memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for January, 2012

19th Nervous Breakdown

All the thousand pin-pricks of exasperation
All the thousand needles of annoyance
All the thousand grits of irritation
That we are heir to,
Accumulate drop by drop,
Month by month,
Dripping inexorably into my mind’s chalice,
Filling it, filling it to the brim
And then, pausing at the lip,
Surface-tension brimming
Suddenly spills over, silent wine-red tears
Flowing down the silver vessel’s curved side
Staining the white cloth,
Running down the table-leg
And spreading a damp pool
On the dusty floor.


The Witch-Finder General

Tuesday 6th July 2010
There’s this disgruntled old dear who just sits around all day doing nothing (don’t we all). What is different about her is that every now and then (about a once a month) she opens her mouth and out comes a stream of obscenity and profanity.
Ouch! Where can she have heard that one, I wonder or from what cess-pit of her subconscious did that come from? Let’s just say that it’s socially inappropriate and leave it at that.
She’s also a bit twitchy. It may be some form of Tourette’s Syndrome, I surmise, which is a bit unusual in someone who has lived in the same Portuguese village all her life. One day I mentioned her case to one of the care-workers and mentioned that it could be Tourette’s ; she stared at me, I don’t anything about that, she said, all I know is that she not quite up right up there and she tapped her head significantly.

(During the Middle Ages, I suppose she would have been burnt as a witch, so at least we’ve made some progress).

With the recent exposure of the extent of the systematic sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests of children in their pastoral care, a great deal of attention has been focussed on the Vatican itself. While watching one of the many TV programs on the subject I was astonished to learn that the Holy See actually employs an official exorcist and that this official, (with a PhD. in Demonology perhaps), is kept very busy, carrying out about 20 exorcisms a day!
It is hard to resist not falling back onto satire here:

Possession by the Devil, sir? It’s the first door on the left;
Being tempted by demons, Miss? Second door on the right;
Your cat is speaking in strange tongues, Madam? Just take a seat and The Witch-Finder General will attend to you shortly…

Joe Bloggs is a serial paedophile. He is tried by a Criminal Court, found guilty and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
Father Joseph O’ Bloggs is also a serial paedophile. But he is tried by Canon Law, found guilty and sentenced to a course of counselling and discreetly transferred to another parish. The local police are not informed and the victims are too ashamed to come forward.
That’s just not right, is it?  It really isn’t.


What a year!

It is about a year now that I published my book The Waiting Room.
And what a year it hasn’t been!
I travelled to neither North nor South Carolina. (Ditto the Dakotas).
I didn’t occupy squares in Tunis, Cairo, New York or London.
Rome, Florence and Venice knew me not.
I took a cruise down the Nile as far as Luxor only in my imagination.
(Q: What’s denial? A: The longest river in Africa) I didn’t read that on the back no cornflakes pack.
I didn’t take no lady to no fancy restaurant, not no how.
I neither witnessed nor wondered at the Northern Lights or the Southern Cross.
Yes, it hasn’t been quite a year!


I’m Home-sick

Noise, noise, noise
Loud voices cracked and graceless
Bounce around the walls
Of the chamber
Of my damaged skull.
Irritation blurs my vision
Sunspots inside my eye-lids.
I am depressed but I can’t think why.

The figures wrapped in blankets slump
Lacklustre and inert, crouched to
Withstand some in-coming stuff
The bombardment of imprecation
The barking tirades
The high whine of moral indignation
The boom of the opinionated
The squawking and the bluster
«Oh she’s so stubborn, that one»!
(No, not stubborn, just old;
Old and weary and quirky
Just as you will be one day my dear).

After the skirmish the captain has a debriefing session with his Sargent
–    Well Sargent, any casualties?
–    Yes Sir; one Sir, Fernandes Sir, blanket-job Sir
–    Was she stubborn at all would you say Sargent?
–    Ooh yes Sir, she could be so stubborn, that one!
–    I see. Anyone else?
–    Two others lightly injured Sir; they was caught in the-friendly-crossfire- of-verbal-abuse Sir.
–    Jolly good; any other business Sargent?
–    Yes Sir, permission to request transfer, Sir!
–    Good lord, Sargent, any special reason?
–    I am Home-sick, Sir.
–    But I thought this was your Home Sargent!
–    Yes it is, Sir, and I’m sick of it!

I am depressed but I can’t think why
I can’t paint, I can’t paint, my hands tremble so.
I am demotivated shred by shred
And please witness the dismantling
Of my fragile self-esteem.

I am on the terrace now,
Soothed by the cold evening sun
And contemplating a misshapen cactus
Against a brick-red wall.
On the terrace
In my peace.

«Midwinter-spring is its own season, sempiternal
Though sodden towards sundown»
So I think, quoting the Poet, as I gazed through smoky chimneys
Then lift my eyes towards the open sea.



When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 degrees Celsius.

The Russians used a pencil.

Pax Britannica

In the 19th century during the Pax Britannica people took an austere pride in being a British citizen. It was an unstated assumption of superiority of belonging to a people had subjected in a seemingly benevolent manner a quarter of the human race and held territorial sway over a seventh of planet’s land surface.
(Yeah, it was really great to be British in the good ole 19th century! Being a Citizen really rocked!)

