Skeleton Beach Backpackers
The sun bobs below the horizon like a sinking coin. The three of us, on the terrace, strangers forcing ourselves to find some common ground before we share a 4-bed-dorm together; before we spit airline issue toothpaste into the same sink and mark our territory with backpack crumpled clothes.
“Let’s play a game”
They wait for me to elaborate.
“Let’s play: How old am I?”
I ask, knowing the answers before they are spoken; yet in the reflection of my beer glass I see the echo of an elderly woman.
Kolmanskop, Namib Desert.
In 1908 a man found a diamond here.
And then there was a town.
But one day, there were no more diamonds.
So, eventually, there was no more town.
Diamonds, town and diamonds, dust.
That’s how it goes in this world.
Something, everything, nothing, bust.
There is not much left to see, unless you know where to look. To the untrained eye, this place is just an over-sized sandbox that belongs to a kid who left his toys out too long in bad weather. Hills of sand inching their way through door jams like impatient tenants, paint curling into fronds of surrender, the roof tiles have given up completely – falling to their death, awaiting burial.
I should have a permit to be here, but I like the feeling of minor league rebelling. Like the kid that sneaks into the back row of the movie theatre without a ticket. No one is getting hurt, it’s just the high jinx of “youth”.
Why should I need a permit anyway?
I have blood. Blood lines, not dotted lines.
My Grandpa, Grandpa Jacks, was a miner by trade. He dragged my grandma, Maribella, here all the way here from Bloemfontein, a city of roses in the heart of an adolescent South Africa. But they came to the party too late to walk away any richer than they arrived. Granny hated it. She grew up working a vineyard. In Kolmanskop there were no trees or shrubs, green was a forgotten color. And the only roses now were the ones on the rim of her chipped Royal Dolton tea set.
Jacks thought Maribella was in danger of becoming ill of mind without anything living around her, so he got her a dog, a Terrier Mix named Dolly, sadly the dog didn’t want to live there either and hitched a ride on the coal train back to Lüderitz a week later.
However it wasn’t until she told him about the fountain that he thought her really off her rocker.
Two kilometers north-west of Kolmanskop.
If you had asked Jacks back then, there was no blooming fountain.
What would a fountain be doing in the middle of a desert?
One of the oldest and driest deserts in the world no less.
Desert madness. It had to be what the miners sometimes talked about under hushed breaths and hunched shoulders. Maribella had taken to wandering and not short distances either. She said she was wandering to pass the time and the more time she had to pass, the further she walked. Until she found the fountain.
But Jacks remained disbelieving, her mind was a suitcase. She must have unpacked this relic from a memory to serve as comfort amongst foreign landscapes. “A fountain with no water supply is like trying to cook over a fire with no flame. Even thinking one out here mad –”
Maribella said the fountain didn’t need water, what flowed from its six heads were scarlet beetles. Ripe and rotund, waiting to be trod, like grapes into liquor.
She gestured to her stained feet one day.
“They are bathed in blood.”
“They are burnt from the sand Mari.”
Jacks ordered her to take him to this fountain hoping to expose her madness and shock her back to reality. Maribella took him. And as he suspected, he saw nothing.
But she did, and so did my mother and so do I.
The catch? If a man can’t see, no one will believe it.
She saw the way he frowned at her. Worry, guilt and self-pity in that crease above his eyes.
Worry, that the woman he loved might be gone.
Guilt, that the choices he made had chased her away.
Self-pity, that he may not be able to raise children with this woman now, not as she was.
She put a hand on his arm, realizing his limitations.
“You look at me that way now. But in the years to come you will see.”
“Me as I am now, always. Like a diamond Jack.”
And so, he couldn’t see the fountain but he did see her as she was, always. Many years after they returned to Bloemfontein and many years after that, as her face stayed the same though his sagged and wrinkled, and succumbed to the god of gravity.
He had to concede as he ran his fingers across her cheek. “My diamond.”
Though she was not to outlive him, despite her appearance. The generation of she and my mother you see, they only dipped their toes in another world, two feet to be exact. Its power was only surface deep, as mine has been so far…
Though standing in the fountain now, for the second time in my life, and treading the scarlet beetles to a paste, I wonder what will happen if I don’t merely bathe but drink this time?
Fountain image from: http://olddesignshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/OldDesignShop_Fountain.jpg
Diamond Mine image from: http://www.miningartifacts.org/Bulfontein_Diamond_Mine_-_South_Africa.jpg
Kolmanskopp image from: http://www.lovethesepics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Kolmanskop.jpg
Terrier Mix image from: http://www.trahernbt.com/images/oldepictwo.jpg
Writer's Group Exercise 31/03/2014
We begin with the basic twitch:
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Index , index, ring, ring.
