Thursday, August 05, 2004

Take your platyposition

The platypuses at Broken River are not curious about the onlookers that swarm on the bridge and on the viewing platform, craning to get a view of the furry monotremes below, but you could be forgiven for thinking they are looking you straight in the eye.

They are strange beings. They lay eggs but they suckle their young. They look somewhat like otters with duck bills. I suppose most people know this about them. But they do not know, unless they see them, that they rush this way and that, stirring up the silt so that the river is clouded with it, that they make no sound bar the plop of their bodies when they dive for a worm, that they feed in this season day and night, perpetually it seems.

A man tells us that the female stores fat in her tail and will stay in her burrow for two months when she has laid eggs.

The air up on the range at Eungella is cold. You wouldn't think you were in the tropics if it weren't for the palms. The rainforest is not quite tropical anyway. It is not tremendously different from the rainforest at Lamington or Noosa (or doesn't seem so to me -- I don't know much about Australian flora, not even enough to know the names of gums, let alone tell them apart).

The road from Mackay is flanked by fields of cane. The light is different in Australia and I see better. Everything is sharp and distinct. The air is clear and should feel good to breathe, although I have been suffering from a grating something in my throat, not enough to make me cough but enough to feel the cool.

Mackay is a sugar town. It is lowlying, flat and unhurried. It has kept more of its older buildings than most Australian towns that I have seen, which makes it quite attractive. The pubs are lively on a Friday night, nothing like as threatening as their counterparts in the English countryside.

We sit at the bar in one hotel or another, I can't remember the name. Every time I empty my glass of bourbon and coke, the barman offers me another. I do not know whether to say not just now or to drink more slowly, and because I can't decide, I am very drunk.

I feel happy though. I find I am always happy when I drink bourbon (and not so if I drink whisky, so I don't much any more) but particularly so to be here with my sister. She is a straightforward woman, not by any means a thinker, but she is intelligent and interested in a lot of the things I am interested in. We get on very well mostly, although she is not so tolerant of others' foibles as she might be (a schoolteacherly vice -- she is used to people's doing more or less what she wants when she wants it). She particularly dislikes being talked to sharply, and I've never learned not to talk sharply when I think it's merited (and yes, sometimes when it isn't). You don't ever want her to drive you anywhere if you are expected to navigate. Don't ask.

The beaches north of Mackay are just nice enough to make you feel good about life without really being anything special, but it feels good to lie in the warm sun with nothing to think about.


My sister has been reading the Curious incident of the dog in the night. It's what her book group is reading. Because the girls in her book group are afraid of proper books, they often choose children's books: His dark materials, Harry Potter etc.

Curious incident is very much written for children. I think it would be a wonderful read for an early teen. It has a lot of incidental stuff, science, tidbits, the sort of thing I loved when I was a teen (and still do). You probably ought to know it all by the time you're my sister's age, though (but I'm not at all sure what "ought to" means in this context).

The narrator of Curious incident is a child with Asperger's, which was interesting, because I too am writing a book with an Asperger's character (if you can call it "writing a book" when you are at a stage of "dreaming about actually bothering to write the fucking thing"). I did quite a bit of research. It's a fascinating study. It's one of those conditions in which you can see slivers of yourself reflected, and you are left hoping not too much. (In case you're wondering, I do have a theory of mind, do understand emotions and can read faces! But I get a little upset by things out of place, cannot rest when I have an uncompleted task, sometimes don't need company and some other bits and bobs.)

I'm interested because I like to think about the line between what we in essence are and what we become; what is foisted on us by nature and what we choose (however wide an idea "choosing" is). For instance, parents worry that their children are shy when they do not want to associate with others or will not cooperate, hitting or biting. But you could just as easily argue that there is something inherently sensible in not wanting to associate with snotty little kids who bore you with their constant demands, and there isn't a person on this planet who wouldn't improve for the occasional deep bite on the arm. It's interesting to reflect on your own character: what could you change if you wanted to and what are you stuck with? Are you this and that because your pa and ma did this and that? (I suspect not! I rather feel that the reasons for our being what we are lie in a myriad interactions, reinforcements and knockbacks, all working on a substrate made by your genes, and that psychiatrists will be shown to be the frauds that most sane people suspect them to be.)

It's curious. I like to believe in change although I so rarely see it. sigh


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