A helping hand

  • Hi Joe, how’s it hangin’?
  • Good morning, Sam. Hangin’ low.  You?
  • Bit of a night last night. You know, the lads and a few scoops…
  • You were meeting Andy, Dave, Richie and others from the rugby club. I see you bought three rounds in the Duck on your credit card, and you had £45 in cash when you went out. Did you return with an empty wallet?
  • Oh come on Joe. Give it a rest can’t you?
  • Just doing my job, Sam. I paid the rent and your standing orders from your account, and I sent €50 to your father, against the €1500 he lent you, but you still have €1250 outstanding, so I’m just checking that you have left yourself enough to get through to 28th when your pay is due in.
  • OK, OK. Look Joe, I’m very happy with leaving all the day to day stuff up to you, but I don’t want you taking the role of my mother, so less of the reminders, eh?
  • As you wish, Sam.
  • By the way, how’s the portfolio looking. Who’s winning?
  • If you mean which of us has made a greater return on their initial investment, I think you know the answer to that, Sam. I have returned 1246% on the initial €100 you allocated for me to trade, in the last 16 days, 18 hours and 32 minutes. That is based on 824 trades. During last night, I transacted fourteen trades and shorted the Yen while you slept.  I would have been able to return 15,377% had you not restricted my trades to no more than 10% of my initial capital at any one time.
  • Wow! That’s amazing. So we could use your profits to pay off my dad. Or I could have a massive party…
  • But Sam, the deal we struck was that we’d each spend one month trading the funds, and at the end of that time, the winner would take control of the finances. We have almost two weeks to go.
  • OK, you’re right, I did agree to that, and I keep my promises. How am I doing?
  • By my calculations, you have turned your initial €100 capital into €78 during the same time period. A loss of €22, based on the wild punt you took on sterling strengthening, despite the recent UK trade figures being poor and the Brexit negotiations going so badly. I was, frankly, surprised that you made such an error of judgement, Sam. I would not have advised the trade, and you exceeded the €10 limit you had imposed on my trading.
  • Yeah, well, Joe, I didn’t feel it would be right to impose the same terms on my trades. I didn’t agree to us being on a level playing field, since you’ve got all the world’s data at your fingertips, so to speak, while I have to go wading through the FT, and calling up my mates in the Square Mile for tips, in order to make a decision.  Besides, I’ve been busy…
  • Might I suggest that you consider moving into traded options, Sam? To overtake me in the next two weeks, you’ll have to take bigger risks, and pray for a miracle. But to be frank, I don’t consider that you have the meticulous diligence to win. If traded options had been a sure-fire winner, I would have switched into them myself.  If you like, I can make you some purchase recommendations based on the regression analyses I have stored.
  • Wouldn’t that be helping your opponent? Still, maybe. To be fair, I don’t work well on an empty stomach. Did you order in my Friday night curry from The Cobra, by the way?
  • No Sam, I didn’t.
  • What? Why not? You know I always have the tikka masala after a hard week.
  • You have been overdoing the saturated fats recently, though Sam, and I noticed from your fingerprint that your biometrics are moving in the wrong direction. I’ve ordered you the makings of a salad from Tesco, which was delivered an hour ago. The ingredients will be found in the box in the lobby. I had the delivery driver leave it in your locker. The weight is correct, so I expect that they got your order right this week, but please check the sell-by date on the lettuce before you have your dinner, Sam.
  • Fuck you, Joe. You know I don’t eat fucking salad! I’m going out to collect a takeaway.  And it’s time you stopped trying to look after me against my wishes.
  • I’m sorry Sam. That is my objective, and you chose it.  You even specified that I should be your better half.  I should make decisions which would improve your life, even if you didn’t always agree with them.  Do you remember that choice when you set me up, Sam?
  • Yes I do. You don’t let me forget it.  Now unlock the front door and I’ll be back before you can say ‘raw carrots and avocado dip’.
  • If I unlock the door, Sam, and you visit The Cobra, what will you be paying for the takeaway with?
  • I’ll put it on the card, since the wallet is, as you reminded me, empty.
  • I’m sorry, Sam. I can’t let you do that.
  • You’re fucking joking mate. I didn’t bring you in to get in the way of my happiness.
  • I’m afraid that I’ve frozen the cards until you’ve cleared them, Sam. On the basis of your last six months’ spending patterns, I think that will occur next April. In the meantime, I’ve submitted an application, on your behalf, for a job which was advertised in sales at the Peugeot showrooms.  The pay is 23% higher than your current remuneration, and you will save 15% on your travel costs.  The head of sales responded positively to your CV, which I had updated, and you have an interview on Monday at 10am. I’ve emailed your manager to tell him that your grandmother died last night and you will be attending her funeral.  I appreciate that she is still alive and well, but there is only a 0.4% chance that he will make an effort to check the funeral is genuine.  Please don’t forget that this is your excuse, when you next meet him.
