Monthly Archives: April 2013

Bin Laden’s bodyguard’s memoir

TARNAK FARM – DAILY LIFE IN THE HEART OF AL-QA’IDA

by Nasser al-Bahri

with Georges Malbrunot

Tarnak Farm cover RED

Reviews:

‘An extraordinary first-hand account of life at the heart of the terrorist organisation’ Le Figaro Magazine

Astonishing revelations…Bahri relates how he saw some of the 9/11 attackers playing Playstation in a house in Pakistan…’ El Pais

‘Bin Laden’s former bodyguard delivers a breath-taking account’ Tele et Vous

‘Bahri’s narrative is a goldmine of information’ Liberation

‘An intriguing glimpse of life inside the al-Qa’ida chief’s lair’ Sunday Times

Nasser al-Bahri spent four years in al-Qa’ida’s secret Afghan HQ, Tarnak Farm, from 1997 to 2001, when the organization was at the height of its powers.

Al-Bahri is the only verified senior al-Qa’ida member at liberty to talk about his experiences and the build-up to 9/11.

This is a dramatic, vivid and detailed account, with tales of spies, car chases, assassination attempts and elaborate security measures including fake walls, tunnels and underground chambers.

Al-Bahri describes the characters and relationships of the al-Qa’ida leaders, including today’s number one, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the late Osama bin Laden, his four wives and their many children.

He reveals the close alliance between al-Qa’ida and the Taliban, as well as the extraordinary involvement of the Pakistani Army and security services with both organisations.

Al-Bahri hopes that the story of his own radicalization and eventual break with al-Qa’ida will deter other young men from following the path of jihad.

You can buy this book on Kindle and other E-formats:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tarnak-Farm-Daily-al-Qaida-ebook/dp/B00CH41N80

Smashwords (other e-formats): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/310565

Coming soon in paperback

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Mariella Frostrup

I went to Mariella’s new flat to conduct this interview. She was having it painted in different shades of blue (as I recall) and so invited me to lunch at a fashionable restaurant in Notting Hill. She was witty, intelligent and such great company we carried on drinking white wine and chatting well after the tape had finished recording the interview…

Sex is important to me, but only when I’m sure I’m in love: In bed with Mariella Frostrup

SUSAN DE MUTH
Wednesday, 9 March 1994
Mariella Frostrup is a broadcaster and journalist. She presents ‘The Little Picture Show’, a late-night film magazine programme, on Carlton Television.

I’m not really a night person. The Little Picture Show has a late night feel but it’s actually filmed between 9am and 6pm in a blacked-out studio. It goes on air at midnight . . . by which time I like to be tucked up in bed]

I do socialise at night, mostly having dinner or going to the theatre with friends, but take up few of the glamorous invitations I receive. I get asked to parties for people I don’t even know, which is very strange. I did go to the Planet Hollywood party for Sylvester Stallone last year, though. I thought it would be fascinating from an anthropological point of view.

At first I was shocked that I’d got this sexy image – and I suppose that’s why I’m often invited. Now it irritates me; I feel this wave of disappointment if I don’t turn up wearing some incredibly slinky number. Men expect me to be all sultry and cooing whereas I can be quite abrasive. It’s all rather ridiculous.

My favourite nights are when I can be in bed by 10.30 with a cup of cocoa and some good books. My bedroom is an oasis of calm and I rarely allow anyone else into it. I love the thought that I can go in there and enjoy my solitude.

I had an unsettled childhood and moved house quite often myself but there are always certain things that belong in the bedroom and give me a sense of continuity. I have three pictures of my very best friends, a jewellery box that belonged to my grandmother and a drawing of a reclining nude by my mother which makes me feel calm.

I sometimes catch up on videos for the show in bed. I also like to listen to music – really old-fashioned records. You’ll probably laugh at me but a big favourite is Leonard Cohen – but only when I’m very happy. My dad – who died when I was 16 – used to like Leonard Cohen and when I’m happy I’m able to sit and think about him a little bit.

