Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review - All the Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely compelling reading. I more than recommend this book. It is required reading!

The characters in occupied France and will stay with you long after you've read their stories. Characters who are miles apart on many profound levels eventually intersect and converge into a crescendo of conclusions.

The descriptive writing is astounding. As the author describes a room, you can see it. When he describes a meal, you can taste it... You feel the anxiety, anguish and every other emotion of the characters.

It's easy to see how this book on the 2015 Pulizer Price for Fiction

You will not put this book down. Enjoy!

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 4, 2015

As time goes by...

Fifteen years ago, Mum was diagnosed with macular degeneration. She wanted to share her story and decided to put it to words before she would no longer be able to read or write due to her inevitably failing sight. She served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as first predictor at a heavy gun site on the Ack-ack guns which were large anti-aircraft guns. I'm going to share her mostly humorous stories of her own war effort and time in military service to honor her, her service, other veterans past and present and the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day.

As times go by, we lose a generation. With that generation we lose a living history of times spoken by those who lived that history. That is the history that is told by those who lived through the Second World War. Their stories should not be forgotten and need to be passed on to keep them alive. The  sacrifices of those who willingly, or unwittingly made when they were called upon to serve their country should not be forgotten. During my life, I have watched WWI veterans dwindle in numbers every remembrance day as they march to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Now they are gone. I am now watching WWII veterans dwindle in those same numbers including members of my family: An uncle who served in the Royal Air Force in the middle-east; another uncle in the Royal Artillery who served in North Africa, and my father who served in the Royal Artillery in the Army in Europe. We must not let their stories go to the grave and disappear with them.
My father never talked much about the war. I can only recall one story that he told me. He told me how his regiment liberated a concentration camp and how, "They looked like ghosts walking towards us..." The imagery my father conjured up in my mind spoke a thousand words, because the image stayed with me and spurred me to learn more about the war.  I did learn in later years that he was stationed in Aberdeen in a Mountain battery where he underwent rigorous training in the Cairngorm Mountains where he learned mountain warfare. His training was in anticipation of a possible invasion by the German army. As I learned more and more about the war and the concentration camps, I understood and respected even more his never wanting to elaborate much beyond those words. My mother is now 94 years old. She speaks far more about her service. Mum's war effort began at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre where she helped make parachutes.
"...I was in the cutting room.  We laid the rolls of material out along the bench marked it out with tailor chalk (which was blue) and then cut it out with electrical cutters.  It was a much happier place and more pay.  As it was quite a distance from my digs, I had to rise early and travel on the tube train leaving home at 6:30am."
Mum also endured the blitz in London. The blitz was the massive bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe. The raids took place mainly over London because of the docks, but raids also took place across the country particularly in industrial areas. The raids lasted for almost 9 months and although historically considered a failure, reigned  havoc on civilian lives and resulted in many civilian deaths.  More than a million homes were destroyed in London and nearly 20,000 civilians in just London lost their lives. London sustained 57 consecutive nights of bombing. There were 71 major raids where 18,000 tons of explosives were dropped. Many children, mothers and pregnant women under Operation Pied Piper, were evacuated out to the countryside and overseas away from the impending dangers of the blitz. Some of these evacuees never saw their parents again either because their parents were killed or just because after 6 years of war, lost contact with their children, remarried and moved on with their lives. The "failure" of the raids laid in the fact that it never broke the British spirit including the spirit of my mother. I'll let her describe the nightly blackouts and blitz experiences during her time in London while lodging with an elderly couple, John and Anne. She had a couple of incidences that left her more than in the dark.
"I remember a very large block of flats also a park shelter having direct hits near our home and everyone killed.  We could always hear the planes flying overhead and the shrapnel fall around us if we happened to be outside.  The planes were usually our Hurricanes or Spitfires against German Messerschmitts  Once, John and myself were in the living room and Anne was in the kitchen making our evening meal.  The sirens had sounded and we heard a whistling sound which we knew was a bomb coming down.  John shouted to Anne to quickly get under the table while him and I did likewise under the dinning table.  (well I say under -- we had our head and shoulders under and the rest of us out into the room as it was a cross-legged table which didn’t allow much of us underneath).  Almost immediately we heard a bang and the house shook with a bang above and the house filling with dust.  We waited for the all clear to sound to move from our little bit of protection.  In the meantime, Anne toddled into us and said, “Did you speak, John?”  She was deaf and hadn’t heard John and was still happily cooking tea.  As the all clear sounded, we flew upstairs through the dust to discover we had been caught in the blast of a bomb falling nearby.  The bedroom ceiling was damaged, in fact a gaping hole where one looked out at the sky.  A paving stone had been blown out and after shooting through the roof and ceiling, was nestled in the middle of Anne and John’s bed.  Thank God the bomb wasn’t a few hours later when Anne and John would have been in bed.  Hundreds of people were killed when these bombs fell.  Landmines were the worst, which brought down very large areas of habitation, sometimes a row of flats about six stories high.  That was high for those days.  As the raids became more frequent, air raid wardens were appointed for every street and blew their whistles to make sure every pedestrian was in a shelter or under cover.  Shelters were everywhere.  A number of Anderson shelters were bought by house-owners. These were made of galvanized metal and half buried in the yard or gardens as far as possible away from the house.  Of course, they were no good in a direct hit, but provided some protection from blast debris.  All windows were taped over with brown tape (thick paper).  This was to prevent the minimum of glass flying about.  At night, every window had to be blacked out to stop any light being shown outside.  This was usually done with blackout material and made into curtains.  It was an offense to show even a chink of light as of course enemy planes would have seen this from the sky.  Everyone was issued with gas masks.  Even babies were given one which was like a box to put them in.  Anyone without a mask did so at their peril."
Mum goes on to describe life in the Anderson shelters, blackouts and how she acquired two black eyes during the blackouts.
