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Greetings, and great things.

Welcome to Steamed Up; my little corner of the internet.  But there’s nothing smutty going on here. It’s not THAT kind of ‘steamed up’, Sir/Ma’am!

Don’t expect a lot about Steampunk. That’s just one of my sidelines. Here you’ll meet the real me. It’s where I come to be honest, or crazy, or intense, or downright friviooius. [Oooo; that’s a keeper! I enjoy random typos.  (I also like using brackets. To me, punctuation marks are sculptural materials.) (Does that annoy you? Tough!)]

Poke and pry. Comment. Enjoy! Thank you for visiting.

[HEADER IMAGE: That is the recently discovered miniature or ‘cartoon’ painted by Michelangelo, believed to be his original idea for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Scholars now believe he had misheard ‘Sistine’ as ‘Pristine’, but soon realised his error.] (BTW: the spray-bottle reads ‘Heaven’ in ether Chinese or Japanese)

 

“They Paved Paradise …”

Somewhere in the world, there are some actual car parks that are beautiful. Absolute stunners. Picturesque. Ecological. Perfect. Here’s one:

carforest1
Source and story here:

I jest. But as it happens, I’ve found one; exactly one, in the Urban Sprawl called Brisbane. It is at 204 Radford Road, Manley West. It is a medical practice, and by some stroke of exceptional luck, or authentic good design, they retained a large patch of the original tree cover and carefully fitted their car-park into and through this miniature forest.

 

carforest2

It ain’t perfect. I notice from Google Street View that there’s a large paved patch in front. That wasn’t there ten years ago, I’m sure of it. (Damn cars and their ever-pressing need to park somewhere for 96% of their working life!)

But it proves it is possible. Car parks needn’t be lifeless swaths of asphalt, broiling in the sun (or contributing to flash-flooding) and just generally dehumanising the character of our urban areas. Can we fix it?

yeswecan

But should we fix it? Well that’s debatable. It’s gonna take time, and a whole lot of spending money. Someone needs to crunch the numbers and get a cost/benefit ratio sorted out. And it’ll be a complex formula. Will a mega-mall ever see any direct benefit to their bottom line by worrying about a wetland three kilometres away, or about global climate? But what about their PR? BING-BONG! That’s the button to push!

‘SHOP AT ECOLOGYTOWN! From the moment you park in our ‘Rainforest Canopy Carpark’, you will love EcologyTown! … and when you return with your paleo supplies, we guarantee you’ll have genuine organic bird poop on your Prius!’

OR: Urban authorities will have to impose strict new guidelines and mandatory requirements on all new developments. And maybe even require the retro-fitting of trees and localised drainage/storm absorbance to existing car parks.

Or a combination of all factors. But I doubt anyone’s going to act on this very fast in the current world climate of fear, racism and refugee crises, not to mention rampant neo-con pressures to remove all regulations except for ‘market forces’ – the very thing that has got us into this golden age of  planetary fuckery.

ANYWAY, HERE’S MY PRESCRIPTION FOR THE IDEA CAR-PARK, IF WE’RE GOING TO HAVE THE DAMN THINGS AT ALL:

REDUCE. Less cars, or less need for cars? Here in Brisbane, I’ve watched them spend trillions of dollars on motorway upgrades in the last 20 years. Hey: they do them well! Very generous with the fly-overs and the by-passes, they are. Except, it seems, in my specific satellite city of Logan. The moment the motorway hits our borders, is shrinks by a lane and passes backwards in time by about 30 years.)

It’s an old formula: More Roads Creates More Cars. (Encourages ’em to breed, somehow) Meanwhile, bugger-all is spend on localised bikeways. My local council’s idea of a bikeway is to build put them into their parks and reserves, creating a nice wide sweeping ride that brings you right back to your starting point! Absolutely useless as far as getting people onto their bikes and riding (safely) to work/school/etc. Worst. Sprawl. Eva. And no hope in sight from Logan City Council.

But there are encouraging global trends as cities wake up to the clarion call to REDUCE.

RE-USE. Same cars, fewer carparks. In my area I see the same thing over and over again: There are two huge car-parks side-by-side, one servicing a business that opens during regular working hours, and the other servicing a business that mainly operates in the  evening. Example: a discount warehouse right beside a suburban pub. If you set up a camera and took a compressed-time sequence, you’d see one empty as the other filled- almost as if the cars were just moving next door.

Solution: Shared amenity. Give financial incentives to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and nightclubs to ‘co-habit’ with daytime businesses. Or make it mandatory.

Another example: The idea of park-and-ride has gained here, thank goodness, and civic authorities are developing bus stations /transport hubs, almost ALL of then right beside major shopping centres. But here comes the stupid: mall managers are doing their best to ban long-term parking by commuters. Tow-away threats and all!

To these morons I have FOUR QUICK QUESTIONS: 1) When are the bus routes at peak usage? [WEEK-DAYS] 2) When are the shopping centres at their quietest? [WEEK-DAYS] 3) When does this pattern reverse? [WEEKENDS] 4) Where will those commuters no longer shop because they hate your guts? [YOUR SHOPPING CENTRE!]

Solution: SHARED AMENITY. Give incentives to the mega-malls with carparks that remain three-quarters empty on week-days (I’ve been watching!), or change legislation so they can set up a modest fee system and designate commuter parking … ANYTHING to make this work.

