About These Bones Of Mine

A blog about the importance of human osteology and archaeology...

State of Play

Pity the nation built on immigration, afraid of its own shadow and of its allies.

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Hospital

I cradle the bulging medical file by my side and wonder just how many months of my life I have spent inside a hospital.  Has it been over a year?  More than a year and a half? How many times has my body been sliced open, how many eyes have viewed my prone body, naked save the basic green coverings?

Silly thoughts go through your head as you await the long journey down to the operating theatre. Even if you can walk, you are taken on a bed, strapped in and wheeled by porters, along the long cold corridors, down the wide lifts, into the waiting embrace of the sterile waiting bay where angels lay to confirm your personal details once more.  After a short while it is your turn to be taken into the surgical corridor where evenly spaced doors lead to operating theatres in which dedicated teams work to save or improve a life, perhaps both if miracles are allowed to be worked.

One time I remember clearly waiting to be taken down to the operating theatre, having made it to the waiting bay where my name and wrist band were checked to make sure I was the person I said I was, that I was here to have this limb operated on as indicated by the black arrow the surgeon had drawn on the flesh the day before.  The two nurses who managed the surgical waiting bay came back and forth between myself and another, older individual who also waited patiently to be taken for his surgery.  I had left my glasses up on the ward, safely locked inside my bedside cabinet, but I could tell from when these nurses were up close that they were singularly young and attractive. The contoured curves of the green scrubs contrasted nicely against the dyed blonde hair and the friendly open faces made me feel somewhat more at ease, as if this most inappropriate of venues for sexual thoughts had laid this final temptation on before me as a reminder of the beauty of life itself as I faced yet another grueling round of orthopaedic intrusions.

I realise now of course that they were doing their job and doing it well, that I was projecting my worries and feelings onto them, that I in some way wanted to be mothered, nursed, and sexually sated by these babes in green because I faced the great unknown and I wanted to be reassured.  Under anesthetic there is no sleep, there is no passage of time.  There is a moment of clarity and sheer muscle relaxation, and in the next moment you are waking up in recovery, dazed by the drugs and sore from the physical manipulation of the surgery itself.

It can be a shock to find yourself trapped in your own body, hazy and in pain.  You have to remember to follow the instructions of the staff.  It really is much less painful if you relax your entire body and roll over gently as they change the bloody sheets from under you.  Do not tense, you must instead work against the natural inclination and relax, relax your body.  Do not be afraid to ask for more painkillers if needed, do not be afraid to admit your vulnerability and to let the nursing staff wash your iodine-covered body, even if it means baring all in a moment of extreme weakness.

It is uncomfortable, there is no clarity of thought or great moment of singular insight.  You are weak, you are waiting to heal.  The pain, which can be searing at first, often morphs into a dull and constant ache, exacerbated by occasional movement.  One of my greatest moments of realising that I am at the mercy of another person was being rolled over onto my side, no clothing on, and having my back and buttocks washed.  It became a treat in intensive care as the heat from a body lying motionless in bed is intense and causes the sheets to stick, to curdle with your sweat and pain.  The relief of having warm water freshening your skin once again is tempered by the fact that you are on show, warts and all.  Each crevice, each crack and each roll of body fat laid bare.  There is no hiding the essential truth of the flesh.

Yes, as I handled my medical file, I knew what it is like to lie strapped to a bed for many months, to lie prone before the great healing god of time.  Immutable in its aspirations of forever being, seemingly always present, never quite in the past, never quite in the future.

On the Nature of Public Service

‘In Kazan and Poltava provinces, the governors had nervous breakdowns. Others lost their head. “You risk your life, you wear out your nerves maintaining order so that people can live like human beings, and what do you encounter everywhere?” complained Governor Ivan Blok of Samara. “Hate-filled glances as if you were some kind of monster, a drinker of human blood.” Moments later Blok was decapitated by a bomb. Placed in a traditional open casket, his twisted body was stuffed into his dress uniform, a ball of batting substituted for his missing head.’

– Stephen Kotkin’s 2014 publication Stalin: Paradoxes of Power 1878 – 1928, volume I of III.

