[morgueatlarge] clod in culloden

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

I know, it’s been a while, yadda yadda.


After returning from my familial European adventure, and a day in London catching up with All They Folk There, I returned to work for an almost-week. Public Enemy played in Glasgow and I didn’t go, on account of not being able to go, but it still rankles.

Family reconvened midweek in sunny Edinburgh. This was the glorious Scottish Easter. Lovely. Fated, I’m told, not to last, but we’ll refrain from talking about it in case of any jinxwards movement. We wandered Edinburgh and in particular my personal stomping grounds. We dined in a Genuine Scottish Pub TM and haggis & neeps was et in combination. The Meadows was a lovely place for a night-time stroll but the trees were bare; less than a week later it was an impenetrable fog of pink petals. I busied myself in my office as family saw Edinburgh Castle and the other usuals, and we sorted ourselves out for Next Phase: the Easter road trip.

We had arranged specifically to go on a road trip over Easter, on account of me not having certainty that I’d be off work. Unfortunately, it was Easter, and it was glorious, and everyone else had the same idea. Not the best planning. Nevertheless we claimed a hired car and hit the road (with only a minor backtrack when I realised the car had a CD player and thus I could listen to CDs, something I hadn’t been able to do for two months). Good sounds. Sunshine. Glasgow. Traffic. Crawl

and crawl

and crawl

and crawl





and then it was free and clear and we hit the road into the fabled highlands. As we drove I wondered whether we had taken the high road or the low road to Scotland. On the ‘high road’ side, we were all of the most impeccable character. On the ‘low road’ side, we were a family from the uncouth depths of the Hutt with Shihad up loud on the stereo. I decided we came down on the high road, but only because the stompy music wasn’t up *that* loud.

[aside – Pacifier aka Shihad charted on MTV2’s top 20 in the US! Kiwi music oi! www.pacifierband.com]

And, as the song says, we reached the bonnie bonnie backs of Loch Lomond. And they were indeed Bonnie. The place is stunning, hence the song, hence the tourists circling through, hence my fond memories, hence the filming of ‘Take the High Road’ on location there.

[aside – ‘Take the High Road’ was a long-running Scottish soap, and it had a lot of personal talismanic importance. You see, I watched five minutes of it when I was about thirteen and all that happened in that eternal five minutes was two women lamenting the fact that the cat was under the bed and wouldn’t come out. Those of you who knew me in my teenage years may remember me making bewildered, awestruck, appalled reference to this fabled zen-meditativisual experience.]

Didn’t explain the traditional tearooms, which were a much more vivid trip into the distant past than any castle tour I’ve been on so far. The shudders I felt were genuine. Still – Shandy in a can, it can’t all be bad!

Onwards. We drove past Loch Ness (no monster) and through skifields (no snow) and I can confirm that, yes, the Highlands really are as beautiful as they say. I guess I am officially joining the they on this. (Don’t worry, Leon, I’m still one of the ‘us’-es apart from this.) A long drive, but it was actually a great way to experience the countryside, and appreciate how different it was and how quickly the changes came.

Inverness, to a B&B; and a pleasant wee wander. Nice town. Very pretty.

Onwards the next day. We made our way to Culloden, site of the infamous battle that was the final death of the Scottish struggle for independence, and a horrific war crime to boot – the English slaughtered the surrendered Scots and hunted down those who escaped, killing them and those who sheltered them, and all because of falsified documents indicating the Scots intended to slaughter the English the same way. This was only in the middle of the 17th century, the fairly recent past by northern hemisphere standards.

As it happened, we arrived at Culloden, utterly by co-incidence, half an hour before the anniversary service marking the battle. It was a moving gathering of men and women, some from a great distance (including a Kiwi who, inevitably, was connected to someone we know). A professor in Scots culture from Edinburgh University spoke, and it was a good speech, recognising that the wounds of the past cannot be wished out of existence, yet finding some positive meaning in the occasion.

It’s a nice place. The information centre is well-realised, the site itself is simply and honestly marked, four flags marking the corners of the battlefield. I wandered alone over the stumpy ground for a few minutes,
after the pipers had finished and the memorial ceremony had turned to talking. And it got to me, to be quite honest. My family tree would have branches that lead here, to this field. One of the many reasons for coming here was to connect with my ancestral heritage, and here it was beneath my feet, buried in a mire of misled hopes and butchery. And overhead the sun was shining and the sky a brilliant blue.

There was more to the trip, of course. Aberdeen, showing up my scepticism about it’s ‘sparkling granite’ by living up to its claims of beauty. Finding the neighbourhood, if not the street, where my grandmother was born. Watching the RSC’s production of Rushdie’s sprawling ‘Midnight’s Children’. Balmoral Castle. The tiny village of Geddes, which is my mother’s maiden name, my middle name, undoubtedly a corner that gave rise to part of us. Chaos in the roads of Dundee. And feeling every moment.

