30 November 2007

Type in "useless expensive presents" and save on that carbon guilt trip

Have yourself some fun this merry buying season, and have it awfully cheap. Type, for instance, "useless expensive presents" into the Great Google, and be struck with awe at its wisdom. Top at the moment, are these two ads (from which I've removed the hypertext):
Golf Gifts 4 Fathers Day
www.in2golf.com.au Great Gifts, Optional Wrapping Fast Delivery For Australian OrdersGolf Ball Gift
www.Golfsmith.com/Gifts Golf Gifts that Impress for Less. Huge Selection at Low Prices!

But there are presents for other serious hobbyists on column right, such as the:
shirt with bottle opener rubber opener sewn into t-shirt Easily open twist top bottles www.tanked.com.au.
Or go straight to a feature article in this month's issue of Australia's (usually useful) CHOICE Computer Magazine: "Christmas gadgets: Geeky gadgets to stuff in your stockings"

If you know anyone who fits their definition of geek, and who's got desk space and a USB with nothing plugged into it: "Deck the halls with USB gadgets" with these "geeky tech tools."

The first four items ("Price paid ... from Mr Gadget" – $23, 16, 15, 19):
  • Christmas tree that has a "long USB cord" and "Christmas feel!" as "The Good", but is "not very bright under normal indoor lighting".
  • Snowman also boasts a long cord. Also "not very bright . . ." but "add it to your USB Christmas tree for a little more colour and holiday charm." See to believe.
  • Car Charger Adapter. "Use this nifty car charger adapter to power your USB Christmas tree or USB Snowman while you drive."
  • LED Ice Rocket: "Not very . . ." But "Much like the USB Snowman but not as seasonal. Has more style though."
Mr Gadget says, "Yes, these USB Christmas trees were featured on Channel Nine's Today show! Everyone's talking about these!"

Or for the same tackiness but in a whole different class, look wherever upmarket goods are sold. At the dentist yesterday, I pawed through a new Australian venture, Elevator, "for people who've grown up", an aspirational glossy as opposed to that magazine for the actual going ups, Elevator World.

From the ads to the promos, the themes in Elevator are as seamless as upmarket periodicals always are. The newest Prada handbag doesn't come in the same green tone as the tree, but is raved over in an article – and stylewise, is not only remarkably similar as the tree, but would look just as much in place at the local $2 shop.

Is this all a message from Scrooge?
Hell, no. I know that the best things in life are free, if you can afford them.

I'm all for spending money and having fun (remembering that there's no cause and effect about this), but on something like a magnifying glass or electron microscope, books to read more than once, mental fishing tackle, access to a place where you can breathe clean air – all stuff that's not half-a-warranty-period from the tip, or a reason to use electricity and dig up resources and fill up spare valleys with garbage and fulfil the definition of 'consumer' as Consume, because it's for sale.

And I'm certainly not saying, "Go out and lash your back with feel-good, topical post-consuming guilt. Scratch deeply into every Hummer you can find. Eat only raw vegetables that you grow." or (horrors!) "Buy carbon credits." Especially, don't buy carbon credits! Better to spend your last credit-limited virtual cent or zillions on chocolate to bathe in than buying carbon credits, those virtue-stinking falsies.

Instead, visit the Corner House for a treat as refreshing as cold herring – which I know isn't to everyone's taste, but that just shows who really has good taste!

The Carbon Neutral Myth: Offset Indulgences for your Climate Sins, by Kevin Smith, Carbon Trade Watch

Note: I confess, only to you, that I am a sinner along with the worst of 'em. I lust in my heart for these gloriously offensive firecrackers. But no. That's wrong. What I really want is to walk on the street where they live. To be in the thick of them being bought, then being set off – to live the moment in all its multi-polluted fun. And to fly there, not in Qantas' Oppressed Class, but First all the way. And why not? There's an international boom in luxury travel.

A hoot of a cover for The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Editor Ellen Datlow has just revealed the cover, and it's dangerous!

