Never Too Late!

Never Too Late!
any resemblance to anyone real or imaginary is mere bad luck
we are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are trying to get up


[blank post]

smoke can lie
if not blown equally in each eye

Deeper and deeper in a happy world in the middle of the day

Lying head on the table. I could hear the scratching of a pen on paper, the regular clink and thud of a glass being lifted and put down again. I watched an ant struggle in spilled water. The background chatter of conversation and the occasional clatter of cutlery on china came in broken waves, part drowned out in sine-wave interference. An occasional shouted order behind the counter.

I’d actually been in a good mood when I’d decided to kill myself. It had seemed like a sort of groovy idea at the time. I’d sat there with the hosepipe through the car window and the engine on, singing Beautiful Sunday to myself, humming the bits I couldn’t remember, while the car filled with exhaust fumes.

Then I sneezed violently and a ball of bad thoughts flew out of my nose. I thought ‘Fuck this,’ got out of the car and went to find the closest bar. Then memory sort of fades, but for disturbing and vague dreams and visions: a big toe splits open and peels away revealing an eye which blinks and surveys the room...

Now somewhere, depressed and wretched, head on a restaurant table. But where? I wasn’t interested in finding out.

A hand appeared, hesitated, wiped away the spilt water and the ant with what looked like a wet kitten, disappeared. Uncertain pause. Then a voice, inquiring, perfunctory, unconcerned.

‘Are you alright, sir?’

Carefully now. This is the genius of the madman; like a chessmaster, my mind flicked through all the responses open to me and possible reactions thereto. What was the bare minimum I needed to say to make him leave me alone?

‘Yeah. Fine. Another one, please.’


realgem: the story finally continues, or what?

Messages from across time

Skinny manic figure in a lab coat rummaging through the clothes outside the charity shop door.
-are you a doctor?
-no, I'm a mad scientist.
-mad scientist? Biochemist or something?
-here, look at these books… do you want this book?

Take them away from their context and these people become too flat to be visible. (but who knows what mind-blowing dimensions a nondescript someone, a vague irritating presence, could develop in the right context?)

They (all of those people, who take that stuff), they say "we" instead of "I" - like they're speaking for a hive.

(A hive is like a… like ants or bees, social insects all together - they have a hive mind - one ant is stupid but a million together are intelligent , I explain. Yes, just like Brazilians, she says. You put ten together and they look smarter. Together we're really intelligent.)

Oh no, the laptop's on... the ants have been at the internet again, looking up formulas for explosives and manuals on robotics... they're up to something...

[20,000 years down the line humans have evolved, but ants have come a long way too… they have recently been granted limited civil rights, like the legal right for each hive to own currency and work for a living, though no protection against an individual ant being squashed arbitrarily… they buy miniaturised computer gadgets… mad scientists programme pheromonal virtual reality entertainment and the ants rush to buy… the mutation of their culture is incredibly fast… as a virtual and commercial entity, a hive will demonstrate an endearingly eccentric personality

people peeled back, layers of reality peeled away… circuits and a sense of movement beneath…]

A note of appreciation to whoever

Hot cold hot cold hot cold hot cold

I watch the false dawn and then the dawn, windows full of winter sky.

She's soft and warm. Mumbles in a dream and holds on to me tight. I'm soaked in poison sweat of nightmares, my skin crawls, I twitch and shiver and kick. She doesn't mind.

I watch the dawn, window full of sky, her breaths measuring time, reassuring me that it's still passing. Time heals all troubles.

"Sometimes, give also thanks to God..." (Falakzeb the pimp and drug dealer)




Out of context

I'm not meant to be here.

I'm meant to be somewhere where there is some call for my gallows humour and ability to somehow keep smiling in the face of the sickest horror.

Will we see guerilla warfare and total social breakdown on the streets of London in our lifetimes?

It is difficult to imagine, but I ask many people that question, and am surprised at how many intelligent, reasoned and non-apocalyptic people say yes...

We will be quite well-stationed here... bounded on two sides by railway embankments and on one by a row of houses, the outward windows of which can be sandbagged... we would seize the abandoned signal-master's junction house, one machine gun there... another two in top corner windows to cover the sole access onto the street... the beautiful garden in the middle an oasis of peace and calm and a source of vegetables and food, with maybe a mortar emplacement hidden in the rose bushes...

I'm desperately looking forward to it...


I think that's it for now, you know...


Barry Adamson at the South Bank, reviewed in Big City Redneck: 'Still louche as fuck and the epitome of dark, laid back menace, Adamson’s set, - despite the overtly cultured instrumentation and surroundings- is still lyrically grounded in the shadow realms of hard drugs and hard knocks. “This is a song about gardening,” he states before launching into a swinging tale of crack use.' (Doc Otter, and photos by Lazy)
[ ... ]

time passes

[ ... ]

in some sort of nod to linear narrative: 'I went to a war zone and fell down some stairs'

and then something happened. i was enveloped in warmth and floating for quite a while. and i wake up to find, once again, horrifyingly, what small fortune i've flushed down the toilet of my veins this time.

oh it wasn't meant to happen this way again...

well it was fun while it lasted.

now make a point of experiencing everything very carefully to discover exactly what those things were again, those little pleasures that are meant to make life worth living... observe carefully and pass no judgement... and hold on wherever you find something warm and beautiful... whenever you find a moment where monstrous empty futility or the darkness and horror is unable to touch you...


