Laughing For Liberty

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Krissa and I have just spent the last fifteen minutes rolling around the apartment laughing about bees in boxes and the war on terror. Well, not laughing at the war on terror, but laughing at the thought of four or five FBI agents running around an airport after a bee yelling "Where is he going? Position Zeta, can you get a confirmation on where he's going?" and the bee would say to himself in bee language, "Guys, chill out, I'm just cruising for flowers."

This is because of an article in this week's New Scientist about the use of insects as a cheap alternative to sniffer dogs, which cost upwards of $15,000 to train. To school wasps and bees in crimefighting, you expose them to explosives (or whatever you'd like them to detect), while giving them sugared water, which is a hell of a lot cheaper than Pedigree Chum, and you don't have to take them for a walk every day either. After few drops of syrup with a hint of C4 on the side you have a batch of insectile bloodhounds; sensitive enough to detect a chemical as dilute as a few parts per trillion - comparable to a grain of salt in a swimming pool or the whispy traces of a substance on the hands of a man walking through an airport.

According to the article you take five of your trained little yellow and black guys, put them with a camera in a box. Then you blow air through it with a fan and wait for them to go nuts...or stick their tongues out, depending on whether you're using wasps or bees, but putting the finer points of technique aside for a moment, you've got some bees in a box and you're looking for bombs.

Then came fits of laughter about airports crawling with bees, bee-leashes and FBI agents tearing up innocently visited flowers looking for explosives and doing the waggle-dance in suits and shades.
I love my wife.

THEN, though, she asked in all seriousness why they couldn't use something more...gadgetty for all this. I said (I hope I wasn't wrong) that you'd have to pass air through a number of different tests to see if any of them came up positive by, say, turning another gas green, and it would be slow, and tricky with really tiny amounts of trace chemicals.
Krissa said 'Why can't you just use a gas that would react?"
Yet again I was poised with what I thought was the know-it-all answer, and I started to say, "...because you'd have to pass all the air through that gas, and it would dilute, and you'd have to use a lot of it and if you did that and it reacted a lot there'd be a big plume of reacting gas..." and then we both sort of stopped.
"Like at the POOL," and the giggles started again.

So this is my contribution to society for today - fill airports with a non-lethal cocktail of gases so that if a terrorist walks in with traces of explosives on his clothes he'll turn the air around him into clouds of blue and everyone will look at him and he'll be stunned by social awkwardness until several hundred pounds of security guard land on his head.
And very possibly swarms of sexually frustrated hungry attack bees.

You won't have to do it at every airport, and if the urban myth is believed, you won't have to do it at all. Just take out ads in the papers - if you piss in the pool (figuratively speaking) everyone will know what you done and point at you and laugh behind their hands and no girl will ever kiss you because you smell and your Mum won't be happy with you when she gets you home and your Dad gets to hear about it. Figuratively speaking.

Adventures In Cheese

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There is a subtle aroma of Pastitsio around my desk. As I was pulling it out of my bag my lunch decided it wanted to be liberated from its plastic prison and leapt back into my bag, amidst the books and pens, where it wedged between an overdue biochemisty library textbook and a copy of New Scientist. It smirked at me with a mouth made out of pasta and cheese. You'll remember me, it said. For days and weeks your stuff will smell of finely baked cheese and meat dish, one of wonders of Greek cookery. Then it laughed. Honest. It spoke and everything. It's the sauce, apparently. I ate it anyway, despite the screams.

Rain is falling outside my window, with quite a long way to go before it hits the ground. My Monday is grey and smells of cheese, oregano and minced beef.

Krissa and I went up to Providence to celebrate Greek Easter with her family over the weekend, hence the Pastitsio and the lingering taste of ouzo despite vigorous teeth brushing last night. Not that I don't like ouzo, oh no no no - I like it a lot - but the all-pervasive aniseed is a taste that wears thin after the first six hours or so.

