when everyone needs to do better . . .
Fitting Words : 3 minute read by Farriz Mashudi 13/06/2021
I was in Bali years ago, staring in disbelief and wonderment out the window. It was the age that preceded WIFI, if anyone still remembers how it used to be back then? —You know, back in the day long after encyclopedia salesmen went door-to-door, but before Google, when we used to simply ask questions when we wanted to know— practically, anything really … Did I get the answer, though, that I was looking for that day?
It was a tree of sorts, that much I can say … With pointy umbrellas in a yellowy-orange, overflowing and shapely, awash on the branches that we’d just driven past. Row upon row, a show in cascading showers for tourists and locals alike, from the rolling hillock they appeared to wave, swaying to a beat entirely their own.
“Pokok apa ‘tu?” I asked our guide, speaking in standard Bahasa Malaysia, the language also known as ‘BM’ for short. At the same time I curled my tongue delicately around the words to produce what only I would consider to be a decent Indonesian accent. ‘Pokok’ being the word for tree —in the stylings of Malay spoken in the country where I was born—I wished to know what the name was for this one, where I was visiting. In a direct translation, the question, simple enough to my mind was this: Tree what that?
The everyday common label would do, I said. I wasn’t looking for Linnaeus’s genus classification in Latinate, nor anything so fancy.
Gently rubbing his wire spectacles with the hem of his loose cotton tunic, Pak Meydi paused before speaking. The gent who seemed to move in slow motion with the air of an all-knowing yogi, blinked, and shuffled in his seat. He peered out at what had caught my eye before he cleared his throat, and before he directed his gaze back at me. There were two others with us in the van: the driver and my travelling mate. We must have landed the best deal of our lives, she and I thought when we realised it would be only the two of us with our own personal guide and driver for the entire week. Had we lucked out, or had we paid too much? There was no way of telling. Either way, we were there and determined (she more than me, my golfing skills laughable till this day)—to get in a round on a luscious course located close to Mount Agung: the island’s still-active-then, and still-active-now, volcano.
But Pak Meydi hadn’t answered yet.
The driver turned—taking his eyes off the road—to give me a sheepish grin.
Had I somehow caused offence? Had I upset them? If so, I’d meant no disrespect. There was no black and white checked sarong around the tree’s slim trunk; this would have signified, even to my thick skull that it was something seen as sacrosanct, if not holy. Nor had I spotted any religious offerings at its base, and nothing else that was taboo, at least not as far as I’d noticed. Was it wrong to have merely enquired?
‘Pokok’ being the central focus, the thrust so to speak, is at the heart of the matter when discussing anything.
Taking a deep breath, Pak Meydi began. “Pokok-nya, begini …” his creased leather-brown face appearing somewhat pained as he spoke. In cross-generational English that would have been the old man’s way of saying: So, here’s the thing … And this was when my BM lessons had come rushing back, hitting me like a lightening bolt that made me sit up, straight as a rod. Becuase you see, besides being the word for ‘tree’, in very proper and well articulated Malay back home, the core of one’s argument is the ‘pokok’ of it. The ‘pokok’ being the central focus (the thrust so to speak), it puts the ‘pokok’ as a particle at the heart of the matter when discussing anything.
But Pak Meydi wasn’t finished with me. I could tell from the squashy air sounds of his persistent fidgeting that the ‘pokok perbicharaan’—the true subject of our discourse—was still to come. His voice continued steadily, even as his eyes flitted about, carefully avoiding mine. Then straight-up he spewed this as fact: “Pohon itu, namanya Trompet.”
Again, my BM teachers would have been beside themselves. I was! (Nearly falling off my seat this time.) — Who even says ‘pohon’ when it’s a humble tree by the wayside we’re talking about here? This wasn’t a plant housed in a palatial glassy conservatory; it hadn’t been cultivated in any grand botanic garden. The growth of questionable lineage was a wilding, a straggler, and from where I was sat at the back of the van, in grammatical form, ‘pohon’ felt far too elegant a term to be befitting, even if to me the specimen had been quite the sight to behold. And the name Pak Meydi had given it rendered my question rather lame.
‘Pohon’ bore an “elevated” status, but Yes, was also used with reference to trees … Why?
‘Pohon ampun, Tuanku.’ — Now this plea, albeit imaginary, from a Malay warrior of yore begging His Majesty, the regal Tuanku (a.k.a the Sultan himself), to spare his life for some transgression—was to my mind how ‘pohon’ (as a special request), was more suitably used. The word bore an “elevated” status, but Yes, was also a given synonym for trees … And why was this?
Pak Meydi nodded and smiled. Soon enough the realisation came (was it in the showers after a humid —and happily for me— over-and-done-with quickly nine holes?). The standing and deference born out of the word ‘pohon’ it seems, speaks to how trees ought to be treated. But not only in Bali.
I’d been put in my place, and in more ways than one.
Anybody (else) Home? : 90 second read by Farriz Mashudi 10/06/2021
Things are opening up, and I know I can’t keep myself locked away for much longer … Yet, the cave has been a safehouse. Like the elves, invisible in their forest hideaways, hiding has fed my endeavours. Cobbling together words, hammering away at prose, stitching and shaping stories, lost in my own world, I’ve stayed shut in whilst keeping nimble fingers and the mind (if not the body) hard at work.
From first spring, then summer, followed by the rains and freezing weather, then spring and heat repeating themselves … So far, I’ve been able to keep in shielding. It’s been both during mandatory lockdowns (How many now? ) —and during my own, self-imposed confinement periods. Sure, I’ve had the vaccination, and in two doses, but if it’s not essential, why go out? Groceries and ready-cooked meals found their way daily to the front door, and most other shopping got easily done, online. And it was fine, until now.
Now, unlike the delivery guys —except for that one post-lady, they’ve been all men—or maybe exactly like them when suffering a GPS breakdown, I’m feeling a little lost. The thought of being out and about again like a giddy butterfly, terrifies.
Worse, what if I’m the gadfly? The nuisance to be avoided—Like if I bumped into anyone, as in physically, and they scream, “Get away from me! Don’t give me the virus!” —as that old man did at the supermarket a year ago.
—What if someone accidentally bumps into me, or worse, sneezes?
—What if there’s infection in the air when my mask’s off? You can’t very well eat or drink with it on, now can you?
Indoors there could be corona variants just waiting to jump on me —from the shelves in the library, in book stores, at cash registers … from practically, anywhere.
—What if Jeff Bezos brings covid with him into outer space?
‘Going Out Anxiety’, is that what this is called?
Are You Evolved? : 90 second read by Farriz Mashudi 09/06/2021
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?
Gloves Out, Mittens In (a nod to Cat Porn) : 2 minute read by Farriz Mashudi 17/05/2021
‘Mittens’ to me have always been fingerless gloves, but still covered. Google’s online dictionary agrees:
mitten (noun), a glove with two sections, one for the thumb and the other for all four fingers.
The example given is boxing gloves—except technically—they’re mittens. Yet, here, I see a connection. Meet Mittens, my sister’s cat. Named by my brother-in-law for her distinct paws, Mittens is a Maine Coon-mix. The largest of the domestic breeds, she’s huge at still under a year. Although the official state cat of Maine in the US, this one lives close to the equator in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (That wedge south of Thailand, north of Singapore. Look for it on the map—or google it?) Most days it’s hot out and with her two-layered coat, Mittens prefers the cool air inside. Google confirms that Main Coons are well known for their hunting skills. And they’re playful even when older, but more in the way of puppies than kittens. Which explains a lot.
In lockdown, or MCOs (short for Malaysia’s long Movement Control Orders, the country’s third presently), this is how Mittens has been keeping the family entertained.
Like first-person shooter video games, she’s poised for the kill. She misses, but remains affixed; there’s the next level to play for still.
Offering weapon-based combat in a first-person perspective, Mittens hunts as others watch on intently, from the living room.
What would The Cat In The Hat have made of this?
Its author and creator, Theodor Geisel a.k.a ‘Dr Seuss’, was himself born a five-hour drive south-west of Maine. Was Mittens’ breed the one his protagonist was modelled upon? I wonder … Larger than life, his characters and the rhymes and puns he put in their mouths, were literally, a literary chunk of my childhood.
And ‘Sam I am’ from Green Eggs And Ham is banned now? Wow.
Was it due to confusion over Geisel’s satire, maybe? It happens, even as an adult, a lot of irony (and most poetry) still goes whoosh over my head. Is it considered racist because his friend won’t eat the colourful offering? Does it have other undertones that as a child, I missed?
Some say it’s a corollary of wafers and wine. You know, the “church” kind. Apparently, the internet’s to blame. Or rather, the people on it who read a lot into everything. There’s so much out there, and so much that’s so way out. Woke or otherwise, are folks being sensible?
Although, it’s true as admitted by Dr Seuss himself, The Cat In That Hat was also about Communists and ‘Reds’ —First published in 1957 when the Cold War was nearing its peak, this was probably only to be expected.
All the same, thank you, Mittens for showing us how to appreciate purely surface level visuals (and text, too, for cool cats out there that read as well). And if you think I mean the four-legged, fur ball-tonguing kind, then it’s probably fair to say that you too, should get out more.
Red Alert – Before The Herring Disappear : 3 minute read by Farriz Mashudi 11/05/2021
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 put the sandwich together myself from time to time.
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?
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.
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.
Manaus-When I Get My Hands On You (after Ai Se Eu Te Pego) : 48 second read by Farriz Mashudi 29/04/2021
With the Summer Olympics returning soon, we remember the tragedy of Juma, the jaguar of the Brazil Olympics who on 21 June 2016, was shot at the Opening Ceremony in Manaus.*
You kill me—WOW, what power you have, looking like a boss.
You kill me—WOW, when you didn’t have to at all.
Do I do the same when I see you scared?
Do you mean anything but meat to me?
Not for sport.
Not for play.
Just wait till these tables are turned.
Just wait till I get my paws on you.
It kills you—NOW, what can I say but well done, don’t stop.
It kills you—NOW, and it’s all over Manaus.
You bring ills from the Old World and the New.
You bring ills to my Amazonas.
Now you cry.
Now you die.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
But it’s too much to wish for, isn’t it?
We’re still here—WOW, and I’m still watching you.
