The Dinner. A satire

Posted: March 25, 2023 in Chat
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The dining room dimly lit
only table and guests illuminated;

the servers encircle in darkness
awaiting the call to commence.

Conversations flow, then break;
laughters explode, cackle,

gutter, die; then other groups,
a break-out of noise, follow suit

and another, another:
obligated laughter, on cue 

A General – Just you, alone? –
unperturbed lifts fine meat from bone,

an epicure’s precision, while finishing
a witty aside.

                         His sleeve
catches on cuff-link, reveals

woad beneath clothes; then covered.
His wife’s bone necklace greatly admired

(Are they… real? 
A solicitous wheedle, 

but required).

The premier slow smiles, 
observing his Head of Security’s 
discomfort under scrutiny.

A glint of honed incisors, tongue-relish. 

Guests applaud some quip, 
then glutted, glow at him. He sips,

having perfected the mysterium
of pose and suggestion

to cover cold threat, his wide

His taxidermist is waiting tables; 

his neat, gloved hands… name-labels.
‘The poor material I get…’ 

his neat teeth, set
smile, hiding status-worries; 

‘- Shot-up, broken bodies, 
for game trophies?’

A craftsman, 
only for as long as the customer 
is satisfied.

Waiting Zone

Posted: March 18, 2023 in Chat
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Of all waiting zones, this, 
as the effects of painkillers 
begin to show, the screen glow
brightening around figures, 
becoming more distant. 
Focus shifting from backgrounds 
of urban traffic, crowds, 
to, yes, this.

And as distinctness emerges 
there is also glazing – 
perhaps the brightness 
is the iris relaxing, flooding 
more light into that 
tight sphincter, and the glaze 
catching more angles of light, 
so every particular 
becomes its essence. 

And where the pain played 
the nervous system
is suddenly to find it has used 
a day’s worth in a morning. 
A veneer, even-sheen 
emerges out of the glare, 
inviting or slipping-in 
a dream here where thought 
wandered; and the moving 
dark of dreams’ peculiar 
evolutions become only 
one stage of those 

Father Prout

Posted: March 10, 2023 in Chat
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Let us consider Father Prout, or Reverend Francis Sylvester Mahony, Irish Roman Catholic priest and former Jesuit.
He was also and perhaps more pre-eminently a journalist, and bon-vivant, born in Ireland, 1804, and died, Paris, in 1866.

Yes, I’m currently reading a biography of Robert Browning, where he figures startlingly:
Browning: A Private Life, by Iain Finlayson. Published Harper Perennial, 2014.

Father Prout was his pen name when he published articles in Fraser’s Magazine and others. (

So, what is the big mystery?
He was a man-about-town, whom Robert Browning encountered when he was first making his way into the literary world in London, in the 1830s and 40s.
So far so good.
Father Prout’s about-town, though, was huge.
Where was he not!

Take the famous Browning-Barrett elopement of 1846.
The marriage itself was planned in a highly secretive, but desultory fashion. But then events took a surprising turn, and the day was brought forward suddenly.
Robert Browning emerged, new passport in hand, who should he run into straight away but… Father Prout.

Then take the elopement itself: train to Southampton, sea voyage to Le Havre, rest, then onward via Rouen, Paris, through France and then boat to Genoa, Italy. Then a train to Livorno, and boat to Pisa. Why Pisa? Because had Shelley loved it.
As their boat approached who was there at the sea front, cloak billowing around him? Father Prout.
On another occasion, Father Prout… happened upon Robert in the street and kissed him full on the mouth – a good deal to Robert’s surprise….

I give these details to show that the Browning’s doings and goings could not have been followed or predicted in any way.

After five-six months in Pisa the couple travelled overland, eventually to arrive at Florence.
Why was he there?
Business in Rome, of course, and taking his breaks in Florence.

The Brownings moved lodgings several times before settling, but also moved to the east coast and back trying to find cooler summer air, to no avail.
Settling back in Florence, who should they meet yet again? Father Prout.

You may think that this was leading somewhere, and it was.
Father Prout became a regular ie nightly, visitor to the very private Case Guidi residence of the Brownings. And long evenings they proved to be.
Robert had became ill, and Father Prout’s remedies helped enormously.
How big is gratitude?
Father Prout liked to talk, smoke, and expectorate into a spittoon, all copiously, for three hours and more at a stretch.
(Why have a spittoon in the first place? Or… did he bring his own?)
When Father Prout finally left…. there was a general burst of indignation and throwing open of doors to get rid of smoke and malice.

But they were not yet done with Father Prout. He had suggested he may return from Rome and stay for another couple of months.

In the 1850s back on an infrequent visit to London… Father Prout!

What of the man himself?
Wiki tells of a roguish sense of humour, foisting origin-forgeries of modern poems, upon the public at one point. He was ‘soon expelled‘(Wiki) from his earlier teaching job.
It also tells of a more serious side. knowing both Charles Dickens and William M Thackeray. In later years:
He acted as foreign correspondent to various newspapers, and during the last eight years of his life, his articles formed a main attraction of The Globe. (
He was well known at another point of his life for the poem The Bells of Shandon.

