Crying for Mooncakes

Holidays and Celebrations
Winter Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(4) page(s): 8 and 9

Fion Lim, a resident of Singapore, talks to Tanja Cilia about a special festival. Enjoy the questions and answers.
Yes, we are multi-racial and we practice several different religions here, in fact, we even have public holidays for many of them. In Singapore, at least, there is Vesak Day for the Buddhists, Good Friday for the Christians, Hari Raya Haji for Muslims, and Deepavali for the Hindus; and there are others including holidays for the New Year for the four major ethnic groups. Mooncake Festival is not a public holiday in Singapore, but it is a major Chinese festival with much celebrating.
This is not a moveable feast. Called Chung Chiu, this Moon Festival always occurs on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The date for this year and the next few are:
2008: September 14th
2009: October 3rd
2020: September 22nd
2011: September 12th
2012: September 30th
2013: September 19th
2014: September 8th
2015: September 27th

One might say it is similar to a harvest festival or Thanksgiving. In Hong Kong it is celebrated simultaneously with the Lantern Festival. However, strictly speaking, it is not an agrarian rejoicing about gathering the harvest. It is more of a spiritual event. The Mooncake Festival celebrates the fundamental tenet of Taoism; the union of man’s spirit with nature. Mooncakes, called yue bing, in Chinese, take their name from their shape. Traditionally, they are stuffed with lotus seed paste, duck eggs, and ground sesame seeds.
One story traces the origins of this festival food back to the fourteenth century, when China was in revolt against the Mongol Empire who ruled them during the Yuan Dynasty (1280 – 1368 CE). It was then that Chy Yuen-chang and his senior deputy, Liu Po-wen, concocted a plan wherein the latter would dress up as a Taoist priest and take cakes to the people in the besieged city, ostensibly to bless the longevity of the Mongol Emperor. On the day of the festival as people would begin to eat the cakes, they found instructions on how to coordinate a midnight massacre of the Tartars. Doing so led to the establishment of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 CE).
Modern mooncakes have dozens of different fillings, savory as well as sweet. Some have nuts and ham, melon seeds and almonds, adzuki paste, green bean paste, fruit and orange peel, or even a coffee-flavored filling. Tai Pan’s Snowy Mooncake is made with piecrust pastry. It is very different from those traditionally baked with their slightly crumbly pastries. There are also Snow Skin Mooncakes and called bing pei. There is a Southeast Asian variation made with cooked glutinous rice flour and Haagen-Dazs ice-cream.
Usually, a golden yolk from a salted duck egg is placed at the center of each Mooncake. More elaborate versions have four yolks to represent the four phases of the moon. Traditionally, thirteen mooncakes are piled in a pyramid, as a symbol of the thirteen moons of a complete year representing the twelve moons, one for each month plus an intercalary month. There are calorie-controlled versions of mooncakes these days, too.
People congregate on a plateaux or on mountains to look at the full moon, which that night is at its fullest and brightest. They hope wishes they make will be granted and they take traditional lanterns with them to light the way. These are made in the shapes of lobsters, butterflies, rabbits, goldfish, carp, and star-fruit; these days many are made of plastic and are even battery-powered. There was a time when only paper lanterns with candles were used. Sometimes, riddles are written on lanterns for people to solve. This traditional game is called deng mi.
In some places, people burn incense sticks or plant Mid-Autumn trees, or have fire-dragon dances. Korean names for this festival are Chuseok and Hangawi. The latter is from han which means great and gawi meaning middle. Together they mean ‘a great day in the middle of the autumn.’ An eclipse of the moon would be an awful celestial happening; they would think the Heavenly Dog would be trying to swallow the Moon. Therefore, they beat gongs and drums to scare him away.
There is one about the Man and the Lady on the Moon. She is Chang-O, a beautiful woman who lived during the Hsia Dynasty (2205 – 1766 BCE). She was the wife of the Chief Archer of the Imperial Guard, General Hou-Yi. The story told is that the Jade Emperor had ten sons, each taking turns to shed light and heat on earth. One day, they inexplicably appeared together, and Hou-Yi was going to shoot them all down with his red bow and white arrows. However, he only killed nine of them. Why nine? Because his wife begged him to allow one sun to stay to heat the Earth at night. The Queen Mother of the West made this son immortal, lest the other suns appear again. If they did, he would be able to shoot them down each time so rivers would not run dry and people would not die.
The feminist version of this story says that Chang-O shot down the suns but chose to flee to the moon with the Herb of Immortality. Another legend says she stole that from her husband who was a tyrant. On the moon, she met the friendly Jade Rabbit and still lives there with Wu Gang, the Tree Cutter who cooks and brews wines for her. When he cuts trees, we can see the moon’s bright light. Wu Gang was sent there as punishment and can only return when he cuts down the cassia tree. This is impossible since the tree is immortal and grows back whenever he stops hewing at it.
One story tells of three mystics who disguised themselves as three old men. They begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit. The first two did have something to give. But the rabbit, not having anything, jumped into a blazing fire to roast himself. The gurus were impressed, and so touched by the rabbit’s sacrifice that they allowed him to live with Chang-O forever in her crystal palace. Actually, there are many variations of the above legends. Perhaps you know a different one.
Chang-O, with her flowing robes and Jade Rabbit are sometimes there for all to see and remember. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 CE), Mooncakes were renamed ‘Moon Flowers’ because in Mandarin the word yue bing for Mooncakes sounds like ‘monthly sickness’ (menstruation). It is said that if you point at the moon during this time, your ears will fall off and your fingers become crooked.
Yueh Lao Yeh or Yue Xia Lao Ren is the matchmaker who prepares marriages on the Moon. He writes down names of couples on his tablets, knows everyone’s future partner, and has a register with the names of all newborns in it.
This is a time for family reunions when its member are to reunite from the four corners of the world, if possible, and eat Mooncakes together. If anyone cannot attend, they are to all look at the moon from wherever they are and think of their loved ones. The idea is to catch the moon’s reflection in the center of their teacup. This is also a time for gift-giving. Chinese people do so for most festivals; for this one they give a box of Mooncakes to the family of each of their relatives. The more egg yolk they contain, the more esteem in which they hold them. Gifts can be augmented with star fruit, or sausages, even money. Chinese from Viet Nam make square Mooncakes rather than round ones; and they cut them diagonally into four pieces before eating them.
This holiday can be an expensive exercise. Many place orders beforehand and pay the baker or bakery in instalments until the gifts are delivered. This can have added value in the way of other edibles thrown in with thanks from the bakery. One can extend the Moon Festival adding ‘Moon Welcoming’ which is the day before and ‘Moon Chasing’ which is the day afterwards. During the time of The Empress Dowager Ci Xi, moon festivities lasted from the thirteenth through the seventeenth day of the eighth lunar month.
We chai (yams) and melons, pomegranates and dates, peanuts and fatt koh (steamed sponge cakes) are said to be special to Chang-O. All round fruits are reminiscent of the moon and are said to bring peace and unity. Women traditionally peel pomelos and mini yams and cut them so that the moon sees them doing this. They do this hoping that when seen, they will be rewarded by having a flawless complexion. The word for pomelo in Cantonese is yow which is the same as for the word ‘have.’
Food offerings for ancestors are placed on a table-altar, and are usually grapes, apples, pears, peaches, pomegranates, melons, water chestnuts, oranges and grapefruits. There also might be edible land snails. Cooked taro is essential, because one legend says it was the first food discovered on the night of creation.
Tanja Cilia is an Allied Newspapers (Malta) columnist. This edited article appeared in the Times of Malta, where she lives. Fion Lim, her friend, lives in Singapore. The Chinese she spells out in the article is mostly Cantonese, though some words are provided in other languages, as appropriate.




