Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's the Deaths I Remember

The topic of past lives is a vexed question. In some circles, you'll be regarded as a nutter if you acknowledge that it might be possible. In others, you're dismissed as unevolved if you don't constantly recount tales from your past lives, and claim memories from Egypt or Atlantis. Flat-Earthers and conspiracy theorists similarly jeer at the idea of lunar landings. I suppose that, ultimately, you can only know the truth of something if you have experienced it yourself. Ultimately, what I say is my own experience - I can't make it real for anyone else.

It's the deaths I remember, mostly. With the exception of one life, I remember only the deaths and the lead-up to them. Most of them, with one notable exception, were horrific.

One was in an American city, to judge by the clothes (and I am no expert) in the 1940s or 1950s. I was living in a dingy concrete block of flats, alone. I had some kind of job, and I walked to and from work. I lived upstairs, and there was a single narrow starwell between the bulk of the building and one of the outside walls which twisted and turned twice between each floor, with little landings where people could barely pass each other.

There was a girl in her twenties with curly black hair living there too, and I met her on the stair sometimes. She seemed to dislike me - I don't remember why. One day she pinned me against the wall and gouged at one of my eyes with an old-fashioned corkscrew. I tried to keep my face away, and in my struggles she gouged a chunk out of my left cheek. It was very painful and bloody. I can't remember how we separated on that occasion, but I do remember frantically looking for somewhere else to live the next day. That evening, I was coming home up the same stairwell, and she was coming home. She met me in the stairwell, and pointed some kind of a small handgun right at my face. I remember a very long moment looking right into the muzzle of the gun, knowing that this small, black hole would be the last thing I would ever see.

When in my early thirties I got introduced to the sister-in-law of my then-partner, she was the spitting image of the girl in the stairwell.

Another memory is also set in America, on the Mississippi on a paddle-boat. I was very young, perhaps a teenager, and wearing one of those old-fashioned dresses with lots of layers and wooden hoops in them to keep their shape. They were very difficult to move in. There was a party of some kind happening inside the riverboat, with a small band playing in the corner, and a table with lots of food, and small glasses of sticky wine. I was slightly drunk and very hot; I went on deck alone to get some air. The music seemed a long way away, and the air was nice and cold on my cheeks. I leaned against the rail, and watched the reflections of the lights from the cabin reflecting on the ripples as the water slipped away behind the boat.

Suddenly someone grabbed me with two hands around the waist, and made me overbalance over the rail and fall in the water. I was a Lady, and of course, had never learnt to swim. Even if I had, my dress filled with water quickly, and dragged me down. I kicked and struggled and tried to call out, but every time I did, I got a mouthful of water and no one inside could hear me anyway. As I sank, I could see a man, the one who had thrown me over, watching coldly as I struggled, his face slightly blurred by the sting of water in my eyes.

The surface got further away, with him still watching, and I couldn't hold onto my breath any longer. I drew a deep lungful of water. It burned all the way down and felt ironically very dry. It hurt like nothing I'd ever experienced, and I was still feeling that pain as I started to lose consciousness. The man in question was a generation older, perhaps in his early fifties, and I recognised him immediately with a shock of horror when I did a Reiki seminar in the 1980s. And although I can swim, I'm not keen on it, and absolutely hate to immerse my face in water.

There was one death that was completely different, peaceful and even lovely. I was again female, and very, very old, small and frail. I lived in a small village, I believe in a mainland European country - which, I don't know. I was being looked-after by my grandson, who was old enough to have grey hair himself. I wasn't in any pain, but I somehow knew I was dying and didn't have much time, and I prevailed upon him to take me into the forest, because if I died in the village they would have had a Christian funeral-rite performed over me, and I didn't want that.

Eventually he agreed, and we walked out of the tiny, smoke-filled cottage and out of the village. We passed a stone well, and suddenly we were in the forest, surrounded by deciduous trees wearing all of their leaves but all in Autumn colours. I got tired and started having pain, so he picked me up and carried me in his arms like a child. I was very tiny and he was quite solid - it wasn't so bad for him. Cradled in his arms, I looked around.

We were looking for a fallen tree, and we checked a few before I found the right one, one riddled and rotten with termites or something. He put me down gently, took up a stone, and started scraping away at the wood to create a hollow. It took a long time. When it was ready I lay down in the hollow and looked up at his face above me. He made eye contact and held it. Dying took a long time. We didn't speak, we just watched each other. I could feel myself slowly ebbing away, slipping further and further from life. He just watched. I reached a point where breathing was too much effort, so I stopped. He bent down, picked up a handful of fallen leaves, and scattered them gently over my body as a symbolic burial, then turned around, his face full of sadness, and walked out of my field of vision. As far as I know, he never looked back. I lost consciousness shortly afterwards, feeling happy and satisfied.

Yes, it's mostly the deaths I remember. I also have a fleeting recall of walking over a cobblestone road in London (don't ask me how I know it was London, I just knew), and sitting in a dark, dirty cafe somewhere, eating hot smoked eel.