Hey; why not give the commuters shopping vouchers and a ‘thank-you’ note instead of ejecting them violently! 

MORE TREES. I’m serious. Take away five percent of your carparks and replace them with strategically located trees. Tree make shade; they create ‘amenity’. In other words they make your business, as a destination, more appealing. On a subtle level, your repeat-customers are going to be more inclined to visit your shopping centre instead of that bleak dystopian sprawl a few miles away.

TAKE CARE OF THE NATURE! I see it everywhere, the same pattern plays out. New shopping centre; nice layout; new trees growing in their neatly groomed beds of thick tasty bark-chips; etc. Go back 10 years later: The bark-chips have all rotted down and vanished; the ‘soil’ is not soil at all and never was – it’s just the ‘hard-fill’ put down by the builders before they paved over another bit of paradise; the trees have maxed out at half their potential size because the ground has been exhausted of nutrients; and anyway the customers have trampling the bark chips down to nothing, the bushes are gone, ten percent of the original trees have died and not been replaced …

It has become yet another sad bleak miserable shitty supermarket that is busy signalling loud and clear that it Does Not Care!

At my local, the cleaners wear shirts featuring the grand title of “ENVIRONMENTAL CUSTODIAN”. I kid you not. The environment there is just as I describe. worse, in the last 15 years I’ve seen that place cut down some 20 of their original trees. None replaced.  A dismal lack of any care whatsoever. ZERO improvements have been made. Zero. “Environmental Custodians’ they are not!

BUILD ON TOP! The typical Western urban environment is a tragic sprawl – the result of 1950s planning that saw the car as God and installed literally ZERO infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Some of the supermarkets have no pedestrian entrances at all. You’re walking there? Good luck! You’ve got to mix it with the cars, mate!

But there is literally hectares of blank paved land all around them, pushing the suburbs even further away. Why don’t we BUILD ON TOP! Change the laws to allow the big centres to sell strata titles over the top of their car parks. People can live there! In nice apartments. With trees and playgrounds. A minute’s walk from EVERY SINGLE THING THEY COULD POSSIBLY NEED! Big malls have all the retailers, several medical centres, gyms, cafes, restaurants, movies, the city council library. Etc. Etc. ALL. THE. STUFF! Those residents WOULDN’T EVEN NEED CARS! For fuck’s sake! Is it not screamingly OBVIOUS!?

Get to it, my minions!

 

Playing Mind Ball with Ant Farm

Hundertwasser1

The year was 1975, or possibly 1976, or maybe 1973. Hey, I hit the hootch hard that decade. The place: Auckland University School of Architecture – positively seething with hippies, radicals, wondrous new visions for humanity’s collective future as grateful recipients of the latest architectural trends, and Quantity Surveying students.

Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. It was mainly seething with hormones.

Oh: and very hairy men, doctor’s daughters, under-ventilated armpits and the lingering smell of World War II. At that stage they had not yet built their shiny New Brutalist Vision Of An Architecture School, so most of our time was spent trekking between various demountable huts leftover from W.W.II . Yup. For real.

And IMO it was the perfect place to dream big; to pass through one’s apprenticeship un-trammeled by someone else’s idea of ‘Space’ and ‘Form’; a neutral place to foment one’s architectural style within an environment so bland that anything was going to be better; more visionary; more spacious and more suitable to nurture human enterprise.

[I wonder what they produced after shifting into the naked-concrete-and-glass caverns that followed. Was it an influence? … Oh: Deconstructionism! <SHUDDER>]

Anyway, they were exciting times. Barely a year before I arrived there’d been a sort of revolution. The students had agitated to shake off of the dowdy, dusty, out-dated curriculum and created something vastly more exciting – or at least one full of ‘options’ (as long as one also ‘opted’ to do the mandatory 80% course requirement that was suspiciously (& exactly) the same as what had been there only two years earlier).

But. Exciting. Times! Hundertwasser arrived in town. We all flocked to his lecture. He was ALL THE RAGE! We loved him, we loved his art and his architecture. (And someone I knew ended up loving him far more directly – but that is her tale to tell, not mine.)

There were gatherings, parties, outings, camps, sex and drugs and even a smattering of rock and roll. People I knew were getting smashed and sneaking out at night to paint the trees. Taking LSD. We led each other into downtown Auckland blindfolded, effectively inventing a trust-game. We were frequently stoned. we seldom hit the books.

But anyway; scene is now set. Let me introduce Ant Farm.

AntFarm1

Suddenly the new buzz was Ant Farm, “an avant-garde architecture, graphic arts, and environmental design practice, founded in San Francisco in 1968 by Chip Lord and Doug Michels.” [Wikipedia] [and hey: I didn’t know any of that at the time]. and they were coming to Auckland! Some of the senior Arch students had arranged it. Said students were big fans! They were in touch with trends. They were somehow connected to the real world in ways I was not. I’d never heard of Ant Farm until then.

So, quick recap: Ant Farm buried some cars in the desert, and they drove a car through a wall of burning TV sets, and some other stuff I missed in the memo. They were architects, apparently. Seemed to go with the territory: eccentrics, radical stirrers, pot-heads, dreamers, optimists, visionaries … [tick as many boxes as are appropriate].

They did a presentation on their second day, spoke about their epic works of conceptual art and showed us a long dreary video of how they did it. It made no sense to me. Just looked like a terrible waste of good automobiles and TV sets.