Hey! Roughton!

He started. He was alone; yet he could have sworn that somebody had addressed him by his surname. On the other hand—he knew that had been on the point of dozing off. So it could have been a mouse scrabbling across the parquet.

What does a girl have to do to get noticed around here?

This time he was sure he’d heard correctly. The voice came from the portrait of Margaret Wilson, who was usually referred to as “The Martyr of Solway”.

That was the first time it had happened.

His was no ordinary job. It was a unique concept. A museum dedicated solely to portraits.

What he had not bargained for was that the portraits . . . talked! Talked, did I say? Well, actually, It was more like a zillion vibrations, reverberating through his brain.

Soon he learned how to discern what they intended to communicate, so they lowered their tone. In time, the portraits didn’t even whisper; he just heard them inside his head.

Van Gogh coughed, a grimace on his cadaverous face. It’s only humans here, isn’t it? We could do with a couple of Louis Wain’s cats. They would keep away the mice.

Napoleon snorted. Cats! Bleurg. Why not horses? Mine—Désirée, not Marengo or Vizir or any other one of them—Babieca, Dhūljānāh, Matsukaze, Bucephalus, Shadowless . . .

Why not write a book and make money out of all this? He would camouflage it as fiction—and sell it in the foyer.

And he did.

How Do I Write? Let Me Count the Ways
Posted on June 7, 2010 at 2:29 AM

I write in the dark, comfortably supine, using pencils on unlined paper and my stomach for a desk. I write on spiral notebooks during the countless bus-rides I take because I do not drive. I write at the kitchen table, with ink-filled pens on beautiful stationery. I write at my personal computer  – and that is where FreeCell and e-mails do their best to distract me..
My version of a paperless office is both my night-time dreaming, and the writing I do in my head when my eyes glaze over where it would be bad form to whip out a ballpoint. Sometimes these words do not get to the physical point, but as far as I am concerned, they’re written anyhow..
I breathe because I write. I scrawl ideas on the margins of newspapers and the backs of envelopes and receipts..
I write because I breathe. A letter, a poem, a haiku, or an opinion piece may be written on impulse, but I have to knuckle down for deadlines. Yet I have no “routine” as such; I would never be able to write one thousand words before breakfast..
People fascinate me. Family, friends, and even perfect strangers often thinly disguise themselves and gate-crash my fiction. For non-fiction I have to keep half an eye on the libel laws. With Malta being such an insular place, this is especially pertinent..
Credibility is something I treasure. I always get my information from the source. I do not like censorship; yet I do not like people showing that it exists by depicting gratuitous vulgarity, or sex, or violence that are bound to be censored, either..
Sometimes, a column or a poem write themselves. I have never stumbled over the hackneyed writers’ block; perhaps that’s because I tend to procrastinate since I know I work best under pressure. So, if you want me to write for you, never say “no hurry”. I have always made deadlines (albeit sometimes with seconds to spare) come hell or high water, births and deaths, illness and travel..
I’m a stickler for using the correct terminology; and since the phrase “editors reserve the right to edit for length or clarity” covers a multitude of their sins, this has given rise to many heated discussions. I have no beef with writers who insist upon being paid for every word they pen; but I am not averse to donating articles (or poems or puzzles) to publications of worthy causes, without being credited – since this would defeat the “donation” principle..
My writing is eclectic; so I slant my work according to the demographics of the readership of each publication or site. I do insert a couple of “difficult” words in children’s stories in such a way that, even if they are not looked up (as I hope they will be) the tale will not lose anything. I try to get my values across in anything I write, be it a television critique column or an interview with a celebrity. I like puns, alliteration, and idioms. But unless the feature is deliberately meant to be over-the-top, I consciously ration myself not to risk losing the thrust of my piece. I have several dictionaries (some of them esoteric) and thesauruses, which I prefer to online versions.
Therapy; a weapon; serious fun; a dais. Writing, to me, is all these, and more..

