Sunday, December 30, 2007

TMI

Someone, somewhere, came up with the bright idea of putting interesting little facts on the back of the wax paper that seals the sticky side of sanitary pads. The sort of useless triva you get in Christmas crackers, most of which is utter bullcrap, can't be quantified, but entertaining for about 10 seconds none the less.

Today, I was found this;

ODD SPOT #411
hard-boiled eggs will spin.
Uncooked or soft-boiled eggs will not.

...eh? Does that even make sense? Spin in what context exactly? Of course I grabbed an uncooked egg and tested it on the bench, and it span, quite nicely.

The moral of this story is: do not patronise your target audience's intelligence, especially if your target audience consists solely of PMS-rabid harpies.

Seriously, if you're going to make stuff up, at least put some effort into it. Make it interesting. Better yet, give me this job! I'm great at spinning bullshit. I'll make going to the toilet to deal with the fact that you leak blood every month a fun and entertaining experience!

No, really.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My, that's a lot of crapping on about dead trees. No more till next year, promise.

2007 saw me eat 36 books. I think. I went back to count the write ups, but there were books spilling over from 2006, and I'm not sure where the cut off lay. Might have read more. It's 3 up on last year's count. Let 2008's target be at least 37.
Haunted: A Novel - Chuck Palahniuk



In the interests of fair disclosure, I shall state right now and up front that I love Palanhiuk's books, that sort of rabid adoration that is a little embarassing, and if your views on his writing don't happen to coincide with mine, then clearly you're some sort of monobrow ignoramus with smelly fingernails.

Still, I think he went off the deep end with this one.

The book revolves around a group of people on a "writer's retreat", who've locked themselves away from the world for 3 months, to write their magnum opussesses. Instead, they work on creating a story by putting themselves through the worst things they can imagine. They kill, maim and eat each other, all to make the story, their story, better.

I didn't buy it. In less than a week they're sabotaging themselves, horrifically, and I didn't buy it.

Fortunately, that's only a third of the book. A chapter of real time. A poem about each character, under the spotlight, and a story, told by each character. Maybe about themselves. Maybe not.

The stories are the strong point. They're universally goddamn fucking awful, in new and spectacularly fucked up ways. This isn't a book I ate in one night, although I tried. There was too much oh-gross-oh-sick-oh-I-just-overloaded-on-scum-of-the-earth for any longhaul reading. Fantastically horrible. Hard to keep away from, hard to stay with.

The universally present narrator began to bug me after a while. Not third person, no he/she, but 'we'. I didn't particularly want to be grouped in that 'we'.

Last night, I forced myself in for a long haul, and I finished it, and the grand finale was what I expected, and something of a let down. I'd reached my saturation point of despicableness. There wasn't any further to go - just sit around, making our own stories hard to keep away from, hard to stay with.

The moral, of every single one of his books, is that we're all fucked.

Word.

Verdict: If you haven't read Palahniuk before, don't start here. Start with Fight Club or Choke. If you have read him before, well, complete the collection. The short stories are great, but you're not missing out on the rest.
Parasite Eve – Hideaki Sena, translated by Tryan Grillo



I ate this in one night.

I didn’t mean to, there just didn’t seem to be a good place to pause. All the chapters ended on cliffhangers. AND I HAVE NO WILL POWER.

How on earth to summarise this?

Toshiaki Nagashima’s wife, Kiyomi, dies in a car accident. It’s a standard fare death when viewed from the outside, but we, lucky readers we are, view it from the inside, and it’s strange in there. Toshiaki, being mad with grief and a pharmacist, has her kidneys donated and takes her liver for himself, to preserve some cells, to keep some part of her alive.

In any situation, that isn’t healthy behaviour.

Her liver cells are alive, not in the cellular sense, but in the sentient and coherent life form sense. They have willpower, desire and intent. They are not they, but She, unknown and quite frightening. Dividing and multiplying is child’s play compared to what this baby can do.

She has lived in Kiyomi for some time, gradually taking over her body, down to the cells, shaping and moulding it, directing Kiyomi in her life, until at last, She can take control.

She wants Toshiaki. Among other things.

Kiyomi’s fear, knowing her body is not entirely hers, is contagious.

It’s beautifully balanced. The slide from every day life and every day beliefs is gradual and perfectly measured, each new shock, a little worse than the last, immaculately timed, until you expect monstrosities, you wait for monstrosities, you cringe and hide and don’t want to look because the monster is about to appear but you keep looking none the less. The monster doesn’t disappoint. She’s ghastly.

Some of the passages are quite dry; explanations of chemical processing that is a bit too rote and step by step to hold my interest, a side effect of the fact that Hideaki knows what he’s talking about. He’s better in relating his theories about mitochondria in dialogue, which is easy to swallow. Grillo’s translation isn’t flash, but is invisible.

There was a moment towards the end, where I thought that oh, this was just another ‘women are the root of all evil’ story, but in hindsight that’s the cheap opinion. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to chew over here, and it doesn’t take much digging at all. It’s easy to be distracted by Her single-minded and primordial emotions.

Well. There’s still a little demonising going on, if only because She is damn fucking scary. That’s some hell good monster.

Verdict: This book surprised me. I know there’s a Parasite Eve game out there, somewhere, so I wasn’t expecting this fascinating, complicated and impressively well-drawn story at all. It’s a very human story, behind all the muck and horror, and well worth checking out.
No idea how they got a game out of it though. Seriously, how would that work? Get points for operating the centrifuge correctly?
The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories – Cat Rambo & Jeff VanderMeer



One night, I harp on about the little story lost. The next night, I read this, and lo! Little story lost has grown up, grown out, got some kickass threads and sweet boots and is out on the town turning heads. No, really. “Hey,” I said, suspicions slowly growing, “I know this story…” I’m glad to see it got out into the world. Maybe it'll even be read out loud.

‘The Surgeon’s Tale’ is a story of a drunken and mostly failed attempt to raise someone from the dead, and the misplaced love that grows from it. It is a sad, confused, often forlorn story, full of regrets that he doesn’t regret, and mistakes that maybe weren’t mistakes. Creepy, but softly so. Beautifully written, definitely the crowning piece of the collection.

Accompanying it are a handful of stories by Rambo and VanderMeer, each with a lovely fairytale flavour. I was particularly fond of ‘The Dead Girl’s Wedding March’ and ‘The Key Decides Its Destiny’, both by Rambo, both having that touch of the absurd I’m partial to, both reckless in their conclusion. To hell with the world. After five stories that bled together sweetly, ‘The Strange Case of the Lovecraft Café’ felt out of place in tone and content, but was an amusing note to end on.

On the last page is a little poem, which sums up the collection neatly. I’m particularly fond of the last two lines;

No one lived happily ever after,
but some of them did, indeed, live.


Indeed.

