Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2004.05.01 : The Fires of Spring
(May Day!)
"Ah, fill the cup, and in the fires of Spring
  Your winter garment of repentence fling;
  For the bird of time has but a ways
  To flutter – and the bird of time is on the wing."
        - Omar Khayyam

     So perhaps good humour, good fortune, and general freedom from care have begun to wear you down, get a bit oppressive. If so, I'm pleased to be able to offer the following prescription for immediate and radical mood delevation: try dealing with BT (British Telecom) and the NHS (National Health Service) on the same day. You'll be scrabbling for pills and razor blades before you can say "Please hold".

On my first call to BT, I made the dire tactical error of ringing their 0800 number from my mobile (which meant it wasn't free for me). About 30 minutes of incompetent dithering later, we had burnt through all the pre-paid talk-time on my mobile, and thus were cut off – transaction starkly incomplete. Naturally, they didn't call back. That night, I was having Thai with friends in Putney (albeit some of them are friends (friends of friends, really) I've only ever seen for Thai food in Putney), and related my recent tale of woe. "Ah, yes," they all agreed instantly. "First, the ole burn through all your talk-time routine." Evidently, they had all been through this. "Then the next thing," chimed in Ryan, animatedly, "is where you read them your street address and they tell you they've never heard of it." "Yes! Yes! Exactly!" I ejaculated. I was beginning to pick up on the fact that dealing with BT is simply one of the trials you must negotiate in order to prove yourself tough enough to live in Britain.

The weather is of course another of those trials. The last week or so of "spring" has been grey, rainy, and freezing. Except when it hasn't. I now understand that April gives you all four seasons on each of most days. Incidentally, I understand new things all the time, because whatever season it is, whatever month it is, it's my first one of those. Anyway.

And of course not to mention the NHS, as regards trials, which was later in the same day. Actually, I found them surprisingly efficient; but this was almost certainly due to the fact – I was heartily assured by the Putney crew – that I was merely registering with the NHS, and with this particular clinic, and didn't actually need any health care of any sort at that time. I've been given to understand that the minute I'm bleeding or in pain, things will change radically for the worse. I'm already worried: my initial impression of the general vibe was that it is about like the DMV – except with your health, and possibly life, on the line. Which is, I admit, almost certainly an unavoidable outcome when the government takes over health care. But, I certainly can't complain about the quality of what I'm getting for free. Moreover, a society where everyone can get medical care is, frankly, a lot more civilized than one where everyone can't. And especially where I'm concerned, of course: it allows me to avoid having a proper job, while not fearing – quite so much – for my life.

Let's talk about my second call to BT. No, in fact, let's don't do, except to note that it was probably the most horrific and insulting customer service experience of my entire life. Granted, I'm American, and probably suffer from certain inflated expectations of customer service quality. But is it expected that my expectations will sag to encompass being bullied, demeaned, and lied to all in one Kafka-esque phone call? I know I should be (a lot) more resilient; but I'm definitely having one of those "what the hell am I doing here?" days. Of course, I'm prone to having those wherever I am. (Because the question is really a proxy for, "What the hell am I doing on this damp, spinning stone, whirling through an empty cosmos?", as it is for everyone.) And anyway, as noted above, I'm trying to bear in mind that this demeaning ritual is one of the local customs. They'll probably ask me that when I try to renew my visa: "And did you successfully obtain BT phone service? Any NHS visits? Yes? Ah, well, I note you're still alive, and I'll just be pleased to mark that for the notice of the committee . . ."

And, possibly needless to point out, I still don't have phone service (never mind broadband).

But, on a lighter note, here are some pictures from fun things I've done this year, but haven't previously gotten around to posting. Call it spring cleaning:

London Eye

Ali had an audition for a radio play with BBC Radio 4 (she got the part) in London on a Friday, so we made a half-weekend of it. I was intent on providing the most action-packed 30 hours anyone's ever had in London, and that included – in addition to seeing Anything Goes, the Cole Porter revival, in the West End, and the stunning El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery – a ride (or, "flight", as they say) on the London Eye.

