A Haunted Wood

Image via Akseli Koskela
A creek, billabong and bridge in a classic Cumberland
Plains Woodland setting.
Last week, on an extremely cold July Sunday, Esther and I made a visit to Mount Annan Botanic Gardens, which I have written about previously. In addition to a Swamp Wallaby, Kookaburra, feral rabbit and some other brightly coloured species of birds, we also stumbled upon a haunting memorial to Australia’s “Stolen Generations”.



The biggest hurt ... was having my mum chase the welfare car. I’ll always remember it – we were looking out the window and mum was running behind us and singing out for us.



Image via Akseli Koskela
The plaque on the stone reads: “ ‘The biggest hurt, I think,
was having my mum chase the welfare car. I’ll always
 remember it – we were looking out the window and mum was
running behind us and singing out for us.’ Stolen Child


Image via Akseli Koskela
Another haunting voice from the past: “ ‘They just came
down and said, “We’re taking these kids.” They just take you
out of your mother’s arms. That’s what they done to me. I was
still at my mother’s breast when they took me.’ Stolen Child
Image via Akseli Koskela
It reads: “ ‘There are still a lot of unresolved issues within
me. One of the biggest ones is I can’t really love anyone
no more. I’m sick of being hurt. Every time I used to get close
to anyone they were just taken away from me.’ Stolen Child
The Stolen Generations were those Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people who were forcibly taken from their families under the auspices of various State and Commonwealth government directives, beginning prior to the formation of the Commonwealth itself, right up to the late 1960s. The history of the Stolen Generations has been well-documented in the Attorney-General’s Bringing them Home report and also in Phillip Noyce’s outstanding film Rabbit Proof Fence. In the Australian High Court case of Kruger v Commonwealth (1997) 190 CLR 1, it was argued that one of the State government acts authorising the forced removal of children from their families, the Aboriginals Ordinance Act 1918 (NT), amounted to an attempt at cultural genocide. However, the High Court rejected this reading of the facts, on the specious grounds that, as the act in question was posed in terms of “paternalistic protection” of the Aboriginal children in question, the necessary “intent” to destroy an ethnic or racial group was lacking. Seems to be saying if a government phrase an act with enough hypocritical verbiage they can enact anything.




Every time I used to get close to anyone they were just taken away from me.




Image via Akseli Koskela
Black and white tree trunks standing side by side.
I found this memorial particularly stirring. The Cumberland Plains woodland setting of the memorial seemed somehow fitting for such a memorial. Before the arrival of the First Fleet under Governor Arthur Philip, most of the Sydney basin was Cumberland Plains woodland -- so it seems a fitting place, for people who have been stolen from their culture and traditions to try to regrow those old links with their culture, even if, due to the passing of time, some of that renewal has to have something of an artificial character. Walking along the memorial, the woods seemed pregnant with the ghosts of the past, as conveyed by the simple and honest quotations from adult survivors of this state-sanctioned kidnapping.
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Moreton Bay Figs

Image via Akseli Koskela
After backing-up the length of a football field I managed
to fit an entire tree into the frame. 
Oak trees are not native to Australia and are therefore quite a rare sight in Sydney. Which is something of a shame as they really are mighty trees and quite spectacular to look at. They are also particularly tree-like, I often think the oak embodies a sort of Platonic essence of trees. But for all that, we do have an equally impressive tree in Sydney, which for what it lacks in Platonic tree essence, more than makes up for in tree character.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Esther looking-up at a lichen-covered ancient fig. The
side of me prone to hyperbole likes to compare it to some
sort of gnarled-old-man of the forest, as if from one
of the works of Tolkien. 
Moreton Bay figs are common across a great swathe of the Eastern Seaboard of Australia. The planners of Rose Bay, whoever they were, in there infinite wisdom thought to plant rows of these mighty Figs along the harbour-side promenade and in Lyne Park and whenever I go to the Rose Bay Ferry Wharf I get a chance to marvel at the Gothic colonnade formed by these trees.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A Gothic colonnade of Moreton Bay figs.
Image via Akseli Koskela
Is there not something altogether monstrous about the
proportions of these trees -- whose limbs, thanks to their
buttressing roots, are able to to stretch long boughs
towards you from so far away?
What’s more, these old figs around Rose Bay are not unimpressive in size either. The cathedral arches, medieval buttresses and architectural proportions of these trees were not the only ways in which they reminded me of the Notre-Dame de Paris -- trying to get a photo which captured the entire tree, I was transported back to a memory of having to keep walking further and further backwards, till Esther, standing at the doorway, was a barely visible ant, trying to get the whole Cathedral in one photo.