  When the Worm Turns


Cerise sighed. She’d yet to get used to how her newly-implanted haws functioned. It was a weird sensation, feeling them moving horizontally.
The Company said a nictating membrane was to stop her getting infections in the Orchard. This particular body modification was as useful as it was important, but she resented it. She’d seen what happened to those who got something in their eye before the Operation happened. Cerise felt like an aardvark, or a woodpecker. But she kept these thoughts to herself. Of course.
The caterpillars they were harvesting were descended from Australian Lepidoptera. Sometimes, there was a throwback, and a couple of them developed stinging hairs, despite the careful genetic manipulation that was supposed to ensure it didn’t happen. Stung by the splendour, to wreck a quote from Browning…
Anyone whose skin came into contact with one of these urticating hairs developed a inflammation and papules, or even anaphylactic shock. Safety gear was supposed to be worn at all times – but you know how it is, you cannot scratch your nose with a gloved hand.
Coming so soon after the titanium knee replacements, the palpebra tertia insertion was almost a guarantee that she was destined to die here. She would never be able to walk properly again in Earth’s atmosphere. What a good party-trick it would have been, though, to look directly into the sun and not blink!
Cerise envisioned a future spent in picking fluorescent, genetically-modified grubs off cabbages, with maybe a sabbatical when the weighing machine counted a billion strynes… But this was the stuff of legend – no one had ever managed it yet. Like the prickly pears of her native Malta, the green grubs were the sweetest; the red ones the juiciest, and the orange ones the tartest.
Worms were sold nestled in a bed of pollen-sprinkled beeswax and wrapped in gold film.
Work in a smoke-free environment. Employee benefits. Good Pay. Transport provided. She was drugged and abducted and sent to work on Grenada III. All her fellow Orchard operators had been like her, back on Earth. Single, no family, between jobs. No one would file a Missing Persons Report for them.
It was reminiscent of that horror story, in which a young medical student gets her own skeleton delivered to her address…but at least they were still alive.
She could not complain. She could not join a Union. The Common Good Law saw to that.
The larvae, treated as pests on earth, were here they were worth their weight in platinum; there was so much gold here that it was worthless.
Fat, succulent caterpillars were set aside for the Bosses. Cerise liked to pluck particularly luscious-looking ones and crush their heads between her thumb and index finger, and eating them. Wasn’t that the same as eating sea-urchins?
There was talk of giving Orchard employees the tapetum lucidum, too. Why on Grenada III would they need yet another membrane in their eyes? What good would having reflective eyes be? And why should they be able to see well in semi-darkness? Were the Bosses intending to lower the level of light on the Orchard, to save on energy and power consumption?
Cerise had developed her own mantra to get her through the humdrum repetitive work of endless days. She recalled the rhyme from her History Lessons, which was supposed to help children remember the names and order of British Monarchs;
Willie Willie Harry Stee; Harry Dick John Harry Three; One Two Three Neds, Richard Two; Harrys Four Five Six….then who? Edwards four five, Dick the bad; Harrys (twain), Ned Six (the lad); Mary, Bessie, James you ken, Then Charlie, Charlie, James again…Will and Mary, Anna Gloria, Georges four, Will four Victoria; Edward seven next, and then, Came George the Fifth in nineteen ten; Ned the eighth soon abdicated, Then George Six was coronated; after which Elizabeth, And that’s all folks until her death.
The piped muzak annoyed her, and she rarely talked to the other operators. On their part, they thought she was stand-offish, if not downright weird.
But she had a Plan. Cerise was the ultimate Model Granger Operator. She meant to work her way up the ranks until she was no longer on the factory floor. The kitchen would do nicely.
Lunch that day was crowder pea stew, corn-on-the-cob, and cucumber raita. Most of the Operators grimaced; but she cleaned her plate, though not because she really wanted the food. She wanted to make a good impression on the Company, for she sensed there were CCTV cameras relaying their every move to The Company.
She had practiced her deadpan expression; it was perfect to a t. Not one muscle twitched as she put her plate, glass, cutlery, and napkin carefully in the Chute. On her way out of the Dining Hall, she bowed reverentially from the waist before the Company Logo; she knew this would make a good impression on whoever was watching. Most of the Operators just gave the Logo a perfunctory nod.
Operators came – and went, never, ever, to be seen again. Talking on the job, go figure friendships, was frowned upon. Each day was much like the one before it. Follow the instructions, and you will be all right. Walk, select, pluck, weigh, pack. Walk, select, pluck, weigh, pack. Walk, select, pluck, weigh, pack.
The notice stuck to the door of her Cubicle caught her unawares. You have reached a billion strynes. You are cordially required to attend Company Office at your earliest convenience.
Cerise was offered the choice of a Reversal Operation, with a view to working in an exalted position on Grenada II. She refused it, for it would spoil her plans. She asked for a transfer to the kitchens, and wrought her revenge over five dirths by introducing certain elements into the food meant for the Company that left cumulative effects. Even when the illness was rife, the Medics could not pinpoint a cause.
And that’s how Grenada III was claimed for Earth by my nan Cerise.