Verdict: This collection may contain traces of giant cats, romantic rats, dead strangers, strange deaths, and you know, good readings in general. Consume at your own risk.
Making Money – Terry Pratchett



It’s a Pratchett book. You’ve already made up your minds.

I had to go back and read Going Postal, as I couldn’t remember who this Moist von Lipwig fellow was. I’m inclined to think of him as a Rincewind-type, but without the running away. He has Rincewind’s guile and cunning, and dives face first into trouble instead of fleeing, which makes him much more interesting.

He’s totally outshone by Adora Belle Dearheart.

Mr Bent’s story didn’t really gel with me. I was too busy ogling over Vetinari. He’s da man. Fiction needs more Vetinaris.

I enjoyed it, but the individual plot points never really came together for me.
Syrup – Max(x) Barry



‘cause after Baltimore, I needed a fluffy pink unicorn chaser. I settled for this.

AAAAHAHAHAHAHA!

I bought this a year ago, in a second hand bookstore in Gardiner at the entrance to Yellowstone, and it banged around in my rucksack, then sailed home in a box, and sat on my shelves waiting for when I needed a funny book. (I ration out my funny books. There don’t appear to be that many. I cannot decide if this is sad or odd.) At that point, Syrup wasn’t available in Australia; now it’s everywhere.

The tip of the iceberg: Scat has a great idea, a million dollar idea, for a new brand of cola. Ideas are easy, making them work isn’t. With the aid of his housemate, Sneaky Pete, he gets an in at Coke, pitching his idea to the New Products Manager, 6. Thus begins an enormous tug of war over trademarks, money, power, careers and anything else you can imagine. Fukk, the new cola, is small fry compared to what follows. I’d love to go on, (and on, and on), but sharn’t. You need to read this book completely blank, so that on every other page you can burst out laughing while thinking “DID THEY JUST DO THAT NO WAI” yes, even in capital letters.

There is a commonality between it and Company, mostly in the relationship between Mr Protag and Ms Femme Fatale. Apparently, women make men really stupid. Is this true? No wai! Methinks most men are pretty good at making themselves look stupid entirely on their own. Also, women are apparently entirely incomprehensible, and sharks. Ruthless, treacherous, backstabbing, manipulative, hilarious sharks. 6 is my new favourite female character ever. I have to work on my levelling my shark skills. Clearly, I’m letting the fairer sex down.

It shows its age a little, the risk you take when you name drop celebrities and brands like it’s autumn, but at the heart is…a whacky ball of ridiculousness that I have no trouble believing in. And ridiculousness is timeless.

Verdict: AWESOMESAUCE! I had to take breaks from this book, I was giggling too much. Faaaaabulous. I mean, just look at the back cover!



I'm not sure I believe the monosyllable count. The rest is pretty spot on.
Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire – Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden



Impulse buy. Weakness for illustrated novels, especially ones that are sealed thus I have no way of knowing if they’re interesting enough to buy, so I buy them to find out.

The illustrations are a nice touch, but generally don’t have much impact on the story. A great many little inserts of stark faces and shadowed rooms. The full page illustrations are quite striking; I’d have liked more of them.

The story is…meh.

As you can tell from the subtitle, it’s about a warrior and a vampire, one hunting the other through the first World War and into the years beyond. Baltimore ‘woke’ one on a battlefield, and said vampire was a bit pissed about having his face cut in half, and did his thing. Namely, making a rash of vampires to plague mankind, in a sort of ‘serves you right’ manner. He goes after Baltimore’s family and wife, which ends badly, and galvanises Baltimore into some sort of god-chosen warrior who stumps all over Europe kicking butt and taking names, looking for his scarred vampire. Only the book unfolds with a bit more class than this summary would imply.

Actually, that isn’t what the book is about at all. That’s just want the book wants you to think it is about. What it’s really about, is ghost stories.

Oooooh!

Three acquaintances of Baltimore’s have been summoned to attend a miserably pub in a miserable town at a certain time on a certain day – only Baltimore himself doesn’t arrive. They fill their time, waiting for him, by relating to each other their encounters of Baltimore, and the events in their lives that made him choose them over all others. They tell each other stories, ghost stories, as the light fades and the pub empties, and yes, I was utterly and totally creeped out. I started to get the willies, which meant I had to keep reading as an excuse to keep the light on, which meant I freaked out even more. IT IS A VICIOUS CYCLE.

My favourite, the story that made me check under the bed (oh yes I did) and making stupid delighted little “eeee!” noises, starts on page 162, with Childress revealing a rather horrifying event of his youth, taking place in Chile, in the mountains. It did not contain that flavour of the familiar, of having heard an echo of this story over torch light, under covers, it was entirely unknown, and so very addictive. The end, that final revelation, shocked me, and I loved it.

The rest of the book, all Baltimore’s parading about, didn’t even compare. The hero of the story, the title of the story itself, he fails to be interesting and borders on cliché. Behind him he drags pieces of the Little Tin Soldier fairytale, a theme that is nothing other than forced and clunky. It never gelled, and when he pulled his tin heart from his chest, I snorted. It was most unbecoming of me.

Pick it up wanting yet another vampire saga, and- hell, why are you picking up yet another vampire saga? The setting of post WW1 era gives it a nice flavour, but otherwise, these aren’t new vampires, and this is not a new vampire hunter.

Pick it up wanting some most delicious ghost stories, and you just might get what you want.

Verdict: I’ve seen better writing, and deeper characters, and less clichéd warrior vs demon stories, but the ghost stories, my dear, they hit the spot. Yes, I really did check under my bed. Mostly because I was pretty sure there was nothing under there. If I’d suspected otherwise, I wouldn’t have checked, I’d have taken a flying leap off the end and bolted out the door screaming. Otherwise, meh.
Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened – Jason Rodriguez (ed)



I first bumped into this while poking around for a birthday present. It had a pretty grumpy looking elephant on the front cover, and who can’t not pick up a book with a grumpy elephant glaring at them? The premise sounded interesting, so I bought it, wrapped it, and sent it away.

Later, the shop had restocked the book, and I still liked the elephant, so I bought it myself. (No, I did not read the birthday present. Shame on you for thinking so!)

(Kinda wanted to know if I’d given someone a lame gift, too.)

(You know, just in case.)

(My honour was at stake.)

(And there was an elephant on the cover.)

It is a collection of shorts by various and sundry, each one based on a single postcard, each postcard found and bought for pittance in an antique store. As the subtitle says, none of these stories ever happened, but pieces of them are true.

It’s a very mixed bag. Some of the stories are weak, or too simple to stand out next to their more textured neighbours, but then they themselves possess beautifully striking art. ‘A Joyous Eastertide’ by Phillip Heaster and ‘Tic-Tac-Bang-Bang’ by Stuart Moore and Michael Gaydos were particularly gorgeous.

