Actually that was something that happened some time ago but that doesn’t mean that I can’t sympathise with those going through a crisis of faith, particularly at this time. If you look to your leaders and find them wanting, perhaps it’s time you found new leaders, or start finding your own way… ?
Francesco strode purposefully across St Peter’s Square, his jet black clerical robes flapping in the early morning breeze. As the dawn broke the Square and the surrounding streets were deserted, the only activity being that of the street cleaners and newspaper delivery men bringing the confirmation – in hard print – of London’s tragic event the day before. Francesco slipped in through a concealed entrance at the north-west corner of the Square: his customary route into the Vatican City, at the customary time of day, for his clandestine meetings with Cardinal Moro. It was on a morning like this some months before that Francesco had received his instructions on how he would act in the aftermath of a tragedy – say a car crash in the streets of Rome – involving good friends of his, hypothetical of course. But if such an event did happen, he was to be counted on to offer protection and sanctuary to those who survived and – for whatever reason – could not travel fast or far enough from the scene on their own.
The cardinal’s room, situated in the offices – or uffizi – which controlled the day to day running of the Vatican, was located far away from the Pope’s residence as well as the famous tourist attractions. However security was just as rigid with every visitor having to show a special pass and move through an airport-type scanner, the modern day necessities at odds with the Baroque-style building which, opulent by anyone’s standards, would be considered modest and practical compared to its neighbouring riches. The cardinal’s room was small and book-lined, countless heavy tomes – detailing international law – strained the old wooden shelves, a desk-top computer and a lap-top sat incongruously on a paper-strewn antique desk, piles of law journals lay stacked on the floor. The surroundings always reminded Francesco of a university tutorial room or the chaotic office of a campaigning lawyer – Cardinal Moro had, in fact, trained in law before joining the church and it was this former profession which was now his main, and invaluable, contribution to the Catholic Church. His expertise, far from being a dusty relic, was updated daily by access to all modern media. The cardinal himself did look like something from an earlier time – a head that appeared like a skull, with a thin – almost transparent – layer of grey-tinged skin stretched over it. He was completely bald with imperceptible eyelashes and brows which gave his eyes a penetrating quality as they peered through old-fashioned pince-nez spectacles which pinched his aquiline nose. It was hard to tell his age but most accounts put him in his late seventies.
Francesco had done his customary knock on the heavy oak door, even though the cardinal was expecting him and had been informed of his arrival by Security.
‘Hello Francesco, it is good to see you, although – as usual – it is sad circumstances that bring you here.’
‘Please sit down, I won’t keep you long.’
Francesco sat on the only seat that was ever available – a low, wooden-framed armchair with a torn burgundy leather seat which spilled horsehair stuffing. The cardinal sat as usual behind his desk in his papal robes, it was rumoured that he wore jogging bottoms or thermal long-johns beneath the robes and visitors were always tempted to a sneak a look from their low vantage point in order to confirm or refute the theory. Francesco, however, never felt light-hearted enough during these meetings to give that any thought.
Cardinal Moro clasped his hands under his chin and leaned forwards on his elbows.
‘Father Francesco, I think we have some serious work ahead of us.’ His voice, matching his appearance, was thin and strained but had a determined and authoritative edge to it.
‘Yes, of course, cardinale.’
‘Now – you have always been invaluable to us, particularly in your work with the Camino Convent and your friendship with Lady Rachel – or should I say the ‘late’ Lady Rachel.’ He peered over his glasses and paused as if to underscore his qualification, but there was no further attempt at irony or any other indication that he was party to contradictory information. ‘And of course – by extension – your acquaintance with Mr Briars and the whole ‘inner circle’ of that family.’
‘Cardinale, I know what you are going to say.’
‘You do, Francesco?’
‘I think so – the carnage that was visited on the city of London yesterday, following on so soon from the crash here in Rome. There is such an air of sadness but I fear that the mood will soon change to one of revenge and hate.’
The cardinal gave a slightly condescending smile. ‘And what do you think we can possibly do to help that situation?’
‘We must continue to promote peace and understanding, let people know that the best way to honour the memory of Rachel is to forgive.’
‘Yes, precisely! The promotion of Lady Rachel’s memory is very important and we hope that it will not be that long before we can start on the road of granting a sainthood, but in terms of whom that memory can help, I was thinking of closer to home… ‘
Francesco continued, unabated, with his train of thought: ‘In recent times I have only spoken to Mr Briars very briefly on the phone. But if you want me to meet with him – make an official representation – to let him know that the Holy See cannot support his intentions… ‘
Cardinal Moro shifted back in his chair and tapped a long bony finger against parched lips. ‘I wouldn’t think that necessary at this time. Should Mr Briars decide to take direct action against another country – or indeed if he were to support another major world power in any such endeavour – an official condemnation would be issued by the Holy See.’
