Archive for September 2010

The day I left the trade

28.9.10 § 7 commentarii

As those who are friends with me on Facebook will by now know, I once again find myself among the ranks of the unemployed.

For the past three or so months, basically since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I've been visiting a therapist weekly for CBT[1]. I initially didn't bother telling anybody at work, as I don't like wearing my mental health difficulties on my sleeve. However, I let the manager know, as I felt that I owed him an explanation for why I was requesting every Monday off. He was highly supportive, and obligingly let the kitchen staff sort out our own rota, which gave me every Sunday and Monday off.

About three weeks ago, we had a change in management at O'Murphy's. The new manager hasn't made a great first impression, on either the staff or the regular customers. She's ridden roughshod over the pub's running, and managed to successfully alienate virtually all of the employees: which is quite an achievement, given that during the three weeks of her tenure so far she's only actually been on site for a total of seven shifts. Staff morale has taken a nosedive, and it's more than a little apparent that any the staff no longer take any pride in their work. Being old in cunning and hospitality industry politics, I had resolved to simply keep my head down, get on with earning money and escape at the earliest possible juncture. Little change, really, from before she started: I've been applying for jobs and looking for a way out for a while now.

It's also apparent that where the previous manager believed that delegation was the key to good management, that left to their own devices a group of motivated, well-trained staff need only the lightest hand to guide them; the new manager believes firmly in central direction by a strong hand. One might say that if a manager's central role is to "lead the team", the previous manager's emphasis was on "team", while the new one's is on "lead". This kind of micro-managing control freakery has always been anathematic to my personal management style, but each to their own. It was no surprise then that she un-delegated the kitchen rota and took charge of it herself (in between the business-critical tasks of rearranging the canonical order of condiments on tables and inventorying the lemons). Initially, we thought little of this, just letting her know that we all had commitments on certain days, and would appreciate it if we could have those days off on a regular basis.

However, when the rota for this week was posted on the noticeboard last Tuesday, I noticed that I had been rota'd on for this Monday. I knocked on the door of her office and asked for a moment of her time. She asked me if it was important, I replied that it was about the rota. She told me that she was extremely busy and she'd come and talk to me later. Shortly afterwards, she left for the day and absented herself until Saturday evening. By now I was used to her lengthy absences, so on Wednesday I spoke to the Assistant Manager, who said that he would sort it out for me and arrange cover for Monday.

So yesterday, I was somewhat surprised to get a text message informing me that I was still on the rota for the evening shift. I phoned in and pointed out that not only had I spoken to the AM a week ago about this, I also had a pretty unbreakable commitment for that evening. The new manager told me in no uncertain terms that I didn't have a choice about this, that if I wanted the day off I should have spoken to her about it. Pointing out that she was never actually there didn't go down too well, and she suggested that it was somehow my own fault. I tried to explain about having an appointment with a therapist, but she cut me off, said that my mental health wasn't her problem and told me to buck my ideas up. I could either come up with a "better reason" for not doing the shift, or arrange cover myself.

One of my most uneradicable character flaws is my pride. I'm not a particularly humble person, and have problems with people bossing me about. Being treated with a lack of respect tends to trigger a species of cold rage in me. Now, at this juncture I could of course have simply backed down, cancelled my therapy appointment and done the shift: and apologising for raising my voice on the phone most likely wouldn't have gone amiss. However, I had sensed an affront to my dignity. To back down would have been an assault on my personal sense of honour. My bluff had been called.

Ever willing to cut off my nose in order to spite my face, then, I sat down and wrote the following letter:

Dear ________

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation, effective immediately. I regret the inconvenience that this will cause to my colleagues, but circumstances leave me no choice.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of my colleagues, past and present, for the support they have afforded me during my time at O'Murphy's. I would also like to wish both the team and yourself the best of luck. I am sure you will all need it.

Deiniol Jones

Still seething, I took this off down to O'Murphy's. She was behind the bar.

"I assume you've come to apologise for the way you spoke to me earlier?"

"Could I talk to you in private, please? It won't take long."

"Oh, I think it will, I have a few things..," she began to say. I cut her off.

"No, it won't. Unless you're a slow reader, of course." Which was probably somewhat unwise of me. I didn't care, by this point. She asked me to come into the office and sat down. I stayed standing.

"You asked me to come up with a 'better reason'. I think this should cover it."

With that, I chucked the letter down in front of her and turned to leave. She stopped me by the door:

"And what's this?"