"air raids became constant -- night after night starting at about 6pm and the all clear not given until day break.  We had no shelter in the garden.  So always went to a communal one at the end of the road.  This was a plot of land that had been for pigs and consisted of a long Anderson shelter which was entered by going down three steps.  Forms were lined either side which were quite narrow on which the ladies slept (if possible).  The men slept on the concrete floor along the seats.  One end of the hut was a wooden contraption that a bucket was placed in.  This was the lavatory.  Oh how I hated this.  Apart from the smell, the noise at times was shattering. "
I should add that my mum was referring to the sound of the bombs and not the makeshift lavatory! She now describes her close encounter with a lamppost during a blackout:
"I had forgotten my torch (these were allowed if the beam was shone down toward the ground, not up).  This particular time being winter and pitch dark, I walked out of the firm’s door, took a few steps and crash, wallop, straight into a lamp post.  I was stunned for a while and arrived home holding my hand to my eye, did it hurt.  Anne gave me something to bathe it, but the next morning it was completely closed with a bruise that was really disfiguring.  I had some comments about that."
That's the first black eye she acquired. The second is about to come during another journey home in the pitch blackness of a blackout.
"It was pitch dark outside when I left to catch the bus at the end of their road.  The stop was under the railway arch.  I felt my way to the end of the queue and stood waiting.  Suddenly, I heard scream after scream and heard the people from the queue rushing in all directions.  I didn’t have a chance to wonder why as seconds later a fist was smashed into my face.  I like those before me, ran.  I just wanted to get somewhere safe.  I couldn’t see anyone but ran through the arch into the gate of the first house I came to, ran to the door and in a panic just banged on the door which was immediately opened by a middle aged lady.  The poor woman didn’t have a chance to question me as I shot past her into their living room in tears.  When I had calmed down a little and shed a few tears, I explained to the family that I had been punched in the face while waiting for the bus nearby.  The room seemed to be filled with people and children of various ages came hurrying down the stairs.  Poor little souls, I must have frightened them.  Everyone was gazing open-mouthed wondering what the disaster was. Two of the male members of the household went to my friend’s father and uncle who must have been shocked as they’d only said goodnight to me a few minutes before.  Well they walked me all the way home about a mile in the blackout as my last bus had gone. The buses finished running about 10pm owing to the blitz. Well I had a bad eye after walking into the lamppost but this one was much worse. It was closed, swollen and painfully bruised. I wrote to my brother Harold who was serving in Tunisia in North Africa. I mentioned I had been attacked and was punched under the Wandsworth Station. After sympathizing in his reply, he said, “All his friends were laughing and wanted to know where my Wandsworth Station was!"
The "Wandsworth Station" quip was from my Uncle Harold. I can almost hear his chuckle among his friends all the way from Tunisia! Mum was eventually called up and got her orders to report to Kingston Drill hall for a medical and IQ tests. Mum chose the Army and entered into the ATS - Auxiliary Territorial Service the women's service of the British Army. After her six weeks training, she had to report to Caldecott near Chepstow on the Welsh side of the Severn tunnel to a heavy ack-ack gun site. Mum was now now Private Holt 150955. Private Holt was assigned #1 one the Predictor. She describes the team who were to man these huge anti-aircraft guns.
"I was happy to be on top and liked my job which was number one on the predictor.  Six girls were working on this.  A girl also manned the spotter which was to scan the skies for an enemy plane through a special telescope machine.  She would then give information to two girls on a machine called a height and range finder.  They would find the height and range and shout it to the predictor girls.  This information would be entered into our predictor and I would be watching the data in a dial.  When everything was spot on target, it was my job to shout very loud, “Fire” to the officer standing near.  He would immediately should, “Fire” to the men manning the guns so it sounded very quickly, “Fire”, “Fire”, “Fire” as loudly as possible.  Almost at once the men who had the shells ready loaded the huge guns and fired.  Speed was essential.  Often I wondered if we’d be bombed as huge flames shot out of the guns as they were fired and must have been seen from the planes above.  Of course, we all wore steel helmets and battle-dress, also boots and gaiters.  On cold days and nights, we had a warm leather jerkin to wear over our battle dress.  Sadly, a gun site not far from us was bombed and many killed.  As the shells exploded, the noise was deafening, hense my present deafness.  Our extra kit for the gun site was collected from the stores on our arrival.  After a raid, we would all march to the cookhouse for cocoa. "
It turned out that mum was ace on the predictor. She scored 100% when tested for accuracy. She explains,
" Being a No1 on the predictor, I was taken to a hut where there were officers and given tests on how correct I could be by shouting fire at the exact moment the predictor worked it out.  Each time I was 100% right.  I remember them calling the other officers over to watch me.  They all seemed very amazed.  Well they say pride comes before a fall and I definitely fell.  Shortly after this predictor test, we were all at a large firing camp overlooking the Irish sea in a little village called, Ty-Goes-on-Anglesea.  We were there for a spell of practice firing.  Our command post was on the edge of high cliffs.  To the left of this was a very large parade ground.  On this I was told by an NCO to report to a sergeant on the parade ground.  On arrival, there I was given no explanation, but told he was going to give me drill commands.  What have I done I thought to suffer this punishment.  So there I stood, the sergeant at one end of the large square and me the other.  He was shouting drill instructions to me which I had to carry out.  Once again, it was “Attention, right turn, left, right, left, right, left, right, halt”, etc.  The wind from the sea was howling across the square which of course was impeding my hearing.  Plus I thought whatever the punishment was for, it was unjust so I didn’t even try.  This went on for sometime until I was really cheesed off.  Finally I was dismissed.  Later I was told this drill was to test my ability to shout and give instructions (as I also had to shout the same to the sergeant) as well as to carry out his instructions to me.  It was to see if I was capable of giving instructions to those in my section with the hope of becoming an NCO.  Of course, I was told I couldn’t shout and couldn’t march so I felt a miserable failure.  I was still kept on as No1 on the predictor without the benefits.  I knew I was a failure in marching as my steps were too small or should I say lady like which was proved to me on another occasion.
We regularly were taken for PE (Physical Exercise) in our little shorts, vests and plimsoles. Afterwards, we were marched by our instructor to the showers (which was always cold water).  On this occasion, I was marching at the front of our section when the NCO marching at the back shouted, “Halt”.  Of course, the platoon all halted.  “Not you lot!” he shouted.  “Private Holt, you’re out of step.  Come to the rear rank”.  That caused a few titters as you can imagine.  As for my shouting, if I couldn’t shout then, I learned to later in my married life when I had a platoon of seven children to control." Poor mum! She was always getting into some kind of trouble during her service. This time it was a little more serious and she felt really bad for letting her team down. I think she still feels some shame to this day. But I always say to her whenever she retells this story, "but that's why they had dummy air raids!" The idea is to practice procedures during an unexpected raid which included getting up in the middle of the night  so that during an actual raid responses becomes second nature which they were -- except for this night..
