blog posts

#9: home is where the homies is - i went back to glasgow

29.11.23 - Vienna

After a few weeks on hiatus - one which was as unexpected and unplanned as it was necessary - I’m back with some notes from a trip I took back to Glasgow last weekend.

I moved from Glasgow to Malta early in September 2022. Over a year later - which is far too long- I returned to see my friends, make ghostly noises at some of my old haunts, and remind myself of the city which was so central to my development over the half decade I lived there.

The most important thing I could do, upon returning, was spend time with the people who consistently managed to keep me happy through all the turmoil I put myself through.

After lying to a friend at the beginning of November, by telling her that I would very likely be going to Scotland at some point this month - whilst having no real faith in my ability to hold athought long enough to book tickets - I proceeded to do nothing resembling booking ticketsor planning a trip.

Thankfully, she is blessed with focus, and after receiving no updates from me for a couple of weeks, she followed up. Her message caught me in a moment of mania (what some people might refer to as ‘a normal amount of concentration and motivation’) and in seconds, I had booked time off work and a set of flights!

I then proceeded not to bother figuring out where I’d be lodging until two days prior to my departure. Because of course I did.

When I did eventually book accommodation, it would be so last minute that the only affordable option was one I’d have been wise to avoid. I survived, though. I always seem to. Maybe I’m immortal. Yeah, that makes sense.

On that note, I shall conclude this rambling preamble, and we can dive right in to a play by play composed of snippets written impulsively between moments.

It was a truly great long weekend, and one I want to remember.

great show - spine tinglin fun

Thursday 12:30

The pilot - that’s right, I’m flying. I wish was taking the train, but I’m a bit of a povo, so I’ll just livewith the guilt - just told us we’re halfway across Germany, at an altitude of around 38,000 feet. I’m not sure what they want me to do with that information, but now you have it too. So maybe you have some use for it. If you do, I’m glad to be of service.

We should be arriving on time.

Thursday 15:24

I’m in Edinburgh, ready to roll through to Glasgow, and I still haven’t eaten anything today. Whooops.

I’m hoping to grab a chocolate brownie and a coffee (health) as soon as I’m there. I’ll be meeting my best buddy first, then meeting another wonderful friend to munch down on a whole lot ofpizza, before heading back to watch the first friend perform with a choir.

Very exciting stuff, though I’ll be honest, I’ll be able to get more excited about the music onceI’ve eaten pizza (which is, as we all know, the music of food).

Thursday 19:41

Caught up and chowed down, now I’m sat in a bustling theatre, waiting for the show to start.

Paesano’s remains as good as it was when I left. The UK as a whole seems to be continuing tospiral downwards, but that, at least, is encouraging.

Seeing my friend was great, but she’s being given a lot more work than is fair. Because they’re competent, and because they’re extremely hard-working, and because the company they’re working for struggles to find people like them, they’re being leaned on hard. I know they’ll beokay, but they are struggling, and that sucks

When you meet someone you care about for just a couple short hours, trying to catch up on a year of life’s ups and downs can be hard

So what do you do? Listen, express your hope that things will get better soon and remind yourself that any unsolicited piece of advice which occurs to you - like the fact that you think she’s able to do what is best for her even if it means no longer being able to help quite as many people in quite the same way - has already crossed their mind.

It was wonderful to see them, but it was also difficult. I can’t help, and I wish I could. And I haven’t been there, and in this moment, I really wish I had.

Thursday 20:40 

Intermission. I’m loving the show. Something about multitudinous voices in euphoric harmonythat makes my spine tingle. Have you ever cried at a disco song? Well, that makes two of us.

Makes me want to create, and makes me wish my voice would one day contribute, in some capacity, to making someone cry when they didn’t expect to.

(If you listened to blue hands, maybe that already happened. More likely to be because I struggle to hit high notes than anything else, but that still counts.)

It’s a strange ambition, hoping to make people cry.

Anyway, I love me some show tunes. In another life, maybe I’d have been a starlet. Maybe my gut is wrong, but for some reason, all my instincts point toward the likelihood that I will never be the type to join a group and learn to collaborate.

Even if I could join, am I too dysfunctional to be able to sustain being a part of that group without somehow blowing up my own spot?

If nothing else, I can at least take some comfort in a very particular skillset which is apparent to me as I sit here pondering. I’m very good at turning a performance I’m not involved in, taking place in front of hundreds of people being entertainedthrilled and comforted, into something else entirely

What these people don’t know, and what they may never know, is that actuallythis is all about me.

before and after - just doing my part

gave yer da a real scare ya shifty wee fucker

Thursday 20:51

People move without you when you love to move away

A place can stay the same but have no place for you to stay

So stay or leave

You’d best believe

the tight tail ends to the tales we weave

...

unfurl and keep going

Thursday 20:56

I just wrote a poem (and now I’m writing about writing a poem) because I felt (feel) the need to look busy, so the worst wouldn’t (doesn’t) happen.

What is this ‘worst’ I speak of? The stranger sat beside me talking to me, of course.

Thursday 20:57

I have issues.

Friday 10:32

I’ve been blessed with glorious Glasgow weather. I’ve already gone for a long walk, the questtowards a towel I can use and keep.

The alternative would be to rent one from a hostel doing its darnedest to turn a profit. After all, at some point in the 1800s, the proprietors clearly had to spend upwards of £8 to purchase the thinnest possible single glazed window panes in existence.

Considering that they also spend no money on heating because they figure that by crammingseveral dozen people into very small rooms, body heat alone can undo the effects of Glaswegian winter, how could they possibly offer towels for free?

After a night of choppy sleep in a 14 bed dormitory, though, my spirits are genuinely very high. Fortunately, there was only one snorer. Less fortunately, that snorer was located in the bed directly adjacent to my own.

As I write this, I’m in Kelvingrove park. I just spoke to a friend who got some bad news about a colleague this week. The world can be an exceedingly tough place to be, but I’ve no evidencethat the alternative is any easier. Stay strong, whoever you are.

You matter, and people care.

And with that thought in mind, I’m heading to my favourite breakfast place in Glasgow for a sandwich and a coffee. Scrumptious.

Friday 11:33

I fixed a sticker someone broke.

lots of things can be free, the secret ingredient is crime

very creaky, freaky deaky, terrible photos to match a terrible experience

Friday 12:03

Not bragging, just reporting.

I just helped save a Dachshund’s life. The lowrider beastie gave an exemplary impression of being the wurst by exploiting a moment of distraction to sprint excitedly into the path of fast moving traffic.

I stepped into that path but got juked - I’ve never been the best at predicting a well practiced sidestep. I’m good in a pinch, though, so I chucked my bag into the pup’s new path. That motion was confusing enough to make them stop, turn, and run back into the botanic gardens, and their owner’s open arms.

What ensued was (I’m assuming, because I didn’t feel I could rightly approach and listen to the chastising), was the talking to of a lifetime.

me at the café in question - back when i was trying to finish a degree i'm now not using

the airport tram tried to warn me - but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next

Monday 06:17

I just got through airport security so easily that I almost went back and told them to checkagain. The key, it seems, is alcohol. Alhamdulillah.

Monday 09:12

I’m in the sky right now. Weird that you can be drunk and on the floor and then drunk and in the sky and nobody says boo.

A lot of me feels like it’s strewn about various parts of Scotland. I love it here in more ways than I can easily describe.

But I’m excited to get back to where my heart is.

Friday 13:58

I just left one friend, and I’m on the way to meet another. Gonna get some cauliflower wings, a beer, and catch up.

What goes without saying doesn’t hurt to have said. I love my friends very much.

I’m happy with myself to be making the effort to see them. Sometimes I worry that I’ve never really had that many people, but that isn’t true. My people are just scattered, just like my existence.

Friday 18:20

Tell ya what, it’s fuckin cold. I’m rushin on to the hostel to grab at least of two more layers. If it’s cold out here, I can’t imagine what its like in there.

Might treat myself to a movie if anything decent is on. Might also treat myself to a movie if nothing decent is on.

Friday 19:50

On my way to watch Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon. I had some time to kill at the hostel, and fell into a conversation with a dude who’s been hitchhiking his way across the European continent, after a stint in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

I find it inspiring to talk to people who up and go - particularly those who do so because ‘all jobs suck’ as he so eloquently put it. I like to listen to people who don’t feel so burdened by the weight of their privilege that they prevent themselves from using it to experience the world.

Friday 23:49

My review of Napoleon: Meh. Maybe I’m bad at watching movies, but the whole Malta of it all distracted me constantly. Joaquin is great, because when is he not? But that cinema charges far too much for tickets. So I stole a glass from them.

Justice?

Saturday 17:50

A full day of meeting friends, eating food, shooting pool and loving life. Glasgow has been so kind to me that I forgot I was writing this, if I’m honest with you.

Saturday 21:03

Bout to ride a Ferris wheel at a truly terrible Christmas market in George Square. What a weird life.

Sunday 10:33

It’s a cloudy one this morning, which is a much fairer representation of the majority of thetime I spent living here.

I don’t mind it, but this cold is biting.

Sunday 11:32

Scratch that, I’m starting to mind a little bit.

I’m definitely remembering what it felt like to be in this city in the grey, and in the cold.

Thems is easy conditions for the ol’ depression to take hold of me. I don’t mean to devalue the term, so I should acknowledge that maybe I’m worn out right now. This has been a dense couple of days. But I’ve got a really good day ahead.

Friends, pasta, fun, and a lil trip through to Edinburgh for more friends, beer, ramen, and a derisive look at what more people should regard as Scotland’s second city

Sunday 13:58

I returned to the hostel to pack up and clear out but actually ended up speaking to the snorer.

In the light of day, the desire to smother him with his own pillow dissipated, and I really enjoyed hearing about his life. For that reason (and that reason alone) I need to remember to talk to people and let them humanise themselves in my (hypothetically) homicidal eyes.

He told me that if I want to establish myself as a journalist in Mumbai, I can contact him and he knows a few people who could help get me set up. Not sure I’ll take him up on that, but it was very nice of him.

He spun a few good yarns about the Scottish women he’s enjoying meeting.

He also surprised me when he explained that he is currently married to his second wife. This is because he divorced the first after realising that she wasn’t being loyal to him.

Mixed reviews on his ability to interpret blatant hypocrisy, but still a pleasant chat. He’ll be at the hostel for a few more weeks, so I hope nobody else (most likely, his current wife) smothers him in his sleep.

Sunday 14:05

Drinking a coffee from one of them places that asks you to write your name down for them to call out when they’ve prepared your order. When I used to come here, (which was often, my dissertation wouldn’t have been completed without this establishment’s ‘quadruple shot’ option) I’d toss them an underarm softball: ‘Paul’.

If my time in Scotland taught me anything its that I will never be able to do a Scottish accent, and that many of the natives simply cannot compute the complexity of my name.

This time, I gave them the hardball option. Call it cultural pride, if you’d like. I call it comedy.

Batch brew for Paula?’

blog the ninth signing off

Monday 06:03

I’m still a little bit drunk, as I head to the airport. It’s a good feeling.

Yesterday, I met a friend for pasta (yummy), went through to Edinburgh and met more friends(yay), felt a lot of feelings about friendship, love, ramen (yaymy) and Guinness. Quite a lot of Guinness. I also experienced the intrusion of a deeply jarring thought.

Is…. is Edinburgh actually nice?

It is safe to say that my loyalty is questionable enough for a snoring hypocrite to serve me with divorce papers.

#8: introducing' blue hands - and why this site is called scruffyflows

26.10.2023 - Vienna

If you’ve read the bio on my welcome page, you saw that I call myself a “rapper”.

Did you wonder how I have the gall to do that? You were right to do so, given that I’ve never, ever, put a song out for people (and beasties) to listen to.

BUUUUT today (my burfday) that all changes.

blue hands

I don’t know what I made, but I made it, and now I’m sharing it.

Isn’t that the history of everything good in this world?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s also the history of everything bad in this world - but those categories aren’t exactly real by any universal set of standards, therefore they’re not mutually exclusive.

But I’m just happy I’m finally doing it, because its what I love doing.

That said, is it the greatest song ever written, produced and put together?

Yeah.

Obviously.

Of course it is.

Enjoy! Or don’t, I’m not your supervisor.

"blog" the eighth signing off

#7: palestine, israel, podcasts and hope

17.10.2023 - Vienna

My last post was about trying to have more fun, and I’ve found that injecting little bits of impulsive energy into an otherwise unchanged routine has been working for me. Yay.

This read won't reflect much of that fun - though please do be comforted by the fact that I really do love podcasts, a lot.

The day after I published that last post, every news outlet in the world started reporting that Hamas militants had surprised the Israeli state, waged battle with their military, and killed hundreds of Israeli civilians. In response, Israel has been as ruthlessly brutal as anyone even somewhat familiar with their reign over Palestine could expect. Israel has a proven record of being just as murderous - and capable of perpetrating atrocities - as Hamas, a group which has been designated the “terrorist” status by the U.S. and E.U..

I’ve been trying to have fun without shielding myself from news about these atrocities. Knowing what’s happening feels like a responsibility, and I can’t quite explain why. This situation is novel only in its horrific brutality, but nobody with an inkling of understanding of the seven decades long colonisation of Palestine by Israel - with the support of Western imperialists - can claim to be surprised.

Every day’s news has been shocking, and terrible, and ugly, and any number of other endlessly listed synonyms, but it’s also entirely consistent with what we’ve known for decades. It is both unimaginable and entirely imaginable, because the violence is too terrible to conceptualise and too horrifically predictable not to materialise in a region which has developed alongside the wrathful need for American Empire to protect its interests by fomenting instability in the Middle East through a willing partner, the state of Israel.

This is not the quiet part being said out loud, this is the out loud part being said out loud. Empire does not feel the need to be subtle about preserving itself and promoting its interests.

