A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 5

Laocoon and his sons destroyed by sea serpents

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.
********

“We are not here to be happy,” he said. He was a Catholic priest. I was a child. It wasn’t part of a sermon. I seem to be with a small group of children, standing around him. This is odd, since I grew up in Quebec, which was like Northern Ireland in those days, and I was Protestant. I was appalled to hear him say that. Of course, we were here to be happy. Jesus had pretty much confirmed that. The priest didn’t elaborate, leaving me to puzzle it out for the next 7 decades.

Which brings us to 2020 and Covid-19 among other things.

We thought we were living in end times when Donald J. Trump got hold of the most powerful office on the planet. Then we couldn’t breathe.

Because of my advanced age, I have been shut in for 140 days, except for essential shopping and visits to my sister and niece, part of my bubble since Day 78. Even then we wore masks and distanced. Lately, we have taken off the masks to eat together. We expect to live like this for a long while. I am 24% likely to die of Covid. Here in Canada, we have had about 9,000 deaths, but 2,000 have been elders in care homes. Note to self: stay out of care homes.

Tough on people who are praying to a merciful God. Had that experience as a child. We were 4 children, born over an 11 year period. I was oldest. Our childhoods taught us to be nimble, heart-broken, witty and kind. It was a mercy we all survived and a mercy that we have done as much good as we have. And we are all still here. Perhaps mercy is just a long term project.

Is this calamity destiny or the will of God? Is this pandemic and uprising for social justice part of a plan? Is that what is in operation now? There are 8 billion of us on the planet Earth. Is that just too many? Is nature just weeding the garden? Or is this a struggle between good and evil? In the midst of darkness has a greater darkness descended?

Some of us have had the leisure to consider such questions. Not the parents who have had to juggle home-schooling, home-office work and housekeeping, nor the essential workers who have risked their lives, but people like me, who have spent nearly 5 months in solitude.

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) devised a secret plan to counteract riots here once the shut-down for the pandemic was announced. They took it upstairs. The higher-ups more or less laughed as I would have and canned the plan. Old joke: how do you get 50 frolicking Canadians out of a pool? You stand on the deck and say, ‘Please get out of the pool.” Of course we stayed home, as did Washington and California and other states, one by one. Lately, it has become clear that we have to wear masks if we want to shop. We wear masks. We don’t argue. Mostly. They are hot and not comfy. Ventilators are way worse.

That was my first glimpse of universal responsibility and open-heartedness. It was something like I saw as a child in World War II. Then there were the healthcare workers in New York City, working without PPE and in overcrowded conditions. They were getting sick and dying, but so were people, particularly immigrants, in less elevated jobs. I thanked the delivery people and the shop workers sincerely. They were out in the midst of it, while I was safe at home.

Their devotion and self-sacrifice cast light right across the globe. On dark days as the number of infected grew and bodies were stacked in refrigerator trucks and ice rinks and in mass graves, that love for each other, for absolute strangers, lit the darkness.

I had managed to figure out that the priest meant that we are here not to enjoy ourselves but to evolve, to become better people. I had had losses which felt unbearable, but eventually, made me a less self-centered person, more capable of empathy, of fellow feeling.

I wonder if he was a Jesuit. It seems Jesuitical.

The 13th century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi takes a different tack and says that the soul is here for its own joy, that we are here to make God a reality. An acquaintance of mine says that in me, for example, God is experiencing godhood as an 84-year-old woman. But Rumi also says, “The rule is, Suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined,
and what you want to happen
in time sacrificed.   (Coleman Barks: Rumi, the Book of Love, p.98)
He compares the soul to a newly skinned hide, “bloody and gross”, that has to be worked manually and with the “bitter tanning acid of grief” to become beautiful and strong. Rumi tells of “‘the Friend’ who knows more than you do,” who “will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,/ as medicine, as happiness, as the moment /when you’re beaten, when you hear Checkmate/ and can finally say with Hallaj’s voice,/ I trust you to kill me.”
(Barks: p. 127) (Al-Hallaj Mansour was martyred in Bagdad in 922,)

I suppose you have to believe in soul or the higher self to begin to make sense of these ideas, although the past five months may have moved even atheists closer to that belief. It seems as though Rumi is talking about something like the will of God. It might feel imposed but, in fact, the suffering is what a best friend sees is needed. This ‘will of God’ is rooted in love.