Quite a few made me sniffle, as loss is a prevalent theme throughout the collection. Not surprising I suppose; sending mail is an act of reaching out to someone far away. Their company isn’t to be had. Two stories stood out, my favourite two, the best of the lot, dealt with different forms of grief. ‘Homesick’ by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Micah Farritor is based from a postcard written by an American in France, during the Great Depression. It is a sharp, crisp, miserable little story, containing nothing but sparse and precise dialogue between Marjorie, homesick and adrift in a foreign land, and “François” so eager to leave his troubles behind he would change into someone else. The art is gorgeous, and possibly my favourite of the lot.

‘Best Side Out’ by Antony Johnston and Noel Tuazon is-

-hopeless-

-hopeful.

Hopelessly hopeful? Hopefully hopeless? Stunningly awful? Awfully amazing? Brilliant? Horrible? All those. A little piece of genius. The postcard, the true postcard written by a real person, is the voice of someone tired, so tired, with all the fight gone out of them. The story takes that voice, and makes it rebellion all of its own. Just reading it again, now, had made my throat go tight. (You’re right, Lydia, I don’t understand, but then again, I do.) It only takes one story to make a book worth buying, and for me, this was that story.

It’s an addictive idea. The stories never end. It will always be a mixed bag, and no one will have the same stories call out to them, and that’s why I want to see more. The postcards are real. Maybe forgotten, but real. They meant something to someone, once. We’ll never know what, or who. These stories recognise that once-held importance, in pencil smudged with handling and handwriting with the curls and joints of another era.

I’d like to see more, many more, postcard books.

Verdict: How can you not love the idea? But methinks, with this lot, you’ll have to decide for yourselves.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Her: Brother, you don't have a brother, you're an only child!
Me: I am?
Her: Do you have a brother?
Me: ...Yes?
Her: Really?
Me: No, I just made him up.
Her: You're very mysterious. Not much is known about you.
Me: That's because I'm an international woman of mystery.
Her: *eye roll*

Well...I thought it was funny.
This woman has worked with me for over two years. She should have at least eavesdropped that by now.
You know, if you want to know something about someone, all you have to do is listen.
And remember.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Brasyl - Ian McDonald



-and then this book spanned hours at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and the first few nights in my new cubby house (every now and then I call it 'mah crib' and then can't stop laughing), and is generally associated with turbulence. It was just a random grab in a bookshop in Malaysia. Possibly, I should have read a couple of pages and chosen something with less portugese. I'm dumb, and didn't realise there was a glossary in the back. Imagine me exhausted and stressed and sitting in the departures lounge, as you do, attempting to read when every other word was foreign and my figuring-things-out-based-on-context muscle putting up a fight.

Excellent fun.

The book is split into three time lines; one in the very recent past, one in the very distant past, and the last in the not too far off future. (Unfortunately I left my copy at home, and I'm at true home now, so I'm going from fuzzy memory here.) Near past follows Marcelina, an amusing TV producer having a horrible time/great time/horrible time as quantum, in general, inteferes with and takes over her life in unusual and frightening ways. Distant past follows Luis Quinn, a Jesuit sent to Brazil where everything is different, and charged with a task most difficult, made even more difficult by quantum, again, intefering. Edson, a hilarious dude of whatever trade he chooses, brings quantum inteference on himself by pursuing a quantumerino (I'm sure I'm spelling that wrong), even when his chosen girl is killed, and one of her parallel universe versions appears.

Despite the years, centuries between them, the stories bleed into each other beautifully, until battles in the jungle centuries before have more than direct effect on the fate of high-flying quantum assassins in the future. It is most spectacularly, intricately, beautifully written, and I adored it. It isn't, as that sloppy summary suggests, about quantum anything. Quantum, while being the driving narrative force, very much plays second fiddle to Brazil itself. There is a distinct lack of brain-bending quantum theory, and a lot of fabulous, fascinating pieces of the nation.

My only nitpick (and it is very much a nitpick) was style-related; I felt that, given there were three very distinct storylines being rolled out, each should have had its own distinct voice, which wasn't the case. There were instances, sentences, where the structure was distinct enough to stand out, and I'd see such sentences in every timeline, and it pulled me out of the story. I felt then, I was reading McDonald's voice, not the story's, if that makes sense. Which it doesn't. Him being the writer and all. ANYWAY.

And what was with all the Star Wars reference? Not that there's anything wrong with Star Wars references, there were just a lot of them.

I hope there is never such a thing as the Angels of Perpetual Surveillance.

I suspect there will be.

Verdict: This isn't being touted as one of the best books of the year for nothing. Seriously, check it out. Incredibly well crafted, frabjous characters, and the frogs- I didn't know that about frogs. Is it true? I want it to be true, so I won't check to see if it isn't.
Shriek: an Afterword – Jeff VanderMeer



I read this sitting beneath the patio at my grandparent’s house in Malaysia. It was hot and muggy, with the moist air thick and sticky and the sky constantly grey with haze. Malaysia is a land gone mad with green (at least to my Australia-accustomed eyes). All buildings, roads, fences, walls, it seems everything is being over run with plants and lichen and moss and mould. What with family being what it is, it isn’t a country I’m comfortable in. No better place to read this book.

It is the story of the city of Ambergris, told through the lives of the siblings Janice and Duncan Shriek, further filtered through overlapping accounts and narrators editing each other’s voices. The primary account is laid down by Janice, who frequently uses passages of Duncan’s journal. This narration as a whole is scattered and interrupted by Duncan’s later notes, correcting her, agreeing with her, chiding her, filling in some of the voids in her knowledge, just as she is scorning, admonishing, and sighing at his private writings. They expose each other as highly unreliable narrators, leaving the reader wandering somewhere between the two of them. VanderMeer pulls this off with minimal wobble. Carrying multiple voices simultaneously isn’t so hard, no more than having your own conscious pass judgement in the back of your mind.

I couldn’t say which story takes precedence; their personal lives, or that of the city shaking history. They’re so entwined, there may only be one story. The city forces the paths they take, their private decisions have ramifications on the whole city. Duncan in particular, with his subterranean ramblings and increasing knowledge of the entirely incomprehensible greycaps warns of a terrible doom and seems to bait said doom all on his own. His mushroomification hints at things to come. There are probably worse fates in life, than to be turned into a walking mushroom garden, but it’s rather unsettling, to say the least.

This book is too confused with where and when I read it. I can’t draw together any coherent thoughts without dragging in the patio, the concrete garden, a foreign country and a family of strangers. I can say that I didn’t entirely like the demystification of the greycaps. I preferred them as entirely alien, it made them far more creepy. Giving them a purpose to reach for and fail and made them (mildly) more sympathetic.

In the end, it doesn't really matter how insane the setting, the world, the character or creature is; everyone's just trying to get where they're going.