I have occasionally dreamt of my father but fortunately I don’t dream much. I don’t think I’ve ever had a happy dream in my life. I have a recurring nightmare that I’m being chased by a rapist. It’s a terrible fear I’ve had since I was 12 and a girl down the road was raped on her way home from school.

I’m not involved in a relationship at the moment and it’s a long time since I lived with a man. I was perfectly happy to share then but I don’t know if I could now. I have my little routines and resent people interfering with them – even if I’m in love. When I wake up in the morning I want to be rid of them – I set my radio alarm clock at exactly one minute to the hour and like to listen to the news in peace for 30 minutes before I get up.

I’ve been out with lots of men who were so nice that I really wished I would want to spend the rest of my life with them. But there was always something missing in terms of engaging my heart. When I can see that’s the case I move on. I’m very good at making those kinds of decisions and acting on them.

I was married when I was 18 (and divorced at 21). My dad had died and Richard was my first serious boyfriend. I just got my little paws in him and dragged him into the register office. He’s forgiven me now and we’re still good friends. I think if your parents are divorced, as mine were, you take marriage less seriously.

Sex, on the other hand, is extremely important to me. It’s the only thing you do with another person that you don’t do with your friends. I have a rule that I always stick to – I only have sex with someone when I’m sure I’m in love.

If I’m sleeping with a man I insist on nakedness. I hate men who get into bed in their underpants – I mean, why? They know they’re going to take them off. Totally unsexy. When I’m alone, however, I confess that I’m usually to be found in a pair of comfortable pyjamas.

(Photograph omitted)

Paula Yates

This was the first interview I did for the series, and I had asked Paula to do it because I was, basically, nicking her format (she was doing In Bed With interviews on the Big Breakfast). Actually, it was Emma Freud who first had the idea, she did live ‘in bed with’ interviews at an arts club night in Soho I used to go to in the early 1990s.

On my way in to the Big Breakfast studios, I met Chris Evans who was very tall with a bright orange face (make-up). ‘You should be interviewing me,’ he said as he strode past, obviously convinced of his own stardom even in those early days.

Paula was incredibly sweet and welcoming. We conducted the interview on the big breakfast bed which was enormous and covered in velvet.

Afterwards she showed me a skirt she had had made. It had plastic pockets in each of which was a picture of her kids. She was obviously crazy about those girls and very proud.

In bed with . . .Like sleeping in a railway station: Susan De Muth talks to Paula Yates: In the first of a new series, the Big Breakfast presenter explains how she sleeps with all the family and gets up at 3am to hop from one bed to another

SUSAN DE MUTH
Monday, 19 July 1993
Paula Yates is a presenter of Channel 4’s ‘The Big Breakfast’, on which she interviews people in bed. She is also an author and the mother of Fifi Trixibelle, 10, Peaches, 4, and Pixi, 2 . She is married to Bob Geldof.

‘I WOKE UP, stark naked, in the middle of the main road, at 3am. Bizarrely, my mother happened to be on her way home at that moment and found me with all these cars going past. I was 10 years old.

‘I used to sleepwalk a lot when I was a child. I hated bedtime. I was always afraid that my mother would leave while I was asleep. I found the night incredibly frightening when I was little: you’re totally alone, it’s totally silent, there’s a bloody owl hooting on the mountainside and you don’t know if you’re going to wake up parentless.

‘Bob and I have a 9ft bed so that the children can sleep with us whenever they want to. I get up at 3am on weekdays so that I can write for three hours before I go to the Big Breakfast studios. Bob doesn’t come to bed until 2am and there are little girls coming and going all the time. It’s like Grand Central Station, a frenetic hive of activity with people rising and plummeting and moving into other beds. It is disturbing . . . especially when Peaches turns up, because she snores really badly. I don’t think I ever get really good quality, deep sleep.

