Sex at six

When I was six, my uncle ejaculated into my mouth while I was half-asleep in his house. It happened at least twice that I remember and probably more often. Children sleep so deeply that sometimes not even such a disturbing event wakes them. In the morning,

I vomited my Corn Flakes and milk over the table the next morning. This was interpreted as homesickness, believe it or not. In the white vomit, there were sticky globules whose exact consistency I remember to this day. Semen also has an unmistakable smell. It was mixed with the milk that I disgorged and I drank milk only reluctantly after that.

When I was fifteen, I became severely ill. No medical reason could be found for the illness, which caused me to lose 17kg of body weight in two weeks. I was delirious at night and began to wander in my sleep, screaming incomprehensibly. Children did not have nervous breakdowns in those days so such a thought would have been ludicrous, despite the fact that there was not a single medical abnormality to be found. After the episode, I told my mother that I no longer liked milk. I have never drunk milk since. She assumed that it was a side effect of whatever frightening illness I had just escaped and counted her blessings and mine.

My uncle had come from outside the family and was somewhat revered by many within it. My uncle and aunt had no children at that time and used to entertain me in their home at the weekends. This was viewed by my parents as a sort of training for when they had children of their own. It is not difficult to persuade a six-year-old to stay the night in a strange house. I was given a present of a toy car each time I agreed. To a six-year-old, the threat of the removal of a new toy is enough to ensure their silence and so I did not tell anyone what was happening. I had absolutely no doubt that I would not be believed.

Harvey Weinstein has been exposed. However, even after he had made out-of-court settlements with numerous women and the New York Times had published the famous article, Oliver Stone and others said that they would not denounce him until it had been proven in court that he had perpetrated the crimes of which he was accused. Even Harvey Weinstein could be heard referring to his entitlement to a second chance. After a half dozen out-of-court settlements, it would actually have been a seventh chance. Only when the evidence became overwhelming did Oliver Stone finally denounce Weinstein. His statement referred to overwhelming evidence. It was not the quality of the evidence or of those giving it that finally swayed him, but the sheer amount of it.

When faced with irrefutable evidence from a sting operation by the NYPD that involved a young model, the New York district attorney judged that there was no case to prosecute. Because the evidence came from a single individual, it lacked the weight of multiple testimonies, even though it was so obviously damning.

In this age of information, we have all fallen into the habit of disbelieving what we read or hear until it is corroborated multiple times and with sufficient consistency in terms of method and opportunity. If one person speaks up, we simply do not believe him or her.

This was the situation in which I found myself as a six-year-old. I was alone in a world of adults, one of whom was doing things to me that I could not comprehend. Adults became the group that I feared most of all, so I could not look to that group for help.

Sexual assault is a difficult situation to explain. The best that I can do is to compare it to the deposition of a filthy, indelible black mark on the soul. The victim whom nobody believes has nowhere to go but inside him- or her self, where the filthy black mark resides. They gradually assume possession of this foreign object and take it in as their own, for the simple reason that it will not leave. They provide a haven for filth that is not theirs, but is something that they have inherited.

The mark is indelible, as I have said. It never goes away. The best that any of us can do is to learn to live with it, get it out now and again and look at it and try to derive some meaning from it.

Nobody would have believed me if I had tried to speak forty-eight years ago. It does not matter now. What matters is that the next time you hear a single individual cry foul, try believing them first and not ignoring the cry as fake news.

I applaud all of the women who spoke out and the journalists with the New York Times, not only for their courage, but for their understanding of human nature. We do not believe the lone voice in the wilderness any longer. We need a chorus of voices. We do not even rate stories of individual personal harm when there are so many stories of genocide and human suffering on a colossal scale. We only have time for the big symphonies.

I am a part of another very large group of humans who can’t get together in one chorus because their stories concern many individual predators. They lack that resounding choral harmony that makes their stories palatable to the court of public opinion.

I am very happy that the women whom Harvey Weinstein abused have one song to sing because at least they are getting justice. At the same time, I also know that there are others who may not sing very well and who have no accompaniment. In this great Britain’s-Got-Talent competition for fairness, we do not even make it past the door of the regional trials.

The man who assaulted me is still alive and living a fine life of retirement by the sea. He has gone unpunished. When I thought about reporting the incident, a very nice, calm barrister who was a friend of a friend came to my home and spelt out the hurdles that we faced in gaining a conviction. The assault had taken place thirty years previously and a child’s memories are not always reliable. It would be my word against his so the Criminal Prosecution Service would probably not even entertain the case. There was even a chance that the man would take pre-emptive action and find a friendly member of the media who would expose me as a hysterical fanatic. He was not imagining these events and warning me. They were recounted as historical fact.

In the end, I decided not to take things any further. The single biggest problem with my case was that the evidence came from one person. If even one more victim had come forward, the case would have been a more likely prospect. I needed a harmony line for my song to make it palatable.

