Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wan Ton Soup

Hello all

Very fortunately, a library not ten miles from our accommodation is providing free internet use to people on low income. All I had to do was look pitiful and say I was of no fixed abode (technically true as the barn has no postcode and is not a designated dwelling due it being 'uninhabitable' according to the local council). Having no access to transport means I have to walk a couple of hours each way (my legs are getting stronger each day), but it means I can continue to bring my story to the attention of the public. Why? Because I believe that someone out there might recognise my distress as genuine, recognise the latent talent that lives and breathes below my jaded skin, and perhaps even act as patron for the re-establishment of the Cumbernauld Instiute of Parasitology. Failing that, maybe they'll just let me tutor their kids in A level biology. It would be a start.

On this trip to the library I am allowed only 10 minutes as there is a group of benefit claimants awaiting a lesson on using job websites to find gainful employment. I have chosen not to claim benefits on the grounds that I vowed early in life never to become dependent on the State. Dolores thinks my principled stand is about as useful and fiscally sound as an Icelandic banker's draft. I remind her that she too cannot bring herself to make contact with the DSS, and so we live as nature intended - self sustaining, slightly malnourished and generally uncomfortable.

The minutiae of our new life are of no interest to others, unless they are to serve as a simple record of this frugal period in our lives. I will therefore attempt to draw on events, thoughts and processes that at least stand a small chance of raising some tiny dribble of interest in the mind(s) of my reader(s). To begin, I must go back some months and finally tell the end of Ravel's tale in China. For those of you at all interested in how this started, please read all posts from 2008 -2009 (there aren't many).

Ravel was detained at the station without speaking to anyone for the rest of the night. In the morning, an interpreter was brought to the station to read the charges against him in English. Ravel listened to a long list of completely false allegations around the themes of avoiding tax, extortion, breaking copyright, false imprisonment and, perhaps most dangerously 'incitement to subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system by spreading rumors, slander or other means'. Ravel had no idea what any of the charges meant, and tried to insist that they had arrested the wrong man. He asked to see one of his lawyer friends, but no-one at the police station knew any of the names, and he was therefore required to wait in his cell for an undetermined period of time. Ravel asked if he could make a phone call, and partly to his surprise that was allowed. Guess who he phoned? That's right, me...

'Hello?' I said on answering my pay-as-you-go mobile (we have had no landline since we moved here, and I cannot afford a contract).

'Boss, I am happy you are there. I am in big trouble', came the faint voice of Ravel.

'Where are you ?', was my immediate response. Establishing geographic location, in my experience, conveys a mountain of information rarely captured so economically by other means.

'Jail!', came his plaintive cry. I could tell he might be a little distressed even over the poor connection. However, I still did not know in which jail he was located - something I needed to understand before acting further.

'Where is the jail?'

'I don't know boss. They bring me here in darkness. I sit in my cell and they tell me nothing!'

'OK, stay calm, Ravel. Let's start at the beginning. In which country are you currently located?'

'China Boss. Can you help me get out of here?'

At this point, I was forced to sigh. My knowledge of Chinese jails and the justice system was (and still is) somewhat lacking. I could no more help Ravel get out of jail than help my own mother-in-law find the heart to payback the victim of her latest misdemenour (she apparently stole and ate a box of black-magic chocolates bequeathed to a former friend whose husband had died on valentines day - having initially denied the charge she then admitted under questioning that she had stolen the chocolates out of jealousy because such a beautiful gesture had never come her way). Instead I suggested he contacted one of his lawyer friends. Ravel told me he didn't have their number, and asked could I make the relevant enquiries. Being somewhat short on resources myself, I could only shrug my shoulders. 'I'm afraid you are on your own at the moment, my friend', I said, before wishing him well and hanging up (my battery was about to expire and was rationed to one re-charge a week).

Dear reader(s), I understand you may think this harsh of me, but under the circumstances I truly could do no more. I knew from our brief conversation that Ravel was at least safe(ish) from harm. I also knew that his lawyer friends were extremely resourceful and would be on the case imminently. And I was right of course. The next day, I received another phone call, this time from a rather happier sounding Ravel. He was now out of jail and sitting by a hotel pool. It turned out he had been arrested after an anoymous tip-off by someone in his enemy's organisation, suggesting that Ravel had been sending subversive messages about the Chines state through a blog under the pseudonym of Joseph McCrumble. Yes, that's right. My own name had been implicated in this farce. Well, the authorities checked the blog and found nothing subversive at all. A preposterous idea in the first place, if you ask me. I asked Ravel if he was still intent on persuing his aim of avenging the loss of his replica world cup trophy business. Fortunately for all of us, he decided he had been beaten by a force greater than his own will to succeed. 'I'm coming home boss', he told me, 'I give up.'

Ravel returned a few days later, somewhat thinner than when I had last seen him, head bowed and bleary eyed. He had managed to recover the copy of the replica trophy that had descended from the roof of the warehouse during the poker-game stunt, but otherwise was devoid of baggage. He was sullen for many days later, refusing to eat the Chinese takeaways we were living on at the time (this may seem crass, but we had struck a deal with a local chinese restaurant whereby I would walk around the village with a sandwich board three evenings a week in return for half-price meals. Sadly the restaurant has now become a victim of the recession and is closed.). But time heals all wounds, and within a few weeks he was back to his old self, playing an essential role in the maintenance of the barn. His lawyer friends promised to fight on, but we have heard nothing in weeks and can only assume that the enterprise has now had a line drawn underneath it. Sometimes, life jsut doesn't give you what you want, and you have to move on, I told Ravel one evening about a month ago. Since then, the subject has not been raised.