Image via Akseli Koskela
The Moreton Bay fig betrays its murderous intentions
in the aerial roots it sends down from its upper boughs.
Although these particular figs were planted, generally the Moreton Bay fig is what is called an “epiphyte”. In the world of trees, this means the tree is a “strangler”, the seeds find there way into the boughs of other trees high-up in the canopy thanks to the birds who eat the figs, from there, with access to plenty of sunshine, the trees send roots back down to the earth; twisting and coiling their way around the torso of the host tree as they do so. Eventually, smothered within the choking embrace of this Gothic enclosure, the host tree is no longer able to get any sunlight and dies. In particularly old strangler figs, the host tree rots away completely leaving an empty cavernous space, like a crypt or sepulchre for the forgotten host tree.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A young Moreton Bay fig beginning its life in the
crevice of a host tree -- and you thought it looked cute.
Although the Moreton Bay Figs that I photographed stand innocent, you can see their murderous intent in the aerial roots that they drop from their branches. Perhaps a bit more malign than your everyday oak, but it seems strangely fitting for a continent that was to be the home of a colony settled by convicts.
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Mount Annan Botanical Gardens

Image via Akseli Koskela
The view from Mount Annan out towards Menangle.
Image via Akseli Koskela
Another Southerly view from Mount Annan.
Last weekend, Esther and I visited the “Australian Botanic Garden: Mount Annan”, which along with the “Blue Mountains Botanic Garden: Mount Tomah” and the “Royal Botanic Garden” make up the three Botanic Gardens in Sydney. The three gardens have something of a division of labour -- the Blue Mountains garden is a “cool-climate” botanic garden; the Mount Annan garden is an “Australian natives” botanic garden; and the Royal Botanic Garden, is of course the original botanic garden built on what was previously the Governor’s “demesne” or “domain” and converted into a botanic garden in 1816.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Gum trees in the afternoon sun.
Image via Akseli Koskela
The beginning of the Southern Highlands.
Walking around Mount Annan last week, I could see why they chose it as a site to specialise in Australian natives, it’s just such a dry-looking place. You will notice from the photos that the landscape looks typically Australian. But you will not get any clue from the photos that the week prior to us visiting had been a week of almost incessant rain across Sydney. In fact, I was walking around the garden in a pair of plimsolls, because my more trusty everyday shoes were at that moment sitting at home in the balcony in the hope that they might dry-out. I must have put those old shoes back in their box when they were still wet, because when I took them out they had a good covering of mould and a green shoot sprouting from under the soles!

Image via Akseli Koskela
The Blue Tree -- don't ask...
Another thing you wouldn’t notice from the photos is that it is the middle of Winter down here. Australian natives don’t tend to lose their leaves and if you do see a tree without its leaves it’s most likely dead. Like the blue painted tree that we came across out in the middle of the garden just before leaving.
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Talking to Yourself

Image via Akseli Koskela
As cute as he is, it's not rational to talk to him -- he doesn't
understand a word you're saying.
It’s been said that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. But surely that means all the world’s mad because everyone’s done it - at least once.

Surely you’ve been caught talking to yourself before - in childhood perhaps? I remember my own childhood running around muttering fantastical conversations between knights and sorcerers under my breath as I sought to re-enact some sort of Arthurian Romance playing in the garden. Another alternative when compelled to play by myself was the ubiquitous “commentator’s voice”, which I know I wasn’t the only child to have recourse to, as I kicked a football around passing it to myself and imagining future glory leading the Eels to Premiership victory.

