Cheeseburger Gothic

Mind the Gap, by Tim Richards

Posted December 8, 2014 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Tim pops up in my Twitter stream every now and then, where I was surpirsed to find him talking about his ebook recently. I'd always assumed he was a programmer of some sort. I was even more surprised to find out that his book was about a protag who develops the power of teleportation. My fave kind of super power. It's about more than too, as it turns out, but you'll have to buy it to see. In the extract below we meet young Londoner Darius Ibrahim, who's discovered he can teleport. But it has to be between seemingly random underground railway stations. As soon as he doesm he's hunted by a mysterious alien force.. Arriving in Melbourne, he befriends a local, Vivien Henderson, and tries to unravel how his power works. Then, just as he thinks he’s slipped his pursuers, a probe appears…

Above them, the silver sphere, the size of a basketball now, had reached the height of the taller city buildings. Humming quietly, it rotated on its vertical axis. Then it stopped, and darted instantly down to street level. It zipped rapidly along the centre of the roadway above the tram cables, moving with certainty as it locked onto its target.

Viv and Darius hurtled down the slope of Little Lonsdale Street, a narrow lane between two major thoroughfares. There were fewer pedestrians here. People stared curiously at their headlong rush, but usually stepped aside to let them through, and they were able to run along the roadway occasionally to avoid collisions. No-one else had yet spotted the threat above them, it seemed.

Pausing at an intersection to catch their breath, Darius glanced behind him. He could see the sphere at a distance, heading in their direction. Viv saw it too as he gestured.

‘Let’s go!’ he yelled.

As they reached the bottom of the slope, Viv jerked Darius to the left. ‘Down here,’ she said, gasping. ‘Might confuse it.’

They ran into a narrow alleyway between nondescript red brick buildings, old warehouses by the look of it. Thick electrical cables snaked above their heads between the structures, and the occasional parked car slowed their progress. They turned right again, then skidded to a halt, startled. Ahead of them, just a few metres away, was the silver sphere.

Before they could move again, it darted toward them and stopped about ten centimetres from Darius’s face. Clicking faintly, it darkened for a moment. Then, glowing brightly, it shot into the sky beyond view.

They stood, recovering from the shock. ‘What the ...??’ began Darius.

Viv grabbed him by the hand and pulled him forward. ‘Come on, the station’s just around the corner.’

They stumbled out of the alley, onto another major street. Crossing via the traffic lights, fortuitously green, they reached the entrance of Melbourne Central station. Pushing their way down the escalator past grumbling travellers, they reached the underground concourse.

‘You’re supposed to walk down on the right while people are standing on the left,’ gasped Viv, catching her breath.

‘It’s the other way round in London,’ replied Darius, darting glances around the concourse.

‘So now what? Why are we here?’

‘We’ve got to go down,’ replied Darius, pointing in that direction.

Viv thought about it. ‘You still have your Myki handy, right?,” she said, referring to the local public transport card she’d bought him after the bar visit. “Let’s head down to the platforms.”

As they passed through the station’s ticket barriers, Darius pondered the strange sphere that had tailed them. Rather than threatening them, it had disappeared once they were located. Could it be a scout of some sort? Then … Darius felt his stomach turn cold as he followed the thought through.

‘We’ve gotta hurry, Viv,’ he said. ‘Get down as deep as we can.’

‘Here, then,’ she said, and guided him down the escalator to Platforms Three and Four. ‘I was hoping to avoid the workplace today, but my stall’s on the lowest set of platforms. But what train do you want to catch?’

‘I don’t,’ he shouted – then turned in response to shocked cries behind him.

The area on their side of the ticket barriers had suddenly been sealed off by a glowing shield of pearly light.

‘Oh no,’ said Darius, terror rising. ‘Not again.’

He grabbed Viv’s hand and they ran down the escalator to the platforms below.

‘What was –?’

‘Just trust me!’ he said sharply as he looked around the platform. It was indeed the place where he’d arrived in Melbourne. Ignoring the coffee stall, they hurried down the far end of the platform to the quiet spot where he’d encountered the cleaner.

He held Viv’s hands as he faced her. ‘I’m sorry, Viv. I just wanted you to show me the way, then I planned to get out of your life. But now I’ve landed you in it too.’

She swept her wayward fringe out of the way with one hand, then looked directly at him. ‘Kiss and run, eh? Should’ve known.’ She smiled, but there was fear beneath it.

Above them, screams and shouts broke out again. Darius cursed, then instinctively lunged forward and grasped Viv in a tight embrace. She returned it with a tight grip. As they held each other, Darius forced his mind to return to the sensations he’d felt before, the swirling, nauseous feelings that had provoked the sea of colours within his mind.

Above him, the concourse was in chaos. Soldiers in black reflective suits fired their weapons at the mouth of the escalator, as more of their number joined them through the pearly barrier. People fell as they were hit by the beams, or ran in terror toward the far end of the concourse.

Satisfied that the way was clear, the squad leader waved his team members forward. They began to run down the escalator, weapons at the ready.

Darius could dimly sense his surroundings, but his mind was focused on invoking the strange sensation he’d felt twice before. This time it seemed clearer, stronger, with less nausea attached. Holding tight to Viv, he felt them sliding away from the reality represented by the cold concrete and tiles around them. Sliding away from Melbourne.

The squad leader reached the platform and swung around to face Darius. The target was locked in embrace with a local, but that didn’t change his orders. He raised his weapon … just in time to see Darius and Viv vanish from the platform. The space where they’d stood was empty, as if they’d never been there.

Metallic walls glowed a dull green under the glare of fluorescent lighting. There was no-one here, no noise other than the faint whistling of the air as it moved through the space.

Then, instantly, two people appeared, holding each other. It was impossible to actually see the transition, instantaneous as it was. One moment you couldn’t see them, the next you could.

The two separated, mouths open and eyes wide.

Viv gasped. ‘What … where …?’ she stammered.

Darius darted away from her, scanning the walls. ‘Brilliant!’ he yelled, punching the air. He turned to face Viv. ‘Yes! I did it!’

‘Did what?’ she managed, faintly.

Darius didn’t reply. Instead, he gestured at a sign set into the metallic wall behind him.

Viv moved to look at it. In large capital letters, it said MUZEUM.

Then she passed out.

Read more at Mind the Gap, $2.99 from all your favourite ebook retailers. More at

10 Responses to ‘Mind the Gap, by Tim Richards’

Dave W asserts...

Posted December 8, 2014

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Lobes is gonna tell you...

Posted December 8, 2014
Looks ok though I kept getting distracted by the authors love affair with Melbourne CBD. Also not sure about the mid-escape debate about which side of the elevator to stand on....suspension of disbelief started wavering there.

However, it was good enough that I'm prepared to keep reading. Muzeum station looks like its in Prague. Hope the author does all these Metros the same justice.

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Lobes mutters...

Posted December 8, 2014
Woah only $2.99?

Yep Im definitely buying this

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Tim Richards reckons...

Posted December 8, 2014
Lobes - I'm the author and I plead guilty to the Melbourne love affair (I live in the CBD). That's only one chapter though, the action moves around a lot (and spot on re Prague). Hope you enjoy it!

And thanks to John B for publishing the extract, much appreciated.

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sibeen reckons...

Posted December 8, 2014
I too was a tad befuddled, Lobes. You're on the lower levels at Melbourne Central being chased by a malevolent alien presence. Shit, just get on the Craigieburn line, hop off at Broady, and let the bogans sort the fucker out.

Probably would have made for a shortened story arc; so I've bought a copy to see what alternatives can be brought up.

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Anthony would have you know...

Posted December 8, 2014
And another sale. Little Lonsdale Street sold me since I travel down it pretty frequently. And, sibeen, you're right. The pursuit wouldn't even make it into Zone 2.

dweeze is gonna tell you...

Posted December 9, 2014
Yeh, send the protags up the Craigieburn line. That'd sort em out real quick. Back in me yoof, Broady Boys and Croydon Boys used to conduct near weekly expeditions from bogan west to bogan east and vice versa for some friendly biffo. When they got bored with that, they'd assemble in the CBD for a fracas with the Lebanese Tigers. I witnessed it first hand one time - no pesky alien thingies would have stood a chance.
Attempting a purchase now.

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AuntyLou would have you know...

Posted December 8, 2014
Purchased. I like the idea of teleportation almost as much as I like the idea of telekinesis. That could be just because "Bewitched" ruined me for housework. I also really liked Melbourne the one time I went there. Unfortunately my husband just keeps muttering "No one casts a shadow...must be Melbourne" every time that lovely city is on the teev. Looking forward to lots of Metro action in various guises. Fan of underground rail systems too. Yeah, I know, I probably need a hobby...

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Surtac ducks in to say...

Posted December 9, 2014

Yep. Got me an e-copy too. Looks good from the taster above.

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Rhino asserts...

