Monday, 16 November 2009

Battling On

It seemed tmafaopie was in the final stages of blog death. I hadn't posted in a while, no-one had even noticed, and if I'm brutally honest, I'd started to see other blogs... but like the plot of a French art-house film, the dalliance with a blog mistress re-kindled my passion for my long-standing partner so with any luck, tmafaopie should make a full recovery. I know you've both given up reading the blog, but it's more about keeping a record of stuff I've done so that my future, dementia-riddled self will have something to look back on... and read as though I've never seen it before.
Coming up, you can expect some reports on (links will go live once written):
In the meantime, you can catch up on my London-based shenanigans over at londonist - most definitely the best London blog with me on the writing team (I never said I'd given up the mistress!)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

My One-Day Career as a Sports Journo

Well, if you'd spoken to me in the month before or after the game, no doubt I would have mentioned this. If not, I'll happily mention it again: I got to watch London's 2009 NFL match at Wembley. From the press box, on assignment for londonist (Yep, that's me grinning like a moron in an empty Wembley after the game).

With the usual sports writer Duncan in Australia, and me the only person who had a clue about American football, I foolishly put my hand up to cover the match, expecting nothing to come of it. Little did I realise Duncan could actually arrange a press pass, and once it was all sorted I started to properly panic. Thankfully Duncan was able to coach me via email in the arcane ways of the sports journo (basic rule: don't look like you're enjoying yourself).

London definitely gets in to their now annual NFL match, and the NFL happily fuel the fervour, with cheerleader visits (I particularly like this shot, with the girl second from right frowning like she just saw a puppy put down; witnessing a non-smiling cheerleader is rarer than detecting a Higgs Boson). There are even pre-game events for the fans of the visiting teams (yep, more gratuitous cheerleader shots!) All of which seemed a bit of a waste for this match, with the Patriots heavily favoured to out-gun the struggling Buccaneers... which they duly did. I watched on from the box, amazed by the media machine that is the NFL (play-by-play printouts were delivered to each of us promptly after each quarter), and mildly disgusted by the English chap from some regional paper in the seat next to me who spent the entire match ignoring the game and staring through his binoculars at, you guessed it, the cheerleaders. Hmmm, perhaps the NFL should save themselves the expense and the fixtures headache and just send the cheerleaders across the pond each year...

After the match I managed to show my novice status by getting lost in the bowels of Wembley, but eventually got to the Patriots post-match conference (my impressions: Belichik is a mumbler; Brady exudes so much charm you just want to punch him in the face), then filed my match report from the media centre. Apparently it went to the top spot in google news results for NE Patriots the following day. Which was bizarre. All in all, a fantastically fun experience which had me buzzing for days afterwards... but as others pointed out to me, as much as I loved doing it, if I actually had to do it every day for a living the magic would probably wear off quickly. Pity really, I thought I might have found a new career...

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Journalistic Integrity

Press. Tickets.

Can there be two sweeter words in the English language? Apart from default, of course. Despite the moronic door man (is there any other kind?) I got to see Ash Grunwald playing a pretty damn fine gig at a pretty damn fine venue, and all I had to do was write it up.

Now on this particular occasion, that wasn't a problem: good music being played by performers clearly having a fun time, in a great bar... it was pretty easy to be positive about it. And I was more than happy to put more money across the bar since I got in free (to my regret on Sunday). But what if the next thing I get tickets for is... well, rubbish? Being completely conflict-averse, I'm terrible at criticising others. I mean, they might not like it. And what right would I have? I can't play that instrument/cook that meal/do that on stage... who am I to judge them?

Quite a dilemma.

I think, on balance, I'll take the tickets. I can always just hide behind the anonymity of the internet if I hate it.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Time for a change?

I recently returned to work from a holiday to the joy of a "town hall" meeting (does that mean I should start calling my boss 'mayor'?) where it was announced that, due to poor performance, the company would be undertaking a "right-sizing" (yippee! free gym memberships for all!) and reorganization over the next 12 to 15 months.

Euphemisms aside, it wasn't particularly surprising news, but the axe is set to swing quite savagely with 1 in 5 to be shown the door. Apart from talk about looking at "streams" of the business (did we suddenly become Thames Water?) and the need to "stay the course" (yay! golf day!) during the cuts, the no useful information was given along with the gloomy announcement. When will people find out? What provisions will be made? How will the business be run with fewer staff? ... In staff morale terms, they may as well have said: "Look at the 2 people on your left, now look at the two people on your right... one of you won't be here next year. Enjoy your weekend."