‘But then it may be too late, innocent lives may have already been lost.’
‘My dear Francesco, your intentions are admirable but we have to ask ourselves if talking to Mr Briars would have any effect on his actions. Besides, our work is offering spiritual guidance and presenting an image that is unsullied by earthly concerns – that is what we should be concentrating on.’
‘So, that is what it comes down to… it is all about image?’
‘An image is no small thing, we all become dust in the end, but a spirit, a memory, an ideal – an image, if you like – will last and go on to inspire people down the generations.’ The cardinal paused as if to leave a gap of decency before revealing what was at the forefront of his mind. ‘As you will know, Francesco, in recent years our beloved church has not attracted the most favourable coverage in the media. This interest has centred on our own poor misguided brothers and sisters, who have strayed from the righteous path and are being vilified, when instead they should be helped and encouraged to find their way again. That is the core of our belief – to forgive.’
Francesco looked at the cardinal with cold eyes, he knew where the conversation was heading. ‘You are talking about the accusations of child abuse?’ he said flatly.
‘I wouldn’t use secular terms such as those, but it is the area of concern where we must concentrate our efforts at this time. In particular, there is the case in Ireland – the one that is coming to trial – there will be a lot of media interest. Now, the way I see it – there are a number of measures we can take to deal with this kind of situation: most importantly, we must promote ourselves – show people the immense good we do in the world; but, almost just as important, we also need a universal, meaningful image that will draw people to us. It doesn’t mean that we are covering anything up, it just means that we are presenting our true face.’
‘And this face, this image – would you have someone like Rachel Briars in mind?’
The cardinal looked down towards the floor. ‘Of course, Mrs Briars had the perfect image and there was that strong involvement with our church, which always gave hope that she would one day take the full vows and end her days in our faith.’
Francesco shifted in his chair, he could feel his manner becoming more cold and detached. ‘It is a pity that another faith got there first.’
‘I don’t many people were convinced by that gesture. Mrs Briars was a remarkable woman but it was true that sometimes she let her heart rule her head.’
‘She was a devotee of Islam at the point of her death… ‘
‘Yes, and her remains were dealt with accordingly, I know.’
The cardinal fixed Francesco with a stare, and the slightest of knowing smiles danced across his mouth. Francesco averted his gaze, and looked towards the light from a golden sunrise streaming in through the thick lead-latticed window, as he spoke.
‘So we are to let the destruction of innocents happen while we fight over Rachel’s memory?’
‘My dear Francesco, all things happen for a reason, it is God’s way. We mortals cannot think that we can control everything, we can plan – but plans go awry. And we – as a Church – cannot get involved in every world issue, particularly when it involves another major religion, far better to let things take their course, and we will find that letting things play out on the world stage takes attention away from us while we get our own house in order.’
Francesco continued to look towards the window and spoke in a resigned manner. ‘So what is it you want me to do, cardinale?’
‘I want you to carry on as you have done already – taking care of the memory of the departed.’
Francesco looked hard at the older man, he was starting to weary of the endless mental chess games that they would play out whenever they met. How much did he know of the crash, before and after?
‘Yes, cardinale,’ he said finally.
‘Good, good. I have been reading the chatter, and as can be expected, there have been many sightings of Lady Rachel since the car crash, much like the sightings of angels during times of war. But maybe it is not good, sometimes, to let angels wander about on their own.’ The cardinal allowed himself a full smile, showing worn yellowing teeth. ‘In fact I was just reading before you came in about an ‘angel of the London Underground ‘ who was present at the tragic event yesterday. Some are even saying it was the Lady Rachel, returned to protect those not ready to pass through the veil. It is a potent image, you must admit.’
Francesco smarted – partly at the cardinal’s knowing delivery, and partly at his own failure to pick up on the story before their meeting. The cardinal, quite satisfied that he had had the upper hand during the conversation, sought to bring their meeting to a close.
‘So, Francesco, if you just continue to do your good work I will contact you when it is necessary again.’
The cardinal made a vague visual blessing with his bony fingers, turned his attention to the computer screen and sat in silence. Francesco shuffled his feet, waiting for the usual verbal blessing that signalled permission to leave.
