Arresting the Thief of Time


Time is a volley of arrows, piercing the outer perimeters of creation. Time is a river, flowing into the cosmic ocean, carrying all in its variable current. Time is the fourth dimension, the space within the up, down, and across. Time is an illusion, a conscious burden carried only by humans at the expense of all other animals. Time is passing. It has been eight months since I saw my father and my brother, who are this moment flying in a Qantas Tardis to be reunited with me. In losing three hours of their lives to be three hours ahead, I gain priceless hours with them, hours felled by time’s arrow, drowned by time’s river, or otherwise never existed in the big cosmic cover-up.

Seeing my brother and father again in but a few hours from now has made me reflect on the passing of time. By the time they wheel those trolleys through the arrivals gate tonight it will be eight months since we were last in each other’s presence. That adds up to a lot of water under different bridges. They in their kingdom prone to flooding, their river was a torrent. Me in this sheikhdom of ephemeral rains, mine was nothing followed by a trickle, a torrent, a trickle, then nothing. Time’s perfect bell curve.

Looking back on it, August seemed to evaporate in a blistering heatwave. September melted onto the end, producing two months in a Swedish sauna with the door jammed closed from the outside. October came and went, punctured as it was by a road trip to a baked layer cake of jutting rock called the Musandam Peninsula. While hardly an odyssey of Homeric proportions, that event at least laid down a temporal marker. The flag fluttering at some indeterminate point on life’s course bore a message for posterity. On it was written,

…October 2015, camping in the fjords and on the high plateau of the Musandam, Sultanate of Oman….

While everyone else was wilting on the Arabian Peninsula, we temperate-seeking individuals were shivering cold next to a fire at 5,000 feet above the heat, above the bullshit expat culture, above even the song of the adhan – that quilt of Quranic verse patched together from the voice of more mosques than you can possibly imagine. Jumping from islet to islet with pointed fingers on an archipelago of stars in a night sky of purest black, their names were the only glint of gold of that Islamic age, gone as the time since I last saw my dear father and brother. They were the only reminders that we had cast ourselves out of the lands of our birth. There’s Deneb, the tail, and Aldebaran, the follower of the cluster Pleiades. And there rising on the eastern elliptic, over Jebel Harem (the mountain of the women) Orion the hunter. The rhinestone buckle on his belt, put there by the great astronomers of Abbasid Baghdad, they called Alnitak, the belt. And there above it, just as the donkey starts to bray somewhere far or near – who can tell – the burning coals of Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. Not everyone can claim to have that experience marking time on their short course to oblivion.

Winter eased gently in and before long the temperature was summer everywhere else that was not the Sahara, or the Australian Outback, or Death Valley. While Europe took a drenching and the US got snowed under in more ways than one, we were sitting on the balcony disbelieving ourselves that this was not too bad after all.

December came and with it new horizons. From the yellow to the green. To Angkor, founded into the world’s largest city, then lost into the jungle, then found again by a French archaeologist armed only with a machete and a vague idea, now lost again in a sense to tourist hordes. Eye-popping Pattaya where bottles disappear into the unlikeliest of quarters. Myanmar followed. Last chance to see an old curiosity before globalisation rehashes it into another mass-produced trinket worth hanging a cut-price label on.

January saw a return to the desert. The rains had fallen, the humidity crashed, and suddenly we could all see clearly again. The dust and the grime had been cleansed from the windows of our apartments and our minds. Now we could see just how many tankers lay anchored offshore. The mountains were no longer a mirage, but that was about as far as clarity got. Time continued to obfuscate judgment, to defy youthful hopes. Still the doubts weighed heavily on the lingering notion that though time was passing quicker than ever, our sense of alacrity was not quite up to speed. While it was being stretched and pulled asunder, turning days into weeks, I was feeling as lugubrious as I had ever felt. While it was being compressed and choked, turning months into minutes, I was feeling manic helplessness on a runaway train. I lumbered and lurched like a bi-polar dog on a leash he can’t decide is short or extendable.

The pathos bit hard. Time called time on me for a while. These were what some referred to as the mid-term blues, and others the dog days. I preferred to compare them to neither blue nor dogs. Blue for me is that break in the clouds we from the overcast north consider heaven sent. And dogs are friends you need to consider indispensable when the alternative is talking to the wall.

The mood recession of early 2016 didn’t quite become a full-blown depression. It was salvaged by a stern recovery brought about through a surge in consumer confidence. Once again, investors were willing to risk on return, and time’s borrowers were willing to chance it on a reasonable APR. The confidence came in knowing that all who comprehend the weird passing of time both borrow from it and invest into it. Knowing that made dealing with time’s funny fluid dynamics easier.

When it wasn’t spinning out of control, it was juddering to a halt. Confounding all who try to swim against it, sweeping away those who go with it, time bit me hardest here in a land where there are no seasons, no discernible way of measuring the metrics of time. Yet through it all, I can rise above it here and now and let it be known that you might have placed much temporal distance between my brother, my father and me, but you, Old Father Time, never managed to diminish the love I have for them. You may have even done me a favour by revealing a better, kinder and more gentler version of yourself to us over the coming days.

