Sometimes it feels as if this public journal of mine - these Sails of Oblivion, these Pavilions of Lethargy, these Blue Birds of Delirium - are indeed that: the blusterings of a clueless old misanthrope at odds, utterly, with the world and determined, when he has the energy, to rail against anything that pops into his wormy green brain.
Does it feel like that to you? Sometimes ...? And exactly how serious am I when I voice such things?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Certainly, I’m not always so drained and disappointed as I might seem of late, and yet ....
The Oriflamme of Tension ... The Obelisk of Weariness ... The Cinders of Accomplishment ...
On paper, things are looking better - particularly with Jenny’s return to the household. For me, single parenting is a thorny, complex, well-nigh impossible task, and that vision of Jenny on the porch, sparkling, freshly toweled, was like the answer to a prayer. Blue beads of health gleaming in her flesh. Sclera white as the dove of peace. Sudden streaks of blonde, bleached into child-soft hair. She was, at last, an unclouded girl. My uncontaminated woman. With her bags. On the steps.
Better. On paper. But until the passing of the big black cloud, much is relative. In the half-light, my spirit is wrestling a depraved axolotl of tremendous size, while treading water at the bottom of a flooded silo in which the concrete walls are slickened by a mat of phlegm-green algae. Better is when I briefly achieve a foothold. Better is when I steal a decent lungful of air.
The Gonfalon of Apathy ... The Ramparts of Debauchery ... The Regalia of Queasiness ...
But things will change. As they always do. And I think I have some decent karma saved in the soul bank for just this eventuality. I hope though, that during the interim, I’m not boring or depressing you with my tales of gloom and bad fortune. Especially at Yuletide, when most of you will already be battling depression, anxiety, frustration, anger and regret.
Christmas is a time when quality media input is indispensable. I must have my input; it’s as sustaining for me as food and drink.
Yet Jenny says I’m shutting out the world, that I lack the courage to be quiet and listen to the murmurings of my brain. That I’m losing my interest in people other than myself.
She’s right, but only to a point. When I put my head to the pillow and close my eyes, my mind immediately turns to the potential for imprisonment and homelessness. That’s why I need my ipod.
Even today - after Di’s characteristically elegant, inevitably toothsome Christmas feast - I slipped upstairs to have a nap accompanied by my nano and by This Week In Virology. The other night, realising that my pod was low on charge, I meditated upon the possibility of drifting to sleep without Starship Sofa or Pseudopod. Or, god forbid, X Minus One.
Before long I was out of bed, feeding electrons to my constant companion, to my dear and trusted friend.
The Waters of Lethe ... The Undercurrents of Despair ...
If you can, forgive the monotony of my emotional state. And allow me to thank you for accompanying me through such a long, peculiar and eventful year. Consider yourselves in receipt of a warm and loving Christmas embrace and a flurry of New Year kisses.
The Turrets of Crapulence ... The Bulkheads of Chaos ... The Bunting of Madness ...
The Sails of Oblivion ...
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Sometimes it feels as if this public journal of mine - these Sails of Oblivion, these Pavilions of Lethargy, these Blue Birds of Delirium - are indeed that: the blusterings of a clueless old misanthrope at odds, utterly, with the world and determined, when he has the energy, to rail against anything that pops into his wormy green brain.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Since the BFG's school season ended with a fabulous gala night, I've been narrating an audiobook for Vision Australia: 'Truth' by Peter Temple. It's a book I would probably have read regardless, given how much I enjoyed its predecessor 'The Broken Shore'.
It's the first time I've done this kind of work, but it's something I've thought about trying for a long time. It's somewhat imposing, well over three hundred pages and, if there's an accumulation of dialogue, progress can be very slow. I'm averaging thirty pages per three hour session, which I'm told is about average. Initially, the producers were concerned about the intrinsic gravel in my voice - refined over a long lifetime of smoke inhalation and abnormal lifestyle choices - but it was decided that it might be just right for the crime genre. That's how I wound up with Peter Temple - and it's not too bad a fit.
Christmas is approaching with its usual pitiless inevitability. The family has been unexpectedly reunited, but my heart remains deadened by the everpresent weight of my little problem. I've been having trouble generating my usual interest in the world, which, as I may have told you before, is how depression sometimes manifests in me.
When I've had the energy, I've been working on my play, Ambergris, a project I began at least five years ago. I've had some exciting new ideas; so perhaps it was worth putting it on the backburner for a while. I've been slowly working my way through Battlestar Galactica. It's a patchy series, but good on the whole, and, since it's competent science-fiction, I'm content. I've been battling with The Age crossword every morning, with decreasingly satisfying results. I thought brain function was supposed to be improved by crosswords ... But then, I haven't been very diligent with my diet lately, and that could certainly be a factor.
And I wander round the house a lot, picking up plates and cups, replacing the lids of textas, not sure what to do, bored, bewildered, uninterested, scared ...
Saturday, December 12, 2009
For Polly the end of the school year is drawing nigh. Her report has come home and she appears to be doing rather well, particularly in English and art. Her spelling is atrocious, mind you, but I'm reasonably sure it's at least average for a seven year old. Polly's 'interpersonal skills', in the language of today's educators, were singled out for particular praise.
To tell the truth, it's a relief - the tumultuous nature of our 2009 led to a slump in parental participation when it came to homework and assignments and all that slumbers beneath the silky rubric of Extra Curricular Activity.
You see, when it comes to ECA, some parents do. Some parents don't.
With a commitment bordering on the religious, do-bees paint fairy faces, attend Monday morning assemblies and trudge the suburb selling raffle tickets. They sweat through every working-bee. They man the sausage sizzles and the op-shops. And I doubt the school could operate without them.
In the Season of the Yo-Yo, it is they who appease their pleading children - young minds still reeling from a brutal detonation of colour, sound and spectacular skill enacted by some fly-by-night Yo-Yo Demonstration Team. I wonder ... since I still live in the same area ... could it be the same team - many generations of yo-yo prodigies removed - that visited my school when I was six?
Could there be a manager, nearing retirement age, who has eked out a living cynically reigniting the Ancient Greek fad across the primary schools of the city? Has he - like some very lightweight, commercially-minded Ahasuerus - been working without respite for millennia? Is he indeed something akin to the Wandering Jew? Or might he be part of a guild which meets each century to negotiate operational borders and corporate sponsorship?
The yo-yos are brighter these days - ours had a white rim and bore a simple red Coke-a-Cola logo. The new ones are fatter and the plastic is different. Lighter. Ours were of a denser material, an archaic polymer now rarely seen - in my time, if one strayed into a robust attempt at Round The World then injury would certainly result.
Once the yo-yos were made in Japan, now they hail from China. Possibly, the string is all that remains the same. And possibly that devious, calculating, long-suffering YYDT manager is a deserving subject for a short story...
And I have strayed too far from my subject ...
Does the school community have an opinion on the parents who don't engage in ECA? Is a subtle ostracism employed? Is there a suspension of that nod of recognition at eight-thirty each morning? Not to my knowledge... But I know little of such things ...
Both my partner and I help out when we can. But is it enough ...? Let me swear now, on my Honour, that the fruit 'shazliks' I prepare for Polly's end-of-year class party tomorrow will be sufficient. And edible. Even for children.