‘You know,’ started the cardinal after a while, ‘it is always good to have something tangible. Some kind of proof of someone’s existence or more importantly: proof of their non-existence – in an earthly sense. Relics are hugely important, they bring so many people to us. Do you know the figures for people going to see the embalmed heart of Sister Veronica in the Santa Augusta cloister? And that is not even in the centre of Rome, it is quite astounding. Can you imagine how many people would want to see a relic from say – the Lady Rachel, just for an example?’
Francesco was starting to think that the old man was going mad so thought it permissible to give his response a sarcastic edge.
‘As I have said before, cardinale, there was nothing left from that terrible crash. Had there been, I would have brought you the very heart of the Lady Rachel on a silver platter.’
The cardinal chuckled. ‘Ha, ha, you probably think of me as a relic from a bygone age, all this talk of body parts may seem quite macabre to you younger people. I shouldn’t be saying this, but the authenticity of such items has always been dubious and these days they are subject to far more scrutiny. My goodness, these days we have the scientific community checking and double-checking everything as never before, with DNA profiling and forensic testing and the like.’
Francesco was now quite convinced that the cardinal was unhinged and was determined to bring the meeting to a close. ‘Cardinale, if there is nothing more… ‘
The older man fixed him with a strange look. ‘The Lady Alscott – I believe you gave her the last rites, is that not so? And she is entombed at her home on one of the Scottish islands, is that not the case?’
Discarding his usual deference, Francesco met his gaze and upped his level of sarcasm. ‘If I had known of your wishes – and if it had been allowed – I would have brought you a souvenir of my time with Lady Alscot. Was there a particular body part that you would have preferred?’
‘You are making fun of me, but things which may seem outlandish and tasteless at the time can bring comfort and aid to a great many people down the ages. Now, Francesco, if that is something you cannot subscribe to, and you are not entirely happy with your position in our Church… and maybe not even with our religion in general… and of course if you were to find greater fulfilment living a secular life – that could be arranged, but there is the matter of the many privileges and benefits that you have at the moment. I know that your family appeared rich, but at the time of your father’s death he owed a considerable amount of money, did he not?’
The younger man broke his gaze and didn’t answer.
‘Taking on the debts and the sins of one’s family is second nature to people like us and we look upon our Church as our family, of course we do. All I ask is that a little bit is given back, it is the least we can ask for.’
‘You want me to take something from the dead, in order to help the Church?’
‘The dead or the living, as long as it’s authentic.’
Francesco sat – stunned – as the cardinal spoke his blessing and turned from him, before adding:
‘I’m sure I can count on you to do what is necessary.’
Francesco mumbled a farewell and swept out of the uffizi and into St Peter’s square. The towering marble apostles loomed over him as the cardinal’s words and his own thoughts swirled around in his head. He felt like the trusted huntsman in an old fable, sent out into the woods to cut out the heart of the princess and bring it back to prove her death. Is that really what the cardinal wanted? He had spent so long breathing in the incense-filled air of the Church and listening to its representatives, even speaking their language, he no longer knew what was reality or what they expected of him. What did the old man and those he represented know – or care – about Rebecca and the other occupants of the car on that night? They were merely interested in an image and how it could benefit them.
Francesco stopped at a news-stand and bought a copy of La Repubblica, he scanned the front page which gave its main account of the bombing, and then turned to page six which had a collection of the more human-interest stories as told by eye-witnesses. A shiver ran down his spine when he read the story of the ‘Angel of the Underground’, with its description of a mystery woman who had helped some of the survivors – more than one person described her as being physically similar to Lady Rachel but with darker colouring. Francesco drew some comfort that the story did not have front page coverage and also that it fitted in with the popular theory of a mass hallucination – whatever it could be put down to, the story seemed to be rooted in the other-worldly and here-say – not actual fact. But he could feel in the pit of his stomach that the woman they talked of was Rebecca, and he was worried that she hadn’t made her way to York – he would need to help her, that was for sure. Neatly folding the newspaper he tucked it under his arm and looked up at the apostles, now set against a clear blue sky.
‘What should I do now?’ he asked them, but they didn’t reply.
Extract taken from The Rachel Redemption
Isn’t it strange when a certain event or person from your past suddenly pops, uninvited, into your head? Now, the perfectly rational among us – and I like to think I am that kind of person – would say it’s not strange at all and that we just pick up on certain ‘triggers’ like a half-heard piece of music, a whiff of perfume, a glimpse of someone in the street who looks like someone we used to know. Of course, even if there is a perfectly reasonable explanation, you still can’t deny that little frisson that it gives you. Today, for whatever reason, I thought of a friend I haven’t seen for years and I dug out this article which I put together for Lone Head Records getting on for ten years ago now. Mark, this is for you.
