The Ayetollah Khomeini. My part in the Iranian Revolution.
THATCHER AND WAR
Yamamto greeted me, and took me to the Japanese restaurant. Yamamoto had organised an Igo tournament there. We were early. The Korean judge said 'thats Japanese time for you! ', but eventually we played the games. Afterwards the conversation turned to world affairs. Both Yamamoto and the Korean were quite politicised but in different ways. Yamamoto worked for a prestgious international organisation. Kim, the Korean was watched by the KCIA in Paris. Yamamoto asked me what I thought about Margaret Thatcher, who had just won the 1979 election. My mind clicked off the other famous women leaders of the time, and in particular Golda Meier, and Indira Gandhi. I told my diplomat friend, "Now we have a woman leader, there is a good chance of war." Both of the Asian women leaders had unhesitatingly committed military force into battle. It seemed only a matter of time before Maggie would do the same. After all Noam Chomsky and Herbert Marcuse both argued that perpetual war was an inevatable consequence of boom and bust capitalism.
In the meantime it was pleasent to enjoy eating meals in Korean restaurants with a refugee from an oppressive military regime which had backed the Americans in Vietnam. After all this was the Paris where Ho Chi Minh had worked as a waiter, and where there were whole townships of Vietnamese who had voted, with their air tickets, to live with the former imperialist opressor rather than their own local homegrown tyrannies.
I knew three such Viet-namese at work. They all spoke Vietnamese, French, and English, and they all knew maths and physics. I have never been to Viet-Nam, but believed it to be a place where men in black pyjamas had terrorized the American occupiers for a few years, then taken over and introduced summary justice to other oppressors such as local ethnic Chinese.
France had more bloody ethnic tensions locally. There is something about immigrant life in Paris that causes the immigrant to eventually despise the French. Maybe it's because the French language has a full repertoire of insulting slang that is very easy for foreigners to pick up.
Paris seemed a refugee city. There was still a sizeable community of Armenians who let no one forget the genocides of 1915-17 not to mention the refugees from the Lebanese civil war, or oppressive communist regimes in East Europe.
In the UK one rightwing government had been replaced by another, and armed conflict was a daily occurence within the borders. At that time in my life I had never been near to civil war style explosions but later on I heard them during games of Weiqi in Belfast, fourteen years later. Predicting that Maggie would wage war was not saying much really when the UK was already at war with the number one urban guerilla army world wide.
Many people pass part of ther lives in a state of communal living. For many left-green political activists living with others in a 'squat' is de rigeur. It is also a way of meeting psychopathic murderers. Military life is a form of communal living. Some form of coercion is often involved. Monastic and religious orders go in for communal living. These groups have usually a proved a much more severe threat to the state than anarchist squatters. Both Europe and Asia have seen eras where the supression of religious orders was essential for the correct functioning of the state.
Sheffield Green Party activists organised a tour of a communal living project in Bamford, Derbyshire. This set up was a house run by Quakers. Quakers are a modern day manifestation of 'Soft Power'. Unlike many religious believers the Quakers combined theism with support of progressive causes such as democracy and the abolition of slavery and other forms of gross exploitation. They also had the support of influential business people, who often had ideas of worker participation well ahead of their contemporaries. Thomas Paine, the propagandist of the American Revolution, was from a Quaker background.
The Bamford Quaker community was set in a large country house, or grange, which I had previously thought to be some sort of conference center. The building was old, but very large, with enough space for car parking. It was at the lower end of a disused railway line. The rail track had been built and used during the 1930s when a large dam had been built across the Derwent Valley. There were already other dams in the Derwent Valley, but the twentieth century dam used modern construction techniques, and it flooded a whole village.
At the Bamford end a whole set of railway infrastructure was set up. The grange had served as offices for the water supply company before the Quakers acquired it, along with the former railway yards, which were now overgrown with trees and other vegetation. One of the quakers had built an environmentally friendly house to a custom design in part of this land. The grange was divded up into private and public living spaces for those in the commune.
The whole ethos of such a set up is communal meals. Rather than eating off a tray in front of the TV the residents are encouraged to sit round a large table, and cook and eat their meals, and converse. For most of my life I have found this sort of thing impossible. The 'slow food' movement is a praiseworthy ideal, but there are times when it is useful to have servants to do the food preparation and subsequent washing up.
I lived for four years taking communal meals at a Cambridge College, and all the work was done by college employees. As a scholar I was expected to help out. In the middle ages poor students had often worked in the kitchens, and as waiters to the better off and vestiges of this tradition lived on. For about ten days in these four years I just had to walk to the side of the high table, pick up a prompt card, and read out the Latin words to the people who would all start to eat and drink. This ritual was known a 'Saying the Grace' and it was ten seconds of fame in a packed hall. Only scholars got to read the grace, and I had earned the scholarships by sheer hard work, good luck, and love of the subject that I was studying.
At an early age I learned that it seemed better to be different. Here I was living on a generous state stipend, while there were loads of servants living in town, who cleaned student rooms, and prepared meals. There were also plenty of priests, proctors, and straw bosses called head porters.
The Quakers had their communal meals, but on a smaller scale. To tell the truth the kitchen and dining area in the Bamford grange seemed rather small. With the wrong mix of people it culd easily become oppressive. Good well paying work is not so easy to find in Derbyshire, and some of the tenants were living on state benefits.
The setting of the place may have seemed to be a rural idyll, but I had met two non conformist types who had tried living in improvised shelters in Derbyshire. Both had been burnt out. The first had tried living in a hut in Stoney Middleton. The man had told me he had the permission of the landowner, but the landowner was crazy. One one visit the land owner had walked up dressed in Bosnian Serb style paramilitary camauflage gear and was carrying a gun. I got out my camera to take a photo but he angrily pointed the gun at me, so I put the camera away. He later burnt down the hut to get rid of the camper. Another acquaintance had suceeded in living for a year in the abandoned out buildings of a huge inn, the Marquis of Granby. One day someone came and burnt all of the squatter's possessions including some textbooks on chinese writing which I had looked after for a year before returning them to the owner. Derbyshire is not Bosnia but it has its fair share of landlords and other capitalist oppressors.
Universty life had torn me from the restrictions of living with my family in a succession of tied cottages owned by the gentry to the great freedoms of living in one of the World's leading academic cities. Fred Hoyle was redesigning the whole cosmos, and writing best selling science fiction. A for Andromeda was televised in the 1960s. Fred Hoyle was a great advocate of modernism, and in his utopias (E.g. Ossian's Ride) saw everyone living in modern tower blocks in the countryside. Of course these communities were ruled and designed by scientists. In reality the tower blocks were missing from the hastily built remote bomb assembly plants which were the real high budget science communities of the 1950s. The US hydrogen bomb project and and the Stalin-Beria utopias of the Soviet Union were the reality check. The Soviet nuclear bomb projects involved vast armies of secret slave labour, but the progress in nuclear submarines and icebreakers opened up new prospects for mankind. Maybe the scientists would come up with nuclear powered shovels to cut the tops of mountains as a prelimanary to mining the minerals below. All the people who believed in atomic physics thought that this would be so.
The trouble wth atomic physics is that the mathematics of space-time seems incredibly difficult. It is easy to get sidetracked. Fourier started it all with 'Un Theorie Analytique de Chaleuar' or an analysis of the heat equation. He showed that any function could be written down as the sum of a trignometrical series. The mathematical justification was so flakey that 'any function' morphed into permutations, rotations, and embeddings of space into itself. Two hundred years later we still know very little about the geometry of space and time but that 'little' has brought us nuclear detonation. Instead we know a lot about function spaces over the real or complex numbers, but have made little progress with physics in p-adic topologies.
To some one of the Fred Hoyle school of thought the zero carbon economy will be solved by nuclear fusion power and it just needs a few altruistic scientists to knock a few political heads together and get the same resources of the nuke detonator projects of the fifties to get slow detonation projects off the ground. They have already spent enough on the creaking banks and moribund financial system. China, Russia, the USA, Japan, India, and the EU can all work on joint projects, although scientists should also be recruited from anywhere in the world.
These projects would all include well paid and interesting jobs with free housing, transportation and air fares.
Leaving University was a shock. My first job was in Croydon and after great effort I found a grotty room in house in Thornton Heath, through an agency. I shared a kitchen with the other tenants who comprised a working class labourer and his live in companion. The other English people at the office seemed to be creeps willing to curry favour with my American employers. I was a junior geophysical engineer with GSI, a seismic survey company which serviced oil prospecting operations world wide. With luck I might get posted to an exotic location such as Libya, or Lebanon. I quickly fund out that I was not enough of a conformist to curry favour with the neo colonial American bosses, nor sufficiently mentally tough to enjoy the amenities of my lodgings. Although I had recently read a book about Mao Dse Dong's epic struggle to liberate the Chinese working class, I was not at all convinced that the British working class would ever want to be liberated by Marxist Revolutinaries. The lumpen proletariat couple sharing my kitchen had regular disputes which seemed to spiral into violence so attempts to get a good night's sleep were disrupted by shouts and screams. Three months working for an American multinational changed me from a little Daily Telegraph reading conservative to a sworn enemy of American neo-colonialism and any form of imperialist enterprise or any political party which wanted us to be more like the Americans. To my horror I discovered that Americans doing similar jobs at GSI, Croydon were being payed far more (about three to one). First, the basic salary for Americans was about three times that of English employees. Next the Americans were on foreign postings, so they got accomodation and air-fares. It seemed that the English were being treated as low wage coolies by an imperial power.
Here I was at the age of 22, living a double life. By day I was in a modern office touching up seismic profiles from Nicaragua for presentation to the leading non-US oil company, while by night I was living in a place owned by a Hungarian refugee and sharing a kitchen and bathroom with the lumpen proletariat. The room at Thornton Heath quickly took on the features of a jail. I was intimately exposed to violent and stupid people because it is hard to get decent accomodation in London. I also remember visiting the home of an older, English employee of GSI. He had been out in the field, working on the boats which tow the seismic echo machines. Geophones measure the reverberations of underwater compressed air explosions. After calibration for sea level the reverberations were subjected to signal analysis, 3-D calculations and then the reduction to 2-D charts which would hopefully show the images of subterranian domes which could hold gas, then water, then oil. This older employee had been earning huge amounts of money but his accomodation was almost as bad as mine. He had clearly been living hard and spending hard. Free air fares and accomodation sap a man's ability to do any sensible budgeting. "Easy come, Easy go" is the watchword. After sitting for weeks in a noisy little box on a ship towing expensive gear it is all too easy to blow the money on more air fares and first class hotels in Third World Cities, and especially in Bangkok with its flourishing prostitution industry. A long term career with GSI did not seem attractive. Even the exotic locations of Libya and Lebanon were under a cloud. The Libyan operation had been curtailed after Muammar Gadafi's coup d'etat. The Lebanese data center had apperently found itself in a zone where there were regular exchanges of gunfire by Lebanese freedom fighters.
I left GSI after just three months, and then applied for a non academic job at Chelsea College of Science and Technology. Good riddance to globalisation. I could be proud of my degree and get a job as a computer programmer without ever having programmed a computer in my life. At Cambridge I had not been part of the computer clique, although I knew the names of some of the gurus. Swinnerton-Dyer, and Bourne were two prominent names at the computing laboratory. Swinnerton-Dyer is now famous for the Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture ($1000000 prize) and Bourne went to America to develop UNIX. The command line interpretor 'bash' is named after Bourne.
After living in Thornton Heath, I returned to London to live in a palatial flat, and to work in a warehouse complex which housed the college computer system. Both places were North of the River, and it was an easy commute by underground. The flat had been found by an agency where my profession and qualifications were taken down. The agency specialised in graduates and high flyers, and took every effort to ensure that tenants fitted well into the shared houses in the books. I got a place in a flat which was run by a youngish stockbroker. The block was in old residential block in Maida Vale, the Northward extension of Edgeware road. I was to share a room with another stockbroker. There were few rules. If someone in one of the shared rooms wanted to bring back a girl to shag, then the other tenant could bed down on the comfortable sofa in the lounge. In practice this did not happen because although my room mate Tony, had plenty of girlfriends he would usually go to their place. He was that well connected that all his girlfriends seemed to have ther own accomodation. In fact I often had the room to myself.
My frequently absent room-mate, Tony had hitch hiked to India and worked for a while in the Istanbul money bazaar. He now worked for a stockbroking firm in the 'City'. Another tenant, Adjakian, had supplied a whole Northern University with cannabis for a student job and was now also working as a share dealer in the city. My own job at the college computer center saw the consumption of vast amounts of cards, papertape and high quality printer paper. In thos times my own attempts at programming produced boxes and boxes of output. A spelling mistake in a programme would invoke a hexadecimal dump of the 'stack'. This was usually several pages long, and mostly useless. Computer supplies looked a growing business and eventually I suggested that we invest in Kode International. Gus said he could get the shares cheap and so myself and several others put a hundred pounds or so into the wretched company. It did not take long to find out some of the realities of speculative investment. Because the share price was moving so rapidly the shares cost considerebly more than we thought they would. The share price was rapidly rising but the wave seemed to break just a few days later. After that I stopped reading the Daily Telegraph whose city correspondent had touted the shares, and started getting the Guardian. There were other schemes afoot. Tony seemed quite enthusiastic about a 'stag' which was slang for another type of investment on newly issued shares. Despite Kode's decline several of us bought more shares. The idea was that if the original purchase was sound, then cheaper shares were an even better investment. Academic and commercial computers continued to gobble high quality statoinary, including punched cards. The punch cards had a fantastic secondary use. They could be used as 'roaches' for cannabis loaded cigarettes. It meant that you did not have to tear the Rizla packet, which was a dead giveaway pointing out a person as a user of illegal drugs. To this day I feel resentful if I allow someone to take some Rizla and then they tear bits off the packet. To me, the first rule of illegality is discretion, and acting cool ('Jai Yen' in Thai).
My move to the Guardian coincided with another change in my life. The experience in Thornton Heath had brought on an episode of paranoia and depression, and I had felt quite suicidal for a while. A doctor had prescribed a course of impipramine, or tofranil (R), which was supposed to cure depression. The most noticeable effects were a dried mouth and blurred vision. The real cure for depression had been the move to North of the River, and the transfer from a commercial environment to an academic environment. I kept this hint of mental illness secret from my flatmates. Drug treatment for depression did not work. In early 1970 I had taken my first flight. I went on a skiing holiday with Adjakian. The experience was a disaster. The itinary London, Luton, Munich, Soll passed without a hitch, but I found I was too timid to ski well. Adjakian had said in a worldly fashion that the aim of any such ski holiday was to end up in bed with the Tour Company rep. That did not happen to either of us. On the slopes I did not see much of Adjakian. He was not a beginner, so he set off to enjoy the pistes, while I was with a group of beginners learning how to stop. On the first day, a middle aged woman had to be carried off the slope. She had broken a leg. For me, the rest of the skiing was an struggle against gravity. Any way of resisting unwanted acceleration was allowed, including judicious use of bits of asphalt or mud on farmtracks. One time I saw a skiier who had only one leg. In total confdence he had blasted down at high speed, and easily zipped along a tricky track between a cliff and a ravine full of waterfalls. The apres ski was not much better. There seemed a certain amount of forced jollity. A favourite show of the locals seemed to be a group of men of all ages dancing around in lederhosen, and singing and slapping each others thighs. This was the highlight of Austrian Culture. I think myself and Adjakian got drunk most evenings. Austria in spring was pretty, but I was pleased simply to be able to walk to the departing tour bus that took us back to Munich. We passed the big autobahn entry point at Munich where I had previously dossed down while hitching to Yugoslavia.
This meant that I was so depressed that I could not enjoy a simple skiing holiday. The medical drugs were not working so I tried Cannabis. I bought a small amount from some youths who were lurking in a doorway at Picadilly Circus. It was only a small detour from my usual tube journey from work. At the flat I cautiously made a joint out of a cigarette, a couple a rizlas, a strip of punched card, and some of the hashish. At the weekend I got to Hampstead Heath, and smoked that first joint.
Sometimes I went along with my flatmates to a pub in Little Venice. The situation was quite pleasant. One evening I crossed the railway lines into Paddington, and the street took me to Portobello Road. There was a pub there called the Duke of Wellington and sitting outside were a lot of hippy types including some who sold hashish. At that time the price was five pounds an ounce for Afghani or Paki black. The 'Af' had a reputation for being opiated. I ended up going to The Duke of Wellington, also known as 'Finches' quite regularly. Work was also getting interesting. I was introduced to a physiologist who wanted to extend animal research into computer simulations. Shev Lal had started on a computer program to model the retina visual pathways. The previous programmer had left for a better paid job in business so I picked up the pieces to continue Dr Shev Lal's project. I had several interesting meetings with Shev. He gave my a crash course in Neurophysiology including action potentials, inhibitory and excitatory synapses, sudden electrical discharge and then a return, or recovery to a normal resting potential. Our job was to do a detailed simulation of all this on the computer. The neurone potentials were to be implemented by piecewise exponential functions. I also read about NcCulluch-Pitts networks from Marvin Minsky's book Finite and Infinite Machines. It seemed that all problems of life, administration, social dynamics, and economy could be solved by the correct application of neural networks. After all, Marvin Minsky had presented a proof that a McColloch-Pitts network could do anything that could be done by a Turing Machine. Neural networks could explain how you got drunk or stoned, or even the mechanics of sexual arousal. Smoking a few spliffs made Minsky's book vastly entertaining.
Besides buying cannabis at Finche's I was presented with the opportunity for anti-capitalist activity. I went to meetings of the Ladbroke Grove Anarchist and Libertarian Society. This group comprised university lecturers, construction workers, orators and quite a few drifters. The orator was a speaker at Hyde Park Corner, and regularly denounced capitalism, and the government of the time. The construction worker was the most balanced of the group. He took 'The Times' onto building sites, and talked about Pere Lachaise cemetary in Paris where there were the mass graves of the 1870-71 communards. It transpired that some of the others went to the group meetings to search out for young men for non-political activity. For myself I was content to see capitalism subverted, or replaced by a system where knowledge rather than social connections would be paramount.
By this time the relationship between myself and my flatmates became somewhat strained. The room which I was sharing was often unoccupied but I would still move about the flat at all hours of night, and often fell asleep completely stoned in the sitting room, usually with the copy of Minsky, and some of my own attempts at neural net design scattered on the table. Used lineprinter paper was quite plentiful for these designs. At that time I had neither the programming skills nor the mathematical knowledge to improve on Turing, or Minsky.
Cannabis was illegal in those days, but Jill Tweedie had just written an article in the Guardian condemning prohibition, so I justified my behaviour to my flatmates in civil liberties terms, and emphasised that I was an academic researcher with a first class degree from Cambridge, and that silly rules were not meant to apply to the likes of me. Jill Tweedie certainly had little time for silly rules, nor the poiticians who made then, nor the upper class judges which enforced them. It seemed that some feminists were great supporters of progressive thought.
Being an anarchist seemed a cool way of fence sitting when it came to some burning issues of the day. In particular it was possible to condemn both sides of the Ulster conflict as narrow minded nationalists who rallied to nothing more than coloured cloth, or national symbols. The 1968 PD (People's Democracy) movement seemed to have morphed into groups that practiced heavy handed police and paramilitary activity in an urban setting. Personally I did not know who was right. Clearly the border police had used excessive force, but the IRA had taken to extremely brutal summary justice meted out to youngsters who were involved in 'drug dealing'. It was easy to explain that terror served the interests of the ruling class by giving them an excuse to curtail civil liberties. It seemed blindingly obvious. The Reichstag fire of 1933 was the supreme example. Someone burns down an iconic building and the state fully recovers from the attack and jails all its opponents, then blames the Jews and passes stupid and restrictive laws leading to mass murder. According to much anarchist theory, the state will always become greedy and try to control citizens' life more and more. The Nazi genocide is not an aberration, but merely a form of exploitative capitalism. As a consequence capitalist governments and cartels need close monitoring in case they put genocide back on the agenda.
Although I did not know it at the time, the UK was seeing an internal refugee crisis. Portobello Road, like Maida Vale, was fairly close to the large Irish community in Kilburn. Some of the cannabis dealers in London were refugees from politically motivated violence in Ulster. The issue impinged on the work environment. I shared an office with a programmer called Roger. In our department was a computer operator called Oliver who spoke with a strong Irish accent. Roger was always making derogatory comments of Ireland being a country of leprachauns and IRA bombers, and also he often used the name 'Oliver Plunkett'. I kept my mouth shut most of the time, I knew nothing of Ireland apart from some reminiscences of my father who had travelled to Ireland as a tourist (very poor, hitch hiking, and camping). I think my father and his companions liked the Irish drinking culture. Even at the time I felt Roger's attitude rather distasteful, but anarchism appeared to support progressive developements rather than petty divisions of humanity into race and tribe. The trouble with Anarchism was that it was rather tribal in itself. The 'Great Heroic Struggle' for Anarchists had been the 'Spanish Civil War'. The Anarchists had been crushed by both the Fascists, and the Communists. Another group of losers were the Jews. In the 1890s East European Jews were prominent in some key political developments: Anarchism, the Bund, and Zionism. Anarchism and Zionism remain important to this day.
Portobello Road was an interesting place to meet people. One of them was a long haired psycholigist from Canada. He was taking a sabbatical in London to help him recover from a broken marriage. We would go to his room and smoke spliffs. We would also talk abut psychology. My friend told me that I must read R.D.Laing, and I found his books very interesting. The psychologist was very interested in transaction diagrams, and to me this sort of analysis seemed to fit in well with neural net modelling.
