January 19th, 2004


While I was away...

It's all out of order and I'm off to bed.

Changi Airport
18/01/04 Evening

William Gibson has already done an outstanding hatchet job on Singapore, so much of my current train of thought may prove entirely redundant. Not that I am in Singapore as such, I'm flightside in Terminal 1. I know it's Terminal 1 because it has the Cactus Garden, whereas 2 has the Sunflower Garden. I'm sitting in Country Manna, which is a poor excuse for Cracker Barrel but it does serve alcohol at least. I am a little astonished that Changi doesn't have a Chinese restaurant as opposed to food court, but then again I'm not required to observe the chewing gum amnesty on this side of the diplomatic fence. I skulk around with five hours to kill, muttering about Nazis and the death penalty. How will these hours pass? With immense tedium, possibly veering towards intoxication. Especially if I have to spend each of them next to this Yamaha pianola that's churning out a seamless melody of Joplin and the like.

So then, Australia, how many marks out of ten do I give you? Your history stinks and your current government are a bunch of bigoted lackeys. That aside, I liked it and I'd be very happy to go again. I'd be very happy to jump on the next plane from here and return. London, friends aside, seems without allure and it's certain be a cold and unwelcoming morning along the Piccadilly line to Manor House. It's playing Don't Fence Me In now. London is back to work and hard work. There are very few lazy days that can be squeezed from the year until August or so. I've managed almost a year of doing nothing of note and it's been most enjoyable in its way, but it can't last much longer. Alas.

There was a strangeness to visiting Australia; it was a turn that the narrative might have taken. Gid and Cath above all, and then all these other people who I either knew or felt that I might have known if my life had taken a similar geographical path to his. I can't pretend there's not an immense sorrow here. Damn that sentimental pianola reading my moods with its Hollywood themes. A sorrow that does have me hiding tears behind a large glass of beer and could have me throwing the thing through this immense piece of plate glass to my right. It would bounce off with an impotent noise. So instead I'll say fuck repeatedly or Godspeed or something. How many hours now? Fuck. It's a long time I've been without some people crucial to my life. It breaks my heart. The pianola plays It Had To Be You. Give me a break.

The sun has gone down over Changi. I can't say I recommend the Country Sandwich at Country Manna that highly. The rest, the truth, as always, is not here in the writing, but in the silences between.

No Thongs Or Singlets
Alice Springs
2/01/04 17:50

The insects have reached an agreement. They will all hum the same note. Deviations in tuning are not tolerated. What may sound interesting to the human ear is of no concern, for such are not the insect ways. With no internet access to hand, I can't look into the precise nature of the insect brain. All I can rely on is the schoolboy memory that insects do not have brains but instead possess nervous systems. Nevertheless, insects do make decisions. So how does an insect choose to travel in one direction over another? Are such decisions ever made on the basis of pleasure rather than survival? I'll go this way, it may take longer, but there's a great smell by that trunk, there is the place that I met my true love, I can remember that great afternoon we found the empty Coke bottle and spent hours sucking all the surfaces clean as the light fell shattered around us. As much as I assume insects don't have a noted sense of self, I also assume that they don't remember anything much past the immediate. They just get a tiny flash memory as standard; it's serviceable enough for their purposes, whatever they may turn out to be. I wouldn't ever wish to enter the inner experience of the insect. You'd return with your ears bleeding, incontinent, people would need to feed you by hand and they'd come home from the shops to find you gnawing the legs of furniture and exuding an oily stain onto the carpet. Do you really want to know the truths of their world? It's 41c, you expect me to be able to think coherently?

We're in Alice Springs. Mum's on the bed watching Neighbours, but the stories are all a year ahead at least. Not that there appear to have been any seismic shifts in the world of Erinsborough. Compared to insects, these characters spend a lot more time at Harold's Coffeeshop, eating sandwiches and cakes. The insects would do the same, given the chance. They could probably do with a a few giant insects crunching sugar cubes in the background, but they'd have to mute out the shrill chatter of mandibles. As it is, the insects are seriously compromised by their breathing systems and can only get so big. The ones in Neighbours would be wheezing between takes and need to be helped back to their oxygenated trailers. J-Lo insisted and got hers all in white, as for the insects, they were happy with shite. You came all the way out here to the Outback and this is the best you can think? Err, yes. Sorry.

What of the majesty, the splendour, the ancient ages, the mystery? Not until the sun is a little lower in the sky...

Kings Canyon

You might not be able to fry an egg on this laptop currently, but I reckon scrambling is a possibility. No idea what temperature it is now, but it was 46c. Now back in the room. A room with one of those unnoticeable inbuilt aircon units that doesn't seem up too much. Let's not moan about the aircon though. It's too hot to bother. Sure, I could sit out on the balcony but I tried that and was besieged by a colony of ants, two large spiders and an overbearing sense of threat. Let's remain in the sealed environment, it seems safe enough for the moment.

The heat evaporates thought. Reserves of strength are limited. It was a 4 o'clock start in the morning to walk around (but not on) The Rock Formerly Known As Ayers and now under its local appellation of Uluru. A cold drink would be good. Yes. No more. Not until I get back to that modern Japanese aircon unit in Alice. It's waiting for me.

Should anyone know how to correctly spell Balucitherium, could they post it as a comment? I saw a half of a very interesting programme last night about French palaeontologists searching for an Asian hominid. I think Baluci. Definitely with an 'a'. If I had more commitment I'd describe the programme. But I'm not Gogol. Must be named after his theory. I'd like to know more. Not at the moment. Ice, ice baby. Etc. Phew.