Israel has been invented - and it has gone on to perpetrate a regime of genocidal apartheid upon the people who already lived there.

After the Second World War, the world’s remaining Jewish population was obviously in dire need of protection and preservation, because the Nazis almost annihilated an entire people, and an entire culture.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in this history or this region, but it seems to me that it sure was convenient for Western imperialists to be able to return Jewish people to an “ancestral homeland”, while also creating and empowering an ally smack bang in the centre of a region with a whole lot of gloopy car juice underneath it. Destabilising that region, disrupting unity in that region, and creating a powerful ally in that region, has done a lot to protect American hegemony.

In the novel I read last week, American War, a major plot point was that resources were being provided to the secessionist southern states by the Bouazizi Empire. This ensured that the second American civil war would be long and brutal - guaranteeing that America would be too busy tearing itself apart to once again grow into being a global power.

This imagined world inverted the current dynamic; western money going towards ensuring that the Middle East remains divided.

And now, despite the fact that the very foundations of Israel were imperialist and colonialist, Israeli Jews have been there for so long that it does seem totally unreasonable, and unfair, and anti-semitic, when people call for the territory’s total reinstatement as Palestinian. Because where would Jewish people in the area go? And could their safety be guaranteed?

Given that Israel has been as violent, coercive and oppressive as it has towards Palestinians, and that certain Palestinians have retaliated so violently for decades on end, Israeli people don’t have all that much reason to have faith they would be safe.

My favourite comedian and podcaster, and one of the people I’ve never met, and may never meet, but who’s voice and on-air persona are as distinct and special to me as those of anyone I’ve ever personally known, is Marc Maron.

I’ve listened to and watched every comedy special I could find, along with hundreds of his podcast interviews. I can confidently say that over the past four years, I haven’t gone more than three days without hearing Maron’s voice - and my life has been all the better for it.

I’ve listened to many of his podcasts several times over, and one I’ve returned to over recent years was an interview conducted over zoom, during one of the COVID lockdowns, with actor, director and writer, Seth Rogen.

The following is part of that episode’s intro.

If you haven’t guessed (in which case, gohead n unclench them cheeks) Marc and Seth are Jewish. As they explain, this identity is cultural, but neither of them are religious. Still, that Jewish identity is staunch, and neither of them shy away from proudly advertising it as fact.

Maron has often alluded to the fact that he feels it is important to highlight his culture specifically because anti-semitism continues to be rife in this world, and even if he does not abide by the religion’s every tenet or tradition - and sometimes even finds himself talking about Hasidic Jews somewhat derisively - he is clear that he is proud to be a Jew. This episode illustrates that this beautiful and righteous sentiment is shared by Seth.

I love this episode (#1143) for a lot of reasons. They have some great back and forth, some witty banter, and generally, I just like how they talk. I’m interested in what they talk about.

Seth Rogen has a very enjoyable screen presence, and is a great writer. He’s made movies I’ve been watching since before I knew anything about who he was, or even very much about what Judaism is. Pineapple Express will never not make me giggle.

At school, only one of my classmates, who was only there for a few years, was Jewish, and I learned a little bit abut Judaism from him. He once stood in front of our class and explained what “shalom” meant. Pretty cool. Otherwise, though, I had very limited contact with Jewish people. That hasn’t been by design, on my part, but it’s still true.

I’ve visited holocaust memorials, museums, and a concentration camp, and those have all been important, and impactful, but not nearly as much as just - this sounds stupid because it is, a little - listening to one particularly funny, talented, and interesting person talk for thousands of hours.

One might argue that what I’m describing is tokenism. Thinking that listening to this person talk, and then using his cultural background as an exemplifier of something greater than himself, to learn a wider lesson about ethnicity, but that isn’t what I’m doing.

At least not actively. I listen to Marc Maron talk and find comfort, and relatability, because he talks about being a little fucked up, and has always seemingly thought of himself as a little fucked up, and buddy, same.

Therein lies the appeal, and the judaism thing is not even secondary, its just there, and I’m glad it is but I don’t focus on it, because it doesn’t feel like it matters very much to me. I respect that it matters to other people, and appreciate when they can respect that I try to see it from their point of view without necessarily aiming to change my own.

All that said, Marc Maron’s conversations with other Jewish people have given me a lot of insight into upbringings I didn’t have. This episode in particular comes to mind whenever Palestine and Israel are featured prominently in headlines, as they often are.

Before playing this clip, keep in mind that Marc and Seth were talking in 2020. They were not able to speak with more sensitivity, based on the atrocities or war crimes which have been reported since last weekend, because these specific ones had not yet occurred.

What they are laughing about, while talking candidly, is very serious. Their mirth may seem out of place, but when we don’t feel like the weight of actual, ongoing conflict is bearing down on us, we should be able to see that the situation in Israel is absurd.

They are not laughing at Jewish people in Israel, but at the nonsensical nature of seeking to protect a thing by putting all of it in a single, volatile place.

“They forget to include the fact, to every young Jewish person that ‘Oh, by the way, there were people there.’”

This clip feels important to me, because these people grew up as Jewish people in America, and Canada, respectively. Their relationship with Israel, then, was very different to my own. They grew up being taught to imagine Israel in a very different way, and have since come away with their own, more nuanced perspectives.

There were people there.”

Now, no matter what you might think about this situation, that’s a pretty important detail.

It is the very same awkward detail sitting at the foundation of the U.S. of A. - but that young nation just got further down the line in its pursuit of eradication. America can’t very well turn around and say that the annihilation of a people is a fucking horrific way of founding a country.

'Hey, you, pot! What colour wouldya say that there kettle is?'

Since I’m in the swing of talking about podcasts, I would definitely recommend this one: This American Life: A Mess to Be Reckoned With.

This episode tells the story of one of far too many Native American people who continue to go missing in the U.S. - an end result which can be traced back to hundreds of years of genocidal neglect and mistreatment perpetrated by the United States. Again, because there are so few of these people left, and because the country within which their communities are continuing to try to exist still benefits from a lack of widespread understanding of their strife, I don’t know nearly enough about them.

If you listen to it, you may find yourself feeling taken aback by just how matter of factly the potential violent death of a relative is spoken about. It feels clear that addiction, violence, and dying young, are a tragic, but almost normalised part of life.

And one more: The fight to give Indigenous Australians a voice. This podcast was recorded before Australians voted to reject the proposal being discussed in that episode.

I listened to both of these podcasts last week, and am recommending them now because they are two of so many examples of the ways in which representatives of an almost eradicated, colonised people are having to try to forge their way through this world, while living as minorities in lands which were, prior to the violent unravelling of imperial tendrils, theirs.

The fact that horrible things happen when people are colonised, and that some of those colonised people might resort to violence in order to overthrow their colonists, just shouldn’t surprise anyone. History rhymes, and often repeats itself. And we’ve seen this all before.

Israel’s occupation is colonialism - an imperial offshoot. This is what it is, and this is what it does. Nobody who deserves to fucking wins. That’s about the only thing that power grappling guarantees, but people sure do suffer as a result of it.

Another podcaster I love goes by the name of Blindboy, and when the opportunity arises, he speaks candidly about colonialism and imperialism. His podcasts aren’t usually intended to be political, he’s just a storyteller who does interesting research and draws fascinating connections.

I was listening to an episode last week, and triggered by a different context, Blindboy started talking about imperialism.

Later in the episode (Are you really John Wayne?) the smoothly accented narrator goes on to discuss a bus journey, when he kindly requested that the woman in front of him refrain from reclining in her seat - which would have increased her comfort at the expense of his discomfort.

Once they got off the bus, she confronted him, but he stayed calm. They got to talking. Eventually, when he told her that he’d clocked her irritation on the bus, and added that he was sorry she was angry, but that he felt glad to have established a boundary which he thought was fair, she seemed diffused, and even understanding.

They kept talking, and he asked her if she had recognised that only one other person on the bus had reclined their seat - causing the person behind them to have a very uncomfortable journey. That comfortably reclined person happened to be American, as was the woman to whom Blindboy was speaking.

Talking out of his arse (by his own admission) he spoke to this woman and drew an interesting connection between American Imperialism, a regime fuelled by a sense of entitlement over the space occupied by others, and her anger, a rage connected to space being kept from an entitled grabber’s grubby mitts.

Somehow, probably because nobody could listen to such a smooth voice and be angry, even when being accused of being an imperialist with a bloated sense of entitlement, this interaction ends with a hug. Blindboy walked away ebullient, having made an honest connection with a person who had approached with intent to pass fury along.

It’s a very good episode, and this description only scratches the surface of why I feel that way.

More relevant to the thoughts I’ve been having this week, though, is the following. It may well sound callous, out of context. And it probably is. But that callousness hasn’t kept it from embedding itself into my thoughts.

Callousness doesn’t stop things from resonating with me, I've found.

I would like to believe, at least, that if conflict were to come to me, even if I didn’t see it coming, I’d be able to understand that even unwillingly, my way of life does lend itself to complicity. That wouldn't make it easier to accept violence or pain, but its a thought I find necessary, and humbling, which motivates me to want a better world.

I don’t condone any violence whatsoever. I’m sure, and you can confirm this by listening to Blindboy yourself, that he doesn’t either. But it is so frustratingly naive of western media sources to pretend not to understand violence, and to act totally and utterly shocked in the face of violence, as they did in the first few days of Hamas’ attacks.

Now that Israel has regrouped from a ‘9/11’ moment, the retaliation begins. This retaliation - against Palestinians, not just Hamas - will be delivered with considerably more force at the state’s disposal than either, those narratives are starting to shift. The pendulum is swinging back.

I’m annoyed at the swinging pendulum. I’m annoyed at the information sources I rely on getting so caught up in the momentum, time and again, as though the outcomes they will soon report are some sort of shock, despite the fact that they’ve happened before, and that they’ve brought with them every indication that they’ll happen again.

But that frustration is misdirected. That’s shooting the messenger. These sources just do what they do, and what they’ve done, again and again, because the underlying market logic of taking sides, switching sides, ultimately abiding by the status quo and refraining from dreaming about, and talking about solutions, rather than treatments, because its what they do.

So if anyone should be told not to be surprised, its me. Well, aint that a biche.

We live in an age of capitalist extraction, devastation, destruction, nations, empires and war.

We have yet to shed our stupidest impulse: a desire to wield disproportionate power over others. Whether that desire is rooted in fear of being controlled if we do not control, or just a sociopathic belief in our own inherent superiority, as things currently stand, it is everything.

War is tragic, horrific, and senseless. It creates no victors, only killers, bodies, and a tenuouspeace” populated by traumatised individuals who will do whatever it takes - including slower, more deliberate acts of violence - to avoid slipping back into all out war. No matter what happens in its aftermath, war only ever sows more pain, and more resentment.

When I was a kid, I was singing the refrain (‘ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, SAY IT AGAIN Y’ALL’) to War, What is it good for? whilst trundling around the house.

My folks ran a pretty quiet household, and sensitive kids tend to get all hushed up in the face of contemplating the utilitarian justifications for war. So I learned, perhaps too early in my life, from the response of an aforementioned folk, that not everyone considers this to be true, strictly speaking.

I was almost certainly too young to understand the full breadth of the response, but know that it was not at all in alignment with Edwin Star’s conclusion. Something to do with the righteousness, or at least usefulness, of wars being fought to prevent genocide, or to prevent the rise of evil fascists, or to pre-empt further violence.

I’ve heard many similar arguments since, and to me they just don’t make sense from the get.

They all assume that there has been violence first, that war was already the choice that was made. And once that is done, the war either comes to you, or you go to it.

Fine, I understand that, even if I don’t want to accept it.

The thing is, though violence does exist, I really don’t think it has to last forever. Only our belief that it does will keep it in place.

If someone else has already made the decision to choose violence, the problem is upstream. Whatever caused them to make that choice, to think that choice was right, is what needs to be confronted. Fighting the battle, downstream, just ensures that the momentum will keep running red.

To avoiding having to face the consequences of that decision, maybe don’t tell little kids that war is ever justifiable.

Don’t tell little kids that they are, or can ever become, better or worse than anyone else. Maybe don’t show or tell little kids that some people, because they were born in this country and not that, on this continent and not that, are entitled to more, to less, to better, to worse. Maybe organise the society into which, and within which you’re bringing those kids up in such a way that it reflects peace and justice for all - not conflict.

Lasting peace lies in an acknowledgment of equal power, and mutually recognised right to exist in safety, free from coercion, oppression or control.

Power acquired through war forces the oppressed, the embattled, the beaten - and even the victor - to keep up the fight for it. Contending with power like that, on its terms, pushes the end further and further out of sight.

But there are other ways we can exist. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Links to the podcasts mentioned in this post:

- WTF with Marc Maron: Episode 1143: Seth Rogen

- The Blindboy Podcast: Are You Really John Wayne?

- This American Life: A Mess To Be Reckoned With

- Today in Focus: The fight to give Indigenous Australians a voice

blog the seventh signing off

#6: have more fun

06.10.2023 - Vienna

This morning, I finished reading American War. The novel is based largely around the life of a character named Sarat, a young woman born in Louisiana in the early 2060s. Over the course of her short and brutal life, Sarat’s kin and homeland are devastated by a second American civil war.

This war, imagined by Omar El Akkad, begins when the U.S. President - soon to be considered the Union President by secessionist Southerners - outlaws the use of fossil fuels.

The climate consequences of continued use have become too extreme to be palatable. Considering that this occurs in the late 2060s, and not in the 2030s or earlier, it has become fairly easy to make this decision, because there isn’t all that much value left in the destruction of earth - via fossil fuels, at least.