Meanwhile, up north,
The dark satanic mills
Rained cotton-snow
Obfuscating black-stone

And the ragamuffin urchins
Scampered down the new
Sewers of London-town,
Their bare feet skittering and scrabbling
For a hold along the slimy
Dark little tunnels
Encrusted with human excrement
Regurgitating into the un-sweet Thames.

And up above the ladies and gentlemen,
Citizens of this brave new world,
Strolled in their laid-out parks
Exchanging gracious formulae
Out of sight out of mind.


My great-aunt Mary had the incredibly bad luck (and bad timing) to be stranded at Geneva, Switzerland, where her father had just taken over the British Chaplaincy for the month, on the 3rd August 1914, the day that the Great War broke out.
The day that the lamps went out all over Europe.

What’s in a name?

Has it occurred to anyone else that the right wing of American politics is becoming more and more paranoid and loony?
Barack Obama – there is something fishy, slightly un-American about his name Barack (actually it means «blessing» in Swahili, the language the President’s Kenyan-born father spoke).
No, what we need is a candidate with a good old American «Christian» name, you know like Mitt, Newt, Jed, Brett, Todd, Bristol, Chad or Tig.

As for Cutting Taxes for the Rich …. let’s not even go there.

The Fragment of Parchment (2)


Back to the impressive book which hosted the fragment, (see my post EAT YOUR HEART OUT, FACEBOOK pub. 30th June 2011), which merits further examination.
Here is the title page:

This is the first chapter:

And I can’t resist including some sample pages:

And the MAHRATTA page:


And finally the page with the fragment:


Now I don’t about anyone else, but I’m a bit rusty with my ancient Samarian script. What we need at this point is one of those forensic archaeologists know-it-alls who pop up regularly in films like The Raiders of the Lost Arc who will glance at it and give a glib solution.
Actually we have the genuine article, a scholar with a deep knowledge of Latin, ancient Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit and Hebrew and other Semitic languages. He also made a specialty of the Polynesian group (we found a Maori dictionary among his books). He was claimed to know 26 languages.
It is of course our great grandfather – the Rev. Gamaliel Milner, whose book it was.

He set out to identify the parchment. He concluded that it was part of ancient Samaritan manuscript of the Pentateuch – Genesis 36.
(Of course it was, how silly of me, it was on the tip of my tongue – you probably know the verse; it’s that rib-tickling one which enumerates all the sons and grandsons of Esau. His brother Jacob may have been the favourite but Esau’s family seem to have done alright for themselves).
Finally just to conclude, also pasted at the back there’s an intriguing envelope addressed to Rev. Selwyn & wife and a letter from «The Chief of the Samiratans» dated 1877

(He claims that the fragment is from the second book of Moses; note the cool correction by Gamaliel on the right side of the envelope just under the stamp)

The Fragment of Parchment (1)

The son of the Bishop Selwyn,
Who had been killed and
Eaten by New Zealand savages,
Rev. and scholar travelled in the Middle East.
In Northern Palestine he encountered
A form of Judaism at Nablus practised by the
Samaritans of Samaria.
He befriended the priest
Who gave him a page of an old parchment in Samarian
Which later his widow Mrs Selwyn
Gave to my great-grandfather,
Also a Rev. and scholar, who pasted it
In the appropriate section of
The Bible for Every Land.


Let us follow the heavy green book
From the grand rectory at Gloucester
To the square-stone house of Thurlstone,
From the vicarage of Stannington
To the parsonage of Launceston
On the Devon/Somerset border.
Back again to Thurlstone
Where it languished for decades
Behind the red horse-hair curtain
In the corridor outside my father’s room
On dusty shelves of old/odd books.
On my father’s passing it was transferred
By road to northern Portugal where it rested for a couple
Of years in my little shelve-lined hall
Until the time came when circumstances obliged me
To end up in this place.
After four or five years, on emerging from the shadow-lands
Back into the light, I took down the heavy green book,
Found the old parchment
And it boggled my mind.



(To be continued)

The Angevin Empire

An excursion to the south- west coast of France during some summer in the early seventies.
… … After about a week we calculated that we had just enough funds for petrol, motorway tolls and tickets for the cheapest cross-channel ferry if we set off back immediately.

So we loaded up the back of my little red mini-van with two bicycles, two guitars, one violin, three back-packs with rolled tents and one crouching body and set off back up the long straight roads of France. We stopped at Poitiers (one of my favourite French cities) and crossed the Loire at Angers, with its massive and menacing castle, the nest of the Plantagenet counts of Anjou, who later became the English ruling dynasty for centuries.


(At the height of its hegemony, Henry II of England, through his marriage to Eleanor the only daughter and heiress of Duke William of Aquitaine, held sway over kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, baronies and lordships from Hadrian’s Wall down to the Mediterranean Sea – The Angevin Empire).
We picked up the auto-route du Nord, slept on the cross-channel ferry and flogged the flagging little van up the M1 behind one stinking truck after another, arriving in South Yorkshire feeling stiff, weary and crapulous.
At the end of that summer, being a little short of cash, I had to sell the car. I was really fond of that little red van, it never let me down.
It was my first car – and you never ever really forget the first one, do you?

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