Raging Against the Dying of the Light

With just seven days left of his life, Frederick Grainger was an unremarkable man. He had spent much of his thirty years up to that point unemployed, sleeping on the sofas of friends, getting into bar fights, struggling with depression, and doing a pretty good impersonation of someone who would not be remembered beyond his passing. If that sounds mean, I apologise – but Freddy himself would be the first to admit that such a characterisation was accurate.

That all changed with the diagnosis. There is no need to bore you with the medical details, the majority of which causes the eyes to glaze over and the ears to tune out. A lot of crucial words like ‘inoperable’ and ‘terminal’ peppered the initial conversation once Grainger received the results of his blood, urine and X-Ray tests. Suffice to say, Freddy got the chance to answer a question that most of us, thank heavens, will never have to face: what would you do, if you had just week to live?

His notes, apparently scribbled not long after the fateful meeting with his GP, tell part of the story:

“I must endeavour to join the revolutionary side of some armed conflict somewhere in the world. If my time is short, then I no longer have anything to lose but my chains, right? Plus I can help, in my own meagre way, the cause of others who still have a world to win once I’m gone.”

That afternoon he got in touch with the Lions of Rojava, and by the following evening had arrived in what is now the recognised state of Kurdistan to meet his new brothers (and sisters) in arms. It seems extraordinary that, barely a day after receiving the news of his imminent death, he would be half a world away about to take part in an international conflict, but that is what happened. The forces of the YPG (People’s Protection Units) were, by this point, well versed in the recruitment of foreign fighters, so their efficiency in admitting him to their ranks is somewhat unsurprising. Freddy had been familiar with them since 2015, when as a teenager his friend Moazzem Ahmed had departed their native Birmingham to join their struggle.

Grainger’s notes give some insight into how he saw his fellow fighters:

“They are organised, successful and explicitly leftist – particularly in their egalitarian principles regarding women and freedom of religion. I can only hope that in my last days I’ll be able to prove to my brothers and sisters that I, too, amd [sic] worthy of the title, ‘Comrade'”.

This he most assuredly did, at the very least by the manner of his death: In a firefight with Daesh forces on the outskirts of Raqqa, 5 days after he enlisted, Freddy Grainger was shot in the chest. Refusing to relinquish his rifle, he remained in place and provided covering fire for the rest of his unit as they withdrew. It is not known whether he was captured and died later in captivity, or if he succumbed to his wounds while bravely continuing to shoot at the enemy, but regardless of such particulars one thing is certain: He died a hero.

He died a comrade.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Don’t Ever Dream, Dennis

Was Dennis excited? You bet your sweet ass he was. He had never been to see his beloved Barcelona play, and by chance had finally been given the opportunity to do so; mere days before they took on AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final, a fellow Barca fan had offered him a spare ticket. That Dennis was able to take up the offer was equally serendipitous; he was, in fact, an Amsterdammer, but had been given a trip to Athens as a combination Christmas/Birthday present by his wife. By chance, it was in the Athenian Olympic Stadium that the match would take place. He was lucky also, in that she didn’t mind him skipping out on their Summer vacation for one night in order to see his favourite football team. So it was that Dennis was in high spirits when he arrived in the Greek capital.

If it seemed to good to be true, well…that’s because it was. Conrad, the friend who had presented him with the ticket, and Anushka, another supporter of Catalonia’s finest who had yet to see them play, met him in a local café bar. It was there, while sipping from a can of none-to-delectable Aegean, that he finally had the chance to see the actual slips of paper which would grant him entry to the OAKA, and he saw to his dismay that the tickets had a section tippexed out. What was the meaning of this? Anushka assured him that it was nothing to worry about; the seller had instructed her to simply write in a name & passport reference number over the tippex. Dennis was not completely convinced, but simply trusted to luck. After all, there were three of them, what could go wrong?

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Upon leaving the café bar, the trio set off for the metro that would take them to the stadium, and Conrad had the bright idea of smoking a joint on the way. Anushka, most sensibly, refused. Now, Dennis was hardly a weed aficionado, but he thought, ‘What the hell’ and accepted the blunt gratefully. He had not intended to smoke quite so much of it, but by the time he threw the end away Dennis realised that he’d had roughly half the spliff… Probably wouldn’t matter though, right?

