One speed: slow?

Another gap in posts for this blog; sorry. (Not that there’s anyone reading this to say sorry to, but as they say: meh.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing lately, I have, but in places that the web doesn’t reach; I’ve been enjoying that.

But it’s four-thirty on a Thursday afternoon and I’m at work. Thus, I have a) no inclination to do any work; b) a whole host of other things that I would rather be doing; and c) some stupid compulsion to remain here until five o’clock. The latter is probably due to the boss still being here.

Oh, no he’s not, he’s just left. See ya.

(This post was going to be about singlespeed bicycles, esperanto, and how good it is to not write on the web, but that can all wait. Apologies for the remaining pointlessness.)

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Not that I’m bored today at work or anything, as you can see: not posting for a month, then here I am warbling on about urban exploration! But then I would really rather be out charting the course of a drain, or sketching the rust scars on a strange unknowable lump of concrete, then sitting here at my desk being a good little IBM sysadmin.

Which I’m not, by the way. I’m not a very good sysadmin: I get annoyed, and wish there were more scope in I.T. for letting things get old and ignored. But there isn’t. You can’t just leave a programme and expect it to develop some mysterious patina (which word, incidentally, means only that green of copper, and Age in general; strictly speaking, of course) that will evoke some imagined, fictional, past time. They just don’t change. They’re boring.

Reading the above website, and I wish now to have

  1. time;
  2. a camera;
  3. my website hosted on an old box under the stairs;
  4. a city with more scope for UE; and
  5. the appropriate bag.

Oddly enough.

Where I Write

I have often thought that one of the greatest attractions for me to writing in ink, on paper, in a properly-bound book, is that where one writes the words is where they will remain, and the only place they will ever be. That’s not the case when writing on a screen: I often write a post for this blog, for example, whilst off-line, and in different editors, on different computers. Then I paste it into here, save it, and it appears in it’s final place where you’re reading it now.

That last sentence belies where I’m writing this, but had I transcribed these words from a book that I’d written in whilst sitting on the ground on Mount Ainslie being buffeted by a strong wind — how would be different? How does being exposed to the original copy of a piece of writing affect how it is read? What is the ‘original copy’ on the web?

Sometimes (this morning, for example) I’m into the fact that the web separates content from medium — the written word certainly remains, and the loss of the detail of the act of writing is good, because we then focus on what is written, and how how it was composed. Of course (like so much of the blogosphere), this does allow for this sort of introspective post that really does no one any good and is rightly ignored by the whole planet. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that I generally have in mind the final resting place of my words as I write them, and that changes what I write about and how I write it. My problem at the moment (oh, yeah, it’s a real problem!) is that I sometimes write good stuff on paper, and there it languishes forever and is never read; conversly, I (often?) write poor ramblings on screen (generally on this blog, or on my wiki) that should never have been written, let alone read. So whereto from that?

It feels more ‘pure’ to write with a fountain pen in a book, more active and engaging to tap at a keyboard on the web. A rough draft composed in pencil[1] up a tree in a disposable notebook which is then posted here with accompanying images? Or carefully-formed words in a Moleskine that are never to be seen again? Given my current desire to not encumber myself with Stuff, the former is where I’m at.

[1] The Faber-Castell ‘E-Motion’ is in my pocket always. [Back up]

Ignore the caterpillars, get back to work.

I have just returned from my customary post-lunch walk around the lake. It’s lovely, strolling through the hundred meters of bush that lies between the shore and the highway — I’m not being ironic, it really is lovely. I went across the bridge (the one over the weir) and turned south, along a vehicle track, and sat upon some mossy granite boulders up from the water. So lovely looking at the grass next to me tickling my cheek in the breeze; so horrid, when I raised my eyes to the skyline to see that dastardly rotten square box called Bunnings! I’m beginning to think that’s the way to find beauty these days: observe the minute, and cherish it, and ignore completely the massive, ugly, human constructions.

The (not so secret) lives of galaxies

Professor Mike Dopita “traces the often violent life cycle of galaxies to answer the following questions: How are galaxies formed? How is the gas transformed into stars? How do the massive Black Holes that lurk at their centres grow? What happens when galaxies collide?”. A public lecture from the Australian Academy of Science. Read more »

A Walk to the Shops

A journey to 35.25223° South, 149.124475° East.