As well as making music I like to investigate unexplained phenomena here in Scotland. Now, even though I’m a sceptic, a particular project I started work on a year ago still haunts me to this day, so much so that I feel I must perform a kind of exorcism and transcribe the story as I know it – and get it out of my head once and for all. I was first drawn to it as it involved the music industry, in particular German electronica and the legendary Wolfgang Herz. It seems that I wasn’t the only one fascinated with Herr Herz as the journalist Mark Waterman decided about three years ago to look into the whole, mysterious story. Unfortunately, due to reasons which will become apparent later on, Mark never got to present a finished article. Therefore I am very grateful to Mark’s family for giving me access to his notes and I hope that I may do his work justice by presenting his findings to a wider audience. Please note that I will refer to Mark throughout in the third person as in his writing he tends to fluctuate between first and third, this confusion of identity seems to accompany his own mental decline.
Here is Mark’s story –
Mark wasn’t particularly keen to undertake his latest assignment, travelling to Munich to interview Wolfgang Herz. He was looking forward to visiting Munich again, that was true. He had been very into Germany in the early eighties and had gone there many times. Mark had been a freelance music journalist then. He still was really, only there wasn’t so much work around these days, well nothing much that interested him anyway. His main job now was as a copywriter with a large advertising firm. He liked to keep his hand in though, by writing reviews for the some of the music press, usually Mojo, Total Synth or Q. His name still meant something in these quarters. The offer for this particular project came from one of the Sunday broadsheets. It was for one of their colour supplements and was to be a retrospective on music from the eighties, a kind of ‘where-are-they-now?’ Done to death, that kind of theme, thought Mark, but the project did intrigue him. Especially as Herz had specifically asked for Mark to do the article.
Wolfgang Herz had been very big in the eighties, his mother was English, his father German – hence the name. That gave him a head start in credibility over the others in the music scene at the time who wanted to effect Teutonic seriousness as they played their electro-pop tunes. But Herz didn’t consider his Germanic heritage to be exotic enough and therefore created a new image for himself. Perhaps new is the wrong word for the image he chose was a very old one indeed, one born in ancient folklore, that of a vampire. Herz was very subtle about the whole thing. He didn’t go into much detail, why and how a member of the Transylvanian undead should come to be living in Basingstoke in the early eighties. But the image fitted in well with that time. Mark remembered meeting him on a few occasions and feeling genuinely unsettled by his presence. Herz certainly looked the part: long jet black hair with clothes to match, parchment-like pallor with visible blue veins, long yellowing nails which were starting to curl under. Mark felt that anyone who was that convinced of his own image was quite scary anyway but what really freaked him out was the knowledge that there were real ‘living’ vampires out there. Ordinary people who would drink human blood and never be seen during daylight hours. They were just as frightening as real vampires. Mark laughed to himself – ‘Real vampires? All this hype is getting to me, I’ll be believing in the tooth fairy next.’ Then it struck him that’s how he should conduct the interview – humouring Herz. Belief in all sorts of weird things is in now, he thought, and an out-of-date muso journo scoring points off a deluded out-of-date pop star is not what people want anyway.
The day of Mark’s interview with Wolfgang Herz approached. The flight from Stansted airport was a short and pleasant one. It was winter and a light fall of snow covered Munich. Mark looked out of the window on the plane’s descent and thought how idyllic and Christmassy the scene looked. The Kristelmarkts would be on and Mark planned to buy presents for his young family. How different from the old days when he would automatically seek out the newest bars and clubs. On this particular visit there was only one club he had to find – der Vampir. This was the meeting place specified by Wolfgang Herz’s record company. Planned down to the last detail, thought Mark.
Mark hurried towards the airport exit, feeling superior that he didn’t need to wait at the baggage carousel, he only needed an overnight bag for that was how long he was staying. Before he would have been disappointed at staying for such a short time but now he kept thinking about his family, his wife and his two young daughters – he missed them terribly. He stepped out into the crisp Munich winter, hailed a taxi and got in. Mark asked in faltering German – “Konnen Sie mich zum der Vampir… ?” The mood of the previously smiling driver changed in an instant, he didn’t answer, he didn’t drive off, but just sat in silence. Mark decided that the best course of action was to grab his bag and exit.
