Dreaming of Leopards, Soaring with Eagles and Dancing with Spirits John Lockley

Leopard Warrior: A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams

 

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John Lockley is an extraordinary looking man. He has, surrounding his eyes, what appears to be a white mask. He calls it ‘white birth skin’. When she first saw him, his Dublin-born mother, exclaimed, ‘he looks like an abo!’ According to the family story ‘the white doctor frowned, my dad laughed, and the black Xhosa nurses ululated’.

 

Lockley’s mother was Catholic, and his Rhodesian father Protestant. Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1971 he talks about growing up in the context of conflict. His homeland was burdened by apartheid whilst, what was then Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe, was in the midst of a civil war. Back on the island of Ireland in Europe the Troubles raged.Unknown.jpeg

However, city-bred Lockley dreamed, during his childhood, of ‘the African bushveldt, animals, and plants, about illness and healing’. Unbeknownst to him or his parents these dreams were preparing him for his calling, that of sangoma, or traditional African healer.

Once adult, Lockley became a ‘living pilgrim’, travelling ‘the world working with healers, mystics, psychics, Zen masters, and shamans’. He learnt Buddhism in South Korea, sangoma medicine in South Africa and ‘laughter and music – a living story that never ends’ in Ireland.

images-6.jpegLockley calls his practice ‘The Way of the Leopard’ and teaches his pupils to become ‘spiritual soldiers’ who, if their numbers become sufficient, should be able to lessen the amount of war in the world. It’s an admirable aim. Lockley uses the word ‘soldier’ for monks and young men who, like himself, eschew violence.

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One of the striking sections in this book describes the period in which Lockley aged 18, having been drafted into the South African forces, worked as a medic in a rehabilitation hospital catering mainly for black special forces. He says these soldiers arrived ‘in tatters, their bodies and minds ravaged’. They came to the military hospital in Pretoria from the war in Angola.

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African patients, whilst they were recovering, moisturised their bodies – from top to toe – with vitamin creams. The emollients, ordered by the racist but skilful white doctor, Colonel Gordon, were shunned by injured whites as ‘sissy’. But apparently and much to Gordon’s mystification the blacks got better more quickly. Lockley, although white, took to rubbing the creams on himself causing his father to accuse him of being a ‘woman’.

Lockley describes how one mortally injured 22-year-old soldier, named Emmanuel, died slowly over six weeks. As his nurse Lockley felt unable to help him but saw that the comatose soldier literally was gnashing his teeth. Lockley thought this was because Emmanuel was cogniscent deep inside and was frustrated and frightened by pain and helplessness. A sangoma would have been more use than the young orderly who had nothing at his fingertips other than conventional medicine.

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Under apartheid it was only because of his work in the hospital that Lockley was able to spend intimate time with black Africans. There he befriended a Zulu sergeant, Ndlovu, who was himself an apprentice sangoma. Without that encounter it might well be that Lockley would never have found his vocation.

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Needing relief from the trauma of the ward Lockley travelled to a Buddhist retreat in Tzaneen Forest, Northern Transvaal. His work there was to ‘just be’ and, having attained this state, Lockley was visited by his ‘calling dream’: an epic hallucination which sent him out on a ‘journey filled with magic and danger’.

It was also the beginning of his Thwasa, an illness he needed in order to prepare for his life as a sangoma. The first symptoms were boils on his legs – later diagnosed as tick-bite fever. The dreams and the sickness, which involved ‘high temperature, stomach cramps, back pain, weight loss, insomnia, night sweats, lowered immune system, nightmares, anxiety, and depression’ threatened to swamp Lockley.

Because Apartheid kept him separated from black Africans and their traditional culture he was unable to find a teacher and start his apprenticeship.   Instead Lockley pursued his university studies in psychology as well as those in Zen Buddhism. At all times he was ill with, for example, Hepatitis A and painful knees.

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After a three month retreat in South Korea Lockley was invited to join an army of Buddhist monks but on reflection he realised that he must return to his home country, witness the end of apartheid, and find a mentor. By the end of 1994 the racist political system had been legally destroyed and as a white South African Lockley had used his vote to help elect Nelson Mandela as president.

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Back at university Lockley was working with his professor on ways of integrating traditional African herbalism with Western approaches to AIDs. Losing faith in his lecturer’s adherence to his own ‘dominant culture’, Lockley understood that he must travel into the townships to fulfil his vocation.

