Monday, November 29, 2010

Climb Ev'ry Mountain

I’ve been listening to the radio recently. I’ve found it’s safer than watching television. It doesn’t do the blood-pressure things to me, and it doesn’t distract me from the traffic so much when I’m driving.
Anyway. National Radio are doing a reading of an autobiography – of the woman who was the first to climb Mt Cook. She must be older than god, because she’s talking about how she started climbing in the early 1900s.
She faced a lot of challenges, mostly to do with her gender: all the ladies taking the mountain air at The Hermitage in 1903 got a tad tut-tutty when she announced her intention to go and climb a mountain (her first), with a guide… who was a (gasp) man. She ended up having to hire a chaperone.
This is beside the point, though. Yesterday’s chapter gave me one indelible statement, today’s, another. Yesterday’s went: “The moment I made the decision (to climb a mountain), it half frightened me.”
I nearly punched the air in delight (I didn’t, because the windscreen was in the way). I got what she meant, immediately. To make a decision that scares you is so life-affirming.
So, today, she climbed the mountain, and her guide was hugely and happily impressed with her character and abilities. He asked her if it was worth it, and what would she want next? She pointed to Mt Cook, which towered in the middle-distance. “I want to climb Mt Cook next,” she said.
And he said, "No." Instead, he then advised her to build up to it. Not because he didn’t think she could do it. He thought she probably could. But if she did, she wouldn’t have the joy of expectation any more. The slowly building confidence in her own strengths, abilities, knowledge. She’d knock it over, and be exhausted in the doing, and wouldn’t enjoy the achievement. The best achievement is one you’ve earned, he said.
Her reaction? One of joy. She got it.
And she would be the first to pour scorn on such immediate-fame things like “America’s Got Talent”, “Britain’s Got Susan Boyle”, The X-Factor”, and so on and mind-numbingly on. Shows that give people fame and “stardom” in a few short televisual weeks.
It took The Beatles ten years of hard graft before they became an overnight success. And they’ll be remembered a century from today. Alifont Seemore, or whoever it was that won the X Files the other day, will be forgotten before my new packet of Weet Bix is finished. Actually, I've already forgotten him.

Reading: “Dimiter”, William Peter Blatty. Very intriguing.
Listening to: Old 1960s rock - the "Tour of Duty" collection. Cool.
Word / phrase of the day: “The moment I made the decision, it half-frightened me”.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sunday Scribbles LIII

