September 2009


Think of your many years of procrastination; how the gods have repeatedly granted you further periods of grace, of which you have taken no advantage. It is time now to realise the nature of the universe to which you belong, and to that controlling Power whose offspring you are; and  to understand that your time has a limit set to it. Use it, then, to advance your enlightenment; or it will be gone, and never in your power again.

Marcus Aurelius, Book II, 4. Meditations.

It was in Balmain that my uncle and mother met again. He must must have been preparing to go to India and was a disciple in Sydney, now bearing the name Achurya Das. I have a photo of him holding me, his head shaved, the paint on his forehead, in the characteristic Krishna robes.

My mother tells the story of him returning from the temple. He carries in his hand dust, gathered carefully from the shoes of Prabhupada himself. She bent in for a closer look, and sneezed into it.

On another occasion he was waded out into a deep pond to gather a lily flower or lotus which he somehow does not touch with his hands, he returns to show it to her, a perfect flower, unaffected by man. She had a good poke around with her finger.

I would imagine that while Achurya Das had finally found the guru for whom he had been seeking, my mother was still without substitute for the Catholicism of her youth. Worse, her scepticism for religions other than Christianity appears to have been normal for a woman of her generation – deep despite the pretension to open-mindedness the Hippies represented. But for this I can hardly blame her, the her then hardly differs from many attitudes towards mysticism prevalent in my own contemporary society. In that regard, she was merely ahead of the game, yet again.

The most interesting upshot of her being in Sydney in 1970, apart from the obvious want to be near her older brother, was of course, me. Australia was then as it is now, more socially advanced than New Zealand. In particular, it accommodated young women in ‘the family way’ with a tolerance New Zealand did not. And so it was that my mother, like generations of young women before her, found herself there on the edge of that great desert, making the choice. Because while unwed pregnancy, and residence with our nearest neighbour until the shameful act is less evident, is a fine old tradition – safe and clinical termination of unwanted children was very new.

It often confuses liberal friends when I profess to being anti-abortion, but pro-choice, because the two are often characterised as mutually exclusive. But, trying to imagine the feelings of a young woman, largely alone in an unforgiving and partially alien city, finding herself with the choice to terminate my life, or not, the larger political argument is trivial. How would I consider her to have made any choice but the correct one? And so I often think of the potential lives destroyed by termination when reflecting upon my own, and reflect upon the manner in which my birth permanently and irrevocably altered the trajectory of my mother’s life, and I see there an act of great love, selflessness.

For not only did she decide not to end me, she further chose to keep me from a pre-arranged adoption favoured by the authorities of the day. And so while my uncle may have immersed himself in the mysticism of the exotic East, my mother surrendered herself to a fate much more complex, a path more difficult, that a great many women decline.

F,FLP

With Chef Du Plunge verging on 10 months old I decided that it’s probably time for another update.

“Things going well”.

Not much more to state than that really! I did, just this very hour, watch him pulling himself up from sitting to standing because he wanted to see what was in the bath. And that is very exciting. His Tauranga grandma predicted that he’ll likely “just get up and walk”, and the testament is a lack of crawling combined with the willingness to stand (and if at all possible jump up and down) at every occasion.

Mind you, I’ve likely jinxed the whole thing…

The main change since the last posting is that the wee man has gone to day-care and has been coming home with the expected constant round of colds. I swear little kids are basically Petri dishes… No colds or flu for the first two years we’ve been in this apartment, but pretty-much non-stop sneezing since we sent him to care! No drama but. It’s just wipe up the muckus, ensure he’s sleeping alright (not too much of a drama, he’s never really slept through the night and we’re kind of used to it), and get on with it.

He’s a great kid though. Rarely unhappy, laughs when he gets himself into a difficult spot (say by falling over sideways), loves his mum and dad, has learned to play “when you’re happy and you know it” and “catch”, and likes to join in when everyone laughs. What more can you want than that?

In other news, his daycare is in Newlands, and we’re thinking pretty seriously about making the move up there. We’ve considered our options, and we simply can’t afford an apartment that has enough space AND the safety this little guy needs – actually, let me rephrase that – we’d need a mortgage so large that we would leave ourselves no ‘wiggle-room’, so we’re heading to the burbs. Second Chef’s parent’s are looking like they’ll sell us their place, while they move to a different clime, and there’s something special about bringing him up in his grandparent’s house.

Too many Kiwis only see houses as assets, when they should see homes, you know?

So big changes afoot here in the City. I’m doing my best to stay true to the green values, so there is lots of debate about the best method of travel, shortest travel times, minimising use of our second-hand car and the like. All good really.

Image lifted from this crazy site.

What I’m finding most galling at the minute is the extreme levels of hypocrisy surrounding any discussion of climate change. Between outright deniers of poor intellect who cannot understand science, politically-motivated deniers who see that it is insane to continue to burn fossil fuels but do so in order to maintain their primary interest – themselves in the manner – and climate change opponents who often go to extreme lengths of make an arse of themselves and those around them, I have become highly cynical.

Worse, I think we’re all doomed. Climate change is inevitable, and we can only hope that the destruction it wrecks will only destroy civilisations, and not humanity itself (because the planet itself should remain viable for life, unless we really, really screw it up). Out of the wreckage should emerge a smarter humanity. We hope.

Having said we’re doomed, I’m doing my best to ensure that it doesn’t happen. I recycle. I cut back on consumption. I only travel as far as I have to, for work or play. I’m doing what I can to keep my air travel down. I purchase low-CO2 products because the market should be sending signals to the corporations that we aren’t interested in their shit.

You know, I do the “right thing”, and encourage (but do not demand) others to do the same.

