Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Regret Is All

Regret is all, it's only human
An emotion with an intimate audience
The tinge of shame and imperfection
And the taint, for we were never innocent

For some can never descend the mountain of regret
They can't let go of the history or even decide to forget
Forever revisiting the past, vivid scenarios replayed
It's hard to live in the bed of remorse that they've made

Questioning whether the requisite words could have been found
Or whether alternative actions could have been summoned
Standing on the verge, poised between restraint and impulse
Rueing whether different actors might have changed the outcome

Communal regret is often the essence of cultural memory
To find oneself laying down markers of collective identity
Intimations of free will weighed against chaos theory
The direction of the arc of time and missed opportunities

Regret is all, it's a deficiency disease
Testimony to the fallibility of memories
Or sometimes to a surfeit of imagination
The raw materials of life, regret is an imposition

boy on steps of crumbling castles

Regret, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
Vaguely related: Decision to Forget. The theme is buyer's remorse.

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Writing log: March 31, 2022

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Safe Harbor

My hope is to disappear into you
Dissolving slowly as you forget my name
When our first encounter becomes a distant memory
And the phantom sensation is all that remains

Streams of thought, the quality of evanescence
Happy to be wrapped in a blanket of impermanence
Ephemeral traces, the comfort of a mood marker
It was in your very self that I found my safe harbor

sumi swirls

Safe Harbor, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

See previously I Daresay

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Writing log: March 10, 2022

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Waiting for the Pope

The Pope and Archbishop were coming
And so we waited in the morning sun
Sensible, well pressed skirts for the girls
Boys in sharp shorts, our khaki school uniforms
At the behest of stern teachers and chaperons
We all made an effort to tamp down our ruffian ways
Arrayed, or rather displayed, in formation at the roadside

Earlier, after assembly, we'd marched out of the school gates
Passing through the dusty streets of North Ridge
And made our way to Ring Road, all the while chanting
Oh the heat, the hours passed without a sighting
No water, no snacks, but the novelty of the excursion compensated
Seven year olds will find their own entertainment
Serene and papal, we practiced our hand waves
Then, inspired, tried out our Polish-accented English
"Holy, holy, very holy... I bless you, my children."

In the event, after all that, it was a two minute affair
No popemobile as it turned out, a rather sober procession
Cars bearing dignitaries preceded by the motorcade
Cheers, such cheers, and a mad scramble
We bore witness

A slight man in the flesh, pint-sized
Can't say that he was larger than life
Still, you could have sworn he looked you directly in the eye
Made you feel a connection even at the roadside
Our healthy skepticism of catholicism was almost overcome
The great man theory, we'd learned some kind of civic lesson
We savored the escape and managed to wrangle a further hour of fun
Then slowly, very slowly, made our way back to North Ridge Lyceum

ghana stamp pope john paull II archbishop of canterbury with president Hilla Limann 8-10th May 1980 20 pesewas

Waiting for the Pope, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
education church or state

See previously Articles of Faith and On Catholicism

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Writing log: March 28, 2022

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Brow of Discernment

The kind of man that says unexceptionable and significations without irony
His every pronouncement comes weighted with ballast and profundity
The stylized pomp is deadly earnest and has no end
Behold, in its full glory, the brow of discernment

The arc of his thought, it is said, bends toward the contrarian
Witness his long-standing battle against the conventional wisdom
Very important this man, and altogether immune from mistakes
Forget the previous discourse, here comes the definitive take

Dizzying opinions fervently held to all appearances
Beneath a surface layer of puffery and self importance
Self identifying as a public servant of mankind
Truth be told, he is a legend in his own mind

Much like his peers, say, the mustache of understanding
And erstwhile nemesis, the bow tie of fulsome waxing
A mouthpiece to righteous blather,
   ever prone to attacking cartoon villains
Sample accusation: unlike him,
   "no one is thinking about the children"

Aspirations of grandeur,
   capital's spokesman-in-chief
Empire's useful idiot,
   providing oligarchs comic relief
Forever flirting with the masters of the universe
Still there's something staid about him,
   he's cool's dour obverse

Paradoxically, one can point to
   a thin veneer of past competence
Before the turn to punditry,
   there were some tangible achievements
But hubris is all these days,
  riding high, he's nigh invincible
Try to pin him down though,
   you won't find a guiding principle