What have we learned from the recent mining tragedy?
Not a great deal, I'm afraid.
Extraordinary things happen to ordinary people all the time. The news and entertainment departments of our local television channels depend upon that one small fact.
In this case, a bunch of people were going about their ordinary, normally uneventful lives, when something unexpected happened, and they were all killed.
This was,of course, a tragedy, and I feel sorrow for the dead men. Oh. Sorry. My “heart goes out” to the “brave”miners and their “loved ones”.
What followed the explosion at the mine was so predictable. The hyperbole utilised by all news media that I saw was all so dull, plodding, and pedestrian. The victims were immediately elevated into some form of venerated godliness.
Let's take that word “brave”. I didn't bother counting the number of times I read and heard the words “brave miners”, and as I'm numerically a tad illiterate I would have lost count once I got past, say, 3,000 within the first couple of hours. But the use of the word,apart from being infuriatingly dull, is also presumptive. I take nothing away from the men who perished by simply calling them “miners”, or “mineworkers”. I don't know if they were brave. No-one does. I don't know if they were courageous. No-one does.
They were ordinary men, caught up in an extraordinary, and fatal, circumstance. The one miner who did help his workmate out probably deserves the soubriquet “brave”. He at least did something at some risk to himself: he must have been dazed, a little confused, and aware of the peril, yet he struggled to save his comrade. A brave man. The others weren't, as far as we know. They were unfortunate. They were unlucky. They were ordinary. If the initial blast didn't immediately kill them, they quite possibly died alone, in the dark, and terrified. A horrible way to go.
There was another euphemism that was hammered until it whimpered: “Loved One/s”. Sigh. Why can't we just say “family”? This piece of dull-ism started creeping into the common vernacular 30 years ago, when it started becoming socially acceptable (not religiously acceptable,of course) for people to live together in, ahem, sin. The reversed-collar lot ranted on about the “family” baby being tossed out when the marital bath was emptied, and we've all bought into their mindless moralising, and their cheap linguistic tricks.
The 29 victims of the Pike River Mine disaster were all family men. Like all family people, they were liked, loved, laughed at, occasionally despised, loathed, yelled at, laughed with, ignored, neglected, fussed over, celebrated, and so very, very ordinary.
And their families and friends were all the same. For us to carry on hammering away with the trite “loved ones” is to insult and diminish them. They were all so much more than that, because there was little that was extraordinary about them except for the circumstance.
I would really like to see the renewal of that excellent, and workman-like, phrase “family and friends”. The dead men were all family men, and they all had a circle of friends. They also undoubtedly had their detractors. There are few people in the world who are enemy-free. Everyone has done something that's terminally pissed off someone else.
29 ordinary men, caught up in an extraordinary event. Their ordinary families, their ordinary friends. These wonderful, exciting, frail, interesting people. How we diminish them by calling them brave, by turgidly referring to them and theirs as loved ones, by chirpily saying that “our hearts go out to them”.
They deserve so much more of us.

LISTENING TO: Leon Russell and the Shelter People. Best version ever of “It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall”.
READING: “A Spy's Life”, Henry Porter.
WORD OF THE DAY: Well,phrase, anyway – family and friends.

And, just for laughs, the first bit of my NaNoWriMo effort....


The Land lay before her, and she smiled. The land was fat and virginal, lush with an as-yet unrealised promise. For hundreds of turns she had heard whispers and rumours about The Land, and she had sent out expedition after expedition to find it. They had all returned, whipped by raging Sea and boiling Star, in abject failure. She had Returned the odd Captain as an object lesson to others who may choose to fail in her service, but it was to no avail. The Land remained hidden.

That it existed at all had been a matter of no small debate. The hypothesis was that Homeland needed to be counter-balanced by an as-yet undiscovered continent on the other side of the globe, to ensure Urth's stability. Some time ago in the past, so long ago that it was beyond even the misted memories of Homeland, a great frozen piece of Sky Light had come through the firmament and struck Urth with a blow gigantic enough to make the entire planet tilt crazily, and to make air itself burn. The planet had rung like a bell, tolling for the loss of almost all life Homeland sheltered. Everything had changed in the instant of impact. A great bay, a thousand miles across, had been gouged out of Homeland's side, a blow that was beyond mortal: fire and burning soil reared back up into the sky in a gigantic mushroom-shaped cloud that extended beyond the atmosphere. The oceans were whipped into turmoil, and raced around the planet in a series of crazed waves, hundreds of metres high, smashing and collapsin and raising themselves again to career along in new direction. Homeland's forests burned and then drowned as the comet's trillion tons of fresh water mixed with Urth's mineral-rich waters, and swept across the forests and carefully tilled fields.

But not all life expired. While millions of sea-creatures were boiled as the top hundred metres of Ocean boiled, the great cloak of water was deep enough to preserve the majority of creatures that knew Ocean as their Home. And although Homeland was stripped to bedrock over most of its surface, small enclaves of green survived, and with them – People.

Miraculously, the City of Asgarrin, which had been home to almost 20,000 People, was untouched by the fire. Its People almost all died during the Frozen Years, when Homeland lay under a mile-thick blanket of ice and snow. Asgarrin itself was buried, a city preserved by a billions tonnes of frozen water, and would have been scraped off Homeland's surface had the ice moved: but it didn't. Over the course of just twenty years the ice melted, and Asgarrin felt the gentle warmth that came from Star.

