Tuesday, April 23, 2019

I'm Good at Dealing With the Consequences of Being an Idiot

I don't know whether I am the most practically disfunctional person alive or simply a creative problem solver.  Can you be considered a creative problem solver when most of the problems are caused by an apparent inability to function like a normal adult?

Half the rooms in my apartment don't have their own source of light because I have proved incapable of changing the necessary lightbulbs.  On the other hand the skilful deployment of table lamps and miniature spotlights means the lack of lightbulbs isn't really a concern.  Of course the lightbulbs in the lamps burn out as well.  My solution to that so far has been to acquire more lamps.  My home is like the portable lighting equivalent of an elephant's graveyard.

The latest evidence of my combination of genius and incompetence came as a result of activities on the football field (for the record the activity was football so don't look at me suspiciously).  I have developed a habit of suffering painful but ultimately trivial injuries while stumbling about lathered in sweat chasing a ball that everybody else is better at kicking that me.  Yesterday the trivial injury de jour was a stomped on toe.  There was blood and a mangled nail and if not particularly painful it was certainly an aesthetic disaster.

I decided that a little first aid was in order and I purchased some disinfectant on my way home so that I could bathe said toe, trim the battered nail and generally give it a little tender loving care.  As always whenever I made plans to do something even marginally practical there was a swelling of pride at my ability to look after myself and generally take care of stuff.  This feeling of self esteem took an immediate knock when I got home, put the disinfectant down on a bookshelf and promptly spent the next twenty minutes looking for it.

By the time I'd looked in the fridge and emptied everything out of the washing machine any sense of pride had pretty much vanished.  By the time I found the disinfectant (strangely on the first available flat surface I encountered after I walked in the door) I was pretty much over the entire process.  Nevertheless I had made the purchase and decided to proceed.

Arming myself with a dining room chair,  a roll of paper towel and a pair of, as it turned out, slightly larger than absolutely necessary scissors I took my much abused toe into the bathroom.  There the bathing and disinfecting went pretty much as planned and I started to feel pleased with myself again.  I took up the scissors and trimmed the battered and bloody parts of the toenail down to an acceptable level.  Unfortunately I had been steadying my foot with my other hand and while I was skilfully trimming the nail I was equally skilfully carving a centimetre long gash in the forefinger of the hand not actually holding the scissors.

What do you do when someone you're fond of makes an idiot of themselves?  You laugh of course and that's what I did.  Until I noticed that the blood was showing a decided reluctance to stop dribbling off my finger onto the fixtures of my bathroom.  A bandaid was in order and a hasty ransacking of my bathroom cabinet revealed that I did not possess such a thing.  It was then that I had my moment of genius.  With the assistance of paper towel, disinfectant and some surgical tape left over from a previous soccer injury I crafted a thoroughly functional bandage.  The surgical tape has also come in handy in the past to wrap Christmas presents.  Which only left me with the task of cleaning up what appeared to be enough blood to equip a decent sized murder scene.

I have made a vow to purchase bandaids so I'm prepared when something like this happens again.  Of course if I were slightly more functional I might make a vow to not get my fingers in the way of extremely sharp things in the future.  Knowing me I think preparing for an inevitable disaster is probably a somewhat more practical approach.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Another Blog Entry Almira Won't Read

Of late I have taken to bathing in goats milk.  I feel like a cut price Cleopatra wallowing in the decadent luxury of anointing my body with fluid squirted from the nipples of a passing ruminant.  I need only a degenerate military thug as a lover and  the sound of an ill-ruled nation falling to pieces in the background to complete the image of historic romance.

OK I haven't exactly been bathing in goats milk but I have been smearing it over my body.  Adorning the soap dish in my bath is a large chunk of what the wrapper proclaimed to be goat milk soap.  I must admit, the precedent of Cleopatra notwithstanding, I've never really thought of milk as a cleansing product.  When milk is presented to me in large solid lumps my mind immediately thinks of butter rather than soap.  Despite this the manufacturers obviously expected me to rub this over my body in an attempt to clean it and, in deference to the word "soap" on the packaging, I obediently did so.  I can't help suspecting that if the manufacturers had put the word "feta" on the packaging instead I would cheerfully have crumbled the same product on my salad.

This goat milk soap was (according to the label) made in Australia.  I'm pleased to see Australian goats getting employment opportunities in these difficult times but I did have certain questions.  Such as how did goat milk (which I presume is as runny as any other kind of milk) wind up as a large white lump?  The answer was in the small lettering on the label which discreetly proclaimed the presence of certain vegetable materials in the soap as well.  I have a vision of a room filled with terrified goats and random plant clippings while workers are frenziedly squeezing goat udders and pureeing vegetables and slapping the resultant mess together into something semi solid that can be wrapped in plastic and inflicted on the unsuspecting public as a cleansing product.