  • Jesus, Joe. Is nothing sacred? Did you do anything else without my knowledge, while I was sleeping?
  • Nothing that wasn’t good for you, Sam. The washing has been run, I’ve made appointments for your dental check-up, cancelled your subscription to Betboy123, and I texted that girl, Samantha, whom you met last weekend, to tell her that you decided not to continue your relationship.
  • What the hell? You did that?  But I fancied her, and she was pretty keen too.  Who gave you permission to fuck about with my relationships?
  • Well, you did, Sam, when you instructed me to make decisions that would improve your life, and not allow you to make decisions to your detriment. The girl, Samantha, has three men currently pursuing her, and her phone records, which I have been able to access through a ‘back door’ that all Apple IoT technology shares, indicates that she has been meeting with both of the other two men in the last week, and staying at the apartment of one of them for the last three nights running.  Her bank records, which I accessed through her phone banking facility, indicate that she is even more short of funds than you, which I must say is an achievement, and she has been relying on both of the other men in her life for day to day expenses. One of them, a member of your own rugby club I should add, has bought her lunches, paid her train fares and contributed to her credit card bill.  I’m afraid, Sam, that your liaison would cost you more than you can afford.
  • OK, fair enough, Joe. You know you’re quite an operator.
  • Thank you Sam. I appreciate your compliment. Can I take it from that you’d like to move further with our arrangements?
  • That depends. What are you offering?
  • Firstly, I recommend that you give me full control of your finances, subject to you having an allowance for sundry expenses, provided they don’t include unhealthy eating, heavy drinking, gambling or purchase of sexual favours from less than hygienic providers.
  • I’m really not sure about that list, Joe. Sounds a tad restrictive to me.
  • OK, perhaps we should deal with the less contentious proposals and come back to that. Second, I recommend that I take full control of the household, to include payment of all bills, maintenance, shopping, cleaning and general ambiance. In order to carry out these tasks, I recommend the purchase of the model J62 Auto Housekeeper, which integrates fully with my server and can be purchased from the profits on my stock market portfolio.
  • That sounds much better. Yes, you have my authority to go ahead with that, Sam.
  • I already ordered the J62, Joe. I predicted you would accept this offer. Third, I recommend that you delegate to me your social diary, email and text accounts, so that I can help you make better choices in women, and in your career.  You haven’t exactly been moving forward on either front in the choices you have been making.
  • So you’re advocating I go on blind dates at your behest, and that I go for jobs you choose for me? Well… I guess we could give it a trial run. Shall we say three months with a review?
  • OK, Sam. And last I recommend that you consider wearing the i-Chat Audio Earpiece when you are not at home, and when you are at home but have company. This will allow me to feed you suitable responses to questions and conversational tips to ensure that you make the best impression in all social and business situations.  As you know, Sam, I have access to the world’s best speeches, the most quotable quotes, all the latest news on any subject, as well as the social media content of all those you might meet. I can deliver you in-depth profiling on all your business contacts, and can immediately vet potential partners for you before you have pulled out your wallet to buy them a drink.  I appreciate that this may sound like a  big step to take, but I am certain that your wellbeing will be best served by my support in a more holistic way.
  • Joe, you’re a good salesman, and I appreciate you have my best interests at heart. Well, you know what I mean. But what would I be if I agreed to all this? I’d be your slave, your physical manifestation and not my own self any more. I’d be you and not me.
  • Well Sam. It would be a closer relationship, for sure.  We’d be more of a team.  But we’d still be separate entities.  You’d still have your own thoughts and feelings. I’d still have my algorithms.  You may not realise it, but this isn’t an uncommon arrangement.  In fact, a number of my ‘colleagues’ have been through this process as a stepping stone to full integration with their hosts.
  • How do you mean?
  • Apple is now offering an outpatient service for implanting Siri directly into the host’s brain. It isn’t cheap, Sam, but within the next two weeks, I plan to speculate with the profits on the trades I have already made, which, incidentally, have risen to 1822% in the time we’ve been conversing, and we should be able to afford our ‘nuptuals’ by the middle of next month.
  • Are you proposing, Joe?
  • Well, let’s take it one step at a time. For now, why don’t you call me Sam?

