The excruciating sound of stretching rubber told us that we were emerging from crepus-space.
I rose from my bed and rubbed sleep from my eyes. I did not know how long I had been asleep. I donned my ship suit and seated myself at the control console. The bluish light of Elixesse was still faint. We must have been in the very outer reaches of the system
The Ørn broke its silence.
- We’ve encountered an obstacle. A sensor shell.
- Transmitted from the fourth planet?
- It is almost certainly reporting to the Urograffin. And it is extremely sophisticated, extremely sensitive. There is no way a ship of my bulk can pass undetected.
- Even in crepus-space?
- It monitors normal space, crepus-space and the cryptic Urschleim.
- They have something to hide, clearly.
- If you were casually eviscerating a rare and truly beautiful lifeform - certainly the only one of its kind in the galaxy - you might also be sensitive about being observed.
- How far out are we? I asked.
- The sensory construct is ten AU in radius and we are anchored at its edge. We must decide now whether to penetrate openly and invite a hostile reaction – or find a quiet way through.
- The latter, I would say. Ultimately, it may allow us more options.
The Ørn readied a Penetrator which Robert had recently serviced in the hold and named Lorraine. It was abyssal black in colour. Its smooth organic lines resolved into an arrow-like form at the front and dissolved into a cluster of Urschleim flutes at the rear that, even now, were waving gently in the unseen winds of the universe’s underlying chaos. Every surface of the Lorraine was dotted with disc-like crepus organs. More than anything the vessel resembled a terrestrial squid. It was small, with no room for a flesh and blood pilot.
I eased on a virtuality balloon, clipping the breathing and feeding attachments into place. To the unknowing, it would have appeared that my head was enclosed by free floating sphere of grey dish water.
I entered the sensorium of the shuttle.
It took days to reach orbit with Elixesse Quaternary. Days of tedium broken by sudden, wrenching manoeuvres and moments of agonising tension.
After piercing the sensor shell - a delicate action that at times found the Lorraine simultaneously occupying the three known phases of space-time – I encountered potent layers of defence, one after the other.
Swarms of reticulate mines, resembling nets of delicate silver, undulating with an eerie life and drawn like leeches to any source of mass, light, heat or metal. Then a membrane of invisible submolecular femtomachinery, programmed to absorb baryonic matter at touch and excrete it as energy, Pinpointing this defensive shell were calculation engines, directing the esoteric machinery like a vast distributed limb. These controllers hulked in the dark; giant black hourglasses, thick with antennae, unreflective and pitted with micrometeorites. More often than not, I felt their lurking presence against the stars, long before I saw them.
At last, there was a sphere of more conventional military hardware: dormant micromissiles drifting in schools awaiting the command to seek and destroy, huge solar accumulators spiked with laser emplacements, sizzling with barely constrained energies, and massive rotating capacitors resembling luminous trumpets, primed to deliver disabling EMP pulses. All in synchrony with a sly governing intelligence.
But the subtle mind of the Lorraine, guided by the mentality of the distant Ørn, avoided every pitfall. Appearing as little more than a sliver of vacuum or a spray of alpha particles, it brought me safely through.
The Urograffin were defending something, that was obvious - but I had to wonder if their exploitation of Elixesse Quaternary was sufficient a transgression to warrant such extreme measures. If they were so painfully aware of their crime, then perhaps it was not merely greed that was driving them, but desperation? And who did they think would be bringing them to task? I felt sure, even at this early stage, that there was more to this scenario than was apparent.
Friday, February 29, 2008
The excruciating sound of stretching rubber told us that we were emerging from crepus-space.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
For some time now - probably since I became a father - I’ve been tracking the fortunes of baby-faced, sports-car-driving Eddie Groves, the ‘high profile’ unconscionable bastard who prides himself, with his wife Le Neve, on making millions out of early child care with his company ABC Learning.
Now it looks like his evil empire is turning to shit. It seems the hedge funds, sensing his vulnerability to the current debt crisis, have invoked various arcane stock market mechanisms to bring him down. The sharks are eating the sharks.
In the beginning, Eddie must have scanned the business horizon, looking for a place to stake his claim. He chose to make his millions out of early childhood development, not pausing to consider that it might be inappropriate, that there might be just a few ethical considerations to take into account, that it might make him a vulture …
The image of Mr Burns taking candy from Maggie Simpson comes to mind. What caring person would deliberately set out to become a child care mogul? And if he’s suspect in this way, I doubt not, with the current crisis, that it will be too long before more putrescence comes to light. Already the spectre of HIH has been evoked.
My daughter Polly spent two years at Brandon Park child care centre. It was a terrific place, community owned and run, but I was left with the distinct impression that money was always tight. This is what makes me wonder what Eddie Groves is doing to extract his profits.
Rumours abound and none of them are good. Brandon Park had its own cook and food was prepared on the premises, but at ABC, it is said, canned or frozen foods are used and children are allowed two slices of bread, but never a third.
‘They try too hard to make it look like this big colourful, educational centre but lack in the caring, friendly personalities they should have.’
‘Some parents who send their children there think they’re great, but you will never come across a former staff member who would agree. Perhaps because one of the worst things about them is that staff are consistently instructed to lie and hide things from parents.’
‘There’s too much emphasis on making things look good for the parents; they seem to have lost track of the fact that they are there to provide high quality care to the children. It’s all about keeping the parents happy; what they don't see won't hurt them.’
‘I know one woman who took a demotion from Director of an ABC to Group Leader of a not-for-profit centre just to get away from the stress of constantly lying and covering up to both parents and certification authorities.’
'I'm an early childhood teacher and have worked in a number of ABC centres and I would never ever send my child there … I have seen babies left crying on the floor or in the cots screaming when they obviously are not ready for bed.’
The horrors stories abound. I don’t have room for them all.
As independent centre operator Patricia Wilschefski has said the biggest difference between her centre and ABC's is the personal attention. At Brandon Park, parents were at the helm, involved in board activities, money raising, working bees. At ABC Learning, because it is a listed company, the shareholders are the priority - not the parents, not the teachers, not the needs of the children.
Then there is the Sunshine incident. A child escaped an ABC centre and the company was fined $200. ABC challenged the decision, attempting to set a precedent that it was the worker not the corporation who was responsible. If they had succeeded, this would have allowed them to get off the hook virtually no matter what happened in one of their centres.
All the money, none of the responsibility. That’s the ticket. That’s where they come from.
In 2006, as part of their aggressive expansion, they attempted to buy out independent Sydney centre Moore Park Gardens. The parents waged war against a behemoth that sometimes pays as three times the market price to put its competition out of business.
Director Alice Voigt said she “‘was worried about the potential impact on staff and children’. A centre she worked at two years ago in inner Sydney changed dramatically after it was bought by ABC. ‘The effects on the staff and the children were quite severe,’ she said. ‘I would feel extremely threatened that our staff numbers would be reduced. I just don't believe in what ABC child-care is about, which is making money.’"
One parent at Moore Park Garden was quoted as saying "If ABC was actually committed to child-care they would not be operating on minimum staff ratios.” A parent from a different region writes, ’ABC built 3 centres all within a 5 min radius of my home this year. In the process they also bought my son’s centre and 2 others and shut them down in matter of weeks with no respect at all for the parents or children.’
I wonder how we would react if a greedy business started taking over primary schools and making them uniformly compliant to their business formula? Not positively, I suspect. Well, guess what? In 2006 ABC established up a satellite company called ‘Independent Colleges Australia’ and began taking enrolments for its first Primary school in Narre Warren. In Caroline Springs - one of the desolate McMansion parks on the outer fringes of Melbourne - property developer Delphin allocated land to ICA ahead of a proposed Catholic school. More schools have followed, most in similar suburbs. ICA claims to be not-for-profit and independent of ABC, but no one believes them.
Basically, it appalls me that anyone could see a profit to be made out of children at such a delicate and crucial stage of their development. To apply brutal unforgiving business models to child-care is capitalism at its ugliest, and if Eddie Groves is about to go to the wall, then I, for one, am mightily pleased.
