Monday, May 30, 2011

Of mice

By late autumn the mice have usually set up camp in our house. In the past they have been one of the Great Plagues of Linwood, that at times have included fleas, head lice, street racers and golf balls (yep!).

i have always had mixed views on the mice. i quite like them. They have collapsible skeletons and when they are born they are so transparent you can see the milk travel into their tiny stomachs. i have been known to catch one in an ice cream container and let it loose across the road - where it probably comes staight back in again. i put bait out some winters, and hope they don't eat it. The label says it's painless. i shut my eyes as i put it down and i say a little prayer for their small speedy souls.

My daughter has claimed that mice are employed by cats. When cats want to live in a certain house with certain people, they send mice. After a while the humans give in and decide to get a cat. The cats are monitoring the household for just this very moment. When the last person to be convinced (usually the man) says wearily, OK, we will get a damn cat if you insist, they scan the statement for sarcasm. Scanning....scanning....statement free of sarcasm! They mean it! They will get one of us! The cats and mice together cheer and high five each others' paws. The mice then move on... maybe to your house?

This year we had evidence of mice. Well, actually my husband opened the linen cupboard and there was a mouse bouncing around on the towels. We investigated. The mice had burrowed right into the towels and made nests in little cavities. While i washed our entire stock of linen my husband attempted to mouse proof the cupboard. Soon the air was blue with words as he hammered and sawed and banged. Blokey fixing things always requires Words.

Meanwhile, i had a word with Isis Fang.

i invoked the ancient covenant between cat and human. i told her about how her ancestors had come to live with humans, to protect their granaries and kitchens from vermin, in exchange for food and warmth and care. As a result, cats have conquered the world, from the North African sahel to the sub-Antarctic islands, there are cats. It's been a good deal for cats.

i also reminded her of her own past. How she came to us from the animal shelter, and how we had tolerated her ripping up the lino and spraying on visitors' trousers, and how we had looked afer her expensive and complicated medical conditions. How when we got her, we were told that she was a good mouser and that she was affectionate and how both have turned out to be untrue. Thus, she lied on her CV*, and we are unimpressed, but nevertheless and against our better judgment we have forgiven her.

The point being, i told Isis Fang, it is time for her to honour her end of the bargain.

This is Isis:**

A middle aged brindled tortoise shell moggy, very neat and small, plump, lies in from of the heater like a small Uluru on the outback of our carpet, and when she speaks it is with the voice of Renee Zellwegger in Bridget Jones' Diary.

She says, in her adorable Bridget Jones voice:

Your job is to feed me and my job is to eat. It can be hours before my bowl is filled. Hours! And so what if all the exercise I get is rolling away from the heater when it gets too warm? The heater should roll away from me at my command! I know you say I'm overweight but I consider myself to be merely plumptious. Uluru is sacred after all. And there is barely enough room on the bed for both of us. I never get to sit on the hot water bottle because you've got it, and of course I have to bite your feet to stop you pushing me off it. You make me jump through that idiotic cat door and you wait ages to let me back out again. Living with you guys is not easy. You are lucky I stay here at all. I am the amazing Isis Fang. I am like a chief executive. I don't get paid for what I do, I get paid for what I might do. Or in this case, I might not do.

She was unmoved. So we bought wood and plastic containers for linen and my husband will work on lining the cupboard, and we bought a supposedly painless mouse trap, and the winter is setting in nicely. I wonder why the cats are sending us more mice? Perhaps another cat wants to live with us? That would be our revenge on Isis Fang!

* Humans never do that.

**That was a weird sentence to type!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sacred Morgue's Last Gig - a RocknRoll Epiphany

If i ever made a short film it would be about Sacred Morgue's last gig. It would be in the loose documentary style fashionable in the 1990's, more Dazed and Confused than The Runaways. There would be no particular plot, just a series of linked experiences with some characters looking for some character development.

i was raised in a smallish town in New Zealand and Sacred Morgue was its only heavy metal band. Sacred Morge was its real name, and i would use it in the film because, well, you can't improve on it. So guys, if you ever read this, you know who you are.