On Friday mornings this year, when circumstances permitted, I would go into the school and do reading with the kids. It's a thing the parents are encouraged to do, and I think I might have been the only volunteer for Polly's class. It's a useful way of keeping an eye on her reading, and it's interesting too; children are always interesting. Polly brought home a couple of cards from her fellow pupils thanking me for my efforts. It was nice. It was no big thing, but it made me feel appreciated for a few moments there ...
She also brought home a stack of artwork - to which, I'm afraid, you will now be subjected. (The final image is, I believe, a kangaroo.)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
As strange as it may seem, I think I’m growing into the role of the BFG. With every performance I’m understanding more about the elementary tastes of children and what they expect from a performance. I think I had my best day yesterday, particularly during our second show. My projectile vomiting was faultless and my farting beyond compare. I believe I’m learning at last how to endear myself to a younger audience. Afterwards, when we farewell the kids in the foyer (still in costume naturally) I’ve noticed that they are approaching me more readily now. I’ve dispensed many thousands of high-fives and yesterday I even received some hugs.
My natural inclination has always been to appal and horrify an audience, but that’s simply out of the question in a kids’ show, and though I’ve suppressed these tendencies it has only been during the last week that I’ve eradicated them entirely. I am a silly, smiling, weeping, dreamy, farting, giant with not the slightest residue of scariness.
Whether my achievement is of any value is a question that only time will answer, but for now I’m having an unadorned, effortless good time – and there is something to be said for that, given the bleakness of my wider life.
On top of this I’ve returned Polly’s faulty DS to Nintendo for repairs, I’ve cleared my slate with Centrelink, purchased a widget that will bring my laptop back to life and dropped off an overdue library book. I’ve organised my eye and tooth appointments and tomorrow I’m getting a haircut. I seem to be more functional than I would previously have thought possible – but there are biting yellow-toothed rodents on my heels giving me all the impetus I need to keep things together …
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Australia is commonly thought of as a reasonably fair and equitable place to live, at least compared to the rest of the world. It’s considered a place where government is unlikely to commit atrocities or human rights outrages, where miscarriages of justice are inevitably righted in the face of our abiding sense of decency.
But I wonder if such attitudes are complacent, if not wildly erroneous. There has been the case of Andrew Moore, who, though apparently a rather dubious character, was separated from his family and deported to an unfamiliar land where he promptly died. Then there was Farah Jama, an immigrant, presumably from Somalia, who spent fifteen months in jail wrongly convicted of rape due to a contaminated DNA sample. And, of course, the outrageous behaviour of our state government in directing the police to make protestors’ personal files available to the company responsible for the construction of Victoria’s new desalinisation plant … and these three examples, with others, all appeared in one edition of the daily newspaper.
And of course there are the stories we never hear about.
I can imagine the plights of these victims, inured in the cold concrete labyrinth of officialdom and jurisprudence … evaluated by clerks and functionaries and faceless enablers performing their ordained duties regardless of the human cost, holding to temporal laws, guidelines and directives as if they were the underpinnings of the universe, unwilling to deviate from the code that permits them to go home at night to their secure and comfortable loungerooms to watch Packed to the Rafters in the company of their well-groomed children and their clean, functional wives and husbands … while those they have judged are marched through the cold night to meet their fates…
I guess I’m dwelling on this subject because of my own current entanglement with our legal system. In case you didn’t know, I have dropped myself into a pretty sticky situation due to a combination of ignorance and stupidity. And unfortunately the charges with which I am faced seem designed for wealthy Mafiosi from Griffith, rather than a poor sod from the suburbs who needed something in the evenings to help keep body and soul together.
I never dreamt I would find myself in jail as a result of my wrongdoings. I didn’t think anyone would be particularly fussed. But that’s where I found myself. For sixteen days. With the potential for more on the horizon. Not only that, but my family home – home to Polly for all of her seven years, home to my partner Jenny, home to my dear departed parents for most of their married lives – is at risk. Our justice apparatus, horribly, may be regarding it as equivalent to the cigarette boat of a Floridian cocaine importer …
I just hope that we don’t become one of those sad, terribly unfair stories you read in the paper and then, with time, forget.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
We’ve performed the BFG more than ten times now before hundreds and hundreds of screaming children. It’s beginning to become second nature: thwacking myself on the head with an inflatable hammer to the beat of John Farnham’s ‘The Voice’, feeding snozzcumbers to an entity called Bloodbottler, interpreting a military operation in dance with chicken head and tutu …
If one wasn’t in the right state of mind, it could be a hellish thing to face every day, but I’m honestly enjoying it. Judging from the state of my costume once it’s over, I must be sweating out litres of fluid per show. Though it probably doesn’t matter to the audience, I’m polishing my act with every performance and keeping thoughts of the Grublets from Blades of Glory far to the back of my head, (along with other black black clouds which I am better off not dwelling on).
Polly is proud that her dad is the BFG, which is a nice ancillary benefit. Yesterday, we traveled out to Ringwood to see her end of year dance concert. What a massive production… There must have been nearly a hundred performers from the steppes of middle suburbia… And what costumes! The sequins, the tulle and the tiffany! The non-stop rippling, flouncing procession of wild colours, demi-pliés and flourishing nubility. It was impossible not to be entertained. There were men who were indistinguishable from women. And vice versa. There was even a titillating wardrobe malfunction. A nipple, which through the course of one particularly energetic number, crept in and out of its cup as its gangly smiling blonde owner jetted obliviously about the stage.
It was a vaudevillian banquet: dance that ranged from the seemingly accomplished to the pitifully incompetent … and, inevitably, to wandering toddlers, smiling broadly in their profound bewilderment or picking their noses and wiping them on their gorgeous Arabian Nights outfits.
There were three two-hour performances to a huge auditorium, packed each time with adoring friends and relatives. As for myself, I had tried to ignore the preparations for this event, but tyrannical organisers continued to demand my concentration with their complex and exacting procedures. The costumes situation became a yawning gyre of confusion and uncertainty. For my own sanity, I had to palm off the task to other members of Polly’s support cabal.
Polly doesn’t want to do dance next year, thank goodness. Something simple and straightforward like Guides or swimming lessons will do nicely.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Life has been a tremendous challenge lately. All manner of threats and obstacles have been presenting themselves and I have had little choice but to face them, grim-faced and dour. I’ve been unable to update the Sails of Oblivion – or to do much writing at all for that matter. For this I’m really sorry. This blog has, somehow, become central to my work and my life and I’m a fool to neglect it.
My last month has been consumed by rehearsals and performances of Lynne Ellis’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG in which I’m playing the title role. We opened late last week after the fastest, most intensive rehearsal period I’ve ever experienced. I lost at least a stone in the process, but it was worth it. The show is very funny, even for adults I think, and I recommend it robustly.
There’s a ‘gala-night’ on Tuesday December 15 which you can inquire about at RMIT Union Arts. Otherwise the public season runs from Jan 5 to 22. (Book at M-TIX 9685 5111]
On top of my theatre commitments, I’ve been enduring the usual swathe of life-related challenges. I’m looking after Polly by myself just at the moment and my confused, absent-minded habits when blended with a child’s natural anarchy make for a very messy house and a very messy head. What’s more, Polly’s ballet concert is looming and involves an unlikely amount of concentration, organisation and driving. Thankfully, I’ve been able to palm off the sequin-sowing to Polly’s female antecedents.
