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 wasn’t there for the naked-concrete-and-glass caverns that followed. Was it an influence? Was that why everyone turned to Deconstructionism? Maybe.]

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. We took LSD. We led each other into downtown Auckland blindfolded, effectively inventing trust-games from scratch. Often 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. They were big fans; in touch with trends; 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.

With that finished, 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:] 

 

 

 

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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!

‘How I became a Successful 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 the 1960s in the middle of a pop-song that was climbing the charts at the time. Just another song, when I was 14, when pop-music only ever came out of a radio. It came, it went, and four decades rolled by.

ShirleyTemple
No, not this voice. (Shirley you know her!? )

Then I asked the internet: ‘Who was behind that voice?’ and Wikipedia gave me a one-line clue; her name. Okay: not much to go on, but Google!  I discovered an obscure blog about the famous group in question and its many adventures, and it gave me one more clue: the age of The Voice at the time of recording.

A name, an age, and by deduction a year-of-birth. But girls become women and women get married and 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? For all I knew 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 school; more data-points. But it was not enough. I couldn’t 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 the married name I’d found via 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.

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*! The 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 had 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, found her, 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.

 

 

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 is 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 – right HERE: They Paved Paradise

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Pwned’ ‘Owned’ ‘Disowned’

There’s this phenomenon I’ve noticed. Getting ‘Owned’. No, I don’t mean ‘beaten in a game/sport/argument’. I mean, ‘getting Owned’.

It became very noticeable recently during an event called the Eurovision Song Contest – a curious ritual that has beset the planet since 1956. Australia was permitted an entry in 2015 (to mark the 60th Anniversary), and again in 2016. Aus put forward its promising front runner, Dami Im, and it’s here that my commentary starts.

dami-im

You see – Dami Im is, in some ways, my neighbour, or at least this is how the media has worked it up to be. More than that; she is Every Australian’s Neighbour. Unless you’re Korean that is, in which case she’s your neighbour and all those upstart Johnny-come-lately Aussies can just wait in line to rub off a bit of her fame thank you very much!

But it’s damn hard to get Owned. Here’s how it went for young Ms Im: born in South Korea she emigrated to Australia at the age of nine. (Australia, it needs to be noted, is (generally speaking) one of the most racist places in the world. My heart goes out to her entire family trying to integrate themselves into this strange new world.) So okay there she is, dropped into a ‘city’ called Logan (one of those ‘Satellite Cities‘ that keep springing up all around the world at the stroke of an administrator’s pen, although in the case of Logan it is more technically an ‘Edge City‘.)

I live in Logan, BTW.

She goes to school, then on to a rather exclusive high school where she kept her head down by all accounts and did not reveal or exhibit her long-held dream of public singing. She’d already achieved very highly elsewhere in musical arts. (It’s all in Wikipedia, go read it) Moving on from that she pursued her dream and eventually achieved a notable victory in some TV entertainment thing called ‘The X Factor’. (I don’t watch TV.)

And POW! Suddenly my local paper is filled with huge headlines about ‘Our Star!’ and how she went to John Paul College and oh how wonderful/notable she’d been and an interview or two with the principal, and yadda-yadda-yadda. Discovered. Owned!

Next round: She gets chosen to represent Australia at this Eurovision thingy. And she reaches the semi-final .. and she reaches the final … and Australia is on the edge of its collective seat!

And suddenly the media go nuts. The pwning process ramped up to the nth degree! Suddenly she became Australia’s New Darling. She was So Australian!  Hell yeah, mate! Totally! The perfect representative!  “We all love ya, Dami! Go, go, go for gold!” Australia adored her fashion sense and her confidence and her pride and most of all Her Voice.

This is all going on and I’m slowly waking up to phenomenon via Facebook and I’m like, oh, wait, isn’t this the same woman who did okay at some talent thing a while back? I google it. Oh yeah. So I got onto YouTube and I caught up on her performances and I was all like … ‘Why is everyone raving about that voice?’

(Let me digress: I have a tin ear I’ll admit it, but even though I tried, I came away thinking, “Yes, it’s strong, but it does not dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee. It has more the beauty of a rhinoceros beetle.” I believe she has yet to find the songs that match her voice. What she was trying to sing were ‘too girly’, and consequently she could not actually render them well. Sure, sure, she hit the big notes, she had the power, but her voice … to my tin ear … was rather awful, actually. Personal opinion only.)

So, Media Storm, Mega-Hype, everyone was pumped to sit down and watch her win … and she didn’t. But Aus had a new idol and celebrated her anyway. I’m not knocking it; it was a really huge achievement. Props to her and to everyone who supported her, mentored her, put her through her musical paces and helped her go places! And I guess she came home and the cameras were all there and they threw rose-petals under her feet etc etc.

dami-im2What’s it called, ‘Power-shaving‘? Rub yourself against the Alpha-Ape and you’ll feel important too. Suddenly Dami belonged to Australia / Queensland / Logan / her old school / the supermarket where she had a holiday job / the guy who once sold her dad tyres… and I imagine Korea was working hard at reclaiming her too as Their Own Daughter. Fine. That’s true. She is.

