Dork Geek Nerd

"Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist"

Monday, October 15, 2018

One-hour writing challenge - "Digging Ain’t Uncovering"

Never accept a job offer at a funeral. That’s my advice to you, young rogues. Not even when it sounds like your profiting won’t harm a soul in the world. Especially not then!

We’ve all attended a stranger’s burial in the hope of scoring a free feed. Shammers and thugs alike, we’ve all done that when our bellies was aching empty. But don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone hanging at the back, avoiding eye contact with the deceased’s family and friends, is the same as you. There are crooks and then there are…

Well, let’s just say there are folks like Mr Pentalikent.

I was at a graveyard in the Fifth Quarter when I met him. Standing behind a trio of weeping crones, watching some fella being laid to rest, desperate to hear the magic words: “Everyone is welcome to join us for food and refreshments.” He put a hand on me shoulder and I almost jumped into the grave meself.

“There isn’t going to be a meal,” said Mr Pentalikent, in a kind of loud whisper, his hand slipping away like a snake. “No meal and no toasting of the dearly departed. He drank himself to death, so the widow doesn’t believe it’s appropriate.”

“Guess I’ll be going hungry tonight,” I admitted, sizing him up. He was tall and thin, but wide with it. Big head. Like a scarecrow. Except scarecrows don’t wear shiny purple suits. Not around any villages I’ve been chased out of for marked cards or painted coins.

“Hmmmm…” replied Mr Pentalikent, squeezing his eyes shut as if he were thinking extra hard. I couldn’t decide which was the impostor – his too-black hair or his too-tanned skin. One of you cuckoos mighta been able to tell, but I couldn’t.

He opened his eyes, which were a nice enough blue but ruined by them being so bloodshot.

“There may be another way we can have someone else pay for our supper. A way that may even leave us with the funds for dessert.” He paused, then pretend-slapped the side of his face. “Where are my manners? My name is Mr Pentalikent.”

He bowed. By this point, funeral-goers were dispersing from the gravesite as a pair of burly women with the neck tattoos of Revolution Veterans finished shovelling dirt on top of the coffin. A couple of the mourners eyed Mr Pentalikent disapprovingly, though they remained silent.

I gave him my name. You’ll pardon me if I don’t repeat it here, in case there’s a lie-write among you.

“What’s this other way, then?” I asked, belly already gurgling at the prospect of being served more for dinner than fountain water.

Fast as a stripecoat skinner’s blade, Mr Pentalikent’s hand was on me shoulder again. It was no less startling the second time. “It involves a burial of a different sort…”

***

An hour past nightfall, we was in the rich district. Gem Traders’ Row. In the backyard of a mansion that appeared to be unoccupied. At any rate, the lone light source was a small torch Mr Pentalikent had stuck into the ground to illuminate our work. It’d come out of a sack he’d collected on our journey across the city. A sack he’d hidden in a spearleaf tree that he’d climbed like it was merely a set of stairs.

Also in the sack had been an old spade – which I was now using to dig a hole in a gem merchant’s trimmed lawn. As Mr Pentalikent kept a lookout for guard dogmen or nosey neighbours, I tried to ignore the weariness in me arms and focus on the prize we sought.

“During the Revolution, many wealthy people hid their valuables in the earth lest they be confiscated to pay troops,” Mr Pentalikent had explained as we’d walked up the wildflower-dotted hill beside the graveyard, me taking two hurried steps to his one easy stride. “For various reasons, they didn’t always return for those valuables later.”

Mr Pentalikent claimed he had information there was a mansion in the city with a lost fortune buried in the back garden. He further claimed to know that the present owners were not only ignorant of the fortune (and therefore wouldn’t miss it), they were to be absent on this particular evening.

We agreed that I’d dig up the stuff, while he’d deal with any interference. Although he wasn’t carrying an obvious weapon, I had no doubt he could handle himself. He radiated that scary confidence you feel from pit fighters who’ve survived an entire season. Am I right, Kadolphus?

“Dig faster,” instructed Mr Pentalikent.

“Are you sure it’s…” My spade struck wood. I dug furiously until I’d unearthed a chest about the size of a counter cask. Suddenly, Mr Pentalikent was next to me in the hole, lifting the container up onto the grass like it was weightless. I prayed to Goddess it wasn’t.

“Shall we take it elsewhere to do the opening?” I asked.

“No,” said Mr Pentalikent, in that loud whisper with which he'd gotten my attention at the funeral.

