Thursday, November 5, 2020

Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times

We live in troubled times – but then can anyone ever say that they lived in times that weren’t troubled? For most of my life Australia has suffered mediocre politicians and politics – with the odd brief exceptions – and it seems our current times are no different. Australia has never really managed to realise its potential. As a nation it seems to be two different countries going in opposite directions – one into the future and the other into the past. It looks as though we’ll be mired in this latest stretch of mediocrity for some time and the only consolation will be creativity, gardens and humour.

A land of bushfires and choking smoke, drought and floods – and plague
Over the last 12 months we have endured bushfires and choking smoke, plague, drought and floods. Australia’s creativity and culture and the whole creative sector have been hammered and it will be the last thing to recover as we move into the new post-pandemic world. At times like this there are a few things you can rely on for consolation – the pleasure of creativity and gardens and the distractions of humour.

Fire-ravaged landscape in the Snowy Mountains.

Over the last decade I seem to have spent most of my writing career producing articles about Australian creativity and culture. Lately some of it has been a bit grim, given the way the current Coalition Government has largely abandoned the creative sector and the higher education sector. Together they comprise much of the clean and clever economy which should underpin a bright global future for Australia. The creative sector has responded to being sidelined by generously sharing a huge amount of advice and experience about how to survive behind enemy lines. Some days I think I should have been an economist, but instead I intend to focus on being a humourist. After all, it’s a bit like those who have written endless reams about Trump in America – at some stage you have to think ‘what more can you say?’ 

Life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age
I write several blogs that range across many different topics, as well as a Facebook page, for shorter, more topical updates. My main blog, indefinite article, is irreverent writing about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age. In contrast balloon consists of thought balloons for our strange and unsettled times – short quirky articles about the eccentricities of everyday life, almost always with a sense of short black humour. Sometimes, given the crazy world we live in, they overlap. 
In times like this, after an enforced form of house arrest during a pandemic, I want to write short, humorous stuff for a change. I knew something good would have to come out of this unexpected leisure. Here is a guide to all the short, quirky and often humorous articles spread across both blogs.

From balloon, thought balloons for our strange and unsettled times – brief quirky articles about the eccentricities of everyday life, almost always with a sense of short black humour

The island to the North series
Celebrating the ties between large and small islands, my original island home and the vast Pacific Ocean that laps and links them.

The island to the North – a nearby foreign country 14 Jun 2012
‘Sitting by a roaring fire in a wintry pub in Tarraleah I found Tasmanians liked to call Australia “the island to the North”. We are neighbours but sometimes I wonder if I am behind enemy lines’, The island to the North – a nearby foreign country.

 The island to the North – disappearing worlds 5 Aug 2012
‘Islands are easily overlooked – Tasmania is an island that periodically disappears off maps, sometimes there, sometimes not, at the edge of consciousness, at the end of space’, The island to the North – disappearing worlds.

The island to the North – turning the map upside down 25 Jun 2014
‘Our geography teacher taught us about the Australian fear of the Yellow Peril, ready to pour down from Asia and inundate the almost empty island to the South’, The island to the North – turning the map upside down.
The island to the North – the islands to the North East 26 Nov 2014
‘The awkward relationship between Tasmania and the island to the North is not the only clumsy relationship between islands in this part of the world. The history of the ties between the island to the North and the islands of the Pacific is even more troubled.’ The island to the North – the islands to the North East.

The island to the North – rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic 17 Nov 2015
‘When Australia finally ceased to be a rabble of competing colonies and instead became a nation comprising a rabble of competing states and territories, it still seemed possible that New Zealand might join the new Federation. Both New Zealand and Tasmania have long been an afterthought for the island to the North. But lots of mountains, clean water, high quality untainted produce, dramatic landscapes and acres of ocean all mark Tasmania as suitable for New Zealandership. It’s a partnership waiting to happen. It’s clear that the future for Tasmania lies with New Zealand, the islands to the East rather than the island to the North. In a form of Federation in reverse, Tasmania should join its neighbouring islands to make New Zealand three islands instead of two – the North Island, the South Island and the West Island. New Tazealand forever’, The island to the North – rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic

Early onset forgetfulness – what day of the week is it? 7 July 2021
‘There used to be a time when a test for dementia amongst the elderly involved a series of questions. The first one was ‘who was the Prime Minister of Australia?’ After one too many leadership spills, this fairly quickly went out the window. The other question was ‘what day of the week is it?’ I must admit that increasingly I am losing the ability to answer this question correctly’, Early onset forgetfulness – what day of the week is it? 

