Saturday, August 30, 2008

~ the wad

It came to me at the bottom of a cold dark well. I would write a fantasy novel. In fact three, a trilogy, something as surreal and rabelaisian as China Mieville, but which would sell like Terry Pratchett.

A month later and I haven’t yet got bored of the idea. In fact it’s going rather well. Slow, but well. I can’t imagine how I will ever complete it, but I’m not letting that get in the way. I’m going to send some finished chapters around the place and get some reaction, then I’ll either bite the bullet and write the whole thing, or do something else.

The novel is set in two interconnected worlds: Nonesuch, dominated by a planet-girdling forest called (at this stage) The Weald, and Telesium, the spirit world, accessible by Séance, by the herb sleither, and by rites of the shrouded Velleity. So far, I’ve spent most of the time building the universe, naming the plants and animals, the seasons, the rules of Nature, the history of human civilisation … making a map, the all-important map. Though, as is my way, I still waste time with intricate, richly textured details that may never see the light of print, I have been uncharacteristically strict with myself. I have a believable world, three or four chapters in draft and one polished off.

At present I’m worried about the name of the male protagonist, Lamarc. It’s not bad, but it’s not of the rank of, say, Alsace, his father, or Teasel, his mother, or Tetany, the evil queen. If you’ve got any suggestions? The victim of the recent light plane crash in Moorabbin had a beautiful name: Akash Ananth. Either would be better than Lamarc, I think. But I’m not sure. Perhaps too sub-continental …

Anyway, here’s a snippet ... Unknowingly drawn by the mysterious discorporate entity Almathea, the child Lamarc is venturing perilously into the phantasmagoric Weald …


Deeper in the wildness, in close musty pockets where the sun scarcely penetrated, he had observed a very curious and poorly understood creature - or perhaps part of creature, or perhaps plant - known as the wad. It was a cube roughly the size of a human head, composed of a moist translucent meat-like substance, veined with something blackish that could be seen to flow and packed with pebble-sized organelles in pale shades of red, blue and grey. Behaviourally, the wad was elementary. It fell; unexpectedly and from on high - from no visible resting place or eyrie, seeming to materialize in mid-air. It would slap into the earth, scattering leaves and mulch, then proceed to decay in natural order, offering its stored minerals and energy to the Weald. No doubt the wad could kill, if one was caught beneath it, but to Lamarc’s knowledge no one had yet had such tremendous bad luck.

The wad was a very strange thing, but it was a useful reminder that everything to do with the Weald was fundamentally strange. If Lamarc was ever in danger of acclimatising to the outlandishness of life in the forest, the wad was always there to pull him up. A queer thing in its essence. No apparent rhyme or reason. Brute strangeness.

In these congested areas, he could feel the Weald in everything. It transfused from soil to air, from leaf to root to thallus, from rain to tongue; everything swollen and heated with the workings of the ecome.


Some other news … The re-release of the Beargarden album All That Fall is looming. The delay has been my fault. I’ve insisted on writing liner notes that contain a potted history of the band, and since I’ve been hiding under a rock until recently, nothing has got done. Now I’m working again and the biography is almost ready. It’s long and full of dirt.

We’ve been spurred to action by word of movement regarding the long awaited Dogs in Space DVD release. We want to release an Ears album around the same time, but, according to our schedule, we can’t do that until the Beargarden is done and dusted.

Apparently, commentary tracks are being prepared for the DVD, so Mick Lewis (Ears guitarist) and I have decided to our services to R. Lowenstein. We’re so excited about it, we may do it whether it’s included or not.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

~ stag beetle: like it!

Without wanting to hex myself, things have been better than usual around here. Perhaps it’s the celebratory atmosphere that descends around hard rubbish time: with the purging of rotting, water-logged junk and the acquisition of fresh, interesting, new junk. I’ve found a working espresso machine, and a brand new trenching tool, and an abswing - which is actually a fairly useful bit of exercise equipment.

Also this fine piece of abandoned art. The lips are meaty with a fine gloss. Their texture seems almost porridge-like.

The larger of our two cats, Tweety Bird, has been bringing a new kind of trophy into the house. It is a particularly hideous grub or caterpillar, black, shiny and fat, which bursts with a spray of atramental ordure if stepped upon.

No one knows their origins, but I would like to think the garden [or wherever] is better off without them. Polly has suggested that the itinerant Tweety Bird travels at night to the Moon, where she captures these terrible grubs as souvenirs.

Robert’s possum friends – who visit him in the carport by night - have been breeding. The mother actually let him feel the bump in her pouch. Here is the bump a week or two later, on its mother’s back.

