Monday, June 30, 2008
Pigeons, mobile phones and grasscutters
Apparently pigeons have been trained by the inmates to take mobile phones and drugs into Sao Paulo prison. When I think of pigeon post, it is a picture of a sepia tinted time where history is ‘another country where they did things differently’ and the pace was slower in all things – except post by bird, of course! I think of wars in trenches or wizards in castles. I am using dove-carriers in the work I am doing on an agnostic’s guide to the spiritual, mentioned in previous blogs and whose early chapters can be found on this site. This trilogy of novels is set in a pre-medieval world of tribes and clans who worship different gods in different ways. To have pigeons as vehicles of modern technology seems like a figment from one of those science fiction films or novels which use medieval cultures as the basis for any futuristic mise en scene. Remember Gilliam’s film, Brazil? Or the Star Wars series? Post apocalyptic visions often combine societies broken down into feudal anarchy or fractured dystopias, yet with the alarming technologies that destroyed them, lying around and still available for use and abuse. It is difficult to write novels which are entirely of the future because we find it too challenging to read and identify with something which is so completely alien. We have to have a map with ‘You Are Here’ on it, a familiar starting place from which to march out and engage with the novel or the extraordinary. Making the common place exotic is the basis of much fiction. But there is always a bit of the common place for reassurance.
Pigeons carrying mobile phones in what we think of as of the real world of the here and now, raises the question of what comes next? My thoughts turn to aerial spying, the carrying of microphones and cameras and all the guff of surveillance. A spy pigeon in London would be lost in the infested sky of city birds and could do a lot of terrorist damage. Particularly if it had been trained in the mountains of Pakistan.
I am, currently, in Ghana (I will intersperse blogs on my times here with the usual diverse murmurings) and here there is a directness about surveillance which has its amusing side. Large posters adorn walls and boards with maxims such as:
“The Tip-off. Your civic responsibility!”
This seems refreshingly old world when compared to the civic-spy cameras positioned everywhere in Orwell’s 1984 which nowadays have become an accepted part of UK urban furniture. Here, there are mobile phones aplenty but the pigeons are too small to carry them. On the other hand, I ate a creature called a ‘grasscutter’ yesterday. I don’t know what it is or whether it crawls, runs, burrows or glides but I am wondering about its potential in the arms and telecommunications race. The name suggests it flies very close to the ground, at stalk level, invaluable in getting under enemy radar.