[morgueatlarge] Prague, lucidly

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent April 2003]

I’ll try to ramble less this time.

Prague. It feels like a Kafka protagonist, not in control of its circumstances, locked in a curious relationship of two-way exploitation, reluctant to act out of spite or stubborness or fear, probably destined for regret. The tourists have definitely come and the city weighs heavy with them, and with its own response. There is great beauty here but an autistic failure to relate it to the world outside. As a populace, the Czechs have woken up from their long sleep under Communist rule; as a city, Prague is still disoriented. A visit here is not exactly disappointing, but somehow it lacks the power to move – if it were a tale, it would be one with a lot of incident, but no thematic power.

One crucial exception: the Charles Bridge. It is like a flexing muscle across the Moldova, utterly certain of its place and its message. I will remember it clearly.


Dogs are either running free or on leads and muzzled. In the hotel restaurant a brown snout nudged past my brother’s elbow, eager for his steak. It looked like a friendly moray eel.


I have met my parents and my older brother and we are travelling to Budapest tomorrow! Family is grand. They are well, since you asked.


Today we visited one of the more infamous concentration camps, Terezin (thereisenstadt), the model ghetto. Sombre. The museums were full of documentation, the intricate workings of a managed atrocity, and art, the sketches and words of the Jews interned there. A jarring combination, speaking to deeply-understood themes of the dehumanising power of bureaucracy and the soul-defining power of art. I could say a lot more, but as always with such places, words will fail to convey much more than the barest understanding; I felt like I was just starting to glimpse something, something fearful and perhaps oddly beautiful, from the time I spent there. It is, if nothing else, a reminder of our shared humanity, through
remembrance of its most terrible denials.


And a quartet performed Dvorak, Bach, others. Great musicians perform in lovingly restored classical venues to crowds of tourists lured by cheaply photocopied advertisements pushed on them by street hawkers. The contradictions of Prague. It will be a different place in ten years, and I sincerely hope it comes more fully into itself.


Shouts to Tina C, happy birthday!



[morgueatlarge] lunch with the king (imperative form)

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent April 2003]

Lots has happened.

I’m still in Edinburgh – tonight. Tomorrow I’m on a plane, to Prague no less. I have arranged to meet my family there.

I am meeting my family in Prague. It feels terribly, pleasingly bourgeois.

Family! Travel! Motion! The obvious fun. Stay tuned.


Londoners: I am coming back through London, crashing with the Leon monster (still looking for his little dog), and would like to see people! Thus I call to order the TRIPLE ONE LUNCH WITH MORGUE!

When: Sunday April 13 at ONE pm
Where: All Bar ONE in Leicester Square (“L square” and lower case “l” looks like ONE)
Why: Because I am fresh-faced and pure of body.

I know some people don’t like awful chain bar things. Suck it up and come along.


I have quit my video-store job – purpose served. An interesting experience, tending vid, watching couples split up over the man’s poor taste in movies, watching the dubious rise of DJ Qualls as leading man, watching time and again as people who shouldn’t know better choose good films over bad, and subtitles be damned. I have yet hope for humanity. And now I have evenings free, and material for the long-in-development short play about people taking forever to choose their vid! Onwards!


And after Prague, Budapest! And Vienna! I am like unto a god!


I attended/helped out at my ‘landlady’ Fiona Campbell’s games convention, Conpulsion. It went well. I have surprisingly little to say on the matter. A good time was had by all, and I got to use bad language an awful lot and then spend the rest of the weekend convincing people I didn’t really talk like that.


And I’ve been on a couple of protest marches.


(The following was written a week ago. I can’t be bothered editing it.)

The war. I can’t figure out how to get away without talking about this at least once.

War dominates. I think about the war all the time. I think about reasons for and against military action. I question the media coverage and the coverage of the media coverage. The edges of my life are merging with the edges of the war.

Bombs are dropping. Precision bombs – Baghdad’s infrastructure has survived. This is good. Yet when I read a sceptic say it survives so the US can have a working city when they seize it to control its oil, I have to admit that this is what will happen. Can something be both right and wrong at the same time? The very notion of right and wrong start to collapse. Realpolitik, Clausewitzian total war, politics as war by other means. B52s take off from Scotland and unload bombs on Iraq and people die. And the precision still brings death to innocents, it must do, but – so far – it is not as bad as I feared. The civilian dead number in the hundreds, not the thousands. Good. Is this a victory for the peace movement? Forcing a more conscientious form of destruction? Doesn’t it just make the case against any war even harder to make? There is a sick feeling in me still, that all this precision bombing has achieved nothing for the coalition military other than a public relations display, because the targets they are precision-bombing are dead and gone but the war in Baghdad has yet to begin. Destroying Saddam’s palaces will not destroy the regime and will not win the war. Tony Blair is on the television, reiterating his position, that there is a real and pressing danger, that the war is justified. Public opinion is shifting. I can feel it, I can see it in the polls. The momentum of the peace movement has stalled and I can’t see why, but I can feel it. The war has come and fewer people care than before. The fears of war without the UN have been realised, and yet Blair’s cause is slowly gaining in support.

The peace movement. I become frustrated with a peace movement compromised by inappropriate ‘radicalism’. I wonder if an uncompromised peace movement is even possible. I went on a march on Saturday, ten thousand people marching on the main streets of Edinburgh. It felt weakened. It felt confused. Sometimes the message came through, the slogan, not in our name, more real than ever. This war is not in our name. We do not condone.

Read this blog written by an Iraqi in Baghdad: http://dearraed.blogspot.com/

Follow links to the large number of determined bloggers who post views I disagree with so vehemently. I wonder how it can be that we both think each other is the politically naïve, the deluded, the misled. How can there be a way forward? I want to simplify, simplify, simplify. There are wrong premises at the root of all disputes. Why does the media shy away from auditing the talk of the powerful?

This is a war of liberation now? Then why should disarming have stopped the war? The ground was always shifting, is it any wonder we are cynical?

The argument goes in circles. Those for the war say the Iraqis are suffering, that Saddam is a tyrant. Those for the peace agree, because that is not the argument. And yet it is. Saddam is a tyrant so whatever we do
is justified. I feel pity for the soldiers, locked in propaganda, trying to do the right thing, as if the world was as simple as their government portrays it. A kind of ignorance, a kind of madness. I felt ill last night, physically nauseated, unable to concentrate, unable to relax, riddled with emotions. And it is hard to see a way forward.