So, looking down the barrel of another shitty short term job on my CV (not my fault this time!) the prospect of deportation back to the colony next year, and the fact that 30 is approaching and all my friends (well, the ones not in London anyway) have sorted their lives out and settled down, it occurs to me that now would be a good time to consider a new career... or perhaps rethinking the whole 'must have a career' model to life altogether. But, being me, meaningful introspection requires copious amounts of alcohol, so it's difficult to remember the blinding insights I had the night before. In the cold light of sobriety, the options appear to be:

  • 'stay the course' and hope I dodge the axe and don't get deported, stay in the dull, dead-end job and accrue benefits until I can afford to retire (read: never);
  • leave (jump or pushed) and try for another job in the same field in the UK... then stay in the dull, dead-end job and accrue benefits until I can etc.;
  • leave the job and the UK, try for another job in the same field back in Oz, then stay in the dull, dead-end job and accrue etc.;
  • try to start in another career altogether... what it would be, I've no idea. (If you know of something going for an English-speaking person with all their original limbs, moderate drawing skills, but no nunchuk skills whatsoever, let me know in the comments);
  • opt out of the prescribed life path - a friend lent me Into the Wild at a point in my life when perhaps she shouldn't have. If I die in the Arctic (I am currently considering joining an expedition*), blame her. Alternatively I like the idea of travelling overland back to Oz, and taking it slow.

Obviously the last one sounds the best, or at least the most interesting. But there are complicating factors: family, relationships, and the fact I'm enjoying life in London. And the underlying character flaw that I can't make a decision to save my life. Stay tuned to find out what, if anything, I decide to do. Probably nothing.

*There are two answers to your question: "Why not?" and: "For fun."

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Londoner Lost in Blue Mountains, Oz-UK Relations Take A Battering

(That's right, a series in which I blatantly cross-post my mutterings on londonist. I know no shame. )

The story about Jamie Neale is getting quite a run over here in London. Frankly, I think they've just been waiting for a feel-good story about a London teenager. The headlines might as well read "London Teen Not Dead, Not Even Stabbed." And it was all feel-good, with warm fuzzy feelings all round, until it turned out he'd signed away exclusive rights for his story for an undisclosed (read: large) sum. I must admit my reaction was less than favourable: "Why reward stupidity? He risked his own life, and the lives of the rescuers, why does he get a big pay out? Big deal, he got lost in the Blue Mountains and survived; I get drunk and lost every time I go out in East London (far more dangerous), and I survive: So where's my hundred grand?"

To be fair, he does claim he'll give the money to the rescue services and Katoomba hospital and if he does, top marks for doing the right thing. But I'll be interested to see if that eventuates, since it may just be a reaction to the allegations it was a hoax. As I mention in the post, it's all pretty standard fare for a rescue-story media circus in Oz, and no doubt there's more to come.
The thing that really struck me though, is the comment flame war going on below the Evening Standard article. It seems to start with a comment on the Australian media (I'll be first to agree that we don't produce anything at guardian or Indy level, but we at least avoid the barrel-scraping of the more popular papers over here... the Aussie press operates in a teacup, and is guilty of brewing up the occasional storm), so it's a fair comment to make, but the manner of making it leaves a little to be desired...
Typical Australian media, get the stroy wrong and accuse a decent British
lad as being as crooked as the australian's criminal forefarthers. .... The
xenephoibic australians need to get a life and stop whinging
... unless perhaps you're Pauline Hanson (all spelling has been faithfully preserved). I particularly like the touch of tarring an entire nation as xenophobic (or -phoibic) - Alanis Morissette could have written an extra verse. And it all kicks off from there... I'll leave you to read it at your leisure. It does strike me as odd that two of the most racist nations on the planet ("Bloody South-East Asians/Eastern Europeans stealing our jobs!" "Bloody Muslims/Muslims building mosques!" - delete as appropriate) seem to reserve their most blatant racism for each other, when they are in fact so similar.
The fact the Ashes is on probably doesn't help.
So dear reader, what's really happening in the Neale story? Is the hoax accusation a media beat-up, or do we really think it's a scam? And how are the racism levels back in Oz these days? Any more flag-waving riots? And why do we hate the Brits (and vice-versa) with such gusto?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Dunwich Dynamo

Regular readers will know I don't mind a long bike ride... or trying things that might make you question my sanity, so when I heard about an overnight 200km ride from London to Dunwich Beach, of course I was keen. As a guardian writer puts it: "What I love most is its sheer random pointlessness."

