Adam Aitken has put up on his blog a link to a number of Luca posts that (mostly) have to do with Summer Hill. If you click on the link there that says An Excerpt from Martin's Blog you'll find a selection of posts that covers a period of nearly five years. I was amazed to read some that material - it had completely gone from memory. Thanks, Adam.
The North Sea used to be a planar landscape; it was drowned as the waters rose, perhaps as recently as ten thousand years ago. Before that, who knows? Even now, as readers of The Rings of Saturn will have learned, the eastern coasts of England are slowly and inexorably subsiding beneath the ocean. For as long as this expanse has been harvested, all sorts of things have been dragged up along with the fish to be eaten at Dutch or German or Scandinavian or British tables. In 2001 the bone pictured above was salvaged from a catch trawled up along the Zeeland Ridges, recognised as possibly significant by a researcher and sent off for analysis. It turns out, we are told, to have belonged to a young Neanderthal male hunter who lived at the far northern limit of his species' range 60,000 years ago. Stone tools made by Neanderthals have been discovered previously in the North Sea - for example, 28 flint axes were netted eight miles off the coast of Great Yarmouth in 2008 - but this is the first human remain to come up. Human might seem a contentious word to use here but why not? Neanderthals at Shanidar in what is now Iraq buried their dead with offerings of flowers strewn on the grave. All Neanderthals might have been redheads and those of us who retain that hair colouring could thus carry their genes. As do we with the big noses that some scholars suggest allowed the cold adapted species to warm the air they breathed before it was sucked into their lungs. The most interesting thing to arise from the analysis of the North Sea bone fragment (part of the brow ridge of a skull) is that the fellow in question was an extreme carnivore. That is he ate mostly, if not exclusively, meat. And so was roughly analogous to a wolf, a bear, a lion or an eagle in respect of the food chain. A top predator. Some people think sapiens ate the neanderthals but then they would, wouldn't they? And threw the bones down somewhere where we, latterly, could find and obsess over them. The other thing that is perhaps significant is that the range of the Neanderthals corresponds with today's Europe and the Near East ... although some contemporary speculation places the species in the Americas as well. I reckon I've seen some on CityRail trains in Sydney ... or had 'em in my taxi. Ladies and gentlemen all.
In the kitchen the dim light of the future discloses a practical infinity of meals: fish pies, legs of lamb, Mexican sausages, chicken curries, pasta sauces, potato bakes, rump steak with garlic and mushrooms, pork chops served with broccolini or sugar snap peas, tuna salads, satay sticks plus all those uncountable sandwiches, cups of coffee and tea, glasses of wine and whatever else will pass through here. It is of course the same looking in the other direction, towards the past that was more brightly lit but otherwise unattainable, its food and drink having performed their casual alchemy. Cooking is perhaps what made us human after all, fire unlocking the extra nutrition so that our brains could grow. On the high shelves, a putti, a glass jug with a deep crack in it, the base of a kerosene lamp with swallows flying around on it, a bowl made out of the wood of the jackfruit tree, 2 disused telephones, an empty packet of Gadang Garam, paints and brushes, methylated spirits, a folded Chinese lantern, a jar of one and two cent coins, a sandwich maker, a bottle of Ant Rid, a coffee pot and who knows what else? Laughing Buddha attended by wishbones, ginger jar with broken lid, that little pottery ball and bowl device that Toon Borren's sister made four decades ago now, two handleless cups from Malacca and a spiral shell lined up along the white tiles of the sill above the sink. And on the wall, kid's pictures below the big painting Lexie did of my sister, the photos she did it from yellow-tacked up next to that. The calendar in the shape of Australia stopped at the date of her death. The tape machine and the box of Irish tapes. Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes. My authority card and a pad of the forms a taxi driver must fill out every time he begins a shift. I'll be using them again come Monday. Unpaid bills stuck with magnets to the fridge, a scatter of words, likewise magnetised, that all have something to do with psychotherapy: Stuck With Fear In Deep Past, one sentence reads. I Lash The Manic Animal says another. Will Her Fast Love Gut Me? is a third. They sound good but mean nothing much. Just chance arrangements of the available words. A bowl of stones and a ceramic cat. Tennis rackets, flippers, a soccer ball and another that looks like it's for playing gridiron. That walking robot that doesn't walk any more. The ironing board and the iron, the brush and pan, a bag of rubber bands, where does all this stuff come from? (I know.) And that's not the half of it. A Rubik's cube with some of the coloured panels gone. The dry pod of a jacaranda tree that still, sometimes, lets a papery seed capsule fall. Candle holders in the shape of stars. One day I'll wash the floor, make those black patterned yellow linoleum squares shine again. One day I'll remove that patina of grease that covers everything with sticky. I'll clean out the fridge. One day ... but not this day, which is given over to contemplation of that bright and empty past, this cluttered present and the dim future, illumined only by the thin glow of an ecologically sound long life light bulb in which I will cook the meals I have cooked before and eat them elsewhere, out there, in company, at the table in the sitting room where the facetted windows give out onto the west and secret air that will be even more luminous then than it is now, replete, I am sure, not just with more than we know, but more than we can know.