Further to the above:

Salam Pax’s blog has not been updated for a week. Internet access in the capital is cut off. I hate myself for wanting the Iraqis to fight, because I want the US and UK governments to understand the weakness of their propaganda. But I hate myself for wanting it, because the more they fight, the more they die, written off as fanatics brainwashed by a tyrant.

We must always be mindful.


the road moose is going to prague. The road moose always has a good time.


morgue (looking for the peace)

[morgueatlarge] Why I’m not a superhero

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent March 2003]

Blair departed Edinburgh today.

Blair Rhodes. Best known around Wellington as the name behind the regular late-90s feature ‘Ministry of Certain Things’ in student rag Salient. Not quite as cynical and pessimistic in real life as in his columns, but not far off; but just as funny in real life. We met in 1991, both young men in the prime of our lives, and vaguely suspicious of what that might mean. Nothing changed there. He’s been here in the UK for some time now. He’s been a good companion here in Edinburgh. He’s hooked me up with a place to stay, given me countless pieces of useful advice (particularly in the ongoing writing quest), he’s kept me entertained, he’s bought me coffees and beers, he’s given me a reason to eat sushi. Now his number’s up, he’s off about the country to farewell a collection of friends and then off to the Antipodes once again, back to New Zealand, back to Wellington. Blair, my friend, thanks a lot.


Blair and I were sitting sharing a coffee and making the kind of random conversation that gets made over coffee, even if one of the two parties is about to go to the other side of the world on a flying chunk of metal, and the girl at the counter called out ‘hey!’ This is at Chocolate Soup, one of the places around town that does reliably good coffees (at least, the lattes are always good there), and girl is actually a Kiwi too. Not particularly surprising here. Kiwis all work in cafes and restaurants in Edinburgh, rather than pubs like they do in London. I can’t explain that.

So we look, and there’s this guy sloping towards the exit with a fixed, distracted look on his face. And the girl at the counter calls out ‘hey!’

I get my wits about me enough to call out ‘hey, mate!’ but he’s out the door. And like a whirlwind the girl goes after him, and a few moments comes back looking flustered and angry and sheepish. ‘He wasn’t getting off with my tips jar,’ she says to the room, and I see she’s clutching the tips jar, and of course that sound in her voice was the kind you get when someone’s doing you wrong. But I didn’t pick it up. I’m not a superhero, I guess.


While I read a lot of comics growing up, and I still read a lot of comics, and a lot of them have featured and continue to feature superheroes, I never really identified myself as like that. It know the appeal wasn’t wish fulfillment for me. I think I was just suckered by the continuing storylines and the soap opera elements and the bug for collecting. (Yay for comics, by the way.)

But I do remember, however, thinking that even if I wasn’t a superhero, and I wouldn’t be at home being able to bash through walls or leap large buildings, at least I would be sharp. I’d be one of those sharp guys. Those guys that notice everything and don’t miss a trick. Those guys. Yeah.



Three minutes to ten, at the video store, Emma and I are just about to close when these two guys come in. They want a Playstation 2 for a birthday gift, they’ve left it to the last minute. I sell them a games machine, the guy pays by credit card. The other guy wants a game to go with it. Emma does this sale, but it doesn’t go through. The guy offers another card and Emma notices the names don’t match. He spins some story about ‘whoops’ and the first guy has a go, and when he signs for it she sees the signatures don’t match. I didn’t notice this but she did. The guys get angry and grab the card out of her hand. I duck around towards the door, going through the library area, and I hear them starting to take off. And then I stop and go back to Emma. There were two of them, and for Pete’s sake, it’s a video store I’d be defending. I’m not a superhero. No rational thought involved in any of this, of course. I just stopped. But, I can tell myself, at least I started.

So the police come, they take full statements, I don’t get home ‘til well past midnight. Unfortunately I have to go to work the next morning and I haven’t had dinner yet. It’s a tired wee day the next day.

So that’s how I know that I’m not a superhero, and I’m not the sharp guy either. They were young, they were a bit nervous and a bit pushy, and I didn’t even properly check the signature of the first guy.

Ah well. At least I started.


Work is cool. It’s like my old job, only none of the stuff I didn’t like and lots of most of the stuff I did like. Yeah. The campus is nice too, and the people are grand, and I’m happy, and more importantly, financially solvent. And now I’m going to go home from work and relax.



Shoutouts to Leandro, just because.


[morgueatlarge] i can see the fnords!

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent February 2003]

Bradley and I went on a daytrip to Roslin on Sunday. Roslin is a village a few miles south of Edinburgh, out in the countryside, and is undoubtedly most famous for being the home of Dolly the sheep (RIP). I went, however, to wander in the valley that Brad had spoken of with such affection, and to see Rosslyn Chapel.

The valley was worth the trip by itself. It’s more of a gully than a valley, I guess, being a river-hewn trench
amongst relatively flat terrain (and for what it’s worth, I don’t think the maps call it either a valley or a gully). Anyway, you can stand on one side of it and see across to the other, and the whole interior is filled with trees.

One of the books I had consulted about the Rosslyn Chapel talked about the valley in terms of its haunted nature – apparently there is, somewhere along its length, a window in a cliff-face from a warren of hidden and inaccessible tunnels that were once the hiding place of Robert the Bruce. We didn’t find the window, but we did conclude the writer was imposing a mood rather than responding to one; as the sun spent progressively more time behind the clouds, the place did not become gloomy or eerie, simply cooler in its beauty. Trees, mostly bare, stood waiting. Ice stretched in fingers from overhanging rockfaces, and rimed the lee side of river-rocks like milk on an upper lip. A ferret lay peacefully dead at the streamside. Bradley spoke as we wandered, describing what it had been like when he had last been there in the height of summer, and I felt the power of the seasons as I only occasionally have while travelling – kicking through great drifts of autumn leaves in Montpellier, being under a snowfall early in January – winter is a time of dormancy here, a strange thing to me as in New Zealand nature pays little heed to the season.

There is a castle in the valley. It’s long ruined, but the ruins have been carefully preserved and strengthened, and the upper levels of the main structure have been refurbished into a holiday home. It towers up on a trunk of stone, concealing itself among the trees with surprising facility.

