by Keith Addison
Hong Kong Life magazine Oct. 1994-Jan. 1996
The Valley of the Lost Decade
How to Spend 12 Weeks in Bed
Pass the Doggie Bag
If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Cars
Stealer of Souls
On the Slow Train with a Skinful of Wine
The Neighbourhood Dragon
From 1994 to 1932 in Only Three Minutes
Singing and Laughing
Have Nose, Will Follow
Harrods to Sell Elixir-of-Life
Galahad's Secret Mission
Escape to Shangri-La
Put it in Your Pocket
What Johnny Should Have Said
The Cockroaches Went in Two by Two
A Complaint to the Inspector of Thunderstorms
Galahad's Secret Mission
Alas, poor Galahad the gecko, the Grail he found was not the one he sought. It's a sad tale -- Galahad was, after all, a fellow Earthling. "For are ye not greater than many sparrows?" asks the gospel. No, I don't think so, nor than the many geckoes and so on who share my abode these days. I go about my business and they go about theirs, murdering moths and things and squabbling with each other in accordance with their basic gecko rights, and far be it from me to interfere.
___So I saw no special cause for rejoicing when Galahad bit the big one. My friend Sho, however, burst out laughing, and kept chuckling about it. But I could see his point. Sho, who is Japanese, had set up a deal with some friends of his at a Tokyo institution for me to do a hi-tech communications job for them every month. All went well, but when I moved out of the city and went to live up a mountain on Lantau Island, Sho's friends were filled with disquiet.
___"It's no problem," he reassured them. "He's got electricity and a telephone line, so it doesn't matter." Which is what I'd said, and Sho was watching with interest to see if it was true.
___The first month's delivery from the mountain went smoothly, until I tried to fax Tokyo, and suddenly discovered that I didn't have an IDD connection -- I hadn't tried calling overseas in the two weeks I'd been here, and just hadn't noticed. Gulp ... So I used a friend's fax and hoped they wouldn't notice the strange number.
___"Don't tell them," I begged Sho.
___He and his wife Kazuko came visiting a few weeks later and discovered that the television didn't work (no aerial yet) and there's no FM radio reception here (though AM is loud and clear). And I didn't seem to have a newspaper, not even an old one. "I won't tell them that either," Sho said, definitely amused.
___And now a mere gecko had taken out my remaining radio link with Planet Earth.
___It was late at night, and I was just finishing off the month's Tokyo job when suddenly there was a sort of loud explosive thud, very close by. A bullet? -- murderers in the night?
___"Missed!" I yelled from my position on the floor behind the sofa (though I thought I'd been sitting at the desk). Two more thuds sounded. "So far," I added. Silence, apart from the radio playing in the background. I ventured to my feet and went outside to look around. Several more thuds came, followed by a vivid blue flash inside the house, and the radio died. Back inside I found the stereo system severely wounded and making weak sputtering noises, so I switched it off.
___Could it have been an inside job? I unplugged the mains lead and turned the stereo upside down. From an improbably small vent in the chassis protruded the second half of Galahad, the fattest and noisiest gecko in the house. I took the casing off; he had got his chin and his forehead caught between two high-voltage contacts and shorted out just about everything, especially his head. He didn't even have time to drop his tail. His departed shade is probably now riding last Thursday's midnight news summary out into the galaxy at the speed of light. Not bad for a gecko.
___Only he'd totalled my stereo, not to mention the loss of hi-tech face.
___"What does that leave you?" Sho asked. "Telephone, fax, and Internet?"
___"And CompuServe, which carries all the news agencies," I added defensively.
___"One telephone line?" he asked.
___"Yes," I admitted. The line keeps getting tangled in the trees outside, but I thought I wouldn't mention that just then.
