Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Grandmother

Annie Webster was the first live child born into a poor working family in St. Helens, Lancashire in 1914.  Her father was conscripted and spent the war years in the trenches.

In 1928, the death of her mother brought Annie’s education to an abrupt end, as she became the primary caretaker for her father’s household – a two-up two down with a coal fire,  gas lighting and no indoor plumbing, shared by Annie, her two sisters and her baby brother. 

The Second World War (to end all wars) opened up factory jobs for women -- as well as requiring the participation of the family breadwinner in the hostilities -- and so Annie was put to work.   Working, Annie met a boy, they became close; she became pregnant.  She did not explain her condition to the young man, but she explored the possibility of his being willing to give up his heathen Methodism and return to the true Catholic faith, but he was not willing to consider it.  So they separated.

Annie hid the pregnancy.  She wore tight bindings under loose clothes.  She was petrified of her father (who was a gambler and a drinker, and sometimes violent) so she told no-one what was going on.

She gave birth to her only child, my mother, alone, in the tiny back bedroom she shared with her three siblings.  When Catherine came into the room, and saw Annie with my mother at the breast, she became the second person alive to know that Annie was ever pregnant.  That my mother survived to later give birth to five healthy  sons, after such a pregnancy, is astounding.

When grandfather came back from the second world war, he was not an easy person to live with.  Margaret, and Catherine and Sam all married and moved out.  Annie stayed to look after father, and her daughter, Marie, whom her grandfather would frequently refer to as ‘the bastard”.  Annie went to early mass every day, as she did for her whole life, and she and her only child became very close.  There was never another man in her life.

Annie went back to work in the factory.  For thirty years she slaved away, doing the same job as the men, and getting paid half as much.  At the end of thirty years, an imitation gold watch, no pension, thank-you, goodbye.

She was still living in that two up two-down.  Electricity had been installed in the sixties, and there was hot water in the tiny little kitchen that had been added at the back.  The toilet remained outside, at the end of the yard, for as long as my grandmother lived, there was no bath, or shower.

I remember my Grandmother and her sister Margaret (Auntie Meg) coming to babysit for the ever growing tribe of little Rigby boys, every Monday night.  Mom and Dad were both keen on singing, they had choir practice (which eventually included all five of us) and amateur performance of musicals and light opera which usually included me.

Mother taught me how to make a pot of tea, and I remember competing with my brothers to see who could provide the most correctly brewed beverage.  Annie was a lovely person.  I remember her as being very kind, and how anybody I met in her company was always very nice to me. 

She was an excellent cook, and could produce the most delicious pies and pastries in her tiny ill-equipped kitchen.

After she retired, she would spend all day at our house on Mondays – helping mother with the laundry.  She taught us how to iron our shirts, and press our pants.  She let us know when things were different from what she was used to, and she supported all kinds of traditions that were disappearing from the world.

The last time I saw her was in 1980, and she looked absolutely radiant.  She was all dressed up for my younger brother’s wedding.  She had rented a fine white hat, and gloves.  She was clearly very happy to be on her way to a huge wedding with 400 guests.  She was immensely proud of her grandsons. I kissed her, and said, “see you in church”.

On the way to the ceremony, she became so ill, my dad had the limo go by the hospital emergency room.  She was clearly in great distress, but what do you do, you can’t miss your son’s wedding.

In the church, the ceremony was underway, after a delayed start, and the groom’s parents were not present.  Father was due to give a reading.  He went straight from the door of the church to the altar, didn’t even stop at the pew.  Mother sat down in front of me, and Grandma was nowhere to be seen.

We found out later that Grandma died during the service.  Her only daughter Marie, knowing this, but not allowed to speak of it, sat at the high table, in front of 400 jovial wedding guests.  We were told she was not feeling well, and she was being taken care of at the hospital.  When the guests were leaving, father told us what had really happened.

I was living in Texas at the time.  I stayed in England an extra week to help with the funeral, and one of the things I did was to call a house clearance company.  They agree to completely empty the house, and they will pay cash for anything of value.  My grandmother’s assets, after a lifetime of work, amounted to 30 pounds sterling.  In 1980 that would have paid for a halfway decent meal and a cheap bottle of wine.