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Thandisizwe, a translator, ntroduced him to MaMngwevu, a senior sangoma.   Mama, as everyone called her, had dreamt that a white man would come and she would train him to be a great sangoma. During their first Divination meeting it became apparent that MaMngwevu knew all about Lockley’s life and sickness. She gave thanks that, because of the end of apartheid, she was at last able to see him as, because of his sickness, he had almost been lost to the world. She told him that now he would be able to recover and help others. She said his gift of healing came from his Irish mother’s side – from Mammy Kelly, his grandmother.

images-5.jpegMaMngwevu predicted that Lockley would become a great trance dancer and he knew her words were true: deep down he understood that he ‘would soar with eagles as the drums rolled’. In this way Lockley began an apprenticeship which lasted until he was 35.

During this period, in 1998, Lockley went to live in Ireland for seven years. He was mainly based in Galway where his task was to ‘marry his African and Irish spirits’. He writes about the ‘little people’ and compares them with the South African tikoloshe and West African gontomble. He seems to have spent much of his time busking in Galway City – using his African drum – and making friends with musicians, circus people and the ‘drunken and homeless’.

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Lockley worked on his integration project to become an Afro-Celt healer. He pilgrimed to Croagh Patrick and, on the summit, burnt the South African magic herb, impepho. Eventually, overwhelmed by homesickness, Lockley went returned to South Africa.

 

It would be difficult not to wonder what Lockley’s parents thought of their son’s journey through life. They attended the seven day celebration of Lockley’s Umgoduso (final initiation) and his father, called to speak, stood six foot four, towering over ‘a sea of black faces’. He gave thanks, with ‘emotion and humility’, to all those who loved and supported his son.

 

images.jpegA moving incident occurs a few years later when Lockley, now a senior sangoma, is teaching in Donegal. He is asked by a mother to help her son, Conor, who was paralysed in a recent accident. Now, the former army medic has the skills to help the young man, and, in doing so, he remembers Emmanuel, the black soldier who died alone without a sangoma’s healing touch.

Works cited

Lockley, J. Leopard Warrior: A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams.Sounds True. 2018.

A version of this review was published on pages 34 and 35 of the Weekend section in the Irish Examiner on 14th July 2018.  It is reproduced here by permission of the Editor.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Cow Book by John Connell

The Cow Book: A Story of Life on a Irish Family Farm – John Connell

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Prominent admirers of The Cow Book include Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle and Sara Baume so it is clear, just by reading the back cover, that there’s something literary about it.   The epigraphs, by Patrick Kavanagh and Henry David Thoreau, gentle the reader into a mood of anticipatory mellowness.

The first few pages, on the other hand, depict the writer, John Connell, struggling to deliver a calf on his own. Connell must use a jack and a mechanical wrench. Stomach-churningly reminiscent of the Irish horror film, Isolation, ‘the cow bellows low in a noise I don’t recognize, a noise of pain and strangeness’.

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Still from the calving scene in Isolation. 2005. Billy O’Brien.

It is disturbing to discover that when a cow is calving her head is restrained in a galvanised headlock so that she cannot move. Meanwhile the farmer utilises the wrenching ropes. Connell explains that an older cow becomes so loose that two arms can be sunk up to the shoulder inside her birth passage – necessary, of course, to turn the calf for a safe birth.

After that the calf’s breathing is assisted with a vacuum pump and it is fed through a tube from a stomach bag. Interwoven with all this intervention is ‘the milk squirting into my jug, singing in the age-old sound of milk pouring onto itself’. This is lyrical writing: Connell says he learnt his skill with language from listening to his father’s storytelling. He and his da, incidentally, find it hard to resist fighting: two bulls in one field. All farmers know that is one bull too many.

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The family have experienced upheaval as Connell himself became part of the diaspora after the Celtic Tiger boom and recession. Educated at DCU he travelled to Sydney and worked in film production making an award-winning documentary about Tamil refugees. Away for a decade in Australia and subsequently Canada he suffered mental illness and so returned to the sanctuary of home to farm and work out.

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The past contains his relationships with alcohol, cigarettes and, the great modern sin, smart phones. Facebook still connects him with his girlfriend in Australia but Zuckerberg’s platform is guilty in Connell’s eyes of belittling a friend’s suicide by reducing his life and death to a few short sentences.

It is a truism that a simple life can be beneficial and Connell suggests that returning to an animal state of mere survival is healing. Nomads work with flocks and herds for mutual advantage. But these Irish animals rarely get that sort of peace. They are constantly being shaved, drenched, drugged and force-fed. Vinny the dog nearly lost his life because Connell chose to feed him sheep placentas thus encouraging him to attack a newly born lamb, hardly out of its caul and still smelling of the uterus, and try to eat it.

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Whatever attempts Connell makes at mindfulness and reflection he finds himself in the middle of a vortex of opposing ideals and practices. Imperialism, capitalism and globalisation face up against the rural idyll of shepherds, haymaking and fashioning St Brigid crosses of rushes.