Their lead guitarist was my only teenage crush. It's called a crush because that's how you feel - crushed. We did a summer job together, in a group of young people. Naturally i kept my poor bruised feelings to myself and naturally he began going out with a girl with silver blonde hair, translucent skin and huge violet eyes. She was also very sweet, and she did not know her Fender from her Stratocastor. i didn't have the heart to hate her.

Fast forward a bit and Sacred Morgue is breaking up, because the bass player is going to London to make his fortune in the new indie scene there. And he could do it too, because he is better than anyone i've ever heard. So they plan their last gig. By this time the lead guitarist and i are friends and i am living out of town, so my beating heart got stilled after a time. The guy i am going out with is a friend of the band, and they plan a rock art show they like of which the town has never seen. An only slightly naive tribute to Big Dumb Rock as it was back in the day.

The hired church hall had a small stage, with the band and my guy on it, and he sat in a chair wearing suit and reading a newspaper. Also on stage was Wendy the shop mannequin, whom i will name by her real name because she is dead. Wendy was an old skool porcelain mannequin with some hair left, and she had been nicked from the basement of the shop where one of the band members worked. She wore a guitar.

The night was the usual shambles when you are young and earnest and Almost Having Fun. i did a lot of that. Like the driving round in cars thing that today is called 'boy racing'. Back then they drove around streets that they named after the parts of women. i remember thinking, shit this, i could be killed at any minute and i'm still bored. Fun is the direst thing. So the Last Gig was Almost Fun. A male friend and i decided to dance in between the songs, dancing with no music. What we didn't know was the band was in between sets. We had fifteen minutes of recorded music and a deafening din of silence. On we danced. After fifteen minutes we were knackered and we had copped our share of abuse from drunken onlookers. My friend was called a homo and some idiot even kicked him in the mouth as he was sitting outside. At the time he didn't mind. He decided he had transcended pain. This was his own rocknroll epiphany, as we were on the night, characters in search of our own development, our own special night when Something Happens, and our lives will never be the same again.

But it shows that not much has changed. Gosh, we had homophobia back in the 70's! And for a small town guy, dancing without music was definitely a homosexual act, along with laughing when sober, talking to girls, having a party on a Friday night (instead of the good straight Saturday), and, uh, sodomy i guess.

Funny, i remember nothing about the music. But presumably there was some, and if i did make a film it would be great to write music for it. So finally Sacred Morgue reached its musical climax and performed its last song. And my guy on stage got up from his chair, folded up his newspaper, flung off rather a lot of his clothes and began to dance wildly in a manner beyond even homosexuality. He grabbed Wendy's guitar and mimed fabulous air guitar frenzy. Poor Wendy fell over into the band space and broke. My guy on stage smashed the guitar and some of the stage as well. It was a moment. You could say, Well, that happened. 'Cos it did.

And the bass player went to London and was back in six months and began playing in a vaguely new agey band called Moonglow or some bloody thing, and the lead guitarist got married and had a bunch of kids and went to work in the mines in Australia, and the singer, who did this amazing sub-Robert Plant thing, stayed in the town and ran a lot, and i don't know what happened to Wendy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

'If we make the right decisions today...'

On the weekend i went to Shareanidea, an expo of ideas about the rebuilding of Christchurch's CBD after the earthquakes. It was run by the city council.

All up, 10,000 people went. The place was busy on the Sunday morning. Some of the area was divided into spaces for aspects of the rebuilding process - called life, space, move and market. People put post-it-notes with ideas on them on walls. They also logged them on computers, recorded them on Youtube videos and, for children, drew them or made them out of lego on wooden maps of the city.

i listened to Mark Quigley, our resident celebbrity geologist, talk about his own idea for the future CBD and how geological engineers can do anything provided they have time and money. People clapped throughout. i agreed with most of what he had to say.

There were lots of families. Groups of children were thinking hard about what to put on the walls, debating with the charming ernestness of ten year olds. An older man was talking to a young boy, saying 'If we make the right decisions today, it makes a difference to your future'. People acted as if they had a true stake in this city. They seemed to believe they were making a difference, and their views would be heard.