Sunday, January 5, 2014

Two Days in Nineteen Ninety Eight.

I have been a hunger activist since 1980. From street level volunteer work to the corridors of power, where policy is determined in Washington DC.

I have also lived and worked among the homeless in various places in England and Australia, and in Los Angeles, CA and Washington DC in the United States.

For the period 1986- 1989 I was Legislative Director of RESULTS. In this capacity I was responsible for the creation of a microcredit program at the US Agency for International Development, and for establishing a relationship between RESULTS and microcredit that continues to expand, to the benefit of the poor and disadvantaged all over the world.

My boss at the time, and the other full-time staff member, was Sam Daley Harris, founder and Executive Director of RESULTS. Currently, Sam is CEO of the Center for Citizens Empowerment and Transformation.

During the early part of the campaign to get the Congress to earmark funds for microcredit, (then called micro-enterprise), I was ably assisted by RESULTS group leader and intern from Cornell University, Alexander M. Counts, currently President of the Grameen Foundation.

Congressman Ed Feighan of Ohio agreed to introduce the legislation. The staff person, serving as Legislative Director, and Chief of Staff for Rep. Feighan, was the very capable Mr.George Stephanopoulos, currently anchor of ABC's Good Morning America.

The two senior technical advisers were Dr. John Hatch, founder and managing director of FINCA (now retired). FINCA is one of the largest and most successful microcredit institutions in the world, with lending operations all over central and south America, as well as eastern Europe and Africa.

And Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2006, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

It is my view that the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh is the most successful human endeavor in existence. This was my view in 1985 when I first came across micro enterprise, and lobbied in the RESULTS management committee for the inclusion of Grameen Bank as an institution RESULTS should specifically support.

It was view in 1987 when, at my insistence, micro enterprise became the sole focus for the first RESULTS engendered legislation, which it was to be my job, as Legislative Director, to shepherd through the congressional maze.

It remains my view. The source institution is targeted for destruction by the government of Bangladesh (as of today, July 8, 2014) and may well disappear as a result, but the enormous influence that single institution has brought to bear on economic development in favor of the poorest and most disadvantaged will probably endure for centuries.

This is now supported by the fact of close to 100 million of the world's poorest families who currently enjoy a sustainable escape from poverty through the workings of micro-credit.

And the sustained drop in birth-rates that micro-credit is certainly a factor in creating in Bangladesh is very significant -- demonstrating conclusively that the most efficient path to a stable population is to focus on improving the conditions of the poorest women.

There are many other profound, and significant external benefits to micro-credit, but I have written of this elsewhere and that is not my purpose in this journal.

This story of two days in 1988 is singular, and of interest principally to the millions who were facing starvation at the time. But for those few million people it is a very significant story, and I place it here for the public record.

As best as I can remember, this is what happened over the course of two days in 1988.

***

In January or February of that year, Sam Harris and I had a meeting with Mr. Kelly Kammerer, who was the most senior AID official at that time in Washington, DC.

Mr. Kammerer had requested the meeting to discuss the possibility of a search for common ground. The Agency had found itself on the opposite side of many of our recent campaigns, most particularly micro-credit, and wanted to see if there were some issues on which we could work together.

This meeting had been scheduled six weeks earlier, at about the time the passage of the continuing resolution sealed our victory in the initial micro-credit campaign.

The day before the meeting Sam handed me a letter as I arrived at the office at about 9:30 in the morning. The letter was from a RESULTS volunteer in Leeds, England. On the first page, the word famine had been underlined in red.

In the UK there was a rumor of an impending famine in Ethiopia.

(Less than three years earlier one million Ethiopians died as a result of famine, although aid efforts had prevented starvation for some seven million others before it was over. This event, which some remember as the "Live Aid" famine because of the concert organized by Irish musicians Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure, which resulted in a massive, though belated, aid effort.)

Sam asked me to call the aid organizations and see if I could find out what was happening.

I called CARE, Save the Children, and Catholic Relief Services and the USAID Ethiopia Desk among others. I was told that there might be isolated pockets of famine, but nothing like three years ago, nothing like that.

