Friday, 14 December 2018

OFFICIAL : Worse than Savages . . . Speaker Hoarse in Calling to Order . . . Impatient Loquacity . . . Brexit . . .


To interrupt another, even in common Conversation, is reckon’d highly indecent [of the North American Savages]. How different this is from the Conduct of a polite British House of Commons where scarce every person without some confusion, that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to Order and how different from the Mode of Conversation in many polite Companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your Sentence with great Rapidity you are cut off in the middle of it by the Impatient Loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffer’d to finish it . . .’

[Satirical Tract by Benjamin Franklin, 1784: Remarks concerning the Savages of North America]


[James Gillray’s satirical print, 1801, marking the long-awaited implementation of the Acts of Union bringing England and Ireland together as the United Kingdom. Note the emblemata above the Speaker’s Chair.]

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Ur-Gumshoe? D-r Tchékhov, Detektiv. The Unvarnished Truth.

 Tchékhov dreamt he was a thief of the back streets who collects coins and collar studs from the pavement with tarred shoe-soles to evade detection.

D-r Tchékhov mounted on Old Roarer (1888).
‘Her breath had frozen on leaving her nostrils so that there was
a horn of ice a foot long projecting through the steam, and
lumps of the hardest ice – of unequal sizes – had
become attached to her hoofs.’ 

A number of extracts from the as-yet-unpublished crime novel, D-r Tchékhov, Detektiv, have been posted here over recent years :
A Skirmish with Wolves

The transcription and restoration of a long lost crime novel by Chekhov (he, himself, referred to such a work in progress in 1888) has been a task requiring considerable cerebral vigour, which I confess demands a savviness I can no longer own.

The novel relates the misadventures of the morphine-dependent D-r Anton Tchékhov, aged 28 years, when investigating the mysterious duelling death of an aristocratic cadet in a remote snowbound northern garrison. 

So for Tchékhov’s perorated musings that colour the penultimate chapter, Pursued by Wolvesretailing this baffling affair, click on the first link above . . . or . . . continue here to read onwards to the conclusion of Part One, A Textbook Case . . 



In three days, life in the garrison had robbed him of all self respect, and brought him to the utter degradation of institutional mindlessness, consumed, like the common soldiers, by a crude and bitter resentment.
  Around him he saw only darkness, barbarity, monotony and the dumb, brutish indifference of callous men stripped of all humanity.
  A melancholy whistle sounded like a chamade of defeat.
  In the far distance, a railway engine laboured on a curve, and then the railway lights came into view over the brow of a hill, and a high column of grey smoke and sparks shifted fretfully hither and thither, trapped in the cutting between the forest trees.
  As though at a familiar signal, the mare whickered and broke into a risyu — a military trot at a brisk, even pace towards the flaring funnel. 
  Below them, a long goods train passed, pulled by two panting engines that belched shafts of crimson flame from their funnels, respiring like the high blowers who filled the rear ranks for draught service alongside Old Roarer.
  Soon, the double yolk of a yellow approach-signal shimmered in a glair of mist.
  In another moment Anton had reached the track and crossed the line to enter the station yard.
  He patted the mare’s neck, smoothing a mane caparisoned by snow and, in places, standing in frozen quiffs.  Her flanks were streaked with frozen sweat.
  “She’s a regular sweetlin’,” he said to the waiting groom.
  He swung out his leg and dismounted smoothly, like a well-turned period.