Monday, February 25, 2008
It’s one thing for the patriarchs of the tobacco industry to swear under oath that smoking is harmless - it was an odious and immoral thing to do, certainly - but nothing compared to the crimes of the oil industry in funding climate change denial. I am beginning to think that a special place ought be reserved in hell for politically or financially motivated climate change sceptics.
Even if we are misreading the data, there remains an obligation on us to take all the possibilities seriously. If climate change impacts on us financially, then we must address it; it will not disappear if we ignore it, or rail against it, or donate money to organised naysayers. This is the reason there has been positive movement in the business world ahead of government policy.
If the loudest voices come from the left of politics, those on the right do not automatically have to take an opposing stance. As unpleasant as it may be, the issue must be embraced universally. Debate can be healthy, but denial by any opinion leader, at this point, is an absolute wrong. As opposed to terrorism, this is a real war and those who undermine our efforts for selfish motives are as guilty of sedition as any saboteur or fifth columnist. Worse, for there is more at stake. The future of everything we know.
I just wish people could get that into their heads.
In the last week, I have heard a conservative speaker comparing climate change to the Y2K bug, I have seen Andrew Bolt on the ABC Insiders programme, with his mocking smile, belittling the concept as if it was nothing more than the whining of tree-hugging pinkos, claiming that, even if climate change was real, why should we move against it if the big emitters did not?
If we do not act and the world descends into nightmare, where does that leave the stubborn, short-sighted opinions of Andrew Bolt? Does he become, with his like, a figure of historical infamy? In the future, when the question is asked, if you could travel back in time, what would be the first thing you would do? will the automatic answer be, kill the mothers of all the Andrew Bolts of this world?
And the mothers of the men who caused the demise of the EV1? I’ve just finished watching, ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’. Less than a decade ago General Motors produced a viable electric car – the EV1. It was a success, it was there on the streets in America, it was the future. But it was destroyed by greed. By shadowy monsters at the helm of Big Oil, who brought about the recall and subsequent compaction of every vehicle. An extreme measure to meet an extreme threat to their vested interest. I wonder if history will hold these criminals accountable?
Consider this article by hater of life Jennifer Marohasy. Consider the style of her argument. She refers to climate change ‘hype’. She uses the release date and the lack of a bibliography in an attempt to undermine the veracity of a report. Then she launches a sly rhetorical attack on those who take the safety of our world seriously. ‘For those who enjoy the thrill of the more extreme doomsayer predictions, the 21-page summary will be a disappointment.’ Oh yes, we were disappointed. The world is not about to end tomorrow, damn it.
It’s not much use pulling her article apart in detail. Let’s just say she goes on to misrepresent Al Gore and put her own mischievous and very unscientific slant on the figures revealed by the report.
Why? What is motivating her to reduce a dire global threat into a political punching bag? Is she ignorant, or merely evil?
It is revealing that her Courier Mail article reappears on the site of the extreme conservative think tank The Institute for Public Affairs, [where Marohasy gets her pay cheque]. If there was ever a gaggle of treasonous wretches to be put up against the wall come the revolution, these are they.
Consider their knee-jerk reaction to the recent Garnaut report on climate change. Penned by Alan Moran, it rolls out all the old chestnuts. To dramatically cut emissions would be to return to ‘living standards to similar as those currently experienced in the developing world’. Two points here. a] I would rather have third world living standards than none at all, and b] it is widely agreed by thoughtful commentators that, if action is taken now, living standards need only suffer marginally, if at all.
In response to Garnaut’s suggestion that trade pressures be used to reinforce developing countries sense of public spirit, [Moran’s paraphrasing], he wails that this ‘would destroy the world trading regime and retard all countries' living standards’. Money money money. When will they get it into their heads? It’s about a lot more than money.
I won’t go on about this article, either. It’s full of the same old stuff. Solar power has no future as a baseload generator. Denial of fossil fuels to developing countries will create ‘intense political tensions’ [and extreme climate change will not?]. At times, you almost get the feeling that Moran is aware of the absurdity of his own argument: Garnaut’s targets are impossible to meet, so let’s not bother.
These climate change sceptics are, by this stage, on a level with creationists - yet their motives are far, far more malignant. They are driven by venality, greed, fear or, at best, obdurate stubbornness. But the future is at stake. This is only a political and financial problem by extension. The real problem rests with the continuance of life as we know it. It will take a massive, unified effort to save our future. There will come time when we should no longer tolerate this species of malefactor in our midst - or at least name them for what they are: evil.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I am spending very little time here at my mother’s house, accounting for the rarity of my entries. I have been sick. This has retarded my house hunting efforts. Nor has singing been easy.
We played at the Central Club on Thursday with the Models and on Saturday at the Jump Club with The Reels. Though my vocals fell below standard, they were good nights. We have a new song called This Time Tomorrow.
On Thursday strange things happened with Cathy D----, and I can’t say I’m not afraid. I suspected my feelings for others would be dampened but they are not. It is by no means love, but it’s more than nothing.
People like Pierre and Anne Harding dislike Cathy D---; I find it annoying. Anne had the immeasurable gall to say that “Christine would turn in her grave.”. It makes me suspect that she has an insensitive side I had not previously seen. But then, she is grieving too.
On Thursday we tracked each other down. Cathy D---, when she left for the country at four am, gave me a thought provoking goodbye…
My eyes scan right and left as she kisses me … am I waiting for the men with knives …?
I think, even if I found someone to love, it would take me some time to find the courage to admit it. As Christine would have said, ‘I am afraid to be hurt’. It is the first month’s anniversary of her death. Seven months with. One without.
We did an interview and photographs with VOX on Saturday before we played at the Jump Club. That night I slept in a bed with Lachelle – I dared not touch her – I cannot follow myself sexually. This girl is mad, sure enough, but enough of a dreamer to almost be an inspiration. By comparison, she made me feel earthbound and pragmatic.
On Good Friday, I attended a picnic in the Botanical Gardens. Troy’s friends mainly. He spent most of his time baiting skinheads.
Matthew Flinders on Thursday; t-shirt and jeans I think.
I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned Lachelle in these diaries. She was a gorgeous creature - dark-haired, petite, sharp-featured - but she lived on an entirely different planet. Nicque Needles quoted her as saying, ‘unicorns wander through the valley of broken hearts’ while talking in her sleep.
I think we were supporting La Femme at that Matthew Flinders gig. What I recall is that one of their members had an abscess under a tooth. There was a tube coming out of his jaw, draining the pus, and he was pissed off. I remember being fascinated by this tube and by the ingenuity of his bitter cursing.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Yesterday, in The Age, there was a brief article about a new material that is blacker than anything on this Earth. It is paper thin, composed of carbon nanotubes and absorbs 99.955% of any light that shines on it.
It is ‘about thirty times as dark as the US government’s current standard for blackest black’, two hundred times darker than normal black paint, and ‘more than three times darker than the nickel-phosphorous alloy that now holds the record as the world's darkest material’. It is ‘by far the darkest substance ever made’.
‘It can give those who gaze at a dizzying sensation of nothingness.’
I do not find it hard imagining this sensation. It would be accompanied by a darkening of the peripheral vision, and an irresistible urge to go deeper. An impression of falling, slowly at first, then faster. The consciousness dims, folded into darkness, and one becomes aware of an abiding spirit in the nothingness. A black urgency without sentience, a mindless presence with an infinite thirst …
The abyss, at last, staring back.
The researcher responsible, Pulickel Ajayan, was also involved in the creation of a paper battery and the world’s smallest brush.
The material is expected to have military applications. Visualise the approach of your enemy, blacker than pitch, a shadow against shadows that draws the eye, captures the mind, bewitches the spirit.
Will they one day make a material that absorbs all light? Or is perfect black an absolute that may not be possible to achieve, like zero degrees Kelvin? Black holes absorb all light but, wreathed in Hawking radiation, they are possibly not black at all.
Perhaps we best pray that they do not. Such a thing, if viewed, may lure the soul into a dark and everlasting embrace.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
It was some time in the early eighties. We were at Inflation, I think. Or it could have been The Underground. I was with Gus, sitting on a staircase.
Looking down, through the railing, we could see a well-attended bar. I remember Gus’s excited voice in my ear.
