The zoo speaks

An excerpt from the novel called Kidnapping Douglas Adams – a kind of homage:

Tralfamadore is not so much planet as spectacle. Its whole landscape has become, indeed, the universe’s zoo; where planet begins and zoo entertainment ends cannot be unravelled. The place where Felix had put them down (un-intercepted, much to Douglas’s surprise) was in one part of the planet’s leading metropolis (itself part of the zoo, for Tralfamadorians had become exhibits in their own show); they were on a slight rise. As if in some grave fantasy (the ship being a jokester it would seem) they were nestled on the other side of said rise near some quaint English village of the 1920s, with signs in myriad languages proclaiming that this was indeed England and the village of Badshot Mills, county Sussex, complete with manor house, manor occupants, shops and disgruntled neighbours, some of them mere tenants.
Douglas determined that they hadn’t got it quite right but its verisimilitude was nonetheless remarkable, if not a little stereotyped. One could watch the squire and his wife squabble over kippers and the Sunday Times, see kitchen maids slyly sneak a durry, a young gardener filch a herring and lasciviously drop it into his mouth while smirking at a pretty young kitchen maid, a rather luscious young specimen, so Hendryck announced. The young gardener was indeed one Reggie Parkes, a hologramatic message announced when it noted Adams’s stopping to watch, and then the hologram added, as if it wanted to replicate the early 20th century’s disregard for the female, that the girl was one Eunice Dodt.

Being 16 and 15, once immediate danger had not appeared, both Hendryck and Douglas had come into this part of the zoo. Douglas was lured by its familiarity; Hendryck appeared to merely follow him. Anyone carefully studying his insouciance, however, would have detected ulterior motive – more on this later. Both stopped near a window in a rose garden. And looked into a kitchen. Thence to see most of the activities outlined in the preceding paragraph (they’d already observed the squire and his wife, but had stopped not very long, and with a yawn in Douglas’s case) . After a while Adams looked elsewhere (Foule was still staring at Eunice, who was – having slapped young Reggie’s hand away – now buttering toast). Adams was amazed to see that what appeared to be farmland; a lovely spread of agrarian activity but more in keeping with the west counties than Sussex, so Douglas told Hendryck. ‘Very real, nevertheless.’
‘I told you,’ said Foule. ‘It’s the universe’s most remarkable zoo. Everyone agrees on that.’
‘Just who is everyone, I’ve often wondered,’ Douglas said.
‘Me too. I’m just giving you what they call the Cook’s tour.’
‘Ah ha,’ said Douglas. ‘We haven’t come this way by accident, have we, despite your Shrewingers drive propensity for crazy destinations.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You wanted us to come this way, that’s why the ship brought us here.’
‘Well yes, since you put it that way. But wouldn’t you have missed this lovely recollection of home, if I hadn’t wanted Felix to deposit us here.’
‘I suppose so,’ Douglas conceded. After all, what did he care what Foule was up to. It was supposed to be an adventure. ‘So why did we come this way.’
Hendryck took a hold of Douglas’s shoulder (vertically inclined, given that Adams was nearly a foot taller than him) and stared him full, if angularly, in the face. He said nothing. The moment was marked, so his face was announcing, with great import.
‘What do you know of fornication?’ he asked.
‘What?’
‘You know. Making the beast with two backs. Doing it, rooting, humpty do…’
‘I know what fornication means. What I mean is… What! You’ve brought us here so you can do that.’
‘Yes. And I thought you might join me.’ (He recorded Douglas’s look of disdain, and thought, I’ll change your mind, or hormones will, and ploughed on.) ‘My records tell me that this Badshot Mills is indeed an exact replica of your England Badshot Mills, down to the somewhat larger house at one end of the village. Said house is a tavern and place of gambling (something else I’d like to try,’ Hendryck said with a grin, ‘but it’s most definitely number two on my list’) and also a bordello.’ Foule said the last word with such relish that Adams couldn’t help but grin. ‘There, with just the right password – and a source other than official records reveals what that password is – one can pass through the tavern and gaming room into a quiet little den; just three girls work this, all of them human, even here on Tralfamadore, and I mean with this’ (he dug in his pocket and revealed a gold credit card, which was perhaps the most amazing thing Douglas had seen so far) ‘to dally there and discover the delights of said fornication. Care to join me,’ he asked as they came to a house at the end of the village.
The house at the end of the village was in fact considerably larger than most in the village, almost as large as the manor house (shows you how much profit there is in sin, Douglas thought). It had a sign which read (only in English, this one; nice authentic touch, Adams thought) Nightshade House.
‘If they were going to get me,’ Hendryck said with real drama,’this would be the saddest place for them to do it.’