From his sack, he produced a ring of strangely shaped keys and began systematically trying them in the lock. There was a heavy clunk. He took hold of both sides of the lid, then stopped, turning to meet my gaze. In the torchlight, his bloody blue eyes looked reptilian, his grin demonic.

He opened the chest.

***

The thing about gem traders is they’re often also gem cutters. And the thing about cutting gems is it’s best done with magic. Follow that logic home from the tavern in the dark and you’ll realise that no-one makes a better gem trader than a wizard.

Wizards don’t leave treasure chests unguarded.

They build in traps that go off if a false key is used. Magic explosions so forceful they destroy the legs of a poor thief who just wanted a free feed, and that incinerate the fancy clothes of a creature revealed to be as much clockwork as man. Explosions so deafening me ears still ring. So deafening they brought the City Watch down on us within minutes. No, not on us.

The last sight I beheld between those mansion grounds and this wretch-filled prison was Mr Pentalikent scooping the few gems that had survived the blast into his sack, then bounding towards and effortlessly over the rear wall. Shiny purple suit ruined, flesh shredded, mechanicals exposed and motivations forever a mystery.

Duolinguist

Wanting to channel spare minutes into something more productive than "Magic: The Gathering - Puzzle Quest", I downloaded the Duolingo app on my iPad and have begun learning Danish. The free version seems useable, throwing up only a bordered static ad at the end of each lesson that can be quickly X-ed away. It's also fully gameified - letting you earn and gamble points, and collect achievements - meaning there's a chance I'll stick with it longer than I did "holiday" Korean (CD & cheat sheet) or Russian (multiple cassettes & chunky workbook). The lessons are cleverly designed, mixing in plenty of visual clues and testing you've learnt from past errors. Give it a go!


Friday, October 12, 2018

Hello, I must bee going!

In spring, bees set off in search of suitable sites to establish new colonies. For some reason - perhaps the colours/patterning of the bricks - our house is a favoured stopover on these migrations. So, every September-October, we'll see the odd bee buzzing outside a window, then several of 'em, then a large swarm, then they'll be goneski. We don't bother them and they don't really bother us. That said, it's probably just as well we don't have a flower garden or they might enquire about long-term accommodation.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Time capsule

This blog commenced in mid-2006.

I recently uncovered a company-supplied diary from 2004 in which I had recorded all of my extracurriculars for that year, pasting in the tickets where they existed.

It lists 25 sporting events (seven of them internationals), three concerts, 18 exhibitions, 17 movies and 18 miscellaneous outings.

Notes:

* I was at the first one-day cricket match under lights at Telstra Stadium...along with 26,000+ others. Pretty sure PB was there with me.

* Regarding a trade fair attended by CM and myself: "Made some good contacts - we think!"

* Surprise musical guests at a Catharine Britt country gig included Dave Gleeson from the Screaming Jets.

* A strip club's invitation-only reopening entailed "free food, free martinis and a Kirsten Dunst-alike".

* On the play "Copenhagen", staged at the Wharf Theatre: "A mysterious episode in wartime atomic science is bombarded with possibility until it explodes with meaning."

* I visited a honey farm, a butterfly house and did a dolphin-/whale-spotting cruise in the space of a few days.

* There were at least two "Doctor Who" fan events held in Sydney during the year. AP2 probs joined me for those.

* The Australian International Motor Show (RIP) was still going.

* The "Magic: The Gathering" NSW State Championship could fit inside an RSL club. Ran into a guy from the glory days of Card Trek.

* My ticket into the Bradman Cricket Museum, Bowral read "ADMIT ONE CHILD", leaving me puzzled.

* I was prepared to view art exhibitions on everything from scrimshaw to The Beatles' stint in Germany to models naked save for strategically placed checkerboards!

* There sure were some live sporting nailbiters: Swans 80 - Hawks 79; Blues 9 - Maroons 8; Kings 97 - Pirates 96, etc.

* Return flight to Canberra? Why? The 2004 diary doesn't reveal.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Conventional

This long weekend, I will be at the Sydcon gaming convention. I'm playing five modules over the three days:

* An Arctic horror adventure using the GURPS system
* A FATE module where the PCs are all supervillains
* A Sydney-set, "Dresden Files"-inspired urban fantasy
* What sounds like a war story in the world of "The Witcher", AND
* An Oz outbreak scenario using "Call Of Cthulhu".

As a younger man, I'd have packed a few more modules into the w/e. But I am a veritable Methuselah now and prefer a relaxed pace.

I also want time to make the most of the many fine eateries along nearby Glebe Point Rd. I shudder to remember the Macquariecon I attended in the 1990s where I dined exclusively on sausage rolls with sauce, Mars bars and cans of Coke.