The tiny blue world carried on its never-ending circle around its yellow star. It was the third planet out from the sun, and it danced its astral gavotte at precisely the best distance from the Star to sustain life. Hundreds of years past, and life returned in abundance. Thick forests grew, supporting a great abundance of living things. But things were not the same, and how could they be? People still existed, but they had been knocked back to early Stone Age. Small troupes of them hopped and walked through the empty streets and boulevards of Asgarrin, marvelling at the god-like architecture. Mighty buildings, some rearing up to stand four,or even five, stories above Urth's sacred soil. The structures seemed to be a light as gossamer, as delicate as a spider's web – yet they were made from a curious stone that was clear and clean, and almost indestructibly hard. The People kept the forest away from Asgarrin, and they kept its streets and building clean, pure – and empty. Asgarrin was a city of ghosts, of ancient memory. In every new generation of People, a select few were chosen to enter the city to try and unlock its eternal mysteries.

Sigreen was one such. Her plumage showed her classic lineage: her feathers were a deep, glossy, blue. Her eyes were red, and her beak yellow. Her breed of people had been blessed with the Holy Wishbone, which enabled them to walk, unlike the Browns, who were doomed to a lifetime of hopping.

Homeland People had lost the ability to fly many hundreds of thousands of years before, as their bodies grew to accommodate their brains. Kept in an egg-shaped container deep within the great birds breasts, the People's brains weighed as much as three kilograms, and were marvels of nature's bounty. There were hundreds of different kinds of People: hoppers, walkers, long and short-necked, long and short-legged, plumage that varied from deep black to vibrant greens, purples, pinks, reds. Some People had tails that could be spread in a fabulous arc dotted with eye-shapes. While some People were night-walkers, most preferred the day. Some ate of the fruit of the Forest, some lived off the fruits of the Ocean. Their were soil-workers, those who cultivated the great fields of cereals and seeds, the sprawling orchards whose fruit was grown and preserved for the difficult winter months. The 'al-Gulls were experimenting with fish-farms, while others were developing worm farms.

Sigreen's tribe had led the People back from the brink of extinction when all had seemed lost. It was they who had initiated the storage of foods, who had helped People mend their broken limbs, who had made the fire that kept them all alive in the snow-blasted years. It was Sigreen's ancestors who had started the first farms, who had shown them all that they could live, could survive, even in the worst of times. They had chivvied, they had inspired, they had bullied, they had provided all People with hope.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sunday Scribbles LII

Hi chaps. As a few have noticed, I've not been posting my thrice-weekly musing of late. Sorry about that, but I won't be posting much for the next month or so, either.
I'm fulfilling my New Year's resolution: NaNoWriMo. That's shortspeak for (Inter)National Novel Writing Month.
The challenge is to write a novel in a month. November. Well, it'd be a short novel - between 30 and 50 thousand words. This has required a certain amount of preparation, and shallow thinking. As I've never been renowned for being a deep thinker, this is handy.
Anyway, I'm well into the job. As you can imagine, however, even writing a thousand words a day is a trying and tiring thing. Thankfully, for a good part of the day I usually have time to think and plan that day's writing.
And it's fun: the pressure of it is, anyway.
So that's what I'm upto. I'll try to post a blog or two during NaNoWriMo month, but shan't make any promises.
Oh - and I'm auditioning for a part in "Pride and Prejudice". No, not Mt Darcy, who is an insufferable creep anyway. It's the lovely Mr Bennett that I wanna be. Auditions aren't'til December 5: wish me well.
Love you all.
READING: Yes, I am reading. Did tyou think I'd give that up, too? may as well exoect me to stop breathing... anyway: "Dies The Fire", S.M. Stirling. Sort of SciFi / apocalyptic fable. Actually, it's working rather well.
LISTENING TO: "Stand Up", Jethro bTull.