Not a political thing; then again, maybe it is…

Speaking of things climatic should soothe us into the realms of the non political; that of course is not so. I wonder if any of Mr. Trump’s people – or the mannikin himself – is aware of NASA’s perspective on climate change; just another expert agency one can safely ignore, I guess. I know that our own PM (Monsieur Turncoat) is ostriching us into higher use of dirty coal and the pockets of mining magnates.

climate-change
Image from Bloomberg site and based on NASA data.

For me, our days now are gravid with climate change; several years of personal recording of temperature and rainfall data where I live offer alarming evidence that (at least in this little corner of the world) things are getting hotter and less pleasant. Average summer maxima and minima have risen by over 2 degrees celsius in the course of just 3 years. Rain falls less frequently but more intensely. The birds and butterflies I know appear and disappear at different times than they used to.  Yes, I hear that it may be a temporary aberration… but it surely feels like so much more, and worse.

On Nature deficit disorder

Relph (2011) argues that ‘the deepest sense of place seems to be associated with being at home, being somewhere you know and are known by others, where you are familiar with the landscape and daily routines and feel responsible for how well your place works[1].’ I cannot claim to be responsible for how this place works but I can argue that at least some of what has been done by me in my life (perhaps a familiarity with this place’s rhythms engineers how it works for me) has been protest at the stripping away of nature from treasured places like this one. Such de-naturing, I’d argue, is T. S. Eliot’s ‘shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion…'(The Hollow Men, 1925). This place and the ways in which I sense it may be very different from how the Girramay, Bandjin and Warrgamaygan peoples knew it — their perspectives are outside the purview of my allotted span — but what I do love about my relationship and interaction with it is that they have a true form, shade and colour, force. This place asks of me to construct meaningful gestures.

 

If my primary (ostensible) reason has been to fish [this place], then my sense of this place, both real and imagined, reminds me that place, natured place, is far more than this one activity. Fishing it has never fully been my rationale for being there. I feel at home, and, if it were my one last port of call, it would be like going home. I have told people I would like to be buried beneath some tree on its banks, high enough up so that I cannot be washed away in some middling flood but close enough to hear it run, even in dry winters — if such a thing were possible. I am sad that it isn’t but…

Here I am not disordered with nature’s deficit.

[1] A Pragmatic Sense of Place

A deep sense of place

 

 

Extracts from an essay

 

Let me pose a simple yet stubborn question of what you need to imagine are your last days. Suppose that Death — which nearly had you — has let go for a time; a remission which gives you, let’s say, a week’s grace. Maybe two. You are spry and full of life and feel the need to go back to a place that is… special. Somewhere loved, treasured.

Where do you go? And, more importantly, why there?

If you are like me, your place will not be urban. It will be natured and own a spirit; you will have sensed it, received it, deeply1. It will have, to quote geographer Edward Relph2, “a synaesthetic faculty which combines sight, hearing, smell, movement, touch, imagination, purpose and anticipation.” In short, all your senses and all of what your mind desires and anticipates will partake of it. You will use it. Why ‘use’?

For me, its purpose — why you use it —  is a key part of its significance. It feeds all those other reasons you partake of place, of nature.

 

~    ~    ~

 

I shall answer my own intractable question, not out of dire necessity but because to create its answer is to rekindle my sense of why nature and place matter; to re-establish meaning; in imagining it, I am anticipating bringing into being what Richard Louv would call3 a place that restores us, one that feeds a hunger.

My immediate purpose in this place, to be singularly mundane, is fishing. Angling…

When the term “place” is used geographically (as in the expression, “The place where I live is…”), the reference usually seems to be to somewhere about the size of a landscape that can potentially be seen in a single view—for example, a village, small town, or urban neighbourhood.

Edward Relph, 2011, A pragmatic sense of place

 

Google Earth lets me take in this place, from headwaters to confluence with the big river, in that single view. The scale of such a viewing, however, is not really human. Nor practical. Nor what I really know. I have never scaled the ladder of topography (blessed because it is mostly preserved in a National Park) down which the creek descends and have been no further than a two-day fish/walk up from where the creek joins the river. There is more fishing to be had than I have ever done and still parts of this place I’d like to go, different to what I sense and know simply because I’ve never been there. Those places I’ve yet to go, to be, are ones with imagined continuities and dissonances from those I have travelled. A reason to explore; maybe next time.