The guardian piece does a good job of capturing the experience. For me, the wee hours of the morning were eerily magical (maybe it was the delirium brought on by exhaustion?)... Riding through the countryside in the pre-dawn darkness, following the red lights ahead of you as they seem to flutter up the next hill... you couldn't imagine a better way to spend the weekend. And then the rain started. And the muscles started to hurt. And you run out of food. And you can barely lower yourself onto the saddle anymore...

Finally you make it to the beach, and it looks like some sort of cycling Normandy - bodies and equipment strewn across the beach. Nevertheless, swimming in that cold grey water was better than a dip at Bondi on a scorching January day back home. My companion and I reheated ourselves in the nearby cafe/fish shop. Raising our cups of tea, I toasted "Well, we did it." "Yep. And never again." came the reply. Within a few days we were already talking about doing it next year.

There's a picture gallery of the ride on londonist, which completely fails to convey the feelings of exhaustion and misery that came in the early dawn light, nor the elation of finally finishing. If anyone is considering it, there's a bit more info in this post, and now that I've done it, I'd also suggest: forget the organised food stop at half-way, the queues are ridiculous. Take your own, or stop early and have a pub dinner; arrange your own transport back, whether it's a friend with a car or cycling back to the train station (a lot of people were nearly stranded in Dunwich after the coaches and vans failed to pack the bikes properly).

Finally, maps of the ride:

Friday, 3 July 2009

Blur: Hyde Parklife

Apologies. This was meant to be a proper gig review, but my rambling got in the way. And other people do it better anyway.

I must admit I felt a bit of an impostor at Blur's big Hyde Park comeback gig. I had ticket number 11, but only thanks to Mad Mark who is actually a member of the fan club. Sure, I like Blur's music - correct that, I love it - but not in the same generation defining way that the rest of the crowd did. My 'discovery' of Albarn et al, like all the decent stuff in my catalogue, was a sisterly hand-me-down. It was Jules who got me into Pulp, The Pixies, Lou Reed, and the same for Blur. I used to get in trouble for constantly 'borrowing' her copy of Parklife.

Her musical nous was so refined that she was a fan of the Whitlams when they were struggling nobodies gigging around Sydney, and she tired of them long before the suicides and success, obviously foreseeing their popular acclaim and accompanying fall from musical grace. Without Jules' influence, my musical tastes run to cheese and pop (I didn't see Rick Rolling as a sudden flash-in-the-pan meme, but as long-deserved global acclaim - I never gave you up Rick)... and when I become a tragic fan of a band you've never heard of, it tends to stay that way (The Fantastic Leslie? Lazy Susan? The Real Tuesday Weld? ... maybe I just like bands with names in them). Anyway, the point is, Blur didn't happen to me like it did for everyone else. The battle of BritPop meant nothing to me. It didn't define my teenage years/twenties the way it did for the rest of the crowd. And I'm not qualified to comment on the musical mastery or otherwise displayed by Coxon etc... like the pair of Aussies in front of us who could air guitar/drum along with every song. I like the tunes, and they remind me of a bygone age, but not the same age that everyone else was remembering

Nevertheless, the gig was amazing. The lads have still got it, the crowd still loves 'em, and most importantly, they seemed to be really enjoying it up on stage. There was a whole lotta love in the park, (apart from typical gig-jerkery: shouted conversations during performance, needless shoving, bottle throwing...) If rumours of a proper reformation are true, I'll be sure not to come late to the party again.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Isle of Wight

I think this was the point I realised I had officially lost touch with the kids. Or the yoof. Or whatever you call the underformed human beings listening to repetitive, ear drum damaging music on tinny phone speakers. I also realised that I've grown beyond the 'totally up for it' marathon boozing that is usually associated with music festivals. I know a lot of you are now crying "soft!" I don't care, I like my music, and I like to be able to remember seeing great acts.

None of the above should be read to imply that I didn't enjoy the Isle of Wight festival. I did. Immensely. Unlike Glastonbury, at IoW the sun shone, and you're not locked in the musical concentration camp for the duration, but can escape into town or even the beach. When it came to the music, I started to feel old: while the yoof were splitting their ears listening to the Prodigy, I ducked away to watch Bananarama. And yes, after all these years, yeah baby, she's still got it. And I was extremely glad all the unwashed and uneducated kids left early on the final day because they'd never heard of the Pixies or Neil Young, leaving us old fogies to enjoy the legends in relative peace.

