August 23, 2007

Grahame Greene's Work-Life Balance in "Special Duties"

Special Duties is a very complete short story- stretching over only four pages in my edition. It deals though with subjects of a cosmic importance- Greene as was typical of his fiction fills the story with his Catholicism. Here though he ridicules a conception of Catholicism as the faith of exchange, the faith of bartering indulgences for time in purgatory. A businessman, successful in his art business, Mr Ferraro, attempts to employ a secretary to fulfill special duties. This woman, a Miss Saunders is treated in exactly the same way as his other secretaries, questioned as to why she has achieved only limited indulgences for June. Ferraro attempts to quantify and heap up these indulgences so as to preserve his soul in the same way that he seeks to save his estate from death duties. Catholicism for him has become a business proposition!

Ferraro is interesting in this regard because of his obvious lack of compassion towards those who work for him. When he discovers that Saunders has instead of finding indulgences been out finding love for herself with a young man- an exceptionally normal and healthy thing for a young and pretty woman to be doing, Ferraro decides to sack her. In many ways he ressembles in this failure to understand the whole of humanity, the character Professor Openshaw that Chesterton gently mocks in the Father Brown story, The Blast of the Book. Like Openshaw Ferraro practises a craft- in Openshaw's case the investigation of spiritualistic events, in Ferraro's business. But in both cases their craft has driven out all that is not concerned with it. Openshaw can't see because of his fixation that his secretary might be playing a practical joke upon him: Ferraro can't see that he cannot pay someone else to be virtuous for him, the business transaction will not work.

It will not work because ultimately as Greene is at care to illustrate to us the reader the craft of making money conflicts in his view with the ultimate spiritual reality of human existence. To see the world through the nexus of profit is for the Catholic Greene to miss the entire nature of human beings not as movers of commodities but as eternal souls. Miss Saunders is someone with a life and a world outside her essence as Ferraro's secretary. The greater blindness though is Ferraro's about himself- after-all it is the more damaging. Ferraro Greene leaves us in no doubt is a deeply damaged person- his marriage is basically defunct, he keeps to one side of the house with his coin and his wife keeps to the other side with a full range of spiritual confessors and never the twain shall meet. Ferraro is suspicious of every single person he meets- he even has a doctor to check up on the treatments prescribed by his doctor! Further than that of course Ferraro's soul for Greene is in mortal danger. Greene allows him to see this briefly- but in a moment the blindness returns.

Greene allows Ferraro to see this by presenting him with a crisis. Ferraro believes that Saunders has been out getting indulgences for him, whereas actually she has been involved in a romantic situation all of her own. The point is that Ferraro's limited analysis has led to a crisis- as he perceives this crisis suddenly he calculates that all his efforts have been in vain. Greene allows him this moment of distress because in it Ferraro sees his condition clearly, he is teetering on the edge of a moral abyss. His craft has overcome his conscience. The reader of course can see the abyss is an actual abyss, but Ferraro ultimately sees it as a problem capable of solution. Greene presents Ferraro's attitude to this situation which violates his method as a problem to be solved by that same method.

As a critique of experience providing the matter of life, the matter of growth therefore what Greene is saying is that once a craft, a techne, a sense of how problems are solved is created the human mind, like a dog returning to its vomit, returns straight back to that method. So Ferraro faces a real crisis- Saunders has betrayed him and not secured the indulgence he craves- and he solves it by the only method he knows to be possible. Instead of abasing himself before the living God and seeking mercy, he we are told seeks another secretary to solve the problem- a better tool to perform the same function. But we know through Greene's insistant tone of mockery and through the moment of reality that Greene has allowed Ferraro that such consolations will prove illusory, ultimately Ferraro is working against the grain of humanity and will fail again and again.