There were definite themes among the ideas. People wanted a small, green, low-rise, CBD with good space, art, and local colour and less vehicular traffic. There was not much call for green technologies as such, but they were often implicit.

In other words, lots of people think like me! i was genuinely surprised and pleased.

The woman i went with talked about how voting means little to her, but going to the expo and posting her ideas meant so much. We are seldom given a chance to say more than yes or no on a TV text poll, or vote for the next Whatever Idol. And more people voted for American Idol than in the US elections. On the weekend, Christchurch people thought they had a stake, so they got off their couches and came and said what they thought, with words and pictures and voices.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

..and the blood of unbelievers dripping...

'We will see Saladin carrying his sword, and the blood of unbelievers dripping from it'
- Osama bin Laden

What is a hero? i mean this in the sense of the Jungian archtype explored by Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero with a Thosusand Faces'.

The hero has mysterious or incongruous origins. He (he is usually male) may not know his parents or the circumstances of his birth. The birth itself may be miraculous or unusual. He may show early promise. He experiences a rebirth, or a conversion, in his early life and maybe takes a new name, or discovers his true one. He has a period of time in the wilderness where he contemplates his cause and is perhaps tested. His rise to prominence is sudden or unlikely. He is a charismatic figure. His end is as mysterious as his beginning, and there is often some doubt about it - maybe he is not really gone, maybe he will return.

Obvious heroes in Western culture are Herakles, Dionysus, and King Arthur. Jesus and Gautama fulfil the hero archetype. Some historical figures have had a heroic gloss to their stories, Frederick the Great being one. In modern literature Aragorn is a hero, as is Harry Potter.

OBL is a lamentably a hero. This is what is popularly thought about him (the detail is less important than the shape of the story:

He was born into the Binladen family (note the differnt spelling), a wealthy Americanised Arabic family with ties to US politicians and business interests (which, when it comes to oil, are often the same thing). He underwent a conversion to an austere version of Wahabism after becoming angered at the American presence in Saudi Arabia. He left his life of luxury and lived a simple lifestyle, using his wealth and contacts for his cause. Despite being well known in Jihadist circles, he really shot to fame after 9/11. Then, he became an elusive figurehead, an inspiration. Then, he died.

It is the end of his life that interests me with regard to the hero myth. The hero is often not really dead, or is resurrected. Some heroes are deemed to have died, but we await their return. Examples are King Arthur, or Frederick the Great. When England needs him most, King Arthur will return to lead the people into a golden age. When Jesus returns, of course, history ends. The death, and the return, are important.

i think that the Americans have a responsibility they may not appreciate, or may not be able to control. There is just enough doubt about bin Laden's death for mythmaking, for the hero archetype to fulfil itself. They 'buried' him at sea. We have no photos. Al Qaeda have admitted he is dead. But maybe that is a deep game. Maybe he is not really dead, maybe he will return somehow and sweep the jihadists to victory. i suspect that the mythmaking will happen no matter what the Americans do now. It disturbs me to say this, but it reminds me of neo Nazis claiming Hitler did not die in the bunker.

i think it matters because bin Laden is already such a 'made' figure. In part this because he has been in seclusion for so long; he has been a figurehead, a legend, a unifying force, a symbol. It is important how his story evolves now. Chris Hedges, in his excellent article 'Chris Hedges speaks on Osama bin Laden's death' talks about how we make the monster.

The quote above gives a hint of how bin Laden may have seen himself in history. Saladin, that humane and chivalrous leader, was another 'returning' hero. The quote comes from Scott Atran's book 'Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What it Means to be Human'. More good thinking about the topic. Lots of good thinking out there!

i am also here totally indebted to my husband the Archduke Piccolo. The Archduke studied the hero archetype through the medium of children's literature, and many of the views above are his.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The State of Emergency has been lifted.