As regards my ongoing legal problems, my effort to have the charges reduced to something more in keeping with the wrongdoing have been flushed down into the grease-trap of cruel mechanistic legality. I will be facing another year of fear and uncertainty, but I will continue to fight. I just wish I was the only one who was suffering. To say that my partner does not cope well with tension and anxiety would be an extreme understatement and Polly, of course, though she does not know what’s happening, is already affected by the changes in our circumstances.
I would really like to thank Jenny, Lynne, Dolores, Andrew, Robert. Sara and Di for their support the other day in court. I love you all.
You’ll hear from me soon.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Yes, I live on. My pale yellow bones still tread the Earth. My time has been fully allotted – an equal split between productive periods, recuperative periods and periods spent in bewilderment and disorientation. The school holidays have been and gone And, of course, there’s been the Grand Final and the nerve-wracking weeks preceding, which consumed and then bitterly spat out all my emotional energy. There’s nothing to say St Kilda can’t win next year, but we came so close, so close … and blew it.
I wonder to what extent cuticle condition is an indicator of mental health? Just now my bitten down nails and knurled, nibbled-at cuticles are returning to a semblance of health. In the bad times I might wear two, three or more band-aids on those fingertips where I have gnawed too far …
I’ve been rehearsing for a production of The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, which opens on Wednesday. It’s become a bit of an annual event for me, doing these plays at RMIT with Lynne (Ellis). Last year it was Under Milk Wood, before that The Tempest and The Bible. It’s always an agreeable time. I like the students: sweet, sparkling with enthusiasm and growing younger every year (I’m older than a lot of their parents now). Above all, I find it pleasing to leach their health-giving youthful energies and employ them towards my own questionable ends.
Doing the play also helps keep me in focus; inevitably I have a huge amount of lines and blocking to recall - and my brain does respond, though sluggishly, to the challenge. And with so many unfamiliar individuals about, I get plenty of practice acting normal, which is a talent I begin to lose if I spend too much time in my cloud castle. On stage, however, Lynne gives me license to ham it up to my heart’s content. Last year I channeled Peter Lorre; in Titus, as the outrageously wicked villain Aaron –a green-fleshed alien from the Sculptor Galaxy (at least in this production) - I’m trying to draw inspiration from Bill Nighy’s Viktor in Underworld.
Oh, and I also like coming home late at night from the city by train, too – it almost feels like I have a real job.
If it piques your interest, Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare’s Festival of Gore), runs for four night - Wednesday through Saturday (7-10 Oct) at the Kaleide Theatre at RMIT in Swanston St, Melbourne. It is part of the 2009 Melbourne Fringe Festival. Tickets are $5/$10 and it starts at 7.30. To suit modern attention-spans, it’s been edited down a fair bit and features excepts from Christopher Dunne’s bizarre film adaptation. The two female leads are composite beings, each played, at all times, by five girls.
Titus is thought to be Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy and brims with murder, rape, villainy, revenge, general barbarity, a complex web of deceit and evil deeds of every ilk. (Note well that my character is progenitor of most of these.) It’s ‘by far his bloodiest work’. Indeed, this bloodthirstiness caused the play to remain out of favour for long periods of its history, regardless of its literary quality which, though not of the level of his greatest works, is outstanding.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Sometimes, news of the outer world is almost too depressing to bear. And frustrating. Frustrating beyond belief. Sometimes, I think I would rather not know.
In the paper there is a photo of an industrious landowner from a bushfire-ravaged region of Victoria. A post-catastrophe ruling has allowed him to scour his property of vegetation. It allows the culling of trees within ten metres of homes and four metres of fence lines without approval from the council. Small land owners who have a poor relationship with nature can now raze their blocks with impunity.
Never mind that in the face of such mega-fires such a measure would have little effect. Never mind that trees can protect a dwelling by ‘dissipating fire energy’. Tree-culling is the first, most obvious response that comes to these simple minds. They see a pseudo-solution at the end of their nose and they act on it.
Being able to project our thinking beyond the immediately obvious is part of humanity’s brilliance, but too few of us bother to employ that ability. And stupid, destructive decisions result.
A dangerous assumption is being made by these people. They believe we have the right to put ourselves above nature, as if we are somehow separate from it, as if - as the bible would put it - it is our 'dominion'. Never mind that the air we breathe is generated by these trees. Never mind that as a species we are interwoven into a complex ecology of which these trees are a part. These people do not factor the big picture into the equation. That is the province of whinging greenies.
Then there are those who look to apportion blame for the mega-fires and are seeking damages in court - as if any human agency could have stood against such a potent natural force. Certainly, if we bury the power-lines there will be less chance of electricity causing fires. And better organisation might have saved lives. But the fires of February this year in Victoria were near to inevitable. In Australia, fires are a part of nature, no humans are required to start them. This is proven by the fire-adapted ecology of the Australian bush. But these litigators, perhaps, would sue nature for damages if they thought they could get a result.
Human agency is expected to control the fires, and if it fails it is damned. Again the presumption that we are apart. Again the ‘dominion’ paradigm. Rather than adapt [or re-adapt] to nature, we will control it, dominate it. This thinking lies at the root of many bad attitudes towards the earth.
“The ocean is my kitchen freezer," I saw a guy say on a TV fishing show as I flicked past. “When it’s time to eat, I just fish one out.” I hope so this was his way of saying we should look after the oceans...
Dualism – the concept that the soul is separate from the body – lies deep in the heart of these problematic attitudes. To the religious orthodoxy, who espouse ‘dominion’, the Earth is just a waiting room for the heaven-bound; it is there to feed us, clothe us as we demonstrate our goodness to god’s spy satellites. It is to god that we owe an obligation, not to nature. The religious do not have to worry about their children inhabiting a wasteland, because their children will ultimately be joining them in paradise. No wonder the needs of our base, temporal, sublunary earth are so often ignored in favour of human comfort.
Others subscribe to a milder form of Dualism. They consider the soul and body to be separate, but are not necessarily religious. Perhaps you are one of them? I know I used to be. It seemed impossible that my mind, my being, was nothing more than a sac of jelly between my ears. But the evidence - or lack of it - convinced me otherwise and with this realisation came a greater appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the natural system to which I, and my offspring, are inextricably bound.
To discard Dualism is to accept that the material world is the only world we will ever have and that we must respect it as thoroughly as we do each other.
Though no specific human agency can be blamed for the day of bushfires, humanity as a whole perhaps has a case to answer.
Do you think climate change might have had a bearing on the intensity of these fires? I do. It was the first thing that came to mind when I learnt of the devastation. In point of fact, it was already on my mind as I sweltered in the unprecedented heat.
Surely I was not the only one putting two and two together? I mean, extreme weather events are exactly what the climate scientists are predicting ...
But Kevin Rudd did not mention it in his speech of consolation. No one mentioned it. Indeed, it wasn’t until days afterwards that it was openly considered as a contributing factor. Weird, I thought. Later, a politician criticised another politician for bringing it up, saying it was disrespectful to politicise such tragic circumstances. Politicise? Politics? Climate change has deep political repercussions, but in itself it is as political as a blade of grass. It is the air we breathe. The food we eat. It is a fact of life which we ignore at our peril.
