm barrel swinging threateningly from Pat's hands. In the centre of the fairy ring, still covered in sparkly dust, there was a beautiful, tiny, winged body, it's head completely shot off by Pat's bullet. The blood was flowing from it's neck like red ink from overturned vial.

"Pat… you shot a Barbie doll."

"I know, right?"

"Wow, man. What a shot! You could be a sniper or something!"

Pat was dripping with pride when he took the dead body and placed in in his bag:

"I'm gonna have this thing stuffed and placed right on my desk! I know a great taxidermist; he'll give me a discount."

Bob picked a mushroom from the circle.

"What are you going to do with that? I don't think that's safe to eat!" Pat warned him. 

"Oh, no, no… I just wanted… it sparkles."

They headed back towards the car, one of them carrying a shiny mushroom, the other a doll-sized female corpse. The shadows grew as the hours passed and the afternoon light turned golden when they finally reached the place where they were parked.

"What a day, a Bob? What a day!" said Pat as he was opening the door.

"You can say that again, Pat. I never expected to have such a great trip to the forest. Thank you for taking me!"

"No problem, pal. You are welcome to join me any time. If you want, I can teach you to shoot! I'm not saying every man has to know how to shoot, but you know… it's a valuable skill. Now get inside and let's go, it's getting late."

They sat in the car, fastened their seatbelts and Pat turned the key.

The car remained silent.

"What the…" Pat turned the key again but to no avail. He cursed, pulled the lever and went back out to open the hood. Bob heard him yell and shout obscenities in furious anger.

"What happened?" Bob asked and stepped outside to take a look. There where the motor was supposed to be, stood a pile of metal scraps. All cables were cut, bits disassembled, plastic parts shredded to pieces. There were scratches everywhere, they looked like little…

 "Claws?" Bob looked puzzled. "Does this look like some kind of little claws?"

"Yes Bob", Pat cowered his face with both hands "Those were claws. The car is ruined. It was a gremlin."

"What???"

"A gremlin. They do this kind of things; they love to destroy engines and machines. Obviously, gremlin population also recovered… Fuck!"

"Shall we call some help, Pat?"

"Do you have signal here? Cause I surely don't! Bloody gremlins! Fuck, fuck, fuck! Now we're screwed!" he banged his fist against the side of the car. The remains of the engine cluttered.

"So… I guess there's nothing much to do here but start walking towards the main road. Once we're there, we'll find someone…" Bob shrugged.

"Walking? We drove for an hour straight from the main road here. If we are supposed to walk there, it's gonna take us… I don't know… eight hours or something like that. We're not gonna make it!"

"Oh, come on. Yes, it's a lot, yes it's going to be painful but it's not like we're doomed! We will walk those eight hours, get some sore muscles… hell, mine are sore already! And in the morning, we'll be home." 

Pat stared at him, his face pale, his mouth open. He stood like that for a half a minute, and then he said: "Let's go."

They grabbed their bags, the rifle and started walking down the gravel road. Pat was moving his lips and cursing their luck, gremlins and mother nature. He was pushing the tempo and Bob had a hard time trying to keep up with him:

"Pat, slow down a bit. This is not a race, I can't go this fast."

"We have to move, It's getting dark."

"I know Pat, but It's not like we can do anything about that. We still have hours to walk, it will get dark eventually. The gravel is white, if there is any light from the stars or the moon, we'll be able to see the road."

We'll have plenty of light. Fuck! God damn it!"

"Oh… you seem to know that for a fact?"

"Yes I know, Bob. I check those things. The moon will be fucking full tonight!"

Bob stopped.

"Is that… Pat, is that what bothers you? The moon? Is that why you are so upset?"

Pat said nothing.

"Pat… answer me, please! We have seen pixies and the gremlin chewed your engine. Is there… is there something else in the woods… that has recovered? That has to do… with the moon?"    

 Pat took his rifle and started loading it, still not saying anything.

"Listen Pat, you are scaring me. Say something, please!"

"Bullets won't stop them, Bob. They won't. But I have to ask you one thing; if they come… can you shoot me? Because I don't think I can shoot myself."

No one said anything else. At some point they started walking again, as fast as they could, and soon the night was upon them, and the bright moon spilled its silver from above. Their hearts were banging, the sweat soaked their clothes and the blisters blossomed with blood on their feet.

