August 2009

For reasons unknown to me for many years I had always considered my grandmother, and my mother in turn, a witch. I should immediately qualify that by stating that I in no way mean the modern, inherently negative meaning of the word, in fact, it is quite the contrary. By witch I mean the woman who is made other by her weirdness, again in the pre-modern sense of the word, by her isolation from immediate social surrounds, and by her hard-won wisdom.

I’m sure I’ve stated before that the concept I most associate with Ngaire is ‘alone’, because while surrounded by her family it was on rare occasions that I saw her immersed in the simple act of being with other people. Always a little haughty and distant, she was always the square peg. And yet, looking back, she possessed, in my experience at least, the ability to make statements that could cut to the quick – but not out of spite, instead because they saw through the layering and social buffers with which small-town people (and perhaps New Zealanders in general) protect themselves.

And though, like her mother, she has never really known best how to wield the power, I see my own mother inheriting the mantle. Much of my childhood I remember my mother being alone in one way or another, and I remember that we were in many ways very odd within the social environ we found ourselves. While for the better part of my youth I wrote this difference off to her baby-boomer hippy past, yet in retrospect the hippy ethos was for many little more than a self-adhered veneer to allow one to slake off the negative aspects of sterile, ‘modern’ mid-C20th life.

It is that weirdness, the difference from the mainstream that I’ve come to regard as the true marker of the hippy of the baby-boomer generation. Those unpossessing of that otherness are, in my humble opinion, those most likely to have been on the hippie bandwagon, not genuinely interested in the revolution, but only in riding out its benefits.

I also emphasise the weirdness because it is that which defined the outcome for so many boomers. When the dust had started to settle, and the revolution had degraded into disco and velcro, the good-timers exited for the ‘next big thing’, while the true hippies retreated to the metaphorical hills.

That is, those who survived. Because no revolution is without a cost, and those who rebelled against the straight-jacket of conformity and authority New Zealand and the West represented paid many a price in poverty, in addiction, in mental illness, in family break-ups and in dependency, a wealth of costs they may or may not have seen coming. And so it was that my mother came through the revolution in isolation, the one inheritance from her mother she may not have desired or anticipated coming to the fore, and defining the remainder of her life.



My initial impulse after reading a few dozen pages was to put this one back on the shelf, and almost entirely because it is written in a style that can only be described as ‘juvenile’. The book feels very much like it was written for young teens, and involves pirates. What more can you say that that?

The concept of Sun of Suns is pretty interesting though. The universe is “Virga” is in effect a hollow earth, a massive balloon filled with air and elements out in space somewhere. Within this terrarium live a number of nations all competing for space and light, the latter provided by artificial “suns”.

And I found the concept pretty interesting, so stuck with it.

Virga is full of what amount to fan-propelled wooden men-of-war, operating in zero-g, and fighting it out with rockets!

I put aside my doubts, embraced the simplicity of the whole thing, and knocked if off in a couple of nights.

Back in the 60s there was a tendancy to to look to the mythology of ‘exotic’ countries like India, or Japan, as an inspiration for storylines.

And while these days we can sneer at the banality of it all, back then something like Buddhism was largely unknown in the West, and, you know, mind-blowing.

But this doesn’t mean I’m subjecting myself to several hundred pages of “ancient wisdom” masquerading as sci-fi…

I noted to myself recently that I have a tendency to buy and album and listen the hell out of it. Consequently the music becomes like a scent, and the faintest tones will transport me back to a time and place.

Today’s album is likely what prompted the friend to help make me this mix tape. Back in 1990 I’d started in working in a timber mill, and it was shit. I was working with munters on a big machine that almost took all my fingers off at least once (true), and was saving the meagre wages as hard as possible to get the hell out of dodge.

Meanwhile, I was listening to a crappy old walkman turned up to 11, giving myself the iPod deafness 20 years too early. With this, rocking*, number.

Yup. Crapness.