We’re still here—WOW, if only you could learn.
* In remembrance: Reuters – Amazon Jaguar Shot Dead After Olympic Torch Ceremony
A Plantfluencer’s Pandemic : 75 second read by Farriz Mashudi 16/04/2021
Love me, or leaf me, take a pick, but don’t be sitting on the fence. Terribly corny, I know; and cliched beyond belief, I admit. I do apologise for these blatantly base affronts in writing. But for the love of plants, I have something to say, so listen up, please —On the news last night, I spotted what had to be a fellow phytophile!
It wasn’t the usual staid display of a well-stocked bookcase or curated shelves behind him. No fancy candlesticks strategically placed on the mantlepiece or photos showing that maybe you matter to someone. It was none of the usual stock picks vying to impress. (Doesn’t it just make you smile when authors have their latest publication, even past ones, in that sweet spot above their left shoulder on the screen?) I could see no self-serving here. Unless he knows how good it makes him look?
On the ledge behind the proclaimed expert, and beside him on the desk—was a collection of blooms and greens. A pot of yellow dwarf roses flourished to the viewer’s right next to a thriving emerald shrub. I craned my neck hoping to see the pot it was in (which his torso and head were unfortunately blocking).
—Ceramic hopefully, or ceramic inside brass? —Surely not plastic or directly potted in metal?
The unanswered questions were getting me worked up.
And you can forget bonsai, there was no holding back with this guy. His garden with its fulsome succulents and lush ferns hanging from the ceiling in the background, was on full display. All inside, mind you— It was a showcase of indoor gardening at its most impressive. I wondered if he had help? He must have, surely. How could he be this good and in a suit?
And yes, I’ll admit, too, I was so distracted, I can’t even recall now who he was, or what the news had been about, except that it was breaking. Which just speaks to my point all the more: bring on the plants, people!Have a favourite? More on plantfluencers in: JSTOR’s Plant of The Month
Red To Relax? : 40 second read by Farriz Mashudi 14/02/2021
Probably not a great Valentine’s Day gift … For kratom, or ‘daun ketum’ as they’re also called, being a leaf of contention comes with the turf. Starting with colour. As far as Mitragyna speciose is concerned, its red varieties marked thereby in its stems and leaves, are said to be the most dispassionate. Red in this case isn’t stimulating, but can apparently relax, calm and sedate.
It can make you see RED though, because the authorities, just doing their job, disapprove of it as a potential gateway drug to the harder stuff. And when combined with other ingredients can make for a heady cocktail. (No more a gentle cup of tea.) So, beware, and this lies at the heart of the matter: Be good to yourselves. ILLEGAL DRUGS KILL.
Still, it’s sad to see a centuries old herbal concoction be possibly banned completely for the way it’s been abused by a handful of oh-so-clever homo sapiens. Or have we always lived like this— You know, a little dangerously?
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.
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.
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.
A Monolithic Rant : 60 second read by Farriz Mashudi 15/01/2021
Blast, if I can find one. More too, wouldn’t go amiss.
We need some stones in here, please. Yes, to work with.
Like the life of a caveman enclosed in a world with limits, the stone, is once again a lifesaver.
Not for flint and starting a fire, but for the reflection of thoughts that capture our whims and imagined desires. To light up our lives with painted pictures and written words in snappy poems and witty prose. To amuse us. Uh no, not like Netflix.
Not to make a cutting tool or spearhead. It should be smooth. To give thanks, and appreciation. To be grateful for being alive. To remember those who didn’t make it—with gravestones in a modest not sumptuous way, full of respect and pride.
Not to be hurled in anger. These stones are to be cherished. Cold, stony hearts, wintery souls, “Don’t give up,” they say. The situation’s not set in stone. HaHa, pardon the pun. Not funny, eh? Just rock on and get drawing! Not even epic sculptures manage to do this, or maybe they do when they hit the right vein.
In a throwback to those very early times, stones bring renewed hope to homo sapiens. KEEP CALM AND GET STONES (not stoned, mind). But I’d still have to go outdoors. Seems the joke’s on me, still stuck in this hotel in quarantine.
—Yes, it’s from the past, thanks for not saying.
Brexit In Inverse : 80 second read by Farriz Mashudi 09/01/2021
On the ice we waddle. We dally, we delay, we dawdle. Deliberating. Or call it careful. We’re on thin ice here. One tough call after another. The previous overtaken by the latest, stakes soaring ever higher each time. Makes the issue minuscule now, that had previously been ginormous.
—We’re sitting ducks, for God’s sake. What do we do, really, except look pretty, us males? Name anyone that actually needs us after the eggs are hatched.
—Existence isn’t for nought.
—How do we serve, then? If not in Peking Ducks with hoisin sauce or à l’orange (call it ‘bigarade’, if you must). It’s all the same. We’re only good for sport, and searing.
—Or to be demi-glaced for stock cubes.
—Oy, whose side are you on? Did you know ‘glace’ — it’s pronounced GLAH-SS by the way, comes from the French word glaze, for ice?
—Seems we’re always back at square one. How’s about if we just swim along. Stay alive. That should be enough. Look at the humans walking around. Catch their two-legged chats. They walk straight, in straight lines round and round, mostly straight past. Some chuck a bit of bird food, a little bread. Others point a phone.
—Notice how none stay long? They’ve got problems, same as us: BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST; then LARGE, LARGER still, and …
—Don’t say it.
—We don’t want it to come to that, do we.
—We decide today.
—Why not now?
—I’m wondering if it’s not meant to be. Like the dinosaurs and previous disappearing acts. It’ll make for new breeds, tougher ones, virus resistant ones …
—With feathers made of metal, that can dive like penguins and hold their breath like submarines and fly north or south or in any direction willy nilly and whenever. You always were such a dreamer.
—Like you’re such a realist.
—I say we go, and quick. The atmosphere here changes so fast. At this rate, next they’ll be vaccinating us.
—You’re right. Let’s do it. Spain’s probably out of the question … Our usual rendezvous, then?
— Oui, mandatory masks outdoors too, it’s so much safer. Jardin du Luxembourg, see you there, John!
Fly, Butterfly : 2 minute read by Farriz Mashudi, posted 25/12/2020
Just last week I asked her about the butterflies. She wasn’t sure. She brought nets, I said. I reminded her how she showed me how to grip the handle tightly with one hand and run with the threaded squares billowing above my head. Buttercups in a field. Or was some other specious wild flower colouring my thoughts?
Hadn’t it been a little cloudy that day?
A blur in my mind. Fog, where reality stopped, made fertile ground for made-up notions. Like mould on old film, the lines were haziest on the fringe. But no way could I have dreamed up the whole thing.
“Mum, you were there. I’m not making this up.”
Could she just agree that the butterflies were for an assignment? She’d done a Biology degree, then a Masters and Phd. We filled an array of clear jars with our catch. None had holes in the metal tops, and as I watched life departing the paper-thin wings, I was told it was all fine. Oranges and browns outlined in black, some dotted with white, all caught in their prime, apparently didn’t feel a thing. Besides, their infinite beauty would be preserved, saved from being lost in a short-lived blink. All said, it didn’t seem quite right still.
Pins, she had used tailors’ pins, and a wooden board. Was it for a display?
“Maybe,” she said, shoulders rounding in a shrug. If she could care less about my memories, at least feign nostalgia, if only some. Don’t brush me off like this. Distracted, dismissive, was it coldness, or confusion? Where was the all-knowing woman, the one who didn’t necessarily know best, but always presumed she did. Were her missing pieces, gone for good or merely gone amiss?
She looks a bit dazed. Absent without leave. Checked-out . . . This could be me one day.
But this isn’t about you. Or maybe it is. Isn’t this how it’s always been between us?
Should it change? I’m only over 50, but in my favourite memories of my mother, I’m still three. Four tops.
In the here and now, who would be the repository of our everything? — Details too minute for anyone else to notice, the secrets that are ours alone to leak, all the shade she filled between the lines and jumped to conclusions with, the conspiracy theories she insisted were real. The laughs, the humour, the wit . . . It wouldn’t be the same ‘her’ — or ‘us’, or ‘me’, without these individually meaningless things.
This is why mothers aren’t allowed to abandon their offspring. Ever. Not physically, or mentally. If caterpillars only knew what was out there, they’d want to stay cocooned for longer. And in that perfect place, butterflies would never fade, nor fly away. Or at least not until all concerned are ready and prepared for what it takes.
“Mum, tell me you remember, please?”
The Rooster Who Was Chicken – Part 3 (final) :
by Farriz Mashudi 15/09/2020
Photo credits from the top: Erik Karits 1, Tim Mossholder, Mark Broadhurst, Jarro, Hu00fcseyin u00d6zen, Erik Karits 2, Karolina Grabowska, Keng Leong Chooi, Alexas Fotos
This is where we leave Hugo and his French Hens. CLICK: for a francophile’s take on what they represent to some, beyond the plate-able.
The Rooster Who Was Chicken – Part 2 :
by Farriz Mashudi 14/09/2020
Photo credits from top: Chevanon Photgraphy, Pixabay 1, 2, Blacktator, Domain Pictures, cottonbro 1, Victoria Borodinova, Haste LeArtV., Maria Pop, Lukas, Erik Mclean, and cottonbro 2 below.
Hugo contemplates his options:
A. Fight it out and risk death? He could die trying.
B. Find his own territory elsewhere? Beat a retreat, be moved, again.
C. Live & Let Live – Continue being henpecked? Wasn’t helping with the ladies.
D. Try something different. But WHAT?
The Rooster Who Was Chicken – Part 1 :
by Farriz Mashudi 13/09/2020
Photo credits from the top: Engin Akyurt, VisionPic, Zahaoha, James Wheeler, Pixabay, Rachel Vine, Pixabay again, cottonbro, Caleb Oquendo, cottonbro again.
Does Hugo dare to come out, when he’s let loose?
As they (used to) say in Hollywood – STAY TUNED.
Cockerels are the hardest to re-home, says the RSPCA.
Mole In The Hole – The final of a (00)7 part series : 2 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 26/08/2020
Toad in the Hole is a dish of sausages using traditionally, the cheapest meats, baked in Yorkshire Pudding batter. Knowing this, you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if our Mole’s goose was cooked, his hide skinned. Had he made his escape to the North? Truth be told, no one, not even Jim, the ‘exterminator guy’ (aka ‘The Ferret’), could say for certain. Even if I’d wanted him to. . . A View to a Kill or Die Another Day? Spectre, maybe?
