The amazing benefits to be gained from having a plan! (*amazing benefits may be relative)

Warning: following is a post about a would-be writer’s attempts at writing and getting an article published. For more interesting reading, that doesn’t travel ground you’ve probably encountered before, you may prefer to read that letter from the Tax Department that you have not yet opened. 

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When there is a longer gap than usual on this blog, it often means I’ve had a burst of motivation about writing, and have therefore spent my time trying to focus on writing something for an outlet other than my own personal blog.

As it turns out, I don’t have enough spare time to manage to write two things within one week. Or rather, more accurately, what is lacking is not spare time, which I’m great at wasting, but determination, organisational skills, focus, and decisiveness. Indecisiveness is just as debilitating for a would-be writer as it is for an air traffic controller, although with less disastrous consequences. In my case, I waver indecisively, uncertain whether to write about subject x, or y, or z, or whether in fact I should stop writing and do some research – and if so, whether I should read about subject a, b, or c).

Thus, last week, in the time slot where I usually sit and write a post for this blog, instead I tried to attack my lack of organisation. I wrote out a plan that I thought was realistic, of what I aimed to try and achieve, writing-wise, in the next 3 months, and then, what the first steps would be towards achieving each of those goals.

(As a side note, it was an empowering exercise because I felt like I’d achieved something by creating a plan and defining some clear steps to take. Setting out what writing projects I should focus on also assists with overcoming my indecisiveness about what to focus on doing next, so by planning, I hope to kill two birds with one stone.)

It was important to try and keep this 3 month plan achievable so it’s modest: 3 projects. The first is to get published, a piece I’ve already written. The second is to write a creative non-fiction piece for a local literary journal, based on the theme they have set for their next issue. There was also a project number 3; but honestly, in the time it’s taken me to get from the start of this paragraph to this point, I’ve changed my mind and decided that it may not be realistic to also achieve that goal in the same timeframe. I am now feeling less confident, so I’m not going to make that one public. Maybe it will slip onto the next 3 month plan. I’ll stick to two goals this first time, because if I manage those two, I’ll be very happy.

Anyway, the day I wrote these goals, the adrenalin had kicked in. After writing up the plan, I moved swiftly onto phase two, which was the first steps required for project numbers 1 and 2. Yes, I started on both in the same day! For project #2, this required brainstorming ideas, and from those ideas, trying to come up with a reading list that I could start on, by way of research. This in itself was exciting, because it is a totally new approach for me. The most “research” I ever do for a piece of creative writing (i.e., the writing done on this blog) is to Google a few things to make sure I get dates or facts right, as I write about them. I hope that this new approach – starting with research before I have fully shaped an idea of what I’m going to write about – might shake things up a bit. At the very least, I hope that taking this project seriously and working at it, will result in a good piece writing even if I don’t achieve the goal of submitting it to the journal in question.

The task for project #1 was to approach a publication about publishing a piece of writing that I have ready to go. What is that piece of writing?, you may well ask. I see you are still assidiously avoiding that letter from the Tax Department.

Well, as it happens, there’s a letter from the Tax Department sitting unopened on my benchtop too, so I’m happy to tell you about that piece of writing and how it came about.

Every little while, I’m motivated to try and create a piece of writing that requires more than just my imagination and 60 minutes of my time. When this motivation hit last year, I did a short course on writing profiles, on the online training site, Skillshare. I then did some preparation for writing a profile of a friend of mine. I interviewed her and transcribed the interview, which took me about two months, because I let weeks go by in between doing any transcribing. We talked for about two hours, so I had two hours of recording to transcribe. It must have taken me about 20 hours of listening and typing and rewinding and listening again and typing some more! Anyway, once I got it all transcribed and was ready to start filtering and structuring and writing, I promptly lost interest in it and let it stagnate for months.

But the next time I got motivated to take writing seriously, a few months later, I had to come back to the profile project rather than waste all that work. So I started filtering, structuring and writing. That part wasn’t hard actually. I don’t know why I put it off for so long. But again, I took ages to do it. This was partly because it was so long.  I knew it was much longer than I, an almost-never-published writer, could expect to get published anywhere. Surprisingly enough, The Age Good Weekend does not publish unsolicited, 2500 word profiles from people whose publishing credits so far are a few unpaid pieces in arts/education publications and one 800 word paid article in a parenting magazine about 10 years ago. (Let it be noted that I’m also acutely aware that my writing is not up to the standard of a profile piece in the Good Weekend, lest that previous sentence should suggest otherwise.)

Despite knowing all this, I wrote a long piece anyway, because I’m stubborn about doing things my own way. Because I lacked the confidence to do it the other way around, ie, pitch the idea first and then when it was taken up by an editor, sit down and pump out a brilliant piece of writing, my seemingly weird approach was my way of making sure I got all the information I found interesting into the piece, and could then pitch the idea, with the (perhaps misguided) plan to chop it down to fit whatever word length a specific publication required.