As for the stuff the young kids were listening to: Goldie Looking Chain are, like Ali G, a parody too far (it's all well and good getting a chuckle out of the satire of "Guns don't kill people. Rappers do" or "Your mother's got a penis," but when people are idolising and imitating your chav persona, it's time to go); while Razorlight were a pleasant surprise, suggesting I shouldn't give up on music just yet.

And on second thoughts, perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh on the tradition of festival boozing, because it left us with a choice selection of anecdotes. Once we finally found a patch of ground big enough for our tents, we were abused and assaulted by our drunken 'neighbours' (including a royal marine fresh back from Afghanistan who insisted on showing us pictures of splattered bodies he'd taken with his iphone) who were unhappy to find that their 'private lawn' had been invaded by colonials (Sorry fellas, it's a music festival, and if it doesn't have a tent on it, it's terra nullius - see how you like it, you English gits).

We seemed to be in the military field, because we had a bunch of boozing sailors on the other side of our tents who furnished us with some choice quotes overheard in the wee hours of the morning: "... so, I was coming back from the loos, and there was this guying lying face down in the mud, completely naked. I gave him a bit of a shove and asked if he was alright... he came around a bit, looked at me, reached behind him and pulled a condom out of his arse, looked back at me and said 'don't say a fucking word' and walked off..." and the overall winner for quote of the festival: "I've seen more cocks this weekend than bands."

Big thanks to Mark and Fiona for letting me tag along as their third wheel, and also to Sam, Dave and Louise for letting me hitch said third wheel to their travelling road-show and crash at Dave's dad's place for daily sobering up sessions... truly, the only civilised way to festival.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

TfL lost property enquiry form

Date property was lost: 19 Apr 2009

What was lost: Other

Please specify: my mind

Colour of main item: Dark. Slightly dirty.

Journey details:
I was travelling Eastbound on the Piccadilly line at approximately 10pm, and when I got home and found myself delirious with pain arguing with God in the bath (I was in the tub. Not God) I realised I had lost it. I think it must still be on the tube. I was in the last carriage if that helps. Please get it back to me. Although I don't mind if you have another one lying around, it's about time I changed it. It makes sense that it would go missing on the Piccadilly line: it's one-track and ends up at Cockfosters, so it probably feels right at home.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Are you in Powderfinger?

What should have been a quiet pint with Mad Mark so I could lend him some ski gear turned out to be a night so random that it makes the Cauchy distribution look normal (there's a gag for all you stats nerds out there).

Things started normally enough at the mutually convenient Faltering Fullback: "What are you drinking? 2 pints of Pride please. How was your week? yada yada yada." So far so normal for a quick Friday pint.

"Been following the cricket?" In retrospect, that's where it all started. While discussing the Aussie's surprising dominance in South Africa, the chap at the next table came over, and with a "You discussing cricket?" joined in our conversation. Again, so far, so normal for drinks in a London pub. A pint and a chat about sport are unifying forces for the London pub-going male population. People who might otherwise stab you on the tube are suddenly bosom buddies. We humoured him for a while, did some mutual colonial/pom-bashing, then his phone rang and he disappeared. All fine. Mad Mark and I returned to other topics of conversation...

Not long after, Barney (for that is his name) returned. Smoking. And said, "If you see a short kiwi girl coming up the stairs, I'm not here." Given that we were sitting directly at the top of the stairs, I figured this to be some sort of joke game of hide-and-seek and he wasn't particularly keen on winning. Mark and I returned to normal conversation, and Barney sucked down his cancer stick. 

Within the time it takes to smoke half a fag, the short kiwi girl came up the stairs. She saw Barney, cigarette in hand, and immediately joined our table and started laying into him. Mark and I couldn't believe it - for the price of a pint, we were getting our drinks and domestic dispute dinner theatre thrown in. Awesome. To summarise: Saskia (the diminutive kiwi) has issues with smokers - it's not the smoking per se, but an ex was a smoker, and there are obviously some latent issues remaining, and she can't stand the thought of being with another smoker. Barney, for his part, has a stubborn streak and some sense of pride, and if he wants to smoke, goddamit woman, he's going to smoke! Mark and I couldn't believe our luck and sat back to enjoy the show.