Why did they not draw reference to it? Would it really have made them seem as if they were taking political advantage? Or did it seem too tenuous and remote a thing to factor into the circumstances? Might it have offended the presumed backward sensibilities of the block-clearing country-dwellers? Whatever the case, don’t things have to change? Climate change will have to become a front and centre thing if we are ever to meet to successfully.
Clearing trees and increasing fuel burns may or may not offer some localised protection, but in the larger scale will make catastrophic bushfires more likely because they add carbon to the atmosphere and weaken nature’s mitigating effect on climate.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
These days, as I may have previously mentioned, I cannot imagine getting into bed of a night (or an afternoon) without my ipod and the growing store of utterly fascinating wisdom contained within. Constantly, I am discovering new podcasts by brilliant commentators and thinkers. Constantly, I am driven to my books or to the net to research things I’ve never heard of before. The universe is an utterly fascinating place, if you are interested in it, if you are in your manic phase and not weighed down by the leaden disinterest of depression.
I’ve added new list of links to the Sails of Oblivion sidebar. It includes all my current favourites like Reasonable Doubts (anyone conflicted about religion should listen to this – the mental agility of these guys is sometimes breathtaking), Skeptoid (The slow pitiless torture and execution of urban myths, alternative health nostrums, historical shibboleths and general wrong-headedness by the infuriating Brian Dunning), and Skeptics’ Guide to The Universe (the predominant sceptical podcast which, besides being rather entertaining, updates the progress of scepticism-related issues and advises on critical thinking).
I realised yesterday, when the new episode of The History of Rome appeared in my pod, that I’d been looking forward to it at least as much as the latest True Blood. There’s something about ancient Rome that does it for me. Simple as that.
And similarly with The Bible. Having been brought up a strict Catholic, The Bible was first presented to me as immutable, flawless and sacred. Consequently, in these latter days, I love seeing it picked apart and revealed as the imperfect work of fallible human minds. The related history and mythology is also captivating, as is the language - and in these regards, The Bible Geek is uber-knowledgeable, a talking concordance.
Sometimes, I wonder if anyone else is having the same experience as me. My delight in this newfound voluptuary of knowledge is a solitary vice, yet the net is a social phenomenon. There should be other lazy brains out there being driven to thought …
As regards the New Scepticism (or ‘Freethought’ as it is often described in the US) this really seems to be the case. There is a bone fide movement fomenting over there, spawned in the dark years of the Bush administration - when science found itself beholden to the madnesses of the extreme Christian right - and then set free to prosper with the rise of Obama. The nation’s freethinkers have organised themselves and are raising a loud, clear, measured voice against the powerful kooks that plague that country, be they conspiracy theorists, the anti-vaccination lobby or young Earth creationists.
Predictably the effects are spilling over into our fair land - despite our tendency to apathy and our lack of hugely influential maniacs against which to fight. Sceptic and atheist groups in Australia are feeding off the clamour in the US and consequently finding their feet. New web presences of a sceptical bent are always appearing, often produced by students. The Skeptics In The Pub phenomenon is catching on. And, excitingly, Melbourne is hosting The Global Atheist Convention in 2010. Its rubric is ‘The Rise of Atheism’. Let’s hope there's truth in that title.
As a young teenager, shortly after I lost my faith, I looked forward to many things: flying cars, the colonisation of Mars, and a world free of religion. Naively, I believed that by the turn of the century humanity would have developed sufficient intelligence to abandon such childish comforts as faith in an afterlife and a caring omnipotent god.
Naturally, as the years passed, my hopes were dashed. I had to recalibrate my opinions regarding humanity.
But now, I wonder, I just wonder, whether we might be seeing the glimmerings of a new Enlightenment.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
What an unusual, extraordinary month. By chance and queer circumstance, it proved to be an authentic festival of the early eighties. Now that the floodtide from the past has ebbed away, I’m shaking my head in astonishment.
And to think … that something so wonderful was spawned in an effort to address my little [big] problem and the financial boa constrictor which travels in its wake.
It feels a like a dream. An incursion on the general ordinariness of life from the luminous underground rivers of memory. I imagine it will be the last time I have the chance to revisit the mayhem of my youth in so comprehensive a fashion. Any effort to recapture the particular feeling at the Corner on the gloomy, wet afternoon of The Ears gig would be only to risk disappointment. And to belabour what was expressed in 'Livin' in DogFood' would be sheer pointlessness.
From this point on memories will degrade at a faster rate, people will die more often. The tall figures will withdraw into the mists…
Now I must begin learning lines for my part in Lynne Ellis’s production of Shakespeare’s bloodthirsty Titus Andronicus. And there is my drug-related presentation at the ANEX conference next month. There is a piece I’m preparing for The Last Tuesday Society. There is my monthly confabulation with a philosopher-psychologist. And my secret obsession with a certainAnd my vow not to let music slide away this time. There are the finals. There is my family. And there is, of course, my little [big] problem...
Friday, August 21, 2009
It was a joy to look back over certain history - rather than forward, in trepidation, with gnawing heart, towards an unknowable future. Every other time I’ve sung on stage, the experience has been weighed down, at least to some extent, by questions that just didn’t need an answer last Sunday.
How will the audience respond to our music? Will it please them? Does it please us? Is it time to make music that pleases them but which might not necessarily please us? How many people are here because of the support band? Will my pants split? Where do I rank on the ladder of cool? Are my balls visible? Am I too stoned to sing? Am I too drunk not to sing? Can I really sing at all? Can what I am doing technically be termed ‘singing’? Who can I fuck? Can Nick Cave ‘sing’? Is the crowd dense enough to dive on? Who can I fuck without alerting my girlfriend? Am I being true to myself? Who can I borrow money off? Is my father turning in his grave? Is what I’m doing ‘art’?
What will the record company think? Can I hear myself? Is the bassist having parallax error on his fretless? Why can’t I remember the lyrics? Will anyone notice? Have I actually written any lyrics? Is the solipsistic keyboardist riding a wave of his own grandeur? And my hair? Oh god! My clothes? My shoes? How fat am I exactly? Am I going to trip over a cymbal stand? Is the mike lead going to fall out? What will I say when the song’s over? What will happen if I pour beer into the foldback monitor? Is it obvious that the bassist is incompetent? Is there a polite way to tell him not to do that thing with his neck? Will we ever succeed? Are we succeeding now?
Is the drummer an amphibian? Is the guitarist going to stop playing and eat the Chinese meal steaming on top of his amp? Who can I score off in the audience? Is the keyboardist really eating an hallucinogenic omelette? Where is my beer? Why is that guy smiling at me like a self-satisfied sphinx? Does my howling sincerity come across as lame? To what extent am I completely deluded …?
I don’t know that I was ever quite so neurotic, but you get the picture. On Sunday, all that shit, it just didn’t matter – not to us, not to the audience - we were permitted to just enjoy the day, the music, the people and it was an absolute fucking pleasure that I’ll carry with me to the grave.
(photos by Brendan Young)
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Carbie Warbie took this lovely shot of the end of Sunday's show. That's the beautiful Dolores getting her just desserts.
Oh, and we've rabidly accepted The Wreckery's invite to play with them at the front bar at the Espy on August 29. It's free. I can't wait. See you there.