I've already tripped over my mind, mulling what could come pouring out of either end, and hoping it does. But it's what's between the covers that counts, and it's quite a lineup.

Table of Contents:

  1. "The Elephant Ironclads" by Jason Stoddard
  2. "Ardent Clouds" by Lucy Sussex
  3. "Gather" by Christopher Rowe
  4. "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall" by Elizabeth Bear
  5. "North American Lake Monsters" by Nathan Ballingrud
  6. "All Washed Up While Looking for a Better World" by Carol Emshwiller
  7. "Special Economics" by Maureen McHugh
  8. "Aka Saint Marks Place" by Richard Bowes
  9. "The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan
  10. "Shira" by Lavie Tidhar
  11. "The Passion of Azazel" by Barry N. Malzberg
  12. "The Lagerstätte" by Laird Barron
  13. "Gladiolus Exposed" by Anna Tambour
  14. "Daltharee" by Jeffrey Ford
  15. "Jimmy" by Pat Cadigan
  16. "Prisoners of the Action" by Paul McAuley and Kim Newman
When can you get it?

Set your alarm for April 2008.

Spore, spoor, scat

There are over 250,ooo species of fungi in Australia so I'm not going to guess which this is, but I'll hazard that the scat is an Eastern Grey Kangaroo's.

15 hours later:

and two days after that, the spore-maker and its spoor:
This happened because I couldn't bring myself to throw something out, so there's no design to the print.
You can, however, make your fungus dance to your tune.
See Heino Lepp's Spore Prints in the voluminous Fungi Web Site sponsored by the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

By the way, fungi gardens are an uncelebrated joy. I recommend cup fungi on dung. I've kept one on donkey dung going for over twelve years on my kitchen windowsill. Cup fungi on cattle dung is just as good and long-lasting, and as it's more varietal as to shape, if you don't want to water it, the dung with its fungi makes marvelous sculpture. You only need to water it to make more cup fungi sprout. These are, sadly, scentless gardens.

As to the hard yakka of establishing these gardens, there isn't any. After a bit of rain, you only need to look wherever donkeys and cattle roam, and ye will find cup fungi sprouting from their dung (as well as the earth itself). Looking at dung is always rewarding, anyway. And if you're lucky enough to get there while dung beetles are perforating a pat of cattle dung, put your ear down close, and you'll hear the sound of rice crispies in milk.

26 November 2007

Medlars, yum! Medlar comfits and more

Fear of sharing a recipe with you
For ages, I've wanted to tell you recipes, but have always been too shy. What if you hate them? After all, we don't all have the same taste, and the first principle I would teach, for any cook, is to tear off labels on spices and herbs, thereby freeing the cook to smell and taste without prejudice.

Yet, now that medlars are bletting this very moment in the northern hemisphere, perfuming the air with their luscious rottenness, duty to them calls.

If you want to make your medlars into something historic, you can't go better than to hurry off to Ivan Day's splendid Historic Food site, where you will find Theodore Garrett's Medlar Cheese recipe and see it made into gorgeous animal shapes using Victorian-style moulds.

I have previously urged you not to cook your medlars because they have too much character and are far more rewarding sucked than smooshed. And I also told you about their character and urged you not to add adulterants because a bletted medlar is hardly insipid.

I mean, if you were a vampire and you had a crack at the neck of a virgin or a roué, which would be the richer experience for you, and better for your health? Fresh, as we're told so it must be true, is best!

So I am a medlar purist, which is why it is time to tell you HOW NOT TO BE CONFINED TO MEDLAR PURISTISM.

My recipe for Medlar Comfits

Bletted medlars (when you pinch them, their insides ooze out)
Black Pepper

Squish your medlars, as many as you have or have patience to squish.

(As for that stuff that's left after you smoosh your medlars: Pour boiling water over it, and leave to cool. Strain through a sieve and you have medlar nectar.)

Put the pulp in a pan with a like amount of honey. (By like amount, I mean that as roughly as the inaccuracy of using a cup for a measure instead of a scale.) In the case of this batch pictured, the pulp of ten medlars made a metric 1/2 cup. I used a metric 1/2 cup of honey.