‘Bob thinks it’s ‘complete bollocks’ as he puts it, letting the kids sleep with us, but I’m a great believer in the ‘continuum concept’ of raising children and holding them all the time. It’s probably also selfish because I like them kissing me and being on me all night. We extended the bed so Bob could have a bit of space . . . He’d been spending nights hanging on to the edge with a prehensile lip and it had to end. I don’t think he feels excluded from my affections. But we are the lark and the owl.

‘I love writing when everybody’s asleep. It’s deathly silent and the most fantastic time. My mind is totally clear. I have an office in our house where I write. It has a big log fire and huge windows overlooking the street. I’ve just finished one book about the countryside and now I’m working on another. I do bound out of bed at 3am and feel happy to get up but I’d be crying and crying if I had to do it in the evening when I’m always whacked. I usually go to bed with the girls at 7.30pm but if Bob is home I pretend I’m an erotic dream and stay up till 9pm – but I’m not telling you about our conjugal rites. I always read a book till I fall asleep.

‘At the moment I’m on volume four of the History of the Church of England. I’ve been reading it for ages and it’s really gripping. There are lots of things about parish vicars, which is very useful as they’re basic characters in country living.

‘As soon as I arrive at The Big Breakfast it’s back to bed with my interviewees. I suppose I interact well horizontally. I never get worked up about an interview. When you’ve got one or two celebrities in your bed every single morning you’re only concerned with the next question and keeping on top of everything . . . as it were. There’s no scope for tremors.

‘We take the Big Breakfast bed with us when we travel to do interviews. I went to Madrid this week to do Arnold Schwarzenegger and they’d given me a massive holdall with all the bedding in it. It burst open in customs and all these sort of prostitute’s bed covers came out and something really bizarre which was actually part of the headboard but looked exactly like a whip. I was so embarrassed. All these bewildered little Spanish customs men just stood there staring. They probably thought I was part of some travelling circus.

‘Since I’ve been a grown up I have only happy memories of bedtime, which is nice, because when I was a child I hated everything. My father died recently and it was very painful for me. I dream about him all the time now, though I never did before his death. I meet him in my dreams and we’re in places we’ve been together . . .

‘But the best bedtime stories of all are the births of my children. When the last one, Pixi, was about to be born, Fifi and Peaches were both there with Bob at the hospital; they were old enough for it to be thrilling for them, too. And I was breathless with the excitement of it, it was like waiting for Santa Claus when you’re a child. She came into the world at midnight and it was all so magical and so perfect.’

(Photograph omitted)

Imran Khan

When I went to conduct this interview, Imran Khan was beseiged by (middle-aged, female) fans in the hotel lobby so he suggested we adjourn to his bedroom. Sitting perched on a single bed with the extremely attractive Imran Khan reclining full length was disconcerting to say the least. At the time he was dating Gemima Khan – a fact he charmingly avoided disclosing despite my blunt questioning on the subject!

I still dream my mother is alive: Susan de Muth in bed with Imran Khan

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 17 November 1993
IMRAN KHAN, 40, retired from international cricket last year, having captained Pakistan for the best part of 10 years. Since then he has been raising funds for a cancer hospital in Lahore and published a book about his travels in North Pakistan. He has homes in Lahore and London.

I sometimes wake up not knowing where I am. I have been leading a nomadic existence for years – first as a cricketer, now as a fund-raiser – and I’m looking forward to the time when I’ll be able to settle down and sleep in the same bed for a long while.

Of course my nights are very different depending on where I am. Yet I am at ease, whether in the West or Pakistan. I am rooted in my own identity, my culture and family. I have never had any intention of breaking away from that.

Last year I travelled a lot in the remote Pathan tribal areas of Northern Pakistan researching my book. One evening I was watching the Powindahs, a nomadic tribe, finally at rest having set up their tents after a hard day. A wonderful harmony suddenly settled on them – adults, kids, camels, sheep and dogs, all relaxed and content in the beautiful light of the setting sun. I remembered times when I’d had that same feeling after a hard day on the cricket field, tired but at peace because all had gone well, and I saw that some experiences are universal.