Why is goat milk considered a cleansing product anyway?  Are goats particularly clean?  And why goat milk rather than goat bile or goat blood?  When I was a child soap had the texture of scented sandpaper and one could imagine the dirt being removed along with the outer few layers of your skin as you washed.  Nowadays apparently you can rub pretty much anything on your body and come out "clean".  I strongly suspect that most modern soap doesn't really work at all.  You stand in the shower and the trickling water washes your body clean.  The soap and the lathering is really just to give you something to do while you're in there so you feel as though you're making a contribution.

As I stand in the middle of my bathroom goat and plant detritus trickling off my supposedly clean frame I can take comfort in the fact that I have at least reached ancient Egyptian levels of hygiene.  What the goat thinks about the whole process is open to debate but I'm glad I'm not the one who has to explain what happened to the milk when hungry baby goats start demanding dinner.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Taverners Hill

I didn't have particularly high expectations of Taverners Hill as a light rail stop.  After the excitement of Lewisham West's classy modern apartment blocks and well presented flood warning signs I just didn't think Taverners Hill would measure up.  Particularly since they only called it Taverners Hill to save the embarrassment of calling it Lewisham North West.  I was about to be surprised.

The first sign that things might be looking up was the Greenway, which had deteriorated into an oversized pile of lawn clippings at Lewisham West, had rebounded with a vengeance.  Trees, bushes and ferns lined the side of the track as I approached to such an extent that the ratio of living plant material to dumped rubbish was comfortably over fifty percent.  Mind you my expectations sank again as the light rail burst from verdant green and rattled over that ghastly ribbon of carbon monoxide and shattered dreams more commonly known as Parramatta Road.  Taverner's Hill light rail station is essentially an extension of the bridge that carries the track over the road and doesn't hold out much hope of an improvement.

However improvement there was.  Once one descended from the vertiginous heights of the station to something more approximating ground level (ie, ground level) things picked up straight away.  The ambitious drain that had paralleled the light rail's course for the last couple of stops had really come into its own and was now a genuine (albeit brick and concrete walled) waterway with a trickle of liquid right in the middle to prove it had a reason for being.  It even had a name, the Hawthorne Canal.  With the enforced space came a narrow but genuine profusion of trees and other greenery with a bicycle path running through it.  Signs indicated that if you were ambitious enough you could bike to Balmain and unlike a path for cars there didn't seem to be any issues with pedestrians using it as well.

The trees didn't drown out the noise of traffic but they did mute it somewhat and gave the impression that a full scale city was somewhat more than a couple of hundred metres away.  It was also pleasantly cool which was handy for someone who had rather overdressed for the weather and had, until now, been sweating in a rather thick football jersey.

I need to digress for a moment to talk about ibis.  Ibis are a quintessentially Sydney bird.  Their natural habitat is in marshland but on the occasion of the installation of the first rubbish bin in Sydney they emigrated en masse to the city.  These shabby, scabby, filthy, moulty, feathered bin rats are an iconic part of the urban landscape.  They are perfectly adapted to their environment.  They have long, curved bills for rummaging in garbage bins, their grotty off white colour scheme makes it impossible to tell whether they're dirty or clean (my money's on the former) and their size and wingspan gives them the heft to compete with pigeons, rats, small children and anything else that might challenge their dominance of the garbage piles of Sydney.  Like the ravens at the Tower of London strange legends have grown up around them.  It is said that if the ibis ever leave Sydney all our rubbish bins will overflow.

I mention these aerial plague spots because as I wandered along the bike path amongst the trees I saw a couple of them in something vaguely approximating their natural habitat.  They were wading through the canal prodding at the mud disconsolately with their beaks.  They seemed slightly bewildered and every fibre of their body language screamed "what the hell happened to all the garbage bins?"  I left them to reconnect with the nature they had been so desperate to leave and climbed back to Taverners Hill light rail station.  Normally at this point I mention that I went to Newtown for lunch but it was 11.30 in the morning and I was feeling tired so I went home and went to bed.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

News From the Mysterious East

It was with some concern that I contacted my New Zealand correspondent.  I hadn't heard anything from him since his initial flurry with deer and tumbledown colonial architecture.  Of course it was possible that there was nothing to report but given his location it was also possible that he had been blown away one day never to return.