His stock-in-trade is outrage,
   yet he's always on the side of angels
Labels galore in his arsenal,
   he knows how to turn the tables
Throughout, he's surprisingly adept
   at knowing where the money is flowing
Mind you, he always checks first
   to see which way the wind is blowing

Backslapping repartee as befits the unctuous
His prose style never varies from the oleaginous
His days of punditry rather embody the savior complex
But when caught out, his words were "taken out of context"

Observe well,
   his penchant for bonhomie and folk wisdom is rather notable
With his idiosyncratic way with the mixed metaphor,
   he remains ever quotable
"Rising empires never sleep on blankets
   forged in the fires of benign neglect"
Car crashes have been caused
   while trying to decipher his arch concepts

Humanity is always on the precipice,
   society is always at the crossroads
Norm policing is his business,
   he's prone to pearl clutching episodes
So quick to assume the pose of the supercilious
Even as he proudly wears the badge of the incurious

After prefacing his remarks with a counterintuitive statement
Comes a nod, that's when you'll find him fully in his element
His favored weapon finally ready for deployment
Raised and furrowed, the brow of discernment

Presentation Pete - Natty Dresser Pete

Puff, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. Self regard is everything. (spotify version)
See previously: A Taxonomy of Useful Idiots

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Writing log: March 24, 2022

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Bassa Bassa

Off kilter, your life is bassa bassa
Just look at the mess that you've made
Believe me, you need to shape up
You've really got to change your ways

Your affairs are bassa bassa, in such disarray
And your finances, oh well, what more can I say?
Always looking for a bailout to get you out of trouble
"It's just a small loan, I go pay you tomorrow."

Your room is hopeless, it's so bassa bassa
How can you even cope with this kind of disorder?
It's the dregs. Dirty things piled up high in this ghastly hovel
Can't find anything, and let's not mention the smell - it's awful

And as for your bassa bassa love life, don't get me started
What's that phrase these days? Entanglement
   Ah! So much drama.
My friend, how many hearts must you leave broken?
And for God's sake,
   how many phone calls must you be dodging?

You're not a child anymore,
   this kind of life will catch up with you
I have my own troubles, you know,
   I won't always come to your rescue
If you make your own bed you can lie in it bassa bassa
Don't be surprised if you get burned when you play with fire

bassa bassa spring cleaning chaos

Bassa Bassa, a playlist

A wild and disorderly soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)
See previously: Never Never Man

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Writing log: March 21, 2022

Monday, January 22, 2024

Extra Time

The familiar arc of disappointment
The sweet scent of repeated failure
Once again facing the brutal letdown
The aftermath of howls and moans

First the raised hopes, the glimmer and uncertainty
Then, almost immediately, the check of expectations
The unavoidable, inevitable opening of the wound
And still, the surprise at the ultimate fall from grace

Welcome back old friend Disappointment
With your chants of recriminations
Welcome heartache and disbelief
Come snuggle up with me

extra time collapse ghana-mozambique afcon 2024

A Familiar Arc, a playlist

soundtrack for this note (spotify version) After: an extra time lapse by the Black Stars (January 2024)

See previous installments: A Familiar Arc (2017), Could have been / Should have been (2014). You'd think I'd be prepared by now...

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Writing log: January 22, 2024

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Solemnity Premiums

Buried on Ash Wednesday, the reading was from Revelations
"Come", said the preacher, the message was an invitation
But to the funeral goers, the reference to Lent was no consolation
When in the throes of grief, there's only frustration
We sang Abide With Me, but there was no returning
For the loss was so keenly felt, it was all consuming

The tributes were read, brief and poignant
She'd trained us well, we were considerate
No one lost composure, the mask didn't slip
This was in Bristol, after all, stiff upper lip
Thousands of miles from home, with a virtual audience to boot
All of us dressed tidily in the most sober of black suits

Something was missing, however, it was the sounds of cries
If we were back in Ghana, clearly not a single eye would be dry
Imagine! The queen of Makola market,
   a woman so redoubtable
We were duty bound to celebrate her life
   by causing good trouble
To make a scene, bassa bassa,
   to weep uncontrollably on the side
For when your heart is so rendered,
   there is no keeping the soul quiet

baba blanket reverse (2)

Solemnity Premiums, a playlist

A stiff upper lip soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
See previously: Another Zoom Funeral

