I’ve been hunting through hundreds of old notebooks, trying to find stories I’ve written in the world of Dwarves in Space. It’s been eight years. Like George RR Martin, I’m due a new book. Unlike Martin, I am not able to spin this into hundreds of other properties while I avoid finishing the next one. So I’m back on the trail.
I found that while travelling on trains, I would write down what I was hearing around me. After one particularly disturbing incident, I wrote down the following:
Little snippets of information from people on mobiles to friends or dates.
“Huh, yeah, still at Cheltenham. Hmm? No. The train’s stopped. We had to climb down while some guy held the doors open.”
“I dunno. The ambulance is here. I thought the train had broken down…”
“…no, the front carriage came off. They’re not letting the people at the front get off. God. I’m going to be late.”
“The train announcer guy is saying ‘until further notice, there will be no trains on Platform 2’ What the hell? Come get me.”
“Oh my God. We ran over someone…”
“Yes, ma’am. It was an accident. He fell from the platform.”
“You know, it almost happened to a friend of mine. Yeah, she was running down the ramp. In high heels, no less. And I wasn’t running for a train, no way. Anyway, she tripped, slid down the last bit. Could’ve fallen onto the tracks.”
“Look at that girl. She’s in shock.”
“Were you with him, darl?”
“no, not with him. Well, not before…”
“Miss, your partner says he needs a blanket. “
“You tell him I’ll get him a blanket when I’m done out here. Go on.”
“Did you know he was here with a girl?”
“The one in the red?”
“Mmm. Poor thing’s in shock. She’s just staring straight ahead. Anyone wanna share a cab into the city?” “You know if these guys are even organising buses?”
We’ve hit that age. The age of colonoscopies and regular skin checks and worrying about spots and not being able to eat anything you want. I mean, I say we, but I mean me. You might be in your prime and looking at me with dreadful fascination. God I’m glad I’m never going to be that old.
Believe what you gotta believe.
Anyway, we’ve had a few scares over the past couple of years and my daughter is now eyeing us both sideways and initiating conversations about what we want to do with our remains after we go.
And yes, I know that I could unpack that train of thought a lot more. But I choose not to.
One of the more interesting of these discussions was when she said:
“We could cremate your remains and turn them into gemstones and then have them placed in your skull and keep it on display.”
And now I can think of no other way I want to be memorialised than that.
I would absolutely flat out haunt that skull. It is a skull made for haunting. I would be remiss if I didn’t haunt it. I pointed that out to my daughter.
She no longer wants me to be a skull.
But we stuck with the remains being turned into gemstones idea. She suggested that I could be turned into a series of gemstones that could be bequeathed to my nieces and nephews (she specifically didn’t mention keeping one for herself). At this point, I am starting to feel Horcrux vibes. Either that or a quest in a few hundred years where a group of my descendants have to track down the gems and bring them together to… what? Save my immortal soul? Prevent an apocalypse? Power a robot me? I’ll think of something.
So now I am intrigued. Is it possible? Pause for research.
So apparently, a large cremation diamond will take 6-8 months. My family will need “200 g ashes or 10 g hair”. Wait a moment! I could get my diamonds done early! (hunts for clippers)
I can choose my cut (Princess cut, anyone?). How many ashes will I produce? Could I create enough diamonds for four niblings? And I feel like I should give one to my daughter, even though she doesn’t want one. Five is the magical number for remains diamonds especially if there is going to be a future quest.
OK, so about 6 pounds. 3 Kilos. More than enough for five diamonds. I’m not going to look up the cost. That is definitely someone else’s problem.
That’s two options. My wife wasn’t overly keen on having my skull cleaned. Maybe an Infinity Gauntlet?
My previous idea for afterlife eternal peace was to be turned into a tree. There are a number of companies that turn you into a tree, having your remains buried in the roots of a sapling which will absorb them and you and the tree become one. Haunting a tree sounds nice.