But this was a full 3 act play, and we were yet to meet the clown. Some English guy who had played pool with Saskia, and clearly fancied his chances, came to join us after Barney had left in a fit of nicotine-induced pride. Saskia was dismissive, the Englishman was oblivious, and Mark turned offensive. I was pissing myself. It was about this stage that Saskia asked me:"Are you in Powderfinger?" ... 

So much for my alcohol-free month. When there's entertainment like this to be had at your local boozer, why would you stay sober?

Only in London Part 3: London Word Festival

Often people back home ask me "Why would you live in London? The weather and dentistry are terrible, it's full of poms... sure you can travel, but that's about getting OUT of London. Why would you live IN it?" To those people I reply with this series of 'Only in London' posts, dedicated to fantabulous - it's what the F stands for, remember - events so London-y you couldn't imagine them happening anywhere else. So read the posts, shut up, and go back to dodging sharks.

From 2009-03-00-London

Spoken. Word. Two such harmless pieces of verbiage, but put them together and people suddenly have other things to do. Although the idea of it appeals, I'd never actually gotten around to seeing (should that be hearing?) a spoken word gig. Thanks (again) to Londonist, I scored an invite to the opening night of the London Word Festival (check out the website if only for the daily random neologism in the bottom of the right frame). Sure, I felt like an impostor intruding on a sub-culture of which I knew almost nothing, but the local wordy-types were welcoming and friendly. Perhaps it was my man-bag. It seemed to be a compulsory part of the uniform for all males in the room.

Within half a pint of arriving, I was chatting to some of the 'natives' - one of whom is one of the very few born-and-bred Londoners I've actually come across in London. Despite the fact our origins are almost literally polar opposites, our views on life in the city ran along the same lines. Interestingly though, he professed that most of his Londoner-since-birth friends have absolutely no desire to explore beyond its limits, not even venturing to other parts of England. The concept floored me. Most of the world is on your doorstep, and (until recently) you've had the currency that makes travelling affordable, and you stay in grey, drizzly London all year round? Perhaps the wanderlust typical of the Australian psyche comes from something in our upbringing, or perhaps it's in the water supply. Who knows, it could be the fluoride. Maybe it does more than teeth.

As for the event itself, my performance poetry cherry was popped by one Tim Key and I regret it not a jot. Having no other performance poets to compare it to, it's easiest to describe it as like seeing a stand-up comic doing a particularly bizarre set, with notebooks. The 'golden fib' finalists ranged from touching to hilarious, and I may have embarrassed myself when I was the only person in the room to laugh at the joke about Schroedinger's cat. Tough crowd.

All in all it was a great way to spend a night out, even without the open bar, leaving me with an invite from the organisers of another spoken word event, and the lingering, haunting image of a girl, wine in hand, sitting alone in the corner of the bar playing solitaire scrabble... I've definitely never seen that in Sydney.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Only in London Part 2: Fitzrovia Radio Hour

Often people back home ask me "Why would you live in London? The weather and dentistry are terrible, it's full of poms... sure you can travel, but that's about getting OUT of London. Why would you live IN it?" To those people I reply with this series of 'Only in London' posts, dedicated to fantabulous - it's what the F stands for, remember - events so London-y you couldn't imagine them happening anywhere else. So read the posts, shut up, and go back to dodging sharks. 

From 2009-03-00-London

Remember life before TV? No? Neither do I. But apparently there was one, and if renditions of these throwback radio plays are anything to go by, it was probably a lot better than 'non-ratings period' back in Australia. I'll admit it: this sounds like a weird night out. And it is. Weird and wonderful.

On a I-have-nothing-planned-for-Saturday-night whim, I decided to do something unusual, and as usual, London(ist) delivered. Getting mildly lost on the South bank of the Thames, I eventually found the Swan at the Globe Bar... heading towards the big white Globe Theatre should have been a clue. Approaching the stairs up to the bar, I had fear in my heart. Venues co-located with tourist attractions tend to be mediocre at best. Crossing the threshold I couldn't have been more relieved. The clinking of cocktail and wine glasses, the hubbub of conversation flowing in the rather trendy looking crowd, and strangely, the tiny angel wings attached to the light bulbs, all gave the place a satisfying buzz. The view across the river didn't hurt either.

