Monthly Archives: December 2004

On the verge of the New Year

Or more like ‘at the foot of the cliff’.. or ‘on the edge of the chasm’.

The body count in Asia is more like 110,000 people and counting, though we’ll never know. And more than a million people have had their lives shattered by what happened.

Lost in the tragedy of numbers and stopped watching TV.  I log on to the BBC site, watch the body count, switch to a Football site, read about millionaires being lined up for transfers in the January transfer window, shop for food essentials, think, try not to think. Liz has gone down with a bad bout of gastric ‘flu and threw up in the garden. Jacob runs around like a clockwork orange, oblivioius of his mother’s illness. In the end, I give up and administer the only drug at hand, the new Pinocchio DVD. Jacob is now perched on his blue potty, glued to the 1940’s classic.

Elsewhere, the remnants of my friends will gather for their usual piss up and singalong. My sister has bought herself a furry top.  Dad has been roped in as babysitter. And the new year will be seen in to the traditional flurry of merry-making.

I cannot stop thinking of mass graves and bodies caked up, like bits of plaster in an unsound structure.

Jonathan Head of the BBC in Banda Aceh, Indonesia: Water is the most critical problem here. The entire water supply has been contaminated – you can’t imagine how they could clean it up as the number of bodies is just overwhelming.

I’ve just come from Thailand where it was pretty shocking but nothing compares to the health problems presented here by the thousands and thousands of bodies and the inability of the authorities and the survivors to deal with it. They are digging mass graves now but the number littered around is just staggering.

The entire town – where it hasn’t been levelled – is covered in a sea of filthy mud with bodies and bits of rubble stuck in it. I think the authorities are going to have to think about moving people out because it’s just uninhabitable.

There aren’t the resources to clean up a mess this staggeringly big – the place looks as though a giant has picked it up, shaken it, torn it to pieces and then thrown this layer of mud, rubble and bodies across it.

All the people I’ve spoken to here say there is no more Banda Aceh. They’re packing their bags and leaving whatever way they can.

On another day, another planet, this space would have been filled by lines of hope. I think that the only appropriate blog, right now, is silence. And some stoic resolve.

To survive. Into the new year.

The real tsunami

Welcome to an entirely new vernacular.

Today’s word is ‘tsunami’. It used to stand for a shrill Manic Street Preachers song from some forgettable album.

Now it stands for total destruction, for paradise lost, for possibly one hundred thousand souls drowned or battered in a flood that some religious freak will one day associate with the apocalypse.

Tsunamis after Christmas, before the close of the year, before people really had time to make a wish, hug their loved ones, and get inebriated in some loud, lonely party.

This year, I will pass on traditional New Year’s Eve parties, or dinner parties with friends.  I will stay home, drink a glass of wine with Liz, and plan the future.

With a vengeance.

Christmas is served

There is a slight chance there will be snow in London, but no hope of that in Malta. Instead, the temperature has dropped to 15 degrees, but it feels like zero because stone houses are not made for winter. People with paraffin heaters make financial computations in their head to ration usage. The fat cats with fat cars cruise by Cafe Oasis and overfeed their designer children. Gift wrapping is a national obession.

Max has bought Jacob a plastic digger, three Percy the Park-keeper books, and Pinocchio and Lion King DVDs. Max has bought Liz a blender and Jamie Oliver’s latest. Max has bought himself a string on DVDs which he will probably never watch, but which look great, still sealed in packaging.

Tonight, Liz will leave a glass of wine and a mince pie, to solicit Santa’s visit, to fill socks, kiss sleeping angels and bring good luck to a household that needs it like millions of others. And for Max’s friend Maurizio, living the darkest of Christmases… may he find a way out of the abyss, and realise that things come in cycles, and there there is only one way to go.


Check up

This afternoon Max went for a heart check up. He arrived at the Capua Hospital in the usual heap, having spent nearly two hours in a meeting on a potential start up that ground gradually to a halt. By the time he was whisked away to the ‘Executive Screening’ Nurse, Max was prepared for any kind of bad news.