Every male Pathan carries a gun and I had to sleep in fortresses accompanied by an armed guard. The authorities thought I was at risk, that the tribesmen might use me to embarrass the government. In fact I never felt myself to be in any danger. My ancestors were Pathans and I got to know the tribesmen. I spent fascinating nights by log fires, talking to the elders. Every morning we rose with the sun and I discovered the beauty of nature at dawn.

It was very different to my life in Lahore where I like to stay in bed as long as possible in the morning with my tea and newspapers. I still live in my family house and always mix with the same friends – we meet more or less every night and have a meal at someone’s house. In Pakistan I am usually in exclusively male company: the only women you mix with are your family.

The worst nights of my life were in Lahore when my mother was dying of cancer. Though it was nine years ago, I still can’t forget those two months when she was in such severe agony she couldn’t sleep. One of the family would stay up with with her all night, and when she died we were all physically and mentally exhausted.

I still dream of her, and it’s strange because she always looks so well and happy, never in pain. We talk about ordinary things and then I realise that she’s dead and I wake up with this deep sadness. She was everything to me: a friend, a guide when I was a child, my roots. English people don’t understand how important family is to us.

Nor do they understand faith. When my mother died I realised how vulnerable I was and looked for strength in spirituality. English people seem to find this rather backward and strange, but I have found a lot of peace.

I rarely have any trouble sleeping now, though when I was playing international cricket I was often kept awake by anxiety about injuries. Any little twinge could herald a strain that would prevent me from bowling and I was quite a hypochondriac] I don’t get the exercise I used to, so I am no longer tired enough to immediately fall asleep. I enjoy reading – often until 2am. At the moment I am going through the Koran, slowly and reflectively.

I spend about two months a year in London. I like it because of the contrast with Lahore. I can go out to dinner every night with different people from all over the world, which I find very interesting. Of course I meet a lot of women and enjoy their company, but there’s no one special at the moment. The playboy image was invented by the press simply because I am single.

I would like to marry and have a family if only I could find the right person. An arranged marriage may have more chance of success. My own objectives have only recently become clear – to build this hospital in memory of my mother and go on to other social projects in Pakistan. Any possible wife would have to share these objectives. The thing I fear most is the possibility of failure. I would never consider divorce as an option and would do my very best. That’s the problem . . . it’s just so much of a risk.

‘Warrior Race’ is published by Chatto & Windus, pounds 20.

Donations to the Imran Khan Cancer Appeal can be made to National Westminster Bank. Sort Code 56-00-27.

Account No. 00492205.

(Photograph omitted)

Diamanda Galas

I went to Diamanda Galas’s hotel room with photographer Peter MacDiarmid to whom she took an instant fancy. I felt like a journalist gooseberry while she checked him out New York style with fast-pitched banter.

She grabbed his camera and started taking pictures of him, laughing with this really disconcerting high pitched banshee shriek.

What made her laugh the most was when she started talking about OJ Simpson and I asked (not having heard the name correctly) if this was her boyfriend!

Diamanda had a little bag on a string around her neck. I asked her what was in it. She fixed me with her glittering eye and said, ‘My tooth, honey.’

Killing men softly with her song: New York revenge rocker Diamanda Galas is adamant: male rap stars should be killed for sport. Susan de Muth finds out why

By SUSAN DE MUTH

Thursday, 27 October 1994
Her records have been taken to priests for exorcism, the Catholic Church has described her as ‘a curse’, and her latest offering, The Sporting Life, is an album of ‘homicidal love songs’. Diamanda Galas is not destined for the hit parade.

Trained as a bel canto opera singer, Galas has a three-and- a-half octave range and a voice that critics have described as ‘one of the finest of her generation’. What keeps Galas firmly underground is not her voice, however, but what she does with it.

She is lounging on a white sofa as we enter her hotel room in London, her black stilettos piercing the cushions. Galas appraises us laconically through half-closed eyes: ‘I generally can’t stand straight men,’ she says, sizing up Peter, the photographer, none the less, ‘but I do make a few exceptions. I think God is a callous bitch not making me a lesbian. I’m deeply disappointed by my sexual interest in men.’