But as all you writers out there will be aware, you need to know what you are writing so you can pitch it accordingly. I was aware, even as I wrote, that the piece that was forming was not so much a profile of my friend, as a description some of the interesting aspects of a project she is doing. This is an important distinction to consider when hoping for publication.

The reason that I focussed more on the project is because to interest an editor in a profile piece, you really need either a well-known person as the subject, or a well-published writer as the author. I knew that getting an editor interested in a profile of someone unknown, written by someone with no track record, was going to be a hard sell from the start.

The project my friend is working on, however, has a few “hooks” that could generate interest from media – she’s producing, with a team of artists, a pictorial map of Melbourne. So potential readers are: people who are interested in Melbourne, people who are interested in illustrated maps, or people who are interested more broadly in illustration. There was potential for good photos – of Melbourne, or of illustrated maps. That this angle could have interest for Melbourne-focussed publications is, as they say, is a no-brainer.

So I wrote my article with that in mind, but unfortunately as I slogged along slowly, letting it sit for weeks at a time without going near it, my friend, working hard to promote her project, managed to get some media outlets interested, and they published her media release, or wrote their own short articles on her project. (No resentment from me, since she needed the PR, and by this time I’d taken about 4 months to produce nothing she could use. There had been no understanding between us that she’d wait for my piece to be written – I didn’t have the confidence in my abilities to undertake that kind of commitment! So I’m really happy that her project got all the publicity it has had to date!)

In terms of publication possibilities, this essentially meant those outlets had already covered it and so were no longer options for publication by the time I had a piece of writing that I felt ready to approach editors with.

So when it was ready, I selected some publications who had not yet covered the story, and pitched a short version of my article, focussing on the project. So far I’ve pitched to two of those, with one publication not responding at all, and the other giving me a polite refusal immediately. (they explained that all their articles must be about projects that are funded by their local council).

That was weeks ago now, but since my highly motivated session last week, I followed the steps in my own 3 month plan, and did more research on other publication possibilities. Accordingly, I pitched it again, last week, to a national publication, this time suggesting it as a profile piece. Since then I’ve been eagerly checking my inbox, but have so far only received a polite, standard response, saying they are inundated with emails about submissions, and may take a few weeks to respond.

Since that’s not an outright rejection, I’m choosing to feel positive about this opportunity so far.

So stay tuned. I’m off now, to do more research for my creative non-fiction piece. That is, after I go out and buy groceries, make lunch, and clean the shower and toilet, because like all unpaid hobbies that you do for enjoyment rather than for income, writing has to fit in around life.

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PS, in case you’re wondering, a reason why I kept my discussion here about my friend and her project pretty general is because if I can’t get the piece published anywhere else, you will get to read the whole thing on this blog. So it won’t be entirely wasted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summertime

Setting: A suburban back garden, a Summer* evening, Melbourne, Australia

Time: 8pm – approximately the time of sunset at this time of year in Melbourne

Temperature: warm

Wind: none discernible

Set:

  • a back garden, comprising of pot plants on a door step, cobblestones, and greenery around two sides of the perimeter, created by some trees growing too close together, a small hedge, and some climbing roses on the lattice on the back wall. The garden is neat but not abundant. In the centre is an area that used to be a small patch of lawn but is now just a patch of dirt, with a scattering of recently mowed weeds.
  • The back of the house faces onto the back garden, and we can see through the windows into the kitchen, and, as indicated by a flickering light beyond the kitchen, a room with a TV on.

Lighting: 

  • the sky, and the light generally, a sort of twilight: first, pale and almost no colour, then changing slowly to grey as the sky darkens
  • a slight pink flush across the lower part of the horizon, that also fades and disappears into the descending grey
  • warm, yellow, electric light glowing from the windows of the kitchen that faces onto the garden

Special Effects:

  • water arching out from a hose and onto some lush greenery, as our protagonist takes the opportunity to enjoy the warm, balmy evening by taking her gin and tonic outside with her while she waters the garden

Props:

  • a hose is required

Sound:

  • the swishing and trickling of water, as the hose rains water down on plants and the excess runs away on cobblestones
  • the hum of crickets. (Director’s Note: Usually the sound made by crickets is described by default as a chirp but that suggests a staccato sound, with a crisp beginning and end. This sound, the sound that epitomises all the warm summer nights in our protagonist’s memory, just goes on and on, so she thinks of it as a hum.) It’s a soft, low hum, telling us that it’s a warm, balmy night.
  • the distant sounds of football players calling out, their voices carried on the breeze. The setting is about half a kilometre from the local suburban football ground, and we can gather, from the sounds travelling very clearly in the still night air, that the local suburban football team must be doing some pre-season training tonight. If our protagonist hadn’t damaged her hearing by attending bands playing at outrageously loud noise levels, she’d probably be able to hear what they were actually saying, but as it is, her best creative interpretation is a cacophony of voices all calling out over one another, with urgency “come on, come on, come on, come on!”
  • the soft swoosh of traffic on the nearby highway
  • from the house, the sounds of high-pitched voices coming from the TV, indicating melodrama on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
  • occasionally from the house next door, the pounding of footsteps as a small child runs from one end of the house to the other
  • occasionally from the trees, a rustling of leaves and the weird, high-pitched screech of possums