Once they hopped on the M1, however, he discovered that his mouth was getting increasingly dry. He suddenly had a desperate thirst, and could only think of when he might be able to purchase a blessed bottle of water. Conrad and Anushka were excitedly chatting among themselves, blissfully unaware of Dennis’ situation. Gradually, but inexorably, his throat began to close. Gripping the handrail for dear life, Dennis began to lose consciousness. As he did so, his fingers relaxed, and as he tumbled to the carriage floor he simultaneously tumbled into oblivion…

He came to at the sensation of water splashing onto his upturned face. Some sort of lozenge was shoved into his mouth, and he heard a voice from a long way away saying, “Suck on this, it’s sugar, you’ll feel better!” Slowly, as if covered in molasses or submerged in tar, he climbed back to his feet, aided by his two concerned and compassionate companions. They took him off the train at the next stop – still five or six short of their destination – and brought him up to the surface to get some fresh air. He thanked his comrades for not abandoning him. It transpired that Conrad had cheekily robbed a bottle of water from a commuter after Dennis fell, and had subsequently used it to spray the unconscious unfortunate in the face! Dennis laughed at this, and after a a few long gulps from the bottle felt well enough to continue.

Once they arrived at Irini Station, they made the short walk towards the Olympic complex and were confronted by Catalan stewards inspecting all the away fans’ papers. Confidently, the three amigos stepped up to the cordon and handed over their tickets. One made it through. The other two were brought to one side, and informed that their money had been spent on counterfeits. Anushka was lucky. Conrad and Dennis were not.

The two men, now sullen and dejected, trekked back through the city centre and tried to find a bar showing the game. A few minutes after kick-off, they looked in the window of a dismal dive of a place – a dark, dingy club with overpriced beer and haughty service – and saw the match playing on a small screen. Maybe, just maybe, their night would be salvaged by a tremendous Barca victory that would leave them with smiles on their faces…

By now you know that this is not that kind of story. Their heroes were annihilated, demolished, torn apart. Milan capped off a wonderful performance with a 4-0 victory that would live long in the memory of all concerned. Of course, there were two voluble AC supporters in the bar who made absolutely sure that Dennis and Conrad experienced the full humiliation of the evening. How considerate of them.

What a calamity.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Blockbuster Medical Invention

A leech, a bedbug and a mosquito go into a bar.

They all order the same drink and, even though they have to pierce the skin of their prey in order to sup, all leave with their thirst quenched. Their victim is none the wiser.

The barman enquires, “How’d you little devils manage to stab that poor blighter without ’em noticing?”

None of the three can speak English, or any other human language for that matter. That would be ridiculous. Do keep up. Anyway, they nonetheless answer as truthfully and honestly as they can – by drenching him with their spit.

Once we synthesise the anaesthetic qualities generated in such saliva, the brief painful prick of the needle will be a thing of the past. More importantly, this breakthrough will aid in any number of operations and treatments, helping ameliorate or even eliminate the suffering of countless patients.

As in so many other cases; if you want to find the next great scientific advance, look to nature.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Birthday Bash

She may be a jolly good fellow, but she’s nowhere to be seen.

A great big party laid on in Sinéad’s honour; champagne, balloons, firecrackers, the works. Family wrangled in from all over to toast the occasion. Her mother had toiled ceaselessly to make it an extravaganza to remember…but the girl herself had done a bunk. AWOL. Hadn’t even the forethought to mention where she was going.

If he was honest, Pascal would admit that he got a kick out of it – he loved seeing intricate plans come a cropper. It was probably why Greek tragedies appealed to him; Sophoclean irony, or something along those lines. He tried to behave in the appropriate manner as his parents fumed…but you’d have needed industrial bleach to wipe the smirk from his face.

The dowager of the house, Eileen Noonan, was getting steadily more irate – doubtless as the young lady herself was getting steadily more drunk. Eventually, long into the night, just as the tension inside reached its apex, the doorbell rang. Pascal could barely contain his schadenfreude-fueled glee as he let in his sozzled sister. Quick as a flash, Mrs Noonan confronted her prodigal offspring in the hallway.

“Where have you been?” demanded the humiliated old dear.

“Out”, came the impertinent, impetuous reply.

THWACK

Pandemonium. The slap, dished out by way of retort, literally knocked Sinéad off her feet. Suddenly Pascal’s amusement evaporated; his teenage sister lay prone, practically out for the count, while his mother was being physically restrained by her quick-thinking eldest son. Good old Conor, braving the flying-fists to get between mother and daughter. No, it definitely did not seem so funny after that. As Pascal would put it later, ‘Nothing like physical violence to put a dampener on an evening’.

The subsequent apology by the mater familias left a lot to be desired too, given that Pascal felt that it was transparently insincere and uncomfortably manipulative. He dared not speak to Sinéad about it, but he did come to his own conclusion: The smack served to illustrate why his sister had walked out of her own party without notice – if you had a mother like that, wouldn’t you want to escape her too?

