Sunday, October 28, 2007

Atonement - a movie

When I read Ian McEwan's book, I found myself fully caught up in Briony Tallis's need to atone - I thought it was wonderful, the way in which McEwan had set up the events for which Briony felt the need to atone and the slightly ambiguous way in which those events were depicted. I also thought it some of the finest war writing I'd read in quite a while, and bought the difficulties Briony faced in trying to reconcile with her sister Cecilia and Robbie. If that had been the story, I would have been satisfied; instead I felt cheated and confounded by the smart arse way in which McEwan chose to end the book. I hated it.

Curiously, I did not have this reaction when I saw the movie. Maybe it was because I knew it was coming. Maybe it was because the movie tended to take a cleaner line through the story than had been taken in the novel, things were just a little more obvious and thus less engaging: I had less invested in working things out.

I did, however, think it a marvellous movie. The Tallis's are old money, with an estate. Class is an issue for them, so it is something of an imposition that, thanks to some sort of financial difficulty, they're putting the country cousins up. Briony at this stage is just 13, played by one Saoirse Ronan. She has an active imagination: the movie starts with her attempts to put on a play she has written.

Keira Knightley is her older sister, Cecilia. Since I really detested Cecilia, thought her a terribly affected snob, I think Knightley did a very good job of playing her, although it does raise a question: how did such a person stoop so low as to find herself in love with the cook's son, Robbie (James McAvoy)? What did he see in her? Sure, when they were growing up together, they were best of mates, but he says that when they were at Cambridge (or was it Oxford) together (Robbie's tuition was paid for by Mr Tallis), she ignored him completely. Now, they can't ignore the passion.

It is these sorts of tensions which are at the heart of the movie. Briony, despite being so young, has developed an infatuation for Robbie: she tested his mettle by throwing herself in a pond, hoping he'd save her. He did, and thus there's an element of hero worship to her devotion. So when things start to happen between Robbie and her older sister, Briony can't sit idly by. She falsely accuses Robbie of a crime, and has some ambiguous evidence which sees him convicted. It was funny; as I watched this, I was reminded a little of Lolita, at least as Humbert Humbert imagined her - someone capable of both sexual desire and control. But no-one could ever believe that of Briony, she is so young and pure. Thus her accusations against Robbie must be true. Other viewers write of seeing her as an innocent, as getting into things she does not understand and this making mistakes and certainly that is one way to interpret her actions in the book. The movie, not so much; it casts her as planning some sort of revenge upon Robbie; although I do accept she may not have have really thought through all of the consequences of her actions, her motivation is made quite clear.

This is the event, shown in the early part of the movie, for which Briony must atone. As she gained consciousness of what she had done, this must have put enormous stress on Bryony - this is not shown in the movie, just an apparent attempt on her part to reconcile with her sister; the intervention of World War Two did not help as Robbie was released from prison to be sent off to the front line, Cecila to be a nurse. Curiously, a lot of time is devoted to their respective lives during the war even though it does very little to advance the plot and, well, more doubts are raised about the point of these scenes in the final twist at the end.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