It is easier to see that in operation in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not surprising that the urge for a fairer, more just society arose when it did. Most of us were paying attention. We felt helpless against the coronavirus but not so helpless against the injustice of George Floyd’s murder.

I am surprised and glad to find my close friends agree with my refinement of the will of God idea. You may find it a step too far. It seems to me that before we came into incarnation we helped to formulate these plans and volunteered for our own role. We have forgotten that for the most part and so we are not necessarily prepared for a sudden and early departure. We may be more ready to spend our lives in the service of others even though we think we made that decision for practical reasons toward the end of our education.

The corollary of that is, of course, that some of us have volunteered to play bad guy. Hitler, for example or my father. Imagine this pre-incarnated being madly waving its arm: I’ll be a  psychotic sociopath and cause millions to suffer and die. (My father’s score didn’t measure up to Hitler’s by the way.) Somebody had to do it. Does it go all the way down to invisible viruses? “I’ll be that one! I’ll do that.”

I have periodic collapses. My nerves give out around the dinner hour news. When I seek encouragement, one or other of these friends responds, “Stop worrying. We all signed up for this.” or “It’s all already happened.” It’s hard to be a witness. Even if we see what’s coming, we can’t change it. To try to do so would make things worse.

Laocoon, priest of Poseidon, tried to change the history of Troy by exposing the ruse of the wooden horse, in which were hidden Ulysses and his Greek cohorts. Poseidon sent sea serpents to destroy him and his sons. It was fated that the Greeks would prevail and Troy would fall.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture

Sinche, Sinche (too much) celaidermontblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture
Sinche, Sinche 
celiadermontblog.com

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: Chpt 1

Snow-covered Mountain before it all began

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

*********

Day 100: The premier of Ontario announces that greater Metro Toronto can move to stage 2 of the Covid-19. We are weeks behind the rest of our province. We can now eat on patios, get a massage or have our hair cut.

My grey hair has not been cut for 4 months. It has gone its own way, flipping up or falling limp, whatever it feels like. Forty six percent of deaths world-wide have been of people over 80. Persons over 70 are 60 times more likely to die of Covid than younger people. I am 84. I will be able to sit on my hair before I get the courage to go back to First Choice for another $20 cut.

Day 2: Please submit all maintenance requests on the website or by phoning the main office. Staff is still available to help you, but the on-site office will be kept locked until further notice. (At least 1 slat a week thunders down from my vertical blinds, usually in the dead of night. I pile them flat on the window ledge and rely on curtains.)

Elevator Etiquette – Day 10: If there are 2 people on the elevator, please wait for the next one. Exception: families traveling together. (Day 110: I am on the elevator going down. It stops at 6. A woman with laundry gets on. Another woman with laundry asks if she can. I say no, but I offer to get off, so she can. She declines.)

Day 47: Follow arrows on floor. (I.e. Exit through the garbage corridor or the laundry corridor. (Guess which is more fragrant.) Enter through front door. (So out into the wind tunnel and around the building to pick up mail.)

Day 130: Kindly wear a face covering when you are in common areas.( Our municipality mandated masks in public places two weeks ago, but cannot order rental buildings to comply.)

Day 7 -Health and Wellness: Since my return from Christmas on a snowbound mountain in Southern California, I have not been well. My doctor has prescribed Cymbalta for fibromyalgia. I have been nauseated and dizzy for the month of February. On this day, I reread the label on the meds and stop drinking wine. I am immediately 70% better.

The Premier announces that people over 70 should not leave their homes.(I take this to heart. Pandemics have to be managed. I’ve read Ibsen’s Enemy of the People after all. The Premier is trying to avoid hospital over-load. I will do as he says.)

My equivalent of the flour barrel once I bravely started going to the store.

 

THE BOTTOM OF THE FLOUR BARREL

I am too short to look over the rim of the big barrel that holds the flour. My mother has removed the bread board on its top and she is weeping inconsolably. I hitch myself up on the barrel’s side and peer in. There is a thin drift of flour on one side. We don’t buy ready made bread here on the hill. We don’t buy anything much. We are country folks and the stores are a long buggy ride away, but there is no money to buy anything anyway.

Some solution must have been found. I get older.