Posted December 10, 2014
Bought it. Was like .25 cents in 'Murican money. (I'm joking)

There better be rhinos in this thing.

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Respond to 'Mind the Gap, by Tim Richards'

Extract. A compulsion to Kill, by Robert Cox

Posted October 25, 2014 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

An interesting history of Australia's early serial killers. I used to have a theory that the increasing number of serial killers was somehow related to the metastisizing of material culture. Probably because I read too much Bret Easton Ellis.

Anyway, I was asked to look at a manuscript by Robert Cox, for A Compulsion to Kill. A history of early serial killers. I used to find these sort of books really useful when researching Leviathan. Often more useful than general historical texts.

In the meantime, armed parties were scouring the district for Haley. On Monday 18 February, the night after Wilson’s murder, he was seen at Fort William, on the east coast. The next night he went to the hut of a family named Power, with whom he had previously been friendly, on Steele’s estate at Falmouth, on the coast about ten kilometres from St Marys. Power was absent but his wife and children were at home. After assuring them he meant them no harm, Haley stole a double-barrel shotgun and left. Later he stole another firearm from the house of a man named Struchneide. On the afternoon of Thursday 21st he called at Sawyer’s hut on Steele’s estate and asked for food and ammunition, saying he had been sorely pressed by the police. He swore to Sawyer’s wife that rather than be captured, he would shoot everyone that came his way. Ten minutes after leaving the hut he was spotted by police constables Greenhalf and Livesay. He was about 300 metres from them and caught sight of them as they were crossing a brush fence to pursue him. He began to run. The police gave chase, calling on him to stop. He kept running, so Greenhalf fired at him from about seventy metres away. Haley appeared to stagger as if wounded but turned and fired back, his shot hitting Greenhalf’s finger. Livesay then fired at Haley without effect. Haley now jettisoned his coat, hat, and firearms and escaped into thick bush. Hearing the shots, Chief District Constable Smith and several volunteers rushed to the scene, but the bush was so thick they could not find the fugitive.

Next morning a woman saw Haley passing through a wheat field. When the field was examined, evidence was found that he had spent the night there. Blood traces showed he was wounded. That afternoon he held up another hut, taking clothes and enough food for a week. On Tuesday 26 February he robbed John Hyman’s hut.

Despite the number of armed men searching for Haley, three days passed without sight of him. Then, on the afternoon of Friday 1 March, eleven days after Wilson’s murder, the fugitive went to John Galty’s property at Cullenswood and approached a hut there. He identified himself to an old man working nearby and told him he was starving. The man offered Haley some tobacco and kept him talking until two men at work not far away noticed what was happening and rushed to raise the alarm at Galty’s. Supported by several reapers, Galty approached Haley and the old man, but, as they got close, Haley darted into some scrub and squatted under a honeysuckle log. As Galty and the reapers passed by without seeing him, he stood up and cried out ‘Here I am!’, whereupon Galty seized him. Haley was unarmed and had a gunshot wound in the arm, inflicted by Constable Greenhalf a few days before. The capture was at Mt Nicholas, between Fingal and St Marys.
Chief District Constable Smith, who had been nearby supervising police search parties, when told of Haley’s whereabouts, soon arrived. He took the fugitive into custody and conveyed him to the Fingal jail where Haley confessed to killing Thomas Wilson, blaming drunkenness, but denied killing Julia Mulholland. Hobart’s Mercury newspaper cryptically reported that ‘With reference to the murder of Mrs Mulholland there is some reason to believe that he had a felonious intent besides murder’.

As a result of the manhunt, the tragic widower Peter Mulholland’s woes were compounded. Sworn in as a special constable, he had armed himself with a shotgun and joined the search for Haley. On the morning after the fugitive’s capture, Mulholland sought to unload the gun by firing it but the overloaded weapon exploded, shattering his left hand. ‘So complete was the destruction,’ a newspaper noted, ‘that three of the fingers and other portions of the limb were scattered about the ground in different directions.’ A doctor was summoned, but at midnight the arm had to be amputated.

On 11 March Haley was examined before Police Magistrate J.P. Stuart at Fingal court house. He continued to deny all participation in the bloodbath at the Mulhollands’, although he professed to know who the culprit was. His attitude was defiant. The Mercury reported that although at first ‘his usual tiger like and murderous ferocity appeared somewhat subdued’, he soon ‘presented the same brazen defiance, the same cool indifference, as before. He passed the woman he has made a widow [who had survived his attack] and the child he has made an orphan without a blush or a bend of the head ... and as his examination proceeded he browbeat the witnesses and bullied the police magistrate.’

During testimony by John Evans, who had been working in a paddock only 100 metres from the Mulhollands’ on the Saturday of the first murder, Haley constantly interrupted and made threats against him. When Evans gave evidence that Julia Mulholland had later approached him and ‘asked if [Haley] was gone away from her place ... she seemed very sad and downhearted; I had never seen her so before’, Haley became so enraged that several constables were needed to restrain him. In a furious outburst that lasted more than ten minutes, he swore he would tear Evans open and eat his heart.

‘During the whole examination,’ the Cornwall Chronicle observed, ‘he exhibited the most demoniacal hatred to the witnesses, and on his removal gave further proof of what a reckless villain he is. He seemed to regret his inability to commit more murders.’

Haley faced the Supreme Court in Launceston on Tuesday 30 April 1861, with the Chief Justice, Sir Valentine Fleming, on the bench. The charge was murdering Thomas Wilson, to which the usually talkative Haley pleaded guilty in a low mumble, adding that he had nothing else to say. The Chief Justice did, however. He already knew Haley, having sentenced him at Oatlands in 1856 to six years’ jail for the assault and attempted robbery of William Humphries. Next day, when Haley was brought up into the crowded courtroom for sentence, Fleming observed that the prisoner’s record evidenced his ‘ungovernable passion which seems to have overpowered all reason and every sentiment of humanity’, noting that in 1856 Haley had been convicted of ‘unlawfully and maliciously wounding a fellow creature [Humphries]’. He said Haley had a ‘fearful history of merciless vengeance and reckless brutality’ and ‘had outraged all laws, human and divine’. After urging him to pray for divine mercy, Fleming sentenced him to be taken to the place ‘from whence he came’, there to be hanged and dissected.

The doomed man for the first time seemed bewildered, and turned to the left and then to the right, as if he did not know his way to the place ‘from whence he came.’

He was then escorted out.

On Haley’s removal from the Supreme Court to the Gaol ... on the officer in charge proceeding to handcuff him to another prisoner ... Haley offered the hand which had lost a thumb, and from which he could have easily slipped the handcuff. This, however, was refused, and the handcuff was placed upon the other wrist. On his arrival at the Gaol, Haley, according to custom, was put in irons, and he evinced considerable stubbornness at being subjected to such a proceeding.

Three weeks later, before he was taken from his cell for execution, Haley eased his conscience by admitting that he had indeed slain Julia Mulholland as well as Thomas Wilson. Then he shocked officials by confessing that he had also murdered a woman named Mary Stack near Cleveland nearly three years earlier—an unsolved crime he had never been suspected of.
She was his first known murder victim.

31 Responses to ‘Extract. A compulsion to Kill, by Robert Cox’

S.M. Stirling puts forth...

Posted October 26, 2014
Serial killers need anonymity and mobility. The impulses have always been there, but most people have always lived in pretty much the same place, or if they move its through a place -like- that, with alert eyes on them all the time.

Only recently have they had good hunting grounds.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted October 26, 2014
Interesting. Mobile killers or mobile victims. H. H. Holmes wasn't mobile during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. But 27 million people flooded into Chicago, providing him with endless potential victims.

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S.M. Stirling mutters...

Posted October 30, 2014
Yeah, people nobody local would know or miss. There were probably similar (undetected) killings at things like the Crystal Palace exposition in 1851.

And the Ripper murders hit prostitutes in the slums of the world's largest city -- women who nobody would miss and who came from somewhere else, like most of the people around them.

Humans don't react well to anonymity. We evolved in an environment in which everything is face-to-face interactions between people who have always known each other. We're precondition to treat strangers like threats or vermin.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted October 30, 2014
"Humans don't react well to anonymity."

A thought provoking insight reminding me of Stanley Milgram's experiments confirming that people wearing hoods or masks, and therefore having anonymity, are many times more likely to intentionally cause pain to a stranger than people not wearing hoods or masks. Really interesting.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted October 30, 2014
Generalisations come in; Sweeping, Broad & Epic. This'd be in the latter category.
Sociability and a need for solitude or social interaction is a spectrum, as much as hair colour or height. I'd suggest it'd be more a cultural norm than an inheritable trait.
Friends who were exchange students to Japan, Korea & Taiwan commented on a strong cohort vibe that was the expectation, compared to Australia where a year group of students would be highly Balkanised.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted October 31, 2014
This begs an important and fascinating question: does culture vary Milgram's results? I'll look into it. Someone must have tried to answer that question.

