An Idea to Coat Diamonds with Teflon

I attempted to answer a Quora question about the possibility of coating diamonds with teflon so they would not need to be cleaned so often. I pointed out some possible problems with the idea. But it was certainly creative. It will be interesting to see what other people say about it.

In hindsight, I might not have answered the actual question. I will need to try harder on this.

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My Manila Diary

Here is a compilation of the bulletins I sent to friends when I was living in Manila. I’ve posted them here for those who want to get an idea of what my new series of newsletters will be like. There will be less personal information in the new series.

I will probably remove this post in a few weeks.



7 November 2016

It’s hard to believe it’s over three weeks since I arrived in Manila. It feels like I haven’t done much, yet I’ve been busy. Lucky I arrived the day I did because there was a storm two days later and it closed the airport, so I would have been stranded in Singapore.

We’re in an apartment with a guard in the foyer who asks your business if he doesn’t know you and three guards at the front gate who let nobody through without good reason. They all have shotguns and pistols. So we’re safe here… until a guard decides to run amok.

One unexpected benefit is the complex houses a higher than average number of flight attendants as we’re not far from the airport. This makes hanging out by the pool a worthwhile activity.

We venture outside sometimes to visit the wet market (traditional market) as the supermarket is three to four times more expensive for worse quality fruit and veg. Imported goods and foods are terribly expensive. Fish is excellent value though.

We usually go to market by jeepney (a cross between a U.S. Army jeep and a bus), it’s quite an experience. You hop on and off at the back and crawl to your space on the bench, then hang on for dear life as the driver swerves through the stop and start Manila traffic. I usually choose to pay a few extra pesos to sit up front with the driver, which is much nicer. As long as you close your eyes. The reason I have to pay extra is because they can squeeze two Filipinos on the seat next to the driver, but my Western butt takes up too much space, so I have two pay for two.

To get to the supermarket we just cross a pedestrian bridge in front of the apartments. The steps on both ends are always occupied by child beggars. Some not long out of diapers, some should still perhaps be wearing them. It’s shocking to see them playing in the filth. But there’s nothing to be done for them as they are run by a criminal gang. I’m sure of this because each child is only there for a day and never again, so they must be getting rotated to other begging locations. Sometimes a guard from the shopping centre patrols the bridge and chases them away, but if there’s no guard, they’re always there. Nothing much seems to get done about the poverty here, maybe because there’s just so much of it that donations just get absorbed with no obvious impact.

Mae is a domestic goddess and a great cooker of fish. I’m slowly mastering the art of picking bones out of little fish instead of impaling my gum. I’m also the pasta and curry chef of the house. Home cooking is important as there doesn’t seem to be a dining culture here. Mall food is inevitably oily. There are no Chinese restaurants in my area. We may need to travel to find food we don’t have to cook ourselves.

The internet service in this country is appalling. Irregular, slow and expensive. It’s controlled by two providers. A bit like Australia’s supermarkets used to be. San Miguel is trying to be the equivalent of Aldi, it’s bought a big slice of bandwidth. But the incumbents have taken court action to block it. So competition will have to wait a few more years until it works its way through the appeals process, assuming San Miguel wins, of course.

Now it’s Corpus Christi and this would have also been a bad time to be travelling because most Filipinos take the opportunity to go home to their village about now. Those who are left either spend days milling around one of the big Manila cemeteries or participating in Halloween activities. As if Manila isn’t scary enough already. We have cobwebs, a headless corpse and dismembered feet in the lobby and witches, a body cut in half and ghosts hanging from the trees outside. In the mall across the road, children are dressed up in ghoulish costumes and make up (along with a few fairy princesses and pirates). They wander from shop to shop collecting handfuls of candy.
Mae’s deceased loved ones are in Negros, an island far from here, so we aren’t joining the exodus.

If you’re still reading, here’s a typical day like today for us:

Get up early to do exercises. Cancel exercises due to misty rain (apparently getting wet in the rain causes disease). Have breakfast. Notice sky is clear, put washing on. Log on to internet to check market, download one page and half of another before internet drops out. Find light switch in kitchen not working. Go upstairs to the rooftop cages to hang out clothes. Go downstairs to lobby to report broken light to maintenance. Notice clouds coming, go back to roof to take down wet clothes again (rain demons again). Receive notice from internet company, starting tonight there will be a two day outage while they ‘upgrade’ their system. Discover system is down already. Fill in application form for a fibre internet plan. Start writing about my experiences in Manila so far. Now it’s Noon. Mae has some little fish cooking on the stove. After dinner her sister Toots will come for a visit, bringing leftover sweets from Corpus Christi celebrations last night. Then I’ll follow up on why the maintenance man hasn’t called in yet. Then go to the mall to buy ‘load’ (phone credits) for my phone.

21 November 2016

I’m writing mostly to answer a few questions that came up from my last email.

Guns and Security
Although I consider the Philippines to be generally a more violent place than Australia, I’ve never felt threatened in the month I’ve been here so far. On the other hand, I haven’t spent a lot of time out of the apartment complex, and certainly not at night. On the whole, violence here is calculated. Unless it’s in response to a real or perceived insult. In Australia, violence tends to be a random event.

The only guns I’ve seen in public have been in the hands of security guards, but when you see signs outside the entrances to supermarkets and cinemas that tell you that you can’t bring drinks, food or pistols in, it makes me wonder how many people are carrying. I believe it’s quite easy to acquire a gun here, I read an article about a village which is famous for mass-producing cheap pistols to be sold throughout the country.

For all his faults, the current president has made people feel more secure. When I first arrived, Mae would be constantly reminding me to keep my phone hidden when in public. But people are quite relaxed about using their phones. Even in jeepneys, which were regular targets of pickpockets before the law and order crackdown.

The crackdown has come at a cost, of course. It’s said that over 3,000 people have been executed without trial for being associated with drug crime. Hard drugs have only recently been introduced in big quantities to the Philippines. This has brought sudden social changes which shocked the general public. This was the issue which the current president campaigned on. He was elected in a landslide with the public well aware that he has form in being associated with extrajudicial killings as mayor of Davao. But it’s not for me to criticise. Whether they did the right thing in voting for him is something they will have to examine their own consciences over.

The internet situation has improved dramatically since I switched from wifi to fibre. It’s still expensive, I’m paying about $37 per month for 100gb of data at 10mbps. I can pay more for faster and a bigger cap but it already feels faster than what I had in Perth and I don’t download movies so it’s actually working out cheaper than at home.

So for those who asked, this is how Philippine call centres are able to operate. They rent a fibre connection directly from the internet service provider. Simple as. I’m fortunate that I live in an apartment complex controlled by a company with close ties to an ISP. The building is wired for that provider. The overwhelming majority of Filipinos don’t have this option (if they could afford it). They rely on dodgy wifi which is unavailable more often than not.

BTW, the people working in those call centres have exceptional English speaking skills compared to the general public.

Philippine Economy
The Philippines was considered one of the most advanced Asian economies following the Second World War. My feeling is that it has progressed at a much slower rate than the so-called tiger economies and has been eclipsed by them. Manila reminds me of the Jakarta I knew in the 1980s, but with more pork and less street food.

I have a feeling that Indonesia is more open to competition, while in the Philippines the dead hand of the oligarchy drags down anyone trying to enter a market. I mentioned last time how San Miguel is being prevented from entering the internet sector. Another example is the airport taxi service. For a long time, anyone arriving at Manila Airport had the option of paying three times or more the going rate for a ‘chartered car’ trip to their destination or paying the standard rate and taking a yellow airport taxi. The problem with taking a yellow taxi is there are only 200 of them to service a major airport. So the queue for these taxis is often three hours or more in an unairconditioned kerbside pickup zone, with buses idling nearby. Why haven’t the authorities licensed more airport taxis? Because those taxis are owned by former generals. The generals like to have their taxis always full. I’ve heard the airport arrivals have been changed recently so it is now possible to get a regular taxi from there, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The change only happened after citizens demanded a better service, and months of lobbying the top levels of government. I would say this change only happened because of the demands of the middle class. The elite don’t care because they are collected by their drivers, the poor don’t care because they will take the bus.

I feel the middle class is only now beginning to emerge in the Philippines while it has been growing in Indonesia since the Asian Financial Crisis. A possible reason for the difference is that land reform was completed in Indonesia shortly after the Second World War and independence, while in the Philippines it was only partially undertaken under Corazon Aquino. While land reform causes years of underperformance (as in Communist China), in the long run it has created a nation of owners.

The island of Java is full of small farms which can support a family or be sold to fund a move to one of the big cities and eventually joining the wage-earning class. The Philippine countryside is full of farmers holding questionable title to marginal land on the edge of vast plantations owned by the same oligarchs who control all levels of government.

Two Presidents
Since I last wrote, the news here was dominated by Trump and Marcos.

I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough about Trump by now. But I’d just like to say that to understand why Americans voted for Trump you need to watch a few episodes of the original Apprentice, where he established himself as the archetypal boss. To understand Trump you should read his The Art of the Deal. If Hillary had read that book she could have anticipated him at every tactical step.

President Duterte seems to think he can get along with Trump in a way that somehow he couldn’t with Obama. Something tells me Trump isn’t going to do him any special favours. Trump might have many faults, but he doesn’t tolerate faults in other people. One of Duterte’s supporters once said his greatest weakness is that he is a strongman, which means he can never be seen to back down.

President Marcos was reburied in the national hero’s cemetery just a few days after the supreme court allowed it. The burial took place without notifying the general public beforehand, which meant there was no time for anyone to mount a demonstration against it. The official line is that he is being buried as a former president, not as a hero.

What I’m Reading
I’ve started on Blondel’s Song by David Boyle. It’s about Richard the Lionheart’s hijinks and what was going on in the twelfth century generally. It’s a fascinating period which is strangely ignored by popular culture these days. But all we get from the period is unhistorical Robin Hood films, when Richard I’s actual life was far more entertaining than any fantasy. I’m reading slowly because once it’s finished I’ll have no books.

I’ve also been researching online about the American writer Joe Gould. Long considered America’s greatest unpublished author, at least one film has been made about him. He’s presented as an eccentric, harmless, brilliant, loveable old man. Digging beneath the surface things are not so pleasant. Funny how the arty elite protects those it calls its own, but they’re also quick to abandon someone when perceptions change.

I’m overweight gold stocks. That’s been a good strategy this year. It was supposed to be a good strategy if Trump won the election as the world was going to end. When it actually happened, gold indeed became a safe haven and the price rose strongly and so did the stocks. Then the financial market noticed that the world isn’t coming to an end, at least not today, and the gold price started to crash, along with the values of my gold stocks.

Apart from that, fundamentals have been good. My main gold producing company has defined a big new lode at one of its mines. Even so, its price continues to fall, it’s often better for a company to release no news at all when the market is dropping, it just seems to attract unwanted attention. One of my gold explorers released good drill results which is pushing it’s price up while its peers are falling. One of my Fraser Range explorers has found some sulphides among its drill core, it will be a few weeks wait for the lab to assay that one. My biotech hopeful released more results from its second phase medical trials, they look good to me, so fingers crossed someone in Big Pharma will make an offer for the company.

1 December 2016

Introducing Oliver
Or the true reason I’m in Manila (not that the reason I gave before wasn’t true…). This might come as a shock to some, others of you will have figured it out long ago.