"As No1 on the predictor, no guns could fire until I gave the order. Well one night the commanding officer decided we’d have a dummy call out. No doubt to keep us up to scratch with our duties. I woke in the middle of the night with a start to hear whistles frantically blowing. Oh it’s a raid. I jumped out of bed and saw the hut was empty.  My goodness I must have slept sound and not heard the initial whistles. Now I’m for trouble.
I hastily pulled on my long lace up boots without lacing them up, put on my leather jerkin over my pyjamas and as I had curlers in, my helmet was balanced on the top and then of course my gas mask on my shoulder. It was pitch dark and although we had a path to the command post, the quickest way was over a field. Being pitch dark, I kept stumbling in pot holes and had to pass gunner Holt who was manning the Lewis gun. “Hurry up, private Holt,” he said.  "You’re for it.” Trouble he meant of course. Well I hurried into my position by the predictor. All this time the whistles had been blasting. Nothing was said until the order stand down. As of course everyone was waiting for me to give the order fire which I couldn't do until I’d studied the predictor.  Once we had the order to “stand down”, I was told I was on a charge and to report to the charge room after 8am parade.  I was really sorry I had let them all down.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a real raid. It would have been really dreadfully serious. Well that night finished with us being marched to the cook house for our cocoa. One and all tittering at my expense at my appearance. I suppose I did look rather a clown, but at that time I couldn’t see it was so funny. I knew I was in disgrace and wondered what my punishment would be.
The next morning I was taken to the commanding officer to face my ordeal. I was marched off between two NCO’s with my cap (which was always worn while in uniform) off and clutched in my hand. Facing the officer, my charge was read out and my only explanation was that I was sleeping soundly and didn’t hear the alarm whistles. Told how serious it was I was then put on 2 weeks confined to camp and fatigues. My first fatigue was to whitewash the command post latrine (or lavatory) which was a bucket in a wooden hut. I was marched to the hut with the necessary equipment, i.e. a bucket of whitewash and brush and left to perform my task and what a task it turned out to be. To begin with, the weather was appalling. It was windy and pouring with rain.  Well actually it was falling down in torrents. Oh! I thought. This is easy, I went into the hut shut the door and quickly performed my task. After which, I sat on the bucket seat awaiting the CO to inspect my work. He duly arrived and said, “What have you been doing, Holt?” 
“Whitewashing the hut sir as I was directed.”
He called me outside and said, “I can’t see any whitewash!” "“Oh Sir, I said. “I understood I was to white wash the inside.” He looked at me aghast with his eyes practically coming out of their sockets. “Set to and whitewash the outside and do it properly.  I’ll return later to inspect what you’ve done.” The rain was still falling heavily.  I began my task. As fast as I put the whitewash on, it was washed off. I was wearing only my leather sleeveless jerkin over my battle dress jacket and looked like a drowned rat, I felt like it too. There I stood all day sploshing the whitewash on and just as quick, off it came. I’m sure the rain was sent to really demoralize me for demoralized I was. Surely, I kept thinking Sir will think I’ve suffered enough. A few tears added to the rain drops. Woe is me I thought. 
"Finally at 5pm Sir arrived, took one look and said I’d finished. “Finished Sir.  How can I finish?  It’s washed off as fast as I painted it on.” Oh how I regretted my body enjoying that sound sleep. I was told to clear my instruments of torture away and go and get dried out. My nicely curled hair was hanging outside my cap like witches’ tendrils. I thought if I’ve caught the flu, he’ll be sorry, but of course I didn’t."
It was during the war when my parents met and eventually got married. They only had a week together after they got married. After a week's leave, they had to return to their camps. Dad (Frank) had to leave for Aberdeen in Scotland and mum had to get back to Caldicot in Wales. Since they both had to leave from the same station around the same time, mum called and lied to her commanding officer about missing her train. This was so she could spend another thirty minutes with dad. Things never go quite according to plan as mum will explain...
""We spent a week together at South Harrow and were unhappy at the thoughts of leaving each other so soon.  Him to Scotland and me to South Wales.  My brain worked overtime and I did, or suggested something very naughty.  Frank’s train went from Euston and mine from Paddington both at around six o’clock in the evening so just to have some extra time with him, I rang the camp and spoke to the officer on duty and said I’d missed my train.  “That’s alright, Private George.  See that you are in camp and on parade by 8am.  I then went with Frank to see him off before catching my last train to Caldicot.  I knew I had told a lie and felt guilty.  Was it worth it for an extra half an hour? 
Well I caught my train which was the mail train and stopped at every station.  Consequently, by the time it reached Caldicot, it would give me about thirty minutes to get on parade and sign the time of my arrival in the guardroom.  The train approached the station and I prepare to alight when low and behold the train went straight through. The guard who was a gunner with a rifle looked down to the train as it went by and hoped I wasn’t on that one or if I was I’d manage to return on the next one back before the deadline. As soon as the train reached the next stop not far from the camp called Severn Tunnel Junction, I made haste to a porter and told him of my plight.  I was told there was another train due in directly. “Oh thanks” I said with relief, but unfortunately this train went straight through my little stop and after waving to the guard above the line, on we traveled to Chepstow.  Oh dear, talk about calamity Jane!  Once more, I stepped down on to the platform and was put on the next train back.  Of course it didn’t stop at my little Halt.  By this time, it was passed 8am and a girl was on duty as the guard had changed.  By the time I arrived at Severn Tunnel Junction, I was frantic and saw the porter again, explained the train he had put me on hadn’t stopped and I was in trouble.  “Don’t worry”, he said.  I’ll see you’ll get off with the next one. The next train came in good, but horror or horrors, it was a goods train and he hoisted me up into a compartment if you could call it that as it was a covered in truck with of course no seats and full of cows. Now I’m terrified of these creatures and edged into a corner as far away as possible from them. They just went on chewing some straw on the floor and one came toward me chewing. At least his jaws were working and his big round eyes staring into mine.  Oh how terrified I was. Relief at last, these trucks stopped to let me off. There being no platform, I had to jump down quite a drop.  Well that ordeal was over.  Now another was to begin.
I hurried to the camp and was met with “who goes there?”  “Private George”, I announced on entering the guard room. I signed my name and the time was entered. Private George, you have been AWOL (absent without leave). An NCO was called and in disgrace was marched to the office of the CO (commanding officer). He told me I was on a charge for being absent and not being on parade. The outcome of this was I was confined to camp for seven days and to report to the cook house every night after duties to do fatigues. I was given a knife and sack of potatoes to peel. Another night sinks of washing up, etc. I heard after the guard all enjoyed a good laugh at my misfortune seeing me going backwards and forwards past the camp. Oh well, I made them happy, but I was not [happy] having endured such a disgrace."
Mum's luck with trains got a bit better, but not without some drama!