“Go to the butcher’s and get 6 slices of bologna,”  my mother tells me at lunch time. We live in the city now. There are 4 of us children and her, but 1 slice will be for Daddy’s lunch tomorrow, so we kids will each get half a slice for our sandwich, but 2 slices of Wonder Bread and a little butter. My little sisters come with me and each steals a jaw breaker  from the candy display. The butcher looks at me to tell me that he saw that. He doesn’t yell. I want to cry as we walk home. Not for poverty. For kindness.

I get my first job in a bakery when I am 15. All my adult life, I have had to have a well-stocked pantry and a full freezer, but stocks have run low in March 2020. So I enter the grocery delivery sweepstakes.

I have a long list of groceries I need. I go through the website list for Longo’s. Some things are not available – toilet paper, paper towels, tissues and all Lysol products. Having completed my order, I move on to the page where I can choose a delivery date. The next possible date is 10 days away, but even as I ponder, one by one the time slots get snapped up until the dates run out in 14 days. I move on to the Metro website and hurriedly place the same order. Paper products are NA. I speed to the delivery page. By now, it is getting very late. All the time slots are gone. Then as midnight strikes, a new day of delivery times magically appears and I grab a 10 a.m. two weeks away.

Day 34: For the next two weeks, I work my way to the bottom of the barrel as I await delivery. The fridge shelves are all but empty. The freezer gets down to questionable beef patties and a partial bag of frozen kale. I scour the cupboard for tins of soup past their best buy date. My impromptu recipes get more and more inventive and I grow heartily sick of kale and rice. Finally, the big day arrives along with eight sturdy red bags. Excitedly, I begin unpacking. I have ordered 3 chicken breasts on the bone. I get 3 packages of 3 chicken breasts from the biggest chickens in captivity. Instead of 2 steaks, I get 2 packages of 2 steaks each. On it goes with minced beef, pork chops and stewing beef. I have enough food for a regiment at least. I am also the proud owner of 2018, unscented wet wipes. I set about cooking chicken for my sister, my niece, myself and the couple down the hall. After this cook-off, I can fit the meat into my fridge-top freezer.

I manage to get 1 more delivery by using the 12 a.m. strategy, but after that, although I try 4 nights in a row, I cannot snag a spot. Obviously, I have to go out to shop.

Coming soon 100 Days of Solitude: chpt 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Breath: listening to the light

Day 93: Yes, I know there are other people still locked down. Steven Colbert was last week. Possibly, my region can be opened up this week, but the last I heard cases of Covid-19 were still going up, especially in my suburb. Although, honestly, it won’t make much difference to me, given my advanced age and the nearly 20% chance that it will be fatal if I catch it.

For the first three weeks, I didn’t leave my apartment, but then grocery delivery stopped working. You could order a large number of things and sit up until 12 a.m. to get a delivery slot, four nights in a row and never get one. Conclusion – I had had too few children, the two I had were wanderers and I would have to scuttle out before daylight and buy my own.

So for three months, I have been staring out my high windows at the sky, my feet touching earth once a week to hunt and gather. The good news is it’s now daylight at 6:50 a.m.

I know everyone has had different stresses and pressures. I’m grateful I wasn’t shut up with the man I married nor our children who needed the challenge of strenuous exercise to keep from killing each other. We were both teachers, and good at it, except with our own offspring, who tended to run screaming from the room when their father tried to teach them algebra.

So there’s that to be grateful for.

I also know there are many, many single people who have got to the end of their rope, like me, around 9 p.m. when they haven’t heard another voice all day. Except of course on television. I am proud of the fact that so far I have had only one real panic attack caused by a sudden vision of burning cities and gunfire. We had already had some of that, but this was worse and involved Trump’s rally in Tulsa. I called Georgia my sister, who was puzzled because I couldn’t speak. Finally and with no sociological reference, I managed, “I can’t breathe.” It was a doozy combining all the symptoms of suffocation, heart attack, food poisoning and seizure-like spasms.

Georgia said in a kindly, scolding voice, “You know we all signed up for this. Every last one of us. We made an agreement to take on these roles – victim or killer or Covid patient. We came to do these things, to learn a certain lesson. Anyway, it’s all already happened.”