Smell:

  • the smell of wet, freshly drenched dirt, and of water dripping off greenery

Characters:

  • the main protagonist, a 40-something woman with a gin and tonic in one hand and a hose in the other
  • a cat, whereabouts unknown as Act 1 begins
  • about 1000 worms, in a worm farm under one of the trees
  • a teenager, hidden deep in the depths of a teenage bedroom. She does not emerge during Act 1.
  • a male adult, absent from the house for the duration of Act 1 as his Italian lesson conflicted with the rehearsal schedule.

Synopsis:

Officially, it’s now Autumn in Melbourne (since the beginning of March is officially the designated change of the seasons), but due to the absolutely glorious weather Melbourne has had over the past fortnight, our protagonist has decided to remain in denial about this, and just keep pretending that it’s still Summer. She is determined to try to make the most of every remaining beautiful sunny morning, and every remaining delightfully balmy evening. In her mind, this means making the effort to go outside, where one can more fully appreciate the warmth and light, wherever and whenever possible, and, when not possible, (for example on the days when she is working in her office job) to at least open a window, and take the time to appreciate the sunny morning outside.

Director’s Note: It’s a simple story but simple things can bring a lot of pleasure if you take the time to notice them.

 

Sunset in the suburbs, Summer, Melbourne 2016 (no filter! – I wouldn’t know how!)

© The Antipodean Blatherer 2016

 

Perpetuum Mobile

I am not one of those people who rush to level crossings just to watch trains go by. Nor would I describe myself as a train nerd, no, I can’t claim that level of love for trains – but I have to admit that most mornings when the V-line (country) train pulls loudly into my station, a tiny thrill goes through me.

Let’s face it, diesel trains aim to thrill. They love a dramatic entrance; their very presence, as they stand humming in front of you, is tinged with drama. In this sense they are superior to their rather insipid cousins, the metro trains that utilise electricity and are, by comparison, relatively discreet about their arrival at your platform. Stopping at a station is not exciting for those guys; they stop every 3-4 minutes on average and probably up to 30 times on some Melbourne lines.

The arrival of a Diesel train, by comparison, is an Event. Not only do diesel trains announce their arrival at the platform with sound levels that require all conversation on that platform to temporarily stop, they stand and hum while passengers board, as though they are awfully impatient to take off again and only being held up from doing so by the annoyance of having to let people get on. Motion is everything, they seem to say, and if you are not on board in 60 seconds that will be your loss. Hurry up!

Once on board, the service protocols on country trains make the trip more of an experience than travelling in a city train is, and I’m often reminded of being a tourist travelling by train across foreign countries. Trains are not trains, they are a service. “Welcome aboard the 6.58 service to Geelong.” There are on-board announcements at each stop, advising travellers to ….look around and make sure you take all your personal items with you. Please make sure there is a platform below you before you step off the train. Lara our next stop.

For a moment, I feel like I’m travelling through Italy or France.

The sense that I’m travelling somewhere, on holiday, is sometimes exaggerated by the fluctuations in the weather that occur on a 55 minute train trip between Melbourne and Geelong. It’s possible to leave my destination in bright sunshine, travel through low lying mist as we pass the You Yangs mountain range, and arrive in pelting rain. Or vice-versa.

I enjoy train travel, because it’s a chance to ponder the clash between the permanence of the land, and the transience of human presence within it. Travelling on a fast-moving train, I whizz through landscapes that have existed, in some form, for a few millenia. I see the end products made by humans: our cities, towns, roads, and bridges, and I reflect on the changes that have taken place, even within my own lifetime – which is, of course, only a microscopic speck on the timeline in which that landscape has existed.

 

country-living-sunrise-by-gary-light

 

When I was a child, we rarely ever caught a train, and if we did, it was a major cause for excitement, partly because train travel meant travelling to the city, but mostly it was just the excitement of the train travel itself.

In those days, country trains had separate compartments, like small waiting rooms, each about 3 metres wide, with a bench seat running down each side of the little room. You walked down a little corridor, peering through the windows into each compartment, trying to find a compartment with as few people as possible in it, and when you found one, or gave up on that objective, you opened the door, entered, put your bags up on the rack and took a spot on one of the bench seats. Once the doors of the compartment closed, you were all cosily tucked into a small space the size of a walk-in wardrobe for the duration of the trip, and  you would sit for the two hour journey, facing someone else on the opposite bench, and trying not to meet one another’s gaze for more than the brief moment that was socially acceptable.

