Memento Maurie

May 26, 2015 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Poem | 7 Comments
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Undertaker

gifts me a

branded

pen.

Lest

I

forget?

To write

dead

letters?

Or just for

next time.

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Blade Runner for town planners

May 16, 2015 at 11:23 am | Posted in Short Story | Leave a comment
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A fresh look.

A fresh look at a cult classic.

I love Blade Runner. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. So it’s a brave soul indeed who dares review it. Chris is one such.

You may recall Chris from this post. Lately he sent me this comment. He’s a fine writer. And his town-planning take on this amazing movie was a perspective I’d not considered.

It made me want to watch it yet again. And that’s surely a sign of a good review.

So thank you Chris – and take it away!

Blade Runner is set in a bleak, decrepit and perpetually rainy Los Angeles megalopolis in the year 2019 (now not so far away as it seemed in 1982!). This cityscape looms large as a character in its own right and speaks to the urban-planning related themes of sustainability, climate change and environmental determinism. It also frames and gives context to Blade Runner’s examination of bio-ethics, morality and what it means to be human … or not.

In the film, so crowded, degraded and polluted is planet earth that ‘Off World’ colonies have been established for humans seeking, if physically and financially capable of acquiring, a better life.

To help build and service the Off World colonies, Tyrell Corporation has created all manner of genetically engineered, humanoid ‘Replicants’ (as well as a few feathered or scaled ones). Replicants are illegal on earth, and it is the role of the ‘Blade Runners’ such as Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to track and kill, or euphemistically ‘retire’, those Replicants who have made their way back to earth.

The Replicants are smart, agile and tough, but they are also mortal and have a programmed lifespan of 4 years. The current Nexus 6 model Replicants are however so lifelike that they can only be distinguished from their human counterparts through the analysis of their emotional and empathetic responses. Those responses are more limited than their human counterparts’ because Replicants, being ‘born’ adult, have not developed the full range of emotions and values based upon a lifetime’s experiences and memories.

It is this mortality, and the desire to unlock it, that triggers a group of rogue Replicants, led by Ron (Rutger Hauer), to make their way back to earth and to stage a murderous mutiny intent on seizing Tyrell Corporation’s founder, Eldon Tyrell. So begins the film’s cat and mouse game.

On the surface, Blade Runner is an action sci-fi action movie. However it actually presents plenty for urban planners to reflect upon. The setting of a climate-changed planet in which mankind’s blind faith in its own abilities and supreme (god-like) power, and the willingness to adapt (by creating Replicants and moving off-world) rather than addressing the causes of environmental devastation, reflects uncomfortably on our own society’s (and our government’s) tepid responses to tackling anthropogenic climate change and upon our willingness to adopt technological solutions in lieu of behavioural change.

The film demonstrates that humans are inherently flawed, self-destructive and, where it suits their needs, willingly oppressive and segregative (of Replicants, and of the lowly earth-bound humans). At the same time, Blade Runner depicts certain essential and meritorious human qualities that cannot be replicated, such as Deckard’s questioning of his own morality, and that one’s eyes (symbolised by, for example, Eldon Tyrell’s glasses and the eyes of a Replicant owl) are a window to the soul. Moreover, it underscores the message that when mankind meddles with things that it doesn’t understand, then things inevitably go wrong.

As an urban planner, I am drawn to films that in some way explore or present utopian visions. Blade Runner’s Off World settlements are portrayed as ‘sunny, clean and happy’ places. The utopian ideal of settlement is one almost as old as planned habitation itself, and in Blade Runner the Off World utopias sit in contrast to the grimily-depicted Los Angeles, which, as the “City of Angels” itself portrays a utopian vision that has decayed into a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-esque state. The city’s streets have been relegated to utilitarian status by the miserable climate and by the creation of airborne transport corridors (yep, the old flying cars routine). There are visual references to the city’s heritage and formerly distinctive character, which helps to ground the hellish vision of the city in a reality to which viewers can relate, yet at the same time symbolises that which has been disregarded, devalued and lost.

The streets below are inhabited by the sub-classes because they have no other choice, not because it is a setting to which they aspire or from which they derive pleasure. In such places, what social, cultural or environmental cues, other than an overt police presence, can inspire its inhabitants to refrain from anti-social or criminal behaviour and to express their humanity instead?