But until I learn otherwise, I view Milgram with the same regard as I view Reverend Malthus and scientists that believe in global climate change - in the final analysis, absent political and social prejudice, they are right.

All cultures have been guilty of horrible atrocities fueled by sociopathic sadism. I'm betting that, if you take a group of Japanese, Korean or even Taiwanese people, in groups or individually, give them a button and tell them that, if they press it, it will cause a person in another room pain, that the results will trend strongly towards sadism and away from empathy when those holding the button feel anonymous.

You, Bob - and I do love you Antipodean descendants of criminals for this - view human nature as basically good. Although the gene for evil hasn't yet been identified, and it is difficult to objectively observe human nature, it appears most likely that people are, at their core, really terrible.

But there is an upside to all of this: it means that culture influences people to be more than they were designed to be, more than the sum of their cruel and ruthless parts. Collectively we, as a species, have generally concluded that we are all better off transcending the State of Nature and achieving better, longer, less stressful lives filled with imminent danger by working together, and if we don't work and live peacefully together our lives will be nasty, brutish and short.

That is a hugely uplifting final message, don't you think?

NBlob mumbles...

Posted October 31, 2014
No. Because it implies I must tolerate the mouth-breathing oafs that shoal before me. To suggest that they contribute in any significant way to My lifestyle is distasteful in the extreme. But that is not important right now.

"It means that culture influences.. cruel & ruthless past." Must be unpacked & masticated.
Divine design flaws are equally un-satisfying to me as profane evolutionary absolutisms.
Professional specialisation made possible by the agrarian revolution, allowed the progress from simple timber & stone tools - the kind any man could to rocket engines and iPads - make-able by no individual. As well as the tangible constructs, social developments which allowed the written word, non-representative mathematics and evidence based medicine could only flower post hunter-gatherer status.
I find the traditional WHO measurements of life quality - infant mortality, literacy, GDP - unsatisfying, but by what yardstick can one measure a satisfying existence? Only 3 generations ago, happiness found in the arms another of the same sex, or a satisfying life without personal faith would have been unimaginable. So your supposition of a nasty brutish & short existence sans civilisation is unprovable on two from three counts.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted October 31, 2014
I'm not descended from British criminals. I'm descended from Germans who saw the rising tide of militarism around them in the 19th century, thought "fuck that for a game of soldiers" and moved to Queensland. When they got here, the opportunity was to become a farmer. So my ancestors were farmers in Queensland. My few British ancestors came here decades after transportation was abolished. I imagine it's the same for many here. However, for most of those with convict ancestors, I imagine the majority were political prisoners, either Irish nationalists or just people who didn't like the police state in the UK of the late 18th and early 19th centuries very much. Of course, there was more transportation to the American colonies before the 1770s mutiney than there was anywhere afterward

NBlob puts forth...

Posted October 31, 2014
Well that would explain the spiked hat & oompah music.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted October 31, 2014
Well one ancestor of mine, Johann Ludwig, had been a hussar in the Prussian army. Dunno about a pickelhaube - maybe the hat with the dead bird wings? There's a photo of Johann Ludwig in the national library, and he isn't wearing anything like that.

damian would have you know...

Posted October 31, 2014
Paul I think my basic view here is that the "really terrible" stuff is learned and a part of our cultural baggage. This "human nature" idea is sort of like cultural baggage in that it's simply one of the things we would pass on or not rhgouth culture. To be clear I think you are mistaken here - I think we learn to be evil, by default we are most likely to help others. Sadly our culture is very keen on training more evil people at this stage.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted November 1, 2014
I would like very much to agree with both of you about the basic goodness of people. But, if I did that, I would be unable to understand Professor Milgram's results. Not his conclusions. His results.

NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted November 1, 2014
Stanley was a product of his profession, time and culture, presuming that American men 18-65 from a reasonably narrow SEC slice, would faithfully represent all people of all times & places.
Were he to run his experiments elsewhere & elsewhen he may get very different results.
My heroes are the subjects who refused to administer the shock.

It's the prison experiments that chill me and I suggest blow a hole in your hypothesis. Without the cultural justification there is no way Joe Sixpack would have visited such horror on others.

NBlob ducks in to say...

Posted November 1, 2014
Perhaps I should have read further before commenting.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted November 1, 2014
"My heroes are the subjects who refused to administer the shock."

I agree. I very much agree. There is a true incident where a man on the phone called a series of fast food restaurants representing himself as a member of law enforcement, spoke with the manager and told the manager that one of her employees, a young lady, was suspected of a crime. To make a long story short, the guy on the phone persuaded a number of people at that restaurant to subject the "suspect" to a horrible ordeal, including physical abuse. Everyone did what the voice on the phone told them to do - except one janitor. He was the only one who said "this is messed up" and refused to participate in the abuse.

That janitor is a hero. The rest of them are damned fools.

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Darth Greybeard is gonna tell you...

Posted October 31, 2014
Ditto re the Brits. Half my ancestors were Danes tired of being monstered by Bismark (see Schleswig-Holstein Question) who thought as did Damien's above. They were miners there and here until my generation (thanks Gough). The rest were Irish sick of being starved and monstered by the Brits. How or if that has affected our general world-view I don't know but pretty sure it isn't determined by distant convicts.

And no, I don't see people at their core as being really terrible Paul. I've known far too many who, despite poor, dysfunctional and abusive backgrounds, were very decent indeed. Where did that come from? Damned if I know. Different experiments to Milgram's(?) but much was made a while back of the psych experiments which divided students into guards and prisoners and lo and behold, produced sadism. I read somewhere recently that that was greatly exaggerated and poorly analysed. Can't remember where but I think the upshot was, the experiments were designed to show humans were evil and, naturally, they did.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted November 1, 2014
As far as I know Milgram's studies were pristine and I suspect they cut across culture. As for the mock prison scenario study, there have been a number of them. I am only familiar with one, and I was and am impressed with the results.

Risking a gross display of hubris, allow me to play the roll of your de Tocqueville and point out that your view of human nature is influenced by your own majority culture that was formed in penal colonies where a choice was made: share meager resources to promote a higher survival rate, or fight for meager resources and experience a high death rate (incidentally, this beginning also infused your dominant culture with a strong dislike for anyone in authority - the ones in uniform were well-fed while those they "protected" were starving).

The majority culture that evolved from such harsh conditions influences your immigrants, such as Damian's and Greg's ancestors who came to Australia voluntarily.

So it is no surprise you tend to view human nature as basically good, and it is no surprise so many of you are so willing to help those in need (a truly astonishing thing from the viewpoint of one influenced by a very different dominant culture, such as me).

In summary, it is understandable why you tend to see people as basically good, and I honestly hope that cultural viewpoint - and how it affects social and political policy - prevails in the nascent struggle for the soul of Australia. Leviathan Rising.

damian mumbles...

Posted November 1, 2014
I suspect some sample bias is affecting your evaluation, Paul.

There is some sound stuff here. Epigenetics rather than genes will be the factor in the sort of process you're describing. Your height, for instance, is more dependent on your parents' nutrition as children than it is on genes. An injury done to your great-grandfather may still have a physical expression in your own development. So while the possibility of breaking the cycle of abuse is the only proven method to mend broken cultures within families, some things may still take generations to heal even in the best circumstances. In fact some things can seem like "human nature" - though you'll probably recall from previous discussions that I don't think that is a thing.

It's worth pointing out that the majority of convicts transported to Australia went back to England - in contrast to the majority transported to the American colonies, for whom this was not permitted. Free settlement was the norm, not an outlier, and it's likely that in absolute numbers there are more Americans descended from British convicts, especially in the south, than Australians. Even with the US slavery era in between, it might be true proportionally too. Queensland in particular took convicts from 1824 to 1839, when it sent all of the ones it had back to Sydney (and most eventually back to England). It's possible some former convicts turned up later as free settlers in a higher proportion than the general population, but I'm not sure there are studies that provide figures.

So we're talking about a cultural resonance rather than actual epigenetics, but that's not really a problem. What might be a problem is that the myth and symbol of this upstart, quasi-revolutionary Australian spirit have largely been co-opted by some of the very worst. You see Eureka flag bumper stickers most commonly on vehicles with "Fuck off, we're full" stickers. Ned Kelly beards seem to be in fashion at the moment, and the Redgum song 'Poor Ned' was definitely of the left, but we see the image of Kelly most often associated with gun-toting types here, a real kind of libertarian hero if you think it through. I imagine there is something similar around the James brothers mythology in the US. Don't get me wrong, there is still a deep and rich egalitarian vein that underlies even the horrible ridiculousness. But I am not convinced that is in itself uniquely Australian - it's just that Australians have attached some unique cultural artefacts to it.

Lulu reckons...

Posted November 3, 2014
"It's worth pointing out that the majority of convicts transported to Australia went back to England"

The Irish ones, OTOH, didn't - there was almost nothing for them to go back to.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan asserts...