Sometimes we would go into the garden. The garden was typical in London for that period. Tenants of the surrounding houses would normally get a key to the garden. We would go there in the late evening and discretely smoke cocktails. These were spliffs where the tobacco was taken out of a normal cigarette, mixed with hashish, and then tamped back into the paper tube. You could smoke these in public in most places: parks, pubs, buses, tube stations, cinemas and so on. Nowadays you can get arrested just for smoking a cigarette in most of these places. Access to the gardens behind the houses is also more restricted. Ordinary tenants no longer get keys to these areas of greenery, because they are privatised. They are run by societies independent of the landlords who charge key money for access. Church yards have also vanished in much of London. The land surrounding churches has been sold off to developers leaving a three foot wide gap between the church walls and railings or barbed wire fences which protect the private property next door. There are less and less places where it is possible to enjoy a quiet spliff in London. You have to sit in places littered with syringes and take the risk of being accosted be people who think you are out there looking for a quick bout of gay sex in the diminishing cover of the bushes.
In those days people were often locked up for the mere possession of cannabis. Even though I had once been accosted and searched by plainclothes men on the way to Finches the experience was not unduly alarming. The plainclothesman rather reminded me of a gay man doing a bit of over enthusiastic cruising. He wanted to assure himself by touch and feel that the young man had an adequate sexual development. The time I was searched I was on the way to score so I did not pass the test, and was allowed to walk on. The only people who went to jail for possession were dealers, or obviously working class people, or people of color. This point was made very forcefully in the Jill Tweedy article.
To aviod trouble it was best to be 'cool'. This mostly involved speaking politely only when spoken to in a coherant manner, and not jumping around and shouting random insults to all and sundry and not showing that you were black or Irish. This rule still seems to apply today, even when America has a black president. It is a cruel irony that a Harvard professor cannot be 'cool' according to my rather loose and politically incorrect definition. Accosting people for sex or money is also not cool,
My behaviour at the flat was definitely not cool anymore. From the occasional user of a banned drug I was now a complete menace. Sometimes I brought back homeless people to use the spare bed in my room. Once I brought back a young couple. The boy had had a succession of experiences in care homes and jail, while the young lady had just found the boy terribly mature and experienced, and needed emotional support. Neither of them would get emotional support from me, but the offer of a spare bed for the night was rather better. In the morning they could just get lost, and I could go to work. If I did not really want to see my visitors again I could always stay at work till very late, then eat in a restaurant before returning home very late at night. Working late was no problem, because all the computers were switched on 24/7, or I knew how to start the ones I wished to use. The gatekeeper knew all the staff by sight, and no-one needed passes or ID or anything like that. The gatekeeper had a secure job.
I met quite a few people at Finches who had hitch hiked across Asia. It seemed a very cool thing to do, and I was determined to have a go at this. The previous year I had reached Istanbul and in some ways the place had seemed medieval in it's backwardness. Or perhaps medieval with a touch of 20th century fascism. Like Greece, Turkey had a strong military which was determined to be a political force. Both Greece and Turkey were NATO members. Both were fascistic states. Their jails were full of writers and publishers and foreign tourists caught with drugs. Greece was ruled by colonels. For my next trip I determined to avoid Greece at all costs, and get through Turkey as quickly as possible. I had met an Iranian student at Finches, and he had explained that Iran was shortly to be taken over by the Marxist opposition. He himself came from a well off family but he had an enthusiasm for revolutionary Marxism much greater than any English person I had met. He gave me an excellent book by an Iranian marxist, written in the style of Chomsky. The book described how the elite would drive through villages where the people were starving, protected from their pleading looks by tinted windscreens. The Shah was not part of the Persian Royal line but the son of a bumped up army officer, put in place by the British to stabilise the area after the Russian revolution. Reza Shah was a fascist, and when Hitler invaded Russia, he had to be removed. The British under Churchill agreed on a temporary partition of Iran. Churchill had been responsible for Iran's lop sided development since his admiralty days of 1904-5 when he decided British warships would be fuelled by oil rather than coal. The British and American coup against Mossadegh (1951) had been organised by the payment of money to the lumpen-proletariat by the CIA. The CIA had also gone one to teach the secret police, SAVAK, the most refined torture, using a giant electric grill. All of this was endorsed and approved by men in suits walking the power centers of Washington and London. To many in the West such details are a threat to their way of life. Our wealth still relies on keeping the people of the big oil producers in a state of subjugation. Religion is beneficial for keeping the people backward. In Islam, one of the words for rebellion is derived from the name Satan. Adding a verb suffix to the name of Satan creates the word for rebellion. Any anti-capitalist activity such as a strike or petition is enough to brand the perpetrators of allies of Satan, and therefore apostates in Islam. Marxism is a particularly nasty rebellion in thought.
My friend Ahmed was part of an international brotherhood of Iranian Marxists. They had scored a success in Germany by organising big demonstrations with episodes of police brutality. Ahmed helped organise my trip to Iran. He told me to apply for a multiple entry visa, at the London embassy, directed my reading list, taught me farsee verb conjugation, and gave me some pamphlets to distribute to Iranian Marxists at Teheran University.
Before the trip to Iran there was a bout of political activity. I bought some LSD tablets to help me gain insight into the world. The effects were rather horrific because familiar things turned scary. The rustling of the wind in the trees became sinister, just like the lull in the film music before a vampire or werewolf meets its victim. Many people in the street looked like cruel versions of Satan. The trouble with LSD is that the nightmares persisted for several hours, and the only way to handle this was to chainsmoke cigarettes and watch the patterns. This was not displeasing, because it was easy to control the direction of the smoke and the shadows on the wall by means of adjusting the ventilation and light. I hazily remember a conversation with the man in charge of our flat while I was high on LSD. It seemed to be a movie where I was talking to an old schoolmistress over some minor infraction (very rare).
1970 saw a General Election. Activists organised an anti-capitalist demonstration in the City on election day. We would rally outside the Stock Exchange and chant "Don't Vote! Rock the Boat!". It was a pithy and poetic message. Those without insight would go and vote Tory or Labour, but real revolutionary leftists knew that both big political parties were mere appandages of ae system which had destroyed Anarchists and Communists in Spain, Greece, Iran and all of South and Central America. Besides the Anarchists, the Fenians were also into abstentionist politics, so we could rely on support from some of the Irish agitators. Needless to say some of these Irish were protestant. They also were fed up with the choice offered. They could not even vote British Labour for arcane political reasons.
I was always keen to go on demonstrations for the spectacle. While ready to cheer on the breaking of windows or the burning of cars I was reluctant to get involved in police brutality. The stock exchange demonstration saw almost no violence. Many of the crowd had quite strong links to business or the bourgeoisie. For my own part I had a friendly hello for the types from a navel research establishment who regularly booked time on the rather obsolescent elliot 503 computer at work. I had also been exploited by global capitalists, and seen the stock exchange as a money siphoning institution which merely helped the rich to get richer at the expense of the increasing number of poor. The real bloodsuckers did not go around in long capes on moonless nights. They walked around in suits and traded oil or military ordnance. The government of the day would give obsequious assistance to the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower's characterisation) by setting up foreign alliances such as NATO, CENTO, and SEATO and maintaining British bases to enforce favourable terms of trade with military options. After Iran and Suez the British went more for clandestine operations.
The current political system did not offer voters a real choice. It was like offering a vegetarian the choice between a pig's intestines or a sheep's intestines. Liberal Democrats could get chicken giblets. The meat eaters would vote for one unappetising choice because the other was even worse. The rich advertisers would downplay the fact that the best parts were eaten by a small elite or sold in the highest profitable market.
Before the demonstration we assembled in a small park near Whitechapel road. This was real anarchist territory. There was a famous anarchist bookshop in Whitechapel. It was called the Freedom Bookshop. I was too busy with Minsky and the Iranian stuff to feel ready to buy much anarchist material. There was only a small crowd in the park. The numbers seemed less than 300. There was only a minor police presence. Real police brutality was reserved for Northern Ireland where noxious gas and plastic bullets were a routine item of police intimidation.
Everyone knew that Whitechapel had been the scene of conflicts between Nazis and the left during the 1930s. On that day there were no Nazis. Nowadays the English voted a couple of Nazis into the European Parliament. The stock exchange continues as a money losing institution. Its internal workings are still a mystery to all but those who work in finance. Even many who work in finance seem profoundly ignorant of most issues except who shagged which bird where, or where they will go drinking in the evening.
The group marched to the stock exchange, and chanted "Don't Vote! Rock the Boat!". After a while many drifted back to the park where there were some food and drink stalls. As is normal on anarchist demonstrations there were few trades union banners to be seen. It was the job of the trades unions to sponsor labour MPs, and to get out the vote to elect them. The labour government was unpopular with most trades unions because they had tried to control wage levels. This was no problem for many.
Later that month I left the flat in Maida Vale and handed back my keys. The bed would be re-let to another city type, no doubt. I went to Sheffield to visit my parents, and to get some jabs. There was smallpox, with an official certificate, and typhoid and paratyphoid for safety. The typhoid jab was quite painful. It took a couple of days for my arm to stop hurting. Somehow I missed out on cholera.
IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN.
I hitched from Sheffield to Dover, took the ferry to Ostend, and then hitched on to Ljubljana where I stayed for a day or so. Next I travelled to Belgrade, continued to Nis and turned left onto the the road for the Dragoman pass. I missed out seeing the famous Skull Tower or Kola Chela, but later in life I used to catch a bus from that famous monument. My geography teacher at school had said that the Mongols had built a mountain of skulls in Nis, but as I later found out, the story had changed. I spent a night sleeping by the road just outside Pirot. The next day I got into Bulgaria where hitching was easy. The Bulgarians seemed very civilised and friendly. I left Sofia with another English hitch-hiker. Travelling as a twosome slowed things down. There was company, but far fewer lifts. We got a lift to Plovdiv with a busload of young school teachers. After trying to hitch towards Turkey for the rest of the day we left our luggage in a field and spent a pleasant evening drinking in Plovdiv. We slept by the road, and next day we got to Svilengrad where no one stopped for us until the evening. Finally a Volkswagon Combi stopped for us. The driver, a Berliner named Klaas, was going all the way to Afghanistan. Klaas had previously visited Japan where he had been able to find factory work, then he had moved onto Thailand where he had spent some time as a Buddhist monk. Now he was driving to Afghanistan, where he would buy sheepskin coats to sell to boutiques in Berlin. He had sorted out all the paperwork necessary to drive a vehicle through Iran and Turkey. This was a considerable feat.
There were other hitch-hikers in the van. When we stopped in Istanbul most of the other hitch-hikers got left behind because they needed too much time to organise Iranian visas. We picked up a young Dutchman who could drive and crossed Turkey. The road rapidly deteriorated after Ankara, and the territory became quite mountainous. We saw a turkish car suffer serious damage after collision with a sheep. At the top of one pass we were hailed by a Turkish peasant who wanted a light for his cigarette. At Agri we picked up an English couple who were being mobbed by the local people. The young man, Brian explained that he had crossed Turkey three times to get that far. The first time round a sponsor had paid him to drive a Mercedes Benz across Turkey to Iran, where the car would be sold. Everything went well until he got to Iranian customs. The officials explained that the Benz really belonged to a car hire company, and suggested to Brian that he could avoid any unpleasentness by driving the car back to Greece, and returning it to his sponsor. He could also get the 'car stamp' cancelled from his passport, and then he could enter Iran legitimately.
During the trip we developed a routine. Klaas and the Dutchman would drive all day, then we would sleep by the road at night. Klaas would sleep in the van, while the passengers slept outside, in sleeping bags. We crossed into Iran just by mount Ararat, passed Mako, and then slept by the road where the mountains gave way to desert. The next days driving was very pleasant. We saw lots of dust devils making their way between us and the mountains. On one overnight stop I had a fantastic dream. I seemed to be in a garden of Eden, with brilliantly coloured flowers and flowing streams. The dream was exceptionally vivid, and I put it down to an LSD flashback. Of course we were also quite near to Amalut, the legendry home of Hasan I Sabah, founder of the order of Assassins. Later on the Hawkwind track 'Hasan I Sabah' became one of my favurite songs.
The road got quite good as we got near to Teheran, and after Qazvin it became a modern autobahn. We passed the suburb of Evin, infamous for its brutal jail where the Shah's secret police routinely tortured political dissidents. In 2009 Evin prison remains notorious and many young people of the chattering classes get tortured there after the recent disputed election. We stopped for a day in Teheran, staying at a hotel. Next we crossed the mountains to the Caspian coast and slept in some fields just outside Babol. There were no insects at that time of year. The local people, many of whom professed to being in the Turkish minority, seemed very friendly. We passed on through an area of temperate jungle to the shrine city of Mashad. After Mashad the road became worse and we crossed the Afghan border at Islam Qala. The official who stamped our passports gave us a lump of hashish to smoke while we were on the road.
Although 1970 was a famine year in Afghanistan the locals were quite friendly. I continued to practice my Farsee, and in the Herat area this was quite sucessful. I left Klaas in Herat to do some sight seeing. Later I bussed it to Kabul, travelling on the southern route via Kandahar. The bus was full of Europeans, and several got out at Kandahar to buy drugs from the local pharmacies. Amphetamine, heroin and LSD were all alleged to be on open sale in the local shops. I was too tired to move. At Kabul I checked into the Bamian hotel. I stayed in a dormitary in the Hotel Bamian. My room mate in Maida Vale had recommended it to me. We all smoked hashish from chilloms and I had a rather unpleasant hallucination where a young German appeared to grow horns like the devil and float up to the ceiling. I met all sorts of university drop outs there and I was rather pleased that I had been able to leave university with a degree. In Kabul I saw a young American I had met in Herat. In Herat the Afghanis had told me he was smoking too much hashish and he would go crazy. In Kabul he was being driven around by other Americans in a big Range Rover. He had clearly found friends amongst yanks in a local aid organisation such as USAID. These rich foreigners were evidently living much better than the locals for doing very little to develop the country. I was unaware that the Americans had initiated projects to turn the desert green in Helmand. Everyone now knows that the greening of the desert has lead to an opium industry and the growth of a whole lot of villages defended by ingenious explosive booby traps which kill and maim dozens of young men from Britain. The foreign drug seeking hippies gave way to Saudis with existential problems, then a medley of NATO combatants. English apologists always said that Britain was punching above its weight because of the nuclear deterrent. Nowadays British generals claim that the fight is the toughest operation since the Korean war. To many non military types it appears that the army is punching well above its weight limit, and receiving lots of punishment. At that time I was also unaware that one day I would be driving a big car around in a moslem country, and earning much more than many of the locals, as a technician in the USA sponsored international development circus.
I visited Bamiyan with a load of foreign hippies. The journey there passed throuh spectacular mountain scenary. The men, and the foreigners rode on the roof of the bus while Afghan women sat in the body of the bus along with a few sheep and chickens. At Bamiyan I spent a day exploring the caves in the hillside and sat and smoked a few spliffs on top of the Buddha's head. The faces of both Buddha statues had been hacked off several centuries ago. There was an unpleasant incident with some of the local factions. We were sleeping in a tea house run by a local called Lontai. At about midnight a delegation of tribal elders arrived, and ordered us all to go and sleep in a nearby government guesthouse. They used a bit of physical force on our host, and most of us moved to the government guesthouse. The tribal elders seemed to want to avoid us fraternising too much with the locals. They probably thought that poor hippies were not really the sort of tourists that Afghanistan wanted; especially tourists who enjoyed the local hashish.
Because of the unpleasantness between the different factions some of us curtailed our visit. Others started off on the more ambitious journey to Herat via Band Amir, and the huge minaret of Ghor. The visit had been interesting. Three of us had walked through the farmlands to get a view of the cliffs from across the valley. Some locals had invited us to see a small water powered mill. We saw heavy grindtones whizzing around almost too fast for the eye to see, and all of this was done from the energy of a small stream.
Later Bamiyan became a focus for fierce fighting. The Taliban attempted to stamp out the tourist problem once and for all with high explosives. In the summer of 2001 they blew up the Buddha statues after trying to destroy them with heavy artillary.
On returning to Kabul, many of the foreigners were going to continue the journey to India via the Khyber pass. Many were determined to soak up the wisdom of the East. For myself I did not share this temptation. Firstly the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seemed to show that when it came to excercising raw power the wisdom of the West could not be rejected out of hand. Had not Oppenheimer himself quoted from Hindu scriptures when the bombs had been dropped. Secondly Dr Shev Lal at Chelsea college was from South Asia, but he had voted with his feet to work in the West. He had a medical degree, and was doing lading edge research in neurology. Thirdly I had to deliver leaflets to Marxist students in Iran, and help to kick down the keystone of the anti-Soviet alliance called CENTO for Central Treatise Organisation. I was keen to return to Iran, via Mazar I Sharif.
I had come to this part of Asia well prepared. I had read of Dervla Murphy's cycle trip to India, where she had already made some rather caustic comments on the types of drifters to be seen on the overland route to India. My experiances in Kabul had born this out. Many of the hippies were university drop outs who had failed to complete their courses because of overindulgance in drugs. I had also read 'Eastern Approaches' by Fitzroy McClean. This man was a diplomat in Russia during Stalin's Terror, but he had written an excellent account of guerilla warfare waged by communist partisans in Yugoslavia. Another interesting book had been Freddie Spencer Chapman's account of survival in Malaya during the Second World War. "The Jungle is Neutral" described the rather uneasy relationship between a British officer on the run from the Japanese and the communist partisans, mainly Chinese, who had carried on fighting after the British had been humiliated at Singapore. The mistrust of the Chinese partisans towards the British officer had been well and truly justified. In the late 40s and 50s the returning Brits had carried out an eradication campaign against the Chinese Marxists just so they could boast of an eventual success in the Far East. Freddy Spencer Chapman apperently got an Oxbridge fellowship after the war and drunk himself to death. My own father had been a great admirer of General Orde Wingate who had laid down key principals for waging guerilla warfare in the jungles of Asia. All of those on the road with any political outlook were keen supporters of Ho Chi Minh, and a few were also admirers of Mao Tze Dong. I myself had drawn considerable derision while working in a Sheffield steel mill by reading from a flattering biography of Mao during slack periods. The workers were not yet ready for the overthrow of the Tory-Labour imperialist system by the deployment of guerilla armies in the UK. I had prepared myself for the drugs culture by reading the tract of yet another former military officer. Dr Timothy Leary had attended Westpoint, done a bit of military psychiatry, and then written a book called "The Politics of Ectstacy". Just like former military psychiatrist, R.D. Laing he had advocated the use of psychadelic drugs as a research tool. According to this ethos, you could consume drugs not as an act of hedonism, but as an act of scientific research. Governments which sought a blanket prohibition on the use of mood altering drugs were getting in the way of scientific research and allowing rule by the stupid. These governments just wanted an ignorant and docile proletariat to support the rich by working for low wages and by buying consumer items such as cars, washing maschines and soap powder.
Despite the best preparations the reality was shocking. The Kabul meat market was a horror. It was in an open area near to an open sewer which was really a river wide enough to need stone bridges. There were wooden frames to which blackish sacks seemed to be tied. On closer inspection these turned out to be skinned animal carcasses covered with flies. There were a few tables amongst piles of rubble. There were a some low walls nearby where people would squat and defecate. This was the main meat market in the capital city. Maybe that's why there were so many fat flies. I was immediately attracted to the virtues of a vegetarian diet, but of course the vegetables from the markets would be washed in the local river/sewer before being put on display. Only those who lived in the compounds of powerful NGOs could be guaranteed a decent diet.
I spent a few days visiting the most easily accessible sites before going North. The local tradesman were quite hospitable. The carpet sellers would sometimes offer cups of tea ond the occassional spliff to people who looked as though they had no money at all. They were quite shrewd really. The bourgeois week end hippy and the working class drifter looked pretty much the same after weeks of hard travelling and consumption of as many drugs as possible. Many that looked like drifters would later on go on to being big importers of Oriental bric-a-brac to the boutiques of Amsterdam, Berlin, London or Zurich. Having a hippy drinking tea in the shop could easily attract other westerners. The prophet of Islam himself had been involved in trade before becoming prophet and statesman. These shopkeepers would turn away no one who behaved politely. Having long hair and smoking dope was fine, but wearing shorts or using abusive language was not.
I could never be a trader. I was always a would be Brahmin who wanted the time to meditate on cybernetics and neural nets rather than be a trader, or a member of the warrior caste. It is easy enough to end up a Dalit, or untouchable when expectations exceed reality. The two temples that interested me most were the Temple of Knowledge, and the Temple of Power, in that order. A Buddha with its face hacked off seemed a poor temple for either, but I did not lose faith. People still live in the caves around the Buddha artifacts. I had dutifully visited The Kabul museum and saw many relics from Graeco Buddhist culture. I had never realised the impact of Alexander of Macedon, before I visited Central Asia.
A particularly interesting part of Kabul was a small neighbourhood colonised by Indians. The shops seemed cleaner and more glitzy than average, but the shopkeepers did not offer tea and spliffs in the manner of the Afghans. They were selling electronics and other hardware for use locally, rather than carpets for export. Their business networks would be more oriented towards India, and possibly Japan, rather than Germany or other European countries. It was still an interesting place to see. They would sell music and records with pictures on the cover. There would be some women who did not wear the normal prison like garb of the Afghani women. Female attire for many consisted of a shapeless garment with a bag for the head. The woman would survey the street through an embroidered grill rather like the barred window of a jail. This was part of the local culture and it was uncool to mock it. Sensible western women could get on quite easily if they wore anything that looked like cold climate motorcycle gear but of such women are a rarity in our culture.