Before I left the house it occured to me, as an act of recognition of Place (and how people conceptualise it), to find out the global latitude/longitude coordinates of my destination. I promptly forgot to do so, and strode on up the drive, but it was the sort of thing that might go with a mission to know a place. Not that I’m only — or even primarilly — interested in the ‘Facts’, but it also doesn’t matter very much where one starts with learning about a place: anywhere will do, and from there the place will lead us. So I start at the driveway.

I walked up the pitted bitumen, over worn grass and compacted damp clay, and within a dozen paces of the house, leant against an oak to write. MacKennal Street is lined with oak trees, planted all those years ago when (it would seem) Canberra’s planners were still aiming at some European ideal of a nations Capital: nice, neat, wide avenues, lovely for cars. I knealt down by the tree to lean my notebook on my knee, my face close to the green and white lichen covering the old bark. Also thrust to my attention was the long grass at my feet, it’s thick green fringe showing through the sparse covering of fallen leaves. Cars drove past every minute or so, their noise covering the echoing whistles and wobbly warbles of the birds. Their’s was a grey noise, growing slowly as they approached, the actual crunch of tires and roar of engines only being discernible in the instant they passed me. What they thought of me squatting there writing I do not know. I got up and walked on.

The footpath was old and cracked, most chunks being a hand’s span in size, and lots of blue-metal showed in the cement. Canberra footpaths, the older ones at any rate, have the odd feature of a date stamped in one corner of each poured section; this one had none. I stopped to take some notes of what I saw, but my hands were too numb to write more than three lines of messy scribble. I had travelled maybe one hundred meters in all, and was beginning to wonder whether the cold would put a stop to this little experiment in hyperlocal noticing; I blew hot air into my fingers and stomped onward.

I was approaching what some have said to be a thing recognisably Canberran: a round concrete bus stop. I’ve always quite liked these odd, orange, bunkers. There are no advertisements on them, for one thing (for now: damned fools want to change that however), and they feel nice and protective in bad weather. I would’ve sat inside, where I could have written a bit more comfortably, but then no doubt a bus would have stopped for me, so I hid behind the shelter amongst the long grass and acorns. A cat appeared, seeking company and a knee to headbutt, and swished my pen with its tail as I tried to write. Walking on, the cat followed me for ten meters, but I strode on towards the corner.

By the time I came to the worn dirt shortcut across the corner the cat had gone, and my thoughts were turning to the time I was taking for this walk; I was meeting someone at the shops, at some random non-organised time, and I didn’t have a clock. But one shouldn’t let these things get in the way of meaningless investigation!

Turning the corner everything changed: the light was different, the trees less leafy, the whole vibe calmer, neater, smaller. Sill an oak avenue, but the front gardens were less casual (although I hesitate to say ‘more formal’) and with more brick demarkation pillars. The grass covered the clay a bit better, and I felt closer to the shops just in the way people kept their houses.

The leaves had fallen in greater volume in this street, covering everything and blurring the boundary between garden and footpath. Even so, there was here some greater suburbanism (I was, for example, able to sit and write on a low brick wall; luxury indeed!). There was even something of an urbanism, radiating from the shops perhaps, and manifesting itself as stencil art on a concrete pylon — but it didn’t quite have any real grittiness to it.

The brick expanse of the Mormon church was opposite, carefully clipped lawns, satellite dish and vast car-park (for the ‘welcome visitors’ no doubt) all sending me elsewhere for inspiration or interest…

After which, I was all of a sudden There. Crossing the final road on my journey to the shops, waiting for the diesel tanker to pass, it still all seemed like a jolly good way to think about a place. The smallest, slowest journey, carefully made, can yield so much to the inquirer. What a way to build this place-connection! A connection that may, in fact, be something we have to work on. It may not be enough, after all, just to spend time in a place; even long, uninterrupted time mightn’t do it. We must get out, walk a place, read it, actively think about it and explore everything. So much can emerge if we listen: every place must talk to us, if we but listen, and the stories it tells are vital to our own stories.


I learnt a new word today: placeblog. (By saying that, I may be showing myself up to be rather behind the times; if that’s the case, then I guess I am behind the times. Oh well.)

