I am eating nuts
I am thinking about driving later, going for a drive2
, looking for something interesting to eat
I am listening to the Chameleons
It is uncommonly cold
, and I am bored enough to do footnotes to my bloggetry.5
I am editing a work on tourism management
. Guess who's quitting early, drinking a litre of red wine and smoking a big fat joint
1 Yes, I am nibbling Nobby's nuts. I had to. I didn't want Nobby to nibble mine. Although, now I come to think about it, I don't have any objection as such to having my nuts nibbled. Gently. If your teeth meet, that's not gently. If they gnash
, you probably shouldn't be allowed near a man's nether regions. Return
2 I was planning the same the other night. It's a good job I didn't. I don't have a licence and the police were RBTing*
everyone. I would surely be pulled over: the Smegma**
is such a bomb, you'd think you needed to be drunk to drive it.Return
* An RBT is a "random breath test". The police here don't tend to pull you over if you are driving erratically, swerving all over the road or generally making a menace of yourself -- we call that "owning a ute". Instead, they set up roadblocks and test all and sundry. It doesn't necessarily make the roads any safer -- because they block main roads and not pub carparks, but it keeps them busy on a cold night. Return
** The Smegma is my car (thanks to S. for the name; it couldn't be more appropriate). A Mitsubishi Sigma. If you don't know what one of those is, imagine a midsized silver and rust saloon, from which a piece falls roughly weekly. If you are planning to give Dr Zen a lecture about the hypocrisy of being a two-car family and preaching green ethics at the same time, don't bother. He'd rather be a hypocrite than walk. Especially given the lack of pavements. And the many utes. Return
3 Okay, yes, for a vegetarian, a plane might be more appropriate. There is a small focus group somewhere in Sydney whose brief is to invent ever more inedible veggie food. I bet it amuses them no end. I remember the great pleasure I felt wandering around Chennai, and seeing restaurants marked "Meat". The reversal of the paradigm almost made the repulsive stench of the city bearable. Actually, dining out in Chennai is great fun. You pay 15, maybe 20 rupees (about 30 pence) and a man brings you a banana leaf with a pile of rice in the middle. He also brings you several little metal pots, filled with several courses of food. This is a thali. You eat it with your hands -- actually, just your right hand (Indians, as do many of the world's peoples) wipe their arses with their left hand and consider eating with it to be uncouth (not to mention dangerous, given that India is swarming with parasites in the form of bacteria, worms and amoebae). The food is usually delicious, although much hotter than you'd get from a curryhouse (putting the lie to the myth that the Poms invented hot curries to cover up the flavour of off meat) and it's all you can eat. The thought of it makes my feet itch.Return
4 Early 80s postpunk. The Chameleons saved the life of a friend of mine, or at least their singer, Mark Burgess did. My friend was suicidal. His gf had left him for his best friend (why, I have no idea) and he spent three months in his bedroom (I'm not kidding; he literally stayed in the room, not coming out -- he had to be passed food and antidepressants). In desperation, his brother wrote to Burgess and asked him whether he could say anything to comfort B. Burgess -- an emotional man himself, if his songs are anything to judge him by -- wrote him a letter of exquisite sympathy -- nay, empathy, he found from his own life times when he had been just as down -- not just a best wishes, mate, but a letter to treasure. B. recovered from his slump rapidly after that. It was as though it had never happened.Return
5 I am resolutely refusing to admit to loneliness. I last saw another human being, outside of a TV screen, on Saturday morning. Yes, I know, I could walk in the park and I would possibly spy a jogger. But that is hardly interaction, although I could surprise myself by saying hello.*
Who knows? Perhaps one of those joggers could be a likeminded soul, desperate to meet someone like me... hmm, not likely. No one of a like mind to me is all that likely to be running round Bulimba Creek in the rain, are they? No, they're more likely to be rattling round in a rustbucket, trying to find something interesting to eat.Return
* Why would that be a surprise? I have mentioned my agoraphobia
, which is not so much fear of crowds as fear of repercussions (I don't think there's a word for that -- does anyone know the Greek for repercussions? I doubt Tom will have read all the way down to here, but if he has, perhaps he will let me know what I should call it). One of its many niggling outcomes is an inability to say hello to strangers (and sometimes people I know -- it infuriates Mrs Zen when her relatives call and I don't leap to my feet, hand outstretched, yelling "hiya, how you doin', how's the job/health/wife/kids/skin problem" -- okay, okay, I have to admit that that's probably down to sheer diffidence rather than any particular fear of the consequences of hailing my wife's rellies; although, now I think of it, I do have a generalised fear that saying hello will be taken as an invitation to talk to me, not something that I ever find satisfying, and I'm sure they don't either).Return
On the death of Richard Whiteley
A tiny piece of the England I love and miss is gone
I remember a few years ago, John Major was laughed at for his misty-eyed description of the little England in his heart: village-green cricket, cream teas, the sub-post office. We are told -- generally in shrill, almost hysterical tones -- that we must embrace diversity, that it is a good
Well, I suppose it is. I embrace it as much as the next man. But living here, in a place that is all diversity and no core, you cannot help feeling that somewhere in our rush to be modern, we abandoned something precious.