Now you may not agree with Georgia’s view of destiny, which we undertake pre-incarnation. I’m not altogether sure that I do. At the time,  it seemed a wise idea, although I nearly drew the line at it had “already happened”.

Half an hour later I had calmed down.

Next day I checked in with my daughter in California and she seconded everything Georgia had said, despite the fact that the two of them have barely spoken for forty years. I still want to nail them down about the simultaneity of time. Certain times I absolutely do not want to ever encounter again.

Such as this one.

Thank goodness for household chores that ground me, thank you for Face Time and video calling and even telephones, thank you for television – for  news channels and Netflix and Acorn, thank you for e-books and library loans by internet, thank you for socially distanced chats in Georgia’s backyard and drive-by birthday parties and thank you for the strange experience of being a monk in a mountain cave.

I had read a lot about these chaps in my study of Buddhism and Taoism. I knew that they depended on routine. That seemed an odd way to organize nothing, but I leapt to the task. One of my first daily tasks is to put my hair in order. It was last cut in late January. I wear it short, very short, usually. Now it is half way down my long neck and curling up in an awkward reverse pageboy. This morning I found myself saying, “Fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear..”

Both Georgia and my daughter are fond of reminding me to breathe. I, of course, always respond in my robot voice, “What is breathe?” “Watch your breath,” my daughter says. “And listen”.

I can see about 50 miles of horizon out my floor-to-ceiling windows. The view’s horizon is the shore of Lake Ontario. The photo above does show a line of darker blue that is the water. In the east, I can see the C.N. Tower in downtown Toronto and in the west, I can see the height of the Niagara Escarpment, the only height in this flat land. I particularly love Rattlesnake Point there and longed to go there for the long weeks of shut-in.

I used to live in a ground floor apartment in a triplex. There were bushes and flowers, trees and birds at my level. Now my view is of doll house roofs and tree tops. And sky. I have taken to noticing the change in light throughout the day. At the moment the ground is all green kodachrome while the sky is light blue fading to white over the lake. I have watched a line-squall suddenly tear through with floods of rain and tree-bending winds. I have watched its darkness leave just as suddenly to lash the city. I have remembered the names of clouds from my sailing days and the weather they presaged.

I have sat in absolute stillness listening to the quiet.

At dawn this morning, I dreamed of a man who loved me when I was young, a tweedy grad student who smoked a pipe and wrote me love poetry. I liked him well enough, and spent time with my roommate in the house he lived in with other grad students. It was good to get way from residence food and rules. We laughed and pretended to be intellectuals. After I left university, he called me to invite me to a cousin’s wedding Friday night two days hence. He had tracked me down at Blake’s home. I said I was sorry I couldn’t go. He said, “I suppose you have something important on.” He could be snarky. “Well, yes,” I said reluctantly. “I’m getting married.” I may have named my son after him, although I spelled it differently and reasoned it was my grandmother’s maiden name. He died young, in his forties, of a brain tumour. I didn’t learn that until years later, by which time I was divorced.

“I thought you knew,” my ex-roommate said when she told me. “We thought you were the woman in the veil who came late to the funeral and sat in the back row.”

Last night, he turned up in my dream. We were both still young. He was working in a hospital in Toulon, he said. That was odd, considering he had studied physics.Then he enfolded me in an enormous hug. His body was more substantial than it had ever been and he held me tightly for a long time. So thank you, Brian, after all these months I needed that human touch.

 

 

 

Slow Time, Slow Horses: the Slough House spies

Fortunately, I trained early in the art of solitude. Until I was 5, I was an only child on a farm in the mountains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Our land produced a reliable crop of stones every year, just enough hay to keep the cows going and a few hardy vegetables. Without electricity, telephone or indoor plumbing, I had only my imagination to entertain me. It has come in handy in the past two months.

I know the Covid-19 shut down has theoretically lasted only 5 weeks or so, but I was shut in by debilitating dizziness and nausea for most of February, so thank you early childhood.

Once we moved to town and I learned to read, I read everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much. It wasn’t until we moved to the city at the end of the war that I laid hands on library books. Then my ingrained solitary self could live happily in worlds populated by imaginary people.

For 2 1/2 months, I have lived surrounded by the slow horses, exiles from the British Secret Service (MI5), banished across the Thames to rundown Slough House in the hope that mind-numbing clerical work will force them to quit.