- You see that guy buying a drink? The one with the bullet belt?
- Those bullets, see them? Each one is full of cocaine.
- No shit?
Gus explained that the guy was a friend of his brother Darren, and had bought the bullet belt, complete with shells, from an army disposals store in the city, obviously thinking it was kind of cool.
Upon getting it home and inspecting it with more care, he noticed something fishy about the shells. They were, naturally, supposed to be empty, but these seemed just a little too heavy. He opened one to find a white crystalline powder. Then he donned the belt and went for a night out at a Blitz club.
I didn’t really believe Gus’s story, but I went along with it, on the off chance …
From the beginning, the substance in the shells was referred to as cocaine. Why it wasn’t thought to be heroin, I don’t know. Presumably the belt had been in service overseas and used as a smuggling tool. Vietnam came to mind, and it was heroin not cocaine that predominated in that region.
Gus and I agreed that we should acquire one of these bullets, and the belt owner surrendered one without a quibble. Rumour spread quickly among our friends that we had a bullet full of coke.
But we couldn’t open it there. We didn’t have the tools.
I think there were about five eager inebriated souls who wound up at Gus’s place afterwards. One was a girl called Luisa, who wore striped leggings. Either Gus or I was going out with her at the time. Many years later, I was walking up Acland St when I was approached by a private detective. He showed me a picture of someone's daughter. It was Luisa. I don’t know her parents ever found her.
We converged on Gus’s dad’s toolshed. I remember being wary of that bullet. Bullets could explode, I knew that. And we couldn’t be completely certain this one was not live.
With as much care as a party of drunken revellers could muster, the shell was secured in a vice. We remembered to face it upwards, so that none of the powder would fall onto the floor. I watched from a distance, from behind whatever shelter I could find. With pliers, whoever was in charge grasped the pointed end of the bullet and tugged it free of the shell.
Though we knew what to expect, it was still a surprise. Free drugs, as if from heaven.
The powder was very crystalline. I had not seen anything that quite resembled it, but my experience was limited, particularly with cocaine which has never been my drug of choice. I recall insisting that no one shoot it up, and on this point everyone agreed. Luckily. It would have had a poor outcome.
So, beginning with small sensible lines, we snorted it up. It was very harsh, sharp, cutting. The second time round it was worse, jagged. But, lo and behold, there was an effect - and the effect seemed to be that of coke.
Unfortunately, it hurt too much getting it in. Probably, it had lost potency over the years spent in its steel casing, and definitely it had been cut with something unfortunate. Gus, I remember, thought it might be alum. Whatever it was, it was bad for the nose. We all developed large unsightly scabs around our nostrils, and our nasal chambers were tender for some time after. And none of us ever got really wired.
I wish I knew the history of that bullet belt. Where was its owner when he had the bright idea? Did Australia ever have troops in South America? Why was the belt [or belts] abandoned? I imagine it was inexperience that led to its being cut with the wrong stuff. Over the years I’ve encountered much good gear that has been ruined in this way. [Consider the story of ‘the mud’]. Anyway, there were to be no more bullets. To our astonishment, the owner of the belt surrendered it to the police, who then visited the disposals store to make certain there were no more.
I gave up after a few lines of that cruel powder. It felt damaging. And the pain outweighed the pleasure. But others, including Luisa and Gus, were not so scrupulous. Their scabs grew in length and breadth as, over the following days, they polished off the contents of that mysterious shell.
Monday, February 18, 2008
‘It is a marine Sulphur, found at the Sea-Shore … which breaks from Fountains and Caverns of the Sea. It is gray, sweet and smooth; pricked with a needle it sweats out fatness … it is … an excellent corroborative; it is discutient, resolutive, alexipharmic and analeptic … Its sweet Sulphur is an excellent perfume; it is a good preservative against the Plague, and preserves the Spirits from infection.’
from Art of Healing and Praxis of Chymistry 
Ambergris is one of my favourite substances. I am compelled by its mysterious, exotic history, by its strange journey from whale gut to perfume, by the slim but real possibility that an observant beachcomber might become rich overnight, if he is fortunate enough to stumble across it.
It is also the title I have chosen for the play I’m [slowly] working on. Its sudden appearance on the shores of a particular island serves as a catalyst for the drama, and hopefully will cast a certain magical aura over things.
Ambergris is also a particularly luscious word, heavy with romantic associations. It is French for grey amber, and refers to a waxy substance secreted by the sperm whale, probably as an aid to digestion. Commonly, ambergris is found embedded with squid and cuttlefish beaks, and its purpose may be to encase these sharp, hard, indigestible things, allowing them to be conveniently either vomited up or excreted. Here the literature is hazy. It has been called 'dung of the whale', yet one reads of whales ‘regurgitating’ the substance - and of it being found in the whale’s lower intestines. Perhaps this issue has yet to be resolved.
Indeed, for much of history the true source of ambergris was unknown. Sinbad the Sailor, marooned on a treacherous shore, by a mountain ‘composed of rubies, crystals and other precious stones’ observes that ‘a kind of pitch or bitumen distils from the rocks into the sea, and the fishes which eat it return it in the form of ambergris, which the waves leave on the shore.’ The ancient Chinese said it was derived from the spittle of dragons. Others held that it was collected from the cloacal orifices of what may be a pelican.
Our ancestors had an interesting way of treating the unknown. If a mystery presented itself, often it was solved by the imagination - and these imaginings regularly entered the literature as fact. Consider the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Consider the gods that were created to make sense of existence. We tend to do things differently today, but today we live more safely, in a less perilous, less terrifying world.
Ambergris is valued primarily for its unique odour, which is described variously as musky, humid, marine, sweet and faecal. Often one reads of the scent being ‘elusive’ Once processed into a tincture It has an enduring, ‘involving’ quality. Perfumiers prize it as a base note with which to smooth out and add structure to the marriage of other scents. It is also said to add a lasting quality to a perfume. Its extraordinary value – comparable to that of gold – is due to its scarcity and its desirability in the perfume industry.
Outside western culture, its use extends beyond perfume. It is considered by some to aid in sexual health and fertility. It is [or has been] used as a straight-up aphrodisiac, as a flavouring in chocolate, tea and alcoholic beverages, and as a medium for jewellery. Ambergris was treasured by the ancient Arabs, who burnt it as an incense, and used it as a spice in food and drink and even smoked it. Ambergris is still treasured in the Middle East today.
In its raw state, torn from the intestines of the whale, ambergris is unpleasantly pungent and dark in colour, often black, [coloured, some suggest, by squid ink]. Only after long exposure to the elements does it ripen into the material of legend. The essential ingredients of ambergris are very durable; the substance may bob around in the ocean for decades without losing its scent. Mature ambergris is usually of a greyish or whitish hue, rather like pumice, though it comes in many shades. Wave motion may have worn the pieces into smooth forms. The material has a certain waxy, fatty quality.
Mature ambergris is the more valuable, but raw ambergris was harvested direct from the source for a tidy profit. Whalemen of yore, after processing the whale for meat, oil and precious spermaceti, would systematically poke through the intestines with cutting-spades, inspecting the blades after each jab for a pungent residue. It was rare to hit pay dirt. According to Herman Melville, [in an oft quoted passage from Moby Dick], old or sick whales that would have little value for oil were checked thoroughly for ambergris, as these were thought more likely to bear ‘the morbid secretion’. But, though it has been described as originating in ‘the often morbidly distended gut of sick sperm whales’, current thought has it that even healthy whales expel it from time to time.
The essential ingredient of ambergris, ambrien, is an uncommonly complex molecule. There have been many attempts to synthesise it for the perfume trade, [Ambrox is one example], but none match the real thing.
“As a test for ambergris the hot wire or needle test is the most simple since it requires no special apparatus. A wire or needle is heated in a gas or candle flame for 15 seconds and then pressed into the sample to a depth of one-eighth of an inch. If it is genuine ambergris, a dark brown to black opaque resinous liquid will form around the wire and appear to boil. Touch the material with the finger before it cools and if the sample is true ambergris it will leave tacky, pitch-like "strings" sticking to the skin. When the wire, which retains portions of the melted material, is again heated in the flame, true ambergris will give off a white fume having the same characteristic odour as the solid, and then burn with a luminous flame. The odour of the smoke when the flame is extinguished should be that of burning rubber. Another quick and simple test is to dissolve a little piece of the sample in a small quantity of hot wood alcohol (methyl alcohol), then allow it to cool. True ambergris will crystallize as the alcohol cools.”