(c) arofish



A meditation on pain

There's just too much of it.

Of course it is biologically necessary, but often we would get the message that there is something dreadfully wrong happening to our soft tissue/bones/organs from much less.

There is no need for quite so much of it.

I don't know what the theological implication is. "Curse God and die!" they said to Job. Hahaha! It's not that easy. I tried.

God indeed. I don't think there is a God, yet. I think that's what this is all about, this brutal struggle of life: we are building God, but he's not ready yet. The blood sacrifice of millions of generations of shocking pain, the blood shed by evolution.

One day the benevolent and incandescent one will rise.


slowly coming back to life


WELL, we have got around to adding a few photos here and there to the month's earlier posts. You will also notice we have abandoned our usual immaculately proper capitalisation and punctuation. Something may be done about this as well.
"what are you here for?" they ask me.

"what, right here? drinking beer. or did you mean more generally in Kabul or Afghanistan?"

"yeah that's what I meant. what are you doing in Afghanistan?"

my standard answer eventually became to deliberate a bit, look at them, cock my head to one side and say: "tourism?"

"like fuck you are" they say.

The death of the king

The old king passed away today. There is no return to those days of enlightened monarchy, now, and there never was. This present democratic project, I give it about two years at most... Still sustained by some measure of hope and optimism and foreign support... After the elections 18 months from now when people see that even if they have gained and are ready to use the right to replace the government they elected, business carries on as usual, situation normal all fucked-up...

from South Asia News:
Mohammad Zahir Shah - the last king of Afghanistan, who ushered in a 1964 constitution that brought democracy to Afghanistan before a coup forced him into exile - died on Monday morning at the age of 92.

Crowned in 1933 at 19 after witnessing the assassination of his father, Zahir Shah put into effect a constitution that made Afghanistan a constitutional monarchy with free elections and universal suffrage, a parliament and the emancipation of women.

He kept Afghanistan neutral through World War II and the Cold War before a coup led by a cousin deposed him after 40 years on the throne, ending a 226-year Pashtun dynasty. As his country descended into violence in the following decades, Zahir Shah lived quietly in a villa outside Rome.

He only returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after a US-led invasion ousted the country's fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime. His reign was remembered with nostalgia by many Afghans as a long period of peace. Monarchists called for his restoration to the throne, but he refused.

Instead, a postwar 'loya jirga,' a traditional council of tribal elders, declared him the 'Father of the Nation,' but he said a title given to him by the people was his favourite.

'They call me 'Baba', which means grandfather or father.' he said. 'That is the title I like best.'
Dar-ul-Aman ["place of peace"] Palace
It is very peaceful, like a graveyard. No one comes here, and the sandbagged observation emplacements in the palace ruins are abandoned by the soldiers who spend the days drinking tea in the shade of the nearest chaikhana

What used to be the gardens are now a desolate sun-baked rubble-strewn waste, strewn with old shell casings and empty ampoules of morphine

Layers of Russian, English and Dari tags plus impact scar

Coolest kid ever

... the "dinosaurs rule" t-shirt, his own juice stall that sells beers, the threatening grimaces and throat-cutting gestures at the fruit sellers who try to park themselves too near his stall and hog the shadow of the tree


Here be scorpion-smokers


The three largest markets in the world by dollar volume, so it is said, are the trades in arms, oil and drugs. In Afghanistan these three intertwine with chaotic and unpredictable geopolitical, economic and chemical / psychopharmacological consequences that are felt far far away - in the boardrooms of global energy concerns, in the warm rush in a junkie's veins in London, in the weapon markets of the Bulgarian Black Sea.

The petroleum and natural gas factor in the civil war is explored in Ahmed Rashid's definitive Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.

And for the most comprehensive overview of the drugs connection we now have a strong contender. Look, it even clicks through to Amazon... go ahead and buy a copy... Until we get around to publishing the realgem overview of the Afghan drug scene, this book is thorough and may I say even scholarly without being dry. David MacDonald (formerly of the Afghan Interim Government Counter-Narcotics Directorate) tries to sort the scorpion tales from the truth while searching for the elusive smokers of scorpion tails.

These latter which you can find, scorpion smokers that is. As to hard and fast facts about the Afghan-global heroin trade, the international 'official' statistics and facts (UN, US Govt, UK FCO, international drug-enforcement agencies, intelligence organisations, consultancies and think-tanks) as far as the heroin / opium economy are concerned are all made up. All of them. It wouldn't gall me as much if I knew I couldn't make up even better statistics myself, and for half the money.

This being so, anecdotal evidence is worth more than any quantitative statistical evidence in this particular field, and here we have an overview presented by someone with obvious extensive personal experience of this complex subject...

(Ah, I do have to mention though, AREU have done some solid research on the opium economy focusing on the farmers themselves.)

(zippedy-doo-dah, zippedy-deh...)