Catholicism and Christianity are interesting subjects- but I think Greene's analysis has a wider lesson and even makes sense when Catholicism is not taken as the ideal way of interpreting the story. Of course the story is profoundly Catholic- it wouldn't make sense outside of a Catholic set of references- but the point that a craft or a way of doing things can consume the individual who practices it is not particularly Catholic. Its the root for instance of Kant's discussion about enlightenment, that the truly enlightened are those who divest themselves of their proffessions and take on the habit of an educated savant outside of their habitual realm. Similarly here with Greene, salvation flows for Greene out of a whole view of human life reliant not upon the subtleties of one craft or another but upon a view of human complexity that factors in them all. One thinks of Father Brown in Chesterton again, the man of the cloth who yet understands all types of men from all walks of life.

So Greene in this short story has a real point- its a point that in a world filled with work, with more and more people working more and more hours deserves to be made again and again. Those who sacrifice themselves to their craft ultimately understand less of the totality of human experience and leave themselves open to either in Greene's case losing their souls or in Kant's joining the barbarians. Virtue lies for Greene in a rounded comprehension of human kind. Ferraro's gradgrindism leads him to mistake salvation for something dealt with in coin and copper. Ultimately following his craft in all aspects of his life destroys him, just as it in Kant's case destroys the capacity to become enlightened.

It seems that virtue lies in intellectually moving outside the orbit of one's craft for both Catholics and Kantians. Perhaps the most important argument for giving people more leisure therefore is not that it will necessarily make them happier but it will make them better people, better able to judge the world and morally more virtuous.

Crossposted at Bits of News

Murdering Mr Lawrence

The murder of Phillip Lawrence, a school headmaster, shocked the United Kingdom. A family man and a good man, Lawrence was a public servant of the first order and was shot for no apparant reason. Today it appears that his murderer may after twelve years of incarceration be released in the United Kingdom and not be deported back to his native Italy. The full story is laid out here. Hysteria has recently whipped up in the UK over the idea that this murderer Learco Chindoma won a court case against the Home Office over his deportation. There are two issues though that this event raises in my mind and both are worth exploring.

The first is over sentencing. The hysteria about Mr Chindoma no doubt relates to the terrible nature of his crime. Mr Chindoma murdered a man who deserved praise not gunshots for his work. There are no ways of understanding the loss of a father or a husband at an early age, and worse still to lose that person through a callous murder. Sentencing often seems to those who are inexpert quite light for many crimes. Terrorist offenders for instance are in the end let out in the United Kingdom sometimes after sentences as low as two or three years are passed upon them. Mr Chindoma it appears is no further danger to the community but justice is not purely about treatment, it is also a political mechanism by which the vigilante within us all is quieted before the majesty of the law. It seems at least arguable that Mr Chindoma should have been sentenced to a longer time given the horror of the murder that he committed. Obviously one cannot comment on the parole board's assessment of the facts about his capacity to leave prison, I do not have the facts to do so, but I think in this case Mr Chindoma's release furthers the impression that the justice system does not deal fairly with those who commit heinous crimes.

That sense has some fairly disastrous political consequences. It strengthens the route to vigilantiism. It strengthens the argument to relax evidentiary rules, the cornerstone of modern democracy and indeed perhaps more important than the right to vote in sustaining a liberal regime. It also reinforces the conviction that many have that being in favour of incarceration and not the death penalty means being in favour of releasing every criminal eventually no matter how heinous the crime. As an opponent of the death penalty, based on miscarriages of justice like that of the case of Randall Adams, that seems to me to be a dangerous impression to give people and further undermines the case against the death penalty. Ultimately a justice system is about sustaining the political government of justice as much as it is about justice itself- cases like this where a murderer or even in some cases a terrorist are released early don't help those who wish to defend that political government of justice.

The second is over Mr Chindoma's location once he is released. Here the article I quoted above is useful. Mr Chindoma for family reasons carries Italian citizenship, but he does not speak Italian and was last there when he was five and is now my age, twenty six. When he completes his sentence its worth considering whether the court is right, that the country in which he knows people, has friends and family should be the country that receives him, rather than the country that strictly he was born in and also his mother was from. Mr Chindoma is British by everything apart from genetics and nativity, he has spent more time here than anywhere else and even has British qualifications. The question of where he is released to must be separated from the question of whether he is released. The first is an issue about sentencing for all criminals, the second is about Mr Chindoma's true country of origin. Its worth remembering that had Mr Chindoma a British passport nothing about this case would have changed save that his deportation would not even have been a question.