"While travelling to Anglesea for our firing practice as usual we travelled overnight by train.  We usually sang as we marched through the country areas.  The men as usual trying to keep in step behind us.  This was most enjoyable as we usually aired our lungs.  On the above mentioned journey, our train pulled into Crewe station for the train’s engine to be shunted to the end of the train.  Our part of the train just a few carriages was to have a smaller engine and travel on to Anglesea (at least I think that was what was happening).  At Crewe station I saw a lady on the platform selling mugs of tea.  Quick as a flash, myself and another brainy person like myself jumped out of our carriage to acquire a cuppa.  Oh Calamity, the train started up.  My partner got on, but there was I left on the platform waiting for the train to stop which of course it didn’t.  After hasty words with the porter and station master, the train was halted just outside the station and I was taken to my carriage.  Nothing was said to me about this.  They’d probably given up on me by this time.  Although, I must say, I was a great asset to the Army.  We won the war after all didn’t we?  Of course with all my help."
And indeed we did win the war, with the help of many other brave honorable young men and women like her. After the war, Mum was posted to Carlise on the Scottish border to work in the Army pay office. Eventually, she left the army and focused on married life and raising the family. We need to keep these stories alive and in the hearts and minds of future generations. It's only by understanding the human element of war that we can have empathy for the other humans affected by diaspora,  persecution, and many other effects of conflicts and war.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Death in Baltimore