The above average dress sense of the crowd became apparent when the Fitzrovia Radio Hour kicked off. Although the performance is ultimately for podcasting, the chaps and damsels of the cast had set the tone in vintage outfits, and the regulars knew to, literally, follow suit. I've tried and failed to describe the show to people since, so I think I'll leave it to their own words:

We are the olive in the Martini.

Classic mystery, science fiction and drama radio plays of the 40's and 50's performed and recorded with style in front of a live studio audience, with live sound effects, then broadcast via The World Wide Web. Enjoy the simpler pleasures in life with cut-glass received pronunciation in a speakeasy bar.

We refute the notion that the well-crafted written word is dead, it's alive and well, living in Fitzrovia and wearing a tuxedo.

In theory the concept could be done anywhere, but only in London do you have the heritage of the British radio play (they still do them on Radio 4), and the kingdom of British accents to call upon. Add to that the ingenious use of props for sound effects, and although we the audience practiced our gasps and hisses before the show, the only sound we added during the broadcast was laughter. Even at the frighteningly aurally disturbing sound of Frank Maskill going 'the lathers way'...

Thankfully, there's another one coming up soon.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Only in London Part 1: Drinking with Dinosaurs

Often people back home ask me "Why would you live in London? The weather and dentistry are terrible, it's full of poms... sure you can travel, but that's about getting OUT of London. Why would you live IN it?" To those people I reply with this series of 'Only in London' posts, dedicated to fantabulous - it's what the F stands for, remember - events so London-y you couldn't imagine them happening anywhere else. So read the posts, shut up, and go back to dodging sharks.

Last Friday of the month at the Natural History Museum
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You'll know already that I'm quite partial to the occasional museum. The reverence for objects that no longer serve a useful purpose, other than simply having once existed, to be admired, studied, beheld; the collected historical quanta of human life, thought and experience, housed together to shelter from the bustling, Blackberry-wielding world outside; someone occasionally popping in to admire the relics, gaze upon them in awe and wonder, and leave again reminded, in a good way, of your own personal insignificance in the grand scheme of things, without having to resort to inventing a god. Or maybe it's just the mustiness.

But I ramble. Musea are great in their own right, but are usually a little... uptight. Lots of "No participle" signs. So it's great when a museum lets its hair down, takes off the specs, and much like a scene in any cheesy teen movie, with a shake of the head, is suddenly transformed, and you can't help but gasp "Wow, you were awesome all along, and I just didn't realise..."

The big musea in London are free. It might take you a while to get your head around that. And I won't go into the argument about whether that cheapens the museum and its collection, or is an accurate reflection of their pricelessness. Once you've assimilated that fact, assimilate this: once a month, they open their doors late and let you go in and wander around the collections with a glass of red in your hand. I shit you not. (Aside: I didn't realise how quintessentially Sydney that phrase was until I came here... and when I hear someone utter it, it makes me unbearably homesick for no reason I can fathom... I shit you not.) And so I eventually get to the point. Leaving work on a Friday, and heading to the Natural History Museum for a few drinks with friends, seeing the Darwin exhibition in this, the year of Chucky D (200 years since he was born, dontcherknow... which opens up your eyes to both the progress and regress that has occured since then), and also casting an eye over the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition (which opens up your eyes to the plight of some marvellous animals, and also to the fact that there are spoilt 10 year olds out there being given DSLRs and taken on safari trips to Africa)... well, a night like that, it's as close as I get to being a pig in muck.

It was so good I even signed up on the night and became a member. I shit you not.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Deeper into the abyss

(Note: the following entry was written after a dinner of half a wedge of brie and half a bottle of Bordeaux. This entry may contain traces of depressed, drunken, existentialist rambling)

Boffins have discovered that the mere act of labelling an emotion immediately lessens the physiological emotional response... meaning that every time you watch a horror film and the formerly-virginal and soon-to-be-dead supporting actress clings to the hero and says "I'm scared!" in response to the sudden appearance of the depraved killer, instead of smugly thinking "Well derr!" the correct response should be "Clever girl that. Labelling her fear, engaging cognitive processes to suppress her innate fear response so that she'll be thinking straight and able to deal with whatever the fiend outside cares to throw at her. Unless it's an axe." It also means that there may actually be some therapeutic value to the seemingly pointless exercise of writing about the various episodes of misery that pass for human experience these days, so here's part 2 of the "on the couch" series...

So, if that's where it all began, where does it all end? hmm?

Well, death. Obviously.