"What do you think? It's a note from my mother," I said and walked out. A couple of seconds later, she followed me and called out:

"You do know that you're barred from the premises for six months now? It's company policy." One of the barstaff overheard this and pointed out that it wasn't at all, it was just petty. Ignoring the manager, I went and kissed the barmaids on the cheek and told them to take care of themselves.

And now, it's started to actually sink in. I've walked out of yet another job: this must be the tenth. And all because of my damned stiff-necked pride. Again.


1) Don't Google this acronym, for the love of god. In this context, it refers to "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy".

This week at Jones Towers

19.9.10 § 6 commentarii

I have mentioned before that I am not an especially houseproud man. Indeed, it would be fair to say that, I see housework as a tedious and unnecessary distraction from reading and drinking[1]. However, on a semi-regular basis (three times a year, on average), the squalor will get on my wick to the degree that I go nuts and have a marathon cleaning session.

Happily, last night and this morning, the planets were found to be in a felicitous conjunction. The auspices were taken and found to be favourable. And so the wrath of the household spirits was propritiated and the living room was mucked out. As ever, this mammoth task proceeded in three stages:

  1. Return books to study. A perennial problem here at Jones Towers is that of book storage. I have far more books than shelf space to keep them, the result of which is my library being scattered throughout the flat. This doesn't actually bother me too much, as I always know exactly where everything is[2], and it's always handy to have something to read in the loo. Nevertheless, it tends to look untidy, and any cleaning attempt must begin with at least a token effort to place books on shelves.
  2. Excavate the floor. In order to facilitate hoovering, everything is taken off the floor and piled on the settee. Bank statements, bus tickets, junk mail, pizza boxes, plates, discarded underwear, woollen gloves from last winter, empty cigarette packets etc. Everything comes off the dining table at the same time.
  3. Purge room of all extraneous matter. The stuff on the settee is sorted into a number of piles: stuff to be shoved into other rooms and forgotten about; stuff that is demanding money from me which I'll deal with first thing on Monday, honest guv; stuff to be chucked. The last pile is always by far the largest. This time it took up three black binbags.
  4. Evict unwanted flora and fauna. Old fat spider spinning in a tree! Old fat spider can't see me! Attercop! Attercop! Won't you stop, Stop your spinning and look for me! And so the spiders and dead flowers leave the room.
  5. Polish all wood. I'm a chippie's grandson, and get quite obsessive about wood. Virtually all the wooden furniture in the flat was acquired from charity shops or municipal tips and then lovingly restored by yours truly. As such, when I talk about polishing wood, I don't mean a quick squirt of Pledge and some business with a duster. Out comes the wood oil, beeswax balsam, shellac and differently-graded cloths. This always takes a couple of hours, but I find it immensely satisfying. It also leaves the flat smelling pleasant (if you like the smell of beeswax and shellac polish, obviously).
  6. Hoover. Preferably in a classy pvc miniskirt and pink halterneck, of course.

Having done all that, I am now in the blissful period wherein I sit and enjoy the sense of achievement, and the scented candles I'm burning to dispel the stench of cleaning products. Given that there is unlikely to be a similarly happy occasion again this decade, I thought that I would post some photos of what my flat looks like. In the grand tradition of my masters and betters in this discipline of blogging (hi!) then, let us begin this tour of the headquarters of the Moriconian Socialist Resistence.

1) The Parlour

Recently renovated and with a southerly aspect, the combined living/dining room of this charming property is a versatile and person-centred space. As you can see, the east-facing wall is currently adorned by various bits of tat tasteful objets d'art:

In many ways, the front room is primarily a reflection of my taste, while the study (with its shelves full of model robots, cars and aeroplanes) is a reflection of my beloved's. There's a bodhrán, a rugby ball and a sword: which gives three interests of mine that I don't believe I've spoken about here before. The small pile of books on the shelving to the right is mainly Latin poetry: the top one is the Loeb edition of Martial's Epigrams. The big brass oil lamp on the pile of books was a housewarming present from my mother-in-law: it's the very devil to keep clean.