(pretty poppies in badakshan)



'come in, come in! this is igor, he is colonel in soviet... no i mean russian army, and assistant military attache. the attache is also coming soon. and here is freddie. he is a german colonialist.' handshakes all around; the chinese woman off to the side in the tight shimmery top is being paid to be here for decoration, looks on impassively and says nothing. 'here, i present you mikey, he is here representing the queen of great britain. have some vodka.'

and so we are drinking like russians do, standing for toasts and then downing gloopy ice-cold raw vodka. no one else on earth drinks like this. the russian military attache is an avuncular old fellow with a very colonial english-looking ginger moustache. as i have been involuntarily promoted to unofficial emissary of hm the queen for the evening, he immediately sits down next to me and earnestly hand on my knee begins explaining how britain and russia are both countries of great history, culture and destiny, and how it is vital that the two nations cooperate and strengthen their friendship at this critical time. i gravely agree and promise to do my best. he bemoans criminals like berezovsky who emigrate to london to smear the good name of russia. there is a toast to putin.

'putin? what was putin? he was a nothing, a clerk, a paper-shuffler. he was a colonel in the kgb. but really this is nothing special in the kgb, to be a colonel.'

'no, he was in the foreign intelligence directorate.... he was active agent in the west, in bonn...'

'ha, the only special thing about him is he came back...' says the east german lt-col. 'anyway, who is your military attache to berlin now?'

'what, is not zhukov?' the russians laugh.

'but this berezovsky, he is an incredibly intelligent man. you must know this. he was graduate of the special forestry institute,' breaks in the colonel.

'ah, the special forestry institute,' we all nod.

'yes, this is the top secret school of the space intelligence programme. anyone who studies there has to be a genius. there is no question of this, the man has the mind of a genius.'

our host is the german lt-col, also a military attache, fluent in russian and from the east. 'you must have started your officer's career before reunification. how did they assimilate the GDR army into the bundeswehr at reunification?' i am curious.

'they got rid of all the top officers. very few were left. but the only ones they kept were ones who had studied in the soviet union.'

more vodka is poured and the russian attache starts to mumble out yet another toast about british-russian friendship.

'but why is britain so tied to america?' demands freddie the german colonialist, who is also a full colonel in the bundeswehr. 'britain needs to come closer to germany. if britain supported europe more we could build a superpower.'

'yes, it's a humiliating situation,' i agree. 'but we need the turks for greater europe. we can't do it without the turks, and we can't do it without the british.'

freddie thrusts his hand at me, we shake hands. 'yes! you are right! this man understands!' he stands up to proclaim to everyone and promptly falls over.

the russian colonel keeps describing his country as soviet, and then correcting himself to russia.

'it is good to be shuravi ['soviet' dari/pashtu] in afghanistan now. when you say you are shuravi they like very much. it is better than to be american. they say we and you, we fought eye to eye... it was war, it was war with... how you say? honour. yes, it is good to be shuravi now.'

someone helps freddie off in search of a woman. it is only us$100 to rent a submissive chinese chick for 24 hours but i have taken 3 xanax as well as the litre of stolichnaya and don't even remember passing out. it is the smoothest gentlest entry into unconsciousness i have ever piloted.
why the fuck are you wearing your press ID on that silly strap around your neck when it's 10pm and we're all here trying to relax, in the bar drinking? oh, it's just like the security contractors who like going out drinking with a gun on their hip. they think the chicks dig it. another question then. why the FUCKING HELL are you wearing a Dubai t-shirt? Dubai is a fucking aberration. if I had just one wish, one atomic bomb to use, i would nuke dubai. why? god, haven't you ever walked around there? anyway, it terrifies me. it's the sort of place that if you just happened to have walked past someone smoking a joint, the microscopic residue the smoke left on your arm would be enough to get you ten years inside. yeah, that is one fucking ugly t-shirt advertising a fucking ugly town. what, you're not listening? you seem to be zoning out a bit. confused, eyes anxiously flicking around the room to find someone more important to talk to, and futile.


good things here

one truly beautiful thing for one who has escaped the dog-loving country of the brits is that people take it as a matter of course that you viciously kick an annoying dog, even if it's someone's pet.

another is the afghan scarf, multi-use checkered piece of cloth, which sort of makes me think of the hitchhikers' guide towel. you can wrap it around your neck. you can drape it over your head to keep the sun off. you can wrap it around your head like a turban. you can wrap it around your face in order to keep the dust out of your nose and mouth. you can casually drape it over your shoulders and use it as a handkerchief. you can put it over your face or lie down on it when taking a nap. you can tie it around your face and walk around looking like a palestinian terrorist and no one will spare you a second glance. it is good to have an afghan scarf, like when hailing a cab at night.

'oh you're foreign. i thought you were panjshiri until i heard you talking now,' taxi driver says. but by that time we have already agreed the fare and no one is quoting me ridiculous inflated price in dollars. 'so what are you doing in afghanistan?'

i look at them a bit and then give an exaggerated 'i have no fucking idea, believe me' shrug and they laugh.

'anyway, you're speaking farsi well. where are you from?'

'actually i don't really understand farsi, i only just started with it. do you speak urdu?'

taxi drivers almost always understand urdu and then i can start explaining today's made-up story of where i'm from.

multi-lingual company is great. you can play silly linguistic games like chinese telephones, whereby someone says something to the next person in, say, persian, which the second person translates on into english, thence the third into urdu and so on, and thence into finnish... and so "these are indeed the tallest sunflowers i have ever seen in my life" becomes "fuck me what a big flower".