A path leads from the castle back to the entrance to the valley, where the Rosslyn Chapel stands. This was where we began, and where Bradley left me to continue alone.

Rosslyn Chapel is fascinating. It is also a famous keystone in the webs of innumerable conspiracy theorists and secret historians. The reason for its status is simple – it is a point, perhaps the point, where the worlds of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons collide. The Freemasons were heavily involved in the building of the chapel and the St Clair family (later Sinclair) whose territory it was were intimately connected with the early Scottish Freemasonry. Furthermore, the Knights Templar have a Sinclair connection as well, and the gravestone of one William St Clair, Knight Templar, is found in the chapel itself.

And even without this combination of links the place would be interesting. It was cold inside, much colder than outside, and fairly small, but so rich with sculptural ornamentation that I felt disoriented. Every surface was laid with a huge variety of carven images or decorations, often representations of Christian subjects and scenes, such as the seven virtues and vices, and other times more obscure subject matter – angels in odd poses reputed to be linked to masonic ritual (and if that is not the case, supremely odd poses indeed – why should an angel grip it’s ankle with one hand and touch its breast with the other?); a huge number of Green Man images sprouting foliage over mantel and sill; the eerily lifelike face of a man emerging from one wall like from quicksand, supposed to be the deathmask of Robert the Bruce; crowns of plantlife atop each window, including what is supposed to be maize, one of the chapel’s other mysteries since it was indisputably carved before Columbus sailed to America; and at the front the centrepieces – the Masons Pillar and the Apprentice Pillar.

These last are actually the most striking things about the chapel, certainly the most famous. All of the other dozen or so pillars in the chapel are built to the same elegant scheme, but the final row, dividing the main body of the church from the Lady Chapel, are different. The middle of these three is the same as all the others, but the right and left pillars both differ markedly. The Apprentice Pillar is the most striking, appearing to be wreathed in spirals of stone like strands of DNA. The story goes that the master mason travelled to Rome to work out how to carve this pillar, but on his return found his apprentice had solved the problem and completed the work; in jealous rage, the master struck down the apprentice with one blow to the forehead. At the opposite end of the chapel, high on the wall, are two faces, one marked on the brow – the apprentice and the master. It’s a good story, and it has been told for centuries.

Of course, some writers allege the apprentice was sacrificed deliberately; others have concluded that the Holy Grail itself lies somewhere in the chapel; many other elaborate stories of doubtful authenticity have grown from the chapel’s many mysteries. Fascination is the right word. It’s certainly the only church bookshop I’ve been in that sold hand-printed tracts on governmental cover-ups of alien abductions.

The chapel was intended to be one wing of a much larger structure. At the far end from the Lady Chapel and the strange pillars, a baptismal room and choir loft were constructed in a later style; on the outside, reaching from either side are blocks of stone awaiting their integration into a large wall. This building plan was never completed – the money ran out. For anyone who maintains the Freemasons or the Knights Templar are the secret all-powerful force behind the world’s affairs, this may be the most problematic mystery of all.


The other day, with ten minutes to kill before toddling off to work, I ducked into HMV to browse. I admit that it was my ulterior motive to tempt myself with the single of TATU’s ‘All the things you said’, number one for several weeks here and to my mind one of those brilliant offerings that shows pop-by-committee can get it right now and then. I have been haunted by the ur-lyrics, so general that anyone anywhere can find personal weight in them: ‘all the things you said, running through my head’ repeated obsessively with ‘this is not enough’ howled desperately into the sky over the top of a sinister, breathcatching beat. It’s good stuff. Of course, I was initially most impressed by the video, which I saw in Europe in November
– or was it earlier? – and which features the two teenage girl singers, in school uniforms with unfeasibly short skirts, kissing each other in the rain as a silent crowd watches in silent disapproval from behind a fence.   Impressed in the sense of, these people know how to sell. It’s been the canniest music video since Britney’s similar turn with a school skirt got her to the top of the charts about a hundred years ago, and since it hit the UK it’s been inescapable. Naturally, the discussion here immediately turned into a paedophile panic, but this is no surprise from a country where parents were forbidden to video their children’s christmas pageant for fear of paedophile incursion. And where before every movie at the big Odeon chain there is a big-budget ‘watch out for paedophiles on the internet’ ad that fills me with dumbfounded fury each time I see it. But wiser minds than me have torn apart this uniquely British obsession elsewhere.

So I’m in HMV, and my eye is caught by a book in the music section. Interesting. It has a photo of a burning church on the cover. More interesting. I flip it over and read the back. I’m stunned to find it’s a
journalistic (but sensational) expose of the Satanic followers of Black Metal (which is, for those too old to know, a kind of vicious heavy rock music tied in with lots of death imagery and built around a destructive
philosophy), who have apparently been behind a number of murders, suicides and about 200 church-burnings throughout Scandinavia. I flipped through; this kind of thing is very interesting to me, from my academic background in psychology and anthropology in general, and my interest in how people can
organise their lives around extreme philosophies in particular. Plus, it had shocking true crimes in it, and I was curious. I put it down a minute later, bored by the obvious lack of analysis and the focus on photos of
musicians in scary makeup, although an extensive section on Anton LaVey including numerous quotes suggested it wasn’t entirely without merit. Anyway. Not something I’d ever want to pick up again. I was curious how the musical scene could sustain itself, though, if all its practitioners were offing themselves or their bandmates with the regularity depicted in the book.

As I put the book down I noticed what was underneath it. It was a double-CD compilation of the music of the bands in the above book. It was the tie-in CD.

I despair.


Latest drunk on the bus story: a young lad of 22 who’d just been dumped by his girlfriend of three years so she could ‘be with a junkie’. ‘He’ll just turn her into a junkie as well!’ The guy was miserable, and I was happy to talk with him about how messed up the human race is (I have to admit we spent a fair bit of time on the particular ways in which the female of the species is often messed up), but his sad story did depress me a bit. I was cheered, however, when he announced his plan for the evening: go home, hang
out with his mum and his little sister, and chill out. I couldn’t have written a better recipe myself. Sometimes us humans do get it right, after all.

