Here are the supporting narrative extracts from chapter three of my upcoming book The Body and Leadership.
12th September 2004, Somewhere over the Mediterranean
The Body of Dreams
My eyes bulge paranoid as I try to get my bearings. When you wake up quick, for the first few seconds you don’t know who or where you are. In half a second I’ve scanned the plane and know that I’m safe this time. I unclench my fists and jaw. In two seconds I remember I’m on a plane to Cyprus and must have dozed off. I breathe; I’m not in that street in Cambridge or any of the conflict I’m heading for. What kind of a idiot has nightmares about the learned spires of Cambridge? I remember why I’m traveling – it seems like a dream.
I’ve slept a lot of places near strangers – buses, scummy hostels, at parties with ashtrays as pillows. I’ve slept with quite a few strangers, but let’s not go there now.
When I’m asleep I know what’s going on around me most of the time. Only strong dreams like the one I’ve just had can take that away. Turbulence is rocking the plane and it must have shaken me awake. When I come to somewhere I’m not used to – and that’s a lot of days, I’m ready to fight. I can have a conversation before I open my eyes. It’s fun for freaking people out. When I’m not blind drunk I’m not sure if I’m really asleep at all to be honest. The fight is so ingrained in my system peace seems like someone else’s blood type.
The people around me are fat and happy. Middle-aged Brits going on package tours to the sun. They’ll have people waiting for them at the airport, holding signs with misspelt names and company logos. I’ll have no one which I guess has been my choice. I don’t know whether to envy them. Landing is always the lonely part – I prefer taking off. After each trip abroad I hate remerging through customs. I scan the faces waiting for loved ones secretly hoping that an old friend or family member may have turned up for a surprise. I know it’s ridiculous but that’s what I do. Inevitably I’m let down and I begin the next part of my journey to somewhere that isn’t home.
There’s a program on the monitors about the mouflon – a kind of mountain goat that Cyprus Airways is helping to conserve apparently. Good for them – and good for the passengers – we get to feel gooey about the environment while burning gallons of diesel per second. The woman next to me offers a mint. I like her; she’s like a chubby version of my mum. She can tell I’ve been having a nightmare and wants to make me feel better. She’d offer me tea if she could I’m sure. “Black Death? Never mind dearey, I’ll put the kettle on.” I take the mint, and force a smile.
In a more arrogant moment I would say that the other passengers are strangers to themselves. Without a practice of some kind – and it needn’t be aikido – how can you know yourself? I can tell if a person has sharpened their edge in some way – meditators, snowboarders, artists and musicians – they have visible edge if they seriously pursue what they do…for better and for worse.
Aikido has been a mirror to look at myself with. Like dreams the mirror shows you what you need and well as what is. You don’t see just see what you want to see when you look for a while . It’s too much for most people, myself included a lot of days.
If you stop an animal dreaming by shocking them awake when they enter REM sleep, they go insane and die within a week or two. You can last longer without food than without dreams. Alcohol suppresses dream sleep, it’s one causes of the mental health problems associated with abuse. For years I tried to hide from my dreams, they were too strong, too disturbing and paradoxically too real. What do you do when you’re scared of closing your eyes at night?
I envy the people around me. I’m as foreign to the regular English here as they are to the Cypriots on board. I wonder what the man snoring in front of me is dreaming? Maybe about his yearly fortnight of sun, sea and ogling topless bathers. Good luck to him. If I’d zigged instead of zagged somewhere back down the line, I’d probably be dreaming of margaritas on the beach too. Whoever you are reading this, and whatever you do, I hope you have a nice dream.
