Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sunday Scribbles XXXXIII

It's been a funny old week. very intense: four nights at rehearsal-related activities. Monday night I spent an hour or so at the North Shore Brass band's headquarters, and watched (and listened) as they played the tunes for the play. The band had just - on the Sunday - been placed second in the national competition, so they are pretty damned good.
I love watching other people doing stuff well. And I learned how to handle my eu-bloody-phonium. I am truly in touch with my inner horn.
Tuesday through Thursday nights were proper rehearsals, and I have to say the director has timed the whole run to perfection.
I was at the New Lynn library the other day, doing a little catch-up work. The staff were running about like blistered otters, polishing and preening. Apparently there was to be a visitation from a VIP. Meanwhile, regular activities carried on: just through the workshop wall I could hear a bunch of toddlers having great fun at the Wriggle n' Rhyme programme: much laughter and joyful sounds. Then I looked up, and saw the VIP had arrived: Rodney Hyde, aka Skeletor. Hyde's a far-right politician, and (in my humble opinion) an arrogant ass-hole. I carried on working. He proceeded throuigh the Library, glad-handing one and all. Then I heard his voice as he approached the children. "And what's all this," he said, with a voice dripping with false bonhomie. Twenty happy children immediately stopped making noise. "This looks like fun!" he crowed. Three babies erupted into tears.
Children are such excellent diviners of character.
Listening to: The Rolling Stones.
Reading: Christopher Hitchens, "Hitch 22". Still. I've not been getting much reading done lately..
More "Paper Heroes":
There: black on black. His eye-line shifted again, and then came back to the spot. No more than nine-tens of paces in front of him. Three of them.

It was tempting. It had been an empty night’s hunting: something was about to happen, and the Henrys had been unusually active, unusually careful. If Night could ambush the ambushers, and take one. No. It was too dangerous. He thought a moment more, and a tight smile flashed across his handsome face.

He slipped the bow from his shoulder, and laid it down, quietly. The bag of arrows went next. He marked the spot where he hid them, and stepped forward. A minute later, he took another step. Another minute, another step. The dawn was lighting the sky now. If it was going to happen, it had to be soon.

Then, incredibly, a fart. Long, and loud, followed by laughter. In that moment Night leapt back, grabbed his bow, nocked an arrow, and started his run, his bare feet silent on the crumbling concrete. The laughter sounded again, with jeers and scoffs. Another fart: more jeering. Twenty paces now, and the bow’s cord is back at his cheek, straining his muscles, and the copper arrowhead is glowing red in the faint light. His left foot slapped down, and he sprang into the air, feeling how the arrow will fly, and he looses it and nocks a second even before he landed. The great bow groaned as it fought the strain , and Night’s breath sawed and bellowed in his cramped lungs. Fear and joy drove him on, and he let the second arrow fly. Two men dead, and Night dropped his bow, and clawed his knife from the scabbard. He was on the third Henry now, hammering the horrified man in the temple with the hilt. Blood splashed across Night’s hand, and the man dropped to the ground, unconscious. Speed was now of the essence. Night pulled the arrows free, the bodkin heads sucking at the flesh. Had they been barbed heads he would have left them. Night’s knife flashed, and he grunted as he gouged at the meat on the men’s arms, and the Scarabs died, a tangle of gristle and tek.

The Scarab on the unconscious man’s arm would have begun transmitting the moment he suffered his injury, so Night’s knife flashed and slashed again, causing the Scarab to scream a death cry to the Listeners, telling them falsely of a third death.

