writing from another someone not from where they are


​A friend asked me today about engaging in supportive activity in the context of a transgender group here in Sheffield. Firstly, I said, my son  doesn’t  attend anymore. And then somewhat secondly, I said that I don’t engage with those issues in an understanding, Softly Softly manner.  I understand it as rather like a wart or Beauty Spot,  something that expresses a deep feature of the social body. It’s something violent and expressive but not deliberate. it’s also not real. It doesn’t exist outside it’s generation. It is I suppose rather a Deleuzian type feature. A node. I’m not really a pacifist at heart. I respect transgender positioning but it’s something violent. It induces disgust or lust. But it’s not cuddly. The eventual moment, the anaesthetic, that is no piece of soft music. The idea the idea that it might be or could be is a profoundly fascist expression. The reason why we might eventually sterilise has the same rationale. Turn the music low, dim the lights, a sort of state organised never to be natural childbirth.



So, when in the past I asked some of my friends to let me record them telling stories I had in mind what we might call fairy stories, nursery stories. Something perhaps suitably rustic. When I went to sleep with them to record the stories comma because they were really keen on the idea. I explained that I wanted to has something to listen to, to help learn the language what’s the real name of it. Families were prepared and they started telling their stories. Understanding of the language was more limited at the time but even then I realised very quickly that’s what I was being told about was extremities of property back home. Some really almost obscene stories. I learnt the word football very quickly. I learnt the word for starving. I saw people mine acts with Knives.

Then another x I hear more stories of being back home. Of Sunshine. Of Greenfields. Of being able to be yourself.

So I’m going to use that as the theme if I can. I’m going to speak to my friends over the weekend and I’ll get back to you full stop I think this could tell a complex story.

Anthropology of Arrogance

At the risk of being hoist by my own petard

One of my closest friends when I was at school was a boy called Fabio Leopardi. His father was an Italian ice cream maker of some small renown eventually supplying ice cream to Harrods. His mother the daughter of a Senegalese “Princess” and a French Colon.  He was a handsome boy who had been brought up knowing how to do things. He knew how to play the drums. He knew how to speak French and speak Italian. He knew how to cook food, how to eat. How to prepare ice cream. What to wear. How to dance. How to fight. Somehow he had a view of the way that everything should be done. And he’d express his views about the way things should be done regardless, within limits, of whether it was appropriate at the time not. He had a certain arrogance. A sense of certitude that he knew how things should be done.

Later in my life when I travelled extensively around Italy I encountered this arrogance again. In its more charming contexts I found it related to food. Very specific ways that particular recipes should be prepared in order for them to taste right, this sense that in order to reproduce precisely the way that a particular pasta sauce was prepared it had to be done in a strict fashion. Travelling in Italy from the late 1970s onwards, coming from England, it was surprising to me to discover that there were very few foreign food outlets. The Italians always wanted to eat their own food. I saw this later across France as well.  I traced it back to a sort of culinary chauvinism, a belief that the way food had been prepared by a persons mother or grandmother or father and grandfather was the way to make this food. Thus a nation anchored in its own culinary traditions to the exclusion of foods that didn’t taste quite right. A tendency to judge other foods precisely by an inherited set of tastes and traditions within which small details would make a dish acceptable or unacceptable. Culinary arrogance.

Spending time over the past five years with Roma families in the United Kingdom I’ve encountered a very similar set of attitudes. The sorts of food prepared by Roma families are comparatively limited, the same recipes are encountered across a variety of different households yet each time they are prepared in a very deliberate and specific way so that the dishes taste slightly different and each household recognises the validity of their own way of preparing what is in the end a single recipe in a sense. Roma people, like Italians, find food which is not prepared in the way they like it to be unpalatable. At the very least a certain sort of critical view is implicit in their judgement.

This extends to other fields as well. For example I’m 56 and accompanying a group of Roma people to Doncaster airport a couple of weeks ago the young man who sat in the passenger seat with me was continually giving me directions on a route which I knew well as well as giving me a running commentary on which gear I should be in and so on. This particular event struck me as an arrogance towards driving reminding them of culinary arrogance.

Remember think that arrogance works as an anthropological category. I mean this in the sense that by a study of arrogance you can reveal a mechanism through which specific cultural traditions are reinforced and reiterated across generations. Arrogance allows for particular practices to survive within very universalising environments. The belief that “there is a way that things should be done” becomes a way of reinforcing “the way things are done”.



A young Roma man has appeared on a Czech/Slovak Got Talent programme and was very popular, cavorting on the table itself in front of the judges and getting through.  

He sung in English I was told by people in Sheffield who saw it on cable TV.  Roma singers often go on but usually the judges say: You are good but it only really appeals to Roma people. 

So this young man sung in English.  I heard a little of it and it was sort of Reggae English, Jamaican English.  

I know him.  I met him only once properly in a fairly formal setting of a network meeting in which he and I were, to some extent, in separate camps.  Not a very nice circumstance. I tried speaking to him and I got the tone wrong.  

I listened to him speaking but later tried to say some phrase in Romani.  I think I confused the verb ‘to see/look’ (te dihkel) and ‘to say/talk’ (te penel).  It was a confusion that I was making often at the time.  After I said a phrase he looked at me and asked in English of course which he speaks beautifully: Do you know what you are saying?