Perhaps I am just too old to keep up, and have become like all fogeys, looking back on the golden years (that never were, of course). No, I don't think so. I don't idealise the past. I just remember beer in a walled garden, tea in a shady courtyard, hot rolls at a pub quiz in Much Marcle, speech day at St John's, the idea -- not particularly widely held, I suppose -- that courtesy had a value. Yes, we made slaves of women -- my own mother has not had a career other than homemaking and childraising -- but we had the notion that they should be precious to us. I liked the world better when I was expected to hold the door open for ladies than I do now that I have to hold their hair out of their mouth because they have -- in pursuit of an equality that seems to demand identity (so much for diversity) -- adopted the worst of male excess, and become disgusting thugs, just like we can be.
The world changes. Yes, of course it does. (And I enjoy the new, the surprises -- sadly fewer now that creativity has become a commodity: when you mass produce any good, it loses the beauty that is possible with handcrafting.) But we do not have to like it.
We are all dust soon enough. We need not rush to make our world as arid as the graves we are headed for. I'm for the soft voice, the kind word, the gentleness of Whiteley, proof while he lived that entertainment need not be colourful
to bring a dash of colour into our lives.
Whale of a time
Why would anyone want to eat a whale
It's easy to have the thought. But you can easily imagine aliens arriving on Earth and being horrified by our eating other species. "They eat cows. And those adorable piggies," Zog will cry. Perhaps the aliens will set up a global farming commission, and we will have to pretend that we are raising cows for scientific reasons, as the Japanese do whales.
It is whale-watching season here. Humpbacks swim up towards the tropics to breed, and return later in the year. At Hervey Bay, they rest, and the viewing is nonpareil. I have been six feet from a whale, and while it's not quite a spiritual experience, it does touch something inside you.
The prohibition on eating them is based largely in their being intelligent, and consequently, like us. Sliminess or creepiness aside, we generally have taboos on eating things that we feel are like us: the more so, the more we oppose their being eaten. (This doesn't apply to horses, which are no more like us than cows, and a damned sight less intelligent than a pig. I suppose we do not eat them because we once had a culture that depended on them for transport and haulage, although the same is true for the French, and they will have them hoof and hide, so long as they are served with a creamy sauce. And dogs are not eaten where they are pets. As for cats... they are not generally eaten. One supposes this is because they are so sinister. They do not make good enough eating to merit the fear of their ghosts' returning to claw you to scraps.)
So we find the eating of monkeys thoroughly unacceptable, and bears rather distasteful. Dolphins are out.
Some animal rightists extend this to all animal species. They suggest we should not eat them (or use them in any way as property) because it is "speciesist". It's apparently not speciesist to eat potatoes. Potatoes don't have faces after all, and don't make squealing noises when you put them to death. The argument of Gary Francione et al is that potatoes don't feel pain -- their definition of sentience, which is their distinguishing feature for the inedible, is "able to feel pain" -- but how do they know? Potatoes do not express
pain but can we be certain that's the same thing as not feeling it?
And are fish a borderline case? How do you know what a fish feels? Many piscatarians that I know say they eat fish because they're "not really animals". That shows a lamentable grasp of biology, but the sense is clear enough. Fish don't generally make noises. (Can it be coincidental that the swimming things that resemble fish that we don't eat "sing" and communicate verbally?) They don't have legs. They cannot gambol.