And yet… and yet… there is something charming in his cadences and melodies, in the speech patterns that he learnt near Ballinalee, Longford, which sweeten the incompatibilities and allow opposites to coexist.

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Although he knows that the farm is a business venture and that, as his uncle puts it ‘there’s money being made there’, Connell is a man who wants to be kindly to the beasts. He takes care to explain to the calves, as they have their horns burnt off, that they will thank him for it in the end.

But the age-old struggle, that between father and son, still has to be resolved and that turns out to be a bloody business.

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John Connell, centre, at the launch of The Cow Book with his parents, Margaret and Tom, brother, also Tom, fiancée, Vivian Huynh and Linda Keogh.  Image: Longford Leader

Works cited

Connell, J. The Cow Book: A Story of Life on a Irish Family Farm. 2018. Granta. Print.

Isolation. 2005. Directed by Billy O’Brien. Film Four and Lionsgate. Film.

A version of this review was first published on page 37 of the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner on 15th July 2018.  It is reproduced here by permission of the Editor. 

 

 

The Ghost by Jefferson Morley

The Ghost: the secret life of CIA spymaster James Jesus Angleton.

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In The Ghost, Jefferson Morley, an experienced Washington Post journalist, writes fluently and engagingly about the elusive spymaster James Angleton. He titles the first section of this biography, Poetry, and uses the space to build an image of an unusual young man. By the time he went to Yale Angleton spoke three languages and had been a resident of three different countries. He was not really a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) since his mother was Mexican and many of his formative years were spent in Milan. On meeting him in 1941 his future wife Cicely spoke of his El Greco face and later wrote poetically of his ‘hollow cheeks and auras sketched in lightning’.

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At Yale, suggests Morley, Angleton’s career was parented by the partnership between poetry and literary criticism. Morley states that literary criticism, the analysis of the coded language of poetry, ‘ led him to the profession of secret intelligence’ and ‘gave birth to a spy’.

As the Second World War took its course Angleton was training under British auspices with the new American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). This included a stint with Kim Philby at Bletchley Park in the UK. Ironically Philby was one of two chief mentors teaching him ‘how to run double-agent operations, to intercept wireless and mail messages, and to feed false information to the enemy’.

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Norman Pearson. Portrait: Deane Keller

The other important figure was his former literature professor, Norman Pearson, who had supported him into Harvard and then onto the OSS and who instructed him, at Bletchley, in the ‘poetry’ of counterintelligence.   Morley describes Pearson as the founding spirit of the CIA.

A swift coda to the first section introduces both Guy Burgess and Mossad. In his efforts to strangle the influence of communism Angleton found some strange bedfellows. The Lavender Scare, initiated by Senator Joseph McCarthy alongside his Red Scare, sought to oust homosexuals, as well as communists, from all aspects of government. But Angleton and his friend Philby spent many happy hours smoking and drinking with the openly gay double-agent Burgess before he fled to the Soviet Union with Donald MacLean.

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Kim Philby.  Image: the Telegraph

Philby, the ‘Third Man’ was a Russian spy par excellence but Angleton seems to have been in denial about this for as long as conceivably possible. Even when he acknowledged it he never recovered from a sense of betrayal.

Angleton worked closely with Mossad in Israel, a country tainted by the fact that the Soviet Union had been the first to recognise her sovereignty. But for Angleton the opportunity to become the specialist on a young country was a natural step from specialising on Italy, where his parents still lived. He eschewed his anti-Semitic prejudices in favour of fighting communism and its perceived threat to the United States of America. The Zionists would be his allies. Angleton, states Morley, ‘refused to rank ideologies of America’s adversaries in terms of morality’. Later Angleton would be branded the ‘greatest Zionist of them all’ and his memorial on a hillside west of Jerusalem is still tended by those who remember his contribution.

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Jim Angleton corner in Jerusalem. Image: the Jerusalem Foundation.

The second section of the book is called Power. By 1954 Angleton had manoeuvred himself into a position of unprecedented influence and control. He was chief of Counterintelligence and could see into every CIA file, including those of the Office of Security’s personnel. He was, says Morley ‘an invisible supervisor’ who ‘kept tabs on the entire intelligence establishment’. His secret empire grew as did the number of staff needed to run it.

Morley is not a writer to avoid a metaphor and after his success with the congruence between spying and the literary analysis of poems he pushes manfully on to the idea of the fly fisherman. Here he uses the memory of a friend of the family: ‘the patient way of waiting, silent, for the trusting quarry to expose itself, that is the game of fishing that Jim Angleton played in the summer; a fisherman unlike others’.