AntFarm2

But I had already joined the throng by then. The hype. They arrived on a 707. First event: dinner at this down-market greasy-spoon steak cafe on Ponsonby Road – someone’s idea of irony, I guess. Not my scene. The food was awful. We were just wrong. Mostly we were the offspring of doctor’s and lawyers and accountant’s, and yes, architects. (except me) Educated, sophisticated South Pacific Colonials trying so hard to entertain three jet-lagged Americans by taking them to the worse dive in the city. Yeah, right.

Got that over and done with, and we immediately re-grouped in a upstairs venue further down Ponsonby Road for a party. The Ant Farm guys were … I don’t know. Bemused? Jet-lagged? Horny? All three? Anyway a prodigious amount of Mary Jane was pulled out by all and sundry (except me: I was always a freeloader) and the room soon filled with smoke and conversations, and that was when the Ant Farm guys really blew my mind.

I was stoned out of my gourd, trying to follow their conversations, when one of them turns to the others, “Hey, y’know, this is the perfect time for a game of Mind-Ball.”

The others agreed enthusiastically.

“Okay, I’ve got the ball … and it’s away!” I followed their eyes, trying to spot this imaginary ball. This was subtle. This was something damn-near spirtual! Yup, I think I figured who had it next. I watched him intently. Nothing much happened. They resumed their previous conversation. Me? I was hyper-alert!! I didn’t want to miss it when it came to me. <Conversation, conversation, suck on beer, glance around the room, suck on beer, light another cigarette, conversation> …. These guys were incredible. all that going on and they were still playing Mind Ball! I spaced out.

“So who’s got the ball?”

Fuck! I’d missed it. Utterly spaced out. FOCUS! FOCUS!

“I got it.” .. “Okay, send it on.” .. “It’s away.”

It didn’t come to me. Man these guys were subtle! Once again I watched them closely. Were they passing it when they sucked on their beers? Was that the signal? They did it a lot. Or was it a clue in the conversation? Every time the subject changed? Was it a ‘pass’?

“So who’s got the ball?” .. “Here.” .. “Send it.” .. “It’s away.”

Shit. Caught out again! I so wanted to get this game, I so wanted to get a turn with the Mind-Ball, but it just wasn’t reaching me. A few times I thought I had it, but my every attempt to ‘signal’ it onward fell on deaf eyes. So … must have been mistaken. Shit.

The evening drifted onward, timelessly as it does, the crowd was a self-stirring entity, people drifted into/out of conversations, which drifted into/out of different things. The Ant Farm guys were happy to talk, drink free beer, smoke free dope, while my brain gradually melted into a worthless puddle, and finally they admitted they were jet-lagged and just wanted to get to their motel. Party broke up. Dope wore off. I rejoined my companions and we crawled home at half the speed of light in someone’s mini, sagged onto our sagging sofas, drank tea, conversed … And finally I remember the Mind Ball.

Where had it gone? Someone must have scooped it up, but didn’t pass it on, or something. Anyway I never got it. Farrrrk those guys were on another whole level! Hard to believe they’d just taken a bunch of cars and buried them in the desert. How could such clever guys do something so dumb? I just didn’t get it.

Anyway, I met Ant Farm. The experience added nothing to my life.

[LINK TO A STORY ABOUT THE CAR-THRU-THE-TVS STUNT:] 

 

 

 

On and off the Steamers

steamer

I never gave it much thought, but I am in fact working class.

Perhaps, seeing as I am a touch autistic, I did not pick up the clues (subtle and otherwise) that littered my entire childhood: the kids I went to school with, the house we lived in, the suburb we lived in, the huge home library we completely didn’t have, filled with all the classics and those delicious atlases I never knew I craved. The art-books & encyclopedias I never once drooled over. Ditto the gramophone collection that wasn’t there – packed with all those fabulous shows tunes and classic symphonies. Dunedin had a superb public art gallery, world class, but I never even knew. The only art I ever saw was on the tops of biscuit tins.

As for aspirations and expectations – well I’ll get to that. How does one learn about things if they are simply not there?

Is this how it still goes – that the working classes replicate themselves endlessly via thought, word and deed? The narrow vocabulary; (I’m still learning words, 60 years later, that should have just been there from the beginning.) the narrow band of knowledge about … well: everything. Attitudes; food; politics; choice of radio station. And all the things that go unspoken – because they are unknown. Hell: if they had given me a seething hatred of fat-cat capitalists and a red-flag-waving appreciation of unionism – that would have been something! Nope. Not even that. It seemed I grew up in a cultureless void, unless one counted going to tea-rooms instead of coffee shops, shopping at the cheapest chains, wearing hand-me-downs, and that going by train to Christchurch  (a HUGE adventure) and staying with Grandma for a week constituted ‘a holiday’.

Not that any of that was impinging directly upon my consciousness, but it was all going in. It’s astonishing that I did not turn out to be a knee-jerk racist, for example. My parents were both awful! (Oh I still am in annoying little ways: little auto-pilot attitudes that still lurk in the corners. Who is entirely free of it?)

I did not enter a library until I was about 11. Never saw a concert until my late teens. Saw my first live theatre when I was 16~17. Think I mentioned art galleries. Museums? Yes! We went there, a lot. I announced one day that I wanted to be an archaeologist. Mum was delighted – but I suspect she had no idea how I was going to get there. Nobody did.