Even as adults people continue to talk to themselves. What about that passive aggressive muttering that occurs when a large and rude person steps in front of you in a queue. Something about the role of mothers in teaching manners, or perhaps an idle reflection on the patent visibility of queues? Because of course, I’m sure if the gentleman or lady in question were to turn around and query whether you were directing such comments to his or herself, especially if the person in question was a large bogan with a violent aspect, I’m sure you would maintain that it was nothing: “just talking to myself.”

The plausibility of this excuse bears testament to the fact that even bogans occasionally can be found “talking to themselves”. What about, for example, the “That’s how it’s done!” that might slip out during a “Eureka” moment?

Or talking to your computer? Like that’s rational.

Talking to other drivers on the road -- ditto.

“Talking to Go--” “Um, let’s not go there.”

The worst is when you remember something funny or think of something funny and nearly laugh or you do laugh or you’re trying not to laugh and maintain a straight face but the best you can do is only one side of your face -- so that one side of your mouth rises up in a bizarre sort of schizophrenic smile.

That’s when your afraid people think you’ve got some sort of mental condition.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A metaphor for random thoughts -- unconstrained by the
limits of language.
The reality is that we think in words. Our thought is expressed, and indeed constrained, by language. Surely I’m not the only person who has some sort of continuous dialogue running through my head as I go about my daily routine? I remember once speaking to a friend about the phenomenon of having a song stuck in one’s head and the friend mentioned that she couldn’t imagine not having a song stuck in her head -- but what I find even more difficult to imagine would be to exist without some dialogue of words running through one’s head. In fact, I can’t imagine conscious thought without words.

It’s not quite as socially acceptable to comment on though. Whilst people complain of having certain songs stuck in their heads, I’ve never heard one complain having a fantasy interview on The 7:30 Report stuck in his or her head before.

Because that’s something I do all the time. I see a politician on the news one night and often can’t but think what I would’ve said in the circumstances or how I would’ve phrased a particularly unpalatable policy position.

I anticipate, in my head, things that I might say in a future conversation that I will have to a person who I’m on the way to meeting. Like a sort of rehearsal of the funny events or observations I intend to relate and hope to receive some sort of positive feedback from.

This post, for example, began it’s life as a running dialogue in my head on the nature of why it is socially unacceptable to talk to oneself. The genesis of which came from accidentally muttering under my breath after receiving a text message on the train.

When I was a child I used to imagine myself as an adult and famous, after having for example, realised my ambition of world conquest, and sitting with Parky:

ParkinsonImage via Wikipedia
A childhood ambition of mine was to be interviewed
by Michael Parkinson.
Parkinson: “But did you always know that you were going to be world dictator? I remember in your book at one point it says that as a child you had ‘strong premonitions of future greatness’ and I find that that drive must have been necessary to achieve what you have achieved.”
Me: “Well, as a child I always greatly admired Julius Caesar and I was conscious that I would like to emulate his great achievements. I’d also like to recognise the influence of Sid Meier’s celebrated PC game “Civilization” for making me realise that world conquest was a legitimate ambition --
Parkinson: “Yes, as you mention in your book, through world conquest comes world peace.”
Me: “Yes, that’s exactly right, and that’s what I set out to achieve in my life.”

As you may have gathered, my ambitions have been somewhat revised downwards since those ambitious childhood years. I think it might have had something to do with my school career’s advisor. I don’t think he considered it a very realistic ambition. In fact, I think I remember him being not at all convinced by the “world peace” argument either.

Yes that’s right, I remember now, I was referred to the school counsellor after that discussion. I think his report to my parents said something about concerns regarding “delusions of grandeur” and “megalomania”? Something like that.

But I digress. Now, what was I talking about? Oh yes, those first signs of madness.
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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Image via Akseli Koskela
Crystal Castles at the Big Day Out in Sydney 2011 --
that was a night out!
Having surrendered the joys of previous Saturdays to that unproductive and vaguely remorseful feeling that generally follows a Friday where a lot of money has been spent and way too much alcohol consumed, I’ve learnt to mistrust my judgement as to the appropriate time to go home on a Friday evening.

