Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ryk Hattingh - Rest in Peace, Live in Ecstasy.

Something was happening in Yeoville in Johannesburg in the eighties. A tribe was emerging. I thought of them as good whites that wanted to stay. They rode a new spirit, and James Phillips, rather than Nadine Gordimer or Andre Brink, was its voice. Like any good tribe, it had to have its entertainers and artists and I was happy to be one of them. As was Ryk Hattingh.

I met Ryk when an Aeroplanes member, Robert Muirhead, noted that I wrote some poetry and told me about a gig at Wits University where poets would be reading. Robert was part of the organizing committee and invited me to participate.

I’m not sure who was on the bill. Performance is a selfish state of mind and most of the time I was meant to be listening I was going through my own show in my own head. But the voice of Don Mattera managed to shatter my self-obsession. He read from a book he was working on, telling tales of growing up in Doornfontein, one of those areas of central Johannesburg that stayed racially mixed longer than most. Mattera told of the Italian and Xhosa strands of his family, and how the cultures mixed, just like the juices mixed when his grandfather pressed the grapes with his feet in the back yard, or the grain mixed when his grandmother pounded the maize. And he told of how the bulldozers came and his family’s life was demolished, and they had to start again from scratch in Soweto.

Then it was my turn.

Beetle beats its own rhythm,

Coming home, for the night.

Talks of supper, mother’s cooking,

Says that things will be alright.

Has a fish upon the bumper,

And a little shark behind.

In a time of plague and stoning,

Bringing father from the grind.

In the street stands mother waiting,

Holding baby by the gate.

Sun sinks red on Brixton Tower,

TV News will seal our fate.

On the screen the politician;

Loud his voice in his defence,

But our moral theoretician

Relies on simple common sense.

Writes a letter to the army:

Refuse to go, religious grounds.

Does the dishes, makes the coffee,

Tries to still the baying hound.

It wasn’t much, but it had its pulse and I beat it out slow and steady. There was a silence when I finished, and then Mattera’s voice, rich and growly as a township sax, belting out his appreciation. It was a great gig, and afterwards a tall, dark, beak nosed, bearded, Christ-like figure strode towards me and said:

“I live in Yeoville. Where do you live?”


“I live in Natal St. Where do you live?”

“Natal St.”

“Andrew Ryk Hitchcock Hattingh,” he said, offering his hand. “You must come for tea. And dagga.” And he gave me his address.

Ryk lived in a flat that looked south over the park next to Sylvia’s Pass where it winds down Observatory Ridge and into the valley towards Doornfontein where Don Mattera’s house was bulldozed by apartheid machines. I walked up the next day and knocked on the door and Ryk opened it. He made tea, and then a joint and we started talking. He was working on a book. It was about a fire, and the reptile brain that lives in the core of our consciousness. The fire took place in the Knysna forest. Then a baby was born dead in the silent trees and a marriage broke up and Ryk came to Johannesburg and commenced to write.

We took to meeting daily, telling our stories and reading each other what we were working on. We didn’t criticize each other’s work. We had similar instincts about rhythm and the spoken word and when either of us read we knew that we were on the same path. They were a pure and fine and cultured gift, those mornings of talk and reading aloud.

Ryk and I started performing together at little left wing gigs organized by outfits like the End Conscription Campaign (ECC). We’d read snippets, alternating to form a conversation, in English and Afrikaans. The conversations were about history and growing up in South Africa. They were about politics and sex. We were both fascinated by sex, and soon enough a name suggested itself: ‘n Gesprek Tussen Twee Cuntos in a Land of Despair. A “gesprek”, is “a discussion”, and “cuntos”, well, there’s a South African street word, “ou” pronounced “oh”, meaning dude, chap, person.

I learnt great lessons from Ryk. Afrikaans had been abysmally taught at school. In the broader world it was the language of hectoring politicians, a tool of oppression. In the army I had got a glimpse of its power as a medium of insult. There was an Elizabethan earthiness to it that undermined the politicians’ attempts to sanitize and control. And now, working and playing with Ryk, I found that Afrikaans could be beautiful and subversive.

The ECC organized a gig at the Oxford Hotel, since demolished, in Rosebank. It gathered together shows and performers that were appearing in town. Radical shows like Mathew Krause’s Famous Dead Man, about Verwoed and the man who assassinated him. Famous Dead Man featured an enormous turd in the colours of the apartheid flag. (This rang a chord. In Kroonstad I had stood at attention on the parade ground, listening to speeches about God and Patriotism, and imagined shitting on that flag.) They were shows that happened largely below press level because they were giving the finger to the border war and conscription and the whole mess, and were essentially illegal. When we arrived for the Oxford gig, we found that the hotel had been decorated with graffiti. Hammers and sickles, painted by fascists, adorned it like flowers. The place was being watched, and I was glad that I had chosen to wear shoes that offered good traction on tar.