The left hand of Demi Sargis has been performing the foxtrot ever since it was run over by a red Ford Festiva back in the summer of ‘08. She remembers perching on a PVC covered gurney, doctor pointing out the obvious, variations on darkness and shadow, bones splintered and frayed like wet matchsticks.
Her, thinking, “those aren’t marriageable fingers”.
Thinking, “no man going to wanna put a Harry Winston on that”.
Thinking, “that’s another goddamn flaw Imma have to learn to disguise”.
Along with untannable legs.
Along with the absence of thigh gap.
Along with being 3 inches shorter than the shortest supermodel.
The ******* burden of being female.
The doctor says, “you should regain the majority of the dexterity you had prior to the accident, over time, with a good physiotherapist.”
“…You don’t play an instrument do you?”
The physiotherapist is a fundamentalist optimist.
“It’s not until you injure your body that you truly appreciate how it works. We are all miracles.”
“Yes. Absolutely. A miracle.”
“Don’t get Jesus on me. There is no miracle here, just metacarrot - metacootie - metacaramel damage – check the referral.”
“That’s what I said.”
Regis Square. 9pm. Bathed in a waterfall of KFC neon…
At the crossroads of the nightclub district.
Demi Sargis. Shiny, black patent three-inch pumps, now the same height as the shortest supermodel. Flanked by Sal (single) and Terri (attached, but open to negotiation). All eyes on the divining hand.
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Slow, slow, quick, quick.
Index, index, ring, ring.
YOLO Bar or Club Isis. Left or right. Which finger ending the cycle of the twitch, sealing their night’s destination. Standing undefeated at a one-hundred percent hit rate. Follow the hand, find a man (see Fig.1):
Fig. 1 'Navigating Attraction within Mundane Scenarios to Avoid Missed Connections'
Yes. Just follow the hand, to find a man.
Tonight it’s Mission Sal.
Suppressing a smirk and raising an eyebrow towards YOLO, she concedes…
Turns out, some of us are miracles.
Manicure Image from:
Who wants to read some rough-as-guts-writing? Me, me, me! You, you, you? GREAT. I'm a founding member of a local Write Night (writer's group) and I need to choose one of my past exercises to re-write and/or extend.
If someone is incredibly bored and doesn't mind reading some unedited work, then check out the below and tell me which one to re-write, in other words, the one you'd like to read more of, because I'm torn between the three.
The Regular (Format: For the page)
Punts is a pub just down from the Nandos on the corner of Windsor and Kitts. It’s the red, white and blue affair, a palette that belongs as much to the heyday of the British Commonwealth as it does to the Land of the Free.
The owner, Leeds born Dagesse, bought the joint six years ago after finalising a divorce to a lady I know only as “the blazing inferno”. Whether that nickname has something to with hair colour, temperament or menopausal flushes, I’m not brave enough to ask- there is a permanent happy hour discount at stake and, more importantly, Dagesse is descended from Rhonda Valley mining stock, those men are as hard as the rock they grafted.
As far as I’m aware, the only woman in his life these days is Mary Bennett, a fox terrier whom whenever I see her, imbues me with a sudden sense of nostalgia and desire to dig out my late Grandfather’s HMV vinyl collection (a record label whose logo features a dog of the same breed).
Last Christmas I gifted Dagesse a 1962 Gene Pitney record from that collection so he could share in the reference. I’ve since seen he has thoroughly embraced it.
He’s framed the record and hung it over the dog bowl.
Unfortunately it’s at jowl level; so a mixture of coagulated spit and fragments of Hill’s Canine Ultra-Allergen Free have escaped digestion and partially obliterated the song title. What was once “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has evolved into the gender flip, “a…ho…shot…bert…”.
Sometimes when it’s quiet Dagesse will join me for a Fosters, we’ll talk about José Mourinho's return to Chelsea, the shitty exchange rate and Cameron’s “millionaire’s tax cuts”- which (if we’re honest) we’d probably embrace, if we were in fact millionaires.
But we’re just two men drinking cheap beer, entertaining dreams of grandeur, in shoes we’d rather scuff than polish, in a pub called Punts.
Three Years to Go
Monologue: Character - Lisbeth, 32.
By the time I’m 35 I’ll either be dead or married.
Dead because what happens is that each time I get my heart broken, I leave.
And when I say leave…
I mean, I leave the country.
I leave everything behind.