Both wife and daughter want to be scattered. Tasmania, Halls Gap, up in the mountains. If I was to be scattered, it would be at sea. But the haunting possibilities seem a bit slim. And the opportunity to become a sad drowned cursed spirit seem high. I am more and more happy with the skull idea.
When my daughter floated the idea I immediately thought that I could have the skull placed inside a teddy bear. Chucky and Annabelle eat your heart out! Do I even know a voodoo priest?
But honestly, I fully intend to be uploaded to the cloud when I die, and I can’t imagine being overly worried about what happens to my mortal remains after that.
Oh, just so that it’s on the record: the hospital gets to keep the useful bits before the rest gets turned into diamonds. Make sure you’ve ticked the organ donor button people!
Because the possibilities for haunting and possession go through the ROOF when we’re talking hearts being implanted into other people. I’ve never heard of a haunted liver. I could be the first one!
Ok, so what is it like to be stuck in lockdown? I know that it’s not like prison. I know that I have it pretty easy with my wi-fi and my devices and various streaming services and food delivery (to look after the local businesses). I have a job and my wife has a job and we’re working from home and that is pretty damn good. We have it good.
My feelings tell me different. My feelings tell me that being limited to 5k mean that I am trapped. I want to leave every day. To go out of that horrible red ring on my Google Maps. I look at the walks I can do and the coffee shops I could visit and I long for them. And the longing makes me cranky and sad.
I don’t have to wear a tie. And I tell you, if they don’t ditch ties after this I will hang myself with one. They are a dead item of clothing. I don’t have to wear business pants. I don’t actually have to wear pants at all, but I do, for the social conventions. And I’m wandering around wearing t-shirts and hoodies every day and I can’t imagine that is doing anything for my mental health.
I’m doing the same thing every day, but it is different to the same thing I used to do when I was out and about. It is getting up in the morning, going for a walk, getting a coffee, coming home, going to my shed, turning on the camera, catching up with my students. And then at the end of the day I go inside, watch tv, cook food, play computer games, go to bed.
Rinse and repeat. RINSE AND REPEAT.
And don’t get me started on the masks. I am vaccinated. I want to walk outside in the sun not wearing a mask. The mask just makes me feel worse. Of course, it means that I can wear my Orange You Glad I’m Wearing a Mask mask. And the recreation of my own face.
I want to see my friends outside of a Zoom meeting. I want to drive down to the beach. I want to play Dungeons and Dragons with my nephews in the real world. I want to take a train into the city and watch TV on my iPad and walk in the parks. I want to go and stay in a room with a spa bath and order room service.
So yes, I feel like I have it better than most, but that doesn’t mean I have it good. I am trying to stay positive but I feel like I’m going through the motions. I do the things that make me feel more healthy, but i also do the comfort things that I know are not doing me good, but it numbs. Numb numb numb.
Every time I go to the doctor, she adds something to the list.
Last time I went, she looked at her screen and took a deep breath.
“OK, So you have high cholesterol. You have sleep apnea. You have psoriasis. You have hemochromatosis, halitosis, osteoporosis and myxomatosis.”
I might have gotten those last two wrong. Do men get osteoporosis? And I’m not sure even rabbits get myxo now. Don’t they get the Khaleesi virus? Wait, no, that’s Game of Thrones. “BOW DOWN BEFORE THE MOTHER OF BUNNIES!”
What was I saying? Oh yes, old.
Old so that the teens wince every time I walk towards them carrying snacks and pronouns. I heard my daughter saying to her friends: “You have to make allowances for the old people. They come from another time.”
I remember rocking up at home in full goth regalia and an earring to shock my parents. It didn’t work. Anyway.
I mean, they’re right to wince. I’m a middle-aged white guy. They have to be wary! We don’t have a good track record. I feel that desire to judge people and pigeonhole them, welling up inside of me, because of my race and social status.
But I will rise above! I created a list. A sort of BIGOTPATCH(TM) that I can use when I’m feeling especially judgemental.