Last Monday I became co-owner of a drinking machine. It’s not a drink dispenser but a kind of machine that consumes drinks. I’m not sure if such a thing has much commercial value, but it can do other things. It processes the drink into poop and pee, it burps, it cries, it squirms. Sometimes it smiles and those moments make me forget where I am. It makes other expressions too. I’m told that it will eventually acquire more apps, such as crawling, eating and throwing stuff. I will have to buy other apps, such as clothes and toys. The hard part will be the apps I have to build into him – respect, kindness, tolerance and so many more. But right now I’m concentrating on learning how to change his diapers.

When I change his diapers I remember King Henry VIII who was always attended by a Lord of the Privy Chamber. It was that man’s job to wipe the king’s pooper. He was happy to do that job because of the ‘access’ it gave him to the most important person in the country. It was a particularly challenging job for those who attended old King Henry because he was known as much for his incontinence as for his appetite for the richest foods and wines. So I think myself lucky because Oliver’s poop doesn’t stink and he’s kind of important too. At least everyone stops what they’re doing and gazes when he passes by. They don’t cheer, but they smile and tell him what a handsome fellow he is. Few kings ever commanded so much respect.

Anyhow, he’s unmistakably a boy. He came in at 3.5kg and 56cm at 11:22 on 21 November. We named him Oliver after my grandmother, Olive Mackay. She was a wonderful woman, the first to manage a supermarket in Perth. In addition to her business acumen, she was generous, pragmatic, forthright and had strong morals. If Oliver emulates her in any way I will be delighted.

Why didn’t I tell you about all this before?
At first, I didn’t believe I was going to be a father, not until Mae showed me the positive test results. Then I waited for the gyno to confirm that it was indeed a baby and not something else… though I was pretty sure by then it was going to be a baby. Then I thought it’s pretty common for misfortune to strike first-time mothers. By the time the chances of that happening had shortened, keeping the secret had become a kind of lucky charm for me. I felt that if I went around telling people I was going to be a father it would be tempting fate. To some extent, I still can’t believe it, even though the proof is wriggling around in front of me as I type.

Mum knew about it pretty much from the beginning, and my sister of course.

So who’s the father, really?
Honestly, it’s me. I fell in love with Mae ten years ago, but I broke it off when I thought it would take too long before we could be together. I wanted to give her the best chance of finding someone else. But I never forgot her. Late last year I found out she hadn’t forgotten me either and we got back together, picking up where we left off. As much together as you can be when you’re forced to live in different countries two flights away from each other.

Earlier this year, we travelled to Mae’s hometown, a little village squeezed between the sugar cane fields and the forested hills of Negros. I met Mae’s mum and some of her family. By the time we left the village, I felt the only thing keeping us apart was the laws of our respective countries.

So now I’m in Manila with a future wife and a present son. It’s our first day out of hospital after four days, which is another story. Between drinks, Oliver has been listening to the first three of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on repeat. Dad has been learning more about babies than he ever expected to. Mum is also on a steep learning curve.

Next time I will write more about what happened after Oliver was born, but I think I’ve said enough for now. Those of you who have been praying for us, please keep it up. It seems to be working, even if you didn’t know exactly what you were praying for.

9 December 2016

Our Hospital Experience
One thing most people travelling in Asia should do but don’t is to research the hospitals before they go. It’s something I started thinking about when I was visiting Mae’s family in Negros and I thought – if I had an accident in one of the more remote areas it would take a long time to get medical attention. But even in the cities, which hospital should you choose to go to out of so many? It’s not easy to know, their websites all look the same and it’s not like anyone reviews them.

On the doctor’s recommendation, we chose a sort of middle-class private hospital for Mae to give birth, but in hindsight, it wouldn’t have been much more expensive to have chosen one of the best hospitals in Manila. Fortunately, we all ended up coming home in good health.

One thing that surprised me is the hospitals require a deposit before they will admit you. I paid 20,000 pesos (about $600) to get Mae admitted. One time I saw a family with a baby turned away from the NICU (Natal Intensive Care Unit) apparently because they couldn’t pay their admission. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that was their situation until much later or I might have helped them.

Getting discharged can also be difficult. The hospital expects payment in full before you leave and they have guards at every exit. You need to show your discharge paper to the nurse, who escorts you to the exit. While it might be illegal for them to hold a baby until its parents can come up with the money, it would take too many resources to challenge them. Fortunately, hospital costs are much lower than you would pay in Australia, but even though I could pay immediately it took about four hours for the hospital to make up the bill. A long half a day sitting around the hospital waiting to be discharged.

Overall I think the hospital we used would be equivalent standard to a public hospital in Perth. I hope we don’t need to test any more hospitals before I can get a visa for my family.

Getting a Birth Certificate
The day after Oliver was born, the hospital records section asked me to fill in the necessary forms to kick off the birth certificate. After a week I should go to the local council to finalise it.

A week went by and Mae, Oliver and I took a taxi to the Council building. There’s nobody to look after Oliver and I figured they would need Mae to sign things, so we all had to go. We told the taxi driver our plans and he agreed to wait for us to do the business. But when we arrived he changed his mind, telling us there are plenty of taxis. So we paid him and went to the births registry.

Sugar, the lady in charge of Births, surprised me by being as sweet as her name. I think we were given a bit of priority thanks to the baby being with us. Unfortunately, the news she gave wasn’t so sweet. The hospital hadn’t sent her the paperwork. So we had to go back to the hospital to get the forms. This was when we discovered there weren’t plenty of taxis, in fact there weren’t any taxis at all.

The municipal building is in a strange location, halfway down a one-way street and past a huge wet market. It’s always jammed with traffic, so I guess taxis don’t like to go there. We had no other option than to take a ‘tricycle’, a motorcycle with a covered sidecar. They properly seat no more than four passengers, but here I’ve seen nine. The driver has to stand in his seat because there are three sitting behind him. Mae has seen tricycles with a dozen passengers.

The queue at the tricycle stand is nicely organised until the tricycle arrives. Then it’s everyone for themselves. People swarm the little bike to get a seat. I grabbed a seat but Mae came to it a bit late. I was about to give Mae my seat and follow on the next tricycle. Luckily the person who had the seat next to me gave hers up in consideration of the baby.

When we got to the hospital, we found the reason they hadn’t sent the paperwork to the municipal office was that the doctor still hadn’t signed it. After a week of it being on his desk. He wasn’t in that afternoon, so we went home.

The next day I thought we would have the same problem with our taxi driver, he was an old guy with a wart on the end of his nose. But he promised to wait at the hospital and at the Council office, so off we went.

As it turned out, he was a lovely old guy with an interesting background. 72 years old. He had spent thirty years working in Saudi Arabia as a long haul truck driver. Some of the money he earned helped put his three children through university. He had been back for two years and kept working because he didn’t want to waste his time sitting around at home. I asked him what he thought of working in Saudi, he said he loved it, he would still be there if he could get a working visa at his age.

We gave Sugar the documents from the hospital, signed some papers and she told us to come back next week for the birth certificate.

The next week’s taxi driver was a grumpy young man. He didn’t like the idea of waiting for us to do paperwork so we promised him a big tip if he had to wait more than half an hour. As it happened, there was no waiting. I hopped out of the taxi when we arrived at the building and went to see Sugar. All she did was write some numbers at the top of the form and that was it. She told me to come back in six months if I wanted a more fancy looking birth certificate. By the time I left the building the taxi hadn’t had a chance to park. Even so, with all the traffic it took over an hour to get home. I gave the driver a big tip anyway.

Taxis in Manila are cheap, when you can get them. They’re cheap, but not very good because very few drivers own their cabs. They rent their cabs for twelve hours at a time, so there’s a lot of stress when they’re trying to make their costs. I like to give them a sizeable tip, sometimes it really seems to make their day.

Financially??The price of gold took a nasty tumble these last few weeks and though I’m overweight gold stocks I didn’t have the sense to get out in time. I should have heeded the warning a few months ago when a friend congratulated me on my successful stock picking, that kind of thing is often a sign things are getting toppy. Now it looks like the price of gold is starting to find it’s feet again, but where it goes now is anyone’s guess. My saving grace is that I know to only invest in well-funded companies, so at least they should survive for the time being.

Oliver adds a bit extra to my outgoings, which I expected. So far it’s all within the budget.

20 December 2016

Internet fun
Our interaction with Philippine bureaucracy didn’t end with the hospital and the birth registry. We weren’t home for five minutes before the internet connection broke down. It would take fully four days to get it repaired. We wouldn’t have minded quite so much if the customer service line told us at the beginning that it was a complex problem and would take a few days to fix. Instead, we were told each day to wait for the engineer and every day the engineer didn’t come. We were prioritised, promised, expedited, guaranteed, advanced, promoted, assured, given utmost urgency. At one point I was being transferred to a supervisor only to find myself bumped onto yet another customer service rep. These guys are craftier than Telstra. The engineer even rang one time to tell us he was on the way. That was on the second day. We never heard from him again.

In the meantime, in order to get online, we eventually reverted to the pocket wifi that caused us so much trouble when I first arrived. A little bit of internet is better than no internet at all, at least I could send some baby pictures to Mum.

Finally, an engineer showed up and after he fixed the problem he told me my phone connection was old and he could replace it for 200 pesos ($6), that would stop the internet breaking down again. And no, he wouldn’t give me a receipt for that. As the building is no more than ten years old I figured he was telling porkies and decided to live without that extra upgrade. So far the internet has been working fine.

Being down on the Philippines
I tend to whine and moan a lot about the Philippines. If I liked motorcycle touring or sailing or scuba diving or rock climbing or American style food or jungle trekking or gambling or golfing or deep sea fishing or basketball or a host of other things… I’m sure I would be having a great time here.

Given its history, it’s not really fair to compare the Philippines with other Asian countries. Their history is more like that of a Central American country. Spanish colonisation setting up a hacienda system, followed by vicious civil war followed by US recolonisation followed by more civil war followed by continuous US intervention to prop up a decrepit elite. Followed by communist and native insurgencies which the regime never really seems to want to bring to an end. But the Central American countries didn’t also suffer a brutal occupation by the Japanese during WW2.

Plenty of expats choose the Philippines for their retirement, or even as a place to live before they retire. I’ve met people from the US, the UK, the EU, Switzerland and Australia who’ve chosen to call the Philippines home.

In fact, I have a lot of things to thank the Philippines for. Cheap baby clothes, plentiful and cheap seafood, tropical fruit, my lovely future wife, the fact they let me live here while Mae applies for her visa (not that the two things are connected). Oliver is a Filipino and always will be, even when he becomes an Australian.

But it’s more fun for me to write about my little struggles and conflicts than the everyday things that are easy.

I should make a blog/be a writer
I probably should, since it’s one of the few things I’m good at.

In fact, I kept a blog a few years ago and it was just starting to take off when the person who was doing the technical and design stuff threw a tantrum and stripped the site. A few years later I thought I would try again, but I got bored with the technical bits and couldn’t find a voice I was happy with.

I think most content providers get a raw deal from the internet. On the other hand, traditional publishers just seem to want to own a writer’s work and do nothing with it, so they’re not attractive either.

So I’m thinking about writing a book of my own and self-publishing it. I’ve written a few stories about scams I’ve heard about or experienced in Asia. I might be able to put them and a few more together into something people might want to read. It’s nowhere near enough to make a book yet though.

He celebrated his one month birthday the other day. He loves to hear me sing ‘Happy Birthday’ as loud as I can. We can’t use ‘newborn’ sized diapers any more, he’s a good deal bigger than most Filipino babies.

He’s learnt how to cry and he’s pretty good at that. He tries to speak, but nothing coherent yet. He can lift his head, follow an object from side to side and up and down. He’s figured out how to resist swaddling.

