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Ampersand Magazine issue 5 – Eleventh Hour

Oliver Mol

The summer issue of this conceptually broad magazine maintains its usual high standard.
Ampersand Magazine issue 5 – Eleventh Hour
I have always enjoyed Ampersand. Beyond the humorous and straight shooting content, its covers are eye catching and each edition is weighty enough – this issue having 182 pages – to hand to a friend who might say ‘This is smooth, I wonder what’s inside?’ but also small enough to fold and tuck into one’s back pocket. In addition, while I do not know the font, I find the magazine’s entire aesthetic, its graphic design, simple and calming. It is this simplicity that allows the publication to breathe and – as in the past where we read journalistic enquiries into Mexican border towns and short stories about a crazy man stripping naked in a supermarket – it is this intrigue, this weight, this excitement, this work, these photos, this art, this feel, that has become familiar to the Ampersand reader. Even before you have read the work between the covers you feel like you are holding something of quality.

The edition begins lightly, comically, with letters to the editor. The usual suspects write them: Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce and others. Also under the letters to the editor is a block of text that says ‘STILL WAITING FOR GENUINE MAIL’.

On page 14 we reach the Oxford man’s college entrance exam questions 1957-1967 as answered by contemporary musicans; in this case the ARIA award-winning Dan Kelly. This prose piece tells the story of Dan arriving in London on a Sunday, at the beginning of the London riots. This beginning is thematically consistent with the issue and there is a tension to the prose that suggests a sort of dreary oncoming. Intentional or not, the train – locked metal cages that go on a single track to somewhere – is a metaphor for Dan’s journey. There is a sentence where the author describes how he avoided the normal route through the estate (because of the possible violence) and went the long way to East Dulwich station. He said people looked nervous and the intercom blared ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this train will not be stopping at Peckham Rye’. Then the train kept going and the author says ‘it was like Big Day Out at the end of the world. Flames and smoke and packs of hooded guys in battle stance and others running and no cops anywhere’. This was one of my favourite pieces in the edition, though I was slightly frustrated that it was not longer.

Reg Wilson writes an interesting essay on outdoor lighting, explaining that with all the lights in the city we have forfeited the night sky, or at least the night sky that was known to Galileo. Wilson informs us that the night sky illumination scale ranges between class 1 (total blackness, the kind of sky Galileo would have observed) and class 9 (standing on George Street in Sydney at midnight). So obviously, if you live in urban Australia your nighttime is at least a seven. This light pollution is not only a massive waste of natural resources; it also has been shown to halt the production of melatonin, which is an essential component of the human body clock. The author tells us that melatonin is essential for many things: sleep, memory, fertility, sexual function, balanced moods, healthy gallbladders and weight control. Also it has been linked to the production of cancer. This is sort of worrying and now I am thinking of moving to the countryside where I can have my balanced moods and sexual functions and healthy gallbladders unstained, un-cancered and un-illuminated. Alternatively you can join the IDA (International Dark-Sky Association) and work to reduce the amount of public lighting in city spaces.

Michael Bracewell writes ‘For Immediate Release: Time Machine ‘Wheel Clamped’’, about a dystopian, globalised, actualised location that is Britain but could also be the United States of America/Australia/Europe/ and maybe others where ‘all through the town, and through every town, the same two dozen or so brands names can now be found, repeated over and over above the wide doorways’. The prose is razor sharp, and upon reflection is probably the strongest non-fiction piece in the edition, if only due to its immediacy to the reader. Its only fault is that it does not offer any solution, though, granted, such themes would require a far larger working space to properly dissect them.

John Birmingham (He Died With A Felafel in his Hand) writes about getting into writing because of the hookers and the blow and then neatly segues into the changing publication industry, the arrival of the Kindle, the Ipads – and his preference to using them over traditional books like the ones with spines. The issue has been written about before, perhaps in more depth and more specifically, but Birmingham makes the content accessible and humorous. Essentially he boils it down to this: at 99 cents a copy (for an e-book) who gives a fuck? Birmingham acknowledges that the system has been turned on its head, that the independent now has the ability to lock out the big player. So now that anyone can be a published writer is Amazon going to be flooded with vapid excrement? Birmingam suggests not.

I found Hugh Nichols’ essay on Black Metal particularly intriguing. I have never been interested in this particular musical genre but having learned its origins and having met some of its central – now deceased – figures I feel genuinely kvlt.

In terms of literal intrigue, accessibility and powerful story writing skills, Thomas Henning’s piece ‘Somewhere in Africa’ is the knockout work of the issue. The story – told in two parts, the second chapter coming next issue – begins in Gabon, West Africa, where Thomas is attending a Bwiti ceremony. Writes Henning: ‘[Bwiti] is a Pygmy religion which has assimilated parts of Christianity; and oddly, in fashion. So their ceremonies are a combination of a voodoo ritual, a Revolution-era French mass, and a kid’s party’. After a lengthy section that describes the ceremony and party in general, Henning writes ‘what makes this all so weird and hilarious is that everyone here aged over ten is high. From the grand old ladies to the fat, gyrating dames covered in pictures of Jesus, we have all eaten the psychedelic tree bark called iboga’. Part travel story, part literary non-fiction piece, ‘Somewhere in Africa’ is exactly what the title suggests: a totally immersive outpouring by a guy named Thomas in another continent who is doing something that probably not many people – or at least the average Australian – has done before. Plus it’s funny.

Ampersand consistently produces high quality issues and this one is no exception.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Ampersand Magazine
Issue 5 – Eleventh Hour
Summer 2012
RRP AU $10

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Oliver Mol is a writer who lives in Melbourne.