Making Plans for (Nuclear) Nigel.

There’s an elephant in the room. SHH! don’t look at him. (His name is Nigel.)

I just made that up, but hey: let’s at least give him a name. Let’s personalise the scariest elephant-in-the-room you’re ever going to meet. But y’know, folks, it may be alright. Nigel might never go rogue. He might never kill millions of people (and maybe some of your children or their children). Nigel might just lie down eventually, in about 30 or 40 thousand years, and harm no-one at all.

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Let me explain: Here we are in 2017 and it really is a thing, people. Global Warming / Climate Change / The Greenhouse Effect, call it what you will, but it is a THING. Lots of dire predictions, a thousand scenarios could play out, but the one we’re definitely not going to get is: everything is gonna be just fine and life goes on and the TV will keep playing and the fashion magazines will still fill our minds with the important news.

Even a fairly mild dose of global warming is going to be bumpy. Extended droughts, constant mega-hurricanes every autumn, and about thirty flooded mega-cities. It’s going to put a lot of pressure on humanity. Starvation, panic, mass migrations, homelessness & unemployment, loss of important species and ecological balance. This could actually go very crisis-y. Some idiot is sure to start a war, too.

So we’re all out fighting the bushfires, trying to eat, abandoning our houses to the waves, running out of gas, freaking-the-fuck-out … etc. Millions of recently affluent people will be wandering someone’s neighbourhood with a thousandth of their previous possessions and 2.3 hungry children to feed and shelter. There will be ‘attrition’. Storm, war, disease, idiots-with-guns … People will die in messy/sad/bad ways. Maybe me, maybe you.

But let’s be optimistic: a good measure of humanity will survive, and survive well. In Iceland. I’ve got a lot of optimism banked in Iceland. (Not so much for the USA.)

But here’s the thing: Nuclear Power Plants. You can’t just just turn them off. Even if you reach the point where it’s like: “Alright, we’ll decommission it. Don’t need it any more. Yeah it’ll cost millions. The processes, machines, experts… Pull out the contaminated stuff and bury it correctly – then keep it cool for a few hundred years … um, shit.”

The things are hot. Literally. That stuff continues to react for decades. Drop all the control rods, moderate it right down, but you still have to run the pumps for .. um, actually I don’t know. For a .. very .. long .. time.

So this is Nigel. No-one’s talking about him.

Elephant.png

Right now there are 30 countries worldwide operating 449 nuclear reactors [link]. Rapid disintegration of civic order in any of those places could easily mean governments or other relevant authorities fail to maintain one of their plants. There’s no money, or no incentive, or no-one left who knows how to do it, or no-one to give a damn.

Walk away from any of these 449 power plants and within a few days it will be on fire, melting down, or out-and out exploding. (Not a ‘nuclear explosion’. Just way too much heat in the wrong places, steam pressure, weird chemistry, trouble with a capital T!)

The Fukushima Daiichi power plant is still a mess. The complexities of restoring it to safely are mind-buggering. It is still leaking. How did that happen? The pumps stopped – simple as that. The pumps need electricity (NOT from the plant itself if it’s shut down), but the tsunami swamped every single back-up generator. Utterly Dumb Design.

So start to imagine what we will need in 449 locations world-wide to keep these things safe until they are completely out of ‘juice’. Plutonium-239 has a halflife of 24,000 years. (Half of it is gone after 24,000 years). Uranium-234 has a half-life of 245 thousand years. How long will we have to run the pumps?

Another thing: build a high-pressure containment vessel out of inch-thick high-grade steel, fill it with radioactive crap and let it all stew for 30 or 40 years, and it literally turns into a different element that is nowhere near as strong as the original steel. This happens to almost everything inside a nuke. Whatever it’s made of, whatever it was supposed to be doing thanks to its physical/chemical properties – it slowly ceases to work.

Even if we cannot pull them apart and bury all the nasty crap, even if we run the pumps for a .. very .. long .. time, there’ll be trouble in the sheds sooner or later.

So: 28 years from now, with cities going under and millions on the move, entire nations on their knees, anarchy in some corners, totalitarian states in others, wars and invasions and occupying forces and not enough food and yet ALL of these power plants will still be in safe hands? Well-funded? Staffed by dedicated technicians and scientists? ALL of them will remain sound, or be correctly decommissioned? EEP!

I’m trying to imagine a future in, say: 200 years time. Everything has settled down. We’re wiser, we’re fewer, we’re low-impact, we’re organic and caring and sharing and accept gay marriages and play chess in the evenings … and thousands of us, entire villages, have to spend an entire lifetime getting trained to go in and out of these ancient piles of deadly crap, renovating pumps, painting and waterproofing, pouring in more and more concrete, and marking off the years on a calendar that is literally thousand of years long.