When Dad remarried (it was complex: My mother scarpered and left him with the kids. Don’t press me for details; I was under the bed most of the time..) some books did come into the house: medical text books. My stepmother was an ex-nurse. I won’t go into her backstory. Can’t. I don’t know it. But anyway, my big brother began investigating these tomes and soon discovered they were filled with exceedingly gross photographs and the occasional glimpse of genitalia. He memorized their locations and lured me in there one day, showed me all the juicy bits. I took a sudden interest in things medical.

Along with those books, the house acquired two books by Joy Adamson; “Born Free” and “Stay Free”. I eventually read them both, and a new world opened out to me. But what really pulled me towards them was the fact that her books were full of photographs of African women wearing no bras, and one (titled “A gift of fresh fish”) of an almost entirely naked girl – a lake behind her – holding an enormous fish at the end of each straining arm. Her face was one huge smile, but my brother and I were seldom looking at her face.

I never gave it much thought, but I am in fact working class.

I attribute to that a number of things, like for example getting through my school years and stepping out into the world with my Dux-prizes in my hands, and still being massively un-educated. I had no powers of critical thinking. I still didn’t understand the causes of W.W.1. I loathed classical music. I went to movies for the car chases. And perhaps most significantly of all – I had no grasp of just how fricking significant it was that I was Dux of my school in Maths and Sciences. Highest marks in my city, in some subjects. I was thick!

I dunno, I might be wrong, but the working-class mindset of my entire family (aided and abetted by the general loathing emanating from my step-mother), just might have set me up with a certain kind of expectation about myself. Or to spin it around, stated it more accurately, they failed to inject me with the expectations and aspirations I needed to move beyond that point. No-one had ever been to university. No-one knew anyone in the professional classes.I did not contain a sense of ‘automated profession-privilege’.

I met people like that a few years later at Architecture School. (Not everyone was like that. There was a plumber’s daughter (she made it) and others.) They marched forwards, their families close behind them, They never wavered, got their degrees, became professionals.

I can’t lay everything at the feet of my working-class origins. Bi-polar played its part.

I never gave it much thought, but I am in fact working class.

My father’s father (Peter) was a steamship engineer, apparently. He took to the ships out of Edinburgh around about 1900, seeing a way out of the grinding poverty that was otherwise his lot. There were mass-migrations out of Scotland at the time, all seeking better pastures. I have thousands of rellies in Canada, apparently. Thus he traveled the world, no doubt seeing far more of the inside of his ship that he did of anything else until he got off at Lyttelton, New Zealand, cashed up and ready to settle down.

[What was his job like? go here: www.shipsnostalgia.com. ]

Peter G married three times, and had mostly boys. The youngest was my father; Don. And by all accounts ‘Peter Pop’ was a real old bastard – raised on the mean-streets of Aberdeen – working class – no social welfare and a daily hike to the school of hard knocks. I met him but twice. Dad went to visit him, we had to tag along. It seemed strained. To my eye Pop lived in a junkyard, and apparently my perceptions were not far off the mark. Angry, drunk, pugilistic and prone to played absolutely rotten tricks on everyone; sending them of fool’s errands them berating them for their failure – that was my Scottish grandfather in his increasingly lonely dotage. “All  Men are Bastards” as the recent song goes.

I’ve tracked back though my ancestry. ALL of them came out to New Zealand by ship, all on the ‘steamers’. 3rd-class, or maybe worse. Welsh, Irish, Scottish, and one Norwegian. They got on and off the steamers. (Just that my grandfather stayed on his the longest.)

The ripples … kept rippling. But each of those victims still went forth, determined to not become like his own father/her own mother, they all advanced in their own ways; upward mobility was a phenomenon of those times and they all took the ride – advanced into the middle classes. Their children (my generation) advanced even further. I have cousins in the professional arena now, mostly on Peter G’s side of the ledger. Everyone else is upper-working/lower-middle/middle. We broke the mould out of which generations of Scottish children were stamped. Being Working Class is not to be ashamed of. We were not idiots, we were just victims, everyone damaged and some still damaging.

But humanity is marvelous – it can rise above all of that, given time. And libraries.

But I fear for the future. we could end up once again on the mean-streets of Aberdeen, or Brisbane, or Dunedin, surviving on the strength of our punches or our sociopathic powers – no social welfare – no way out. but that’s a political-rant for another day.

 

Think back to 2016. Was it one of your better years?

OMG I’m joining the millions adding billions of words to the internet every minute about this truly crappy year. Yup, it sure has been; everyone knows that.

The celebrity death toll. That referendum fuvkup in the UK, followed by that ‘election outcome’ in the USA. (I could call it a lot of other things, but I’m depressed enough as it is, and anyway, others have expressed it better than I.) And global warming marches on.

WAY back in the 1970s I took to reading lots of hippie tracts: conspiracy-theories and spiritual stuff and whacko-medicine and manuals on how-to-survive-the-apocalypse, and a recurring theme was making predictions (or reworking the ones already in circulation). Oddly, the number 2016 stuck in my brain (along with 666 and 23).

WAY back then, it was safe to predict, AWAY ahead of us (40 years), that things would heat up in 2016. Maybe it was the numerology of it, I dunno. There were also loads of astrological and numbo-jumbo predictions of the Dawn of the New Age and/or the end of the Kali-Yuga. (go Google it. There’s plenty out there  even now. MORE, if anything!)

