The British Garrison Cemetery in Kandy

 

 

The British Garrison Cemetery in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, provided accommodation for deceased members of the local colonial community for half-a-century.  Occupying a strip near the bottom of a wooded slope a few hundred metres east of Kandy’s famous Temple of the Tooth, it functioned as a burial ground from 1822 to the mid-1870s, after which the only interments allowed were for relatives of people already buried there.

 

Leaflets about the cemetery are available at the entrance.  It’s a good idea to take one as it’ll often give more information about the place’s residents than what’s inscribed on their headstones – if those inscriptions are readable at all.

 

 

The best-known person buried there is probably Sir John D’Oyly, whose remains lie beneath a grooved, cacti-like stone column.  As the leaflet explains, he “represented the British Government at the 1815 Convention whereat the Kingdom of Kandy was annexed to the British Crown.”  The British got their way after D’Oyly acted as an intermediary between them and various Kandyan chiefs who were disillusioned with and plotting against the then king of Kandy, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha – his downfall in 1815 marked the end of 2300 years of Sinhalese monarchy in Sri Lanka.  Officially, he was replaced as monarch by King George III.

 

Sri Vikrama Rajasinha is remembered as a tyrant, though it’s debatable if the Sri Lankans got much improvement with George III, who’d helped lose Britain’s American colonies and who by then was barking mad (possibly because of the blood disease porphyria).

 

 

D’Oyly became fluent in Sinhala and, following the British takeover, remained in Kandy until his death in 1824.  He evidently ‘went native’, with one British acquaintance observing that he lived there in the manner of ‘a Sinhalese hermit’.

 

Some years earlier, while he had governmental responsibilities in the southern district of Matara, D’Oyly had also befriended the Sri Lankan poetess Gajaman Nona.  After the death of Nona’s husband had left her and her family destitute, he granted them a piece of land to live on.  The leaflet notes that the grateful poetess wrote a ‘set of verses’ in his honour.  D’Oyly’s Wikipedia entry is more gossipy: “His earlier association with a woman poet, Gajaman Nona, in Matara led to some speculation.”

 

Elsewhere, it’s morbidly interesting to find out how some of the cemetery’s residents met their ends.  Many succumbed to things that were commonplace during the imperial project, when British people were shipped overseas to climes where they were unprepared for the temperature, weather, flora and fauna.  Thus, we get A. McGill who “died of sunstroke”: James Urquhart who, aged 32, “died of cholera”; and poor Lewis Herbert Kilby, “late of 132 Fenchurch Street, London”, whose headstone baldly states that he “died in Kandy on 8 October 1859 of acute diarrhoea.”   Meanwhile, there’s a certain nobility about the demise of Captain James McGlashan: “Without taking a precaution he walked from Trincomalee, drenched with rain, wading, sitting and even sleeping in saturated clothing: not surprisingly he was seized with violent fever and accepted his end with manly fortitude.”

 

 

Some of the manners of departure are rather bizarre.  David Findlay died when a Kandy building called Mullegodde House “collapsed on him.”  Then there’s John Spottiswood Robertson, whose death was apparently “the seventh and last recorded death of a European in Ceylon killed by wild elephants.”  Meanwhile, William Watson Mackwood’s expiry is, on his tombstone, attributed merely to an ‘accident’.  The cemetery leaflet, however, gives stranger and more gruesome details: “Alighting from his horse, he was transfixed by a stake placed to mark out the ground.”

 

The cemetery’s inhabitants originated in all parts of the British Isles.  It has a tiny Irish quarter, containing the remains of Henry Williams Desterre of Limerick and Joseph O’Brien of King’s Court, County Cavan.  And the Scots are well represented.  George Baxter Wilson of Aberdeenshire died from ‘intermittent fever’, while there’s a moving tribute to James McPherson of Kingussie: “This stone is erected by Highlanders who desire thus to record the piety, integrity and sterling worth of a countryman whose loss they deeply deplore.”

 

 

The British Garrison Cemetery is well maintained.  Indeed, it’s a model of neatness and order compared to the dilapidated and overgrown South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata, about which I blogged some time ago.

