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A lot of hot air: High Water group confronts climate change through comedy Gareth Renowden Mar 15

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Auckland will go on without us

This guest post is by Damon Keen, one of the founders of new creative group High Water. Artwork by Lei Wen. If I were in Auckland, I would certainly be in the Classic Comedy Bar this Thursday…

The election is now firmly on the horizon, and despite a raft of extreme weather events globally, reporting and discussion about climate change seems to be quieter than ever.

That’s why a small group of artists and myself have decided to stop sitting on our hands and try to do something about it. We’ve set up a new group called High Water – to get creatives producing art and performance about climate change. And we’re kicking things off with a comedy night – focused entirely on our impending weathery doom!

We’ve convinced some fantastic comedians to get involved, including Michele A’Court (Female Comedian of the Decade 2010) and Jeremy Elwood (Best MC 2007), Mark Scott, Tim Batt and Maarten Idema. The show, named Hot Air, will run at the Classic Comedy Bar on Queen Street, Auckland on Thursday, March 20th.

Comedy might seem like a strange approach to such a daunting issue, but hopefully it’s a new way to broach the subject and get people talking about it again.

That’s why we want to do something different from what everyone else is doing. Artists – be they musicians, performers, designers, photographers, illustrators, or film makers – are natural communicators, and like many people are more and more anxious about the complete lack of progress on global warming. Our hope is that by creating a new platform for them to work with, we can find new ways to cut through the apathy and get climate change back onto the public agenda.

We have a number of projects planned for the year, including a climate change poster competition, a hard cover comic anthology and a play. But our first event is Hot Air – and hopefully creatives, greenies – and everyone else – will come along to find out more about the collective – and have a good laugh while they’re at it.

Find out more about High Water at:

www.facebook.com/highwaternz

www.twitter.com/highwaternz

Tickets for for Hot Air here:
http://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/hot-air-comedy-night-tickets-10613157239

Denial Tango 2014 Gareth Renowden Dec 27

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Here’s a new recording by Aussie group Men With Day Jobs of their climate classic The Denial Tango, accompanied by a rather striking video. Men With Day Jobs are Rod Crundwell, Stafford Sanders and Kim Constable (from left to right in the pix in the video) and their new album “Deep in Denial” is due for release early next year.

I’d go with Tony Abbott, It’s just a load of crap

This round-the-world disaster is an evil greedy trap

‘Cause everybody knows the world is flat

I posted the full lyrics back in 2011

Monckton and the big waka Gareth Renowden Apr 25

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Monckton tried to blink. His eyes were gritty and he could barely focus on the scribbled formulae on the pad before him — his crucial contribution to the redesign of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The tiny screen of his Osborne transportable computer blinked lazily at him. His back was sore. The air in No 10 was very dry, and there was a racket going on outside the Cabinet Room. It sounded as if the functionaries were running every vacuum cleaner in Whitehall over the new dark blue carpets the blessed Margaret had installed. The scruffy red shagpile left by Callaghan was in a skip in Downing Street, and the Laird was glad to see the back of it. He was rather pleased with the shade he’d chosen, and even happier that Margaret had liked it. The shining light of modern conservatism entered the room, her bright halo and blue crimplene dress throwing a magical illumination onto the oak panelling. She strode to Monckton’s side and put her hand on his shoulder. A frisson of almost erotic excitement coursed down his spine and disappeared down a trouser leg. He dressed to the right.

“Chris. Wake up.” He opened his eyes and the recurring dream turned into the stuff of nightmare. The whiskery face of Bryan “British” Leyland, his devoted minder on this barnstorming tour of New Zealand, leered beerily into his face. Every bump of the ageing Toyota ute brought Leyland’s face ever closer to the Laird’s nose. He recoiled, elegantly.

“You feeling alright?” Leyland asked. “You were looking a bit peaky, and moaning.”

“Fine, thank you,” Monckton sighed deeply. “How far to the next barn?” He was becoming rather fed up with the succession of shearing sheds he was being required to storm. Bloody smelly places, acrid with sheep piss and stale shit, and bereft of decent chairs.

“Not far. Bit more than a barn this time. You wait. I’ll tell Henderson to step on it.” Leyland’s face cracked into what passed for a smile in NZ climate sceptic circles.

Up on the back of the ute Scrotum, Monckton’s wrinkled retainer, clung on to the roll bar for dear life, legs akimbo, bracing himself against the brutal bumps delivered by the rutted rural track they were hurtling along. The wind whistled past his large ears, and what was left of his silver mane streamed out behind him. Leyland’s dog, a miniature poodle with a shaved head called Rodney1, normally a restrained and refined little thing, was channeling every huntaway it had ever sniffed and barking blue murder. The wrinkled retainer gave it a swift kick, but it wouldn’t shut up. Two weeks of travelling down the length of New Zealand had woken atavistic memories in its tiny brain. They’d had to pull it off Gibbs when it had fastened its teeth into his crotch at the wine and sculpture party, and that tedious bearded scrivener had looked none too pleased when it had pissed on his winklepickers at the Auckland yacht club.

The ute pulled up outside a long, low, undeniably stylish stone building, a relic of the days when young British men came to New Zealand to sow their wild oats and make a fortune off the sheep’s back. Some who got it the wrong way round were forced to stay, and went on to lay the foundations of New Zealand conservatism. Dunleavy was at the door, waving a bottle of red wine and a glass. Monckton jumped down from the ute, instructed Scrotum to set up the laptop and projector, and walked unsteadily over to the grinning doyenne of NZ wine journalism.

“Gidday, Chris. Enjoy the ride?”

Monckton smiled wearily, and took the proffered glass. “What’s this stuff, Terry?”

“Waitaki pinot noir2. Limestone country, cool climate. Going to be the next Burgundy, if we can stop the wallabies eating the grapes.”

“Wallabies?” Monckton started, and looked around nervously.

“Local pest,” said Dunleavy. “Not going to bother us tonight, though. Much too shy.”