Mark hailed another taxi and shrewdly asked for Bier Teufel instead. Der Vampir, he had been informed by the record company, was situated in the basement of this better known club. Der Vampir was a little known word-of-mouth-type place, still known enough to have been recognised by the first taxi driver though, thought Mark. He could have kicked himself that he had been so obvious.
Mark soon spotted the little red neon devil above Bier Teufel. He ignored the main entrance and slipped down a steep set of stairs at the side of the building which was concealed in the shadows. A young goth girl with a carelessly painted crimson mouth sat behind a wooden table at the bottom of the stairs. “Hello, you must be Mark,” she said in perfect English. “Go right through, please.”
Mark pushed through a heavy brocade curtain. He was met by an acrid smell of dust, sweat and incense which jagged at his nostrils. A band of Marilyn Manson clones were crammed onto the tiny stages, incongruously they were playing a very slow crooner-type number about how good it was to be young, German and in love. Mark glanced over to the corner, a familiar face seemed to glow with a silvery light.
“Hello Mark, it’s good to see you again,” said Wolfgang Herz. Mark was taken aback, he hadn’t expected to be recognised by Herz.
“Hello Wolfgang, you haven’t changed a bit,” said Mark truthfully.
Herz smiled and nodded, “Please sit down, we’ve a lot to talk about. What do you want to know?”
“Let’s get some of the old myths out of the way first. Going out during the day, how did you manage that one?”
“If you remember correctly, my young Mark, I was never actually seen during the daylight hours, not a difficult task for people in our business, that is true. But of course when that was necessary I had a willing band of devotees who would impersonate me for the cameras. As you can see my look is even more in vogue these days, so finding suitable people is not a problem,” Herz laughed and nodded towards the band on stage. “In fact when people are so schooled in deception, it’s difficult to know who you are dealing with. That must be especially tricky when you’re in your line of work.”
“Oh I’m usually a pretty good judge of character,” said Mark. He looked at Herz and was struck by an overwhelming feeling that he had known him all his life. Longer than that even.
“So,” Mark continued. “You’ve seen Goth Rock having a bit of a revival and you’d like to have some media attention again. But you turned your back on the media at the time. That’s true, isn’t it?”
“That is true, the media had served me well. And when it suited me I retired from the limelight. Now I have things to say and I want access to an audience.”
“Very well, but before we get to that, can we start with your origins? You were born in Basingstoke to an English mother and a German father. Hence the name and your connection with Germany. However according to press releases you were born – date unknown – in a little Transylvanian town in mysterious circumstances. You were adopted by a German family on holiday there. Your adoptive mother died and your adoptive father subsequently married an English woman and settled in England.”
“You can take from that what you like. We all have different ways of viewing the truth. We all have different belief systems.”
“However your image became a little muddled when, forgive me for saying this, your career died in the late eighties. You began to advocate green causes, vegetarianism even. I mean, a vegetarian vampire? You were even parodied in a children’s cartoon shown on British TV.”
“To me that isn’t muddled or strange, it all makes perfect sense. Don’t believe the myths you have heard. Yes, I am six hundred years old. Yes, I need blood to survive. I see from your expression you don’t believe me. Firstly the blood thing – my supplies of blood have always come from willing partners. And I have never had a lack of willing partners.”
“So all of your partners became like you?”
“Not necessarily. If they chose to, they could. But not many did or else they were killed for other reasons.”
“Yes. You see where I have chosen to live over the centuries, there has always been an epidemic or an organised pogrom of extermination. Many of my loved ones have perished that way. If they had chosen eternity at the right time – any one of them could have been with me right now.”
“Let me get this right. People you have known, intimately I presume, could have chosen not to die. Is that right?”
“It’s not as simple as that. Going back to belief systems, I didn’t say to the person – at the moment of death or at the point when you know that life isn’t going to get any better – give yourself over to me now. They had to trust me at the start, when times were good. And say then – ‘I trust you. I will give myself over to you. I will die for you with no promise of reward’.”
“But those people – you would basically use them as blood banks?”
“That is a gross over simplification. I loved every single one. Serial monogamy, isn’t that what it’s called these days? What passes between lovers isn’t theft and that includes blood.”
“Isn’t that a bit of a parasitic/host relationship?”
“Aren’t a lot of relationships like that? Anyway it wasn’t always like that. I had a lot to offer – power, riches, glamour, the right connections.”
“And now you promote green issues.”