This points to me not to the fact that it is immigration law which is wrong but to the idea that it is sentencing law which in this case was inadequate. Basically Mr Chindoma should be released if the Independent is right in its survey of the case within this country, but whether he should be released now is a different question. I feel a personal deep disquiet that I cannot really justify about him being released now- his crime was awful- and about others who have committed like crimes being released after a similar length of time. The controversy over his deportation reflects the fact that the public shares my disquiet- whereas I feel that the direction of the agitation is wrong, I'm not sure that the agitation itself is wrong. Mr Chindoma should spend more time in prison but should be released within this country.

Gracchi Returns

I am still in Norway having had a wonderful holiday with some exceptionally nice individuals- but have an internet connection- and return to England tommorrow. I must say though thanks to everyone over the last few weeks that has posted again. Many of them have interrupted busy lives including blogging to post words over at this blog and I owe them all a lot. Thank you guys very much and I hope people have enjoyed the rather different voices that have been sounding on this blog recently- I have. Unfortunately you are back to me now, but I'd encourage everyone to visit the other lads as well- their blogs are all on the sidebar and take a look. Thank you again guys and if you need reciprocation you know where I am!

August 22, 2007

Michelle Obama and the importance of Family

Michelle Obama raised an interesting question recently. As reported by Andrew Sullivan she argued that you should judge a politician by the way that he runs his family, she said that and I am quoting from Sullivan's blog here,

That one of the most important things that we need to know about the next President of the United States is, is he somebody that shares our values? Is he somebody that respects family? Is a good and decent person? So our view was that, if you can't run your own house, you certainly can't run the White House. So, so we''ve adjusted our schedules to make sure that our girls are first, so while he's traveling around, I do day trips. That means I get up in the morning, I get the girls ready, I get them off, I go and do trips, I'm home before bedtime. So the girls know that I was gone somewhere, but they don't care. They just know that I was at home to tuck them in at night, and it keeps them grounded, and, and children, the children in our country have to know that they come first. And our girls do and that's why we're doing this. We're in this race for not just our children, but all of our children.

There are obvious political reasons why she has said this- like Sullivan I tend to think its less about Hillary but more in harmony with Obama's general message. It is worth in this context stepping back a bit and analysing what Michelle Obama is actually saying which to my mind is directed less at Hillary than at her husband's potential Republican opponent in the 2008.

Republicans have for a long time been able to draw on the voters who vote for the person most like them. Both Ronald Reagen and George Bush junior were able to capture voters who thought that the President was their kind of guy. Whether this is a sensible thing to vote for or not is another issue- personally I would remark that anyone seeking to become President of the United States is likely to be an extreme individual in both ambition and hopefully intelligence, extremes which may lead to extremity in other behaviour. Leaving that aside though, the Republicans have fused the appeal of running an ordinary bloke for office with the notion that they are the protectors of ordinary blokedom, they are the protectors of marriage against those hordes of homosexuals who will invade marriage from the outside and bring down the end of civilisation, they are the protectors of America from those hordes of bra burning feminazis who want to rip off every penis they see, the protectors of the American family from liberals of any stripe and stream of thought. However illusory the danger, the Republicans have pursued a two stream strategy on this, promising protection and reminding America of the kinky Kennedys and Clinton's cigar.

Michelle Obama's statement in some ways is part of an attempt to come back on that. To assure voters that Democrats despite their far out beliefs, dangerous faith in the capacity of women to think independently and homosexuals to have stable relationships, are actually just like the American voter in other ways. Democrat after democrat has assured voters that they share their concerns, their values but extend tolerance to those with other values. John Kerry at the last election despite an impecable private life and war record is the exception which proves the rule- Kerry was someone that the American voter felt alienated by, felt estranged from, he looked as one Republican commentator said French. Michelle Obama wants her husband though to seem like any other American disabling she hopes the fears that aid the Republican party and their allies in the press.