13th September, Pathos/ Nicosia Cyprus
The Body of History
Shaking along dusty roads in the cheapest transport I could find, bumping against sweaty immigrant labour and taking in the dusty countryside out the dirty window. Cyprus gave the impression of being a country on the up, with plenty of investment and new commerce. Some of what I saw along the road could have been in the UK at first sight. Post boxes for example were of the classic English design, but yellow not red – like home but just off which is weirder than truly foreign. The British ruled Cyprus until the sixties when there was a short but nasty guerilla war. Two “sovereign bases” as well as the British part of the UN contingent were still on the island, so the connection was still very much there. As well as being a popular tourist spot, thousands of Brits had retired on the island. The appeal apparently being that it reminded them of home but the weather was better
Historically the Brits were only the last in a long line of invaders. Cyprus was Europe’s final outpost before the Middle East (it was possible to hop across to Lebanon by ferry). The crusaders used the island as a staging post for their military campaigns, the French Lusignan dynasty setting up home here after getting kicked out of Jerusalem, along with the Knights of St John. After came the Venetians and the Ottomans. Throughout it all the Cypriots seemed to get on OK themselves and gained a reputation as savvy, adaptable traders. This seemed to fit the picture that I could see today. Stylish shops lined the roads into Nicoissa, the island’s historical capital, and the pavements were full of well-dressed people busy looking sharp. Cypriots had a reputation as being showy – even the churches were somewhat glitzy. I saw several being built on the way – religion, at least in terms of wealth – wasn’t on decline here. I’d read the church is a huge landowner, which along with its production of the endemic Keo beer and associations with nationalism, kept the orthodox Jesus smiling. For years his colorful Archbishop Makarios ran the country, before being ousted by forces from mainland Greece. This preceded ethnic violence and in the ‘74 Turkish invasion.
In the end I get to Nicosia half an hour before I’m due to meet Philip Emminger – the Training Across Borders project manager. I’m tired and confused. I try to escape the intense sun and wonder down some stone steps into a small park. It was in one of the bastions of the mammoth Venetian wall that surrounded the Old Town of Nicosia. Built to withstand the Ottomans – though eventually proving useless – the wall was an eleven-pointed star. It 40 foot thick walls and triangular bastions enclosed such features as car parks, tennis courts and museums.
I find some shade and start to doze. Around me dozens of scrawny cats weave, occasionally stopping to meow lazily. I’ll learn that people like cats here – but mostly there’s not owned as pets like in England. They just live around and get food from different people and from the street. Apparently queen Whoever of the ancient Whocares bought them over to get rid of the snakes that used to infest the island (how?). She also bought the “One True Cross” that Christ was crucified on, so I guess she had a big suitcase.
A young mother is pushing her child on a swing and smiles warily when I wave at her son. I haven’t shaved or washed for a couple of days and lying on the prickly grass, head on my bag, I must look like a hobo. A ninja hobo I think with a smile, wallowing in the fantasy
The boy waves back and shout something in Greek that probably means, “Hello scruffy sleepy ninja silly man!” Parents in the park are leaving their children on a longer leash than in the UK, but no harm seems to come of it. You can tell a lot about a culture by how they treat their children
As I get up I notice the flowers on the bushes all around. They’re each a pretty mix of a variety of bright shades. Each flower contains two colours in rings and is star shaped like the walls of the city. I wonder if they’ve been bought or bred here with this in mind. The Greek and Turks lived side by side like this for a long time but not now.
Ok, time to get on with it. I spoke to Philip on the phone and took a liking to him despite being more American than an apple pie making a late entry into World War II while selling you a hamburger. I meet him in the reception of his hotel he’s all “Have a nice day!!!” smile, and infectious energy.
“Mark? It’s sooo good to finally meet you. How are you?” he doesn’t pause for an answer.
Dressed in kharki combat trousers, a bright blue shirt and a bum-bag he looks like a CNN reporter roughing it for the camera. He calls his bum bag a “fanny pack” which while I’ve heard this Americanism before is still funny. I don’t tell him that “fanny” means vagina and idiot in the one true tongue, and vow not to slip into call it a moron-vag-bag as he seems far to nice and intelligent.
“This is all so exciting, we’ve got a lot to do. Leave your stuff here, first stop the Ledra crossing!”
He’s a manic puppy and I’m soon jogging along behind him. His hotel is by a section of town that was once Green Line but has recently been returned to the south. Gutted shops and decaying pockmarked gun positions define the neighborhood. Moving into this gap are more of the immigrants I shared a bus with earlier, squatting maybe ten per house. Catholic and Armenian cathedrals, with their front doors on the Southside and their backs to the North mark the boundary, but we can’t cross here.
We walk under a medieval passage-way to one of the few gateways to the old city. The gargantuan oak doors are clearly not from Ikea and certainly several hundred years old. Coming out into the sunshine we’re at the edge of the Venetian wall. Signs in UN-sky-blue state that photography is not permitted. Philip cheerfully and adorably ignores these and I suspect if he were caught and it was really a big deal, we could always play the dumb tourists card. He reminds me in this regard of a colonial Michael Palin who in his BBC travel series employs underestimation to phenomenal effect.
