Thursday, 30 November 2006

Advance Australia fair...

The best prescription for what ails the England cricket team is here, despite my doubts about the Daily Telegraph being a 'quality paper' (reference to blog entry entitled 'Hoist with one's own petard'). Fletcher and the team should follow EVERY word:

Mark Nicholas in the Telegraph

No more of this polite South England, public school cr**. It took a "Seth Efrikkan" - and one with Boer roots, at that, looking at his surname - to take the game to the Aussies. Kevin Pietersen stepped out to meet the Aussie bowling attack as if to say, "You want a piece of me? Come and get it." Finally, the fire of last summer blazed brightly, if only briefly. But it was *there*, at had been smouldering, not extinguished. Pietersen's 92 runs in a match where England batters were dropping faster than swimmers in "Jaws" is nothing to sneeze at, and shows a scrappiness and strength beneath the flamboyancy that makes me glad he's with us, and has me looking forward to watching his fledgling career unfold. KP, bottle that spirit and pour it over your teammates - now!

Come on, England. You're in the country whose national motto is "Give blood. Play rugby." They invented Aussie rules. Do you really expect a gentleman's game? Do me a favour.The Aussies respect nothing more than grit, raw passion, straightforwardness and resilience. Show them that, win or lose the toss, and we'll have a series worthy of last summer. Show them indecision, defensiveness and caution and you'll be taken apart faster than one of the swimmers in "Jaws" - except it won't be as painless.

We need passion, cojones and guile in equal measure...Captain Flintoff, you need to know the Aussie batsmen and adjust field placements accordingly - frustrate them and they'll make mistakes. Don't depend solely on your bowling. Now let's get out there and kick some Aussie a***. Let's turn "Advance Australia Fair" into "RETREAT, Australia - BEWARE!"

The lion does NOT sleep tonight.

Friday, 24 November 2006

From the Gabbattoir

Day 1, Thursday am:

I knew sleeping through it was the right decision.

I knew it was bad when I asked one of my housemates if Mark, our fellow cricket-mad housemate, was still up when she went down at 6am, and she said, “No, it’s all dark and quiet down there.”

I knew it was bad when my friend didn’t text back with the night’s results straight away.

But I didn’t know HOW bad. 346/*3*? Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, people, was ANYONE aside from Freddie bothering to bowl? Reading the commentary, my jaw dropped. BELL bowled? KP?? IF YOU’RE GOING TO BOWL KP, WOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN USEFUL TO HAVE MONTY THERE, PER CHANCE? And wouldn’t this wicket suit Mahmood? Mind you, he’d have to be MUCH more consistent. But then again…

Well, looks like the old Aussie joke is ringing too true for comfort:

“What do you call an England cricketer with 100 on the scoreboard?
A bowler.”

Earlier, I made a prediction about Ponting getting 157. Well, cross my palm with silver and ask me about your futures…

Oh, crap. Reading the previous entry, that was Langer. Sorry. I *MEANT* to say Ponting. Does that count?

And let’s hope Harmy isn’t about to go the way of Trescothick. I have an uneasy hunch that may be the case.

But test matches can turn on a 5p piece, right? So as per Scarlett O'Hara, "Tomorrow is another day..."

Only if the Aussie team all step on cricket balls whilst playing rugby for fun...or warming up...
Day 2:

Aus: 609-2 dec, Eng: 53-3

I've got the routine for the Ashes down to a science now:

1. Go to bed before the action starts at midnight.
2. On waking, do NOT ask Suzanne if Mark is still up. Go straight to shower.
3. DO NOT TURN ON COMPUTER, TELEVISION OR RADIO BEFORE LEAVING HOUSE. Play with cats and read instead. Clean litterbox.
4. Whilst walking into work, people watch and appreciate natural beauty of changing leaves and Oxford traffic.
5. Get to work, make coffee, turn on computer.
6. Check emails - those with no cricket content first, Rach's last. Try not to read Rach's subject lines such as "Innings defeat, anyone?" before one really must.
7. Read Rach's email, then go to BBC or cricinfo and read day's summary - quickly, as if pulling off plaster (Band-aid to Americans).
8. Carry on with day in haze of gloominess and pessimism.
9. Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Here we go, here we go, here we go...

Ok, not the most *inventive* of titles, but I'm too nervous to be inventive right now. We're 35 minutes from the beginning of Ashes coverage and 95 minutes from the first over being bowled. Will we win the toss? Will we bat first? What's the pitch like at the Gabba? I know what the weather like is in Brisbane - I've checked obsessively. It's sunny, already 23 C (73 F) at 9am local time, with a predicted high of 27 C (80 F). Good cricket weather, except for the 95% humidity - and they're ready to start cooking in that cauldron of a cricket ground. I'm also keeping an eye on the BBC Ashes countdown, which has comments from everyone from Andrew Flintoff (our captain) to people going down for the test in Melbourne come Boxing Day.

