Seven Weeks to Madagascar

Friday, June 16, 2000

A nostalgia trip for anyone who was addicted to 1970s English comics as a kid. (They should've called it 'Grooohhh!')

I'm amazed to see how many of these I bought and/or read at one time or another: Action, Buster, Cheeky Weekly, Dr Who Weekly, Krazy Comic, Starlord, Tornado, 2000AD, Whizzer and Chips. Should I mention that I still have a complete collection of Starlord, the original home of Strontium Dog and Robusters (precursor of the ABC Warriors)? Probably not. Should I also mention that I had a large collection of early progs of 2000AD (70-ish to 150-ish) that I foolishly sold for fifty measly bucks to a collector in 1984? Definitely not; I've regretted it ever since (mostly because I'd love to re-read the Strontium Dog episodes where Johnny Alpha is in Hell, or the ABC Warriors on Mars—beautiful, beautiful work).

I'll just have to satisfy myself with the 2000AD Links Project.

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The cupboards are starting to look a little bare as we run them down before we leave, and looking for a snack requires increasing diligence. The other night I went in desperate search of chocolate, and stumbled on a pack of Japanese so-called 'chocolates' that we bought in Singapore over two years ago (solely for their amusing wrappers—I've had previous experience with Japanese chocolate, and had no intention of eating any ever again).

It was chocolate. I was hungry. I ate it.

There were a few different kinds, and the first (chocolate almond) wasn't so bad. But then... then I encountered this:

white-bis (Click on the image for a close-up.)

Have any of you ever read those English comics by IPC—not 2000AD (good though it is), but the comic comics, with English schoolkid humour? I used to be addicted to Cheeky Weekly and Krazy as a 10- and 11-year-old.

There was a particular noise that the kids in those used to make when they ate school dinners, or something equally disgusting: 'Grooooohhh!'

That's the noise I made eating White-Bis. Two-year-old sour yoghurt chocolate from Japan is the chocolate that 'Grooooohhh!' was invented for.

Only after spitting it out did I notice how evil the snowman on the wrapper looked, which should have been a warning. Jane also pointed out that only two of the eight small faces around him were smiling; another warning.

Never again.

If hideous sweetmeats are your bag, you'll probably enjoy The Ultimate Bad Candy Website. Ignore the garish design (it used to be much more subdued at GeoCities, which I preferred), and enjoy the tales of bad-candy-dom. They once had Jane and me crying with laughter, which has to mean something. (Probably that we don't get out enough, but hey.)

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Thursday, June 15, 2000

For the benefit of any non-Australian readers, and following on from the previous post, a brief illustration of the paradox that is Tasmania:

A few years ago I saw a short newspaper article about a study of Australians' knowledge of the basics of science; probably as good a measure as any of general levels of education.

Among the regions with the lowest scores: rural Tasmania.

The city with the highest score: Hobart, capital of Tasmania.

Another illustration: a few years after I'd moved to Canberra, I was eating out with some old friends during a Christmas visit to Tassie. One of my mates was there with his new wife and her twelve-year-old daughter, who asked me earnestly, 'Do you like living in Australia?'

'Eh?,' I thought, 'does she think I'm from overseas?'

Then it dawned on me.

Australia; the Mainland; whatever you call it, it's a different country.

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I still can't see my own website. Somewhere in between Optus, Telstra and AARNet, there's an enormous pile of Speedysnail bits accumulating in a virtual dead-letter-office with my IP address on them. I hope they're getting through to you.

Still, it's given me time to reflect on this whole exercise—that is, the weblog. No, before you run screaming from the screen, this isn't going to be about blogging per se. You've read it all before, I've read it all before. This is going to be about me.

I planned this weblog as a way of capturing what it feels like to be about to depart for somewhere exotic. I wanted to do this because:

  • I want to write a travel book about the trip, and I know from past experience that the contrast between expectations and the experience is one of the interesting things about travel;
  • I didn't really want to keep a pre-trip diary (even though I'll keep one during the trip), because it's too close to keeping just a plain ol' diary, and I gave up on those in my mid-twenties (a million words over ten years about me, me, me, was enough to last a while);
  • I figured it would give me a chance to add something a bit different to my site;
  • I also wanted to indulge in a bit of gratuitous linking, seeing that my whole life revolves around the web these days.