It is funny - I had heard about this book, I am not sure where, but when I saw it sitting in the bookshops the first few times, I passed over it, thinking it was some sort of serious documentary type book. When I finally picked it up, not sure what inspired me, I was confused as the text on the cover was repeated on the inside, and I didn't quite know where to stat. So I put the book back down again. Then I went to the Sydney Writers' Festival, and paid a small sum of money to listen to the author of this book, Steven Hall. Luckily I paid another small sum of money for a pad and some pens, so I have some record of what he said (the Festival was back in June). First the title is a bit of a play on words: some readers regard this as a love story, others as a thriller, so the text operates as a sort of literary Rorschach test. I'm not sure where that leaves me, as I saw both and more. Second, I was intrigued by his explanation of what he was doing with the book and even more as to whether he in any way pulled it off. The idea is that books are part of the stream of popular culture, by both responding to it and shaping it. So it would be very strange to encounter a book that made no cultural references, took nothing from any other source - it might even be unreadable as a result. This book is all about those streams, they make an "ocean of cultural connections we inhabit". So, since there is an ocean, then there can be a shark - a "conceptual" one in this case, one which is on the hunt for the central character. He has to fight back to survive - that fight borrows heavily from a fight against a shark we all know about: Jaws. Towards the end of the book, there is indeed a shark attack: as you flip the pages, an image of a shark gets closer and closer until At this stage, I had no idea what he was talking about, but all was made clear when the book finally turned up from the library. It starts with this fellow waking up, with the realisation that he had no idea who or where he was - he looks around and sees a perfectly normal bedroom, just one he could not recognise. Looking further around the house, he finds a letter from "the first Eric Sanderson", giving him a few hints as to how to get things started - such as by contacting a Dr Randle (psychiatrist). She of course had a particular diagnosis (some sort of disassociative disorder) - the eleventh time he has come to her in the same state (so no cure, then). She can tell him that the first loss was after an accident in which his girlfriend, Clio, died but the losses have become worse each time: now he can remember things like movie lines but not when he saw the movie, nothing at all of himself. An interesting idea to play around with in its own right, but the author has other ideas.

Curiously, a sequence of letters then starts (I say curiously, because I still don't know how they were sent, how they started at exactly the right time) from "the first Eric Sanderson" which give guidance as to how to survive this condition and maybe work out how to fix it - obviously they were written in anticipation of the memory loss by Eric for the post memory-loss Eric. Soon a cat turns up, a cat called Ian, who is a constant companion for Eric and quite a character. When he first shows up, Eric talks to him, asking where he'd been hiding ("The cat just looked at me"), whether he was hungry ("The cat just looked at me.") and what kind of name Ian was for a cat:
And the cat just looked at me, his big ginger face managing to do bored, irritated and smug all at the same time. He looked at me as though I was being very stupid indeed.
Ian's reactions to what Eric gets up to are a constant entertainment throughout the book.

After about six months, Eric is finally given some semblance of the story of what has happened to him. In the meantime, he has been given various artefacts he can't really understand - such as a video of a light flashing on and off for an hour - and some story fragments which look quite biographical. His very house and existence have come under attack from the shark: he has to repeat a text completely unrelated to himself to act as a kind of camouflage, to keep the shark away from him. Here is how this shark is described in the novel:
The Ludovician fish is a predator, a shark. It feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self. Ludovicians are solitary, fiercely territorial and methodical hunters. A Ludovician might select an individual human being as its prey animal, and pursue and feed on that individual over the course of years, until that victim's memory and identity have been completely consumed. Sometimes, the target's body survives this ordeal and may go on to live a second twilight life after the original self and memories have been taken. In time, such a person may establish a 'bolt on' identity of their own, but the Ludovician will eventually catch the scent of this and return to complete its kill.
The theory is that whenever he inhabits the textual world of Eric Sanderson, the shark can track him: the problem I have with this is that he can never really escape himself, except by the kind of memory loss that happened to the first (ten) Eric Sanderson(s). So, as soon as the shark picks up on the scent of the new Eric, he can't get outside of himself. Sure, I get the notion of setting up text loops around him that act as a barrier, but as soon as he goes outside the loop, the shark would be onto him - we all have a kind of textual memory of ourselves that we can't avoid. The letter bombs were a cool device: anything solid made up of printed language or letters, such as typewriter keys or, no doubt, old newspaper fonts. They confuse the textual trail for the shark.