I had a higher CONSTITUTION then, and hadn't exhausted all of my LUCK.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Steak'N'Kidney

Breakfasted on muesli, fruit salad and plain yoghurt, then caught the train to Sydney. Across the aisle, three elderly ladies communicated silently, rapidly, in Sign Language. Had they been friends since their youth? Finished my book on the way and left it on a bench at the station, with a "Free! Please take" note sticking out of the top.
Walked to Central Park, the Japan Foundation office and the free "Anime Architecture" exhibition. Photography wasn't permitted, so you'll have to settle for the above snap of a watermelon man. "A/A" focused on older animated films, but that didn't make it any less impressive when I learnt the crazy level of effort that's put into anime backgrounds - scouting locations, preliminary paintings, etc. Watching out-of-context clips from the flicks really made me appreciate their architectural detail.
Walked to Darling Harbour, passing 8bit. This wasn't the time to sample a Golden Axe Burger or 1942 Hotdog, however, as I'd brought ham'n'salad sangers from home. My next stop was the National Maritime Museum, to see "James Cameron - Challenging The Deep". It covered the director's long fascination with underwater exploration, from "The Abyss" and "Titanic" to his expedition to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. While not the first to reach the ocean's deepest point, JC was the first to do it solo. Trivia: there was a commemorative Rolex strapped to the outside of his craft.
Walked to The Domain via Kings, where I picked up "Conco And The Fudge #1", which DL had raved about and the "Serious Issues" pod had reviewed positively in two separate eps. It's a wrestling comic, but it's also a sweet time-travel romance/mystery. It has no right to be as good as it is.
My third exhibition viewing for the day was the Archibald, Wynne & Sulman Prize pictures at the Art Gallery Of NSW. The above shot, swiped from the gallery's Instagram feed, shows artist Yvette Coppersmith with her deservedly Archie-winning self-portrait. The Archibald entries on display this year were of an amazingly high standard, in my opinion. Shame about some of the trash littering the Wynnes and Sulmans.

Forgot to mention that in Hyde Park there was a protest against the "racist" South African Government. And that ahead of me at the gallery's bag-check counter was a woman dressed as a taco checking in a helium balloon!
More walking. The upstairs area of the State Library was closed. While contemplating buying a juice from the cafe downstairs, I spied an unusual vending machine filled with small, yellow envelopes. The instructions said that if I inserted any coin and selected an envelope, I would be directed to a random section of the library. I dropped a 50c piece in the slot, pressed "A", "7", and received my directions...to be followed at a later date (i.e. never).
Walked to Circular Quay, to peruse the free Xun Sun exhibition at the MCA. That owl comes from a room-wrapping alternate Zodiac entitled "Maniac Universe" and in actuality is quite luminous. Like Ms Coppersmith, XS was born in 1980. Dunno what that signifies, it was just a fact I noted. Got short-changed in the gift shop by a Bohemian beauty. Not free, then :-)
Walked to the Opera House. Sad to say that backpacks must now go through an airport-style scanner before you are granted entrance. I was there to hear Chris Cheney (The Living End), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Josh Pyke, Tim Rogers (You Am I) and a mighty backing band perform The Beatles' "White Album" in its entirety. It was FANTASTIC - a unique musical experience I would recommend to anyone - with the highlight for me being "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". TR's banter was amusingly wacky, e.g. explaining his theatrical dress and stage moves: "I was beaten as a kid. Beaten in a chess game in Kalgoorlie in 1985."
Walked back to the centre of the CBD and checked into the QT Hotel, where I scored an upgrade. The executive suite was cool, with decor that evoked both trendy nightclub and expensive brothel. The bathroom was overkill - two "rain showers" and a huge tub.
Skipped dinner and dashed to the Genesian Theatre for the Agatha Christie play "The Unexpected Guest" (image from their website). Overall, it was OK. The preposterous plot was par for the course. What bothered me was the inconsistent accents, which ranged from heavy to light to nonexistent. It was jarring, and made suspending disbelief even harder. I'd have much rathered all of the actors spoke in a neutral accent. Returned to my sexy suite for a packet of Bombay Mix and "Paddington 2".
Rose early Sunday and watched "The Limehouse Golem" while eating the deluxe room-service breakfast.