He grabs at things randomly, he has a strong enough grip to cause a welt when he grabbed his own face once. It made him cry.

He’s survived one bad bout of colic and one of nappy rash, both caused by inexperienced parents and he’s better now.

If I had sold my gold stocks last time I wrote about how far they’d fallen, I could be buying them back today with a healthy surplus. Right now we’re enjoying a Christmas rally. Maybe the price of gold has stopped falling, maybe it will fall again next year – gold doesn’t react quickly to demand and supply signals.

One of my gold explorers has identified a 4.4km long corridor of gold on its tenement. That news did nothing to help its share price. Apart from that, there hasn’t been much news from the other companies lately, as you’d expect.

The Australian dollar has fallen against the $US, which is also good for Australian gold producers. Unfortunately, it’s also fallen a little against the Philippine Peso, which is bad for self-funded Australian expats.

Filipinos are as crazy about Christmas as Australians. Never ending parties (luckily we’re off the radar, so we only had to attend one). If I need to go to the mall I do it in the morning before the crowds gather. I’m told travelling anywhere is hell, with everyone trying to return to their home village. The international airport is also jammed with people coming home from overseas.

Mae’s former employer, Debra, called by last night with a carload of toys, food, baby clothes and more. I think Debra is almost as much in love with Oliver as we are. We’re waiting for a special delivery of treats sent from Mae’s family in Negros.

We will miss the traditional Filipino Christmas because Mae’s sister’s children have flu and we don’t want to risk Oliver catching it. In these circumstances, I would normally book a buffet at one of the better hotels in town, but Oliver isn’t ready for long trips away from home yet. I’ll ring around the hotels and see if any of their chefs are willing to do takeaways.

28 January 2017
A small but major event
We’re planning to get married this Monday 30th January. Although it’s a major event for both of us, it will be a small scale. Just a few of our Manila friends and family. But don’t worry, you won’t miss out, we’re planning to have a Mass and party for all our friends in Perth some time after we get to Australia.

I asked Mae to marry me before I left home and I was planning all along to have ceremonies in both countries. This way we get to involve the most people from both countries. When we went to the municipal office a week ago, they said we could get it done in ten days, so decided to hold them to their promise and set the date then and there.

I was surprised how happy so many people are now we’ve set the date. I guess people don’t truly believe until you take action.

A big and major event
If all goes according to plan, Oliver will no longer be a heathen after 5th February. This will actually be a bigger thing here than the wedding, with people coming from all over Luzon and godparents from Java. Oliver will wear the same baptismal gown I wore many years ago.

So far I’ve found the biggest difference between a Philippine baptism and an Aussie one is the baby gets a multitude of unofficial ‘godparents’ in addition to his actual ones. This actually caused a bit of confusion between the parents. Mae kept announcing new people who wanted to be godmother, only for me to protest that we already chose a godmother, both of us getting upset until Mae explained carefully that the godparents we chose will be the official ones, the others… well, I’m still not sure what the role of the extra godparents is going to be. But I’m ok with it now.

Anyhow, we’re pretty busy preparing for a wedding and a baptism both in the same week.

Christmas and New Year
Christmas ended up being a quiet time for us. Mass at the local cathedral followed by a peaceful day at home. We found it very easy to get a seat inside the church, which is suspiciously unusual for Christmas Day. Then I started to wonder if we picked the wrong section to be in when I noticed the people sitting around us, some with tattoos on their hands, others on their necks and that was just the kids! Our neighbourhood is gentrifying, I guess that’s why I can afford the rent.

Leaving the church was fun too. For a long time, there was a stalemate between those trying to leave and those trying to get in. They have a lot of Masses here, one after the other, so you need to get in early if you hope to get a seat. Unless you’re not fussy who you sit next to. Thankfully there was no stampede and those coming in yielded to those leaving. I don’t know if that had anything owing to the people we happened to be sitting with.

New Year’s was much more fun, we stayed at Debra’s house (Mae’s former employer) in the suburbs and were treated to American style free flow of food. Debra and her husband, Bong, treated us so nicely and they loved Oliver.

In the days leading up to New Year’s, you can find people selling fireworks just about everywhere. In the shopping malls, on the roadside. I wanted nothing to do with them and Bong, for his own reasons, decided not to buy any. But as the day got closer temptation got the better of him. He mumbled something about needing to chase away the bad spirits and let the good luck come.

During the day of New Year’s Eve, I could hear occasional fireworks being set off. I could also sometimes hear a crowd shouting in the distance. I thought it was some kind of protest but found out later it was cockfighting in the village square. Anyhow, the fireworks became more frequent as dusk settled. Then we got some heavy rain and I thought fireworks would be off. But by about 10 pm the rain stopped and fireworks started again. By a little after 11:40 pm the fireworks started in earnest. The neighbours were setting off all kinds of rockets and wheels. We were lucky to have a little wind that night because there was so much smoke in the air. Mae told me there would have been even more fireworks going off in central Manila, but even though we have a clear view of the CBD from our apartment the fireworks would have been invisible in the fog caused by the smoke. In other words, we would have heard the fireworks but not seen them.

Bong waited until a little after midnight to set his off, just as the neighbour’s main fireworks were spent. His fireworks were the best of the neighbourhood. They came in six cartons, each box with a single fuse. Some spewed out a shower of lights in rapid succession, others held a dozen or so rockets which fired off one after the other. It would not be exaggerating to say some of the rockets could stand with the best of the Australia Day ones. Yes, we heard the sad story of why the fireworks in Perth were cancelled this year.

Private fireworks were already banned in Perth by the time I was old enough to miss them, so it was fun to be able to get up close and personal while they were being fired off. I didn’t stand all that close to them, I stood next to a pillar of the carport, hoping to duck behind it if one of the rockets went the wrong way, but in fact, there wouldn’t have been enough time to react. One of the servants, Belle, was so excited she danced around the boxes as they exploded, too young to recognise the possible danger, or to care.

He celebrated his second month birthday a few days ago. Taken to sucking his thumb sometimes when he’s left alone. In a way, we’re glad because it means he’s gaining control over his arms, even though we’re training him not to do it. He gets frustrated and cries if we take his hand away from his mouth too often, but he also cries if his thumb slips out of his mouth and he can’t find it again. I didn’t realise how long it takes babies to learn things, but now I really understand the meaning of the term ‘baby steps’.

Apart from the thumb sucking, he’s a really good boy. Always well behaved when he has to leave the apartment for whatever reason. He has some lovely outfits to wear to the two big occasions that are coming up.

I’ll try to attach some photos, but if you’re on Facebook you can send Mae a ‘friend’ request, she’s always posting his latest pics there. Maybe we should set up a page for Oliver?

Weddings aren’t cheap, even here. The baptism will be almost as dear. The budget will probably blow out this month and force me to sell some shares before I go home for Easter. Luckily the gold price has been strong this year so far and it’s brought a strong recovery in gold stocks. Selling into a rising market is always more pleasant than the alternative.

Visa Application
As we’re getting married, Mae will apply for a visa as a spouse, not as a fiance. So we need to wait for the Philippine records office to issue a certificate of marriage to show to the Department of Immigration. That will take a month. In the meantime, we will start gathering the relevant evidence together so we can lodge the application as soon as we get the marriage certificate.

Some people have asked if they can help, the Immigration Department has a statutory declaration form where you can set out what you know of our relationship and why you think it is lasting etc. We can use that as part of the evidence for the application. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you a link to that form. I can’t think of anything else you can do to help just now, but I’ll let you know if I think of something.

20 November 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve sent out one of these emails. I haven’t felt like writing while the visa situation for Mae and Oliver has been coming to a head. Now I have good news to tell you… the three of us will be arriving in Perth next week, 23 August. Oliver has his Australian citizenship and Mae has been granted a one-year tourist visa. You can imagine how excited we all are. We’re still waiting for a decision on Mae’s spouse visa application, but at least we can wait for that in Perth rather than Manila.

It’s been such a long time there’s so much I could tell you. But when I saw I was getting close to 2,000 words I thought I’d better close off and save it for another time. If I find the time in the next month I’ll tell you about my dental experiences, more about the transport situation here and maybe a bit about some of the characters we’ve met here. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing you again in person before long.

The Wedding
I guess you want to know mostly about the wedding. But there’s not a lot to tell you. It was quite an intimate event, just a few friends and family. My bride looked lovely, as she always does, and everything went off without a hitch. Those who love going to weddings will get their chance in time, after we’ve moved to Perth. If you’re wondering why we didn’t ask anyone from Perth to come, you might understand why a little further down the page.

About the only difference between our wedding and a Western one is that we needed a Ninong and a Nina, an older couple, in addition to witnesses. This older couple is supposed to make the marriage lasting through sympathetic magic. Talking about which, we had to order pancit at the wedding breakfast. Pancit is a dish consisting of long thin noodles, which is also meant to symbolise something very long, which is why we eat pancit here at birthdays too.

If we had held the wedding at Mae’s hometown in Negros there would have been more for me to write about. At least two pigs would have died and a crate of rum drained. Dancing and karaoke would have continued into the morning hours. But we didn’t want to risk Oliver travelling at his young age.

The Baptism
This was a much bigger event. We had a lot more people attending. Winarto and Liliek, long-standing friends of mine, came from Indonesia to act as godparents. They brought along their two cute little daughters and added some colour to the proceedings.

It was a long day for Oliver. We had to be at the church for instruction at 8:30 am. Then came Mass, then the baptism itself. About the only difference between a Western baptism and a Filipino one is that in addition to the official godfather and godmother there is an abundance of unofficial godparents. I still don’t really understand their role in it. As I see it, they’re friends who wish to have a continuing relationship with the baby and its parents in some way. Anyhow there are about a dozen of these secondary godparents, we had to pay an extra 110 pesos ($AUS3.00) for each one to be on the baptismal certificate, and we gave each of them a little souvenir gift, which is another traditional thing.

After that, everyone was invited for lunch in a restaurant (Original Savoury) in the mall across from our apartment. It’s one of three local chain restaurants that cater Philippine food to the middle class. The other two that I know of are Kuya J and Max’s. They’re all good value for money.

After the meal, most of the crowd moved on to our little apartment for the afterparty, which involved a lot of homemade food and much talking. The last guests left at about 3 pm and we could finally relax for a little while before I took my Indonesian friends to see the sunset over Manila Bay.

An Exciting Ride
One of the pleasant things to do in Manila is to watch the sun setting over Manila Bay. The best place for that is the seafront promenade of the Mall of Asia where there are fun park rides, drinks stands, restaurants and a fireworks display on Sunday nights. There aren’t many public areas like that in Manila where people can just relax and hang out. The main drawback is that sunset ends with nightfall, which can be scary.

It wasn’t hard to find a taxi from the Mall of Asia, but the driver said the road was jammed so he wanted 600 pesos ($AUS20), twice as much as we paid the previous driver to get there. I hadn’t seen any traffic jam so I told the driver not to be greedy and promised him 350 pesos.

As we drove, I noticed we weren’t taking the same route back as the one we came on. We went there along main roads, but we were returning via a light industrial/urban village area. I started to worry that maybe we weren’t returning at all, maybe the driver was going to take us into an abandoned warehouse where we would be robbed and worse. But I didn’t object to the route because I didn’t want the driver to know that I didn’t know where we were.

