My cat learned how to huff today.

I come home from work to find a pile of cat vomit on the living room rug. I clean up what I can and spray a foaming carpet cleaner on the stain.

I leave the room.

Upon my return, my cat Lucifer (Lucy, for short) is hunched over the foamy white mass, sniffing. And sniffing. Then twitching and sniffing some more. I yell, "Get away from that!" and she runs a few feet away and lays down.

Then she rolls onto her back and makes that cooing noise, as if to say, "How can you be mad at me when I'm this disgustingly cute?" A minute later, I notice she's twitching like she does when she gets a hit of the kitty cocaine. She looks at the beckoning pile of foam and realizes sniffing it is like catnip.

But now she has a dilemma. She's been instructed to stay away from the pile of magical happy foam. So she rolls over again. Then again. Then a third time, but on the third roll she kicks her feet and moves a foot closer. She continues this rolling-cooing-kicking motion until she's a foot from the pile, at which point I yell and she runs across the room again.

Now we're playing red light, green light. Every time I turn to type this she inches ever closer to the evaporating pile of foam. There is an urgency in her eyes; she can see the pile is shrinking.

Eventually, I'll invert a bucket on the pile to remind her that life sucks, but for now I'll let her hope.

And now that I've daylogged about my cat, we can safely say that I, as a human being, have jumped the shark.

Small-town Ireland.

Eddie's flat.

The locals call him the Preacher, the Holy Man.

They don't think of him as a monk - probably never did. The first they really heard from him was his wedding, I think, and married Hare Krishna monks come as a surprise to small-town Irish Catholics. I guess he doesn't think of himself as a monk right now either, probably not since after the breakdown of his marriage, but maybe going back to before then. He's still a religious man, no doubt - still listens to lectures, chants, has holy books and posters arrayed around his bed. He is drinking again, though, and as my middle brother remarked when I mentioned this -

'If he's drinking, he's fighting.'

He wasn't wrong; Eddie's gone right back to his roots.

'Put it this way,' he says to me.
'You guys have always known I was an Irish Gypsy, right?
Well, now I really really am.'

He spends much of my stay regaling me with tales of violence. He is a fine storyteller, if sometimes prone to tangents and frequent re-tellings. The stories I hear the most are these:

  1. The Time with the Biros

    Eddie's drinking in one of the locals when this girl he's been chatting to gets the wrong idea and 'cries wolf', and some guy a couple of feet taller than him appears out of nowhere, grabs him by the throat and pushes him out of the pub.

    After he's gone back in, Eddie follows him to get his pint only to find it gone, and demands a refund from the bar. The barman expresses reluctance, so Eddie whips a biro from each pocket and makes it clear that he means to get his fucking money back. He keeps the pens in his pockets because he is a writer, he'd tell the police if he needed to, and it's largely true. He often keeps a holy book in his bag, should any further proof be needed that he is a peaceful man.

    When he's obtained a full refund, the guy who just pushed him out of the pub is still standing there vibing him; so Eddie explains that if he tries anything else he'll gouge both his eyes out and make sure it looks like self defence. He quickly gets in a cab and leaves.

  2. The Strong Man

    Eddie is drinking in the same pub a little while later, although he is now barred. The barman who barred him - the guy he threatened with the biros - is off-duty, but he tips off the manager that he's supposed to be barred so Eddie is asked to leave. Things start to look ugly, and the off-duty guy is threatening to smack Eddie over the head with a snooker cue when a huge bouncer appears and politely forces Eddie out of the pub in less time than it takes for him to figure out what's going on.

    The next day Eddie returns to talk to the bouncer - 'You're the Strong Man, aren't you?' he asks, and the bouncer concurs but manoeuvres Eddie out of the door.

    'Don't shove me!' says Eddie, but the Strong Man explains that he wasn't really shoving - he's just seven feet tall and big for his height, and he needed to make it clear to him that he couldn't drink there that night.

    'That's fine', says Eddie,
    'I just wanted to show you something...'

    The something is a picture of him with his departed wife, at their wedding.

    'What do you think?'
    'Well, that's my wife, and she left me. So I'm sorry about last night, but I'm still recovering...'
    'You'll get over it,' says the Strong Man, and shakes his hand.
    'You're grand.'

  3. The Time with the Letterbox

    Eddie was freaking out one night about the awful state of his life and the difficulty of keeping on going.

    'You're among friends here,' says a friend.
    'I don't care about you,' dissents someone else who he'd thought was a friend.
    'I hate you and your wife.'

    Eddie is too upset to say much to this at the time, but later on he fills a plastic bag with piss and shit and shoves it through the guy's letterbox. He justifies this from scripture - 'the true devotee will act like fire against those who blaspheme against Krishna or his true devotees,' or as he puts it -

    'It's not about personal glory - it says don't fuck with Hare Krishnas, and my wife's a Hare Krishna and so am I.'

    or more simply:

    'You talk shit, expect shit through your letterbox.'