Some fabulous shots from Sunday at the Corner by Andrew McDougall. These ones are mainly of me, apparently, with pictures of Sean's Kelly's cameo and sword swallower Baroness Micha at the end. Andrew's Flickr album is here, and includes excellent photos of Hugo Race, Brian Hooper, Steve Kilbey, Nick Barker and all the sainted souls to who I am so thoroughly indebted so for helping me out. Not forgetting, of course, Dolores San Miguel, David Bridie, Chris Walsh, Andrew Park, Simon Polinski, Mark Gason, Mick Lewis, Cathy McQuade, Kerri Simpson, Carl Manuell, Bryan Colechin, Angus Hooper, Osker, Jo, Michaelangelo, Snicket The Wonder Dog and any performers I've forgotten and every last living soul who came on the day. Eternal gratitude.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I’m not even looking at that post I made on Sunday night. I’ll go from the fact that I thought 2.00am was 2.00pm, that it may be a bit sodden. Forgive me. (I'll sneak back and edit it later.) I spent yesterday in bed and woke up this morning with a damaged wrist and throbbing neck muscles. How did that happen? I had everything else covered. Why didn’t I practice headbanging?
There are some photos of the show popping up. Check out Leila Morrisey’s shots at Faster Louder (Where are the handsome ones? They have to exist, surely?)
Thanks to everyone who helped make Sunday such a great day. Kudos. I’ll write something a bit more substantial tomorrow. I’ve scored a copy of Star Trek and I’m about to watch it.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Okay, it’s two pm.
Jenny is asleep.
Polly is asleep.
In the near-nether regions of the city
is somnolent, it’s true …
at peace …
Only the clickety-clacks,
And purrings of my mind,
Like a moebius note
From the lunatic guitar
of my friend and colleague Mick Lewis
who did such a very
good job last night indeed.
My busy old head
Like ... an abominating
From the cricket in its nighthole;
Recharging and discharging
Like the Grand Capacitor of our Bi-valved Overlords
At every point
On the vast psychotropic spectrum
Of unalloyed animal excitation.
I can’t think of a gig,
(At which I’ve had the privilege to sing),
Which came close to last night.
Never had a better crowd.
A better band
Never such vibes.
It’s glorious what can burst
What can erupt like a toothed alien embryon ...
When the room
is so completely on your side.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
My final e-bill for the show. Forward it where you can. The image is borrowed from the cover of the Ears first single Leap For Lunch/The Crater. The model, if my memory serves me correctly, was Tom Rippon, and the photographer was the guy who was portrayed in Dogs in Space as a sarong-wearing Lothario with a penchant for Eno records
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Things are moving in a satisfactory manner. The casting agent, Victoria Holt, seems very impressed with me. She tells me I have some kind of mystique and has offered to find me more work in the vein of the Ovaltine ad, if I agree to have her as my personal manager. She is drawing up some kind of contract.
I’ve been a strikingly efficient being of late. The general lassitude in the group is bothering me, but we are sounding good. Six songs now, one an instrumental.
I had a dream last night in which there were seven layers of existence. I lived in the second, but found a way into the first where dwelled ‘the ennobled horses”.
Carol is completely slack. I’ll look for another house later this week. I’ll have the money.
I’ve been drinking less and feel as if it’s doing me good. Victoria Holt rang Philippa yesterday to try out for something, but she slept through the call. She was very depressed when I arrived yesterday afternoon, but we had a good night. I like Philippa, but …
I must do this. I must do this … But I’ll probably do that
That offer by Victoria Holt was a bit of a cusp point for me. I understood that she was quite influential in her industry, and that I might have had some kind of career there, but after I let her know that music would always be my priority, her enthusiasm waned.
Often, in these latter days, I think of myself as being a complete slackarse in my youth, but perhaps I’m a little hard on myself. From these diary entries, I seem to be quite driven, quite determined. Whether my actions conformed to my resolutions is another matter, I guess. I had my venal urges to contend with and they were truly a force to be reckoned with.
Five days out from the show now. Hair: growing. Clothes: undecided. Body: firming. Brain: whirring. Heart: tremulous.
In a dream last night there were so many people at the show that I had to use a helicopter to get to the bandroom ..
I saw Watchmen again yesterday on video …
“Every day the future looks a little bit darker, but the past, even the grimy parts of it, keep on getting brighter …
Diaries - 1981
Monday, August 10, 2009
Life is spiralling down to the nodus of August sixteen. I’m not nervous, I’m just worried that something will go wrong … But then … the tea-leaves have oriented themselves auspiciously thus far. (I look a bit dangerous in the photo, I know; it's an automatic band-photo expression)
I’ve become reacquainted with just how hard grungy rehearsal rooms can be on the voice. One has to sing or else scream at full volume to be even vaguely heard against the sonic wall of the band. It’s hard for an instrument of mere flesh to match the output of dedicated noise-making artefacts like drum-kits and Marshall amps, even with the help of a PA. I’m pretty husky after yesterday’s practice. I’m going to have to take it very easy. No nasty cigarettes. Plenty of fresh air and exercise. We’re having a last rehearsal on Friday night; I’d should be careful not to blow my fragile old voice box.
Then, there’s the question of facing an audience. There are elements of caricature and all that, but it’s not like playing a part in a play. It’s me on stage. I bear the same name as I do in real life. Perhaps, I should just attempt to replicate the very different me that fronted The Ears two and a half decades ago, with a few modifications for the sake of dignity … and the depredations of age. It just feels a little odd. Thankfully my fellow band-members have been very understanding of my attempts to rediscover my rock-star persona in the rehearsal room.
With me in the photos are Mick Lewis [guitar] x2 and Carl Manuell [drums]
Friday, August 7, 2009
The second showing of Livin' On Dog Food is tonight. I'm going again, not just because there may yet be someone I haven't told about the Ears reunion, but because It was genuinely interesting, and I found myself dwelling on the past in quite a nice way, freed from any lingering pain or grinding embarrassment. Bathing in nostalgia is one of the pleasures of increasing age - that's if you can keep it in check.
I had a brief conversation with a Latvian in the ACMI bar last night, who asked me if I was getting tired of the recent recrudescence of early Eighties material. As I tried to formulate a reply, I spilt my beer over him. Typical. I lost my car keys too and had to walk home from the station. The answer was 'no' by the way; my candle of remembrance will burn at least to the 16th.
At the end of last night's 'Post-Punk Mix-Tape" there was a short film made by David Collyer titled Wind In My Heart. It was nothing special really, just curious for me personally. I played the main character, a friendly gravedigger in the process of bleeding to death, and, my god, I was handsome in those days. Slender, red hair, white teeth, perfect flesh ...
But age has wearied me, and the years condemned ... Nice to look back on though, a gem to nurse in my heart. Something my daughter can brag about one day ...
Anyway, here's the poster for 'Livin' On Dog Food'
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Since Sunday, I’ve been doing the bare bones, eating, taking the child to school, napping, eating again, putting the child to bed. These days. even a moderate expenditure of social energy impacts on me for many days hence. Unlike, I’m sure, powerful, well-seasoned campaigners like Nurin and Emma de Clario.