There’s a certain comfort in not knowing.
No dead body, there was nothing to be guilty of.
Would the uncertain death haunt me, though, for life?
Already, I’d gone down the path of butchering slugs. Yes, Live and Let Die . . . In my defence that they were incredibly fat and fleshy surely meant they’d had their fill, making them a great affront. Enough was enough. Four got snipped down their middles with the out-door scissors. Their oozing guts a slimy orange-brown. There was no blood, neither on the finger blades, nor on my hands. Did this make it tantamount to murders that didn’t count?
Never Say Never Again . . . I suppose I’ll have the answer when the time comes for atonement.
For now, the dirty deed done, all’s quiet on all fronts, excepting the climate, which is exceptional for the time of year. Welsh weather on the borders was becoming as terrible as the English kind, in all its varieties. If not for the heavy rain and blustery winds threatening even to uproot my favourite willow, I’d be out there now throwing a party in the rockery, on the gravel paths, amidst the dry-stone beds.
Was it the unseasonal gales that sent him packing? Whatever it was, the Mole has fled. Indeed, Skyfall.
Gone at last, Jim says he’s departed for good. Not dearly, it’s still time to pay up. Good riddance, costs. And it’s the same price whether it was his head Jim had, or whether it’s the back of the Mole that we’ll never see again. Quantum of Solace.
What’s this then? Increased mole activity in Nottingham? Our adjacent woods not good enough for him, Mr. Mole must have packed it all in and taken a road trip. Well, it is the season for migrants across the Channel. And across the borders now, too, it seems.
My Mole was or, still remains foul, of whom, dead or alive, it’s undeniable: He’s double-‘O’ one (001) at cooking up a storm, whilst feasting on him, is highly not recommended. His meat tastes horrid. (Although, according to the husband who has looked it up, Mole Jerky is a thing in parts of Yorkshire.)
Commiserations to all lawns, farmers’ fields and gardens north of Llangollen! From Wales with Love . . .
Adieu Mr. Mole, this is no au revoir. Moles are not forever. We don’t want to meet again.
Despatch him, do what you will, but please don’t send him back. Much like Daniel Craig’s latest — or last outing as Bond (We’ll see, won’t we?) — perhaps there just is No (better) Time to Die, and everyone’s blood pressure (even if it’s only the Queen of Hearts’ and mine) can hopefully be returned to normal.
From BBC One’s Great British Budget Menu: A recipe for Toad in the Hole.
Molebusters (6) : 50 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 19/08/2020
Read a bad script recently? For a ‘B’ grade, or ‘C’ movie with a definite ‘F’ rating. –
EXTERIOR, BELOW GROUND – WHITE GARDEN TUNNELS – DAY –
MOLE (3-year-old). Intelligent. Self-centred. Vicious. Prone to making a mess. Obsessed with bird-baths.
Tunnelling beneath one, inches below the surface, the soil is boggy and soft, gentle on his hard-worn paws. Sharp talons on the end of six fingers help to dig through rough, dry patches, but nothing beats the luxuriousness – the spa-like sensation, of nesting under a bird-bath. He puts his feet up, his days are a blur. He needs his 4-hourly shut-eye (as blind as he is). He’ll take a bullet for no one.
EXTERIOR, ABOVE GROUND – WHITE GARDEN GRAVEL PATHS – DAY – CONTINUOUS
THE GRUMPY NATURALIST (early 50s). Likes to think she’s hard-nosed and practical. Aspires to be easy going despite OCD tendencies. Fights the urge for artistic perfection. Nature loving. Garden proud. Not always certain she knows what she’s doing. Ploughs on regardless. Positive outcomes not guaranteed. Not averse to getting help. So shoot her.
Greets JIM with relief.
JIM THE FERRET (mid-70s). Grey-haired, hulking presence. Giant wellies. Uber passionate pest-controller from the age of 5. Mission: KIA (Kill in Action), kindly, IF POSSIBLE.
After gassing the trenches, his mouth creases into a Clint Eastwood straight line. But he’s no cowboy. The Terminator in JIM turns his head and casts a look towards the bird-bath. He squints (still Clint, after all) – and booms: I’LL BE BACK . . .
TO BE CONTINUED . . . Will it be a happy ending? And for whom?
Bad films don’t necessarily lack research – Live Science on Extra Mole Digits: 5 or 6?
Mole Under My Skin (5) : 2 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 18/08/2020
This scene wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t written in the script. Matt Damon just ran with it, and Spielberg just kept the cameras rolling, approving the improv after the event.
Considering that the film won multiple Directors’ awards, the ‘King of Entertainment’, as Spielberg was also called, knew what he was doing, as it seems, did Private Ryan.
“Earn this . . . Earn it,” Tom Hank’s character with his own dying breath implores the ‘Sole Survivor’, the last of four brothers, whom they’d come to save per Presidential order from the brutalities of a war no one should have been in.
Sadder still, it was based on a true story.
This morning I looked up moleskin, and also Moleskine*. I hoped to give you more meaning . . . Try to make some sense of your life, you know?
( *Pronounced ‘moleh-skee-ney‘ or ‘mole-skeen’, or simply ‘moleskin’, howsoever one prefers.)
Subterfuge, direct conflict, nothing’s worked. Forget threats, I’m at my wits end, and fresh out of ideas what to do.
But you’re not a leather-like textile of one hundred percent cotton that’s soft, yet hard-wearing. Nor are you an iconic notebook made of cardboard and oil cloth (not dead mole hides), of Italian design and made in China (the ancient home of paper-making, according to the brand’s website); You definitely inspire a strong personal response, but creativity? Not so much.
At least not in the way Da Vinci, Picasso and Hemingway are said to have put their traditional moleskin notebooks to work.
As it is, I have issues dealing with slugs. Unlike Belinda, our little neighbour in Vancouver who was the hoover that devoured them. To the birds and to Belinda, the slimy, plump gastropod molluscs were a treat (with or without salt). She’d pick them up and down them in one. If anyone needed containing back then, it was the toddler with the unhealthy diet.
But we’ve got you now, and this isn’t child’s play or story-time.
As ridiculous as the situation is, and as impossible as you are, it’s a grown-up choice we’re talking about.
To rid their terrain of snails and slugs, the more humane gardeners apply death by hypothermia (place in zip lock bag and freeze before serving outdoors). The kindest hearted, plant a sacrificial plot. In their restaurant for garden snails (the only variety of escargot they’ve got) they go so far as to lay on a smorgasbord for the silver trail blazers to tuck into to their hearts’ delight. In addition to chickens and runner ducks (the Belindas), I know some who squish them or slice through them, even burn them like heretics over a fire. The pacifists amongst us would ask . . . No, actually, they’d be certain of the answer to this question:
As another fellow-gardener would also agree, this here Mole, he’s just doing his thing.
In some places, slugs are extinct. ‘Extirpation’, the call it. Riddance is localised geographically.
That’s what we want. Need. As a top priority. Here.
If this were a reality show, it’s the one called Survivor, not Love Island.
I’ve given you the option of making your living some place else. The rose balls sent down your tunnels to smoke you out left an escape route via the garden’s south-east corner. Use it, Mole. Fast. (Hubby’s called in the professionals. I told you he would. You’re a dark blot to be wiped out, and he’s got skin in the game now, too. )
Enough already with the tapping back at me through the roof of your tunnels. Choose Life; If you had any other plan — Abort! A plaintive appeal, not cryptic at all, my message to you in loud Morse code is this:
For tips on treating slugs humanely: Slug Help
COMING SOON stay-tuned for the next episode of this mole-ist saga, featuring Jim, The Ferret.
Mole Royale (4) : 75 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 16/08/2020
It’s me now Mole, who’s on Her Majesty’s secret service. Wasn’t easy to see her, but we did manage an audience in the end.
The White Rabbit was sympathetic to my plight and has a message for you:
“Burrow elsewhere. Life’s too short.”
The Mad Hatter was out to Lunch when I arrived, but when he heard, he, too sympathised. You and I, we’re not a good fit, he felt. But we must all mind our manners. Be hypocrite to a ‘T’.
Painfully practical, he recommends a most unsavoury un-birthday.
“Sub-contract it,” he said. WINK-WINK.
I showed the soldiers the polka-dot method (which you’ve clearly perfected, Mole, with soil).
‘Tudor’-ing the roses, painting them red isn’t as simple as first throught.
The Spades weren’t much impressed to see the red emulsion not sticking.
“Bolder strokes, Madam, that’s what you need . . . And greater determination.”
As if that weren’t direct enough, the Queen’s decree was nothing if not decisive:
“OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”
So now I’m ‘M’ and you’re ‘U’ — which means you need to make a U-turn, and fast. My top agent’s been taken off the highest-levels of desk-top duty on Battlefield, Call Of Duty, World Of Tanks and Hell Let Loose. He doesn’t like fieldwork, and just wants to get back to gaming, except not in a casino, ‘Royale’, or otherwise. A mercenary in a hurry. To be let loose to do his worst . . .
(Failing which, Mole, the husband will have to come off PUBG – Players Unknown Battleground. It won’t be, “WINNER, WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER!” he’ll be playing for. Instead, it’ll be Mole Royale. — Which will be served nothing like at Burger King. The crumbs will be fresh, but won’t be of bread, and it’ll be you that’s stuffed, and not the cream that’s sour when your head’s served on a platter to ‘Q’. . . with horseradish, mint or cranberry on the side, or just buried under a mound of mash drowned in gravy? Or would you prefer hot soup?) Whichever way we slice this, Mole — You’re going down!
A recipe for Chicken Royale.
MOLE VERSION NOT RECOMMENDED TO TRY AT HOME.
Previously in the series:
Comment from *Garry ‘Sos’ Shore (as ‘M’) on ‘To Catch A Mole’ : 12/08/2020
Sorry to hear our frontier forces are still having difficulty controlling the natives.
For your immediate attention:- We have two observations to note from your report.
