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wot i red on my hols by alan robson (purgamentum momentum)

Alan and Robin Throw Stuff Away

“Rubbish!” said Robin.

“?” I said.

Robin closed the door of the cupboard that she was staring into and opened another one. “Rubbish!” she declared, and moved on.

We have fifty seven cupboards in our house. I counted them one day when I had nothing better to do. I think the previous owner was a cupboard fetishist.

Robin went down to the dining room and opened the Harry Potter cupboard that lives under the stairs. I’d forgotten about the Harry Potter cupboard that lives under the stairs because we so seldom open its door. We have fifty eight cupboards in our house...

“Rubbish!” said Robin.

“Perhaps it’s time for a trip to the tip,” I suggested. “We seem to have a lot of rubbish.”

Robin pulled a face. “Where's the fun in that?” she asked. “It's just there and back again.”

“We could stop somewhere for coffee,” I said. “As a special treat.”

“Oh yes!” said Robin, thrilled. “An outing. I like outings.”

She went down to the rumpus room. Faint cries of “Rubbish!” floated through the door as she explored long forgotten and seldom visited outposts of the house. She came back upstairs and headed for the front door. There was a gleam in her eye that boded ill for anything that got in her way. She stared hard at the tangle of trees long the fence line.


She opened the small shed and looked inside. “Rubbish!” Then she moved on to the big shed where Harpo the Cat hides in the summer. “Rubbish!”

Harpo was horrified. “That's not rubbish. I sleep on that. Look at all the black fur I've covered it with. It's really comfortable.”

“Rubbish!” declared Robin firmly, and Harpo slunk away in defeat.

I began emptying cupboards into the car. The boot and the back seat were soon filled to overflowing with bags and boxes of junk; cameras that took the kind of film you can't buy any more, old VHS tapes, a broken typewriter, ancient bank statements, photographs of people I didn't know taken in places I'd never been to, jigsaws with some missing pieces, jigsaws that might have had some missing pieces, jigsaws that didn't have any missing pieces but the pictures were ugly. And lots and lots of branches from the fence trees, all of which were carefully sorted by size, weight and colour and neatly arranged in cardboard boxes. Robin's major passion in life is the sorting of sticks. “I think I might have been over-indulging in my hobby of late,” she said ruefully. “Never mind, they are going to a good home.”

Eventually Robin pronounced the car full.

“Which tip shall we go to?” she asked. “Hutt City or Happy Valley? They're both about the same distance from here.”

“Let's go to Hutt City,” I suggested. “We do most things in Hutt City.”

“OK,” said Robin agreeably.

We settled ourselves in the car and Robin took the map book out of the door pocket so that she could look up the route to the tip.

“I am Robin,” she announced, “and I will be your GPS for today.”

“That's good of you,” I said. “I'm glad I remembered to turn you on this morning. Do you need a reboot before we set off?”

“No thank you, I've given it up for Lent. Just reverse out of the garage and turn left towards Black Rock Road,” said the GPS.

I followed the instructions and soon we were driving along the motorway heading into the Hutt Valley.

“How long have you had this map book?” asked the GPS.

“About fifteen years,” I said. “Why?”

“We've just driven through two suburbs that aren't on the map,” said the GPS. “Don't you think it's about time to buy a new map book?”

“Nonsense!” I declared. “The ink on this one is scarcely faded at all. There's years of wear left in it yet.”

The GPS heaved a deep sigh and bent its head back to the map, trying hard to match the roads and signs that we were seeing with the squiggly lines on the paper.

“Should I take the right hand fork that's coming up?” I asked.

“No,” said the GPS firmly. “That's not the one we need.”

A few kilometres went by in thoughtful silence and then the GPS said, “I think we should have taken the right hand fork that you asked about.”

I surveyed the median barrier that stretched from here to eternity. “I don't think I can make a U-turn for a while,” I said.

“Never mind,” said the GPS, “I think I have an alternate route plotted out.”

I followed the detailed directions that the GPS gave me and it wasn't long before we began to see signs pointing to the “Landfill” – the colloquial term is tip, the official term is landfill and there are moves afoot to change the name to the more pompously PC phrase Reclamation Centre. Pompous it may be, but the phrase is much more descriptively accurate. The tip had different areas dedicated to different kinds of waste and was sincerely trying to recycle as much as it could.

“Oh, look,” said Robin. “They've got an area for electronic waste. We need to make another trip. We've got lots of electronic waste in the cupboards at home.”

“Let's get rid of this load first,” I said.

I backed the car up to the rim of a large, concrete-lined trench and we spent a happy ten minutes throwing stuff into it. The stuff crashed noisily and very satisfyingly as it landed.

“Coffee!” suggested Robin. “Now!”

“What a shame they don't have a coffee shop at the tip,” I said. “Somebody's missing a great business opportunity. Just think how easy it would be to dispose of the used up coffee grounds.”

“Not much ambience though,” said Robin.

As we drove away from the tip, we could see hordes of seagulls circling in formation and screaming their heads off. “Somebody must be having a party,” said Robin.

Tiger Shrimp Tango is the seventeenth novel in Tim Dorsey's ongoing saga of Serge Storms, everybody's favourite serial killer. Never mind the plot – suffice it to say that the story is hilarious, twisted and truly inspired. Once you've read the book you'll learn that ostriches, stump grinders, cigars and lobsters all make perfect murder weapons. Why did nobody ever realise that before?

As usual, Dorsey fills the book with Floridan arcana and pokes a lot of fun at things we take for granted such as the internet, and political organisations, and the television show Glee (not all that different from each other, really). And as usual, I laughed all the way through it.