Not that I want to be in Australia, mind - too many large and/or poisonous spiders, toilets flush the other way, spring in November and so on. (Do we hear the sound of a cricket fan convincing herself, boys and girls? I think we do!) There are good things about Australia - Ian Thorpe in a Speedo comes to mind - but all in all, I'm quite happy to be home with the autumn nights drawing in, on GMT with the ability and excuse to sleep through the Test matches. Yes, you read that right. *SLEEP* through them.

Why, you ask? Because I can't bear to watch. I'm fine if England is in the field. If they're batting, I'm a wreck, waiting for wickets to fall with every ball bowled at them. Just ask Headingley, when our opening batsmen faced the last over of the day and ran for a tight single, I buried my head in her shoulder and screamed, "DON'T DO IT!" Highlights? Great. Live, with this much pressure against the Aussies? Only if I want to die of a heart attack within the next seven weeks. It's a weird excuse that leaves my friends scratching their heads, "It matters far too much to watch it live. If I know we're screwed, I can grit my teeth and watch the highlights. If we're winning, I watch the highlights with pleasure. It's the uncertainty I can't bear."

I'm not that way with all cricket matches...if it's an ODI (One day international), no problem. West Indies? I love Brian Lara, no problem. But if the match is REALLY important? Like a crucial Ashes opening Test match? PROBLEM. As in "problem the size of Siberia".

Right, taking a peek at the Ashes countdown, just a *peek*, mind - the wicket looks hard, bouncy and fast. Like the Oval. CAPTAIN FLINTOFF, IF YOU WIN THE TOSS, BAT, MATE. AS IN B-A-T. THE VERB, NOT THE ANIMAL. NONE OF THIS NASSAR HUSSAIN CRAP WHERE YOU *FIELD* FIRST AND HAVE THE AUSSIES LAUGH YOU OUT OF THE COUNTRY. There's going to be enough trouble with Geraint "oops, I dropped Justin Langer on 5 and he went on to get 157" Jones and an uncertain Ashley Giles...rather than a Chris "caught Langer on 5 and ran Ponting out on 8" Read and Monty "destroy the middle order? No problem" Panesar. (WIN THE TOSS.)

*Deep breath* Twenty minutes till the toss and the final team announcement (BAT). Erm, maybe it's time for me to stop typing and go. to. bed. Oh, a friend has just come on MSN..that means I'll be online for at least an hour. Till after the start of the match. (WIN THE TOSS.)

Not that I'll check cricinfo or anything. Or sneak downstairs to peek at the television screen Mark will be watching avidly - except I'll be doing it through my hands. (BAT. This isn't an attempt at subliminal persuasion, I swear.)

Here we go, here we go, here we matter what disagreements I have with the selection, good luck, boys, every last one of you. Do us proud.

As per Aussie Scott at the Corridor, "let's get ready to rumble" - may we get some fantastic cricket - and may the best team win. (WIN. THE. TOSS.)

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Nobody expects cleaner inquisition?

As I was doing my shift on the Church Lodge (read: receptionist/shop asst duty) today,
MR, a friendly acquaintance, came up to me. I apologised profusely, as I'd missed our coffee
last week, so we rearranged for a fortnight's time.

With that business out of the way, M told me the following story, leaving me helpless
with laughter:

As he was suiting up to serve the 10am mass a couple of Mondays ago, M told T(our sacristan)
that he was having coffee with me. Didn't think any more of it.

A little while later, he was in the sacristy with G, our money counter/Lodge person/cleaner,
etc...ex-civil servant (very serious, not at ALL like Sir Humphrey Appleby - whom I *adored* -
*twinkle*), when G said quite suddenly:

"I hear you're going out with *that* Irim."

[which? where? An *Irim*? Run screaming!]

M replied, "It's coffee, G. It's nothing remarkable."

G said quite seriously - he doesn't do tongue-in-cheek (as I'm sure you've deduced):

"Ooooh, you don't want to do *that*...she's a liberal; she has very heretical ideas."

Damn, that's what I should have dressed up as on Halloween.

I haven't stopped giggling since. And it got even funnier, b/c I gleefully told Br. J (whose face
was a picture, and he promised "not to tell anyone...outside town"), Fr. D the Younger and
Br. A.