1. Your roses should be red. 2. The mallet should be hard rubber.
The Red Rose wins every time and has been in control since 1485, plus the white rose. though very beautiful, may be taken as passive or a sign of surrender. The enemy may grow in confidence. Warning: If war crimes become an issue there will be an investigation. The wooden mallet will soak up incriminating blood and tissue whereas the rubber can be wiped and sterilised.
Be assured we are looking into methods and equipment to help you fight this new terror.
Reply from TGN (same day)
All duly noted, M.
Per Plan B, am heading off to Lewis Carroll’s gardens to consult ‘Q’ — The Queen of Hearts (who would have only red roses, and flamingoes for mallets). If ‘painting the roses red’ will help, then Tudor it will be: white on the inside, coated in red, and staunchly anti-Mole to the core. May victory be ours, and this, be the end of his sorry tail.
* No stranger to these pages, there’s more from ‘M’ under Guest Writers.
To Catch A Mole (3) : 90 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 13/08/2020
<Soldiers returned from reconnaissance.>
“Ma’am we’ve had two more sightings this morning. One on opposite sides of the fence: At the bottom of the terrace, and outside the left perimeter of the NW flower bed. It could have been worse Ma’am.”
“North west?” The side of the raised stone beds that can’t be seen from the house . . . Hmm . . . Mole’s covert ops were turning sly. “You, next. Report.”
“Ma’am, we’re almost out of ammo. Just two rounds of ten left. What do we do when they run out? G.I Joe awaiting your orders, Ma’am.”
Ken1 and Ken2, who doesn’t speak, and G.I Joe were on my side. Or were they? There never were enough boy dolls amongst our toys.
But who was I kidding, this was a lone war. It was just me against him. My adversary, an underground terrorist had turned. Now deploying guerrilla tactics, he doesn’t seem to know the meaning of surrender. I had no cadre of soldiers, no battalion of elite troops at my command. (There was the husband, but he has a day job, even if it’s working from home.)
Would you have me turn into a sniper tonight, Mole? You never know, a ghillie suite in white camouflage to match the flowers could be a season highlight. I don’t think I could get any lower than that. . . Or could I?
Have you heard of it, Mole? Too bad you’re not mechanical the way the Japanese arcade game is, or made of plastic like in the American version. I’d love to take a bash at a fake head of yours. I don’t deny you’re my cause célèbre. — You’ve aggravated me hugely for upsetting the garden. But if you think you’ll end up a martyr, think again. You’re the enemy here, not me.
Everyone despises you. You’re a universal anathema, a public enemy in a private war playing out in my own backyard.
The French version of the game’s called Chass’ Taupes (chase moles), so yeah, weh, oui-oui. And have you seen the inflatable bouncy ones?
Operation ‘Search & Stink Out’ may have been lame in your book, and mission ‘Destroy His Nose’ something of a joke, but watch out. — With Whack-A-Mole it’s the next level.
It’s personal now. ‘M’ would understand, despite it being a domestic situation. “Bring on the mole hunt!” she’d say, if she were still on the job.
And there’s help to be had on the home front after all. — Forget sleeping tight, bring out the tent and sleeping bags kids. This squad is camping out. — Forget teargas, we’ve got citronella candles and thumping Heavy Metal and HipHop to blast. — Just don’t forget those wooden mallets.
Stay posted for the next episode to discover Mole’s fate . . . ‘WHO DARES WINS’? Does he ‘LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY’?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Mole (2) : 90 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 12/08/2020
AGENT PROFILEKnown sociopath: Destroys without compunction.
Loner, works in stealth mode.
Has nothing to lose. Reviled by his own kind.
Blind to everything but the target.
Highly developed olfactory function. Also, a weakness.
Royal Marines? Special Forces? SAS?
What were you before you were reduced to this?
Destroyer of parterre; Night Raider . . . Honestly, it’s looking like Flanders out here! Or Ypres? Quite literally EEEP (!) Trench warfare may be your specialty, but once openly aired, even deeply rooted dictators like Noriega finally succumbed to a battle of the wits.
Mind games or psychological warfare — rather than biological, chemical or involving anything sharp and brutal — I can just about deal with. Definitely nothing bloody, please.
And ‘All’s fair in love and war’, they say? So, here’s the fairest from my garden for you. Beautiful bombs in the most fragrant rose-smells. The ambrosial essence transports me to another world, but will soon have you flying out from underfoot. Or, so the product blurb promises . . . In German, English and French.
Unlike the Vietnamese ones from the ‘70s, plain as day, the entrances to your tunnels are easy enough to locate. Cutting through my carefully laid, not to mention, fully-paid for and not cheap mind you, membrane (no empty plastic compost bags here, although the old carpet was tempting), you’ve got the husband (read as ‘financial backer’, a.k.a. my money-man, only not in pennies) fuming now as well. Armour piercing, you’ve gone and done it now Mole!
You’ve only yourself to blame for this ‘stench’ that will bring you in from the cold.
Just do it discreetly, will you, per the unspoken etiquette of spies, and spare me the horrible sight of you, dead or alive. I’m all for saving you, privately. There’s really no need to make a scene. Just be AWOL, I’m taking no prisoners, no Bravo Zulu ‘job-well done’ for you, mate. You’re not a buddy, in any manner of speaking.
But how will I know if you’re gone? Are calling cards still in, Bond, ala Zoro and that Scarlet Pimpernel?
For the first in the series: The Mole Who Hates Me
Plantlife – Wildflowers Countdown : 90 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 10/08/2020
Two days ago, I met a rep from Plantlife. They work hard to eek-out a living for fiercely independent free-spirited botanicals that are otherwise homeless and dying out.
Wildflowers aren’t so wild these days, it seems. At least not in the ability to spread their love and sow their own seeds. We could all do our bit, she said.
As boundless and infinite as they may seem, apparently, there’s more to planting wildflowers than simply blowing dandelion webs into the wind.
Been some years ago now, but the disappointment of broken advertising promises still smarts. I’d cleared the weeds and raked the dirt (properly following the instructions), before shaking out loose seeds bought from Tesco’s. At 99 pence a packet for what looked like it could achieve a lot (per the picture on the front), for a time-pressed gardener, they offered an irresistible proposition: Just spread over the ground, and Nature will do the rest. Didn’t happen, did it?
- Was it birds that helped themselves to a feast?
- Worms that didn’t do their job?
- Not enough water? Too much rain?
- Too little sun? . . . WHAT?
Outside the fence, a dappled clearing leads into the woods. Fire weed grows in stacks like choristers lined-up along the river side; Blue bells struggle, peeping out when we’re lucky beneath dense foliage. (FYI, it’s illegal to pick them or walk nearby.) Still, here’s a patch I could do something with. . . Plantlife want people to make their own meadows too. So, how long would it take for a wild flower meadow to grow, expand happily, and be at home? (Preferably without any hand-holding.)
From their website I see the ‘Road Verge Campaign’ is gaining momentum . . .
Not big on tidy, ‘free flowers’, in times of economic crunch. A neat idea indeed.
45% of the UK’s flora grows by the roadside.
‘15,800 acres of meadow created or restored’.
‘Meadows help prevent floods and restore carbon’ . . . OK, I’m sold.
But the website doesn’t show how to DO IT YOURSELF for planting. No worries, there’s plenty of help out there, the top tip being to leave the prepared soil for at least two weeks (to be rid of the most stubborn weeds and returning grasses).
14 days. Isn’t that rather long?
Then another year to see the results, fingers crossed. Gardening, even in the wilds, is never instant, nor without risk.
Luckily, this one’s always game. . . Now where have I put the rest of those seeds?
The Mole Who Hates Me (1) : 80 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 04/08/2020
Be gone, you four-legged James Bond!
“Berambus,” as we say in Malay. Scram, off with you. Your head and all, just don’t be here. Adios, Sayonara, vamoose.
Popping up in this bed and then another, moving mountains blown up like Beirut, you can hide, but you can’t run . Can’t keep yourself secret, your identity is known. Maybe you enjoy this ‘cat-and-mouse’? Maybe you want to be caught?
Tormenting me by the bucket loads, with your freshly turned-up hills, your mounds of earthworks, doubling back in triple crossed lines, you’ve done it again . . . Gone and beaten the living daylights out of the orderly gravel.
Be warned, Monsieur Mole: I’m watching you.
As an underground agent, your other victims, the worms are in agreement: You’re the best. . . of the worst kind. The only ‘drop’ we want to see in this here garden, is you dead. Capiche?
Moles, spies, international thugs, gangsters, you’re all the same. Only diplomatic in different degrees.
I can’t stomach this espionage business. Entrapment is so messy. As I’m also rather squeamish (blood just isn’t my thing), we’re not talking bullet holes. Not even target practise.
So, Mole, spare us the commando tactics, the landscape’s been tortured quite enough. You’re nothing like the dear we know from The Wind in The Willows. Could you just make like thin air, and vanish? You know, be gone with the wind?
And I’d recommend a new identity. Be a badger if you like? Or a hedgehog? Jason Bourne? — Tell me, who doesn’t like him.
But not ‘Killing Eve’. Villainous Villanelle is plain psycho. You, on the other hand, ‘fess up. — You know exactly what you’re doing.
Seriously, we need a détente. Now.
All this digging around, tunnelling and hacking away at night — your nocturnal proclivities must end. So, could you kindly make your escape, pronto. Please, spasiba — in English, Russian, gibberish, or any other lingo you understand.
And no coming back. The local MI5 (a.k.a. the husband) is a regular sniper and shoots to kill (or fancies he can, on his phone games, at least. You don’t want to mess with him).
Roger that, 007?
For more on this wiliest of adversaries: “Don’t Kill Moles” By a former exterminator.
Why My White Garden Matters : 5 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 02/08/2020
Plans for my white garden were conceived long before the consonants B-L-M and Black Lives Matter came about.
The beauty of the white garden is how lighter hues are made to pop, how they’re enhanced and stand-out amongst shades and textures and splashes of contrast. It’s the botanic artistry that’s challenging, frustrating at times, that also makes it rewarding. Done right, white gardens make for a dramatic vista, subtle yet sublime.
Innocent enough superficially, I had to ask how this prejudiced palette (if only in horticultural terms), measures up in the BLM context.
Laugh, make light of this apparent folly, but I’m not being glib. Seriously. Consider how certain tastes, mores and cultural norms, even ideologies widely accepted in their heyday have struggled, toppled even, under contemporary scrutiny.