The person who ejaculated in my mouth and ruined some very important parts of my life for forty years has never been punished. He may even read this article and decide to sue me for libel. Frankly, I could not care less. I am no longer afraid. I am still a weirdo, but I am not a frightened weirdo. If he took me to court, others might find a voice and then we would have a choir to which people would finally listen. I am sure that there are others out there who have the same song to sing. The evidence of the Weinstein case shows that this sort of animal is a recidivist.

Isn’t it about time that decent people started believing each other as a first option?





Northern Heat

Rain is a gift. It washes the land of dust and grime and it permeates the soil to feed the plants that feed us: well, most of the time it is.

The small city on the east coast of Taiwan where I live has just had 900mm of rain in three days, after one of the longest dry spells in history and after the longest prolonged period with temperatures in excess of 34 degrees since records began. You might think that rain after such a long drought would be welcome. You’d be wrong.

The average annual rainfall for the city, which is approximately 60km north of the Tropic of Cancer, is 2000mm. We had almost half our annual rainfall in three days. When rain falls as it did over the past weekend, it does much more harm than good. Many people have never experienced tropical rainstorms so if you need a reference, think about walking through a waterfall and you’ll have a rough idea. To give you an idea of the amount of rainfall that we had, the average annual UK rainfall is about 800mm and the wettest cities in North America get an annual rainfall of about 1100mm, so in three days we had the amount of rain that most of you see in a year.

You might think that the farmers would love it. You’d be wrong. Rain that is this heavy destroys crops and washes millions of tonnes of soil into the rivers and off to the sea. That is soil that cannot be used to grow crops in the future. The most vital farming real estate literally floats away. It also rushes straight to the rivers and down to the sea. Unlike rain that falls in more manageable amounts and which is stopped before it reaches a river or the sea and sinks to replenish the water table, the rain that we have just experienced creates rapid torrents that rush straight off the top of the land and leave the water table unaffected. The water table, which is falling annually, is not replenished, so next year’s crops will have less water than this year’s.

If the farmers don’t love it then surely the authorities must be glad that the reservoirs are full again. I’m afraid not. The water that fills the reservoirs is full of debris because of the destructive power of such a large body of water moving at high speed across the surface of the land brings dirt that clogs filters and larger pieces of agricultural detritus that smash them, so the repair bill is astronomical. The only solution is to remove the filters for a while and allow the filthy water to flow into the water supply.

Ten years ago, when I first came to Taiwan, there were one or two big storms a year and a rainy season, during which the water table was maintained at a fairly constant level. Most of the rain fell outside the times of storm and although the showers were extremely heavy, rain fell in manageably small amounts and a high percentage of the groundwater was retained by the land. In the recent past, more of the rainfall has occurred in short bursts that destroy more than they feed, so it is wasted rain. The steady supplies of rain that feed the land have not been seen for many years.

Water is not always the gift that it seems. Vietnam, Laos and southern China are experiencing similar problems with rain that is useless, so the price of vegetables is rising. Instead of a steady supply of rain in the early summer and fairly regular downpours throughout the hot months, when the crops need it, the typhoons are coming later because the seas are hotter and the rain falls at a time when many of the fields are fallow.

There are still sceptics who do not believe in global warming. One of them is the president of the United States. A factor that most of these sceptics share is that they live at latitudes that are far from the Equator. The greatest effects of heating are naturally first felt in the areas of the earth that are hottest. The more extreme effects of climate change are now being regularly felt in Northern California and Portugal, which are at latitudes of about 38°N. By my calculations, the most extreme effects of climate change in the Northern Hemisphere are moving northward at about a degree of latitude per year, so northern Europe has about another 12 years of grace.

Many people tell me that we are mad to think about returning to Ireland, which is at 54°N, and has weather that still produces natives who have a strangely pale blue complexion. We are not mad. We are just doing what most humans do naturally in that we are gravitating towards heat. One subtle difference in our strategy is that while we still can, we are moving a full thirty degrees of latitude northward to swap searing heat that creates chaos that is beyond any human control for heat that is still manageable and a climate that is still bearable, although imperfect in other respects. I have come to the conclusion that the reason why the sceptics so obstinately refuse to believe what is right before their eyes is that it is not before their eyes: It is all happening ten to thirty degrees south of them.

Go north young man.




Finders and Keepers

Nine years ago: before all of the glorious frustration that is compromise, or love

Finders and Keepers

My wife and I were married on October 10th, 2008, so we have just made it to nine years together. They have been the happiest nine years of my life, but my wife still hankers after the single life sometimes.

All love is defined by compromise and all of the things that make us think about giving up love are defined by selfishness. I am a keeper and my wife is a finder. Of all of the challenges to living together, this tiny niggle is the one that most stimulates my instinct for selfishness. You may now choose to raise your nose in my direction, mount your high horse and proceed at a gallop to your ivory tower but we all have moments in any relationship when the misery of the present completely obliterates the joy of the past and any hope of a better future seems at best distant and at worst impossible.

For me, this happens every time that I try to find something in our house. I’m a keeper. Keepers find a routine and keep to it. If I have to put something away, I find a place to put it and I always put it in that place, so that I or anyone else who wants to find the thing that I have put away knows where to find it instantly. This is my interpretation of kindness, consideration and compromise. If you want to use something, remember where you found it and put it back there so that anyone can find it. You don’t have to go to the trouble of learning about me and guessing where I might want to keep it. The object is in its place. The place never changes.