Then Fr R the Younger came in, and as I was about to tell him, he told me he had heard...
except NOW, it was "Ooooh, you don't want to MARRY HER...etc."

*Laughs hysterically*

*Pounds table*

*Wipes eyes*

Never let it be said that religious men don't gossip as much as church women. Bless.

You know, it's really a shame I can't give in to the part of me that loves to wind people up
and go back to G with this and say,

"Me? A heretic? Well, I've been working for the Dominicans for a couple of years, and they haven't
noticed anything amiss. And if I recall correctly, they're the Inquisitors, so they should know."

He'd be mortified, poor chap.

Lead me not into temptation...

Awww, go on then. The confessional beckons...

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Morning delivery...

The post was being delivered as I walked in the door to work this morning, so I cheerfully grabbed both bags - one of which was heavier than Luciano Pavarotti on a neutron star - to take upstairs for one of the brethren to sort and place in pigeonholes.

As I was about to do this, Fr. Ben, my favourite mathematician, came up to me and put out both hands to receive them. I magnanimously offered to take 'Luciano' upstairs, at which point Ben noted the tag on the bag and gleefully said, "It's for the library anyway." Giving a silent "D'oh," I schlepped it up to the library, trying not to poke Ben in the eye with the point of my golf umbrella, as he was two stairs behind me.

I made it to the library, removed the velcro band from the post office bag, and opened the box (dodging styrofoam packing peanuts, which seem as attracted to one's person as long white cat hairs are to a black pair of trousers) to discover several volumes from
William of Ockham's Opera Philosophica et Theologica.

Razor sharp? Without a doubt.

Razor thin? Satan will be hosting the Winter Olympics...

Saturday, 11 November 2006

We will remember them...

Recently, I've catalogued a number of books printed between 1910-1920, which have brought home what World War I meant to those who lived through it. Prefaces that spoke of the book being printed posthumously because the author, a chaplain, had died in the field. Books that were delayed. Professors talking about how in some ways, their subjects and classes seemed trivial, yet how important it was that they carried on amidst the horror around them. What is most striking is the easy self-confidence of 1912 versus the numb, traumatised tone of 1919.

It is only in my time here in England that the impact of the World Wars has really hit home - particularly World War I, since our American history classes spent ages on World War II. We barely glossed over World War I, when we joined the fray in 1917, demanded immediate payment of loans from the English, and crowed about how *we* won the war. To us, Armistice Day is simply "Veteran's Day" - a three day weekend with great sales.

Here, there are cenotaphs with the names of the war dead in every town I've visited. Oxford colleges have panel after panel of names of their war dead. From mid to late October, there are poppies on nearly every coat, reminding us of those who lost their lives defending their countries. The ceremonies begin with a national 2 minute silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of World War I fell silent. On the second Sunday in November, known as Remembrance Sunday, poppy wreaths are laid at every cenotaph and most masses or Christian services are requiems for the war dead.

Tonight, the Royal British Legion holds its Festival of Remembrance with singing, music, tributes. We've seen a war widow who lost her 20 year old husband, after barely a month of marriage. We've heard Nimrod, that evocative, melancholy, noble tune from Elgar's Enigma Variations. Soon we'll hear the "Last Post" and watch poppies flutter to the ground in silent tribute to those who sacrificed themselves for us.

I would love to step sideways into a world where World War I never happened - a world where women married - or had long, happy marriages with - the men they loved, rather than lose them to the new, terrible machine guns and the green fields of France. Where being a student at Oxford or Cambridge from 1914-1918 meant the same peaceful life as being a student between 1907-1911. Where children in the early part of the last century grew up free of fear and loss, and the men (boys, really) we lost in this world were allowed to grow to maturity and fulfill their vocations. Where would we be now? There is a Jewish proverb that goes "If you kill a man, you kill a whole universe. If you save a man, you save a whole universe." By that reckoning, we lost 20,000 universes in one day at the Battle of the Somme.

Heaven forgive us.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday, but as today is actually the 11th day of the 11th month, I would like to pay tribute to all those who have fought and died on the fields of war. One of my favourite poems is by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon who died in the field of meningitis and pneumonia in 1918. Inspired by the death of his friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer, in 1915 during the Battle of St Julien (Second Battle of Ypres), this poem has become a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies in the UK and beyond:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We will bear that torch, I promise. I'm so sorry that it wasn't the war to end wars, like we's happened again and again. We have broken faith with you. We are only human, not perfect...but we have taken up the quarrel with the foe - war, poverty, disease, genocide. And one day, though probably not soon, we *will* win. Your spirit and the spirit of all those like you promise us that.