The Unvarnished Truth


The ramassage train was a mixed goods wagons and passenger service with a vagon-restoran. On the platform, soldiers were rapidly unloading two box-cars of fresh horses under penalty of demurrage.  
  The remounts’ eyes were bright and their coats gleamed.
  “More unsuspecting candidates, like the conscripts, for the dread potions of that infernal médicin empirique,” Anton murmured sourly, and stroked their groomed flanks.
  He paused to watch a little bye-play between a thickset, compact chestnut gelding, with a broad breast, and a sturdy carabagh cob.
  “They say : ‘In the long run truth will triumph’, but it’s untrue,he confided softly, fondling a velvet ear.
  At the rear of the train, he observed, was a railway car disguised to look like a mail-van, with opaque glass windows and four-plank cells to transport exiled political prisoners.
  He entered his own compartment, threw himself on the seat, and took up his private journal.
  He felt all of Russia was on the line harnessed to the lokomotiv and waiting for a signal whose annunciation they would never hear.
  “My visit has been a footling business, he wrote, “the situation is hopeless, and it is impossible to change the course of things.”
  He gazed blankly out of the window, blinking his heavily lashed lids.
  “I have dissected with an ice-pick a frozen monument to romanticism, explored the aphotic regions of the General’s castelry, lingered in the haunts of pleasure, and buried a ghost.”
  Soon, he knew, all traces of the episode would be erased. 
  With much the same intention as Old Vańuška — when attempting the drive of deer to cover his tracks and overwrite, in the snow, the record of his misdeeds — so the Princess would sprinkle holy water on the scandal.                                 
      Yet the bowdlerized version of the events was written in the official record, for had not he, Tchékhov, so written it? [“No more equivocal or casuistical a letter have I ever written.”]
  The Princess emerged from the station-master’s room and boarded the train.
      He compared once more her delicate weak-looking neck and cernuous head with his own bowed shoulders.
      He was aware the shuba he was wearing — as long as a dressing-gown — was not comme il faut, and he was conscious that his raffish bowtie was not the correct thing, yet in these small matters, as in the greater ones, he vowed to resist his own embourgeoisement. 
     “My motto : ‘I don’t want anything.’ ”
  He had probed beneath the surface sheen, and under the varnish he had found nests of corruption and subterfuge which not even the magic of the old Tcheremis mediciner could conceal.
  At the front of the train, a door was flung open, and youthful male voices, resonant and assured, cried out : “Mariya! Mariushka! Manyusya! Mashenka!”

  The whistle sounded. 