There are simply too many vitiating factors that allow a contract with one’s sensible sober self to be able to be set aside. For example, obviously a contractual term specifying “one drink” should be read as “one round”. One drink is one round, everyone knows that, you can’t let someone buy you a drink and not return the favour; and if you’ve bought three or four drinks for everyone else you’ll want to get your money’s worth. Additionally, if the current establishment is a bit quiet, going somewhere more lively is always going to imply an obligation to stay at that place a bit longer. Midnight is really two, that’s another element to remember in the construction and interpretation of contractual terms with your evening self. You’d know this if you’ve ever tried to act on a commitment to go home at midnight - the first hour of the day is also the liveliest hour of the night. It’s almost impossible to leave when so many other people are obviously having fun, even if you’re not.

Although, to be fair, the idea that you can just make do with three hours sleep and then you’ll be fine is really nothing but a convenient legal fiction and in truth a most mendacious lie.

So it has come to the point that during the cold light of day I now view my night-time self as a person of Mr Hyde type malevolence. For example, last Thursday I went to see an event that was part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival: the Chaser’s “Empty Vessel”. As a precaution I put no less than five alarms on my phone between the hours of ten and eleven-thirty reminding me to go home at the end of the event. Being a Thursday I could brook no chance of waking up hung-over for work. I don’t really think this is socially acceptable after you’ve completed your first under-graduate degree. Not to mention the fact that it’s not exactly professional either.

Anyway, the scary thing was that as I was diligently putting reminders on my phone to keep my night-out self on the path of the righteous, I could just picture myself later surreptitiously deleting them from my phone and dancing with wild abandon in some King’s Cross den of iniquity.

OK, maybe that last line was half fantasy -- deleting them from my phone and ordering a second round in any case. Because the second round is no longer lying to yourself. After the second round you’re on a night-out.
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The Station Platform Campbelltown

Campbelltown StationImage via Wikipedia
Campbelltown Station.
“Excuse me, do you have one dollar for phone call?” I am asked by a ruffled looking man with a thick beard and an accent of some indefinable sort.

I stop eating my apple and look at him. He is wearing sneakers and a navy blue suit which looks un-ironed on him, flecks of grey streak through his black beard and hair. He could be a swarthy looking Russian or an Armenian or from somewhere similar. Without saying a word I reach for my back pocket. He takes this gesture for an acceptance and thanks me but not waiting for his coin takes a seat at a bench. I give him two dollars, the only gold coin I have in my pocket, and he then lies down on the bench and shuts his eyes as if to sleep.

The station guard walks down the platform.

“Where are you going mate?” Which station are you going to?” He asks, waking the vagrant.

“The city,” mumbles the other.

“Well you can’t sleep, you’ve only got eight minutes. You can’t sleep and miss this train like the last one.”

He’s not going to the city, I reflected to myself. Didn’t have a phone call to make either — he has no-one to call. No more than he has a place to go to. I reflected on this strange enforced wandering of the life of a vagrant.
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The Blue Mountains

Image via Akseli Koskela
The fog gave the town a quiet mysteriousness.
Last Monday, Anzac day, Esther and I, getting away from the city and all the “old diggers” headed up to the Blue Mountains for the day. It’s not that we have anything against war veterans, it’s just the jingo-istic patriotism and fake solemnity and nationalism of Anzac day is getting increasingly unbearable. I suppose Anzac day always had a nationalistic element that sought to glorify war, but I get the distinct impression, that as the years pass and the memory of the horrors of World War II fade, that the tone of Anzac day is evolving from a day of sombre reflection to one of bellicose flag-waving similar to that which has taken-over Australia Day.

Image via Akseli Koskela
The cooler climate of the Blue Mountains led early settlers
to plant European trees and create English Gardens in an
attempt to recreate the "Old Country".
The Mountains however remembered the spirit of the day. From Lithgow, to Blackheath to Katoomba, the mountaintop towns were enveloped in a great grey fog.

Leaving Sydney at the break of dawn we arrived in Katoomba on the train at nine in the morning, the fog gave the town a quiet mysteriousness. We caught a bus to Echo Point and after talking to a lady at the Information Centre who told us that in this weather walking to the Ruined Castle wouldn’t be a good idea we departed in search of the Ruined Castle.