Seeing Dogs in Space afresh was a surprising pleasure. It was fast moving, it didn’t sag and, strangely, it seemed a far better film today than it did at the time. Perhaps current audiences [by that I mean me] are more accustomed to films without a strong narrative spine.
The documentary We’re Livin’ on Dog Food was utterly fascinating. It returned me to the early eighties a lot more efficiently than the fictionalisation. Footage of the freshly squeezed Ollie Olsen and Rowland Howard [then of The Young Charlatans] daubed in makeup, bursting with romantic sensibilities and dreams of glory, was just wonderful. The two were to go their different ways, one to the North of the Yarra to pursue hard-edged no-quarter-given industrial mayhem, the other South to inspire a more flamboyant generation of post-punks, including my band The Ears. The film was a box of memories as complete as anything like that could ever be expected to be. Pierre, who was sitting a few seats down from me, ought to have been interviewed. He was one of the few key figures who didn’t get sufficient mention, and the film would doubtless have benefited from his wit and his bitchiness.
Sometimes, I wonder if the medications I take are disordering the functions of my amygdalae which, I am told, are the seat of emotion. There is a section of the documentary in which I describe the circumstances surrounding the death of my girlfriend Christine. My reaction was a kind of stunned fear or horror, as if some dark uniformed figure was about to enter the theatre and call me out. Over the intervening decades, the grief I felt at the time has attenuated to a keening note on the wind. What remains is a statue of sorrow rather than the sorrow itself. They say time heals all wounds, but I wish … not so completely.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
I missed the original première of Dogs in Space. I had seething issues with the film and nothing would have dragged me out in its support. There was an article in The Age the next day titled something like – Dark Premiere for Dark Film – accompanied by a photo of black-clad people mounting the stairs into the cinema. Edward Clayton-Jones of The Wreckery was among them, I remember that, and I also remember suppressing my visceral regret at not having been there.
Well, tonight, decades later, I have my second chance to show my face at a public screening of a film that’s been a constant presence in my life since it was released. Over the years since, I don’t think I’ve done more than a handful of interviews - whether theatrical, literary, operatic or band-related - in which Dogs in Space hasn’t come up. Inevitably, it’s the angle which journalists choose. Somehow it still manages to overshadow whatever I’m doing at the time. And I won’t even try to describe the effects it’s had on me in a social context.
I’ve never seen the film in a cinema. The first time I watched Dogs in Space was in a darkened room at a production house. I emerged speechless and in tears, then walked around the block about ten times. I did see it again, later, but several blue moons have passed since I’ve viewed more than a snippet.
I think that tonight, with all the raw emotions eroded by time, it will probably be like revisiting an old friend. One among many - as I imagine the audience will be writhing with degenerated eighties contemporaries.
Yet the question remains: what shall I wear?
Friday, July 31, 2009
I listen to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast every week, but sometimes he drives me crazy. The episode entitled ‘SUV phobia’ is a good example
“Let's spend some time on the trendy fad of looking for villains to blame for global warming. My flavour of the week is SUV's, those evil gas guzzling, ozone destroying, unethical, politically incorrect, Nazi family soccer wagons. Only let's not do it the trendy way, let's look at the issue sceptically.”
He argues articulately that the SUV is a style of car rather than a mechanical category - and fair enough. He berates city councils for banning this ‘style’ of car rather than specifying fuel-inefficient or over-large cars - and fair enough. He lets us know that ‘the majority’ of SUVs are neither bigger nor less fuel-efficient than the average car - and, if this is true, fair enough. What’s more, the SUV ‘style’ obeys modern emission laws, so is generally cleaner than many older cars.
But isn’t he missing the point somewhat?
It is only recently that the American term ‘SUV’ has begun to replace the Australian descriptor ‘Four Wheel Drive’ and half way through the podcast I began to wonder exactly what kind of car Dunning was referring to. Was there a definition discontinuity? Certainly, there seem to be a great many of the small SUV types on the road, but these are not the ‘villains’ fuelling the issue.
Hummer 2s, Range Rovers and Canyoneros (whatever) are heavy vehicles - there are no two ways about it. To move their considerable mass, a larger engine and more fuel is required. What people are complaining about is the use of such vehicles in situations and environments in which they are unnecessary and in which their fuel use is therefore excessive. People also complain about of the ability given their owners, who may lack a certain sensitivity, to access areas of the planet which require just this sensitivity to survive. And this aside from the clumsiness in the parking lot, the dangers these vehicles create as an obstacle to clear vision on the roads ,and their poor ‘crash compatibility’ with normal sedans.
Face it. They’re jet-skis.
It is natural for thoughtful, caring people to recoil against what appears to be a flagrant waste of resources and a font of unnecessary pollution. Therefore, inevitably, the large ‘SUV’ has become a symbol of excess, an icon for just the kind of behaviour that is threatening our world. If city councils have banned them, then huzzah! They are underscoring a basic human moral. They are helping remind the populace that it is gross and offensive to shit where you live.
If, as Dunning argues, there is a by-catch of small, low polluting cars, then that can surely be addressed, though it is, I would contend, a secondary issue. That the military Humvee [H1] and the Hummer 2 do not share a single component is indeed ‘another example of why you should be sceptical of marketing labels’ but it should not divert attention from the barbaric nature of the vehicle itself. I have seen an H2 and there is no way anyone is going to convince me it is a city-appropriate, fuel-efficient, planet-friendly vehicle. Even its advertising slogan ‘Get Lost’ seems to admit this, having a sub-text aimed at those who would criticise the unashamedly boorish artifact.
The angle Brian Dunning takes on the SUV issue is certainly sceptical. Logical too. But I would draw the line at humanist. I have noticed this kind of thing on other occasions too, as I tread the vasty deeps of the sceptisphere. The new sceptics can sometimes get so enthusiastic with their critical analysis that they discard the human element. Even Richard Dawkins is sometimes a culprit.
Certainly, as Dunning says, container ships produce carbon emissions equivalent to 300,00 cars and are not subject to emission laws, but there are many more cars than container ships.* And without the billions of stuff-hungry people those ships would be mothballed. And there’s the rub. A simple confusion over categorisation should not stop or discourage us reducing excess in our daily lives. Like many, I hold strongly to the credo ‘think globally, act locally’.
* Are there 300,000 cars for each container ship in the world? I would guess there are a lot more. But it’s only a guess, and I’m flirting with sceptics here.
I’ve got myself the leading part in the Ovaltine (flavoured milk) ad. The payment is $1,000. They’re contracting me for a year, I think – and part of the fee will go as their percentage.
I don’t quite understand why I was chosen. Personally, I thought I looked ugly on the video, and I still had a shadow on my face, even though I took great pains in shaving.
It has the same air as a Big M advertisement [almost]. I felt embarrassed by some of the things I had to act out … prowling after girls … drinking the stuff … simulating satisfaction …
That Carol’s going to get it! I’m moving in regardless of those godforsaken druggies.
Lots of time with Phillipa & Gus. Lots of booze etc. Lots of wasted time. I’m going to become (the) retiring (type) for a while, I think.