To that, put what seems like a ridiculous amount of spice. In this case, I used 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cardamom, and ginger, and three freshly smashed peppercorns. To this, add your butter (I used a walnut-sized blob).

Cook over medium heat, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. It should seethe nicely in no time, and thicken faster than it should, considering anything exotic should take several hours and need specialised equipment imported from Youxsiytihia. Consider it done when it parts to your spoon like the Red Sea to the Israelites, falling back before you can say a two-syllable word. It will be satiny and pourable but not runny. Cooking this batch took 15 minutes.

Pour into an oiled tray or dish to a depth that is as thick as you have patience for, because it needs to dry. Put aside till it sets firm enough to do what you will with it, which in this case, was two days later, when it was rubbery enough to come away in one piece when lifted with a knife, but still pliable enough to be rolled up without cracking.

Now wreak your will upon it.

To make these medlar comfits:
Cut into strips and roll up, put them on waxed paper in a cardboard box. Leave for several weeks at least, not only for the consistency to be firmer and chewier, but for the spices and honey to properly mellow.

These comfits are spectacularly good eaten with an accompaniment of walnuts. Serve also with cheese, wine, and with coffee instead of chocolate.

Cure whole on waxed paper and use uncut, topping a plain New York cheesecake. Make the crust of the cheesecake, not with anything spiced, but adding crushed walnuts to the mix.

The secret of this recipe is that it is so simple and unfussy. It is a liberator, if you are someone like Julian Barnes, whose Pedant in the Kitchen tells how recipes intimidate. Faugh on that! Food is to enjoy, and making food should be joyful. When your medlar comfits sludge is furiosing in the pan, you should be smiling at the colour, smell, anticipation of licking the pot soon; and eventually, in good time, enjoying the comfits themselves with human friends, the companionship of a good book, or whatever moves you, without tasting any liverish worry of did I do it right?

It doesn't really matter how much honey you use, because you will cook the mixture to your taste, and cure the comfits to your temperament. If you use no spice, then that's fine, too. Or add to those spices 1/4 teaspoon of cloves (I did, and loved the spicy result), or substitute 1/4 teaspoon of dry powdered mustard for the pepper. Or leave out spices and instead, sprinkle the top with chopped pistachios just after you pour it out, and when dry enough cut into diamonds. Use your imagination. Just don't substitute honey with corn syrup, or every medlar that ever lived will haunt your dreams till you are so well bletted that you can't hold your bones.

You might also enjoy these posts about medlars in Medlar Comfits:

Medlars: Their innies and outies
Medlars in spring, and their companions
The first Onuspedia entry: 'Skwandro'

And I'm ashamed to say that Ellen Datlow took much better portraits of medlars I know and who grew up with me, than I have. Here they are:

Medlars presented for our medieval feast

25 November 2007

Feed-me noise, parrots, m & f, and chattttter

It is that time of year for the Australian king parrot. This one, from dawn to dusk, is shadowed by three fledglings, none of whom has a sweet Please, sir gurgle. This snapshot was taken when he was trying to hide in a cheese tree. Note the eye, at half mask. Will he blend in and and be a leaf, at one with the tree, invisible to those who seek him? Fat chance!

Male King Parrot adult (Alisterus scapularis)

The feed-me call of baby parrots, and king parrots in particular, is as metronomically unmusical as the leak from the i-pod players that make public transport such a joy.

Adult male king parrots are such sooks.

Far easier to get a feed from than the females, adult male king parrots are lower than bass in the king parrot 'community'. Upon red-headed maturity, they commence lives bossed by babies, females, spotty adolescents, and even smaller parrots such as those audacious mouthfuls, the rainbow lorikeets.

Not so, with us. The sound of these babies doesn't bother me (though I have unladylike fantasies when I travel next to a music-lover), but I can't stand the fretfulness that these cries cause the male of my species.