On the bright side, the right wing had done some effective publicity for us and the venue was packed. The audience hung on every word, and the Weekly Mail gave the show serious attention. It felt like something was happening. The ECC had gathered around its issue a larger grouping, writers, actors, dancers and musicians, a loose affiliation of the angry. We might not have represented the broad mass of the people that took part in the Defiance Campaign, but we were most certainly defiant. The EEC, however, chickened out. The next gig took place deep in the safety of Wits University, and with little publicity. I arrived early to find a couple international news crews considering whether to set up their cameras. Within half an hour they judged the event irrelevant and departed.

Ryk and I had some adventures with our little show. Our last gig was a trip to the Grahamstown National Festival of the Arts. I drove down with my friend the painter, Carl Becker, in a 3-litre Cortina pick-up that belonged to Carl's uncle. On the back was the Aeroplane's sound system. Also travelling were actors Nicky Rebelo and David Butler. They were part of a team adding value to the Aeroplanes’ act. Between sets the actors would get on stage, the dancers would stop dancing, fill up their glasses and sit on the floor. And Nicky, myself and others would perform sketches like Nicky’s piece about the insane Reconnaissance Commandos called Buks and Rooker:

BUKS. Remember Pyp.

ROOKER. Pyp Terreblanche! Used to drink a bottle of Tequila and smack his head against a tree!

BUKS. Dead.

ROOKER. (Beat.) Is it?

BUKS. Stood on a land mine in Ondongwa.

Everyone that Buks and Rooker talked about was dead:

BUKS. Remember Shorty.

ROOKER. That bastard. He stole my other piece of chicken.

BUKS. Dead.

ROOKER. (Beat.) Is it?

BUKS. They took him out with an AK in Katlehong.

Buks and Rooker were maniacs from the war zone who went around slaughtering black people. They referred to women in genitally specific terms:

BUKS. So what are you doing here?

ROOKER. (Beat.) Checking out the poes.

Carl and I used the mountain route past Clocolan and Wepener on our night drive to Grahamstown. Each of those Free State towns was divided in two: one little town for whites, and one little township for blacks. The townships were surrounded by lights, like soccer stadiums. The lights had been installed so that the police or the army could go in there at night and see what they were doing.

A refined state of emergency had just been declared and there were many roadblocks. They were big roadblocks with lots of vehicles and army and police personnel. When they stopped us in the darkness they’d shine their torches in our faces and wave us on when they saw we were white.

There was trouble as soon as we hit Grahamstown because the ECC, banned under the new emergency, had distributed leaflets at the Goodwood Hotel where we were playing. By distributing leaflets at the Aeroplanes gig the ECC were letting their supporters know that they were still around. The manager felt that supporting banned organizations and inviting the attentions of the Grahamstown Security Branch might be bad for his standing in the local business community. He gave us a lot of flack and the gig started on an edgy, wired, note.

It wasn't the best we ever did and after two or three sets we'd go up to Cathcart Arms and drink. We drank consistently and hard for eight days. By ten in the morning Carl and I would be in the Cathcart having a beer to take the edge of the hangover. At around five or six we'd acknowledge that the beer wasn't working and order three tequilas each.

We tended not to see many shows but some Aeroplanes and camp followers did come and see Ryk and I perform 'n Gesprek Tussen Twee Cuntos in a Land of Despair. They were among the few. The show was too strange and raw for any general audience of that time. But if we played, sometimes, to audiences of five, or even three, it did nothing to lessen the intensity of the experience. Each time, an accumulation of drink and emotion and worry about the country lead us into a cathartic relationship with our audience.

We'd meet before readings in the 1840 Settler's Monument foyer. A generous part timer ran the bar. He sold his tequila for regular prices in glasses twice the normal size. It was irresistible. The spirit would ease its warmth into our hearts and we'd feel those accumulations of anger and love that were our relationship with our tribe and country squirt into our blood streams from the motherland gland. That's what it felt like anyway.

There was a snippet that Ryk used in the show, and it has stayed with me ever since. Ek wil leef, he would proclaim, met twee foote of the aarde and my kop teen die hemel vas, ek wil leef met 'n ereksie, eksie-perfeksie, altyd amper daar, nooit nie sommer net kom nie.

It is impossible to get the buoyancy of those lines into English. Afrikaans is just better for saying what Ryk meant. But now that he is gone, I will use them to try and say goodbye.

May your dead heart live, Andrew Ryk HitchcockHattingh, with two feet on the ground and your head tight against heaven. May you live with an erection, ecstatic perfection, always almost there. Never just coming.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Excavations and Thomas Campbell's Big Theory of Everything - #MTB

In Chapter 33 of The Excavations, the Partner, as he and Jack Delfan wait for Hob to return from the Schrödinger Plains, wonders if organic life represents the attempt of the universe to understand itself.

I've got no idea how I came by that thought, but it's interesting to hear maverick physicist, Thomas Campbell, expound on a related idea. The universe CANNOT be physical, Campbell explains. The twin slit, and like experiments, PROVE this. Science proves, but cannot accept, that the physical world is an illusion. We live in interaction, the theory goes, with a larger consciousness. And that larger consciousness is bent, as the Partner intuits, on understanding and self-improvement …

The video is long, but worth staying with. And, for some reason, it made me smile throughout.