Whether it works or not is of course another issue- its been tried before and failed. Against the present Republican field though, the Democrats may stand more of a chance. From the multiple divorcee Rudy Giuliani through divorcees John McCain and Fred Thompson and on to the Mormon Mitt Romney there is enough to suggest that the Republican candidates might fail the barbecue test and that there might be a gap for an Obama to succeed where they fail and allay the fears of the Values voters. Its worth remembering as well that this is about manner- I suspect from what I hear that Thompson would have no problem nor would McCain despite their lives, afterall Ronald Reagen astrology apart didn't, but this might represent a front that the Democrats might open on say a Giuliani. Ultimately if you want to feel like you are voting for virtue, voting for a man who could take marriage counselling from Bill Clinton may present a problem. Michelle Obama may therefore be sniping at a possible Republican contender as well as attempting to soften the blow of her husband's social liberalism.

Its interesting to see because it suggests again how central some issues of personal behaviour are to American politics- in this case family. But it also suggests what an Obama presidential candidacy would attempt with regard to winning enough of the values voters over to succeed where John Kerry failed. It might not work, it might not have the chance to work, but its an interesting indicator of the development of American politics.

Russia - reasons to stay

If you haven't already done so, you might like to get over to Shades, where I have a post up on life in Russia - another in the series. I'm not cross-posting it here but rather continuing it below:

Alina Kabaeva

I don't know how much she'd appreciate it but my former girlfriend is the catalyst for this post.
She does appear in my first book called Obsession [and part of the second] and obsession is what I had for her and for some years, she for me.

I came over here some time after meeting her in London and in those days it was still rare for an ordinary Russian to travel overseas but it was even rarer for an Englishman to travel to the fSU much beyond Moscow.

He'd have to have a reason and he did in my case. Her. The story is in the novel which you can get to from the sidebar or profile.

The thing is that the reputation of Russian girls generally has gone through an extraordinary transformation over a decade and not necessarily for the good.

All we'd ever had to go on was deep voiced Leonid or Boris of the Politburo saying Da or Nyet and taking the salute in Red Square as the tanks rolled past or else those ice dancers and gymnasts pictured top left and lower right.

It was a coincidental thing because I'd been watching the Olympics and there'd been a close-up of one of the winners, Oksana Grischuk and beside her the sort of square shaped woman you wouldn't want to mess with - her minder, who kept stroking and "minding" her all the way through.

When OG saw she'd won, she gave a little gasp of joy, so restrained and I knew there and then I'd have to have one of those. It's testimony to the ego that it never crossed my mind that I had neither the means nor the Don Juanishness to do this.

Then, one day in September, she came. Not the dancer but a young lady even better, shy and yet knowing what she wanted and she'd decided what she wanted was proximity to me. Was I complaining?

The rest is history and we became an item.

The western press was initially full of praise for the new kind of Russian girl coming out and though it was a much later story, [from 2003], the tale of Natalia Vodianova sums it up. The press called her hardworking, beautiful, willing to listen and be directed, unlike her western sisters.

No argument there - that's what I was finding too. Then something occurred which changed it all in western eyes - Anna Kournikova. 'Nuff said. I've seen countless pics of her and countless pics of my girl and I still say [and many who know her agree] that mine eclipses AK.

Years passed and I met many Russians - the good and the not so good. There were many females you just couldn't trust. It began to dawn on me that I'd scored one of the better types, capricious though she was and a little too immodestly dressed for my liking but wondrous in the arms.

Around this time, articles began to appear in the western press about Russian women wanting to leave the country and I put it to my girl. Nope - she wasn't averse to a trip or two but to leave permanently - no.

Still the articles appeared and they weren't nice, such as one entitled Reds in Beds, which was so anachronistic I shouldn't have bothered:

The collapse of the
Soviet Union has left its people demoralised and poor. Many women are looking for a way out as a whole generation of men is lost to a pernicious cycle of unemployment, alcoholism and despair. Meanwhile, in Australia, men with good jobs lead lonely, unfulfilled lives, complaining that women in their own country are "too pushy, too bossy or too spoilt'.