I’ve had my hair cut, by Lynne, who is back from Europe with Mitch. A group of us attended Robert Harvey’s valedictory home game at Docklands on Sunday. I’ve been taking long walks and doing laps … I’ve been swallowing garlic, fish oil and milk thistle. If life remains at this current pitch, it will only get better … One advantage: I don’t have to look far for the greatest threat to my fragile equilibrium – for I am the past master of self-destruction and insidious auto-sabotage!

Last thing. What we believe to be the final element of the Yan-Yan puzzle has fallen into place.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

~ the road

I haven’t often cried finishing a novel. It has happened, but I can’t recall the particular titles… Love in The Time of Cholera, possibly. Perhaps after One Hundred Years of Solitude [Gabriel G Marquez] … J G Ballard’s The Kindness of Women

But last night I finished off The Road by Cormac McCarthy. For brute emotional force it trumps everything - at least everything I can bring to mind. It’s the long nightmare from which you are unable to wake, a frozen, pared-down hell in which nothing remains - save for a few desperate humans and their various brands of humanity. The crumbling black bones of Nature. Some scavenged goods. A few improvised tools and a world of wet ash. What these survivors do, in order to persist, ahead of the inevitable void, becomes a flat expressionless judgment of humankind.

I’m sure a tremendous amount has been written about The Road. I won’t go on. I’ll just say that I think, for this time, for the current version of the human race , it’s the best book I’ve read - and that the final couple of paragraphs come down on you with the weight of every single word prior.

(I wonder if the movie will hold true? It’s in post-production, directed by John Hillcoat, [The Proposition, Ghosts of The Civil Dead and, incidentally, the clip for The Finer Things by Beargarden]. Viggo Mortensen plays The Father, of which I’m glad.)

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~ the unaccountable

Whenever I can, I walk rather than drive Polly to school, pushing my bike there and riding it back.

One morning, not too long ago, by the edge of a park, near some high transmission power lines, there was great clamour of sulphur-crested cockatoos. They were swarming from tree to tree, at least a hundred of them, making a sound to end the world. It was almost too loud to hear yourself speak. And though I loved the fact that they were there, the volume and stridency of their screeching was almost painful.

A woman emerged from a single story brick veneer house. She was in late middle-age, wearing a dreary flannelette dressing gown. Her hair was tousled, her face was blowzy and her lips were puckered and sour.

A deafening, chaotic white cloud had lighted on a tree in her front yard; a shrieking cauchemar descending from the heavens to thrash this ordinary old lady from her sleep. She stood on the porch, looking upwards with a vicious, hating expression - as if being woken by the birds was just the latest in a line of grievous disappointments stretching back to childhood.

Presently, the cockatoos moved to the next tree in a very long series, but she was still staring upwards as we walked on up the street.

The next time we passed that woman’s house, several days later, we observed that the tree had been felled.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

~ recommended product #2

Please afford me the pleasure of recommending another curious product from the mysterious Orient.

This snack comes in a number of flavours. The package contains two compartments: one a small reservoir of
creamy, honestly delicious dip, the other containing biscuit sticks, each one branded with an enigmatic animal-related message ...

Giraffe - Tallest Mammal
Fox - Beware of Lies
Cow - Muuuu
Starfish - Star + Fish
Bat - Only in The Night
Mole - In a Hole
Goat - You are Lucky Today
Rabbit - Eat More Carrots
Chicken - Kokekokko!
Chick - Lucky Colour Yellow
Beetle - Lucky Colour Brown
Sheep - Wool Sweaters
Owl - Active at Night
Zebra - Herbivore
Frog - Amphibian
Cat - Say Meow
Horse - Gallop Away
Octopus - Lucky Number: 8

Is this copywriter seriously out of tune with nature, or what? No, I'm being deliberately unfair. It's a language thing... Or is it?

Congratulate Polly on the discovery of Yan Yan - and for this magnificent clown which she brought home from school on Friday

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

~ jack & lee

Every so often, my meagre social calendar yields an event which calls together a certain cabal of friends and colleagues who were closest twenty to thirty years ago. Troy's memorial was a perfect example. It’s one of the small consolations of the aging process. The cud of memory is chewed. A certain camaraderie is shared. People are reassured to see they are not the only ones whose bellies have swollen, whose hair has thinned and fallen out, whose flesh has begun to sag off the bone - and whose minds are drifting into a null-space leached of inertia and wracked by dread of the future. Indeed, it is a wonder we recognise each other at all …

Phone numbers, email addresses and business cards are exchanged. Secreted in drawers. Forgotten …

On Sunday evening my dear and reliably infuriating friend Jack Strocchi was married to Claire at St Joseph’s Church in Port Melbourne. I won’t bother describing the wedding, save to mention that Claire looked beautiful, her dress was a deep ocean blue, and Jack did a magnificent job passing himself off as a normal man. [Remember John Cleese slamming the kitchen door behind him and hissing ‘psychiatrist!’’?]