As a teenager, it was the end goal of the train trip that provided my sense of anticipation, because train travel meant escaping my small town for the thrill of the city.

Still, even then, I would stare out the window at the endless paddocks flying past, and feel a sense of affinity with the land outside the train. It was as if I knew it well, as if those paddocks and gum trees were the land I had come from. It is, and yet it isn’t: I didn’t grow up right out in the countryside, but I did, and do, live in this country. My father lived on a farm as a boy, and in the hazy memories of my own childhood, it seems to me that we spent many weekends walking through acres of bush, or through paddocks of dry yellow grass and fallen-down trunks of old grey gum trees. We drove past land that looked like this every week, visiting my cousins on their farm, which also looked like this. On longer drives to see my grandmother in Melbourne, the dry, brown paddocks between our home and the city seemed to stretch on endlessly. So, yes, those landscapes were familiar.

In Australia, and outside urban hubs, you can’t travel from point A to point B without passing through wide expanses of land where all you can see is paddocks on either side of you. In some parts of the country, paddocks become desert. Australia’s landscape is far from exotic – although on second thought, I guess what’s exotic depends what you are used to. The First English painters who tried to depict the Australian landscape grappled with the difference in the light, and the unfamiliar shapes and colors of the native trees, and somehow made the Australian landscape look softer and more lush than it really is.

view_of_geelong_1856_painting

View of Geelong, Eugene Von Guerard, 1856 (public domain) 

When I look out the window of the train now, at the yellow paddocks that stretch on as far as the the horizon, scattered with the dark green specks of eucalyptus trees, and underlined by the blue of distant mountains, I still often think about the age of the countryside that I’m travelling through. I try to imagine how the same patch of land looked 100 years ago, or 200 years ago. Was it covered in thick, dense forest back then? Would I have seen an Indigenous tribe settled near that dam? Maybe a river ran where there is now a dried up creek bed. Perhaps, as in the painting above, I might have spotted settlers, travelling through in a covered wagon, looking for a place to put down their roots.

One thing I’ve come to understand more clearly in the last few years, is that the physical world is not as stable as we like to think, and that in fact everything – including the natural landscape as well as man made structures – is in a constant state of flux. We notice the roadwork and the construction altering our city landscapes, but many other changes to our physical environment are minute, and so gradual, that they are not noticeable. The physical world, or even the landscape in which I’m travelling, is not the same as it was five years ago, or one year ago or even yesterday. This state of constant change will continue throughout my life and long after I’m gone from this earth.

All of this goes through my mind, sometimes, when I look out the window of the train in the morning, on my trip to work. I’m miles away from the inner suburbs of Melbourne where I live, and it’s a commute that not many Melbourne dwellers would voluntarily choose to do – travel out of the major urban centre to  Geelong for work – but sometimes, that travel actually feels less like an annoyance, and more like an opportunity. It gives me a different perspective on the city where I live, reminding me that it’s not the whole world, that just outside of Melbourne are all these boundless plains.

 

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*when I’m able to think of one, I like to use a title or lyric of a song for the name of a post. In this case, Perpetuum Mobile is a piece of music by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, which does very aptly capture a sense of forward, ongoing motion.

Photo above: Country Living Sunrise, by Gary Light, licensed under a Creative Commons licence.

The Elgin Street scenario

Today I noticed an old, dilapidated car parked on Elgin Street in Carlton.

This car was from another era, reminding of those huge old American cars still being driven around in Cuba. I tried to check out what type of car it was, and after a few surreptitious glances, decided it was a Ford.

Even to me – someone who takes little notice of cars – it was obvious that it dated back to the seventies. What exact shade of green it had been originally was hard to say. Now, it was a pale, faded, metallic green, the sheen long gone, the paintwork matted, mottled, stained and even peeling.

A 1970s Ford. Pic: Wikipedia

A 1970s Ford.
Pic: Wikipedia

The reason I am short on details is that I did not stare too hard as I walked past, because an elderly person, almost as dilapidated as the car, was absorbed in trying to break in to the car. He was working away at the passenger seat window, using a long piece of wire. I didn’t feel any sense of alarm – there was no question in my mind that the car belonged to this man, since they seemed perfectly matched, in era, in degree of decay, and even in color. (In my memory now, it seems as if the man was attired in a greenish-grey outfit.)

There was a shabby grey hat on his head, which was bent and absorbed in the activity at hand, so I can’t provide any more detail since I was reluctant to stare, stop to write a note, or take a picture.

But even as I walked past this scene, the thought had already flitted through my mind that I could write about it tonight.

That’s how we writers are: only in the moment for a spit second – the next moment, we are already thinking about whether the previous moment would make a good story.