As the ride continued, the traffic began to bank up in both directions. Then an oncoming car veered in front of us. Our driver slammed on the brakes and stopped just in time to prevent a head-on crash. The other car also stopped. Our taxi started to drive around the car and I told the cabbie to drive on, but I knew what he was going to do. He did what every Filipino driver does when another driver has inconvenienced him, he pulled up next to the other driver’s window and started a shouting competition. But I noticed even as the other driver was trading insults, he was scanning the inside of our taxi. He and his passenger were well dressed but had hard faces and I won’t forget the coldness when his gaze met mine. His partner was pulling a satchel from their rear seat and I ordered the taxi to drive on in my most authoritative voice. Thankfully he took notice of me this time and the other car didn’t (or couldn’t) follow us.

It turned out that the taxi driver had been right about the traffic. He had been taking a shortcut and when we eventually pulled onto the main road we slowed to a crawl. I ended up giving him his 600 pesos plus an extra hundred, which pleased him greatly. I had let him sit through an hour of creeping traffic thinking he would make so little for his effort.

For a while, I wondered whether the men in that other car were criminals who thought it was a good thing to hold up taxis. But Winarto noticed we had passed a police station shortly before the incident, so they were probably undercover police. Knowing that they were police didn’t do much to settle my nerves. I’ve never seen police pulling out satchels when they’ve stopped a car before.

This happened around the same time the main story on the evening news was about a Korean businessman who was kidnapped by local police who executed him before the ransom was paid and then planted drugs in his office so they could accuse him of having been a drug dealer. They made the mistake of planting the drugs in daylight, in front of the office staff and in full view of security cameras.

I’ll never know what was in those satchels but these days we don’t go out at night. Not even for the nicest sunsets.

Not Everything is Getting Worse
The Western media is focusing on the bad news from here. James Fenton has written two articles for the New York Review on the extrajudicial killings that are an ongoing thing, you can find them online if you’re interested. But good things are happening too.

Smoking. President Duterte doesn’t like smoking and it’s banned in public places in Davao, where he was mayor. Since he became president, it’s become uncommon to smoke in public areas. There is some legislation planned, though I haven’t seen any details about it, I’m sure the cigarette companies won’t like it.

Gambling. Gambling is a national pastime. Every village festival and market day attracted a cohort of carny style gambling games at festival time and cockfighting on public holidays. These are now banned in many villages. There are still plenty of other ways for people to satisfy their gambling urges though.

Crime. As I’ve said in previous emails, people feel safer now. It’s mostly the police you have to look out for.

A Charitable Opportunity
A month or so ago, Mae told me about one of her distant cousins who had a baby boy. The baby was born without intestines connecting to any exit (I hope you understand my complex medical terminology). The doctors had to make a hole in his side then fish around for the end of the intestine and attach it there to let out the waste. Then the surgeon couldn’t connect the intestine to the side where they made the hole in, so they had to open up the other side before they were able to connect to the exit.

Last weekend we were visiting Mae’s sister’s house, which is in one of those urban villages of Manila. We had a visit from the baby and his parents. The father is only 17 years old and had to give up any ideas of college to support his unplanned family. He found work as a janitor, but it’s not enough to cover the ongoing medical costs as well as the living expenses. So they rely on the support of the other people in the village and people like myself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give much as I’m stretching my budget to fill the gap until my superannuation kicks in. But we gave what we could.

Some people would say they shouldn’t have had a baby if they weren’t able to support one. That’s very true. But the fact is that they did and we can’t blame the baby for the parent’s mistake. At least the father has accepted his responsibility, when he could easily have denied it and moved on as so many men do.

We had a bit of a scare a couple of months ago. The rainy season has started and there’s a few more mosquitoes about than usual. One day after lunch, we noticed Oliver seemed to have a welt from a bite and we made a mental note to buy some insect spray. A little while later I found another bite, which puzzled me as I hadn’t noticed there being so many mosquitoes around. About an hour later, Mae called me over to see he had big patches of red all over his face, arms and legs and the ‘bite’ marks dotted all over his back. I went on to the Mayo Clinic site online and the closest thing I could find to Oli’s condition was measles.

So we raced off to a nearby hospital where the doctor diagnosed Oli with an allergy and sent us to the emergency. By now his rash had spread even further and some places on his face were swollen up like blisters. He caught sight of himself in a mirror in the lift on the way to emergency and that didn’t make him happier. His condition continued to get worse until a nurse injected him with antihistamine and steroids. I was on tenterhooks in case the doctor got the diagnosis wrong. But soon the red patches began to darken and the swelling eased. An hour or so later we were discharged from the emergency ward.

Since then we’ve done some testing and it’s confirmed Oli has an egg allergy. With a bit of luck, he’ll grow out of it in a year or so. Meanwhile, we will have to be careful with what he eats.

He’s a very happy baby. But he won’t be a baby for much longer. He can stand for more than a few seconds and with increasing confidence. I’m hoping he won’t take his first steps until he’s in Perth and my Mum can see him do that.

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North America’s Biggest Diamond

Dominion Diamond Mines announced what it claims to be the biggest diamond ever found in North America at its 40% owned Diavik Mine. It looks a beauty! 552 carats and no obvious fractures (from what photos I’ve seen). They say it’s the size of a chicken’s egg. A small chicken’s egg, I think.

I’m kind of excited to see how big it is and what colour it will be after it’s cut. It looks yellow now, but will it be a fancy yellow or a dull yellow? Will it be cut in a fancy shape or a round brilliant? Will there be one stone or more?

The article suggests a value of $2 million. I guess it will be bought by some anonymous collector or investor and not seen again for years. The days when celebrities would buy a big stone, or have one bought for them, seem to be over for now.

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What I’ve been reading – Fourth Saturday December 2018

This is a regular post I hope to continue every week. It will be a summary of the articles and books I’ve finished reading over the course of the week. It’s an off-topic break from book news and gemstone news.

An amount of image-polishing for Prince Charles and Camilla is underway with an article in Vanity Fair by James Reginato. It paints Charles as a hardworking visionary who has always been a few decades ahead of his time. He hasn’t been sitting around waiting for his inheritance but making work for himself. He is energetic and sets a strong intellectual and physical pace. Camilla is sensible and charming and they are madly in love with each other.

Australian poet, Gerard Murnane, is virtually unknown in his homeland. This isn’t an unusual thing for Australians. Yet some are touting him as a potential Nobel Prize winner. Mark Binnelli of the New York Times went to visit him and hang out for a few days. Murnane’s lifestyle seems unextraordinary, but what would you expect of a poet? Well, maybe a bit of hobnobbing with other poets? Sounds awful, no wonder he’s exiled himself to a little country town. Apparently, he doesn’t like to travel much, so he won’t be going to Stockholm to pick up his prize. At least he does a bit of community work, so he’s a poet with some useful skills

It seems evolution is not solely about ‘survival of the fittest’. Collaboration between species is often more beneficial for all concerned than outright competition. Kelly Clancey’s article in Nautilus explains. Come to think of it, the same is true in human society.

Michael Herr’s memoir of his friendship with Stanley Kubrick in Vanity Fair, written just after the director’s death. It’s an insight into how it must have been to work with the great director. But unfortunately, it doesn’t shed much light on the films themselves. Anyone who hadn’t seen any of Kubrick’s films would come away from reading it thinking he only wrote for the money when it’s clearly not so. Still, it goes some way to helping us acknowledge the huge intellect and restless energy of Kubrick. He died far too young.


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Biancabella and the Snake

This is the original translation of Straparola’s story, which I referred to in my book, Known Only to Kings. I leave it here for those who are interested, however I don’t consider it to be suitable for young readers as they may not fully understand some of the events:

Biancabella, the daughter of Lamberico, the Marquis of Monferrato, is sent away by the stepmother of Ferrandino, King of Naples, in order that she may be put to death; but the assassins only cut off her hands and put out her eyes. Afterwards she, her hurts having been healed by a snake, returns happily to Ferrandino.

IT is praiseworthy, or even absolutely necessary, that a woman, of whatever state or condition she may be, should bear herself with prudence in each and every undertaking she may essay, for without prudence nothing will bring itself to a c6mmendat issue. And if a certain stepmother, of whom I am about to tell you, had used it with due moderation when she plotted wickedly to take another’s life, she would not herself have been cut off by divine judgment in such fashion as I will now relate to you.

Once upon a time, now many years ago there reigned in Monferrato a marquis called Lamberico, very puissant, both on account of his lordships and his great wealth, but wanting in children to carry on his name. He was, forsooth, mighty anxious for progeny, but this bounty of heaven was denied to him. Now one day it chanced that the marchioness his wife was walking for her pleasure in the palace garden, and, being suddenly overcome by sleep, she sat down at the foot of a tree and slumber fell upon her. While she slept gently there crept up to her side a very small snake, which, having passed stealthily under her clothes without arousing her by its presence, made its way into her body, and by subtle windings penetrated even into her womb, and there lay quiet. Before long time had elapsed the marchioness, with no small pleasure to herself, and with the highest delight of all the state, proved to be with child, and, when the season of her lying-in came, she was delivered of a female child, round the neck of which there was coiled three times something in the similitude of a serpent. When the midwives, who were in attendance upon the marchioness, saw this, they were much affrighted; but the snake, without causing any hurt whatsoever, untwined itself from the infant’s neck, and, winding itself along the floor and stretching itself out, made its way into the garden.

Now when the child had been duly cared for and clothed, the nurses having washed it clean in a bath of clear water and swathed it in snow-white linen, they began to see, little by little, that round about its neck was a collar of gold, fashioned with the most subtle handiwork. So fine was it, and so lovely, that it seemed to shed its lustre from between the skin and the flesh, just as the most precious jewels are wont to shine out from a closure of transparent crystal, and, moreover, it encircled the neck of the infant just as many times as the little serpent had cast its fold thereabout. The little girl, to whom, on account of her exceeding loveliness, the name of Biancabella was given, grew up in such goodliness and beauty that it seemed as if she must be sprung from divine and not from human stock. When she had come to the age of ten years it chanced that one day she went with her nurse upon a terrace, from whence she ob served a fair garden full of roses and all manner of other lovely flowers. Then, turning towards the nurse who had her in charge, she demanded of her what garden that was which she had never seen before. To this the nurse replied that it was a place which her mother called her own garden, and one, more over, in which she was wont often to take her recreation. Then said the child to her: ‘I have never seen any thing so fair before, and I had fain go into it and walk there.’ Then the nurse, taking Biancabella by the hand, led her into the garden, and, having suffered the child to go a little distance apart from her, she sat down under the shade of a leafy beech-tree and settled herself to sleep, letting the little girl take her pleasure the while in roaming about the garden. Biancabella, who was altogether charmed with the loveliness of the place, ran about, now here and now there, gathering flowers, and, at last, when she felt somewhat tired, she sat down under the shadow of a tree. Now scarcely had the child seated herself upon the ground when there appeared a little snake, which crept up close to her side. Biancabella, as soon as she saw the beast, was mightily alarmed, and was about to cry out, when the snake thus addressed her: ‘Cry not, I beg you, neither disturb yourself, nor have any fear, for know that I am your sister, born on the same day as yourself and at the same birth, and that Samaritana is my name. And I now tell you that, if you will be obedient to what I shall command you, I will make you happy in your life; but if, on the other hand, you disobey me, you will come to be the most luckless, the most wretched woman the world has ever yet seen. Wherefore, go your way now, without fear of any sort, and to-morrow cause to be brought into this garden two vessels, of which let one be filled with pure milk, and the other with the finest water of roses. Then you must come to me by yourself without companions.’