Verdict: Excellent, but you've probably figured out by now I'm partial to a VanderBook.
The Stone Ship – Peter Raftos



It’s been a couple of months since I finished this. It kept me company late at night while I was entertaining a mild alcoholic buzz and the blatant absurdism of the world was reflected within the story in a style which quite pleased my palate.

Having just lost his wife, Shipton has retreated to the Isle of Goats to kill himself. He’s not very good at this. At one not-quite attempt at suicide, he’s interrupted by a ghost, who claims to have saved his life, and in return demands a favour. Having nothing else to live for, Shipton obliges the ghost, and so ventures into the University, where everything is just. Fucking. Mad.

I was won over on the first page. Raftos has perfectly captured that state of despair in which one no longer wants to live, yet does not want to die. That state where being yourself is the worst thing you can conceive, and all you want to do is go somewhere, do something, be someone else. Anything else. A state of extraordinary vulnerability and apathy. The ghost’s manipulation of Shipton is a work of art, even as he sabotages himself. Giving Shipton a purpose – fulfilling the unspecified favour required – gives him the strength to continue on, and within the bounds of the mad, senseless, entirely unpredictable world of the University a battle of wills is fought between them, until nothing makes sense anymore, which, in a way, makes the most sense of all.

It was exactly the right book, read at exactly the right time. I loved it, and came out the end bemused and satisfied and wishing there was more to be had. It wasn’t without its flaws – the undercreature never really gelled for me, and insane blood-crazed librarians are on the threshold of becoming cliché – but overall was exceptionally well crafted. Raftos is sparse with his prose and precise with his detail. A great tight little book.

Verdict: Well worth your time. Possibly you need to have a taste for humour that is ludicrous in its deadpan delivery, but who can’t find the appeal in the abusrd?
Alice In Sunderland - Bryan Talbot



I finished reading this before I went to Japan. Yah. Back in August. I’m a bad bad person.

Normally I don’t write up the comics I read, simply because I go through that many, that quickly, I’d end up writing about nothing else. Alice In Sunderland is an exception to that, as it followed prose reading patterns.

You’ll notice that it’s a fucking enormous book. Wrist-snapping, ribcage-cracking enormous. I have coffee table books that are less dangerous to pick up. Thus, it was only read in bed, or at the dinner table – anywhere that I didn’t have to support it.

It’s also dense. It’s a the singularity of graphic novels. Every page is a riot of colour, text and information thick and fast. This isn’t a comic you can rip through in an afternoon, toss back on the shelf and move on. It demands your attention and concentration, as the rabbit/pilgrim/Talbot takes you on a grand tumble through history, legend and the little lives of Sunderland.

While this exegesis, of sorts, is framed as being an exploration of the origins of Carroll’s Alice, I was more interested in reading it as a general history of a very small area. Under Talbot’s brush and research, Sunderland becomes an incredible town saturated in fascinating tales and details and a long history. It is tempting to, when the rabbit/pilgrim/Talbot reveals something new on every page, believe that Sunderland is the source of the whole damn world, let alone Alice.

Do you remember that chapter in From Hell, in which Gull has his poor, poor driver take him about town on a seemingly rambling tour of the various temples and buildings and religious sites? The information is a giant plate of spaghetti, and you work your way through it, enjoying the jumble and trusting that at the end, all will be revealed.

Alice In Sunderland is 318 pages of information spaghetti. It’s lush and rich and overwhelming, and a fabulous ride. However, the final climax didn’t satisfy me.

The weight of all the preceding pages rather outweighs that.

Verdict: Huge! Lush! Overwhelmingly decadently colourfully fantastic! Would make a great blunt weapon!

Monday, December 24, 2007

i haz presunt 4 u lol

The Victorian Police Health & Wellbeing Calendar for 2008. This item is not available for sale. You're fortunate I'm such a caring, sharing and generous life form.



As you can see, this calendar is Serious Business. This constable is at one with his balls.



Truly, Serious Business. Not a one of these people is cracking even a hit of a smile. These aren't random models, by the way, that guy at the front is an assistant commissioner. With a big blue ball.



Oh noes! THE BALL IS INVADING OUR PRIVATE LIVES. IT IS BRAINWASHING OUR CHILDRENS. Actually, my manager and the supervisor in charge of rosters need to take heed of this month, and stop giving me crappy rosters.



Now we see the ball in its natural environment! And these people are happy to be in the ball's natural environment! So! Very! Happy!



The ball is not just for sitting on. It goes out in the field and assists members in their daily duties. It's all PREPARE TO STOP, BIATCH. The cars that don't stop, they hit the ball, and the ball goes bouncing, and some poor member has to go fetch the ball.



IS THIS NOT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIKCHUR YOU HAVE EVAH SEEN!?!!!??!?!?!!??!??!?!? IT IS LIKE THE MATRIX! AND MODERN ART! IT IS SO EMOTIVE! AND ABOUT GOOD BACK LIFTING TECHNIQUES OR SOMETHING! And it was taken on the roof of the carpark. We all recognise that view. Methinks the SOG peoples are glad they have masks.



After all that hard work modeling and working with amateurs, the ball goes to the beach to chillax with a nice cold beer.



The ball starts getting a bit full of itself. It brings its cousins in, like it thinks it has influence, and starts wanting in on all the decision making meetings. As you can see here, from the positioning of the ball and its yes-balls, clean intimidating and stand over tactics at work.



Top brass isn't impressed with this upstart ball muscling in, and demote it quite severely. It struggles to find work in K-mart catalogues and settles for walk-on roles suited to lesser talent. Playing second fiddle to an apple, some pipsqueak little green ball, strengthens the ball's resolve.



The ball swallows its pride, and through diligence once again comes to the fore, although not quite as prominantly as in that glorious month of May. People like the ball. The ball makes them very comfortable.



Very. Comfortable.



And at last! Once again, out doing field work, in the middle of the fucking road until a car doesn't stop, and hits it, and it goes bouncing, and that poor member has to go fetch the ball. Again.



December's Playmate paid attention to the previous months, and hid his face. The balls went crazy and bounced everywhere. And there was much rejoicing. The end.

<3 Sir Tessa
xoxox

Thursday, December 20, 2007



It is not Cthulhu's lollipop. It is a Neptunea Amianta atop an egg sack-stalk-thingy. Do you want to know more?

ETA:



"That's no moon. It's a spacestation GIANT FUCKING ANEMONE!" I particularly love how, after detailing its size, the article goes on to state, "That's just downright dangerous."