“Damn you, you…” (quick check) “Audi drivers!”
“I really hate… companies that insist on surveys about their performance!” (I really do. Seriously. “How did we do?” Well, you did the thing I paid you to do. Do you want a medal?)
“Go to hell… right-handed people! You have ruined my life!”
Yeah, you know who you are, with your neat handwriting and your ability to use scissors.
Middle aged is a stupid term. And probably needlessly optimistic.
Nevertheless, I got rid of my life insurance this year. I mean, there’s a kick in the teeth for your Peter Pan complex. You’re basically betting a company that you will die before you pay them more than they will pay you!
Not to mention the effect it has on my wife. We bought life insurance and all of a sudden I was worth more dead than alive! I had to look around nervously when I was at the top of the stairs. I kept tasting almonds… in my almond milk latte, but still. That’s how you would do it. And whenever I leave the seat up on the toilet I catch that look in her eye. That speculative gaze, weighing up my earning potential against the instant influx of cash if she bumped me off.
So I convinced her to ditch the insurance. I didn’t mention that it was because it disagreed with my philosophical stance that I will live forever, or that I was stressed out by the target it painted on my back. Just that it was too expensive.
Why did this come up? I was thinking about the possibility that I would see Halley’s Comet again. It swings by every 76 years, and the last time it visited I was in Grade 6. The next time is 2061. I’m not saying it’s impossible – I still have two grandparents well older than the age I need to hit to see that. But I’m nowhere near as fit as they are (see above list).
I need to get better at computer programming. I might yet be able to live on in the cloud. Bring on my robot body!
Tomorrow is my last day as Technology Learning Area Leader at St James College. When I started twelve years ago I was head of Information Technology. Then they made me Head of Technology. Which meant I was in charge of Woodwork and IT. Then they added Food Tech.
To make it feel more like a team, a few years ago I spent the year having Barry Wood (woodwork teacher extraordinaire) to teach all the Tech teachers some basic wood skills. My wood products were rubbish.
I wanted to thank my team for twelve years of Technology so I thought I would make cookies.
My wife pointed out the flaw in the plan. Food Tech teachers are built to critique food.
I am so glad that I am just an IT teacher next year.
I started with a recipe that asked for 4 oz of sugar, and 4 oz of butter, 8 oz of SR Flour and an egg. This led to a rabbit hole about what an oz is, and how butter and sugar can both be measured in ozzes. I went with one cup of flour, half a cup of sugar and 125g butter. The egg was easy. Let me know if I was very wrong.
I should have been worried when the dough stuck to the baking paper and my heads looked like Darth from his death scene.
But I was spurred on by the first batch. They came out nicely brown. The second batch went in…
I am not sure how I burnt two right in the middle. It seems implausible. But I had a few working pairs to turn into jam filled delights.
Oh but wait. I ran out of self raising flour. Online it says a cup of plain and two tsp of baking powder will get the same effect. The above picture gives lie to that statement.
With the ones that looked least deviant, I filled them with jam and then worked on the icing. Next problem: no icing sugar. But you can get icing sugar by blending caster sugar… not that it helped.
So now I need to take these in and hand them out to the staff, including the two Food Tech teachers.
I should have just bought chocolate from Haighs
It’s probably good that I am no longer head of two technology methods that I can’t do. Luckily I am good at the Digital Technologies side of things.
I created the Psycho Teddy Bear back at university. I used to spend more time drawing in class than taking notes. A friend leaned over and asked to see an insane teddy bear, and from there the Psycho Teddy Bear was born.
For awhile, all of my email addresses and signatures contained PTB, before I softened and became OmenToo. I even had an ascii version.
When I started teaching Flash to my Year 9s, I created Spider Ted, which I quite enjoyed.
Once I started playing with game design, I tried to create him in 3D. I had an awful looking Second Life avatar, and then a Mecha-PTB that I created for my Cert III in game design, which looked much better.
