Monday, March 29, 2010

A Brief Explanation of Easter

I was watching television this evening when an advertisement came on for chocolate. Not surprising given the time of year. The ad detailed how the gods of Olympus celebrated Easter with their particular brand of chocolate. Which made me wonder; exactly how much more can we debase our understanding of Easter? The gods of Olympus, to the best of my knowledge, had very little direct involvement in Easter. They were far too busy eating pomegranate seeds, changing people into various vegetables and themselves into bulls and golden showers to seduce mortal women (seriously were Greek women really into bestiality and golden showers?). Even with my somewhat shaky grasp of theology I know that Easter doesn't rate much of a mention here. So I thought I would detail the history of Easter as I understand it.

A long time ago, about thirty odd years after the birth of Christ there was religious strife in the Middle East (I know, I was shocked too). The principal cause of this strife was a jobbing carpenter named Jesus Christ. He was getting the local religious authorities in a complete frenzy because of his habit of pointing out where said authorities were going wrong and recommending improvements. Think of him as the Martin Luther of his day.

Anyway these religious authorities approached the local governor, a Roman named Pontius Pilate, and demanded that he do something about this long haired, young radical. The Romans were ruling this area for reasons too long and too bloody to go into now but being the murderous military dictatorship in residence they were no keener on rabble rousing preachers than the religious leaders. For forms sake Pilate demurred and gently pointed out that Jesus hadn't really done anything wrong but there is a fair bit of circumstantial evidence to indicate that the Romans would have been quite happy to see his career come to a messy end. Jesus was a popular, active young man with an increasing following and he wasn't the emperor. As far as the Romans were concerned that was quite enough.

Making a big show of bowing to popular pressure Pilate ostentatiously absolved himself of what was about to happen and had Jesus crucified. To understand how unlikely this show of reluctance was you need to realise that less than fifty years later the Romans would pretty much raze Judea to the ground while quelling a rebellion that was the result of even more popular pressure.

Now, here is where it begins to get weird. Jesus' followers claimed that he rose from the grave three days after his death and appeared to them with his wounds still upon him. Well, religions have started from less likely origins, Scientology comes to mind for a start. Over the next few centuries Christianity (a little egotistical to name it after himself, even Scientologists don't call themselves Hubbardists) spread in secret until eventually it was adopted as the Roman state religion. It is interesting to note how rapidly the Christian church reconciled itself to tyranny once they were the ones doing the tyrannising.

From modest beginnings the Christian religion spread all over the Roman world. This was probably made easier by the fact that the area was all under one government (as a sidebar does anyone else wonder why Italy still hasn't managed to achieve the degree of efficiency and organisation it possessed under the emperors?). When the religion hit western Europe however there was a problem. The pagans already had a religion which they too had shamelessly named after themselves.

The Christians, looking for ways to ease their belief system onto the somewhat reluctant folk of the west simply co-opted a number of pagan celebrations and re badged them as Christian holidays. It was decided that Easter should happen round about the Spring equinox which was a traditional celebration of fertility and rebirth. Not surprisingly eggs (being unborn chickens) and rabbits (who screw like, well, rabbits) were traditional symbols associated with this celebration. The Christian church scooped up the lot and squeezed it into their own holiday without bothering too much about whether it fitted. This is why we commemorate the tragic death of an idealistic religious reformer at the hands of a cynical, murderous government and a deeply compromised religious establishment by having rabbits deliver eggs. I don't know why the chocolate but I'm prepared to bet its an early twentieth century marketing ploy by a chocolate company.

In summary two conclusions can be drawn; firstly that the church was a lot more flexible and imaginative in its early centuries of existence than it is now and secondly that I am going straight to Hell.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Wonders of the Environment

As I gaze out of my window I look down on the wonders of nature. The sun is shining grimily through a gentle haze of pollution onto the asphalt driveway, the concrete paths and the garbage bin enclosure that lead up to my flat. "Ah!" you think, "here is Neil engaging in a little heavy handed irony". Not at all, I actually mean it. In the interests of strict accuracy I should acknowledge that the sun is also shining on the bushes, grass and trees that make my block of flats a rather pleasant place to live. But back to the garbage bin enclosure; this simple little spot is, indeed, a wonder of nature, albeit one I wouldn't advise spending too much time around. Think of it as a hungry lion.