But I think what it did was start to instil some political consciousness. It had always been there, but this one was another angle on it. And it was better that listening to Metallica…

Now I think of it, there was something of a line from listening to early Midnight Oil, to this, and I therefore feel redeemed.

*not actually rocking

Well, I think the romance of New Crobuzon is broken for me. I was suspicious that Mieville jumped the shark on the concept as early as The Scar, and Iron Council confirmed it for me. Perhaps, had Mieville stuck to his knitting on the wonder that was the urban fantasy of Perdido Street Station he might have kept my attention, but the last two books I’ve read have been somewhat in the conventional fantasy mould, with a little steampunk thrown in there to bring them up to date.

So, not so great.

The one redeeming feature of Iron Council is the consistent use of golems by one character, in increasingly imaginative ways. I’m used to the concept of golems, but see them as a creature made of a specific matter. For instance, earth golem, iron golem, clay golem etc. But Mieville really pushes out the imaginative boundaries of this one fantasy creature in some pretty amazing ways. I’m almost tempted to issue a few spoilers in order to mention them…

As I say, the problem with Iron Council is that Mieville loses the awesomely dark, Babylonian mood of Perdido Street Station in favour of a more conventional travel-quest-fantasy. A frankly, these are boring. While there was enough action set in New Crobuzon for me to realise the city is a fantasization of London (one set of characters called Quillers, all of whom are dressed in suits and Bowlers…), the dark underbelly that makes the best urban fantasy was laid open too wide, and undermined the dramatic tension.

Likewise the premise of the iron council itself. The ‘iron council’ is a anarchist utopia Mieville introduces that is supposed to serve as some sort of counterpoint to the authoritarian-liberalism of New Crobuzon (and yes, the oxymoron is deliberate). And while I can see the vision, it’s a well-hashed idea leading all the way back to Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. Perhaps what Mieville is doing is exploring the increasing surveillance and control he is experiencing in a liberal demomcracy like British London.

My recommendation is: maybe as a holiday read. It is a whopping 500 pages after all.

Actually… I’m not sure why I called this a “running start”, when Chef Du Plunge can’t even crawl yet.

Little Blonde Kid: My arm is sore from holding it up and attention seeking! Curly-haired Kid: Frickin show pony...

Little Blonde Kid: My arm is sore from holding it up and attention seeking! Curly-haired Kid: Frickin' show pony...

Today was the wee man’s first day of childcare. Naturally Second Chef was in two minds about the whole thing and there was a few moments of wanting to go rescue him! My opinion is that most mothers reading this would have experienced exactly the same anxiety, and doubtless have great advice.

While I personally had some small twinges (almost entirely centred on nervousness about letting strangers care for my boy), I figure that we’ve in effect committed him to his first days of education (so only 18 years until the really heavy lifting starts then?)

I say education because kids really do seem to benefit from day care. My lack of experience of childcare made me sceptical about the whole thing until “a friend” had one of their daughters in care during a difficult family time, and the stability of that child is a testament to the carers. Chef Du Plunge is hardly in a difficult family situation, and the good news is that he’s unlikely to be so, but the value he could gain from the exposure to other totts is likely to be high enough that this day care business could just about pay for itself in the “well balanced child” stakes.

And apparently he spent the better part of the day having his toys taken away by a child who can crawl, and being crawled on by said tyke. Personally? I this is a good thing. CDP is a big boy at 11.5 kg and 8 months, so his learning tolerance of other kids will in all probability save Second Chef and I many many trips to speak with teachers!

In other news, he’s doing really well. Second Chef has given “elimination communication” a go, and he seems to pretty regularly be using the toilet, which is, IMHO, amazing. He might not be learning to crawl as fast as other kids, but if he’s out of nappies earlier then we’ll hardly begrudge him sitting and smiling like a wee cherub for a bit longer.

He’s also an outright smiley and happy kid who is a joy to be around. There’s those moments all babies have, toys flying and the like, but, he is a baby after all.

And we love him to bits.

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