And on an occasion when I was washing dishes, I recalled everything except the first seven years of the life of one of my blood-ancestors, giving the lie, incidentally, to a number of family fables concerning her. But that's a little bit personal for a blog, frankly, and it was only the once.

Generally, it's just the deaths I remember.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Becoming a Fan

I don't do being a fan. I don't go weak at the knees at celebrities. I don't follow a football team. My patriotism is predicated on my being a member of the human race, and a resident of planet earth. I don't even know how to read rank on military or police uniforms.

So I surprised myself, this past weekend. I became a fan.

I am currently sharing my house with someone who doesn't inconvenience me in any way. He does his stuff, I do mine. In between times, we watch Time Team and Minuscule together whenever our schedules allow, and have a meal at home together once a fortnight or so, with neither of us particularly expecting to be fed by the other, or expecting to have to do the cooking. Housework is very ad hoc - but no more so than when I lived alone.

So I was slightly taken aback when I was asked if I'd like to go to a dragon boat regatta as a spectator. What, me? I asked. Watch something you do for fun? Okay, I can do that. It involved a four o'clock start to my day, but I'm okay with odd hours, and I spent many years of my life routinely waking up early enough to be well away from home before dawn. So I thought I'd do it again just this once to watch dragon boats.

I'm not a sea person. I don't do water. Well - I do, I've been known to drink it with great pleasure, boil it to drink it with greater pleasure, get rained on without undue horror, and even take showers. But the sea?

For me, the sea is the place that fishermen pull a portion of my diet from - I like fish. It borders my country on all sides. When I had a large dog, until he got too old, our early morning walk would involve about a kilometre's walk down to the beach before dawn, an amble along the beach for a while, then a walk home, with a happy, relaxed, salty and slightly less smelly dog trotting happily by my side in the early morning light.

But normally I feel more like a wombat than a dolphin - I am a red earth person. The happiest times of my life were spent in a little bush town in Western Australia without so much as a supermarket, seventy kilometres inland as the crow flies, much more by car. I went months without seeing a ripple, so much as an ocean. My idea of a good view is an unimpeded horizon created by the distant curvature of the Earth, red earth, rocky outcrops, saltbush, bleached animal bones, dried-out river-beds, caves, even hilly ridges sometimes. What, water? Nah - perhaps a muddy trickle in the wetter years. And worse, getting onto it in something that doesn't even stay steady on the ground, like a boat? Never. Not happening.

So I stepped out of my usual self when invited, and took about a second and a half to relax and say yes. We were to leave before dawn the following Sunday. I set my alarm, fell out of bed when it rang, unglued my eyes under a hot shower and looked forward to the day with anticipation. A day out of my usual routine for that time of week - what could be better? I'd had a late night the previous evening - our meditation group met up, something which I very much treasure and try never to miss if I can help it - but hot water externally as a shower and internally as tea set me up to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on three and a half hours' sleep.

Before long we were on the road. The car radio stayed off, the GPS kept criticising the driving, and Paul Kelly's song "Love Never Comes On Time" got stuck in my head. I don't know - perhaps it's because it's one of the very few totally successful road-trip songs despite the multitudes that have been written over time.

Eventually we found our way there, and found our particular team amongst all of them setting up shelters and having their pre-regatta pep-talks. Then periods of talking, sitting around and consulting race-lists alternated with periods of wild activity - for the crews. Me, I had an easy day. I wandered around, chatted to people mostly on "our" teams but others as well, babysat a dog when all the members of her team happened to be off racing, and once when I was by myself, picked up litter and threw it away.

Being a current resident of the Central Coast and there because of a member of their team, I found myself feeling as if I was under some obligation to support their team. So whenever a dragonboat went past with its crew wearing blue tops and white caps, I cheered my lungs out. And they quite frequently won, or crossed the line in second place! I must be a good luck charm.

Cheering felt odd. I threw myself into it, thinking "I may as well", but I had the sensation that my cheering and team-worship was all very tongue-in-cheek. Did they know I was faking it? After one race in particular, I went back to the marshalling area and spoke to the team in general and my friend in particular, praising him to the skies and telling him it was obvious he was solely responsible for the victory. I think there might have been some suspicions then!

There came a time when I had had enough, but being dependent on others for transport I had to hang around. At last the award ceremony happened, and at the same time, the sky, which had until then been half-hearted about raining, let everything down. Our team collected six cups, including four firsts. As soon as we were decently able, we all bolted for the shelter of our cars.

Much of the team re-assembled at the Mooney-Mooney club for a meal, a drink and a speech or two, then we headed off home for real. We came home to a cold, dark house, as happy as larks. As I said before, I don't follow sports. I might do this again - it was enjoyable.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Recipe: Dragon Pie


- Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (with additional grated extra virgins on the side)
- Dragons, preferably wild or at least free-range (the domestically raised, accountant-fed ones lack the same flavour)
- Onions, roughly chopped
- Garlic, at least a handful of cloves for each serving
- Birds' Eye chillis, at least one per serving, chopped but with seeds included
- your choice of either:
1) cumin, coriander seed, turmeric and, fenugreek, or
2) smoked dried paprika, nutmeg, cracked black pepper, saltbush leaf, wattleseed
- Coconut cream or tomato paste, depending on spice combination chosen


Firstly, select and kill your dragon.