The sounds made by bothered male humans are varied, so that might be why they are not listed in Professor Trevor Cox's "Bad Vibes" study, an ongoing work that you can participate in, see what drives humans to murder, compare reactions to crying babies, and vote: Bad Vibes

Do king parrots gossip?
Another sound that doesn't come up in the bad-vibes study is the noise, actual or virtual, of gossip.
Gossip does more than ensure topics of conversation – it can provide a more powerful bonding experience than any outward-bound course. Exchanging news about another person puts the gossiper and the receivers in an exclusive group from which the victim is necessarily excluded. This makes an " in-group" which, say social psychologists, is the very essence of strong bond formation. Sharing "secrets" with select others, hearing your own views reinforced by your friends and having the opportunity to scapegoat someone else – all these elements of gossip help bolster your own sense of group membership.
– psychologist Sandy Mann, The art of gossip: 'No! I don't believe it',
The Independent

22 November 2007

Indians and English: No flatulence please, unless you write for . . .

I've written about this before, but feel the need to say yet again: English in India is the most gloriously alive, playful, intelligent, articulate, and mind-expanding English in the world today.

It is odd then, that this language is so misunderstood by the waxing class. I'm saying, without any authority, but saying it anyway: The title of Amelia Gentleman's op-ed today in the International Herald Tribune, "The Queen's Hinglish" gains in India, is wrong; and though part of what Gentleman is trying to say is right, it's that kind of rightness of the boat that almost reaches your destination, and drops you off.

"The Queen's Hinglish: How to Speak Pukka" is the title of a book by Baljinder Mahal. She calls it a guide to the blending of Hindi and English by Indian immigrants to the U.K. The (US) National Public Radio interviewed her in Blighty itself, in the town of Derby in central England for some practical lessons in Hinglish. Listen to the interview and people speaking "Queen's Hinglish" here, and read all about it in Anushka Asthana's amusing and informative piece in The Observer: Kiss my chuddies! (Welcome to the Queen's Hinglish)

As Asthana says:
Asian 'yoof-speak' is spicing up English, with Hindi words such as 'gora' and slang such as 'innit' soon to enter the dictionary and experts predicting an explosive impact of the language used by second-generation immigrants. Welcome to the 'Queen's Hinglish'.

What's happening in the UK is also happening in the USA and everywhere else the diaspora has spread.

Gentleman says:
In "The Queen's Hinglish," another recent book on the theme, Baljinder K. Mahal writes that more people speak English in South Asia than in Britain and North America combined, with India alone accounting for more than 350 million English speakers.

She mentions Kishore Singh's (in my opinion, spot on) review in Business Standard (India) which is itself, an example of Hinglish as written in India, but it's no yoof-speak: Paul Theroux's Sleaze Yatra

Alice boards a train in Bombay. She is en route to Bangalore with a friend who, at the last minute, ditches her for a new found amour, so Alice, alone in her coach with her co-passengers, spends her free time thinking how Indians have mummified an English where words like “utterance” and “miscreants”, “thrice”, “ample” and “jocundity” survive in daily usage. She meets a young man who adds to her vocabulary of Indian words with “ruminative”, and Alice can’t help thinking as she looks out of the train window that “it’s so Merchant-Ivory”.

This is eventually the superior white writing if not about the inferior then certainly the exotic brown, and in the end all you walk away with is the author’s peevishness about Indians being curmudgeonly (and there’s another word for you to collect, Alice).

Indian words

Indians have the finest tone sense of English speakers today, and do irony better than the British (Americans who are still looking iurny up in the dictionary don't count, and there could be a dissertation or two in the works on the subtle nuancing of motherfu**er, so I should leave my foot where it is). I can, however, imagine Singh's smile as he typed those 'mummified' words that are now Indian, as English in the Anglo world has dropped them for more relevant and colourful expression.

"Enjoy your thing," said the saleswoman to me in a New York Macy's. Yanklish?