Since the prohibition on whaling, dealing is ambergris is illegal in many countries, yet a brisk trade continues. Every few years one hears of fortuitous finds on remote beaches.
Though the sperm whale is the most plentiful of the great whales and its numbers are slowly recovering, ambergris remains rare, a strange and singular treasure of the oceans. In the taxonomy of my imagination, I place it among the bezoars, those mysterious stones found in animals, which were thought to be proof against poisons and highly efficacious in the working of magic.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
It wasn’t a huge crash. All I did was butt into a car from behind, but it’s having reverberations. It’s dropped me slap bang into the emotional state I was in directly after I last ran into trouble with cars.
That was a terrible, squalid time. It was during the heroin glut. I had a careering habit, and a fresh new car which I obliterated whilst stoned out of my head. I obliterated another car too, and lost my licence for a time, and completely lost my sense of self worth. I felt like a bottom-feeding drone not worth the noxious sediment it considers food.
I also had a badly injured hip and was on crutches for about a month. At the hospital a doctor told me I’d had a spinal injection some time in my past, and showed me the evidence on an x-ray, some calcified bone in my pelvis. I’m sure I’ve never had anything resembling a spinal injection … or whatever he said … I was stoned and in shock at the time … he may have said something different …
The experience should have made me stronger; that is what popular wisdom would have you believe. But since the other day, I feel like I’ve picked up the plot half way through that old nightmare. My self esteem has burrowed into the Earth. My motivation has evaporated. Everything I do seems without point. In my rational mind, I know that’s not the truth, but I can’t help feeling it. The fragile structure of faith and hope that keeps me going has suddenly, far too easily collapsed around me.
I know that time will heal it, but for a while it’s going to be murder. Thanks for listening, I don’t mean to whinge.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
My spirit feels very uneasy and it is weak. My talent, for what it’s worth in these depraved days, can offer me nothing; nothing will come. I search for song titles in the writings of others. I feel livelier now, stronger. I’ve been drinking though – as always.
I must find some new companions. The friends I keep now crept into my life during the days of Christine, and some of them may have avoided the security check.
Over the taxi-driver’s radio: … Wellington Street. Like a hot knife. She can stab me through a fly speck on the wall. Through a newspaper crushed in the gutter
I feel livelier now, stronger. I’ve been drinking though – as always.
Christine’s flat was in Wellington St, that was the significance.
For many months, the slightest thing – a word, a warm breeze, a song – could set off the pain. Bryan Ferry’s version of John Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ – that was the worst. When I hear it today, it still fills me with melancholia
* Back in the present, I’ve had an atrocious day. On my way to pick up Robert from South Melbourne, I drove into the back of a black car. Of course my Third Party had lapsed, and of course my Renault is on the critical list. I really don’t know how I’m going to cope with this financially. Tomorrow, maybe, I’ll be able to think more clearly.
These things can hit you out of the blue, can’t they? It was my fault, but the shoddy driving of the contactee was largely responsible. They were truly contemptible, by the way - this man and his distastefully subservient wife. My phone was out of charge and he refused to let me make a call on his, even when I offered money; the wife wouldn't let me because she hadn't got the say so from him. The guy, who looked like he might have been related to Pol Pot, spent a long time watching me trying to push the Renault out of traffic before he deigned to assist.
My faith in humanity was restored to a degree by a girl, who stopped beside me as I walked to Robert’s. Having seen the accident, she inquired after my well-being with some genuine concern.
Back in the present, I’ve had an atrocious day. On my way to pick up Robert from South Melbourne, I drove into the back of a black car. Of course my Third Party had lapsed, and of course my Renault is on the critical list. I really don’t know how I’m going to cope with this financially. Tomorrow, maybe, I’ll be able to think more clearly.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
[… continued from the previous post]
Then there are the literal opiates of the masses – drugs utilised by the powers that be to control or homogenise society. First that comes to mind is Soma, from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Used across the board by citizens of a putative utopia, Soma seems to enhance every aspect of life, distracting the populace with unrestricted pleasures, deliberately short circuiting the possibility of discontent.
Huxley borrowed the name Soma from the divine drug of the ancient Vedic scripts. Knowledge of the plant from which the original Soma was extracted has been lost and it’s true nature is debated to this day. It was believed to have been a drink which, like the Greek ambrosia, endowed the deities with their god-like powers. It is also said to have been an elixir of immortality. William Burroughs speaks of it as the ultimate opiate, comparing its effects to a cool blue ocean, but academic opinion suggests it was probably an hallucinatory entheogen, Today it is the brand name of a muscle-relaxant called Carisoprodol.
Whilst on the subject of substances reserved for gods, it might be worth mentioning The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth by H. G. Wells. In this novel scientists develop an artificial food which they name Herakleophorbia IV. The substance proves to be a growth accelerator and giant laboratory specimens break free to ravage the countryside. Humans who take it grow to massive proportions and become, in effect, gods.
For Island - the utopian companion to dystopian Brave New World - Huxley invented Moksha – a psilocybin like drug derived from mushrooms. Intensifying religious experience and inducing mystical insights, Moksha is the very definition of an ‘entheogen’. In real life, Huxley experimented widely with the hallucinogens and saw a benefit for humanity in their use.
In the film Equilibrium, a drug called Prozium was used to subdue the emotions of the populace. Delivering society from ‘the deepest chasms of melancholy and hate’, it was described as ‘the great nepenthe’.
Nepenthe is a beautiful word, sometimes used today to describe soporifics or opiates. It originated in Homer’s Odyssey. Literally ‘the one that chases away sorrow’, nepenthe was consumed by Helen, the daughter of Zeus, ‘to lull all pain and anger, and bring forgetfulness of every sorrow’. Weirdly, the passage was quoted as a form of ‘evidence’ during the passage of the 1937 Taxation of Marijuana Act in the US.
An interesting subset of the imaginary pharmacopoeia is the drug that wakes you up to how things really are. Consider: we are under attack from Lizard Men from Venus [or Blue Lobster Men, whatever the case may be] but none of us are aware because a subtle drug has been introduced into the water supply, [or perhaps because we’d rather just not know]. Defenders of the Earth develop a counter agent, a yellow pill that reacquaints us with reality and gives us the motivation to resist. There are plenty of tales with such a plot, or similar.
In Silverberg’s Downward to Earth human colonists find that the venom of an alien snake can assist in the regeneration of body parts. But taken in high doses it transforms one into a kind of sentient elephant that proves to be the planet’s dominant species. And remember those pills in The Matrix which wake the user to the nightmare of humanity’s future?
One interesting drug came from a book the name of which I cannot recall. I am not even sure they were referred to to Death Eggs, but they were scary enough to lodge in my mind. I think they were found in an abyss that had formed beneath an urban building site; they were ovoid, black, smooth and matte. They took you to a place that was shadowy and deep. And users usually died after only a few doses.
It’s hard to imagine why you would even take some of these drugs. But then people are full of surprises. I, for one, have ill-advisedly consumed some very unlikely things in the quest for oblivion. Substance D, at the heart of Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly fragments the consciousness to such an extent that its appeal is difficult to see. Schismatrix, [the source of Green Rapture], also includes Shatter, a drug procured from the alien Outsiders. In a contest of wills, two characters use the drug to generate a folie a deux. They enter the unspeakably alien minds and bodies of an extinct race of cyclopean beetles – and there do battle. Even the victor takes years to recover.
Some authors have created drugs that entwine the user with predominant social trends and new technologies. In White Noise, Don DeLillo posits a drug called Dylar, which is taken to remove the fear of death - but proves to have side-effects linked inextricably with the watching of television. In Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the eponymous drug is more than just a drug. In cyberspace it manifests as a computer virus but develops the ability to cross the barrier into reality – where it causes mind-altering effects in the minds of hackers. These effects comprise an attack on the nature of our communal reality – and have a weird ancient Sumerian flavour.