We spent Saturday helping Krissa's parents prepare for the big meal on Sunday, and around 11pm that night Krissa, her Dad and I went to mass at a Greek Orthodox church. To put this in context, I'm a non-Greek speaking atheist, but it's always interesting to see religious ceremonies in action. A lot of the service was in English, and the symbolism and intent behind each stage of the process was pretty clear in any case. My favourite part of the service, in a purely aesthetic sense, was the shutting down of all the lights in the church so that the vaunting space was in near darkness (apart from a rector's reading lamp... and of course the glow of the beeping digital camera in the hands of the woman in the row behind us) and then in the gloom a single lit candle was brought out by the priest, and the flame was spread from there to candles held by the congregation and passed wick to wick back through the rows of people until when I looked up into what was the darkness above, the walls of the church and the iconic paintings were gently shown by a hundred flickering yellow lights.

The dinner yesterday was huge - seventeen people around a table, and many of Krissa'as family who I'd not met before. I think I need to come up with a better response to the question 'So where in England are you from?'. The international profile of the Isle of Wight isn't exactly sky high, so I fell to saying, "Well, you know the Beatles' song, 'When I'm 64'? THAT Isle of Wight. It's just off the south coast of mainland England. No, it's not one of the Channel Islands."
It's like a script.

I had a wonderful time, and then Krissa and I drove back to the city in the rain, making playlists on my iPod and drinking coffee and talking.

There is some immensely powerful cheese (I mean immensely powerful. One little cube of this had my tastebuds doing the tingly dance of death) in my fridge at home. I'm not sure how I'm going to eat it.

Three Lives

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So David Mitchell seems like a really nice bloke. Not that you could have seen that coming, what with his novels being so brilliant, sensitive and profound.
Krissa and I went to a reading of his new book, Black Swan Green at Three Lives book shop in Greenwich Village last night, and it was bloody hot in there. There was quite a crowd for such a small shop, and he'd just come from the pub, which of course as a fellow Englishman instantly endeared him to me. Also use of the words like 'flid', 'spaz' and 'twat' liberally sprinkled throughout the reading (from the book) cheered me up no end in a childishly nostalgic non-PC sort of way, but I didn't pass the "Let's see if there are any Brits in the audience" test by not recognizing the name of a Blue Peter personality from the very early 80s. But hey. I'd never been to a reading before, and I have a history of making an arsehole of myself in front of famous people, so when Krissa and I got out of the shop without insulting or defaming the author I considered it a resounding success.

After reading Cloud Atlas I was of the opinion that David Mitchell was an emotionally mature, intelligent man of the world, wise and sage in matters international, probably gleaned from about forty years' experience of the sort of career where being wise and sage in matters international is a bonus. He's actually thirty seven, and he doesn't look it or act like it. His booksleeve photos made me think of the grim silent groundskeeper from the TV show Monarch of The Glen, when in fact he's closer to being a man born thirty seven years ago but nevertheless the experimental offspring of Mark and Pete. If you can conscience such a thing.

After leaving the bookshop Krissa and I grabbed a hasty quesadilla and margarita and had a stroll around the Village, taking in the blindingly brilliant buskers in Washington Square. There was one guy on semi-acoustic guitar, another on bass, two saxophonists, a few drums players and a wide-eyed and swaying crowd gathered in a niche, with the Empire State Building shining white through the arch against the sky. It was warm, there was a calm breeze in the trees and the music was out of this world. The players bounced solos back and forth and played off of each other and struggled to be the first to get up on the harmony while everyone else freestyled, and Krissa and I stood and swayed with the rest, clapped and threw change and smiled at each other and kissed and strolled away while they took requests and we had one hell of an evening.

Springtime in New York...is pretty wonderful.

Dilly-dallying

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So yes, there has been a lack of posts and whatnot in recent months around these parts, and the circumstances that have lead to that - i.e. being bloody busy, not reading many other blogs, not being in a bloggy sort of mood a lot of the time - are still going on, but I wanted to put something up more or less for the look of the thing, and also because posting makes me feel good.

So here's a little bit of short fiction I wrote one morning last September.

Et la.

Patience

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Maggie stood by her upbringing. She acted on the teachings of her parents as though they were far-seeing prophets, and not the district postman and office secretary they had been. Maggie's parents considered discretion the better part of valour, cleanliness next to godliness and politeness the flower of humanity. Maggie grew up straight and quiet. Wherever she came across ignorance and rudeness she bore it with acceptance and candour. Only with her own children, long flown from the terraced family nest, did she try to coax out anything like the social graces that had been instilled in her. She failed. The zeitgeist, the angry spectre of punk, had conspired against her.