Supervolcanic Blackhole


What in the world is going on in this world? While it spins around without much sign of slowing down, the little self-appointed beings it spawned from a soup of mitochondrial DNA in some primordial rock pool gear up for the end of days in a dizzying headf**k of joyless Jihadism, treeless technoscape and future uncertain.

How did we come to be in the state we are in today? They say that when the Lake Toba supervolcano erupted on the island of Sumatra 76,000 years ago, our numbers crashed to a mere handful. Those few good men and women, hardy hunter-gatherers in tribes unswayed by a little thing called disaster, survived a die back under epic skies choked with a change in chemistry. So how did we go from a few thousand living under the ward rules of Matron Nature – she of the curfew who ordered ‘Lights off ’ by 7pm – to fourteen billion feet and galloping? To use the parlance of the new age: W.T.F.?

It’s all down to the night lights. You cannot go practically overnight from tallow candles and oil lamps that barely bite into the darkness to an interconnected grid that delivers so much generated light to so many planetary places that the earth is inviting an invasion of the body snatchers. We are sleepless in everywhere but Seattle. Hello, universe? Can you see me now?

The lights are on, alright, but nobody upon nobody is home. Well, actually, there are so many of us home we’re positively busting down the door. In those hearts that self-combust in a mass suicide pyre, that’s where we are. It’s the absence of mind that is cause for concern. Social and political psychiatrists prepare to deploy….

Brussels bombed under the watchful nose of the EU/UN/NATO and any other shady acronym you can fit together. Does this bring new gag fodder to a generation of comedians hungry for explosive material? Three men walk into an airport…. Boom, boom. The time bomb is ticking until another atrocity is committed by young radicals seeking redemption, but not the kind that either Jesus or Bob Marley advocated. Dressed for dystopia like the Village People in the their figure-hugging vests, when it goes off – and you’ll know about it when it does – their redemption will send shock waves through the immediate vicinity. When the pieces are gathered up for a religious burial, the flesh&bone collectors will know at least they’ve been honest in their cause, for those martyrs will be wearing their hearts quite literally on their sleeves. Not that their sleeves will be attached at the elbow.

Why did the Toba supervolcano leave a few of us as a human seed bank? It’s all wrong. Since when did martyrs feel the need to make martyrs of those standing next to them when they never even stopped first to introduce themselves? And to call them nihilists. At least if they believed in nothing, as true nihilists do, they wouldn’t bother getting out of bed to take up arms and bomb belts in the cause of making a good impression on God (like He hasn’t enough sorting to do as it is).

A black man about to leave a White House who has done more to decorate the walls wise than any other since the president in the wheelchair who taught the world to get on its feet again. Oh, yes, that White House, HQ of our last, best hope. Its Oval Office draws all manner of term-appointed residents, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Any schmuck with money  can run for the Oval Office but it takes a special kind of schmuck to throw his hat into the Republican Party ring, thus leaving the hair on his head quite as ridiculous as the man himself. With Obama exiting stage left, the next to enter stage right might be a different kind of player, specifically the type that would mate with his offspring if only she wasn’t so inconveniently chipped off the old block. Then again, America can’t have lost the plot to the extent of letting in a juggler-cum-clown with incest in his balls, surely?

Brexit, schmexit. Dominoes topple, Brexit onto Frexit, Frexit onto Tragix. Rome sacked by itself. When finally we Europeans, for the most part, are getting along like a tribe on fire, we toy with the idea of tearing apart the family. And why? Because, Daddy EU Commissioner, you’re cramping my style. We’re through. I need to find myself, my lost identity. Deep down I’ve always hated you. With you bearing down my neck I’ll never achieve the…self-actualization…I so deserve. I’ll expect a favourable settlement, of course. Forget Tolstoy. He can’t help you now. It’s Freud’s narcissism of minor differences we need turn to, all over again. That’s what’s fuelling it. Narcissism, and history’s habit of repeating on itself. 476AD, 1618AD, 1914AD, 2016AD, 1812 Overture. Those among us who don’t think a well-timed terrorist atrocity won’t be the tail that wags the dog in the referendum stakes. Lest we forget, lest we forget.

History repeating itself first as tragedy, second as farce. It really is. If it wasn’t so farcical it would be tragic. Humanity busy making mountains of PVC garbage out of molehills of common sense, common sense that reads: you cannot keep trashing the house and still expect the landlord to renew your lease. Baby green turtles garrotted by a plastic ring from a six-pack tossed away in Botany Bay, washed up in Valparaiso, Chile. 100,000,000 sea creatures killed by plastic and chemical effluent each year. Primary forest culled to make way for palm oil to make the food that makes industry penny-wise and fat consumers pound foolish.