I am a vegetarian. For me, it's not a case of avoiding speciesism so much as of distaste for eating animals: a grand squeamishness if you like. I do not disapprove of meat-eating where it is a question of survival. But in civilised societies such as ours, eating meat seems somehow savage, degraded, a thing we should rise above.
At least, I thought that way when I gave up sausages. These days it's more that meat turns my stomach. I have conflicting feelings about eating it. I was never a proselytiser anyway. Live and let murder is much more my thing.
I never liked seafood anyway and I find the idea of eating a whale repellent. I feel the same about horses, mind you. I can't imagine wanting to. But I have to ask myself, if they were sustainably fished (whales, not horses), what would be the problem? The answer is clear though. They have been fished to near extinction. Humpbacks are endangered. The Japanese could be allowed a couple of hundred a year, maybe, yes. If the population were growing by sufficient numbers, that would be okay, surely? How could we allow squeamishness to overcome their right to eat blubber? (In other places, whaling is permitted on a very limited scale. Inuit fish for whale, I believe, although very few these days.)
But there are two insurmountable problems. First, that the populations of these whales are very close to a tipping point. All species have a point where they are doomed. Without the intervention of man, with structured breeding programmes and so on, they are going to become extinct. It's clear enough why this should be -- all species have attrition rates; all lose so many of their young each year; all have death rates of such and such, and only so much surplus of births over deaths in the first place. And many of the population cannot successfully breed: they are too old or cannot for other reasons produce viable offspring. With animals that have low rates of attrition from natural causes, such as whales, the number can be quite low, so that those who want to whale can say, yes, there are relatively few, but that is sustainable because you only need a few. The problem then is that the margin between survival and extinction is very small, and any mistake or cheating can be very dangerous.
Second, and most important, is that no system of licensing will prevent poaching. It probably happens now. Naturally, when we are all united in saying no to whaling, we know that anyone who is catching whales (bar the Japanese "scientific" quota) is poaching and can be stopped. But when there is some whaling allowed, it will become hard to police. If whalers are licensed, they will need to be carefully monitored to make sure they are sticking to their quotas. Where is the motivation for those nations who do not think whaling should be so heavily restricted to do that careful work?
The cost of the Japanese love of whalemeat will quite possibly be borne by my grandchildren or their children. They may watch the last few humpbacks swimming past Straddie, their numbers slowly dwindling to nothing, until there are none outside aquaria, the last lonely whales on a planet that once had an abundance.
The twins are one. No, I don't mean they have been the victims of a gruesome experiment in creating a Frankenzen, which may win me either a Nobel or a ten-stretch. They are a year old. They're less excited about it than we are, but they like the presents.
The temptation when you reach a milestone with a child (or children) is to say, well, that wasn't so bad. After all, they have survived. Many children do not. I will never forget the sound of a mother crying in Bubaque, her infant lost to something that would have cost a couple of dollars to vaccinate, if vaccines were available in Guinea-Bissau. And they are beautiful children. Much more beautiful than yours. Face it. Yours do not have angel faces. Yours do not have Zenita's fluffy blond curls or Naughtyman's cheeky grin. Yours do not laugh their heads off when you play dinosaurs with them. Yours do not shout out "Daddy" when you first see them in the AM (okay, okay, so she says "daddoo" when she sees the cleaner, grandparents, nextdoor neighbours and sometimes birds, but there's just that hint of a "y" about it when it's me). And your kids do not have my love to sustain them. They do not quieten when they are screaming, just because they can feel me next to them. They do not hear how gentle my big voice can be, the last thing they hear before they sleep.
The twins do not know that today is any different from any other day. They do not know that the comfort and joy that their lives bring can be leached out by life, that their softness can be hardened by the inconsiderate, loveless fools who some days seem to spend their time in doing nothing but finding ways to hurt one another. They do not need to know any of that. They are caught up in being; being one on a fresh, cold blue-sky day, warm in their mother's arms, safe from harm.
At the Newnham pub
It is ten to eleven. Someone is bellowing "Here's Pikey" (the names have been changed to protect the arsewitted but let's face it, I'm not feeling too imaginative so you can probably reconstruct them without too much trouble) "with Enter Sandman".
