in the monastery a small and amusing hieromachy

The monastery had two kinds of monk – Fathers and Brothers. Fathers were priests with university degrees first and four years of Theology after; Brothers were for the most part less academically qualified and often came from working class families, and on the whole were more down-to-earth and streetwise. Despite the holy environment of the order and in theory the good intentions there was always some friction between the two kinds; well, monks or not they were human, and brothers felt, usually quite rightly, priests looked down on them.
Father Nivard was a rotund, self-important pain in the arse and a self-confessed expert on every matter theological, angels balancing on the heads of pins and all that. No other monk, priest or brother, liked him, but Nivard – or Nivo as he was known – didn’t much care. He’d taken the name Nivard after Saint Nivard the 7th century Bishop of Reims, and had ambition to become abbot one day. After all, an abbot is a bishop.
Brother Laurence was Dublin working class through and through but after an adolescence of hanging out in back streets with other little chancers more than going to school he took a course in nursing and much to the relief and delight of his mother became an SRN. A few months later, he joined the monks, a move his mother considered a waste of career and a lost opportunity to make something of himself. Later, she conceded she had no right to question his decision and said to a neighbour, ‘Sure if it’s God’s will, it’s God’s will, and the call is the call.’
In the monastery, Laurence was in charge of Sick Bay, and the infirmary was the one place where monks were allowed to speak in case of any misunderstandings regarding ailments or treatments. Of course only the most devout kept silence in all other places, whispering was usual, fashionable even.
One time, Father Nivard came down with flu, a much less serious condition than the good theologian admitted. No one else’s bout of flu was as serious as his and instead of putting up with it till it passed he took to a bed in Sick Bay, and Brother Laurence had to attend to him. Nivard’s presence inconvenienced Laurence mightily, he couldn’t smoke in his usual corner or drink his bottles of Guinness or send the gardener into town to put five shillings each way on the 33/1 outsider running in the 2:30 at Kempton Park, all three practices he was supposed to have left behind the day he donned the cowl. He relayed to the gardener, a local hire, that he wouldn’t be availing of his purchasing and betting services until the priest was better and gone, and this news pissed the gardener off, he wouldn’t be getting his usual tips. ‘Shite!’ said the gardener.
As if Nivard’s presence wasn’t bad enough the priest expected to be waited on hand and foot and for the purpose of summoning Laurence had carried into Sick Bay with him a small bell which he rang with infuriating frequency.
‘What’s it now?’ Laurence would ask in the flattest voice he could manage.
‘Laurence, be an absolute darling and bring me another glass of cold water, and while you’re at it close the curtains completely, there’s a small shaft of light molesting my eyes, and do fluff up my pillows, you’ve not fluffed them since morning.’
Lurence would mutter something unmonkish and bring the water and close the curtains and fluff the pillows, muttering all the while.
Three days of tinkling bells and Laurence was at the end of his tether – no smokes, porter or horses – and the pain in the arse showed no signs of leaving. The end came when Nivard rang and said, ‘Laurence, be an absolute angel and bring me a nice pot of tea, scalding hot and properly strained, and in the good floral pot.’
Laurence looked at the pompous rotundity now sitting in a chair beside the bed and not a thing the matter with him and said, ‘Nivo, as long as you’re still consuming oxygen, and I must say you’re a disgraceful waste of oxygen, and as long as you’re capable of the vertical and are not on the permanent horizontal you can make your own fucking tea.’

The exchanges were overheard by a third monk with genuine reasons for being in the infirmary, and after his recovery and discharge he was more than happy to whisper details to the entire community, and beyond.
A hieromachy is a quarrel between clerics.

Botox

Camels are seen during a beauty contest as part of the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rumah, some 160 kilometres east of Riyadh, on January 19, 2018.
The 28-day King Abdulaziz Camel Festival features races and camels beauty contest, known as Miss Camel with prizes amounting to $30 million.
/ AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Judges look for poise and for beauty of knee, eye and lip. A dozen contestants this year were disqualified for using botox.

volunteer

Foreword

Today is a sad day for me. This morning I got word an old college friend, Anne, passed away last week. A few years back, I wrote a poem in honour of her courage and dedication and I feel it’s only right to share it once more. Anne, Great Woman, rest in peace.

_____________________________________________

volunteer

for Anne

not her going (it was coming a while)
but the manner of it
only what she stood in and a weekend bag for forever
that’s where the rest of my life is she said
and i’ll arrive with as little as i can
for i want to wage war with bare hands
sow reap share
and baggage would be baggage

honours languages girl
fierce mind to cut pretence first sentence
heart i’d have learned more from had i not been afraid
and mine more grown less promiscuous
she was plain white paper big print
and had no use for a world at her feet
that would force her in plastic directions

goody-goody fanciful extreme
i thought she’d last three months
une saison en enfer Sixties girl
unacquainted with hardship and daddy at her back
journeying with Rimbaud and Baudelaire
tilting at windmills in the original
can’t hack hunger and malaria dysentery and flies
and what does she know of planting?