I took this to university and put it to the girls for discussion, assuring them I didn't accept it but what did they think? They were apoplectic. It's s-o-o-o wrong, they universally said. It suggests we have no brain, no talent, no way to make up our own mind. Is it true about Australian women?

I smiled and didn't reply but stats years later confirmed that part of the article had been correct:

Russian spouse visas to Australia:

1999-2000 64 female and 21 male

2003-2004 443 female and 99 male

The stats on females are one thing but the stats on males are also interesting - they were tending to go overseas to get into businesses and trading.

We saw the new problem on a trip to Cyprus when we went on safari and I found myself in a bar with the Greek driver who asked how long I'd had her [my girl].
He was amazed - he usually changed his after a few weeks. Promise them the earth, put them in a condo, have your way, disappear and they have to go home at the end of their visa stay.

My darling was upset by all this and the whisperings in the hotel and elsewhere that she was only with me because of my money quietly began a rift. A girl's not going to put up with that sort of thing for long.

What she knew though, through her work for the airline, was that many Russian girls did overstay their visas and there was a UK stat at one time that 42% between the ages of 18 and 25 absconded at the end of their stay.

About 2002 the marriage market really got into full swing plus the mafia run Eastern European porn supply and this further cheapened relations between foreign men and Russian girls. I was appalled myself because I was now cast in a light which had palpably not been the case when I'd first come over here.

Part of the problem was the way the Russian girl was portrayed to potential marriage partners - western men of a certain age.

"Aussic men want life after Lycra," says Richard Dennison, who is making a documentary about Russian mail-order brides to be screened later this year. "Women in
Australia run around in their tracksuit bottoms with little caps and ponytails," he says. "But men want a life beyond that, and they find the earthy, exotic soul of Russian women very attractive, partly because the Russians have a much more traditional approach to relationships and forming a comfortable home life."

This is garbage. True, North American and Aussie men have just about had it up to here with their feministic women but to think that the new crop of Russian girls are any different is the fallacy peddled by the marriage market.

The "home values" and "obedient girls" may appeal to men but these are the values of the previous generation; this is what the girls have been told to write and they've been told to dress half nakedly the better to score a man, so they think. Truth is they're anything but homebodies and the girls signing up for these things want travel, lots of cash and independence - quite the opposite of what Mr. Dennison was stating.

The result was a huge flood of scams, prompting sites such as this which promise to filter any girl's approach to a western man for possible chantage. Often the "girls" are fat, cigar smoking Russian men in a backroom with a computer, who have a bevy of girls "signed" to scam the west via e-mail.

By 2003, it was becoming near impossible for a Russian girl, independently travelling, to get a visa into Europe in summer, particularly to Spain, as we found to our cost - and the stifled smirks which greeted us whenever we walked into a travel agent were grating.

In the end, [not for that reason necessarily but it certainly didn't help], we broke up and now occasionally meet around town.
I think we miss each other.

Crossed posted at

August 21, 2007

Palin Into Insignificance

It's said the past is another country; well, they have different cliches, for a start, but that's a cheap gag that risks undermining one of mine host's fundamental themes: that we are mistaken if we try to understand the past solely through modern frames of reference. I'm dipping in and out of Michael Palin's diaries at the moment, and this idea comes through clearly. Take this entry, for almost exactly thirty-one years ago:

The day drags on - the unions are asked to work until eight. Much muttering and sounding. They seem to agree, but no-one can have asked the electricians, who, at seven, pull the plugs out and that's it for the day.
This describes events within my lifetime, and yet after two decades of, first, Thatcherite hostility to organised labour and, subsequently, a refusal to reverse this legacy on the part of an administration that never quite rid itself entirely of the word 'labour', it seems far-fetched to imagined such power on the part of the unions.

In my previous foray as a guest poster, I cited a passage of rustic mysticism, or if you prefer, mystic rusticism, but played hard-to-get with the identity of the author. This seems an opportune moment to out him: it was G. Bramwell Evens, perhaps better known as Romany of the BBC. A little like Somerset Maugham's illiterate verger, if it hadn't been for Evens popularising nature broadcasting, then David Attenborough would have remained most famous for being head of BBC2... Yet I never knew him from his broadcasts, it was reading his books as a child that awakened in me a love for nature. When I was camping in the Yorkshire Dales some months ago, lying in the tent listening to the curlews, it was Romany I thought of. I then found my parents still had the books, and re-reading them showed me that all the natural lore I have - and I'm a city boy at heart - I gleaned from their pages: how the kingfisher builds its nest, why some birds hop while others walk, why some mammals are born naked and blind, whereas others can run within minutes.