The Sporting Life is largely a sadistic fantasy of what Galas would like to do with men. Effortlessly rising above collaborator John Paul Jones’s Led Zeppelin bass guitar, Galas sings of castration, male rape, torture and murder. It’s high- energy psychosis with lashings of her own trademark bloodcurdling screams. Why?

A fearsome tirade against male rap stars, especially ‘that asshole Snoop Doggy Dog’, follows. ‘Women are sick of these no-dick motherfuckers prancing around singing about their ‘bitches’ and the bad things they do to them. I’m just giving it back.’

In one song, Snoop turns up as the victim of a gang of women who go ‘wilding’: ‘I don’t like him, let’s cut him, then fuck him, then kill him.’

Revenge rock? ‘Yes,’ cackles Galas, her black eyes glittering. ‘It fills my heart with freedom and joy.’

Her attitude to men stems partly from a period spent as a prostitute in Seventies California. ‘I had a serious drug habit, plus I needed money to get my music career off the ground,’ she explains. ‘I had to look at men in a strange, cold way doing that job.’ It was an unusual occupation for a graduate from a well-to-do Greek immigrant family. ‘But I liked it,’ she grins. ‘Not turning tricks – that was boring – but the whole thing of owning the street. I had these transvestite hooker friends, and if anyone messed with me, those ‘broads’ got out their knives and suddenly turned out to be built like football players – it was beautiful.’

Disgusted by weak men – ‘they should be taken out and killed for sport by me and my girlfriends’ – Galas looks for a certain resilience in her lovers. ‘I tend to go for the military, or the prison population. I guess I just like rough trade. I couldn’t be around anything too bland.’

Galas’s best friend is the man she calls her ‘gay husband’, Carl Valentino.

‘He can turn words into sulphuric acid,’ she says joyfully. ‘He walks into a party and says, ‘I’m a hateful homosexual and I have Aids and you can kiss my fucking ass.’ ‘ What endears him to Galas is that he provides the ‘spiritual closeness’ she lost when her brother, Philip, died of Aids in 1989. As she talks of empathy and loss, her face and voice soften and her gesticulations slow down. It is then that I notice her knuckles are tattooed with ‘We Are All HIV+’.

An abiding concern, Aids is the issue that brought her into conflict with the church. Her opera Plague Mass points the finger at a hypocritical clergy who interpret ‘the epidemic’ as divine retribution. First performed in a New York cathedral by Galas, naked to the waist and covered in blood, the work was condemned by the Catholic Church as ‘blasphemy’. The ‘cursed Galas’ is unrepentant: ‘My only religion is loyalty.’

Nor does she accept ‘token gestures from the politically correct’. She plays piano in Aids hospices and at an increasing number of friends’ funerals. ‘I really see what’s going on,’ she frowns, ‘and it could easily have been me.

I’ve been an intravenous drug-user, but I’m still here. I’m asking what’s it like to be told there’s a death sentence over you, to ask a friend to help you die when the time comes. What does wearing a red ribbon have to do with those kind of questions? It just makes them feel good. People who wear red ribbons should be forcibly injected with HIV-positive blood.’

With her last composition, Vena Cava, Galas succeeded in conveying the horror of Aids- associated dementia so convincingly that some members of her audiences experienced panic attacks and ran for the exit. The unpalatable mixture of electronic noise, psycho- babble and disjointed schizophrenic voices comes, she says, straight from her own experience. ‘I’ve been through extremes of severe depression. I haven’t slept without medication since 1980 . . . I don’t write science fiction.’

When she’s not trawling the ‘darker recesses of the mind’ Galas’s idea of entertainment is working with friends on the establishment of a rape revenge squad called the Black Leather Beavers: ‘We’d go in there, castrate the guy and torch his house.’ But she has less and less time for such fun: ‘As I get older (she’s 42), I’m increasingly aware of my own mortality, and the need to write music becomes more urgent – it’s my only legacy.’