We were out late dancing the night before, in a gay bar on K Road that didn't seem to have a name. It wasn't until some time the next day that M found she had torn the hem of her dress while genuflecting to the gods of sexual excess on the boy haunted floor. In the taxi back to the hotel delirium rode with us. And in the lift. And ... in the breakfast room we talked with authors of young adult fiction as if we are ourselves young adults; as perhaps we were. In the rain washed morning we stood under the heavy concrete of the portico, beside the bus's throbbing engine, waiting for some New Yorker to join our party; much later we found he had been on the bus all along. No matter. The festival director would not meet my eye, I had asked for money the day before, she had not given it to me. The former archbishop of a Scottish diocese was gracious and attentive as he bent his long body and lowered his head in conversation about the eccentricities of those who discuss philosophy on such inadvertent occasions. As the bus filleted rush hour traffic, on the way to the former psychiatric hospital, a pony-tailed man, with some gravitas, backgrounded the visit we were about to make to a house of learning. Also some well-worn jokes. I knew and did not know what he was telling us; have been on buses like this before, on excursions such as this one was. Neither native nor foreign, not at home but not a stranger either. Weary of my ambivalence yet willing to assert it too. So it was (not) a surprise when the karanga made the tears start from my eyes. We took off our shoes and went in to that house of learning. The learning was the house, the house as encyclopaedia and dictionary, the house as compendium of knowledge. A lifetime is not enough, we know that already, what could an hour or two add? I felt again the affliction of memory, the affliction of forgetting: how will you? Not? Actually I remember everything but most I cannot recall now. That's both nonsensical and true. After the speeches and the songs, the explanations and the looking, the reverential jokes and the joking reverence, we were the last to leave to go across the lawn to where the tea and coffee, the pastries, cakes and fruit were served. A man we had not seen before was talking, he had built the house although he had not designed it. The thought of that man ... ! he said, speaking of the one who had. Let me show you ... There were subtleties I never would have noticed: the house arrowed towards the past but if you went and stood with the ancestors and looked back you would see the future. The double helix figured as a tiki, rongo rongo script found in a cave on Hawai'i, 5000 years old, on the tiki next to that. Binary numbers on the barge boards, some inscrutable code, all of the zeros blacked out because the future is unwritten; the 1's resplendent in their multiple singularity. As we walked across the green round a sea bird swooped and the three pukeko there stood up in warrior poses; and again; and again. Those ancient logs, the branches not the trunks of trees, burnt in a fire, waiting to make a bridge; the hidden water; the surveyors on the other slope, practising. On the way back I fell to talking about sheep with a joker from the Rangitikei; and offended another fellow, from Jamaica, who wanted to hear the rest of the explanation of what it was we had seen. M was sleeping, her head against the window of the bus. I could feel the arrow of the past, contracting away from us; and the future opening the way a river does, when it meets the sea.
I like to think I'm a tolerant sort of fellow, perhaps even mellowing with age; but if I'm completely honest I'd have to say that the evidence doesn't always support the supposition. I'm just as capable of taking offence as I was thirty or forty years ago but, these days, far more likely to retaliate in kind than I was then, when I would usually suffer in silence. Retaliation is certainly more efficient in the short term; you feel bad about the (perceived) insult for a much shorter time. The down side is that you risk getting into one of those awful situations where your antagonist retaliates in turn and then it either runs out of control or you have to shut the whole thing down. Lately I've noticed a more worrying development. I've begun to feel resentful towards certain words. I think it was last year some time that the word imbue started to annoy me so much that, if anyone I was reading used it, I was likely to put the book, magazine, newspaper or whatever down immediately. Imbue. As if emotion were a stain dyed into the page. Maybe it is. Of course I realise the futility of campaigning against an innocent word and, after some effort, managed, if not to overcome, at least to control my distaste for it. But now I have another one: practice. In the sense of, methodology or regime of work. Sometimes I think if I hear another artist going on about their practice I will become not responsible for my actions. Poets are starting to use it too. My practice. The reverential self regard betrayed in the affection for the word is what irritates me. Who do they think they are, doctors? Lawyers? Dentists perhaps ... why can't they (I know this is unfair) stop practising and just get on with doing whatever it is they do? Why can't I ...