It isn't just that Indians in India are using words and expressions from other languages to express themselves when English doesn't touch the place that needs that something. It's a fact that Indians in India have a wider vocabulary than many Anglos, of English itself. By this, I don't mean that they use English words we don't know, to impress and intimidate (like that "overlord of the OED", Martin Amis). They are communicating. They also have more fun with English, and you can see it in the most unexpected places. Look at any Indian newspaper, and see the punning, allusions, and alliteration everywhere. Take for example, today's Hindustan Times. Its editorial is Hammered and Sickled. How can a state’s police force and administration look the other way while vigilante armies set foot on the path of ‘justice’, asks Barkha Dutt.

It's a bit of an addiction with that rag. Other "edits" listed on that page are "Match, set and shame", "Tie of the storm", and "Lock, shock and barrel".

Or see today's outlookindia.com, where Rajinder's Puri's Opinion column is centre-page: The Adharma Of Coalitions Nandigram and l'affaire N-Deal have both exposed the cancerous rot afflicting the UPA alliance . . .

Sometimes allusions can be embarrassing to an Anglo. Sai Arjun Singh's column in Business Standard is called WordsWORTH. But never fear. He is no Bachi Karkaria. Read his column Ghosts in the Machine to see that Indians writing from India can write as perfectly as any columnist in the Guardian or the New York Times. He is not only impeccable in his cultural-knowledge display (never straying from what the reader in London or New York or Cedar Rapids or Yale might know) but he doesn't play with words. He uses the words he should to be taken seriously where it counts – though why he might want to write as if he hails from the UK, where fiction sales are as depressed as a puppy left at the vet's, is beyond me. Onwards to the language used: pulp fiction, visceral, montage, juxtaposing of old-world mysticism with the banality of urban . . .

Now, Bachi Karkaria would have to clip her tongue to be taken seriously in the lands of the Queen or the thing-enjoyers. See for instance, her 4 Nov op-ed in the Times of India"Mine is bigger than yours". It is not only important for what it says (though she never writes self-importantly); the way she states her case adds immeasurably to the reader's (okay, this reader's) joy in being biffed around the head with fresh-as-newcaught-fish ideas. The fact that I tend to agree with her is beside the point, but do go get biffed.

It belongs in a dictionary!

Her coined word: Causewallis, is what language is all about.

But getting back to Amelia Gentleman's column.

She mentions two more books:

The title of Binoo K. John's new study of the language, "Entry From Backside Only" (a sign commonly seen in alleyways) misleadingly suggests this will be another exercise in ridicule. Instead it is a celebration . . .

(Note: "Entry from Backside Only: Hazaar Fundas of Indian-English" is only published by Penguin India though they've done a publicity blitz in the UK (do they think only Indians would be interested?), so I have linked it for your pleasure, to Oxford Bookstores in India.)

Gentleman continues:
Some of the perceived shortcomings of Indian English can be blamed directly on the English colonizers, according to another recent book, "Indlish," by Jyoti Sanyal. In its introduction, the book notes that: "Indian English suffers from flatulent orotundity, a form of high-flown language that tries to impress but instead obscures." This style of speaking and writing, the book argues, is a hangover from the Raj and the bureaucratic officialese that it bequeathed to India.

The publisher's blurb is an alarum. This book "may be the last hope for reform." The editor of Indlish is Martin Cutts, "research director and owner" of the Plain Language Commission. I would think that they've got enough to do, being based in the EU. It enrages me to think of the kind of help this book is giving to Indians, when there are so many poor English users elsewhere who are in desperate need, such as Microsoft, and the people who wrote that flatulent orotundity, the European Constitution, now euphemised as the European Reform Treaty.

All this Indian speaker of English stuff inevitably leads to Indian call centres. You can't teach all these operators perfect English, Gentleman quotes Binoo K. John as saying (though that is the goal). Sanyal's work offers advice on how to shake off the "Victorian legacy that hangs like a dead albatross around each educated Indian's neck," encouraging the use of a simpler style.

(BTW, Where are all the help guides to stop the New Yorker from saying in 15,000 words what could be said more elegantly, understandably, with even a touch of the luminous, in 750, and often many less?)