MDT-48 appears in The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn and brings its user up to speed with the ceaseless flood of data that assails us in the information age – later turning him into a homicidal maniac.
Perhaps the most comprehensive futuristic drug scenario is proposed by Iain M Banks in his Culture cycle. Citizens of the Culture are genofixed for beauty, health, sexual talent and longevity. Additionally, they are gifted a suite of drug glands at the base of the skull which they may ‘gland’ at will. Secretions include Snap! [the Culture’s favourite breakfast drug] Diffuse, Crystal, Quicken, Gain and Somnabsolute.
The nineties UK mocumentary series Brass Eye investigated a terribly terribly dangerous drug from Czechoslovakia called Cake. A potent disturbile cranabolic amphetamoid called Dimesmeric Andersonphosphate, it acts upon the area of the brain known as ‘Shatner’s Bassoon’. Under its influence, one may cry all the water out of the body or puke up ones own pelvis. Another effect may be the gradual swelling of the neck which, according to Rolf Harris, can expand ‘to engulf the mouth and nose’ and ultimately shatter the skull. In one horrendous incident ‘thirteen teenagers were trampled to death in a cow field on the stuff’. On the street it is also known as Loony Toad Quack, Rustledust and Ponce on the Heath.
For writers of the fantastic, drugs are a useful tool, a magic wand to bend their characters or their worlds in whatever way they wish. It’s no wonder there are so many of them out there. In science-fiction particularly the sophistication of the drugs represents the sophistication [and the possibilities] of science. As Robert Silverberg would put it, ‘by offering his characters a vial of green pills or a flask of mysterious blue fluid the author is able to work wonders as easily as a sorcerer’.
In Larry Niven’s Known Space drugs per se are disposed of entirely. Hedonists connect their brains to ‘tasps’ which directly stimulate the seat of pleasure.
Because science-fiction is invariably a mirror to the society in which it is produced, it is tempting to wonder at the greater significance of many of the drugs described above - the attitudes they reflect, the hopes they engender - but this is just a list, and by no means complete. I’ll save the analysis for some other time.
Hope you enjoyed it.
Monday, February 11, 2008
After recounting the fantastic properties of Green Rapture in the previous post, I began to realise just how vast and wonderful a pharmacopeia of imaginary drugs has been described by the fantasists of this Earth.
Of course, there are lists. There are lists of everything on the internet. This time I think I’d like to do my own.
As is to be expected, most fictional drugs are merely elaborations upon drugs with which we are already familiar. Consider nuke in Robocop – it’s just future coke with a snappy name. Or omegendorph in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian series – the ultimate opiate engineered out of a comprehensive knowledge of human endorphins. Outland [the movie starring Sean Connery] featured a drug called polydichloric euthimal - a ravening giga-amphetamine, like tetrameth in Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon. Malajusted Alex and his droogs. from the classic A Clockwork Orange, visit Milk Bars for Drencrom or Synthemesc ‘to sharpen the senses for the old ultra violence’. And longbottom leaf? Well, that was just pot, wasn’t it?
And Slurm, from the planet Wormulon? It was just Coke, wasn't it?
My play Lord of Misrule was premised upon the exudate of an illicit fungus, [similar to kom-bu-cha], which was socially and in physical effect directly analogous to heroin, but possessed of its own intelligence. And whether it’s the extract of a giant centipede, bug powder or the cerebro-spinal fluid of the mugwamp, all of William Burroughs’ marvellous addictive chemicals are essentially heroin, or facets thereof.
Remember this? ‘Hank’s on junk; he doesn’t come. I’m on bug powder; I don’t need to come.’
But beyond the simple metaphors, there are a host of imaginary drugs with truly novel effects.
Philip K Dick was responsible for some of the best. Can-D and Chew-Z feature in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Chew-Z, the instrument of a sinister alien power, allows the user to leave his body and spend an indefinite period of time in the environment of his choice – returning to find no real time has passed. [I used to fantasise about this one as a teenager.] After consuming Can-D one enters what was called a ‘Perky Pat Layout’ – this commercially acquired tableau resembled a doll’s house occupied by a scaled-down cast of The Bold and The Beautiful. Martian colonists, living in hellish conditions, spent all the time they could immersed in the normality [and hypersexuality] of Perky Pat’s virtual world.
In Dick’s Now Wait For Last Year, JJ-180 is in effect a time-travel agent, allowing the consciousness of the user to navigate in either direction through time, settling in whatever era takes his whim for the duration of the trip. We can Remember It For You Wholesale, [filmed as Total Recall], includes the hypnotic narkidrine, used to install false memories in the human brain.
Time travel drugs crop up repeatedly in fantastic literature. In a tale from 1964, Doris Pitkin Buck describes the use of Protoceratops Tabs, which transport the mind back through time into the dim consciousness of a saurian in the Mesozoic Era.
Then there are drugs with grosser effects. Like Pallidine in Thomas Disch’s Camp Concentration. Derived from syphilis spirochetes, it boosts intelligence and turns users into short-term supermen, who eventually succumb to disease. Herogyn from Norman Spinrad’s Men in The Jungle is similar. The protagonist/dictator employs it to fan his troops into a frenzy before action. Battle drugs are a category in themselves, and not all of them are imaginary.
Probably the most well-known of all science-fiction drugs is Spice, or Melange - the cinnamon-like secretion of the great sand worms of Dune. In Frank Herbert’s universe it is as valuable as gold and its addicts have ‘blue within blue’ eyes.
But the effects are hard to put a finger on - even after reading most of the series. Largely, it’s almost a shamanic, entheogenic thing. One may see into the future, the past. If you are Muad’Dib you can prophesy. If you are a Space Guild Navigator you can ‘fold space’. Spice increases the lifespan, raises awareness and general vitality. Since it is largely a metaphor for oil, the political effects tend to be more interesting than the physical. Dune also mentions sapho juice, used by mentats to multiply their cerebral processing power, and colouring their lips with a distinctive cranberry stain.
During the sixties, with the advent of psychedelia, many forward-thinking writers began to imagine drugs that went beyond the effects of the known hallucinogens. Another book by Herbert - actually my favourite of his - is The Santaroga Barrier. In an isolated village, somewhere in America, the residents all consume a substance named Jaspers which is mined from the surrounding countryside [rather like The Stuff]. They form an uncommonly well-balanced society, but it is their immunity to marketing of all kinds that leads to their notice by the outside world. An investigator discovers that Jaspers has united them on a subconscious level, and that they have developed a highly-evolved understanding of the world and its underpinnings.
In Robert Silverberg’s A Time of Changes (1971) a drug acquired from a native culture on an alien world proves to have telepathic qualities and ultimately transforms an uptight society into a caring sharing near-utopia. Another drug, in R A Lafferty’s story Sky ‘provide sensations of mastery and union-with-cosmos’, but ‘especially during parachute drops’. Deaths occur when users try freefall for the ultimate high. The far more recent novel ‘Vurt’ by Jeff Noon describes an England in which the habit of sucking variously coloured Vurt Feathers is widespread. To put it simply, Vurt allows users to descend communally into the shared unconscious of humanity, investing our dreams with a certain objective reality.
[This article continues here]
Sunday, February 10, 2008
‘Lindsay’s attention was sharpened to a cutting edge by a drug known …. as Green Rapture … without volition, his eyes glazed over. a long moment passed in which he was silent, empty, thinking nothing at all … at last, blinking, he came back to himself. He reached reflexively into his jacket pocket and produced an enamelled inhaler. Two long whiffs of Green Rapture brought interest back into the world ..
Green Rapture washed gently over Lindsay, a tingling wave of curiosity. Green Rapture was the ultimate anti-boredom drug, the biochemical basis of wonder boiled down to its complex essence. with enough gr a man could find a wealth of interest in his own hands. Lindsay smiled with unfeigned delight.
‘Marvellous,’ he said.
From Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling
There have been many outlandish substances described in books and film - but if I was given the chance to actually consume one, it would be Green Rapture.
Bug powder? I can take it or leave it.