Murder, By Proxy

It all began when I was standing at the sink.
No, no, I tell a lie. It all began much before that; even before there was a power outage.
Probably, it began the moment I set eyes on my (ex!) husband – but for the sake of this story, let’s just say that it began after supper.
Just for the record, the first time we met he’d arranged my bangs and the collar of my blouse “just the way he liked them”, and, mea culpa, I never realised it was a symptom of the way that he would try to fix my life – and me – from that moment on. I was enthralled by his attention. The snide comments and hostile criticism came later.
But I digress.
I had spent the morning and part of the afternoon in bed engrossed in the first two books of different series I had won on a television Trivia Quiz – you know, the ones where they ask questions about obscure topics…such as what the name of the character Liam Neeson played in Taken, was.
War ‘n’ Wit and Tex, the Witch Boy had…well, bewitched me.
It was getting too dark for me to see to read – and when I went to switch on the bedside lamp I realised that not only was it 5.00 pm, but there was no electricity.
I had not even had breakfast, go figure prepared dinner – and my (ex!) husband was due home in two hours.
I realised I would have to move fast to avoid the usual Grumpy Cat running commentary.
I leapt out of bed and whipped the quilt into place. I half-filled a pot with water, chucked in one chicken and one Italian herbs stock cube, some brandy, a knob of butter, the four turkey drumsticks that had been soaking overnight in marinade, a packet of mixed frozen vegetables, and a handful of frozen onion rings. Then I prepared a bowl of instant mashed potatoes, and chopped up some cherry tomatoes, olives, and garlic cloves, and doused them in olive oil (I would drain them just before serving).
The dusk and the street light gave me just enough light to work.
I put some water and disinfectant in a bucket and went over the floors with a cloth wrapped around a squeegee, and switched on the ceiling fans.
While the food cooked and the floor dried, I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair and pulled it back in a pony-tail, washed and flossed my teeth, put the books away, and leapt down the stairs three at a time.
I got out the votive candles that I’d bought for the Christmas centrepiece and lit them. They made eerie shadows dance on the walls, and of course I could not help playing about with my fingers to make some shadow animals.
My (ex!) husband always insisted that I do the newspaper crossword, daily, to “work my sloth-brain”, as he so courteously put it. So I took it out and called my genius friend Samantha to give me the solutions, as I usually did; I barter with her by keeping her kids while she is with her lover. I left out a couple of easy ones, so I would be able to act as if I had just thought of them while we were having dinner. I was – am – smug about the fact that my acting prowess never failed to take my husband in.
I grabbed the sponge to give my (ex!) husband’s breakfast mug and cereal bowl a quick rub-and-rinse, but as soon as I opened the kitchen sink tap, I screamed.
I felt as if someone had taken a steel sledge-hammer to my knuckles; not all of them, just six out of ten. My joints swelled, and my fingers throbbed and turned purple.
With tears pouring down my cheeks and biting my lower and upper lips alternately, I finished the task and sat down in front of the aforesaid crossword, barely able to hold the pencil… just in time, because the next moment, my (ex!) husband’s key turned in the lock.
I went to greet him, and he kissed me perfunctorily – as he usually did, and sniffed the air – and he likewise usually did. Smells good. But you’ve put in too much onion. I said it in my mind before he actually said it out loud, word-for-word, in exactly the same intonation.
He whipped off his jacket and draped it over the chair, and undid his tie, positioning it exactly over the middle of the jacket. Creature of habit, my (ex!) husband.
He had not even noticed my fingers. I showed them to him and of course, he assumed it was my clumsiness that had injured me. I told him what had happened, and he said that after he ate, he would take me to the clinic. Selfish sonofabitch.
He sat at table, and as he expected me to do, I asked about his day so he could boast about his wheeling and dealing. I was sick and tired of this charade – but it suited me, because I quite liked being the Lady of the Manor and not having to go out to work.
He happened to glance at the crossword, and pursed his lips. Not ready yet? I said it to myself before he did. “Oh!” I said, gingerly picking up the pencil, pincer-style like a Kindergartner, and dashing off the last five words without even looking at the clues, “I’ve been thinking about them while I fixed dinner…”
So, we went to the Clinic and the doctor said it was Gardner-Diamond syndrome. My (ex!) husband asked him – twice – whether I could have hurt myself shutting a drawer because she is so clumsy… and the doctor explained patiently how veins sometimes rupture spontaneously, and the red blood cells cause the contusions, and the swellings, and the pain.
The doctor said I must support each injured finger by taping it to the one next to it, and avoid extremes of temperature, and to wear mittens if possible.
We returned home, and the rest of the evening passed as it usually did – except for the part where he parked himself in front of the television set because we had wasted the time at the Clinic. Sex, showers, and bed. Did he care that I was in pain? Did he heck. The power came back at around midnight.
The throbbing pain kept me from sleeping, despite the analgesic balm I had rubbed on my fingers (and the whiskey I’d drunk).