Sometimes I wonder what comes first – the tendency to step back and turn experience into a potential sentence that will be written in a diary, journal or blog, or the drive to write, that leads to a tendency to view everything as potential material.

Yet even that is not quite accurate. Perhaps I’m not wondering which comes first at all. Maybe what I’m really wondering is whether it’s a good or bad thing, this tendency – or shall I be generous and call it an ability? –  to step back from an experience and start structuring a paragraph about it in our heads. I wonder why some people need to get their experiences down on paper while others are content to just live them.

I wrote diaries for years, right through high school and until I was in my mid 30s. It felt cathartic to write about my private thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it combatted a sense of loneliness, the universal teenage experience of not having anyone who really understood me. As an angst-ridden teen, writing in a diary was the closest I could get to having a really honest conversation with someone who cared about how I felt.

Many years later, here I am, still writing. Fortunately, I’ve matured at least a little bit since the days of writing copious pages in my diary after the end-of-school party, and my blog posts are not always about my feelings.

I’d love, however, to be the sort of writer who carried a decent camera everywhere they went, and who would, in the scenario above, stop and take a photo, and then talk to the man to find out what was going on. If I was that kind of person, I’d no doubt accumulate some very interesting stories.

But unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who worries that stopping to talk to a dilapidated old man attempting to break into a decrepit old car, could lead to a messy or awkward situation. He would probably want my help, I think to myself. I don’t know how to break into a car! What if it’s not his car?? Do I want to be seen on a main street in Carlton, aiding someone who could be a criminal for all I know, with the theft of a car? I don’t want to be held up here all night! I’m  hungry and it’s cold.

So, lacking the required sense of adventure, I walk on past that scene. And because of that, the story I’m able to tell you about him is almost nothing at all, just a very hastily-formed picture of an old man, as he fiddled with a piece of wire in Elgin Street.

There’s a gap in between

On week day mornings, I am hauled from the depths of some dream or other at precisely 6.45am when my alarm goes off (to the sound of Led Zepplin playing Whole Lotta Love), and back up to the real world, where it’s cold and still dark. It’s early July, and here in the Southern Hemisphere we are almost right in the middle of our winter.

The sky lightens imperceptibly while I eat toast and drink a cup of tea, so that by the time I’m almost ready to leave, around 7.30, you can see outside, although the color is still missing from everything in the grey, pre-dawn light.

When I left my house one chilly morning recently, I didn’t notice the unusually thick, low-hanging fog as I drove to the train station. Perhaps because there was about 20-30 metres of visibility, and that is the range of my focus when driving in the built-up inner Melbourne suburb where my commute by train starts. But as soon as the V-line (country) train pulled out of the station, I settled in to my seat and looked out at the view going past on the embankment above me, and saw a sight that is unusual in the city – only a few metres of shops and houses were visible, and the rest were  swallowed up in the white swirl of low hanging cloud.

Now, I am not good at sleeping on planes, trains or automobiles, but I can occupy myself quite happily by staring out the window of a moving train any time, as I always find it mesmerising to watch the landscape go whizzing past me at high speed. On this particular morning, the view was all the more fascinating. Yes, I was awake, but the world outside the train looked like a dream landscape, or landscapes, racing past like hazy images from my subconscious.

Since I was so inspired by the fog (?!) I scribbled some notes on the train, and those (edited and extended) are incorporated into what follows, accompanied by photos.

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Staring out the train window now, we are skirting around the outside of Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and pulling into the last suburban station before we really have left the city behind. My view is of a strip of dirt, some brownish-greenish grass, and then just a haze of white fog that has hidden everything else. Usually from here I’d see the matching rooftops of suburban houses just across the paddocks, and city buildings even further away in the distance.

 

Foggy morning from train 16.06.02-3

 

On sunny mornings I’ve stared out those same windows across those very same paddocks, and marvelled at how clear and detailed the view is for miles – I can pick out telegraph poles, as tiny as specks, far away on the horizon.

I hesitated, just a moment ago, about whether to describe the fog as white, or grey. From here, its appearance is an off-white, which I think would be on the scale of greys. (As opposed to the scale of creams, for example.) I’m pretty sure if I was trying to capture this color in paint, I’d need to mix the tiniest bit of black into my white paint. Maybe the tiniest bit of black, and the tiniest bit of blue.

As the train rumbles swiftly along, all sorts of ghostly grey shapes can be discerned by someone staring intently out the window, i.e, me. I can just make out some dark, organic, curving lumps hovering in the mist – these are trees, bushes, and mounds of dirt where digging – for a new housing estate or a road – has taken place some time ago and then seems to have been abandoned.

I notice a group of birds – is three birds a flock? – fly into the fog and vanish. The dark shape of something I can’t quite distinguish looms in the foreground – I think it’s probably earth moving machinery, as we are still travelling past a patch where work has been taking place. A bit further on, two dull yellow lights glowing – a car driving slowly down a side road, towards a railway crossing. Then for a while there’s nothing, no shapes reveal themselves. Just the hum of the diesel engine and layers of cloud hiding the world outside from view.