Anyway, Eric has received some account from the first Eric of what he had tried to do to deal with the shark, so Eric decides to follow that trail, looking for a scientist (of sorts) called Trey Fidorous. Ian is with him, of course, although not very happy about it. He is also joined (well, rescued really) by Scout:
She was probably in her early twenties, pale and too thin. Her black bobbed hair was a shocking negative of her white skin and her eyes were sharp sharp green. She had high cheekbones, and what they call 'good bone structure' on those makeover programmes on TV. I realised she was beautiful, or possibly proto-beautiful - there was stilla youngness about her, as if she hadn't quite aged into the person she was going to become.
Now, she's an unoffical member of the Un-Space Exploration Committee. I really like the concept of un-space, it is somewhere I spend a fair amount of time myself: things like unlabelled carparks, buried places, abandoned buildings, rooftops, ventilation tunnels, spaces not used by the public. In fact, I recently saw a movie almost entirely shot in un-space: Perfect Creature which was shot in Dunedin, but in no part I could recognise, because they kind of turned Dunedin inside out, and used the backs of buildings and little alley ways that no-one ever goes down. This Dr Fidorous has buried himself deep in un-space and Scout is going to guide Eric to him. As she does, something sparkles between them: the way this relationship came to life struck me as so naturally done, so full of mischevious humour as to be genius. [Mind you, The Australian had an opposed viewpoint, saying "
Most of their repartee seems to be a hideous hybrid of Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City, with some Tank Girl heroics thrown in to make Scout seem dynamic" - but then I'm a fan of both the Gilmore Girls and Tank Girl.] It also had echoes of the relationship the first Eric had with Clio.

One part that really didn't do much for me was the introduction of Mycroft Ward into the mix: as if having the conceptual shark on their trail was not enough, we had to have some sort of cyborg, intent upon assimilating the whole world. This part of the story didn't really seem to go very far anyway.

No matter: when you decide to turn the tables on a conceptual shark and hunt him down, you of course need a boat. Not any old boat, however; a conceptual boat - this boat depended upon the conviction of its inhabitants that they were in fact in a boat, despite the physical evidence to the contrary. Once Eric was in the right imaginative space, then we have a shark hunt, just as vividly created as that in Jaws.

Of course, the other possibility is that Dr Randle is right: Eric is simply mad.

It seems that the author has had a lot of fun beyond the book. He is producing "negatives" for each of the chapters in the book, and is leaving lots of teasing comments on the forum related to it, about how there is a second book connected to this one, featuring Ian's brother, Gavin (yes, another cat). Apparently he left envelopes around the UK, just as Eric did in un-space, inviting those who found the lost envelopes to the forum. I'm wondering what else is going on beyond the book, and the project to annotate it.

Funny: I have been reading reviews at amazon; several complain about the lack of unoriginality, that there is borrowing from other authors (Borges, Auster, Murakami) and from Jaws. Given the author's notions about cultural streams, that is hardly surprising.


Hobart, Tasmania (29/8/07)

I really shouldn’t have fallen for that Banjo’s girl yesterday. She made me a particularly bad coffee, yet I lined up at Banjo’s (a bakery chain) again this morning, this time compounding my error by having breakfast as well. It was bad (although the mushrooms proved quite resilient to the Banjo’s treatment, and were quite tasty.)

Another long day’s drive,
broken only by a stop at Zeehan
to check out the museum: Here I learned that I had made an error in my thinking about the Mt Linney rail: it closed in the 1960's, not 100 years ago. I thought it was odd for it to have closed way back then, as the line only became operative 110 years ago. But I left the museum with another point of confusion: why were so many of the boats serving Strahan in the late 19th century, despite being built in Scotland, given Maori names? No idea.

As part of the museum, I could look inside a building which had puzzled me when I first came through Zeehan, as I could not discern its function
It turns out it was the Gaiety Theatre and Hotel
Interestingly, there was a bit of a feature in the theatre about Eileen Joyce, an internationally renowned concert pianist who was said to have come from Zeehan. While that claim is true, the online biographies I have seen suggest she left when she was two and never really returned, except maybe to play the Gaiety.

The drive was not the best, wet and low visibility. Luckily there was little traffic, as the roads would be murder to try to pass on. The radio was full of two topics - equine flu and the pulp mill (not surprising, as the two Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament is starting its deliberation process today). They’re tipped to say yes, which I’m finding a bit hard, because I’m sure I read that a majority of Tasmanians are against it, something like 87%.