I kept gathering information, because nobody I talked to actually seemed really sure what was happening. Eventually I was referred to Mr. Pierre-Michel whom, I think, was responsible for the United Nations Development Program for that part of of Africa.

I called the number I had been given for this genteman at UN Headquarters in New York, and I identified myself to the secretary as Michael Rigby, calling from RESULTS in Washington DC. I was surprised to be put through immediately, although I think it is fair to say that due to previous and successful campaigns on behalf of UNICEF and IFAD, RESULTS had a good reputation at the UN.

Pierre-Michel explained the situation, and I report the content of our conversation as accurately as I can recall.

MJR -- I am hearing rumors of an impending famine situation in Ethiopia, and I am told that you are the most knowledgeable person on that matter.

PM -- There are three harvests every year in Ethiopia, the first two failed completely, the third is now lying dead on the ground. Even if it rains tomorrow there is no food for millions of people. We are looking at a situation every bit as bad as 1985. We need to ship a million tons of food, and we cannot do ANYTHING (emphasis in original) because we have not had an official request for aid from the Mengistu government in Ethiopia.

MJR -- I will see what we can do.

Mengistu was deliberately starving millions of Eritreans and Tigreans, and would not request aid, even though these people were Ethiopians, according to Mengistu. This was not the first time famine had been used as a weapon, and it probably wasn't the last, it has been my experience that the real world is often nastier than most people believe possible. Mengistu was holding the capitol of the colonial territory that had been shaped by the Europeans for the specific purpose of corralling long time adversaries in the divide and conquer strategy favored by colonial powers since the time of Alexander.

Mengistu, from the minority tribe, held sway over the others with the secret police, combined with massive brutality formula, much favored by cold war client states. Mengistu stands out though, even in that crowd, for his diversion of aid funds to military equipment, purchased to enforce his reign of terror. For his use of aid convoys as cover for moving his troops, during a massive and life threatening famine. And just for sheer brutality.

Ethiopia switched sides during the cold war, and in 1988, it was a US client state.

I reported the results of my survey to Sam Harris and he said I should call Joan Mower at Reuters and Andy Holmes at Cox Newspapers. I gave both of these reporters the relevant phone numbers and the situation as described above. Then I went back to doing my usual work for about forty-five minutes, at which point Sam suggested I call Andy and Joan again.

I reached Joan first. I asked if she thought she might be able to use the story I had given her and she said "its already on the wire" and "thanks, good story", and then I had an almost identical conversation with Andy.

Sam suggested I call the aid agencies back again. They all reported that they were gearing up for a major effort. Amazing what the attention of a couple of reporters can do.

So I called Pierre-Michel at the United Nations, and asked him how much grain he wanted from the United States. He said it didn't work like that, because it was a donation, the donor countries decided how much they want to give. So I said "in previous famine situations, what proportion of the total has come from the United States", and he said "about a third" and I said "three hundred and fifty thousand tons," and he said "about that, yes".

I reported this conversation to Sam Harris. And later I went home to my wife and baby.

That night Sam called all of the regional co-ordinators, who called all the group leaders, who called all the partners, and the next day more than two hundred and fifty people spread across thirty-five cities and twenty six states scoured the newspapers looking for reports on a famine in Ethiopia. If they found one, they cut it out, and photocopied then faxed (with the masthead and the date) to the RESULTS office. Faxes poured in all morning, and when we left for our 11:30 am meeting with Kelley Kammerer I was carrying nine.

***

In addition to Kelly, and Sam, and myself, at the meeting there were three gentlemen from "The White House" who thought that it would be in our interests to get a hands-on understanding of the Agency for International Development, and they were prepared to fly us to any project we wanted to see, and as many projects as we wanted to see, anywhere in the world, at their expense, for twelve months.

Sam said we didn't need to fly anywhere, and we were quite prepared to cover our own expenses for research, if they would only point out to us which of their programs benefited the very poorest people, we would be happy to make them famous. They replied that there were no programs which benefited the very poorest, they preferred to target assistance a few rungs up, so that the benefits trickle down to those at the bottom. "In that case", said Sam, "we have nothing further to talk about".