Thank you. All of you - from the first war to the most recent.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

We will remember them.

Hoist with one's own petard...

Hoist with one's own petard - idiom, to fall into one's own trap, to have one's plan backfire... to be injured or killed by one's own weapon.

Believed to be coined by Shakespeare in Hamlet
when the Prince of Denmark ensures that the death warrant carried to the King of England by his schoolfellows, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, bear their names, not his:

There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,

Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,

They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way

And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;

For 'tis the sport to have the enginer

Hoist with his own petar;

I ran into a fabulously funny example of this yesterday whilst talking to a good friend online. All names have been changed to protect the innocent...or, rather, my friendship:

Teacher: I got shafted today in Year 12's lesson
Irim: what happened?
Teacher: a few weeks back Jasmine and Susan were looking at a newspaper
Teacher: I told them to stop and pay attention and they did
Irim: carry on...
Teacher: I said something like, "And if you are going to bring in a newspaper at least bring a quality paper, not something you get free on the tube...."
Teacher: Jasmine: "Like the Mail, sir?"
Teacher: Me: "Find a dictionary; look up 'quality'"
(Irim's aside: When reading this last line, who else had the same feeling that one gets during a horror film when watching someone go into the dark basement alone? Yeah, thought so...)
Teacher: Today.....
Teacher: the newspaper re-appears
Irim: ok
Teacher: Me: ".....and this argument is valid but unsound because...... erm, Jasmine?"
Teacher: Jasmine: "Sir?"
Teacher: Me: "Lose the paper"
Teacher: Jasmine: "But sir, it's the Telegraph.... pause"
Irim: uh oh...
Teacher: "Britain's biggest selling quality daily......"

Absolutely priceless. I couldn't stop's exactly how I used to be with my kids.

And as for Sir? I told him he had been hoist with his own petard. His response?

Teacher: indeed
Teacher: but pleased I'd got her to buy a good paper

A teacher till the end, then.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Autumn anniversaries...

Autumn is my favourite time of year - nothing beats October to Christmas. Mellow, ethereal sunlight; nights drawing in; cosy evenings; comfort food; nesting under duvets. It also brings the best of the liturgy with it - All Souls' is my favourite liturgy of the year, in a tie with the Easter Vigil. I love the descent into the darkness, the silence, the depth of the symbolism...the stillness that leaves room for God.

Autumn also brings its anniversaries. I was talking via IM to a friend who is converting to Judaism from Catholicism, and she mentioned that she had lit a Yahrzeit candle for her brother's best friend, John Ross Fisher, who was like another brother to her who committed suicide on 13 October, 2004 whilst on leave from Iraq. She wanted to write a tribute to him; I've offered to put it here when she's finished. May he rest in peace.

Naturally, that discussion turned my heart towards personal anniversaries. On around the same date as John Ross, but 16 years earlier, my Aunty Suraiya died - the second of my mother's sisters to die that year. I remember always being a little wary of her - she always seemed so silent and preoccupied. Just occasionally, when something funny was said, that wrinkle in her brow would disappear, she'd throw her head back, and a surprisingly warm, rich laugh would come out...her face transformed completely, from that beautiful real smile to the unexpected wicked twinkle in her eye.

It wasn't till much later that I learned why - her husband, my father's cousin (the same one who betrayed his family during Partition - a real gem), used to abuse her. I remember talking to my mother about her sisters once, and she said the following (approximately):

"I remember, she used to be so beautiful. Long, thick hair - we all wanted it - and she used to laugh so much. All the time. She was so funny, always playing jokes."
"Sorry, mum, which one of you?"
"Your Aunty Suraiya."
"WAIT. Did you just say 'Aunty Suraiya'? NOT Aunty Razia?"
"Oh yes. Suraiya used to be beautiful and laugh all the time. Until she got married."

At that moment, I swore no man would do to me what he had done to her - he'd never extinguished her light, but he'd driven it into deepest hiding. Her death was a shock - she'd been ill with what seemed like a cold, and wouldn't go to the doctor. When she died, the huge shock was compounded by the fact that copies of her will were everywhere in the house - in the sugar tin, in her room, in the cupboards...

I wish I'd taken the time to make her smile more.

Early November - the 4th to be exact - brings the next anniversary...a suicide. The irony is that we both worked at hotlines in the same room - she, on the child protection hotline; me, on the *deep breath* suicide prevention hotline. Relationships get very close very quickly when you're dealing with such intense issues.