Holed up in the mountains 17 May 2020
‘In a time of pandemic, if you can't be on a small island off another island, then being holed up in the mountains might just be the next best thing. While there are some daily things I miss - coffee sitting down in cafes, a quite drink or meal out – in many ways life in lockdown is not all that different to how I lived before. Perhaps I need to take a closer look at what I really miss’, Holed up in the mountains.

Raiding the pantry 25 Apr 2020
‘A few weeks back I returned from a two and a half week regional road trip through Victoria to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. When we left, people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By the time we were on the way back everyone was being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. We had heard about hoarding and food shortages and we had seen the empty shelves, usually filled with toilet paper, everywhere we passed. As we headed home, I pondered exactly how long we could survive on what was already in our pantry – how many meals we were already sitting on as a result of routine shopping before that time of hoarding and excess,’ Raiding the pantry.

Noise-cancelling the modern world 29 Dec 2019
‘For Christmas this year I received a novel present – a pair of some of the best noise-cancelling headphones in existence. They are extremely effective. Given the state of the world, I am happy not to hear any of the noise it produces’, Noise-cancelling the modern world.

Australia - 7-day weather forecast 14 Dec 2019
‘A distraction from the heat, fire, and smoke that have become the new normal in Australia, Internet memes track the ongoing failure of our mediocre political masters. After a Christmas of bushfires, everything is black, particularly the humour’, Australia - 7-day weather forecast.

Feast of Stephen revisited 25 Sep 2019
‘As Christmas seems to be speeding towards us once again – with all the hope it holds out for the survival of the embattled retail sector, it got me thinking. In ‘Good King Wencelaus’, that carol from my distant childhood, there is an intriguing line, ‘good King Wencelaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen’. I thought, what is this feast, which happens to bear my name? When exactly is it? Well…it is Boxing Day. Now I do realise it, I am determined to celebrate it in the style it deserves’, Feast of Stephen.

Adjusting to Reality #2 – modern times, modern crimes 17 Feb 2017
‘Modern times, modern crimes. The current dysfunctional world of Australian politics is beyond comprehension. It makes you wonder and probably drives you to drink. Unfortunately, unlike the far too many mediocre politicians, we’re not being chauffeur-driven there. It's beyond a joke, so a good way to talk about it is through the language of jokes. It's a world of short attention spans, media grabs and talking points, so I'm responding in kind’, Adjusting to Reality #2 – modern times, modern crimes.

Adjusting to reality #1 – peaks, troughs and snouts 21 May 2016
‘It seems government allows just enough time to forget what it has done before it begins to repeat it. It would be easy to go along with popular prejudice and believe that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. Unfortunately both are efficient and also hopeless in their own way. At least we get to vote about the broad outline of what the public sector does – and laugh at it. With the private sector, all we get is to laugh at it. Or cry’, Adjusting to reality #1 – peaks, troughs and snouts.

Internet memes – swirling around the virtual universe 11 Mar 2016
‘Internet memes seem to appear and disappear on the web, digital visitors swirling around the virtual universe. Where they come from or who created them is hard to tell There are no secrets or possessions on the Internet. Seeing some of these memes got me thinking. I thought perhaps I could produce my own memes and have some fun. Perhaps it’s the new future for the arts – social media postcards – but with humour and creativity’, Internet memes – swirling around the virtual universe.
Bring back the Romans 21 Feb 2016
‘Our political system is having a lot of problems and lately I’ve been thinking that we could do a lot worse than bring back the Romans. Since they were around no-one has managed to do a good job of empire. The Americans had their moment but they seem to be making a real mess of it nowadays. Politically the Senate wouldn’t be much different. The Emperor Caligula made his horse a Senator and we’ve done better than that. So, no change there. No, on reflection it would be a good move. I think we should bring it on and the sooner the better. Now all we need to do is find some Romans and get the ball rolling’, Bring back the Romans.