We could be travelling in this train along a track that runs parallel to the edge of the world. There’s maybe 30 metres between us and where my vision can see to – the middle of that paddock there. Maybe that’s where the earth just drops away and beyond that, all there is, is a swirling mass of vapour.

Imagine that: out there, in that paddock, hidden from me by the mist, is the edge of the earth, and beyond it, the unknown. I pretend that’s what the wisdom of the day tells me. How, in that case, do I imagine that unknown space beyond the world? Is it just swirling vapour, or is it a vast ocean, that the earth floats on, as some people thought hundreds of years ago?  Should we be afraid of reaching the edge, and seeing what lies beyond? When the mist rolls in, should we shiver, and huddle close, the hairs on our arms standing up, not with cold, but in fear of where the mist comes from, and what it brings with it?

Of course this is all daydreaming, and when not on a train staring out at the fog, I don’t believe any of the above, but on a morning like this, it’s easy to imagine how people living hundreds of years ago could think the earth had an edge, and that humans should be cautioned against the folly of exploring beyond it.

In those days, when mists came rolling in across the moors, or the fields, depending where you lived, it must have seemed as if they came from that dank and murky place outside of the edges of the earth.

Looking into a fog like this, hundreds of years ago, surely only the bravest amongst us could envision themselves striding out across the grass, disappearing into the swirling mist, and entering the gap that would take them across into the unknown.

 

Building in fog

 

Of course I’m not the victim of such fantasies. All the same, I’m glad I didn’t drive today.

 

Virtual Transport System

Note to readers: I spent time today going through some old folders saved on a usb stick,  and stumbled across this piece I wrote 10 years ago,  for a writing course I did back in 2005.  As not too much has changed I thought it was worth publishing for a laugh! 

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Virtual Transport?

Apparently I’m not the only one who loves op shopping. I was surprised to read in The Age last week that State government employees are doing the rounds of the second hand shops too – to source parts for the antiquated  computer system running Melbourne’s metropolitan trains!

According to the article, the computer network currently in use was installed in 1981 when the City Loop was opened! Back in 1981, when I had just started Year 7,  computers were still a fairly new phenomenon. I got right through school and only used computers for one semester, in a subject called, aptly, “Computers”, where I learned how to start one up in DOS, by typing “run” at the white cursor that flashed on and off on a black screen.

Imagine any school or business still using the same computers now as they were using back then!  It is not surprising that the only way for the Metrol computer system to be maintained is with  “parts sourced from garage sales and op shops”. (The Age, 2/7/05)

I must look out for computer boffins from the Department of Transport sifting through the goodies at the Salvation Army. In fact – here’s an idea – perhaps I could keep an eye out for them, if they care to pass on a general description of what they are after! Surely it would only cost about 50 cents for a keyboard from 1981, so if it doesn’t work perfectly, it’s not a big loss for the government’s transport budget, is it? The Lilydale  train might get stuck at Ringwood station for a while when the Shift key jams, but currently it goes backwards whenever the Caps Lock is on, so anything is an improvement….

Do government employees sent to browse through op shops and garage sales enjoy it the way that seasoned op shoppers like myself do? Do they get a thrill out of finding a real bargain in vaguely working order – “Wow, a mouse from 1982, only 20 cents! The right click won’t work, but hey – that will only affect the Northern Suburbs lines at peak hour.” There is also the satisfaction of discovering a new use for an item that no-one else has thought of – “Oooh, look at this great Dot Matrix printer I picked up for a song, perfect for updating train schedules!”  I imagine the excitement of being given a budget – say of $5 – probably goes to their heads, they  get carried away, and come out with things that they – and even our dusty old computerised train network – don’t need. “Huh…I guess this old Beta video player is not really going to improve services on the Epping Line.”

er....."RUN"? Oh ok, I see, it's not on.

What do you mean the train hasn’t left the station yet?…Oh, I see, it’s not turned on.  Oops.

Eager employees may become addicted to the search, and become collectors of historical computer parts, attending garage sales and op shops in their own time for another fix. They may start gravitating eagerly towards the book section of the charity shops, where all sorts of treats would be in store for anyone needing technical computer book written in the 80’s.

Of course, for the private company now running our trains, that’s just another benefit of this thrifty approach to technology – purchasing the ‘how-to’ manuals is another whole area of budget savings. If you go to your local Op Shop on the right day, you could get a whole bag of technical manuals from 1981, enough for your entire metropolitan train system, for $2!

According to The Age, the government is finally looking to upgrade, and is calling for tenders to replace the system. I think I can help here. I have a ten year old computer, a spare monitor, a laptop bought second hand four years ago, on which the screen no longer works, an old walkman from the early nineties, a few old computer leads and a mouse. If  you plug them all into a power board, they could probably replace the entire computer system from 1981 currently running our trains.

