Another Day, Another Blog

June 8, 2007

Melvyn goes to the moon

Filed under: elsewhere, ficlet — iamza @ 1:54 pm

Melvyn arrived at Tranquility Base at 14h17 EST. 399 minutes later, he was dead.

The journey there was long and uncomfortable for everyone. Buzz tried to get a conversation started, but it quickly devolved into a tourist-like monologue involving lots of hand-waving and finger-pointing. Michael was occupied with the disengagement routines, and Neil was too busy steering to really take note of their surroundings.

Melvyn, tired of dodging Neil’s elbows and Buzz’s fingers, had quickly retired to the back of the space-craft. The back wall was covered in pipes and wires, but there was an empty space on the floor that was just big enough to accommodate Melvyn’s tiny form, and he strapped himself to it with gratitude.

Melvyn could feel the skin of the craft vibrating beneath him as powerful rockets pushed them further and further out into space, towards a place they knew only through myth and lore.

Luna, land of the crazy and the strange. A magical realm of shadows and secrets, she also offered a promise of hope; surely, once their historic journey was complete, once they’d showed others that it could be done, their people would spread out amongst the stars, and discover the universe in all its glory?

It took three days for their ship to fly from the Earth to Luna. Three days of pre-packaged food that tasted like cardboard. Three days of fluids settling in all the wrong places once gravity relinquished her hold. Three days of endless waiting and little sleep.

Three days of air that smelled of old socks and unwashed laundry, of sweat and grime and damp and piss. Three days of never quite knowing which way was up, or what your foot would hit next.

Three days to travel a distance of nearly 250,000 miles into the galactic wilderness, knowing that there was no way out if things went wrong.

Three days of longing and imagining and dreaming of being the first to touch the surface of a new world.

They landed, and Houston told them to rest and recover from the journey down. Melvyn swore, practically vibrating with impatience, and Neil and Buzz weren’t much better. They locked down the communications, gingerly strapped themselves to eggshell-thin gold foil walls, and pretended to sleep.

At 14h00, Melvyn couldn’t pretend anymore. He got up, and checked his gear, and Neil and Buzz quickly followed suit, and by 14h55, the door was open and they were unfolding the ladder. 

Melvyn went first. He touched the ground, and his feet sank into soft brown dust, and he felt almost normal for the first time in days. There was an up and a down again, and the sky above was black, and the ground below was soft and full of dust and rocks, and he was alone. He took a step, misjudged it, and almost fell; the gravity was so low, he felt like he could fly.

Neil came down the ladder next, carefully putting one foot after the other. At the bottom, he turned, and the wonder on Neil’s face was framed in the visor of his helmet. 

Melvyn smiled. It was beautiful here. He turned away from Neil, and looked at the horizon whose amplified curve reinforced the alien nature of this new world they’d discovered.

Neil took a step. “That’s one small step for a man,” he said, as his foot came down, and he took another, larger, step, “And one giant leap for mankind.” 

Then Neil landed on Melvyn, and antkind’s visit to the moon was over almost before it had begun.

Moral of the story: “Dead ant, dead ant, dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant…”  

June 2, 2007

Filed under: bright ideas, elsewhere, humour, sci-fi — iamza @ 10:53 pm

May 14, 2007

Honey, I’m home

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 10:32 am

No matter how much I enjoy a vacation, it’s always a relief to get back home. It’s a smile that starts as I drive up the hill, past the still pink-coated cherry trees on the islands of grass either side of the road, over the speedhumps and past the corner store. Expands as I go past the RAC van that never moves, and then turn into the dandelion-infested driveway, noting without surprise that the dandelions are about ten times the size they were before I left.

I really know I’m home when I open the front door, and smell the pine-scented perfume from the candle I bought for less than a dollar in Canada about five years ago. Turn on the heating, and the lights, and it’s like the house is a dormant dragon slowly coming back to life.

I love arriving at a new destination — that moment of chaotic confusion when I realize I have no idea where I’m going, or what to do next. Everything is new, shiny and bright, and my eyes are tracking in about fifty directions at once. Everything captures my attention, if only for a moment, and I wish I could sit down, or stand up, or go to sleep, all at once.

But coming home, well, it’s like finding a part of myself that I left behind.

May 11, 2007

Road trips

Filed under: bright ideas, elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 7:00 am

At some point, probably in the not too distant future, I am going to have to buy a GPS thingy for my car. It is impossible to read a map-book whilst driving, and the idea of pulling off onto a sidestreet is unappealing. Not least because there are no straight roads in Britain, and diversions that look like they should be fairly straightforward invariably involve the sort of complex geometry that I’m sure snooker players can perform while standing on their heads on the edge of a snooker table, but for which I require paper, protractors, and one of those multi-angled rulers.

Besides, I kind of like the idea of being given directions by an inanimate object which talks like Frank Sinatra, or Spock from Star Trek. It takes the edge off those long lonely cross-country car journeys by giving one something else at which to swear.