  Anton was just in time to see Mariya following her hat-box as she was handed into the compartment of the four bad captains.
  The train steamed out.
  Tchékhov glanced at his watch.  When Anton was sick as a child, or profoundly unhappy, he had played with a small oblong fragment of mirror to dart “sun hares” across the ceiling and on the faded paper of the wall.
  In the bright rays of the gaslamp the glass watch-lens sent out spinning discs of light on the carriage ceiling.
  He repeated under his breath his childhood’s secret chant : “The hare dances at night to seduce the moon.”  He had believed then that a selenogamous marriage was the fate of a poet, and his destiny was to be a flamen devoted to his muse.
  He sighed, and wrote : “It usually takes as much time to feel happy as to wind up one’s watch.” 
  He wound up his watch. 
  In those pages of his journal where he entered his imprest accounts, D-r Tchékhov drew a new line, and itemised his latest expenses – viz the handout to a battalion commander besieged by creditors.
  “In Act I, he wrote, “a respectable man, ‘X’, borrows a hundred roubles from ‘A’, and in the course of all four acts he does not pay it back.” 
  He smiled, and added : “To make an enemy is to lend a man money, and ask it of him again.”
  To be spared the out-go, the yawning byurokrat then crossed out “expenses, sundry” and wrote “expenses, general”.
  The landscape flowing by looked inane.
  When he thought of the General’s penury Anton reckoned he had gone some way to make up the ullage.
  The General had played him for a fool. 
  The dark bulk of the General’s lofty quadrilateral fort disappeared below the treeline.  
  On balance, Anton felt sorry for the General whose domain had shrunk to a second-rate boarding school and four mountain batteries quartered in a snowbound cantonment patrolling a forgotten frontier.
  Anton gazed at the way the land tumbled, and saw the trees were planted anyhow, stupidly ; a land where prospered only zastoi — stagnation, stupidity and mediocrity.
  “The story I have begun,” he scribbled in a draft letter to Nicholai, “is a work de longue haleine — as complicated as it is deeply tedious.”   
  He sighed. “At this moment I see no good reason to live,he confided to his brother, “but then I remembered an editor had commissioned a magazine article on the poor schools and I recognised that I could not die issueless.”
  The carriage lamp burned as fitfully as his own restlessness.
  His hæmmorhoids were afire with a formicary itching which circled his arse like a ring-burner. 
  He had added to his knowledge of enemata by experimenting with variants of Ivanishche’s instillation of opium and myrrh tinctures which had succeeded only in acting upon his guts like evacuants ; purgations each more dreadful than the last.
  To his remaining ampoule he sought relief ; and within the space of a few moments the allumé eyes of the unrepentant meconophagist had undergone their customary pupillary changes.
  At a level-crossing a team of oxen hauling coal slackened their pace.
  His stomach warmed and the abdominal spasms ceased.
  There remained a sickly, sticky sensation in his gullet, however, which was clearly the consequence of too much smoking so he swallowed a linctus of barbitonum – a hypnotic drug – he had mixed with drops of antitussive opianine. 
  He gazed from the window and scanned the horizon through a pair of opera glasses.
  The landscape flowing by looked phantasmagorical.
  A fantaziya.
  (He wrote,“And I dreamt that, as it were, I considered reality was a dream, and the dream was a reality.”)
  In many respects, he considered, the fact that the symptoms of a sufferer from tuberculosis are similar to the signs of morphinism should be regarded by fellow addicts as fortunate indeed.
  The similarities — the brittle nails, the axillary sweating, the dry heat in other regions, the weight loss, his fluctuating temperature night and day — had conveniently veiled his drug dependency from the prying intrusions of overofficious busybodies at the medical faculty in the past.
  “I am a superfluous man ; only the healthy and strong will remain,he wrote. “Nature is straining to rid herself of debilitated organisms and those she doesn’t need . . . famines, typhus, diphtheria — kholera, tuberkulez, skarlatina — an epidemic whose only cure is a course of the natural sciences. But Death defies the doctor. For how can a doctor prevail over disease when his own brother is reluctant to change is underpants.”
  Since his sojourn in the fort his fæces had turned black, a sign which indicated, he believed, not only the presence of stomach blood as “coffee-grounds” in his stools but melæna wrought by an overdose of bismuth.
  He examined the granulating abscess on his lower left femur and removed an incrustation. To his surprise when he looked for the formerly sloughy floor he saw the lesion had healed to a healthy new pink carapace.
  Cicatrix manet. Spasi'bo za poda'rok, Vańuška!” He laughed. “Thanks for the timely gift of spurious health, old man.” 
  Only one thought reconciled Tchékhov to the old feldsher : just as the Prince had suffered from the rascal’s ignorance, so perhaps Anton was benefiting from one of his mistakes.