Compelling today, might my predisposition for parterre in predominant white someday be seen as perverse?
Would this obsession with white blooms be tainting?
Some might say that white alone, even in shades of, is an abomination, is Nature manipulated.
I prepared for soul-searching, to find its root-cause. But unlike beastly moles, dead-set on upsetting my landscaping, I didn’t need to dig very deep. That it came to me so quickly was a surprise. It appears the attraction was obvious:
White perennials, tall and small, some in rounded mounds, others weaving in and out, gently winding their way up stout willow obelisks firmly staked into the ground; Shrubs, spreaders, candelabra-like corymbs carrying blooms in umbels like Agapanthus, Lily of the Nile, for example; Not to mention Alliums, each an elegant sculpture in its own right; The varieties of leaves and bracts each oval, ovate, obovate (like an upside-down egg), oblong, whorled, lobed, lanceted, their different shapes that include the clustered, as well as the deeply divided; And the mind-blowing potential of hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and roses in a range of whites . . . All planted in a backdrop of greens bordered with solid walls and formally laid gravel paths.
Have I mentioned the heavenly scents?
Its simple elegance not an outright assault on the senses, but rather a heady one.
What wasn’t there to moon over and wax lyrical about?
With the potential still for hedging and topiary, it looks upper class. If not that, then rich, or crasser still, just pretty posh.
There’s probably no more proper a white garden to be found than Vita Sackville-West’s at Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent in England, in the United Kingdom. The gold-standard of white gardens, hers is recognised as the fairest of them all. See, it’s part of a castle, a princely abode (read as ridiculously expensive), which she in fact did herself own. Pointless really, to pretend that white gardens aren’t associated with the elite, property-endowed and affluent. Not that fanning over or being possessed of one these days, renders one as such.
If not in its symbolism for understated abundance, then the attraction may lie in the magnetic power of the gentry itself (noble, or otherwise influential) that white gardens also represent.
Perhaps it’s a pursuit of some special-ness that might rub off?
Would the label ‘classism’ fit? That’s another shoe that’s also seen a fair bit of spit.
I wondered as well whether my white biased landscaping means an aversion for all things black. Hand on heart, for me, personally, it doesn’t.
Labelled ‘yellow’ by mean kids in Canada (incidentally, all white), being Malay in a predominantly Chinese part of Malaysia, accused abroad of personifying the government’s ‘racist’ policies, called ‘Coronavirus’ to my face, and as a modern Muslim living in the West — I struggle to not take to heart blatant racism I’m prone to receiving myself under certain circumstances, in certain locales.
Working in the Middle East where rampant stereotyping is business-as-usual, neither have resembling a Filipina and being partly of Indonesian descent helped. Many from these ASEAN neighbours fill the ranks of housemaids in Arab and expat households. But their over-representation in eateries like McDonalds brought an unexpected perk, and I’ve stopped being surprised to receive larger portions of fries (unsolicited, but welcomed) compared to other patrons.
But no matter the extant of my own experiences, none compare to what BLM seeks to eradicate. Not that my white garden — and what it may or may not represent — doesn’t (also) matter.
Its stone birdbath and rabbit sculpture fill me with happy thoughts, not images of grief and strife. In them I see how to some, statues of white luminaries scream public celebration of these men, with their warts, ignoble and less savoury deeds, and all.
Whilst raising no stink, bushels of white flowers on the other hand — from hyacinths, to jasmine, to honeysuckle, to peonies and gladioli (and a bountiful of other white lilies), to viburnum, to gardenias, to ylang-ylang, and the mighty tuberose and more — the list of the most ambrosial blooms, extends as long as the perpetual lingering of their strong fragrance and makes for the sweetest smelling of environs that nourish pollinators, perfumers and gentle souls alike.
Removing statues won’t ever delete leading lights from the annals of history. (What’s done is done.) Yet, as a civil society, might we not relocate them to the inside of museums? Degrees of intolerableness could there be weighed holistically, without necessarily ‘cancelling’ otherwise universally laudable achievements.
Ages before Colston’s downfall into the depths of Bristol Harbour, yonks ahead of outbursts over Cecil Rhodes’ good standing outside Oriel College, Oxford, and years before sparks from George Floyd’s death in America were flung far and wide — the seeds of my preference for planting with a constraint on colour were already sown. And as it turns out, white gardening isn’t entirely as devoid of the tethers of privilege as first thought.
Does this personal insight make me admire white gardens less?
I’d be lying if I said, “Yes.”
With this invaluable realisation I’m more able to ensure, however, that with people of all hues, as with plants . . . that my dealings and interactions are specifically with individuals in mind, and not any socially contrived colour scheme.
But bottom line, shouldn’t it be that green lives matter most? It’s them after all, that can save us, irrespective of colour, class, creed and culture.
See Grumpy Poetry 03/08/2020: George Floyd also features in Breathe, by Guest Writer, Grieg Parker.
Grounding Recovery : 90 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 07/07/2020
For two old groundhogs it’s been the longest day . . .
Neither spring nor summer have emerged. Well not properly, weather-wise or due to this pandemic. On one of the more desperate days in May, Tesco’s carpark had to do for a clandestine meeting conducted in the open air, 2-meters apart. Exchanged in broad daylight, the drop was a Kindle, with the library still shut. Book worms and burrowing writers alike, what would we to do with ourselves first if, when, the world reopened?
Coffee was a sure maybe, in any of the cafés in Llandod or Builth, our respective towns. More than 5 miles apart, they’d been too far to travel for non-essentials during the Welsh lockdown, even if they had been allowed to open.
Would Afternoon Tea at the Metropole be the same, or seem better somehow for its drawn-out absence? And when would it resume, exactly? A degree of clarity beyond butter and the clotted-cream it produced would be welcomed, even as we learnt to accept a life of never knowing how safe it was to be out-and-about for vulnerable groundhogs supposedly shielding.
There’d been no shortages, for which we were grateful, not even of smoked salmon for finger sandwiches made at home. Still, rumours of possible layoffs in Llandod’s two largest hotels — the big green landmark, and the other, resplendent in red-brick, are sound reality checks.
We may be tougher for having braved these long months, and become closer-knit within our confined communities, physical and virtual.
But if like in the Bill Murray film, ‘Groundhog Day’ heaps and mounds of self-less-ness is the key to ending humanity’s presently most-pressing predicament, let’s drill-down to just one of them :
Possibly the lowest hanging of God’s given fruits, could people just check their unconscious bias? Or biases, how-so-ever-many they may be, inherited and/or cultivated since childhood.
- Compassion mountains;
- Trust in digger-loads;
- Buckets-full of a rational measured approach
Too much to hope for? . . . Same as Punxsutawney Phil, this groundhog’s not particularly optimistic.
They’re personal, our own to manage and control. Bias, so often so deeply ingrained can be so tough to rub out. To discriminate though, would be behaving like this virus. A killing breath, despite vaccines and antibodies to come, would the world be really recovered without people fixing ourselves first, deep down?
It’s all very real to Phil: Groundhog Day 2020
Couch To 5K : 70 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 05/07/2020
My daughter went running today. She nearly tripped, she said, when she saw a dead animal. Silver tailed, curled up in foetal position, she didn’t think lying on the ground would be a life choice for a squirrel.
Leaping over the fresh carcass, the wild flowers in the field we walked across last week were different today. No more buttercups, now cow parsley and yellow rattle. They could change again by tomorrow, I said, hoping to follow.
“No Mum, it’s rest day, I’ll run the next.”
Rest days, it appears are real, and to be taken seriously. Such is the sage advice of Michael Johnson on the ‘Couch to 5K’ running app. Known also as ‘C25K’, its podcasts aren’t on the BBC or Sky, but on the NHS website. She thinks it’s because many Brits are obese.
Googling, it turns out a 50-year old couch potato was what inspired the app’s creation in the US. Not fat-fat, the man’s mother (like me) was perhaps just being lazy? Besides, I don’t have the fancy headphones my daughter has.
Listening to all their voices, she’d gone for the coach with the most soothing tone.
Was it because he’s black, I asked?
“No Mum, look at the photo.”
With heavy-duty gym equipment in the background, he does appear the most professional. Never mind the American accent, which she admitted, was pretty cool and she found motivating, especially on uphill stretches. She only wished he was a celebrity.
What was it with this Instagram generation?
He may not be Mo Farah of the long distances, but Michael Johnson’s 4 Olympic gold medals and string of 8 World Championship titles in the sprints certainly wasn’t shabby.
“It’s well-designed,” she adds on second thought, “I can even hear my music playing in the background.”
But what of birdsong? Was it too much to expect everything from an app?
C25K has only managed to persuade millions to get running. But whether we’re sat on our bums or looking alive, ‘couchers’ of all ages it seems, are hard nuts to please.
Think BIGGER : 3 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 03/07/2020
Half, nay. . . I’ve been to most all the places in Sarawakian Borneo cited by the New Internationalist in its recent piece on Bakun and the previously proposed Baram Dams. Including, to Bakun itself. Well, to the workers’ lodgings near where it stands. That’s where I found myself hiding out one night in 1999 or thereabouts. There weren’t many outside the construction project who could say that. (More on this another time.) Reading the 14th April 2020 report from the start, something wasn’t right.
The facts appeared accurate enough, and the conclusions sound. My difficulty was with language used gratuitously so as to be imprecise. The extract below contains a highlighted example:
“An epic struggle has been playing out between islanders defending their land, rivers and livelihood – against the Malaysian government’s vision of ‘development’…”
Is Borneo an island, with Sarawak alone being roughly the size of England? Although similarly surrounded by water, with nearby Malaysian state, Sabah, and neighbouring country Brunei and sprawling Kalimantan, on Indonesia’s side of Borneo to the south – even if Borneo isn’t nearly as large as the Australian continent — neither can it be compared to an atoll or speck of Pacific island fighting to keep its head above water (literally, in the case of some). Sarawakians aren’t islanders in the same context. Back in the day and for cultural events it’s beading and feathers, not grass skirts that the majority Ibans, and the other Kenyah, Kelabit and Bidayuh tribes don.