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?tag=south-park-street-cemetery

 

While my partner and I were visiting the place, two workmen – an old bloke and a young lad – were toiling there.  The lad demonstrated phenomenal powers of memory by reciting to us the information (barely legible or not-at-all legible on the headstones) about various people in various graves.  No doubt he’d developed this talent as a way of earning tips from visiting tourists and supplementing his meagre salary, which was 400 Sri Lankan rupees (two pounds) a day.  So after he’d escorted us around several graves, we tipped him.  Incidentally, one person who came to the British Garrison Cemetery a while back was Prince Charles, who saw fit to donate 5000 pounds to its upkeep.  I thought that tip was a rather shite one coming from a man who’s reputedly worth 158 million pounds.

 

http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/politician/royal/prince-charles-net-worth/

 

The cemetery has a scenic location.  One side, lined by a wire-mesh fence, looks across to the hills on the far shore of Bogambara Lake.  The other side is bounded by a stone wall, built against a cutting in the hillside, with small square holes in it at regular heights and intervals to let rainwater drain from above.  Above the wall is the green of the woods.  While we were there, an occasional white scrap would bob along in the breeze and turn out to be a butterfly; and there were occasional, magical moments when the breeze would shake the surrounding treetops and leaves would fall across the headstones and sarcophagi like green confetti.

 

 

Meanwhile a Buddhist stupa is visible on the slope above the eastern end of the cemetery.  It seems to act as a reminder to the cemetery’s inhabitants about whose country they’re lying in.  (The British were hardly mindful of local religious sensibilities, building Kandy’s St Paul’s Anglican Church right next to the sacred precincts of the Temple of the Tooth.)  They should be grateful that the descendants of their imperial subjects are willing to keep their final resting place in such good condition.

 

 

Lion down

 

For four days in mid-May, Sri Lanka was drubbed by some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen.  The downpour led to floods that claimed lives and destroyed property in Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Thabbowa, Chilaw, Kalutara, Kegalle, Matara, Nuwara Eliya and Ratnapura, and to landslides that flattened houses and villages in Hattota, Ilukkwatta, Samsarakanda and Kalupahana Estate.  Fishermen had to be rescued from stormy waters off Negombo and at least one death-by-lightning was reported in Anuradhapura.  Power grids went down, roads got blocked, schools were closed, airplanes were grounded and thousands of people were evacuated from their flood-endangered homes.  A week after the storm’s cessation, the death toll was put at just over a hundred, but with a similar number of people still missing.

 

My work sent me on a trip to northern Sri Lanka, to Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya, during the last two days of the deluge.  By this time the landscape around the road between Jaffna and Kilinochchi resembled a bayou.  Expanses of silvery water stretched away on either side, cut into panels by the crisscrossing lines of grassy dykes that still poked above the water’s surface.  Trees stood marooned in the waterlogged fields.  Occasional farmer’s shacks seemed to sit on the water like floating houseboats.  The electrical poles and pylons running along the swamped roadsides, with their networks of wires and cables, made me think of partly-sunk ships, hulls below the waterline, masts and riggings still above it.

 

The driver assured me that a few days earlier the countryside here had been ‘like a desert’ and in the dried-out fields livestock had even started to die from thirst and heatstroke.  Now vehicles using the road had to scoot around wandering herds of cattle and goats because the floods had forced the animals off their pastures.  I assume one reason why the flooding was so severe was because the previous hot weather had hardened the ground and the rainwater was less able to percolate down through it.

 

 

After the death, destruction and misery that the May storm caused, it seems petty and frivolous to write about the impact it’s had on Sri Lanka’s beer industry.  But the risk of appearing petty and frivolous has never stopped me before.  So here goes.

 

Yes, May’s torrential rainfall has also deprived Sri Lanka of Lion lager, its leading brand of beer.  Founded as the Ceylon Brewery by Sir Samuel Baker in 1849, and renamed the Lion Brewery in the 1990s, the company reportedly has an 82% share of the Sri Lankan beer market.  Its dominance is mainly due to its lager, although Lion also produces a stout and a ‘strong’ pale ale (both of which are an eye-watering 8.8% proof).

 

I drink lager primarily because I live in a hot country and I regularly crave something light and liquid to quench my seemingly never-ending thirst.  But generally I find lager fairly bland and flavourless.  That said, I think Lion lager compares well with its counterparts in southern and eastern Asia – Thailand’s Singha, Myanmar’s Dagon, Laos’ Beerlao, Cambodia’s Angkor, India’s Kingfisher, Singapore’s Tiger and China’s Tsingtao.