One of the greatest concerns in what we laughingly call the civilised world is the environment. Many people, not all of them stupid, are deeply concerned that we are destroying the environment and ruining nature. Allow me to reassure them; we are not ruining nature and there is just as much environment around as there was a million years ago. Silly people (who will henceforth be referred to by their chosen title of environmentalists) point to all the animals and plants we've killed as evidence of our destruction of the environment. Is this bad? Well it certainly wasn't good for the animals and plants in question then again a heart attack isn't good for the sufferer and nobody says that heart attacks are destroying the environment. Going further environmentalists point to whole ecosystems destroyed or under threat from human activities. I have no wish to deny facts, ecosystems are being hammered all over the place but do these things constitute damage to the environment? I don't think so.

Of course our actions change the environment but that is a vastly different thing from destroying it. By its very definition the environment encompasses the entire universe and is really a rather difficult thing to destroy. It could be argued that we are, at least, destroying that part of it adjacent to ourselves and I repeat; we are not destroying it, we are changing it. The environment changes all the time with or without our input and should it change in such a way that is inimical to certain lifeforms then those lifeforms will die, again with or without our input.

I think that part of the problem is that environmentalists have a static view of what the planet should be like. They have a mental picture of what they think the earth was like several centuries ago and think it should be like this forevermore. Come the next ice age (which is overdue by the way) these people are in for a rude shock. There is no law of nature that says that the planet should remain the way it was a millennium ago. Indeed there is a fair bit of evidence to the contrary.

Naturally during the course of our changes to the environment a fair few animal and plant species have fallen by the wayside. Is this a bad thing? It depends on how cute they look on nature documentaries. Of course it is bad for the lifeforms in question but nature doesn't look at things the way we do. We see a dead panda bear and go "awww" (or "yum" depending on the local food situation) but all nature sees is an evolutionary niche that can now be filled. Nature is concerned with what lives, it doesn't care at all about what dies. Every species on earth gets only one instruction; survive. If it fails nature doesn't particularly care why.

The second mistake environmentalists frequently make is in their interpretation of nature. It is a common complaint that human activities upset the "natural balance". Before pointing out how wrong that is can I just mention that the natural balance consists of everything trying very hard to kill each other and not quite succeeding. But back to our alleged upsetting of this cycle of terror. How can we possibly upset nature, we are part of nature. As the panda bear or the humpback whale so it is with us. We are not alien intruders, we did not spring fully armed with a twenty first century civilisation from the head of Zeus. Everything we are and everything we have done is the simple result of us using the tools we naturally evolved to follow natures dictum; survive. Our tools happened to be opposable thumbs and a moderately effective brain. With the zebra it was disruptive pattern camouflage and a good turn of speed. There is no essential difference between an oil refinery or a block of flats on one hand and a beaver dam or birds nest on the other.

Some say that it is the pace of change rather than the change itself that is causing problems. Now that we are charging ahead much faster than evolution we are simply moving too quickly for nature to keep up. I might point out that the dinosaurs were given about fifteen seconds to evolve a defence against asteroid collisions and when they couldn't, they died. Nature didn't care and the resultant gap at the top of the food chain allowed lots of other animals to evolve in their place. Many of those animals are now likewise extinct but one of them was us. The dinosaur's loss was our gain.

There is a lot of talk about living in harmony with nature which seems to stem from a modern day misinterpretation of Paganism. I have no problem with the old time Pagans. For the time and place they were sensible enough; they worshipped the earth and the cycles of nature and guided their lives by these rhythms. Let's not go too nuts about it though. They worshipped nature because they were terrified of it. Nature was full of bears, wolves, diseases and unexpected temperature shifts which played hell with the harvest. Lacking guns, penicillin and adequate storage facilities it made perfect sense for the Pagans to worship nature. Hopefully if nature liked being worshipped the crops would ripen, the sheep fatten and the bears and wolves would visit the next village along. It took a peculiarly twentieth century mindset to reduce nature to the level of a cuddly chew toy.

Fortunately for the surviving animals and plants on earth there is a much better reason to preserve them than environmentalism. It is called sentimentalism and it is one way in which humans really do step away from nature. Despite everything I have written here I personally will be very sad if, during my lifetime the last bear is shot or the final lion disappears from the Serengeti. I also think areas of wilderness have a beneficial effect on people even if they only see them on television. They inspire us, excite us, relax us and create a diversion in our lives. This might be one of the most subtle and effective survival strategies yet, to convince us that we will be better off if we keep some wilderness around. For those who are more cynical I would point out that while we are changing the environment it is quite possible for it to change in a way that can't support human life. If that happens we will die and nature will care no more about us than it did about the dinosaurs.

