A.J. Walker


The Old Ways, Seven Streets and Seven Years

The Old Ways, Seven Streets, and Seven Years

They say this town was built along seven streets. Just seven. Of course there must have been one first then a second. So which of the seven was the first? And what of the eighth? Of course these may be reasonable questions and there may be answers out there for you. But maybe you are not asking the right question. What of the days before the seven streets - or the one - what came before?

There were the ‘Old Ways’ before there was a city here, before there was a village. And some may be coincident at least partly with the famous streets we now call the first of our city. There were old ways here long before the first people stopped and built here. These were paths taken between places before we became a place - to live and to dream in, to become a destination at all.

These were the questions asked - and at least partly answered - by the famous local historian, Hugo Skully who mysteriously disappeared (at the age of 63) seven years ago. The coroner yesterday issued the Declaration of Presumed Death. The fact that the law is that seven years is taken by the authorities would no doubt be seen as apt by Hugo with his wry sense of humour and his love of the city - and its seven streets. His quest to build on the history with his studies and conjectures was famous in and beyond the city. His talks and tours were always informative and fun - and extremely well attended.

He said there were good paths, and barely used ways across the grasses, the sands and the stones of the county - long before there were such human constructs as borders and taxation. Hugo would often be seen out on the beaches, the farms and the river banks with his bulky knapsack full of maps, notebooks and pens as he mapped and remapped our past. In the most recent years he was mapping what he saw as barely used paths, wrong paths and plain evil ways used by our forbears and peoples long forgotten. I wonder which of these ways should we know about, and remember - and which should be lost forever? Perhaps he was lost on one of the evil ways best forgotten. Or perhaps he found the route of some infinite path too compelling not to follow and he’s walking still. Maybe he’ll turn up in a year’s time. He did always have a fondness for the number 8; and the dramatic. And I’d love to see Hugo and his famous knapsack - which was never found - silhouetted on the skyline above a farmer's field once more.

Rest in Peace if you must, Hugo. But better still, we’ll see you next year if your path brings you back.

The Golden Harvest

A Golden Harvest in Yucatan

Kaax considered himself blessed in the balmy heat and bountiful climate of the Yucatan. His land provided the best beans and cacao for many miles, and together his beautiful wife, Akna, they had a wonderful, loving home. He felt he earned more than he deserved. As the years past by though Akna grew despondent as the farm’s bounty failed to be matched in their life. She lost three children before ever getting to meet them. Sadness engulfed her like sinking sand. Kaax was at his wits end not knowing what to do. He’d told Akna he’d be happy to live without a child if the gods were so inclined. She didn’t believe him, or didn’t care. She wanted a child - or her life would not be complete.

His mother said that maybe there was a way. She told him of the Golden Cenote two days trek to the west of their village. And that a gift of gold there to Ixchel - the fertility god - may be all that was needed to bless the family. Kaax laughed at first - he’d always believed most in hard work not prayers. In any case his farm was productive, but the village was poor. What gold did he have to give the gods? ‘But your bees?’ said his mother. ‘Honey. Give the gods your honey. What could be more golden?’

And so he collected a precious urn from his mother’s and over the summer proceded to fill it. It would be a product of hard work: and prayers. He didn’t tell Akna of his plans. He didn’t want her to know, to believe, to throw more hope her way - lest it be dashed.

Later in the year he rode two days on his brother’s donkey to the Golden Cenote in hope, not expectation. He prayed at the edge of the deep drop into the watery cave below the forest before finally presenting the urn to the gods. He threw it into the depths and quickly turned away before the return journey home to his beloved wife. Nine months later their life was complete beyond all hope when Yolotli arrived.

Within the community it was observed that Kaax became more of a believer in the gods after the birth of their daughter - and he always sings to the bees.