***

Monckton cantered through his usual repartee, carefully tailored to the local market, honed and refined by weeks of constant repetition. Slides came and slides went — there were even a few stifled laughs at his witticisms. Gone were the Gillard and Flannery jokes of his Australian tour, replaced by elegant barbs about Salinger, NIWA and the Greens. The elderly audience looked suitably horrified when he told them that Helen Clark was plotting to have them all rounded up and placed in concentration camps on Waiheke Island, and there were none of the dreadful Green Nazi youth pretending to be the Flat Earth Society hanging around the door tootling on strange instruments to upset proceedings. Their dress sense was terrible. Almost as bad as the audience’s.

The Laird had prepared carefully for this trip. Leyland had assured him that his fans would be dressed in moleskins, so Scrotum had perforce spent a muddy few months hunting moles around the stately lawns of old England until sufficient skins had been assembled to make a serviceable pair of trousers. He cut a fine dash in them, Monckton thought, stroking the fur clinging to his shapely thigh before taking the stage at his first gig in Matakana. There was some laughter, but no sign of mole skins anywhere. Dull brown trousers and check shirts, yes. He’d been set up, he decided, and it took the best part of a week before Leyland could calm him down. Eventually, Scrotum had suggested that he should write a letter of complaint to the purveyors of said “moleskins”, Messrs Rodd, Cannon and Ball, pointing out that they were in breach of the trade descriptions legislation, and that if they did not immediately cease the misuse of the proper name of old mouldywarp, Talpa europaea, in relation to nondescript, if admittedly hard-wearing trousers much beloved of the farming communities of New Zealand, he would bring an action for consumer fraud, and possibly lay a complaint with the police.

***

Scrotum sipped at a glass of wine and looked up at the splendid array of stars arching from coast to distant alp. Inside the hall, the Laird was waxing lyrical about world government and ponds in Wagga Wagga. A gentle vibration at his hip jerked him from his revery.

“Yes. OK. On the island. Not tonight?” Plans were being rearranged. The New Zealand climate science cabal, controlled by the infamous triumvirate of Boston, Frame and Renwick3 were plotting a special send off for the Laird.

Applause echoed across the valley. Monckton stepped out of the hall, snatched Scrotum’s glass and downed the wine in an eager gulp. A big old harvest moon was rising above the ridge behind the grand shed. The man in the moon was upside down, he reflected, running through some astronomical calculations in his head, stopping only when he’d disproved the theory of gravity and became nervous about falling off the planet.

Silhouetted against the orange orb was a row of bouncing marsupials, looking cross. The Laird coughed up the wine, gave a little scream, and ran back indoors.

***

Te waka-a-Brash was bobbing at its mooring in Bluff harbour. The southwesterly wind was whipping at little waves, make them froth and foam in excitement at the gale to come. Scrotum watched from the shore, guarding the Laird’s fashionably battered leather luggage, hand-sewn from red deer hides sustainably harvested by his grandfather4. On the back of the yacht, a tall, bald-headed old man greeted the dinghy with a merry wave. The Laird looked a little pale, Scrotum thought, as the curse of hereditary seasickness struck his master. Monckton erupted explosively all over Brash’s trousers, but still managed to scramble onto the transom without getting his spats wet.

The sail over to Stewart Island was… exciting. Brash cut a fine figure in his yellow souwester and smock, gimlet eyes peering into the spume whistling past the bow as his spatulate hands kept the great silver wheel under control. Leyland, Dunleavy and Henderson had joined the Laird at the lee rail. All were being copiously and loudly sick.

“You’re OK, Scrotum?”, Brash asked. “Sailor, are you?” Scrotum thought he detected a note of admiration in the old banker’s voice.

“Brought up on boats, sir,” he said, “but don’t get out much these days.”

“Good stuff. This is going to be fun. This is the real thing. Blue water, big wind, none of that Hauraki Gulf wine and wheezy-breezy nonsense. Out here it’s man, man’s man, and ocean.” He started singing a shanty of great vulgarity. Scrotum made his apologies and retired below to fry some bacon rinds for the Laird.

***

The swell dropped away as Te waka-a-Brash swept in towards Oban. Monckton recovered his composure within minutes.

“Oban, eh!”, he pronounced triumphantly. “I’ll bet none of you buggers have been to the real Oban, in Scotland, bonny Scotland, where men in kilts eat haggis and deep-fried Mars bars.”

“Sounds like Dunedin,” said Henderson grimly. “They’re all called Jock there.”

“Sad excuse for an Oban if you ask me,” the Laird continued. “Where’s the ferry to Tobermory and Tiree? Where’s the Bank of Scotland and the granite-clad walls of the Bonny Prince Charlie pub?” He sniffed, and wiped a tear from his eye.

Scrotum took Monckton gently by the elbow and sat him down in the cockpit. “Won’t be long now, sir. We’re staying in the pub over there.”

“Fine place,” said Brash. “Full of stout menfolk who know the meaning of liberty, fraternity and the price of fish. It’s going to be a fun few days.”

***

Brash touched a button, and rusty chain spooled out of a hatch on the deck and splashed into the turquoise water. Leyland, who had been reading the collected works of Fred Singer on a beanbag in the bow, was taken so much by surprise that he had to retire to the poop (as he called the blunt end) to recover. As the anchor bit into the white sand full fathom five below the keel, Te waka-a-Brash swung round in the wind and settled down to quietly ride the swell. Surf crashed on the white sand beach behind them, and the bush clad slopes of the little island glistened as the night’s rain dried off in the insistent, interminable, damnable breeze.

Monckton thrust his head out of the cabin and looked around. “What’s this place, Don?”

Codfish Island. Great fishing spot, good beaches, plenty of parrots.”

“Parrots?” The Laird looked uncomfortable.