Reducing a stock enriches, but this language reduction when it's applied in this way to Indian English is actually not only a flattening of expression, but worse - a margarinic substitution. It mirrors the prissy attitude of the government of Singapore.

I don't want an Indian call centre person to say to me or to anyone that fatuous absurdity, "No worries", but that is what they're taught to say when speaking to us in Australia. Are they also taught, "Don't quote Wordsworth."?

In perfect English, please say with me, "Enjoy your thing."

Previous Medlar Comfits raves on this topic:

12 November 2007

Great book, damme: All About H. Hatterr

Great! All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani is now in print again, thanks to that excellent publisher, New York Review of Books, the rescuer of another masterpiece (in its case, from crass simplification of the wonderful artwork), The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.

But today is All About H. Hatterr's day. Even in India, this masterpiece has been hard to find and often out of print, though the Penguin 1999 edition is available there now. I think that one of the reasons this book sinks out of print so often is that it is so often lashed to others (which I wish, would just sink without a paper).

In my opinion, Desani stands up there with Gogol (who's at the top). This book is a true great — wise, while taking the piss out of the wise and the seekers of (see Lucy Edge's recently published Yoga School Dropout for a modern take on the search, which could be subtitled The search for male buns and chocolate cake, via yoga schools in India); hilariously specific (and as universal as foolishness and fakiry); fierce; acrobatic; and fun

As beggars go, I had been a hell of a lonely one. I did not know the technique of solitary meditation and I had failed to attract a disciple, a chap who might have served one, begged for one, scouted and worshipped one into the bargain: and for all that, for some paltry instruction in achieving whatever supernatural object the feller might have been seeking.

I decided to open a converse with the young recluse.

I put to him the token question.

'O too-early-in-life wearer of the honoured loin-cloth,' I asked, quo vadis like, 'whither goest?'

'Wherefore, fellow mendicant,' he replied gravely, 'thou speakest to a white-washed eagle whose surpassingly beautiful beak is mounted with gold-plate and studded with diamonds and pearls of the finest water?'

I recognised the jiggery-pokery style. If that young feller was a genuine holy man, worthy of worship and honour, I am John Bunyan (1628–1688) !

Indeed, the physique of Desani's voice is so magnificent that what he does with it is spoken of less that it should be. But he's got no equal, and I include that old flasher, Joyce (IMN-hO, Myles na gCopaleen comes close to Desani, and wipes the floor with Joyce.)

The thing about Desani is that his reach is unmatched but he isn't using words to dazzle; he went into US academia, but that was post-Hatterr. You can read this book with the joyous assurance that it isn't academic gold. The protagonist's language and learning (amazingly close to Desani's), which he picks up like a magpie but displays with the care of a bower bird, is a tool to get what he's saying across; and he has a lot to say, even to making fun of all of that. His reading is still typical of Indians, one of whom recently wrote an essay for me that mentioned Washington Irving's writings with such shocking familiarity that I had to read some WI. Irving was good!

For a real review of All About H. Hatterr, read Ben Ehrenreich in the LA Times.

NYRB has kindly supplied an excerpt of the book. Read it here.

Their edition is the 1970 revised version with the charming introduction by Anthony Burgess.

It deserves to be in hardback.

And speaking of greatness

The American Friends of James Joyce and The Modern Word run the annual James Joyce Essay Contest. Here's what they say:

Students were asked to prepare an essay that answered the following question:

Although he was born in the late nineteenth century, James Joyce is often named as the greatest writer of the twentieth century. In the coming years, what would a writer your age need to do to be considered as a candidate for the “greatest writer of the twenty-first century?” (In terms of themes, styles, innovations, etc.)

The reason I know about the contest is that a person I admire greatly placed third. Spencer Pate, someone I thought had too much sense to consider a question that is so shortsighted, silly and superficial, wrote an essay that was as sensible as anything I've ever seen of his (read more outstanding Spencer Pate essays and a story here).