Unfortunately, in the real world right now, there is still a lot of fossil fuel money to be made. Every continued day of burning fossil fuels will cost us more in long term damages than it is earning us in the short term, but that’s from the collective standpoint. Because of our deeply unequal economic system, neither the earnings made or the burdens borne are fairly distributed, so those profiting are profiting a lot. If little changes, maybe their wealth will protect them.

I have my doubts.

In the novel, much of the U.S. coast - including all of Florida - is underwater. South Carolina is quarantined off from the rest of the country to limit the spread of a deadly epidemic. There has been a massive inland migration of coastal people seeking to escape from hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires, and rising waters.

if you can believe it, this novel postulates that by devolving into another civil war, America did a bit of a whoopsie

When the Union President banned fossil fuels, Southerners were absolutely not having it

Just as the 1860s Southern states fought to preserve their desire to enslave black people, despite the obviously destructive immorality of ever having done so, El Akkad’s novel imagines those same states fighting to preserve their desire to burn fossil fuels, despite the obviously immoral destruction being wrought upon them all by that combustion

Across the Pacific on one side, and the Atlantic on the other, respective Chinese and Bouazizi Empires are on a continual rise. Without any direct narrative insight into either of these - the story is based solely around that which is taking place on the American continent - readers learn that China’s empire is an amalgamation of territories in Asia. These were forcibly assembled as Russian power fell apart, European imperialism faded and died, and American empire dwindled, receded, and then crumpled in on itself.

The Bouazizi Empire spans across the African north and into the Middle East. After fivefailed springs”, these territories were subsumed into a single, heaving behemoth entity boasting countless cities, which the climate should have rendered impossible.

Many of them are largely underground.

Europe is hardly mentioned  in this book, though it is made evident that Mediterranean migration has flipped, and migratory flows stem from the former European Union towards the north of Africa.

I suppose we could only hope, in such circumstances, that nobody could remember how the E.U. managed “migrant crises”.

I tend not to be a very fast reader but I inhaled this narrative in a matter of days. While I was reading it, I stopped myself to write what I thought would be this week’s blog post - about imperialism, and nationalism, and scrapping both entirely. Then, instead, I scrapped what I had written.

It all felt pointlessly serious.

I might return to that topic, at some point. I harbour long-held beliefs that we should eliminate nations and dissolve the world’s borders, and reading this book about nationalism, identity, secession, and empire, did nothing to change my mind. It did cast a dark cloud over it, though.

easy decision

Yesterday, I walked into a public restroom, and locked the door behind me. A few seconds later, I thought I heard someone outside wrenching on the doorknob 

This put me on edge, and I immediately thought back to a story a colleague told me.

They paid the 50 cent cost of entry to get into a bathroom, oblivious that somebody was waiting in the shadows for the door to unlock. As soon as the door clicked open, they emerged, and my colleague’s bathroom stall was invaded by a frugal opportunist.

When I heard this first part of the story, I thought I knew where it was going. Somewhere along the lines of, “be careful out there, people might try assault you in a public bathroom”.

Very serious. That’s where my brain went. I have never actually been assaulted in such a way, but that still felt to me like a reasonable fear. For all my theoretical belief in the general goodness of people, I struggle to trust that the world isn’t out to get me.

That isn’t where the story went. My colleague laughed as they continued.

“So now, I’ve started doing the same thing. I wait outside bathrooms for someone else to pay, and then sneak through the door before they have a chance to stop me!”

Some people just aren’t afraid of the world. Granted, they might take it further than I would hope to, going on to become the bathroom invaders who make the world’s restrooms more frightening for others, but I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere in there.

Maybe this is also a fear, but a fear of awkwardness, rather than danger, but I also don’t understand how you can cross streams with a presumably angry stranger, into a single toilet, in a confined space, and think “this was a good idea”.

if someone does barge in on you, don't fret, pee on their feet

When I heard someone at the door yesterday, I really thought I was going to have to force my way out, against an aggressor trying to push me back in. Knowing full well how ridiculous I was being, I donned my helmet, before unlocking the door and barging out, headfirst

Use your head”, I figured, “be a battering ram”.

There was nobody standing in my way, of course, they had just gone to the restroom next-door. I knew I was being ridiculous, but couldn’t convince myself that I was being ridiculous enough not to be afraid.

I spend a lot of my time, a lot of my energy, not allowing myself to feel safe, even when I am. And when you’re not feeling safe, when you won’t let your guard down, its not all that easy to have fun

I was reading this book, embedding myself in the unfortunate plausibility laid out on every page, and realised I was feeling an alarming familiarity. I’ve never really read a novel like it before, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about war, and fascism, and climate change

Almost like I think I’m preparing. But I’m not, and I can’t. There is no preparing for the unimaginable

I picked American War up at the library. (Free books! Can you imagine such a thing? Wonderful.)

On the plentiful shelves, the spine of a black book, scarred with gnarling barbed wire and two decisively un-fun words caught my attention. “War” is bad enough. But “American”? 

oof

And immediately, I knew I would be checking it out and reading it. Nobody needed me to read it, nobody compelled me to pick it up and take it home, so I could sit back and ease into the narrative flow of ruin, but I didn’t think twice. Some part of me feels, that amidst so much misery, I can’t let myself stray too far from misery

I judged this book by its cover, and by its blurb, which led me to understand that it wouldn’t be easy reading and that this book would be grappling with tropes I struggle to banish for more than a few waking hours a day. Climate catastrophe and war are on the mind.

Until a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine a future for myself. Now I’m on the mend, and trying to imagine that future, but I can’t exactly separate my fantasies from the world in which they will be manifest.

This world is enduring unfolding catastrophe, and seems to be  heading towards more. And my future lies somewhere therein. I don’t feel prepared to face it, so I’m scared.

I lack the practical tools to navigate my way through apocalypse. And dystopian as this present is in so many ways, I live in Vienna. Things are hardly apocalyptic, here. At least on the surface. At least, on my slice of surface. I have a silly job, which more than pays the bills, and life is actually very comfortable for me. 

Relative to most of the world’s population, I have nothing to complain about - not that I often let such a fact stop me

When I’m frightened of the future, I can’t help but feel frightened of the present leading up to it. And if I’m frightened of the present, why would the future be anything but frightening?

As inane a truism as it may be, I just have to make more of an effort to choose, wherever I can, to enjoy what I’m doing, and do what I enjoy. Or I’ll be no good to anyone. And to stop taking everything so seriously.

Which really won't be difficult. Smoke a jamoke with me one day, and I’ll explain the whole universe to you. Things are actually very simple, so all this complexity mumbo jumbo is a joke. I’m doing myself a disservice by trying not to laugh.

*shredding noises*

I’ve often found myself telling people, when they’ve asked me why I’m being so glum, that “I never learned to have fun”. Where I got this line from, I’m not sure, because its a lie. I’ve always known how to have fun. Or, more accurately, I’ve always had fun, but usually without trying to know how or why.

Unless I subdue the impulse, I start picking it apart. I quite quickly start feeling like I need to be “serious” about that fun, to figure out how to do it “properly”. Wherever that impulse comes from, it leads only to prohibitive inhibition. It makes me feel like I shouldn’t do things if I don’t know I can do them right. Which is both joyless and meaningless

I don’t want to be serious, right or proper - I want to be trifling.

And frankly, I’m doing a fairly good job of that on the outside. I don’t present myself as being nearly as uptight as I feel. So maybe this post is about writing something down to remind myself I need to preach what I practice.

Being serious makes me feel old without the benefit of wisdom. And I’m not sure what that means, but it felt right, so I wrote it. I’ve wasted enough of my young life worrying.

Whatever will be, will be. The best I’ve ever felt, and the best things I’ve ever experienced, have come when I’ve leaned into and accepted my lack of control.

So, loosen up, fooooooooooooooooool.

blog the sixth signing off

#5: can't remember when i stopped “postponing the inevitable”

10.09.2023 - Vienna

I spent too many nights between my first and second year of university awake. I’d love to say this was because I was out partying, robbing banks, slaying vampires or generally just enjoying myself - but that would be dishonest.

All too often, after hours of lying awake in bed hoping the darkness would take me, I’d stop hoping. I would give up, get up, and head out into the dead of night. As an involuntarily nocturnal animal, I saw more of the city than I ever had in daylight.

Though the streets were almost totally deserted, I wasn’t alone. Other insomniacs, the less than sober party people, the individuals who couldn’t go home, or didn’t have any home to go to, and the foxes - all of whom were given a wide berth - weren’t great company. But they were out there with me nonetheless.

I traipsed about like a frustrated zombie, robbed of the ravenous appetite to live by, hoping to stumble into an adventure exciting enough to rouse me from my waking slumber. The theory was that some sort of shock would instantaneously rewire whatever fried systems were keeping me awake, catapulting me back into balance, and bed, immediately.

Those months, and those nights, were spent living with a lot of suicidal ideation. I had a lot of partially assembled plans firing across the ol’ sleep deprived skull meat. As frustrating as it can be to be a procrastinator, and a bad planner, those traits can sometimes be life-saving.That ideation lead up to a few attempts on my own life. Spoiler alert for anyone excited to read my biography, but they were not successful. I am also not a very good assassin.

I still find myself trying to figure out which of those attempts were serious, and which weren’t. By my twentieth birthday, I’d been thinking about killing myself for so long already that none of it felt serious - despite my being utterly convinced that this fate, dying by my own hand, was an inevitability.

When it comes to wanting your life to end, and acting on that impulse in any way, it’s definitely best to consider every instance as serious, and make sure to get help where you can.

I eventually did, but it took a while. On the way there, I got way too close for comfort. So I still have to keep an eye on it, and I will always have to keep an eye on it.

This week, I found something surprising, which reminded me of that fact.

a wall tag spotted this week, capturing the mood of this post quite well

Back when I wasn’t sleeping right, I was gripped by two obsessions I’ve since left behind: a deeply selfish, misplaced and unrequited love affair, and going to the gym to lift heavy things.

Note that university, which was supposed to be occupying my mental space, and time, does not feature on that list.

The aim of the latter obsession was to get really good at lifting heavy things, so I could lift those heavy things in competitions, and prove officially that I could lift heavy things. It made a lot of sense at the time.

I got pretty strong, but I wasn’t very good at the competitive component. I was even worse at ensuring that my physical strength was paired with some semblance of psychological resilience and well-being.

life wasn’t going so good, but on this day, I lifted 220kilos off the ground, when I weighed less than a third of that. a weird thing to work for months towards. but it was pretty cool. and as you can (vaguely) make out, I was thrilled.

That total lack of psychological stability brings me to the other obsession; a human person who I really shouldn’t have involved in that whole mess. And I knew that then.

I was convinced from the beginning that it wouldn’t work out with this person. And goshdarn was I correct about that.

My certainty didn’t stop me from putting every last bit of hope into them, relying on them as my reason to be, to live. I still regret so much of what I did putting pressure on them, and the things I did in my desperation to keep their attention. But that made sense at the time, too.

One of several major contradictions from this period of my life was that I genuinely did not believe that I was going to keep breathing (with extreme gym-douchebag-like intensity) for much longer. Every passing year served to convince me further that I’d take my own life before the next birthday could come around.

That sense was juxtaposed with incredibly misplaced dreams of powerlifting, loving this person, and doing nothing else, until I was very, very old. By limiting my worldview to those things, I could shut out everything else, which only ever seemed to lead to despair.

This person lived across an ocean. I made a bad choice, and followed.

The sport was making me set goals I could aspire towards. Because those goals were numbers - and (somebody check my maths here) there’s no shortage of numbers - there seemed to be a possibility I could keep striving towards those goals indefinitely.

Only the laws of physics, my body’s physical limitations, and my mind’s further constraining of those limitations, could stand in my way.

When it all came to a head, as it was bound to, that all broke down rapidly.

I fell apart. And it was much needed, even if it was painful.

jacques cartier bridge - Montreal

Looking back now, as a much skinnier, much weaker, but much more emotionally stable person who hasn’t eaten chicken in several years, I can’t imagine being who I was, or doing the things I did. I realise that the person I can no longer imagine being could also not imagine being me, or even being here anymore.

I’ll be 25 next month, and I’m now really glad to report that. But back then, I knew for a fact that I’d be gone well before hitting the quarter-century mark.

After I broke down, I dropped out of uni and didn’t think I’d return. I retreated to my parents’ house, the house I grew up in, and started going to therapy. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had this as a possibility, and I don’t think I could be here without that help.

I wasn’t happy during that time. I was in therapy, sure, but I was drinking a lot. I was “safe”, but I was also actively seeking to end my life, again. There was one last attempt, when I was home. I hope, sincerely, that it will always remain the last time.

Just under a year after having gone back home, I decided that I’d return to uni and complete my degree. And this week, I found a list I wrote to compare the pros and cons of going back to university.

I’m ultimately very glad to have gone back to finish my degree. I learned to appreciate Glasgow in a new, more thorough, healthier way - but also ended up doing so through a series of COVID lockdowns.

Near the end of that degree, in the midst of one of these lockdowns, I also met my partner. I can never express how grateful I am for that meeting.

(It was in an online class. Our eyes locked across the zoom. Even if this wasn’t by far the best relationship I’ve ever had, and if she wasn’t the absolute apple of my eye, the pun alone would have been more than enough. Thankfully, the pun is just the cherry on an infinite cake. Yum.)

Meeting her made me want to stay in Glasgow for longer, to figure out if what we had was real. Almost three years later, we live together in Vienna, and every day I get to be with her is a thrill like no other. So jury’s still out. (Gotta keep her on her toes)

So, because she was going to stay in Glasgow, just as I was ready to leave, I decided to embark upon a postgraduate degree in Journalism. It made a lot of sense. Unlike those other decisions, this one still makes a lot of sense.

I was interested in being near her and being with her made me appreciate the city I’d been living in for years in an entirely new way.

