The Beautiful Blue Danube

Sometimes I wonder about how my mind works. My neighbour’s morning coughing spell today sounded to me like The Blue Danube.

Cough, cough, cough, cough cough

Cough cough, cough cough

Cough Cough cough cough cough

Cough cough cough cough

Cough cough cough cough COUGH

Cough cough COUGH

Cough cough cough

Cough cough

cough cough

AHEM

Johann Strauss II

Gave me an earworm.

Idiots.

I see a lot of quibbling on the internet and in letters to the editor about the current bushfire crisis. “It’s not really climate change that is the cause; the fires were started by youthful arsonists; by lightning”. Yeah, whatever.

How the fire starts is irrelevant, whether it was from a badly placed barbecue or a deliberately thrown Molotov cocktail matters not one whit. There have always been bushfires. Sometimes really bad ones. Some deliberate, some accidental, some natural. The point is that the conditions are now more and more such that once a fire starts, it’s increasingly, damnably hard to put out and spreads through the dry vegetation at an alarming pace that much of the wildlife and few humans on foot can outrun. The fires spread further and faster, and it is climate change that caused these conditions. Arguing against this scientifically established fact is not expressing an intelligent opinion, any more than maintaining that the sun, moon and stars all revolve around an earth placed squarely in the centre of the universe.

When science has established facts beyond doubt and has all the data necessary to prove it, there is room only for discussing the finer details of how globing warming may affect different geographies and circumstances. No way to say it is not really happening.

So I feel free to mock the deniers just as I would flat-earthers, creationists and iridologists. Because they are provably wrong. I don’t usually resort to the ad hominem because it is an admission of failure. However, I admit freely that I fail to understand how people don’t understand how science works.

Prove me wrong if you can. I’m willing to change my mind if the evidence is there. Lay it out.

Thesis Proposal

They are strange creatures. I have studied them for some time, and still find their behaviour inexplicable. Despite almost constantly killing each other in various Skirmishes, battles and wars, anywhere, and at any time, around their planet, they rarely eat each other, even after mating. They don’t even eat their own young, although they can catch them easily.

Their genetic code differs greatly from ours. I have been unable to learn anything from those I have eaten. Thus I must learn from studying their behaviour, a task that seems dauntingly difficult.

They have no claws or ovipositors, but have developed an astonishing array of synthetic weapons with which to attack each other.   So far I have not determined the criteria on which they base their decision to attack, nor on their choice of weapon, which ranges from sharpened objects of various types and hand held projectile throwers, to extremely large mobile devices, having cooperative crews of many individuals and capable of throwing  projectiles and explosive devices over a great distance.

This interesting social construct of cooperative communities is a most alien concept, difficult to grasp. It consists of numbers of individuals, from small groups to large area-wide populations, and of any gender working together to construct habitats and also to craft these various devices with which to attack each other. In some areas, these attacks are ritual in nature, and death rarely results. In other areas whole communities attack and slaughter other communities, with devices designed to make holes in vital organs, or to disintegrate them entirely.

How they learn the skills required without eating each other I have yet to discover.

How individuals decide to cooperate with some, yet attack and destroy other groups, I have been unable to determine. It may involve territoriality. There appears to be some form of genetically coded ritual involved. They may not be able to consciously choose, despite the appearance of rational behaviour on occasion.

A difficult ritual to understand, from my perspective, takes place on designated pathways where individuals or small cooperative groups enter various forms of mobile device and ritually pass each other at high speed, apparently seeking suitable prey. These pathways cover most of the land mass where terrain permits and cross territorial boundaries.

At seemingly random intervals, somewhere along these paths one device will crash into another, or into some feature of the environment. This may result in injury or death of some or all participants. For some reason, survivors rarely attempt to finish off and eat any others still alive. In fact they cooperate to ensure any injured or damaged individuals are taken away to places where they can be repaired.

It is this custom of repairing themselves that I find the most inexplicable of all. After doing their best to kill and maim each other, they then go to great lengths to to repair damaged individual survivors, rather than eat them. Without that, how do they learn from each other?