We really need to make plans for Nigel.

 

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“Your injuries are important to us. Your ambulance will arrive in .. “22” .. minutes”

Ambulance.pngThere was another crash on the Pacific Motorway this morning. Traffic was backed up for a good 10 km in one direction, and 15 in the other. The longest queue was on the non-crash side. According to the media: People were slowing down to look. 

I say ‘Bollocks’.

I’ve driven past a ‘fresh’ crash on the other side of the barrier. It had just happened. The results were a bare five metres away from me. People were still getting out, looking at the bent panels, trying to come to terms with this sudden interruption to their smooth and perfect lives, or simply going into shock. Others were stopping to help, phoning, making helpful gestures at the traffic still approaching. Injuries? I saw none.

And it was on the other side of the barrier, YET I STILL SLOWED DOWN. It’s compelling. Not sure why. The novelty factor; it’s so unusual it catches the eye. Or is it the social code compelling us to help? The Road Code requiring us to help? And of course there’s the ‘holy-crap-that-looks-bad/how-the-fuck-did-they-manage-to-do-that!’ factor.

So I slowed down; 100 to maybe 80; then resumed. “Nothing I can do. My duty is to not block up my side too.” Already too late. the next driver HAD to slow down as well (or hit me), and they got an eyeful of the drama too. The same compulsion took look; the same thoughts. Maybe they dropped 20km/h too. Whatever. But the wave had started.

Within 10 to 20 seconds, that spot would be going into .. not cardiac arrest .. more like ‘arterial congestion’. Regardless of whether people want to look or not, they’re forced to slow down by this self-perpetrating wave, and if you’ve been crawling for ages you’re going to be mad-curious to see why. The Train-Wreck Effect takes everyone over.

I caused it not because I’m a sicko feasting upon some else’s misfortune. Not because I’m a ‘rubber-necker’. I caused it thanks to a deeper primal impulse. Happens every time. And all else must follow – by the thousands. The media was being all judge-y. Again.

This blog is about the other side where people are dying. They need medics, stat!

I’ve seen awful crashes on that motorway, far worse. We crawl .. crawl .. and finally get our answers – “Holy crap, that’s bad. Fatality-grade, I reckon. … Poor buggers.” Mortality bites my emotional arse. Somberly, we take it in turn to edge into the only remaining free lane and get past. Up to that point it is UTTERLY congested; backed up for kilometres: well past the nearest on-ramp. Finally we hear the sirens and glance in our mirrors.

An ambulance comes creeping up behind me at 1 km/h. I do my best to edge over. It’s 3-lanes wide, no shoulders, there’s no break-down lane. We have to make room, but it takes ages because before I can edge forward & turn, so does the car in front of me, and the one in front of that, and so on.  Thus an ambulance at Point-A is requiring the cooperation of drivers that are literally kilometers away, via Points B, C, D, E, … X, Y Z!

In my most recent experience, the nearest hospital was literally 100m away from the crash, but the ambulance had to on-ramp some 2km further back. At 100km/h it could have arrived in 1 minute, but that day it took more like 10. (I wan’t timing it, btw.)

But I was busy thinking – “God! This is so fucked up! Why are they sending it up the blocked side when, on the other side of the crash, the roads it almost completely empty!?” Indeed, why not?

To me it is utterly logical. The problem, as you’ll quickly point out, is the likelihood of head-to-head collisions. But hello: it’s a three-lane motorway. It’s carrying, at that point, exactly one lane’s worth of traffic and even that is choked down to almost nothing.

Here’s how it could be done:

1) New regulations, well promoted. 2) Remote-controlled lane-signals. 3) TOTAL closure of the next-nearest off-ramp to civilian traffic. 4) Immediate system deployment, as soon as traffic control is notified. 5) Emergency vehicles are then routed ‘backwards’ up that temporary on-ramp. 6) strategic cameras. 7) Rapid responders.

Now the cameras mostly exist. The worst-case stretches of road are already well-known. Radio contact already exists, as do flashing lights, sirens, and a citizen-base that is only too willing to comply as long as they know it is going to be helpful.

Lane controls: You install a string of emergency lights (green/amber/red) coupled with text-based messages, ‘RIGHT LANE ONLY! STRICTLY 60KM (RADAR ON!) EMERGENCY VEHICLES USING LEFT & CENTRE LANES’. ‘THIS EXIT IS CLOSED! EMERGENCY VEHICLES ENTERING. USE NEXT EXIT’. Whatever it takes.