As a very much secondary consideration, I was also interested in the prospect of writing for a living. I still am. I was a news junkie, and grappled constantly with current affairs. I still am, and do. I also thought that the seemingly inevitable economic, social and cultural upheaval of the coming century is going to need some people to write that shit down. I wanted to be one of them.

They say that journalism is a first draft of history, and I’d just finished a history degree. That’s a good hook around which to build an application, so I could confidently trick admissions officers into thinking I was competent.

You got got.

I’m very grateful for that postgraduate degree, even if I feel like what it gave me, primarily, are not the tools necessary for being a journalist, but precisely the opposite. I learned to identify and name the precise mechanisms which make modern news reporting, and media organisations working within this particular(ly fucked up) iteration of capitalism, incredibly vulnerable to corrupting influences.

Just over a year after having completed the degree, during which I have worked for a “reputable” media organisation in, I have no idea if I am likely to head any further down that path.

But whether I do so as a “journalist” or not, I’ll be one of those people, and I’ll keep writing shit down.

But I digress.  (<— alternative title for this blog)

At some point between leaving Luxembourg, COVID in Glasgow, falling in love, finishing two degrees, heading to Malta and being spat right back out for a soft landing in Wien, I forgot about this list.

I thought that I had left Luxembourg with a sense of optimism, after months of therapy nudging me tentatively down a path towards recovery.

Well, apparently not.

First of all, what did I have against kilts? They’re very cool pieces of clothing. And enjoy watching them swiff about during ceilidhs very much, and my utter lack of ceilidh ability does not detract from that enjoyment at all.

Maybe more importantly, I was shocked when I found this list because I really believed I left Luxembourg feeling ready to start again. When I got to Glasgow, that’s what I thought I did. Apparently though, I was still convinced I was going to kill myself.

I am postponing the inevitable.”

Now, that’s just fucking harrowing.

I’m comforted by the fact I find it harrowing, but also concerned that the belief still lives in some dark corner of my being.

I’m also concerned that at some point, I’ll find a document I’ve erased from my memory, listing “lederhosen” as a reason not to have come to Austria. Equally harrowing.

Once again, they’re very cool pieces of attire. A person who is very close to me, but who is (rightly) obsessed with privacy so won’t be named, absolutely loves them. Although in their case, the obsession is due to an alleged butt-flap lederhosen aresupposedto have.

This flap allows those wearing the traditional garb to defecate sans the inconvenience with which we all struggle so much: pulling your trousers down.

None of the lederhosen - not a single pair - that I’ve yet seen in Austria, have got such a flap. But who am I to belittle your struggles, or to stand in the way of your dreams?

I know, for a fact, that now, even at my low moments, I don’t seriously think about killing myself. I also know that when the little fucker of an internal voice speaks up to berate me, many more of the other voices on duty at that moment chime in to berate that voice in my defence, telling it to go easy on me.

Eviction is not an option, so I’ve teamed up with the voices in my head.

I thought, before I found this note, that I could trace these team up efforts to the time before I chose to leave Luxembourg, but now I can see that belief was wrong. Because that feeling has made me feel like my memory can’t be trusted I’ve spent much of the past week trying to find evidence, in notebooks, scraps of paper, and the ridiculously disorganised notes app on my phone, which might indicate when that shift might actually have happened.

Why bother having a functioning recollection of your own life when you can outsource the contents of your mind to a plethora of scattershot, easily lost or perishable locations?

I left Luxembourg in August of 2019. My second attempt at a third year of uni started in September, and the first case of COVID was documented that December. This actually ended up being a fairly big deal - I don’t know if you remember - but it precipitated a global pandemic, a lot of fear, and unprecedented planetary weirdness. Not ringing any bells? Yeah, same.

The first lockdown wouldn’t be put in place in Glasgow until March.

The memories I have, between September 2019 and March 2020, are fairly few and far between. They’re not enough to fill a whole life up. I know that I had been given a cinema membership, allowing me to watch free movies (very, very cool gift). I watched almost everything I could. I went to the cinema almost every day after lectures, between lectures, instead of lectures, and I almost always went alone.

I was living in a studio apartment connected to other studio apartments with a common living room area, and I made a few friends. But I was mostly alone. I remember some parts of my courses, and a few friends I made through them, but I never went out of my way to spend time with those friends outside of class.

I had a few friends from before my year away, and though I am still close with many of them, I didn’t see them often.

I know I was lonely. And I genuinely have no idea if I was thinking about killing myself again. I know I wasn’t in therapy, I know I wasn’t drinking often, but I would drink a lot if I did at all.

When the first lockdown hit, it seemed like everyone was suddenly as lonely as I had been for a while. Seeing so much less of people was an adjustment, but honestly not one which could have been all that difficult for me to make. I can’t remember what it felt like. I don’t think I’ve thought about those early months in lockdown very much at all since then, and I can’t really remember what I was doing to pass the time.

There are lapses in recollection with seem to be part and parcel of depression.

It’s unsettling to think back to a time I thought was safe, after finding evidence to the contrary. It’s unsettling to think back to a time I thought was safe, immediately preceding a global calamity which would only exacerbate my loneliness, and find that my memory was wrong.

I don’t know how I got through that period, but I was lucky in that I didn’t have to face the brunt of anything more than loneliness, which I was already well practiced in facing. But I did get through it.

The fact I’m here now - as excited as I am to exist and keep existing - is proof that whatever self-directed ill will I once had does not have anywhere near the same power over me as it once did.

I hear that grating voice, still, but the rasp is faint. And it can be drowned out when my big bully allies - who are prepared to yell it back into the dark corners to which it has been relegated - step into the fray.

I thought I could pinpoint when the balance shifted, but I was wrong. All things considered, maybe I don’t need to know.

Because I do know this:

I’m here now, and I want to be.

blog the fifth signing off

#4: my first Viennese police stop - and a little bit of ACAB

18.09.2023 - Vienna

There is a very clear wealth gap between the two districts I patrol whilst on the job. They’re directly adjacent to each other, separated by a canal flowing away from and then back into the mighty Danube, and are connected by a series of bridges carrying cars, trams, subway lines, buses, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Over the course of a single shift, I use these to cross the boundary dozens of times. Until earlier this week, I had been able to do so without any hassle.

I was stopped, for really no good reason at all, by police officers in the significantly wealthier 19. Bezirk, Döbling, as my presence there was deemed to be suspect.

I’d like to make it clear that when the officers stopped me they weren’t aggressive, or more intimidating than they have to be by virtue of their position. I have no illusions that from their perspective, they had actually been more generous with me than they had to be.

They probably bent the rules in my favour, at least a little bit. For that, even though I don’t think I should have to be, I am grateful.

I was stopped roughly halfway through my shift, when I had crossed over from Brigettenau into Döbling and back five or six times already. There are only so many streets, alleys, bike lanes, pavements, nooks and crannies to scour within my territorial domain - and I’m prone to drifting off into podcast fuelled dream states - so my brain hasn’t deemed it necessary for me to keep an accurate record of every bike rack, and every retrieval. It all just sort of blurs together.

Even to a long time vegetarian like myself, though, the scent of bacon will never fail to cut through that haze.

three other little piggies spotted in Döbling

I was working a rack (one of the many fun phrases I’ve started using to soften the sharp edged monotony of my exceedingly repetitive job) about two blocks away from a police station, and saw a patrol car trawling further up the road, looking for trouble.

Though I fought temptation and kept my eyes on my work, the feeling of eyes focused on the nape of my neck had my senses tingling, and I turned just enough to catch a glimpse of the car passing me by - slowed to a walking pace - and three faces pressed up against the glass. They came to a stop around twenty metres down the road.

Prior to their little drive by, my plan had been to finish up and head in the direction from which they had approached. I knew what was about to happen, and I didn’t want to give them any reason to believe I was trying to flee, thus rousing even more suspicion than my appearance had clearly already generated. After donning my helmet, I rode carefully, slowly, in their direction.

I had practically pulled over before they even asked me to. (Pawlu 1 - Cops 0)

I came to a full stop when all three were outside their car staring me down. They each raised a hand in eerie synchronicity. I registered immediately that they were all carrying firearms. That isn’t relevant to the story - I was right not to think for a second that any of these would be unholstered - but guns are precisely the sort of thing it’s difficult not to notice.

I have been working on my German, wherever possible, but this didn’t feel like the best opportunity to practice. Immediately, before they could get a word in (Pawlu 2 - Cops 0), I asked if they could speak English.

Thankfully, their English was great. One of them - Midsize Constable (henceforth, MC) - took the lead. To nobody’s surprise, it was explained that this was a “random stop”. I don’t know what it is about me (yes I do), but I seem to win the random stop lottery a lot. Historically, this has been particularly noticeable in airports, where my face and complexion have proven their ability to bend entropy in my direction.

MC asked if I had identification on me, and I gave him my national ID card. I didn’t know that this was part of the test, but have since learned that all non-Austrian citizens are required, by law, to carry official ID at all times.

Apparently, and not surprisingly because… Malta… when I lost my Maltese ID card in Scotland, then reported the loss to Maltese police, and had a new card issued, the Maltese constabulary failed to report the first card as missing. This meant that when my details were checked, it appeared that there were two versions of my ID card in circulation.

MC and Big Bobby (henceforth, BB) deliberated amongst themselves in German, trying to figure out what this meant. They ultimately settled on the explanation that since I was in possession of the new card, not the old one, I was unlikely to be thieving myself of my own identity.

Those who can could choose to be anyone, and still chose to be themselves, have got excellent self esteem.

I flashed a smile at Smalls (I contemplated referring to this one as “Small Sheriff”, but thought better of it when I thought about what the acronym for that would be) as their deliberations continued, and this one didn’t have any particular role throughout the stop, beyond standing and observing with an intimidating glare. Smalls was uninterested in returning that smile, and frankly, looked a little pissed off that they’d been picked.

This damn grin of mine is going to land me right in it, one of these days.

BB turned to me and explained why I had actually been stopped. Turns out it wasn’t so much “random” as it was “motivated entirely by my physical appearance”.

“People have been drinking alcohol or using cannabis while riding these vehicles, and causing crashes, so we stopped you to check. Do you drink alcohol?”

The pause was too short for me to respond with the nuance I felt was appropriate. “I can tell you haven’t because you don’t smell like -”

Before finding out what I didn’t smell like, I interjected with the nuance which had finally come to me.

“I do drink, sometimes, but I haven’t had a drink this morning.” Well done, Pawlu. Honesty is a great policy, but I’m not sure the same is true when it comes to being a pedantic stickler.

(Pawlu 2 - Cops 1)

That question had really already been asked and answered by BB, because it wasn’t the reason I’d been stopped.

“And when was the last time you smoked cannabis?”

Not “do you smoke cannabis?” but “when was the last time?”. 

Don’t get me wrong, you’re spot on there BB, but that’s still an assumption you made based on very little information. I guess making assumptions about people is a big part of your job. Seems like a whack ass job.

In answer to the question, no word of a lie, it was over a month ago. Doesn’t much matter that the reason has more to do with access, and budgetary constraints, than restraint. Take that, copper. (Pawlu 3 - Cops 1)

“More than a month ago, before I came to Austria.”

Quickly, BB rattled off a response which clearly anticipated my own.

“Okay, well the reason we stopped you is because you have these,” circles were drawn with a finger from each hand, around the cop’s eyes, “ - dark rings.”

Now lookie here, I love a good doobie as much as (or more than) the next friendly neighbourhood degenerate pothead, and I’d like to think that over the past couple of years of indulgent experimentation, I’ve learned to spot the symptoms of weed use.

The following is a non-exhaustive list, based upon my research:

  • Mellow worldview
  • Blank stares into some unknown distance, often serving as a thin veil for exciting contemplation, unveiling secrets of the universe one is sure to forget almost immediately
  • A propensity for writing hard fkin bars
  • Insatiable munchies
  • Reddened irises
  • Giggling
  • Inability, or unwillingness, to get off a sofa (indica puts ya in da couch)
  • Paranoia (sometimes, not always, and not for everyone) - and a resulting inability to calmly manage interactions with armed representatives of the law

Here are a few symptoms I haven’t (yet) encountered:

  • Changes to your DNA, resulting in the development of genetically inherited features prevalent amongst people of semitic descent, such as deep-set eyes and a big ol’ nose
  • Insta-tanning - resulting in a brownish, olive skin pigmentation
  • Getting worse at counting

“So with your permission, I’d like to do a test,” continued BB.

I consented to the test, because how much of a choice do you really have in that situation? Well, as it turns out, in Austria, you do have the right to say no. I didn’t know this at the time, and I’m ultimately glad that I agreed to the test. If I had refused, I wouldn’t have been automatically arrested.

Instead, the police could have chosen to take me to the station, or to the nearest certified medical professional who could conduct a blood test to see if I had recently ingested any controlled substances. I made the right call, given that I had nothing at all to hide, but I didn’t feel I had much of a choice, even though the options were outlined for me.

BB outlined their ingenious test, a very sciency marvel of an exam which is bound to stump greenthusiasts forevermore.

I was instructed to close my eyes, tilt my head backwards, and count silently to 30. When I got there, I was to say “stop”, and my count would be compared to that of an actual stopwatch, which would be running simultaneously.

I’m not saying I can’t count, I can actually count pretty good (editor's note: this was written before I tested myself). 

But even under the best conditions, if I’m asked to count 30 seconds, my thoughts are likely to drift off and alter the effectiveness of my timekeeping. See the (absolutely shocking) results of a test conducted under these conditions below.

maybe they would have been right to lock me up, actually

Under that day's conditions - standing in the street, surrounded by armed police regarding me as a foreigner, and an object of suspicion, with my eyes closed, adrenaline pumping and my heart rate elevated - wasn't feeling particularly calm.

Now, with hindsight, having failed the same test spectacularly whilst sitting in a peaceful park by myself, I’m realising that I probably didn’t do all that well.