We look high above to the bastion that forms part of the division here between north and south. Elsewhere the Green Line is at least as thick as a street. Here it’s just the edge of the wall. A chain-link fence and a drop is all that’s between north and south. Several shabbily dressed northerners are standing staring down with hungry eyes, their fingers clutching the wire. The north is poverty ridden, while the south is one of the richest countries in the EU. On one side is a roundabout at which a selection of new BMW’s and Mercedes circle, on the other, frustration and hopelessness.
A year ago many travel restrictions between north and south were lifted, but not all. I’d heard that there were many poor immigrants from mainland Turkey in the north who can’t travel, and those looking longingly down were probably among them. Their hands were like seagull claws wrapped around the wire mesh. That’s what we all want isn’t it – that better life on the other side of the wall?
I accompany Philip past the first Geek checkpoint to the Ledra.
“Don gave me some exciting news yesterday. Can you keep a secret?”
I’m curious. “Sure.”
“Apparently XXXX XXXXX is interested in the project and wants to meet him.”
“You serious?” This was all way out of my league.
“Incredible isn’t it?”
I shake my head, this thing just keeps getting bigger and weirder. The words “bit-off” and “chew” choke my dry mouth.
Philip knocks on the Ledra’s front gate and an armed sentry appears in a sun-faded beret.
“Yes mate?” It’s hardly the, “Who goes there?” that the surroundings might suggest, but the accent is familiar and I smile.
“Hi mate! Its Mr Emminger and his British friend. Here to see Captain Weston.”
“You’re on the list, yes. I’ll call him down.”
The gate opens and we’re ushered in. The little boy in me is absolutely loving all this James Bond shit.
“Captain Weston, community liaison and bi-communal representative. Call me John.”
“Philip Emminger, Aiki Extensions, and Mark my…”
“Assistant.” I step forward.
We shake hands – Weston’s grip is firm but not overpowering. His body is upright, string vertically but relaxed, and leans backwards. If you’re listening, you can tell everything you need to know about a person from their handshake and posture. We are always revealing ourselves.
He looks about thirty, carries a look of slightly weary confidence. He seems more sensitive than your average military type, probably why they gave him his job. “Community liaison and bi…” Good UN bullshit title. This guy seemed like he was happy to have something to do for a change and was friendly and helpful as he showed us around.
The inside of the Ledra Palace Hotel must have looked really nice once, now I got the impression that each time something nice broke it was replaced with something functional that the military could afford. On a wall inside were street maps with areas shaded in red.
“What are these?” Philip asked.
Slightly embarrassed, “Oh, that’s where we can’t go drinking. Bars where there’s been trouble, anti UN sentiment, that kind of thing. It isn’t too bad these days.”
Around us a few soldiers stroll – well pressed uniforms, but no one’s in a hurry. A man wearing only Bermuda shorts and tattoos nods as he walks by Captain Weston. Its feels like a cross between a holiday camp and a military base. The only slightly up-tight looking soldier I see is a female MP with big tits. I guessing there are a lot of naughty boys around.
Making someone look important is an art. It’s a useful show for getting things done. People reason if you’re deferring to someone then they must be worth helping out. It’s infectious. Beyond opening doors and the like the best thing you can sometimes do is just stand back. People are never quite sure who you are, especially when you have a vague title like “assistant”. I’m doing this now, to smooth the cogs a bit for Philip. He’s obviously keen on details, measuring and asking very specific questions. I’m guessing there’s going to be a lot of details to juggle by the spring and he seems to be the right man for the job.
After a fascinating look around (I feel like we’ve had a “behind the scenes” movie tour) we ask captain Weston if he knows somewhere good for lunch.
“I’d go north. It’s cheaper and between you and me the people are friendlier. More open, maybe just less sick of tourists.”
“So what’s the politics like here at the moment?”
“Well…we were all holding out on the Annan Plan of course.”
“The UN reunification thing.” We’d done some homework.
“Yes, that’s right. There were a lot of well meaning folks here from New York, but I got the impression they hadn’t really done their homework. Hadn’t spoke to the locals enough you know. The north said yes to it, but the south rejected it. There’s a lot of propaganda…you see the “Oxi” graffiti everywhere?”
“That means “No” right.”
