Saturday, December 24, 2016

Monster Game

So the first evening of my Winter Holiday started last night, with some naval gazing.

Annually I look forward to the Business Shutdown during the Christmas and New Year Holiday. It is a chance to unwind my mind, get away from fixing problems and the ringing phone; giving me a pause to enjoy sharing time with the family, catching up with my reading and writing, but most crucially to reflect and take stock of events in this plane of existence, placing them into some form of context, with my own life. I also consider how I have changed progressing through life as I age. One must always consider how the overcoming of obstacles changes us; so we should pick our challenges and obstacles carefully, for they alter us, as well as the direction of the path we find ourselves on.

Last night was a late one, as I was trapped in deep thought with my cognition encouraged by some Dark Rum and Ginger Beer infused with fresh Limes.

When I got home, traversing atrocious weather with Storm Barbara [making driving conditions troubling]; the family had to make a decision about what we would do over the Holiday. With my beloved Father-in-Law Gerard Keogh in serious ill health and hospitalised in Dublin, we have decided as a family to head across the Irish Sea to not only spend time with him; but also to take some pressure off my Brother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law who look after him. Mr Gerard Keogh is well into his Nineties now; a gentleman as well as a fighter, for he keeps overcoming the adversities that age brings to us all. I admire those who fight adversity and battle the Monsters in our midst, especially those who confront failing health.
My own Father Dr Syed Karim’s health is not so good either; though he is a tad younger [in his mid-eighties]. In consequence we have decided to have my parents over for Christmas Dinner tomorrow, before the family pack up and head to Ireland.

The current health of my Father and Father-in-Law rests heavily upon my mind; for something I am writing is related to these two most misunderstood men. I would like my writing project completed as soon as practicable, so I can read some of it to them. As ever, time is not on my side as the speed of my own writing [which competes against my business, family and book reviewing obligations]; when striated against their declining health - troubles me. Though despite the mental faculties of both Karim and Keogh senior [which are in decline with the ravages of age]; I still wish to sit with them, and read something from my mind that I feel has some significance; namely resonating their legacy and influence on the reality I have uncovered about them, from my own dark imagination and from some long lost secrets of Post-World War Two Europe.

I am reminded of the legacy that the lives of our elders had, by some words from an early track by Pink Floyd, entitled Free Four from their 1972 Album Obscured by Clouds [originally commissioned by Film Director Barbet Schroeder].

The memories of a man in his old age,
Are the deeds of a man in his prime.

I also thought of this old Pink Floyd song [earlier in the year], when I read Andrew Gross’ The One Man for its narrative details the wartime adventures of an elderly American [with failing health] as he is cajoled by his daughter to retell what he did during  World War II. Curiously, my own current writing project delves into the early lives of my own Father, the mysterious Dr Karim and the enigmatic Mr Keogh [my French-Irish Father-in-Law], and the significance of their own deeds, in a dangerous Post-World War II Europe; deeds now lost in time, and held in my imagination, and their failing memories.

Andrew Gross’ The One Man, like the most interesting of narratives indicated to me that the trick is not to reveal where the seams between fact, merge into fiction, as the tale is retold or reimagined. In Gross’ narrative, he fictionalised the life of his own Father-in-Law, who incidentally managed to see some of the completed manuscript for The One Man, but never saw its publication for he tragically passed away just weeks before the book hit the bookstands, earlier this year.

So last night, we made the necessary arrangements for the whole family to travel to Dublin, like we have done over the years traversing the Irish Sea by Ferry. The memories that the children have of those journeys, as do Muriel and I; remain special like many of the deeds from our past.

I have a deep love for Ireland, first visiting the Emerald Isle back in the 1980s, as I worked in the Middle East, as a Petroleum Chemist surveying and inspecting bulk liquid and gaseous cargoes [as Iran vs Iraq War One, was closing]. I learned a little about life offshore and at sea during that time, working six-weeks on, and three-weeks off on a rota. I incidentally read a lot of books while stationed in the Arabian Gulf, as Mariners are often well-read folk, with time on their hands. Seafarers are also a most superstitious bunch. You’ll never find a 13 Tank, on a Chemical or Crude Oil Vessel.