The thing is – every single driver on that near-empty stretch of motorway has only just passed the crash scene. They know exactly what this is all about. Unless they have absolutely no soul, they’ll want to help.

Finally, there’s always someone at every crash, even now, who gets out of his or her car and directs traffic. Sometimes very effectively. Willingly. Unpaid.

Well TRAIN MORE! Pay people to train. Give them the equipment to carry in their car. And if they’re unlucky enough to be on-the-spot and they do have to step up and keep things going (including communications with central control), hell: PAY THEM AGAIN!

We could cut ambulance and emergency-vehicle arrival times by huge margins. Save lives. Get the road cleared faster. Everyone wins. As long as there’s a willingness to do something a bit more obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

Cosplay – You’re Doing it Wrong!

Cosplay – I’ve done a bit. I call myself a ‘Cosplayer’. I’ve created a whole bunch of costumes and been to a few Comic Cons and suchlike. FBprofileApril2016But I’ve been doing it wrong. All wrong!

‘Cosplay’ = ‘costume play’, & what I’ve finally realised (after doing it wrong! All wrong!) is that it’s actually about dressing up very precisely as an existing character from a movie, TV, comic or cartoon (or if Japanese from manga/anime). Do it precisely. Get it spot-on. Buy the expensive ready-made costume if you can. Don’t screw with it. Don’t glam it up. Don’t Steampunk it. You have to cosplay *that* exact character.

You see: it’s about Recognition, not Originality.

Seriously – I’ve seen this time and time again: I spent 300 hours creating a costume ( and more than that in dollars), and people walk right past me. But when some anonymous guy walks past dressed in an expensive Darth Vader costume, he gets mobbed. Everyone wanted a photo with him. Tiny children want a photo with him, and their parents are only too happy to oblige. This is the same Darth Vader who slaughtered all those cute children in the last movie!

Me? Bitter? You’d thing I would be, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. Because I was expected far more of people than they deserved credit for. They don’t want a sly reference, send-up or artistic statement, they want FAMILIARITY.

You see: Cosplay is very much a social activity, and I’ve been utterly blind to that very vital *major* aspect. – Yes, you wear whatever you want for yourself, but actually NO – you’re wearing it for everyone else!

Unless it has a very high familiarity-factor (and a glaringly obvious ‘handle’ your viewers can grasp and then tug themselves into your clever post-modernist/deconstructional spoof) … it doesn’t work. The social contract breaks down. The fun stops.

Even more evident, speaking of the social core of cosplay, is the number of people who combine as little groups (2, 3, 5, 8 ~ players) so that they might all go together to the Con as a Collective Statement. Cue a whole slew of Dr Whos, or the Recurrent Tribe of Naruto. Oh; and remember that fabulous once-only set of TinTin characters?

TinTin
Mace Robertson, Sum Jung Gui, Tam Sh, Jon Mayer & Wayne Stewart. Brisbane, 2011

These work because Cosplay is *tribal*. It’s about conforming to the tribal identity, big or small. Break that invisible social codex and The Whole Tribe (everyone at the Con) or the Sub-tribes (the Anime Crowd, for example – a very humourless mob, I’ve found) start giving you the cold shoulder.

Haruhi2013
Uncanny Valley of the Dolls

<Sneer> “Nah, I don’t get it” “Whoa; too weird!”

This is the subtle code I was trying to describe. Despite the cheerful “do waddeva ya want, mate!” there is still a pressure to do it “right”. Don’t glam it up! It threatens the tribalism inherent in us clever apes when we’re out in force, conscious of it or not.

 

As a person with Asperger’s syndrome you can probably see how I’d totally missed the tribal-code stuff – and eventually stumbled out the side door; hurt, confused, and with a bruised ego.

I’ve never yet managed to go in a group. (Sure – I’ve met up with the Steampunks for the Sunday Photo Shoot, but that ain’t the same as a long-range collaboration) and guess what? I envy them intensely. They’re “in”. I’m not. And I feel that.

Sure: I walk around, I look awesome, people photograph me (unless Darth Vader is available) – but I go home alone, and with an empty ‘social soul’ – if there is such a thing.

So that’s what this big mind-dig is all about. I’ve had the slow-dawning realisation that my take on ‘cosplay’ is at odds with most of the rest of the world. And I’ll freely admit that it was made a lot worse by my unhealed childlike addiction to approval.