The table in the centre is my surrogate hearth: the old chimney breast being on the eastern wall was a fortunate coincidence. While nothing like as tasteful as Mark's altar, I quite like its austere simplicity. There's a close-up below:

The statue is indeed blood-soaked, not through any conscious intent but as the result of a bizarre chain of events while moving in six years ago. That little black book marked "breviary" is an old Moleskine notebook in which I've written most of the prayers which have featured on this blog and its predecessor. A sample page:

I say that this room is a reflection of my taste, but I'm not actually allowed to have a proper bookcase in here, which is inconvenient. Instead, we have a massive rack of his DVDs:

2) L'Atelier

You've seen my kitchen before, but in order to refresh your memories:

As you can see, it has wonderful views. Some days even go by without me seeing any drug deals or fornication at all!

Of those cookbooks, I only make regular use of two: Il cucchiaio d'argento, a compendium of Italian cookery containing pretty much anything you could wish to know, and The Cooks' Bible, which is more a book of techniques than recipes. I bought it to replace my old college textbooks, which alas perished in a fire when I was particularly drunk. The benefit of the Bible over professional catering books is that one doesn't have to scale back the recipes: it is particularly disheartening when one discovers that the only recipe for blanquette de veau in one's collection is marked "to serve 40".

There are two bilingual puns in this image. A prize to those who spot them both.

(No, it's a rolling pin.)

3) The Facilities

For contrast, here is one room which has not been cleaned recently. The bathroom:

This picture has been deliberately under-exposed, in order to disguise the grime. However, two things can be noted from this picture:

  1. This bathroom is used exclusively by two men.
  2. The men in question have a somewhat freestyle approach to personal hygiene

(It's actually a bottle of shower gel.)

Finally, as a bonus feature, here are two photos of me. The first I took yesterday evening, when beginning this cleaning:

And this is the requisite "after" shot, taken this morning when the cleaning was finished off after I got up. I look so haggard due to the bottle of wine I drank to "help" me through the task:


1) Fortunately, the necessary tasks of personal hygiene can be performed while reading/drinking. I am a firm believer in staying in the bath until either the water goes cold or the wine runs out (whichever happens first).

2) For example, until this morning I knew that should I need to consult it, I could find Yaron Matras' Romani: a linguistic introduction in the kitchen, between Il cucchiaio d'argento and Baldi's Foundations of Latin. Similarly, all my books on religion were to the left of the settee, while Greek to GCSE was next to the Harpic in the bathroom. Now they're all in a pile in the study and I have absolutely no idea of what's where.


5.9.10 § 3 commentarii

Creddū dū U̯irūi, trebnā ad·i̯o aget bitun canti dedmin cou̯arin.
I believe in Truth, the order which animates the world according to the sacred laws.

"Truth" is an incredibly important concept among Indo-European peoples. Witness the Zoroastrian dualism between aša "Truth" and druj "Lie" or the Vedic concept of ṛta, which became dharma in later Hinduism. Closer to home, we have the Irish concept of fír flathemon "the ruler's truth", without which the land will wither and die. It should be clear, of course, that I am not talking of common or everyday "truth" here, such as one might tell when owning up to eating the last of the biscuits. Rather, I am talking about Truth as a fundamental force of reality itself. The Sanskrit adjective meaning "true", satyá-, is derived ultimately from the present participle of the Proto-Indo-European root *h1es- "to be" (as is the sooth- in English "soothsayer"): etymologically then, for the Indo-Europeans Truth was simply "that which is". Truth is not a statement about reality, but an expression of reality itself.

I am no philosopher: I simply do not have the intellectual toolbox to describe concepts like this accurately or adequately. Honestly, I rather feel like a fool grubbing about with pebbles in a darkened cave trying to explain mountains. As such, this is all rather ignotum per ignotius. Ultimately, however, this concept is probably best explained with a cosmogonic aside. There are two forces or principles at play in the world, which we might term "order" and "chaos". Although we have a natural inclination to think of order as "good" and chaos as "bad", it should be pointed out that the they are mutually interdependent and devoid of what we might perceive as moral qualities. Order without chaos does not grow, becomes still, brittle and dead. Chaos without order is growth unchecked: cancer. The maintenance of the cosmos relies on both principles. Truth then is the regulated interplay between order and chaos: the harmony between them which animates the cosmos.