  4. The Real Clan

    Eddie tells me about different levels of recognition accorded to folk in the Irish Traveller community.

    'There's Tinkers; there's Travellers; there's Clan; and then, there's the Real Clan.'

    His father accepted him as Real Clan just a few days ago, and Eddie is deeply honoured. It is one of the things giving him hope. It means he's a Made Man, he explains; it was like that scene from Goodfellas, complete with the old friend of his father's shaking his hand proudly.

    'If you ever fuck me around with this or take it away after it's meant something to me,' he warned his father, 'I'll probably have to kill you'.
    'That's why I'm Real Clan,' he tells me later.

    He gets me to take a couple of pictues of him posing with sunglasses and a knife and no shirt - 'Two Days After Becoming a Made Man' - and tells me to make sure that my middle brother frames a copy of one and hangs it up as a ward against people who might want to rip him off. He can tell them about his brother, a Made Man in the second most powerful family in southern Ireland, who would gladly kill for him.

While I'm there I finish reading his first novel, a violent yet Krishna-conscious yarn set in the Tinker community of nineteenth-century London and woven together out of fight stories from his Tinker family and friends and his own violent youth and imagination. He tells me he's finished his fifth book - the sixth, I suppose, if you count Poems of a Drug Delinquent Dreamer - another sequel to this one, I think, this time a horror novel. In the first sequel, Earth is visited by aliens from a planet even less spritually advanced than our own. I don't know about the books in between.

I meet his close friend and next-door neighbour, demon-possessed Bob, who Eddie has accepted as his disciple, in the absence of anyone who could better fulfil his need for a spiritual adviser. It's not that he fancies that he is qualified for the job, but he is the only Hare Krishna in town and Bob needed help. Bob says he has actually been much better, but Eddie is taking a bad Karmic reaction off of him; he's been haunted lately, seeing strange bugs and gurning little creatures manifesting themselves, hearing voices. He hasn't been sleeping right.

He shows Bob his his new keyring proudly. He got it at the grave of Billy the Kid, and it says so in small print next to a picture of the outlaw, with Eddie written in big letters above it. He says to Bob -

'You know who my inspiration is? Well, one of them is Prabhupada.
But another is this fucker here - Billy The Kid.'

I also meet his father, a big man if short, a hard man, head of his clan. Eddie introduces me as his good friend from London, not as his foster brother, because he has heard a little of what his foster families have done to him over the years and Eddie worries that like his mother, he might never quite get that ours was one of the families that didn't.

We go to his house, where we sit down in his front room - a shrine to Elvis - and don't really watch an old black and white film about love. Eddie tells his father furiously about what had happened on the way there: We had called in on an acquaintance of theirs who had been going on for days about buying his ring, a gold Gypsy ring with a horseshoe and a horse head inside it. The guy was sitting in the front room with family, facing the corner and reading a paper, when we came in and Eddie asked him if he was going to save his arse - this being bill-paying time - and buy his ring. He barely looked up from his paper to dismiss him with 'I'll think about it'; Eddie took this as an insult, and told him so as he stormed out. When Eddie is done recounting this incident to his father, the man says to let it lie; he's not worth it. Reluctantly, Eddie agrees to leave him unpunctured.

Around this time, a phone call comes in with the news we had been half-expecting for the last few days: Eddie's long-estranged mother - the alcoholic some-time bag-lady from whose haphazard care Eddie was plucked at an early age, and who bitterly resented all of his foster-families because of it - has succumbed to the critical illness which had laid her low since just after I arrived. We know that he will cry for her later, but the relief with which he greets the news at the time is excruciatingly genuine.

I think it is the saddest thing I have ever witnessed.

Despite the impending exams and my general aversion to daylogging, the christmas season offered up more than its fair share of drama this year and I felt it worth recording now that I'm back online and in decent health. I doubt any more revision would sink in this evening, my dreams will be full of metric spaces as it is...that's my excuse, anyway!

Britnoders may recall me enquiring a while back about the MMR vaccination and its possible drawbacks. Despite having received MMR as a child of 5 (before this became official NHS policy or the autism scares started getting tabloid attention), I was pondering a booster since mumps was running rampant through Bath University. The general concensus was that the vaccination would probably be unpleasant but adult mumps far more so. However, not fancying the loss of a couple of days to an adverse reaction and being, according to my mother, completely safe by virtue of the childhood jab, I didn't bother.

Lesson 1: The Britnoders are a better source of parent-like advice than your parents.