As I sometimes did, to escape from my dreary existence, I let my imagination run riot. I idly toyed with the idea of drawing my rouge blood cells out with a syringe… and injecting them into the butt of my sleeping (ex!) husband, to create enough pain so he would not be able to sit down for a month of Sundays.
Ah! This would be the other meaning of Blood Doping, as per articles with facetious titles such as If I Did a Bag of Lance Armstrong’s Blood, Could I Bike up a Mountain? (without the rider ‘and what if said blood were spiked?’)…
I concocted plans to inject him with air, to create an embolism. Probably, though, I’d be rumbled, if they decided to do an autopsy, because he did not have a dickey heart. Maybe I could kill him with insulin…Reversal of Fortune style, but I’d make sure my approach would work. But there was nobody, of all my friends who have diabetes, whom I could trust to give me a pre-drawn syringe, and keep mum about it. Oh, to delegate the whole enchilada to a hit-man. Or a cat’s-paw.
And that’s when the idea hit me. My (ex!) husband usually spent Saturdays entrenched in the greenhouse, fiddling about with his beloved orchids. He sold each bloom at about €50 a pop. Not because he needed the money, but just because he could.
It was Monday. Time enough. Maybe… My plan was sketchy…it was a long shot…it might not work… but it was worth a try. No one would suspect me, what with my quasi-disabled hands and restricted movement-span.
When replenishing my kitchen freezer from the one in the basement, I had noticed a wasps’s nest at one corner of the ceiling. They’d probably been grateful for the box of newspapers I saved for the once-a-month recycling collection, because it meant they did not have to forage far for material with which to build it.
I poured a good measure of honey inside a big bin bag, and made my way downstairs. There were no wasps flying about, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I manoeuvred a table just under the nest, keeping one eye open for the insects, and placed a chair on the table.
Then, I cautiously climbed on the table, and stood on tiptoe, on the chair, placing the opening of the bag over the nest. I knew I was risking a broken leg or two, but I was on an adrenaline high and nothing could stop me. Using the outside of the bag to shield my hands (I thought it would be better not to use gloves, since there would be some kind of residue on them), I detached the nest from its anchors and nudged it into the bag.
There was such an angry surge of buzzing that I nearly overbalanced. Apparently, the wasps were quick to notice the honey, and they quietened down almost immediately.
As best I could, I held on to the neck of the pulsating, droning bag while putting the furniture in its place again.
Next stop: The Greenhouse.
I took the bag and went in through the back door, just in case one of the neighbours was looking out of a window; and anyway, the orchids were nearer there than the front entrance.
Gently, very gently, I upended the bag and out rolled the nest, sticky with honey. Some of the wasps had died a sweet death by drowning – alas, there was nothing I could do about that. The others appeared lethargic. I hoped they would recover in time to carry out their duty.
I have always been taught that unless you act aggressively towards wasps, they will not attack you. So I kept calm when some of them flew toward me to examine me; and true enough, I was not stung.
I grasped the bottom of the bag and turned it inside out, making sure that no wasps were stuck to the plastic, turned it back sticky side in, and folded it into an oblong small enough to fit into my jeans pocket. I left the greenhouse, walking backward, in slow movements, just in case, and nonchalantly walked around two blocks, hands in pockets – discarding the bag into the street litter bin farthest from the house.
The strain nearly killed me.
Just as the wasps killed my (ex!) husband.
Around the time he left for the greenhouse, as I had planned, I was standing, not a hair out of place, at the delicatessen counter at the supermarket, selecting cheeses for the weekend, as I always did.
It had been my original plan to walk back casually, do some light chores, and then call him on the intercom to say that dinner was in ten minutes. I had stopped scheming at that point, since I would then play it on the wing, so it would appear to be a spontaneous thing.
However, my plan was dashed when one of the neighbours met me halfway. She had been running, and her words came out in between her gasps for air. Wasps… husband… urgent… stings… come… ambulance… swell… heart-attack…
I really should be nominated for an Academy Award.
I grabbed her by the arm and shook her, asking her to explain what she was on about. Taking a deep breath, she said that she had heard shouting and the sounds of breaking glass, and had run out of the house just in time to see my (ex!) husband reeling about in the middle of the street, wheezing and lurching, holding a hand to his throat. His face and hands were covered with angry red welts. With great difficulty, he had whispered my name and “supermarket”.
She had pounded on the door of another neighbour, explained the situation and told her to call for an ambulance, and ran to fetch me. It had been faster and easier than I thought it would be. Indeed, I later found out that wasps do not die after stinging someone, since their stingers are not barbed like those of bees, and are therefore not pulled out of their bodies when they attack.
I was told that probably, since the attack on my (ex!) husband happened in an enclosed space, the whole nest had been mobilised to sting. In these cases, unless antihistamine treatment is given within minutes, the victim dies of severe anaphylactic shock.
It could be that he had swatted one of the insects, and it had released a pheromone that warned the others that there was a threat, and caused them to attack him.
I will never know. Not that I want to. The Coroner’s Report states “death by misadventure”.