So here we are; reeling, kind of shocked, saying all sorts of dire or optimistic things about 2017. And everyone is trying to make sense of it – as we do. “Why have so many great people left us? All in the one year? Coincidence? I think not!” …. And away they go. Theories. Wild guessing. Hope. Fear. Etc.

I’ve glimpsed a few. Even suggested one myself: that Keith Richards has a device that sucks the life-force out of celebrities in order to keep alive himself. (Hey – it’s a valid theory!!)

So here’s a thought: Yes – there is a higher purpose playing out here. We’re losing a lot of people, suddenly. Notable people, memorable, talented, highly loved people and their loss has really started hitting our grief buttons.

This is basically Grief-Practice.

Because soon, shit is going to get really real and you and I are going to be confronting the fact that our regular friends are going to start dying. A little wave at first; like the little waves that’ll signal the rising oceans. It’ll be hard to pick at first that they’re dying directly because of global warming. And for most of us in the western world, we’re cushioned for a while, but they’re saying it’s a thing, and it has begun, and it ain’t stopping any time soon. Recently I saw “Ten Foot Ocean Rise Inevitable”. Whoa – that’s like HELLO: literally hundreds of millions of people affected. Fook.

So there being many levels of heaven and saintly beings among us and a bigger plan and like reincarnation and all that stuff  – is it actually a concept that the David Bowies and the Carrie Fishers and everyone in between – they had lived their lives and fulfilled a purpose for us regular folk still sitting here – that we have to start grieving for this world and for humanity. Deep and real. Achieving ‘Closure’. Each of us in our own ways meeting the challange of making a gracious surrender to the forces unleashed. (Note the ending of ‘Rogue One’.)

How exactly does a Kali Yuga come to an end? It’s made of some pretty heavy shit – wars and materialism and grasping for power and a disconnection from nature and so much other fuckery I’m loath to begin listing it all.

Any smooth way for that to come to an end?

Maybe. I’m still hoping. And we must keep fighting, and signing those petitions and voting and not looking at the mainstream media and living in the moment more and more, and appreciating each other and our cats and Art, and artists and books and the rest of the extraordinary WEALTH that humanity has created, even in the midst of our Kali Yuga.

Meanwhile, open your hearts up and let the grief start early. This is the funeral of the Kali Yuga (y’know, Kali – the multi-tasking Goddess? She’s a heavy hitter: The Liberator of Souls – specialising in kicking arse!)

Lift up you hearts and minds to what going on here. Bowie went up – like a rapture. They all have. To signal something. Be grateful for their very existence.

So be brave. Grieve. Be open. Dare to Love. Be Here Now. Seize the day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have an Aspie Christmas!

I’m an Aspie (person with Asperger’s Syndrome), and as such I regard Christmas as a Big Awful Silly Wasteful Thing. So I came up with a set of Rules:

RULES THAT SENSIBLY CONTROL CHRISTMAS:

1) No-one is under social obligation to buy anyone a present. Non-presents are fine.

2) Everyone gets the presents they actually want and need.

3) All presents have a purely practical purpose. Power tools, yes. Perfume, no.

4) All presents to be precisely wrapped in high-grade paper, to maximum efficiency of coverage. All tape to be aligned with edges.

5) All presents to be unwrapped by slitting the tape with a scalpel. All paper to be folded and put away for reuse next year.

6) Normal number of meals to be prepared and eaten, at correct and regular times, consisting of regular foods as well as Christmas foods.

7) Christmas crackers are a frivolous waste of resources, and are thus banned forever.

8) No-one is compelled to have eat some weird thing and have to say ‘it’s nice.”

9) No-one is forced to have to socialise with relatives, or for that matter other human beings.

10) Communication via text or internet is cool, even during meals.

11) No-one is obliged to wear a silly hat. It is optional. No-one will jeer.

12)Participants are relieved of all social duties for the day, and may return to their workshops/computers/hobbies/obsessions whenever they see fit.

Merry Aspie Christmas!

Intermission 3# “Elf Oil”

It was 1983. I had been in Sydney a bare few days. It was my first (and as it transpired, temporary) act of immigration. We’d taken up residency on a mattress in an empty room in a rental house with some other Kiwis – already seasoned Aussies.

Next day I heard, as our hostess bounced out the front door, “”I’m going to the shops for some Elf Oil! Anyone need anything else?” – My head whirled with excitement, “What a place! you can even buy Elf Oil !” Whatever next?! I couldn’t wait to get inside one of their wondrous supermarkets. (But I’ll admit to wondering by then what Elf Oil was, exactly.)

I was destined to be intensely disappointed. Elf Oil turned out to be ‘Al-foil’; ‘aluminium foil’ – for cooking. I knew of it already. Utterly mundane stuff. Every household uses that!

But once upon a time it wasn’t so. Long long ago, I recall a world that lived without cooking foil. We all still managed to cook, despite having to use cookware made of ordinary common metals or crockery. These primitive things came in a wide range of sizes and shapes, some had lids, and they all worked. I recall may kinds of food successfully cooked and eaten during this dismal phase of human history – cakes, roasts, biscuits (but never ‘cookies’), even fish! Yes, yes: Aluminium did exist in those ancient times. Pots were made of it (‘saucepans’ to other speakers of English) and frying pans too.

Then Television came to New Zealand and with it the message that we and our primitive inadequate lifestyles were failing to benefit from a whole range of new and exciting products. I recall the arrival of potato chips (as distinct from ‘chips’ – which were merely made of potato, served with fish, and otherwise completely unrelated).