 

Anyway, I was drinking in one of my regular Colombo hostelries in late May when the manager, noticing the pitcher of draft Lion on my table, gave me some ominous news.  “They say there’s only a hundred kegs of Lion left in the whole country.”

 

“What?” I demanded.

 

It transpired that the mid-May rain had caused a flood in the Kelani River in Gampaha District, north of Colombo, which in turn caused serious damage at Lion’s factory in Biyagama.  In fact, all production at it had been halted.  I found myself doing some mental calculations.  I’d heard somewhere that a standard half-barrel-sized keg contains about 124 pints.  That meant there were only 12,400 pints of the stuff left.  Which wouldn’t last long among a population of 20.3 million Sri Lankans.

 

Sure enough, by June, Sri Lanka’s reserves of draft Lion had petered out, but it was still available in canned and bottled form.  However, when I recently returned to the country following a three-week holiday in Europe, I discovered that the cans and bottles of Lion had disappeared too.  In the bars they were apologetically serving bottled Carlsberg.  The section of my local off-licence that’d been devoted to Lion had become a wasteland of empty shelves and fridges.  In fact, the only non-spirit / non-wine beverages they still had on sale were some bottles of watery-looking South African cider; and some cans of non-Lion lager such as Baron’s Strong Brew and Bison XXXTRA Strong, which, as their names suggest, are turbo-charged stuff apparently made with problem drinkers in mind.

 

Lion is one of the country’s most ubiquitous and recognisable brands.  It’s displayed proudly in the country’s bars.  Indeed, big wall-murals depicting the handsome, maned King of the Jungle after which the beer is named add a touch of class, of grandeur even, to the otherwise-shabby spit-and-sawdust ‘man’ pubs where until a short time ago you could drink it freely and cheaply.

 

But for now, alas, the regal beast has lost its claws.

 

From michelnugawela.com

 

The Addams Cabinet

 

© BBC 

 

Theresa May has just been crowned Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister and already she’s carried out the first of her prime ministerial duties, which is to organise a new cabinet.  Mind you, looking at some of the people she’s appointed to senior positions of state, I find it difficult to visualise a sharp-suited team of the UK’s brightest and best, exuding managerial calm and steadying the tiller after the trauma of the referendum vote to leave the European Union and the resignation of David Cameron.

 

Instead, I find myself picturing the characters in an American TV show from the 1960s: the much-loved, if ghoulish and morbid, Addams Family.

 

© Filmways / MGM Television

 

With Ms May at its head, this is a matriarchal cabinet.  And fittingly, the Addams Family were a matriarchal unit too.  So the new Prime Minister makes me think of the black-swathed Morticia Addams (and not, as some have suggested, Cruella De Ville from the 1961 Walt Disney cartoon 101 Dalmatians).

 

As for the tall, grey Philip Hammond, May’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can’t help but think of the Addams household’s hulking and cadaverous butler Lurch.  Actually, I suspect Hammond would like to be compared to something cadaverous; for according to one of his old schoolmates – the TV presenter Richard Madeley – Hammond was “a Goth back then…  Used to arrive in class in a leather trench-coat with the Guardian under his arm.”  No doubt it’s the Guardian bit that Hammond feels embarrassed about now.

 

© Filmways / MGM Television

 

Also in the Addams Cabinet is Andrea Leadsom, who was Theresa May’s main rival in the contest to replace Cameron as Prime Minister and is now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  She’s surely the equivalent of Wednesday Addams, Morticia’s pale-faced and twin-braided little daughter.  I say this because The Addams Family’s creator Charles Addams (who’d started drawing cartoons about them in the New Yorker magazine in the late 1930s) named Wednesday after a line in a nursery rhyme, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe”; and in the 1991 movie spin-off she was shown strapping her brother Pugsley into an electric chair in preparation for playing a game called ‘Is there a God?’  That sounds like Andrea Leadsom to me.

 

Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the new Secretary of State for International Trade, seems to be the Uncle Fester of the team.  Maybe that’s because, thanks to Fox’s past improprieties, the names ‘Liam Fox’ and ‘Fester’ seem to go together nicely.

 

And then there’s Boris Johnson, who is – ahem! – Britain’s new Foreign Secretary.  Who else could he be but Cousin Itt?