Then, at the beginning of May, the plan took on a new dimension, when my wife and I were given notice on our house. That prompted us to do some serious reassessing, and ended up turning our lives upside down. Suddenly, not only were we going to Madagascar: we were packing up to move house; I was quitting my job; I was going on to the US after Madagascar to look for work; and, if that was successful, we would be leaving Canberra for good.

Great, I thought, that's even more juicy stuff to talk about in the weblog.

But it's too much. There's too much happening. I can't capture it all. I find myself desperately trying to trap other pieces of myself for posterity; autobiographical pieces, and ideas that have been rolling around in my head for a long time: thoughts about things I've tried to do with this website in the past, and about the web in general. This is the ideal space in which to play around with those thoughts, but I can't do them justice, so half the time I've been stopping before I start, or putting up short posts that should be longer, posts that are missing all the explanatory bridging thoughts. It's frustrating.

And the original purpose, 'weblogging the countdown', has fallen by the wayside. After all, there are only so many ways you can say, 'I'm actually a bit afraid of getting malaria'. Yeah, right, and you could be hit by a bus tomorrow; get a grip, eh? But I'm consciously and voluntarily putting myself at risk of getting one of the scariest bloody diseases on the planet, and that is just a bit disconcerting. It means that I have this sense that whatever I do between now and July 5th, it had better be good, because it just may be my epitaph. And then I start thinking about ghost sites, as I did last week (sorry, no link, because I can't see my website), and I remind myself that this website would be a pretty short-lived epitaph.

It's not just the malaria: after all, less than half a percent of Australian travellers in malarial regions die from it (source: somewhere on the web; don't quote me). It's the anti-malarial drugs. We take our first dose in a week, and there's a chance they will trigger off permanent psychosis. Permanent psychosis! In someone as meek and mild as moi, whose only drug is caffeine. (If the posts get a bit freaky after next Wednesday, you'll know why.)

And it's not just me: my wife is taking the same drugs, and facing the same risks, and if anything happened to her I'd... well... look, I don't even want to think about it.

Then combine those feelings with the effects of giving up a job, and the increasing sense of withdrawal from the workplace that that engenders. I come here every day and keep plugging away, trying to do the right thing, trying to balance the books for the end of the financial-year, trying to leave everything in good shape for my successor... but it's hard not to feel more and more detached as my last day approaches.

Then add into the mix that I'm joining the brain-drain, the exodus from Australia, which brings back all these memories of the last time I was part of a brain-drain, out of my home state of Tasmania. I had very mixed emotions about all of that, and it took a few years to get over them; and now, even though I've wanted to work overseas for a long time, and even though I'm fairly sure we'll be back one day, part of me is saying 'but what if you never come back?'—that small part of me that really would like to live not just here in Australia, but back home—that evocative word, home—a place that most Australians just laugh at, by the way (out of ignorance, of course; isn't it always?)—and my home is dying, the only state in the country with negative population growth, and there's no work for me there, and it's just too far away from the World, even though for me it once was the World.

And not only that, we're leaving Canberra, which we've wanted to do for years, but now I find myself preemptively missing the good things about the place... I drive around Lake Burley-Griffin after dark to pick up Jane from work, and the radio becomes the soundtrack to a road-movie, and every car's headlights seem more intense than usual, and I become acutely aware of this place, this town I've lived in for eight or nine years, and realise that despite my long-standing desire to be somewhere else, this place is a part of me—the Town that Ate my Twenties—and I'm going to miss it. Some of it. Autumn. Galahs and cockatoos. The sky. Some good friends. The easiness of it all.

But I've lived in other places, and I miss them all, in a way, but they're still there, and they're there inside me. I can deal with homesickness. In fact, I am dealing with homesickness, just by moving away, because this is and isn't my home; it's just one of many I've had; and the longer I stay here the harder it would be to leave.

I'm still not talking about the trip itself, am I? Never mind, I will. Still two weeks of posting to go. Oh look—I can see my website again.

Now there's a home. I made it; it's all mine and all me; and it lives everywhere and nowhere. Just like I do.

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Sigh. There's a routing problem somewhere, which means that I can't check my email, see my site, or FTP to it. Most annoying.