Heat olive oil in pan, and sautee chopped onions until transparent, then add coarsely chopped garlic, chillis and other fragrant spices of your choice. Dice very fresh dragon fillets into bite-sized pieces, cutting against the grain to prevent toughening, then when the spices have released their fragrances, add to pan and brown over high heat, stirring continuously, to seal the meat. Then add, if you have selected Spice Combination 1, coconut cream, and for Spice Combination 2, tinned or preserved tomatoes. Simmer to reduce liquids, or thicken with a little agar-agar. You can make your own pastry if you choose, or use pre-prepared frozen pastry for convenience: savoury shortbread for the base, filo for the cap. Line pie-tins, and layer in the bases. Spoon in cooled cooked dragon-mix, allowing a little room for expansion in the baking. Cap with filo pastry, prick with fork to allow steam to escape, pinch closed around the edges to create a seal. Bake in moderate oven for forty-five minutes.

I have never tasted a Dragon Pie as delicious, fragrant and tender as the ones I make, using this recipe.

EFTPOS and the Cashless Society

Recently in an internet forum, I casually mentioned "EFTPOS machines", and had someone ask what I meant.

EFTPOS is the Work of the Devil. It is the most evil thing in the universe.

Let me explain. I am going to copy-and-paste from the original discussion, because I first need to describe what EFTPOS actually is.

It's a machine that almost every shop in the country has, including the very poor ones, and especially including the ones in the middle of nowhere (they'd go broke if their customers had to find a bank).

I think it stands for Electronic Funds Transfer P(mumble) O(mumble) S(mumble).

You see, in Australia, we are very advanced (and our tyrannical governments, whatever stripe of politics they are, wish to remove the Cash Economy so as to tax everything). So *everyone* has a bank account, which is why I scream with laughter every time the overseas spamsters start with lines like "been refused a bank account?", because the only way you CAN be refused is to be dead.

And all wages get compulsorily paid into bank accounts - I believe it's now actually against the law to do cash payroll. Many of us don't bother going to the bank to take out our wages to pay for stuff: we'll pay for everything from groceries to rent to car repairs to accountants' bills by presenting them with a rectangle of stiff plastic with a magnetic strip associated with our bank account, then key in a secret number (or name) known only to us, and the money magically flies from our bank account to theirs, with about only a 4-second delay before it shows in their account. Once it shows up as safely in their account, the EFTPOS maching prints off a receipt showing the amount of money and the person you paid it to, snd you are free to leave with your cashless goodies.

The problems only begin when the machine handset that the customer is using doesn't say "Approved", but instead says "Declined". Then there's a mad scramble for cash, or other pieces of plastic on other accounts (which I don't have) or the last resort: an embarrassing thinning-out of the goods you plan to take home.

EFTPOS records are legal documents, which means they have to be archived for a minimum seven years. This means that detectives, private investigators and even nosey-parker bosses/neighbours/friends, who have connections in the right places, can work out *exactly* where you were on any occasion where you did an EFTPOS purchase. I love people investigating me because I am by nature provocative, but I hate leaving a traceable trail.

So my solution is to pull out enough cash in a lump-sum on payday to get through, leaving only enough in the bank to cover EFTPOS payments for businesses I deal with (notably rent-collectors) who no longer accept cash at all, then try to pay cash as often as possible. If I can get through a fortnight with no EFTPOS transactions except rent, it means my movements cannot be traced for 13 days, which in my thinking is a bonanza of triumph.

Still, I am incredibly old-fashioned that way - most people haven't had that kind of attitude for fifteen or more years, and youngsters these days can go many months at a time without actually touching currency except for public transport fares. And even trains accept EFTPOS now - buses are the last bastions of civilisation. My superiority over those youngsters? They can be traced at all times, and I can hardly ever be traced. Ha! Take that!

And by the way, yes. That *is* a serious political gripe. The "utopian" cashless society, which is intrinsically privacy-less as well, scares the crap out of me.

Do you want your freedoms eroded? Then leave a traceable trail behind you, that shows the lie in any alibis you give to police, or any medical certificates you give to bosses. Allow a workmate, or even a stranger, on the internet, the ability to check that you were actually where you said you were last Tuesday, or seventy-five miles in the other direction from where you said, buying petrol for a car you don't own or paying for an escort who is the same gender as you.

I don't tend to do anything illegal, or even immoral, any more. My life is unutterably vanilla. However, my inner world, my intellectual life, definitely is not. I just don't-the-hell want total strangers, whether in authority or not, to be be to find out that I bought a different brand of soy milk to the one I usually drink, on a day four and a half years ago. Is that so wrong?

Bring back the Cash Economy! It is one of our basic human rights!