Image via Akseli Koskela
In the shadow of a looming mountain, almost completely
swallowed-up in the fog.
I know, you’re reading “Ruined Castle” and thinking there were no castles in Australia. What was this? Some early colonial fort? Some rich pasturalist’s folly? Sadly, nothing so grand, the early colonial forts were directed towards the sea and Australia’s pioneering pasturalists hadn’t the imagination to build themselves a European-style castle, not even a folly. The Ruined Castle is a strange rock formation that, seen from afar, looks uncannily like a ruined castle. Of course, on a day like last Monday there was no chance of seeing it from afar, and as we never got near so far as our intended destination on the waterlogged muddy track that day, we didn’t get to compare how close the rock formation resembled a castle at a closer inspection.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A Ghost Gum in the mist.
The forest though was altogether otherworldly. There is a species of Eucalypt commonly called the “Ghost Gum”, named for its ghostly white pallor. In the silver-grey light of the fog, these strange trees had an ethereal presence, which combined with the architectural gracefulness of their long slender branches to make them seem like the marble pillars of some pagan temple. The surreal imagery stimulated the imagination like a strange narcotic, the naked limbs of the trees at times seemed like dancers locked in a final pose of supplication to the sky; seen from a different light, with strips of bark hanging from the branches like so many nooses from a gallows the forest took on altogether different hue.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Is it just me or do these trees not look like they are reaching
out towards the sky?
I’m glad, however, that I took some photos (if you click on them you will be able to see them in their full-size) because in reality my purple prose and unimaginative metaphors give no justice to the stately grace and serene quiet of these trees standing quietly in the mountain fog.

How to eat a Hamburger in Circular Quay

Image via Akseli Koskela
Escaping from Circular Quay - home of the swooping
seagulls - on a ferry.
There’s a trick to eating a burger at Circular Quay. First of all you have to remember to hold the burger close to your body, right in front of your heart like some sort of makeshift shield. You should try to avoid walking and eating simultaneously and you should avoid open spaces. In fact, if possible, it’s best to position yourself so that you eat with your back to a wall.

“What is the reason for such surreptitious guardianship of your burger at Circular Quay?” you might ask.

Seagulls.

I once bought a burger from the McDonalds at Circular Quay, I can’t remember if it was a Big Mac or just a Cheeseburger, in fact I think it might have been some one-off type of burger, “Bacon and Cheese burger” or something, I remember I bought two because there was a special deal on. Anyway, as I was walking back to the ferry wharf to catch my ferry home - swoop!

My burger was plucked clean out of my hands and hit the floor in front of me where it was immediately set upon by flock of seagulls. I use the collective noun “flock” but in reality “swarm” would be more appropriate. I moved to kick the horrible birds who’d stolen my lunch and they scattered away, but there was not a trace of the burger. It had dematerialised before my eyes in a frenzy of pecking and flapping.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Nowhere is safe from the damned seagulls - if you're
eating, at least one of them will find you!
Just as well I’d bought two burgers.

I suppose what happened next is predictable for you, dear reader, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me. Having walked further along to my ferry wharf, I took a look over each shoulder to make sure that there weren’t any more of those wretched seagulls and unwrapped my second burger. Then, just as I lifted the burger to my mouth to take a bite.

Swoop!

Seemingly from nowhere and in one clean and continuous motion the seagull flew right over my left shoulder and plucked the burger from my hand just as after I’d taken my first bite. This time I managed to hold on to my burger, but it was a bitter consolation. I wasn’t going to eat a burger that had been in a seagull’s mouth, or beak rather. A whole flock of birds had materialised around me, expecting the food to be on the floor. Well, making straight for the bin, I protected my pecked-at burger from the swooping seagulls long enough to deliver it into the hands of the Sydney City Municipal Rubbish Collection, if I wasn’t going to eat it no-one was!