The drug scene in Edinburgh is worth a mention. The problems are huge – hard drugs, particularly heroin, seem to be plentiful. I have had no first-hand encounters with it, but a huge number of people have been touched through their friends or their relations or their neighbours. It keeps bubbling up from below. It’s kind of disturbing, because to me it means there are a lot of troubled people in this town.


News snippet of note: Saddam Hussein, interviewed by Dan Rather, offers to take on Bush in televised debate on Iraq issue. Ari Fleischer and the White House dismiss the offer as not serious.


Love to all.

(currently reading the Illuminatus trilogy – and it’s better than I
expected, and I was expected it to be great.)

[morgueatlarge] cider, marching, floor baptisms

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent February 2003]

I just shared a bus into town with a classic rambling friendly drunk, clutching a 2 litre soft drink bottle full of cider (“good cider, pal”). I pretended to be asleep.   He talked to the wall instead. This is the middle of Tuesday afternoon, mind.


Politics Dept.

The March: 15 February, Glasgow

I joined Neil at the Salisbury Centre and he drove a small party of us out in the a.m. Blair came, as did two other Salisbury-connected women whose names I forget now. There were a lot of other people coming.

The assembly point, Glasgow Green, was crowded and getting towards packed. Hundreds of people became thousands became tens of thousands before our eyes.

The march started. Our chunk of people didn’t start moving for two hours afterwards. We were a long way from the back of the line. It was that big an assembly. (Independent on Sunday said 25,000; Scotsman on Monday said 90,000; BBC on Monday night said 70 to 80,000. London got somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000,000 people.)

We gathered outside the centre where the Labour Party conference was going on. Well, some did – the gathering space was absolutely full and most of the marchers couldn’t get near it. From about halfway on the march we were passing those who had completed the journey, lingered at the end, found there was no room and started back to the beginning.

It was an amazing day. Two key things:

* diversity – the media spin was ‘not just the usual suspects’, which is a bit of a back-handed compliment but still valid. All ages, all backgrounds, even all political persuasions. This gave the march a lot of its character – it was destined to be peaceful, destined to avoid the excesses of sloganism and hysteria, because almost all of the participants were just normal folk.

* political sophistication – Saddam Hussein is a cartoon villain. He even has the big moustache. There would not be more than a tiny minority of marchers who are not aware of Saddam’s venal and vicious nature and the appalling things he and his regime have done.   But the marchers want to spare this man and his cohorts from war.

These are important. The traditional ways of dismissing public opposition to political acts – claiming a lack of information or understanding, or branding opposers a small minority of ideologues – are both taken away from the body in power. Tony Blair chose Saturday to unveil a new justification for war on humanitarian grounds – a foolish strategy. The marchers already know the humanitarian case, and they have already dismissed it.

It felt like the birth of a movement. It seems even more so in hindsight. The ball, I feel, is in Tony Blair’s court – and there is every sign he is unmoved by the display of doubt in the drive to war. This will have immense political consequences, and soon. And this doesn’t even mention what’s happening in Europe, in the Middle East, in the USA. The global wave of peace demonstration will be, I hope and expect, a significant moment in history.

Plus I got to see Glasgow.


A few days ago Brad and I went to a gallery opening. More precisely, it was the opening of a refurbishment to a gallery, and we were there because of Brad’s connection with the crafters who did the floor. It was a very nice floor.

Highlight of the evening, just one of those transcendent moments, was the floor getting christened before Sven and Betsy’s eyes as an attendee dropped his glass which shattered into tiny, tiny pieces and sprayed white wine everywhere. The waitress collected as much of the glass as she could and disappeared. Suddenly I found myself with a wonderful view of Sven and Betsy, dressed to the nines, crouched over the precious floor picking up the glass shard by shard, while beyond them the party continued – dinner suits, snazzy dresses, glasses of wine.

I told Sven it was a baptism but he didn’t see fit to name it.

(Actually, Sven’s name is not Sven but something like Sveynin but, well, I dunno.)


The weather is very nice at the moment. Sunshine. Lovely.


I have been offered a job. I applied for lots of interesting things but it was the universities that wanted to see me, thanks to my university experience. It looks like a pretty good thing – the stuff I enjoyed at my old job, only that’s the whole job instead of part of it. More details when I know more, hopefully delivered in amusing fashion. Anyway, it’s a good feeling, and it seems like possibilities are starting to widen out again.

The video store is fine, since you asked. Blair and I watched Hong Kong actioner ‘Beast Cops’ after the march. Weirdest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. Is to other Hong Kong actioners like ‘Scream’ is to ‘Halloween’, sort of. Fun, though.


Shout outs:
to Matt E and Lesley T, referees – huzzah and cheers
to Cal, for sending me issues of the Listener and general moral support
to Mary Grace ‘the other MG’, for working out how to get a shout
to Mallika, who got the pineapple
to Miri, my not-baby sister, just because
and to Judith – thinking of you


Peace, love.


[morgueatlarge] currently missed NZ band: rhombus

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent February 2003]

It’s not my habit to self-criticise on these things, which is a bit crap really considering that it’s going out to an audience who don’t necessarily want to read any given ramble. But, having decided not to read through it before I send it, I have a feeling that this one’s even less coherent than previous ones. So be warned.

February 6 is Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s closest equivalent to a national day. It commemorates the occasion in 1840 when the Maori tribes gave sovereignty to the British Crown. It is a day so heavily laid with political landmines that most New Zealanders pay little attention to its nominal purpose, and increasingly it has been bound up with another commemoration on the same day, that of Bob Marley’s birthday.

New Zealanders have always been suspicious of nationalism. It’s there right from the start of our national history, where we were proud subordinates to the British Empire; it’s there in the time before the Europeans arrived, where Maori identity was founded on tribe and hapu and devoid of any wider collective; it’s there even now, where our young and bright leave our shores to wander the world, and a cultural imperative, for those with means, to see beyond our country is obvious. The (apocryphal?) tendency of well-off Aucklanders, at the top of the country, to holiday overseas rather than in other parts of New Zealand, is a source for derision but really just another expression of how much value we place on seeing different horizons, and how aware we are of the limitations of home.

This is not to say we are without national pride. This is a hugely important stream in New Zealand culture; we thrive on the overseas successes of our native sons and daughters.   The All Blacks remain the main conduit for Kiwi pride, but the increasing New Zealand presence in Hollywood is a continuing source of bemused triumph for us.