Is this in fact the core of Cosplay? It’s not about honouring your favourite character; it’s about seeking approval and winning applause? Maybe. different for everyone, sure. I can only speak of my own experience.

Cosplay – I’ve been doing it wrong.

ADDENDUM: this conversation originally occurred on Facebook. A lot of people popped up, it was very interesting. Curiously – a few of them mentioned ‘The Haters’ – part of their experience, I guess, but not of mine. In certain circles, cosplay gets quite vicious. But that’s for someone else to write about.

QUOTES: what follows is a selection of the lovely things said to me during that convo:

“I love your costuming Ged! So long as you remain your creative and unique self, call it by any name you want, you sir, are a gem in an often samey-same world. We will have endless lines of the 10th Doctor etc but what they won’t be is memorable, yours are. Shine on, Ged.”

“Anyone can copy an anime character spot on. It takes creativity to become a character. You Sir are a character, as am I, we look like no one else, (Thank God) so we don’t have to be “in Character”. Never stop.”

“Maybe we need to invent a new term for creative original costume and character creation: ‘Cosplayingaround’ ‘Cosplayingup’ ‘Cos-tweak’ ‘Coscreating’ ? … ”

CONCLUSION: Perhaps, in the world of Cosplay, there are some limiting thoughts; unspoken boundaries; the ‘Safe Zone’ within which many people prefer to stay. That’s fine. I see it now. They’re not ‘haters’, they’re simply those who chose their safety barriers and cannot cope with those of us who dare frolic on the outer side. But it still hurts when someone looks straight at you and says, “Holy crap, that’s creepy. Kill it with fire!”

‘Depressed Monkey is Depressed’ (only analysing, not actually depressed a.t.m.)

DepressedMonkeyDepression seems to be the subject of the hour, & I remembered something about the idea of it having evolved and retained by humanity in our march to world domination (and general up-fuckery) because it might originally have had a purpose.

Went looking; found this [“scientists suggest that depression is not a malfunction, but a mental adaptation that brings certain cognitive advantages”], frankly I think it’s bollocks.

Why? Because I think the nature of depression is linked into a very different survival process: the survival of the tribe. There is a horrid characteristic of nearly every social cluster of animals – at a certain point, an individual is driven out due to various dynamics within the whole group. The subsequent social isolation is a killer. The individual needs to get back in fast, or he or she is going to get eaten, or starve. Even more crippling would be the loss of social connection, surely? The loss of the daily soothings, the touch, contact, grooming, conversation, and having a sense of belonging.

Beginning to sound familiar? Social isolation; a shriveling soul, a broken heart, constant soul-searching (“what did I do wrong” .. “Why am I not loved?” .. “I suck” … “I want to die.”) … and finally, exactly that: the poor rejected monkey dies.

I’ve seen this in those nature programs. Really happens.

So evolution installs depression. Whether it is for the individual’s sake, or the tribes … but somehow it enhances survival. I’d put my money on the latter: survival of the larger group, at the expense of the individual.
(But the individual, driven by his or her pain and grief, might also be motivated to get back into the middle. A win either way.)

Now think of modern society. I think of my own life: almost no physical contact beyond a certain age. No hugs. No just sitting around together – especially for boys and especially as the years clocked on. If I had any contact it was usually between boys, and violent in nature (the jeering sort, and/or fighting).

[My personal irony was my big brother – he was incredibly violent towards me – but he was still my rock, the only one I could ‘hang with’ and feel safe and nurtured by.]

Sports: you either chose contact sports (violent) or non-contact ( = *still no contact!*).

Pretty much the message was (for me) the same as if I’d experienced total tribal rejection. At a body/emotional/needs level
So CUE depression. It locks in. The emotional set is the same. If severe enough, and untreated (in the monkey/ape world, that would = getting re-embraced by the tribe; in our world – loads of therapy, or drugs) then it leads to the same result … effectively a death by broken heart, isolation & feelings of worthlessness.

That’s my theory, anyway. To me, it’s glaringly obvious.

“They Paved Paradise …”

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

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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.

 

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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 IDEAL 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. And 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, it goes back in time by 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 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 do their shopping 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. Hey; and 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. FAST-FORWARDS TO 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 haven’t been replaced …

After such a promising start it’s 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 fact. In the last 15 years I’ve seen that place cut down at least 20 of their original trees. None replaced.  A dismal lack of any care whatsoever. ZERO improvements have been made. “Environmental Custodians’ they are not! [Woolworths Mall, Logan Central, FYI.]

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 are 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, medical centres, gyms, cafes, restaurants, movies, 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!