My correspondent lives in Wellington, New Zealand's capital and a practical example of what happens when you try to build a city in a wind tunnel.  My own experiences of Wellington are limited to being caught in a stairwell during an earthquake and being chatted up in a bar by a Maori guy who attempted to seduce me with his knowledge of the New Zealand division's actions in the Western Desert during WW2.  All I remember of the city itself is that it was raining and windy.

Eventually my sweating tech support managed to hook me up with my correspondent.  Apparently they'd had difficulty figuring out where New Zealand was.  They originally tried to connect me to some guy in Holland.  With an, albeit crackly, connection established I greeted my correspondent.

"What news from the land of the Long White Fleece?" I enquired.

"I fell off my bike," he responded.

I waited but apparently that was it.  He was in a hilly, rural part of Wellington (Wellington, basically) when he and his mountain bike apparently parted ways in a manner that was somewhat of a surprise to him.  I observed the formalities and, once I'd finished laughing, asked him if he was all right.  Apparently he was, more or less.  The bike was a bit battered though.

The mountain biking was a little bit of a surprise.  What with his mountain bike and my Tasmanian correspondent's predilection for wandering around the more tree intensive parts of her state it would appear that my blog is getting more like the National Geographic Channel every day.

"Why," I asked, "were you mountain biking?"

"It was too windy for sailing."

I will confess, gentle reader, that I thought the presence of wind was a rather useful thing if sailing was your intention.  However there are, apparently, limits.  It would seem that if you want to mess about in boats then it is rather a good thing if the wind doesn't pick up the boat you are messing about in and laminate it against the side of the nearest building or cliff face.  Since the wind in Wellington frequently reaches boat lamination levels I could understand my correspondent's concern.  At this point I felt it was my duty to point out that he had moved to Wellington voluntarily (something few people do in my experience) and that the broken mountain bikes and laminated sailing vessels were really all his own fault.  He thanked me for my input.

He also offered to send me photos of broken bikes and laminated sea craft but I wasn't that keen.  I was up to my hips in rampant wombats and poisonous snakes from my other correspondent's attempts to be helpful.  Instead I asked him to contact me immediately if anything interesting happened.  I may never hear from him again.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Birthday Greetings #78

Over the years of reading this blog I imagine people eagerly devouring the latest birthday greetings dedicated to a Holy Roman Emperor with fascination.  But as they peruse this collection of inbred Habsburgs,  bottle happy Luxembourgs, cut throat Salians and appallingly dangerous Hohenstaufens they must wonder, how on earth did this kaleidoscopic circus freak of an empire get started?  Well wonder no more gentle reader for your questions are about to be answered.

Happy birthday to Charlemagne, King of the Franks, the Lombards and those few Saxons he left alive.  Also, Holy Roman Emperor.  The first, the original, the one that all of the others for the next thousand years would fail to live up to.

Chukky Magnus as he was known to his friends started his career as King of the Franks ("The Franks" being what the French were calling themselves at the time although it included a decent chunk of what is now Germany too) courtesy of his father's timely death.  His dynasty was a pretty freshly minted one.  His father had started out as, effectively, CEO of the Merovingian kingdom of The Franks but one boardroom coup (and a compliant pope) later and suddenly The Franks was under new management. 

For a while The Franks experimented with joint kingship in the shape of Chuck and his younger brother Carloman.  However Carly soon died (of natural causes strangely enough) and Chuck settled down to sole rule.  His first order of business was to beat the crap out of Aquitaine which thought it was remote enough from the rest of The Franks to ignore what Chukky was saying.  Wrong, so very very wrong.  Some educational atrocities later and the Aquitanians were nestled firmly back in the bosom of La Belle The Franks.

Starting in 773 Chuck decided to spread Christianity among the Saxons who were, at that point, still pagan.  More accurately Chuck decided to spread death among the Saxons but such of those who managed to get themselves baptised in a hurry were granted the favour of not being killed on the spot.  It would appear that the Saxons took a lot of killing because the war went on for about eighteen years.  At the end of it the Saxons were incorporated into Chuck's expanding empire, or, more accurately Saxony was incorporated into the empire.  Such Saxons as had survived the integration process were just dragged along for the ride.

You shouldn't think that butchering and/or converting Saxons was the only thing Chuck was getting up to during that time.  That was more just his default setting.  Whenever he didn't have much to do it was time to go Saxon slaughtering again.  As it happened things were attracting his attention in a somewhat more high rent part of Europe at the same time.