The thing that scares me the most is the random way in which the decision is being made, by people with no expertise in assessing this kind of project, by some with an avowed inclination to not listen to those with expertise, by some with a clear agenda to respond to some perceived need - for work, for keeping Tasmanians in Tasmania, for helping the timber industry. One guy, from some timber workers union, was so full of “if you don’t support us, its because you hate us/are ignorant” that I had to turn off and listen to music. Democracy, eh? And I was listening to this as I was driving past the consequences of earlier projects in Tasmania:
I did wonder why there was no environmental agency responsible for deciding this - in NZ, a resource consent (or rather, a multitude of them) would be needed - from the council (the decision of which would be amenable to appeal). It turns out that a similar process had originally been started in Tasmania, but that Gunns had decided the process was not for them, and refused to go through with it, throwing themselves at the mercy of the Parliamentarians.

In Hobart, I fell on my feet. I had no plans for a place to stay, so just parked the car and walked randomly. Two blocks into this random walk, I found the YHA. Choice made. No worries about finding good food here either - Elizabeth Street is strewn with eateries, as is the waterfront (which in my brief evening walk seems to be nicely developed). I went Greek, simply because I have so little familiarity with it, having eaten Greek food maybe twice (unless you count late 1980's Auckland foodcourt style Greek food). I’ve certainly never eaten barbecued octopus before. Very tasty, although I don't really buy the claim that this particular restaurant invented the technique of barbecuing octopus. Not yet confident enough with the camera to whip it out and take a photo as I dine.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

An apology is called for

Whenever I go in to Whitcoulls to look for a specific book, I tend to come out moaning about what a miserable excuse for a bookshop it is, as it never has what I want. I also have the same sort of experience in Queenstown - it is aimed at the adventure tourist, has no second hand bookshops of any sort and has only Whitcoulls and Paper Plus for new books.

Mind you, I only have a fifty/fifty strike rate when I go to the University bookshop, so I was not surprised when I went in the other day to buy a copy of Darkmans and at least look at a copy of The Gathering, to find they had neither.

I was surprised this morning to find that the Queenstown Whitcoulls not only had both Darkmans and The Gathering but they also gave me a discount voucher to acquire both at quite a significant discount. I snapped both up, together with Out of the Blue. Sorry, Whitcoulls (doesn't mean you can buy Borders yet). Sorry, Queenstown.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Man Booker

So, I've just heard it live from the Guildhall: Anne Enright's The Gathering has taken out the Man Booker prize for 2007. Cue the obligatory All Black's reference on National Radio.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Darkmans by Nicola Barker

The world is waiting to see whether Mister Pip or On Chesil Beach wins the Man Booker Prize for 2007. These, apparently are the neck and neck favourites. I have read neither, but will read the former out of patriotism. I may never get to the latter.

I have managed to read two of the shortlisted novels - The Reluctant Fundamentalist and, as of last night, Darkmans. There will be those who hate Darkmans, for its lack of any sense of narrative momentum or, indeed, for the failure of the actual Darkmans to arrive in the text until page 836 (of 838) although there are intimations of his presence throughout.

As I was reading, I was struck by several passages which seemed to say something about the writer's method but I think this conversation, towards the end, between Peta (Borough - yes - it is a play on Peterborough) and Kane came closest: '
The truth' Peta informed him, baldly, 'is just a series of disparate ideas which briefly congeal and then slowly fall apart again...'
'No,' Kane shook his head, 'I'm not buying that. What's been going on feels really ... really coherent, as if everything's secretly hooking up into this extraordinary ... I dunno ... this extraordinary jigsaw, like there's a superior, guiding logic of some kind...'
'The truth,' Peta smiled, 'is that there is no truth. Life is just a series of coincidences, accidents and random urges which we carefully forge - for our own, sick reasons - into a convenient design. Everything is arbitrary. Only art exists to make the arbitrary congeal. Not memory or God or love, even. Only art. The truth is simply an idea, a structure which we employ - in very small doses - to render life bearable. It's just a convenient mechanism, Kane, that's all.'
So, if there is no coherence to life, no truth, then when one is writing a book which is true to life, that book need not be obsessed with being about anything, or follow any tidy plotted line - it can be vast and messy, exuberant, funny, have random elements, stories that go nowhere, just are; even characters that don't add much. I'd go so far to say that, despite there being lots of publicity about this novel having a medieval jester (John Scrogin) turn up in modern day Ashford, that's the most random element of them all. As I read the book, people would ask me what it was about, and I'd confess that it is about this fellow from the past (because that was what I'd been told) who hasn't actually shown up yet - this was when I was on page 200, then 300, then 400. I was getting a bit frustrated, to tell the truth.

