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Monday, May 30, 2011

Coogee mourning

On Sunday morning I heard that Gil Scott-Heron had died on Friday. He hadn't had an easy life but has produced some of the pivotal music of the last twenty five or so years.

Later that day I got an email telling me that a female relative, one I have only a vague and unreliable memory of having met, had died after a three year battle. Her children are 13 and ten - too young to be mourning your parents.

Mooring posts disappear and we are left adrift.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life doesn't frighten me at all

When very little sometimes I was so scared and so lonely that I'd scream, for company. The echoes of those screams accompany me still.

They waken me in the night and delay my return to sleep. I realise quickly that the scream, my scream didn't happen in the now, the echoes troubled no other in the now, and the reverberations have died out - leaving a trace of a memory of a half forgotten....something. I know that now is OK and that then was then.

I think on Roy Williamson's words:

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
And stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

For me this is not only about Proud Edward's army but about every tyrant., every bully.

And we are an army, the bullied. And we are not alone. And sometimes before we die, either the living death of those that have lost hope, or the slow death of those whose bodies turn against them, we recognise each other. Sometimes in that recognition there is succour and at others fear and contempt. In our mutual acknowledgement of the terror we do risk disappearing, we do risk losing sight of all that is good and noble and joyous about being human but when we're lucky we embrace in the warming, calming, energising pulse of survival.

Alone we are born
and die alone
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
over snow-mountain shine
upon the upland road
ride easy stranger
Surrender to the sky
your heart of anger.

Sometimes in the high country we'll pause briefly and glimpse a distant stranger. We see in the set of his shoulders and the palpitating jaw muscles that his big anger, his old anger remains. But as our eyes meet over an impassable gorge there will be a brief flick upwards of both eyebrows. I know you we'll not say. You're going to be all right. It's OK - life doesn't frighten us anymore. You are OK and You am I. And the anger will dissipate into the glowering sky and dusk will become dawn.

We nod an embrace of departure and move on homewards. Alone but not lonely. Seen and heard.

And with each meeting on the high road the screams lose volume, intensity and frequency until finally....there is but one finally. The more scarred fellow travellers we share a story with the freer life becomes as if in acknowledging the many small deaths we defuse the the power of the spectre.

Other times - as close to never as we're strong enough to manage we slide into the maw and become the bully ourselves - so in our bond with the bullied is also our knowing that the easy choice is to bully - understandable but not excusable.

Meeting the shadow is the start not the end.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fear of a black planet

"The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice" MLK jnr

My wife and daughters are Australian and I don't pretend that NZ doesn't have similar problems and doesn't struggle daily with the wrangling between the tangata whenua (people of the land, first nations?) and those whose families have arrived since 1816 or so. Health, justice and education statistics all over the world reflect the problems that arise when large groups of people move from one region to another: Who is in prison, who is sick, homeless, educated to less than their potential, earns less, lives a shorter time?

Recently my concern about this has gone from a theoretical quandary to an urgent problem because I now have daughters approaching adulthood, too quickly. What kind of world will I have allowed them to grow up into? What futures am I denying them by being overwhelmed by the size of the problems the planet faces? By feeling powerless in the face of greed and cynicism?

My daughters have Maori cousins and have more connection with them as individuals, as relatives, as people like them than they do with the Aboriginal people they encounter - Caz the local begger a poly-addicted homeless woman with mental health issues - Mazza the feral urchin who sprays racist homophobic abuse everywhere - The intimidating gangs of kids who loiter menacingly nearby with barely concealed clubs and the hint they have knives and that they do not see us as like them - my daughters are afraid of Aboriginal people and see them entirely as other - junkies, thugs, crims, losers
  • Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
    • Stride Toward Freedom : the Montgomery Story (1958) MLK jnr
When she was little Little Bear who is now seven regarded Caz the begger as a friend because she was friendly and three year olds assume everyone is going to like them. Caz not sure whether Little Bear was genuine or just playing a whitefella game was really, really pleased when she realised Little Bear saw her simply as a friendly person. White middle class three year olds know nothing of history, of racism, or prejudice - they have two mobs; people I like and who like me and: the others. It didn't occur to Little Bear not to like Caz. It didn't occur to Caz that Little Bear might like her, for who she is with her, for how she behaves. Little Bear made it OK for Caz to just be - that there was nothing innately wrong with her and how she is. The opposite of the racism and prejudice she encounters every day.

Four years later Little Bear has learned to be wary of Aboriginal people, to see them as potential threat. This same reaction applies to the homeless, to beggars, to junkies. I've let this happen.

The challenge now is to change this - day by day.

"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care"

I do not rise slowly from Morpheus' restorative embrace like a wary but excited child but am instantly awake in a new phase full of the unfocussed creativity of the erratically alert.

Words, images, ideas spring effervescently from the meeting place of Id, Ego and Super-Ego. The wire in the blood is already fizzing its exciting dangerous zing, part energy source part burning fuse. I'm ready, always ready to start great things with the alertness of Bambi and the focus of the substance addicted. One eye on potential predators the other on the fabulous futures that wait not too far off. And have waited for half a century.

