Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death of a Campervan

The sun rises on the final day and we know it's over. There isn't a word spoken to acknowledge the denoument but with every cycle of the wheels the reality that our time together is over only becomes more harsh and pointed.

I started noticing road signs more and appreciating, if only because the petty annoyance of it was now to be relegated to the dusty halls of memory forever more, the odd wrong turn, the drag it's fibreglass roof gave in the wind. With every oncoming roundabout my clenched teeth were loosened and I stopped worrying about the things that the inertia of navigating the circular interchange would certainly send flying because the end was near.

Even as this day, a day like any other, was dawning the sun had begun to set on our most recent companion. And as I stifled a tear, our three hour (4 mile) journey through the winding east side streets of Sydney at it's end, a map crumpled in my tight fist, I looked at our campervan, the ship of our emotional desert, the physical manifestation of our psychological locomotion, parked, it's headlights the sad eyes of a puppy begging it's indifferent master not to leave it at the pound, I said to myself, quietly:
"Fuck You, Campervan. Fuck you."

Am I required perforce to drive home the full impression that campervan travel left on me to the reader? I think not. It's one of those things that's fine in principle. You get a bedroom on wheels and with your driving gloves on tight and a stubby cigar held between your jaws you explore a new country safe in the knowledge that there will never be an inn whose owner says "No room," because the ass you rode in on is all the room you need. But like so many things that are fine in principle the reality is somewhat less romantic. Like going to the gym: one thinks of health, the outdoors, looking good in shorts, a satisfying sweat.

One rarely is encouraged to visualise, when being sold membership to a gymnasium, oneself vomiting from overexertion, or the dark evenings when all one can see through the window is oneselves' withered carcass pulling itself in an awkward gait over the neverending black plastic road to early death, a corpse in animation: Sisyphus on a treadmill. So it goes with campervan travel. The harsh realities of it are thus: Imagine sleeping on a thin spartan cushion, the thickness of one you'd expect to be provided on the wooden bench of the viewing room during an exectution in the early 20's. Imagine now having no room to sit up in this bed. It is cold enough to freeze the testicles right off of a brass monkey when you lay your shivering head down, in three layers of clothing.

But consistency is the enemy of the efficient tormentor. A subject can become accustomed to any amount of consistent misery so what to do? Well have it become unbearably warm at around 6 in the AM. Yes, of course, you could almost hear Herman Mengele cry, that's it. Freeze thaw action it's called in modern Geography. A month of that, and eating microwaved supernoodles while sleeping in holiday parks people with the armies of the white hair. The over 70s. Ghostly Man and wife feeding each other spoonfuls of yoghurt or mashed potato under a canopy at a plastic table wittering away to each other that "This is nice, isn't it?" "Yes, Dear." Happiness is a warm room with no wheels, whose mercy is manifest in her soft mattress and her constant temperature. Caravan Parks, like limbo from the annals of Catholicism, should be stricken from the record.

There follows a less embittered photographic essay on my wanderings towards and arrival at the welcome city of Sydney.

A Manta Ray. They are frigging huge. Feeling less despondent about the demise of Steve Irwin having seen one so close. They could probably just touch you to death.

The view from the underside of a large and carnivorous fish. Unpleasant.

A testament to the aforementioned low temperature to be found within our van. These sheets had come out of the wash and the wrapping of them around ourselves was an almost indecent joy.

As can be seen from my puerile face.

The ugliest of exotic fish - a Titan Triggerfish. I saw one of these diving in Thailand (the fish wasn't diving, I was. Well I suppose it was too but it wasn't wearing SCUBA gear) and apparently they bite divers when they're in the mood. It's described as similar to a bad dog bite. Don't they look uglier now, hearing that?

The almost Jane Austen-esque-edly named Darling Harbour in Sydney. A very pleasant place indeed.

The inside of a Kangaroo. This was in a museum by the way. Not just a zoo that hates animals.