In the ancient Greek world, the followers of Pythagoras refined what has been called the "triadic principle". Quoting the modern Pythagorean John Opsopaus: "it is based on the idea that there can be no meeting between opposites, and therefore, for there to be a Harmonia, or Union, of the opposites, there must be a Mean Term, which has something in common with each of the Extremes. The Mean Term both connects the Extremes, but also keeps them separate by occupying the gap between them. Therefore, as we will see, Mediating powers are also Separating powers." If chaos and order are the ultimate opposites, then the harmony or mean term between them is U̯iron "Truth", or ṛta, or aša. A rather more elegant and thorough exposition of this concept than mine can be found in the writings of Ceisiwr Serith, who refers to this concept as "the Xartus" (from PIE *h2értu-, from the same root as Sanskrit ṛta and Avestan aša). Not only is there an extended discussion in his book Deep Ancestors, but there is also a brief introduction on his website.

Metaphysical speculation aside, what are the quotidian implications of "believing in Truth"? As I believe that Truth permeates, underlies and animates the universe itself, I also believe that it does the same for my daily life. Truth, in being a mediator between order and chaos, is ultimately a relationship: the relationship if you like. As Emma Restall-Orr (in that book on ethics with the ghastly title) emphasises, human life is essentially all about relationships: with other humans, with gods, spirits, the universe itself, even the relationship one has with oneself. Believing in Truth exhorts me to integrity within all of those relationships: a striving to work with the harmony of reality rather than against it. As such, Truth is both the source and end of Virtue: I believe that living my life with integrity and in harmony with the truth (u̯indoraχtā) leads to u̯indobii̯on a blessed life.

Creddū dū Tribo Sucenetlobo: dēu̯oi, andēu̯oi, etic senisamones.
I believe in the Three Good Hosts, the gods, the non-gods and the ancestors.

A tripartite division of beneficent non-human beings into "gods, spirits and ancestors" also appears to be of Proto-Indo-European vintage. The ancient Greeks spoke of θεοί, δαίμονες καί ἥρωες "gods, daimones and heroes" (where "hero" should be understood in the context of a "founding ancestor"), and the Lebor Gabála Érenn speaks of dé, andé ocus duine "gods, non-gods and men". In Vedic India we see a typical multiplication of forms, giving devas, pitṛs, gandharvas, apsaras and ṛṣis: pitṛs "fathers" and ṛṣis "sages" are easily reductible to "ancestors", while gandharvas and apsaras are essentially gender-specific kinds of "nature spirits", which gives us the classical triad of "gods, spirits and ancestors".

The three groups are not wholly distinct, however. The division is not watertight: there is some degree of bleeding between them. For example, is Sabrina simply the tutelary spirit of the River Severn, or a goddess in her own right? Why not both? Similarly, Augustus died and was then worshipped by his people as a god: is he then an ancestor or a divinity? The Romans record that the Gauls believed themselves descended from "Dis Pater": deity or ancestor? Or again, perhaps both? The urge to categorise is a human trait, but it should be remembered that some things and concepts defy neat categorisation.

U̯edi̯ū Dēu̯ūs, sindoi anmaru̯ātou̯i̯oi, sindoi ratomāroi ernant·i̯o u̯esu̯ās, sindoi areu̯orātoi trebnās en tribo rīgi̯obo. Arcū ambi eson aneχtlūi, etic are aiton sagi̯ū emmi·i̯o eson coimos.
I worship the Gods, the undying, the beneficent, the givers of goods, guarantors of order in the three worlds. I entrust myself to their protection, and strive ever to be dear to them.

A fundamental characteristic of the Gods is that they are immortal: they do not die. In the myths, this immortality is frequently attributed to the consumption of special food or drink: the apples of Iðunn in Norse myth, in ancient Greece it was ambrosia (etymologically meaning "immortality"), while the Vedic gods owed their immortality to Soma. In Celtic myth, this function appears to have been fulfilled by the Smith-God's feast. The Gods are also Good. This does not necessarily mean "nice", or good in a way that is immediately apparent to us humans. What this means is that the Gods are fully "in tune" with the Truth, it is part of their nature: they "do not govern [Truth] so much as immanentalize it," quoting Terence Day. Both of these attributes are in contrast to humans: we are not immortal. We have to work at living according to Truth. So, what do the Gods do for us? The most universal epithet applied to the Gods throughout the Indo-European world is "givers of goods": they provide us with health, wealth, courage, good fortune and so on. They also stand between us and the forces which would disrupt the harmony of the universe.

(An aside: the trī rīgi̯ā "three worlds" alluded to in the text is a cosmological statement interpretable in a few ways. Either the classical Celtic triad of "land, sea and sky", or the frequent Eurasian cosmology of an "underworld, middle-world and over-world". In the latter, the underworld is the realm of the dead, the middle world the habitation of humanity and the over-world that of the gods.)

