December, 2012

  1. Serf Victims

    December 17, 2012 by Christopher Buxton

    When the hero/heroine smashes their way into the baddy’s stronghold, the first people he/she encounters are those employed to guard the place. These anonymous workers are mown down in hails of bullets, have their necks broken in silent karate moves, they’re stabbed, blown to pieces by expertly thrown grenades, spread-eagled by crossbow bolts. In films they’re played by cheap Eastern European extras and nobody gives a second thought to the characters they play.

    Only occasionally I consider their back stories. When the baddy built his base, as always in a faraway backwater of economic deprivation, our typical bloke and his family were probably starving. Now with his wages paying for breakfast cereal, his wife probably wished him another good day at work that morning, little knowing that by the evening he would be lying dead by his master’s gate. The master of course will have had time to make his incredible escape to ensure parts 2,3,4 of the franchise. But with his departure, our bloke’s wife and children will die of some poverty disease and be buried in unmarked graves.

    What passing bells for these who die as cattle

    The prank carried out on Kate Middleton’s nurse reminds us that in real life as in films there are folk destined to be circumstantial casualties. As the DJs pointed out in their defence, they could never have foreseen that the intermediary that they fooled would go on to hang herself.  Like the baddy’s guards the nurse was just a fence to jump over – not a human being with family and feelings.

    We don’t need I’m a celebrity: get me out of here ritual humiliations to grasp the underlying truth that all celebrities are baddies. Those Ozzie DJs must have been as cock-a-hoop as Bruce Willis to have penetrated the inner sanctum of the British Royal Family. Kate Middleton with her acute morning sickness was no more human than Blofeld.

    But then the Serf gatekeeper goes and commits suicide. She’s left a distraught husband and children and those DJs who imagined golden careers in the future have had to go into hiding.

     

    Small afterthoughts

    In Disney’s cartoon version of Robin Hood, the expendables were rhinos and generally they weren’t killed but made to look extremely stupid.  I am sure Good King Richard kept them employed.

    In BBC’s family orientated Merlin, there was some tiny consideration given to a young pretty druidess killing an old guard in cold blood. She shrugged her shoulders and called him a casualty of war. Nice Arthur condemned her to die, not because she’d killed a serf but she’d tried to kill him and wouldn’t say sorry.

    She was duly hanged off camera. It’s good that the BBC has introduced the topic of Capital Punishment to the family Saturday night supper table.


  2. 3 poems from the seventies

    December 6, 2012 by Christopher Buxton

    Moving house you turn up stuff from the past.  You meet your former self.  Here are three poems I wrote in the seventies.  They reflect my love of Bulgaria and one particular Bulgarian woman:

    TO BURGAS

    I

    You kings of old Bulgaria

    cloaked in the knowledge

    of treachery

    danger in the swirling snows –

    the suffocating sun and dust

    of armies on the plain

    on the march – a throw of the dice;

    a kingdom

    a knife in the dark;

    your foreign queens and jealous lords –

    close your eyes in the peace

    of sky and sea:

    do you see

    from the idle fishing boats

    bobbing, raise your eyes

    as if in vision on a shimmering day

    see

    Burgas now raise its white towers

    from the salt marsh.

    II

    Burgas never so beautiful

    as after a shower:

    the tarmac and the concrete

    glisten with a metal sheen,

    reflecting dissolving

    the harshness of the blocks to

    a mirage of white towers

    clean against the blue sky

    the gurgling gutter

    three yellow leaves

    the whisper of an endless

    red bus.

    III

    Water flows across the way

    some day

    between Nessebur and Sozopol

    you kings of old Bulgaria

    in a mosquito second

    pause gaze

    on the silent heights

    of faceless windows in the sky

    fortresses of daylight throng

    the shore where

    your armies disappear.

     

    THIS MONTH’S BLUES

    Rain dashes on my window, wind blows round my door

    I got no minute to myself to break this aching store.

     

    I lay with my baby all on my lovin’ bed

    but the sleeping sickness got me turning my limbs to lead

     

    When the rain falls on Burgas, seems like there ain’t no time

    chased by the winds and loving becomes a crime.

     

    Don’t you know it’s mean to travel on a number four bus

    Your baby’s upset and she’s going home to face a fuss.

     

    Wind’s blowing in Burgas, blowing the sun away

    But when the sun comes back I’m gonna lie with my baby all day.

     

    SONG FOR SOFIA

    (after getting marriage documents)

    Sofia’s a lady I sing this song for you

    To some you’re just Shopski but to you I’ll be true.

    Though your gallery is painted in a shade of shocking pink

    And your cafes don’t sell coffee and I can’t afford your drink

    In the trolleys and the buses you stamp upon my toes

    and round your Russian monuments a cold wind blows

    But now the sun is shining I’ll shout with all my breath

    Sofia, Sofia I’ll love you unto death.