As soon as I said “stop” and opened my eyes, I watched BB's face contort, and read his expression to mean: “borderline, at best”.

Because I simply refuse to help myself, I asked, “how’d I do?” in a joking tone. This was answered with a shrug, and I wasn’t told how I’d done. Not a very good test, in my opinion, but I’m grateful it didn’t get me in any more trouble.

Having “proven” a lack of THC coursing through my veins, I was asked if they could search my bag.

Again, I consented. I did not know for a fact, at that point, that they only had the right to search my bag if they had reason to suspect that I was carrying something illegal, or if I told them they could. Now, I will know to respectfully ask what their suspicion is before agreeing to let them search the contents of my pockets or rucksack.

Again, if I were to refuse, that would potentially give them reasonable suspicion, allowing them to take me down to the police station for a more thorough inspection of my person.

I had nothing to hide at that moment, as I was carrying a basketball - which was picked up and placed gently on the ground - and a paper sack at the bottom, full of empty lunchboxes. Before opening the sack to reveal its contents, MC asked if I had anything in there I wanted them to know about.

My answer, “lunch boxes,” was honest, because I think everyone, regardless of their career choices or proclivity for racial profiling, should know about lunch boxes. A simple, but effective, and elegant invention which nobody should be deprived of. Them things hold lunch, and we all deserve lunch.

MC was disappointed, clearly, to discover those lunch boxes. If I was a hack (and I am) I would say that the disappointment was due to those boxes being empty and therefore lacked even a single paltry doughnut for them to split three ways.

They checked the main, top and side pocket, finding a battery bank, a pair of charging cables, and my house-keys, but stopped when they opened the second and final pouch. Therein, I carry a small, open topped cardboard box, containing two rows of five white chalk pieces. I use these to mark up shooting spots on outdoor basketball courts - of which this excellent city has so many to offer - when I’m running drills to build towards my longstanding NBA aspirations.

The cop looked up at me briefly, before having extracted the chalk and understood what they actually were. In my mind, MC believed that they had just stumbled upon a box containing ten pre-rolled joints, in sharp white rolling paper.

I’d be disappointed too, buddy.

The box was extracted and held it in a cupped palm, and I watched as the officer’s face barely concealed a laugh. The box was handed to me, and I explained what they were for.

All three cops looked incredibly bored of me, even if they could probably have fined me for admitting to regularly vandalising public spaces with chalk. Lock me up, along with all those happy hopscotching little criminals you see outside schools.

someone needs to do something about these little deviants

My ID was handed back to me, and they were just about to leave when they asked how long I’d been in Vienna, if I worked, and where I lived. I told them that I was actually working at that very moment, and that I’d arrived just over a month earlier, and then gave them the name of my street. They asked why that address had not come up in their search. 

MC’s eyes lit up slightly when I explained that I was not yet registered there, as my appointment for doing so - which has been organised - would be the following week.

“But when did you move in?”

I told him.

“Well you are supposed to register within the first three days,” explained the lead cop. I knew this already, and three days had elapsed already, but that’s am unreasonably short amount of time. “If you do not, that can result in a fine.”

I explained again that I had the appointment to register, and could show a confirmation of that appointment, and watched all three considering whether or not to bother issuing the fine. This is a minor offence, and throughout our interaction I had been entirely cooperative and polite, if not a little too prepared to try and make jokes with them

I am thankful that they decided it wasn’t worth the hassle - and maybe that I had already been inconvenienced enough. I don’t know how they think, so I might be wrong about that. Whatever the case may be, our interaction had given them no reason to deepen the suspicions they formed based on my appearance - even though I’m sure that talking to me did nothing to convince them that I don’t like weed

“Be sure to register as soon as possible, because when you’re stopped againyou will be fined” warned MC.

“Okay, I will do,” I responded. “Thanks.” 

They got in their car, and drove away, with hope in their eyes, I’m sure, that they would soon stumble across someone a little bit more exciting.

This interaction took place in the mansion strewn Döbling, rather than the social housing and apartment block littered Brigettenau. In the latter district, the proportion of people who look like merather than my fair-skinned counterparts, is much higher. During my shifts there, I’ve noticed that people regard passing police cars with disdain

In Döbling, some cops can be seen patrolling on foot. In Brigettenau, they don’t leave their vehicles unless they absolutely have to.

During one of my very first shifts, when I was walking down the street in the less affluent of these districts, I saw a young person drinking a beer as a large police van passed by

Very intentionally, and indignantly, this person proceeded to step into the roadhead tipped back to take a long swig, staring the driver down and walking as close as possible, without making contact, to the vehicle

The beer can got as close to clipping the van’s wing mirror as it possibly could have done without doing so, and the message was clear. In Brigettenau, many appear to feel that they are unfairly targeted by police, and some of them have taken it upon themselves to antagonise officers and make it clear that they are not welcome, and only tolerated to the extent that they have to be.

the writing on the walls

If graffiti is to be believed (and I staunchly believe that it is, because when the writing is literally on the walls, that has to mean something), some residents, in some parts of Brigettenau, see their district as a “ghetto”.

I don’t know that this is fair, and I don’t know how to evaluate that claim given that the numerous public parks there are so beautiful, the streets are so clean, roads, pavements and bike paths are so well maintained, and people generally appear to be doing well there, and I have generally felt safe there.

Relative to many other parts of Vienna, and not just the incredibly affluent neighbouring 19., this one is more deprived. I do not live there, and have only spent a limited amount of time there so far, so I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but it still strikes me as important to acknowledge this perspective.

Wherever you go in Brigettenau, you’re never far fromACAB” scrawled across a wall.

a helpful explanation found outside Glasgow's BLM demonstration

Back in 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered by an absolutely horrific human being and Minnesota cop - for the alleged crime of having used a suspected counterfeit twenty dollar bill.

This killing triggered anti-racist and anti-policing awakenings which I believe have yet to be fully quelled, because the causes of such violent racism and oppression have yet to be uprooted.

George Floyd’s murder was one in a terrifyingly, and tragically long list of people killed by cops in the US, and it led to protesting and demonstrations of solidarity across the world. I was in Glasgow when I watched the footage I will never be able to scrub from my memory. Though pandemic restrictions made mass gatherings inadvisable, if not illegal, thousands came together at Glasgow Green in a mass-demonstration organised by anti-racist activists.

At the time, “defund the police” and “all cops are bastards” were phrases being used liberally, and a lot of people were thinking about the police in a way they hadn’t before. Even though it wasn’t a Glaswegian or Viennese officer who killed Floyd, people all across the world were questioning the construct, and contemplated what it was that police forces exist to protect - and who their work truly serves.

To some, ACAB is literal, and every one of these law enforcement officers is an oppressor. To others, ACAB is a slogan encapsulating a more nuanced approach to policing, which does not necessarily aim to suggest that each individual police officer is a monster, but that by virtue of having to protect and serve monstrous interests, even the most righteous of “good apples” are bound to be spoiled.

I started this piece talking about class and wealth, and I’ve been thinking about both a lot since I was stopped - and let go with little more than a warning.

I grew up in Luxembourg - a middle class person in an upper class nation. My parents provided me with a very high standard of life. I never had to worry about food on the table. I never had to worry about economic precariousness, even if they sometimes did. I was provided with a great education at schooling level, and followed this up with two university degrees - both of which are currently being squandered on ideological/laziness grounds, depending on who you ask.

When I need or want to be, I can be very well spoken and polite.

My appearance, to some, can apparently be threatening, but in my experience, this perception almost immediately falls away when I speak. Because I grew up very middle class, the mannerisms and affect haven’t gone anywhere. Even now, as a minimum wage worker doing manual, repetitive labour, I’m living a middle class life.

Granted, this isn’t necessarily a sustainable position, but I have enough resource access - and enough help being offered to me - that I have a lot more opportunity than most people ever have or will. Even in this economy.

I don’t derive any pride at all in this position. I have done nothing at all to earn it, and I’ve met scores of people with less supportive backgrounds who have done a lot more with a lot less.

I feel strongly that the distinctions between people of different classes exist to exacerbate infighting and prevent the development of sweeping solidarity It would be beneficial to advancing all of our rights through collective struggle for us to disregard those distinctions completely - by eliminating them.

It is easy for me to think this, from where I'm standing, but that facility doesn't make it any less true that we are all workers being exploited and destroyed by capitalism.

Some of us live comfortably while others are a lot less comfortable. How could that not breed resentment? Those who are less comfortable are the ones most likely to feel the effects of devastation first, and worst. It's coming to us all, though.

I am one of those incredibly privileged individuals with safety nets resulting from my being a European Union citizen, with parents who have been able to build themselves a comfortable nest-egg, with the ability and generosity to still have enough left over for me.

I can’t say that I was stopped this week because I’m a card-carrying member of the oppressed working class. There are strong associations, shared across variants of whatever European public psyche actually exists, between class and race. The racist expectation is mind-numbingly simple, but no less prevalent for its ridiculous simplicity, that those who’s bodies exhibit signs of not being white are more likely to be relegated to the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

I was stopped, because I appear to be just-not-white enough to be smoking weed, because I’m not white enough to appear to be Austrian, and because I’m not white enough to be assumed to be as middle class as I am

I was allowed to go because when the cops spoke to me, they could tell that I wasn’t whatever it was they had imagined me to be.

I don’t like police, but I also haven’t been traumatised by them, not really. As a result, I’m able to treat them respectfully, and non-confrontationally, even though I don’t respect their job.

My class showed itself when they let me off the hook for a minor infraction, because I’d been forthcoming and respectful up to that point. I even thanked them when they left, and I’m betting that I would not have been nearly as likely to do that if I hadn’t spent most of my life naively believing that police existed to protect people.

They exist to protect wealth, the wealthy state, those benefitting most from it, and the status quo.

If such a time does come - as unfortunately I believe it has to if we’re going to save our world and ourselves from catastrophe - they will be geared up, standing staunchly between those seeking to redistribute the stolen, accumulated wealth of the few they serve.

And if history is any indication, they are likely to keep doling out the violence deemed necessary to do so

blog the fourth signing off

#3: telling tales to terminate toxicity

10.09.2023 - Vienna

Three events, which occurred within a 24 hour period last week, served as excellent reminders of just how uncomfortable I feel - and have pretty much always felt - around those men who choose to lean into the most toxic impulses. Being anywhere near those men just isn’t for me.

Unfortunately, they’re all over the fuckin’ place.

Before I recount those happenings, two pieces of context.

First, there’s the job I’ve now started in Vienna. It’s unconventional, and a little bit annoying, but even considering the requirement that I spend seven and a half hours on my feet, it’s also pretty darn easy.

The job gives me ample opportunity to think, and write, without anybody telling me what I can and cannot write about.

I’m finding, as I embark upon these weekly projects, that I prefer to let myself follow experiences, rather than press releases, as factors determining what I’m going to be thinking and writing about.

Who’da thunk it.

This job is for a micro-mobility company (a clause in my contract prevents me from naming them), which essentially requires me to spend 40 hours a week riding around the city, collecting the company’s (and all its competitors’) vehicles, before parking them correctly.

The theory is that as a result of my work, and the work of those like me, the city will refrain from pulling a Paris, and banning these vehicles outright.

I’m contracted for four months of labour, and will spend that time roaming, working and exploring the the city I’ve just moved to - while also affording me the privilege of… affording to be able to live here.

In some ways, probably most, it’s a sweet gig. Despite that, it is clear to me after just a week on the job that I’m already feeling quite bored. I do think that I’ll soon want a more interesting challenge - something which engages my critical faculties, rather than requiring constant, active effort in order to keep them engaged.

That said, because Austrian labour standards are hilarious - a lot of people here take this in stride, as though this is just how things are, because for them, it is how things are - I will be paid twice in November. And I get holiday pay. And medical insurance.

I’m enough of a spoiled leftist to know that I’m still being exploited, and that my employer’s job is to extract more value from me than they send back my way. But if you’re going to be exploited (and without at least threatening to get out the guillotines, you are), might as well do it in a place which makes that exploitation comfortable, right?

(I just outlined the reason that lifelong bourgeois chillin’ like meself aren’t likely to start the revolution we so crave, didn’t I?)

On the job, I respond to reports and complaints, and patrol my districts looking for parking situations that only I can rectify. After all, it did take a full 45 minutes of training for me to be unleashed upon these streets.

Three days later, I trained a very stupid robot. A day after that, I trained a very competent human.

found under a bridge in Glasgow's west end (I spend a lot of time under bridges, sue me)

The second piece of context is that for as long as I can remember, I have been more comfortable -that is, less likely to feel physically on edge, or threatened- around people displaying stereotypically feminine traits, women, gender non-conforming people and girls than I have been around those of my own sex.

My gender identity, over the past few years, has been something I’ve come to understand increasingly as non-aligned with my sex and outward presentation, and I’ve found that revelation to be freeing, relieving, and affirming.

Whatever it means to be non-binary - which is really not a fixed construct, and can change pretty much every day for every individual - I am that.

I’m fairly sure. And also not sure at all. And it really doesn’t matter. I don’t get offended by someone using different pronouns, but they don’t mean anything much to me either, so why would I be?

I am the they/them mayhem.

I can’t say with certainty what came first.

If the egg (my thinking of myself as non-binary) is a result of the chicken (my having felt constantly and consistently threatened during interactions with boys and men as a child), or vice-versa, is still a topic I grapple with.

I very rarely find myself grappling with that thought when I’m by myself, which is when I do most of my best thinking.

Which is convenient, given the life I've lived.

Arrested Development s2 e12. great show, watch it

Without the mental noise created by being around other people, and the anxiety I feel when I am around those people, I don’t think about gender.

To me, that fact is a testament to the reality of gender’s socially constructed nature. When I think about that, I think about how pointless a construct it really is.