Happy Birthday, Ratty

Happy Birthday, Ratty

That most infamous and random of city papers -
The Tunnel Vision - is, somewhat remarkably, celebrating its seventieth birthday this week. You may not have noticed it much in recent years with its erratic publication days (usually twice a week currently), its slim build, and its limited run. I still always try and get a copy when I can, but incredibly even for a journalist in the city like me I can find it difficult to get hold of (it’s surely not helped by the publication days no longer being set in stone. It can be hard to know when to look out for it - and consequently easy to miss). It still has some top drawer journalism and commentators submitting interesting and challenging pieces, which makes it attractive to those who like the challenge; and enjoy interesting prose too. Talking of prose, who can forget last year Irving Gentry’s ‘Ode to An Age That Never Happened’ juxtaposed with Catherine Berger’s poem ‘Parallel Universes Exist: So Get Me A Ticket Out of This One’? Both so different and both an absolute joy to read. These eminent choice writers, who seemed to have come out of nowhere, were the talk of the town for weeks, but were just the latest in a long line of poets and authors who’ve loved to get involved in the paper, even during this most erratic of times.

The paper was born out of the city doldrums of ‘53 when the twins, Joe & William Riley, and their impressively driven and oh so eloquent sister, Taylor, set up the small but perfectly formed - if unlikely - press in a dark, narrow, and dank tunnel - which had reportedly been used by smugglers and some less than savoury local characters, down near the docks. It quickly became the unofficial “
voice of the workers” and the put upon peoples of the city. The name of Tunnel Vision was much debated early on. Those involved in the initial issues were attracted to the name due to its quirky location, but several contributors were unhappy with the idea of them not being thought to have at least a little peripheral vision. They needn’t have worried as the city chose their name for it themselves: they simply referred to it as The Rat with their own take on the dock tunnels: problem solved. The constant cacophony of the docks together with the depth and heavy stone structure of the tunnel meant the noise of the press never found its way outside of the tunnel. When the Rat railed against the local government of the day in the run up to the elections of ‘56 the authorities tried hard to find the press - and we can assume find some spurious reason, or just wanton illegality, to close it down - but they failed. Many knew exactly where it was, but as they were fighting the good fight in their corner no one ever told those that would stand against it. William Riley said in a rare interview in the early 60s that giving them up would have been like ‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ after all.

It has always seemed to go through nothing less than interesting times, though ownership battles has never been one: it’s still run by the children and grandchildren of the Rileys. It has survived legal challenges aplenty giving the owners and editors nothing but smiles on their faces; never a punch seems to land. The reticence of city politicians to take on board many - if any - of their chosen campaigns is unfortunately a sign that although they may feel they do an important job for the people of the city they have really not managed to substantially change the city at all. It may have right on its side, but we know on a local, national and international level how often right is the one thing that seems often to be the hardest thing to achieve. It always has stories and views written from interesting angles to the prevailing media direction (some would say that much of the media is exactly that: directed.
The Rat has never been accused of that).

To this day the place where the
Rat is published is not known. But I doubt any old tunnels are involved these days. Technologies have changed a lot in recent times, so it need not take up much room or use noisy plant at all. Truth be told while they are punching so rarely theses days, unlike the old days, they don’t even need to fly below the radar as they have sadly become peripheral to the general political discourse. But who’s to say that this will remain the case? There’s rumours of a soon to come reboot for the paper, including some interesting political commentators and the return of Lexus, the infamous cartoonist. If these changes are true (and it can sort out its publication issues) then maybe the Rat will bounce back. Does a rat have nine lives, or will the rat suffer from a dead rat bounce?

I truly hope that
The Rat will survive its current difficulties and return to its former glories. Peak Rat was something to behold and I for one wish to see its life be rekindled. What a wonderful present that would be. Happy 70th Ratty!

A Woman Called Malaria

A Woman Called Malaria: What's In A Name?

I met Malaria working in a trendy bar in the city. She was a nice young woman. Confident, bubbly & attentive and efficient at her job - which largely comprised getting me drinks from the bar. In the quieter moments we had the opportunity to talk a little, which is how I discovered her name was Malaria - her colleagues at the bar called her Mel, apparently under the instruction of the manager who thought periodically shouting out “malaria” across the busy bar would not necessarily be a good thing for the customers.

She's actually in the second year of her medical degree at the university, and her job was need to help her through her studies as the grant she gets from her country is very small and he parents are not wealthy enough to help her much. She said she was enjoying being in a foreign country and loved the chance to meet very different people. She had never been abroad before gaining the chance to study here.