Bob was thinking about shortness of his breath and swore a silent, solemn oath that he will start exercising regularly once he returns home. He was so consumed by fatigue and pain, that he forgot why they were rushing in the first place. But the sound reminded him.

It started as a low, distant tone, echoing through the darkness. Then it turned to a growling rumble and finally the pitch changed, and the sound became a nightmarish, blood chilling howl.

Pat started running. Bob tried to follow, but his legs betrayed him and he fell, unable to stand up.

The howling became louder, clearer, closer.

The nature really recovered, Bob thought.

It really did. 

 

THE END

           

 
 
 
 
7 Comments More...

Pas la danse macabre ( Lizzie )

Posted by Barabal on Wednesday, April 29. 2020 in April 2021

8 Comments More...

Game of Numbers ( Tom Williams )

Posted by Barabal on Tuesday, April 28. 2020 in April 2021

gameofnumber.webp

Game of Numbers 

The Prime Minister takes his seat at the Cabinet table. All the video screens are on.


“Right. Let’s get started.”


The daily ritual starts. First there is the Press Conference – or the Daily Numbers, as it is generally
known. Of course, nowadays there is no actual press. ( There are, after all, no actual newspapers 
- an early casualty of what is officially known as the Great Chinese Plague. )


“For today’s numbers …” The Prime Minister looks solemnly at the camera. “We have Priti Patel.”
Patel was a wiz with numbers. That’s what they kept her on for. It was the only time she was ever
seen. There were rumours that she was being kept in a storage unit somewhere, waiting all day 
for her chance to read the Daily Number.


“What’s the number today, Priti?”


The feed switched to a storage unit somewhere and the erstwhile Home Secretary’s face appeared.


“Eleventy thousand two hundred and twumpty, five thousand six hundred and two.”


The screen switches again and Laura Kuenssberg’s face appears. She wasn’t a journalist anymore:
she had been elevated to the House of Lords and now sat in the Cabinet. After all, the Prime 
Minister reasoned, after so many years of representing the Government, it was only fair that she 
be put on the payroll.


“That number is a number,” says Kuenssberg. “But is the government confident that it is the 
number we need?”


“It’s a very good number,” replies the Prime Minister. “But I’m confident that it will be ramped 
up. Probably by the end of March.”


“It’s April,” says Kuenssberg, her old journalistic skills kicking in from force of habit.


“I said May,” says the Prime Minister.


“I’m so sorry,” says Kuenssberg. “I must have misheard.”


The Prime Minister gives her a forgiving smile and makes a mental note to have her medication
increased. “Didn’t you have a question about deaths in care homes, Laura?”


“Did I?” An arm appears on the screen that shows Laura’s face and a sheet of paper flutters onto
 the desk in front of her.  "Oh, yes. I wanted to know if there had been any improvement on 
deaths in care homes."


“I'm glad you asked me that question. I have to report that 87% of the residents in care homes 
have succumbed to the virus but we can do better. We have arranged for more care assistants to
visit. Thousands of additional care assistants are being recruited and each on will now visit a 
dozen homes every week. Obviously we can’t provide screening immediately, but we will get to it 
soon – probably by the end of …” He checks a note in front of him. “May. We’re ramping up to 
achieve that. And I am confident that by the end of May there will be no more old people dying in
 care homes. Isn’t that so, Chief Scientific Advisor?”


The video switches to a harassed looking middle aged man. “If we look at this graph…” He 
gestures vaguely at a graph at the side of the screen. “We can see this red line shows a decline
 in the number of old people dying in care, until it reaches zero by the end of May.”


“Yes,” says the PM. “It’s very exciting. And the blue line reaches zero by the end of May as well.
That’s how ramped up we're going to be. What is the blue line, Chief Scientific Adviser?"


"That's the number of surviving old people in care homes."


The PM doesn’t miss a beat. He’s an old hand at these press conferences now. He just moves on to
the next question. No need to wait for Kuenssberg to ask it. No, press straight on. Efficiency, 
that’s the thing. No time to waste.


“Much the same is true of prisons, except we won’t be employing care assistants obviously. But 
we will be testing. Everybody, every day. Actually, we will be using some of the care assistants
for that too, only obviously they won’t be in a caring role. No caring at all. And no masks. What 
do  you think the result of that will be, Chief Scientific Adviser?”