 

© Filmways / MGM Television

 

But seriously, this is a nightmarish batch of appointments that, with awful appropriateness, rounds off what’s been a nightmarish few weeks for the country.  It’s as if May got drunk on vino the night before her announcement of the new cabinet, tried to decide whether she should piss everyone off by making it as right-wing as possible or as incompetent as possible, and in the end opted to do both.

 

Thus, we get Philip Hammond.  In 2015, when Michael Gove, then Justice Secretary, abandoned a controversial prisons project for the Saudi Arabian government on the grounds that the UK shouldn’t be helping a regime that uses ‘beheadings, stonings, crucifixions and lashings’ as punishments, Hammond berated him for his ‘naivety’.  It takes some doing to make Michael Gove seem humane and reasonable, but Hammond is clearly capable of it.

 

Then again, Hammond seems like a bleeding-heart liberal compared with Andrea Leadsom, who’s now responsible for all things rural and environmental in Britain.  One of Brexit’s more vociferous supporters, she wrote in a 2007 blog post that EU subsidies to farmers should be abolished; while more recently she suggested that the UK’s hill farms be given over to breeding ‘butterflies’.  Well, she must be delighted with the way the EU referendum vote turned out.  Losing those EU subsidies will be tough on small-scale British hill farmers – my Dad was one and, towards the end of his working life, I know how much he valued that cash from Brussels – but hey, if they go out of business, with a few of them committing suicide over the loss of farms their families had owned for generations, that’s just good old capitalism for you.

 

© The Daily Telegraph 

 

But even if under Ms Leadsom’s watch large tracts of the countryside get converted into butterfly-breeding areas or, more likely, into luxury housing developments or acreage for giant factory farms, I’m sure the traditional fox-hunting grounds will be kept green and leafy.  For yes, Ms Leadsom also wants to repeal the ban on fox-hunting on the dubious premise that this will improve ‘animal welfare’.

 

Indeed, there isn’t much about the new Secretary of State for the Environment that seems terribly environmental.  In 2011 she supported government plans (later abandoned) to sell off Britain’s forests; and in 2012 and 2016 she voted against setting targets for the limiting of Britain’s carbon emissions.  And as late as 2015, she was asking ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change if climate change actually ‘existed’.  (By the way, this Cameron-era ‘Department of Energy and Climate Change’ has now been replaced by the ‘Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’.  Which is a clue to the priority that the new regime gives to combatting climate change: none, probably.)

 

© The Daily Telegraph 

 

Then there’s Liam Fox.  Back in 2011, Fox had to resign from his job as David Cameron’s Defence Secretary when it became apparent that a businessman and lobbyist called Adam Werrity was accompanying him to Ministry of Defence meetings and on overseas trips.  Werrity had neither security clearance nor any ministerial responsibility.  But he was Fox’s friend; and Fox saw no reason why his old chum shouldn’t be allowed to exploit his position to network with politicians, diplomats, contractors and financiers.  One wonders how many spivs and chancers will be accompanying the newly-rehabilitated Fox on his travels as Secretary of State for International Trade.

 

Regarding Boris Johnson’s elevation to the role of Foreign Secretary…  Well, I feel I have already written far more on this blog about Boris Johnson than the brain-addled baboon actually warrants.  But really?  What was Theresa May thinking?  Did she believe that by making Johnson the voice of Britain on the international stage, foreign governments would find his bumbling, posh-idiot shtick amusing and forgive Britain for all the disruption it’s caused recently?

 

Well, here’s news for her.  Foreigners don’t find Johnson funny.  At best they think he’s a clown and at worst they hate his guts.  Two decades of slurs and gaffes about Africans being ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’, Hilary Clinton resembling a ‘sadistic nurse in a mental hospital’, Barack Obama being a ‘part-Kenyan’ with an ‘ancestral dislike’ of Britain, not to mention the lies he’s peddled about the European Union since the 1990s when he was the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, have seen to that.  Someone’s even compiled a map of the countries that Johnson has, over the years, managed to offend.  Here it is.  I think you’ll agree that the nations with good reason to despise Britain’s new Foreign Secretary cover an alarmingly large proportion of the world’s land mass.

 

From indy100.independent.co.uk 

 

Let’s return to being silly – I think I’ll need to be silly when I contemplate Britain over the next few years, because the alternative is to feel suicidally depressed about it.  When I was a kid, I remember clicking my fingers and singing along to The Addams Family theme song whenever the show came on TV.  How would the Theresa May version of The Addams Family song go?  Probably something like this:

 

Duh-duh-duh-duh…  Duh-duh!