I wonder if anyone recalls this ovaltine advertisement? I’d be curious to see it. I think I’m old enough not to be embarrassed. The agency were trying to get ahead of the trend by using a ‘blitz’ theme. I was wearing these bespoke leather pants and a semi-frilled white shirt, wandering down a forced perspective hallway opening doors. There was a cow behind one. There was a surfeit of ovaltine flavoured milk cartons behind another, and behind still another there was a rather hot female model, probably with Eighties hair, sipping ovaltine flavoured milk through a straw. I know she was hot because she’d stripped naked about two feet from where I was sitting having a semi-conscious morning coffee in the dressing room. The effect was instant paralysis. These model types …
The money, by the way, was huge at the time.
Diaries - 1981
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I did rather well at the advertising agency. It feels like I’ll get work of some sort, hopefully lucrative. I might get Martin Kantor to do a folio for me.
With the hundred dollars given me by The Ears, I have organised all the finances for the flat. I’m just am waiting for Carol and her gay friends to move out.
I have an appalling case of diarrhoea.
Been staying at Phillipa W----‘s a great deal. I like her. She has very soft skin. After Inflation on Monday was where it (probably) really began. We’ll see …
The new group is sounding good, like it will be a success. Again, we’ll see … We may call it ‘The Hat’, and I may dress as a vicious Mongolian from the Dark Ages.
Went to the Philosophy Club tonight and had coffee with Cathy Denny.
Why, oh why, didn’t we call it ‘The Hat’?
I think ‘faggot’ is more of a pejorative term now than then. Whenever I come across it in these diaries, I feel obliged to change it to gay or queer. Back then it was much more endearing.
The subject of Martin Kantor actually came up the other day, by way of my friend Tanya. It seems that they've moved to Byron Bay and spawned a small daughter. I went to uni with Martin and he used to take some great band photos. I was always particularly impressed by the fact he worked for The Truth. Remember The Truth?
I recall listening to one of The Church’s early singles on the cassette player by the bed in Phillipa’s room and having a good long think about it. From their discography, it had to be Unguarded Moment, as its follow up, according to Wikipedia, hadn’t been released.
The Philosophy Club is a subject in itself. It wasn’t really a club, it was The School of Philosophy and I went there at the behest of my crazy friend George.
Remember those ads in Saturday’s Age? Back when there were two parts, instead of thirteen? On the front page of the second half, there was always an ad simply titled ‘Philosophy’ with a block of text beneath. It may still be appearing, for all I know, and the School of Philosophy may still be with us.
Not unsurprisingly, given George’s involvement, it turned out to be sinister cult. They appeared almost normal. They held public introductory meetings ran six week courses, but the men were required to wear dark suits and the women long skirts. The chairs at these meetings were wooden and hard because, George told me, it helped concentrate the attention. They sourced texts like The Gita, The Upanishads, The Bible, all the great wisdom of the world regardless of creed, but once you started going to their weekend retreats they would practise sleep deprivation and other mind control techniques, and would encourage you to expand your intellectual horizons by deeding them your house.
Diaries - 1981
And lastly, a picture from The Ears' rehearsal last Sunday.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Last night, I went to the opening of the film festival at the Arts Centre. A huge event, the like of which I haven’t been to in ages. A great many speeches, seen from a great distance – Geoffrey Rush, John Brumby - and the premiere screening of Robert Connolly’s Balibo.
The sound unfortunately was terrible, doubly so for me with my blasted out ears, but the film about the five Australian journalists killed during the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor (or Timor Leste as it now seems to be called) was a pretty reasonable effort.
It told two stories: that of the Five and the events leading to their deaths, and that of an older journalist named Roger East (played by Anthony LaPaglia), who, with the help of a young, freedom-fighting Jose Ramos Horta, travels to Balibo to ascertain their fates. East’s story comes across in clear focus - it’s the spine of the film - but the Five’s experiences felt strangely spectral. Again, this may be due to my blasted senses but these sections seemed to be coloured differently, as if shot on aged stock, or long ago, with higher contrast and saturation; their time felt far more remote than the experiences of East just three weeks later.
The characters of the Five never fully congealed for me, they always remained a group rather than individuals. They were like ghosts, reprinted newspaper photos brought to life and doomed to die. Their actual deaths were rendered with horrific simplicity and inevitability – there was no mercy for these living dead, and only a sharp horrifying glimpse, through the ashes of their burnt bodies, of the horror of their last moments.
Innocent young Australians utterly at sea in a vicious alien world they did not understand, which did not recognise their ideals, and to which they expected to be immune - simply because they were Australians.
Naturally, the iconic painting of the word Australia on the side of the Balibo house was included. The word became a protective talisman, and, in the end, was just as ineffective as any rabbit’s foot or monkey’s claw. Even East shared this mindset to a degree. His last words, immediately before he was machine-gunned, delivered with a final surprised bewilderment, were ‘But I’m Australian!”
Afterwards, more speeches, including fine words from Ramos Horta who stood with a uniformed bodyguard behind and to his right. The families of the dead journalists were invited on stage, the actors too. Oddly, there was no mention of Xanana Gusmao at any point in the proceedings.
A massive party afterwards, packing every level of the Arts Centre. I got chatting and almost missed the last train to Mount Waverley. Here are a few old cronies I haven’t seen in decades …
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I've managed to put an Ears page up on MySpace. It probably doesn't look like much just yet, but there are three songs that can be listened to. Currently seeking fans...
There's also an Event page for The Gig, so if you feel like inviting anyone, be my guest.
Links are on the right
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Richard Lowenstein has just released the trailer for 'We're Livin' On Dog Food' - his doco about the early eighties scene in Melbourne and, of course, the events surrounding the making of Dogs in Space.
It's showing on August 2 at the Melbourne Film Festival. This is its facebook event page and here's the trailer:
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Apparently, not everybody in the world is on facebook, so I thought I'd post some of the pictures from the 'Sails of Oblivion: The Gig' facebook page here, where the whole world can see them. They're all photos of The Ears from 1979-82. The first is from one of our very first shows before Cathy joined the band.
There are more photos on photobucket and flickr, the links to which are in the right hand column. And remember, keep spreading the news about August the 16th.
Monday, July 20, 2009
What if current conditions on Earth were perfect for the genesis of life? Not life as we know it, but another kind, a different kind starting anew from the inanimate organic soup - while we happily continue on our way, ignorant of a new challenger rising from beneath. Something based on a triple or quadruple helix perhaps, or on plastic, neon and carbon monoxide. Perhaps something congealing in the anoxic depth of the Gulf of Mexico ...
Perhaps the havoc we are wreaking on the planet is making conditions perfect for this new genesis, perhaps our toxic effluents are providing the perfect nutrient mix.
I was going to write a story about this. I have a few scribbled pages in a notebook. But after hearing Paul Davies speak on the Science Show the other week [4 July], I don’t think I’ll bother.
In an absolutely fascinating address, he discusses something he calls the ‘shadow biosphere’. He posits the notion that life may have originated more than once on the Earth, and, asks, if this were the case, how we would go about finding it.
If it was something that has faded away, then we would have to look for ‘ancient biomarkers in the fossil record’ but, if not, if there is indeed a shadow biosphere currently intermingled with our own, he suggests a number of methods by which we could identify it.