Night grunts as he stands, his lungs heaving, and hefts the Henry onto his shoulder.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sunday Scribblings XXXXII

It's been a week for thinking. Having a horrible cold will do that to you.
I've been struck by two quotes this week, and I think - because I yam - that I'll simply make them this Sunday's blog.
The first quote comes from Arthur C Clarke, and goes
"Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case the idea is quite staggering."
The second quote is from Richard Dawkins, and is quite long. It also turns my brains to soup every time I apply even the tiniest amount of thought to it. It goes:
"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been her in my place but will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the grains of sand of the Sahara. certainly those unborn ghosts include greater peots than keats, scientists greater than Newton.We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actualy people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."
Sticky thoughts. the best kind.
And, for fun, this, from P.G. Wodehouse:
"There is a cure for grey hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine."
My wife is becoming a fan of Lady GaGa. Actually, so am I. Just thought I'd tell you. This means, of course, that Lady GaGa is very shortly going to disappear from the firmament of fame.

Listening to: No, not Lady GaGa. Instead, it's Jackson Brown, "RunningOn Empty".
Reading: "Hitch 22", Christopher Hitchens.

More "Paper Heroes":

Chapter Seven.

4:00am, Pacific Time, November 6th, 2386.
Night waited and watched, watched and waited. The sky was clear, with a quarter moon setting. Around him was the ruin of many old buildings. Ahead, one of the 27 tall buildings still standing. Under him, the ancient concrete was cracked and flaking. Above him, a million stars shone, and the ribbon glowed. There were stories from the elders of how the ribbon had grown in the sky. Tens of hands of years ago, it had slowly reached across the night, stretching and arcing across the sky, glimmering at night, flashing and sparkling by day. At first it was merely vague lines traced in the sky, then arcs, then arc joined arc, until the ribbon competed with the waxing and waning moon for mastery of the night sky. Why and how it grew, no-one of the Folk knew. There had been strange tales of people from across the sea, people who were weak, yet who had great power. These stories had faded.

Now, in the rotting streets of Francisco, Night prowled, killing when he could, taking Scarabs if he could.

27 of the Olders’ buildings still reared high, proclaiming their ancient grandness to the sky. Of these, 26 were home to nearly 60,000 Folk. The last building, the Tower, was for the Henrys. It was powerfully guarded by their best troops carrying gun-teks which made Night’s great bow look puny. Nonetheless, Night had sent a copper-headed arrow flying into the eye of one of them.

He smiled at the memory. The shot had been at the extreme edges of his range, and after the Henry had fallen, crimson blood gushing and staining the sidewalk, the gun-teks had roared their fury. They fired more than twenty shots at Night, and had missed with all of them.

Night waited and watched. If he were seen out at this time, the Henrys would take him and torture him. And Night was realistic enough to know that everyone broke under the Henrys’ torture.

The building he wanted to enter was just a few hundred yards away, and Night was sure there was a trap waiting for him. He had heard a metal-on-metal clink, and none of the Folk would be careless enough to allow metal to sound at night.

His bow was slung across his shoulder, and he sipped the air through pursed lips, tasting it. The ancient tar, the dust, the heavy wool of his jerkin – and something else: sweat. His eyes strained; he looked out the corners, rather than directly at objects. He knew he would capture movement that way.

There: black on black. His eye-line shifted again, and then came back to the spot. No more than nine-tens of paces in front of him. Three of them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Sudden Thursday Surprise

For reasons far too complicated to go into here - or anywhere - there are no rehearsals tonight. So the moment my beloved hit the button to bring up the dreaded Coronation Street theme tune, I grabbed the 'pooter, and have started tapping.
Actually, I took the chance to transfer a little music first. Among the albums I have recently acquired is the one I'm currently thundering into my ears: Tori Amos, "Spark'. Not new, but WHY DIDN'T SOMEONE TELL ME ABOUT HER BEFORE??
Probably, of course, because I wouldn't have listened.
I have come to understand that I am no longer 28. Or even 38. I caught a quiet little cold last week, and it has thrashed me. I've never before coughed so much. It seems to take a little longer to recover from even minor bugs like a cold. People, of course, did ask me if I had the 'flu. No, dear. If I had the 'flu, I would have been in bed, hoping to die.
Oh. Yes. I was in bed, wishing I was dead.
But there is someone in this home who looks even worse than I've been feeling, and that is the new resident, Susan. One may look at her, and think she bears a startling resemblance to the darling Jenny, except for the Black Eye. (Black-Eyed Susan? Geddit? No? Ah, well, I tried.) Jenny was putting the rubbish out on Wednesday morning (I was crook in bed) and she noticed that someone has dropped some McDonald's wrappers on our berm. She bent to pick the litter up, and her foot slipped. She hit the concrete pavement face first, hip second. She has more bruises than a Springbok forward.
I'll give you a proper catch-up on Sunday. in the meantime: Kia kaha, and think nice thoughts. They won't do me any good, but they may well help you.
Listening to: Tori Amos. See above.
Reading: Superluminal, Tony Daniel. Well, I'm about to start it, anyway.
More "Paper Heroes":
in his trade, leading skirmishers at the leading edge of a battle, whistles and hand signals often took the place of shouted commands.