Duh-duh-duh-duh…  Duh-duh!

They’re creepy and they’re spooky,

They can’t get any nooky,

They make me really pukey –

The Tory gov-ern-ment!

 

Carry on cabbie

 

© Jonathan Cape

 

Irvine Welsh’s 2015 novel A Decent Ride continues the story of ‘Juice’ Terry Lawson, who previously appeared in the Welsh oeuvre as a major character in the 2001 book Glue and a supporting one in 2002’s Porno.  (Incidentally, Porno was the sequel to Welsh’s breakthrough novel, 1993’s Trainspotting; and, even as I write this, it’s being filmed by Danny Boyle as Trainspotting 2.)

 

When he made his debut in Glue, Terry – arrogant, fickle, devoid of self-awareness, not terribly bright and driven by a desire to shag everything in a skirt in the Edinburgh area – seemed like the book’s least likeable character.  However, later in the book, after Terry had lost his sex appeal, piled on the pounds and turned into a roly-poly Falstaff-like figure, he’d become surprisingly endearing.  Welsh rounded off Glue with a hundred-page tour-de-force of comic writing with Terry, whilst cleaning windows at Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel, somehow befriending a North American singing superstar (inspired by Celine Dion) who was in town for an Edinburgh Festival gig.  He took her on a pub-crawl down some bars in Leith that were definitely off the recommended list for festival-visitors.  The singer’s manager, believing her to have been kidnapped, set off in pursuit.  The episode concluded with Terry wedged upside down between the banisters at the top of a hotel stairwell, reflecting on how a ‘lesser man’ – i.e. one with a smaller beer-gut – would have slipped between the banisters and dropped down the stairwell to his doom.

 

By the time of Porno, Terry had slimmed down again and was back giving it ‘to the ladies’.  His favourite pastime got a boost when he fell in with Trainspotting’s most entrepreneurial character, Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson, who put him to work starring in homemade porn movies he was shooting in the backroom of a pub.

 

In A Decent Ride Terry is still making porn with Sick Boy, but he earns his main living by driving a taxi around the tram-ravaged streets of Edinburgh – the novel is set in 2011-2012 with the city still blighted by the over-budget, behind-schedule tram-works.  Meanwhile, he remains Edinburgh’s number-one Lothario, although with him now in his late forties you wonder for much longer he can, er, keep it up.  The book begins with him giving a taxi ride to Ronnie Checker, an American billionaire-cum-reality-TV-show-star with a terrible haircut who’s planning a dodgy property deal in the Scottish countryside and who can’t possibly be based on anyone in the real world.  Terry ends up becoming Checker’s sidekick and confidant in Scotland.  Perversely, thanks to his apparent ignorance and lack of self-awareness, he appears more trustworthy than all the suited sycophants Checker has working for him.

 

A Decent Ride‘s plot soon becomes tangled.  While Ronnie Checker enlists Terry’s help in securing three fabled and priceless bottles of Scotch whisky, with the success or failure of his quest depending on a game of golf with a billionaire rival, Terry also gets unwillingly roped into minding a ‘massage parlour’ for a local gangster.  And there’s serious stuff going on in his personal life too.  He learns that his hated father Henry – who walked out on his family while Terry was a youngster – is dying of cancer in hospital.  He meets for the first time his half-brother Jonty, a simple-minded but good-natured soul whom Henry sired with another woman (subsequently abandoned as well).  Most importantly, he’s informed that thanks to a just-diagnosed heart condition he can’t have sex any more.  Terry unsurprisingly takes this last thing badly.  It unhinges him to the point where he starts imagining he’s being berated by his sex-starved penis.

 

Into this, Welsh also weaves various real-life goings-on in Edinburgh during 2011 and 2012 – not only the trams fiasco but the 2012 Cup Final between Hibs and Hearts, and also Hurricane Friedhelm, the storm that struck Scotland in December 2011 and was less elegantly but more memorably known to the locals as ‘Hurricane Bawbag’.  Ronnie Checker, with bad memories of Hurricane Katrina, finds Hurricane Bawbag traumatic.  Cowering in his Edinburgh hotel room during it, he thinks: “That castle, that’s where the high ground is, that’s where I gotta be!  I’ll bet that Salmond guy – Jesus, even the politicians are out of shape here – and all those assholes are up there right now, drinking the best Skatch, gorging themselves on sheep’s intestines, safe and secure from this f**king apocalypse!”