Playing Gasworks Red 10 Apr 2015
‘Many decades ago in a land far, far away (well, Adelaide), I used to play basketball. We played against teams like Gasworks Red. Gasworks Red weren’t actually a basketball team. They were a football team keeping in shape in the off season by playing basketball. After Gasworks Red had bounced off you for an hour or so, you needed a drink. Then you needed another one. Then you needed to go home’, Playing Gasworks Red.

Wide brown landing 12 Aug 2012
‘Some days you realise suddenly that Canberra was deliberately located in the mountains. Perhaps it was fear of Russian invasion - imperial rather than communist. Perhaps it was to avoid overlap with the two warring imperial powers of the time - NSW and Victoria. Whatever the reason, Canberra sits well up on the top of Australia, on the long road up to the Snowy Mountains, where Australia finally reaches its peak. I've made two unsuccessful attempts to see the National Arboretum, finding the gates locked and no way in. Yesterday on a cold Canberra day I finally found it open, thanks to Canberra's annual festival of flowers, Floriade. I'd finally made a successful landing at the Arboretum. I was very impressed’, Wide brown landing.

Getting a haircut 4 Jul 2010
'The ancient shop in a gloomy arcade where I get my hair cut every couple of months is a piece of history cut out of the 1950s, like a black and white magazine clipping, turning yellow around the edges. The two old Italian gents who take turns to crop my hair with their #3 and #2 grade clippers wear ties and smell faintly of tobacco. All the customers, including me, are old and we exchange meaningful conversation with the gents about weather and cars and how easy life is nowadays', Getting a haircut.
Cures for the common cold 4 Jul 2010
'Even in the heart of the modern world, down in the deep streets of contemporary urban life, folk medicine is still strong. Have you noticed when you mention you have a cold, how everyone within listening distance starts to list off the various fool-proof remedies which are certain to cure you, or at the very least make you feel human again', Cures for the common cold.

Planting an olive tree – peace breaks out 5 Apr 2010
‘Olives have appeared on the tree on our balcony. Olives symbolise peace for the very reason that they take such a long time to grow and bear fruit. No-one planted them unless they expected a long period of peace, so new olive trees were a reliable indicator of widespread expectations about a lengthy era of stability, tranquility and lack of turmoil. Perhaps by planting an olive tree we have actually engendered a peaceful period in our lives’, Planting an olive tree – peace breaks out.

Life in the sky 10 Feb 2010
‘Living in an apartment high up in the sky, I feel like I'm on some giant airship. This apartment has a long side balcony and walking the length of it makes me think I'm a passenger on an ship. The awnings which I wind up and down on sunny days reinforce this because I feel as though I am trimming the white sails of a yacht. Perhaps I am naturally an apartment dweller and living somewhere like this is the logical outcome of all my values, taste and history. I often think that buildings are often more interesting than the contents they house. I wonder if that’s true about my apartment building’, Life in the sky.

Wearing hats 30 Dec 2009
‘When it's 40 degrees Celsius and the sun beating down at midday hurts on your skin, your mind seems inevitably to turn to hats. I am always amazed at how few people wear hats now. In a country like Australia where the sun does real and lasting damage, hats are a necessary item of clothing. The good thing is that hats look good as well. I'd like to see a return to the habit of wearing hats. I take my hat off to hats’, Wearing hats.

Feast of Stephen 30 Dec 2009
‘A friend has her birthday on Boxing Day and laments that no-one remembers or celebrates it because it is so close to Christmas. I always remember it, partly because I write it in my diary, but mainly because Boxing Day has always been a favourite day. It's a time when the crazy rush to finish the work of the year and to prepare for the holiday - buying presents, travelling to see relatives, sending greetings - comes to a halt. The other reason Boxing Day is so memorable is that it is the Feast of Stephen. It's not every day a feast has your name. Now every year I look forward not to Boxing Day but to the Feast of Stephen’, Feast of Stephen.

Hiding from the heat 26 Dec 2009
‘In Mildura, like refugees from a bombing raid, we seek shelter from the heat in the wine cellars of the Grand Hotel. I had always admired Stefano de Pieri and the way he championed regional Australia and local produce so I wanted to eat in his restaurant, which as it turned out was below the Grand Hotel in Mildura where we stayed’, Hiding from the heat.

Crossing four states 26 Dec 2009
‘To get to Adelaide we crossed the borders of four states (okay, one was a territory). After a while when you step out into the 39 degree Celsius heat you become grateful that cars nowadays have air conditioning. You comment happily that at least we aren't in Adelaide yet, where it's not 39 but 42 - everything is relative’, Crossing four states.