There’s one born every minute, but is this the best moment in history to be living? You cannot be looking up at the stars in the galactic medium when half the world is nose down in Samsung’s Galaxy at the stars of the social medium. We’re looking at someone else looking at someone else looking at someone else; mocking, pitying, ridiculing them, never a kind word spoken in jest. There are more filmmakers than there are films worth filming. There is real loving to be had but it’s always the guy next door who’s the one getting it. At least the Band plays on with Bob Dylan doing the freewheelin’. There has to be some redemption in that, still none that our Jihadi Joes would ever appreciate.

What in the world is going on in a world going off? And what would our proto-parents, who survived the Toba supervolcano of 76,000BC, make of it?




A Time to Plant


There’s not much pollen rattling the air out there. Not even heat convection can excite the molecules. The ear strains to hear the drumbeat of hooves clomp in a rising crescendo. While not an avid race goer, I’m sure it’s not like this when geldings go galloping on English turf.

A plume of the finest sand kicked up by the softest, broadest pads of all two-toed animals envelops the herd in a dust bubble. Little else competes with their approach other than the owner relaying orders to the jockey from the comfort of an all-terrain vehicle crawling alongside the track on a highway laid specially for the moving spectator.

Tall, lean dromedaries lope along on sand in teams of six. On legs taller than a man, their stride is almost exaggerated. Wearing fawn and cavalry blue Shalwar Kameez, the trainers mounted front and rear look Pakistani. Or possibly Afghani, continuing a proud tradition that began with the Afghani camel drivers who were brought to Australia in the 19th century to penetrate deep into the Outback. Nimble little stalwarts riding bareback, these trainers crouch in the brace position on the hind slope of the animal’s hump. Any more bumping and grinding and they will slip down its steep gradient and onto a painful dumping on the coccyx. Yet, few if any do.

Seeing that today’s camel jockey is a race day robot, these trainers fall short of being silicon enough to see action on the furlongs. He’s on it most of the week, because through his nurturing abilities the trainer avoids obsolescence. There to groom the dashing dromedary in a pampering exercise regime, his loving care shows in the health and well-being of this most venerated of beasts.

Camels are coated in colourful blankets with bundles for humps, great long legs made for striding and necks bowed for pipping other necks to the post. If the age of oil and the fame of the sheikhdom cities that flowed from the wells had not already put the rest of the world conveniently in the iconic frame of the Bedouin in his white robes sailing his ship of the desert, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that what they were witnessing on that track was a George Lucas re-imagining of a horse race. Weird, prehensile lips flapping at the end of impossibly outstretched necks in this all-encompassing sandscape that glares more powerfully than any bank of studio lights ever could, Lucas’ planet Tatooine was obviously a borrowed creation. A crushing reality check for anyone who remembers being a kid in 1977 when Star Wars first hit the screens.

To suck the marrow out of life first you need to splinter a few bones. If that means extending the love and attention that organic compounds have long denied the desert, then so be it. They say nothing good can come from nothing, that no good thing can grow in a desert. But they didn’t reckon for creations that don’t need a steady supply of rainwater: like memories, experience and the trickery of light on red satin snow as the sun makes its descent. There’s shrubbery in planting on these margins of life. While not a religious man, I am a devout worshipper of 60’s psychedelic rock. Here’s the book of Ecclesiastes doing The Byrds, Turn, Turn, Turn:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

The spectre of winter can fall on places never touched by frost. This lull in the long summer gives pause to plant. In the desert of our day-to-day we plant for a tomorrow when we may uproot, the day when finally we emerge from the sea of sand with what gift of experience the Bedouin in their majlis send us away with. From dust we come, into dust we shall return. But not before we glow a little, out there in the dancing dust and singing sands where natives come for the day to relearn the custom of being at ease with their former selves in the company of the animals to whom they owe their everything; where incomers visit just to feel alive.

Sitting in a majli twirling ceremonial sticks, or standing in line in a dance ritual launching antique rifles into the air, then crouching back down on their haunches to rest against cushions and look on motionless and indifferent at the comings and goings of others, not their own, those Bedouin eyes fix watchful over their true love, the only thing capable of upstaging them in their domain: Jamal (camel to you and me).

There has to be a reason for these chance encounters. We’ll glance back over the shoulders of time one day and there he’ll be, resplendent in rags.


we’ll entreat him.

What did it mean to be there all that time ago? Why this boy of all people?

And he’ll answer, dressed head to toe in his scruffy greatcoat, worldly belongings stuffed into a haversack that makes him camel in all but name. He’ll answer:

Where was this? Who was there?’

It was a desert, and it was me. I was there. I was there.

And he’ll say, Then that’s what it meant. There’s your answer.

And we’ll entreat him again.

Why me? Me of all people?

And he’ll consider the question, but this time answer with less patience.

Why not you? Did you think you were the only one not meant to be in places you never thought you’d be? Does a tree have a choice in where it puts down roots? No! Only if and when.

So Tolstoy, did it mean something in the long run? To have been there?

If it didn’t you wouldn’t be asking me this question years later. Now leave me be. It’s a long way back on foot to the village from here and I have beet seeds to plant before it’s too late.