#Clifi #SciFi #MBT

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Excavations

"A biblical comedy, a millennial carnival, a strange dispatch from beyond the rapture."

"A crazy-ass futuristic book."

Jack Delfan is an unwitting Noah who has turned his back on the world of men. He lives in an oil tanker in a sea of sand. He believes in digging. When a son, Hob, is delivered to him, Delfan teaches the boy how to use a spade and read the book. Delfan is a difficult father and refuses to tell Hob who his mother is. Then the Gcwi come.

Hob and the Gcwi set out on a quest to find Hob's mother. It is a journey that is destined to break Hob's heart. There are times when a broken heart is what it takes.

The Excavations is coming of age tale which delves into the history of the world, and into its future. It is an allegory, a prophecy of what will come if we fail to confront climate change and imploding capitalism.

delve (v.)
From old English delfan "to dig"
From Proto-Indo-European root dhelbh - source also of Lithuanian delba "crowbar," Russian dolbit, Czech dlabati, Polish dłubać "to chisel".

Related: Delved; delving.

Can also be an instruction:

delve (v.)

From old English delfan "to dig"

From Proto-Indo-European root dhelbh - source also of Lithuanian delba "crowbar," Russian dolbit

Czech dlabati, Polish dłubać "to chisel;" Russian dolotó, Czech dlato, Polish dłuto "chisel").

Related: Delved; delving.

Can also be an instruction:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

IT WAS GCUMM who saw the traveller first.

The Lost Commons

IT WAS GCUMM who saw the traveller first. Some minutes later Hob saw him also as he came over a dune, a minute and ambiguous figure that shifted and dissolved and formed again in the heat haze. Hob rang the bell five times and twenty minutes later they heard Jack Delfan cursing as he climbed the shaft. He emerged and came to Hob and Hob pointed.
            There he is. Just like she said.
            Delfan looked at Hob and then he looked at the crone who sat with the girl in the shade. He squinted at the horizon for some time and then he went to the drum and filled a bottle of water and picked up the .577 Westley Richards where it leant against the trunk of the rapture tree and he walked out to meet the stranger.
            Delfan came over the crest of a dune and found the man just below the summit on the further side. He was dressed in tattered stained military solartect and he was crawling on his hands and knees.
            I have tried, said Jack Delfan, to vanish from your world.
            Please, said the man. Just some water.
            A lean dark face with a fine nose upon it like a ship's keel. A full mouth and sensual, if soured a little by over-activity of the brain. Which took place behind the high and noble façade of the forehead.
            Here, said Delfan. And he offered the water and the fugitive took it and knelt back on his heels and drank.
            Thank you, he said.
            Delfan nodded.
            Do you have more? Can I fill my containers? Please. I am pursued.
            Jack Delfan stood tall above him. The .577 hanging easy in his right hand.
            You be a deserter?
            That be military gear.
            I took it off a corpse.
            There are many dead.
            Jack Delfan taking his time to think about that.
            So what are you? Tinker, tailor? Hm? Murderer? Thief? Rapist?
            What then?
            I wrote something. It went viral.
            I thought they'd stopped that.
            They would if they could.
            A hairy eyebrow lifting on the upper slopes of the patriarchal visage.
            What said you?
            I suggested that as the secretariat extracted total disclosure from citizens, that as the mechanics of the system demanded that in order to live, to exchange units for food, the motherdrive knew everything about us, down to the weight and consistency of our morning stool, and I say that literally, because in the sanctum's the plumbing now has native intelligence installed as a matter of course, I suggested that, as this was the case, the Protector's financial dealings should be open to public scrutiny. In fact, I insisted that this was the one privacy that all citizens must cede. That all transactions be disclosed and publicly accessible. Economic justice demands economic transparency. Is it too much to ask that the rich tell us what they earn? We already know that the poor earn nothing.
            Delfan stared aghast.
            They'd film a man's arse while he was at stool?
            They have the legal right to uptake all relevant information.
            What is relevant about the consistency of my turd? Thanks to the beans I push them out silky smooth every morning in foot long lengths. And that is nobody's business but my own.
            Delfan roaring at the fugitive as though that unfortunate man was personally responsible for the outrage.
            What do they want to examine your evacuations for? What perversions of the mind can lead them to this?
            To get medical treatment you have to be part of World Aid. And World Aid say they are in the business of risk. They prefer to spot a problem early. You get a message on your tablet. Suspected cancer of bowel. Please contact your designated medi-provider. And if you want to do that you'd better be clocking in regular to the labour pool and have units to spare on your chip. Which is not easy since the secretariat pirated the blockchain and the currency went to shit.
            He lifted his thumb to show a crude stitched scar down the pad of it.
            A comrade cut it out. But they were getting heartbeat, aspiration, temperature. Rumour is, they've been sequencing our DNA for years. Helps them track us down when we don't pay the interest on our debts.
            The one percent are usurers. The rest of us are debt slaves. Capital has stolen the commons.
            They'll be charging us for sunlight next.
            With automatic deductions for both heat and light, separately accounted. It is being discussed.
            Jack Delfan nodding slowly. Lifting his thumb to show his own scar.
            The fugitive smiled then and rose and offered his right hand and Jack Delfan took it and the fugitive winced a little at the strength of his grip.
            Come, said the patriarch. I can offer shade, water and little food.
            They'll be coming after me, said the fugitive.
            I know.