Well. Duh. IT'S A GIANT FUCKING ANEMONE! RAAAAAAAAAARRR! Cthulhu uses these to powder his nose after his choc-top. Totally.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Madness? THIS IS SPAAAAARTAAAAA FRIIIIIIIDGE!"
"That's no moon. That's a space station FRIDGE."
"I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog FRIDGE too!"
"Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage FRIDGE against the dying of the light."
"Hey, joke 'em if they can't take a fuck FRIDGE!"
"A cat FRIDGE is okay too."
"My name is Ozymandias TESSA, king of kings: look in my works FRIDGE, ye mighty, and despair FRIDGE!"
"There's a thin line FRIDGE between not listening and not caring FRIDGE. I like to think FRIDGE I walk that line every day."
"Frankly, my dear FRIDGE, I don't give a dam."
"Indy! They're digging in the wrong place FRIDGE!"
"That is why evil FRIDGE will triumph FRIDGE, because good is dumb FRIDGE."
"You just had a near FRIDGE life experience!"
"The night FRIDGE was sultry."
"I was cutting FRIDGE raw fish and thinking about you."
"I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle FRIDGE."
"I am the law FRIDGE!"
"Many have come to taste my lord's meat mead FRIDGE."
"Oompa loopma FRIDGE."

I FRIDGE HAVE FRIDGE A FRIDGE DAMN FRIDGE FRIDGE FRIDGE.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's only insomnia if you're actually trying to sleep.

You know what Yoda said about trying. I'm not trying.

Around 2am I started listening to Lundberg's podcast of Vandermeer's Appogiatura. Lundberg reads well. He even does voices. Not enough people do voices. I'd read an earlier version of the story- no, that's misleading; I'd bashed my nightshift-addled mind against an earlier version, and lying there listening with a not-insomnia-because-I'm-not-trying-to-sleep-addled mind, I noted all the changes. They were only little, but they were right. Until the last segment, which was entirely new, and the story I thought I knew turned out to be entirely different and wonderful and not unlike having the carpet ripped out from beneath me, but instead of falling on my face and embarassing myself the wind caught me, took me for a tumble in the clouds and deposited me somewhere high and far from where I could see for miles and everything was clear.

But out there, somewhere, is the little story of dead arms and dirt I anticipated. Creepy and strange and now, disappeared. It will never be read out loud, sad little story.

I want to be read to. It isn't really something you can ask of other people, not without receiving a funny look and an extension of personal space. I should put out a personal ad, "wanted: reader. That is all." Or start a business, with a troupe of readers on call, to come to you whenever and where ever you may need a story read to you. Funny voices free of charge. Pillows supplied on request.

I think this is a sad little want.

Afterwards, I dreamed that I'd messed up history so badly, the history books on my shelves were spontaneously changing their titles and texts, as the history of the world wobbled about and tried to reassert itself.

I couldn't hear rain when I woke.

There are things you consciously give away when you move out. It's the things you didn't know you were losing that make you stop and wonder if maybe you made a mistake. Losing the sound of rain on a rusty old corrugated iron roof, for example.

You gain other things. Tiles, for example. Light globes, when dropped on a tiled floor, make the most spectacular, satisfying, comical 'pop!' noise this universe contains. I stood very still for 2, 3, 10 seconds, until I was sure I wasn't about to toss the second light globe on the floor just to hear it again.

Nothing in this soundscape drowns out the noise in my head. It roars, it mutters, it doesn't shut up. Come on, 4am, bring it. I'm not trying, I'm not afraid of you.

(I just don't like you.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Around 6 o'clock I surfaced. My eyes were already open - I didn't open them - and slowly I became aware that they were seeing and I wasn't dreaming. I slid sideways into consciousness with Amanda Palmer's voice still in my head, telling me I wasn't the crazy one.

Odd way to wake up.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

All of these songs are sad songs. Even Especially the happy ones.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I see 2AM every night. Starting to see 3AM too. I lied. I don't speak to the walls. I don't speak at all. Beginning to understand what I've done, and I have no idea what I'm doing. It doesn't matter. The pigeons keep me company.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

They told me about eating dinner standing at the kitchen bench, talking to the walls, and the impossibility of a single person filling a dishwasher, but they didn't tell me about the toll on my toes.

My muscles remember the moves of a different furniture-in-the-dark dance. I don't know these steps.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Oh Our Lady of Cardboard Boxes, who watches over those fools who suddenly decided to apply for leases while in the middle of nightshift and then start moving money and paperwork around while out of the country, you have been kind to me in the past week, as I winged my way through process of dismantling my room and activating the apartment. I have yet had no hiccups or major inconveniences, and for that I thank you. Early tomorrow, the movers will arrive, and then I will need your help most. May the transition from true home to new home be smooth. May the truck find a carpark on the street. May the mattress fit in the elevator. May no random passerby grab a box from the back of the truck and leave me without my underwear, for oh Our Lady of Cardboard Boxes, I do need my underwear. May I be able to stand at the end of the day in my new castle, and be triumphant. For your continued favour, I give you the company of my (currently absent) father, the consideration of my mother, the joy of my brother, and the love of two small smelly dogs. They might sound like small things, but they are not. I hope they please you, and you continue to smile on this fool.

Thursday, November 15, 2007



Essay question: was traipsing about Japan just a cover to buy music? Discuss.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I found my year 12 shirt while throwing clothes in boxes to act as packing material. It was scrawled with signatures. Some of the names I remember, some I don't. "You are my cumball" made me grin, "can see u doing bondage" made me laugh, and "don't leave me" made the world stop.

I don't know who wrote that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Who was the bright fucking spark who decided to make books different shapes, huh? Whose bright fucking idea was that? Clearly, not someone who has ever tried to move a whole bunch of different sized books from one home to another. Clearly, not someone who has ever tried to neatly pack said books in boxes, and found the nasty horrible little fuckers are uneven and don't fit together neatly at all. Clearly, a right fucking prick.

And you! You are all (mostly) writers! I SEE YOU. WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?!?!?! FIGHT YOUR FUCKING PUBLISHERS. DEMAND REGULAR BOOK DIMENSIONS.

The Revolution Is Coming.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New Japan post here.
It contains ninjas, and by ninjas, I mean ninjas. It also contains
world heritage listed castles, lovely sculpted gardens and public
masturbation, but we both know you're going for the ninjas.



(If that most kick arse video doesn't work, tell Blogger.)

Out of country. Again. AFK. BBL.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007



99 life-sized wolves stream up an invisible hill and faceplant into a glass wall.
Visual metaphor.
Cai Guo-Qiang's site for more photos and other art. Found on haha.nu

Saturday, November 03, 2007

here's to another year getting accustomed here

Around the age of 10, I realised I would never get to go to the moon.

It was one of those 'oh,' moments full of heart-break, not unlike being dumped, not that I had any idea what it felt like to be dumped when I was 10, but I did have a crush on this boy, who in turn had a crush on my best friend, which is probably a better analogy, because the moon is all about unrequitedness.

It still upsets me, because I'm the broody type.



At least once a week I paw through the gallery at The Deep, looking at the same photos over and over. I love these beasties, I really do. Knowing that they exist gives me that giddy delight that causes me to grin for no obvious reason.