 

I admit I started reading A Decent Ride with low expectations.  Terry is amusing in Glue but he’s one of its several main characters; and I was dubious about him sustaining a book on his own.  Perhaps seeing this as a potential problem, Welsh makes his half-brother Jonty the focus of several chapters, but Jonty’s naïve, simple-minded narrative voice is hard to listen to.  I also felt Welsh was recycling too many ideas from his earlier books.  The joke of Juice Terry meeting Donald Trump is lessened by the fact that we’ve already had the joke of Juice Terry meeting Celine Dion in Glue.  And when Terry’s frustrated penis starts talking to him – doing a Mel Gibson impersonation and shouting “Freedom!” – you recall how Welsh had a tapeworm talking out of the hero’s stomach in 1998’s Filth.

 

© The Guardian

 

And yet…  A hundred pages into A Decent Ride, I realised I was hooked.  I couldn’t stop reading it.  Terry is allowed some character development and I was pleasantly surprised to find him both a smarter character – he puts one over on Ronnie Checker – and a nicer one – he takes Jonty under his wing – than I’d thought.  (Thankfully, Jonty’s ramblings become less annoying as the book continues and I came to appreciate Terry’s sense of protectiveness towards him.)   And even if certain plot elements are derivative, Welsh wrings some genuine laughs out of them.  A Decent Ride is never going to be seen as a work of searing realism in the way that Trainspotting was – there are too many absurdities and coincidences – but, taken in the right spirit, it is very funny.

 

At the same time, readers who enjoyed Welsh’s disregard for restraint, subtlety and good taste in earlier novels like Marabou Stork Nightmares (1995) and Filth will savour the moments of visceral hideousness that occasionally crop up in A Decent Ride.  Incidents involving necrophilia, incest, anal rape and a cremation that goes gruesomely wrong (reminiscent of an episode in Iain Banks’ 1992 novel The Crow Road) prove that the beast still has teeth.

 

One nice thing about Welsh is how the characters from his various books wander in and out of each other’s stories, creating the impression that Edinburgh is one big Irvine-verse of junkies, jakeys, gangsters, football hooligans and misfits having overlapping adventures.  Here, as well as a guest appearance by Sick Boy, we get Clifford Blades – the kindly but luckless stooge to the loathsome Bruce Robertson in Filth – making a welcome return as one of Terry’s fellow cabbies.

 

The obvious danger with A Decent Ride is that by having a hero as shag-happy as Terry the book runs the risk of being sexist or misogynist.  When he claims that “F**k off means naw, naw means mibbe, mibbe means aye n aye means anal.  Guaranteed!” he’s hardly in tune with a modern world where there’s been much debate about what constitutes legitimate consent to sexual intercourse and where “No means no!” has become a call to arms.  To avoid this, in part, Welsh cheats.  He has Terry intervening to protect the girls at the massage parlour against some vile gangsters – a plot contrivance showing that, at heart, despite his sexist bravado, Terry is one of the good guys.

 

But mainly, Welsh opts for the view that sex, between consulting adults, is a good thing; and if, like Terry, they want to get as much of it as they possibly can, well, good luck to them.  By a coincidence, I read A Decent Ride at the same time that I read French author Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 novel Platform, which takes a clinical and ultimately sour and pessimistic attitude towards sex and sexuality.  I have to say that I much preferred the simple, straightforward and happily bacchanalian celebration of sex that you get in A Decent Ride.

 

Indeed, it almost makes you proud to be Scottish.

 

Maqam Echahid – the Martyrs’ Monument in Algiers

 

 

The Maqam Echahid – in English, the Matyrs’ Memorial – stands on top of a hill overlooking the Jardin d’Essai du Hamma botanical park and the Mediterranean Sea in south-central Algiers.  92 metres high and made of concrete, it depicts three giant palm leaves propped against one another to form a tripod while an ‘eternal flame’ burns underneath.  It commemorates Algeria’s War of Independence and those who died in it and was opened in 1982, twenty years after the country became independent.

 

Despite it symbolising a very Algerian event, the monument was the result of an international collaboration.  Working on its design were not only local artists – including the painter Bashir Yelles and calligrapher Abdelhamid Skander – but a Pole, the sculptor Marian Konieczny, while the company responsible for its construction was a Canadian one, Lavalin.