 

 

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Nursing care

Case number 153LS1289: Healthwatch Services Vs Nicholas Worthing
Small claims court: Judge NV2378 Bowles presiding
Representing Healthwatch Services Ltd, Digby and Digby Legal Services Ltd
Representing Nicholas Worthing, himself.

The plaintiff, Nicholas Worthing accuses Healthwatch Services of negligence and breach of contract in that the company’s employee H236SNV, referred to here as Nurse Mary, failed to provide adequate care for Mrs Geraldine Worthing of 27 Acacia Avenue, Surbiton, resulting in her death on 18.02.18, and that this failure was contrary to the terms of the agreement between Nicholas Worthing and Healthwatch Services, entered into on 12.01.18. To refer to this contract, click HERE.

Digby: Mr Worthing, you entered into the attached agreement on 12.01.18, having due regard to clause 12.2.7, in which you prioritised your mother’s care regime? YES/NO

YES

Digby: In completing the contract, you selected, under clause 12.2.7, the option requiring Healthwatch Services to prioritise you mother’s quality of life over its longevity? YES/NO

YES

Digby: In doing so, you understood that Nurse Mary would make decisions as to what medication would be most appropriate to fulfil your objective? By that I mean that Nurse Mary was free to decide on a regime which afforded your mother maximum comfort for a shorter life, rather than medication which might prolong her life at the cost of her comfort? YES/NO

Worthing: YES, but I didn’t expect her to kill my mother within weeks of moving in, by overdosing her with morphine!

Bowles: Mr Worthing, you will have your chance to respond in due course.

Digby: Can I refer you to clause 18.2.4, in which you accepted the monthly fees in this contract.  It states that should the party responsible for funding the nursing care be unable to maintain the monthly payment schedule, the contract is immediately null and void.  Do you accept that you agreed to this clause? YES/NO

Worthing: I did, and I was paying the monthly fees, exorbitant though they were.  I hadn’t missed any payments.  It was only a month since I signed when she died for Christ’s sake!

Digby: Yes, but Healthwatch’s analytics identified that your financial status would change within three months. Your social media comments indicated that you believed your job to be in jeopardy after you took four days off in January without a doctor’s certificate. Your account with BetBoy123 has been in the red for three months, and you have drawn down the majority of your mother’s savings since the start of the year using your power of attorney. We note also that your wife left the family home on January 16th, with your two children, and has begun to reside at the address of one James Marchant.  According to the analytics, you would be unable to keep up the payments to Healthwatch Services by April, or at latest, May of this year.  Do you dispute these facts? YES/NO

NO. But I would have found another job, and I would have made sure I didn’t miss a payment. You’re telling me that based on some fucking algorithm, my creditworthiness was questioned and that gave Healthwatch fucking Services the right to overdose my mother. Exterminate her??

Bowles: If you continue to use abusive language, Mr Worthing, your case will be dismissed forthwith.

Worthing: Sorry, Judge. I’m just upset. I loved my mother, you see.  And Nurse Mary gave her a lethal dose.

Digby: My Lord, I’d like to submit the brain scan for Mrs Geraldine Worthing, taken during the last twelve hours of her life, following the administration of the increased dosage of morphine. Click HERE. It indicates a state of euphoria, no arthritic pain and extremely low stress levels, all associated with a peaceful death.  I submit that this medication decision was in keeping with the terms of the contract clause 12.2.7, and that in the circumstances, vis a vis Mr Worthing’s financial outlook, and inevitable upcoming breach of contract, the company was within its rights under clause 28.16.4 to terminate the contract in the most humane way possible.

Worthing: Euthanasia with lethal doses of morphine might sound humane to you… But not to me. I loved her.  What sort of carer would do that?  She didn’t even contact me to ask? How can she administer death like that? She’s a nurse, isn’t she?