But this act of looking at the photos is really a creepy stalker thing, because I know they're another moon, and I have even less chance of seeing these little fellas in the deep ocean than I do of playing leap-frog on the lunar surface, and looking at these photos is like timing yourself to stand on that certain street corner at a certain time hoping to catch a glimpse of someone who doesn't know you exist, which isn't healthy behaviour at all, but you carry on doing so anyway, and you never see them.

The world needs more ghostly octopuseseses.

Disclaimer: Nightshift, okay? I absolve all responsibility for any peculiar character traits I may be exhibiting. If you mock me, I will cry at you. It will be snotty. Nightshift does that, you know. I cry at the thought of being faced by dinner. Dinner, I can't handle dinner, why would you ask dinner of me? I CAN'T DO THIS.

You have no idea.

Have a not-so-peculiar chaser;

Around 2am I discovered kawaii not, a little webcomic of cute every day items being unsavoury. The following strip made me cackle.



Actually, the whole archive made me cackle. The poor banana dipped in chocolate.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nightshift.
Sound the air raid sirens.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

i'm durnk. that'is all.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ten years ago today

There's very little difference between a 16 year old Tessa and a 26 year old Tessa. One of them uses a hair dryer because failure to do so results in wet hair till evening. The other uses a hair dryer because she hasn't been able to break that habit, and doing so results in crazy sticky-uppy hair till evening.

The older Tessa has learned a lot since being the younger Tessa, but she hasn't learned how to change.

Here's to secrets you didn't know you kept until you couldn't say them out loud.

EDITED TO ADD: Thanks for the happy happys, but IT IS NOT MY BIRTHDAY. This post is about something that happened that I should probably be over by now, but apparently I'm not. There aren't any happy happys here.

However, if you want to keep going with the birthday thing, chocolate cake is prefered.

EDITED TO ADD SUMOR: See, this post wasn't even supposed to be this post. It was supposed to be another post that is still sitting in my drafts folder, which was much more thought-provoking and made a hell of a lot more sense. Really, it was going to change your world. I thought it was just something that didn't come up in polite conversation, or impolite conversation for that matter. Yet when I went to publish it, I couldn't. Turned out it was a secret.

Which isn't what I want it to be, but oh well.

EDITED TO ADD EVEN MOAR: I've been pondering this birthday that isn't my birthday (being as I'm at work, and thus have plenty of processor space to ponder such things), and I think you guys were onto a good thing. Unexpected birthday wishes are alarming at first, and then kinda warm and fluffy, like getting extra. So here's what I think; everyone should be allowed one day a year to declare birthdayness when there is no birthday, for the sole purpose of reclaiming an otherwise unwonderful date. Does that sound fabulous? I think it sounds fabulous. And since today is my not-birthday, then it is only fitting that I order indian for dinner, and not eat the leftover pasta that has defrosted and been sitting in the fridge for four days, which has nothing to do with my declaring this so. Nothing at all. I swear.

EDITED FOR CULINARY OBSERVATIONS: That chicken tikka misala was the best damn chicken tikka misala in the world. NOMMY. The chook was charcoal grilled, and had a delicate smokey flavour that went wonderfully with the coriander. The appearance of the best damn chicken tikkam misala in the world indicates that I'm right about all this not-birthdayness. There's even enough for dinner tomorrow. Most excellent!

EDITED FOR FURTHER PROOF OF FORESIGHTEDNESS: 'course, you can't have a not-birthday without birthday drinks. Good thing I bought a new bottle of Baileys on the way in. Premonition of alcohol required! Vexedness of lack of durnkness the previous night entirely irrelevent! Of course, I won't be able to touch it till I get home, and that won't be till after midnight, when it will no longer be my not-birthday, but you know what Winston Churchill said about never surrendering.

EDITED FOR SECOND THOUGHTS: The Baileys might not be such a good idea. If the bogans see me sitting on the train with a bottle of booze, they'll mug me. Maybe some creative shuffling will fit it in my bag...

EDITED FOR REASSURANCE: Bogans did not mug me. This not birthday is not over. More shinanigans in the morning.

EDITED FOR CLOSURE: It was only after I'd started on an enormous glass of Baileys, and thus disqualified myself from late night driving, that I realised I had no birthday cake. Calamity! Not that there are any 24-hour supermarkets in this area. I made do with what was to be had: lamingtons.

We didn't have any birthday candles either, so I made do with what was to be had: a box of lantern candles from Malaysia that aren't supposed to drip wax and have been in the kitchen drawer for longer than I can remember.



And then I got a bit carried away with the candles. In my mind, I was constructing a Lamington Fortress.

And then I set it on fire.





Apparently, lantern candles don't drip only if they stand vertically.



And if you stick them in on top of each other, the heat combines and then melt super fast, and thus the Flaming Lamington Fortress was in danger of burning down in a blaze of glory. I huffed, and I puffed, and I saved the Flaming Lamington Fortress.



What does that make me? Big goddamn hero.

Birthday cakes, whether or not it be your not-birthday, whether or not they be Flaming Lamington Fortresses, aren't supposed to be eaten alone. Unfortunately the house had gone to bed hours ago, so I gave in and shared it with Sam, who had been watching the whole mess with the intense focus of a Dog Who Has Maybe Noticed Food And Is Being A Very Good Boy. He was quite pleased to take part in the Flaming Lamington Fortress, and afterwards did this;



Can't argue with that.

Properly inebriated and caked, I spent the small hours watching bad movies, and failed to become maudlin, and didn't brood even once. That right there is an enormous and out-of-character accomplishment.

Now that this post has stretched over 24 hours, I think it's time to let it rest. Thank you, the three gentlemen who wished me happy birthday, and spawned it all.

I consider this not-birthday a raging success. Same time next year?

Saturday, October 27, 2007



Is that issue #2 of Sword of Lies, the latest installment of The Red Star? Why, I believe it is!

When did issue #1 come out? Oh, October last year.

This comic series, it tests my patience. I vow, each time I remember to check up on it and discover that NO the next issue isn't out yet, to forget about it, and just buy the collected book when it comes out. Which, at this pace, will be when I'm wrinkled and shriveled and too blind to read it.

But I'm weak, and when I saw this on the shelf, I snatched up and clutched it, yes preciouses, it is ours now, preciouses.

The Red Star is a retro-futuristic industry-punk story about ghost possees and pseudo-Soviet Russian states tearing themselves apart in a revolution full of enormous clunky machines and cyber-sorcery. I've said before that it is a body of work that isn't derivative, but will be derived from, and I still stand by that.

The last few issues, however, haven't been great. The plot has been bogged down by action. The artwork for said action is amazing, but enough already! Get on with the siege of soul cages and sky furnaces and end of the world!

Sword of Lies #2 leaves all that behind. That was great. The balance has been restored between art, action and story, and I popped out the last page feeling satisfied and excited, as opposed to incredibly fucking frustrated.