One evening I went for a meal in one of Kabul's best hotel, along with a couple of other people from the Bamiyan Hotel. There was a chance to buy a beer in hotels reserved for foreigners and influential civil servants. Despite the plush surroundings there was not really much choice for food. We chose the 'Afghan Meal' which consisted of mutton and rice, without much garnish in the way of vegetables. The meal may have been brought to us by better dressed servants, but it was not really worth the high price which, this being Afghanistan, was well affordable. An Englishman travelling on a budget of a pound a day could easily spend a few day's local workman's wages on such a repast.
There were bad luck stories circulating the Bamiyan Hotel. Some people had already spent all their money. Other people had caught malaria. Traffic accidents were always a hazard. A couple of hippies had sat down on a bench to smoke some spliffs with some friendly locals, but when they got up to walk away their bags containing passports and money had gone missing. Bust ups with travelling companions was also a recurrent theme. A group would set off by car or bus from Europe but the high impact of experiencing an alien culture would break friendships. Some would end up hitch hiking or bussing it, even though they had set off from Europe as a carload of friends. There were also those who had set off for India and found some sort of paying work along the way. Those with the right skills might help shopkeepers, drive buses or even work for the local secret police for all that I know. They would be able to work cash in hand and avoid the problems of work visas and suchlike. My own academic skills seemed to place me in the 'stupid' category for such ventures. Little did I know that one day I would find work on the hippy trail and spend a few years living with a beautiful woman and doing interesting work while I should have been on the journey back to England to visit my dying father. I never got to India, and I never said goodbye to my father in a formal sense.
After the site seeing I took the bus to Mazar I Sharif. We passed Bagram and drove through some beautiful valleys towards the Salang Tunnel. During one of the frequent prayer stops I went to a stone so I could sit and smoke a cigarette. I was joined by a young schoolboy who sat and spoke to me in quite good English. He told me that all those bearded men at prayer were superstititious and ignorant people who were keeping the country in a terribly backwards state. I guess there were few schoolboys in Afghanitan. This one seemed to have learned his lessons quite well. It seems quite a mystery why he should have been on that bus. Maybe he was visiting friends up country. His views seemed quite similar to those of Ahmed, the Marxist I had met in London, and yet Afghanistan seemed dirt poor compared to Iran. Where did he get his education? This schoolboy was part of the rising intelligentsia of this backwards country. Later on an alliance of the likes of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Gulbadeen Hekmatyar would strive to eradicate the Afghani intelligentsia. After Thatcher and Reagan the situation is even worse. One of the most powerful QGOs (Quasi Government Organisations) now operating in Kabul is the Bagram Torture Center where the administration no doubt eat air freighted Big Macs while prisoners from all over the world languish in the dungeons between bouts of torture in exotic locations such as Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Marocco and the hard cases get sent on to the Carribean resort of Guantanamo Bay.
Soon the schoolboy left the bus and the rest of us continued our journey Northwards. The bus climbed to about 3000 meters and then entered the Salang Tunnel. The roads and the tunnel had been built by the Russians. There was not much time for sight seeing, and riding on the roof was not allowed on this more modern bus which was modelled on the American style of school bus. The next prayer stop took place near to a substantial river called the Amu Dariya or the Syr Dariya. Eventually the waters would flow into the river marked as the Oxus on those maps showing the conquests of Alexander of Macedon, and then eventually to the Aral Sea. We reached Mazar I Sharif where I found a fairly clean and modern hotel. I shared a room with a couple of Swiss tourists, and we had an interesting talk about university life and our easy and well paid jobs. The Swiss like myself, were tourists trying to find out more about the local culture.
I visited nearby Balkh which had supposedly become one of the key cities of Central Asia after its foundation by Alexander of Macedon twenty three centuries ago. All that I could see were a few ruined walls and some huts that were used from time to time by professional archaeologists. There was a little street market and a tea stall, so I soon gave up walking around the ruined walls and returned to the bus terminus for a few spliffs and a cup of tea. The only thing going for the place was its proximity to the Russian border. In Russia the women were not so heavily veiled, and they had a space program to explore the distant reaches of the solar system.
Mazar I Sharif was a pleasant little town. The shopkeepers were hositable and very interested to meet Westerners because so few came that way. Nevvertheless I was quite keen to get back to Iran, so after a couple of days I picked up my rucksack and headed to a place where there were many vehicles with men or boys shouting out the various destinations. There was no bus to Herat. The next town was Maimena so I found a vehicle where the driver was shouting "Maimena, Maimena, Maimena". I paid, and waited like the other would be travellers for the small truck to fill up. It was essentially a pick up truck with seats along both sides in the back.
Eventually we started our journey. The road soon gave out and we entered featureless grassland steppe where each driver picked his own way towards the horizon. Eventually we came to a road where some small dessicated hills contained gulches requiring concrete bridges. The trails converged towards a single road wherever engineering had been required. At one stop I had shared a hookah with some Afghanis but the nicotine kick had blasted me, and gave me a feeling of nausea and a headache. Later on a long incubating argument between two Afghani passengers became rather violent and they started trading punches while remaining in their seats. As the sun set the September air became quite chilly and then rather freezing. The cold caused me acute discomfort for the last few miles in the open truck. Finally the truck broke down and the driver told us to get out and walk. Soon we were overtaken by a bus heading for Maimena, and we were able to get on this bus and complete the rest of the journey in relative comfort.
Maimena was not much of a place. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and when I started searching for somewhere to stay there seemed to be a consensus that I should stay in the government guest house. This was part of a ramshackle collection of buildings, in a small compound. I was given a decent sized room in one of them, and the administrators allocated a soldier to protect me. There was not much food but I was offered tea, and I ate some nan bread and a tin of tuna I had carried all the way from Yugoslavia. Each of these Yugoslav tuna tins had an ingenious thumbnail sized tin opener attached. Nowadays this type of tin opener is almost extinct. Today our Western consumer society forces you to buy a big tin opener which must be bolted to the wall. In camping shops you can buy thumbnail tin openers which are five times larger than the old Yugoslav model, and infinitely more expensive.
I settled down to read a book that I had bought in Kabul. The room had candles. Soon I was joined by my guard who said nothing, but sat and watched me reading with intense concentration. He was a typical soldier for that sort of time and place. He wore a scruffy gray uniform and no visible weapons. It was clear that he was a low paid conscript, not really to be trusted to with weapons because he either would be too dangerous if he kept the weapon, or he would tempted to sell the weapon to augment his pittance of a salary. Afghanistan was like Turkey and Iran in the sense that the central government was not 100% confident of its ability to hold the provinces without a paraphernalia of police stations and military outposts. Of course the UK was somewhat similar, but the military issued more and better weapons, and the barracks were huge compounds with internal road networks and armoured personnel carriers. The UK concentrated such force in a mere six counties which covered about a tenth of the size of an average province of an Asian country. The UK had definite problems in maintaining order in the troubled Ulster Province.
The soldier continued to watch me. I did not complain, because the guest house and the guard came for free. The soldier showed me the toilet which was very close to my room. It was quite luxurious by Afghan standards. There was a hole in the floor, but below the hole was a small stream of running water. There was a small concrete tank in the toilet containing water for washing. It did not contain the commonplace plastic garden watering can, to be seen in many Asiatic toilets. All in all I enjoyed a comfortable bed, candles, and security.
I quite enjoyed the book I had obtained in the Kabul market. It was called 'Growing Up Absurd', and was written by a trendy psychologist called Paul Goodman. It was a remorseless indictment of American consumer society. It gave a coherent account of how such a society could only lead to the alienation of youth. Beatnik writers such as Jack Kerouac were mere symptoms of the alienation. Books with very little meaningful content could become best sellers. Stuff by Iranian Marxists would remain of only marginal interest to the masses. Undoubtedly I could have got the book in a specialist bookshop such as 'Freedom' in London, but buying it in Kabul seemed rather more cool. English language bookshops in Third World countries are somewhat special. A lot of trash normally sold in the UK does not get into such shops. There are eclectic books on politics, economics, magic, and local history which are difficult to obtain elsewhere. There is a filtering mechanism at work. You may get Chomsky, but not the biographies of self serving politicians which often end up on the remainder shelves.
Paul Goodman's thesis seemed obvious. Working for GSI in Croydon had been a crash course in alienation. The workers at GSI would eventually marry, have children, buy cars, and metastize into a planet threatening syndrome with their excessive carbon footprints. Urban life would breed a set of meat eaters who had never seen a farm, let alone the Kabul meat market. The people would go in for homogenised meat such as hamburgers where there was no obvious connection between the meat and the animal from which it came. Sea food is an exception. Sardines, pilchards and small tuna went into the tins looking like fish. Paul Goodman indicated that Western education had been adapted to the capitalist system to provide a semi literate and numerate but compliant workforce. It was a logical consequence of such a system that there would be high drop out rate at both school and university.
Boredom is the key. Goodman comes from the Freudian direction to analyse adolescant sexuality and the attitudes of American society towards this in the 1950s. Fast forward to the UK in 2009. Anyone who wants to mentor young people must under go extensive and expensive criminal record checks to make sure that they are not predatory paedophiles, while society gets into a moral panic about gang rapes carried out by teenagers in the stairwells of social housing blocs. Goodman saw the 'Sexual Revolution' of the 1960s as a process whose results were insufficiently clear to be evaluated at that time. Goodman was already an old man in the 1960s. He was skeptical about much of what passed for art and progressive thought at the time. He redefined the class structure in terms of organisation man, the conformist workers, and the underclass. He thought intelligent people who took labouring jobs were being quite conformist, and he noted the complete absence of words such as 'proletariat' in discourse by trade union leaders and many academics. America could produce a book like that, but Asian Marxists could produced a more old fashioned class analysis. The Asian cultures had still not reached an era of mass consumption. America has the corporate man, but places like Pakistan and Afghanistan still have feudal power bases where the rich hold the power of life and death over the poor. There is little class struggle in Western Democracies but in places such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan the Western Corporation man is staunchly supportive of the feudal heirarchy. As a concession to modernity some feudal leaders now have Oxbridge degrees in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and far more have an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from an American college. Corporation men are also generally unwilling to condemn such practices as genital mutilation, death for adultary, and the veiling of women and the torture of those who fall foul of the (in)justice system. Indeed they pull out all the stops and send young working class men to fight and die to keep such feudal regimes in power. These young can easily be brainwashed by football and 'Big Brother' type programs on TV. Goodman describes much of Western Popular Culture as being run by 'hucksters'.
The ills of American society were observed by another influential writer. Sayid Qutb noted boredom, delinquancy and sexual deviance seemed a logical consequence of American consumer culture. As such, American Culture, and the dumbed down education which supported the big corporations was something to be avoided. Sayid Qutb's disciples have become more confrontational. The 2001 destruction of the New York's Trade Center Towers is seen by many as a justified reaction to the hubris of big corporations. At the time of writing Nigeria has seen bloody confrontations and pitched battles between those who oppose Western Education for a more traditional Islamic interpretation. The current crop of MBAs is far more threatening to global stability than Al-Qaida supporters be they in Nigeria or Somalia, or Oregon. Of course any Al-Qaida supporter with an MBA is even more dangerous because they have the money and skills to organise global jihad and suicide bombing missions where the actual 'shahadeen' or martyr is just a minor expense as human munitions delivery system. A robot rocket costs anything up to $800000, but an on the ground suicide bomber is only a few thousand dollars in a rich country such as Israel or the UK and undoubtedly only a few hundred in Iraq or Afghanistan. There are plenty of Al-Qaeda supporters with MBAs. They can undoubtedly be seen occassionally walking around in suits in the Arabian Peninsular (al Jazeera). When they don't wear suits they will wear good quality local dress, and drive around in big gas guzzling cars.
I finished that night's reading, blew out the candle and let my guard go to his sleeping place. The next morning I picked up my rucksack and found where to take the bus to Bala Murghab, the next stop on the way. It was a proper Afghan bus where men and boys rode on the roof and women and livestock occupied the interior. During the day I started to get acute stomach pains. For the previous few days I had had constipation, induced partly by bad food and water, but also by a great reluctance to use any of the toilets available at stops. The journey was mainly along the beds of wadis crossing dessicated sandy hills. There were stops where passengers got off and new passengers got on. At one point I was joined on the roof by a bunch of men with beards, guns, and cartridge belts. The journey became more and more unpleasant as the stomach cramps grew in intensity.
At the beginning of the Asian part of the trip I had been taking prophylactic doses of Entero Vioform but I had stopped halfway through Iran. Although the drug was effective against diahhrea there were rumours that it could cause neurological damage if taken over a long period. Now I was suffering the consequnces of stopping the medication. It was now becoming harder to think about anything except how wretchedly sick I had become. Most of the day passed in a daze. When I could pass faeces all that came out was bloody flux. I had first learned about bloody flux during a religious instriction (RI) lesson at school. Jesus Christ had dealt with a case of it during the brief miracle working part of his ministry on earth. This cure was just not going to happen on an Afghan bus in the middle of nowhere. I could not pray because I was not a believer and anyway it seemed very naff just to pray for personal relief. I knew that I would be able to buy tetracycline at the next settlement with a pharmacy, and anti-biotics were the miracle workers of the mid twentieth century.
Because Bala Murghab was on a major bus route it had a pharmacy, and I was able to start a course of tetracycline immediately. Tea and tetracycline with an occassional bite of nan bread was a perfectly adequate recovery diet, and I was quickly able to appreciate the scenary again. The next leg of the journey to Qala-I-Noh was interesting. The low dessicated hills gave way to slightly higher hills with a few trees. At one point all able bodied passengers had to get off the bus so that it could negociate the sandy trail over a small pass. The women mostly remained inside the bus. I was still woozy from the stomach upset so I remember little of Qala-I-Noh, but the next day's journey was quite pleasant. Approaching Herat from the East rather than the West made quite a big difference. The road flattened out, and the final few hours saw us approaching civilisation. There were signs that people had tried to use modern road building equipment and the bus would sometimes get driven along stretches of newly laid tarmac. We also started to pass some green fields and orchards. When we were an hour or so from Herat the driver ordered the men and boys to move from the roof to the body of the bus. Overhead electric cables and the possibility of police checkpoints made it less safe to sit on the roof.
This time round I spent more time in Herat. I stayed in a decent hotel, sharing a room with some Germans for about ten afghanis a day. It was possible to have meals on the hotel verandah. It was not expensive to eat well. Nan bread and omelettes were a mainstay but it was also possible to eat fried fish. Previously in life I had only really been keen on tinned fish, but local fish in Herat were quite appetising. Although they were bony it was easy to pick off the flesh, and get some meat protein. We did not see the source of the fish but the map showed a whole lot of mountain rivers draining into salty lakes in the desert near to the Iranian frontier. Although Herat seemed little more than a large village one had the feeling of being in a substantial city. There were government buildings and medical centers and hospitals along with schools and colleges. Many people spoke English, and I was also able to practice my Farsee. The nearest civilised country was Iran, rather than Russia, I could alternate walks around the city with chess games at the hotel. My opponent was an oldish German who was driving a VW beetle to India, and had stopped in Herat for a few days. Ever since leaving Kabul I had seen very few English. This was quite liberating.
In Herat I heard quite a few tales of drug smuggling. One Afghan wanted me to buy a lot of hashish. When I said I was afraid of being caught and executed by the Iranian authorities he offered to get me a special smugglers vest so I could conceal the hashish around my body. I still declined the offer. The real drug of choice for professional smugglers was opium. This was the origin of the stories of death by firing squad. Apparently the Iranian authorities took a very dim view of the possession and consumption of opium and heroin. Every month there were a few exemplary executions. Nevertheless the production, processing and consumption of opium is extremely common. There were more hard luck stories. Different countries would offer different degrees of consular help to stranded tourists. Germany seemed the best and France the worst. England was somewhere in between. The French seem to offer zero consular help. I met several Frenchmen who had lost passport and money, and the embassy would neither give them a new passport, nor repatriate them, nor lend them money. These poor souls had to hitch hike long distances and blag their way across frontiers just to get a hearing. I did not know much about the English attitudes, because I never needed such assistance at that time. Later on I found it quite easy to get a personal loan from a British consular official when I really needed the money, but that was in the future.
I enjoyed the time in Herat but I wanted to get back to Iran. I had with me a book from England. This book was entitled 'Oil and World Power' and it was written by a British academic who worked in the Geography faculty of a university. He explained how Japan had become the world's greatest oil importer, and how US oil sanctions in the early 1940s had lead directly to Pearl Harbour, the race for the Indonesian and Burmese oilfields and the final denouement of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This book was an excellent introduction to a big picture that included my miserable months at GSI in Croydon. One of my Cambridge contemporaries had joined BP immediately on leaving university and he had already enjoyed some pleasent weeks in Teheran working on oil company computers there. Another person, who had met at the Maida Vale flat had joined a big accountancy firm. He had been sent out to Abadan to help audit the oil company's books. This was all much more interesting than the hippy trail ethos of going to India and studying the wisdom of the East. As for the latter, much of it had been a total con. Some of the most influential gurus had been told by their own gurus to get a grounding in maths and physics as well as the usual spiritual stuff. All of this has been documented in Guardian obituary columns. These gurus themselves were not con-men by any means, but somehow their key western disciples seemed to miss out the bit about maths and physics. Today the situation has markedly improved. Both Amartya Sen and Vishy Anand have put mathematics and chess as key developments in Indian culture which have conquered the World.
After a few days I took a minibus to the Iranian frontier and used my multiple entry visa to get back into Iran. The good diet plus the tetracycline had seen of the last of the bugs which had infected my stomach. I took a local shuttle bus to the nearest Iranian village to the frontier, and sat down in a teashop to enjoy the scenary, and work out how to get to Mashad. Eventually a bus turned up. It was driven by a young German man, and the trip to Mashad was very cheap. We quickly arrived in Mashad and the bus pulled into a courtyard of a fairly modern concrete building. This courtyard was surrounded by office space, but not all the offices were occupied and the young German driver suggested that passengers could sleep in some of these rooms if they wished. It was easy to get good food from nearby cafes, and I spent a couple of days exploring the bazaar area near the big Islamic shrine. I was afraid to go into the shrine because I was not a moslem. Some friendly local youths told me it would be quite easy to visit the place if I dressed up as a woman and wore concealing clothes but I did not take the suggestion seriously. Iranian women did not really conceal much at the time. A diaphanous scarf was OK for most women in the dominant sect although the country tribes people tended to dress a bit more like Afghanis.
Like Herat, Mashad is an oasis style town. There is much cultivated land around the city and watermelons were plentiful. The bazaar was famous for its turquoise market, but there was also all manner of modern electronic equipment on sale. Many of the gemstone dealers suggested I should spend a few hundred dollars on turquoise stones and get thousands and thousands of marks in Germany. They claimed that local boys could pay for their entire studentship at prestigious German universities merely by carrying turquoise to sell in the boutiques of Berlin, Frankfurt, or Hamburg. Germany and Iran had much better consular arrangements than Britain and Iran, so it was rather easier for Iranians to get German visas and vice versa.
At Mashad I met an Austrian called Ernst. Ernst had taken a lot of LSD in Vienna and started hitch hiking to India. He told me that after a few days he had found himself in Karachi without much money. He had survived in Karachi by befriending some stallholder in a market and sleeping under the stall at night. I never ceased to be amazed by these stories of the generosity shown by ordinary people in Asia. Ernst had eventually got some money sent out and now he was going to head back for Austria. It's quite likely that he had left Austria because of problems back there because he was in no real hurry to return home. We decided to hitch back to Teheran together.
The road out of Mashad was very pleasant. We could have been anywhere in Mediterranean Europe. There was a range of mountains to the North, and on all sides there were fields with occassianal tree plantations. The September weather was quite balmy. There was a mixture of cars and lorries leaving Mashad. We started the journey with a short lift by car. The driver was just going to a narby village, but it was on the road to Teheran. We got out at the edge of the village and waited for the next ride. The rest of the journey was done by truck. There was normally a driver, and a co-driver and the hitch hikers shared the seats in the cab. Luckily both Ernst and myself were small skinny people, so we were able to fit in. We left the environs of Mashad and headed for Bojnurd. Bojnurd was quite a poor and dirty town at that time. Ahmed the Marxist had told me to look for signs of poverty and backwardsness in Iran and we passed some of those places once the fertile oasis lands of Mashad gave out to arid stony terrain. The road passed between the mountains of the North and the Dasht-e-Lut, or Great Salt Desert to the South. Not only Bojnurd, but most of the villages along this section of the route were really poor.
As the sun set we saw a panoramic view of arid mountains and hills becoming shaded in parts while others showed a full gamut of red orange tints fading into purple and blue. The drivers were hospitable and would often pay for teas and snacks at stops, while allowing us to buy our own cigarettes when we needed them. Nevertheless the drivers had to make time, and we all travelled through the night. Soon we came to the jungle and the headlights illuminated a corridor through the dense vegetation. At one point we came to a complete stop and the drivers eagerly pointed out the reflecting eyes of some jungle creature that had stopped in the road to look after us. I was really enjoying this way of travelling because I was practicing my Farsee on the drivers, but Ernst just seemed tired and bored. It's true that the jungle road went on for hours and hours but I could not but feel really happy at having found out that Iran was not just a country of inhospitable desert. It's true that the coastline near the Caspian was known for being densly wooded, but here we were seeing how the foothils of the Alburz, stretching from the Caspian to the borders of Afghanistan created there own climate zone. There were very few towns and villages in the jungle. It's quite possible that settlement was sparse because of some exotic diseases but we did not know anything about that.