Firstly, it would have to be small. If were anything more than microscopic we would have noticed it already. But the vast majority of life on Earth is microscopic and the vast majority is unresearched and unsequenced. If this shadow or ‘weird’ life was ecologically separate, we might find it by subjecting samples to extremes of radiation, acidity, or general contamination, or by looking into extreme environments like the upper atmosphere or around super-hot hydrothermal vents. If it was ‘integrated into our ecology’ we could examine how it cycles carbon [if it is carbon-based], or the chirality [handedness] of the compounds from which it is formed. Davies also suggests that weird life may process arsenic instead of phosphorus.
He presents the enthralling possibility that there may conceivably be, rather than a tree, a forest of life on Earth.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The sceptic movement seems to have gained a great deal of traction from the rise of the podcast. The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, probably the most popular ‘cast on the theme, is certainly my first choice among postcasts and I'm continually meeting people who concur.
The movement has its heartland in the US, that appears obvious, and in the US it is allowable, and indeed correct, to spell sceptic with a 'k'. But why has the burgeoning Australian movement embraced this spelling?
Is it like the Australian ‘Labor’ Party all over again. To quote Wikipedia, “the party was influenced by the United States labor movement and a prominent figure in the early history of the party, the North American-born King O'Malley, was successful in having the spelling "modernised"” [Other reasons are given, but they are minor.]
The Americans, through the pious hand of Noah Webster, performed a lot of English modernisation [rather in the tradition of Orwellian Newspeak]. Hence: color not colour, meter not metre, defense not defence. For good or ill, Webster’s attempt to change tongue to tung failed. Similarly, bred for bread, masheen for machine and blud for blood.
And it’s like disk all over again, though I have noticed that the original tide of US-inspired floppy 'disks' and hard 'disks' has ebbed somewhat over the years and that the correct spelling of disc can now often seen in relation to computers
The Australian Skeptics do it. The young Australian Skeptics do it. The Skeptic Zone, an Australian podcast, does it. These guys are supposed to be critical thinkers. They’re supposed to be accurate. Why are they making this mistake? Is there something I’m not seeing?
Sceptic ‘pre-dates the settlement of the US and follows the French sceptique and Latin scepticus’. Some writers, including Samuel Johnson in his dictionary, spelled sceptic with a 'k', but it never caught on, as it did with, say, ‘skeleton’. The Americans, perhaps via the intercession of Webster, used ‘skeptic’, which was closer to the ancient Greek.
To quote Wikipedia : Australians generally follow British usage (with the notable exception of the Australian Skeptics).
I would really like an answer to this question. I'd hate to think that our sceptic movement is working out of ignorance.
Friday, July 17, 2009
If you know anyone whose interest might be piqued by the Sails of Oblivion gig, feel free to forward this e-bill.
And to quote original keyboardist Gus Till's reaction:
"I recall you telling me that when the name 'The Ears' was decided upon it was also unanimously accepted as bleedin' obvious that it should never ever be mentioned that under NO circumstances would a picture of an ear ever be involved with anything ever associated with aforesaid group! But in one eye and out the other, the passage time of time has nullified this once unbreachable position.
But the ear of god? I like it!!"
Thursday, July 16, 2009
On my walks I’ve often fantasised about dressing down the dog owners who let their animals swim among the teals and ducks and coots of the Huntingdale Wetlands. Once I imagined dropping a brick on the head of someone I saw yabbying there (though my outrage turned to melancholia as I observed him: an elderly man with his grand-daughter, possibly a European migrant like my father (an excellent yabby-catcher) who may have been used to rivers and streams with slightly less toxicity than ours. Conceivably, the maudlin pair may have caught a microscopic mosquito fish, but the yabbies that once existed in this area now rest in peace beneath the Monash Freeway).
I’ve thought of marking the spots where I find empty bottles and cans with a sign reading;
A complete arsehole casually defiled the planet in this place
Or something along those lines… I’ve even visualised the mass production of these signs and considered carrying them with me in a pack along my route, but deep down, thankfully, I know that my time is better spent in some other fashion.
But of course I applaud the author of the damning reprimand photographed above, although I should really grass him/her up to the Apostrophe Police.
I found the neat little tableau on my way to 3PBS to record an interview with Ruari Currin who hosts Fang It! He’s putting together a special on the forthcoming Dogs In Space/Ears Reunion axis, so look out for it. I think he’ll also be interviewing Ollie Olsen and Hugo Race.
My thinking cap kept falling off during the interview, but I suspect I made a little sense. He asked if I had any advice for young bands starting out. The question took me quite by surprise. I felt old and superannuated. All I could think of saying was ‘don’t get a drug habit.’
I did another interview yesterday with Patrick Donovan from the EG [The Age]. This one was more directly related to the ‘Post Punk’ stream at the film festival, but I think the Sails of Oblivion show will get some exposure from it.
And this morning, I woke to the sound of currawongs high in the peppermint gum in the front yard.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Things have been riotous, strange and extreme. I’ve been challenged with calamity, yet somehow, from the chaos, with the help of friends and family, using resources I didn’t know I possessed, I’ve been able to confront the encroaching darkness - just by living my life.
In fact, it’s turning out to be a wildly interesting year. The Ears reunion. Who could have predicted that? I’m spending more time with old friends than I could possibly have forseen, and no friend is better than an old friend. Richard is re-releasing Dogs in Space, a mere two weeks prior to the show, together with We’re Living on Dog Food, a 'doco that explores the making of the film and the scene in early Eighties Melbourne which inspired it. Providence walks before me, seeding my trail with stardust. I’ve even scored a ticket to the opening night of the film festival.
And the granite-bodied men of St Kilda Football Club have won fourteen games without a loss and look set to challenge for the premiership.
And the light of my life, my daughter, is happy and growing. We’ve just returned from three days in Bairnsdale with Tosie and her son Kyowa, who is just a little older than Polly. I really needed the time; I was getting a little frayed at the ends, and Polly loves Kyowa, and vice versa.
We saw fat koalas lodged in the forks of trees, regarding us with the inscrutable expressions of the profoundly stoned. We rode a ‘fairy’ to Raymond Island. We explored a secret place - a mossy rainforest gully of tumbled granite boulders in the deep shadows of water gums. We had dinner at the property of an old bushie called Mick, where the smell of burning bracken was as evocative as Proust’s biscuit, where we turned a giant fallen stringybark into an adventure playground, and where I explained that Betelgeuse, in the constellation of Orion, has recently reduced in size by fifteen percent and may be about to explode, turning our nights into day for the first time in a millennium. Elsewhere, we fed crimson rosellas and king parrots. I saw a bronzewing pigeon, the kind which leaps into flight with a characteristic flapping sound caused by the particular shape of its wings. I saw a male satin bowerbird, the kind that collects blue things for its prospective lovers.
But, almost inevitably, I received a call from Melbourne. My wife, who was not too well to begin with, was in hospital, having taken a decided turn for the worse. As with my legal problems, I can’t be too straightforward here. Suffice to say another heavy weight of responsibility and potential stress has been hefted upon my shoulders.
But never mind. No fear.
Many don’t make it through times like this. Often, it's simply the pressure that defeats them. Tosie’s brother recently died of a heart attack. He was in his early forties .He was brought low by the stress of a bitter struggle with the evil mother of his young daughter. Me, I will work towards tranquility. I know there is only so much I can do. There is no profit in savaging myself over things I can’t control. And in the end ...?
With the beautiful people on my side, I know it will turn out well.