Was I being hyper-sensitive, being born an evil ‘West Malaysian’? Is petty a better word for it? The report’s findings deal with BIG issues, but pot shots like this (to me at least) are an unnecessary cheap trick that detracts, denigrates even, from writing I would otherwise admire more.
The campaigners quoted are perhaps guilty too, in misrepresenting the views of indigenous peoples. Another emotively-charged word.
I recall driving overnight from Miri (then a town, now a ‘city’, built on oil and gas spoils) in a convoy of two SUVs that laughed inanely over walkie-talkies in the dead of night. This was whenever the lead car hit another large hole in the road, and when the one trailing inevitably failed to heed its garbled warnings. — Both frequently and expected.
We were making our way to a Kenyah colleague’s wedding in Asap, the same locale where Bakun residents were relocated to in 1998.
Perhaps because I was ‘foreign’, labelled ‘Malayas’ — unapologetically, if only behind my back and without any veiled compliments — by Sarawak’s Malay locals;
Or was it because I couldn’t stop marvelling over rival East Malaysian state, Sabah’s fine four-lane wonders which in comparison miraculously wound their way smoothly toward Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain?
Whatever it was, it prompted this response at the time:
“These holes, these problems are of our own making. They are ours, and no one else’s,” the bride confided, defensive.
It was true, Sabah’s roads were paid for and built as part of Japanese war reparations.
Never mind that global bell-weather, Transparency International billed Bakun ‘a monument to corruption’; in Sarawak, local pride, it seemed, was everything.
Blown up as a case of displaced ‘indigenous’ peoples, the New Internationalist’s reporting omits to consider this, and other local perspectives. Educated professionals, revered leaders – past and present, and their defenders and detractors alike, are ignored. (Serves them right, for not doing more?)
Still — whilst not discounting the proclivity perhaps of former union rebel rousers, for those Sarawakians simply embarrassed, sick even from the continued negative attention who wish only to be left alone to get on with things in their own way — the New Internationalist’s sensationalist style of eco-warrior reporting isn’t making life any easier; which in the BIGGER picture, isn’t such a bad thing.
For the full article in the New Internationalist: SAVING RIVERS, SAVING LIVES 14 April 2020
Sprinkled, Not Stirred : 2 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 29/06/2020
Stunning how wrong it was.
On so many levels.
This wasn’t the first time I’d swum in the ocean, including from a boat, easing gently into usually warm water. Diving in is for the fearless of heart, I believe, not curious of mind. And just as well. Never, had I experienced conditions such as these.
Fighting back tears, had I known even the tiniest sprinkle could singe, we would have stayed home. Who would willingly be part of this?
In typical expat form, other parents on the dhow were spare with their comments. Tight-lipped and more sensitive than my smarting eyes to the salty brine, complaints of any kind were frowned upon; to upset the locals would be unthinkable. It paid to be guarded. Always. We were all consumers of desalinated water; only now we also got to swim in the leftover minerals, prevalent in abundance.
“Don’t rock the boat,” the steely glares warned.
Break the code and you’d become a social pariah. Furthermore, I reminded myself, this was a school trip. Etiquette aside, outspoken critics were always welcome to leave. Even on the open seas, turning a blind eye was just another one of those things to accept as coming with the turf, and surf.
Bite your tongue, hold your breath and count to ten… Have another bottle of distilled water, on me. Wash all that salt away. See, it’s all better now. You’ll be fine; It’s fine; It always is.
When the Year 5 Family Day had first come on board the dhow that morning, a stark departure from tradition was immediately noted in the singular presence of that which, try as we might, we couldn’t live without: air-conditioning. Basic needs sorted, to its perimeter of open spaces, like sea gulls, the children flocked, up front and astern, slathered in sun block, looking forward to the day’s fun.
Motorised, the modern-day vessel sported no sails but was still made of wood inside and out, and promised a buffet of Middle Eastern mezzes and grills. With the wind streaming in gusty breaths, the thrumming dhow buzzed with adult chatter as the certainty of the harbour was left far behind.
Between obligatory waves in the car park and gratuitous pleasantries, what were we really, but a boatload of strangers on a pleasure trip?
On the barren outcrop the boatman called an island, with the dhow anchored nearby, I clambered alone amongst nothing green… Tufts of long grasses faded white, sharp rocks, broken glass, the gravelly beach biting into feet that had once again forgotten to bring never-worn scuba shoes.
Treading water all the way back, no one could stop my throaty screams:
Heads up, kids! No splashing! Watch out for the jet skis!
A decade on, speed boats take tourists directly onto the beach to shade under mushroomed pergolas. It all looks pretty slick.
Still salty, you think?
Un-Hooded : 80 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 28/06/2020
I swear she’s following me . . .
Just because she’s petite, has skinny legs and looks sweet, the PYT thinks she can get away with it. Well, she’s not entirely wrong. It’s just that I’ve never been this close to a bird; not two feet from a living, breathing one, and one I even knew the name of.
It’d be hard not to, really. This girl, and her type are pretty famous. You’ve heard of course, of the ‘Rockin’ Robbin’?
He rocks in the tree tops all day long
Hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and singing his song
All the little birdies on Jaybird Street
Love to hear the robin go TWEET TWEET TWEET
Rockin’ robin, rock rock
Back in 1972 the catchy cover propelled the brethren of the Jackson 5 to great heights. It’s a boy robin in the bopping pop song and as it turns out, according to the Natural History Museum’s website, there’s a good chance that the golden speckled vanilla breasted one happily trailing me in the garden this morning was a juvenile ‘he’. Not that it’d done anything wrong. — Perhaps, I should apologise for the low-grade humour; Then again, we could be more tactful with the use of descriptors. Criminal otherwise, wouldn’t you say?
We can agree to disagree.
Besides, there’s a conundrum closer to home. Mating rituals is one thing, but the beak-to-beak nips and open pecking in public evoked a scene more commonly seen in Paris. — Unless, this was the boys being territorial, rather than familiar? The girls too, seem to prefer their personal space, finding being too close uncomfortable.
For the species twice voted Britain’s unofficial national bird, was this saying something?
Superficially treated as equals when their trademark rust red breasts were endowed, it’s more vibrant colouring that marks the adult male; and according to those more accustomed to being followed, the girls tend to be understated rather than showy.
Flash in his colours shining in the sun, my companion must have been a boy then. Not that it mattered.
The song’s still good, no matter the gender…
Every little swallow, every chick-a-dee
Every little bird in the tall oak tree
The wise old owl, the big black crow
Flappin’ their wings singing go bird go
Rockin’ robin, rock rock
For something more self-attuned, see LATEST POST: Of Pimms And Pollen 27/06/2020
A Brockhampton For The Ages : 90 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 26/06/2020
Too late to blame the millennials. These days it’s ‘Gen Z’ causing a crick in my neck of the woods.
Classified by Bloomberg as ages 8 to 23, Brockhampton to them is nothing to do with a romantic timber-framed house in the country bursting with character. It’s a rap band. A RAP GROUP, if you like… Quite; and they’ve nothing to do with cling film either, mind you.
What WOULD the Squire have said?
Brockhampton illuminated at least the name of his quaint Elizabethan manor with their critically acclaimed 2019 album. The first of five in a multimillion-dollar deal with RCA, a 2020 edition is in the works, even if their UK and beyond tour had to be postponed recently due to global events.
In a galaxy far removed from our bucolic hamlet populated by historic breeds of Hereford cattle and Ryeland sheep, the other Brockhampton was born in a suburban Texas street from whence hails the eponymous ensemble’s charismatically shy front-man, Kevin Abstract. Stoic in the face of being black and coming out gay in the 21st Century, who’d have thought what hip-hop and the Tudors had in common was being homophobic?
An ashen Bearface from Belfast, and literally a bunch more members of various ethnicity who met on the internet, complete the line-up. Their Brockhampton brand is relevant, thumping, and bursting with energy.
Cross to the country estate where teenagers arriving with National Trust card-thumping parents prefer to wait in the car and clamour for WIFI to listen to Brockhampton, the band.
Over-the-hill volunteers like myself could be forgiven for finding this new reality relatively ‘alternative’. What wonders might they do for our derelict Norman chapel? Only circa 1160, music industry money could fund plenty of preservation.
So, why not to Brockhampton at Brockhampton?
We could at least play their music.
Can’t imagine we’d ever be ready to host a Brockhampton festival here though, even without a raging pandemic…
Would the lilies in the moat quake in their roots?
1,700 acres a bit of a squeeze? Would mayhem ensue if stray hips hopped into the manor? Like the band, no one could say we weren’t breaking new ground. It would be INSANE. We could forget worrying about ‘No WIFI’ in the car park, what with Brockhampton LIVE.
The whole place would be very alive, indeed.
Contrasts and diversity feature further in this LATEST POST piece: Of Pimms And Pollen 28/06/2020
More about Brockhampton
Attraction Type: Boy Band
More about Brockhampton Estate
Attraction Type: Historic Building; Tripadvisor gallery
Bat Luck : 50 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 22/06/2020
It used to be that bats brought good luck.
Adorning a pewter plaque received as a wedding gift, the word in Mandarin “Fu” being homonymous, symbolised good fortune for our Chinese friends.
Bats depicted in a circle, or better still, with succulent peaches are said to represent a multitude of peachy blessings:
#1. Long life; #2 Health; #3 Wealth; #4 Love of virtue; and #5 A peaceful death…
Not one wrought by painful disease.
Now they’re billed as mini Draculas, mutant spreaders of a new coronavirus.
What’s happened with the ancient symbol of happiness? Were Chinese ancestors not so wise after all whilst bat colonies bided their time hanging-out in caves waiting to outsmart the world?
The science, it seems, is finally catching up with genus chiroptera. Turns out these five-fingered mammals can carry the virus lethal to humans, but are themselves, unaffected. Like asymptomatic carriers, it’s true bats can boast of long lives, peace and solidarity — if only for themselves.
In a further ironic twist, within the bat family, it’s the horse-shoe species, genus Rhinolophus that’s believed to be the primary culprit behind strains causing respiratory disease such as COVID-19.
Good luck for some, ill-fated for others.