            So the fugitive followed Jack Delfan to shade of the rapture tree where he was recruited with fresh water from the lake and tins of beans and corn and even Qhilika.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

It was a countenance as enigmatic as a stone statue facing the sea on a forgotten island.

The Knowledge Knows

FOR TWO YEARS the Gcwi came and went and Delfan saw that Hob was happy in their company and that he began to converse with them in their language. In the evenings the boy would squat among them, all but naked himself, and listen to the clicking syncopations of their speech as they told old tales of Mantis when the world was new, and the Gcwi would laugh and applaud when Hob imitated phrases and sentences and caught their meaning. Seen from the decks above in the dimness of dusk, lit by the flames where the three logs joined, they formed a circle of glowing faces, humans at ease before the hearth in a configuration as old as story.
These were not, it must be noted, the thoughts that arose in Jack Delfan’s mind. Often when that man looked away and looked again he would begin to doubt if he knew which was his son and which but a naked savage. He would turn then, fierce and muttering, they have broken the world boy and I am trying to engineer our survival and I am your father and god knows there’s digging to do, and he would make his way to his lonely hammock and he would lie there and sweat and curse and he would stare up at the bulkheads and long for the lilt of a southern ocean swell beneath his rusted prow.
   Down on the sands by the trunk of the rapture tree Hob listened to the talk which sounded to him like the sounds of the wild, the clicks and chirps of insects and frogs and birds and the grunts and moans of antelope and carnivores and ruminants as heard around a reedy waterhole beneath a star shot sky. He would listen and watch and he came to know how the Gcwi split the cocoons they dug from the roots of the rapture tree and removed the larvae of the Chrysomelid Beetle, Diamphidia simplex, for the haemolymph which poisoned their arrows and which will turn a man’s urine red during the long hours it takes to kill him and for which there is no antidote.
            Hob came to know the Gcwi, the old woman, the Knowledge, and Gcumm and the men whose names were Long Gau and Lazy Gau, and the girl, Ntuswa. Delfan saw that the boy was happy in that company and he saw how he watched the girl. And Delfan grumbled and muttered but he knew that since the coming of the Gcwi, Hob had ceased to ask questions about his mother. So father and son came to an agreement and after Hob had laboured from sunrise for six hours and the shadow of the rapture tree had reached the stake placed in the sand to mark the time he was free to be with the Gcwi. And even sometimes to accompany them on their shorter expeditions to the scrublands in the north west, the Schrödinger Plains, where there survived small groups of the animals they loved to hunt and the nuts and roots and fruits and grubs and honey which had provided their sustenance through the ages.
            Early in the first year after the coming of the Gcwi, Delfan and Hob hauled an old diesel motor out of a container on the deck. When the motor was hanging on its rig and ready to be winched along the cable to the lift, man and boy paused for breath and Delfan pointed at the boxes of clothing and the beds and wardrobes and tables finely wrought from the wood of trees no longer seen upon this earth.
            Look at that, said Delfan. Some deluded fool found it worth the trouble to pack his life and his family’s life into a metal box and transport it from one continent to another on the grounds that the economy in the one he travelled to was better than that in the one they left.
            Why was he deluded?
            Use your brain, Hobblet.
            The tone of the patriarch’s words was like a lash on Hob’s heart and in the heat of those young emotions he did not see that the very existence of the furniture on a shipwreck in the desert was proof enough that its owners attempts at relocation had been to little purpose. Indeed father and son were become like a man and woman who have been knotted too long together and they could hardly say a word to each other without feeling the pain of belittlement or failure or revenge upon them. Often they worked in silence and so it was when the motor was placed on its bolted frame and connected to the winches so that drums and timbers could be lowered down to form the first raft on the lake. These were the beginnings of the explorations here below.
            And then the fugitive came. The Knowledge knew first of his coming, smelt it perhaps, a hint of fear on the desert air, and she told Gcumm and Gcumm told Hob and Hob tolled the bell. Delfan came up from below and interrogated Hob and Hob said that not long after tomorrow's sunrise, someone would come from the east.
            Someone, said Jack Delfan.
            You've become a prophet?
            No, said Hob.
            How then, do you know this?
            I don't know it. The Knowledge knows it.
            The knowledge?
            Hob pointed and Jack Delfan looked where the crone sat upon her heels. She felt his gaze, but did not meet it. Her eyes were focussed on the horizon. They lived in deep grooves that might have been chiselled in her skull to echo in their curvature the grooves of her forehead. Profound wrinkles arched out from the corners of her eyes and turned down to meet the lines at the edge of her mouth. The hair upon her head grew in little clumps of grey and black like the desert scrub that failed to properly cover certain high plains in the time before the flood. It was a countenance as enigmatic as a stone statue facing the sea on a forgotten island.
            She told you that someone comes tomorrow?
            Delfan looked at the elevation of the sun and then he looked at the shadow of the rapture tree.
            We knock off, he said, when the shadow meets the stake. Is that right?
            It is, said Hob.
            Good, said Jack Delfan. That's two hours yet. When I ring the bell, commence to lower.
            And he turned and went down the shaft.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

