Monthly Archives: December 2014

Gracias a la vida . . . (episode 53)

Corda strappata by 'Idea go.'

Corda strappata by ‘Idea go.’

December 26 1998

Castro Central Women’s Prison

I have been very ill Mum – and frantic with loneliness.

My eyes have ached in the dark. And there has been great pain in my head. I think I have been screaming, day after day. The glands in my neck have swollen.

Eventually, they opened the door: a door which never opens. And I could not bear the light. I think they brought a doctor for, if I died, might it not be embarrassing? The doctor spoke English. She said I had a rash on the backs of my hands, the tops of my feet, and she used the word Dengue. So then they brought tablets, day after day, and water to wet the heat of my lips. But the door, mostly, remained shut and the darkness stayed.

The only beat of a heart, that I have had, has come from the body of a rat. A female rat with babies in her belly. She has not bitten me. And I have not shunned her. This rat has kept me warmer than Austen ever did.

Over and over again, I have tried to remember some words from the Chilean song, ‘Gracias a la Vida’ (by Violeta Parra I think). I have not got it quite right, I know, but these are the words that have kept me alive and wanting, somehow, to vindicate my life, in the eyes I still have, and in the eyes of the world.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto
Thanks to the life which has given me so much

Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro
It has given me two bright stars and, when I open them

Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco
I can perfectly distinguish black from white

Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop

Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo
And, amongst the multitude, is the man whom I love

That’s all Mum. The door, which never opens, is opening now. They are lifting me out.

Hasta pronto



The blue mini-roundabout . . . (episode 52)

Image by Gregory Szarkiewicz

Image by Gregory Szarkiewicz

December 20 1998

401B Concrete Shacks

Hello Auntie

Sorry if my last missive was a little ‘Lake Woebegone Days’; it has taken some weeks, but I have managed to revive my interest in life – and the living of it!

It is perhaps due to having nearly been killed while cycling round one of Wortlewell’s – numerous – mini-roundabouts that I have taken a renewed interest in the state of local society. As you know Auntie – from your peregrinations round town in the Banger 0.9L – it is clearly set out in the Highway Code that one Gives Way to the Right on a roundabout. Well, on one crystal clear English morning – with scintillas of frost adorning the tarmac and the sky radiant overhead – I cycled towards one of these roundabouts. I was properly turned out, as you might imagine, with my black trousers tucked neatly into my Doc Marten boots and visibility unimpeded by my cosy-knit balaclava.

When I arrived at the junction markings, no vehicle was in the vicinity of the next approach to my left and so, naturally, I set off in a state of quite some confidence. To my horror, Auntie, in the next few milliseconds, a Volvo saloon raced towards the vacant approach and did not stop! Or, at least, it did stop with only several millimetres between it and me – for I screeched to a halt as well. Nobody said a word; I think we were both too paralysed by the miracle of our escape! Now, having gone back to examine the approach to this roundabout, the signage of it, and the actual state of the roundabout itself, I cannot think the driver of the car to be one hundred per cent culpable. For one thing, the approach to the roundabout is on a bend and, for another, the blue mini-roundabout sign is obscured by the branch of a large, evergreen, tree. And that’s not even considering the physical state of the roundabout itself – which is very small, flat to the surface of the road, and with its white paintwork virtually completely worn away! I do feel uneasy about the safety of the road at this spot for, sooner or later, I feel that there is going to be an incident. And that the incident may involve the possible loss of life.

Naturally, in my new position as a Wortlewell town councillor, I decided to agenda the matter for discussion at the next meeting of the transport committee. And this went as you might imagine Auntie! The Chair of the group seems to be a rather short-sighted (in the metaphorical sense) individual and certainly not of the mettle generally hoped for in a member of my own political party! When I suggested that the town’s ten mini-roundabouts could be enlarged slightly (to reduce the actual tendency to motor straight over them); be raised proud of the road surface (also to reduce the tendency to motor straight over them), and to be actually re-painted – this individual said that, of course, in an ideal world, there would be a budget to attend to these matters. She did, grudgingly, concede that it might be possible to saw off the branch of the evergreen tree which was obscuring the actual view . . . but added that it is not actually a statutory requirement to re-paint the markings on minor roads of any kind!

I personally Auntie think that she might be slightly biased against suggestions coming from councillors such as myself, who are members of the British Indigent Workers Party. And she has definitely now seen me attending the entrance of the Wortlewell tube station with copies of the Socialist Worker for sale! (I did eventually find the courage to resume doing this, rather than continue to be intimidated by the fear of what members of the local Establishment might think of me!) It is, I must admit, tempting to slink away from my membership of the Wortlewell town council – but attendance at these sessions is presently my only source of (legal) income!