Don't pay any attention to environmentalists though, they are all compromised anyway. The only possible way to stop us having any effect on the environment is to return us to the level of animals. So unless the environmentalist you are talking to is naked and living in a cave he can't be trusted. And if you do encounter such a one why the hell would you trust him? He's naked and living in a cave for god's sake.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I find myself severed from normal human contact. I am one solitary person adrift on a sea of humanity without the ability to find my way to shore. Or to put it another way, my computer isn't working. I didn't realise how dependent I have become on something I don't understand. Now that my computer has downed tools I have lost most of my contact with the outside world.

I am actually typing this entry on my work computer (during my lunch hour I hasten to add in case any of my employers are reading this) but this does me little good. Sure I can post blogs but the security provisions at work mean I can't access my emails. While this has reduced my exposure to offers of generic viagra substitutes and dodgy American universities it has reduced my conversation to people I can actually see.

The fact that my telephone isn't working either hasn't helped matters. After several attempts to get it fixed I have decided to live without a landline. I suspect that the problem might be with the handset anyway. I sat at home last night and the television started looking a little dodgy as well. If that goes I might as well just give up on the human race and take up hunter gathering. There are plenty of small animals (mostly feline) and puddles of rainwater in my neighbourhood so I should be able to survive.

I am frequently embarrassed by my inability to conduct any electrical repair more sophisticated than changing a light bulb but never more than now. Somehow I have to hump my CPU to a computer store and beg them to readmit me to the human race. I wonder if they make housecalls? In the meantime I am sitting in an information vacuum wondering what is happening in the world. Although mind you my electricity bill should be a bit lower this quarter.

Last night I sat down and wrote a potential blog entry (not this one, a much better one) in long hand. The night before I spent most of the evening reading about the Byzantine empire's early clashes with Islam. So there is a silver lining. Still I miss my feeling of connectivity, my little window on the world has gone dark.

A dozen times a night I think of something I might like to look up on the internet only to sigh and return to my armchair. The cat, who spends much of each evening sitting on me in my armchair thinks this is wonderful. When I get my computer repaired I might ask the technician to check for signs of feline sabotage.

Lately I've been having dreams about getting up and feeding the cat in the middle of the night only to be woken by the cat in the middle of the night so I can feed her. It is getting increasingly difficult to separate reality from dream. Unfortunately getting up for work in the morning is not a dream. When my work day is interrupted by a phone call from my work asking me where I am I will know it is time to worry. Of course they'll have to call me on my mobile because my landline doesn't work.

I really need to get my computer fixed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thought for the Day

Virtue broadens your life
Virtue gives support to the needy
Virtue strengthens your soul
Virtue expands your understanding

Evil is more fun

Monday, March 15, 2010

Birthday Greetings #3

Happy birthday to Romanos II, Byzantine emperor and general nonentity. Romanos was living proof that if you're nobody special then it doesn't really matter if you were born in a porphyry tiled room in the most expensive palace this side of Baghdad. At least he was living proof until he died. Now he's dead proof.

For the record Romanus was born around 938 AD and died less than thirty years later. During the course of his life possibly the only sign of originality he showed was in picking an inn keepers daughter for his wife. The two of them are suspected of murdering his father but that implies more initiative than Romanos seemed to have. Once emperor he left everything in the hands of his advisors and went hunting. A few years later he was dead. His wife was suspected of poisoning him but in Byzantium for an emperor to be poisoned by his nearest and dearest was pretty much noted as "natural causes" on the coroners report.

Much more fun is his wife who was everything a Byzantine empress should be. Romanos changed her name to Theophano, possibly because "Hey, innkeepers daughter" wasn't an appropriate address for an empress. If anyone murdered Romanos' father it was her. She had a great old time, intriguing, plotting and banging generals while her husband was out hunting. Theophano can probably be acquitted of murdering Romanos though, it was inconvenient timing for her. She had just given birth and a widowed empress with a couple of infant children was target number one for every ambitious psychopath in the empire. If she was lucky she would marry one of them. If she was unlucky she would be quietly strangled or worse, locked up in a nunnery.