On TV we saw shiny happy people demonstrating how to open their shiny packets of this new miracle foodstuff and repeatedly stuff it into their happy mouths, while cheerful voices exhorted us to mimic this obviously joyful and socially enhancing experience.

Thus we all took to potato chips. There was 1 flavour: Salt. (It’s now called “Original!”)

I also recall with breathless excitement the arrival of themed icecreams-on-a-stick. We losers always had the ‘chocolate bomb’, but Television soon showed us how inadequate they were. We needed to be hip and switch to ingesting almost identical icecreams-on-sticks dipped in a cheaper grade of chocolate then smothered in a crunchy layer of crushed rice-bubbles of such garish colour that I doubt they’d now get FDA approval. All this for another 12 cents per unit! (One of them was called the ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, I kid you not. It sold for an extra 15 cents per unit, and how glad we were to pay the extra!)

And so on. It is, in fact, a recognised fact of commerce: certain types of crap .. sorry; products .. can only achieve mass market penetration and acceptance via TV. Introduce them before the marketing machinery is in place and they’ll die the sad lonely death they really deserve. But with TV marketing – hell: the suckers will buy anything!

So along came cooking foil. I remember it well. Out of the blue we were suddenly bombarded with the Miraculous News; cookery had changed for all time! The cheerful celebrity chefs of the time were suddenly telling us that everything we’d ever done was wrong. Lids? forget them! “It’s so easy; just cover the dish with aluminium foil and pop a few holes in it for the steam, now bake in the exact same oven at the usual temperature and it’ll come out perfect!” Ditto the women’s magazines and cook-books. Everyone was revamping their recipes to include a generous splash of aluminium. Prepare! Line the dish! Create layers! Wrap fish! Cover! Roll! Use it to store food in the fridge!

Its uses were nigh-on infinite, and we were all suckered. We purchased literally millions of miles of aluminium foil, used it once, and threw it away as instructed. And that is exactly what They wanted – a market. It was not a case of “Find a need and fill it,” it was a case of “Create a need for this frivolous crap we’ve invented that no-one really needs!”

And why was the entire thing a crock of crap? (And still is?) Because if anything, a super-thin layer of aluminium does nothing except slow the cooking process down. WARNING! SCIENCE CONTENT:

Heat gets into food in three ways: Conduction, Convection, and Radiation:

Radiant Heat: Al-foil deflects it really well. If you were only relying of radiant heat, your foil-wrapped food would never cook. Conclusion 1# – Foil slows down cooking. Energy is wasted.

Conductive Heat: aluminium is an excellent conductor. As long as there is a large contact area with other oven metals, cooking proceeds well. But a lot of the time, the foil bundle is just “popped on the rack ready to cook!” 2# – Foil slows down cooking. Energy is wasted.

Convective Heat: circulating air moves heat around inside an oven. Oven-temperature air does most of the convective heat delivery. But wrap the food in foil, or cover it, and you obstruct the circulation. 3# – Foil slows down cooking. Energy is wasted.

Thus we pay money for a product that wastes our time and increases our power bill, then we usually throw it away after one use. Aluminium has one of the highest carbon-footprints of all metals (it can only be made via an energy-intensive electrical process), so there is also a final cost – to our climate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, start you ovens. But please: Cease using cooking foil! … Look out instead for Original Elf Oil! That’s the cooking miracle you need!

Intermission 2# ‘How I became a Teenage Stalker!’

How do you brag about one of your most resounding successes, without actually revealing exactly what it was? Because I want to brag. I’ve wanted to brag about this for over a year.

You see – I became obsessed with a voice. A voice I first heard way back in 196[REDACTED], in the middle of a pop-song that was climbing the charts at the time. It came, it went, and I gave it little thought for the next 4 decades. Hell, I was only 14 at the time!

Then I suddenly asked the internet: ‘Who was behind that voice?’ and Wikipedia gave me a one-line clue: The Voice gained a name. But it wasn’t much to go on. I searched elsewhere, uncovering an obscure blog about the famous group in question, and its many adventures. There was one more clue – the age of The Voice.

A name, an age, and by deduction a year-of-birth. But girls become women and women get married – and all too often the trail is lost. Maiden names disappear. But I persevered, finding myself tracking an entire family history through the List of British Peers. I had spotted a possible marriage, a possible husband, but was it enough? I could have been tracking an entirely different [NAME REDACTED].

Then a breakthrough: I found a sad note on a discussion thread written in the original name, to a friend about their mutual loss. Three school-chums, divided by a death, now down to two. Chums who were now in their forties. The ages matched perfectly. I found more on the deceased; their old school. More data-points. But it was not enough. I could not go bothering The Voice without certainty. [Hey: I shouldn’t’ve been stalking her, full-stop!]

Back to the sixties. I researched the other name from Wikipedia – the step-father it mentioned. This lead to other web-sites, more stories, more clues, and finally the (likely) name of The Voice’s mother! The dates matched, anyway. Finally, I found a Births, Deaths and Marriages register with that name in it – as a mother recorded on a specific birth, but no baby’s name. Paddington, London. Perfect. It would have cost me a bunch of money to fully unpack the mystery. I felt nosy. Too nosy.

So I left it.