At that point the White House contingent left, and, into the highly charged silence that followed their departure, I interjected, "Kelly, have you heard anything about a possible famine situation in Ethiopia?" He said, "I think there was something in this morning's clippings" and undoubtedly glad to change the subject, he checked his whole file while I laid my nine on the square glass coffee table in front of me.

It wasn't a big table and so the photocopied newspaper clippings completely covered it, and were bending at the edges.

Kelly pulled out two sheets from his file of about twenty or thirty photocopies.

I looked right in his eyes and I said. "Kelly, how long will it take to ship three hundred and fifty thousand tons of grain to Addis Ababa?". 

He said that the Agency's emergency allocation was good for something like thirty-nine thousand tons, and three hundred and fifty thousand also exceeded some other threshold, so that it would require primary legislation, for which you would have to arrange a special session of this committee and that committee and a whole bunch of other committees and then you get the President to sign it and then you can get three hundred thousand tons.

As he spoke, and named the committees we'd have to bring together, I ran through a best case scenario in my mind. If we really pushed, we could make a big enough deal out of this situation that the various committees would rapidly find a quorum, and still it was going to take months. So when he had finished speaking I responded "So, August" , this being a date several months from when this conversation was taking place.

He seemed a little surprised, 'cos I think he knew that if we really pushed it we could make all that happen by August. I certainly believed we could have done so, and I am also sure we would have done so had that proved necessary. Kelly said, "Yes, that might be possible by August."

"Kelly", I said, with some considerable feeling, "Tens of thousands of people will be dead by then."

He said that he would bring the matter up at the daily briefing of the Agency Administrator, Mr. Alan Bond.

Now I reckon Kelly is looking at me, like I'm someone from the crew that has just turned down the bribe (free travel, anywhere for a year all-expenses paid) and I am offering him peace and quiet in return for a few hundred million dollars worth of food aid.

And he knows that on day one of this campaign, at eleven thirty in the morning, we have press in eleven (my nine and Kelly's two) newspapers. This situation is as new for Kelly today, as it had been for me the day before. He knows that we are only just getting started, and he knows that we overcame the administration's opposition in the recent micro-credit, IFAD and UNICEF campaigns. He has some idea about what we can do with that much press, although I think we still surprised a lot of folks with the passion with which we took on the issues we cared about.

I think that the swift response of the RESULTS volunteers had helped make it clear to Mr. Kammerer that we were very serious about this matter. As for the amazing coincidence of this meeting having been scheduled six weeks earlier - who can say? A cubic centimeter of chance, perhaps.

I don't know what Kelly Kammerer said to Alan Bond but I think its likely he recommended a significant response.

***

Over the course of the next few days we sent out at least twenty six newspaper clippings in daily mailings to a whole bunch of Congressmen - all the members of the relevant committees, all the members whose districts were covered by whatever particular newspaper printed the item (and once you got on our list you got all of them, whether they were in your district or not). A whole bunch of AID people, committee staff, aid agencies, and people at the UN. We had volunteers calling the Congressional Aides, we had letters to the editor published all over, and we got them on the desks in the Congressional offices on a far shorter lead time than anyone else in Washington.  No clipping service could match what was going on at RESULTS, because we had at that time, a couple of hundred unpaid volunteers that actually cared.  Such a thing cannot be bought (as demonstrated above, lol).

To make stuff happen, in Washington at that time we had a couple of cheap IBM clone computers (and sufficient expertise on hand to make them productive) and we had Sharon Mason - our secret weapon of a secretary, originally a volunteer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. And we had me & Sam.

And across the US in Los Angeles, we had Dorsey Lawson - a little old lady from Pasadena whose half-time staff position is largely responsible for the fact that RESULTS has such a strong presence in California.

We were the kind of organization where the Executive Director, and the Legislative Director regularly spent Friday evenings standing at the counter in the photocopy store, folding letters and stuffing them into envelopes.

***

Within a few days Alan Bond was in Addis Abbaba where he announced an immediate shipment of ninety thousand tons.

The rest of the world, (prodded by [among others], RESULTS partners in England, and Canada, and Germany and Australia as well as the larger United States organization.), quickly emulated the United States, (whose subsequent further contributions brought them close to three hundred thousand tons by the time it was all over) and almost all one million tons were committed in about two months.