As it turned out she married one of them. A charming character named Nikephoras Phokas. His nickname "The White Death of the Saracens" tells you much about his character and his career. He was ugly, boorish, crude and generally unpleasant. He was also the top soldier in the empire. Coming a close second was John Tzimisces who seduced Theophano, or vice versa, murdered Nikephoras and took over the empire himself. As for Theophano; she wound up in a nunnery.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What Goes Up...

Aeroplanes thunder over my flat on a semi regular basis. There would probably more of them if the airport could get its act together. Huge metal beasts claw themselves skyward emitting prehistoric howls of effort. There are times when gravity must get quite discouraged. This would help to explain why its always so eager to take a hand when I miss my footing on the stairs.

Gravity shouldn't feel too disappointed though, ultimately gravity always wins. All the noise generated by aircraft is essentially a prayer. It is an acknowledgement of the tremendous effort needed just to get gravity to look the other way for a short time. If those prayers should falter, if the liturgy is a single note off then the hapless acolyte is smeared over the landscape. Worse still the Gravity Inquisition, otherwise know as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority will turn up to detail exactly what acts of heresy caused the dreadful event.

It is amazing how much time and effort the human race puts in to fighting battles that can't actually be won. Consider the resources that go into an airliner; metal, hundreds of metres of it, plastic, rubber, glass and a small ocean of avgas all so that a couple of hundred people can travel from one point of the earth to another without getting seasick. For a few hours, a day at most, gravity looks the other way but it knows we're coming down eventually.

The same applies to medicine. Doctors, surgeons, researchers all of them working day and night to heal injuries and cure diseases. Every single person they treat is going to die regardless. Every cure that is found simply means people are going to die of something else. There is a concern in the western world at the moment about the number of people dying of heart disease and diabetes. This shouldn't surprise anyone; we're running out of other things to die of. Eventually everyone will die of heart disease or diabetes.

Medicine is like flight, it all revolves around finding loopholes to the rules we all know exist. We spend immense resources figuring out ways of putting off the crash. As an example; we're supposed to die of bubonic plague but buried in the subclauses is our loophole. If we develop immunity, get a healthy attitude towards cleanliness, a sensible suspicion of rats and invent antibiotics then perhaps the contract can be broken. We did all that and bubonic plague is, if not gone, way done on humanity's list of problems to be dealt with.

Finding loopholes in the rules seems to be what we are best at. We never succeed in changing the rules but we can sometimes get them reinterpreted. As we get better at it we will be developing loopholes faster than the loops themselves can change. We will never beat death, or gravity, but one day we will be moving faster than they are. One day we are going to go up and never come down.

Fortunately I will be safely dead by then. Quite possibly of heart disease or diabetes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cthulhu Made in China

My birthday has just wandered past creating mild interest among those who care. A weekend in the Blue Mountains visiting friends and family was the chosen means of celebration, quiet and unostentatious in keeping with my new advanced age. Presents were duly given and received with gratitude but for sheer giggle factor my brothers must stand out.

If, like me, you are a fan of HP Lovecraft you know who Cthulhu is.

"In the stone gardens of sunken R'lyeh dead Cthulhu lies dreaming."

Eons ago when man was little more than an animal crawling on the Earth the Great Old Ones ruled and greatest among them was Cthulhu. Mankind worshipped and adored these beings of ancient wisdom and endless malice, but the stars moved and circumstances changed, the Old Ones died and their great city of R'lyeh sank beneath the waves. Cthulhu prepared against this day by sending his dreams into the sleep of men so that they would stand ready when the stars shifted again and the power of the Old Ones could rise. At first there was worship, then superstition and finally as millenia rolled by the dreams died and memories faded.

In the more civilised parts of the world the very name Cthulhu was forgotten so completely that no trace of his worship remained but in the more primitive parts where the condition of mankind was closer to that which it had been when the Old Ones ruled some fragment stayed alive. Debased remnants of meaningless prayers, garbled chants that had once held great power and above all else a reminder to watch the stars.

When the stars aligned again the dreams of Cthulhu could be heard once more. Among the more sensitive of the civilised world strange nightmares, madness and an outcrop of breathtaking but terribly depraved art were the harbingers of Cthulhu's call. Among the most superstitious and corrupt of the primitive races the message was clearer and ancient chants were sung and sacrifices offered to a half forgotten god who promised to raise his worshippers to the level of dominance they had once enjoyed over men. In the South Pacific the seas boiled and the topmost towers of R'lyeh appeared above the waves. The dread lord of that city Cthulhu himself rose briefly but the stars shifted before his worshipers could establish him and both city and god sank into death once more.