 

 

The most popular way of reaching the monument from the bottom of the hill is to use a little cable car, but as the passengers seemed to be squeezed inside it like sardines, I chose to make my way up the hillside on foot.  It’s climbed by a zigzagging road but the space at the roadside gradually dwindles and disappears so that the cars using it pass too close for comfort to the pedestrians.  Alternatively, you can follow some paths that wind their way up independently of the road, but the ground around the paths is dispiritingly strewn with garbage: plastic bags, papers, cans and many plastic bottles.  Blackened patches of earth and charred rubbish and undergrowth show where people have tried to remove some of it by burning it; but generally it’s depressing that the hill supporting this immensely symbolic monument should be allowed to become such a mess.

 

 

At the top, those delicately-balanced giant palm leaves make an impressive sight.  Statues of soldiers stand guard before each leaf as it swoops up majestically; while high above, a cylindrical capsule with a viewing platform is clasped between the leaves’ top ends.  I couldn’t help thinking that the capsule would make a great location for a James Bond villain’s headquarters.  Meanwhile, the huge smooth floor directly under the three leaves is considered so sacred that you aren’t allowed to walk across it.

 

 

When I visited it, the space behind the monument was a strange mixture of things.  In addition to a military museum, stalls and a play-area where kids were whizzing down inflatable, bouncy, stripy slides and riding on go-karts, mini-jeeps and mini-quadbikes, there was a huge round opening with staircases leading down to a two-level subterranean shopping mall and underground car-park.  Disconcertingly, I scarcely saw a soul down there, many of the mall’s shop-spaces were empty and it contained a cinema that was showing the hoary American horror movie from 2009, The Orphan.  All in all, that mall had a definite J.G. Ballard vibe – it felt as if it’d been depopulated by a weird cataclysm that’d occurred a half-dozen years ago.

 

 

Robin Hardy 1929 – 2016

 

From www.rue-morgue.com

 

The director and writer Robin Hardy, who passed away earlier this week, made only a handful of movies.  And only one of those movies had any influence – but what an influential movie it was.  He was the director of the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man, which regular readers of this blog will know is a big favourite of mine.  It might not be quite the greatest horror movie ever made, but it’s surely the greatest one ever made in the United Kingdom.

 

And for my money, there’s nothing in the history of the British film industry that compares with its final image.  This shows the head of the burning wicker man – within which luckless virgin / policeman Edward Woodward has just been sacrificed by a community of pagans on a remote Scottish island – collapsing before the Atlantic horizon, which is glowing like a furnace while the white disc of the evening sun sinks behind it.

 

The movie / TV fan website Den of Geek marked Hardy’s passing by providing a link to a 2008 article written about the film by one of its supporting stars, the late Polish actress Ingrid Pitt.  In it Pitt amusingly spills some beans about the making of The Wicker Man: including how Edward Woodward’s biggest irritation about being inside the wicker man was not the flames licking up from below, but the sacrificial animals that were sealed inside the thing in the cages above and were peeing down on his head; or how her co-stars Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento spent the shoot moaning about their troubled marriages to their film-star spouses, Peter Sellers and Sean Connery respectively.

 

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/13755/the-ingrid-pitt-column-the-making-of-the-wicker-man

 

(c) British Lion Films

 

Hardy’s other films were the 1986 Irish movie The Fantasist, which I haven’t seen – few people have seen it – but which certainly sounds interesting; and 2011’s The Wicker Tree, a spiritual if not a direct sequel to The Wicker Man.  As I wrote about The Wicker Tree in this blog two years ago, the sequel isn’t an outright disaster, but it’s slipshod and uneven in tone and is badly let down by the non-performances of its two American leads.  It shows how unique The Wicker Man was in its perfect balance of horror, humour, music and bawdiness – a balance that you probably couldn’t achieve twice.

 

http://bloodandporridge.co.uk/wp/?p=3915

 

Before his death Hardy was trying to raise funds for a second Wicker Man sequel, provisionally entitled Wrath of the Gods.  But although we’ll never see that film now, The Wicker Man’s DNA is evident in a number of other movies made during the past two decades, most notably Julian Richards’ Darklands (1996), David Mackenzie’s The Last Great Wilderness (2002), Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007), David Keating’s Wake Wood (2009) and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011); and no doubt it’ll influence more movies in the future.