Placeblogging is blogging about place (suprisingly), and generally about a place to which one feels a particular connection. It’s hyperlocal blogging: not going far, but going deep. Exploring where one lives. Blogging about a place to which one has a connection, yes, and also blogging in order to build that connection. In so many ways, each of us building a better relationship with where we live is of vital importance.

A few links:

My Sandstone University

Well, look here, I really can’t think very well at this time of night, so I don’t think you should expect much of this post.

I’m thinking of that cave just up from the Palm Tree Beach, the one who’s main enterance caved in a few years ago, leaving only the other more convoluted way in. It’s a nice cave, but the beach in front is more where I’m at. If that makes sense. The reeds and the sand, the memories of ignoring that bit and running past, along the path, to get to Never’s or Fragle. That’s what I’m getting at. The sun, and bleeding (but not caring) from climbing back up the cliff.

Of taking one of the school’s Spotmatics down there, and a tripod, and taking (crap) photos of bits of rock and thinking them oh-so-representitive of Blackwall Reach. Then the photography teacher thinking that they were, and thus being dis-illusioned at the photography teacher’s skill in judging photos…

So, this little beach, and photographs across the river to the old sugar refinery. It’s just about a Place, and a damned solid, viceral connection (at some point in time). So why on Earth is this coming up now? No reason, beyond being just a little squiffy, and that I’d like to be back there one day.

At least, as the winter closes in here in Canberra, I’d like to be back there.

What I Saw From A Café In Fremantle

Spareparts Puppet Teatre; the now-ornamental crane at ‘E’ Shed; a line of billboards hiding much; and the corner of the railway station — these form the horizon of my view from here. There’s Norfolk Pines, this café’s umbrellas, and the awning above filling in most of the rest of the scene, and all framed by a big concertina window and lit with the most fierce summer sun. But were this a painting and myself an idle visitor to the gallery in which it hung, I’d think little of its subjects or composition and be more keen to investigate the trade origins of the canvas on which it was painted, or even the bricks in the wall behind it. Why? Because the puppet theatre is boring, and unknown to me; the crane, though once embodying pure utility, now is more like a beautiful tapestry chopped up and used to pack potatoes (if you follow the analogy); of the billboards nothing need be said (they were built expressly to spew simplified coarseness in to this place); and the railway station has been so much looked at that its fundamental rightness (like that of the crane) is covered with a sort of ‘observatory grime’, and little can be got from it.

These things are all just the big, dumb, human objects that we’re ‘supposed’ to look at, and that’s all it takes for them to become insignificant to a study of this place’s truth or beauty (or whatever it is that I’m looking for here). I don’t mean that these objects should be ignored. Of course they shouldn’t, they are here — and massively defining of what ‘here’ is. They must be acknowledged, and examined, and praised or defiled (as their spirit suggests), and then ignored. Look at them, and then look past them, or into them, or anywhere into a smaller field of inquest. The great sweeping vistas can be only shallowly know, and I’m here in the business of looking (and maybe knowing, though I’ll not be too presumptive) deeply.

I could look closer at any element of this scene and find in it inspiration for days of writing. It wouldn’t matter what it was: the theatre downpipe, the leaves that break up my view of the crane, one advertisment or the light fitting above it — each of these is a passkey to a whole universe of real people, far off places and strange things, if we but look hard enough. Some of these worlds stretch through time from centuries past, and all must continue into the strangely mottled future. Others occupy space barely more than what I see from here; some, the whole globe. They certainly intertwine and have, no doubt, many more points of intersection than just this place. That’s what I like to think about.

Which passkey we choose to begin our journey is almost irrelevant, and is in anycase thrust upon us if we’re only open enough (read: have time enough) to see it. Sit in one spot, let your mind and eyes drift aimlessly, and before long something will suggest itself. You need to be aware that you’re looking, but not force the thing, not have any idea of what you’re looking for.

So today I’m thinking about the steel frame of the awning above me, its shapes and bolts, history and function, the people who have looked at it, the people who never have but who have walked beneath it daily. Who tightened the last bolt in it? What is the name of the colour of the paint? What shopfronts have been beneath it, here where I’m sitting, over the years? These are all ‘facts’, and they do interest me, but there’s more: the structure, design — it’s ugly. An inelegant, clumsy, grumpy bull-nose of a thing, it’s exterior and profile of aesthetic value to the facade but giving nothing to the coffee-sippers who sit below it. This needs to be looked into also.

Another time, perhaps I will…