Then again, as I keep having to remind myself when I say things like “fuck cars” or “fuck zoos”, its very easy for an individual to denounce the universal pointlessness of something which doesn’t have a point to them. But there’s a lot of evidence around me indicating that this particular construct is very important to a lot of other people.

Otherwise, why would so many people put so much of their self-identities into this idea?

That argument is one I have to remind myself, but not one with which I truly agree. If it was being made by somebody else, in response to my denunciation of the gender binary, I would argue that the binary - particularly in conjunction with the power of marketing in capitalist societies - is so oppressively ubiquitous from so early on in almost every individual’s life, that it can feel comforting.

It can feel like a foundation, not a structure built upon it.

We know so little about the world, about the universe, and about ourselves, that when we’re told as frightened children, from the very moment our genitals can be discerned, that we’re either “boys” or “girls” - statements which are reinforced through every interaction, decision and purchase for years to come - that anybody willing to question those “foundations” is being obtuse, denying reality, and even being disrespectful.

They aren’t attacking a construct, or a theory, if they’re going after the only thing you really feel like you know. Without that, what are you really certain about?

Personally, I find the fact that I’m certain about nothing - except the feeling instilled in me when I’m around individuals I love and respect - to be wholly liberating. Though I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen, even that caveat could one day fall away, following some sort of massive, earth-shaking betrayal.

I hope it doesn’t, but raging to stay open to keepin’ loosey goosey is not without its risks.

As a kid, I preferred to spend time with people I thought were girls than people I thought were boys, because it felt safer in every regard. To a pretty significant degree, as an almost 25-year-old, I’m finding that this trend never changed, and doesn’t seem to be making much progress towards doing so.

I can do the guy thing, now, a lot better than I ever could, and have a lot of male friends, but building trust takes a lot longer.

Even in romantic contexts, having felt a physical desire to go further with these people, that physical desire has been countered - and ultimately stifled by an overriding physical sensation.

Panic. Felt too risky to get frisky.

When I’m around men, or people who believe themselves to be men, even in the cases of those I’ve never been given any reason to distrust, I’m aware that I’m on edge in a way I’m just not when I’m around women, non-binary, or trans people. Sometimes, often, I hate that.

I don’t want to be untrusting, and I don’t want to be on edge. But, as is the case for almost everything, that feeling isn’t under my control.

happy scruffy head (cred: Niki Radman) and the lamp

If brevity is the soul of wit, my wit has well and truly worn through its shoes' bottoms. Here we go, three titillating tales:

1.

On the morning of my second day of work, I was walking through 16. Bezirk, Ottakring, carrying a heavy bag full of supplies for the day ahead, along with a wicker lamp, which I’d be bringing to our stunning new abode, before heading off to work.

I trundled past a park and saw a baby slung across the chest of a person pushing a pram with another baby in it, while holding one end of a lead with a very good dog attached at the other.

Fighting the urge to drop everything, roll over on the ground and play-fight the dog into oblivion, which would almost certainly not have been appreciated by the person attempting to wrangle all three different sets of sentient responsibilities, I smiled at them all and kept walking.

I didn’t register the two youths walking past me, towards the pack, and therefore failed to predict that they weren’t going to have my good sense not to fuck with their day.

I was alerted by the sound of the dog’s voice, and spun when I heard a deep, guttural growl.

My back was turned when I heard the first bark, but for the second, and every one which would follow, the scene had my undivided attention.

You can take this aspect of the narrative with a pinch of salt, but based on how calm the dog had been when I walked past - no less than two metres away and carrying a sizeable wicker lamp - something about this kid immediately tipped off the dog’s impeccable judgement. Danger.

I feel you, lil buddy.

One of the two young idiots was actively baring his teeth, and feigning lunges at the dog, and the dog’s family.

The little canine genius, a terrier of some sort, went absolutely ape. Tugging hard on their lead, which had almost slipped out of the pack leader’s hand, they jumped while snapping their jaws at the assailant.

The leader was practically begging the snarling idiot to back away, but the response was clear.

Fuck off.”

The face-off continued, as the idiot’s mind tried to concoct a response to the dog’s warnings.

That mind settled, predictably, on the most idiotic possible reaction, doubling down. A leg swung out towards the dog, trying to kick them in the face.

I don’t know how much you know about canine anatomy, but except in cases of very, very poor breeding, their face tends to be where the teeth are stored.

If the kick’s motivation was to quell the barking, it was actually quite successful.

Hard to bark with a leg in your mouth.

The terrier’s teeth plunged into the soft flesh just above this asshole’s thigh, before quickly being wrenched out by the pack leader’s sharp tug.

The young idiot was shocked. Why oh why would a dog which quite clearly stated its intent to bite a person, after seemingly feeling provoked by that person, every actually bite that person?

Seem’s a little outta' left field.

The double down redoubled, and this quadrupling led to the assailant’s shoe, on the other foot, getting caught in expectant, open jowels. An impressive catch.

At this point, two other passers-by had stepped in - quite bravely, I should add, because that dog was seeing red (/smelling red, or seeing whatever red looks like on a limited dog colour spectrum) - and formed a human barricade between the young fool and the pack.

The terrier immediately went quiet, gazing up affectionately at the pack leader, seeking approval for a job well done.

The pack leader led the family away, backwards, after thanking the passers by who stood resolute, staring down the young fool who stilled appeared to feel wronged.

Though the human had been the one to escalate this dispute - a result of nothing at all - the dog is the one which could have had to face consequences.

They could have been forced to wear a muzzle whenever they were outside of the house, or even been put down. None of this would have happened had the terrier not been goaded by a person who really should have known better.

But he had something to prove.

photo (and decor) credit: the amazingable Susi Radman™

2. 

Later that day, when I’d been working for a few hours already, I was retrieving a vehicle and pushing it through 20. Bezirk, Brigittenau, towards the nearest bike rack. As I did so, I passed local residents on my left, on my right, and in each case, when I locked eyes with someone, I smiled.

I like smiling at people as I pass by. It makes me happy. Occasionally, it might make them happy too, and they’ll smile back. Often, they’ll look away. Sometimes, they appear confused.

A few weeks ago, on a day which had me feeling pretty jubilant - I had just gotten a job, and found out our application to a great flat (our new home) had been accepted - I was grinning at everyone.

One person I passed acknowledged my smile with a curt nod, didn’t look away, didn’t frown, didn’t appear angry or irritated, but didn’t smile back either. They held my gaze, and kept walking.

In that moment, I had a simple but lasting thought.

“That person, in this moment, might not have as much to smile about as you do. And that’s okay.”

Very rarely, when I smile at a stranger, they appear to be actively irritated, or offended. That is usually not my problem.

If they choose to, though, they can quite quickly make it my problem.

In Brigittenau, as I was looking for a bike rack, I encountered someone who wanted to do just that.

I smiled at a couple as they walked, hand in hand. I was smiling at both of them, but I locked eyes with the person who looked more like me. Years of staring at me in the mirror finally caught up with me.

Vanity, ya’ ol’ dickhead.

This person, proving themselves not to be my reflection, tossed their partner’s hand aside, and tore their fanny pack off, before throwing it hard into the tarmac.

Now, that’s inherently hilarious. I don’t care who you are. Damaging your own property, especially your own inherently hilarious property, to spite someone else? That’s big brain shit.

As I kept walking, confused and, I think, still smiling, probably even giggling, I realised I was being stared down. I had my earphones in, so I didn’t hear precisely what was being yelled at me, but it was some Austrian equivalent to “Oi! Want me to fuckin’ lay you out?

It wasn’t clear to me what that equivalent was, but what was clear - made even more so by his repetition of the same challenge - was that my smile had been so infuriating that this person now wanted to fight me.

My genuine response, “what the fuck?”, much more confused than enraged, was uttered as I kept walking. I half expected to be followed, but I wasn’t. Just in case this isn’t already clear, I’m not a fighter. I have very little interest in getting my face socked in.

I especially didn’t want to stick around long enough for the fanny pack to be picked up and inspected, as I’m sure that responsibility for its definitely damaged contents would be placed squarely on my not so boulder-shoulders.

When I snuck a glance back, from about a block away, the prospecting pugilist was bent over picking the bag up.

I rounded the corner before I could witness the discovery of consequences for actions - because I sure as shit wasn’t going to be the one to deliver those consequences to him through physical force.

3.

I recounted this story to a colleague the following day, as we were out and about on a company mission, training a very dumb robot. Whilst wearing high-visibility orange jackets, we were training a recruit designed to render both of our jobs obsolete. I was assured, when I pointed this out to my boss, that the system wouldn’t be ready for a few years. I’m only contracted for four months of work, so that’ll be just fine for me.

“He got lucky that he tried to fight you,” said my colleague, in a comment I’m sure was intended to be insulting, but which is really just a matter of fact.

“Yeah, well I’m no fighter, so he really did.”

I fuckin’ am,” responded my coworker.

Granted, the two of us grew up under very different circumstances. I didn’t have to fight for everything. I can only do my best to understand that when those people grow up - those who did have to scrap for every scrap, and never take any crap, have that response hard-wired into them.

I would’ve laid him out.”

I’ve met a lot of people who talk this way. Very few actually give me reason to believe that they are going to go through with their bravado, and actually knock someone out. Seems a lot easier said than done.

“Gimme a minute, mate, I have to take a piss.”

We had stopped on the side of the road, and were eating strawberries which had been bought for my co-workers kid. Thanks to me, that child would never receive those fruity gifts, as I was busy shoving them in my mouth. After forgetting to gift the berries the day before, my colleague had no use for them.

Men, you see, don’t eat strawberries. Same way they don’t smile people. That’s gay.

I looked up and noted that we were directly beneath a public restroom sign, pointing into the park beside us. The restrooms were no more than ten metres away, and the structure housing them was no more than a few feet from one of Vienna’s excellent public playgrounds, bustling with children enjoying the last few days of summer.

I spent the next few minutes happily guarding (standing beside) our rides, munching on strawberries, basking in the sun, and allowing myself to be distracted by butterflies. Some time later, a flash of high-viz orange drew my attention to a parting of trees between the restrooms and the playground.

There was my colleague, wearing company clothing designed to draw as much attention as possible - identical to my own clothing - taking an open-air piss just a few metres away from a busy playground, in the middle of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a wild wee as much as anyone.

A lot of people make a big deal out of them, and that’s a shame, because one of those people goes by the peculiar name of “the legal system”. In Austria, public urination is a violation of “decency”. In order to violate “decency”, your action has to be perceived by other people, who are not involved in the “indecent” behaviour.

Now, this is pretty stupid, because “decency” is as conceptually floppy as string “cheese” is physically. That said, in this case, those present to perceive the public urination were children - and people tend to get real tetchy about those exposing genitalia around children. Very understandably, I should add.

Definitely doesn’t seem wise to do so while wearing a “look at me” orange jacket.

I noticed this far too late, and was just hoping that nobody else had done so, when my colleague started to walk back towards me.

My hopes were dashed when a gardener, or landscaper, or park employee of some sort, came bounding up to my colleague and I. At first politely, they said, in German, “Don’t do that. That is not okay.

The tone didn’t imply escalation, though I was aware that this wasn’t a good look at all for either of us (and not just because luminous orange isn’t a flattering colour for those with our skin-tone). I didn’t think that this needed to go any further. My colleague could just accept the wrongdoing, and not do it again.

People are frustrating.

Call the fucking police then,” was the immediate response, in English.

They were speaking different languages, but nothing was lost in translation.

I watched the park employee’s face change. They had approached politely, and instructed a grown-ass adult not to piss into the bushes three metres from a busy children’s playground - and were greeted by that grown ass adult’s obstinacy.

The park employee reached into a pocket, wordlessly, and pulled out a phone. I watched as 133 was dialled, and my eyes flickered between the two of them, as they engaged in an impromptu staring contest.

My colleague lost.

Did I mention that we look an awful lot alike, in terms of complexion, height, approximate weight, and that we were wearing the same orange vest and company helmets?

Let’s go.” The message wasn’t really being directed at me.

We left the park, and at the exit, it was clear we would go our separate ways - but first, we stopped. I watched an orange vest get torn off, a helmet get unclipped, and both being shoved into a rucksack.

“Nice riding with ya, see ya later mate!” I could practically see a perfect dust-outline left in the air.

I stood in that wake for a moment, processing, as slow individuals such as myself tend to do, and it took longer than I’d care to admit to realise that I, with my slightly dark (beautiful) olive complexion, luminous clothing, and company attire, precisely matched the child-urinator description being given to the police at that very moment.

I hadn’t done anything wrong - unless enjoying (a child’s) strawberries while your mate pisses next to other children is a crime - but it seemed prudent to leg it. For some reason, probably shock paired with my aforementioned slowness, it didn’t occur to me that, like he had, I should have shed my incriminating clothing.

I left the district as quickly as I could, passing not one, but two police cars as I did so, while trying not to piss myself. Admittedly, soiling myself, if I had been stopped, might have worked in my favour, as evidence that I couldn’t possibly have voided my bladder twice in such a short time-frame.

Quick question for any attorneys wasting their precious time (it’s all billable) by reading this:

Would the pissy pants defence hold up in a court of law? With the right lawyer, maybe.

Barry Zuckerkorn: 'he's very good'

The tenuous ties betwixt these tales are temporal and thematic. They occurred within a very short time-frame, and all of them involved people acting like assholes, while looking just like me. My self-identity is not something which is immediately apparent to everyone, and I’m sure that theirs is not either. For all I know, any of the men involved here could identify as non-binary too.

That said, I take pride in self-awareness (dangerous thing to announce about oneself to the world, I realise, given that we're never able to see ourselves as completely as we may think) in a way I do not often see reflected in men. Often, this self-awareness tips over into self-consciousness, to my detriment. I have been known to be far more prepared to accept, understand and forgive the transgressions of others - even significant ones - than my own.