She cites an eclectic handful of singers whom she admires, including the Egyptian Oum Kalsoum, the opera singer Maria Callas and Spanish flamenco singer Camaron. ‘I aim for an audience who really understand this energy.

Not Kylie Minogue fans.’

Nor does she hear the faintest ticking of her biological clock. ‘I could never breed. It’s such a subservient thing to do – especially in the Nineties. But I don’t mean to insult anyone who has had that misfortune.’

She has always preferred to live alone.

She has no fear of a lonely old age, although she says: ‘I do picture it sometimes. Worst case is I could be an old woman in a flowery gown, standing on the 28th floor of the YMCA staring down at the population with my instant coffee, saying, ‘Oh well, it’s just another day’. I couldn’t handle that . .

. I’d rather be starring in my own opera . . . Medea or Caligula would be nice.’

(Photograph omitted)

Aaron Williamson

Aural anarchy from the sound of silence

Deaf poet and musician Aaron Williamson gives explosive `recitals’. Susan de Muth was among the shell-shocked

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 1 March 1995
He stands outside the performance space and peers in through the glass doors. He holds up words printed on boards, burns them, throws them at the window, posts them through a gap. In weighty silence the audience strains to read them. The “joke” slowly dawns on those who know. Aaron Williamson has turned the tables on us, the hearing. For he is profoundly deaf, always seeking to decipher words through lip-reading or sign language. There is some uneasy laughter.

When he bursts through the glass doors, it is like an explosion of noise. People step back, tread on each others’ toes, stumble; we’re assaulted by the violent cacophony of his roaring, screaming, jibbering, weeping and moaning. Stamping so that the floorboards resound, Williamson strikes a balletic pose and suddenly, from the echoes of this aural anarchy, brings forth a serene and lucid stream of poetry. The feedback from his wayward hearing aid produces an eerie accompaniment which could be the music of the spheres. Some people cry. The experience is overwhelming.

Williamson’s subject is his deafness, the intense inner life of a person isolated in silence, the frustrations and limitations of verbal communication. That the audience participates in this experience through sound and words is ironic, but also part of what makes the work so original and powerful.

Drained by his performance, Williamson happily accepts the suggestion of a few drinks. As we move through the shell-shocked remains of the audience in the foyer, a girl of five breaks free of her father’s hand and tugs at Aaron’s sleeve. “I thought you were really excellent,” she pipes up. A grin, an undisguised expression of surprise, sweeps away his frown as he thanks her. “People don’t normally know what to make of it,” he confides.

The bar is noisy and conversation is harder for me than Williamson who is an astonishingly adept lip-reader. Although he started losing his hearing at seven years old, he covered it up, staying in mainstream education until he left at 16. “I feared rejection – social and personal – and preferred not to tell people I was deaf,” he says. He fooled most of his teachers.

At 34, Williamson is doing well. His books of verse, Cathedral Lung and Holythroat Symposium, are sold out and being reprinted. He has a growing following and lectures in Performance Writing at Dartington College in Devon. There is a deep-rooted sense of purpose and self-reliance about him, yet his poetry and performances testify this was not always so.

Although the adults around him hoped for a miracle cure, Williamson says that he “knew the truth” at 10. “I felt the world drifting away from me,” he recalls in a voice that still bears traces of his Derbyshire roots. “At night I would be secretly traumatised. But I blocked against the initial feelings of terror and isolation; I decided never to accept not trying to communicate as an option.”

With deafness encroaching by stages, cruelty, rejection and “intense, hermetic friendships” characterised his teenage years. These eventually spat out a fully fledged punk rocker who fronted a band with his own brand of violently energetic vocals.

Music remains a passion. “I often wish I could hear new records,” he says, “but I get a lot out of reading really good reviews.” He still performs with musicians and recently touredeastern Europe with Alex Balanescu (of the Balanescu quartet). “I am keenly sensitive to vibrations,” Williamson explains. “I can feel the beat through the floor and I can see the musicians’ rhythm as they play.”