“Correct. The yes vote didn’t really stand a chance in the south. There was an issue with military bases and also with money. The north is broke and the Greeks don’t want to have to pay to rebuild it. They don’t like reaching into their pocket at the best of times, let alone to help the Turks out.”
“Seems like a shame.”
“Oh, it’ll happen. The old guard wont last forever. The EU is changing matters too. Turkey wants membership so they’ll have to sort this out. It’s all still a bloody mess at the moment but I can’t see the UN being here in ten years. Mind you, I bet people were saying that ten years ago…a lot of countries have pulled out of the operation as it’s dragged on.”
Captain Weston looks really sick of it all, like he’s been trying to help people who are happier hating each other.
Philip and I go north. The Turkish checkpoint is gruff but no problem. On the other side are taxis, tour guides and money changers. We get a few million, billion Lire then stroll around. The difference is noticeable straight away. The whole place is run down, but everywhere we go we see cheery faces and grubby kids waving at us. In south Nicosia there’s a characteristic expression of irritated superiority, here it’s much more welcoming
Philip tells me his life story and philosophy as we walk. Americans are disturbingly open about these things and Californians beat the lot. Yanks embarrass Brits with their openness and forward body, but it’s a good thing too – why hang back too much. My family are of Irish origin so aren’t fully uptight, much “wider” than most English people in our posture. I remember as a child being horribly embarrassed when my parents would talk to strangers! These days like so many things I’ve started doing what they do. The teenage prayer: “Dear god, please may I turn out different from these two weirdos who surely adopted me” has gone unanswered again.
Actually, Philip’s is an interesting story. He’s a self made man, whose business has something to do with refitting banks. He runs his work force along “aiki-lines” which I don’t quite get – I don’t think he puts them in arm-locks when they’re late for work – but is obviously working out well for him. He tells me about how he realised that, “Fear is the opposite of love” and about his young wife who is currently trying to take him for everything he’s worth in a bitter settlement.
“You have kids Philip?” I ask.
“Oh yeeaaaahhh, a son – Daniel, he’s the love of my life. He’s four.” Philip obviously does love him very much. His body is opening and his face doing that proud (see also weird and delusional) parent thing.
“How’s this divorce affecting him?”
“Oh we try not to put him in the middle. Daniel and I are very close – I had a bigger part in raising him than most dads do – I’d take him everywhere when he was a baby. At work we say he’s the chief drain to productivity as he’s always there distracting us.” Philip laughs, and looks fondly far away, a little sadness in his eyes.
I always think of the kids in divorces. I have no die about this guy, but people are normally so fucking selfish when it comes to marriage – either staying in something that’s a nightmare for the children when they should walk out the cage door, or bailing because they want a new piece of arse. Of course, I’m biased having been through it, and seen many of my fiends go through it, from only the child’s perspective. When I’m working with teenagers and I see one off on their own crying, I pat them on the back and ask, “Family?” If it’s not after the activity centre disco (in which case it will be love rejection) it will be. They looked surprised but relived to know that someone might understand. “Loving people sucks.” I tell them. “Families mess you up, but then you get your own kids to mess up so it all works out.” They chuckle through the snot and say they don’t love the people that they do and that they wont do it to their kids. They do and they will.
They’re two basic opinions about people. That we’re born bad and need training (conservatives, Muslims, Christians, etc) or that we’re essentially perfect but gradually get corrupted (liberals, Buddhists, pagans, etc). While children can be deceitful, cruel little shits from an early age, I’m still basically in the latter camp that they’re perfect too. All serious problems of children I’ve worked with, have been given to them by the people that love them most. Now, that Alanis Morissette, is bloody ironic.
The “Ai” of aikido means harmony – a meeting – to join. It’s the art of non-resistance and union; but there’s also the “aiki widow”, a person in a marriage doesn’t train and hence never sees their partner. This calead to an “aikido divorce” or “aiki-affairs.” Cyprus has had it’s own divorce and before the Turkish invasion much of the Greek speaking population were pressing for “Eunis”, or union with Greece. Then there’s my sister’s wedding here. Things pulling apart and joining together – it all seems to mean something but I have no idea what. Life’s like a joke told by a ten-year-old girl who mixes up the facts and puts the punch-line in the wrong place. Or maybe it’s a book with the dates in the wrong order or even a box of retarded chocolates. I don’t know, I was messed up by my parents same as everyone. That and other excuses which will become apparent.