  “The hour is late afternoon and dark,he wrote. “Only the evening will show what day it has been.”
  He turned the page, and resumed writing.
  “I think more and more of death. I dreamt that Court kammerjunkers were  present at the opening of my grave, and I was preserved like a saint, the skin uncrackt, the odour sweet. Death is terrible, but still more terrible is the thought that you might live forever and never die. To live one must have something to hang on to. In this country only the body works, not the spirit.”
  Above the rattle of the wheels, at the head of the train, he heard the melodiya of Mariya singing. 
  The ballada told of dukes and counts, like those in novels, not ordinary people. The song was not sensual but yearning ; a romanticheskoye yearning to rhyme Ideal and Love with Repentance and purest Sacrifice.
  Mariya sang with a pathos to capture men’s souls, and on his lips he tasted  the sacrament of that first warm kiss which had melted his heart.
  Ahead of him, her singing faded. 
  He wanted to race and overtake her, and it seemed to him as if it were life itself he wanted to overtake, that life which one cannot bring back or overtake or catch, just as one cannot overtake one’s own shadow.
  “To die innominate, unperpetuated — as the Great Anon — should be our early resolve,he continued. 
  When he thought of his death he would recall the words of Cato ; for he would rather people should enquire why he had not a tablet erected to his memory, than why he had. 
  He unfolded his travelling rug, bunched his coat into a pillow, and laid his head in readiness for rest.
  “Nevertheless, the power and salvation of a people lie in its intelligentsyia, in the intellectuals who think honestly, feel, and can work.”
  A laconic smile lurked under his beard.
  “At my death destroy these notebook writings as the demented ramblings of a drivelling scribbler, one of the cackling literati.” 
  There was no doubt but that he meant it.
  “In truth, it seems to me that we uncultured, worn-out, money-grubbing people, banal in speech, stereotyped in intentions, have grown quite mouldy, and while we intellectuals are rummaging among old rags and, according to the old Russian custom, biting one another, there is boiling up around us a life we neither know nor notice. The dawn of a new life is breaking. Great events will take us unawares, and we shall turn into sinister old men and women ; and we shall be the first who, in that hatred of that new dawn, will calumniate it.”   
  He closed his eyes.
  He could not forget the Prince monumentalised in the snow.
  He could not forget Mariya imperatrix.  
  Her vivacious amoral'nyi smile. 
  He thought of her complex gamey odour of hairwash and perfumery. 
  “Essentially this chronicle of woe is crude and meaningless. Romantic love, like Mariya’s song appears as meaningless as an avalanche which involuntarily rolls down a mountain and overwhelms people.” 
  He opened his eyes and reread the scrap of paper on which he had copied the Prince’s love letter.
  He shook his head in wonderment.
  That the Prince had truly loved Mariya there could be no doubt. For Anton had preserved the scrap like holy writ.
  No love letter should be read au pied de la lettre.
  Just as D-r Tchékhov had struggled to find a way to conclude his Report to the General ; so the Prince had striven in the composition of his duplicitous last words.
  As regards the psychogenesis of the Prince’s neuroses, the psycho-analytical school would continue to proffer the glib formula, “morbid anxiety and depressiya mean unsatisfied love.” 
  But was this diagnosis wholly true when Anton applied it to himself?
  When depersonalisation was manifest, as was the case of the Prince, sometimes, the subjects of these inner stresses or mental conflicts, instead of feeling that they themselves are changed, discover their outer world appears different.
  But surely derealisation was the very condition which sustained the writer’s inner life — was its essence?
  There was no denying that the opium-eating scribbler shared many of the textbook symptoms — and perceptions. 
  “Subjects of depersonalisation appear different from what they used to be ; strange, lifeless, detached, automatic.  In derealisation, the outer world looks dead or macabre.  Such subjects exhibiting manic-depressive psychoses (melankholiya) must be regarded as suicide risks.”
  Definitely spot on!  Korsakov knew his stuff all right!
  The ends of each pencil (there were five) he had found in the Prince’s study were, like the cadet’s finger nails, chewed to the quick. 
  The hands were crossed when Anton had last seen them.
  For repose in his coffin, the bodkin-women had removed the Prince’s gloves.
  Anton dwelt on the darker purposes of such women, prodding and dosing young wronged girls with filthy homegrown deobstruents. 
  He prayed Mariya had remained faithful to her promise.
  At last, he sank into a deep opiated sleep and dreamt of Goshen — a great shining celestial city — velikii gorod — and dreamt he was a thief of the back streets who collects coins and collar studs from the pavement with tarred shoe-soles to evade detection.
  He could not wait to be enclosed once more within the white heart of Moscow.



Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

Sunday, 14 October 2018

The Cat-Catcher . . .‘A Lurid Scandal’ Some Thought Beyond Recall.


‘In case you haven’t noticed, here in Honkers fish-heads and humidity are the active components of a combustible atmosphere,’ Neville gibed, at his most sarky. ‘One of us will have to go.’

            Her husband was referring to a score of cracked saucers and chipped enamel dishes clustered at the gate of the rear courtyard that Nina had made her refuge. This little enclosed ting yun was bordered with purple azaleas and scented orchid shrubs, and she had tried to convince herself that their exotic fragrance overburdened the rancid market smells and reek of sewage from the street.

            Their new quarters were rooms in a colonial villa leased to them by a foreign correspondent temporarily reassigned; in the bedroom a whiff of burnt incense hung in clammy air.

            Within hours of her arrival in Hong Kong, there had been ignited within her an unknown but very living passion for the salvation of the feral cats that roamed the alleys behind the villa.

            She felt charity enter into her soul and at once saw her task to be their defence against a skilled adversary who each day preyed on the starveling frantic-eyed creatures.

            ‘Sei baht poh!’ the street sweeper had shouted fiercely the first time she’d fed the cats to lure them into her little compound.

            ‘You damned bitch!’ His speech was oddly thickened.

            Nina soon learned to fear the gaunt cat-catcher, a municipal worker in a uniform of dark blue dungarees and billowing long shirt whom the market stallholders called Sei-ngaan Lou.

            But not until over a week had passed did she learn from other wives at the Garrison Club that the grim sweeper was notorious in the district for his defiance of the Dogs and Cats Ordinance, and profited from the vagrant cats he collected by selling their meat to certain outré restaurants, whose menus included lung-fu-dou. Some of the husbands claimed to have eaten Cat and Snake Soup with relish, and sickening descriptions of the delicacy caused shudders of revulsion to run through the Bridge players at the club.

            Nina declined invitations to Bridge parties extended by the expats. Although Neville and Nina were a celebrated couple, they were a team bound together in harness merely by a notional yoke. Even under Neville’s merciless tutelage, she had never quite grasped the Rule of Twenty for evaluating opening bids.

            Whenever Neville sought her out in the garden she would be wearing a half-concealed frown of preoccupation, her lips moving in silence, as day long she nursed her growing tribe of cats, her feelings expressed only by an enigmatically wistful smile.

            ‘You asleep or daydreaming?’ was her husband’s invariably brusque demand.

            When he was angry, Nina told herself, she retained nonetheless a substratum of self-belief. A residue of truth.

            ‘The cries of the feral cats are sounding continually in my heart,she wrote in her diary, ‘and I feel a great need to forget myself and to please them alone.’

            Sei-ngaan Lou, Old Snake Eyes, wore an expensive pair of Polaroid cat-eye sunglasses with fake snakeskin frames, no doubt once the property of an inattentive tourist, which evidently accounted for the street sweeper’s name.

            ‘We’re not of the same world, you and me,’ she was heard to murmur as the emergent shadow of the cat-napping sougaailou fell across her threshold, and she closed the courtyard gate on him to pen in her mewing strays. These native cats from the streets, she was certain, exhibited an Edenic cattiness unlike any breed she had ever known.

            Their miaows clawed at her mind.

            Moreover, wasn’t Cantonese so much more vivid in its expressiveness once you knew the word for ‘cat’ was maau?

            ‘It’d take too long to explain,’ she mumbled when Neville demanded facts from her, as if facts could explain her peculiar malaise. He shook with rage and could barely control himself.

            ‘He has a right to be angry,she thought, ‘but he does not have the right to despise me.’

            Shortly afterwards she found herself immersed in a lurid scandal when late one night, prowling an arcade lined with lingerie shops and apothecaries for herbal medicine, she encountered Snake Eyes laying a trail of scraps.

            Shreds of crab and morsels of barbecued pork were tracked by sprinklings of powdered fish meal.

            Nina followed the powder trail to the point where pent up resentments suddenly detonated in a great blaze of recriminations.

            In an access of fury Nina summoned the strength to grapple with Snake Eyes and wrench him to the ground.

            His trademark sunglasses lay smashed on a kerbstone.

            She saw his eyes for the first time. The face of a sick man, with eyes wide open and blood-shot, in which she read a fear of life no different from her own. His thickness of speech, she discovered, was due to an absence of teeth.

            Their fumbling struggle brought down strings of naked light bulbs festooned above the market stalls.

            The old man was overcome with shame and wept.

            For her own part, she resigned herself to the knowledge that another opening bid in a game of incalculable odds had failed.

            The colony turned their backs on her.

            ‘Indecorous,’ was the word Neville chose.