It was when I gave up waiting on him to show up, started to see what else was happening, that I started to fall in love with this book. Despite its size, it is concerned with just a few days (however long it took between Kelly Broad's falling off the wall and her release from hospital). Let's start with her, as she's my favourite character. As her history has been written, she's from a very long line of no-hopers and thus she has no hope for herself: she refers to herself as a skank. But during the course of the novel, she starts to revise her opinion of herself, to see herself as gold. Two factors play a part: the history of John Scrogin, which may have been written by a fellow called Boarde who, thanks to the fluidity of the language, might have been an ancestor of Kelly: he fits the family legend of there having been a learned man who had written about buildings.

Second, when in hospital, she encounters a reverend: he has three visions, one of which concerns her brother waking from a coma, saying just "oh bollocks" and dying. She has heard from the nurse that this is what her brother had actually done, and so she has an epiphany, Kelly-style:
'Spot on!' she gasped. 'He swore - real loud - that's what the nurse said ... Man! Her eyes were now as bright and round as two new beach balls. 'Would you ever believe it?!'
The Reverend shrugged.
'High five,' Kelly volunteered, offering him her flattened palm.
'My arms are stuck,' the Reverend demurred, 'under the counterpane.'
'So fine,' Kelly beamed, chucking his pious cheek, instead, 'you win. Its a deal. Where do I sign up?'
'Sign up?'
The Reverend frowned.
'Yeah. You convinced me. You worked your magic. So how'd I join?'
'Join? Join what?'
'You, mate. The Church an' shit...'
'You want to join the Church?'
Kelly nodded.
'To follow God?'
Kelly nodded again.
'To dedicate your life to Jesus Christ?'
'Yeah. An' if you want my opinion,' she expanded airily, 'then fuck Ashford, mate, we wanna go to Africa, do some important work - help out all those little orphan kiddies with AIDS..."
She's the real deal, in terms of being a genuine convert, but there is an immediate clash of culture and personality between her exuberance and the rather stick-in-the-mud Reverend to the point he is later to be found hiding under a table to get away from her.

Then there are the Beedes, father ("Beede", "Daniel" or "Danny" depending upon who is talking) and son, Kane (Kelly was his girlfriend at one point). From the beginning it is established that they do not get on, that they have little to say to each other. Both, in their own ways, are really good guys (yes, Kane deals drugs but he is much more than that) but despite their living together, there is much tension between them - for historical reasons. Gradually, these reasons become clear, and have been present since Kane was a very young boy.

Then there is Beede's best mate Isidore or Dory, who has certain episodes. In one of the early chapters, he is bewildered to find himself astride a horse outside the French Connection - what passes for a posh cafe in Ashford. Not only does he have no idea how he got onto the horse, he hates them, would never in his right mind go anywhere near one. One explanation is that he is periodically inhabited by John Scrogin, the medieval jester, who is not a nice man. Another is that he is simply mad. Mind you, when he does a paternity test and finds out that his son is not just not his son, but his own ancestor by several generations, madness might be the right option. That son, Fleet, is able to make perfect match-stick reconstructions of 16th century cathedrals, without ever seeing them.

If I was asked what this book was about, in terms of plotline, I'd be tempted to say that it is a book about a man, Isidore who wants to have some repairs done to his house. He brings in Harvey Broad, a man with a huge grievance with he telephone book people: despite having three different firm names (such as Aardvark), his is not the first named builder. That honour goes to his arch-rival, Garry Spivey. Completely bonkers!