Yesterday was February 6. I stayed home. There were some half-hearted efforts to organise a get-together with the other Kiwis in town, but nothing came of it. Ultimately it just didn’t seem important enough to mark.


I’m living in Broomhouse, which is a suburb to the west of Edinburgh, about 20 minutes by bus to Princes St so quite a way out, a way further than I’d prefer but it’s a good deal and I’m enjoying the solitude. There is much to read – Roderick has moved all his books in well before himself, and I’m coming off reading Lord of the Rings to the end for the first time so the fantasy/science fiction bias to his collection is more appealing now than, well, since I was about 11 and trudging through the Belgariad. (If any explanation is needed as to why I stopped reading fantasy, ‘David Eddings’ is convenient and probably fairly accurate.) I’ve knocked off the Cryptonomicon at last, and yes it is quite brilliant. Chuck and Matt Mansell and all the others who’ve told me to read this over the years can all proceed with the ‘I told you so’ line. Now I’m reading a Harry Potter. A few other books have found there way into my reading list. I’m probably reading too much right now, but it’s comforting and accessible and cheap. So I’m gonna keep on doing it. Rah.

The Broomhouse house is nice enough. I have it to myself, and most of the early problems have been sorted out, including the (hopefully) final solution to the ‘no central heating’ problem that was sorted yesterday. (Another reason to stay home in my nice warm house.) The big trick now is that the kitchen is undergoing fundamental reworking and as such is not fitted out. I have a microwave, a sink, and an electric jug. I’ve been making lots of interesting meals here, lots of rice as you might expect, and it’s a pleasant enough challenge to grapple with. However, anyone out there with nice suggestions for meals or snacks that can be made with microwave, boiled water and sink would become a personal hero if he or she sent them in.

I am looking for work. Not sure how long I’m going to stay here, but I’m telling all potential employers I’m here for three years. Thus far it hasn’t been enough to get me a job, so next job application I’m going to say I’m here forever. That ought to do it. In the meantime, I’m getting a trickle of spending money from a job at a video chain, simple work, not overly boring, and the nice perk of free videos and DVDs. (Chris, Dale, Dean, Chuck, Pearce – watch Dagon as soon as humanly possible, preferably together.) Actually, it’s a dangerous perk, more incentive to go home and stay there, but I’m managing my habit nicely.

These are things that I am doing. Edinburgh is becoming a place for doing things now, as opposed to a place for seeing things and experiencing things. It’s an interesting conversion and I’m aware enough of how it’s progressing to watch how I’m going. It’s still an amazing place, and I have lots more to see and experience here, but it’s transforming before my eyes into quite a different environment to the one I arrived in six weeks ago after months on the road.

Londoners/Cambridgers/Leicesterers will notice I have not in fact visited them yet, despite my last email’s enthusiasm. I still have the itch to travel again, but as long as I keep getting interviews for ‘real’ jobs I’ll stay here. I’m in a limbo that is partly self-inflicted and partly dictated by financial reality. Just like everyone else in the world, pretty much. Sometime soon I’ll have to remind myself of how much freedom I really do have right now.


So, in all, not much to report. But I’m still having a nice time, I’m getting writing done, I’m thinking, I’m living in a place that isn’t home and that in itself is giving me new perspectives. It’s all good.


Shout outs to my grandmother, who had her birthday since the last email, and to my baby sister, whose 21st birthday sounded quite amusing and I wish I’d been there to deliver the pineapple in person. Also to the Salisbury Centre which was a wonderful home for my first month plus in Edinburgh, and to Helen and Matt who have a wee bairn on the way!

And to everyone I used to work with, because now I’m thinking about work again, I’m realising that I really did meet some classy people while earning a paycheck. And to Holly, who I just this second read is moving to Bristol!

And to all of the rest of you. I have this desperate urge to list everyone I know and give personal messages, but I’ll spare you that nuisance. Just be happy, all of you.




[morgueatlarge] Conference in Glasgow, Many Kinds of Tea

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent January 2003]

Reports of my death have been…


[To the politically squeamish: don’t turn away. I won’t be boring. Or very political.]

This past weekend I went to an anti-war conference in Glasgow. It was, believe it or not, the first time I have been beyond the boundaries of Edinburgh since arriving here in mid December. I know. I was in the passenger seat of Neil’s car, Neil being a resident here at the Salisbury Centre and an all-around good chap. He’s a wee Scotsman (I’m stretching the definition of wee but it’s a word used a lot around here so I’m forcing it into the gap) in his mid-thirties, generous to a fault, always smiling, and he’s put me on to this great cinnamon tea that I’ve been drinking regularly. Oh, yes, the tea. There are so many kinds of tea in the Salisbury kitchen! It is truly a wonderful thing.

So off we rode to Glasgow on a Friday evening, making our way to Neil’s Aunt Sandra’s, there to put down beds and sleep, after stopping off at Neil’s mothers for a feed and to pick up a chair. Come morning we were up bright and early (for a Saturday) and managed, despite being sent in the wrong direction, to get to the venue in time. And out we got, and in we went.

It was a community hall a little bit out of the centre of town. There were banners up and down the length of the walls, stalls along each side for the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Scottish Greens, and the other usual suspects. Seats were arrayed before the stage, about 200 of them, and 3 TV cameras roamed for shots. (Neil got in the firing line and ended up on Scottish news, but my UK TV debut is still pending.) A wide variety of people, a good age range, the over-40s seemed overrepresented until I realised there are more of them than there are 20-40s.   It was good to see the grandmothers there, anyway.

Anyway. There was a lot of good material over the duration – opening speakers, then two one-hour discussion sessions, then a closing plenary with more speakers. It had my mind racing in all kinds of fascinating directions. The tone was very sensible, with a real lack of conspiracy theories and people decrying Bush as a flesh-eating lizard in human skin (search ‘david icke’ on google). What there was instead was a real sense of informed people who are representative of a growing movement, a movement that opposes the serious business of war being brought about without very compelling reason.

Many factoids were shared, some useful, some not. The one that stuck in my mind – according to the University Professor who spoke in one of my seminar sessions, whose name I have written down but upstairs, global supplies of oil will last, at present rate of consumption, another 30 years. In other words, according to this professor (who brought a formidable array of numbers which he said were sourced from the US energy department’s research body), things will change, and my generation will be alive to see it.