 

And back in May this year, Radiohead paid homage to The Wicker Man in the charming but sinister video for their recent song Burn the Witch, which depicted pagan sacrifice in a stop-motion-animated English village inspired by the 1967 children’s TV show Trumpton.  Spookily, the creator of Trumpton, Gordon Murray, died on June 30th, just two days before Hardy did – a coincidence that suggests there exists a deadly Radiohead Video Curse.  (Perhaps for their next release, Thom Yorke and the gang might want to make a video about Tony Blair, filmed in the style of a Michael Bay movie.)

 

(c) XL Recordings

 

We’ve been Trumped

 

I haven’t posted anything on Blood and Porridge for a while.  Partly this is because I’ve been on holiday.  And partly it’s because I’m still trying to get my head around the result of the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.  In the referendum, held on June 23rd, a majority voted to leave the EU.  Hence, ‘Brexit’ has been instigated.

 

Brexit was achieved by an unholy alliance of buffoonish but ruthless Conservatives, i.e. Boris Johnson, boorish but ruthless Ukippers, i.e. Nigel Farage, and a quartet of millionaire / billionaire newspaper magnates whose main purpose in life is to avoid paying tax, i.e. Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, Richard Desmond and the Barclay Brothers.  (All right, that’s actually a quintet).  Channelling the hatred and pig-ignorance of Britain’s far-right organisations like the English Defence League and the British National Party, this lot managed to convince enough voters in the less well-off parts of England and Wales that their current financial and social insecurities weren’t caused by the winner-takes-all market forces that’ve been increasingly out-of-control since the days of Margaret Thatcher, but were caused by that reliable old scapegoat, Johnny Foreigner.

 

Untrustworthy Johnny Foreigner, as Boris, Nigel and co. would have you believe, comes in two guises.  One guise is those meddling bureaucrats of the EU that Britain’s right-wing press loves to wail about (though funnily enough, over the years, they’ve kept shtum about all the EU subsidies pouring into the parts of England and Wales who’ve just voted to quit).  The other guise is those beastly immigrants, ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’.

 

I’m afraid those folk who voted ‘leave’ in order to put an end to immigration are in for a nasty shock, very, very soon.  Because the only way you can abolish immigration is by abolishing capitalism, which I assume isn’t on the cards yet in the UK.

 

Since then, of course, the knives have been out as the instigators of Brexit have tried to get into pole position for leadership of the Conservative Party and the keys of Number 10, Downing Street.  Johnson, who by opting to spearhead the ‘leave’ campaign had already stabbed his supposed friends David Cameron and George Osborne in the backs, was in turn stabbed by his weasel-faced partner in crime, Michael Gove, who very publicly questioned Johnson’s abilities and announced he was standing for the leadership himself.  But it looks increasingly like Gove’s leadership bid will be squashed by the gimlet-eyed Theresa May, who’s cannily kept herself aloof from the political dogfighting and bloodletting until now.  I suppose it’s indicative of the culture gap that’s opened up between Britain and the rest of Europe that the best thing the British newspapers could find to compare this mayhem to was Game of Thrones; whereas the equivalent newspapers in continental Europe likened it to Shakespeare.

 

Still, there was at least one good consequence of the Brexit fiasco.  Amid the massive hee-haw going on during the day after the vote, June 24th, the potential-next-president-of-the-USA Donald Trump flew into Scotland to officially open his new golf course at Turnberry in Ayrshire.  And guess what?  Hardly anybody noticed.  The media’s attention was elsewhere.  Brexit left ‘the Donald’ gasping for the oxygen of publicity, probably for the first time ever.

 

Actually, Blood and Porridge can reveal something that the media failed to pick up at all.  On the evening of June 24th, after opening his new golf course in Ayrshire, Donald Trump was big-hearted enough to travel across to my Scottish hometown of Peebles; where, as part of the town’s annual summer Beltane Festival, he kindly offered to lead a Friday-evening parade of floats and fancy dress.

 

What’s that?  You don’t believe me?  Well, here’s some hard photographic evidence.  Yes, it’s Donald Trump leading the Peebles Beltane parade and possibly making the first factually-correct statement of his presidential campaign so far.

 

 

There were two people leading the Beltane parade, by the way.  The other person was Boris Johnson.  Well, he has a lot more free time on his hands now.