Friday, 9 August 2013

Flashes: The Old New Cook Islands Republic Homeland

"Where do you think we are?"

"According to 58.37% of historians," said Mark, reading off his wristphone, "this is the Cook Islands."

"I already told you, there are fifty-six countries mostly recognised as "The Cook Islands", not including breakaway political factions. Only six actually have islands. And this lump of crap is not any of them."

The helicopter had delivered them to a wasteland in a wastesea. It had been difficult finding a landing spot, and in those giddying manoeuvres both Mark and Veta had seen comprehensive views of an island coated in asphalt, dolloped with rotting piles of rubbish. Octave had sulked in his box, saying he hadn't wanted to see anyway, before bringing up his stomach.

They'd wandered around a concrete beach. The air was thick, hot and humid; clouds overhead matched the colour all around them. A desolate hotel loomed fifty floors overhead, hundreds of empty windows all open to the miserable air.

Out to see, the lagoon swam in coils of oil and old sewage that hadn't quite been cleaned away by time. The skeletons of plastic cars and shampoo bottles bobbed around on the surface.

'Come on, humour me,' he said loudly, batting away a seagull. 'Why have I come here?'

'To get hot and sweaty when we should be having dinner at home,' grumbled Octave, sniffing both distastefully and curiously at a mouldy shoe. 'This place is disgusting. So many wonderful disgusting smells.'

'Do cats even get sweaty?' Mark mused.

'Wouldn't you like to know. Rriiaaaaow bloody gulls! I want to catch one very much!'

'Argh!' screamed Veta into her fingers with frustration. 'You think, if I understand your stupidity correctly, that this is the site of the original Cook Islands - as if there was only one single "The Cook Islands", which were called "The Cook Islands", by everyone.' Veta made sarcastic quotation marks with her fingers upon each mention of "The Cook Islands". 'As if that was even slightly possible.'

Mark beamed. 'And why do you think, that I think, that it's here?'

'Because of some stupid story that you heard, from one place, which was probably just made up by someone, that "The Cook Islands" had a mineral boom, and they developed very fast, and they turned the sea and the islands into an industrialised dump. Their islands became toxic and uninhabitable, and therefore, they bought land on the continent - we won't even begin to discuss which continent - to make their new territory.' She puffed her cheeks out and looked at him accusingly. 'And notice how angry I am at you, not letting me distinguish between the United Freed Cook Islands or the Liberated Democratic Cook Islands or the Enlightened Unions of the Cook Island Peoples, or any of the approximately fifty-three other nations of varying corporation status who are accepted by the intercorpornational community. You know that kind of uncertainty disagrees with my condition and you keep doing it anyway.'

'Hey sorry, sorry, I'm sorry,' said Mark genuinely, throwing his hands up.

'Does he know it?' mused Octave wistfully. 'You keep saying we can't "know" anything.'

'Octave! Whose side are you on!'

'Anyway,' breezed Mark, playfully swinging on a rusty lamppost, 'you're absolutely right - that's exactly what happened to The Cook Islands. They had something like thirteen, maybe fourteen islands—'

'Anything between ten and eighty...'

'—covering three million square kilometres of ocean, somewhere in the South Pacific—'

'At least sixty-two contested sites over nine different oceans and twenty-one continental land masses.'

'—and when they finally,' continued Mark over the top of her, 'finally developed technology to examine the sea floor, they found huge mineral wealth, enough to throw them into the top twenty developed countries of the world.'

'But presumably,' purred Octave, 'without the patience, or the sense, of established developed nations who'd trashed their own countries at a slower speed, in a much more mature manner?'


'Well according to you, of course.' Octave hissed at a gull perched nearby. The gull flapped its wings uncertainly.

'They just threw the money everywhere, on, on, on rich-country stuff like sea floor mining, and, and, burger bars, and bowling alleys and power stations...'

'But why did we have to come here?' Veta demanded. 'If I wanted to see a rubbish dump I could have walked five minutes around the corner to the Bulgarian-Cockney Natives Drive-Thru Reservation. We could have sent a webcam.'

'Look I don't, I still don't understand how you work,' said Mark, waving his arms around. 'Or in fact how your crazy world works. But I had to see it, this, here, with my own eyes. And this is the proof I needed.'

‘What are you talking about? This, this,’ it was her turn to wave her arms around at the grimy seascape, ‘this proves nothing! You can't prove anything!’

‘You said “proof” was flexible!'

'It's true Veta,' conceded Octave, 'you did say that. Hhhssssskkkkk bad seagull! I don't like you seagull!'

‘Don’t tell me what I said,’ she huffed, kicking a tin can. ‘The point remains. This place could be anywhere. You don’t know it’s the "original" Cook Islands. You don't know such a thing even exists. Nobody knows anything.’

‘Well I'm confident enough to say I think that I know it,’ he replied, his eyes gleaming with promise. He turned out to the filthy sea. ‘Which means I'm not dreaming. This is the same world that I grew up in. Maybe it’s been ten years, maybe five hundred, but it’s still the same place.' He paused, picturing things in his head the others couldn't see. 'And that means my family are out there somewhere.’

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Getting older: "Men vs Boys", The World's End, and turning 30

I'm 30 next month and that's totally fine. I got over my fears of turning 30 a couple of years ago, so now I'm not worried at all.

I'm also totally comfortable with "who" I am at this age - my issues at the moment are practical ones, like financial stability. I'm not worried about "settling down" or becoming a "grown up".

Until I saw The World's End last week.