“Well, as you can see in this graph…” He gestures vaguely again.


A voice is heard off-screen. “We haven’t changed the graph.”


“Haven’t we?” The Chief Scientific Officer turns and peers at it. “No worries. They’re pretty much
identical really.”


The PM looks solemn as he faces the camera. “Well, that’s today’s press briefing. Remember, if
you’re not out earning, we need you to stay home. Save money. Save the NHS.”


There is a round of applause from the video screens scattered around the cabinet table


"That was masterful, if I may say so."  The PM recognises the oleaginous voice of the Chief Lackey
and nods a polite acknowledgement towards Michael Gove’s screen.


“PMQs next, isn’t it?”


“Indeed, yes.” Gove’s voice is like treacle, only treaclier, as if he had gargled with treacle and 
now spewed it forth in praise of the PM.


PMQs used to be a nightmare, but since the Parliamentary reforms following the Great Chinese
Plague, the PM had quite come to enjoy them. He often answered questions from the Cabinet 
Room rather than travel the few hundred yards to the House. You never knew, there was always
 the outside chance of passing a voter. Best not risk it.


The video shows the chamber with the 50 selected MPs carefully spaced apart. Ever since that
awkward moment when one of his backbenchers had been seen exchanging a friendly nod with
one of the Opposition, more care had been taken to enforce social distancing. Now every MP is
accompanied by someone from the Whips’ Office wearing full hazmat protection. They carry a
symbolic whip tucked into a belt on the suit and a not-at-all-symbolic Taser holstered alongside it.
It was a while since anybody had heckled the Prime Minister.


There are the usual questions from friendly back-benchers asking if the Prime Minister would 
accept the humble gratitude of their constituencies for one measure or another. Much is made of 
the fact that the chocolate ration has been increased. The Speaker calls various Opposition MPs 
to speak and there are the usual technical problems that render their questions inaudible.


David Lammy somehow bypasses the system to get his question in, but it is only about deaths 
among the homeless, so it doesn’t matter. Ever since the homeless were rounded up and put 
into temporary dormitories back at the beginning of the plague, nobody has heard any more
from them. Lammy’s question will be forgotten even quicker than they were.


Mark Francois is called and the PM can just make out the crown of his head at the bottom of the 
video screen. “Is the Prime Minister not concerned that deaths amongst the black and ethnic 
minority community are so much greater than others?”


For a moment he is confused. It wasn’t a question he expected from Francois. Then he realises his
mistake. “I can assure the honourable member that our experts are looking hard at why deaths
amongst ethnic minorities are so much higher than amongst Eastern European workers. Be assured
that they hope to see this differential eroded soon.”


Francois sits down. The PM can’t see his face but he can imagine the satisfied smile.


“Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”


The PM beams. He’d forgotten this bit was coming up today. It’s all good news: pension payments
down, prison spending down. Even welfare for the unemployed is down as the new zero 
immigration policy combined with the substantial reduction in the size of the workforce has more
than compensated for the number of jobs lost in the economic readjustment. He wished people 
would remember to call it a readjustment and not a crash. It was only a crash if you had 
neglected to sellshort as soon as that Chinese fellow had eaten the bat. Really, people who had
lost money had only themselves to blame.


Sometimes people were so damned ungrateful. Fortunately there was no danger of protests, with
public gatherings limited to five people and those to remain the regulation two metres apart. And
the checks on ‘essential shopping’ helped too. Only the other day it seems that a suspicious 
looking couple had been into Foyles – ostensibly to pick up a colouring book for entertainment in 
lockdown – and had emerged with a copy of the works of Karl Marx. Quite shocking really. What 
can you do with such people? There was that suggestion that they could use them for a special 
series of I’m a Celebrity … to be filmed in a tiger reserve. It would go some way to filling the TV 
schedules since they’d been unable to restart production. Bloody actors complaining about 
needing to socially distance on set.


Bloody actors, bloody voters. It was all too much. Time to calm down.


He took a pocket mirror: it wouldn’t do to scratch the Cabinet table. Tradition and all that. A few
seconds later he was busy with a razor blade. He made three neat lines and curled a £20 note to
make a straw. Tradition again.


He hoovered up the coke.


God, he loved being Prime Minister.

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