Now in the second decade of the twenty first century in the Chinese city of Yangzhou a factory is making Cthulhu plush toys and my brother bought me one for my birthday. Tentacles, claws, wings its all there. The nightmare beast of Lovecraft's (slightly disturbing) imagination is now a fuzzy curiosity on my wall. So far I haven't heard of any velour cities rising above the waves.

I spent the weekend in the Blue Mountains visiting friends and family. Katoomba was pleasantly warm on Saturday and well stocked with bookshops where I managed to purchase a Biggles book I didn't yet own and where Rachelle very kindly bought me Theodore Roosevelt's autobiography and a biography of Charles XII of Sweden. In parentheses I should add that if Roosevelt were alive today he would probably be kicked out of the Republican party for suspected communist tendencies.

Dinner with Rachelle and David was fantastic, David apportioning the garlic with an appropriately generous hand. On Sunday morning looking from their back verandah across the bush I could see nothing because of the mist. I love mornings like that. Then to my parents house further down the mountains for birthday lunch. Good conversation and better food. Plus a Cthulhu plush toy! In fairness I must state I was delighted with all my presents but the plush toy is still making me giggle.

The weekend was a happy time for me, it was a less happy time for Australia's sheep population which took a bit of a battering with roast lamb being on the menu at both houses. I haven't noticed any moves to put sheep on the endangered species list so I can only assume they have come through the disaster ok. Speaking of which I wonder if we can place the animals that have waxed greatly as a consequence of their contact with humans against those we have wiped out? All right the dodo is definitely gone, so is the tasmanian tiger and a bucketload of other species but check out how many rats there are. Dogs, cats and cows are likewise doing pretty well out of the old human race. Don't even talk to me about cockroaches.

It is my theory that cockroaches survive by external evolution. That is other animals evolve to convenience them. We dragged ourselves out of the swamp, started living in caves and hitting things with sticks. Who benefited? Us of course but the greatest benefit was to the humble cockroach which got shelter, food supply and a constant source of amusement without having to evolve or learn a damn thing. I can't stand cockroaches but I have a nervous admiration for them. Nervous because I rather suspect that if they decided they were better of without us we wouldn't stand a chance.

This is my birthday message for the people, be clean, be tidy but don't be too fanatical about it. We don't want the cockroaches deciding they would be better off if siberian tigers were the dominant species on the planet. Although at this point it is likely to be the only thing that will save the siberian tiger.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Muffy the Vermin Slayer

Does my cat rock or what? Six mice down in a twelve hour period. For ages Muffy kept her disguise as a neurotic, fur shedding, waste of space but when the scuttling hordes threatened she was the plump, fluffy line they dared not cross.

Yes, I'm hopeful that my mouse problem is over; after six yesterday there were no more corpses today and I'm praying that the word has got out in the mouse community that here be dragons. Or at least a murderous cat. To make matters a little more certain I have stuffed a cloth down the hole I think the mice were emerging from. Certain members of my readership (I'm looking at you Herry) implied that I might be overcooking the entire mouse issue. I can't help it, they give me the icks. I assume a house with a mouse is unclean and the presence of six in my own wounded my pride as well as giving me the aforementioned icks.

Still when the call went out Muffy stepped up to the plate and kicked the winning goal. My part in proceedings was to feed her and mangle sports metaphors. Flighty, nervous and deranged even beyond the normal levels for a cat Muffy has been a somewhat problematic member of my household. She wakes me at three in the morning, occasionally with a claw through the eyelid, for breakfast. She has so far vomited on every piece of floor covering in the place (I spend more on carpet cleaner than I do on food) and I have to chase her off my armchair so I can sit in it myself. Then she promptly sits on me. I used to think that was affection but I have come to realise its the chair she likes and she will sit on anyone in it. Nevertheless all is forgiven for Muffy is my white defender.

Yes Muffy is pure white and fluffy but is neither deaf nor pure bred. I'm not sure she's bred at all. Bred seems a rather grand word for the concatenation of feline genes that resulted in Muffy. She is at her best at night when I'm in bed, then she comes and lies next to me. Or on me, generally the hotter the night the more fluffy animal covering I seem to have. Still she is welcome, I'm very fond of my mad cat. I've forgotten what its like to sleep through the night without intrusive paws smacking me about the head and everytime I walk to the kitchen I trip over her as she assumes I'm going to feed her.