But to my now more mature eyes, the theme I opened with also came shining through. Just as my fellow guest poster James Hamilton seems to derive at least as much interest from the incidental detail of the Mitchell and Kenyon films as from their ostensible subject, re-reading Evens' books revealed to me traces of a world long gone. In places, Evens was consciously describing a way of life under threat - he has stout yeoman farmers bemoaning the increased mechanisation of agriculture, and the toll exacted on the variety of wildlife - no such thing as biodiversity in the 1920s - as a result. And yet he is hard-headed enough to also mention the impact on the rural labour force. But elsewhere it is the passing details that contain a wealth of social information.

John Fell - and I defy you to come up with a more solidly English countryman's name - the gamekeeper casually mentions that he will need to keep an eye on a lurcher he spies tethered outside a pub. I live in the Calder Valley, there's no shortage of lurchers around here; indeed, if I didn't have cats, I would like one myself - they have the intelligence and hardiness of cross-breeds. But in the 1930s an enterprising countryman could use a net, a ferret and a lurcher to catch a few rabbits, if he was so inclined, and given the economic conditions, that might not have been so unlikely: that would be a working dog, not a pet. It would be one of the gamekeeper's tasks to make sure that inclination was curbed. Of course, the same three ingredients could do the same for you today, were you inclined to ignore the hunting with dogs act.

Ah yes, hunting; It is a mistake to think that Evens was paving the way for the Countryside Alliance as well as for Mr Attenborough: he is scathing throughout about hunters, as are the rural companions he wanders with: there is a moving passage where he and an angling friend mutely witness the gory denouement of an otter hunt, and the hunt follower's final words "It's been a great day's sport" need no gloss from the narrator to emphasise their hollowness.

Evens could claim to be a genuine Romany on his mother's side, but he himself was clearly a man of letters, which is not a trait so often associated with the popular image of travellers. His persona is that of the city man taking a break from the pressures of urban life - so the past is not so different after all? - with his favourite acquaintances in the countryside. However, his persona is not fixed: in his first book - A Romany in the Country - his country knowledge rivals that of the poacher, the gamekeeper and the farmers with whom he spends his time - he shows them, for instance, how the lapwings eggs are tapered, so that they form a smaller circle with the points faced in, allowing the mother's heat to be better distributed over the clutch.

In later books, his knowledge is downplayed, and he plays the role of Watson to the countrymen's Holmes. Like Conan Doyle realised, or indeed like Jack Aubrey patiently teaching Stephen Maturin the ropes, this mechanism is a much less forced way of imparting knowledge to the reader without sounding overly didactic. Mind you, the final iteration of the books sees a further change in format, whereby the chapters focus on a particular animal or bird as opposed to the insights of a particular character, and it is once again Romany in the role of sage, this time with a young companion to whom he teaches natural history. If ever proof were needed this was a more innocent age, at least as far as the public sphere was concerned, could you imagine a series now which threw together an older man with a young boy?

A final piece of the jigsaw falls into place when we learn what else Evens did apart from his nature broadcasts and writings: he was a methodist preacher. Even first time around, I remember wondering why Jerry the Poacher should be apologising for his "I'm d-----"s [sic] to the narrator, and assuming that the latter was just, well, priggish. There is a distinct subtext of the divine underlying the books, amd the narrator will occasionally make this explicit by re-rendering what other characters call mother nature. And yet, despite this fairly explicit religious undertone, Evens is a fervent supporter of evolution - there is even a discussion of how various birds, especially finches, developed their different beaks, which I find it hard to believe is not in deliberate tribute to Darwin's descriptions of the Galapago Finches' specialities. In these days of devotees of Intelligent Design, we might do well to remember not all religious people are deaf and blind to scientific methodology.