___I didn't tell him about the fire ants either. Fire ants aren't like the big red ants that have nests in the ceiling and wander around everywhere looking earnest, industriously dragging off odd bits of murdered moth and so on, who are amiable enough. Fire ants are so small you can hardly see them. They climb onto your foot and look you up and down, which is like you looking the Bank of China building up and down, and then they decide to tear you to pieces and drag you off to their lair, so they sink their teeth into you, which hurts like hell. Hence the name. The fire ants' lair often turns out to be the interior of a live power plug, double adaptor or extension box. They're apparently immune to electricity. What remains to be seen is whether electricity is immune to them. I know I'm not.
___Still, but for me, the geckoes wouldn't be here, they'd be out in the woods and trees and leaf-litter and stuff where they belong, living by night and munching bugs which they find lurking under sticks and in little holes in the bark, holes which are guaranteed not to contain sudden bolts of killer lightning that frazzle their heads.
___But I came along and turned night into day by means of the electric light bulb, which had a startling effect on the local nightlife scene, especially on the moths. We have to get into the science of this a bit first. A hundred years ago scientists claimed insects communicated by telepathy. Fifty years ago they said it was done by radio, and now they agree it's by infra-red radiation. And also by means of chemical messengers called pheromones which insects send floating out into the air, and which emit their own distinct infra-red signals.
___Everything that's alive radiates electromagnetic waves in the infra-red range, making a wonderfully rich picture which we can't see. Predator insects track their prey by their infra-red signatures, ants and termites regulate their vast cities by means of infra-red information micro-superhighways, hostile mosquitoes home in on mammals such as me by picking up IR waves on their antennae, and moths tune in to IR tags to find the right host plants, as well as to find mates.
___When a female moth seeks a mate she sends out a stream of pheromones, which male moths can detect over large distances by their IR signature. The pheromones emit IR light at extremely narrowband frequencies of around 17 micrometers. However, it turns out that the wax in a burning candle also emits IR light at extremely narrowband frequencies of around 17 micrometers. Life isn't always fair. Life, however, becomes downright inconclusive, though initially less lethal, when you substitute for the candle an electric light bulb. The frequency isn't quite the same as a candle, but it still works, like a badly tuned radio -- you can still hear the music. So, from the moths' point of view, it wasn't so much that I'd turned night into day as that I'd turned all their womenfolk into electric light bulbs. The house was soon filled with baffled moths, and refilled on a nightly basis, providing rich pastures for the likes of Galahad, with subsequent further attrition of my communications capabilities.
___Maybe it wasn't an accident. Maybe he was sent -- secret agent Galahad on a mission of death from the Gecko King to destroy all this electro-mechanical junk that's infesting the neighbourhood and bringing down the tone. Did you see Hitchcock's The Birds on the box a few months ago (when the box still worked)? Neither did I, but I certainly don't want to upset the locals with my newfangled city ways -- maybe this jungle hi-tech thing isn't so feasible after all. Maybe jungle lo-tech would be better.
___Apart from the infra-red world, the whole biosphere seems to be bubbling over with low-energy emissions which we don't know much about, because modern science has put most of its resources into high-energy research so that we can turn night into day by means of electric light bulbs, nuclear warheads, and so on.
___There are glow-worms now in the woods at night, the lovely green lights in their tails shining a welcome to the Spring. Nobody knows why they do it, nor how -- by rights, generating that much light should release enough heat to frazzle their heads. But somehow it doesn't. Cold light -- if only we knew how to do that. If only we knew how to do so many of the things that happen all around us all the time.
___The biosphere is a living system and must therefore conform to the basic rule of ecology, which is that everything is connected to everything else. Including me and Tokyo. All this gross new technology like telephones and computer networks like the World Wide Web is surely superfluous -- there's already a perfectly good World Wide Web that's been there all the time. But how do you plug into it? Where can I buy a moth-modem?
___There are ways: a group of researchers in Sri Lanka managed to pick up Indian satellite television by using a banana tree instead of a satellite dish. They sent me a photograph of it. There are lots of banana trees here -- all I need is some spiderweb and a bit of creeper to tie it up with, and I'll send Tokyo a gecko-proof banana-fax. Maybe a candle would help too. And a bell, and a book.
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