Author Archives: wbalanstuart
Letting my country die for me is the escape I seek
As I find myself running from myself
To one who says love loves to love love
Says yes when I ask again says yes again
As I walk through myself
Encountering ferrymen journeymen fairground barkers
uncertain apprentices shimmering spectres orphans
widowers Gargantua running from David
Me running from me
To find the long way around to the short way home
Back to myself
Having buried Friday who buried Crusoe
Whose darkness could not comprehend the light
The latest in an infinite procession toward the ether
Pursued by the reproachful gaze of the cow
Consumed at noon to fend off a narrow end
Mindful that achievement heralds the death of intellect
A walk through myself feeds imagination averts success
Applauding my country as it mounts the scaffold
Saying it is a far better thing than it has ever done
There’s irony involved in my recounting in Wise Blood the amputation of a pair of my pedal digits. It was a bloody business; But, in truth, not a lot of wisdom in evidence. Neglect, misjudgement, ignorance, bad luck perhaps. Not much wisdom though.
Wellington Hospital behaves like a City State. Once admitted acutely as a patient I became a subject of its authoritarian regime. A benevolent dictatorship where if you know what’s good for you, you’ll allow people you don’t know to do things to you they say are good for you. The vascular ward is straight out of Sartre. Everything I experienced within its dread portals posed an existential threat. From being denied food and liquid for nearly 24 hours ahead of a proposed operation that never happened to being in a cubicle next to some poor sod in extremis and then to a group of surgeons doing their morning rounds and discussing volubly each patient’s symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis. Patients’ rights are something typed on a piece of A3 and taped to a wall.
The food is awful. Dire. The piece of Cod that passeth all understanding. In my case what was on offer was also at odds with my dietary regime. Sugar and potassium are unhelpful and it’s not too much of a stretch to expect that would have been known. But when I asked if a diabetic choice were available, I was proudly told that all meals were designed to meet those needs. Mmm. Some Orwell with your jelly and ice cream?
And so – into theatre. A good name for it. A cast of anonymous, masked actors who perform an arcane ritual on the body of a volunteer who has been hypnotised. To brighten up things, the cast compete to see who can wear the most colourful and eccentric headgear.
I’ve had Sartre and Orwell and now Dali made an appearance; The surgery complete, I’m asked what I would like done with the two amputated toes. ‘I want to see them and farewell them’, I replied. And so, with due solemnity and gravitas, my poor, orphaned digits were presented to me in a small, open container. I reached in and cradled them gently in the palm of my hand. There was a respectful silence in the theatre. I waited a few moments and then said, ‘You know, that’s the first time I’ve been able to touch my toes for almost twenty years.’
‘Promising Young Woman’ (Emerald Fennell 2020) is a piece of work. The narrative charges into the china shop of Me Too, betrayal, identity crisis, obsession and revenge., leaving us to ponder if we really want, or need, to pick up the pieces. The visual style is redolent of Lynch, Verhoeven and Hitchcock – the framing lingers on its subjects, the colours are vivid, the domestic interiors belong to lives that are ordered, predictable yet somehow otherworldly. The contrast between comfortable certainty and uninvited darkness is Fennell’s playground. The first time director has a well chosen cast who manage their lines like thy were precious cargo. Carey Mulligan, most likely in the role of her career, delivers a character that fuses Joyce with Euripides. Loyalty beyond death conveyed without artifice but with a knowledge and passion that is astonishing. A must see.
We have two brush and pan sets
And one of those manual carpet cleaners that you push and pull
That need to be painstakingly cleaned by hand every so often
But we’re content with our lot – our sovereignty – our right to self-determination
When it comes to cleaning the chippies and dog fur off the carpet
We eschew the automised marvels of the warfare on domestic bacteria
Our Ruritanian idyll has been undisturbed for generations
Analogue recordings of unvarnished music-making
Exist happily alongside stethoscopes, Agee jars and sewing kits
But now the tranquillity and homeliness are threatened
By the sirens wailing their ode to Cassandra
‘Beware! The machines have risen. Save yourselves. Plug your ears!’