And then it was time to say goodbye. My parents first, disappearing behind the closing door of their hotel room. Then my brother, off on his own round of adventures (that would eventually take him to scenic Auch with its cathedral and its statue of d’Artagnan). And the family was done and gone, and me in Edinburgh still, making it homely even if it isn’t my home.

I love this town.


And as one time falls, another rises. July 9 my girlfriend Caroline arrives in the UK. We tried being single and on different sides of the world, and it just didn’t seem to work.


I meant to write here about the trip I made to Loch Earn where Naomi, last seen as my travel buddy in Greece & Rome way back in September, is working at a Four Seasons. I’ll just say it was cool, and I met some great people, and the scenery was great. Yay!

And also I wanted to write about the wonderful bonfire I was at a few nights ago, held in the lush Salisbury Centre garden to farewell Willie on his onward path towards Ireland. Most importantly, the spontaneous lecture covering 2500 years of Greek history delivered by an enthusiastic Greek, making full use of whiteboard and whiteboard marker. An odd party to be sure, but glorious in its attention to simple pleasures.

But instead I’m going to go and buy some food and go home and eat it.


Shouts to Judith,

and to the defuncting flat of JustinSamFishKirstenRichie, scene of many good times

and to Sophie, because.


Find out what I thought of Matrix Reloaded here (click on ‘comments’ for may 23): http://www.additiverich.com/


Love and Peace

[morgueatlarge] Personal Nightmare – unrepentant

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

In San Sebastian there was a woman. She was cute. She wasn’t wearing much clothing. She was four stories tall.

She was advertising a fantasy film fest, one of the more notable ones in the world according to later investigations. There is no point to me mentioning this except as a dubious lead-in to the real story, and because that giant cardboard chick was pretty memorable and deserves a reappearance in the morgueatlarge story. And because in theory this email list is for my travel adventures and, well, that was one. Whereas this… this isn’t.

The connection? One of the sibling festivals of the San Sebastian one is the equally highly-regarded Dead By Dawn, right here in Edinburgh. And I went along to the part of it that mattered.

They’d sold out the weekend passes but they were selling tickets for unclaimed seats ten minutes before sessions started. I figured I had a good shot of getting into the film I wanted because the film I wanted to see was closing the festival – at midnight on Sunday night. Surely someone would rather sleep than see yet another scare movie??

(Sleep, I spit on your grave!)

So at ten to twelve I rock up to the counter at the very styley Filmhouse and give the girl a winsome smile and I am rewarded with a ticket to the UK premiere of Don Coscarelli’s new one: BUBBA HO-TEP. (Three actually, I’d accumulated two Irish girls in the Filmhouse bar while waiting. Huzzah!)

And there were speeches and thank yous and prizes and finally the lights dimmed and the projector came on, showing the only existing print of Bubba Ho-Tep. Friends, let me tell you this – this is one HECK of a movie.

Starring Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell as the King, Elvis himself, old and tired and stuck in a rest home with a growth on his pecker and no-one believing he is who he says he is. Bruce Campbell! The man with a chin full of shovels! The Western master of physical comedy! Infamous in NZ for co-starring in the Jack of All Trades TV series with Shorty alumni Angie Dotchin! The cult hero of all true movie geeks!

The story? Elvis teams up with (old, black) JFK to take on a soul-sucking mummy and his rubbery flesh-eating scarab beetles, all the while meditating on the arc of life and the process of aging and the way Western society treats its aged and its decrepit.

It’s *emotionally moving*. It’s *brilliantly performed*. It’s *about something serious*. And it has *Elvis fighting monsters with a zimmer frame*. Folks, this may be the perfect movie.

Director Don Coscarelli is, like Bruce, a name that raises smiles on the faces of the initiated, for his was the Phantasm horror trilogy, three outstandingly inventive low-budget frightfests that defy description. If
the Evil Dead trilogy is the Star Wars of the horror world, Phantasm must surely be its Indiana Jones.


(from ‘Fear Itself’. Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4)

Xander: Okay, and on that happy note, I’ve got a treat for tomorrow night’s second annual Halloween screening. People, prepare to have your spines tingled, your gooses bumped by the terrifying (Pulls out a video and reads the title) Fantasia. Fantasia?
Oz: Maybe it’s because of all the horrific things we’ve seen, but hippos wearing tutus just don’t unnerve me the way they used to.
Xander: Phantasm. It was supposed to be Phantasm! Stupid video store!


See? Xander knows. Coscarelli! Phantasm! Reggie Bannister!

Bubba Ho-Tep!


The point of the story is this: on the way out I TOUCHED ELBOWS with Robert Englund!