When the serpent was gone the little girl rose up from her seat and went back to seek her nurse, whom she found still sleeping, and, having aroused her, she returned with her to the palace without saying aught of what had befallen her. And when the morrow had come Biancabella chanced to be with her mother alone in the chamber, and the mother remarked that the child bore upon her face a melancholy look. Whereupon she said: ‘Biancabella, what ails you that you put on so discontented a face? You are wont to be lively and merry enough, but now you seem all sad and woebegone.’ To this Biancabella replied: ‘There is nothing amiss with me; it is only that I want to have taken into the garden two vessels, of which one shall be filled with pure milk and the other of the finest water of roses.’ The mother answered: ‘And why do you let your self be troubled by so small a matter as this, my child? Do you not know that everything here belongs to you?’ Then the marchioness caused to be brought to her two vessels, large and beautiful, filled, the one with milk and the other with rose water, and had them carried into the garden.

When the hour appointed by the serpent had come, Biancabella, without taking any other damsel to bear her company, repaired to the garden, and, having opened the door thereof, she went in and made fast the entrance, and then seated herself upon the ground at the spot where the two vessels had been placed. Almost as soon as she had sat down the serpent appeared and came near her, and straightway commanded her to strip off all her clothes, and then, naked as she was, to step into the vessel which was filled with milk. When she had done this, the serpent twined itself about her, thus bathing her body in every part with the white milk and licking her all over with his tongue, rendering her pure and perfect in every part where, peradventure, aught that was faulty might have been found. Next, having bid her come out of the vessel of milk, the ser pent made her enter the one which was filled with rose water, whereupon all her limbs were scented with odours so sweet and restorative that she felt as if she were filled with fresh life. Then the serpent bade her put on her clothes Once more, giving her at the same time ex press command that she should hold her peace as to what had befallen her, and to speak no word thereanent even to her father and mother. For the serpent willed that no other woman in all the world should be found to equal Biancabella in beauty or in grace. And finally, after she had bestowed upon her every good quality, the serpent crept away to its hiding-place.

When this was done Biancabella left the garden and returned to the palace. Her mother, when she perceived how her daughter had become more lovely and gracious than ever, and fairer than any other damsel in the world, was astonished beyond measure and knew not what to say. Wherefore she questioned the young girl as to what she had done to indue herself with such surpassing loveliness; but Biancabella had no answer to give her. Hereupon the marchioness took a comb and began to comb and dress her daughter’s fair locks, and forthwith from the girl’s hair there fell down pearls and all manner of precious stones, and when Biancabella went to ‘wash her hands roses and violets and lovely flowers of all sorts sprang up around them, and the odours which arose from these were so sweet that it seemed as if the place had indeed become an earthly paradise. Her mother, when she saw this marvel, ran to find Lamberico her husband, and, full of maternal pride, ,thus addressed him: ‘My lord, heaven has bestowed upon us a daughter who is the sweetest, the loveliest, and the most exquisite work nature ever produced.
For besides the divine beauty and grace in her, which is manifest to all eyes, pearls and gems and all other kinds of precious stones fall from her hair, and- to name something yet more marvellous-round about her white hands spring up roses and violets and all manner of flowers which give out the sweetest odours to all those who may come near her to wonder at the sight. All this I tell to you I assuredly would never have believed had I not looked thereon with my own eyes.

Her husband, who was of an unbelieving nature, was at first disinclined to put faith in his wife’s words, and treated her speech as a subject for laughter and ridicule, but she went on plying him without ceasing with accounts of what she had witnessed, so that he determined to see for himself how the matter really stood. Then, having made them bring his daughter into his presence, he found about her even more marvellous things than his wife had described, and on ac count of what he saw he rejoiced exceedingly, and in his pride swore a great oath that there was in the whole world no man worthy to be united to her in wedlock.

Very soon the fame and glory of the supreme and immortal beauty of Biancabella began to spread itself through the whole world, and many kings and princes and nobles came together from all parts in order to win her love and favour and have her to wife, but not one of all these suitors was counted worthy to enjoy her, inasmuch as each one of them proved to be lacking in respect of one thing or another. But at last one day there came a-wooing Ferrandino, King of Naples, who by his prowess and by his illustrious name blazed out resplendent like the sun in the midst of the smaller luminaries, and, having presented himself to the marquis, demanded of him the hand of his daughter in marriage. The marquis, seeing that the suitor was seemly of countenance, and well knit in person, and ft of grace, besides being a prince of great power and possessions and wealth, gave his consent to the nuptials at once, and, having summoned his daughter, without further parleying the two were betrothed by joining of hands and by kissing one another.

Scarcely were the rites of betrothal completed, when Biancabella called back to mind the words which her sister Samaritana had so lovingly spoken to her, wherefore she withdrew herself from the presence of her spouse under the pretext that she had certain business of her own to see to, and, having gone to her own chamber, made fast the door thereof from within, and then passed by a secret thoroughfare into the garden. When she had come into the garden, she began to call upon Samaritana in a low voice. But the serpent no more manifested herself as heretofore, and Biancabella, when she perceived this, was mightily astonished, and, after she had searched through every part of the garden without finding a trace of Samaritana, a deep grief fell upon her, for she knew that this thing had happened to her because she had not given due attention and obedience to the commands which her sister had laid upon her. Wherefore, grieving and bewailing heavily on account of the mischance that had befallen her, she returned into her chamber, and having opened the door, she went to rejoin her spouse, who had been waiting a long time for her, and sat own beside him. When the marriage ceremonies were completed, Ferrandino led his bride away with him to Naples, where, with sumptuous state and magnificent festivities and the sound of trumpets they were welcomed by the whole city with the highest honour.

It happened that there was living at Naples Ferrandino’s stepmother, who had two daughters of her own, both of hem deformed and ugly; but, notwithstanding this, she had set her heart on marrying one of them to the king. But now, when all hope was taken from her fever accomplishing this design of hers, her rage and anger against Biancabella became so savage that she could scarcely endure to look upon her. But she was careful to conceal her animosity, feigning the while to hold Biancabella in all love and affection. Now by a certain freak of fortune the King of Tunis at this time began to set in array a mighty force of armed men for service by land and like wise on sea, in order that he might in cite Ferrandino to make war (whether he did this because Ferrandino had won Biancabella to wife, or for some other reason I know not), and at the head of a very powerful army he had already passed the bounds of the kingdom of Naples. On this account it was necessary that Ferrandino should straightway take up arms for the defence of his realm, and hurry to the field to confront his foe. Therefore, having settled his affairs, and made provision of all things necessary for Biancabella (she being now with child), he gave her over to the care of his step mother and set forth with his army.

Ferrandino had not long departed when this malevolent and forward – minded woman made a wicked design on Biancabella’s life, and, having summoned into her presence certain retainers who were entirely devoted to her, she charged them to conduct Biancabella with them to some place or other – feigning that what they were doing was done for her recreation and that they should not leave her ‘until they had taken her life. More over, in order that she might be fully assured that they had discharged their duty, they were to bring back to her some sign of Biancabella’s death. These ruffians prompt for any sort of ill-doing, at once prepared to carry out the commands of their mistress, and making pretence of conducting Biancabella to some place where she might recreate herself, they carried her away into a wood, and forthwith began to make preparation to kill her. But when they perceived how lovely she was, and gracious, they were moved to pity and had not the heart to take her life. So they cut off both her ands and tore her eyes out of her head, ad these they carried back to the stepmother as certain proofs that Biancabella had been killed by them. When this impious and cruel woman saw what they brought in their hands, her joy and satisfaction were unbounded, and, scheming still in her wicked heart to carry out her nefarious designs, she spread through all the kingdom a report that both her own daughters were dead, the one of a continued fever, and the other of an imposthume of the heart, which had caused her death by suffocation. Moreover, she went on to declare that Biancabella, disordered by grief at the king’s departure, had miscarried of a child, and had like wise been seized with a tertian fever which had wasted her so cruelly that there was more cause to fear her death than to hope for her recovery. But the scheme of this wicked cunning woman was to keep one of her own daughters in the king’s bed, maintaining the while that she was Biancabella, shrunken and distempered by the fever.

Ferrandino, after he had attacked and put to rout the army of his foe, marched homeward in all the triumph of victory, hoping to find his beloved Biancabella full of joy and happiness, but in lieu of this he found her (as he believed) lying in bed shrivelled, pale, and disfigured. Then he went up to the bed and gazed closely at her face, and was overcome with astonishment when he looked upon the wreck she had become, and could hardly persuade himself that the woman he saw there could really be Biancabella. Afterwards he bade her attendants comb her hair, and, in place of the gems and the precious jewels which were wont to fall from the fair locks of his wife, there came forth great worms which had been feeding on the wretched woman’s flesh, and from the hands there came forth, not the roses and the sweet-smelling flowers which ever sprang up around Biancabella’s, but a foulness and filth which caused a nauseous sickness to all who came near her. But the wicked old stepmother kept on speaking words of consolation to him, declaring that all this distemper sprang from nothing else than the lengthened course of the ailment which possessed her.

In the meantime the ill-fated Biancabella, bereft of her hands and blind in both her eyes, was left alone in that solitary place, and, finding herself in such cruel affliction, she called over and over again upon her sister Samaritana, beseeching her to come to her rescue; but no answer came to her except from the re sounding voice of Echo, who cried aloud through all the place. And while the un happy Biancabella was left in the agony of despair, conscious that she was cut off from all human aid, there came into the wood a venerable old man, kindly of aspect and no less kindly in his heart. And he, when he listened to the sad and mournful voice which smote upon his hearing, made his way step by step to wards the place whence it came, and stopped when he found there a blind lady with her hands cut off who was bitterly mourning the sad fate which had overtaken her. When the good old man looked upon her, and saw how sad was her condition, he could not bear to leave her thus in this wilderness of broken trees and thorns and brambles, but, over come by the fatherly pity within him, he led her home with him to his house, and gave her into the charge of his wife, commanding her very strictly to take good care of the sufferer. Then he turned towards his three daughters, who verily were as beautiful as three of the brightest stars of heaven, and exhorted them earnestly to keep her company, and to render to her continually any loving service she might require, and to take care that she wanted for nothing. But the wife, who had a hard heart, and none of the old man’s pity, was violently moved to anger by these words of her husband, and, turning towards him, cried out: ‘Husband, what is this you would have us do with this woman, all blind and maimed as she is? Doubtless she has been thus treated as a punishment for her sins, and for no good behaviour.’ In reply to this speech the old man spake in an angry tone: ‘You will carry out all the commands I give you. If you should do aught else, you need not look to see me here again.’

It happened that while the unhappy Biancabella was left in charge of the wife and the three daughters, conversing with them of various things, and meditating over her own great misfortunes, she be sought one of the maidens to do her a favour and comb her hair a little. But when the mother heard this she was much angered, forasmuch as she would not al low either of her children to minister in any way to the unfortunate sufferer. But the daughter’s heart was more given to pity than was her mother’s, and more over she called to mind what her father’s commands had been, and was conscious of some subtle air of dignity and high breeding which seemed to emanate from Biancabella as a token of her lofty estate. So she straightway unfastened the apron from her waist, and, having spread it on the floor beside Biancabella, began to comb her hair softly and carefully. Scarcely had she passed the comb thrice through the blond tresses before there fell out of them pearls and rubies and diamonds and all sorts of precious stones. Now the mother, when she saw what had happened, was seized with dread, and stood as one struck with amazement; moreover, the great dislike which at first she had harboured towards Biancabella, now gave way to a feeling of kindly affection. And when the old man had come back to the house they all ran to embrace him, rejoicing with him greatly over the stroke of good fortune which had come to deliver them from the bitter poverty which had hitherto oppressed. Then Biancabella asked them to bring her a bucket of clear water, and bade them wash therewith her face and her maimed arms, and from these, while all were standing by, roses and violets and other flowers in great plenty fell down; whereupon they all deemed she must be some divine personage, and no mortal woman.