There is a Henry James story about a man waiting for an incredible event or fortune to land at his feet. His anticipation is so great, his want so strong that he neglects the present and misses the good he has within his grasp. He has lost the fabulous future by looking forward to it and not considering that it could have its genesis in the past and the present. He is, like the users of Blackberries etc, unable to be anywhere because there is always a better somewhere else, something else. Unable to be fully present in his desire not to miss out. Here is simply the place we wait for our next txt msge, our next FB status update, our next tweet.

I thought of Twitter as I administered to sick daughters this week. What if instead of discarding every used tissue, every sheet of toilet paper, every sprayed sneeze and trail of drool they tweeted them? So all their followers, their facebook friends would be up to date on the status of their various irritated mucous membranes? The responses might suggest that that they're not Samuel Pepys but Paris Hilton's chihuahua's pedicurist. Or not - their viruses might go viral.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fresh and local

This plant, Warrigal greens, has quite the history. I cooked some I was given when we were just out of town for a family Mothers Day lunch. Like spinach as they say but coarser and firmer than the English variety as you'd expect.

Our evening meal included a salad with Warrigal greens, rocket, tomatoes, avacado and basil.

My lunch - red miso instant soup with udon noodles - both of which I suspectare not late eighteenth century convict recipes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A fresh local start

Dawn at Coogee is always spectacular, often transcendant. Everyone I see there at this time of day has an enormous look of gratitude and relief and joy on their faces. On the radio I listened to the man who was going to have a surfing lesson with Tony Abbott. He seemed pleased to be in Australia too.

I've been thinking about nature and our relationship to the planet and ourselves much as Werner Herzg did in Burden of Dreams. Herzog doesn't approve of many things I take succour from. Including self-reflection and herbal tea but as I like to say or think I like to say "there is no I in team but there is one in ginseng".

Friday, May 6, 2011

I have to go for another glucose tolerance test tomorrow. They're a bore - hours long and sometimes inconclusive. The last one somehow resulted in me having to have a colonoscopy. Couldn't see it myself - the sweet bone's connected to the bum bone?

I'm hungry and can't eat. I'll want coffee in the morning and can only have water. And this is healthy? Might try and get some happy snaps to post. I made the mistake of quoting Yoda to my daughters "Try there is not, only do there is"- that's come back to hit me in the face too often. And "Do as I say not as I do" hasn't flown since the 1960s.

Serendipitiously I made contact with two people via facebook that I'd not seen for years, 15 and 25 to be precise. One of them has Al Jazeera English as a favourite and the other works there as a Beijing-based cameraman.

Thirty Years of Tears

Looking towards ANZAC bridge - the roof of the Kauri Foreshore Hotel in the middle ground - at dusk.

Via the curate's egg that is the life online I've linked up with friends from the glory days - 1978 to 1982 - when every thing seemed possible - we reminisce and discover that we remember differently - the past is a different place - and we are attached to it differently - so many people that energised us then have died since yet the strongest memories endure.

I've tried to revisit those days but find my version of them didn't exist or if it did it was parallel to but separate from the versions/visions of others that were there. I went to Upper Cuba Street about a year ago and it is as Peter McLeavey says a Disneyland version of itself. They paved paradise and put up a motorway. It's like a lot of things that are re-worked - someone who wasn't there recalls something they didn't understand and produces a Stepford Wives version of it - think of the "new" VW - like something from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons

Upper Cuba Street is now a wikipediased version of its earlier grittier incarnations. So too the "Wellington Punk Scene" - romanticised versions of which are cropping up on the net - it was dumb and ugly and fun and glorious - some of the best musical experiences in my life took place back then - the Wallsockets on one of their perfects days: the rhythm guitarist relatively straight, the drums and bass locked in like Sly and Robbie on sensi, the lead guitar cutting through like something from Jefferson Airplane and the lead singer like a cross between Debbi Harry and Poly Styrene with a hint of ancient passion

Or the Gordons every show or Mike the Cripple in his homemade Charlie Parker t-shirt gallumping across stage to sing the Endless Sea with the Androidss. (I thought the t-shirt said BIRO) - the now legendary New Wave Special at the town hall at the same time as buddha sticks hit town - the possibilities were endless - I coulda been a contender. I was heading for a career as an art director or "something in graphics" but then came to believe art was too important to me for me to be able to make money out of it (childish or what?) plus I discovered fun - being dopefucked and thinking I could levitate - "dropping" acid and seeing the black dull twigs on a tree outside the window arrange themselves into a grid and the cat with the deep deep abcess on its neck that could act like a vortex and suck me in unless I intwined my fingers in the carpet and the formica bathroom walls running and turning into caverns and crevices and being what-is-now-known-as-P-fucked and seeing Roger as God bursting through the sun at Makara beach as birds dived into the sea and the wind whipped our voices away and the thrown stick tumbled through the air and hit a carload of hoons who laughed at it and us and Roxy the dog and everything was good and Tony tooted at the horse to see if it would rear and buck off the rider and then we were in town and fucking protesters were blocking the roads and we wanted to drive some more and had forgotten about the Springboks and Void leapt on the car knowing we were totally wired and we screamed and laughed Amandla Ngawethu and the marshalls made him sit down and then it gotbad. People started dying and ordinary hoons dressed as skinheads committed their dull suburban atrocities scaring women and children and things fell apart - the centre could not hold and fun was no longer enough and the chemists must have changed or lost the recipe and windows were being smashed and lives shattered and love lay limp and people escaped into nostalgia. And now nostalgia is not what it used to be.