Here, the cunning polycephalic bridegroom: Jack Strocchi.

Claire, his wife, and ever wonderful Marina, his sister ...

I was sitting downstairs waiting for the reception to begin, speaking with some people I hadn’t seen in decades, when the subject of Hep C upreared its ugly head. People are never shy about bringing it up with me – after all, I suppose, if they have it, then it would be a cruel twist of fate if I did not.

Previously, horror stories of cancer and death have filtered in from the periphery, but this year, like the proverbial slouching beast, the news is slinking closer and closer to home. I learned of an old acquaintance who was unable to attend the wedding because he was in hospital, seriously ill, as a result of his HCV.

It would be an understatement to say that got my attention Dark shadows milled at the corners of my vision.

I have always dreaded the time when that disease comes home to roost, mowing down half the people I know and, of course, myself. By the end of Jack’s reception, (not to put a damper on it, Jack,) I was ready to believe that time had come.

It was like a faint echo of New York in the 1980s. Hep C was by far the most common conversation starter. Every second knot of guests was discussing it. Comparing hospitals, treatments. Chinese herbs, news of the new fibro-scanner at the Alfred. And fully half of them were nursing a poisonous chalice. Or was that just me?

Sad to say, there is nothing more boring than a disease one has been knowingly infected with for twenty years. I’ve endured three long, gruelling, partially effective interferon treatments. I’ve spent a thousand sullen hours turning over its consequences in my mind...

Until the other night, I was not exactly in denial, but perhaps ... semi-denial. I take some care of my body. Milk thistle. Reduced animal fats. Exercise. Water. But never enough. I’m always working towards a stricter regime, falling away then firming up again. Now things will change. There is something ghastly on the doorstep.

But, regardless of the subject matter, I did enjoy speaking with all those ancient heads; not all of who, I must point out, have compromised livers. It’s a comradeship induced by time. Michelle Finnigan, who by extraordinary coincidence has been seeing Paul Storm, one of my best friends from school, and a brother-in-arms at St Kilda football matches. The Smoljo brothers, again friends from school. Jack’s dear sister Marina who lives and paints in the Alice. Ruth Learner, Amanda Florence, Bo, Georgia, Dolores, Chane Chane ...


Lee Smith.

When I first met him he was a beautiful boy, a David Bowie. It was at a house in Spensley St, West Melbourne, where Lisa Gerrard, (also a magnificent youth,) lived with Ronnie Recent, frontman for The Marching Girls and whose true name was Brendan Perry. (This pair were later to form Dead Can Dance; Lisa would develop her preternatural voice, which even at this time was breathtaking.)

Three of us, myself, Lisa and Lee, spent a long, uncomfortable night in a claustrophobic loungeroom, waiting on the delivery of mood enhancing drugs. Over many many hours, we clung to a thread of hope that something would come through. We were not addicts at the time, just desperate. Or at least I was, I can’t speak for Lisa or Lee.

Eventually, the dull early light began to leach through the windows. This was it for Lee, he’d wasted enough time. I walked with him part of the way home, before returning to wait some more. It seemed very bright outside and Lee looked just right, very cool. I wanted to know why he’d piked. For years and years I’ve remembered his response verbatim, but no longer. I used to use it as a personal aphorism, but perhaps it’s no longer relevant. He said that he would prefer to wait for another day. He would rather be ‘alive and high’ than fucked out, weary and stoned. If you get my drift ... In the original it was very quotable ...

Long ago, Lee drifted permanently from my world. I can't remember the last time I saw him This week I heard of his death - liver cancer, Hep C, 54 and clean for a long, long time. The only memories that come are those of decades ago. The best is of a band he had in the early eighties, Junk Logic - one of the so-called ‘little bands’. At the Market hotel, Lisa trilling like an alien, playing her yangqin, Lee torturing a monstrous, outlandish sound from his guitar. He had the best right hand, so quick, so accurate, so confident. His left hand, well, I think Lee had an aberrant idea of what a guitar was actually for. There was no tonal scale, no self-consistent set of frequencies in the universe which those devilish fingers could not undo....