On Books finding readers and readers find books.

It is one of the pleasures of writing a book is that, unlike, say, a theatre production, it stays out there, in libraries, on private bookshelves and, often enough, in second hand book stores. Somewhere in the USA, "a teacher" recommended The Book of War to author, Scott Pomfret. The reason I know is because Scott posted a review on GoodReads. For which I am grateful. Thank you Scott!

Meanwhile, the Goncourt brothers, long dead now, have found a reader in me. Their journals are not easy to get. You won't find them at Exclusives. But they are full, as Geoff Dyer says, of strange pleasures: "A ring at the door. It was Flaubert."

Here's some culinary horror. During the Franco-Prussian war, the siege of Paris, and the commune, it became difficult for citizens of Paris to feed themselves. It was not long before they were eating the animals in the zoo.

"December 31. I had the curiosity to call on Roos, the English butcher. I saw all sorts of strange relics. On the wall, hanging in a place of honour, is the trunk of young Pollux, the elephant from the Jardin d'Acclimatation; and in the midst of nameless meats and unusual horns, a boy is offering camel kidneys."

The butcher recommends the elephant sausages, adding that, "there is some onion" in them. Goncourt buys "two larks" for lunch the next day. On New Year's Eve he goes to a restaurant where he finds on the menu, "the famous elephant sausage." He dined off it.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

"A silence attended that meeting in the lee of the rusted hulk. At the hearth where three logs smouldered. In the shade of the rapture tree."

The Gcwi, the Samaritan

THEY WERE NAKED apart from small aprons of worked hide and they were the colour of the sand at dusk. They had a trick of staying so still that they assumed the aspect of rocks or irregularities of the earth and so rendered themselves quite invisible. As they had to Hob while he waited for his father to come up from his ducking. The boy, since his arrival at the tanker, had seen no human besides Jack Delfan and he stared at the Gcwi like a witness to a miracle. Which wonder was but a yellow wrinkled crone as old as Gondwanaland and three men and a girl. They squatted on their haunches in the sand, the Gcwi, and they stared at Hob and Hob stared at them.
            A silence attended that meeting in the lee of the rusted hulk. At the hearth where three logs smouldered. In the shade of the rapture tree. No breath of air moved and Hob did not know if he was awake in the world or bewitched by a story but he hoped that it was the former.
            The eldest of the Gcwi men lifted a slow and deliberate arm to point at Jack Delfan.
            Hoooooo, he said. Hooooooooooooooo.
It was a marvel of mimicry, exact down to finest nuances and tonal qualities, for it had been the habit of the Gcwi, over millennia, to study and imitate the sounds of the living world.
            Hooooo, said the man, and he looked at his companions. They were entirely alert and their eyes rested on him and then they flicked back to Jack Delfan. Who turned gingerly onto his stomach, arguments with his offspring all forgotten. The Gcwi man stood and grasped an imaginary companion to his breast and shouted at him and then he allowed himself to topple back on the sand. He lay there wide-eyed and open-mouth and he stared at the sky with crossed eyes.
            Hooooooooo, he said.
            His companions commenced to laugh. They slapped their thighs and they rolled about and you would think that never in all their lives had they been so entirely surprised and entertained.
            The girl laughing still as she turns onto her stomach and rises to sit back on slim calves folded beneath her. The softness of her rear indented by the company of her heels. She appears to Hob’s wondering eyes like a vision from the book, the virgin, perhaps, who came to David when he gat no heat. She is slim as a reed to grace a lake of cool clear water. Her incipient breasts dance as she laughs and her yellow eyes dance also and then she feels Hob’s gaze upon her and she becomes grave. The senior man likewise. He squats on his haunches in the sand and he lifts a hand with open palm to touch upon his chest.
            Gcumm, he says, and he touches his chest again. Gcumm.
            The others nod, and then the crone says, hooooooooooo, and they commence to laugh once more and Hob laughs also.
            Jack Delfan carefully reassuming a vertical aspect, checking the articulation of ribs and limbs.
            I thought I made it clear to you years ago, he says. Bugger off. In perpetuity.
            The Gcwi as still as rocks. With lowered gaze.
            I said, go!
            Shut your mouth, Hobblet. This be man’s business. And to the Gcwi, roaring, be gone!
            Twelve eyes entirely aware of Jack Delfan in their peripheral vision. They know better than to offer a direct and wide-eyed gaze to a predator. Swift of glimpse they are and can look and look away before you know that they have looked. And yet you will sense from their demeanour that they have learnt something about you. Seen through those eyes, Jack Delfan is a ghastly figure. The sand adhering to the sweat of his brow, clinging to the blood on his chin. A filthy monster on the desert. A hirsute and battered primate, pointing to the west.
            Get your burnt hides back into the wilderness from whence you came.
            Gcumm looking up carefully at Delfan. Putting his hands to his belly. Lifting them to gesture to his mouth as though drinking.
            Go, says Jack Delfan.
            They are thirsty, says Hob.
            Go, roars the prophet.
            Gcumm miming the movements of eating.
            They are hungry.
            The book, says Hob, speaks of the Samaritan. Who helps the traveller.
            Not now, boy.
            It speaks of the Samaritan. You have read me of it. How many times have you read me of it?
            There is a time for the book and this is not it.
            The book says they stay.
            I built this domain from sand and wreckage, boy.
            And so did I.
            You were nothing. I fed you. I scrubbed your tiny arse.
            I gave all. I found the water.
            And they smelt it.
            The strangers stay.
            Delfan the patriarch drawing back a fist and launching it into the son’s face. Hob staggering backwards with blood streaming. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. Looking down at the red and then up again at his father. Stubborn as stone.
            The travellers stay.
            Delfan’s fist swinging like a club, coming down on the boy’s face so that he falls to his knees. To look up bleeding at his father. And speak his dogged words again.
            The book says they stay.
            The Gcwi unmoving, attentive. Observers of the natural world. Jack Delfan slumping like a man exhausted by disappointments in love. Turning slow and tired towards the lift. Stepping onto the platform. Flicking the crude switch to engage the motor. The Gcwi aghast at the great clanking of the chains. Delfan ascending slowly with back turned so that he does not see Hob rise and go to the drum at the trunk of the tree and dip in an old enamel bowl and offer it to the travellers. Who come forward in order of seniority. The crone, the Knowledge, taking the bowl first and drinking deep before offering it to Gcumm.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