Massed on our borders is a horde of clamorous appliances
With foreign names like iRobot, SEBO and Eureka
And led by the traitor, Dyson
Once these Behemoths and Leviathans enter your domain
All will be lost
And your independence will be suborned to the appetite of the motor
Conversation, reading, music-making, eating – even coitus – must cease
No demurral will be brooked – no obfuscation heeded
No meal will be cooked when cleaning is needed
And when the machine approaches, move your legs
So as not to impede its progress
Avert your eyes and be respectful
For when you seethe, heave and weave plots of rebellion
Then recall the legend inscribed on Woody Guthrie’s vacuum cleaner;
‘This Machine Kills Democracy’
Anticipating a satisfying and humorous outcome to the story
I laughed and applauded before the punchline came
The speaker, though, was gratified by my congratulatory slap on the shoulder
And taking comfort, moved on to a further anecdote of Jovian form and style
Alarmed by reports of vicious attacks on the elderly, the halt and the lame
In my neighbourhood
I resolved to ensure the safety of me and mine and purchased protection
And now the only travail is stepping over the silent bodies of would-be assailants
Remembering that there was a time when I was clean and sober
Allows me the comfortable alchemy of transforming past to present
And pay homage to the metaphysical poets
With my imaginings of self-improvement and sui generis
Which brings me to Dr Jekyll – who sought self-improvement
But failed to study the small print of the warranty issued by his creator
Robert Louis Stevenson
Who warned that ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’.
Joyce Thompson sat opposite me, screwing up her face
As she made entries, longhand, in a register
She looked as if she had escaped from a photograph of dazed Londoners hiding in a tube Station lest the Luftwaffe crashed their party
Anslow Wilson of EC3 employed us to impersonate employees
In return for money and access to a private box at the Albert Hall where we could see Demis Roussos for just one pound – but Joyce never went there. She had to rush home at 5 to take care of her husband who was permanently invalided because he fought the Imperial Japanese Army in the Burmese jungle and had received the Distinguished Service Cross and Amoebic Dysentery for his troubles
He led a quiet life. Didn’t eat much – drank a lot – watched telly. Mostly horizontal. Hardly Ever vertical. Except for visits from the doctor. But Joyce loved him as best she could in Her Peckham Rye way. She told me that her husband knew Orde Wingate who had Dreamed up the Chindits – an Army deep penetration unit, she said. I resisted the urge to Ask what it was they were penetrating. He was dying slowly and that was enough. You Survive a war but you don’t really, do you? No one does.
George Washington (1789 – 1797)
Washington was the first President of the United States and is said never to have lied through his wooden teeth. Which places him at variance with the majority of his successors, none of whom had wooden teeth but lied with great energy and imagination. As Washington was born prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the dates supplied above. For all I know, he may even still be alive and serving as an aide to the current incumbent.
Thomas Jefferson (1801 – 1809)
Jefferson was the third President and one of the most important political figures in furthering the cause of popular music. Appointing George Clinton (b 1941) as Vice President undoubtedly gave rise to a surge in the popularity of Funk music. And the irony of his band name, Parliament Funkadelic Collective, was not lost on anyone, let me tell you.
If you are concerned that Clinton’s birth date is anachronistic, blame it on the bloody Gregorian calendar.
Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837)
The 7th President, Jackson is the one to blame for the formation of The Democratic Party. He’s also the first and only President to pay off the national debt. He did this by selling off hundreds of his slaves as well as his entire collection of George Clinton albums.
Jackson’s legacy is celebrated in Lonnie Donegan’s ‘The Battle of New Orleans’. Donegan, an itinerant musician, was Jackson’s Vice President from 1960 to 1964. (You know it. Gregorian lassitude once more)
Zachary Taylor (1849 – 1850)
The 12th President was the son of plantation and slave owners. He joined the military and was soon killing hundreds of Mexicans and Native Americans. All of which made him the perfect candidate for the Presidency. However, with only a year under his belt, Congress urged action on slavery – and this caused Taylor so much consternation that he went on a nervous eating binge, so much so, that his stomach exploded in a fashionable restaurant. (It is now generally accepted that this incident was the inspiration for the Monty Python Mr Creosote sketch.)
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
The 16th US President, although a brilliant automotive engineer and the inventor of the Model T Lincoln, was extremely forgetful. Thought to be partly caused by hearing difficulties, (see picture) his transient amnesia resulted in him often not being able to remember where he lived. Consequently, his parents arranged for their Gettysburg address to be tattooed on his left forearm.
Lincoln’s success in the automotive industry led to a bitter rivalry with his main competitor, Henry Ford. On Good Friday, 1865, Ford invited Lincoln to his own theatre (Ford’s Theatre) where he was held down and the tattoo surgically removed. The dazed and confused Lincoln stumbled out into the Washington night, unable to remember where he lived, and was never heard from again.
Elizabeth 1 (1558 – 1603)
Last of the Tudor monarchs and known as The Virgin Queen due to her being an ancestor of Richard Branson. She succeeded her half-sister, Mary 1, who had died from consuming vast quantities of vodka and tomato juice in the company of the Russian ambassador.
Elizabeth wanted to extend English influence abroad and commissioned Sir Francis Drake to establish pirate radio outside the 3 mile limit. This really annoyed Philip of Spain who threatened to pull out of the Trade Agreement with England. So Elizabeth sent Drake to Cadiz to singe Philip’s bread. This really cheesed off Phil who told his admirals to launch the Armada against England. Unfortunately, things were done in such a rush that the galleons sailed without the stoppers in their bung holes and very quickly sank.