The memories of a particular Chief Officer [from my time in the Middle East] came back to me last night, as I enjoyed some Dark Rum. His name eludes me as it is lost in the depths of my memory, but I can still picture his face; now just an image from days now passed. He was the XO on a regular vessel which loaded 300,000 Tonnes of Celanese grade Methanol from Jubail [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] for Japan on a dedicated route, back and fro traversing the Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and the Pacific. I spent much time on that vessel, during which the XO introduced me to a drink he called ‘The Perfect Storm’ [which is referred to in America as ‘A Dark and Stormy Night’]. The drink is one part Dark Rum to three parts Ginger Beer, with fresh Lime in a chilled glass filled with ice.

While supervising the custody transfer and loading process or cargo operations, we would pass the time drinking Rum and he would tell me tales of the mysteries of the sea, like the Monsters such as The Kraken. He was a walking library on the legends and mysteries of the sea, and I would be fascinated listening to him; for like many of us, we fear what we term Monsters, and the Monstrous; which for me consist of the Horrors of this World, this Existence, with the knowledge that when it comes to Monsters, they are indeed Legion. Some even wear our own skin, and hide among our number.

So after writing away last night while knocking back the Dark Kraken Rum as I celebrated the start of my Winter Holiday; the theme of Monsters kept encroaching upon my thoughts [and writing] as did the upcoming journey to Ireland with memories of days now passed; my time as a Maritime Chemist, as well as the time spent with my family in Ireland when the children were young, all came back to me – especially the MONSTER GAME.

I used to enjoy playing with our Children, Sophia, Alexander and Miriam when they were young while we visited relatives and friends in Ireland. Life was less complex in those days when the responsibilities I shouldered were not as onerous as they are today. I introduced our Children as well as their Nephews Jeffery and Richard [my Godson], as well as Niece Jillian, and their friends, young Conor and Ciara to my MONSTER GAME.

MONSTER GAME was something I would play to amuse the Children, but it also had a more serious aspect, something that I hoped would stimulate them and give them the confidence to overcome even the most insurmountable of odds. As worthy as this all sounds, I wanted to prepare their developing minds for the dangers of this world, all in the context and safety of a game; and one that like Life, contains a Monster.

For MONSTER GAME, I would construct an obstacle-course of sorts in the garden, made [or rather improvised] from Toys, Ladders, Tools, Skipping Ropes, Swings, Bikes, pretend “Land-Mines”, Quicksand, Paddling Pools, Sand Pit, Tightropes and much, much else, all laid-out into a giant maze.

The Rules for MONSTER GAME were simple -

[a] You had to overcome the obstacle-course to reach the finish line in the quickest time, touching the wall marked ‘THE END’

[b] You had to do this with a Monster pursuing you, and of course I was the Monster, and gave them all a weighted head-start depending upon their age.

If the Monster caught up with them before they could touch the wall marked ‘the end’, they would lose to the Monster.

We used to have great fun, and even when exhausted, I would smile when I heard ‘Come on Uncle Ali, play another MONSTER GAME’ from Richard my Godson. Richard would be amused, when I told him that he is special, having a Godfather who was an atheist, but a resourceful one, and one who would watch over him like Don Corleone, so if anyone messed with him, they would have to fear the wrath of the Atheist Godfather as my reach is wide and long, as I know many, many people.

Occasionally my Godson Richard would recall those times when he was an infant; and remind me of the fun of the MONSTER GAME. I look back at that time [close to two decades ago] with affection, and how I enjoyed watching the Children overcome the hurdles, the obstacles and maze, racing to the end and touching the wall, before the Monster caught them. For me the MONSTER GAME is about the reality of our existence, and our ability to overcome the obstacles in our path, both physically as well as mentally with an awareness that time is always a factor, and that there is always a monster behind us; one who will destroy us if we fall. But MONSTER GAME is forgiving, as long as you pick yourself up after a fall and keep running, for to succeed in MONSTER GAME, is to never give in, for there is always hope when we are resilient and resourceful.

As an analogy, MONSTER GAME for me is preparation for life; for there are obstacles in our lives, moments where our situation appears hopeless, the odds in our success being long, and of course there are indeed Monsters waiting for us; many wearing our skins.

Unlike the children who played MONSTER GAME with me close to two decades ago in Dublin; many children are not so fortunate to practise survival skills in a cognitive and physical game. For some children, there is no dry-run, for the MONSTER GAME is real for them, so while some manage to succeed, others do not, for the ‘real world’ MONSTER GAME has consequences, as we see in the Children from the ranks of the Bullied, the Brutalised and Abused, the ones born into Poverty and those trapped in War Zones like Aleppo, who play MONSTER GAME for real.