The Gods protect their followers. This much is evident throughout the myths. They do not exercise this protection indiscriminately and without favouritism, however. We have to hold up our end of the bargain as well: we have to entreat this protection, to bind ourselves to the gods with ties of reciprocity. We must strive to become dear to the Gods: to develop our relationships with them.

Aremoni̯ūr Andēu̯ūs, sindoi trougocaroi ambi·i̯o pellant biu̯otutās doni̯on ac ageson. Aidulegesi ac boutegesi, u̯orstūnābin ac magesi, ro·buu̯ont mon u̯reχtou̯es dū eson monē.
I offer reverence to the Ungods, the benevolent spirits who encircle the life of men and cattle. At the hearth and in the byre, at the door and in the fields, may they watch over my deeds.

The second category, the Ungods (andēu̯oi, Old Irish andé) is possibly the most problematic. Plato defined the Greek equivalent, the daimones as "supernatural beings between mortals and gods," which is as good an etic definition as any, leaving room as it does for a variety of types. In this category fall what are commonly referred to as the "spirits of place", the Roman numina and genius loci. Similarly, we can include here the lares and di penates, the guardian spirits of the home and the storecupboard. Closer to home, we might well speak of the tylwyth teg, the helpful fairies of Welsh folklore. It is possible that the matres and suleviae, attested to in inscriptions from Gaul and Britain were household spirits of this type.

Personally, I see them as the children of the earth goddess, in the same way that the Roman Tellus was associated with "Mater Larum", mother of the lares. In south Wales the tylwyth teg was also known as bendith y mamau, the "blessing of the mothers"- another connection to the matres. In another example of how these categories of supernatural beings can bleed into one another, it has been speculated that the Roman lares were in origin ancestral spirits.

In my personal practice, the most important of the andēu̯oi are the guardian of the threshold and the guardians of the storecupboard, both of whom are offered regular reverence at the new moon.

Moni̯ūr Senisamonās, mātres ac atres mon u̯eni̯ās. Sindoi trebant·i̯o en lissobi cintuatros, creddū ernant·i̯o pēllan ac concoron dū moi au andubnū. Ro·gnisām u̯indobii̯on canti senognāstās, canti adilon ateoinācī ac ategnātī.
I remember my Ancestors, the venerable progenitors of my family. Those who dwell in the halls of the first father, I believe that they offer me their wisdom and guidance from the otherworld. May I live a good life according to their customs, in the hope of reunion and rebirth.

Reverence for one's ancestors is seemingly universal throughout Indo-European religions: even Zoroastrianism reveres the spirits of the dead, albeit lightly disguised as the fravašis. The ancestors, I believe, watch over their descendants, offering their advice and the benefit of their experience: whether one wishes to see this as a combination of memory and family stories or actual communion with the dead. I also believe in reincarnation, that after death we are reunited in the Otherworld with those we have loved in life and subsequently take on new bodies in this world to live again.

Aside from reverence to these recent ancestors, I consider it a religious duty to find out as much as I can about the beliefs and customs of my more distant spiritual ancestors. That is the essence of reconstructionism: learning about the gods from the ancestors.

Arecrinū dūsi̯ūs, sindoi nāmantes selgant·i̯o orābi bitous, sindā gāu̯ā ro·i̯o slouχset albii̯on. Canti sudedmātan cantic u̯indoraχtan, ro·nertasātor U̯iron u̯rit sodesūs nāmantās.
I fear the evil spirits, the enemies who stalk the edges of the world, the Lie which would engulf the world. Through right sacrifice and a righteous life, may Truth be strengthened against them.

The final clause speaks not of a threat of hellfire, or of bogies to scare people into doing the right thing. In fact, it is in a way a statement of sacrificial theology.

Returning full circle again: the Pythagorean triadic principle states that everything has its opposite. Where there is the Truth, the harmony which animates the universe, there is also the Lie, which would see that harmony disrupted. I believe it is one of the highest duties of the believer to fight against this Lie, even as the Gods do themselves. One of the most powerful weapons in this fight is sacrifice. Aside from being a communal meal, shared between gods and humans and thus cementing reciprocal bonds of hospitality between them, a correctly performed sacrifice is a re-enactment of the primordial cosmic sacrifice which set the universe turning. With each sacrifice, the world is made anew: each sacrifice makes the world a better place, even in a small way: Truth is strengthened and the Lie is weakened.