But the most potent thing about the weekend was more visceral. In New Zealand, there’s a baseline of apathy about any kind of public action, because, well, we’re New Zealand. Is George Bush gonna care? Helen Clark’s already dangerously liberal in the eyes of the US – what can we really achieve? Here in the UK, on the other hand, the audience for protest is none other than Tony Blair. And while Tony Blair changing tack probably won’t by itself stop the prosecution of war, it might combine with other political costs to stop things before they start. An effective protest (and I still wonder whether ‘effective protest’ is a contradiction in terms) here can really make a difference. And that’s an unfamiliar feeling. Pity they only managed a turnout of 263 from the enormous population. Still, the march on Feb 15 is the one to watch for. Count numbers then, I guess.


Oddest moment – guy from PLO is up and talking, not making much sense. He refers to the death of Jesus. Interjection from the floor from man in turban: ‘Jesus is not dead. They killed someone else.’

Yes, I know the theories about Jesus’ brother Thomas who died in his place, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc etc etc. No, I don’t buy it. No, I don’t know why this chap thought it was worth interrupting a rambling PLO guy to share this with us.


Glasgow itself got a good drive-through on the way back from the conference to Neil’s dad’s place. We
delivered the chair and slept again. Reports that we watched ‘Armageddon’ before sleeping can be neither confirmed nor denied, but if true, you must admit it’d be the perfect counterpoint to the day’s events.


The countryside around Edinburgh and Glasgow looks very much like rural New Zealand, until you reach the towns, which are completely different. It was very calming.


I’m finally moving on from the salisbury centre on Saturday, shifting to a nice house a bus-ride from the middle of town. Why and how? It’s long and complicated and not worth going into, but kudos to Blair for being the main connection. He is so cool only Michael Upton could express it adequately.


Brad, Holly and I just saw 8 Mile. It is indeed very good. No, I didn’t expect it either. I am still unsure about Eminem, but the guy can hold a movie together.


Going to Glasgow fired me up for bouncing around and I had to talk myself out of jumping on a plane back to London today. But I need to find a job. So I’m staying for a bit and filling out lots of application forms. Come to me job! Come now!

But I’m thinking of going back to London next week, if I’ve applied for enough stuff and won’t be interfering with interviews. Then I can finally see the Londoners I still haven’t adequately caught up with – you know who you are! And then maybe coming up through Cambridge to see Jack and Heather and Karen? And through Leicester to see Melissa? Hi guys! Email me! I’ll try and ring y’all!


Shout-outs to my baby sister who’s 21 in a couple days.

And all those everywhere who are newly back at work.


peace, love,

[morgueatlarge] Free chocolate, fireworks and giant red giraffes

[originally an email to the morgueatlarge list, sent January 2003]

It snowed last night, for the first time. A light dusting on the cars parked along Salisbury Road in the morning, like icing sugar on matchbox cars. The day is bright and clear and blue.

Two has gone into three. There was talk of chaos in the streets of Edinburgh at New Years, a bunch of arrests made in this city, terrorists hatching their plots… real information is thin on the ground. There were
a lot of police at the Princes St party but it was all good cheer, everyone was happy to be there with none of the drunken rowdy I was expecting. Maybe it was just too cold for much roughhousing.

Princes St and the Princes St Gardens are the venue for what is billed as the biggest new years street party in… well, I can’t remember what they claim, but it was big all right. Blair Rhodes, good friend from NZ now
Edinburgh resident and all-around nice guy, had a spare entry ticket and we arranged to meet at ten pm outside one the gates. Naturally we were no more precise than this, and as I wandered through a large crowd in the enormous space we’d agreed on I realised it was a pretty dumb suggestion for me to
have made. However, Blair found me soon enough, stumbling upon me going through the contents of my complementary goodie bag – a slab of chocolate, a sipper bottle of fresh Scottish water and a badge to pin on marking me out as a survivor of the Princes St revelry.

Hogmanay is a big deal in Edinburgh, for everyone except the locals. At the party, the main event for the four day celebration, Scottish accents were thin on the ground, Australian flags were flying everywhere – yes indeed, wherever there is a promise of a party the antipodeans show up in force. (Just ask those poor German oktoberfesters.) But the atmosphere was wonderful. Eschewing the Culture Club reunion stage and its £30 ticket fee, Blair and I bedded down in the throng before a stage where the Dhol Foundation were playing. They are drummers, all Indian playing traditional Indian drums over an explosive amped-up backbeat that got the crowd hopping. Outstanding music, just right to jump around in the chill and get
scrunched against everyone around you! They banged their last bang with ten seconds left in the year and by the last five everyone had caught on to the countdown.

I have been in a big crowd for new year’s before, and it remains a damn good way to see in the new and farewell the old. What was special this time was the fireworks. Man, that was a lot of fireworks. The whole
thousands-strong crowd, fresh into their new year enthusiasm, gaped at the sky. The only thing missing was ‘Auld Lang Syne’, absent of course because there were no Scottish people anywhere to be seen.

Great fun. Then the party continued.

The following night there was a street theatre event. It involved eight giant red giraffes pacing their way down the Royal Mile, pausing as they went to dance in patterns as a flying clown screamed out ‘Zere will be a Scottish parliament – perhaps?’


Edinburgh is great.


I saw Two Towers twice in its first three days.   Ah, home.


Stay well you all. Thanks for the emails. Will one day try and respond.


[morgueatlarge] Joop, Edinburgh, a watch

I’m in Edinburgh.

It’s amazing.

When I told people I was heading up there they’d all say “it’s so beautiful” and you know, it really is. Not scattered spots of beauty mixed in with miles of chaos like you find in Barcelona or London, but a comprehensive all-around goodness that you can’t run from without finding yourself in the middle of even more. The hills and valleys give it fascinating character, with the awesome Salisbury Crags overlooking the city, and the view from shopping-central Princes Street across the narrow valley of Princes St gardens to the old town up on the facing hill, with the castle itself dominating everything from its high perch… amazing. Yeah.