Now I have been experimenting with him again, creating designs for RedBubble.
Note: stuck in my house, I’ve been starting to go through old files. Trying to clean up my pictures directory, looking through old story ideas. During this process, I found this text file, named FORCASS.TXT.
It’s an email I send to a friend of mine, Cass Brain, who I haven’t seen in decades. It’s a very melancholy diatribe, but it definitely gets into my head. It’s an email from 1998, so here’s a slice of Damo from more than 20 years ago.
I may have deleted some of the completely irrelevant bits, to leave the reflection intact. Enjoy.
One last bit of background: I was living in Park Street in South Melbourne with Dave at the time. It was a glorious apartment with views of Crown Casino. So the walk along St Kilda road took me home via a lovely walk through the gardens.
So much to say. So many thoughts and feeling running through my mind. So many of them gone now that I am in the safe comfort of my home and not out on the streets, marveling at the city I now call home.
When I left to go to Kyabram, the place that I have always thought of as the town I grew up in, Shereen and I commented on how good it would be to get out of the city. When we got to Kyabram, we pointed out the sun, and how much warmer and brighter it was in the country. We noticed the spaciousness, the (this is a totally inadequate word) quaintness of the houses, and I remembered what it was like growing up in a small town. I didn’t remember how I was tormented for having parents for teachers, for being “the fat kid”, for being useless at sport in a town where everyone played football in the winter and cricket in the summer.
I didn’t remember the derision or the loneliness. It was a day – beautiful and blue, warm and peaceful in a town where you could walk certain streets for hours without seeing a moving car – for remembering the good times. I remembered swimming in the town pool, playing water tag and scarecrow. I remembered going to the tuck shop at lunchtime for a dollars’ worth of lollies that would last you for the rest of the day.
I remembered my old houses. The treehouse out the back, our pet chickens, my dog, who was older than I was, up until she (but we called her a him) died. I did a jigsaw puzzle. I caught up with some old friends. Made some new ones. It was a 21st we were going to after all, and when you’re talking around a drum with a fire in it at 3am you tend to make new friends. Everyone’s willing to talk and to laugh at 3am in the morning at a 21st.
And when it was time to go home, I thought about what Jerry Seinfeld said about Melbourne being the anus of the world, and really found it hard to disagree.
When I got to Melbourne again, I wandered along Bourke Street up to the mall. It was evening, and I had a free ticket to go see a movie. I thought I might go and see The Night Flyer (the new King Flick). I ended up seeing The Opposite of Sex. A weird movie to say the least. Before that. I walked past Hungry Jack’s, when this tall thin guy with Einsteinian hair came charging past with his girlfriend. He had his hand cocked over something he had stowed in the hem? Lining? Top of his pants. My imagination running wild, I was thinking gun, and already was working out how to put it into a story idea. I watched the couple as they walked off, and he was smiling as if telling a funny joke and gesticulating wildly. That’s Melbourne for you. Never a shortage of weird people. I love to watch people in the city.
I walked to Hoyts and bought my ticket, then went to the bathroom. When I came out I figured I’d go and get something to eat. I walked out of the cinema into a police barrier. When I got to Hungry Jacks I asked the guy behind the counter what had happened (there were police everywhere). He said there’d been a stabbing and the police were asking everybody for info. Yay. I love this city. I went back to the cinema, but told a policewoman what I’d seen, just in case. It could have been a knife rather than a gun, and it was at the same time.
When I got out of the movie, I decided to walk home. Have you seen LA Story? Steve Martin, disillusioned with the shallowness of his city, is saved by it in the end. Incidentally, he finds true love as well.
I walked through the night streets of Melbourne and marvelled at my city. Remember how I told you that I was awed by the work of man over the work of nature? I love to walk. I love to go up to the mountains and see scenery and smell fresh air. But I am always moved by what man, a selfish egotistical self-destructive race of beings, can create with the pure, passionate part that makes up humanity.
