Monday, September 29, 2008

Finding My Way Back To You....

(This is for you, East African poet, for calling me out when I needed to be called out. Because of you Jack Mataachi is considering a return in old haunts, the house spruced up. Thank you, my friend. So this is for you.)

* * * * * *
I suppose we must all betray someone at some point. Afterwards, when you know what happens, when you have seen the look, nothing can make it go away. You know nothing can make it better. You have no idea what feels worse. The look you can never erase, in the dramatic surroundings it travelled across to you. Or that you know you would still do it the way you have done it.

All the pity in the world is for those with remorse and a conscience and the cunning to trade their bleeding hearts at the gaming table like that Ace of diamonds. No one talks about the remorseless, those without conscience, those gifted with ice. Those who know what they have to do, how to do it, the cost of doing it, and do it. The merciless who ask for no mercy when their time comes. No rubbery jelly knees here. They who give the Judas kiss without the self pity of the still dark dawn of the gallows. Those without illusion. The worst you have seen is nothing compared to what they know.

No one talks about them. I always did know the things you did not want to believe could happen, falsely armoured though you were with a purchased toughness that fooled me for a while. Intended to frighten, you were like the prey who vainly thrusts folded bundles of money at the hired night killer you have stumbled upon in your kitchen who has come to kill you and had hoped first you would try and fight at least.

One day I will be a memory for you, physically inaccessible, a life lesson whose details you’ll only go over in your mind in safe solitude. I’ll first be the one who is not mentioned, then the one who makes you sneer, then the sometimes talked about and more thought of, and then I will be the sigh on your lips, life failing. Your sometimes ruin your profoundest memory.

Creatures of a moment propagating instantaneous beauty. Sunday evening Jinja beach, in the chill, watching the lake, you think I did not see, twisting to reach in the back seat for your phone, screen flashing in the dark of the Carib, waiting for me to walk down to you with the fast food takeaway I had been waiting for, taking the call. An excuse must be made. The pleasure does not matter. I’m the one your lover does not want much to talk about, teary-eyed, listening to Foolish Games by Jewel Kilcher.

So let me tell you.

This is some strange kind of love mojo!

Monday, September 22, 2008

States of Being


No man can knock his human fist upon
The door built by his mind, or hear the voice
He mediated come again if gone;
We live outside the country of our choice.
Leaning toward harvest, fullness as our end,
Our habits will not mend.
Our humanness betrays us to the cage
Within whose limits each is free to walk,
But where no man can hear our prayers or our rage,
And none of us can break the walls to talk.

Exiled by years, by death the present end,
By worlds that must remain unvisited,
And by the wounds that growing does not mend,
We are as solitary as the dead,
Wanting to king it in that perfect land
We make and understand.
And in this world whose pattern is unmade,
Phases of splintered light and shapeless sand,
We shatter through our motions and evade
Whatever hand might reach out and touch our hand.

Donald Hall

Monday, September 15, 2008

Elizabeth Taylor, Olivia Manning

I used to write for pleasure; I used to write for leisure. Now it is a treasure!

I’m in that phase of my career where I study the careers and lives of other men and women to understand why they failed. It is frightening to finally learn to accept that giftedness, talent, and will are not enough to push you to the front rank of success. You may work hard all your life and get no reward at the end of it all.

So I have seen some of the stories and I have read some of the stories and I have been in cafes and hovels in all the cities in the world following around unfolding chronologies. I never did understand the full horror that had Russian writer Anton Chekov’s worst nightmare as at the end of his life to be found dead, alcohol stench emanating from his corpse, in a gutter.

Until you get to this point in your life, you can never appreciate why English writer Charles Dickens, a millionaire before he was in late 30s, would continue to drive himself relentlessly in his work, refusing to rest and eventually killing himself from working too hard and giving public readings of all the works the public loved and could never tire of hearing from lips, until blood in spurts was jolting out of his lips, coughing between performances. The months of deprivation in the blacking factory, and then the London winter streets, freezing, looking for a job were a life long whip lash whose welt never left his face.

French writer Gustave Flaubert could advise young Guy de Maupassant to wait ten years, learning how to write to the best of his ability, before he published his first story, that masterpiece Boule de Suif. Resist all calls to publish himself before he was ready but when he had a niece who was married to a feckless man and she came with tears in her eyes to ask her famous uncle to financially assist, specters Flaubert had avoided contemplating all his life killed him at his desk.