Now after a season it came to pass that Biancabella felt a desire to return to the spot where first the old man had found her. But he and his wife and his daughters, seeing how great were the benefits they gathered from her presence, loaded her with endearments, and besought her very earnestly that she would on no ac count depart from them, bringing for ward many reasons why she should not carry out her wish. But she, having resolutely made up her mind on this point, determined at all hazards to go away, promising at the same time to return to them hereafter. The old man, when he saw how firmly she was set on her departure, took her with him without any further delay back to the place where he had come upon her. And when they had reached this spot she gave directions to the old man that he should depart and leave her, bidding him also to come back there when evening should have fallen, in order that she might return with him to his house.

As soon as the old man had gone his way the ill-fated Biancabella began to wander up and down the gloomy wood, calling loudly upon Samaritana, so that her cries and lamentations rose up even to the high heavens. But Samaritana, though she was all the while nigh to her sister, and had never for one moment abandoned her, refused as yet to answer to her call. Whereupon the wretched Biancabella, deeming that she was scattering her words upon the heedless winds, cried out, ‘Alas! what further concern have I in this world, seeing that I have been bereft of my eyes and of my hands, and now at last all human help is denied to me.’ And as she thus spoke there came upon her a sort of frenzy, which took away from her all hope of deliverance from her present evil case, and urged her, in despair, to lay hands upon her own life. But because there was at hand no means by which she could put an end to her miserable being, she found her way to a pool of water, which lay not far distant, in the mind there to drown herself. But when she had come to the shore of the pool, and stood thereon ready to cast herself down into the water, there sounded in her ears a voice like thunder, saying: ‘Alas, alas, wretched one! keep back from self-murder, nor desire to take your own life, which you ought to preserve for some better end.’ Whereupon Biancabella, alarmed by this mighty voice, felt as it were every one of her hairs standing erect on her head, but after a moment it seemed to her that she knew the voice; so, having plucked up a little courage, she said: ‘Who are you who wander about these woods, pro claiming your presence to me by your kindly and pitiful words?’ Then the same voice replied: ‘I am Samaritana, your sister, for whom you have been calling so long and painfully.’ And Biancabella, when she listened to these words, answered in a voice all broken by agonized sobs, and said: ‘Alas, my sister! come to my aid, I beseech you; and if at any past time I have shown myself disregard of your counsel, I pray you to pardon me. Indeed I have erred, and I confess my fault, but my misdeed was the fruit of my ignorance, and not of my wickedness; for be sure, if it had come from wickedness, divine justice would not have suffered me, as the author of it, so long to cumber the earth.’ Samaritana, when she heard her sister’s woes set forth in this pitiful story, and witnessed the cruel wrongs that had been done her, spake some comforting words, and then, having gathered divers medicinal herbs of wonderful power and virtue, she spread these over the places where Biancabella’s eyes had been. Then she brought to her sister two hands, and having joined these on to the wounded wrists, at once made them whole and sound again. And when she had wrought this marvellous feat Samaritana threw off from herself the scaly skin of the serpent, and stood revealed as a maiden of lovely aspect.

The sun had already begun to veil its glittering rays, and the evening shadows were creeping around, when the old man with anxious hasty steps returned to the wood, where he found Biancabella sit ting beside a maiden well nigh as lovely as herself. And he gazed steadily into her beauteous face, standing the while like to a man struck with wonder, and could scarcely believe it was Biancabella he looked upon. But when he was sure it was really she, he cried: ‘My daughter, were you not this morning blind and bereft of your hands? How comes it that you have been thus speedily made whole again?’ Biancabella answered him: C My cure has been worked, not by anything I myself have done, but by the virtue and the kind ministering of this my dear sister who sits here beside me.’ Where upon both the sisters arose from the place where they were seated, and rejoicing greatly they went together with the old man to his house, where the wife and the three daughters gave them a most loving and hospitable welcome.

It came to pass after the lapse of many days that Samaritana and Biancabella, and the old man with his wife and his three daughters, left their cottage and betook themselves to the city of Naples, purposing to dwell there, and, when they had entered the city, they chanced to come upon a vacant space hard by the palace of the king, where they determined to make their resting-place. And when the dark night had fallen around them, Samaritana took in her hand a twig of laurel and thrice struck the earth there with, uttering certain mystic words the while, and almost before the sound of these words had ceased there sprang up forthwith before them a palace, the most beautiful and sumptuous that ever was seen. The next morning Ferrandino the king went early to look out of the window, and when he beheld the rich and marvellous palace standing where there had been nothing the night before, he was altogether overcome with amazement, and called his wife and his stepmother to come and see it; but these were greatly disturbed in mind at the sight thereof, for a boding came upon them that some ill was about to befall them.
While Ferrandino was standing, scanning closely the palace before him, and examining it in all parts, he lifted his eyes to a certain window, and there, in the chamber inside, he beheld two ladies of a beauty more rich and dazzling than the sun. And no sooner had his eyes fallen upon them than he felt a tempest of passion rising in his heart, for he assuredly recognized in one of them some similitude of that loveliness which had once been Biancabella’s. And when he asked who they were, and from what land they had come, the answer which was given him was that they were two ladies who had been exiled from their home, and that they had journeyed from Persia, with all their possessions, to take up their abode in the noble city of Naples. When he heard this, Ferrandino sent a messenger to inquire whether he would be doing them any pleasure in waiting upon them, accompanied by the ladies of his court, to pay them a visit of welcome, and to this gracious message they sent an answer, saying that it would indeed be a very precious honour to be thus visited by him, but that it would be more decorous and respectful if they, as subjects, should pay this duty to him, than that he, as lord and king, should visit them.

Hereupon Ferrandino bade them summon the queen and the other ladies of the court, and with these (although at first they refused to go, being so greatly in fear of their impending ruin) he be took himself to the palace of the two ladies, who, with all friendly signs of welcome and with modest bearing, gave him the reception due to a highly honoured guest, showing him the wide loggias, and the roomy halls, and the richly ornamented chambers, the walls of which were lined with alabaster and fine porphyry, while about them were to be seen on all sides carven figures which looked like life. And when they had exhibited to the king all parts of the sumptuous palace, the two fair young women approached Ferrandino and besought him most gracefully that he would deign to come one day with his queen and dine at their table. The king, whose heart was not hard enough to remain unaffected by all he had seen, and who was gifted moreover with a magnanimous and liberal spirit, graciously accepted the invitation. And when he had tendered his thanks to the two ladies for the noble welcome they had given him, he and the queen departed together and returned to their own palace. When the day fixed for the banquet had come, the king and the queen and the stepmother, clad in their royal robes and accompanied by some of the ladies of the court, went to do honour to the magnificent feast set out in the most sumptuous fashion. And after he had given them water to wash their hands, the seneschal bade them con duct the king and queen to a table apart, set somewhat higher, but at the same time near to the others, and having done this, he caused all the rest of the guests to seat themselves according to their rank, and in this fashion they all feasted merrily and joyfully together.

When the stately feast had come to an end and the tables had been cleared, Samaritana rose from her seat, and turning towards the king and the queen, spake thus: ‘Your majesties, in order that the time may not be irksome to us, as it may if we sit here idle, let one or other of us propose something in the way of diversion which will let us pass the day pleasantly.’ And when the guests heard what Samaritana said, they all agreed that she had spoken well, but yet there was found no one bold enough to make such a pro position as she had called for. Where upon Samaritana, when she perceived they were all silent, went on: ‘Since it appears that no one of this company is prepared to put forward anything, I, with your majesty’s leave, will bid come hither one of our own maidens, whose singing perchance will give you no little pleasure.’ And having summoned the damsel, whose name was Silveria, into the banqueting-room, Samaritana commanded her to take a lyre in her hand and to sing thereto something in honour of the king which should be worthy of their praise. And the damsel, obedient to her lady’s command, took her lyre, and, having placed herself before the king, sang in a soft and pleasant voice while she touched the resounding strings with the plectrum, telling in her chant the story of Biancabella from beginning to end, but not mentioning her by name. When the whole of the story had been set forth, Samaritana again rose to her feet, and demanded of the king what would be the fitting punishment, what torture would be cruel enough for those who had put their hands to such an execrable crime. Then the stepmother, who deemed that she might perchance get a release for her misdeeds by a prompt and ready reply, did not wait for the king to give his answer, but cried out in a bold and confident tone, ‘Surely to be cast into a furnace heated red hot would be but a light punishment for the offences of such a one.’ Then Samaritana, with her countenance all afire with vengeance and anger, made answer to her: ‘Thou thyself art the very same guilty and barbarous woman, through whose nefarious working all these cruel wrongs have been done; and thou, wicked and accursed one, hast condemned thyself to a righteous penalty out of thine own mouth.’ Then Samaritana, turning towards the king with a look of joy upon her face, said to him, ‘Behold! this is your Biancabella, this is the wife you loved so dearly, this is she without whom you could not live.’ Then, to prove the truth of her words, Samaritana gave the word to the three daughters of the old man that they should forthwith, in the presence of the king, begin to comb Biancabella’s fair and wavy hair, and scarcely had they be gun when (as has been told before) there fell out of her tresses many very precious and exquisite jewels, and from her hands came forth roses exhaling the sweet scents of morning, and all manner of odoriferous flowers. And for yet greater certainty she pointed out to the king how the snow-white neck of Biancabella was encircled by a fine chain of the most delicately wrought gold, which grew naturally between the skin and the flesh, and shone out as through the clearest crystal.

When the king perceived by these manifest and convincing signs that she was indeed his own Biancabella, he began to weep for the joy he felt, and to embrace her tenderly. But before he left that place he caused to be heated hot a furnace, and into this he bade them cast the stepmother and her two daughters. Thus their repentance for their crimes came too late, and they made a miserable end to their lives. And after this the three daughters of the old man were given honourably in marriage, and the King Ferrandino with Biancabella and Samaritana lived long and happily, and when Ferrandino died his son succeeded to his kingdom.

Straparola, Giovanni Francesco. The Facetious Nights by Straparola. W. G. Waters, translator. Jules Garnier and E. R. Hughes, illustrators. London: Privately Printed for Members of the Society of Bibliophiles, 1901. 4 volumes.

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Raw Footage of De Beers Diamond Sorting Rooms

Journeyman Pictures has dumped a quarter hour’s worth of unedited footage of a tour of De Beers’ sorting rooms by a Namibian Prime Ministerial delegation in 2000.

It gives a rare look into how they sort rough diamonds by machine and by hand. We also see diamonds being marked up for cutting.

This is followed by the display of a huge cut diamond, then an interview with an executive about the problems of illegal diamond mining and smuggling from Angola. He talks about the impact of additional supply on the market and the difficulty they have in maintaining an orderly price.

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Diamonds in the Movies – a Select List

Jewellers have a long association with Hollywood. Prestige jewellers began opening branches there in the 1930’s not only to serve the wealthy film stars and producers but also for the influence and recognition their placement of jewellery in the movies themselves would bring. It is quite possible that De Beers also had a hand in squeezing out pearls and emeralds in favour of diamonds as the gemstone most likely to be featured in most films as the preferred gift of a love token.