Robert Englund is an actor. He played ‘Willie’ in the American Sci-Fi mini-series ‘V’ that was all over the airwaves in the 80s, the one with the alien reptiles disguised as humans eating rats and being all fascistic and stuff.

And he also played Freddy Krueger in all the Nightmare on Elm Street films.

Freddy Krueger! Elm St! He’s horror ROYALTY, man! He’s personally caused more nightmares than anyone since early Michael Jackson! (very obscure family in-joke there)

I TOUCHED FREDDY. I didn’t make it to his talk but I touched his elbow with my elbow and no-one can ever take that away from me.

When I was thirteen I had a poster on my wall. Freddy was there. Funnily enough, it was a modern monster group shot like those ones you find of the Universal Studios posse, Dracula-Wolfman-BlackLagoonCreature- FrankensteinMonster – it also featured Michael Myers, the William-Shatner-masked killer of the Halloween films, and Leatherface, the grunting terror from primo date flick Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, along with the other member of the modern pre-Scream scare pantheon, Jason from the Friday the 13th series. Which is relevant, because the long rumoured Freddy vs Jason is in the can and up for release soon, helmed by Bride of Chucky mad genius Ronny Yu! Chucky was voiced by Brad Dourif who was Grima Wormtongue in The Two Towers! Grima was part of the entourage of King Theoden of Rohan, alongside Hama played by John Leigh!   John Leigh was in Shortland Street as Lionel Skeggins the beloved doofus husband of Kirsty Knight played by Angie Dotchin! ANGIE DOTCHIN WHO WAS IN JACK OF ALL TRADES WITH BRUCE CAMPBELL WHO WAS IN BUBBA HO-TEP!


I just thought it was cool.


Relevant links:

Dead by Dawn:

San Sebastian Fantasy and Horror Film Fest, which has a (different) pic of the giant woman on the front page http://www.donostiakultura.com/terror/

Morgue in San Sebastian – the November 9, 2002 entry at
Featuring special guest star Ella!

Robert Englund’s IMDB:

Bubba HoTep’s IMDB:

Freddy vs Jason’s IMDB:

Angie Dotchin’s IMDB:

My mate Norman’s IMDB just because he has one:

Charlie Bleakley’s IMDB because I said g’day to him on the streets of Edinburgh without explaining who I was or how I knew him, undoubtedly screwing him up for the rest of the day:

Nat Torkington’s classic review of the first Shortland St magazine, published way way back in the early days, and featuring on the cover Angie Dotchin (ta da!) and Hollywood’s b-movie hunk du jour, Martin Henderson (most recently and bigly the doomed hubbie in The Ring)


All is right with the world.

Anyone who emails me will get a reply telling them in amusing fashion exactly how happy I am. I will attempt to incorporate any one word of your choosing in the first sentence of my reply!

Love and peace to all.

morgue (missing the ol’ BBS… *sigh*)

[morgueatlarge] Classic town, Vienna!

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

This morning Ben my brother took a bus. Off to London. (He just arrived where he’s staying there – tip o’ the hat to Jon Ball for that – and to the wonders of the internet for giving me instant news of his arrival.) A few nights ago I said goodbye to mater and pater in likewise fashion. My family reunion, incomplete as it was, is now over. It was good to see them.


It’s been too long since the last one of these – particularly since so much has happened. But I’m gonna pick up where I left off, in Vienna.

Vienna! (It’s in Austria, doncha know.) Wide streets and efficiency. We’d been in the railway station a matter of minutes, getting our bearings in the bright, clean working-ness of it all, and an oldish gent stops as he passes to ask if we’re all right. ‘We only speak English,’ my mother says apologetically and he nods, ‘English, ah,’ and beats a polite retreat. Except it’s only a temporary departure. A minute later he’s returned, having summoned his English to mind – he asks us what we are looking for, how he can help. We’re just looking for the information desk and he happily points the way, and bids us a good day, his good deed done.

Every new place should start like that. Makes you feel at home.

Our hotel in Vienna was a bit out of the main part of town, near to the amusement park with the big ol’ wheel featured so prominently and memorably in Graham Greene’s Vienna post-war drama, The Third Man. As luck would have it, I had watched the Third Man for the first time just a few weeks before – working at a video shop did have its advantages – and furthermore, Welles’ immortal self-penned line about peace, prosperity and cuckoo clocks was fresh in my mind from visiting Craig and Massey in Luzern – in my mind I can hear the Swiss bristling at the mere suggestion… Ben and I rode the wheel at night, which was sort of fun, but, well, Vienna ain’t a city to gaze at by night from on high. It’s a city you want to be right in the middle of.

Also notable was the fact that the number of girls-unclothed bars outnumbered normal bars by a factor of about five to one throughout the city, and particularly on the streets around our hotel. But even this just built on that positive first impression – as I’d walk back to the hotel late at night, a variety of young women would appear at the doors to these bars and invite me in. So welcoming, Vienna, so welcoming!