We pushed through the night and said goodbye to the drivers near Babol. We wanted to get out and look at the Caspian. Soon we were surrounded by children calling such things as "Where are you going, mister ?" , "Sell your watch, mister ?", and "Are you Charlie Manson, Mister ?". This was a well travelled route and the children had seen many foreigners before, but they were still keen to practice their English. The point of view of the Western travellers was different. From conversations that I had with many who were travelling to India I gathered that a substantial majority hated Iran, and did not like the Persians. These people wanted to experience the wisdom of the East and they found Iran wanting. For a start it was not far enough East, and then the people were moslems. Iran had produced no great sages who could attract the attentions of jet setting pop-stars and therefore it was Bad. Of course most of those critics of Iran were poorly educated. Our great British poet Samual Taylor Coleridge had been inspired by the words of Omar Khayyum and also perhaps by opium, another Iranian tradition. Even with an extremely rudimentary knowledge of literature I knew a bit of Omar Khayyum because he had been an astronomer as well as a poet. Apparently he knew about Pascal's triangle and the binomial theorem long before Pascal and Newton.
Another thing going for Iran was a progressive intellegentsia. Admittedly I only knew of Ahmed, the Marxist student in London, but my father had told me about the dearth of progress in India. It was all a tale of Hindu Moslem riots according to him, although he did admit India ran a good train system with generally friendly staff at all levels. My father had travelled to Kashmir and tried to climb in minor Himalayan peak there. He had entered a zone of poverty and described a wretched night where he and his companions were almost devoured by fleas in some stone hut in the high mountains. The food was also terrible there. He and his companions had crossed a glacier, but they realised they were hopelessly ill equipped for the expedition. The glacier was frighteningly dangerous with all sorts of hidden crevasses and unstable snow bridges. They had decided that further progress was suicidal and retreated from the mountain, intact. I had read of other adventures in the Himalayas that often lead to the loss of hands and feet through frostbite, so I was not really tempted to go further on from Afghanistan. All the people on the road described Pakistan as a militarised country divided from India by a cease-fire line where shooting could restart at any minute. India itself was supposed to be the home of a new form of non-violent politics invented by Mahatma Gandhi, but this was no inspiration to me. His whole ethos seemed to be a rather backwards looking nationalism whose symbol was a spinning wheel. James Watt and Compton and Arkwright had improved on this technology back in the 1700s, so what was Mahatma Gandhi up to? He had trained as a lawyer rather than a scientist, and that was the end of the argument.
My own experience in Afghanistan had been similarly off-putting. There was hashish, but also there was extreme poverty. In Kabul I had been tempted to cut the trip short by flying home to England via Moscow, but I did not quite have the air fare.
Some parts of Iran that I had seen seemed much more prosperous than Afghanistan, Turkey and even some parts of the Balkans. The food and accomodation seemed clean. I had seen poor villges while riding in the trucks, but the drivers did not bother to stop in such places. I spent a pleasant day chatting with people in Babol. I told the children how much I admired Mossadegh and the Tudeh (communist) Party and was soon joined by some adults who took me and Ernst to continue the discussion in a tea house. This was a modern cafe with an entre-sol above the tables. Later on we spent a comfortable night sleeping in that part of the cafe. The next morning we had a breakfast of nan bread, omelettes and salad, and then walked to the road to hitch to Teheran. We quickly got a lift in a truck. Much of the day was spent passing through forested gorges working our way to the summit of the pass in the Alborz mountains. There we saw Teheran spread out below us. The Northern part of Teheran was hidden by the convexity of the mountain but we could see vast suburbs spreading out into the desert. These suburbs were covered by a reddish brown haze interrupted by dust clouds kicked up by traffic going south. Our drivers did not go directly to Teheran, but drove us towards the Southern working class areas. These suburbs seemed to be a collection of small towns with bazaars, some fairly modern apartment blocks and loads of brick shophouses with a small workshop or retail outlet on the ground floor and family accomodation above. We parted company with our drivers, relaxed for a while in a tea shop, and then took a municipal bus towards the mountains and the center of Teheran. Friendly local people directed us to the right bus, which was quite useful really since all the signs and destination boards were in Farsee.
We found a hippy hotel near to the center of the city. As usual we shared the rooms with other foreigners. One man in the bed next to me was injecting himself with heroin. I had been told that mere possession of opiates was a capital crime in Iran, so I asked the junkie was afraid of the law. He was a German who had been travelling for many months and he told me he had already served six months in an Iranian jail. I asked whether it was for 'drugs' and he reassured me that the drug war was not really so bad. He had been sentenced for possession of a gun. He seemed to be quite enjoying his holiday despite all the problems he had encountered.
The next day I went to the main post office and collected a post restante package. This contained the political leaflets that I was meant to be distributing. I had mailed them to myself from Mashad on the outward journey so that I did not have to take them across the Iranian frontier again. After that I asked someone how to find the Teheran university and managed to bus it there. It was on the road to Mehrabad airport, but still fairly close to the city center. I hawked them around for a while asking if anyone was interested in news from Iranian Marxists in Europe. I had not the slightist idea of what the leaflets actually said, but there was a picture of heavy handed European police beating up demonstrators. This was typical cold war documentation of the time. Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin had propaganda pictures of American police beating up black people with warnings to anyone leaving the East communist zone that they were about to enter a dangerous capitalist country where police oppression of the working class was the normal order of things. Eventually I found some students who seemed interested and handed all of the leaflets to them, in the envelope which I had used to post them. I did not linger, but headed back to the hotel, walking most of the way. Northern Teheran was quite interesting. There were tree lined streets, with covered channels of water running down both sides. The stone buildings were quite substantial, and there were occassional office buildings of glass and concrete. To get to the hotel I had to cross a big square, and extreme patience was required to get to the pedestrianised part in the center of the square. There was very much more traffic than anything I had ever seen in Europe, and there were few crossing points for pedestrians. The center of the city was bustling with activity. There were hawkers selling individual cigarettes from packets and all sorts of other things.
Having done my bit for the Iranian Revolution I decided to travel South to see Isfahan and Persepolis, described by Fitzroy McLean in 'Eastern Approaches'. If possible I would also go and see the oil refinary at Abadan which I knew about from my days as a schoolboy stamp collector. The refinary was shown on Persian stamps for many decades, and I had also read about it in 'Oil and World Power'. Ernst decided to accompany me. We caught a bus to South Teheran and started hitching towards the Arabian/Persian Gulf. First we had a short lift by car but our next lift was by truck. This truck was considerably larger than the trucks we had taken from Mashad to Teheran. It was a large articulated lorry, pulled by a Mack tractor unit. The Mack is an American design with a double gear lever and about twenty different forward speeds. This set the scene for much of my subsequent travels in Iran. The trucks were usually carrying steel girders or concrete beams and they drove through the day and well into the night. On the first day we passed Qom. All the trucks seemed to take a route well to the South of the Holy City. We passed a large Salt Lake which was encrusted with blue and green deposits near our road, but we could see a nasty brownish tinge where the lake shores bordered the Holy City. This was raw sewage. Even to this day critical books on the Islamic Revolution describe Qom as a very smelly place avoided by truck drivers. The best place for young imams to study is the more laid back town of Mashad in the North East. Here the young men can enjoy opium, a bit of alcohol, and all the sex that they want. Internet blogs describe the handsome appearence and dissolute youth of many of the leading Ayetollahs when they were students.
At certain points in the road there were police checkpoints and weighbridges. This type of inspection did not deter the drivers from giving lifts. However the drivers preferred to take their meal stops at small wayside cafes well away from the symbols of authority. Sometimes we passed 'French Foreign Legion' style forts stuck in the wilderness. These were remnants of Reza Shah's internal pacification operations during the 1930s. We also passed places which looked like gypsy encampments. I learned from the drivers that these were mainly Bakhtiary tribesmen, although there were also some Turkish speaking groups living in the hills.
The road was quite good. Undoubtedly the weighbridges were data collection points, and the returns would be sent to traffic engineers in Teheran who could work out how best to invest money on the road system with the aid of powerful computers. President Ahmadinejad has just such a background.
Our drivers were excellent hosts. We enjoyed tea and good meals at their expense. The meals were nan-bread and sometimes a bit of meat, but mostly cheese salads mixed with yoghurt. Sometimes they would take is to a back room for a few pipes of opium. These pipes were of a traditional design with a big round bowl at one end. The opium paste was heated over a small brazier, and then put into the bowl with tongs. We would then take a few blasts from the pipe. After that the truck drivers would resume the journey in the cool of the night. The first day's hitch hiking saw us in Isfahan. It was easy to find a cheap but clean hotel.
Isfahan is a beautiful city. We spent a couple of days there. I visited the big square, which is reputed to be the largest single plaza in all of Asia. This was surrounded with shopping centers and mosques. The bazaar was much cleaner than the bazaar in Istanbul. The mosques were interesting places to visit. They were full of boys studying school books in the open air. Maths and physics was not lacking. They were all keen to practice their English, and I started to learn much about Iran. The Shah and his regime had taken steps to pre-empt a Marxist revolution. The Pahlavi regime, perhaps on the instigation of the Americans had inaugereted top down reforms called 'The White Revolution'. This included land reform, a literacy programme, and investment in infrastructure. The land reform had been useful in breaking up feudal power bases which might be dangerous to the ruling elite and the literacy pogramme was achieved by sending upper class students to teach villagers to read and write as a substitute for military service in the conscript army. Along with the literacy campaign was a programme to allow women to enter the civil service and nationalised industries. Female cashiers were commonplace in banks, and in Teheran there were some women who directed traffic. The students in the mosques seemed quite enthusiastic about these changes and not so many of them were keen on Marxist Revolution. If they expressed interest about the outside world the key ideas were to get visas to go to the 'United Estates' as pronounced by nearly all Iranians. Seeing me as an Englishman they all asked how I could help to arrange fast track US visas. It was hard to explain that at that time I saw the USA as a 'Great Satan' that was just interested in controlling Middle East Oil for the likes of the Rockerfellers, and controlling East Asia to contain Communist China.
At that time I did not know that the Shah's reforms had alienated the clerical establishment, nor did I know how powerful the ayetollahs would become. I did see that the young people who could afford it were very keen to become educated in twentieth century technology. In the mosques I was able to hold conversations about atomic energy. Some of the students told my that Iran already had an embryonic nuclear power project. The Russians had offered to help build a research reactor at Arak, and some local factories in Isfahan were already making components for the plants, This was an effort to diversify the economy from oil. Another Russian idea was a pipeline to take natural gas from the oilfields to a Russian network in the North. Currently natural gas was just flared off at the wellheads.
Isfahan also had an Armenian quarter and a small but famous mosque named after it's 'shaking minarets'. I visited the Armenian quarter but I did not stay so long. There was a famous church there which was being restored. An Iranian was giving me a discourse on the local architecture when we witnessed a horrific accident. The rickety scaffolding around the restoration project collapsed and some of the workers were terribly injured. Their screams were heart rending. I headed off to see the mosque of the shaking minarets. This involved a short bus journey out of the city center. The mosque looked like a fairly ordinary small mosque, but it was possible to climb up a narrow stairways in each minaret. Even a light person such as myself could then move back and forth and the minaret would then start to rock in harmony with the tourist. There was no real cement joining between the upper and lower sections of the minaret towers. Everyone thought this was quite safe, because the towers had been in that condition for a long time.
After a couple of days we set off for Shiraz. I was still travelling with Ernst but I found his company more and more irksome. He was always complaining about the length of the journey. He did not appreciate the generosity of the drivers in the same way that I did. He had been travelling for too long. The road passed interesting scenary, but, as usual the drivers went on well into the night. For me the night passed esily enough because the opium made the seats rather more comfortable. We got to Shiraz in the small hours of the morning, but again it was easy to find a hotel well within our budget. The hoteliers were bemused to see inpecuneous foreigners but they still treated us well. Iran was trying hard to get tourists.
Shiraz had its own attractions. There was a famous bridge which was floodlit at night. There was also an Abbasid palace in the suburbs. This large wooden palace served as a museum and it contained many beautiful artworks on the walls. The art was a fusian of Hindu and Islamic art. There were battle scenes with horsemen armed with bows and arrows taking on other groups of warriors, and also hunting scenes. This wooden palace got burned to the ground during turbulence following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. I have no idea whether anyone managed to save some of the artworks. I also found that Iran had a poetic tradition. Shiraz boasted mausoleums to Hafez and Saadi who were revered men of letters in those parts: Persian equivalents to Chaucer and Shakespeare. Both had written lines in praise of the local wine. Shiraz is a well known grape variety cultivated world wide for fine wines, but the origin of this grape is Islamic Iran.
Persepolis was a short bus-ride away. I spent a day exploring the ruins. Some famous nineteenth century travellers had carved their initials on the ancient stones. There were not so many tourists visiting on that day so Ernst and I had the place to ourselves. The carved pillars looked fine, but it was hard to envisage what the place might have looked like when the buildings had roofs. According to historical claims most of the roofs and fittings had been burnt down after Alexander of Macedon had crushed the Persian armies about 2300 years ago. We climbed a hill at the back of the ruins to sit and smoke cigarettes and view the whole of Persepolis. There did not seem to be any remnants of a township on the site. It seemed merely to be a set of large monumental buildings without much context. These monumental buildings contained carvings of kings and prisoners paying homage to Cyrus, but everyone knew that the empire of Cyrus had vanished in a puff of dust once things got tough. Shah Pahlavi did not seem to appreciate this because the next year he organised a celebrity infested gathering where he had invited heads of state and other VIPs to a grand banquet in a tented city adjacent to the ruins. This gave a perfect propaganda coup to his critics at home.
The next day Ernst left for Teheran. I explored Shiraz. Firstly I visited the new university to find out the state of maths and computer science in provincial Iran. I asked for a conducted tour of the site by expressing and interest in employment or a post graduate studentship at the university. I was not interested in teaching English. It appeared that the university did not have a big maths faculty comparable to those in European universities. The faculty buildings had been completed but the repressive regime of the Shah had lead to a brain drain. Just as in many Middle Eastern countries the would be faculty members were working or studying in the USA. They did have computers in the university and I was keen to find out how computers handled the local Persian script. I had expected all the input machines to have keyboards adapted to Farsee, but this had not yet happened. Some lineprinters appeared to print stuff in Farsee, but on closer examination this was merely a mirage. Each of the 32 or so Farsee letters can have from one to four written forms depending on its position in the text. Many letters have a starting, middle and final form. Ein and ghein also have a separate isolated form. In print media there are also various two letter combinations which are common. None of this was in the program driving the lineprinter. You could get 32 character Farsee, but it did not look natural.
Shiraz University had humanities departments and a medical school. My guide was particularly interested in showing me the skeleton of a seven foot man. This person had become a local celebrity during his rather short and miserable life. His excess growth had been caused by a hormone problem and his bones were not suited to his size. His skeleton showed many signs of excess wear and tear along with a very curved spine.
In the town I found a local chess club, and went along to the cafe where they held their club nights. These happened almost every day, so it was easy to make friends with the local players. I got invited to people's homes. One schoolboy introduced me to his parents, and we all went off to see 'The Graduate' which was playing in a local cinema. The film was in English, with Farsee subtitles. Many young people quite approved of this, because it helped them to become proficient in English. The film was a satire on life amongst the rich in California. Although the film contained scenes of adultary it was quite easy just to laugh at how the ghastly rich behaved, and none of the main characters were acting in a particularly cool fashion. There were a few pop songs on the sound track, so the film had been highly rated.
On another occassion I spent a pleasant afternoon and evening playing chess with a couple of airforce officers at their apartment We had a meal and some wine. We talked about Iran's development and infrastructure.
Soon I set of to hitch South towards Abadan. Most of the traffic was going to Bandar Abbas so I got out of one of my lifts at a place where the road forked. I was eventually picked up by a jeep heading towards Abadan. The driver was a Persian geologist working for N.I.O.C, the National Iranian Oil Company. He was pleased to meet a hitch hiker who had some knowledege of oil industry exploration. He explained we was driving to Masjed Suleiman, the original site of Middle East Oil. He would be visiting other oil wells en route. The journey was very exciting. We left the tarmac road and drove along stony trails through low rocky hills. We passed places where we could see great flames rising from the ground. One of these places was called Haft Kel. When it started to get dark the driver pulled onto a platform where we could picnic, and camp for the night. There were several other vehicles in our small convey including some cooks. We had a meal illuminated by the distant pillars of fire, and a few lamps. I learned that the Persian word for oil is 'Nafta'. This has come into the English language as Naphtha, Naphthacenes, Naphthaleine, which are all hydrocarbons.
In the morning we broke camp and made Masjed I Suleiman in the evening. M.I.S. was a rather small oil town with much rather slummy housing for the locals. I was left at a small hotel next to some small shops, including the local brothel. I read some more of the book 'Oil and World Power'. The next day the hotelier awoke me, and said that the local SAVAK chief wished to see me at his office. A car had been sent to collect me. The local SAVAK chief spoke good English, and he would think it more suitable if I stayed with head of the British compound, rather than in a native hotel. He would arrange that. I thus arrived as a guest of a senior British expat and his wife, These were upper class people of the sort who would hardly want to meet me in the UK. Here they were under rather strict orders to take care of me. It was astonishing to see the difference between an expatriate compound and the local living conditions. All such living spaces were smaller versions of the Panama Canal Zone, which linked guarded communities of expatriates with big infrastructure projects such as air fields and oil fields. This was post-colonial colonialism where the export of resources could be quarantined from the bulk of the population. A tiny foreign elite would enjoy an American standard of living, while getting cheap services from slums outside the heavily guarded perimeter.
The British expats in M.I.S. lived in a lightly guarded compound furnished with modern bungalows and an internal road system. I only stayed at the senior Brit's house for one night, because he found a couple to take me as a guest. The day after my arrival I was given a tour of the local antiquities. These were the well head of the first oil well in the Middle East, and a nearby sulpher etraction plant. The sulpher plant was still running and it was a smelly and steaming affair. I had never known that the local oil was unpleasantly 'sour' and it needed 'sweetening'. Sulpher in the oil makes it 'sour'. Despite seeing the sulpher extraction plant I had no idea of how it worked. My school chemistry had taught me of electrolysis and a bit about distillation and refluxing, but nothing on a large scale. Few of the workers there had the language skills to explain how it got rid of the sulpher. I also spent an evening with the expats at a social event. Many people got drunk and many of the wives were ghastly. When I told them about the brothel near to the hotel where I stayed one of these women let forth the comment "Those women are animals!". They generally regarded the native Iranians with contempt. There might be some 'good' natives, but it was best that they were relegated to subserviant roles such a gardners, or cleaners, but all the best jobs in the industry went to foreign engineers on sweetheart contracts with N.I.O.C. It was quite convenient to keep N.I.O.C. separated from the mass of the people if possible, although certain local elites could be payed off by having parallel jobs in N.I.O.C.
I learned from the expats that M.I.S. had its seasons. Spring was lush and green with many exotic flowers in the local meadows. Summer turned nearly everywhere into stony desert. Wages were high and leave periods were generous. I learned just what advantages went with a foreign posting. Free airfares, luxury accomodation, and company transport facilities took much of the strain out of life. Of course the men had to work, but there were plenty of day labourers to do the heavy and dirty tasks. Many of these day labourers were recruited from local tribes such as Bakhtiari, and some Kurds.
After a few days I travelled by N.I.O.C. limousine to Ahvaz. This small town was closer to the Shatt-al-Arab, and was in a much more arid region. The temperature was very high in summer, and it was made even hotter by the huge gas flares. The buildings all had large air conditioning units sticking out of the wall, and at night it was easily possible to feel the heat from the towering pillars of flame. Here they had energy to burn. There were plans to pipe the gas North towards the Soviet Union, but the Western oil companies did not really want anything done quickly. Instead they were putting Abadan out of the loop by building the large terminal at Kharg Island. This was much better than Abadan as an export terminal. Kharg Island was more suitable for supertankers, and also it was further away from Iraq and Kuwait.
In Abadan I was given a conducted tour of the big oil refinary. Although it was a huge complex it was already on the way to obsolescence. Local gasoline was produced by smaller refinaries at the end of pipelines in the interior of Iran. The recipiants of Iranian oil preferred to see most refining done in Europe, USA, or Singapore. I remember being shown the largest structure in the Abadan refinary. It was called the 'Cat Cracker', and it consisted of a huge vat where crude oil was heated and then a series of big towers for distillation. There was also a catylist involved somewhere, but I never learned what it was. I also visited the N.I.O.C. computer center and went on to a party at a boat club with the manager of the computer center. He told me that he was from the Kurdish minority of Iran, but he had been educated in the USA and was part of the N.I.O.C. establishment. We sat on a verandah overlooking the river, and we could see Iraqi Arabs on the other bank of the river. I also noticed some curious air breathing fish hopping about in mud below the jetty.
While at Abadan I learned that there was a cholera epidemic in Turkey. It would be necessary to have a cholera vaccination, and a certificate in order to return to Europe, via Turkey. I had not taken the cholera jab in England, probably because the pain from the typhoid and paratyphoid jabs had dulled my enthusiasm. Here in Abadan there was no problem. I got the jab and the certificate for free from a clinic run by the N.I.O.C. Just as in Shiraz I had enqired about the possibility of working at the computer N.I.O.C. computer facility, but work there was less interesting and less well payed than the job I had in Chelsea. By this time I had overstayed my leave, but I wrote a letter to my manager saying that Turkey was ravaged by disease and travel restrictions were in place until the epidemic subsided.