Max’s two-hour stint involved:

(1) Being weighed (74 kilos – Max wondered how much of the weight could be blamed on winter clothing)

(2) Being measured (height unknown, Max told the nurse he was cheating as he was still wearing his shoes)

(3) Pissing in small beaker (not a problem, having consumed several coffees in the futile start-up meeting; urine surprisingly warm and golden coloured, which made Max think of the Indian premier who used to drink his own piss for good fortune)

(4) Blowing in a hollow tube and watching an electronic meter (the nurse cooed approvingly)

(5) Getting a chest x-ray (the x-ray man was more impressed by Max’s twisted scoliosis spine than Max’s heart – long sigh as the x-ray was mounted on to the flourescent screen on the wall

(6) Answering plenty of questions on family illnesses, pneumonias, diets

(7) Getting startled when the doctor said that he knew most of Max’s family – Dr Montfort had even looked after Max’s mother, while she was dying of Hogkins’ disease in 1984. Dr Montfort said that if his mother had contracted Hogkins’ now, most probably she would have been saved.

(8) Getting startled when the doctor said that his cholesterol level was high, even for a 43 year-old. Max was asked if he drank alcohol – Max confessed to a glass of wine and several cups of coffee. Max was told to cut on the caffeine.

(9) Getting part of his chest shaved for a cardio-vascular test on the treadmill.

(10) Puffing his way through a series of inclines on the treadmill.

(11) Getting told that he had a perfect bill of health, except for the high cholesterol, which would mean another check up in six months’ time.

(12) Getting severe palpitations when he was given the bill for the exercise.

This evening, Max passed on the option of pasta with broccoli and gorgonzola, and went for pasta with broccoli, anchovies and pine nuts. Plus one glass of wine.

Max wonders how many people would be saved if they got sick twenty years later than they actually did.

Max’s chest is itching from the shaving.

Max is going to spend some time searching for ‘cholesterol’ and ‘wine’, hoping there is no obvious linkage.

Max is listening to a tribute show for the late John Peel, who also died of heart failure. But not before championing some of the most exciting, dangerous, obscure and life-changing music of the twentieth century.

Crossing one’s legs

Max can now go back to his usual life.

The ten-day marathon work session of non-stop work is over. Max is not quite sure what all of it will lead to. But at least he can go back to whatever it is that Max used to do before he got locked into a never-ending cycle of reports, presentations, brainstorming, e-business, online learning, team-building, budgeting, PowerPointing, bad food eating, male-bonding, waking up after four hours sleep of more of the same.

Max surfaces to see that the important things in life are still intact. Jacob still remembers his father. Smudge is still fat.And men round the world are faced with a new threat. Just as well that there is probably no longer a need for his reproductive prowess in years to come. And anyway, his Sony Vaio’s battery died more than two years ago.

Max wonders whether he could justify buying himself a new laptop for Christmas.

Lost Souls

Max has been away from this blog.

For the past 10 days or so, Max has been in front of this PC, working away at an e-business Strategic Plan. The Plan was delivered this afternoon.

In the meantime, outside his room, beyond the spikes of the Yucca, the usual shit was happening. Margaret Hassan was shot in the head. “Mother” was voted the favourite word from a poll of thousands in non English-speaking countries. A lost soul went sailing over the rails of the Empire State Building.The price of kerosene was doubled to the price of diesel because the Prime Minister claimed the nation was cheating the Government out of taxes on fuel. And Max’s friend Mr. Silver, now in Virgina BC, emailed Max with some advice. Here it is:

“Max, you really are a talented s.o.b. Would you be offended, if I offer you some advice? If so, read no further.

If not, let me first suggest to you that you should not keep a diary, notwithstanding that it can be seen to be very amusing. The problem is, it serves to reinforce any depression you are feeling. What I have done and, from time to time when I can find the discipline to do it, is write a fantasy. Develop a super hero – something completely different from your day to day life experience. The hero, being a hero, will serve to bring up your own mood and, if you can hit a winning formula, could be the next SpiderMan. A good outlet for your writing talents.”

Max has thought about this, but is not sure that he will take Mr Silver’s advice. Not through any disrespect to Mr Silver, a man whose advice and intellect Max has long admired. Max is just not sure that he is depressed. Max knows that he is in a bubble that he needs to burst so he can get to the next room. He can see the room, it is in a calmer place, and it does not very different to his own, with Jacob lying on the red sofa, watching Shrek, asking Max to do his ‘Goolie Bird’ impression. He just needs to get to it.

For the record, Max managed to recover from three hours sleep to deliver a decent presentation on e-business and English Language Schools. Max’s client clapped, and told him it was a great presentation, even though Max looked like shit.

Max’s favourite word has always been the four-letter expletive – nothing quite like the violence of the trapped air exploding through clenched teeth graving over parched lips.

Max wonders if he will have to mutate into a super-hero to get out of the bubble. Or whether he will do what he always does in the end: graft, drive, wriggle out. To a better place.