Day At The Prado Museum – Not De Nada : 2.5 minute read, posted on 04/07/21 for 29/06/21

I’m told that nada (if you habla espanol), means ‘nothing’, which wasn’t what we had to say on our big day out to the Prado Museum in Madrid. We especially wanted to see Goya’s Black Paintings. They’d been removed from display for restoration. It was time for them to be cleaned we were told, and timely apparently, with the slump in visitor numbers due to Covid. But still … There was no de nada (no problem), absolutely none at all, in our hearts when we found out. 

From The Guardian 30 January 2019

And could you blame us? The museum website said nothing of what was closed or removed —for restoration or otherwise— from the permanent collection. Neither were there notices at the ticket counter or at the start of the queue where we still had to line up to show proof of status for ticket discounts. This wasn’t the way to manage expectations, to our minds at least.  

Told upon arrival that there were no room plans in languages other than Spanish because it’s an international language was harsh I felt, if not brutal (plain rude even, perhaps racist —It’s true one of us looks more Filipina than anything else, another can pass for Kazakh—which was no excuse of course!). Whatever the reason for her snootiness, the attitude and patience of the frowning woman behind the ASSISTANCE counter was as curt and short as her dirty blonde hair and left no doubt in our collective minds that the Prado’s reputation online was well-deserved. And yet the troops persevered, marching onwards (and upwards two stories), our sights set on beholding Goya’s Black Paintings for ourselves. Everything else was a plus, despite the mounting negatives —Oh, and did we mention the NO PHOTOS policy? (For security reasons, or simply to annoy paying guests who live in the Digital Age?)

We’d been here two hours going on three, enjoying the other exhibits just going with the flow. Our feet ached. Our backs cried, sometimes out loud. We needed to sit down but pushed on with the specific target in mind.

            “Can you help, please?” we finally ask the suited señor standing at one end of the long walk through gallery on the upper floor. “Where are the Black Paintings?”

           “None, you will see none today” he tells us looking somewhat taken aback at being asked a question. Did he feel our disappointment? Is this what he said to his mate when they resumed chatting?

Walking away from the pair, it was our moods that had turned black. This was the point when it was decided that we had seen it all. Stopping only for art-cards in the Museum Shop we noticed too, that there was only one print from the Black Paintings series that we’d missed out on seeing. But what was the point of purchasing even a single one to take home? The memory for us, like the Black Paintings themselves, was for the most part ruined.

The fourteen panels transferred to canvas were from a mural cut out of the walls of Goya’s house (and nearly destroyed), where he had painted them in private. Everything about them was tragic like our visit which, if not for the brilliant El Boscos, and could sum up our Prado experience. If other TripAdvisor(s) hadn’t moaned for some years about similarly upsetting incidents, we might have thought that they don’t want foreign tourists here anymore. Like at the Reina Sophia Museum the day before: nearly all the Dalis were cordoned off without notice or warning. Is this what traveling is like now everywhere, or is Spain special? If and when we do ever come back, it will have to be with decipherable layout plans printed from the website in advance. When in Spain, bring your own, or just for the Prado? To get over it we might start some Black Paintings of our own when we get home, and happily stay put for longer …

For the earlier post: Artfully Unsure


The Colour of Now (Artfully Unsure) : 2 minute read

Goya (1746-1828) had his bleak period during which he produced his Black Paintings, after turning totally deaf. In a series of dark (very dark) canvases, grotesque caricatures were born out of depression and a fear of creeping insanity … or were they the artist’s astute observations of a society gone mad? Never intended for sale or public consumption, in the present day all 14 of them are proudly on display at the Prado in Madrid … Where ‘we’ will be going to see them soon, a family that’s travelling again.

In 2013, Éponge Bleue Sans Titre, SE 168 (1959) made of natural sea sponges was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $22 million, the highest price paid for a Klein sculpture.