“We have brought you to us, without your say, because we need you. We need you to do something we cannot do. We want you to go – no, we need you to go and destroy the facility in ‘Merika which sends out these radio beams, and causes so many of us to lose our control and kill each other. We have no other defence against this weapon of the Henrys. You are our only hope.”

“We know,” said the man named Paulus, “that we have committed a crime against you. Our predicament, we feel, gave us no option. We brought you here against your will –“

“We were dead,” said John Prester, tiredly. The weariness of a world left behind stained his voice. “A bit difficult to send us a note asking for permission, I would have thought?” A gentle murmur of laughter swept around the table. Blunt nodded to Whistler, instructing him to stand down from his readiness. He smiled to himself – they had no idea of the violence Whistler could visit upon a room full of enemies. Hanno pulled his dagger from his belt and thumped the tabletop with its hilt. Blunt pointed to him.

“Hanno? You wish to speak?”

“Aye,” grunted Hanno, Barbarian King and God-Emperor. “I would ask these, what can we call them?” His voice was savage. “These weaklings? Yes, that will do for now. Weaklings!” He glared at Charles, “Tell me what you offer us. You want us, a mere six mortals, mortals who have already known the pain of death, to go and destroy this machine, and to make your puny lives safe. Why should we? What do you offer?”

“Our thanks,” replied Charles, quietly. Even though he had prepared for this first meeting, he could feel his embots battling the stirrings of – was it fear? Nothing he had imagined could have readied him to face the raw hostility, the air of violence. “And – your life.”

“I’d say you were a little late in offering us our life in return for this job,” drawled the small Texan, Justin Grey. “Way I see it, I’m alive right now. And if you say you can’t ‘visit violence upon another man’ then I figure you ain’t got no magic trigger which is going to kill us, neither.” His gentle Southern accent did nothing to soften the steel in his words.

“Yes, Mr Grey,” said Cienwyn. “You are, of course, right. We have given you back your lives. We cannot take them back.”

She tight-beamed to Charles “This isn’t going the way we planned! These people are supposed to be in awe of their surroundings. In awe of us!” He looked at her, and signalled back “I know. I think that we have remade them all too well: I doubt that these men ever held anyone in awe before. Has our desperation led us to an error in thinking?”

The meeting, once again, was starting to break down. Hanno and Whistler were rumbling at each other, Crayne and Grey were talking, the smaller man slamming a fist into his palm, emphasising a point. Prester sat alone, silent, head bowed. Blunt raised a fist, and thumped it down onto the top of his table, which splintered and fell. “Enough!” he cried. “Enough!” He pointed to Charles and Adam. “You two, leave us. You, boy: your name?”

“Paulus, sir,” said the shaken technician.

“Paulus. And you, woman. Your name?”

“Cienwyn, sir.”