I’m staying with Bradley, yet another friend who goes back to primary school days, at a comfy place a fifteen minute walk from Princes Street. The quickest route goes straight over South Bridge, which is closed as workers pick through the extensive damage from last week’s fire. The smell of burnt
wood carries through the cold.

It’s a good place and I’m going to stick around a while. It’s time to be still for a little bit.

In London one evening I met up with Joop Jagr, the guy Leon and I had met on the plane coming over. Surprisingly he’d been in London the whole time I’d been travelling; the number of stories he had about what he’d got up to here were still never less than hilarious and often a bit disturbing. He’s done a lot of travelling, and over a pint he asked me how I’d found it, ‘the whole travelling around business’. I tried to answer as best I could.

Here’s an attempt to retell what I came up with, using literary license to make it all sound a lot better than it would have that evening, and probably missing out some stuff and perhaps putting in some stuff too.

-Travelling is weird. It’s a whole bunch of things, all sort of bundled up together for no reason other than logistics. You do them all at once but they don’t really have anything in common. Like, you see things – monuments and icons and famous places and museums. And that’s cool, that’s reason enough to go travelling all by itself.

And also you meet people, all kinds of people from all kinds of places, and because of how it is on the road it’s so easy to make friends… I think it’s always easy to make friends but most of the time it seems harder, you know? On the road it seems as easy as it really is. And that’s cool, that’s reason enough by itself as well.

And then there’s the thing about being in new places, hearing a different language all around you, seeing people live a daily life that’s recognisable but unfamiliar, or even wildly strange. That’s invigorating and enlightening and it sort of puts you in your place culturally, gives you some perspective.

And it’s a test, as well. Can I handle myself? Can I avoid starving to death somewhere?

And then when you travel there’s that ‘go with the flow’ thing, where you can just find yourself riding a current and life starts making itself up for you as you go along and suddenly you’re in the middle of the most amazing new situation… [here Joop nodded sagely and made a comment like ‘I’ll drink to that’ – all of his travel tales stem from going with the flow, at least the ones I’ve heard]

And when you travel you learn stories and make stories. You sort of are stories, you’re hyper-aware of how you’re living in something that one day’s gonna be a narrative you’ll spin out for your friends.

And… I studied anthropology at University, so I get to see that in action, and it’s even more amazing because I know that the cultures I see all around me go so much deeper than I could understand without living amongst the people and learning their language and becoming part of their community.

And you see how place defines experience and how experience defines your reality. So I get to be Morgan in a new place, which is different to Morgan at home. You just skim over the surface of the world and your headspace changes. Everything changes. –

At this point Joop reminded me of something I’d said on the plane coming over, about how I had one real goal for travelling: to try and understand the size of the world.

And I said to him, – all the rest is a part of that, right?

I’ve travelled Europe for three months without a watch.

I now have a watch. It’s time to stay in one place for a little while.

Merry Christmas all! Don’t hold your breath for Christmas cards, I’ve kind of left it too late… there are plenty more tales to tell, and I’m sure Edinburgh will yield some of its own!

Sorry to the Londoners (and surroundings, hello Cambridge people!) who I missed yet again. Not many of you this time, thankfully. I’ll get to you, I’m gonna try and come back down early next year.

Peace and love (and, for the old-timers who appreciate old-time-references, antelopes)


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[morgueatlarge] Flashback: Andorra, Realm of Duty Free

Andorra is one of those tiny countries, the ones that aren’t large enough to merit a block of colour on large-scale maps and are instead identified by a line pointing at their location. The ones you forget about, basically. It’s sandwiched between Spain and France in the heights of the Pyrenees. The local language is Catalan, same as Barcelona. It uses the Euro as currency even though it isn’t part of the EU, and both the Spanish and French postal systems are in place, everywhere there is a post box for one there is a post box for the other alongside. (Which reminds me of the three parallel postal services we had at one time in New Zealand, each with their own stamps and letter boxes, and once again I shake my head at the folly of

There are two things to understand about Andorra:

  • it is high in the mountains
  • it levies no import duties

The first is important because mountains mean slopes with snow, and slopes with snow means ski. All of the towns in Andorra are basically ski resort hotels and the homes and shops of those serving the skiers. So while the high Pyrenees are incredibly scenic, anything resembling a local culture is pretty thin on the ground.

The second is important because of what it means for the central town, Andorra la Vella (which I believe just means ‘Andorra Town’. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) and more specifically its main street. Well, it really is just a main street. And all along the main street are exactly the same shops you find in the duty-free sections of airports. Cheap consumer electronics, copious amounts of alcohol and tobacco, and all the rest. It’s a giant mall in the mountains.

A weekend trip was in the offing. The posse were Julian and myself, and three of Julian’s fellow language assistants, Lucas and Julia whose car it was and who were organising the whole thing, and Leanne. Lucas is from Argentina and would serve as chief translator for the trip, while Julia and Leanne are both from the UK, London and Leeds respectively. I’d met all three on my first day in Auch, joining them and Andrew for an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet lunch mere hours after stepping off the train and surprising Julian with a phone call saying ‘Viv, I’m at Auch train station.’

It is appropriate now to give due respect to Julian for coping with my unexpected arrival with such good grace and charm and, indeed, enthusiasm. Cheers.

Anyway, Lucas, Julia, Leanne (and also Andrew, who was not along for this mission) had made a previous expedition to Andorra a few weekends before, and they had lucked onto a nice three-star hotel with Jacuzzi, kitchenette and enough room for six, all for 60 euros a night for the room. The deal ran out at the start of December when the ski season kicked off, so they were keen to go again and I was in the right place at the right time.

Friday morning, mere hours post-Tip-Top, we set off. Lucas drove with great consideration and Julian held tightly to the doorhandle for most of the journey. There were no accidents, and Julian was a bright light for us all, enough that he managed to inspire me to overcome my own hungover state. I was a third of a bottle of whisky down on Julian, after all, and if he could rise to the occasion then damn it, so could I! The car was small and Leanne was jammed in between us, doing the best she could to be happy about it, and the journey was full of corners, and when you touched your skin to the windows it was clear exactly how cold it was getting outside.

As we rose into the mountains I was more easily able to put aside my queasiness. The views really were stunning, and when we hit the snowline I was sold. I’ve done lots of describing of mountains lately, seeing as I’m currently in Switzerland, so I’m not going to make the effort here, but they were massive, impressive, and very different to the Alps in ways I can’t quite put into words.