More recently, Yves Klein (1928-1962) had his Blue Epoch. It produced this sculpture I captured on my phone at Paris’s Georges Pompidou Centre. It was the October before Covid, it was over a half-term break, that’s when I remember that we were last there. We’d seen it before but this time the tree looked a bit boring, as if it too, felt a bit bored. Sat still at home now, I’m looking at it in the Album files—Should I make an Instagram post of it? I’m tempted … To help free it from its confines. Blue or otherwise, constructed of the sponge used in its making, it was a recycled thing. Born again with a new life to live, shouldn’t it be outside: if not living the dream, at least living it up, if only a little? … Or was it in fact in the right place and correct for this life-form to remain where it was, boxed up there on the upper levels where it resides?

Fun Fact: The hue, a unique blend reminiscent of medieval lapis lazuli, till this day is known as International Klein Blue (IKB)

Yet, why blue, Yves? Why not green like the lifeblood chlorophyll which jungles, forests and small blades of grass are equally made of? (Oh, too true, there are jealousies —and in so many shades of the colour.) But true-blue, crystal clear (giving this some energy here!), and cleansing, even if tinged with a little sadness sometimes —Blue is for water, non?

Fun Fact: The hue, a unique blend reminiscent of medieval lapis lazuli, till this day is known as International Klein Blue (IKB). If you knew that already —Great! If you didn’t, well now you do—So, a Great! to you, too, dear friends of art, of trees, of Yves.

But what I don’t know and what I’m still waiting to determine is this— Whether black or blue (or in any other colours like the canvas mosaics of Klein’s monochromes era), is it just nuts or does it make perfect sense (ala Goya) —or on the contrary—will it be in bad taste (something Klein was also fascinated with)—for us to be out and about already in June/July 2021?

We shall just have to see.

Ready or not, ‘we’ are doing this!

The Grumpy Naturalist

Are You Evolved? : 90 second read

This week I heard about an old man —Let’s call him Exhibit A, the miserly millionaire—who recently bought a Tesla. It was only because petrol prices had soared so high where he lives that going green is simply good economics.

Where I live in Qatar —Make this, Exhibit B—I’ve seen no Teslas on the roads, although I’ve read there are plans afoot to make their usage a reality. In the land powered by natural gas, where petrol prices count amongst the cheapest in the world, it’s to be expected, I suppose.

And as Jeff Bezos —Indeed, our Exhibit C—preps to play astronaut, shooting himself into outer space, because he can, I have to ask this question: Aren’t there honestly, more pressing needs for the planet?

So, with responses to climate change varying in speed and motivation: taking the Exhibits above as examples, the premise of a new Netflix series intrigues me. Instead of hybrid cars, the show is about hybrid humans. No, that’s not a typo. The characters say, and repeat throughout the episodes:

Deer, deer

“The people were bad, thinking only of themselves. They used up all the resources.”

“The water wasn’t blue before* from all the bad stuff people put in it, and into the air.”

Photo credit: Marta Wave

*In the tale, ‘before’ was before all babies started being born imbued with animal features. In varying degrees though. Some have deer ears and antlers, like the main character. Others are a talking mole befriended by a girl with a pig’s snout and ears to match. Her adoptive mother, a full-fledged human adult, calls her ‘Pigtail’ as a pet name to supplement her given one, Wendy. And Yes, it does have a Neverland feel to it. Particularly the scenes with the Animal Army—comprised of human teens encamped in an abandoned amusement park rebelling against their parents (who naturally, live in fear of, and hunt hybrid kids). And there’s “the virus”. A mysterious disease that resembles today’s corona variants in how widespread and deadly they are and the absence of any known cure. Except unlike covid, wherever the “Sick” is present, purple flowers soon appear. Human is turned against human in the madness to survive, whilst the hybrids are immune.

In summary : callous, self-centred and undeserving humans (basically everyone), are being eradicated only to be replaced by a breed of environmentally-sensitive creatures. We’re told it’s these that/who will restore the world, and bring about a new order.