After Auntie Naa Abia Mary Mould

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: March 10, 2022

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Decision to Forget

With the full knowledge of what lay ahead, he chose
And this was no mistake, there was no buyer's remorse
Having climbed, at length, this mountain of regret
He'd made his peace with the decision to forget

True, the burden of remembrance exacts a fraught bill
The expense is paid in the currency of time and goodwill
It has a cumulative effect, all this cognitive friction
Such is the implicit weight of mental processing

It would soon become second nature, adapting to this loss
Yes, he accepted upfront the great transaction costs
This pose of his, that some would term selective amnesia
Was merely his favored strategy for resisting nostalgia

pompidou metz model 3

Decision to Forget, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. Cultural memory is my enduring theme. (spotify version)
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Writing log: March 10, 2022

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Heidelberg Tavern Massacre

We'd passed the tavern on the same night
   but decided to go somewhere with more color
We woke in the morning to hear on the shortwave radio
   about an overnight massacre

As a good journalist,
   Mum grabbed her microphone and tape recorder
As a journalist's son,
   I made sure to grab my notebook and camera

No breakfast, we made our way to the scene
   from the university guest house
Checking the maps, we parked the rental car
   as close as the police allowed

The news didn't make for the best start
   to tomorrow's New Year
Ominous really, indeed,
   the country was in a state of suspended fear

It wasn't how we were planning to spend our short vacation
But the journalistic impulse is a lifetime occupation

Then again it was South Africa, forever on the verge of doom
There were elections planned in April, 1994 loomed

Heidelberg tavern massacre Cape Town

The BBC didn't have anyone in Cape Town,
   no boots on the ground
For things had not been as heated there as in KwaZulu-Natal

But now we could see the commotion,
   the heavy police presence
Flashing lights, weapons everywhere,
   and the sounds of sirens

Truth be told, it really felt as if we were in the middle of a war
Darn it, I had run out of film.
   Luckily, I spied a convenience store

Walked in briskly and asked what kind of film they had
Noting that I preferred Fuji but would gladly take Kodak

Taken aback, the shopkeeper,
   it felt as if I was integrating the shop
Ah right, should have known better,
   they'd never served black people before

The way he was startled, as if I had come in the wrong door
Was in the wrong place, an affront, and sullying his shop floor

It was so over my head.
   Had they really never been ordered around by my kind?
Well anyway, their countrymen would soon be doing the same,
   it was about time

"Where are you from?",
   a latter-day attempt at small talk over the counter.
"I'm on holiday, Sir. Came from the States.
   But I'm originally from Ghana."

"Ghana." "Yeah, West Africa."
   Rands proffered gingerly, patterns of exchange
I picked up water and a Twix bar.
   I told the owner to keep the change

Dad used to regale us with stories
   about his cohort of African diplomats
Integrating New York right after independence.
   This country was a throwback

I loaded the roll of film,
   would the memories I'd record be paparazzi gold?
Well it was South Africa, 1994 beckoned.
   Who knew what life would hold?

heidelberg tavern massacre - mum

Mum had already walked up beyond the security cordon
Her microphone a kind of spear that opened all doors

Looks of grudging respect from the soldiers and police officers
Badged as she was as a live representative of the foreign press

There was a local journalist on the scene
   who seemed to appreciate a colleague
It's not everyday that this kind of carnage
   comes to your quiet streets

It was only as she drew nearer
   that it struck me that it was a near miss
That it was only a matter of luck
   that we weren't yesterday's victims

This was the enlightened part of town
   where races supposedly mingled every day
Surprising really that the tavern would be singled out,
   a real case of dismay

An hour away, Khayelitsha had been rough,
   but this was quite different
This was the day, I guess,
   that Observatory had lost its innocence

Elsewhere, of course,
   Buthelezi's people and the ANC were going at it
That was the background of disquiet
   that was giving most of us fits

True, there were rumors of the apartheid death squads,
   the rearguard action
By and large however, on the ground
   there was a lot of empty posturing

Albeit we were learning the vocabulary of bloodletting
The country at large becoming connoisseurs of necklacing

But this was a terrorist attack plain and simple
Shooting up a bar out of some misguided principle

Students and others winding down the year
   with music and alcohol
Left for dead, maimed or injured,
   and now a cautionary symbol

   it's not that I'd discounted her war stories about being shot at
   even as I was well aware of journalists' occupational hazards

This was the new South Africa
   whose leaders were lawyers who spent time debating
At inordinate length, the finer points
   of the mooted constitutional provisions

heidelberg massacre - mum inspects damage

"It's bad." Onlookers murmuring, sidewalk symphony
"It's bad. They seemed to have shot up outside."