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Quaintly his staff were still using a kettle and stick to open mail to and from the USSR. Unbelievably this illegal practice seems to have gone unnoticed by recipients or the authorities. In 1958, for example, Angleton may have read most of the 8000 letters opened!

In 1960 John F Kennedy was elected president of the USA. The Cuba crisis and the Bay of Pigs loomed over the Democrat government and its spies. Meanwhile, from 1959 to 1963 Angleton saw the SECRET EYES ONLY file on former marine Lee Harvey Oswald. He was being investigated as a mole who might be betraying US operatives in Moscow.

images-4.jpegThe chapters on the President’s assassination on November 22 1963 are presented as a series of unconnected silos. Could it be that Angleton did know more than he professed? He claimed that he knew little of Oswald, in spite of having read three secret reports on him in September and October.

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Even now not everything is in the public domain. Files are still secreted or redacted and some have been destroyed. The investigative journalist, Morley, whose efforts are gargantuan, can only piece together likelihoods from fragments of conversations or obscure notes.

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In later years Angleton stated that he had suspected a Communist conspiracy. But at the time the chief of the Cuba operation, Desmond Fitzgerald, regarded Angleton as ‘mentally unstable, drunken and conspiratorial’. And Morley sums up: ‘in the tragedy of Dallas, Angleton played a ghost’.

By this stage in the third section, Impunity, Morley rarely writes more than two paragraphs before returning to what he regards as Angleton’s insidious behaviour. He sees him as instigating the cover up of the details of the accused assassin’s actions. By having gained power over the bureaucratic structures of the CIA Angleton was able to withhold vital information from the investigating Warren Commission.

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Jefferson Morley. Image: c-span.org

Morley rages on. He accuses Angleton of being a disastrous failure as counterintelligence chief and considers that he should have been sacked. Instead he remained in power for another decade. During this time Angleton’s prowess in Israeli affairs paid off when in 1967 his office advised Lyndon Johnson’s government on the Six-Day-War: when it would start, who would win it and why the Soviets would not intervene. Later Israel got hold of the necessary fissionable materials to construct nuclear weapons. How remains a mystery.

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In Legend, the final part of The Ghost, Morley presents the end of Angleton’s regime. Trusted colleagues are retiring, being dismissed or even dying. The treacherous Philby publishes My Silent War in which he mocks Angleton as naïve. Eventually Angleton himself is edged out of office.

In an attempt to weigh his subject’s legacy Morley seems to feel complex emotions: those of admiration, derision, pity and anger. He is torn between his own idea of a good, law-abiding American and the very concept of a clandestine CIA. Angleton himself said that ‘it was inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of government’.

 

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In Trump’s America Angleton would be in the ascendant. Israel is a bosom pal and mass-surveillance has become mandatory and thus mundane.

Works cited

Morley, J. The Ghost: the secret life of CIA spymaster James Jesus Angleton. Scribe. 2017.

A version of this review was first published on page 35 of the Weekend Section in the Irish Examiner on 7th July 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

The Inner Life of Animals

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The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World.

Peter Wohlleben

Translated by Jane Billinghurst

A highlight of Christmas 2017 was the video of a crow tobogganing on a snow-covered shed in Russia. Chris Packham , the English naturalist, showed it on his BBC2 programme Winter’s Weirdest Events. Repeatedly the crow dragged a mayonnaise lid to the apex of the roof before stepping onto it and sliding down to the gutter. Having interviewed a corvid specialist Packham explains that the crow was ‘growing its brain by playing’.

In his book The Inner Life of Animals, German writer, Peter Wohlleben aims to explain scientific research on animal behaviour.

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To the mix he adds his own observations, made during a career in forestry, and incidents with the family pets.   Wohlleben’s earlier book, The Hidden Life of Trees, talks about how trees parent their offspring and communicate with each other.

In a review the Financial Times compared Wohlleben to Paulo Coelho, implying that his approach to ethology (the science of animal behaviour) is similar to Coelho’s brand of cod philosophy. Everyone knows people who seem to love searching for signs that animals are displaying humanlike behaviour. Anthropomorphism is a seductive activity and is popularised by films, TV programmes and You Tube uploads.

Even David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and Planet Earth series foreground family activities which remind viewers of their own home lives. It was strangely moving to see the paterfamilias of a sandgrouse family making daily 120 mile round trips to bring water to his chicks. But these birds have evolved feathers which can soak up and retain water so that the young can drink without endangering themselves at a water hole. It’s called survival of the fittest.

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Wohlleben’s examples generally consist of an unscientific sample of one. His interpretations are projected, in most cases, from the mind of the observer, himself. He places the example of the Russian crow in a chapter titled Just for Fun. In Wohlleben’s words the crow ‘clearly’ has ‘mindless fun, and can ‘conjure up happy feelings’ whenever it wants to.