I know understand, a bit, what I heard someone say so long ago, when I was a child, and they did not know that playing hide and seek, I had gone to hide behind the couch, and he was telling her she could leave her husband, be with him, life is a chance, their chance was now and they might never get another. He certainly would not be coming back and if the years once again threw them together, he would not have her because she was hesitant to have him now when he must needed her to have him. Believe in him, take a chance, trust her life to his life.

I guess.

It was the strangest afternoon of my life and when I went blinking back into the afternoon sunlight to my friends in the compound to continue the game, I was changed.

Life is about luck too. You have got to be born lucky to get where you dream you want to get. Perhaps that is what they lacked: the writers Elizabeth Taylor and Olivia Manning. The easiest description of them, a lying deceptive description, is that they were like the Jane Austen’s’ of 20th century English literature. But they were so different from her in vital ways but perhaps not different enough. Or nobody saw the differences enough.

I cannot for the life of me fathom why Olivia Manning and Elizabeth Taylor are not better known than they are. I still love Kampala though and said silent thanks when I bought Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy for Shs. 4000 though I could have paid even less but could not bring myself to disrespect the pleasure her work was going to give him, just after Barclays Bank on Kampala road on Friday evening, walking down to the Old Taxi Park. All last week.

The Balkan Trilogy is a book of war. The World War II and a woman who marries a man almost within a week of knowing him when he’s on leave in England. The man works with the government, attached to a sort of British Council situated first in Romania, except then it was spelt Rumania.

The book is about the advance of war, the inexorable march of Hitler’s German troops plunging Europe into war, and how this woman and her husband forge a marriage and survival in these circumstances. You may know how the war turns out, consult your Encarta to find out what happened to specific European cities as the couple is forced often at the last minute to move by air, by land, by sea in a desperate hurry, but Manning makes you care, she makes you share their highs and lows, listen intently as they do to the rumour of war and the atrocities attendant.

You wonder how you would hold up, trapped in a city under siege, no rescue possible, the soldiers supposed to be defending the city fleeing first. Wartime affairs blossom, unlikely persons turn out to do heroic deeds out of pure selfishness or pique, the deed accidental. John Galsworthy’s Forsytes’ were my most beloved trilogy family in 20th century English literature and now the Pringles’ have joined them and I have another reason to be fonder of the name Guy than ever before!

I have sometimes wondered if there was punishment in here for these two women’s fates because they never had to live an uncomfortable life like some of their male peers. Perhaps there was resentment in that which is why they were ignored in their time, writing their novels and short stories, between feeding the baby in the morning and writing out instructions for the maids how the evenings party was to be seated and who was to be served what. These women married to men who earned enough to grant them city and country homes. Perhaps there was resentment?

Or they were not strange enough? They were not neurotic enough? We all love a diseased genius. They are not so great that that we cannot pity them, we maybe in awe of them but we do not want to be them with their pain and oddities. Is it that? Is this why Olivia Manning and Elizabeth Taylor are not better known? I have wondered. Or did they just not have the luck, the only luck that counts? I have puzzled over this.

Now people might say whatever they may but as far as I’m concerned, the late Heath Ledger only ever came onto the set in two films, Ten Things I Hate About You and The Dark Knight. Brokeback Mountains never scandalized me and to be frank was quite a boring long take, the actors accidental in a motion picture dedicated to showing us landscapes. Quite a view they were too sometimes! Ledger was at his best in those two films. One is a classic and one is a Ledger film. Ten Things I Hate About You is a classic, no matter from which angle you approach it and try to tear it down, and The Dark Knight, well The Dark Knight is like Ledger saying goodbye the way like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Giving you a chance to have a taste of lemon in what you will always think when you think of Ledger. He was talented, he could have been great, and you are left wondering what happened, what went wrong and put him side by side with other dead young promisers like River Phoenix.

The Dark Knight is not a great film but neither is Gangs of New York but I watch both over and over. Two actors in those two films were inspired. Ledger commanded and scene stole just as Daniel Day Lewis might as well have been that crazed killer. The goody two shoes in both films are so cloying and annoying that I have to confess I did not feel much when Harvey Dent was supposedly going mad because the girl he loved with Batman had been murdered.

I must stop though! I have ailments to tend to.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Something strange happened to me at the beginning of this week. Something that so rarely happens to me that when it does, it takes me a bit of time to figure out what has gone wrong with me. What is not right. I fell ill. Sorta.

