Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Letter to a man on the bus.

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your comments on the female entrants in the US Open this year. However, I'm afraid that inasmuch as the 'exotic birds' you mentioned are concerned, you've missed a few vital entries including but not limited to:

  • The golden pheasant
  • The quetzal
  • The hoopoe
  • The Bali bird of paradise
  • The puffin
  • The Lear's macaw
  • The California condor
  • The African crowned crane
  • I might also suggest some of the members of the ratite family, as they are particularly interesting - though what tennis has to do with ornithology I have no idea other than the observation it seems to have turned some among us into common tits.

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    Dream: In which everybody dies.

    It started off as a movie set in Australia. I saw the wreckage of something huge against the Sydney skyline, a cruise liner broken into pieces. There was fire that had not yet been put out and helicopters in the air. Then a friend from work told me that this was a remake of an American movie for local audiences. She was upset that her online forum had chosen to show this one rather than the original, which was apparently much, much better. So the scene shifted to that movie instead.

    It was in the early stages and the great disaster was about to begin. I hadn't much time left, so was running around, up and down columns of people and things, trying to find the final details of my thesis. Everyone else's cover sheets and progress reports were nailed up on the walls and I wanted to find mine before it all got going. On the way, as I clambered over pieces of torn metal wreckage, I encountered old video reports of children who had gone missing or had been taken from their parents. The surviving siblings said that now that their parents were distressed again, this time they knew how to take care of them. I knocked the back of my neck against something. I put my hand back to feel for what had happened and was shocked to see there was blood on my fingers.

    I can't remember if I found my thesis or not, but soon it was too late, because we were all buckled into the plane, a huge aircraft seating hundreds of people, all strapped in tight and all knowing what was about to happen. The voice over the PA said hello and welcome, and so on. He pointed out a few of the guests – look out for that one over there, he was our first casualty last time. I was relieved because the guy in question was quite a distance from me and my friend, so I still had a chance of surviving. As I understood it, some would live and others would die, but it all depended on chaotic things and couldn't be predicted.

    As we flew, the vessel we were on changed into a hybrid thing that was part aeroplane and part cruise liner, like in the movie. We were flying high over the ocean when I turned to my friend and asked, 'What happens next?' She replied, 'We die.' I felt a growing sense of panic. It was never clear what the disaster was – some sort of super-sonic earthquake where everything was upheaval for one deadly, world-changing moment – but as we crossed the point on the map where it was marked, the ship exploded and I was falling through the sky, hurtling down to earth, unable to scream, unable to breathe.

    Some people had parachutes but all I had was a pillow. We were so high up in the sky that we could see the entire map of Australia below us. Other groups of people were falling over other countries, so great was the explosion that it blew them so far - or perhaps so small was the world as we approached death. As for us, those of us over Australia would land all over the country in different spots. The anticipation was that those who survived (the ones with the parachutes) would establish settlements and start looking for food. As for my friend and I, this did not apply – we hadn't much of a chance of surviving. Still, though, we tried to aim for water and wound up descending over southern Tasmania, approaching a bay near Hobart. As we got closer, the soldiers on the ground looked up. Aiming for the water had been a gamble. The idea was if we could some how slow our descent or land in a certain way – maybe using the pillow as a buffer – we might have a chance of surviving, but in the end we missed the water and died instantly.

    I picked myself up and looked around. There was a sense of relief that this was how it had happened – instantly and with much less fear than I'd anticipated. There had been no pain at all. Those who survived would all die later in various ways, some quite awful. The disaster was not yet over and there would me more horror to come – it was one of those movies - and so it was good to have it over and done with.

    Being dead, everything had a sense of permanence to it. I realised, for example, that I'd never lose or gain any more weight, which was good, because weight-loss programs on TV were becoming increasingly demented and cruel. Everything was OK. Everything was DONE.

    We walked into the sunshine, where the rest of the dead had gathered. They were wearing the clothes they'd had on when the plane exploded, and I remember remarking to my friend that I never approved of wearing bikinis on aeroplanes. It was all bouncing tits and bare shoulders in the baking hot sun. I said that even though I was dead and had no skin, I'd still stick to the shade. Cancer's a killer, after all.