            He gave her a mild sedative and put her on the first homeward plane out.

           It was as though she had desecrated her marriage. Like a cat peeing on a shrine.

From Listen Close to Me by Catherine Eisner (2011).



Section 22. Hong Kong’s Dogs and Cats Regulations.

Slaughter of dog or cat for food prohibited. Onus of proof

(1) No person shall slaughter any dog or cat for use as food whether for mankind or otherwise.
(2) No person shall sell or use or permit the sale or use of the flesh of dogs and cats for food.
(3) Any person who is found in possession of the carcass of any dog or cat or any part thereof in such circumstances as would reasonably give rise to a belief that such dog or cat was being or had been slaughtered or sold or used for food in breach of this regulation shall be guilty of an offence against paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be, unless he is able to satisfy a magistrate that he has not in fact committed any breach of paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be.

Section 23. Hong Kong’s Dogs and Cats Regulations.

Penalty

Any person who contravenes regulation 22(1) or (2) shall be liable to a fine of HK$5,000 and to imprisonment for 6 months.



Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

An Insurrection. #MeToo 1897.

He: Fetch a beer, wife, damn you!
Why so idle here?

She: So now the gracious Tsar the man is
to shout a beer he wants?

He: A beer, I say! For tsar I am!
And rare the thirst the devil has
to see this night a woman lynched!

She: Police! Police! Murder! Murderer!
Madman my husband is to think himself our Father Tsar
and boast to wear the Devil’s crown!
Arrest him now!
His tongue is revolution!





Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)

Friday, 28 September 2018

All That Apart

            
             Dare I confess the truth; I’d rather die  
             And end the desolations of my heart 
             Than untold silken promises should lie.

             Another’s perfume? Does it signify?
             A hotel tab: ‘Room service à la carte’?
             Dare I confess the truth I’d rather die?

             When doubts confound libido’s alibi,
             And silence shouts, there’s no more stinging dart
             Than untold silken promises should lie.   

             Though covert smiles resist the estranged eye
             While ardent phones ring off before they start,
             Dare I confess the truth I’d rather die?

             Deceived deceivers only multiply
             The game that I’d give worlds to not outsmart
             So untold silken promises can lie.

             To share the burning secret we, thereby,
             Abet a robbery. All that apart,
             Dare I confess the truth I’d rather die  
             Than untold silken promises should lie?

(Movie stills from Jacques Rivette’s Paris Nous Appartient, 1961. Françoise Prévost: ‘I don’t know why, but I know. We die because we are life.’)

Anne (Betty Schneider) stalks Paris on a paranoid quest for
the truth of a tragic love affair (Paris Nous Appartient 1961).

Monday, 20 August 2018

He sent me the absurdest sonnet!

I found my old diary the other day from the time I was living with my Aunt Lilian at Jay Mews SW7 behind the Royal College of Art and attending classes there. I was nineteen at the time.

There was a thin sheet of blue airmail paper tucked between two pages where a diary entry (my birthday) caught my attention. I squirmed and involuntarily, I admit, my face reddened: 
February 5. Today he sent me the absurdest sonnet! How ravishingly sweet. Rather cheeky though. To go so far as to mention my nun-like brow and seraphic form and confer on me a dainty idiotic sainthood!                                   And that disturbing primitive sketch of his! A caricaturist manqué! All because L had insisted on a dusk-to-dawn curfew more dismal than Thomas Gray’s! How he chafed at that indignity, poor boy.

Did he think I was Turandot’s Principessa in her chaste room watching the stars tremble with love and hope! Ah! Che tremano d’amore e di speranza.
Of course, I remembered X in every detail and understood all too well the fervour of those callow sentiments he’d impressed on this tissue-thin airmail of his, now so faded after all these years. X was twenty-one when I knew him, and a month before this diary entry, at the turn of the year, he’d been posted to Tanga and then to Dar to learn freight forwarding before completing his Unilever management programme with a stint on a Tanzanian Tea estate in Mufindi (so his airmail concluded).

Boy Trouble. 