You can forget about Teslas, it’s too late. In this new age there are no cars (… Although I can’t see how the coal-fired locomotives in the series make any sense.) Bottomline, whether its Creation or Evolution dogma that floats your boat, the premise and the dark truth of the tale —or tail, if you will— is clear:

Change or die, people.

We’ve reached a tipping point. Ignore the signs at your own peril. Repent or perish.

So, shall we stop making exhibits of ourselves? You know, in how we only deign to change if it’s convenient and act like that’s OK behaviour; to not merely pay lip service to doing the right thing; and to stop showing off with meaningless stunts.

What if we start to actually care? —Who knows, we might actually, do something meaningful.

Weighing in on Netflix’s Sweet Tooth : Do we all deserve to die?


Who’s Afraid of The Big Bad Wolff? : 2.5 minute read 23/05/21

A hotel top Grand Stand, raring to go.

“What we need is a random miracle,” she declares.

Aren’t all miracles random, though?

It’s luck that isn’t dumb. But my daughter was speaking of long-shot odds. Yes, it’s F1 time again. And the type of risky business she means is the sort that you (or rather, F1 drivers), encounter. This weekend it’s in Monaco, where flashes of famous landmarks as the cars whizz past on the streets that forms the track here, makes it the sport’s most iconic.

Yesterday, in Qualifying, Charles Leclerc, the born and bred Monégasque gave it his all and did make pole, only to crash seconds before the session’s end. Can mechanics put the car back together again, and in time? It’s possible, we think —the sleek Ferrari is no Humpty Dumpty. But if there’s a gear-box change, young Charles will start at P6, slapped with a five-place penalty behind the all important pole position, more so here in Monte Carlo where to overtake is next to impossible. So, I’d have to agree with the girl: it’s time for a miracle.

In news of another personage sat on a wall (perhaps the mightiest of them all in F1), pundits* see a fall ahead for the Wolff Man, Mercedes’ Toto Wolff himself. But surely, they’re wrong? —To topple him, would require the greatest miracle, surely.

Street racing at its most exclusive …

F1 corporate governance stewards might stand half a chance—If they exist? And if they’re not made of straw like the house of the laziest of the Little Pigs. For starters, there are the conflicts of interest across several teams—that appear to benefit all concerned from their less than arm’s length relations (crucially, to the unfair exclusion of others). What exempts F1 from dog-eat-dog indecencies?

And if competition rules (also called anti-trust), were applied to F1 as they do in consumer markets to curtail unfair practises by dominant players, wouldn’t that weaken the top dogs more than any budget caps we’ll see coming into play next year?

In the securities markets, insider trading regulations make it a crime to benefit personally from the pies you have fingers in so others might have a decent meal, too. Which is only another way of levelling a playing field. Seeing that this is absent in analogy from F1, is a Wizard of Oz, or F1 oracle needed to shine a light on where that winding, chicane ridden road might have led the sport down already?

… Literally.

In Toto Wolff’s defence, however, is it entirely his fault that the influence he wields reaches the lengths it seems to?; That his wife, a former F1 driver herself, is also a racing team manager, and can also aid in spreading the Toto “magic”?

The two other Little Pigs used sticks and stones to keep out the big, bad wolf. Both, similarly failed. In the end it was the cauldron of boiling water which Mr Wolf fell into climbing down the chimney that did it. Just shows how great strength can do with some dousing down, having its claws clipped, and talons tamed—That unchecked power can always do with controls.

Again, it’s drama on and off the track, in board rooms —and court rooms—and the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, that makes F1 riveting to follow. Miracles aside (and we hope Leclerc will have more of these come his way today), how long before F1 will hit the breaks on what appear to be abuses of position and power?

Even if it slows things down and we see speeds fall, a fair race after all, is only good sportsmanship.

* Toto Wolff’s Collapsing House of Cards


Diplomacy, In Slices : 4.5 minute read

            “Stop it! Stop it, right this minute!”

          “But why, Miss? My grandfather says we should thank him.”