If you refuse a few times and they still insist you know they're serious and not just being polite


(*as opposed to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)

Published in Al-Emerah on Sun 1 July 2007

source/translation: AfghanWire Ltd.

The Islamic Emirate has always respected and respects human rights that match the Islamic policy, beliefs and charter/constitution of the Islamic Emirate. All the people of the world, and especially the people of Afghanistan, know that NATO and American forces have always ruthlessly bombarded with heavy bombs. The obvious examples are the recent events in Nangarhar, Shindand [Herat], in Maroof district of Kandahar and Sangin of Helmand where tens of civilians were martyred. As the aforementioned administration accuses the Taliban of [being responsible for] the civilian casualties, [we say that] this is not real and true. This questions the independence of the institution. We believe that the institution issues false reports in order to make its donors happy and access financial privileges.

Most military operations of the Taliban take place in mountainous areas, highways, military bases and government and foreign forces where there are no settlements. We call on the international organisations to prepare grounds for liberal and independent journalists to travel to the battlefield and areas of wars. The mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will do their best to maintain security for independent journalists so that the realities can be revealed to the people. The coalition forces prevent the travel of independent journalists to the battlefield in order to conceal their crimes.

If the Taliban were against their people and nation, then the nation would not support them so strongly [“wildly”]. The institution wants to divert the attention of the people from the crimes and cruelties of NATO and the American forces. The movement of the Taliban is a national movement which emerged from the people, so that it never gets pleased and satisfied. As the result of the indiscriminate bombardments of the invader forces, the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are respected more by the people as each day passes.


sorry for the absence and the lack of photos. hopefully something will be done about this soon.


Who is Mikey Camel? Part ad nauseum

Finally we have a photograph of this elusive and shady character...


Typing practice

I keep forgetting what the purpose of this realgem exercise was. While I try to remember, we here present some glib idiot observations for those unfamiliar with the environment in Kabul.

Languages - We have Afghan Persian or Dari, spoken in Kabul and throughout central, west and northern Afghanistan, and the language of literature, culture and government. We have Pashtu, the oldest surviving Indo-European language alongside, I believe, Lithuanian, and bloody difficult to learn, spoken throughout the tribal south and east. There are many minority languages, such as Pashai, spoken by the kuchi, who are nomadic gypsy goat and camel herding types, plus Uzbek and Turkmen, which are Turkic languages spoken in the north. English is not widely understood, and any given person on the street is just as likely or unlikely to speak Russian or German, a legacy of communist-era educational exchange policies - such as which ISAF / UN / the Coalition have incidentally absolutely failed to implement.

Urdu is relatively well-understood, as so many people have spent time as refugees in or have other connections to Pakistan. It is not, however, recommended to walk around starting conversations in Urdu and assuming people will understand, as to many people, Pakistan is the home of the Taliban, suicide bombers, dodgy counterfeit electronics, over-spiced food, and Pakistanis, ie. everything evil, essentially.

However, if you know any Urdu, you will be at a great advantage if attempting to learn Dari, as it is full of Urdu words. Or more accurately, Urdu is full of Persian words. Urdu is and always was a bastard mixture of different languages, including English, created in and for the army camps of the vast and disparate Mughal Empire and later the British Raj. I was watching Pervez Musharraf on al Jazeera the other day, addressing the nation in Urdu after the Lal Masjid incident. One fairly typical sentence went something along the lines of: "Pakistan ka population me to social divisiveness bahut increase kia, is liyee pressure develop hua..."

Salad - The salads in this country generally consist of three slices of cucumber, two slices of tomato, one slice of onion and a green chili artfully arranged next to a mountain of grilled meat and nan bread, for decoration. Gutt. Don't be a vegetarian here. People will think you're weird.

Alcohol - For all that this is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it is actually much easier to buy booze than in Pakistan, Iran, or even several states of India. Even a great many conservative, bearded, and apparently good Muslim patriarch types will often display a great fondness for Stolichnaya. For many people, alcohol is a status drug (like cocaine and yuppies in the 80s/early 90s), while hashish and opium are common and vulgar.

Burqas - The infamous blue all-enveloping things that in Pashtun areas are worn by pretty much all women in public and are not uncommon elsewhere as well. So how on earth do you check out girls in the street when you can't see them? Watch the locals carefully and take your cue from them - stare hungrily at their feet. Yes! It's amazing what you can learn to tell about women from their ankles and feet!

UN departments and NGOs - There are hundreds and hundreds of different NGOs getting in on the war reconstruction industry scam, and hundreds and hundreds of foreigners riding the UN gravy-train in hundreds of different UN departments. There is an absolutely bewildering array of different acronyms to master, and we aren't even beginning to consider the military here.

Examples: "Ok, I'll see you at UNIPLIP", "No no no, you're on the wrong side of town, I said UNIPLOP!", "Hi, I work for UNAPOG", "Were all the UNIPUTT people at the party?", "No, but most of the UNMOCRAP crowd were there".

Therefore I have decided to set up a FAKE U.N. BUREAU, or in UN bureaucracy-speak, to UNILATERALLY INSTITUTE A NEW U.N. DEVELOPMENT AGENCY!