Industry sources allegedly  told The Age that “a new system is a virtual certainty.” I hope the sources didn’t mean a virtual reality.

*

Pic of old computer: old-computers.com 

Yes Sir I Can Boogee

Yesterday I was inspired with generosity, and made not 1, but 2 donations on Australian crowdfunding website, Pozible. One of these was to Australian Muso David Bridie, who for years was the leader of one of my favourite, although now defunct, Australian bands, Not Drowning Waving.

Now, both of the causes I donated to could have inspired a post, (there’s currently a link on my sidebar to the other cause, Young Vagabond magazine), but I’ve had a draft of a half-written post about Not Drowning Waving languishing here for months, I thought it was a good time to dust it off and give it a run, (just to mix a few metaphors.)

Of course, as I’ve said before on this blog, I am not a music critic/reviewer, so don’t expect a post analysing the music and history of Not Drowning Waving. This will, rather, be about my personal experience of the band (let’s use NDW from here on in, to keep things shorter!)

I have to speak in the past tense about NDW, as they have not played for years now. They were a large outfit, with up to 7 regular members, and often had additional musicians on stage with them at any one time, so I can appreciate that there must be a lot of logistics, not to mention dynamics, to deal with when you have a huge amount of human and instrumental resources that have to travel everywhere with you and no HR manager to take all the flack.

But, I loved this band!  From about 1988 when I accidentally came across them playing live at a tiny Melbourne club,  through to about 1996, their music featured highly in the soundtrack of my life.

I first encountered Not Drowning Waving at a very small club called I.D’s, in Greville Street, Prahran. In the late 80’s, Greville Street was a vibrant, colorful hub of arty bohemia in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, full of groovy little cafes, second hand furniture shops, and vintage clothes shops with a strong bent towards a 50’s/60’s rockabilly aesthetic. Nothing opened until 10am, when the noise of 50’s Rock music, and the smell of cigarettes (various types) and espresso wafted up the street. I. D.’s later became the Continental, a great venue that hosted live music for many years, but that club no longer exists, and I’ve lost touch with what is in that building now.

I think it was 1988, the first year I lived in Melbourne, when I found myself in this bar, expecting dance music, and faced instead by a live band. I was immediately struck by an unusual aspect to the band –  all the band members looked ordinary and unpretentious! In Melbourne in the 80s this was, in my experience, unheard of. The guys had short hair, blue jeans and t-shirts, and the girl (Penny Hewson at that time) looked as though she had a growing-out 80’s shaggy perm, and wore a floral dress – that distinctly lacked the groovy 50’s vintage look that was all the rage at the time. Not a skerrick of black clothing, heavy make-up, or dyed hair to be seen. My expectations were low.

I was, however, struck by their set, which included a washing line, complete with items of clothing. Well, as it turned out, if I’d never seen a band that looked so “ordinary” before, I’d also never seen a band (apart from at large venues) screen audio-visual projections on a screen behind them, and I’d never heard a band play recorded sounds – old men chatting, rain falling – over their music, nor a band that played some purely instrumental pieces amongst their set.

When I picture that gig now, I imagine it playing out as many band gigs would in my band-going days: my friends talked to each other, and I ignored them and concentrated on listening to, and watching, the band.

On that night back in 1988,  my musical knowledge was too limited to know what comparisons to make, and even now their sound still defies any easy comparisons, and not just by me. An article on their website by Jon Casimir suggests comparisons to Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads. I’d probably add Aussie band The Go Betweens, and music by indigenous Australian and Papua New Guinean artists, as well as influences from classically trained musicians like The Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

The Cold and The Crackle....maybe my favourite NDW album

The Cold and The Crackle….maybe my favourite NDW album

But I didn’t make any comparisons at the time, I simply recognised that this music felt somehow “right” to me.

After this I saw NDW any time they played a live gig. No other friends were fans the way I was, but back then, there was always one friend or another available and willing to come along. Their gigs always included projection, (courtesy of sound engineer, mixer, sound/a.v. artist and occasional band member, Tim Cole) which seemed to add an element of drama to music that already had a powerful sense of place and atmosphere to it.

Sweat, from the album, Claim. (If this looks old, it is! I’m pretty sure this is the same clip they played behind the band back in the late 80s.)

In his article, Casimir wrote, Critics loved NDW because they demanded adjectives. Their music was haunting, evocative, brooding, sensuous and a million other words that excite people who type for a living. (1) 

Casimir goes on to say that this gave them an undeserved reputation as a pretentious band – with their poetic name not aiding that impression. Well, I can assure you that they never came across that way in concert. Songwriter/lead singer/keyboard player David Bridie was never too arty or cool to chat to the audience and display a keen interest in the cricket or football scores, depending on the time of year.