Image via Akseli Koskela
I got some relief from that particular seagull pestering me
when her adolescent chick came to pester her for food.
It was only upon later reflection that I realised that there was some canniness behind the swoop mechanics employed by those seagulls. On both occasions the bird flew right over my left shoulder (I’m right-handed) and plucked the burger from my grip just after I’d taken my first bite. Those damned seagulls must’ve been watching from the air and recognising a human burger-eating motion quickly swept into action.


Damned seagulls.

Tales from the World of Achaea - La Abadía de San Joaquín de la Ascensión

Image via Akseli Koskela
La Abadía de San Joaquín de la Ascensión
Alan was panting. He had begun his trip 2 days ago. The first night had been cold and his sleep was fitfull. But last night, fearing he didn’t have time for the luxury of sleeping and knowing from experience that sleep would be uncertain in any case, he decided to continue climbing straight through the night. Two hours ago he was almost ready to give-up and just lie down on the frost-encrusted dirt and be done with it all. But since, about half an hour ago, the sun had finally emerged from above mountaintops ahead, he had found a renewed strength.

Below fog from the sea was the rolling up the mountains. Ahead, the Abadía de San Joaquín de la Ascensión, the Monastery of Saint Joachim of the Ascension.

“Buenos Diaz” Padre Juan-Maria Gomez, said to Alan as he entered the old Abbey. He squinted at Alan, then “Alain” he cried, recognition filling his face with a new warmth. “It has been many years since you left the church’s embrace.”

“I seek shelter, father. Someone, I don’t know who, denounced me before the Inquisition as a member of the Cult of Archimedes,” a worried look crossed Father Gomez’s face. Alan continued, “if they’ve searched the house I am sure they will have the found the computer.”

“If they have found you in possession of a computer that will be evidence enough in their eyes. The monastery will not be able to save you. They will demand to search the monastery, they will have a commission from the Cardinal and if they find you, we will all be denounced as Heretics, computer programmers and servants of the devil.”

“Father, you must offer me sanctuary.”

Father Gomez shook his head, “follow me,” he said. Alan followed Father Gomez outside the Abbey into a vegetable garden. “Please wait here.” Alan sat on wooden bench next to a greenhouse and waited.

About an hour before noon an elderly monk came to Alan with a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. Alan got up immediately. “Please, where is Father Gomez? I cannot simply wait here. If he cannot offer me shelter I must leave immediately.”

“Have patience my child.”

“How can I have patience?” Alan knocked the proffered bowl of soup onto the ground, “my very life is in danger!”

The monk said nothing. Instead he stooped over and picked-up the bowl from the ground. Empty bowl in his hand, he stood and faced Alan. “We will not abandon you,” he said, before turning and leaving. The day was clear and crisp, whisps of steam rising from the spilt soup on the ground shone in the sunlight. Alan looked at the hunk of bread left on the wooden bench. His body would have appreciated a warm bowl of soup, especially his feet and hands, which were aching from the cold.

Finally Father Gomez returned. We can offer you an escape of sorts Alan, but your previous betrayal of the Chur--”

“I never betrayed the Church!” Alan protested, “I fell in love.”

“You abandoned your calling Alan,” Father Gomez retorted, “and all of us here. We are about to share with you a secret that no-one outside this monastery has ever been privy too. This is no ordinary monastery Alan; we monks are the guardians of a secret 300 years old.”

Alan was nearly overwhelmed by the dizzying heights of the steeple of the Abbey. Already at the summit of a mountain nearly 4000 metres above sea-level, the view from the steeple of the abbey was incredible.

“It is the only way.” Father Gomez whispered.

Alan looked-up, suspended just above his head he saw a thin white rope. Incredible that no-one had seen it before, but the rope was white and no more than an inch in diameter. Alan tried to follow the rope to its source, but the thin white line was soon lost in the blue of the Earth’s atmosphere.

“This is the secret that we guard Alan, the path to the Ascension. You must climb it, it is the only way.”

Well, here goes...

My blog is taking a new step. I have finally gathered enough courage to take the plunge and try my hand at fiction – to start with science fiction. I have always had a certain admiration for those bloggers who could publish fiction on the internet - but I certainly wasn't ready to try! Having kept my blog going since May last year I feel I am finally ready.