Maggie was married to Derek. Derek was a nice guy, all told, but old age really didn't suit him. He became lethargic, morose, blindly accepting his daily timetable from the television schedulers. Maggie was only three years younger than Derek, but she felt that the gap was getting wider as time progressed, as Derek showed fewer and fewer signs of activity in the course of each passing month. There was one thing that Maggie despised most of all, and that was Derek's wandering attention, his vacancy. Just as Peter, the eldest, was starting secondary school, and Derek was in his mid-forties, he began the habit of losing his point in the middle of a sentence, leaving Maggie hanging, expectantly. A lesser person would have interrupted, but not Maggie. She stood by her upbringing. Never interrupt. Let the person finish their sentence. Do not anticipate.

But this meant that Derek could flatten entire conversations.
"Margaret, I think, after this weekend, I'm going to need to go-"
At which point Derek's attention would waver and divert itself inside the maze of his mind, leaving Maggie standing in the doorway with a tea towel, frustrated, patient.
Twenty four years.
Twenty four years of hesitation, pausing, losing the thread, and jamming wide open gaps into perfectly good conversation, and never once did Maggie start again, nor jump into Derek's speech, nor complain. Maggie's parents did a really good job on her.

Now for a month when she was 67, Maggie started to get worried. She slipped herself an aspirin or two when she woke up in the mornings because she was troubled. She was getting headaches. At breakfast, which since Derek's retirement they always took together, Maggie started to feel odd.
"Anything in the paper, darling?" Maggie asked across the table.
"Not really." A full sentence! "Just Thatcher. They're congratulating her for becoming Prime Minister and generally..." he trailed off.
There it was, like the tension and ache of a frown, but inside her head instead of in the muscles of the brow. Maggie waited patiently and bit her toast. After two minutes Derek reached around the paper and picked up his tea. After sipping it and placing it back in the saucer, he turned the page. The ache at the front of Maggie's head got sharper.
"Oh, there's something here about pensions, love, if you want to..."
Maggie had to grip the edge of the table, the frowning pain in her mind was so tight and sharp. She gasped, and Derek dropped the peak of the newspaper and peered over it at her.
"Are you all right, dearheart? Do you want me to get you some..."
Maggie blinked.
...aspirin? She looks a bit pale. I hope she's not going to have a heart attack. I can't remember how to do the bloody chest thing. Oh god, now she's looking at me funny. Maybe I ought to put down the newspaper. I'll lose my place in this article. She really looks funny. Odd old girl. Quiet. ...was quoted as saying "We are thrilled with Mrs. Thatcher's appointment and wish her every luck with her
"I'm fine, thank you," said Maggie, still gripping the table.
"Oh, good, darling, good, but if you're feeling peaky you should make an..."
...appointment with the Doctor.
The newspaper jerked up again and Maggie let her mouth fall open.
Lord knows I could do with an appointment for my knee, but I can't get a specialist for love nor money, and this is the country they built with forty years of my taxes, is it? Is it? Woman in charge. Bloody stupid if you ask me. ...ministers liaising with the European commission on agri-"Nobody did," muttered Maggie.
"What darling, did you, er...?"
say something? She's in a queer sort of mood this morning. Maybe I ought to book her an appointment, surprise her with it rather than making her sit through the suspense of the waiting list. That's a good idea. Hmm. I might make myself another slice of toast, but my knee hurts. Maybe I'll just sit. My word, you can say what you like about the ravages of time, but she's still a good looking woman.
"I'll get it!" said Maggie, standing up and stepping over to the bread bin and toaster.
"Get what?"
"Another slice of toast. For you."
"Oh, darling, thank you! I was just, er, thinking..."
about that. Yes, right enough, you're a lucky man, Derek Hodges. A lucky man. ...commission on agriculture met this week in Brussels to discuss new trade agreements within the
Twenty four years, it was. Twenty four years, iron-willed parents and the patience of a rock, and after that, after all that, Maggie Hodges stood next to the bread bin, waiting for toast, listening to the rambling internal monologue of her husband reading the newspaper, and she was never more in love with him than at that moment.

NADGERS!

Paging The Electric Monk

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I am an atheist. I believe there is no God, nor any supreme being, no Creator, no pervading wisdom or meaning to the universe.
Cheery old soul, me.
And of course by 'soul' I mean...(insert diatribe here)

It gets tricky to state what you believe, doesn't it? Even when the distinguishing feature of your philosophy is an absence of belief. But I believe things.