But the funny thing is, the author has all these threads running through the book, she lets a lot of them go but, right at the end, a lot get tied up quite nicely. Maybe Kelly is right after all, when she believes in the Reverned's visions and thinks that there is, in fact, a plan at work.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Strahan, Tasmania (28/8/07)

Today, my birthday, I woke up in Zeehan. Not many people do that - it is a tiny mining (primarily zinc) community just inland of the West Coast of Tasmania. Once awake, I saw no reason to stay, as the only forms of commercial activity are the three pubs, two service station and gruesome takeaway bar. Besides, I had a train to catch. Not just any train, but a “Wilderness Experience” train. It is much better than it sounds - a genuine 100 year old steam train:
one of a fleet of five formerly operated by the Mt Linney Copper Mining Company. Three are now back, running the same line between Strahan and Queenstown, although their purpose has changed.
They always did a bit of tourism, in a sense, by bringing the mineworkers out to Strahan for a break. Now they run day trips to give tourists like myself a wilderness experience.

It is done pretty well - the line runs along the King River for a bit, and then has to go up and over a steep hill to get to the Queen River and Queenstown. So steep is the incline that a special technique was developed by a Swiss clockmaker named Abt - essentially the engine is fitted with cogged wheels which fit into notches in a central rail (a rack and pinion system):
While the natural rainforest at each end has long since been chopped down (to provide firewood for the mines!) the central part is still intact. What is staggering about the whole venture is that the line fell into disuse 40 years ago, and was completely rebuilt as part of the celebration of the centenary of the Australian Federation. Forty bridges, 33 kilometres of track, half a dozen stations, it all had to be built, virtually from scratch. Two of the bridges had a fomer life in Hobart, only one original bridge is still in use - this 110 tonne steel girder bridge was shipped over from England, barged in two pieces up river, the barges waited in appropriate spots until the river ran high, then they were manhandled into place.

This is just one of the many amazing stories surrounding the making of the railway. The other one that really got to me was the one about the locomotive taking us on our journey. It was made in Scotland, shipped out, taken apart, and carried on packhorses into the then railhead (I think about 15 km inland). I wonder if we’d have the stomach for doing this sort of thing today. I doubt it.

Mind you, apparently the Tasmanians didn’t mucfh want to do it either - the work was done by a mixture of convicts and imports from other States. The train guide had many stories of local history. After mentioning that it only rains twice (once for five months, and then for six months) we rounded a corner, and pointed out the venue of a former (and remarkably long-lived, at just over three years) nudist colony!

Then there was the story of the big hungry seal which broke into the salmon farm, setting 70,000 of them (some as big as a man, allegedly) free. Locals thought it was Christmas! Or the one about his dad’s mate, annoyed at the way our guide’s dad would tooooot for far too long outside his house. So, the mate got his own back: he set two mine detonators on the track. Very effective in eliminating effusive tooting, apparently.

Less cheerful was the tale of the two rivers: so bad was the pollution from the mines that the rivers died and turned orange - nothing lives in them, no fish, no plants, not even bugs apparently.
It rains so much that the rivers are having a hard time regenerating - too much water pressure and too much silt. But he sees hope - the banks are starting to show signs of life, and fish are being found in the river mouth.

Looking at these rivers had a special resonance, given all the news reports about the proposed new pulp mill, up on the Tamar north of Launceston. The minister has said that “if they pollute, we’ll close them down” but damage can last a long long time. And in the Tamar, there is more than the river at stake: there are the current agricultural operators, the tourism operators and the citizenry themselves. I can see the benefits of the mill, but don’t know why it has to be there: even without any air or water pollution, it is going to be a rude incursion into the district. Somewhere slightly less visible would be better, and there are several mining towns which could use a shot in the arm.

Anyway, once off the bus in Queenstown
(one such town - half of its shops stand empty) it was a quick bus ride back to Strahan, where I checked into my first ever tourist cabin. It’s a tiny little room, but there are plenty of communal facilities and it is cheap. I had planned to stay in a yacht on the waterfront that claimed to be doing $40 B+B’s, but the yacht was nowhere to be seen. Since it is my birthday, I decided to splurge a bit on dinner. Since I couldn’t decide between the two main nice places in town, I went to both: a very nice slow roast pork belly entrée and baked trout in one, followed by an oyster entrée, gelato and coffee in the other. Without wanting to denigrate the Tasmanian oyster industry in any way, they’re not a patch on the bluff oyster.