No one will notice! They'll all fall for it! The working title for now will be UNANT (inspired by seeing an ant dragging a huge leaf get lost and start going in circles, hence United Nations Ant Navigation Training). I'll put a big white and blue UN sign outside, drive around in a big white SUV with UN painted in blue on the side, infiltrate the UN scene, and generate impenetrable reports and papers and incomprehensible protocols and institute committees that sit for years, until they have no choice but to legitimise my bureau.

Journalists - I have started to hate journalists and journalism with a vengeance. With a couple of exceptions, I grudgingly add. Fucking vultures, fucking futile, smug, self-congratulatory self-important wastes of space and oxygen. Do something fucking useful for a change. It's all one great big circle-jerk. It makes me hate myself and wish I'd done something genuinely useful with my life. It makes me want to join the US military, 'cause then I could waste press reporters and TV vehicles with a .50-cal from the comfort of a Black Hawk chopper and eat plastic-wrapped pre-fried vacuum-packed eggs for breakfast. That would be great. At least the first part.

Humvees - I just can't get around it, but I hate those damn things. There is something wrong with the whole aesthetic factor. To my eye they just scream at you to shoot them with an RPG.

The security situation in Kabul - I was at first disoriented by how very quiet it was in Kabul. Even in Peshawar and elsewhere in NWFP, there is a constant background crackle of happy-fire in the evenings. Here, total silence, except for one far-off and muted explosion a week or two ago, which was caused by a car-bomb that splattered two American 'security contractors' (ie. private-sector as opposed to public-sector grunts).

Most foreign media organisations and NGOs and particularly UN departments have strict security rules for their staff, including lists of security-approved restaurants, guest houses and venues. Consequently many ex-pats never see anything of Afghanistan beyond a few 'safe' streets through the tinted windows of an SUV and a few ex-pat restaurants and bars, and many journalists arrive and get their stories from secondary sources, with a quote or two from some authentic real locals that their fixers dig up for them.

Conversation among certain ex-pat circles in Kabul often revolves around the 'security situation', and how suicidally foolhardy it is for a foreigner like me to move around in local taxis, walk around at night, and especially to accompany Afghans to unknown locations and not let anyone know where I'm going. There is, after all, still a war going on in this country, and the number of attacks against foreigners both civilian and military have been steadily increasing the last couple of years.

However, any understanding of this should include, firstly, the knowledge that "Afghanistan situation spiralling out of control" is a headline and "Many Afghans actually like foreigners being here and think the Taliban are nutcases" is not, and secondly, that all the security consultants and officers of the various organisations have to justify their continuing over-blown salaries while avoiding being re-posted to Kandahar or somewhere even less hospitable.

The worst risk of violent death in most of central to north Afghanistan is probably being too near a US public or private-sector military convoy just when an IED or a flock of chickens flapping across the road startles the .50-cal machine-gunner, who then lays waste to everything in sight.


Long drive for someone with nothing to think about

Fun games to play to enliven long gruelling drives on Afghan roads

[again, hopefully to be added to]

Playing chicken with ISAF convoys

You're not allowed to pass ISAF convoys. They are authorised to shoot. If you get stuck behind tortuously slow heavy military transports plus escorts hogging the road, that's just too bad.

Of course, this provides opportunities for great entertainment. Come as close as you can to tailgating the rear vehicle. Weave left and right erratically. Attempt to accelerate past by driving up the bank by the side of the road, preferably on the right.

If you get a soldier leaning out of one of the vehicles and pointing a rifle at you, you get 10 points. If you get a warning shot, 25 points. If you get a badly-aimed burst of automatic fire that miraculously misses everyone in your vehicle, 50 points. If you end up severely injured, 100 points. If your passengers are wounded, you lose all your points. If you end up dead, you miss your next turn and all turns thereafter.

Stop for green tea and cigarettes, change drivers, catch up that convoy, and repeat.

Incidentally, it is not recommended to play this game with American ISAF convoys, as not only will you end up dead (which is your own affair, after all), but you will probably be responsible for massive loss of life as they call in airstrikes on every herd of goats, village, roadside kebab guy and Afghan police checkpoint within a mile radius.

Fun with minefields

Pull over by the side of the road by a minefield. These are often clearly marked using red-painted rocks (white paint means the area is de-mined and safe, blue means it's a former battlefield or potential minefield which hasn't been checked yet).

Take turns throwing great big heavy rocks or goats into the minefield until something goes bang. First one to set off an explosion obviously wins.


Sites of pilgrimage

Rouza Masjid, Mazar-i-Sharif: here lies hazrat Ali, first imam of the Shia. I always thought it was in Najaf or somewhere, in Iraq, but apparently they're just bluffing.

Mazar-i-Rabia Balkhi, Balkh: the tomb of Rabia Balkhi, 9th century princess-poetess of Balkh. She fell in love with a slave, and was either killed by her own brother due to the unacceptable royal-slave nature of the affair, or slashed her own wrists after the slave was sent away or killed by her family. She wrote her last verses in her own blood, supposedly on the walls of the room now beneath this tombstone. Over the centuries, her grave became a shrine for the prayers of young lovers beset by impossible circumstances... The caretaker, a gentle and ancient man, doesn't speak except to mumble obscure prayers... If you photograph him, he will assume a pious and prayerful expression...