Aunt Lilian had been the first to diagnose my pallid restlessness when she’d returned unexpectedly and caught me mooning about her morning (mourning?) room when I was supposed to be attending a class. ‘Boy trouble,’ she asserted briskly and she spoke truer than she knew. As I’d earlier remarked in my diary: 
I’ve always regarded myself as a blank page whose history has yet to be written so, as a fledgling critic ever in search of her subtext [I was studying Critical and Historical Art Studies], I’m aware that no one can read between the lines when the lines simply aren’t there. That is, when the interlinear commentary wilfully transposes No for Yes.
X in particular had reckoned an unfair advantage could be had from persistence in his mistaken belief that my unassuming youth was, like white paper, disposed to take any impression.
  X was an adept at applying emotional pressure.
  That first impulsive boyfriend of mine I’d privately labelled Briareus. I was studying Greek mythology at the time. Briareus was one the hundred-handed ones – the Hekatonkheires – whose appearance at birth was so disconcerting it was pushed back into its mother’s womb.
  But later that evening, on the day of the airmail’s arrival, 
I now observe I must have added, with the fickleness of callous 
youth, a footnote:
Tilly called for me at six to drag me off to another of her Private Views in Cork Street. I told her I simply wasn’t in the mood. [In Tilly’s ‘private view’, the fashionable galleries of London’s art dealers provided a hunting ground for green young men of distinct promise as to their wealth and eligibility. ‘Cabbages’, she called them.] ‘But that’s where I met X!’ I protested. ‘Autres petits choux! There’s every chance I’ll meet another X.’                                                                               ‘Rather! I should say!’ Tilly effused. I could see she was falling over herself to go. So I went.
As I wrote in that teenage diary of mine in my final entry 
concerning my feelings for X:
Something has always seemed to me amiss in the bounty of the gods. Someone always has to be punished. But that sonnet? Not half bad for the five-finger exercise of a mope-eyed Briareus!
My Heart’s Jewel

To Her Most Imperial Sovereign Highness
on Her Nineteenth Birthday 

Behold how chaste the Eyes that conquered mine.
Tyrants yield to Virtue’s shielded glances.
White Soul unspecked by Sins Incarnadine,
Still Beauty grants her Beast forbearances

To worship at the Shrine of None-So-Pure,  
Whose nun-like Brow vies with the Cherubim 
To limn with rarest Grace the Face demure.
Thus Seraph doth make manifest a hymn.

Seraphic Form, of wingèd hosts a Dream
Ascendant! Sun and Moon alone contest
Thy Brilliance! Thou only canst redeem
The Brute Heart Black on which thy Name is pressed.

Cleave Sovereign Highness only to my heart,
Eternity shall ne’er tear us apart!


A Thousand-Year-Long Quest

I once read that there are over 6 million amateur poets in the UK, about tenth of the population. Certainly, historically, the love poem was a customary discipline that exercised the lovesick when inditing the outpourings of their ardent breasts for the beguiling of their intended . . . and pomes were probably ten-a-penny if bought bespoke.

As for haikus as a form, it seems to me that the English schoolgirl, who walked off with the Tokyo prize last year (out of more than 18,000 English-language entries), would have been better served composing a sonnet of sonnets or a villanelle for her musicality to be truly tested by her own culture . . .

  Freshly mown grass
  clinging to my shoes
  my muddled thoughts

In my own view the search for the perfect haiku is a bit like a thousand-year-long quest to make a perfect martini and, perversely, when at last someone says it’s perfect you can’t bring yourself to agree.

Still. Of course, I do not withhold my warmest plaudits for the (irregular) Haiku Winner, fourteen-year-old Gracie Starkey of Wycliffe College in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. Well done, indeed!

Mmm. ‘Muddled thoughts.’ I cannot deny that my nineteen-year-old self would have recognised intimately your fourteen-year-old secret travails.

See, also, Haikus in Homage to John Clare:
http://catherineeisnerfrance.blogspot.com/2017/02/three-haikus-in-homage-to-john-clare.html



Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)