This sort of idea would be fine in Watership Down or Winnie the Pooh but it is utter nonsense in a book that purports to be factual. The words ‘clearly’, ‘mindless fun’,‘conjure’, ‘happy’ and ‘feelings’ are all out of place. It certainly is not clear that the crow is having fun. Even if it were how would anyone know whether the fun was mindless? Crows can no more manipulate their thoughts by conjuring up a memory than they can pull a rabbit out of a hat. Can a crow feel happy? Most scientists do not think that animals can feel emotions.

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When Packham talks about play he means the sort of antics that baby stoats undertake when they are fighting in order to practise being an adult. It’s a subtly different definition of the word, play. Words are weaselly things that must be used precisely in texts that hope to translate academic or scientific language into lay terms.

Wohlleben follows up his section on the crow by writing about his dog Maxi. She would ‘play’ tag with her master but often allowed him almost to catch her, before darting away ‘delighted’. He fesses up saying that the game may not be ‘pointless’ as Maxi may have used it to strengthen her relationship with him. If she were to do this, it would be instinctual behaviour rather than a reasoned choice.

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Image: Reto Klar

The book includes anecdotes which bring a smile of delight to the face of a reader but beyond that the work has no value as ethology.

Works cited

Wohlleben, P. The Inner Life of Animals. Vintage. 2017. Print.

Wohlleben, P.  The Secret Life of Trees. Greystone Books.  2015. Print.

A version of this review was first published on 23rd June 2018 on page 36 of the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner.  It is reproduced here by permission of the Editor.

Dreamers by Snigdha Poonam

Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing the World.

Snigdha Poonam

‘Anything you want to be, you can be. You can be just what-all you want.’

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It is refreshing to read a book about hope.   The current world-weary cynicism of Western Europe and its institutions can, on a daily basis, be enervating.   But in Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers an Indian version of the American Dream lives on.

images.jpegSimilar to the ayah’s lullaby (see above) in the opening pages of Salman Rushdie’s iconic Midnight’s Children young Indians think that they can be anything that they want to be.  Rushdie retold the story of India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947 and showed that by 1976, when he began writing the novel, the hopes of the young country had been blighted by civil war, partition and ethnic hatred. Poonam’s tale is different. She has, for three years, been ‘hanging out’ in North Eastern India with a few of the under 25s who make up 50 percent of the Indian population. She records their progress in realising their hopes and dreams.

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Image: patrika.com

The opening chapter, The Click-Baiter, is infused with sadness. The young workers at Wittyfeed, an online content business, are experiencing great financial success. The founder’s father, plucked from his work as a grain salesman in the family village, is now running an on-trend clothes shop in a city mall. In this milieu the parvenu retailer feels ‘low, depressed, bored and hopeless’. His children, on the other hand, are upbeat. They have named their offices after castles in Game of Thrones and the toilets are called Khal and Khalessi. They run their company as a scion of Apple although they think their model is better because they have based it on the linked concepts of family and village. Nevertheless, it is clear to Poonam that uprooting older family members from the familiarity of village life is not pain free.

The first section of Dreamers is called There is No Plan B indicating an all or nothing dream. The Fixer is a self-made middleman who liaises between villagers and authorities. Pankaj Prasad navigates the bureaucratic maelstrom of modern India. His activities are based on ownership of a computer and camera. He takes and prints passport photos, one of which needs to be appended to any government form. He also records fingerprints, often facing the problem that farm labourers’ thumb whorls have been entirely eroded by physical work.

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Aadhaar card. Image: acbuzz.com

Since 1947 successive governments have introduced layer upon layer of schemes designed to alleviate poverty in rural India. By organising queues of appellants, inspecting their paperwork and identifying their entitlements Prasad is able to secure government grants. He also arranges for villagers to open online bank accounts and access them via his ‘micro-ATM’. Latterly he has become the local Aadhaar operator meaning that, after scanning applicants’ irises, he issues the biometrically unique identity cards without which it is impossible to access services such as old age pensions. He doesn’t know English but he does know how to use Google Translate.

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  • Courses: Spoken English, GD / PI, Personality Development

 

Unlike Prasad, Moin Khan, AKA The English Man, makes his money from selling English. Working out of The American Academy of Spoken English, a language school franchised over North India, he teaches classes of 50 students, by telling them stories. The methodology is to narrate in Hindi and using English only for the key point of the lesson – be it identifying the different usages of active and passive verbs or how to use the word ‘would’.