Lou was in her 50s with grown kids, and treated me as one of her own. We'd talk for hours, mostly about what I was going through at that time. She was encouraging, and she told me that no matter what anyone said, I'd move when I was ready. I remember thinking that she cared about me, not what I could do, and I treasured that.

The last time I saw her was Columbus Day weekend that year - her replacement hadn't come by the time I left, so she'd gone into the next room to work on some sewing. I quietly peeked around the door to see her intent on cutting out a pattern. I didn't want to bother her, so I didn't go to hug her as was my wont. "I'll catch her next time," I thought.

I later learned NO ONE showed up that weekend, and she had kept the Child Protection hotline manned for 72 hours straight.

When she didn't show up on the morning of the 4th to take over someone else's shift, I wasn't too worried - things sometimes cropped up. The next Saturday, I came in to the news that someone on Protection line had committed suicide. I looked up in horrified fascination and asked, "Who?" And heard, "Lou." I can't tell you what was said after that.

I'm not sure I can put into words the complex emotions that arise from the suicide of a friend. I can only begin to imagine what it is like for parents, siblings, spouses, children. It takes your world apart in a way few other events can. Shock, grief, anger, guilt, fear...I had loved her dearly, but I was so angry, I didn't go to her memorial service. Yes, I regret that to this day, and every anniversary, it haunts me. Especially when 4 November is a Saturday again.

Suffice it to say, many demons drive me - and amongst them is one that reminds me that I will never, ever miss the signs of suicidal depression in those close to me again. (I know I'm human, and I know I will, but...)

The final anniversary, 6 December, is mine alone. It involves a very difficult year, an 8th floor balcony, a leg over the railing, and the choice between leaping into the abyss or onto concrete.

I chose the abyss. Only time will tell if I made the right decision.

It was the most incredibly painful place I had ever been.
There were no barriers, no defences, no illusions. Everything I'd packed away, everything I'd pretended wasn't mine, everything chasing me met me there. It's...real. But painful and frightening though it was - and still is - the abyss is an amazing place. I learned that in its...nothingness, it is the place where all degrees of freedom are present and where every creative possibility is equal. And it was the place where I could feel God along every inch of my skin, in every cell.

As per Genesis 1:2:

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

I came out the other side never completely belonging to this world again. That doesn't mean I don't get irimtated (as most of you reading my blog will have guessed), that my myriad faults disappeared and I became a plaster saint (pass me a bucket, someone), that I lost my acerbic humour or my earthiness, or that I go through my life in some ethereal haze (I tend to slap people who do - figuratively, of course). Most of my life goes by in the everyday normalcy that everyone else's does, for which I am profoundly grateful. But in moments of great joy or great sorrow - in the pleasure of an evening spent in the warmth and love of friendship, or during events that make me feel like I am walking through hell - as I feel completely caught up in them, as anyone would, there is a part of me that whispers, "Hold on to this; this moment will never come again...treasure it, hold it close, live it deeply," or "This too shall pass - soon it will be an hour past, then a week, then a will breathe again." There's always a sense that no matter how wonderful or how awful things are, there's a pattern, a tapestry, and each thread, light and dark, is necessary. It's an indescribable feeling, and a great blessing.

Another blessing amongst the many that arose from that time is the lack of terror in the face of someone else's darkness and the ability to move towards them, instead of away from them. The darkness is home, and somehow, one finds a way to slip between the cracks into a friend's darkness to sit with them. Sometimes, there are things to say, such as, "All will be well, hang on," or "Ok, if that's how you feel, let's plan your funeral." More often than not, there is nothing to say - you can only sit there, and put your arms around them, literally and/or figuratively, even as you know the only way out for them is through - and they have to go alone. And you pray, in the words of Vienna Teng's "Lullabye for a Stormy Night":

"And I hope that you’ll know that nature is so;
the same rain that draws you near me,

falls on rivers and land,
on forests and sand;

makes the beautiful world that you’ll see in the morning,
everything’s fine in the morning.

The rain’ll be gone in the morning..."

If I'm holding a friend's sleepy toddler in my arms during a stormy night, I know when their morning will come.

With friends, one doesn't know whether their morning will come on this side of the veil or the other.

but I’ll still be here in the morning."

And that's a promise.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Letter Q synchronicity

I cannot thank Reiza Mara enough for introducing me to them...although my bosses may feel differently. As always, I know I'm on the right track when synchronicity it did in today's cartoon...

Savage Chickens: Scrabble Rematch Cartoon

Or maybe that should be synqronicity.

Quixotically, quintessentially Q.

I'm off to qiq some qarse.

Quisquis, everyone.