Not all of the aid got to where it was most needed, and probably ten thousand people did die as a result of famine that year, but that's a lot less than a million. And that's got to be a good thing.

Dreadful conditions, and frequent outbreaks of violence continue to make parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia very difficult places to live. But for a few months, many of the people who do the right thing were calling the shots, and so it allowed some of humanity's brighter lights to shine for a while. And that's a good thing too.

I offer the above story which can be checked by interviewing any of the people named above, should there be any question about my character.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Washington, DC 1989


The $50 million micro-enterprise earmark established by the US Congress came with a requirement that the agency for international development (USAID) was to report annually to Congress on their progress in expanding the availability of micro-finance.

In their first report, the agency stated that $58 million had been allocated for micro-credit development with programs in place in dozens of countries. We were skeptical. The agency had been very reluctant to accept a congressional mandate for what we believed to be a new program; that they would have overspent in the first year did not seem credible. We needed to find out exactly what was included in that fifty eight million, and so we hired a specialist, with central American experience, to go and look at the programs on the ground, and report back on what exactly the agency was calling micro-credit.

It was essential that we obtain the list of projects that the agency had included in their calculations.

Danielle was able to discover the identity of the person tasked with assembling that list. When this person was let go by the agency, he took with him a copy of the database – which had been assembled on an already obsolete Amstrad computer, presumably to hinder our access to the data in the event of a successful FOI petition. FOI can easily take two years – we had weeks, not months, to get that project list.

Danielle Y is a very skilled and dedicated individual. She has remarkable courage, and a razor sharp intelligence. In addition, she was also traffic stopping beautiful. I hired her before I met her. We did telephone interviews, and so I can honestly say I was astonished when this ravishing beauty walked into my office, ready to undertake a mission that would involve investigative reporting, writing and traveling, by herself, through some pretty dangerous country.

Well Mr. X, formerly of USAID was also very taken with Ms. Y, and knew she needed what was on that disk in his possession. He showed up in my office one morning about eleven o clock. I think he’d already had a drink.
He handed me a five and quarter inch floppy disk, and said, “It’s an Amstrad disk. If you can read it, you can have the data on Africa, as a good faith gesture.” I took the disk from him as I sat down at one of the office PC’s. I knew already that I wouldn’t be able to read the disk, so my feigned exasperation was a theater to distract, while under his nose I made a replica, an exact copy. Bit by bit by Byte the dos diskcopy command meticulously duplicates exactly the 10110 etc., ad infinitum. If the original is unreadable by that dos computer program, then the copy is equally so. But when returned to a computer that can read the program on the original disk, the replica will work just the same. Some tidbit of knowledge I had gathered one day when flicking through a text on computing. After a few minutes of recreating my high-school acting career, I handed back the disk saying I couldn't read it.

Thus an hour later, when Danielle came into my office, having escorted Mr. X to the door after their private meeting, she said, almost in tears “We had it in our hands!” I produced the copy with a little flourish. “Yes, and now we have a copy of it in our hands. Take this to Debbie P’s house. She has an Amstrad computer. Get your self a printout and start planning your trip.”

Danielle’s report was sufficient to stir the Congress into mandating an advisory committee, and our credibility was such that we were able to have a great deal of influence in who was on that committee, and thus further our goal of microfinance for the very poorest women, and not that other stuff the agency was into in central America under President Reagan.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Invasion


I have opened the front door about 10,000 times in my life. For at least half those times, the door wasn’t even locked in the first place. Thursday night I had an experience that has forever changed my relationship to the front door.

Just after dark, about 9:30 PM. Two guys in masks, the first one put a knife in my face, and pushed me backwards. He shouted “This is real!” I think, is this a swat team, but there aren’t enough of them, the uniforms are wrong. Way too many tattoos, and that knife is not what the cops usually use. Reset – This is about drugs. I remember thinking I could die in the next few minutes if I am not careful. “Lie down” I get down fast.

Knifeboy says roll over, and the second, bigger guy shows me a black baseball bat. Knifeboy ties my hands with zipties. He has done this before - the first one loose, so the second one can loop through, then he pulls the second one very tight while telling me that I am not the one they have come for. At this point I think there is a reasonable chance I am going to survive this encounter.