I do sometimes feel I have been plunged into a life directed by Dali. Those are the good days. When they're bad, it's much more dada.
Isn't karaoke supposed to be lighthearted fun though? People get a bit tipsy and sing the classics? With more passion than accuracy, and to the great amusement of their friends? How can Enter Sandman be lighthearted fun? I understand though. I have already listened to works that I love sucked dry of all life. A parade of Mt Gravatt's finest dullards have tried to sing
. Mostly too quietly for anyone to be able to understand any of the words. Do these people not know that the point is to belt them out as though there was no tomorrow, rather than to make the poor sods listening to them wish there weren't?
Why am I sitting in a huge, overlit barn listening to a man grinding his way through Metallica? It's like the antikaraoke. If the guy who invented the machines had known, he would never have gone through with it. If he ever visits the Newnham pub, I imagine he'll have to do the honourable thing. It won't be the first time the carpark has been covered with guts.
J. is telling me that Brisbane's public transport is not as good as Melbourne's. No, I say, I know. I've been to Melbourne. Everyone drives here. I couldn't live here, he says. If I ever moved to Australia, I'd go to Melbourne or Sydney.
Well, of course you would, I say. Why the fuck would anyone want to come here? It's irritating that each visitor says the same thing. Do they not get that I didn't choose Brisbane? I didn't sit with a map and say aha! Look, it's the promised land! I am imagining the tribe for whom it would be -- their god leading them to a land of mullet and stonewashed jeans (I am not kidding). Why would I choose a place where absolutely nobody is goodlooking? Indeed, most could be used to scare crows (or could if the crows weren't the monstrous, demonic things that haunt my back yard) or ballast an oceangoing ship. You think I'm just making this up? No way. I'd rather fuck a monkey than anyone from a suburb with Mt Gravatt in the name. They are the product of shipping the criminal class to a patch of scrubland and leaving them to ferment for 150 years without any admixture of culture except for American television that even a chimp would consider untaxing and radio programmed by Satan.
And when I say monkey, I mean those rancid ones that litter Gibraltar, not cute little colobus ones.
J. is expounding. His theory is that if there were more trains, people would not drive everywhere. The truth is that if there were trains every five minutes, and a station at the end of every street, Brisbaneites would still take their car. Yes, the odd one would drive to the end of the street to get the train. But the rest wouldn't bother. You could give them all personal trains, I suppose. That might work. But these are people who whine that there are not enough river crossings. Why? Because sometimes it takes ten minutes to get from South Brisbane into the CBD. Boohoo. In a really congested city, such as London, that would be Sunday morning. Of course, the truth of it is that there's no glamour in putting on more trains, pedestrianising the CBD, putting on smaller buses to serve the suburbs. But the Campbell Newman Tunnel... the Inner City Light Rail... light rail! Fuck me, yes, that's what we need. A railway to take you from Spring Hill into the city. You could walk it in fifteen minutes.
Well, you and I could. The blubbery indigenes would have a conniption at the very idea. If they did try it, they would need all the hours of daylight. And it would only be feasible because it's mostly downhill.
That's if there were pavements to walk on. My suggestion for the mayor is very simple: build pavements. Don't build tunnels. Pedestrianise the entire CBD so there's nowhere to cross to. Make the lazy bastids walk.
It is eleven o'clock. J. is talking about the trams. We once had trams here. You can see the old stops in some places. Now we all have cars and we drive to shedlike entertainment centres, where Pikey is groaning Enter Sandman, and any explorers from the civilised world who have gone astray will be wondering how much beer they are going to need to drink to dull the pain.
Voting no for democracy
The European constitution is too boring to talk about: a transparent attempt by the elites to structure Europe as a neoliberal paradise, booted into touch by the first people to get the chance to vote on it. What does interest me among the acres of very dull comment on a very dull document is Will Hutton's views on democracy
If I had to categorise Will Hutton, I'd put him down as a centrist procapitalist -- in other words, somewhat socially liberal but a financial conservative: the position adopted by many educated forty-somethings, who are too well-off to enjoy the idea of progressive taxation and redistribution and think it's probably true that business owners create wealth for all (they base this belief on the richness of the West, which is arguably not so much an outcome of its entrepreneurial spirit, given that much of its business fails to make money, but more of its rapaciousness past and present). As an aside, anyone who thinks that the Observer is a leftist paper should note that many of its commentators are in the same mould. In its desire to be "serious", the Observer has allowed itself to drift to the right -- another sign that the right has a firm grip on political discourse, so that it is hard to think your way to a coherent position on the left.