I suppose things have improved slightly on a personal front. I did meet a young woman called Mandie at the addiction rehabilitation meetings that I am also required to attend. She is about my age and very neat. She also tends to wear black and white and is very clean. Actually Auntie, she suffers from that condition called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and comes round to do a lot of cleaning in my flat. In fact, she is always cleaning. I have never felt so clean. She rarely ever sits down. (It is hard to get an opportunity to put my hands on her small, taut, breasts.) Also, she keeps on mentioning fly spray. But I have gotten very fond of my pet house fly, whom I have named Cedric. His partner died. But Cedric is still flying past and sometimes sits on the arm of my chair. (I think he may have taken to hiding from Mandie.) I leave out empty ketchup lids – with ketchup and water in – for his sustenance – but only when Mandie is not around.

Yours in a bit of a state.


Note verbale . . . (episode 51)


12 December 1998

British Embassy

Dear Dame Tankful

Many thanks for your recent missive, which has been passed on to me by Graham’s secretary. Unluckily, Graham has stepped on a Cuban spiny dogfish while out snorkelling at the beach. Apparently his foot has swollen to quite substantial dimensions and we don’t yet have a date for his return. Indeed, I believe someone has spotted him reclining – foot up – in a deckchair at his residence.

Damn and blast it. Must rein in my post-prandial Rioja intake. I can’t be seen perpetually scuttling off to the privy.

With regard to the current whereabouts of your daughter-in-law, Harriet Tankful, I will – most certainly – pen a Note Verbale to the esteemed head of Women’s Prison Services and hope to receive a reply in the next 60 days (or so).

Which cummerbund shall I disport myself in this evening, I wonder? Perhaps the stripy pink one. I wonder if that little filly from encryption services will be there?

Forgive the brevity of my response dear Dame. Overseas correspondence is stacked before me at the level of my eyeballs.

Dear me. Where has my Alka Seltzer got to. This dyspepsia is certainly causing gyp. Perhaps an early snifter in the bar would be the thing?

Cordial salutations

His Excellency (interim)

Digby Willoughby


I am naturally having to do quite a bit of research when writing some posts – particularly if the subject matter impinges on international politics. I have therefore consulted one or two authorities on the subject of diplomacy in order to write the post above. I feel it is important to be even-handed in my characterizations of individuals occupying opposing ends of the political spectrum: neither the capitalists nor the communists therefore emerge unscathed.

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 50


December 5 1998

TO: Mr G Greene
Our Man in Havana
British Embassy

My Dear Graham

I am writing further to our recent telephone conversation regarding the predicament of my daughter-in-law Harriet. I am rather concerned because I have not heard from her for quite some weeks now. And while I understand that she must serve out her term in the Castro Central Women’s Prison, this total silence is perturbing.

I must say that I feel quite guilty for not having give her some proper advice when she first mentioned her intention to visit, in particular, the Havana Botanical Gardens. She is (was) such an ingénue that I thought she would simply stick to the usual tourist enclave – and not engage in activities of a more dissipated – and dangerous – nature!

And, of course, I was an ingénue myself when I embarked upon my long career with our Secret Intelligence Service. Back in 1957, I was not aware that – as a covert agent in a foreign embassy – I would eventually reach, and remain, on the list of Appendix Z personnel. In fact, in my early days, I don’t think I had even reached my eventual political conclusions. And these are: that democracy enables freedom and that communism – with its lack of freedom of political choices – suppresses it. I frequently think that most citizens in the UK of the present day, simply do not realize how fortunate they are to have: the freedom to choose their religious beliefs; vote for a political party of their choice; migrate freely across the European Union; absolute freedom of speech/expression; engage in self-employed enterprise, and benefit from the free movements of trade. For these opportunities, I believe, enable us citizens of the democratic world to be the best, and most, that we can be.

I am not, of course, saying that a capitalist democracy is without its (large) problems – and the economic (and other) powers wielded by the minority of its citizens looms amongst them. And then there is the greed – and solipsism – demonstrated by so many consumers which is a matter of some considerable distress. But then, in the darkest days of the Cold War, it was thought that greed would sink the capitalist state and this has not come to pass. For, at the end of the day, these governments have shown that they are possessors of values – embedded in the law and in their constitutions – which transcend all others.

But I digress. Exercise your diplomatic powers, would you Graham, and let me know how Harriet fares?


Evangeline Tankful DBE/ ‘C’ (retired)