“You two: stay.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

They / we

The other night my wife and I went to a friend's house for a meal. She had other guests: a couple from South Africa, who5 million whites, four million  were over here in New Zealand visiting family.
They were a pleasant enough couple: young, attractive, rich. White.
It's not a word I would have used. The "W" word, I mean. It was a term they employed about themselves. The male of the pair saw fit to tell me about life in South Africa. How there are 37 million blacks, 5 million whites, 4 million coloured, and a million or so Indians. (The numbers quoted may not be accurate: I was onto my third glass of wine by the time the stats got trotted out.)
He didn't use any of the usual pejorative and divisive terms - and there are enough of them: kikes, spics, wops, niggers, honkies, greasers, whites, zipperheads, gooks, wetbacks, accountants, management, workers, sheilas, babes, bints, dorks, cretins, pigs, oinkers, wankers, punks, dweebs, brats, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew,  Shiite, Sunni, Arab,Yank, Pom, Frog, the list goes ever on, like Bilbo's road. Not one of thempassed his lips. But he did use that one damning word: they.
"If I were to go into the centre of the city, then they would..." When they did.."..
South Africa, it seems to me, will never truly be the rainbow nation that the world saw born just a few years ago until we start hearing inclusive language from people like this couple. He told us that our (the white people's) problems were so and so (mainly with the blacks, actually), while the problem with the blacks and Zulus were that they couldn't or wouldn't behave like, well, whites.... and dribble on.
What depressed me, I suppose, was that these people were young. Young enough to have been to school during the initial rainbow years. And all I heard was tired old voortrekker Afrikaans droning.
I will say one thing for them: they do love their country. They went on at some lengths about the astonishing beauty of the land, of the tumble-down wildness of the coastline, of the breathtaking joy to be found in a sunrise over Table Mountain. But I don't think they actually know what their country is. They didn't understand that their nation isn't made up of 37 millions black, 5 million whites, 4 million coloureds, and 1 million Indians. It is, in fact, made up of 47 million South Africans. And all 47 million share in the same problems, the same solutions, the same dreams, the same hopes, the same desires.
If they don't understand this, they understand nothing.
Here in little old EnZed we've gone a long way to sorting our differences. We celebrate our similarities, and our differences. Actually, that's a little rose-tinted: we still have a way to go. But the vast, vast majority of us refer to ourselves as Kiwis, as New Zealanders, as Godzoners.
Or maybe I'm just an over-optimistic bleeding-heart liberal, who can't see the truth even when it's kicking him in the knackers.
Reading: "Zoo Station", David Downing. Robert Harris crossed with le Carre. Excellent.
Listening to: Art Garfunkel,"Angel Clare". The man's voice was a thing of beauty. I'd like to hear him singing with Antony.
More "Heroes"....
“Ask politely, you big ox, or these people may well have to revive you again.” His voice was as cold as an Arctic breeze.

“Bah,” and the big man spat blood. “Sit. Please.”

“Thank you,” smiled the small man. “Asking is good. Ordering is not.” And he helped the big man to his feet, and sat next to him.

Hanno muttered “You have a harder head than me, little Grey.” He gripped his nose between two broad forefingers, and pulled. The loud crack as the gristle straightened into place was almost – but not quite – drowned by the God-Emperor’s shouted “Crom!”

“Hard fist, too,” grinned the cowboy.

“I’ll see you later. Best two from three?”

“Done, my Lord Hanno. Done.” The men slapped palms, grasped wrists, and grinned at one another. The first part of the rites had been observed. Now, to hear more of what this Charles wanted.

Charles cleared his throat and spoke.

“I must begin by telling you that we apologise for bringing you to us. A death once earned should not be snatched back. But after much discussion, we felt we had no option.

“No,’ he corrected himself. “We knew we had no option. Hard though it undoubtedly is for you, we hope you will forgive our presumption when you hear our story. Hear our need. It is great.”

He told the Sleepers of the deaths, of the strange violence that his people had wrought upon themselves. Violence, which should in theory and had in practice for so many decades have been impossible.

“You see, we have small machines we call nanobots and embots. They monitor our health and repair our bodies when or if they are damaged or fall sick. They also help us communicate: in a blink of an eye I am able to plumb the depths of the great I-See centres, or I can exchange a banal thought or joke with one friend or twenty, or everyone in the world.