Posted November 1, 2014
As coincidence might have it, I listened to Redgum's Only 19 a few days ago.

As for the rest, I didn't communicate my point well enough. I'm right and you're wrong, but I just wasn't skillful enough to illustrate my rightness and your wrongness sufficiently to persuade you that your arguments aren't very good, and I apologize for this failing on my part.

damian mutters...

Posted November 1, 2014
Have I mentioned that Queensland had what were basically extermination squads, whose role was to "disperse" native camps and settlements? These were mostly comprised of aboriginal men themselves (a model later followed, to an extent, in Europe). There are ashes from mass cremations in unmarked graves all over Queensland.

This isn't by way of a pissing contest and it's totally the case that horrible things happened everywhere. I am just making the point that Australian history isn't especially notable for the absence of stuff like this.

Actually though, on that Europe thing, it's totally worth reading Henry Reynolds' Forgotten War and Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin back to back.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan asserts...

Posted November 1, 2014
Damn, mate, you're right: you people are monsters. I was wrong, horribly wrong, to romanticize you punters, munters and bogans as I blindly did.

The next time I visit, I will be armed at all times. "No worries?", eh? I'm fucking worried now.

damian ducks in to say...

Posted November 1, 2014
Yep, great big hairy monsters with great big hairy teeth. But witty...

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted November 1, 2014
That makes you people more terrifying. But I've got it worked out. If and when I return, I will just mosey over to a local neighborhood gun shop and load up and buy something tasteful, but not too expensive.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 1, 2014
I just found out that y'all don't have local neighborhood gun shops. Hell, you don't even have shooting ranges in your schools.

What kind of a madhouse are y'all running?

Anthony ducks in to say...

Posted November 1, 2014

And my daughter had shooting as a sporting option at her country high school...

While I don't have any convict ancestry, my wife does. She has an ancestor that was transported for highway robbery. All very romantic till her sister looked up the history. It turns out his modus operandi was sneaking up behind people and hitting them over the head with a cudgel. Basically a common or garden mugger.

Bangar mumbles...

Posted November 1, 2014
PNB sorry mate in Victoria you even need a valid (as defined by law) reason for carrying a knife, even a small pocket knife. So you may as well carry a big FOFF knife you'll be in no more trouble than for multi tool/Swiss army knife ;)

NBlob puts forth...

Posted November 1, 2014
Context is everything.
Mug on a footpath you're a lout. Mug in an alleyway, you're pitiable. Mug on a highway* you're dick Turpin, all romantic & dashing as you "clatter and clash into the old inn yard."
*17th century definition of highway may not be the same as ours.

Darth Greybeard would have you know...

Posted November 1, 2014
I'm glad I don't have common or garden muggers
or the other, more terrestrial, kind.

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Respond to 'Extract. A compulsion to Kill, by Robert Cox'

Simon's granddad.

Posted October 9, 2014 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

This comment appeared in Mr Havock's guest post about Fury. It seemed a shame to let it languish there. I'll let Simon take up the story:

I wonder what my grandfather would say. He was in the 2/1 Australian tank artillery regiment. Fought the rear guard action in Greece and got captured for his efforts. Escaped and several months later working his way through Greece with the underground finally rejoined his unit. He wrote a fair bit and there are some pretty choice sections in all of it. Hard to pick what would be best for the topic! Let me know if you want a read of the whole thing and i can send it on (about 39 Word pages worth)

A section of his diary:

"Although well dug in, so much so that only a direct hit would shift them, they were very obvious to his recce plane, the Henchel Storch, which looked like our Lysander.This meant one thing, unless we moved our guns and changed our fire plan, our guns would be methodically shelled out and not a tank would appear within thin arcs of fire.

All that day an enemy artillery unit put concentrations on my guns and Hubs. They were accurate and had the Hun only known he could have pushed his tanks in and the fire put down would have flattened our gunners. It was neutralization at its best or worst whichever way you looked ar it.
We decided that night to move to alternate positions. By much hard work and a few casualties we got three guns back into alternate positions. One we had to leave to cover the minefield but of course moved it to another position.

The BC (Nim) decided we would need a roadblock and told me that evening that he would arrange it. I was after materials for a dummy gun. With Jim Aldridge my orderly & confidant we visited the Veve railway station to get such material as was needed. Imagine our surprise to find that the stationmaster was still in occupation and fiercely resisted our efforts to pinch his downpipe. We squared him off with a signal pad receipt (how often was that done?) and departed.

Jim and I were busily erecting the dummy gun positions in our two abandoned positions. As far as I could see the dummies were good, and to help, the snow started to come down again.
We had almost gained the main road when we heard a tank moving along the branch road towards Veve Town. We knew we had no armour handy so the first thing we thought was that the Hun tank had got in behind and where there was one there would probably be a number more. The place was quiet and we ran like steam to where we had dumped our gear, among which was our tank surprise. It comprised of about a dozen sticks of gelignite with a short fuse. We headed off to the noise and waited by the road in a ditch.

The area had gone deadly quiet but the rumbling and clanking of the tank continued. Closer it came and Jim was about to light the fuse when I stopped him. Now it was almost on top of us it somehow didn’t sound like a tank although it was pitch black and we couldn’t identify it. Almost on top of us it stopped!! We risked a look and then a door clanged, a light blazed out and there was the biggest steamroller I had ever seen. Driven by ‘Woy Woy’ Downing, it had been sent along to be wrecked on the road for our roadblock. It had scared six months growth out of the whole sector. We cursed old Woy Woy so he started off again and twenty yards further on hit a mine, which as far as we knew was not laid by any of our people and so was blamed on the Hun patrol. The roller survived but the yolk broke and the old roller sat down fair in the road the next best job to an immovable block you could see.

All next day the Hun arty concentrated on the pass and the dummy guns. Our own guns were giving him as good and our patrols of Hurricane fighters Beaufort bombers kept his aircraft away."

9 Responses to ‘Simon's granddad. ’

Dave W ducks in to say...

Posted October 9, 2014
There are some great tales out there and well written too. Thanks Simon and JB for putting this up for us.

Cheers, Dave.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted October 9, 2014
I took Therbs suggestion to heart and created a wordpress account. I split it up a bit to make it easier to read and get back to if needed (long read). To start you'll need to scoot to the bottom of course. Even has some pictures!

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Rob puts forth...

Posted October 9, 2014

When I read things like that I always feel I have done very little of any note with my life. Moaning about video games on my blog, or my obsession with trying to be fulfilled at work doesn't compare with fighting nazis or changing the world as part of a larger machine. Always makes me want to quote Tyler Durden ' our great depression is our lives'

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted October 9, 2014
It seems like such a huge event (and it was) but i continually remind myself that it lasted for 6 years (if you were in it for the full length). Then you had the rest of your life to get on with - it is defining but if you think back on the first 6 years after turning 18 you think "hell, such a small part of my life"

My other grandfather on my dads side actually fought in both of the world wars (and survived) but injured in both. Joined the first one when just sixteen. I don't have much history from him because dad is a pom and my grandad died long before i was born. In fact my dad remembers the second world war - he was born 1936. He remembers having to get in the cage under the kitchen table when an air raid was sounded.

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Therbs mumbles...

Posted October 9, 2014
Simon, checked out the blog. Great stuff. Makes me think both the Australian War Memorial and National Archives would love copies of the diary.

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JG reckons...

Posted October 9, 2014
This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing it, Simon. Also very well written. Primary historical sources like this are so important. I hope the AWM and NAA gets to keep a copy of it (or the original). First-hand material like this is a national treasure: part of our nation's history.

Talk about resourceful men - ie using a downpipe. Much respect for all that our diggers and all forces have done - past and present.


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pi ducks in to say...

Posted October 9, 2014
Great stuff Simon. Thanks for sharing.

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Bernie puts forth...

Posted October 9, 2014
Thanks for posting the entire thing Simon, and I'm going to add my voice to the chorus asking you to send a copy to the AWM, this type of first hand account needs to be preserved and shared especially as there are so few who served in the world wars left, they truly were the greatest generation.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon asserts...

Posted October 9, 2014
I think my mum has forwarded this plus some other personal effects along to the AWM. Not sure what became of them though. They also handed in a german luger to the police! But like they said there was nothing they could do with it.

There were also some war trophies from the Japanese side. A wallet with what looked like ashes and a pay sheet as well as an officers japanese sword. They took them all in to the Japanese consulate a few years back asking if they wanted them and they only took the wallet with the personal effects. The sword went to the local RSL. The Japanese consulate got back to them saying they had found some relatives and asked if they could contact - Mum declined considering the nature of how they arrived in our hands.