Dead because I cast myself deeper and deeper into unknown lands and inhospitable landscapes; in the hope that Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Need’ will kick in and I’ll be so busy just trying to survive, that eventually I’ll never have to deal with anything. In between navigating unsealed roads on a 6th-hand Uralmoto to filtering water through the remains of a checkered keffiyeh, there’d be no time to process the petty. No time to wonder what went wrong, why they did what they did, why I did what I did and why I still do it.
Some questions are too difficult to ask.
Or perhaps it’s more, that the answers are too difficult to hear.
the Wadi Rum
Dead because my passport is a collage of stamps from countries people forbade me to visit, from my Mother to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But I never listened to them before, and can't see myself changing now.
Dead because, that'll eventually catch up with me.
In my absence, in the layer of silence I wear like a qiviut, I leave those I left behind with little but mystery, confusion, and a few megabytes of photos displaying a past they now question the authenticity of.
Ade, Leon, Vin, perhaps Daamin, they will monitor my social networks for the post of a song of shared significance or some subtle cry of despair that I can’t function in life without them.
The truth is I don’t. My lovers follow me like ghosts. Our histories, arguments and sweet words, knitted together, dragging behind me like a Bride’s train. From time to time, taking unexpected form, stealing my breath when I perform an archived e-mail search, or stumble across someone with a similar arch in their brows or slouch in their walk.
My disappointment when I register it's not one of them only serves to remind me there is another life out there. One I am simultaneously drawn to and run from.
And married, well...
Married because, it's always the unexpected which happens. Married because, it's so ridiculous it just might work. Married because, someone might finally convince me life is about more than just myself.
The Sale of Central Park (Format: For the page)
Everything is for sale. At the right price, in the right climate; especially in times of panic or greed. Where farcical suggestions, that on a normal day, would be dismissed on the scrap heap of incomprehension, suddenly become the beacon of hope - not because we think they are good ones, but because no one else proposes a solution.
Rising crime rates.
People are desperate. And if yours is the only voice speaking, then that is the one we will follow.
And so it came, that on this day Molly and I stood and watched the sun rise over the last hours of a national landmark. We were to witness history made by history lost.
Nothing lasts forever.
Not the things you grew up with.
Not the things you grow to care about.
Certainly not the things you love.
Molly has pockets stuffed with tulips and daffodils. She made a $50 donation to the Conservancy three years ago, she said she was only taking back what was hers.
I have a pry bar in my left hand, and my right, my right is protectively wrapped around an iron florette. It is attached to the arm of a bench I’ve “salvaged”. I think I can up-cycle the piece, and sell it on to a collector – once I re-stain the wood and remove the rusted donor plaque: “"C'est Lui Pour Moi, Moi Pour Lui, Dans La Vie" (in life, there is only him for me, and me for him).
She runs her finger over the brass inscription, with a longing I’ve come to recognise but learnt to ignore. That’s Molly. She thinks that somehow, as if, just by touching, she can transfer the passion of a past long gone and inject it into a hopeless present.
I wish I was a more willing subject.
I don’t know what happened.
I wonder if our relationship will endure much longer than the flowers suffocating in the depths of her polyester blazer. It seems a cruel and drawn out death.
A man behind me touts the virtues of the site’s future plans to a confused tourist with an old city map. I silently refute each point:
“…the proposed construction will create jobs” (temporarily)
“…and include a set of residential buildings” (for the rich)
“…plus, without a central meeting point, it will decrease crime in the inner city” (pushing it out to the suburbs)
But the tourist nods, believing him to be true. Most would. He has a voice of a politician, steady and even. He has conviction. Me? I say nothing, as is my way.
The man examines the out-dated map and points the tourist in the direction of the Museum of Modern Art.
Molly takes ten paces to the left and tilts her head towards the growl of diesel motors, her dark eyes searching.
“This is it” she says needlessly, as if I can’t see what’s right in front of me.
A lot can happen in 24 hours.
Last weekend I took part in a playwriting competition. The rules were:
> You have 24 hours
> Write a one act play: 5 - 30 minutes
> Include all of the four random criteria you are given.
> The 4 scripts with the highest scores as determined by a panel of judges will be performed in March.
My criteria were:
Location: A hoarder's home.
Character: The Bordin Twins
Line: Where can I get one of those?
The first thing I did was NOT write because I wanted to see what would happen if I let the ideas float for a while. Then it was all systems go.
We were also told to take photos from the front line as we worked on our scripts, so I set the timer on my camera, unfortunately most were blurry but here are a couple:
Finally I came up with an idea about two cleaners who have the task of dealing with a deceased hoarder's apartment in which everything they find appears in two's apart from one object, a mirror.