But the thing is – nations, neighbourhoods and high schools never do it for anyone else. We don’t mob someone in the street just because she/he was born here/grew up here/studied here.

Nope. You have to be Really Frickin’ Famous first, then it begins.

Australia is notable for doing this ‘Owning’ think. Just off the top of my heard they have claimed Phar Lap (racehorse), Split Enz (band), John Clark (comedian), and Russel Crow (actor) all originally from New Zealand. Oh the audacity! (But not Ged Maybury.) (Yet.)

But there’s a dark underbelly to the phenomenon. I’ve experienced it. Move into a new place (town, district, street, nation) and even though you’ve already got something – a bit of fame, a backstory, talent, achievements – they don’t matter a jot because you’re not ‘native’. Not born here? – Tough shit. Didn’t go to school here? – Tough shit. Wrong colour? Funny accent? – “Tough shit, mate! I don’t care about your Nobel Prize in physics, you’re nobody in this town. Oh look! That kid just came 3rd in the national physics competitions! Holy wow! Call the newspaper! Give him the front page. HE’S A LOCAL!”

I’ve seen far more column space giving to some no-name first-time hey-wow-this-woman-just-wrote-her-first-children’s-book than I ever got in a certain town.

Seriously, it is a thing. If you’re the ape that walks in from outside, you’ll always be the outsider. The locals will never forget it. Be remarkable and they’ll yawn and look the other way. But do something exceptionally extraordinary and suddenly it’s a game-changer.

And if you do anything bad you’ll be branded forever as ‘the one from Over There‘.

Anyway, I’ve noticed it. It intrigues me. It’s a thing, that’s all.

[BTW: I’ve been well-received here in many other ways. I know hundreds of good-hearted Aussies that have made me feel welcome in many lovely ways. Thx, peeps!]

 

 

 

The Daggers Flung (Part 1 of ‘Flung Aside’)

deadraccoon

People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.” – Bill Watterson

Mum and Dad were already at war before I arrived, and it just got worse. All of which was hidden from me on the surface, but of course we all have some kind of emotional sonar operating, even if you’re autistic.

On that note, the theory has been floated that autistic children are not grossly insensitive and thus closed from the world, but are in fact the complete opposite. Everything pours into them as a constant screaming medley of sensations, loud noise, lights and motion, and the autist must rapidly build defenses or remain permanently overwhelmed. I’m seen this first hand in my own son, who basically spent the first 3 years of his life screaming in terror. The book was called “The Crying Baby”, but there was more to it than that.

Like a camera loaded with hyper-fast film, the aperture must be progressively stopped down before any decent photos are achieved. Minimum interaction with humans and their emotional noise and signals (oft indistinguishable) prevents overexposed film and emotional burn-through. Close it out. Play alone. Immerse oneself in an obsession. Hide. Literally – hide. I did that. I often hid. Safe at last!

But is there more to us than just the five senses? (There are in fact many more than five, but another day, I think). Yes there is. To quote Philip Larkin. “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” And my parents were no exception.

People unconsciously play out complex games to get their needs met, seldom directly. And if one’s primary needs find absolutely no source of succor, one’s efforts are diverted into a secondary gameplan. Example: any attention is better than no attention.  Children learn to meet their needs by being little criminals. They’ll break things, they’ll break the rules, they’ll employ expletives – anything to get a rise out of mum/dad; teachers; authority figures. Very successful strategy. Prisons are packed with people reaping the ineffective consequences of this pattern.

Crime starts young. It is created by disengaged parents, and even more effectively by an absent parent. Sad & very fucked up.

But that was not the way of the Gedi.

My dear mother, trapped at home by a horrid controlling husband, without love and with one child already (hitting 2 and losing his charm), needed someone to give her any sort of love, and I became the designated saviour. The Wanted Child, perfect, serene, and unconditionally loving. Increment by increment my dear mum injected me with a complex venom. I needed to remain rescue-able. And she needed to be needed.

Dad, on the other hand, was merely waiting for me to grow out of nappies (none of which, I’m sure, he ever touched) and get big enough to kick a ball. And when that day came I began to prove useless as a son. I had no aptitude for sport. I was clumsy. I was left-handed. I was also a wimp, a blubberguts and a sissy. Physically fragile, and emotionally too. The most minor of setbacks would send me running to mummy, and my father soon enough took his place on the other side of that same circuit. His criticism, anger, and not-so-subtle remarks stung me again and again.