Pate says, in part (read the whole essay here) :

In order to be considered as a candidate for the “greatest writer of the twenty-first century,” a writer my age would need to create his or her own distinctive style through rejecting postmodernism, studying the work of older writers, and making use of experimental techniques introduced by the likes of Joyce and Faulkner. Secondly, he or she would need to read in a wide variety of genres and not hesitate to make use of fantasy or speculative fiction elements in their work. Finally, a writer would have to be passionate about examining society and culture in order for his or her fiction to be truly great and relevant. A writer my age must take Joyce’s advice to heart and look for the universal in the specific and discover endless possibility in the mundane.

Speaking of the masters, he says:

Writers need to avoid the predominant styles in literature today and study the works of the true prose masters, like Dickens, Conrad, or Cormac McCarthy. Their rich, descriptive styles never go out of fashion.

Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens (1852–1902) was the tenth and favourite child of Charles Dickens.

07 November 2007

Foudroyant slough

But for the delightful nudibranchophile Hans Bertsch, I wouldn't know a foudroyant from a sesquipedalian.

But just as I agree with him that sea slugs are the ne plus ultra of foudroyance, this is the best way I can think of to describe this stage of life in the flowering and fruiting of this bush, and I hope you will be so distracted by now that you will forget to ask, "What is it?"

06 November 2007

But for a Sniffle

It's Melbourne Cup Day today, known as the "the race that stops a nation", which isn't really true any more, but Australia does go silly, so what better time for a story?

This one's from me, and it hasn't run anywhere before.

"One must get used to progress," said the ghost of Phar Lap.

Millions of potential champions whinnied in disagreement, but as they had not and weren't likely to ever be born, their voices amounted to nothing in the racing firmament.

"You're stuffed," said a ghost of a horse who could have won a Melbourne Cup.

A few years before –
"If you ask me, they're a bloody nuisance."

The minister was in confidential conference in the billiard room of a member of the Board of the Jockey Club. Or the member was in confidential conference with him. Both felt pressed, and each felt that the other should do something about it. With the Spring Carnival a month away, and a virtual cert to be not runnable, both men were feeling frazzled and in desperate need of something to lift them from their misery.

The member swirled his glass. He'd recently come to that same 'bloody nuisance' conclusion. But you could shoot him and hang him on a wall before he'd ever admit it. Even then I wouldn't.

"This flu," said the minister. "We've just announced a hundred million bailout, but Peter's gonna shit himself if he has to actually give it out. Vicious twit, Peter."

"Problem," said the member sympathetically. They'd gone to each other's several weddings. As to who Peter is, he hadn't a clue.

"Those p.m. women who sell hats are the worst," said the minister.

"They're beginning to cause us trouble, too."

"Those hat p.m.'s," the minister chuckled. "I heard on the radio this morning. They're sure as hell giving you fun about value for money, and what are you there for and--"


The host topped up both glasses, and host and guest played a game of billiards, equally badly. The host topped up their glasses again, and when they'd gotten to the point of talking about how fucked up their families were and commiserating on their 15-year-old sons, he said something that made the minister prick up his ears.

"I don't believe Jonathan is allergic to horses. I think he just hates them."

"Does he? Does he bet?"

"How would I know?"

"Uh." The minister's and his son were on the same terms of incommunication.

"He's always in his room."

The minister nodded.

"Playing games."

"Don't I know!"

"But mine doesn't have to buy his," said the member almost belligerently. They had flattened two bottles of the best single malt.

"Oh?" As a minister he had to be thick-skinned, but he had also lost some of his razor sharpness.

"Jonathan has invented the racing industry. He's got the whole thing. The hats, the clothes, the corporate sponsorships, the horses and their form sheets, and he runs the races."

"Oh?" The minister was wondering if he would rather ask for a top-up or ring for his driver.

The member grabbed his arm. "No horses!"

"Horses," said the minister. "Damn nuisance. Take us. We get the flu and what happens? A few days off for the lucky. As a matter of fact, I've had a stopped up nose all week. Prob'ly have de flu myself." He honked into his handkerchief. "No time off for the wicked, heh heh heh. How about?" He held out his glass.

