Monday, 29 October 2012

Timbuktu Days, Part I

Timbuktu isn’t the easiest place in the world to reach. On the southern boundary of the Sahara Desert, and at the northern extreme of the habitable part of Mali, it’s a city in the middle of nowhere.

There’s the overland option, which involves a day or so in the back of an overcrowded Landcruiser on shifting, ephemeral sandy tracks. Or there’s the maritime route. The Niger River flows right by the city’s doorstep, and a four day cruise through the Sahel sounded like my kind of travel.

In Mopti I found a Lebanese family and a couple of French girls who were thinking the same and together we hired a vessel, a long thin pinasse, and a couple of crew to take us there. With the small motor chugging, we set off north towards the desert and straight into the stiff harmattan wind which was blowing with a chill off the water.

Drifting into the grey unknown...the air was hazy with sand and the sun shone through a veil, the wind relentlessly bending the eucalypts which lined the river as we sailed through the barren landscape. The harmattan is the trade wind that blows from the Sahara southwards for several months of the year, blustering without reprieve, dropping temperatures down low. In this bleak no man’s land we occasionally passed another pinasse, with sails made of plastic or cloths pieced together, billowing in the wind – desert pirates who waved as they passed. The river cut through the harsh surroundings.

There were villages on the banks, the mud huts blending into the harsh grey scenery. Dusty children waded into the water to wave at us, goats scrambled on the banks, people sat and fished and worked. We pulled in at villages to buy fish and were surrounded by bubbling mobs of kids. They stared, they asked questions, they demanded gifts and they gave high fives as we left.

The days passed gradually. Talk a little, eat a little, doze a little. I sometimes climbed up onto the roof to escape the engine noise and splashing water. I was struck by the kindness and love the Lebanese family showed to each other, and the way this extended to me and the French girls and the skipper and deckhand. There was warmth and laughter on our little boat as we edged towards Timbuktu.   

I was full of expectation for this mysterious place. For several hundred years from the 12th century, Timbuktu was a wealthy trading city. I envision scholars writing poetry in cloistered mud dwellings, merchants wandering the marketplaces checking on their produce and griots playing music to all who would listen. Before European ships sailed the coast of Africa, Timbuktu was the final link between West Africa and the Mediterranean. Gold, ivory, salt and slaves were marched across the desert in camel caravans. Even today, salt which comes from the mines of Taoudenni, 740km to the north, arrives in Timbuktu in large slabs carried by camels. The distance is covered in sixteen nights, with rest during the day.    

We camped out at night, the crackling fire keeping us entertained into the evening, and on the afternoon of the fourth day we docked at the port in Korioume.  We had arrived. The river had delivered us. 


Monday, 22 October 2012

TV is the devil

TV is the devil o yea

It leads us into temptation.

That devious device we invite into our homes to

sit in the corner and batter us with

crass comments and insidious urgings.

It says the kingdoms of sports, movies and crime drama

will be ours if only we fall down and worship it.

Its forked tongue turns us from participants to observers

in the dance of life.

Every night it comes bearing news,

but even this serves only to depress and fill us with fear

and a sense of hopelessness in a world out of control.

TV is the devil o yea.

The microwave is Lazarus o yea

It brings food which is stiff and cold

back to life, to be enjoyed once more.

The dishwasher is John The Baptist o yea

It cleanses our plates and glasses

And washes their unholiness away.

The refrigerator is Noah’s Ark o yea

Into this vessel go the chickens and the fishes

and the lambs and the bacons and the beefs and the turkeys

that would otherwise surely perish.

The sink is Pontious Pilate o yea

Where we wash our hands of all that ails us.

The radio is Jesus o yea

So let’s gather round and listen.   

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A debate

Adjudicator: Welcome ladies and gentleman to this week’s debate. Last week we had a cracker, those of you who were here will remember the battle regarding Arnie’s greatest movie – Kindergarten Cop vs Twins. And tonight promises to be a beauty.

For many of us, life just seems to happen without our having much say in it. We have jobs, we have family, we have social obligations. Our days are full and we don’t seem to have the time to stop and think whether or not things are really taking the direction we want. Could I be doing things differently? Am I happy with my life? These questions may arise sometimes, but do we really address them with the attention they deserve? We feel constrained by external factors and internal fears so that we can’t face up to any major changes that may be needed. And then there’s all that tv to watch.

Well ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have two speakers who have thought about these questions and they will each propound their chosen philosophy for living. A debate entitled: How are we to live? Without further babble from me, I pass you to speaker number one.

Speaker One: Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I am here to speak to you tonight for some few minutes, and I hope to convince you through my humble words that we should live each day as if it were our last

We know that life is precious. I’m sure each of you understands that life goes by fleetingly; the days, weeks and years seem to go by faster and faster all the time with irresistible momentum. Our children are one day babies, going to school the next , and getting married the very next. And though we may feel as if we were young people only yesterday, we look in the mirror and find a grey haired, wrinkle-faced person staring in amazement back at us.  Life is short, ladies and gents. And it is for this very reason that we must seize every opportunity that comes our way. We can’t afford to put off doing those important things with the people we love, we must live as though it were our last day on earth.