And his fame has lived on:
The protagonist of Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt mentions regretfully his life’s unfulfilled ambition “to be recognised as an English Mahony and celebrate Southwood as he celebrated Shandon.

Even Elizabeth Barrett Browning gave him his due, despite the visits:
Still, one likes the human nature of the man.

I came across an astonishing poem on the Words Without Borders site.

Yu Jian is a Chinese writer; Xin Xu has translated a selection of his work on this site.

Yu Jian was born in 1954, in Kunming, southwest China. He is a writer, essayist, photographer, documentary film director, editor, and director of literary festivals. His day job (!) is professor.

I wish to thank Susan Harris, Editorial Director of Words Without Borders:

for permission to publish the first lines, almost half of the poem.


Rising above the land, it precedes the grayness of Asia.

A robed king, boundless and lost, stands at the edge of Xishuangbanna and Laos. 

It’s the jungle’s shield. The Creator bestows its symbolism,

endowing it with a face of grief, hiding diamonds behind its blue eyelids;

imitating crescent moons to shape its tusks, keeping palm-leaf manuscripts secret in its wrinkles.


For the last seven lines of the poem follow the link:

Also, this is a site well worth spending some time exploring.

Does the poem put you in mind of the elephant troupe that wandered through several Southwest China cities, June 2021:

Cocteau Twins

Posted: February 24, 2023 in Chat
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Just because

Thank you Cocteau Twins.

Thank you for your indulgence everyone.

Red Love, The Story of an East German Family, by Maxim Leo. Published by Pushkin Press, 2014. Translated by Shaun Whiteside.

This is not a book review – there are plenty of those for this book online – but a series of impressions, notes, mullings (how’s that for a coining!).


Maxim, his mother and father, Anne and Wolf Leo (Wolf took his wife’s last name), lived earlier in their lives in Karlshorst, a small village outside East Berlin. The village was seperated from Lake Liepnitz by a forest. There was an area of the forest fenced off as far as the lake. A sign warned, ‘Wild Animal Research Area.

Of course, evertone knew that it was where Politburo members had summer houses. Even Eric Honecker had his own swimmimg spot in the lake.

Now, who says they had no sense of humour.

When the Wall came down, so did that fence. Inside that secret world, were ‘simple houses with gray facades.

We can say, Ah the banality behind the edifice – lilttle Oz behind the Wizard – mirroring the little minds at the top. But that’d be patronising and grossly misrepresentational. The Party struggled to make it work, floundering and hectoring, mindless at times. murderous at others. 

But the GDR lived in its people.

Maxim’s grandfathers are presented as exemplifying the two main tensions in that new social, political, experiment. 

One began by drifting into the National Socialist machine. 

The other had to fight it from an early age. He left Germany and fought with the French Resistance, becoming a Communist by choice and committment.

What made the difference? 

He came from a Jewish background. Although completely secular, fight was essential from early in his life.

Fot the other it was more a matter of the substitution of authoritarian regimes. The smaller Germany also offered more opportunity at the reconstruction outset, through less competition. Fall into line, be concientious… and it’ll go smoothly.


There is a very funny episode when Maxim was in school, the changing room to be exact. The head teacher burst in with tears in her eyes, and announced the death of Soviet General Secretary Leonard Brezhnev (1982). She did not get the response she expected, however. Her announcement was met with muted giggling. Another lad had come in late and was dashing about naked behind her trying to retrieve his underpants.

I recall seeing a short film shot in East Berlin in the 1970s. It all looked good in the sunshine. Then we caught a glimpse of a long queue outside a shop, for basic foodstuffs. Normal life; it did not occur to them to edit it out.
The most telling moment was when the camera person approached a group of young teens, with a teacher, on the street.
Dressed in fashionable jeans, laughing and chatting. Then they saw the camera. Instantly there was silence. All stood with blank expressions, would not face the camera, looking down, even when asked questions. Their answers were word perfect, unemotional.
Young lives, so blighted.


Was the GDR such an upheaval that it could overturn year’s of Nazi propaganda/indoctrination? They certainly thought so.
Take the issue of anti-Semiticism, though.
Take this example:
I remember meeting Anne in the street in Karlshorst one day. I must have been about fifteen. When she saw me, she started crying. We hugged and she told me the son of Augustin the baker had called my brother a “stupid Jew” at school.
Incidentally, this is the only reference to another brother.
He continues:
A few weeks later she read to my brother’s class from the memoirs of a Jewish prisoner who had survived Auschwitz. There was no trouble after that.
That’d be the mid 1980s.
We see here Augustin-the-baker’s home attitudes. Do we see, then, that his son sees sense? Maxim and Anne seem to think it was so.
Or was it school policy? And the bureaucratic hand reaching out into every workplace; for once doing some good.

Maxim later consulted Stasi files, and his mother’s Jewish father was there. A respected, loyal comrade and fighter, to whom the Party allowed much lee-way. But there he was. And his Jewishness fully noted. It was all, you get the impression, just in case…. There was enough slanted material there to create ‘a case’, if needed.