In each of these three cases, I saw people who could not see, let alone accept, that they were wrong to react aggressively to the world around them. In each case, their reactions were detrimental to themselves, and to those around them.

It is a feeble, self-defeating outlook, and one which is certainly not exclusive to masculinity, but is very strongly associated with it. I find the ability, the willingness, even, to admit that I’m wrong, that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m often quick to react poorly, to be a superpower. Or at the very least, a baseline ability allowing me to live in this world without constant conflict yielding nothing more than more conflict.

It is liberating, because I’m a human, and we’re incredibly flawed. Being able to admit that I’m wrong when I’m wrong allows me to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than having to stand by an initial reaction which is usually not measured, not thought out, and often, outright ridiculous.

I feel for those who don’t know that they can do this.

Well, not so much for the dog kicker. When it comes to dogs, they are beasties that have been moulded for tens of thousands of years of domestication to essentially become four-legged (usually) vehicles for barking empathy.

On some level on the spectrum between pure instinct and awareness, dogs have become finely attuned to human beings in a way which allows them to understand people in a way many men - those who actively quash empathetic impulses, in particular - simply can’t.

You put out a dog kicker energy, and meet a dog which doesn’t want you to kick them, or their family, and then you prove that dog right… you’re bout to get bit.

De-escalating potentially precarious situations is a valuable skillset, because wether you like it or not, we’re social beings who need one another. It is never good for the collective - which is all that we are - to have angry, volcanic, one-man islands bumbling about hoping that someone collides with them.

Or worse: smiles at them. That’s gay, dude. Now come here so I can touch you - at high enough speed for it not to be gay.

That interaction reminded me of a story another man I knew once told me, about their homosexual coworker, who complimented his sweater one fine morning.

Verbatim:

“I wanted to go home and burn the sweater,” he said, with a straight face. “Don’t fucking compliment me, dude.”

Ah yes, nothing like burning your own property to stick it to the gays.

The very same men who make others uncomfortable by subjecting them to a predatory gaze react quite poorly when even a very mild variant of that gaze is turned upon themselves.

You’re fragile. And that’s okay, we all are. Please stop making that my problem.

blog the third signing off

#2: going halvesies on a baby elephant with a Saudi Prince - and my experience at the Schönbrunn Tiergarten

02.09.2023 - Vienna

This story begins as do so many of those that very few people actually want to hear: A long, drawn out description of a dream someone else had. Feel free to clock out now, unless you're like me. I love hearing about dreams.

A billionaire, a Saudi Prince based in Vienna, whose very existence I cannot confirm nor deny, and who I almost certainly would not like to meet, called me up.

His contact was saved, in my dream phone, as “Saudi Prince”.  (Here, I have to tip my hat at the stunning creativity demonstrated by my subconscious mind.)

“Pawlu, they’re going to put down the baby elephant," exclaimed the sentient oil money.

"We have to do something!”

Without hesitation, I leapt into action. I knew instantly that the “they” was the Schönbrunn Tiergarten - the “animal garden” on the grounds of the imperial Schönbrunn palace, also known as Vienna’s world-famous zoo. 

The “something” we had to undertake, naturally, was a 50/50 split on the purchase of the doomed baby elephant.

I assume, if I can break briefly from my retelling of this dream, that my subconscious would have justified the zoo’s decision by explaining that there simply wasn’t enough space for them to accommodate this baby elephant once it had grown up.

They are - famously - rather large. Their ears alone… that’s some serious real estate. In this economy?

As to how my subconscious would have justified that my Saudi Prince homie was the first to find out, I cannot quite figure out. I suppose when it comes to the narratives constructed in dreams, one must grant their subconscious some degree of suspended disbelief.

The rest of the dream was a blur of financial dealings, strange negotiations and the emptying of an already meagre bank account. (For one of us, at least.)

As a fledgling thousandaire, I’m only ever one fairly large transaction - such as the purchase of what actually amounted to a very reasonably priced elephant - away from absolute financial collapse. That’s the sweet spot. That’s where I live.

There are three factors which should have given me pause, before I fully unleashed the intense and immediate worry I experienced that night.

First, without any prior knowledge of this zoo, I presume that the Schönbrunn Tiergarten isn’t in the business of euthanising baby elephants. Even when considering how infernally big those flapping ears are going to get.

Second, despite my thousandaire (at least at the time of this dream) status, I am not normally in the business of buying or owning baby elephants.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to hang out with one. If you’re the baby elephant who sent me this dream via tele(phant)pathy, please do reach out - and maybe we can crack open a watermelon together.

With that in mind, and I’m so sorry that this needs to be said, I do not want to own you.

Third, I don’t think that billionaire Saudi Princes are in the business of going halvsies on elephants with poorsies such as myself. Seems like the sort of thing they’d be able to handle without my contribution.

My understanding of oil-rich billionaires - which I acknowledge is based on a stereotypical interpretation of the exploitative, extractive and destructive attitudes of those decadent few profiting most from the devastation of our currently comfortable atmosphere - is that they’d likelier shoot an elephant for sport than be deeply concerned about the prospect of said beastie being put down.

Maybe that’s unfair, but in this case especially, given that this Prince is hypothetical, I’m prepared to let myself off the hook.

don’t get it twisted, zoos can be cute. cute don’t make ‘em right though

This was one of many vivid anxiety dreams I had last week. They were caused by some combination of sheer excitement, derived in my being in a new city, having accepted a new job, having two pending flat applications for myself and my wonderful partner, and also, having recently gone cold turkey on THC.

Individually, and collectively, helluva drug(s).

The dream-choice I made, to save the baby elephant’s life (making me something of a Dumbo, if you will) meant that I would no longer be able to afford the deposit for a flat.

I suppose the plan was that when winter approached, and I found myself sleeping out in the cold, the fact I’d saved 50% of a beastie’s life would hopefully warm my heart enough to keep the blood pumping into my frostbitten fingers for just a little bit longer.

The dream woke me up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. While most dreams fade from my conscious memory before I even have time to recount their narrative, I wrote this one down, and it stuck.

So I started to think about zoos.

I hadn’t been to a zoo for over a decade. The most memorable and lasting image I had from a zoo was actually the experience of a single animal over two visits, which took place several years apart.

Growing up in Luxembourg, one of the nearest zoos was Amnéville, in Hagondange, France.

The unshakeable image is this: the zoo’s polar bear, a magnificent, powerful beastie, kept in a tiny enclosure, complete with a two to three metre deep pool, swimming furiously with their head above the surface.

I watched this bear push themselves from one side of the pool to the other. When they reached the other side, the bear would pivot their hulking mass swiftly - in an incredibly practiced move - like an olympic swimmer (but furrier, and more endangered), before pushing themselves off to the other side.

Again and again, this polar bear pushed themselves through the water across a six metre gap, b(e)arely longer than the length of their outstretched body.

I remember one of my parents remarking that the bear looked as though it had lost their mind. Maybe the monotony of zoo life, of spending their entire existence in a confined space, with a body which evolved to travel great distances in search of food, every day, had gotten them stuck in this perpetual loop.

To be honest, even as a person who loves swimming with my whole heart, I often regard people with the drive to swim lengths over and over again with a mixture of admiration and concern for their mental well being.

Bears aint meant to swim lengths. That same behaviour was replicated years later, when I visited again.

In the wild, the polar bear is a creature capable of traversing hundreds of kilometres of sea ice in a single day. Now, of course, because human beings truly suck, many of them are being forced to swim those distances instead - as our continued climate tirade melts the home beneath their padded paws.

welcome to the imperial zoo - the last joint I smoked - “see animals. protect species.”

fascinating as this is, big g didn’t need to be there for me to learn this lesson

Since I last saw that bear, I had no interest in going to a zoo.

Throughout the intermittent years, in fact, I’ve learned more from those who oppose the existence of zoos, and about the destruction perpetrated by these institutions - along with the ways in which many of them have historically operated.

Regardless of the good some zoos may do - and Schönnbrunn Tiergarten does have legitimate claims for having invested in conservational work - they are bad places for non-human animal life. A case can certainly be made for them being bad places for humans, too.

I say this because of the experience I had at Schönnbrunn Tiergarten. My consciously self-reassuring reasoning was, on that dreamy, near-sleepless night, that as a “journalist”, it would be irresponsible of me not to follow up a lead. In a manner of speaking, a source (my subconscious) had just tipped me off that Vienna’s zoo was killing a baby elephant.

I had to investigate.

Of course, I knew that I was rationalising, and that really, I just wanted to go marvel at the beasties, and write about the zoo in a blog post. (Insert self-flagellation about being just as exploitative and hypocritical as those I’m critiquing.)

How could I not want those things? I’m obsessed with non-human animals, and I’m very much capable of childlike awe (one of my favourite flavours of awe). If I could suspend my indignation, just for a few hours, and simply let myself enjoy the sights, it might have been a great day out.

None of that was to be. I guess it just isn’t that simple. What seemed like a fun idea at 4am, justified through flimsy reasoning, actually turned out to be an extremely conflicting and pretty unpleasant experience for me. That said, in much the same way as visiting a prison can be unpleasant, I had it easy.

My stay ended, I got to leave.

Having navigated my way through the grand grounds of Schönbrunn towards the Tiergarten entrance, I pushed through the turnstiles and thought:

I shouldn’t have come.

I felt the air change. I could sense that I was going to be looking at sights I should have been thrilled to behold - but not a single one was going to feel right.

At that point, I’d already paid the (hefty) price of admission. I’d already (though I hate this concept) cast a vote with my wallet - which is the central hypocrisy to this tale.

I thought that I might as well check out what has consistently been described over recent years as one of the best zoos in the world.

If this one is the best - or close to it - my suspicions feel, to me, to have been very much borne out by reality. The best zoo, because it is a zoo, is not a good zoo.

Schönbrunn zoo is the oldest working zoo in the world. In 1752, Franz I established a private menagerie on the palatial grounds. Prior to this, in the late 16th century, Maximilian II bought the property for the Habsburgs, and converted the buildings there into a hunting lodge.

In 1770, the Schönbrunn menagerie acquired its first elephant, kickstarting Schönbrunn’s elephantine history. Over a century later, in 1906, the first elephant ever to be conceived in a zoo was born at the Tiergarten. Much later, in 2013, the first elephant calf to be conceived through artificial insemination was born there.

Those interested in learning more about the 17 elephants which have died at Schönbrunn throughout the zoo’s history can browse the full list here.

In the latter half of the 1770s, the menagerie was opened to the public. Presumably though, the public to whom it catered was limited in accessibility to the wealthiest social classes.

The zoo has operated continuously, incarcerating hundreds of individuals, since then. During the First World War, the population was decimated by supply shortages and associated hygiene issues, and despite the donations from Viennese citizens, only around 400 animals survived.

At the end of the Second World War, an elephant born in the wild was euthanised after being brought to the zoo, where it suffered serious wounds as a result of aerial bombing. It was one of many animals to suffer such a fate as a result of collateral damage, after being taken from the wild only to be victimised by the violence human beings perpetrate upon one another.

Still, the zoo continued to function, and was rebuilt into the proud institution operating today. According to the Schönbrunn Tiergarten, “more than 700 animal species, some of them threatened, have found a home and a chance for survival as a species.”

did these beasties find a home, or were they interned?

I walked around the zoo, making a beeline for the big beasties first and foremost.

My path brought me to the giraffe enclosure, first, and though it was full of huge, majestic animals, craning their long necks to eat leaves out of nearby trees, all I could really focus on was the fencing around them, and the gawping faces - like my own - marvelling at these animals.

Their enclosure consists of 440 square meters of indoor space, along with 1,770 square meters of outdoor space - with a small watering hole and several feeding points.

2,210 square meters of space is the totality of their existence. They have a lifespan of between 20 and 27 years in captivity.

That same enclosure, the one in which these roaming giants spend their entire lives snoozing (and being gawked at) is powered by a photovoltaic system, and heated in winter by underground gravel storage, which absorbs heat throughout the day before releasing it at night.

I bring this up because of how ironic it seems, to me, that this “sustainablemethod of caring for incarcerated animals was considered so forward thinking and intuitive, in 2016, that the giraffe park was awarded the City of Vienna's environmental prize.

As I left the giraffe park, I encountered an example of why I think it is foolish that zoos are considered to be great educational resources.

Nothing that you learn about animals in a zoo, except that their very presence implies that they exist to be subjugated, commodified, and stripped of everything that makes them proud, independent beings surviving without the aid of human beings, actually necessitates their presence.

Next to their enclosure, a bald ibis was out patrolling the zoo along with thousands of human visitors. Perhaps the bird was doing so in an attempt to escape, or maybe it was supposed to be out there.

In either case, its plans were foiled when it encountered a fearsome group of people: a family with young children. I’m sure they were just trying to have a harmless, good time, but doing so in a pretty ignorant fashion.

The bird was stood in a corner paralysed, with no way of walking away, because they were walled in by parents and their children trying to take photos. Some were standing less than a metre away.

The ibis, with its stunning, long receded hairline, did not demonstrate any sort of aggression towards them. It simply turned to face the walls, standing still, but frilling its feathers in what, I presume at least, was a warning.

If it was a warning, this was lost on the parents, who thrust their children gently towards a bird which was their equal in height, and likely had much more power at its disposal than did they.

Thankfully, it did not choose violence, and did not seek to prove its doubtlessly superior rank in the pecking order.

Interactions between zoo visitors and detainees don’t always go so well. When improperly managed, these institutions can allow human beings to put themselves in dangerous situations.

RIP Harambe.

probably the loveliest enclosure, Schönbrunn’s elephant park

I ferried myself on past and proceeded to the main event, the elephant enclosure.

Significantly larger than the giraffe enclosure, at 6,700 square metres, this one surely promised to offer a less deflating sight than I had yet seen: bored beasties.