Chocolate espresso cake 15 Dec 2009
‘I just cooked a chocolate cake, something I don't do. I was shocked at how much butter I had to shovel into it and separating five eggs without spilling traces of yolk in the whites required some technical assistance and a repeat performance. It was all worth it though - the cake brought serious praise and it has shrunk almost to nothing’, Chocolate espresso cake.

Broken glass 12 Dec 2009
‘I used to have a battered cardboard box of around 12 hand-painted glass Christmas balls that first decorated a tree in the 1950s when I was born. They were from Europe in the days when such things weren't found in Australia. There were a few balls missing when I got them and over the years they have slowly but steadily diminished through breakages as I have moved around Australia. Last week I dropped two on the concrete floor in the basement and they shattered into thin slivers – only two left now. Two breakages in one week looks very negligent. Concrete and glass are a bad mixture’, Broken glass.

Crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge 12 Dec 2009
‘For the twelve years I lived in Sydney I never ceased to be excited as I drove up onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge to cross Sydney Harbour. Long after leaving Sydney behind me I still have the same sense whenever I go back’, Crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Boiling an egg – the blind leading the blind 5 Dec 2009
‘Every time I boil and egg I am reminded of my father ringing me once when my mother was ill in hospital to ask how to boil an egg. Strangely enough I do it so infrequently that I always have to check how long to boil it for. Talk about the blind leading the blind?’ Boiling an egg – the blind leading the blind.
Sign at work 1 Dec 2009
‘For the last few weeks signs have started to appear on the side of the streets near me saying “Men at work”. I've waited to see some activity but nothing has happened. I was starting to think the signs should say “Sign at work” instead’, Sign at work.

From indefinite article, irreverent writing about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age

Second language 13 Oct 2014
‘When I was single I used to say that what I was looking for in a partner included the ability to speak a second language – one other than the language of love. When I was young I admired the romantic languages, like Spanish, with their fluidity and soft sounds. As I became older I found myself drawn to the structure and logic of German. Having a second language is like a form of second sight – it enables insights into unfathomable truths and views of the universe otherwise not accessible’, Second language

Predicting the weather 7 Aug 2013
‘I grew up in a world where there was a definite set of things you knew - and one of them was not what would happen with the weather. The other day I was talking to someone who must have grown up in the same period. We were chatting casually about the weather and she made a comment - quite seriously - that weather forecasts were usually wrong. Unfortunately she was thirty years out of date. What amazes me is that the weather forecasts are usually so right’, Predicting the weather

Floating world 29 Jul 2013
‘Australia’s national capital is a strange floating world by a mountain lake. Reflecting the dream-like nature of the city, the lake is not a real one and the city is a compromise between warring states. It’s a large regional town on the roof of Australia that happens to be the capital city. As a result it has facilities and features not found elsewhere in Australia. The nation’s capital is a contradictory mix of a place to work—which just happens to run the country, or at least thinks it does—and a place to live. The two often do not coincide’, Floating world.

Happily ever after - the bethrothal of royalty and popular culture 13 Jan 2013
‘Republicans can gnash their teeth but the reality is that royalty has managed to do the swift manoeuvering required to move it from antique and declining relic to funky pop culture icon. We can finally pretend they were harmless and charming all along, not founded on the basis of beheadings and torture chambers, murders and arranged marriages, at the end almost a benign presence – like a pandemic that has run its course. It’s true that fear of the guillotine certainly played an important role in inducing self reform – that’s not something to forget, survival is a strong instinct. No-one has to tell royalty that culture counts – and the more popular the better’, Happily ever after - the bethrothal of royalty and popular culture.

Wormholes in space 31 Jul 2011
‘There has been a lot of speculation about the possible existence of ‘wormholes’ in space. Wormholes are kinks in space and time that can connect two distant parts of the galaxy almost instantly. I’m convinced that they exist and that there is one connecting Waverton on the Lower North Shore in Sydney and Burrawang in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales’, Wormholes in space

Meeting someone 17 Jul 2011
‘Is it any wonder that modern dating at times seems extreme and unusual (if not cruel as well). But is it really? In earlier centuries, it was not unusual for women to marry someone’s sword or for someone to receive a photograph or a painting to assess the merits of a potential partner. Shiploads travelled from Britain to fill a gap in marriageable young women. Advertising was not uncommon. It’s the age old problem of distribution. Take two people who could easily get on very well, but live in quite different countries on either sides of the world and think about how they would, under normal circumstances, ever get together. It’s hard enough to imagine when the people involved live in the same city, let alone on the same planet’, Meeting someone.