"You’d blackmail me with drowning?"

What Mean Father?

HOB WENT TO THE SURFACE for rope and then he came down again and worked in silence. He ignored the pleading and roaring which alternated from beneath. He hauled the Colman lamp up and hung it from its peg. He untied the bucket and tied on the new length of rope and he tied off the other end to the line on the winch. He flung the bucket down the hole and left the rope to play out how it would and started to climb out again.
That be better, said Jack Delfan, when the vessel splashed down next to him. He felt about in the dimness and found the bucket and reached up and took hold of the rope. He took a good breath and he hauled himself up hand over hand until he was nearly clear of the water. He hung there a moment and felt about with his foot and after a little cursing he got that appendage into the bucket so that it bore his weight.
He hung and shivered and rotated slowly. He saw in the dim glow that filtered down that the lake was longer than it was wide and that the cavern containing it might lead on to others for there were places at either end where he could discern no concluding wall. So the patriarch revolved in one direction and then another and then he yelled for Hob and got no answer. He tried, as form of communication, to jump a little on the rope. A rock came down in answer and it struck him on the skull and came close to concussing him. When he had finished howling he felt a slick wetness flowing over his forehead and into his right eye. He tasted it on a fingertip to confirm that it was blood.
Hob, he bellowed, haul me out for the sake of the living world.
            But his cries brought no reply and when finally the rope jerked upwards it came as a surprise to him and he nearly lost his grip and then he began to rise and spin more freely. The rope was snagging on the rough surfaces of the hole and biting into the rock and Delfan began to fear that it would work its way into a crevice and jam or fray to parting. And indeed as he rose to the hole he could see that the rope was close to giving way and then the upward motion stopped.
Hob, he yelled. Hobby? Hobblet?
There was no sign, no sound, from above. Delfan stood tall and reached through and took the rope above the place where it was about to part and pulled himself up and as he did so a slab of rock gave way and he nearly followed it into the waters.
Jack Delfan’s mood was in no way improved by the time he emerged from the shaft to see Hob squatting in the shade cast by the trunk of the rapture tree. Delfan stood bent with hands on knees and reloaded stores of breath and then he straightened to point a finger at the boy.
You’d blackmail me with drowning?
You only listen when you need help.
You bastard!
Whose fault be that?
Delfan pacing towards the boy. Searching for a line of enquiry less open to blunt rebuttal.
Blackmail. Where learnt you that?
Hob standing quick and turning to climb the trunk.
From you. Like everything else.
The boy leaping for the branch the Qhilika hangs from, scrabbling upwards as Delfan reaches for an ankle. Which is pulled out of reach. A desperate game developing. Hob dropping a foot in and out of range. Delfan growling below as he jumps to grasp it. And does. Hob kicking savagely so that his heel impacts the top of Delfan’s nose. A new stream of blood issuing from his left nostril to compliment the dried matter above his right eyebrow. The patriarch a fearsome sight now. In tattered trousers and rope belt like a castaway. A brown and hairy torso topped by a battered cranium. He stands with feet apart and knees bent and ready to spring. His bloodied head canted back on its vertebrae.
Hob stares down and Delfan roars and leaps and grasps the branch. Hob skipping up branches above. Like a jack tar on familiar rigging in a book from a world long gone. Delfan grunting as he gains the lowest branch and stands and looks up and commences climbing. So that he forces Hob higher and finally there is no branch that will take Hob's weight and he lowers his groin to the one he stands on and begins to shift along it. And turn with much trouble to face his father. Who advances out towards him by the same method of hands and arse.
Why won’t you listen to me?
You don’t listen to me, says Hob.
I am your father!
What means that?
What means that?
Delfan leaning forward as the boy edges back, lunging to take him with one hand by the shoulder. Father and son precariously joined on their perch.
I’ll show you what means that.
He releases the boy’s shoulder and draws back his hand to form a fist and launch a straight right which Hob evades with an elegant and instinctive sway of the head. Delfan toppling forward to takes his son about the chest and hug him like a bear. As they begin to turn together on the axis of the branch. Coming to a halt entirely inverted. Hob wriggling in the patriarch’s embrace. Their four thighs and bended knees losing their precarious grip on the bark. And they tumble. Locked together and grunting from branch to branch. Landing in the sand with Delfan below and Hob clasped yet to his bosom.
            Hooooo, said the Patriarch. Hooooooooo.
His breath was entirely knocked from him and he was uncertain if he would ever be able to recover it.
Hoooooo, he said. Hooooooooooooooo.
Hob had the best of the landing and it was he, as he freed himself from his father’s embrace, who saw the Gcwi.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Cold as a polar bear's arse."