Below a view of the mosque opposite the shrine and the old white-beard with the enigmatic smile who props it up...

Masjed-e-Nau-Gumbad, Balkh: nearby is also the Mosque of the Nine Domes, Afghanistan's oldest mosque (9th century), slowly crumbling next to a tranquil pool in the vicious dusty winds that often sweep the plain. Also the malung-ish caretaker.


Things you can do with wrecked armour

If you have had decades of conflict in your back yard and the whole place is a dreadful mess, despair not! Here we bring you some creative ideas for the use of war detritus for the discerning home-maker.

[this post will be updated with more and better pictures as they arrive, until I get completely bored at least]

Abandoned APCs can be used as roadside advertising billboards.

Tank tracks can be embedded in the road to make excellent speed bumps.

If you have a large number of trashed APCs, don't leave them lying around in a big mess; stack them neatly on top of each other in the river and build a petrol station on top of them.

The engine compartment of an old T-55 makes a marvellous place to plant a shrubbery.

Trashed upside-down tanks are also absolutely splendid for preventing avalanches and soil erosion.

Spent artillery shell casings are just the thing for sealing the ends of your roof beams to prevent rot; or why not go the whole way and line your whole roof with them?

They also make good traffic cones.


[approximate stream of consciousness:
-this is just like Peshawar! It feels so good to be back!
-whatthefuckwasthat?? This is a totally strange and alien country.
-oh the food the smells the feel in the air, this is just like coming home!
-whaat?? the hell is going on??
-oh this is great, just like how I remembered everything!
-what's that? where am I? someone explain??]

[the town is hard at work re-constructing itself... the most incredible scaffolding!]

"Az kojai? Uzbekistan?" [where you from? Uzbekistan?] some people keep insisting on asking.


So so so so so. Look too foreign to be Afghan, but not foreign enough to be American.

Incidentally, I am vaguely pleased at how Finland's international profile has improved in the last few years. It always used to be: "Pinnland? What? You mean England?" Now it's: "Finland? Good! Nokia is best phone!"

[Nokia with Persian characters and predictive texting in Urdu and Arabic...]

Magic plastic bag

At Heathrow they made me put my miniature travel-sized toothpaste tube in a clear plastic bag. Due to the security situation, you know? Liquid bomb plot and all that?

And a good thing that was, too. Because as it happens, I had concealed just enough plastic explosive in there so that, in combination with an empty brandy miniature to make a shaped charge with, it would have been just about enough to fracture one of the windows and cause explosive de-pressurisation.

But that damn plastic bag. I sat there all flight, just staring at my toothpaste - so near, and yet so unreachable!


"Estimate kin, those nearest whereof thou art sprung"

From: Grandad
To: Lazy
Re: gardening

Like you I think Iraq was a disaster for us, if only Tony Blair was not in dear Georges pocket, I should think he was after a plum job in America when he is no longer Prime Minister, or am I becoming cynical.

Akghanistan is different it is suppoesed to be a Nato operation, although it seems to be UK and Canada soldiers doing the fighting and dying. The Americans just Kill the odd Nato soldier and Afghan civilians by so called "friendly fire" I often think it is as dangerous having the Yanks around as the Taliban.

In Korea the much vaunted Gen. MacArthur left our regiment of about 600 men the "Glorious Glosters" [Gloucestershire Regiment] to hold a Chinese army of over 12000 while the American marines ran away-sorry made a strategic withdrawal. 350 Glosters were killed or captured when they ran out of food and amunition, abandoned by the American military and those who did escape did so because a British armoured column waited for them, without orders as the Americans were long gone.

If you do go to a fighting Zone, be as cautious regarding your safety if there are Yanks involved as of the "enemy"

The wisteria is out in the garden and the tulips and daffodils......
seven years to the day since arriving in London with a shoulderbag to stay for "I dunno, about two weeks?", a stranger walks out of an airport at midnight into the embrace of 100 degrees F air heavy and humid with the water of the Arabian sea and almost cries for sheer joy


i woke up from a strange dream. it was about 8pm, i was still sitting outside the bar holding a drink and the japanese girl had gone. the sun set blood red in the smoke.

other people.

i can't write about anything any more in case someone mistakes it for fact.

but i felt like writing about the essential rightness of the evening and the perfection of the door squeaking as it moved once with the breeze, later, when i was sitting alone staring at the sky.


you can't afford to lose it now, great things are at stake. spread disinformation. think. think. they're almost on to you.

i'm so paranoid i will call up and change the meeting place at the last moment, in case they've set something up... i mean, why choose that bar with the big fucking windows? who is watching through a 300mm lens? will they be wired?

jesus fuck.

someone tell me it's my own twisted psychopathology.
total radio silence


Afghanistan: Hashashin trailer

Brilliant. This is meant to be a trailer for a feature length film. The film-maker is called Emre Mirza, I think Turkish, and the name of the American who speaks Pashtu and passes for Afghan is John Cristopher Turner. The production is French, guessing by the sub-titles. Does anyone out there know anything more about this film? Send information, please.