Picture yourself, ladies and gentlemen, on your death bed. You are in your final moments, looking back on your life. Your one life. Would you like to be feeling as though you gave it a good tally ho, you lived each day with zest, with gusto, with the thought that you might not have another day? Or would you prefer to be thinking of how you were cautious and put things off until another day and you let fear dictate what you would or would not do with your time?

Live each day as if it were your last. If we truly grasped this concept surely we would be calling our mother to tell her we love her, we would watch the sun go down with the people we care most about. We would make a special dinner and invite all our friends to sit, drink some wine and enjoy healthy food and colourful conversation.  

Not only would our individual lives be more vibrant, but the world would be more harmonious, more joyous and less rapacious than the world we currently find ourselves in. Carpe diem, my friends. Seize the day. We must live each day as if it were our last, because you never know, perhaps it is.

Speaker Two: Thank you to the first speaker for a top speech. You gave it a good shot mate. However, my friends, I am here to tell you tonight that we should definitely not live each day as if it were our last. I’ll show you how stupid that is, and I have a much better plan for you. 

Firstly let’s look closely at the phrase ‘live each day as if it were your last’. Just imagine, my friends, that it was our last day on earth. Let’s say there was a meteor coming to hit the earth tomorrow and kill us all. It’s unavoidable. Even Bruce Willis can’t stop this one.  Ok, are you imagining? Do you think many people would be going to work on this, their last day on earth? I wouldn’t be there. It’s the last day for crying out loud! There’s no tomorrow, so there are no ramifications for our actions. It’s all about instant gratification. There’s no future to plan for. No point in beginning long term projects, no reason to invest energy in helping somebody unless you expect instant results and thanks. Just have fun, get high, get happy right now. Take all your money out of the bank and throw it off a bridge, just to see it fall.

Imagine a world full of people all wildly trying to spend their last twenty four hours going down in a blaze of glory. There’d be looting of liquor stores, shooting, brawling, biting, rooting, nudity in the streets, madness on the roads and fires burning through the night. Sure, there may be a few lovely sunset dinners, but they’d probably be run through by a band of drunken hoodlums who’d steal the chicken drumsticks and stomp on the pavlova.

And imagine planning the perfect evening with your most precious loved one only to find that, seeing as it’s the last day and all, she’s decided she’d rather have a quick fling with your best mate. And your brother.

Then we’d all wake up in the morning. We’d realise the previous day hadn’t in fact been our last, and we’ve now got a choice to make. We could either go about making some apologies, fix the hole in the wall and go back to work. Or we could think, well it wasn’t true for yesterday, but maybe I should live today as if it were my last.

No, I think if we lived each day as if it were our last we’d make such a mess of things that we’d pretty soon be wishing it was.

I propose we should instead live each day as if it were our first. I don’t mean lying around naked, screaming and kicking my legs around like I did as a baby on my first day on earth. I mean that we could stop acting so damn clever like we know it all, like we've seen it all before. Instead we could take a leaf out of the kids' book and keep on looking at the world with wide-eyed innocence, with wonder and excitement. Glowing as the sun warms my face as if I’ve never felt such a thing before. Fully appreciating that first bite of a crunchy apple, smiling at a stranger on the street, feeling the wind in my hair at a cliff-top lookout, listening to smooth chords strummed as though for the first time. Live like it's your very first day. 

There are plenty of things in this old world of ours that can really blow your mind, if you just stop and think. You know there are. You can look at nature. Listen to the stories of people around you. There’s art, there’s literature, there’s music. There’s a world of amazement, we just need to open our eyes to it. And if I’m in that kind of head space, then I’m going to be more able to help other people which I reckon is what it’s all about really.

Speaker One: Thank you to Speaker Two for your, ahem, original insights. Let me ask you though, seeing as you have attacked my theory for the fact that people wouldn’t be going to work. Let me ask you compadre, if it were your first day on earth, would you indeed be going to work? Or would you be walking round all goggle-eyed staring at apples, waving your hair in the breeze like a demented Pantene girl, gawking at strangers, and gazing in wonderment at the stripes on a zebra crossing until you get run down by a truck?
Your theory would lead to a world full of drooling weirdos, I’m sorry to say it.

Speaker Two: Better drooling weirdos than rampant rapists.

Speaker One: What about Robin Williams eh? Captain My Captain!

Speaker Two: Oh right, let’s all stand on our desks, like that makes for a good’s written somewhere that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Speaker One: What by golly do you even mean by that? Keep up this nonsense and I’ll see to it that  this is your last day mister!

Speaker Two: With that attitude you won't last mate!

Adjudicator: errrm haha, thank you indeed to our two speakers. Yes, a fierce competition tonight. How are we to live? And as I look at the tallied scores, I have found in fact it was a tie! A dead heat. My oh my. So how do we resolve this? Well, I’ve listened closely to both your arguments, and humble adjudicator though I may be, I have come up with my own theory which I believe takes the good points from both your proposals, and here it is...