“Of course the world is a mess and it’s getting worse. Obviously I have always wanted a well ordered, unspoiled world to live in. Selfish reasons, I suppose, as I’m spending more time here than most. But now I fear for everyone who will be here in the future.”
“You mentioned earlier that you have lived in places where there were epidemics or pogroms. Does that include the Nazi era?”
“Indeed, I was right here in Munich when the whole sorry business began.”
“You say ‘sorry’. I would have thought that vampires wouldn’t have been averse to slaughter and killing.”
Wolfgang Herz leaned forward, his eyes glowed in the candlelight; his gnarled nicotine-stained fingernails dug deeply into Mark’s hand. “What the Nazis did, that was hate, pure hatred. Anything I have done has come from love – whatever you may think of my actions. What I was telling you before, about trust, about commitment when times are good… Back in ’33 I knew something terrible was going to happen, I saw them building Dachau. I had many lovers, but none of them would commit.” Herz leaned back in his seat as if he was shrinking. “But then, Mark, you know about people not committing, don’t you? Remember Gina?”
Mark felt his head starting to swim. He hadn’t thought of Gina in years. Guilty conscience perhaps. She had been his childhood sweetheart, she wanted commitment but he didn’t. He had his big journalism career to pursue, so she followed him down to London. Whether it was because he didn’t have time for her or not but she soon went down the route of too many drugs and too much promiscuous sex. When he had last seen her she was a five stone drug-ravaged body lying on a hospital bed.
“Mark, look over there,” whispered Herz.
Mark looked over past the stage and saw Gina sitting there. She looked young and fresh under heavy goth make-up. She looked over and smiled at Herz.
The blood drained from Mark’s face. “But Gina’s dead, I know she is. I don’t how you’re doing it Herz, but you are seriously messing with my mind.”
“My dear Mark,” said Herz, lightly scraping the back of Mark’s hand with a long fingernail. “You should be grateful to me. I brought that young girl back to life after you discarded her.”
“ But you said that a person had to commit to you when the going was good. That couldn’t have been Gina by the time you got to her.”
“I made a special exception in her case. I could still see her beauty lying there on that hospital bed. After they decided that there was no hope and had gone through all the paraphernalia of sending her to her eternal rest. I sought her out and took her for myself.”
Hot tears started to well in Mark’s eyes as he lunged at Herz. Herz quickly grabbed Mark’s wrists to restrain him.
“Calm yourself, my friend. Remember what I was saying about relationships and how they are symbiotic? I may have used Gina, but see what she has become. Young and lovely as when you first knew her.”
Mark tried to stand up but his legs felt like lead. Herz rose to steady him, Mark could feel his cold, rancid breath on his neck…
Mark’s notes end there. Apart from a scribbled postscript that is all I have. After his meeting with Herz Mark’s mental state caused his family more and more concern until finally they came to the decision to commit Mark in order that he could receive the proper psychiatric help. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing that Mark will one day make a full recovery.
It had been some time since Mark’s meeting with Herz and the news of his death – AIDS related – had come as a shock. Why? Did he really expect him to live forever? Perhaps it was just his imagination when he believed he glimpsed Wolfgang Herz weaving through the side streets of Schwabing or drinking in the Turkenhof. Perhaps… or could he feel the blood of another running in his veins, so loud at times it sounded like a voice in his head making him talk… and think.
Here’s the original version of Human Resourcing taken from my sister blog: Little Tales from the Office. It’s especially for anyone who has had to work in one. Hope you enjoy it!
The early morning sun streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows of J B Cantilever’s staff gym. The fit looking man in his early fifties with a look of Morrissey or Stanley Baker about him, working out on chest flyes machine, looked over at the young man in his mid-twenties who was working out on the bench press. The older man eyed up the younger for a few minutes, before calling over to him.
“Excuse me, hope you don’t mind my saying, but if you keep your legs open when you’re doing the bench press there is less strain on your lower back.”
“Oh, right, thanks.”
The older man paused before continuing.
“You’re new, aren’t you? What department are you?”