    We walked and walked. We saw the dogs that had been in the aircraft's cargo hold fall from the sky and be caught by people on the ground. A Maltese, a border collie, and a golden retriever all landed in the arms of strangers, their new owners, but the golden-coloured staffy never did. It must have died.

    Huge goannas leapt up from the ground into the trees and from there propelled themselves, long, unsettling reptiles, over to the other side of the road. As they made their jump from one side to the other, they held our their stubby limbs and let the dangling flaps of skin act as wings. Turns out they weren't jumping but flying.

    We walked through streets and then through forests, where it was dark. We stumbled across other survivors, who were also dead, who had set up bases of operation for the apocalypse to come. They guarded their territory fiercely and wouldn't let us pass through. It was odd, though. We were dead and impervious to pain or any kind of second death. What on earth were they afraid of?

    We passed a wilderness outfitter's store. I knew I needed boots and a sleeping bag for going hiking, but everything was lying out on the floor in a great big mess and I couldn't find what I was looking for. I knew it was there but... it could not be found. A creeping doubt - I'm dead. Why do I need a sleeping bag when I can't feel the cold? It was frustrating.

    Because I was dead, I was invisible to the living. I realised I could shoplift my groceries, which was probably necessary given I'd never be able to work again, so would have no money to pay for things anyway. I thought, but you don't need bread and milk – you're dead! The reply came: I still want to eat!

    But how do the dead go to the toilet? I was at a meeting with Sifu and the kung fu group and asked to be excused so I could visit the ladies' room. I left the table and went into a dark corridor and was struck by the futility of what I was about to do. I didn't need the bathroom; it was a memory, a habit, that drove me here. I realised that what I actually wanted was to sit in a small room by myself and be by myself, and I'd sought out the bathroom as something at least approximating that in a socially acceptable way. It was a convention that was now useless to me. I turned away in anger and saw there were other dead women who had come looking for the bathroom for the exact same reason, and had suddenly reached the same conclusion. As we walked back to the group, through a flimsy-looking gym, I confessed that I was starting to get angry with accommodating the lie that nothing had changed.

    I left the kung fu group and walked down the road to a Lebanese restaurant, where another friend and I played tricks on the guests, including the cast from Home Improvement. It turned out that though we were invisible to most people, if we focused really hard on them, we could make them see us. This meant we could do what we want. WE COULD DO ANYTHING! We joked and laughed and I called the woman a hypocrite for her double standards in being against various parties in some global conflicts but being for their equivalents in others and not seeing the discrepency. I called her out. I pointed and said, “Hypocrite!”

    Being dead was amazing. Nothing anyone said or did had any hold over me. I was in control. I would live forever. Children could see me, though. This I did not mind so much because children were interesting and it felt like I could help look after them in my own way, be a secret imaginary friend and then go away when I wasn't needed and it was over. Sometimes, though, we would laugh too loudly and the adults, the living adults, would look around as though they'd heard something and would try to find us with their eyes. I didn't want to be discovered like that. It would be embarrassing.

    I returned to my people, back to where the dead had been basking in the sun and dancing, and I found that things were looking bleak and that the world was grey. As a response, there was a strange program being initiated and they were holding auditions for people to stomp on the ends of large plastic pipes, which was were all jumbled together to make a weird-looking musical instrument. The audition process was tough, but one man made it through.

    Later, when the humans were holding their first of many tearful memorial services for the dead of the great disaster, we, the objects of their distress, gathered above them and played the musical instrument. Though I couldn't hear it at the audition, I could hear it now and it was the most heavenly music. We sent it to the mourners as a gift and to say hello and to say that everything was OK and that we were gone but still with them at the same time.

    I was transported back to the moment many in the aircraft died. For me, it had been instant, crashing down to earth, but for the others who were still strapped in their seats as the cabin filled with water and pieces of razor-sharp debris flew around them - and into them - it was longer. I saw in slow motion the old couple, waking up from their deaths and turning to kiss each other, though their faces were torn and bloody. I saw a young man raise his hand to wipe sweat from his forehead in relief, though his hand had been sliced into seven pieces. I saw a blonde woman screaming out her last breath, trapped in her seat and totally submerged in water, and then not scream any more. Another man with his intestines out, breathing a sigh of relief. I saw all of this, how they had died and how they had felt when they realised that they were now free, and I looked down at the congregation of mourners below, crying as they listened to our music, and I wanted to tell them that everything was OK. I think, on some level, they started to understand.