“Kakapo. Ground parrots. Parrots that think they’re rabbits. Very rare. This is their last refuge, paid for by the long-suffering NZ taxpayer. Terrible waste of money, if they can’t cut it in the modern world they should be allowed to…”

“What Don’s trying to say,” Dunleavy interrupted, “is that the Department of Conservation is so strapped for cash that we’ve been able to slip the DG a wodge of used notes and got permission to take a few trophies, if you get my drift…” The wink transformed his roseate face into a grotesque leer.

“I’ve got the taxidermist all lined up,” said Henderson eagerly.

“Lets go stick it to the Green fascist conservationists,” Leyland urged excitedly, a gleam in his eye and a .22 in his hand.

***

The parrot hunt wasn’t going well. Every time they got sight of one of the pudgy green birds poking its head out of a burrow, a nonchalant DOC warden would emerge from the bush, and apologise profusely for spoiling their fun. It was a full two hours before Brash was able to line up a shot, but all he succeeded in doing was winging a foreign volunteer camouflaged as a flax bush.

Monckton was finding it all a bit boring, and had taken to carving crude lettering on to tree trunks. He was on his third UKIP when a loud toot rang through the forest gloom. The sceptic troupe immediately stood up, dusted themselves down and started back to the beach.

“What’s going on?”, Monckton asked, struggling to keep up as Brash bounded over fallen trees with gay abandon.

“Lunch,” Dunleavy replied. “Barry’s brought it round from the pub. Can’t hunt on an empty stomach.”

When the little party regained the beach, they found a second boat bobbing in the bay. A fire had been lit on the beach, and NZ’s senior climate inactivist was busying himself by frying fish. Camp chairs had been arranged in a circle, bottles of finest sauvignon blanc were chilling in an ice bucket, and a picnic hamper stood ready to disgorge crusty bread and pickles. Monckton plonked himself in a chair. Dunleavy handed him a glass of wine, and Brill passed him a plate of sizzling fillets. Things were looking up.

“This fish is good,” the Laird said, his mouth full.

“It’s brill,” said Barry.

“No. You’re Brill. What’s the fish?”

“The fish is brill,” the verbose old lawyer snapped.

“You’re a fish?”

Monckton was confused. Scrotum refilled his glass from a fresh bottle of Cloudy Bay, then retired to the edge of the bush, consulted his watch and sat down to survey the horizon to the north.

***

It had been a most excellent lunch, a welcome respite after the Laird’s grand tour of the land of the long white cloud. Sitting round the driftwood fire the men began to tell tales of their great battles against the global climate conspiracy. Monckton entertained them with the story of the night when Bast and the Heartland team, after rather too much bourbon at Bankroll Barry’s expense, had accidentally set fire to the pool table at Fred Singer’s secret Kennebunkport lair. Brill bored them all with a recounting of his interminable legal fight against warming in New Zealand, but British Leyland saved the day by singing the Ballad of the Lonesome Pine5 in his quavering tenor. As the last rousing chorus of Hang the Mann, hang the Mann, hang the Mann slowly, drew to a close, a strange rhythmic chanting could just be heard over the sussuration of the surf sucking on the sand. Around the headland to the east a long narrow canoe appeared, being paddled furiously by a dozen or more people, all yelling in time as their paddles splashed.

“What the hell’s that?” asked Monckton.

“Maori war canoe, a big waka.” said Dunleavy tersely. “God knows what it’s doing down here.”

“Maybe the tourist board have laid it on for our honoured guest,” Leyland offered, spotting the nervous glint in the Laird’s eye.

“Scrotum! Bring me my stab-proof vest and pith helmet immediately.” Monckton jumped to his feet, but his manservant was nowhere to be seen.

From his vantage point just inside the forest, Scrotum smiled, and set the video camera to record.

***

The elaborately carved prow of the waka ran up on to the beach, the staring eyes of a huge carved Polynesian Wratt6 looking fiercely down on the sceptic band. Scrotum recognised some of the faces of the paddlers. That was Salinger in the bow, his yarmulke looking a little out of place amongst the moko and full body tattoos of his fellow scientists. Frame was brandishing a mere of finest pounamu, his tongue extended so prodigiously in challenge that it almost reached his chest. Renwick was crouched over baring his bottom at the beach, while Hunter, Mullen and Manning were leaping up and down shouting incomprehensible imprecations. Boston was taking notes in the Stern, the sun glinting off the terrible shapes tattooed on his pate, while the fearsome female climate fighters Robyn Malcolm and Xena the Warrior Princess shipped the paddles.

Within moments, the war party had jumped through the surf and formed a phalanx in front of Monckton and the coalitionists. Frame began a terrible yell, and the others began to beat their chests and arms and jump up and down.

“It’s a haka. A challenge, a welcome, a celebration. Nothing to be worried about,” Leyland hissed into the Laird’s ear.

“From where I’m standing, it bloody well is,” Monckton barked. He began to move backwards, pushing Leyland between him and the stomping warriors. The others held their ground, but their smiles were not entirely unforced.

The haka ended. Monckton’s backtracking turned into a full blown backwards sprint until he caught a heel on a piece of driftwood and collapsed into the sand. Leyland stood over the prostrate peer, his bearded chin thrust out and his arms crossed defiantly, but he was no match for Lawless and Malcolm. Within seconds they had him on the ground, gagged and trussed. Manning and Hunter threw a rope around Brash and the others, and tied them up into a sheaf of angry denial.

Frame and Renwick pulled Monckton upright and manhandled him roughly to the waka, where Salinger was waiting. Within minutes, the task force from the rational world were all aboard and the great canoe was heading out into the bay.

“Not my boat,” Brash cried. “Not my beautiful yacht.” Te waka-a-Brash had been scuttled by Salinger, and was settling down into the cold southern ocean.

Scrotum emerged from the bush, went over to Leyland and undid his gag.

“What was all that about?” Leyland asked. “Where are they taking him?”

“I have no idea,” Scrotum replied, “but I think he may be some time…”






Everything in this story is true, except the bits that aren’t. No endangered birds were harmed in the making of this tale. Stewart Island is not at all dangerous to visit. In fact, it’s a very nice place indeed, if you like rain, wind, fishing and NZ native flora and fauna.