The World Below
THERE WAS A FACTION in the unruly parliaments of Jack Delfan’s head which hoped to be the one to make the discovery, but nine years would pass before such a wish had chance of fulfillment and it was Hob who was digging in the depths with only the hiss of the Colman paraffin pressure lamp for company when the break through occurred. Hard years under his belt and a wisp of beard about his chin as he turned with loaded shovel in hand and felt the rock give way beneath his right foot so that he fell forward onto his face. And cursed. He lay there for a moment. Rose gingerly onto hands and knees and turned to see what had occurred. There was a hole in the floor of the shaft.
            Hob stood gingerly and he went to the rope pull and tugged five times for emergency. He looked about and then he went to the chest of tools and opened it and took out a ball of twine. He lifted the pressure lamp from the iron peg where it hung on the wall and he placed it on the ground. He tied the end of the twine to its handle and freed a length as long as himself and left that coiled on the ground and he tied off the twine to the peg. He slithered forward on his belly with the lamp in one hand. He reached forward and lowered the light into the void. He did not hear his father descending. Far below him a pebble dropped into water and the ripples spread and the sound of it sang as if in a cathedral designed to take a singer’s voice and amplify it and its accompanying harmonies in praise of god or whatever means the good.
            Holy shit, whispered Hob.
            There was a scrabbling above and then the patriarch’s head came down to join him.
            My cock’s a Scottish kipper, said Jack Delfan. Pickled in brine.
            Yes, father.
            Tie the bucket off on a length of rope and bring it to me, boy.
            To do what with?
            I’m going to bring up some water, Hobby. I want to taste it.
            This rock be brittle, father.
            You will fall down there.
            Delfan grabbing the twine that holds the lamp. Roaring like a wounded beast.
            Bucket and rope, boy.
            Hob nodded slowly three times and then he was gone. Delfan could hear, he could feel, the vast spaces of the cavern. He inhaled the clean holy scent of water on rock. Jack Delfan murmuring in awe.
            This would make Abraham himself quake at the knees.
            Delfan flinging out an arm as a layer of shale gives way beneath his chest, three feet of twine going through his fingers before he arrests the fall of the lamp.
            Where the hell is the bucket?
            Why don’t you say please?
            Jack Delfan braced and disbelieving where he hangs over the abyss. A shower of rock and sand dropping to splash and ripple and echo in the world below.
            How thy mighty scrawn are fleshed. How are thy hormones riz. Get your prime beef hence and bring me the bucket. With a rope on it. We’ve found water, boy!
            You will fall in, father.
            Delfan listening unbelieving to the mutinous voice from above.
            Bring me the bucket!
            Rock giving way beneath Jack Delfan’s chest. The lamp dropping to the end of its line. Its light reaching out towards new mysteries. And Delfan falling past it to plunge into waters he so desired to taste. He comes to the surface with much thrashing of limbs. His voice biblical in the resonant arena.
            Cold as a polar bear’s arse! Hob? Hobby?
            He sees, peering into the light of the lamp, his son’s face appear above.
            Don’t stare at me as if I was a monster in a zoo. Drop me a rope. Drop the bucket down and I’ll put a foot in it, and you can winch me up.
            Why can’t you say please?
            Jack Delfan an astonished traveller upon dark and uncharted waters.
            Hob? Hobby, me boy? You’ll lose me of the drowning!
            Why can’t you say please?
            This is not a time for philosophical discussion!
            Why don’t you say please?
            I could truly kill you for this!
            For what have I dug for sixteen years?
            I said, not now.
            Drown then.
            I will kill you!
            Delfan treading water a little. Strategizing. Speaking in a tone of gentleness and reason.
            Hobblet, fruit of my loins. Speak true what troubles you now.
Hob’s eyes careful as he stares down. The wielding of power a strange sensation to the boy. The father’s voice coming plaintive from the chilly dark.
Speak true and I will do what I can to answer it.
You promise?
            I promise.
            Hob considering his options, searching for some kind of leverage on this situation.
            You be my father.
            In the book. When they go to Bethlehem.
            And the child is born in the stables.
            Mary be his mother.
            Yes, Hob, that is what the book says. Mary be his mother.
            Who be my mother?
            Jack Delfan emitting the wail of a saint betrayed.
            You hooking swine!
            What is her name? I want to know her name. You said I must speak true what troubles me.
            Delfan's legs pumping furiously. As if the liquid was a ladder he could climb to throttle his offspring.
            Hob, bring me rope or I will curse you and haunt your life in all the corners of the tired world. I will walk with you in foul spirit and turn your every waking minute into nightmare I swear on the book I will.
            Hob’s face hanging far above, sliding out of sight. Delfan shivering and circling by means of an energetic doggy paddle.
            Hob? He calls. Hobby, me boy? Hobblet?