Somehow diamonds looked their best in the black and white films. I assume the harsh lighting made them really sparkle. From the silent era onwards, actresses made a point of wearing real diamond jewellery on set. This helped publicise the film and it also gave Hollywood reporters something to write about. This seems to be less of a thing these days, and let’s face it – Hollywood doesn’t have the glamour it once had. But diamond jewellery remains prominent in red carpet parades at award ceremonies.

Here is a select listing of movies that featured diamonds either as the main theme or used in interesting ways:

The Master Crook Outwitted by a Child (1914). A diamond is planted on an orphan fruit seller. Perhaps the earliest film involving diamonds? Sounds charming.

You’d Be Surprised (1926). A spoof on the detective mystery genre. A diamond has been stolen and the District Attorney puts a box on the table and turns the lights out so the thief can return it anonymously. But when the lights are turned on the box has been stolen and the DA stabbed to death. Characters are accused without evidence or any logical basis until one is randomly chosen as the murderer, again for no apparent reason. It was the inspiration for the board game Cluedo, or Clue, with characters named Inspector Brown, Mr White etc.

The Big Diamond Robbery (1929). Stars Tom Mix in his last silent film.

She Done Him Wrong (1933). Mae West, as Diamond Lou the saloon singer, literally sparkles with diamonds given to her by the men she’s had in her life, each of them low life petty criminals. The diamonds are her pension plan but she gives them up for a Salvation Army missionary played by Cary Grant, who she ultimately marries. As he places the tiny diamond ring on her finger next to her other massive stones he says “you are my prisoner”. This movie is famous for Mae West’s line “come up and see me sometime”, but the actual words are “why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”

Ninotchka (1939). Greta Garbo is a Soviet diplomat who goes to Paris to sell a diamond tiara confiscated by the state from a duchess. She hopes to raise enough money to buy grain for her starving people.

Lifeboat (1944). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Tallulah Bankhead uses her diamond bracelet as fish bait.

Gilda (1946). Rita Hayworth uses her diamond necklace as a prop during her striptease scene to the tune of “Put the Blame on Mame”.

Crime on their Hands (1948). Not an early Three Stooges short, but quite good. At seventeen minutes it’s about three minutes too long. The Stooges are janitors at a newspaper office who get a phone tip off about a diamond theft. They take it upon themselves to go undercover and solve the crime. Shemp accidentally swallows a diamond hidden in a bowl of candy and the thieves want to cut it out of him. Among the mayhem there is a gorilla, which is always entertaining.

Malice in the Palace (1949). The Three Stooges again. This time hunting the stolen ‘Rootin Tootin Diamond’. Don’t blame me if you watch it.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe’s character collects diamond jewellery from her gentleman admirers as insurance for a future when she has lost her good looks. She proves not to be materialistic though, when she falls in love with a millionaire without realising who he is.

To Catch a Thief (1955). Cary Grant plays a retired cat burglar who is falsely accused of a spate of thefts on the French Riviera. Grace Kelly is a newly rich heiress attracted to dangerous men, and therefore Grant. She wears no diamonds throughout the movie except in one scene where she seduces him, he identifies the diamonds as paste. Contrasting the authentic with the false is a major theme of this romance.

The Pink Panther (1963). Cat burglar Charles Litton, played by David Niven, attempts to seduce a princess played by Claudia Cardinale in order to steal the Pink Panther diamond. Instead she charms him as she lies on a tiger skin rug sipping champagne and talking delightful nonsense. As a ‘virgin princess’ the tiger links her symbolically to the diamond, a symbol of purity. Peter Sellers plays Inspector Clauseau, a complete failure in the bedroom who becomes a sex symbol when he is falsely accused of being the diamond thief. The later Pink Panther films are more fun, in my opinion.

Marathon Man (1976). Dustin Hoffman throws handfuls of diamonds at a former Nazi death camp commandant (played by Sir Laurence Olivier), saying “you can keep as many as you can eat”.

The Moderns (1988). An underrated film which explores the notions of the fake versus the authentic. Linda Fiorentino, at a bar, exchanges her diamond earring for a glass of whiskey.

Reservoir Dogs (1992). A film about a diamond heist gone wrong. It goes well for Mr Pink, though, who makes off with the diamonds just before the police close in. Directed by Quentin Tarentino who homages everything, it was only a matter of time before diamonds showed up in one of his films.

Schindler’s List (1993). Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, pours out a mound of diamonds on a Nazi’s desk in exchange for the lives of a trainload of Jews.

Die Another Day (2002).

Blood Diamonds (2006). Leonardo De Caprio plays a South African soldier of fortune and diamond smuggler who helps a fisherman recover an enormous pink diamond he hid while working as a slave in a diamond mine in Sierra Leone. For a fisherman, he has an incredibly charmed life. He narrowly avoids having his hands chopped off by the rebel soldiers after they capture his village, but there seems no reason why he should be spared and others punished. He finds the massive diamond and not only manages to hide it but also escapes from the mine unharmed. He gets a job as a porter at a fancy hotel, why he didn’t take that job in the first place and avoid having to fish for a living is not explained. He wades through the movie unharmed, in fact going from strength to strength, as bullets fly around him and everyone he meets suffers and usually dies. Except for members of his immediate family, who come out of the civil war virtually unharmed. It is never explained why merely finding the diamond makes it morally his property instead of the owners of the mine, even if he was working as a slave at the time. That’s Hollywood.

It’s an action adventure film which showcases some of the worst abuses in Sierra Leone during their nasty civil war. It was the film which did more than any other media to bring the problem of conflict diamonds to the public consciousness in the West.

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Diamonds in English Literature – Twentieth Century Novels and Short Stories

King Solomon’s Mines. H Rider Haggard
The climax of this novel has the heroes finding a secret cave filled with gold, diamonds and other treasure. But they are trapped in the cave when the evil witch doctor closes the heavy stone door on them. I hope I’m not giving too much away by telling you they manage to find a way out, pockets filled with diamonds that allow them to spend the rest of their lives in luxury.

While the idea of lost worlds, vaults filled with treasure and heroes almost getting trapped in them, seems worn-out these days, Haggard invented the genre with this novel. The only precedent I can think of is Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Since this novel was published, many have copied Haggard and at least six films have been made based on this story and its hero, Alan Quartermain.

The Diamond of Kali. O. Henry
A newspaper reporter is reluctantly sent to interview a retired British general. The general regales him with a story about how he seized a blue diamond which had been stolen from an Indian temple of the goddess Kali. Followers of Kali were infamous for their practice of ritual murder. The general relates how he has been attacked on many occasions by members of the Kali cult, sent to retrieve the diamond. The story dissolves into farce as it emerges that the general is paranoid yet has been flaunting the stone in the street for all to see. There are satirical references which would require someone familiar with the history of New York in the early 1900’s to recognise.

In his semi-autobiographical story “The Making of a New Yorker”, O. Henry says that he found the city “as cold, glittering, serene, impossible as a four-carat diamond in a window to a lover outside fingering damply in his pocket his ribbon-counter salary.”

The Diamond as big as the Ritz. F Scott Fitzgerald
In this short story a boy visits his friend’s family during a school holiday. The family live in a hidden valley, kept secret to hide the diamond this story is named after. They are guarded and served by a tribe of negro slaves who were never informed that the North had won the American Civil War. Thanks to the sale of parts of the diamond, the family is fantastically rich and live a life of impossible and impractical luxury.

Their only fear is discovery by the outside world. Once everyone knows there are so many diamonds, the value will drop to nothing and they will be ruined. For this reason they conspire to alter geological survey maps and even shoot down airplanes which happen to stray into their airspace. They keep a collection of pilots whose planes have been shot down, in a pit in the middle of the father’s golf course (which, apart from the pilot pit, has no sand traps or obstacles to spoil a pleasant round of golf).

After enjoying the company of their visitors, the family has them quietly murdered so their secret does not leak out. On the night our hero is supposed to die however, there is an attack on the mansion lead by one pilot who managed to escape.

A dated fantasy, but interesting to read what a writer from a hundred years ago thought was the pinnacle of luxury. As if owning diamonds were not enough, the family patriarch invests the proceeds of the sales of his diamonds into huge quantities of the most valuable thing known to man at the time – radium!

I’m not sure if even a diamond the size of a hotel would be enough to depress diamond prices for much more than a few years, considering that many tons are sold each year to satisfy the world’s demand.

The Diamond of Jeru. Louis L’Amour.
L’Amour is better known for his westerns. This crackerjack story is set deep in the heart of tropical Borneo. A bandit discovers a big black diamond. But instead of cashing it in at the nearest trading post and living happily ever after, he uses it to entice prospectors, travellers and anyone who takes an interest to go with him on his longboat to see the source of the diamond and endless wealth.

Once they reach his bandit kingdom, they are murdered for their belongings and he shrinks their heads to decorate his longhouse. He conducts his business in this way for a number of years until… well, all good things come to an end, but I won’t tell you how.

How many of us are enticed by someone’s attractive quality or the dream they weave for us, so that we follow them into buying things we don’t need, or making bad investments? Another head for them, swinging in the breeze? All of us, I’m sure.

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Diamonds in English Literature – Victorian Novelists and Poets

The Diamond Necklace. Thomas Carlyle
At a time when scientists were just beginning to understand gemstones and how they form, writers were experimenting with ideas that we now call ‘new age’. Spiritualism, Eastern mysticism, even fairies were catching not only the public’s attention but also intellectuals.

Thomas Carlyle was a philosopher and writer. The Diamond Necklace is an essay in which he relates the story of the affair of the diamond necklace which the French queen, Marie Antoinette, was accused of stealing. Like many writers at this time, he writes as if the diamonds have feelings and are able to influence human thoughts and actions, even to take actions themselves.

The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins
In 1799 a British soldier kills three temple guards in order to steal a huge yellow diamond from a statue of Vishnu. He returns to England with a fortune but is not accepted into decent society. When he dies the diamond passes to his niece, Rachel Verinder. However the gift is malicious as he knows the stone holds a curse on whoever owns it.

Rachel wears the diamond at her birthday party, at her family’s country estate, but the stone gives a sinister atmosphere as it replaces the ‘life and sparkle’ of the party. That night the diamond disappears and the local police are called in to investigate. They prove to be inept and are replaced by Sergeant Cuff from Scotland Yard. He is sacked when he suspects Rachel organised the theft for the insurance money.

The action moves to London, some people are murdered, others commit suicide. While all these things are going on, three mysterious Indian men lurk in the shadows of nearly every scene. Things become increasingly complicated as the narration moves from one character to another, some of whom may be lying, none of whom knows the full story. Rachel’s boyfriend is suspected of stealing the stone. Eventually Sergeant Cuff returns to the case and solves it.

The Indians turn out to be hereditary priestly guardians of the stone who have been tracking it in England for generations. They take the diamond back to India and return it to their temple.

While Charles Dickens is famous for being the most popular Victorian novelist, this novel was more popular at the time than anything Dickens wrote. It is most notable for being the first detective novel. In establishing the genre, Collins established many tropes which would later become cliches: the country house murder; the bumbling local police; the genius but eccentric detective; the detective who gets pulled off the case but solves it anyway; the red herring and many more. T.S. Eliot described it as “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels.”

The novel also includes the story of a diamond stolen from an idol. This theme was common in adventure stories involving large gemstones, and it was particularly common since the time gemstones started arriving in large quantities from British India. Yet there is little evidence for it ever happening. There is no tradition for gemstones to be implanted in the eye sockets of Indian statues. Surely the desecration of a religious image important enough to hold such a valuable stone would cause outrage among the community, causing even the colonial authorities to want to track down the perpetrator. In any case, I have not yet found any reliable historical record that shows that such a theft ever took place.