How the individuals who carry out the repairs are able to restrain themselves from eating those damaged ones needs to be studied further. Perhaps they use some form of inhibitor to suppress the natural cannibal instinct. They may be a separate sub-species genetically primed to repair rather than attack. If their genes have somehow combined with those of the general population, it may explain the strange dichotomy of behaviour planetwide. How it helps with the continuation of the species will take considerable further study. I may be witnessing some new evolution of the Survival Directive.

I shall not return to mate and be eaten until I have incorporated a satisfactory explanation of the above phenomena into my matrix.

Seer

He sits in the dark cave of his cabin, with curtained windows. He is surround by artefacts and nick-nacks collected over eighty nine years.

The only light in the room comes through the doorway where I am standing. It is late afternoon and the sky outside is heavily overcast. I can barely see him, seated in an ancient Lazyboy chair behind a coffee table piled with the detritus of a man who does not move about much.

I knocked twice on his open door. “How are doing mate?” I asked.

He has suffered several strokes. His speech is slow and slurred from myotonic dystrophy. But I could understand him clearly.

He looked at me with clouded eyes, as if he did not recognise me.

“I know why you have come” he said. “You are seeking something you can never regain”.

I sat down on a rickety chair. It creaked under my weight.

“You cannot put the smoke back into the cigarette” he said. As if to accentuate his point, he drew a long drag on a thin, hand rolled cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. He coughed for a few moments then continued.

“Every experience is a new one. Even if you are doing the same thing again. The Laws of Entropy and Enthalpy will ensure that nothing will ever be the same. If you go back, you will be disappointed until you accept that you must go forward. If you buy a boat, you may enjoy the pleasant experiences it will provide you, but you must understand these are not the experiences of your youthful memory. Those have been guilded by time and fondness until in your mind they are no longer anything like what you really experienced. Go forward. Enjoy new sensations.

The molecules of air the breeze blows to touch your face are all new to you, and you will probably never encounter any one of them again. They will go on to touch other faces, to combust in a cigarette or a bushfire, or perhaps to combine with metal as rust, or be inhaled by someone and incorporated in their body, to be released as something new in the crematorium. They carry no memory of you. You, however, can carry a memory of them. That is your task. To experience, enjoy, and remember.”

He took another drag on his fag and had another coughing fit.

His eyes cleared. He looked at me with surprise as I proffered him my offering.

“G’day! How’re ya doin’?”

“G’day to you, O wise one. I thought you might like some of this spaghetti Bolognese I made. It’s low salt. You may want to add some. ”.

I handed him a fork. He started to eat.

“But I’ve been thinking, I live on an island and I should buy a boat”.

“Nah, he said, a strand of spaghetti suspended from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t like boats, rocking and splashing. Don’t even like fishing. Can’t stand the smell. Until they are cooked, with chips”.

He sucked on his cigarette while still chewing Bolognese. When he coughed, a bit shot on to the coffee table. He wiped it up with his handkerchief.

The Seer had retired. The old man was dining.

The old man turned on his television with the remote, and leaned back to watch the football. He had forgotten I was there. He burped contentedly, drew on his smoke and coughed.

I left quietly. As I did, “Buy the boat” he said.

I don’t know which of him said that.

Spotify

Today I’m listening to a Collection of Beethoven’s sonatas, played by various artists. Right now I’m listening to my favourite, Sonata no. 14, Opus 27, in C sharp minor. Also known as the Moonlight. Or mondschein.

My Spotify account is one of my treasures. For eleven dollars a month it gives me access to a Collection of music I could never afford to buy on CD. I have found almost all the music I liked in my youth. Classical, folk, rock, I have expanded my Celtic folk collection beyond anything I could afford to buy. Now, I am exploring what I missed. Spotify allows me to try new musical genres and artists. My musical appreciation development was stunted in the eighties but I am at last catching up.

Sad to say most modern music, especially hip-hop, leaves me cold but there is still some wheat amongst the chaff.

By clicking on the links above you can listen to my playlists, though you’ll have to put up with advertising unless you have an account.