But Blogger, it seems, can upload to it. So I assume that someone out there can read this. Curiouser and curiouser.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2000

If it's a small world, it must by definition be an even smaller world-wide web, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Stewart Butterfield, one of my favourite occasional reads, went to the same college as I did (even if it was five years after I'd left). And, as we have since confirmed by email, lived in the same courtyard. And on the same staircase. And on the same floor.

And for one brief moment I thought the same room... but I'd remembered my own room number incorrectly (well, it has been eight years; I've had a lot of addresses since then). Still, he was just down the hall.

Let's see, what else... he did an M.Phil there, and so did I... his was in philosophy, mine was in political theory (near as dammit)... he smokes a pipe, and I don't... he lives in Canada, I live in Canberra... ohmygod!

(In tomorrow's entry: Rory discovers a blogger who went to Huonville High School, eats lots of curry, and is about to fly to Madagascar for a month.)

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Does anyone actually read the archives of weblogs? I realised yesterday that I've been checking a favourite few (the seven on the left, plus some others) for new content every day or so, and feeling disappointed when there isn't any, when I haven't even gone back through all of their old stuff. That's rather odd, considering that weblogs, like newspaper columns, are all about the Voice—developing a voice of your own as a writer, finding a voice that you enjoy as a reader. (And that's as much Theory of Blogging as you'll get from me.) You'd think that once you'd found a good voice you'd want to read more of what it has to say. Yet I don't, much; I just keep going back to see what's new. Which is pretty short-sighted, because for all I know they said something amazing the week before I came in and I missed it.

So, yesterday I started ploughing through some archives of a certain logger who shall remain nameless—let's call him Jason K. Yes, I read the first year of his weblog in one sitting. Haven't had time to read the later stuff yet, but I will.

Considering that Jason Nameless's weblog is consistently ranked number one at certain ratings sites, it's salutary to note its modest beginnings. It's all done with a minimum of linkery and long discursive ramblings—or daily updating, for that matter.

Now I won't feel so bad when this weblog goes into the freezer.

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Oh, the frustration of finishing a tasty new design for my next blog and not being able to use it yet. Nobody's stopping me, of course, but I want this 'seven weeks' business to run its course. Actually, even though it's 3-and-a-half weeks to Madagascar it's only two weeks until the end of this blog, because there will be other things to deal with in the last ten days, like finishing work and shifting boxes into storage and flying to Sydney and flying to Johannesburg and flying to Madagascar. I'd better write something profound, then...

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Tuesday, June 13, 2000

The inside goss on America's Finest News Source. 'Hanson, in fact, seems to embody one of his own headlines: "Man Who Lost All Hope Loses Last Additional Bit of Hope He Didn't Know He Had."' (Link filched from Ftrain (link filched from Kottke (link inserted even though doing that is decidedly non-mango because I want to see how many brackets I can rack up at the end (looks like three (oops, four including that one (oops, five including that one (oh shit, I've created an infinite loop (phew, got out of it (thank God for that)))))))).)

(Note the full stop inside the last bracket. I'm such a purist.)

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I've been meaning to write a longer analysis of what's been happening in Fiji, but finding the time to do so is increasingly difficult. Fortunately, my father (who also happens to be a Fiji expert!) has been writing on the subject, and some of his background notes are now online (mirrored here).

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Spent today (Monday) (okay, yesterday) sorting out stuff for next weekend's garage sale. After looking at all of those clothes I probably shouldn't have worn in the first place, I've decided that if I ever start a fashion label I'm going to call it The House of Cripes.

Then when anyone says, 'Cripes, what are you wearing?' I can say, 'Exactly.'

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Unfortunate Juxtaposition of Banner Ad and Main Story No. 348

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Monday, June 12, 2000

Four weeks to Madagascar (less a day or two).

It's the middle of a long-weekend here in Oz, celebrating our glorious Queen's birthday. (Except nobody's really celebrating, and it isn't really her birthday, and she isn't really glorious, and she isn't really ours, and she shouldn't really be our Queen.)

There's only one city in the country where you can still legally set off fireworks in the privacy of your own backyard, and only one weekend you can do it on: Canberra, this weekend. So the city that voted two-to-one for a republic is busy setting off pohas and catherine wheels for Her Maj.

Meanwhile, My Life as a Box is now screening at Cinema Ewins, as the aisles fill up with cardboard and the patrons struggle to find a seat that isn't taken.

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