Monday, 14 August 2017

Finding the Line

“Where are you from?”
Neck half craned from the phone that had just died in his hand, the young man hadn’t seen this old man in a ragged coat a second ago, nor had he seen any of his surroundings ever before in his life.
“Brinian? Where’s that?”
“Rousay… Where am I now?”
“Rousay, why that’s in… That’s in Orkney! You might be the most Northern one I’ve met, and I’ve been riding the line for decades. Might have been one from Shetland… Think it was Brindister.”
“where am I? I was just there…”
“Aye, it’s confusing, no easy explanation… We’re in Bridgend.” The old man raised his eyebrows and pulled a grimacing smile, possibly meant to be interpreted as a welcome.
“what?” The fear rises.
“Bridgend. Wales I think. Congratulations, boy, you’ve just ridden the line! One of the longest continuous steps I think I’ve ever heard of!” The phone is still out, and still dead. The old man knows what the device is, but hasn’t had the attention or chance to become familiar with it.
“You look a bit peaky, son. I know a place. Come for a sit?” The old man lays a hand on the Orcadian’s shoulder, gestures with his other hand, and, without looking ahead, steps forward, forcing the younger man to as well. They step, feet moving, and they also, step, they are put into the line and they step forward.
“Here we are. Just as I remember; been a little while since I was last here mind.”
The young Orcadian drops his phone. “Fuckin’… OhmiGod, oh God.”
“Easy son. It’s just a pub. They say Edward Teach drank here. C’mon boy, just let me get you there, eh?” Gently, the old man walks the younger to the door of the Llandoger Trow. “We’re… We’re somewhere different.” Fear has passed into pure bewilderment in the young man’s eyes. “Aye son,” the older man says with a knowing smile. “I’m sorry. I’m gonna explain, it’s just best we sit somewhere good, you know?”
“so where are we then?!”
“Well, we were in Bridgend, and we stepped, lad, we stepped into Bristol. I stepped us here.”

The old man silently exhales through the tips of his mottled moustache flecked with ale foam. He is relieved; he tries to help them all, and he usually tries to take them to the Llandoger Trow, not for any real reason other than it being his favourite, but if they’re screaming, or crying, or anything extreme, it’s not easy; he’s there often enough to get recognised, not something he can say about anywhere else. The Orcadian is still has a slight tremor as he tries to grip his pint, but he is at least curious. “How does it work?”
“Hold on. Two steps back, now; what’s your name?”
“Sig. You?” The words are short bursts; in the face of what is going on, banal introductions merely waste time and breath.
“Jack.” The old man shifts in his seat, leans forward. “And I couldn’t tell you the scientifics. Whatever ‘it’ is, it works. I’m pretty sure anyone could do it, too, but I don’t know why only a few of us have stumbled into it. You just… Feel the line, you find it branching out in front of you, and you… Step.”
“What does.. What’s the line? This makes no sense.”
“The line is, well, it’s just there. I don’t know if it’s, like, geological, carried by the stones, or biological, or cultural, but it’s there. You’ll know it properly soon, you’ll get a feel for it. It’s the straightest line there is and it zigzags to everyplace it can.”
Maybe it’s a trick, Sig thought. Some midnight prank, it couldn’t be truly possible to go from Brinian in Orkney to Bridgend in Wales, to a pub in Bristol, to converse with an apparent madman, contradicting himself at every explanation. Surroundings don’t lie, though, and there is no way this is Brinian, and the step they took did seem to obliterate Bridgend into something completely different, an old city dock. “Where can it go, this line?”
“the line’s sort of, fishhooked, y’see to certain places. It’s trying to shoot off around the universe, but something has snagged it. What do you notice about the places we’ve been?”
“They’re different?”
“well, yes, but similar in one way. Think of the names. Bridgend, Bristol, you came from Brinian you say.”
“The names have the same first three letters?”
The old man smiled apologetically. “Yes. That is apparently what catches the line.”
“I don’t understand at all, Can you explain-“
“It is unexplainable.”
“But you’ve just told me a lot of how it works already?”
“I’ver told you how it works. I’ve told you what you’d learn yourself. I have not explained it, as I cannot.”
“Is it that complex? We’ve just stepped it twice.”
“It’s not complex. Medical law’s complex, but you can still learn it, you can have it explained to you step-by-step. There is no explanation for travelling the line. On its surface it is understandable, in its essence it is unexplainable.”
“Don’t let it trouble you. Why would you need to know? Why would you need to know the physics of it when you can step from Brisbane to Brighton?”
“That far?”
“Aye, though I wouldn’t recommend abroad too much, you can wear yourself out, and it’s not so easy to find the line. You don’t want to be stuck out there for too long.”
“So you’ve travelled all over? All over the line?”
“Yeah, I’ve travelled all along the line. When I first discovered it I just used it to go to as many places as possible; two, three every day, maybe less if they weren’t boring. You know, it’s sad, it does seem to keep you locked in to English speaking places. Different languages don’t seem to favour ‘Brih.’ After a while I bored of that, and set to truly walking the line, hoping to meet it in the middle, to walk it in a circle. It didn’t work; can’t explain why, after a few years I ended up in the same place I set off from, but you could feel it, the line did not overlap on itself. It is the straightest line there is. After a while I just set into what I do now, look for the signs along the line for a newbie, or a fellow traveller, anyone to help along the way a little.”