The trail went cold. I found nothing more. Finally, I returned to the only person on Facebook that matched that married name I’d found in the Peerage Lists. (I knew they had since divorced. Astonishing what you can discover via the internet!) So: me the stranger, sending a message to another stranger via FB. You know how that goes: straight into the category called ‘Other” – the dead-letter bin of the digital world.

No reply. Silence.

Then my laptop abruptly crashed, taking my entire search, every detail – into oblivion. An entire year went by. Then another. Then she answered: “Yes – that was me.”

I was gob-smacked; like: “OMG – I’m taking to *HER*! That voice I first heard at age 14!”

Typing, I asked questions, promised I was not going to reveal her identity, that I wasn’t a journalist, etc, etc … and little by little (for she was not that talkative), I began to realise something profound: She’d told no-one about it. None of her contemporary friends knew of her ‘fame’. The incident had been all but forgotten. Worse, it has been a small corner of a greater tragedy: A whole tragic morass of abusive step-father/family destroyed/tiny child emotionally trampled during those glorious-but-selfish 1960’s rock&roll days.

Her memories were bad memories – and there I was expecting the exact opposite. All my shiny expectations crashed around me. The person I expected …. Well she wasn’t; not in the least! Hell: I’d been lucky to get a  five-sentence glimpse into that day.  but all of it was treasure, including a passing mention of one of rock’s biggest stars – she’d met him! It had been the one sweet moment in an otherwise exploitative situation. Fook. What an insight; what a sad tale. Murmured my sympathies, I signed off and let her be.

So that’s my brag: I successfully stalked someone, after a 45 year cold-start.

The lesson though was tougher, much tougher, and at the end of this adventure I feel prouder of the fact that I was not so crassly clumsy as to not realise what her truth really was – the very sad truth behind her brush with rock&roll history. There was no fame, except the idea of it that I had created.

 

 

Intermission; The Impossible Tablecloth

You all know this:

lastsuppergiampietrino
Not Da Vinci’s, but the exact copy by  Giampietrino.

 

There is, however, one curious detail about Leonardo’s *Tablecloth* that no-one has ever commented on before. It is an IMPOSSIBLE TABLECLOTH.

Note that it is one continuous piece. It has quite obviously been folded away prior to use. The fold-pattern is quite distinct, and unwaveringly accurate. Da Vinci really nailed it. There are 17 fold-lines lengthwise, and by my estimation 8 or 9 cross-ways. By careful observation and calculation, I’ve decided his table is 4.650 metres long (15′ 4″)

detaillastsupper
And they are grabby! (Also note that they all have the exact same feet. Clones?) 

Here are my conclusions:
The entire cloth was folded into a ‘pack’ approx 300mm by 150mm (or 1′ x 6″ if you live in that backwards place that still uses ‘Imperial’ measure [note the irony in that?]). Thus the single piece of fabric was folded into a bundle upwards of, if not more than 128 layers thick!
My estimate of 128 layers is based as follows:

LENGTH-WAYS:
1st fold gives 2 layers (cloth block now 3m long)
2nd fold gives 4 layers (cloth block now 1.5m long)
3rd fold gives 8 layers (cloth block now .75 long)
4th fold gives 16 layers (cloth block now 300 – 400mm long)

[note that this estimate does not match the observed cloth – which shows 17 foldlines, not 15 as it would according to my simplification]

WIDTH-WAYS:
1st fold doubles that to 32 layers
2nd fold doubles again to 64 layers
3rd fold to a final of 128 layers thick!

If you fold anything that often you’ll soon discover that:
A: it’s damn-near impossible [the Mythbusters tried this], but if you do succeed –
B: the fold-lines become progressively less distinct, and spread wider.
But Leonardo’s fold-lines are *completely consistent*. (I’ve measured them) He has depicted an Impossible Table Cloth.

I have found no other discussion of this detail anywhere on the internet, which astonishes me. Are people that unobservant?

I’ll leave you with this:

final-lastsupper
Something I did last year, featuring characters from anime ‘Azumanga Daioh’.

 

The trouble with T̶r̶i̶b̶b̶l̶e̶s̶ CAR PARKS

trolleybus
Where we walked. Or took the bus downtown.

I was so in love! We’d walk a lot, go downtown (Literally. She lived at the top of Stuart Street, Dunedin – famous for having the world’s steepest street), and when we got home we’d canoodle halfway between her gate and front door. I remember it well; there was a huge mature hedge, a picturesque gateway through the gap, trees, a deep mossy lawn, a weathered old concrete pathway leading to her parent’s 90-year-old Victorian house.

I went back there a decade later. On the exact same spot was a supermarket car park. I stood there, trying to drag her place back to mind. Nope. History had been broken and scattered. The tsunami called ‘Progress’ had swept away my memories.

Unless you’ve lived your entire in a hippie retreat, you’ll know these things. And if you’re an urban dweller, you’ll know them all too well. They barely existed when I was a kid. We rode our dinosaurs to school, then just let them roam. Dad had a car; a tiny dark-green Ford Prefect (later he become famous in a Certain Sci-fi Book, but in those days he was just a humble British working-class car). Mum drove too. They just parked on the side of the road wherever they could find a gap between the dinosaurs.