Hunter S. Thompson's final book, Kingdom of Fear is semi-autobiographical. On the other hand, so are all his other books. It's an exploration of the state of the American Dream, just like all his other books. It's the mixture as before and just as full of sharp insights and insane humour as ever. Thompson’s essays circle around the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001. He calls it the day the fun stopped and afterwards the country suffered a collective nervous breakdown. He sees America as a country full of fear and worry, so desperate to protect itself from all powerful, but vaguely defined bogeymen that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in the process of being destroyed by an over zealous justice system that sees these basic freedoms as a threat. All the anecdotes in the book explore this basic thesis, and he makes a convincing case. Thompson is first and foremost a journalist reporting on the state of a nation. Kingdom of Fear is not his funniest book and neither is it his wisest book, but it's probably his most thoughtful book.

Why have I never heard of Dewey Lambdin before? He's been writing eighteenth and nineteenth century naval adventures since the 1990s, but I've only just discovered him and I've spent most of the month binge reading his books. There are currently 20 novels in the series, so I still have a long way to go. But I'm greatly looking forward to the journey.

The two masters of this genre are generally considered to be Patrick O'Brian with his Aubrey/Maturin stories and C. S. Forester who invented the genre with his novels of Horatio Hornblower. I think I'd move Forester down to third place – Lambdin is not as good a novelist as O'Brian (how could he be?) but he's definitely better than Forester.

Lambdin's novels follow the career of Alan Lewrie from ignorant midshipman onwards and upwards through the ranks. I have no idea where Alan Lewrie's story will end up (I've only read the first half dozen books). The progression of such a career is almost a literary cliché these days, and if Lambdin wasn't doing something original with it, I'd probably shrug the books off as just another set of typical genre novels. But the books are much more than that. Not only do they have a firm sense of history, of time and place, they also have a firm sense of how the people of that time and place spoke and thought. This is how it really was, and Hornblower's twentieth century ideas have no place in the life of Alan Lewrie. Lewrie is very much a product of his time – he's a rake-hell and a fornicator, he's a drinker, a gambler and a duellist. Henry Fielding might well have modelled Tom Jones on Alan Lewrie! The books come alive when Lewrie is on the page, and he's always on the page. But despite this, I think my favourite character in the books is actually William Pitt, a very unlovable cat...

The books are bawdy, full of very creative swearing (“Mine arse on a bandbox!”) and a lot of fun as well as feeling very real. Dewy Lambdin is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers.

The GPS got me back home and we investigated more cupboards. A radio with built in cassette player, several dead VHS players, cassette tape players, an entire dead stereo unit, a television set that the cat had peed on, a television set that the cat hadn't peed on but which didn't work anyway, and lots of speakers.

“I don't remember us having this many speakers,” said Robin.

“I think we must have had a breeding pair locked away in the Harry Potter cupboard,” I said. “The twins over there are very small. I'm sure they are newborns.”

“Ahh!” said Robin. “Aren't they cute?” She tickled them under their woofers and they wriggled with pleasure. “Seems such a shame to throw them away.”

“Rubbish!” I reminded her, and she agreed.

One cupboard disgorged a turntable. “That's not rubbish,” I said.

“Why not?” asked Robin.

“It still works perfectly,” I said. “I don't have it hooked up at the moment because I've digitised all my vinyl LPs. But I still have the LPs and, you never know, I might get some more one day. No – it's definitely not rubbish.”

“I'm not convinced,” said Robin. “But I'll let you get away with it just this once. Don't do it again.”

“I won't,” I promised.

We loaded the back of the car with surplus electronics. Everything fitted very snugly, but the boot was still completely empty.

“What else can we take?” I asked. “The landfill charges $15 a car, so we don't want any unfilled space.”

“I've got a lot more sorted sticks in the shed,” said Robin. “And I can easily sort a few extras if we need them.”

We filled the boot with sorted sticks, and then we were ready to go. The GPS told me exactly which route to take. “I suggest you take the right hand fork that you didn't take last time,” it said, so that's exactly what I did. Sooner than I expected, we were back at the landfill. I pulled up by the shed where the electronic waste lived. A gloomy man with a screwdriver was dismantling old televisions and rescuing their cathode ray tubes. Then he remantled them again, heaven knows why.

I began unpacking my electronics from the car. “Oh look,” I said to Robin as I spotted something lurking at the back of the shed, “there's a turntable which is exactly the same model as the one we didn't bring with us. Isn't it a good job we didn't bring it? They might have got them mixed up, and that would never do.”

A landfill man wandered across to check out our goodies. He was vaguely spherical, with a lot of facial piercings. I couldn't help wondering if the landfill atmosphere ever tarnished his metal and if he got any infections in the holes. But at the moment he was bright and shiny and completely pus free, so I supposed that I was wrong.

“Good, good,” he said as he stroked the television set that the cat had peed on. He tickled the baby speakers behind their tweeters. They lapped it up. “One man's rubbish is another man's treasure,” he clichéd.

We left him to his electronic fantasies and drove over to the other end of the landfill where we unsorted the sticks by throwing them into a deep hole.

“Bye, bye sticks,” said Robin sadly and we went home to a much emptier house.

Tim Dorsey Tiger Shrimp Tango William Morrow
Hunter S. Thompson Kingdom of Fear Penguin
Dewey Lambdin The King's Coat Fawcett
Dewey Lambdin The French Admiral Fawcett
Dewey Lambdin The King's Commission Fawcett
Dewey Lambdin The King's Privateer Fawcett
Dewey Lambdin The Gun Ketch Fawcett
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