This is the seventh tale in The Monckton Files.

Previous episodes:

Monckton & The Case Of The Missing Curry,

Mycroft Monckton Makes Mischief,

Something Potty In The State Of Denmark,

Monckton in Australia: Picnic at Hanging Sock.

A Carol for Monckton,

Monckton and the Mob.

  1. It can run, but it can’t Hide.
  2. Hot Topic strongly recommends the John Forrest Collection Waitaki pinot noir — absolutely nothing to do with any Dunleavy, and almost as good as the Limestone Hills pinot.
  3. More degrees than NZ vodka, and vicious when cornered.
  4. Affectionately known to the Tannochbrae staff as “Machine gun” Monckton because of his propensity for carrying an old Gatling gun when stalking stags on Rannoch Moor.
  5. Trad., arranged McIntyre and McKittrick.
  6. A mythical beast, brought with the first waka from Hawaiki.

Climate lulz: Rings around Antarctica Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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Two things made me laugh out loud today — great gusts of guffaws enough to wake the trufflehound from her slumbers. The first was a perfectly pitched piece of satire in the Southland Times, the second a reinvention of the ocean atmosphere interface by astrological long range weather forecaster Ken Ring. Both are worth your [...]

Prat watch #10: the ice age is here! Gareth Renowden Mar 20

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Forget all that nonsense about “no warming for 16 years”, to be a real sceptic these days you have to insist that the climate’s currently cooling. But why stop there? To show your real commitment to the coolist cause, you have to go BM (Beyond Monckton) and insist that the next ice age is descending [...]



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Prat watch #9: Ring’s wrong again Gareth Renowden Mar 17

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New Zealand’s favourite astrologer, the self-appointed “long range weather forecaster” Ken Ring — who is wrong about everything — has not been having a good start to the year. He’s having trouble reconciling NZ’s record drought with the forecasts he’s been making. Here’s Ring on February 26th, in an opinion piece headlined Hang on farmers, rain is coming, published at Yahoo News:

So the question being asked is whether or not a drought is imminent. The answer is no.

Compare and contrast with this news report from Friday last (March 15th):

The entire North Island has been declared a drought zone this morning.

Every time anyone other than Ring takes a look at his forecasts, they are found to be useless1. But Ring is working hard to rewrite history to his advantage. His Yahoo News column was posted on Feb 26th, but the same article seems to have been posted to his website a few days earlier2. He’s revisited the piece, and added some notes in red attempting to justify his failed forecasts. But there’s one other change he’s made. Here it is:

So the question being asked is whether or not a lingering drought is imminent. The answer is no.

Of such little dishonesties are Ring successes made. He remains a charlatan, and is — as ever — wrong about everything.

  1. In January, the Greymouth Star noted:

    Self-proclaimed weather guru Ken Ring is wildly astray in his January predictions for the South Island hydro lakes region, in his 2013 weather almanac. His summary for January, based on lunar patterns, says “the driest regions for the South Island for January may be the hydro lakes”.

    But Environment Canterbury flood controller Tony Henderson said the 500mm of rain in the Waitaki and Rangitata river catchments over four days was “probably the most we’ve had over the summer in several decades”.

  2. The datestamp says Feb 22nd.

The last climate denier in New Zealand Gareth Renowden Nov 22

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My entry for the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Manhire Prize for science writing (in the fiction category), made the shortlist but didn’t win. My congratulations to Brian Langham for his story Fourteen [pdf] (and to Renee Liang for her winning non-fiction piece — Epigenetics: navigating our inner seas [pdf]). For the sake of posterity, here’s my little tear-jerker. Some might do well to remember that it is intended as satire.

The last climate denier in New Zealand slapped his battered old panama hat on to his balding head, adjusted the bulky wrap-around sunglasses over his bifocals and stepped out into the hot morning air. He groaned. His car, the last petrol V6 in the city — a classic, his wingèd American chariot made stationary by lack of fuel — slouched under a coat of red dust. Again. Some urchin child of an Aussie refugee had written “wash me, fossil fool” on the back. The letters were ill-formed and childlike. You could say the same for the parents, he thought. Could there be any soil left in Australia, now that so much of it was blowing over the Tasman to coat the city? Come to that, were there any Australians left in Australia? It didn’t seem like it. The rich ones had bribed their way in, bought big properties well inland and built mansions. The poor were huddling in their masses in the abandoned beachfront baches, camping out on the top floors when the spring tides lapped around the gardens, trooping inland with tents when storms brought waves washing through the eroding dunes to pound at their doors.

The dairy was only a hundred meters away on the street corner, but the heat was already beginning to beat up from the pavement and the tar on the road was tacky under his old leather sandals. He wished he hadn’t put his socks on. The sun struggled to cast shadows through the waves of wispy smoke spreading undulating fingers down from the alps and over the plains to the sea. More fires in Victoria, more refugees in boats heading east over the Tasman. There would be unpleasantness at the barricades on the West Coast beaches. He pulled a grubby handkerchief from the pocket of his baggy shorts, lifted his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow before it could burrow down through shaggy eyebrows and drip into his eyes.

Two youths sucked ice cream cones outside the dairy. They stared at him, passing the time with uninterested eyes. He pulled a carton of milk out of the fridge, paid the girl behind the counter, and set off for home.

***

He liked his tea hot and strong, a little splash of milk to tame the tannins that browned his teeth while the caffeine scared his thoughts into action. He took his second cup of the day into his little book-lined office and lifted the ageing ‘pad off the desk. The air conditioner creaked into life, and blessedly cool air began to trickle down to the scuffed old leather chair that was his workplace. He pulled his silver neck chain over his head, and plugged the data stick disguised as a St
Christopher into the ‘pad. His fingers began to chase arthritically after the dancing icons, but with the remnant dexterity of long practise he was quickly tunnelling his way through virtual networks and secret anonymising proxies to log in to the denier underground. It was time to do his duty, to play his small part in the continuing fight against the dark forces of totalitarianism and socialist environmentalism.