The Romany books are a rich and multi-layered series - I enjoyed reading them as much this year as I had twenty-five years or so ago, when they were already fifty or sixty years old. As I wrote at Nourishing Obscurity, Evens can turn a phrase; to that I would add he knows his natural history, and if you have even a passing interest in social history, then the books are a must: in one chapter, his invocation of the Lord as the ultimate insurance policy serves as corroboration for Brian Cathcart's report stating that free DVDs with your daily paper are nothing very new, just the modern incarnation of bribes to readers that pre-war took the form of free insurance; but the passing detail I enjoyed the most was the discovery that filling stations in the 20s used to advertise "No Bolshevik petrol" (presumably there'd be no red diesel, either). There is much talk of parallels between the Cold War and the supposed War on Terror, but I think that this is one ideological slogan we shan't be seeing any analogue of any time soon.

August 19, 2007

Homelessness - there but for the Grace of G-d

Whenever I briefly glimpse this topic, I shudder. At the keyboard of my computer now, surely I'm lightyears from it.

But am I?

Father David Holdcroft, refuge organizer, describes the common elements connecting the homeless, as he sees them:

Few had married. Mothers, in the case of the men, sometimes figured strongly in their lives, but fathers were almost universally absent, emotionally distant or violent. Always there were deep feelings of rejection associated with family.

Along with rejection there was always a sense of displacement, a sense that life was not where it should have been, that the normal growth and development of life had been radically interrupted by something or someone. Such interruptions are surely relatively common but, in the case of the homeless, there had been no recovery, no resumption of a "normal" life.

"Normal growth and development of life had been radically interrupted." "A sense of displacement." I've read the stats on mental illness, cost of housing, governmental displacement of populations such as the one coming up in the next five years and so on.

Seems to me that intellect plays a huge part - reasoning power. For example, here in the fSU, everyday can be your last and that's them telling me that. Me - I still have vestiges of that implicit western faith that things can never go suddenly awry in one's station.

It's not so. I can be on the street within a month but, I say to my friend: "We're in demand, you and I; we'd always find a place."

He looks quizzically and murmurs: "Pok'a," meaning "for now".

And he's right. Gradual loss of memory, slight eccentricities starting to appear, a few wrong moves, angry reactions and our word-of-mouth clientele melts away with our reputation. Reputation is everything in this country, my friend says.

If you don't have the extended family, then you need a network of well-placed connections. Not necessarily highly placed but well-placed, according to needs. Every single person here survives only on those connections. Family is dependent. It doesn't save the man and this is still a patriarchal society.

Truth is, I'm dislocated. There are no roots here and my roots in Britain and Australia have withered and died away. There are still a few former friends over there. So here I currently am, enjoying a tenuous status out of proportion to my true state but I only need to annoy one highly placed official and I'm blackballed.

That's the end of food on the table and no family to throw you any crumbs. Suddenly, regulations which once passed you by now crowd in on you and life doesn't bear thinking about. You can't survive on the street here without both intellect and language, the latter equally important .

The beggars you see at the crossroads are mafia run - the cash goes to the man in black and the beggar gets some soup to drink. You do not want to be in that situation, any more than in a London dole queue with a landlord beating on the door every Friday for the exorbitant rent.

The only solution is to trust the promise of the Lord that you'll be looked after but it also helps to think laterally. Instead of descending to the street - fly to Canada or Australia, all documentation in order and the last of the money at the ready. Then you can use your wherewithal, your ability to start up again.

As long as you have that ability of course. Age first kills the resolve, then the health and finally the reasoning power. Then you're gone. Interesting article I read, which challenges:

Define Homeless:
'An inadequate experience of connectedness with family and or community.' This fact is now recognized by Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

When I see the poor unfortunates on the street denied even basic hygiene, Father Holdcroft's view comes home that there can be intellect there, a sort of self-worth, even past achievements but that there is always some sort of dislocation, a missing link.

There, but for the Grace of G-d, go I.

Of course I have another cunning plan ...

[Crossposted at Nourishing Obscurity]