I wish sometimes that I had the time and money to be able to do a cross-country road-trip across North America. Ideally, I’d get to see all the US states on the way out — except Hawaii, of course, unless I could get my hands on James Bond’s submarine car (with its see-through glass canopy for that all-round submersible spy-tracking capability) — and come back via the Canadian provinces. Just think of it: driving until you get bored, then looking for a small rural town in which to crash. If you’re lucky, the townspeople are kind and sweet, and don’t try to feed you to ancient Norse God-infested apple trees, or hit you about the head with freaky green meteorite rocks that turn you into a monster, or send you travelling to distant galaxies in ships part-crewed by naked grey aliens with attitude issues, or, you know, otherwise try to steal your car, money and/or life. :-)

I’d love to drive along the rocky cliffs on the coast of California, preferably in a convertible with a working retractable roof — but only if there are no birds about. Guano up close I do not need to see, thanks very much.

I’d love to go back to Quebec, preferably accompanied by someone fluent in french this time, and go canoeing on Lake Manicouagan. Better yet, I’d opt for a luxury yacht, and just sail round and round in circles for a few hundred years. Or, at least, until the RCMP stopped by to tell me I was no longer welcome because the bears were complaining about the noise…

I’d love to stop over in small towns, places where no tourist tries to go by design. Imagine travelling for weeks on end, deciding at whimsy, or by the flip of a coin, whether to turn left or right at the junction, or just keep on going straight. No deadlines, no timetables, no reservations to make and keep. Just a wide open road, and the horizon.

And a GPS that sounds like Spock.

May 5, 2007

A town called Welkom

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 7:00 am

I used to live in a town called Welkom (or, translated into English, Welcome). After the thriving metropolis of Johannesburg, Welkom felt small and rural. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Welkom was largely a centre for the local mining and farming communities, which made for an interesting mix. Rolling golden wheatfields and the occasional cattle herd were interspersed with barbed wire fences (and numerous KEEP OUT! signs) surrounding clusters of tin-roofed buildings, dirty warehouses, and an enormous pseudo-ferris wheel.

Welkom is surrounded by gold, but at the time I lived there, you would never have known. Gold prices the world over were plummeting, and many of the mines, marginal to begin with, were closing up shop. Eavesdrop on any conversation in town, and invariably it would turn to the sad state of the gold mining industry, and how tight things were at home.

With a population of 300,000, Welkom was not exactly a country village, and yet it retained some of that charm. The market came to the park in the town centre one Saturday a month. The other three Saturdays, people spent the mornings in the local shopping mall, or at the garden centre, or in the park, eating ice-cream and playing tag with the sea-gulls. At lunch time, the shops and banks closed down — except for the local burger joint which doubled as a coffee shop.

I lived in mine-housing, which felt a lot like a hotel. My room was like a studio flat, only without a kitchen. I had a bed, desk and bookshelves, and a seating area with two sturdy chairs and a round coffee table that had seen better days. The adjoining bathroom was huge, tiled in white, and all my own. For some strange reason, the bathroom made me think of Florida — I think it might have been the wood-slatted doors on the cupboard — and I always wanted to add a miniature palm tree to stand guard over the bath. I don’t know what I paid in rent for that room, and the food we got served, but it wasn’t enough.

There wasn’t a lot of chatter between residents of the hostel — largely, I suppose, because the residents were transitory. Some people stayed for days, others weeks, and some, I’m sure, are there even now.

After a few weeks, I made friends with a lady who was working as a physiotherapist/health worker for one of the mines. She was engaged to be married, and dreamed of the day when she’d finally escape into a home all her own. She loved craftwork, and her room was full of things she’d painted and made — from flowerpots and pottery to bedding and cushions.

The guy who lived down the hall from her was an electrical engineer, and he was in the process of building his own radio. He’d already built a computer, and repaired a busted old TV. His desk was a mess of circuit boards and wires, and I was quite envious of his soldering kit.

Across from him was the tall and lanky musician who had three electric guitars — he spent his days as an underground mine supervisor, and his nights with his band. 

Welkom was laid back, quiet and relaxed. Except when it snowed, and then the whole town simply ground to a halt. Shops and banks closed, and most of us made our way down to the park. I’ve never seen so many snowmen and igloos and forts from which to stage snowball fights in one place. It was like the townspeople, all of us, were ten years old again. A day later, the snow was gone, and the park was empty again. The only reminders of that momentary child-like glee were the sagging and deformed ice stalagmites poking up from damp grass where once snowmen stood.

April 22, 2007

One man’s rubbish is another’s treasure

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 12:03 am

The place I liked to play most as a kid was by the river. My sister and I would walk up sixteenth street to fifth avenue — usually making a brief stopover at Jimmy’s Cafe to replenish the sweet stores, and build up our picnic supplies — and then continue uphill along fifth avenue until it petered out in the red-gum-shaded parklands just after twenty-second street. From there, we followed a dusty pathway leading to an old stone jetty that jutted out over flat sun-baked rocks that had been worn smooth by ice-cold algae-tinged water.

The river — more of a stream really — separated our suburb from Delta Park, a bird sanctuary. Over the years, the river had migrated, leaving the bank on our side a relatively shallow easy walk down to the waterfront, but turning the far bank into a steep, sandy cliff. Someone had hacked a set of rough earth steps into the cliff-face, and an old tree-trunk had been wedged across the stream at it’s narrowest (and fastest flowing) point.