When she sits in my lap she purrs like a washing machine and drools like a small waterfall. I'm amazed she doesn't die of dehydration. Whenever I stand up the parts of me closest to Muffy's head are drenched. Now however she has another string to her bow. She is the mouse killer of my dreams. Muffy the Vermin Slayer, somebody should do a tv series.

See How They...Well Just Lie There Really

I came home today to find my cat sitting proudly on the rug surrounded by the corpses of three, count them three, mice. I live on the third floor for god's sake, where the hell did they come from. Even more surprising than the presence of mice is the fact that my cat which jumps at its own shadow apparently dispatched them. Personally I suspect they had a mutual heart attack at the sight of my feline coward and she arranged them artistically afterwards.

But what are mice doing in my flat? The place isn't that filthy. And three of them!!! (They get an exclamation mark each). I hope this is just a result of our recent storms causing vermin which would otherwise mind their own business in the great outdoors to seek shelter. In the five years I have lived here there has been just one previous mouse incident several years ago and it wasn't followed up. Admittedly if mice you must have then dead ones are the best. They're easier to catch for one thing but I have almost torn the place apart trying to discover where they might have got in.

I'm starting to suspect the cat might have learned how to buy them on e-bay. I'll have to check my credit card statement to see if there are any bills from Mice R Us. In the meantime I can't sit in one place for more than a second without twisting around to see if there is a miniature rodent scuttling along the floor. Please, please, please let it be a aberration which will never be repeated.

Holy shit, another one. While I was typing the preceding the cat has managed to acquire a fourth mouse. I am officially overrun. Time to man the barricades. I'm sitting here wild eyed as I await a furry tide of squeaking death. Apparently I'm passing the time by writing hooks for bad horror movies. I'm clinging desperately to my increasingly threadbare theory that the mice are rain refugees and surely four is all that made it up the plumbing or wherever the hell they came from. I will never laugh at a Tom & Jerry cartoon again. I have to do the washing up and other housekeeping but I don't want to leave the apparent security of my study. I don't like the way the cat which can't keeps its neurotic carcass still for more than a second is just sitting and staring fixedly at a point in the laundry.

Miiiiice, miiiiiiice. If I don't turn up to work tomorrow you know what happened. I've either been eaten by mice or I've caught the black death. Or maybe I was just feeling lazy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

And Who the Bloody Hell Cares?

Guess what is headlining newspapers in Australia at the moment? All sorts of things have happened in the past week or two. There was an earthquake in Chile, some Indian "doctor" type person has been hawking kidneys to the diseased and gullible and I assume the offensives in Afghanistan and Pakistan against various Taliban related entities are still going. I say "I assume" because I don't actually know. The number one topic in the news at the moment is Lara Bingle taking legal action against Brendan Fevola for publicising a nude photo of her. Fevola, swearing innocence, has likewise lawyered up.

For those of you fortunate enough not to know Lara Bingle is a "model" whose main claim to fame is that she starred in a series of woeful ads for Tourism Australia asking "where the bloody hell are you?" Her sole apparent talent is to look good in a bikini. To be fair she looks very good in a bikini. Brendan Fevola is a veritable polymath by comparison seamlessly blending the careers of skilled Australian Rules Football player and drunken moron.

Why is the Bingle-Fevola spat front page news? I can understand Fevola getting a mention in the sports section; he is a genuinely talented footballer. I can also understand Bingle getting mentioned in the social pages; she does look very good in a bikini and she's dating Michael Clarke, a member of the Australian cricket team. But I couldn't understand why either of them appeared on the front page. Then I took a look at the other top stories. The earthquake in Chile was good for a day or two but compared with Haiti the death toll was derisory. I understand not even Angelina Jolie is bothering to put in an appearance. The Indian guy flogging shop soiled kidneys sounds promising but it turns out he has been in custody since 2008 so its hardly breaking news. The offensive in Afghanistan doesn't involve any Australian soldiers and we stopped being interested in Pakistan after we beat them at cricket. Michael Clarke was part of the team that beat the Pakistanis so Lara Bingle may claim a tenuous connection there.

My outrage at wasting newspaper headlines on the Bingle-Fevola idiocy would have more resonance if I wasn't deeply compromised myself. I have no advertisers to please and no readers to pamper and yet I just dedicated an entire blog entry to this pair of oxygen sinks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yes I Do

Whenever anybody enters my flat for the first time they invariably say, "You've got a lot of books." This is frequently followed up by the question, "Have you read them all?" Some, although mercifully, not all ask, "Why don't you get rid of them after you've read them?"