Is-salib u l-iskandlu


Tanja Cilia

Bħal donnu tbissem… Bħal donnu tbissem…

Min jaf kemm jingħataw rigali koroh u/jew strambi lill-mexxejja tal-pajjiżi u tar-reliġjonijiet. Jgħidu li darba tmiss il-Papa u din id-darba tabilħaqq li hekk ġara. Fil-mawra tiegħu fil-Bolivja, il-Kap tal-Knisja Kattolika ngħata Kurċifiss mingħand il-President Bolivjan, Evo Morales. Dal-Kurċifiss għandu għamla stramba, għax iwaħħad il-martell u l-minġel tal-komuniżmu mal-għuda tas-salib.

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Santa’s Blog 11

Saturday, December 19, 2009, 20:28 by Santa Claus


When They asked me to take over the Santa Stint the Missus had laughed at me and said I was too thin, too tall, too blue-eyed, too handsome, too dark-haired, too conceited and too everything to fit.
I think she was a bit peeved, frankly, that when They extended the offer to her, she had already committed herself to hands-on lecturing for The Natural International Traditional Practical Contemporary Gourmand Cookery School, and so she couldn’t very well be chief cook and bottle washer for Them, too.
It’s already bad enough that we’d had to knock down the walls between the pantry and the dining room and the kitchen, to make it an open-plan area (I feel uncomfortable if I want to dunk my doughnut in the coffee when there are twenty pairs of eyes stabbing my back…) so that the trainees could move around without a by-my-leave.
Anyway, just for the record, whatever she said was wrong about my not being suitable for Santa is turning out to be exactly what is being recommended for Santa to be, as from this Christmas..
The press was agog with snide comments about how the old man ought to share his reindeer’s snacks, rather than eat cake. And how his rotund figure, with a BMA of at least 30%, was a walking time-bomb, making him a primary candidate for a heart attack or a stroke and dementia.
There were rumours that PETA was going to sue him for animal cruelty, and several letters appeared in the press complaining that the people who protested about the Zoo in your country said nothing about the fact that this overweight ball of lard overloaded his sleigh with more than the amount of presents it could reasonably hold, in order to deliver the gifts on time.
Someone at NASA told me that crashing continuously through the fourth dimension, and black holes at warp speeds, and crossing time zones did the reindeer’s metabolism no good at all – it wrecked their reproductive systems (which was just as well, he said, because the gene pool was damaged anyway). It is also further endangering the ozone layer, but does he care?
And of course, the AA had its say too – Santa’s photographs on Christmas Cards usually showed him DUI, and it was only rarely that a cop appeared in the frame with him, slapping him with a ticket for over-speeding or being drunk and disorderly, even if his beard was askew and his face more florid than usual because of the alcohol he’d have imbibed.
So here I am, the tall, dark and handsome alternative. What more could you want? I don’t smoke – and yes, there are still cards that show Santa with stripy socks, lolling on an armchair beside the fire, smoking one of his priceless collection of Meerschaums and not giving two hoots about the bad examples he is giving without even trying.
My lifestyle is bleached pristine. I know that some of you may consider me too thin, but as you have seen, these last few weeks I have pigged out… My exercise routine makes my metabolism balance out… or something. To think that in some countries, Santa is even more recognisable than Mickey Mouse or Superman!
Or even Santa Muerte. But she’s a totally different kettle of fish…. which reminds me it’s octopus stew this evening (the Missus chucks in a couple of squares of bitter chocolate and a handful of walnuts to bring out the taste better).

Gaslight and the Forgotten Abuse



From Picard’s four lights to a teacher’s “apologise!” to a student, gaslighting exists all around us…

The other day, yet another charming young lady made a beeline to my door. Like the ones before her, and no doubt the ones to come, she presented her credentials and asked whether she could take up some of my time – in this case, fifteen minutes.

The topic of this particular survey was domestic and other types of abuse, as well as women’s rights, and the much-hyped “equality”. The last two items in the list set my teeth on edge; but I decided to see whether the questions lead before commenting.

Abuse by my partner would have included anything from being beaten up, whether or not he would have been blind drunk at the time, to being forbidden to associate with my friends; abuse from associates would have included being discriminated against because of gender, and abuse from strangers would have included flashing or inappropriate touching.

I was asked whether I was aware of any media campaigns on the topic – and frankly, whereas the repetitive Nista’ ones flooded my mind, I had to really wrack my brain to remember the Dignity for Domestic Violence Survivors posters in the street which urged us to seek help should we need it, as the woman in the picture who “used to be a victim” did. And yes – the persons portrayed in the posters were all victims of physical abuse.

Another question asked whether I knew of any entities that were “doing their best” for women’s rights – and, in truth, the very need that there is any need of “equality” unit sets my teeth on edge. Mention of Parliament made me say that politics did not interest me, but I am sure that if “they” had done something about it, we would have known for sure, because the MP responsible for it would have touted the news from the church steeples, not to mention the newspapers and sundry social sites.

The young lady asked me whether I had anything to add, and I said “lots”. She raised an eyebrow and opened her eyes wide, but which I assumed that I had been the only one on her list (“from the electoral register”) to say so with such vehemence.

In the name of all my friends and acquaintances who had ever been abused, I insisted that it was not fair that in the majority of the cases, it was the woman and the children who had to leave the home for their own safety, whilst the perpetrator usually remained and thumbed his nose at them… or else promised to ‘behave’ and repeated the abuse “as soon as she misbehaved again and ‘made him do it’ ”.

That was not all, however.

Although I was given a form with multiple-choice answers to some of the aforementioned questions, to fill in anonymously, and asked to seal it in an unmarked envelope, there is no way I noted it was not placed randomly in the sheaf of envelopes; and moreover, the company that commissioned the survey will probably check that the young lady did indeed interview me – and now they can pair my information, my details, and my telephone number.