(We have an update, with an anonymous comment seemingly originating from Bali, Indonesia, according to which Mr Mirza is a fraud and has no rights to this footage. Other sources also suggest that he cut and run from filming in Afghanistan, stealing a quantity of irreplacable footage which didn't belong to him.)


Bad craziness

once you get pink Ladas full of crazed armed adrenal-gland-chewing hashashin pilgrims to Mecca driving out of the walls at you with thick pot-smoke pouring out of all windows, vents and exhaust pipes, you know the bad craziness is only just beginning... at least it's still just pink, it could be a much more aggressive colour, and they're not shooting...


Choose pain

(messages and rants to people who will never read them, part #1)

Cossetted, over-priveleged, ungrateful fucking pussies and cowards, with your absurd sense of entitlement, your greedy fucking eyes, and all the wealth that you don't even recognise as such thrown at you by the welfare state. You act as if waking in minor opiate withdrawals is the closest thing to hell on earth.

Oh no. Human experience gets worse, so much worse. I'll spare myself from listing all the blood-chilling ways it could be worse. You could be waking up in a ruined bunker with your rifle frozen to your fingers, your toes going black, the supplies are cut off and you've had nothing but thin cold cabbage soup and a few coffee-beans to chew on for the last two weeks, and there are ten divisions of Russians with bayonets, flamethrowers and tanks somewhere out there in the -20 C blizzard, coming to disembowel you and burn you and squash you into the ice under their tank tracks.

And you'd still have something to be thankful for, then: a chance of survival. If that's something to be thankful for. You could be alone, bound spread-eagled to rocks, the desert sun scorching your skin and stabbing your defenceless eyes like spikes (their obsidian knives neatly removed your eye-lids), praying for some wild beast to find you and devour you and end it all now. But there is no life here, in the burned desert, and no one will find you. Your strength ebbs, and long before you become crazed enough to do it, you won't have the strength to smash your own head on the rocks to hasten your terrible passing...

As stated here previously - take hope, ye people! - there is a painless cure: death.

At least you have the luxury of the option.

Choose pain.


Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

Fortune, Empress of the World

O Fortuna,
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem;
dissolvit ut glaciem.

Sors immanis
et inanis,
rota tu volubilis,
status malus,
vana salus
semper dissolubilis,
et velata
mihi quoque niteris;
nunc per ludum
dorsum nudum
fero tui sceleris.

Sors salutis
et virtutis
mihi nunc contraria,
est affectus
et defectus
semper in angaria.
Hac in hora
sine mora
corde pulsum tangite;
quod per sortem
sternit fortem,
mecum omnes plangite
(Carl Orff, O Fortuna theme from Carmina Burana)


Is the spam getting genuinely sinister or am I losing my mind?

From: Ev escott
To: realgem-at-globaldomination-dot-uk
Subject: Would Sammael simply go elsewhere, find another land to master?

She was one of those people who can disguise themselves as an object in the room, a shadow in the comer, whose presence is a delicate happening.

Samael is, as you may or may not know, found referred to in the Heptameron, one of the strangest and most explicit late-medieval books of magic. I will not write anything more on this as anything I could say would merely scratch the surface of a bottomless abyss. When I read this book, the rosary I habitually wear around my neck snapped and fell off. Even as I write this entry, an invisible force knocks a toothbrush over into the sink.


Desultory conversation

["I love you all! I want to make all of you famous!"]
["yeah here's 20p go and phone someone who gives a fuck"]

The conversation has taken a sudden lurch towards the morbid. Jarringly, someone has asked: "Well, if you were to go, how would you like your body to be disposed of?"

Faces are heavy, silence around the table as people are thinking of something to say that would move things back towards lighter subjects. No bright ideas from anyone. Hm, pretty much like I expected. I don't want the conversation to die a grisly death and it's up to me now, so I venture: "Well, since you brought it up, I'd like to be cremated, I suppose..."

"WHAT?!? Do you think I'd fucking waste £2.50 on a bottle of white spirit just to burn your stinking corpse? That's two beers, you know..."

This is Mr Arofish (see sidebar link under Photography and Art), who once said to me: "Not everyone can afford a good death." I mis-quoted that on to people as "The best thing we can hope for from this life is a good death" and later realised I had actually developed a glib aphorism of my own.

Oh, but what the fuck? That nutcase is threatening to break his own nose for drunkenly blurting out some inadvertently filthy suggestion to the girl across the table. I slap him across the side of the head. "Ow! My ear!" He stomps on my foot, nearly breaking some toes.

"No fighting! No fight in here! Calm down now!" Sara is pleading, exasperated but amused, and others are looking semi-alarmed.

"But everyone knows your room is the fighting room, for the whole street," says Mr Arofish. "I mean, that's well established. You want to fight, you come to Sara's place to settle things. She adjudicates. Fair fights. No elbows. No weapons. Gum protectors. Masks. Rubber suits. Snorkels..."


"...and then when Sara is finally sexually satisfied... OH NO! I did it again! This time I'm really going to break my own nose. Don't try and stop me..."


