Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Friday, May 26, 2017
"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.
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:
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.