Elizabeth died without issue so they sent to Scotland for a distant rellie, Jimmy, to take over. Not such a good idea as it turned out. He had a bad attitude, razors in his boots and a passion for deep-fried Mars bars. Unforgivably, he also brought Charles 1 into the world.
Charles 1 (1625 – 1649)
The first of the contrarian monarchs, Charles would argue with anyone about anything. He was, though, an elegant boxer and possessed a divine right. But his constant bickering and fighting were always going to lead to disaster. And so it proved when he insulted the House bully, Ollie, by calling him a ’roundhead’ (a crude reference to circumcision). This led Parliament to order the cutting off of Charles’ moustache, an indignity from which he never recovered. The moustache is buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor alongside Henry VIII’s penis.
George III (1760 – 1820)
The third successive George from the House of Hangover. (There are 3 movies about these monarchs – and like their subjects, each worse than the last) This George was absent-minded and managed to lose America. But he did beat Napoleon because he was reluctant to share his brandy – and when he did – passed it, incorrectly, anti-clockwise around the table. Succeeded by his son – you guessed it – George IV, of whom it was famously asked; ‘Who’s your fat friend?’
Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901)
The only English monarch to be named after a railway station, Victoria continued the tradition of marrying a first cousin to ensure the incidence of imbecility in future generations so valued by the monarchy. She and her Consort, Prince Albert, who invented genital piercing for men, had nine children – all of whom married into other European royal families, thus ensuring that haemophilia research would always be well-funded.
Victoria’s reign was marked by the expansion of British rule and influence around the world. So much so that enormous warehouses were built to house the bounty of Empire. These buildings are called Museums.
Victoria was succeeded by her eldest son, Edward VII, who was the inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ because he liked to have two breakfasts.
William 1 (1066 – 1087)
Bon viveur from Normandy, so incensed at the paucity of tasty cheese across the channel, that he invaded England in order to remedy the situation. Fortunately for him and his following of lager louts, the day they arrived on the Sussex coast, the bloke in charge of the Home Guard, Harold somebody or other, was at Stamford Bridge watching an International between Denmark and Northumbria.
So William took charge, fixed the cheese situation, gave good jobs to his rellies and mates and even found time to write some lists of important stuff. He was succeeded by his son, imaginatively named William II, (Also known as William Roofless because the Normans still hadn’t figured out how to put roofs on buildings) who, like his dad, didn’t bother with Wales.
NB William 1 was also known as William the Concubine for reasons that remain unclear.
Richard 1 (1189 – 1199)
Absentee landlord king who bore a striking resemblance to Sean Connery. Spent a lot of time in the Holy Land, slaughtering the locals who opposed his plans to establish a fast food franchise, The Salad Inn. After that, he lounged around in an Austrian castle waiting for Blondie to turn up and whistle the right tune.
Succeeded by his slacker brother, John, known as Lacklustre, due to the dry, dull appearance of his hair which he could never do a thing with.
NB Richard’s nickname ‘The Lying Heart’ is attributable to his propensity to take power naps at every opportunity. (See picture above) His last words, on 6 April 1199, were, ‘I’m just going to put my cardy on and have a lie down.’
Richard III (1483 – 1485)
Top bloke. Having established his legitimate claim to a chocolate-making business in the so-called War of the Roses, Richard became President of the Yorkshire Rugby League (see picture) and also gained a reputation as a superb horseman – often jesting that he felt his horses to be more valuable than his kingdom.
But it all went wrong for Richard when his accountant, Henry Tudor, embezzled the Crown Jewels with the help of Stanley, the accounts payable clerk, and then mugged Richard in a Leicester car park when he discovered what they were up to. As he lay dying, Richard muttered the now immortal phrase, ‘Another fine mess you’ve got me into Stanley.’
NB It’s not widely appreciated that Richard’s sobriquet, ‘Tricky Dicky’ was acquired by a far less worthy leader many years later.
Henry VIII (1509 – 1547)
Homicidal maniac who succeeded to the throne when his lover, Catherine the Arrogant, slew his brother, Art, and his father, Henry, in a week-long ménage a trois of extreme sex and mummery. Henry later used this against Catherine and had her hung, drawn, quartered, beheaded and called lots of nasty names. Historians argue over how many wives Henry had but most of them were either murdered or paid off by his lawyer. Eventually, through misuse, all of Henry’s body parts atrophied and fell off. All that was left was a withered, blackened penis which is buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor next to Charles I’s moustache.
NB Despite everything, Henry was a gifted musician and won the 1518 Eurovision Song Contest for England with his ‘Sup Greensleeves?’