I gave three dollars to a guy who was asking for money. He commented on my dream catcher necklace and wished me a good night’s dreaming. I stood and looked up at the Arts Centre – the first time I’ve seen it from below at night for a while. There wasn’t a tram in sight, so I decided to walk home. It was a brisk night.
Nippy but not uncomfortably cold. I walked across the bridge of the Yarra and stared at it’s muddy waters. Then I turned and looked at the Yarra on the other side of the road. The lights of Flinders Street and Southbank reflected off the water and the polluted river was transformed into a thing of beauty. The Arts Centre, a towering spire of cold hard metal glowed with the blue light and flashing bulbs that turn it into a sculpture of light. As I continued to walk, I heard the sound of the tram. I looked over at it as it pulled to a stop, the familiar green and yellow creature that is such an integral part of the city. This one had a sign across the top: NOTHING GETS YOU GOING IN THE MORNING LIKE VEGEMITE.
I could have caught it then, but decided that I would walk the rest of the way. I just can’t believe how much the city changes at night. I walked past the memorial to “Weary” Dunlop. Then I went back, walked up the stairs and read the inscription on the plaque. I stared at the statue for awhile. I think I had a huge astounded grin on my face. I had never looked twice at that statue until tonight. I went onto the flower clock. A clever use of nature in a clearly man-made architecture. I walked past the statue of our first governor-general. The flowers below it, just recently planted, read “Red Roses for Cystic Fibrosis”. I looked at the statues of athletes in the botanic gardens. I marveled at the way the lights lit up the fountain that sprayed water in structured hoops to make a beautiful pattern. I was nearing home. And then I saw, lit up by huge spotlights so that is always seen, night and day: The Shrine of Remembrance.
Do you know, I haven’t been there since 1990, when our year level came up from Kyabram to do the sightseeing thing? Like everything else, it was transformed in the night. I went to see it. My heart was filling with awe and respect. I walked up the stairs and stared quietly at the Eternal Flame for a while. I walked up the next flight and came face to face with the ancient gods. Pressed into the stone before me, a frieze of deities. Not God, and Mary, Jesus or the Saints. These were the ancients. Humans in the sky. Understandable, with faults of their own. These were the deities that guarded the memory of our soldiers. I walked around the side – should I say this? – tears in my eyes at the beauty of the sculptures before me. The lions pulling the carriages. Flanking the message of the Shrine. Can I remember it now? Did it have that much of an impact?
“All men know this. That this is sacred ground. This shrine…”
No. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was a powerful message embossed into the stone, and the shadows cast by the light on the engraved stone was a stunning sight to behold.
The flying foxes, fruit bats, whatever, screeched and fought in the trees around me, another part of Melbourne, especially the gardens. Imagine that, in the midst of a city, teeming with life and spewing death into the sky, that there are these beautiful gardens, stretching for what seems like an eternity. A hideaway from the city, but still a part of it. Definitely. I walked down the stairs and across the neatly kept, soft green grass. Down to the fountain on the corner at the Domain interchange. Flanked by a turtle spewing water into the center and sea horses or fish or maybe ducks and topped with Pan and his water-flowing pipes. I love turtles, and the mythology of turtles. I walked home along Park street, slowly coming back into reality in the knowledge that Dave and his girlfriend would be waiting and this epiphany of Melbourne that I had just experienced I could not pass on to them, sitting in front of the tv.
I thought about my city for a while. We have two brothels and a nightclub on our street, another nightclub around the corner. The Crown Casino, the most decadent structure in the city within walking distance. And as I stare now out the window over the lights of the buildings and vehicles, watching other Melbournians go about their nightly business totally unaware of the soul staring out over them, I have only one thing to say:
F*** you Jerry Seinfeld. I love this city.
Well, two things. Melbourne’s so much better when you’re sharing it.
Afterward: the thing I miss most about being locked in are the evenings where I just jump on a train and head into the city. This hasn’t helped my out-of-home-sickness in the slightest.