Lee was unlucky. Perhaps the virus will get the rest of us too, ahead of age and all the other manners of death, but judging from that wedding night, there is a fair bit of raging yet to do against the dying of the light ...

And just in case you need cheering up, click my next post.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

~ the claytown of deep plasm

The Tower of Phorb hosts nightly egg-marshalling contests. Enormous coffin-bird eggs are drained of amnion and charged with orb-hydrogen. Jockeyed by asinine Lords of the Proprium Fatherhood, they surge aloft, finding grateful obliteration in the hovering gauntlet of excruciation.

This conical observatory bears eternal witness to the military exploits of Saint Fritillary, who defended the honour of Deep Plasm on the Dodecahedron of Meniscus. His armoury was idiosyncratic and said to include dirigible moisture, sortilege, the insufferable yowling of Melanie-Hawks, trebuchets of bitterness and gloom, biplanes of moonstone and chalcedony, a squadron of conjoined triplets sleeved in gutta-percha, and not less than three umbrellas of desolation. Saint Fritillary himself wore a crystal halbegellum, and behind him, shimmering between realities, stood a troupe of grey recursive archers.

Lastly, the Birth-Clinic of Mercurius, where the universally renowned alchemist was originally extracted from his esoteric growth medium. Immediately upon gaining awareness he set about his experimentations. You may notice a child’s alembic to the right of the building, together with other tools of discovery. The molten appearance of many of Deep Plasm’s structures is said to have been caused by the Child Mercurius’ early, somewhat disastrous experiments in temporal cementation.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

~ recommended product

Allow me to eagerly endorse this product.

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~ red in tooth and claw

My small family succeeded in breaching the psychological barrier constraining movement beyond the city of Melbourne. We traveled east with Emely McCord to a region near Bairnsdale and a house of mud brick and galvanised iron occupied by her mother Tosie and her younger brother Kyowa.

Inevitably, when Tosie sees Kyowa playing with Polly, she smiles dreamily and says, “They will grow up to be lovers”. Her tone… sounding not like a prediction… but a natural truth…

In recent years, the Rainbow Lorikeet has become common in my zone and I am continually surprised by the beauty of its plumage. But I had forgotten that the Eastern Rosella can be equally as striking - and there were plenty of these at Tosie’s, perched along the barbed wire fences, coats plumped up in the cold. They are tremendously beautiful birds.

Also, there were Welcome Swallows, darting and weaving over the bracken and the long dry grass, snatching up insects on the wing. Such is the manner of its flight, it is almost impossible to get a decent look before the bird spirals, dives or immelmanns in precisely the least expected direction. They flutter more than fly, like supercharged butterflies.

[If it isn’t obvious by now, I’m engaged in a bird obsession. I can tell you that in the wetlands adjoining the Grey Creek there are Purple Swamphens, Eurasian Coots, Pacific Black Ducks, Chestnut Teals and Dusky Moorhens. In the habitat at the end of the street I’ve seen Australian Wood Ducks, Laughing Kookaburras and Crested Pigeons. In our yard, somewhere high in a huge peppermint gum, there is a Tawny Frogmouth and in a park not two kilometres distant, so it is said, there resides a Powerful Owl.]

Walking through the fields surrounding Tosie’s property, we encountered the deep workings of dour wombats, the skeleton of a cow and the freshly dismembered carcass of a wallaby; [on the end of one bloody, discarded leg, there was a talon worthy of a velociraptor].

By a remote near-empty dam, we discovered two turtle shells, not far from each other. Each was about six inches in length. Desiccated leather curled away to reveal sutured white bone. Little white stumps extruded where the legs and head had been. Naturally, we brought them back home.

“Oh, you found those guys,” was Tosie’s reaction.

It transpired that the turtles had a history.

Emely had been first to discover them, shortly after their demise. Tosie had passed by their remains more recently.

Now, the important thing about Tosie is her deep affinity with Nature. She is in league with it, coiled within it, witness to its cryptic secrets. When she speaks, she sometimes sounds like a flaked out hippy, but her understanding of the bush and its underlying principles is profound. One would be foolish to discount her opinions on the subject.

I asked if the turtles - akin to some testudinal Burke & Wills - had almost made it to the dam, only to perish on the brink. Or had they died shortly after departure?

Drought in the region, Tosie explained, had caused the few remaining bodies of water to become overcrowded. With turtles. Conditions in the dam would have been very poor. Few resources. High levels of disease, toxicity. Our two ill-fated specimens would have been asked to leave by the others. To find somewhere else, or die. To sacrifice themselves for the survival of the community.

“Do turtles mate for life?” asked my wife, characteristically.

“I don’t know,” answered Tosie.