The grand view of the large tropical fish tank in the Sydney Aquarium which was, not to make it sound untrustworthy, extremely fishy.

A tiny squid. I've decided I now want a fish tank full of these little guys. Apparently they're quite intelligent. I got the impression from this one he was well aware of me. I even took a picture while he was eyeing me, using the flash, just to see his reaction. He blinked and swam off, almost mouthing "WANKER."

A prehistoric possum. It weigh(s)(ed) 3 tonnes.

I can't imagine this fossil was taken from the earth intact like this. Proves a long held belief that you can't trust anyone who works with bones all day. Especially butchers.

Interesting to look at behind glass however I would happily eject my lunch through whatever orifice was closest at the sight of one in the wild.

Artificial coral reefs. Exponentially more luminous than the real thing but very James Bond villain conference room none the less.

The harbor so suggestively named you'd almost want to hug it, Darling.

I think this one is self explanatory.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

One Big Mac and a large portion of absolution, please.

Okay so Im sitting in a McDonalds in a town called Ballina in Australia. I actually lived briefly in the one in Ireland but that is neither here nor there. Well it is there but that's the way places are isn't it. They're there. I digress. I'm sitting there in this McDonalds with a vanilla mocha and a pink donut with my nose buried in a book. The book is called The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. It's about Darwinian evolution through natural selection. This is something I've only gotten interested in recently having been moved by a reading of Derren Brown's Tricks of the Mind to pick up his favourite book, The God Delusion.

I should broach the vulgar topic of atheism:

I am one and it's not a vulgar topic.

There. That's the way I see it.

I actually feel like I owe Mr. Dawkins a debt of gratitude for writing a coherent and cogent argument for that being an acceptable thing to say and feel in the modern day and I've long felt it myself. Anyhow reading the God Delusion made me want to get down to the actual science of natural selection and Darwinism, inasmuch as a non scientist can fully understand such things. So I bought the blind watchmaker which is touted as a watershed work on the subject. There's nothing wrong so far is there? Nothing at all. Well there I am buried snout deep in a chapter callled Origins and Miracles which deals with the subject of the origin of life, the original self-replicating cells and I hear a voice say, "Must be good books."

If you hear someone say that to you do not think, run. It means he thinks there's something out of the ordinary in reading. Or that books must be spectacular and not just ordinarily edifying to move the reader to expose his word lust in public. My companion was perusing the lonely planet guide to the land down under and this is what our curious interloper seemed interested in first. In retrospect it was a good move I guess. After a couple of pleasantries and truisms on the subject of her Majesty's prison yard (sorry if you're australian, I couldn't resist) he looks at me. "And what's that one about?" he asks. "Evolution," says I.

This is a dirty word to the creationist ear - that's what he was by the way, a real one, a the-world-is-6,000-years-old sort of guy - but our galllant soldier of Jesus didn't even flinch.

"Richard Dawkins," I said. "It's very good."

"I know that fella, going around in his wheelchair," he said.

I was stunned and I'll explain fully why in a second. "That's Stephen Hawking," I said. Unperturbed this warrior of righteousness attempts to, in his own way shatter the arguments of Professor Dawkins, with, I swear to his God, a quote from Genesis. I can't remember the whole thing but it was something about trees replicating or everything coming from trees. Whatever it was it was the sort of semi poetic nonsense that can in hindsight be applied, with a little crowbarring of logic, to anything. The reason I was so surprised that he came over to me at all is that I can understand a deeply religious person recognising Dawkins and seeing him as a threat. A person of that turn of mind is compelled by his own dogma to try and save me whether I want it or not. What I am surprised by is the fact that he was still on his way over even when he thought it was Stephen Hawking I was reading. A scientific argument for disbelief is God is one thing but saving me from quantum physics and string theory? Is this how bad it's gotten? Well anything, I suppose, like learning can be perceived as evil when you think the earth was created around the time of the agricultural revolution....