We got settled into the hotel, which was everything that had been promised, and sallied forth to Andorra La Vella for a shopping expedition (I managed to resist temptation). Not fond of malls, I was quite ready to return to the room for a nice meal and a relaxing evening of conversation, ‘Jaws’ in German, and a very pleasant Jacuzzi.

Saturday morning and we jumped back in the car and explored the country a little. The highlight for me was leaping out of the car into snow a foot deep or more, and the impromptu battle that instantly developed. I threw my first snowball, badly, achieving spiritual communion with Charlie Brown after all these years. The highlight of course was Lucas leaping headfirst into the snow in a pratfall so spectacular he either planned it or is truly one of the world’s great stumblers.

All too soon the cold had eaten into our fingers and we were back in the car. We ended up back at Andorra La Vella, in a small bar/restaurant just off the main strip where we shared a half-dozen plates of tapas. These included spiced fish, potato wedges and slices of chorizo and other sausages. All in all, very filling and very tasty. Then we returned to the hotel room to relax for a bit before heading out again after nightfall for the main event of the evening: Caldea.

Caldea is a health spa complex right in the heart of Andorra La Vella, its glass-walled central tower rising high above the surroundings in a narrow pyramid. Inside it’s a multi-leveled arcade of subdued lighting and bubbling fountains, expensive tourist shops making way for a large reception area for the various areas of the club. It didn’t seem like a real environment, and after a few minutes I realised I was being reminded of the kind of set you’d see in an episode of Star Trek.

We paid about 20 euros each for entry to the complex for three hours, from 9pm to the closing time of midnight. After hurried changing and much faffing about with the lockers, trying to convince the keys to work, the five of us strode forth into the heart of the complex. Oh, lord. If the reception area had the garish shiny futurism of a Star Trek television episode, the main space was like a big-budget Trek movie where the crew go to the pleasure planet, crossed over with the barmy 70s sci-fi décor of, say, Logan’s Run. (Note, however, that I found no evidence of sinister goings on behind the scenes.) The main pool was huge, roughly oval in shape, all about waist deep or slightly deeper and a very pleasant temperature. The ceiling was very high above, and a few storeys up on the walls were full-length windows into the on-site restaurants, where diners ate while gazing over the whole interior. More important, however, were the other pools above the main one.

From within the water there were staircases rising up to five enormous basins, set at varying heights above the pool, each large enough for a dozen or so people to settle within. From below they looked like shallow half-spheres with water spilling over the edges and cascading down to the main pool. They were at a variety of temperatures and included different kinds of designer turbulence, the piece de resistance being the highest pool where you could sit against jets of water designed to massage the back. There were six sets of jets evenly spaced around edge of this pool, and you started at the weakest and proceeded around them until you came the last, which pummelled the tensions in your back into a most pleasurable submission.

As impressive as all this was, it was only the beginning. One arm of the main pool went outside, waist-deep all the way, where the city lights played against the mountainside and steam poured upwards off the water. Here there was a circular channel with a strong current and a number of other nooks and
corners. Also outside, but set apart from the main pool, was a large Jacuzzi in a particularly dark corner of the courtyard. To find this one you had to brave the icy cold exterior while soaked to the skin, and when
you found it, it was a great pleasure to jump in. The real problem was working up the nerve to get up and out again.

There was a very cold dunking bath alongside the hottest of the pools, where Julian took particular pleasure in testing his resilience (greater than mine, I promise you), there were numerous alcoves where you could settle and rest, there were dark rooms and steam baths and stunningly hot saunas. I can make that last description with authority, as I spent some amount of time that I cannot remotely estimate in one of the hot rooms, and when I emerged I was indeed quite stunned. I wandered in a state of utter
relaxation to the side of the main pool and settled on to a deck chair, one of about thirty set out in this dark corner, although I was the only person to make use of them all night that I could see.

From this spot I had a spectacular view of the next stage of the evening’s dramas – the sound and light show. All through the evening there had been soothing music thrumming through the sound system, music that actually enhanced the atmosphere rather than polluting it. Now the lights dimmed and changed colour and the music changed tenor, becoming a medley of classical and semi-classical themes that were vigorous, rousing and sometimes sinister (including that particularly ominous piece that gets wheeled out in every second Hollywood film, the piece of music that all by itself makes me put Young Sherlock Holmes in the scary movie category, you know the one, dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum, dum dum dum duuum duuum dum dum…). While that was going on water spouts were rising and spinning in the middle of the raised pools, arcing water into the air to rain down on the main pool, sprays
rising and receding in time with the ebb and climax of the music, all building to a glorious purple finale where ice-cold water leaped from unexpected jets to fall on to the exposed parts of a delighted, squealing crowd in the pool. Magical.

The same show came again about an hour later, but the time went very fast. I drifted from pool to pool, and couldn’t quite believe it when midnight came and we were all ushered out of the water – I can hardly think of a time when three hours has passed so quickly.

One other part of the Caldea experience you should note to really get a good impression of what it was like: the sheer amount of affection on public display. There were a lot of couples making out all over the place. I’ve been in Europe for a couple of months now but it still rings bemused ‘get a room’ bells in my prudish NZ-cultured brain.

So ended our Andorran expedition. The following morning, after what were universally agreed to be very restful post-spa sleeps, we piled into the car and set off on a roundabout return route that took us through Spain. We stopped for lunch in a small town called Sort, and again enjoyed a healthy spread of tapas. Of particular note this time were the snails that Lucas and Julian ordered. Now, I’ve heard it said that eating snails aren’t the same as common garden snails, but I couldn’t spot any difference. Imagine a cast-iron tray, about the right size to bake cookies, and cover it with a layer of snails from the garden, and you have a precise image of what was delivered to the table. Of course, the snails weren’t moving. To eat them you pick them up by the shell and jab at the little beggar inside with a wooden pick, dragging him out and into your mouth. The consistency: chewy and juicy. The taste: they were coated in a rich buttery flavour, and some of them were particularly spicy. I had four in all, enough that I can now say with confidence that yes, I have eaten snails.


And Hoa spells his name Hoa, not Hao. Thanks Jon Ball for the correction. Sorry Hoa! I did know, I was just stupid!


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