We should live each day.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

The "Laser" and I

I gave away the wreck of the “Laser” today.

It’s been with me through a tumultuous period of my life, moving all around the country in search of something, I'm not sure what. I first joined forces with the “Laser” when, in a dazed state, I returned from Africa and renegotiated life in the western world. I was a car owner again.

It took me from Copa to Tumbi to work in the bush with Foz for a few lantana-filled months. Then it was loaded up with all my gear and we drove south, to the sound of The Panics, with the windows down and the spring sunshine streaming through the windscreen, as I headed for new beginnings in Tasmania. The green south coast opened up for me, and I wound along the bends with excitement and anticipation. I drove into Melbourne with From St Kilda to Kings Cross by Paul Kelly playing on the ever-unreliable CD player. The “Laser” and I boarded the Spirit of Tasmania and crossed Bass Strait through the night, then drove from Devonport down to Hobart over the next couple of days. We explored Tassie together – looking for waves at Clifton with Tim and Brooke, cruising down the Tasman Peninsula with Dad, up Mt Wellington with Mum, Cradle Mountain with Crumbs and Rowson, and trips up to Triabunna to get the ferry over to Maria Island for work. I spent the week on the island, and when I came back, there was the “Laser” waiting for me, quiet and reliable.  

In Winter, with a rare snow falling on the streets of Hobart, I once again loaded the “Laser” up with everything I had and said goodbye to old places and one or two friends I had made. With uncertainty and sadness we drove north and again crossed Bass Strait in the night. Through Melbourne, and along the Great Ocean Road, this time the “Laser” was taking on the mighty road west. The mechanic in Hobart said it wouldn’t make it; the road was too long, too hot, too much. Not worth it, mate. But the “Laser” was in and out of Adelaide in a flash, then it conquered the Nullarbor, swallowing up the kilometres. As I lost the plot, the “Laser” held us together, and guided us safely to the coast and into Perth. We were once again together in a new city, not really sure if it was the right thing, the right place, but it was a place and that was enough. The “Laser” helped move all my stuff into Sam’s house, then in with the Shazza’s, then again in with Alena on Forrest St.

It’s taken me on trips through the beautiful WA south west. Camping in calm, quiet Karri forests, and past white sandy beaches. Around Christmas I let it overheat, and the mechanic asked if I was sure it was worth fixing. Heck yeah fix it up, I said, it’ll go forever.

It drove me and Foz on a marathon trip to Exmouth and Karijini, without missing a beat. Michael Franti was blasting whenever the smug CD player deigned to allow music, and the wind blew through the open windows as we raced through the WA outback. We stared at the expanse of flat red earth, we relished being alive in this wild country, two good mates living the dream. The roads got rough and sandy, but the “Laser” just kept on going.  It was loaded with gear and covered in red dust, and it loved every moment.

The “Laser” was with me on those trips away with Suzie – we explored the WA mid-west, singing along to Gomez, Pearl Jam and even Johnny Farnham for a laugh. Her foot tucked up beneath her on the seat, the wind ruffling her blonde hair. She looks over at me, pokes me in the arm and says I just wanna wish you well in synch with Bernard on the stereo. The “Laser” was alongside on that moonlit night as we played guitar and drank red wine, talking about the strangeness of life.

It’s been with me through all of that.

Then in a careless moment I smashed it face-first into the back of a truck.

“We’ll take it off your hands mate, but that’s all we can do for you”.

The wreckers made it sound as if they were doing me a favour. I signed a piece of paper, gave them the keys, and walked out into the sunshine. With a phillips head screw driver, I slowly removed the number plates, put them in my bag, then turned and left.
Tall trees - Mt Field, Tassie

Camping somewhere in South Aus

The road to Red Bluff, WA 

The bluff

Karijini WA

Injidup WA

Foz stylin in red trackies


Monday, 1 October 2012

Places I Been


Once upon a time I was at Large.

Didn’t stay long -

them police boys they caught up with me,

took me into Custody,

said they’d bring me to Justice.

First they introduced me to my smart-man friend with the suit and tie.

Said he was a loyer

Though I didn’t see nothing much loyal about him.

He said let him do the talking, because my future was in Jeopardy.

I told him I didn’t want to live there, it’s too far from me kids.

He said to be serious because my kids life was at Stake.

Buggered if I know why he kept wanting to split me family up.


They put me in a cell with a few other blokes -

Criminal types.

Then we all went to court

The other loyer was pointing his finger

saying how me and those blokes were in Cahoots.

Not only that, but I was in Charge

And I was in Telligent.

How could I have been in all those places, when really I was in Nocent?

Never even been to Telligent.


The judge fell for it though.

He took me to Task,

said I should be in Carcerated

so he sent me to prison at Once.

That’s maximum security.

Now I dream of the blue sky and the green grass and me two kids.

I’m in Despair.