Then out of his wallet, he produces, under the exasperated gaze of his wife - whose face seemed to be saying 'Leave the poor Godless bastard alone, Robert' - a laminated card. He handed it to me as he said the following: "We believe a different theory," here he hands me the card before saying, unbelieveably: "Death is the wages of sin." I was amazed. I would love, in my masochism to have spoken longer with him but he was pulled out the door by the missus and I was left with the greatest bookmark a Darwinist could ever hope for, especially while reading such books as I'm dual reading now The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

So there we are, saved, under the pearly - sorry, golden - arches, under the omnipresent gaze of St. Ronald Mc Donald, the patron saint of burgers and plastic movie tie-in toys. The lord is my McSheperd, there is nothing I shall want. (Except maybe to super size for just 50c extra.)

Here it is, the keeper of my page, the constant reminder of my damnation, the laminate of my eternal suffering.

Evolution, the wages of sin.

A digression of lighter tone. This was taken on the way back to the car from Australia Zoo. It could have been the overdose of crocodilia but that cloud does look like a croc, doesn't it? Well maybe a long beaked version of Darkwing Duck but still...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Surfers Paradox ; A Photographic Discourse on Australia; In the Hall of the Widow Irwin

Surfers Paradise is what the place is called. And it was built up in our heads more than even a name as suggestive as that should reasonably expect to be able to live up to. I don't want to open the bag of humbugs and bitterly suck on one as I say it's a completely inappropriate name but just saying that should make my point. I was going to say the surf there isn't even that great but as we left this morning I did see someone carving a 20 foot barrel like a madman so I won't whinge about that especially considering I can't and wouldn't if I could, surf. Anyway it pretty much fell into the category of another anonymous place to park the van and go for a couple of drinks. There were a couple of decent clubs but most of them had their ambience take second place in the after midnight contest of things Paul likes to a couple of very recommendable kebabs. But that's not what we're here for is it? No, so we left. For where Sydney. For what? Ok, hang on, don't get sick.... Work. Yeah, that's it, we decided we'd have to do it. And to be honest after a couple of weeks sleeping in what is a glorfied - though that word suggests some glory, Hiace - I could certainly see myself enjoying life in a big city and a nice apartment albeit programming. And even at that there're are some nice sounding gigs. Even maybe making Flash games. So it's not all doom and gloom. I'm addicted to luxury though, that' it. I need a big bed and a nice power shower and a door I can slam or gently close and know that for a while at least the world will leave me alone and I have a couple of square meters of sanctuary.

Anyway there follows a brief photographic history of the last couple of days by way of apology for what has been, I admit, neglect on my part for my constant - possibly hypothetical - reader.

Me and the 2 dimensional Steve Irwin in the only pose that it's fair dinkum to strike with said gentlemen.

A rack of Steve Irwin shirts with messages from around the globe of sad sad people telling of their sad sad-ness at his sad sad demise. Note: I am being completely genuine here. I think we lost a good man that day. I still remember where I was when I heard the terrible news. I queued on release day at the movies to see The Crocodile Hunter when it came out. I still think he's up there with Magritte and regard that film as one of the watershed works of surrealist cinema of the modern day. I mean he's on the top of a moving train fighting an FBI agent and then starts inexplicably talking to an implied camera man. Genius.

The bronzed Irwins hewn in bronze.

A very hungry but still large and impressive snake eating a totally emaciated pig in a glass case.

More, to give you a sense of scale, of the tribute bearing apparel.

A genuine, Steve captured, dinosaur.

This was an under construction shop, I think I can leave this here without the sniggering jokes I made when I took this puerile picture.

Look at the size of her.

I really wanted to photoshop in a remote control here, he looks like he should be on a couch.

I had a lump in my throat reading these actually, more than I had when I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Really. Sad sight.

Note the oblique mario reference in the above. I didn't see any evil reptiles anywhere.

This is here for all the people I know of the above name. Enjoy.

A slightly racist brand of Aussie cheese. They're not even embarassed about it.