Looking over the shoulder of the world

Circumstances are ripples, spreading ever further; my own world is small, though not as diminished as it once was. With reading, the absorption of facts, personal accounts and dispatches, comes the inevitable dark coil of fear and sympathy about my throat. Feelings, I must admit, I’m not accustomed to. My eyes are drawn to places where Trouble mutters under its breath, and quiet sobs fill the smoke-hue nights.

It is not as it was in childhood, in my teens, when Kosovo burned and thousands of ethnic Albanians died. Then, it was a TV flickering in the lounge, and my father’s white face (he would understand the implications very well), and statistics pinstriping the screen. But before you knew it, the feed was all run through, the news had shifted on, and I would traipse upstairs to my bedroom, to read about dragons and urban graffiti and rabbits emulating Hitler.

I still read such things, for they are just as important, but the perspective has changed – over the years, I’ve come to read them through the filters of personal and learned experience. Whether this is detrimental to the suspension of disbelief, the magic, remains to be seen. It can enhance certain aspects of a narrative, ja – it’s far easier now to visualize and comprehend the mustering armies, the tactical “gameplay” of warfare, which once left me cold while reading (for example) the books of the Dragonlance saga, many of which are based on campaign-setting. Likewise, I can sift back through memory to those fictional governing bodies ringed about one large table after another, their faces mapped with the roads of responsibility, as the voices of hundreds – thousands – of people, cry out for justice in their minds… and I find among their number, the authoritative figureheads I watch and read about today.

It used to be only the battlefield and the rank ‘n files which caught my attention: the ready hearts, and the ones who couldn’t control their bladders; the letter writers, and the rapists; the bitter truth of what “glory” is (blood turning black as it seeps into the ground, and the twisted face of your friend as he is trampled beneath the shit-shod hooves of a horse.) Now, it is the political side of things too, the economical aspect of conflict, which forces me to jump from one article to another, reading and reading and reading, until finally –

*now being well enough to grasp what it all means, to the best of my abilities*

– I find myself watching the horizon. “Dark have been my dreams of late.” Such coils of fear and apprehension, and I find symbolism in the strata red-gold nimbus that layers up the horizon, stabbed through by the evening sun, because I’ll only ever be a dreamy metaphor-fiend, and the world still has need of those.

For clarity, I took myself off, wandering over the world and looking for what it’s got in its pocketses.

It was a grim road, full of tanks and revolutionaries and agi-prop. I ducked and wove through the crowds, finding an enemy long thought to have had his teeth pulled, but no – still very much alive and well, if perched upon a glass mountain.

Certain narratives will leap out, full of pathos and personal inflection, while others cause me to falter on their stepping-stone facts. You know the ones I mean. They read like bank statements. But then again, there is a need for this style, as there is any other – to suit circumstances and audience etc. We can’t all write flowery prose.

Here is something I’ve learned from Twitter, incidentally. Those who wish to know about this stuff, will go looking. The rest will wait for items to drop into their feed, or will remain blissfully unaware. Every option is fine. I sometimes wish I could do the latter, but am too nosy, and too worried now. Blame a military upbringing, and a meddlesome nature.

The question is, if I give a damn so much, why not just write my own narrative truth based on the facts and personal accounts gathered and stored? Why not put all the research to use, if it is interesting?

One example, based on current events: I can’t speak a word of Russian or Ukrainian, nor string a sentence in cyrillic. I haven’t the necessary experience of such writing, nor the full historical grounding / first hand perspective, on which to firmly set my feet. Who am I to pass judgement on Mr. Putin and the dictators who have come before him, and will no doubt rise after? Who am I to speak of the plight which may face Ukrainian citizens this winter, as the Kremlin ups the ante with further economical pressure?

What I see, isn’t so much the data. It is the aftermath. The people on the ground, who will (as ever) be the ones to suffer. The civilians who didn’t ask for this conflict, and even if they did, certainly do not deserve the hardships which may come to them, in the form of gravelly hunger pangs and the blue chill of an unheated home. That’s assuming, of course, that they get to keep their homes at all.

Dear friends, I can only speak from a limited experience, but my truth is this: to feel the sleeplessness of adrenalin-fuelled nights, while your body desperately tries to keep warm as it craves nourishment – these are all too familiar memories. And even though mine were created from a mental illness, the fact is, hunger hurts. So does cold. And there may well be Russians who feel that pinch too, by the end of the year.

These are but a few examples. I am 30 years old next year, on the tail-end of anorexia, and so far behind those I wish to talk to, and missing so much of what I’d like to talk about, that it makes my head ache with all the cramming-research. But I’m a bit obsessive like that; and would quite like a Pensieve, to extract some thoughts / feelings for later reference, while I eagerly download whatever’s caught my interest – basically, what I would have liked to have learned about, in further education (or have forgotten about from school.) This is another sore point for me, dear reader – the illness left my mind diminished, to the point where memory is not what it was. I find myself having to take “refresher courses”, leaving all company behind, to wander the roads and campaign trails and library archives of the mind (full of gold dust and blessed silence), picking up this book and that, loading and linking one file to another.

Leeloo Dallas Multipass.

My long-term memory tends to be stuffed with innocuous things, like cat coat genetics (e.g. variations of patterning in fur – ticked, smoke, shell/cameo, solid etc), and odd-end guitar chords from many different songs, which when stitched together might make a harlequin cacophony, but not any melody conducive to good listening.