It didn’t.

It doesn’t matter that the elephant enclosure is much bigger than the giraffe enclosure. It is an enclosure. When you stand at one fence, you can see all of the others.

That is no way for any individual to spend a lifetime.

If, while reading this, you think that I’m anthropomorphising, and that I’m assuming that these animals have a level of awareness that is closer to that of a human than it is to that of an elephant, then maybe you’re right.

I do have a penchant for trying to empathise with animals, which might lead me to some false understandings.

On the other hand, though, I think that these animals have some sort of understanding of their predicament, as incarcerated animals, even if that understanding is embodied and not conscious.

Bodies which have evolved to roam across massive distances, for millions of years, do not forget what they developed to do 

Even more importantly, I’m not quite sure what makes us think we have the right to imprison and exhibit living creatures in such a way at all. Is it that we’re just so much smarter, so much more capable of working together to protect the ourselves, our homes, and our earth,than any of these animals?

Is it because zoos are so essential in the pursuit of indoctrinating children into a worldview which ranks all non-human animal life as inferior to us, as separate from us, and as something which can and should be manipulated for the extraction of profit?

No. That’s very cynical of me. Zoos are havens built to protect species and educate young people about them, so that they can grow up and become conservationists who care for the planet and its species.

There are definitely no commercial interests at play.

nothing to see here

I kept walking through the zoo and saw a polar bear (looked bored), a spectacled bear (asleep and hiding) and a mighty bison (I’m admittedly not great at reading their facial expressions, but he certainly appeared to be hunched over. What a slouch).

Throughout the rest of my visit I saw lions, giant pandas, prairie dogs, water buffalo, reindeer, Barbary sheep, a rhino, iguanas, sea lions, orangutangs, bearded vultures, and even caught a fleeting glimpse of a Siberian tiger.

Maybe I’m ungrateful, and maybe the problem is with me, not with zoos.

I tried to remind myself that the ability to see so many amazing creatures from disparate habitats across the world, in any single place, within metres of one another, is incredible.

Yet I never managed to shake the feeling that human imprisonment of these animals, in their constructed “wildernesses”, had rendered the animals artificial too.

Nothing that they did or could do was spontaneous, either a result of their will, or of their evolutionary coding.

Everything that they did was done for the benefit of humans.

And that simply isn’t why they exist. It felt hollow, and quite honestly, heartbreaking.

(More like Teargarten, am I right fellas?)

assorted beasties

Free the homie EVERY ANIMAL IN EVERY ZOO.

Here’s a prediction which makes me want to hurl:

As conditions in the wild world worsen, the existence of zoos is going to be deemed more essential. From the perspective of ensuring that many hundreds of species continue to exist at all, somewhere, avoiding their extinction may mean having them exist only in captivity.

Our stunted view of non-human animals as beings to be manipulated to our will is going to lead us to conclude that in order to protect those animals from our actions, we have no choice but to incarcerate and preserve them.

We kill their homes, so we must save them from the people who is killing their homes, who, incidentally, is us.

there's plenty of space for expansion - check out your new digs, polar bear

For a start, I think that the entire Schönbrunn grounds should be closed off from the public, and the Tiergarten should be expanded so that the animals within have some serious space to play with. This still won’t be nearly enough to give them the space they need to roam, but it would be a start. 

This could be quite the double whammy victory

At once, it would prevent tourists from marvelling at Austria’s imperial past, because monarchy is nothing at all to be celebrated

This isn’t about denying history, its about acknowledging how fucked that history was, and how we should literally return the spaces stolen by a self-entitled and violent few to those who could actually use them most urgently and effectively.

Immediately, zoos should stop extracting monetary value from the lives of these animals. I also think that the same should apply to farm animals, but that’s a topic for another day.

Those which can be returned to the wild should already be there. And those which truly cannot could live out the rest of their days in Schönbrunn’s palatial grounds - given the retirement they deserve.

Away from my prying eyes.

blog the second signing off

#1: i don't drive - but i survived a year in Malta (...just about)

22.08.2023 - Vienna

Since last September, when I first arrived in Malta, I put myself through a rigorous experiment: trying to live a full life - or as full of a life as I could afford to live - as a skateboarder and pedestrian, and not a driver - in an asphalt sea of idling engines.

This choice was one based on my resolute unwillingness to drive a car, or ride a motorbike. I know I wouldn’t be a good driver (I know myself well enough to know that my worst impulses would be triggered and amplified if I were behind the wheel).

More importantly, driving isn't good for people or our planet.

Particularly in the Maltese context, when distances are short enough for alternative modes of transport to make so much sense, I’ve come to see driving as yet another way for wealthier workers to segregate themselves from one another, and those beneath themselves on the socio-economic scale.

Driving everywhere is also a great way to never, or rarely, have to face the reality of Malta’s pedestrian infrastructure - which can’t even fairly be described as “crumbling”.

No, this particular cookie crumbled a long time ago. These pavements are not just dilapidated, they are devastated.

Getting around on those pavements on a cruiser - which is, in the right hands ,(under the right feet), a very agile craft - is difficult.

left: slightly stoned scruffy in an elevator, very happy to welcome Ola, the newest member of the family - right: Ola beside my first ever cruiser (nameless, but no less loved)

Still, it is beautiful.

The sea remains magnificent. Certainly, it is struggling, as we've force it to pursue a new balance, but it remains incredible as it does so.

It is overfished. There are noticeably fewer healthy, thriving reefs

Because baseline sea temperatures are on a continuous rise, there are significantly fewer sea urchins and significantly more jellyfish. Waters are warming to such an extent that rocks in the shallows are warm enough to incubate and sustain the growth of slimy, pond-like algae

Granted, these are anecdotal changes, things I noticed which were never presented before throughout my brief lifetime.

But I won’t ever dismiss the power of the sea, or the resilience of the life within.

On land, life is struggling too. Though much of that struggle is human, it is clear to me that our strife is both cause and symptom. We are destroying the likelihood of having any thriving natural spaces, and seem powerless to end the destruction we know is killing us.

the views that make you feel ungrateful for complaining - it is not a coincidence that these tend to be the views experienced by those looking towards the horizon and away from the mainland

Malta's sidewalks are narrow, cracked and slanted, and they have a wonderful habit of disappearing entirely because the road needed to be wider, to accommodate the ever-increasing girth of an ever-growing fleet of roaring wankmobiles.

I insisted on skating because I love skating, and because it is honestly just such a great way to get around. I rode pavements where I could, but a lot of the time, my choices pushed me onto the road.

Are you now thinking, “you should consider making better choices”?

If you too are a relatively irresponsible individual, prepared to get a little bit hit by a lottle bit of cars, you can make it work. I did.

Full transparency caveat: that success did include, on one occasion, getting hit by a cars. Whoops. I was fine, somehow.

It is clear, particularly through autumn, winter and spring, when fewer tourists are in Malta, that buses are being used primarily by Third Country Nationals - along with local residents who are not yet old or rich enough to buy and drive their own cars.

The buses are free for residents, which is a legitimately great initiative, but the effectiveness of the service being offered is extremely limited.

Buses drive the same roads as Malta’s 400,000+ cars, and they very rarely get the benefit of bus lanes. Even when bus lanes are in place, drivers regularly circumvent regulations and treat those lanes as an uber-convenient fast lane.

This means that buses are stuck in traffic just as much as are cars. The solution to this is to reduce the number of cars, and increase the number of buses on the roads, but that isn’t going to happen because people in Malta are obsessed with their cars. What they think is a love affair is actually more akin to an abusive relationship. Maybe it’s both.

Some say that they would consider abandoning their cars if they could instead depend on a reliable system of public transport, but I have yet to encounter anyone who has made this leap.

Their rationale is that to do so would be too significant a sacrifice. The “convenience” of driving a car just can’t be beaten, and if you are to give that up, the amount of time and effort you have to put into travel rises exponentially.

Frankly, people continue to reason that if they’re going to be stuck in traffic (and if you live in Malta, you will regularly find yourself in this position), you might as well be in your own personal vehicle, rather than having to contend with an unfortunate reality: other people.

I spent just under a year living without a driver’s license, car, or desire to have either. I got around fairly well with the help of a powerful trifecta: Google Maps, free public transport and Ola. Ola is a beautiful beastie, though time (and excessive use) does take its toll.

centre: Ola, disassembled and ready to go to Vienna, after six months of daily rides - right & left: pawlu n' Ola fkin shreddin'

I never knew that the ability to roam aimlessly was so deeply essential to me before the year I spent living in Malta. At every misshapen, cracked and poorly constructed infrastructural step, I was actively discouraged from doing so.

Almost immediately, when I planned to go anywhere, I scrambled to pick up earphones and a skateboard. Don’t get me wrong, when I reach to either of those for the right reasons, that isn’t negative. This wasn't for the right reasons.

They were being used as tools allowing me to block out as much present world as possible. 

Cruising me speedily and (fairly) smoothly through that present world was a necessity, because the energy expenditure caused by engaging with it wore me out so thoroughly that it amplified the multifaceted existential dread inherent to a the experience of living through a worsening climate catastrophe.

Engaging with much of that outside world - particularly on all of the hideous routes connecting stunning spaces - made me feel doomed.

Malta is a beautiful place. It was, within even my lifetime, even more beautiful. Within my parents’ lifetime, it has become unrecognisable. My grandparents have known transformation I will never be able to understand.

wherever plant life is given a chance, it grows in incredibly dense, scraggly abundance

Corners of indomitably resilient, patchy, scraggly and heavily intermeshed flora can be found all over the place. Native plants have been imbued with some magic genetic concoction of desert island mutation - and the power of salty sea air

Throughout much of the year, these plants have an impressive ability to make not-so-arable and often scorched soils appear to be brimming with nutritious value - as though Maltese soils have been mingling with once molten, deep-earth minerals left behind by some devastating volcanic eruption.

They aren’t, though. The closest thing to a volcano, in Malta, is the “mountain” we built out of literal garbage. In all fairness, at the top, and amongst the ever-growing piles of trash, there actually is a waste incinerator

all hail the mighty mount magħtab

Plant life in Malta is genuinely impressive. I had many misgivings before being there, and have even more now that I’ve left, but for most of the year, Malta is so green that it can very well trick an individual into thinking that it might even be able to remain habitable for humans.

I actually believe that overall, life there will survive significantly longer than humans will. Our ability to “adapt”, at least on the individual level, seems to be limited to “installing an air conditioning unit”.

ACs are actually a pretty great metaphor for our collective predicament. 

Because we’re emitting so many greenhouse gases, our planet is warming.

Because we’re letting it warm enough, parts of it are becoming unliveable. To "solve" this problem, we turn to AC, which makes a tiny part of this world liveable at the cost of significant greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, ensuring that the rest will become even more unliveable very soon.

This is a collective struggle, caused by a critical mass of individuals acting in their own self interest - seeking out their slice of paradise. Unfortunately, we only seem to know how to create it by endangering everyone else’s.

Plant life in Malta will continue to thrive long after the last people have left. We haven’t built anything, from our infrastructure to ourselves, to be prepared to fight tooth and nail for every scrap. Nature is born to survive the scrap. That instinct lives in us too, but it’s buried deep.

So far, few of us have shown real signs of engaging with it. That’s a problem, because the climate scrap is upon us.

Natural life in Malta has been fragmented. Passages have been cut off by ugly buildings, hideous roads and unnecessary construction projects. That fragmentation doesn’t just stop hedgehogs from mingling, though they really are getting a raw end of this deal.

Sidenote: Imagine your instinctive defence mechanism was: “roll up, tight ball, will be protected by tiny, relatively soft, spikes” - and you're trying to cross a road to get to the next field where you intend to hang out with your little hedgehoglets.

You were going to be a great role model, helping to guide your progeny towards their best possible hedgelives.

Alas, twas not to be, your defence mechanism got pancaked under a tire - so a human could get to a place within walking distance. 

Buy hey, at least they got to go there fast.

The fragmentation also applies to people. The vast majority of people in Malta view the rest of the population through two sets of car windows

They don’t tend to talk, unless they’re yelling at each other about some traffic manoeuvre which was actually a Highway Code violation on both their parts - and they’re often irritated by the “traffic” they see all around them.

You cease to see those around you as people, in traffic. They’re traffic. You are too, of course, but you’re also the main character stuck in a sea of traffic - which is made up of mindless assholes who need to get out of your way.

I had my own response to traffic, this year. When my bus I was on hit a standstill, I’d be out at the very next stop.

I’d be out and on the road cruising past idling cars while their drivers yelled at me, honked their horns to express the depth of their jealousy, and on a few occasions, lurched their cars dangerously to inhibit my passage.

My response wasn’t better for the collective than theirs. I was just enjoying the suffering of those stuck in traffic, antagonising them with my blissful life choices.

It didn’t consciously start that way, I was just trying to get around. 

It became a conscious antagonism when I realised just how much everyone there believed that everyone else was in their way. That meant that when you saw somebody doing well, they were doing so at your expense.

Malta felt like a place which didn’t have enough to go around, but not because there wasn’t enough to go around.

It felt that way because there were too many people wanting, and takingsignificantly more than their fair share. What was left over was... not enough to go around.

Malta is not overpopulated. It is overdriven. A landmass of its size could support this amount of people, or significantly more, if it had proper public, rather than car-focused, infrastructure. Mass transit could solve a huge portion of the people’s problems.

Ban cars - except maybe in the case of emergency service vehicles. Yes, it would take political will to embark upon the sort of transformations I’m suggesting, but it would also take popular will

Individuals alone are not the solution, but collectively, they can force the hand that feeds - and prevent it from continuing to feed its petro-fuelled poison.

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I post once a week, and I'm very funny. Or depressing. Or forgetful. Or angry. Or aloof. Or forgetful.

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