This year we as a family will be donating to Save the Children, and I would urge you to please consider donating whatever you can afford to assist Children who have to play MONSTER GAME for real.

More Information about the work of Save the Children and how to donate is available here

So as the Karims prepare to travel to Ireland, to be with the Keoghs, may we wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and let’s hope we can overcome the Monsters that may appear in our path as 2017 arrives.

When I wondered why I wrote this piece? I recalled Graham Greene explaining why some of us feel compelled to transcribe our thoughts onto paper -

 “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
Sláinte to my writing and reading friends; for many of us, the transcribed thoughts of ourselves and others, are ways that some of us deploy to retain our sanity. 

Monster Game © 2016 A Karim

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Shake Hands with the Devil (c) 2016 A Karim

“May you live in interesting times” the Chinese proverb says, and no one can doubt that 2016 has certainly been interesting. When faced with a traumatic fork in the road, I find memories of days now passed, become unlocked. Stuff I rarely think about, stuff of minutiae, random memories resurface for an instance, lucidly and then vanish back into the dark recesses of our consciousness again.
I returned to my days as a barman [and doorman] when I was a student. Perhaps it was due to the liberal [and medicinal] doses of Johnny Walker Black Label last night, fighting my chest cold; or perhaps it was the contemplation and concerns of regime change in North America following the recent victory by Donald Trump and his unspeakable cabal.
I recalled a particular ‘regular’ in the Snooty Fox; the Bar I worked in over thirty years ago in Chester. He was a solitary type and no matter how hard we tried to engage him in conversation, he would blank us, and just smile and avert his gaze. It was not a comforting smile, more akin to a sneer. He came in on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday Night, for a couple of years and was always alone. We never discovered his name. None of the girls behind the bar would serve him, for they said he was creepy and made them feel uncomfortable with his smile, which was really a sneer.
Three decades on, I found myself wondering whatever happened to him. He always sat against the bar alone. He never spoke to anyone, always solitary and always left alone. He would watch people discreetly from his bar stool, from the corner of his eyes, but never caught anyone’s gaze. He would drink five pints of Stones Bitter each night. He never spoke, apart from when he grunted ordering his beer. Occasionally we would see his lips move subtly, as if he were talking silently to himself; except for one night.
It was as a Saturday, I opened up the bar. Doorman Big Chris was ill, so later Spike and I manned 'the door'. The 'loner' bloke [the silent and weird one] was leaving. As he left, this time his gaze held mine. He clasped my hand in a hard grip and very weirdly whispered 'shake hands with the devil'. His hand was icy, and I felt the hairs on my body become erect and I felt a chill come over my body as I stared into his eyes and the troubling smile.
He winked before eventually releasing my hand. There was knowingness in his eyes as he continued to hold my gaze; grinning menacingly before buttoning up his coat and vanishing into the night.  Spike and I watched him from ‘the door’. Before he turned into Frodsham Street, he paused and looked back at us under the glow of a street-lamp. He had an arm outstretched. It pointed to the full Moon above us. When we looked back down, he was gone.
We never saw him again, though we would speculate as to who he was, or might have been. Spike postulated that he was ex-Army, by the way he walked, his gait and his attire. But no one really knew who he was, or why he was.
So with the World in geo-political turmoil as we face 2017, I wondered last night where he went? And who he was; now existing as just a shadow trapped in my memory.
I don't know why I thought of that 'odd' thirty-year old memory last night in my dreams. Perhaps it is due to the Cassandra Complex that I suffer from time-to-time related to what so many people just did in North America; voting to elect a dangerously unstable man Donald Trump to the highest seat in the World.
One should be aware that when you shake hands with the devil, there are consequences. Let’s hope sense prevails with the imminent regime change in North America as they lurch toward the Right Wing of the Political Spectrum.
Human nature has a troubling side as the Devil rides amongst us, often in disguise but occasionally he reveals himself, even if it is at times in our memory of days now passed, like the dreams of Cassandra or the result of an overactive imagination.
I prefer the latter over what Cassandra saw in her dreams.

Photo Top (c) 2016 A Karim [New Orleans, Louisiana]
Photo Bottom (c) 1969 20th Century Fox [The Planet of the Apes]