This in itself raises several questions.

Would a woman whose partner abused her, or who had been raped (by a family member, friend or stranger) and kept it secret, actually admit this if there was anyone within earshot?

But the most important point I raised had not even been hinted at in the questionnaire – and this brings me to my point; nobody considers psychological tactics, or Gaslighting, as abuse.  It is assumed that if you have no bruises to show, they you are imagining things – or lying to get your partner into trouble.

Women who have been through this say that they actually believe they are crazy.  Their partners do not lift a finger, because they know this would leave a mark that may – probably will – be photographed.

And yet they continuously denigrate the woman’s cooking, he hair, her figure, her clothes, her family, her friends… anything that could make her feel good about herself.  They pick on her manner of speaking; they make her feel inadequate in and out of bed; they compare her to other women – and she never matches them in anything. Abusers use ambiguous words so they can claim “it’s not what I said, it’s what you think I did… and as usual, you’re wrong… because you’re stupid.” And anyone who does not share their point of view is wrong.

They stretch the truth and move her things about so that they are not where she put them last, and then accuse her of having her mind “on other things” when she looks for them. The implications of this are obvious; a man will act suspiciously on purpose, to make her think he has a lover, just to goad her into a reaction.

Alas, these women spend hours trying to figure out what it is they would have done  wrong; they may even resort to staying at home so as not to face a barrage of questions about where they have been and whom they have talked to, and about what. They know that the supermarket closest to your house does not have the items they want but fear going to the one across town because he “knows” that the man at the cheese counter flirts with you each time you go.

They think that if they sit their partner down and explain that they love him beyond life itself and that they would never do anything to hurt him or endanger the relationship, all will be well. The man says he sees her point – but rarely does he say he understands it, for to do so would mean he loses his power over her. He will tell her that he knows it, and that she is nagging. And she thinks this signals an end to the interrogations and the negative comments.  It does not.

These tormentors have their own version of the truth; a woman watches television because she has a crush on an actor; she was already sexually active as a child to have money for sweets and he has “saved” her from prostitution; she got her degree by sleeping with the lecturer, or that she is pretending to be a good wife but she is actually an evil woman; he is “only joking” and she is a “head-case” to think otherwise.

There is only a thin, barely discernable line between verbal, and emotional, abuse. Abandonment, accusations, anger, belittling, blaming, brainwashing, bullying, comparisons, control, criticising, cruel jokes, discrediting, devaluing, gaslighting, insults, isolation, judging, manipulation, name-calling, ordering, silence, unpleasantness… all these are abuse tactics.

But if even those who undertake nationwide questionnaires do not realise this, what hope is there for the “ugly, stupid, fat, dirty, scrounging whore” crying herself to sleep… again?



Private Dancers – In Public

Thursday, October 6, 2011, 12:45

The sticky, stinky brown stuff has really hit the fan. Some asinine attention-seeking (female) teens have been cavorting in front of their peers, and the media caught wind of it.
However, I was more shocked at the reactions and opinions of quite a few of my friends – mur ara, as one of them succinctly put it, than at the foolish antics of the girls.
One of the women to whom I talked justified her point of view by saying at least I know where she is; another chided me for being behind the times for not taking this in my stride, and another insisted that these days you cannot stop them or ground them because they will call the Helpline – oh, yes, you can; and so what if they do?
Some time ago, in Italy, there was a great to-do about under-age cubisti; youngsters hoping to be ‘discovered’ by talent scouts, who spent their evenings writhing away in suggestive and provocative poses on ‘cubes’ (raised platforms) in seedy clubs.
Whether these, and our local girlies, are offered the casting couch is anybody’s guess.
But I digress. This is much more than a sad case of finding an outlet for raging hormones and the wish to ‘experiment’
Beyond the “what a shame” fifteen-minute yearning for fame lie deeper issues.
Is it possible that these children cannot find a better way of using their talents? If they love to dance so much, how about their organising dance-based fund-raising activities? Rope in some wannabe models and singers, and Bob’s your uncle. I am sure some NGO would back their efforts – if they could find the time to organize their thoughts – and their wardrobes.
My eye was caught by the fact that they had been paid (or rather, given a tip, considering the paltry amount) €10, for frolicking and prancing about in beachwear. Their payment would not even by them a decent – and I use the term judiciously – bikini. So somewhere along the line, I will have to believe that they do not do it for the money.
To call these dancers “erotic” is to make fun of them – I would prefer to call them a pedophile’s wet dream. And let’s not talk about married men who insist that variety is the spice of life to excuse their constant (not seven-year) itches.
But, alas, these girls too immature to realise that they are merely setting themselves up as such. To them, it is ‘fun’. And perhaps, mud-in-the-eye of their fuddy-duddy friends who are not into risqué behaviour.
We have been told that the children’s parents are their ‘friends’ on social sites. This assumes that the parents know about the behaviors, and possibly approve of the fact that their children are getting, if not fame and fortune, at least notoriety and pocket-money.
But wait – does not the fact that money has changed hands constitute “child labour”? I am under the impression that a teen cannot even receive money I she baby-sits the children of a neighbour; how does this, therefore, square up?
Deutschmarks or dollars; American Express will do nicely, thank you…
Tell me, do you wanna see me do the shimmy again?… And any old music will do… All the men come in these places…And the men are all the same…
So sings Tina Turner. And this might explain why all the dancers were girls. They usually are, except in certain dives.
Ironically, one of the dancers was saying that like Greta Garbo, she and all teens want to be left alone – and then, they go and show off. This is illogical.
It has been said that the Police and the Children’s Commissioner is “investigating” this. The parents of babies, toddlers, tweens and teens do not want investigations – we want action.
I have seen enough drunken children in Paceville, despite the ‘prohibitions’. There are enough teen pregnancies, despite the ‘sex education’ lessons. I have seen more than enough children puffing away in the street, despite the ‘awareness campaigns’.
With role models such as Rihanna and Lady (!) Gaga, children are wont to push the boundaries of what is accepted by society. They say that “everybody does it”; but peer pressure works in positive mode too.
If the dominant girl in the peer group takes it into her mind that they will henceforth go jogging, her followers could well agree. In any case, if state school grounds were open after hours, they would even have a place to congregate without risking future repercussions from potential employers who run internet searches on job applicants.
If one bossy girl commands her troop to wear jeans and a t-shirt, and hie off to an old people’s home to perform Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, they will toe her line. Eventually.
However – I will have to add that this requires dedication and rehearsals. It is much easier to grab some underwear and improvise, is it not?
Because, inter alia, mindless gamboling in non-restrictive clothing this is easier to fit in with studies and home life than something that requires assiduity. And ‘instant recognition’ of people in the street tends to be inebriating to someone who is too young to cope with its ramifications.
And…any excuse is better than none.