            It was my daughter’s Year 5 ski trip during the February half term. What was usually a three-hour drive back to München Airport had turned into six. With that same number of Al Thani boys with us, Mohsin —the Egyptian minder extraordinaire charged with accompanying the ruling family kids—had convinced the Qatar Airways flight that was due to depart, to let us board. And we would have but for German civil aviation rules. Stranded, we were staying the night in a nearby hotel. All fifty of us—kids, teachers and the handful of accompanying parents, including yours truly.

            I’d sent my daughter ahead with Kavy, who we liked to joke was her “school mum”. As the receptionist at the Doha-arm of this revered British school, Kavy made far more than she could working as a teacher in any of the Indian institutions. Her son was on the trip, too. Classmates with my girl, they were her carpool, my daughter’s ride in the mornings. Plus, Kavy worked in HR as well, and knew everything about everything going on in the school’s small world.

            But it was just me now left with this last bunch of ten-year olds. Or were they nine? Some were. And what all were as well, was overly excited. Even at this late hour and despite the early rise to leave in extra good time. Criss-crossing down snow-drenched Austrian mountains around sharp turns and hairpin bends in a coach of our size had been hairy at best. But it was the crawling in freak traffic that stretched into the horizon along clogged German autobahns that had been like stress in cup, served up straight. To order, then re-order, would lead to disorder—This much I’d learnt so far on this trip. What was an adult to do?

            Sitting here now at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, the airport was practically empty. We’d been told to wait on the seats closest to the automatic doors; the hotel van would be back for us. Almost an hour had passed and the boys were getting restless. Up till then, we hadn’t warranted a second look from the few passers-by. A frazzled Asian woman and a motley crew of Caucasian, Middle Eastern and European boys; they’d think I was their teacher. And in some ways, from the time we’d left Doha, this wan’t untrue.

            Out on the slopes at the rear of Intermediates, me and three Qatari boys waited as the first two batches of three went down the bumps to do some “flying”. Day 4, albeit still cold, and having carried their own gear all week, their skills —in coping, as much as in skiing—had improved tremendously. Mohsin was still picking up after the youngest wherever he went, the one whom at home liked to drive around inside the house in a golf cart, easing it upstairs in the mansion’s wide-bodied lift. Thankfully, the boy, a year younger, was in a group of Beginners.

            Still, that day, all of us for one reason or another, were thinking of Qatar, where it was a public holiday. And an historic one, too—The country’s first National Sports Day. In the years that followed the annual long-distance run that would mark the occasion would be won often in a sweep of 1st, 2nd and 3rd places by professional athletes from Kenya. Everyone else would be out only to put on a show of effort. The day would see the boys’ families come to gather, feasting together, and for all the cousins to meet up and play. And there, standing bravely on their skis on Sölden’s training slopes, was it this warmth the boys were missing? Slated for the second Tuesday of February each year, that first one had been on February the 14th.

            “Miss, Miss,” they clambered to be the one to say it first, addressing me as they would a paid tutor. “Valentine’s Day is haram, Miss.”

            “Miss, Miss,” another chimed in, “disco is haram, too, Miss.” The night’s activities would entail sipping hot chocolates and doing the conga around a giant circular bar. (It was more like kids going mad to blasting sounds under a circus top than Studio 54.) Bearing witness to it all, I swear, in all honesty, hand on my heart, poke a needle in my eye—wallahi, those boys—first watching from the side lines until they couldn’t bear it any longer and joining in the fun at the back of the crowd, touched not a single girl.

            “Valentine’s Day is to remember your loved ones,” I said.  “Later, after lunch, you should call your mothers.”

            “It’s not haram?” Their eyes shone with disbelief.

            “And when you are married,” I continued, “never forget to be extra nice to your wife every year on Valentine’s. They will thank me later.” So will you, I wanted to add.

            That had been simple enough. But what to do now about Ahmad?