Walked to Newtown to search the secondhand bookstores for treasure. Left Elizabeth's empty-handed and Gould's showed no signs of opening. Bugger. Thought I'd better purchase supplies for the train to Newie. Unfortunately, the boutique supermarket I chose to visit was mostly empty racks. The best I could manage was a bottle of water and a paleo bar (and I detest the paleo concept!). "Sorry if there was something else you were after," apologised the cashier. I made a joke about Communist Russia...which feels tasteless now that I write that line.
Walked to Railway Square, where Basement Books supplied a decent spy novel for $4. The return trip lasted 5.5 hours instead of the usual three due to a track blockage and unscheduled train change. It didn't worry me. I had a book, I had water, I had a stupid paleo bar and I'd crammed a crapload into my minibreak.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Heart strings \/

* Alicia Vikander in "Tomb Raider"
* Deepika Padukone in Bollywood epic "Bajirao Mastani"
* Erik Fermina, aka Lala Lemonboots in gamecast "Girls Guts Glory"
* Italian volleyball star Francesca Piccinini
* Gal Gadot in "Wonder Woman"
* Superest model Karlie Kloss for Victoria's Secret lingerie
* Keira Knightley in "Princess Of Thieves"
* Singer Tzuyu (from the group Twice) competing in the K-Pop Olympics. Yes, really.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Past libe

DL was telling me how much his kids like visiting their local public library. This prompted a discussion about the changes these institutions have gone through in the previous few decades.

Nowadays, I use a plastic card to log into a terminal, scan my selections (20 per visit, to a maximum of 40), tear off the receipt, and usually leave without ever having interacted with a librarian. If I later need to renew some items, I can simply do so online.

When I was a lad, it was very different. For a start, we knew all of the library staff well. We had to because, besides stamping the due date in/on the back of everything, they decided if a selection could be reborrowed or reserved. More importantly, they had an intimate knowledge of the library’s contents. There was no electronic catalogue to check.

Access to material was strictly controlled via pieces of coloured cardboard. Kids received four orange library cards, two pink cards and one white. The orange allowed you to borrow hardback books. The pink ones were for paperbacks. The white card was for borrowing thickly laminated posters. Either the orange or pink cards also did for music/spoken-word cassettes. Can’t remember which.

Adults were dealt a similar hand, except their library cards were light blue, yellow and white. And instead of children’s posters, they could take home art prints to temporarily adorn their walls.

Note that the two groups weren’t accessing the same hardbacks and paperbacks, at least not as far as fiction went. The adult versions were clearly marked “ADULT” and precocious lads like me couldn’t borrow them unless we convinced a parent to devote one of their cards to the purpose.

When, as a teen, you graduated from orange’n’pink to light blue’n’yellow, it was a big deal. Suddenly, no-one could stop you grabbing a whole stack of B-grade sci-fi yarns with titillating covers. Ahem. What I mean to say is – suddenly, no-one could stop you accessing more intellectually challenging fare and broadening your cultural horizons.

Back then, libraries didn’t loan out movies on VHS or Beta. The idea of borrowing a videogame was unimaginable…although you could book the Apple IIe for 15 minutes at a time and hone your platforming skills on “Sammy Lightfoot”. Instead of a free Wi-Fi link to Wikipedia, etc., we had the Reference Section. Do they even still make almanacs?

Leaving without using my six non-poster cards was not an option. If, for whatever reason, the family didn’t make it to the library the following week, there was a chance I’d run out of unread stuff and die of boredom. As a result, I tackled a number of series completely out of order, based on which volumes happened to be on the shelves. Young me had faith the missing chapters would turn up eventually.

The library of my childhood was floored with carpet squares we’d sneakily lift, then press down into place again before anyone noticed. There was an English librarian we called The English Lady. For a while, there was a stray kitten hanging about that we tried unsuccessfully to adopt. Our existing cat wouldn’t accept it. Placid by nature, at the sight of the interloper it went hissing-clawing berserk!

The cassettes were housed in revolving racks. The posters stood longways in planter-type boxes. I recall competing for Apple IIe useage with a girl from another school, the two of us repeatedly rebooking the green-screened machine after each other. To get to the male or female toilets, you had to walk through the study room. Shithouse building design, that. (Sorry.)

It’s hard to convey what a source of constant wonders public libraries were prior to Netflix, iBooks, Steam, comiXology and the rest. Before most folks had instant, virtually unlimited access to fillums, novels, games, comics, etc. at low cost. The first time you heard of a book’s existence wasn’t when the author tweeted the contract signing – it was when you spied the published tome on the New Releases shelf, freshly covered in plastic and just begging for a due-date stamp.

I won’t claim that we loved our local library any more than the kids of today love theirs. But we did.