Poonam, whose English is of an academic and literary type, ponders this and suggests that Spoken English, designed to allow Hindi speakers to get by in a call centre, will define the future of the language in India and beyond. She states that as India is expected ‘to have the largest number of English speakers in the world in the next ten years – the English they speak will be the English of the future’.

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Poonam with Nomi Alqbal at the launch of Dreamers, Asia House, UK.

Poonam is a high-caste, highly educated Hindu. She works as a journalist for the Hindustan Times in Delhi. These elements set her apart from her subjects.   But what separates her even further is her gender. Women are expected to keep quiet and be obedient. Only men dream and thus Richa Singh, the eponymous Angry Young Woman in the section called I am Ready for a Fight, is the exception.

Singh is very different from the low caste men that Poonam followed. She is a post-graduate student at the prestigious Allahabad University in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. She was, in 2015, elected as the first woman president of the university’s student union. All other officers that year, and, indeed, every year were men.

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Richa Singh.  Copyright: Richa Singh.

During the run-up to the election and afterwards Singh was subjected to misogynistic attacks questioning her morality and calling her a ‘bold’ girl. The university authorities attempted to exclude her and ignored a petition organised by her supporters. Women marched on campus and in the streets with gags indicating how their gender was silenced.

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Poonam went with Singh to one political meeting and was so frightened by the violence and anger of the male participants that she left Allahabad. She states that the ‘madness of modern India boils down to the anxieties of young men who no longer know their place in the world’.

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Narendra Modi. Image: forbes.com

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the popular Hindu nationalist, has admitted that although he was elected on a promise of more jobs there is no way that employment can be provided for over a billion people. Now Modi’s spin-doctors talk instead of ‘opportunities for self-employment’.

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Young Indians are dreaming big and determined to achieve their dreams. Poonam says she could not ‘understand how they could dream of these things starting off from where they were’. They want to be rich, important and famous but with the world indifferent to them Poonam believes that they will be unable to achieve this legally. Instead they will need to redefine the concept of work to embrace cheating and scams. They also have to ignore the difference between right and wrong. And so Poonam names the final part of the book Nothing is What it Looks Like.

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In The Scammer Poonam explains that many young people undergo a sequence of interviews in each of which they pay to have their name put forward for the next stage. But there is no job. The whole process is a fake. Dozens arrive daily and leave with an offer of work. The name of the company will, they hear, be texted later. Dream on. The ‘interviewers’ work is to pocket the money and process the hopefuls.

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Call centre scams involve cheating Americans out of millions of dollars by pretending to be the United States Treasury Department. Also Americans lose $1.5 billion annually to tech support scams. But those who work in scamming call centres leave not because their ‘work’ is immoral but because the incentives are not big enough. Instead they set up their own scamming centres, having realised that ‘whether it’s fraud or not depends on perspective’. Scamming is the way to achieve a Facebook-photos-lifestyle.

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Young Indian men are fed a sense of entitlement by online content. The best way to make their dreams come true is by stealing from the gullible. They are like a plague of locusts. But what will happen when they have devoured everything?

Works cited

Poonam, S. Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing the World. Hurst. 2018. Print.

Rushdie, S. Midnight’s Children.  Jonathan Cape. 1980. Print.

A version of this review was first published on page 45 in the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner on 9th June 2018 .  It is reproduced here by permission of the editor.

 

 

 

 

Unmasked by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Unmasked: A Memoir      Andrew Lloyd Webber

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In Unmasked Andrew Lloyd Webber uses nearly 500 pages to get to the 1986 opening of his hit musical, The Phantom of the Opera. He protests that he hated the idea of autobiography but had been harried, by his loved ones, to tell his own story in his own way.  Unmasked is the first volume and covers 38 years: there will, one assumes, be at least one further volume to cover the next 38.

Lloyd Webber is apologetic, saying that he has never written about a more boring person than himself, and that he was determined to complete his autobiography in only one volume. Instead, he confesses, he has been garrulous.

The memoir is published to coincide with Lloyd Webber’s 70th birthday, an event which has been lavishly covered in the press, worldwide.  Among the plaudits it’s interesting to read Lloyd Webber’s personal analysis of how he built his amazingly successful career. Unmasked chronicles the period from Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express and many others, culminating in The Phantom of the Opera.

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Julian (left) and Andrew. Personal collection of Andrew Lloyd Webber

One important genesis was a miniature theatre, the Harrington Pavilion, which he and his younger brother, Julian, built. In it they staged all sorts of productions: many adapted from plays or books, such as The Weird Sisters, after Macbeth. These were nascent musicals and some of the songs composed at the time, such as ‘Chained and Bound’ and ‘Chanson d’Enfance’ featured in the early work, Earnest which was, of course, based on Oscar Wilde. Both resurfaced many years later in, respectively, Joseph and Aspects of Love.