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Your Behaviour is Suspect

The line went dead. I quickly put the phone away and, with eyes closed, pinched the bridge of my nose.

Shit.

This was exactly what I had been afraid of – and, presumably, precisely what the authorities had intended. Picking me up in a cop car, in broad daylight… Not exactly subtle, was it? Yet my ego had convinced me; of course they were sincere, of course they were interested in recruiting me! Dumbass.

They had sweet-talked, and cajoled, and complimented, and I had swallowed it all, becoming drunk with praise and attention. Glug glug glug… Flattery will get you everywhere, boys! What a picture of naivety I must have presented, an absolute sucker for fawning sycophancy.

No matter that, after coming to my senses, I had rebuffed their advances. No matter that, in the end, my principles had held firm. No matter that I had ultimately turned down the offer to cooperate with their investigations. Who was going to believe it? “Oh, yeah, you got picked up in a paddy-wagon, talked to the gatekeepers of the establishment for a few hours, and then emerged none the worse for wear and, supposedly, untainted by the experience…”

I was a dead man. Or, at least, about to enter a long, hard period of isolation.

The phone call had confirmed it: A comrade affably informing me that she had seen the police pick me up the day before, and asking what had happened.

Sometimes there is nothing that you can do or say – the weight of assumption is insurmountable.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…🌟

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Skylight Through The Gloom

That was the moment Cliff changed his mind. Watching through a film of tears, he could not help but be moved by the scenes of celebration taking place below. He had loved her, no question about that…but he had also taken her for granted. This, his grand plan for winning Chloe back – his secondary objective to humiliate that prick of a groom, of course – was almost immediately rendered null and void.

From his bird’s eye view of events, he could only now fully appreciate the depth and sincerity of the affection his former paramour had for her new husband. The seemingly endless sea of congratulatory faces, the evident delight of all present, cut through the self-pity he had succumbed to for so long heretofore. Seeing her so relaxed, so free from anxiety, so happy… It somehow made him exponentially happier just to witness it.

He realised now that he could never do anything to harm her enjoyment of life. Chloe deserved nothing but the fullness of joy, she had earned her matrimonial bliss.

As Cliff retreated from the edge of the skylight, he knew it was time for him to move on with his life.

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Blarney about Blarney’s

After 6 months in Berlin, I’m feeling pretty well-ensconced in my surroundings, and nowhere more so than a little pub in Kreuzberg by the name of Blarney’s. As the name implies, this is an Irish bar, but don’t let that put you off; despite the abundance of green, the obligatory framed map of Ireland, the preponderance of shamrocks and so on, this is a very chill place.

I have yet to try the Guinness – on account of my paranoid distrust of any & all pints of the black stuff outside of the 32 counties – but they’ve got Berliner Pils on tap and that more than does the trick for me. They’ve also got bottles of my favourite soft drink in the world – Fritz Kola natürlich – and they never have problems with their taps, lines or kegs for their various drinks vom Fass.

Then there’s the barman and co-proprietor, Ecki. What a gent this man is… Thoroughly charming, he’s the friendliest German in Berlin – which is lovely, as Berliners do have a tendency to be somewhat reserved at first – and cannot do enough for his clientele. He’s particularly generous to his regulars, bringing drinks to wherever they’re sitting and carrying away the empties whenever required.

My beloved Arsenal were the first reason I ventured to this part of Berlin; it was the nearest place I could find that would show their matches. I subsequently discovered that the place is the home of Berlin’s Arsenal Supporter’s Club, and has been since 2002. Whisper it, but Ecki is in fact a Manchester United supporter (boooooo!) but he is always affable and wishes us Gooners luck before every match (yaaaaaay!). Not for him the tiresome exchange of insults and negativity that pass for ‘banter’ in the UK & Ireland – just absolute affability and willingness to get along. My kinda bloke.

The regulars are a great mix of young and old, with 20 year old fellow Arsenal supporter Fema being the youngest drinker I’ve come across and some other barflies at least in their 70’s if my amateur estimation is correct! It’s a very family-friendly establishment too, with the most entertaining aspect of watching this seasons clash between the Gunners and United at Old Trafford being the vocal encouragement & protestations of a young Arsenal fan who had obviously been brought by her adoring parents – she may have been less than 10, but she was ten times more dedicated than the rest of the club following that day! Point is, the environment is a warm and safe one for any & all patrons.

I’ll certainly be there this Saturday, cheering on the Arsenal with the usual crew – John, Alex, Peter, Ned, Fema, Mad Jens et al – and only having to nod in the general direction of Ecki to have a pint brought over to me. Ah, bliss…

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Solidarity, brothers & sisters…☠

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