My wife is a finder. She enjoys the quest and believes that it has a purpose in and of itself. She likes to get inside the mind of the person who puts something away and delve into the recesses of her imagination to construct her own model of his or her mind. She builds a picture of the use to which an object might have been put and then inserts the user into that picture to unearth likely places where she might find the object of her desire. The quest becomes a surrogate for a shopping trip that would be more expensive and probably not nearly so meaningful. It reveals other hidden treasures that have gone unnoticed for ages because the person (mentioning no names) who used them did not put them back where they belong. Sometimes she picks up these things from places where I have put them and takes them further on her quest, leaving them hidden in a new place that she quickly forgets. She experiences the joy of new discoveries and she learns more about my habits. The entire searching process becomes a cohesive symbol of love because it is defined by compromise and it forces compromise from me, the next time I want to find a treasure that she has “discovered” and put in another place.

Her argument for finding is the same as my argument for keeping. My system allows two relative strangers to rub along in harmonious separation. Hers allows two people who love each other to clash regularly and find out a little bit more about each other.

All of you who spend long hours neurotically tidying so that you can have a perfect, ordered and fulfilling life are welcome to put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The one thing that really makes me simultaneously depressed and relieved is that my son is following in his mother’s footsteps and not mine.

Happy anniversary to us and long may the frustration continue.


Clean Sweep: Update on Progress

October 3rdrd, 2017:

I started this book in 2007, but it became three books. The first book in the trilogy to be published is the last: “Footprints in the Cheese”. “Clean Sweep” is the first in the trilogy. I started writnig it as a single book last spring but I’ve reached a roadblock on the plot. I made the mistake of starting the story without really knowing where it was going. It has finally stalled at about page 140.

An idea will come but while I am waiting for it to present itself, I am going get on with writing my fifth book, “Fear the timid Man”, for which I have a great plot with a beginning, an ending and a middle. That will probably be ready before Christmas 217.

Most of my ideas creep up on me quietly while I am expending intellectual effort on something else so while I am writing novel number five and waiting for Nature to take her course. I am sure that the details this novel, which is number four but will actually be number five, will eventually reveal themselves and I hope that you get as big a kick out of what my mind constructs while I am not looking as I do.

All of this will sound fairly chaotic to anyone who has never tried to write a book but perfectly normal to all of those who have. Inspiration comes of its own will and in its own time and knows no spur, but when it eventually comes, it knows no bounds.

Sometimes, writing books is the art of remaining strapped into a stationary rollercoaster until long after everyone else has gone home; sometimes, as with my fifth novel, which is actually my fourth, it is the art of climbing over the carriages of a moving rollercoaster to reach the front so that I can see where it is taking me before things get out of hand. At the moment, I’m scrambling over the second carriage just as the front lunges over the brink of the big dipper. Who knew that making black marks on a page could be such fun?

Nothing is bigger than the little things

My family are not with me as I write this. They are in Taipei for the weekend, visiting my wife’s parents. I woke up this morning to silence. I usually wake up to the sound of my seven-year-old son’s voice asking me questions about the nature of black holes or stars, the best design for a paper aeroplane, the biggest ever example of his chosen animal of the day or the possibility of getting chocolate or a lolly that day. It’s a little thing, but when it is not there, nothing is bigger.

My wife and I both spend a lot of our time at home because this is the also the place where we work. Do I miss her presence? Of course I do, but that is a big thing. What I most miss is her sudden laughter when she finds an amusing piece of news or a post on Facebook that takes her fancy. I don’t miss her laughter. She laughs a lot. I miss the specific type of laugh that erupts into the silence of the house like a promise of sunshine. When something goes away, it is gone, but when a promise goes away, the hope that it inspires vanishes. I miss the hope that I will learn something new about her when she tells me the story that made her laugh.

I have to renew the brake pads on my car today. It is an easy job that is complicated only by the oppressive heat that refuses to dissipate because our earth is simmering. I would never allow my son to come too near the dangerous dust that brake pads shed when they are removed so I won’t miss his presence, but I will miss turning around and seeing him perched cat-like at the window, observing everything and preparing a litany of intricately crafted questions that would make me instantly regret that I did not allow him to help me, because explaining the process would take longer than the process itself.

The big things really don’t matter. They are tiny in the great scheme of things. The little things are the threads that sew the big things together. They mostly go unseen, but without them, there is no way to associate the big events with each other and make sense of life. Being a sufficiently good parent is an aspiration that I never expect to fulfil but I can aspire to appreciating what I have, because despite having quite a lot, what I really have is a lot of very little and I am grateful for that.

It has been a long two-and-a-half months of enforced silence and constant gnawing fear for my family’s safety and my own. I have found a way to translate my very real fear and anger into something that is much more significant because it is smaller. I have a new book on the go, which is called “Fear the timid Man”. It is a little thing, but it is not quite as little as the littlest elements of my life. Size really does matter, but not in the way that you might expect.