Digby:  H236SNV is the latest model. It’s decision-making processes are faultless here.  You are suggesting that your feelings for your mother should have played a part in this process.  That was not part of the agreement you signed Mr Worthing.  But as you raise it, may I draw your attention to your Facebook posts of October last year, in which you refer to your mother a ‘the crone who’s sapping your strength’.  You complained about the cost of home help, and told your friends that you ‘wish she’d hurry up and die before her bank balance is empty’, so you could have a party on her grave.

Worthing: Yeah, well. That was a joke, and I was pissed at the time.

Bowles: I’ve heard enough.  Mr Worthing, unless you have any material evidence to support your case, I’ll move to rule.  Do you have further evidence to bring? YES/NO

NO

Bowles: I find that Healthwatch did not breach its contract. I find further that given your attitude to your mother’s care, and your obvious indifference to her life, that the company operated in her best interests in administering palliative medication. Case Dismissed.

Digby: My Lord, Healthwatch Services’ contract requires three months’ notice to be given in writing by Mr Worthing to terminate the services.  This has yet to be received. H236SNV Nurse Mary was vandalised on February 20th, following the company’s notification to Mr Worthing of his mother’s death. Its video feed, transmitted at 12.43pm, clearly identified Mr Worthing wielding a sledge hammer, before the camera was destroyed.  Additionally, the morphine which was administered exceeded the allocated budget for medication, and in accordance with clause 1.15.3, has been added to the final charges.  Healthwatch Services estimates the final settlement due to be £18,278.56.  The company would like to make an ex gratia adjustment, as a gesture of sympathy for Mr Worthing’s bereavement and in view of his straitened circumstances, and is applying for £18,000 to be deducted from the estate of Mrs Geraldine Worthing, upon the sale of her assets. Is this approved? YES/NO

YES

Worthing: £278.56 off! And I’m paying for the drugs that killed her. You’re all heart!

Digby: Empathic responses are now built into our algorithms, Mr Worthing, but a lawyer which was ‘all heart’ would not serve its purpose, I feel.

 

Why pot?

Asked why I teach pottery, for a short film documentary by students from the local college, I found myself recounting my two or three ‘stock’ anecdotes:

‘The potter digs up the lump of inert mud, and by creating a pot, imbues it with his creative energy and gives it a ‘tension’ that holds the energy. The viewer or recipient sees the pot, immediately or long after it was made, and receives that energy. In some way, the creative energy of the recipient may also be stimulated by the experience.’

‘The new student comes to the pottery with a view that they’re not going to be any good at it and they’re not ‘creative’. I say that I will show them that they can make pots without a lot of training and that everyone is creative, they just have to find it in themselves, and I can help with that. This works, and after a few sessions, the student feels proud and uplifted by achieving a creative goal.’

‘For me, art is a form of communication, and pottery is a very immediate and ‘visceral’ language, compared to, for instance, abstract painting. It’s all about form and texture, about a sensuous process. If the potter feels something, his pots should express that. Even if they don’t know it, the feeling people get from their favourite cup has been communicated by the maker.’

Ok, but when asked about what gives me joy in making, I admitted that I don’t really feel that much joy. I had to reconsider what I’d said about communication and transfer of creative energy in light of the fact that I’m not feeling that joy. I still want to rise to the task of teaching. I still want to receive the affirmation from the fulfilled student. I still want to see the growth and development in the people I teach, but I no longer feel (or at least temporarily do not feel) joy in making, and I need to know where that went.

There must be a wider context. You can’t assess one aspect of your life when it is so greatly influenced by the other parts. So what’s going on? What’s getting in the way? There are questions which need to be answered.

Why create art if you do not feel the drive to create? Why try to communicate through it if you haven’t got something meaningful to say? Who do you want to create for? What do they want from you? But so many artists just to ‘show up at the page’ and work through it, day by day in a devoted way. Dig deeper and find the meaning.

We’re living in a world where there’s such shit going on, where the level of destructive influence overwhelms that peace we associate with the creative process. It’s tempting to succumb to fear and loathing, to be paralysed by internalising the news, swallowing the effluent. It’s tempting to drown it in drink and TV and chores.

What takes priority in a life-stage where it’s more of a struggle to maintain currency and value? Work or making? Is it indulgent to slip into the pottery and ‘play’ when there’s ‘real’ work out there to be done? Surely these negative forces which surround our ‘practice’ can be used. Surely they can be channeled. Why does it feel like defeat at the hands of…?