The World's End is the final part of the "Cornetto Trilogy" by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It's about aliens, but also about growing up. In a nice twist from SOTD and HF, Simon Pegg plays a loser, Gary King (of the Humans!), who never grew up and whose life never got better after a pub crawl 20 years ago.

I worry that I am 10 years, a long jacket and a Sisters of Mercy tattoo away from being Gary King.

Back to this in a moment.

"BOYS" vs "MEN": Fuck you and the false dichotomy you rode in on

There's a set of images being regularly shared around the internet about the difference between "men" and "boys". Here's a couple of examples:

These things piss me off.

I don't want to defend bad behaviour or applaud people being irresponsible. I believe in people being honest, straightforward, up front and mature, particularly in relationships and how you treat other people.

But I don't want to get married. I don't want to have children. I don't dream of "planning for our future". I don't want to buy a house. I question whether emotional and physical monogamy, with one person forever and ever, really is the be-all and end-all of relationships for all human beings.

All of these things, according to the "boys vs men" idea above, mean that I am a BOY. And that I am JUST a boy.

Not only does "boys vs men" make a false distinction between the irresponsible, cheating, short-term, thrill-seeking "boy" and the older, mature, responsible, home-building "man". It falsely suggests that to be a "boy" is automatically A Bad Thing. The implication is we should shun "boys", because they are a threat to us, and they undermine our culture, where maturity means settling down, getting married, buying a house and having kids.

Well, fuck that.

In all fairness, I'm not a young mother whose partner ditched her with the baby; I'm not a woman whose boyfriend's attachment to drugs and bad people is hurting her and her friends and family. These people will recognise the "boys vs men" idea straight away, and that's probably more what "boys vs men" is supposed to be about.

But the problem is this: you cannot automatically connect bad behaviour (and the people who do it) to ideas of youthfulness and not being "grown up".

Me, the 90s and Gary King (mild spoilers ahead)

The World's End is a great film. I've seen people complaining on Facebook - "don't go it's shit" "such a letdown" - when really what they mean is "I was expecting it to be as fresh and original as Shaun of the Dead, and I'm angry my overly high expectations weren't exceeded".  True, it's perhaps not quite as amazing as SOTD or HF, and there are fewer obvious laugh-out-loud moments. (There's still a lot. I'm still laughing over the "Legoland" line near the end.)

But it's a grown-up movie about growing up. The jokes are clever. They play in your mind. When (or if) people watch it again in 5 or 10 years' time, I think it'll be even better, because it's a film that makes you think as well as laugh.

Something else that resonated was the soundtrack. The World's End is full of music from the early 90s - James, Primal Scream, Pulp, Blur, Suede. While I didn't get into music until the late 90s, these are all bands that we loved as teenagers (and still do); watching the film with my friends from school, we all recognised the songs straight away, tune after tune.

Back to Gary King. The character is both youthful and irresponsible, and remains frozen in time. His exciting behaviour at 20 - charismatic, exuberant daredevil - is wholly unappealing at 40. Partly because it's simply inappropriate in itself, such as assuming a woman you haven't seen in 20 years wants to have sex in the toilets. But even more off-putting is Gary's total unawareness that his behaviour might even be a problem.

I'm fully aware I have a growing Peter Pan complex. (Well, it's only growing because I'm getting older - no-one at 25 has a Peter Pan complex.) I feel I haven't done enough - enough travelling, enough experiences, enough people. I'm totally comfortable jumping around on a stage, shirtless, singing about robots and dinosaurs. I haven't really changed my hair style since I was 17 and I don't intend to any time soon.

These things aren't a problem right now - Nick Frost said in an interview about the film that "it's about growing up, we're not 30 any more", which was a bit of a relief. But what about the future? What about it indeed.

Gary finds redemption in the film, but not just in being Earth's last hope against the aliens. Gary's spirit finds redemption. In homage to all alien invasion films, the obvious question posed is, "what does it mean to be human?" The answer, in The World's End, is clear: to be human is to be illogical, to be irrational, to go crazy and enjoy life. We are still passionate, short-sighted animals, and this is what life means to us.

Now back to me

In a way, I hope I can be a "successful" Gary King - that I can get to 40 and be fun, funny, charming and exciting, without the drugs, inner demons and lack of self-awareness. Maybe it's ambitious. Maybe I'm thinking about it too much. I'm quite boring and not like Gary King in lots of ways: I've never taken hard drugs; I don't owe people money; I waited until 29 to get my first (small) tattoo. I'm actually very safe and middle class.

I'm not going to change who I am. If I tried to "grow up" and stop doing all the things society deems "immature", I wouldn't be me, which would be both dishonest to myself and everyone else.

Then again, I'm different to when I was 25, just like I was different then to 20. I'd be a fool for trying to trap myself in amber and artificially stay the same. The world changes, and you change, and that's fine too.

My near future is unsettled - UK, Thailand, NZ, Australia - and that too is fine. I don't know if moving around in your 40s without a permanent base is right or wrong or desirable or not. But going to Aussie is the right thing for me at this time.

I take heart in knowing my friends (hopefully?) approve of what I'm doing with my life, and don't secretly think I'm some kind of arrogant dickhead. (I am occasionally a dickhead.) I also take comfort in knowing two of my closest Wellington friends - the exuberant, inexhaustible Theresa Winters, and my wondrous, multi-talented bandmate Chiara LaRotonda - are both people who threw away the rulebook on conventional life-plans and are being Who They Want To Be, where they want to be.

Life's not bad. I'm ready for 30. Let's do this.