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:
Writer's group exercise 08/03/2014.
I am lying in an empty bathtub blanketed in the shadow of a man standing at the opposite end in top coat and tails. His pleated gabardine slacks not so much frayed but hacked at the knees, ragged, like he has wandered from the perimeter a bomb blast.
Bagdad Route Irish chic.
But a glance to his wild west handlebar, pomaded into precise fronds and the Kerouac quote just visible in the raised topography of his left foot tell me he’s too hipster to have attempted a tête-à-tête in the Persian sandbox.
His expression is both intense and unreadable; therefore, unsettling. And he is staring at me with such force, I feel myself instinctively flatten my spine against the rigid L-curve of the tub, in a bid to put an extra centimeter between us.
I feel the chill of steel enamel through the thin membrane of my dress. It travels like an up-flowing river to the top of my neck. I shiver, over-sized earrings chiming like timpani’s against copper faucets that bookend my head.
His body triggered into motion by the sound, he gracefully collapses to a low crouch, heels flat in the style of a Korean adjoshi. And I wonder if I was wrong about him.
Perhaps he is well travelled. Seen things. Things other than the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or the Quinoa section at Whole Foods.
He’s one of those people; those people that play with the fabric of your reality because they don’t obey the role you assigned them.
“Ready?” he asks.
I have sunk a lot of hours into watching K-Drama's this year. I really enjoy them, they're fun to watch.
Having seen a few now, I thought I'd share a few common narrative attributes between them...
I have a small apartment. When I say small, imagine a room the size of your lounge with a bathroom attached. That's it, this is where I live.
Small apartments don't allow the person that lives in them the luxury of collecting things - the mainstay of capitalism. Buy, buy, buy.
I like this because I actually don't like to have a lot of stuff. I don't like clutter. (Note: that doesn't mean my apartment is tidy). A lot of stuff is a lot of stuff you have to get rid of when you're travelling. So instead of buy, buy, buy - every few months you shed, shed, shed.
I'm currently spring cleaning notebooks. Compiling together ideas, getting rid of indecipherable scribblings and post-its I can't read or that no longer have relevance.
One of my notebooks was a designated "writing exercise" notebook. The exercise was, choose three words at random (from this box which you can buy here) and write them into a super short story.
Here are the ones I thought worth recording somewhere before throwing out the notebook...
1. The King had become so enamored with his own image that he ordered his bust be embossed not just on all coins, notes and royal stationary, but on all children's kites as well. So, when they looked up, they would see his face in the heavens and remember, he was a King ordained by God.
(Words: King, kite, God)
2. He was a strange lad they said. A strange lad indeed. An interior designer by trade, but his current fixation with the hue of nude severely limited his client base. Before, his inbox had been jammed with requests for his expertise, now, it was christened only by lottery scams and automated newsletters for products he didn't own. But, he was not worried. Like all things, history would repeat itself, fashion was circular. He bided his time. Nude would have it's day.
(Words: lad, nude, time)
3. Show me hell. I'll show you a bee pollinating with poison: ruined roses, pathological pansies, deformed daises.
(Words: show, hell, bee)
4. In the time it had taken to pop off for a quick slash, the sun had decided to dip below the horizon. It was dark and Don had forgotten his torch. The only way he could now find his way back to the tent was to follow the irritating, tone deaf hum of his third wife Belinda
(Words: hum, torch, tent)
5. In Cydian mythology, each human soul is thought to reside in the heart of a 100-year rose. Evidence of this garden of "stone roses" has never been found but scientists suggest certain volcanic or geo-thermal activity could have resulted in phenomena, giving flora and fauna a rigid appearance - much like what occurred half-way around the world in Pompeii at the time.
(Words: rose, soul, time).
6. The furry-tipped spay is a tiny Scottish bat that likes to live in small dark places. In 2003, it was recorded that a mischievous colony of splays, that had been evicted from a recently demolished council flat, had taken up residence in the hide bags of the Royal Dragoon's bagpipes.
(Words: furry, bat, flat)
Creating Character Quirks...
in which I found a collection of weird sketches of characters I made up...
1. Soshanna always matched her nail varnish to the color of her boyfriend's credit card, so whenever he saw it in her hands, it was if she was made to spend his money.
2. Basalt always pulled his belt in one notch too tight. It was uncomfortable, and after a big meal, even painful, but this was his punishment. A physical reminder of losing something important to him, so he could never forget and never let it happen again.
Various ramblings from characters I have yet to write into anything...
"I only miss you as much as I allow myself to"
"I miss my imagined version of you"
Crown image from:
Nails 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.
When I first moved to Wellington in 2007 I lived in an area called Kelburn. It's an upmarket suburb where people have status dogs and buy houses they can't afford so they begrudgingly rent out spare rooms to post-grads and young professionals.
On my walking route to University each day, I passed a twenty foot tall concrete retaining wall on which someone had spray painted in green:
"You adore me. Run come save me."