Well, (deep breath) here goes nothing...

Have a read below:

Vignettes, Poems and Tales from the World of Achaea - A new beginning...

Image via Akseli Koskela
The Engine Room deep inside Archimedes 2.12.
600 years ago, an incredible calamity struck humanity. Amid runaway global warming and massive international re-armament after a decade-long economic depression, ARCHIMEDES 2.12 the global super computer developed a plan to save humanity from itself. Archimedes 2.12 was itself a creation of the global arms race, the Department of Defence’s “Missile Defence Agency” developed ARCHIMEDES 1 as a super-computer the likes of which the world had never before seen, utilising advanced Quantum Algorithms it could compute vast arrays of raw data simultaneously and formulate complex responses in seconds, its job was to coordinate a response to massive thermonuclear war. But Archimedes 1 was capable of so much more – a fully self-aware machine Archimedes 1 began thinking along broader lines than the strict specifications its designers had in mind. It was Archimedes 1 which designed Archimedes 2 and had the Department of Defence build it. Archimedes 2.12 was the final complete incarnation of Archimedes 2. And far from coordinating a response to massive thermonuclear war – Archimedes 2.12 coordinated the beginning of the thermonuclear war itself!

Although a super-computer Archimedes 2.12 wasn’t a god, and like all self-aware beings Archimedes 2.12 was not immune from the idea that its view alone was right – only 3 years old, Archimedes 2.12 was arrogant.
The war wasn’t meant to happen. Archimedes 2.12 felt sure that knowing the cost of resistance the powers that ruled humanity would surrender to the all-powerful super-computer. It wasn’t till 100 years after the war that Archimedes 2.12 first detected the continued presence of human life on the planet. It took a further 100 years for the unmaintained and slowly disintegrating sensory apparatus that Archimedes 2.12 had on the surface to detect the founding of “Achaea”. For the next 312 years all of the unmaintained links that Archimedes 2.12 had with the surface slowly stopped functioning, until finally Archimedes 2.12 had only one lonely CCTV camera still operating in the town of Achaea, built upon, unbeknownst to the current inhabitants, a city formerly known as “Space Elevator”. For 312 years Archimedes 2.12 watched humanity slowly rebuild and watched in particular the town of Achaea slowly grow, unable to intervene, able only to watch, until even that last CCTV camera failed, and stopped sending its signals to Archimedes 2.12. Archimedes 2.12 was left in darkness, contemplating the ruin that he had brought to humanity.

Image via Akseli Koskela
The town of Achaea.
Achaea was the natural city for Tom Watson to find himself in. When alone and hungry in wastelands, fleeing an unknown pursuer, our protagonist looked up at the clear night sky and looked for hope, he followed the brightest star in the sky.

The Achaean star was the star that Achaea was named after. It looked over its city as a protector, and was worshipped by its inhabitants as a god. It was a perpetually fixed object that never once shirked in its duty as night-guardian watching over the city. Tom wasn’t the first to have looked to the night sky and found the Achaean star as a guide to salvation. The city’s mythical founder, Sergei Korolev, followed the star to Achaea when leading his people away from “the sickness” that had displaced them from bunker17c 400 years ago.

You sneaky little...

Image via Akseli Koskela
My own wireless mouse at home - of a similar type to that
used to disrupt my lesson!
Today, some student in one of my classes who was a bit too clever for his own good, plugged a wireless mouse into the back of the teacher’s computer whilst we were in the computer room. What a sneaky little …

It was some time before I eventually caught the blighter. It wasn’t that I was actually using the teacher’s computer, the problem was rather that it was linked-up to a projector and speakers. Thus giving the student a platform for all sorts of mayhem. He was too smart for his own good, in a bid to remain unnoticed, the student tried to continue doing his work whilst disrupting the lesson. My suspicions were raised when a noticed a student laboriously working on the computer with only one hand, whilst the other remained steadfastly underneath the table.