“Where is the money and the pot?.” My housemates have a few grams of pot, and when knifeboy discovers I am alone in the house he tells me to get up and show them where the pot is hidden. I give up the stash under the bed, and then knifeboy asks me where the money is. I tell them I don’t know (the rent is due the next morning and I have all of it in my wallet, but they aint going to get that).

“Where is the money” he says again. That knife was carbon steel. At least a six inch blade, and it was sharp, so sharp I didn’t register I was cut for a few minutes, even though later I could recall the experience very clearly. The blade went into my bicep about 11/2 inches deep. I think it could have gone a lot deeper without very much effort. I told him I didn't know where the money was -- maybe he figured I was hiding something.

The brightly painted thugs both left immediately after knifeboy drew blood, making no search, but apparently grabbing a laptop on the way out.

As soon as the door closed I got up, and went to find some scissors to cut myself loose. Fortunately I had been unpacking all day (I just moved in) so there was a sharp pair of scissors very handy. I cut myself loose (they had tied my hands in front) and then I noticed I was bleeding quite a lot so I tied a towel round my arm.

Pretty tight, I hadn’t actually seen the wound at this point and I tied it off a bit low. But that was good, cos it did stop the bleeding, and when my friends arrived a few minutes later, I got help putting some tea tree oil on the cut, and a big bandaid. I started bleeding again, so I put the towel back on.

I was up for walking to the hospital and making up a story, but my friends wanted to call the cops, so I sat down and waited. The cops were there in less than five minutes.

One of the cops talked to me until the ambulance guys showed up, and then backed right off until after the medics had finished with me. I guess that is the protocol, cops don't interfere with the medics. My brother was an ambulance guy, the medic with the authority to administer drugs -- he does dispatch now, but that’s another story. The medics were really professional, and very pleasant people. I think they respected my declining the pain killer. (The cat scan guy was pleased with the quality of the needlework these guys did – still working fine several hours after I stepped out of the ambulance.) My blood sugar was 95 – (damn good) and I forget the numbers, but the blood pressure she said was “perfect”. Gotta love that yoga.


In the hospital the senior doctor says they have to do a cat scan to make sure the vein wasn’t punctured (god knows what that’s going to cost me – I shudda said, Doc, there's no bleeding, and there hasn't been any bleeding for a couple of hours. That knife was very sharp, I think he had sharpenend it as part of his preparations for the event, so the blade was reasonably clean, and the cut was very straight. I heal very quickly due to years of practicing meditation and yoga. Why don't you just put me in the corridor for a few hours, and if there's still no bleeding, clean the wound and sew me up. I cannot afford a cat scan. But there's no paycheck for shoudda.)

I reckon knifeboy just knicked the vein. I practice vipassana meditation, and soon after I put the towel on my arm I was working on healing the cut. People who know me can attest to the fact of my rapid healing. It’s not magic – it’s applied science and technique developed over years of practice. The stuff works if you do the work. Despite my many faults, I somehow manage to do the practice. May my teachers be blessed with great happiness.

I had a nice chat with Doctor Susan, she was impressed with my pain tolerance so I told her about when I hitch hiked home from the hospital with thirty six stitches where it really hurts. She said she was half way through a four year residency – I said WOW, I bet you have seen some serious bullshit in here in that time. “Never a dull moment”.

After the scan the doctor got an expert to view the slides, I guess that means it was too close for her to call. So the cat scan turned out to be even more expensive, and even less useful than if it had conclusively ruled out (or affirmed) vein damage requiring surgery.

The Doc said I was in pretty good shape for someone with my condition. I told her I did yoga every day and rode a bicycle. I didn’t give her my usual medical cannabis talk, cos there were all these cops hanging around, and I didn’t say anything to the cops about the weed in the house (although they clearly knew).

The cops didn’t ask me about weed, in fact they didn’t ask me about much of anything, just my name and DOB over and over, and they asked me to describe knifeboy and batbuddy over and over. Could I pick ‘em out of a lineup – no chance. Interview over – name, DOB, address, phone number, I am Detective so and so, nobody left me a card. I don’t know who they all were.