One more story about my grandfather - this was back in the nineties. He lived in sydney in a suburb called Meadowbank. Backed onto a park like area and some old tennis courts and was right next to the big park on the parramatta river. They had chickens and they were going missing. So one night pop staked out the coop and sure enough a fox was nabbing them. He used his old .308 and took it out (he was a crack shot on top of everything). He collected the corpse for the trophy tail, stowed the gun away and went back out with the other neighbours who came outside to investigate the loud noise. When asked "did you hear that noise?" he replied with "yeah i thought i heard something just thought it was my ears" . . . . . . everyone knew he was hard of hearing from his time in the anti tank.

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'Mick Harvey ' Extract from Talking Smack: Honest Conversations about Drugs, by Andrew McMillen

Posted August 22, 2014 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Amphetamine is best known as a drug of alertness: snort or shoot a line of speed and you’ll be awake far longer than the body can usually tolerate. The avoidance of sleep is one of its major benefits, especially for creative people who feel compelled to spend their time on this earth productively, rather than being laid out in bed for one-third of every day. But the drug can be used medicinally in this sense, too, especially if you’re in a band where others are burning the proverbial candle for days on end. As Mick Harvey found, using amphetamine was sometimes the only way to keep up with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the band that he co-founded and managed.

In the mid-eighties, while based in Berlin, the guitarist would look around the studio and realise that his bandmates were invariably loaded on one substance or another. He’d partake in half a line of speed and stay up for two days. ‘I don’t know why they would keep going back and taking another line every two hours,’ he says. ‘There was no need whatsoever!’ Sometimes, the group would spill into a bar at seven in the morning and rage on. All of this was fun to Harvey, then in his mid-twenties, who thoroughly enjoyed being part of a band perceived then – and now – as one of Australia’s edgiest rock groups. Speed was incredibly useful on those occasions, but its medicinal purposes only stretched so far. ‘I certainly never had a desire to continue to take it every day, or to deliberately go and find some and party,’ he says. ‘I just didn’t really do that.’

Those six words evoke the popular characterisation of Mick Harvey as a quintessential ‘straight man’. He just didn’t really do drugs, we’ve been led to believe, even though he was a founding member of two bands known for consumption: the Bad Seeds and its preceding incarnation, The Birthday Party. Regardless of the truth of Harvey’s own intake, the perception of excess that surrounded these outfits wasn’t exactly bad for business, either.

‘To some degree, there were aspects of what was happening that was feeding into the creative work, in an odd way; not always in a good way,’ he says of the latter band’s output around 1980. ‘And [feeding] into the whole mindset and attitude of the thing, which was the public image around it. We were being kind of rebellious, kind of “on the edge”. When the balance was right, it would actually work in our favour. I could see that. There were some nights where the degree to which certain members of the band were “out of it”, but we were still able to play really well, would create a very, very unusual vibe, a very dangerous kind of atmosphere. It was really exciting; they were just amazing shows. But you couldn’t harness it in any way at all. It was completely random. It wasn’t like I thought, “Oh, if everyone would just clean up, the band would be better.” It actually wouldn’t have been.’

Cocktails of heroin, alcohol and speed were flowing through the veins of several musicians, adding to the unpredictable nature of each Birthday Party show. ‘I wasn’t part of that,’ says Harvey. ‘Just as well. I mean, if everyone in the band had been doing it, it would’ve been …’ He pauses. ‘At least there were a couple of anchors there.’ With Harvey on guitar and a dependable percussionist locked onto the beat, the others could freewheel and improvise wherever the mood or mix took them. ‘There was a wild side to what could be going on that was pretty amazing sometimes,’ says Harvey. ‘And I could see that, so I wasn’t anti what was going on, particularly.’
On stage, intoxication could be an asset. This was rarely the case in any other situation, though, particularly when Harvey became manager through necessity – ‘there was no one else there to do it’, he notes – and began learning on the job, as it were. The pressure would build within him until, at a crucial point, he’d have a meltdown and blow his lid at those who surrounded him. ‘Things would be happening that were getting absolutely preposterous,’ he wryly notes. The stoned band members would look up in shock, slurring to each other, ‘Oh, what’s the matter with Mick?’
‘I’d just lose it, and nobody would understand,’ he tells me. ‘They’d just think I had a really terrible temper. It was like, Christ!’ He sighs in frustration at the memories. ‘God! The stuff I’d been putting up with; it was almost unbelievable. I mean, I used to have quite a bad temper sometimes. But they had no notion of what I’d been putting up with.’

Sitting there, hour by hour, some of the band members wouldn’t be thinking about their behaviour of the past few days that might have been problematic for a manager whose job it was to corral them into action to meet studio deadlines, board flights and buses, make it to the sound check. ‘After they all “cleaned up” – and Nick hates that term, so I’ll continue to use it,’ he smirks, ‘some of them would go through the twelve steps [rehab program], and sometimes they’d come and apologise to me about stuff they’d done.’ Harvey would inevitably respond by muttering a dismissive whatever under his breath. What was he meant to say to that? He wasn’t sure.
‘Usually, they’d get to that phase, and then just start abusing me about how I’d [reacted], which was really charming,’ he says. ‘I’d have to explain, “Look, I know that I lose my temper with you occasionally, but what you don’t understand is that it was over a long period of time. That was the way I handled it, by not getting angry, just coping with it for a week at a time, and then cracking. I know it wasn’t the best way to handle it, but it’s the only way I could do it.”’

There is a pause in conversation while we both consider those words. Suddenly, Harvey bursts out laughing for the first time. ‘I don’t know what they made of that!’ he exclaims. ‘I’ve got no idea. They just remember these incidents where I’d be angry at them, yelling at them about something, and they’d see no correlation.’ He laughs again. ‘It’s just unbelievable.’

Mick Harvey owns a studio in a nondescript laneway in North Melbourne. As I arrive at the gate, I happen to meet with a passing mailman, who can see that I’m heading into the property. He cheerfully hands me a few letters, which I take in to Harvey. ‘You’ve got mail!’ are among the first words I say to him. This entrance throws him, I think; we don’t properly shake hands and say hello for a couple of minutes, instead making small-talk. This icy reception is in line with my expectations, for reasons I can’t really place: I had supposed that Harvey might be a difficult interview subject, and these first few minutes set that tone, as we both hover awkwardly in the kitchen-cum-living room.

But, soon enough, the fifty-four-year-old with striking white hair and piercing blue eyes reveals his true nature. Warm and friendly to a fault, he shows me into the adjoining rehearsal room, which is stacked with an impressive array of instruments and amplifiers. A drum kit is set up at the far end, beneath a striking, enormous artwork by Italian painter Michelangelo Russo. Harvey had been puzzling over a computer prior to my arrival: his twelve-year-old son uses a machine in the music room to play video games. He’s in the midst of downloading a zombie shooter called Left 4 Dead 2 using Steam, a software platform with more than its fair share of quirks. I never thought I’d be sharing Steam grievances with Harvey within minutes of our meeting, but that’s exactly what happens.

During our interview at a kitchen table beneath a set of fascinating pinhole photographs, Harvey makes clear that it’s not as though decades spent in a social milieu rooted in heavy drug use is a barrel of laughs, not even close. ‘It had some really negative effects on me,’ he says. ‘It’s not like I was unscarred by it.’ He recalls an ABC Radio interview on the Conversation Hour in the mid-2000s where he was asked how he managed to stay sober while everyone else was high. ‘That’s a popular history – that I was “straight as a die” while everybody was [not],’ Harvey tells me. ‘I didn’t even say, “Well, actually, sometimes I might have been taking something too, or drinking heavily” – which is true, eventually. I just said, “Oh, you’re assuming that when you’re around people using like that, you don’t get damaged or affected by it.”’

To Harvey’s surprise and dismay, the Conversation Hour host began laughing and said something inane: ‘Oh yes, rock and roll!’ or words to that effect. ‘He just completely missed the point of what I’d said. I was sitting there going, “What’s the matter with this guy?” He just wanted to wade into the “sex and drugs and rock and roll” circus, and thought it was really funny.’

Like a punchline, I offer. ‘Yeah,’ Harvey replies. ‘I was trying to make a really serious statement about how the people who aren’t using drugs get very adversely affected by being around it, because I was the “straight guy”’ – he uses air quotes here – ‘across the journey, and was having to deal with that. Everyone says, “I don’t know how you coped all those years.” And I used to go, “Oh, yeah, I don’t really, either.” And eventually I realised that I hadn’t coped, that it affected me really badly. The eighties affected me really badly, being around that for a long time. It took me quite a while to get realigned, to get back out of that.’

He finds it difficult to pinpoint exactly how he was damaged over that period of prolonged exposure to self-abuse by the people around him. ‘It was just that association, I suppose,’ he says quietly. ‘They have those groups for co-dependents and people like that. I don’t think I was a co-dependent; I think I was only really there because of the band. I wasn’t along for the journey just because I wanted to help people on drugs, or be around [them] because I actually liked being around them, or something. I didn’t, at all. I suppose it just damaged my soul more than anything, really, just having to cope with that for years and years. It really took me a while to back out of that and patch myself up.’ He pauses. ‘And to feel okay about it.’