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Jean

Jean, their mother, was a successful piano teacher and co-founder of the elite school, Wetherby, which has welcomed, among others, Princes William and Harry as well as the commoner, Hugh Grant. Jean expected both Andrew and Julian to be childhood prodigies like their father, Billy, who had risen from the working class on scholarships, was now an academic, holding leading positions in both the Royal and the London Colleges of Music.

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Billy with Perseus the cat

The brothers were to be eclipsed, however, by a new enthusiasm that their mother engendered. She became the patron and second ‘mother’ of John Lill, an outstanding concert pianist and fellow pupil of Julian in the junior section of the Royal College of Music. Andrew and Julian were dragged to John’s home in Leyton and set loose on the streets whilst their mother was inside having tea with John’s parents and discussing their son’s future career.

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John Lill, Julian Lloyd Webber, Billy Lloyd Webber, Jean Lloyd Webber.

Outside the boys discovered the local football team, Leyton Orient. This was the beginning of their lifetime support of the ‘Cinderella’ London club. Years later Lloyd Webber received some sage advice from its then chairman, Bernie Delfont. ‘Never,’ he was told, ‘buy a football club’. And Lloyd Webber, who has bought a number of theatres, never did, but he is still a fan of the O’s. Julian has a daughter named Orienta.

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Julian LLoyd Webber, Jiaxin Cheng and Jasmine Orienta Lloyd Webber

It’s thrilling to read about the London of the early 60s and to realise that it was easy for Jean to drive from Harrington Court in West London, stopping off at the Royal College of Music to pick up John and her boys in Prince Consort Road, before motoring along Marylebone and Euston Roads, branching left at Old Street Roundabout and heading North through Hackney to John’s house in Leyton. This 13 mile commute would take well over an hour nowadays but would have been accomplished in less than 20 minutes then, provided you did not get stuck behind a horse-drawn coal cart or rag-and-bone man.

As with many families there were conflicts and worrying times between childhood and maturity. The Lloyd Webber family were not wealthy and the boys needed to win scholarships if they were to attend elite academies. Andrew won history scholarships to Westminster School and Magdelen College, Oxford.  But the pull of musical theatre was so strong that he was unable to take full advantage of either opportunity.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in New York 1970

In 1966 Lloyd Webber decided to give up his exhibition at Oxford and instead pursue a newly formed relationship with the call-taker at the London number FLAXMAN 1822. This was Timothy Miles Bindon Rice, of Gunter Grove, SW10, employed as a less than reliable articled clerk in a solicitors’ office. Neither young man was really settling nicely in the way that their parents had hoped.

Rice hoped to follow in the heels of his erstwhile neighbours in round-the-corner, Edith Grove. He hoped, like The Rolling Stones, to become a rock star. Lloyd Webber, on the other hand was more interested in operetta-like melodies.

They enjoyed working together, however, and soon another flat was rented in Harrington Court to house, increasingly frail Granny Molly, John Lill and the lyricist, Tim Rice.

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Harrington Court, South Kensington, London, SW7

Lloyd Webber comments that this ménage à trois was seriously weird even for South Kensington. In the original flat along with Jean, was her younger son practising the cello, her husband composing on his electric organ and the elder son playing Puccini on the gramophone at full volume. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ states, Lloyd Webber, wryly.

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With their sights firmly set on the West End, Rice and Lloyd Webber were not unduly thrilled when their pop cantata was slated for performance at Colet Court, the junior branch of St Paul’s School in London. Based on a story culled from The Wonder Book of Bible Stories, Joseph was in rehearsal for its 1968 world premier. Boys from the Hammersmith-based school would be singing along to music played by an amateur orchestra from Potters Bar – the other side of the M25.

The first of Lloyd Webber’s many ‘through-sung’ musicals, Joseph is entirely songs, unpunctuated with dialogue. According to Lloyd Webber this type of work has ‘a musical structure with musical key relationships, rhythms and use of time signatures’. They are, he says, part of his perfectionism in that they give him control of the piece with the ‘book’ becoming merely lyrics for each song.

The second performance of the show took place after the Sunday evening service at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster where Billy was Musical Director. During the first half of the programme Billy played a bit on the hall’s superb organ whilst Julian and John Lill each had a spot. Lloyd Webber criticises the Wagnerian length of the classical set but in the second half Joseph brought the house down.