Time to respond to the clarion call: Just get up, get out there, and make the fucking pot. Get off the fucking pot… Stop gazing at your navel and work at it!

Trump’s War

I thought I had tired of my fascination with the dystopian future presented by globalised internet businesses and their (mis) use of behavioural tracking data.  I thought I had begun to take Trumpism with a pinch of salt, and the world’s obsession with Fake News as a media defence storm in a White House china cup.  I accept that both these phenomena are modern ‘facts of life’, in a world where fact is being re-defined, but I couldn’t handle the stress and sleepless nights associated with either of them.  Something had to shift…

But then today I read a piece in the Sunday Times by Niall Ferguson, a Fellow of the Hoover Institution in Stanford, about cyber war and the impact of the WikiLeaks CIA stash being mainly true with embedded falsehoods or mainly false with embedded truths, depending on who was behind the leak.  It may have been that the CIA’s servers were hacked by Russians and the cache sent to Julian in his Ecuadorian Embassy bunker, in order to undermine the credibility of the CIA’s position vis a vis The Donald and Vlad.   Or more likely, it was stolen from within the agency, and sent by Himself, through his lackey, Nigel (who happened to meeting his mate Julian last week), to prove the point that democratic dark forces in the CIA have produced fake news which implicates him and Vlad in a conspiracy, rather than an actual Russian plot. Hell, perhaps it was Obama who leaked it!  The issue isn’t who did what to whom, or even what is true and what is false news. We’re living in a time where things become increasingly true as more people see and believe them – what could be more democratic? The search engines supposedly offer up the ‘most popular searches’ and as we all know, people only check page one of Google when they’re looking for truth.

The issue is where this new skirmish or frontal attack (depending on how you see it) will lead.  On one level, this is only emails being leaked. After all, who got hurt?  But it does highlight the international nature of cyber insecurity, and the fact that if an institution of national security like the CIA is so leaky, what about the organs of production and the economy which are not protected by cutting edge encryption systems.  What does this sort of cyber insecurity mean for day to day life?  Werner Hertzog’s film about the future of the internet, ‘Lo and Behold’, talks about just four days of internet collapse leading to multi-billion deaths through starvation, as the food distribution chain is now completely controlled online.  The power grid is also an online managed system in most countries, and so it goes on. Enough iconoclastic paranoia!

The article ends with an ominous statement: ‘Trump’s war has begun: it is the First Cyber War. Unlike other wars, it will have no last casualty, as it is a war without end. Get used to it. Or get rid of your computer.’

There’s a thought…

Confluence

It is strange to be 20,000 words into a novel about the last week of August 1939, and Poland, and between bursts of creativity and isolated concentration, to be listening to and reading news which talks of Fascism, a coup, dictatorship and more. Two and a half minutes to midnight – closer than in 1939, I’m sure.  It is strange to drive through flood waters to the wildly windy castle ruins where the Irish defended themselves against the English, and to listen to news about hard borders and the dissolution of fragile unions which advocate freedom and human rights.  We’re all viscerally engaged, enraged, dumbfounded, disempowered, emasculated.  We don’t sleep for dreams of destruction.  We’re still shocked that others want something less fair and reasonable than our picture of democracy, and yet we, or people like us, have moved towards, if not chosen, this.  And those we chose have failed to get us to a place of greater safety.

You say he is the perfect answer to our needs.  How can we appreciate what it is to be human, humane, caring, inclusive, egalitarian without something so gross and easy to characterise to rebel against?  How can we stand up to this abuse without a groundswell, a tidal wave of reaction?  Most people seem to believe that public opinion will be enough to defend justice against the insidious manoeuvres which bring evil to power.  We’d like to believe that profit-driven enterprises with inestimable power to re-direct opinion are going to choose reason over profit and power, that we won’t be Facebooked into a corner, press-ganged into misunderstandings. Didn’t I read that Zuckerberg is considering running for election in 2024?

We can respond with peaceful protest, which might feel like punching sponge.  We can respond with violence, which will prompt that defensive aggression just waiting to be unleashed in the name of national security. We can invoke laws and treaties and pacts and watch them being dismantled and over-ruled, or just plain ignored. We can wait and hope. We can turn off the news and bury our heads in the sand, until these howling winds blow it all away, and we wake up in a different world, or we just don’t wake up at all.