I can’t help but think that the real-world corporations that presumably paid for the advertising and product placement opportunities that litter the film (e.g. Coke, Pan-Am, TDK, Atari) were unwitting pawns in director Ridley Scott’s game. Blade Runner’s Los Angeles condemns as doomed and unsustainable the dystopian world where corporate control and power has prevailed over that of society and the individual. Even Tyrell Corporation’s headquarters, reminiscent of a Mayan temple soaring above the congested and polluted streets, is representative of an empire and a utopian ideal in decline. Yet the fact remains that the Off World utopias, if based upon the endeavours of an oppressed and disenfranchised Replicant sub-class and the skewed moralities that this engenders (people barely bat an eyelid when Deckard ‘retires’ a ‘pleasure model’ Replicant in the street), surely too must fail.

It can only be when we rise above our own imperfect and destructive nature that utopia can be found. And it’s usually right under our noses.

Bright eyed

May 14, 2015 at 9:40 am | Posted in Poem | 6 Comments
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IMG_1306

Greek neighbour phones re

my dead father’s lawn.

A deadly brown thing

manifested at dawn.

‘Maybe he possum …

or maybe he dog.

When you are come here

to take a the look?’

Rain on the freeway.

Pain in my head.

When will I run out

of things to be dead?!

Under the plum tree,

next to the tap.

Your finest form broken

by trauma and snap.

One bright eye skyward,

fresh blood at your nose.

Muscles and tendons

now framing your pose.

My hand in a bag

(might you have the mange?)

But as I approach,

a feeling so strange.

If I touch your paw,

will you leap up and sprint?

I gaze at your iris …

Was that just a glint?!

Could you surprise me

with vigour and bite?

I wait and I hope –

but you died in the night.

I wrap you and bin you

and roll you to kerb.

I’d rather be stroking

that tail so superb.

I go tell the neighbour

and drive home alone.

I wish you’d done 60

in that 50 zone.

Pic by Wildlife Spotter.

Clearing house

May 14, 2015 at 7:08 am | Posted in Poem | 7 Comments
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Dead dad Yahoo note.


‘Your Fun folder is empty.’


Way to sum it up.

The Kombi-van rail cannon

May 3, 2015 at 7:21 am | Posted in Short Story | 2 Comments
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Three couples sprawled around the lounge, digesting pasta. Wine lapped at tilted rims as wreaths of smoke cruised into guttering candles, spread against the ceiling and descended. Fairy lights completed the scene.

‘Let’s go out!’ cried Yvonne.

A shudder swept through the others. Liam, the host, shot a visual plea to Neil.

‘Now now, sugar.’ Neil stroked Yvonne’s long hair. ‘We’ve got everything we need right here. Liam and Sylvie have created a lovely environment for us; why not relax and enjoy it?’

Yvonne tossed her head. ‘Because I think we should all go out. Club Foramen is only 600 metres from this ashtray. We’re young and it’s only 10:30. We’ve gotta live, before it’s too late! Come on; let’s hear some sounds and see some cats! Whatta ya say?’

Ever the diplomat, Sylvia calmed Liam with a caress. ‘I’m easy; what does everyone else think?’

Yvonne leapt up and gazed into each face.

‘I do not mind,’ pronounced Ulrik. ‘I will go if every body else wants to go.’

Sonya patted his thigh. ‘That’s my boy; two shots of Finlandia and you’re anyone’s. What the hell, we never go out.’

Liam baulked at leaving the cocoon he’d so carefully constructed. ‘It’s your night folks, but may I remind you we have entertainment here.’

‘Guitars and PlayStation?’ retorted Yvonne.

‘Yeah!’ chorused the boys.

‘No way. You guys can do that anytime. Tonight’s a celebration.’

Ulrik looked up. ‘Of what is it a celebration?’

Yvonne whipped a quarter ounce from her jacket and tossed it to the floor. ‘Of the biggest goddamn joint you ever saw in your life!’

Liam leaned forward, beanbag balls streaming like tadpoles under his thighs. ‘Ahem. This er, hmm. This could well alter the fabric of the entire evening.’

‘So we’re going to experience the greatest girl-band of all time?’ said Yvonne.

Sylvia’s eyes sparkled. ‘I’m in.’

‘Me too,’ said Sonya.

‘I also think it would be fun to go out maybe,’ said Ulrik.

Neil looked hurt. ‘How long’ve you had that ganjar, Sugar?’

‘Doesn’t matter, baby,’ sang Yvonne. ‘All that matters is we’re gonna get out and get it on.’

Liam fondled the baggie. ‘Get me the scissors, Sylvie. There’s something I must do – for all of us.’

**********

A chill wind whipped through the railings. Liam swung from the door and let the bright stars careen around him.

‘Come on, you old bugger!’ said Neil. ‘Come away now.’