Though the landscape is dominated hereabouts by beef cattle and mixed farming (lychees, guava, some sugarcane, other exotics) it is the traditional land of the Girramay, Bandjin and Warrgamaygan peoples4. They would have known and loved this place; peopled it with stories, swum in it, worshipped its shade, trapped its eels and snakes and birds, caught its fish, eaten its plants. Like much of the native vegetation in the wider valleys, they were — under the auspices of either pest removal or now-deeply-ironic protection —  fundamentally removed as a significant influence on place after Europeans came here to do what they do in the mid to late 19th century. Down deep in the creek, however, while wading, you can still feel it is as it was when they camped here, fished it, loved it. Riparian vegetation still shades the creek, azure kingfishers (Ceyx azureus) still sit and watch the water — and you, freshwater monitors leap ashore from drowned branches when they hear you coming…

 

1 In A Pragmatic Sense of Place (2008-09), Edward Relph speaks of a distinction between spirit of place and a sense of place. One may say that the difference between them is that the spirit of place, in lying outside us, is essentially transmitted to us. A sense of place is received, interpreted; it lies within us.

2 Relph is cited in Threshold country, by Annamarie Weldon, 2011.

3 See The nature Principle, Human Restoration and the end of nature deficit disorder by Richard Louv, 2011

4 See Queensland Government, Cultural Histories E – I, Hinchinbrook Shire, 2015 and Qld Government, Department of National Parks, Sports and racing (what a strange amalgam), Dalrymple Walking Track, 2016…

 

 

 

 

And now for something… different

Forgive the abridged theft from Monty Python… Lazy titling while on a mobile phone to blame.

I’ve just read an interesting and affirmative piece in the New Yorker, entitled Citizen Khan,  which prompted this response from me.

“As a non-American I took much from this story; it reminded me of what has always been the great promise of US social & political ambition (and unfortunately also of how often that ambition can be frustrated). I was also alarmed at how similar US & Australian histories have been in terms of racist exclusions… think of the White Australian policies of the late 19th & 20th centuries. I do think the journalist might be mistaken when she claims that… “At the start of the Second World War, the United States was the only developed nation other than Germany to explicitly restrict citizenship on the basis of race…” Australia still restricted citizenship & this continued, one could argue, into the early 1970s.”

Trafficville – full draft written; time to let it sit

Finished first full draft of Trafficville- dystopian cyberpunk fiction re gaming, social media and so on; it is 24,600 words, give or take. Probably merde – I’ll follow Mr. Hemingway’s advice and let it sit in my cyber kitchen drawer for a couple of weeks before I have another look.

The final chapter reads:

Chapter Forty-Three

Q and A

 

So here’s a sampling of key Q and A we here at Phantom have dealt with during the beta trial and first three weeks of full release (English version only). Feel free to send us more – remember; this game works best with your interactions built in.

 

Q from Randy in Dallas… If this is meant to be so American I don’t get how come there are no African-Americans in here?

A: I guess you just never played any bits of Trafficville with Benny Goodman, who is Normans’ best friend. He’s just one (the main one) of 17 African American characters written into the mainframe of Trafficville, and he gets a Hispanic girlfriend. Can’t get much more Yankee-doodle than that.

Surely you must have seen at least one darker than average character at some time while you played Trafficville! And no, we didn’t have the police force round them all up, nor shoot them, though that was one reality we did contemplate. Benny does get mobbed by rogue police. We didn’t put that one in – that was outside players messing with the program; we love that Trafficville can take on a life of its own.

Q from Sissy in Duluth Minnesota… How come Adolf Hitler got into the plot; I mean, that was a bit weird?

A: That actually came through one of our beta players and we were as surprised as you to see him walking down Merrie Yngland Drive. But we let it run and it worked out as a game, didn’t it? Had to have good old Norman climb the clock tower, didn’t we, to re-set. Who’d have thought we’d get that lesson in – how easy it is to become a Nazi. We liked what the game taught us with this one.

Q from Wayne in NY… I felt like the game got out of control sometimes; I mean I felt like I was just reacting, not in charge. Was that intentional?

A: Yes, and no. We’ve written so many possible pathways into this (and the lightspeed tech means they’ll run at a natural pace) that we knew the game offered stuff we hadn’t even thought of; it was meant to be like life, after all, unpredictable. We just didn’t know how life-like it could be.

I guess if you’re a real control freak that might get a bit much – but most of our feedback has been that players love that the game doesn’t repeat itself… It is good to just go with the flow… 

Freedom vs. Rootlessness

We are, most of us, unrooted in place and time. (See pp. xxi – xxii of introduction to Nabokov’s Speak Memory.) Our obsession with stuff over substance, with the now over duration, with one-liners & tweets over discourse has seen us come unstuck (just like Billy Pilgrim).

“That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me from the free world of timelessness…” Nabokov’s remark on page 10 talks of the freedom of timelessness but I wonder if what we have (unanchored as we are) is that awful detachment of being unrooted. Post-modern angst.