Half empty, half full 17 Jul 2011
‘I am beginning to think that the world is made up of two kinds of people. There are those who spend all their time stopping bad things from happening and there are those who are much more focused on making good things happen. These strike me as the same people for whom the cup is either half full or half empty, but that might be cruel. For myself, if asked whether the cup was half full or half empty, I’d have to ask: why wasn’t it completely full?’, Half empty, half full.

Too close to the television 17 Jul 2011
‘When I was growing up, we were constantly warned not to sit too close to the television screen. Now everyone I know spends their whole life sitting too close to a television screen. Electronic screens have become our second set of windows looking out on the world around us. Like all technology, it’s what you can do with them that counts. If there were no television programs, why would you watch television? Producing the stories, pictures and sounds that come to us through these screens is now one of the most important industries in Australia and worldwide, and fast becoming the industry of the future’, Too close to the television.

Senseless – cures for the common cold 17 Jul 2011
‘With the range of modern, life-threatening viruses around, there are plenty of diseases to be worried about in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Despite all these extremely serious diseases, what worries me is something far more simple. What really worries me is the common cold. I want to know why it is common. If it was less common maybe I wouldn't catch one so often. What about ‘the uncommon cold’ – why can’t I catch that, maybe every ten years or so?’, Senseless – cures for the common cold.

The safety of strangers 17 Jul 2011
‘I was reading a front page article in a newspaper recently. It mentioned with a sense of alarm that several people accused of murder were currently free in the community. I read more closely and was intrigued to find that every single one of the people mentioned had been charged with murdering someone they were close to – a friend, a relative or partner. They hadn’t suddenly seized upon some totally unknown stranger and murdered them out of the blue. It brought home to me a terrible truth that keeps being forgotten—the person most likely to murder you is someone you already know—and the closer to you they are, the more likely it is’, The safety of strangers.

Fat held up by salt 17 Jul 2011
‘Years ago, I was at a wedding reception when I looked down at a plate of antipasto and realised that it was essentially assorted forms of fat, held up by sugar and salt. I used to buy large quantities of these smallgoods—a name I could never understand because it was never clear what was small about them. It was enough to make someone embrace heart attacks and rapidly thinning arteries. I realised my arteries weren’t getting hard—they were getting really difficult’, Fat held up by salt.

The history of the future 17 Jul 2011
‘I find it interesting that many people who would claim they don’t read fiction, are avid readers of the popular magazines that appear from nowhere in newsagents, doctors surgeries and your mother’s latest emergency parcel. Popular magazines are the last great home of true fiction – if their stories aren’t true, then they should be’, The history of the future.

One-sided conversations 17 Jul 2011
‘Once, after a particularly virulent cold, I contracted pharyngitis (a bit like laryngitis) and found my voice straining and fading. My voice became fainter and fainter, until it was almost inaudible. You have to stop talking. The more you stop talking, the quicker you recover, the less you manage to stop talking, the longer you are without a functioning voice. The phone calls were the hardest. The face to face contact was difficult in its own peculiar way. I would have long one-sided conversations with strangers. They would talk and I would quickly write my half (perhaps a slightly smaller proportion) of the conversation in a spiral notebook I carried everywhere’, One-sided conversations.

The whole truth 17 Jul 2011
‘How often have you heard someone say that they don’t read fiction? What they don’t realise is that they read fiction every single day—everything is fiction. This is a world in which we are surrounded by the movie, the theme park and the whole virtual experience’, The whole truth.

Beaten by the clock 17 Jul 2011
‘Have you ever noticed how every electrical appliance nowadays has its own clock, hidden somewhere within it? I notice this every time the clocks have to be changed at the beginning—or end—of daylight saving time. Forget about the curtains fading, the chickens forgetting to lay or the kids going to school in the dark—most of us go to work in the dark and stay like that all day. The real terror of daylight saving is changing the clocks. As soon as it comes time to put the clocks back an hour or forward an hour, I face the huge task of resetting every clock I own. How can there be so many of them?’, Beaten by the clock.