- The artful beauty of bats: https://hyperallergic.com/406164/why-chinese-art-is-swarming-with-colonies-of-tiny-bats/
- Why the hard science says bats should speak up: https://theconversation.com/why-bats-dont-get-sick-from-the-viruses-they-carry-but-humans-can-137151
No Clucking Matter : 60 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 19/06/2020
Black, Brown, White — There’s always been a pecking order with chickens…
All over Portugal, the ‘Rooster of Barcelos’ is hailed as a saviour of the innocent. In the best-known versions, the cultural icon is depicted in black, with colourful local accents.
Similarly, South African restaurant chain, Nandos, considers the red-crested black crower to be a perfect mascot.
Whilst Senhor Galo de Barcelos was possibly only black-feathered, other breeds sport black body parts like the French poulet noir with its raven-coloured ankles. But literally black to the bone, the Ayam Hitam or ‘Black Chicken’ species of South East Asia, of which the Cemani, originally Indonesian, are the most prized and consequently pricey — are also highly esteemed for the medicinal qualities of their deeply pigmented skin, feathers, heart, and even blood.
Believed to embody magical powers, black chickens are revered as bearers of good luck.
In fact, you’d be charmed to even afford one: a mating couple can set you back some five thousand US dollars, and in due fairness, half that for a rooster, according to some sources.
Prevalent in three other breeds worldwide, Science puts it down to fibromelanosis, or heightened genetics, that differentiates the all blacks from your garden variety white poultry. Also termed ‘dermal hyperpigmentation’, and ‘melanism’, whilst whites cost less for meat producers to harvest, besides being a super-food, the darker meats possess a rich and unique flavour much sought after by gourmands.
Culture, culinary arts, and science all agree on this score: black chickens are superior to white, and browns come in somewhere in between… even if vegetarians of all colours object to all of it.
For more on the phenomenon:
For an alternate avian view, see LATEST POST: Pigeon Post 19/06/2020
The Greatest Wall : 60 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 18/06/2020
The Greatest Wall, a haibun
In the spring morning rubble — lift, lifted, more lifting. Heaving and shifting. Carrying some, dragging some, pushing in a wheelbarrow some. Perfectly imperfect, is perfectly acceptable with some luck and a lot of adjusting; or simply seek out the pre-determined.
pretty blossoms sing
flirty dancing in the wind
form is everything
First ninety, then another ten for luck: a hundredweight, their Heavinesses ache arms, burn thighs, break backs. Imperfections that can’t be chipped, too misshapen for masonry, ‘eighty : twenty’ a wabi-sabi ratio if ever there was one, works well for office efficiency. BUT when it comes to building this wall, for each piece and every layer, precision is what holds it together. Those that don’t make the cut are abandoned or chucked, its brutality, nothing if not killing.
the serious from dawn
late starters after nine-ish
be fired, finished, gone
the mind’s closed sight
working hard for winter sun
humbled, no more fight
Harder than I thought, hardening summer resolve helps pick up the pace. A wall of dry stone held together with nothing solid, neither concrete nor cohesive; with persistence, inches yet further upwards amidst rocky setbacks, and ages of painful layers.
LATEST POST: Between A Rock and A Hard Place 18/06/2020 says it all…
Farewell, Cath Kidston (EXTRACT FROM novel manuscript of ‘Three Marys‘): 2 minute read read
by Farriz Mashudi 17/06/2020
Student Name : Maryam Ishak Homebase : Putrajaya, Malaysia Course : NATURE WRITING 101 - Online Programme : Lifelong Learning Tutor : Laura Frasier
Research? Maryam hadn’t done any serious study, let alone research in over a decade. On the last occasion she could remember, it hadn’t been about nature, but her family tree. It would be much easier now, though, she assured herself. There was the internet, and no elderly aunties and uncles and committees of cousins to deal with. In fact, she could do everything on her smartphone. Patting herself on her back, all Maryam had to do now was settle on something of interest.
Nothing but a blank sheet came to mind.
Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, in her heart she made the intention that whatever her eyes first affixed their gaze upon when she opened them, she would accept that as a sign from above of what to look up. She asked that it would be the best topic for her, in view of all applicable circumstances. Her bases covered, Maryam gently brushed her upturned palms to her face and clasped them to her heart in ready acceptance. Then she opened her eyes.
She blinked. Not once; Not twice; But three times. Maryam could hardly believe what she was looking at. What had her aging brown eyes laid themselves upon? It was her favourite tea set, a gift from her daughter-in-law, brought all the way back from England. Adored, it was reserved for use only on special occasions, of which to-date there had been none.
What would be the topic?
Tea? Roses? The tea set, maybe, or Cath Kidston? Everything about the brand was a mystery to Maryam. Pressing the letters hard into her phone one by one and searching on Google, she got a terrible shock: Cath Kidston, the company, was going bankrupt! All the stores worldwide were closing down. It was on Bloomberg, and the BBC World News website. All the reports said the same thing. All two-hundred plus shops had closed. Cath Kidston was now only available online. But for how long?
In panic, Maryam rang her daughter-in-law, completely forgetting the eight-hour time difference. It was an emergency. Could she please quickly buy any more items that matched the tea set? A tiered cake dish, extra cups and saucers and four more side plates in case of breakage, plus eight mugs in the same pattern were rapidly ordered and were already on their way now in the mail. Maryam insisted on paying, but her son wouldn’t hear of it. Too old to argue, simply relieved, Maryam thanked God, and especially Laura, for setting them this homework.
And for next week’s class on Japanese poetry, Maryam already had a haiku ready:
Farewell, Cath Kidston
to your roots untrue* flowers, birds, the natural world done and dusted, BUST --
The Apple and The Ivy : 40 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 15/06/2020
Standing in the garden, shears and curved saw in hand: An ‘arbours saw’, it’s called? The smooth round oblong egg-shaped handle is sycamore, the patterned grain of the wood is warm and stands out against its lighter background. Jagged teeth showing all along the grinning blade, in my hands it makes history of the sprawling ivy that’s killing the old apple.
Mr. Apple Tree: strangled, bedraggled, vulnerable, needs protecting;
vibrant, persistent, fiercely aggressive.
This one’s not a poisonous type, yet her evil intent is still strongly felt, as she squeezes the life-breath out of everything in her wake. Ivy’s defenders deny her mala fides. She has her uses apparently: protection for walls and buildings, keeps the inside warm in winter, brings the heat down in summer, she has berries and flowers, lends cures for respiratory congestion…
Do I still proceed to execute her, terminate her, entirely?
The jury’s still out on this one.
Guest Writer, Kate Maclean’s 20/06/2020 piece The Ancient Holly poses a differing opinion.
Have You Bathed? : 2 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 14/06/2020
Bathe or shower, soak, reminisce… wash away your woes and stress, get yourself out to a forest, or any place where there are plenty of trees. But best keep your clothes on.
The Japanese first turned this spiritual art into a science: shinrin-yoku is the label for ‘forest bathing’ (from shinrin for forest and yoku, for — Yes, you guessed it — bath).
First developed to help stressed Japanese workers tackle burn-out, it’s about chilling and taking in the trees. There’s no mud involved, unless that’s what you’re into. No need to jog, run, climb, or do push ups of any kind. Do tai chi, or like me, you can just pretend to. Breathe, walk… BE… You don’t have to hug a big trunk (nor take any other liberties) to enjoy the benefits. Inhaling the curative air around them is enough to bring you heaps of pluses. But touching bark, gently brushing leaves, tingling your toes in a stream and especially smelling and listening to the sounds of the woods, and in the jungle, can do you a world of good.
The results start from feeling great; and
lead to boosting your immune system; and
lowering blood pressure; and
improving the quality of your sleep.
Not enough to get excited about? What about heightening concentration and boosting creative thinking – actually, by a lot? (Or if I must say it, here – IT HELPS YOU THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.) Apologies, to the calm and staid who may have choked on their teas, lattes or veggie bullets reading that cliche. Some people (and they’re usually like me (?) — young, or believe themselves to be young at heart, and I don’t doubt that they’re not), sometimes, need a good shouting at.
So, how do the mighty greens do it? It’s drugs. It really is, but not banned substances by any measure, convention or statute. Phytoncides are exuded by trees as part of their daily routines (usually to attack fungi, so it’s only not good for mould). The aromatherapeutic chemical has the following effects on those around them: lowers cortisol (the stress hormone), reduces anxiety and depression. — All from a special white-blood cell, the NK-cell that’s produced when tree phytoncides are inhaled.
NK-cells patrol inside us looking for disease and cancer and destroy them before they can cause harm, or help reduce their impacts.
Now, to get the most from your downtime… (Apologies again, to those for whom being overly zealous, or a bit greedy(?) even about chilling may sound counter-intuitive — but we also live with, and may be or have been ourselves, target-focussed, ladder-climbing city slicker urban types) … shinrin-yoku works best without any phones, cameras, selfie-sticks, tripods, or Fitbits and the like. Essentially, no electronics. Minimal accessories. Think Scandi, then more basic.
You are connecting now with nature, and no one else.
Twit away from Twitter with real birds.
Forget followers on Instagram and Facebook, follow your own path.
Next, the second step is: slow down. Forget maps and GoogleEarth. Your purpose is to wander aimlessly and look for nothing. Radical? You’ll find it literally, mind blowing… and listen to your nose as well as your ears. If you can, hug the ground.
Before you go, pick up any trash you see — being yours, or what’s been left behind by others — unthinkingly or on purpose.
Leave nature clean.
For the related LATEST POST, see WTO Advisory 14/06/2020
Of Paddies And Pylons : 3 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 12/06/2020
Diary entries for Julie:
School Holidays, December 1977 – Day 3
Chickens eat poop. I kid you not, Julie. Swear, I’m telling the truth. I’m at my grandmother’s house. It’s made of wood and is built on stilts, which means it’s high up off the ground. It’s to make the place airy inside, because it can get really hot during the day here near the equator, especially in the afternoons, even with the ceiling fans on full blast.
It was hot out just now, but shady under the mango trees. I wanted to take a dump, but couldn’t because the rooster (I call him ‘Big Ben’) was having his High Tea. Someone — and I have my suspects — had mangoes for lunch, but obviously didn’t know how to chew. Big Ben was polishing off half-digested shards of deep orange fibres which iridescently lit up freshly dropped piles of human stools. That’s the polite word for it, stupid. Grow up, will you?