The death of Freddie Gray has on both sides of the political spectrum rightly raised legitimate questions and heightened awareness of issues that pervade many inner cities of America. Despite wide media coverage, the question still remains: Did Freddie Gray die from self-harm, or was he murdered in police custody by the officers responsible for his arrest? Seemingly, both sides from the left and right "know" what happened, that fateful night of Gray's arrest and his subsequent death  a week later on April, 19. The chattering classes know what happened and made conclusions based on their biases.

Many on the far left know Gray was murdered by a police department made up of mostly racist thugs who routinely harass young innocent African-American men going about their business despite the fact that three of the officers arrested are African-American. Many on the far right "know" that the young black man slung into the back of a paddy wagon was, "most likely an up to no good thug with a rap sheet as long as your arm!" Sentiments expressed routinely on both sides do nothing but serve to express and reinforce accepted stereotypes because they subscribe to firmly held belief systems. How can the truth be known when the media and politicians placate to the views held by people who base their views upon their biases and belief systems rather than evidence?

Meanwhile, a legitimate question remains: How does a young man sever his spinal cord under his own attempt at self-injury. Such speculation of a tragedy provides ideal fodder for the media because the story appeals to both extremes of the political spectrum to a pitch that it over shadowed the tragedies of Nepal and the 100th Anniversary of the the Armenian genocide.

Even if the officers are found guilty, this does not make most officers racist anymore than if Gray was guilty of breaking the law makes most African-Americans criminals, and, or thugs. It changes nothing. What it should change is our willingness to examine inherent problems which maybe embedded racism within law enforcement and inner city deprivation that inevitably leads to distrust and adversity on both sides of the law. We also perhaps need to examine our own attitudes and biases in our response to these stories. It was interesting to note the response to the violence that ensued across Baltimore after Gray's death.

The right tended to condone the behavior of a mother who beat her teenage son in public. Her son apparently had been involved in the riots. The left condoned the riots as a release of anger and frustration by disenfranchised youth who had suffered decades of racial discrimination. Why does the left seem to condone violence within the black communities?  Both sides condone violence from a different platform.  Now turn the prism: How about a white parent publicly metering out the same beating towards their teenage offspring? Would that have been met with the same response? It's easy to understand why the desperate mother acted the way she did. Young African males are many more times likely than their white counterparts to be killed on the streets. However, to understand something is not to condone it. Why do the right seem to condone the domestic violence by a mother towards her son? The Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake felt that it was necessary to give space to, “ those who wish to destroy space to do that as well.” Here we have another key player living in a very small room with the blinds down to block out their own biases by condoning violence by giving license to a largely African American community to act out.

New developments as of Friday is that six officers have been charged with murder and manslaughter. We may be getting closer to the truth. The story is evolving and so undoubtedly will be the speculation and verdicts from trials by news outlets and social media. Both sides will accuse each other of ulterior motives to serve their political ends. And to a large extent, both will be right. We can only know the truth by searching for the truth rather than apportioning blame within a framework of political jostling.

During my journey home on Thursday, I witnessed a young African-American man chatting with a police officer who was feeding his police horse with hay in its horse box. The young man explained how he was somewhat afraid of horses, but liked them. The officer showed him how to feed the horse. It was both refreshing and a relief to see a scene that didn't match the fixed and adhered to stereotypes to which both left and right cling. 

Baltimore image (Daily Mirror, UK)

NPR Timeline: Freddie Gray arrest and beyond

Daily Beast: Baltimore Mayor gave permission to riot

Friday, May 1, 2015

Uncomfortable Truths

People are often sensitive to certain topics that are often painful to face the reality, and the truth. When faced with uncomfortable situations, or propositions, people and even whole nations will employ a cognitive dissonance to protect themselves from such truths or to shield the truth with another false reality that justifies such a truth. Cognitive dissonance is a form of denial. People or a country will seek to counter a discomfort by forming an oppositional argument or attitude that either masks or justifies the truth.

A prime example of such denialism is by Turkey regarding the genocide of one and a half-million Armenians. April 24th, 2015 marks the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turks at the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1915.  An article appearing in the New York Times this week explained how after the Turkish Republic was setup, Turkey's first president, Mustava Kemel Ataturk engaged in a massive social-engineering feat of "Turkification". Turkification had an aim to alter the past by erasing it from history with altered "facts" and to paint the picture of Armenians as liars and traitors.

