Lend Me Ten Pounds, and I’ll Buy You a Drink.

There is a gentleman I pass quite regularly on my cycle ride to the pool who appears to be picking herbs from the grass on the roadside. I’ve often wanted to stop and ask what he is collecting. I almost did so this morning, but it occurred to me he may be collecting cigarette butts discarded by people using the path. I am probably wrong. He is there so often, I doubt there would be that many butts for him to pick up by now. Nevertheless the thought was enough to deter me from stopping and asking. He might be embarrassed.

Whenever something like that happens I get the feeling I am losing an opportunity to hear an interesting story. Is he picking penny royal to make a decoction to induce abortion? is there some psychotropic weed growing here that no one other than he knows of? Is he a harmless nut herbalist, or a derelict with no money for fags? Is it any of my business?

Almost as if to answer the psychotropic theory, I next came upon a much younger man who appeared to have dropped a plastic carrier bag of possessions and was bending over to retrieve them. I was about to stop to help, until I heard what he was saying, or rather the language he was using, and his tone. It was a loud, angry, incoherent rant full of effing and blinding and the colourful C word. He seemed to be referring to one C in particular, up which he proposed to insert various objects. Whoever he was talking to was not visible to me.

Nor, it seems, was I visible to him. I pedalled by on my bike with its bright yellow trailer sporting a pirate flag on its mast. His rant at the invisible person beside him did not change at all as I rode through his line of gaze. I have seen those crazed, dilated-pupil red-rimmed stares before. Not weed. Ice. Move on. Quickly. Before those eyes focus.

The clear water of the pool was warm. It did not feel particularly refreshing. The only energy burnt there today would be in propulsion, not in maintaining body temperature. It was so warm I wondered if I was sweating as I swam. How can one tell?

The MP3 player gave me a particularly good choice of random music today. My 90 minutes of laps passed very quickly. A bit of Zydeco, Sinead O’Connor, Pink Floyd, and Afro-Celt Sound System. I managed to keep up a vigorous stroke rhythm most of the time except during the more languid sound of O’Connor’s Danny Boy. Not my favourite version, nor my favourite of her recordings.

An estimated 4,740 kJ burnt, I had a cold shower and shampoo. Then, after a quick visit to Aldi for salad vegetables, I headed home, pedalling into a freshening breeze from the NNE. Practicing my long neglected nautical assessment skills, I estimated the wind to be between 18 and twenty knots, and bringing rain.

I checked my apps when I got home. 20 knots, NNE. And the radar showed approaching storms. The rain and lightning began within half an hour. It hasn’t changed the heat or humidity.

It still hurts when I pedal. More when I walk. The exercise is not helping, and may even be making things worse. I can’t keep increasing my painkillers. I need a new strategy.

On a completely different note, Richard in Quebec may be interested to hear I have been told there has been a rare (for Bribie) sighting of a small flock of Oriental cuckoos down at Buckley’s Hole. If the weather and my legs permit, I may toddle off down there tomorrow to see what I can see.

Life and Death in the Shower

There’s nothing I like more than being visited in the shower. Tonight, after a long telephone conversation with a friend in WA, I limped down to the ablution block for a midnight shower. I like late night showers. I have the place to my self and there’s always the chance of some interesting times watching the geckos hunting moths around the fluorescent lights.

I was really lucky . Not only did I see my favourite geckos doing their famous ceiling leaps, but I shared my shower stall with another gecko and the tiniest green tree frog I have yet met.

At first, I was not sure if they were hunting each other, in which case “aaaw, ain’t that cute”. Or had teamed up to get a moth, I watched as I soaped up and rinsed off under a cold shower. (Hot water is available, I just prefer cold).

The frog could have sat on my thumbnail. The gecko was five times bigger. They circled each other like Sumo wrestlers on the shower stall wall. It become quite apparent each thought the other was prey. It was also quite apparent the brave little frog was going to try and bite off more than he could chew.

When it comes to life and death in the jungle, I know that I should allow nature to take its course. But here were two little creatures I really like in a mismatched duel to the death. I had no illusions about who would lose. Had he been bigger I’d probably have watched the frog swallow that gecko just as I watched my frogs in my pond in Katanning eat their own relatives. Or vice versa, even. Fair is fair.

But this little blighter was totally outgunned, though he was not going to admit it. I am a sucker for supporting the underfrog. So I snatched him from the ravenous jaws of death and put him in my toilet bag. There were plenty of moths left for the gecko, as I most reasonably pointed out to him. He didn’t seem to mind, anyway.

After my shower I towelled off and put on my shorts. I carried my new charge with me when I headed home. On the way back to my caravan I explained the facts of life to my little green ward. I told him he needed to bulk up a bit before he took on something that size again. In the meantime he should practice on moths and flies, and perhaps, as a favour to me, he could do something about the ants that are constantly scurrying around my caravan.

I dropped him off in my herb garden. Tomorrow, when the ants come out, I’ll know whether the little bugger is grateful to me for saving his tiny green life.

The photos below are not the protagonists of this little story, just some previous encounters.

Pain

I can’t stand the pain
Spondylosis
Pinching back vertebrae
I can’t stand the pain
Knee arthritis
‘Cause I’m not who I used to be
Hey bloody knees
Tell me, do you remember
How sweet it used to be
When I could walk for miles
Everything was groovy
Now my joints are grating
And that’s one sound
That I just can’t stand
I can’t stand the pain
Of spondylosis
Aching thighs, aching knees
I can’t stand the pain
Of gravity on me
‘Cause I’m not who I used to be
When I was a young man
Everything was so grand
Now that I’ve grown old
There’s just one thing
That I just can’t stand
Can’t stand the pain
I can’t stand the pain
Of my leg muscles
Taunting me with memories
Of when I could walk free
I can’t stand the pain
And I can’t walk far
Unless my walking stick’s with with me
When we are together
I can make it round the shops
Like Woolworths. Oh sweet memories
But it’s just so wrong
That I just can’t stand
I can’t walk alone
Without a trolley to lean on
I can’t stand the pain
The spondylitic pain
That just keeps on haunting me
Hey hey pain
Get off of my back, please
‘Cause I can’t stand the pain
I’ll jump out a window
‘Cause I can’t stand the pain.

The First Cup

I would have given you all my Oolong
And I know you like to drink tea that’s strong
But I’ve just drank up all that I had
So if you want, I’ll try to brew again
Baby, I’ll try to brew again, but I know
The first cup is the weakest, baby, I know
The first cup is the weakest,
And when it comes to making coffee, he’s cursed
When it comes to making tea he’s worse

I still want you to to try some Earl Grey
Just to take the taste of chamomile away
And I think you should give chai a try
So. If you want, I’ll boil the jug again,
Baby, I’ll put the kettle on again,
but I know, oh
The first cup is the weakest, baby, I know
The first cup is the weakest
And when it comes to making coffee, he’s cursed
When it comes to making tea he’s worse

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.

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)