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.