     

    Sofia’s a lady I sing this song for you

    though people just sneer Shopski to you I’ll be true

    Be true to that office girl who nodded and who smiled

    as long awaited documents into my hands she piled

    Be true to those old men who just gave a smiling glance

    as I burst into the sunlight, kissed the papers, did a dance,

    be true to those young girls who handed me a flower

    Sofia I love you more and more by the hour

     

    Sofia’s a lady I sing this song for you

    And though the lady’s Shopska to you I’ll be true

    In this city in the sunlight my happiness is sealed

    With hard to find taxation stamps the wounds of love are healed

    Though the waitress brought me moussaka when I distinctly ordered soup

    Even by the mausoleum I can’t restrain a whoop

    From your majestic theatre to your snowy virgin peak

    I’m in love with you city.  I’m a shopski freak.

     

     


  3. On patriots

    December 4, 2012 by Christopher Buxton

    Dr Johnson defined patriotism succinctly and perhaps unfairly as the last refuge of scoundrels. I say unfairly because for me there is a vast difference between patriots and people who call themselves patriots. What has never changed is the alacrity with which self declared patriots label as unpatriotic folk who care deeply about their country. Sitting smugly on their moral high-mound these self declared patriots feel they have done sufficient. There is no need to engage in any rational argument with those whose views they disagree with.  If they expend any effort at all it is to find or invent personal details that will blacken the names of their opponents. The high mound they sit on provides sufficient mud.

    Thus it was in the US during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle. Folk who cared sufficiently about their country to have their heads broken by the Chicago police were routinely labelled as unpatriotic by self appointed moral guardians.

    New interpretations of a country’s history that challenge comfortable prejudices are sufficient to provoke paroxysms of self induced anger from the patriot brigade. This is particularly true in a country that is in the throes of complex transition and ruled by a government whose principal concerns are its popularity and looking after its own

    The history of Bulgaria contains one uncomfortable and inescapable fact. For five hundred years Bulgarian speakers across the Balkan peninsular were subjects of the Ottoman Empire.  These five hundred years have been routinely labelled as a yoke, as slavery, as oppression even as holocaust or genocide. But little has been written up to now about the day to day reality. It is sufficient for patriots to know that with the rise of nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth century brave revolutionaries and brigands sparked revolts through the Balkans that provoked horrific reprisals from the regular and (more significantly) irregular forces of a now failing empire.

    There are obvious parallels with the British Empire in regards to India, Ireland and Kenya. Only that the British were far more brutal.

    Like the British, the Ottoman Empire left its tangible legacy.  Many Bulgarian towns still have medieval mosques. Bulgarian language still contains many colourful Turkish words and expressions. Arguably these five hundred years played a key role in the formation of patriarchal moral codes. There are significant pockets of ethnic Turkish populations and Moslem Bulgarians – sufficient to ensure a continuous presence in the Bulgarian parliament and even as coalition partners in previous governments.

    However any Bulgarian who seeks to study Bulgarian lands under the Ottoman Empire runs a terrible risk. Unless he/she just trots out the accepted black and white mythology of vile Turks and brave oppressed Bulgarians, he/she will be labelled as anti-Bulgarian, agent of foreign enemy powers – the equivalent of being labelled a paedophile in the UK. Consequences can be dire. Any statement about some of the positive aspects of life under the Ottomans will quickly be seized upon by furious patriots and transformed into the shit-blanket accusation of denial. It is as though any critic of the current Israeli government is immediately labelled a holocaust-denying anti-Semite.

    As a parenthesis, the use of the word mythology is meant in no way to discredit the truth that lies behind strongly held shared beliefs about the past. Misunderstanding of the academic use of the word mythology has led to one woman being driven out of her home by a mob enflamed by the patriotic media– just like the paediatrician in England wrongly labelled by the Sun as a paedophile.

    And so my former otlichnik pupil Tony Georgieff has had his personal life raked over by the patriots. His crime has been to collaborate with a historian and archaeologist to publish an objective and beautifully illustrated book about the Ottoman legacy in Bulgaria. His picture has been published on a blacklist of “Bulgaria haters”.  He has been accused of being a CIA agent and Turkish whore.

    I know what some of my Bulgarian readers will be thinking. Buxton’s English.  The English have always been pro-Turkish.  So to even up this article let me praise the writer Orhan Pamuk who has dared to take on his “patriotic” fellow Turks in addressing the Armenian massacres. This terrible blot on the history of the Ottoman Empire has been a taboo subject in Turkey and it takes a real patriot to dare raise it.


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