He flicked through the daily newsletter, looking at the talking points he was expected to post
under alarmist news items about weather disasters and sea level rise. It was his job to point out the facts — the real truth. It’s all a natural cycle. Nothing we can do about it. The cooling will come. It’s not carbon or coal or oil’s fault. It’s not our fault. It’s not my fault we’re all hurting. The denier trials in the Hague are a travesty, the victimisation of coal companies a rejection of capitalist freedoms. He felt his temper rise, the old rage flood back into his system. His motivation returned refreshed as it always did at this time of day. He tapped at the screen for an hour, pausing only for a pee and another cup of tea.

Lunchtime approached. The air conditioner struggled to cope with the heat, and the room was stuffy. His eyes unfocussed from the bright little images of floods in Europe and icebergs
cascading out from Greenland glaciers. His mind wandered back to the good old days when to be a climate sceptic was to wear a badge of right wing honour, when the force of a rapid fire of carefully calculated pseudo-scientific non-sequiturs could baffle people into inaction. Serious emissions cuts had become politically impossible. He smiled, remembering the days when MPs would stand up in Parliament and read the lies he’d written for them. His American friends, still the core of the dwindling movement, had made the world safe for fossil fuel companies for decades. It wasn’t their fault that the cooling hadn’t come, that some strange and unidentified wrinkle of solar physics had warmed the planet. It wasn’t fair that they’d had to hide themselves away in the new settlements in Greenland and Canada, that they had to cower in their beds at night fearing the knock on the door that would mean they’d been found by the climate gestapo. He wiped a tear from his eye, shook his head slowly, and pushed himself up out of the chair. He would feel better after something to eat.

***

He clambered off the biofuelled bus and began the slow walk up the hill towards the cemetery. As he climbed, the city opened up behind him — the hateful green city of low rise, low carbon buildings that was the legacy of the great quake. The afternoon tide was lapping at the steps of the pathetic cathedral, its cardboard walls already beginning to swell and distort. Over the foothills to the west and the plains to the south great towers of cumulus were marching steadily north, signalling a change in the weather. Lightning flashed in the distance. He felt the thunder rumbling in his viscera, and quickened his step. It would not be a good idea to be caught in the open when the front arrived. He clutched the bunch of flowers to his chest and steeled himself against the muggy air. There was vigour still in his old legs, and another duty to perform.

The cemetery was quiet. A few graves sported fresh flowers vibrant against the faded and colour-shifted photographs of loved ones long gone. He walked along the rows looking at the names. He’d known some of these people. Been at school with this one, slept with that one when she’d been a lissom young student. He stopped for a moment and looked around. A small ripple of pain crossed his chest and buried itself in his armpit. He shivered. There was nowhere to go beyond here. He would never see the cooling come, never experience the vindication that was rightfully his. A draft of cold air rustled the flowers in his hand and a large drop of cold rain hit his nose and rolled down to dangle off the tip.

The grave had been disfigured again. Crude fluorescent yellow letters spelled CLIMATE CRIMINAL across the marble, which had been pitted in places by blows from something — a hammer perhaps? He’d expected no better. It happened every year around this time, when some of the wilder young people sought vengeance for the lives they were living, the future they faced. A few years ago he’d tried to argue his friend’s case, pointed to the signs of imminent cooling, the negative feedbacks starting even as the temperature climbed, but all he’d got for his troubles was a good kicking. Now he kept his peace, and tended the grave once a year. Someone had to keep the flame burning, parade the torch that had been lit so long ago by the sheer force of this man’s television presence. He pulled the bottle of solvent from his bag and began rubbing at the letters with a rag. The paint wouldn’t shift.

Waves of particulate water began to pummel his coat, as if someone were shaking a hose around the ranks of stones. He rubbed harder and harder, down on his knees on the wet grass, the floral tribute forgotten as he bent to his task. The drops turned to soft hailstones and grew larger. He looked up and saw white curtains of ice sheeting down in the stiffening southerly. The hail was bouncing off his hat, pummelling his shoulders and back, as big now as broad beans and as hard as stone chips on the highway. He pushed himself to his feet, and began to stagger towards the lychgate over the cemetery entrance, holding his hat on to his head against the gusting wind. A great tearing noise ripped the air around him. Bright light flashed in his eyes and he fell to the ground, his St Christopher clutched in one hand. The lightning blasted his hat to charred straw, but left his coat untouched and his skin unblemished. He was dead before the hailstorm reached its apocalyptic peak, at peace before ice balls as big as grapefruit made his body jump and turned his upturned face to a bloody pulp.

***

Outside the last climate denier’s house, the last petrol V6 in the city gave in to the hail and subsided in a heap of battered sheet metal and red mud. It no longer had a driver. Its world had gone. There was no need to stick around.

The Aviator: new book now in flight Gareth Renowden Aug 20

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At last it can be revealed — the project that’s been swallowing most of my writing time over the last year. The Aviator is a work of speculative fiction1, the first in a series set in The Burning World, and it’s my first foray into extended fiction — in which a plot idea borrowed from a bloke called Swift is wrapped around a dystopian vision of a climate-changed near future, all garnished with tales of strange people with even stranger ideas. This is how the great NZ comics artist Dylan Horrocks, who provided the book’s magnificent cover, describes it:

The Aviator is a light-hearted journey (by state-of-the-art airship) around a world transformed by climate change and subsequent political collapse. Rock God Evangelists, super-rich survivalists, back-to-nature primitivists, heavily armed luddites, goats with the secret of eternal youth, and a horny artificial intelligence with a taste for bluegrass and classic Hollywood films; The Aviator is a Gulliver-esque romp through a future we hope won’t come to pass.