forty years and never so much as a card
but now and then i read of a new clinic
a village with clean water a loan paid off
another school with books and desks
and see in a group snapshot a white-haired girl
with a smile to construct a continent

neighbours observed – Squat

‘Jogging, jogging.’
The intonation doesn’t indicate a question and yet I feel it is one.
‘Yes,’ I say because it’s the response he’s looking for, and he smiles. Where he got the idea I go jogging I can’t say. It’s of no matter to him that I’m on my way back from the shops with two bags of groceries, ‘jogging’ it is, and of no matter either that my build or the way I move don’t suggest I’m one of those run-five-miles-a-day types, and neither do I have the bicep clock or designer sweats favoured by the self-conscious exercist.
For a while I thought ‘jogging’ was the extent of his vocabulary in English but his older brother assures me that on occasion Squat has plenty to say for himself in English and in Mandarin, too.
Squat is as close to a sumo as one can be without being one. In addition to the considerable body he has a strong jaw, a squinty eye and a handshake to crush walnuts. Fortunately for me he doesn’t shake my hand much, he prefers to greet orally.
Twenty years ago when Squat was a few years old he was diagnosed as ‘slow’. ‘Slow’ was as precise as his mother was offered and today she still doesn’t know what her son’s detailed condition is, and she gave up long ago trying to find out.
As soon as Squat’s father, a miserable coward, heard the news of his son’s condition he packed a bag and snuck out in the middle of the night leaving his wife to raise Squat and the bigger boy by herself. The coward fled to Indonesia where he shacked up with a floosie who left him after a while because she found better. Where he is today no one knows, or cares.
For years, the abandoned mother struggled, scrubbed other people’s floors, cleaned toilets and took in washing and sewing. If it wasn’t for the help of a good sister and kind, generous neighbours she says she’d have gone under. The older boy grew up ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ is – and today he has a good job and is the breadwinner. He tells me he’d like to get married and have a family of his own but he can’t, he feels it’s his duty to look after his brother and mother. ‘I’m not like my bastard father,’ he says.
On two occasions, Squat was given the chance to work. Here we have a few training centres for people with disabilities and Squat was signed up for a course at one of them. He lasted half a day. The instructor was showing him how to perform a certain task but Squat had his own way of doing it, the wrong way. When the instructor pointed out his way worked and Squat’s didn’t and tried to get Squat to do it the right way Squat punched him in the face and knocked him out. Squat was sent home right away. Six months later, Squat joined another course and lasted only an hour – he pushed another trainee through a window.
‘He’s not as dumb as he pretends,’ his brother tells me, ‘and he’s a lazy little shit. He knew at the training centre he’d be sent home if he turned nasty, lucky we weren’t prosecuted. All he wants to do all day is sit on his big arse and watch TV and smoke cigarettes, cigarettes I have to buy for him, and if I say a word against him my mother jumps down my throat, he’s not to be criticised or scolded, and he knows it and plays my mother like a fiddle. When I’m around I make him help her with the laundry and I make him do the washing-up; otherwise, he does nothing. What’s going to happen to him when my mother passes away? I don’t want to think about it, I just don’t.’

On Reaching 70

Today, I turn 70 and I’m happy. To be truthful, as much relieved as happy, perhaps more so.
Fifteen years ago I was sure the end was near, I was miserable in many ways, a damaged lower back which surgery didn’t cure, lousy osteoarthritis in the right hip, a mild stroke, and frequent and sustained bouts of depression where I went for days without speaking to anyone. On a few occasions I did think about a self-induced end but fought off the thought each time by telling myself how selfish it would be and how unfair to those close to me.
Then a recovery of sorts, a more positive outlook and disposition, a new calm, a new tolerance of self and of others and the understanding that the heart must rule. Fifteen years on, I’m still here.
I don’t travel these days, only in my mind. I still walk in the Black Forest, look down on the Vale of Kashmir with the white giants of the Himalayas rising behind, see Japan at cherry blossom time and watch the dawn break at Uluru.
With the love and support of family and friends and with kind light, moon and/or candle, behind me I intend to go on for a few years more.

TO LIFE

TO LIFE

i cannot say how many times i’ve loved you
as i love you now
or how often in the past i loved you
if i had the chance to love you over and over

and i cannot say how many times
i will love you in times to come

that i love you now is what matters
that i love your wild green and blue canopy
your perfumed reds in borders
you tumbling and still waters
your uneven paths and manicured ways
your antlers paws hooves long necks
and calls of longing in the night

that i love your pains and disappointments
laughter and celebration
and the air you let me breathe

i will go on loving you
against the threat of hoods salutes and banners
against the unthinking voices of division
against hate and race creed and colour

for to love you is to know
you are the way
and i thank you for your gifts

Many many thanks

Many many thanks to everyone who ‘liked’ me and who sent messages of love, concern and support – you are true and genuine, and I feel lucky to know you.
A special THANK YOU to Chris for his thoughtful and beautiful piece honouring our friendship, I was and am deeply touched.
At the moment I’m so so, it will take a while to be back to full power.
In the meantime, please bear with me and please know I care.

With love

john

My A-Z

I’m

arthritic
balding
compassionate
dutiful
eclectic
fair
generous
humane
intuitive
Joycean
kind
lazy (at times)
musical
numerate
outspoken
politically incorrect
quixotic
radical
sane (whatever that is)
trilingual
untamed
vacant (at times)
wicked (sense of humour)
xenophilic
young at heart
Zen