The cops asked for my shirt - one of my nice yellow ones, although I don’t think my laundry detergent could have made it wearable again. So now they have my fingerprints, DNA and blood. And a bunch of photographs. The police photographer took about six full face shots and one shot of my stab wound. I mean – no attempt to be subtle – the cops now have a fat file on me. Four cops interviewed me, so that’s four reports right there. I am certain I have not heard the last of this. Maybe I need a lawyer.

Home invasion is the official name for this class of crime. And I reckon these dudes were not virgins. Lousy actors – tried to pin the blame on some other dude – kept claiming to have been sent by this dude. Thing is I know the dude, and there’s no way. Nah! somebody else put these guys up to it, or they were working for themselves, and they wanted to send the cops running after the wrong dude – payback for something else I reckon. Either that or my first reaction was right. These guys were cops and the whole point was to gather intelligence.

If knifeboy hadn’t cut me, there would have been no cops, therefore knifeboy or his employer wanted to bring the cops down on somebody. Everybody else, possibly including me, is just collateral damage.

Welcome to Baltimore.

Dr Susan, Nurse Joy Lee and Evan the nursing assistant were all busy dealing tactfully and skilfully with the very sick, the badly damaged, and some dude who smashed himself up in a car. (I think he might have been drunk.) He got loads of visitors. And his arrival caused my bed to be wheeled out to the nurses station.

I was out in the nurses station for most of the time – maybe four hours, quite a while, anyway, so I got an overview of what was happening in the emergency room all night.

Doctor Susan was very thorough with the wound cleaning. In fact she did it twice, cos the first time she had to stop and go deal with some serious stuff. By about four thirty am all the bays were full – they couldn’t send any more patients - so the Doc finally had time to sew me back together – she did internal and external stitches. I lost count, but it was double digits. I could tell she had lots of practice. My first stab wound ever.

Pain is getting less. I'll be back doing yoga on Sunday. And I am putting a serious chain on that front door.

Birthdays

A surprising number of my friends share my birth-date of April second, although I have yet to meet my time-twin.

My brother, Raymond, was born on my birthday in 1960.

Best birthday present ever.

Another birthday

Alas. I am parted from my golden wonder child.

At nine years old her tiny energetic frame was crowned by tumbling golden locks that brought elderly ladies gushing to watch and touch.

Even her stunningly beautiful smart and sensible older sister, was cast in shadow by that brilliant light.

From since she was three years old we have been together on her birthday just once.
It was 1997. We were in Tenby, on the south-western tip of Welsh Wales, and it was Tenby Day (August 17, the day before my little girl's ninth birthday). The festivities included marching bands, and choirs, and jugglers, and wing-walkers and colorful costumes and people on stilts and parades and we all told C. that this had been laid on just for her birthday.

She almost believed it.

That night there were fireworks on the pier, and right outside our fifth floor apartment there was an eleven piece soul combo that started rockin' the place about 10:00 PM.

The four kids (7, 9, 11 & 12 yrs old) watched from the window while I served gin and tonic to elderly relatives who were recovering from five fights of stairs).

Shortly before midnight elderly relatives tottered down the stairs, and I stood on the steps in front of the house, until the rear lights of the taxi disappeared up the winding lane.

In front of me was a crowd of several hundred people. Lots of them were dancing.

I bounded up the stairs. “RIGHT KIDS LET'S PARTY!!!!” I bellowed.

“Daddy, It's Midnight!” said 12, sensible and smart. 11 Looked thoughtful, going out at midnight was kind of cool. 7 remained asleep. C jumped up ready to go.

Three of us went all the way down to the steps, at which point 11, seeing the huge crowd, and the noise, decided that she had made it outside, and that was triumph enough to share with _ when she got back to London.

C dances pretty good. (And I'm a goddam legend). So we worked our way right in front of the stage.

It was like a scene out Bollywood. The three guys on saxophones were copying her dance.  
The band was gigging on my kid, and the whole crowd around us was gigging on my kid.

I was dancing and laughing and crying all at the same time.