I’m grateful to Mike Mann (yes, that one) for a generous note of approbation, and to sci-fi author2 Sonny Whitelaw for describing it as “a brilliant and wickedly satirical romp.” The first extended review — by my fellow sciblogger Ken Perrott of Open Parachute — has just been published, and provides an interesting and very positive take on what I’ve been up to.

The Aviator is currently available via Amazon for Kindle readers, and as an epub for other devices. You can download a free sample of the book — roughly 10% of the 100,000 word total — at Amazon. Editions for sale via Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo are in the works, and a paperback edition will be available in September. All digital editions are DRM free. When the publishing process is done and dusted, and I’ve stopped jumping through promotional hoops, I’ll be starting on book two. I have lots of ideas I want to explore from the vantage point of Thunderbird (the airship), if she’ll let me.

Buy now:

  1. Which I have sometimes described as a science fiction adventure comedy satire, or, via a tweet of Margaret Atwood’s, cli-fi.
  2. And regular HT reader.

Monckton and the mob Gareth Renowden May 22

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Scrotum stood looking down King Street towards St James’s Square. The spring wind was chill, and the young leaves on the trees in the square were struggling to look green. The old fashioned street lights gleamed on the rain-swept road and glistening pavements. He pulled his collar up around his neck, tugged at his trilby and shivered. This was no night for an assignation, this was a night to pour the Laird a stiff snifter of Glenfarclas in his suite at Pratt’s and to then retire to the kitchen for a drink with the Georges. A fresh blast of rain blew down over Christies and bounced off the front of the Golden Lion. He retreated to the shelter of a doorway and sighed. His breath swept out of his nostrils and hung in a brief mist before being beaten to the ground by the ice-sharpened rain. The things he did for the cause…

Monckton, meanwhile, was relaxing in front of the fire in his rooms at the club, sketching out some notes for the keynote he expected to deliver in Chicago in a few days. It would be a triumphant return, he was sure, though he thought he had detected some reluctance from his American comrades in arms in the great climate fight to pick up the tab for his first class airfare and extra baggage allowance. Perhaps Scrotum could travel in a trunk in the hold? He would phone British Airways in the morning.

Scrotum looked at his watch. A quarter past eleven. He snorted. Five more minutes, and he would be off. A soft whistle began to echo down the deserted street. The Third Man theme. Scrotum smiled and stepped out onto the pavement, but a hand reached out and grabbed his coat, pulling him back into the doorway. A voice hissed into his ear.

’For God’s sake, man, remember your tradecraft.’ It was Mycroft Monckton, the Laird’s twin – the evil twin, he called him – the opposite of his Lordship in every way. Denied the title and family seat in the House Of Lords lavatory by the accident of being born ten minutes after Christopher, Mycroft prided himself of being everything that his brother wasn’t. Subtlety was his greatest attribute, and though he lost very few opportunities to embarrass his sibling, he always did it with great style.

’Bloody hell, you gave me a fright,’ Scrotum croaked. ’If you’re here, who’s that whistling over there?’

’The mob,’ Mycroft replied, pulling Scrotum through the door and into an oak panelled reception. He pushed the door closed. ’I had to borrow this place in a hurry. There have been developments. Follow me.’

Mycroft opened a door and stepped into what looked like a broom cupboard. He tapped the back wall. It swung open to reveal a staircase heading towards the basement. ’Come on, man, hurry up,’ he said, setting a brisk pace down the worn stone steps.

It seemed to Scrotum that were descending into the very depths of the city. The ground rumbled beneath his feet, suggesting they were near a Tube line. The walls began to glisten with rancid damp. Yellowing old posters clung to the walls – it must have been part of a of bomb shelter during the last war. His knees began to ache at the unaccustomed exertion and his breath came in short pants, bringing unbidden memories of childhood.

At last they reached a large room lit by a few yellowing bulbs. Chairs were arranged around a table at the centre. A single old fashioned black telephone, the handset cord worn and knotted, stood at one end.

’Churchill used that phone, y’know,’ said Mycroft, seating himself in front of it. ’Tea!’, he called out loudly, and a young woman emerged from the gloom carrying two large, chipped white mugs.

’Milk, two sugars’, she said to Scrotum. He nodded, surprised that his personal tastes were so well known. He sipped at the brown liquid. It was hot and tannic.

’What’s going on, Mycroft? I thought we were just meeting to run over arrangements for the Laird’s next trip to Chicago. A bit of rabble-rousing at the Heartland climate conference. Standard stuff, same as the last few years. You want me to tape some of the backroom goings-on…’

’He’s not going to Chicago,’ said Mycroft.

Scrotum coughed and spluttered in surprise. ’What? Nobody’s told him. Why on earth not?’

’Usual thing. He went a bit too far.’

Scrotum tugged at a pendulous ear lobe. ’You mean the Unabomber billboard affair?’ Mycroft nodded. ’But I thought that was a huge success?’ A puzzled look spread from Scrotum’s eyes and found easy purchase on the wrinkles crinkling around his chin.

’From our point of view, yes,’ said Mycroft. ’Heartland made to look like vulgar idiots, their backers withdrawing left and centre, big coal being forced to step out of the shadows and front up with money. All good stuff.’

Scrotum sipped his tea and recalled the numerous phone calls between Tannochbrae and Chicago a month ago, the long ’marketing plan’ the Laird had put together for Joe Bast, the helpful artwork he’d drawn up for an advertising campaign. ’This’ll make the buggers sit up and pay attention,’ he’d said.

To begin with, the Chicago lobbyists hadn’t been too keen on Monckton’s proposals. ’Hitler’s passé,’ Bast had said. ’Doesn’t test well with the focus groups. They seem to think he was a vegetarian and liked cats. Might be different in England.’

The Laird had been non-plussed. His plus fours were around his ankles in surprise, pantalogically speaking.

’I always find that an occasional swastika goes down well with the base,’ he said.

’We are aware of your thinking,’ Bast replied icily. ’But I want the Unabomber and Bin Laden. Hitler and Lulu are out, and that’s final.’

’What about my poster designs?’, Monckton asked plaintively.