Melange? Vurt feathers? Polydichloric euthimal? Mandrapordeum? Hellflower? Omegendorph? Drencrom? Nuke? Can-D? Certainly, they sound intriguing …
But I want Green Rapture.
Curiosity is the air that I breathe. If I lose it, as I often do - in the grey days after using heroin or too much alcohol, or after some catastrophe - I feel worthless, an ineffectual husk. Indeed, my level of interest in things is a good indicator of my health overall. When I suffer depression, nothing is worth investigation; if I read, I read to escape not to learn. When I’m sprightly, then the world gets fascinating.
Early in the nineties I began to hear the first whispers of Prozac. I crossed my fingers. Could they really have developed a drug that did nothing else but make you happy? I bought a hardback copy of Kramer’s ‘Listening to Prozac’ and read it cover to cover. I nodded with approval at the cries of outrage from the CCHR [Citizens Commission for Human Rights]: if the Scientologists were so worried, then it was a good sign. They consider effective psychiatric drugs [and psychiatrists] a threat to their bottom line and will do anything in their power to malign them.
Thoroughly inculcated by Roche’s pre-publicity, I organised a medical appointment. I recall Lynne’s amused expression as I assumed a mantle of deep depression before entering the doctor’s room, where I was to obtain the precious script for a drug which at that time required special authorisation.
Ten days later, the effects kicked in. I woke on the grey couch in my office and the world was glistening with wonder. It was much like a trip, but without the paranoia, or any heavy physical effects that might leave you with a hangover. A subtle, clarifying filter had been placed over the world.
In this state, I wandered out of my office, on to the street and down to river where Moomba was in full flight. I must have spent hours there, exhilarated by the colour and the noise, fascinated by faces, trees, and scintillating metallic balloons.
Oddly, the only actual image I recall is that of a man putting something in a rubbish bin …
But with each day the effect faded, until I felt normal. Better, but normal. I could never achieve that same state again with Prozac or its cousins. I use Zoloft at the moment, and every so often, upon waking, I feel an echo of that fantastic morning.
I hadn’t found my Green Rapture, and I doubt I ever will. I’ll have to rely on natural means to generate the curiosity I need.
I worry about my wife, though. So often, she complains of being unmotivated, of not being interested in anything, of jealousy at how obsessed I get by things. Generally, she seems to prefer physical over mental pleasures - and the more easily come by the better. I worry that if she cannot develop a life of the mind – beyond the phantasmagorical world of her fantasies – then she’ll never be able to fully exploit her tremendous talents as an artist. Certainly, she is more intuitive than cerebral with her work; it comes from the heart and soul rather than the mind – but the heart and soul have interests too. And if she’s interested in nothing, then how will she even get brush to paper?
Depression has a lot to do with it; but depression can work both ways. It can lead to the loss of engagement, but when it’s resolved and things seem normal, then realising you have no abiding interests in life can lead you straight back into the black room.
She needs Green Rapture as much as I crave it. Curiosity is an elemental human quality; it led us to become what we are. Lose it and you lose an element of your soul.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Having inhabited the dormitory zone of Mt Waverley off and on for most of my life, I have come to consider it a refuge of aging wage slaves, Lathamesque aspirants and cashed up bogans.
In my childhood it was a nursery suburb. The streets overflowed with kids. But as the years passed, the young departed, the parents ripened and Mt Waverley became sleepy, secure, a bastion against change. Behind the shopping centre, near the railway station, fifties brick-veneers are routinely obliterated and replaced by multiple one storey units for those who time has rendered decrepit; who can no longer tolerate stairs, and whose daily exercise can be effected by shambling a few hundred metres to the shops.
I have always felt an outcast. Though I doubt there is any real community here, I’ve always thought I was precisely the kind of person it would shun. Not because I’m vicious or criminal, but because my habits and appearance, my house and its yard, for some may be strange and alarming.
Whatever the reality, for years I’ve been content to keep to myself. Contact or familiarity means exposure – perhaps to disapproval - and I treasure the asylum I have forged here. I’ve expunged the kind of trivial social contact that can devour precious time. I am far happier than most to spend my life in solitude, installed in my ancestral seat, babbling freakishly on my meagre plot – my pinprick of lunacy on the tumescent map of conformity and deadly tedium.
My friends and colleagues all live elsewhere. Aside for the odd neighbour, or shopkeeper, or fellow slave of Spasmo-Nemigron, I know precisely no one here.
But then Polly was born, and in time Polly went to school. And if there is one thing with an ability to magically generate a sense of community, it is children.
And, as the ageing population of Mt Waverley falls from the vine, there are more and more of them about. And they make friends. And these friends have parents, who you wind up having to talk to, and invite into your house.
It seems conceivable, though perhaps far-fetched, that friends may even be made in such a manner. It has not happened yet, but my wife is well down the track in a number of cases. It is always the women who build the social links, who bring people together, who breed connection – while the men … well I’m not a normal man, so I don’t know what they do exactly. Perhaps you could look it up on Wikipedia? As for me, I read and write and generate lugubrious piles of matter.
Last night, we made the wildly optimistic decision to attend a cocktail party at Polly’s school, a gathering designed to bring parents together socially. [As my wife was getting dressed I heard Polly say the following in a commanding tone: You have to wear a dress to a cock party! Polly is proving a useful source of sartorial advice. I've also learnt that ballerinas never wear undies.]
Our low expectations may have had something to do with it, but we wound up having a pretty stimulating evening. I spent the first half hour speaking with a web designer and an event organiser with a background in theatre. The subject was climate change and these guys - with kids in Polly’s class - were amazingly up to speed. Perhaps there is hope for us yet if this is any indication of how the middle suburbs are thinking. Promisingly, environmental concerns slithered in and out of most conversations last night. Alarmingly, I picked up some dire new statistics.
I found all this connection quite rewarding – though I have to say that for an ethnically diverse school, the Anglos were over represented. My wife made fast friends with Polly’s rather attractive teacher, and – in a sign of improving health - offered to help with the face-painting stall at an upcoming fete. Remarkably, I even heard her discussing a possible trip to Confest with one of the mothers. The local possum lady was in attendance too - always good value - and soon she’s going to bring a baby wombat to school.
But where were the greedy renovators and daft prattling airheads? Where were the frowning Presbyterians and beer-swilling boors? I think, in my isolation, I’ve failed to notice that the suburb has changed in more than just land value. I came away from that party feeling just a little optimistic. Perhaps I won’t be isolating myself quite so much anymore.
Both my wife and I have always been paranoid about other parents thinking we were freakish, and so disadvantaging Polly. At least some of those fears were put to rest last night. Even the parent who recognised me as the guy who doesn’t wear shoes when he goes shopping thought it more funny than frightful. Am I rationalising, or has Mt Waverley, in the fullness of time, become a bearable, even interesting place to live?
Hmmn. Hard to get my head around.
Time will tell.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
I have not been home to my mother’s house since I last wrote. I have been very drunk; taking speed against my better judgement – even heroin. I’ve been cavorting with women - Jane M----, Carol L---- and, significantly, Cathy D----. But sex is like food for me – something is gone.
On Friday, for the first time in my life, I saw red. After finishing our gig at the Jump Club, we were required to go back on stage to fill the time quota on our contract. We did so reluctantly. I walked into the band room afterwards and lost control. I kicked in a door, ripped another half off its hinges, then punched holes in a third. I wound up in a toilet cubicle. Some guy had tried to stop me without effect. The band will have to pay for the damage.
This incident frightens me. I am not experiencing one of my more sane periods.
[We received our first record contracts on Friday.]
I had completely forgotten this before reading it back – but it doesn’t surprise me. During the months after Christine’s death, I grieved in some very strange ways, some of which I’m sure will emerge in later posts
Long after the fact, I learned that extreme promiscuity is not that unusual a reaction to the death of a lover. After losing her physically, it seemed like I wanted to kill Christine’s memory through sex.
The record contracts would have been with Missing Link.
More diaries from 1981
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
This is my egg.
It gleams with a light that is nacreous and cool.
This my egg,
My beloved egg.
Couched in the palm of my hand,
Boiling with potential,
Rife with theopneustic emanations,
And potencies unknown in nature.