It also has the potential to stand alone, so anyone of you who have considered sticking your nose in this series, Sword of Lies #2 is a good litmus test.
I love the ninja turtles. I buy every issue, and then I go buy the collected books of all the issues I've already bought. I eyeball the toys, and sometimes end up with them too. I eat the DVDs (the current cartoon series is surprisingly good). It's that childhood love that won't die a dignified death.

That said, I think I've discovered my limit.

Lifted from the official site:

Edible Arrangements just signed a deal to produce TMNT-themed fresh fruit bouquets! The next time you want to express your love to someone, send 'em a kick-butt (and highly nutritious) Ninja Turtles fruit basket - and everyone wins!


...I don't think they're taking the whole walking, talking, butt-kicking neenja reptiles thing seriously.
It's Ugly! It's Slimy! It's 2 cm long!

The internet is being present-giving on this fine Saturday morning.

Most of you have probably already seen the Promachoteuthis sulcus posted on boingboing. Ignoring the fact that the scientific drawings make the little beastie look like a the devil's gonads, and that the little beastie is only a couple of centimetres big, and we are left with the fact that the little beastie is goddamn freaky.



Fangs are for making nervous. Human teeth where there should be no human teeth are for making screaming and running away actions. And then coming back to oggle the photo again, and again. That's fabulous. Why are all these monsters tiny? They should be the size of fat cats! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD.

And now look at this:



From JAMSTEC: Scaly foot--a spiral gastropod clad in iron sulfide scales. Found only in an extremely limited region of hyrdothermal areas within the Indian Ocean, which is called "Kairei Field". As the name suggests, this creature is covered in rugged scales that protect it from predators. How it actually creates its iron sulfide scales, however, is not yet fully understood. A JAMSTEC research team succeeded in observing the creature in an onboard tank for the first time in February 2006.


It isn't a snail with a house, it's a snail with a fortress. How very rocking is that? Said snail doesn't have a name yet, and is also only a centimetre big (WHY? WHYYYY?). This popped up in the gears_and_steam LJ community, of all places. Scienceblogs.com has a deep! sea! news! blog, and I never knew! Oh frabjous day, callooh, callay! She chortled in her joy.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Of all the stories, photos and stuff I brough back from Japan, Mum and my bro decided that this was The Best Thing Evah;



It's a sponge I found in my hotel at Kamakura. On the package is written the following-

I glad and was in high spirits forever in sun-traps
I watched your smile
All too soon from a heart to you
This feeling that light is full of
I love you


If that sponge isn't destined to wash Venus's toosh with strawberry cordial, then I don't know what is.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Last night, I read a book in bed.

I can't remember the last time I did. Sometime before Japan. I'd finished one book and hadn't picked up another, not wanting to take any with me. It's a lovely way to cap the day. I missed it.

Tonight, I will not read a book in bed.

This full time job thing, this not sleeping before a 5 o'clock alarm thing, this suddenly having ten hours less in the day in which to Get Stuff Done; all sorts of suckitude.

Suckitude alleviated by coming home to find this waiting for me;



Daikaiju 3: Giant Monsters vs the World has landed. It only took two and a half years, but finally that bloody giant crab story is in print. There are some towering authors around my little name. I'll link the hardcover version when it appears on amazon, and then I shall be able to live my life without the shadow of this ruddy giant crab story looming over my shoulder.

Never did think of a good title.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Home is what you know.

(I know difficult things. I had forgotten the impact of difficult things. I find myself at a loss of how to deal with these difficult things.)

(Traveling alone through a strange land and an unknown language is not difficult. Challenging and confusing, but never, at any point, difficult.)

(One difficult thing I know is that I cannot fix these difficult things. I know I no longer have the freedom to come and go as I please. I know I cannot do as I want. I know I must do as I should.)

I am home.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Am in Singapore.
Am neither having an adventure, nor at home.
Am surrounded by Australian accents.
Am oscillating between mourning and relief.
Am waiting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007



It's been one of those hilarious, stupid, amazing days.

This will probably be my last night of internet whilst in this endlessly amusing land. Absolutely certain the ryokan in Tokyo has none, very certain the onsen in Shiretoko has none, and relatively certain the hotel in Abashiri has none. The next you hear from me will probably be from Changi Airport in Singapore, as I whittle away the hours between leaving and arriving.

For six weeks, I've drowned myself in entirely new things, every single day. I've done only what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I've let whim lead me, and curiosity guide me, and have become so accustomed to this freedom that I know I'm taking it for granted.

For six weeks, I've been isolated by a language barrier, and I've adapted to this lifestyle of illiteracy. I've slept laid in nineteen different beds. I haven't had a decent cup of tea, and I don't mean green tea.

I'll be home on the 18th of October.

<3

Monday, October 08, 2007

Random Amusing Discovery of the Day

None of the shops I passed on the way to the trailhead sold onegiri, which is hard to believe. If I couldn't have sensible healthy food, I'd have to settle for unhealthy energy food. So I bought a box of chocolate biscuits.



Or did I? Look closer.

THEY'RE BLOODY MOON PIES. JAPAN HAS MOON PIES. The horror, when I bit one. Jaime, Nadine, this is all your fault.
The Black Knight: I'm invincible!
King Arthur: You're a loony.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Fuh.

I'm in Wakkanai, which is the northern most city on Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. It isn't yet 6am, and I've had less than four hours sleep. In half an hour or so, I'm going to catch a ferry out to Rebun-to, a small island which is a national park. My luggage hasn't arrived. By chance, I'd thrown a spare pair of knickers in my overnight bag, but everything else is used. It's raining. I have a pounding headache. But I'm going to this muthafucking island, and I'm going to have a good muthafucking time.

If I don't post again tonight, assume I'm lying on the coast of some remote island with a broken knee or something.

Friday, October 05, 2007

NO MOAR HAIRPINS

(Mutsu Park Hotel, Mutsu)

Never again will I travel without ear plugs. Not ten minutes after I turned the light out, a bunch of DUDES started carrying on in the corridor. All they seemed to be doing was talking loudly and laughing loudly. No reason why they couldn’t do that in their rooms, right? OMG THEY JUST STARTED AGAIN NOW. WHAT. WHAT. NO. I WILL GAIJIN SMASH THEIR TEETH. Yes, anyway. The noise stressed me out so much I couldn’t decide if calling reception to make them shut up was an irrational reaction or not. I elected to just jam my ear plugs in and take a stab at thinking happy thoughts.

This morning I did some quick research, hunting out road numbers, maps, and re-establishing where the car hire place was. Some convenience stores and petrol stations pop up on Google Maps, which caused me some grief.