“What language did the turtles use?” I asked.

“The language of the forest,” answered Tosie.

Immediately, I thought of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. And of The Swarm by Frank Schätzing.

I accept that it is within the realm of possibility for the forest to have a language, and certainly I would like it to have one …

Subtle chemical signals in the currents of the air, passed from leaf to caterpillar, from wombat bolus to dung beetle and thence to the blind nuzzling head of the earthworm …from gnarled parrot beak to witchetty grub … from pollen cloud to the tarsal combs of the bee … from diatom to rotifer to amoeba … from water-skimming spider to - at last - the murky consciousness of the turtles.

“Honourable citizen of the terrestrial biome. It has fallen to you [and your husband] to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

A signal, a demand, an imperative to which all creatures submit, which every organism, sentient or not, may interpret. To actually term it a language may be a superposition of our own thought patterns over something very different. Anthropomorphism may be the applicable word. Perhaps, the turtles were subject to something more simply described as the law of nature, red in tooth and claw.

The following week, Polly took one of the turtle shells to school for show-and-tell.
Doing her best to explain ‘the language of the forest, my wife penned a short explanatory note for Mrs Hobson to read aloud. I sealed the shell in plastic, predicting a possible violation of Education Department hygiene strictures. Indeed, it was redolent with ongoing decay and I didn’t want to unnecessarily put the children off turtles. Perhaps forever …

ps: Tessie, the little dog in the picture of the dam, was run over and killed a week after we left. She had gotten herself under the wheels of Tosie's car as it backed out the driveway. Tessie was one of the sweetest dogs I think I've ever met.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

~ the dreams of charles dellchau

With the inexorable rise of fuel prices, airlines have been doing all they can to survive – shearing baggage allowances, reducing in-flight services, ramping fuel levies - now, according The Age, there is talk of aircraft ‘flying in geese-like formation’.

There is so much to look forward to on a Post Carbon Earth.

Recently, I read of an upswing in the blimp industry. And, at last, Germany is once more manufacturing Zeppelins.

I’m not getting too excited yet, but this could be a marvellous thing. Brute subsonic flight releases staggering amounts of CO2, it makes intuitive sense that the slow, leisurely, meandering ways of the dirigible would be cleaner, better for the planet and for our souls. They can be whimsical and bumbling. They can be smooth, sleek and romantic

One thing in the way of an airship comeback is, of course, the Hindenburg disaster. That graphic news footage has permeated into the racial subconscious making us leery of airship travel, [not forgetting the perceived Nazi underpinnings of the Zeppelin]. But, needless to say, airships these days are pretty safe; what’s more, they use non-inflammable helium.

In the future, when we look up, we will not see speeding bullets of raw function, but beautiful near-silent bubbles sedately following the winds. Airship design is limited only by the imagination. Streamlining and general airworthiness naturally play a part, but perhaps we will say goodbye to wind-tunnels and no nonsense aerodynamics.

There have been some lovely airships portrayed in film. Off the top of my head, I think of Nausicaa: Valley of The Winds, The Golden Compass and a very peculiar piece of tokusatu entitled Casshern, which incorporated a universe of marvellous gas filled invention.

I should also mention Blade Runner, but that famous blimp was primarily an advertising platform and I wouldn’t want my beatific vision ruined by a sky crammed with commercial speech bubbles.

A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies … Oh, if it were but true …

Some creative, forward thinking souls are already at work. Consider the Strato Cruiser by Tino Schaedler ...

The Aeroscraft

And some Russian designs with a pleasingly soviet edge

Once I started searching for bizarre airships on the web, as with most things, I couldn't find an end to it. The Steampunk genre delivers an embarrassment of beautiful fantastical lighter than air craft. Click for more.

As is to be expected, the emphasis in functional airship design is still on smoothness and economy of form. The airship has many rivers to cross before it can achieve a true renaissance. But later, when there’s room to move, might we see a realisation of the wilder designs, perhaps even the visions of that absolute master, the enigmatic Charles Dellschau of the putative Sonora Aero Club, [which probably existed only in his own mind,] who produced 13 notebooks full of whimsical airships between the years 1899 and 1922.

His notebooks were rescued from the bin after his death and became an early example of outsider art. I, for one, find something cheering about them; they speak of innocent boyish dreams and an unalloyed romance of the air – as well as being more than satisfactorily outlandish. [Prior to powered air travel, UFOs commonly took the form of airships and some of Dellschau’s works include pasted on newspaper references to this.]

One day soon, let us all hope, such things shall be seen shambling through the sky outside our triple-glazed windows.

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