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.

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…

Goodbye.

To Coledale

Kingston railway station waiting room. Feeling slightly queezy from the bus, but excited also to be off with a bag, book and journal. Not that there’s much beauty in the modern transport world; the telly is on behind me, playing the most banal, hideous, daytime television — but what else is to be expected? They cater to that most vile denominator, the General Public (not that such a thing exists, surely?).

I slept well last night, once I’d read a bit more. It was warm and soft in my little red-robed corner; I didn’t want to get up. I never want to get up on the morning I’m going anywhere.

I had to buy some things — whiskey specifically, but I’d thought to think of more once I got to the shops. So I rode over to Dickson at half nine (I was leaving at half ten), and blowing into my hands went into the grog shop. The grumpy, cold wog behind the counter waved his hand in the general direction of the small bottles, with Eye of the Tiger playing the in the background, and I bought a flask of scotch. My hands were numb from the cold.

I’ve this digital camera of A.’s with me, and it’s giving me some things to think about as I potter around: I want to take photos for my blog (or whatever this website is), and for Wikipedia, and (as usual) for my archiving habit — keeping a record and all that. So I might just go and take a photo of the railway station.

Well gosh, I’ve actually overcome my usual public photography reticence, and wandered about taking photos. Of the station enterance, the platform the train, and a couple for me of the shunting yards and building to the ___(east?) of here. Now boarding the 12:05 Xplorer service to Sydney.

On board. As everyone files on board, dragging suitcases and feeling self conscious (or is that just me, with my notebook?), and they settle down for the beginning — not settling in for the journey, just the period of waiting which precedes it — they crackle chip packets, crack the seals on drink bottles, and flick through the information leaflet from their seat pocket. The smokers dump their gear and quickly, without first visiting their seats or meeting their neighbour, jump back onto the platform for a last puff, an occasional whiff coming back through the doors to where I’m sitting near the rear of the car. The clouds are coming over outside, it’s forecast to rain, but that means nothing to us, enclosed and protected in this air conditioned space, with our minds stretching out already, along the track to the places we’re yet to be, leaving Here and seeing Now as just an interim before Then, which is when we’ll get There.

For a hundred and eighty years trains have rolled on steel, taking people far, fast and in comfort. It’s not at all fashionable nowadays to decry this motion, and anyway it’s just a small insignificant part of the speed and distance that are normal now. I feel echos of those first terrified, excited passengers on those old English railways, going for the first time faster than a galloping horse.

But now: how things change! This is the slow option for me today, and I choose it because of that fact, and for the many tassles of history and tradition (and comfort) that hang from the permanent way. Where my ancestors sew heartless, vile destruction of the countryside by the new tracks, I see these thin ribbons of steel and contrast only with that ubiquitous devilry the highway. How very much more soulful is the highway!?

The rain came in before we got to Golbourn, but my usual pleasure at being in a warm train chortling through wet farmland was somewhat marled by the odd girl sitting next to me and her DVD which she insisted on playing without headphones. That and her “you have been called” ringtone — frightful. But I was happy enough, staring out at the sidings, old loading docks and worn down fences. The rain made a peculiar soft, grey light, gentle at first but something in it struck me as somehow alien, although I can’t say what.

After Sydney. Kept my wits about me I did, after the excitement of big Sydney and a beer with D., enough to realise an hour into the journey south that I was on the wrong train. I changed at some cold, empty station, I’ve no idea which. I got more and more tired, it grew dark and I’d run out of water…

Would be nice to never have to go anywhere, but then what would I write about? Glad I haven’t worn a suit. These trains wobble. Coalcliff now, cold and concrete and green steel out there. Oh for wood in my life again!

…and I returned to reading Swann’s Way, content but not really knowing at which station to get off.