To this day, the result of a century of denialism is reflected in by a foreign policy study by research organization in Istanbul. Their research showed that only 9% of Turks agreed that the government should call the atrocities committed in the last century as genocide. This shows how destructive denialism is as it is a form of deceit. Deceit over time becomes a new reality even though not true.

Truth and myth converge and become difficult to distinguish. It is this convergence that gives rise to everlasting conspiracy theories that take on their own life-forms. Myths are hard to dispel because the form hardened belief systems. Belief systems are almost impossible to break down thus the truth remains unknown and unheard.

Armenian Genocide 1915
Armenian looking at human remains from genocide 1916

 Photo source and website link

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lizzy Borden - A Perfect Exit

lizzy borden who were you
way back in 1892

you allegedly took an axe
mother and father you did hack

a grueling trial you withstood
did you do it - it seemed you could

you walked free from the scene
what a relief that must've been

you took with you to the grave
a mystery that still stays

what went on behind that door
we'll never know that's for sure

silent you lay in infamy
are you guilty as can be

does your guilt forever hide
with mother father by your side

Lizzy Borden

Bobcat to Rodeo Valley

A blue-yellow glow left by the slowly falling orb of the golden full moon over the horizon helped light our ascent on Bobcat trail. I look over my shoulder and watch for a moment the headlamps as they twinkle like fairy lights climbing Bobcat Trail. We turn at the final switch back of Bobcat and reach the crest of the hill. The fairy lights slowly dwindle to a flicker as they emerge over the crest and into a dawn that greets us at the top of the trail.

The dark blue sky of night turned into a liquid gold that poured down the hillsides and into Rodeo Valley like pure honey. A morning mist tinged by the warm lilac and orange glow of the sunrise cascaded down the hillsides into the valley floor below.

I stopped and pondered upon this new day emerging over the horizon. The warm glow offered a reprieve from two hours of darkness -- albeit beautiful darkness. But there is always something heavy about the night. The dark blue turning azure signals a new day and lessens the weight of darkness...

The 50 Mile North Face Endurance Challenge 2014

KBE Dec 6, 2014

Friday, April 3, 2015


Azur blue
a fabulous hue
feeling blue?
look up
blue greets you
demure azure
no longer blue
are you

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Behind those Lights

crossing the Bay Bridge at night
always such a spectacular delight
rising glittering against black velvet
one wonders
what goes on behind those lights?

The enchanted city
alive with life!
chattering heads
oblivious to the display
across the bay tonight

the Embarcadero twinkles
reds greens yellow and white
shimmering, changing, moving
one wonders
what goes on behind those lights?

Anxious drivers at the end of day
honking horns
get outta my way!
oblivious to the display
across the bay tonight

neon lights all aglow
flickering, glaring, sometimes staring
illuminating the bars below
one wonders
what goes on behind those lights

a fedora tips
an audience quietens
as a poet recites
behind those lights
oblivious to the display
across the bay tonight

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Silent world

I cannot see
I cannot smell
I cannot feel
I cannot tell
I cannot speak
And I cannot listen
But upon my head
Morning frost glistens

Making Waves

ride the wave that  few dare to ride
there's always one from which folk hide
get in close
watch the wave start to crest
kick furiously with the best

you may have the ride of your life
you may wipe out with a tumultuous roll
dumped along the sea shore
in a barrel of a wave
and hear the ocean roar

you may ride alone on the wave
gliding safely to shore
assured by the roar
in an ocean of approval

however you end up along the shore
you will sure to have been seen
creating a scene
going against the tide
and enjoying the ride

drowning in a sea of despair
is not an option

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ode to a Mum

three years since i saw you last
my they went by so damn fast

out you went into the night
unafraid without a light

Rosie had to go outside
always by each others' side

the garden a charm in daylight
treacherous in the dark of night

out of the window you saw me
you rushed out when i grazed my knee

you helped me stand up from my falls
scolded others who called me a fool

you used to stand oh so tall
now i fear you may take a fall

i offer you a helping hand
getting you on your feet to stand

time for school you always said
as you roused me out of bed

now i sit by yours instead
old memories fill our heads

we reflect upon times gone by
and ponder on many whys

sharing stories of the past
and sharing many a good laugh

i read to you newspaper stories
we discuss the gory and glory

we talk of how times have changed
and how things just aren't the same

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Why does his shell feel so hard
She cannot hear him deep inside
Their tears flow deep and unseen
Life just isn't the same it seems

She tries to breach his hidden shell
She wants to calm his living hell
He knows exactly how she feels
But time and space can only heal

How wasted nights fill empty space
Replacing their hidden special place
Can what was close become so distant
Now all that exists is stark resistance

Minor victories go without compliment
As if dismissed without sentiment
Pride is quickly tossed aside
When only hurt exists inside

Meanwhile she ponders in despair
Bound with a love belonging elsewhere
Are dreams just cheap tricks of hope
Minor distractions are how she copes

Her life-long love has long gone
Left her feeling that it's all a con
She got lost living a life of lies
Until it filled with empty despise

Appeasement killed her with subtle ease
As she lived life in order to please
She never heard her inward sound
A part of her was dead she found

Time never slowed or stood still
For her to see what was real
Did true love ever really exist
Was it another delusion of bliss

Autumn came when she found answers
Again her life was full of laughter
Still many questions remain unasked
And answers hide behind a mask

Those small victories she yearns to share
Quickly pass now he's not there
Pride is just a passing phase
Restored by memories of long gone days

She longs to comfort her hurting muse
But she knows that he'll pull through
She's careful of his fragility
And patiently waits with mental agility

An agility that dances around despair
Has she choreographed steps to nowhere
Or will he reappear a willing partner
And take her hand and dance beside her

by Karen Bayley-Ewell July 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nothing works..!