And right at that moment, my little brother, Raymond, was sitting in his car in a desolate parking lot, with a hose pipe running from the exhaust in through to the cab. The window was sealed with duct tape.

We didn't share any more birthdays.

An event without consequence

One afternoon, when I was about fourteen years old, I left the family gathering in the kitchen and walked through the dining room, down the corridor and round the corner to the sitting room where I picked up the phone book and looked up the number for the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I knew this organization existed because five years earlier I had passed their office on my way to the swimming pool every Friday morning for a year. I had often thought that the people there would be able to tell me if the situation in my family was sufficiently out of the ordinary to qualify as cruelty. I had tried to talk about it with friends, but nobody would listen.

I dialed the number and described the scene in the kitchen. The woman at the other end of the phone asked me a series of questions. I think she was reading from a script. I answered the questions truthfully for a minute, maybe two, but I was anxious to get off the phone and she encouraged me to hang up when I said I was worried about being discovered.


The telephone company, as part of their regular billing process, provided my father with the date and time of the call, and from there he was able to deduce that the culprit was either myself, or my younger brother Colin, who was thirteen at the time, but as he was writhing on the floor, doing his best to limit the damage from the severe kicking he was getting, he wasn’t actually able to make that call himself. Raymond, another possible culprit, even though at only eleven years of age, such a calculated act of defiance would seem to be quite extreme, was trapped by furniture and unable to avoid witnessing the accustomed horror.

Had my father asked, I would have told him it was me. But I think he felt justified in hating all three of us, for, after all, it was our “bad behavior” that had brought these embarrassing and infuriating do-gooders to plague his life. I am sure he never considered the possibility that he might have been in the wrong. When they finally let go of him, after two years, during which time he had to refrain from some of the usual violence in the home as he was being “investigated”, he had a lot more pent up anger than just one of us could absorb.

He tossed all three of us out of school at the earliest possibility. In the case of my younger brothers, this was at age sixteen. I was seventeen, and half way through two years of college prep.

I was grounded for something or other, probably coming home late which I did a lot – eleven instead of ten-thirty kind of stuff, but my old man thought he could change any behavior with the right kind of punishment so I was under some kind of household arrest for an extended period, and on Sunday night I was home alone with my baby brother Geoff asleep upstairs after my parents went to the local pub for their weekly gathering with various relatives. My brother, being familiar with my parents’ schedule, arrived with his girlfriend to take advantage of the lack of adult supervision. I went out for a walk.

I came back an hour later, completely unaware that in the interim father had returned to collect a leash for the dog and discovered my disrespect for the boundaries of my prison. On Monday night, between arriving home from work, and heading out to the rugby club, father informed me that I was going to have to pay rent if I wished to continue living in his house. This would entail my leaving school and getting a job.

I was academically gifted, and, although I wasn’t enthusiastic about homework, I paid enough attention to score well on exams. I also engaged with extra curricular stuff. I was secretary of what passed for student government, for example, and my headmaster told me at my exit interview that I was short-listed to be a prefect in my senior year. This was despite a complete lack of interest or competence in any sport whatsoever. On the other hand, I was reading Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, Robert Graves and Fyodor Dostoyefsky in my free time while concentrating on Math Chemistry and Physics for schoolwork. I took every opportunity for stage performance, singing, dancing whatever I could get, both at school and in more than one amateur drama group.

I had always expected to complete a baccalaureate degree before going out into the real world. I was totally unprepared mentally. I had given the matter no thought at all. And suddenly I am sitting in the unemployment office explaining that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do – “something constructive” I think I said.

......


More than two decades later I was standing in a pub on Christmas eve with my older brother, David. My surprise was genuine when David told me that father was still trying to find out who it was that dubbed him in to the RSPCC so many years earlier. I had totally forgotten making that call, because, as far as I was aware at the time, nothing had happened as a result. It was an event without consequence, and so I never had cause to think of the matter again.

As David described a situation where father had been the subject of a two year investigation it came rushing back to me. If only Colin and Raymond could rush back also. But by the time of this conversation both of those boys were dead. And they had both died deliberately, efficiently and alone.

There is a painfully exquisite entanglement of coincidence that binds these and other events together with some things of consequence on a far larger scale.


I call it my life.