That's a very bleak view, don't you think? You know Freud theorised that we all have an innate drive towards for death...

Freud theorised a lot of things. But on this one he probably got it somewhat right. The old joke of death and taxes just isn't true... I'm sure plenty of human existence occurred without any sort of taxation, but they all lived their lives racing toward death. It's mankind's obsession, his destiny. Yet we do nothing but fight it. Why do we do anything if not to try and cheat death? Building magnificent monuments, accomplishing great feats, the simple act of fucking and procreating, what is any of it but pissing in the wind, trying to leave a tiny "I woz ere" as the prospect of your own death blows a gale. 

Well, a not insignificant number of people think there might be more to life than death... perhaps death is not the end...

Perhaps they're right. Perhaps this is all some cruel test that will all make sense in the aftermath, and we'll sit around some celestial club lounge reminiscing about the good ol' times: "Hey, remember the crusades, the holocaust and the 'age of terror'? Geez, we took ourselves seriously back then didn't we? Ah, the folly of youth..." You can perhaps a lot of things, and deliberately imagining another being outside and independent of your existence, yet responsible for every object and event in it doesn't seem like a productive use for the human mind. Especially when there are monuments to be built, feats to achieve, and fucking to be done. Lock a newborn in a mansion with no access to the outside world, and I'm sure they'll imagine all sorts of things beyond the walls, none of them true. And even if they did manage to imagine the truth, what use would it be? There existence is constrained, and they have no way of knowing if there's anything outside the hollow building.

Why this sudden turn to morbid thoughts? Has something happened recently?

Yes, of course. The usual confrontation with the mortality of your parents. Suddenly realising that your original infantile model for God is not everlasting. It's not as though there haven't been health scares for them in the past, but somehow this one's worse. My dad has dementia and is getting worse.

Pardon the cliche, but how does that make you feel?

Upset that it has happened, scared about what's going to happen, worried for my parents, angry that there's nothing I can do to fix it, guilty that I'm not back home to fail at fixing it... the usual mix. I'm trying to be calm and reasonable about it, someone has to be, since Mum's really not coping, but they really don't make it easy. Somehow reading up on 'help sheets' for carers was the worst part: in one they say any changes to the household for the purposes of safety should "respect the person's dignity", and under the suggested changes to the house list "move the locks on doors to somewhere they might not think to look" to stop them wandering. Honestly, I'd rather be kept prisoner in my own house by a big security guard than having my 'carers' effectively lock me in the house with the chains of my failing faculties.

People often react to this sort of thing in stages...

Yeah, I know. This will pass. I'll pull myself together and deal with what needs to be dealt with, and with the inevitability of this oft-repeated drama, it will be difficult, it will hurt, and Dad will eventually die. If you look at it from a purely practical point of view, a sudden death would in many ways be less traumatic.

Well, you know what Freud would say about wishing the death of your own father...

Frued can shut his cancer-riddled mouth. Believe me, there has never been any desire to supplant my father and live out his life. Far from it, my parents seemed to be constantly angry and I could think of nothing worse for my own life... Funnily enough, this latest crisis has shown me that I was probably wrong the whole time - their lives weren't hate-filled and bitter... it seems they do love each other after all, but just show it in an odd way. Otherwise why would they continue? And to think I spent much of my childhood wishing I were adopted for no reason. Of course, now there is a reason.

What do you mean?

Now that I see what my genes have in store, it doesn't look like it'll be smooth sailing from here on out, lifespan-wise. Sure, I'd like to think that faced with losing my mind and inevitably hurting those around me I'd take care of it somehow, but for all the toga parties, I don't think I'll prove to be such an antique roman. If you think on it too long, you could end up with some crazy ideas: given a strong likelihood of dementia in your old age, and the associated pain, upset and cost that that will incur on your 'loved ones', then logically you should go through life avoiding having any 'loved ones' - if you love them, you won't want to hurt them, but you know that with your genetic disposition and the current state of health-care that there is a very good chance you will... surely it's your responsibility to avoid relationships? Or at least campaign for euthanasia rights. But then again, perhaps that's the whole point of marriage... a high stakes gamble on who's going to outlive whom, and who's going to have to shoulder the burden. Again, statistically speaking, the women of the world are getting ripped off. Their few extra years of life expectancy meaning their twilight years are wasted on drooling men... as opposed to their years of youth, no doubt also spent with drooling men.

Oh, is that the time? I've got another appointment. Perhaps we can continue this next time...