I discovered Mick Herron’s Slough House series when I searched the e-book catalogue of my local library for the Soho Mysteries. I had already read many of these books including the Cara Black mysteries set in Paris, David Downing’s set across Europe and South Asia and Dan Fesperson’s also European in setting.

Herron is English, an Oxford alumnus. He worked as an editor and never, he is quick to say as a spy, unlike many well-known spy novelists like Le Carre. As a result, he feels free to invent. His ‘slow horses’ are rejects from the MI5 head-quartered in Regent Park, London. Each of them has failed in their training or their service, some spectacularly, but, for one reason or another, cannot be fired outright.

River Cartwright, for example is the grandson of David Cartwright, fondly known as OB (Old Bastard) and formerly #2 in the Service. River ‘crashed’ King’s Cross subway station during the evening rush causing the entire system to shut down for hours. Theoretically. By failing to capture the ‘suicide terrorist’. In fact commuters carried on blissfully unaware of their fate. It was a training test.

Other insubstantial inhabitants of my 14th floor apartment included Bad Sam Chapman, disgraced head Dog (security) of the Service; alcoholic Catherine Standish, former assistant to #1, whose body she discovered, fighting her addiction a day at a time; Louisa Guy, the most competent of the lot; Min Harper, who left a top-secret disc on a subway seat; Roddy Ho, computer genius and social moron; Marcus Longridge, an inveterate gambler; J.K. Coe, PTSD victim who finds stress relief in killing people; Moira Tregorian, who has no idea why she has been sent there: Lech (Alec) Wicinski, who absolutely did not access child pornography on his work computer; Sid Baker -is she a plant and what really happens to her; Shirley Dander, cocaine addict and one-woman army and Jackson Lamb. Lamb drinks, smokes, and farts at his desk, never washes, and, generally breaks each and every politically correct convention there is going, inflicts pain and suffering on his staff, for he is indeed the head of Slough House. For his sins or possibly for his achievements. On the other hand, he will not suffer anyone one else to harm his joes.

A joe is an agent in the field. Slow horses are no longer permitted to mount ops, to undertake operations. They are to stick to their book work, their computer drudgery on their outdated equipment, but every so often an op is forced upon them by circumstances, when someone is intent on murdering Roddy Ho, for example, or someone kidnaps Catherine, or Min’s teenage son goes missing. The list goes on.

They are all inept, not a James Bond in the bunch. Quite a few of them get eliminated by their much more cunning adversaries. What they lack in effectiveness, they make up for in spirit. Some deaths are heroic, some are chance and some are just plain stupid. Even though they can’t stand each other in the office, they throw themselves bodily into the fray when a fellow slow horse is in danger. And Jackson Lamb, who often seems to be missing in action, is usually meeting Regent Park’s #1 or #2 with enough blackmail to protect his people from ‘friendly fire’. You may hear him snoring, but don’t assume he is sleeping on the job.

The books are mysteries, yes, but they are also funny, partly because of their absurdity but also because of their wit. Jackson Lamb dismisses Brexit, “I’ve read more convincing lies on the side of a bus.” And “Except the cold war didn’t end. It just hid behind closed doors like Trump in a tantrum.”

The series begins with Slow Horses, in which a kidnapped Muslim boy is due to be beheaded on-line. Dead Lions harks back to the Old Bastard’s glory days, a possibly mythical Soviet spy and a very long term sleeper cell. Real Tigers involves a para-military group coercing the slow horses into handing over secret information. Spook Street centers on River and his grandfather and a curious commune in France with children but no female residents. London Rules focuses on British politics and elucidates the rules of spydom there as opposed to Moscow rules; London rules include ‘Cover your arse’ and ‘Stick together until you can’t.’ Joe Country is a Brexit era novel with a character who may well be a pre-covid Boris Johnson, its thrilling final action set in wintry Wales. There are also several novellas, including The List -after Dead Lions, Nobody Walks -after it, The Drop before Joe Country and The Last Dead Letter after it as well as The Catch. These shorter works may refer to Slough House but center on other characters.

Herron has also written several novels featuring Zoe Boehm, a private detective, another down at the heels protagonist.

For a glossary of terms, characters and places used in the Slough House books see https:spywrite.com/2018/07/04mick-herron-slough-house, which would be particularly helpful if you read the books out of order.