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It’s easy in hindsight to acknowledge the skill, talent and prescience that Lloyd Webber possesses. In the early years it was harder for him, and for his family and associates, to feel so confident. His father was his main support saying that his elder son was more driven than any of the students he had met during his career teaching at music schools.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber 2018.  Image dailymail.com

There are traits about Lloyd Webber that people dislike. A certain arrogance and self-adulation that is cloying. An ability to forget that he has ever seen you before unless he is trying to utilise you for his own purposes. An irritating archaic slang in which phrases and acronyms are frequently repeated as in ‘ankling off PDQ’ meaning getting out of there as quickly as possible.

At the same time ‘the boy done good’ didn’t he? He has, more or less singlehandedly reinvigorated British musical theatre. His work is immensely popular throughout the world, earning his country much-needed dollars, and well-merited respect. Unmasked is fascinating and those who read it will be looking forward to the second volume. It will surely be full of even more gossip.

Works cited

Lloyd Webber, A. Unmasked. Harper Collins. 2018

A version of this review was first published on pages 41 and 42 of the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner on 9th June 2018.  It is reproduced here by permission of the Editor.  

 

The Murderer’s Maid

The Murderer’s Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel  by Erika Mailman

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one!

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Bridget Sullivan

Bridget Sullivan was one of 13 children born into the copper mining community in Allihies, on the Beara Peninsula. Squirreling away a small piece of blue copper for luck, Bridget shipped out to America in 1883. Money earned as a maid was sent back to West Cork.

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Abby, Andrew, Emma and Lizzie Borden. Image: the Sims Resource

Andrew Borden, a wealthy mill owner, lived thriftily, in a clapboard house which was strangely and inconveniently conformed to keep family members apart. Meals were taken in shifts for the same reason. Miss Emma and Miss Lizzie, the sisters, born to Andrew and his late wife Sarah, ate together after the patriarch and his second wife, Abby had dined. Borden confides ‘we have some odd arrangements in this house, and I’ll welcome you keeping quiet on personal matters’.

The atmosphere in the house was tense, partially poisoned by Mr Borden’s miserliness but also heightened by the siblings’ unpleasant behaviour. Bridget endured it all for a number of reasons. At least Mr Borden, unlike her two previous masters, kept his hand off her. And she felt compassion for the second Mrs Borden whose life was made miserable by her resentful stepdaughters. Lizzie’s somnambulism made Bridget nervous as did other strange occurrences such as mysterious appearances and disappearances of menstrual napkins. Bridget’s attempts at resignation were challenged by large cash bonuses destined for her impoverished family in Ireland.

The entirely fictional narrative centres on Brooke Hernandez, who has secreted her birth name, Felicita, behind a tangle of aliases. Brooke is convinced that someone, maybe the same person who killed her mother, is pursuing her as she flits from one state to another, working below-the-counter waitress jobs and living in temporary accommodation.

51BhgUWfj3L._SY346_.jpgBrooke seems to think that reading true crime will help her keep one step ahead of her putative murderers. When she reads about Lizzie Borden’s trial, however, she is astonished to be immersed in the story of ‘women whose skirts drag the floor, who use privies and chamber pots and ride in horse-drawn buggies’.

After her mother’s death Brooke met a young boy, Miguel, at the group foster home in which they were raised. Although separated by distance the two friends keep in daily touch online.   No one else is Brooke’s friend on Facebook and when an egg icon pops up named Randy Shotglass Brooke replies ‘I’ll crush you, eggshell’.   Over the years small incursions into her various rooms have prompted Brooke to move on. A pot or magazine might have been moved marginally suggesting that ‘he’ has found her. Brooke, however, is distracted by a new relationship with attorney, Anthony, whom she met at her place of work.

Bizarrely she and Anthony take a weekend break in Fall City, staying at the Lizzie Borden B&B. The unique selling point of the guesthouse is that inside Abby and Andrew Borden were axed to death. On sale is a wind chime with a dangling axe suspending ‘iron blood drops’ and a ‘bobblehead, spattered with blood and holding an axe, glaring with wide-open, creepy eyes’.

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Erika Mailman

The Murderer’s Maid is an engaging book championing two young women from humble backgrounds. It seems churlish to compare it with Margaret Atwood’s excellent Alias Grace, also based on a notorious crime committed in a household of masters and servants. That was a serious novel which examined, forensically, class and gender.  This tale resembles the books that inspired Mailman: Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. In other words it’s not quite grown up.

Works Cited

Alcott, L. M. Little Women. 1868/69. Roberts Brothers. Print.

Atwood, M.  Alias Grace. 1996. McClelland & Stewart. Print.

Mailman, E. The Murderer’s Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel.  2017. Bonhomie Press. Print.

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. 1908. L. C. Page & Co. Print.

Pearce, P. Tom’s Midnight Garden. 1958. Oxford University Press. Print.

A version of this review was first published on page 34 of the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner on 19th May 2018.  It is reproduced here by permission of the Editor.