During their cleaning they discover why it's the only object without a pair.
But that's all I'll say in terms of plot because I don't want to spoil it for anyone that comes to the show in March.
Yes, that's right - my play got chosen! I'm really stoked about this. I wasn't expecting to get any writing up on stage in Korea and never this quickly. I love how organic and immediate the process has been. So refreshing.
So in a month 'Eye Level' (title of my script) will be performed at Changwon's Nobi Theatre. We can choose if we'd like to be involved so I put myself forward as a potential script prompt or actress.
Although I told them to go easy on me because I'm not an actor. Though I have been a tree once.
Yes. I have been a tree. The situation people often joke about, but it actually happened to me.
And there goes my last shred of dignity this week.
I was once a tree. I wish I looked half as cool as this guy in the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but the trees were not where they put the resources for costumes.
As the story begins, I think I was about seven or eight and our class was putting together something for the end of year concert. Everyone had a role.
What I really wanted to be was one of the birds. They had the beautiful colourful costumes with individual paper feathers and they got to dance.
I was not chosen to be a bird.
The girls that got chosen to be birds had studied ballet or gymnastics and were pretty.
I had studied Grade Three Musical Theory and read 72 books during the school holidays, but that doesn't qualify you for being one of the birds.
Also, by this time my blonde hair had been subject to the Spanish blood somewhere distant on my Welsh Grandfather's side that meant gradually from about four onwards it started to naturally get darker. So I had long, straggly brunette hair which would have been fine, but paired with how pale my skin was, always made me look ill.
I remember people asking me: 'Are you ok?' 'Are you feeling ok?'
It was at this age too that I had a really terrible bout of whooping cough and lost so much weight that I looked like I'd escaped from a Stalinist camp. So when I was told I was to be part of the scenery - a tree, it was kind of like - 'quick, put the sick looking kid in the back'.
This is one of a number events I somehow internalised because I went through many years under the impression that I was just hideously ugly, to the point that in highschool I would often take the longer route home if it meant less people would see me. Even if it was one of those days I had to carry my guitar amp and Fender Strat, as well as my backpack full of books.
Ah, childhood memories, they are hard to shake. And it surprises me how often I still feel like that kid. I've come this far and am rock solid in who I am, my personality and moral code but for some reason, from time to time I still feel like that ugly kid whilst everyone else gets to be birds.
"Hello! BEAUTIFUL" followed by an enthusiastic thumbs up from the speaker.
This is the phrase which sometimes greets me at my local Superette by one of the men that works there.
I know he's meaning it as a compliment and trying to be friendly towards the foreigner trying to be understood at the checkout, but I always feel uncomfortable when someone comments on the way I look. I feel even more uncomfortable being commented on in a country where they have 'whitener' in many of their moisturizing lotions and top the list for plastic surgery.
It's hard to explain how I feel, I think there are two things going on:
Up until my early 20's I had really terrible self-esteem and although that is definitely not the case nowadays the past still echoes through from time to time. So from time to time part of me doesn't believe compliments are genuine and I laugh them off - a facet of my personality which has annoyed a number of people.
On the flip side, the other part of me feels like I'm upholding some kind of aesthetic evil by being blonde hair and blue-eyed. But the thing is - there is no truth in beauty. There never has been. It's fluid and ever changing. Think about walking on ground which is shifting constantly like moving tectonic plates. That's how unstable it is. The misnomer perhaps in Korea is that beauty is like a mathematical equation: 2+2=4.
But they're not alone in that belief. To some extent on a superficial level (and I really don't like to admit it) I play into the same game that 2+2=4, even though it doesn't. I'm disillusioned by the same myth, even though I grew up all the way over in New Zealand. I get blonde highlights and the clothes I choose to wear, it's all a manipulation of appearance and how I want to appear (or not appear) to other people.
I always have the same hairstyle: long, with a few layers around my face. My clothes: neat but not immaculate. The idea was always to strike right in the middle of the continuum: too untidy - you're noticed, too stylish - you're noticed. Nothing flashy - no tattoos, only my ears pierced and only once. You have to strike that middle. The middle is where people don't comment because there is absolutely nothing of note to comment on and therefore you can grasp at some semblance of invisibility. Invisibility in a visually hungry world has always been my aim, mainly because I don't want my legacy to be - oh that blonde girl with the long hair.
But let's face it, humans take physical form and we have eyes. You are going to be looked at.
And my attempt at invisibility?
From time to time - like in the Superette - I still fail. Why? Because many of us still believe 2+2=4. But it doesn't. Not this time. It's just a lie we treat as truth so we can make it a concrete series of tasks to complete and achieve.