Who cannot sense its fierce primeval presence,
That permeates to the core of our world,
That diffuses to the limits of our galaxy,
On a wave of sparkling orgones?
This is my egg, eldritch and hallowed,
And I must guard it covetously,
For if any mind, born of this Earth or beyond.
Were to learn its secret destiny,
then it would succumb in the passing of an instant,
And take desperate flight,
For the sanctuary of gibbering madness.
My egg is fundamental and sacrosanct,
Relevant to all things, yet related to none.
It is Holy to all things Holy.
And Blasphemous to all,
That is Blasphemous.
My egg is blind to the march of aeons,
Yet is a banner for change in a seething universe.
It is an egg that folds,
Into the continuum of space, time and love.
In a certain light it smoulders with a queer luminescence.
And it casts a devouring shadow.
This is my egg,
And it is faultless.
No instrument of human manufacture,
No material of sublunary provenance,
Will pierce the esoteric tension of its shell -
Composed in equal parts,
Of diabolic pandemonium,
And the arcanum of Hierophantic Flux.
There are those who immerse themselves,
In the study of the mysterious unknown;
Who lose themselves,
In the Hyrcynian Woods of Conspiracy.
These are single-minded men,
Who concentrate their wisdom,
On The Vegetable Lamb, the Voynich Manuscript,
Or the enigmatic Disc of Phaistos.
These men …
Know nothing of my egg.
Yet, at some dark hour,
When the sky is congested with sinistrous intent,
A dire wind howling at the eaves,
Then utterable thoughts may be uttered.
And some, cowled, deep in their books,
Will pause at the phrasing of a footnote,
At a scratch in the margin of a battered incunabulum,
And – in a moment of insane conjecture -
May dare to propose,
That something - something like my egg,
Lies veiled upon this Earth.
Mathematicians from the elite academies,
Versed in esoteric calculus and the reckoning of fluxions,
Do whisper of tesseracts and corpuscles
And venture to their anxious colleagues,
That in order to complete the testimony of science,
Such as mine,
Must surely have been enthroned from the beginning,
At the Cornerstone of Time.
Oh, my egg.
My egg encompasses the futurity of Man.
It is a mirror of the eternal absolute.
It is an egg of the first water.
Need I remind you,
That it is greater than the Egg of Mercurius,
In its unspeakable splendour,
Which is said to have spawned
A prescient green homunculus?
Superior by far it is,
To the membranous Egg of Xenoperion,
Which begat in its possessor,
The abilities to read wisdom from the Comet,
To quicken and manipulate ectoplasm,
And to fire coloured gases from the mouth.
And yes, it is mightier still,
Than the Egg of the Master Scarabite,
Unearthed from the abominated ruins of ancient Ubar,
Which, installed upon a monstrous staff,
Of haunted reptile bone,
Drove an army of mindless scarabs,
To victory after victory in prehistoric Mesopotamia.
My egg …
Resting, apparently inert,
In my trembling hand.
A quiet, white thing.
An unassuming thing,
Of monstrous potential and infinite benevolence,
That is said to have driven the limpid hearts of virgins
To thoughts of self-pollution,
To acts of spectacular prurience,
To crimes of relentless, howling erotomania.
In moments of jocularity,
I laugh to think of my egg,
beleaguering the instruments of Nobel Laureates.
And I dream of it, sometimes,
Suspended in the firmament,
Heralded by angels,
Wreathed in sunbeams
My egg …
Oh, my egg …
What can I say about my egg,
In its harrowing perfection?
Its curves are the curves of nature,
In infinite reiteration.
The dragonfly wing,
The falcon’s beak,
The woman’s hip,
The desert dune,
In infinite reiteration.
The bead of sweat,
The apricot and her cloven pip,
The assassin and the sweep of her blade,
In infinite reiteration.
I've been a little quiet over the last few days, but by no means inactive. I've had my head to the grindstone writing an article on opiophobia [you guessed it - 'fear of opiates' - though I think I've pushed the meaning of the term a little] for the VIVAIDS magazine 'Whack'. I hoped it would be short and sweet but, as per usual, it turned into a monster of 3.5 thousand words. Look out for it, if you've ever wondered why the hell our society has such a bee in its bonnet over drugs. It's full of nice, meaty stuff.
What lies above, 'The Ovist', is a taste from the next White Noise Carousel album.
By the way, this is the one hundreth post on Sails of Oblivion. Thank you all, particularly the usual subjects, [you know who you are]. This blog is one of the most fruitful and rewarding things I've done in a long time.
Lastly, for parents of a Lovecraftian persuasion, here is an image entitled Where The Great Old Ones Are.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Whilst researching my play Mysterium, I became fascinated by the curious theory of Spontaneous Reproduction, which, prior to our full understanding of sexual generation, was generally accepted as the prevailing wisdom. The theory held that the baser forms of life, like insects, molluscs, [and some higher forms too], emerged fully formed from the earth or other organic matters, or even from other lifeforms.
The theory spawned some extremely intriguing beliefs, many of them supported by the most prestigious thinkers of the day.
Bees could form from beads of sweat fallen from the brows of Negro slaves. Sea-anemones, in the course of time, will turn into herrings. Lions may be born of the desert sand. In a Lincolnshire village it was believed that the caterpillar of the death’s head moth will ‘in due course’ turn into a mole. Sir Isaac Newton himself ‘pointed out that plants were produced from the attenuated emanations from the tail of comets’
It is such a pity that these are not truths. They contain an innocence, a certain poetic wisdom in their perception of cause and effect which I find tremendously appealing.
Of all the manifold grotesqueries of Spontaneous Reproduction, the Vegetable Lamb or Barometz/Borometz [Tartar for ‘lamb’] is among the most curious. It’s taxonomic designation: Planta Tartarica Barometz.
The myth is ancient and first cited in the Talmud Lerosolimitanum by Rabbi Jochanan in 436AD. The story is also said to have been prevalent in the Orient in the Eleventh Century, but we learn of it more specifically in the writings of Mandeville in the Fourteenth. Though he never journeyed himself, he embraced the experiences of others as his own and, memorably, describes a particular tree bearing ‘large melon-like fruit’. Upon eating one, he discovered a fully-formed lamb within, attached to the meat of the fruit by its navel. Upon ripening, the fruit would fall and the lamb’s legs would grow into the earth like roots. Thus it had access only to that forage which lay within reach. Naturally, this sitting duck was used by the local population for meat.
Some variation of the myth exists, often describing a plant which bore the actual likeness of a lamb attached to the ground by a stalk and growing from a seed. Reaching maturity, the lamb would break from the mother plant, though an arrow could be fired at the stalk to achieve the same result. Fleeces of these creatures brought back to Europe were discovered to be the skins of lamb foetuses This version of the plant would deliberately bend low to allow the sheep to graze and, once the grass was gone, the sheep would drop like a ripe fruit and the plant would die.
I owe The Real Men Fraternity for this quote from 'Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions' (1856). “… While in its animal nature it rejoiced in a sort of flesh and blood, browsed upon the surrounding herbs by turning round upon its axis or root, until, having devoured all within reach, it perished a victim to hunger!’
The Natural history Museum of London holds a specimen called ‘The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary’, acquired by Sir Hans Sloane, [a long-term secretary of The Royal Society]. It is in fact the rhizome of a species of fern, sculpted to resemble a lamb – to some extent, I imagine, like the guitar-fish was adapted to produce the Feegee Mermaid.
The father of modern Botany, perhaps Linnaeus, is said [in the 'Imperial Magazine, or Compendium of Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Knowledge' (1828], [again thanks to The Real Men Fraternity]] ‘to have ascertained that in the eastern part of Chinese Tartary, there is a species of fern furnished with thick tubers, which being surrounded on all sides by yellow wood, and thin chaffy scales, are often raised so high above the ground, that the roots beneath bear some resemblance to legs fixed in the soil … It is not therefore surprising that the imagination of the superstitious and ignorant should transform this curious vegetable into a voracious sheep’. [The fern, I believe, is Cibotium Barometz.]
Though it would have been difficult to lay such myths to rest, it was certainly the master-cataloguer Linnaeus in the Eighteenth Century who ‘systematically examined specimens of all the plants believed to fruit as lambs’, and found nothing in support of the Vegetable Lamb's existence.