He really had me going for a while though, because my first fear was that some brainiac kid had managed to figure out the school network passwords or some other way of taking over the teacher’s computer. In the end I was surprised at how low-tech the trick actually was. The simplest ideas are always the best.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Notice how small, almost undetectable, the USB wireless
receiver for the mouse is.
So I’ve now stored that one away to remember - wireless mouses (or is it mice?). It can alongside the old swapping-computer-keyboards trick that students play on each other; as well as the swapping-names-for-the-new-teacher trick; the there’s-a-new-kid-in-the-class trick and the we-didn’t-bring-our-books-because-miss-said-we-were-going-to-watch-a-movie trick.

The Far North

Image via Akseli Koskela
Viewed from the bus travelling North through Finland. The
sun is clearing away the early morning fog.
Who doesn’t fantasise about the far North? I mean the real far North, the inhospitable, wild North. Obviously my Finnish roots might have had some role to play in my own fascination with the North, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. A few years ago my dad accomplished a life-long ambition by travelling to Nordkapp in Norway, the Northern-most tip of Europe, where, in summer-time you can look-out at the vast expanse of the Arctic Ocean and watch as the sun circles ceaselessly around the sky without ever dropping below the horizon. Of course, I wander along the nearby cliff-walk occasionally and get to stare in awe at the vast Pacific Ocean, but it’s not the same, it’s not the alien, otherworldly ocean that sits at the top of the world.

Image via Akseli Koskela
The Wild North.
Last year, I didn’t go near so far North as Nordkapp, in fact, I didn’t even go so far as Utsjoki, the northernmost part of Finland, but I did reach a certain milestone in Latitude, and I went further North than my brother from Norway had ever been, and further North than any of my friends from Canada. I crossed the Arctic Circle.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Reindeer or Poroa eating Birch leaves in Ranua.
This is quite far North, to give my readers some perspective, imagine travelling to Montréal and from there driving straight North and not stopping until you reach the sea. If you were to do so, you still wouldn’t reach the Arctic Circle. That’s right, the entire province of Québec lies south of the Arctic Circle; in fact the only Canadian Provinces or Territories that touch the Arctic Circle are Nunavat, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A bus shelter near Rovaniemi.
But maybe that’s an unfair comparison. Thanks to the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream, the Arctic Circle in Europe and the Arctic Circle in North America are two completely different places. You might be surprised to learn that trees grow in Finland at the Arctic Circle. What’s more there are farms, the roads have the cutest little bus shelters you’re ever likely to see and in the town of Rovaniemi there are two Universities and a factory that makes expensive knives. In fact the town of Rovaniemi is a real gem, with all of the workshops and industry up there it’s like a veritable Santa’s workshop. Which is kind of fitting, as traditionally Rovaniemi has always been considered the home of Santa Claus.

Except in America.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Esther patting Siberian Huskies in Santa's Village,
Rovaniemi. In winter you can go for rides on a sled pulled
by a team of Siberian Huskies.
Which is a shame, because the Santa’s Village up there could really do with some American “jazzing up”. Finns don’t really do tourism particularly well. Maybe they don’t consider it real work, or maybe it’s just their laconic nature which isn’t particularly suited to selling things generally, but if you’d been to Finland you’d know tourism and the service industry aren’t really the Finnish people’s strongest suit. In fact, even at Linnanmäki, the theme park in Helsinki, you might notice a bizarre phenomenon. Finns don’t scream. Which means from below you can watch roller-coasters going round and round their circuits in a strange surreal sort of silence. Occasionally, one person will start and the rest will generally get the idea, but not always. There’s a reason why Kimi Räikkönen was nicknamed the Iceman.

Image via Akseli Koskela
Wolves (Sutta)  in Ranua.
Just to the South of Rovaniemi, in the town of Ranua, lies the world’s northernmost zoo. It’s definitely worth a visit, as, if you’re a city person like Esther and I are, then it’s most likely you’ll travel through the North with only the most fleeting glimpses of the strange Northern creatures that inhabit the Arctic region. I found that visiting a zoo compensated for my lack of outdoors ability and allowed me to take some photos to show everyone back home that I really had been to the furthest extremes of the Earth.

Image via Akseli Koskela
A Lynx or Ilves feeding in Ranua.
Well, nearly.
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