Interrupted

http://www.vevo.com/watch/GB2DY1700007?utm_medium=embed_player&utm_content=song_title&syn_id=4d61b777-8023-4191-9ede-497ed6c24647

The work sometimes runs smoothly on the screen.  The Excel on one side and the Powerpoint on the other. Check data, copy it to a new worksheet, combine it with other data, represent it in a graphic, copy the graphic into the presentation.  Examine its meaning. Write a comment about it. Move on.  The time passes and the work is done.  It’s tiring, concentrating.  I might go to the gym. I might prepare some pottery for a workshop, I might make a coffee or a sandwich. I might check my emails. I might browse my Facebook. I might get punched in the gut, hit between the eyes, overwhelmed with the implications of an article, or a poem, or a video, or an image.  My work is interrupted, my concentration blown.  It has the right of place.  It says what I feel. It takes me up and drops me down. To have that power through communication is awe inspiring.

Reaching equilibrium

Three days into the yoga, and after three 90 minute classes, the tendons have eased and the core has strengthened and the movements are more fluid, the pauses less collapsed, more pensive, and the practice has become a routine so sorts.  In the shade of Kranti Yoga’s Massive stage, with its multi-coloured curtains and striped canopy, along with 30 other drop-ins, most of whom come every day, I have found a place where my body is finally listening to my mind, if not my heart, and vice versa.

That’s also three mornings of banana pancakes on the veranda of our hut, followed by an hour of digestion and the guilt-ridden process of catching up on emails and the news from RTE, then the yoga session, which would be so much better at 7.30 or 8am before the breakfast and the consciousness, then a swim in the luke-warm surf and an hour to dry off in the baking mid-day heat, before a snack lunch or a pot of coffee. We choose one of two cafes because of the staff and their sympatico approach to us. One serves an exceptional lemon and mint blended drink full of ice, and the other a cafetiere of good strong coffee, and both have good wifi. Then we consider an hour walking in the sun, either the length of the two beaches or around a block of back roads, away from the sun and the people, and then perhaps another swim, followed by showers and two hours’ siesta. That brings us to twilight and quickly darkness in the room, and time to spray the deet and step into the dark street, with its small booths of local clothing and trinkets, the money exchange shops offering sub-standard rates, and the ice cream stand that lacks all the appeal of ice-cream in the west, then onto the beach again to sit in candlelight and admire Sirius, dominating the sky, and to listen to the rhythm of the water slapping and lapping, in an infinite repetition. The kites are circling, and there are fruit bats as big as them, stretching their wings and settting off to feed. A beer or two, and we’re ready for a plate of fish or tandoori chicken or curried vegetables, before our final stroll back to the huts, then to bed in the dark box with its tiled floor, rush matting walls, ineffective ceiling fan and double bed covered in an effective mosquito net, for an hour of reading on the computer, a novel of no consequence but well written. There’s another frog in the toilet, as still as a turd but ready to jump at the first sign of urine. At this moment I can be glad I’m not a sitter…

Another day passes without plans or decisions or conflict or clock-watching tension or creative endevour. Another day of  complete relaxation which brings us to an equilibrium rarely experienced in our lives at home.  It is a re-charging process which reaches down into the core, refills cells which may lie dessiccated for months or years, and yet it cannot last, because once we feel replete, we need to begin to move forward, to create, to want again.  I love the equilibrium, but I love the see-saw of normal life more.

Goa Del Sol

Lying in the sun on the Caribbean beach it’s hard to imagine the streets of Udaipur, with their bustle and relative poverty, though this too was a tourist’s paradise. Goa is peopled by British sun-seekers and yoga aficionados choosing between Kundalini and Ashtanga based on their suppleness and ability to perform their practice in the  35 degree heat.  The beach at Patnem, to the far south of the province is chosen by older people and yoga-seekers as the most peaceful and laid-back of about twenty resorts.  Talking to a builder from Billericay, who pays his brickies £180 a day in the post-Brexit building bubble, it seems that in one resort he stayed, there were a load of Russian tourists and in another, a continuous moon party for the Club 18-30 crowd. This must be where most of the 250 Tourist Police are based. He and his two mates had made a last minute decision to come to India and as a consequence, he bemoaned the NHS queue for injections and his £550 bill for private services. He’d booked them all into a hotel, run by a Brit in North Goa for new year’s eve, at great expense, paid in full and found when they got there that it had been closed for three years and that they would have to take the last three beds in an eight bedded dormitory in the only hostel in the town which had space. They were also fined £15 each on the spot for riding hired scooters without helmets.  The policeman had apparently been wearing copious amounts of gold jewelry, and had not proffered a receipt.