Curiosity

The first movie I saw as a child was Disney’s Fantasia. I liked it. The Night on Bald Mountain segment scared the Willy out of me. I must have been about four years old. The second movie I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz. Probably in the same year, late 1956 or early 1957. My Dad had told me that he had seen The Wizard of Oz when he was a child, and the flying monkeys scene had frightened him. I was prepared to be scared by the monkeys, but I wasn’t. The bit that scared me was the floating green head.

A memory associated with one of those films, though I can’t recall which, was my amazement at learning one could get an orange drink in a cardboard box and you drink it through a straw inserted through a hole in the top.

It was the first time I remember setting my brain to work at a scientific question. I tried to figure out how liquid could be in a cardboard box without making it soggy.

I’m proud to say my budding intellect solved the conundrum. Wax. The paper was waxed. I realised that wax had the property of repelling water.

My first intellectual foray into Curiosity. My first hypothesis that I can remember.

I have always since had a fondness for tetrapaks. A clever invention.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

Time for a bit more feckin’ culture, mate.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came
Thomas Moran
1859


MY first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that purs’d and scor’d
Its edge, at one more victim gain’d thereby.

What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guess’d what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch ’gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,

If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.

For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,—
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.

As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, (“since all is o’er,” he saith,
“And the blow fallen no grieving can amend;”)

While some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves,
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.

Thus, I had so long suffer’d, in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among “The Band”—to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search address’d
Their steps—that just to fail as they, seem’d best.
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?

So, quiet as despair, I turn’d from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path the pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.

For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O’er the safe road, ’t was gone; gray plain all round:
Nothing but plain to the horizon’s bound.
I might go on; nought else remain’d to do.

So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starv’d ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You ’d think; a burr had been a treasure trove.

No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In the strange sort, were the land’s portion. “See
Or shut your eyes,” said Nature peevishly,
“It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
’T is the Last Judgment’s fire must cure this place,
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”

If there push’d any ragged thistle=stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopp’d; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruis’d as to baulk
All hope of greenness? ’T is a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute’s intents.

As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades prick’d the mud
Which underneath look’d kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil’s stud!

Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red, gaunt and collop’d neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.

I shut my eyes and turn’d them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I ask’d one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier’s art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.

Not it! I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine to fix me to the place,
That way he us’d. Alas, one night’s disgrace!
Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.

Giles then, the soul of honor—there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good—but the scene shifts—faugh! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!

Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet of a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.

A sudden little river cross’d my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it froth’d by, might have been a bath
For the fiend’s glowing hoof—to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.

So petty yet so spiteful All along,
Low scrubby alders kneel’d down over it;
Drench’d willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
Whate’er that was, roll’d by, deterr’d no whit.

Which, while I forded,—good saints, how I fear’d
To set my foot upon a dead man’s cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
—It may have been a water-rat I spear’d,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby’s shriek.

Glad was I when I reach’d the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poison’d tank,
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage—

The fight must so have seem’d in that fell cirque.
What penn’d them there, with all the plain to choose?
No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.

And more than that—a furlong on—why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel—that harrow fit to reel
Men’s bodies out like silk? with all the air
Of Tophet’s tool, on earth left unaware,
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.

Then came a bit of stubb’d ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood—
Bog, clay, and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.

Now blotches rankling, color’d gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil’s
Broke into moss or substances like thus;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.

And just as far as ever from the end,
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon’s bosom-friend,
Sail’d past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penn’d
That brush’d my cap—perchance the guide I sought.

For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains—with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surpris’d me,—solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.

Yet half I seem’d to recognize some trick
Of mischief happen’d to me, God knows when—
In a bad perhaps. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts—you ’re inside the den.

Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Couch’d like two bulls lock’d horn in horn in fight,
While, to the left, a tall scalp’d mountain … Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight!

What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool’s heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counter-part
In the whole world. The tempest’s mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.

Not see? because of night perhaps?—Why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,—
“Now stab and end the creature—to the heft!”

Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it toll’d
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers,—
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knell’d the woe of years.

There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”

Robert Browning (1812–89)