“We outlawed the use of violence many years ago, and our embot-assisted minds now instantly correct our mood if violent plans or thoughts are made. We simply cannot raise a hand to another. Paranoia, fear, violence, even anger – all these things are impossible. And yet they have happened, with appalling results. Happened not just once, but over, and over, and yet again.”

The men listened, grim-faced. He continued. “We four here have been inoculated, if you like. This project, to bring back some of the world’s great heroes and warriors was possible only because we agreed to -” he bowed his head. A tear escaped, and plopped onto the table. When he raised his face a moment later it was clear and calm. There was a rustling around the table. The sudden mood change had not gone un-noticed.

The man Adam, still shaken, and wiping his mouth, took over the tale. “We volunteered to do that which had become impossible: to contemplate the planning of violence. Our embots were subtly altered, re-programmed to allow us to consider violence. Our greater society now understands us to be uncontrolled psychopaths. And yet even we find it almost impossible to contemplate actions such as you have just done. Seeing the violence that Hanno and Grey indulged in – well , you saw the effects it had on us. Yet that is exactly what the Commonwealth needs you for. We – Charles, myself, Cienwyn, Paulus: we were given this place, the laboratory, and we have worked in isolation for many months to bring you here. We had a number of failures, and we grieve for them. They were like yourselves, heroes: unlike you, they did not quicken to life, as you have. Our world, the people of the Commonwealth, knows of you. They know you are here. They know why.

“You see, we – they, our enemy – has discovered that our technology, our embot and nanobot technology, is vulnerable.” Adam’s voice was now sounding desperate. He looked at the six Sleepers, and saw only grim eyes looking back at him. He suddenly understood what it was to be naked. “Our ‘bot technology is vulnerable to Ultralow and ultralong-wave radio beams that, when tightly focussed, can send the embot parts of us into a frenzy. Adrenalin, normally tightly controlled by our embots, floods and drowns our nanobots. Pain, and uncontrolled violence follows. After that: insanity. Even the scrubbing of embots from the bodies of those afflicted does nothing to help them. The knowledge of their actions seems to make them catatonic. Fear has stricken them, and we have known little or no fear for many, many years. We have had nothing to fear. Everything was within out control. Our fates were our own.” Adam struggled for words. He seemed to be close to tears, then his face suddenly cleared, and he smiled, comfortingly. The six men who listened to him saw the change in expression, and were aghast. Blunt wondered if the man was even human. The story was one of despair, yet this man who told the tale felt nothing. Was he as much a machine as the many strange things he had seen in the white room? Blunt was troubled, and he hand signalled to Whistler to be prepared for action. At least that was something he hadn’t forgotten: in his trade, leading skirmishers at the leading edge of a battle, whistles and hand signals often took the place of shouted commands.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sunday Scribbles XXXXI

I went to a stranger's funeral yesterday. When I say "stranger", I mean I didn't know the dead person. She was, however, a very dear frienmd's sister. If funerals can be described excellent, this one was. The woman's son had decorated the casket brilliantly. He'd painted it sky blue, then stuck photographs, rainbows, ansd flowers on it. It was cheerful, and apparently quite apt. People spoke well, and touchingly. My friend stoood up, and spoke eloquently about his sister. His opening words were about the evils of smoking: he's now lost four familymembers to smoking-related diseases. I applaud him for speaking his mind.
As the funeral progresssed, there was laughter and, of course, tears. It occurred to me, as I saw people comforting their wives, husbands, and children, that we humans are a remarkable species. I felt quite proud to be an intelligent ape.
Death and funerals are something we must all face, and I've put in a little thought as to what I want at my funeral. People,of course, would be nice. That can't be guaranteed, but I'd like to think that Jenny won't be alone as she's parking my carcase somewhere.
The big thing is this: if anyone so much as considers thinking about mentioning the possibility of an afterlife, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha,  or any of the pantheon of gods, I'll come back and haunt them. I will put up with mention of Offler, the Crocodile God, because that at least will show the person has a sense of humour, and has read Terry Pratchett.
What else has happened? Well, I took every chance available to screw up Act One, Scene Seven at rehearsals the other night. It's funny how you can know all your words, motivations, movements, and so on - and then blow it. At least it's happened now: I always do it, and I was starting to worry that it would happen during a performance rather than rehearsal.
I have my euphonium. It's big. And I can make moises with it. How people play these things while marching, I don't know - but the audiuence will at think that I not only do it, but do it well. Such is the blessing of having very competent people around you.
The first performance is less than four weeks away: there's still a lot we have to get right, but I am confident we'll get there. Our director is excellent, and it's a beautifully crafted play.
READING: Andrea Camelleri, "The Patience of the Spider". Jenny's recommendation. It's... not quite doing it for me yet, but I'll carry on with it. I think the lack of grippingness may be more the fault of the translator than the author.. or it could simply be me, of course.
LISTENING TO: Tracey Chapman, "Telling Stories". Sublime.
This week's PAPER HEROES:

I care nothing for this Greek thing, this democracy. Pah! I spit on it!"

“But, Hanno,” the woman continued, smiling, “your life was spent helping the helpless. You cannot deny it: it is what you were. What you are, now that we have brought you back. And what we are is what you have made us.”

“Helpless?” Prester’s voice crackled. “You bring people back from the dead, people from different times and ages and mysteries, and you are helpless?”

“Yes. We can do marvellous things, but we can no longer wage war. Our laws forbid it. Our bodies forbid it. We have not warred in centuries. We do not know how.” Cienwyn’s hair was flying, flaring about her face, betraying the depth of her emotion. Charles gripped her wrist in warning, and she struggled to bring her hair under control. 

Hanno looked at her, spat “Sorceress!” and strode to the weapons table where he picked up a complicated harness that had three scabbards hanging from it, and donned it in a well-practiced movement. One of the sheaths hung straight down his back, and he picked up a neat, straight, silver-hilted sword and slipped it home. The other two sheaths hung at his left. In one he housed a long dagger, just under two feet long. In the other he put his great sword, a two-handed weapon with sharkskin on the hilt, a ruby at the pommel, and a lightly curved broad blade that was over a yard long. The blade had a deep blood gutter, and was engraved and chased with elegant designs and runes.

He drew the sword free, the steel scraping at the throat of the scabbard. He held it aloft, and drew a circle in the air. He spoke, gutturally. “These tables. Bring more. Arrange them in a circle. We have some talking to do.”

Blunt’s grin was wolf-like. These people weren’t going to find their warriors as easy to handle and control as they had thought.

The tables rose from the floor, in the circle Hanno wanted. “Sit!” Hanno commanded.

“Say please,” said the small Texan, his eyes dead pebbles.

“Sit! Damn your eyes!” The huge barbarian was in a rage. He picked up a chair, and flung it against the wall, where it shattered. “Damn you, little man, and damn these worms who have brought us here!”

Grey unbuckled his gun belt, and strode over to the Cimmerian. “I may sit when you ask, big man. And for gosh sake, settle down.”

“Damn you for a puppy,” came the reply. The giant stooped and thrust his face up to the Texan’s. Grey stood still for three heartbeats. A hand-span separated the two men. Grey’s head was bent back, his eyes looking deep into the Cimmerian’s. Faster than a striking snake, Grey’s hand flashed up, grabbed the big man’s long yellow moustaches, and yanked. At the same time the smaller man barrelled his own head forward, smashing the bigger man’s nose with his forehead. Cienwyn screamed, Adam vomited, Paulus fainted, and Charles’ face paled, and he staggered, and leaned on the table for support.

“Crom!” roared the big man, rearing back – in time to receive Grey’s hard-driven right fist in his groin. The giant fell, keening in pain, and Grey slammed his boot-heel into the giant’s throat. “Ask politely, you big ox, or these people may well have to revive you again.” His voice was as cold as an Arctic breeze.