Within The Birthday Party, and later within the Bad Seeds, Harvey was not only manager but also bandmate and – importantly – friend to those men. I ask whether it was difficult to separate those roles at times. ‘Yeah, it was,’ he replies. ‘They were all intermingled, I suppose. The Birthday Party broke up; the Bad Seeds started in late ’83, and I started another band [a third incarnation of Sydney rock group Crime & the City Solution]. So I was in two bands then, through to the end of the decade. Both were filled with people with drug or drinking problems. And living in Berlin in 1986, it was pretty out of control. All-night bars; speed sent over from Stasi laboratories to corrupt the youth of West Berlin; people with heroin problems … It was pretty wild.’

And fun, too. Let’s not overlook that. If it wasn’t enjoyable, why would he have stuck around? ‘It was a fantastic social milieu there,’ Harvey says, smiling. ‘A lot of great friends; a lot of creative activity going on. It was really exciting. But there was this backdrop of a whole lot of weird stuff; people with drug problems; people being really out of it, a lot of the time. That was just the territory I lived through in the eighties. And it did affect me, over time, adversely.’

We won’t detail certain musicians’ numerous attempts at ‘cleaning up’; those are their stories to tell, and theirs alone. All Harvey can do is reflect on how he dealt with those matters at the time, and how they now appear in the rear-view mirror. ‘As much as they may have been sitting there thinking I was judging them quietly, not saying anything,’ Harvey says of his former bandmates, ‘I was not judgemental with people who were using drugs. I was judgemental of some of the behaviour after a while, when it was just completely useless.’

And it’s not as though Harvey was a teetotaller who steadfastly refused the experiences that those around him were attracted to. He tried heroin. ‘I didn’t really like it!’ he says with a laugh, after deliberating on the question for a few moments. ‘It made you feel a bit sick and delusional about how great everything was, while doing absolutely nothing. It just seemed extremely indulgent to me.’

Up the nose it went, never directly into the vein. ‘I’ve kind of got “hyperdermaphobia”,’ he says. ‘I’m hopeless with needles; I can’t go anywhere near ’em.’ These days, he’s more able to cope with injections, as his high cholesterol requires regular blood tests. But he could never watch his friends shoot up. ‘It becomes part of this mythology of the drug-taking; this fetishistic thing, with the needles and stuff,’ he says. ‘I find it gross, actually. It’s really grotesque.’

By the time the Bad Seeds were in a London studio recording The Boatman’s Call in 1996, Harvey was fed up. The judgement was starting to creep in; the drug abuse had gone on too long. It was beyond a joke; instead, a sad fact of life and an impediment to creativity. Having recently lost his father to a heart attack, aged sixty-nine, Harvey was in a delicate state. The sight of some of his peers being stoned every morning had worn thin. A kind of catatonic world-weariness set in. ‘I just didn’t need to be there, wasting my time,’ he says. ‘I just sat in the TV room until I was asked to come in and work on a mix. I wouldn’t go anywhere with them until I was actually asked to come in, ’cause I just couldn’t cope with it. I don’t know if that’s being judgemental, actually. I was just not coping with it. I just didn’t need to be around it anymore.’

The problem was not so much the consumption but the fact that the lines between the band members and their personal lives had long since become blurred. As a result, it was quite hard to separate the two. ‘If loads of your friends are in these situations, you’re talking to half of them about their drug problems, and trying to help them as best you can – which usually [involves] hours and hours of conversations that lead nowhere,’ Harvey says. ‘It’s very, very draining.’ Combine that fact with the common issues that surround drug addiction – money problems, dishonesty – and Harvey found himself saddened by the erratic behaviour of those around him. ‘It’s a really hard thing to deal with over a long period of time. It upsets you.’

He and his wife, Katy Beale, were together already in Berlin, and have remained strong since. But that union was not without its challenges. ‘I think it affected our relationship indirectly, because we were around these people that we had relationships with, which impacted back on [us],’ Harvey says. ‘Then I’d be off on tour half the time. It really created enormous instability inside our relationship. When I finally came out of all of that, it was like …’ He pauses, sighs, then says, ‘I just wanted everyone to get better. It was then another decade of struggle with people sort of getting better, and then relapsing, and getting better …’

‘Draining’ doesn’t seem close to the right word for it. ‘I had to find my own stability, and my own course [as to] where I was going, despite anything else. It took a while to realign all of that,’ he says. At the heart of this process was the realisation that the actions of others were out of Harvey’s control. Little by little, he was able to disassociate from their behaviour. Luckily, he says, almost every person in his life affected by drugs was someone whom he’d known prior to those substances intervening in their friendship.

This is important: if you only ever know someone as a drug user, it certainly colours your perception of them. Harvey knew what these people were like deep down; he could discern that their drug use had added another layer of complexity to their relationship. Whether those layers were positive or negative, he found the inner strength to weather those storms. ‘I’m just glad that it’s really not around now,’ he says. ‘I still know people who’ve got their issues – some people still have heavy drinking problems – but a lot of the drug problems in my age group, people have moved on from it, for the most part.’

Harvey himself moved on from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in January 2009, ending a thirty-six-year-long collaboration with the band’s frontman. ‘They’ve had to deal with it or they’ve died,’ he says. ‘It’s one or the other.’

I mention Rowland S. Howard in this context: the distinctive guitarist who joined The Birthday Party in 1978 later formed These Immortal Souls and became an accomplished – if chronically underappreciated – singer and songwriter in his own right. Howard died in December 2009 at the age of fifty from liver cancer, a complication associated with hepatitis C, which was likely contracted from sharing needles earlier in his life. Ultimately, his liver gave up. Since the two had worked closely together for decades, most recently on Howard’s final album, 2009’s Pop Crimes, I ask Harvey whether he views his early demise as a waste, knowing how talented he was.

‘It’s difficult,’ he replies quietly. ‘I’m oddly kind of Buddhist in some ways. I just tried to treat it in terms of, “It’s what’s happening.” We would have rehearsed here with him a few times’ – he gestures at the adjacent music room – ‘around the time of Pop Crimes, when we were doing shows. J. P. [Shilo, who played bass and violin in the final incarnation of the band] would see Rowland deteriorating. He’d go, “It’s really sad,” and I’d be like, “Oh.” I mean, it was sad, but I couldn’t sit there and look at it that way. It felt like that would be me indulging. I just felt like – well, he’s got what he’s got, and he’s still trying to do what he can with his abilities, and he might get better. Just accept what’s there, and try and work with it, you know?

‘He just had a physical condition in the end, where there were toxins in his system and his liver wasn’t dealing with it. Every morning, he was almost getting a bit delirious with it. I couldn’t do anything about it. And then he couldn’t really play anymore. That was a real shame, and I felt really sorry for Rowland that he couldn’t exploit the level of interest there was in his new work, because he’d really been in the …’ He pauses, and sighs. ‘He’d spent a long time being not really “in favour”. He wasn’t out of favour, but there wasn’t a great level of interest in what he was doing for quite a while there.

‘When Pop Crimes was in production, there was this huge new groundswell of interest. There were about fifteen years where there wasn’t a lot of it. Rowland sensed that very acutely. It was a struggle for him to get people interested in what he was doing – which I know about from different projects that I’ve been involved in. When you don’t get the buzz behind it, it doesn’t really have a lot to do with how good the music is; it’s just whether there’s a willingness to listen. I’ve seen it too many times. But for Rowland, it was very frustrating for him, and then there was finally this groundswell of interest, and he wasn’t able to take advantage of it – or finally get his “just desserts”, or something,’ he says with a mournful chuckle.

For as long as anyone could remember, Howard – forever rake-thin, with spiked hair and dressed in a smart suit – would perform on stage with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips as he eked out evocative notes on his Fender Jaguar. Harvey, too, was a lifelong smoker but gave up at the age of forty, some thirteen years prior to our conversation. ‘I’m a nicotine person,’ he says, even now. ‘It’s a really cool drug, actually.’ He laughs as if he’s just revealed an embarrassing secret. ‘People would think, “Oh, what’s it do anyway? They’re just smoking and it’s not doing anything.”’
I admit that I’m one of those people: I’ve always viewed smoking as a dumb, pointless habit.
‘It takes the edge off your emotions, which is really nice for a lot of people who are a bit edgy and prone to being emotional,’ Harvey explains. ‘It makes it all a bit easier to get through those difficult bits and pieces in the day. And that’s why people, when they get aggravated or upset by something, they’ll reach for a smoke, ’cause it just takes the edge off your emotions. I really liked that. In fact, for years I’d just be like, “Blow it over here; it’s the only cigarette I’m going to get!” I didn’t mind passive smoking at all!’ He laughs. ‘I wasn’t one of those reformed, anti-smoking fascists.