I arrived back in London after a 4 hour bus journey from Swansea where I'd spent a wonderful Christmas with my family and visiting my 93 year old mum everyday in hospital after her recent total hip replacement. I was back again at Heathrow underground station. I knew the efficient drill that ensured a speedy exit of this station and grabbed a free airport cart to avoiding unnecessary schlepping of my bag. After queuing up to purchase my first Oyster card like a real Londoner, I abandoned the airport cart and took off through the turnstiles to the tube-trains. After a nearly two hour journey across London on a crowded tube, my first encounter was with a grumpy cab dispatcher in the cab office at Walthamstow Central station who grunted, "Cab 11" without even looking up to see who he was talking at. "Well where the fuck is cab 11?", I mumbled under my breath as I pondered the half dozen cabs parked outside. I couldn't be arsed to ask him so I schlepped my one huge bulky bag over my back like a hobo and stepped back out into the dark 5pm chilly London night and asked the first cabby I see if he's number 11. Indeed he was. Bingo..! Thankfully, the middle-eastern cabbie was a friendly guy who was looking forward to New Year's Eve and asked me if I'd had a nice flight as he loaded my bag into the boot.. I realized I still had the airline tag attached to my bag from my arrival at London Heathrow from San Francisco 10 days ago. I was looking forward to staying at the Hitchcock again

The Sir Alfred Hitchcock is very unique with its stone walls, wooden-beamed interior, low ceilings, hardwood floors, nooks and crannies, alcoves, comfortable couches and armchairs, and a large fireplace in the middle of the room that could be enjoyed by patrons on both sides of the bar. The presence of Sir Alfred Hitchcock is everywhere. The walls are covered with memorabilia from the movies, and of other Leytonstone times gone by. The quiet location of the hotel on the edge of Epping Forest is juxtaposed by the hustle and bustle of inner London, and the busy M11 link road; a 10 minute walk away.

I finally arrived at the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel and was truly looking forward to sitting next to their open fire with a pint that I'd been gasping for since my arrival at Heathrow. It was a crisp wintery night. The sight of the hotel's illuminated redbrick facade triggered memories of times gone by.  I had enjoyed many a £1 a pint Murphy's back in the mid-nineties. I always loved the Hitchcock when I lived 10 minutes away from here, and always live to recapture those moments when I go home by having a rendezvous with my old friends here. The only things that change are the price of a pint..., and of course, tariffs...

I arrived at the bar to check in:
"That'll be £165, please."
"Um, no. It's £133. We confirmed that via email..."
"Oh it would be normally, but it's the Christmas period!"
It's always this way whenever I go home. There's always something! This time it's the overcharge for my hotel room because of "the Christmas week."

"But I gave the dates! I was quoted £133 pounds. Now it's £165?! I have the email." I go to bring out my phone to find the email and then stop. An inner voice asked me, why bother? "Okay, never mind", I smiled. "We can sort it later if need be. It's still a good deal and I understand the Christmas rate."  I certainly had no intention of going anywhere else just because of a relatively small overcharge. Besides, the price was still a good deal for London. The hotel is fifteen minutes from Leytonstone tube station and a short bus ride to Walthamstow Central trains, underground and buses.

My mind wandered back to the present transaction. I paid up, smiled, got my key, and asked what time the restaurant closes... "Oh the chef is away, but I think he's back tomorrow! We'll be open for breakfast  tomorrow morning." Here we go again, I thought. Always the same. British hospitality at its best! "Oh okay, no worries!" I'd long since given up asking too many questions. I'm home now... I got to my, thankfully, pre-heated room, and followed the directions to turn on the TV to get some BBC news on the telly.  The screen remained as blank as the look on anyone's face here when you ask for help with anything. Nothing! Anyway, like I said, nothing works! And the television was no exception. Exasperated, I tossed the remote-control aside on the bed and then tried to find that wretched confirmation email on my phone. Although I had already decided it was okay, I really wanted to let them know that £133 is what we had agreed on and plus the TV didn't work, or I couldn't figure it out. Then I stopped; "Oh fuck it...", I told myself. "To hell with the email and the sodding television, I'm here for a stress-free time and to have fun." I showered, changed, and headed to the bar. Despite not meeting my friends until my last night here, I donned my new designer cape- top from Ruti's on Fillmore, my consignment store True Religion jeans, boots, long scarf and wool fedora and set out for the bar. I felt great.

