Friday, August 30, 2013


E@L is in sunny (can say that for once without being ironical, even though it is still raging mid-winter) Melbourne for a week or so and is staying in Chinatown in an apartment-style hotel. Bedroom, kitchenette, laundry, sort of thing. Excellent. Cheap. Ish. (He has to pay himself for Laundry Service at the hotels he usually stays at. It covered by his per diem, but hey! $5 for a pair of underpants at some places!...)


Monday: already there is washing to be done, those clothes he wore on Sat and Sun down with his sister and mum, and now Monday's smalls, etc. There is a sachet of laundry powder and E@L uses it up for the load. But the controls for the washing machine are different from what he is used to (it's a sales differentiator) and E@L is a little bit lost because each of the cycles are sort of separated on the dial, in that it doesn't seem to be a single line of progression, one in which the rotary selector moves around, clickety click, as the machine goes though it cycle. It's unusual (to him). Cotton settings (a number: time or temp?) are here with a blue line between the choices. Gap. Coloureds are here, with a red line. Gap. Polyesters are here with a green line. Gap. Rinse, Drain, Spin is over here with a pink line. The coloured lines don't touch each other. Does this mean you have to manually move the selector to the rinse cycle once your selected wash cycle is complete? Shit. How to use a washing machine?

This is the stuff that E@L used to pay The Mouse to sort out. It is currently Super Maid Joyce's problem. (She fixed a broken (i.e. smashed) hinge on the washing machine door the other week. E@L was about to buy a new machine.)

He chose one of the cotton cycles - god knows what raw materials his clothes are actually constructed from - and went off to do whatever the fuck it is that E@L does in the evenings that consumes all his time but doesn't give him a chance to blog. Ninety, maybe more, minutes later, the machine is still doing its chug-chug-spin thing. It sounds exactly as it did at the start. Surely it can't still need to be washing. Maybe it's broken... E@L leaves it for another 30 minutes. Still the noise is unchanged. Nup, this is wrong. He fiddles with the On-Off switch, tries to open the door and get the clothes out, but no luck, it is hermetically sealed. He pauses it - the lights on certain buttons change, or flash. He turns the dial to the Rinse, Drain Spin quadrant and presses the Start button again. It chugs away again, but the mechanical refrain seems much the same as the mechanical chorus from before. Sigh. He heads off to grab a late night latte around the corner and let it sort itself out. When he returns, it is still going. He goes to bed. But he can't rest. He is up in 5 minutes and resets it to just the Spin part of the final cycle - it can't have anything left to drain! Back to bed.

He is on the verge of falling asleep when, suddenly, he couldn't hear anything! The silence slapped him awake. The washing machine had completed its eternal (sic) loop. Phew! He loaded the extremely exhausted clothes into the drier and left them to spin in hot air for 90mins behind the closed bathroom/laundry door, while he went to back to bed.


By Tuesday evening he had already another small load ready to go, just to keep options open in the underwear department, but the laundry powder sachet had not been replaced that day by the maid who had tidied up the room (not completely, just placed fresh towels, lined up the bed-linen, etc...). Maybe you have to ask/pay for another sachet? So on Wednesday morning E@L asks the receptionist who replies that the laundry sachets are complimentary and she will make sure that one is placed in the room that day.

Wednesday evening, E@L returns to the hotel, and surprise surprise, there is no laundry powder. It's OK he muses, he can last a bit longer, he has clean underwear after the first load and it's not like his main clothes are actually dirty, just a bit stale.

So Thursday morning, it is a different receptionist, but he asks if they could please put replacement sachet of washing powder in his room. "Yes, that's standard." "Well I asked yesterday as well and I didn't get one," mumbles E@L as he goes out the sliding glass panels...

Things are getting tight, he realises. His two business shirts haven't been rewashed - they've been worn twice already this week - and ditto his trousers. Socks are tough because he uses two pair a day as his shoes are one half-size too big (don't ask), but panic not, he has enough underwear for the rest of the week.


Thursday he returns from work a bit early, mid-afternoon. The room has not been made up. The bed-sheets awry, the bathroom floor covered in talc, his wet towels on the floor. It's just as he had left the place this morning. Maybe the cleaner has not been in yet.

But hang on...

There are THREE (3, count 'em) sachets of laundry powder on the washing machine...

E@L can't help but imagine the domestic help throwing those sachets down and storming out without doing any other cleaning up - "Here, you complaining cunt, take your fucking washing powder and shove it!"


(Turns out this was not the case - the room-buzzer went a few minutes later and a domestic was outside the door, smiling and asking if E@L needed the room made up... Maybe the receptionist had brought the sachets up himself after E@L's grumbled mumbled semi-complaint.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kara Bogaz? Hydrology and Despotism

Still haven't finished whatever book I said I started a while ago, um The Secret River, but did finish the third of David Peace's Red Riding books, 1980, one to go, and also got distracted by one from my Anything Russian days, Engineers Of The Soul, by Frank Westerham, who is an Dutch engineer/writer of some skill, about the typically tragic history of the writers and filmmakers who tried to document the construction of the great canals that Stalin was building to connect the rivers and seas and lakes of the USSR, and in particular one place no-one has heard off, Kara Bogaz, which is a huge sulfur and salt rich shallow body of water in Turkmenistan, like an giant aneurysm off the Caspian Sea and that may not even exist on some maps (it evaporated in the early 1980s when the inlet from the Caspian was blocked), but it was a book about much more than that as this is the time when political insanity tore apart the lives and families of artists, writers and, of course, engineers all through the USSR.

Just about anything that went on in Soviet Russia with Stalin's Cult of Personality is crazy, but his attitude to writers in particular was very VERY strange. (Simon Sebag Montefiore suggests in Young Stalin that maybe this was because he thought of himself as a bit of a poet. Or was in Martin Amis in Koba The Dread? Whatever.)

Stalin wanted writers to "Engineer The Human Soul" (i.e. the souls of those "Russians" who hadn't starved already or been executed yet) with uplifting stories of workers and the proletariat living heroic lives in the wonderfully successful Socialist empire, exemplifying the Ideals of Courage and Patriotism by battling subversive spies and crafty saboteurs in order to bring in that bumper crop to exceed the targets of the five year plan... or to shovel ice and mud for a thousand kilometres and dig a trench for magnificent hydrological marvels that would makes the corrupt West angry and jealous, (and not wash away with the spring thaw) and, incredibly yet understandably, writers would do this. Stalin expected his hydrologists to make rivers run uphill to realise his grand plan of interconnecting canals and he demanded that his writers convey to his people all the soon-to-be-truths about wonders of these soon-to-be-perfect achievements.

The larger the water engineering projects, the more despotic the controlling regime, according to Karl Marx.

In the end it was conform or starve or be off to the gallows or the gulag, and even if you were a staunch believer, something that you wrote years ago that Stalin or Gorky loved might suddenly, on a whim or as part of a purge, become OOB (out of bounds) and so it would be bye bye and please don't mention that many of those canals were never successfully completed, or were never even remotely successful as far as water navigation was concerned and were sad wastes of thousands of lost lives.

The Secret RiverNineteen Eighty (Red Riding, #3)Engineers of the Soul: In the Footsteps of Stalin's WritersYoung StalinKoba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million


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