    I woke up feeling amazing.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Dream: Discovery and betrayal

    I had a couple of nightmares last night. 

    In one - not the one where Hilary Clinton hunted a group of Marines and me with a sniper rifle and not the one where the White Witch was literally tearing strips of flesh from my back and forcing me to sew them back on here and there, crooked and painful - I was trapped on an island, like in 'Survivor'. 

     There was no food and we hadn't eaten for three weeks. As a last-ditch effort to find sustenance, we fashioned a net and cast it into the dark water, where if you looked down from a great height, you could see pale, white alien squid-like creatures. They were frightening. We caught one and almost lost one of our number dragging it out of the water. It felt like the other contestants and I were meddling in something we oughtn't, but we had no real choice and there was a sense of inevitability about it - like this was what we were supposed to figure out on our own as part of the game. 

    We cut the animal's head open and where the meat was supposed to be there was instead a box. I opened the box - or maybe ate the box; it's not clear - and fell down a deep and terrifying pit.  When I surfaced, it was dark and time had... passed. I was all alone and had this message to give, except I couldn't speak it clearly; I could only stutter. It was dark and cold and I needed a friend to come and get me. I called my friend, telling her I needed help. She couldn't understand me over the phone. She said she was tired and hung up.

    Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    3rd June, 2013 - Fever dream

    It was a 'Hunger Games' death match and we were being choppered in over a map mostly laid out in grids. Various quadrants would move and overlap over the course of the game, forcing combatants into contact. We would be unable to hide - at least not for very long.

    It started out with three of us, some guy, a small black girl (based off Rue, I guess) and me. I was Katniss in this set-up but I was also myself in that way dreams have. We were camped in the top of a gum tree. The little girl had caught a fairy and attaching a match to its butt, sent it to an outer branch to start a fire for us. We settled in to sleep. The game would begin tomorrow.

    We were on a train with compartments made into cramped dormitories holding two bunk beds each. Between the pillows, blankets, luggage and storage containers, there wasn't much room for anybody. This was where we were starting and trapped in this tiny room, we were already at a disadvantage. We had no weapons and no way of knowing if the coast was clear outside unless we wanted to risk our necks.

    Other teams of people had already been through the dormitories ahead of us and they were coming our way. I had a flash-forward vision the future that awaited: with nothing to do but hide behind pillows, we were sitting ducks as heavily-armed men sprayed the room with bullets. Some of my team-mates, the smaller girls for instance, would be able to hide in the storage space up in the ceiling and down under the bunks. We could move the boxes and containers around them to shield them from view - but not the bullets. Even so, it was better than nothing. As for myself, there was no room for me anywhere. I'd be the one cowering behind the pillows while the kids hid. I wondered if this was how the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary felt before they died. There was no time left. The counter on the door was ticking down. At zero, the others would arrive with their guns. It reached zero and the door opened.

    The people who came into the room were not the one armed with the automatic weapons and they did not spray the room with bullets. They did, however, have at least one revolver with them and a bunch of knives. Still weaponless, I'd have to wrest something useful from one of them if I was to have any chance. I managed to get hold of a revolver. It only had one bullet but it was special, with an explosive tip. It might only have one shot, but it would be guaranteed lethal and that's what I was going need if I wanted to survive. The ticker started to count down to zero again. Enemies incoming! I fumbled with the chamber but got it loaded just in time.

    The door opened and I fired. The gun jammed.


    Further back in the train there was a great, big warehouse area filled with old pieces of machinery, painted woodwork, old film sets and stage props, giant cogs and spools, and all manner of strange, dusty things.