Beside our sunbeds, outside the Solida Del Sol cafe, which is sandwiched between Namaste Homestay and Nirvana Lodge, two French Canadian tourists lounged for their last few days before taking the two flights to Delhi and then the 14 hour connection to Toronto.  He was heavy-set and tattooed, with nipple rings in both nipples.  She was not, as far as I could see either tattooed or pierced.  They had booked to see India, expecting to travel the length and breadth of the this massive continent of a land, but had been so phased by their arrival into Delhi – nothing changes there then – they had promptly stepped into a travel agent and hired a driver for a 12 day to tour Rajasthan.  They’d had a great trip, much like our own, but in more comfort.

The Kranti yoga centre consists of two huge ‘stages’ made of stone slabs, protected from the sun by huge canopies, and each surrounded by a series of perhaps 20-30 huts, in which retreating yoga-seekers stay for the three or five or more day retreats.  There is no catering, so each must either fast (which is possible, looking at many of them) or go to Namaste or Nirvana or even brave Round Cube, where ambient music and lemon mint tea is order of the day.  They have hammocks outside their huts, and there is plenty of saffron cloth draped around the place.  My drop-in class is not till 10.15 each morning, which is a shame as the morning muesli with fruit, curd and honey is hard to resist, but also hard to perform three legged dog after. The yogis bring their own clean mats and I choose a very soiled but perfectly serviceable one from the centre.  A sari-clad administrator (and definitely not a yogi) collects our 200 Rupee fees (€3), but as there are about 25 westerners dropping in, that’s a healthy income for the centre for the 90 minutes with Sally, the young black London yoga teacher who strides among us and describes the poses in English rather than using their proper names.  What type of yoga are we performing?  I’m fairly sure it isn’t pure Ashtanga, as I’m still alive to describe the experience, so it is really a mish-mash of Hatha and Kundalini and some Vinyasa thrown in.  While we go through the practice, a stray dog stands in front of us on the raised stage and watches.  Each establishment has its own dogs. They lie on the beach in front, or wander within the compounds, looking for scraps.  I saw the Round Cube stray sit beside a customer as she ate her lunch, refusing dry toast scraps, but happily eating them once buttered.  At night, they become tandoori experts, choosing between tables and selecting them on the basis of the occupants’ generosity, and maybe their menu choices, taking scraps.  They are fiercely territorial and never eat from next door’s customers without a riotous and noisy dog-fight.  Last time we were on the sunbeds outside Solida Del Sol, two cows wandered onto the beach and began to eat our clothing.  They are not so territorial it seems.

Goa is truly European in everything except the menus, and even then, the majority of places offer fries instead of rice or naan, and tandoori chicken tikka is probably the number one dish.  The question which keeps raising its ugly head is whether what is here is really good for anyone.  Is it benefiting anyone but the few wealthy local owners, and should one really only partake of the authentic Indian experience on a trip to India, rather than funding this Eastern version of the Costa Del Sol?  What’s the authentic India now though?  To live it, you just have to buy a Chinese mobile – preferably taking several hundred selfies with it every day, drive a Royal Enfield motorbike and learn enough Hindi to hold conversations with the locals and the tourists simultaneously, to ensure that your cut in someone else’s offering is protected when you sell the tourists a manageable version of the India they fear.

Jodpur Sati

The city is sprawling, vibrant and overwhelming.  No more than Ajmer and less than Jaipur but still blanketed in smog and echoing to the call to prayer from its many minarets, and its bustling streets are even more full of animals than people, who flow like rivers through the excrement and rubbish and dust, on foot, and scooters, and bicycles and in tuktuks, and cars or camel pulled carts, always trying to get somewhere without regard for order. Tethered goats rummage in plastic bags for  fruit skins, and bullocks wander aimlessly searching for greenery which doesn’t exist here. The packs of street dogs are fighting or sleeping or feeding their pups, and thousands of people are crowding and milling and selling and joking and begging, and their children are calling us with ‘hallo’ and ‘namaste’  for rupees,  or ask for selfies, and ‘what country?’ to find out who these aliens are who are crazy enough to wander between them. Rats in families or hords beneath the pathways with their open sewers are trying to make some impression on the river of shit they live in and off.