She gestured for me to come past the police tape.
"Come, you're my photographer."

"It's bad." What a refrain
"Oh it's bad. Damn." "It's bad." A chorus of pain

"Three dead at least." "How many?" "Three at least"
"It's bad. We don't know if the others will make it."

"It's bad." "What a shame."
"No responsibility declared." No one to blame.

"I counted ten, oh god. What a scene, it's bad."
"They found a bomb, it could have been even worse."

"Bomb squad was here. It didn't detonate. It's clear now"
"They say... You don't want to see inside. Believe me, it's bad."

"Come closer, take some photos."
   Not quite as intrepid, I was staying behind the tape.
Unabashed, she came and lifted the tape,
   pulled me over to the front. "Go on"

"Right here in Obz". Afrikaner accent
"Terrorists. I can't believe it."

"They should clean up the blood. It's bad, it's upsetting."
The broken glass dispersed, shards everywhere.

"It's bad. Oh, it's bad. I tell you. It's bad"
"Station Road. Right here in Obz. Oh, it's bad."

"Who was playing last night?" "Josh... so sad."
"Is he okay? I wonder." "Oh, it's bad"

There was blood on the ground and this was the aftermath
"Oh, it's bad", I couldn't help but join in with the refrain.

heidelberg tavern capetown

It took hours to interview everyone and talk to the police
Bystanders and witnesses, shocked
   yet wearing that mask of normalcy

Later we went to SABC, to the main studio, to call in her report
Filed for the African service, and then filed another for Focus

We weren't sure how the story would go over,
   the party line from Bush House
The news cycle doesn't afford the complexity
   that a long report allows

This wasn't the kind of story that anyone wanted to receive
No hearts would be warmed
   by this tale of blood on New Year's Eve

We decided to not get the film developed.
   Her copy would have to do.
By the time we finished reporting,
   it was late afternoon

We'd been so caught up that we'd forgotten to eat
   and now we were hungry
Thankfully I remembered my Twix bar,
   the cheap snack came in handy

We drove past the tavern again
   on the way back to the guest house
Canceled any nominal plans for the night,
   we'd had more than enough

Back in our rooms, it was time for some quiet reflection
   We were shaken by our proximity to this unseemly action

Cape Town devoid of music, and turned into a place of hurt
Pain unbounded, the whole country holding its breath

The broken glass at the Heidelberg Tavern,
   death at the barrel of a gun
We would bring in the New Year very quietly that night,
   mother and son

heidelberg tavern cape town

Soundtrack for this note

The great guitarist Josh Sithole was holding court as ever at the Heidelberg Tavern on the night of the massacre. He was lucky to escape with his life but some of his audience, and someone from the next door checking in on what was happening lost their life. Casualties of a senseless deed.


Thirty years ago, I filled my notebook with some of the above impressions, I had yet to take everything in. I am still to write about the rest, what I later learned about the victims, the families and indeed the perpetrators. Having published my photos of the tavern online, I was often contacted as the legacy of the trauma was debated and processed over the years. All in good time, I suppose.


Lost in Obs is an artwork commemorating the tragic events.

See previously: Truth and Reconciliation

I nominate this slice of life for The Things Fall Apart Series under the banner of The Rough Beast, which asks: who is writing the script?

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Writing log. Concept: December 31, 1993. February 3, 2022

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

To Hunt the Wren

The Wife and kids will occasionally catch me enthusiastically singing a quite eccentric song, To Hunt the Wren.

It seems to tickle their funny bone as it's quite a bit different from my usual soul/jazz/blues/hip-hop fare but, well, there's a story there...

To Hunt the Wren is an old English folk song that is typically sung on Boxing Day as it commemorates a tradition where townsfolk would gather in the morning around Christmas to go hunting the titular wren - wrens being those cute (and tasty) little birdies.

The lyrics, as I recall, are:

Where are you going?
To hunt the wren
This Christmas morning calls for hunting them
How will you kill him?
With sticks and stones
Hatchets and cleavers honoring his bones
And so forth.... The bloodthirsty quotient quite accentuated by repetition

Anyway... people who attended my boarding school might well recall choirmaster's Alan Vening's arrangement that the whole school would spend a entire term practicing, I believe we had a school-wide Christmas performance; To Hunt the Wren was a big feature during my time there.