There ends the story of Ravel's adventures in China. Nothing else exciting has happened, so this blog will now revert to commenting on the occasional event of interest as I try to beat the credit crunch and keep my family's soul together. Here's hoping we aren't all doomed!


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sweet and sour pork

Hello all

Thanks to finding a ten pound note in the middle of the road the other day, I have been able to purhase some petrol for the generator. Not only were we able to watch an hour of television last night, but I have also been given permission to spend fifteen minutes on the computer. Such fortune does not come our way very often, so I thanked Dolores fulsomely and set to work. I could spend the next 14.5 minutes (my 15 minutes started when I fired up the internet browser) telling you how lowly we have sunk, but that would only make me depressed. Instead, I'm going to finally reveal the ending to Ravel's attempts to recover his intellectual property rights in China. I understand this may be the slowest serialisation of a short story you have ever encountered, and I do apologise for the circumstances in which I find myself. Anyways, here goes....

Ravel was down to his last few yen. There was perhaps just enough for one more hand of 5 card stud. He hadn't won a hand all evening - 3 hours of increasingly stressful effort for nothing. It was all about to slip away in a near-empty warehouse somewhere in Beijing. His dreams of bringing the man who stole his world-cup replica trophy idea to justice were now torn. It was the last role of the dice, so to speak, and not spark of sympathy was evident on the inscrutable faces of the dozen men in suits who now stood breathing down the back of his neck, shouting and gesticulating each time he turned over a card. Ravel held the cards as close as he could to his chest, peeking only at the corners, but he time he looked at a card, he felt like the men behind him were peeking aswell.

This last round of 5 card stud preceded like all the others. No matter how much Ravel bluffed, his opponent would always call and raise. No matter how good his cards were, his opponent's were always better (when Ravel saw them, which was rare). This time, he was forced to fold almost immediately as there was no more money in the pot. His opponent gathered up the cash on the table and added it to his sprawling pile. Rather clumsily, thought Ravel, considering his opponent must have been in this situation before. It was almost as though presumed Mr Foo couldn't see very well, the way he simply stretched his arms out wide and gathered everything within reach. A few times during the night money had fallen off the edge of the table to be left on the floor. Ravel has not once been tempted to pick it up.

As the last hand came to its near-inevitable conclusion, Ravel simply pushed back his chair and made to stand up. His egress was halted, however, by several pairs of hands pushing him firmly back down into his seat. Unable to wriggle free, Ravel had no option but to pay attention to the presumed Mr Foo, who was now leaning forward as if to get a closer look at Ravel's face. In doing so, he made his own face visible, and Ravel saw for the first time that the presumed Mr Foo had cateracts in both eyes. Essentially, as you will no doubt have deduced by now, the man was blind.

Ravel swore in a Bulgarian dialect, using words he promised at his late uncle's deathbed never to utter to a living soul. The intended effect (which Ravel describes as ' ball shrinking') was somewhat lost, however as none of the targets seemed to understand. Their response was to laugh and cackle, slap Ravel on the back and point to the ceiling of the warehouse. Looking upwards, Ravel was more than a little surprised to see one of his world cup tropy replica's being lowered, spotlit, on a rope. Even more suprising was the sound of laughter from the assembled crowd on top of Nessun Dorma as sung by the three Tenors to a beaming Diana Princess of Wales all those years ago.

Now, I have been confused a few times in my life (see blogs passim), and as result I hope I have learnt how to handle the occasional deus ex machina, but even this would have had me in spasms. Within the space of a minute, a darkly serious situation had transmogriphied into farce. Ravel tells me that he was not only lost for words but quite unable to move despite the fact that he was no longer being held down. He was totally captivated by the descent of his replica trophy, that eventually landed on the table in front of him with a soft thud. It then toppled over, to reveal a piece of paper stuck to the bottom that Ravel had not so far noticed. On the paper was a symbol - reproduced below as a warning to others...

I say 'warning' because if you ever come across this sign, I advise you to run back to where you started your journey. Not because it signifies some type of mortal curse, nor because it is an assassination target, but because it belongs to a maverick television company (name witheld for legal reasons - we will call them Wang-Toon) who specialise in lampooning con-men and revealing them to the nation through setting up elaborate scenarios such as the one just played out in that warehouse. As per their usual form, after the symbol is 'disovered', by the con-artist, their presenter steps forward and takes a polaroid picture which he then reveals to the audience with a flourish and a cry of the Chinese equivalent of 'Gotcha!'.

Ravel was slack jawed as the presenter went through his routine to a camera that had emerged from the shadows. All around him people were laughing and chatting as if they had all enjoyed the same joke. But for Ravel it was no joke. He didn't know this was a TV stunt as he couldn't understand the director shouting 'Cut!', he didn't know what to do next as he couldn't understand the instructions being given to him by a lady with a clip-board and wearing a Wang-Toon badge. He didn't see the police man come from behind, but did feel the handcuffs. He also quite clearly heard the policeman say 'You arrested for fraud. Come with me.'. At which point, Ravel was helped up and out of the warehouse, into a police car and off to a nearby station, where another TV camera recorded his entry inside....

************ TO BE CONTINUED!************

(sorry, I have run out of generator time, and must attend to my chores. I hope to blog again soon and finish the story.)