Hutton says of referenda that they are the "instrument of the democratically weak and authoritarian regime alike throughout the ages". The redefinition of democracy is one of the more interesting programmes of the regressive right, but I don't think even they would dare be quite so bold as Hutton. He is suggesting that a referendum, far from being the ultimate method of democracy (and of course the method of decision-making most common in the classical democracies of Greece) is not democratic at all. Hutton believes that allowing the governed to have a share of power is "anti-democratic". Clearly, he thinks being "democratically weak" means "not strongly enough elected". So it is a virtue of his democracy that the populace are robbed of a say, that they should only have the option of changing leaders, and not of changing leaders' minds.
Curious enough, but Hutton goes on to say:
"What has to be interpreted as the 'democratic' voice of the people is in truth the result of the anti-democratic extreme right and left coming together on this issue as they would on no other - thus weakening the parties of the normal democratic discourse who are characterised as the unlistening 'elite' while posing them with an impossible political dilemma."
Can he be serious? 62% of those who voted in the Netherlands said no to the constitution. Hutton has managed to claim that two-thirds of the population of the Netherlands are extremists and the minority that voted yes are in fact the voice of the people.
He is wrong, of course. Democracy is a measure of the will of the people, not of how readily that will can be ignored -- "democratically weak" should mean "does not have the support of the populace" (which is the position Chirac finds himself in) and not "does not feel he can ignore the populace" (as Blair did when he ignored enormous protests to take us to the war in which we continue to murder the people of Iraq without reason and without aim or end). Referenda are a fair expression of people's will. If I were running the UK, or Australia, there would be many more. It would become incumbent on pollies to educate the populace -- to convince us. You want your Capitalist States of Europe, you prove to us it's good for us.
Hutton is wrong (he's often wrong but not usually so spectacularly so). While it's true that Europe is struggling to find a way forward, and this has not helped, it should be a wakeup call for the political elites. The people don't want to go in the direction they pointed us in. Even in nations that very much see the benefits of Europe, such as the Netherlands and France, they do not see the further benefit of the vision of the centralisers; instead, they see a Europe laid open for the robber barons; they see their security, their welfare, their oldfashioned caring societies traded for the hateful coldheartedness of the anglophones.
Part of the problem has been shrouded in racism and nationalism, but is real enough. The expansion of Europe into the east did not serve the citizens of the west, and they could transparently see that. It was done for political reasons: to continue the process of reating a system in Europe that would not permit war -- the Natofication of Europe, I suppose you could call it -- and to ensure that the developing economies of the east would be shaped as they developed into cash cows for western firms. The EU is a powerful tool for business interests, if they understand it. A single market is a double-edged sword: there's a market for your goods, yes, but others are better equipped to exploit your part of it. Eastern Europe is rather backward and its firms not in the least competitive. It is set to be a dumping ground for our goods. All well and good for our businesses, but not so good for the people of western Europe, who can see the other side of that coin. The people of eastern Europe can come and work for those businesses! And they become the new Greeces: economies that we effectively drag into the modern day, paying through the nose to do so.
As with so much in modern politics, the effect is to transfer our taxes to businesses. The argument is that strengthening our businesses ultimately makes us wealthier. The certainty is that it puts dollars in Gradgrind's pocket and in those of the people who own shares in Gradgrind's companies.
So it comes as no surprise to learn that the rich suburbs of the Hague and Amsterdam voted yes, and the poor voted no. Competition for the rich is something they can win: the battleground is the shops of Warsaw, Budapest and Bratislava. For the poor, it is something they can only lose: and the battleground is the factories of Lille, Marseilles and Rotterdam.
Sheep and blackberry
I recall a schoolboy coming home
through fields of cane
to a house of tin and timber
and in the sky
a rain of falling cinders
Cattle and cane
As is Grant McLellan, whose words those are, I am a country boy who has spent nearly his whole life failing to achieve the huge dreams of childhood. Of course, my boyhood was not spent in the canefields of Queensland but among the rolling hills and yellow beaches of far west Cornwall. The wide vistas of Australia are replaced there by a closer, more intimate scenery: the countryside feels part of you, an extension of you. Of course, it helps that it isn't as poisonous or vicious as most of Queensland's natural life.