I believe that people should be allowed to practise any form of religion they please.
I believe it most of the time, anyway.
Sometimes the actions of those identifying themselves with religious groups frustrate me - in their bigotry, their denial of human rights, their violence. So sometimes I'm not the biggest advocate of religion. Sometimes I think the world would be better if religion didn't exist at all.
I don't believe in a God - I believe there is no God, and to me this seems a manifest truth, as far as you may define the word, so why shouldn't everyone else believe the truth? It's the truth, after all. You'd be a fool not to believe the truth. Other people must simply be misguided, and maybe, after a good cup of tea and some unrestricted debate, they'll see the truth too. Hell, why don't I go and stand on a street corner and conspicuously not hand out religious leaflets?
When I see the repression of women, sectarian violence, war, defamation, deifically-distributed authority, bigotry...take your pick, really, I get frustrated with the whole concept of religion.

At which point, I imagine, my state of mind isn't far removed from people with religious beliefs so profound that they are moved to prosyletize, to convert...the mindset of "I'm right, you're wrong."
Which is bad.

So without having acted differently in any way at all I swing back to being a quiet atheist, maintaining my personal beliefs and lack thereof, silently advocating freedom of religion when I have none myself.

And just now, walking back to my office with my lunch, a parade of sombre-faced people behind a man holding aloft a cross were making their way to Ground Zero. It's Good Friday for a lot of Christians, but I couldn't help thinking, as I gave up waiting for the end of the procession to go by, that a lot of them wouldn't just be mourning the dead, but thinking of the difference in religion between themselves and those who killed the people in the World Trade Center.

Last night I attended a Passover Seder, hosted by the lovely Shana. I was a bit nervous, I have to say. Being honest, it was because it was all unfamiliar. I was scared of the religious unknown. I might be an atheist, but I am far more familiar with the religion I used to practise as a child, which was Roman Catholicism. I freaked out and left the room the first time I was present while an Islamic friend prayed. I was waiting for him to finish so we could go have lunch. I don't know why I freaked out. It's a sort of awkwardness. Like the feeling you get when you go to shake hands and someone else bows, and then you bow and they offer their hand, and you both stand awkwardly in a sort of void, feeling like noolies for messing up the social protocol? Like that, only multiplied by a hundred. So maybe it's ignorance and the fear of that.

And I have to say that last night I saw a lot of the benefits of religion you miss from the outside. Like Krissa says, it was amazing. The sense of history...of a cultural identity, was immense. And on top of that, the sense of not following the orthodoxy just because it is there, but adapting it and living with it. It was great.

But along with that modernist twist, of feminist values and egalitarian take on Judaism, I felt a bit confused when the group around the table started trying to remember what the forty days after passover were to signify, or when we skipped a couple of the read-out-loud bits. It seemed like that was losing a bit of what I was in awe of - the heritage and the history.

Rotiferocious

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I pity the virus that picks a fight with this swan.

Krissa and I did a whole monkeyload of DIY/Home Improvement over the weekend. We stripped the paint from our kitchen cabinet hinges and handles, painted gripper onto the cabinets and the doors themselves, and then repainted everything at least twice and tried to put it all back together again, remembering to make lots of stripper jokes when dabbing the custard-like goo all over the cabinet fixtures.

In the middle of all that we found time to go to a huge party in Brooklyn. Maybe because we'd been working on the kitchen all day, maybe because we both had the mental spectre of precariously balanced cabinet doors lining out corridors, drying and sticking to the regiment of old bedsheets we'd pressed into service, maybe because we just didn't want to go home to the stripper, but we stayed out until 5am.
It didn't help that the clocks went forward while we were out, but hey.

OH.
I got promoted at work.
Which is great news. I'll soon be back to working at a professional level, rather than in a support role. I did that whole degree thing, you know, so it's nice.

Tonight is The Best Of Cringe, in Freddy's Bar and Backroom in Brooklyn.

Seeing as its a 'Best Of' (don't ask me) I'm re-reading the 'attaining' entry, with the added bonus of a huge goofy picture of yours truly at the time as a backdrop.

Seeing as Cringe made the front cover of Metro today, I'd say it could get busy...so get there early.

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