I guess it was a combination of the striking lyrics and the inspired arrangement that caused the song to be so firmly imprinted in my mind.

(Or perhaps it was the savagery of those English tribes that the song laid bare)

The felicitous way the tongue curls around "Hatchets and cleavers" is satisfying in its own sweet, merry way. In it, we can hear the deep origins of Maxim guns and future paeans to Rule Britannia.

The verve of the call of response too was fitting and had some swing to it. You wouldn't guess how often the "How will you kill him? / With sticks and stones" refrain is heard in our household, thirty odd years later.

Still the kids are quite blasé about the troubling lyrics - I suspect early exposure to such things fortifies the soul readying them for this neo-feudal world of organized gleeful violence visited on a (mostly) defenseless wren.

The imbalance of power. Peace starts at home.

To Hunt the Wren does have a certain incongruity in its imagery. For one the fascination and flair it finds in the act of killing. This is plainly a hands-on affair albeit with sticks and stones.

And then there is the fact that it is a single wren that is being hunted by the gathered crowd. Communal catharsis, perhaps, in the ceremony of blood. Is this a kind of Sussex scapegoating at work? Stonehenge atavism? Middle England savagery? Who knows?

The hunt of the wren does takes place after all on Christmas morning just days after the winter solstice. A celebration of harvests to come, the depths of these dark times, the light ever increasing going forward. I suppose you can deconstruct further meanings from the tune.

The web being what it is, you can hear the song for yourself. Sadly the online versions will never approach the melodious peaks that stay in my memory. The lyrics and arrangements are quite suspect, says this expert. Trust me, you'll have to come my way to hear the real thing

I notice that Natalie Merchant sings a version in her latest album!

These takes are far more mournful than what I grew up with. Interesting an Olde English sense, but they don't quite spark joy in the same way. Where is the joy, I ask?

So imagine, if you will, me crooning the peaceful coda on this Boxing Day morning
Yay and so amen
Yay and requiem

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Writing log: December 26, 2023

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


Places are a part of you, they leave their imprint
As they burrow into your pores, piercing your second skin
Slowly at first, then, before you know it, you're a local
Affecting the manners and outlook, and reciting idées fixes

The fabric of nostalgia is connective tissue to time and place
That, even as your body faces the present, your soul lingers
Tracing invisible boundaries in sand, affirming kinship
Even at a distance, you can't suppress the great longing

Phantom organs whose purpose is revealed on later reflection
Their notional contribution is to supply a sense of balance
Their stamps of indelible ink are charged with memories
Such are the identity markers of modern travelers

You touch, tentatively, as if to revive that feeling of old
The sound of the streets you roamed, that playground you owned
Grasping to decipher the messages weighted with meaning
The lost stories are outlined faintly in the veins of belonging

stamps african countries collage 3

Places, a playlist

I give you 120 or so neighborhoods of the mind, a musical journey around the world (spotify version)

This internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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Writing log: February 27, 2022

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

In a Moment

I. Solidarity

Without a common language, all we had was a stare
Yet a mere head nod opened an entire conversation
In the silent gesture there was the keen recognition
Of a fellow traveler, badged with the burden of loss
The sour journeys we'd taken to get to this place
The consolation of each other's presence assuaged all
We looked around at the others,
We realized: together we would stand.

II. Seduction

Without a single word, we reached an understanding
Intertwined with searching glances
Imperceptible pursing of lips
Involuntary flicks of the tongue
We would soon be wrapped in each other
Without a doubt
The rest was waiting
We looked at each other,
We realized: the game was on.

kagyah dancer

In a Moment, a playlist

soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)
See previously Close Contact

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Writing log: February 21, 2022

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Forgiveness and Love

Scars unforgotten
Marked the liminal landscape
Monuments of loss

We sought redemption
Escape from the memories
Refuge in the hills

Out there at night time
Relief in the melodies
We sang without end

Nature's comfort suites
Sleeping chambers of welcome
Forgiveness and love

aburi carved tree detail sculpture carving

Soundtrack for this note

See previously: Bloodbath, South Carolina and Until Such Time

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Writing log: January 16, 2022