I ordered my liquid dinner and side-dish of crisps and peanuts. I wasn't that hungry anyway. I'll have a decent cooked breakfast tomorrow. After a couple of pints, I felt at home again as I warmed myself by the open-fire and absorbed its heat and warm glow. I soon discarded my scarf being careful to place it where I wouldn't forget it and drifted in thought with the chattering of the bar in the background.

Nothing works here -- except the things that truly matter. I'd already added to the cost of time by even trying to find the confirmation email, I pondered. I know far too well that openly expressing frustration here gets you absolutely nowhere... As a matter of fact, it often makes things worse. My internalized frustrations as a result of the surly cab dispatcher, broken TV and overcharge melted away as each pint took effect and soon  replaced by enjoying the things that did work.

The shower worked
The heater worked.
The beer worked.
The wireless worked.
Ah! The real fire worked!
The full English buffet breakfast worked!
The restaurant worked.
My warm scarf worked.
My consignment store gray wool full-length wrap coat worked.
My consignment store fur-edged leather fedora worked.

Most of all - my visit to my 93 year old mum worked to make her happy.

Sometimes it just doesn't matter if the TV doesn't work in a very warm cozy hotel room. That is what a good bar, beer, open fire, an early morning frost, crisp winter nights, friends, and memories are for. And why I'll always be back for more.

Leytonstone Underground Station Mosiac
Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel - Fireplace
A crisp frosty morning
Christmas Day!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cafe Hats

The open window allowed the warm balmy tropical breeze to diffuse around the cafe giving an uncharacteristic feel to this San Francisco fall day.

Summer floral dresses, conversation and coffee. Beer flows like the thought processes of the heads dutifully bowing over laptops, books and writing-pads.

And the hats! Hats on backwards, forwards, tilted, wilted sheltering eyes from the sun. Fedoras, straw and felted blend with the occasional one-off style.

A striking hat bending over a pad and pastels spread out before the hat. Immersed in her creation, she looks up and smiles, "drawings of thirty years of memories" she announces as she adds another to mine.

La Lettre (1908). Jean BĂ©raud

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stand up to Elephants

A giant question mark hung over the world asking how France would respond to the massacre committed by Islamic terrorists at the Charlie Hebdo office. The answer was a surprise. On that fateful Wednesday of January 7th, 2015, the French did not announce the attack as an "act of war" or declare a "war on terror." And they did not react by calling upon allied nations to bomb or invade another nation in retaliation for such a heinous act. Instead of loading magazines in machine guns, writers and cartoonists joined together in the spirit of satire by putting pen to paper to fire rounds of words and cartoons at the absurdity of the murderous assault on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the free world.

France and the rest of the free-world was not going to be silenced by terror. The world's army of cartoonists delivered an important message on the value of freedom of expression. A plethora of cartoons, street art, and articles condemning the attack emerged over social media, and the press. One cartoonist illustrated the message with a diminutive figure of a terrorist holding a smoking rifle cowering in a corner surrounded by the biggest, and most effective of weapons; an array of pens aiming at him from the sky. Another cartoonist, from the Daily Telegraph responded in defiance with an illustration of a group of terrorists about to storm the offices of Charlie Hebdo and being warned, "Be careful, they may have pens..."

The following Sunday, France and other members of nearby European countries came together to attend unity rallies in Paris and across the country. The unity and solidarity of the rallies transcended age, ethnicity, political affiliation, faith, and socioeconomic status. The scene of one and a half million people swarming around Paris was a moving one. Reporters on national television conveyed the atmosphere and public responses. Francois Hollande announced, "Paris is the capital of the world today. Nothing stops France. With three revolutions; a reign of terror; the Nazi occupation, and subsequent liberation, the people of France know more than anyone, the value of liberty, and freedom of expression.

The French understand that being offended does not afford offended parties any protection from being offended. They do not compromise freedom of expression in the form of excessive political correctness. Nothing illustrates this more when Charlie Hebdo published its first edition after the massacre with a caricature of Muhammad on its front cover with the caption, "Tout est Pardonne'. Alas, media outlets failed to follow suit.

What followed, can only be described as a hypocritical act of betrayal by mainstream news sources when they failed to support Charlie Hebdo. Newspapers published only the top half of the front cover omitting the cartoon of Muhammad. SkyNews in the UK showed the ultimate cowardice in an act of self-censorship by cutting off Charlie Hebdo writer, Caroline Fourest in the middle of a live broadcast when she went to hold up the magazine cover for viewers. The news anchor even went on to "apologize for any offense caused."

It should be no surprise that France is the birthplace of enlightenment that eventually freed her from the reins of oppression by religion and tyrannous monarchies. It should be no surprise that writer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall summed up the French philosopher Voltaire's view of freedom of expression with "I disapprove with everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." The staff at Charlie Hebdo died defending that right. Sadly, we betrayed them.

The rest of us should allow France and Charlie Hebdo to lead by example and not be pinned against the wall by the elephant in the room that is called religion. To deny ideology as a factor in oppression, war and terrorism is to disregard part of the problems of unshakable belief systems. On January, 7th, we were all Charlie Hebdo. Let's not stop there.