Over the weekend two significant events took place here - the lifting of the State of Emergency, and the coming of CERA, the Christchurch Earthquake Reconstruction Authority.

i had half forgotten we were in a State of Emergency. Life has gone on here. i have resumed walking to work. It used to be one of my pleasures, forty minutes through town and along the river bank. i would walk home after my shift ended at 11 pm.* After the earthquake happened, my work moved and the cordon was too large to walk around. Now, the cordon has shrunk enough, and some of my work is at the hospital. i figured it would take an hour to walk there.

The first time was in the daytime and it was raining. It was a stiff schlepp in the mud, and some of the route i had driven wasn't really walkable. i arrived wet through and mostly everything looked miserable. It took an hour and a quarter. The next time was in sunshine. It was still slightly weird, as everything still is here. Bits of the road surface had broken out like a teenageer's face. Great pumps and drills delved under the streets and spewed up unmentionable things. There was almost a festive atmosphere as families were out at the edge of the cordon, photographing the wreckage. i have always liked wreckage. i like how things are outside that should be inside. i like to look at structures in different ways. i like the small sights - a washstand with soap still in a dish, a tidy row of files, pot plants.

Walking back at night was different. Rats! i had heard that the city was infested with them because of the deserted food outlets. i was promised rats! i was expecting to form a circle of light with my torch and they would be blinking their red eyes and backing away slowly and then the torch would blink out and one of them would shourt "Get her!'... i saw none (rats!).

Normally on a Saturday night the town is alive with revelry. Some of it even looks like fun. (It probably isn't. And all the young women look identical. There is only so much you can do with a short skirt and high heels). But this time of course there was nobody about, because the town was all closed, and it was dark. A few of the lights were out even on the bits of street that work, and it was torchlight. i was thankful for sensible shoes, and being a girly swot i always carry a torch and a whistle and a swiss army knife and a compass and a rubber chicken.# The lack of revelry and general people-ness made me uneasy. There was one pub open on the edge of town, pooling light and warm beer smells and conversation. A solitary drunk spat and lurched off into the teetotal darkness. i kept on going, into more familiar and less damaged territory.

And now, que CERA CERA. This Authority has very wide powers. From now on it will run our lives, and nobody elected it and nobody can stop it. Truly worrying is the fact that it has no experts on it - noone who knows about disaster recovery, or geology, or community development. There is already concern that it will sell the city's assets, because that would be in keeping with the ideology of the imcumbent national government which has appointed it. There is very little mandate for community involvement, for small solutions or local participation.

There are some truly disastrous examples out there of how big, autocratic planning benefits only the wealthy few. The scariest is Hurricane Katrina. Big private interests used racial stereotyping and fear to drive out poor people from their traditional neighborhoods and bring in the rich. And this was entirely in accord with Bush administration thinking - that government exists only to fund defence. In Thailand, after the terrible tsunami, fishing villages were displaced inland and hotels for tourists were built in their stead. This is called Shock Doctrine. Some good writers on this are Naomi Klein with her book of that name, and the inspiring art critic and environmentalist Rebecca Solnit.

On a micro level, the organisation i work for has done the same thing. For some years they have planned an unpopular restructuring. Now they have used the State of Emergency to declare because of the earthquake things must change, and that they no longer need to consult about change - and, guess what, they plan to restructure us in the same way they were planning before the earthquake.

We culd have a new, clever, green, smaller Christchurch with many small smart ideas and we could study the best ideas from other disaster areas, and we could thin and talk together. And people could come and look and use our model. But we won't. There will be impatience, and hurt, and greed, and fear, and vested interests, and we won't.

Oh, i nearly forgot. The first time i walked through the city, in the rain, i saw this written on a blackboard, among the orange cones and rubble and cracked walls. i don't know if it relevant, but maybe nothing is every irrelevant:

'If the doors of Perception were cleared Everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite' - William Blake.

* i have always walked in the city at night, wherever i am. We humans are the scariest things i know, but i insist i am safe if i am confident in my step. The more women who walk, the safer we are.

# i lied about one of those things. Guess which one?**

** i think if ever i am approached by a person who has evil intent i will shout 'Have a look at THIS, motherfucker!' and i will pull out the rubber chicken and they will be so appalled they will run away. There are few things more appalling than a rubber chicken at midnight.