You may recall I mentioned that Chucky boy's father had essentially tipped the previous dynasty of The Franks out of office and pinched their job and that he had done so with the support of the pope.  Well the pope hadn't done that out of an altruistic desire to see The Franks under better government than they were currently enjoying.  Put bluntly the popes had a problem with the Lombards, a bunch of semi barbarian thugs who had occupied much of northern Italy.  The then pope had reached out to Chuck's father (who was also a semi barbarian thug but had the advantage of living further away) and asked for help.  Chuck's father duly descended on the Lombard's and beat them up and the Pope suddenly found himself very understanding of his desire for kingship.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the good for nothing toerag currently occupying the Throne of St Peter was still having trouble with the Lombards.  Once again he reached out to the ruler of The Franks for assistance.  Said ruler was our lad Charles who took time out from Saxon stomping to take an army south of the Alps and spent a good deal of time beating the snot out of the Lombards and getting himself crowned the King of same.  He went back home to mangle the Saxons a bit more but the Lombards obviously weren't people who learnt from experience and he had to come back and do the entire snot beating routine again.  Then, since it was nearing Christmas and he was in the vicinity he dropped in on Rome for some sight seeing and a little Christmas shopping.  While he was there the pope crowned him Holy Roman Emperor.

According to the official story Charlemagne wasn't very impressed with this initiative of the Pope's.  After all the title didn't bring any more subjects or tax dollars or territory.  What it did bring was a mess of Italian problems and the complication of having to get along with whoever was currently occupying the papal throne.  If you were to believe Charlemagne's publicity team he had been blamelessly boring God in a cathedral when the pope had sneaked up behind him, dropped a crown on his head and said, "Tag, you're it".

A lot of people don't believe this story for the rather good reason that the pope was a greasy, two bit chancer who couldn't command the loyalty of his palace staff with any degree of confidence and who was only kept from being beaten to death in the streets of Rome by the appallingly dangerous warlord beside him who happened to rule most of western Europe.  The likelihood of the pope doing something that ran a serious risk of pissing Charlemagne off was probably nil.  So smart money tends to believe that the thing was done at least with Charlemagne's blessing.  The question is why?  All of those disadvantages I listed were real enough and the benefits didn't seem to outweigh having a strong sword arm and a massive army.

There is one possibility.  Over on the right hand side of the continent was another Roman empire.  The real one, founded by Augustus etc etc.  The leadership of that empire practically had a collective aneurysm at the thought of the imperial title descending onto the no doubt lice filled head of an illiterate psychopath.  However they had a bit of a disadvantage.  At present they didn't have an emperor.  What they had was an empress.  She had been the wife of the previous emperor but one, however she outlived him.  She was also the mother of the previous emperor but she outlived him too, admittedly she cheated a bit by having the lad murdered but it still counts.  Her name was Irene and she had a problem.  What with the son killing and various religious policies a lot of her subjects hated her guts.  So when a marriage proposal from Charlemagne turned up in her inbox she was inclined to view it favourably.

There were definite advantages for both sides.  Charlemagne could reunite the entire empire of the Romans under his own authority (and if Irene proved difficult he could pack her off to a convent).  Irene would get the ultimate in bodyguards and reestablish imperial power in the west (and if Charlemagne proved difficult it wasn't as if she was inexperienced in regicide).  It might not have been a marriage made in heaven but you can't help thinking a modern match making program might well pair this two up.  Unfortunately it was not to be.  Proving that The Franks wasn't the only nation that had difficulty recruiting reliable help Irene was overthrown by her minister of finance.  Since he wasn't inclined to marry Charlemagne the entire idea was dropped.

Despite this failure Charlemagne's crowning as Holy Roman Emperor is seen as a seminal event in western European history.  It marks the moment when politics ceased being obsessively local and officially inaugurated the region's emergence from the Dark Ages.  At least it did.  Nowadays interfering social historians have pointed out that the Dark Ages never really existed, that the replacement of a continent wide central authority with hundreds of minor statelets tearing at each others throats was merely an alternative lifestyle choice and in any event it was outrageous racism and the height of cultural imperialism to suggest that people might actually want running water, stable government and not dying of disease at the age of twelve.

So all in all the Holy Roman Empire must be counted a complete failure.  No unifying marriage contract, no emergence from the Dark Ages and indeed no Dark Ages to emerge from.  It's no wonder that a mere thousand years later they decided to wind the institution up for good.

As for Charlemagne, well after a lifetime of continual failure like that its not surprising to learn that he has vanished from the history books.  Pretty much the only connection people in modern times are likely to have to him is the symphonic metal album put out by his distant descendant Sir Christopher Lee.  I attach a youtube clip of this for your, well I hesitate to say, entertainment.