In my humble opinion, there were two different sides to the band’s music, and I liked both equally. These different “sides” can be seen on The Cold and The Crackle, the first album on which they recorded Sing Sing, the instrumental that they ended every live performance with – a piece of tribal percussion that builds up into a frenzy of drumming, accompanied by David Bridie on keyboards and John Phillips on guitar. The album also includes songs that seem to harken back to an Irish Australian heritage, like Kerry’s Green, about an apparently mad but happy woman living alone by the sea,

and the purple tea cosy she wears on her head

it has holes for her ears, and why not,

and she’s happy

I was reminded of my mother (for reasons best left to another time) – an experience I’d probably never had before while listening to a contemporary rock band!

Many songs were in the vein of other Australian bands like The Go-Betweens who also wrote about living in shared houses in inner city suburbs, the nuances and difficulties of troubled relationships, and the private lives of ordinary people, with Australian references thrown in. The album Claim included the song Thomastown, which was a depressing outer suburb of Melbourne where my cousins lived. This was subject matter I could relate to, and the songs conveyed empathy for their subjects. For example, The Marriage Is a Mess – a melancholy song about a couple trapped in the suburbs with a mortgage and a failing relationship:

While the banks put up bright posters, scream we’ve got money to give away

well it’s as easy as that right here,

but the bank man is a bastard,

and the marriage is a mess

and they hardly talk any more.

To offer my inexpert comparison with The Go-Betweens, I’d suggest that Not Drowning Waving’s songs about suburbia were less poppy sounding, and drew more on classical training. Both bands had a violinist at various times, but when Penny Hewson left NDW and was replaced by Helen Mountford, the cello became more often the stringed instrument of choice – and is there an instrument more able to break your heart just by playing a particular phrase of music?

Claim - or is THIS my favourite NDW album?

Claim – or is THIS my favourite NDW album?

Where NDW’s sound deviated wildly from bands like The Go-Betweens was in their tendancy towards creating a soundscape, and their (growing) interest in indigenous music. Their arrangements often included overlayed sounds recorded outdoors, (wind, rain, etc), and the rhythmns and sounds of indigenous Australians and surrounding countries (as time went on, specifically Papua New Guinea), with melodies and subject matter that ranged from the outback to the suburbs. They utilised multiple types of percussion, (a glance at the instrumentation on The Cold and the Crackle includes: “congas, cheese drum, bowed cymbal, bongos, tambas, big drums, toms, sticks, gong”, amongst other things). In certain tracks, John Phillips’ electric guitar emitted a  wall of sound that ranged from spooky and atmospheric, to capturing a sense of space that was sparse and empty, a perfect vehicle for conveying the immensity of the Australian outback. Combining all of the above with overlaid recorded sounds – of storms brewing, people chanting, old men talking – their music conjured up the Australian landscape in all it’s variations.

Sing Sing. (First released on The Cold and the Crackle, re-released on Tabaran. If you can imagine hearing this inside a venue,  you will know why the audience would be on their feet when they finished a show with this number.)

I’ve never been big on “World Music” (assuming that term to refer to music by indigenous cultures), but I loved the way that NDW incorporated the sounds, rhythms and beats into their music and made something really unique. They didn’t just appropriate elements of other cultures – they, and Bridie in particular, began to collaborate with Papua New Guinean musicians, and probably their most acclaimed album, Tabaran, was made with musicians from Papua New Guinea.

When I listen to Sing Sing, I am transported back to The Club, in Collingwood, or the Old Greek Theatre, in Richmond – past band venues now long gone and forgotten. I am pretty sure that between about 1988 and 1996 I saw this band every time they played in Melbourne. (Fortunately, perhaps, that was only a few gigs each year.)

A true fan, I have all their albums (except the most recent compilation). I took many friends along to their gigs back in the day, as well as my sister and the eldest of my brothers. Thanks to a few re-union gigs in the 2000’s, I then managed to take my 3 younger siblings, as well as my partner and child, and also gave out copies of the compilation “Through One Last Door” to every sibling’s household for Christmas one year. (one- between-two for my brothers who shared houses.)

Not Drowning Waving carved out an individual sound, and I can understand that their music is probably not to everyone’s taste – which is probably why many Australians have never heard of them – but I loved it.

The Little Desert - occasionally I think THIS could be my favourite....

The Little Desert – occasionally I think THIS could be my favourite….

(1) Jon Casimir, 2005,  Not Drowning Waving – A Brief History, http://www.followthegeography.com/ndw_start.html, viewed 8 Sept 2012.

*The youtube clips above are from Tim Cole’s youtube channel

* There is music available on the Not Drowning Waving website, Follow The Geography, and that’s where I took the pics of the albums from too!

*This post is named after an instrumental piece by Not Drowning Waving – NOT after the 70’s Disco hit by the same name!

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