It has been suggested that the notion of damaging a ‘false idol’ is attractive to Protestants, who are mostly opposed to sacred images on the grounds that they are the worshipping of idols. This would explain why the story is so popular, even though it is untrue. Yet it does not explain why there would be a curse attached to the theft. If the god is ‘untrue’, how would it be able to exercise power in the material world? Perhaps some iconoclasts secretly wish for a spiritual element in their lives.

Although the stone in this story is a diamond, it is called the Moonstone. A moonstone is a different type of gemstone, a form of feldspar called adularia. It is notable for having a blue or white flash which is called schiller, or adularescence. it can also have a cat’s eye effect where a line of light reflects from a stone, like you see when light shines on an old dvd.

Collins combined the details of several real diamonds to construct his Moonstone. The Orloff was reputedly stolen from the eye socket of an Indian temple statue. A legend also places the Koh-i-Noor in the third eye of a statue of Shiva at one time although there is, again, no real proof of this. Collins is reported to have seen the 410 carat Pitt diamond, which proved to be a burden to its owner – Pitt complained of spending too much time and money on protecting a “too precious stone”. Finally, the Sancy Diamond, like Collins’ Moonstone, was stolen in an unsolved robbery and found its way back to India when it was purchased in 1965 by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy of Bombay.

I wonder if those South Asian nationalists who long for the Koh-i-Noor were inspired by Wilkie Collins’ novel.

The Eustace Diamonds. Anthony Trollope
Lizzie is a high spirited social climber with a habit of telling lies for her own amusement. She manages to marry Sir Florian Eustace, who has a much higher social position and wealth, but is also sickly. He allows her to wear a diamond necklace with a diamond-studded Maltese cross. But he warns her they are a family heirloom, only to be inherited by sons of the Eustace family. Sir Florian dies and Lizzie decides to keep the necklace for herself.

By tradition, the necklace should have gone to John Eustace, Sir Florian’s brother. The family lawyer makes strenuous efforts to retrieve the necklace. But this causes some embarassment to the family as Lizzie is also the mother of Sir Florian’s son, who is also entitled to an inheritance.

In the court case, the family claims the necklace is an heirloom and therefore should be passed down according to tradition, regardless of what the will says. The court decides it is not an heirloom but ‘paraphernalia’ (stuff, things) because gems are likely to be recut and reset and that would strip them of any sentimental value.

Although it is technically a win for Lizzie, the decision diminishes her social status. As the holder of an heirloom of a great family she held a higher social status than being the owner of mere ‘paraphernalia’. Furthermore, her obsession with the diamonds gets in the way of securing a new, high status, husband. The few decent men who she stands a chance of marrying are disgusted by her actions in relation to the jewels.

Afraid that the necklace could get stolen, Lizzie keeps it in a strongbox when she is travelling. One night she returns to her rooms to find the strongbox stolen. Police are called in but she does not reveal to them that she hid the necklace under her pillow and it is still, in fact, in her possession. Some time later the necklace really is stolen, but Lizzie maintains the lie that it was stolen previously. The police investigations gradually reveal the truth, which shames LIzzie further.

The thieves take the necklace to Vienna where it is taken apart and the diamonds recut. It then goes to Hamburg to be made into a new necklace and sold to a Russian princess. LIzzie finds a husband but he has a hidden past. It seems likely this past will catch up with him before long, which will lower Lizzie’s social status even further.

It seems to me the diamond necklace seems to share a similar fate to Lizzie. Her social standing is reduced in stages just as the necklace is degraded in steps, although the losses suffered do not happen simultaneously.

Victorian Poetry

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection. Gerald Manley Hopkins
Heraclitus is known as ‘the weeping philosopher’, because his vision of life is so gloomy. This poem has two parts, beginning with references to clouds and bodily flesh which is to be consumed by worms. The transition is marked by fire, which consumes everything but cannot harm a diamond. In the second part he refers to the resurrection and the diamond as a more permanent state, perhaps our true state. It reads:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is,
since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd,
patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Notice here the wordplay in the rhyme of ‘I am, and’; ‘diamond’; and ‘diamond’ and that ‘I am’ is part of the word ‘diamond’ itself. So through the resurrection he becomes immortal, like a diamond.

Hopkins died in 1889 at the age of 44, not long after he wrote this poem. But in contrast to Heraclitus, his last words were: “I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life”.

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Diamonds in English Literary Culture – Elizabethan Drama

Love’s Labour’s Lost. William Shakespeare
This play has an unusual ending for a Shakespearean comedy. Instead of every character getting married at the end, news of a death causes each couple to separate for a year. In the case of the King of Navarre and the French Princess, the King gives her a gift of diamonds. At the beginning of the final scene, the ladies enter –

Princess: Sweet hearts, we shall be rich ere we depart,
If fairiings come thus plentifully in:
A lady wall’d about with diamonds!
Look you what I have from the loving king.

Rosaline: Madame, came nothing else along with that?

Princess: Nothing but this! yes, as much love in rhyme
As would be cramm’d up in a sheet of paper,
Writ o’ both sides the leaf, margent and all,
That he was fain to seal on Cupid’s name.

So the Princess values the diamonds as a more important sign of the King’s love than the poem he wrote for her. This play was written in 1597, a hundred years after the first diamond engagement ring was given by Archduke Maximillian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy. So the association of diamonds with the promise of marriage seems to be more than an occasional thing among the European elite.

Cymbeline. William Shakespeare
A play set in Roman Britain, it has a complicated plot and critics either love it or hate it. But a diamond ring is at the centre of the plot. Cymbeline is a British chief. His daughter, Imogen falls in love with a Roman, Posthumus. When Cymbeline hears of this he banishes Posthumus. Before Posthumus is banished, he gives Imogen a bracelet and she gives him a diamond ring.

In Rome, Posthumus brags about how loyal Imogen is, just like the diamond he gave her. Jachimo bets with him that he can seduce her. But Posthumus compares the hardness of his diamond to Imogen’s ability to resist Jachimo.

As it happens, Imogen does reject Jachimo, but he manages to learn enough about her for him to pretend that he did, in fact, seduce her. When he hears that Imogen was unfaithful, Posthumus doesn’t think the diamond is so beautiful anymore –

Posthumus: It is a basilisk unto mine eye,
Kills me to look on’t.

But the diamond is also the item which brings the truth to light. Imogen’s father recognises the ring and Jachimo is made to admit his slander. Both woman and diamond are beautiful to Posthumus again.

For Shakespeare, the ideal woman needs to be beautiful, loyal and chaste. These are qualities which he also associates with diamonds.

The Jew of Malta. Christopher Marlowe
Barabas is the Jew of the title. After the Governor of Malta seizes all Jewish property on the island to pay off the Turks and stop them from attacking, Barabas embarks on a course of bloody revenge against the Christians. He starts by using his daughter Abigail to cause a fight which kills both the Governor’s son, Lodowick, and his friend. Abigail was in love with the Lodowick and she converts to Christianity and becomes a nun. Barabas murders her and a lot of priests.

Next, he helps the Turks to capture the city and they appoint him as governor as a reward. But then he switches to the Christian side and plots to kill the Turkish prince and a whole lot of other people too. But the former governor manages to foil the plot and Barabas ends up boiling alive in a vat, which he intended for the Turkish prince. The Turks and the Christians come to terms and agree not to fight with each other again.

Although all of his assets are seized at the beginning of the play, Barabas doesn’t lose his diamonds because he is able to hide them under a floorboard when the Christians come looking for them.

He also refers to Abigail as a diamond:

Lodowick: Well, Barabas, cans’t help me to a diamond?
Barabas: O, sir, your father had my diamonds.
Yet I have one left that will serve your turn:-
I mean my daughter [aside] but ere he shall have her
I’ll sacrifice her on a pile of wood.

So, although Barabas values his daughter as much as his diamonds, he would kill her rather than have her married to a gentile (a non-jew). In fact, he kills her for converting to Christianity.

The Merchant of Venice. William Shakespeare
Bassanio is spendthrift who has wasted his family’s money and is now bankrupt. He needs money to pursue a wealthy heiress, Portia. Antonio is a merchant who hates Jews so much that he bullies Shylock constantly – breaking contracts, slandering him, doing everything he can to make Shylock lose money and reputation, even though he has nothing to gain from doing so. Antonio also does not charge interest on any money he lends, which also enrages Shylock as it means he has to charge a lower interest rate to attract borrowers. Bassanio asks Antonio for money but Antonio’s ships haven’t returned so he has no spare cash. But he offers to guarantee a loan if Bassanio can find a lender.

Shylock agrees to lend the money on condition that if it is not repaid on the due date he can take a pound of Antonio’s flesh. As the loan is interest free, and thinking that his ships will return soon, Antonio agrees to the loan. Bassanio succeeds in courting Portia, but Antonio’s ships are reported as lost so he is unable to pay and Shylock calls in his debt. The matter goes to trial and Portia acts as Antonio’s lawyer. Shylock wins the case and demands his pound of flesh. But Portia points out that the contract only entitles Shylock to Antonio’s flesh, not his blood. Shylock will be executed if Antonio loses a drop of blood from the operation.

Unable to perform the operation without losing his own head, Shylock renounces his claim. But the court proceeds to use further legal contrivances to cause him to lose his claim not only to the money he lent, but all of his assets and he is forced to convert to Christianity. Antonio’s ships finally make it back to Venice and he is wealthy again.

The diamonds come up in a sub-plot. Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, elopes with Lorenzo, one of Antonio’s friends and a Christian. Jessica steals Shylock’s best diamond and the turquoise ring that was given to him by his deceased wife. When he hears that his daughter was seen in Genoa and spent eighty ducats and traded the ring for a monkey, he says famously “I would not have traded it for a wilderness of monkeys”. He continues to lament –

Shylock: Why there, there, there, there! A diamond gone, cost me
two thousand ducats in Frankfort! The curse never fell upon our
nation till now; I never felt it till now. Two thousand ducats in
that, and other precious, precious jewels. I would my daughter
were dead at my feet, and the jewels in her ear; would she were
hearsed at my foot and the ducats in her coffin! No news of
them? Why, so: and I know not what’s spent in the search. Why,
thou – loss upon loss! The thief gone with so much and so much to
find the thief; and no satisfaction, no revenge; nor no ill luck
stirring but what lights on my shoulder; no sighs but of my
breathing; no tears but of my shedding.

Tubal: Yes, other men have ill luck too. Antonio, as I heard in
Genoa, –

Shylock: What, what, what? Ill luck, ill luck?

Tubal: -hath an argosy cast away, coming from Tripolis.

Shylock: I thank God! I thank God! Is it true, is it true?

Jessica has rejected her father in the worst possible way, abusing the memory of his wife and destroying his family’s reputation. There is nothing left for him now but his messenger gives him hope of revenge and with nothing left to lose, Shylock latches on to the news of Antonio’s apparent misfortune and the opportunity to take revenge through that.

In both The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice, jews are associated with diamonds. As a people who were forbidden to own land and who might need to leave their homes on short notice, they needed to be able to store their wealth in easily transportable assets – gold and gems. This is probably one reason why so many jews are involved in the jewellery trade.

Both jews have daughters who fall in love with gentiles, setting their fathers on a course of self-hurting revenge. Barabas causes his daughter’s death, Shylock wishes it. Both daughters convert to Christianity. Elizabethan audiences would have been delighted by the willing conversion of jews, or the idea of it.


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