Greatest hits 17 Jul 2011
‘I never again want to be told I am hearing the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s, or the 70s, 80s and 90s, or any other long gone time. It has been said that if you remember the 60s then you weren’t there. I think that if you were unfortunate enough to be there the first time, why should you have to go through it again?’, Greatest hits.

Studying philosophy – knowing tables exist 17 Jul 2011
‘I spent six years studying philosophy. I cannot imagine studying anything for six years anymore. At the time, I studied, I wrote essays, I left to join the workforce. I thought no more about it. Many years later, I was discussing some subject and I stopped for a moment and looked at how I was thinking. I realised that all the things I had learned had been absorbed. It is common to hear calls for a return to “basics”. There is no time for subjects that have no immediate practical value, like philosophy. But nothing is more basic than philosophy — like mathematics, it underpins everything’, Studying philosophy.

Through a glass, darkly 17 Jul 2011
‘I used to possess a pair of glasses with photochromatic lenses. Whenever the day was exceptionally bright (or, to tell the truth, even a bit bright), they would respond by becoming darker. I lived in Melbourne for much of the time, a location, which though one of my favourite cities, can be very grey. Years later, in Sydney, I took off my glasses. I was shocked to realise how dark they were – they were never totally clear. As soon as I could I replaced them and my whole world became a lighter place. I’ll never know whether all those years in Melbourne were constantly overcast and grey or whether it was just my glasses’, Through a glass, darkly.

Where change comes from 17 Jul 2011
‘It’s very pleasant belonging to a group, fitting in, being like everyone else, speaking the same language, liking the same things, having similar ways of viewing the world, doing things in the same old way. It’s very comfortable and reassuring. Unfortunately this can mean that nothing much useful happens—it can limit innovation, restrict new ideas and encourage complacency. Because of this, those who initiate, or even just welcome, change – often outsiders – are very important’, Where change comes from.

Looking down on birds 17 Jul 2011
‘For decades I lived with gardens, watering and weeding and inspecting the progress of plants. Since then I have been steadily relocating to ever more urban locations. Life as an apartment dweller is the culmination, perched high in the sky, looking down on birds up amongst the clouds. I navigate this ethereal world, adjusting the blinds as though I was trimming sails on a yacht, using the elusive breezes to cool down. You can walk in and shut the door and close yourself off from the world’, Looking down on birds.

High country 17 Jul 2011
‘When I moved to Canberra, I discovered that I had come back to the country where I grew up—the dry, high winter country in the shadow of the mountains. But I didn’t grow up in Canberra, but rather in the dry centre of Tasmania, where the Great Lakes and the mountains of the Western Tiers define the brittle, stony landscape. It’s as if there is a large mirror placed here, duplicating the other location, with the same images appearing again and again’, High country.

Exercising in the gym of happiness 17 Jul 2011
‘I was watching a program recently about scientific research into happiness. The approach of the program was all about technique — how to learn how to meditate in order to be happier than before. The trouble is that there was nothing about content – living a good life, valuing your relationships, helping others, being selfless. It was as though happiness consisted of no more than an exercise – learning to meditate quietly or breathe properly or do one hundred pushups on your knuckles in the endless gym of happiness’, Exercising in the gym of happiness.

Life on a movie set 17 Jul 2011
‘Walking through South Bank in Brisbane was a bit like when I some overseas cities, part of a massive theme park. In Paris and New York I felt every day that I was on a movie set. It was partly the iconic surroundings—streets, buildings, geography. But it was also the whole theatrical experience. The dramatic lighting everywhere used to maximise effect, the fact that I knew the names of the locations around me, from years of reading books and magazines, seeing films or hearing songs. Life doesn’t resemble art, it copies it, like two facing mirrors, reflecting backwards and forwards in an infinite regression’, Life on a movie set.

Lines of desire 17 Jul 2011
‘Lines of desire appear everywhere. They are the shortest distance between two points, the paths worn by people who do not want to follow the prescribed walkways of planners and architects and administrators, but instead make the path that suits them best. Good planning should be about matching actual lines with desire lines. The most appealing thing about desire lines is that they confirm the enduring tendency of humans to take the easiest route— something I find very satisfying—and they also confound those who think, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they know what is best for the rest of us’, Lines of desire.