            His mum was here, too on this trip, and like the other parents had gone on ahead to order our dinner. At least when we got there our pizzas would be warm. But before that I was going to have to deal with this first, myself.

            “You can’t say that, Ahmad. It’s against the law here.” I think it was, I think I’d read somewhere that in Germany, especially, it was banned.

            But Ahmad wasn’t the type of boy to care if this was “haram”. In the Cinderella play my daughter had written for their English class, Ahmad was the first to volunteer to play a step sister, which role he’d cleverly rendered with the finest hint of camp. The boy was bright and funny and he had gumption. And in those twinkling blue eyes of his, I could see as he stood before me, that Ahmad believed he was right.

            With the same wavy brown hair and fair complexion, he had his mum’s good looks. Ahmad’s main extra-curricular, she’d told me, was diving, at which he excelled at the Aspire, Qatar’s National Sports Academy.

            “Would he accept a sports passport if offered?” I remember asking, but couldn’t for the life of me recall what her reply had been.

            Was he Palestinian? (Qatari passports for the family would be a godsend. Some were only possessed of travel papers.) But it hadn’t occurred to me to ask before this. A fair number of Jordan’s population are, including its Queen. Reading the history later, I learnt too, that at one point the Palestine initially carved out of the Levant by the British was later divided into three parts—one of which was allotted to Jordan to rule. And at the school’s International Day, hadn’t Jordan and Palestine shared a booth?

            “He did us a favour, Miss. My grandfather said so.” Ahmad The Persistent. And The Precocious, and The Precious, too. God bless this cheeky, spirited child. For now, for his own good, I had to get him to shut up.

            “No more ‘Heil Hitlers’. Or you’re not getting pizza, are we clear?”


Send In The Clowns: 90 second read by Farriz Mashudi 16/05/21

The circus was coming to town!

Sounds Enid Blyton-y, doesn’t it? ‘Archaic’, that’s the word. Of another era—Who goes to the circus these days?

Then again, who needs to anymore?

Everywhere you turn, the madness of the big top overwhelms us on the News. From covid to conflicts, running circles ‘round governments, certain pockets of our species feel they’re above it all: whether it’s the law, or disease (they must think they’re immune somehow?), or showing off mega heavy-weight defence systems that few other countries could ever afford let alone the persecuted adjacent to them next door. Are some amongst us truly entitled? Or is it a myth they tell themselves —the clever, and the really not— all rationalising and justifying alike, as if it makes whatever they do, alright. Because it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t, does it?

Those who are smarter, rolling in more moolah, cleverer at organising themselves, have got themselves more powerful friends … Is this what makes them the good guys?

My Dad’s old boss was a clown, you know.


Yes, Mummy and Papi called him ‘Dobo’. Like Dobo The Clown, you know?

“Oh, my,” I say to myself, eavesdropping on the kids again. ‘Dobo’ was code for plain bodoh, the word for ‘stupid’ in Malay. Which he was; and the last push, as well, in a long list of factors which led to our self-exile.

When she was a little girl, my mother, she, told me, she really hated clowns.

—But why?

Now she’s grown up, she says she’s married to one.

They laugh, even at that age: a tender five and six. Said clown was my neighbour. A loving father at home, and trusted colleague at work. For signing a petition against a presiding dictator, he and thousands who’d done the same were forced to flee. And here I am clowning around about Malaysia and Venezuela.

It isn’t funny, I know.

I’m well aware of the sad, tragic state the world is in … Clown Couture on the catwalks of fashion capitals and in lesser streets across the globe, resonates. We want to be happy, but how?

A Broadway classic comes to mind. As Sinatra, Judy Collins and Streisand were wont to sing—

Where are the clowns?

There ought to be clowns?

Photo credits: (1)Frank Cone (2)Gratisography (3)Saeed Karimi (4)Ravi Roshan

The Grumpy Naturalist

Red Alert – Before The Herring Disappear: 3 minute read by Farriz Mashudi 11/05/21

Wikipedia’s ‘soused herring’.