“Oh you mean the ‘skanks are us’ section, don’t you? All the attractions of the housing scheme brought to an office near you. At least they take it in turns…
View original post 1,243 more words
I see David Cameron has trotted into the ‘does Kate Middleton have a personality’ debate started by Hilary Mantel. Maybe he was in sympathy or just deflecting from his own big slice of criticism dished up by another great British cultural icon – the sainted Johnny Marr – who reminded Mr C on Radio 4 this morning that he really has no right to ever have called himself a Smiths fan. The way I see it, the people getting criticised (Cameron and Middleton) are over-privileged show-room dummies programmed to make the right noises/expressions in order to win public popularity. And the reason that popularity is so important is that it keeps the old order going – the Royal Family, the Tory party. Thank God for the people doing the criticising – Mantel and Marr (has a ring to it, don’t you think? Better get well soon, Morrissey or your place in the much-lauded Smiths reunion just may be taken…) who are actually talented, intelligent, genuine and have earned the right to say whatever they damn-well please!
Poor Kate, you may say, leave her alone. Well, she knew what the job was when she signed up… Plus I’m glad that Ms Mantel addressed the thorny subject of our future Queen’s weight – or lack of it. Here’s a woman who – hardly a hippo when she first arrived on the scene – has bowed to pressure to become stick-thin – in the main to appear as human hanger for British fashion – hardly a great role model, eh? That was probably the most depressing thing around the time of the royal nuptials – it gave silly little girls a new focus, ditching their ‘porn star in the making’ for ‘princess in the making’ T-shirts. Depressing, eh?
My old friends at Lone Head Records have paid me a massive compliment and created a musical theme for The Rachel Redemption. You can get all the technical muso stuff from their post but I simply like the mood it conjures up – suspense and impending danger but resolving itself into something hopeful – couldn’t have done it better myself! It also has the gorgeous Monica Vitti – the archetypal uber-cool 60s blonde – on the cover. What’s not to like?
After recently being invited to an awareness raising event for LGBT History Month – I was in two minds whether to go. I mean, are such things necessary these days when every girl worth her designer handbag and eyelash extensions has the obligatory GBF (gay best friend) and Saturday night telly is awash with campery? (Actually British telly has always been camp, it’s just that the purveyors are allowed to be adult and open about their preferences now). And aren’t these events usually just preaching to the converted any way? But then, what is that rumble I hear? A bunch of dinosaurs thundering and lumbering down Downing Street to beat on the door of number ten. And that was only the warm-up act to the cobweb-draped primordial beings rising up on their hind legs in the Commons today to dribble out their bigoted nonsense.
For myself, having a bit of a bohemian upbringing meant being L/G/B/T was no big deal. (I have fond memories of my mum taking me to see Quentin Crisp in his one man show at the Edinburgh Fringe) Also gay men and women massively informed my literary and artistic landscape: Oscar Wilde, Jean Genet, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Joe Orton; gender benders from Dietrich and Garbo to glam rock, the new romantics, Morrissey. Their worlds were vivid, magical, shockingly honest, witty, bursting with life. It didn’t mean that I necessarily wanted to be gay but a world without these people would be rubbish, frankly.
Of course you can’t live by Art alone and things inevitably become political. Equal rights are important – even if it means having the right to be grey and boring, ‘staying in to watch TV while eating food covered in breadcrumbs’ (thanks, Julian Clary)… getting married, even! So, I’m pleased with today’s vote but I can’t help hearing the words of Mr Crisp: ‘Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses, drag them down to your level!’
Looking for a great – or just decent – pub in Edinburgh? Depends what type you’re looking for – unreconstructed old man’s, reconstructed old man’s turned gastro, George Street rip-off domes, shag-tag student dives… enough already! Personally speaking, here’s what I tend to look for: wide range of international beers, good quality wine by the glass, food – with a decent choice for vegetarians – available throughout the day, great relaxed atmosphere and – to quote Julian Clary – getting a metaphorical ‘warm hand on your entrance’! Price is important too, but hey, this is Edinburgh so maybe the best we can hope for is not rip-off. Oh, and being able to get a tea or coffee at whatever time. Okay, where are these havens of continental, cosmopolitan attitude?
No 1 spot has to go to the Brass Monkey on Leith Walk (not to be confused with the other BM on Drummond Street which is unreconstructed/student/slightly grubby). Friendly and very efficient service (order and pay at the bar); plenty of space – front, middle and back type set-up with varied seating suitable for singletons, couples and larger groups. Excellent range of international beers at around the £4 mark, all detailed on menu cards on the tables – nice. Wine choice is good with four of red and four of white available by the glass. Try the ‘top of the range’ red – the carignan – it’s quite lovely. Cocktails are nothing fancy but are a good price (£3.95) and I don’t know where else you can get a Bobby Davro! A cheeky wee G&T will set you back around £2.50. Another big box ticked is food is served all day with imaginative choices for veggies. Finally, it has that ambiance that can’t be manufactured: a great mix of people – from local Leithers to those visiting the city (it’s just round the corner from guest-house-lined Pilrig Street) are all made to feel more than welcome.