I despair though, because self-interest is such that people will gladly see their children’s future pissed away for their own short-term benefit. They will jeopardise everything because they want a little more luxury (even simple things like fruits from out of season and shipped half-way round the world using fossil fuels) and are more interested in their needs than the likelihood that millions will die when the global climate changes everything we know.

So I despair, and wonder what in the hell I can do to make a difference. How I can, one man, change all this? And I gave up. (more…)

This was, quite simply, the most fun I’ve had reading scifi in a fair old while.

Brasyl is a tale in three parts, set in three different time periods, in… Brazil (surprise surprise).

Something I read in the Guardian awhile back was a review of a detective novel that stated, categorically, that we need a little more escapism in our reading. The idea being that we can take something of a metaphorical holiday while we take our metaphorical holiday in print. Brasyl fulfils that by immersing the reader in a fictional Sao Paulo, the deep Amazonian rainforest, and modern Rio De Janerio.

And that’s all I’m saying. This book as a few spinners bounced at you, just to keep you on your toes, but is generally straight down the line. But in mentioning the spinners, they aren’t enough to put you off the reading altogether, unlike another scifi read recently finished, 2012, the most god-awful book imaginable.

The trouble with 2012 was that it took everyday Judeo-Christian mythology, mixed it up with every freaking X-Files cliché you can imagine, threw in an alarming amount of rape-fetishism, and spewed it out, half-digested, into print. The mythology of Brasyl is plainly there to see, but it sits just to the side of your vision, a reminder.

Awesome.

The Grafton I first encountered in the early 90s was hardly the most savoury place in Central Auckland, but was by all accounts a substantially different from the neighbourhood that had seen punks throwing themselves off the iconic bridge, and Baxter entering the commune in Boyle Street. It still smelled of history though.

Today the past of the neighbourhood is erased under the weight of SUVs, apartments and expensive ‘restored’ houses, but then I could still feel the impress of my parent’s footprints in the grass of the Auckland Domain. I could still make the walk to Albert Park, the centre of New Zealand’s modest student revolution, and laze beneath the trees and palms. I was a long, long way from the 1970s, but I was 21 and living in my father’s skin, just for a time, to see what and how he might have felt.

Lonely was my impression. Auckland has never been a forgiving place, and the winters, while not as bitter as my experiences of heavily concreted Wellington, were damp and brooding. But still I saw the ongoing hardship of the street peoples there, and knew all too well what it was to be hungry and addled. And that is what I thought life then must have been. From reading of Baxter I know that he lived there a relatively short time before my father did, and the experiences of the young addicts in the Boyle Street commune must have also been his. The increasing police surveillance. The final ostracisation from a bewildered mainstream Auckland. The political foment as ideas were thrown up every day to challenge the status quo.

It was into all this my mother followed my uncle to the big smoke, and it on Carlton-Gore Street she must have met my father, she the liberated woman, he the liberated son. Pretentions about their affair I have not. Having been the young man I know all too well how confusing the flatting and student scene can be, how transient the friendships and living arrangements. I do wonder of the romance of it all though, from time to time. My examination of their pasts does lead to wonder – had things been different? Only to dismiss the idea as a child’s idealisation.

The fact is that my father was becoming increasingly sick, his dislocation from society almost irreconcilable, his entry to that subculture usually attracting the attention of the Law, permanent.

But, from this melange of history, this dare I say it, crucible of the changes that made New Zealand what it was in the 80s and 90s, I emerged – doubtless wailing (as appropriate). Although, there was something of an interlude that in itself became deeply formative to me. Because while my father descended more deeply into what became an all-encompassing lifestyle, my mother once again followed my uncle, this time away to Balmain, Sydney, another centre of the revolution, and it was there, in 1971, that I was born.

F,FLP

My paternal grandfather was, contrary to his current self, an authoritarian in his younger days. Like many conservative men of his generation his word was final within family boundaries, and it was his guidance that steered the family through the shoals of early 60s life. They were comfortable but not affluent. They were working to pay off their home. They had five healthy children. A typical post-War scene mirrored throughout the nation.

My father though, my father was not cut from the same cloth. Where his older brother was very much typical of Baby Boomer men, concerned with beer, rugby and work, Howard seems to have been ‘odd’ from a young age. Unsurprisingly he was gawky and awkward (as am I), and I’m told his intellect separated him from his peers. Fitness was not a concern to Howard, and in sport-obsessed New Zealand, where one was measured by their ability with the ball, he was at odds with the common man.

I’ve never been able to glean the nature of the relationship between these two. And while I’m of the impression that the years since Howard’s death have softened my grandfather, I can see that he still wonders how things might have worked differently, had he been able to save his son from the fate overtaking him. But this is the mystery of life, isn’t it? If I have settled on one thing in these many pages, it is that while we each make choices from within the resources we are given, there are unknowable weights bearing us forward, history an unseen burden upon our shoulders.

This was the way with the two of them. Different from those around him, my father sought out like minds and drifted into the counter-culture while my grandfather sought to fetch him back to what he himself knew best, the normality of the nuclear family. These two forces, one seeking the end of conformity, the other seeking certainty and reliability, sheered, the resultant friction burning both men, killing one, almost destroying the life of the other.

But what is a revolution without fatalities, no?

I can sit now and see the photos, my father a boy, a teen, a young man, and see with the years of hindsight since I was that same boy what it must have been for my grandfather. For a man to see his child so distant, so at odds with everyday life must have been heart-rending. But, this generation of men were not permitted to express angst or anguish, so the loss must have merely sat, an actual darkness, one I was to find he and his family still sharing quietly between themselves, some 20 years after my fathers’ death.

F,FLP

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