Or in other words, I got mumps. They're right, it really isn't a pleasant illness. The Doctor helpfully pointed out that with hindsight, I should have had a booster, as it transpires that childhood immunisation doesn't always render you immune later on. Your immunity may wear out by, say, the time you head off to University, one of the most likely places for getting caught up in an outbreak (I was something like the 50th case here since the academic year started in October). Hindsight is fairly useless for me but I'd suggest that others don't repeat my mistake and take any vaccines offered should they be in a similar situation. They weren't even charging...

The most pressing concern was that I'd have to cancel my holiday, since I got the diagnosis two days before I was set to fly out to Norway. Not wanting to miss my first holiday in 3 years, I was relieved to discover that I was most likely past the infectious stage and so any suffering would be restricted to myself. A quick call to Ryanair indicated that they'll fly pretty much anyone anyway, so I was all set.

So it was that myself and the mysterious non-noder Pete (from the Birmingham meet) found ourselves in the wonderful Oslo for a few days. Whilst there we met up with toalight and tingo one evening, and I'd like to thank them again for taking time out to offer us some company and a slice of Norwegian culture that we would otherwise never experienced, plus footing the bill for dinner too! Proof where none was needed that E2 really is a community. I won't go on at length about the holiday; but the traditional mumps remedy of a hot scarf seems misguided based on my experience. The sub-zero temperatures kept the pain at bay and sight-seeing provided a suitable distraction from it; I mostly did without the aspirin and just had a few restless and feverish nights as my body tried to process it.

By the time I got back I even thought it'd gone away and I'd escaped with a mild 10 day case. However, returning to Britain proved to be my undoing, as it flared up with a vengeance, with perfect timing, on Christmas eve.

Lesson 2: The christmas experience is somewhat diminished when it hurts to talk or eat.

When, a long time ago, I studied Jitsu, we did some work on the most painful parts of the body. There are entire katas devoted to the art of inflicting misery. One of the points on the head involved lifting someone by pressing your fingers on the parotid, roughly where the jawbone folds 90 degrees, near the neck. It never seemed all that painful in class, so I guess no-one was doing it right- as the golf-ball like swelling I got at christmas was pressing straight on it for three days and the only reason you don't scream is because doing so would involve opening your mouth. Which hurts even more. Instead you spend a lot of time pacing around and snapping at your loved ones- I believe my first words on christmas morning to an otherwise cheery family were the less than festive "Sod off, I'm not being cheerful until I've had a lot of drugs". I rarely take any kind of medication, but I'd lucked out on a soluble aspirin I could actually handle so was dosed pretty much around the clock from christmas eve to Boxing Day.

The morning of Boxing day was somewhat marred by family disputes which are just as much a hallmark of christmas as an excess of chocolate. I don't fancy sharing the details but it's disappointingly outlived the holiday break as people still aren't talking three weeks later. You'd think the events of that evening would make people see sense, but no.

Lesson 3: When in shock, I revert to my underlying programming- mathematical logic- and try to reason my way out.

Probably because of the painkillers I was asleep in the back of the car as we drove back to my parents' in Suffolk. So I wouldn't remember the impact anyway. More disturbingly, I have almost no recollection of the following half hour, even though I was apparently conscious and capable of holding a conversation or walking around. Unfortunately, it was a case of the lights being on with nobody home- on closer inspection I was talking but not making a whole lot of sense.

It later dawned on me that I'd been in a car crash, the details of which were basically as follows. A (presumably broken down) car had parked as sensibly as possible on the hard shoulder, with no more than a front wheel on the carriageway. Sadly, whoever had presumably come to meet the occupants of that car decided to simply park in the left lane next to them. They then switched off their lights, and didn't put on any hazards. This is an unlit stretch of national-speedlimit dual carriageway, so this wasn't perhaps the smartest move. Traffic in the left lane, finding itself blocked with little time to react, was swerving into the right-hand lane (the faster one, here in England) along which we were driving. Seeing all this, my dad slowed down to allow vehicles in and avoid a collision, and all the blocked cars between the obstruction and us safely made it in.

Sadly, the driver behind us wasn't allowing enough distance or failed to brake soon enough, and plowed into the back of us, writing off both vehicles. Had we been at a dead stop, or had I not being wearing a seatbelt, someone else might be writing this node. As it was, the others got a bit of whiplash which I, relaxed and asleep, managed to avoid as my head jolted off the bit of bodywork it had been resting on. Problem was, being asleep I didn't stop myself rebounding back into said bit of bodywork. It didn't split the skin, but even through the sleepy painkiller haze the back of my head hurt a lot more than I can ever remember it doing. Except for maybe one other time in jitsu where I lost a few seconds.

The others realised that it had obviously done some damage, as this time I immediately started complaining that I'd missed christmas. In fact, I kept repeating that and hopeless trains of logic over and over in a robotic monotone. It seems that although not concussed, I went into shock and couldn't process what had happened. Everytime I got close to figuring out it was a car accident, I'd look all confused, glance again at my watch, and ask again how we'd got to the 26th already.