A Welcome Round Table

My mother has this Christmas tradition that, when we have all taken our seats and just before we have taken our first bite of a long-awaited roast dinner, we raise a toast to the dearly departed, to those members of the family who are no longer with us and to those friends that no longer accompany us throughout our life journey.  It reminds us, the living, to be thankful that we are seeing the close of yet another year together, to remain thankful to have known the dearly departed and that we remember them still.

The fact that this takes place before we have tasted our food is of the utmost importance.  To say thank you on an empty stomach is to accept that we have lost those that will never be by our sides again, that we will never break bread with them and share our laughter and sadness across the table.  Our eyes will never again catch theirs.

I sometimes like to imagine where the deceased are now, as if their memories have somehow broken free of their corporeal remains and drift uninhibited across the globe.  It can be difficult to think that all that we have ever known and all that we have ever loved and experienced can be so self-contained in our floating globe, silently rotating in the great big soup of the universe.  But it is and it must be, that is why we remember and why we say goodbye once again at the close of the year.

Three Books of a Kind

In the past year or two my fiction and non-fiction reading has generally tended to become focused on the Nordic and Russian/Slavic countries, by pure chance, and I’ve unearthed a great wealth of rewarding material.  For example, my interests in Russian and Soviet history has dovetailed greatly with the rich and rewarding trove of literature that the citizens of the east have produced, and continue to produce.  The latest novel that I find myself reading is the Soviet-era classic Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, a thoroughly documented and powerful kaleidoscopic panoply of a Soviet society which finds itself engaged in total war with the fascist threat from Nazi Germany and her allies.  It is a novel which very nearly did not see the light of day due to the harsh censors of the Soviet Union, but thankfully the volume was smuggled out and printed elsewhere.

However, it is a little collection of books that I’ve read recently that remind me that fiction and reality aren’t always so clear-cut, and that they often inform one another with varying viewpoints.  I had the pleasure to read one of my favourite travel writer’s recent publications, Horatio Clare’s Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North (Penguin), over the festive holiday and was ably transported once again to somewhere quite new (and rather cold) as he undertook a mission to accompany a Finnish icebreaker crew.

Another recent publication is The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories (Puskin Press), edited by Sjón & Ted Hodgkinson, which brings together a wide range of Nordic writers producing short sagas set in the fantastical north.  This reminded me of a volume I read a few years ago which was entitled Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov (Penguin), edited by Robert Chandler, which took a historical approach to understanding the cultural importance of magic tales that underpin Russia’s literature over two centuries.  This is an exquisite volume, one that allowed me to appreciate the form and beauty of often simple moral tales which bled into the surreal via the use of anthropomorphism.  This can be seen in some of the works produced before and during the Soviet period (Platonov’s ‘The Foundation Pit’ say, or Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’).

This was just a quick view into some of my recent reading habits and where they have led me.  Let me know below if you’ve been having fun exploring literature and fiction from around the world!

War

‘They say war is coming, that they want it so it’ll happen . . .  Just like that! It doesn’t matter if you are the son of the mayor or of the dustbin man, it doesn’t matter what you think or what you feel.  As soon as you join up, they’ll ship you out.  Give you a rifle, a round, help you point it and let you start shooting.  It doesn’t matter that you are scared or do not want to kill, it doesn’t matter if you miss the birthdays of your nearest and dearest.  This is war!  War does not stop for the dead, and it doesn’t stop for the living!  It will continue regardless of what you think, so they say.  Join up and get in the fight, prove yourself, prove that you are a man!’

Here, at this junction, he takes a rest and leans against the pillow before starting again.

‘I’ve heard it before and I’ll hear it again.  Our lives are not so short that we won’t live through war, a war, any war.  Just think about it boy, there must be a hundred wars going on right now – all across the globe people are fighting for this or that, spilling blood for the power of belief.  Killing is justified, they say, it is justified because it helps to prove that what you say, what you believe, is right, is the only way.  We must fight to take back our land!  We must fight to stop them!  We must fight to prove ourselves!  We must fight because this fat bastard insulted me!’