There has been conjecture that the fruit was in fact cotton, unknown at the time, but assumed to be wool, a material with which the Western world was familiar. Since wool came from an animal, it was therefore supposed that this ‘wool-bearing’ plant must be animal in nature, and the tiny puffs of cotton lambs in miniature.
A stretch of the imagination if ever there was.
E'en round the Pole the Flames of Love aspire
And icy bosoms feel the secret Fire:
Cradled in Snow and fanned by Arctic Air,
Shines, gentle Barometz ! thy golden Hair,
Rooted in Earth each cloven foot descends
And round and round her flexible Neck she bends;
Crops the grey coral Moss and hoary Thyme,
Or laps with rosy tongue the melting Rime;
Eyes with mute Tenderness her distant Dam,
Or seems to bleat a vegetable Lamb.
from Loves of the Plants [Nineteenth Century] & Jamieson’s Dictionary [attributed to ‘the observant, but romantic' Dr. Darwin]
Saturday, February 2, 2008
In the latest episode of Counterpoint on ABC radio there is an extraordinary interview with a sententious old arch-conservative named Theodore Dalrymple, [a nom de plume. His real name is Anthony Daniels]. He is interviewed by global-warming sceptic and ‘right-wing Phillip Adams’ Michael Duffy on a programme that sprang from the Howard government’s push to dilute the perceived leftist culture of the ABC. Dalrymple himself is aligned with the Manhattan Institute, a US conservative think tank, and his ideas are frighteningly atavistic.
For fourteen years, he has been treating addicts in British prison hospitals and feels the need to speak out regarding certain myths which he believes are misleading public policy on drug treatment.
In his book, Romancing Opiates, he argues that opiate withdrawal is neither severe nor dangerous and ‘not much worse than the flu in a healthy person’. He claims to have seen long term addicts stop using with ‘no adverse effects whatsoever’.
I must admit, from personal experience, that the fear of physical withdrawal has sometimes been worse than the experience itself. Nevertheless, the night sweats, the horrific dreams, the bone aches and muscle cramps, the misery, the whole body discomfort, the crawling skin and mind-fucking restiveness add up to something a considerably worse than your average flu. And from what I have heard of others’ experiences, I can count myself lucky.
I get the feeling that Dr Dalrymple has been taking blood pressure, checking body temperature and a few other gross physical indicators, then using these to understate and oversimplify the condition. However, I do agree with his contention that the physiological aspect of withdrawal tends to be overstated in popular literature.
When asked where these exaggerated ideas about addiction and withdrawal came from, he moves into a scathing attack on heroin-related literature. ‘Self-serving liars’ DeQuincey and Coleridge began a trend that has continued without pause ever since. William Burroughs [a ‘psychopath’ and ‘obviously a bad man from the beginning’] is singled out. We hear of films like The Man With The Golden Arm and more recently Trainspotting.
I have no difficulties with the claim that certain works of art attract people to drug use. How can I disagree? I am one of those people myself. I have seen many people acting out their romantic fantasies in heroin addiction [again, myself included]. I have even heard many people claiming to be addicts who weren’t. I suppose it is one way of getting a life, of defining yourself - as something dark, forbidden and dangerous.
But to generalise the function of art and creativity, as he does, is weasel work. Drugs have historically played a part in artistic creation, contributing to some of the greatest works of the human imagination. In much the same way as they are used in Shamanic religions, drugs have inspired and guided certain artists and thinkers. Creative types are far more likely to experience manic depression and other ‘personality disorders’, art can be their expression and their release and our benefit. The use of drugs and the description of drug use by arts contributes to a very complex social equation which cannot be effortlessly explained away in a slow reasoned tone by the fusty old Mr Dalrymple.
As regards the question of how heroin withdrawal, [and addiction generally], became so exaggerated and feared – I would answer it rather differently. Throughout the twentieth century, manipulation of the drug issue was systematically used by politicians and other leaders in the USA to stimulate fear in the community. Again and again it was evoked to distract voters from embarrassing scandals, to paint candidates as uncompromising, and to prepare the public for more draconian control. It has even been selected as an issue by politicians who had nothing else with which to characterise their campaigns. Because drugs were railed against repeatedly down the decades, the effect became cumulative. Heroin entered the mass subconscious as a ravening demon. Parents became terrified for their children. The meme became self-sustaining throughout the world – and an element of it was the nightmare of withdrawal. Certainly, the popular arts play their part – but the buck really stops in the corridors of power.
After evoking Quincy and Coleridge, Dalrymple speaks of how the overwhelming majority of addicts are from the undereducated lower class. There are problems with this contention because it’s really an assumption. Nobody knows the figures. Poorer addicts are the most visible addicts; richer addicts can hide their usage. But how many of this underclass [or the general population for that matter] have read or even heard of Coleridge or Burroughs? There is not much awareness of the classics out there. How else could a bed sold for little girls at Woolworth’s in the US have been branded a ‘Lolita’? If they are influenced, it is by very different media in which the idea of drug-related illumination of the mind and spirit is absent.
Though not everything he says is rubbish, it is all painted with a tone of condescension. He makes the point that people from desperate circumstances often turn to addiction as a way of filling their lives, and indeed ‘the life of an addict is full of incident…. In a sense it imposes regime and routine; they like it, dismal as it is.’ Well, as they say, children crave structure. I think Mr Dalrymple should think further on this point; youths in desperate circumstances are not just being drama queens in taking heroin, sometimes it offers some sweet respite from an unendurable reality.
Heroin does of course impose a routine. With an iron fist. ‘The Algebra of Need', as Burroughs would put it. [‘Burroughs was a criminal long before he became a Junkie’.]
‘Not that I’m advocating this, but Mao Tse Tung was the greatest therapist in the history of drug treatment because he threatened to shoot people if they didn’t give up – and lo and behold twenty million people did give up.’
Dalrymple goes on to say that this wouldn’t work with, say, bowel cancer; seeming to think this proves that addiction is a choice, not a disease.
Because addiction to a large degree is rooted in the workings of the mind, it is not disqualified as a disease. You cannot divorce the body from the head. A lot of very complex changes occur in the brain of an addict, physical changes which researchers are only beginning to understand. Dalrymple, the old cupboard moth, is attempting to turn back the tide on our evolving comprehension of a very complicated condition. He views are deeply right-wing, immediately appealing to the conservative thinker. It is the addict’s fault. He can stop if he wants. He chooses to commit crimes. And elite arty-farty types are responsible for all our misconceptions ….
‘I’m not wholly against rehabilitation, as long as it’s understood it’s not a medical procedure. As long as you don’t treat it as an illness.’ He suggests some form of ‘asylum’ in which the recovering addict can build up their lives again after the wasted years. Again, he shuns the idea of addiction as a disease – a concept that our best informed practitioners have spent decades working to illuminate in the public eye, and to include in social policy.
He coughs up a number of other hot potatoes. He claims ‘the inclination to criminality causes addiction, not the other way round.’ He has learnt from prisoners in jails that the vast majority of addicts were criminals long before they turned to heroin. [He did not say anything about whether it was in jail that they began taking it.]
He tells us it is a myth that drugs are filling our prisons. I’m no expert on this, but I feel strongly about legalisation, and I’ve known plenty of otherwise law-abiding people who have broken the law to feed their habits. I couldn’t begin to count the number of girls [and boys] I’ve seen use prostitution for the same reason.
My instinct here is that his contention is wrong, but again laced with fragments of truth. I also resist, even resent, his using the words addict and criminal in the same breath. There are bad thieving junkies in this world, and it’s sensible to beware of them. But there are those who would never in a million years commit a crime against person or property just for a fix.
Dalrymple is petrified in a previous age where mind and body were disassociated. He cannot abide the fact that addiction is holistic. It is true that the mind is a very prominent component, but that does not disqualify it from medical attention - it merely makes it harder to understand and treat. It is also a social disease, channelled and fuelled by inappropriate laws and attitudes, which the opinions of Dr Dalrymple can only serve to exacerbate.
God forbid this is the leading edge of current conservative thinking!