Two New Highly Amusing Underground Public Service Posters
  • Mimes are always funny. (Funnier, here, if you've ever ridden the Tube.)
  • If you're reading this, you're probably American, and thus probably don't know what a scrum is. But this is probably pretty funny all the same.

That Fowl St. James's Park

I had some business just off of Piccadilly recently. When I was done, I didn't have any obligations, and it was fairly nice out – and, hey!, there I was in the very center of London. I decided to stroll in St. James's Park. This is something I did on my first visit to London.

Since I've lived in London, I've gotten the hugest kick out of revisiting spots I visited on earlier visits. It's wonderful and odd on a couple of levels. First off, these places have taken on the status of personal myth – little virtual memory spaces in my head, soft-focused by an affectionate fog of recollection. And so to just walk right into them, and to find that they are real, and still there! It's really precisely like stepping into a memory. Secondly, is just to think, pretty much every time: Hey, I live here now. This previous tourist spot is now part of my home. I can come here anytime I like. In fact, sometimes I simply walk by it on the way to other things.

Anyway, St. James's Park was one of the very last places I'd visited before, but not since, settling here. And I'd forgotten they have some really world-class water fowl. I spent a pleasant afternoon shooting at them.

Penny Steamer to Greenwich

Also on my first visit to London, I took along a possibly first-edition-ish hardcover of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage; and noted in my dispatch at the time that I would verily enjoy, with Maugham's autobiographical protagonist, taking a penny steamer to Greenwich. Well, I finally did so – and it didn't even cost me a penny. Ryan organised an outing for his birthday, much to my excitement. (He and Yu-Kyoung also sprang for ferry tickets.) So, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I found myself steaming up the Thames. Yay.

St. George's Day

So, St. George is the patron saint of England. That red cross you see on a white flag sometimes (usually at England sporting events)? That's his. His main claim to fame, as you also probably don't know as you're probably still American, is that he slew a dragon. Anyway, it's been lamented that St. Patrick's day is more widely celebrated in England that St. George's; but he is not without his partisans. I know this, as I found myself in downtown Birmingham on St. George's Day this year, where they were having a lovely, lively, and spirited celebration in his honour.

Special Day-After-May-Day Addendum (Speakers Corner)

The weather finally turned, a glorious, sunny, cool spring day, so I set out a-jog to circumnavigate Hyde Park. The weather alone did wonders for my BT mood disorder. But what really put a smile on my face was when I got to Speakers Corner. On previous swings by there, I had been depressed to find nary a speaker, on any occasion. But I must have been going at the wrong times. Today, the place was packed, carnival-like, great throngs of gawkers forming shifting circles around people on step ladders, crates, and with banners and posters to declare and support their various wacky positions.

We had zealots from all the major religions: the Jew with the huge Israeli flag and shofar, singing in Hebrew; the American Christian in the cowboy hat (he was popular); the Muslim in traditional garb, insisting that there really were some perfectly decent Jews (namely Jesus, Abraham, and a few other prophets). We also had some great secular nuts, like the Irishman angrily calling for an end to the wage system. Certainly best of all was the Olive Oil Guy, standing on a ladder labelled "Olive Oil Central", waving a bottle of the extra virgin stuff (from which he was occasionally swigging), declaiming against the evils of processed foods and soft drinks, and assuring all comers that olive oil was a panacea for the digestion, the skin, the teeth . . . he paused in this compelling line of argument to also note that olive oil was a symbol for proud anti-Americanism, resistance to the empire that wants to crush all other cultures and religions. (I wanted to shout out that I was American AND an olive oil lover; but, you know, I'm a guest here and didn't want to make a scene. Hmm, if I didn't want to make a scene, maybe that's actually a sign of my increasing Britishness . . .)

  ali     london     omar khayyam     photography     the uk  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
ARISEN : Odyssey
ARISEN : Last Stand
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 1 - The Collapse
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 2 - Tribes
Black Squadron
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 3 - Dead Men Walking
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 4 - Duty
ARISEN : Raiders, Volume 5 - The Last Raid
ARISEN : Fickisms ][ – This Time, It's Personal
ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple
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