Pickled herring, I love it. With white onions on a soft white oblong bap, bought from a White purveyor often in an off-white van. It’s always been in Holland, or more correctly, The Netherlands where I’ve had them. The popular Dutch snack—salty in an oily brine, sometimes pickled with gherkins on top, comes tempered by the herb’s chopped sweetness. They’re a treat to be consumed standing, whether at the weekly market or in front of the old windmill in Leiden, by a busy canal on a walking tour in Amsterdam, or at home where I live now in Doha and make the sandwich myself from time to time.

Herring swimming on Pinterest.

But here’s the problem— It’s about right-ness, which despite how it might sound above isn’t to do with anything white. (That was just to net you in, oops!) … Although, herring is a white fish. But, No, that’s not it. The real problem is over-fishing. And herring fart, by the way. They let out air underwater. Makes you go, “EWW,” right? I’m not certain if it contains methane, or is even smelly, but it’s the way they signal to each other to vamoose when there are predators about. I can imagine some humans using this as a clearing strategy, too, when they want to have, say, a dimly lit den, to themselves.  

From such baseness, springs a lofty idea. Or perhaps it’s an ideal. Never mind, here it is—

With it being Ramadan presently, and likely the last day today to savour of the blessings of the Holy Month, I’ve made the decision to stop eating fish, indefinitely. Does this make me a hypocrite for not checking the provenance of the Omega-3 in my fish oil tablets? Or is it the other way around—with fish oil rather, in my Omega-3?

What’s scarier than sharks? —NO SHARKS. Photo credit: Human Impact 2014

But there you go, beyond getting bogged down in the specifics, how far will I go, you ask?

I wonder myself.

I wonder, too, if this act by a single person acting all by herself, will be for nought? —You know, pointless and futile, and for nothing. Well, it will be if the brutal harms caused to our oceans (and to human survival), don’t stop.

I’ve put an important point in parenthesis right there. Did you notice it? You’d think when it’s in brackets that those are the words of the writer’s sub-text, but actually, it’s quite the opposite intent behind this use of punctuation. The curved bookends serve to highlight a point, which is this: When the oceans die, so do we. It’s as simple as that. And just as disconcerting.

We need the big whales and incurably cute dolphins, which when they come up to breathe in the seas, fuel the phytoplankton that eat up the carbon that human activity produces on land … Was it too long a sentence that I used there? For those preferring the short and snappy, have a bite of this then: Land lubbers, Homo sapiens, we need to leave the aqua mammals in their own habitat.

But there’s more: What’s scarier than sharks? —NO SHARKS. Without the apex predator second-tier eaters and all beneath them will eventually (sooner, rather than later —another thing I’m highlighting here), just disappear. And without seafood swimming around, that’s when our oceans will starve, and die.

Pickled Herring Fillets | eBay
Pickled herring fillets on ebay.

It may be fated, but does the end of the world have to be as nigh as right around the corner?

A sailor went to sea-sea-sea

To see what he could see-see-see

And all that he could see-see-see

Was the bottom of the deep blue sea-sea-sea

I remember singing this rhyme in a clapping game with criss-crossed hands when I was little growing up in Vancouver. At Stanley Park on the weekend, Mum would take us to watch the dolphin show. We’d laugh seeing the funny seals waddling about on their fins. Thinking back, it was a traumatised childhood—Not for me, but for those poor creatures. We know better now, don’t we?

So, either let the herring be red and never caught, or let red be the colour you see when you next think of downing seafood.  

PANNING CAUTION – Do watch for yourself before simply panning the controversial documentary film: Seaspiracy on Netflix, featuring Ali Tabrizi’s discoveries on 1) #fake sustainability labels; 2) #abuses by the commercial fishing industry – in the use of trawling nets, poaching off coastal Africa, enslaved labour on Thai fishing boats; and 3) #fish farming malpractices, amongst 4) #other related shockers.


Not Getting Us Down : 30 second read by Farriz Mashudi 01/04/21

Photo: Szabu00f3 Viktor

This sun burns wherever you look.