Yes, I replied.  Blustering.  I felt ashamed since that moment and run back and forth over it wishing I’d not blundered. 

So much that I do that is liked and then something small in a way that weighs heavily on my mind.  Shame.  The Italians say Shamo!  Idiot!  Fool!

Fool!  I’ll accept that thank you.  

Olympic Mirrors

A classical education even when only exhibited through an appreciation of Greek and Roman architecture is a powerful thing. That is it most elemental form . We experience it frequently in consumption of many artifacts of European heritage in both state and secular buildings. The English public school brought this into play through I suspect a particular fashion related to the learning of ancient Latin and Greek.
There is doubtless a very clear link to the rebirth of an Olympic games in the late 19th and early 20th century . The Olympic Games were born of British social will , a class based activity with particular ways of demonstrating prowess becoming institutionalized . The British chose the format of the games and to an extent also the conceptual field that recognizes such an event as having value.


it’s all those tools!

So. Looking at what appears to be quite a comprehensive graph on Wikipedia of demographic history over the last 12,000 years. Estimates stay stable of 4 up to 7 million until about 4000 BC and then start to move up plateauing somewhere around 170 million by 1000 A.D.

It’s all those tools that are doing it – keeping us at the 4 – 7 as well. Allowing us to embellish a sense of control. And making practically an impossibility of countering the power those tools give. So once they grow there’s no going back.

That’s been one of the historiographical inclusions: that the dark ages in Europe were not a going back or a losing but rather an intense period of reflection. We were returned to perhaps at times more unfettered and local power. But the great tools of classical civilisation continued to be forged. And what emerges out of it is not a period of stasis, not a dark age but one of massive intellectual light. Great feasting and drinking.

So there’s no going back except that with population there is a limit. It does require extraordinary organisation. The manipulation of all tools at our disposal.

I asked Kaius what he considered not to be human about himself. What of his actions could he identify that did not involve the use of tools. I’m afraid I remember my answer more than his but we agreed. Laughter. Tears. Eventually we moved towards the idea that levels of cognition which we associate with animals find their parity in the human animal behaviour by things that did not involve or apparently involve words. And if you strip away all the things that involve words and understanding them – at least to comply with an instruction or to do something you have conceptually required of yourself?

You look for balance in things while assuming there is always a constant balance in everything.

A balance that puts you entirely out of control but no more so than anybody else.

Thought like this doesn’t emerge just from luxury. It also emerges from its opposite.


By Waldir – Own work, based on the data of File:Population curve.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Well,  yesterday with KA canoeing along the Dordogne I was reminded of an event from our years in the Perigord.   We’d bought a house,  a little house that we called ‘Le Tournesol’  on the Rue du Calvaire in Le Bugue.   We’d loved the little cottage,  I’ll write about it another time.   Staying there until our darling Coco was born and then leaving to another place in St Cirq –  we’d managed to sell Le Tournesol to my sister and brother in law who had a daughter,  KA.   There was a cast iron bath with lion’s feet in the house that we had stolen from a unoccupied house in the village a few years before.   KA reminded me (as an element in an evidently ‘funny’  family story that I’d forgotten)  that when Melissa,  Mark and KA had come to take possession of the house –  the bath was gone.   We’d taken it up to our new house.   God this story has affected me.   It carries with it all the bitter sweet tastes of my time in the Dordogne.   Many rich and in some ways noble memories but such a sense of shame at many of them.   H and I were not,  I am afraid to say,  very mature nor considerate in our behaviour towards other people.   This is not a ‘culpa mea’  but quite simply shameful to recall.   Also confusing to think that I behaved in such a manner.   I’ll write it out in longer form –  best to recall the truth –  even bitter –  might let something else emerge.   

So I think it’s time for me to learn the rudiments of Arabic and Urdu

“I hate the word integration”

“I hate the word integration”


These words were spoken by Michal, a thirty something Roma man from Prague.  Brought up in a city where acting like a Gadjo, or an ethnic white Czech, was the way to get on yet later being subject to an attack by an (obviously) violent neo-Nazi skinhead group Michal’s got a lot of experience of integration.  


The Roma have been in the Czech lands for over 600 years.  During that time they have seen persistent persecution most severely within the living memory of some at the hands of the Nazis and other groups during WWII.  The Roma had lived through slavery and effective indentured labour for generations before that fate befell them.  And still today violent anti-Roma groups abound across Europe.  


The Roma know alot, really alot about integration.


Michal came to the UK  to seek asylum and received a decent welcome here.  As he sat outside the court where he was waiting for his asylum hearing he started talking to a friendly man who listened to his tale of hospitals and recovery and flight.  In court he heard the same man wish him luck and grant him refugee status.  


Michal knows a lot about integration and he’s not alone.


You see the problem with integration is not with – in this instance – the Roma.  They know all about it.  They know where it can lead.  The Roma weren’t persecuted because they weren’t integrated but because, in a sense, they were.  Integrated into a violence and exclusion that included their destruction.  The issue for the Roma is not whether they will integrate but what is it that they are integrated into?  The question remains simple:  what will that mean for them?  Will they survive integration?   The Roma are integrated yet, as is clear from much public and private dialogue, it is considered that the Roma are not integrated.


Like Michal, I hate the word integration.  


The sadness of being alone when the lover has gone is finally knowing that the lover is there.