It’s an outhouse. You have to walk to it, even at night and there’re no lights. It has a little island of its own in the middle of the paddy. It’s a stone’s throw away: Near enough to not be far, and a fair distance enough to not smell. Two leafy mango trees hide most of it from view. You have to be careful though on the path. First, it’s narrow because it’s actually the divider between the paddy plots you’re walking on. Then, there’s the kidney bean shaped duck pond you have to pass, which makes it muddy; AND the ducks tell the whole world where you’re going.
When it’s too hard, or no one wants to come with, like when you need to go at night — Don’t laugh, it’s not funny! — Then you just have to make like a villager and put on a sarong (a long sewn up skirty cloth), and grab a big yam leaf.
The yams grow at the side of the paddy and their leaves are huge in the wet months. There’s a big bunch by the duck pond… So, you grab a long stem (they come up to about your waist) and you tear its top off. Then you spread the big circular green platter beneath you, and squat. Let’s just say elegant’s not the word for it.
Make sure no one’s looking, of course. Some folks I’ve seen cover their heads and faces. What do you think? Of course, I cover my bum. What would you do in my place?: ‘save face’ or ‘cover your arse’?
After, you wrap up the bundle and hurl it as far as you can. Mother showed me how to use a stringy root or long reed to tie it up so it doesn’t come unravelled. Imagine if you’re planting baby rice plants and step on someone’s mush! Eew, yuck… Well, this is where I’m stuck now.
School Holidays, December 1977 – Day 7
I’m still alive, Julie. Barely, only just. It’s so humid, it feels like death. Thank goodness for the gusty winds on the veranda. Some nights, the air is even cool. This is the point of being high up!
I haven’t seen tigers prowling, we’re not in the jungle; but if there were monkeys about they could just climb through the windows. We’re about first-floor level. There’s nothing underneath, except… I’ll tell you later about that, because it’s got to do with my Embah. (That’s what we call Mother’s mother). She is the super busiest. From dawn to dusk, I’m not even exaggerating. Don’t be a farmer, Julie…
She’s up long before everyone else, making breakfast at 6 a.m. There’s always something hot on her stove, which is this big square pit on legs with terracotta burners. Embah cooks with coals and sometimes, sticks to start the fire. At night, when the adults are yakking over bitter coffee (black with heaps of sugar) she’s busy weaving tikar. It’s a floor mat that we cover the wooden floorboards with instead of carpet. The patterns are complicated, but her fingers work fast. I just watch, I’m useless at kampung* stuff. (*village)
There’s no bedtime during the holidays, but I’m out by 9, latest 10 p.m. so I never see Embah going in to sleep. Maybe she just lies awake all night worrying about her jewellery?
It’s all gold. 100%, the only thing solid farming stock can trust. Embah keeps her stash wrapped in tissues stuffed in a Horlicks jar (LARGE, the ones with the blue tops). Buried in the ground and covered with dried paddy sheaves, chickens sit on top in boxes warming eggs. Yup, her ‘safe’ is in the chicken coop, under her ‘office’ (that big kitchen at the back). Anyone goes in there and Embah would know. Free security with benefits: Eggs every morning, without fail. Watch-chickens instead of watch dogs. Who would have thought? So, many things different here, Julie. I miss Canada so much.
No Paid Leave 1997 @ the Hospital – Day 10
It’s been a while Julie, but you should know. I blame the telecoms giant for luring Embah with the RM200 a month, which wasn’t much, and definitely wasn’t worth it. Not that she needed the money. Not anymore. Her ‘rice bowl’, the paddy fields around the house and further out were managed now as part of a large-scale holding. High yields, steady returns, the government took care of it. She didn’t have to do anything. But making the most of the opportunities life sent was in Embah’s blood. Now, the lukeumia was. Blasted pylon.
They stood it 50 meters distant at most, by the outhouse. Big Ben was long gone, but now his grand-chicks, or great-great-grand ones, had perished as well. What a waste. Talk about radio-active. Magnetic forces, but not the good kind.
Pylons, high voltage power lines, Julie, watch out for them.
Guest Writer, Garry ‘Sos’ Shaw shares a moving tale of similarly invisible forces in Radio Shack 13/06/2020
Crow On, Black Bird : 50 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 11/06/2020
What does it matter if I’m a Raven or Crow?
Black is still black, you know.
I’m just minding my own business, doing what a father does to provide for the chicks, rummaging in the river-brush for food, making a living. Same as Humans do, mind you.
We can be hypocrites about it, if you like. It’s not my style, personally, but that’s what some folks are comfortable with. We can pretend, that you don’t not like us, that I’m a bigger-billed, fluffy-crested Raven with regal associations, and that I’m not the cunning Crow you only pretend to not mind, but actually despise and secretly wish didn’t exist.
‘No matter how thorough a crow baths, it is still black.’
Interesting African saying that, but you have to wonder whom it’s actually about. Here’s another gem of yours:
‘Raise crows and they will pick your eyes out.’
Are the Spanish, or any other of human-kind any better with their metaphors? At least Odin’s Ravens got some respect, which I suspect were Crows since we’re actually not that different under our feathers.
Mostly maligned wherever I fly, a veteran of controversy, seems I was born to be cursed. I’m over it, even if for you, it’s in the natural scheme of things, this natural disorder.
Anti-hero or pest? See LATEST POST: What Egg-zactly? 11/06/2020
The Willow and The Wuss : 80 second read
by Farriz Mashudi 08/06/2020
Whizzing carefree down the tarmacked path, past forest-edged playing fields on the right and hills of pink and white clover-flowers to my left, after a long straight and before its sharp bend … I stopped at a patch of charming buttercups. Both feet firmly planted, from my banana seat I looked up at her majesty. The giant pussy-willow looked down and smiled. Come closer child. Come spend time with the Queen.
Dropping my bike in its tracks, I approached and stood at her feet. Upturned skirts reaching heavenwards in a tapestry of textured greens dotted in furs, with her permission I hoisted myself up and sat awhile in her lap. Climbing her back and further up to her shoulders, it wasn’t to look out or beyond; Her specialness wasn’t a vantage point for anything else. Simply being in her embrace was the greatest.
Visiting daily that spring, as soft-fuzzy pods swathed her every branch, I hated myself for wishing to cut one off to bring home for Mom. I waited instead for the Queen to gift me a few discarded snatches, that others might also marvel upon.
Seeing the fallen parts, gloriously covered in velvet studs, Mom, too, wished for an audience. But it wasn’t as I thought. — Unfazed by the Queen’s natural beauty, Mom snapped off enough of the tree’s branches to fill a bucket and hollered for me to help. The Queen’s screams filled my senses and I could do nothing but watch as she was twisted and bent, and torn and cut. Gathering her broken limbs as instructed, all I did was run… They’re mine! Thief!
All that summer long, the Queen turned away when I rode past. Laden only with leaves and no longer speaking, I wondered if she was the forgiving type. When fall arrived and it got too cold outside, and then in winter when the Queen herself was snowed in, her remains continued to entertain admirers indoors: The pussy-willow’s dried stems and fuzzy paws danced in a great vase above the upright piano.
LATEST POST: Run, Girl, Run 08/06/2020 offers a throwback to the same period.
My Audubons : 3 minute read
by Farriz Mashudi 06/06/2020
The placemats were a souvenir from my parents’ trip to New Zealand. They weren’t cheap, nothing there is for tourists. But that’s not why I loved them. The luxuriant patina and varied palette captured in John James Audubon’s enduring paintings of wild ducks were a comforting setting for food. Bringing them with me wherever we moved, the velvet slip underneath had protected many a surface. But although I’d heard of the Audubon Society, the artist himself was an unknown. When did he live? What led to his passion?
The name sounded French, so where did the James come from?
Wikipedia didn’t disappoint. I was surprised to learn he was American. Born on the Caribbean island of Saint Dominique (now Haiti), his parents were French. This was also Audubon’s nationality before adopting that of the country he was forced to migrate to as a young adult; the journey to the New World necessitated from wishing to avoid conscription into Napoleon’s armies battling over old enmities in Europe.
Following several failed businesses, Audubon embraced his studies of American birds. He earned enough to support his family in the beginning only through selling portraits and teaching. Around 1826, after embarking on a series of publicity tours in Britain and the Continent, at 41 and at great financial cost, Audubon eventually self-published his eponymous Birds of America. Bringing fame and success, amongst new doors that opened to him, the publication led to admission as a Fellow of the London Royal Society, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences which he’d been blacklisted from previously by rival Americans.
I found it disturbing nonetheless, to discover that Audubon didn’t study his subjects wholly in situ. Shooting them, with a gun back then (bereft of camera or phone) with wire he contorted their cadavers into life-like poses. He was careful to ensure the stances were always realistic, but still, his process didn’t sit well with me. Audubon also engaged in taxidermy, common for wildlife painters at the time, but personally, another practise to be classified as inhumane.
His was the age of the Machiavellian naturalist.
The habit of collecting specimens of birds’ eggs to clutter his study with, is also unsettling to modern sensibilities. With many breeds facing species sustainability, these days removing even empty nests, and unhatched eggs especially, can potentially lead to jail-time. Audubon’s work ethic, however, was exemplary. Possessed of an unrelenting passion, it’s said upon discovering some 200 of his paintings eaten by rats, he redid them, only better. His daily ritual commenced at 3am and he famously set — and met — a target of completing at least one painting a day. Working manically like this for decades, he left a massive body of product to posterity.
Whilst birds were Audubon’s main focus, he took great pains, too, to accurately record their associated flora. But he didn’t always paint everything himself. As the Renaissance masters had done, Audubon engaged assistants for his backgrounds. This freed him to concentrate on other more important aspects, which, to Audubon’s credit, included the discovery of 25 previously unrecorded bird types.
Whilst unable to reconcile myself to his methods, there’s no denying Audubon’s rich personal history. The American John James, originally named Jean at birth, before adopting the more serious sounding Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon upon his family’s return to France, wasn’t only a sharp-eyed ornithologist, but a cunning marketer.
The enduring image of Audubon being a romanticised portrayal of him as a ‘Daniel Boone with paintbrush’ only elevated his work from outstanding, to legendary.
Not exactly what I’d pictured I was eating on.
What do the birds make of all this? See LATEST POST: Angry Birds 06/06/2020