I hoard a wealth of titbits in this head. Odds ‘n ends. Extracts from books, the plots of which have long since blurred and run; the title and date of a painting which formed part of the pivotal gallery of some notorious artist, though I know it only by the manner in which it spooked visitors to my grandmother’s house, and the cool lap of hardened oil under my fingertips – the Braille of a sensory creative.

But none of it is anything you could pin a career, a profession on.
A Jack (Jill) of all Trades.

So when trying to (re)learn things – right now, for a bit of historical context, it’s the old Soviet Union, Stalin and Kaliningrad Oblast, the enlargement of NATO, etc – I pull whatever strings are available. Simon Schama’s good for research; I cannot recommend his “A History of Britain” enough; nor indeed, for you fellow creatives, “The Power of Art“. His vernacular style always did spin a decent narrative, and he’s such an affable presence, that to see him onscreen is to know him as your mate down the pub. Oh god, what a dream that would be. If asked about that Desert Island thing, I would take Schama, and an endless supply of Chilean Merlot.

Distraction has always been a key feature, when I couldn’t handle personal reality. One memorable occasion was when I was 12. My older sister had brought a couple of friends around to watch the film “From Dusk ’til Dawn.” They had curled up in the lounge, and were laughing – as most mid-teens might, having the experience to realize just how silly it all was, how unrealistic the gore and stabbings, the peelings and flesh-eating, etc.

But for me, it was all too real, and a nightmare. I’ve always had a thing about being stabbed in the chest, for as long as I can remember – which is faintly funny, considering my penchant for blades. But I can’t watch things like “Kill Bill” without averting my eyes, every time a blade comes near the sternum.

So that day, I managed to get roughly halfway through the film, trying to prove I was tough enough, before whiteout fear sent me scuttling up the stairs, to sit on the top step, arms crossed over my chest and head on my knees. Looking back on it now, the reaction seems fierce, overblown. But I can distinctly remember going to my bookshelf and desperately pulling down stories which would not feature death – in particular, murder. There was this terrible, wrenching horror inside, when I realized I couldn’t face reading my beloved “Redwall” books, because they feature a significant amount of blades. But if you were to read how beautiful these narratives are, how homely their perspective, you wouldn’t find enough to trouble the 12 year old I was. It’s very strange. I never forgot that experience; it took me three hours to leave my room. And no, I have never seen the end of that film.

Right now, just thinking about it, I have one of my arms looped diagonally over my chest, like a sash, clutching the opposite shoulder. This is how I used to walk, through town and through school, as a kid, such was the fear. It’s lessened somewhat, to the point where I can actually allow a bag strap to do the job; but I still can’t sleep on my back, and refuse to let anyone touch me there.
Which is just as well, all things considered.

It’s why I don’t entirely discount past lives. How can a small child be terrified of knives coming near her from the front, yet I have never once been bothered (by the thought of) being stabbed in the back? Anymore than a rational person, of course, who wishes to live. But you know what I mean. It’s a strange paranoia.

Anyway. I have more reading to do, before I can ever hope to write such fact-based narratives as the one mentioned above. If only I’d had a clearer idea in my head, back in school – could’ve saved a lot of hassle (and time), by taking a more direct approach in further education. Could be out in the world by now, combining the two prevailing passions of my life – travel and writing – to form some kind of consistent profession.

Oh well. Wishes, fishes, water, sea. It’s not over ’til you’re dead.
There’s time yet. I am still young, and naive enough not to know any better.

This is my truth. Tell me yours.

What answer could I give you now
That you would call your own?
A word, a promise, bent about
The needs of both, of loss and life,
Of things we know can’t be undone
A truth of petals, raven-blue
About our feet; a thorn I knew
Would never leave my darker side
(I keep it close, awake, aware
A story waiting to be told)
The woman-child has far to go
To learn of what she cares for with
An open heart and aching eye
This lamplight haven, eyrie heart
Is Smoky Lake and City Found
By one who waits beside the shore
With silent patience, visor down.

As ever, dear friends – just thoughts, really.
I wandered down that road. It was long, and sometimes the dust got in my eyes, the grit in my throat; but I wasn’t alone, and for that, wasn’t lonely.
Now I am back, still reading, still learning, and watchful as ever, from under this too-long fringe.


Putin’s Powerful Friends Rally Around Russian President Despite Sanctions


On Friday morning, Dmitri Kalantyrsky, the president of a large Russian bank called SMP, got word of what he later called “an anomaly” in his clients’ transactions. The money had stopped flowing. The bank’s clients were getting their cards declined. Russia’s other banks were cutting off all operations with SMP, isolating it from the financial system. By the end of that day, more than $200 million would be withdrawn from SMP’s accounts as a run on the bank began. At the central office in Moscow, says Kalantyrsky, “we also became victims of the panic.”

Around lunch time, SMP’s controlling shareholders, Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, arrived at their bank’s headquarters to assess the damage. They understood where it was coming from. Both of the Rotenberg brothers are childhood friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the previous day, they had been placed on a U.S. sanctions list along with 18 of…

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What Would A Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Look Like?

In Moscow's Shadows

Will the Russians stop? Will the Russians stop?

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and had the chance to expound on it at a recent event in Parliament sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society, so thought I’d briefly outline my thoughts here. That said, though, I should stress that the more time passes, the less likely I think such an attack becomes, because of the shifting political situation and also–as Kyiv moves forces east and mobilises reserves and volunteers–the military calculus. However, it cannot be excluded, so it is worth still considering, not least as the preparatory phases I outline below have all been carried out; the Russian General Staff may well not yet know if it is going to be invading, but it has made sure that if the word does come down from the Kremlin, it will be ready.

In brief, the aim would be a blitzkrieg that, before Ukraine has…

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