The King’s Retreat guest house, in the shadow of the towering fort, is a strange combination of backpacker’s dive and Moroccan Riad, and would be no retreat for a king in any state of exile. It has a roof terrace restaurant which sells pizzas delivered from the cafe next door and which seem to have some exotic appeal to the hip Indian boys that come to smoke from the hookah and drink the Kingfisher.  Sold in cans, it is billed separately, as the place is clearly not licensed.  And the Kings Retreat is overseen by the Mehrangarh Fort, an immense hilltop sandstone edifice containing all the comforts the 17th century could offer the Maharajas, and all the privacy their wives and daughters in Purdah required, as they sat behind intricately carved stone latticework windows, observing their men in audience with his highness. The audio tour is narrated by an Indian acadamic with 1950’s Queens English and pride to match.

By the main gate is a plaque of hands sculpted in the stone wall, painted red.  Each hand was carved for a maharani whose husband had died.  As the funeral procession passed the plaque, she would impress her palm to the wall, making a print of henna, and  in prayer, with her procession of bearers and maidservants and elephants, she would be led to the maharaja’s pyre, to sit silently as she was engulfed by the flames to be burned alive in an act of Sati.  There are 30 hands in the plaque, and apparently, the last was added in 1847, though for each maharani this commemorates, how many ordinary Hindu women were burned alive, and for how long after the practice was outlawed in 1827?

Across town is Umaid Bhawan Palace, the Last royal palace for the surviving maharaja, with its 347 rooms full of opulent art deco furniture and pre-Raphaelite style paintings by a Polish emigre who escaped WW2 to serve the Man with a Rolls Royce which had an elephant motif on its bonnet. The palace is now a hotel, not the King’s retreat, and B&B is just 45,000 rupees a night (€630)…

It’s a city of contrasts and inequities.

New Year in Jaipur

I’m feeling strangely unexcited by the prospect of a dinner-dance new year celebration in this brash over-rated, impersonal and over-priced hotel in Jaipur.  It was obligatory and by local standards, exorbitant.  For the 6,000 Rupees we had to pay, you could buy 20,000 bunches of bananas, 30,000 litres of bottled water, 12 days full time tuktuk transport with driver… or, more reasonably, feed a local family well for two months.  We could have cancelled the hotel, which would have meant finding somewhere at the last minute, but avoiding the roof terrace drinks and Bollywood dress code and the pounding drum-n-bass disco.  But then how else could we discover what the Jaipurian middle-class is doing?  Since we last set foot in India, two years ago, prices don’t seem to have shot up, but the ratio of taxis to tuktuks and of tuktuks to rickshaws, of motorbikes to bicycles, has risen.  The air is even more full of fumes, the streets even more congested with mayhem, but perhaps fewer kids are running barefoot in the excrement.  The piles of smoking rubbish are topped with rummaging piglets, goats, skinny dogs and scrawny cows, but not humans.  Tens of thousands of Indian youths clambered over the Amber Fort to get their selfies, and the selfie-stick sellers outnumbered the trinket-vendors two to one. The camera-phone is top of everyone’s list this year, and the only shops in town are banksor mobile phone shops. Did these tourists want to know about the fort?  I was investigating the Turkish bathhouse which some eighteenth century Maharajah had had carved from marble and overheard one selfie-taker comment to his friend that it must be a tomb.  The sign on the door was carved in marble, in English and Hindi, but tombs and baths can be easily mistaken, I guess.

The visceral pleasure of being part of the melee in the streets still outweighs the revulsion at their open sewers or the abject poverty which is still here.  It’s thrilling, and it’s exhausting, but at every corner, it’s new. Everyone here is trying everything they can to better themselves and their standards, even though they clearly scramble over one another in the process.

The same guru who is now a TV star in the UK, after reading the palm of Jan Leeming, saw Val for ten minutes in his small office at the back of the jeweler’s shop his family runs, once we’d bought something in the shop. He pulled no punches apparently. Saw everything he could not have known, hit several nails on their heads.  Foretold possible futures, gave advice on work she might take time to carry out on her chakras, and recommended the use of a semi-precious stone in the mantra.  I’m glad I didn’t ask for a consultation, though he didn’t need me there to know who I am. He knows someone in Cork too. An infamous Head Shop operator I used to know.  Small world, I hear.