‘Any mind-altering drug has a different effect: making you happy, or slowing you down, or picking you up. They’re all mind-altering substances, and so is nicotine. So it seems like people are just puffing away on this weird weed that smells, but they’re getting a dose of this stuff that’s helping them cope with their emotions.’ Was it hard to quit? I ask. ‘Yeah, it is,’ he replies. ‘People say, “Oh, harder than heroin!” I don’t know about that – literally. The thing with smoking is that it’s just so readily available, and so easy to go back to, so you really have to be vigilant and just decide, “Nah, I just can’t have one.” It’s a little bit easier to have one than to go and score heroin, if you know what I mean. So maybe that’s where the difference lies. But I can’t imagine that it’s actually a harder addiction to shake than heroin. It’s certainly not as extreme a set of sensations that you’re dealing with.’

Despite the wide-ranging conversation we’ve had over the last hour and a half, Mick Harvey ultimately takes the position that illicit drugs aren’t necessarily the problem: instead, it comes down to the way in which people choose to use them. ‘All drugs can have grave associated problems,’ he says. ‘First, they’ve been banned, and then they’ve been demonised.’ Any change on this topic at a governmental level will require a spine, so to speak, and an ability to backtrack on the negative messages that Australians have been sold for decades. ‘There’s not the political will to do that – or even the awareness, perhaps. And, if there was [an] awareness, then how would they go about doing it? How are they going to change their tune to the public? It’s a big job, to re-educate and re-inform.

‘Because I’ve been so surrounded by [illicit drug use], I’ve seen a lot of the problems that come with it. But I’ve also seen a lot of people, as well, who’ve used in different ways and not had problems. So the point about banning it across the board is that then you remove that freedom of choice of those people, too. I mean, why does alcohol remain available when other things aren’t? It’s not a great drug, at all; [there are] quite an awful lot of negative associations with alcohol abuse, particularly health-wise. It’s a shame that Western societies have closed it off so much and made it such a ridiculously complex and bitter issue, because it didn’t have to be handled that way. But it has been, and now that’s the way it is.’

6 Responses to ‘'Mick Harvey ' Extract from Talking Smack: Honest Conversations about Drugs, by Andrew McMillen ’

DrYobbo is gonna tell you...

Posted August 22, 2014
Great read. Great interview above too.

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Brian swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 22, 2014
A great interview with Mick giving interesting insights, even from early on he managed to put his music first.

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w from brisbane mutters...

Posted August 22, 2014
Very good.

This is back in the day for me, but one of the things that gives you perspective when living the drug taking life is finding yourself in a group of non-drug affected people.

With a similarly affected coterie, you feel normal, even good and clear-minded, but then suddenly entering into a group of 'straight' people, you suddenly realise you are none of those things.

Rock musos can live a life where that perspective is often not happening to them.

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Therbs asserts...

Posted August 25, 2014
Very good, intelligent interview. McMillen was able to draw a lot out of Harvey without it being cloying or patronising.

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Tim Gluckman ducks in to say...

Posted September 7, 2014
Some interesting insights into drugs & music. BTW there is no evidence for claim made that the former E German secret police STASI produced amphetamine to corrupt W Berlin youth. Can you produce evidence any evidence to support that. And the STASI have been accused ofg many things by experts re spying on ppl .
What is true that Communist Eastern Europe till 1989 made 0 or almost 0 arrests for drugs eg in Poland. Now it is many thousand per yr. Hm a country where 0 arrests for drugs....doesn't sound bad huh?!

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Dino not to be confused with reckons...

Posted September 7, 2014
well Tim there is the ship with North Korean Drugs they 'intercepted' of the Northeren Beaches os Sydeny dksjgjhgjhi8iiiii?
As the graffitti in Newtown said back in the Eighties-
"Support Your Local Cops"
"Buy Heroin"

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Orcs in New York. Hooper 3 extract

Posted July 10, 2014 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Since I'm spending all my time inside these books, you might as well get a little look-in as well. I chose these couple of a pars because they're written from the point of view of Lord Guyuk ur Grymm, one of my fave monsters. It struck me as I was editing them just how knowledge of the Horde culture and lore they assume. But then, this is from Book 3.

To give just enough context to understand what's happening, Guyuk is leading a raid into Manhattan. I've clipped a few details here and there to avoid spoilers.

(Image from The Land of Shadow)

There was a short interlude of violence, and all resistance collapsed.

Little pride was to be had in the victory, Guyuk told himself as he used the edge of his great round shield to carve one of the last fleeing humans in two. The shield’s iron edge was chamfered to a quarter claw thickness. Keen enough to slice through boiled wulfin hide armour when wielded by a strong arm, well trained to the task. Used in such a fashion upon the unprotected bodies of the calflings, it was a spectacularly gruesome kill. Bloodwine and sweetmeats fairly exploded from the fragile bag of thin skin, painting the Lord Commander in hot gore.

Not a killing to sing about, or record in the Scrolls, but it did afford an opportunity to practice one’s self denial. His head reeled with hunger, and long tendrils of acidic drool swung from his fangs. Not one morsel did he take from the quarry, though. Nor any of his Guard. They encircled their prey, crushed all resistance with swift resolve, then stayed their claws and blades.

The Cohort had emerged many leagues from the centre of the metropolis where the human Champion and his thrall were heavily engaged. Still, the incredible scale of this settlement was of an order to daunt even the strongest mind.

Was it so great that even a Regiment might not fully invest it? Guyuk pondered this as a form of meditation to still his rumbling stomachs. He spat a stream of digestive phlegm to the unnaturally level ground. From where he stood, the whole of the sky shield-wise to the moon seemed filled with the towers of humanity. Projects, the Threshrend called them, and the word seemed freighted with a dark significance.

These man-made ranges were indeed the project of a malign and terrible power. Even as he looked upon them he saw the small flashes of light and fire which he knew to be the talebearers of the human’s ranged weaponry; the guns of the calflings, such as he had just encountered. There was no sense of massed and coordinated fire, but the occasional streak of magick light – of the cursed ‘tracer’ rounds – indicated that the attention of the armsmen was focussed on the war bands which even now rampaged through these Projects a league’s distance moonwise.

“Secure the prisoners,” he ordered. “Do not damage them.”

25 Responses to ‘Orcs in New York. Hooper 3 extract’

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted July 10, 2014
I do love me a thoughtful monster.

Darth Greybeard mumbles...

Posted July 11, 2014
Who is really the monster here Paul? Aren't you judging this thoughtful and honourable creature by your own homocentric standards? Did they ask to be deluged with seawater from a hole in the ceiling?

Hath not an Orc eyes? Hath not an Orc claws, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the
same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same
diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same fire and ice, as a Human is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not rip your throat out? If you poison us, do we not laugh? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in
the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Who is the monster Paul? It's you isn't it?

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted July 11, 2014
You don't know my life.

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Therbs would have you know...

Posted July 10, 2014
They're probably just heading to the Bowery to de gentrify it. These orcs hated the idea of all the flophouse residents being turfed out in favour of up market residential towers and eateries. In essence they're implementing their own version of retrospective Green Bans. Good luck to them I say.

Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted July 10, 2014

I thought it was all about the meatpackers' area, these days, for the hipsters.

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BrianC would have you know...

Posted July 10, 2014
So i've been away when does book one release?

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tqft has opinions thus...

Posted July 10, 2014
I am tempted to make an offer about an early release copy.

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yankeedog puts forth...

Posted July 10, 2014
Given the firepower and casualty rates prevalent in Chicago on most weekends, bring the orcs! First run-ins with the Disciples or Vice Lords and there'll be a giant orc meat fest on the lakefront.

Looking forward to the series. Should be fun!

Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted July 11, 2014
I suspect, without offering spoilers from my unique position, that there will be a lot of Blue on Blue casualties.

On the Outer Marches

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Bangar has opinions thus...

Posted July 10, 2014
Orcs it just had to be Orcs didn't it, large strong and organised. Bloody Kobolds or Mongrelmen who couldn't fold a napkin with instructions (on another napkin obviously) and throw a copper piece amongst 'em to turn 'em to infighting. Bloody Orcs time to finish this 'ere lightning and head out and start swingin' the blade.

It's time for Bloody Orcs indeed.

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Sudragon has opinions thus...

Posted July 11, 2014
As long as Ashnak doesn't show up...

Surtac asserts...

Posted July 11, 2014

I'm hoping he does. ;)

Anthony mutters...

Posted July 11, 2014
He and his war- band are too busy attending to their new contract with the nameless necromancer to look after security on Manus Island. They don't have time for frivolities these days.

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Dave W mutters...

Posted July 11, 2014

Like no restaurant I've been to.

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w from brisbane puts forth...

Posted July 11, 2014
" Bloodwine and sweetmeats fairly exploded from the fragile bag of thin skin, painting the Lord Commander in hot gore."

This may be a first. A book about human-eating monsters written by a restaurant reviewer.
Because I am a bit worried. That sentence made me feel hungry.