’They’ll do,’ Bast had replied. ’The first one’s up tomorrow.’

’Great,’ said Monckton. ’Now, about my conference keynote…’

’We’ll get back to you,’ said Bast. The line had gone dead, and Monckton’s brow had ruffled with odd thoughts and insecurities. Surely they still loved him?

Scrotum dragged his wandering thoughts back to the present. ’So what’s the problem?’, he asked Mycroft. ’He was supposed to get Heartland into hot water.’

’Yes, but not to give them third degree burns. Not only will they never trust him again – which means we’ve wasted a lot of time and effort in making him into an unwitting double agent – but some of the more excitable Americans have hired a hit team to ‘take him out’, as I believe the cousins put it.’

’Good God.’ Scrotum was shocked. ’You mean the guy in the street was a hit man? You said ‘the mob’. You mean mafia?’

’Nothing that mundane,’ said Mycroft. ’A team of former special forces operatives who normally ride shotgun for Bankroll Barry, the last big Heartland backer. We call them The Mob because they come from Chicago and like to go around in fours.’

Scrotum whistled softly. ’So the Laird’s in danger.’

’Yes. They know he’s in London. We think they’ve had a little help from inside the Pentagon, which is why that bloke in the street knew our signal. My best guess is that they were planning to snatch you then force you to lead them to Chris.’

Scrotum turned a whiter shade of pale. The room was spinning harder, and his mind was turning cartwheels across the floor. He steadied himself with a deep draught of tepid tea.

’Do they know he’s in Pratt’s?’

’We’re not sure,’ said Mycroft grimly. ’We need you to get him out of there, and to a place of safety.’

Scrotum leaned across the table towards Mycroft, and listened to a machine gun list of instructions.

’Got that?’, said Mycroft.

’Roger,’ said Scrotum.

***

The trip back to Pratt’s had left the wrinkled retainer as short of breath as he was short in stature. Mycroft’s young assistant had ushered him through a warren of tunnels and past a multitude of doors. Passages spread out into the gloom like the tentacles of a particularly armful octopus, a decapod of directions, but only one led to the cellar at the Laird’s club. At the foot of the steps, the black-stockinged young lady had thrust a little phone-like object into his hand.

’What’s this?’, he’d asked.

’A one-time routefinder,’ she’d explained. ’Follow the green arrow on the screen, and it will take you to the rendezvous.’

The Laird was unimpressed by Scrotum’s appearance – the retainer was puffing, sweat dripped off his long lank eyebrows, and there was a wild look in his eye.

’What’s the matter with you, man. You look like you’ve just seen, or possibly shagged, a ghost!’ Monckton took a sip of whisky and leaned back in his chair, which creaked alarmingly. ’Now, listen to this…’

’Your lordship,’ Scrotum raised his voice to an unaccustomed pitch and tried to look severe, ’your life is in danger. We must leave the club now.’

’What poppycock!’ cried Monckton. ’Who would want to bring harm to me?’ His brow furrowed, and seagulls gathered behind the plough looking for worms. ’Unless…’ He paused. ’It’s the enviro-fascist left, isn’t it? It’s the UN-sponsored green Nazis who can’t tolerate open debate. They’ve given up on beasts of prey and are about to resort to…’ He paused again. ’What are they about to resort to, Scrotum?’

’I have no idea, your lordship,’ said Scrotum, ’but I am assured your life is in danger.’ He sidled to the window and pushed the curtain cautiously until he could see down to the street. In a doorway opposite he could see four men in trenchcoats carrying what looked like violin cases. ’Look,’ he said, waving Monckton towards the window.

Monckton peeped around the edge of the window. ’Blimey,’ he said. ’You think they’re after me?’

’I’d move back from the window if I were you sir,’ said Scrotum, pushing the Laird a trifle too firmly, sending him staggering backwards into his chair. As Monckton collapsed into the old leather, the window made a loud cracking noise and a little round hole appeared in the curtain material. A bullet buried itself in the ceiling and dropped a little spurt of plaster onto Monckton’s silvery pate. The Laird began to whimper softly, clutching his arms across his chest and swaying backwards and forwards. ’Get me out of here, Scrotum,’ he cried. ’For pity’s sake..’

’For your father’s sake, sir, I will.’

***

They’d been in the tunnels for at least a quarter of an hour. Monckton had insisted on putting on his anti-raptor body armour and solar topee, and was beginning to perspire furiously as he struggled to keep up with the old retainer’s new found fleetness of foot.

’Stop here for a moment, will you?’, he said hoarsely. ’I need to catch my breath.’

Scrotum looked at the routefinder, then at his watch, and nodded. He pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his tired black suit and mopped the Laird’s brow. It was deathly quiet down here, just an occasional drip of water from the ceiling, and then a strange susuration wandered down the tunnel to the two men’s ears. It sounded as though a group of people were grunting ’hear hear’ in unison. It meant nothing to Scrotum, but Monckton’s ears pricked up like a terrier’s, and his nose twitched like one of the beagles he’d hunted at Cambridge. He began to walk slowly down the tunnel towards the sound, muttering to himself. Scrotum followed, listening intently. The Laird was chanting softly to himself. ’The Lords, My Lords, Lords temporal, Lords templars…’

Scrotum knew he had to move fast. They were obviously under the Houses of Parliament, and Monckton was back in the thrall of that odd place. Ever since they’d told him he was not and could never be a member of the House of Lords, the Laird had wanted nothing else. He was prone to interminable fugues of lust for parliamentary status, aching with desire to sit on the cross benches and guffaw along with all the others, to the free bus pass and privileged use of gold-painted Boris bikes that was their preserve.

Monckton pressed his ear to a grating in the wall. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and his lower lip quivered. Scrotum looked at his watch, shrugged his shoulders and gave the Laird a swift but servile kick to the fork. Monckton yelled in pain, and looked around to chastise his attacker. Scrotum grabbed his arm, and got him moving once more.