I decided to hitch to Teheran via Kermanshah and Hamadan. Just outside Kermanshah there are famous carvings on a granite butress showing Darius receiving homage from princes and kings. There is also extensive text which got translated by Rawlinson, a famous traveller of the Victorian era. The first day's hitching did not get me far from Abadan. Most traffic was going to Teheran and I ended up stopping in the evening at Dezful. I smoked opium with some truck drivers, and then a man in a jeep said he was going to Kermanshah. He drove around the town for a while and then approached one of the women hanging around outside a filling station house and ravished her on the bonnet of the jeep. Afterwards he offered her to me, but I declined. Prostitution seemed amazingly common in Iran once you started to appreciate that some of the women were wearing the chardor to conceal their identity in the pursuit of this profession. Truck stops were a natural focus for this form of activity. The drivers generally have money, and they are also far from home.
The first time I spent Ramadan in a Moslem country was during the autumn of 1970. I was hitch hiking from Abadan to Teheran, and was not immediately aware of any difference. At one of the truck stops someone told me that I should be discreet about smoking cigarettes in the street. Food stalls sometimes had screens around them. This was to spare pious moslems the sight of people breaking the fast during daytime. Iran did not appear to take religion so seriously in 1970. Even some who take the religion seriously do not object to non muslims eating and drinking during daytime in Ramadan. It's more important to observe the fast, rather than coerce everyone into looking as though they are observing the fast. People are meant to abstain from telling lies during Ramadan, but that leaves the implied question as to whether telling lies should be regarded as normal during the rest of the year. To the non moslem Ramadan seems a rather arcane festival, although extensive fasting is quite common in many other religions. Hindu and Buddhist style fasting episodes may last several weeks, and far longer than mere month of Ramadan. The Christian festival of Lent is also an example of fasting. Of course the fast may be mitigated. A Christian could fast by drinking white wine and fish in place of red wine and meat, while Moslems may defer a day's fasting if undertaking necessary travel, or waging a jihad, or holy war. Undoubtedly some Taliban observe the fast so that hunger can help them to feel meaner towards their enemies.
In that Iran of 1970 there was no pressure to observe Ramadan. Street stalls could ply their business without much fear of attack. For an apparent minority, Ramadan was important. Fasting is one of the 'Five Pillars of Islam'. These 'pillars' are affirmation, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage. Affirmation means reciting the 'Shahada' : "there is no God but God, and Mohamet is the prophet of God" . A person may become a moslem merely by making thr affirmation in the right frame of mind. No coercion or trickery is possible. Prayer is normally meant to occur five times a day, and many capitalist employers might find it irksome if some of the workers run one prayer time into another. Other capitalist employers find the ritual extremely useful, because workers will be able to police themselves and purge the workforce of leftists and infidels. Prayer is very good for forging the group identity. Fasting has its own benefits. It teaches self discipline. You don't eat until it is sunset, and you don't fire the bullet until the bullet will not be wasted. That involves waiting. Charity means giving alms. This is called 'zakat', and anyone can give 'zakat'. Giving money to beggars is a form of zakat. Affirmation plus Charity gives an invisible Moslem. Pilgrimage or 'Hajj' means the journey to Makkah. In the twentieth century 'Pilgrimage' has mushroomed to become a multi billion dollar industry. There are also other pilgrimage shrines. These are located mostly in West Asia. The big shrines are mainly in Iraq and Iran. The Shias have their own holy places, much closer to home. The remoteness of Makkah made the Hajj impossible for many.
I had decided to visit Bisutun, a famous archaeological site in Iran. This meant hitching along the chain of the Zagros mountains, towards Kermanshah. I had lifts in cars and trucks. One truck took me along a road through spectacular mountain scenary. In one place the earth movements had lifted the mountains into spectacular hump back shapes, and erosion displayed the different rock layers rather like the layers of an onion with 100 meter cliffs where one layer had been peeled away to reveal the underlying layers. The road was quite good. When the truck stopped I was left to continue my journey from a small village. An English speaking Iranian approached me. He had been a student at Teheran University, and he was now working in the village as a teacher in the national literacy programme. Many students did this sort of thing to shorten or avoid military service. The young man told me he was very lonely in the village. He was very pleased to meet a native English speaker. He took me to a local house and introduced me to the family that lived there. He was keen to show me a back room where a carpet making loom had been set up. He explained that carpets were measured by knot count. 60000 knots was the sort of carpet that may take years to make. The work was done by the women folk of the house. The Middle East is famous for such carpets, and the carpets have great value. The families that actually make the carpets see very little of this money. Carpets become collateral for business deals, and carpet export is a means of circumventing exchange control.
The young teacher invited me to spend a few days in the village, but I had to continue my journey since my time was limited. A few more lifts took me further North to Kermanshah. Kermanshah is a very attractive place in the Zagros mountains. It is the birthplace of the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Doris Lessing. It has a mixed population of Kurds, Turks and Persians, and it boasted a small oil refinary. I was easily able to find a comfortable modern hotel. I booked in for a couple of days and determined to visit the cliff carvings the next day.
It was quite easy to hitch out to the rock face which contained the carvings. These overlooked a fertile area just below a high mountain. The carvings were quite high up on a large granite cliff. They showed Darius recieving homage from various kings or satraps. There was also a commentry in three languages including the cuneiform writings of Mesopotamia. I had learned of Ur of the Chaldees at school, and it seemed very good to see stuff written in these dead languages. The Bisutun inscriptions were the Persian equivalent of the Rosetta stone. A British army attache called Rawlinson had devoted several years of his life to copying the inscriptions and subsequent decipherment. In the 1840s there was a certain amount of international collboration. The copies circulated, and some were collated with other inscriptions from Persepolis. The Orientalists included French and German scholars as well as the English. Rawlinsom himself was familiar with several spoken languages of the region including ancient languages which retained some of the phonetic values of the ancient scripts. To get the phonetic values the linguists would often start with the names of obvious well known rulers such as Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes, and then work forwards to common everyday words. It seems miraculous that such work was done entirely without computers. Besides deciphering the carvings of Bisitun, Rawlinson also worked for the British as a high level consultant. He helped to set up the first British residency in Kabul and then luckily for himself he moved on.
The first British residency in Kabul was a disaster. The British occupied a few big buildings along with their garrison and camp followers. Over the winter there was a regime change in Kabul and the friendly emirs of the summer were replaced by some more serious people in the winter. These more serious Afghans saw no reason why anyone should bow and scrape to the British. They attacked the buildings of the residency with gunfire and whatever artillery that they could muster. The diplomats and the garrison became separated from their supplies and ammunition which were not stored in the residency. They eventually saught terms and most of the people were allowed to leave for Jalalabad over the Khyber Pass. A few women folk were retained as hostages and sent to Bamian (Linda Colley, Hostages). The terms of the Kabul emirs were not really so generous because most of the British contingent was massacred in stages during its traverse of the Khyber Pass. Only the doctor was able to get out alive.
Rawlinson is famous as scholar, rather than as a diplomat. His legacy lives to this day. Nineteenth century Orientalists pushed back the boundaries of knowledge and their work was used to serve the interests of imperialism. The former Palestinian academic, Edward Said has written a whole book on this phenomenon. Archaeology was a competitive international affair right from the days of Napoleon Bonapart's expedition to Egypt. Plunder of the relics was important in the nineteenth century and it is rather ironic that many of the plundered relics were completely destroyed by European wars in the twentieth century. Some of these relics were considered important enough to get hidden in deep mines during the Second World War and after the allied victory they were re-plundered by the victorious allied powers. At the time of Rawlinson, German academics made a vast contribution to work on ancient languages, along with formalising the rules of their own language.
I did not really get close to the carvings. I attempted to scale the mountain above to see if I could find any other places of interest. As the cliffs became increasingly steep, and the going became more difficult I opted for retreat. When I got near to the road I was greeted by a group of young Iranians who invited me to join them for a funeral. They took me to the burial place and showed me around a small modern building where a couple of corpses were visible in a vat of formaldehyde. There was an old man and a young adolescent awaiting burial. Afterwards we walked to a graveside where someone made a speech in Farsee then we all chanted "Allah Akbar" a few times. After that my hosts gave me a lift back to Kermanshah. Later that evening the hotel manager told me that I was invited to dine in the room of one hotel's other guests. My host turned out to be a young lady of a motherly appearence. She told me that she was Turkish, and she wanted to hear of my travels. I spent a happy evening at her table. I wondered what her motives were. We did not understand much of each other's cultures but it was the first time I had been invited to dine with a woman. Kermanshah is the setting of one of the most fabled stories of Persian literature, but I knew nothing of this. The archaeoligists could go after their ancient and rather boring inscriptions, but the legends lived in the minds of the people. The Persians had their own interpretations of the past, and literature had moved on since the stone carvings. In fact there was not enough time that evening to find out all about that woman, and I returned to my room shortly after the meal.
The next day I hitched to Teheran. I spent most of the journey of an Iranian who had got a post graduate degree in English Literature from a British university. He asked me all sorts of questions about writers of which I was mostly ignorant. I had read many cynical army books, but no real classical literature. Shakespeare and the Koran go well together because both use rhyme to help a memorisation process. The driver put me to shame. His knowledge of the serious literature was far superior to mine. He worked as a salesman for an electronics distributor, and he had the latest in car entertainment. This was a Philips record player. In all my time hitch hiking in England I had not seen in car stereo. The technology hardly existed. Tape recorders were still thumping great things put together by hobbyists. Here in Iran I was seeing superior technology better than anything I had seen in the UK. The record player fitted into the glove compartment and there was a pile of records by the driver.
This was to be the first of several such experiences. I was brought up in England, where the people were clever enough to have their own nuclear missile defence system, but here I was in Iran, which was supposed to be a third world country, and I was seeing consumer technology which I had never seen in my own country. The trouble with the English was that they had always been trying to develop their own nuclear technology and stretegic missiles, but they always ended up pushing their trolley around the USA arms retailers, just like Iran and Turkey at that time. Meanwhile Germany and Japan had gone on to make TV sets, radios, and hi-fi systems.
Another explanation for this experience is that I was meeting more rich people than I did at home. Life was good for the rich in Iran. I found a chess club during my third stay in Teheran. I tried walking up the mountain behind the city and I hitch hiked to see the big dam project in the mountains to the North of Karaj. On other days I explored the neighbourhood near to the chess club. Here Teheran was a city of tree lined avenues with stone or concrete blocks of very high quality. There were plenty of taverns where the people drank vodka. I was urgently told to join the drinkers when a crowd of people started running down the street shouting slogans. The drinkers told me it was a student demonstration over the exam system. I thanked them for inviting me in. Much better to drink vodka, rather than be too close to police brutality. I also visited the university and got shown some of the computers there, by explaining that I worked in a computer center back in the UK. The computers were the usual array of junk which passed for state of the art technology. Everything was expensive, and there was not much student access. Like the computers I had seen in Abadan, and Shiraz the farsee fonts were terrible and restricted to the middle form of each letter.
The chess club was in a room above a cafe. There were plenty of willing opponents and I was reasonably strong as a player. Many of them did not know how to play correctly against the Sicilian defence and lost time retreating pieces against attack by pawns. I enjoyed myself. We would often go to a restaurant to eat after the games. Most of the people at the chess club could read and speak some English. All the main cinemas in these upper class areas showed films in the original language. For those who could not speak English, there were interesting chess games to play. That is the advantage of playing chess. It is a form of non verbal communication. Amongst players of a certain level it is not necessary to explain the rules. There is a global audience for top class games. In the 1970s chess was dominated by cold war politics. It was natural that people in Iran, a close neighbour of the Soviet Union, should show some interest in chess.
During my time in Iran I had been able to watch a little of the local TV. I understood the news bulletins best. The rulers were using TV to build up the Royal Family. This sort of thing still goes on in Saudi Arabia and Thailand. No bulletin is complete without pictures of royalty receiving fawning officials. Shah Pahlavi was generally shown in front of cheering crowds. All towns and villages had some sort of 'victory column' where flags and slogans of the regime were on display. Cafes and offices usually had a portrait of the Shah somewhere, often wearing something like the captain's uniform for a luxury yacht. There were also family potraits of the Shah, his wife and his son, the crown prince. The ruling families' modernism was to be shown in the embrace of luxury consumer items.
Towards the beginning of December I turned my attention to getting back to the UK. A day's hitching got me to the frontier with Turkey. I spent the night at the caravanserai near to mount Ararat, and then bussed it to Istanbul. Crossing Turkey by bus was tedious. Compared with hitch hiking, travelling by bus is hell. Other passengers are often extremely boring. On one such journey a persistant man in the seat next to me went on and on about something or other in Turkish, and he insisted on me repeating some formulaic words. He bullied me into submission, and I ended up repeating the formula. It was probably the statement that people make to affirm the Islamic faith, and in the eyes of my fellow passenger I was undoubtedly a muslim. Unwitting conversion to Islam is just one hazard of bus travel. Other stories tell of helpful passengers who offer drinks to foreign travellers, then rob them when the hypnotic drugs in the drink take effect. I always avoid long bus journeys whenever possible. One three month trip in the Middle East simply left insight into the words that I had heard from other students at Cambridge. They had talked of 'Turkish Horror Buses', and 'Syrian Horror Buses'. As I become older I find long bus journeys so tedious that I never undertake them. Even short bus journeys can be too stressful.
That bus journey across Turkey the last such episode in my life. In the 1980's I undertook bus journeys to up-country Thailand, but on those journeys I had a minder who would stop me from getting robbed. She would also try and stop me taking the plane. She did not want me to spend money on frivolities.
I continued the journey through Europe. I started to hitch hike at the Bulgarian border. I got a single left to Ljubljana where I went to the chess cafe and met some of the Slovenian Go players. After that I made my way to England via Berlin and Amsterdam. The hitch hiking was good. I had a lift across Austria with a driver who had just got out of a Turkish prison. He had managed to get out and the authorities had given him back his van. After Salzburg I hitched North and got a lift through East Germany. I spent the first night in Berlin at a 'Salvation Army' sleepng place at the main railway station. I was discharged at about six in the morning and wandered around a shopping center set by a ruined church near the Ku'dam. I remember being offered a hashish joint by a young man who looked a bit like a well dressed beggar. Later on I went to look at the student style cafes and spent the night as the guest of some young people I met at one of the cafes. I had played some chess games during the afternoon and evening and remember pulling a win from a riduculously lost position. The city seemed prosperous. The people were generous. Compared with Iran, people were free to think for themselves. Even the Iranians knew that. Berlin bacame a hotbed for Iranian Marxists.
I went up to the power station control room for my morning visit, cigarette in hand. As I wandered round to greeting the other workers there I was accosted by David Burton, a senior mechanical engineer on the Corpus project.
"What are you doing, smoking a cigarette during Ramadan ?", he asked. "You should know better. This is a moslem country and we must respect their customs."
David was a most offensive jumped up popinjay. He was typical of the would be colonials to be found amongst the middle management on the Corpus project. I had let my relationship with my housemates deteriorate during the early part of my stay in Jeddah. I had alredy been threatened once with dismissal and repatriation, but these straw bosses had had their wings clipped by contractual obligations to the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWAC). I was on penalty clause. If Corpus dismissed me they would get charged at several times my salary, per month, until a similar computer expert could be recruited to fill in a blank in the company plan. It had already taken Corpus a great deal of time and trouble to get me to Jeddah. Even before I had arrived, the Saudis had lost my passport, forcing me to make an illegal trip to Paris on an unauthorised British Visitor's Passport, and forcing Corpas deeper into the penalty clause zone.
David Burton had come to Jeddah via China Light and Power, the main generator in Hong Kong. He was one of the upper crust engineers with a family bungalow in the housing compound. There were several other people who had previously worked in Hong Kong. Those who had not been to Hong Kong wondered why they had swapped the delights of the Orient for the rather puritannical state of Saudi Arabia. Closer attention to detail gave some of the reasons. There were stories of one engineer who had been jumped on and badly beaten in the lift to his own apartment. The Cantonese Chinese had started to produce their own numerate engineers, and it was no longer so easy for English speaking placemen to lord it over the natives. Here in Jeddah we were all placemen, and we were given special protection by the Saudi National guard to keep us apart from the fundamentalists.
He now stood accusing me of violating the fast of Ramadan in a fairly public place. Luckily for me there were some muslim workers in the control room control room. A couple of them told David Burton that the end of the fast had been announced at morning prayers on that day. I had seen muslims smoking already that day, so I knew that the fast had ended. David Burton was most disappointed. Like several of the ex-pats at Corpus, he had been keen to see me go.
The first few months at Jeddah had been tough in some ways. I had been very socially alienated from the other Brits in Jeddah, and I remember journeys through hellish hot and humid sand laced haze to the German hut in the power plant zone. There were not many Germans left over from the construction of Jeddah Three, but there were a few who were working for Preussag, who had installed the firefighting system. These people were workers, but unlike the British workers I met, they were keen chess players. I enjoyed going to their hut to play chess. They reminded me of hospitable Germans I had met in the past. I also cultivated relationships with some of the Asian workers there. I did not join in the round of ex-pat darts and illegal boozing get togethers. That did not entirely stop some of them from respecting me. I had after all travelled a little bit, and the boiler inspector, although he did not like me so much, realised that I knew more about the world than many others on the project.
Circumventing the daytime smoking ban during Ramadan had been great fun. I had become familiar with all the nooks and crannies of a modern power station, and I had ingratiated myself into many offices where I would spend a few hours drinking tea or coffee. Ramadan just meant a slight social adjustment. To smoke or drink you got as far away from management as possible. The desalination modules were ideal places to go and hide. These modules were horizontal cooling towers. A whole cascade of modules acted as giant retorts and condensers. Saline water was pumped into a low pressure tank where escaping steam acted as a source of heat and also generated a partial vacuum. The saline water evaporated, or 'flashed', and distilled water was collected by a condensation process. The condenser modules were provided by a Japanese manufacturer.
The desalination modules of Jeddah Four had already been subject to some attrition. The power station was being brought online in phases. One set of boilers, generators and desalination modules had been completed, and commissioning was undertaken by a team commissioned by SOGEX, the constructor. Corpus provided the operation and maintenance team who were being paid to watch other people work. The SOGEX team were quite keen to cannibalise from the unfinished modules to get units eight and nine working. It was quite easy to get inside the unfinished modules and share a cigarette break with the workers. We all had the confidence that we were protected from local fundamentalists by many layers of security, including armed guards.
Other parts of the plant were less interesting during Ramadan. There were no cups of tea from the traditionalist Saudis, and the Saudi programmers were not interested in doing any work during Ramadan. I had been giving a theoretical course on programming to these young men, since geting hands on access to the computers was very hard. They were expected to do training on one of the live computers which was supposed to be running the power station at Jeddah Three. This computer was a Siemens processor, and it had one of the most unfriendly human interfaces imaginable.
There were also some Filipino operaters at Jeddah Three, and when I went to give practical lessons there, I told these people what I was doing. The main practical exercise was the creation of a FORTRAN program which would allow one of the operator's terminals to be used as a console input device for the management of text files, including FORTRAN source code files.
1982 saw my second experience of Ramadan in an Islamic state. The first time had been Iran eleven years earlier. The Southern latitude of Jeddah meant that evenings were quite early even in Summer, so the fast always ended in the early evening.
Since I had arrived in Jeddah my life had changed. When I started to get my salary I bought a small camputer and a cassette tape recorder. I had made my purchases carefully. Corpus had offered to allow its workers to buy an alarm clock on expenses. I invoiced for a cassette radio tape recorder with alarm clock function. It was possible to set the machine to play a tape at six in the morning. I chose a data cassette containing programs I had written at Superior Systems Limited in Sheffield. The data cassette when played in audio mode made a horrible noise which served well to awake me from the deepest sleep. The computer was a Casio FX-50 which would take programs in BASIC. The computer had a microphone plug which enabled the cassette recorder to double as a data storage device, reading and writing tapes in DAT (Digital Audio Tape) format. The important thing about the computer is that I could leave it running when I was out of the house. On one occassion I drove up the road towards Madina, and explored a rocky plateau while the cmputer was working out primitive roots modulo p, a prime.
At the power station I had been introduced to Abdullah Bawazir who was in charge of education. He had invited me to give lessons in programming to some Saudis at Jeddah Three. The informality of the Saudi management system had enabled me to operate independtly of the Corpus and SOGEX heirarchy. It was also a great advantge that few of my superiors actually knew what I was doing.