Monday, April 17, 2017

#literary #dystopian

The Economist
Writing the end of the world
Charting trends in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
How geopolitical fears have changed over the past 70 years ...

AP Top News
Dystopian fiction is selling like there's no tomorrow.

New York Times
Boom Times for the New Dystopians

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Excavations, Chapter 3 - Rules

THE EARTH PASSED seven times in its ellipse about the sun and Hob grew taller than the spades his father taught him to dig with. A day that started much like any other found the boy at midday ten meters down the shaft and shovelling. He was as lean and brown as beef jerky and he scraped at the earth and rock until he formed a pile and then he forced the iron blade beneath it and lifted it up and deposited it in the bucket next to him and the receptacle was nearly full. He shovelled in a last pile, to save him from parental quibble, and he reached for the rope–pull that hung down the side of the shaft and tugged upon it three times.
            Up above the slave bell tolled on the poles and piping of Delfan’s mineshaft headgear and the prophet came hurrying across the sand. He placed his feet for purchase and grasped at the handle of the winch and grumbled as the bell tolled again.
            Impatient little tadpole.
            Delfan sweating and winding and cursing until the bucket comes up into the mouth of the shaft. He takes the rope and swings the vessel out across the sand and tips it onto the pile of rubble. He turns back to the shaft and sees his son emerging up the rope ladder and scrambling out and scraping his knee.
            Shit, says Hob.
            He sits on the sand and he bends forward to suck on the wound.
            Watch your breadhole, says the father.
            Hob lifting an aggrieved head.
            I talk as I’ve been taught.
            Jack Delfan staring at his son.
            We be gone down another two feet, says the child.
            Delfan frowning and peering into the bucket. Reaching in to scrape at the soil adhering there, bringing a finger out sniff at it. To work the earth between thumb and forefinger, testing, whispering.
            There’s a hint of dampness here …
            Jack Delfan giggling and chortling now.
            A hint of wetness.
            He runs across to the pile of rubble and kneels and leans in close and sniffs at the last deposits.
            I swear on the book I can smell it. I can smell it, Hobblet.
            Jack Delfan capering in the shade of the rapture tree. Reaching up to take down the Qhilika. And drink deep before plugging the bag again. Bellowing at the horizon.
            You bastards. You doomed bastards.
            May I drink father?
            Jack Delfan staring startled at the boy. Then pointing to the rusted water drum next to the tree trunk.
            Help yourself.
            I mean, may I have some Qhilika. For celebration.
            A boy does not drink fermented beverage, says the father, until he has become a man.
            How do I do that?
            Until when?
            Until you come of age.
            When will that be?
            Eighteen years. Not seven. Not eight. Eighteen.
            Why eighteen?
            I thought you cared nothing, says the boy, for their rules.
            Whose rules?
          Them. People.
            Delfan advancing towards the child. Speaking low and quiet and clear.
            Get your spindly arse down that hole and caress the shovel with your pink little fingers.
            Hob lifting a hand to examine his grimed and callused palm.
            Or I shall remunerate your hide with the lash, says Jack Delfan, and by the holes in the sky you will turn into a man one fine ultraviolet day. Until then, you dig.
            A confrontation there in the desert. Parent and child with eyes locked together and then Hob turns to go back to the mouth of the shaft.
            The boy halting to listen.
            I'll go down. It's your shift above.

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