But Strahan was in a very nice spot:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Zeehan (27/8/07)

I had trouble leaving Stanley - it really is a charming place:
although I think I am glad I stayed here:
rather than here (apparently a YHA, according to the guide, but there was no sign of it on the premises, so it can't have been):
Before leaving, I went to a very twee sort of coffee shop and had an amazing hot cinnamon tea cake with bad coffee (the coffee came out of a dusty tin, suggesting it may have been ground last season) for breakfast, and meandered about for a bit, but I only had a short time in Tasmania, and it is not a static stay in one place sort of holiday. On the way out of town, there was an old farm which has been turned into a sort of museum:As I drove down the road, I discovered something. I’m pretty much an idiot. Yesterday, I was at the Beaconsfield mine. Today there was a news report: findings of an official inquiry into the fall last year which killed a man and trapped another two underground for a fortnight. This was all over the news back home, as everyone waited on the edges of their seats for news that the two guys would be dug out The mine involved was the Beaconsfield, yet it never dawned on me when I was there that this was the mine in the news last year. I even took a picture of the board where miners leave their tags as they come out of the mine, to show they’re safe.

Apart from stopping in Burnie for a late lunch, it was pretty much a day on the road. I drove down past Cradle Mount
until dusk, and then had to drive some more, as no town coincided with dusk. Since something had possessed me to write down the name Zeehan when I read the Lonely Planet guide a couple of months ago, I decided not to stop in Roseberry, but to press on to Zeehan. Not a pleasant spot, at least at night. Another town with no-one about - there were three hotels (mine was called the Cecil, which is an interesting choice of name), two of which had big dining rooms with no diners. Not a good look, so I again resorted to fish and chips. Lets hope the food situation improves as I move on. I did like this building, although I had no idea what its function might have been:

Monday, October 08, 2007

Perth Trip

I came back from Perth with so many things stacked up that I had three all-nighters last week: while I joke about sleeping for 12 hours every second night, it is probably not so good for me.

My trip over there did not follow the most logical of paths: I left here on the Wednesday evening nearly two weeks ago, for Wellington, as I had a meeting there on the Thursday. My plan was to meet up with a friend and go for a drink but such was my ineptitude with texting (our agreed upon method for me letting her know I was in town) that it took me so long to communicate she thought I had stood her up and went home. So, left to my own devices, I tried out the Lido for dinner, and had a very curious arrangement of green peas, brocolli, chicken and slabs of pasta which they were passing off as a pasta primavera. Since the night was still young and fresh, I had a very nice wander along Oriental Parade, checking out the lights of the city and the rather pleasant looking apartment buildings which grace that part of the city.

I had my meeting, which went the way of most meetings, and flew down to Christchurch. Christchurch being Christchurch, by the time I got myself into my lodgings (the Living Space - a very nice place, albeit unfortunately located above several bars) my food choices were extremely limited. Apparently, 20 years ago, they had more all night eateries than London, but these days one is limited to the fast food joints after about 10:00, and even they close at around midnight, leaving one at the mercy of Starshops. The Japanese place that used to stay open very late is defunct.

Mind you, Perth was not much better. I got in at about midnight and made my straight to the YHA: asking the fellow on the desk where I might find a quiet drink and a bite to eat was not very productive, as he claimed to come from Northbridge (about 1 kilometre to the north east of the YHA) and not know the locality.
Northbridge had food, certainly, but the place was ghastly - full of shouty drunk people, very loud boom boom music, pubs with drunk patrons and unwelcoming doorstaff. I did find a hotel bar in town for that drink you need when you've just arrived and want a quiet moment but, as for food, my choices were limited to a kebab shop inhabited by a couple having a domestic and McDonalds. I went for the Golden Arches, and retreated to my hostel.