My Saudi pupils were young men with connections. There were four of them. Rashid and Ibrahim were quite laid back, but Siddique and Mohamed were harder types. Rashid had told me he joined SWAC for the pension. For my students I had taken to typing a manual called 'Software Portability'. This was essentially a thesis devoted to the utility of APL (A Prgramming Language) for solving common problems ranging from the production of invoices to the management of National Economies. APL had been invented by Kenneth Iverson for dealing with the latter problem. Leontief, a refugee from the Russian Revolution, had done great work on planned economies after reaching the USA. Saudi Arabia was the World's leading centrally planned economies during my time there. Everything would be sorted out by computers runnning economic models for the benefit of the people. Inputs from sectors such as mining, manufacturing and fisheries could be converted t outputs such as infrastructure to increase the rate of exploitation and consumer goods to keep the people happy. The basic equation is very simple: X[T+1] = A X[t]. Here X[t] is a vector of numbers representing the ecnomy at stage t, and A is a matrix, or two dimensional array of coefficients stating how each component affects the other components next time. The model is very flexible. Interest rates can be factored out by substituting financial service management as an input from human beings in some sort of money manufacturing venture. Islamic banking can thrive on management fees. You send money to a startup and charge management fees which are then shared out with depositors who are joint managers of all ventures financed by the bank. The bankers live on the difference between the management fees that they charge, and what they pay out to the depositors. One third of the world sees management fee as distinct from 'ribah' or interest based profit. Interest rates would undoubtedly appear as an eigenvalue in such a simple minded calculation as X[T+1] = A X[T] were financial services to be included in the matrix A. This type of anlysis is perfectly capable of dealing with climate change and limited resources. The equation may have to be written as X[T+1] = A[T] X[T] where the matrix itself depends on time, but the model may also be reformulated as X[T+1]=B X[T] where you just add new features to the vector which describes the economy. Some of these additional features could be statistics which describe human wellbeing.
After life in Europe my year in Jeddah seemed like a spell in paradise. Europe was superficially more civilised but I had suffered a spell of unemployment where I had found myself unable to offer any skills in the prevailing market oriented system. It was useful to be economically active, and for the first time in my life I could afford some useful gadgets such as a camera and a computer. Previously I had worked in Paris on a software project, and I remember regulary passing a shop near to the Boulevard St. Germain that sold the latest in pocket computers. With my own limited resources I could only do window shopping, but I was very impressed by the Hewlett Packard range of programmeable calculators. These machines could be programmed and programmes and data could be stored on nifty little plastic cards. They cost several hundred dollars, or low thousands of francs. Despite the high price there was a ready market. A recent google search showed the capabilities of such machines. A mathematician had written a chunky piece of software to calculate the Ramanujan Tau numbers which are the coefficients of powers of x in the infinite product M = q * Product (1-q^2n)^24. These coefficients are called Tau-numbers, and their computation is an interesting excercise.
At the time I was using my Casio computer for more prosaic stuff. I was searching for six or seven digit primes and primitive roots thereof so that I could get reversible random number streams. The idea is that given a prime number p and a primitive root g such that g^p-1 = 1 (mod p) it is easy to find the inverse of g (mod p). This is simply g^p-2 (mod p) or the number just before the end of the cycle. It is now possible to generate a random looking sequence of numbers using the recurrence relation
X[n+1] = g * X[n] (mod p)
It is also possible to go backwards in this sequence.
X[n-1] = g^-1 * X[n] (mod p).
With such a system it is also possible to find a power of g which is also a primitive root, g^k. The same algorithm can be made to generate another pseudo random number stream Y[i]. The idea behind this was the design of a computer game with many different rooms. The rooms (several million of them) would be in space of any number of dimensions, and the neighbourhood of a room would be found by calculation rather than table lookup. Another theoretical possibility is data compression. For this it would be best to define some sort of mapping from the X-values to a synbol set S. You then find a prime number p, a generator of the group Z[p-1] and a starting point. The symbol mapping function f:Z[p-1] ->S would then give a book stored in a few hundred bytes, or about 99.99% compression. Needless to say this could be done for the most important book of the Middle East. I awaited the Angel Gabriel to give me the key, but that never happened.
In the evenings I could work on computer algorithms. Just before I left Europe there had been descriptions circulating amongst certain groups of people about the RSA encription algorithm, but its precise nature was elusive for me. I did not feel that I was wasting my time. Jeddah was the first place where I had my own computer.
By day I could absorb myself in social science and economics. The computer which I had come to manage was still in the hands of Incon, the SOGEX subcontractor for the Jeddah 4 process control computer. I could go and chat with the Incon personnel working on site, but I could not actually touch the computer. This did not bother me. I had access without responsibility, which is a good recipe for enjoyment. When not in the power station's control center I could sit in my office, and eat sandwiches, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. I had bought a typewriter with my own money and took it to the office and work on drafts of the pamphlet called 'SOFTWARE PORTABILITY' which was to be used in training the Saudi programmers. I also read lots of manuals about the power station and the planning process which had lead to its construction.
The Saudis had been quite lavish on their spending. Several American planning firms had been employed as consultants and one of them had earned its money by an amazing study of social and economic life in the bazaar area of Madinah, a city off limits to non moslems.
There was a report about working class areas in Madinah, and the need for power and water in that city. Much of this material was quite peripheral to the job I was being paid to do, but it was much more interesting, and rather more accessible. The inner workings of the AEG process computer system were extremely mysterious. Incon, the company set up for the power plant control project was a German company, and German was the language used in many of the important discussians. Instrumentation suppliers included Brown Boveri and Hartman and Braun. Incon had two two technical staff on site. Helmut represented software, and Willi was responsible for hardware. For much of the time that I was in Jeddah, Willi made himself locking and unlocking boxes in the computer room because AEG was in the process of going bankrupt. Helmut made some attempts to show me how the computer system was supposed to work.
Incon's software engineers had achieved great things with the AEG computer. They had written a purpose built kernal for the real time operating system. This kernal handled hundreds of sensors from different parts of the power staion. There was also a user interface which supported screens and keyboards in the power station control room and the adjacent computer room. Some of the screens in the control room were chunky CRT monitors with special block graphic characters. These were from a Belgian supplier, and undoubtedly they required custom device drivers. There was a user interface that allowed the operator to select amongst dozens of applets which illustrated the workings of the power and desalination plant via applets (application codes). These applets were all written in FORTRAN so the computer had to include the FORTRAN run time system along with its libraries. There was also database management to deal with the topology of the power and desalination plant. All of this software was up and running from when I had arrived in Jeddah.
The difficulty lay with interface problems. The pressure to get the plant up and running meant that many pieces of equipment such as boilers and turbines were switched on once the traditional control circuits were installed. Getting the computer stuff connected and tested was seen as a luxury with fairly low priority. Much equipment appeared to be connected, but many signals were totally dead without even any random noise to show that something was happening.
I witnessed an amusing incident. I was in the control room talking to the operators when Al Sheikh, the chief Saudi mechanical engineer walked in. Al Sheikh was David Burton's Saudi counterpart. When I joined the project in January he had been supervising the construction of a mosque in the power station compound for the use of the South Asian workers. The mosque was completed in about a month and it was a wooden building not so far from the sulfuric acid store. The mosque was patronised mostly by the lower paid SWAC employees, in the mechanical engineering section, under Al Sheikh, David Burton, and the Corpus foremen with whom I had had such problems.
Al Sheikh had great faith in Allah, and unwarrented faith in the computer. He was making his rounds of the power station control room when there was an incident. One of the turbines 'tripped'. That is to say the turbine switched itself off. The severity of the incident was totally lost on me. I thought that thing was routine, but really it is not meant to happen at all. On a fully loaded power station this might mean loss of power to a whole city with people getting trapped in lifts and so on, but in the power station control room some people are just thinking about whether there should be more sugar in the tea.
There were some anxious discussions about what had happened, and why, and the Al Sheikh turned to one of the operators near to one of the computer screens. I could not suppress my laughs and sniggers as the man said that the computer logs would reveal all. The consol operator knew well how to run the program that printed out the logs for all the connected instruments in the turbine hall. Al Sheikh gave a triumphant cry as he approached the printer, but I knew that all he would see was a 'Sea of Zeros'. I could not suppress my mirth at his discomfiture, but luckily I could face the other way.
Jeddah IV was quite an important Saudi Project. One day we were told we could leave work early, because the plant would receive a special visitor. This was Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India. She was shown round the control room, and undoubtedly had a lecture on the pioneering computer technology.
Incon also had a couple of Turkish electronics experts working on these interfaces. These were friendly people, and one of them told me about his Pakistani wife. One of them invited me to a meal at his flat in the SOGEX compound. I began to appreciate that Turkey had become quite a developed country with a good education system very suitable for the modern world.
Another person I met was Uthai, from North East Thailand. He was the son of a pharmacist and he kept hundreds of pills in his room in the SOGEX compound. His job at the power station involved sitting in the 380Kv substation. I was introduced to him by some Indians on the SWAC's mechanical engineering team. Uthai gave me his telephone extension number and I often called at his office. This was a sizeable room at one end of a huge hangar like building containing huge tanks full of SF6 or sulfur hexa- flouride.
Saudi Arabia is a place with strong links to one of the World's major religions. You can see this at Jeddah's international airport. There are huge concrete tents for Haj pilgrims, along with a direct motorway to Makkah. The signs in the airport warn you that parking without paying for a ticket is theft, and everyone knows that sharia law decrees amputation of the right hand as a suitable punishment for theft.
Theft just does not happen with such severe penalties ?
That was not my own experience. Within a few weeks of arrival I got a Saudi driving licence. This was a tedious process, but a welcome distraction from humdrum life at the power station. I was taken to various police stations and offices by Jama, the project driver. He was quite pleased to see that I was studying Arabic, and encouraged me to practice a few words and phrases.
Once I obtained the licence I was able to borrow a car on occasions to go shopping, or to explore the area around Jeddah. One time I took a car for which I had to repair a puncture on the spare wheel. I drove the car to a little workshop which advertised itself as a 'bansher' place. Arabic has no real letter for 'p'. There is a mark like a 'b' or 'beth' with three dots below the letter, but this a really an import from Farsee. The yemeni in charge repaired the inner tube by lighting a little fire on it, and charged me a very low sum. I asked for a 'fattura' or invoice, because the company would pay. At this stage the repairman offered to make out the invoice for a larger amount and I readily agreed with him. The amount fiddled from my employer was derisory but I was assured that this was perfectly normal practice and I was just conforming to local customs. What is more, the fake invoice was headed by the leading proclamation of the Exordium, the opening sura of the Koran. Bismallah Al Rahman Al Raheem. There can be little peace for the prophet (SAW) when such behaviour is so banal within the conurbations of the Hijaz. When I returned from the Friday afternoon excursion I presented the fake invoice without guilt.
The attitudes of my compatriots to Islam went very much by social class. The more lumpen proletariat types were openly insulting towards moslem ritual, while the middle managers ordered us to respect the local customs. The more educated engineers pointed out that the highly visible presence of the National Guard who checked people going into the plant was there to protect the foreign workers from religious zealots who were the chief threat to Saudi modernisation. While I found the insulting and abusive attitudes of some of the people rather disturbing, I myself harboured a skepticism towards all religion which seemed at odds with many around me. Some of the Indian Christians that I met seemed very surprised when I told them that I was an atheist. They asked why hearing the call to prayer so often did not make me feel more religious. Of course the full blast of the Koranic verses from loudspeakers attached to minarets had exactly the opposite effect on me.
The Koranic verses are life saving music. I drove around Riyadh for about a month with the Koran on the in car cassette player. I became accustomed to Saudi traffic by playing the part of a man who listened to the Koran while on the road. You put yourself in the hands of God, but you watch out for the traffic as well.
The Hajj and Ramadan see many Saudis leaving the Kingdom, if they can afford to. Air flights to other destinations are cheap during the Hajj. Thailand is a favourite destination. I had been there before in 1975. My coversations with Uthai convinced me that Thailand would be a good place to visit. I had also learned, from a Go player, that my old friend Jerry Rogers was living there. I had been working in Jeddah for about four months when my superiors suggested I take up one of my 'home leave' allowances. We were entitled to four return trips every year, and in fact it was possible to use the air fare for a trip to any destination of a similar price to the UK. Thailand was just as near to Jeddah as the UK. I had been unemployed in the UK, and the people had just elected a war mongering government that had promised to stamp out working class resistance to capitalism. Saudi Arabia and Thailand had even more oppressive governments but I was enjoying myself in Saudi Arabia and I had had some good times in Bangkok. It seemed quite logical to see a bit more of Bangkok and play Go with Jerry Rogers.
Towards May I had left Jeddah and flown to Bangkok. Air travel was easy in those days. There were fewer searches although the Saudis rigorously searched incoming passengers for alcohol. One of our Coppas team had needed rescuing from the airport after being caught with a ham sandwich.
I had been given address for Jerry Rogers at the Rama Jewellery on Silom Road. Jerry was at that time working as a consultant for Mr Ho on Silom Road. On my first day I checked into a nearby hotel, also called the Rama. This was an expensive modern hotel with about twenty floors, and rooms with huge round windows. It was luxurious.
The first night I slept alone. The air journey had made me tired. The next day I met Jerry Rogers at the jewellers and we arranged to go to the Thermae Coffee Shop on Sukhumvit Road. During the 1980s the Thermae was a World famous rendez vous for prostitutes and their customers. The clientele could see that all was proper by the sight of uniformed policemen enjoying themselves at one of the tables. These policemen were to protect the customers from the sort of low life which may be attracted to Red Light districts in Europe who may want to rob people. The Thai authorities had set up a special 'Tourist Police' unit to prevent locals from taking advantage of tourists who did not understand the language. To learn more about Thai prostitution the reader can consult the work of Dr Thanh-Dam Truong .
At Thermae I quickly found a lady, and ended up chosing a woman of about my own age. This was to be the start of a fairly long relationship. The first night I took her to the hotel, and she left in the morning. Getting her into the hotel the night before had been no problem. The rule in Thailand is that a single man sleeping alone in a hotel is likely to be politely approached by a member of staff who will suggest that he would enjoy his stay considerably more if he had female company for the night.
This discretion did not reach the accounting department. My bill was padded up by drinks I had not consumed from the mini-bar in the room but the scam was so blatently obvious that the receptionist readily admitted the mistake when I protested. These items were quickly deleted from the bill. In fact the more down market hotels never resorted to such practices.
The next evening I went to Thermae with Jerry Rogers, and Noi was waiting there. This time I took her to the Peninsular Hotel which was lower down Silom Road from the previous place.
After that, Noi took charge. No more expensive hotels. I was to stay with her in the styx. She saw that I packed my bags and paid the bill, then we took a tuk-tuk to Soi Cham Chan off Ekkamai Road. The place was a terrible slum where people walked on duck boards above a swamp filled with rotting garbage. There was nothing to do there and few people spoke English. I was offered a hit from a bong by a couple of soldiers. and later on Soo, a friend of Noi's offered me a joint. 'Po'. she said as is the habit of Thais to drop most hard consonents from the end of words.
I survived there by studying the Thai phrasebooks I had, and then by starting to learn the alphabet. I quickly found out that many Thais have difficulty in remembering all of their own alphabet sufficiently well to write it down for foreigners. Some of the letters are hardly used at all although a famous non-letter ligature is used all the time to write 'Angrit', or 'English'. I also wrote a journal in a school excerise book I had easily purchased.
The first night we spent together at Soi Cham Chan was quite remarkable. Before reiring to bed for the night, Noi went to a corner and lit some joss sticks. There seemed to be some little shrine in that corner. The next thing I knew is that Noi was intoning prayers in some language. At this stage it became evident that many people in Thailand took their religion quite seriously. Previously I had had relationships with Jewish and Muslim women. These relationships had failed and it was easy to find fault with the religion. Jewishness seemed specially problematic because it seemed to be an impediment to longer term commitments. This happens for both men and women . Noi was not quite the first woman I had known who evidently practiced religion. The first, during 1975 had been a typical tourist experience for a young single man in Thailand. Spend the evening in a place like 'Thermae' or 'Grace Hotel', spend the night with a prostitute (butterfly), then get led off to a Temple the next morning and buy incense and gold leaf and suchlike, and you see dozens of foreign tourists accompanied by pretty young women all doing the same thing.
At these tourist temples a temporary couple can quite easily find a Buddhist monk who will sprinkle holy water over them, or intone a prayer. With Noi it was pretty much the same. She recited her prayers in a different language to normal Thai. Pali is the liturgical language of Thai Buddhism. Like Thai, Pali seems to have about twenty written consonants whose phonetic value is a form of D or T.
Of course Jerry Rogers dissapproved of this sort of thing, being a catholic. He lead me to the Grace Hotel, and Thermae but he was not so keen on the 'Pagan Temples'. Besides the temple visits there were other pressing matters. Noi's TV set was in hok (Rong Ran Jam Nam) but the arrival of a 'falang'  in the slum was a solution to such problems. A TV set was quickly installed, while I started commuting to Silom Road to rendez-vous with Jerry Rogers. We used to play Go in a Japanese Restaurant (the Go Ro) near to the large Bangkok Bank building. Somehow the discussions with Noi lead to another round of temple visits, but this time the temples were modern banking halls. It had to be established whether Noi had a bank account to which I could transfer offshore funds. This was quickly achieved. The bank clerks were most helpful, just like the young man who had helped me open an account with the National Commercial Bank in Jeddah. Exploring the retail banking sector of a new country is a very educational experience. In Jeddah it had lead to me meeting up with Korean Go players amongst the management of Dong-Kuk. I also had an account from which I could wire money to a (young) lady.
Sukhumvit Road was a great center for banking as well as bar girls. The Thai Farmers' Bank (Tanakan Kasikorn Thai) was just outside Thermae and besides its bureau d'exchange kiosk on the outside steps it had a banking hall where they handled more long term transactions. Noi, despite her lack of education, seemed to understand the business of remittances quite well and it was easy to find an account name and number to which I could wire money. I did not need to open my own account at that time.
CITY OF SLUMS
One of the first words I picked from Noi was 'Salum' or Slum. Slum is a colloquial Thai word to describe ramshackle housing inhabited by the urban working class. In Bangkok some of the slum areas seemed to go on for ever. Klong Tuoy was the largest slum in Bangkok during the 1980s. Another popular phrase was 'Rot Thip', for 'Traffic Jam'. Although I had enough money to go everywhere by taxi, Noi preferred to take me around by regular bus, or three wheel taxi. Sometimes she would talk to the youths that hung around in various places and arrange a short trip by motorbike for us ... two bikes, or three on a bike. This seemed quite a contrast to much of Europe where youths hanging around was often a bad sign. During those early days Noi seemed quite keen to introduce me to her own friendship networks including previous boyfriends. I remember being introduced to a young Malaysian called Char Lee. We went to visit him in some area which was at the other end of the city. Travel anywhere in Bangkok was quite exhausting because of the heat.
Jeddah was hot during most of the year, but there I lived in an air conditioned house, and worked from an air conditioned office. Bangkok was different. The slum at Soi Cham Chan did not have air-con. Regular buses did not have air-con, but there were special buses for the middle classes where you could stand for forty minutes or so to travel a couple of miles in air conditioned comfort. Taxis were not so much better. At that time many of the regular taxis had had all of the instrumentation and air conditioning removed for ease of maintenance. The taxi driver might have a little fan on the dashboard along with a place for incense sticks, a Buddha shrine and a garland of flowers. If the taxi had no meter you were meant to arrange a destination and price before you got in. Noi could be a capricious negotiator. If she liked the look of the driver she would get me to pay a generous fare. If she did not like the driver she would drive a very hard bargain. This behaviour was quite appealing. At least she was not trying to keep all my money for herself.
This was one of the most fascinating aspects of Thai prostitution. A foreigner without a word of the language can get an instant social network, The Grace Hotel and the Thermae Coffee Shop were centers of social networks which included many engineers and overseas development experts. The bars and brothels were a portal via which a keen observer of social systems could get insights in working class life and have a good time in the bargain.
It is very hard to learn a new language. In Jeddah I had taken a great interest in learning Arabic, and had compiled many word lists in a school excercise book, but now I was embarking on Thai. Noi provided the motivation. She expected me to sit around and listen to her holding forth to her friends, and appreciate her great words of wisdom even if I understood nothing.
My holiday in Thailand ended soon enough, and I took the plane back to Jeddah.
I had more confidence after my visit to Thailand. I had spent a few hundred pounds on a very short break, but it gave me something to talk about when socialising with the Saudis. I also bought another computer, which superceded the Casio. This was a SHARP PC1200 and it cost 1200 Riyals (about 200 Sterling at the time). This was equivalent to one of those expensive Hewlett Packard computers I had seen on the Boulevard St. Germain, except that it could be programmed in BASIC. I had previously learned BASIC while working at ICL in Kidsgrove, near Stoke on Trent. There had been a 'Startrek' program which had absorbed me during 1978-79, so I knew a little about BASIC since I had looked at the source code for this, and other games.
The PC1200 had slightly more screen than the CASIO. The display was about 7x120 pixels, and each pixel could be programmed individually via single column bitmaps. In the end I made the machine display wordlists in both arabic-english thai-english. Table lookup was performed with a simple minded hashing function. All of this took a lot of time. Prime numbers were abandoned for the time being.
For the rest of my time in Jeddah I had no real job to do. I developed a pleasant routine. In the morning a group of us would be picked up outside our houses in Nada village and get taken to the power station by Jama. At the power station I had an office in a prefab, and I laid claim to my space by setting up the typewriter on which I was writing the course notes for the Saudi programmers. Having set up the typwriter and put in paper with a few lines of computer jargon I felt free to leave the office and start my social rounds. This usually involved a chat with Abdul Hakim, the Lebanese security guard who had a little sentry box at the boundary fence of the Jeddah 4 plant. Abdul Hakim had aroused my interest when I saw him feeding a cat. He explained that the cat was 'Al Bis', and even coached me in writing the arabic alphabet. Very close to Abdul Hakim's sentry box was the site restaurant. This was a 'greasy spoon' style establishment run by Indonesians, and I regularly had breakfast there. This was usually steak and eggs with tomatos, mushrooms and chips. After eating I would normally have a coffee, smoke a few cigarettes, and read the Arab News or the Saudi Gazette. Most of the time I was the only customer in the restaurant, but the manager was interested in talking to me. He seemed a well educated person.