He knows exactly where he wants to go. Back to Brinian, cold, rainy Brinian, just find the line this one time and never trip up on it again. What about time? Can a straight line accidentally slip gently through time, to the past, into the future?
They are outside the Llandoger Trow now. “I can feel it there, but it’s like it’s surrounded by a bubble. Like a membrane, like a womb. It’s like that part of the line, the time part, is unfinished; you can get a feel for the blueprint of the path but if you were to take a step you’d find that there was no road there. You’d fall.” The old man’s eyes are darting in the night air. Is this what finding the line looks like? “Think I’ll step out… Step on over to… Brierfield. Aye, Brierfield, and find a place to kip.” The old man’s eyes swat to Sig’s. “You’ll be alright?”
“aye, aye I spose so…”
“well, alright then. I’m sure our paths will cross again.” The old man looked like he tripped over himself, his ragged coat clapping like a pigeon’s wings in the air for a brief moment before the sole of his shoe scraped a last time on the dockside  and he was gone, tumbling up the line to Lancashire.

Feel the line… Sig blinked in the night air. He screwed his eyes shut, he darted his eyes around like old Jack. He held his breath. No line in the air. How had he done it before? Just as he began to panic about the strange journey he’d have to make from Southern England to the Isle of Rousay, he felt it. Unsheathed in front of him, both minute and infinitely long from behind Sig and on in front of him, he felt the line. Taut as a wire, sharp as a razor, gleaming on the dockside, immeasurably straight but pulsing with the roundabout of places it joins up all over, Sig’s breath left him, his eyes unblinking and his mouth open, and he stepped into the line and out of the dock, and into a cemetery. The cemetery at Brinian, Rousay. It was night, but he could hear the sea churning strong, he could see the stars, and he could feel the whiplash streak of the line screening forever in all directions, the straightest edge there was. Unexplainable.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Lives in our Death: Rewilding for a Post-Human World.

Apocalyptic visions are getting harder and harder to ignore in the 21st century; they’re embedded densely in popular culture, the media frequently leans towards intense catastrophic fear-mongering, and many experts are espousing troubling theories about the nearing end-times, including the man who conceived of the ‘Gaia’ hypothesis, James Lovelock.
            Instead of spurring a drive towards correction, this kind of embedded fear has all too often led to frantic action and bizarre offsetting of fear; Slavoj Žižek observes that in the face of impending sea level rises and the loss of both ice caps, people are instead attracted to (and fed by the media) stories about possible carbon-saving boat travel across the newly created Arctic sea, or the possiblility of Antarctica as an entirely new plain to colonise. This impedes the kind of radical environmental action massively; people are either happy to continue with business as usual or are too pessimistic to do anything proactive.
            Rewilding is definitely proactive and radical; it suggests a drastic change in our approach to natural landscapes to just leave them be, or to reinstate vital aspects of ecosystems that we have helped eradicate (such as large predators) to enable them to be self-sufficient. Many, including George Monbiot in his seminal book on rewilding in Britain, entitled Feral, espouse human-oriented arguments that delve into the spiritual and the economic. I believe that, especially in the case of humans becoming extinct, rewilding is essential simply for the planet.
            As the global landscape stands, especially in Europe, where there are animals, there are fences. We alone can permeate these fences; we bring the animals their feed, we rake away their droppings. The space animals, especially livestock, are allowed to occupy is a liminal space, often without natural function. The same can be observed in some ‘wild’ and natural spaces; conservation organisations created ‘natural disturbance’ to manage the lives of the animals therein, also most likely fenced in. What happens to these animals when we die?
            Presumably, they also die. Without a supply of food, surrounded by their own muck and often separated from breeding partners, these animals will die, and rot, and provide food for the scavenging few that can even make it past the fence such as birds or insects. If this was a rewilded or truly wild space, it would be self-sufficient and naturally functioning. Animal carcasses would of course be present in the landscape, but they would be integrated into the natural processes present just as should occur in the wilderness. Species can roam, breed, interact, spread, just as animals and plants naturally do; they are fluid.