The weekend was occupied by me wandering the inner city, taking the CAT to get my bearings, finding a few coffee shops, visiting Retro Betty's burger joint in Leederville and going to watch the Joe Strummer movie. That almost never happened: I went to use the men's room, but as I tried to leave, I was baffled - the exit was by way of a screen through a vestibule, but everything was painted bright red, and i had some boundary issues.

Sunday afternoon, I changed digs, to the hotel being paid for by work, and I had drinks organised by the conference I was attending. Last time I attended this particular conference, I actually fled the social events, as I did not feel at all comfortable, so I has been a little apprehensive about the social demands this conference would make of me. Luckily it was made more than bearable by having several of my current colleagues, several of my former colleagues and a few of their colleagues to support me: I have to confess that I enjoyed the conference, and look forward to the next one.

Post conference, things got busy. I had a rental car and fled towards the south coast, with Albany in mind. But Perth takes such a long time to escape, and I had compounded this by dropping colleagues in Freemantle and so I was something like 150 kilometres short of the coast when darkness overtook me. Thus, a random night in a random hotel in Kojonup. The plan had been to spend two nights in Albany and cruise around a bit, but this put paid to that. So, I had a wander around Albany and pressed on to the West, pausing for the night in Pemberton. Even though I did not get to stay anywhere long, the drive itself was very pleasant - last time I was there, I had gone out past Wave Rock to Esperance, through the wheat belt - boring! This time, I went through forestry, rolling farmland, grape growing areas - everything was green.

The Friday night, back in Perth, I was off to the Perth Concert Hall for a much anticipated Tori Amos gig - row C, seat 11, which put me just off centre, a fantastic seat. Unfortunately, the show failed to grab me: the first time I saw Tori, it was upstairs in a small space in a theatre in Auckland. It was just her and her piano and (since the lights were out, it seemed) me. She sang and she talked and it was magic. I saw her again, and it was much the same. this time round, she had a band with her, it was a very polished show, don't get me wrong, but there was no feeling of intimacy. She hardly addressed a word to the audience, and when she discharged the band and it was just her and the piano, it seemed all part of a tried and true formula (including the part where she plays two at once).

I had thought it was just me losing appreciation for live music, but I went to another show on Saturday night where I literally had the worst seat in the house (in the second to last row, against the wall) and I was blown away. I had shivers go up my spine three times, I felt tears in my eyes twice, and I fell in love with one of the singers (Vikki). This was the Waifs, a band from Western Australia, one which sings about such things as saving up pennies to buy a Valiant to go cruising in (one tear inducing song). Here's the story of how they got their name:

DONNA SIMPSON: I actually kept saying to, Josh and Vikki they were having this big argument in the van, and I kept saying, ‘I’m leaving. I’m leaving. I’m leaving, you know.’ They just didn’t hear me.
ANDREW DENTON: And it was around this time that you got the name ‘The Waifs’, wasn’t it? That was that was given to you, really.
DONNA SIMPSON: Yeah, we, we, things got really tough on the road, so we all decided to go home and Josh went to his family, and virtually walked into the house and his grandmother said “Oh look at my waif, my waif”. And then we went home to our family and our grandmother said “Oh here come the waifs”. And like…
VIKKI THORN: Yeah, here come my little waifs she said.
DONNA SIMPSON: My little waifs.
VIKKI THORN: Meaning I guess that we were a little dishevelled, dirty and homeless looking.
ANDREW DENTON: It could have been worse. They could have said you little shits.
Vikki was amazing - she had several harmonica solos and sang two songs solo, no instruments, nothing. In between their songs (or even in place of their songs, when the harmony failed to happen, they'd just chatter away to the audience, telling great stories. I has been a bit dubious about the guys in the seats beside me, as they'd talked most of the way through the support act, and then left the venue, but when the Waifs came on, not only did the respect the band by not talking, they pretty much had all the songs down word for word. My only regret: I had had a chance to see them twice, as they'd played Bunbury earlier in the week, and I didn't take it up.

Seeing them was a suitable way of ending my trip: not much more than an hour after they left the stage, I was in a plane and on my way home. Speaking of which, I'm going home now to have another listen of Sun Dirt Water.

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