By this time most of the morning had passed. After breakfast I would return to my office which was just outside the Jeddah 4 compound and fiddle with the typewriter for a few minutes before walking back towards Jeddah 4. There I would enter the main building via a staircase near the boilers and walk up past the turbine hall and up to the control room. Here I might meet Reine, a Corpus employee from the Netherlands, or I might meet Helmut or Willi from Incon.
I got on well with Reine, Helmut, or Zia, the Turkish technician who worked for Incon, and I was on speaking terms with some of the SOGEX powerstation men who were running things during comissioning. Otherwise I tended to avoid other Corpus people such as David Burton and big bosses such as Al Sheikh. I was on speaking terms with Abdul Hakeem's boss who was in charge of SOGEX's own security guards. The control room also had a cat.
The SOGEX people in the control room worked twelve hour shifts. Many of them came from the Tees Side industrial complexes which were being shut down by the Thatcher regime back in England. Twenty five years hence British industry has been swapped for financial services and the UK can no longer provide such workers. Employers hire people from continental Europe to rebuild or upgrade their refinaries and we get anti-foreigner strikes and demonstrations on Humberside. One surprising feature was the youthfulness of some of these workers. Some seemed barely out of school, but they were running a multi billion dollar power plant.
Seen in such a context the Chernobyl disaster did not seem mysterious. Just like the Saudi programmers, so young men get such jobs through connections as much as academic performance. There is a world of difference between aprenticeships for good jobs and bad jobs. The world of power station workers seemed very small. It was said that places such as India and the Filipines had difficulty running some of their own power plants because of heavy recruitment by the Gulf states. All of the third world employees had had to buy their jobs. In the UK different systems operated, but I myself was very unusual in having come to the industry at such a late stage in my life.
Reine was a typical big, blond haired dutchman. He taught me how to solve the Rubik Cube by writing down some of the move combinations, and showing me when to employ a particular series of transformations. He had previously worked in a desalination plant in Aruba, in the Carribean. At that time Aruba was world corporate headquarters of Schlumberger, which is an instrumenation company. A place like Jeddah 4 is good for instrumentation sales. Reine had clearly benefitted from the fact that the Netherlands had once posessed a vast overseas empire. I occasionally visited Reine at his house in Nada village. Although he was single while living in Jeddah he had got family status accomodation, or a house to himself. To me this seemed a great advantage since I was not getting on well with the housemates I had shared with when I first arrived in Jeddah.
After the first trip to Thailand my circumstances improved. Corpus had fired the previous site manager and he was replaced by a younger man who was part of the 'Grace Hotel - Thermae Bar' network, that is to say men who had spent holidays with Thai whores. Ralph, the new manager was the administrator. He hired Jama, and dealt with everyone's expenses. Once a month he took an airplane to Riyadh where he would collect a cheque from SWCC for the entire project. He told me that previously he had carried large quantities of cash from London to Dublin as part of a tax avoidance scheme. The Corpus contract had been arrived at by a social network formed by one of the big cheeses at Corpus who had owned a London nightclub, patronised by Saudis and other Arabs.
All of this was really astonishing to me. I had been interveiwed at the London offices of Corpus. The office building was near Thornton Heath, and outside was a huge billboard sized sign proclaiming that Corpus International was a process engineering company with offices in London, Dublin, Texas and a few other oil industry places. In fact the office was only an accomodation address where Corpus hired a couple of rooms when necessary.
Having more access to a car was pleasant, although I also liked to use the public buses. There were one or two double decker buses used in Jeddah, and one route passed quite close to our compound near to Sharbatli jail. Like all drivers in Jeddah the bus drivers needed to deal with the constantly changing roads. One one occasion the double decker left the road altogether to cut through a construction site to rejoin the road at another point. Many of the passengers cheered and clapped. Another memory is Madinah Road. This was a long stretch of road under permanent improvement leading to the central plaza of Jeddah. In parts the Madinah road was divided into two carriageways with apartment blocks in the middle. Somali housewives would have to risk being hit by speeding cars while doing the simplest shopping errands because women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia. They can only run. The carriageways were separated from the houses by huge concrete blocks, and there was a famous ruin near downtown. This was the twisted skeleton of a building which had collapsed during construction. Clearing up the site did not seem an urgent priority.
In the center of Jeddah, near the old seashore was a large central plaza with a huge TV screen at one end. This TV screen was made out of a large array of coloured lights. It was the first time in my life that I had seen such a large screen. This screen, representing the latest features of advanced technology shared its location with a place where they regularly carried out public beheadings as part of the mediaeval justice system of Saudi Arabia. Some parts of the system were very advanced even by the standards of the twenty first century. Local TV carried frequent crime re-enactment programs. These would show chained prisoners re-enacting their crimes which would normally be have to be as serious as rape, robbery and murder to get on prime time TV along with prayers and football.
One of these programs went on for a long time, as a couple of hapless Filipinos were lead around the crime scene. Everyone knew that they would be found guilty and executed. Watching just one program like this is a good anti-dote to the current round of 'Reality TV'. Once condemned the criminals could be executed in Jeddah's central plaza, and it was rumoured that ex-pats lucky enough to live in flats overlooking the scene would invite their friends round to watch Friday prayers and then the subsequent administration of justice.
Around the main plaza of Jeddah were some streets of the old town. There were a few large houses built in traditional style from mud bricks with elaborate wooden balconies. There were also some traditional souks with alleyways and small shops and many feral cats running around the plentiful garbage heaps. There were also some workshops with artisans making things. This light industry seemed to produce only one commodity. Every workshop was making 'shishas' or water pipes. Around the old city were restaurants where arabs, all male, would sit on tables drinking tea and smoking shishas. In the evening there were plenty of people walking around and taking in the sights. There were plenty of large car parks so it was not too much of a problem to find a place to leave the car, often near to the lagoon. There was an interval for prayers in the middle of the evening and all the shops and restaurants had to close. In modern supermarkets it was possible to continue shopping during prayers, but in other places it was necessary to wait and watch the faithful at prayer.
Despite an apparently puritannical interpretation of Islam, Jeddah in 1982 was a town offering more freedom than contemporary London or New York. The sort of traditional 'shisha' cafes which were part of Arabic culture are forbidden in most of Europe under anti-smoking laws. Wahabbi style puritanism was a cause of much moaning by expatriates but the loss of liberties in contemporary Western societies is far more pernicious. Many people who are under fifty just do not realise how civil liberties have been eroded.
In the European Union globalisation has developed into an unhealthy combination of 'Thirdworldization' and 'neo-fascsism'. The 'Thirdworldisation' is evident in the EU in the driving down of wages which is even worse since the 2008 financial crisis. There is a large underclass of illegal migrant workers who help to keep wages low. The deregulation of labour markets so loved by the capitalist class leads to 'hot bedding' and slave labour pay rates in the food processing industries. In Jeddah I was shown the future when Uthai took me to visit Thai workers working for airline catering companies.
 Thanh-Dam Truong
Sex Money and Morality
Zed Books 1990
 Alias A,B,T,TH -- arabic signs, to hide identities.
A,B are brother and sister.
T Social worker
 Falang is generic Thai for European foreigner. It's origin is 'Frank' going back to the time of the crusades when European leaders started to recover from the fall of the Roman Empire and reasserted some authority 'Outre-Mer'.
UK GENERAL ELECTION 2010
Against the background of riots in Athens and the failure of the European currency, the United Kingdom held a general election. A presidential style had been set by televised debates between the three leaders of the main conventional parties. The result was indecisive for the dinasaurs but a breakthrough for the Greens who finally achieved parliamentary representation. England finally had an answer to Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Danny the Red has his counterpart; Caroline Lucas.
The UK Green Party had candidates whose typical vote seemed in the low hundreds except in one place, Brighton Pavilion, where they won.
I had visited Brighton as a child, and later in my life, to play in a chess match. It seemed a typical English seaside town but later on it acquired a university which quickly became famous.
I know rather more about Northern Ireland on the periphery of the UK. A spectacular defection by the sole official unionist left gave the lie to Tory leader David Cameron's claim to be a 'One Nation' party. The TORY-UNIONIST alliance was very good in 1910, but for many the true unionist party had become the Labour Party which completed the peace process started by Tory PM, John Major. The official Unionist party had ceded ground to Ian Paisley's D.U.P. (Democratic Unionist Party) and the sole remaining Unionist M.P. promptly left the party and stood as an independent when her party decided to continue its traditional alliance with the Tories. Sylvia Herman comfortably retained the allegiance of her electorate on Ulster's Gold Coast.
The 2010 general election gave the Tories the most seats in parliament along the lines (roughly) :-
LIB DEM 57
TORY+LD : LAB 363 : 258
LAB+LD : TORY 315 : 306
The 'Other parties' include
PLAID CYMRU 3
If Labour wished to govern with Lib-Dem support then the smaller parties along with the Tories could defeat the government.
Labour lost dozens of seats because the new Tory leader, David Cameron effectively found new channels for Tory nastiness. In contrast to his predecessor Michael Howard, David Cameron restricted nastiness mostly to his choice of political allies in the European Union. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader rightly pointed out that these European allies were often traditionalist parties which often glorified nazism, anti-semitism, and homophobia. Michael Howard had become famous for his attempts to lock up more Englishmen for longer and longer, to impose a poll tax and to outlaw any local government attempt to promote homosexuality.
The latter effort, called section 28 was reminiscent of witchcraft persecutions of earlier times. It was news to many people that local governments had been encouraging homosexuality but it seems that outrage had been generated in sufficient order for parliamentary business to proceed with a law and it's subsequent repeal. A totally imaginary danger to youth had been invented in a country that locks up more vulnerable young men than most of its neighbours. This imaginary danger came from pen pushing bureaucrats rather than the growing number of commercially run jails, and a culture of sexual exploitation which goes along with lap-dancing clubs and widely available pornography.
Apart from repealing section 28, this culture of sexual exploitation has flourished under New Labour. Home secretary Jaqui Smith valiently tried to outlaw prostitution but her political career hit the buffers when it transpired that she claimed government expenses for the hire of pornographic videos for the edification of her partner. Jaquie Smith lost her seat in the 2010 general election.
In the UK many laws are passed following new stories which focus only on the 'outrage' of a journalist who may report that men with beards and turbans claim social security or have children who roam the streets with aggressive dogs.
All major political parties can agree on fast track legislation to ban a new dance-drug called Miow-Miow but since the early 1980s they turned their backs on regulation of the money markets and the City of London. This is typical. They wish to regulate the behaviour of the individual through censorship and anti-smoking laws, but they are soft on institutions with money. To make the City of London financier friendly the governments boast that it is more free than New York or Paris or Frankfurt. Prime minister Gordan Brown has made many speeches about the need to allow business a free hand. When he was prime minister, Tony Blair intervened to halt an investigation about bribary connected with a british company and Saudi arms deals.
The Tories rightly acquired a reputation as the 'Nasty Party'. Spurred on by the tabloid press the Tories have made vague promises to repeal the 'Human Rights Act' which incorprated some European union legislation into British law. Right wing newspapers consistently publish stories of 'OUTRAGE' whenever people in British jails appeal to E.U. law.
Despite all this the British Tory Party has provided a line of excellent novelists starting off with Disraeli who pretty much described the social divisions later on analysed by Marx and Engels. The later novels by such luminaries as Julian Critchly and Edwina Curry adequately described the hypocracy of the great and good of British political life.
For a while during 2009 there was a period of newspaper generated outrage when MPs expense account details got leaked to the press. Any one familiar with the supposed fiction Critchly and Curry would not have been surprised. Anyone who ever tried to run a university club would know the importance of fighting for maximum subsidies at any possible opportunity in direct competition with upper class pursuits such as boat racing, fencing, gliding etc. Despite all this an artificial climate of shock and outrage was generated concerning MPs privileges and expenses.
I have witnessed the work that MPs do. A constituency surgery is just as bad as Accident and Emergency at a large hospital. Many people who visit their MPs are sick or deranged, or facing the death of loved ones. Asylum appeals must be particularly harrowing because the MPs are confronted with the possibility that laws they pass may cause some of their constituents to be deported to countries where torture is a routine punishment for disloyalty to the regime.
The public expects MPs to chase up delays in the delivery of life saving drugs or procedures, or to intervene in cases of miscarriage of justice, and also it expects MPs to run a government which ensures the delivery of infrastructure, social security, stable currency and the regulation of weights and measures.
By 2010 these things had become harder to provide.
Some infrastructure is damaging. Airport growth and rail transport systems are important political issues, along with power generation.
Social security involves issues such as nationality, privilege and privacy.
Fiscal stability has defeated the European Union. The English conservatives claim that England will go the same way as Greece where lives have been lost in riots against economic austerity measures. The Tories claimed that they needed everyone to vote for them so that there would be a strong government which would impress 'The City' by its tough measures to impoverish the common people to maintain business as usual for the financiers who had just gone and lost everyone's money in 2008. Labour could not claim to be any better because PM Gordon Brown had spent nearly ten years of his life encouraging the behaviour that lost all the money.
Weights and measures are part of big government ever since the Revolutionary republic of France.
DEMAND FOR ELECTIONS IN THAILAND
While the British held elections, the Eton educated prime minister of Thailand was determining whether military force was necessary in the streets of Bangkok. A large group of protesters had camped in a large area of central Bangkok stretching from the Dusit Thani Hotel to Siam Square. New transport infrastructure had created additional places for confrontation. Snipers were deployed in skyscrapers. Rocket propelled grenades were aimed at metro stations. The use of war weapons were a disturbing feature. the Red Shirt protesters included former military men. Their leader, Sawasdipol, was shot by a sniper while giving an interview to the media. At least one journalist was killed along with a couple of hundred protesters over the course of several weeks.
On 18 May 2010 the Thai army moved on the protesters camp with armoured personnel carriers, infantry, and some bulldozer type vehicles. They fired live bullets at any protesters that tried to oppose them, and hit many other people who got in the way. In revenge some of the fleeing Red Shirts set fire to buildings including The Central Plaza Shopping Mall and a TV station's headquarters.
Students massacred at Tammasat University Oct 1976
Thai Military Coup Feb 1991
Mass demonstrations in Bangkok May 1992
Thai strongman steps down June 1992
East Asia financial crisis (Baht) July 1997
Voters elect Thai Rak Thai Party Jan 2001
Taksin Sinawat forms government Jan 2001
Drugs crackdown claims many lives Feb 2003
Thai army massacres moslem insurgents in South April 2004
Taksin Sinawat bids for Liverpool May 2004
Thai police suffocates dozens of detainees Oct 2004
Asian Tsunami Dec 2004
Taksin ousted in military coup Sept 2006
World financial crisis Sept 2008
Thailand paralysed by mass demonstrations April 2009
Show of force by army on Bangkok streets May 2010
Ever since the early 1900s Thailand has had an unstable political system alternating between military regimes and reforming technocrats. Thailand has tried out various voting systems but communists have been kept out of power. The Thai elite is well educated with many having postgraduate degrees from British and American universities. Thailand has embraced the Internet, and much of the recent rioting has been captured on U-TUBE (where it could easily be deleted by future re-writers of history).
Taksin Sinawat came to power on a populist programme. He is a divisive figure. Taksin is named after an early Thai King who revived the country after a disasterous invasion from Burma. The former Thai king Taksin became famous for his cruelty and mental instability at the end of his life.
George Orwell's dystopian novel, 'Nineteen Eighty Four' has been elaborated by men such as Clinton, Bush and Blair. The collapse of communism in 1989 saw the communist-capitalist cold war replaced by a more general war against Islam. Taksin was removed because he was seen to be failing in Thailand's dirty war in the South. In the UK the Blair-Brown government updated detention without trial plus the endorsement of torture to deal with the global Kaleefat conspiracy called Al-Qaida. During the cold war the moslems were our allies against atheistic communism. Since the end of the cold war some influential leftists gave up both their ideology and their brains. The British 'New Labour' movement is a good example of this.
'UN SYSTÈME BÊTE ET MÉCHANT.'
OR HISTORY OF A SOFTWARE PROJECT
Paul Claviere, after a career as an administrator for E.S.R.O. and other European science agencies became a lecturer at the computer science faculty at Orsay, a rather attractive suburb about twenty kilometers to the south of Paris. During his teaching he made the acquaintanceship of Saint-Just, a student, a Michel Fiolet, a member of the same faculty.
Later on the C.N.R.S. demanded of Paul that he submit a thesis for a doctorate, because university regulations required him to acquire some academic status, if tenure was to be granted for his position. Paul was unabashed by this threat, since he had already changed his career several times, so he decided to start up a computing bureau. He made several interesting projects, including a poetry writing program, mainly by using computer terminals, and an interactive language... A.P.L. He also, before founding his society, had familiarised himself with the problems of commercial computing some associates of his used computers for the massage of data from questionnaires. I.B.L. used very much computer time by sorting the responses of market research surveys. They used time sold by C.I.S.I., a large European bureau, and finally they started using S.T.S., an even more expensive American bureau. The costs were astronomical, because they used A.P.L. to do their work, though some of the programs they wrote did demonstrate intelligence.
A decision was made to buy a computer, and they chose PR1ME. The work could easily be transferred to that computer, once an APL interpreter was written to run on PR1ME machines.
A contract was made, and work started on the A.P.L. compiler. At that time, a girl came back from England, where she had just had a brief love affair with someone who worked in a place which was just like a factory - a software factory of course. This girl knew some of Paul Claviere's pupils quite well, so she, along with an Armenian named Keremydjan were hired to write the thing, along with one or two experts, or theoreticians.
Was she surprised, to see that so much work was required of so few, when she had already been told that one thousand man years was the norm for large scale software projects? The task was formidable, especially when no one there knew how to get a compiler to generate machine code.
During the beginning of the project there was no computer, but theoretical work was done on the methods for implementing A.P.L.. The decision was made to use some sort of dynamic memory management scheme for A.P.L. data, and several volumes of notes were produced by Anong and Keremydjean. Many of the major decisions were left waiting. The amount of work to be done appeared daunting, but at least the decision as to what should be done with a single A.P.L. line was made. The line was to be lexically analysed, and after that some sytaxic analysis could be done, and hopefully machine code could be compiled and executed. Anong read some books of lexical analysers, and by the beginning of 1978 things began to look up for the project. PR1ME in England seemed satisfied to pay the money to G.A.I., and a complete A.P.L. system, compatible with the I.B.M. 360 version was promised for August.
I.B.L. were to set up a company called Cristel, and Cristel would become the owning company of a PR1ME computer. I.B.L. would soon be able to stop paying so much money to scientific time sharing, PR1ME would have their compiler, Paul Claviere would have satisfied clients, and everyone would be very happy.
The order and delivery of the computer proceeded according to plan, and Paul was able to procure the services of a programmer named Edward Brisse, who was made responsible for the system installation, and the initial software.
Edward and Anong started the coding work, and Edward, with his considerable experience of medium speed computers was able to explain the basics of coding any large system. Most numeric constants in the code were to be defined by symbolic parameters, and the declarations for each FORTRAN routine could be taken from a common set of files. This would mean that certain limitations could be changed, by the change of a single parameter file, followed of course by recompilation of the entire system.
Other important decisions were made at this time. The A.P.L. interface was to be made simpler, by having a text editor built into the system. The whole system was to be written as a 'core bound' program, that is to say one hundred by one hundred arrays would be quite common. The computer manufacturer's virtual address system would take care of all the rest. No one knew how to use the disc file system at the time, which was rather surprising if you consider that any compiler must create object code which will be placed on file. In addition to making maximum use of the virtual addressing system, a separate memory management scheme would be written, because several computer text books gave examples of such schemes.
The user's data was to be held in memory blocks, with names and descriptors to be chained to the data. To economise on memory requirements, common values would occupy the same storage, but descriptors would be separated, or if two names had the same value even a descriptor could be shared. Each memory block would contain some administrative data, as indeed the memory management system required it to.
In the end it was just decided to tag each memory block with the type of data structure it was meant to be, and some types of data structure would have reference counts, or a protection mechanism like that. Because a huge virtual memory, about eighty thousand words , was reserved for all objects the system would have to be very well advanced before the memory would become filled up.
Every piece of data put into the system during an A.P.L. session was to be stored in one pool of memory, and access to each object was to be obtained by following pointers. Because FORTRAN was the implementation language the designers decided to use only a single FORTRAN common, again a surprisingly unrealistic decision, since the base pointer must be stored as a value somewhere in the data areas. Most of the routines were written with very few explicit arguments, and very many hidden arguments.
Because a text editor had been specified it was now possible to hire someone, Monique Drax as it happened, to write the editor code to Saint-Just's specifications. At this time Jean Michel had written several A.P.L. programs to parse arithmetic expressions, and recognise tokens in text, so Anong had enough theoretical knowledge to write the lexical analysis and think about syntax analysis. Edward Brisse occupied himself with the memory management routines, which were in fact no more than code translation. All the real terminal handling software had been written by the manufacturer. Also each person on the project wrote one or more FORTRAN routines to pack and unpack bytes in a single word. This same duplication of effort is undesirable, but appears normal in any software project.
Luckily the idea of writing these critical routines in machine code was shelved until the hoped for 'optimisation phase' of the project.
During the initial work the chief designer, Keremydjean became more and more disheartened at the amount of work to be done.
The original contract gave about one year for a fully functional A.P.L. system, equivalent to that developed by I.B.M. over about five years, to be followed very quickly by APL Plus and APL SV, which are enhancements of APL giving file store access, and inter task communication, respectively. Keremydjan knew that such a contract was impossible to meet, so he left G.A.I. to work for Thomson CSF as a software engineer.