I asked how her parents had come to name her Malaria. And it turned out it wasn’t her given name. I found this slightly comforting if a little confusing. The name was apparently the last one in a long line of English language names she had used. Malaria had previously gone under the name Joy, and before that there was Sapphire, Crystal and Ruby. She was from a small country in the Far East which had a tonal language and she explained that Westerners usually had great difficulty in saying even one short word correctly - let alone learn the language - so it was common practice amongst people who worked with Westerners at all that they would adopt English names. She told me her given name and after several minutes of trying to repeat it she confirmed that I didn’t get very close at all. Commonly those with their short term Anglicised names would also rotate them over time. She'd had a few lasting less than a week before being jettisoned.

Right now she was a medical student named after a disease which kills millions world wide. Did she not consider the irony, I asked, and had she not considered changing it to something less lethal? She laughed coyly at this point and her eyes suggested that she enjoyed the question. It was her longest held name, she said. She’d chosen it at 18 and had it for two and a half years now. It had been a word she’d read and liked the sound of. It was purely on the sound as she hadn’t known then what it was when she’d first read it years previously. Her previous names had been based on beauty, colours, and maybe even; like Ruby, Sapphire, and Crystal. But Malaria was all about the sound. She shrugged, sometimes words changed meanings over time, maybe she was ahead of the curve.

Perhaps she is. Now I’m wondering what I’d call myself this week if I could change my name at will. Perhaps I’ll be Stout, or Porter, then again maybe I should follow Malaria’s path and pick a disease name or maybe a treatment? Yes, for this week anyway, call me Benzo. Benzo Diazapan.

Suspiciously Unsuspicious

Suspiciously Unsuspicious

In the early hours of March 14th it was reported that Mr Graham Donatello (62) of 11B Dockland Terrace was found quite dead in the grounds of the Great Hall on Constitution Hill. He had previously been seen during the day by several eye witnesses consulted by journalists of The Vision, including in fact our very own Editor, Simon De Mieville Jr, and the Chief Sports writer (and Saturday columnist), George Pressley III. Both reported that Mr Donatello was in decidedly good cheer, which was supported by others who saw him, and are in “deep shock” at the news of his sudden death.

The former great procrastinator and bon viveur was found by three children from the area, who cannot be named because of their youth. They are the two sons and the daughter of Mr Vivian Park-Reynolds and Ms Charley Simpson, his former young maid of long blonde hair and a reportedly open disposition. The children are said to be in good cheer despite their early morning surprise. Indeed all went into school later in the day to pass on the details of their grisly findings to their school colleagues and teachers. We can but marvel at the resilience of youth.

Donatello was found hanging from one of the tallest trees in the park and the attending police officers - a Seargant Strong and PC Gormless, were quoted as saying “there were no mysterious circumstances” (in the death of Graham Donatello). This journalist though could not help but notice that there were no signs of dirt on his hands despite or his smart, well fitting suit. This seems surprising as there was no ladder or other way of getting up the tree apart from climbing it. He also was wearing only one shoe and there was no evidence of the other one having been found inside the park; or in the tree. PC Gormless suggested that perhaps before the children had come along a ladder thief had been past.

It is also noted that Graham had been in a very bright spotlight in recent times with his short term wrangling - including within the pages of this veritable establishment - with the current Government over their handling of the unknowable miscreants affair and the apparent disregard of certain laws by multiple patrons of the State; and it should be said by some representatives within the Cabinet.

We await the findings of the city’s coroner on the sad death of Mr Donatello, but it is hoped by this paper that Dr Cliff Heraldston does recuse himself from investigating the case given his extremely close ties to the Government: he is of course married to Marjorie Nom De Plume, the mysterious & extremely high profile Secretary of State for Contentious Decisions (her of the “Discerning smile whilst she drives a dagger through your ribs” fame - in the words of ex-colleague and now ex MP Mr Richard Hardyman).

Whilst we wait we will not be holding our breathes - and neither should you. RIP Bon Viveur.