Dave W has opinions thus...

Posted July 11, 2014
D'oh. Responded to wrong comment. Must be the lack of breakfast. Anyone know where I can get some blood pudding?

Lulu mutters...

Posted July 11, 2014
Is that the same as black pudding?

Dave W mutters...

Posted July 11, 2014

It sure is. *smacks lips*

w from brisbane asserts...

Posted July 11, 2014
I was thinking more of a steak and kidney pie washed down by a nice West Australian cabernet sauvignon. Bloody hell! I'm trying to stay on light rations.
Damn you Guyuk and your Orc gastronome cohort!

Dave W would have you know...

Posted July 11, 2014

Well yeah, now I'm keen for steak and kidney pie. This morning I was keen for blood pudding, because it was breakfast time. Obviously.

Lulu mumbles...

Posted July 11, 2014
Now I want a "full English" (or Scottish, or Irish). Eggs, sausages, bacon, black pudding, etc etc. If I have that now, I won't need to eat until Tuesday.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted July 12, 2014
Don't forget the beans, mushrooms and grilled tomato. And a cuppa. Oh dear, how I miss it.

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Dino not to be confused with swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 11, 2014
Scary JB.
I had a real sense of Deja Vu too yesterday when I read it.
I was at the same place last year and read one of your posts there.
*Cue X Files Music*

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PT 2. How to think about exercise

Posted June 15, 2014 into Book Extract by John Birmingham

Part 2.

The Soldier’s Equipment

What kind of self is intensified in sprinting and other exercises? The stories of the Iliad and Odyssey suggest one obvious but exclusive answer: the soldier.

The Greeks were a warlike civilization, and running was obviously worthwhile because it made for fitter warriors. The hoplitodromos competitors sprinted in helmets and greaves, carrying shields, because that that is how they ran on the battlefield. Plato, in his dialogue Laws, sketched an ideal city in which citizens competed in full armour for prizes. He wanted soldiers, not professional sportsmen, striving for spectacle. ‘Body agility – quickness of hand as well as of foot – is a first-rate point in the soldier’s equipment,’ he wrote. ‘Fleetness of foot has its use in flight and pursuit.’

[illustration: Greeks sprinting in armour - caption: Hoplitodromos Louvre MN704, Side B from an Attic black-figure Panathenaic amphora, 323–322 BC. From Benghazi (Cyrenaica, now in Libya). Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen)

Obviously the same point can be made for lifting weights, athletics, gymnastics, and so on: they make us tougher, so our pride is basically martial.

But I am not a soldier – not even a policeman or bouncer. Neither are most of today’s sprinters, doing laps in public parks, without the threat of rampaging Persians. Runner Cathy Freeman lives in a quiet Melbourne suburb and ‘shuffles’, she says, three times a week – hardly the Peloponnesian War. Power-lifter Clint Greagen might be built like the proverbial outhouse, but his days are spent folding linen (between reps) and preparing dinner.

Put simply, there is more to pride than this stereotypically masculine ideal of battlefield or back-alley toughness. The Greeks suggest a more profound, and also more democratic, idea: pride can suggest a more responsible character.

Racing Feet and Striving Hands

In the Iliad, the soldiers did not simply sprint for battle. They also ran to commemorate Patroclus’ memory. He was a famed sprinter, and the running races recalled his physical and moral virtues. As the crowds cheered ‘shining long-enduring Odysseus’, they recalled Patroclus. This was more than a sporting eulogy for the slain. It was a reminder for the living: glory in your muscles and lungs while you can.

Likewise in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus was, by this stage, middle-aged, weary and grumpy. Shipwrecked on Phaeacia, he was feasted by the king, but privately wept for his wife, son and island, Ithaca. To cheer him up, King Alcinous did exactly what Achilles did after Patroclus’ death: he held games. To taunt Odysseus into the contest, Prince Laodamas said: ‘What glory attends a man, while he’s alive, than what he wins with his racing feet and striving hands?’ The wording makes it clear: tough luck, mate, but there is no point moping. Get off your bum and enjoy your muscles while you have them.

Odysseus replied angrily, but was soon sucked into competition. He won the discus in a single throw, and then insulted the youths:

Not match that, you young pups, and straightaway I’ll hurl another just as far, I swear, or even further! All the rest of you, anyone with spine and spirit, Step right up and try me – you’ve incensed me so –

at boxing, wrestling, racing; nothing daunts me.

Note the combination of intense pride and regained confidence. Like all of the Greek heroes, Odysseus is proud of his muscularity and speed. The youths goad him into competition, and this works: he loses his sullen tears, and walks proudly again. Put in Hume’s language, by regaining pleasure in his body, Odysseus enhances his idea of himself. This is because the relations of ideas and passions move both ways. Joy can bring with it an existential responsibility: this is my body, my life, and I will not be beaten by age or acrimony.

Odysseus’ pride is echoed in the words of Pindar, a fifth-century bc Greek poet. No stranger to running races or pride, Pindar was paid by games victors to celebrate their conquests. In 498 bc, he wrote a song for Hippokleas, winner of the double sprint in the Pythian games. ‘The gods may feel no sorrow, but a man should be accounted happy and worthy of song,’ he said of Hippokleas, ‘if boldness and power have gained him the greatest prize for the might of hand and foot.’

This emphasis on mortality highlights our human responsibility. For the Greeks, the gods had eternity to enjoy caprice and play. They did not get ill or old. We humans have a short span of life, and an even shorter span of prime fitness. ‘If a man attains his wish let him cling to it and not let it go for something far off,’ Pindar wrote for Hippokleas the sprinter. ‘There is no telling what will be a year from now.’ Enjoy your triumph, says Pindar, because life is brief and brutal. He cautions competitors against hubris: transgressing the sacred laws of men and gods. He damns avarice and cruelty. But for Pindar, physical pride is not only pleasurable, but also virtuous. It is rightful pleasure in activity instead of passivity – in stubborn exertion, which makes the most of precarious flesh.

Be the Rock

This message from the Greeks is simple but profound, and transcends their civilization. There is, as Hume argued with devastating precision, no happy afterlife, no cosmic plan for the redemption of immortal souls. We are bodies, and we will suffer and die – all of us, without exception. In this, the pagan outlook is surprisingly modern. But this grim disclosure can also be a source of pleasure. It is precisely because intense muscular effort is so fragile and ephemeral that it is bliss. When Odysseus met him in the Underworld, Achilles famously said he would prefer to be a servant to a poor man than a dead king of kings. To live, however lowly and briefly, is a chance to strive.

So pride in exercise is more than a firmer idea of ourselves, of the ‘I’ we imagine we are. It is also a sense of the worth of this achievement: that, with limited days and vitality, we still bother to hone ourselves by striving physically. Given all the possible ways to sit idle, and to justify this, we have dedicated ourselves to some act of uncomfortable toil.

This is why, as Pindar suggested and Hume argued, pride is also a kind of virtue. In the pride of sprinting, power-lifting or pedalling, we rightly celebrate ourselves for our committed exertion; for the willingness to move as hard and fast as we possibly can, instead of watching others do so on television. We are, in short, exerting ourselves when we might equally not.

This takes not only fitness, but also a keen sense of responsibility: recognition that we might die tomorrow having never touched the edges of our own abilities. This is less about ‘seizing the day’, and other positive-thinking slogans, and more about more firmly grasping ourselves: as fragile, precarious things, with a small portion of vitality. We cannot wait for God or gods to give us our souls – the self is something we must continually, often consciously, create. In this, exercise is a recollection of the burden of existence, which gives us pleasure as we lift it.

The French philosopher Albert Camus, famous for his love of soccer, once argued that Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill for eternity, was happy. It was his rock – that is, his duty, his task, and no one else’s. The pride of exercise offers this same strained happiness, only we are the rock.

6 Responses to ‘PT 2. How to think about exercise’

Dino not to be confused with mumbles...

Posted June 15, 2014
Damon's a good writer.
I've told him so.
But the last sentence?
Shouldn't 'we' be in " "?

Dino not to be confused with swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 15, 2014
Sweet fn Jesus do I feel lonely here!

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JG has opinions thus...

Posted June 15, 2014
'The pride of exercise offers this same strained happiness, only we are the rock.'

So true. Exercising is a battle, a struggle at times, but it's also a source of happiness, pride, and self achievement. I'd rather try than not.

I ran 32km on the Gold Coast today. The three-week tapering period leading up to my first marathon now starts. Hallelujah!


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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted June 16, 2014

I'm not the rock.

Dwayne Johnson is the Rock, everyone know that.

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JG ducks in to say...

Posted June 27, 2014

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JG has opinions thus...

Posted June 27, 2014
Hmm. That's strange... my comment (above) didn't paste. Here it is again:
Love the book my daughter gave me for my birthday recently: 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' by renowned Japanese novelist and passionate marathon runner, Murakami. It's a memoir centred around long-distance running.

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