Loyal as she was to the GDR, his mother Anne, cautioned him about becoming actively involvement, either for or against. That way problems lay in wait.


Then the Wall came down.
There are so many theories now, as to why, how. The best, for me, is in the book, The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall, by Mary E Sarotte.

There is an episode in Maxim’s Red Love I find a little perplexing.
It was March 1989, and Maxim had heard of the possibilty of obtaining dual passports, allowing him get out of the GDR but also to be able to return, legitimately.
He enquired of a lawyer, whose response was odd:
…the whole thing will take about two years, and the question is whether any problem might not solve itself in some other way.’ I don’t understand what he means. De Maiziere sits down behind his desk, smiles and says that dual nationality assumes the existence of two countries…. there were … states whose future wasn’t… certain.”

Maxim doesn’t understand because some things were unthinkable.
De Maiziere knew something quite devastating and certain about the fate of the GDR, as early as March, 1989. What did the Politburo know on the night of November 9th, 1989? 
It’s details like this make you reappraise what you know. You then read for signs, indications, the ‘colour’ of a statement, the particular wording of a speech.

And after the Wall?
Anne needed the GDR edifice to work within. Wolf needed its friction. Maxim never felt a sense of belonging, until the belittling of their qualifications, experience, lives, by Westerners, got too much. Then he felt belonging, a shared experience.

There never could have been a Third Way, combining Western models, and salvageable, workable, Socialism.
The West saw to that.
The other son is not listed.

Unfortunately it is proving difficult to find much information on Wolf, or his work:

See, for further on the topic of the GDR, this review of Brigitte Reimann’s recently translated novel, Siblings

From The Guardian/Observer review (Matthew Reisz, Sunday January 15, 2023)

 The Holocaust: An Unfinished History, by Dan Stone

In many ways, writes historian Dan Stone, “we have failed unflinchingly to face the terrible reality of the Holocaust”


As this may suggest, Stone is sceptical about the oft-proclaimed benefits of Holocaust education and commemoration. Back in the 1990s, he believes, awareness of the Holocaust was not only widespread but “channelled in favour of human rights, cosmopolitanism and progressive ideas”. Since the millennium, however, “this confident narrative has been derailed. The use of Holocaust memory to further nationalist agendas, to facilitate geopolitical alliances on the far right or to ‘expose’ progressive thinkers for their supposed antisemitism or anti-Israel bias is now a familiar part of the landscape.”

The implications of all this could hardly be more sobering. Just as “Nazism was the most extreme manifestation of sentiments that were quite common, and for which Hitler acted as a kind of rainmaker or shaman”, suggests Stone, the defeat of his regime has left us with “a dark legacy, a deep psychology of fascist fascination and genocidal fantasy that people turn to instinctively in moments of crisis – we see it most clearly in the alt-right and the online world, spreading into the mainstream, of conspiracy theory”. His book offers a brisk, compelling and scholarly account of the Nazi genocide and its aftermath. But never for one moment does it let us believe that the events are now safely in the past.

 The Holocaust: An Unfinished History by Dan Stone is published by Pelican (£22)

Wiki tells us
After the fall of Francein 1940, Messiaen was interned for nine months in the German prisoner of war camp Stalag VIII-A, where he composed his Quatuor pour la fin du temps (“Quartet for the end of time”) for the four instruments available in the prison—piano, violin, cello and clarinet. The piece was first performed by Messiaen and fellow prisoners for an audience of inmates and prison guards.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2023

Posted: January 27, 2023 in Chat


Theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 is

Ordinary People

Learning from genocide – for a better future

‘What is abnormal is that I am normal. That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life – that is what is abnormal.’

Elie Wiesel, survivor of the Holocaust


Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes. And those who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocide aren’t persecuted because of crimes they’ve committed – they are persecuted simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group (eg, Roma, Jewish community, Tutsi).

Ordinary people were involved in all aspects of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution of other groups, and in the genocides that took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Ordinary people were perpetrators, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses – and ordinary people were victims.

In every genocide, those targeted faced limited choices – ‘choiceless choices’ (Lawrence Langer) but in every genocide the perpetrators have choices, ordinary people have choices.
Sometimes, these choices were limited too, sometimes they had to make life-threatening decisions. And ordinary people were the ones who made brave decisions to rescue, to hide or stand up. But ordinary people also made decisions to ignore what was going on around them, to be bystanders, to allow the genocide to continue.

There are also extraordinary people in every genocide, remarkable and unusual people, who went to extreme lengths to help, to rescue, to save, and in every genocide there were extraordinary people, who went to extreme depths to cause harm, to persecute, to murder.

Our theme this year, though, highlights the ordinary people who let genocide happen, the ordinary people who actively perpetrated genocide, and the ordinary people who
were persecuted.

Our theme will also prompt us to consider how ordinary people, such as ourselves, can perhaps play a bigger part than we might imagine in challenging prejudice today.


Image: illustration from Irmina by Barbara Yelin
Credit: SelfMadeHero © Barbara Yelin

The Perpetual Mobile extended piece was made in collaboration with the fan base. They gave input responses to the ongoing development on the piece, and suggestions were incorporated.