The others fell against each other in baseless mirth. Liam crashed down the steps and they set off raggedly, reflections dancing in a glittering alterworld.

‘It is nice to be outside; fresh,’ observed Ulrik.

‘Too right, Vegemite!’ said Yvonne.

The Dane frowned. ‘I am sorry? What is that?’

The group cobbled a questionable explanation and Ulrik again lamented that their history could never be his, no matter how he studied the language.

Yvonne raced like a sprite among the puddles. Neil lit a cigarette and ambled after her and the two embraced in the brash night. The others followed suit, savouring their own styles of intimacy.

Eventually they reassembled at a tram stop, their destination visible through sprays of barrelling taxis. Naked bulbs festooned the venue, pulsing counterpoint to the muffled boom within.

Liam signalled for silence. ‘Well, this is it folks … ‘

‘Over the top,’ added Neil.

‘Yes, quite. On the advice of the young and feisty Yvonne here, we are about to enter an alternate dimension, replete with alcohol and very loud music.’

‘Yyyay!’ said Yvonne.

Liam grinned. ‘I want us to form a cosmic circle, to unite our groovy energy before crossing over.’

‘Unreal,’ slurred Sonya, missing Sylvia and Ulrik’s outstretched hands.

Liam guided her back. ‘Is everyone ready?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Then let us clasp fingers, close eyes and meditate on this moment before it is lost forever.’

Sonya giggled. ‘Oummm.’

Another taxi roared past, leaving an uncanny quiet. The ring of revellers listened. The silence continued – palpable; like air conditioning shut down.

Sonya opened her eyes. ‘Sh*t! The place is deserted!’

The street was indeed empty. All noise had ceased, no vehicles approached and light rain had begun to fall, transforming the scene into a surreal tableaux. The six stood in awe of the strange aberration in such a busy district.

‘It is an omen!’ proclaimed Liam. ‘The stage is set; a sign imminent! We must wait and watch.’

‘I’m getting wet,’ said Sylvia.

‘My love, that is of no import. In any case, I presage that this experience will be brief. Just hold for a moment more and believe!’

‘All right then.’

Neil lifted his long arms. ‘Whence shall come this sign, Master? From the sky?’

Yvonne leapt onto a bench. ‘Yeah, from the sky?’

Liam gazed along the glistening tram tracks, listening like a blackbird. ‘Nay, children; not from the heavens. The sign shall issue from the earth. Hark! It approaches even now!’

At first there was only silence. Then a lone light materialized. It grew slowly, but remained too dull to belong to a modern vehicle. The collective expectation of a motorcycle faltered as the engine’s staccato identified it unmistakably as a Volkswagen. At last the image resolved into a Kombi-van. An ancient, dilapidated Kombi-van, with one headlight.

‘Behold!’ cried Liam. ‘The messenger!’

‘Hurrah,’ offered Ulrik.

The group gazed at rusty panels, faded flowers and dribbling slogans. The streetlights splayed over filthy windows, rendering the driver invisible. The rotting muffler vomited detonations as the van shuddered past on the slippery rails, a scrap yard its only credible destination.

Liam stepped into the street to witness the van’s departure. Sylvia spotted a phalanx of traffic and pulled him to the safety of the opposite footpath. The others followed. As the van disappeared, the spell dissolved and the street came back to life.

‘Well?’ said Neil.

‘It has begun,’ intoned Liam.

‘What has?’

Liam’s face was deadpan. ‘The Kombi-van rail cannon.’

‘What is that?’ asked Ulrik.

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

Sonya punched Liam lightly in the chest. ‘Oh yes you do. You’re going to explain to my boyfriend, in simple terms, exactly what just happened.’

‘I cannot.’

‘Bullsh*t, man,’ said Yvonne. ‘You got us into this space. What was the bloody sign?’

‘There was no sign; I was mistaken.’

Neil approached Liam from behind and put him in a headlock. ‘Are you sure there was no sign, cobber?’

Liam looked at the ring of expectant faces. ‘Very well. Release me, oaf, and I will reveal all inside the beauteous Club Foramen.’

**********

They entered the dark, smoky space as the headline band came on. Pushing through bodies, Yvonne navigated closer to the stage, trailing the others behind her. The musicians tested their instruments, then launched into deafening orbit.

The lead guitarist was elf-like, her legs clad in velvet. A mesh top sat over a yellow brassiere. Over this hung a large flannel shirt, tied at the waist. Her hair was fastened with camouflage netting that trailed to the stage. A hand-rolled cigarette rode her tiny mouth, twisting as she wrung the neck of her Rickenbacker.