Alice Springs
7/01/04 5:53

There was an hour set aside every evening at the school I attended. It was a private school, but for some reason these are called public schools in the UK. I can remember having this anomaly explained by a previous headmaster, but I can't remember his reasoning, even if it took him half an hour to explain the convolution. Anyway, this hour, from six until seven in the evening, was known as Hobby Hour. You were encouraged not to use this hour for lounging around or freely socialising. At least you were for the first year, by that point more or less everyone's hormones had kicked in and I was too keen on developing my angst. The only hobbies I maintained were the musical ones.

But in that initial year, before the time of compulsive masturbation and self-absorption or the chloroform craze that swept through school, you were green enough to be cajoled into ensuring that every evening had an allotted activity. Friday evenings was Bird Group. I had never had much interest in bird watching, but I was sufficiently motivated by the thought that this enabled you to go away on weekend outings. I don't have many memories of Bird Group, but I do remember a talk we were given once about some bird that my mind is keen to make some species of turkey. I don't think it was a turkey, but let's not argue too much with myself here. Anyway, turkey evening...

The point of the lecture that has always stuck in my brain was the discussion of these turkeys' breeding habits. The male turkeys were not free to mate with the female turkeys, for there would be these dominant turkeys that would fight off the approach of the lesser ones. There wasn't any discussion of what the female turkeys were up to, they were assumed to just be there for the overpowering. Nevertheless, the sexual frustration of these lesser young male turkeys would still seek release. Generally, this would mean that these particular turkeys would start mating amongst themselves, but other turkeys would even start mating inanimate objects or, so the lecture went, even dashing their heads against trees and rocks until they became unconscious or died. This scene of orgiastic turkey frenzy stuck in my mind. One day, I might be unfortunate enough to be dallying through the glade to witness such a scene. It hasn't happened yet. This should be considered a blessing. Nevertheless, the image has always remained with me.

It wasn't such a bad description of adolescent experience in the school. There were around 330 turkeys in total, spread over five years, and female turkeys were only to be found in the final two years. Even in these final two years, there would only be around 25 of them in all. For the first three years, access to the female turkeys was denied. I only witnessed one known relationship across that ovine divide during my time there. In the final two years, it was at last a theoretical open season, but the ratio of about 4/5:1 meant that self-abuse would run rampant in a variety of forms. Of course, there was always the marginally more mature and generally sexually adventurous drama-teaching turkey, but it didn't really affect the maths of the situation. The maths stated that you lose.

I've often wondered how similarly sensitive female turkeys felt about the whole experience. What particular madnesses possessed them?

I've never been too sure if this talk on turkey mating strategies wasn't some bizarre Reichian moment of sexual analysis of our school - in fact, about the only reason I have ever read Wilhelm Reich is because of his insistence that a society free from sexual frustration and guilt would be a better one, and maybe if I read his books I might just get laid - I can't remember who gave the talk but, despite the Quaker credentials of the school, it could be a scene from the film If. No, there was no fagging or such in our school, but that is a film I've always found it very easy to relate to and the fact they actually showed the film there is curious enough. I can remember seeing Truffaut (Night For Day) at school, as well as Cheech and Chong (Up in Smoke). Mmm, two conspiratorial Watergate-era thrillers: that Last Days of the Condor (?) with Robert Redford and Parallax View (?) with Warren Beatty, not to mention that one about the 3/4 prisoners being released and hunted down in the desert, what was that called? Some 70's US political thing with the idea being that if you captured the flag or something, you'd be released, but of course you wouldn't. What else... Zabriskie Point, but I might be making that one up. That was probably just got for the stoner soundtrack. The Song Remains The Same even. The nouvelle vague edge of film choice faded a little with the leaving of Tony Duckering. People were cheering through Rollerball, which I remember finding quite disturbing at the time. There I go again, more comfortable reciting film titles than gobbling the point of this whole turkey preamble.

It's seven o'clock here in Alice. I'm looking across the Todd river and the red gum trees. What get described as Aboriginals are mooching up and down the almost permanently dry course. From one of the many annoying asides of our tour driver over the last four days, we learned that due to the preponderance of alcoholism, off-licences (or rather bottle-shops, or bottlos even) can't conduct sales until two in the afternoon in this town. So I'm encouraged to think that they're doing nothing but jonesing and mooching around until that heavenly hour. It was hard not to go to the front of the bus and throttle him on a few occasions. Of course, I'm no expert on the subject, but his way of thinking about it was all wrong. Australia doesn't seem such a long way from South Africa in many ways and all the trappings of colonial, pseudo-scientific Darwinian thinking. He was telling the story yesterday of the first Aboriginal (what the heck is their word for themselves?) who was made an Australian citizen because of his success as a watercolour artist. Once fame and money came his way, so the story went, he declined into drinking and was arrested for sharing his alcohol with family and community members. Only citizens could purchase and consume alcohol. He shared the dark-skinned weak metabolism for hooch... I was biting my lip quite hard at this point. The privileges of being a citizen... I put on my headphones and tried to drown him out. It almost seemed unfortunate that citizenship was extended to all indigenous peoples in 1969. Unfortunately, the population size of the indigenous peoples isn't sufficient to scare whitey, unlike Africa. I didn't think the driver would shed too many tears if they died out entirely because of their own failings. Their own?

Occasional flocks of galahs screeching through the morning sky. Trucks on the bridge. Insects on my legs. Small stick figures moving in the distance. A depopulated Last Year in Marienbad, honest citizens reduced to surviving off experimental pointilism. Artists are supposed to get drunk, aren't they?
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