Piercing past hotel curtains tentatively drawn, seeping through eyes still shut tight. Outside, tinted sunnies and Polaroid-aviators wannabe helpful, but don’t do much.

Sun hats, baseball caps—too hot to bear, are quickly discarded. It suns everywhere: on tourists’ backs, bald heads, reddened necks, bare arms.

Sun-baked piazzas and waterways; Sun-dried tomatoes; waiters, with only their shirts and bosses White, beckon inside. Boatloads of tourists their pointless parasols inflating St. Marco’s overspill into shady lanes. On incoming trains, sleepers doze in seats and on the ground their rails gleaming in the heat.

No sunblock please; its oozing creaminess too sticky. Not that it helps, only runs off with August’s wild sweat.

At night the strains of Vivaldi’s Summer evoking sunshine, heralds a light drizzle— the apres sun that could only be, Heaven-sent.  

Beyond weather, Venice, steaming in the sun is uncovered, regardless.


In conjunction with Qatar Sports Day 2021 —

Death Goes to The Circus – A Murder Mystery: 3.5 minute read by Farriz Mashudi 09/02/21

BISCUITS: All sugar-free. In a day I can put away a dozen between meals. Comfort eating’s the cause. To face the stress of new tasks, like a bell that goes off in my head I’m as habitual as Pavlov’s dog. Although sometimes—more not than often, if I’m honest—the snacking supresses hunger pangs. When the tummy rumbles it’s hard to ignore and not reach for one (OK, some). I say it’s gastritis though I have my doubts. I could just be kidding myself.

Photo credit: Golnar Sabzpoush Rashidi

MILK CHOCOLATE: “You’re lucky you’re tall,” the pint-sized woman says. As an afterthought she adds that when she puts on, her girth expands and spatially fills in her mind a voluminous sphere. Her eyes shift upwards and we follow her drift. It’s Dumbo. All ears, the baby elephant hovers.

            Not to put whole words into the mouths of others, “I LOOK LIKE A BALL,” was the exact declaration, un-edified and un-doctored … Rolling in flab, a roly-poly, a Mr Wobbly Man, in the flesh. —But that’s me again now, BISCUITS extrapolating, taking the demoralised, and truthfully, only slightly rotund frame of MILK CHOCOLATE a step further into that abyss where I, too, frequently find myself. Better known as the ‘I WISH THIS WASN’T ME’-place. Or phase. You may have visited sometime, yourself.

            Although I had to agree the bean-pole look would suit me, she accepted too, how my plight was worse. Those blessed with height are often large. So, when I gain, it’s not without repercussion and the results, dismally gargantuan.

            We laugh at this. It causes endorphins to be happily released into the night air that fills the lungs and rids the brain of thoughts of giving up.

            “Order! Order!” Drinks first then. We agree on water. Still, but cold.

            —Wouldn’t sparkling be better at that temperature?

            —The gas bloats.

            —It’s not like what we’re wearing isn’t baggy.

            —Heard about the one about the Type 1 diabetic who jabbed every day and guzzled himself to death on coca cola? No, not the diet drink. A genius, such a shame.

            —My super bubbly cousin had her leg cut off below the knee and her husband left her. She died a year later, from depression.

            —As a processed meat, sure, bacon is high in sodium and makes it unhealthy, but for those without high blood pressure I think it’s acceptable for variety. Breakfasts are so boring.

            —What’s wrong with cereal and milk everyday?

            —Uh, aren’t you diabetic?