    With my gun having failed me - now more than once - and having already witnessed the brutality of the game, I was anxious to find a weapon that I could use to survive. There were some knives on a bench and I took one. It was a long, very old boning knife, the same as my dad is keeping for me in the waking world. It would do for now. I used it to pierce the corpse of Mrs Benson, who'd been trussed up on the broken-tree-altar of Catholic suffering. My first use of the blade, I was relieved at how easy it was as opposed to the malfunctioning gun, but  relief changed to revulsion at the sight of the viscous black sludge seeping from the wound - and the smell. She looked twisted and abject, like a torture victim in Silent Hill. As the designated effigy of Catholicism, she'd been forced to continue having babies until she died. So it goes.

    I moved away from the strange and dark forest growing around the now ex Mrs Benson, and back down into the warehouse proper. Enemies were approaching and I could hear the sound of gunfire. Somehow my boning knife seemed insufficient but as I put it down, I was attacked by two women. They were not looking so good - torn black mini-dresses, lank hair and bare, bloodstained arms. I looked to the table where I'd first taken my knife and grabbed the only I could - a wobbly saw blade with long jagged teeth. I hoped it would be enough. I slashed at one of the women and managed to cut her thigh. She pulled back, shrieking. I hated this, recoiling from the sight of her splitting flesh. I extended my arm and flicked my wrist, sending the blade out like a bullwhip. It caught the other woman around the neck. I yanked it back and it came, serrated edge slicing her throat as it returned to me. Again, the wound I'd inflicted was sickening. The scene seemed to replay in my mind's eye. My stomach roiled.

    I can't remember what happened next; if the seas boiled and the world changed, or if we just went on killing each other while trying not to die. I can't even remember if the train was going anywhere.

    Sunday, March 31, 2013

    NATO exchange

    @thegreenrat NATO replies: "shut up you're not my dad!"
    @thegreenrat *NATO slams door, plays loud music in room*

    Friday, March 29, 2013

    And now, the weather - collaborative poetry with Goblinpaladin

    that weather system in the south-west
    with the blood and the screaming
    run, southerners
    our defensive high pressure collapsed
    we are overrun
    the ears of our weather shamans started to bleed
    the wall is broken
    flee for your lives
    all is lost!
    all that remains
    at last we have peace, the weather gods say
    now we can get things done

    Monday, March 11, 2013


    Sign your privacy away, render yourself
    naked to satellite technology
    a Google Gestapo listening to
    the lives of others
    through tweet text tracking
    the latest Angry Birds mod is totally worth it

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    June, 2011. Cairo.

    The Ibn Talun Mosque  was commissioned by the Abbassid governor of Egypt from 868-884 CE, after whom it is named. It's constructed in a Samarran style, drawing inspiration from the capital of the Abbasid dynasty at the time before it was relocated to Baghdad. One of the distinguishing features of this architectural style is the spiral design of the minaret although interestingly, there is some contention over the Ibn Talun minaret, which some believe was constructed at a later date. 1296 is one historian's estimation. It would not be surprising; the mosque like many others in Cairo has been restored several times with new features added on each occasion. 

    The first of the restorations was in 1177 and was undertaken by Badr al-Jamali, a warlord from Armenia who rose to prominence in the service of the Fatimid caliphate, eventually becoming wazir. The man who took care of the shoe rack by the mosque's entrance showed me the inscription that Al-Jamali added to the mosque. It's an important piece of history. According to patachu.com, the Fatimid caliphs claimed the divine right to rule based on their direct lineage from Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and the propagation of Fatimid Shi'a Islam as an ideology was vital in maintaining this legitimacy. Al-Jamali's rise to power saw the beginning of a trend in Egyptian history where the Fatimid caliphs became puppets of their wazir commanders, figureheads for the military generals to rule from behind. 

    When he commissioned the restoration of the Mosque of Ibn Talun, Badr al-Jamali had a slab installed carrying an inscription of the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. It reads, “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.” It then then continues, “wa 'Aliyyun waliyyu l-Lāh” - “and Ali is the wali (friend or vice-regent) of God.” This second part is an article of faith particular to Shi'i Islam. By installing this inscription, Al-Jamali was seeking to support the existing political order which he would later use as a mask for his own rule. I had my photo taken next to it. 

    A man with a gun is shouting at me to leave because it's closing time for non-Muslims, 
    but the guy from the shoe rack keeps saying, "Just one more. I think I've got it this time!"