I hope that message is still there.* I have no idea who wrote it, how long it has been there or who it was meant for. To some extent, who it was meant for is irrelevant because to all that noticed it, it became theirs.
It became mine.
I always wondered why Wellington City Council didn't make an effort to get rid of it. Technically it was graffiti and in a suburb like Kelburn, you'd expect it to be dealt with rather swiftly. But it was allowed to stay, and to the best of my knowledge it's still there.
It got me thinking about the effect words have when they're decontextulised in unexpected locations. "You adore me. Run come save me" became like a teaser from a story I wanted to know the end of - and the beginning - and the difficult second act - and what my role was in it.
As a writer myself, I recently began thinking about ways I could provoke thought in strangers via decontextulised messages. So I decided to start leaving messages (on paper is the rule - but any type of paper) in random places and it turns out travelling provides many opportunities to do this e.g.
I call them (in honour of my recent visit to Tokyo) Shinobi* Memos. Here are some examples:
1. Shinobi Memo on the plane. Write on the barf bag and bookmark it in the in-flight magazine or behind the tray table. I left the following paraphrase on a barf bag bookmarked in the in-flight magazine. It is from the film 'Before Sunrise':
"You know what this makes me think of? All those people you briefly intersect with, maybe make eye contact with and then pass by. Now it's like... no matter what happens, we have met."
2. Toilet Roll Gag - I did this at my hostel.
3. Napkin Memo - Don't be afraid to be silly. I left 'Don't cry for me Argentinaaaah!' at Shakey's Diner in Harajuku.
4. Bunk Bed Slats - I left this note in my bunkbed at a hostel in Tokyo.
Want to leave your own Shinobi Memo?
> Take a book from the book-swap shelf in a hostel and write a message in pencil in the margin
> Take a book in your local library and tuck in a piece of paper.
> Write on the next leaf of toilet paper in a public toilet.
> In hotels, leave a few words on their feedback pad (but don't give them "feedback")
> Take a serviette from the pile in a cafe, put down your thoughts then replace it, hidden in the middle.
> Write on the barf-bag in an aeroplane.
> If you're in a bunk-bed hostel, leave a message tucked into the slats.
Any other ideas? Comment on this blog.
And if you take a photo, show me!
Leave the message in a place where the cleaning staff are unlikely to find it.
Don't get caught. Don't let people see you leaving it. Anonymity is key.
Why do this?
'Why' anything. But I suppose:
Maybe because it might break the monotony of routine in someone's day.
Maybe because by fluke it might be the words someone needs to hear.
Maybe because it will be a good story to tell their friends and family.
Maybe because it might make them smile or laugh.
Maybe because it might make someone feel privy to a secret.
Maybe because it might make them feel special.
Maybe because it might make someone stop for a second.
Maybe because it might remind them they're not the first person to have slept in that hotel room or to have pulled sheets from that toilet roll dispenser.
Maybe because it might remind them they're not alone.
*If anyone has a photo of "You adore me. Run come save me." in Kelburn, Wellington, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll update this blog (with you as the photo credit).
*A ninja (忍者)/shinobi (忍び)
Update: We checked Google Maps streetview and the phrase 'You adore me. Run come save me.' , is no longer there. Sad. Thanks for the heads-up though Catherine!
The limits of speaking one language. This blog post is - unwittingly to her - inspired by my younger sister, Lucy, who is currently learning German. Over the last few weeks, she has been sharing some words/concepts which don't exist in English or at least, not in exactly the same way.
e.g. Drachenfutter - Literal translation is 'dragon food' but it is a peacekeeping gift a husband must bring his wife after pissing her off.
e.g. Kummerspeck - Literal translation is 'grief bacon' but refers to excess weight gained by emotional over-eating.
For me, language is the doorway to culture and one of the ways this is best demonstrated is by the discovery of words which don't exist in other languages.
I stumbled across the following word about three years ago and immediately fell in love with it.
It is from the Yaghan language from Tierra del Fuego (Chile - near the Southern most tip of South America).
It's often described as the most succinct word in the history of language and one of the most difficult to translate.
It's meaning? As defined, by the sometimes academically dubious but extremely useful site, Wikipedia, mamihlapinatapai refers to "a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves."
If you have a fascination with words and language as I do, I'll leave you with a few other unusual words but that actually exist in English:
Entomophilous - Adaptation for pollination by insects.
Apodysophilia - A feverish desire to undress.
Boustrophedon - Alternating writing left to right, then right to left.
...for more visit here.
A brilliant infographic: Untranslatable Emotions in Other Languages other than English vs. Parrot's Emotion Classification.
Click the above link for the full view. Here is just a teaser:
First image in blog post modified from: http://www.adinnerguest.com/60-minutes/why-mamihlapinatapai-is-your-new-favorite-word/