Although the lifetime of a fence is far greater than their own lives, the chance we would give them to be able to live and breed for generations yet to come before the fence finally falls is still a whole lot better than the meagre chance afforded to our pets, zoo occupants, livestock, pitiful nature reserves. To not think of the lives of those we implicate in our own past our species’ extinction is as absurd as assuming that when you die, everyone else dies. Besides, through proactive rewilding, we might even solve some of the apocalyptic issues currently plaguing our planet such as carbon emissions, deforestation, and the terrifying loss of biodiversity the world over.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Mahana: Taking in the backdrop

The main story of Mahana directed by Lee Tamahori is a drama of past romance, a coming-of-age tale, and a tale of rural New Zealand in the 1960s. I do not with to spoil the plot, but more importantly wish to look through this, into the thriving backdrop of culture and environment that pervades the film, based on one of the acclaimed Maori novelist Witi Ihimaera’s books.
            In a colonial and a postcolonial setting, where people are from is important, and speaks volumes about their perception of the world, and their place in it. It oddly took me a while to see the structure of race and culture present in Mahana’s rural mid-twentieth century New Zealand; the main story looks at a rivalry between two Maori Iwi’s (family groups), the titular Mahanas and the Poatas. While these two groups squabble and struggle against one another, the white employers, mostly shown in the character Collins, can take a back seat; they have guaranteed employment, why should they be involved? Indeed, the arguments between the Poatas and the Mahanas incorporate the contracts given out by the white man.

Although the patriarchal grandfather Temehana Mahana owns lands, it is accentuated that he started from nothing, and seeks out contracts for employment from white employers anyway. It is thus interesting that young Simeon and his peer group are so interested in American culture, particularly cowboy films featuring the likes of John Wayne; although in Mahana, the Maoris represented are the cowboys, in the cowboy films native Americans are the enemy, and Maori’s likely suffered similar humiliations and defeats, resulting in the drastic assault on the landscape with European land tenure systems and livestock practices, namely sheep rearing, which the Mahanas have settled into reciprocating and maintaining. While the sheep munch away the environment, changing the landscape, there is a scene wherein the main characters are ‘reduced’ to scrub clearing; not only do they maintain the livestock which has changed the indigenous landscape, they are forced to become the changers of landscape to settle the need for cash income. The Maori culture is attacked in more overt ways throughout; the Maori language is not allowed to be spoken in court and Temehana is fiercely biblical.
 I am also interested in the character of Mr. McKenzie. McKenzie is Simeon’s teacher, and seems to be more progressive, taking Simeon under his wing, and encouraging him to be honest and true to himself. I wonder if the character of McKenzie could be anything other than a Scotsman; the same role filled in with an Englishman or a white New Zealander would have a flattened effect, as their dominance as a teacher would merely be accentuated; but the Scottish are different, they have a culture separate from the English and an ecological history that has been similarly assaulted by capitalist agriculture.

            I am merely flexing my thoughts on culture and environment in this piece, and regret that I do not go into the complexities of feminism apparent in the film; outside of New Zealand, the film was released under the title ‘the Patriarch,’ and it is accentuated throughout the domineering social structures that oppress women in society, both in the mid-twentieth century Maori society, and New Zealand society more broadly.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A&E: a brief journal

I fell in love with the waiting room yesterday. The sort of place that usually makes me squirm and broil with general upset was suddenly a constant source of fascination. Perhaps my eyes were opened to this because I wasn’t in need of attention (my girlfriend possibly broke a bone in her hand) and also I was extremely hungover so all I really wanted was somewhere to sit and focus on nothing, possibly sleep, all of which was granted to me.
            On arriving in the taxi, we see three women waiting for a lift away. They were dressed in beautiful and precisely worn headscarves and shawls, of deep and satisfying colour and pattern. Inside, hospital staff are everywhere and attempting to get everywhere, in their various coloured scrubs with embroidered meanings on the back. It occurred to me suddenly that this place is never empty; the staff don’t close up shop when the last patient of the day leaves at 5pm sharp. The injured hordes will continually pour in, or stumble in at least (there seemed to be a lot of foot injuries.)
            The police appeared three times, an event that caught my attention as someone instantly alerted by sirens and their associated symbols. The first time they were dropping off a name and description at the reception. The second time, they brought in Barry, who was not under arrest; it appeared maybe he’d been found collapsed somewhere and they were helping them in. He looked like he’d had some form of stroke but it could’ve been something else. He wore a jumper back-to-front that should’ve had the Dr. Pepper logo on the front, but was instead of course on his back. Barry could not sit still; despite being told a number of times to remain in his seat by the patient staff, he would switch seats, converse with anyone, wander outside, wander down the hallways, and generally disappear. The third time the police appeared, they had someone in handcuffs. A short, unshaven man from the North, his arms covered in faded tattoos. From the conversations I caught between him and the officers, he was an alcoholic. He was obviously distressed, in his worn out blue t-shirt and grey jogging bottoms.

            There seemed to be quite a few Irish people working in the hospital and waiting for help. There was one Scottish man, in some deal of discomfort, with a young daughter who couldn’t sit still. She developed a slight fascination with the water cooler, and continually attempted to impress my girlfriend (who couldn’t care less what with the painful arm) with her acrobatic methods of getting onto and off of her chair. Inevitably Barry conversed with the child.