Ditto downtown [see note earlier]. There were no car-parks! Streets, yes, and that was where cars stayed. But over the decades, as I came and went, my beloved city changed. Supermarkets became a thing. Car-parks became a thing. And my city (once a charming mash-up of Victorian splendour, some Edwardian, a bit of Deco .. and that modernistic crap that followed) was ruined. Now it has gaps; blank paved patches of land where magnificent buildings once stood. Each of these former patches of paradise is painted like a Monopoly board but without any colour, character, or variance. It is dead land. Artistically dead. Historically dead. Literally dead, except maybe a tiny strip of nature along one edge. And occupied by 3 or 4 cars on average, year round.

I currently live in the most tragic of urban sprawls, a city that apparently claimed at one point that it was bigger than Los Angeles, not by population but by land area. In other words – the sprawliest city in the world; Brisbane. As mentioned, it’s spacious. Yes; it’s green. There are a lot of trees; that’s nice. And there are a lot of motorways. A lot of motorways.

[Elsewhere, cities are tearing out their motorways and restoring inner-city districts]

They get bigger and bigger all the time. The city grows at the edges, creeping into the bush year after year. (‘The Bush’ is a very Australian term. It means many things but mostly: 1) Any kind of Australian native forest; 2) The geo-political landscape known as ‘Rural’.) The actual real bush bush – an entire ecosystem that has been there for a billion years – is barely valued in Aus. Here they sell ‘bare land’, and to make bloody sure of it they flatten every living thing upon it, down to grass. Sometimes lower than that. Tragic.

Anyway, this sprawl exists because generations of city planners have laid it out solely predicated on The Car. Awful AWFUL suburbs of convoluted streets that never seem to get anywhere (seldom ever in a straight line), and finally, after driving 4.6 km (approx 3 miles) to achieve a straight-line distance of 1 km [see example], you reach the supermarket / shopping-mall / sports-complex / workplace / school, and start trying to find a park.

drive-vs-walk
This is actual. About 10km from my place. There is another place where, in order for people to reach a business *literally over their back fence*, they have to drive 2.8 km.

Car-parks are a tragedy. There are just SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH THEM:

  1. Paved and drained. They are like enormous house-roofs; waterproof and fitted with drains to swish all that nasty problematic (utterly perfect) water away and out of sight and dump it into the nearest waterway. The land stays parched while the waterways flood. Worse than that, most of the wetlands are gone. This unnatural flood rushes to the sea, scouring the creek-beds, wrecking ecosystems, and drowning people in their cars. Seriously, in every big ‘rain event’ here, someones dies.
  2. Heat and shade. Have you ever crossed a road in bare feet, in summer? Brisbane has a 6-month summer. We cover the landscape in literally thousands of hectares of road, and the same again in car-parks, and few if any have shade. The solar energy could run the nation, but instead it radiates back into the atmosphere the moment the sun goes down, at a different wavelength that is blocked by ‘greenhouse gasses’. Car-parks accelerate global warming.
  3. No trees. [See 1) & 2)]
  4. Occupancy. Every business puts down as much car-parking as it can, supermarkets and malls being the worst offenders. These car-parks are utterly full for about 3 days a year (it’s called “Christmas”). They do have other peak times – weekends can slam the bigger ‘destination shopping’ places. Full again for 5 or 6 hours. BUT REMEMBER THIS: they are utterly empty at night. The average annual occupancy of a car-park is in the order of 10%.  On average, 90% of this land are empty; achieving nothing more that some global warming and the occasional drowning.

I generalise. Some are better than others. Some do have lots of trees. Some don’t waste land because they are under buildings. They are not the primary problem, cars are. BUT –

We could do a lot better. A whole lot better. Watch out for my follow-up blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snippet

Excited, I followed Mother the day I turned 5 and sat in a huge classroom with about 1,000 other noisy little humans, and promptly spaced out. A successful day involved eating my lunch and getting home without being accosted by either friend or foe. Autism: It’s a sort of invisible stretchy membrane that prevents a lot of stuff getting transmitted either way.

They kept me in that class for two years; told my mother I was intellectually impaired. But enough teachers spied the genius lurking behind the bushes. Those genius teachers found ways to draw out what was there (I was an art prodigy) and gradually my wheels engaged (never perfectly, for mine spun too fast for whatever track they put me on). I finished high school Dux Math & Science. Some of my friends became doctors (the girls did!).

[Fast-forward some 35 years]

My son seemed hopeless. At 3, 4 and 5, teaching him to read became a battle that he always won (and I lost, so I just resumed reading him high-school text books) and he was finally assessed as being severely dyslexic (*and* with dysgraphia). “He’ll probably never read for pleasure,”said the assessor, “He may never read at all.”

But my son stood listening to the expert that day, just out of our sight, and the next day he was gazing determinedly into a book. Within a month he was reading Harry Potter. Max crossed some ten years of education in the space of five weeks.

Take heart. We all travel at different speeds *and* wavelengths, but sadly, Education still manages to transmit on only one. Having the Smarts sure helps — it can bridge a lot of gaps given time — and so does determination, or even better: a Sense of Direction; a Calling. I know this because I never had either and spent my life in a ship with a lot of sails (and a crew that could reconfigure them at will) but with no chart, no compass, and a captain too prone to the cry of sirens.

In the end, and to my surprise, I became a (moderately) successful writer.

[EXPLANATION: – this short piece was in response to an article on Medium. The article is right here: https://medium.com/synapse/too-dumb-to-be-a-doctor-2aa51d577e8b#.3kxnm4v26

Medium seems to be a place with some really high-end writers from many fields (at least they’re the ones that get their stuff featured every day).

Medium is right here: https://medium.com/