Vienna is a town where you can be a tourist without guilt. In fact, if you’re not being a tourist, you’re not doing it right. The good thing about Vienna is not the atmosphere (although it’s lovely, it’s also unremarkable) but the features. The tourist attractions are genuine, comprehensive and worthwhile. There were many stops on our tourist route, but some standouts were:

* the Kunsthistorisches Museum, an astounding art collection, including a bunch of Rubens and Bruegels and Maerten van Heemskerck’s “Victory Parade of Bacchus” which I’d read about not long before and had no idea was there until I stumbled over it http://www.khm.at/homeE3.html

* the apartment where Mozart wrote ‘le nozze di figaro’, which is a piece of music I love

* the excavations of the old synagogue, site of an appalling anti-semitic atrocity and, similarly, a place to commemmorate the mind-numbing destruction of the Jewish population of Vienna under the Nazis. http://www.jmw.at/

* the kunsthaus of hundertwasser, genius artist, lover of the spiral, vienna-born and NewZealand-died, designer of exquisite public toilet in tiny Kawakawa, visionary, general font of inspiration. http://www.kunsthauswien.com/english/hundertwasser.htm

I also had a good night out in a smoky jazz club listening to jazz legend Red Holloway, born 1927, go mad on the sax. There were no strippers. Not that night, anyway. http://www.redholloway.com/

It’s a hell of a place. My Eastern European tour was finished with a day trip to Salzburg, where I caught my thrifty 6 euro flight back to London – there I visited Mozart’s birthplace and watched local chesshacks fight it out on a giant board in the town square. Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg. All amazing cities, each with a very distinctive atmosphere. I would love to get into the countryside in each of these countries, but as a capital city tour that has got to be hard to beat.

If I have to pick a favourite? Budapest. It was vital, it was vibrant, it made no concessions to the tourist but dared them to keep up. And yet it was also international, powerful, friendly. I want to go back.

That’s one of the problems of travelling though, isn’t it – if you do it well, you keep wanting to go back to everywhere you go to. Ticking places off a list is a nice idea, but in practice is just can’t work. There’s more world than there is lifetime, and that’s just the way it is.

Which, in my book, is a wonderful thing.

Shouts to the family I saw, and the family I didn’t see. Love you all.

And to all the folk who turned up at the London lunch!

And to Pearce Duncan, who sent me a lovely, thoughtful email that made me laugh and think and generally get some more perspective.

And to Jamie Norrish, back from Thailand!

And to Andrew Salmond, who should be writing a script instead of reading this.

And to Karen Wilson, who got married to some bloke recently!

And, and, and…


[morgueatlarge] budapest is not at all turkish

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

Reminder – Sunday lunch in London – 1pm, All Bar One, Leicester Square.


Grafitto outside UN building in Vienna- “self-deceit is common among those from the tropics”


Weird – in my mind I have always associated Budapest with Turkish exotica, and Hungary with Russo-slavic ruritania. It is resoundingly neither. It is very much a typical city of Western Europe, and the abundant good historical museums make clear that this has been the case for hundreds of years. Londoners would have always felt quite at home.

It is a big, sprawling city that more than anything else seems to have been architecturally frozen for a hundred years. The buildings are amazing, and they play best against the dark skies and sprinkling rain of my first-night wanderings. It’s a haunting place, filled with a profound indifference to the vicissitudes of history, as a result of being the scene of so much of it. The city (cities, really, born only in the 19th century of neighbours Buda and Pest) has over centuries been the seat of control for numerous conquering powers, most significantly the Austrian Hapsburg line who for a time used Budapest as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire; also Turks and COmmunists, to name two other sources of influence. It is a city of foreigners, and has been since its growth as a trade centre a thousand years ago; for very little of that time has it been a spiritual centre for Hungarians. You can sense it on the streets, a curl of the lip with the locals, a curtness, a sense that they secretly know that all foreigners are fooling themselves if they think they can ever claim to know and own Hungary through Budapest.

It is a city of great beauty, whirling speed, vibrant and happy people, and it wears its history like tidal rocks wear the signs of the ocean washing over them and back again. I have a lot of love for Budapest, but I don’t really feel I’ve visited Hungary, any more than Barcelona showed me Spain. But, like Barcelona, it is a place I will strongly recommend.


Now I am in Vienna. Everywhere is very cold. It snowed on us in Budapest, and we arrived in Vienna just after a snowfall. The seasons continue to become more chaotic – once, this would have been an omen of looming change.


I really want to make this ten times as long but I have two minutes left on my internet time. So, obviously, I won’t. Thanks to all those who have emailed me, I love getting news and thoughts from home and elsewhere, and promise to contact all of you over the next month or so as I ratchet some free time at the work computer.

Love and peace,

[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.