On second thought, I should not have been surprised. Consulting the calendar would have informed me that it is near the month of December, the month I dread the most in the year because no matter what I do, some sort of mishap usually connected to endangering my health occurs.

With a wedding to attend, at which I’m expected to make some sort of speech about how upstanding my elder brother is and what a lucky woman his soon-to-be wife is, I’m suffering from acute food poisoning (never, never eat those pancakes again!) that threatens to overwhelm defences no Juba disease could.

I have been laid out. Yeah, incredible for me. I have been forced to spend whole days nearly nude in bed with no company but Mr. HP (didn’t tell you I finally got my own laptop and Betsey the PC did not take too well to a co-wife? Shucks! I did.) and some old browning newspaper clippings I have not perused through in quite a long while.

I was thinking of things to throw away, to reduce the clutter, but I did not end up throwing anything out really. Well! It is something to see what one was reading when one was so much younger. Those old newspaper clippings had me wondering why is that nowadays there is no paper I want to keep after I’m done reading it? Why is it that there are no articles I want to snip out and with old Orbit stick in my scrap book before I ever even knew what a scrap book was.

I guess this is why I read blogs and keep some blog excerpts because there seems to be no writer in the newspaper lately who speaks to me. She used to rile me up, she used to annoy the hell out of me, I often wondered where all the bile she had against men originated from but I could not miss reading Lilliane Barenzi especially when she was writing her Never Trust columns.

In those days there was a wonderful counterpoint to Barenzi in The Blue Corner by Arnold Asaba (I later learnt it was a pseudonym) who gave the men’s take on women and relationships and love and was as witty and funny and as engaging as Barenzi was compelling. Before I would scout off to check in with Marcus Tabaza and his Bachelor’s Diary before it all fell apart for him, a precursor to Old Fox by Tumusiime Rush (RIP).

Now let’s not talk only about the glory that Sunday Vision used to be, leaving out a still favourite writer for that publication, Bad Idea by Ernest Bazanye like there were no other papers back then. In the days when Daniel Kalinaki proved his versatility by being able to write from humour to serious political analysis and he had that column in Sunday Monitor about house girls and his character’s predilection for them.

That was then when The Crusader was kicking its last and I first stumbled upon the arty, puzzling and rewarding ruminations of David Kaiza before The East African snapped him up and though Ofwono Opondo has never been an easy man to like, I could not miss reading his columns just as Kevin Aliro (RIP) was still funny too and talked about some things we dared not mention outside of our nightly pillow talk. Just like I still have falling apart issues of Teddy Ssezyi Keeye’s Confidential and the monikers he coined for some politicians still roll off my mental tongue like Sir Rich and I wonder what happened to that wonderful fearless editor to become the man he is today. Before, in the days when the media was truly vibrant, Muno cheek by jowl next to Shariat and I remember walking along Namirembe road, my eyes down, the banners of so many papers I hungered to read jumping up at me.

Do you remember the time when John Nagenda had a rival and competitor for attention in the days when Ear to the Ground by Charles Onyango Obbo was a waited for event of the week, and of course Wafula Oguttu was a fearless gadfly who refused to be intimidated and there was this writer, Timothy Kalygeria who had these ideas and he was going to make them come to life. Do you remember that time?

Timothy Bukumunhe on radio and in the papers bringing some innovations like Table Talk that we had never considered, we who had never read beyond what we could access in the days before the World Wide Web brought the world into Uganda. Kadumukasa Kironde writing as beautifully about food as his style was.

Learning how to write for the newspapers from the Gossip Guru of the Sunrise, wondering who this chap Steven Tendo was because his On Second Thought column was what I wanted to read first in that weekly that was not my starting point but a great mother. Learning a new love of the word, write for the pleasure not the money principle, oh boy!

Do you remember those days of Chic and Belle and so many other magazines before African Woman and the Red Pepper came along and the wonderous stories that were in some editions and there are writers there whose names I have forgotten but not the stories they wrote and it seemed so certain, for a moment there, the literary desert was sprouting, the artistic one too with its first intimations of greatness as Ras and Danny Barongo tried out their cartoon wizardry no doubt at the feet of the master, the first class cartoonist who abandoned the art to become a film maker. Snoggie!

I remember those days. I remember those years. Do you?