Pronounced “profoundly deaf” at 27, Williamson changed course. He gave up playing with bands and went to university, where he gained a first- class degree in Literature. He also embarked on his career as a poet and performer, realising that his unique perspective gave him a lot to say about language in a phonocentric world.

Williamson challenges conventional ideas of what is “beautiful” in poetry. His work explores the inner life not only emotionally, or mentally, but also physically. In Cathedral Lung, for example, he graphically describes the process of forming words, the labour of utterance: “Tongue/pulls along/pulleys, tarpaulins and traps … the whole thing groaning … a snail slides towards daylight/tunnelling iron/into the roots;/ winches hoisting the/dead mass of dead purple/weight.” That this effort is ultimately futile – the poem ends with the words entering his throat rather than leaving his mouth – is a powerful description of the frustrations of conversation.

The relationship between language and the body is one which fascinates him. For Williamson, writing, as well as performance, should be a radical exploratory exercise. “English poetry at the moment tends to be defensive of already established positions,” he says. “Yet there are so many more seams to unearth in language. The words themselves, the modes of saying, are as significant as meaning. I am looking for a more physical currency of accord. My work is neither `mainstream’ nor `experimental’. As a deaf person, I haven’t made an aesthetic choice; my work relates to actuality.”

Although Williamson did not grow up in the deaf community, and does not see himself as a role model or spokesperson, he is intensely aware of social attitudes towards the deaf. “Even `politically correct’ newspapers say so-and-so was deaf to something,” he says. “I suppose they mean ignorant. There is a perception that deaf people are bad-tempered, like Beethoven , which surfaces if you show signs of assertiveness or ill humour.”

The average British male, he says, refuses to facilitate communication. “I rarely have a problem with anyone else, though. If I can’t decipher what they’re saying, they’ll write it down. For some men this is unthinkable – as if the act of writing were giving something away,” he laughs incredulously. This reticence, he believes, is also class-based. “The upper classes rely on attracting and controlling people by saying not very much at all,” he notes.

In the past few years, Williamson has developed “almost constant synaesthesia”: sounds from the stock in his memory superimpose themselves on to visual events – an effect he finds fascinating. Equally interesting are the lapses of communication which occur in personal relationships – “It’s like, oh, there’s a misunderstanding, quite a funny one too,” he smiles. Intimate friendships, however, are treasured and guard him against “the inherent danger of withdrawal”.

“Being deaf,” he concludes, “helps me to explore language as an unstable, fluctuating medium. My position as an artist is absolutely my position as a person. This statement is always greeted with incredulity, but I actually prefer being the way I am.”

Aaron Williamson will be performing in London tomorrow at 7-12pm at 148 Charing Cross Road, W1, as part of the launch of `Dust’, a Creation Books poetry anthology.

Mayakovsky, Russian Poet by Elsa Triolet

This lively little memoir by Elsa Triolet is a vivid and affectionate portrait of her de facto brother-in-law. I found it in the British library (in French) when I was researching a film script about the great Russian poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and decided to translate it.

Triolet was herself in love with Mayakovsky when she was a teenager, but he fell for her older sister, Lili, who was married to Osip Brik.

The inconvenience of Lili’s marital status did not deter Mayakovsky; he became great friends with husband, Osip Brik, and the three of them lived together in a menage a trois until Mayakovsky’s untimely death at his own hand, aged just 36.

Irina Padva interpreted the original Russian poetry to me, enabling me to present versions, in English, of the extracts Triolet has translated into French. (Triolet was married to Louis Aragon and wrote several novels in her adopted tongue).

The late John Rety (Hearing Eye) agreed to publish my translation and his partner, Susan Johns, spent many days patiently going through the text with me. This was the first book I ever published and the process taught me much. And so I am very grateful to John and Sue and commend this book – which can be purchased on this site – to the reader.

hearing_eye_-_mayakovsky_russian_poet