As far as I was concerned, I should be in Bath studying maths like I always do, not on the roadside in Suffolk in December. Some probing revealed I couldn't recall any specific events this side of October- not just christmas, but mumps, my holiday, my 21st....this, understandably, distressed me even more.

My continuous memory restarts some half hour after the crash with the paramedics asking me if I could walk to the ambulance with them. I guess the flashing lights, neon jackets and so-on helped provide some context as I was able to get to grips with things from then on, although I was still hyperventilating, shaking like a leaf and sporting a pulse rate in the 120's. I was somewhat more confused to realise I was on the wrong side of the car, i.e. not sitting where I'd been when the accident happened, which suggested I'd got out and moved around. I do vaguely recall spitting out a mouthful of blood onto the grass verge, so I guess that's exactly what I did. I also recall someone from the other car standing outside and asking if I was alright (this whilst still on the 'correct' side of the car). Apparently I cheerfully answered yes!

After an hour or so at the hospital I'd managed to control the physical panic and restore my memory, less that hour surrounding the crash, so they let me go home. For all the bad press they get, I'd have to say the emergency services were wonderful. The paramedics and hospital staff were very reassuring, and the police officers who had arrived at the scene first actually dropped by the hospital to see how I was. I of course, had no idea who they were, even though I'd apparently already spent ten minutes talking to them at the scene, but it was a nice gesture. Plus for a while, I could completely ignore the mumps...

Osmosis says re January 8, 2005: Holy shit. And here was I thinking I'd had a bad Christmas. Hope you feel better soon.
toalight says re January 8, 2005: Crikes! What a flurry of EVENTS. You sound in relatively good spirits though, so I take it the physical injury was negligible. Compared to the mumps at least...
bipolarbear says re January 8, 2005: my housemate had mumps (we're in bristol). you have my sympathies. mumps sucks badly. :)
BaronWR says Bad luck with the mumps/ car accident, we've had mumps at cambridge too, although I've essentially ignored them (I only actually got vaccinated when I got home). E2 is turning into a soap opera though, I don't check up for a few days and you get ill and in a car crash and wertperch gets married. I give it a week before dman reappears and anounces he's bones' long-lost half-brother
tingo says I read that You've been in an accident. I hope everybody got out of that with no permanent injuries. Get well soon!
The Debutante says re January 8, 2005: Very, very dramatic. I do hope that you are ok...
purple_curtain says What a bloody awful Christmas...

Thanks everyone! Got back up to speed after a week or so, now it's just exams to worry about!

Dear Mr. Martin and Ms. Porter,

I purchased your DVD and Video Guide 2005 recently, and have overall been quite pleased with its coverage and the quality of the reviews.

However, I'd like to suggest that you reconsider your entry for Fight Club; perhaps you should assign it to the contributing writer who did your entry for A Clockwork Orange (rated 4 stars in your guide), or at least to a writer who has some affinity for and understanding of horror movies?

In your guide, Fight Club is listed as a no-star "turkey," and your guide's text reads:

This appalling, grotesque, and interminable endurance test is fairy-tale fiction for serial killers, imbeciles who succumb to road rage, and frustrated white guys: all the morons who seek excuses to justify their increasingly bad behavior and hair-trigger tempers.

Wow. Fight Club is certainly not everyone's cup of tea; many people couldn't see past the film's smokescreen of violence. Fight Club is a movie about fighting in the same way that American Beauty (rated 4.5 stars) is a movie about cheerleading.

True, there are some people who missed the point entirely and came away thinking it would be cool to gather in grimy basements and bash each other's brains out, but then there are people who watched Deliverance (5 stars, your top rating) and came away gleefully yelling "Squeal like a pig!" at each other. Neither gross misinterpretation is the fault of the filmmakers.

I am neither a serial killer nor a white guy. I personally thought Fight Club was quite a well-done movie, as do many other film buffs under the age of 40, such as reviewer James Berardinelli.

It looks to me that Fight Club punched some buttons in your reviewer, and as a consequence he or she turned in a subjective, ill-considered, knee-jerk review that does little to guide moviegoers. Why else would he or she feel the need to spend most of the review insulting people who find merit in the film?

It's fine if you decide Fight Club truly has less technical, writing, directorial, and acting merit than B movies such as The Horror Show (2.5 stars) and Octopus (2 stars).

But seriously, do you think it's a good idea to call your readers "imbeciles" and "morons"? Particularly if you genuinely think some of them might be serial killers?

Best wishes,

Surprisingly, I got a response from contributing editor Derrick Bang, who writes: "Sorry, but no sale; we stand by our comments ... and, quite frankly, we do believe they quite adequately describe our opinion of the film."

No sale, indeed! I am unlikely to purchase further editions of the book and I expect others might feel the same way.

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