We get drunker and drunker, people wander off to crash. No sleep for the wicked or withdrawing, respectively. We decide (after some feeble excuses from the artist that he doesn't have the right colour paint) to go and find a nice blank wall in the Docklands somewhere. I keep inebriated look-out for potential twin cop cars driving side-by-side, while the artist sets to work with spray-cans. He is harshly critical of his work afterwards, but considering the prevailing blood-alcohol levels, I truly can not fault anything:

I steal some cachaca from Paulette as she sleeps (don't tell, please) and after one more drink and a joint of high-grade Maroccan, I finally manage to lose consciousness on the nearest sofa.


What happened to Pakistan?

Here are two old adverts for Pakistan International Airways, the first from the 60s, the second from 1979. Found via

Oh, how the world has changed... in this case, largely because the USA and the ISI created their uncontrollabe Frankenstein weapon of international jihadi-ism to protect the "free world" from Soviet communism... or to bleed the Soviets a bit for their hand in humiliating the US in Vietnam...

Blowback, the people in the industry call it.

eerily premonitory image, in retrospect... and if you have a Sept 11 conspiracy theory: here's 20p, go and phone someone who gives a f--k.


Out on the night

"...write immediately, while the memory is still fresh, for it will not be the same a week afterwards..."

Early April. It is the "Reclaim the Future" party. The old showroom for black London cabs on Holloway Rd just off Highbury Corner has been taken over and turned into an immense party venue. There's a stage for bands, a few different-sized rooms with decks and DJs, there is a cinema room furnished with armchairs upstairs, and the glass-fronted showroom part has been turned into a lounge with a bar. A further labyrinth of corridors and glass-fronted offices offer spill-over space for little drug-taking circles to form. Happy chaos.

I run into an old friend who immediately offers me a line of ketamine (+ketamine video on Against my better judgement, I accept.

The second-to-last time I took K, I could see microwaves... My mobile phone rang a moment after I saw the microwave beam establish the connection... As soon as I touched the phone, I was one with the electronic nervous system of London, my own neurochemical system melding with the network of optical cables; I am ten thousand electronic eyes watching the streets through cameras... I answered the telephone and said: "I can see you... through the train windows.... I can see you through the CCTV through the train window, you're at Euston..."

The last time, again the phone rang. I picked it up. It was God on the line. He told me not to do K.

But I couldn't refuse. So shortly afterwards I was stumbling through the chaos of the party with a taste of vomit in my mouth. I felt bad. I wanted to go home and lie down. I stumbled around looking for the exit, miserably lost in the party, snatches of overheard conversation lancing my suppurating mind...

" mate, he's a shop-lifter, yeah? So when he goes in to the JobCentre to sign on and they ask him what his occupation is, he says 'hunter-gatherer'. Hunter-gatherer, hahahaa!"

If someone tells a joke in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, is it funny?

"...I'm off then, gonna go home and bang up some speed and masturbate all night to porn vids.... both hands.... remote control in my mouth, like this: glglgrrrllmm..."

Finally I find my way outside and head for the exit gate. Very slowly, I become aware there is a mob of people twenty to thirty deep pressed against the fence with the gate in it. Some of them are throwing bottles or pieces of brick over the fence. Beyond the fence stands a line of riot police in full robo-cop gear. I gape: they seem to have blocked off the whole of Holloway Rd, just because of our little party...

For a moment it feels like a riot is about to explode. Some sort of negotiation is going on: the police back off, still sealing the area, and the music is turned down.

People wander around the suddenly very quiet party, wondering what to do next. One by one, people wander off up the road, the more suspicious-looking ones being frisked as they pass the line of police. We watch them in the street outside through the huge show-room windows, it looks like hundreds of them, go outside to shout friendly abuse at them from behind the fence and blow weed smoke in their faces. Several times, it seems like they are gearing up to storm the party or something and everything goes tense, but eventually they get bored and leave..

For a while, some people gather around the stage to watch three rastas skinning up behind a big speaker hopefully. Towards dawn, when the crowd has thinned yet more, some music comes back on.

Now, the old party circles... the easily-alarmed ones.... complain later about how the cops fucked up their party. But it was perfect! Usually, where everyone is wrapped in their own video reality, drugged-out and dancing to music, you don't get the opportunity for many intelligent conversations. But now, there was enough music for those who wanted to dance, and groups of people congregating to talk, talk properly without having to shout over the music.

"I think you should be shot," says the blue-haired Samoan girl disapprovingly, after thinking about it for a moment. (I had just sat down and loudly introduced myself to everyone and she had just asked me what I'm into. I gave my glib stock response of "guerilla warfare and heroin", and asked her what she thought of that.)

"I think I should be shot, too," I say. "On a daily basis. I think it might fill this gaping void in my life..."

[redacted] until afternoon the next day.... There are bands and great DJs, there are girls and glittering conversation, there are joints going around,
graffiti artists and little gangsters, the bar is free for me until I get embarrassed at their generosity and start paying... and there is even a heroin-using bearded Catholic who is meaning to take Holy Orders who sells Afghan hashish... tonight, once the K wears off, I'm a star and so is everybody else....

I need no wakey-uppey drugs to keep me going through the night, but the residual withdrawal symptoms are wearing on me... I lurch abruptly out, into the warmest spring day yet, after leaving my new beautiful people my phone number and address and invitation to come and chill out later... [redacted]

 and i have the pictures...

and i'm not the only one...