Another rest before he carries on more lucidly.

‘Wars are funny things my son, they are odd things . . .  They are both natural and unnatural.  Nature telling us that we are too numerous and too many, that we need to thin the population somewhat, create a bottleneck so we can survive.  Wars are the outcome of the idle rich, of those that seek power and revenge.  War ain’t nothing good, but we’re used to it.  Society accepts the causes and the outcomes, realizes that there is always a price to pay.’

War is war, the living are the living, and the dead are the dead, I wanted to add.

‘There is nothing to see here son but history, the ashes of a thousand dreams . . .’

‘Dad?  Can you hear me dad, I’m right here . . .  Just give me your hand dad, you’ll be okay.  I love you.  I’ll be back soon, okay?’

I shepherd the son out, who is caught briefly off-guard by the single tear running down the older man’s left cheek.

This speech wasn’t anything knew, but I knew that the son had to try and talk to his father, to try and establish reality once more.

Vote, Vote for Us!

The state has abandoned you, the forests are on fire.  Your material possessions will not give you comfort nor rescue you.  Where are you representatives now?

The Nationalists are here, the Centrists want your vote.  You are of the wrong skin colour, the wrong heritage.  Vote for us or your body will line the unmarked graves that we have prepared.

Your voice has been silenced, the villages are burning and will never be re-built.  The sun does not forgive, your body will dry out in the desert.  The oceans are acidifying, the animals are dying.

They are perverts, scum, ignore them and vote for us!  Watch as the poor burn in their vertical prisons.  Watch as the taxes rise and the services are cut.  Watch as the rich profit from the misery of the poor, and the ill die in corridors.

Become one of us!  Rip your heart from your chest, castigate all that you love, throw away any semblance of charity.

Join us, become us.  Give up any hope of hope itself.

Shot on Lomography Lady grey film using a Pentax S1a. If shared please credit as appropriate.

 

Autumn Beckons

The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s latest cycle of books, the Seasons Quartet, has recently seen its first release, Autumn, in English this month.  (A quick note – the Seasons Quartet was originally published in Norwegian throughout 2015-16).  Styled as a series of letters to his unborn daughter, the quartet takes everyday objects or landscape features as their starting point for Knausgaard’s short and varied digressions on what it means to be alive.  I currently have Autumn by my bedside and it is a beautiful publication indeed, illustrated in style by Vanessa Baird and ably translated by Ingvild Burkey.  I haven’t yet started reading it but I shall do tonight, as it seems fitting to do so as the clouds roll in and the temperature drops. Autumn truly is my favourite season and I look forward to the changing colour of the landscape as trees shed their leaves and the nights draw in.

The second volume in the series, Winter, is released on the 2nd November 2017 and I cannot wait to hold and to read it.  I note on the publisher’s website that the volume has a different illustrator; I’m quite impressed that Knausgaard (or at least his publisher) is bringing together other artists into the fold of his new publications.  It also introduces the English-speaking world to new Scandinavian writers and artists that they may otherwise have not come across.  In the meantime Knausgaard’s much-anticipated sixth volume of his My Struggle cycle of novels isn’t released until late 2018, in the English translation, but the Seasons Quartet more than makes up for the long wait.  Happy reading!

What Will You Say?

I have been shooting  incorrectly for the majority of the time; it took me just one trip with the well-informed to tell me that.  I should have known, I shouldn’t have shot from the hip, wasting film and time combined.  Honestly, I have learnt my lesson, just hand me that last roll of black and white film and I’ll get your shot, the one that we both dream of on long hazy afternoons – the body laying silently, awaiting a brief exposure with your eyes focused on mine, the twin cradles of hips and shoulders turned towards me and only to me.  As if in a dream the thin rivulets of your flesh cascade gently against the cold leather couch.

On developing I can see the flames licking the border of the shot, the deep blacks and greys helping to create shadow against the brilliant white of immovability.  The mistaken shot turns into something more, an image captured that I had not originally cared to note.

Photograph by the author using a Pentax ME Super and Lomography Lady Grey film. If reproduced elsewhere please credit the author as appropriate.