Pristine cities 17 Jul 2011
‘Visiting old German cities, the compelling thing that strikes you about them is the sense of how brand new and pristine they seem. Compare this to a city like Lyon, which is genuinely old and worn and dirty. In Germany, everything seems to have been bombed. After the war, in a vast miracle of recreation, after the rubble women had cleared the wreckage by hand, whole city blocks were built again from long-forgotten plans and drawings in a miracle of hyper-renovation’, Pristine cities.

Remembering Dresden 17 Jul 2011
‘The age we live in is one of small, short wars. It affects some of us in large ways, but most of us, hardly at all. This is a return to the norm, for the widespread horror of world war is unusual this century—at least, so far. During World War 2 one of my uncles was a navigator on the Lancaster bombers that fire-bombed Dresden. It’s hard to imagine how young they were, in strange countries, thousands of miles from home, seeing the world in ways they could never have expected – through bomb sights’, Remembering Dresden.

Irregular contact
22 May 2011
‘I find it curious that many people still look at the quirky world which has grown out of email, the internet and ubiquitous computers as something unusual. When new technologies are first introduced, it always seems to be the technically minded who are most interested and involved. However, as the technology becomes widely dispersed and part of the everyday—to the point of becoming invisible—then it’s those who maintain social connection who pick it up and make it their own. To find the perfect example of this we only have to look at the history of the telephone. It’s hard to imagine life without it—how else would dispersed families, friends and community and business colleagues ever keep up with each other? Lack of access to a phone is a true sign of poverty, because it restricts ability to communicate’, Irregular contact. 

A tourist in your own town – revisiting the familiar 22 May 2011
‘Those for whom a certain language is their second are often more acutely aware of the idiosyncrasies, foibles and strange delights of the language than are its native speakers. It is much the same with travelling physically. It is usually the inquisitive visitor who fulfills the function of tourist, directing locals to wonders and curiousities they drive past every day without a glance. The true gift is to be able to be a tourist in your own town – to see your everyday locality with fresh eyes every day’, A tourist in your own town.

Murrumbateman Field Days 22 May 2011
‘The other day I went to a Murrumbateman Field Day. I have to do things like this, because so many of my relatives now live on the land, and have a pressing need to buy heavy duty agricultural tools or baby goats or water tanks. All this is totally irrelevant to me practically speaking, but endlessly fascinating’, Murrumbateman Field Days.

Eating on your own 22 May 2011
‘Eating on your own can be a strange and unusual activity. When I was younger, I found it very hard. I always felt that I was an oddity, sitting there without anyone to talk to. I quickly realised that at most tables of two even less conversation was underway than at my sparsely populated table. I am going to recommend to myself that I eat alone more often. That way I will get a good meal. an interesting conversation without too much disagreement, and a chance to get some serious thinking done without interruption’, Eating on your own.

Making a (small) difference 2 May 2010
‘Every year when I have to replace the registration sticker on my car I thank whoever dreamed up the peel-off sticker. Whoever brought in the new sticker could retire having done not one other good thing with their life and know that they had made a huge difference to the sum total of human happiness. It might not be up to the level of fixing Indigenous disadvantage or ensuring no child lives in poverty in our life time, but it was achievable, it did happen and there’s no going back’, Making a (small) difference.

Blowing up balloons 18 Apr 2010
‘I have a secret fascination with the ancient art of ballooning, a skill from the beginnings of flight, a moment where humans finally caught up with birds. This is despite the fact that I haven't yet managed to face the moment where I hang underneath a large canvas bag full of nothing but hot air high above the landscape in a shallow wicker basket. With their ability to break free from gravity and escape into a lighter world of their own, balloons represent for me the same force that fights the gravitational pull of great cities, like a black hole that swallows everything, even light’, Blowing up balloons.

More silence 17 Apr 2010
‘In a recent survey by my gym I was asked if I would prefer more music or more video—I replied ‘more silence’. I can never work out the need to be surrounded by noise. It is definitely noise, not sound. If it was quality, interesting sound perhaps it would be more bearable, but it usually seems to consist of someone telling us in a loud voice why we should buy something we don’t seem to want at all, let alone need. Why I have to pay to listen to this loud advertising by virtue of belonging to a gym which costs me a fortune, I can’t work out’, More silence.

© Stephen Cassidy 2020

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