Back then, the river hadn’t been cared for much, and there was a lot of junk floating downstream. One afternoon, we hit paydirt in terms of treasure: A sheet of blue-and-white polystyrene packing had drifted ashore on the exposed granitic rock of the riverbed on our side of the stream. The polystyrene turned out to be a terrific base for making our very own mini-rafts, and some old ice-lolly sticks made great masts/rudders. We launched the rafts carefully into the maelstrom of the rapids just before the white water dropped away under the tree-trunk bridge, and watched with glee as they shot downstream. If we got the angle just right, the rafts would spin at the bottom of the rapids, and circle back towards quieter waters from which we could retrieve them by means of sticks.

Later, we tied notes to the masts.

Hello, fellow traveller.

I am a raft made by some kindly natives upstream. Please give me a bath and a good home.

 And,

J. H. loves C. G.

I used to wonder if anyone ever found our notes, or if they drifted slowly out into the Atlantic, unnoticed and unread. Maybe they even bobbed their way to a distant shore; ink slowly faded to nothing by sunlight and saltwater and rain, so that when they finally arrived, some tourist plucked our masterpieces from a rock pool, and muttered, “Damn kids today. Why don’t they ever pick up after themselves?”

April 5, 2007

A ramble in time saves nine

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 2:41 pm

     Long weekends are usually something I look forward to until right before they happen. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the time away from the office, because I do. But I tend to have such big plans for the weekend that I usually end up exhausting myself just by thinking about all the things I hope to accomplish, and ultimately end up doing nothing at all. What a waste of time!

     This year’s been a bit different. I’ve been so busy in the run-up to Easter that I’ve pretty much exhausted myself with work and family visits and travelling, and now that the weekend is just around the corner, I’m really looking forward to a few days of doing nothing. Which, knowing the way my universe works, means that I’ll probably accomplish heaps. Heh.

     May is a good time for vacation. It’s almost half way through the year, so no need to worry about using all your leave before the year is even part way done. My idea of a nightmare year is getting to the end of March and then realizing that I have no leave left. Stuck in the office every day for the rest of the year, with no time off for good behaviour. Scary, no?

     One of my old bosses used to work pretty much every day for a number of years, and accrue leave. Then he’d take off into the wild blue yonder for six months. When I left, he was dreaming of his next expedition: a trip to the Himalayas, and a chance to climb Mount Everest.

     James was a pretty amazing boss. He’d led the most exciting life, and had an amazing gift to make hours spent on the road pass by as if they were mere seconds. Well, minutes anyway. He spent one entire trip telling me all about his most recent vacation — he and his wife had travelled to Europe, and spent six months exploring the Alps. This included such romantic highlights as climbing ice cliffs and eating in restaurants located in hollowed out glaciers.

     Understand, James was not a young man — he was close to retirement age, but he still worked full time as a field geologist. This included weeks spent camping rough in the bush whilst mapping the surface geology, and periodically climbing down miles of ladders in the company’s small gold mines to map the underground geology, or stopping by the coal mines to have a look at the operations there. Working for James quite frequently left me feeling like I was chasing after a hyperactive two-year-old on a sugar high. I’d come back from a week in the bush, and collapse for a day or two. James, meanwhile, would go out rockhunting in a nearby quarry…

     The other thing that astounded me about James was his capacity to know exactly where he was (in a geologic geographic sense) at any given time. We’d be travelling down to one of the mines, and every once in a while he’d nod at the window. “Ecca Group,” he’d say, waving towards a roadside outcropping. Or, “Beaufort Group.”

     “How can you tell?” I asked once, after he’d gone into some detail as to the geological history of the Formation through which we were currently driving. I couldn’t figure out how he was able to tell so much about the geology without stopping to examine the rocks.

     “Oh,” he said, “didn’t I tell you? I have a photographic memory, and looked at a geological map of South Africa once. It had all the major roads marked.”

     D’oh!

     There are times when I wish I could go back to South Africa. I’d love to catch up with James, find out if he and his wife ever did make it to the Himalayas. Go back out into the bush with James. Do some field mapping, and come back at the end of a long hot day to eat one of his famous stews. (I know there’s a term for stews cooked slowly over banked coals in the bush, but for some reason I can only think of the word potjiekos, which is probably wrong. Curse you, brain, for not remembering all the Afrikaans words and phrases I laboured so long and hard to learn).

March 30, 2007

Sunshine in Stavanger

Filed under: elsewhere, the joy of life — iamza @ 1:16 pm

Everytime I visit Stavanger, I’m surprised by how pretty and how clean it is. White woodframe houses, seemingly freshly painted; shiny black or red roof tiles that glint in the sunlight. The city centre nestles down by the harbour, surrounded by stony grey mountains.

Old Stavanger is charming with its narrow cobbled streets, black cast iron streetlamps, and tiny white cottages with pots of flowers.

This last week, Stavanger has been bathed in sunshine and blue skies. I went expecting to arrive in a second winter, and started wishing I’d packed some summer shorts instead!

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