I don't think I do have a lot of books, certainly not in comparison to the number of books out there to buy. I don't even have a lot of books when you reduce the field down to just those I would want to buy. I just have more books than will comfortably fit into a single book/trophy case in the hallway. Give me another thirty years and people will be able to say with justification "you have a lot of books". Although in thirty years time they will probably be saying things like, "We have to move this pile of books to get at the body".

It must be admitted that I haven't read every book in my flat. This is because I tend to find books I want to read faster than I can actually read them. Therefore there are always a dozen or so on the to do list. I like it like this because this is my ticket to immortality. I'm determined not to die until I have read every book in my flat and I fully intend that this will never happen. Nevertheless I have read most of them and unless I absolutely detested it I have read it more than once. This also causes waves of surprise. Read a book more than once? Fancy that? Why?

When did literacy become a cause for surprise? I am always asked these questions about my books and they always astonish me. I can't imagine not having a lot of books and reading them. I am in no way a sensitive or intellectual reader; classical literature frequently irritates me and after reading the first sixty pages of Hegel's The Philosophy of History I had an overwhelm urge to phone the past and tell him to get a real job. I have read a number of "classics" but only because a friend (who incidentally gave me The Philosophy of History) insists I should try and improve my mind. I'm grateful to him because not only have I enjoyed a number of them but also because I have realised that my childhood loathing of Charles Dickens has only increased with age. I threw Nicholas Nickelby across the room cursing after struggling through a third of it. My grandmother who loved Dickens is turning in her grave as I type this. I disliked Crime and Punishment as well because the main character's redemption was too glib and undeserved. On the other hand I did like Last of the Mohicans and All Quiet on the Western Front.

Mostly what I read is history, military history and biographies plus cheap detective stories. This last I call my hangover literature. I read it when for whatever reason I don't feel up to thinking too much. Plus Biggles books. These are a carry over from my childhood and in turn a carryover from my father's childhood. The first ones I read were his, lovingly kept by him for he was a most unusual child and preserved virtually everything book he was given in near new condition until he gave it to me. Being a much more normal child I proceeded to knock them to bits which I barely noticed at the time and bitterly regret now.

I own sixty Biggles books from a grand total of about sixty eight. I fully intend to gain the remaining eight or so and then swap all those I have in paperback for hardcovers. I have grown out of reading them by now but this particular book collection is an indulgence; a connection with my childhood and by extension my fathers. The remainder of my books are simply what I buy to read and, having read them, what I keep against the day when I wish to read them again.

I don't understand why more people don't read. An individual book is relatively cheap (at the moment) even in Australia where restrictive publishing laws abound. For around fifty dollars you can step into a different world; even if that world is here and now you are stepping into someone elses version of it. Books are a way of travelling without leaving home. What's more they allow you to travel in time as well; some of my happiest moments have been spent wandering through the Byzantine Empire (a particular favourite of mine), the Habsburg Empire (ditto) and ancient Rome. But it doesn't matter what you like, there is a book about it; probably several. I have a friend whose main interest is in motorbike racing. A less literary person I don't think I know but his house is full of books on motorbikes, famous races and the biographies of riders. He is one of the few who has never appeared amazed at the number of books in my place.

Of course there are difficulties; the furnishings of my entire flat are centred around finding enough space for bookshelves. Fortunately I live in an older building that was built before idiocies like "open plan" house design became popular. Since I live on the third floor I'm also grateful that the building is brick and concrete as this minimises the danger that at some point the floor will collapse under the weight. I live in terror of the roof blowing off or the building catching fire. Collectively my books are the most expensive item in the place and I really should catalogue them in case a disaster happens and I lose them all. I have tried to set up such a catalogue several times but whenever I try I rapidly discover some book I haven't read in a while and leave off cataloguing while I read it.

Moving is an absolute bitch. I am determined to stay in my current home until I die, or can afford to hire somebody to do all the moving for me. When the flat is full I will have to convert the carspace into extra book room. This gives me a lot more room to expand and puts off the day when simple lack of space to get around forces me to move. In the mean time I read my books, buy more whenever I can justify hunger as weight loss programme and smile politely whenever a guest says, "You've got a lot of books."

Incidentally, if anybody tries to bring a copy of a Dan Brown novel into my house they will find it spontaneously combusts as it crosses the threshold.