I Am Not Pregnant…

Thursday, September 15, 2011, 20:34

… and frankly, I still haven’t got around to testing for any one of the various types of cancers that may be tested for, which have beset both maternal and paternal sides of my family over the years.

But that is not the reason I shall not be posting the pseudo-lie about how far into the Club I am, and what I am craving.

This is the third meme that is supposed to make us aware of breast cancer. In the first one we were supposed to inform people of our social networks of the colour of our lingerie, and in the second, where we place out handbags.

The first was supposed to elicit a nonplussed question; the second was meant to be a double-entendre.

This third statement, for some reason, makes a connection between pregnancy and awareness of breast cancer. Seeing that this condition often leaves women infertile – desperately wishing, in fact, that they were “six months in and craving pickles dipped in hazelnut spread” or some other disgusting concoction of the sort. And desperately wishing that they could have, eventually, breastfed the offspring they will now never have. I find it ‘distasteful’ – on all counts.

It is interesting to note that all three “chain letters”- for that, in effect, is what these things are- concentrate on sexuality. Moreover, they focus on a woman’s sexuality, totally ignoring the fact that males do get breast cancer too.

Would you pass on a message that threatens you with disaster and death of you do not make fifty copies forthwith, and forward them to people, asking them to follow suit? Does it sit well on you to play on people’s emotions and fears, and make them waste time?

Ah, you say, but this is “in jest”… rather as if breast cancer is funny.

It is not awareness of breast cancer that we need; it is education, information, and action about all types of cancers. Not just one of the many types that steal people’s lives when their deaths could have been avoided.

I speak from experience – two members of my immediate family were mis-diagnosed and told there was “nothing to worry about”. By the time someone realised we were not simply “making a fuss about nothing” and picked up all the clues and thought to investigate further, it was way too late for both of them.

However, silly pass-it-on messages are not the only way that the female body is being exploited in a pathetic way with regards to this notion.

Some internet sites have been specifically created for the posting of cleavage – no head, no torso, because “that” is the important part of the female – with the same warped view. And I use the term deliberately.

Because just as sites that show child models made up to look like adults pander to a paedophile’s dreams, so do these sites indulge voyeurs. In both cases, the perverts win hands down.

If you ostensibly want to draw attention to an illness, you do not draw attention to ‘perfection’ – despite fetching slogans about ‘protection’ and ‘reminders’. Just for the record, I also object to pictures posted by women who have had mastectomies, who do re doing this in a bid to counteract the obsession with breasts.

Women are stricken with many types of cancers – most of which effect men, too. However, since (probably) most of us consider man-boobs unattractive, and it is not necessarily those that get breast cancer, it would not be a good gimmick to include snaps of them in any site purporting to “care” about “awareness”.

A woman who has bone, lung, or ovarian cancer, or metastatic colo-rectal cancer, apparently cannot be “represented” by a series of partial snapshots of her sisters sporting variously bejewelled, frilled, striped, or polka-dotted bikini tops. Let’s face it; a face wracked in pain is not “sexy”. Neither are gel-filled prosthesis in a box.

The equation seems to be that if you say you are booting awareness of breast cancer, you can sell pink earrings, special edition pink sweets and rubber bracelets, pink cellular telephones… and have an excuse to parade your assets, if you are a ‘consenting adult’, because it’s “all in a good cause”.

If, like me, you do not pass on the e-mail, the social site posting, or the series of photographs, you are labelled an old sourpuss with no sense of humour.

Being ‘aware’ of breast cancer does not mean you will never get it. It does not mean you are free to compare and contrast photographs, either.

What it does mean is knowing that there are many other types of cancer. It means cooking a meal for a family that has one member so stricken, and offering to look after the children during those interminable hospital visits or stays…

It means getting the patient – male or female – something nice, which they would not think of getting themselves, or cannot be bothered to do so… because they know they might be going to die soon.