I couldn't wait to leave it though. As McLellan did, I dreamed of a bigger world. I had to go out into it to find out that it's not so much bigger as dirtier, uglier. The fulfilment that it promised is always around another corner. The most curious outcome of it all is that I yearn now for what I was so keen to put behind me: the sound of surf as I fell asleep, the smell of autumn as the mists and fruity heaviness made the air a blanket, the feeling of home you get from stone-built-houses but not from the timber shacks that people live in here (or worse, the places on this estate -- brick houses that have not been clad; so ugly that I almost weep when I walk around the streets, which I rarely do). How I loved autumn! And now I live in a place that doesn't have one. It is winter here. There was a day, around Easter, when it stopped being warm and humid and started being fresh. It will not grow much colder than it is now.
Well, I know the moral of the story: you only want what you have when it's gone. It's not a new song. And I know that if I was in Cornwall, a couple of wet winters would have me wishing for the blue skies of Brisbane's July. Cattle and cane is about the restlessness that grips the country boy, the aspirations that cannot be fulfilled because they are ever shifting, wordless (the song is almost more affecting in its lack of talk than in what it does say). It evokes for me the long days of my happy childhood: the bike rides, the grassy hillocks of the towans, the sea, scrumping in damp orchards, football at the rec, wayside brambles, love.
But I'm not by nature backward looking. I do not mind that those days are gone. I know I can have other days just as good and, above all, that my children can also have their halcyon days and love a place just as much. I have my doubts that anyone can love the southside of Brisbane the way I loved Penwith and still do, but the human heart is a strange thing and who am I to say what they will and won't care for?
But is there not a small piece of me that sees Zenella struggling up a steep hill from the sea to an ivyclad cottage, her hair full of salt? Do I not sometimes picture Naughtyman and Zenita laughing over their pasties, their mouths dark with the juice of berries they picked by the side of the endless lanes that lead from Hayle to nowhere in particular?
Do I not sometimes hear the churning surf and wake on a warm night, puzzled at the quiet?
I hear screaming in the night.
Zenella has night terrors. More and more often her sweet dreams are interrupted by a vivid phantasmagoria, usually consisting of giant insects, spiders with huge teeth and vague but unpleasant monsters. This night giant chickens are menacing her. Mrs Zen had some food poisoning after eating a cold cut of chicken. Zenella is suggestive. Her fantasy world is cut from the cloth of our daily life.
I bring her downstairs. I stroke her hair until she falls asleep. It doesn't take long.
I am a rock for her. It is the single most wonderful thing about my life. It is the most value I have.
Sometimes I hear screaming in the night. Girls, just girls playing. How will I know if it is one time someone who is not playing?
I will not know.
I used to have a fantasy when I was a young man. I pictured myself walking past an alleyway, witnessing an assault on a woman.
You hear about people walking by, pretending that they did not see.
I dreamed that I would not pretend, that I would step into the alley, pull the man from the girl. I could feel the knife in my stomach, hear the woman's heels on the road as she ran for her life. The soft touch of the paramedic's hand as I was taken to hospital. A hero. Someone who did not pretend.
I don't ask myself whether I am still man enough to risk everything for someone I do not know.
I hear screaming in the night. I have woken myself. I untwist my sheets and the doona and try to be calm.
When I was a child, some nights I was so scared of dying in my sleep that I would stay awake for hours until I passed out. I could ask myself why I want so much more life when I do so little with what I have, but I do not. There is nothing rational in a fear of death, and everything rational in it.
Sometimes, I listen to a piece of music and I cannot rid myself of an intense envy of those who will be able to listen to it when I am no longer here. That I will not be there!
How many moments will I have? Will my days be good or bad? I know they can be good. I know I have the power to make them that way. I know I can step into the alleyway of my own life. Or just pretend. Walk away and drift into oblivion, which awaits, I cannot pretend there is anything else.
If I could trade for eternal life for Zenella, I would give every one of those moments, every one of those days. I would not hesitate. But I cannot. It is the same for us all.