Coming back to NZ later I stopped in Sydney and went with friends one old one new to see Dogs in Space. Though set in a different town in a different country it captured those days. The lead singer was gorgeous and my friend Jeff said he's a famous Strayan muso in a famous band I forget who and the teenage Aussie chick behind us said "INXS" like we were the dumbest people she'd met since she left home. That's how I like my nostalgia - by people from another place who can say well this isn't your reality this is ours.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bran Nue Dae

So the doctor said let's sort out the blood sugar thing first, and the sleeping patterns and then look at the heart and weight stuff once we know what we're dealing with. I've outlived one grandfather by 16 years and have eleven years to go before I catch up on the other.

I bought a milky macchiato this morning. Ziad's mother runs the place. I told her that her macs were milkier than I was used to but my stomach appreciated the difference. "I know, darling" she said "I can make it the other way if you like." Macchiatos like a good mother. They're normally like a slightly scary cousin. The one from out of town who smokes and wears AMCO Peaches too tight. Dangerous but exciting to be around.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The start of the day

I'm on two macchiato's a day. The first, now, comes from Cafe K (top pic) and the second from Sappho's in Glebe Point Road. The Sapphic mac is shorter - the milk lesser in quantity and liveliness. The atmosphere at Sappho's, the vibe, the decor is more appealing. Cafe K sits near a corner of the Bridge Road rat run, opposite a mediocre apartment building and close to a cement dispatch yard.

Trucks start arriving for cement early in the morning and the dispatcher announces well I'm not really sure what "Come in number seven. Your time is up", "Security to hardware please", "Cathy, price check at register three please"? The industrial equivalent of an early rising bird. Been part of the aural landscape in Blackwattle Bay for at least the fifteen years we've been here.

It looks to me as if the workers there are starting to appreciate good coffee two minutes from work. If I'm at Cafe K early enough I'm the only customer not wearing serious working clobber, hi-vis polos or bomber jackets, "I'm walkin' here" boots, can-double-as-an-ashtray trousers - not a chisel toe or pant to be seen.

The macchiatos differ greatly as well. The Cafe K one is smoother richer, the extra milk and air gently aiding the caffeines passage into my bloodstream. By the time I get to Sappho's with its more genteel opening hours I'm ready for a if-it's-too-strong drink a warm mikshake instead mac, or mach, or mack. My stomach has survived the early morning onslaught of a breakfast I craft to suit the aging digestive system. (Nobody told me that having children late in life meant a very very brief gap between my world being dominated by their digestive systems to it being ruled by the various indignities of the march of time - try and tell a 23 year old that with luck the worst part of a colonoscopy is the purging diet or try and tell an NRL player that a DRE is a medical procedure not a kind of tackle).

I've stopped eating breakfast at Sappho's. If they had a kilo of lukewarm spinach sprinkled with two cups of bran and Goji berries on the menu I'd be there but no, it seems they'll only make things people actually want to eat - go figure. Once they get the quirky antics of the night staff sorted it'd probably be worth popping in then as well. No one likes to walk into someone else's family squabble. You want that in Glebe you stay out on the street for a few hours. Or go to any bar about 3am.

The macs at Sappho's have been consistently good since I first started going to the new location when my oldest daughter was doing a pre-kinder course at GlebePS late in 2006. Her sister and I would wait at Sappho's before we picked her up. I'm pretty tolerant about coffee - simply put if you can't make a good short you shouldn't be allowed near a coffee machine - make instant or get a plunger, don't waste the coffee. The strongest coffees I've ever encountered were at Sappho's. A roaster/barista had the wheels of steam so tight and so finely calibrated that you were drinking hot coffee paste with a stain of water. This was fine for the people too dim to access the local illegal substance dealers but not so good for the people who drink why-bothers - the various buckets of slop that American chains have perfected. If it's got bean juice, de-anythinged anything and /or fruit of any sort it's no more a coffee than a marshmallow-laden chocolate sprinkled spoiltbratino. Drink water.

It's no wonder the Cobra had a sting in it's tail. You can run a cafe like a Fawlty Towers theme restaurant or the Soup Kitchen in Seinfeld but not every daytime customer got the joke. New coffee supplier, new baristas. Strong,narrow opinions will get you a blog but not a publishing deal or successful cafe. The customer is always right- especially when they're wrong. Service industries and retail outlets always have an element of amateur individual or group psychotherapy to them. It's not just stuff to eat and drink you're selling.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Family Day

We spent most of Sunday at Lovett Bay. The weather was better than forecast. The barbecue'd meats more delicious, and we paddled about in the water.