’Sorry, sir,’ he said softly. ’But we have to hurry. The mob may yet be on our tail.’

***

The grating was heavy. Through the thick bars Scrotum could see trees and lights against a dark sky. He wedged his back against the iron and pushed up as hard as he could. The grating popped up easily, and his head emerged in the middle of a pavement. A couple of passers-by looked at him in astonishment. He touched his forelock and smiled at them, then reached down into the hole to help Monckton climb the last few rungs of the ladder. While Monckton dusted himself off, Scrotum looked around. They were under the London Eye, the gleaming white ferris wheel that whirls tourists around above the Thames. The river was black and choppy, the South Bank walk almost deserted – except for four men carrying violin cases, trotting towards them from the direction of the Festival Hall. Scrotum tugged at the hem of his Lordship’s coat, and pulled him towards the bottom of the great wheel. Where the hell was Mycroft?

Even at this late hour there were a few hardy souls lining up for the Eye. Scrotum and his master brushed past the queue, muttering apologies and trying to look inconspicuous, but their chasers were closing fast. When they reached the ticket office, Mycroft appeared from nowhere and whisked them through the gate and into one of the glass pods. He closed the door.

’We’re safe for now,’ he said with a grim smile. ’Well, Chris, what have you done to deserve this?’

’Mycroft, thank god you’re here,’ Monckton gasped. ’It must be the enviro-fascists. I must be getting close to the heart of their conspiracy to impose a one-world socialist government funded by carbon taxes on every living thing.’

’They’re a bit closer to home, I think you’ll find,’ said Mycroft. ’Those four men…’ He waved at the men as they jumped over the ticket barrier, knocked aside the uniformed attendants and sprinted for the next pod. ’They’re from Chicago.’

Monckton frowned. ’You don’t mean…’

’I do,’ said Mycroft. ’They’re associates of your friends in the windy city, upset that your marketing plan and poster design has got them into such deep trouble.’

The pod began to rise up above the river, and the lights of the London skyline began to spread out around them. In the pod behind, the four mobsters were opening their violin cases and extracting weapons of considerable sophistication. A blob of laser light started to bob around Monckton’s body. The Laird began to shimmy and shiver in as impressive display of the frug as Scrotum had ever seen.

’Don’t worry, Chris,’ said Mycroft. ’This glass is bullet proof. You’re quite safe for the time being.’

’What do you mean, for the time being?’, asked Monckton querulously.

’Well, we have to get you out of here,’ said Mycroft. ’They’ll have a chance to get a few shots off if they’re quick.’ Monckton’s face took on a ghostly pallor, and his shaking intensified.

***

High up on the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster a huge golden eagle stretched its wings and preened an out of place feather. Below its razor sharp talons the clock chimed the quarter hour. Aethon was ready for action.

***

The next twenty minutes passed more slowly than any other period of Monckton’s long and incident-packed life. The mobsters had passed out of sight below their feet as the pod had swung up into the sky, but as they approached the top they came back into view. They were sitting on the bench, their guns trained on Monckton. Mycroft opened his briefcase and pulled out a leather harness.

The Laird laughed. ’Aha, Mycroft. Your secret is revealed. You are a fan of leather and restraint. Now I know why Nanny left us all those years ago…’

’Very funny, Chris,’ said Mycroft. ’Help him to put this on, Scrotum. It’s important that the big loop reach above his head.’ Scrotum fiddled with the buckles and straps while Mycroft opened a panel in the ceiling and began to turn a handle. The roof began to split open. The mobsters were milling around their pod, obviously trying to work out what Mycroft was doing.

As the pod reached the top of its arc above the great city, Mycroft stopped winding the handle. ’Right, brother,’ he said, ’we’re going to give you a boost up so that you can climb out onto the roof.’

’I’ll do no such thing,’ said Monckton, looking truculent. ’I’ll fall to my death.’

’I won’t be able to protect you from those mobsters when we get to the bottom,’ said Mycroft. ’It’s my way or a coffin. Your choice.’

Monckton protested, but stuck his courage to the sticking post and clambered up Mycroft and onto Scrotum’s shoulders until his head and shoulders were out of the pod. Scrotum could see that the mobsters had worked out how to open the roof of their pod. It wouldn’t be long before they were able to get a shot at the Laird. ’You better get a move on,’ he said to Mycroft, who was busy pressing buttons on his mobile phone.

Monckton was oblivious to the danger. He scrambled up on to the roof of the pod and began to look around. The view was amazing. London was laid out at his feet like a brightly lit model city crawling with life, stacked with stories. What tales it could tell, he thought. He got to his feet, spread his arms and shouted ’Look at me, Ma! Top of the world!’

A bullet whizzed over his shoulder. Monckton yelled, and then his voice was drowned by a raucous scream as a giant eagle swooped down and grabbed the loop in the leather harness. More bullets whizzed past his feet as the great bird flapped its wings and lifted him out of the spotlights and towards the stars.

Scrotum watched his master’s departure and the outrage on the faces of the gunmen, and smiled at Mycroft. ’Nicely done,’ he said.

’Thanks,’ Mycroft nodded. ’It means you’ll be in hiding for a while, of course. Low profile, not Tannochbrae or Australia.’

’Understood,’ said Scrotum, taking the glass of Pol Roger Mycroft had poured. ’But what about them?’, he said, waving at the mobsters.

’I think the SAS has plans for them. And I have an idea too…’

[The Third Man]

This is the sixth tale in The Monckton Files.

Previous episodes:

Monckton & The Case Of The Missing Curry,

Mycroft Monckton Makes Mischief,

Something Potty In The State Of Denmark,

Monckton in Australia: Picnic at Hanging Sock.

A Carol for Monckton.

The truth about wind energy Gareth Renowden May 03

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Shocking new revelations about the impact of excessive use of wind power on our planet — it could blow us out of our orbit around the sun! Oh, and coal is really, really, tasty…

[Courtesy of The Onion, hat tip to Climate Crocks].