Behind her stood an Aryan percussionist. Her face shone as she thrashed her drums. Tattoos flexed and a thonged top strove to contain her as her arms fell in king hits.

To her left stood the bass player; tall and thin with angular face. Sheathed in a cat suit, her only adornments were a gold link belt and a spider ring that flashed and scuttled over her fretboard. She stood with one leg forward, regarding the audience with faint disdain – occasionally favouring the drummer with an undertaker’s smile.

The singer pranced and posed like a demented bride; prowling the stage in taffeta rags. With wild hair reaching for the rafters, she taunted the crowd, raged against them, lifted them and lay them on her lyrical bed. On her feet were silken points. In moments of complete incongruity, she interspersed her base gyrations with perfect pirouettes.

Spellbound, Yvonne and her girlfriends barely registered the boys’ retreat.

**********

Snooker balls clacked over burn-pitted baize, the music blunted by connecting doors. Neil set three glistening beers on the tiny table and took a stool.

Liam drank deeply. ‘Thanks, man.’

‘Enjoy it, friend. You’ll not get another till you explain the Kombi-van rail cannon.’

Liam smiled. ‘That old chestnut. Surely you don’t want to hear about that?’

‘I certainly do want to hear about it,’ said Ulrik.

‘Shoot,’ ordered Neil.

Liam massaged his eyes, triggering a head spin. ‘Under democracy, issues can be debated ad nauseam, increasing the time it takes for government to act.’

‘What is “Norseum”?’ asked Ulrik despondently.

‘Bear with me man; I’ll recap. This delay frustrates all players and infuriates the public.’

Neil took out his cigarettes. ‘I’m with you.’

‘Good. Now, a perennial threat to democracy is that discontent over inaction can lead to such disaffection that the system is rejected in favour of anarchy.’

‘Of course,’ mumbled Ulrik, staring at the filthy carpet.

‘To neutralize this threat, our government has created the Kombi-van rail cannon.’

Neil regarded Liam narrowly. ‘Go on.’

‘The Kombi-van rail cannon is designed to break deadlocks in the sort of drawn-out debates that really get people’s goats.’

‘Like?’

‘Reconciliation, euthanasia, injecting rooms, the Republic.’

‘I see. And how does it work? Exactly.’

‘Well, simply put, each party to a debate constructs a blockhouse to protect a carton of eggs. They then attempt to destroy each other’s installations with Kombi-van rail cannons. The last side with an intact egg wins the debate.’

Neil took a long drag. ‘Are you trying to tell me that what we saw tonight was … a projectile?’

Liam sipped his beer. ‘Precisely.’

‘You Australians are f*cking crazy,’ spat Ulrik. ‘I am going to the band.’

Neil ignored him. ‘How come we’ve never heard about this bold new concept?’

‘The government wants to enrage the media, to maximise subsequent coverage.’

‘How come you know about it?’

‘It was trialled successfully in Chad and our government loves benchmarking. The signs have been there, for those who know how to look.’

‘But, why Kombi-vans?’

‘Symbol of the people. Worked for Hitler. Did you see the detonator on the bonnet?’

‘No,’ said Neil, with heavy sarcasm. ‘And I suppose the windows were treated to stop us seeing inside?’

‘Bloody oath! Imagine the panic if people realised they were pilotless.’

Pilotless?’

‘Of course! Why do you think it’s called a rail cannon?’

‘So it goes on … rails, does it? On our tram lines, to be precise.’

‘Correct.’

‘So, what if one of these vans hits a f*cking tram?’

‘Impossible; they’re launched according to timetable. You’ll only ever see ’em late at night. That’s the best time.’

Neil crushed his butt. ‘You’re full of sh*t, man; I don’t believe you.’

Liam stared at him. ‘Why not? You think our government isn’t capable of something like this?’

A minute passed.

‘All right smart arse; why haven’t we heard an explosion?’

‘Two possibilities. One: we’re in a club with the loudest band in the world. Two: the van hasn’t reached its target yet. That line runs as far as Kew, you know.’

‘My parents live in Kew!’

‘So you believe me.’

‘Of course I bloody don’t! In any case, I’d know if a blockhouse had been built there.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure, mate. Who can tell what they’re building these days, once those hoardings go up?’

‘Do you know the location of any of the blockhouses?’

‘No. But I’m confident at least one will be fairly pinpointed by morning.’

Neil drained his glass and scowled.

Liam stood. ‘My shout?’

‘For the moment, you bastard. But this discussion is far from over.’

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