Five minutes walk from the Brass Monkey is the gloriously quirky Tourmalet (on the corner of Iona and Buchanan Streets) which merges a Tour de France theme with an aquarium and a truly marvellous selection of bottled (mainly) German beer. There’s a good selection of spirits and some decent wine but the beer is the thing – with labels not often seen outside of Germany. Prices are a standard £4 but for 500ml of pure quality – it’s a bargain! The place is quite small and food is of the bar snack variety but the atmosphere is cosy and welcoming and like BM has a lovely relaxed and inclusive quality. Tourmalet has a sister – Ventoux – on Brougham Street in the Tollcross area of the city – it’s more barn-like with long wooden tables and a slightly colder vibe. Same cracking selection of beer though. Oh, and both do very decent coffee.
Next on my list is Nom de Plume at the bottom of Broughton Street. It’s LGBT friendly (Broughton Street is the centre of Edinburgh’s ‘pink triangle’) but has a varied clientele. Whether you’re looking for tea and a scone (excellent, home-made), lunch, dinner or something alcoholic – it’s available here, all day, table-served with exceptional efficiency by a small, friendly team. There’s a large back bit and a large front bit, both are like being in a friend’s light and airy New Town flat. It’s also the kind of place where sitting on your own, with a cuppa and your laptop is no problem as all, in fact it often seems de rigueur. The extensive menu has an international flavour and approximately half of it is suitable for veggies. Opening hours are 11am to 11pm.
Nom’s owners – Alan and Colin – also run The Regent on the corner of Regent Road and Montrose Terrace, five minutes along the road from Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. More pub than bistro-like Nom – it has a bigger range of beers/ales and is CAMRA recommended. Similarities include all-day food and welcoming come-as-your-are attitude. Opening hours are more typical of your average Edinburgh pub and you order and pay at the bar.
Finally, it doesn’t tick all the boxes but worth a visit if you’re in the Stockbridge area is The Antiquary on St Stephen Street. The Antiquary is a bit of an Edinburgh institution – it used to be a pre-gig hangout for various punks, goths and new romantics making their way to the legendary Tiffanys at the end of the road. Like most of the establishments on St Stephen Street, you have to negotiate a short but steep set of steps down. When you descend the stairs and enter the lounge bar through the left hand side door be prepared for an overload of old Edinburgh pub nostalgia, especially in winter when there’s a fire roaring in the grate and tea-lights twinkling on the tables. You may just cry at the whole cockle-warming scene – cosy doesn’t begin to describe it! The food is more your traditional type of fare with the emphasis on fried but there is a good drinks choice with a couple of special offers usually on. The Blue Parrot Cantina (as mentioned in my ‘finding veggie satisfaction in Edinburgh’ post) is just across the road so combining the two venues makes for a very satisfying evening.
So there you go – not a huge selection from a city that has a helluva lot of pubs but they’re my own personal favourites. Hope you can give them a try if you’re ever in Auld Reekie!
I came across this line from the Persian poet Rumi the other day and it resonated in my old existentialist heart. Which is quite strange given the man has been adopted by just about every religion and spiritual movement going! But, as I always say, we’re all existentialists whether we like it or not – we all exist don’t we? And we all have to get on and make the best of it whether you believe there’s ‘something’ at the end of it or not. Any road, here is the line:
‘Don’t get lost in your pain, know that one day your pain will be your cure.’
Now, my interpretation is don’t get hung up on being miserable and worrying about pain and death because they are going to come soon enough and that pain will ultimately be your release. Knowing that it’s all going to come to an end one day should be a spur to make the most of things while you still can but don’t let it dominate your life.
Now, like most existentialists, I didn’t choose to be one – I’d love to meet up with that old man with the flowing robes and the white beard (other gods are available… ) when I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, but that’s probably not going to happen. Because as you trundle through this existence and see the total absurdity of life… well, you have to laugh, don’t you? And maybe sing-a-long to some great existential classics:
‘Always look on the bright side of life‘
‘Enjoy yourself (it’s later than you think)‘
and the ultimate –
‘Is that all there is?‘
Finally, report me to the Existential Police but I can get karma pangs sometimes (or maybe it’s just good manners) so as I’ve quoted Rumi I’d like to give something back by mentioning this year’s Edinburgh Iranian Festival. If you’re going to be in the area you might want to check it out.