Worse: I absorbed them and made them my own. I am 63; he has been dead twelve years; yet they still remain operative despite the awareness I now have. Somewhere back then, at a very young age, I became determined to never succeed at anything. And so far I’ve been a roaring success at it.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. 
They may not mean to, but they do. 
They fill you with the faults they had 
And add some extra, just for you. 

But they were fucked up in their turn 
By fools in old-style hats and coats, 
Who half the time were soppy-stern 
And half at one another's throats. 

Man hands on misery to man. 
It deepens like a coastal shelf. 
Get out as early as you can, 
And don't have any kids yourself.  -  Philip Larkin

Now I try to not hate Dad. He was doing his best. He was replicating what he learned from his daddy who was apparently a total arsehole. Alternatively I could describe him thus: ‘he was Scottish’. None of my Scots ancestry ever reached me, not one crumb, except the brutal School-of-Hard-Knocks lessons my grandfather dispensed to all his sons. I guess it evolved as a way to ‘toughen you up’ so you could survive a brutal working-class life. At home, school, on the streets, in the workplace. The Scots are renown for their pugilism.

But compared to my grandfather ‘Peter-Pop’, Dad was a kitten. He was kind, forbearing. But inevitably his disappointment would show, his impatience, his unpredictable anger (which was probably spilling over from elsewhere as his first marriage turned to crap).

Thus I danced between my two parents, savaged by my father then rescued (but never re-empowered) by my mother. It was a perfect circuit, but is hard to deduce exactly who was the battery & who was the lightbulb. Maybe it was just two batteries and the wiring (me) what got hot. Or was I a capacitor? Anyway – there was no off-switch.

HIT PAUSE. – I don’t want to fling you into a black pit of despair. There is a silver lining in all this – of sorts. Larkin was far from the only one to realise this, and far from the only person to treat it as a permanent cycle. Which it isn’t. Tune in soon to PART II: ‘Fung Aside’ and a truly remarkable story.

POSTSCRIPT I: That sequence in Calvin and Hobbs was the most intense, beautiful, tragic, heart-wrenching things I have ever seen in a cartoon. Watterson never flinched in his depiction of childhood, and here he was at his best. Nothing compares.

POSTSCRIPT II: Flung is one of my favourite words. It is a word that takes no prisoners. It is assertive, adamant, unambiguous.  It evokes an action, either violent or done with disgust (or both). Intended. Forceful. As Yoda once said, “There is no unflung.”

Flung Aside

“Life is a highway / I want to ride it / all night long…”  – Tom Cochrane

One of my most enduring memories was coming across a top-flight sports-car upside down in a ditch on a highway in the middle of nowhere (which on that occasion was the middle of North Island, New Zealand). It was the 1970s, so no mobile phones. We stopped to investigate, fearing the worst. It was inverted, but intact. nothing for it: I scrambled into the ditch and finally worming my head in to check for trapped people.

Another car had stopped soon after us and they hurried to the scene of the crash too. Suddenly a powerful torch stabbed at me from the other side and a panic-stricken voice shouted, “Oh my God there’s someone in there!” but there wasn’t (except for my head). The driver had already pissed off, without even leaving a helpful note. We soon did the same thing. I imagine that same scene repeated itself all night long.

As to the highway of my life: I’ve been down many highways, literally and figuratively; and had some quite splendid adventures. I’ve been nearly-famous. I’ve performed in front of literally thousands of people on a few occasions, & cumulatively to 50,000+. I’ve sat in a room waiting to be announced author of NZ’s Children’s Book of the Year. (As earlier emphasised – the word ‘nearly’ figures in this.) I’ve been a ‘key-note’ speaker, and so on.

And every time – like coming off a rollercoaster, I was all: “WOO! Let’s do it again!” Every time. (Well: every time I proved good at something. Which was often enough.)

But on my highway, I always ended up in the ditch and walked away from each crashed car. Oh they ran well until then, proper little sports cars some of them. (I won’t bore you with the entire list. Let’s just say that in most instances it involved being on stage in some capacity. Public speaking. Workshop presenter. Storyteller. Stripper. That sort of thing.)

I have a friend. He’s a psychologist. After one of our men’s groups he asked me, “So how come you’re not successful?” Upon reflection it was not a casual question, nor was it asked (as I took it) in a perplexed/empathetic kind of way. I had no answer, but it sank into me anyway, like a depth charge. It’s still there.

What has been flinging me aside? I kept putting it down to circumstances; Bad Luck; Market Forces; it is just ‘how I rolled’ (<cough> into the ditch, every time). As some people like to put it – I blamed things. Other things. I have sat with professional psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors, and every time I tried to tell them “I have a fear of success” absolutely none of them took it up. FAIL!