During the February of 1978, one of Anong's correspondents won £30 in a 'good ideas' competition run by his employer, and decided to visit Paris, prompted very much by the occasional telephone call from Anong, at his work. A week in Paris with Anong was enough to enchant the man from the software factory, and on his return he thought only of how he could see Anong again.
The project slowed down for a few days after Anong's lover left. Anong was not at all happy with the current state of her affairs, and did not return to work for a few days, until Paul persuaded her that it was necessary to think positively, and continue working on the tasks at hand.
Anong's lover had taken the aeroplane to the smoky north of England, where he occupied himself with a poker-hand dealing program, and when not too much pressed by the maintenance work he had to do, with modifying the Startrek program, or just getting high on hashish. Usually he left work after the rather complicated ritual of logging in, calling the card dealing program, and waiting for a straight, or better.
This method of leaving work in the evening proved fortuitous. After a hard day chasing errors in the depths of the telecommunications section of a very large and expensive operating system, the programmer turned to his hobby of using the computer as an oracle, and because it took some time to get a better hand than two pairs he was still at work when Anong telephoned. A rendezvous was arranged, and the programmer was to be drawn further into a web of false promises, broken deadlines, and buyer seller relationships.
In Paris G.A.I. was able to pay the rent and salaries for its workers, and some effort was made to find the programmers to write the eighty or more semantic routines required. A car load of Swiss students arrived from Geneva, and after Paul explained what was necessary they promised that the routines could be written, then disappeared on the 'Autoroute de Soleil'. Little was heard of them subsequently, so Paul made enquires at the science faculty at Orsay, and found out that three Vietnamese students Quang, Nam and Khai would become free to work for G.A.I. during the summer.
Anong's boyfriend arrived in Paris in the middle of March, during the French elections, and during the visit he was shown the office of G.A.I. and met Edward Brisse. Because Anong was not too distracted at this time, it was possible to discuss A.P.L. implementations, and the philosophy of the project. Already it appeared that each subsystem of the APL implementation was to have private data, in addition to the single unstructured pool of A.P.L. objects to be shared by all the subsystems.
In April Anong went to Japan, to play Go, but work continued on A.P.L., and the declaration files became larger, and more complicated.
At this stage of the project there were many low level routines already written, and tested with the aid of test programs, and Edward was experimenting with V.P.S.D. the manufacturer's core dumping and modification package, so that the state of memory could be easily determined after a test, at least by someone who was conditioned to octal, like Edward.
The semantic routines, the monitor, the execution system, the file system, and the sign on and sign off parts of APL needed to be specified and written, although Keremydjan had left an interesting and useful state transition diagram to chart all those things.
During April and May the editor routines took form, and the lexical analysis was finished for the time being. Anong proceeded with the syntax analysis, and following Saint-Just's advice, chose a well tried and foolproof method: the shift reduction algorithm.
At the end of May Anong's lover arrived again in Paris, this time determined to follow his dreams, or perhaps nightmares, to the bitter end. His morale was low as the result of a year's work of maintenance on a large software system which was beginning to show all the symptoms of structural decay, and in addition the disastrous rendezvous with Anong earlier in the month showed that love was no longer a feature of their relationship.
Self-interest took over, and during a drinking session with Saint-Just Anong's ex-lover agreed to meet Paul Claviere, and discuss a possible contribution to the A.P.L. project. There was little choice really, since finding a job in Paris is not easy for strangers and it seemed the line of least resistance, to invade Anong's workplace as well as her bed.
The introduction to Paul turned out well. Following a meal in a local restaurant Paul explained what needed to be done, and Anong's ex-lover rashly promised to undertake the rôle of super-programmer for a while. After all, if the efforts of the finest programming brains in the world gave such systems as O.S. and D.O.S. for I.B.M., or VME/B and VME/K for I.C.L., then it appeared that much more intelligent systems could be pronounced for G.A.I. where there were only four programmers. The new recruit to G.A.I. undertook to produce the execution machine, and the file system for A.P.L., and A.P.L.-Plus, once he had learnt how to use the machine, and after some familiarisation with A.P.L.. A work contract was promised on the same day, so Anong's friend was reasonably satisfied with the turn of events.
On his first day at work the English super-programmer passed the time with the leading theoretician of the project, Saint-Just, in a discussion on the semantic routines. Edward Brisse explained the parameter files, and the Englishman, luckily as it happened, was unable to say that it reminded him of the declaration files of another software project. He could not speak enough French at the time.
The A.P.L. semantic routines were discussed in fine detail. There were to be about thirty two primitive routines for the A.P.L. monadic functions, and about one hundred and fifty eight for the scalar dyadic functions. They could be coded by the Vietnamese who would arrive later in the month. The reason for all this work is that separate routines might be necessary to deal with combinations of data types such as boolean, integer, real, and character or byte.
The structural routines such as rotation of a vector, or transposition of a matrix might be done by changing the descriptor of the data, so the specification of those routines was left until later. Anong's advice was also noted: there was no real problem since the execution machine could be coded as a finite-state automaton.
At the beginning of June the English recruit was sent on a course given by the manufacturer at its offices in a western suburb of Paris, under the fort of Mount St. Valerian, which was built after the 1870 war (to defend Paris), at that course he was able to see that his French colleagues in the computer world were just about as silly as those he had left behind in England. If anything, the new recruits to the industry were even more naïve than the products of English colleges and universities.
After the familiarisation course the English programmer returned to G.A.I. and adapted to the working routine there. Since the invitations of a benefactor are often indistinguishable from commands, the daily invocation 'à table', usually meant a reasonable meal with enough wine to be pleasantly inebriated for the best part of the afternoon. The best work was done in the mornings, or at home in the evenings, with the help of one or two joints. The English programmer had taken one or two listings with him from England, and it became his ambition to reproduce the same results using PR1ME Hardware and A.P.L. as the language. The A.P.L. solution to this problem involved a couple of user defined functions, so the whole system needed to be working, in order to make the test.
At the beginning of July the three Vietnamese arrived, and the English programmer had to find work for them to do, so he gave them the task of writing the thirty or so monadic scalar functions, such as absolute valve, reciprocal, and, so as a time filler the generalised factorial function, which is the same as the gamma function, first extensively researched by the swiss mathematician, Euler, in about 1790. Once the coding started on these functions the testing strategy was devised: a single program to test the whole lot. Also to be written by the Vietnamese. They also verified that recursive procedures worked, by testing a simulation of the towers of Hanoi.
Meanwhile Edward occupied himself with programs to calculate certain families of algebraic integers, Anong tried to decide what sort of code should be compiled, and the English programmer worked out rather vague specifications of what the target machine to execute the compiled code might look like.
At this time some English people came over from Bedford, where PR1ME U.K. had their offices, and the progress on the project was explained to them. Edward was also able to tell them how rotten the diagnostics were, for the FORTRAN compiler, since he had already spent much time chasing errors in the A.P.L. code as a result of undefined common areas. His attitude was that of many system programmers: make maximum use of core dumps, load maps, patience, and with some good luck a diagnostician will find the data areas which are corrupted, and then expert inference will allow him to find the offending module. Explaining this process to the Vietnamese was beyond the English programmer's resources, as was a comprehension of the mechanism for protecting local variables in A.P.L. functions, so it is not surprising that the team from PR1ME U.K. left France with the impression that utter confusion reigned at G.A.I.. Nevertheless, Saint-Just had shown confidence in his exposition, and the manufacturer did agree to pay G.A.I. the normal monthly sum until completion of A.P.L.-360 in October.
Anong had already made arrangements to work in Marocco at the end of September, so she needed to find a finishing stage for her work. In the end a very much simplified interface with the execution system was defined, in order to finish the syntactic analysis quickly. Essentially the intermediate code consisted of about eleven different function codes, five of which took an operand. All of these function codes involved manipulation of a stack, which was to be hidden somewhere in the pool of data, so the execution of the code remained a problem, but at least some hard specifications had been produced for the overall structure of the execution machine. The English programmer also occupied himself with the problems of accessing the numeric and character data types for the A.P.L. vector operations. He explained dope vectors to Anong, and the Vietnamese, and wrote a few routines and functions to treat the memory as a sort of file system, with an 'open' subroutine to find the address and element size of the data from its descriptor, and access functions to give each data element as a double precision real number, as required. This solution was chosen with reluctance, since a fast execution speed could not really be hoped for, but the speed of implementation now seemed the most critical factor. Edward was the only person who had paid any attention to programming fundamentals, and as a result he had written some skeleton programs to serve as the top level module, and the editor interface. Anong completed her work with a test system which would print the intermediate code produced from any A.P.L. line entered from the terminal, and Saint-Just absented himself from the project to meet the requirements of the French military authorities.
When the two English women, Bridget and Celia, visited G.A.I. in the beginning of September there was already something good to be demonstrated: the editor was starting to work, and the lexical and syntaxic analysis modules had been integrated in a single test program.
The last three weeks of September saw excellent progress for the A.P.L. project. The Vietnamese had coded many of the structural routines, such as the shape routine, the two sort routines, and Khai had undertaken responsibility for the scalar monadic functions. Routines were written to pack and unpack booleans from one part of memory to another, and the main outstanding problem was integration of the already written software, so that some testing could be done.
About two hundred FORTRAN routines had been written in all, but none had been subject to rigorous testing. Theoretical work on optimisation was being done by Patric Merisert-Coffinières, a mathematician turned musician. Patric had spent the summer playing the flute on metro stations, or in front of the Pompidou art centre, but now he needed money to go to Japan, and his work at G.A.I. was to be a means to that end.
The English programmer was beginning to enjoy the responsibility of the work, and since he had never been involved in such an interesting project before he started to work late in the evenings, and at week-ends. The main motivation was of course to see Anong's work brought to a fruitful conclusion, but also it seemed important to avoid mistakes that had been made in other projects.
With this in mind, he based the rest of his work on two main principles:
1. Top down programming. Write the main module first. Try to test it, after it is coded. The test results give excellent guidelines for the specifications of the unwritten but necessary interface routines.
2. Put error handling code into the system immediately. The first level of error recovery was an inter-reactive module called 'Irrelicht', which allowed the programmer to examine the memory during tests, without unduly altering the state of the system.
The monitor was written as a collection of calls to subsystems such as lexical analysis, syntax analysis, interpretation of A.P.L. lines, and initialisation-reinitialisations. Most of the ideas were copied from Anong and Edward, and a state transition table was used to control the logic. 'Irrelicht' served as a useful tool to test the structure of the monitor, but some problems remained.
In addition to primitive arithmetical operations such as addition, multiplication, or permutation of the elements of a vector, the A.P.L. language contains certain system commands. On the early I.B.M. implementations these commands were not part of the language, but more modern implementations of A.P.L. treated these commands as special system functions. In particular the editor, which had already been written, was to be called via a system command (☐ED), followed by the required textual manipulations, and a return of control to the A.P.L. monitor.
One Saturday evening, after an interesting session at the terminal, trying to balance all the project's software in a single system, the English programmer left the office to catch the bus back to Port D'Orléans, the nearest metro station. Passing the traffic lights just outside the office he was almost run over by a car containing four freaks. A few words were exchanged, and as a result of finding such a pleasant stranger in their neighbourhood the youths invited the English programmer to come with them and share some of the excellent Maraccon 'sand' they had just procured.
After a pleasant evening getting stoned, the English programmer decided to spend the night with a computer terminal and some friendly software, since the last bus had departed hours ago. During the night he observed the behaviour of the system, and came to the conclusion that another large program module was necessary to hold the calling sequence for all the system functions, including the editor. He was also well satisfied with the new acquaintances he had made, since not everyone can procure dope from the same building as that of his work-place.
* * * * * *
At the beginning of October Saint-Just had succeeded in extricating himself from the French military machine, and departed from France for a long vacation with his fiancée Françoise. Paul Claviere found another theoretician from Orsay, Michel Fiolet to work out the details of the A.P.L. shared variable system. Although the Vietnamese had made excellent progress on the semantic routines, some major work remained to be done, but Paul rejected the idea that Patric Merissert could do some coding, because the deadline for delivery had been postponed for the end of October.
The September decisions began to pay off. The original monitor, originally written as a test program, became sufficiently robust to accept A.P.L. lines, and produce interesting results. The print routine was written, and after some arguments with Edward, it was finally tested. Khai started to integrate and test the semantic routines written by his Vietnamese friends Nam and Quang, while Monique started to write the other system functions, the editor interfaces being the responsibility of Edward and the Englishman. The 'stop' and the 'initialise' system functions were incorporated by manipulation of the control variable, or state number, in the state transition table implementation of the monitor, and the diagnostic system enabled rapid check out for the new semantic routines.
Occasionally Serge, Patric, and Gilles, the local lads, would call in during the late evening, to smoke a few joints, and listen to the English programmer's enthusiastic description of 'informatique', and computer languages and systems.
The dyadic deal, and monadic random number functions were integrated, and following a few horoscopes and tarot card deals the English programmer crossed the path of Amel Bornaƶ, a pretty young Tunisian girl.
Amel's name became part of the test scripts, along with that of Anong, because the A.P.L. was already sufficiently functional to execute such lines as:
(4 6 p'ANNE'),(4 4 p ' '), 4 6 p 'AMEL'
producing the output:
ANNE A AMEL A
NNE AN MEL AM
NE ANN EL AME
E ANNE L AMEL
Despite the pleasing progress made, the project was still far behind its promised schedule. User functions did not work, many semantic routines remained to be written, along with about forty system functions. As a panic measure Paul put Patric Merissert to work on the A.P.L. operators, reduce, expand, and the inner and outer products while the Englishman and Edward Brisse argued about whose responsibility it was to make the editor interfaces work. Michel Fiolet was to write some software to validate the quality of the software in the meantime, since it appeared to him that no-one on the project had the faintest idea of how to program.
Khai, the most junior, and lowest paid member of the project explained the mechanics of the memory examination and diagnostic system to Patric Merissert, and debugged most of the other semantic routines written by everyone else. He also wrote the A.P.L. indexing routines in his remaining time, and maintained several interface routines in the interpreter module.
A visit to England was arranged to England to deliver the finished product in mid November, and Paul believed that two months' work could be done in ten days if everyone worked sufficiently hard.
Some time was lost during a changeover to an upgraded version of the operating system, and it also became clear that the current data structures were inadequate to deal with the localisation of variables during function execution. The English programmer kept a low profile at the office during this time, since the atmosphere of panic was not too good for productive work, and spent as much time as possible with Amel. Thanks to Amel and Irene, a girlfriend of Amel there was a sufficiently calm atmosphere at his apartment to do some fruitful theoretical work. A recursive routine was made non-recursive, and the execution state of the monitor was coded as a loop, and the final program structure was decided. Another of Keremydjan's ideas, a context manager sub-automata was incorporated into the system, to take care of localisation and delocalisation, and a program which looked like an A.P.L. monitor was produced at the beginning of November.
Edward Brisse had also been doing his own researches, and he too had found that the data structures he had done so much to create were deficient. The A.P.L. functions 'save' and 'load', which, are used to save and restore the user's workspaces on disc presented great difficulty, since the manufacturer's file access software was being improved, and therefore being changed at the time. In addition no one at G.A.I. had any idea as to which data needed to be saved, and which could be forgotten for the checkpoint-restart functions, so Edward decided to save and restore all the FORTRAN commons, including temporary syntax analysis stacks, editor commons, and everything else.
This required major reorganisation of the declaration files, which meant that no one could do any compilations for a few days, and that added to the timescale problems.
Plane tickets were bought, a car was booked from Avis for the drive to Bedford, and the Englishman was able to persuade Amel to come with him to England. Two days before the departure date a simple function was made to work in a repeatable fashion, and Edward, on a differently version of A.P.L. was able to provide some sort of login validation. In the panic that preceded departure a magnetic tape was prepared which contained all the software that had been written to date, while Khai and Patric, joined by Dominique continued to write and test semantic routines. Paul, incurably optimistic, still believed that the team was delivering A.P.L.-360, as indeed he had promised that he would.
The flight from France to England was on schedule, and at Heathrow Paul hired a car from Avis. His English employee drove, and narrowly missing fatal collisions a few times, Paul, Edward, Amel and the Englishman arrived arrived at the U.K. headquarters of PR1ME, in a new office block in Bedford. The only thing that detracted from the pleasure of the journey was the fact that G.A.I. and not PR1ME were paying the expenses.
On the first evening the manufacturer lashed out on an expense account meal for all at a restaurant in St. Neots. Afterwards the French team retired to their hotel.
The next day, the shit started to fly. The magnetic tape was copied to the manufacturer's file store, and a small APL terminal was plugged in. Simple lines like '2+2' gave intelligent responses, but A.P.L. spluttered obscenities such as 'illegal sego' or 'access violation', then expired, if anyone tried to use the editor to define a function. It was clear that testing could not start for a while, although Paul and Bridget, the manufacturer's quality control expert for the project, could discuss Paul's rather complicated and unilluminating test script. Bridget had already spent considerable effort trying to make it work on an I.B.M. service in U.K., and she wanted Paul to find the errors, that he had put into his functions.
Edward and the G.A.I.'s English super-programmer were able to explain to an attentive audience what still needed to be done, while Paul promised that everything had been done the previous day at G.A.I., and could be sent out on the next aeroplane. Harsh words were exchanged when his English subordinate suggested a realistic delivery date for A.P.L.-360, January the next year. Amel Bornaƶ sensibly walked around Bedford, though she graced the manufacturer's offices with her presence at lunch-time. After lunch Edward spent some time learning about the file system, and discussion of other technical matters, while the English super-programmer started to chase the outstanding faults in the mess of software that had been delivered. There were of course too many to put right, so that evening he and Amel borrowed the hire car to drive down to London, visit friends, and score some dope. They managed to obtain a good half ounce of Maroccan, and spent an agreeable evening watching English television. Arriving back at the hotel and three in the morning they smoked a few more joints, a very delicious thing to do when staying in a hotel on an expense account, then retired to bed.
The following day was taken up with more technical discussions about such things as shared variables, a reentrant version of A.P.L., privacy of workspaces, architecture of the PR1ME machine and virtual storage algorithms. Amel was able to spend most of the day getting stoned in the hotel, while Paul spent some unpleasant minutes talking with his clients, and paymasters. There were no more free meals from the manufacturer, so that evening Bedford's only Greek restaurant saw two rather pensive couples at its tables: Paul and Edward discussing the future of the A.P.L. project, and Amel and her companion, happily stoned after a visit to the local churchyard.
The return to Paris on the following day was uneventful, but interesting. After smoking a last joint for the road Paul's driver failed to find the M1 on leaving Bedford, then ended up on London's north circular road during the mid-day rush hour. Despite Amel's wish to drive through the West End a course was directed to Heathrow airport where the driver got lost again, and started blaming everything on a conspiracy between road builders and oil companies to make people confused, take wrong turnings, waste petrol and buy more to put up their profits.
The car was handed over to Avis for about ten minutes before it was necessary to check in for a flight, and the group rushed for the departure lounge. A heavy police control at Customs, which is not at all normal on exit from a country, missed their chance to pick up one pair of international drug smugglers, and the group arrived at Roissy without further incident.
Late November and the month of December saw great improvements on the A.P.L. system. The final semantic routines were written and Patric Merissert left for Japan. Khai integrated and debugged these routines, while Edward perfected working versions of the 'save' and 'load' functions. Michel Fiolet made clucking noises at the complication of the whole system, while Saint-Just, returned from the Far East started demanded why no-one knew which was the most active limit for epsilon, the smallest real number recognised by all the arithmetic routines.
The English programmer started to integrate the 'delete' routine, written in October, into the system, with encouraging results. The routine was recursive, following the tests made by the Vietnamese during the summer.
Nevertheless there was much criticism from the two theoreticians: the arrow was in the wrong place, for the error messages; the system was too complicated; the stack management was wrong; the system routines were called from the wrong place; and a whole host of other things that were unaesthetic. Michel Fiolet promised Paul that he could re-write the execution system, and with Jean Michel's help he wrote a few routines to change the execution stack management.
Amel Bornaƶ left France in mid December, for reasons best known to herself, and her recent lover was desolated. Saint-Just eventually persuaded him to return to work, and by January the A.P.L. system was functional, and showing signs of life. The English programmer was relieved of most of his responsibilities in the project, and made very little contribution to his job for a while.
Edward made the first steps towards implementing the A.P.L. Plus file system, although his contract was not renewed in February. Khai continued to debug everyone else's software, including Paul's test scripts, which had been cleaned up enormously by Saint-Just, and in the spring of 1979 A.P.L.-360 was implemented on PR1ME hardware, with many improvements, and enhancements.
Saint-Just has written many pleasing and intelligent A.P.L. routines, and the best of them were copied and tested by the English programmer. The most visually attractive of these routines, 'life', was re-coded in FORTRAN and integrated as a special system function in order to give some idea of attained speed of execution using A.P.L., to maximum possible execution speed. The ration, A.P.L./FORTRAN is about twenty to one, which was too high a ration for most of the potential clients.
PR1ME U.K. ended its contract with G.A.I. at the end of June 1979 since it was stated that 'PASCAL' was to be the language of the future.
 1 word = 16 or 32 bits. Here one word was 32 bits. Or 4 bytes.
 Like the Maginot line
 France is one of the European countries with conscription.
 An early, and rather bad record of the Berlin composer, Klaus Schultz. Timewind, Black Dance and Body-Love are all better.