"You closed down our industry."

This unfriendly reminder forced the minister to reach for his jacket. He wasn't about to be treated like that, by anybody!

"You closed down our industry," the member of the Jockey Club repeated.

"Once is enough." The minister shot his cuffs and opened the door.

"Once is too much."

"Get your fuckin hands off me!"

"Then think of something better than announcing some fake money scheme. We know money disbursements, you know." The member's eyes glinted unpleasantly.

The minister shut the door and subsided into the arms of the distinguished old chesterfield. "You could have a little compassion. How are we to solve what is, after all, the root of your problem, those goddamn beasts." He pulled a Romeo Y Julietta out of its humidor and took his time preparing it, spitting its tip expertly on the carpet.

"If this were a perfect world," he said, "they wouldn't even need quarantine, which can be breached, it seems, with a paper clip. And they couldn't get flu, nor need to be tested for drugs, nor, well, any of the messiness of a real track. We could even use the real estate for a good purpose. Housing, pop star concerts, this Pope gig."

"That's been popular," the member laughed. He handed his old friend an espresso he'd just made.

"Yeah, eh, thanks. You guys whinged like stuck pigs, but who goes to those meets really? Most people just want them to happen theoretically so they can bet on TAB, or meet in the boxes. It could be as staged as the moon landing. And this--" he plonked his feet on the table, "beats any box."

"Wanna see the Melbourne Cup, moon landing style?" said the member.

"Eh?" The minister needed more than an espresso to be razor sharp, but the idea has always been attributed to him.


Squire's Son Ltd., the company that Jonathan's dad set up so that Jonathan's software (nicknamed 'Lucky Country') could be sold to the nation and the entire racing industry transformed, made Jonathan a potentially very rich boy.

In record time the system was installed and implemented in New South Wales, the outbreak state, so the Spring Carnival was run after all. Ladies' hats were big in the nightly news. Society in all its sophistication was on display in the gossip shows and in the pages of Women's Weekly, complete with the usual naughty shots of some company director or advertising man with a girl who must be his daughter. The fact that there was no actual meet was the triumph of the system.

Who wanted, given the choice, an aging race track and hats that you have to actually carry from place to place, not to mention stupidly stand with your hand on because they want to blow away? Hats that are woven and sewed are vicious to hairstyles anyway. Who wants the chance for a camera to take one's picture in the wrong angle, for a sunbeam to highlight a wrinkle or a sweating armpit?

Who wants a race ruined by rain?

And most of all, who wants a racetrack ruined by horses?

Thus, the Carnival was not only the most beautiful ever held, but the most efficient. It made so much money that the Melbourne Cup was a relative failure. Those twits holding onto their hats. All the fuss of horses with their needs, the testing which always interferes.

It was a case of survival of the fittest.

There was a certain amount of fuss kicked up by the women who make hats, but the women who had always bought them and had to put up with wearing them were much the stronger lobby. Now they could look at recordings of themselves as they had always wished to be seen and remembered. The cost was quite reasonable, and they didn't even have to go to some smelly track.

The trainers put up a fuss but they were nowhere near as powerful as the owners of horses. All those bills for upkeep, stabling, their luxurious lifestyles having to be catered to--swimming pools, etc. And after all that, they still went crook.

It started in Sydney but within a season, the money from Dubai to Hong Kong to the capital of US racing, Washington DC, went to the horses that were born in an algorithm and would die there, at their determined time.

The punters never knew the difference.


"Progress," said Phar Lap, "is inevitable."

"They hated us," said the ghost of a hack who had once belonged to a little girl until her parents had bought The Safer Way to Ride.

"They hated us, too," said the ghosts of millions of children's dogs who had not and certainly couldn't now ever be born.

"They hated us, too," said the ghost of a man with a handbag on his belt.

"What are you doing here!" cried all those unborn horse ghosts.

"Let him be," said Phar Lap graciously. "He's got nowhere else to go."

The last human bookie tipped his hat to Phar Lap, in thanks.