But I was right: If I ever succeeded, especially Something In My Fathers’ World (sports, career, normalcy, holding down a government job for 38 years), it would break the programming my parents injected, and make him out to be a liar. (I mentioned his sideline barracking in the previous post, but to summarise: his final remark about me – uttered two months before he died – was, “So how’s that no-hoper getting on?”)

The only way I could completely fulfill his expectations was to keep on failing. I had been the mysterious force flinging myself off the highway. I was doing it via various strategies – usually by leveraging my circumstances at the time. After every success, as I walked away thinking, “Ooo! Nailed it! I have got to do more of this!” I was already plotting out exactly how I was going to fail to do any more. Unconsciously.

Really, there is no better explanation. Not a blinding flash; this hasn’t required expensive cathartic therapy; It has just been the sound of a penny dropping from the top of the world’s tallest building for 60 years. You have no idea how important this is to me.

NOW I PROMISED YOU AN ASTOUNDING STORY, all hinging of the word ‘Flung’.

As a boy I followed my big brother around. Gordon was 2 years my senior, and more physical than me, more social, and more in touch with reality. Thus he was my guide (to trouble) and saviour (when he wasn’t thumping me). He was also part of a gang that went around together. It’s what boys do, worldwide. Membership was fluid. I barely knew any of them; can’t remember a single name now. The Big Boys Gang.

The thing about these groups is, they’re very local. Other gangs, just a few street over, had their patch too. Strangers all. And thus, of course, they were Our Enemy. My gang said things about them, how they were all stupid, or all violent … Basically, they were Other. (And our gang was, in their eyes I’m sure, equally ‘Other’.) Fights sometimes happened. So we stayed away from their territory, and they from ours.

Come winter and we’d inevitably get snow, and since we were literally on the edge of town, adventure was to be had going upwards past the farmland, into the bush, and if conditions allowed, we could get to the very top of our local mountain; Mt Flagstaff; 2,000ft high.

“Let’s go see how deep the snow is!” “Huzzah!” “(etc.)” Off we went, with Gordon’s Little Brother tagging along. We hurried up the road and within an hour were well into the native bush on a track overgrown with scrawny trees. Everything was dredged in thick powdery snow. Then we noticed we were being followed. It was another gang, the one from the next suburb over: Halfway Bush – a rough tough state housing area. Trouble coming!

My gang sped up. Faster, faster they went, and I began to fall behind, panicking, gasping, struggling along in my gumboots on the deep snow and mud, too blown to as much as shout “Hey, wait up!” Well, I did, but it seemed the snow absorbed all sound. Panic shrivelled my voice, and I had every reason to panic. Pounding up behind me, just paces away, was an alien gang of towering 8 & 9-year-olds. Then they caught me.

Ever seen those nature programs when the cheetah catches its prey? How the poor beast, knowing it is doomed, instantly ceases the struggle? That was me. I went into shock, braced myself for awful things, and the humiliation began. They promised frightening things coming soon, declared me a wimp, sissy, etc (‘wimp’ and ‘loser’ were not used in 1959, but you get the idea), roughed me around, rammed snow down my collar, then flung me deep into scrubbery, laughing. What a hoot!

I tripped on a dead branch, fell painfully in a shower of snow, and listened to them laughing and jeering as they moved on. I was, understandably, rather glum. I fell at once into a severe depression, being – with all my might and skill – the miserable hapless victim … trapped … severely in need of rescue … soon … which finally did not come.

Believe me, I really radiated victimhood and neediness. I wallowed in the moment, I really worked it, but I had no audience. There was no Mother to pull me out. No feckin’ brother, either! Just silence, discomfort, some minor scratches and bruises, and my bum attitude.

I should be grateful for that moment. I finally got sick of being a pathetic wimp/sissy/loser, regained a bit of spine, struggled back to the track, saw nough of my group, and (hating them and their utter failure to protect me) I went home.

Now here’s the kicker:

40 years later I was living in Temuka (- a small country town in NZ’s South Island), and I befriended the guy at the local video-hire place. We’d talk about many things. He bought some of my books. I gave him a woodworking commission. Then one day we realised that we were both from Dunedin. In fact he was from Halfway Bush. We had lived a mile apart, but worlds apart too. Different school, slightly different ages, etc… “You know it was a funny thing; that:” I began, “We boys all had our little gangs, almost street by street, and we treated each other as strangers; enemies; but really we were all the same. Just kids. Yet there was this ritual of humiliating that we just had to dish out to each other…” And I began telling him about my lonely assault in the snow…

And he suddenly became very shifty. Very, VERY, shifty. Suddenly: no eye contact. Slowly my story dried up. Something was amiss – And we both quickly moved on, “Yeah, boys will be boys, eh?!” “Yeah, hah-hah-hah.” He did not admit it, but I knew then that he had been there that day. There was no mistaking it. Him and his gang. He remembered.

How freaking bizarre is that?!