I caught the 9:15 bus bound for Sai, with the intention of getting off at Ohata Station and having a taxi take me from there. Unfortunately, I’d maybe nodded off a bit on the leg between Ohata and Mutsu, and couldn’t remember how long it took, or how far it was, and maybe that K’s we just past was the K’s marked on Google, and should I get off? No, best stay on the bus if you’re not sure, there isn’t another bus for three hours. But this seems to be taking a long time. And going all remote coastal village again. Have I gone past Ohata already? Oh shit. I don’t know! There aren’t any convenient road signs to check. Should I get off and get a taxi back? Wait, there are absolutely no stores around here, I won’t be able to have anyone call a taxi for me. Ah crap. AH CRAP.

Asking the woman next to me if we’d passed Ohata ended this monologue. Yay.

Same as yesterday, a couple of taxis idled by the station, the drivers half asleep. Possibly even the same taxis as yesterday. They probably hadn’t moved. I woke the nearest driver up, my dodgy Japanese pronunciation and his thick accent sorted out the address, and off we went. I was still harbouring the slight fear that I’d judged the distances all wrong, and was going to shell out to go back half the bus ride, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.

I’d hired my car through an online booking service, specialising in taking English-speaking bookings. They’d set me up with Mazda. FYI, anyone else using the Ohata Mazda car rental office, there isn’t a Mazda sign to be seen. Suzuki, yes. Daihatsu, yes. No Mazda. The taxi driver even went in to confirm that they hired cars, before leaving.

They had my booking, so all was well. All they wanted from me was a photocopy of my licence and international drivers permit, a signature at the bottom of a form, and 5500 yen for two days hire. I don’t think she could be bothered attempting to explain insurance and the like.

The car they gave me was a Mazda Demio, which I think is the 121 back home. It was clean, new, and went, which is all I really needed.

I swear, it was like driving a tin of sardines.

I’m used to driving mum and dad’s cars. Mum’s isn’t new any more, but when you put your foot down, it goes. Dad’s is new, and goes even more. This tin of sardines, it was a gutless tin of sardines. It took a while to get up to 80 km on the long, flat, straight roads (which is twice the speed limit, ahem), and going uphill? Forget it. Most roads had a 40 km speed limit, and going uphill, I had my foot to the floor just to maintain 40.

While I’d remembered to grab my iPod, I’d forgotten to pick up my FM transmitter as well. Stupid me. The car was very quiet though, I’ll give it that. Earphones it was.

And I drove. And I didn’t have to worry about bus time tables or connecting trains, and William Wallace did not shout “FREEEDOOOM!” louder than I did. Hot diggity. If only car hire was a more feasible form of travel in this country. The luxury! The decadence! I could go where ever I wanted, whenever I wanted! UNLIMITED POWER!

While Shimokita-Hanto is quite large, it’s sparsely populated enough that I didn’t need a road map to get around; there were signs everywhere indicating distance and direction for everything I wanted to go to, in both kanji and English. The car also came with an in built navigation system. It was all in Japanese, but was nevertheless very useful. Until I turned the volume up and started listening to the radio, at which point it started talking to me. Having a moderate Japanese woman ask you a question when you’re alone in a car is very unnerving.

First waypoint in my quest was Osore-zan, a volcanic mountain that is regarded as one of Japan’s most sacred, it is said to be the doorway to hell. The mountain fronts onto a lake, and the creek running into it is said to be the equivalent of the river Styx, which all dead must cross. The Bodaji-temple there is for Jizo, who looks over unborn babies and dead children, although people visit this mountain to commune with the dead in general. The name, ‘osorezan’, literally means ‘mountain of fear’.

The drive there was fantastic. As much as I mocked the 40 k/p/h speed limit, I was hard pressed to find any opportunity to do more than 50. The road was a narrow, twisty, windy thing, full of sharp turns and blind corners and more hairpins than I thought possible. All around was lush wonderful light-filled forest. Are they elms? I don’t think so, but they had light green leaves, and everywhere gold and brown and red and purple was hinted at. Although the drive was fun, it’s on roads like these I prefer to be the passenger, and spend the whole time staring out the window.

The lake Usuri-ko sprang out suddenly, the trees fell back, and I was there.



While all the tourist information goes on about how eerie the place is, gate way to hell and all that, none of the mentioned how astonishingly beautiful it is. The temple didn’t jump out at me, so I move quickly to the grounds themselves.




(There were a couple such murals, or banners, or panels, fencing a court yard before the temple. I don't know what exactly they depict, but the pictures are pretty good indicators. Hell. And fear. And Buddha.)

It’s moderate thermal activity area, just a couple of small vents breathing heavily and casting pale green on the stones around them. Still, it’s a wasteland, with nothing growing at all. Except rocks. People have created cairns, strangely intricate piles of stones, to aid the dead in their passage through the underworld. All the rocks are awkwardly shaped, and these piles so careful constructed, they look delicate. Lonely and colourful windmills were stuck here and there, placed by the parents of unborn children. Some of them spun in the wind. Some of them didn’t.







I found a back trail leading up into the forest, and took it. The bushes rustled as I walked by, and a peek in the foliage revealed a SNAKE. Wait, this isn’t Australia. Scratch the dramatic capital letters. It was a small, red, black and cream pattered fellow, and very shy. As soon as it noticed I was going for my camera, it slithered like a super fast slithering thing and vanished.



At the top of the trail was a small altar, featuring one of buddha’s less friendly faces. There were a couple of cans left as offering, and some flowers. Behind the altar, I found three tiny little jizo, facing the stone, backs to the world.




(See those teeth? Not friendly, not friendly at all.)




(This guy was on a retaining wall behind the altar, and the longer I looked at him, the creepier he became. I mean, just look at him. LOOK. AT. HIM.)


(FUCKING TERRIFYING.)

The snake didn’t come out on the way back down. I could hear it hiss, “fucking paparazzi,” as I left.

I wandered through the stone piles. It’s a sad beauty. It’s a lonely beauty. There was no one else around, and all I could hear were crows.


(Many of the piles built from smoother rocks were written on. I can guess, messages for the dead.)






(In instances where the thermal vents were open, many coins were tossed in, piled up, corroded and melted.)


(Whenever Jizo has lost his head, a new one is put in place. He is never headless.)








The path wound out of the rock piles to some more shrines and pools, one of them a startling blood red. It followed the lake shore, where the clouds and blue sky kept moving and throwing great shafts of sunlight down over the mountains.









Everywhere I looked, there was brilliant, contrasting colour. The golds and greens and rusts of the woods, the deep blue sky, the pale and deepening aqua of the lake, the white sand and stone of Osorezan, it went on and on. It is a desolate, bleak place, and it’s also teeming with life and movement.






















I hid behind my sunglasses a bit more.

Shimokita-Hanto isn’t really pitched as a tourist destination, nor is it trying to become one. I believe the peninsula is worth visiting just for Osorezan.



More later. Right now, I have to pack and sleep. Only up this late because the dryer was pathetically slow with my washing.