For a laugh our WhatsApp group had been called the ‘Dorito’s Diet Club’. It was mainly to set up dining dates and confirm where to eat next with our Entertainer apps. Being social wasn’t the problem. It was what we did at home on our own that was doing us in. Serious now about taking our shapes into our own hands, taking otherwise marooned water-buffalos by the horns, and daring to dance with wolves (well, there would be hunger involved) —we’ve dared to bite the bullet … and wait for it! … We’ve rebranded. So, welcome one and all to ‘Snackers Anonymous’! Meet your ringmaster, Mr Big Top himself:

MIXED GRILL/OR ANYTHING TASTY SO LONG AS IT’S DOUBLE PLATTER: Yes, yes, reduce volume, control portions, I know all this and I should. But I want. So, I have it, so there. Accept my confession. I’m guilty, but I’ve not sinned, I don’t think. Not against God, nor against humanity. I’ve not hurt anyone. Well, no one but myself. Probably.

Our clique a three-ringed circus, the statements and retorts and tales of extreme cases flow unabated. Doubling up, repeating what we’d heard only to flow and circle back. Shared and chewed on, ruminated and regurgitated, no longer relegated to dark crevices in denial; the problem voiced, was mutual. Creeping into the conversation uninvited, our woes thrown up and voiced out loud began to project, injecting the air of a certain energy. Would we rise above?

Not a mere observer, more an unwilling audience— the fourth amongst us is a man as steady as the cows that come home like clockwork. He’d like to throw us off a cliff. Or we could jump. And his point wasn’t invalid. —Is it misadventure, or something else, when the answer to Death is at the tip of your tongue? … In your grasp, and gorging mouth, and overfilled belly. Lethal eventually, eating beyond bounds is self-harm or possibly suicide, only slower, isn’t it?

Go ahead, place your head between the lion’s jaws. Would it eat us up? Devour, or spit out our weak wills in disgust, not to mention the wasted innards, and the worry that we’re not nutritious. (What with the not very balanced diets, indigestion and occasional heartburn.)

Over here, I’m not a picky eater.

Leaving a bad taste even in leonine mouths … Huh.

Dangerously unhealthy thoughts. Woe is me, woe is us. Maybe baby … Running, only out of ways to spin this. Can we survive ourselves? Continue on this course, and we’re on one-way tickets. You only need to follow the hamour for more suspects.

Found your murderers yet?


The Grumpy Naturalist

A Rose by Another Name : 90 second read by Farriz Mashudi 18/01/2021

My desert rose plant may as well be the crystalline kind compressed from rock-hard sand for all the flowering it wasn’t doing.

Is it over-watering if the soil is hard and all the moisture I’m pouring so earnestly runs straight through? No, there’s no leaf-rot on the foliage, I’ve checked … Its leaves aren’t yellowing (anymore) and aren’t dropping now that it’s out from under the porch. With the less shade, does it still want more sun?

Mocking me, I chance upon a pair with an abundance of flowers framed by manifold clusters of shiny paddle-shaped leaves. Standing guard and doing their house proud, they’re stunning in a giddy fuchsia and the most intense green. (I’m meant to collect my child from a playdate, but have completely forgotten now why I’m here). —Bonsai only in shape, these two are giants! It’s me who’s stumped.

“They like to be left alone,” their proud mum shares. HAH! A likely story.

Camel dung, horse manure pellets, organic drops … I’m still searching for the right plant food. Seems everyone’s got a special formula their babies like. What more can I do?

Next stop, on our way home, at my friend V’s: with their fat bulbous roots, hers, I have to say, are even more amazing. There must be a secret to this. She smiles, knowingly.

“Come,” she calls, “But be quiet.” Her gardener speaks no English, V adds, as if to make a point.

Today in Messilah Gardens —Could we do with some tlc?

Only allowed to watch, at first, I’m mystified, then enthralled. Seems there is a magic going on. —Smiling enchantingly, singing softly at times, never raising his voice, he was tenderly chatting … with the plants. But also caressing and patting, blowing sweet nothings, even kissing them.

“Why not?” V says. “You’ve tried everything else.”

She was right. My painfully suffering Adenium at home all those years ago couldn’t get much worse— and happily, soon showed signs of appreciating the cheering up.

Also called the ‘Desert Azalea’ or ‘Mock Azalea’, click here for more stats on Adenium obesum.